I really don’t know what to do. I do not like seeing my family but I am invited around every weekend for these dinners that my parents put on. If I make an excuse not to go then the offense is caused and it is held against me. I also feel guilty for not going to see them too.
There has been a lot of unresolved trauma in my family, where most of my family members have ceased to internalise their feelings, rather than face a barrage of anger for voicing them. There is a lot of under-lined resentment and utter sadness caused by my parent’s eternal need to hurt and upset each other, both physically and emotionally. There have been years of issues that seem to litter their conversations but they never seem to do directly, it’s more underhand at these dinners. My mother pretends to be relaxed, chilled, and unoffended but she and my dad play this game like a tennis match where they bat underhand and hurtful comments at each other for the duration of the time in which we all have to endure their organised dinners. They always seem to find a way to cause a degree of anger in others. They either deliberately go over unhappy memories, bring up political points that they know annoy each other, or even personal dislikes about each other. It feels like a warzone with them each sitting rigidly at each end of the dinner table, drinking and growing more and more spiteful.
It also doesn’t help that my father brings up his old-fashioned views on race, gender, sexuality, and liberalism in every way he can. He can be really offensive and downright degrading about religion, politics, women, homosexuality, and progressive thinking in general. He seems to think that it is acceptable to voice so much hated because he has always done it, but it is low-key hurtful and it doesn’t get any easier to hear. He just seems to be more and more extreme in his views. I don’t want to talk to my friends about it because it is embarrassing and I honestly don’t want them to think I am associated with that kind of polarised hate speech. I really have to find a way to keep my mouth shut when he starts ranting. My mum tells us all to “choose our battles” but seems to perpetually fork the flames herself by quietly irritating him. I really want to stand up for my beliefs as it not only hurts me, but I can see my siblings quietly struggling with what he says too. I know for a fact that one of my siblings is struggling with her own sexuality and it hurts me to see her enduring his words. She doesn’t try to stick up for what she believes in and I understand why because it feels like there isn’t any point as it is just ignored or you are shouted down.
The problem is, I don’t want to be around it but I feel torn. They are my parents and have given me the gift of life. Both of my parents are clearly unhappy and lonely too, but these dinners are so uncomfortable that I honestly dread seeing them. I want to find a way to support my siblings and to stand up for what I believe in without it being construed as aggressive. We all know what not to bring up around them both, but it is unavoidable because they find a way to bring up inflammatory arguments every single time.
How can I create space, without blocking them out or being hurtful? How can I stand up for my beliefs without being shouted down or accused of causing problems? We can’t all just grin and bear it because it’s hurting my siblings and I am worried about the way that they are internalising it. If I can’t figure out a way to respond productively, I am going to explode, I just know it. I want to say ‘no’ to these dinner evenings but I do not want to be seen as disloyal or to hurt anyone.
I am sorry that you are experiencing this and are feeling that you have to keep going back into an environment that sounds polarised and upsetting for you. There are many people who also find themselves feeling conflicted about how to respond to the ones they love, but we each have to forge our own path in finding ways that work for us. It is not a one-size-fits-all measurement as we are all unique individuals.
I know this might be frustrating to hear, but sometimes compassion and understanding go a long way in situations like these as both your parents sound unhappy and stuck in a pattern of unhelpful behaviors.
The word that you used sounds very appropriate and that was ‘inflammatory.’ It sounds as though you are walking on the troubled territory by voicing how you feel. However, the hurt that you are feeling as a consequence of someone else’s actions is important and should not be dismissed as unimportant.
It is clear that you are not feeling any mutual respect, empathy or understanding from your parents which will of course leave you feeling frustrated. I understand that you and your siblings feel that voicing your beliefs would be redundant but that does not mean they are invalid.
You expressed that the trauma from your past has been left unresolved. This, of course, can make it difficult to move on because trauma does not have any concept of time. An event that happened fifteen years ago could for some feel as though it is happening in the present. It can be hard to distinguish the people that your parents are from the people that they used to be, so if you can, try to place yourself in the here-and-now in a bid to be more self-aware of how you are feeling in those moments at your parents’ dinners.
At this point, I would recommend that you seek professional support from one of our licensed therapists. It may be helpful to talk about those feelings of resentment that you mentioned. A therapist could help you find new ways to move forward and challenge those feelings in a healthy way. You could also explore ways to communicate more openly with your parents too. I would also recommend that your sister speaks to a professional too, especially if you are worried that she is struggling and internalising her feelings.
There is nothing wrong with seeking the necessary steps to help the situation you are in. You mentioned feeling disloyal, but there is also something to be said in ensuring that you are looking out for what is best for you too. Sometimes family can provide a great support network, however, sometimes we need to step away from it if it is not serving to protect us.
Jimi D Katsis
Consultant [email protected]