Recently I read a conversation on Facebook where a friend was crying out in pain due to her family shunning her. Her pleas were confused, angry, sad. By her standards, she’d been loyal and loving in her gestures toward her family over the years but they had chosen to ostracize her for reasons that they wouldn’t share with her. This challenged many feelings inside her. She questioned her reasons for staying true to herself, thinking maybe she should have been softer with them, perhaps even more enabling. Many times she’d reached out attempting to find a common ground with them, something to build a new foundation upon, to no avail. But the bottom line of her pain was that she missed them. Terribly. Her emotional loss visits her often. And I felt her pain even from where I was sitting 1000 miles away.
If you change out the players and setting, you have my exact family situation. Since my friend and I feel many of the same feelings towards ourselves and our families is probably why we’ve stayed close. It’s also why this post struck so deeply.
As hard as I try to maintain contact with my family, they just aren’t motivated to return my gestures. As I’ve grown and learned more about myself, I’ve been able to temper my anger toward our abusive upbringing that we all were subject to. I, above anyone else, know the deep wounds etched in our young psyches. I guess I always figured that this fact would make me safe to them. I understood. I got it. I was one of them. Yet somehow, sitting in one of my many therapist’s offices over the years, I convinced myself that if I healed, worked hard, found the solutions for us and held up the light of illumination that they would somehow follow me along that hallowed and healing path. My fractured reasoning combined with a dogged and desperate approach to enforce my fractured reasoning would result in many, many failed attempts and lots of heartache.
This was a painful, painful time and the healing took the form of one minute after another, one hour, then one day. My trust eventually extended to several women friends who gradually over time replaced my family of origin. We created our own family gatherings, raised our children and moved on piece by piece. But this was hard, hard work. And dammit…I didn’t want a replacement for my sisters, nieces and cousins, I wanted THEM. They were the ones that my heart stayed attached to, they were the ones whose blood my body recognized simply by standing close by or thinking of them. What I realized is that there aren’t enough curse words, things to be broken or tears to be shed that will make another person return to you if they don’t want to or simply can’t. And it was in this last phrase that I finally took another step toward healing.
My family can’t be around me. They just can’t. And they don’t.
I don’t exactly know why or do I have any explanations as to my conclusion but have had many possibilities given to me by loving friends, sponsors and therapists. One thought is that I am the one person in the family that left. I am the dissenter. Like the little girl in the photograph, she’s the one who is standing up, preparing to separate herself from the circle.
In their eyes, I chose to honor myself, putting my individual needs over the group’s needs, get the hell out making sure that my life and my daughter’s life would never reflect that stagnant, cesspool upbringing that I had. I had left the cult and the cult like thinking that defined us. Following this line of thinking, my family then shunned me as a religious community might shun those who no longer follow the thinking of the group. So maybe, we were really just simply a sociological~philosophical~anthropological~spiritual textbook example? That’s the cunundrum, its all of these truths but it. is. not. simple. Have I overthought and personalized a situation that perhaps historically has happened throughout time? Believing I was not unique actually made me feel a bit better.
I search for reasons behind the fact that they can’t be around me. My friend and Inner Bonding facilitator, simply states that they are too wounded. Their inner child feels too wounded to be able to give any love back to me at this point and maybe never. But what does that mean for me? That I never know them again? That years go by and people die and new babies are born and the children get married and I’m never, ever a part of this? I was wounded too but found a way to free myself, why can’t they step up and do the same? We could lift each other up instead of giving up and staying so stuck, perpetuating the same cycles over and over. They have the same ability that I did to throw off the blinders and go out into the world and experience other ways of life outside the cult commune. Wow, look who just showed up! The angry cheerleader strikes again! I want to inspire them with my chosen set of values, yet when they don’t respond, I’m pissed. Hmmm…..
Actually, I’m hurt and sad. I miss them and I want them whole and happy. I want to see their children and have them know my daughter. Then, I’d like to throw in a family reunion where we all have T-shirts printed the same, with a rainbow overhead, while we frolic the day away proclaiming our undying familial love for each other. Insert my family as interesting, well read, politically moderate and non-racist individuals who love themselves and perform altruistic work for a living preferably with an environmental flair. And you can see where this goes….off into fantasy land. But since this is reality and the previous scenario is not going to happen, I learn there is absolutely nothing to do about it. Except to pray for their peace. And well, there is that acceptance part.
Using my best DBT (Dialectal Behavior Therapy) skills, I stay as centered as I can and allow the feelings to wash over me. My mantra being that I must accept myself and my family for who they are and what they can give. Just accept….with compassion….the place where we are at this given moment. Send them love. Send me love. Breathe.
My niece responds via text “damn, I miss you”. She has read the quarterly upbeat newsletter type thing that I do. Actually she confesses that she received it a week before but looked at it with dread for days before opening and reading it. That puzzles me but I let it go. My newsletter is similar to what families send out around the holidays, updating family and friends that they don’t see in person throughout the year. I’ve chosen this method of communication by default. Since we don’t have family reunions or holidays together or even Facebook connections, it is my safest, best and most creative way to stay in touch. The subjects are benign and safe. This issue was about the dogs in our lives.
Here’s the other thoughts that I try to release from my heart….How can you miss someone and let that be the overriding feeling? As in, I miss you so much but will do absolutely nothing about it. I will simply choose to sit here and miss you and deny myself the experience of trying to work things out or even let myself think that I deserve a chance at happiness? I’m going to tell you just enough to let you know I still think of you, making the move to reach out and give you a quick, elusive, snippet of love and then yank it back so fast that you won’t even really know it was there. An illusion, a wisp, a fantasy that can be denied.
I mailed out 12 of my newsletters to my family a month ago and to date, I’ve received one text of “damn, i miss you”.
Breathe. Breathe. Give yourself love and compassion and then extend it to them.
Dr. Margaret Paul, Do you chase when someone withdraws?