Growing up as the eldest child in a dysfunctional Brady Bunch clan, I was expected to be available when called upon--a sort of Johnny-On-the-Spot.
"Doobie!" The King of the Mountain bellowed. "Front and center!"
I dropped whatever I was doing like a hot potato, and hurried to obey his summons.
"Change the channel," he commanded from his reign on the living room couch. Or, "Pour me another glass of iced tea."
The demanded action was something he could easily have done himself, had he been so inclined. My time, though, as well as my energies, belonged to him. I was always on the clock; there was no time card to punch to record or validate the end of another work day. Even sleep didn't absolve me from my duties. I received another kind of summons in the middle of many nights, unspoken, awakening me in a state of terrified confusion.
Recently I've pondered what it is that compels me to be all things to all people. In the process of making myself accessible at all hours (regardless of my health issues) I'm like the organ grinder's monkey in my ridiculous hat, scrabbling into the role expected of me at a moment's notice.
At the slightest articulation of a want or need, I'm off and running: mending a torn stuffed doggie, searching for a lost shoe, throwing a load in the washer for the morrow. No one has to ask me outright to do these things; I'm programmed so deeply to respond to the needs of others that I spring into action in response to the mere inkling of a need.
I've begun to feel resentful, and no wonder. My first conclusion upon realizing how much I'm depended upon was that my family consists of incredibly selfish individuals. But I know better than to accept conclusions arrived at off the top of my head, especially when I'm emotionally distraught or flustered. Certainly no one bellows, "Front and center!" Far from being too lazy to do things for themselves, my sons do plenty for themselves and their clans, as well as for me.
Do I need help with a computer issue? I've several sons with the know how and willingness needed to get to the root of the problem. Car trouble? Just weeks ago my mechanic son fixed the car Sissyface gave me, which had suddenly refused to run. Yesterday he fixed the driver side window which was stuck halfway closed. Another son contributed nearly $200 to getting my car registered and legal.
I don't necessarily have to ask for these types of help. If they know of the need they are more than willing to apply their knowledge and skills (or money) to whatever monkey-wrench I'm currently dealing with. Why the resentment then when I feel depended upon?
I'm beginning to see that I'm not so much resenting being needed, so much as I resent the attendant feelings invoked by the needs of others. The sudden pressure to do something to help fills me with anxiety, the same anxiety I experienced everytime I received a summons from my abuser. I never knew what he wanted, what it would cost me to give him what he wanted. A glass of iced tea was nothing, just a mild irritant because it interrupted my alone or play time. When the summons involved something more sinister my heart dropped to my feet, and I blanked out. Just blanked out. Sometimes when a need in my family arises I begin to blank out, to freeze. Something is being required of me (or so it seems) which I don't know if I'll be able to give or accomplish. The freeze is short lived, for these are my loved ones I'm dealing with, not a sicko, sadistic stepdad. Once I come out of the freeze is when I scurry into frenzied action.
Now that I think about it, when I'm the one with a need my sons don't necessarily drop everything to accommodate me, unless it's an emergency. I may have to wait until one of them has some free time, after following up on a promised activity with one of my grandkids, for instance. Though willing to help, they don't disrupt their lives in a groveling need to please. I'm the one who does that. I'm the one who will drop just about anything on a moment's notice in a desperate need to please. But . . . my need to please is at war with my resentment at needing to please. It's like can't I ever just be? Must I prove myself over and over? Oh, but no one is really asking me to prove anything; that's the baggage I've packed and brought with me from my childhood sojourn.
My willingness to make myself available never got me anywhere with my abuser. He never stopped raping me because I was so helpful. He never cut out the sarcasm and mockings at my expense because I consistently responded immediately when summoned.
I begin to see that my so-called obedience was really nothing more than a learned outward compliance. Inwardly I fumed, and felt rebellious and greatly exasperated at never having a moment to call my own.
My issue, then. This is my issue, which I need to own and find a way to work through.
Lately I've begun noticing this outward compliance of mine, learned by rote during the wilderness of my childhood. I learned it out of necessity, just one more survival technique among many others. It served me well then, for any disobedience on my part would have had dire consequences. That easy compliance isn't serving me so well now.
I see myself, then, overly compliant, like an eager puppy dog. I cringe a little thinking how it would pain me if one of my grandkids were so well-trained to instant canine-like obedience that they lacked the ability to do otherwise. It's been said that one's "yes" is meaningless unless one first has learned to say a sincere "no."
Often it's only in imagining what it would be like to see one of my grandkids having to act as I did as a child that I am able to rightly perceive my muddled thinking.
The thing is, at least I can see now my tendency to be on automatic pilot; can see, and recognize, my deeply entrenched automatic responses to the needs of others for what they are. I'm learning through this discovery process to not be so quick to offer my services.
"Aren't you cold?" I might once have asked a son or grandchild in short sleeves, as the temperature dive bombed. Now I remind myself they are perfectly capable of figuring out if they need warmer clothing. I'm drawing lines, not willy-nilly all over the place, but as needed, and in a reasonable manner.
Am I too tired to cook? No problem. We'll either have a fend-for-yourself night, or someone else can play Betty Crocker.
Here's another thing, a different kind of conclusion at which I've arrived. The world can run just fine without me. The well-being of others is not up to me--echoes of The King of the Mountain's teachings notwithstanding--and it never was.