“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Maya Angelou
I often find myself sharing this quote with people. Probably because it has been one of the toughest lessons I have had to learn in my life so far. Have you ever experienced inner confusion because of inconsistencies between a loved one’s words and actions? I did for many years in regards to my parents, but because I was raised to never question them I didn’t really see or start trying to analyse the discrepancies until my mid-twenties.
My mother and step-father “became Christians” when I was 3 years old, so I grew up believing that this was true. Many of their actions did match up with this claim of theirs. We attended church every week, they held family devotions daily and they home-schooled my siblings and me using Christian programmes. Most of their talk was about their beliefs and world view and the fact that it was the only right way to live.
Being taught by them from an early age I believed them and took everything they said at face value. I admired teachers they endorsed, I read books they recommended and I tried to live my life as I had been taught a Christian should. To me that meant being a person of integrity, a truth teller; it meant being loving, showing compassion and kindness, encouraging others and giving.
Within a year of marrying and having my husband’s perspective on interactions with my family I began to see things that didn’t add up with who my parents said they were. Our relationship with them became fraught with challenges. The opposing messages we were getting from them created a lot of emotional stress for me and my husband. We knew there was something wrong, but we couldn’t put our finger on what. As hubby liked to say, “It’s insidiously subtle and subtly insidious.”
Fast-forward through a decade of trying to resolve the issues between us and things finally came to a head when I read my Dad’s journal of the year I was born. Suddenly I was confronted with a completely different truth about my parents than what they had led me to believe. It was shocking to discover the infidelity, yes, but more that they hadn’t been truthful about it. I went to them again and asked them for an adult version of their past; no longer believing I would get the truth, but hoping nonetheless.
Sadly, they were unable to be honest with me, instead choosing to continue to lie and twist the truth in an effort, I think, to maintain their image as ‘godly, righteous people’. I have been able to verify my Dad’s story and in fact observations he made about their character in the ’70’s are consistent with what my husband and I have lived through with them. It was an incredibly painful time of discovery, but also a freeing one. Finally, I was able to see them as their actions showed them to be and not as the people they had made themselves out to be.
After years of making every effort we could to find a way to have a healthy relationship with them I finally realized that it was not going to happen. I cannot change them, but I can choose to protect myself. For me and my family this means no contact. I wish it were not so, but for our family’s emotional health it is necessary.
My mother and step-father may not be people I can trust or want to be around but I do feel compassion and forgiveness towards them. I just choose to live my life without them in it, and have found peace with that decision. Do you have people in your life who cause you stress and anxiety? Do they say they love you and care about you but treat you badly? If yes, please do start to give yourself permission to choose whether you want them to play an active part in your life.
We could have saved ourselves so much grief and pain if we had believed who my parents were as soon as we began to see the inconsistencies. For too long we allowed ourselves to be taken in by their words, giving them way too many second chances. It is my hope that in writing about our story others might be spared some unnecessary pain and heartache. When someone shows you who they are, believe them!