Ram Das once said ‘If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family.’ Now, I don’t think I’m enlightened at all, very far from it, and I’d be suspicious of anyone who said they were. But I have worked hard on my spiritual awareness and can access a certain level of inner peace when I keep my focus on being in the present moment and responding from love rather than the less conscious and wounded part of my personality. However, Ram Das was right on point by saying that it’s our family who trigger us the most.
Even after all these years (I’m in my 40s) the essence of my struggle lies in not being able to let go of the wish my family were different and the need to belong to some sort of family unit. Even as an adult this need has been denied me for so many reasons. I try to see the positives; I am free to live my own life in the way I choose now and I don’t have to answer to anyone. But somehow this need survives and at times it is all pervasive. Christmas stirred it all up of course but the reason I am writing this is not even about Christmas, it is due to the realisation that deep down I still carry hope and expectations that my family will change and so many unconscious wishes still underlie my (albeit limited) relationship with them.
I know that how they were and are with me is not personal. There’s some sort of comfort in that. Most relatives don’t even know me as a person so it couldn’t be personal. A baby came into the family at a certain time and it happened to be me. Their lack of interest wasn’t a reflection on me but what was happening in their life at the time. For years I blamed myself because, well, as a kid you always think it’s your fault. And if it’s your fault you can potentially fix yourself. There is a lot of grief in realising there’s nothing you could have done because the problem lies elsewhere. It’s freeing, for sure, but devastating all at once.
It’s so hard to break free from longing for a ‘proper’ (I hesitate to use the word ‘normal’) relationship with my family. I get on well (on a surface level) with my mother, so it’s not even the lack of a parent, albeit we don’t have a deep relationship; it’s more the longing for a sense of belonging because growing up that just wasn’t there. My family was divided in ways that I can’t begin to write about despite living in the same household. There were secrets and rules, family members I could talk to and those I couldn’t. Nothing was ever said, only implied. Mental health issues were rife. I wasn’t brought up, I pretty much did it all myself. I was so withdrawn at school that I had very few friends and was bullied. I turned to God so I never felt truly alone even though I was terribly lonely in my family.
I’ve moved on. I’ve had loads of therapy. I’ve come to terms with so much of it. And yet…there is a part of me who can’t let go, who is still crying out for external acceptance and belonging, to know I am valued as a family member. I’m still seeking their approval even now. I’m glad I have realised this so I can grieve for what never was and won’t be. I don’t need anyone’s approval any more other than my own, it’s just so sad for my inner child who longed for it when she should have been given it. I know I’m far from alone on this healing journey. I’m grateful for that knowledge. That and my spirituality gives me strength.
Thinking of those who are struggling with similar issues around families. I hear and feel you. You’re not alone!