Families can be crazy sometimes, no two are alike and there’s no such thing as the perfect one. When you think back to when you were a child you probably had a lot of experiences that just may not have felt right or in line with what you saw on television. Things didn’t look like they did on The Fresh Prince of Bellaire or Full House. There wasn’t a big home to live in, elaborate family meals that were consumed at the dinner table together, or vacations. There wasn’t a sit down when you did wrong with your parent with soft music playing in the background as your parent discussed with you why what you did was wrong and how much they care about your safety.
“The experiences that you had growing up impacted the way that you would interact with the world as you entered adulthood.”
Your life was pretty different from television and the lives that people at your school talked about living. You may have been cramped into a small apartment or home sharing a room with one or all of your siblings. Your parent may have worked long nights trying to make ends meet as you stayed at home alone. You spent summers mostly at grandma’s house playing in the ditch, being yelled at about air conditioning the neighborhood and drinking out of the water hose because there was no going in and out of the house. During the school year, you would hop on the Metro with your siblings to get to and from school every day, eating free or reduced lunch, and hoping that no one would notice your off brand clothing. In the home, you watched as one sibling was constantly getting in trouble, being yelled at for fighting in school and not doing their part in the home. You laughed at your other sibling as they clowned around all the time but made mom have to miss work because they just couldn’t sit down and behave in school. When you weren’t with grandma your older sibling was often put in charge, having to care for all of y’all but not really knowing what she was doing. You stuck to yourself, observing the chaos of the home and trying to stay out of the way.
Eventually, you grew up and were able to separate yourself from the dynamics of the family. However, the experiences that you had growing up impacted the way that you would interact with the world as you entered adulthood. The same behaviors you had that helped you to survive in your household carried over to adulthood and now instead of living the life that you saw in your favorite shows growing up you are living with anxiety, struggling to engage with the world around you.
“You feel invisible.”
However, you don’t have to continue struggling with the effects of your childhood environment. So many others have been able to effectively deal with the dysfunction that they grew up with. But in order to do that you have to first understand how the family in which you were raised shaped the way that you respond to the world. This blog is the first in a 4 part series exploring how family roles impact your anxiety and what you can do about it.
You feel invisible. You have gone through your whole life teaching yourself to be productive without having to rely on others. You are able to provide for yourself and meet your basic needs but you lack the connections that you desperately desire to have. You go through your life trying to draw as little attention to yourself as possible, not wanting to be seen as a problem or someone that needs to be cared for by others.
Outside of the home, you work in a job that allows you to hide from others, minimizing the interactions you have to have on a daily basis. You eat alone at lunch and your coworkers rarely talk to you seeing you as distant and hard to approach. You want to make those connections, go to lunch and happy hour with coworkers, but you can’t seem to connect. You do well and excel in your job, maybe moving up the ladder, but getting stuck when the next position up requires you to interact more with others. You retreat to your office, doing your work and heading home rarely even being noticed. You often wonder if something were to happen to you if anyone would even notice that you were gone.
Intimate relationships have been hard for you. You have had failed relationship after failed relationship wanting to connect to someone, but you struggle to express your emotions in a way that can be understood by others. Your partner, before leaving, will often tell you that they didn’t feel loved or that you just weren’t emotionally available to them. You show love by giving gifts or praise, the same way that you mom did to you as a child. However, this is not enough to hold onto a relationship, the family that you always dreamed of having is starting to feel like it’s not a possibility for you making you feel sad and alone. Your fear of another failed relationship stops you from even acknowledging those that may try to pursue an intimate relationship with you. You build up a wall around you to protect yourself but in reality you really want someone to be on that side of the wall with you.
You may have one close friend that understands you but most people feel unsupported in a friendship with you. You struggle to engage, make plans, or be the shoulder to cry on failing to understand why they are always emotional since it never has paid off for you. Instead of going out on the weekend for dinner with friends or a round of drinks in Midtown, you sit at home feeling lonely and unfulfilled. You don’t want to isolate, you’d prefer to be out connecting with others but something inside you just won’t let that happen. Your anxiety begins to increase around social situations as you worry about if others will accept you.
Living this way can lead to increased anxiety and depression, continued isolation to the point of not wanting to leave your home, or thoughts of self harm just to relieve the negativity that you are experiencing. When you decide to face the dysfunction of your childhood, you can begin to heal the way that our family role has played out in your adult life.
So What is “The Lost Child”
Every family has that one child that seems to go unnoticed; the one that flies under the radar never really disturbing the peace of the family. They may not be the best student but their grades are good enough not to call attention to themselves. The same is true about their behavior; they do what they are supposed to do the majority of the time not giving anyone any reason to put the spot light on them.
They become invisible as a way of reducing the strain on the family. This child when recognized is often rewarded for their positive behaviors, fulfilling material needs but failing to get the affection that they desire. They tend to do things for themselves learning to be very self sufficient at an early age. Yet at the same time, this child can have difficulty with developing socially, sticking to themselves as they failed to develop proper social interaction skills within the family.
“As a child you found it effective to put your head down, focus on what you were doing, and stay out of the way.”
The Lost Child often has a difficult time expressing emotions, in their family system they learned that being vocal about their experiences was something that did not pay off. Due to the social awkwardness and the unwillingness to express emotions, the lost child often has few to no friends, leaving them isolated from the world. When you think of out of sight out of mind, this is the child that you envision.
So What Now?
So you may be asking yourself, what now? You understand what the role of the lost child and have identified yourself as a lost child. You see the way your family dysfunction shaped your adult relationships and have decided that you want to make some significant changes to be able to reclaim your life. Having someone that understands family systems and how to fight against them is important to your overall chances of living the life that you want. So keep reading as I walk you through a few tips on how to stop your family role from boosting your anxiety so you can transition into a new life.
Building a Work Life
As a child you found it effective to put your head down, focus on what you were doing, and stay out of the way. This helped to reduce the strain on the family by providing your mom with one less child to worry about. It worked for you to focus on yourself and remain silent making you think if it’s not broke don’t fix it.
However, as you entered the adult world and began working in you ideal field, you quickly realized how the work environment can be, this created anxiety for you as you don’t normally function that way. You saw how happy others were interacting in the morning about their weekend or making arrangements for lunch. But for you engaging with them went against everything that you have known to be effective in your daily life, the thought of having to socialize was anxiety provoking. You put your head down and push forward, not causing a scene or drawing attention to yourself.
Changing this mindset is the first step that you will need to take to be able to change your satisfaction with your work life. In order to stop behaving in the way that you have been, isolating yourself and burying yourself in your work, you have to break down your beliefs about the role you think you should continue playing.
Look back onto your childhood. Why did you feel the need to silence yourself when everyone else in the family was so vocal? What was it about you that made you want to be this perfect person, not disrupting the family? Once you are able to understand your why’s you can move to preparing to make changes.
“No one had time to listen to you so you just learned to disappear.”
In the preparation phase, you should begin by making a list of how you want your work life to look like. Close your eyes and imagine that you are walking into work on a Monday morning, what do you do? Do you go straight to your desk and check your emails or do you head to the break room to grab a cup of coffee and make small talk with your coworkers? Continue to go through your day identifying the changes that you want to make. This list will become your road map for the action phase.
Making changes in your life is difficult to do so you’re not going to tackle your list all at once. The pressure to change so rapidly will increase your anxiety and make you bail on what you are trying to accomplish. In the action phase, you want to take the first item on your list and begin working on that, even if it’s as simple as just grabbing coffee from the break room at work instead at Starbucks in the morning. You don’t have to talk to anyone at first but the change in your routine is likely to be noticed by others. As you master one change continue to work on completing the task on your list.
Establishing Meaningful Relationships
In terms of improving your intimate relationships the process is slightly different than how you approach things at work. Relationships are more intimate and you have to be able to understand your emotions and relay your feelings to others in an effective manner.
As a child, no one had time to listen to your feelings. Mom was constantly busy with work or keeping your siblings from being kicked out of school. No one had time to listen to you so you just learned to disappear. In order to begin the process of being able to connect with someone else you first have to connect with yourself. Not having the connections with family as a child may have left you feeling rejected and unworthy. Taking time to explore your intimate feelings, how you show love and how you want others to show you that they love you need to be explored.
When you have an understanding of your needs you can begin knocking down that wall and preparing yourself for being in a relationship again. Once you find someone that is suitable you have to take the time to discuss with them what they need from you and also to convey what you need from them emotionally so that you both have an understanding of the emotional needs.
Initially, you may need to track if you are showing emotion or not because you are still programmed to think like the child version of yourself. You have to get comfortable with being vulnerable and also expressing yourself regardless of what your past home environment has taught you. Building intimate relationships, when you were previously emotionally unavailable will take time, so be patient.
Building Your Tribe
Once you have managed to improve your work life and build a relationship for yourself, being able to build your tribe will be easy as you have already broken down the walls built by your childhood. Yet, if you decide to start with building a tribe you will start as you did with the work life, changing your mindset.
By not interacting much as you grew up, trying to remain invisible, you never fully developed your social interaction skills, making things such as simple conversations awkward for you. But the good thing is that there are tons of socially awkward people in the world looking for people just like you. Not everyone will require you to be emotionally open, but there will come a time in which they will need a shoulder to lean on and knowing how to be emotionally available is important.
First, you will need to go back into your childhood, as you did before, and explore the whys? Why do I keep to myself? Why do I not have friends? How would had having friends growing up impacted the environment in my home? We tend to get stuck carrying over behaviors from one environment to another and you did this with friendships. In the home setting it benefited you to be invisible but you really didn’t need to be invisible outside of the home.
Once you understand your whys, you’ll need to identify the character traits that you like in a person. Think about the friend that you do have or have had in the past, what were they like? What would you change or keep about their personality? Having an understanding of what you are looking for will help you to identify where you tribe hangs out.
Action is next, getting out of the house and finding your people. You have to put yourself in a position to make new connections with people. You have to become comfortable with who you are and find your voice so those that are your ideal friends will be able to find you.
How can Therapy Help?
You’re probably looking at those tips and thinking that sound easy enough but if it really were that easy I wouldn’t be in the situation that I am in right now, right? It’s easy to say change your mindset, break down your emotional boundaries and put yourself out there, but the reality is it’s really difficult to actually apply when you have so many engrained thoughts.
Therapy is your answer. What I do at Live Now Counseling is help you to actually change your mindset but challenging the irrational thoughts that you have in a process known as cognitive behavioral therapy. I help you with being able to identify when you are being ridiculous and show you with examples from your own life why modifying a certain thought or behavior works in your life.
At Live Now Counseling, I help you with being able to set task for yourself and work through them at a pace that works for you. Being able to understand your needs and how they play into the needs of others can be done in the therapeutic setting, helping you to build better and stronger connections to others.
Through exposure therapy, I can walk you through social situations, finding your tribe and being comfortable putting yourself out there. I can literally be in your ear as you face different social situations on the search for your tribe through my use of video conferencing and text messaging as a way of delivering services.
You can’t change our past but you can change how it affects you in your daily lives. You can be comfortable at work engaging with others, moving up the ladder, and enjoying happy hour. You can have a thriving intimate relationship with someone, learning to love and be loved. You can have friends to go on girls trips with or to grab dinner with after a rough week. But you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone get a little uncomfortable in a safe environment and deal with all the crap that’s holding you back. If you are ready to say good bye to the lost child and live the life you have always envisioned for yourself click here to schedule your free consultation.