Daring Greatly–The Courage of the Roosevelts

29 May

Jeri grew up with a narcissist mother who put her down and told her she was stupid and ugly. She has now come to a place where her marriage has failed, her family seems to do nothing but criticize her and her health is of some concern. The other day, she explained how the prospect of surviving a lonely existence on her own terrifies her to the point she wonders if the world even needs her. Jeri represents thousands of ACONs who lack confidence from narcissistic parents and are still reeling from the pain of betrayal, but it might surprise her to know she is not alone– she stands beside some great people who have overcome similar abuses and some of them bear the name Roosevelt.

I’ve recently watched the PBS documentary by Ken Burns about the Roosevelts which is now on Netflix. It is titled “The Roosevelts, an Intimate History.” I have often heard people refer to the “good Roosevelt” and the “bad Roosevelt” meaning whichever political party they ascribed to, but I have been greatly inspired by both President Theodore Roosevelt and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as Teddy’s niece and Franklin’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt (who ironically never had to change her name.)

These presidents were fifth cousins and both were supportive of each other. Their family tree though intermingled, was not a very compatible one. Eleanor was the strong link between the two of these men because she was Teddy’s niece and FDR’s wife and both empowered her to live out her own life of service to others.

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Teddy Roosevelt was older and born sickly with such bad asthma that no one expected him to grow up. His younger brother was stronger and more popular than he was and because Teddy was bullied and picked on because of his size, he was afraid to go places without his brother when he was a child. He overcame his illnesses and grew up to become a very strong figure both physically and mentally.

After falling in love with a beautiful woman and marrying her, he lost his wife two days after childbirth as well as his mother to Typhoid fever in the same night. He was left with a baby girl named after his wife, but he never spoke of the loss of his wife again it was such a tragic event for him.

Despite his personal pain, Teddy Roosevelt worked hard against unfair working conditions among the factories and mines to limit the power of big industry over the average worker and in American politics. He was well loved and very popular and did much good for our country. His famous speech “The Man in the Arena,” aptly describes his own journey and has inspired millions to get up and try again.

Teddy’s brother, who had been so physically strong, was the father of Eleanor Roosevelt. He became an alcoholic and ended up in an asylum before he died. After his death, Teddy took Eleanor under his wing as his favorite niece.

Eleanor, who never quite got over losing her father, did not find love in her mother who hated her overbite and called her “granny” because she was so ugly. Eleanor never felt loved by anyone until she met her distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but even before he married her, his mother was over-protective of her son and tried to dissuade him from marrying her. She was never a friend to Eleanor. She considered her grandchildren as if she were the mother and Eleanor was a house-guest. In every pursuit, she seemed to work against Eleanor. After Eleanor bore him five children, she discovered her husband had been cheating on her for years with his secretary. She was devastated, but he agreed to never see her again and they moved on.

Without any power in her family and feeling powerless since her mother in law seemed to be raising her children, Eleanor began to help with those who were struggling during the depression and found her own life work in public service. Later, when her husband contracted polio, she and FDR must have struggled with depression, but they both tried to be positive for the sake of their children.

For two years FDR worked on walking, but he never really walked again. He moved his legs in a very painful manner with braces on his legs to hold him up. In all of his speeches where he looked like he was standing, he was more like propped up and leaning on something. This all happened before he even ran for president. Most people would have given up, but Roosevelt did all he could to be as strong as possible by swimming and strengthening his upper body.

He must’ve done something right because he was our longest serving president and was elected four times, bringing our country through the great depression and WWII. Some criticized his New Deal and later others would criticize the Manhattan Project which was started under his watch, but helped end the war with Japan. Whether we agree with his politics or not, FDR was trying to serve the people in the best way he knew how. He believed Hitler was evil long before he could get us into the war and he did his best to end Hitler’s reign.

Despite all the good Roosevelt did, he was scandalized by relatives and Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest daughter Alice, publicly said she would vote for Hitler over her cousin FDR. FDR said he didn’t care if he ever heard from that evil woman again. This documentary could well be titled, “Roosevelts, a Triumph Over Narcissistic Relatives.”

While FDR worked on his New Deal policies, Eleanor became more and more popular by writing a column every week. The nation respected her opinion and when her husband was criticized, she spoke out to support him. This couple could very easily have given up. FDR had a lifetime struggle with his illness and Eleanor was often dealt blows about her own self-worth, but they were united in service for a love of the American people.

On the day FDR died, he was working on a speech to encourage our country’s involvement in the formation of the United Nations. His last words, written in his own handwriting read:

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow
will be our doubts of today.
Let us move forward with strong and active faith.
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

When Eleanor went to bring FDR’s body home after he died, she was devastated to be told he was still entertaining his old flame and one time secretary. She could have given up after he died. She could have floated on a river of tears for her losses of not having a loving and supportive family from her mother and father to her husband and mother in law, it seemed most people betrayed her. The one exception was her uncle Teddy Roosevelt. He was one person who had a great influence on her character and life because of the love he instilled in her for the common person.

After FDR’s death, a reporter approached Eleanor but she told him to go away because it was over. She spoke too soon. She continued to serve people of all backgrounds and nations–even winning over her critics by helping to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the United Nations.

Despite all the narcissistic people who let her down, despite her own fears and doubts about her worth, Eleanor declared she found a way to love by loving other people. Her advice is helpful for those of us who have judgmental and unloving parents and who wonder if we will ever be able to do something of value to contribute in this world. If you are afraid, take hope in her words:

Courage is more exhilarating than fear,
and in the long run, it is easier.
We do not have to become heroes overnight–
just a step at a time, meeting each thing as it comes,
seeing it’s not as dreadful as it seems.
Discovering we have the strength to stare it down.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Watching this documentary has greatly encouraged me to try harder to bless others despite my own struggles. I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with narcissistic relatives, self-doubts and fear of failure. The truth is each of these courageous people either dealt with narc parents or some sort of health issues and adversity, they also made many mistakes themselves, but they never gave up. As a matter of fact, it seems their trials only made them stronger.

The world breaks everyone
and afterward
many are strong in the broken places.
-Ernest Hemingway

4 Responses to “Daring Greatly–The Courage of the Roosevelts”

  1. Andrea June 5, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

    This is a great story about turning adversity around, about responding to pain caused to us with compassion for others in pain, and engagement with social and emotional justice. Most of the people I know who are serious about interpersonal and social justice have been through a lot of hurt and injustice themselves. One way to look at it is light versus darkness. A small example: If someone is unkind to me, I go out of my way to do three positive things for strangers – random acts of kindness if you like. I like to think it tips the balance towards light. It’s “on top” of trying to live ethically and to reach out to undervalued people on a day-to-day basis. A Buddhist acquaintance once said to me, “Don’t give energy to the negative.” Great advice. I had very negative reactions to being treated negatively until I came upon the “three for one” strategy, which immediately channelled the negative incident into positive thoughts and actions for me.

  2. Cherilyn Clough June 6, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    Hi Andrea,

    I LOVE your three for one strategy! What a great idea! We can get a great endorphin rush from giving and serving others, so as long as we are not feeding the narcs, it could be very healing for us.

    I too believe we are damaged if we hold bitterness and fail to forgive, but forgiveness does not equal reconciliation–when someone is unsafe, we can forgive them from a distance and let go of thinking bitter thoughts about them. I agree doing acts of kindness for others, gives our mind a much better focus and in the process we again find healing!

    Blessings on you!

    Cherilyn

  3. Andrea June 7, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    Hello, Cheryl 🙂

    You know, I wish your blog had been up and about 30 years ago when I was a teenager struggling with funny ideas about forgiveness. I had just read Martin Luther King’s “Strength to Love” and loved his ideas about Christianity, social justice and nonviolence. However, my reading of that also, for a long time, got me to think that something wasn’t forgiveness if it stood in the way of a relationship, and this then got me into big trouble, both with my parents and abusive sibling, and in my early romantic relationships. If someone had explained it to young me the way you explain it here and elsewhere on your blog, it would have taken less time for me to get to the road I’m on now, a road which I reached rather slowly by learning the hard way! I hope young people out there are reading your blog and “getting it”!

    These days I completely get reduced contact / no contact and how that has nothing to do with “failure to forgive”, whatever the bogeymen say! It’s perfectly fine to protect yourself, and not always put others first, particularly offensive others. If a relationship is mostly a one-way street it’s not a relationship.

    Love your art by the way – are you going to start shipping internationally? It’s got the wonderful optimism and whimsy of good children’s book illustrations, with an added layer for ACoNs. I think one of the reasons it works so well is that it actually addresses the inner core of us, where we were hurt – I kind of think we’re like trees, made of growth rings, and that at the very centre of us is the baby we were, then the toddler, the child, the teenager and so on, going further and further out year by year and stage by stage, all the way out to (Lord of the Rings) Ent status eventually!

    Meanwhile I’ll enjoy your illustrations online. Many thanks and best wishes for your writing and painting. 🙂

  4. Cherilyn Clough June 8, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

    Thank you Andrea,
    Yeah, I wish I had known this thirty years ago too!

    Thanks for the compliment on my art. I love the tree ring example that is so profound!

    As for shipping art internationally, if someone private messages me, I will figure out the shipping cost and ship to them per their payment for shipping.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Cherilyn

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