Family trauma

SeaEagle

Sparrow
As Thanksgiving is coming up where I live, I find myself losing stress and sleep over this family get together.

I was neglected and abused by my parents, and being the youngest, I was somewhat of a punching bag.

I used marijuana, video games and fornication to soothe myself and numb the pain. I've battled these vices successfully in recent time, but the pain of the past has resurfaced quite viscerally.

My family still carries on in a similar manner, constantly bickering and bringing each other down over very minor innocent mistakes, from the past also.

I wonder what the Christian approach would be. Part of me feels like its my duty to honor my parents and family by spending time with them, but they're behavior past and present causes me great distress and dread, even in just thinking of getting together.

If anyone has insight into this I'd be very appreciative.
 

Viktor Zeegelaar

Pelican
Orthodox Inquirer
Thanks for your openness and vulnerability. First of all I haven't been through the things you describe, on the contrary, I had an extremely happy and carefree youth but that coalesced in difficulties down the line as I was unprepared for life. Been through many traumatic times and experiences, also family related among others, in the last 8 years or so and I found that the first shocks were the most difficult but I got used to it to the extent that trauma/suffering somewhat became part of me and the impact just evaporated mostly, like a muscle that has been trained.

On your case, I find it difficult to estimate the abuse and neglect you've had by your parents. As you rightfully say honoring parents is a very important aspect, however does your family add to your salvation of diminishes the chance thereof by constant attacks and creating a negative energy in your life? A key aspect of Christianity, and more particular Christian masculinity, is the erection of boundaries. So what I could give you as advice is 1. to consider the question I put about the net spiritual benefit you get from your family, 2. think about your boundaries, write them down and protect them by actively saying yes to things, but also no. If boundaries are not there or there and not protected, respect is lost and it's going downhill from there. Maybe what your family needs is to see the Christian masculine version of yourself, standing for the truth, not actively and aggressively looking for conflict but also not at all unwilling to get into conflict when necessary to protect your integrity and your world view. This can also be addressing the neglect/abuse in retrospect in an arranged meeting with those involved where you speak up about it and genuinely share your feelings, what that did to you and what you expect/demand different from this point forward to improve the relationship or to have a relationship at all. By telling what you expect of the people around you, calling them out when they don't live up to that and shining in your standards/belief/truth/world view I'm sure it won't take too long to make the people who can't stand that to opt out by themselves, or for you to identify who the people are who are dragging you down. Hopefully you get some value from this advice and please share further thoughts, for this is not a healthy situation indeed.
 

SeaEagle

Sparrow
@Viktor Zeegelaar

Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply and I'll take the time to act on your suggestions.

My father has severe rage issues and I dont believe he has had peace in his heart for longer than a second or two. You can see it in his face, in contorted angry expressions when he isn't actively distracting himself with his vices. He was molested by a family member when young, in addition to having neglectful and abusive parents. I can see its a cycle. Hardly a day went by that I wasn't yelled at, with physical violence being threatened often and acted on a few times. I wasn't a bad kid either, reasons for extreme reprimand would be slightly dirty pants or a B+ instead of an A.

My Mom threatened to give me up for adoption if I got into trouble at school and would treat me with disgust for months on end. I could go on, but you get the idea. I don't mean to have a pity party but I'm happy you asked.

I've been called "too sensitive" when I bring this up, and they act/are ignorant of wrongdoing. My doormat tendency is such that I don't want to bring it up because I fear it will make them sad, or that I'll explode with rage.

My family doesn't attend church, but now worships money and status above all else. My sister actively tells me "You aren't Catholic" when I mention going to church or seeking a Christian wife and friends. I can see now they aren't aiding or supporting my spiritual journey.

Thank you so much for the reply, it means the world to me.
 

doodydota

Pigeon
I feel you brother.
Do you have to attend this meeting?
Are you living with on your own?
Can't you say you're feeling a bit under the weather and use it as an excuse, especially in Covid times...
 

get2choppaaa

Ostrich
Not telling you this is what the right thing to do is, but merely what I would do:

I would bring up how you're feeling about what you experienced and your perceptions of your upbringing.

Tell them you want to get through this so you can all be loving in kind to each other but earnestly address it.

If they dismiss you or attack you, end the conversation and leave.

Tell them you forgive them, and are sad that they are unwilling to show you the respect and love you deserve.

Even if you are being overly sensitive (not saying you are)... It is better to have the items addressed.

You obviously love them and want them to love you so i would try and take the approach of not being spiteful nor petulant, but merely honest about your perceptions and feelings.

Remember you only have 1 family so it's best to reconcile if able... But that takes 2.

If no attempt at recognition or closure occurs I would figure out if you seriously want to reconcile with them after a period of no contact and try again or are just comfortable with the status quo and where you are as far as your feelings are concerned.
 

Edek

Robin
Orthodox Catechumen
I had a pretty bad time growing up, different from you: my problems had more to do with being sent to boarding school age 12 and getting into petty crime with no supervision - a form of neglect, to be sure, both my parents worked hard, remarried, started new families, and had little time for my brother and me. Repairing relationships takes time and willingness from both sides, and that won't happen in time for thanksgiving, and it certainly isn't a good idea to try it during.
Anyway, I've found it tough getting along with one of my step-families. The way I handle being with them is to go grey, be polite and keep turning the conversation back to them. I don't talk about myself or say much at all, I give brief nothing-burger answers to their questions, and then ask them small talk questions. I am very appreciative, make the effort to give more praise and thanks than necessary. If they pick on me, I say something like "guilty as charged. Would you pass the mustard, please?". Sometimes, one of them likes to gloat and remind me of how much my brother and I have lost (my bro is so much milder than me, and he hasn't spoken to any of them in over 10 years) as a result of our parent's divorce and subsequent remarriage, and how much they have gained. I just let it go and act like they didn't say anything noteworthy, without ignoring them, and move the conversation on.

I don't live with these people or see them for more than a few hours a year. If they get under my skin too much, I excuse myself, go to the toilet and take some deep breaths, reminding myself that being chilled out is a small price to pay to "make my parent there happy" (I don't like that phrasing, but that's not relevant here).

If I were in your shoes, I would do that for the whole time until the end. Shortly before leaving, after thanking them warmly for everything, I would take my parents aside, tell them that I have been feeling bad because I would really like a better connection with my family and to communicate more easily with them, and would they be willing to join me in any kind of counselling that they feel comfortable with? Keep the phrasing about me, not them - how I feel, what I need, without in any way criticising them or labelling their behaviour. Making it about them is a recipe for starting drama. Even saying "I would like to communicate more easily" can set someone off "what are you saying? That I am hard to talk to? How could you! I am so easy to talk to, you little sheeeit!", so think carefully about your choice of words. As @get2choppaaa says "If they dismiss you or attack you, end the conversation and leave." Don't get into a fight - that's why I suggest leaving it right till the end, so you have said your thank yous and are ready to walk.

Good luck and God bless. I hope that most of your stress is from overthinking this, and you can find productive ways to use your energy in the meantime.
 
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soli.deo.gloria

Woodpecker
Orthodox Inquirer
Gold Member
I wonder what the Christian approach would be. Part of me feels like its my duty to honor my parents and family by spending time with them, but they're behavior past and present causes me great distress and dread, even in just thinking of getting together.

If anyone has insight into this I'd be very appreciative.
My understanding is that you should forgive them unconditionally but you are not obligated to spend time with them if they are abusive. I am in the same position as yourself and do not have a relationship with several family members because of this.
 

SeaEagle

Sparrow
@doodydota I don't have to attend the gathering, they partially don't want me there because I'm unvaxxed. I'd rather just say I don't want to straight up and not lie, although I appreciate the suggestion for sure.

@get2choppaaa I have a hard time verbalizing and blank out when speaking about it. I feel I have to write it out and send it to both. I've done it before, but I was better off telling it to a wall, as the response was ignorance/apathy. If I get my main issues out in the email and I'm not ejected from the family, id be open to an in-person meeting. My Mom has been pushing SSRIs on me from my teen years, its her solution unfortunately.

@MRAll134 Very good idea. I'm in a small town, and my current priest doesn't have any training in that area. Perhaps I can contact the diocese and see if support is available.

@Edek Thank you for the reply. I agree you suffered a form of abuse or neglect, but I feel like that approach doesn't apply to me on this one. I find myself running scenarios through my mind where I'm misstreated, and reacting violently/or in anger. I know this isn't right and want to work on it.

@soli.deo.gloria I thought I did forgive them when I brought it up 3 years ago, but my sober life showed me that drugs just numbed me out. I seek to not hold any anger towards them, and do love them. I know they suffered abuse, and are perpetuating a blind cycle of abuse. You are right that I have to set boundaries for my own safety. I spent a decade on the coast as a way to get away and try to heal, but I wasted a lot of that time hiding my issues in vice.

I also don't want to bring it up at all because I want to get my citizenship through ancestry to the Christian EE country my father came from. I require his assistance in this, but he is very spiteful and might cut me out for good. I signed a year lease a few hours away, so I'm sort of stuck here until/if unvaxxed travel is allowed anyways.
 

Edek

Robin
Orthodox Catechumen
I find myself running scenarios through my mind where I'm misstreated, and reacting violently/or in anger. I know this isn't right and want to work on it.
It's not wrong: that anger and violence is for your self-protection against an aggressor who began to attack you when you were a child, when it was their duty to nurture you. It sounds entirely appropriate for your situation, and you had no other choice as a child, other than running away. Anger and fear are there to keep us alive, but of course they should not become our master, or an end in themselves. Living in fear is a sin. Seeing a hungry tiger, being afraid of it, and acting accordingly is not. Harbouring hatred and rage is a sin. Seeing an injustice, or being assaulted, feeling angry, and acting with appropriate force to prevent harm is not.

The point, I think, is that anger won't help now that you are an adult and aren't effectively trapped in their house. You can just leave. It's not that the anger is wrong in itself, it's that it's not productive for repairing the relationship. It will tend to perpetuate the awful drama that they inflicted on you in the first place.

It sounds to me now like it's worse than I pictured it at first, and not going is probably wiser. No need to lie about it, and no need to explain either.

Is it better when you talk to your parents privately on the phone? That could be a way forward.

Have you worked out exactly what you need your father's help with for the citizenship and how to get it? It may be easier / you may need him less than you think.

This situation is not easy, and you did not create it, so don't beat yourself up. If you can fix it, cool, you did something good and difficult. If you sincerely try and can't do it, that's cool too: it proves that there was nothing there to fix anyway.

These are only my opinions. I don't know what is best for you, and talking to an experienced priest is definitely the best plan.
 
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OrthoCole

Sparrow
Orthodox Catechumen
Just my two cents, btw I haven't read every response on this thread so I may be repeating what others have already said.

I too come from a dysfunctional family, although very loving at the same time. I think it's important to remember that everyone deals with these things to one degree or another. One thing that helped me was a video from Father Josiah Trenham, about covering the nakedness of your father (I can't seem to find it but if I do then I'll post it). This principle could also be applied to all of your relatives. It was helpful to me as a way to learn to love those closest to me despite their bad behavior. They are often deeply damaged people who take it out on everyone else.

Of course, there is a fine line between being helpful to those people and allowing yourself to be abused or taken advantage of. Sometimes it is necessary to cut off family members who are too dysfunctional/abusive. I'm not saying you should do that, I don't know the details of your situation. A really good book which might be helpful is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, he talks about backwards family dynamics and how he dealt with them.

Ultimately, you should seek out a spiritual father (assuming you don't already have one) and talk with them about your situation. No matter what, we should seek love, forgiveness and reconciliation with our family. I know, It's easier said than done.

God Bless!
 

SeaEagle

Sparrow
Thank you for the replies.

It was worse than I led on I'm sure, but I totally get that I'm a sensitive person as well. Sensitive but also a doormat, being the youngest and all.

I wrote out a draft, rewrote it, and sent it to my parents. I outlined when and how I felt abused, but stated a few times that I love them and want a healthy relationship in the future.

I don't have high expectations, and wish I could just talk to them on the phone but I know I wouldn't have been able to get my point across half as well.

I'll begin my journey of finding a spiritual father. Youtube and RVF helped me get to this point, but I see a "real life" relationship would certainly be invaluable.

Thank you all for your time and input. I've read each reply multiple times.
 

Pointy Elbows

Woodpecker
Orthodox
If they dismiss you or attack you, end the conversation and leave.

Tell them you forgive them, and are sad that they are unwilling to show you the respect and love you deserve.

Even if you are being overly sensitive (not saying you are)... It is better to have the items addressed.
...
Excellent advice. It is always ok to remove yourself from a harmful situation. If you've calmly stated your thoughts and the logical support for it, then are attacked, it is entirely acceptable to calmly and quietly leave. A sincere "I love you and sure hope we can work this out in the future" as you are picking up your hat and coat is a strong exit. You want to show you have limits, but also seek to build a healthier relation.

You are now an adult. You can draw boundaries of how you expect to be treated. Always be forgiving, but you have no duty to stand-by as they mistreat you.
 
I wonder what the Christian approach would be. Part of me feels like its my duty to honor my parents and family by spending time with them, but they're behavior past and present causes me great distress and dread, even in just thinking of getting together.

Matthew 10:34-37 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

Matthew 12:46-50: While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus clarified the meaning of the Old Testament commandments so we could follow them the way God intended from the beginning. This is a good example. Obviously the Lord's words speak for themselves, but we can see there are limits to how much we should honor our father and mother, just as there is no limit to how much we should honor the Lord.
 
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