Peaceful Readers, if you find yourself needing to unpack your relationship with one or both of your parents, think about someone who may have observed how things looked, sounded and felt in the house you grew up in. Did you have a friend who came to your house? When we need to unpack a difficult, possibly-traumatic relationship, drinking in someone else’s perspective can be extremely eye-opening. We need to hear from an outsider—someone with no connection to the extended family system.
If you had a friend like that and you’re still in touch, it may be time to ask your friend what he or she remembers.
The silent movie
I met my friend Lindsey in college. She came home with me on weekends and sometimes for Thanksgiving. Her parents moved to the other side of the country after she started college, so their new home wasn’t home for Lindsey. These long visits gave her a unique view into the people I grew up with. While Lindsey and I were talking on the phone the other day, I commented that the “family” I grew up with was a freak show. She responded, “No. It was a silent movie.” Bull’s-eye.
She remembered how my dad and my sister Pam talked non-stop about themselves through dinner and everyone else just sat there. My mom might ask me one question and I’d give a short answer. I’d ask my mom about her time with the toddlers at church. She’d answer briefly. No one else asked us about ourselves. The silent movie narrators (i.e., self-absorbed monologists) were too busy show-boating and bragging about themselves.
Honestly, I didn’t remember that. I guess I just wore the costume they gave me—Nameless Silent Movie Character Actor. That was my job—sit, listen and don’t say anything. I’m shaking my head…. What a Freak Show. Oops. I mean Silent Movie.
She also remembered how much my mom adored my younger sister: Pam, The Narcissist…. Hmmm. Freak Show Central. Sorry. I keep saying that, don’t I?
Okay. How am I doing so far on my How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss list? Let’s see.
How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss
1. Look honestly at what happened.
2. Identify the lies/propaganda involved.
3. Acknowledge the impact, including what was stolen.
4. Express your feelings then and now.
5. Replace the lies with truth.
6. Choose to end the negative impact.
7. Close the suitcase (i.e., the trauma/loss).
8. Walk forward in healing and peace.
9. Share your story with someone you trust.
10. Thank God for helping you on this journey.
I’ve looked honestly at what happened (Step 1). In the last post, I identified the lies involved (Step 2). I acknowledged some of the impact in my anger letter (Step 3). I expressed my feelings in my anger letter and in the last post (Step 4).
I need to unpack the impact a little more (Step 3). How did my dad’s behavior and lies impact me?
In my teens and 20s
As a teenager and in my 20s, I was drawn to young men who made me feel the way my dad made me feel: unloved, unwanted, alone—feelings not expressed, no apologizing. They felt like home. Unfortunately for me, home was bad. So my first husband was a catastrophic nightmare. More on that in a later post.
Until my mid-30s
I stayed in Performance Mode until I married Brandon in my 30s. He asked me why I was doing all this extra-curricular stuff (president of the neighborhood association, etc.). And, wisely, he advised me to reduce my commitments so we could focus on building our marriage and our new life together. He was absolutely right. Every commitment I stepped down from greatly reduced my stress.
In my 20s and early 30s, when people asked for my time, I automatically said yes, with few exceptions. Nowadays when people ask me for my time, my knee-jerk reaction is to say no. I have a family, a job, dear friends and I write this blog. I’m not bored or “looking for something to do.” Occasionally, I’ll say “Let me think and pray about that. I’ll get back to you.” I’ve definitely outgrown the “Good girls say yes” unwritten rule that I was raised with.
My impression about God growing up was that he was an entity to learn about, but not to know personally. I didn’t get down on my knees and start taking him seriously until I was 33 years old and at the end of a very painful marriage. That was the major turning point in my life.
A better way
Unlike my dad, I don’t ever say to Logan, “You should be thankful that I bought or did….” I tell him all the time how thankful I am to be his mom. I know that being his mom is a tremendous blessing and it’s very important for him to know that. My clear focus is on relationships—with God, with Brandon and Logan, and with my close friends. My focus is not on being smart. I do not live to impress others. In fact, I’m quite unapologetically unimpressive in many ways.
I’m able to ask for help when I need it, which is good. I’ve outgrown my dad’s lies for the most part in that department.
“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything” was the most difficult mantra for me to overcome. I was trained not to notice when things were wrong, not to react when things were wrong, not to speak out. I was trained to smile and be nice. I was trained to be polite. I was trained to say what other people want to hear. This training obviously gave me serious problems.
Brandon’s parents are sociopaths. Brandon’s deceased sister Shelly was seriously mentally ill and so is my sister Pam, but not in the foaming-at-the-mouth, hearing voices kind of way—in the smart, devious, I-can-get-away-with-it kind of way. Honestly, it hasn’t been until the last year and a half that I’ve seen and reacted more appropriately to the truth. The truth of evil. The truth of sin. The truth of unacceptable behavior. I regret my failures in this area the most.
Before then, I could say after the fact: “That was wrong;” but I didn’t have the confidence to put an end to it. A lot of that had to do with both my upbringing and the emotional fall-out from my abortion (i.e., my feelings that I deserved to be punished).
Checking the list
Let’s recheck how I’m doing on my list. I acknowledged what was stolen from me (Step 3, part 2) in part 2 of this post. That was a very interesting experience. I highly recommend it.
Replacing the lies with truth
Now it’s time to replace the lies with truth: Step 5 of How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss.
Here are the lies again:
My Dad’s Spoken Lies and Propaganda
♦ You should be thankful for….
♦ If you want something done right, do it yourself.
♦ Bells make A’s.
♦ If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.
♦ Because I said so.
My Dad’s Unspoken Lies and Propaganda
♦ I’m important because I’m smart. You should be impressed.
♦ Being accomplished and smart are the only things that matter.
♦ Your performance must be perfect so it will reflect well on me.
♦ Don’t embarrass me.
♦ Do not complain or express any emotion. I don’t like those things.
♦ Don’t ask me questions. Figure it out for yourself.
♦ I’m thankful for many things and I express my gratitude freely, without coercion.
♦ I’m competent. I’m also wise enough to ask for help when I need help, and to ask the right person for that help.
♦ I’m not perfect. I strive to live a life—one day at a time—that is pleasing to God.
♦ I seek to speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard.
♦ God is my authority, not my dad.
♦ I am God’s child. My value does not come from what I do, but from what Jesus did for me.
♦ I can express my concerns to the right person at the right time, including to God.
♦ I was made by God, in his image, with feelings and emotions. I talk freely about my feelings, without allowing myself to be ruled by my feelings. (For more on that subject, see this post.)
♦ I don’t have all the answers. God does. I seek answers, wisdom and knowledge from him and from the resources he makes available to me.
I hope you noticed that God was not a part of the lies. He is very much a part of the truth.
Truths and lies
Sadly, many people were raised by parents who told lies about God and/or who quoted (or misquoted) the Bible as a tool for abuse. I’ve seen my sociopathic mother-in-law throw around Bible verses in an attempt to manipulate her victims, so I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of evil. It is extremely disturbing.
I hope you’ve noticed that in the Bible, when Satan’s involved, there’s a lie somewhere in there—either in the actual quoting or in the intent. Don’t get me wrong. Satan knows God’s word. He knows it really well. He’s wicked smart. But here’s the way that truth and lie stuff work together. You can say two truths and throw in one lie and you’ve still got manipulation and falsehood going on. You can put one tiny drop of poison into that smooth, creamy chocolate shake and you’ve still got a Death Drink.
Peaceful Readers, I hope you’ll take the time to write out the lies involved in each trauma or difficult relationship you need to grieve. We have to acknowledge the lies involved in order to boldly claim the truths that we’ve learned.
Coming next: You may have noticed that somewhere along the way, this four-part post became a six-part post. Part five includes a revelation. A big one. It showed up while I was writing. Wham-O.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Micah 7:7-9
Song for Healing: “Healing Begins” by Tenth Avenue North