If you’ve ever felt like the ‘outsider’ in your own family, you may find my story can help you process through your feelings. Family of origin feelings can be strong and difficult to sort out.
Allow me to share my personal experience of growing up in a fairly close family, yet feeling like an ‘outsider’.
I’ve never felt like I ‘fit in’ with my family.
I know they love me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a privileged childhood; I have many happy memories and loving experiences with my family and extended family. There are certainly negative memories, but compared to severely traumatic childhoods, mine was pretty good. However, I never felt like I ‘fit in’, and growing up that was always in the back of my mind at family events. Until recently, I never understood why I felt that way.
I’ve always had good intentions with my family members, and I know they’ve had good intentions with me. However,
I’ve also never felt ‘accepted’ for who I truly am,
especially by my ‘close’ extended family. I can recall being told who to be, or instructed on how to act. But I cannot recall being unconditionally accepted for who I am. I’ll admit, I can be hard to understand; more so as an adult than a child however. But I can honestly say, it wasn’t until my twenties when I first experienced being unconditionally accepted and even celebrated for who I am.
I can almost guarantee family members will read this and feel upset or hurt by my words. All I can say is, I’m sharing my own personal experiences, I’m in no way attempting to speak for anyone else in the family. Nor am I accusing any one particular person the family, this is my sense of the entire family system as a whole…not one particular person.
As I’ve already shared, I didn’t feel I ‘fit in’, I didn’t feel ‘accepted’. I also didn’t ever really
feel like anyone in my family ‘knew me’ or more importantly for a child, tried to get to know me.
I always felt like an ‘outsider’ at family events, like an audience member who’s job is to laugh on cue, clap on cue, sigh on cue, ooh and ahh on cue, etc. If I wasn’t participating in the appropriate cue, it wasn’t uncommon to be singled out and teased for being ‘grumpy’, or in a ‘mood‘. Sometimes even pushing to the point of asking ‘What’s wrong?‘, or worse, stating ‘You’ve changed, you’re not the same sweet Jax you used to be’ (meaning, I’m not doing what they want me to do).
I grew up experiencing my family members not going to far out of their way to really get to know me; not much deeper than a ‘how do you do’ level. Generic questions such as “How are you?” or “Where are you working?” were asked, but if you asked my family members what color my car is, or what color my eyes are, or how to get to my house; they wouldn’t know.
Now, as I’m older I can look back and see how I quickly came to feel like an ‘outsider’ within my own family. Of course I felt that way, I was rarely given an opportunity to be heard, to be understood or to be myself. I can’t explain why people in my family behaved the way they did but now I can validate and explain my feelings. And I know my feelings are valid because I’m not the only one who grew up in my family feeling like an ‘outsider’.
Here’s an example of how my ‘close’ family unintentionally, passively & subtly, but effectively causes a family member to feel like an ‘outsider’. In my family, there’s a 10 step process to being invited to a family event:
- Host calls my mom
- Host shares the details of the event with my mom
- Host asks my mom to invite me, then let get back to host with my answer and count of who out of my husband, daughter and myself will be attending (for food and beverages sake).
- My mom calls me, shares details with me about the party
- My mom asks who, out of myself my daughter and my husband will be there
- Before I answer, I almost always have questions
- Mom calls host, asks host my questions
- Mom calls me back and answers questions
- I decide whether I will attend and give my answer
- My mom calls host back and shares my RSVP.
It’s not just me, my siblings experience this 10 step process too. It’s as entertaining as it is frustrating. On one hand, I understand they are saving themselves time and energy by inviting people in this manner. However, on the other hand, it’s quite selfish to create work for someone else by putting them in charge of collecting RSVP’s for your party.
There’s a similar several step process that happens when an extended family member suddenly gets curious about me or upset at me; they call my mother and ask her, “Why is Jax in San Diego?” “What’s wrong with Jax?” “Can you talk to Jax about this?”
The message sent to me when family members would communicate with me through my mom was that they didn’t want to talk to me. As a young person I could only assume they were going around me because they didn’t like me, care about me, respect me, want to know me or appreciate me.
WHAT. THE. FUCK?
As with most family’s, things often stay the same; sometimes generation after generation. Things in my family are much the same today as when I was young. I can’t control my family, nor would I even like to try. I wouldn’t want to control them. I can only control myself, and I choose to control whether I participate in the status quo by staying the same or whether I grow and learn from my experiences.
I choose to grow and learn. I choose honesty, directness and accountability. If I don’t want to go to a family event, I kindly say I won’t be there. I have asked my mother to interrupt the 10 step invitation process by referring the host directly to me.
Currently, I’m still an ‘outsider’ but I no longer FEEL like an ‘outsider’. I’ve given myself permission to take a physical distance from the dynamics that exhaust me. I feel in choosing this, I’m being true to my self. The reason I often felt like an ‘outsider’ growing up within my family isn’t just because of the way I was treated, it was because I didn’t like the way my family interacted; and I didn’t feel good interacting in the manner in which they wanted to. It felt fake, inauthentic; two things I will never again allow myself to be.
I’ve accepted my family for who they are; but that doesn’t mean I always have to be where they want me to be. I have taken control of my ‘outsider’ status; I decide whether or not I feel like an ‘outsider’. I suppose my family enjoys spending time with me, I’m fun to be with! But I don’t count on them to ‘get to know me’, for meaningful conversations or to spend a lot of time with me or even to go out of their way to include me. It’s not that they don’t love me, I imagine they’re too busy with their own lives to interest themselves in what I’m doing.
It’s the whole ‘out of site, out of mind’ thing.
That’s cool with me.