My Relationship With My Family

This is a portion of a new book and workbook I’m creating and I wanted to share it with you here.

I’m sharing this not because I want you to feel sorry for me. I’m sharing this because I use my own experience in everything I create. It’s important for you to see that I did not have a perfect childhood.

My mother was really good with my brother and me when we were tiny. I think she enjoyed having little kids around. As we got older though, her own trauma started to show up in her parenting style. She was triggered, particularly by me, and it affected our relationship drastically.

By the time I was 18, we were at war with each other. The tension was very thick and nobody in the house was happy because of it. My mother wanted me to live my life her way. She wanted me to have that little shopping list I’ve talked about before. Part of the reason she wanted me to have it so bad was that she didn’t have aspects of it herself.

Her father told her she didn’t need a post-secondary education because she was a female and she didn’t require university or college to be a stay-at-home mother. My mother is a very smart woman and could have had a very successful career, but was not allowed to do so. Even once that influence was no longer there and she had the ability to go to school, she denied herself the opportunity.

She was not and is not happily married. She doesn’t believe in divorce, so she is married because she’s married. She’s miserable and bitter and it shows. It was obvious in how she treated me that she wanted to live vicariously through me, but I had different ideas. I was not like her and that triggered her severely.

I had been depressed and suicidal as a teenager. I had taken on individual therapy and had overcome that. I can remember her yelling at me one time after a session of family therapy that she wasn’t as strong as I was. The original intention of the family therapy sessions was to support me. They became about helping her. The trauma and problems in the family unit centered around her trauma and that’s immediately where the therapists focused in on. But she didn’t like that. She wanted the therapists to make me live her way. Instead, I got told to cut her loose and do my own thing. It was not my job to save her. That didn’t go well. Those therapy sessions ended shortly after that.

She victimized herself and played the pity card. I moved out less than a year later. My living with them was no longer tolerable and she wasn’t interested in helping herself. Maybe I should say it wasn’t that she wasn’t interested, she didn’t think she had the power. She was afraid to help herself and didn’t think she was worthy of that help.

My mother and I have had dozens of screaming matches over the years. Outside of polite conversation, talking about anything related to me or my life will end up in a fight. I don’t do things the way she does and I never will. I refuse to sacrifice myself or be bitter to make other people happy. I started down that path and it was the worst experience of my life. Never again will I do that. The more I set up that boundary, the worse it gets between us.

I had to learn a long time ago to let her go. The relationship was not worth saving. I keep it cordial and polite now. I don’t ask for advice or permission. I won’t engage her when she tries to control what I do. The boundary is in place. I have managed to maintain contact with her, but I wouldn’t call it much of a relationship. Should I have let her go a long time ago? Maybe and I probably would have if we would not have figured out how to be cordial.

I am the proverbial black sheep of the family. It is often three on one, with my brother siding with them more often than not. We don’t see things the same way. I don’t see life the way they do. I refuse to bow to them anymore. I have cut off contact with my brother who viciously attacked me a few months ago. There is no room for that in my world anymore. Given what’s about to happen in my life, I expect to lose the rest of them shortly.

The spiritual path looks really selfish to people that aren’t on it. There is a lot of emphasis on taking care of ourselves. If we heal as individuals, we ultimately also heal the collective. Society teaches the opposite, that we need to heal collective in order to heal the individual. This idea of putting others above our own well-being is where the problem is. Taking care of others will never heal us as individuals. We have to be willing to be more selfish.

What most don’t realize is that taking care of ourselves first gives us the power to reach out and help more people than we could when we were dis-empowered and struggling ourselves. A homeless can provide advice and help to the people around them, but the amount of help may be rather limited. A rich person can help hundreds, maybe thousands of people, possibly in far greater ways than the homeless person ever could.

On the surface, it appears as though the homeless person is being more selfless, giving of themselves when they have very little of their own, and that may be true, but in terms of the amount of help provided, the rich person is far more powerful and can create far more change in the world. This isn’t about having money or not having money, it’s not about greed and excess, this about personal empowerment. It is the ability to take care of yourself and then give back once your own proverbial cup is full. The better the self is taken care of, the better those around them can also be taken care of.

We empower ourselves by taking care of ourselves, allowing ourselves to be supported, and filling our own emotional well-being first. Then and only then should we be focusing on the outside world. Until the healing and the emotional-well being is in place, we should be taking care of the self only. A group of healed individuals creates a healed collective. A group of unhealed individuals creates an unhealthy collective. To bring this back from the tangent that I went on, a group of healed people create a healthy family, a group of unhealed people create an unhealthy family.

My family perceives me as selfish because I take care of myself in favour of others. The more I do it, the more selfish they perceive me to be. When my children were babies, I co-slept and breastfed so I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night. It had nothing to do with my relationship with my children, healthy parenting, or anything else. I literally went looking for strategies that would allow me to get a full night’s sleep with an infant. When I found it, I researched it, and I used it. I did it with both kids and I wouldn’t change it. I don’t feel guilty about it.

I made sure I had a shower every day, whether it meant putting the baby in a car seat and bringing them into the bathroom with me, or plunking a toddler in front of a TV and leaving the door open while I showered, I did not put myself last. I took care of me at every turn.

My mother did not do those types of things. She sacrificed herself and is now bitter and resentful because of it. I remember her telling me very clearly that “having kids is not all it’s cracked up to be”. Instead of allowing us to take care of ourselves, she continued to take care of us at her own expense. The cost of taking care of us was her own well-being.

What she really wanted was control. She wanted laundry done on whatever day of the week and she knew that if she left us to our own devices, laundry wouldn’t get done on that day. So she did it. She knew the clothes wouldn’t get hung up. So she did it. She knew it wouldn’t get cleaned the way she thought it should. So she did it. She needed control and then she victimized herself with it. She complains about making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner but does it anyway. It all made her angry, bitter and resentful, but it was all her own doing and all of those things affected my ability to have a relationship with her.

I understand what it’s like to not have working relationships with your parents. I haven’t talked a lot about my dad. He generally stays out of the way. He sides with her more often than not, although he’s not as toxic as she is. While the relationship isn’t bad, it’s not helpful either. He is complicit in knowingly allowing her behaviour and treatment of me. I have no reason to form a stronger bond with him either. Chances are good that it would only wind up biting me in the butt down the road anyway.

I am selfish by my family and if you’re reading this, maybe you are too. Remember your boundaries, don’t compromise regardless of what they say to you. Understand that healing yourself is the best thing you can for the people around you. You are, whether your family thinks so or not, setting an example of how to be a healthy human being. That is a good thing. As you continue to empower yourself, you will empower others. Keep going on that journey and don’t let anybody stop you.

Love to all.

Laura

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