Adapted from a recent online discussion.
'Peacemaker sibling' questions how best to approach parents
De Nile, a river in Egypt: I'm in an awkward situation that I think a lot of other readers might relate to. My parents are very deep in denial about a lot of things, from their culpability in my siblings' and my very stormy childhood, to acknowledging some of the very difficult and stressful times we experienced later in life.
As long as I play by their rules, they are lovely and fun, but I hate to feel like an enabler, and I don't like the open disrespect with which they treat my life choices. They have been passive-aggressive and aggressive-aggressive about our careers and our chosen life partners — and conveniently denied this at the subsequent weddings! — while praising themselves for how successful we turned out to be.
Every time one of us tries to confront them, they blow up or freeze us out. I'm the peacemaker sibling and the one closest to them. I feel that if I keep them at arm's length, they'll be cut off from all their kids, and I know they love us a lot. I know I should just give up trying to get them to be reasonable, but it's very hurtful to me. Help!
Carolyn: Hi there. I suggest all the time that people consider counseling, I propose talking to their mates about getting couples counseling, I say that X situation is a natural for therapy. I've rarely if ever said, "Please get into therapy."
Please get into therapy.
Put in the effort to find someone reputable and compatible. Don't be afraid to meet several therapists as if they're candidates that you're interviewing, because that's what they are; you're bringing them your business. Hold out for someone who clicks.
Then, start digging.
Just for openers, I think you'll want to explore the fact that, in your description of your role in the family, the behavior you're exhibiting — turmoil smoothed over by sturdy nonacknowledgment — is a next-generation replica of the behavior you deplore in your parents.
And, according to your short description, your parents are unapologetic boundary-crossers, while you seem to be stepping beyond the line of your business into managing the feelings of your entire family. That's another way you're living by their dysfunctional example — unwittingly, no doubt.
If you feel you have it in you to start living your own life, honestly and with your own boundaries, come what may, then maybe the therapy isn't an absolutely necessary first step. By "living your own life" I mean figuring out your own rules, and living by those, even when it brings unpleasant consequences from your parents. By living within your own boundaries, I mean paying attention to your own relationships with other people, period, and letting your parents worry about their relationships with their kids.
Whether you get help or go it alone, you've got a steep climb ahead; being true to your feelings when you've been punished for exactly that, and setting firm limits when your life experience is of everyone claiming everyone else's business as their own, can often bring unexpected and confusing results. But at the top of your climb, freedom is waiting. Trust that and don't give up.