What Is Not There
This is my first Christmas without any contact with my family of origin and it is an enormous relief. I plan on going to do the holiday with a friend. It sounds nice.
I’ve been reading a book about childhood emotional neglect, Running On Empty by Jonice Webb, PhD. It answers so many questions. It also addresses the well-meaning-but-neglected-themselves parents. She talks about the things that didn’t happen, the needs that didn’t get met. It answers so many questions. Even playing the obvious scapegoat role, there were just so many good, right, essential, non-negotiable things that never occurred that became the problem. I was never molested or beaten or anything obvious. In some ways, I was the lucky one.
But I entered adulthood without a sense of self or a yardstick for normal or even a language for feelings (alexithymia). I remember being asked after high school, “What do you want to do with your life?” This was my answer: “What does that have to do with anything?” I honestly did not even understand the question. I truly could not imagine a less relevant question. The world was not my oyster. Survival was my only goal, and, oh yeah, getting the hell out of Michigan.
Last night, watching a Kenny Rogers special that brought me to tears, it occurred to me that nobody in my family ever talked about feelings. And there were zero safe topics of conversation. Every get together was a production. The Captain of the Titanic puts on the best shows. Everyone has their pre-determined role to play, mine being scapegoat. Watching TV, it hit me that there were no relationships in my family, just roles. Think about it. You see someone. No safe topics. No emotions allowed. If you express any, then you are at fault and shamed for being a normal human. Is this a “relationship” that you would invest time and energy into maintaining? Hardly. And any amount of time spent with this person solely out of a sense of obligation would be exhausting. I could not relate to “Through the Years” at all.
What is funny to me is that I took all this family stuff and could see it everywhere else, especially churches I attended. I still see it in churches, but I know now that a lot of it was my projection of my family stuff onto them. When demands are made on your time, talents, and treasures, without basic emotional needs being met first, walking away becomes the only logical, rational choice. Or, worse, when the members do treat you like family and assign dysfunctional roles to you, the only real option is to run away and not look back. It reminds me of a Big Bang Theory where Sheldon is at the Cheesecake Factory and Penny asks him why he doesn’t just go to the Olive Garden down the street. “They treat me like family there and I don’t like that.” Amen, Shelly.