Coming To Terms Parents Who Don't Love You, As An Adult

I am in the midst of a crisis. At 40. In an unhealthy parental home. In complete despair. Recently my engagement broke off, after months of confusion and desperate attempts to figure out what happened to the friend and partner I thought I knew so well and felt so committed to.

Descriptions of Borderline Personality Disorder explained a great deal of what was happening in my relationship with my fiance, and while it is not my place to diagnose anything it certainly has been helpful to place the transgression of events within a framework or context. Certainly the behaviours the insistence on all being absolutely black or white, the sudden and intense mood swings, the illogical/irrational statements, the senseless lies, and the 'crazymaking' behaviours were described to a tee by BPD traits. As was the overwhelming concern with public image which was progressing further and further from our private reality. It really was a relief to find something to describe these behaviours which it appeared I alone could (or would ever) see from him.

But, I have to say as time as gone on I realise that getting into that relationship is something I have to take responsibility for. And the crisis that has ensued since it ended has forced me, absolutely forced me to look further back and realise that I have been heading for a crisis no matter what happened with him. Things had not been going well for me for some time and I was not facing up to issues and realities that needed to be dealt with. In a way now I am grateful for that relationship and its failure. The intensity of it all, in so many ways, has really made it impossible to carry on without seeing how I got myself into such a terrible mess.

So where am I now? A mess. BUT a mess who is starting, just starting to see the patterns of decay, distress, and decline. And there is something very freeing about coming face to face with the terrible truths.

The first is that my childhood was dysfunctional. It was not physically, or sexually abusive. I was never starved. I didn't have to walk around in shoes with holes in them. I also just can not remember meals with family, help with homework, concern or interest about any activity I was involved in. I can remember feeling that I was not good enough. I can remember just brushing it off that other kids seem to have more interest or support from their parents. I can remember being asked where the other 15% went when I got 85% on a test. I can remember waiting for hours and hours to be picked up by my parents from events. I can remember being alone, alot. It seems like for years now.

Things really went haywire after those years. I've never really put all of this together, always thinking it was too shocking and hard for people but I guess that the whole point of this site is sharing experience. So, at about 14 I heard my mother on the phone and knew she was having an affair. I was asked to keep that secret from my father until my mother left to re-marry. This was a couple months later. It was up to me who I stayed with. No one seemed to think it was a big deal. We had a family dinner (first I remembered for years) and my father took my mother to the airport.
That was that. I chose to stay in the town I grew up in.

I don't want to trawl through the whole thing... it is tedious. Basically I went back and forth a few times and didn't feel that my needs were being met anywhere. Actually, my feelings were completely not acknowledged by both parents. A line was drawn saying I had to decide. I felt completely unacknowledged in my mothers new house where her new husband policed our relationship and my mother actually physically avoided being anywhere alone with me... and my RAGE grew. I returned to my father with the knowledge there was no more going back and forth until I finished school - I still had a couple years to go.

I was living much of the time alone as my father was often away. One day I went to borrow a sweater from his closet and found that my very conservative father (who sold heavy machinery to mines) had a half a room length closet overflowing with dresses including full length red sequin gowns in the middle; knee high boots, high heel shoes on the bottom; and wigs, masses of dead hair on the top shelf. I literally could not believe it. It was a very trying last few years of school, me trying to deny and pretend it was not happening, my father refusing to let it be. He was constantly throwing it in my face. I remember begging, saying please I am too young to deal with this, please just let me grow up first, finish school.

My mother told me she knew since I was 5. She knew before I left her home with her new husband, where I felt so unwelcome to return with no way out. She knew for all those years.

I decided that if I could just make it long enough to get to adult age that I would be okay. I forged ahead. But the thing is that people around me didn't just stop having families or a supportive base once they turned 18. I did the best I could to fit in, to pretend things were okay, to overlook all the ways I seemed to be overlooked compared to my peers. Both my parents were, and are adamant that I am the one with the problem that they always loved me and did the best they could.

I realise now, at 40, and as I work through a book on Healing the Emotional Self how many negative core beliefs I grew up with and how my efforts to protect my parents, to forgive to move on without acknowledging the realities really have effected my life. I have such incredibly high expectations of myself and others, I don;t trust my own perceptions, I never learnt to develop healthy boundaries. Worst of all I spent so many years of time and energy fruitlessly engaged in a battle to get my parents to take responsibility for their actions. I wasted so much time being enmeshed with them and their little justifications and denials that I did not see how they were completely incapable of providing the much needed love and support I so despretely desired.

My father, who has been a woman for over 20 years now, has behaviours that neatly fit with those of a narcissist. I think that they were always there but now, as I am here trying to recover from the hurt and confusion of the broken engagement I realise that I am trying to heal in a very abusive environment. My mother has just written me today to say, despite my requests to not be in contact as I have considered her lack of support very unhelpful, that things don't work and I always blame others.

Basically as I work daily at the self healing process it has become clear to me that so many of my behaviours really are rooted in a lifetime of denial and a poor concept of self-worth. It is almost one plus one equals two.

One part of the insidiousness of all of it is how sort of in between it all is, how much society lacks a framework for much of what has happened. The man I grew up with as a father is no longer around but there was no funeral. And there was no one to discuss or work through any of this with. It was not to be spoken about amongst mom's new family. I remember bringing it up with a counselor at university and being told that I was opening a can of worms that I would be better to leave shut.

My mother appears to have never really had any maternal instincts from the time I was a small child. I have felt at different times in my life as if I was in the eyes of both of my parents a result of an unhappy time in their lives that they would rather forget. And they have families where the cousins and aunts and uncles display so much love and concern for their kids. And in this world in general we constantly see examples of people who would do anything for their kids. Where their kids are always welcome. Where they would not dream of missing a birthday or Christmas. And somehow we have gone on to pretend that we are like them. I have contributed to this. Maybe because I wanted to be normal, to fit in to be like everyone else. And I feel like I have protected them and their public image. And I feel so angry with them for not living up to their duties and responsibilities, and most of all their outright denials.

I had an epiphany. They actually quite simply do not love me. They feel a sense of (public) duty and a lot of bad feeling about what has passed, but this is not love. What a horrible and harsh realisation. But also strangely freeing. It explains their behaviour over the years. It makes me realise the futility of expecting any more from them. It explains why I have felt so emotionally enmeshed and how I was destined to be perpetually dissatisfied seeking love (loving behaviour). It allows me to accept facts as they are and try to acknowledge all that has led to this... and then rebuild. Rebuild my sense of self-worth independently of them. Rebuild my life, teaching myself about appropriate boundaries, trusting my own perceptions and self-acceptance.

Well it is a work in progress, but I can see clearly now in a way that I never could before that I need to completely separate from these people if I am ever going to find peace and self acceptance.

I note that in a world where there are such strong ideas about what parents are, and how they should be, and how we should respect them, these realisations are so much harder. We are hard-wired for that connection and respect, but what happens when the connection and respect is misguided? And not through really blatant forms of abuse but rather ongoing, inconsistent neglect. It is the in-betweeness that makes all of this much harder. And the realities of it all make me wonder how I could ever have made healthy relationship choices with the examples I had been given and the mirrors I had to look at? Finally I am grateful for the horrific crisis of the broken engagement. Maybe there is some hope for the future. I still have a great deal of work to do. I am really starting in a not great place with close to nothing. But I will work really hard to get to a healthy, life-affirming place based on honesty about the past and determination to direct my energy towards useful pursuits and support. What I want most is to be the best version of me, to contribute the most I can in my time here. At the moment I am all bound in knots and filled with dark bits that slip out all over. I have hope though. I am beginning to see the bright light that shines inside me, that I believe shines in every one of us and shame on any parent or caregiver who seeks to block that out.

msok msok
1 Response Sep 9, 2012

Thank you for your thoughtful comment maipiggie. I really appreciate it. You touch a number of complex issues with insight and kindness. And you are completely correct, it is impossible to change the past, but it is possible to cut out the bad and create something amazing.

Very best wishes to you