As children, we often turn ourselves inside out trying to make things go well for us. If Mom yelled a lot when she was stressed, you gave your all to being nice and behaving better. If Dad frequently acted disappointed in you, you tried harder—and harder—to gain his approval. If your brother ignored you, you did all you could to get his attention. If your sister teased you for being a baby, you redoubled your efforts to act grown up.
When we’re mistreated as children, intentionally or not, we attempt to fix the situation by changing ourselves. That’s all we can do and we fervently hope that doing so will improve our lot. If we do just what she says, Mom will stop yelling at us; if we raise our grades, Dad will be proud of us; if we pretend to like our brother’s interests, he’ll be more attentive; and if we act grown up, our sister will quit teasing us for being a baby.
The flaw in this illogic is that your family’s reactions weren’t your fault to begin with. The problem was never yours to remedy. You couldn’t possibly make your mother be less critical, your father have lower expectations of you, your brother prefer to hang out with you instead of his buddies, or your sister quit being mean. But you got something important from attempting to fix these situations: to hold onto the hope and belief that life would improve. Because, by giving up hope and facing the truth, you might have felt unbearable hopelessness and, perhaps, even despair or depression. Rather than give up, you kept trying to repair relationships and continue on this fruitless mission today.
As an adult, however, it’s time to recognize that though you might feel a bit sad and frustrated that you can’t make family relationships work, that’s fine. It’s okay that your family of origin can’t/doesn’t/won’t meet your needs. That’s what a fully functioning self and friends are for. As an adult, you can enjoy neither striving to change family members nor feeling like a victim. You can care for yourself when they try to hurt you by self-soothing, seeking comfort from intimates, and recognizing how little you need family now compared to how desperately you needed them as a child. You can make a new meaning of their craziness: You’re fine and they’re not, and so be it. You’ll survive well without their love and approval and, therefore, can let them have their view of you because it has no bearing on who you know you are.
You’re safe now, Teflon untouchable. Sticks and stones and all that. You no longer need to fix you or them in order to preserve a faux loving relationship. It’s time (more than time) to release yourself from trying: to breath fresh, untainted, air. It’s enough to heal yourself. That’s a life’s work and all we can ever do.