Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My life history (told and self-organized) includes my mother as
somewhat of a victim. That came from stories of her Holocaust youth,
my overbearing grandmother, her emotional bipolarity, and things she
said to me about her life. She was a good mother, other than during
her depressive periods and during my childhood illnesses which
seemed to restimulate her own fears. But her emotional instability
dominated the family. We were always being told, Don’t do anything to
upset your mother. Don’t cry. Don’t make such a fuss, etc etc So the
family organized itself around her emotional illness in ways that I think
shut myself and my sibs down. My sister has never been married and
has trouble with friendships; my brother is emotionally closed; and I,
twice divorced, seem unable to cry, even at the death of a close friend.
I woke myself up the other night from a dream saying, My mother hurt
me and now I am very afraid. Is there some way to recover from this,
or all we all in the same boat?
Tolstoy’s opening to Anna Karenina is appropriate (even though he’s
not Jewish): All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way. There may in fact be happy families, but most
people have some combination of unhappiness in their family history,
great or small: a family organized around an illness or a damaged
member, alcoholism, abuse, bankruptcy, take your pick. You don’t
describe many of the more acute forms of disruption, which is not to
minimize what you have said.
You can’t heal your sibs but you can help yourself. I’d recommend
interviewing and selecting a good counselor, someone who specializes
in family dynamics. You should also consider attending a group
session, so you hear other people’s stories and get perspective on your
own. It may not be a short or easy road, but it’ll help.