I had a dream that caused me to wake up thinking about my relationship with my father who is passive abusive and emotionally unavailable and my relationship with my mother who believes that she comes first, simply because ‘she is the mom’. This dream resulted in me having a deeper understanding of just how I had never been seen by my parents and how deep my longing to be seen as an equally valuable individual was.
In this dream I was in someone’s home looking at family pictures on the walls. As the wife and mother of the children in the pictures proudly explained who was in each picture we came to a spot where two side by side photos showed the father with his little girl.
The little girl was about 5 years old; she wore an expensive and beautiful white frilly dress and her hair was curled and styled perfectly for the photos that were taken that day. But something wasn’t right…
In the first photo the father sat looking like a movie star with his perfect smile and charming disposition but the little girl in the princess dress, sitting on his knee was crying. She had tears streaming down her cheeks and I could see by the expression on her face, her tears were silent. She was silent.
In the second photo while the father sat posed, still gazing into the camera with his Hollywood looks and handsome smile, the little girl was trying to get away from him. She was off his lap, pulling with all her might, her muscles straining, her body angled away and towards her destination and her face screwed up with the effort of trying to escape his grasp but her father held fast to her tiny hand oblivious to anything but the photographer and the photo opportunity.
These pictures hung side by side on the family picture wall. The little girl’s mother proudly showed them to me and I wondered why they were so happy with the pictures. This mother was completely oblivious to the fact that the little girl in her frilly white dress was extremely unhappy. These parents didn’t ‘see her’ at all. They only saw the perfect dress, the hair, the little shiny black patent-leather shoes but they didn’t see the child. She was just the object of their desire. She was a belonging, something that made them look good, something that validated their efforts… just some-thing.
In the dream I met the now grown woman who was the little girl in the pictures. She tearfully told me that these were the only pictures that were ever taken of her and her father. She confessed that she has tried to speak with her parents about her childhood but they tell her that she is exaggerating and that she has always been dramatic and they remind her how ungrateful that she is for all they have done for her. Her parents don’t see anything wrong in the pictures.
She told me that she struggles with depression and anxiety. She is unhappy and unfulfilled and her self-esteem is fragile, but nobody notices. Even all these years later, still nobody notices her. They are all caught up in appearances and their façade of the perfect family. They are only concerned with the way they appear to others but their own daughter is dying right before their eyes and they don’t notice; their own daughter questions whether or not she has started living yet… but they don’t notice.
She grew up with this “feeling” that she was never seen, never heard, never noticed and although it feel almost normal to her now, somewhere deep down she wonders what went wrong, is it her, did she ever matter, will they ever see her and value her for who she is? She wonders why they don’t want to know her and what she did that they found so disappointing. Perhaps it was because she was unhappy on the day that the pictures were taken? Perhaps that was when it all began…
When I woke up from this dream I felt sick. In that foggy dreamlike almost awake state, I knew I HAD to help this woman; I had to tell her Mother that something was wrong within their family and that she HAD to listen to her daughter, that she couldn’t possibly NOT see the truth in the picture. But I was already telling myself that this was just a dream!
However, somehow I knew it wasn’t a dream. As I woke up it occurred to me that this situation is closer to reality than most of us ever want to admit to ourselves.
This is exactly how it really is in families where parents don’t see their children as people or individuals with their own thoughts, needs and feelings. The mother was so proud of this picture of her handsome husband in his jet black tuxedo and the and her little girl in her perfect white dress. Nobody noticed that the little girl was crying. No one saw that she was hurting. No one cared that she was trying to communicate that something was wrong.
Nobody SAW her; Nobody HEARD her.
This is how it feels to be the child in a dysfunctional family where you are not seen as an individual. This is how it feels to be objectified. This is how it feels when you are trapped in an illusion of “normal”, crying for all to see except that they don’t see; they only see themselves, the dress, the hair, the shoes, the handsome man and his perfect smile, the expensive picture frame, the house, the wall… they saw everything but me.
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