There are no blueprints for dealing with a dysfunctional family

There are no blueprints for dealing with a dysfunctional family
A picture from 2007.

There honestly are no blueprints, no guidelines, no "here are your options" manuals for dealing with a dysfunctional family. I'm using "dysfunctional" in a broad sense, to encompass the spectrum that ranges from slightly odd to full-on psychotic abuse.

Okay, so in psychotic abuse situations, one should really cut and run, and hopefully get into the witness protection program. And for kooky family members, well, they can be lovably odd.

But for us whose families stand somewhere in the middle of that spectrum...what can we do? What ought we do?

What do you do when your little siblings are still stuck in that situation? As you might remember, I have four little siblings who still live at home. The oldest is 14. The youngest is almost 9. I haven't had any contact with them since May of 2009. I last sent them letters and small gifts in December of that year, whereupon our so-called parents told me to cease and desist, or else the gifts and cards will be sent back.

I feel like I abandoned them--I feel such guilt about that. I want to contact them. I want to hear from them. I want them to know that I still think of them. Daily. I want them to know that I love them. I want them to know that what is going on at home is not normal, that the world is a much better place, that it's not them that are troublesome, it's our father who is abusive. And I want them to know that it is possible to heal.

Yet I'm afraid. If I send them even a postcard, would they bear the brunt of dad's anger? If I sent them birthday cards, would they eventually be dad's emotional punching bag as he takes out his frustration and rage? Would it hurt them if I contacted them? Would it hurt them if I didn't?

Would it hurt me?

I haven't changed my email, in hopes that one of them will still remember the address and contact me, one day. On the other hand, because of that, would my parents send another hurtful email if I contacted the little ones? My parents should hopefully not have my address to actually return cards. Not since I moved.

Three years ago, I barely held myself together as I got these "replies" from my parents.  Sometimes I had to leave work early, just because I couldn't handle the emotions anymore. I needed to cry, to wail. I can't afford to do that now. I can't do that to my bosses. I can't afford to be fired due to emotional distress.

But is it causing more harm to the little ones, when I simply honor my parents' directives nearly 3 years ago to not contact my siblings anymore?

I wanted to keep on sending cards. Fuck 'em, I thought. I obviously showed I no longer have to honor and obey my parents by refusing to subject myself to more abuse. On the other hand, I was afraid of a restraining order. There's no legal protections for siblings to be able to contact siblings. Of all things, you'd think siblings' rights would trump grandparents' rights, you know? But there is no protection.

No protection for the little ones, either. Psychological abuse is so ephemeral. It's hard to concretely prove, especially when the victims are brainwashed into believing it's "normal" behavior--so there's nothing CPS can do.

It's hard to say what I should do. I've heard a wide range of advice. Some, I can easily ignore, like people who seem to think that abuse equals dysfunction. Dysfunction as in, "mild issues with functioning." No. they are not the same thing.

I also don't accept the reasoning that, "life is short; apologize even if it wasn't your fault." I have done that for years, growing up. I'm sick of being the verbal punching bag, the scapegoat. It is not a healthy dynamic to be in. People say that just because they want to see the family pretend to be whole, again. Not be truly whole--just pretend everything was hunky dory as was the case for so long. Besides, I don't even know what I'm being "punished" by my parents for. My father's view of reality is skewed thanks to his personality disorder, and he often interprets things to be grave offenses against him and his ego. So, me having a slightly messy room a sign of "disrespect."  Nothing I can do can change that. I tried talking about it until I finally realized that, oh yeah, he operates in a different plane of reality.

So, how can I contact my siblings without involving my parents? There's no saying that my postcards, should I send them, will ever reach their hands. Mail, email, and phone calls are monitored. Interactions with others are also often monitored--especially while they're young. No doubt they're not on Facebook.

Some people suggest just trying to get in touch with my parents again. Others suggest that I should simply wait until the little ones grow up. Still others suggest just sending cards anyway, in hopes that one of these days they will be able to reply, somehow.

I just don't know. It's hard to say what's the right thing to do. There are no real blueprints that can be adjusted for each type of "dysfunction."

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  • If your siblings attend school, you can leave a note for them in the office. Maybe you can visit the school and give them a note as they exit school unless your parents pick them up from school. I think at this point anything that you do will require a personal visit at school. Even if it's only for 30 seconds to pass a letter. Good luck!

  • In reply to Tracy A. Stanciel:

    Thanks, Tracy! Unfortunately, they're all homeschooled. If they were in public or private school, I would feel even slightly better about their situation--but my father is a huge homeschooling proponent.

    I would love to leave a note for them furtively somehow, but my parents have "reevaluated" their friendships with people, so I don't know anybody would would pass one along. Maybe a neighbor could try to find a way, somehow....

  • Write the postcards, letters and birthday cards. Just don't send them. Save them for the day that one of your sibs contacts you on Facebook or via this blog or your email address. THAT is the time to deliver all those cards and letters. And you can write to them directly through this blog or a private one, if only to leave a public record that you have been longing to keep the door open to future connections.

    Your control freak dad will sniff out any other contact, and you don't want to make the home situation any works for your siblings. It is unfortunate that you'll probably only be able to have contact with each one as they reach their majority and escape being under your father's boot.

  • In reply to lspiller:

    Ispiller--thank you so much for your comment. I think that is a wonderful idea, writing cards and saving them. Some day, they will be able to see them all.

    I agree--unfortunately my dad has a tight control on my family's life, and I would never forgive myself if I accidentally made it worse for the siblings. I hope that once they start college they might try to seek me out. Even if they are angry at me, I'll still be here for them.

  • Holly, what are you doing on ChicagoNow? This is a site for twentysomethings who's biggest problem is which LP bar to choose!

    Seriously, I credit you for sharing this not only on the interwebs but on a site that just might not get it.

    I wish I could come up with a suggestion for contacting your siblings without your parents knowledge. The thing is, I was in a very similar situation as you and when I sent a card to one of my cousins, he ratted me out to the 'rentals. The perspective of a 9-14 year old is not the same as a young adult.

    Good luck and keep us informed.

  • In reply to darkangel:

    Darkangel, ha!

    Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I'm sorry you had a similar problem, and you're right--young kids don't quite have the same perspective as adults. I suppose I knew that subconsciously, but it's very easy to forget that they are still young.

    I'll keep on blogging--it's been so helpful, because surprisingly most of my comments are supportive.

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