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Mental Health Art Exhibition

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Cell 634 - Toxic Family

Phil touched the smooth paper with the black ink on it—his ticket to a different life. It was smoother than a lottery ticket because he had worked hard for it and earned every bit of it. A lottery ticket or a magic key to exit Cell 634 would not have felt better than the feeling of freedom and accomplishment he was feeling now.


But as he looked at the job offer, his get-out-of-jail card, he hindered as the courage he had had when applying for the job suddenly left him and was replaced by the fear of failing and guilt. His toxic family had suffocated him with their excessive demands over the years. He lived trying to please his demanding and overachieving father and his dramatic and needy mother. They, with their passive-aggressive behaviour, had held him hostage.


It wasn’t the first time Phil had given in to pressure and stayed put. Over time, those small gestures that may have led to his father’s approval and affection had become something to chase at all costs. One small gesture of appreciation, respect, and love could lead to many more, if he did what was asked of him. In the hope of more perfect father-son moments, his youth had passed him by, but the words ‘I love you or ‘I’m proud of you never came.


Phil never quite understood what his role in the family was nor what he was worth. At every attempt to fulfil his potential, he had been reminded that, it wouldn’t work, we need you in the family practice, you are our only son, time to be a man and stop chasing dreams, you’re not cut out for it, your mother needs you, you would stay if you loved her. His father had passed his responsibilities towards his wife onto his son; over the years, Phil involuntarily had given his father the power to manipulate him. They had both controlled, slammed, and enmeshed him to the point that he no longer had an identity of his own. Phil had become a puppet they controlled for their gain. They tainted every wonderful thing he did and thought until they demolished who he was and who he wanted to become. Phil questioned each decision he made, asking if his parents would approve. A clear sign that his toxic parents had already caused psychological damage. 


To slow down the stream of constant rejection from his parents, Phil learned to be a people pleaser. He had compromised, choosing a career he didn’t want to practice. It had never been Phil’s thing; it had always been his dad’s thing.  But the outcomes didn’t meet the standards of his overachieving father. He simply didn’t do well enough to receive love and affection, or finally hear the words ‘well-done son, we are proud of you,’ or simply be noticed.


Despite Phil didn’t appear to be in imminent danger, that stream had gained too much power over the years, and now it was a toxic new sophisticated weapon that they used to demolish. His body and mind had adjusted over time to the poison administered to him in small amounts by those subtle cruel acts, all in the name of love. Phil had now overdosed on their artful cruelty; his only way to survive was to cut the drip containing harsh criticism, belittling, and mocking, and not drown out the little self-esteem he had left.


Phil decided he had done his time in prison. He left the application letter on the kitchen table and packed his bags; nothing more needed to be said. He crossed the road with a smile and thought, they should’ve seen it coming, it was there all along to see, if only they had noticed him before.

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