Recently a client came in and recounted the following story:
She had been in a hurry running errands, and pulled into the only parking space near the store. She did not see that there was another person waiting for this same spot. The woman who was waiting got out of her car and yelled at my client, calling her a bitch. My client, instead of feeling healthy anger, had taken on this women’s opinion of her and was now crying on my couch wondering if that woman had been right- was she really a bitch?
This client had a strong wounding in the area of individuation in her family of origin. Individuation is the process by which people learn that they are a separate, sovereign being in their own right.
Ideally, this process starts to happen in childhood when the child feels safe- safe to explore life apart from their parents, to say no, to have differences of opinions, thoughts and preferences. When the child expresses their own separateness, in a healthy family, the parent honors this point of separation, and welcomes the chance to know their child better.
if this occurs, the child learns, ” Hey! I am my own person. I’m not the same as mom and dad and that’s ok. I am still loved, wanted and welcomed if I deviate from them in big and small ways”
This dis not happen in my client’s case. Anytime that she vocalized a difference from her mother, her mother would tell her how much she had hurt her feelings, and bemoan how her daughter could think that way. And her mother would punish her with the silent treatment until my client ” came around”
When individuation is not supported, children never develop a sense of their own identity. They become, like my client, an extension of their parent, and take on the beliefs, opinions, and perceptions of mom and dad as Gospel law. There is no space to question, disagree, or access their own inner wisdom.
AS adults, these same people ( can) take the opinions of others as gospel as well, like my client did when the woman called her a bitch. My client immediately assumed that this stranger, who had no knowledge of her whatsoever, must know her better than she knows herself. My client is not the authority on her own life; rather some unhinged woman in the Target parking lot is.
I asked my client if there was any validity at all to what the woman said. Was it true that she was a bitch? Would her friends think she was a bitch? After reminding my client of her trauma around never being allowed to have ownership of herself, she came to the conclusion that this lady’s assessment of her was indeed incorrect.
If you see yourself here, a good starting point is to pay attention to what people tell you about yourself and ask yourself if there’s any merit to it. If you’re not sure, you can ask a friend if they see you that way. If they say no, believe them. I’m all for looking at our side of the street, but there is also a time to say ” That is is not true of me. That is not how I experience myself and this is actually more revealing about this other person than me”
It’s ok not to buy into what other people think of you. You are allowed to be the authority in your own life.