Thursday 31 January 2013

Thoughts on Families from Ashley Judd

I picked up Ashley Judd's biography All That Is Bitter And Sweet at the library.  It's an interesting read, mostly focused on her international work.

Some of what she said resonated with me.  She talked about how people assumed she was okay growing up because she was self-sufficient.  In reality, she was horribly depressed and being neglected, but because she got to school, got good grades and was able to manage, the adults around her assumed everything was all right.

I think we've all had the experience of the silent scream.  Times when the pain is ready to make us explode but we assume a social mask and continue on.  After all, that's the definition line between mental illness and ordinary experience.  It's not an illness until it affects your ability to cope and function.

There was a line in Buffy where (having had telepathic powers) she explains that the reason why "no one is reacting to your pain because they're too busy screaming out their own."  Happiness has always struck me as an expanding emotion.  When you're really happy, it's hard to believe the rest of the world isn't happy with you.  (Which can be why new couples are so exhausting.)  But we're all too willing to believe our pain is unique.

Another resonant moment was when she described feeling humiliated when she realized her mother and sister were encouraging her to sing because they found her off-key renditions funny.  Not because they thought she had talent.  She talks about her feelings being continually shut down by her family as unnecessary and inaccurate.  Those stories spoke to me because I've long felt we don't respect children's feelings as a society.  We're not particularly good with anyone's feelings, but children are often told they shouldn't be upset or frightened when they clearly are.

I think it's still important to teach children how to deal with those feelings and how to overcome them.  But pretending they're wrong isn't a good start.  When feelings are dismissed, people tend to dig in with them, insisting on their own experience.  It can end up intensifying the problem.

Every time I read one of these biographies, I'm struck by how universal certain experiences are.  We all go through pain and sometimes we fall and sometimes we muster through.  It doesn't matter if a person grew up as virtual (or actual) royalty or anonymously.  It seems to be a universal that life sucks sometimes.

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