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  • Nick

Your parents aren't evil, just a bit, you know....

There is always a happy ending, no matter what happens society tell us that you can always rely on your family and that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and that ‘no matter what happens family comes first’. There is a certain organisation which has a mouse called Mickey who tells all children that you will be rescued, that the people closest to you will fight and make everything better.


For a good proportion of people that is mostly true but what does it mean when if your experiences of parenting and family are so far from ideal that none of ‘norm’ makes sense to you. What happens if you need some advice, and you can’t go to your father or sister? What happens when you are talking with friends, and you mentioned that your relationship isn’t great and out comes the cliché ‘but you only have one family’.


This kind of statement comes from a place of privilege and an inability to imagine that other ways of living exist. A sense that it is impossible that parents and family aren’t available and aren’t helpful and aren’t loving and supportive and many other positive characteristics. Don’t get me wrong, my family was like this but so many weren’t.


I have permission to share one of my client’s stories to give you an idea why family for some are so toxic. She is the older of two sisters, quiet and thoughtful, on the outside looks like any other family, went away on holidays to Spain every year, family trips and a good car siting outside of the house.


On the outside there is no obvious reason for my client to feel so negative about her family, there was no violence, there was no abuse, nothing that social services would deem to be worthy of their time. So why does my client not rush up for Christmas, birthdays or any chance she gets?


Seems baffling, it isn’t until you see the longer term, the bigger picture that you understand that my client was ignored, bullied, forced to be part of a family that for the vast majority of time didn’t show any real care to her.


Her parents weren’t bad people, they weren’t monsters, they were just a bit crap and a bit selfish and didn’t really care until it was time for a birthday party or a family outing. My client learnt to look after herself as her parents were busy or showed no real interest in her – then when birthday’s come along they then made her client come out and showered attention on her. Something she felt intensely uncomfortable with as it wasn’t what she was used to .


This kind of behaviour built and built over the years and so her coping strategies became stronger and the disconnect between her and her family became wider and stronger – another example she shared was to do with birthday presents – there were a good number as a child, but they were what her parents thought she wanted and not what she wanted, it proved to my client that they didn’t know or understand her – just a bit crap.


I get that some people will rightly yell at the screen that ‘she was lucky to have any presents at all’ and of course that is right, but this story isn’t a horror show about abuse and violence, this is typical looking upbringing in a normal town.


Life became harder as her father was a bully, aggressive and instead of helping would intimidate and shout his way through life and then when he felt better would be surprised that my client wasn’t ready to talk or was calm. This meant that she was intimidated so didn’t feel able to talk to him.


Let’s do a quick recap – parents didn’t really show any real affection or love, they ignored her, her father was overbearing and aggressive until a family event and then shown a light on her at birthday’s and wondered why she didn’t want to be the centre of attention. They then produced gifts that showed that they didn’t know her and so it just added more evidence that they didn’t know my client and didn’t do anything to mend the divide. Remember, they are the parents and in charge and it is their responsibility to be the adult.


All through teenage years, my client survived her family life, never feeling connected or loved and used her coping strategies to get off to university. Escape. Move forward a decade or so and contact was regular but didn’t really heal any of the rifts, just kept them at arm’s length.


It all came to a head when the younger sister behaviour got so bad that my client actually confronted her and after the initial bust up and reconciliation, it happened again and again. The lesson was that the sister could say whatever she liked to my client and that she wasn’t going to change. In fact, she was told by her father that the sister wasn’t going to change and so no matter what was said her sister wouldn’t stop the behaviour – ‘that is what family is’ comes the response to my client.


Every time my client sees her father, he mentions reconciliation with her sister and each time my client asks if the sister is going to change, with the predictable answer. The problem with this scenario is that my client’s needs are being ignored. She deserves not to be attacked and not to be made to feel the way she does, but with the father trying to reconcile, he is telling my client that her side doesn’t matter, her feelings don’t matter and that family can say and do anything to each other and it doesn’t matter. Her father has picked her sister over my client -


Add this to my client’s upbringing and the fact even now when she meets with her father, he doesn’t show a great deal of interest in her life and when she tries to tell him he just talks over her. It just emphasises that she isn’t important or loved. The result is that she has withdrawn, she has stopped calling and due to his aggressive nature, she can’t even speak to him about it.


We have discussed the hope she feels that some day he will become that Disney father but for him to do that he will need to ask why is my daughter not ringing me, why doesn’t my daughter want to share my life? But that would mean he has to look at his own behaviour and that takes courage, vulnerability and a sense of self awareness that hasn’t been evident so far.


Where does that leave people life my client? Years of neglect and aggressive behaviour mean that they can’t confront and fight for their themselves – it is impossible and so they manage unacceptable behaviour and with help from people like me start to set boundaries so they are protected. I would love to say there was a happy ending with my client with tears and hugs and love but actually there was an ending that meant that my client cut ties and the pain and hurt slowly reduced and her focus went on concentrating on her real family.


If you have been struggling with your family then give me a call and I can help you to get the best result for you.

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