I was adopted right after my birth by a wonderful set of parents who got far more than they had bargained for, and so the story of a little girl struggling to figure out who she was began.
Growing up in the ’50s — a time of peace, prosperity, and sameness (think Levittown on Long Island) — was great for many but not for me. My poor mother, who had a rough time growing up herself, had dreams of having a little girl just like that kid in the movies in the 1930s and ’40s who was so adorable, smart, precocious, and nice.
My mother’s dream . . . yeah.
What she and my dad got, however, was more like Rosie the Riveter.
My poor mother . . .
My mother had a dream, so she kept trying to make me be just like all the other girls she admired and understood — sweet, compliant, socially adept — but I fought her tooth and nail, even though I never understood why I felt I had to. I really just wanted to be left alone to read, dream, draw — and not have to smile all the time and pretend I was having a great time.
My mother tried. She loved me and she wanted me to be happy, but I was an alien to her. She was happiest when she was surrounded by others; I was happiest when I was alone. Her vision of a sweet and social daughter never materialized, although she tried her best. I grew up hearing “Honey, can’t you just be more like . . .?” “Boys won’t like you if you’re too smart.” “Why can’t you just play nicely with the others?” “Won’t the party be FUN?”
The cumulative effect of those messages was simple: I was different. I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. Not at home. Not in school. Not with playmates. I really hated being me, but I didn’t know who else to be. And I was lonely and I cried — a lot.
I was in my 30s when I first heard of Myers-Briggs, the personality-typing program. I was at some kind of business group thing — no memory of what — and it was all about the personality each of us has and how it shapes our lives. The questionnaire and finding out what the results meant were free, so what the heck. I participated along with everyone else there.
It was one of the best things I could have done. It explained so much! And while I know that personality is not a mandate for how we must live, for the first time I saw through all the messages that had surrounded me as a child.
I took the test and I learned that I’m an ISTP, as are millions of others around the world. And it was apparently perfectly fine to be that type of person. I identified with a lot of what the results said, enough to make me feel a lot better about myself.
Remember, I grew up in a time where there was no Internet; there were no global conversations, no conversations at all about being different. As naive as it sounds today with our ability to instantly connect, learn, and understand — it was very different all those years ago.
I still remember the relief I felt! It was a turning point in so many ways.
1. While my behaviors as a child and adolescent weren’t admirable, I could finally understand them. My parents were great people, and I was a great kid. But my mother and I couldn’t have been more different; we were oil and water. She wanted for me what all good parents want for their kids: Success. Love. Family. All that good stuff. But her version was too different from what was right for me; she based her vision for me on what she would have wanted for herself.
2. I realized that although I had gifts — as we all do — I hadn’t used them because I was too busy fighting battles I didn’t need to fight. I could learn more about who I was, what was good about it, and how I could reshape what I didn’t like.
3. I could finally accept myself for who I was. I was a type — there were others a lot like me — and it was OK to be me. My parents were fine. I was fine. We just didn’t fit together well.
Obviously, all this understanding didn’t happen overnight, but it was a start. And I’ve learned how to make it work. While the ISTP is not an absolute fit, it still describes me very closely (inside, anyway — many people who don’t know me well find it hard to believe). I am an introvert, although I do enjoy people, up to a point. I get my strength from being alone. I like people fine — I’m sociable — but it’s limited. I am grateful for doors I can close. I am rarely, if ever, the last one to leave any kind of party. I just get used up more quickly than many others. And I no longer feel the need to fight or to apologize for those realities.
I have become a very contented woman, something I could never have imagined as a child or young woman. I wish the same for you.
If you want to hear Sammy’s song again — click here.
Does anything here resonate with you? How did you fit into your family? What have you learned along the way that has made a difference?
Originally published at medium.com