A few years back, my company brought in one of those motivational speakers. Everyone seemed to find his words profound, like motivational speakers are aiming for, but I really only remember one phrase from the whole thing: “Unless you were abused, this will be true for you.”
And he’d repeat it whenever he talked about habits. That qualifier – unless you were abused. It was the first time I’d heard a motivational speaker acknowledge that an abused person’s mind doesn’t work the same way as everyone else’s. As he talked, I realized he wasn’t describing me in his lecture.
And that was a light bulb moment. I just don’t fit in the same categories as the live studio audience. My path was so far off the beaten one I’m not sure I’m in the same time zone. And as for these speakers, and self-help books, and internet wisdom? One size certainly does not fit all.
“Normal people don’t live like this,” my mother would chastise, usually as she forced us to clean the house for hours, ending past midnight. Normal people were the specter, the boogeyman, these indefinable “others” I could never live up to who were constantly judging me for that failure. She’d quite literally been telling me I wasn’t like other people since I was old enough to listen. But here this guy was, pointing out the obvious: if I’m not normal, all the stuff that works for normal people shouldn’t work for me. He wasn’t pitying, he wasn’t defining me by the horrible things I’d experienced. Just a disclaimer, “Unless you’ve been abused.”
I shouldn’t expect I can simply find a beaten path and walk it, because I won’t. I’ve been through too much. I can’t help but check the path for dangers that don’t even occur to “normal people.” I’ve developed a different skill set for life; of course I require a different set of tools to work with. But I can still get the job done. I just need to find the things that work for me instead of my mother’s “normal people.”
Could I lose weight by cutting out all the carbs and sugar from my diet? No, because my weight problem stems from the fact I often went without food as a child. I get irritable and panicky at the thought of denying myself any kind of food. Should I establish small routines over a long time to ease myself into better behaviors? Not really, because my circumstances changed so often when I was young I learned to drop habits at a moment’s notice. I still have to remind myself to shower and brush my teeth; they’re not habitual for me.
My mother’s rants about “normal people” always seemed to imply they were better than me. They aren’t. They’re just different. Now when I read those self-help books, or run across life hack articles on the internet, I mutter my own disclaimer.
“This works!” the headlines proclaim.
Unless you’ve been abused, I say.