The Righteous Web of Pretence and Lies
There are times in the life of some families, divorce, suicide, child abuse and addiction are the preferred options when expressing authentic needs and feelings is simply too dangerous. Lives of the innocent are sacrificed on the altar, of honouring parents, keeping the peace, doing the right thing and avoiding criticism of neighbours or co-religionists.
Here the implicit family rule is that saying the truth about how you feel is considered treachery. Asking for what you need construed as an act of disloyalty. Any expressions of human emotional need are framed as criticism. Authentic expressions of individuality, originality, creative and critical thinking as well as needs for care, understanding, intimacy, recognition and support are also punished.
The reason that they are seen as illegitimate forms of self –expression is be because they challenge and threaten expose the mean spiritedness of someone who needs to portray and image of righteous and devotion to family well-being, for the sake of vanity or to maintain a fabricated public image.
In these typically authoritarian often tyrannical family regimes, pretending and lying about how you feel becomes the only way to prove love, loyalty and devotion. This means hiding at all costs and denying vehemently if challenged what you truly believe, who you really are deep down, what hurts you or what you need in order to feel loved, accepted and fulfilled.
In these families, bonds between members are held together as firmly as their tacit mutual agreement is to keep quiet. They maintain an implicit agreement to keep up at least a neutral front, and never reveal secrets or discuss even amongst themselves what is really keeping the family so securely yoked to each other and so frightened of being emotionally connected.
Under such circumstances not only is honesty with each other perceived as a major threat, but even the awareness of one’s own inner reality. Awareness becomes dangerous because it might bring you to speak your truth and put you in danger of rejection of being labelled as mad, trouble maker or evil one.
Self-awareness is fought off wiht addiction, self-erasure and numbing, distractions like workaholism, compulsive chattering, sabotaging any conversation that evokes feelings or self-reflection, compulsive lying, self-entangling in anxiety and doubt, hysterical displays, wailing, raging, moralistic lecturing, self-righteousness, using overt religious devotion as a ruse, one-upmanship and undermining and ridiculing of people perceived to be a threat to name but a few.
Children get taught the rules directly, by for example being told that parents are agents of the Almighty and disobedience will result in relegation to hell for the child. They also learn by witnessing or hearing stories about others being ridiculed, rejected, disqualified and punished for authentic self-expression.
Disqualifying practices like laughing at someone, ridicule, constantly challenging their intelligence thinking process, source of information, rolling eyes, copious and exaggerated yawning, monopolising conversations in the face of obvious frustration, delegitimizing topics, boredom or irritation in the listeners continuous interrupting of someone’s conversation fidgeting with things on the table or cell phones in a disruptive manner, humming, reading all at strategic points in the interaction or invalidating the speaker.
Challenges like, “who have you been talking to” or “who is putting those evil/crazy ideas in your head” or “I must stop allowing you to mix with so and so “all give the powerful message that unwelcome comment or sentiment will be construed as treachery and punished with isolation and delegitimizing of relationships deemed to be subversive.
There are certain “righteous” codes in such families about how to be expedient while always retaining the power that comes with claiming the moral high ground. In this game “doing the right thing” means successfully pretending to be righteous, while silencing and disempowering others from telling their story or expressing their pain or need.
The power of this manoeuvre can be strengthened by making allusion to that person being the cause of a loved one’s stress, illness or even demise. The reality of this dynamic is that the person who makes an elaborate seemingly sincere and big-hearted display of understanding and apology, gets to continue hold the other party in contempt, retaining disdain, bitterness and resentment while making the other person feel and appear crazy if they dare to suggest that the matter is not resolves or that the apology was not sincere.
Another code is to pretend that someone’s portrayal of their intentions as righteous need to be believed in an acquiescent unquestioning way and that credit is given even though the person actions and some of their unwitting remarks attest to the contrary.
The most important rule of this type of game is that everyone needs to believe that there is no game being played, and that any experience that they have that indicated to them that they are being deceived is merely a sign of their own corrupt nature or defective character.
When people like in-laws or extended family and challenge the rules in the naive belief that awareness of the causes of dysfunction will free people from its tyrannical grip, they are called evil traitorous crazy trouble makers. They will be accused of not having the family interests at heart and are even possible trying to deny their own family of origin issues, which may or may not be true but is irrelevant.
The intention of person trying to confront the dysfunction might be a good one. For example they may be trying to create real closeness in the family, bring about the inclusion of a member who has been black-listed a rejected or get help for an isolated acting out adolescent or encourage people to address mounds of buried pain and unfinished business with each other.
People get silenced with admonitions like “you are spoilt and ungrateful” ,” don’t upset your mother”, “you know how hard your father works don’t speak to him like that”. While these might be acceptable admonitions when they are applicable amn dappropraite, in the families being described they become a code for “keep your repugnant inner-reality to yourself”.
Challenges to the family rules can be also brought about by circumstances, like major family decisions around financial or mental or physical health crises. In such cases the only people who will be included are those who are prepared to play the game with the main power figure and author of the rules. It could also be that major decisions are made with nobody knowing who made them or how they were made. Everybody will however be too fearful to question of confront how the decision was arrived at regardless of their feelings and thought s about the decision.
Under such a family regime, certain behaviours and interactions that speak to the highest ideal of humanity become impossible. These include real heartfelt forgiveness, making amends for hurt caused and authentic reconciliation as opposed to superficial apologies used to defuse and brush of authentic encounter.
Repentance is impossible for the perpetrator, who never listens to hear the extent of the harm that they caused and so can never repay the damage or make good to the victim. Compassion and tolerance also become an impossible because nobody gets to know or recognise exactly who the others in the family really are.
Respect is also only ever pretended, because how can people respect each other is they are scared to be open and honest in their relationships.
Intimacy is impossible in such dynamics, because intimacy can only exit where there is enough safety to surrender. There is only safety when people are on an equal power footing. Where one dominated the other in a power deferential there can only exist fear.
This is the tragedy for victims who try to from intimate relationships in adult life. They remain trapped in the paradox of perceiving honesty and candour as creating dangerous vulnerability to being seen as defective or bad. Thye are only able to trust pretences of love and care while foreever deeply craving the acceptance and security of a truly loving relationship.
The bitter paradox is that only those who agree to stay emotionally outside the family are allowed in and those who try to get in to the family through authenitc enlivening emotional connection are kept out.