the cloak of invisibility

June 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

For whatever reason, I have hit a period of introspection and needing to broaden my perspectives and deepen my understanding to move forward in my life.

My thoughts have been obsessively turning to questions about family relationships and what I need to do about them. I have been dealing with a compulsion to reach out to different family members, even though I know that my efforts to connect will be frustrated by boundary violations, unrealistic expectations, and crazy-making emotional demands.

I think I have identified a key element of my relationship troubles with family members. I have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder since my early teens. I am now 58 and I am yet to have any family member actually acknowledge that I have this condition. One of the ways this condition affects me is that I feel social anxiety, sometimes to the point that I must shut down a family relationship connection. This can happen from encounters of grievous disrespect, and also from seeming innocuous incidents of casual disregard. I guess the point is that I never know what degree of hurt I am going to have to endure if I put myself in proximity to family members. I never know how unpleasant my experience is going to be, I just know that it is going to be unpleasant.

This leads me to ask, why would I be compelled to put myself in this situation in the first place? What sane, self-caring person would expose themselves to habitual passive aggression? Why do I miss my family so much when I know that if I attend a family event I am putting myself at risk for either witnessing emotional incest, toxic co-dependence, or passive aggressive control?

I have been avoiding family encounters for an ever increasing length of time. Everytime I decide not to attend a family wedding, a family dinner, a family celebration, I increase the amount of distance between me and family members. In the past year I have noticed there has been more anger in the tone of the siblings to do communicate with me, and I now understand that they are afraid I am ‘shutting them out’ or ‘freezing them out’. In fact, this is a logical way to interpret my behaviour, as I have been distancing myself. However, my problem with that interpretation is that I would expect, if my behaviour is causing some pain or hurt feelings, that I would be asked or told that my behaviour is having this effect. Instead, I am subject to an anti-social encounter and then it is up to me to follow up with a question – why did you do that? It is only then that I learn that my non-attendance to a family event actually caused hurt feelings.

Well, it appears we have a recursive cycle of avoidance and distancing behaviours. If my interpretation is correct, then my avoidance, and those hurtful expressions, are actually maintaining a status quo, that is, my absence from family gatherings. I would think, if family members really wanted me to attend, they would let me know with love, not hurtful behaviours. My challenge is to identify these behaviours in the instant that they occur and ask what is going on. Unfortunately, it is just these kinds of behaviours that trigger my PTSD, which tends to render me speechless and frozen. Quite a bad combination.

I have long felt my PTSD was a problem for my other family members. It was as if my symptoms needed to be tamped down, covered up, made to disappear. The fact that I had these symptoms was never discussed or acknowledged. I can understand that now, that my PTSD indicated leakage, the facade of family courage, coherence, and competence was being marred by my lack of stamina and endurance. In my later life, my unwillingness to participate in shoring up the facade has caused more anxiety in the family as a system. The emotional tamping down that has held this family in a state of superficial productivity and chronic immaturity has built pressure in every family member, including succeeding generations of offspring. When I refuse to participate in the charade I threaten the emotional house of cards that has always been on the verge of collapse but has not come down because everyone agrees to refuse to acknowledge the strain.

It is extremely difficult to maintain family relationships under these conditions. I keep thinking there is something I can do and wracking my brain for a new line of inquiry or a new line of connection. But the fact is that my family prefers my state of invisibility, that my efforts to become known, to be seen for who and what I am are deeply unsettling to everyone who is simply holding their emotional pain and suffering at bay. If I am to shed this cloak of invisibility in my family, it going to have to drawn off by any family member who cares to know me. I am easy to find when you look.

I cannot decide whether I am going to attend the retirement party of a family member or the funeral of an estranged parent. I don’t have to decide that today. In fact, I am not going to be able to decide anything about the condition of my family relationships today. Because, just for today, none of them are talking to me, and I am not talking to them. If I don’t reach out to them, they will not seek me out for months, even years.

I can live with that today because I am putting a good life together. I will continue to process the pain and make sense of my experience with people who love me and ‘see’ me.


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§ One Response to the cloak of invisibility

  • N says:

    You are doing amazing work. I hope that joining the MIHH Forum is a good source of support along the way. As you move through such incredibly painful and confusing family system “stuff,” it’s important to have as much support as you can. PTSD must feel absolutely insurmountable so much of the time. Please know that I am here for you. My heart pained and my eyes teared as I read your recent posts. I know you will be okay, I know you are okay, because I know how strong you are … how honest and willing you are. Sending you much love, N

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