Coming of Age

Ah yes, they were strong elder women. They had to be, you know, life was hard, then. Quick-tempered they were, and tongues that could wound very deeply. Then there was another generation of mostly girls (the story of the boys is their own to tell), and they too were ‘strong’. And that generation of beautiful women raised yet another generation of ‘strong’ girls.

Being ‘strong’ had different connotations in different generations, but always it meant being the perfect princess. Smile! Work hard. When your family comes to visit, show them you are in control by being the perfect hostess with the perfect home and perfect children, naturally. Feelings are irrelevant, not important, and must be ground down at any cost. It is the appearance of things that counts, and smile, smile for the camera. For if the camera records a happy, smiling family, then it is a happy, smiling family, right?

 Sadness, fear, or anxiety are not manifestations of the perfect princess, and therefore will not be expressed, upon pain of punishment. Sometimes physical punishment, but more often shaming: look at her, she is being sad and clearly there is no reason to be sad and so we will push her to the outside of the family circle for awhile, that will teach her. Every family gathering for unbroken spans of decades begins with an argument, and hurtful rejoinders are flung about, but that is no reason to be sad. If it seems paradoxical that anger is expressed, why, just think of all those natural human feelings being hidden. Anger is strong!

Playing favourites among your children – letting the others know that no matter what they do, they can never be the favourite – that is another way to ensure control of the family. The dysfunctional family archetypes of the scapegoat, the lost child, the hero, and the mascot reveal themselves in personalities at a young age, for they are the means of coping with the bad feelings of the family dynamic. Everywhere and in everyone there is evidence of the feelings being suppressed and sublimated in a myriad of ways such as alcohol and substance abuse, overeating, overworking. Often, all of these. It is never anyone’s fault, what happens to them, always the fault of someone else. To own otherwise would have to be to own the pain and vulnerability of being fully human, of being imperfect, of making one’s way in an imperfect world. It  is just too hard. No matter: for this is a strong family, a happy family, and the pictures say so.

For the small, sad little girl there – in the corner almost – there is no regard, she is not playing the game. It is to that small, sad little girl – and there were many of them – that I write. As gently as I can, I want to tell you that you are not imagining things, that everything is not okay, and that it is healthy to express sadness over what is bad. That vulnerability, expressing your innermost feelings is painful, but that vulnerability is “the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love…”

I know this is hard, but please watch Brene Brown in her Ted Talk. Understand that your emotional honesty will cost you, but that it is preferable to living a life dampened of joy and spontaneity. Emotional honesty may feel like betrayal to members of your family who have not gotten there yet; maybe they never will. Emotional honesty is not cruel or spiteful, not derogatory or shaming or belittling – it is honesty about your own feelings, not the presumption of speaking for another, and above all, it is not blaming. I just want to say it again because it is so important, and so liberating:


Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.


 To that small, sad little girl: I love you. You will be okay, even though it will be terribly difficult. Contrary to everything you have been taught, it is the most vulnerable amongst us who are the strongest. Wholeheartedly, I wish you joy.

7 comments on “Coming of Age

  1. ceciliag says:

    and you are not sad when you speak up, often as not you will find people will talk back to you and talk with you.. small and sad in the corner gets to get out of the corner.. I will watch Ms Brown.. c


  2. Lovely of you to come here, ceciliag.

    We are all sad sometimes, as much as our culture tries to get us to hide that. This is a composite story, but I suppose what I am getting at in the post is that our feelings are always legitimate, even if others don’t like them. In families of abuse, to speak one’s genuine feelings often leads to being ‘cut out’ of the family…when this happens to children it is heartbreaking. When it happens to adults, we must speak about it, and write about it, and discuss it amongst ourselves, lest we perpetuate and ‘allow’ emotional abuse.

    Thank you for your courage to comment on a rather difficult post 🙂


  3. Well, that just about sums it up! Two things: our generation was to be “seen and not heard.” And the post also reminds me of a radio guest I interviewed years ago, perhaps it was David Richo, author of How To Be An Adult and How To Be an Adult in Relationships – and if I’ve misquoted him here (as there were 9 years of interviewees), his books are still and always worth mention …. anyhow, he (or someone like Larry Dossey) lit up my circuits by offering that anger, not grief, is of longest duration in our culture. In most eastern cultures, grief, not anger, seems most visible and neverending. And perhaps that’s more authentic – for if one contemplates it, angry people, or certainly those who foist their anger upon young children, likely are suppressing volumes of grief at their own abuse issues. Instead of recognizing anger and letting it burn out quickly and harmlessly, it has them by the throat and other tender areas and a kind of knee-jerk response causes them to pass it on to who or whatever stands in their path in the moment.

    But instead of releasing the dysfunction onto their offspring, there are many of us who have chosen instead to do the heartbreaking work of uncovering denial, guilt, fear and yes, rage at having been kept down in the dirt for most of our formative years – in order to prevent passing this confusion onto subsequent generations. Many of us might have failed to do this “perfectly” (good point, dear one), but are now recognizing that the desire itself is that seed of goodness, taking root and flourishing as, bit by bit, we transform the ugliness and incendiary power of anger into emotional honesty, kindness, compassion and love.

    Great post, VivianLea, thank you.


    • Yet another heartfelt “thank you” to you, Bela. Yes, the “desire itself is the seed of goodness”…for the goddess knows, we can never be perfect. It simply begins with the desire, as we make our stumbling way through the world…

      It is always delightful to read your words which seem so much more expressive than mine! But as I have said before, in some ways this mimics a deep conversation, albeit ‘asynchronously’. I hope I spelled that right…

      I love that people come here and don’t engage in small talk, and that others’ words help me to see other aspects. What a gift.


  4. By the way, I’ve shared your blog in my latest post. Appreciate your voice out there in the wilderness! 😉


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