Another long holiday weekend in the US has come and gone. For the past couple years I have been avoiding large get togethers with my family up north… I would call them the Mormon family, but many of them are no longer Mormon. At this point six of my father’s nine children are not LDS. My sister and I never were, but now four more have left the flock. Regardless of religion, however, immediate family gatherings are quite large, and emotionally cumbersome for me. This year Blue Eyes and I decided to go up for just one of the family events happening over the long 4th of July weekend. Last year we drove half way there, then turned around and came home. (Torn) This year we made it all the way. The triggers from making that drive are gone, and I no longer feel compelled to tell any of my family what I have been through, or what Blue Eyes is. In a conversation about books we are reading, my sister Elizabeth, the one who was betrayed by her husband who eventually came out as gay, talked about how at one point she couldn’t read anything, or watch anything, or listen to any music without being triggered. Boy do I know how she felt, but I didn’t say anything.
The theme of the whole trip for me kind of centered on the concept that often family dynamics are fraught with frustration and discord. We choose friends because we like being around them, we have things in common, we enjoy their company. This isn’t necessarily the case with family. I have mentioned many times how much I really do love my family. A couple of my sisters I find particularly difficult to be around, but hey, I am sure I drive some of my siblings nuts as well. Family is family. We’re born into it and many of us put up with a lot because we feel it is part of the deal. Well, it isn’t necessarily part of the deal. This I have learned the hard way. Sometimes you just have to walk away.
On the drive up, we listened to an NPR (National Public Radio) program called ‘Invisibilia.’ I wanted to listen to ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,’ but Blue Eyes is kind of infatuated with this Invisibilia. Their little blurb on the NPR podcast directory says: Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.
The title of the episode was The Problem with the Solution and it was, in a nutshell, about the theory that people with mental illnesses are better off surrounded by non-family members. It is a very interesting show and absorbed our thoughts for a good hour of the two hour and 15 minute drive. In this particular segment, one of the show’s hosts visits a town in Belgium where families board people, strangers, with severe mental illness. Sometimes these people live with them for decades. This practice in this town has been going on for a very long time, making the town’s people well trained and better equipped for the task of living with a mentally ill person, at least more so than the average person might be. Ellen Baxter spent her graduate fellowship studying this Belgian town and then later, she worked for a social welfare agency that aided the mentally ill and the homeless. She eventually founded Broadway Housing Communities, a NYC low income housing option where the mentally ill and non-mentally ill live side by side. The concept that mentally ill people do better living amongst virtual strangers is solidified in the success of these two separate scenarios.
In the end there was talk about the feelings and emotions surrounding the mentally ill and the complexity of a successful living situation. Generally, when living with family, they feel like the family wants to try and cure them. That there is something wrong that must be dealt with and the expectations of the family members is often that the ill will somehow get better and this is stressful and triggering for the mentally ill family member. When living amongst non family, however, those same expectations do not necessarily apply. Non family don’t have the same buy in. They don’t carry the same baggage. Live and let live, so to speak.
Most of the segment seemed to be focused on the feelings of the mentally ill and on alternate living solutions. Personally, coming from the other side of this having lived with a mentally ill sister for some of my life, I find the issues to not only come from the family, but also the mentally ill sometimes hear and feel things that aren’t actually there. With their illness, they carry this notion that their family is constantly judging them, or constantly wanting them to be different when I know that isn’t always true. I know my sister often talked about what she thought our expectations of her were and that she just wasn’t good enough. But the thing is, we didn’t have those feelings or expectations of her… they were in her mind. We just wanted her to stop hurting herself. I think my sister would have been better off living away from us, living amongst people who had no real personal connection to her. I think, frankly, it would have been better for her because she would have had to take responsibility for more of her own care. She could no longer use us as scapegoats. Without her family to constantly bail her out, maybe she would have let go of those false notions that she wasn’t good enough.
In dealing with Blue Eyes and his addiction, I find the same to be true. He put me in a box, just like my sister had put me in a box. She felt like everything came easy to me. That I couldn’t possibly understand her. That she could never be the sister I wanted. In the case of Blue Eyes, I really believe that he gave up on himself a long time ago. In not being able to live up to his parent’s standards for him, at least the standards he perceived from their words and actions, he constantly made the excuse that he wasn’t good enough. That excuse became the impetus for his acting out behaviors. If he blamed his inability to live up to someone else’s standards, then he could rationalize why he needed a secret life. I never really asked for much. I never should have been used as an excuse for why anyone behaved badly.
I liken the living amongst strangers scenario to Blue Eyes’ 12 step group. He walked into a group of strangers who had absolutely no expectations of him. He knew that going in. They had compassion and understanding, but no preconceived notion of who he was “supposed to be.” Without the expectations of others, maybe the excuse of “I’m not good enough…” goes away. In the end, this is not about the people they surround themselves with, or the people who raised them, but in fact, it is always about how people feel about themselves. No excuses, no rationalizations.
14 thoughts on “I’m not good enough”
I think you very thoroughly covered what I think is a very accurate description of a sex addicts issue. My ex and I both grew up in very strict LDS homes. He was blessed with talent, charm, and exceptional good looks. There were high expectations and little tolerance for failure. He was lazy and unmotivated and basically sabotaged himself. I have watched him use the “not good enough” excuse as justification for why he repeatedly sleeps with other people’s wives. Couldn’t live up to the expectations. Couldn’t take the pressure. Another man’s wife didn’t expect anything for him. You are right in your comparison. But you and I? We didn’t deserve this. We went in to these relationships hopeful, optimistic that they’d always be the men they married. I didn’t expect anything but who he presented himself to be. I hope your week is looking better. Hugs.
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Nope, we didn’t deserve any of this. It is astonishing what people can hide and how easily they rationalize destructive behavior. In the end, we are stronger than their weaknesses. My week is going okay except I now have an awful yeast infection. I hate those things! Thankful to be home though in my little cocoon taking care of just me, and watching Wimbledon. I adore tennis. Hugs to you too!!! ❤
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I think family has a way of intensifying the crazy LOL. Maybe it’s because with strangers we are more likely to be on our best behavior? Interesting. At the same time, when having an “episode” I wonder if it is not better to have the love of family nearby. When I had an episode of crazy, it helped me, but then again, my issue was not chronic.
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The program was talking pretty specifically about the severely mentally ill versus those of us who just have an occasional crazy episode. 😉 I do think there is all kinds of baggage intermingled with family relationships but for those that are really ill, focusing on themselves, no excuses, possibly is better done with people who aren’t so intimately involved. One point that was being made in the program was that family often expects the mentally ill to “get better.” That is usually not possible. The pressure from people that love them, constantly looking for a way to fix them, gets tiring for those who either can’t be fixed or don’t feel like they need to be fixed. I wish I could say my family had been more of a beacon for me when I was feeling down, but I learned to be quite independent emotionally a long time ago. That’s not always a good thing. xx
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But if you flip it, doesn’t that also explain why healing comes to the betrayed spouse more easily if they too… Are away from the cheater? That person has so much of their own baggage, and so much damage to now undo… And if like follows like, people without expectation and people without invested interest are likely to be better at helping them heal from betrayal than the betrayer (who’s apparently also a mess) and or people who may have- their own opinions and judgements on what “the right” thing to do is? Fascinating.
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I agree, CR. In some cases it does help for the betrayer and the betrayed to be separated during the healing process. In the case of mental illness, maybe there will never be healing in the respect that a family member may want or expect and therefore others are better equipped, those without ulterior motives or expectations. In the case of temporary trauma for example from betrayal, it may all come down to how much baggage the betrayed carries around with them that determines how they heal and how long it takes to heal. Personally I think we all must take responsibility for own healing and actions, and temper our expectations to the situation. If we don’t feel emotionally safe in the relationship, then separation is good. In the case of my borderline personality sister, I had to disconnect from her daily outbursts and constant requests for money to bail her out of precarious situations. It wasn’t healthy for either of us, but that realization took years. With my husband, I had to detach from his recovery in order to embrace my own. The people in my husband’s life who are without vested interest are his 12 step group and his therapist. They are crucial to his healing. This is also a reason why numerous addicts go to rehab. I wish my husband had gone to inpatient rehab. I think it would have propelled healing for both of us. As it is, it just took longer for the healing to happen.
Also, to be clear… we, the betrayed, are not equipped at all to be helpful to the addict. We weren’t enough to keep them from doing these things in the first place, and there is nothing we can really do to help them heal in their recovery. We must focus on ourselves, define our boundaries if we intend to stay in the relationship, and give ourselves permission to heal. They are on their own. They must be. We all must be independently strong and emotionally healthy in order to be a viable partner.
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I just posted about my own quandary. I am at this precipice of change, opportunity, and it’s probably the best time to get space. I have been wholly invested in trying to heal together but I don’t trust him and right now with work and everything else changing, I have no time to address myself let alone how he and I might be. I was totally hung ho about moving across the country and then… This afternoon I have been falling into this— question. What’s getting better. Where are we. How do we move
It is difficult to know what is right. Use your instincts and take care of your needs first, the partnership second. xx
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Amazing story. And from my perspective I see how much sense it can make. The mentally ill are formed by their pasts (all of us are!) And it’s not usually family’s ‘fault’ but the triggers are there. Your example of your son’s friend’s mother is such a good one. I recently found the Facebook page of a friend’s wife. Their divorce has been unusual. Seems amicable, but he he experienced some severely unstable behaviour from her (smashing windows as he was inside another couple’s house) I am fairly sure there was no cheating by him. She may have. But whatever the circumstances she left. And he had a farm and four daughters to look after. She looks to be having a much better time now. Yes. Fakebook. Appearances. But she was a cultured girl living in a small town. Going nuts. She moved to a nearby city and seems so much happier. I can see why. And am taking this on board as I navigate my own future.
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It is so important for us to get to the bottom of our feelings and be able to put our own needs first in order to be better people I think. Such an eye opening experience since dday of how much I actually do for others. I don’t feel resentful, but just a bit shocked when there is little to no reciprocation. I am learning to be better balanced, I think. xx
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Such an intresting piece and definitely food for thought. I had always thought that putting the mentally ill with non-family was cruel and like we were getting rid of them but you have definitely given me the opportunity to question that. Thank you for raising the issue and tying it so well to sex addict thinking. My husband too has had that not feeling good enough feeling way deep and then has this worry of disappointing others but then he would justify his secret life with the same convoluted thinking. .
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Hi! The NPR podcast was very interesting and the story of the Belgian town… a place like nowhere else in the world, was intriguing. It was thought provoking to contemplate this concept of the mentally ill not living with family. It actually makes quite a bit of sense to me even though I had never thought about it before. My first reaction, of course, was to try and look at it from both sides, not just the side of the mentally ill because it is incredibly difficult living with a mentally ill family member. Of course it is a monstrous burden for them, but not exactly a picnic for everyone else either.
We know a lady, the mom of my son’s best friend from elementary school, who is a recovering drug addict. When the boys were in middle school, she went into rehab. She then returned home, but was back at the drugs again within a couple months. She then went back into rehab. Next time back with the family, she switched to alcohol… easier to come by and not illegal. After her third stint in rehab, she did not go back to her family but instead moved into a group home for recovering addicts. She finally got clean and has been sober for about six years. It took taking her out of the family dynamic for her to finally do some healing. The stress of the husband and two teens was just too much. We all need to understand our own limitations.
I do think not being able to live up to other’s expectations of us can cause shame and also rationalizations for not being able to cope. I think true recovery really does help them get past those feelings. It took BE months and months of 12 step meetings to really get past the blame game and take full responsibility for everything. Resentment still rears its ugly head, but he is better able to evaluate the feelings and take responsibility now.
I hope you are well. ❤
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