Grief for the present

It’s a really difficult evening and a difficult night—I wake up around 10 and am awake for maybe an hour—and a difficult morning.

I come around to where I am through a circuitous process of thinking about many things that hurt. Later, I can see how they all connect up, but in the moment I have no clue why I am thinking them. I seem to just be torturing myself, but I am not. I am wending my way around to understanding something.

It’s a grief in the present, or that’s the point I get to where I need to just pause and consider that for a while and let it sink in. I won’t start at the beginning of it all. Maybe I will later, but at the moment I don’t think I can run through it all again. But it occurs to me that my parents did not know how to take care of me. That’s why they hurt me. They were very damaged people who could not take care of a child.

As a child, I assumed the problem was me. They seemed to assume the problem was me. What I am feeling now is not what I felt then. What I feel now is my adult reaction to the present.

In the present, it means I have no relationship with my parents. I cannot have one. I hardly have family at all. I mean, it’s mostly a name. I messaged my sister on her birthday last week. We had a brief online chat. We don’t have much relationship beyond that.

I have never really allowed myself to think what I don’t have now, which is just a normal, adult relationship with aging parents. I have nothing and no one that connects me to my past in any meaningful way. I have never allowed myself to think about that. In the scheme of things, it does not necessarily seem important. It is not important in the way that chopping up dead bodies is or being trafficked.

But it is important. It is not that what I don’t have is anything that marvelous—maybe that is a part of why I never allowed myself to feel it. It was easy to minimize it. And it is hard to step away from the way it interacts with my sense of self-worth. It is hard not to consider through the lens I had as a child, which is that I don’t have proper parents because I am unworthy of proper parents. I didn’t get care from them because I did not deserve any care.

It is hard, too, not to consider it from the perspective of people I have discussed it with—not deeply, but in a superficial way—who cannot grasp the profoundness of their dysfunction and imagine my relationship with my parents is like their relationship with their parents plus a few more problems. They cannot grasp the degree to which my parents are incapable of forming relationships with anyone or that everyone they come across is an object to them. They cannot grasp with my parents there is no “there there.” No connection and not really any reason to have a relationship with them aside from an inability to grieve what never was.

They cannot grasp that I am not merely angry at my parents or unable to forgive them. They cannot grasp my severing of the relationship is not, in its way a continuance of the relationship, but one in which I am punishing them. They cannot grasp this hurts me or that it is deeply lonely to face the world without family at all.

It’s true that there are people facing the same kind of thing. There is this idea that if other people are going through it, it should not hurt any of you. I don’t know why that is. There are other people who look at families that appear happy and functional, at least on the outside, and feel a deep sense of loss. I know that. But there is this idea that it happens to other people and so you should accept it as part of the realm of possibilities for people. You should not have any sense of loss about it. Except you do.

Just as parents have hopes for their children when they are born, children have hopes for the parents. If you have an ability to connect and attach to others, and most of us are born with some degree of it, you will hope that your parents will connect to you. My grief in the present is that my parents have none or almost none. My dad has none at all and my mom has some but it is so weak she loses it as soon as she doesn’t get her way.

As a part of this process, I was thinking that connection restrains you. When you are angry, you want to punish whoever you perceive as hurting you. Connection prompts you to take that person’s point of view, and you feel the pain you are causing them and it restrains you from hurting them further. You also have some idea of consequences, that this will damage the relationship. You want the relationship, and that restrains you too.

My mom has very little ability to connect. There was almost nothing to restrain her, and she punished me without mercy. What might have restrained her was fear: fear of authority, fear of the legal system, fear of public humiliation in the form of having her children taken away. This meant she was limited by what she thought she could get away with.

She cannot punish me in the same way she did as a child, but it’s the same relationship I could expect from her now. My parents remain the same people they always were, with the same dysfunctions, only the power between us has changed. My dad continues to be sadistic and deceptive, always on the lookout for a sucker. My mom remains someone who is angry as soon as she perceives she has lost control. She cannot punish me by hitting me over the head with a chair anymore. I’m too big for that. But there are more intelligent ways to wound someone.

Those are the relationships I would be able to look forward to having with them. Why would I do that?

There is almost nothing to connect to.

I knew this, but I never allowed myself to feel the loss for them, partly because I could not go back to the pain I felt the first time around with it: the way I understood it as a child. I am worthless, and they do not take care of me because I do not deserve to be taken care of.

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4 thoughts on “Grief for the present

  1. nissetje January 20, 2016 / 2:18 am

    I feel this so deeply. I’ve been estranged from my dad and his wife for several years. When I tried to establish boundaries and enforce them (“you may no longer continue to hurt me as you have done ever since I was a child”), there was a massive escalation (on both sides), during which I considered cutting them off. But they got there first, basically refusing to speak to me ever again (my stepmom) and refusing to speak to me until I recant and change my story (my dad). And so we have no more contact.

    On some levels, this is a huge relief. I no longer have to manage our interactions and shield myself from them.

    But deep down at the core, what is the hardest is similar to what you’ve said above: I feel they don’t love me because I don’t deserve to be loved. That they refused to stop hurting me because I don’t deserve care. I have always been the problem. It is my fault.

    It is especially hard when people react as you describe above: as if my relationship with them “is like their relationship with their parents plus a few more problems.” That it is terribly lonely to know your daddy doesn’t care enough about you not to hurt you.

    Of course I know our experiences are not the same, but I just wanted to let you know that I feel some of this and understand it a bit. Take care.

    • Ashana M January 20, 2016 / 9:49 am

      I think there is a really deep sadness that goes with feeling it is actually less painful to have no relationship than to try to keep having one that is damaging you. It is also deeply saddening when you get to that point when you realize it is not you that is unworthy to them. The whole world is very likely like that. They need to control or use it, but trust and mutual respect is not possible for them.

      • nissetje January 20, 2016 / 7:26 pm

        The sadness is indeed deep.

        I think I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I realise this is about them rather than me. I still sometimes think I could have influenced the outcome if I had been smarter or more lovable or more obedient. But then I remember how self-destructive that line of thinking is.

        Thanks for the reminder.

      • Ashana M January 20, 2016 / 8:29 pm

        Take care.

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