When Your Family Are Not Your Family

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by Annie Kaszina on January 12, 2016

What makes a family not feel like family? When I say family, by the way, I use the blanket term quite deliberately. That family may mean one or both parents, or one or more siblings – even one or more children. Either way, when a family behave as if they are not your family, the destructive behaviors carried out by any one member tend to be accepted and condoned by other family members.

There are many ways in which family can behave as if they are not your family – and they all leave a long trail of pain through your life. I say this as someone who has witnessed this in my own life, as well as the lives of many of my clients.

It doesn’t happen to every abused woman, but it certainly happens to enough: their family are not their family or, to put it another way, the family they are born into do not behave towards them as family should.

How They Behave

Here are some of the ways in which family can behave as if they are not your family:

Merciless blaming and shaming
Emotional and/or physical neglect
Emotional and/or physical cruelty
Sexual abuse
Contempt
Scapegoating
Crazy-making
Isolating
Bullying
Bad-mouthing
Vindictiveness
Total disregard for your feelings
Manipulation and exploitation
Disloyalty

It’s not an exhaustive list. Some of the items overlap, and yet that list still doesn’t convey all the different ways – which all march throng under the banner of Emotional Abuse – in how family can behave as if they are not family.

What family who are not family teach you

The one thing that kind of experience of family teaches you is that you are not valued. You learn that there is no intrinsic worth in who you are: it’s all about the service value you provide.

Needless to say, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with. We all need to feel loveable – that’s a care human need. Ideally, we learn to feel loveable – in childhood – by being loved. With a family that does not behave like your family, it’s a key life lesson you DON’T learn.

Instead, you end up piecing together the ‘evidence’ of your treatment and coming to an opposite – but not entirely misguided – conclusion. Even at a very early age, you can’t help noticing that you’re not loved; certainly not in the way in which you want and need to be loved. It’s easy to conclude that, if you are not deemed loveable, it must be because of something you are doing wrong.

If everybody else in the family appears to be doing okay thank you – especially if you are the scapegoated one – that only serves to confirm your conclusion that you’re the unloveable one.

What on earth does it say about a family if they have an unloveable one??!!

This is grim stuff but it’s been on my mind for a while now because I keep seeing it played out in clients’ lives. It’s also played out in my own – again – over recent years.

What you need to learn

To me, when something keeps playing out again and again, it means there is still something that needs to be learned from the scenario.

That something has to be, how you respond to unloving people.

So, how do you deal with a family that are not your family?

You can keep on trying to change them. That works about as well as trying to get a gorilla to walk around in designer clothes and Jimmy Choo shoes. All the trying in the world probably won’t make it happen, because they are invested in their own way of being. Their ‘truth’ – aka view of reality – is hugely important to them. They can hold on to their truth and feel like ‘decent people’. Your truth could make them feel very uncomfortable.

Why would they even go there?

You can walk away.

Sometimes, that is the best option available to you. But it brings its own pain. It can leave you feeling rootless, unloveable and alone.

You can forgive them. In theory, this is a great option, and I wouldn’t want to discount it entirely. However, this really is the advanced option, largely for spiritually super-advanced people – like the Dalai Lama. Most of us are not there yet. Trying to forgive others who have hurt us without first forgiving ourselves is too much to ask: you can do it superficially, but if your heart is still screaming for validation, that forgiveness doesn’t really take root within you. Rather, it just causes you more pain.

You can forgive yourself for what you have been through. Contrary to what that family may say, it really wasn’t your fault. Their emotional cruelty is not your fault.

You can focus on your own healing and learn to manage your relationship with them to your own satisfaction.

Your family are never going to be what you want them to be. Nor can you be what they want/need you to be – cheerleader, skivvy, scapegoat, general factotum, emotional support etc. etc. There is no reason why you should even try to be what they want you to be. You’ve tried it a thousand times before (at a conservative guess) and failed miserably – because you were predestined to fail.

That brings you to the most important – and most frequently overlooked – option: seeing them as they truly are – as opposed to the way you would like them to be – and changing your the expectations you have of them.
That brings us back to the learning that keeps on clamoring for attention until you finally work through it: you will only ever be free of all of this painful, emotional baggage, when you do the work to free yourself.

Resolving their own painful beliefs about family tends to be the very last place that emotionally abused women focus and yet it is the fastest route to lasting peace of mind.

In the end, your life is not about the family who are not family – whoever they may be. It’s about you claiming centre stage in your own life.

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