Family Demons

I know I try to avoid certain conversations digging into my past with my therapist.

I’m just going to cry anyway and sometimes I don’t want to cry anymore, you know.  Old demons are just that – old demons.  Mostly I believe the past should stay in the past.

But in the wake of heartbreak and trying to really get to the bottom of what my drivers are for being so tied to that relationship last summer, we needed to start exploring some of those old demons.

I’m not sure I’m truly believer in Freudian therapy.  Going backwards to solve today’s problems seems counter-intuitive to me.  I prefer Cognitive Therapy where you are working on acknowledging what is going on with you today.  I can see where both therapies have their place, but I believe that CBT suits my personality much better.  I don’t like to explore my past.  I can clearly articulate what I see as roadblocks from my upbringing.  I just need to know how to best to liberate the elements of my unconscious and bring this material into my conscious mind so I can start confronting these distortions and create a more accurate self-image and establish good behaviors.

With that said, I suppose sometimes you have to look backwards to remind yourself why you don’t want to go down those paths again.  In my case, it was a recent situation that hit me over the head like a ton of bricks.

My father owns a property that is willed to my brother.  My father has decided that he no longer wants to maintain this property and wants to sell it.  I took the kids down to the property a few weeks and noticed several things that needed repair.   When I called my father to speak to him about it, he got mad at me and told me I don’t know what I am talking about and basically hung up the phone on me.

This has happened multiple times in my life.  The men in my life continually tell me “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”  My father did it to me, my brother does it to me and so does my x.  When I tell you those words make me see red faster than almost anything else, I am not exaggerating.

Compound this by my sister-in-law telling me “we will handle it, we will see what really needs fixing when we get down there.”

I try to take this with a grain of salt.  Their behaviors come from the belief that I’m too smart for my own good and they don’t like it so they need to take me down a notch.  In addition, they all believe I am reckless with money so I would needlessly spend where it really doesn’t have to be spent (oh, like replacing the air conditioners that are 25 years old, maybe that’s a waste of money in a hot weather state).  I  already know this is what they think of me because I have lived with it for 40+ years.  I don’t need years of therapy to realize this.

Therapy can’t fix what they think of me, but it can help me repair some of my behaviors and reactions each time they treat me like this.

When my father and brother did it to me this time, I really had a good cry about it.  Writing this days later, I find myself crying again.

Imagine being a type A personality in a family of B’s and C’s.  Imagine trying to impress those people your entire life – through education, career, family or any form of success you may have achieved.  Imagine those people patting you on the back with each success and then spending the rest of their lives trying to tear that success out from under you.  I tried to impress with success because I really wanted their attention, love and admiration but was continually told I wasn’t “good enough” at something or other.

This is the life I have lived.  This is the life I am still living.

Even at work my boss has said I am a know-it-all and I just shouldn’t let people know how much information I have because it makes them feel like they are on the back foot.  I should graciously play dumb.  Play dumb?  Play dumb in my career?  What kind of advice is that?

It’s the same advice my father, brother and x all gave to me.  Stop demonstrating what you are good at.  Be more humble.  Be more gracious.  Don’t let people know how far you have come.


If you ask my friends, they will tell you I am one of the most humble people they know.  I don’t flaunt anything.  I don’t judge anyone.  I try my best to keep the world at peace around me.  I am honest, direct and try my utmost to be considerate.

Yet my own family, the ones I am closest to, tell me to dim my lights.  I shine too brightly.

My therapist and I have spoken about this after I explained what happened with my father and selling the property.  She said this was good to understand how this will affect my future relationships with men.  Of course, this brought us around to my heartbreak, and why it’s so significant.

She identified that I have lived with consistent rejection my entire life.  I hadn’t really thought about it this way, but my she feels this is a key driver for many of my behaviors.  I want people to like me.  I want people to need me.  I want to feel valuable and desired.

For once in my life someone admired my achievements, listened to my everyday challenges and offered guidance and advice.  A man was actually impressed with how I balanced my life and career and the challenges I have overcome.  He wasn’t threatened by me in any way, shape or form.  In fact, my courage gave him motivation.  How great was that?

So great it was addictive.  Intoxicating.

It’s very clear to me that my next relationship needs to emulate this behavior.  I need someone to support my achievements and stand beside me.  Not someone who will chip away at my foundations – I have enough of those people more than willing to do that in my life already.  I have said before that he was good at holding my pedestal and cheering for me.  That’s the man I want in my life.  The one who will give me the strength I need to be more courageous than I have been, to be more fearless, to be the best me I can be.

To be a superstar without fear that someone may not like me for achieving something they have not, or having something they don’t.

I do not have good role models for male relationships in my life.  This is certainly one of the reasons I so desperately want to attract male attention.

Of course we talked a bit about self-love and the ability to take pride in myself.

It’s moments like this that I want to forsake them all.  Walk away from my family entirely.   I find this so disheartening.

I hear my mother’s voice at times like this.  “Your father is only trying to do his best, it’s the only behavior he knows.”  It always brings me back to this one story that has stuck in my head for a lifetime: my father washed my new jeans and t-shirt together and not only shrunk them, but dyed the t-shirt pink (they were red jeans – I was so proud of them)!  When I cried in complaint, my mother’s answer to me was “be happy your father did your laundry, he was only trying to help.”  That’s the double edge sword right there, isn’t it?  Since when would I expect my father would do my laundry when my mother always did it and why should I be thankful that he just ruined something I bought with my meager paycheck and had worn only once and could never wear again?  It was her answer for everything with him.  She had realized long ago what an ogre my father was and her only mode of interaction with him was defeat and submission.  I can almost never do this and it causes a problem every time.  My brother on the other hand is a master at submission.

I oscillate between wanting to maintain ties with my family and wanting to just run away from them for good.  I feel the obligatory pull of responsibility but not truly sure how much love I genuinely feel for the family I was raised with.  When people don’t understand you or appreciate you, it’s really hard to find grace and forgiveness.  I try to practice this every day, but find myself in flux lately as I try to figure out the next steps in my own life.

Should we surround ourselves with people who don’t understand us just because they are our family?  Or can we create new families built on friendship and mutual admiration, love and respect?  Perhaps I have granted my family this much grace because I didn’t have the energy to create the right family to surround myself with.  It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep good relationships intact.

And I am just starting to wonder why I am expending all that energy and effort on the bad relationships in my life just because I feel a familial obligation.

Does anyone else experience this vast fracture with their families?

Fortunately, one of my life long questions is answered – I am not genetically attached to this family of mine – so the answers are obvious in terms of nature vs nurture.  But could I deal with the guilt of walking away from the family that raised me?  Have I displaced my sense of childhood deprivation by trying too hard to build relationships that shore up my fragile self-esteem?  But have those relationships, in fact, done more harm than good?

My family implanted mutually conflicting totems in my superego and then I married a man who fed the beast.  I have lived a life of “we are proud of you, but not really because…..”

I can’t do this to myself anymore.

I am proud of me.  I want my children to be proud of me.  Someday, I want the man in my life to be proud of me.

I think I need to expend my energy on healthier relationships.  I worked up the courage to remove my x from my life and I believe I have to think about the best way to manage my father.  Guilt is a tough emotion to navigate here, but I can no longer manage these negative feelings consuming me.

Author: Madeline Harper

My journey through divorce and an emotional and sexual reawakening. Love, laughter, friendships, family and heartbreak included. And there is sex, lots of it, so close your eyes and turn the page if that's not for you! While I started this blog as an endeavor to journal my thoughts and feelings in an attempt to better understand myself, it has become an amazing platform from which I have met some of the most interesting and wonderful people in my life. My path is often crooked, but I hope you will share in the journey with me.

12 thoughts on “Family Demons”

  1. Unfortunately we can’t choose our family. Not all families will understand one another, and it’s a painful lesson that usually repeats itself over and over because of the obligations we feel toward it. I’ve watched this experience happen with my mother. She’s the outcast, because she’s an alpha personality, and she’s successful and different. They are “old school” (for lack of a better term at the moment) and maybe a little backward, and they just don’t “get” her. And, maybe, they’re a little bit jealous. She has chosen to distance herself from them, as much as she can. Not alienate, just maintained distance. She did it in a way that for her wasn’t malicious, but self-preserving. I think this might be something for you to explore. You already know you can’t fix them – and that’s it’s them, not you. That’s everything. (Not easy, but everything in terms of your self-esteem.) Also, we live in a society where (STILL!) women are frowned upon in the workplace for possessing the very characteristics that men are praised for. It’s a disgrace. And I don’t have an answer for that. In any event, raising your kids to not be those men is your mission. Teaching them to treat women as equals while still being gentlemen is all and everything. And I know (without “really” knowing) that you are doing just that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tara – I am your mom in the description above – my family just doesn’t get me and sometimes it’s tiring to try and even explain so I back away more than not.
      You are absolutely right – I do point out to my children the behaviors that contrast my beliefs towards women in the workplace – and I think they are beginning to understand that their mother may be unusual to most mothers around here, or represented in their family, and hopefully they will understand the power in that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This one hits very close to home for me, M, and I am truly sorry you’re facing this dilemma. There is a lot of gray between the black and white of trying to be an integral part of your family of origin and cutting them off completely. For me, I could not in good conscience completely eliminate contact with my parents and sibling, but I could limit the time spent and terminate the contact when it turned toxic … because it ALWAYS turned toxic. At the end, when it was just my mom, terminal cancer, and me left, I was as kind and as compassionate as I could be for someone in her circumstances, but I also knew I was not the completely loving, accepting, non-judgmental person I am to my children or the family of choice I have built. When she passed I felt no guilt about my behavior toward her; I was not cruel or unkind. However, my sense of self-protection had grown stronger, and her awareness of her negative toxicity toward me had never even begun to develop.

    I have no real answers for you, except if they make you so angry and feel poorly, perhaps it is time to limit your interactions.


    1. Janelle – this “I was as kind and as compassionate as I could be for someone in her circumstances, but I also knew I was not the completely loving, accepting, non-judgmental person I am to my children ” couldn’t be more true. I have struggled with this quite a bit with my father.
      This scenario happened some time ago and that’s exactly what I did, pulled back and limited interaction for a while. It’s healthier that way. I can’t cut them off (like you) but sometimes I need a break from the dynamic.
      Thanks for the strong support here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Anytime, M! It’s far from easy, but I decided feeling a little guilty about being relieved and happier for the distance than miserable and feeling guilty because I feel that way being around her/them.


  3. This hits pretty close to me too. The dynamic is somewhat different within the family/players, but I’ve received the same sort of feedback from bosses and co workers and my mother alternately treats me like she wants to be besties, treats me like I’m an idiot, or is highly judgmental. It’s hard to make sense of that “oh it’s the only way he knows how to be” excuse as well. No; when someone repeatedly tells you that what you’re doing or saying is hurtful, there’s the lesson. The that’s who he is excuse is moot at that point. Hugs. I’m glad you’re taking steps toward healing and loving yourself first.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As the saying goes, “you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family!” I feel for you. I had somewhat complicated family dynamics and had surrounded myself with doubters, not cheerleaders. Today I only have cheerleaders and my life is better for it.

    I love this post. You are thinking deep and hard. One comment I’ll make as it relates to your boss. Sometimes you do need to let certain work-types be the smartest people in the room — particularly if they are a client or significant leader. It’s not easy, but I use the tactic of ALWAYS agreeing “Yes, YOU are right, HOWEVER, (never use but), have you considered…..” This makes them feel acknowledged for their alleged brillance and you can more diplomatically get your point across. Sometimes we want so much to be right and acknowledged for our intelligence or expertise, we forget the delivery/packaging of said goodies can be even more important because other people have their own issues/vulnerabilities that have to be handled. Great job. Keep working and you are right about the AC – the electric bill will drop by 30% or more!


  5. My family is steeped in obligation and that saying about picking friends and nose but not family. Until a couple of years ago, I was buried in that obligation, too. Then I realized just how detrimental certain family members were to my wellness, and by association, to that of my husband and children. Slowly, I cut off the offenders…and I’ve never been more at peace with any relationship decision I’ve made.

    It was not a parent (my mother has been gone for 16 years) or sibling (I’m an only) with whom I had to cut ties, but due to our insane closeness as a large extended family, close relatives just the same. They were part of my life all of my life and I saw and/or spoke to them often…every time dreading the contact before and leaving feeling drained and often enraged. I was suffering from the contact for years, but it took a big issue to be the final straw. As I am a religious person, I believe God had shown me countless times what I needed to do, but I didn’t listen until He gave me the ultimate experience.

    Since that time, I’ve gotten stronger and more aware of how others affect me. I am less tolerant of individuals who regularly bring negativity my way. I just don’t spend time with toxic people…and I don’t give them access to my children. It’s great!

    Hugs to you as you navigate these feelings and relationships. I know it’s not easy on that side. There are ways to limit contact and refuse toxicity without completely cutting ties. Try that first, and see how you feel.


  6. I could have written this post, almost word for word. The difference is that my strong sense of natural justice is innate and allowed me to realise that this kind of behaviour in people is borne from social paradigms designed by the patriarchy. I am a strident feminist due to treatment like this. And what you are describing is a form of lateral emotional ‘violence’ from your family. It’s why I am estranged from my family (who I am genetically related to).

    My therapy has allowed me to see the patterns of praise seeking behaviour from employers is rooted in my dysfunctional relationships with my parents.

    But knowing that doesn’t stop people being asshats, as you say.

    But I have a strong sense of self worth now, and this allows me to self validate my life achievements. Useful skill to have.

    Women are constantly ‘gaslighted’ by various people who resent their success. And if you seek or expect reward (or dare ask for it!) you are seen as uppity or bossy. Women are supposed to be nurturing and humble ALWAYS which is often at odds with our ambition.

    It’s society’s problem, not yours.

    *ends feminazi rant*



  7. This is something I have experienced myself and ut indeed is a dilemma. Although I have made the decision to cut off my father for several reasons, I still get bullshitted at from my brother every time we meet (and it has been 10 years now that I broke it off). Yes guilt is a huge matter and I feel sorry at times and do ask myself what to do once my father dies. But then I remember how he had been holding me back of living my life and always made me feel bad and up to this day I never really regretted my decision to walk away.
    I hope you can find a suitable solution for YOU.


  8. Focus on healthier relationships. Limit your time with your dysfunctional family. Life is too short!

    I hope your dad apologized to you for ruining your clothes. That really sucks. Yes, he was only trying to help but he made a mistake.


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