CN: discussion of abusive family (not very detailed, but potentially upsetting. Do what you need to do!)

 I’m not a believer of astrology (meaning no disrespect to my friends who find it very meaningful), but still I always took a sort of pride in what my sign, Libra, stood for. Its message of balance, harmony, and creativity resonated with me, and I still feel it fits very well. I did not realize until recently that one of my drives to create a harmonious environment comes from an unhealthy place.

Growing up, I always felt responsible for creating harmony in my family, but there was never any real harmony to be had. Often I was blamed—both unintentionally and very directly—for being the cause of conflict, when the conflict truly came from my parents’ unsupportive (and as I now understand it, abusive) marriage. Somehow I felt that if I was involved in a conflict, then the conflict was my fault. I hid all my unhappiness I felt because I did not want to be the source of additional stress to my family, and I also knew that in such a tumultuous network, there was no substantial help or support to be found. I even used to blame myself for hiding my struggles from them, but now I see that my instincts made absolute sense.

I used to feel proud of my sense of responsibility for that kind of harmony. Now I see it as very sad. I was trying to navigate an impossible path. I was not responsible for everyone’s reactions. Especially not as a child and teenager. Back then I felt like a ping-pong ball being whacked back and forth between school and home—both horrible places where I felt completely unsafe to just be a person.

For the past few weeks I’ve been getting emails and calls from a family member I don’t want to see. I’d been avoiding answering these messages because I don’t want to spend time with them, but I also didn’t want to face whatever reaction would come from that news. After a good talk with my therapist, we worked out that I still feel responsible for making harmony, but my desire to stay away and protect myself from a damaging relationship is so strong that I cannot ignore it. If I was really unsafe, my best option might have been to just play along. But now I have the option of just telling the truth. Very carefully, but still the truth.

It’s legitimate to be afraid hurtful responses. But I can’t make myself be heard, and I also can’t hold myself responsible for other people’s reactions. If this family member is angry—well fuck it, I’m angry too. I’m in a safe living situation now. I don’t have to play the harmony game any more. It was the best survival skill I could come up with then, but I don’t need it right now.

These days I’m trying to be responsible for a different kind of harmony in my life. This harmony is about giving myself the care I need and seeking support from trust-worthy sources. It’s about learning to listen to both liveliness and depression. It’s about balancing alone time with time in the company of compassionate, careful people. Today, it’s also about letting go of the idea that I can and should always give other people the answer they want. I can have harmony by being truthful—and if it doesn’t go the way I want it to, then at least I don’t have to blame myself for it any more.