Memoir: Attachment Theory explains my role in my family and a haiku for my Halmoni

My life has been on pause since I returned home from my mother’s funeral. I’m depressed about her death and my estrangement from my siblings, (I’ve disconnected from both my brother and sister). Family is essential but if they consistently judge you for being who you naturally are or they criticize your beliefs/opinions/right to be, they are toxic and aren’t healthy to be around.

I first learned about Attachment Theory during an introductory Psychology class in college and recently found this informative video clip that summarizes it well. It’s the idea that during the first years of life the process of trust/bonding develops and when a child has an insecure connection it affects their self-esteem, perception and personality. It essentially sets the life path of the person.

I was separated from my family when I was one until I was almost four years old, (raised by my grandmother who I hadn’t previously lived with) and it traumatized me. When I was eventually reunited with my parents and siblings they were all strangers to me. I said to my grandmother, “We’ve visited my family, so now let’s return home.” I didn’t understand that the visit would be permanent.

Children aren’t usually given information, things just happen to them, they have to figure the situation out and adjust without the benefit of information or maturity. When my grandmother left me to return to South Korea, that was the metaphorical nail to my coffin, I can still remember the feeling of complete loneliness. When she left I lost my ability to speak Korean, that’s how devastated I was to lose her. I didn’t want to speak the language that she had taught me anymore; but not speaking Korean, made me the anomaly in my family, the only one who couldn’t speak it. I slept on the floor with the colorful blanket that I’d shared with my grandmother since I was a baby and I cried every night to return back home to her, she had become my replacement family.

Why did she leave? What did I do wrong to make her leave? That’s what I believed, that I caused my family and grandmother to abandon me, not once but twice. Children can seem resilient but inside their hearts are silently wounded, the scar of abandonment has affected my entire life. It’s something that my siblings can’t understand, “Get over it through belief in Jesus” is their philosophy, that and tons of denial.

So now I’ve come full circle again I’m separated from my family of origin, but this time it’s my decision to leave. I won’t live under the burden of being judged/labeled/scapegoated anymore (for not being Christian and therefore causing my mother’s cancer), that absurd attack by my brother was the dramatic ignition to my escape.

I’ve lived for almost 3 decades under the burden of shame that my family put on me but I’ve finally taken that label off. I loved my siblings, admired them as being heroic for defending our abused mom during our childhood but it’s time for me to live my life free of the black sheep role. I never deserved the abuse and won’t feel guilty for setting myself free. If they want a relationship with me, they need to respect who I am, and not treat me like a charity project.

I’m an independent woman, a mother, writer and artist; I don’t need anyone’s permission to live my authentic life. I’ve made peace with my father while ago, I’ve always loved him despite the abuse, the truth about what happened isn’t meant to punish him. I write because I need to get the toxin out of my heart. I am a writer, truth is essential to me.

(Haiku for my halmoni):

Grandma where are you?

Are you playing peek-a-boo?

Why can’t I see you?

14 Comments

  1. Many thoughts and feelings come up reading this. Mostly, my heart goes out to you, for what apparently has been a lifelong sort of anguish struggle. And you do exactly what I’d imagine thinking the right choice. I see family, immediate family differently… maybe or maybe not it will give you another angle. I do not think this theoretically, I have worked it out and feel it to be true:

    The purpose of immediate family should be fulfilled by maturity, early to mid 20s at the latest, usually younger. By purpose, I mean, that the psychological idiosyncracies inherent in our different relationships and personalities, sibling to sibling and sibling to parent and so on, which generate conflicts, growth potentials, and payments of past debt, == all of this should be settled by the onset of adulthood. At that point, further deep relationship is dependent upon less habitual personal relations, it becomes more spiritual, and only obtains towards authentic reality when two parties, siblings or daughters or whatever, are able to and wish to work with their deeper unfolding essences. If not, these relationships naturally become more distant — which is not to say they cannot remain marked by friendliness and kindness and tact.

    But very often, in the absence of a real spiritual arc unfolding in the relationship, people will cling to unmet expectations at the old habitual personality level. I have seen numerous examples in life of people, in advanced adulthood, being too (my opinion_ tied to their immediate family and have no oxygen. When it ccomes down to it, fear and laziness mark the sould who wants to retain the earlier dynamics without wanting to do the work of forging an acquaintance with the deeper being of the related individual — which is evolving or trying to.

    Sorry… rushed ths out, and not really exactly right, but wanted to say something along these lines. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment, you have deep insight about relationship dynamics within families that I hadn’t thought of before. I agree with you, especially about the purpose of families, “which generate conflicts, growth potentials, and payments of past debt, == all of this should be settled by the onset of adulthood”, that makes a lot of sense to me. I think that we’re placed in families that were designed to challenge us with circumstances beyond our control, (domestic abuse, verbal abuse etc) as an obstacle to overcome through forgiveness or detachment. The past debt/karma has resolved for me only because I chose to detach from the vicious cycle or maybe it’s an ongoing lesson. I think you’re also right about enmeshed families that have no healthy boundaries, I think that’s how the dysfunctional behavior is passed on. My family is very merged in beliefs/behaviors because they see traditions as a form of respect, even if it’s dysfunctional, they don’t see it as abuse, they see the controlling behavior as love.

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  2. Honestly, this was so powerful it stirred me to my soul. I was chilled at what happened, but not only that, the writing was so fluid I didn’t think about the writing itself until afterward. Wonderful piece of writing with a universal and important message. We have to be our own family first. And everything we do as adults, in raising or helping to raise children, can have effects and consequences. And even the most difficult childhoods can be overcome, through the most valiant hearts and actions. Thanks for sharing this, Judy, you are one beautiful human being 🙏🌷💕

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    1. Nadine your supportiveness is a true gift to me, thank you!💖🙏I think that everyone that knows you benefits from your kindness. I’m a perceptive judge of character 🤗, you uplift people❣️I started writing in a journal when I was eight, it helped me to vent out the anger/sadness, writing has always been like a therapist/friend, an outlet for the hurt. So I feel especially glad that it can also connect me to people like you who care about the human experience with such wise grace 😘❤️!

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      1. Judy, such a lovely, uplifting, generous reply; I appreciate it more than words can say. Just thank you so much, for the kind and beautiful words… and the sweet emojis. Very soothing and helpful to me just now. 😊🙏💕

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    1. Thank you, Doree❤️. Writers are sensitive souls that need to express what they experience, it’s like breathing for us 🙂. I’m glad that you write, your poetry is very beautiful and resonates with me.

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      1. You are so right. And thank you for your sweet words, It comforts me that my poetry resonates with you, but it also pains me to know you feel these feeling too :/. Take care of yourself, Judy. ♥️

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      2. You’re welcome, Doree. Buddhists say that life is full of suffering, even being born causes pain to the mother, but the pain is worth it when you see your baby. Take care and be well too❤️

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  3. An “authentic life” is a really good thing to inspire to live, and hard for most people to find, I think. I really connect with the sentiment. It is important to be content with being yourself, and being and finding the real you within. Stay safe and thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. Hi Benjamin. Yes I think for some reason society has trained us to not be ourselves, it’s a struggle to be authentic when that means going against the norm, especially within families. I tried to re-train myself to live my life without worrying about pleasing others but I’m still learning self-love/acceptance. It’s my tendency to want to help my friends learn self-love rather than teaching it to myself! 🙂Thank you for sharing your insight. I hope you stay safe too🙏💖

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