An unsent letter to my brother

Dear brother,

You will never get to read this letter but I feel I need to air some thoughts and feelings I have. Maybe I have no right to even say this as I know I am not a parent or someone’s partner. However, I was a child, I am a teacher, an active aunt and I have been a nanny. Plus I know you and your family from the outside and close proximity. Please also know this come from a sisterly place of love and concern.

I watch you as a dad and I am worried. Your parenting reminds me of how our parents took on the task. To put it bluntly; strict, controlling and unkind. You seem to need full control and anything less than absolutely unquestioning obedience will do. You make rules for arbitrary reasons, contradictory and hypocritical. Following them would be unachievable for adults let alone children, with still developing morals, character, emotions and brains.

You have three amazing children and a wonderful wife. You say you are so lucky and you are. Your eldest, a ten-year old daughter, is an amazingly inquisitive, intelligent, kind and loving young lady. However, you seem blind to this. You see a rude, disobedient, defiant young girl. Someone who should not question your commands and should just follow your rules, orders and opinions.

It seems like you are scared that if you admit a mistake you will lose control, but as a teacher you know this is not the case. Teaching children, that adults are fallible and get things wrong is an important lesson. Being willing to admit our mistake and apologise, is a lesson in itself. The damage you do in the yelling and berating is so much more long-lasting negatively.

The more worrying part is, I know you are on your best behaviour when I am there, visiting in your home. Behind the closed-door as I walk away, you will be the real You. A You I hear about but have not seen. A You that even more scary, it sounds to me very like our mother.

Undiagnosed but showing lots of narcissistic traits, she demanded to be top dog in our childhood home. Her needs, thoughts, whims and desires came first, above everything and anyone else. Her impossible expectations had to be met to prove respect and love to her. If not rage, tears, emotional blackmail, silent treatment, sulking, storing off and the expectation of an apology. Yet she believed she was always right and that she was a kind loving mother. You seem to be like this to your wife and children.

I have seen you humiliate your daughter with stories from her past, the child she was. I have seen you angry and sulky when someone disagrees or questions your absolute authority. I have seen you take your frustrations out on the children, when they have no control over the situation as they are babies and toddlers. I have seen jealousy for the attention they get from your wife, their mother.

Where does all this lead? For me it has led to therapy, depression, anxiety, migraines and possibly even my Fibromyalgia. I do not want this for your wife and children. My sister-in-law, nieces and nephew. I will show them love, kindness, understanding and hope to see them through your tyranny. I will drop little pieces of advice when I can, hoping you will take some of it on board. I will continue to help and support them. I will carry on being that person in their corner, a someone I rarely had, hopefully that will make a difference.

I do not think you or your parenting are all bad. I know you can be kind, thoughtful and loving man. I know you intend to do your best. You have been a great brother to me, at times. I just think you have gone to the parenting manual of ‘parent the way you know’. However, our parenting example, provided by our parents, was not a good one. You acknowledge this, you know how I have felt and what I went through. You know what you experienced too. Yet you seem blinkered to your own behaviours as a dad.

I could never tell you all this, you would never forgive me. It would be a betrayal to you. You would never see it could save you if you acknowledged it, maybe then you could even changed it. You would make out I was choosing them over you. Yet to me blood is not thicker than water. To me love is everything in a child’s world and children come first. You might even stop me from seeing them, it is your family.

So my hope for the future is that you see yourself in the mirror for who you are before it is too late; before you lose your loving wife and children, before you hurt someone more than emotionally, before you do emotional damage and while you can be forgiven if you change.

 

To teach or not to teach? That is the question.

I am often told, ‘Teaching is a calling’ and to some extent I agree. You do not get into teaching for the money, that is for sure. The hours are long and the pressure can be high. You can be shouted, sworn and even spat at sometimes, by students and sometimes by parents. My pay is dependent on students results and it does add an extra pressure.

However, it is a steady income, above average salary, with long and frequent holidays. You can see students learn, progress and achieve. I have helped students though bereavement, abuse, physical and mental illnesses and more. Support them as they deal with learning difficulties. Inspire them to enjoy my subject, history.

Every job has its highs and lows. In teaching this can frequently happen in just one day. I understand the demands of the job. The emotional ties to wanting the best for your students. Leading to late hours of planning lessons, researching new ideas, preparing resources and marking, marking, marking. It is no surprise that media headlines show that teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate ever recorded (Huffington Post).

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I went into teaching to help students who might be having a similar childhood to mine. Even when I told a teacher what my home life was like, I was not believed. My mother worked at my school and she was very well liked. Do you believe the angsty teenager or the parent, who is also a friend? Behind closed doors she was different; emotional abuse, gas-lighting and neglect. I was made the family scapegoat and bullied by my siblings too. I did not know all the terms then, but I knew it was wrong. Although I believed it was all my fault.

As a teacher I want to save all those unheard ‘child Becky’s’ out there, yet I never can. I was programmed to be our family resucer and I can help and support my students. But I have had to accept that I can not save them from their lives. I can; report what I see to social services when needed, I can teach healthy lives and relationships, provide emotional support, teach resilience, model survival, recommend counselling and even make recommendations to parents. I am a pastoral manager within the school to be more involved in doing all these things. But I cannot save them.

Not only due to the fact I am not their parent, but also the restrictions on social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Both overworked and understaffed, so they are putting out fires. They have to prioritise physical and high urgency cases. So the mental or emotional are left dropping down the list. I am sure this is not the whole picture and I have simplified their struggles, but I do know this is how it feels to me.

I say I have to accept this but I am struggling, I find this so difficult. This failure to save them all then triggers my childhood feelings of worthlessness and not ever being enough. Their stories set off memories of my own. I empathise and relate to their lives as they happen. I wish I could do more for each one but I am not their parent or from social services.

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Currently I am suffering with depression. I can not seem to shake it and have had to have two different periods of time of school/work. No single case has caused this but an accumulation of seven years of teaching and supporting young people and feeling like I have not saved one. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘saved’.

I am now re-evaluating my life and my choices. Do I keep teaching? Is it just the pastoral side, do I just drop the management role? Is it our catchment of high social care needs? Do I try a different school? Do I teach private or sixth form only? Do I do something completely different? Is this the time to decide? So many thoughts, going around and around in my head. Who do I turn to for advice?

I have started researching the options out there, knowledge is power. Should I start to apply? Then anxiety hits; interviews, meeting people, telling my Headteacher, letting people down, abandoning my current students, new curriculum, new friends, new students, moving house and so much more. Can I go through it? Will it help?

I keep thinking ‘what would I do if money was no object?’, apart from the luxury holiday I would take. I think about writing, getting into publishing, retraining as a counsellor, doing my Masters and so many other options. Then reality kicks in and I know I have bills to pay. I need a good regular income as I do not have anyone to lean upon. I having no partner or family to support me and nor would I expect this from someone. I have great friends, but none are rich and I would not expect support like this from them.

Today I have no answers, I will continue to research my options and maybe I will apply for a few. I will keep going through these thoughts and hopefully I will find some answers. Hopefully I will make a decision about my life in this mental world.

I’ve no love for the Drama Triangle

I am trying to escape from a triangle, it is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle or the Dreaded Drama Triangle. The triangle has it’s three points; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. It is a social model conceived by Stephen Karpham in 1968.

The Dreaded Drama Triangle consists of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer
The Drama Triangle (powerofted.com)

In my family this triangle has been playing out without me knowing it. My mother often played the Victim and she lives the mentality of a victim, however she was a persecutor to me. I am the victim of her abuses and so I should be the victim. However, as her scapegoat I was not allowed to be the victim and so I became everyone’s Rescuer.

This leaves me running to the rescue of my family, no matter how big or small the problem. I do not know when this started but an instance that comes to mind was when my Granddad died.

I was fourteen and I remember going to the hospital to see, the once stocky veteran of the Second World War, a man who wore braces to hold his trousers up over this enlarged beer belly. He was now a tortoise like creature, without his shell wrapped in the clean white sheeted bed. He had pancreatic cancer and he died.

After his death I remember everyone else’s tears and thinking ‘I have to be the strong one’. I refused to cry and stayed strong for everyone. No one specifically told me this but I felt this belief like this was my role. It was like a rule I had to follow and I am a stringent rule follower. I remember, I was able to not cry until I was in his funeral, two weeks later.

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My role was cemented, Rescuer I was and Rescuer I am. Today anyone has a problem I am your girl. I will suggest solutions and support its implementation. I am at my best in this mode of operandi. Maybe I even crave it, I became a teacher to save children who might be in the situation similar to the one I was in as a child.

My therapist alerted me to the Drama Triangle in one of our sessions. We were discussing a nightmare I had experienced a few nights before. I now know I need to stop rescuing my family. Then I break the triangle and take back control, then they can no longer persecute me and make me a victim.

Easier said than done, of course. I want to help and the urge is fierce. Also, I like the fact I am a nice, helpful, generous person. I have to tackle with the idea of saying no against a key part of my identity. I need to gently remind myself that things are not black and white, I can say no and still be the kind, generous, helpful person I want to be.

It is a true self-care to say ‘No’ at times like this, because if I give into it and rescue it always bites back. My family members are unable to be grateful, they believe it is to be expected and so cannot be sincerely thankful. I am then hurt and feel unfulfilled by the process. If I cannot find a solution then I feel ashamed and a complete failure.

So anyway I play the game I seem to be burnt at the end. Therefore, I need to break the cycle of this triangle and be free of the pain it brings. However, in the short-term holding it in affects my health and increases my pain. In the long-term it will make things better, I hope.

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I am finding holding back hard at the moment. My sister-in-law is struggling and I want to be there for her, I am. The issue is not this but the fact some of their issues are my brother and I want to fix him to help. I want to tell him some truths he won’t like. But I know doing this is my Rescuer wanting to help my sister-in-law and protect my nieces and nephew. Would it help? The short answer is no.

With narcissistic traits, like my mother, he would not hear me. He would resent the fact comments came from me, the family scapegoat. His ego would be wounded and so he would lash out at me and probably his wife, maybe even his children. So I know I need to stay out of it, I need to walk away.

I will help my sister-in-law but I need to listen and support her. I do not need to be her rescuer. She does not expect me to find and implement solutions. But to be her friend, her sister in this mental world.

Letting Myself Cry

Dear teenage Becky,

I know things are hard. It seems like no one loves you or cares about you. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders before you should. Your mother is mean and yells, she tells you that you are not worthy. Your siblings and father call you ‘cry baby’, ‘lemon head’ or ‘melon head’ as you cry a lot. But you have every reason to cry and be sad.

Crying is absolutely fine. Cry away the sorrow of your childhood. The abuses and bullying you have to endure. Cry for the people you lost; loosing Nan and Granddad, when you were 14 and 15, was tough. Nan was the one person who seemed to understand your plight and then she died. It is ok to be sad about that, it is not blaming her. She had to go she was sick, you gave her permission to go, to gain relief from all her pain. But you have no relief from your pain.

You held back tears when people died believing you had to be strong for the family. You hold the family up, like the adults should. It is honourable, but you also have to look after your own feelings. Let out the tears. Bottling them up leads to pain, causing some of the migraines you suffer with and flaring up your fibromyalgia.

Crying lets out toxins and relieves stress. It is a natural bodily function that you should have and do. It expresses so many emotions from happiness to sadness (Wikihow – Cry and Let It All Out).

I know you do cry a few tears, for others and for happy occasions. You well-up at a wedding, when a baby is born or watching a romantic film. But you should also cry for you. Let out the pain and hurt from your own life story. You have suffered, and people have hurt you. You deserve those tears for you.

As an adult, I find crying almost impossible. I wish I was there when you started to hold back the tears to tell you “It is ok, let them out”. To counter the bullying and stand up for you. To come up with a witty comeback to the names they called you. I mean really ‘melon head’ what does that even mean? They were not the most intelligent of names.

Finally, also know that if you cry you are not your mother. I know she cries at every whim, at every argument and that she uses it to emotionally blackmail everyone. But when you cry you are not doing it with malicious intent, your tears are pure. Crying does not mean you are her. I know becoming her is your deepest fear, but you never could be her. You will come to learn and accept this in therapy.

With all the love and support you should have had.

Adult Becky

(Still no tears but I am working on it, in this mental world)

The Best of Intentions

Should we assume in life that everyone has the best intentions. Are we all just trying to do our best?

You can do everything possible to predict the many outcomes but you can have an unknown wider impact. Each action is like a stone dropping into water, sending ripples to places you couldn’t even see. People can be hurt or negatively affected in ways we cannot see.

I often tell my students you have to be aware of the possible outcomes of your actions and take responsibility for them. They throw some-thing and it unintentionally hurts someone then you are responsible for that outcome. If you are play fighting and someone gets hurt you are responsible. Can you tell I am Assistant Head of Year 8? Puberty has landed and the boys are learning the boundaries of physical behaviours. Taking responsibility for taking the risk of a bad outcome.

But my question actually came from a TV show, Madam Secretary. I missed this show when it came out in 2014 and I am now catching up (binge watching), thanks to Now TV. Recently, deep into season two, war with Russia was adverted but lives were lost in the process. As a history teacher I know my wars, causes, long-term effects, short-term effects, casualty figures and wars causing wars. I ponder the possibilities of IF things could have been different but have to accept what happened as it is the facts.

However, I believe these issues not only can be seen on the world-wide political stage but they play out on a smaller theatre in our lives. The choices we make impact the people around us. Everyday small choices and the big ones. I know my seeking help with my therapist has sent a ripple through my family. I caused this ripple and will have to ride out the waves it makes.

In therapy we have discussed responsibility, blame and forgiveness a lot. All words associated with these ideas. Do I blame any member of my family for my childhood? The impact it still has on me? Do I need to or want to forgive them for the abuses against me?

My therapist says it is not about forgiveness but about compassion. To understand people’s intent and believe they always tried their best in their circumstances. We are living in a web of history, relationships, and family dilemmas. To me a family tree is a web of stories woven together more like a tapestry.

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I also believe we are a product of our upbringing; a combination of family, friends, society, culture, religion and many other influences. These determine our choices. I have chosen therapy and am seeing some of the consequences as I have found my voice.

For example, My mum had a really tough upbringing; an alcoholic abusive father and an addicted to gambling mother who was sent to prison for fraud. She always tries to be her best self but is hampered by herself and her past. This resulted in her treating me as her scapegoat, emotionally abusing me through my childhood and adolescents, even my early adult years.

So here is my dilemma: How responsible are we for the unforeseen, if everyone is just trying to do their best? I know my mother never intend to abuse me emotionally, she just couldn’t help it. Should I still expect an apology, a recognition of her effect? My sibing’s bullied me, but they were brought up in a household where that treatment of me was condoned by the adults. They were not taught this was not okay, so can they be held responsible?

I have had to accept that I cannot change the past. I cannot demand anything from anyone. But I do live with the consequences and I have learnt to not accept abuse now. As an adult I can call them out for their behaviour now.

The past is just that, set in stone. It is my perspective I have had to learn to change. To understand every parent does their best, even when they fail spectacularly.

I find this so hard to accept. As a teacher I have cried and had my heart-broken by stories of child abuse I would not repeat. Were these people really doing the best they can? It feels like acceptance of these actions if I agree but it isn’t. Acceptance is still fighting for change but living in the present. It is letting people, who experience these things, know they did not deserve it but accepting it happened. Giving people back their worth and giving them their own strength.

I teach students about all of Hitler’s qualities: the painter, animal lover, vegetarian and lover of his mother. I teach them about his childhood and traumas he experienced as a soldier in WWI. Not because I want to justify any of his actions, far from it. But maybe, in understanding others are a product of their experiences, we can accept that so are we. Then maybe we can learn to forgive and have compassion for ourselves.

Compassion for others actions comes more easily to me. To understand their actions, not to agree with the behaviours or just let them go. To hope, I would have done things differently in their situation and in future situations I face. But to also hope people I have hurt along the way show me the same compassion. Compassion for myself I find harder and I am working on it, with the best intentions, of course.

Written with compassion from my life in this mad world.