Like many people, I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family. I often try to discount this, even to myself, by reminding myself that a LOT of people grew up in dysfunctional families, and they seem to be doing fine, so what’s my problem? Then I realize this is part of the dysfunction – this discounting of my perceptions and emotions. I was one of three adopted kids, and I think my adoptive mother would have been so much happier if she had lived a different life – but it was important to her to “keep up with the Jones’s” in the life she chose. We had lots of animals around, all rescue animals, so being adopted, I used to joke that she got her dogs, cats, and kids from “the pound”. My adoptive brother had dangerous mental health issues that were ignored because “what would the neighbors think?” – a story to be told another time. I am over 50, and it was only a couple of years ago that I finally gave up trying to have any kind of relationship with my family. I broke up with them – something that our society seems to find abhorrent, but that was the only healthy choice for me. I knew I would have a hard time, so I wrote the following letter to myself, for those times when I found myself wanting to reach out and try again.
Note to my future self from the self that broke up with my family.
I know there is going to come a time when you think you want to contact them and make everything better. I need you to remember the things in this note. I need you to remember the gas-lighting and other stuff that rational, healthy people have helped you learn. I need you to remember that your reality is valid. I didn’t make this decision lightly, or in a “mood”. It’s been years of cycling back around to this point. Years of trying to live in my own fantasy that I could have a relationship with them ‘someday’ if I just did this or that right. Or even more delusional, that THEY would change somehow and realize they wanted to know me and have me in their lives and share their lives with me.
You’ll tell yourself you could have done more, that you could still do more. The difficult reality is that this part is true: there are definitely things you could do. The question is whether these things would be good for you. For instance, you COULD move back to where they live, and live down the street from them, and pretend you are who they want you to be. You COULD negate your own perceptions and feelings every time one of them treats you like you matter less than they do, or like you are a little crazy for thinking something that you think, or that you are being “too sensitive” or “overly dramatic”. You COULD do all of the things they require in an effort to “belong” with them. Except, you still wouldn’t fit, you still wouldn’t belong, and they still wouldn’t be able to connect with you. Unless you want to do everything I just listed, and more…then you need to let them be dead to you. There is no middle ground – like addiction, for you, a little bit of them takes you down a dark road on which you get lost, so you need to abstain completely.
So – they are dead to you. The good news is that this means you can let yourself remember the good stuff, without feeling like you should pick up the phone or show up on their doorstep and rekindle something that never existed in the first place. The “family” that was your fantasy IS dead. It never existed, and it never will. THAT is dead…and therefore, the people on whom that fantasy was focused DO NOT EXIST.
The reality is that they are not the family that you want them to be – and honestly, you have to grow up enough to stop putting that on them. It isn’t fair – they are simply being who and how they are, and it’s not their job to be what you want them to be any more than it is your job to be what they want you to be. Through no fault of your own, you just don’t fit. You have spent almost 50 years trying to fit…it’s never going to happen. Not only that, but they are not going to change. You are not going to show up on their doorstep to find a magically transformed mother or father or sister or brother that welcomes you with open arms and sits and talks for hours to resolve old wounds and create some never-before-seen closeness that you have craved.
Most importantly, you can’t survive in the pretense any longer. It’s possible that it has been killing you. This is NOT melodramatic – you have resisted being yourself because when you were young, and when you try to be part of them, it is not safe to be yourself. This is a true thing – not something you’ve made up. It hurts you when you try to interact with them. They don’t want YOU…they don’t even KNOW you, and they want you to be something you are not able to be. It is the only way that your mom, aka ‘The Queen’, can maintain control and her carefully crafted version of reality – for you to be someone and something that you are not. They need to see you as the wrong one, the crazy one, the foolish or flighty or sensitive one. ALL of them…they all work to support the Queen’s reality, because if they do not, it is too painful for them.
So they work to maintain the illusion, and if you show up you create a crack in that facade. They can’t allow that, so they have to belittle you and make you wrong. That’s not healthy for you and it’s not healthy for them, and although you might have been able to let go of that, you would need them to let go of their own delusions as well. They would have to want to communicate to understand – not for power, not for control…but for understanding…and they don’t want to understand. They don’t want to give up their own delusions. They don’t even want to give you a glance into their lives. That would create intimacy, and therefore vulnerability, and that is too dangerous for them. Their whole world would shatter, like yours did when you finally gave up the illusions that you needed to play your role. The only way you could have been a part of their lives, was to give up yourself completely…and continue to pretend to be what they wanted you to be.
Whether the Queen continues to exercise her control on purpose, or is truly just lost in her own delusions…you won’t ever know. I don’t know whether any of them are necessarily deliberate in how they treat you – as hubby says, they all drank the kool-aid. So they maintain the delusion together, in agreement. You cannot be healthy and continue to want from them something they cannot give – a healthy, honest relationship with give and take and understanding and connection. It is not possible for YOU to be healthy and stay connected to anyone who wants you to be something other than who you are…or who is uncomfortable and unwilling to love you just as you are.
So it is time to let go, finally and forever. In this thing, there cannot be flexibility, or a changed mind due to a mood or that you are sad, or a dip back down into their delusion. It’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to miss the idea of having a family. It’s important that you mourn as much as you need to, grieve until your grieving is DONE, and grieve again if you need to. Just also be honest with yourself – you NEVER had a family. You had a facade. You had a paper cut-out casting a shadow on the wall…it didn’t hold up to any kind of direct light.
It’s time to accept and admit that you have basically escaped from a cult. I know – you’re thinking that I’m exaggerating…but I’m not. If you are reading this letter and considering reconnecting with this group of people, then remind yourself about gas-lighting and other things that cults do to break down the new members, and then program them. Realize that if you are feeling a need to reconnect with them, it is just the old programming rearing its ugly head. You were subject to the influence of these people for almost 30 years…and it took almost 20 to finally and completely break free. Of COURSE there will be times when you miss it and want to go back. You only need to do two things: be honest with yourself and forgive them.
Remember that forgiveness is not about reconnecting or having someone in your life that hurt you. It is about truly letting go, seeing the whole picture, and having the power to choose. That’s it. You can forgive them, recognize they are doing the best they can and being who and how they choose to be. You can even remember they are not evil, or that they did good things sometimes, too. None of that means that reality has changed – none of it means you would have a different or better or remotely healthy experience were you to expose yourself to their dysfunction again.
Today, and everyday moving forward, the best thing you can do for yourself is remember that what you want does not exist WITH THEM. Remember to practice self awareness and accepting your own perceptions of reality. Not real in the inflexible, “this is the only reality” kind of real way…but real to you – real enough to have value as your experience. If you are feeling pain – you are feeling pain. There need not be any story to that. If you are uncomfortable, you are uncomfortable, and if you want to be comfortable, you’re ALLOWED… Letting go of the cult means letting go of the programming, and re-learning yourself from the ground floor. What DO you actually think? What is your reality…not anyone else’s…but YOURS? When something feels wrong, “off”, crazy-making…then it probably IS. Allow yourself to recognize that you might actually be a healthy person, with insight and understanding and compassion and great, deep sensitivity. That sensitivity was dangerous in the world you grew up in, but it can be a source of beauty and strength now. Just remember to breathe, let go, and choose YOU.