The above quote is the very first line you will read in Anna Karenina. It is the only line I really cherished as I couldn’t fathom the book. I could manage the movie but Russian writers are not my forte.
As we go into the holiday season, don’t focus on what you see on social media, focus on the reality of your own life, on how you can become a better person. I can tell you that so many of the lies you see on social media, I have learned about in my office. They are not happy families; they show you what they imagine they have. There are some rare circumstances but more and more, it is like finding that rare penny that will make you a millionaire.
- I listen to women talking about absent fathers who throw up photos of their children, whom they have no relationship with and never see. They are sent photos or grab them from someone’s profile and make “their friends,” believe they are great fathers (or grandfathers).
- Grandmothers are kept from their grandchildren, when they have sons. The mothers focus more on the maternal family then the paternal family. This happens more often than not, when the grandmother was a single parent to the son. The saying “You have a daughter; you gain a son-in-law. You have a son; you lose him for life.”
- Infidelity: You see wonderful family photos but have no idea that the man or woman is having an affair – until you find out with a TMI post.
- The lovely children and mom photos. Wait, why is the dad never in the picture? You later learn he left. Then one day, you see a new guy in the photo. You figure it out.
- Families who show photos of their kids and you see them outside of the home – meanwhile, the kids are raised in a filthy house. Everyone thinks “What a great family!” They don’t notice the fake smiles on the children’s faces.
- The survivor of the narcissist seems to have depressing posts all the time – “What a loser,” people think, why is she always such a downer? Why can’t she ever see the bright side? Meanwhile, she is fighting for her mental health amongst all the liars online.
As Leo said, an unhappy family is unhappy in their own way. You can’t see it because you don’t understand. You judge and ridicule because you don’t know that the grandmother is fighting to see her grandchildren and fighting a family of narcissists and liars. You don’t know that the couple may be clean and sober, but they are living in a land of denial on a daily basis. They refuse to go to a 12-step or psychotherapy and yet can’t see they are wallowing in their own depression. The mother who is a saint at her church and is highly esteemed for all the work she does for them. With her own family, she taunts and ridicules, making up things for the pleasure of ruining her own. The liberal posts you will see from people who have never mowed their lawn, but they post their sign about how they tolerate everyone (except their neighbors). They help everyone in the world but won’t lift a finger for their boyfriend/girlfriend or an ailing family member. The religious zealot who can tell you how to live your life but never listens to people around them.
I tell people – have boundaries, and I struggle with this because even sometimes, I mention that they may need to walk away from the family. I know this hard. It is difficult because it hurts the children who lose out on your presence. Yet, we have to do this for our own sanity. Our mental, physical and spiritual health. You wouldn’t stay with a man/woman who is verbally abusive to you. Although, some do. Why would we then allow our families to destroy us? It makes it difficult for the victims to be in relationships, trying to please people when you will just never be good enough for them.
I recently became very angry at my family, after their lies. I told them all off and walked away from the holidays. To the average person, it would seem harsh and cruel that I would be so honest and mean. And yet, when you have faced the torture of people who refuse to communicate, who do not appreciate your gifts, the values you try to teach, the love you try to show, the consistency you try to provide, if they refuse to take responsibility for their own lives, at some point you must let go. It is going into that proverbial drawer over and over again, hoping for a different result.
The holiday family chaos, is never going to be that dream fantasy you wished for, as long as you are with the liars, the narcissists, the dry drunks, the mentally unwell – who refuse treatment. If you want a beautiful and satisfying holiday, you have to create your own beauty. You have to be an authentic person to heal from the trauma.
I have been listening to Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian Jewish (now Canadian) physician and author. Like myself and many other self-aware trauma survivors, he also has learned from his own dysfunction and family chaos. I am inserting his video below to listen to and learn. While I may not be as successful as Dr. Maté, I work very hard to teach my own clients what he is talking about.
Being authentic is staying mindful and true to yourself in the face of chaos. It is staying present and focused when you are in the room with conflict, rather than going into dissociation and abandoning yourself. Being authentic on a date is asserting yourself as to who you are and what you want from a relationship. This is not easy when you have survived trauma, but if you don’t want to keep going in that proverbial drawer, as I mentioned above – you won’t get a different result. You are responsible for getting into a healthy or unhealthy relationship. It is not their fault (the bad person), if you chose to be with them. We have to take accountability for our choices, in the past, and be authentic about who we are (now) if we are ever to be in the life that we imagine that we want. Until you are authentic with the people around you, that which you desire remains a fantasy, a pipe dream, not a reality.
Trauma, as Dr. Maté says in the video, is your interpretation of events that were imposed upon you. Authenticity is staying present to who you are, in the face of conflict or fear, or in the face of someone who is triggering you in some way. What are you triggered by? What are your fears? What is conflict for you? Find this and you will begin to understand when you are not being authentic. It is easy for me to say this. It is not easy to do. It is easy to watch tons of videos online, or read books, or attend workshops and say “I got it!” However, until you are in a healthy relationship with someone that you can be yourself with and who you can argue with and never feel they will abandon you, you don’t “got” anything.