I’m beginning to feel that rather than being at the end of my journey of self-discovery that I’ve only just begun and that there is a mind expanding event horizon that is spreading out faster than I can think it. Thoughts are trying to spill out of me but coherence is lacking.
To start with, it’s all about connections between people and I’m now wondering what is the difference between connections and relationships. After all, human relationships are basically connections between people. Running to the Oxford dictionary, it agrees with me, defining relationship as “the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected”.
My parents didn’t model good relationship behaviour to me. Not between them and not between either of them and any of their daughters. Emotions were stifled, suppressed, shut down and discounted. I was shamed for bringing them into any discussion as they had no part in a rational discussion. Disagreements were only allowed with the aim of shutting them down and I was never the one to do that.
My eldest sister dealt with this by moving out often from the age of 16, coming home repeatedly for ten years or so. My middle sister escaped through god and marriage, in both cases replacing my father with a different male authority figure and therefore not escaping at all in the end. I didn’t escape, as my partners always reflected the passive-aggressive bullying stance of my father without enough positives to make up for the bad. In that respect my sister was fortunate although her marriage has not been without its trials. It is only in the last few years that I have really started to recognise my parents’ relationship as abusive and I still struggle with the strength of that word and my choice to apply it to my father. It somehow feels unfair to him. He would also be outraged at the very suggestion.
I didn’t learn how to connect to people because where was the healthy model, the demonstration of this is how people interact with each other, with communication, honesty, raised voices, discussion, sulking, disagreement, compromise, hearing as well as talking.
There were a few tender moments: my parents holding hands as they walked off together although my vision is always of them doing that several steps in front of me, leaving me trailing behind. My father in those early years used to come and tell me a bedtime story, often about his youth. Once we moved house and that routine was lost so were those stories. He showed some level of vulnerability then, that subsequently got shut down. Maybe he felt safe talking to me as a five or six year old by my bedside, in the dark. He would sometimes take me to work with him on a Saturday and I enjoyed the glimpse into another world except that I remember he would dump me on a colleague so he could get on with work My father was enormously proud of my mother and would tell her, which was lovely except that the reverence and pride were never directed towards me or my sisters. She was the only worthy one; we could always do better.
We had stilted visits to our cousins, who my father didn’t approve / like / get on with / understand. I really regret not having the chance to get to know them better, something I occasionally tried to remedy as an adult, but life moves swiftly and it was never quite important enough.
I reminded my mother recently about the house coats, an incident which pushed her over the edge and she finally told her mother-in-law (who used to scare the hell out of all of us) that her presents for we three grand-daughters were lovely thoughts but we were never going to wear them and could she think of more appropriate gifts. This stood in my memory as my mother standing up for us, despite our fears. The issue was trivial but the strength it took her was not. My mother had forgotten this incident but the memory gradually came back to her and she looked horrified as she remembered the chance she took.
This also clarifies why my maternal grandmother looms so hugely in my head. As I have got older I have notice how her voice seems to fill up space in my head and shaped me positively, how important her influence was. I have wondered why, considering we “only” spent holidays together, but now realise that she was the only one who demonstrated empathy for other human beings, whether she’d met them or not. She cared and it showed and she transmitted that to me. Without her I would only have learned about relationships from books and I fear that books on their own would be insufficient, much as I appreciate what they have given me, something else I’m currently reflecting on.
I have had to work hard to create my own framework for who I am, what my beliefs are, what are the things that I value. I once described myself as a freethinker for a long period of time, a rather old fashioned phrase that for me signified being “free to think for myself” in direct opposition to my father’s diktat. Now I would describe myself as a humanist and what I have learned through my training to become a person-centred counsellor is that the person-centred approach with its applications to a world beyond therapy is pretty much the same as my humanistic beliefs although far more detailed and this is why it appeals to me.
Having to write about the BACP’s Ethical Framework for an incredibly dull assignment led me to seriously consider what my own ethical framework would look like and to consider what fundamental values and principles I consider to be the foundation of my behaviour. I will write more fully about this but my own values come down to valuing empathic and open communication between people which brings us full circle as that is the basis of good connections between people and the foundation of relationships.
And so I see this rich tapestry unfolding, with pathways opening up, criss-crossing, and unfolding from a central point, my year zero, although of course my family’s own pathways were doing their own unfolding that would shape mine long before I was born. I have this vision of a flow from birth to now that shapes who I am and who I can be. I will never be free of the things I would like to be free of because they are part of what shapes me in the here and now and I am still struggling with accepting that this is me, all of it is me and I cannot discard the bits that I don’t want.
There is still a vast reservoir of untapped visceral pain that results from all this complex trauma, in the form of immense vulnerability, feeling invisible and insignificant and this incredible loneliness. I have had to force myself to open conversations, to learn how to make friends and develop acquaintances into friendships and to then deepen the friendships. Luckily I felt safe enough to develop relationships with my children as close to my values as was possible and now feel that my relationship with them has enormous healing power for myself (which I then try to ruin by worrying about becoming overly dependent on them).
The tears haven’t come back though. I feel them welling up as I write and increasingly during my EMDR sessions but they remain suppressed. I hadn’t truly realised how buried they are and feel they need to come out. I spent years crying my eyes out and at some point decided enough was enough as I had to “toughen up” to survive and couldn’t afford the emotional outburst. Tears are bubbling and rising but not yet erupting. They need to come out in order to feel whole again and to feel fully connected with myself because otherwise I am failing to acknowledge that visceral pain.