Growing up with emotionally unavailable or even abusive parents, or being in a relationship with a toxic person is a truly lonely place to be. However many people are in the dynamic of a toxic family, it is in the abuser’s best interest to keep everybody isolated.
There is a Hierarchy
By careful manipulation my sisters and I were all communicated our worth and our roles in life. This included the hierarchy that we had as siblings. More often than not these were subtle forms of preferential treatment.
When we were kids we got a dog (we had to look like the perfect little family after all) and a schedule was drawn up of who had to walk the dog when. Of course we were not always that motivated to go out with the dog, we were after all kids. Often we would ask one of our sisters to join us, although the answer was usually no. My oldest sister, the golden child of the family, was never willing to keep the dog walker company. When it was her turn however she would pretty much always ask one of us to go with her. If we said no she would complain to our enabling father or toxic mother, who would always tell us that we should just go with her. If the roles were reversed and we went to our parents, their answers was a standard: “it is your chore, not your sister’s.” So very subtly we were established in the roles that our parents wanted us in.
The Sisterly Bond as the Ultimate Weapon
By playing us against each other they established a rather messed up trust relationship in our family. There was usually a group of three sisters that bonded together and one that was left out. With a near constant stream of gossip and back talk, our parents were masters in making the sisterly bond the ultimate weapon of punishment. It created an atmosphere where asking your sister to keep something private was not only pointless, it was thought of as betrayal to our toxic family.
After I had established no contact with my parents, I told my sister that I was setting up my own company. At the end of that conversation I asked her not to share that information with my parents. “I wish you would have told me that before,” she replied, “because I am not sure I can keep this from them.” The information was of no concern to my parents, yet my sister did not feel she could “keep that from them.” Really? It just goes to show that confidentiality do not really exist in our toxic family. We were so well trained. And, so we trained our partners along the same lines.
I remember a time when my partner and I were living in my parent’s home. We were visiting one of my sisters, and I was just letting off some steam about the difficulties I was experiencing. “I am just venting” I said, “Don’t talk to them about all this, it’s fine”. Three days later my partner received an email from my brother-in-law saying that he had spoken to my father about the things we discussed, and maybe ‘the guys’ should get together to talk about it. So, even if confidentiality was not just implied, but specifically requested, asking my siblings to keep information to themselves was pointless.
By interfering in the sisterly bond and breaking trust between us, our mother ensured we always felt just a little alone in the world. And she added to that sense of loneliness by not allowing us physical contact with herself. As a child I was not allowed to hold her hand when we were out walking, because I was ‘holding her back’. And if I would give her a hug she would sigh: ‘what is it you want NOW?’
And so we were always alone, and always wrong, and bad at everything we did.
From Outside Though, The Image was Perfect
To the outside world our family was fantastic! There were always people in and out of the house, there were pets and many, many parties. Everything that the outside could see was great. Looking good to the community is paramount, and as a bonus it added to our loneliness.
With a perfect image displayed to the world, even if we would have the nerve to speak up, nobody would believe us. How could our parents be bullies if they gave us such a lovely life, in a beautiful mansion with parties and pets? Instinctively we knew this. So we suffered in silence.
Our isolation was complete, and our parents could bully us all they liked.