Maybe it’s really because i’m the middle child that things happened the way it did. How my brother who is 2 years my senior and being the oldest child, was so needy for most parts of our growing years. How my sister who is 2 years my junior, was the baby of the family. How i then became more mature and independent because of such circumstances. Who knew it would have such lasting after effects of what seemed only natural then?
What makes me able to maintain a parent-child relationship with my parents rather amicably, is only the fact that they tended to me when i fell ill as a child. I’d liked to attribute that to their fear of losing me, after what happened when i was still 6 months old. But remembering how my mum piggy-backed me by foot and through public transport to our family doctor when the arthritis rendered my left leg almost useless on a particularly bad flare day, being not more than 6 years old but still a tad heavy for my mum considering she is quite petite… And remembering my dad bringing me to the doctor when i ran temperatures as high as 41, very flustered yet having to ease his nerves at the same time… I take heart in that. Because then there weren’t anymore after i was about 14 or 15. And the only thing that maintained their connection-their sense of care, concern and affection to me, was gone just like that.
I felt the impact very much because i didn’t fall physically ill anymore since i was 15. Even when my RA exacerbated a great deal, from affecting a number of joints to nearly every synovial joint in my body, it didn’t seem to shake them at all. I don’t know if their lack of response was due to their frustration built over the years of being unable to find what was ailing me and my joints, or if they just didn’t care or understand that it distressed me a lot. Even when i was diagnosed, those hurtful remarks that were made intentionally or not, spoke volumes of their indifference and lack of empathy for what i was going through.
It’s like i was unimportant. Both my siblings were very dependent on others when we were growing up, and i didn’t have a choice. Who would i depend on? We only have a dad and a mum, and there was no one for me. Not before i turned 10. Not before i turned 20. And as if it wasn’t bad enough, i had a role to play, at least as a sister, especially to my sister. My parents and teachers who i’ve had liked to describe me as mature and independent. But i didn’t want to be that. Not when i was still wetting my bed. Not when i longed so much to feel as important and cared for, as my siblings.
I didn’t quite realise how much the middle-child syndrome affected me, till as of late. Turning 21 this year was of great significance to me- it was a symbol of true independence and empowerment. It meant having to be totally independent because i am now a responsible adult, as opposed to being independent and mature because there was no other way, and wanting to be in total control in all other aspects because my parents still had a grip over me. The contrast was stark, and like through the looking glass, i saw how much i changed in that instant when i turned 21.
Being 21, having total independence and a very valid reason for my parents to not care anymore, i regressed. I wanted to be a child again, to experience and feel what i was unable to yield from them as a child- dependency, the attention, the care and concern, the affection, and i guess the guidance so that i could grow up to become someone who will be socially accepted. In my unconscious mind, i suddenly wanted the things that i abhorred so much, and i’m slowly letting go of the things which i clung onto so tightly. In another way, i desired so badly, to be the sister who was cared for rather than the one who had to care. I was again, seeking what could’ve been given to me as i have given to them. And to them, i must’ve seemed like a little child, wanting things from them that i have never asked for. A hug, a favour, understanding on their part maybe.
It then dawned upon, that the way i grew up and developed in my thoughts, in my words and in my actions, was a very strong reaction and not merely a coping mechanism in the family structure. I remember how i wanted to appear independent (at the age of 8 or 9 i think?) although i was with my dad and brother in a public bus going to school. I wanted to appear independent, that i didn’t need my dad, and that my brother was more needy of my dad’s company. I find that really sad actually, how in such unconscious behaviour, there was so much spite, and the desire to be seen as strong, as opposed to being seen as a weakling. How would i have known at such age, that as children we have needs that are usually met by our parents? That nobody was gonna judge a 8-9 year old kid as a weakling?
I find it kinda funny. But then again, i don’t study in detail such dynamics of social structure. I don’t think i can fully comprehend all of this.
As the days passed though, seemingly regressing into a child-like state and letting go of control which i’ve had for most parts of my life, i find it immensely difficult feeling so needy and reliant on anyone other than myself. That feeling feels so strange and foreign, perhaps even fear-invoking, not being in control and knowing that there is a possibility of disappointment, embarrassment and/or failure. I felt like i was being treated like a child although i am already an adult, and being disrespected/disregarded many a time. I found it very ironical because what i thought i would get best from regressing, was not what that was given to me. Maybe because it was all done the wrong way. Feelings of shame and disgust started to emerge. With my siblings, i felt utterly disappointed, angry even, because i would never have thought that they couldn’t give me what i wanted, that they didn’t know how to do so although it’s been given to them from myself for such a long time. As such, i grew very resentful of such regression. I went back to what i knew best and have done for a long time, and even though i thoroughly resented going back into a child-like state, i still quietly yearn for what i felt should have been given to me when growing up.
And now, i guess i’m back to where i started off with, still attempting to shake off the lingering effects of being needy and reliant. We siblings are rather grown up, my brother being 23 and a working adult, my sister being 19 and very much attached. Of course there’ve been changes in family dynamics and relationships. But what is ingrained in our personality (more hereditary and inherent), and what is ingrained into our character (happens through learning and moulding)doesn’t change much. My brother still tends to be very reliant on others (especially so with my parents), instead of being self-sufficient now that he is working full-time. My sister can still be very dependent, being spoilt by first our parents and myself, and now her boyfriend.
In those aspects, i’ve changed little too. Am i still like what i’ve been when i was much younger? Maybe. Am i still like what i’ve been for the last 5 years? Definitely yes. I’m still trying to accept the conflict between my needs and my wants and how i cannot have the best of both worlds and can only do what is within my means and control. At the same time, i am too, trying to learn how to let go a little and be ok having lesser control, acknowledging the fact that sometimes it is ok to be needy and reliant.
Just a few days ago, i spoke with my shrink about the feelings of perceived abandonment, neglect and unimportance growing up. It felt to me that it was a further affirmation being given attention (basically giving a damn about me) only when i was finally ill enough despite the achievements i’ve accomplished to date. He told me what seemed more likely- that there was a need to help whoever who was weaker, that it wasn’t because that they didn’t care. That i was self-sufficient, so they had to give a little more attention to the both of them who needed to be constantly knudged forward and encouraged. That it wasn’t because they didn’t care- they just didn’t know how to express it to me in ways which i could comprehend and appreciate. He gave me some examples, and then i realised that that might have been the case. On hindsight then, i think i can accept it and perhaps rest my case.
Wounds do heal, and scars do fade with time. When there’s nothing else that i can do to make it better on either side without aggravating the other, i guess i just have to give it time. Of course the scars are there to remind me of what i did not get, but looking at the other side of it, it reminds me too, that it is with such circumstances that have made me better and stronger person than i should have been.