Story of a toxic family | Mark’s Remarks

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I like talking to older folks. There have been many I’ve “interviewed” over the years, tucking their stories in my little notebook. I read some notes on one of them recently and decided I’d print the story.  

It’s a rather long one, so those of you with short attention spans may want to skip this one. I thought it was good stuff and worthy of being shared.

The story was of siblings who were raised in a dysfunctional home.  The parents were volatile.  These siblings were raised at a time where no one went to therapy. They grew up in a home filled with selfishness, emotional wars, dishonesty, mind games. You name the mental hang up, someone in that house had it.

The poor kids grew up to become unstable adults.  Divorce happened for many of them. Although there was no physical abuse, the mental abuse was intense. No one was surprised when they’d hear about one of the siblings being at war with another. It seemed there was drama in every direction when it came to this poor family.

“Someone in that family was always stirring something up,” said a cousin.

If one were to encounter any of these siblings, one would notice they were always  talking about or bad mouthing someone. None of them ever apologized for anything. They were loyal only to themselves, highly jealous of all others and extremely manipulative. If they were mad at you about something, they would try to rile you up in some way so they could feel justified in their petty feelings.  

Most of them kept a running record of the ways you wronged them, regardless of how minute the details were. They exaggerated details and what they deemed as incidents against them.  

Curiously, they were all very generous and ready to help in any crisis. They were the first ones there when there was a negative incident, tragedy, or problem.  

However, as they did with the “wrongs” of life, the siblings would keep track of all the things they’d done for everyone and get upset if their good deeds were not repaid.  Furthermore, none of them shared in the joy of others. Regardless of their good deeds, they were still very jealous people. They couldn’t be happy for anyone else, no matter how hard they tried.  

And they really didn’t try. All people in their lives were competition.

It may or may not have been a blessing that each sibling chose a path in life that enabled them to be financially comfortable. None of them had to worry much about paying the bills. Their kids didn’t want for much. There was no stress when it came to money.

Still, when their mentally unstable parents finally passed away, there was a war over the estate. Two of the siblings never spoke again.

According to one family member, the financial situation was such a minor problem that it was a bit laughable. Still, a few of the siblings started a little discussion about the “problem” and this resulted into a full-blown disagreement, followed by a complete disintegration of a relationship. As I said, two never spoke again. This silence lasted around 50 years.

It’s easy to look at this family and “tsk tsk.” It’s easy to be judgmental and say “Those terrible parents.  Look at the dysfunctional legacy they left behind.”  It’s easy to dismiss this family and not care about them. Let them wallow in their misery.

One of the siblings, at the urging from some of the third generation folks (eager to break the cycle, no doubt), decided to go to counseling. What followed was several months of “unpacking” the dysfunction.  It was a painful process, but the sibling who went to therapy began to see the family for what it was.  There was shame, forgiveness, pity and all kinds of new emotion felt for the family.

You may think there was a happy ending for the family.  All the siblings decided to go to counseling. They were all healed and reconciled.

No.

The sibling who did get therapy tried to mend fences with the other siblings.  A couple of them responded positively, but one sister decided to build a stronger wall. Even though she received a sincere apology and the other sibling humbly came to her in hopes of healing, she wasn’t having any of it.

“I just can’t forgive and forget,” she told a nephew.  “It’s not going to be that easy. ‘I’m sorry’ just isn’t enough.”

Further conversation revealed the unforgivable sin was actually that the counseled sibling had spoken to, laughed and smiled with a cousin at a family funeral.  This cousin was supposed to be an “enemy” of the siblings, yet the sibling who’d been to therapy decided to forgive and reconnect. Furthermore, this sister didn’t like that the now more mentally stable sibling had decided to laugh and smile at a funeral.  

All of the siblings passed away. The only one left was the sibling who had been to therapy; the one who told me the story. As you may guess, there was a lot of reflection and a lot of profound lessons learned.

“You know, there was a lot of heartache in our family. A lot of mean people who acted so immature and stupid. And I was the worst,” said the last remaining sibling.

“I tried to reconnect. I wrote letters and I made phone calls. I visited with my oldest brother. I cried and asked forgiveness.”

Still, a few in the family chose not to forgive.

“My sister was a person who always had to be mad at someone. It was almost a sport with her.  She was never happy. She bad mouthed everyone in her life, even her own kids and grandkids. I think she thought it was all normal.   I really ended up feeling sorry for her. But, I asked her to forgive me, even though I really hadn’t done anything. She tried to argue with me and get me to say something ugly to her so she’d feel justified in her feelings. I continued to be pleasant and sincere with her until the day she died, because I knew where she’d come from. But she never really spoke to me again and kept a ‘bull-headed’ attitude toward me from then on.”

There was regret and sadness in the eyes of this person and after a while, I asked if I might write down this story and share it someday, as long as I was discreet and private about it.  I would write it in a way that would protect the family and I would not share more details with anyone. (so friends, don’t ask me to elaborate please).

“Sure. Write it down.  It’s a long story, but I think it’s important for people to know that people need to face themselves. They need to look in the mirror and see that we all have a degree of darkness in our hearts.  They need to see where they’ve gone wrong and see if they can fix things.  Sometimes you can fix it, and sometimes you can’t.”

“My sister was a proud person. She didn’t forgive me and that’s the way she chose to live. I couldn’t do anything else besides love her and try to be good to her. It nearly broke my heart that we couldn’t have a good relationship. But I couldn’t make her forgive me or talk to me, so I didn’t let it define me anymore. I had a family of my own to love and care about. I had to dismiss my sister and just go on.”

When asked if the counseling was worth it, my wise friend brightened up.

“Make no mistake. I was glad to talk to a counselor about my family’s pain.  But I also found Jesus.”

“He’s the one who really changed my heart.”

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