“How could they!?!” For years, the thought drove me nuts. How could my family, my nearest and dearest, do and say the unconscionable narcissistic things they said and did. Things I would never dream of saying nor doing. They were my people, my flesh-and-blood. They said they loved me, for goodness’ sakes!
How could they!?!
It took time. Too much time before the answer hit me. It was elegant by its very simplicity. Almost a “no duh” moment.
Psychologically speaking, you and I may as well be orphans. We were born into our families by some “accident of birth”…not because we are like them, deserve to be associated with them nor resemble them psychologically, relationally, emotionally or spiritually.
My family is not like me. And I am not like them.
When I stopped identifying myself with them, stopped using the pronouns “us” and “we,” stopped believing that I belonged in that particularly family, then the torturous “How could they!?!” mental monologue came to an ed.
Doing The Opposite
Several years ago, my husband and I were staying with our Amish friends at their in-law’s home. It was hot. Blasted hot! The humidity felt like 100% with not a breath of wind. Naturally, they didn’t have electricity so A/C and fans weren’t an option. The only thing we could do is get in the car, crank up the A/C and drive the rolling hills and lush fields of “Amishville.”
During one of these deliciously refreshing drives, Amish Ed asked me about my husband’s family. Let’s just say Michael’s family couldn’t get much worse…yet my husband grew up to become a wonderful man. Flippantly I responded, “Michael’s a good husband because he thinks of what his father would do and then does the exact opposite.”
There was stunned silence in the car.
But that’s the crux of not identifying with your abusive family.
It’s A Choice
Making the decision to abuse is just that: a decision. A choice. Oh, I don’t mean a one-off explosion of anger during a stressful, hormonal time, saying an occasional insensitive thing or being clueless…well-meaning but clueless,
I’m referring to a pattern of abuse. Abuse as a lifestyle. Abuse as the status quo, the modus operandi. Abuse on purpose.
Take my father-in-law for example. He was very much wanted and grew up lacking for nothing. Nothing in his background, as far as we know, gave him a “reason” to reek of alcohol while beating, blaming, neglecting, shaming, demeaning and stealing from his son unmercifully. Everything my husband suffered would seem to give him a “reason” to abuse. But, long ago, he made the choice not to. He went on walkabout to recover from his upbringing. He doesn’t drink. Never loses his temper. Even the most vicious dog will roll over at his feet and beg for a belly rub.
It’s a choice.
We Are Not of That Ilk
If you’re reading this article, then you too had a choice to make. We all do.
It’s a choice whether to carry on the status quo of our birth families or do things differently. Even more, it’s a choice whether or not we are going to take out our rage and pain from our upbringings on our spouses and children.
Everyone has that choice. So when I hear that the Golden Children of narcissistic parents always become narcissists, I want to scream. Because I am a Golden child (well, as an only child, I’m actually part golden, part goat) and I did not become a narcissist.
I made my choice. You’ve made your choice.
We chose to end the cycle of abuse.
Stop Identifying With Your Old Family
Your family had a choice to make too. Oh, psychology may have been a newish field when they were born or when they were raising you. They may not have had access to all the wonderful books we have now. Heck! The internet may’ve not even been invented yet.
But honesty, kindness, common sense and gut instinct always existed.
Your abusers had a choice. They made it…the wrong choice.
Just because you were born to or adopted by them, doesn’t mean you’re of their ilk…psychologically, emotionally, relationally or spiritually. Oh, you may have their slanted eyes, big ears or Romanesque nose, but the similarity ends there. I inherited the ridiculously tiny ears, non-event of a nose and penchant for organizing absolutely everything on spreadsheets…but the similarities end there.
When you query, “How could they?” you’re projecting your goodness onto them. A logical fallacy. Just because you’re honest and were raised by your abusers to be unerringly honest, doesn’t mean they are. Just because you were raised to be kind, doesn’t mean they are. Just because they taught you to always listen to you conscience, doesn’t mean they heed theirs. Just because you keep a close eye on your true motives, doesn’t mean they do. Just because you share genetics, doesn’t mean you’re alike on the inside, where it counts.
A better question is, “Why are they not like you!?!” After all, you’re a pretty decent person. You made a choice to be. So what’s their excuse for being a churlish, froward, pribbling lexiphane!? (Gotta love archaic English!)
There isn’t an excuse.
Divorcing Family, Embracing Orphanhood
Separating from (and going No Contact) with your family is kinda’ like going through a divorce. It’s painful, it takes an inordinate amount of time and it can be expensive.
But, strangely, choosing to make yourself an “orphan” comes as a relief. When you stop identifying with your family, you’ll begin to feel lighter. And when you stop projecting them onto you and vice versa, you’ll feel much happier. Been there. Got the wounds to prove it. Came out the other side happier than I’ve ever been!
It’s a brave new day and there are much nicer people out there to form a new adoptive “family” unit. Like the lovable Bear who turned up at Paddington Station wearing a tag that read, “Please look after this bear,” you too can find a new family. You may not be bonded by blood, but you’ll be bonded by something much better: Mutual kindness, respect and laughter. Fancy that!
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