I will not go into details about my current situation with my parents to protect everyone’s dignity, but I will state that I am no longer in contact with them due to a series of altercations that has regrettable pushed me to create firm boundaries in our relationship. The following is a compilation of reflections about our relationship and the patterns of behaviour that I have noted that contributed to our current stalemate. I would like to make it clear that like every human being, there is a combination of positive qualities and negatives ones, and my parents are by no means bad people and it is not the impression I wish to make. All families have their issues, I am certain. Whether my writing conveys this or not is subjected to how clearly I can express myself, which is not always attained in the way I would like. For this I apologise in advance.
Much of the healing I have been going through in regards to the loss of my parental relationships has been through my psychotherapy sessions which I initiated at first for childbirth trauma. Naturally, one thing lead to another and we ended up discussing all aspects of my life including what had occurred between my parents and I over the last year or so. Very clear patterns started emerging once we also delved into my childhood memories and how this has impacted both the way that I currently behave, and how my parents currently do as well. It has been relieving to be able to talk to someone with the skills to help me analyze the situation in a healthy manner and establish necessary boundaries in order to attain the psychological health that I desire and wish to teach to my own children.
Adults raised in dysfunctional families frequently report difficulties forming and maintaining intimate relationships, maintaining positive self-esteem, and trusting others; they fear a loss of control, and deny their feelings and reality (Vannicelli, 1989)
My relationships revolution came from the realization that I did not form emotional attachment to people in the same way healthy people do. The most difficult step was allowing myself to admit that my interpersonal relationships were superficial at best because of the emotional walls I was creating in order to protect myself from rejection. The next step was allowing myself to become vulnerable and seeking out more intimate relationships with others, which developed into my first mature relationship with my now husband. He became the first relationship in my life that was formed based on authenticity and conscious awareness. He is nearly the only person in my life right now that I am emotionally invested in other than my children and a couple long-time friends. Naturally, I wanted the same intimacy with my parents but when I started changing the scripts we had in place for so many years, resistance was an obvious outcome. The more honest I was, the more grief I got, and when I happened to mention any struggles within the family, I was treated like the villain for even bringing it up. I only brought them up of course, because I cared immensely, but it was reflected back as me being nosy and stirring up trouble.
“The Scapegoat is the shock absorber, the buffer against the harsh reality that there is something wrong with the family picture altogether -- the trash bin into which all unwanted matter is cast. The scapegoat role facilitates the existence of family denial.”
Something my psychotherapist has mentioned to me is that often, the scapegoat is the first person in the family to realise the negative patterns, to rebel against them, and to seek help. However, this often occurs after they have had some sort separation from the family in order to truly observe the difference in how their family functions, and how other psychologically healthier families function. This is definitely my experience, with my not noticing until I moved to another province and met other families (one of which was by referral by my mother’s best friend) and noticing the eye-opening differences in our particular families. At first I was in denial myself, as I slowly processed the implications of our particular issues but the more I explored how our family typically functions in stressful situations and with normal everyday anxieties, the more it became apparent that there were some underlying issues that definitely needed addressing.
When I tried approaching my parents about them, along with some particular situations that were affecting my family at the time, I was met with disapproval and denial which both hurt and confused me. It troubled me that I was the only one who noticed the problems and was willing to find solutions, or at least discuss with them how they could find the solutions themselves. Obviously if it wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t be struggling with the same issues for years with no results. But apparently pointing out the obvious is not appreciated. I didn’t understand how no one wanted to seek help for practical issues as well as emotional. It made no sense to me that the dysfunction was just tolerated.
What is interesting is that until we started conflicting, my parents have always told me how perceptive I am, how I am clever and resourceful, and can see through to the heart of things. But suddenly when it came to when I turned my sight on the issues within our family, I was suddenly being melodramatic and was creating problems. It seemed like serious coping mechanisms were being implemented to avoid responsibility. I felt like they could not accept the concept that they were also imperfect and maintained that I was the one who was solely to blame for our current situation. They refused to acknowledge that I was not behaving this way due to influence from my husband (as he was quickly blamed for me approaching them at all to deflect their responsibility in the situation), or from some sort of need for drama (like I needed that in my life with my husband then deployed to Afghanistan), or whatever other reason they could formulate. It could never be traced back to how they were currently behaving and the natural consequences to those choices. Instead they denied all accountability for any problems in our relationship and insisted that the problem was me.
“In a healthy family system, family members openly acknowledge their problems, discuss them openly, and work toward change. They believe change is acceptable, and actively solicit workable solutions from other family members.”
Until I started seeing my psychotherapist I believed everything they were projecting at me, until she pointed out the obvious dysfunctions in our relationship and gave me the tools to change them. So I decided to make it as clear as I could to my parents that I was open to reconciling as long as effort was made from all parties to contribute and willingly reflect on personal behaviours. The message I kept receiving was that I was the one being unreasonable for not simply lettings things go instead of attempting to actually deal with our issues head-on. Realizing that my own family would rather not bother with me if they had to listen to me or respect me was really hurtful.
It took me a long while (even with professional help) to realize that I now had choices in my relationship with them. I could personally affect and choose how to interact with them, while as a child I was subjected to their whims exclusively. This also meant that they were also responsible in how they interacted with me as well, and had equal responsibility in resolving conflicts. Obeisance had no place in my life anymore and this is a truth that took a long while for me to truly comprehend and support. Initially I kept wavering in my needs because I just wanted them to like me and for things to go back to how close it seemed like we were before (but it was based on unhealthy behavioural scripts) but with some introspection I realised how unhealthy this was for me and my family and how I needed to stand my ground, even if I would be rejected. What I need does matter, even if it is not recognized.
The decision to cut all ties because of the toxicity of this particular relationship and the lack of accountability was a difficult but necessary choice for us. I had to accept that I cannot change their behaviour but I do not need to place myself in psychologically harmful positions with them either. Establishing appropriate boundaries was necessary in order to pave the way towards change and I had to give myself permission to become that change, even if my parents chose not to follow suit. I could now demand to have relationships that are based on mutual respect and authenticity, and at least work towards those goals in those relationships, or simply let them go. Stagnation is not healthy in any relationship, and if growth is impeded due to outdated scripts, I am not required to maintain connection if it affects my well-being or those I am personally responsible for, like my children.
Right now I am seeing that they are finding it difficult to understand and accept the changes they see in my behaviour and why I am adamant that we need to alter the way we interact as a family. This is why at this point I feel that family counseling is required for us, since trying to make improvements on our relationship is not feasible in the current environment. Trying to fight a lifetime of behaviour patterns when only one party is willing to even look at them honestly is counter-productive. I am patient enough to let things lie until this is possible for us, and they are willing to take this step with me. Time and mutual effort is needed in rebuilding my trust in them, to feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings and to establish intimate connections. I sincerely hope one day this will be possible, but I will accept no less and that is a harsh reality they must accept as well.
I miss my family, despite all the dysfunction. I miss my mother’s soothing presence, I miss my father’s boisterous laughter, I miss my brother’s quirky humor, but I must honor myself and my family’s needs as well. I cannot pretend everything is okay when it is not, and ignore my own needs just so that there is harmony. Sometimes the most important boundaries are the hardest ones to erect.Hybrid Rasta Mama and the Fabulous Mama Chronicles to find out how you can participate in the next Fabulous Hybrid Carnival! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants.
- Boundaries For The Attached Parenting Sexual Abuse Survivor - Guggie Daly at The Guggie Daily discusses how to balance the boundaries needed by a sexual abuse survivor with attachment parenting.
- Setting Boundaries With Kids - Amy at Presence Parenting explores why boundaries may be more about us than our kids.
- Limiting Dysfunction - Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles speaks speaks out about the underlying dysfunction in her relationship with her parents and the strategies she’s had to implement to ensure the psychological health of herself and her family.
- My Fence - Jorje shares how and why she she feels the need to be guarded with her family on Momma Jorje.
- How To Set and Enforce Boundaries – Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama offers 6 suggestions on how to more effectively establish and enforce your boundaries, especially with those who blatantly disregard them.
- Boundaries in Breastfeeding - JW of True Confessions of a Real Mommy explores teaching personal space rules to allow a respectful breastfeeding relationship as well as honoring their own body autonomy.
- 3 Steps for Respecting Boundaries While Fulfilling Needs Within a Marriage - Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World talks about three ways her husband and herself protect their own boundaries while still meeting each others needs.
- Establishing Boundaries With A Babymoon - Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children shares how important enforcing a babymoon was to establishing a new parental identity in the face of her in-laws.
- Planting The Seed: Teaching Kids About Healthy Boundaries And Saying No - MomeeeZen recently had to teach her daughter about setting healthy boundaries and about saying "No", even if it's to someone in your family.