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April 7, 2013

On my midnight walk yesterday, I saw 6 foxes. It’s likely that some of them were the same one, but there was at least three separate individuals. It was really cool, but kind of spooky too. I also saw 2 millipedes and 1 earthworm.

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I’ve been reading about family therapy, and also internal family systems (IFS) therapy. My nuclear family went to family therapy for just a few sessions about 25 years ago. According to the books I’ve read, usually the father doesn’t want to be there, but if the mother does, the process is more likely to work. In my family’s case, my father didn’t want to be there, and once my mother realized she couldn’t keep blaming all of the family’s problems on me and my sister, my mother lost interest, so we stopped going.

I’m now wondering if the process would have been more helpful if my extended family had been there as well. Of course, that would’ve meant 18 people, which seems unwieldy at best.

I’m working my way through Jay Earley’s Self-Therapy, which uses IFS.

A few days ago, one of my cousins was in town, and we were able to get together for dinner. During my childhood, this cousin seemed to be close to my mother and my younger sister. I liked and admired this cousin, but I did not understand her at all. (It turns out that, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, this cousin is an ESFJ, to my INFP.) She’s a Baby Boomer; I’m Gen X. She has almost-grown children; I’m childless. She is a self-professed workaholic who has worked for the same employer since she graduated from college 30 years ago; I was never a workaholic, and have had 25 jobs.

The day before we got together, I realized that I had never spent time with an (extended-family) family member outside of a family context. That is, I’d spend time with them at family reunions, family weddings and funerals, Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, . . . but I never spent time with any of them one-on-one, without a horde of other extroverts clamoring for attention.

So I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I spent time thinking of a list of topics we might talk about, just in case we found ourselves bereft.

Instead, we talked about her job a little bit, and what me and Spouse are doing, but the rest of the time, we talked about family. For almost 3 hours.

And we were candid. Which, in my family, is as rare as unicorns. It was such a welcome change to trade off asking and answering direct questions. (Usually people just stare at me, or even glare, and then change the subject.) Therefore, when she asked me why I stopped talking to my parents, I was very honest about how entangled my relationship with them had always been. How I had tried, repeatedly, to create enough space for me to grow and individuate, but they wouldn’t allow it. Finally I realized, I had to leave altogether, before I asphyxiated. And even then, it’s only fairly recently (after 7.5 years apart), that I’ve really felt like I’m learning who I am.

She says they’ve changed, mellowed. That my sister’s divorce shook them up. But the examples she gave didn’t prove the point she was trying to make (not to me or Spouse, anyway).

Beyond that, there are years and years of emotional abuse that apparently my cousin doesn’t know about. Or maybe she thinks emotional abuse is normal. I wouldn’t know how to figure out if we’re on the same page, or not, given how different our personalities and lived experiences have been.

It’s sad that my parents miss me. But if they hadn’t brought me up to believe I was some sort of radioactive monster, totally unlikable, I would probably miss them. Instead, not only do I not miss them, I wish I’d stopped talking to them years earlier.

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I enjoyed seeing my cousin. I liked hearing what everyone else is up to.

But I don’t feel any more connected to the extended family. I’m still an outlier. And maybe I need to be, to stay separate enough. Because I don’t really care about the same things they do, and vice versa. And they are still very entangled together.

I need to do my own stuff. For my own reasons.

Gods, it’s 3:26 a.m. Past time for bed.

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