Stigma within the Family

Kimberly Tyler Health Guide
  • Sometimes stigma regarding the truth of mental illness is experienced among our closest family members. Society at large may not get it, but what happens when our own families resist? What happens when there isn't safety and support within the family unit?


    Stigma encountered at this close range can be powerful enough to get under our skin and create doubt. We may become educated about our own illnesses, only to have our own awareness be undercut by the insistence of others close to us that our thinking is wrong, we choose to be unhappy and we are not to be trusted. So what then?


    Staying focused on what we know is true--and holding onto that--becomes vital. This can be a difficult task sometimes when our sense of character is challenged by those who supposedly know us best. Feeling disconnected from family on such a significant issue as mental illness can be discouraging. Staying connected with our therapists, friends and support groups will help us to maintain stability so we do not lose sight of what is truth and what supports health and well-being.

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    Within my own family (namely my parents) there is continued disagreement regarding mental health treatment and the concept of recovery for the diagnosis of PTSD. My parents continually choose to disregard the truth and I continually try to tell them what the truth is. We can not seem to find our way to the same page. I desperately want to break down the barriers to understanding, yet I am ineffectual. They want me to agree to disagree and admittedly, I am hard pressed to "agree" that it is okay for my parents to believe the worst of me. I am resistant to concede.


    I have learned that trying to convince my parents that what they believe are falsehoods regarding my character only serves to create tension. Personally, I do not like being at odds with my parents. I do not believe my parents like being at odds with me either.


    What I perceive and what they perceive are two very different things. Just because I do not like the facts does not change the facts. The only thing I am sure of is my own integrity and what I know to be true. Their choice to remain ignorant can not be mine as well: the choice for wellness does not include ignorance.


    I recently wrote a share post on family support and that my parents wanted to initiate a conversation--a healing conversation--that would bring extended family together regarding the truth about the abuse that occurred and the diagnosis of PTSD. No more secrets, no more split conversations, but rather a healing discussion to put all to rest.


    A few weeks ago, my parents reversed their position and instead want the extended family situation to remain at status quo. I do believe that what finalized this decision is that the three of us could not have our own healing conversation. My parents want me to agree to disagree with their decision to put a halt to such openness--between the three of us as well as extended family. They also request that I lower my expectations of them and to also agree to disagree on what is the truth about my character and PTSD in general.


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    I initially found myself at a loss. This was a complete reversal of understanding from only a month ago. How does a daughter agree to disagree with her parents that it is okay to keep secrets? How does a person for that matter agree to disagree that it is okay to continue forward with denial that all is well as long as I agree to sweep the truth under the carpet?


    I have been thinking about this a lot. I have needed to dig deep within myself for how I may best respond that reflects my love for them as well as the love I have for myself.


    My greatest obstacle has been my resistance. I am resistant to lowering my expectations of them. I am resisting their justifications regarding the truth of PTSD based on stigma. And I am also resisting the sweep under the carpet: their desire to pretend none of this exists so that we may just talk and laugh together. As mentioned earlier, I resist conceding to their belief that I am an unhappy person who chooses to be unhappy rather than seeking wellness, that I hang onto the past and my anger, and that I am not to be trusted. (Sort of makes me wonder why they would want me around for "talking and laughing together" if they believe I am so negative.)


    The longer I resist, the longer it will take for me to accept my parents for who they are and where they stand. Such acceptance means acknowledging my own sadness about letting go of the illusion that my parents are a safe place to go when the world gets hard. I want them to love me for who I am, not despite who I am. My parents do not feel they are capable of going to the hard and emotional places. I can no longer insist that they are capable. (I did not know I was capable until I was forced to deal with it, so how can I expect more from them?) I need to accept and love them exactly where they are. No more, no less. If I have need for support in my recovery, I will need to seek it elsewhere.


    I fully recognize that I am an adult and I fully recognize that it is not my parent's responsibility to provide a safe haven. Nor does the responsibility for my own health and well-being reside with them. This is where self-reliance and my own education come into play, as well as my circle of support. If I am to continue to move forward in recovery, this will continue to occur without parental involvement (as it has in the past). Yes, this is a moment of sadness as I want to experience all of life with my family--particularly the joy that comes with recovery. But if they do not want to, I can not force it.


    The greater sadness for me is that the issue of abuse will not be resolved for my parents. I no longer carry shame and hardship over the past, but they do. I have shared with them this aspect, but they do not believe it. I want to remove such feelings for them, but again I can not force it or continue to insist if they chose not to hear or believe me.


    Being true to myself, being true to the facts and living in the truth of who I am is what I know is healthy. I have chosen forgiveness, compassion and forward thinking. I am sad about such a turn of events. Very sad.

Published On: January 27, 2008