It is difficult to speak these thoughts out loud, and doing so is a recent development for me, a personal resurrection. Emotional abuse thrives on secrecy, as it keeps the subjects of the abuse compliant and easy to reach. Those who try to cast it off are scorned, shunned, derided by the very people who should, in a better world, be their champions. Children who grow up in an atmosphere of control and invalidation learn to be fearful of voicing their experiences.
An abuser etches harmful words on the souls of her children and convinces them that they are the truth. If the children are fortunate, somebody will be present who can smooth these words out and provide a healthy view of reality. If they are unfortunate, they will be alone, isolated, and confused regarding what is reality and what is a lie. If they stand up for themselves, they will be punished, not only by their abuser, but also by others influenced by the abuser. They will be told not to air dirty laundry, even though talking about abuse is the only way to heal. They will be told to forgive and to forget, even though forgetting means submitting oneself to abuse over and over and over again. They will be told to bury the hatchet, even though they are not the ones holding it. They will be threatened and shamed in the abuser's efforts to regain control and bully the abused person back into submission.
I am speaking these things in public because without openness, there is no healing, there is only the secrecy in which abuse thrives. That secrecy protects the abuser(s) and assures that their targets cannot escape. I know that a dysfunctional family, when exposed, experiences pain, feels raw. That rawness is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the generations of dysfunctional parents before me, who each passed their burdens down to their children, intentionally or not.
Once there was a girl who called me a whore, for a joke, repeatedly. When I stood up to her, she complained that I hurt her feelings. I understand that her feelings were hurt, but I do not regret standing up for myself, nor do I think she had much of a right to complain about her feelings being hurt by her friend asking her not to call her a whore any more. Just so with parents who harm their children. I acknowledge that estrangement is difficult for those parents, but a person who does harm to another does not have the right to cry foul when the hurt person declares "no more."
I have heard accusations. I have heard insults. I have heard litanies of my faults. I have heard demands. I have heard threats. I have heard some pretty words but not heard words surrounding them that make them seem meaningful, nor seen any actions that lead me to believe those pretty words are true. I have been subjected to fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG), the triple-threat of the dysfunctional family. I have not heard introspection, self-reflection, thoughtful consideration, sharing of responsibility. I have not seen change.
Nobody wants an estrangement. Nobody picks it as their first line of emotional defense or starts it on a whim. Estrangement is not about one particular event or a grudge; it is about a pervasive pattern of behavior from which a person has decided to disentangle themselves in order to be happy and healthy. There is always, always a long, exhausting back story. Decades spent wishing for and trying to achieve change. A lifetime of hurt that runs through the past and continues into the present.
Nor does hurt negate positive memories. I have oodles of them. I also know that many of the parts of myself that I like a lot were influenced by my parents, and that they have many good traits. Happy memories and good characteristics still exist, even in abusive families, but they are not enough to excuse the abuse or to remove its effects. Moments of happiness do not obligate a person to dedicate herself to a lifetime of a broken relationship.
I have four siblings. I will not speak for them, because in families such as mine, each sibling has their own story and suffers their own effects. Individual impact is affected by birth order, gender, personality, favoritism, scapegoating, and so much more. I've seen how that plays out in the generation older than me. I know it will play out in its own way in my generation. I love my siblings, enjoy my relationships with them, and appreciate the moments of compassionate witness and shared experience that we have. I know that not all of them will like my speaking in public. I have been informed - perhaps erroneously, perhaps accurately - that one or more of them think I'm delusional. I hope that this is nothing but the gaslighting of a woman struggling to get her narcissistic supply, but if it's true, I understand how a person could have that perspective.
I'm not delusional, though. I am me. I own my truth, the good parts and the bad.
I was instructed recently to "end this," and so I am ending it. I'm done.
I am coming out of the fog.
I will be myself. I will work to overcome the anxiety, fear, and shame that shackle me. I acknowledge the heredity and upbringing that contributed to these issues in the past, and take responsibility for handling them in the present time.
I will not fraternize with people who do me harm, physically or emotionally. I will not subject my children to such people. I will continue to build a community of reciprocal relationships with friends and family members who play actively positive roles in our lives and who show a willingness to work constructively together in times of interpersonal struggle.
I will not allow any person to bully and intimidate my family via threats of legal action.
I will be a compassionate witness for others who need to share their stories and come out of secrecy, whether it is about abuse or any other personal trial. I will express my gratitude to the friends who share their struggles with me in order to let me know that I am not alone.
I will work hard to be a truly loving parent who understands who her children are as people, who will respect their rights, who rejects control-based parenting advice with its negative views of the nature of children. I will listen to my children's concerns. I will acknowledge my mistakes and apologize genuinely to them. I will not shame them or withdraw love from them when who they are is at odds with who I am. I will not use my size, experience, or age to oppress them. I will exercise patience, self-restraint, compassion.
I will expect my husband to confront me and support my children when I harm them. I will support them when they believe that he has done something unfair, or when I witness him doing something hurtful. We will work as a family to encourage an atmosphere of respect for all members, regardless of age.
I understand that my children may choose their own paths. I will work to be open to their criticism and understanding if, despite my intents in this time, I fail to play a sufficiently positive role in their lives. I will accept whatever relationship they wish to have with me in the future. I do not own their bodies or their minds, now or ever.
We are each the captains of our own souls. I greet those who sail with me in this time, even as I bid farewell and smooth sailing to those with whom I can no longer travel.