Character: Development of self

Let me start this post off with thanking and crediting the following blogs for giving me lots of food for thought while I was cogitating about this subject: The Invisible Shadow and how the author painstakingly processes her long and arduous journey, The Howler And Me with her open and honest writing about dealing with the people & situations in her life, Kristin Lamb and her post  about the character flaws of heroes, and Counselor’s Soapbox by David J Miller, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who shares his thoughts and insights in the mental health field.  A special thanks to Waywardweed and her post regarding how mental health issues and those who suffer from them are treated in society.

We are all protagonists in our own stories and likely hope to be the hero or heroine who leaves a legacy that is remembered positively by those whose lives we touched.  It may not be something that is consciously thought of, but it’s pretty evident in how we choose to interact with others, the things we promote and believe in, and in how our emotions get involved when we are perceived differently than how we perceive ourselves.  For those of us who come from backgrounds and childhoods that were conflicted, disrupted, and experienced traumatic and damaging experiences, we may hope to become the hero/ine but fear becoming the antagonist/villain in the stories of others.  Sometimes, in our efforts to improve, change, and grow into the hero/ine in our stories, we do get cast into that antagonistic role from someone else’s viewpoint, it’s kind of impossible not to.

We are assigned roles as children and as adolescents we try to find the roles that fit who we see our selves as or what we want to become.  Occasionally, we get pushed into roles by peers or family and, for whatever reason, are not able to break out of those roles.  Our life experiences, the personalities and actions of those we grow up with, the things that happen that impact the world around us while we’re trying to figure it all out all factor into how our character develops.  Then there are the things that just are which play into how we process all of the rest of it.  All in all, there are many, many things that contribute to who we are, affect how we see ourselves, and  help define who we want to be.  Adulthood is spent sorting, assembling, discarding, and learning how it all fits together, whether we realize it or not.

So it has been with me.  Most of my goals for who I wanted to be were shaped by not wanting to be like the adult members of my family and by reacting to the circumstances I found myself in.  I didn’t want to be a teen mom, like my mom.  Yet, I had my first child when I was 17.  I didn’t want to be married multiple times the way my mom had been.  So, I’ve never gotten a divorce from my first husband, whom I haven’t seen in almost 24 years and I’ve been in a tumultuous relationship with the same person for over 16 years. I didn’t want to succumb to the depression and abandon my son to the care of unreliable family the way my mother did.  So, I have sought all kinds of therapy, treatment, healing and recovery, but was so consumed with the depression, insecurities, and other issues, that he was pretty much emotionally abandoned, as was his younger sister.  I didn’t want to fall into the trap of substance abuse like my grandfather who basically died of alcoholism and my pothead uncle who was my guardian after my mother left.  Instead I became a love/relationship and food addict.  I didn’t want to be an uneducated, single parent who was a drain on “the system.”  I actually managed to earn two GED’s (the first was under an alias when I was a runaway) AND a high school diploma and a 4.0 my first term at community college.  A year and a half later I imploded and wound up withdrawing.  Three more aborted efforts to return to college and all I have to show for it is about $20,000 in student loans that I have little hope of repaying and are now preventing me from being able to return and complete my education.  Now, while I’m in relationship with Jerry and he’s working to provide for us, because of my limitations and inability to contribute financially, we receive food benefits and live in subsidized housing and I have a sporadic history of receiving public assistance.

I have watched true stories like, Homeless to Harvard, and wondered why I was never able to get it together and overcome the adversities in my life as Liz Murray did. I think some of it has to do with the fact that I focused on what I didn’t want to do instead of figuring out what I wanted to do differently.  I pinballed through my life making the decisions about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to do it based on the obstacles and barriers that I would run into and get bounced onto my butt by.  The harder I tried, the worse I seemed to fail.

I wanted my two older children to grow up not as I had, but managed to give them a more chaotic upbringing that mine had been.  I tried to find people, organizations, and  institutions to help fill in my gaps.  I tried to access services and opportunities for them.  I fought tooth and nail to keep them from falling through the cracks, but the cracks in my character were the ones I was unable to protect them from.  I loved them, but wasn’t able to be loving.  I cared what happened to them, but was so busy trying to provide for them but I felt helpless to give them what they needed.  I invested so much time and energy in rescuing and fixing people who I perceived as worse off than me, that my children got left in the shadows.  I was mentally and emotionally unavailable with the depression and increasingly limited in activity due to the fibromyalgia and my own growing hesitancy to engage in the world around me.

I continually and constantly feel disconnected, dissociated, and detached from the people around me and from the people I love.  I have worked hard to understand people and how to interact and relate to them in constructive and appropriate ways.  I have become so good at it, that I can establish rapport with just about anyone, if I put my mind to it.  However, most of the time the connection doesn’t feel real and it doesn’t last.  I tend to have an out of sight, out of mind compartmentalization thing going on, or at least I used to.  I want to be the heroine who overcame her circumstances to become a loving, supportive, functional and accomplished force for good in the lives of her children, who will be seen as the catalyst for change for a better course in the lives of future generations.  Right now I just feel like character in the story who is there as the cautionary warning of what happens when you take the wrong path.

(It seems that what I intended to get to will be in the next installment.)


  1. Your post struck a deep chord with me. Your honesty is compelling. Honesty is something I use humor to color over with…or simply not say at all. You may not be where you wish you were, but in your own way you are as far as Liz Murray. The thing to remember about “calamity overcome” true stories is that they show only what the writer/producer/director wanted us to see. As for the backgrounds and childhoods that “some of us” come from, I have never forgooten a cartoon from some magazine goodness knows how long ago that says it all to me. There’s a little guy sitting in the middle of a completely empty gymnasium, with balloons all over and a huge banner stretching over his head that reads, “Welcome to the Association of Normal People.” Ain’t nobody normal, honey, ain’t nobody.;-)


  2. Mary,
    Thank you for that. I think a lot more of us are looking for who we want to become than one would think. We are so good at putting on fronts and masks to appear as if we have ourselves and our lives together. What is it Thoreau says about the majority living lives of quiet desperation? The good thing is that we are reexamining that life and seeking something different in order to figure out who we will be when we grow up.

    Thank you for reading and anticipating, knowing that helps keep me motivated.


  3. You’re on the path, Kina. I’ve spent most of my life unfocused–starting and then abandoning things when they got boring or hard. I haven’t had the responsibilities you’ve had (no kids, no clinical mental issues), which may or may not be a good thing. I got a degree, but I washed out on my MA. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m looking forward to the next post.


Comments are closed.