I am constantly inspired by the comments I read here from so many women and men who are currently suffering abuse in their homes. It is so heartbreaking as I know from personal experience that living in such a household can feel like living in a hall of mirrors where reality is distorted and we are trapped in insanity.
As I’ve shared in previous posts, one of the resources that are helping me heal is a recovery group called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA or ACoA for short), which has been a safe space for me to share my experiences and feelings. The group’s name may be a little deceiving as it is not limited to children of alcoholics, but includes children that dealt with any dysfunction in their homes like physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or financial abuse, perfectionism, overly critical parents, mental health issues, any other substance abuse, and the like.
One critical concept I have learned is the idea of denial. I have always heard it on TV whenever someone was referring to alcoholism, but I falsely assumed that it meant that a person knew they had a problem but deeply denied it to others. In other words, they denied the truth and lived a lie.
I have since learned that denial can be completely different. Imagine you’re living in a household as a child with your parents. Just like any kid, you need your parents to keep you safe and fed and use them as your example of how to be an adult. But if your parents are doing things which fall into the dysfunction category, chances are the things you’re learning are also dysfunctional, except you have no idea, because they are your default. So you’re just kind of walking around this planet, reacting to that which you were taught, and to how you were treated as a child, just like all the other children you know.
Fast forward into adulthood, and if undressed, the patterns can manifest as destructive behaviors, such as abuse. Except now it is so deeply ingrained and behind such a heavy veil of denial that when someone calls you out on what you’re doing you can’t imagine how they can possibly be referring to you because this is just your reality and you can’t see it any other way. You’re still in that hall of mirrors and you’re seeing yourself in a reflection only you don’t realize that this is a reflection from another mirror. You don’t know what’s real and you don’t even know that you don’t know it.
I think that’s why there is no reasoning with a person who is trapped in an abusive pattern. I saw it with my own dad – there was just no way to make him see what he was doing. Any attempts at trying to make him understand (which was, of course, very risky!), was met with denial and deflection, where he would find a way to blame it on me, or whoever he was victimizing at the moment.Since in his mind he is doing everything right, then it must have meant that the other person was doing everything wrong.
Sad, isn’t it? And yet it is even sadder for the victim. Especially that if that victim doesn’t become aware of the patterns and lift the veil of denial, they will continue the cycle. And so it goes for generation after generation, until we decide to stop it. But we can’t stop it in someone else, only in ourselves.
As far as my own experience with my dad, my solution has been to “lovingly detach.” I no longer live with him, which helps tremendously. But even when I did live with him, I did confront him about this pattern and did tell him that when he behaves like this, I will not engage. To this day, when he starts to rage, I will not answer him or I will leave the room. So he knows that this is not the way to communicate with me if he wants a response. The detachment also means that I do not expect him to change. He has his own life to live and his own mistakes to learn from. It’s between him and God.
I’m just thankful that I have the support system I need to help me be aware of the patterns that were behind the veil of denial in my own life. Becoming aware of them is helping me heal so I don’t have to continue these abusive patterns with my children.