English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been through some mind-boggling crazy relationships with certain people in my life and I would say that the common denominator is that I always end up feeling completely powerless. Other people have taken over the reigns in the relationship and no matter how hard I fight against it I always end up in the same place, feeling baffled and hurt because they don’t get what I am saying. Admittedly I have not always expressed myself in the proper way because I get to the point of screaming at them just to get them to leave me alone. Part of this could be attributed to my bipolar mood swings, however I have consistently wondered just how much of my reactions are valid. I usually have ended up with a toxic feeling of anger combined with an even more toxic feeling of profound guilt and worthlessness.  Usually what has happened is that they do back off on an issue for a while, but then later on the same pattern repeats itself, over and over.  This may sound dramatic, but there are times when I literally have felt that I was fighting for my psychological survival. I think this reaction goes back to my childhood, where I was literally bombarded with my mother’s intense feelings, which she blamed on me. There was never a point where I could say to her, “You know that really hurts, STOP IT.”

When I hit adolescence, feelings that I had repressed for my entire childhood started bubbling up to the surface. Up until then, I simply existed in a state of virtual numbness, punctuated by periodic crying spells that came out of nowhere. I got labeled as a “cry-baby”, and got the old lecture on “crying wolf” numerous times. It never occurred to anyone that I might have a reason to cry. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them what was wrong anyway, because I myself didn’t know why I was crying. One day at school, I broke down during a test. I was sent to the school counselor who simply pronounced that I didn’t handle stress well. That was all.

By fourteen I started feeling depressed and the only friend I had was a pen-pal. I stopped writing to her because I wasn’t able to write any happy, chatty letters to her anymore. She of course, was very hurt, and I have always felt guilty about that. But I simply did not know how to express what I was feeling.

By sixteen, I was suicidal and I made a half-hearted attempt at cutting my wrist. I was fortunate that at that point, my parents did start to take me seriously. They sent me to a church counselor who said that I just wanted attention, I think that a common misconception among people is that when someone makes a half-hearted suicide attempt, then that means that they really don’t want to kill themselves. They don’t understand the desperate compulsion to die, combined with the fear of actually doing it. I wanted to die, but I just could not muster the courage to follow through.

I was fortunate again that my parents sent me to professional therapist, rather than take the word of someone who really had no idea what she was talking about. The therapist talked with me alone and then talked to my mother separately. He apparently had some harsh words for her, because when she came home she was crying. After that, she never called me “spoiled” again, which was one of her favorite epithets against me.

The therapist did help with getting her to stop a lot of her destructive behavior, although the depression did not abate. He did not recognize that I had a serious clinical condition, which is a shame. But I am certain that my parents would not have agreed to medication anyway, because they didn’t trust doctors. I made still another suicide attempt, by sticking a key into an electrical socket. Of course the sparks frightened me, and the circuit blew anyway. My mother knew this and yet for some reason, either she didn’t tell the therapist or else he did not take it seriously when she did. The entire time I saw this therapist, we never once talked about my suicidal feelings. I would have had a lot to say to him, about the fact that I obsessively read the Bible and picked out every verse that said that I deserved to die. “The wages of sin is death.” But it was never brought up.

His feeling was that I had a lot of repressed anger and that was what was causing my depression. He told me that it was okay to be angry and he was right about that. I wasn’t even aware that I was angry, until he said that. Then, boom! Overnight I became a stark raving bitch and yelled constantly at my mother.  Although he was right about the fact that I had a right to be angry, he never gave me any guidance on how to handle it.  Despite the fact that I released my anger, though, I was still seriously depressed and thought about suicide constantly.

As I look back I find it extremely strange that he never once brought my mother and I into a therapy session together. He counseled us separately. I think he did us both a deep disfavor. By not telling me how to express my feelings appropriately other than simply screaming at my mother, he never gave us the opportunity to actually work things out together. In essence, he stole my voice, the one that wanted to know why she felt I was such a terrible person. The one who wanted to express my pain in a way that she could understand. The one who wanted to say desperately, “STOP IT. THAT HURTS and explain why.

I think that this is why I have found it so difficult to deal with other people in my family who behave in the exact same manner that she did. It is even more frustrating with them because at least with my mother, she did make some changes. It wasn’t until I was an adult though when she finally let go and respected me as a person. Unfortunately, I never really forgave her entirely because I was never able to ask the question “Why?” I should have been more mature about that, but I wasn’t.

Recently, as I struggled with these issues with other members of my family I have asked myself why am I so obsessed with them. I think that there are many reasons, they are my only close family members other than my dad, who is in failing health at age 85. He has been the only member of the family who has forgiven me for my behavior during my bipolar episodes, the only one who has been there to support me through them, and the only one who recognizes that I have changed. We haven’t had a major argument in ten years and I intend to keep it that way. I will not betray him by taking it out on him when I am feeling bad, In fact I have that attitude towards the rest of the family too, but they will not recognize that. To them, anytime we have a disagreement, no matter how well I handle it, is “proof” that I haven’t changed at all. For them, they see that the only way that I can can prove that I have changed is to always agree with them and always do what they want.

Tossing and turning one night, obsessing about this, I asked myself why I was so upset. The answer came clearly, “I HAVE NO VOICE.”  It literally feels like I am screaming inside for someone to listen, for someone to care, for someone to take me seriously. Just like with my mother, anything I say is dismissed as mere excuses.  Nothing that I do that is good matters. I can’t say, “STOP IT. THAT HURTS.”

But I realize now that I CAN SAY IT. Not for them, because it is unlikely that they are going to change. BUT FOR ME. JUST SAYING IT IS WHAT MATTERS. It doesn’t matter if they don’t take it seriously, because I need to draw a line in the sand and stick to it.

This keeps coming up over and over again because they keep trying to bring me back into the relationship, but only on their terms. I tell them that the only way I will come back is if they will agree to respect my decisions, even though they may disagree with them. They keep telling me that I am welcome to come back, as long as I drop that condition.

FORGET THAT.

My dad is a bit upset with me, because he doesn’t quite understand the stakes here. He of course does not want to see the family broken up, but to me this is a matter of psychological survival. I literally can’t be drawn back into a situation where I am being told that I am a horrible person, just because I disagree with them on something. My brother-in-law’s favorite mantra is that as long as he has known me, I have been a completely selfish person who has never done anything good in my entire life. I am demanding, ungrateful and since I don’t care about him, why should he care about me? My sister seconds him on that. All because I believe that I ought to have a say in how I spend my money and how I live my life. The ironic part is that they are describing themselves, not me.

At my support group today I finally said the words: I DON’T OWE YOU A DAMN THING.  Everybody cheered!

I have been a bit down on myself for not being able to move past this issue as fast as I thought I should.  But I realize that it is hard for anyone to leave an abusive relationship. It is never as simple as just leaving, It is a loss, a grieving of what never was and what never will be. A fear of being alone, but then realizing that you are already alone so there is nothing to lose. But I will survive.

I have made a commitment to not waste one more minute on negative, toxic people. I will make a new family out of the kind and wonderful people I have met at the mental health social center.  I will take the chance of actually cultivating friendships with people when I have previously not done that because I was too scared to do so.  It makes sense doesn’t it?

I’ve discovered the power of “NO. I WILL NOT TAKE THAT ANYMORE.”

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