Monday, March 7, 2011

The Relationships that Shaped my Life....and the Life Lessons I've Learned from them

One Path of Many
Photo by Susan July 23, 2010
Today’s post stems from much thought being given to the idea that in the original abuse, I felt obligated to include those who in the past abused me or treated me as "less than" in my new life. This journey is a process and one that includes the relationships that that shaped my life and the lessons I've learned from them.

"Those who could not stand by me at my worst 
can not know me at my best." 

These words came to me as I contemplated the idea that I do not have to, am not required to invite those into my life that in the past abused me.  I was an adult - and yet still felt very much like a child when it came to being around my siblings and in the past, my parents and many of the social and intimate relationships that I'd had. 

And I suddenly realized the hidden resentment that was showing up in my resistance to attend those family get togethers was another one of theses "have to's" or "shoulds" and I felt like I was doing something wrong by not going...or just not wanting to go.

Family get togethers for me was where the pattern was to laugh and get along while we were all at the table but as soon as someone left...they became the next course; their lives, thoughts, appearance, children, choices being served up one by one and passed around the table filled with siblings, children and grandchildren learning the fine art of carving up their relatives and friends. Dissecting their very being while justifying the hateful comments and patronizing treatment seemed to serve a purpose to bring value to themselves and justify their own lives and their behavior. 

And this is not to put down or criticize any one person or make light of this kind of abuse; its just the way it is in my family. Is and always has been and when I share this I am including myself in this kind of drama; we were raised in this and this was and is my families “normal” and it took me a long time to understand that this was not normal; that not all families engage in this kind of demeaning and disturbing assassination of one anothers character.

For many years I tried to figure out how to be "good enough" or do life "right enough" that I would finally win their approval, even joining in on this family tradition of demeaning others in order to find value in myself. 

I tried over and over to "figure out" what was "wrong" with me in order to change it so I would finally be accepted, loved, comforted when I was in pain, my accomplishments the point of despair. 

I fell into trying to reshape myself into being "good enough" as I sought approval and no matter what I did, no matter how "perfect" I was in keeping house, presenting well groomed children to the world, the right job, the new car, the new house, the right haircut, the right mall, credit card, bank account, attending church two and three times a week…

Each time I thought I'd finally arrived; that I was finally "good enough" or had done something "right enough" - there was always something else about me that was still not "enough". 

No matter what the current issue was, the underlying expectation was that I was not to have my own thoughts, feelings, opinions and my choices were all being measured against some yardstick that was never the same day to day and based on someone else’s need for me to be different in order for them to be ok.

To save myself I had to step away.

I had to create a space and a life where I could begin to experience something different in order to see and understand that this dynamic in my family was my normal but it was not at all "normal". 

I began to learn about dysfunctional relationships so I could recognize them and my role in them and thus how to step out of this role instead of expecting others to be different or change that I might be ok.

I began to understand when I was using the language of what I call "perpetual victimhood" where I felt helpless and hopeless over my life so I could recognize when and how to reclaim and take back my life by changing what I believed about myself and others.

And I began to let go of the anger and resentment that served to keep me bound and I began to see those who had not been able to stand by me in my own struggles and had even directly abused me -  through the lens of compassion...

which in turn has allowed me to see myself and others with more compassion. 

In doing this I also learned that the smoldering anger that could be fanned into a flame was really that place where I learned to grieve that which was and release the hope of what could be in order to live in what was…

and the truth that would set me free. 

And I practice setting boundaries and being assertive, I've learned to listen to my body and trust my feelings to be my guide.

I’ve learned to recognize the thoughts and words that can take me down that road of despair and how to pull my focus into the moment that I might live free of the pain of the past…

I've recognized that my serenity does not depend on how others treat me but in how I allow others behavior to affect me...

my thoughts, my feelings, my moods, my choices.

And now instead of trying, wishing and hoping to be "good enough" or do things “right enough” to be accepted and honored by those who are still on their own journey, I am able to accept them where they are and have clear boundaries of what I allow into my personal space and thoughts...

instead of trying to shape how they treat me by shaping myself to be "good enough" or "right enough".

I now shape myself to be who I want to be and share my life, my dreams, my pain, my hope, my thoughts, feelings, joys and doubts with those whom I know accept me, without question

as I am. 

Possibly related reading...

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LadyJtalks said...

well understood post today. I wish I got here more to read everyone...make note to

I have not talked/communicated with my family since 2002 when I sent them a link to one of the first web sites I shared my story on. they don't bother and neither do I. Though some days I wonder if they ever even think about "how I am" or what ever happen to me since that time.

I'm a time of life review and working on getting myself moved on "again" in my life. i wonder if I'll ever feel settled or at home any where. there really is a void in my life and inside of me in many ways.

Good post though and wanted you to know I read it and understood

Susan said...

LadyJ, I'm sorry to hear that you've had to experience the loss of your family; too often this is some of the fallout of finding our way out of that dark place. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could "make" them come along on this new journey with us and we could know that they would "get" it? That was the fantasy I held onto for a long time; when I let it go I had some mixed feelings but in the end I feel relief at knowing that I'm ok now and no longer live in that place where I was selling myself out that way.

I understand the void you mention and I can confidently say that as long as I didn't give up I knew I'd find my solutions. Hang in the LadyJ...:)

Thanks for dropping by and for your note; I'm grateful to know that it was one you could relate to:)

Tara said...

I'm new to your blog and have been perusing posts here and there. In so many of them, I see pieces of myself and my experience. It's been very validating. This post especially speaks to me, as I am in the process of distancing myself and allowing myself to stop carrying the burden of pretending everything in my family of origin is "okay." It's definitely a process.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Susan said...

Hi Tara and welcome to A Journey! I'm so glad that you are finding some posts that resonate with your own journey. Social media has really made it a whole lot easier to share our stories and support one another this way.

The distancing was hard for me for a long while;I completely understand what you are saying about it being a process.

Thank you for stopping to share your note today Tara:)