Small gestures over time amount to patterns of invalidation

July 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

The feeling of not belonging to my family is deeply painful. It is a feeling of disconnect that sits at the centre of my being. At my core. It is extremely difficult to make the decision, just for today, to protect myself from the casual cruelty of denial that is one of the defining features of my family. Everyone else seems to be able to cope with it in some way. They drink, they overeat, they smoke pot, they overwork. They isolate, they avoid, they achieve public recognition. And they undermine me when given a chance. The worst part is that I know they love me, and I love them. But they are unreachable, and I cannot make myself heard without great effort, and even then, the momentary recognition is lost to the entropy of maintaining the family facade.

This is what it feels like to be made the scapegoat of a family. It is not something that I chose as a child. It was something that fell to me because I was the ‘runt’ of the litter. I was the second female in a patriarchal family. I was the smallest in a family of big people. Even though I am second eldest, my four younger brothers all have greater status in the family than I have. I have tried to make my point, that I don’t want to be treated like a second class citizen in the family anymore, but it falls on deaf ears and denials.

Even the offspring of my step brother have greater status than I have. I can look back on interactions with each of my family members in the last few years and identify demeaning, undermining, or abusive behaviour towards me. In public my family members are celebrated for being passionate, articulate, creative, talented contributing members of society. In private, my father can’t give me an hour of his time because he needs to go Christmas shopping. My mother is hiking up her dress to embarrassingly reveal her knees and thighs. My sister will not sit down and have coffee with me without her entourage. Brother1 blames me for his anger at feeling hurt because I am ‘shutting him out’ without once asking me what is going on with me. Brother2 arranged to come over for 3 visits. The first two appointments he was a no show, and on the third he arrived an hour late and then left without talking to me. Brother3 came by to visit our renovation at a point when we were desperately working 7 days a week to get it finished and get the suite rented so that we could reverse our catastrophic money flow and all he could say was, “I thought you would be further along than this.” Brother4 sent me a nasty email when I arranged a walk in the park that he thought conflicted with another family dinner but did not.

These are all incidents that have happened in the last year. What bothers me is there is no means to express my discomfort to these people and have them validate my experience that these were hurtful or harmful comments or behaviours. That is the central issue that I grapple with. My family does not realize that each member of the family has an invalidating attitude toward me and that their behaviour toward me is deeply harmful, even if, on the surface, it appears as a one off minor event. It is the accumulation of these events that is so hurtful.

So I stand my ground and say, to myself and anyone that cares to hear, “No more.” And they do not understand, they dismiss my experience, they don’t care enough to ask, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to examine their own attitudes and behaviours and possibly make some adjustments.

Ugh. I hate it so much. It is exhausting to deal with. Onward!

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