Saturday, February 7, 2009

Family Myths

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:
Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From pages 68 - 70:

The opposite of family secrets are family myths. Myths are the things we talk about but never do. George Bernard Shaw once said that most history was nothing more than “a lie agreed upon.” Family myths are like that. They represent a silent conspiracy to pretend that things are different than they are. Ask almost anyone about their family, and the first thing you are likely to hear is one of the family’s myths.

The most common of these, perhaps, is the one that says, “Oh, our family was very close.” Time and time again I have asked people in the clinic to tell me about their families, and the first words out of their mouths are, “Well, you know we’re a very close family.” Tehn they go on to tell me about all the problems, hurts and disappointments their family has caused them, describing anything but closeness and warmth. But as they finish their account, they invariably conclude by saing, “But our family is really close.”

There are other common myths. People will say that their family was very loving or caring. People from strong religious backgrounds will often say that their family was very spiritual, even when there is little evidence of it.

Not surprisingly, family myths are frequently connected to family secrets: the one thing in the family is most ashamed of will be the thing they try to cover over with a myth. I remember Anne telling me about her family. In between the various problems she described, she mentioned repeatedly that her family was “very supportive.” “We’re always there for each other,” she would say. But about two weeks later, she exploded. “I thought my family was supportive,” she said. “But here I’ve been in the hospital for two weeks, and not a single one of them has come to see me. They haven’t even called. It’s like they don’t want to admit I’m here...

Where do family myths come from? To some degree, they are simply a social convention, as when someone asks, “How are you doing?” and you answer, “Fine, thanks.” But there is more to it than that. We have all been programmed in various ways as to what a “normal” or “happy” family is like. It is like the families we have seen on television programs, or read about in school books growing up. We know what a family is supposed to look like, and we have a natural reluctance to acknowledge that our family was not like that. Never mind that the images we have in our minds may be absurdly unrealistic. We want to believe that they are true, and that our life compares well with them. To acknowledge otherwise – to others, and even to ourselves – would be too painful.

This, of course, raises the question yet again: What is a “normal” family? And how do we measure deviations from that norm?

Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)