I grew up in a house where I was the third of four. My older sister and I could probably each make strong claims to which of us was more the “middle” child, but if she wants to stake her claim, she can write her own damn post! In my mind, I bear all of the classic middle child traits: independent, agreeable, used to disappointment, used to being overlooked, feeling misunderstood. The middle child’s life is one of not getting to do the stuff the older kids get to do and not being able to get away with stuff the younger kid does. It’s a no win. Most middle children adapt to this by keeping their heads down, developing a strong interior life and/or finding a unique niche away from their siblings. That’s me in a nutshell. I spent much of my childhood, lost in imagination. I spent hours pretending to Luke Skywalker or Optimus Prime (or my favorite, Derrick Weston saving the world with the help of Luke Skywalker and Optimus Prime). I read a lot. I was into animals and dinosaurs, so I read very little fiction, but I read a lot of science and nature books. I got up early on Saturday mornings, poured some cereal, and parked myself in front of the TV until someone interrupted me. I walked myself to and from school in elementary school. I was pretty self-reliant.
Part of being an independent and kind of eccentric kid means figuring out how to meet your own needs to the best of your abilities. If someone older wasn’t in the vicinity, I found my own snacks. I picked out my own clothes. I rarely needed to be told to take a bath or brush my teeth. I sometimes got in trouble for not combing my hair, but that natural, uncombed look is in now. I was just being a trendsetter. I learned to take care of me. I walked places by myself. I knew when to be in the house. I knew what I needed to do to stay under the radar. The reasons were two fold: 1) I didn’t want to be a bother. I remember my parents being incredibly busy people and when they were home they were tired. I didn’t want to be another thing to worry about. 2) in a house where abuse took place, I wanted to not be noticed. You don’t make waves and you don’t get hit. It’s a pretty simple survival technique.
One of the things that therapy reveals is that childhood survival techniques tend to outlive their usefulness, that or they morph in some unhealthy ways. For me, this meant never being comfortable with needing things. In those moments where I have needs, I feel weak and burdensome. I feel like I’m inconveniencing everyone around me. I feel like I’ve become more trouble than I’m worth. So in times when I do have needs, I talk myself into believing that my needs aren’t legitimate or that I’m just whining. And when I do finally assert that I have needs, I do so by lashing out, usually in passive aggressive ways but sometimes in ways that are just plain aggressive. This is a real weakness of mine.
Part of the growth that has happened for me in the last couple of years is recognizing that I am allowed to have needs. Having needs doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me a burden. It doesn’t diminish my worth.
(By the way, I don’t fully believe that last paragraph, but I’m working on it. I wrote about this same thing in February and, while I’ve made some progress, I feel I still have much to do.)
This is part of the work of self love, recognizing that having needs doesn’t diminish my worth. The irony is that I fully expect other people to have needs and I consider it the loving thing to meet those needs. I wouldn’t look at a hungry person as having less worth because they need food. I wouldn’t look at a lonely person as having less value because they need to talk. I wouldn’t look at a sad friend as a burden for needing a hug. I do all of those things to me.
My kids aren’t shy about expressing their needs. I suppress a “yeah… and” every time one of them tells me that they are hungry. I do that because at their ages, I had figured that my hunger was my responsibility. And while I do hope to develop a sense of self sufficiency in my babies, I love that they know they can come to me and that I will care about their needs. They know instinctively that they and their needs are important to me and that even when I think they’re a bit of a burden, I delight in knowing that their needs are met. They know that they have worth to me.
My goal for myself is to continue to develop a sense of my own self worth. With that growth, I hope, develops a sense that it is okay for me to express my needs and to work in healthy ways towards those needs being met. So, I continue to remind myself: I am allowed to have needs, I am not a burden, I have worth.
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