Blog on Dysfunctional Families
I grew up in a very dysfunctional family, and have been untangling the threads of my family's belief systems and behaviors for years in search of my own truths.
One of the hallmarks of dysfunctional families is secrecy, and I hope that by sharing my insights through this blog and my memoir, The Box of Daughter, I can help people learn how to cope with dysfunctional families, and offer insight and validation for others who may be involved in dysfunctional relationships.
We can only figure out what the problem is and how to change things when we shine the light of clarity and truth on the situation.
Getting to the Heart of the Anger
The anger in our culture spills over into every aspect of our lives: road rage, bullying, domestic violence, warfare, corporate competition. We’re not supposed to notice, let alone express our anger. But when it hides under the surface, it distorts and deforms our relationships, our careers, and our sense of who we are. It holds us back from getting what we want out of life.
For many years, I have carried a huge burden of anger. Emotionally abused by my parents, criticized and belittled until they passed away when I was 50, I spent years in therapy sorting through the negative messages I’d received, and unearthing the foundation of my authentic self.
As I focused on the process of releasing my anger, over time I learned that anger is simply “thwarted intention”: when a child wants love, or needs to self-express, to have those intentions frequently blocked – even by well-meaning parents – creates a pile of frustration and anger in the bodymind which grows ever larger over time if it’s not expressed.
Children who are thwarted in their attempts to self-express often end up with depleted self-esteem, minimal motivation, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In short, they grow up not knowing how to apply themselves with intention to create what they want in life. I sure know how that feels, and I imagine a lot of other people do, too.
When we begin to acknowledge and express our anger, the “pile-up” of negative feelings about self and the world starts to diminish, allowing new perspectives and possibilities which can generate positive changes in behavior. This is the way out of helplessness and hopelessness.
By following the thread of the anger back to its original source, and allowing the anger to express freely in a healthy manner, a seeker begins to understand why life appears to be the way it is (hint: we learn our worldview by mimicking someone else’s, or we believe what they taught us about our selves and the world without investigating for ourselves whether it’s true or not).
When the source of the anger is understood and enough of the old feelings are released, the natural force behind the anger can be transmuted into intention. When the anger is fully expressed over time, the powerful energy that was used first to deny that it existed, then to facilitate its expression, still remains. This energy can be transformed into strength of purpose, power of intention to shape life the way we want it to be.
So, get angry! Punch that punching bag! Pound an old pillow! Find a healthy way to release your anger, and allow its energy to transform into intention, passion for what you believe in, enthusiasm for the adventure of seeking what you want. If you trust your body to release the stored-up energy in a natural way, then you can use it for a natural purpose – creating a life that you love.
Read more about my experience in this Free Kindle book or my memoir, The Box of Daughter.
What to Do When You Feel Stuck
Do you ever have the feeling that you’re just mired in your life, slogging through one day at a time without getting anywhere, unable to move forward or make changes?
I can relate. Growing up in a very inflexible family system, I felt stuck for most of my adult life—a prisoner in the box of daughter, unable to change my circumstances or achieve what I most wanted.
Now I know the problem was that I didn’t know how to contact the creative energy of the Universe. For many years, I’d written and published books, played music, created art (even though it’s not my strong point), and worked with affirmations to create more of what I wanted in my life. So it’s not that I wasn’t a creative person. The problem was that I didn’t know how to use the energy around me when I was creating.
When we feel stuck, what’s basically happened is that we’ve stopped creating. We’ve just settled in one place, forgetting that we are really here to create—that it’s part of the purpose of life to create. So when we feel stuck, we need to reconnect with the energy of creating—move into the belief that we can make changes, and focus on creating them.
I’ve read many books on creating using affirmations, visualizations, charts, lists, and all kinds of other techniques. But just “thinking” or “seeing” what we want to create isn’t enough. We need to be in contact with the forces of the Universe in order for our thoughts and pictures to be “imprinted” on the quantum field. We need to feel the thoughts or pictures as well as having them in our heads.
In other words, creating is much more powerful when sensation is involved. We’re creating with matter, so we need to be in contact with matter (the quantum field) to make it happen.
As an example, if I’m working with the affirmation “My income is constantly increasing,” I need to not only say the words, but actually feel what it would be like to have more energy coming in. I need to feel the increase in energy flowing towards me from “out there,” coming into my body, and fulfilling my creative desire.
Here’s a little exercise: Choose something you’d like to create and formulate an easy-to-remember affirmation for it. Now stop for a minute, close your eyes, and sense the energy all around you. Feel the space around you filling up with “substance,” with energy from the quantum field—atoms, molecules, quarks—getting thicker, fuller, heavier as it gets packed into your space, as if the air around you is itself getting thicker.
Then begin saying or thinking your affirmation, as if you’re imprinting it into the atoms, molecules, quarks, etc. so it begins to be created. Let the affirmation sort of ooze out of you in all directions, not just fall flat in front of your mouth as you say it. Send it out “holistically”—in every direction, and as far out as you can. Repeat it several times until you can almost feel the quantum field taking it up and echoing it back to you.
If you practice this exercise for a week or two, you’ll begin to feel the energy of the quantum field around you.
Interestingly, there have been a few times when I’ve done this, and days later felt very vividly (in my body) that my original thought—and the energy behind it—landed right on me, which is the precursor to having the creation actually show up in the world of matter.
When the Universe gives you even one tiny piece of what you want to create, instead of thinking, “That’s not it,” give it a thumbs-up of encouragement. “Yes! That’s what I want!” Look for signs that the Universe has received your message and your creations are beginning to be manifested.
So when you feel stuck, remember that you’ve just forgotten that you can create, and start creating.
Telling Yourself the Truth
Until my parents passed away, I spent nearly every Christmas with them—even when I didn’t want to—because I couldn’t seem to extricate myself from the tangled web of Spider Love
Every year, traveling cross-country for the annual visit, I would tell myself it wasn’t so bad, that they needed me to be there for their happiness (though they were never happy, in my memory), and that I was being a good daughter by sharing a happy family holiday with them. I would paste a smile on my face and try to stay connected to myself while I waded through the confusion.
I wasn’t always successful.
And every year, on the way home, I found myself shuddering and feeling nauseous, reeling from all the criticism, neediness, and general chaos.
When I was younger, I used to wonder why I couldn’t enjoy family holidays. I thought there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to see some of the truths about my family that I understood that the gaiety was forced, the love was smothering, and the ostentatious unselfishness always had strings attached.
And in between, I went through a period of continuing to batter at my already low self-esteem as I tried to rationalize my parents’ behaviors, excusing them for belittling me and ignoring my needs, because I knew how painful their own lives had been.
Now that they’re gone, I can see much more clearly how detrimental my relationship with them was to my self-esteem, my connection with myself, and my ability to reach my potential in life. Just being aware of the Spider Love in our family, and learning some tools to cope with my parents’ bullying, helped me to pull myself out of a well of misery and begin living a life that works for me.
If family holidays are more stressful than enjoyable for you, you probably need to let yourself see some of the truths behind the facade. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do other family members listen to your needs, and try to meet at least some of them? Are you even comfortable expressing your needs?
- Do you spend an inordinate amount of time listening to others and supporting them, or are your interactions more balanced?
- Do you leave a family gathering with a sense of being loved and included, or with uncomfortable or even horrible moments replaying over and over in your mind?
If you have trouble coping with and destressing from family holidays, my book Stand Your Ground can be a great help to you. And I encourage you to make a New Year’s Resolution to be willing to explore the truth, express your feelings, and give yourself the gift of raising your self-esteem. Your life will get better and better once you allow yourself to see the truths behind your family’s facade.
***Many thanks to Martha Beck for creating the term "Spider Love" and explaining it in her wonderful book, Steering by Starlight.
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I have never republished any previous work on my blog, but, given the state of the current political atmosphere in America, I’d like to offer this reminder that we can change things if we just put the right energy toward what we want. This is one of the essays in my book The Meandering Muse:
What Are You Sending to the Government?
On first thought, you might think, I’m sending a portion of my income, and they’re not doing a very good job with it. We send off our tax forms, and we send our opinions in the form of votes. But the real question is, what are we sending to the government every day?
You’ve probably read a number of times that our thoughts create our reality. And our collective thoughts have even more power to create our reality. When I think of our president-to-be and the government, I find myself sending very negative energy: “Oh, things are really messed up!” “I can’t believe they’re doing that!”
There are probably millions of people in this country sending creative thoughts to the Universe suggesting that our government is really bad….. And maybe, day to day and year to year, we’re making the situation worse with our thought energy.
And then there’s whatever latest war is dominating the news: if we hear that 500 people died as a car bomb exploded in a residential area in a country overrun by war, we visualize that: 500 people dying—and so the next day, our creative visualization comes true, and more people die in the war, which creates the same thing the next day, and recreates the same thing the next day, and so the war goes on.
We’re often not aware of how much reality we’re creating just by seeing things as they currently are. Every time we send a thought that validates the current reality, we’re recreating what’s happening, even if we’re physically trying to change things or move forward in a positive way.
I remember a TV show called “Commander in Chief,” which offered a more positive vision of what our president and government could be like. That’s the right idea! By creating a new vision, we can change the reality that our country is collectively creating.
I have come to believe that one of the keys to creating a new reality is not necessarily to “paste” a picture of what you want to be happening over the picture of current reality—because it’s pretty difficult to know that our government is in trouble at the same time that you say to yourself, “I create a wonderful, democratic, caring government” or whatever it is that you’re looking for. Your logical mind will keep bringing you back to, “But right now, it’s really in trouble!”
Instead, we need to take a step beyond current reality in our creative thinking—if every time we heard about a new government gaffe, we thought, “Boy, was that a mistake! BUT I send love and light that those involved may learn from that mistake and find a better way”—or however you want to phrase it—change would begin to happen, even if it’s on a very small level. One small change now can create a totally different reality a year, two years, four years from now.
When you find yourself thinking about the government (or anything else) in a negative way, take an extra second or two to take that next step and say to yourself, “But that only means the problems are becoming clearer so that they can be resolved. I send the creative energy of resolution.”
I truly believe that our current reality, and in fact the events of the last two decades, are reflecting the shattering and dissolving of the old way of being so that a new way of being can rise from the ashes. I believe that the light of truth is beginning to shine, in some ways for the first time, into the dark corners of our corporate and religious worlds, to illuminate the corruption of the government.
As our collective consciousness evolves to a higher vibration, whatever is not in accord with that higher truth we’re reaching for is falling away, rotting, beginning to crumble before the light of truth. We can’t make changes until we see what’s wrong with what is.
I hope you’ll join me in viewing the world as undergoing a healing process rather than becoming more and more difficult to live in. When healing happens, there is often a difficult period before things get better, and if we believe the difficulty is just part of the healing process, then we make it so.
I encourage you, as you go about your daily life, to develop the habit of adding a positive spin to any negative thought you happen to find yourself thinking. Take that second step, and together we can begin to create a much better reality.
If you're having trouble coping with a dysfunctional family
(nearly everyone does, so you're not alone!), check out the books I've written to help people cope:
Stand Your Ground: How to Cope with a Dysfunctional Family
My Journey of Recovery from Bullying
and Recover from Trauma
Dysfunctional Families: The Truth Behind the Happy Family Facade
Dysfunctional Families: Healing the Legacy of Toxic Parents
Like a lot of kids, I was bullied in school. I didn’t think much of it, because it was so familiar to me. I was bullied at home by my parents and other family members, so it just seemed normal to me.
I couldn’t really connect with other people in any meaningful way, because my role models didn’t include many loving relationships. So I grew up in a fog of uncertainty, never knowing where the next storm of criticism or scorn would come from, and believing with all my heart that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t connect with others. Most other people seemed to have pretty good lives, have fun with each other, and accomplish their goals. I wondered why I couldn’t.
I went into therapy in my early thirties because I was getting divorced, and within a few months, I began to realize how abnormal my family had been, and how low my self-esteem was. I also discovered that some other people actually did have the loving relationships I’d read about in books.
My journey of recovery has lasted decades, and along the way, I’ve learned many things. Here are a few of the most important.
1. People who bully others are usually insecure, and looking for a way to feel bigger, to blow off steam, or to throw their feelings of shame off onto someone else. So, when someone bullies you, it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. It's the other person who's wrong.
2. Feelings are an intrinsic part of the human experience. Everyone has them (some more than others), and learning to acknowledge and express them is absolutely essential to mental and physical health.
3. Every person is intrinsically valuable, because each person’s unique perspective adds to the whole. No one else can provide the world with the point of view that you or I have.
As I began through therapy to see my family, my childhood, and my life with the eyes of truth, I became very depressed, and seriously considered ending my life because sorting through it all was so painful. But in sticking with the program—demanding truth, expressing my feelings, and building my self-esteem—I have made a life that I enjoy, and that I value very deeply.
Every time I hear that a kid like Jackson Grubb has taken his own life, those years come right back to me.
I’m convinced that kids who’ve been bullied have some of the same kinds of feelings I did—they think something is wrong with them, that it’s not okay to feel sad or mad in response to being bullied, and that there’s no hope that anything will ever change.
So I wrote Bullied: Why You Feel Bad Inside and What to Do About It for kids who might not say out loud how they’re feeling, but might pick up a book and finally understand that other people feel just the same way they do. And they might learn that life will get better someday.
If you have kids, please teach them about emotional intelligence. Please model a healthy expression of feelings for them. Please give them space to talk about their own feelings. Whether or not you save their lives, you’ll certainly be saving their sanity.
Using Guilt to Find Freedom
I was trained to feel guilty from an early age—shamed for doing anything that wasn’t within my parents’ boundaries of what I was “supposed” to do. I’ve worked to dissolve this old habit for decades.
And I’ve been somewhat successful. But this week, I reached a milestone. I finally understand the concept of “free will to live however we please.”
I went to see an energy healer who I’ve worked with several times, always with great results, and she cleared some rather negative energy from my aura. The next day, the voice in my head that’s been telling me what to do for my whole life, was....gone. Just gone.
I’ve been fighting that voice for a long, long time. Every time it said, “You should...” or “You have to...”, I would get more determined to do what I wanted to do—because all the “shoulds” and “have-tos” were leftover re-runs from childhood programming. They’re very powerful, but I want to say here that our minds are more powerful than our programming. As Martha Beck once wrote, it’s like driving a car over deep ruts in the road: you have to just keep steering without falling into the ruts. I love Martha Beck!
At first, I was at a loss without that voice always telling me what to do. I didn’t know what to do next (even though I have a list about seven miles long), and I felt like there was a huge void in my decision-making ability without that constant “direction.” After floundering around for a day or two, I came up with the idea of letting my soul’s voice fill in the blankness. I immediately felt stronger. Then I got quiet and listened.
The first thing I “heard” was that I didn’t need to feel guilty for doing anything. Now, I love to do artwork—especially coloring mandalas and flowers in those awesome adult coloring books—but I always feel guilty doing it, because it doesn’t “get me anywhere” or “serve anyone” or any of those things I was taught as a child should be the measuring stick for all of my activities (even leisure ones). Every single thing we do, this voice suggested, adds to what is—adds to the beauty or knowledge or creativity of the world, whether it’s in the physical world, or beamed right into the Collective Unconscious (see Carl Jung, or Google for more info).
While I was mentally chewing on that, the voice suggested that we have exactly the same freedom as Nature does to create and play with what is, turning it into new forms and possibilities. It’s like the Divine Creator (or God, or Infinite Intelligence, etc.) says to Nature, “Go ahead and make any, any mutations you want to, because every new thing adds to Creation.”
I have to say that I’m not really sure genetic engineering is a good idea, but I think the fact that we’re constantly creating new things is exactly what the Creator desires. After all, if we’re made in God’s image, doesn’t that mean we should be extreme creators, too? So why feel guilty when that voice inside says, “I don’t want to go to work, I want to write?” Not that we can always follow that voice immediately—but at least we don’t have to feel guilty about it.
I truly believe that it’s the inner impulses we feel that are most closely connected to the Divine, not the “shoulds” and “have-tos.” Most of the time, those old rules are not creative at all! And usually, they are rules that came from human voices rather than the voice of God, which we all have inside, if we'll only listen.
So let your guilt dissolve, and allow the voice of your soul to come into the empty space of your mind and heart. The more you create, the more creative you will become, until your life is nothing but creating, moment to moment. That is how I believe we are meant to live.
How to Cope with Workplace Bullying
Usually I confine my blogs to family matters, but I’ve been hearing so much about workplace bullying lately that I wanted to address what seems to be a growing issue.
Workplace bullying is really just the same as bullying in the family or the schoolyard—criticism, belittling, name-calling, making fun of someone. In short, when you’re being put down, you’re being bullied. When it hurts, when it makes you feel smaller, you’re being bullied, whether it’s a parent, a child, a boss, or a co-worker.
Workplace bullying is especially difficult to deal with, because of the fear that you can lose your job if you retaliate, or even if you try to defend yourself. Many corporate cultures now are full of bullying—and I sometimes wonder if it isn’t an overwhelming sense of powerlessness, given our out-of-control world full of problems and stresses—that causes so many people to bully others, along with our cultural bias against expressing emotions. After all, bullying in any form is simply an out-of-control emotional grab for a feeling of power, of being in control, of being strong (and stronger than others, if that’s what the personality needs to feel safe).
Which brings us to the question of “What do you do when you’re being bullied by a boss or co-worker?” If it’s a co-worker, you might be able to approach an open-minded superior, and ask what you can do—clearly and succinctly, without blaming the co-worker or complaining about the situation. Ask in the same way you would ask about a work problem: a quick explanation, then a request for help or suggestions.
It’s a little more difficult if you’re being bullied by your boss or supervisor. Obviously, one option is to start looking for another position. Sometimes you can defuel a bully’s tirade by taking a strong stance, looking them straight in the eye, and saying, “Excuse me?” Your tone should be non-confrontational, but you’re letting him or her know that you know what they’re up to, and that the “stickers” are not getting under your skin. Sometimes bullies lose control, and don’t realize that they’ve lost control until someone looks them straight in the eye and calmly interrupts their tirade instead of cowering or apologizing.
All of that said, your primary defense is to sustain your self-esteem, and stay centered in your sense of self, so that you’re not letting the bully talk you into believing something about yourself that you know isn’t true (i.e., “You’re incompetent”). Remember that most people who bully do so because they feel inadequate in some way, and they’re just trying to make themselves feel better by putting someone else down. Remind yourself that you have your job because of your skills and experience, and that you don't have to take what the bully says personally. It's only one person's (skewed) opinion, not the truth.
Bullying is a power trip practiced by people who feel small and are trying to make themselves feel bigger. It’s not about you. In fact, bullies don’t even necessarily tell the truth when they bully you—often, their accusations are either imagined or blown all out of proportion. But because someone is threatening you, it’s easier to believe what they’re saying than it is to hold on to your own sense of reality. It may be especially difficult for you if you were abused as a child, like I was.
What’s most important is acknowledging the feelings that arise in you from being bullied, and finding a way to release them without venting them on someone else—because if you vent them on someone else, you’re doing exactly what the bully is doing to you. Punch pillows, stomp your feet, roll up your car windows and scream, have a good cry, and then let it all go. Human emotion is extremely powerful, and if it’s not expressed, it can turn into physical malfunction. If you learn how to express your anger, you’ll learn how to use its power in a positive way. And the more you can release difficult emotions, the more clear your thinking and behaving will become.
My book Bullied: Why You Feel Bad Inside and What to Do About It offers many more tips for coping with the feelings that arise from being bullied, and for dealing with bullies. It takes time to learn how to be strong and say no, if you’re not used to it, but it can be done, and it’s one of the most important skills you can learn in the process of beginning to create a life that you truly enjoy.
Get a copy of Bullied and learn how
to cope with bullies in your workplace.
Not Quite Me, Not Quite You
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, in your own home, and suddenly, it’s not familiar? You know what it looks like – there’s the bed, that’s my dresser, those are the two windows that look out on the front lawn – but you don’t feel like it’s yours, it’s somebody else’s.
I used to think it meant I had fallen into some deep form of the Power of Now, as if I was so steeped in this moment of reality that all of my memories – my deepest sense of who I was and how I’d lived – had died away into an existential nothingness.
In the middle of the night sometimes, you feel your life around you.
Sometimes you’re glad you’re there.
Sometimes you wish for more.
Who are we really? An inimitable collection of thoughts, desires, feelings, and behaviors, arising from the clear, true impulses of the soul and oozing up through the primordial brainstem to get trapped and muddled in the miasmic web of childhood indoctrination?
My pen sears the paper as I try to scribble away the scars of my childhood.
When I was small, my parents criticized me endlessly:
“Get your elbows off the table!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Change your clothes. That looks trashy.”
“Pull in your tummy!”
Parts of me went away when it happened, so there have always been blank spaces in who I am, even while I continued to function: to love, to eat, to work, to play. Parts of me were always somewhere else.
But lately, they’ve been coming back at 4 a.m.
dis•so•ci•á•tion: In psychiatry, a defense mechanism in which specific, anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations are separated from the rest of the psyche. Also, the process by which a compound body breaks up into simpler constituents.
What happens to those parts we leave behind? Do they swim, untethered, in the deepest layers of our cells, drifting in the sea of consciousness, bewildered molecules of who we were and who we’re meant to be, waiting for their chance to come alive?
I am angry today. I don’t know why. Nothing has happened to produce my mood.
It’s one of them, the unlived selves, a fragment lost in time and space because there was no room for it to grow. It wants out; it wants to tell me what it needs and how it felt and where it wants to go. It wants to shout its fury. It wants to live, to move my limbs and make my choices, to be a part of who I am becoming.
It wants me; it wants to be me. Like my mother did.
What happened to the infant me, that pure, sweet breath of bright new life who knew no pain, who lay there crying, lonely, while Mommy cleaned the kitchen?
Is she this me who wakes at 4 a.m. and doesn’t recognize my life?
I reach out my hand, and welcome her into my heart.
At school, I hid behind my glasses, pretending I knew what the world was all about. The memories of fists and belts hid deep inside where I hoped no one could see them. And then one day, I put the memories so far away I didn’t see them anymore myself.
So many parts of me got left behind. But they’re still living somewhere deep inside, waiting for their turns.
Someday, if I wake up in the middle of the night often enough, all of me will be here.