Survival Rules for Good Girls | Part 1 of 2

by Elouise

By the time I’m 7 or 8 years old, I have a daunting list of survival rules.  Later they backfire in every part of my life.  In the meantime, they have the virtue of seeming to get me through.  Here they are, with my childhood explanation for why each rule is essential.

Survival Rules for Good Girls

  1. Keep the Good Girl Rules.  That way I’ll stay out of trouble, Daddy won’t punish me, and people will like me.  Plus, the Bible says ‘Children, obey your parents!’  I don’t want to go against the Bible.
  2. Keep your feelings to yourself.  It’s much safer to retreat into my private, imaginary world for comfort and immediate imaginary plans for revenge.  I don’t want to get into trouble again.
  3. Swallow hard when you feel uneasy, disappointed, angry or upset.  It’s easy.  Almost a no-brainer.  Making waves about anything is risky.  I might get into trouble if I’m too emotional.  To be honest, this rule is almost impossible for me to follow.  But I keep practicing, trying to get better and better at it.  Every now and then I get it right and stay out of trouble.
  4. Be polite and cooperate with adults.   They always like little girls who smile and do what they ask them to do.  If they decide I’m not courteous, they might complain about me to my parents.  Then I’d get into trouble because my parents would probably think the adults were right and I was wrong.  I’m not supposed to be rude to anyone.  I think that’s in the Bible, too.
  5. Don’t make a big deal about Daddy punishing you.  It’s normal.  It happens every day in other families.  I’m not special.  I should be glad I have Christian parents who aren’t divorced.  Besides, it shows Daddy really cares about you.
  6. Do your homework and get good grades in school.  If I don’t, I might get in trouble.  Besides, I really like getting stars on my papers and nice comments from my teachers.  It makes me proud.  But I don’t say that out loud because that’s a sin, too.  That’s what Daddy tells me.  He says pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty spirit before something else (I can’t remember exactly).
  7. Play outside as often as possible.  I love playing outside.  Besides, I’m much less likely to get into trouble if I stay in the yard, sort of out of sight, and don’t get into big arguments with anybody.
  8. Read as many books as possible.  My parents love to see me reading books.  It makes them proud.  Besides, I like to read and can already read way above my grade level.  Next summer I can join the public library summer reading competition again and get more stars by my name than anyone else my age.

How Am I Doing So Far?
From the time I was 7 or 8 until I was in my mid-40s, the weight and complexity of my personal survival commandments kept growing.  By the time I found my way to a professional psychotherapist, I needed more than parental counsel, mentoring, or even a close friend.  I was deep into survival mode—a strict, exhausting, sometimes terrifying and confusing way of dealing with every part of life, including my sexuality.

It wasn’t that I’d been sitting around doing nothing.  For five years before beginning intensive psychotherapy, I’d become a faithful, fully invested and forever grateful member of a 12-step program that dramatically changed my life.

Without that work, I don’t think I would have found the courage to seek professional help.  Nor would I have found a way to begin translating and incorporating the principles and steps of the 12-step program into language that made sense of my everyday Christian faith.

In addition, I wouldn’t have gone to twenty sessions with a counsellor who helped me begin working on my family system.  With her guidance I began constructing a genogram for my parents’ families.  I talked with my parents as I worked on it, and began to appreciate the importance of taking seriously my family history.  I began to see patterns handed on from generation to generation.  The picture was eye-opening, instructive and sometimes tragic.

After twenty sessions, my health insurance benefit for counselling ran out.  For the next year or so my body reminded me daily of a nasty truth:  I hadn’t yet resolved my depression or my ongoing, embarrassing and distressing struggle with an intestinal disorder.  Though I still attended 12-step meetings regularly, over time I realized they couldn’t get to the roots of whatever had me in its grip.

In the end, thanks to unrelenting depression, a screaming gut, growing despair, and the wisdom of my medical doctor and of a trusted pastor friend, I found my way to a psychotherapist.  I’ve worked with her continuously since the early 1990s.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
My first visit was memorable.  The chief psychologist interviewed me to get a feel for why I was there and whether this would be a good fit.  I don’t remember everything we talked about.  I do, however, distinctly remember that I said very little about my parents—especially about my father.

At the end of the interview she stood up and told me the psychotherapist I’d requested should be able help me.  She also told me two things I would need to deal with as part of my therapy.  I don’t remember the first item.  I’ll never forget the second.  She thought I would eventually need to do the one thing I was determined NOT to do: meet with my father.  With that, she left the room.

I still remember the huge knots of fear in my gut.  This wasn’t what I’d wanted or expected to hear.   Silently I said to myself, “Not in a million years!  You must think I’m crazy!”  Nonetheless, I felt a glimmer of hope.  There was someone here who might be able to help me.

When I began working with my psychotherapist, I thought my worst problems were major depression and an intestinal disorder.  They were eating the life out of me.  Yet it didn’t take long to realize this work would be far more comprehensive and difficult than I’d ever dreamed.  Furthermore, it was going to take me back as though I were a young girl and teach me from the ground up what it looks and feels like to exercise healthy survival skills.

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2014