It’s Not Just About the Boundaries

I’m visiting my family this weekend, and I have so many mixed feelings about it. I’ve been grappling with yet another layer of grieving what I never actually had.

I wish I had a family that loves and accepts me, a family that doesn’t disdain me for being bi or non-Christian or feminist or anything. I want a family that can be proud of me for my accomplishments rather than seeing me as a blight on their reputation.

But I don’t have that.

I’d settle for a family that owns up to the abuse of whipping me as a child and gaslighting me as a teen and young adult. I’d accept a family that could apologize for raising me in a cult with all of the religious and psychological terrorism that accompanied that.

But I can’t have that either.

The last few years have been about me learning how to remain unhooked around them. I’ve practiced non-confrontational answers that allow me to set a boundary and avoid conformity while also keeping the peace. It usually involves little things like not closing my eyes when my parents insist on praying for the meal or changing the subject when they start to stray into a topic that would lead to conflict. I’ve passively refused to answer letters or questions from family members. I’ve mastered the ability to not respond to the subtle backdoor messages of criticism and guilt. I’m great at blanking out so that they don’t have anything to grab hold of.

It takes two to tango, right?

At this point, I feel pretty confident that I can avoid anything uncomfortable and have a fairly smooth visit with my family for a few days. But now that I’ve achieved that, I’ve come to realize it’s not what I want going forward.

It’s nice to have that option, but thinking about that being the sum of my relationship with my family for the rest of my life feels intolerable. It still involves a measure of my hiding myself. I’m not longer allowing them to dictate my morals to me. I won’t allow them to nose into something I want to keep private.

But I also don’t feel like I can bring myself into my visits either. It’s like I leave myself at home but bring all my boundaries with me.

I’ve toyed with the idea of cutting my ties and allowing myself the freedom of not having to worry about whether there will be disapproval or arguments or whatever…but if I only give myself permission to be in contact with them when I’m trying to keep the peace, then ultimately, I’m still letting them dictate what it’s acceptable for me to be around them—letting their approval determine what they see of me or don’t see of me.

I want to be me, regardless of whether they accept it. I want to be proud of being me. To be able to stick up for being me.

Even if that means they hate it.

My parents can’t take a belt to my backside anymore. They can’t send me to hell. They can’t hold me captive.

They can talk and say horrible things, but ultimately those things have little power in and of themselves.

I know this cognitively, but it’s surprising how incredibly scary I still find them. Somehow, my brain thinks the most catastrophic thing that could happen is their vocalized disapproval.

I have almost talked myself out of this visit so many times I’ve lost count. I recognize that I don’t want to be there…

But I need to be.

I need to challenge myself to show up and be present, to dare to let them see me, even to dare to let a fight break out because I refuse to accept the dichotomy that I either need to walk away or hide who I am.

I don’t expect myself to be perfect. I’m sure there will be times when I could stand up for myself and don’t because I’m not ready to take on that battle yet. However, if I can walk away from this visit having refused to be invisible in small ways, I will consider it a successful phase of continuing to develop my ability to give myself what my family has never been able to give me—acceptance, pride, and unconditional love.