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Friday, May 8, 2015

Never Good Enough

The truth is that I have never been good enough for my own family, and the further truth is that implies I have missed a very low bar, indeed. Over the years I spent quite a lot of time trying to unravel why that has been the case. You might think there would be some comfort in finally reaching the place where you understand that the primary reason you have never been good enough is long standing, multi-generational dysfunction, wounding, and woundedness, but it really isn't. The reason that understanding doesn't really help is that it isn't anything tangible. It's not as if you can point to that kind of a family history as you can something physical and show the wounds encountered as if they were a broken leg or a surgical scar. Even if you could, you would be pointing at something that is pieced together with a fair amount of speculation and inductive reasoning. When you examine the family tree and see someone with a certain number of maladaptive behaviors, you can reasonably reach some conclusions about the origins of those behaviors - but you will never have anything even remotely resembling solid evidence or proof because the main players are long deceased.

An example would be successive generations of husbands who are dominated by their wives. You can conclude that somewhere up the line a husband carried a lot of shame and a wife carried a lot of anger, but in all likelihood the exact reasons have been lost to time. Since children learn to be adults from their parents, the odds are that a son born to such a relationship will be attracted to a woman who is strong and perhaps carries some anger just under the surface. He will recreate his family of origin, hoping it will work out differently, but that is roughly equivalent to following a recipe for a cake and wondering why you don't end up with a pot roast. In some ways, everything runs quite smoothly until someone dares to get healthy. The moment someone starts getting healthy the system will try to bring that person back into line with the dysfunctional family rules. If they refuse and continue to get healthy, even if only a little bit at a time, one or more members of the family will subconsciously see to it that they are ostracized, subconsciously believing that doing so will keep the family history under wraps. A story will be created that the increasing healthy person simply cannot be trusted, that it's best not to invite them to family events, and the extended family - some of them quite unwittingly - buy into the family mythos. If the increasingly healthy individual does show up at a family event, they receive the treatment one might expect a leper to receive: glances of pity and suspicion mixed with a fair amount of condescension.

Of course, along the way to getting healthy mistakes are bound to be made that provide enough "evidence" for the threatened family members to use in excluding the family member on the path to healing, and if there is one thing most dysfunctional families are very good at it is judging its members (and for that matter just about everybody and everything they encounter) harshly. Those members who are trying to get healthy may eventually realize that they need to let their family of origin go, let its members think of them whatever they will - either because they can't really do anything to change their opinions anyway or because trying to do so simply requires more energy that most people have, with no guarantee of success. This requires a fair amount of non-attachment, both to family and to results. It isn't a simple or quick solution, like taking the equivalent of a family antibiotic. It has to start somewhere and with someone, however, and the sooner the better.

Along the way we are bombarded with cultural messages about the value of family. We do well not to deny that family is in fact quite important. If it family wasn't important it couldn't inflict the damage it sometimes does. It is helpful to redefine family. however. Family has to be more than a accident of biology, just as being a parent is more than a matter of ejaculation and ovulation. As we enter this Mother's Day weekend, followed next month by Father's Day weekend, we would do well to realize that no family is perfect because all families are the product of a combination of widely varied forces. That doesn't mean we need to subject ourselves to the toxic effects of those who prefer no to move toward wholeness, however. We can simply step away, and look to the future rather than the past. We can create a new family of our own choosing where we will be accepted and loved for who we are rather than keep waiting for our biological family members to do something of which they simply are not capable. We not only don't need to feel guilty for taking care of ourselves, we can acknowledge it simply isn't appropriate. We all deserve to be happy, and it begins with self-care!