I had an epiphany the other day, one long overdue. Though I have known for many years that children frequently blame themselves for any negativity that’s happening in their parents’ lives, and that it often takes years of therapy to recover from the resulting low self-image, I never understood a corollary consequence that can linger for a lifetime –particularly in women.
We become face-watchers as if our life depends on it.
Little girls, especially, are face-watchers right from the get-go. They are gazers, looking into their parents’ eyes to pick up clues about the world around them and their place in it. As a baby she learns whether or not she is loved/lovable and therefore valued/worthy. Add to that touch and tone of voice and the picture she develops of herself is either affirming or confusing. Moreover, her corresponding reality is either grounded in fact or misapprehension.
Following is a passage from my book, Darkness Overturned:
For years I could go to sleep at night only when I was sure my parents were asleep. And I kept having a nightmare that my father had murdered my mother. I could hear her call for me and finally found the top half of her, life-size but flat like a piece of plywood, lying on the floor of the inside balcony that overlooked the stairway. She had no arms and never comforted me. I always comforted her. And that part, at least, turned out to be painfully true to life. In my tormented dreams as a little girl, I perceived a reality that held true clear up to my mother’s passing [and] I grew up believing that I was never meant to be.
I was in my forty’s before my life began to level out and become “normal”. In the pursing years I won an angel award for my book, became the editor of a college alumni magazine, ran a community foundation, was president of a local Kiwanis Club, and watched my children grow healthy, successful and strong. Indeed, my past heartaches seem to belong to another person in a different life. What I didn’t realize was just how much of a face-watcher I still am, and how debilitating this can be to me.
When someone retains an expressionless, flat face when I am talking to them, I can lose myself. My emotions start to plummet even as I try with everything I have to elicit a smile or some look of approval. Later, I have wondered why this can affect me so strongly, triggering feelings that can range from panic to anger to despondency. When I started reading Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been watching for the face I didn’t see as a baby/little girl. A happy face, a face that told me I was important, cherished, treasured even. As a child I believed there was something I wasn’t doing right that caused this forfeit of love. A residual of that belief has been with me all these years and I didn’t recognize it.
Like I’ve heard people say when catching someone trying to trick them: Busted!
Flat faces, grumpy faces, disinterested faces . . . are not about me! They never were.