Recently my boyfriend and I stopped by my Dad’s house to visit for the day. We were in the area due to our road trip and I told him that we would be coming around a week in advance.
Prior to us arriving at my Dad’s house, I expressed concern to my boyfriend that my Dad may try to coerce me into seeing my little brother.
To provide you some background, I haven’t seen my little brother in three years. I suspect that he could suffer from narcissistic personality disorder and our relationship grew extremely toxic when we were in touch because he became manipulative and projected all of his anger and blame onto me.
Additional background on my Dad, he does not have much emotional range and also invalidated me when I was younger to the point where I moved out at a very early age. We have a good relationship now but it’s because I cultivated strong boundaries and won’t allow for certain conversation topics.
That all being said, I wish that I could say that I was surprised when we pulled into my Dad’s driveway and I saw a random car parked. Instantly I knew that it had to belong to my brother.
I told my Dad that we should go for a walk around the neighborhood so that we could talk and it didn’t go according to plan.
“Dad… who’s car is that?”
“Who do you think?” He answered laughing.
I asked him if my brother had moved into his house and he answered that he had moved in over a month prior. A fake dumbfounded look came over my Dad’s face as he asked, “Did I not tell you that?”
Frustration began building, as my Dad has never been a good liar. “You didn’t tell me that and you know that you didn’t tell me that.”
After a little prodding, it was revealed that my dad had withheld information from both my brother and me.
The story he told my brother was that a couple in their thirties with a dog was staying the night (he runs an Airbnb out of my old childhood room) and as for me, he just didn’t tell me anything.
I told him that he had lied; he continuously denied lying and said that he had just wanted us to see each other.
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even and unwavering.
“Because I was afraid that you wouldn’t come.”
“But that should have been my choice to make, that is my decision. You took away my choice.”
Up to this point, I was calm, cool, and collected. Then the familiar awkwardness began spreading through my body, along with the need to diffuse an awkward situation.
“You’re a trickster! You tricked me!”
I began saying things along these lines which caused my boyfriend who was, unfortunately, a witness to my regression, to pause in wonder and later ask why on earth I had reverted to this state of being.
There are so many things that I could have told my dad at that moment that could have had an actual impact. But I reverted back to my childhood self with him, instead of the adult woman who helps people cultivate boundaries.
Another way of phrasing my behavior would be that I went into my old childhood type of programming with my Dad.
While I was growing up my feelings were constantly invalidated. When my first love broke my heart I was told that I was acting like a “drama queen.” When my closest friends cut me out of the friend group, I was told, “don’t be so soft, move along.”
Although no one in my family could handle criticism themselves, I was made the easy target. Later on, when I began emotionally shutting down my entire family referred to me as the “ice queen.”
For some reason, even though his behavior was unacceptable, I still couldn’t find it within me to have the adult conversation needed to convey my feelings. Instead, I tried to turn things into a joke and lighten the mood, when really I was simply invalidating my own feelings and experience.
I will admit that regardless of my feelings initially, the evening turned out fine. I had a conversation with my brother who reacted pleasantly to us being there. We spent time together and kept things surface-level which is a necessity in my family dynamic.
However, I am still upset that I was not able to make the decision myself whether or not I wanted to have that communication with my sibling and that my initial boundary was completely disregarded.
I am telling this story to remind you that growth is an ever-evolving journey.
When I realized how I reacted as I had been programmed to react, I was extremely frustrated with myself. I felt as if I had reverted back to my powerless childhood self.
Then, it dawned on me that my ability to recognize why I had just acted the way I did was an achievement in itself.
In the future, I will better equip myself to handle the situation. I will take the time to figure out what I want to say to my father when he is manipulative, and what outcome I desire from stating my feelings.
When it comes to my family I have to prepare myself for anything because they are not self-aware which means that they most likely won’t be changing their patterns. Next time I will be ready and I will not allow myself to leave the situation feeling powerless.
The reality is that most people struggle with navigating family relationships when they veer into toxic territory.
Throughout my journey of healing and self-discovery, I have had to learn why hurt runs so deeply when it comes from our family. With certain people, I have had to make the decision to cut them out and with others, I have had to set extremely strong boundaries.
If you are in a situation where you want to learn more about navigating toxic family members please refer to the following resources: