I have super powers. I was taught them early in life. I can walk into a room and sense how people are feeling. I can tell if there has been an argument or if there is peace. I have honed my skills to be able to respond and “perform” according to what I think others need: a clown, an organizer, a quiet mouse, a valiant protector. I used these skills to keep myself safe, to find control in an ever-changing landscape in a dysfunctional home. I used these skills to find some measure of security by matching my insides to other people’s outsides so, at least, it looked like we were getting along.
As a child I was (mostly) very well behaved, and tried to be pleasing to the adults, helpful to the max; taking care of the other kids, running errands, cleaning up. I took responsibility, at a gut level, for the behavior of others and tried to make up for their shortcomings. Putting aside my own fears and insecurities I took care of my sick mom by taking her duties and responsibilities. I put on my cape and “did what had to be done.”
After leaving home I found other people who would appreciate my super powers (if they had known I had them. One aspect of these powers is that, if done well, no one knows you are using them.) I would be conciliatory when my boyfriend had had a bad day, blame myself for errors and issues around the house so that he could yell at me and get his aggression out in a “controlled” way, maybe leaving the kids alone. I would choose to do what my friends wanted to do, preferring their ideas over discovering my own. I had done this for so long I had no idea what my desires and preferences were. I didn’t feel safe expressing them when I did.
Let me be clear, here, everyone has these abilities to a greater or lesser degree. We have to know how to behave in church, and that may be different than how we behave at a sports game, or at a family gathering. We do match our behavior to our situation or circumstance. That is appropriate. What I am talking about here is the total chameleon effect of changing and adapting to what I BELIEVE the circumstance requires to the expense of honoring myself or revealing myself in any way.
Then came the day that I embraced RECOVERY. I become abstinent from alcohol and drugs. My skin peels off and my nerves are raw. Unprotected by alcohol and drugs my super powers of feeling and sensing others becomes incredibly painful. Feeling and sensing my own emotions nearly puts me over the edge. This was amazingly confusing time for me. I was opening up to life, REAL life, not life experienced through a haze. I felt that my super powers would kill me.
On one hand feeling out what others were experiencing was a way to keep myself safe. This ability turned inward made me feel unsafe. When I was responding to what I imagined others felt or needed I was adapting to what I thought would be a safer relationship. However doing so without thought or consideration meant that I was overstepping my own boundaries. I had grown so used to dancing in sync to another’s song that I was lost finding my own melody.
The challenge was to find out what I needed, wanted, preferred, desired. I had to disengage from others, to cease assuming and expecting, to let go of managing outcomes for others and looking at taking care of and for myself. It felt selfish, it felt greedy but it was the right thing to do; to stay on my side of the street.
It took me years to don my cape only for “good” and not for protection. Rather than using my super power to manage other people and their reactions to life, I now use this tool as it was meant to be used: in empathy, with sympathy and compassion. I have learned, and seldom backslide, to use my sensitivities to listen with an open heart rather than to “fix, manage, advise or control”. I now honor my super powers, now that I have learned to use them wisely.