“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could,
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”
~ Robert Frost
No one else can pave the road on which I’m meant to walk. And though I’ve always known this to be true, it seems a lesson in need of continual re-learning. Where the idea came from that someone else would make a way for me, I’m not really sure. But it somehow always creeps into my realm of expectation. Or perhaps just desire…
Growing up, I was daily fed the message that I am stupid and incapable of making good decisions and to say that I internalized the message would be an understatement. Despite the stubborn willfulness and fierce need for independence that seems so inherent to my nature, I also spent my entire life in the type of environment where personal will and independent thought were punishable by verbal and emotional death. I can’t tell you how many times a simple question, meant to try and understand the chaotic world around me, was returned with an assault so heavy I would have begged for physical beatings instead. The very thought of self-will was annihilated at a very young age, wholly replaced by fears and insecurities about my capacity, or even right, to make decisions for myself. I learned almost immediately that I had no right to make decisions at all, especially for myself, and that doing so would bring nothing but years of pain and regret. Though it has been six years since cutting cords with that environment, those messages effectively wove their way through every fiber of my being, making life as an adult difficult to say the least.
From many books I’ve read on the subject, my difficulty in decision making is a sad but common side-effect of growing up with narcissistic parents. It’s like an ongoing trauma-response from the emotional and psychological assaults of my youth, infinitely compounded by the power differential inherent in the parent-child relationship as well as the tenderness and vulnerability of the age at which they came. Now I find myself at 30 years old, with all the expectations that come with the age, and completely paralyzed each time I am asked to make a decision. My instinctual reaction is fight-or-flight, knowing that the slightest mis-step will result in a torture I will never survive. Yet I cannot escape, as I am trapped on the other side by a determined need for honesty and truthfulness. So what happens then? Paralysis. Depending on the magnitude of the situation, it may take me days or even months to work through the fear-response enough to make an honest, non-fear-based response or decision, but by that time it usually no longer matters.
What’s more difficult than decisions are the responses I frequently get from people who assume motives behind my actions without even knowing me or speaking to me about it at all. I often get passed off as flaky, uncaring, disinterested, or snobby simply because I’m momentarily incapable of speaking my mind, instantly organizing my millions of thoughts into words, or forming a decision in the moment it is asked of me. I tend to see things in a variety of ways, with multiple meanings and outworkings, and from many different perspectives all at once. When asked a direct question, I usually have to ask a few clarifying questions in return before I can know where to direct my thoughts at all. To even form an opinion requires that I have all the facts and information up front; otherwise, I’m stuck and have nowhere to go. Apparently, some people think I’m supposed to know everything without knowing anything at all. (Talk about frustrating). The truth is, I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve taken a long time to consider all the different options, given I have all the facts. I certainly don’t know how I feel until I think and perhaps walk through multiple variations of the thing, and then think on that even more. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle to have a solid feeling or desire at all. One that isn’t motivated by panic, fear, or trauma anyways.
How anyone assumes they know what I think is entirely beyond me, considering I almost never have enough information to think anything at all. However, I’m learning that many people in my life have disliked this quality. Many lose interest about three words in to an answer I may have, and don’t give a care about what I say once they realize I’m thinking my way through things instead of shouting out an immediate position. It used to hurt me tremendously and make me feel as though there was something inherently wrong with me, but now I’m learning to value the quality. Most people I meet throw their unthoughtful feelings around as indisputable fact; and though I try never to laugh at anyone to their face, that is usually the response I most desire to give. I’ve learned it’s much better just to walk away.
Anyways, I do hope I will live long enough to see the day where I no longer fear decisions and speaking my true thoughts. But until then, I’ll just keep working…and writing…through the internal battles that continual to wage.