When Family or Friends say Mean and Hurtful ThingsBy Darlene Ouimet
This morning I was doing research on dealing with dysfunctional family during the holidays. Everything that I find about this problem has to do with advice regarding ‘acceptance of others’ and how we can’t change anyone else.
I don’t get it; it seems that the solution “out there” is always about acceptance of the people who are doing the damage, and then taking responsibility for YOUR part in it. It is always assumed that each person in the relationship shares part of the blame for the difficulties in family relationships. This 50/50 responsibility for the failure in relationship thing is rarely the way it really is. Think about it this way; in your life, does your family equally share in the success of the relationship according to the way that you were taught the ‘rules of engagement?”
Even the articles about ‘setting boundary stuff’ are about ‘not engaging’ and not expecting them to change. I never read an article that says, if your family is abusive, humiliating, harassing, degrading or devaluing you, if your family or friends disrespect you privately or publically, then “stay away from them!”
No one ever says that you are RIGHT to have issues with abusive family and that it is okay to stand up to them. They say that if your mother comments on your weight because you are having a second slice of pumpkin pie you should just “let it go”… and “well, you know how she is”… (What does that mean?) Why can’t you say “mind your own business mom, that hurts my feelings” ~ It’s all about keeping the peace and harmony; as though the message is that love is acceptance of abuse! But where does that definition of LOVE come from? Why is it so important that we don’t rock the boat when it comes to ‘family’ no matter what they say? Why is it that it is up to the victim to learn to ‘let it go’ and accept people the (abusive) way that they are? (The message comes from people who want to live in the system where the one with the most power wins. Just because that message is the most popular message out there, that doesn’t make it a truth based message)
I tried to do this type of acceptance stuff for years and it didn’t make me feel good about myself. Looking back I always felt like I was agreeing with them when I didn’t say anything. Like my silence was consent or at the very least my silence communicated consent.
One time my mother commented that it was a shame that my boobs were not as nice as they used to be before I had 3 children! Why couldn’t I have said to her, “OUCH! What a nasty thing to say MOM”. What would be so wrong with telling her how mean that comment was? But I was expected to show love and respect by NOT commenting, or by just letting it go because “you can’t change other people” and the ‘bigger person thing to do’ is to just accept the mean things she says and dismiss them as ‘well, you know how she is”.
And then there are the comments from others, saying “she doesn’t mean to hurt your feelings”.
What the hell WAS her point in saying that then? What was her motive? Why would a mother say something like that to her daughter?? Did she think I just ‘needed to know?” Did she think it would help me get on with my life if I was aware that my boobs had lost their former beauty? Was her telling me this ‘for my own good’?
She told me another time in reference to one of the grandbabies, that it was ‘too bad her eyes are too close together, and so deep set too; like her fathers eyes’. Was that ‘just a comment’ with no ill will intended? A loving observation? Was that useful information? Was it meant to enrich my life? What was her motive in saying something like that?
What about the time at a family wedding she told my cousin when we were both 19 years old, that it was okay if he slept with me because I was ‘on the pill’. What was her motive for saying that in front of the whole family? Why would she say that? What made her think she had a right to say something like that, and to my COUSIN which made it seem even worse.
When my son was 2 years old we took him for a haircut and then met my sister-in-law and her husband for dinner. When my husband took our son to the bathroom, she informed me that they had decided that they didn’t like our sons haircut. HE WAS 2! I wish I would have said “SO WHAT?” I wish I would have said, “you know, I don’t know why we call you when we are in the city. You are so mean and nasty every time we get together.” What was HER motive in saying that they didn’t like our toddlers haircut? Was it love? Was it to make me feel bad as a mom? Was it just a casual observation with no ill intent?
My mother told me once that my husband had a problem with approval seeking. Where did that come from? Because he was so nice? Because he wanted them to be comfortable and happy while visiting us? What was her intention for telling me that? If I had told him what she said he might not have served her hand and foot (like the well trained compliant son his father taught him to be) anymore when she came for a visit so I don’t think that was her motive. Was it to make me wrong about ‘who I picked to marry’. Or was it simply to remind me that I didn’t have such a special husband and that I wasn’t as lucky as I thought I was?
I had been so brainwashed with “I am doing this (punishment) for your own good” and “I am telling you this (abusive hurtful thing) for your own good” that I accepted everything anyone threw at me even when looking at certain things ‘logically’, there was no way that the intention behind saying certain things, was for any ‘good’ at all.
My brother told me that my parents were old and they weren’t going to change. I said “SO WHAT?? Does that mean that I have to accept the way they treat me?” Why do people say things like that; that they aren’t going to change? It makes no sense to me anymore. It used to make sense when I was under the false definitions of love and respect but today I know that it isn’t about them changing. It is about me saying no. It is about me having boundaries and self-respect.
I don’t agree that people can’t change and until we say something to them about these kinds of comments, until we stand up for ourselves they don’t have any reason or motivation to change; they can have the relationship any way that they want to have it. My silence was consent.
But I am not asking them to change, I am simply deciding that I MATTER and I am not going to put up with the way that they treat me anymore. If they can’t (which means won’t) change, then I guess it is a good thing that I am not in any kind of relationship with them.
When I decided that I mattered, I didn’t stand up to people in hopes of changing them. I stood up for me. When I ‘don’t engage’ today it means that I don’t bother trying to convince them anymore. I don’t try to prove my worth anymore. I don’t have to because I know my worth. Those are the biggest differences. I stood up for me when I no longer cared about the consequences of doing so. Their rejection of me, that rejection I had feared so long, did not originate from when I stood up to them or when they walked away from me, it started many years before that.
I didn’t stand up for myself until I realized that my self-esteem depended on me and not on them. They might have broken it, but it was up to me to fix it. I found a way to restore my own value and today I know that these kinds of comments are not about me but are little truth leaks about the people who say them.
Recovering from mean and nasty; this is my little snap shot of truth for today;
Please share your thoughts!
P.S. and just so you know Mom, I am in my 50’s now and my ‘boobs’ are still fantastic.
There is life and laughter on the other side of broken!
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