I’ve reached an important but difficult stage in my journey to reclaim my life story, the one where you start living your truth. When you’re used to a life where you make decisions based on what others want or what will keep you out of “trouble” with them, it’s a scary step. And when you decide you no longer want to be a people pleaser, the people who have benefitted by your remaining in your role and doing what they would prefer aren’t fans. While I am not 100% clear what I want from my life, I am resolute regarding things I do not want. I’m finished living someone else’s playbook.
My middle sister called yesterday to invite me to her birthday party. I love my sister. We have our differences and we’ve had our struggles due to the dynamic that was set up for us in our childhood. That said, she is a kind, loving, thoughtful person with many friends and a deep love of her family. When she told me that my parents would be at the party, I winced. I knew that was coming. I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with this moment now, but it was here. I took a deep breath and told her plainly, while I would love to celebrate with her on her birthday, if our mother and father would be present then I would not be. It was the first time I’ve faced one of these moments with my family of origin. While I haven’t had any direct contact with my parents in well over a year, I’ve accomplished that by having excuses not to see them rather than by directly expressing it was my conscious choice not to see them. I knew she was disappointed, but she respected my boundary, which I appreciated.
When I got off the phone, I realized my pulse was rapid. I was anxious. I felt guilty for letting my sister down. She is collateral damage in this situation. She and I were parented differently. We have different relationships with our parents and different demons as a result. I had to remind myself that, although my sister is likely frustrated about the situation between my parents and I and what that means for the family at large, she is an adult and she will be fine. I had to remind myself that even if people become upset with me for my choices, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to make those choices. And I had to tell myself this will take practice. With time, expecting other people to deal with their disappointment rather than disappointing myself to preserve their happiness will become a habit for me and bring me greater peace. I can only imagine how freeing it would be to say to someone, “I won’t be attending,” full stop, rather than concocting some excuse to avoid their judgment.
Many people cannot accept that someone might be so traumatized by their childhood experiences that they need to abandon their parents to heal. When I tell people I don’t communicate with my parents because of childhood wounds, they tell me all parents of that generation were not the best or I will be sorry when they are gone that I didn’t try harder with them. They tell me I should forgive and forget and move on. These comments, well meaning or not, invalidate my experience. But I no longer am triggered when people don’t understand my choice regarding my parents. I’m at the place now where I can hear these comments and let them roll off me. Those people don’t have the full story and, even if they did, they don’t get to tell me what I should do because it is what they would do or what they feel is right.
It’s my life. You don’t have to understand it. You don’t have to approve of it. You don’t have to comment on it without my request. You don’t have to tell me how I can make it better. You don’t have to do or say anything about my life because it’s not your concern. Despite what I was told in my youth, taking care of yourself and your mental health needs is not selfish. It’s imperative to living authentically. While disappointment is part of life’s experience, I’ve mercilessly disappointed myself for too long. Allowing others to manage their disappointment offers them a growth opportunity. And so I begin letting others grow too.