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What happens when all you have ever wanted in life turns out to be someone else’s joke?
For me it has meant turning around and moving on with my plans. While that sounds pretty simple, easy and straight forward it generally feels anything but.
Sadly, I think we all have someone in our lives that is a pessimist, perhaps it is also someone who gaslights1 to some extent. For me this was the case. I had a family member who always knocked (gaslighting) what I had to say and what I wanted to do from ballet (that’s for wusses) to the migraines I had (that’s just something made up in your head).
This person would tell you he was trying to challenge me because what I wanted to do/be just wasn’t right for me and that I needed to think harder and be better. I grew up believing a lot of what was said, including that I was never good enough. Having a huge amount of self-doubt, I am sure meant I came off as a bleeding fish in a tank of piranha. I appeared weak to others whether I was truly weak or not because I believed I was less than.
Even though I believed I was insignificant, I still tried as hard as I could to live with the gusto I felt in my heart. I didn’t give up ballet. Being reminded that I danced before I could walk fueled the fire in my heart that I knew dance was meant to be a part of my life. Even when I got a bit chunky as a pre-teen (thank you baby fat taking forever to go away) I still persisted because I felt that dance was how I was meant to express myself. What ended up smashing my dream of being a ballet dance wasn’t my ever-increasing ample bosom, no it was a freak accident and a broken ankle. Multiple doctors told me I would need pins/rods and dancing (full-stop) was out of the question.
My third “opinion” was my family doctor and we went with what he said. No pins or rods but rest and yeah ballet was out of the question but dance wasn’t. My family doctor told me that I would never wear toe shoes as a professional because all that pressure and hard work that was needed, and he knew I could do, would cripple me. Instead he encouraged me to try other forms of dance and see if something else sparked (ignited) the fire within me the way ballet did. In High school I tried modern dance and loved it. Not enough to pursue it as a career but enough to continue my life-long love of dance and realize that even if I didn’t become a professional dancer, dance was still in my soul and nothing would stop that.
I wish I could tell you that this story of gaslighting and being someone’s joke was a one off. That this family member learned the errors of his ways or was not a part of my daily life growing up but that wasn’t what happened. The gaslighting continued and didn’t really stop, not even now as an adult. I have heard things like “I told you that you couldn’t do that”2 when what was said was that this person could never do what I do; and worse “If I had that condition, I would just kill myself” knowing that I battle with a hidden disease that could steer me towards the condition we were talking about. No, the gaslighting has not stopped and in some cases has just gotten worse as the years have gone on. This person still treats me as if I have no value or worth in the world.
Growing up, what helped was having supportive parents who tried to remind me I had worth no matter what others said. While I have better control over what I listen to and how it impacts me, the gaslighting and toxicity still exists. As an adult, distance has been the best way to combat the hold and influence this person has over me. Having a good support network helps too. Even when self-doubt rears its ugly head, I know I can turn to friends and other family members that will be honest with me about my fears.
My life may be a joke to this family member, or to a million strangers, but that doesn’t mean I should just stop what I always wanted or even dreamed of doing. While we should always evaluate what we want to pursue (such as a pros and cons list), how others see us and value (or devalue) us should not be part of that consideration. We all have worth, something we are good at, and just because someone else doesn’t see that worth does not take it away or make it non-existent.
While the formula of “what makes us successful” has been defined by hard work (or capabilities) + luck, I personally have always thought we define our own success. If what makes me successful is having a happy life then it doesn’t matter if I am not rich, have no powerhouse job, no mansion… because I am defining my own success. Success to me is having a roof over my head, food in fridge (that I like) and people I love and care about in my life.
What do I do when someone makes a joke of what makes me happy?
1.In another recent post I talk about my childhood trauma and gaslighting fits in to that trauma.
2. This specific conversation referred to here was about fostering.
Fostering is something I always wanted to do since I was a child. As a teenager wondering about life and love, I wasn’t sure I would find a life partner that would share this dream but I was lucky. Rent-a-Dad may not have grown up with the thought of fostering but my passion inspired him and became a dream he wanted to share with me.
When the potential to foster was mentioned to our family members we received mixed reviews but mostly encouragement to see where it led us. The family member involved in this conversation fit into the skeptical but encouraging box (or so I thought) but that is not what happened. This family member was waiting until Rent-a-Dad and I failed so he could point out just what an awful idea we had.
The interesting thing is I don’t think foster parents “quit” or “stop” because they failed. I think foster parents get burned out, need breaks, and don’t always know how to cope because support systems just don’t know how to handle the trauma foster parents go through.
In our situation this family member told us we failed because we were still involved in the lives of three former foster children. The system has seen this as a success not a failure. We see this as a success because these children get the best of all worlds and haven’t had to say goodbye to anyone that has an impact on their lives.
Another point that was made was that our grieving over the reunification of the children we have fostered for any length of time just is not normal. Therefore, once again we are failures as foster parents.
There is no one way to foster. Grieving is a part of the process. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. The key here is to remember those who wish us to fail will find fault with anything. Gaslighters can pick the smallest of details and try to get you to focus on that one small narrow view. This way they can get a toe hold on changing your view to how they want you to see things.