Humans are pulled by a need to do the right thing. It is not always easy to know what the right thing to do is. We will often be influenced by those around us, it feels good to agree with people we like. We have seen over and over lately how strong the pull of loyalty to your perceived tribe is to most people. That force can make otherwise sluggish citizens throw themselves into battle against police, grunting in unison as they crush a cop in a doorway in their attempt to break into a locked building. It makes you turn your back forever on somebody you were once close to.
I had a friend whose marriage was daily trial by combat. It was that way from before the wedding and there was no let up in the decades of the marriage. My friend told me that he was tortured by the damage he was doing to his young sons by raising them in a brutal war zone.
I was raised in a brutal war zone, though the war was not mainly between my parents but against me, and my sister, so he didn’t need to explain about the damage. The damage of witnessing violent anger in loved ones goes straight to the soul of an impressionable young person. How are they to make sense of the world, have faith in the healing power of love, when their earliest memories are of explosions of rage from their caregivers and protecters?
As a young person you are sometimes fortunate to meet people in life who may offer you a helpful perspective. Sometimes they make you laugh, affirm something important in yourself. You can learn useful things from them, like when to remain silent, when to add your part. You feel great affection for this kind of person, a relative or friend of the family who understands something about your life that your immediate family may often not seem to. There’s no tension, as there often is within a nuclear family. We are lucky to run into these sympathetic souls.
Then one day you learn that the funny person you recently laughed with has struck a deadly blow to the heart of your family. Your parents’ love is too tied up with rage to accept, says this judgmental longtime family friend/relative. “FUCK HIM!” snarl the parents in unison. There is no greater feeling of unity than righteous anger at an external enemy.
The strong feeling of unity lasts until the regular war resumes, a moment later. A war that neither side has the slightest ability to resolve. Whatever you want to say about the two combatants, they are not skilled in any kind of conflict resolution. They only know how to fight to the death, no matter what.
If on Monday we had a relaxed friendly conversation at a party, on Friday you will get the memo: our old “friend” is a vicious, demanding, angry, judgmental, unforgiving, unapologetic, unloving, wrong, sick, irredeemable asshole. He’s a Nazi, a fucking self-righteous Nazi, who needs to be right even if it involves mass murder.
You may take this assessment as tinged with hyperbole, but the point will be clear enough. This person, not good. This person, bad, dangerous. Hurt your parents very deeply.
In the case of parents who lie to their children, the most pressing danger is the story on the other side of the lie coming to light. That is the most dangerous story in the world, the shameful one they are determined to keep secret. Look how the adorable, skillful fucking sadist feints and bobs as he works the conversation closer and closer to the “lie”, to his own self-righteous, pernicious version of “truth” because he is the only one who knows the “truth,” this sick, damaged, judgmental fuck with his fucked up lying loser life.
You now have two irreconcilable images of this person you always liked, pulling hard in opposite directions. Cognitive dissonance is hard to sit with. How can this funny, intelligent, sensitive person who always treated you well suddenly be such a colossal, irredeemable monster, the metaphorical killer of your mom and dad? He’s got to be one or the other, or some grotesque combination of both, or a great psychopath and actor, both.
The natural fall back is loyalty to your clan, because, really, when the other choice is to be irked by the thought that no matter how bad, and wrong this person is, no matter how much your parents tell you how he tortured them, you have experienced a completely different, well-loved person for years.
Oh, well. At least you didn’t really have an independent friendship with the person, you saw them only at family gatherings. That won’t happen any more. Whew, that’s kind of a relief, no?