Posts tagged dysfunction
Posts tagged dysfunction
Our family of origin provides us with our first lessons in love. As children we cannot articulate the lessons that we are learning, and as parents we are not always aware of the lessons that we are teaching.
Consciously, my parents taught me all of the right things. Love is sharing and caring, affection and consideration, laughter and shared joy. My parents went to great lengths to demonstrate their love to my sister and I. They were active in our lives, supportive of our interests, considerate of our feelings, and disciplined our character.
Like so many parents, my parents were unaware that children are not only raised by the conscious decisions of their parents; they are shaped by the unconscious motivations and actions they witness as well. Once the dysfunctional nature of my parents’ marriage began to leak into our family time, their excellent parenting could no longer shield us from the torment of what my sister and I came to identify as “True Love”, an ongoing struggle for validation that ultimately ends in the suffocation of one or both parties. Fortunately for my sister and I, we saw our parents survive and rebuild. By that time the lessons had already taken root in our unconscious definitions of love.
I can honestly say that as of December 1, 2010, I had not experienced intimacy. Intimacy requires vulnerability, vulnerability requires trust, and trust was poorly modeled in my parents’ marriage. In my experience, trust was not enough to keep a man from cheating, to stop fists from flying, or to prevent families from being sliced open and left for dead. Trust was a crack in the foundation of our childhood home, and as an adult trust continued to prove itself unreliable. Trust said it loved me, and left. Trust told me I was beautiful, and broke my heart. Trust committed itself to me, but withheld its love as collateral. In my experience, trust always led me further from the experience of love.
Manipulation has been my faithful companion on my quest to find true love. Where trust failed me, manipulation was able to at least provide me with the illusion of love, and up until December 1, 2010, this was sufficient. I learned early in life that manipulation could be used to control the behavior of others. Watching my parents’ marriage taught me this: Love is interchangeable with power and control. Manipulation allowed me to feel safe because I could control and maintain the love of others through their reactions to my behaviors. While my sister was exploding with attention seeking behaviors, I was internalizing my environment and learning how to make it work for me. To this day she will cut off a person who hurts her, but I will simply readjust the relationship because there are other parts of the person I still find useful. It sounds calculating when I say it out loud, but the reality is I have spent 20 years using this coping skill unconsciously in what I considered to be healthy relationships. The obvious truth is how could they have been healthy if I was engaging in manipulation to feel safe and loved, and how could I claim to love someone I would not allow myself to trust?
We all have our coping companions. Some of us avoid conflict, others lie, and some cheat. Some of us implode and shut down, others explode, and some of us self-soothe with substances. If we grew up watching fear, power, control, shame, guilt, or pain masquerading as love, it is a guarantee that one of these mechanisms became our not- so-imaginary friend. If you are honest with yourself, you will see it in every interaction you have ever had with another human being you claimed to have loved. After all, by our childhood definitions love required these behaviors to survive.
Today, identify your coping companion. Take out your journal, thank it for accompanying you this far in your journey, and acknowledge its intention to protect your childhood heart and mind. Tell it that you are an adult now, and you no longer want to engage in the illusion of love. Explain that you now know that in order to have true love in your life and interactions, you must choose trust over manipulation, honesty over deceit, kindness over power, and self over shame. Lovingly tell your coping companion that you intend to continue this journey alone, until true love becomes your only companion.
I cannot thank you enough for protecting my young heart and mind when I was unable to process the complexities of my childhood home. Thank you for helping me to cope and survive. I believe you came into my life with the best of intentions. However, I am no longer a child, and in order to become a fully expressed woman I can no longer be shielded from the challenge of loving and trusting others. I am ready to take the risk, to face the hurt, to open myself up to disappointment and pain, in order to gain a love rooted in freedom of choice and mutual respect for each other’s process. I no longer believe I have to manipulate a person into loving me. I believe I am so amazing someone will love me as is. I am choosing trust and patience over you. I am going to continue this journey without you, until true love becomes my only companion.