Feeling wanted

by Carolyn on August 27, 2009

Monkey On My Back by Naja Conrad

Monkey On My Back by Naja Conrad

As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear.  The fear of not being wanted.  It still haunts me.  I’ve seen it haunt others.  Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation.  I wish it wasn’t so.  I wish I could shake it.  I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder.  Whispering in my ear, “See?  You were right.  You weren’t wanted after all.”

I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker.  It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts.  And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me?  Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from?  If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too?  And who wants a broken kid to lug around?  I wouldn’t.

Of course my logic was never supported.  My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me.  How wanted I was.  But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away.  And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger.  A missed phone call.  A raised voice.  A scowl.  An off hand remark.

My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me.  I am half of each of them.  But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me?  Maybe half of me.  That I could understand; but never all of me.  Not the parts that come from the other.  But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person.  And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me.  Maybe I can hide.  But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want.  I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s a scary thing.  Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not.  Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can?  These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all.  And so the dance begins.  Pushing and pulling.  Testing and trusting.  Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.

But as I got older I did something else.  And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too.  I pulled back as most teenagers do.  But I never really came back.  A defensive action.  My internal dialogue changing.  It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed.  Tired of seeing their ex partner in me.  And when that happens I’ll be ready.  I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me.  I can’t let them hurt me like that.

I’ve seen this so often and I did it too.  Trivializing my parental relationships.  Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others.  I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough.  Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable.  I thought of it as a preparedness measure.  No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child.  And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is.  The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet.  One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand.  I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me.  Things I can point to and say, see?  Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same.  Also serving as, See?  Look at all this support that I have.  I’ll do just fine without them.  A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.

In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t.  Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected.  I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust.  Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me.  Questioning the solidarity of our bond.  And those are the moments the monkey loves.

He says “Be careful.  They could destroy you.  Remember when?  Don’t give them the chance.”

Sometimes the monkey wins.  I agree and I put up my front.

But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep.  Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.

What a liberating day that would be.

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My newest hero l My mom — The Grown Up Child
September 4, 2009 at 11:42 pm

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 La Bell Mere August 28, 2009 at 4:44 am

Such a moving post.

It’s difficult to imagine the effect of divorce on a child, for those that haven’t been through it. Thanks for sharing. I hope, one day, you can squish that monkey once and for all!

LBM xxxx
.-= La Bell Mere´s last blog ..More marvellous Wednesday! On a Thursday no less! =-.

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2 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:17 am

Thanks LBM! I hope to be rid of him one day too.

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3 Liz McLachlan August 28, 2009 at 10:15 am

Interesting. Linear thinker? ha! I use that term often when I’m describing what I’m not AND I was great in the creative arts – not so much in the math department! If you don’t mind, I am going to put on my psychology hat and give this a go – After reading this, I see the proverbial monkey as a representation of your hurt, frustration, fear, defense, etc that you explain regarding your feelings of being wanted. As a result the monkey held onto these feelings and stayed with you into your adult years. I’m sensing that as an adult you are gaining great insight to your situation and have acknowledged the monkey’s existence and significance in your formative relationship building years – whether this is with your parents, friends, significant others, etc. You are gaining control over the situation when before you let the “monkey” absorb the emotions – good and bad. Personal strength is amazing and the more you allow yourself to receive this strength I believe the less that monkey will show up. YOU can control the monkey :)
.-= Liz McLachlan´s last blog ..I am… =-.

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4 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Thanks for the free therapy Liz ;) I do hope to control it more, but it really comes down to trusting the bond. And even when I think I trust it implicitly, the monkey reappears at the slightest hint of any problem. And yet trusting my other relationships is pretty easy. Probably because I hold back in those too. It’s probably what interferes so much in my feeling really connected with others. It’s always so interesting to get to the bottom of issues! Thanks for your insight!

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5 Holly Bowne August 28, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Wow. Thank you for offering a glimpse of what goes on in the head of a child of divorce. I just had no idea. I’ve often heard about how the children of divorce blame themselves; but I hadn’t really understood how that could be so. The feelings I took for granted as a child…

Well, reading this was very illuminating. Thanks for sharing.

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6 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Thanks Holly. It’s funny because whenever I had heard the typical ‘beware, children of divorce blame themselves’, I always thought, “nope, not me”. Because I’ve never blamed myself for their divorce. But the blame can look different. For me, I’ve always felt that I was to blame for them not being able to fully move on with their lives. Different, but just as painful.

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7 Kelly August 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Very insightful. You perfectly described why children not only feel like divorce may be their fault, but how/why the after-effects can be so damaging.

Hopefully that monkey will move out for good- soon!
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..I had what she’s having =-.

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8 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

I hope he does too. Thanks for stopping back Kelly!

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9 Mimi August 29, 2009 at 5:42 pm

This is so true. Your visual is entirely accurate. I am happily involved and still have a monkey on my back. I, too, wait for the day when he will move away. Brilliant post!
.-= Mimi´s last blog ..Green Turtle Friends =-.

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10 Carolyn August 30, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Thank you Mimi!

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11 Urchin August 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Monkeys are such a pain. I think I have a few who take rotating shifts whispering their seeds of doubt, watering, manicuring the patch, and making sure that it blooms into a full on panic plant.

Happily I have people in my life now telling me how much I am worth. Little by little we’re culling the heard of doubt monkeys and stamping out the fear that I was a mistake. A fluke in two ways.

Being the child of adoption and knowing that a) my biological mother couldn’t keep me for reasons she and I have discussed and I DO understand; and b) that my adoptive parents weren’t quite sure what to do with me. I became a burden. The daughter that should never have been (to which my monkeys applaud and agree with wholeheartedly.)

Your posts always make me want to talk for some strange reason. Things that I wouldn’t otherwise talk about. That I’ve kept hidden away and locked up. Yet here you are, being forthright. It’s inspiring.

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12 Carolyn August 30, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Thank you Urchin. This post actually came from my thinking about why me, a child of divorce and you, an adopted child would have the same feelings and coping mechanisms. I thought this feeling and fear of not being wanted by the very people who created and/or care for you might be at the heart of it. This is just how I’ve felt during the course of my life. It’s interesting and I’m glad that it resonated with you too.

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13 Urchin August 30, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Oh I agree, completely. Though I cannot give my parents the full credit for these feelings of being unwanted. It extended into school as well. I was the strange girl. The one with the quick temper and the sharp tongue. I’ve always been the odd one out, the one that, if there was an odd number during games, got left behind. So that feeling was compounded, exaggerated beyond what should have ever been allowed, and thus my horde of monkeys continue to haunt me and my warehouse of issues.

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14 Carolyn August 31, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Oh, I can certainly relate to the picking teams one! I was always the last to be picked, but I could hardly blame the people choosing, I was so bad at sports. What I’ve always found funny is that as an adult I’m not that bad. It’s funny in a strange kind of way.

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15 deesha August 30, 2009 at 10:03 pm

THIS is why your site is so necessary. You have just given me fodder for the next Talk with my girls about our divorce. Many, many thanks!

xo,
~Deesha
.-= deesha´s last blog ..Divorced Kid: Stories from the 1970s divorce revolution =-.

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16 Jennifer August 31, 2009 at 4:14 am

Great post, it did give me a better understanding of what it is like to be a child of divorce. I am lucky I never had to go through that as a child. My parents were never married and in fact I did not even see or really know my father growing up. I did not meet him until I was 21 years old. Then in a strange twist of circumstance him and my mom ended up as roomates after all those years. So it is strange and I struggle with feeling a little resentful (maybe that is too strong of word?) that I am forced to visit him if I want to be able to visit my mom even though he has made almost no effort to get to know me in any way. Then I go the other way and struggle with feeling like “hey I am an adult, I shouldn’t feel this way” As if just because we are adults we are not allowed to feel these things.
.-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Embarrassed by a Tomato =-.

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17 Carolyn August 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I know exactly what you mean by the pull of your feelings versus your head. Your heart feeling unloved, unwanted, distrustful and yes, resentful; all while your head is telling you to ‘get over yourself’ and ‘move on already’. I wrote about my struggle with that in a post titled ‘Worthy of my scar’. You might find that one interesting too.

Thanks for stopping in Jennifer! BTW, I love your blog!

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18 Talibah September 6, 2009 at 11:12 am

Great post! Funny thing is, I’m an “adult child of marriage”, but I have some similar themes in my own thinking and life and have had to do some real work to get complete with my relationships with my parents and everything I made them mean about who and how worthy I am. For me, your insights are pretty transcendent and should give us all pause to consider what messages we are sending to our children regardless of our family form.

Thanks!
.-= Talibah´s last blog ..Back to School Checklist for the Single Parent =-.

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19 Robyn September 29, 2009 at 10:36 pm

There are plenty of monkey’s as a kid in stepfamilies also. Like, the stepfather/stepmother likes their kids a whole lot better. Or thats MY mother or MY father. Or that stepfather/stepmother can’t tell me what to do, they aren’t my REAL mother and father. Who should I spend mother’s day with or Father’s day? Is it wrong to like the new mother/father I got over my bio mother and father? Do I dare tell my bio father what my new father bought me for my birthday/christmas etc..The lists goes on and on…

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20 Carolyn September 30, 2009 at 10:14 pm

I hear you Robyn…

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21 Kate October 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm

I am a stepmom and my parents never split… This post makes me want to run home and hug my stepkids and say, “I want you! I want you! I’m not your ‘real’ mom and don’t even have to want you, but I want you because I think you’re so awesome and I love you so much and I choose to want you!”

I read your posts hoping to get a better understanding of what my stepkids are going through, since I never went through it myself, so that I can be the best stepmom I can be to them. And when I read this particular post, I ask myself what can I do to ease any fear they might have of being unwanted.

I feel like even though I want to do everything and “make it all better” for them, there are ultimately limits to what I can do – and, maybe you can shed some light on this and give me your ACOD perspective. I suspect that even if I were give them all the love in the world, it never really makes up for whatever doubts they might have about the love they get from their biological parents. I suspect that all children are hard-wired to want and need the love and attention of their two biological parents and when they don’t get it, or don’t get enough of it, there’s nothing under the sun that can make up for that.

What’s a loving stepmom to do?

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22 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:41 am

Hi Kate. Thank you for taking the time to comment and ask this very poignant question. Unfortunately you are right. No matter what amount of love you give them, they will always need/want/miss what they don’t get from their biological parents. But you can’t control any of that. Biological parents have to own and take responsibility for the quality of relationship they have with their own children. What you can be for your stepchildren is ‘there’. That’s you can do and it will cement your relationship with them.

I’ve found myself and noticed other children of divorced doing a ‘push and pull’ dance of sorts, with our parents. Fueled by the feelings I talk about in this post, I would hold my parents at an arms length and then turn around and suddenly need them closer. If they didn’t respond well when I needed them, it would cause me to hold them even further away. It was like I wanted to show myself that I really didn’t need them, but then suddenly would feel the need to see if they would be there if I did. If they didn’t reciprocate the level of relationship I was demonstrating, their actions would feed the ‘monkey’ and provide me with more ‘evidence’ that they didn’t really want me anyway. I hope I’m explaining myself well enough here.

You may find yourself in that dance with your stepchildren at some point too. And the best advice I can give is that when they are holding you at arms length, don’t take it personally or strain yourself to pull them closer, as this will only make them fight harder to hold you back. Try to understand that what they are doing has very little to do with how they really feel about you; that it’s a battle they are having within themselves and something they need to do for themselves. And when they turn back to you and grab on, try to embrace them right back, while not to show them the feeling you may justifiably be having of ‘oh, now you need me?’

The more you are there for them, the less they will feel the need to test the relationship. This has been my experience, anyway. All the best in your steparenting journey, Kate.

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23 Jill November 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

I want my stepkids, too. I always have. I chose them — I wanted them from day one and I want them now. I adore them and love having them in my life. They make it so much fuller. With one of them, I am not sure if he wants me — or has ever wanted me. That’s painful.

I guess the idea that my stepkids might not feel wanted is so painful — I don’t know if they feel wanted by their mom and dad, although I KNOW their mom and dad wanted them and still want them, very much. The chasm between what we feel as parents and stepparents and what the kids/stepkids might feel is daunting. As a stepmom, sometimes I feel powerless. But I love the kids. Even when I’m frustrated and pissed off and hurt. I love them, love them, love them and want to be a positive presence in their lives.
.-= Jill´s last blog ..“The opposite of war…” =-.

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24 Carolyn November 3, 2009 at 8:45 pm

“The chasm between what we feel as parents and stepparents and what the kids/stepkids might feel is daunting. ”

So poignant. So true. I have a pretty good feeling that you are a wonderful stepmom, Jill.

And how is it that I didn’t realize you had a blog? I’ll be checking you out. ;)

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25 Meg July 27, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Hmmm. My parents divorced, and I never felt any of that. Maybe because they divorced when I was 18? I brought this up to my husband, whose parents divorced when he was 25, and he’s never felt that way either. I wonder how strong an impact the age of the child at the parents’ divorce has on this sort of thing.

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26 amy October 5, 2012 at 12:29 am

I’m finding this blog years after the fact, and I don’t know if you’ll even see this, but I just wanted to say: Thank you. What makes this particular post even more poignant is the act of you saying it. I’ve been left by various parents four times now, twice as a child and twice as an adult and the thing about abandonment issues is that you never tell people you even have those issues – because that kind of knowledge is a weapon you hand over to them. It’s just one more thing that might be used against you. And if they know how much it hurts when they leave, they might just leave on purpose next time.

So, thank you. It’s an inspiration to see someone else own up to these feelings. I’d say I know how hard it is — but I don’t. I’ve never once admitted to anyone how afraid I am of being left behind again. (Which is probably why the only relationship I’ve been able to sustain has been with my cat…..)

Thank you.

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