By Esther Mann, LCSW
My parents have always told me that I’m their princess. You can imagine their excitement and joy when I was born to them after four sons. I can see in old pictures how I was dressed princess-like, with lots of frills and glitz. My childhood bedroom was fit for a princess, decorated like a dream.
My parents raised me with nonstop praise and encouragement. Everything I did was wonderful, according to them. Basically, I could do no wrong.
When you are raised with this kind of message from the get-go, you start to believe it early on. I did feel special. My four older brothers shared the same view about me. They treated me like a precious little thing—adorable and lovable. I grew up living a very charmed life.
When it was time for me to start dating, no one short of a prince would do. People would call my parents often with possible shidduchim, but usually my parents would nix the prospective young man because they didn’t feel he was good enough for their princess. When someone did slip by their tough scrutiny, by then I generally kept my standards so high that I inevitably found some flaw in each guy I went out with and rarely gave anyone a second chance.
While I was busy playing the part of the princess, I wasn’t concerned with pursuing a career. Neither were my parents concerned that maybe I should be figuring out how to go out and make a living someday. I’m quite sure they felt I would someday be taken care of by my prince and wouldn’t ever have to worry about earning a living. I couldn’t have agreed more. So though I did go to college, I had no specific goals in mind and coasted along, accumulating credits, having no real career in mind. When I graduated, my degree in sociology was practically worthless.
I am now 25 years old. I discovered several years ago that I am not a princess. And as my desire grows to be more open-minded about going out with young men who don’t sound perfect on paper, I am not getting as many offers.
Since I never focused on a career, I work in a retail store and I sell merchandise. The work is beyond boring. It was OK when I started, because I felt I was just marking time until I would be swept off my feet by Prince Charming. But what started out as a temporary way to pass the time has turned into my dead-end career.
I didn’t have a ton of friends in school, no doubt because I felt I was above so many of them. Regardless, most of them are married now. But I sense that no one is taking too much pity on me. They probably feel that I got what I deserved, since I had such an overblown ego and acted like I was better than most people.
So here I am today: alone, in a dead-end job, and realizing that I’m nothing special and probably never was anything special, other than a cherished daughter to my parents who were overjoyed to have a daughter.
I find myself becoming bitter as I think about the injustice my parents did to me when they sold me this bill of goods about myself. What child wouldn’t want to believe that she is the most special girl ever? I was so innocent and naive. I believed every word they told me, and in doing so sealed my own fate. I feel like now I am nothing and have nothing.
I try not to complain too much to my parents, because I know how much they love me and truly thought they were doing the best for me. But every so often I lose it and really let them have it, particularly when I’m feeling down and hopeless.
So what do you have to say to an over-the-hill princess—who really was never even a princess to begin with? Is there any hope for me or have I already lived the best years of my life and from here on it’s all downhill?
The sad fact is that many parents, with the best of intentions, manage to mess up their children, whether in small or large ways. Most parents truly want to be the very best parents they can be. And rarely do parents intentionally sabotage the healthy development of their children. Yet I would be hard-pressed to find even one parent who can honestly admit, in retrospect, that they don’t regret some of the ways in which they raised their children. Being a perfect parent is nearly impossible.
However, despite parents missing the mark here and there, most children manage to reach adulthood fairly intact; most have a strong, resilient side that enables them to overcome the little glitches they were forced to experience.
Clearly your parents loved you so passionately that in their eyes you were the perfect princess, flawless and majestic. Lovely for them to be the parents of such a magical child and no doubt fabulous for you to be told you were the very best! It all sounds terrific on paper, but in real life not only is it not a good thing, but it’s downright damaging. Princesses aren’t seen as real people. They are found in fairy tales and therefore not taken seriously. After all, what is the role of a princess, besides looking pretty, smiling, and ultimately marrying a prince? I’m not aware of too many other requirements or goals.
Every one of us is a work in progress. We all need to continuously work on ourselves our whole lives. No one is born perfect, no one should see herself as perfect, and, frankly, even after a lifetime of self-improvement, no one ends up perfect.
What you are realizing now is not something unique to yourself. Though you’re waking up late, probably through no fault of your own, at least you’ve woken up and can now join the rest of the gang in self-discovery and a commitment to hard work, as you begin the process of reinventing yourself.
You sound as though you’re feeling old at 25, but trust me, you are still quite young. You have plenty of time to recreate for yourself a life that has purpose and value. But first you have to figure out what that would look like.
To begin with, you managed to get a college degree, which is a very good thing. Start thinking about what you are passionate about. What do you really enjoy? In a perfect world, what do you see yourself doing? Once you’ve figured that out, you need to do the do. It’s not easy; nothing worthwhile is. But consider how gratifying it would be for you to become a professional, spending your time in a meaningful and fulfilling way.
Though figuring out a career takes time and effort, it’s actually a lot easier than figuring out who you want to be as a person. I get the feeling that you never really had the opportunity to relate to others in a balanced, healthy way. I’d like to encourage you to meet new people, work on your social skills, and allow yourself to be vulnerable so that you can truly connect with others in a meaningful way.
Yes, you’ve got your work cut out for you. I can’t say it will be easy, but you are not alone. Searching for one’s identity is a universal challenge. In your case, the truth of yourself has become blatantly challenged, to the point that you feel as though you’ve missed the boat. But because you understand how you got here, you are already taking responsibility for past mistakes and beginning the process of stepping up and out of your history.
Like Sleeping Beauty, you have awakened from your slumber. But that’s where the similarities have to end. I feel that you’re ready for the challenges that await you, and I am excited about the many possibilities that lie before you. Hopefully, you are, too!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.