#2. They Judge Themselves Without Mercy
You Know Them As:
Chris Farley used to have a skit on Saturday Night Live where he played a nervous interviewer who didn't do much research. And when something didn't go quite the way he wanted, he'd flip out, punching himself in the head and calling himself an idiot. One of the reasons that was so funny (besides the fact that Chris Farley was ball-punchingly awesome) was because most of us know people like that in real life. They constantly beat themselves up over minor mistakes and missteps that most of us would consider insignificant.
"MOTHERFUCKER! This is bullshit -- I'm rubbing every last bit of that in my eye!"
How It Happens:
You'd think that adult children of dysfunctional families would paint themselves as victims. Constantly expecting or wanting sympathy and reassurance that they're special and loved. "Please feel sorry for me! My daddy didn't love me enough!"
It turns out that more often than not, the opposite is true. They tend to judge themselves exponentially harder than other people. In many cases, this is because when they were growing up, the consequences for failure were pretty dire. You just didn't bring home low grades, or make mistakes, or have bad moods, or express feelings. If you did, it was met with explosive reactions that made it pretty clear that those things are off-limits. It's what weak people do. It's taught that failure is the worst thing a human can do -- it's unforgivable.
"Now, you get out there and play against the fully adult Bruins and think about how much you suck at history class!"
And though sympathy and empathy generally make us refrain from giving other people shit when they fail (except in extreme sociopathic cases, such as the entirety of YouTube commenters), we do the polar opposite with ourselves, going overboard and beating ourselves up over the situation. We can't let it die. I still do this -- I'm not sure if I'll ever get past it. It just feels natural that if you fall below your own or someone else's expectations and standards, you deserve to have your ass kicked. And since no one else is going to do it, it might as well be me. And strangely, because of all this ...
#1. They Become Hypersensitive
You Know Them As:
You come home from work, exhausted, and you just want to sit down, relax and enjoy the silence for a bit. You're not in the mood to talk. Your appetite is shot. You just want to be left alone so you can collect your thoughts and normalize. But every two minutes, your worried partner asks, "Did I make you mad? Did I do something wrong?" Meanwhile, you try to figure out a good spot to put the saint trophy that you're sure you'll be receiving for not grabbing their skull, pushing it into the floor and juicing them like a fucking orange.
"Ask me what's wrong again. I dare you to ask me how you can fix it."
How It Happens:
Believe it or not, they knew about your mood long before you returned from the fridge, flopped on the couch and let out that long, beer-tainted sigh. It's another defense mechanism (notice a pattern here?) that they picked up years before they even knew of your existence. When Mom or Dad's moods started to fluctuate, bad shit happened. Over time, the kids learned that those moods always had telltale signs that predicted their eruptions. Ash that preceded the lava.
At first you take notice, even if it's subconsciously, that before Dad explodes, he starts rubbing his temples. Big, obvious things like that. But over time, you can't help but pick up on more subtle signs. He lets out a very soft sigh when it's going to be just a quick stick-and-move belittling session. He fidgets with his lighter when it's going to be a really bad one. The skill is developed so that when you see it happening, you can either brace yourself for the train wreck, or you can make yourself scarce so you don't have to deal with it.
"I'm sorry, there is no Erica here. I am just a normal, everyday bunny."
Just like any skill, the more you use it, the better you get. Over the years, it becomes so woven into the fabric of your personality, you couldn't remove it without completely breaking down who you are as a person and rebuilding the cloth from scratch. So it's rarely ever a case of the person just trying to smother their partner with attention out of some sense of insecurity. It's force of habit. Alarms are going off in their subconscious that shit is about to hit the fan, and they need to defuse that bomb before it goes off. And anything can trip the alarm. The slightest change in tone of voice. The most subtle shift in eyebrows before you speak. The way you're standing. A simple change in your daily routine. The subtle way you look them in the eyes and say, "I'm about to physically punch you directly in the face with my fist. Here I go."
It sounds like a damn superpower, but it can be a real problem in relationships, because the constant questioning and attempts to fix the other person's bad mood can be suffocating. Every person needs to be allowed room to vent their stress and frustrations, but that thought scares the ever-loving shit out of the person who lived through a dysfunctional family. Because he's used to those very things being followed by aggression and hate.
"It's for y- oh, would you stop? I'm not going to hit you with it -- it's just the phone."
All of these things are fixable, but it requires you to take a long look at yourself and decide if there is even a problem in the first place. It's harder than you think. If you need help, here's a good place to start. Either way, it's a whole lot more common than you think, so don't let the assholes of the world make you feel weak for seeking help. You have as much of a right to be normal and happy as everyone else on this goddamn planet.
John has a Twitter, where he types with a thick, fake British accent.
For more Cheese, check out The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent and The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor.