This time of year is particularly difficult for survivors of dysfunctional family dynamics and abusive relationships. When the world appears to be celebrating the joys of warm family love and the longing to be together, it’s hard not to feel the pain of not being loved unconditionally especially if that includes the members of your own family of origin.
A commenter on the emerging from broken blog said something this week that struck me as one of the hardest things about having lived in a dysfunctional family where relationship and love were taught and modeled the wrong way. When love and acceptance is communicated in a false way, the resulting damage can inhibit our self-esteem from growing in a healthy and positive way and cause us to feel responsible for the failure in the relationship. Her comment was about her new realizations since the passing of her mother. I could deeply relate to her realization that she wanted to be missed. It was particularly devastating to me when I realized that I wasn’t missed. The truth was that if I wasn’t going to comply and function in the relationships in the way that I was taught and groomed to, then I was dis-missed. A huge part of the healing process for me was in the process of understanding how this ‘dismissal’ was not my fault but rather it was related to my strength and a sign of healing and taking my life back from those who believed that they owned me.
Here is the comment from this precious reader:
“I was estranged from my mother for 15 years or so and she died last month. It is sad knowing she is gone, but it has allowed the passing of a deep rooted sense of hope of reconciliation from her that was never going to happen, and the realization that I wanted to be missed. It is hard to shake the shame of rejection by those from whom we expect unconditional love and that parental bond that can find superhuman strength when needed! If our family won’t love us, how do we convince others that we are worthy without the need to justify ourselves at deeper levels than words?”
I remember feeling this same way and having those same questions. That if my own family didn’t ‘love me’ how could anyone love me? I wondered who would or could love me. I remembered that I thought it was up to me to convince others, including my own family that I was worth loving. But the truth is that I didn’t believe it myself. After living so long in the dysfunctional family system where love was proved by compliance and obedience and love was proved by acceptance of whatever treatment was dished out, I didn’t know that I was worth it. I didn’t realize that I needed to embrace the truth that the ways their actions defined me, were false. They were wrong! What they taught me about me was all lies. I didn’t need to convince anyone that I was worth loving; I needed to convince myself.
The process of ‘emerging from broken’ was and continues to be a process where through looking at how my self-esteem had become so low in the first place, I was able to see the lies I believed about me and when I saw clearly that they were actually not true, I was able to overturn them. I had to expose these lies to myself in order to realize that my understanding of love was wrong because love had not been shown to me. Love isn’t something that I need to convince someone to do but because that is the ‘love’ I had learned growing up, that kind of ‘love’ was all I knew about.
I carried a deep shame that my family didn’t want to be with me during holidays or at other significant times in my life. I have not spent a Christmas with my mother since I was 15. I have not spent Christmas with my father since I was 18. I believed it was my fault and was because of choices that I made which caused my parents not to want to see me.
I never considered that neither of my parents ever tried to see me for Christmas either. I was raised to believe that the relationship I had with everyone was up to me. I completely believed that the success or failure of my relationships was always up to me. I never understood that it takes two, that there are two sides to every relationship even though I used that expression (it takes two) as frequently as anyone else used it. I didn’t live it. I lived accepting that everything was up to me. I lived accepting that all failure, all rejection, all dysfunction was my fault. And so I lived trying harder and became more and more distressed and unhappy, because I (falsely) believed that I failed again and again. I (falsely) believed that I could find the magic key that would make me become lovable and I kept trying.
But the key was within me all along. They key was seeing things through the grid of truth instead of through the grid of lies that I accepted about me. The truth was that I was addicted to proving myself and my worth instead of believing I had it in the first place.
Why did I believe that the shame was mine? It is so obvious to me now. It is so clear to me how I came to believe that I deserved to be rejected. And if I believed I deserved rejection, of course I also believed that the shame of it was mine. So the real key was in searching for and finding the truth about me. Was I a failure? If so, what made me a failure? I looked at the roots and the messages that I had been given. I looked at the details and sorted through the wreckage and finally realized that I did NOT bring this on myself. It was never me. I was too young when it all started for it to have been something that I did or deserved. When I looked at the details I realized that the acceptance and the rejection was inconsistent. I couldn’t win. It was never in the plan for me to know my value! It worked better for them if I didn’t know my value or worth.
Just as there are a lot of layers to the way false messages, abuse, neglect and the way our self-esteem is formed in the first place, there are a lot of layers to overcoming all those lies and false definitions too. If there was one simple answer, I wouldn’t have so many articles in this website! Looking at the details of those messages went miles towards my success in taking my life back from them and the unsticking the labels they applied to me.
It really helped me to understand that my family and the way that they regarded me, didn’t define me. The fact that they didn’t, wouldn’t or even if they just plain couldn’t love me was NOT about me, it was about them. I don’t have to convince anyone that I am worthy or lovable. I am. I just am. I was born lovable. I was born worthy. It wasn’t something I did that changed that truth. That truth never changed; what happened was that I was taught love wrong. It was when I convinced myself (through embracing the truth) that I was lovable and worthy, that everything changed and that I began to heal from the damage those lies caused.
This year is harder for me because for the first time in my life as a mother, one of my children isn’t going to be home for the holidays. But I know the truth about this and the truth is always the key. My mother’s version of understanding is not part of the truth. I have discarded those old definitions of love and the way I was taught to prove my love in favor of the truth about what love really is. My daughter isn’t away from home this year because she doesn’t love me. It isn’t because I did something that caused her to reject me. It isn’t because I failed in the relationship. It isn’t a punishment. It doesn’t define me or our relationship. The truth is that my daughter is loved enough to know that she has choices for her own life and she has been empowered to make her own choices. She knows she is loved and she knows she is missed and she knows that no one is angry with her because she is away this year. And I know this truth too.
Learning what love really is has been one of the most important parts of the healing process for me and the easiest way to learn that is to clearly see what love isn’t. Love isn’t about convincing anyone of my value. Love isn’t about obligation or compliance. Love isn’t about doing what other people want if it isn’t best for them or you.
Each Christmas / Holiday season gets better for me. With each year that passes I am more settled and able to comprehend my value more deeply. With each year of living in wholeness and truth, my self-esteem becomes healthier; my relationships become richer and more loving, my smile becomes brighter and my life becomes more meaningful. I don’t ‘prove my love’ by jumping through flaming hoops anymore. The false definition of love no longer rules my choices.
Wishing everyone a discovery of the real Truth,
There is freedom on the other side of broken;
My book “Emerging from Broken ~ The beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing” is now available on the upper right side bar here in the website.
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Related posts ~ Dysfunctional Family Christmas and giving the Wrong gift: