A fascinating article on neuroscience here. I found a few things in it that I’ve already learned:
Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.
Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.
So much for “just get over it.”
…we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don’t it’s painful. And I don’t mean “awkward” or “disappointing.” I mean actually painful. Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg. In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain…
When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better.
And just what do you suppose happens when those same loved ones turn hostile to you in the most stressful situation of your entire life?
And later, when you find out that those loved ones don’t really love you? That they see you as a problem, and they feel all superior for “not holding against you” the perfectly normal things you did?
Over the past five years I have come to understand that they don’t like me, and I don’t really like them either. They aren’t happy or fun or accepting people, at least not to me. We dislike each others’ values. They don’t want to listen, or understand — they don’t let me speak my mind or offer my opinions. They criticize my life choices, and I don’t like their superior attitudes — but they were my family, once upon a time. They were people I had known my entire life. And that rejection hurt.
Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life… I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Guess what? Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.
There are ways in which I am grateful for this family rift, and even for eventually being forced to go no-contact with them.
It is a relief to finally understand some of the things I was always told, or which were “understood”, but which never made any sense. And not just about our parents — it now makes sense to me why the reunions were the symptom of the problem, and why they would ALWAYS have to be on my sister’s turf, under her control.
Finding out about narcissism explains why I never really had a mother, why my father was so important to me, and even why the rest of them have to believe the opposite; and why I never really liked Susan. And it feels good to know that my instincts were healthy.
It’s comforting to deconstruct situations which had always been presented in black and white, Mom=right and Dad=wrong, to find that they were really so much more complicated, and to know that there really weren’t any other better options than the one my father chose — perhaps mostly for my benefit.
And it’s great to no longer be obligated to spend time and money to be around people who have, in the past, been SURPRISED to find out that they could enjoy my company and conversation, or when they found out I wasn’t “just a spoiled brat”. People who I now know have always seen me and treated me as a second class family member, as a problem, as some kind of “wrong” person — simply because I was born, for the very fact of my existence; and because I experienced a different father, and mother, than the rest of them did.
I do miss some of them: my sister’s husband and kids, in particular. I lost my past that day five years ago, but I also lost the future. Not having kids myself, I have always cared about my sister’s kids. Now I am cut off from them, and I don’t know their spouses or kids or anything about their lives.
That’s been a heavy price to pay, but for my own self-preservation I’ve had to pay it. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a relationship with them that doesn’t continually include painful reminders of the people to whom I am not a beloved little sister, but instead a convenient scapegoat, to be punished for things that were never in my control.