Dysfunctional Extended Family ~ The Mean Aunt that I LovedBy
Even as an adult, in a dysfunctional family system I did not even have permission to decide who I didn’t want to be around anymore.
Having been denied permission to exist as an individual as I mentioned in the previous blog post, I grew up a mal functioning adult woman not knowing my own identity. Being denied autonomy, I also grew up without personal boundaries. I struggled with depressions and was taken advantage of by most other people and really didn’t have a clue why any of that was my lot in life. I kept trying harder to please everyone.
I believed that if I was compliant that everyone else would treat me the same way back. In truth, accepting devaluing and unfair treatment, gave the message that I would accept devaluing and unfair treatment.
When I began to try to face the truth about some of the past, I was told by the rest of the world to “just get over it” and “put it behind me” all the while being told and taught contradicting statements. One of these statements that kept me the spin of confusion was that I was told “the most important thing” was to have a relationship with the people that had caused all these problems in the first place. I am talking about my dysfunctional Aunts and other extended family.
I was constantly told “Put the past behind you, don’t be so negative, why do you always have to bring this stuff up?”
My Mother had a sister that I fondly remembered as “my favourite Aunt” and I went to live with her for a couple of months when I was 19 and had relocated by myself to a new City on the other side of the country from my immediate family. She was the wonderful and fun loving Aunt that I remembered, for the first couple of weeks. Then she became like an extension of my mother. She would often ignore me and shoot me dirty looks, as though my very existence was in her way. She gossiped and lied about me to the rest of the family. Living all my life in an “obligation system of love” I had to be grateful that she was allowing me to live with her. I had already been groomed to just be quiet and put up with it. I tried harder to please her, to stay out of her way and to figure out what she wanted. I knew not to rock the boat. I had learned “obligation” well and I was now obligated to put up with this devaluing treatment and the uncomfortable awkward atmosphere while living with my Aunt without questioning the effect on my own self worth.
She invited another one of her friends to come and live with her so of course I gave up the guest room to her friend. Her dog kept peeing on my bed in the basement, and my aunt thought it was funny. I had to wash all my blankets sometimes every night. My Aunt and her friend laughed about it. They made it so uncomfortable for me that I rarely came out of my bedroom. And today I know that that my reaction (to retreat and withdraw) was exactly what they wanted.
One night I came up the stairs and they didn’t hear me, and I overheard my Aunt say that if I didn’t like her dog peeing on my bed, then I could move out. They roared with laughter. I heard lot of other nasty things about me too that night, all mean lies and exaggerations, and it was clear to me that I better get out before I got kicked out. So although I was 19 and only 2 weeks into a new job in a new city, I found a way to leave.
I moved out but I never said a word about the way that things were for me there. At least not yet. And here is the crazy part. I still went to my Aunts or my Cousins for Christmas every year. We all acted like nothing ever happened. We were all “close family” and exchanged gifts as though we “loved’ each other. I think we thought we DID love each other.
As a child I learned that I was wrong to feel wronged. I had NO RIGHT to feel wronged. I carried that belief with me well into my adult years.
When I was about 35, I was sick my mother’s dysfunctional family causing trouble and decided not to see any them anymore. I questioned if I “had” to accept all this horror, and if I was “obligated to love” these people. They were so mean. But when I told my mother that I was done with having any contact with them, she was horrified; she lectured me countless times about the importance of family. The truth about my side of it was NEVER addressed. She just said things like “they are all you have” and blood is thicker than water”. I remember thinking ‘what does that even mean?”
All the while my mother was part of the gossip herself. She knew all the trouble that they caused, half the time she was in on it, the other half they were doing the same things to HER, but still in her view, the most important thing was that I not walk away from them. Not stand up to them, not rock the boat, but just “take it” and worse than that was that it was always inferred that it was my defect that caused all of it! Both sides of it ~ that I could not stand it, and that it happened! This is the most common dysfunctional family relationship fog in the world. Today I wonder if the “family is so important lecture” was because she was afraid that I might stand to her too.
People are shocked when you tell them that you do not visit your own family. Even if you disclose the abuse, it is like the whole world is brainwashed that family is the most important thing. Just take it, ignore it, get over it, you are imagining it, just don’t speak about it; BUT WHY NOT?? Why can’t we stand up to it? Why did I have to play nice and try harder? Why did everyone think that this family dysfunction was normal? AND why was my mother surprised when I said that I had had enough! Why did she try for SO LONG to make me change my mind? Why was she so upset 5 years later when I told her that I didn’t want to hear anymore stories about all the problems SHE was having with them either, if she wasn’t willing to do anything about it?
I think she was jealous because she didn’t have the guts to say that SHE had had enough because like me, she never knew any different system. The fear of having NO family was worse than having a nasty horrible one.
Looking back I am really stunned to realize how much dysfunctional relationship that I put up within the sick family system I lived in. I moved out of my mother’s home when I was 17, because I could not take it anymore. Two years later, I lived with an Aunt in the same type of sick dysfunctional mother daughter relationship situation that I had lived in with my mother and stayed there until the last possible minute, never recognizing that I was once again back in the same dysfunctional relationship, being treated like nothing, being devalued, disregarded, and shamed. Still believing that the burden of the relationship fell on my shoulders! Believing STILL that it was up to me to make it work which is why even though I moved out, I still kept going back. Never exposing the truth. Always putting myself last and never having the understanding that I didn’t HAVE to put up with it.
I believed that I HAD to be in those relationships; because I grew up never having a choice. I believed it because my belief system was cemented with hundreds of lies. I believed it because that was all I ever knew and I thought it was “normal.” And to me it WAS normal. It was MY normal. Dysfunction was the daily fare. I never had the right to say no as a child and I didn’t learn that I EVER had that right, and I believed that it was always something that I did wrong in the first place.
Even though I walked away then, it was years before I realized that I had done nothing wrong, so I lived with the guilt of walking away from my mother’s dysfunctional family system.
There is no obligation in the real definition of love. There is no pecking order. There is no accepting abuse and mistreatment.
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“Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental health illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood.” Alice Miller ~ The Drama of the Gifted Child