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Archive for the ‘Dysfunctional Relationships’ Category

I believe I have shared before that my son goes to school with my ex-friend’s child. (If you need to catch up on the ex-friend drama, you can do so here.) I have also shared that her child told me that my ex-friend was having some sort of medical issue back in February. Yesterday, my son came home from school and said that ex-friend’s daughter shared that her mother **might** have cancer.

Keep in mind that this is hardly a reliable source. The daughter has told me inaccurate medical information about her mother before, such as telling me (back when ex-friend and I were still friends) that her mother was going to have back surgery and be on bed rest for six weeks. It turned out that this was an option but never seriously considered. I also don’t know if “might have cancer” could be confusion over the explanation for the purpose of a mammogram – to “screen for” cancer. So, I am not jumping the gun and assuming the worst case scenario.

Even if ex-friend does have cancer, I have no idea what type of cancer or what stage it is in. I have known people with Stage 1 skin cancer where removing it was not that big of a deal. However, I have known other people with aggressive cancer in the later stages who have had to go through surgery, chemo, and/or radiation. So, I certainly do not take cancer lightly.

I guess the most relevant part for me is whether any of this information changes anything as far as my role (or non-role) in her life and vice versa. She is a single mother with limited support (in part because she drives away those who love her and does not welcome in new friends very often). If she has to deal with chemo or surgery, she doesn’t have a strong support system to help her through it.

Does that change anything with me, though? The compassionate part of myself wants to help her if she is mostly alone and dealing with cancer while the logical part of myself says that my ex-friend’s physical health is irrelevant to the reasons why this friendship ended. The practical side of me says that with school letting out soon, I probably won’t know either way, and I have no interest in investing in that friendship again. I am conflicted about this information.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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School children (c) Lynda BernhardtToday I would like to talk about a dynamic that exists in both my families of birth and marriage that I am sure is not unique to my family. In my family of birth, people were divided into two categories, the “strong” and the “weak.” Although nobody ever said, “Faith is the strong one,” or “X is the weak one,” everyone knew which column he or she fit into. The expectation was that family takes care of family, so it was the “strong” ones’ job to take care of the “weak” ones.

Not surprisingly, I married into a family just like this. I didn’t know that this was dysfunctional since that is all I had ever known in my family of birth. Hub’s family quickly determined that I fell into the “strong” category, so I was given the responsibilities of a “strong” one.

The strong/weak dynamic in families is destructive for those in both groups. The challenge for the strong is obvious – it is exhausting having to tow your own line plus the lines of other family members. Feeling responsible for others indefinitely is overwhelming because there never seems to be an end. The “weak” will always be “weak,” so those extra responsibilities will never go away. This breeds resentment.

It took me a long time to see the downside for the “weak” members, but I would today argue that this dynamic is actually more destructive for them than for the “strong” ones. When someone is constantly “told” through actions that they cannot take responsibility for their own lives, they live as if their wings are clipped. Even though these family members have many strengths, they become “blind” to those strengths. Because they believe that they cannot take care of themselves, they live as if they cannot.

Here’s something else that no one in my family ever told me – Believing that certain family members are “weak” is arrogant and actually encourages the weak behavior. For example, each time I assume that X cannot solve his own problems (whether they are financial or some other issue), I am saying, “I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you have the ability to figure out a way to take care of yourself without me bailing you out.” I have heard this called “enabling,” but the word “enable” implies that the other person wants to be enabled. I believe that my “enabling” actions are actually encouraging dependence.

It took the encouragement of people who were not from dysfunctional families (or at least not dysfunctional in this way) to help me see that not getting involved (not giving money or advice) is actually saying, “I believe in your ability to solve your own problems.” I felt like such a terrible person for shirking my “duties” the first time I did this because I had been told my whole life that towing other family members’ lines was my duty. However, this advice was correct – When I stopped feeding the insecurity of being the family f@#$ up, the person found a way to fix the problem himself, which actually built his confidence!

Throughout my life, I was told that loving and caring about another person meant fixing his problems. Removing the judgment of the other person’s choices as well as the advice/fixing the problem felt like I was being “unloving” when, in actuality, it is  the most loving thing I can do.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man on BikeI am being hit on all sides with dysfunction and irrational/illogical people. Perhaps I am more sensitive to it after having visited my hometown and faced the dysfunction of my childhood head-on. Regardless of why, I feel like every direction I turn, I am dealing with illogical and irrational people. It’s driving me crazy!

Here is one example – I supposedly have part-time vision benefits through one of my part-time jobs. I have paid premiums out of each paycheck to cover this benefit. It took me hours of research and inquiry from several people to nail down how I could actually use the coverage. I followed every single thing I was told to do, and I still did not get the vision discount I am paying for.

What should have been a 15-minute eye doctor visit turned into two hours with over one hour of it spent trying to get to the bottom of how to use this insurance coverage. GGRRRR!! At one point, I used my cell phone to call the rep at the 1-800 number that my job provided for me. The rep stated definitively that I have the coverage. I handed my cell phone over to the receptionist for the eye doctor. They went round and round and still could not get this worked out.

To me, it seems pretty simple that, if I am paying for vision coverage, I should get a card that says so. I have been provided with no card, just a plan number that doesn’t show up on the insurance carrier’s website and that the insurance rep could not find. I wrote a scathing email (I am actually pretty good at those when I am worked up!) to the HR rep (I only have email addresses to work with at this job), and I have received no response after 36 hours. I am married to a lawyer so, trust me, I WILL get this resolved.

That’s just one example of the dysfunctional, illogical, and irrational behavior that I am dealing with in my day-to-day life. I don’t understand why it is so difficult for some people just to do their d@#$ jobs, know what I mean?

I have worked as an online instructor for three years, and I have never missed a deadline. I have met my deadlines through Norovirus, the H1N1 virus, 10 days of vertigo, sinus infections, the flu … you get the point. I have met my deadlines through my child having the flu, ear infections, etc. I have met my deadlines through traveling, getting triggered by seeing my mother at my sister’s graduation, and through multiple triggerings. Am I really such an anomaly in doing my d@#$ job? I simply call this being responsible.

I guess I am going through a reality check that dysfunction is not limited to my family. It has been in my friendships (such as the one that just ended), and apparently it is all around me – in jobs and other professional relationships. WTF??

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketYesterday, I shared the history of my marriage. Today, I am going to talk about what it is like today.

In 2003, I started having flashbacks and entered into therapy. It has been a long and painful process that has unlocked my capacity to enjoy and savor life. Sadly, hub has not come along this healing journey with me, even though I did invite him into it twice. Hub married such as messed up woman for a reason – he has his own issues. To have chosen someone as messed up as I was gives you an indication of the level of his own baggage.

Hub does not want to deal with his own stuff. He wants to stay in denial with me playing the role I played for so many years. Our dynamic was this – He would be miserable unless his environment was completely predictable in the way that he wanted it, and it was my job to shelter him as much as possible from the unpredictability of life. His mother did this for him as a kid, and I took over as his wife. Above all else, hub was not to be inconvenienced. Life must go as he expects it to go, and it was my job to mitigate any circumstance in which it did not.

I’m done playing this role, and hub cannot handle the “messiness” of life without me shielding him from it. Also, his biggest trigger is money, and the stock market and economy are things I cannot control even if I wanted to. That has kicked off depression in him (his mother suffered from depression, so there is likely a strong genetic component involved) that has been getting worse and worse. He is disengaging from life, including my son and me, more and more.

Meanwhile, I am in a place where I am ready to embrace life. I have worked very hard to reach a place where I can experience my emotions, and I am working toward staying more and more present. I am married to a man who is becoming more and more absent, sleeping 12 hours a day and living in his head or working when he is awake. This is not a good combination.

Most of the stories I read, whether they are in books or personally shared online on a message board, etc., tell of couples splitting up after one person heals from child abuse. That used to stress me out and depress me. I have endured enough loss in my life – I didn’t want marriage to be added to the list of losses. Also, I meant my wedding vows, and I also have a 10-year-old child who I don’t want to have to bounce back and forth between two homes.

However, the question becomes how does a marriage stay afloat when one person is reaching out and embracing life while the other person is shutting down and fleeing life? How do you keep a partnership going when you have grown so different? I have no answer to these questions.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketThe Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is on Saturday, and I have been slammed with more tutoring requests for Wednesday and Thursday. I want to pound out at least one blog this week, so here goes…

One of the harder issues for me to deal with after child abuse is marital issues, specifically dysfunctional marital issues. As my therapist has pointed out to me, I had nobody modeling or telling me what to look for in a spouse when I made a decision about who to marry.

I grew up in an abusive household, and my parents’ marriage was completely dysfunctional. They led separate lives – my father worked and/or traveled for work all the time, and my mother was obsessed with her version of religion. (My father was an atheist.) My sister and I grew up in two different families – the version when my father was actually home and the version when he was gone. He was mostly gone during my teen years up until his death.

I was raped in college, so I latched onto a boyfriend to protect me. I then transferred colleges, where I was raped again and then latched onto another boyfriend to protect me. The only requirements I had for boyfriends was that they didn’t rape me and seemed interested in me. That’s pretty much it.

I met hub in law school, my next stop at a school. We started dating a month into school, and I was never raped there. He was very mature/responsible compared to our peers, and he was the most predictable person on the planet. After a lifetime of having to be hypervigilant about what was coming next, this predictability was a relief. We married straight out of school despite the fact that we had next to nothing in common other than a law degree. Marrying him kept me from having to move back in with momster since I couldn’t find a job.

Now, my conscious reasons for marrying hub were not this calculated. I did love him. In fact, my host personality was absolutely crazy about him. Other parts of myself – parts of which I was unaware at the time – tolerated him as a means to safety. Hub never, ever pressured me for sex. He completely respected that I was not interested in intercourse until marriage, and we were together over 2-1/2 years before we married. So, he definitely has some good qualities about him.

Here’s the problem – I am no longer an abused little girl willing to make any sacrifice to stay safe. Our relationship was built upon me doing whatever he wanted, however he wanted, with no objections because I wanted him to stay and keep me safe. The one exception (which came as a shock to him) was my insistence that we have a baby and, when that didn’t work biologically, that we adopt a baby. Other than that, for well over a decade, I was a Stepford wife, always giving him his way in every area other than in becoming a parent.

More tomorrow…

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Pond (c) Faith AllenSummer officially ends this week for me as my son returns to school, and I could not be more relieved. No, I am not talking about needing a break from my kid – I am talking about reaching the milestone that ends this particular season of my life.

This summer has been my most difficult one of my adult life. It started and ended with a sinus infection. I had two emotional breakdowns that my therapist calls “spiritual awakenings” – regardless of the label, they hurt like hell. My husband has been battling clinical depression. A dysfunctional friendship of almost a decade (predated therapy) went rocky…and then more rocky…and then ended. I am back to weekly therapy sessions after ending therapy ~ six years ago. I feel battered and bruised from this season of my life, but I am still standing.

When I entered into therapy, nobody told me about the cost. Yes, I knew it cost $X an hour, and I even knew that I was going to have to find an amazing amount of courage to face down my demons and make huge changes in my life. However, nobody told me that healing was like “dying” to my old self and starting anew with very little resembling my “old” life still being in it. The process reminds me of this Bible verse, which I won’t include so I don’t trigger anyone with religious triggers. Because I do have a strong faith, it does help to put what I am going through into a faith context.

A part of me wants to move across the country and start over since it seems that the healing process ultimately results in the ending of relationships that started before therapy. However, once I did an accounting, I realized that I was just about there, anyhow. I only have five people regularly in my life who were there before therapy – my husband, son, and father-in-law locally; and my sister and one friend from high school who live in another state. That’s it. After almost four decades of life, loving, investing, and caring, only five people I invested in remain. That’s really not worth moving across the country for!

It’s been very difficult and a long time coming, but I am finished playing my “role” in dysfunctional relationships. I am going to be “me,” and that is going to have to be enough. If it’s not, then the relationship is over. The people I have met after therapy don’t seem to have any issue with this. I can be myself 100%, even when I am having a bad day. And you know what? If the time comes that they cannot handle it, they don’t have to stay, either.

I am tired of apologizing for being me. I am tired of having to play games and say and do exactly the “right” thing so that other person can stay in dysfunctional comfort. This is who I am. Love me, hate me, or be indifferent to me, but I am not changing for you.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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My sister sometimes reads my blog. She popped in this week and saw my reference to a family member and a friend blindsiding me, and she contacted me fearing that she was the culprit. I assured her that both the family member and friend in question are well aware of how their actions affected me.

I filled her in on all of the details, and she had an interesting theory that I had not considered. I am writing this blog entry before my therapy session, and I plan to talk this over with my therapist. I told my sister that I feel like my “superpower” of being able to read people has stopped working, and now I keep getting blindsided and feeling unsafe. My sister’s theory is that my “superpower” has not stopped working – I have, instead, chosen to stop using it.

She thinks that I have grown healthy enough that I have stopped “being so paranoid” and scrutinizing every facial expression, etc., looking for danger. She thinks that I “missed” the signals because I have grown healthy enough to stop assuming that danger is lurking. She sees this as a very positive thing. In light of the alternatives that I have been considering (I am going insane, etc.), I definitely prefer her theory to mine!

My sister also pointed out that this blindsiding is only happening in my pre-therapy relationships – all relationships with some level of dysfunction in them. She thinks that I am “outgrowing” these relationships and that I need to make changes or move on so I can continue to heal and grow.

I am not going to think through the implications of all of this until I see my therapist. I have a feeling that some of that change is happening regardless due to the specifics of the situations involved, so I probably will be spared having to make some hard decisions.

Regardless, letting go of relationships (if that is where this leads me) is very hard for me because I am a deeply loyal friend. All of the dysfunctional relationships in my life are with people who were loyal to me when I needed them the most. My sister pointed out that she, too, values loyalty but not at her own expense. We’ll see what my therapist has to say about all of this…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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