I think when children are raised in dysfunctional families, we mistakenly assume that the atmosphere of the home felt the same to all of us. It really hadn’t occurred to me that we each perceived the situation we found ourselves in differently, until I was well on my way to 40 years old. I knew my situation was unique, given that I was the only female not related to my abusive stepfather and thus, perversely qualified for a different ring of hell. But that is kind of where I let everything rest in my mind. A few years ago, though, while I was sorting through the wreckage of my marriage and being forced to deal with long festering wounds from my childhood, I was surprised to have discovered where the real root of my anger came from. Not from being abused, neglected, or emotionally detached all those childhood years. The deepest, angriest wound actually stemmed from the way my mother left my father…. sneakily, lie-laced, and indifferent to my shock and pain. Everything that happened from that day on only added fuel to a very pissed fire in my little heart.
A lot of things are happening in my life right now. Despite having walked away from that broken childhood 29 years ago, I find myself repeatedly drawn back in my mind to experiences back then that were damaging, misunderstood, humiliating, or just plain unfair. They had long since lost their power to haunt me, but they still felt unresolved. It would seem the Lord doesn’t plan to just leave them that way, in my life nor in the lives of the brothers and sisters I have.
I am the eldest child of 5 siblings. My brother Michael and I were born to Mom and Dad, and then there are three half siblings — Sarah, Alexa, and Aaron, who were born to Mom and Next Husband. I am not using their real names except for Mike. He’s pretty well-known now, so seriously, who would I be fooling? Sarah has become pretty well-known herself, but you’ll just have to figure that one out. 🙂
Without going into any real detail, let me just say that Mike and I found reason, after almost two decades, to have a real heart-to-heart talk. We have never once discussed the massive amount of dysfunctional fall-out we each grabble with as adults. Not even one time. So, it seemed to me that the Lord has been priming me these last few years to understand what being raised in that atmosphere can cause in lives for the rest of their time on earth. Because I lived through it myself, and because I’m obsessively vigilant about understanding problems, I have always harbored an enormous mercy when it comes to my siblings. They are all even more broken than I was. How can I be harsh when I know how awful all of this feels?
None of the five of us are really all that close. Actually, that would be giant understatement. We look pretty damn cold when it comes to each other.
I have always been the closest to Alexa, but even there, I’ve always sensed an uneasy mistrust in that relationship. It wasn’t born from anything she had said or done; it came from a childhood without familial connection. It was every man for himself in that home, which extended to the rest of the extended relatives. My mother came from the same kind of dysfunction herself, so it isn’t any wonder she perpetuated this poor parenting.
Not one of us felt unconditionally loved, and to a man, we all knew we were expendable to these people raising us. Subconsciously, we each obsessively aimed to be successful in some area of our lives that would finally help us achieve acceptance from these parents. That pretty common symptom has served us pretty well, as adults. We are all, by the world’s definition, successful, normal adults. But the perpetual failure to gain Mom and Next Husband’s approval has inflicted damage continually throughout our adulthoods as well, and the positive results of this bad situation are far outweighed by the increasing damage that is still accumulating.
After I spoke to Mike, Alexa reached out to me after quite some time, and we ended up talking for a long time. Frankly, she broke my heart…again. Over and over, the brief interactions I’ve had with my adult siblings have shown me so clearly how broken we each have been.
Alexa has had some truly painful experiences happen to her. She has had more than one miscarriage, and a few years ago, she lost her precious baby girl to a heart defect. How she managed to keep getting up and living each day after that is beyond me, but she did. The mother of a happy, healthy little boy, and a wife to a man who enjoys a normal, close-knit childhood family, she now has found herself fighting cancer. I remember finding this out on Facebook, and my initial reaction was to want to reach out, but a deep-seated fear of being rejected by her caused me to be only generically publicly concerned. Despite the vague wording though, I was truly, deeply sad for her.
We talked for hours that night. I finally was able to put into words why we all seem to be so unable to show any real warmth and regard for each other. I could tell that the silence of Sarah, Michael, and Aaron, and myself for the most part, during the most painful parts of her life not only wounded her greatly, but they also confused her. How can five children who were raised together be so callous to the suffering of each other? We all have close friends we love and care about in our lives. We are all parents, and while there is one of us who replicated this dysfunction in her own children’s lives, most of us are amazingly well-balanced parents for having such a lack of role model. Obviously, we have the ability to empathize with other people. Why couldn’t we give each other that same level of emotion?
After all these years, I have finally found the answer. We were raised by two narcissistic people. I won’t go into a long, drawn-out explanation. I will give you a link if you are curious.
The Narcissistic Family Portrait
My mother has always suffered from being bi-polar. Because Next Husband didn’t spare money for things like doctors, and because Mom tended to ignore things like mental illness, she largely remained undiagnosed until she was in her 40’s. Even then, she felt like the doctor was full of crap, and she refused to take any drug that wasn’t a narcotic. Lol..I don’t really blame her. But in researching all of this, I found the very obvious symptoms almost spookily accurate in describing my mother, all the way to the symptoms lessening as she aged. I’ve included the links at the end of the article. My mother, and to a great extent, my stepfather (who is Alexa’s real father) were text-book narcissists. And each of the five children raised in their home ended up with some severe emotional damage that has colored their lives dramatically, even to this very day.
What I also realized during this discovery was that despite being sexually abused, I actually ended up more emotionally stable because I had one thing that none of the rest of them had… a glimpse of how things should have been.
I’m a flawed human just like the rest of the world, and often throughout my life, I’ve felt self-pity for being abused and broken by a dick for a stepfather and a broken mother. But without fail, I am also the one child of my mother who repeatedly kept trying to have relationships with siblings who would not reciprocate those desires all throughout our adulthoods.
Why? Why? Why? I couldn’t understand why they just hated me. Whenever one would surface and need help, I would do my best to help them, and to show them that I cared about them. I never brought up past hurts. I would defend them against douche new stepmothers, or give them chunks of money for things they needed when I had it. I bought an expensive dog for my sister. Couldn’t they see how important they are to me?
And yet, they would fade away as quickly from my life as they had surfaced. And each time, I would be hurt by it. I would go through a period of time making myself forgive the latest act of what I considered, selfishness. Finally, I stopped reaching out altogether. It was just too painful being rejected by them over and over. To hell with the lot of them, I thought.
Yesterday, I had a “Well, Duh!” moment.
I had six or seven formative years experiencing what a real family looked like. In fact, that is probably the exact reason I was so generally wrathful towards my mother for the rest of my childhood. Even though my mother was there those first years of my life, I have no real memories of her at all. Instead, my earliest memories were of my father, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins on Dad’s side of the family…. I had real, normal, caring bonds with people who loved me. Years of being raised in a callous, narcissistic home had not been able to erase what my mind knew to be important… Being unconditionally loved by a parent is not just nice; it is important in order to be a healthy person. And as the time went by, that anger in my heart was fuelled by the knowledge that something I needed had been taken away from me. Unlike the other four kids born to my mother, I had experienced something normal. I knew what things were supposed to look and feel like. And I had spent so much of my adulthood wanting desperately to have that back again. Why didn’t these people want the same thing? Because not a single one of them had ever experienced it themselves, including Michael. His age had caused him to miss out on a real, healthy, normal bond that should exist between parents and children.
There will never be another moment in my life that I will allow myself to feel sorry for myself about all that happened to me as a child again. I am healthier than them all in a mountain of ways. I am certainly more emotionally well-adjusted. I never have crises of faith. I am adored by my father daily, and my kids are also benefactors of my subconscious ability to know how extremely important it is they know how unconditionally they are loved. All along, I realize now, my brothers and sisters had actually had things so much harder than me, and there is no way to go back in time and teach them what things should have been like. My heart is heavy with the knowledge of how almost impossible it will be for them to ever truly believe or trust that any man or even God will love them without any strings being attached. I would not trade places with a single one of them.
So, to Michael, Alexa, Sarah, and Aaron, I say this. I’m am so very sorry you have been broken by your childhoods. I am humbled by the mercy shown to me by the Lord that on the surface, He chose not to extend to you, and I will pray daily for your healing too. He has a plan for your lives too, and He will finish the work He started there. Try to be strong a while longer. He has not forgotten any of you.
If ever I can be there for you, all you have to do is call me. You all have my unconditional love. I not only don’t keep lists of perceived slights on your parts, but I can’t even care about anything any of you did that hurt my feelings. You were more broken than me, and I feel overwhelmed by the pain you each must be living in. I love each of you and always will, whether you are able to ever love me back or not. I hope you each read the links I put in here, so hopefully, you can understand yourselves a little better, and maybe even feel a little mercy for each other. No one escaped that life unwounded.
I hope God gives me the chance to show you just how amazing being loved without expecting anything in return really feels like. And thank you, Dad. Once again, I am beyond grateful I am your daughter. Even though you missed out on things you thought were important, you still were the parent who made my life livable. I love you so much. Thank you, Dad.
The Six Faces of Maternal Narcissism
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder