What About Me?

If I want my life to be different – and I do – then I need to change the way I make decisions.

That’s according to my most recent brainwave.

The decisions we’re talking about here are those that concern my personal wellbeing, my life, my dreams – and quite often the context involves my family.

I’m the child of co-dependent parents – and life in a co-dependent family is what I learned to handle.

So my decisions have so far often been a bit screwed up by me making choices against myself for the sake of other people’s needs.

It’s hard for me to be called “selfish”. I need to learn that, yes, I do have needs, and, yes, it’s good for me to take care of my own needs.

I was taught to become invisible to make other people’s lives easier. I know how to live in a way that is convenient to others. I was non-threatening to the family dynamics, to the point of complete self-denial. I think I knew it as a kid and as a teenager already that this was self-destructive, but I had nowhere else to go, no other options available to me at the time to get by.

However. Things have changed already quite a bit in the last years. I said “no” rather clearly a number of times – even if that was the result sometimes of months of agonising. In the end, I did say “no”. And it matters.

If you were brought up to obey and to “not be a burden” on the fragile psyches of your parents, it is an achievement to say “no”. Every time.

It’s a skill you need to learn, and you learn by repetition. Every time you see yourself pushed into places where you don’t want to be, you have to learn it again. And you have to justify learning it to yourself, because they sure as hell won’t make this easy on you.

So, thank God for friends.

Thank God also for my growing sense of “I deserve better”. Yes, I do.

Thank God for teaching me, more and more, what love actually looks like. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to love? I did not learn the truth about this at home. And it’s hard to accept that, and to let that go at some point too. I can’t make a good life for myself if I keep holding on to what I did not get, what I still do not receive, from my family. What they hand to me, still, is their needs. And I need to learn to not accept them.

My life belongs to me alone. No, I do not “owe” my family to keep up the role I once had. And if their idea of love is contained in such words as debt and duty, and a sense of despair at my refusal to fit the gap in their emotional safety net again, then they have not understood the first thing about love.

Can I learn how to make decisions in my favour? Can I learn to do this with more confidence, less struggle? Can I believe that the God of unconditional love is right? Can I believe that I have what I need when I distance myself from my family? What am I holding on to when I’m holding on to them? I know I don’t belong there. I’m afraid of not belonging anywhere. So I rather let them keep on pulling at my emotional strings than cut the cord?

I’m not sure how to best establish the boundaries I need without completely cutting all ties to them. And I need to know where I want those boundaries to be. I need to set them. They will not help me to do that. I need to know what I want out of my life. And I need to make decisions that help me get that.

What are the questions I need to ask myself to make decisions about my life?

  • What is important to me?
  • Will this make me happy?
  • Will this help me to become more who I want to be?
  • Will this give me life?
  • Do I know already what I want to say but feel I can’t say it? What is holding me back?
  • Why do I feel I need to do this?
  • Who will support me in doing what I feel is right for me here?
  • Who am I supporting by doing this?
  • Am I being myself or am I being what is needed?

I am an abuse survivor. I left for more than one good reason. But it’s me they are blaming now for the “lack of peace” in the family. I am the problem. I am the reason that they aren’t well. That’s the dynamics we’re talking about here. Yes, I do need to establish distance.

What if one of them did something to themselves? I feel this worst-case scenario is possible – especially if I put more strain on their already fragile selves, if I set boundaries, say no, don’t go there, etc. And that worry is part of having learned to take care of your parents’ emotional needs instead of them having taken care of you.

I am worth nothing compared to them. That’s the impression I got from their responses when I talked about the abuse. It cost me so much to step away. To stand up for myself. To say, “And what about me?” In some way, if it hadn’t come to that extreme, I may never have found the inner strength to change the situation.

No, I will not sacrifice my life to support this kind of family dynamic, or live near them to protect them from themselves, to appease their imagined “happy family” reality.

I’m angry with them and still feel I can’t tell them. I still fit the bill. No extra burdens. They struggle already.

Before I can be in a good relationship, I need to understand what’s been going on. I’m working on it. To understand it is part of the healing. The more I understand what my family is like, the more I can also have compassion with myself for the decisions I’ve made later, for mistakes I’ve made in relationships. I can forgive myself for having been “stupid” (and I will no longer use this word to describe anything I do).

I can learn to understand why I was such a serious child, such an “adult” as a teenager. There was no time to be silly, to be a child, to be wild, to have fun.

And there wasn’t much support, kindness, generosity from others. I had to take care of myself. We all had to take care of ourselves. My sister, my brother and me. Now I learn that I can expect more than what I got then in relationships. No, I can’t expect to be parented now. But yes, I can expect to be treated with care, with kindness, with respect.

I fear sometimes I’ve been so messed up, I’ll never have a healthy, loving relationship.

But I also feel that the more I understand, the more chance I have to get the life I want for myself.

And it’s slightly unexpected that the thinking about decision-making led to more understanding of co-dependent family dynamics. But completely logical. My decision-making is where a lot of the learned dynamics become visible to me. And the more I understand those dynamics, the less I will fall for them. Knowledge is power, indeed.

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