Spring the Trap

The unintentional misery inflicted by families.

I’ve never subscribed to ‘family is all’. The constant noting of what ‘family’ is and how it should be identified has never sat well with me. I’m the rainbow sheep of the family and although that is not part of the dynamic, being the odd one out is. 

Complex trauma is where someone has adapted to years of abuse, harassment and assault. Epigenetics is the mechanism whereby that trauma is conferred upon succeeding generations. Modelling is how children learn by observing adults. Family dynamic is how these factors and individual personalities evolve into a group sharing particular habits of interaction.

Too few people realise they are in a toxic environment as not many can accept that their effects on others are negative. Admitting that someone we care for is toxic for us is a terrible step to take. For parents, we are excessively proud of our families and children; as children we require the love and acceptance of our parents. Toxic dynamics arise where respect is absent.

My childhood revolved around my mother, a survivor of complex trauma, someone who I’ve held in admiration for her resilience and achievements. Her independence and absolute refusal to give in are awe inspiring.

Not everyone in her life finds her so. 

Her dominant personality and emotionally repressive position combined with her desperate need to prevent any harm coming to her daughters created imbalance. I remember the three times through my childhood where my brothers and I and her had a conversation. Defences up and always prepared for the next attack, she is always suffuse with tension.

My personal response was to help. A single mother supporting three children and a mortgage, being predated upon and ostracised, regularly destroyed by migraines, I decided to help her when I was about 7 years old. Over the years, this evolved into her giving me lists of chores which I would do as quickly as possible so we could get more done.

40 years later, the family dynamic that evolved is one of my absolute submission. Not just to my mother, either. Any point that I defer on, any ‘no’ I provide is met with anger. I’ve been subject to some outrageous demands since I got back to Australia 3 years ago. I made the effort to step away from my role in the dynamic but they have not. I doubt they are able to define what our dynamic is and would all have great trouble admitting their affect on me.

The complete loss of my autonomy and independence in 2020 due to the global pandemic crushed me. I resorted to moving back to Australia. My grief and despondency were never once acknowledged by all but two of my ‘family’. I was often screamed at, tears flowing, her giving herself headaches and sometimes depriving me of food if I said the wrong thing. The silent treatment. All while I continued repairing her house, saving her thousands of dollars, all while improving it with cleaning, tidying, organising and adding new features such as rock walls and stairs. And contributing cash despite having no income or unemployment benefits.

Never enough.

This family dynamic of submission continues with my brothers and sisters to different degrees.

My older brother was furious that I changed my name. This is the same person who regularly assaulted me and verbally abused me throughout childhood. My middle sister and my mother concocted a plan for me to get rent assistance from the government after I’d got on the dole, and for me to give all that money to my mother. Neither asked. I was informed that I would simply do it. When I said no, my mother was irritated and confused and my sister was furious.

By always submitting to my mother’s will through childhood, my brothers and sisters learned how to treat me. 

I do not believe they are evil or nasty, even now. These are people I care deeply about. My love for them is in the evidence of the effort I’ve made for them over the years. But my orientation toward them changed last week.

My mother recently had a stroke. I diagnosed her within an hour of seeing her in hospital, several hours before the doctors did. I was quite worried about the cognitive void to the left of her person. I was hoping the stroke would take away some of her aggressive defensiveness and I could finally relax and be myself. It did not turn out that way.

Trying to organise how to manage her home and cats and car, she became defensive and escalated. The only way her statements could have any credibility is if she believed I was trying to steal her car and rip her off. This insult is not new. Complex trauma victims have had their trust completely destroyed.

She then justified her reaction with her stroke and Astrology.

That was when I decided enough is enough.

Ask any counsellor: When is abuse justifiable?

If she has the cognitive skill to recognise her condition and then to use it as a justification to lash out, and to use Astrology to reinforce that position knowing that Astrology is important to me, she has recovered enough to not need my help. 

Just days before, I informed her that my GP evaluated me as suffering extreme levels of stress and depression.

From last Tuesday, after terminating all contact with my family, I felt my depression lift and my stress fall. 

I learned that although stress and depression always feel the same, they are not always caused by the same thing. Having my life destroyed by COVID was a cause but it was compounded by family. My mother’s stroke exacerbated both. Being in Australia and rebuilding my future is another cause. 

Now, however, my stress is more manageable with only temporary anxiety attacks and my depression has ended. I haven’t thought of suicide for a week. My insomnia has returned because my depressive collapse into sleep has ended. 

My family’s absolute refusal to recognise that I needed support worsened my isolation. My need to feel connected to people I love ensured I stayed connected to ‘family’. Realising that committing suicide due to the stress placed on me by my family necessitated terminating contact with them.

In the end, my mother sprung the trap. You thought it was me, but no. When I read her message justifying her thoughtlessness, I compared how I had treated her with her stroke and how she had treated me as a COVID refugee. I combed her hair, helped her move about in bed, encouraged her to regain her skills, told her how, took care of her things.

All her abuse flooded back.

There is no comparison.

I guess that was the stroke affecting her judgement. She never justified abusing me before. If she had simply said sorry, I would still be striving to help. I would still be earnestly working to help my brothers and sisters move out of this toxic dynamic of pandering to her unconscious whims.

For the first time in months, I’ve been able to write and draw. My stress has fallen to the point where I can produce complex work. My depression has evaporated. 

Yes, it is stressful terminating contact with people we are connected to, but if you are part of a family where you are disrespected as a matter of course, no contact may involve far less stress. As our stress levels fall, our minds are able to function again: we regain judgement, insight and problem solving. We regain the ability to function.

And this is the prize I’ve won.