We are taught to believe a lot of things about ourselves. Our family of origins impart to us all sorts of messages both true and untrue. When I went to Green Mountain at Fox Run, this was one of the things that became so overwhelming for me to come to terms with. Darla, the fabulous psychologist of GMAFR, does a great job at communicating the importance of self-care. She helps to build the women of GMAFR up and remind them of their deep worth. When I arrived at Green Mountain I was at an emotional impasse. Things in my life had been out of control for a long time, my body image was tattered, and I was struggling to find my power in it all. As I sat in on Darla’s classes I had to come to terms with a truth that she was promoting: “Regardless of what Mom and Dad did or didn’t show you about your value… you are valuable. You are worthy of care and love and wellness.”
In some families the common thread, the unspoken rule, is you can’t get well… you can’t be “better” than me. This rule basically is the one that leads a sister to sabotage another sister’s weight loss efforts, motivate a mother to keep her daughter from leaving to college, or catalyze a father’s disapproval of someone dating a higher educated partner. Within the paradigm of the family rule is anxiety and fear that if someone leaves the fold in any particular way (even to improve themselves) it will put too much stress on the family system.
“Oh! You must think you a big shot now that you are college educated.” Really should sound more like, “I am afraid. I feel dumb and uneducated and your college degree somehow ignites these anxieties in my further.” Obviously we don’t REALLY talk like that, and I don’t know if we should. Underneath every message, though, is a meta message that shows the true intent of what we are trying to gain.
This family rule informs the family structure. Underneath this rule is the fear that “if ____________gets better/sober/happier/more educated/married to someone “better” than me, I’ll have to face who I am.” Families and friends become uncomfortable or even stand in the way of a loved one’s progress because the loved one “getting better” ultimately shines a light on their own very fractured lives and inability Some might know it as the “Momma is happy or no one is happy” rule.
So when I found myself utterly broken at Green Mountain at Fox Run, anxious, and feeling unprepared to come home, I realized part of my anxiety was being fueled by two conflicting world views. I carried the belief, as I had been taught directly and indirectly, that I am not deserving of self-care and to “make myself a priority” is selfish. I also carried the newly acquired belief and empowerment, thanks to Darla, that indeed I was my most valuable possession. Two diametrically opposed patterns of belief were encapsulated inside me and I was having a panic attack! The impasse was: 1)embrace what you’ve been taught about your value- you are worthy (which means your parents were SO so SO wrong) or 2)go home with the status quo firmly in place and live in the internal chaos of ignoring self-care and needs.
Who wants to be there, right? Who wants to have to say to themselves that their parents were wrong or even abusive in the things they were taught. All of us wants to believe are parents aren’t lying to us, that they have our very best in mind. Some of us even go to great lengths to prove their parents right. I have a friend whose mom and sister made fun of her physical appearance, ridiculed her. Today she feels deep shame when she “dresses nice” or buys things for her appearance. She was indoctrinated with the belief that she is ugly no matter what and not deserving of outward beauty, so it follows that the simple act of replacing a shirt with a hole in it might incite anxiety. It is easier to place the blame on ourselves and take responsibility, “they must be right I must be ugly”, rather than buck up and say, “they are VERY wrong about this.” In fact, it might be developmentally impossible, as we are programmed to need our family of origin until we eject from the nest. Maybe we override the self in favor for some awful things that are said and done to us in order to survive a little longer. Another friend of mine was told by her father she was a whore. She became promiscuous. Against her better instincts she slept around and slept around until one day she wrote to me, “I was trying to prove him right. I needed his love more than anything else. Admitting that he was mean and called me a whore because of his own issues meant I also had to embrace that in the moment he called me a whore he wasn’t caring for me.”
And there are less extreme examples-
There is the family who KNOWS that when __________is in a bad mood we all tread lightly. It is the reality that a single person’s demeanor influences and controls the whole. Don’t be too happy (i.e. embrace your individual emotional state) because so and so is feeling cranky.
When I was on the plane ride home from Green Mountain at Fox run I cried and wrote about what I realized. I made the conscious decision to stop the insanity and embrace what Darla taught me. Which, emotionally, felt like rejecting my mother. I was experiencing the fear of a little girl afraid to disappoint her mother, her aunt, her grandmother….
Today I am further along on my journey. I am getting better everyday at doing simple things that tend to my well-being and help me care for myself in a balanced way. The hurt girl inside is learning better ways to behave, ways that don’t include utter fits of emotional rebellion that involve binge eating. It is okay that my mom and dad were wrong about me… after all, parents can’t be right about everything.