Monday, July 7, 2008

Denial and the Fantasy Family [Family Toledoth?]

From “The Emotional Incest Syndromeby Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.

From pages 30 -33:

All of us experience denial on some level. It is quite common, for example, to have a distorted or limited view of our childhood. This is understandable given the fact that while we were growing up, we had so little experience outside our homes. Without a basis for comparison, we grew up thinking our families were the norm. Whatever went on in our living rooms became the standard. A client said to me, “I was twenty years old before I realized that my mother was the only one who disinfected new clothes and washed them two times before she'd let them be worn. I thought all mothers did that.”

In most families, this lack of objectivity is further clouded by the creation of a family mythology – a collection of lies, evasions, distortions, and half-truths designed to obscure an unpleasant reality. It's a way to go on with life without being constantly reminded of its painful aspects... I colluded in this fiction, because to be one hundred percent dependent on my mother and to be aware of the fact she was neglecting me would have made me extremely anxious. I blocked out my fear of abandonment with a convenient half-truth.

Most of us have myths in our background... “My parents don't play favorites: they love all their children equally.” “My needs aren't being ignored; I just don't have any.” “My mother isn't angry at me; she just does not know how to show affection.” “My father isn't abandoning us; his job requires that he put in extra hours.” We cling to our family fiction even in adulthood, despite the fact that it's outlived its usefulness, because we don't want to awaken the pain that was blocked by the convenient mythology.

As adults, most of us experience denial on another level as well, which is to be unaware of the coping mechanisms we developed as children to survive a less than ideal childhood. We are blind not only to some aspect of family history but to parts of ourselves...

I often find in my clients this same convoluted path to self-discovery and growth. In order to change a negative trait, they first need to break through their denial and acknowledge that it exists; people don't change what they can't see. And in order to break through their denial, they often have to get a clear picture of what was wrong in their families and the techniques they developed for coping with it. For example, they may discover they coped with an Invasive Parent by erecting barriers to intimacy, by lying, by overeating or not eating, by becoming a parent pleaser, or by becoming a compulsive achiever. One way or another, they developed behaviors that helped them survive childhood and diminish their pain.

Excerpt from
Dr. Patricia Love's
The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to Do When a Parent's Love Rule's Your Life

Bantam Books, 1990