What if Your Family Doesn’t Want You to Tell Your Story?

You survived a hard childhood or a crazy marriage or got kidnapped by Oompa Loompas, and now you want to write a memoir about it. Some of your biggest obstacles are family members. Aunt Tilly accuses you of not honoring your parents and your kid sister is calling you a liar. What to do?

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash
Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

Let’s start with honor. The fifth commandment says to “honor your father and mother so your days will be long upon the land the Lord gives you.” Even non-religious people use the word honor. The big buzz phrase in the blockbuster movie Gladiator was, “Strength and honor.” I think it’s fair to say if you’re thinking of writing a memoir, you’ll definitely need strength and honor to finish the task.

You’ll need clarity and emotional strength so you can focus on why you want to tell this story. No one else gets to call this shot. Only you can decide the why of what you write. Your task is to remain curious and honest to facilitate your understanding of events.

Once you begin writing your story, you can tell it with honor because honor shares the same root word with honesty and there can be no honor without honesty. Allow me to repeat this very vital truth — there can be NO honor without honesty. It doesn’t matter if your father hid under the porch drunk as a skunk and made you lie to the bill collectors. To tell your story, you will have to utilize honesty to give honor to it, and that honesty includes what it was like for you as a child lying to the authorities and giving at least some honor to your father’s story which most likely involves his struggle with alcohol.

Relatives often accuse writers of trying to hurt everyone by “making up stories to get even.” It’s a lame argument. First of all, you didn’t make up the events of your childhood — your parents’ choices and other factors did. Plus, if you really wanted to make up a story, it would be soooo much easier to write a novel. You’d have a lot more fun with no one complaining about your manuscript. The third reason this accusation is bogus is it would be insane to write a book just to get even–despite what the spiteful sisters say. If you were a vindictive person, you might try suing people instead; it involves a lot less personal bleeding on the page, and you can hide behind a lawyer.

People write a memoir because they want to understand what happened in their own lives or they’ve got secrets they need to get off their chest. It takes strength to break open the secret vault of stories that nobody wants to talk about. If your life intersects with these stories, they are public domain as long as you are sharing from your perspective.

Perspective is an import factor in honor. If four people standing on different corners witness the same traffic accident, they will each give a unique report because they saw it through their lens. It’s the same with family stories. Perspectives can be due to birth order, age, time and place.

While each person in the family has the rights to their version of the story, some people wish to shut others up, and that’s not fair. As I told my sister, you have the right to tell your story, and I won’t put you down for it. Will this give her permission to write about what an awful monster I am? Even if she decides to lie? Or if she becomes mentally unglued in the telling and veers from the path of honesty and honor? She’s still free to tell her side of the story. It will be up to the readers to decide if she is engaging with honesty. Credibility is a factor for all of us who tell our stories.

There’s also a certain dishonor you’ll find when you’ve grown up in a narcissistic family. This is where the narcissist recruits flying monkeys and scapegoats you for telling the truth. It’s a game you can never win because you will never get the approval of the narcissist or the flying monkeys if they want to cover up their behavior. Being scapegoated is like a permanent shunning, so if that happens then, it just makes you all the more free to tell your messy, crazy family stories. Just keep in mind narcissistic people are the most litigious people in the world so do yourself a favor and use pseudonyms and make it clear you are only sharing your experience and not claiming to assign motives to someone else’s story.

When it comes to honoring, it’s import to tell the best version of the truth we can find. It’s honorable to acknowledge your alcoholic father was also a loving dad when he was sober who taught you many good things. This is also why it’s honorable to allow your little sister who can’t remember this incident to tell her side of the story about her wonderful sober father because he began to go to AA before she was old enough to know about the secret benders he went on while she was still in diapers.

So let’s get this straight. When you tell your story, you aren’t telling your sister’s story or your father’s story or the gospel truth in any way. As a matter of fact, even the gospels don’t agree on everything; this has been stated as proof of their credibility because four witnesses saw four versions of what happened.

When your relatives fight over the family stories, it simply means their arguing over which version they believe is the best and since everyone has their own script, they might call yours a lie. Your job, should you accept it, is to tell your own story and engage it with curiosity, strength, and honor and ignore the critics. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It’s not the critics who count.”

10 comments

  1. Cherilyn, I really, REALLY needed to read this today. It seems familiar, I think you posted this before? But today was when I needed to read this. I read it several hours ago, when it first popped up in my WordPress reader, and I have read it several times since then. Thank you so much for writing this! Thank you!!!

    I am going to send you an email about some things that are on my heart right now, concerning the memoir I am writing, and my desire to please God in what I write. But I am too tired to write the email now. Maybe tomorrow.

    Thank you so very much. I am really looking forward to reading your memoir.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true. It takes so much courage to finally speak up after being silenced for so long, wondering of anyone will believe and worrying about any punishment that will come from airing the dirty laundry. My husband says coming from dysfunctional families is like growing up in a cult and when you break away they try all means necessary to get you back. For now, I stick with the positive memories in my life and share those with my kids and others.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I struggle with writing my story everyday. What my parents will think and say. But I struggle to make the best out of me thanks to what i went through as a child. I have a section in my website “dysfunctional families” . never written anything in it because I don’t know what the society will say.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Teresa,

    Many people worry about what their parents will say. If we are not saying mean stuff and calling themnames, then we have a right to tell our side of the story even if they disagree. If they have a problem with this, it is their problem. Sadly, many of us have been trained to be people pleasers and we are afraid of losing their love, if we lose their love becasue we told our stories, then we probably didnt have it in the first place. Love respects a difference of opinion and love cares even when we disagree. If our family members get mad because we disagree with them, that’s about them and not us. The way I see it, it is okay to talk about dysfunction because it’s the only way we can find our way out of it.

    Good luck and blessings on your story and your website!

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

    Like

  5. Hi LittleRedHouse,

    Yes, I do believe your husband is right–it might even be harder than leaving a cult–after all we grew up with these people and they were everything to us at one point in time. But we all must grow up and part of that growing up is to treat the little child inside to a better life without abusive people hurting them.

    Good for you for making positive memories with your kids!

    Peace and freedom to you and yours!

    Cherilyn

    Like

  6. Dear Cherilyn, it’s great to hear your memoir will be available soon! ❤ Just wanted to thank you for your blog and let you know that it was instrumental in my coming to terms with my own family background. Because of your blog and Invisible Scar, I learnt to talk about my own experiences openly and without the use of pseudonyms. (I feel so much better now that none of this stuff is being repressed just to cover for other people anymore – now that I own my story.)

    I've just written a piece on Music And Emotional Health in which I look at what it was like when complex PTSD made itself felt in my early 40s – the aim is to give people with difficult childhoods another story of discovery and recovery, and to let people who haven't experienced this firsthand walk a mile in such shoes – and I also talk about how music was especially important to me when dealing with all the fallout. It's interactive if anyone wants to talk about their own story and music.

    http://curefans.com/index.php?topic=9196.0

    Best wishes

    Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Sue,

    It’s good to know you are finding your voice and sharing your story! I do believe in music “therapy!”

    I checked out your thread on music–lots of interesting songs there!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

    Peace

    Like

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