In order to adequately address the issue of denial, one must address the issue of the family. I believe this is where we are taught to be expert deniers.
For most of my life, I have thought that my family was perfect. Okay, maybe not my brother – he could be an arrogant prick! – but my parents. They could do no wrong. I spent as much time with them as I could. When I went off to college in a nearby city, I would return nearly every weekend.
My mom was active at church growing up, and I dutifully went to church and became active there myself. In high school and even college, when I would return home, I volunteered many hours at the church – in the kitchen, helping to clean the grounds, teaching Sunday school… I was mom’s little clone, and I was worshiped by my mother and my father. I was their perfect child. I was kind, I was funny, I was outgoing, I got good grades, I brought home good-looking boyfriends who my mom nearly fainted over…
There was always this feeling, more of an aching actually, that something was deeply not right. I would get taken over by waves of depression that would last days, sometimes weeks or even months. I began experiencing social anxiety in college, and developed a deep and neurotic fear that someone was out there trying to kill me. I began having health problems, and in my freshman year of college alone had to be rushed to the late-night emergency room seven or eight times. I began having panic attacks. I started thinking that I was “possessed,” since I began hearing these angry voices in my head telling me to do things that, had I listened to, would’ve ended me up in a casket far below ground. I started binge eating to numb it. I started speeding every time I got in the car with the music blasting as loud as I could. I began punching myself in the head to release some of the pressure. It was always just temporary.
I hid all of these things from my parents. They thought I was doing great. I didn’t tell them when I dropped all of my classes because I couldn’t leave my apartment for a month for fear of being murdered.
Fast forward several years. When I ended up in a psych ward, I had been living on my own, had a “great” boyfriend (by my parents standards), had a good job, and to the casual observer, I was the happiest I had ever been. No one knew the demons that haunted me, so when I ended up having to get driven down to the psych hospital by my father, the fact that everything was not okay in my world came to my parents as a complete and utter shock.
During this time in the hospital, I grew to learn that parents were not perfect. In fact, they were far from it. I realized that I was terrified of my father’s rage. I started remembering that my mother had been emotionally neglectful toward me as a young child.
However, we are taught to shield our own parents from any sort of blame or criticism. If we talk about our parents openly and honestly and talk about the abuses or neglectfulness we endured at the hands of these two individuals, how is it received by the world? People don’t want to hear it. Talking negatively about ones parents is seen as complaining, disrespectful, and overall just distasteful. These are the sorts of things expected to be discussed behind closed doors with a therapist. Don’t let that unnecessary negativity taint everyone else. It doesn’t matter the level of injury. Small, medium, or large, it is expected to be packed away and hidden deep in the closet of denial.
I stopped making my parents perfect. I went through a period of trying to talk with them openly about problems and unhealthy family dynamics. I tried sharing with them the hurt they caused, and the wounds that had yet to heal. And what did they do? How was this information received? Well, you probably guessed it: they got defensive, and they denied everything. They didn’t want to hear.
Suddenly, since I wasn’t playing the perfect daughter anymore, nor was I any longer placing my parents on a pedestal, I began to change in my parents eyes. They didn’t ever have to say anything, but I could tell. Their eyes used to sparkle with pride when I walked into the room. Now, they look at me with muted eyes filled with sadness. I wish I knew the thoughts that went on behind those eyes.
Does perception in fact equal reality? I do wonder sometimes if maybe I’m just making all this up. A fabrication of my overactive imagination. Maybe there is nothing wrong with my parents, nor is there anything wrong with my family. Maybe my family is just a typical, normal family, and it’s my brain that is faulty. I think that’s what my parents believe, after all, when I attempt to bring up any of the pains or hurts that were inflicted on me growing up. I know these inflictions were unintentional, yet they were inflicted nontheless.
Now I’m starting to second guess myself. Maybe I really am just complaining. Maybe my childhood wasn’t that bad at all. Maybe my parents did a pretty damn good job, and I am just being ungrateful. Maybe all my symptoms of dissociation and all my anxiety and all my depression and all my mood swings are happenstance. A faulty neuron firing. A biological glitch. A gene malfunction.
The cycle of denial. Well… there you have it.