Friday, May 18, 2007

What I learned this semester, Part II

Parental Rejection Theory: Why I’m messed up

This is the second part of a three part series. The largest part of what I learned was the causes and effects of antisocial violence. On the way however, I learned something about myself, and why I feel the way I do. And, once again, I get to blame my parents!

I’ve wondered alone my whole life. I was never what my mother thought I should be. My sister and brother reminded me often of how I was only the half sister. My biological father was never around, and my step father felt no real affection for me. I had no real friends at school, and often wandered the playground alone. If it weren’t for my children, I would still be utterly alone. I probably would have checked out of this life by now.

When I started school this January, I never expected to learn so much about why I came to feel this way about my life. In the sexual abuse of humans class, I began to revisit the more unsavory parts of my history. When they found a woman stabbed and dropped off the bridge, I couldn’t help but wonder how I escaped such an end.

Learning about antisocial violence was my mission. One of the questions that really haunted me was “how have I escaped drug addictions and antisocial behaviors myself?” I now know it was because I did have a place to go where I could be me. My grandma and grandpa saved me. I also had dance school where I was truly special (paid for by grandma), and was accepted by the other children there.

I read approximately 15 research papers this semester about where and how antisocial disorder begins. I found that so many of the problems adults face all seem to come from the same place. It all comes from being rejected as a child. Being rejected by parents, teachers, peers, and other important people in life, affects how a person sees themselves and how they fit into this world.

I am not antisocial (maybe a little a-social), I am not a drug addict, or alcoholic (weight is problematic), but I definitely struggle with depression. I’ve also struggled constantly with the relationships I have with other people, not just men, but my siblings, my friends, and my co-workers. Now I think I know why.

According to Ronald P. Rohner, who has researched parental acceptance/rejection theory for many years, a person’s mental self representation is determined by whether they felt accepted by their parents. A mother’s love has historically been considered essential to the development of her children. Through much of history a father’s love was not considered important, but more recent studies indicate it has as much influence as a mother’s love in determining how a person develops a sense of self.

When a person feels rejected by a parent, they will develop problems with feelings of hostility; dependence; impaired self esteem and self adequacy; emotional unresponsiveness and instability; and a negative world view. If a person continues to be rejected by others through their life, these problems intensify, leading to addictive behaviors, problems with depression and conduct disorders.

I don’t doubt that the temperament of the child factors into which problems will develop and to what extent. A child who scores low on tests of benevolence and conscientiousness becomes more aggressive when parented harshly and inconsistently. There are many possible combinations of parenting behaviors and child temperament that come into play, and I intend to do much more research on these possibilities.

What I can say is that my temperament is such that I adjust my behavior to conform to what people around me expect. My mother’s parenting behaviors were never consistent, and not just harsh, but abusive. I was singled out by my 2nd grade teacher who created an environment where I was not acceptable. I never questioned her behavior, nor did I ever speak against her (until very recently).

I did have some friends in school, but none who stayed friends with me for very long. It seemed no matter what I did, I was never good enough. If I was noticed at all, the attention I got from other kids was not desirable. Then I started to look like a woman, and started getting attention I did like. I can’t think of anything wasn’t willing to do to get that attention.

Eventually I did learn, (I hope) even that is not acceptance. I typically put myself aside, and become what I think he thinks is acceptable, and I have been wrong 100% of the time. Every man in my life (with the exception of my son – so far) has ended with me feeling rejected. Even in the relationships I end, I do so because I am not feeling accepted.

All of this rejection has lead to my “negative world view”. I often find myself shutting people out to protect myself from more rejection, and creating more of the rejection I want to prevent. I see this in myself to some extent now, but I have typically seen people as cruel and uncaring. Until very recently, I felt men didn’t love. I thought they were only after sex, and that nothing about a woman mattered except her body.

I have felt that society in general is cruel by its very nature. I usually expect rejection, and am constantly trying to prove my value. I suppose I might come across as too pushy and unyielding because of it. I don’t know, because no one ever tells me why they don’t like me. When I come across people who do like me, I have no idea why they like me, and often assume it’s because they don’t know me well enough yet, and will eventually reject me. Can anyone say “self fulfilling prophecy”?

I am fiercely independent. I am independent to my own detriment. I need warmth and compassion from other people, but I refuse to ask for it. If I tell people I need them, I feel weak and exposed. A plea for compassion is the fast track to rejection. The things I want the most I push away the hardest. That’s why I am utterly alone.

I don’t take drugs, I rarely drink alcohol, and I am never in trouble for breaking the rules. But I spend a lot of time alone, and lonely. I eat a lot, what else am I to do? It’s depressing. The isolation would be unbearable, if not for my children.

Unfortunately, R. Rohner does not say how a person is to overcome these powerful feelings that keep me isolated. How does a person find the kind of courage to let others in? How can you hold on to self value in the face of rejection?

Fear not, reader(s?)! I still have at least three semesters left to get my bachelors degree. Then, there will be more to get that ever dangling carrot of a PhD. I’ll figure this all out yet. Maybe I’ll even be able to help others who have suffered extensive rejection in their lives. Someday I’ll be able to look at personality types in conjunction with they way the person was parented and say, hey, all you need to do is…

Until then, take care.


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