Family musings

I’m having a difficult time, suddenly. Things were ticking along, and now they’re not. It started with times of heaviness, feeling smothered. Needing to lie down. Sadness.

I think it’s bits of PTSD, weighing me down. I’m not dealing with any of it in therapy, so I get to feel depressed instead.

In a way, the therapy break has been fine. I had one downturn, after attending a family event, and I wrote Ron an email about it. But other than that, I’ve been OK.

Nothing upsetting has happened to me. I haven’t even been lonely, really, except for today, where I was working from home. On the weekend I saw people every day.

I look in the mirror and my face has a greyish tinge. Oh dear. Big circles under the eyes.

I have noticed a kind of simmering rage against my siblings. I’m mentally working out how to arrange my life so I never see them again. Hard to understand why this is coming up now, when usually I don’t give them a single thought.

The family event two weeks ago was to welcome an out of town aunt and cousin who were staying with my parents. I find the aunt very appealing and kind. We had tea together on a different day and had a good time chatting. The cousin is OK. He’s a few years older than I am and I don’t know him well.

At the family dinner, there were two cousins and my sister and brother. They all joked around together. I didn’t really try to be part of it, but it was obvious, I wasn’t included. Then I found out my sister and brother had taken this out of town cousin out the evening before, without asking me. It kind of cut me, when I found that out. It’s like I can never take it in, that they do not include me.

For many many years, in my family, I was the scapegoat – just not as good as the other two kids. There was so much pain in the family, someone had to be at fault perhaps. Now my parents have more or less given this attitude up, but my siblings hang on to it for dear life.

Or, sometimes I think, perhaps I do act strange and stiff. Maybe there is something rather wrong with me.

It’s as if I’m from the wrong social class. In their case, it’s from the wrong intellectual class. Just stupid. And crass. I don’t say smart things.

I know these are things I need to put behind me. Sometimes it seems that if I keep going to these family events, I’ll always stay confused. Are they treating me like garbage? Or am I imagining it? It’s all done so subtly – things not said, people not talked to, expressions of disinterest.

This time, it was my brother who was ready to change the conversation. If I talk with anyone, one of them tends to be around to quickly change the topic to vegetables or the garden, if I should talk about anything they consider ‘dangerous’. Which is almost anything apparently. I notice it now. I was talking to my aunt about her childhood home, which burned down. She was sad about it, and my brother immediately switched the topic to tomatoes.

I can see at a cocktail party, or in social situations where you do not know people well, that you would want to keep to neutral topics. But with family too? How neutral do you have to be?

We used to have a great-aunt, Aunt H. She had a crooked back from childhood and had had a hard life, never married, living by herself in the country. She tended to be rather silent and negative. She was invited to family occasions out of duty – she was a relation, but no one cared much for her, and we made fun of her behind her back sometimes.

It was unkind and unfair. I believe she had simply had a hard and isolated life. Well, I think I’m falling into that category – the outcast who must be invited but not accepted as one of the family really.

Not quite. But in that ballpark. My family is one where outcasts happen.

Thanksgiving is the next big event where I’ll be expected to appear. If only I had alternatives. This is where being married would be very helpful. In any case, I’m considering staying away.

Lots to be depressed about.

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8 comments
  1. Ashana M said:

    I think they do treat you badly. I don’t think it’s your imagining it. I think they’ve been treating you this way their whole lives, and the reason they do it has nothing to do with you but how it makes them feel about themselves, as well as how this made them look in the eyes of your parents when you were all younger.

    There is a certain type of person who tends to see in terms of extremes–black and white, good and bad–and they usually have a scapegoat in the family and they have other children who can do no wrong. Like other things in their lives, they have good and bad children. This serves the function of keeping the golden children in line, since they can see quite well what will happen to them if they don’t align with their parents. And it usually means they join in with the parent in abusing the scapegoated child. Of course, the golden children probably can’t always maintain their golden status, but they generally do most of the time. In some cases, a time comes when roles are permanently switched and a scapegoat will suddenly become a golden child. But how the adult children feel about themselves tends to continue to be distorted in the way that being either inferior or superior to someone does.

    That sort of “ganging up” on someone seems to explain to me your reactions to some of the dynamics in group, when it seemed that a few of them turned on you. And, then, as in childhood, the authority figure in the room failed to either see you or protect you from it.

    Yes, it is depressing. Families shouldn’t need outcasts.

    • Ellen said:

      Most of what you say rings completely true, and you haven’t even met my family, Ashana. It must be a particular dynamic that happens to others also.

      It is interesting about group. My past is likely why this bothered me so very much. Hard to say if it also influenced how I was perceiving what was happening in group.

      Thank you.

      • Ashana M said:

        It is hard to say, but I suspect what you saw was really happening–it’s not uncommon, and you would have had lots of practice at spotting it. It seems to me the difference would also be that if you weren’t sensitive about it, you might have just dismissed them as jackasses. Instead, you wondered if you were crazy or imagining it or being oversensitive. I would guess you were frequently told you were making things up or being oversensitive when you were picked on as a child by your siblings.

        I was the scapegoat in my family as well. I didn’t realize this for a long time, because the family doctrine was that my sister and I were always treated the same. My mother made a big deal out of this–frequently buying us the same things despite our difference in interests. But my sister always got the color she wanted, and she usually got to choose what it was. Then I got it in a different color, even if I would have preferred something different. I was usually not asked my preference. There were a lot of subtle things like that, and also some less subtle things–like I got the crap beaten out of me more often. My sister was older and crueler than I and would pester me into getting very upset. Then I would tell on her. Then my mother would punish me for it–or punish both of us. It was really very clever.

        • Ellen said:

          I am sorry this happened to you. I know what you mean about subtle differences. For me, this whole scenario didn’t kick into high gear really until high school. I am the oldest, so I didn’t get picked on exactly, in fact, I bossed my siblings around quite a bit as I remember. Other than that, I was just extremely solitary as a child.

          What you said earlier about black and white thinking really struck a chord with me. My father does think in this way, now that I consider it.

          I think your situation was truly awful Ashana. It’s hard to come back from things like this. Thanks for sharing.

          • Ashana M said:

            It was awful, yes. In every way. But I do really feel sorry for my sister. It’s so much harder to break away when it seems like there’s some degree of hope. I think our upbringing really destroyed her in a very permanent way. It wasn’t emotionally difficult for me to get out of this situation or away from their kind of thinking: it seemed like the only reasonable choice to make.

  2. Being on the outside of any group is uncomfortable. Being excluded from a family group is just painful. I’m sorry…

    • Ellen said:

      It is uncomfortable, and somehow, it happens to me a lot in other situations, as if I’m recreating this scenario. Thank you Cat.

  3. Cat said:

    I was always the scapegoat – the whipping boy! Old habits die hard! I cannot stand family gatherings. It is always a stark reminder that I do not fit in…huh…neither would I want too!

    Your neutral brother’s behaviour reminds me of a quote, “The way people treat you is a statement about who they are as a human being. It is not a statement about you”

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