I have seven siblings. We were all born in Nicaragua but from three different fathers. I came to the United States with an aunt when I was 3 years old, so I grew up apart from the others. When I was 9, I met one brother who also came to the United States to live with a relative.
Unfortunately, I’ve been closer to other families than to my own. My brother and I have never been close, although I’ve tried. He said I’m not his sister because we have different fathers. He disowned me six years ago. My aunt labels us bastards and our mom a whore because she never married.
My brother and I are in our late 20s. He refuses to accept my Hispanic-Anglo husband because he looks white. I have three kids and one on the way. My brother buys holiday gifts for our little cousins but never acknowledges my kids. My husband told me to accept my brother’s attitude, however unjust, and move on. For now, I’ve cut ties. I’m happy to be rid of the abuse, but I also feel confused, angry, sad and hopeless. How do I get past this?
Expand your concept of family. Your brother’s rule is that true siblings share the same parents. You believe that siblings share at least one parent. Both perspectives are limiting. There is a saying in Belize, where I was born: “Blood is thicker than water.” It’s a belief that you and your brother maintain, each interpreting it with a different emphasis. The reality is that spirit is thicker than blood. You are related to all of us on the planet: two-leggeds, four-leggeds, winged ones, belly crawlers, the moon and the stars. To exist is to belong.
In Belize, unmarried women often have children by several different men. Though this practice is culturally accepted, the resulting children often feel shame. It’s possible that your brother prefers a life without you because a relationship with you would remind him of a childhood with unmarried and absent parents. Can you stand in compassion for his fears without trying to fill the vacancy yourself?
Confusion, sadness and hopelessness are hallmarks of your own grief. Your rules about how relatives should act inspire this suffering. Medicine exists in the realization that you feel closer to other families than your own. When you live with the world as kin, you will forgive yourself for causing your own suffering (by demanding that your brother be who you desired him to be, rather than himself). You also will forgive yourself for believing in some idealized version of family. Turn your attention to the wider world where your love is really needed.
I have one nagging, self-created problem: performance perfectionism. I want every date, every telephone conversation to consolidate my guy’s vision of me as charming, witty and great company. Being charming and fun comes easily to me. However, if I miss the opportunity for a good repartee or am less than ultra-smart, I get upset. How do I curb this pressure?
Stop clinging to your persona; allow yourself to be genuine. The label “performance perfectionism” is clever, but it serves to distance you from reality: You fear rejection. And, yes, you are a perfectionist. Rigid rules about the right way to exhibit yourself, high expectations and low self-confidence are clues. The antidote is to trust that your real self is good enough to be loved as is. Begin by telling your boyfriend about your habit of controlling conversations. Your ego will resist, but coming clean will crack the mask that is hiding the real (wonderful) you. You also might excavate your past to pinpoint when you began to believe that it was more important to be admired than to be known.