I know kids from broken homes. I grew up in a place where bad things could and would happen, where life could hit people so hard that they would break, and sometimes never managed to put themselves back together again. And sometimes those people were parents, because parents are people too. So sometimes kids turned up to school with cuts and bruises they couldn’t explain. Sometimes parents disappeared down a bottle or up a syringe. Sometimes adults just evaporated. Sometimes new people would come into their lives and things got unstuck, because who wants a snotty-nosed brat around when they’ve got a new hot partner? So it was relatively normal for kids to go and stay with relatives for a while, until things calmed down; and sometimes that took forever.
I know kids from broken homes, and I know what a broken home looks like. You can look at it from the outside and see all the pieces, the shrapnel of it all. You can point to causes or effects. It can still be very hard to convey what it was really like to people who lack that kind of experience. All they can do is imagine it or try to extrapolate it from their experiences, but that can only take you so far. Some differences aren’t quantitative, but qualitative.
Still, there is normally some evidence, some facts you can point out to onlookers. There may be records of hospital visits or police calls or people coming and going or something, something tangible, something measurable, something you can hold on to. You can get help or sympathy, if you want it. At the very least you can use facts to reassure yourself that you’ve not lost the plot, that the brokenness was not just in your head.
People who grow up with parents with Cluster B personality disorders may not have any of that. Their homes may be utterly disfunctional and toxic without them having anything to show for it. And it’s hard, it’s damn hard to explain it to people whose homes were ok, and even worse to explain it to people whose home were trashed to bits. It’s hard to find the words, and even harder not to sound like you’re making shit up, or complaining about nothing.
Plenty of Cluster B personality types are functional, at least on the surface; they hold down jobs, they have hobbies, they may have a social life. From a distance, they may appear perfectly pleasant people, if sometimes “quirky”, or “emotional”, or “volatile”, or “particular”… Close up, however, they may be an absolute nightmare to deal with. If you are unfortunate enough to have one of them for a parent or carer, you may be in for a very rough ride.
Instead of being loved or cherished, you will be used for whatever role(s) they assign to you. You may be always blamed, shamed, or used as a crutch for a neurotic parent. You may have to constantly conform to someone’s pre-conceived notion of who you should be, with absolutely no leeway. You may never have the time and space to be your own person, because that’s not what you’re there for. You may be picked up or dropped depending on their moods. You may be brought up to think that you have no rights to say “no” or set boundaries. You may see all your attempts at gaining normality sabotaged. You might live all your days with the knowledge that, to your parents, you are nothing more than a puppet in their play. They might treat you well today and throw you under a bus tomorrow, or treat you well in public and like crap in private; they will do whatever suits their purpose, with no regards for your welfare or happiness. Ultimately, you might grow up wonky, because wonky is all you’ve ever seen. It’s not a temporary issue: it’s literally all your life.
You might not have any major events or facts to point to, however. You might not be able to relate anything anyone will take you seriously for. It can all sound like a bad day in a normal kid’s life. You can’t point out to your relative’s head for people to see that it’s broken on the inside, that its inner reality has very little in common with the reality most of us share. Furthermore, people with personality disorders may be quite skilled at projecting the right image when it suits them. In fact, it could be the one and only thing they care about.
When I try to explain what my childhood was like, I end up feeling like an idiot. I’ve got friends whose relatives have killed other people, or themselves; how dare I moan about this nonsense? And I’ve got friends whose family lives I can’t understand because they’re like something you’d see in a movie, like they actually care about each other. They never get it, either.
It’s hard to correctly judge people’s family dynamics from the outside. That doesn’t mean that people don’t. And many will see you as the bad one, because all they’ve got to go by are you reactions to a situation they can’t begin to fathom.