Therapy always leaves me feeling "heard", and (mostly) understood. This is something intensely important for me. I think today's session revealed why these two things are extremely interconnected and even more importantly, why they are so important to me and my well-being.
I just returned from a short vacation at a horse ranch and spa in the B.C. interior. I went with my beau, my friend E and my sister and 2 nieces. I haven't seen my sister for a while. When she came to my house in preparation to leave she told my boyfriend and I that my Dad might "pop in" to the ranch to visit.
This information put a damper on my vacation from the start. I love my Dad, but he is often not very nice to me. I find him very difficult to be around. To me it seemed intrusive for him to jut show up.
When I mentioned my stress about Dad coming my sister began saying things like:
- "He's not like that".
- "You need to give him a chance".
- "He does not treat you poorly".
- "He is always nice to you".
- "You know Dad, he just doesn't know how to talk, and you make it worse by getting hurt by him"
- "You have to get over your problems with Dad"
I felt completely letdown by my sister. She has seen my Dad reduce me to tears more times than probably I can remember. She hears and watches him ruthlessly tease me and belittle me. I thought she recognized why I so often feel hurt by how it treats me. Apparently, according to her, Dad isn't the instigator, in fact, he does not treat me poorly at all. It is just my wrong perceptions that hurt me.
I am willing to concede, that after years of emotional, and at times when I was a child and a young teenager, physical abuse, that I am sensitive to how he treats me. I know sometimes I overreact to small triggers. I believe though, that this overreaction is not my fault, but the fault of a man, who is supposed to be my father, continuing to abuse me, and destroy what little self-esteem I have left. At times I think he belittles me, and holds back his love from me, for the fun of it, just to watch me fall apart and cry.
It is funny (not ha, ha...but strange funny) that this weekend when my sister and I were canoeing near my Dad's canoe, we sped up really fast and in unison yelled, "Dad, look at us". We both cracked up when we realized some small child inside ourselves was still screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, look at me, look at me".
To make things worse my sister also began lecturing me on how:
- "no wonder you are depressed. you sleep so much, how are you ever going to get well if all you do is sleep?". (this comment came 1/2 way through the vacation, just when I was marvelling at my ability to do as much as I was, when I felt as depressed as I felt)
- "If you did more you would get better" (neglecting that to do more I would need to have the missing motivation, energy, and mood, and ability to do more...all these have been ripped from me throughout this MDD
- " You are never going to be someone unless you get doing things." Translation: your life will never amount to anything if you do not get back to work. You are choosing to stay depressed. You are only an important person if you are working and contributing to society.
There were more comments like these throughout her lectures...the thing that really hurt me, was that I thought she was the sister that understood how hard I try. I thought she understood how depressed I am, and how that impacts my ability to do things.
On top of this my boyfriend talked to me about how, "You are not sick, nothing is wrong with you" A statement that left me feeling really unheard, and misunderstood. It is not that I want to be sick, or seen as sick, but I also do not want others to think nothing is wrong with me, and I am just to lazy to try harder in my life.
I talked to Dr. X about what went on with my sister and my boyfriend, but I could not really place why I felt as hurt as I did. Dr. X said maybe it was because I felt invalidated by their comments.
That is EXACTLY what I felt and feel when these kinds of discussions take place. My family is not listening to me. They are not understanding how difficult this battle is for me. I feel like I am battling for my life, but they do not even acknowledge I am in a battle. They see my difficulties as a character flaw.
Dr. X and I discussed how both my sisters', and my Dad's expectations of performance are mirroring the malevolent feelings of guilt I have about not working; how the family belief system is so ingrained in all of us that it just keeps replicating this guilt, and guilt inducing, behaviour in everyone in our family. It is true. I belittle and poke and prod myself to do more, do something, get going, get active....Get better...get back to work. I have become the voice of my father, and the voice of my sister...that why it hurts so much to hear. I am hearing the same guilt producing words I hear every single day from myself.
I know my sisters both love me. I think my Dad probably does too. When I realize their voices are replicating negative patterns that are held deep within our family's psyche. I recognize these thoughts and feelings are held unconsciously, and so deeply they may always be there.
On many levels I know my sisters, my Dad, and my boyfriend are really trying to help me. I understand they may see their comments as encouraging, and helpful. I think they want what is best for me. Sadly, when I hear these kinds of comments I feel he exact opposite: I feel unbearably guilty, alone, unheard, and invalidated.