Friday, 30 January 2009
Breaking Negative Cycles
I spent a lovely day yesterday visiting my niece. Those of you who know my story, will know that my family situation was seriously dysfunctional. Social workers talk about 'the cycle of abuse', I read somewhere. They say it takes three generations for an abusive pattern to disappear. My niece has been estranged from her mother until recently, just as I was estranged from my sister, her mother. So I thought I would tell her some family stories.
When I think about it, there have been patterns that have indeed repeated themselves in our story, though they in themselves were not abusive. My mother married in her teens, as did my sister and myself, whilst my niece had her first baby in her teens. As we talked, we agreed that we had all done so to escape a difficult family situation. Of all of us, I am the only one to remain married to the same person; all the other relationships have broken up. My mother was estranged from her mother for a time, just as I was estranged from mine for over twenty years, my niece from hers. All for different reasons, but it's interesting to see those patterns emerge.
But it is equally interesting to see the patterns break. My own son, beloved, decided not to get married last year, as he felt it wasn't right for him. Another niece is pursuing a university degree, with no signs of marriage imminent. My sister's second marriage is over twenty years old (as it were). Whilst the niece I visited is bringing up two joyful, happy, secure children on her own. I'm sure it's not easy, but she is making a wonderful job of it!
Why am I telling you this? I think, because it is so hopeful. There has been so much pain in our family over the years, but there are clear signs that that pain is, if not over, at least muted. That our behaviours are no longer causing such pain in our children, and hopefully, that they will not adopt such behaviours with theirs, if and when they choose to have them. Tolstoi said that all happy families are the same, but that all unhappy families are unique in their circumstances (a misquote, but it's close). What he didn't add, was that change is possible, and that when it happens, the pleasure of creating strong familial ties is even stronger than it otherwise might be. If you are in the situation I was, take heart. Change is possible. And know that you are not alone, either. Lots of us struggle with such issues, and not only survive, but grow, change and learn. I wish you luck on the journey.