My mom grew up in a family in which family members said hurtful things to each other and, instead of apologizing, they then just acted like none of it ever happened. From what I can gather, they all seemed to grow up inured to this way of life, and largely unaffected by it. This dysfunctional scheme for managing conflict oozed into the fabric of the family system in which I spent my formative years. I still cringe every time I think about an argument brewing because I knew whoever was upset with me would NOT make a case for the finer points of view for which he or she argue. Instead, the angry party would merely scream something at me like, “You’re just a fat pig who is weird and has no friends.” Even though deep down inside of me, I knew this was fundamentally wrong, I was powerless to stop it. My parents never did anything to stop, and sometimes my mom did it herself. I can still remember the time she called me a slut, even though I wasn’t even dating. The amazing thing is that no one in my family, including my mother, ever apologized for anything mean or hurtful they say, they just acted like it never happened. I have been thinking about that today because I realize how much that has shaped who I am today — in both good and bad ways.
The Good: In a good way, I am very careful when I am angry. Sadly, I think I am often too careful, but I when I get angry, I am scared to death that I am going to lash out like members of my family effectively trained me to do. I loathe that heritage. So, what frequently happens on those rare occasions when I am truly furious is that I shut down. I stew – sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. I have to chew on my fury until I am able to calmly use to express (to whoever needs to hear it) what I need. I honestly try to use my anger to define my needs and NOT to blame anyone else for my own feelings. Generally, I think I am okay at this, but like any human being, I fail sometimes.
The Bad: Sometimes, I tend to just swallow my anger, and that is not healthy. I suspect that is one of the reasons I struggle with my depression. I have heard it said that “depression is anger turned inward.” Well, I am the poster-child for that expression. I guess I decided somewhere along the way that it was better to turn anger in on myself than to do to others why I thought my family did to me. The worst thing that I am starting to think has resulted from those unhealthy anger explosions is that somewhere along the way, I shut down emotionally.
I just read a book by Melissa Rivers about her mother, Joan Rivers. Some of the things that Joan Rivers did and said to Melissa, I might find unforgivable, but Melissa was able to find the humor in all of it because she loved her mother. I see family situations all the time in which some member of the family does something so horrible that I am flabbergasted that anyone could forgive the person. Not only do family members forgive, but they show love and compassion. Somewhere along the way, I have lost my ability to feel love – at least for people.
I love my dogs, but I think I love them because they are dogs and they can’t hurt like people can. I think I love my husband, but only because I trust him like I have trusted no other human being in my entire life. I sometimes worry that I don’t love him as much as he loves me because I don’t really have the capacity to love anyone because my ability to love shut down decades ago.
I see brothers and sisters who seem to love each other so much on Facebook, and, yes, I know much of what is on Facebook is mythical. Hell, most people who see me on Facebook are generally fooled into thinking I am happy even though I think about dying pretty much every day. My point is that envy those brothers and sisters so much. I would love to think that I could call my brothers and sister for a get-together, and they would delighted to spend time with me. I cannot even think about calling anyone of them without getting the sweats. What would we talk about? How long would the conversation go before I said the wrong thing?
They think I over-analyze everything, so the idea that our childhood was anything but perfect is something they don’t want to hear. Moreover, any problems I have as a result of our childhood are MY problems, and I need to just get over it. Sadly, I am who I am, and I have realized that my emotional health has become far more important to me than playing along.