The Mess of Relationships within My Family Was Hard to See Growing Up

Jennifer March, MS

My family's image was only as good as the lies they told.

Throughout my childhood, I watched the people around me being absolutely marvelous. I really thought that they were the best people ever and I would be just like them when I got older.

Everyone in my family was a good person, and other people were bad, but not us! We were the perfect little family. We’ve never done anything wrong, but people have always done horrible things to us!

I would hear countless stories of times that our family was wronged. We were the people to look up to — we were the best there was.

That’s the sad theme I had in my head throughout childhood — that’s what I really believed.

When I turned 18, I began to spread my wings and explore the world. I had many different experiences and learned so much from other people. I was loving life and was thrilled to see what was to come; I was flourishing.

I was caught in the haze of fresh adulthood that I did not see the lack of normalcy in my family.

I did know that we weren’t always lucky to be able to talk, see, or hear from certain family members unexpectedly. It’s as if that certain family member vanished into thin air. Calls went unanswered, voicemails not returned — they simply were unreachable.

This type of thing happened all the time with my family. For example, Uncle Jim and Aunt Lisa would be gone for a while, and nobody knew why. There would be questions, but overall, it was accepted as something normal.

As I got older, I began to ask more questions. I would simply be faced with blank stares or a stern, “leave it alone.”

But, like always, Uncle Jim and Aunt Lisa would reappear, and things would be different — a new car, a new lifestyle, really anything that screamed luxury. This was shocking to see because Uncle Jim was a part-time grocery attendant. Where did they get all this money?

The gawking over the new lifestyle then overshadow any questions of where they were if the kids were okay. And this was normal to occur to other people in the family beside Uncle Jim and Aunt Lisa.

Careers and lifestyles did not add up, random vacations, and new luxury cars on unemployment all raised suspicion.

But that was okay, because we, as a family, looked good.

When my shiny new adult self entered the family dynamics again, the air was different from my oh-so-normal family life.

Of course, there are issues in every family, but the lies and cheating were far beyond anything I could have imagined. I would explain to my friends how my family was in great detail, thinking some situation had occurred with them.

Instead, they would stare at me, almost horrified by the situations I have witnessed.

Clearly, my life was far from normal. My family was filled with a narcissist who reigned terror, with family members believing in their lies. I never noticed how I couldn’t see it at first. I thought everything was great!

When did things change? When did this person suddenly become so evil? But there was never a point when this just happened. There was not one single moment that caused the family dynamics that were at play.

It was years of covering up lies, secrets, and misgivings, all for the sake of appearances.

Relationships in my family were held together by secrets, lies, and deception.

While things seemed normal, storms were brewing with the fiercest bite — it could send you into another world.

But I thought it was normal.

I learned from my friends and their families that there is supposed to be autonomy among each family member.

Stepping out of childhood and crawling towards adulthood, I have experienced the truth. Leaving the family dynamic to enter adulthood was a jarring experience that completely flipped the narrative I had in my head.

Growing up, our identity is closely related to our family. My reentry from childhood to adulthood within my family has blared the secrets they were unable to cover.

I know now that Uncle Jim doesn’t disappear on some fun vacation for 6 months — he is in a mental hospital receiving care for his threatening behavior.

But Uncle Jim always comes and goes, and so does his arrest record.

Once we step out of ourselves — out of my childhood self — I began to see what was around me truly.

The moments that didn’t seem right were giant red flags.

Coming into adulthood has been harder than I had ever imagined. Not only am I struggling to establish myself, but I am haunted by the true revelations from within my family.

We live our childhood lives so unaware of the fact that other people exist. That our family had stories and experiences before we entered the world.

It is wondrous to look beyond our relationship with a family member and see them for who they are.

The things that just ‘made sense’ were difficult to grapple with.

I wanted to know the truth, but I wasn’t prepared for the psychological fallout.

The world I had grown up in was nothing more than a fever dream, of a twisted reality by those needing to keep their secrets hidden.

Upon my reentry to family dynamics as an adult, I learned that I was living in a toxic environment that was abusive and manipulative.

The reentry into the family dynamics serves as a stark reminder that things are never as they seem. Look at everything and everyone with a critical eye — you never know what someone’s true intentions are.

Author’s Note: Names and certain details have been modified to afford privacy to myself and my family.

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As Originally Posted on Medium

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Psych nerd turned freelance writer | MS in Psychology | Mom of two cats and some house plants | #MentalHealthAdvocate #BeKind

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