Backbones: Cutting the Puppet Strings

It never ceases to amaze me just how many individuals do not possess a backbone. Now, when I say this, I don’t mean that the person is devoid of an actual spine. I mean that there is a certain portion of the population that does not possess the ability to stand on their own two feet and/or stand tall for what they believe in. Additionally, there are those individuals that allow someone else to make their decisions for them, thus a lack of backbone.

So, what is it that develops a “backbone?” The answer was pretty simple for me: parenthood and adversity. I look back and realize that I didn’t actually develop the ability to stand up straight until I had my son. When I became a mother, I changed in a multitude of ways. When I was a child and well into my teenage and adult years I had a terrible habit of allowing others to trample all over me. This was mainly because I wanted everyone to like me. When my son came along I didn’t care who liked me. Protecting him took center stage. That portion of my backbone has just gotten stronger with the passage of time.

However, becoming a mother was just the beginning. My divorce changed me significantly. For the very first time in my entire life I was on my own and what was even more nerve-wracking was that I was a single mother. Although I had help from family, it was my son and I against the world. With each passing year, I grew more solid in my stance, my shoulders squaring. A nasty custody fight will do wonders for a person’s development.

Still, I must say that my choice in profession played a major part in severing the puppet strings and developing a strength I didn’t know I had. As I child welfare investigator, I had to approach situations where people were being accused of terrible things. I had to be assertive and confident in my presentation, yet be compassionate enough to offer a helping hand. What surprised me, was that I was able to do this with ease. Before I took the job in 2005, I honestly wondered if I was cut out for investigations, but I soon found that it was as natural as breathing for me.

As the years have gone by and as I’ve been faced with new hardships and challenges, both personally and professionally, I am finding that my backbone is pretty well developed. I am thankful for this. Nonetheless, what saddens me is seeing those that have not developed this very important part of their emotional anatomy.

I’ll give you an example: a relationship where there is no equal footing. You have a dominant partner exercising authority over the other individual in the relationship. Let’s say it’s the female in the relationship. She runs the show. Because of her deep insecurity, she uses her backbone a little too much not only with her partner but with others whom she sees as a threat. What’s more disturbing is that her male partner complies with this way of thinking. What a sad situation! Some people may be okay with this, but honestly, it would drive me insane! It reminds me of someone being brainwashed. I am so used to making my own decisions that living under such tyranny would make me crazy. In fact it almost did. I was married to an individual that engaged in this type of behavior. The tactic that was used against me was religious control, i.e., “You’re going to do this because I’m the man and God says I’m the head of the household.” In other words, “Shut up and know your place.”

Other tactics that I’ve observed quite recently is the “one-up” approach. Because of downright, green-eyed jealousy and insecurity, I listened so someone go on and on about how wonderful he/she was. Anything I said, this person had done better. Come to think of it, I’ve been faced with this competitive situation more than once in less than a month. Competition doesn’t make you worthy. Yes, it’s healthy, but life isn’t a competition. No one gets out alive!

The point of this post is this: In order to make strides in life it is important to understand how to win friends and influence people, but a balance must be struck between having the ability to develop independence and maintaining healthy relationships all while exercising a healthy emotional backbone. No one has the right to control you. No one has the right to make your decisions for you. No one has the right to pull your strings like you’re a puppet. Cutting strings can be scary, but if happiness is the goal, get your scissors out!

Still, if you allow someone to make your decisions or influence you in such a way that you cannot maintain healthy friendships, decision is solely yours. Personally, I advocate for an anti-crutch approach. Furthermore, in the face of challenges, now that I’m an independent adult, I would meet you swiftly with my strongly developed, calcified backbone. What’s more important is that it’s never too late to develop one. All you need is the right motivation.

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