Growing up without kindness

The readers have their say:

On another way to think about that nightmare boyfriend/girlfriend: I came from an extremely dysfunctional family where no one was ever nice to one another, ever. I grew up pulling (emotional) knives out of my back, and was shocked at how much other people loved their kids. My mother was mentally ill when no one talked about that, and self-medicated with liquor. We lived in fear someone would find out and lived with a sort of bunker mentality.

So in my late teens, when I had my first boyfriends, I'm sure I was really odd and (rhymes with witchy) around their families. I knew how to deal only with being picked on or ignored. When I was around nice people, or a normal family, I didn't know what to do. I responded the way I did with my family to protect myself. I also know I made a ton of mistakes in regard to sending cards and remembering birthdays and other occasions, since no one did that in my family.

I have forgiven my family; no one was nice to them either. The fun part is that life and people are much kinder than I ever dreamed.

So the next time someone writes you about how awful a new girlfriend or boyfriend is, you might want to point out that they may have had a bad family experience and don't know how to act or relax around nice people.

On feeling guilty for breaking up with someone: I contacted my ex a few times after getting dumped because I thought I wanted "closure." However, in hindsight, it really boiled down to inadequate self-esteem on my part: I desperately wanted to hear "It's not you, it's me."

And that's what I heard, but it did not produce the desired result right away, because I wanted to know why it wasn't me, which was perhaps gratuitous. My ex was pretty patient with my contact, always repeating the party line, but in the end it was my problem to deal with, not his — and that's exactly how it should have been.

On high school and the perfectionist: For the most part, schools reward this type of passive, obedient, perfect behavior. What kids in this position need to realize is that this might work in school, but it doesn't translate to the working world. You have to learn to take risks, say no, lead others, etc. Keep reminding yourself of this when you are tempted to fit into the passive, perfect-student mode.

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