I have never told anyone, but I am scared to dance. Whenever there is music and people dancing, I freeze up. I want to dance but I can’t. The best I can manage, if I am really forced, is to shuffle around, embarrassed.
I don’t know why I am like this but one day a suppressed memory bubbles up from its hiding place and bursts upon the surface of my mind.
My mother takes me to a big hall with chairs around the edge and a big empty space in the middle. She says this is a social but I don’t know what that is. Suddenly I hear music. Sometimes my Dad plays his records, but it’s not like this. I can’t sit still. I slip from my chair and am aware of nothing except my body moving to the music. The hall, the chairs, the people all disappear. Suddenly my mother’s hand is pulling me and I hear her say, “Come and sit down.” The music is still playing so I shake my head. She pulls harder until I am forced onto the chair. She holds me tight. “Don’t draw attention to yourself,” she hisses. She is angry, but I don’t know why. I don’t know what her words mean. I have done something bad, but I don’t know what.
Now other people are moving to the music. There are even children dancing. My mother says, “You can dance now.” I shake my head. I don’t know what I did wrong, and I am scared I’ll do it again.
My mother controls my every thought, every action. If I do not do exactly what she says, she tells me it is because there is something wrong with me. I learn to be two people: the inner one or the real me, and the outer one, who does what she wants.
This is the only thing I know how to do, even as an adult. I do only what I think others want. I go to a family wedding with one boyfriend. At the reception, I am clinging on to my boyfriend as if I never want to let him go. I stare into his eyes as we dance and the wedding guests say things like, “It will be your turn next.” I long for people to know the truth about me, to realise that I am just trying to be nice, trying to give him a good experience. I do not want to marry him. He is not the right person for me at all.
I think going out with the wrong man is better than being lonely, but in fact it is a far worse loneliness, because he doesn’t see me for who I am. My mother has taught me that my inner self is bad, so I don’t let them see it, and they never guess that there is someone watching them from behind a mask. Sometimes my boyfriends say they love me, but I know they don’t. They love feeling good about themselves. That is all it is. I tell them I love them too, because that is what they want to hear.
I don’t feel connected to these men. I stay behind the mask and keep silent, but that’s all right because I know I am just an actor in a film, playing a part that I learnt as a child. I am waiting for the time when I can come off stage and be myself, but it never happens.
No matter how old I am, no matter what I do, my mother never stops criticising me and putting me down. One day, when I am an adult with a home of my own, she comes for a visit. I explain it isn’t my perfect house – the garden is too small – but the next house, I hope, will have everything I want. “You’re never satisfied with what you’ve got,” she says. “There’s something wrong with you. You should stick with what you’ve got.”
My mother’s cruelty continues until she dies at the age of 90. I am 59. Chains fall from my shoulders when I learn of her death. I am free at last. I look back at the young child I was, and wish I could have helped her. I watch helplessly as her uniqueness is squashed and she tries to fit herself into the mould her mother has made for her. She shrinks herself down more and more as she forces herself into a cramped space and struggles to make a life among these people. She will not develop properly while she is with them, or learn to believe in her goals and dreams.The suppression of that dear little girl’s individuality early on in her life is the most damaging thing that happens to her. Because of it, she will not have a happy life but always struggle with deep trauma and unhappiness.
I tell her I am sorry I did not manage to rescue her from this terrible place and ask her forgiveness. She looks up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and a tear falls from her eye.
You can read the full story of Janet’s life at www.janetmaile.com/moving-on/