DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS: When mindfulness is not enough to undo hurt

two people screaming at each otherGrowing up in an abusive home creates dysfunction long after the surviving children have moved out and tried to move on. I, being the “psychologist” and wanting to understand myself and the suffering those experiences have caused, am often met with contempt by siblings that are doing the best they can in coping with their own struggles. Now that both of my parents have passed away, I have found myself surrounded by a phenomenon which others have titled “sainthood.” Basically, this means the surviving family members greatly exalt any virtues the dead family member may have had, while at the same time any faults the departed may have had are dismissed, and at times, are taboo to even mention or talk about.

This is what separates me from my siblings. They see no sense in remembering or discussing the traumatizing experiences we shared as children. While I wholeheartedly agree there’s no need and rarely any true progress is made in being fixated on the past and forcing others to confront a past they do not wish to confront, at the same time understand that the debilitating dysfunction can continue if those experiences, and their effects, are not adequately addressed. I have found mindfulness meditation one of the best tools I’ve encountered in helping me sort out when and how dysfunctional thoughts/emotions from the past are impeding upon my present-day relationships and encounters. It scares me to think how much more I would be acting out towards others as a result of those demons from the past.

Mindfulness meditation has definitely helped me, so when is it not enough?

Scary thought when so many articles seem to point to mindfulness as a cure-all for any and all ailments. Unfortunately, I have found that no matter how mindful I can try to be, how careful I am in wording things to certain loved ones, they simply do not actually hear the words I am saying. Instead, what they hear are the voices from the past, still haunting them, distorting my words, actions, anything and everything I try to do. What’s even more disheartening and even shameful to me, is when I respond out of anger when they attack me after mishearing my words. In fact, I have been outright amazed at what they have heard from what I have actually said. Words I would never use towards them—dumbass, ignorant, stupid—are often used when I ask them what they heard me say.

The level of reality distortion is terrifying. That level of reality distortion, between what you say and what they hear, can create insurmountable walls between loved ones. No matter how hard, how careful, no matter what you try, what you say or don’t say, it’s twisted into an attack on them and they now feel justified in attacking you.

In Buddhism, this phenomenon is known as ignorance and attachment. They’re attached to the voices from the past within their mind. They are ever on guard against any perceived attack or criticism. The terrible, sad part is that the loved one is confusing your voice with the tormenting voices of the past. They cannot separate your words from the words they are expecting to hear, and they usually hear what they’re expecting to hear. And, unfortunately, what they “hear” are words filled with put-downs and debasement.

I have as yet been unable to find a way to mend this disruption. Indeed, when I’ve attempted to follow the Buddhist and Christian teachings to respond in loving-kindness, or accept fault for the argument, it has been met with accusations of me just trying to show how much better I am than them. I have been forced to accept the fact that right now, an authentic, healing relationship with this person cannot occur. This of course does not mean it cannot sometime in the future, as things are always changing.

I have accepted, painfully, that my mindfulness practice is not enough to heal and mend this relationship. And that fact hurts my soul, because a caring family is what I’ve always desired, but the pain between us all, at this time, prevents us from seeing each other authentically. The baggage from the abuse blinds us all at times.

So what is one to do? For me, I have been forced to limit my contact with my siblings. Communion with one another often turns into venomous attacks where we all re-enact the abuse we all experienced so many years ago. I deeply love my siblings, and I deeply love my parents as well. I have come to accept that the abuse my parents experienced growing up is largely responsible for the abuse enacted on us. As the saying goes, “hurt people, hurt people.”

Does this mean I have given up? Not at all. Instead, I have gone to other trusted friends and asked them if they can approach and speak to my loved. I have found the message is much better received this way. It hurts though. Knowing that the hurt and dysfunction from so long ago lives on. But I accept this pain, and I continue to work with it. Maybe someday a breakthrough will occur.

by Jack Surguy
image: two persons screaming at each other via Shutterstock
Posted by × September 11, 2016 at 9:33 AM


  1. Hello Jack,
    Thank you for your article. I find it to be very valuable. It reflects a level of acceptance and deeper understanding about family dynamics that you have come to discover. Your identification of the past programming and how it has been affecting everyone involved, in it of itself is a paramount healing. The fact that you have the capacity to see their projections of the past onto the present is an incredible gift!
    In my personal experience I have decided to release my own attachment to me wanting my family to be a certain way, to be the loving carrying family I have yet to experience. Releasing that attachment has allowed me to love them unconditionally and in turn not be triggered by their words or actions.
    I appreciate you sharing your story.

  2. This Be The Verse
    By Philip Larkin

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse” from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin.

  3. very provocative article AND comments. The Larkin poem sort of “says it all”, well, part, at least. The last couple lines seem a bit stern and final. They work in the poem, though. And indeed, I myself never had any kids, and when people ask me now, I say, “I was raising myself, all those years.”

    It seems an impossible task, almost, to free oneself from family entanglements. I’m sort of beyond them now, having done a great deal of work and having received help that I can only call Grace. And my parents, both gone now…well, there WAS amazing improvement, and that too I think of as Grace. As Ram Dass used to say, “If you feel you’re really ‘getting somewhere’ spiritually, so spend a week with your family. I think everyone who is attempting to deal with these karmic situations with love and awareness, has already succeeded, actually! ?

  4. dude, you should take note on how Islam’s way to reach mindfulness. maybe it can take you further. we wont know till we try. viel gluck!

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