I started my foray into healing nearly twenty years ago with a stellar and spectacular display of projection. I was perusing the self-help section of the bookstore because I was convinced my then-boyfriend had ADD or something I could help him with through armchair diagnosis. (Ahem)Or at least help me figure out what I needed to do for myself, since this was one of those on-again, off-again affairs.
The first book I picked up was "Scattered" by Gabor Mate`. I spent a good thirty minutes in the aisle of Borders reading Mate`'s deeply engaging style, but what began to dawn on me was not that I was reading about my boyfriend, I was reading about ME. That was one of those, "oh, shit. I've got work to do" moments.
Mate`'s premise was that ADD has roots in trauma. Once I was awakened to this for myself, I bought the book and devoured it. Although I did not immediately delve into a committed healing journey, my eyes were opened and could not be unopened. The seed was planted.
However, something crept in as a force to stop me from changing and healing and growing or knowing TOO much. That force was denial. Over the years I'd swing between growing self-awareness, and going back to "sleep". At one very defining moment, I could no longer be in denial. It took a complete realization that I was in a re-enactment of childhood wounds to wake me up good and steady, and get my feet on a solid path to healing.
I did that, and healing at one point, as I've written, became a complete severance from abusers, body and soul. I still have to see those who brought me harm without making restitution. I also see those who brought me harm and who have made restitution, and it is a beautiful thing to know there is love and care flowing between people in the form of forgiveness and remorse, and I get to clean up my messes with honesty and transparency. But still others are thick with denial.
Denial is a burden you don't know you have. There have been painful memories I could only speak of in the robotic monotone of the traumatized...the complete disconnect between harm and response. It's called dissociation. I'm sure someone would say I wasn't in denial because I could speak the words and the language of self-awareness, but I had resolved nothing...if it had been resolved, my feelings would have adequately communicated the gravity of the trauma.
Yet I still watch with curiosity those who deny in the face of facts. Denial and self-deception are forces that are extremely strong, and they take over capacities to think. In families where there has been sexual abuse, it is not uncommon for the whole family system to deny the abuse. Keeping the family "together", no matter how dysfunctional, takes precedence over dealing with painful reality. The ensuing charade locks people in rigid family roles and deception so large it is absolutely delusional. For example, the family whose family member spent time in jail for a crime pretends it didn't happen or that the family member doesn't have a problem. Facts and truths are worthless when face to face with family dysfunction and denial.
This is hurtful for family members who were abused and who play the role of scapegoat. It is well known in therapy circles that the scapegoat has the most hope for change and healing, since they are not operating under the delusions of denial. But it hurts to realize that your family does not uphold the same values of truth, love, and connection that you do.
Abuse is a forceful division, and it should be. Anyone who can't cut through their own denial and self-deception is still an abuser. But I get it. The urge to belong to a family that looks and acts a certain way and has no dark side is so strong. I, too, wanted a beautiful, picture-perfect family. I was henpecked and scapegoated the hell out of that illusion. It took me awhile to say thank GOD I am free. No "perfect", loving family would scapegoat anyone.
At the holidays, because of family gatherings, gifts given or not given, having to act nice to people who you know hate your guts and have the trail of offenses to prove it, childhood memories coming back to haunt you, it can be hard. Part of healing is learning to deal with people who are still under the utter blindness of denial, who have no insight into themselves, and who can't deal with feelings.
Abusers can be especially wiley during the holidays.
My advice for those who are healing like me, is to care for yourself. Set healthy boundaries so that those in denial cannot abuse you. If silence and stonewalling are their preferred methods of abuse, then take that as silent agreement with you, because it is.They are showing their abusive colors so that is proof. If passive-aggression is their abuse, just let it go and try again another day. If outright verbal attacks are more their speed, know this in advance and do not put yourself in positions where you are alone with them.
One of the consequences of being in and around those in a system of denial is that you constantly question your own perception. Strengthen your perception by writing down abuser's offenses. You are not going crazy. Dysfunctional systems are good at splitting...meaning, they put on a superficial front and even say they are a certain way, but their actions are in direct opposition to their words. Heap on layers of proclaimed beliefs that they are "right" or "protective" in their offenses and it can make your head spin with confusion. You have to say, "Yep, they did say that. Yep, they did do that...here is the email trail. Here is where I journaled about it." Use your good sense to not talk yourself out of facts. Remind yourself who they have shown you they are. They are not picture-perfect-beautiful-family-loving-Christmas people. They are people who deliberately hurt you, withheld from you, verbally attacked and judged you, looked the other way when you were being abused, blamed you, negated your humanity, completely obliterated your perception, and pretended that when they threw you a crumb, they were Gods. The problem is, you WANT to believe the good parts of them that absolutely WERE there. You want to believe they were the sum of any goodnesses they showed you. But in the absence of change or restitution, the damage is still there and they cannot be trusted.
Re-ordering your life post trauma means imagining relationships where people care, are safe and accepting, are sensitive and kind, can make amends and restitution, would never purposely hurt you, and who patiently love you through your pain. Gathering these people to you and valuing them in your life is imperative. Give as much time to family at the holidays as needed, allowing the divide of abuser/abused to be there, but make sure you touch base with those with whom you can be real and who understand the language of trauma. Chances are, these people are family just as much as "real" family. It is hopeful to make new holiday traditions that reflect the light of truth and your deepening healing. Use your abusers to show you what is real, simply by virtue of the fact that they represent what is fake.
As for love, it is hard not to love your father, or mother, or ex, or anyone you were close to that hurt you. These feelings of love come up and might make you self-betray. But remember, while coming out of denial is painful, shameful, and devastating, it is the biggest gift anyone can receive. Don't deny anyone else that gift by pretending along with them. Holding to the truth and stating it is a GIFT to abusers, because it gives them the opportunity to connect with their highest self, which is to be caring, compassionate, and empathetic. They always have free will in how they treat people, just as you do. If you feel inclined to give, give freely. Expect nothing.
Most of the time the holidays go off without a glitch. The holidays, for me, are not the time to confront or work something out with someone. It's more about my self-care and making my own joyful, free-of-dysfunction rituals.
And as always, such deep gratitude for this journey, even for abusers.