Thursday, January 17, 2013

Secret Whispering ... It's OK Not To Go Home

With the holidays upon us and as we are faced with a  myriad of expectations regarding familial traditions, customs, and gatherings, for many it is often a time of internal struggle and stress. Family allegiances and history pull at our heart strings while personal betrayals and private injuries beckon our need for protective distancing. Some time ago, I had the privilege of viewing a remarkable independent film entitled Shouting Secrets. 

This powerful film reminded me of  a secret whispering -
 a truth often neither acknowledged or acted upon - it's ok not to go home.

Directed and produced by Korina Sehringer, a Swiss movie maker, Shouting Secrets opens an emotional and psychological window into the lives of a family in turmoil, especially as the loving matriarch falls ill. Although the story embraces the rich cultural heritage of a Native American family on a reservation in Arizona, the producer has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid typical stereotypes and to capture the themes of a universal family experience.  As the movie unfolds, we are drawn into the struggles of a disingenuous  marriage and of its three adult siblings, all who are conflicted about their ensuing allegiance to or avoidance of  one another, their parents, and their family as a unit. 

As the film continues, we learn there is only one family member - Wes -who moves away and strives to make a life for himself as a writer. Achieving a comfortable level of success and wishing to avoid the painful reminders of  fractured family, Wes distances himself both physically and emotionally from his past by staying away. After learning of his mother's illness, however, he returns home for a visit. Upon his return, Wes is confronted with layers of  conflict - from other family members and from himself. From his siblings, father, and aunt, he is criticized and  judged for his absence. Blankets of guilt are thrown upon him for not being the son-brother-nephew he needed to be for the family.  From himself, Wes wrestles with his internal tug of war - vacillating from regret to resentment. Wanting to be part of a family - despising the mirage that was.

For any individual who finds himself in a situation such as Wes, there are no absolute answers.  Each person must navigate through his/her journey given the family's dynamics and with consideration to cultural and traditional expectations. However, there are  three healing tenants which can be helpful in  mitigating conflicted feelings and emotions about returning home to an environment that is contrary to one's present state of wellness and peace.

First, honor your truths.  If it is not pleasant to return home, admit it.  Your past is your truth. How you experienced it may not be the same as a sibling or another relative.  Don't compare your experience to anyone else.  Do not feel guilty, inadequate, or ashamed if you do not have the relationship that a sibling or another relative does who stays or maintains close contact.  Do not mistake distancing yourself from a toxic environment as weakness - it is strength.  Being honest with yourself frees you from the lies of the past.

Secondly, if and when you choose to make a visit home, implement strong healthy boundaries. Reassess your relationships and invest in them selectively.  Set and adjust expectations of yourself and of others. Be gentle with yourself and yet be honest; you cannot change anyone else but you can protect your truths (see note below).

Thirdly, it is ok not to go home - in fact - it is more that ok. Without guilt, blame or self-condemnation, give yourself permission to stay in your home. Guard your current healing reality.Grant yourself the the time to take care of you. So many of us live in the world of should's. I should do this, or I should do that, or I  know I should.... Each time we succumb to the should's, we go against what we know to be good and well for our being; in short,  we betray ourselves. Remember, in moving forward it is paramount to be mindful of weighing the risk of re-injury against the right to reclaim our healing truths.

Shouting Secrets bravely exposes a family's complex dynamic which is ridden with layers of betrayal. While forgiveness and reunification are admirable and desirable goals for many family members, it is often not possible for all.

 For those who have found healing on their own terms, 
there is peace when listening to and honoring their "Secret Whispering ...
It's OK Not To Go  Home".  

Note: In "Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within"there is an entire chapter on "Boundary Work - Bracing Yourself With Supportive Structures". Step by step, you will learn how to implement healthy tools and strategies in preparation for returning to a difficult environment, while navigating through the painful dynamic, and in releasing yourself from the reminders of the injustices when returning to safer ground.

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