I am a confused person today. Yesterday was a family occasion, my father’s birthday, so I went to my parents’ house for dinner. It was actually somewhat enjoyable on one level. I stayed in the kitchen, drank a glass of wine and bantered with my siblings. No one put me down or said mean things.

In therapy, I’m remembering or feeling all this horror, sadness and abuse. In person, my family seems fine in a way. The house is nice and cared for, dinner is carefully cooked, people chat. I feel like relaxing – it’s nice to be with people, I’ve known my family forever obviously, everything is familiar. Plus I’m feeling more confident, I don’t shy away from speaking, I joke around and look at people. Everyone is smart in a certain kind of a way also, and that’s fun too.

Underneath are undercurrents. My mother rarely speaks, though she is busy with dinner preparations. She is withdrawn, and always seems as if she doesn’t think she has anything worthwhile to say. My father is moody always. At one point, we want to bring in the birthday cake with candles, but we are stopped. My father is listening to a stormy classical music CD – Schubert. It seems to be music about the darkest human emotions. He is sunk into his armchair, lamp unlit, listening to this sad sad music, and everything must wait until the piece is over. No one comments, though we joke uncomfortably in the kitchen waiting. My brother is drinking non-stop. He doesn’t get visibly drunk….but he drinks all night long.

So those are undercurrents. On top though, we are having a party and it is fine.

There are no fights. No one argues. No one complains.

I’d say in my family nothing is ever ever discussed or dealt with. Unpleasant, difficult or painful situations are instantly denied and papered over. So I guess you get then a kind of mess that doesn’t make sense.

It’s painful to write this. I want my family to be a good, kind family, to accept the good people they are trying to be. There is no doubt my family tries hard. It’s just that there’s something wrong with the whole set-up.

  1. gniz said:

    Yes, this sounds familiar to me. I don't think maybe it was quite as "severe" in my family, and yet those undercurrents exist for sure. When the bad stuff started up with my brother a couple of years ago, it got me to look back more at my childhood and I started to see just how unhealthy things had been.I don't know that it's all about blaming people or deciding they are bad people. But recognizing and admitting just how dysfunctional and toxic the family environment was/is can be freeing. Instead of feeling like we're just bad, rotten human beings, we can discover quite the opposite.I still feel that it's likely you are the healthiest member of your entire family, in that you are trying to make sense of it all and heal. Those who truly stuff everything down and repress at all costs–it eats them alive. It ruins them internally. I believe that may have been the case with my brother.Growing up, my brother was the perfect one, always did good in school, never caused trouble, always seemed well adjusted on the surface. But clearly it was a facade, because now he's a man with a family in deep trouble, and he has no friends. He's completely dishonest and corrupt in his behavior. But the facade still remains intact. I never had a facade. All the ugliness was front and center and I was acting out of my pain for years. However, that forced me to figure stuff out eventually, and so I've been able to do a great deal of healing over the years.Now when I am around my mother and sister and so forth, I see things very differently. I see that there is a great deal of pain and denial and "undercurrents" that can't be discussed. It's just not what's done. My mother in particular compartmentalizes, she doesn't know how to work through emotions.I can see how she has tried so hard to be a good mom, and in many ways she was and is a good mom. But there was a lot of bad there as well. A lot of harm was done to me and to one another. Still, seeing all of the interworking parts, all of the good and bad. The ugliness, the nasty underside–it's there and it should not be denied.I think you are seeing it and it's making you uncomfortable and sad, as well it should. But the important thing is for you to heal and you will.

  2. Paula said:

    I am very much agree with what is written above. You can not change anyone but you. For yourself you already have changed the dynamic in your family. Not avoiding eye contact, talking, that is important, you do your part, you can not how much ever you may wish, make the others do their part. It is however about your healing. YOURS.

  3. Ellen said:

    @ gniz – Thanks for telling me more about your family Aaron. Wow. That sounds very similar to my family. I see similarities with my mother in particular….I love the way you explain this. I also 'acted out' a lot more than my siblings did, and I am also a lot more uncomfortable with facades than they are. It's lovely to have someone be able to relate to family strangeness the way you can, it's so helpful. Take care@ Paula – Thanks Paula. Good reminder for me….take care

  4. Harriet said:

    It doesn't sound like such a bad evening, on the surface. Maybe it was good that the undercurrents stayed under so that you got along well with your siblings. But I understand how a family could not deal with feelings – that was mine. My mother is narcissistic, which I didn't realize until I was in therapy. She didn't mean to screw me up, and if I want to get over it I have to do the work. It's hard to change after 50 years though, you know?I'm sorry for the pain you feel about your family. It hurts a lot I know.

  5. Ellen said:

    Thanks Harriet. I'm not sure if it is better to be cranky or nice….anyway, I picked nice. I'm sorry about your mom. It is hard, but it's hard when you're younger too. I'll be fifty in a few months – I don't think it's a barrier to healing. take care

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