Trauma, Healing, And Family Therapy

Content Warning for discussions of trauma (non-specific), family therapy, and personal therapy.

As I write this, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the first of several therapy sessions with my parents and my sister. Or, perhaps, the only such session. It is difficult to know what to expect, given everything that’s gone on with my parents, the boundaries I’ve drawn, the way they’ve failed to respect those boundaries (frequently in casual ways that makes it clear they’re prioritizing their own feelings over mine, but that’s sort of the crux of the problem anyway), and the last letter I sent them shortly after starting this blog back up. I was angry then, and my letter pulled no punches. I wouldn’t even defend myself against accusations that I’d specifically crafted it in a way that might hurt them more than necessary. I don’t think I did that, since my goal was to communicate with them in a way they’d understand, but the writer of a work can only supply fifty percent of the meaning in it, the other fifty percent comes from the reader and I expect my parents saw the whole thing as an attack against them.

I’ve been doing a lot of anxious reflection on what I might say to them, what they might say to me, what I might say about my sister, what my sister might say about me, and so on. I recognize it as me mentally processing what I expect to happen and preparing myself for whatever may come so I’m at least not caught off-guard by the encounter. It’s a fairly useful thing, beyond the basic preparation, because it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of how I see myself, how I feel about them, and what I’m doing with myself these days. For instance, I wondered what I’d do if one or both of my parents said something about fixing me or our relationship. Something like what I needed to “get better” or why I felt “broken” or any number of plausible and implausible version of that exchange.

As I thought through the iterations of the conversation, I realized that the basic idea of me being broken or needing to be fixed is incredibly offensive. I mean, I can’t really be fixed in that way. There’s a lot of talk about healing from trauma and recovering the person you used to be, but that doesn’t apply to me. All of my earliest memories are traumatic. There isn’t a version of me that existed prior to all that, so how am I supposed to recover someone who never existed? I’m not broken and I can’t be fixed. Not because it feels offensive to reduce someone to their problems like that but because there isn’t a me that exists other than the one who developed while being traumatized. It’s offense to me because they’re the people who made me this way and, since there’s no sense of self I can return to prior to the trauma, this is just who I am. I’m definitely scarred and shaped by what happened, but I’m not in need of fixing.

The idea of describing myself as broken in that way is appealing on some level. It makes it a lot easier to talk to people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your sense of self wrapped up in barbed wire, to realize that the person you are is so warped by what happened that even the good, treasured parts of yourself are shaped and maybe even formed by it. It still falls short, though, since it depicts these parts of myself as something that will go away when I’ve gone through enough therapy or my parents have said the right things. What happened to me, how I was raised, the part my parents played in my life… All of that will forever be a part of me. I can’t escape it any more than I can escape my height and eye color. I’ve had to learn to accept a lot of the things about me that I’d like to change or get rid of because they’re just how my mind works. I don’t know that it’s possible to even attempt to do that other than living in denial or damaging levels of compartmentalization. It certainly doesn’t help that most trauma research is done on soldiers and people who survived horrible accidents, so there isn’t really anything out there about what helps people like me beyond the general application of on-going therapy to provide me with the tools I need to successfully handle the issues I face as a result of my trauma/childhood. Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time looking.

It is difficult to imagine having a successful conversation about all that with my parents, even if I define “success” as merely feeling like I’ve been heard (in an Active Listening kind of way, specifically). I know all my attempts up to this point have failed and I genuinely don’t expect this next one to be any different. I hope it will be, but I don’t expect it. My only real goals here are to support my sister (just because I did this stuff alone for so many years doesn’t mean I still need to do it alone or that she needs to do it alone) and to ensure that someone participates who is willing to be confrontational with my parents. My sister isn’t there, yet. I don’t blame her. I was only ready to confront them about anything after almost a decade of therapy (which involved lots of working towards this, three years of working on it tangentially, a year of working on it directly, and six whole months of working on it to the exclusion of all else) and she’s still a few year short of all that, at best.

Other than that, I don’t really care how it turns out. I’ve figured out what lines I’m drawing, prepared a list of breaking points, prepared my opening monolgue (in bullet point form), and made sure I’ve got the things I need to do appropriate self-care afterwards, no matter how it turns out. I mean, I already accepted that my parents will likely never have a place in my life going forward and while I’m opening to the door to the possibility again, I suspect it won’t be as difficult to shut a second time. After all, my favorite tool for coping with things will still be available to me. I can always just walk away. I can hang up any time I want. I don’t even need to look at them, since we’re doing all this online. I’m as ready as I can be, I think. All that remains is to do the dang thing.

I don’t know what this post will look like when it goes up, since it’ll go up three days after this family therapy appointment happened. I could delete the whole post, add some notes that turn thoughts about the future into reflections about the reality of things, maybe I’ll add a paragraph to the end talking about my expectations versus my reality… Who knows. I doubt I’ll talk about the results much here beyond this post, at least not directly, since that’s personal information (and my parents could totally be reading this). Whatever goes up here will likely be it. After all, I want this to be a positive influence on my life, not a net for all my negativity.

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