This post was recently published on my website www.changeisalwayspossible.com
Telling the Truth
It has taken me decades to talk about this stuff openly and honestly. To be able to tell my truth without hanging my head in shame. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly there is the blanket of denial I grew up under and secondly there is what what went on underneath that cover.
My Dad was proud of his working class background and never stopped telling us how fortunate we were. Despite that I was most definitely brought up in a well-off middle class family.
My family lived in one of the biggest houses in our village. We owned a yacht, had two cars and my Dad built up his own business from scratch. He ended up employing over one hundred people and working on some prestigious projects.
The Herd of Elephants
On the surface it all looked good; we were well dressed, had food in our bellies and went on holiday every year. We had our own bedrooms, a separate playroom and a huge garden to roam around in. We had extended family around, formed good friendships and performed well at school.
Life could have been so good.
If only it hadn’t been for the herd of elephants in the living room. No one spoke about the giants we lived with but we all knew they were there. Hidden beneath this facade of loveliness lurked some giants, recently they have been called ACE’s ( Adverse Childhood Experiences). For a long time I just collectively termed them “my dysfunctional alcoholic upbringing.”
Those sort of things
Part of the mind bending middle class denial was the belief that “those sort of things” happen to “those sort of people”. You know……. who live over there….. in council estates, without much money; the poor deprived people.
I am squirming as I write that, it sound so snobby, but that was our family belief. Even if that stuff goes on HERE, it’s somehow not so bad as over THERE. It’s really awful for them. In other words having money lessens the impact and somehow I was not supposed to feel bad, unhappy or hard done to.
I guess though, it all depends on what you term deprivation and poverty.
It’s all too easy to retain a narrow definition of those terms, one that keeps the focus on those with low incomes. Those who live in certain places, where jobs are few and opportunities scarce. We can conveniently pile many of societies ills at their door, scapegoat them and blame them. We hive them off as the font of all ills and mostly forget them.
However, what of all those who like me were brought up with the cushion of cash?
Who, whilst protected from monetary poverty, definitely experienced lack. Deprivation takes many forms and the loss of feeling loved, protected and safe can be devastating. Many people in our society regardless of financial status have felt this. It hurts, it emotional cripples and it mentally maimes.
Nice middle class family
To uphold the belief that when horrible things happen to you, they are somehow mitigated by being part of a “nice middle class family”, can lead to some pretty mind bending self-doubt and denial.
Living under this lie lead me to beat myself up for feeling bad. I berated myself for being messed up, and felt unjustified in my crazy feelings. Often not able to cope, I equally felt unable to tell anyone because I had such a “nice” life; what right did I have to feel like this?
I ended up feeling like there was something wrong with me, a defect of some sort. I felt like I was essentially flawed in some way. It took a long time for me to understand the truth. It wasn’t me, it was never me, it’s what happened to me that was wrong.
It’s not you, it was never you, it’s what happened to you that was wrong.
The damage of denial
That “nice life” cover story adds another layer of damage, which I for one, have struggled for years to get out from under. I had to deal with the very real damage done by ACE’s but also with the damage done by the denial that told me it wasn’t that bad and things like that don’t happen here.
Our society seems to suffer from such collective denial too. It’s very convenient to keep the issues and problems over there then we never have to face our own. We can gaily act them out using said money and somehow it becomes more acceptable. Mental health issues, abuse, substance addiction and emotional deprivation are clothed in money and magically transformed. They become indiscretions, blips, little issues. They are either swept away out of sight or minimised almost out of existence, so small you couldn’t possibly make a fuss about them, could you!!?
Poor little rich kid, who has sympathy for them?
Well………..I’ve actually had enough of buying into that story, colluding in “money makes everything better”. It didn’t, and it doesn’t.
Collective cover up
Of course it’s terrible if you add poverty IN to the equation, but equally it’s much harder to bear when you take love OUT of the equation.
I grew up in a middle class home where I felt unloved, where alcoholism and mental health issues coloured everything. I witnessed domestic violence and was subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. These issues created massive emotional problems for me and for others in my family.
I say, we can no-longer continue with the collective cover up. It is wrong to lay the ills of our world at the doors of the poor, to scapegoat the underprivileged, blame single Mums, and say they brought it all on themselves. Not only does this enable us to demonise and dehumanise whole sections of our society it also denies the problems these issues can reek when they go untreated elsewhere.
Taking hurt out into the world
We need to recognise that where these issues exist damage is done.
Rich or poor, children like me are suffering, and they will grow up to be adults who suffer. We may unwittingly pass it on to our children and so the vicious generational cycles continue.
We also take our hurt out into the world, to the workplace and other communities we belong to. Here we can create hostile or destructive cultures where we act it all out through the power or authority we hold.
Running our country, heading up our institutions, deciding the course of our education systems, heath services and military actions there are such people. They are plagued by mental, emotional and physical ill health wrought in the bowels of their childhoods. Their lives are driven by fears and debilitating beliefs formed in abuse and clothed in denial. Their decisions and actions are driven by poor self-worth, lack of trust, fear and anger.
Shining a light on this is essential if we want to heal not only ourselves but our whole community, society and world.
Getting out from under it
Being well-off, having a seemingly “nice”, or even privileged life does not mean you don’t need help. In fact you may need specialist help to deal with the added layer of denial that tells you. you don’t deserve it, that you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill, that you are not entitled to feel the way you do. Getting out from under that cloud takes courage and determination. It requires us to be vulnerable, and say:
“I know it all looks good on the outside but it doesn’t feel good on the inside.”
We have to face our truth, release the herd of elephants and set ourselves free.
We, as a society, have to stop blaming and shaming and start creating an environment where it is safe for everyone to come out of hiding.
We need a culture which recognises that ACE’s happen everywhere, in all walks of life.
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Mother Teresa
If something in this post resonates with you and you want to start exploring what has happening to you, you can book a free 1/2 hr Change Is Always Possible Consultation with me here