By: Linda Hartoonian Almas, M.S. Ed
Recently, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my life, especially my childhood. I’ve also spent some time writing about these reflections. I can’t say exactly what caused me to embark on this mental “roots” journey, but I can say that I identified some remarkable realities, along the way. These realizations helped me understand my vulnerabilities.
This, in turn, brought clarity regarding what may have made me so attractive to an individual with psychopathic features. It helped me understand what it was about my past that encouraged me to allow a large portion of my adult life to be swallowed whole by disorder and dysfunction. It matters less what form it took or what type of relationship occurred. What matters more is the growth we can achieve from viewing our lives in retrospect.
Perhaps this sudden reflection has to do with my vast amount of experience measuring life by way of the middle. Now officially in my 40’s, not just 40, mid-life often brings reflections and reassessments. Good or bad, we tend to examine where we are and where we are going, in relation to where we have been.
It could also have something to do with the 4th of July holiday approaching. For me, it signifies another mid-point in time. As a teacher, my mother gauged the summer’s progression in terms of this holiday. July 4th signified the middle; so many wonderful days still ahead, yet so many that had vanished into memories. Summer fun still ruled, but its finality lurked somewhere in the not too distant future. Now, I see things as she did then.
As a member of a mid-western farm family, my father often discussed crop expectations by this date, as well. He always said that the corn should be at least “knee high by the 4th of July.” Half-way there (more or less.)
Regardless, one shouldn’t think I’d need to start writing a memoir for this epiphany to occur, but putting pen to paper caused me to realize just how much the pieces of our pasts influence our futures. Whether good or bad, our histories, core values, and experiences matter. They significantly influence our choices and impact our decisions. It is a phenomenon most of us do not give a second thought, but probably should.
By the time we make it to Lovefraud, we are usually, at least, in the beginning phases of understanding psychopathy. We may even have fairly good handles on our situations. Nonetheless, we ponder. What was it about us that placed the targets on our heads? What allowed anyone to believe that we would be responsive to potentially fatal doses of abuse and manipulation, like puppets on strings?
Perhaps we were convenient, they gave it a shot, and we responded. It could be that simple. We could have been sitting at dinner with friends in a crowded restaurant. Overhearing even portions of our words could have clued them in to our availability, or lack thereof. They often “troll” for victims, possibly making many attempts, prior to finding us. We could have been at work. The likely scenarios are virtually endless.
Maybe we looked lost, desperate, or were exhausted from earlier unhealthy relationships. Maybe we gave off tremendous vibes of happiness or intense positive energy. The more we have to give, the more there is to take.
Why are we, so often, such strong individuals? Why do others tend to view us as “least likely candidates?” Why do we commit to those who harm us, remaining attached to their drama for so long? To a large degree, I believe it has to do with our beginnings.
I truly believe that our values, beliefs, and early life experiences factor into the selection process. We don’t escape our pasts; good, bad, or otherwise.
So much of my history made me vulnerable. Retrospectively, I had several strikes against me. At the same time, that very history afforded me a solid foundation that nothing can permanently damage. For that, I am thankful.
I never saw it coming
Early on, I formed a life plan and worked hard to bring that plan to fruition. Over time, it changed and took various forms, but I always worked hard at whatever task was in front of me. Regardless of the specifics, I was certain that if I did everything “right,” I could accomplish whatever I chose. A little simplistic, but not a bad approach.
Just as I began to execute my plan, I would experience the proverbial “shot from behind.” I was hit with a bullet of destruction that I never saw coming. Who I was began to die, and would keep dying for many years.
I began living a life that was a lie, but I was not consciously aware of what was happening because it wasn’t my lie. I knew that much was wrong, but did not know how to change it.
I gave freely and was completely forthcoming. That’s not to say that I handled everything perfectly. I did not. However, until I understood the trappings,
the force working against me was impenetrable.
At the time, I failed to understand that disorder lurks in places we often don’t recognize. It found me and I unknowingly welcomed it into my world, allowing it to deceive me, attempt to thwart my plans, and try to destroy me.
I was exhausted, as bits and pieces of me disintegrated. Still, I was unable to stop it, simply because I did not understand that the disorder was incapable of
seeing anyone else’s reality. Once I did, its hold disintegrated. Even in the thick of serious conflict, its strength was gone.
Cleared for take off
It was the fall of my 23rd year. I was excited to finally be leaving the flight instructing scene for bigger and better, but did not know that I was about to be stopped dead in my tracks. I finally landed the coveted “multi” job.
All aspiring young airline pilots needed “multi” time, or time in multi-engine aircraft, in order to get airline interviews. It was the mid-nineties, and the airlines wouldn’t even look at pilots without at least 250 hours in this type of equipment. That was the magic number. Someone, somewhere, decided that with that and about 2000 hours of total time, we were in. I was on my way.
Being a young woman, it was fabled that all l had to do was not completely blow the ILS (instrument landing) approach in the simulator, and properly answer a few fuel burn, rate of descent, and “people” questions. Obviously, this was an oversimplification, as airlines really do want to hire safe pilots. However, rumor had it that I’d be in the left seat (captain position) at a “major” in no time. I certainly didn’t want to waste any time. I wanted to find out first hand. However, for me, something else was in the cards.
The beginning of the end
At the age of 20, I decided to pursue aviation, one of my life-long interests. Likely still in rebellion over not having been given free access to the family car, I decided that I would fly airplanes. I was a good kid who kept out of trouble, but I was about to declare my independence. I was about to take a risk; a concept that was completely foreign to me.
In my young mind, I was done playing it safe (sort of.) I was going to explore uncharted territory. Who needed the law degree my parents suggested I pursue? Who wanted to teach school, as they encouraged? Not me. I would fly. I was rebelling, with a slight delay. For the most part, it was the first time. Yet, even at that, I tried to do so somewhat productively. I hoped my rebellion would lead to a lucrative career.
It was either that or become a police officer, another life-long interest that raised eyebrows. Ever since Cagney and Lacey hit prime time television, I knew I wanted to do that job. My plan became more exciting when I announced that I’d eventually like to try to fly for a police agency. Double whammy. I longed for the adventure that I felt I lacked.
What I did not know was that this “hole,” this temporary, post adolescent quest for adventure, excitement, and novelty, even if it was “productive,” made me perfect fodder for an individual with psychopathic features.
Strike one. I was restless and seeking adventure.
I grew up in middle class suburbia, on the outskirts of one of our nation’s largest cities. My mom was a teacher and my father a school administrator and social services director. We had a nice house, in a somewhat prestigious community. Each of my parents took great pride in their work, family, and home. To me, life seemed perfect.
Everyone got along. We handled any conflicts head on, with words, love, and understanding. My sister and I were both active in sports and the arts. My
parents emphasized being well rounded, and valued education. We both graduated from the same all girls, private college preparatory high school.
We were given all of the opportunities they could afford.
Although we worked to gain an understanding of and appreciation for money, my parents paid for our undergraduate degrees, as well as my sister’s law degree. However, we were, in turn, expected to succeed. They also taught us to live within our means, and expected that we demonstrate that understanding. While they were firm, they were also our greatest supporters. We always had their time, attention, and emotional support.
We were taught to value life, respect ourselves and others, to be honest, and to consider the feelings of others. Coming of age in the 60’s, they were also very open minded and encouraged us to be tolerant and empathetic.
Things were good and we were happy. Our models were healthy ones.
Strike two. I didn’t know or understand dysfunction.
Location, location, location
There were some in my hometown’s surrounding suburbs who thought that the kids in my neighborhood were “rich,” simply because we lived there. Although all of our needs and many of our wants were met, my family was not wealthy. It was happenstance that my parents chose the neighborhood while it was still affordable, as was the case for a large percentage of the families there.
Admittedly, most of us probably didn’t do much to terminate the stereotype. Perhaps, some even behaved in manners that perpetuated it. I remember my friends and I claiming to hate it, acting offended by their suggestions. However, I’m not really sure anyone was truly bothered. It was the 80’s. We were growing up in times of excess, as members of reasonably successful, hard working families.
This attitude, however, influenced what we wanted for our futures. It influenced what I wanted for my future. We had it good and we knew it. We liked things as they were and wanted the same for ourselves when we came of age.
We were also the first generation to see most of our mothers enter the professions and pursue advanced degrees. Whether they stayed in their chosen fields or ultimately stayed home to care for their families varied, but either seemed acceptable. Regardless, it appeared to be a choice. Collectively, our adults placed high expectations on us. As a group, we were expected to thrive.
Strike three. I was ambitious and expected a lot from myself and those around me. I assumed all others wanted the same. I was wrong.
Every day, I am thankful for how and where I grew up. The combination encouraged me to set the bar high, and in spite of any amount of adversity, to keep it there. That does not mean that every day feels successful. That does not mean that every day is successful. However, I try to keep the tools I need to succeed handy, in order to deal with whatever comes my way.
Sometimes, I think different circumstances would have better prepared me for the dysfunction that walks among us. That, however, is not anything I can change. Each of our circumstances are highly individual and most of us had no control over them. Whether we created our own adult experiences as the result of our exposure to dysfunction, lack thereof, or any of the many other hundreds of reasons, really does not matter. What matters is what we take away from them and how we choose for ourselves in our futures.
I enjoyed my mental journey back in time. It was energizing to recall the neighborhood pool, the town’s July 4th celebrations, family holidays, friends, and all that I held as gospel from an innocent time. I needed to revisit pre-school, a time when I was afraid to leave my mom’s side. I needed to hear Dad’s guitar playing Simon and Garfunkel music again, even if only in my mind. I laughed, remembering my ability to recite all of the major bones of the body at the age of four (Dad taught high school biology at the time and thought it was pretty neat that I could start with the cranium, advance to the scapula, clavicle, and eventually end with my tiniest lower phalange, five minutes later. Anyone who enjoyed that also got to listen to me explain photosynthesis.) Somewhere, my tiny little voice is on tape reciting and “teaching.”
Symbolically, I traveled to a place I needed to visit; one that is probably healthy for each of us to check in with every now and then, regardless of what we find when we get there. Why? Because our pasts matter. If we understand them, we will be better equipped to steer our own futures. No strings attached. No puppet masters directing.