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September 21, 2008

Have a Dysfunctional Families Day
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:16 AM *

If you all recall, back in May we identified a glaring gap in the holiday market. There are a plenitude of days for celebrating your parents and getting together with your family. There aren’t a lot of days when you can admit that your parents actually drove you completely bats, or that you’d rather learn autotrepanning with a Black and Decker than sit down with the people who made your first 18 years a misery. And some people need that, because that’s the truth of their lives, and pretending otherwise is poison to the soul.

Today is the autumnal equinox. Things are in balance, but shifting toward the darkness. What better day to use for this purpose? (For Southern Hemisphere readers, today is yet another day when your experience is overridden by the thoughtless majority, which is an equally valid reason.)

Obviously, there is the objection that Hallmark is inventing enough holidays without our assistance. But I think we need a day like this, when it’s OK to admit that the bonds of blood can be bloody awful, without anyone telling us to give things just one more chance.

No discussion of this would be complete without a reference to Mary Dell’s excellent Harkonnen card for the occasion (warning: Dune series spoilers), plus this nifty letter generator I found while Googling around the topic.

Now, I’m not really qualified to discuss this matter, because, well, I kinda like my family My mother, in particular, broke the patterns of a difficult upbringing to give me nothing much to talk about on days like this. So let me yield the floor to those whose day this really is. What are you doing today, to either live with your past or transcend it?

Comments on Have a Dysfunctional Families Day:
#1 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 05:47 AM:

Can I celebrate Dysfunctional Families Day *and* my mother's birthday at the same time? It seems like the requirements might conflict.

#2 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 06:04 AM:

For Southern Hemisphere readers, today is yet another day when your experience is overridden by the thoughtless majority, which is an equally valid reason.

We'd be better off celebrating that around Christmas time, in that case. All that 'White Christmas' and sleighs jinglebelling and so on in 30 degrees or more Celsius. It can get intolerable unless you're in the freezer section at the supermarket [insert frownie here]

Given that we (well, we who are in Australia, at anyrate) do Mothers Day and Fathers Day at different times to the Northern Hemisphere, doing Dysfunctional Families Day at another time has a precedent.

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 06:04 AM:

Nix @1:

Of course you can. It could be Happy birthday, Mum, you're the only one in the family who isn't completely messed up, or Happy birthday, Mum, I love you despite everything, or something else.

Not every family is dysfunctional. For me, this is about congratulating my friends on how they've survived bad situations, and my parents for how I have nothing more than that to celebrate.

#4 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 06:10 AM:

Abi @3 - I'm with you. The older I get, the more I gratefully realize how much my family *didn't* screw me up.

(Well, except for when I was ten or eleven, and stayed home from school because I was running a fever, and my dad brought me a collection of Ray Bradbury stories and told me to read 'Fever Dream.')

#5 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 07:12 AM:

We celebrate a different non-family day on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

It's not Dysfunctional Family day, like you're suggesting (maybe we need both), it's just about everyone being back in their home town, but usually seeing only the people they're born to. We like to get everyone away for a day to see the people they choose to love as well.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 07:49 AM:

you’d rather learn autotrepanning with a Black and Decker

Wasn't there a scene in Scanners where Michal Ironside's telepath character did just that so that he could let out the voices that were driving him nuts? I know, Ironside, playing a crazy person, what a concept.

That being said, one of the last converstions I had with my dad before he suddenly passed away in the early 1990s was one where he confided how scared he was when I was born. Not because my birth would have belonged in the Cronenberg oeuvre. My dad was scared that he wouldn't do a good job of raising a kid. My parents made mistakes, but they did the best they could.

#7 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 08:10 AM:

Today I am going on a class picnic with my son. Without my son's father, who ... well, let's just say this holiday fits. Grrr, *sigh*, /deep breaths/

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:21 AM:

I need trepanning like a hole in the head.

#9 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Your family comes first, last and always - that attitude helped both sides of my family deal with being immigrants in America and find success.

Family has allowed us to deal with all the crap that the world can shower down on you, and laugh about it.

Are they a pain in the ass? Sure. But those feelings pass. The strength of family will not.

#10 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:35 AM:

You know, I don't think giving my family a Dysfunctional Families Day card will make things better. I really don't think they'll take it in the intended spirit. OTOH, their reaction couldn't be worse than their reaction to birthday cards for birthdays, or to flowers for Mother's Day.

#11 ::: Delia ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:39 AM:

I am glad to have this holiday, though I will not be able to celebrate it whole-heartedly. On this day, I don't have to call my father (the narcissistic alcoholic) or my mother (the argumentative, conflicted neurotic). My husband will enjoy it too. He didn't visit his (ill-tempered, abusive) father in the nursing home, didn't go to his funeral, and refused to go out with his siblings two weeks ago when his mother's ashes (she was cold. Cold.) were interred.

However, I just can't get completely behind it because my husband and I have this really good relationship with our adult (only) daughter. I'm gonna go downtown and have lunch with her and we'll laugh and tell horrible jokes, and then she'll come home, drink my ginger ale, and make fun of her father, who will snicker helplessly. I hope I can get away with that partial celebration.

#12 ::: Ailbhe ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:55 AM:

I'm celebrating by never, ever letting my father come anywhere near my daughters.

I do it a lot.

#13 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:56 AM:

I just linked my friend Moira to this, as she was laid flat for the past couple days by a simple political forward email from her dad -- and they don't even disagree on the issues, just on their styles of discussing them.

She was much pleased.

#14 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:00 AM:

JJ @ 9 for some of us, portions of family are significantly more traumatic than a pain in the ass....

I guess I'll just leave it there because it's really something I'd rather not talk about while any of the principles are still alive. I'm not posting this under my full name as I usually do because there are people that might be hurt if they use google and think they see themselves in this post.

#15 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:01 AM:

My parents, too, did the best they could. But in my extended family are 2 brothers who didn't speak to each other at their mother's funeral, and a child who wasn't allowed to celebrate his birthday because it fell on the same day as his grandmother's birthday.

I try to keep these things in mind in raising my own children, all of whom still acknowledge me as of right now.

#16 ::: Angelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:05 AM:

The link to the brilliant Dune card makes it worth any risk I could incur by celebrating this blessed day.

It's a year almost to the day since I moved 2,500 miles away from my less-than-functional kin, and it was the smartest thing I ever did. From this remove, I can acknowledge they did they best they could while still working to repair the damage.

Hell, I'm even thinking about starting a little dysfunctional family of my own out here. I think I might be able to bear the Kwisatz Haderach, but don't tell my mother . . .

#17 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:07 AM:

#9: Your family comes first, last and always

What people with dysfunctional families have to recognize (and what people with functional families do not understand) is that you may believe this, but your family members do not; and you have to decide if you're going to let the dysfunctions continue or instead make your own family.

#18 ::: Shay ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:19 AM:

Jon @17 -- decide if you're going to let the dysfunctions continue or instead make your own family.

Yes, exactly. Family of choice is sometimes the only thing that helps you keep your sanity.

Which is why my family of choice and not my dysfunctional (extreme right, evangelical religious) family is the one helping me plan my wedding to my same-sex partner of 13 years. (And the wedding is in two weeks! eep!)

#19 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:24 AM:

#18: Congratulations and mazel tov.

#20 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:34 AM:

Congratulations, Shay, and best wishes!

#21 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:42 AM:

Jon Meltzer @ 17: What people with dysfunctional families have to recognize (and what people with functional families do not understand) is that you may believe this, but your family members do not; and you have to decide if you're going to let the dysfunctions continue or instead make your own family.

Or else they believe it, but in a severely dysfunctional way. Like my boyfriend's paternal grandmother, who never forgave my boyfriend's father for marrying and having children -- and especially never forgave my boyfriend's mother for "stealing her son." He was supposed to stay at home his whole life and devote himself to taking care of his parents; a wife and children were unforgivable distractions. "Family came first" -- but "family" was defined as "ME ME ME."

This is why he and his wife moved their family halfway across the country as soon as they possibly could. One of his brothers refused to speak to him for seven years after they moved.

Sometimes my mother will apologize to my boyfriend if a couple members of my (large, extended, Catholic) family are having some sort of spat at a holiday. She always says "You're going to think we're totally dysfunctional." And my boyfriend laaaaughs, and says that when it's an argument that blows over within half an hour, and everyone is not drunk, screaming, and crying for the entire holiday, he considers it ridiculously Norman Rockwell.

I think his family needs this holiday.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:46 AM:

JJ Fozz (and others, likely, before this thread is done):

This community includes some people who were very badly abused by their families. In some cases, I'm talking sexual abuse. In others, physical abuse (up to and including straightforward attempted murder) or severe and protracted emotional abuse.

This is different than, say, the way I fell out with my brother for a few years, or the way that many of us spend our adolescence estranged from our parents. There are people here whose parents (and other relatives) were a force of such destruction in their lives that the only viable* solution is to break off communication, or at least handle all contact with great care.

Most of the time, they also have to withstand the constant pressure to make these relationships work, when as a matter of fact they're not workable because the other party is so screwed up or manipulative that the only peace is total surrender. We agreed back in may that there would be a day on this site where that pressure wasn't going to be applied. Today is the date we agreed on, and here we are.

I'm glad beyond measure that there are families like yours, and mine, where the differences are not irreconcilable and any damage accidental and reparable. But that's not the universal experience.

-----
* and I mean that word literally

#23 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:53 AM:

cool no problem, see you guys later

#24 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:55 AM:

#21: Or else they believe it, but in a severely dysfunctional way.

Oh, yes. Interesting that they want you back when you finally say "no more". Everything will be better, they say.

#22: This is different than, say, the way I fell out with my brother for a few years, or the way that many of us spend our adolescence estranged from our parents

But only in degree. Okay, being physically abused is much worse than not being able to tolerate a parent or sibling. But both are still the lack of a functional relationship.

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Job @24:
But only in degree. Okay, being physically abused is much worse than not being able to tolerate a parent or sibling. But both are still the lack of a functional relationship.

I'm not entirely sure of that.

For some people, it's hard to make the transition from the unequal relationship of parent and child to the more equal relationship of fellow adults. A period of isolation followed by a reinvention of the relationship may be the only way to do so.

It's like the marriages where the couple resolve differences through argument, verses those that resolve them through other means. Some people, and some pairs of people, work through breach and reconciliation rather than continuous, stable change.

The relationships that don't function include (among other flavors) those that cannot make that transition. But that's a different thing, in the end.

#26 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:11 AM:

Actually, this year's autumnal equinox falls on September 22, at 11:44 EDT (15:44 UTC ≈ GMT).

#27 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Jon @ 24: Yeah, he tried for a long time before saying "No more." (At which point his parents said, essentially, "You can't quit! I'll fire you!") Even now he tries, gingerly, to make up with his brothers from afar. I guess it's going a little better since his parents passed away.

My boyfriend has pretty much written them all off (other than his own parents/siblings, who are the island of functionality), but it still seems like his dad can't, quite.

As someone who comes from a functional family, it's been those moments -- the moments of "Maybe this time, things will be okay, maybe this time they won't slap me in the face and we can be a family" -- and how long they can hang on, after years and decades of abuse -- that have let me grok just a little bit of what it's like.

#28 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:13 AM:

It still focuses on family
I want a day that recognizes and appreciates that there are people who have NOT reproduced, who are NOT married (especially those who have NEVER been married), who are NOT living with someone else, who are NOT involved in a Relationship...

Being in one or more of those situations above, can and has driven peope into suicidal depression, particularly in the last quarter of the year, particularly in the last month of the year. One of my high school classmates, whom was also Hebrew school classmate, who graduated from Harvard, who was divorced and with a son, and who'd had to close down the family business and was depressed from the marriage failure and being unable to find a new career, suicided some years ago during "the holiday season" when all the "friends and familyyyyyyyyyy!" media pressure is on.

Perhaps there should be a "self-sufficiency day" at the end of the year, recognizing the alienation visited by Society and the evangelizers, the media, the ad industry, on peope who're solo.

#29 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:30 AM:

On this day remember:


You are precious and loved
You have had a positive influence on people and don't even know it.
People you have never met look at you, look to you, and respect you.
Families are an accident of genetics; you are the result of a lifetime of struggle that has polished, shined, and formed you into the work of art you are today.
The old proverb is NOT, "You can judge a man [or woman] by the family they were born into."
Family obligations, like respect, are earned, not a right enabled by existence.
Family are those who care for you, not those who spawned you.
A stopped clock may be right twice a day, that doesn't mean it isn't a worthless piece of junk.
God, whatever He She or It may be (including an infinitely complex set of multi-variable equations) created you especially as a worthwhile and amazing project in your own right, not as someone else's servant, slave, accessory, or punching bag by divine right.
Live your life, and add joy to the lives of those who appreciate you.

To one and all, friends and family of the electronic bloodline, blessings, joy, strength and self-esteem be with you on this day.

And a last thought for the day, (quoted from memory, so perhaps not word-perfect) Keanu Reaves line from Parenthood:
"You need a license to buy a gun, hell, you even need to get a license to drive, but any butt-ream ing motherfucker can be a father."

As if we needed a reminder -- The world is not fair. But the corollary to this is that as with any game where people are cheating, your right is to leave and find a better game, our obligation from the outside is to watch the games of others and help those who need it.

#30 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Paula @28:

To be honest, I think most of the people who wanted this holiday were not thinking of themselves as parents and partners, but rather as offspring and siblings. In other words, the discussion that gave rise to this was about the near-universal* human experience of having and relating to parents, plus the usual distribution of having brothers and sisters.

Self-sufficiency is a perfectly valid choice, but it's not how we spend our childhoods.

-------
* barring the traditional orphanage upbringing

#31 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:37 AM:

Timely, indeed- I went to a memorial service yesterday for my cousin's cousin, who I started first grade with, and today there's a baby shower for an entirely different cousin's eldest son's first child, due just before Christmas.

Sometimes close and functional families are wearing and expensive and one needs to be reminded things could be much worse.

#32 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Today I celebrate by sending blessings to you abi @ 22. It is beyond words precious to me that even some people who haven't been forced to live it can still 'get' it.

I'm also celebrating by using my wonderful freedom from assault and abuse to tell enablers like JJ Fozz @ 9 to g fck thmslves.

And also by cuddling my chosen family. Happy holiday, all!

#33 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Paula Lieberman @ 28 and Abi @ 30:

I don't think Paula's wrong though. Lord knows, from the single-by-choice, to the divorced, widowed, or "everyone moved away" set, being alone is hard. Humans are evolved as social beasts, and the rhythms of our society are structured around occasions designed for communal celebration.

I'd love to see in real life the type of place that occasionally shows up in fiction, where those who don't have these connections have a place to go. And by this, I'm talking more of something like a non-gendered Victorian gentleman's club than I am of something like Cheers. A home-away-from-home where one can find, develop, and celebrate with the "chosen family" as opposed to the genetic one.

Failing that, well, Making Light is a great place; possibly y'all can decide to mash in a "Singles Day" holiday between American Thanksgiving and New Years?

#34 ::: Avedaggio ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:46 AM:

I started writing a response to Paula and stopped, erasing the whole thing because I realized how tense and angry and hurt I was becoming, just thinking about past interactions with my family.

So, for a different approach: I'm cherishing time today with my friend-kin John and Niki, watching the Saint's game even though I have no interest in football, but because I love them and enjoy time with them (Also, she has a bucket of live crawfish swimming in her refrigerator, and I want some of that crawfish boil!). I will also celebrate that I am increasingly able to spend time with my father and talk to him about my future without feeling like a disappointment.

I can celebrate how far I've come in my relationship with myself and my family, and that I'm continuing to make progress.

It's, perhaps, a bit more self-centered than the community had in mind when they made up this holiday, but it's where I am now, and instead of thinking of how I don't fit the mold, I can see how I do, and I like that.

#35 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:50 AM:

How many children of a dysfunctional family does it take to change a light bulb?


Your brother would know.

#36 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Caroline @21 — "Family came first" -- but "family" was defined as "ME ME ME."

I think one of the most brilliant Beatles songs, lyrically, is "She's Leaving Home".

“How could she do this to me.

She (We never thought of ourselves)
Is leaving (Never a thought for ourselves)”

#37 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 12:13 PM:

I don't think that Lynn Johnston was intending to suggest adultery/illegitimacy in today's For Better or For Worse reprint. Though John does appear to be rather gobsmacked by the implication.

My own family, both immediate and extended, tends to not do very well at getting along with each other and with keeping stable relationships -- there's a lot of petty feuding going on. I don't see members of the extended family very often, and it's always a bit stressful when I do. I've never had any luck with romantic relationships myself, and I think that at least part of it is the lack of positive examples around me when I was growing up.

#38 ::: Under the Roses ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 12:24 PM:

She's still alive and might, somehow, read this.

My mother screwed me up for having easy intimate relationships and gave me an intense fear of abandonment.

My sister... well she seems to hate me because I don't think my mother is a saint, even if I love her dearly.

She's also convinced my youngest sister that I am evil incarnate, and without any redeeming qualities and not to be trusted with the least bit of contact. I know this because she contacted me, asked for something and then wondered why on earth I'd think she wanted to catch up.

It had only been six years since she'd last been in touch.

So I'll probably never see my nephews.

People ask me why I don't see my family more. Henh.

#39 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 12:46 PM:

Neil, #35: Close, but you're missing the VAP* emphasis. "Your BROTHER would know."

And @36: Oh, yes. The line that always gets me is, "She's leaving home after living alone for so many years."

Me, I'm going to be spending some time with chosen-family in between hurricane cleanup.

* Verbal Attack Pattern. Suzette Haden Elgin describes this in detail in her books on verbal self-defense; basically, it's what you mean when you say, "It wasn't what they said, it was the way they said it." It's also the thing that lets bullies repeat the bare words of what they said and convince everyone that you were out of line to get upset about it.

#40 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:01 PM:

If it weren't for my (quite) dysfunctional family (in which alcoholism in various members has been the least harmful aspect) I would probably have grown up to be *gasp* normal. So I'm a bit warped, but I think I'm a better, or at least more interesting, person for it.

Which isn't to say that I'm not glad I'm a grownup and able to escape their sphere of influence...

#41 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:47 PM:

mpe - I won't threadjack. If you want to explain yourself, feel free to email me.

#42 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:48 PM:

My parents and I get along just fine these days. If you'd told me ten years ago that this would one day be the case I'd've called you a liar. For me, it worked to just ignore the past, tolerate their remaining foibles (as I do with friends and they do with me), and deliver the occasional smackdown (verbal, not physical). I make their occasional visits as pleasant as possible and don't try to go into the difficult stuff.

Our interactions are pleasant now. It was a lot of work to get there, and I don't think I'm done with therapy for good, but it was worth it. And by the way, it involved a solid decade of almost no contact at all; my father and I literally did not speak for 10 years.

I spend Thanksgiving with my family-by-choice, and have ever since I acquired them, even when I was living within easy traveling distance of my parents.

At Christmas I send rather than attend; it's what got me started on the chocolates. (Or is it? I can't quite remember at this point.) At any rate I spent one fairly excruciating Christmas with all the family together a few years ago, and realized I had no idea how to talk to them or what to get them as gifts, and they didn't know me any better. In ones and twos I can deal, but the whole 10-person clan (parents & sibs == 8, - 1 brother who died, + 2 spouses + 1 child) assembled together is more than I can really handle.

#43 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 01:55 PM:

The worst part being, of course, that when you complain, people will tell you it's your fault--that you need to be more patient, not let the difficult relative get to you, etc. That it's all about your reacting badly.

The first time a therapist told me that my own difficult relative really, truly was difficult--rather than telling me, as family and friends had all my life, that I needed to be more understanding and adjust my own behavior--it was a life-changing and depression-lifting moment.

I'd gone to said therapist wondering how I could adjust my behavior, not expecting anything else, because it hadn't occurred to me that there could be anything else, or that distancing myself instead of letting myself get (emotionally) beaten up over and over again might really be okay.

Outsiders still find said difficult relative merely eccentric, though. And I still hear "you really let him get to you, don't you?" a bit too often.

#44 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 02:05 PM:

JJ Fozz: Your first post in this thread made the ties of family all important (first, last and always).

That attitude (that one must care for one's family, that the relationship of kinship trumps the treatment by those kin) is part of that makes it so hard for people with dysfunctions in the family which make it impossible to deal with them so hard.

Because people (well meaning, careless or otherwise lacking in clue) will tell people who have been abused (emotionally, physically, financially, sexually) they need to, "just get over it," because family is all important.

Well, sometimes it ain't, and the, "strength of family" is just one more tool used to keep the victims in the orbit of the victimiser.

#45 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 02:09 PM:

Lord, but I wrote that second sentence terribly.

The first typo makes it really bad.

is part of what makes it so hard for people with dysfunctions in the family so large as to make dealing with family hard, and sometimes impossible, is more of what I meant to say.

Apologies.

#46 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 02:11 PM:

I wasn't giving advice to anyone Terry, I was simply stating how my family worked. I would never assume that what was good for me is good for anyone else.

Abi set me straight. I acknowledged her post. MPE left that message for me. I responded.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 02:16 PM:

Can we not pile on JJ Fozz? He departed peacefully once abi explained (no flouncing, no threats to leave the site entirely, just realizing he doesn't have anything to contribute to this thread). Then mpe 32 used him as an example of people s/he tells to g fck thmslvs, which I thought was a little unfair given the circumstances (JJ being new here and having posted his first post without knowing the history and whatnot).

Let's not hijack the thread for telling JJ how he ought not to hijack the thread, when JJ has no intention whatsoever of hijacking the thread! And being mean to JJ won't make us feel better about anything. JJ has contributed positively in several threads, and is still getting used to us.

Could we cut him some damn slack, please? I'd really like not to have a dysfunctional family argument in this thread.

#48 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 02:36 PM:

I raise a toast to the holiday.

When I tell people about my family, which I hardly ever do anymore, they alternate between horror and amusement, with a dash of disbelief and a liberal sprinkling of disgust.

Then I tell the punch line: "do you know what my father does for a living? He's a family therapist."

The stunned silence is always impressive.

Then there are the in-laws, the out-laws, and the ex-in-laws. At least one of these is the most dishonest person I have ever heard of: he had two therapists, unbeknownst to each other, because he wanted to be certain he wasn't being given "bad advice". And one wife, but two mistresses. All three of whom were born in the same (foreign) country. I think of him (ex-out-law) whenever the actual in-laws get pesky. Distance in time and space from him is a very comforting thing.

Almost as good as the distance (in time and space) from the one who worked in Europe as an assassin...

I raise a toast for this day, thank you, Abi, and get back to canning plums.

#49 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:06 PM:

#35: Another day, another coffee-spattered keyboard.

#50 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:11 PM:

#37: Well, Lynn Johnson's husband just left her and cleaned out their accounts. So at the least the strip is going to get analyzed for any reflections of that.

#51 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:19 PM:

#48: As the son of two psychologists, I send a knowing nod.

#52 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:24 PM:

Let me also raise a toast to this holiday.

My cousin is currently staying with my parents - her aunt and uncle. Her biological mother is dead and she's not on speaking terms with her father and stepmother. (Step- being a key prefix in that relationship, I'm not blaming my cousin.) A few days ago her boyfriend threw her out of the house with their toddler daughter. She doesn't have money, not having got a job yet after having the kid. She had nowhere else to go.

So yeah, my parents rock. A lot of others don't.

#53 ::: Adelheid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:27 PM:

I appreciate what JJ Fozz said because it brought into focus, for me, the differences between my sister-in-law's family and my husband's family which has been a source of contention and conflict for both families. (My sister-in-law being married to my husband's brother.) Which means I now understand that dysfunction (although it is comparatively mild). I also appreciate that there are those here who really need to shut out the people in their lives who did them grave harm while under the guise of relation. (Sometimes blood is more toxic than water --to paraphrase a saying.) I hope that those individuals have found in some way or another a supportive situation and recognize that this is supposed to be a supportive community. Coincidentally, September 20 marked 14 years since my mother, who was the source of some pain for me, passed away. I was fortunate to have made some peace with the situation before that happened. And have continued the healing on my own and with my father.
I celebrate those who can and do live completely voluntarily and happily on their own with no spouses, significant others or children, etc. by choice. One of my good friends is such a person.
I leave you with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that helped me along:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

#54 ::: Tia ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Having no beverage to hand, I raise a vegan snickerdoodle in acknowledgement and gratitude for the holiday. As someone who moved thousands of miles away from my emotionally-screwed-up family, only to have them move next door to me two years later... yeah. It could have been a lot worse, but at least now I have an ulcer, so I can beg off family get-togethers with a doctor's note. heh. A toast to the urban family unit! w00t!

#55 ::: mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 04:29 PM:

No Tolstoy quote yet? (Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way)

Raising my cup to each person who has survived the trama of truly disfunctional families by turning away and creating their own families of choice. You have my respect.

I also want to raise a cup to honesty since there is so much pressure to pretend to be close and cover over all the cracks and fault lines -- and not talking about all of the thousands and thousands of ways and reasons for families to be different in unhappy ways.

Family trama and its emotional reverberations exists and in thousands of different forms. And even families that present themselves as happy and functional have fault lines and issues. This Making Light space is designed to be a safe space to talk disfunction so that means dropping the cover-up.

I try to be honest about one major fault line in my family: Mental illness. My sister has serious mental problems, at various times called bipolar and schizophrenia. My paternal grandma had something seriously wrong also. My grandma never got treatment (that I know of). My sister is firmly in the mental health system. And thank the flying spagetti monster for that government system. Because mentally ill people can target family when having episodes (I'm talking knife attacks and other types of physical violence here, people) and family interactions can make things worse. The lovely social workers and mental health professionals are the best most wonderful folks to deal with this type of illness precisely because of the lack of emotional relationship.

And, to be honest, people with mental illness NEED extra support because their families turn away from them to protect against the hurt from the mental illness personality and also because it takes courage to say in public that you are related to a "crazy person." Because discrimination exists against both the person with the mental illness and the family.

In my sisters spiritual quests she has belonged to many different religious organizations from Reformed Jewish (part of our family tradition) to Wicca to her current Anglican affiliation. And one stop along the way was Assemblies of God. And the talk from the far right that family and church will take care of problems so we dont need a well funded social welfare system? Bullshit. Ive never seen people run farther and faster than the Assemblies of God churchfolk confronted with my sister in the midst of a serious mental illness episode. Because a serous mental health episode ain't pretty and no one will be around the type of manipulative nasty behavior that mental illness can provoke if they are not paid professionals. Properly medicated, when the medication is working and all is stable in her life, my sister can be a sweet and thoughtful person -- a huge contrast to the "having an episode" personality.

Still waiting to see how the Anglicans will respond to a major episode (better, I suspect, but mostly because I get the sense that the Anglicans are in general more willing to leave mental health treatment to mental health professionals and be friendly at arms length).

This comment is wandering all over the place, but I have two points. The first is that not just parents but sibling behavior can have long reverberations. I don't have kids and the long shadow cast by my sister's mental illness is one huge reason (emotionally - the actual odds of having a kid with mental illness means that most kids wont have a problem, even coming from a family like mine with a history of mental illness but you still have to weigh those odds and determine if you are emotionally prepared for the knife attacks, both verbal and physical).

My second point: Anyone who has survived where one or more parents has treated or untreated mental illness? You have my deep respect because I have some slight insight on how hard it is. Another toast to all the folks who have to jump into parenting nieces and nephews or grandchildren when their relatives are not up to the job.

Final thought - I love the Dune card. Our family problems have been made 1000% better by humor and sending a family member a Dune-like family disfunctional card is IMO a sign of being healthy and functional.

#56 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 04:48 PM:

Did you write this post after shopping for Hallmark cards at your friendly neighborhood drugstore (CVS: not)?

The latent hostility in these cards (humor can be a form of hostility) makes picking from them for relatives difficult, to say the least. It's much easier to buy blank art cards at a museum and write your own messages.

Either Hallmark has decided to be "hip" and subversive or or people do harbor latent hostility towards their loved ones (or at least towards compulsory gift-giving).

#57 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 05:16 PM:

Along with Tolstoy's quote, I think Philip Larkin's "This Be The Verse" should also be traditional:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 05:56 PM:

Adelheid, #53: That quote is a double-edged blade, right up there with "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." If it helped you to cope, I salute you -- but I can't read it without thinking yeah, that's a get-out-of-jail-free card for verbal and emotional abusers all right. Because it's easy for bullies to sneer something like that at their chosen victims as "proof" that THEY can't possibly be at fault, it's all in the victim's head. That's not a useful thing for someone who's being abused to hear.


#59 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 06:22 PM:

I like Tolstoy, but that quotation (from Anna Karenina) is one of his bigger clunkers.

Happy is as unique as unhappy. It's just that we tend not look at the mechanics of happy as much as we are often forced to notices the problems of unhappy.

#60 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 07:36 PM:

Lee @ 58, yeah, the quote sounds similarly to my ears. My mother seems to find strength in it, and I've seen others who do too. But to me it's always sounded like "Why do you let yourself be hurt by hurtful things? What, you can't take the heat? Why don't you just grow a thicker skin? The fact that you're hurt proves you're weak and wrong; if you were really strong, you'd never experience pain when someone does or says something hurtful."

#61 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Relatives

Just the thought of them makes your jawbone ache:
those turkey dinners, those holidays with
the air around the woodstove baked to a stupor,
and Aunt Lil's tablecloth stained by her childhood's gravy.
A doggy wordless wisdom whimpers from
your uncle's collective eyes; their very jokes
creak with genetic sorrow, a strain
of common heritage that hurts the gut.

Sheer boredom and fascination! A spidering
of chromosomes webs even the infants in
and holds us fast around the spread
of rotting food, of too-sweet pie.
The cousins buzz, the nephews crawl;
to love one's self is to love them all.

--John Updike

#62 ::: Mara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 08:15 PM:

After having a nervous breakdown stemming from the realization that I am most definitely not straight, I moved from Delaware to California to get away from my conservative Charismatic Christian family, and it was the best thing I ever did.

My mom is a narcissistic hypochondriac who was raped by her father, brother and babysitter.

My paternal grandmother accused me of not being a proper Christian because I still struggle with being sexually abused by an adopted grandfather; she got over being abused by her cousin, so why can't I?

My father is a self-hating bisexual alcoholic with crippling emotional immaturity who has lived with his mother ever since my mom demanded a divorce because he had sex with a man at a peep show (and didn't tell her until after putting her at risk for STD's).

My brother is the only person in the family worth giving a damn about. He didn't reject me when I came out to him. But now he's told me he's struggling to decide whether or not he can ever see or talk to me again, because he doesn't approve of the person I'm dating.

My family is deeply and painfully dysfunctional. But in spite of the fact that I'm still coping with the damage, I got out: I'm living on my own. Functioning. Making my own family.

To everyone who's had to do the same, I raise a toast to you, to your health, your growing strength.

To everyone who's helped a friend get free of their families, or any kind of abusive situation, I salute you and bless you. I never would have got free if it hadn't been for people like you.

#63 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 08:25 PM:

Mara, I'm raising a toast to you -- and many others on this thread -- for your strength and courage.

May you all be well, and may you find families of choice that are full of real love.

#64 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:46 PM:

Is this a day for people who were nearly strangled to death, threatened with knives, tortured with doors running over toes, had boiling soup poured over their hands because they weren't preparing dinner fast enough, locked in closets (yes, I identified with Harry Potter strongly from book 1), sent death threats, stalked, stalked, and oh extra on the stalking, had friends threatened, nearly had fingers pressed to the breaking point, and many other things I'm not telling you because this list is too long now, by their fathers and mothers?

Really and for true? Where I don't have to have people tell me "Family is all you've really got in this world" because if it's true I should just kill myself right now and have it be over with?

Too good to be true.

I celebrate every day with medication---actually, I kind of have to. Every day I'm steeped in the knowledge that I willingly traded almost everything I owned, everything I loved, every useful bit of legal paper, every friend I had, and even my name several times to escape. I know the real worth of life and identity. People think names are important---I know they are not.

You know, all my relatives would turn me into my parents, even seeing the result of the unhappier nights in a room with my father who needed to take his anger out on something alive. They have, too.

I also think when your kid is deathly sick and you refuse to take them to the doctor until the school and some law enforcement make you, that this should be filed under abuse and not mere neglect.

I have a very hard time convincing people I'm not a runaway for random teenage reasons---and I'm fucking 30. I don't think you should be shunned for getting away from your parents because they ripped your hands raw against carpeting and nearly ran you over with a car once to make some kind of point, I forget what it was.

I mean, really. I got everything *but* the kitchen sink of sexual abuse. Maybe nobody can make you feel inferior, and nobody can make you fear, but I tell you, brother and sister, there damn near ways to turn somebody insane.

I hate (temporarily) every single person who tells me "but family is your support in this life" because if that's true, I should just get my life over with.

On the other hand, I'm too goddamned stubborn to die.

I'd love it if this were really a holiday for me. But to tell the truth, too many people don't have families as messed up as mine, so all this is, is a sort of day for venting before they all go back to theirs. I got nothing on that end---and I'm not about to go back and try to work things out. Crazily enough, I did try that back in my early 20s. I got my wrist twisted up and my fingers nearly broken and the death threats for my troubles.

Family. Pah.

Every holiday is horrible for me. Because I remember what my father did to me on holidays, because they always stressed him out. And because there is no family for me to visit---unless, you know, I want to die.

You know, every day I go home with the knowledge that some day my father may have found me, and then, he for reals will kill me. This tends to set your priorities into "live in the now".

Anyways. I'd love a holiday like that.

#65 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 09:55 PM:

mea #55: I know some about this. My husband is mentally ill; it seems to go on forever. He's getting some help now but in the last 18 monthes got neither medical or therapeutic help. He moved out and while it hurt me and the kids and horribly it has also given us some relief from living with a very sick person.

A lot of my energy goes into keeping our family as functional as possible. It helps that my family was functional.

#66 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:03 PM:

... and this is the point where I really regret saying all that and not thinking *really hard* during the preview as to whether or not to spew. It's inconsiderate and not really needed even on a thread like this. There are all sorts of ways families go wrong. Mine is just a snowflake amongst a snowstorm, each snowflake unique and special...

I'll just go back to being quiet now.

I do kind of wish I'd found Making Light and hung out around here sooner.

#67 ::: Mara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:10 PM:

Arachne: I'll celebrate with you, with medication and good whiskey. I didn't experience much in the way of physical abuse, but I would rather die than stay in my mother's house again.

There should be a holiday for people who'd rather forget Christmas.

#68 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:15 PM:

@ Mara #67 -

First, *hugs*. Actually, *hugs* all around.

Ah, meds and whiskey. Sadly I am currently limited by home supplies to the horror of horrors, Diet Caffeine Free Cherry Coke.

... I should go out and buy some cupcakes.

There should be a holiday for people who'd rather forget Christmas.

Oh gods yes. I have thought that several times but never actually said it.

#69 ::: Looks Normal On The Outside ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Anonymously, because ... because I wish it.

I am rebuilding myself, slowly but surely, after the slow drip drip drip of "teasing" and belittling and shaming. Failure was punished by humiliation, over and over and over. Success was... never noticed. Eleanor Roosevelt's quote only applies when there is some basis for understanding what "not inferior" even feels like.

I understand when someone says "everybody thinks my family is fine, but I don't" because my family looks great on the outside. Or even for some on the inside. It wasn't for me. It took a complete breakdown for me to realize how badly I was flawed. I can now think the unthinkable: I am a capable human being.

Celebrate ME today, and my continued progress towards functionality.

#70 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:19 PM:

I celebrate this equinox for other reasons anyway, but I salute y'all for coming up with the idea and I extend sympathy to all those who were abused worse than I, or abused, period.
I think there should be a day for survivors of dysfunctional families, and also a day for single folks--I mean, if you are going to have "days" in the first place, which have some danger of being Hallmarked but good and then the cause forgotten for the rest of the year. I sometimes feel that the whole concept of dedicated days for this and that group of people, came about because someone wanted to sell some cards. I don't do cards.
I too survived horrors. The parties responsible have been called to account and made to understand that what they did was wrong... but deep down inside I can never trust them 100%, you just don't get over some of that stuff. It is worse when you can't hold onto friends for some reason. (I try to be considerate and polite and so on but I keep getting the ones that just fade away.) Sometimes it seems like the only intelligent conversation I have is online.
Anyway thanks for the reprint of the poem about how mum and dad fuck you up, and I hope somoene will do some nice ones about the equinox like they did for the winter solstice.

#71 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:36 PM:

Much of the above resonates too well with me.

I blogged about one of the things that kept me sane through the ordeal of being in the total control of people who - oh, I don't know. They must have seen parenting rather differently than I do.

It turned out that the man who ran the pirate radio station that sustained my spirit died a few weeks ago. At the end of the post is a link to his daily ritual of affirmation - a reading of Desiderata.

I am only alive because I heard *every day* that "no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here".

Here it is, for anyone who needs to hear it said. Dysfunctional families can make us doubt that right to be here.

#72 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:49 PM:

The 1950s were sick, sick, sick, sick.
I say that because of all the post-WWII propaganda which caused the US marriage rate to soar to the highest level it had ever gotten to.

Hordes of people married and had children because of social expectations and pressure--left to make their own decisions free of the 1950s social mandate of marry and reproduce and Birth Control is EVIL!!!, many of them wouldn't have married, and many more wouldn't have had had children, who grew up in situations varying from Clueless Parenting to outright severe child abuse.

My parents didn't mean to be abusive when they were--examples include I remember being in a car with my sister, when my grandmother was dying in a hospital in Woburn--actually she had died before my parents got to the hospital, driving from Leominster which at the time was an hour's drive west of Woburn, and my parents left my sister and I in the car in the parking lot, for what seemed like hours, presumably they were dealing with paperwork and grief and who knows what else... what I know is that I was 11 or so in a locked car with my sister, bored out of my mind and hating being in that car in the parking lot interminably, with nothing to do, nothing to read, except sit in the damned car....

I got blamed for being bored and/or thirsty... it never occurred to my parents to bring along things for their kids to amuse themselves with at auctions that went on for hours--there was one that there was really good stuff cheap at, and I was a small child, bored, unhappy, and apparently able at the time to make myself barf when upset and miserable and angry enough, so I did... I wanted OUT of there, and not to be bored and miserable. My parents never let me forget it. A few toys or a game or a jigsaw puzzle to occupy me and something to eat and drink and cloth for sun shield or warmth for comfort, and I would have perfectly happy... that sort of thing though NEVER occurred to them, and I was much too young at the time to have the cognition and forethought and knowledge to bring anything along. Later I never went anywhere for years without a deck of cards.... I used up a lifetime of solitaire as a child. Eventually books replaced the deck of cards as the security/boredom alleviator.

My parents have been gone for two years now. I have a sister, who calls me on her cell phone which is on only when she is using it to call people or expecting a call from her husband or such, while she is between a departure location and a destination. That pisses me off for a number of reasons. She got me tonight as I was doing yard work. I said I was working in the yard and trying to get some things done while there was still daylight.... She asked me what I was doing in the yard, which ticked me off... inquistions are not things I regard as polite. "But it shows I'm interested [so I am asking for the sake of politeness.]" she said. "I HATE smalltalk," I replied.... So, she then proceeded to tell me about what she had been doing, involving other women who are empty nesters (her younger son is now at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute. Both my sister and brother-in-law graduated from there, though it wasn't until they were office mates at IBM that they met; she was a year or two ahead of him)

(There's lot of geekery in my family tree, the RPI contingent above, a first cousin, a first cousin of my mother's, a first cousin of my father's, a second cousin's son, and various family connections with MIT degrees; a first cousin of my mothers who graduated from Caltech.... alas, I seem to come by my lack of social graces naturally.... the uncle with the four Harvard degrees in psychology, and the cousin who graded physics papers during his brother's wedding ceremony, made me look socially graceful....]

#73 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 10:52 PM:

Arachne Jericho, #64 and #66: Please don't feel like you need to apologise. And please don't feel like you need to deprecate your experiences as 'a snowflake among a snowstorm.' And please, please, do not feel like you 'need to go back to being quiet now.'

I refer you to the quote on the front page of Making Light: "Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate."

Please stay.


#74 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:04 PM:

@ debcha #73

Thanks. I'm grateful for your words. I'm grateful, actually, for this thread, even if there were some messages that made me lose my temper.

I am hanging around; I'm just contemplative right now. Today is a very bad day. Actually it's kind of been a string of bad days. It's like today coincided with an unfortunate bit in my life. And... I really need to get cupcakes! And food. I haven't felt like eating (for... over the last 24 hours), which is probably not a good sign, so I must go eat.

I try very hard to be functional and it's kind of unhappy when I lose it, even a little bit.

#75 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Could we cut him some damn slack, please? I'd really like not to have a dysfunctional family argument in this thread.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Agreed with Anonymous @43 about the value of finding a therapist, or for that matter anyone, to validate one's perceptions that something with the family member being discussed is Not Quite Right. I've seen three shrinks in my life, and each one made me feel better in the very first visit simply by responding with stunned silence to certain stories.

That kind of validation is hard to find. Found it here in this thread. Thanks.

#76 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:17 PM:

Arachne, go eat. September has been Body Affects Mind Month for me-- I keep being surprised that two more hours of sleep makes my anxiety disappear.

#77 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:22 PM:

Arachne Jericho, I second/third/fifth debcha @ 73. These things happened to you. You get to bear witness to the events of your life, however horrific or not quite drawing room material. There's no amount of sweeping under the rug or pretending that will unmake that stuff, so no point in trying either. You have my profoundest respect for surviving to tell the tale.

There's a number of things about Harry Potter's home life that strike me as being inappropriately cartooned. Those bits about being locked under the stairs and all? I know Rowling was going for an over-the-top description of Life of an Oppressed Talented Child, sort of like Cinderella without the softening of ages of retellings, but those parts squicked me in the same ways that watching The Three Stooges and similar skits bug me. It's just not very funny when you know how that same thing goes in real life.

So anyway, here's to ya. And if you don't have a bolthole planned out in case the loonies show up on your doorstep, plan one. You shouldn't ever need it, but having a plan helps some with the anxiety attacks.

#78 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:24 PM:


Life's not like a romance novel
At the story's close,
Hap'ly ever after endings,
Versus lives morose-
Some folks they do have the fortune
Marry and lifelong,
Hap'ly ever after endings
For most that turn wrong!

Hap'ly ever after ending
Find your love who's true
But in real life unremitting
Oft those days are few--
Spouse abusal child neglect
Or cluelessness so high
Loves that do not pass the time test
Hatred and it's bye.

Family that one is born to
Or adopted in
Love's a word but so's dysfunction
Roll of dice for kin--
There are myths for kinship value
For some they are true
But for most there is dysfunction
Hardened painful glue.

Teachings how to be a fam'ly
What arbiters say,
That may or may not be the status
They allow no gray--
Deviants! they call all others
Who don't fit their mold
And they try to forcefit lifestyle
And all to it they hold.

Life's not like a romance novel
As each life unfolds
Hap'ly ever after endings,
Fictions that get sold,
Some folks they do have the fortune
Marry and live well,
But many know a world that's diff'rent
And family life from hell

#79 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:29 PM:

Pace Xopher, and re: JJ Fozz - Words are important. Most of us here would agree that it's important to choose the right words, and own our words, because words are all we have to communicate with. And the reason that JJ Fozz's original post sounded to me not like a simple personal expression of his priorities but like a lecture to everyone else that Family Is Important Dammit was, quite simply, use of the second person in the first sentence:

"Your family comes first, last and always."

That first sentence set the tone for the whole post. Now that I go back and read it since JJ Fozz clarified what he meant (and I appreciate his doing so!), I can see the following sentences explain how this principle was a saving foundation for him and others in his family and the relationship they share. But when I first read it, that first sentence colored my reading of the rest, giving me the impression that the author sought to assert a universal truth and to offer personal experience as testimony to that universal truth.

It would probably have avoided bad feeling had that first sentence been worded in the first person: "My family comes first, last and always."

This may sound like a really picky point that only a total obsessive, anal-retentive person would care about - but I'm convinced that it's word choices like these that make the difference between communication and miscommunication. (And miscommunication leads to anger! And anger leads to suffering!)

--

I am fortunate in having a good relationship with most of my family; like someone else said upthread, it's worth being reminded that this is great good fortune and not something to be taken for granted. And because it's easy for me to take that for granted, I also find myself taking for granted the family I have accumulated through conscious choice and freedom of association, and the right to consider them family in truth. I'm guessing that many of us receive pressure from our accidental families (I'd say "genetic" but that would leave out us adopted kids) to hold our chosen families to a lower priority. I think it can be weirdly hard to resist that pressure when there's no dysfunction to point to as a reason for putting the chosen family first at times.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying: Today I acknowledge and celebrate my chosen family. They are precious to me, and there will be times when they come before the family I was born into, and that's valid and healthy and OK and even necessary.

(Mad hugz to Avedaggio, whom John and I very much consider family. Er... thanks for putting up with my shouting at the TV and all that! I only get like that when the Saints are playing, I swear...)

#80 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:37 PM:

My family: hell, we had bad times and some good times, but my parents did their best to love me, and once I became an adult, I did my best to love them. My mother, in the last year of her life, said to me, "We didn't know very much about being parents." Her own childhood was awful, and she suffered from it daily.

I am awed by the courage and grace of the folks who have told their stories here -- and extend my heart to those who, for whatever reason, whatever horrors, whatever pain, can't speak. Peace to you.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:38 PM:

Arachne, thank you for that long post, which I may link to the next time someone tells me "family is everything." May you be safe and find happiness.

People from functional families typically don't get it (our abi is exceptional in more ways than just that, happily).

Chris 75: This is why we can't have nice things.

I'm not sure quite what you mean here. It sounds like a criticism of what I said, and that's fine, but I don't understand the nature of the criticism. Could you elaborate?

#82 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:42 PM:

#81: Sorry, Xopher. It was an unfortunately ambiguous attempt at mild humor intended as agreement with you.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2008, 11:48 PM:

Oh, OK. No problem at all.

Nicole, I don't disagree. At all.

#84 ::: mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:26 AM:

#59: Really? Good to hear a different perspective. At least for me the Tolstoy quote rings true because it expresses what I feel when looking from the outside into a happy family. There might be lots of different flavors of happiness but looking INTO a happy family from the outside evokes a feeling of isolation and deviation from the norm.

#65 Sara_K – You and your kids – and your husband – have my best wishes. The most difficult and important thing when dealing with someone with mental illness, in my limited experience, is setting boundaries. And even when you KNOW that it is the illness talking, mean hurtful statements still sting and cut to the quick. And it can be very frustrating when the episode is over and the person with the illness doesn’t even remember doing such hurtful things. That is one thing that I’ve come to appreciate over the years – and talk to my sister about. People can have radically different memories of events or, especially when ill or medicated, absolutely no memory at all.

Mara at #62: good for you for having the courage to strike out on your own. And I’m sorry that you have to deal with the pain of your brother not being supportive when that is the one genetic relationship you think is worth salvaging. May he quickly come to his senses.

Arachne Jericho: Thank you for the courage to post your comment. I’ve been a lurker on Making Light for a long time, because I was too scared by the high level of conversation to jump in (uhm, does watching TV count as making something? What about if I am lousy at writing poems? What if I am completely unable to contemplate a situation where I’d need to decipher a message by pulling an old engineering text off my shelf?). But I felt I needed to say something on this thread because folks like me from lightly fractured families are conditioned to fake it and say everything is OK. That can crowd out the space for honest discussion. But talking about mental illness can be done in a clumsy way (because it can sound so “SHE has a problem, not me, no way, I’M the normal one”). I hope that my comment wasn’t one of the ones that made you frustrated.

And AMEN to the comment about Christmas. Virtually every single time my sister has had an episode it has been in the stretch from October to January. Holiday time. I spent some time living in a few non-christian countries and it is such a deep and enjoyable relief to not have The Cult Of Happy Christmas shoved down one’s throat. I wish there was a TV channel, radio channel, and newspaper that I could read during October to January that would completely NOT go down the holiday rabbit hole.

#85 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:02 AM:

Yes, we probably do need a BadFamilyDay. ("Dysfunctional" is a useful descriptive word, but perhaps too fancy for something so basic.) Even people who had or are making Good Families can profit from a reminder of the alternative.

But I happen to prefer to observe the Autumn Equinox in a much broader & more elemental way, as a day of reflection and emphasis on the fact that the Cycle of Change may be moving into the worse -- I don't much like Winter -- but before too unbearably long (the Winter Solstice is only a few months away) will head for the better.

But whatever day is fixed upon for acknowledging familial dysfunction, I'd expect to observe it mostly by just continuing to be unmarried and childless. Hey, nudging 80, other scenarios are extremely unlikely. And probably go out -- alone, most likely -- for lunch or dinner at a Fancy (but not _too_ Expensive) Restaurant.

I'd spend a little time regretting that almost all of my long-time close friends are now dead. With a single exception, the best that's left is a handful of ... friendly close acquaintances, and (rather many) distant acquaintances. In a (well-functioning) Family, I suppose, these circles replenish themselves (with a little effort) from younger generations and in-laws.

This discussion makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because I detest the idea of establishing personal relationships on the basis of how _useful_ someone might be -- and there's some possibility I've leaned over backwards to avoid that, though I must confess to also being reluctant to assume the responsibilities involved in close & strong family/pseudo-kin relationships. Not to mention a disinclination to impose on others the work of trying to communicate with someone who's substantially deaf.

Mind you, mine was not, objectively, as terribly dysfunctional as many families I've heard about -- no hint of physical abuse, just constant (it seemed to me) stress and bickering, with frequent verbal pyrotechnics, between an unusually egocentric man and an inadequately self-confident but highly determined woman. Both Good People, I think, but they shouldn't have been married to each-other, or shouldn't have remained married nearly as long as they did, making themselves (and me) miserable much of the time. I'm too much like both of them to think I'd make a good spouse or parent, so I've deliberately avoided becoming either.

I'd also reflect on the thought that this dysfunctional family background is largely responsible for the person I became -- and, despite many shortcomings, I'm not all certain I'd want to be anyone else.


#86 ::: Nona ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:13 AM:

I've always had a rocky relationship with my parents-- they're not the kind of people who deal well with constant questioning, and I was the kind of kid who needed to know the why of everything. Combine that with their stubbornness, which I certainly inherited, and you can get a lot of personality conflicts.

At the low points, I haven't wanted to have anything to do with my parents. But the longest I've ever gone without speaking to them was a few months, after my dad said something really inexcusable and I told him I wouldn't talk to him at all if he was going to treat me like that. It worked for a while, but I get the sense we're slipping again.

When I first moved out of their house-- against their wishes, because they didn't think I knew how to take care of myself-- the friends I was moving in with got a chance to see how they act without company manners. One of my friends turned to me after they left and said "You know, you've always told me your mother is crazy, but I figured you meant it the way everyone does. But oh my god, your mother is crazy." I can't even *express* how much of a relief it was to get that independently confirmed.

The thing is, though, as I get older I start to understand the things that make them act the way they do. It's like I'd been wearing blinkers my whole childhood, and now that they're off I can see how much I was hampered by them-- and how hampered my parents are by the ones they still wear. So it gets easier to not blame myself when we can't get along.

I don't think I'd ever want to cut off contact with them, though. My dad doesn't speak to his parents or his sisters, and it's incredibly rough for everyone involved. I still hope my parents and I can understand each other someday, if I find the right words and they get a little better at listening.

#87 ::: Yatima ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:18 AM:

Arachne Jericho: I am working on a time machine so I can go back in time and NAPALM a whole bunch of abusers. Yours are now on my list.

Because I hear your story and I want to protect your child self and tell you the truth: You don't deserve that. It's not your fault. You deserve to be loved and happy.

#88 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:32 AM:

Don: Allow me to say thanks, you've always been a pleasant spot of company, and at times a genuine comfort.

#89 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:04 AM:

@ Diatryma #76

I did go and get something to eat. French bread, liverwurst sausage. Comfort food, for me at least.

Also I got cupcakes and ate two of them. They were delicious.

@ pericat #77

Thanks. I will tell you, though, that sometimes I don't think I deserve all the kudos for living through the situation. Well. Okay. There were a couple iffy situations where I managed to successfully bolt and hide (in someone's house; in the apartment across the hall, which was a scary night) and I'm not sure he would really have held back those times.

But my father almost never really wanted to kill me all the way. Who would he have to talk to? He hated my mom, so he reserved special conversations with me. (Though said conversation also involved physical abuse, but there was talk inbetween the beatings...) Every time he hurt me to the point where I became a lot less responsive, he went way, and then came back and told me he was sorry and that he really loved me.

This confused the hell out of me as a child. And as a teenager. And frankly into my 20's. I could not make my family match up against all the families on TV and in books. It wasn't until I was in college that I started to realize why. Which is a very long time, granted, but my surrender was so complete for so long. The first memory I have is of violence.

Of course, that relationship with my father appears to confuse some other people. They don't understand the sick dynamic. They say "but your father DID love you" and all I can say is that there are some kinds of love that are worse than hatred. It's not a case of the love washing out the hate and making everything "ok". It doesn't work like that.

This, of course, makes it much harder to explain everything else, so I have tended to leave it out of conversation. This is probably the first time I'm saying it out loud again in over five years, because I think I won't get ridiculed here.

I loved Harry Potter because it was the first time I ever saw a---to me, anyways---relatively realistic portrayal of child abuse in a children's book. It was not over the top like a Dahl book; there were little tells that indicated to me that it was real, or most of it anyways. And I thought this was awesome, because I had never read something where it wasn't stretched out beyond control, swept under the rug, alluded to in off-scenes, or otherwise kept quiet. It was there.

The development of Harry Potter's relationship with his surrogate family also matured through the books, and got more realistic, to the point where it was very real. I liked that, though it's an odd reason to like that series.

Also, Harry Potter was a good person. Too often I've seen people equate abused children with growing up to be abusers and bad people. (Yes, I'm simplifying, but this is when I was in high school and you know how it is.) It happens, but not every single time. We aren't all people to be locked up and culled---I remember someone saying that in abusive relationships, *every* member should be locked up and never let out again, including children, because they would just grow up to be wrong.

Ah the ignorance. I've seen it too often to really be angry anymore.

I have friends on the island who are understanding, although they are thinking of moving away, so I'll need to figure out something else.

@ Xopher #81

Feel free to link. Over the years I have become rather less shy about telling the tale. It must be some form of late rebellion; my father made me swear special promises when I was little never to tell anybody what was going on.

It was all so sick and tangled. Well, *is*, to be realistic about it.

Someone gave me a book once; it was called _Toxic Parents_. I rather liked it, because there were chapters devoted to "you don't have to try to forgive". I have been told many times to forgive my parents. I think there are some things that you can't forgive people for, although I'm told that in time I can even forgive the strangling. I was not told that by the book, however. It's such an awesome book. Everybody with toxic parents should have a copy.

@ mea #84

Nope, it wasn't you. It was much, much earlier in the thread, but I'm over it now.

I mean, there are people out there who insist that what the Dursleys did to Harry was not abuse. *facepalm* So yeah. What can we do? Sometimes people just don't know until you tell them. And sometimes not even then.

It's the "not even then" that makes me really sick, and has been the cause of much suffering---and not just mentally either. I have lost some friends because, um, not to put down Christians or anything because I do have good Christian friends, but *these* guys became "born again" and decided that they needed to "mend my family" and did not understand that was not going to work.

I lost another name and identity through that.

@ Yatima #87

Thank you. Napalm is good.

I think I'm done rambling.

A sort of by the way... I have been told a few times that I'm being dangerously daring by posting on teh Internets with my name and everything. All I can say is... I'm tired of being afraid. I don't have anxiety attacks about the situation because I've just accepted it. And I can either be afraid forever and still die or I can be me and have conversations with people and still die. Sometimes this is a difficult concept to make other people understand.

My understanding friends introduced me to the phrase "It's not paranoia if they really *are* out to get you."

#90 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:19 AM:

#29 ::: pedantic peasant

On this day remember:
You are precious and loved...

Thank you.

#91 ::: Rose White ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:30 AM:

Thank you all for talking; thank you all for listening.

When I was 15, I saved as much money as I could from my job working at the Ascension Parish Library and planned to run away from home. I had looked up how to become an emancipated minor. I also knew that at 16, I could take the GED, and then perhaps apply to LSU. This all made sense to me, because I was willing to do anything to get the hell away from my insanely controlling father and mother.

I was luckier than some, because they loved me and they meant well, but I was miserable. My father didn't want me to turn out badly. So he read all my notebooks and eventually started stealing my mail.

I told my favorite teacher that I would be running away soon, so she wouldn't worry about me. Instead of turning me in, or laughing at me, she asked if I could wait a little while. A few days later she asked if I wanted to go to college early, and that was that.

After I went to college, things were a little easier with my parents, but not much. Somehow I still managed to always do the wrong thing for my dad, even when the rest of the world thought I was wonderful. (And then I recapitulated my relationship with my father in a lengthy emotionally abusive romantic relationship that took up most of my 20s. Arrgh.)

I hadn't seen my father for seven years when he died, five years ago. I still remember the relief I felt, a visceral sensation of lightness. And yet I still grieve for the relationship we didn't have, because he was a remarkable, fascinating man, and he did love me.

I used to tear up in the aisle of the drugstore as I tried to pick out a Father's Day card that I could stand to send (because I wasn't quite willing to not send one). I'm so glad that's over.

Thank you for this thread.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:41 AM:

Arachne, #89: I have a hypothesis that people who are abused as children tend to go one of two ways. Either they swear they'll never do that to any child of theirs -- and either figure out how to break the pattern or, in many cases, decide not to have children at all -- or they can't wait to be big and strong enough to be on the dealing-out end. It's the latter type who should be culled; unfortunately, there's no good way to differentiate between the two types until it's too late.

After my mother died, I had a very hard time dealing with my father; he and I hadn't really communicated in 10 years, even when we were in the same room. If there had been anyone else available to do the "family" thing, I would happily have bowed out then -- but I was an only child, so it was me or no one. I had to set some limits; for example, I would not see him without a third person present, because that tended to bring out the "company manners". I also went to a family counselor for advice and a place to vent -- this counselor had worked with us before, so I didn't have to explain the family dynamics to her. And she was helpful... until she started insisting that I "really did love him" when I was only acting out of a sense of duty; he'd worn out my love long before. I really dislike having people tell me how I feel, when I'm telling them over and over again that I don't feel that way, and so I stopped the counseling sessions. Not especially relevant to your story, but you talking about how people try to convince you that your father "really did love you" made me think of it.

#93 ::: silent E ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:01 AM:

If Hallmark made cards for me to send to my mother, they would say, "Thank you for not succeeding when you tried to kill me."

If Hallmark made cards for me to send to my father, they would say, "Thanks for making it clear that you think people like me are worthless and shouldn't be allowed to live."

I'm a regular poster here, but even though I've talked about this stuff, today I feel nervous posting it under my own name. That's probably because they've been on the phone to me a lot lately, complaining about how I don't write to them and don't call them. They expect me to pretend we're close.

The hell of it? I think they might love me inasmuch as they are capable of it. It's just that their version of love is toxic.

And the whole thing rips me up inside.

#94 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:03 AM:

Like abi, I have a mostly functional family (most of my screwing up happened at the hands of my parents' chosen family), but also have a lot of friends whose families have been a Bad thing in their lives. To each of them: I salute you. You are more than a child from a neglectful or abusive family. You are someone I choose as part of my chosen family, because you are wonderful. Yes, you. I like you! There is a spark of sheer amazingness in you that I was drawn to when I met you, and treasure now--apart and aside from whatever scars you bear.

And, yes, I would like to go back in time and somehow stop them from hurting you. Goddammit.

To the members of my birth family who have had to pull away because the relationships weren't working: if I have been part of the problem, I hope that I find that out and change. And for the times when I have not realized how much you were hurting, because the family wasn't hurting me in the same ways: I am sorry.

To the people who've helped me see the cracks in my (mostly functional) family, and heal from them--thank you.

And abi--well, abi rocks. ;)

#95 ::: Another Irregular Commenter ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:25 AM:

Yes.

A sense of obligation but not love. I will do for your what I would do for another human. No more.

Satisfaction as people who hurt you in ways you don't like to discuss die. The surprise as a part of you that you never realized was tense relaxes, accepting that for certain they can no longer harm you.

That is a holiday worthy of observation.

#96 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:16 AM:

Choosing a birthday card for my Dad this week was fun, seeing as how he's been monumentally disinterested in us for years, and now is recovering from the psychotic effects of the Parkinson's drugs he was on (because, to nobody else's surprise, it wasn't actually Parkinsons, but something Parkinsonian, and in my view probably related to his years of way above average alcohol intake.)

Which makes most "Go nuts on your Birthday, go get very drunk, you're the best dad in the world!" cards less than honest or tactful buys.

But they don't make "I love you despite everything" cards.

And hey, last year my brother got an apology from our stepdad for not being so great as a dad. Miracles happen.

My son tells me regularly I'm the best Dad in the world. He's so very far from being right, but bless him.

Having an appreciation day for the progeny free would be immensely cool, I think. It would include a few of my and my partners families (gosh, wonder why they've decided to stay out of the parenting game?)

#97 ::: myrthe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:49 AM:

It's amazing how strong the pull to treat your family as a mirror, or a measure, of mine. To give the advice I wish I'd followed. To share what worked that one time that sounds a bit like your situation (and tell you to do it). It's scary how much hurt it can cause when we do.

#98 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:04 AM:

Thanks for posting this, Abi. Good choice of date. As it happens, today I'm finishing up a trip to visit one of my good siblings. I have a very large family of origin (I'm the youngest of 7 siblings, and we had an aunt and grandparents who lived with us when I was a kid). So it's a bit of a curate's egg. Spending time with the good parts is always tricky because there are so many reflections of the bad parts. Including in my own reflection, sometimes.

Looking at my (genetically-unrelated) son and knowing that he won't inherit anything of us, except what I teach him, is a tremendous consolation.

#99 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:41 AM:

As a perfectly normal functioning adult that was raised in a perfectly normal functioning household I personally feel discriminated against by this holiday.

I'm therefore giving the "American" response...I'll be suing Abi...

O.o

#100 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:09 AM:

JK Richard @99:
I'll be suing Abi..

Bring it on, baby. My parents are lawyers, and I'm still on good terms with them.

#101 ::: Ailbhe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:20 AM:

@89 Arachne Jericho: Re: Forgiveness: I think I will never forgive my father for persuading me that my mother could never love me. Or for denying her medical care so she spent five years bedridden by depression. Even though I've been secure and confident in her love for far longer than I thought I'd lost it...

#102 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:54 AM:

#11, Delia -

I think that may be a quite fitting celebration, in a "living well is the best revenge" sort of way.

(I won't be following this thread - I'm overtired and stories of family hurts, healed or unhealed, are going to be too much for me. I wish you all success in dealing with past and ongoing hurts. Be well.)

#103 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:20 AM:

I'm from a rather subtly dysfunctional family-- as in, it's only in recent years that my brother, my sister, and I could have a conversation without the *major* topic being trying to figure out what was wrong with our upbringing.

My current theory is that my mother had non-flamboyant narcissism, mild depression, and moderate anxiety, and my father was mildly depressed and basically not interested in having a family.

The usual idea of narcissism is someone like Palin. In Mom's case it was more that she didn't get that it was an ok part of the universe when other people had points of view she didn't share.

Sometimes I think she was trying to prove she could piss people off without having them leave her.

My reflexive reaction to "I love you" is that it means "Stay within range where I can keep hurting you", followed by a very strong impulse to pretend I'm pleased to hear it.

I'm in therapy. It's helped quite a bit some other things. I don't know how far I'll get with it.

I don't know if I'll ever forgive my mother. I might be able to clear some noise out of my head if I can ever disentangle the idea of forgiving her from the idea of being obligated to see her.

Being told what I ought to feel is a hot button issue for me-- which doesn't keep me from screwing myself up by trying to make myself feel the right emotions.

I need to figure out how to do advertising without doing what I consider to be overstepping. I hate the idea of telling people what they feel. Can't they tell for themselves whether they want a button?

In re Harry Potter: the non-obvious difference between Wizards and Muggles is that Wizards are a lot emotionally tougher. It's not just Harry.

#104 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:29 AM:

abi @ 100... My parents are lawyers, and I'm still on good terms with them.

And the terms of the contract are?

"It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause."
"You can't fool me! There ain't no Sanity Claus!"

#105 ::: vcmw ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:36 AM:

I was married three years before my husband's support let me believe that my family dynamics were not normal. Therapy did not help me much, as it was the cheap/free kind that comes at schools. I was kicked out of therapy by two therapists. One of them screamed at me to not come back until I wanted to be better.

Looking back I can see some of her point because I did not want to acknowledge how messed up my family was, and that probably made her job hard. But still.

It is a constant struggle for me because I work in youth services and coworkers will turn to me literally every week and say "these (loud/disruptive/unwashed/underfed looking) kids would be so much better off at home, don't you agree?" or "if their parents were responsible, these kids would be at home, not unsupervised" or "it's the parents job to teach children how to behave" or whatever.

And I remember being a kid of 13 or 14 and being afraid to go home after school because mom and dad were fighting and had punched holes through my door, and knowing I had to go home so I could cook my sister some dinner, because mom and dad hadn't remembered to do that on a regular basis for years, and at 9 my sister was too little to think of nutritional food. I sat at the library till it closed every night, and now my coworkers spend each week making judgmental comments about the kids who do that. (The ones who aren't quiet bookish types, but still have nowhere else to go, are the ones the librarians get so mad at. I was a quiet bookish type by nature, so the librarians were always nice to me.)

For four years after I graduated college my father called me almost daily to yell and scream at me because I wouldn't agree to ask my mother to live with him again.

My mom still feels and insists that it is our job to show him love and compassion.

I appreciate the concept of this holiday a great deal and will try to keep it in mind the next time my coworkers turn to me and say "these kids should be home with their parents" as if the parents were sure to be much better.

#106 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:47 AM:

Sympathies for all the horrors mentioned here! I guess I had better luck. Still, I'm (timidly) venturing a comment.

Whether dysfunctionality is blatant or subtle, it seems pretty clearly wrong. There might actually be more room for argument about "functional" -- I was the only child of parents whose timidity and hypochondria I inherited, along with some better traits, and I've chosen to be childless. But ah the fun we had, when they took me to rock concerts in San Francisco in the Sixties, enjoying the bands nearly as much as I did! (Minus the adolescent fervor.) I lived with them for ages, I didn't become an 100% "sane" breeder, and that's OK. Can't even blame Dad for passing along the hypochondria but not the bonhomie.... RIP Stanley Miller, and (as of tomorrow) happy 83rd birthday, Mom.

#107 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:49 AM:

Catching back up --

Arachne @ 66, no no no! It's not inconsiderate to share -- it's completely on-topic for this thread, and completely appropriate.

And Arachne @ 89: I've never been in a physically abusive relationship, but I did have a pretty emotionally abusive one in high school. That "sick dynamic" you refer to -- that's how it was. I'd still say that I loved him, and that he loved me, but there was something twisted and toxic at the heart of it that meant it was always hurtful. The difference is that people seem to understand about abusive romantic relationships. I think lots and lots of people don't understand about how familial relationships can be abusive in a very similar way.

Yatima @ 87, I volunteer to help you with the time machine and the napalming, and second exactly what you said there.

#108 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:58 AM:

#79: Exactly. Thank you, Niki, for confirming this.

This is why writing can be so difficult. Something as simple as pronoun choice can dominate the perceived meaning. And it's important, not an incidental detail only the obsessed care about.

As for me, I miss my nieces. One of them goes to college in the fall. She's going to a highly regarded university several hours away by car from the rest of her family. That she's not going to a school that's mere minutes from her family gives me hope.

OTOH, the nieces aren't who worry me. I've spent years trying to develop in myself the mental resiliency and toughness my nieces have.

#109 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:06 PM:

Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young? The usual thing seems to be that it's a long hard haul to realize the dysfunction.

IIRC, I didn't have a diagnostic framework and didn't have an idea that things could be good-- I just knew that being around my mother was painful and I didn't like it and I wasn't going to tell myself (or my siblings) that it was good. And I listened to them (mostly my sister-- she was closer in age) on the subject, too, which has led to what I gather is an unusual consensus among siblings that yes, the family was fucked up.

#110 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:11 PM:

I'll just say that growing up in my family was far from easy, and leave it at that...and to all of us, whether from good families or dysfunctional ones, I'll repeat: "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars-- You have a right to be here."

Someone up-thread wanted a poem for Equinox:

The Summer is over.
The long days dying,
The nights turn colder--
Soon leaves will be flying.
The stars shine brighter,
The Moon's glow is bolder,
And soon I will be another year older.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Autumn is when the year turns inward. Earth begins to let go of summer, and the things that are part of summer. Leaves fall from the trees, because the trees know (not as we know, but in a way built into branch and root) that they must cast them off to preserve their own lives for the coming winter.

The oppressive heat and stifling closeness of summer yields to the crisp and moving air of freedom.

In this same way, we cast off what holds us back. Goodbye, red leaf! At the same time, we gather to ourselves our inner strength, which we may have to hide until it bursts forth in renewed life, in the spring of our existence.

We celebrate the end of the storm season of our lives, the wreckage the family hurricanes made of all we built for and of ourselves. We come out of the oppressive closeness—closeness so many celebrate—into the crisp air of freedom.

Breathe it deep. Find your inner strength. There will be a winter, but after it you will burst forth in blossom.

#112 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @109: Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young?

I grew up Army, which. . . I was going to say "isn't the same thing." It is, though. Just in a different way. And still, it wasn't until shortly before I turned thirty that I started thinking just maybe there was something terribly wrong about an environment that repeatedly and deliberately obliterated all social connections beyond "immediate family."

How can you (the nonspecific global you) possibly know it's not right, when it's all you know?

#113 ::: Rose White ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:05 PM:

@105 vcmw -- oh oh oh -- the kids who stay in the library until it closes. Thank you for knowing why they're there.

I asked the head librarian to let me work in the library after school when I was not-quite-fourteen. She bent the rules just a little, and suddenly I had a place to be after school until the library closed, every day, and Saturday mornings as well. And they paid me! By the time I got home at night, my father was often asleep. It was such a blessing.

In my life, I've had the best in loco parentis figures a a traumatized, mixed-up girl could ever have wished for. I've been so, so lucky.

Everyone who has talked, thank you so much. You're all so brave and kind and wise, and you're all helping me feel less alone. When I work on forgiving my parents, I have a hard time remembering that forgiving them doesn't then mean that my youth was *my* fault. Forgiving them means it was *their* fault, and I didn't deserve to cope with their dysfunctions when I was so young, and when all I wanted to do was grow up. Thank you for reminding me, with all your stories.

#114 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:07 PM:

abi, pedantic peasant, Xopher, and others in this thread -- thank you.

Like others in this thread, I had major dysfunctions in my family, from a mother who saw me much of the time as the reminder of her failure (she'd desperately wanted a son, and had had a miscarriage of a boy the year before I was born) and had no qualms about telling me so, was physically abusive, and who tried to kill me more than once in drunken rages to my younger brother, who used to be a decent sort, but married a woman who seems to have helped him erode all of that away... to family who insist that those ties of genetics should outweigh my expectations of basic human decency and courtesy.

We were functional in ways, too, but that may have made things worse, because not all the patterns were consistent. Fortunately, once I moved out, I learned that happy functional families didn't just exist in books, and am building a family-by-choice that's much more functional -- and which includes some of my bloodkin.

Aside: one of the things about being told "Of course you love your mother/father/sibling; everyone does," when you don't/can't, for me, at least, is that it reminds me of being a child, and having my reality denied over and over again. "I'm scared/hungry/tired!" "No, you're not!" "She tripped me at school and tore up my homewoek because she's a bully!" "No, she's just jealous; if you're nice to her, she won't do it again." I am now highly suspicious of anyone who tells me what I do or don't feel and perceive.

Nancy @109: When I actually said aloud that my parents were alcoholics (I was about sixteen at the time), my older sister stopped speaking to me for several months, but my younger brother was grateful that someone else recognized the reality that we were living in. Before that, I knew that things were wrong -- other kids didn't tiptoe past the living room, unsure whether Mom was a cheerful or angry drunk; other kids didn't check the locks on their bedroom and bathroom doors obsessively -- but I didn't have the words for what I perceived.

(This is also timely, because I just posted elsewhere about interacting with my bloodkin earlier this summer, and how I don't feel that "blood is thicker than water" and "family comes first." Well, no: I feel that family comes first, but it's family by choice, not by shared genetic material. [Ask me about joking with my sister, when we had to pay for my older brother's funeral, about paying for a stake to make sure he stayed in the damned casket...so, okay, some of my family by blood is definitely family by choice.])

#115 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:27 PM:

How can people believe that family is all one really has?

I'm sitting here, on land my family has owned and farmed/not farmed for over a century, living next door to one of my cousins and his mother-in-law in an actual mother-in-law apartment, within five miles of dozens of relatives of the first degree, having spent a weekend up to my eyebrows in extended family and attenuated family doings, and wondering how anyone can believe that.

Family is not sufficient. Even "functional" families are not sufficient. Healthy children have refuges outside their home, not only, or even primarily, to get away from abusive parents, but rather to learn different things about themselves and the world, and to develop a sense of independant self and emotional resilience in the face of day to day conflict. Healthy adults learn that disagreement is normal, and trivial, and not reason to destroy those with whom we disagree; the people who inflict abuse and misery do so, from what I've observed, because disagreement seems to them to be an attack on their very reality.

Functional people can come from dysfunctional families. On the other hand, what do those labels even mean? Think, for a moment, of the descriptor "functional alcoholic." Who decides whether a family is functional or not? The school district labeled my whole patriline dysfunctional (or words to that effect) a couple of generations ago, when what closer examination shows is ADHD and associated learning disabilities. The family functions just fine, rumbling along building roads and houses and growing food and for the most part (some exceptions, there's always exceptions) living lives typified by long, stable, marriages and big gardens.

Individuals have the right to choose to stay or go; any set of values which says one must do one or the other immediatly increases the amount of misery in the world.

#116 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Everyone who is posting with a different name: that's not enough. You have to post with a different email address, too. I posted a comment here once with my full name, not linked to my LJ, but using the same email address as my other comments with half a name and a LJ link: Google apparently searches here by email address, probably from the View All pages, and managed to connect all the dots.

I suspect it would be cool for abi to make sure all the email addresses of those temporarily anonymous are munged.

Also, I'm glad all y'all with disfunctional familes are around here, and posting. Congrats and best wishes.

#117 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:36 PM:

When I moved back home after ten years on my own in order to help care for aging parents (they don't yet need much physical care, but financially it's a different story), my favorite cousin called me and said: repeat after me: uh-huh, yes, you don't say, reaaaallly???, indeed. When I asked what the heck he was talking about he said I would need all those expressions to deal with crazy, set in their ways, argumentative parents, since trying to be logical and reasonable wasn't going to work. He was, he said, simply passing on wisdom acquired the hard way. He was right.

Still, when I hear all the horror stories, I thank whatever powers there are for those two crazy, set in their ways, argumentative people. They gave me an immeasurable gift: they always told me I could be anything I wanted to be at any time I wanted to be it.

#118 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Madeline F @116:

Good point. I'll go through and munge email addresses on the anonymous posters.

Contact me privately if you don't want me to and I will restore the link, but my default position is that what goes on in this thread stays in this thread.

#119 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 01:58 PM:

Nancy, #103: I need to figure out how to do advertising without doing what I consider to be overstepping. I hate the idea of telling people what they feel. Can't they tell for themselves whether they want a button?

I struggle with this too, re my jewelry. I've had people who should know (gallery managers) tell me that I need to be "more aggressive" in my selling approach -- but that triggers my own reflexive distaste for being hard-sold to, and a fear that potential customers will react the same way I do, namely to walk away. There must be a balance point somewhere, but I'm having a hard time finding it.

John, #108: Might this be the time to try to re-establish contact with your niece? She's going to be on her own in an unfamiliar environment; I remember how welcome it was to get a letter from anyone during my freshman year!

Nancy, #109: I could certainly tell that my parents' attitudes and some of their behaviors weren't like what I saw in friends' families. But it wasn't until much later that they ever allowed anyone except me to witness those attitudes and behaviors, so it was a long time before I had any external reinforcement.

JESR, #115: This comment resonates strongly with a lot of the current political discussions. I don't want to drag politics into this thread; would you have any objection to repeating your third paragraph in particular over in one of the political threads?

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:00 PM:

Nancy, #103: I need to figure out how to do advertising without doing what I consider to be overstepping. I hate the idea of telling people what they feel. Can't they tell for themselves whether they want a button?

I struggle with this too, re my jewelry. I've had people who should know (gallery managers) tell me that I need to be "more aggressive" in my selling approach -- but that triggers my own reflexive distaste for being hard-sold to, and a fear that potential customers will react the same way I do, namely to walk away. There must be a balance point somewhere, but I'm having a hard time finding it.

John, #108: Might this be the time to try to re-establish contact with your niece? She's going to be on her own in an unfamiliar environment; I remember how welcome it was to get a letter from anyone during my freshman year!

Nancy, #109: I could certainly tell that my parents' attitudes and some of their behaviors weren't like what I saw in friends' families. But it wasn't until much later that they ever allowed anyone except me to witness those attitudes and behaviors, so it was a long time before I had any external reinforcement.

JESR, #115: This comment resonates strongly with a lot of the current political discussions. I don't want to drag politics into this thread; would you have any objection to repeating your third paragraph in particular over in one of the political threads?

#121 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Dammit. It hung up the first time, and I thought it hadn't posted. Sorry 'bout that!

#122 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:18 PM:

I think there are two reasons people from functional families have so much trouble understanding that not all families are a source of strength and love (even intermittently; no family is that all the time).

The first reason is the mirror of the struggles that people from dysfunctional families have in realizing that how they grew up was not the only way to grow up. Your first baseline of reality is the strongest one. Learning that family life really can be the diametric opposite of what you experienced is like learning that black is white, or that gravity is a repulsive force.

Also, those of us with children tend to scrabble desperately for some nice comforting denial to hide behind when confronted with this reality. Because if it's possible to damage people that profoundly in their childhoods, well, shit, maybe I'm doing it right now!* Or maybe I will break, along whatever fracture lines I have, and do it to them later. Easier to pretend it doesn't exist.

I have a slight edge—not in understanding this, but in understanding that I don't get it—because as I became a teenager my mother told me a few stories from her childhood. And I began to understand why she almost never ate dinner with the family†, and why that changed when she gave her mother's dining room table to my brother and bought a new one of her own.

But man does not automatically hand on misery to man; it doesn't have to deepen like the coastal shelf. The stories I see here inspire not pity in me, but sincere admiration. I don't know if I would have had the kind of strength you guys have shown.

Really, I love you all.

-----
* Well, not the physical violence, or the sexual abuse, but what if my own weaknesses, the times I've lost my temper, are doing that kind of damage?
† She always said she was on a diet. She spent fifteen years dieting, her weight going up and down in normal patterns, and I never figured it out.

#123 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:28 PM:

#109: Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young?

Something different, yes. I knew that when I went over to friends' houses their parents' near-instinctive reaction was to ask if us kids were hungry. I just figured it was a Jewish thing, or that it was something other families did that mine didn't, like church or game night. The possibility that it was a pattern of depressive neglect in those years didn't occur to me until I was about thirty-five.

#124 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Xopher @ 111, your comment reminded me that tonight, I want to do a letting-go/cleansing ritual for the autumn equinox. Not for the same reasons that you mentioned in your post (and I know it's kind of OT for this thread) but it just seems like a good thing to do. I've never done one before, and now seems like an appropriate time.

#125 ::: Anonymous Too ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 02:51 PM:

So many resonances here. Thank you all.

I don't think I could have given words to the awareness that my family was embodying "This is the Verse" when I was little, but there was a reason I stayed in my room alone as much as possible from the time I was very small. And there was certainly a reason I locked my bedroom door when I was a little older. All of my friends's parents had messed-up or broken marriages too, so I think my operative assumption was that happy marriages, at least, were a sham, and that fucked-upness was more the norm - though I still categorized it as such, maybe in comparison to media images of what families were supposed to be like.

My family was one of the ones that looked pretty normal from the outside. My friends all liked my mother better than their own; they never saw her emotionally abusive side. On the other hand, all of my closest friends eventually had encounters of one sort or another with my father (one of them spent her senior year of high school in a different town to avoid having to be in his class).

The hell of it, apart from the actual hell my parents put me through, was that they both had good qualities as well, and had at least occasional moments of doing right by me. They weren't just monsters that I could dismiss out of hand, which made it worse for me. They were, essentially, fucked-up, needy people, and I was an overly empathetic, sensitive child whom they both used in their respective ways. They did their best, but their best was seriously, extremely, severely deficient.

Despite everything, I am thankful that my family of choice includes siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins, as well as non-genetically related people.

A note about forgiveness: Someone upthread mentioned struggling to dissociate forgiveness from seeing his/her mother (?) again (sorry, can't find the comment now), and this is in response to that. I don't want to suggest that anyone "should" forgive. I also think linking forgiveness to reconciliation is very damaging. There may be rare instances where it's both possible and desirable, but frequently it's neither.

For me, it has been useful to think about forgiveness, not as pretending that everything was or is all right, nor as trusting them again, nor wanting to be in the same city/state/country with them, but rather as, for my own sake, letting go of what I'll call the right to revenge, where it manifests as inward rage that eats away at me and hurts me rather than anyone else. To that extent, and in that limited sense, I think forgiveness can be a helpful thing to do *for oneself*, while realizing that it is to oneself, and not one's abuser, than any such "duty" is owed. I hope I haven't expressed myself too awkwardly - it's difficult to write about lucidly.

Thanks, abi, for making a space to acknowledge these other realities.

#126 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:04 PM:

Thanks Abi for the email scrub*. I hadn't thought to completely obscure mine.

With that in mind I'll go a step further and note a bit more about my own personal family dysfunction level. It's nowhere near as bad as some in this thread in that with the exception of some emotional monstrosity on the part of my step-father's mother it wasn't the result of deliberate action but rather the side-effect of massive parental chemical imbalances.

Nonetheless, growing up the son of a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic** has its traumatic moments. If not for a maternal grandmother*** who went to truly heroic efforts to provide me with a stable environment, and a girlfriend (now-wife) who helped me see that a complete disregard for self-preservation didn't look all that different from intentional self-destruction, I don't think I'd be alive to post here. There's something about finding out at ten that when you were a baby your mother almost killed both you and herself that screws with your childhood sense of security.


*I'm using the version you set to post this message so it should be clear.

**Diagnosed, medicated, and occasionally institutionalized.

***May she rest in peace.

#127 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:06 PM:

Drat! Abi, I hate to bother you, but I forgot to clip my url from my post @ 126. If you'd be willing to pull it when you get the chance, I'd very much appreciate it.

#128 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:18 PM:

Xopher, JC - thanks for the positive response. I feel more comfortable bringing up such picky-word-points here, because I know a great part of the community makes its living by the word. But even so I worry about how that comes across.

Some people in this conversation have talked about how the "blinkers come off" as they get older and put distance between themselves and their original families, and how until then the family remains a baseline for normality that's hard to shake... I found myself thinking of extended family members, uncles and such, whom I only discovered their slightly (and not so slightly) scary negative traits after I grew up and moved out and no longer saw them every Christmas and Easter--and no longer was "be on your best behavior" an enforceable rule. I start wondering what it would have been like were I their daughter instead of their sister's.

Tucker: Your para here -

I grew up Army, which. . . I was going to say "isn't the same thing." It is, though. Just in a different way. And still, it wasn't until shortly before I turned thirty that I started thinking just maybe there was something terribly wrong about an environment that repeatedly and deliberately obliterated all social connections beyond "immediate family."

- I want to run that by my husband and see what he says. He, too, grew up Army, and to this day he says he lacks the strong sense of "home" that I feel towards the place I lived the first 18 years of my life. But when he says that, I tend to think of places, not people--I hadn't thought about non-original-family connections that get swept away at each move if you move every two years or so all your life. I think he never got a chance to put down those kinds of roots until, tentatively, late high school, and, more strongly, now that we've been living in Boulder for almost 10 years. Thank you for expressing so clearly something that is very likely a part of his life that I have been overlooking for so long.

#129 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Kelly @127:
Done.

all:
I'll do periodic sweeps of this thread for anyone with an obvious pseudonym* or a comment like "posting this from another username" and make sure everything is munged.

-----
* well, you know what I mean

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:23 PM:

Anonymous Too 125: For me, it has been useful to think about forgiveness, not as pretending that everything was or is all right, nor as trusting them again, nor wanting to be in the same city/state/country with them, but rather as, for my own sake, letting go of what I'll call the right to revenge, where it manifests as inward rage that eats away at me and hurts me rather than anyone else.

Much like "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die." (Anne Lamott)

For me it was more like letting go of the duty to vengeance. I felt that my father needed to be punished for the things he had done, and that I had an affirmative obligation to do it. I could only heal once I let go of that. For me that meant pretending (in the presence of my family) that a lot of things didn't happen, even though they shaped the person I am. I was aided in this by the fact that my parents (genuinely, I believe) don't remember what I do about my childhood.

Some of the parents described here make mine look like saints and angels. In fact I would say that the worst thing about them was that they weren't perfect, and that they were people of their time. I happened to have problems and sensitivities they had no basis for understanding or dealing with.

Oh, and the fact that I find them quite likeable NOW helps too.

I am humbled by the stories I've heard here. I have awed admiration for Arachne, for example, being a sane person (I mean, able to type a coherent post even) after the family life she describes. I have similar feelings about many of you.

I have a friend who, when he was seven, was attacked by his mother with a razor blade, with intent to kill. He had enough damage that he needed facial reconstruction. It was made worse by the fact that he was trying to protect his then-five-year-old brother. To this day he has nightmares about that; fortunately the police were already coming to get her for other crimes.

I have told him what will be obvious to most of you: he's a HERO. Nothing short of that word will do. Just as Frodo was damaged by his heroism (in his case too severely to live in the world), my friend was damaged too (mentally and emotionally as well as physically). Nor was that his sole act of awe-inspiring bravery.

He focuses on things that stem from that, and feels tremendous guilt about them. I try as best I can to tell him that yes, he needs to heal, but he should remember that he saved his own life and his brother's life at an age when most of us barely know what dying IS.

Even if the only person you saved was yourself, remember that only by your courage and your strength did you survive.

#131 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:29 PM:

How ironical. That this date should come up just as I'm again pondering whether or not to give my relationship with my brother another try. Despite nearly 100% confidence that the connection will turn to dust in my hands. Again.

And further, now pondering whether, per a respected friend's advice, to confront him about his molesting me as a kid. If so, to what end?

I got an almost-apology from my dad shortly before he died, and am grateful: I now able to regret missing the friendship we might have had.

It's 17 years later, and (to paraphrase the old Saturday Night Live skit) my mother is still dead. And sometime in the last five years, I finally stopped hearing her in my head.

Arachne @89

Cupcakes: hee hee. Not sure why, but I love this.

They say "but your father DID love you" and all I can say is that there are some kinds of love that are worse than hatred. It's not a case of the love washing out the hate and making everything "ok". It doesn't work like that.

I love beef, but I'm sure the cow would prefer hatred or bland indifference.

Nancy @109

Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young? Ooohhhhh, yes. Indeed, yes. I started plotting my escape around age 8. I didn't actually manage it until I was 20. But once I was out, I never went back. (Nightmares to the contrary.) Unfortunately, my plan never went much beyond that. So here I find myself, thirty years later, pondering the question, "Ok, so now what?"

#132 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 03:53 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @128: You're quite welcome. I'm very glad that you and your husband have the chance to put down those roots.

For a long time I thought in terms of not having places, myself. I couldn't make myself think in terms of not having people, because the way to leave all those people is by deliberately /not/ thinking about them. If you don't think about it, it doesn't hurt, so you push the idea of "leaving people" as far in the back of your mind as you can. Or, I did, at least.

What started me thinking that maybe something was wrong and it wasn't just me being somehow broken, was a book called _Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress_. (I have an idea that Terry Karney mentioned it at some point on the old Electrolite; a quick Google brings up Marilee, here, in a thread with a lot of comments by Terry. Entirely possible.) It's drawn from interviews with eighty-some brats, from WWII through I think the late seventies. Some of it's out of date; some of it's frighteningly contemporary and relevant. (I use the word "frighteningly" advisedly. For me, this was a scary scary book.)

* * *

Anonymous Three @131: I started plotting my escape around age 8. I didn't actually manage it until I was 20.

Is that the same thing, though? I spent the last three years I was under my parents' roof planning how to get out. I knew it was bad for me, but I thought of that as a problem with /me/, not with my family.

#133 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Tucker,

I knew damn well the problem was with them and not with me. Whatever else my weaknesses and shortcomings may be or have been, for some reason I've always had an unshakeable knowledge that I was okay, even when my mother systematically and relentlessly worked to convince me otherwise. This didn't stop me from taking tremendous damage in the effort to protect my core Self, and to this day I have self-esteem issues that get in my way. But at rock bottom, I have the faith that I am what I was Meant To Be, and that she was wrong for trying to change that.

This is not to say, however, that my Reference Frame didn't need some retroactive Rotating once I got loose, however.

#134 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Tucker @ 132: That book described a whole lot of things about my childhood that I'd not really thought about before reading it, certainly not as things it would be okay for me to feel sad about. Like everyone always leaving, including us. And that an irresponsible, arbitrary, selfish and often nutso man must be obeyed and deferred to because he was an officer and omnipotent.

#135 ::: Yet Another Temporarily Unnamed ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 05:11 PM:

I think the point at which I realized that, just possibly, there might be something wrong with my family environment, and not just with me, came the Christmas of my freshman year in college. I came home, and the impulse to eat white sugar by the cupful returned full force. I hadn't noticed its departure, first semester.

My relationship with my mother now is wonderful. My father, well. I can acknowledge intellectually that he was doing the best he could. Emotionally I haven't quite gotten over the urge to thank him for the eating disorder.

#136 ::: SomewhatAnon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 05:12 PM:

I'm going to be anonymous here because my mom Google-stalks me. Is it meant to be intimidating? Is it just cluelessness? I'm not sure, but I always feel bad when those e-mails arrive.

Nancy @103, I think I may be in a similar situation. I damn well can't put my finger on why I get so blue after interacting with her (my dad is a bit exhausting, but doesn't make me feel so horrid), but I do know that handling differences is part of it. Hell, I know that I get freaked out about people having different points of view sometimes (gee, thanks, election year!) and that's what my brother and my mom have screaming fights about.

I just feel at a bit of a loss because I can't delineate what goes on in those interactions. I was able to get away from my emotionally abusive boyfriend in my 20s because I could tell stories that would curl people's hair. But with no stories, I just feel like a misfit child. Perhaps I need to restart a journal again....

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Anonymous Too, #125: A lot of dysfunctional parents genuinely love their children and want what is best for them; what's broken is either their mode of expression, or their ability to understand that THEY are not the sole arbiters of "what's best", or both. My parents certainly fell into that category. I know they loved me and couldn't understand why I wasn't the daughter they wanted, but that didn't make it any easier to handle their overprotectiveness, or their casual assumption that I was incompetent and doomed to fail at anything I tried.

A lot of what some people call "forgiveness" is what I refer to as "letting go" or "walking away". At some point, you have to consciously decide to stop letting your parents and your past mess up your present. This may require professional help, or just some good friends; a few exceptional people are able to heal themselves by sheer force of will. It's not the same thing as reconciliation, because in many cases the step that makes it possible is in fact severing contact, or making any contact entirely superficial.

For years I lived by the mantra, "What THEY don't know can't hurt ME," even as my parents complained bitterly that I never TOLD them anything about my life. It was a tradeoff -- a meaningless fight on familiar ground that we could have over and over again without any harm coming of it, rather than the Death of a Thousand Cuts that happened whenever I slipped up and told them anything important. I'm still amazed that it took me so long to figure out such a simple thing, and how easily it cured a lot of my ongoing problems with them.

Apropos of parents who love not wisely and too well, I want to drop something into the discussion that I found in a book. In The Queen is Dead by Jane Dentinger, there's a scene involving a college-age girl (who happens to be an only child) and her parents, late at night, after she's gotten drunk, done herself a minor injury and had to go to the emergency room to be stitched up. You can probably imagine how that goes. After that comes a scene between her doctor and the two main protagonists, and the doctor says:

"I know what [her agenda] would be if I were in her shoes -- just to get away. To get out. My God, tonight was just a sample. Just think of it -- that constant battering ram of love, concern, and worry. And nothing like other siblings to deflect it... wouldn't it make you want to head for the hills?"

I remember reading that, stopping short, and thinking to myself that Dentinger is either an only child herself, or has at least one very close friend who is. That is a classic description of parents who are so wrapped up in their only child that they've lost track of the boundary line between themselves and the child. And that's a lot of what I had to deal with.

#138 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 05:49 PM:

By the way. I appreciate everyone talking about their familial difficulties in this thread, no matter what the level is. Such things should never happen, but they do; sometimes it's horribly subtle, and sometimes it's blatant. Neither are things one must "just put up with." It's like the first part of The Shining versus the last part of it: both are bad and you don't want to live either.

I want to hug everybody. The support on this thread has been great (and not just for me). Thank you, Abi, for creating and looking after this thread, and to the rest of the Making Light folks as well.

@ Lee #92
I have a hypothesis that people who are abused as children tend to go one of two ways. Either they swear they'll never do that to any child of theirs -- and either figure out how to break the pattern or, in many cases, decide not to have children at all -- or they can't wait to be big and strong enough to be on the dealing-out end. It's the latter type who should be culled; unfortunately, there's no good way to differentiate between the two types until it's too late.

All that is too true, I think. When my father had his conversations with me, part of it was confessing abuse in a bad childhood, though his reminscenses were often confused. His allusions never made it clear what, exactly, the abuse was; I only knew that it was pretty horrible. It was strange to see him so vulnerable and yet so terrible because one moment he would be sad and the next he would be incredibly angry and throw something or hit me (or both). I didn't understand *that* for a long time either.

I'm on the "no children ever" route. I've been told that I should have children because they are a joy and I'd have a family, but the people who've told me that either don't know my history or don't seem to understand it. I don't think I'd be abusive, but on the other hand, neither do I really understand how to be a parent---and by that I don't mean tabula rasa. I don't think it would turn out well.

(Note: this is not a cue for people to start reassuring me that I could never be that bad/will figure out a way/it has healed other people. Even with what I tell you here, I'm the one who really knows the extent of the damage that's been caused, and know that I haven't told everything, nor could I even if I wanted to. I don't know why it is, but some things can't be communicted. Let me assure you: the damage is very, very bad.)

@ Another Irregular Commenter #95

Satisfaction as people who hurt you in ways you don't like to discuss die. The surprise as a part of you that you never realized was tense relaxes, accepting that for certain they can no longer harm you.

That's something I look forwards to as well, and I can understand it completely. Many hugs.

@ Ailbhe #101

:-( I know a little bit of how that feels, but not the whole bundle. I'm glad you found her love despite the horridness of the other parent.

@ Nancy Lebovitz #103

Being told what I ought to feel is a hot button issue for me-- which doesn't keep me from screwing myself up by trying to make myself feel the right emotions.

*hugs*

I think people who tell others how to feel just scared of the cracks in intimate society. That doesn't absolve them. It's still bad. Of course, they might not be scared and it's some other reason.

In re Harry Potter: the non-obvious difference between Wizards and Muggles is that Wizards are a lot emotionally tougher. It's not just Harry.

Probably. Though through Harry we mostly interacted with the stronger wizards. The sickness in the Crouch family, the Malfoys, the Riddles, and the unfortunate parts of Dumbledore's familial relationships follow closely some of the lines of dysfunction that exist in the real world. In the real world there's no magic death spells or torture spells, but it's still possible to create emotional/physical pain without them.

... yeah, okay, I thought enough about abuse when reading the Harry Potter books to write a paper about it.

@ vcmw #105

*hugs*

It can take a while to find a good therapist. It's also hard to be a good therapist but again, not an excuse.

@ Caroline #107

Arachne @ 66, no no no! It's not inconsiderate to share -- it's completely on-topic for this thread, and completely appropriate.

Thanks---I know that generally my story (and all the other ones here) disturb people's sense of normality and security in some way, I think, so I've tried to keep it tamped down unless in truly understanding company, which is somewhat rare. My reflex is to apologize. I don't think other people should apologize at all, but I guess I still can't forgive myself.

I've never been in a physically abusive relationship, but I did have a pretty emotionally abusive one in high school. That "sick dynamic" you refer to -- that's how it was. I'd still say that I loved him, and that he loved me, but there was something twisted and toxic at the heart of it that meant it was always hurtful. The difference is that people seem to understand about abusive romantic relationships. I think lots and lots of people don't understand about how familial relationships can be abusive in a very similar way.

I agree---I think it's because in romantic relationships you're interacting with someone outside your family (usually) so people can understand "us versus them". But inside a family it's easy to view it as "us versus us" and that can be disturbing because it breaks all safety conventions you're supposed to have when you're in your own fort. So people pretend/disbelieve/whatever that it can ever happen.

@ Nancy Lebovitz #109

Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young? The usual thing seems to be that it's a long hard haul to realize the dysfunction.

I didn't have a diagnostic framework either. Now that I look back on these things, for me, it was really kind of horrible that I had no independence to contemplate that my "bedrock" was actually shifting quicksand. It was easier to just learn to hyper-adapt and not think about the rest of it---and plus I didn't really know other people's families well, just like they didn't know mine. But the moment I had some independence---for some it's high school, for me it was college because my parents had a strong measure of control in my life when I lived with them---suddenly I could have this outside perspective.

And even so, it still took a couple years of that to realize that I could operate separately from them and thus everything started getting crystal clear. Before then, I couldn't listen to friends telling me to get out. After that, I did listen and I did get out, even though the cost of getting out was very, very high (and I still need to make interest payments on it).

@ Tucker #112

How can you (the nonspecific global you) possibly know it's not right, when it's all you know?

That's was my experience as well. I think it's true.

@ Rose White #113

I have a hard time remembering that forgiving them doesn't then mean that my youth was *my* fault. Forgiving them means it was *their* fault, and I didn't deserve to cope with their dysfunctions when I was so young, and when all I wanted to do was grow up.

Hmmm. I've never thought of "forgiveness" that way before. It makes incredible amounts of sense.

Thank you for that.

@ abi #122 with cool awesome post of win

That is one of the best summaries I've ever seen as to the whys behind people from functional families not understanding. It is quite excellent and linkable.

@ Anonymous Too #125

For me, it has been useful to think about forgiveness, not as pretending that everything was or is all right, nor as trusting them again, nor wanting to be in the same city/state/country with them, but rather as, for my own sake, letting go of what I'll call the right to revenge, where it manifests as inward rage that eats away at me and hurts me rather than anyone else. To that extent, and in that limited sense, I think forgiveness can be a helpful thing to do *for oneself*, while realizing that it is to oneself, and not one's abuser, than any such "duty" is owed. I hope I haven't expressed myself too awkwardly - it's difficult to write about lucidly.

I understand. In that way, I have forgone any desire for revenge. I just want to live. That may get cut short by them if they ever get their act together, of course, and I don't forgive *that*. And if they ever show up, and I can't get away, I swear to give them ultimate hell only because I have a chance of surviving if I do that. But right now, I simply want to live.

@ Xopher #130

People have commented about me being strong before. I thank them---and you---and try to believe it but I'm still working on gaining that perspective. For me, that was just normal living. I know how to live in the face of all that when there's no escape or whatever. For other things in regular society that aren't batsh*t insane, though, I am completely useless. Small talk, for instance. Still getting the hang of that.

Your friend's story awes me. I never had any siblings to protect---it was just me. I never know what to think about that. I hate the idea that if I did have siblings that these things would have happened to them to. I have a protective streak a mile wide; I don't know why. Well, I do know why. It just hurts to say why.

So like. My mom was an enabler (and later on, I guess because it's more interesting than just being an enabler, also an abuser; she was the one that nearly broke my hand, although she was much more specialized with emotional abuse). I didn't understand that when I was younger and my father attacked her constantly, it seems like. I often tried to protect her; I'd get in the way and try to take whatever he wanted to do to her. I still remember the feel of his shirt up against my chest and my arms as I tried to hold him back when I only came up to his chest. He was sweaty and hot, and it hurt as I tried to keep him and the knife, or the fists, or the burning object, or the broken glass, away from my mother. I remember the smell of him, too, up close.

It still totally creeps me out to be so close to someone that we're touching. (Another reason why romantic relationships are not going to start anytime soon for me.) For years I screamed whenever somebody's hands got close to my neck, or patted my shoulder, or you know that elbowing thing people do in a friendly way. I still kind of do scream.

It took me a while to figure out that I should not stay around for my mother. It just wouldn't help. I couldn't help.

I've forgiven myself about that. It was actually one of the easier bits to forgive myself about after she switched over to abuse/enable; if she hadn't, I might be there still. Or dead.

Even if the only person you saved was yourself, remember that only by your courage and your strength did you survive.

I do my best to remember. Thank you.

@ Anonymous Three #131

As to your brother: I don't know you or your brother. I'm not trying to give advice here. It's just that my brain for whatever reason is screaming Don't do it! and worries about you.

It's 17 years later, and (to paraphrase the old Saturday Night Live skit) my mother is still dead. And sometime in the last five years, I finally stopped hearing her in my head.

*hugs, hugs, hugs*

Cupcakes: hee hee. Not sure why, but I love this.

I have four more too!

I love beef, but I'm sure the cow would prefer hatred or bland indifference.

And how.

I started plotting my escape around age 8. I didn't actually manage it until I was 20. But once I was out, I never went back. (Nightmares to the contrary.) Unfortunately, my plan never went much beyond that. So here I find myself, thirty years later, pondering the question, "Ok, so now what?"

I think that a lot. I never seem to know exactly what "now what" is. Generally I just try not to think about the future. Live in the now. Instantly download books (or spend time prepping them in some cases) to the Kindle and read/review for hot leather....

@ Tucker #132

I couldn't make myself think in terms of not having people, because the way to leave all those people is by deliberately /not/ thinking about them. If you don't think about it, it doesn't hurt, so you push the idea of "leaving people" as far in the back of your mind as you can. Or, I did, at least.

I can totally identify with that.

The book you mention sounds like a good book. I also read one about post traumatic stress disorder on the insistence of my therapist, and thus learned that it wasn't just people in wars who got it. I can't remember the title, but it had all sorts of interesting stories in it. I loved Siegfried Sassoon, though I know lots of people don't necessarily.

@ Anonymous Three #133

This is not to say, however, that my Reference Frame didn't need some retroactive Rotating once I got loose, however.

This is a very apt analogy.

@ Lee # 137

I remember reading that, stopping short, and thinking to myself that Dentinger is either an only child herself, or has at least one very close friend who is. That is a classic description of parents who are so wrapped up in their only child that they've lost track of the boundary line between themselves and the child. And that's a lot of what I had to deal with.

Oh. That helps explains some things a little. (I was an only child on top of everything else.)

@ Abi again

Thanks for the thread. I have new things to digest now (good things and all). And not just the cupcakes.

#139 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:27 PM:

For those who have had the courage to post here about families much more dysfunctional than mine - thank you.

I realise that I've been very lucky compared with some. I'm still coping with the effects of years of emotional hurt from my mother. Lee @58 and Caroline @60 - sounds very familiar (pun not intended - but appropriate).

But I've been lucky as well - I've a fantastic supportive husband now, and my father and stepmother always did their best to help me realise it was her fault, not mine.

#140 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:34 PM:

(My mother has her good points as well, but it's nice for once to have a forum where I'm not supposed to pretend that makes her bad points and effect on me go away/irrelevant/unimportant).

#141 ::: Tia ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 06:51 PM:

#109: Did anyone else from a dysfunctional family know there was something wrong from when you were young?

I found other families very confusing. There was no arguing, no sarcasm, and nobody needed me to referee or provide constant validation or entertainment. I could see there was something different, but for the longest time I just assumed that they (those other families) must have been playing a game, hiding their chaos from me out of good manners. Manners were extremely important in my family. Thirty years later, a peaceful, cheerful family gathering e.g. Thanksgiving at a friend's house still kind of weirds me out.

My warmest thoughts for posters here who have survived the depths of human neglect and cruelty.

#142 ::: Petals on a wet, black bough ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:11 PM:

I am another anonymous, because my parents stalked me for years, and one never knows when they might take it up again.

(It's not that uncommon -- I know someone face-to-face who suffers this. I see also that there are people here who have to deal with it as well.)

The Anne Lamott quote -- which I will not repeat -- has for years made me so angry that it physically makes me shake. I can see that some people have an interpretation which they find comforting, but all I see is yet another person who blames the victim for failing to forgive.

I don't think you can forgive by an act of will. I think forgiveness -- if it happens at all -- is an organic process, like love.

By telling victims that they have to forgive, whether it is to "heal," or to be "an ethical person" or "a good [insert the religion of your choice here]," that strategy neatly removes the blame for the hurt and damage and suffering from the person who caused it. It then places that blame in the arms of the victims, who must carry it as their burden of "forgiveness."

Because what if you cannot forgive? (What if you don't want to forgive?)

The philosophy embraced by Lamott then blames the victim for any suffering -- not the person who hurt them. Not the family who abused or tortured or raped. It is the victim's fault for not forgiving, not being able to "move on" and "heal." (Because "forgiveness" is far too often equated with "healing," as in the quote.)

"Forgiveness" too often translates to "you're not allowed to be angry that your parents did awful things to you."

And that strategy is one of the best blame-the-victim ones that I know. I see it in action every day and yes, it makes me very angry.

I have found anger much more healing than forgiveness.

When I was a child, I wasn't allowed to be angry.

#143 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:39 PM:

#109: My family was pretty normal considering how weird (counter cultural in a place that did not value that at all) we were but I remember when I was at boarding high school and a girl told me her mother didn't love her. I was shocked but I believed her. I knew my parents would love me no matter what and I assumed other parents were like that as well. After all, even my foster sibs were loved by their mothers even if those mothers were unable to care for them. When she told me, I thought she must know just like I know I am loved. I knew she was a very brave girl to be able to just say it.

#144 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:50 PM:

Lee @137: A lot of dysfunctional parents genuinely love their children and want what is best for them; what's broken is either their mode of expression, or their ability to understand that THEY are not the sole arbiters of "what's best", or both. My parents certainly fell into that category. I know they loved me and couldn't understand why I wasn't the daughter they wanted, but that didn't make it any easier to handle their overprotectiveness, or their casual assumption that I was incompetent and doomed to fail at anything I tried.

Ewwww (shudder!!) I felt an altogether unpleasant flash of recognition, reading that paragraph. Brrrr! Very well put. (Although I never really got the "they loved me" message, because all through my childhood, it was made very clear to me that to be loved, one needed to be a Star, like my brother.) I was worse than "not the daughter [my mother] wanted" — she'd signed up for a nice, cuddly play-doll to dress up in pretty clothes, and what she got was a Martian. I think in many ways, I terrified her. And the problem was compounded because there were evidently some pretty serious mental illness issues in her family of origin which, to a WWII-era layman looked an awful lot like my expressed (before I learned to [try to] shut up about it) worldview.

Your third paragraph also rings true. 'Cept I never quite had the self-restraint to keep myself completely to myself. It got better into high-school, when I had good and trust-worthy friends. But there were times in grade school when I was just so damn lonely that I couldn't stop myself from saying something about my situation — and as I was speaking the words, yelling at myself to "Stop! STOP!!" but it was too late, and there goes the evening while my mother has a Talk With Me, and all I could do would be to sit there and stare at the floor and mutter "Yes, ma'am," and try not to cry too much, and survive with my soul intact until I could get away....

But it sounds like you know this drill all too well.

Actually, in retrospect, my dad did much better and taking me at face value and just responding appropriately in the moment. I wonder if maybe that's one reason why I managed to maintain some vestage of connection to my True Self while armoring my expressions from my mother's intrusions. But by the time I really needed his allegience, he'd pretty well subsided into his maudlin resignation.

I wasn't an only child, but my brother was five years ahead of me, and one of those attention-vortices that kind of suck the light off anything else in the vacinity, so in many ways I might as well have been.

Lee @92: And here we have in a nutshell why I have no kids, never wanted to even consider the option. It was everything I could do to grow myself up into a quasi-functional and somewhat kind adult; I didn't even want to think about trying to care for someone else, too. The karmic cost of doing to a kid what my mother did to me doesn't bear thinking about. My experience with pets has borne this out. I'm not actively toxic—I don't think—but I have yet to demonstrate to my satisfaction that my influence is a net positive, either.

Arachne @138: I'm with you on this point. Even if I feel I can be reasonably kind and generous on a fairly reliable basis with people in the Real World, and even if I've succeeded in providing a fairly gentle, and somewhat loving environment for my pets, I still know that, not so very deep down, lurks a malestrom of reaction that can get very ugly, very quickly. The kind of stress that children provoke is exactly the kind of thing that would bring out the worst in me. The only reason I even have pets is that I know that I can Go Away, and provide the Absolute Minimum for them for a day or two, and they won't take any particular damage from that. Can't do that with kids.

Generally regarding forgiveness: I freely confess I don't understand it. For me personally, I've found that an absolutely necessary precondition is that I feel safe from the danger that the dysfunctional behavior presented to me. Once I do, forgiveness happens on its own, with no conscious thought or effort on my part. I continue to scratch my head over the whole topic. I've never felt an impulse to revenge so much as a need for the guilty party to hear and acknowledge.

Re: your advice re my brother: please say more. I'm curious to hear your perspective. Some background: I am wholly confident that no physical damage, nor any explicit emotional damage will come my way. My concern is that I'll put myself through another round of his "wanting me to be his sister" and then he just quietly fades away (again!) when the Real Stuff comes up. But I'm intensely curious to hear any thoughts you have to offer on the subject, as my thoughts, anxieties, and hopes are too amorphous and vague to pin down.

Ah, Cupcakes For Love! Cupcakes for Life! (There's an incredibly fun and silly song in there, and maybe video too, somehow.)

Ah yes. (Cracks shoulders.) I also thank you, Abi, for the thread. And the really chilling part about my family? Of all my friends' families, there wasn't a one I would have traded mine in for, because theirs were worse.

Hm. Evil thought: I think I'll direct my brother to read this discussion. See what his reaction is... Hmm...

#145 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:54 PM:

Petals @#142:

My take on forgiveness is to point out the Catholic model I was raised with. In order for God to forgive my sins, I have to 1. confess them 2. be sincerely sorry 3. do penance.

The idea that I should forgive someone who hasn't admitted what they did, has not apologized, and hasn't done anything like penance means that I should be more forgiving than God is.

Pointing that out usually gets people off my back about it.

To real friends, I just say that I'm still working on forgiving myself, and anyone else can get in line. But I think that trying to forgive someone who isn't sorry is too much work.

#146 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:05 PM:

Mary Dell @145: Oh my. That's very good. I think I'll shamelessly plagiarize that. Thank you!

#147 ::: kouredios ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:14 PM:

While I have issues on and off with my mother (she seems to be most like Nicole's--sincerely unable to understand that her perspective is not the only valid one), it's nothing compared to her family and to her own mother's. The abuse and dysfunction seemed to be traveling down the generations until this past one, and even still, my cousin was molested by the father of her friend at a sleepover when she was nine, so my aunt is terrified that it's a shadow over our family at every stage. She refuses to let her own kids go to sleepover parties for that reason. And only recently have one of my aunts and one of my uncles been at the same place at the same time, though they still don't talk, due to the abuse they both shared, one directly and the other then indirectly, at the hands of a cousin. My own father's anger management issues frightened me as a child (holes in walls and chasing after someone who cut him off in traffic while he had his two young children in the car?), but my mother got the courage to leave him and moved us, suddenly, across the country when I was 10. I've mentioned this part of the story before. I saw him once more before he killed himself.

I love my family. I do. But dysfunction, it is there. So I do the best I can to be in loco parentis for my students when it's called for, and I offer my hugs and love to all in this thread.

#148 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:22 PM:

I always knew that my parents loved me. It was just that it was so irrelevant. It's hard to describe my childhood in any way that makes it comprehensible. At no point was it something that a child protection agency would call abuse. Dad was a little harsh with corporal punishment, but a man had a right to discipline his own children. I grew up in the Sixties and Seventies.

The spankings were bad. Not unsurvivable, they didn't even leave bruises very often. But they were prompted by the least little thing and the intensity was entirely at random. They were humiliating. There was a fair amount of playing around with psychological theatre. Dread. That's what I felt, pure dread so bad that I didn't want to be anywhere at all, I just wanted to not exist.

It was almost all invisible. It was weird emotional games. Dad was a world-class manipulator, and got some sort of kick out of raising a crisis. It was deep psychodrama, with him as the starring role. I remember once, when I was not very old, maybe six, that he came into my bedroom with a very sad face. He told me that he was going to tell me a secret and I had to promise not to tell. I knew at the time that this was going to work out badly, but what can you do. I promised. He told me that Mom was so angry with him that he couldn't stand it anymore, so he was going to go out with his gun and shoot himself.

It was winter, close to Christmas, which always depressed him. He always made a point of pointing that out. I heard him go out the door, and didn't know what to do. I'd promised not to tell. A while later, an hour or so it seemed to me, he came back home whistling. He had brought home "greening", evergreeen branches with which to decorate the house and give it that Christmas spirit. He never referred to his suicide threat. I was left not really knowing, anything, really. It did not cause a feelilng of security, I can say that.

It was always emotional. There were evenings when I could tell that we weren't going to be allowed to leave the dinner table unless we all cried. I was a push-over. When I became more aware of what was going on, my tactic was to start crying right away. Let's get this puppy on the road, here. Let's not waist any time. So that left my mom and two, and then later three sisters. The holdout was always Bethany, who was amazingly stubborn. I'd sit there silently urging her to crack. Sometimes I'd even support Daddy's position in order to hurry things along. I don't suppose, in retrospect, that helped much. He always got his way. When all five of us were crying, he'd decide to leave the table, and then we were freed. I hated nights like that.

I was a mouse that knew how to get good grades, but didn't know how to make friends. Mom and Dad had friends, but always from outside the church. There was the secrecy. We couldn't let anyone from the church inside the family circle because Daddy's job was being the minister, and the Bible said that if a minister cannot keep his own house in order, then how can he handle a congregation. So all this stuff had to be secret because if it wasn't, then they'd fire Daddy and we wouldn't have any place to live and we wouldn't have anything to eat. The difference between a bad family and a dysfunctional one is that the dysfunctional one had secrets that hold it apart from the rest of the world. Daddy is a drunk is a classic case, the one thing that must not be named.

At 18, I had learned enough to describe my family somewhat accurately. Thumbnail sketch of my family: my father was a fundamentalist minister with bipolar disorder and so deep in the closet he might as well have been in Narnia, and my mother had a contact psychosis. Putting all the details together is a rather funny story. Ask me some time.

In the end, I've forgiven my mother. She was really just another victim. As long as we stay away from religion and abortion we do pretty well. It took like seven years of isolation before I was ready to talk to her, and then another couple of years for us to figure out appropriate protocols.

I can't hear my Dad's voice without becoming afraid. So I don't talk to him. Haven't for more than ten years, now. I relented a little while ago and said he could send me email, but he's blind and email is a burden for him. He's also caretaking his second wife Maryann, who has Alzheimer's pretty bad. Dad's 75 and I keep on thinking I should talk to him, but I can't think what to say. He's still bipolar, and he lies. It was lying to me that set me off on this path of not talkingt to him. Bone deep fear and lies. Who needs it? I'm never going to get an apology that I believe in. I don't want him to die, I have this feeling that there's something I still want him for, but I have no idea what.

It took a lot of not-forgiving for me to be able to forgive my mother (who is not a liar and able to give what are apparently true and consistent apologies). At this point in my life, I'm kind of neutral on the topic of families. I'm not close to my sisters (there's another whole tale there). I dislike my sole uncle somewhat severely, and am mostly out of touch with my three cousins. I've finally begun to accept that there are families that don't have dark secrets in them, but for a long while, I saw them in every family I met. Which doesn't mean I'm wrong about my sister Beth and her family. But it doesn't mean I'm right, either.

#149 ::: Under the Roses ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:27 PM:

The worst thing my mother did was make me think my father abandoned us. I was afraid I would be like that when I grew up. I was afraid of that at nine.

It makes me unsure of myself. It makes it hard for me to both be close to people, and to leave them when I have become close.

It makes me needy. There were other pieces of neglect. My sister (who was disturbed, and has problems with relationships: particularly with men, and most particularly with men who care for her) could do no wrong. I could do very little which truly measured up.

I think this is why I have a hard time finishing things. I am certain they will fail to be good enough. My sister was rewarded for failing. I was ignored for succeeding.

Like so many others it's taken me a long time to deal with (such as it has been dealt with) these things. It's been part of why I am not better placed in life. It's hurt my relationships (things which are perfectly normal questions make me very defensive. Attempts to encourage feel as if they are running me down, predicting my failure). I seem to be afraid to try, so that I can't fail.

In short, I don't live up to my potential. Smart, but "underachieving."

None of it from overt abuse (in so many ways I wasn't abused at all. I was treated as an adult in ways my peers had to fight tooth and nail to get. All I had to do to keep it was live up to the ideals. Of course, when I failed; as all teens will fail, the response might be a trifle overboard. Not violent, but longer lasting or more punitive than the offense truly warranted). But the effect on me seems to have been great.

I also shy from confrontations with those who seem to have authority. Rather I hide in my room, and hope whatever they are doing will blow over, get worked around, or doesn't truly relate to me. That tends to make me feel I am failing myself. Vicious circles.

abi... my previous post was made with address I didn't think about. Could you please make it match this one? Thank you.

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:30 PM:

Mary Dell, the fact that I AM more forgiving than God (as described by the Christians I knew growing up) is what turned me off Christianity back when I was seeking!

We have different definitions of forgiveness. I'm really talking about not letting them poison you after you've successfully detached from them. If you prefer a different word (and I know that forgiveness tends to mean reconciliation, about which yuck), that's fine...or if, as someone else said, anger sustains you, then that's fine. Everyone is different and I do NOT presume to know what will work for you...honest.

#151 ::: Petals on a wet, black bough ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Mary Dell @145: Your perspective on forgiveness is wonderful, thank you. I think I may borrow a bit of it.

I've been thinking about this while cooking (obviously it's a pretty intense topic if I can't leave it in the computer!), and I think another issue I have with forgiveness is that far too often it is presented as /instead./

Forgive instead of getting angry.

Forgive instead of demanding justice.

Forgive instead of saying anything.

I think a lot of my anger stems from knowing that my abusers will never, ever acknowledge that what they did was wrong; that it wasn't my fault; that I am legitimately hurt. There is literally no way of saying it so that they will listen.

That communication gap is quite possibly the most frustrating thing that ever happened to me.

#152 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:44 PM:

Anonymous Three @ #133, I know exactly what you mean, for a very strange and trivial reason. Though my family experiences were not similar, I once glanced out the car window in rural middle Georgia and saw a zebra. Nobody else in the car saw it. Despite various suggestions (donkey, white horse or mule under the stripey shade of a tree, statue of a zebra) I knew with an unshakeable faith that I had damn well seen a zebra.

A few weeks later another member of the family took the time to check it out, and sure enough, the nondescript little house with the large fenced area beside it belonged to a retired circus person. There was indeed a zebra there. I was pleased by the confirmation, but really, I didn't need it.

#153 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:24 PM:

I think another problem with the push for forgiveness is that it is often equated with closure, and assumed to be the culmination of a healing process. I'm a big fan of forgiveness in the sense of "don't let the perps rent space in your head," and I endeavor to forgive my parents, whom I do like.* But for me it's an iterative process with hurt and anger and work all intertwined.

* First draft of the sentence said "love" instead of "like," and this thread gets the credit for my coming to the odd realization that I do like them but don't know whether I love them. How counterintuitive. /omphaloskepsis

#154 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:30 PM:

@151

I always saw forgiveness as giving up and denying my reality in favor of what my Dad said happened. I forgave my mother because she was honest (well, middling honest) with me. We had the same reality. I don't forgive my dad and I'm fine with that. That it upsets him is not my problem. Forgiveness is a two-edged sword, it can be victory or defeat.

#155 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 09:47 PM:

Abi @ 129, thanks!

And, now that I'm thinking about it, and since I've already let a cathartic/nerve-wracking chunk of info out into the ether I may as well go a step further in case it might help someone else along.

That would be to note the narcissistic and emotionally abusive step-father who I tippie-toed around for years after growing up and moving out. Not because he made my mother happy, but rather because he provided her with a dysfunctional but stable equilibrium that reduced the chances of her having another severe psychotic episode. That came to an end when the most recent episode turned into a giant ugly divorce with me getting to play the role of "responsible adult" in the family one more time--a role my grandmother and I had been handing back and forth since I came out of my adrenaline-junkie death-wish days around the age of 23.

The funny things is that if I don't really examine it too deeply I tend to think of my childhood as having been mostly a happy one. It's only when I let the analytical part of my brain loose on the sub-strata and the memories I don't want to look at that I'm reminded of just how much trauma lies beneath the surface. Funny old place the brain.

#156 ::: unnamed ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:01 PM:

What hurts even worse than what was done to me (mostly emotional neglect from my mother, and an inability to stand up to her from my father) is this: my little brother thanked me for beating the crap out of him when we were kids. He said it forced him deeper into his shell, until he was in high school where it was safe(r) for him to come out, away from home. He thanked me for leaving him on the floor in tears, with scars on his neck where I drew blood with my nails, on a regular basis.

#157 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Anonymous Three, #144: It was a lot harder to keep the important things in my life secret while I was still living with them. But after I moved out, what a difference! I could just go about my life and not tell them when I was going away for a weekend, or having a party, or when something good or bad happened at work, or who I was dating (when I was single), or... you get the idea. I had real-world friends to talk to by then, so loneliness wasn't an issue.

I think it didn't help that my mother's family was really big on the blood-ties thing and I was adopted. My father's family was scattered all over the country; I can count the number of times I've met any of them on the fingers of one hand. And to my mother's family, I didn't really count because I didn't share the Magic Blood. In the end, that just made it easier to walk away from the whole bloody lot of them after my parents were both dead.

Petals, #151: another issue I have with forgiveness is that far too often it is presented as /instead./

Forgive instead of getting angry.
Forgive instead of demanding justice.
Forgive instead of saying anything.

Yes, exactly. That's a very toxic model of forgiveness, but it seems to be the one a lot of people present as the ideal. "Forgive" = just shut up and be a nice little victim, don't make waves or tell anybody things they don't want to hear. Ptui on that.

Chris, #153: I'm a big fan of forgiveness in the sense of "don't let the perps rent space in your head,"

That's exactly what I mean when I talk about "walking away" or "letting go". The best revenge is not letting them wreck the rest of your life!

#158 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Anonymous Three @133: Cool. I'm glad you had / kept that sense of self intact. I went entirely the other way (contra Velma @114, and Lila @152, any time someone questions my perceptions I automatically assume that I'm wrong); it's relieving to know that some things aren't universal.

pericat @134: And that one /can/ ask for help, and that one shouldn't be expected to be perfect at the age of seven. If hugs are appropriate, consider one offered.

Arachne Jericho @138: I keep meaning to pick up a book on PTSD. I suspect I'm afraid that it'll put me out of commission, emotionally, for a week, in the same way that the milbrat book did.

Also, "strong" never seems like the right word. The obvious response is "i'm not strong, i didn't do anything, i just survived." That's no less something to be praised, though.

Kelly @155: The funny things is that if I don't really examine it too deeply I tend to think of my childhood as having been mostly a happy one. It's only when I let the analytical part of my brain loose on the sub-strata and the memories I don't want to look at that I'm reminded of just how much trauma lies beneath the surface. Funny old place the brain.

Defence mechanisms are wonderful things. Or something like that.

#159 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:43 PM:

Arachne @138: It still totally creeps me out to be so close to someone that we're touching. (Another reason why romantic relationships are not going to start anytime soon for me.) For years I screamed whenever somebody's hands got close to my neck, or patted my shoulder, or you know that elbowing thing people do in a friendly way. I still kind of do scream.

This brings back to mind something which I kept typing in and erasing a while back, since that particular discussion here was already disintegrating and this didn't seem likely to help.

A past acquaintance and I managed to mildly freak each other out in a spirit of mutual bafflement until one day, I finally figured it out from watching tv. Oh-- so some people jocularly greet each other with high-fives; I hadn't known that. And in return, he had no idea why I kept instinctively flinching away whenever he suddenly raised his hand while walking toward me.

#160 ::: C ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:57 PM:

I'm not really sure what to say here. My parents didn't try to kill me so I feel in some way that I'm just whining.

My fiancee and I are 90% sure we're not going to have kids, for a variety of reasons. It makes me feel sad that I'll never have a daughter of mine to go to my alma mater, or that I'll not be able to teach a son how to read. But the sense I get most often is one of overwhelming relief. I feel like I half-raised my sister anyway; I don't want to have to deal with it again.

My parents tried to love me, and teach me, but I feel like I learned too well that you should try hard to love people, so that race, gender, clothing, or weight shouldn't be an issue. When I tried to apply these rules to our lives I got shifting rules, or felt pressed under the weight of hypocrisy.

When I was in about 4th grade, I told my mother that I felt suicidal. She, thinking no doubt of the struggles my father and she had gone through to keep me after a difficult birth--sometimes I wonder if they thought of me as anything else--told me never to say it again. I didn't, and stopped trusting my mother that day.
Stopped trusting her more after she threatened to pour boling water on my sister. Had a friend a while back come at me in play with a similar type of teapot that wasn't even filled with water, and could barely gather breath to explain to her that she should stop, could barely back away. Nasty feeling.

I don't know when I stopped trusting my father; I'm guessing it was when he had me curled up in a corner of the kitchen, screaming and looming over me, while I was trying desperately not to cry because if I did he'd "give me something to cry about." As if that wasn't enough already.

My sister's moved to Europe. I'm a bit jealous because if my parents get an RV after retirement, they'll have a hard time getting it across the Atlantic and will come and see me more often.

I've also teared up in the card store. I want to find a card that says, "dad, you tried your best, and we have the same sense of humor and love for poetry. But you really shouldn't have asked us who we loved more, you or mom, in the car that time on the way to church, and you should have been around sometimes, instead of trying to make up for decades of not seeing us but still trying to get my teenaged sister to do what you wanted, by hitting her with a belt and making me watch and not cry. PS - As punishment, it was also totally ineffective."
I want to find a card that says, "mom, I don't want to marry a rich male Jewish doctor, even if that's your dream for me or perhaps was your unfufilled dream for you. Moreover, I think it's crass that you advised my sister and I to do so on Christmas eve in front of my father. You taught me about antiquing, but also told me that guilt makes the world go round, so I guess that cancels everything out."

My parents are supposedly coming to my house for Christmas this year because it's either they come here or we go there. I am not going back there for Christmas again with my fiancee. If we ever have to go back there we're agreed we're getting a hotel room. I'm terrified about what they'll say about my fiancee's hats, my cat, my house, my roommate's personal habits, my fiancee's siblings, my gender, my furniture; I'm annoyed that I can't stop being terrified.

I'm not sure what to say, also, in the matter of chosen family. Everyone seems to have really close chosen family. My chosen family are wonderful people, but some of them are more fucked up than me, and 90% of them are of the "out of sight, out of mind" variety, which means that unless I live literally next door to them, they never call me. My only blood chosen family is in Europe.

I'm still a bit lonely. Maybe that's just the way I'll always be. I'm not sure.

#161 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Xopher @#150:

I'm not challenging your take on forgiveness--you have a really appealing sense of the big cosmic, which informs your take on this kind of thing. For you, negative energy directed at another person is a form of self-harm, and I totally get that.

What I'm talking about is forgiveness presented as a way of letting a person completely off the hook. As in "I know that X person did Y unspeakable thing to you, but you have a good life now, and X person is a miserable loser, so you should forgive them because they've been punished enough." As if them being a miserable loser is somehow the same thing as atonement, or as if my good life came easy, instead of being something I painstakingly built over the rubble of what was done to me.

For me, forgiveness is the difference between justice and mercy. Justice is unforgiving, but once justice is done, it's done, and there's no need to carry any bile or negativity about what happened. In order to be merciful, I have to be able to muster a measure of forgiveness, and I do believe in mercy, so I do try. But I also believe in accountability, and in keeping myself safe with good boundaries. So if someone is, for a mild example, a jerk to me every time I see them, I stop seeing them. My mom thinks that's unforgiving and merciless; my dad also thinks so, but understands my sense of justice, so doesn't hassle me about it.

#162 ::: Another Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:11 PM:

I cannot say my father was a bad person, since that wouldn't be true. But he was enormously disturbed - young soldier in WWII, became nearly invalid by an incompetent doctor in the 50s. Very late in my teenage years I learned he had had another wife and maybe children before getting divorced and quite later marrying my mother. He was ill and in constant pain and refused to see a doctor - "all crooks".
I am quite sure he did not want to have me - he was 45, my mother as well, when I was born.
My mother was an oldest sibling and had brought up her brothers and sisters after WWII, so she had experience and still had managed to get a good education.
Raising a child meant stimulating it intellectually - I was an early reader, always read "too grown-up" textbooks for fun. Now, in my late thirties, I realize that most children got much more affection and a better sense of being safe and loved.
When my mother died (1), my father began to drink heavily. He never was physically destructive or abusive, but his drinking really pushed me away. Fast. Whenever I returned with my girlfried (and current wife) to his house, he was happy, suggested opening a bottle of wine to celebrate (and did it anyway, whatever we said) and emptied up to five bottles, becoming more and more lost in the past. He told stories of past defeats and humiliations, and when he was aggressive, he lashed out against persons from long ago. Never against us, unless it was on the phone and he was too drunk too even know who he was talking to.

So, after a night of calls every ten minutes and whiny, aggressive, blurred tirades, ending in suicide threats, we changed our phone number. Never gave him the new one, and when we moved (for other reasons) never gave him the new address. He still had the phone number of my mother-in-law, so we told ourselves that in an emergency, he would be able to reach us.

Then he died, a few years ago, with bones he had damaged months before and never been to a doctor with, almost starved (he had money, he had neighbours willing to shop for him. He was mainly thrifty. And paranoid. Four cameras watching the short way to the main door, all monitored from his couch table), alone.

My wife and I are convinced that there wouldn't have been much we could have done for him. That late, he didn't trust anyone anymore. Did our self-imposed isolation make that worse? Perhaps.

[1] Plus, as an only child, I was spoilt. One week, my father was away and my mother was ill. But she had prmised me an trip to the Big City and when she wisehd to cancel, I sulked after a quarrel and went upstairs to my room. When she came up, on the way to her bedroom, I heard through the closed door, how she stumbled and fell. Two times. I, as in really assholy teenager, did not bother too look what had happened, ignored it when she finally knocked and wished my a good night.
The next morning, I was relaxed and wanted to tell her goodbye before going to school. He was there on her bed, very weak, could hardly speak and I was to stupid too realize that she needed immediate medical help. Phoned my aunt, who arrived a quarter later by bike and called 911. When they arrived, it was too late.

I was 16. Book-wise, terrbly dumb. And my father never ever blamed me, not even implicitely. But I still feel bad about that, very bad; and I know that I have too fight the urge to control my wife (who has developed a bad degenerative disease much later then we became a copuple) too closely, even if she does need quite a lot of assistance.

Now that I have learned how much willing stupidity and/or active destructiveness exists out there, our problems look really insignificant. That was somehing I probably needed against the sometimes nagging if question if I have both of my parents ignored to death.

[Note: These are my experiences, my doubts. Please don't think for a second that I try to tell the people here with much more horrible experiences to seek consolation with those who abused them.]

#163 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 11:58 PM:

Before we got to junior high, each of us got The Talk. This was my parents (from my functional family) saying, basically, "If any of your friends need to be away from home, tell them to come here."

Three of my siblings had friends take them up on the offer. As the youngest, I don't know what all was going on, but I know at least one of those friends had previously ended up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.

Then there was the time I was latch-keying for an hour or so after school and had to stay in the back of the house with all the doors locked because my parents were afraid that the druggie wife of a friend of theirs (and her gangland friends) would come looking for the people who knew where her husband and daughter went.

So although my family was one of the good ones, I've always known, on some level, that there's some really messed up ones out there. All I can really say is while I can't understand, I do sympathize...

And if you need it, I've got a couch.

#164 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:04 AM:

My little pseudonym for this thread. Mom was a narcissist with terrible taste in men. First one got her pregnant in high school. She used to call me Spawn of the Devil and say I'd ruined her life. (She beat me bad when I observed that I wasn't the one who slept with him. It was so worth it.) Her second husband beat her when he was drinking, because she was weaker than he was.

I always knew it was wrong. When she was drinking, she'd tell me I was worthless. When she was sober, she'd tell me I was wonderful. I worked out that it had exactly nothing to do with me, and decided on my own that wonderful was what I was.

The great turning point came when I was 15 or 16, and we were having one of our fights. Looking to deliver the killing blow, she said, "I wish I'd put you up for adoption." I regarded her coolly for a moment, made sure I had her full attention, and replied, "So do I." She didn't speak to me for two weeks after that, which was icing.

On my 18th birthday she got drunk and picked a fight with me, which escalated, as they tended to. She raised her hand to slap me (which she was legally allowed to do as long as I was a minor). I grabbed her wrist, looked her in the eye and said, "You. Will. Never. Hit Me. Again."

She threw me out of the house, which was inconvenient, but when she apologized and asked me to move back in two weeks later, I was irretrievable.

For the heterosexual part of my twenties, I used to have a first-date ritual. "There's something I have to say to you, just to be clear. You must never raise your hand to me in anger, or if you do, you must never sleep again, because as soon as you do, I will cut your heart out." Some of those first dates were very short, but, hey, if they thought that was something they might conceivably do, it's better that way.

Or maybe they just thought I was crazy. Best to skip over those as well.

For decades, I worked on behavior modification with my mom. I'd visit. She'd say something disrespectful. I'd say, "Nobody gets to talk to me like that," and leave. I'd stay gone for six months, or three years, or ten. Then we'd try it again. The amount of time she could go without saying something over the line gradually increased. We've actually had several one-week visits that did not end in tears.

For the last ten or fifteen years, one of my standard gratitudes in November is the American pharmaceutical industry, which finally developed the drug cocktail that makes my relationship with my mother possible. It is cordial, respectful, affectionate.

Another thing that helped is quasi-spiritual. I'd visualize going back and sitting next to my miserable younger self and whispering in her ear "It won't always be like this. You won't always be at the mercy of crazy people. Some day you'll be surrounded by people who love you and treat you well."

I don't know if I've altered my own memories, but it now seems to me that even though I was a lonely, wretched, unpopular child, I never felt entirely alone. And maybe it's because I was on my side.

Time's a funny thing.

Oh, another thing (this is the thread for rambling in, clearly): I found that my emotional life improved dramatically when I was able to tell my life story as a series of people doing their level best to love me, even though some of them had absolutely no aptitude for it. They meant to. They were just one way and another broken.

P.S. And Christmas! Don't get me started on Christmas. Christmas was when mom used to get suicidal (and she'd often think it would be best to take the children with her). For years I couldn't hear Christmas carols without breaking out in hives.

#165 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:12 AM:

It's Spring (Vernal) Equinox here in the Southern Hemisphere, but that has its own symbolism of renewal and hope after going through winterdark.

This part from Anonymous Too's #125 comment resonates very strongly with my experience and feelings:

… they both had good qualities as well, and had at least occasional moments of doing right by me. They weren't just monsters that I could dismiss out of hand, which made it worse for me. They were, essentially, fucked-up, needy people, and I was a … child whom they both used in their respective ways. They did their best, but their best was seriously, extremely, severely deficient.
(As also expressed in Philip Larkin's poem, quoted above, #57, by Rikibeth.)

My parents, not deliberately, did serious damage to me psychologically. (At least some of their troubles were from war experience; another of the very strong arguments against that practice.) But 50 years on, with less time in hand now than I'd calculated from close family lifespans, I'm still struggling with only limited success to repair it and come to terms with them posthumously.

My admiration and sympathy goes out to you who've told us of much worse problems than mine. I admit to envy (of the nice kind) of those who've been supported by strong, loving, 'normal' families.

#166 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:14 AM:

Forgiveness, as I understand it, is not forgetting, or justifying, or pretending that the bad stuff never happened. Forgiveness means, I do not have to hold on to all this pain. It doesn't mean I must now be friends with these people who hurt me when I was unable to defend myself. Forgiveness does not require me to allow them to enter my life. (That's a whole 'nother journey.) Forgiveness allows me to get to a place where pain, rage, self-hatred, and evil memories are not the center of my emotional life.

As I understand it, anyway...

#167 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:29 AM:

Lydy @#148: Thanks for sharing that.

Thanks, everybody else, for sharing, too. It helps to read other people's stories, even thought I feel like I have to be vagueish about mine.

#168 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:00 AM:

As with many less loaded discussions here at Making Light, a trip to the dictionary is sometimes instructive. I'm not saying that we should all use the same definition, or that dictionary defs are king. But they can be a useful starting point.

Per Webster,
Forgive:
transitive verb
1 a: to give up resentment of or claim to requital for
1 b: to grant relief from payment of
2: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : pardon

and

Resentment
: a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury


I submit that a useful word for the type of forgiveness that frees the self is "transcendence"

Transcend

1 a: to rise above or go beyond the limits of
1 b: to triumph over the negative or restrictive aspects of : overcome
1 c: to be prior to, beyond, and above (the universe or material existence)
2: to outstrip or outdo in some attribute, quality, or powerintransitive verb: to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits


Whereas the brand of forgiveness that is often pushed upon survivors of abuse feels more like 1b of the following set:

Surrender
1 a: to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand
1 b: to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2 a: to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
2. b: to give (oneself) over to something (as an influence) : to give oneself up into the power of another : yield


And that's like drinking rat poison.

#169 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:09 AM:

I am so very fortunate not to have had anything more than the regular misunderstandings between linear-minded semi-conservative father and a creative, linguistically-minded kid.

But I know too many others who've had issues.


I think there are two "things" going on with the forgiveness issue.

One is, it is so hard for someone who hasn't observed or experienced abuse to imagine and understand the extent of the fear and etc., nor the extent to which a truly irrational abuser will follow and stalk you.

The other is a question of ... I don't know .. perspective? interpretation? definition? If you think of it from the perspective of the twin cliches "forgive and forget" or "Forgive, but never forget." The "forgiveness" meme is NOT "say it's OK" it's about putting it behind you or getting past it.

If you do not 'get past it' then you are reliving it, consciously or unconsciously. It does not allow you to heal, it does not allow you to rebuild strength. You end up reliving the problems and stressing yourself out more. Not to mention, if you take the wrong mental twist, the drive for vengeance/closure/dialogue can drive you back in that direction.

By "putting it behind you" you aren't denying it, but acknowledging that part is over. I think, to the extent I can empathize on the issue, that this is encouraged because getting rid of that constantly running undertone results in a similar sense of relief and a similar reduction in stress to that "funeral feeling" discussed above. The idea that now that you are "free" you won't be hurt like that again. It is not really seeking an acknowledgment of victim-hood, as trying to sever that last reverberating chord, to restore peace.

[And of course, sometimes people are just too egocentric/insensitive/lucky to be able to understand the true consequences of the situation.]

I am not aware if I was previously aware of how "forgive" could be a loaded term. Thank you for making me think about it.

You are, all of you My Friends, wonderful people. Remember you have friends here who love and respect you, and more importantly, perhaps, will listen. As the seasons close in, may you find the peace, self-confidence, and yes, love to wrap about you like the mother of all warm, soft, snuggly blankets to keep you safe, secure, and comforted until the warmt and light of spring reveals new beginnings.

Blessings, one and all.

#170 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:09 AM:

Arachne, #138, I was in my mid-twenties when I managed to stop flinching from people who touched me.

My parents are dead now, but I gave my niece and nephew my edress the last time I saw them because my brother is becoming more like our abusive bastard of a father.

When I was well, I did emergency foster care for teenagers. Most people who do emergency foster care don't want teens, and I've always been able to understand them. It made things better for me that I was able to take them in until a more permanent place was found. Sometimes the kids were the trouble-makers, but they still had a safe place with me. I also volunteered with a program for at-risk teens.

#171 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:14 AM:

Mary Dell @161:
Riffing on your discussion of justice and mercy:

Hebrew has a word tzedeq, whose Biblical use is generally translated as "righteousness". But most of its Biblical uses contrast it against din (justice) and/or rachamim (mercy).

Many Jewish sources translate din as "strict justice" to distinguish it from tzedeq; and tzedeq is sometimes translated as "justice" (meaning justice tempered with mercy, as distinct from strict justice). (Tzedeq, tzedeq tirdof!: "Justice, justice shall you pursue!")

Generally on the topic:
The closest I got to abuse, thankfully, was a somewhat overprotective mother (and I'm still fighting with the resulting social anxiety) and a father who regularly pushed me to do the things he hadn't been able to (polio) when I had no interest and less ability. (Smooth muscle tissue comes in three basic varieties: speed, strength, stamina. Mine are predominantly the latter; I can't lift much or go quickly, but what I can do, I can keep doing long after everyone else has given up. Compare the hare and the tortoise. No, Dad, I'm not a football player....)

The real problems were with dad's family. There's a reason we broke off contact with them — and my second cousin went away to the West Coast first chance he got and stays there. (see mail-to if you're curious)

I have a lot of respect for the people here who've survived so much, especially given how poorly I've done with much fewer problems. (Although that may have more to do with the undiagnosed dysphoric bipolar syndrome; nobody knew about, or knew what to do with, that category when I was a kid.)

#172 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:19 AM:

Arachne, #138, I was in my mid-twenties when I managed to stop flinching from people who touched me.

My parents are dead now, but I gave my niece and nephew my edress the last time I saw them because my brother is becoming more like our abusive bastard of a father.

When I was well, I did emergency foster care for teenagers. Most people who do emergency foster care don't want teens, and I've always been able to understand them. It made things better for me that I was able to take them in until a more permanent place was found. Sometimes the kids were the trouble-makers, but they still had a safe place with me. I also volunteered with a program for at-risk teens.

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I'm gonna try hitting POST again.

#173 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:23 AM:

C, #160: I strongly advise you to shoulder the expense of putting your parents up in a hotel room during their Christmas visit, and keeping their access to your home as minimal as possible. This can be framed as concern for them (your home is small, everyone would be crowded and uncomfortable, you want to give them a little space and privacy), but make it non-negotiable. This will at least help with the problems you foresee. And close the doors to all the bedrooms.

#174 ::: silent E ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:26 AM:

To have a mother who couldn't stand to be touched by anybody except her daughter. Who then demanded it. No matter whether you wanted it or not. Because she needed it.

To have a house where you were afraid to bring anybody home. Not that you had many friends anyway.

To hear a classmate telling you "You know, like when your father teaches you how to kiss," and to immediately know what she was talking about, even though your father wasn't doing that to you.

To be a ghost in the house, to try never to be noticeable.

To spend most of the year you were eight praying to die.

To be told that you should honor your parents that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long upon the earth.

To think that maybe God lied just like they did.

That's how it was.

#175 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Hm. Clay Durbin @163 reminds me: my immediate family may have been reasonable, but I got to find out what dysfunctional was when my dad's youngest brother and his wife and toddler moved in with us. It soon became obvious the reason he didn't have a job and se had a minimum wage job was that both of them kept well stoned on weed.

I was banned from the part of the house they lived in for the entirety of their stay; apparently they figured I was at risk to find their stash. Little did they know that my sister, whose room was in that part of the house, was already smoking cigarettes and far more likely to be interested. (Flip side of which is, I probably was more likely to find their stash; it was and is hard to hide stuff from me, in general.)

I got the distinct impression their daughter did not have a good childhood. I don't really know how dysfunctional it was, but it definitely was. And I no longer have contact with them because they will slip and tell the rest of the family where to find me, and I will be beset with whining about how I owe them most of my income because they're family. (I still think putting up with that was part of what crowded my dad into the heart attack that killed him.)

#176 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:35 AM:

When I was diagnosed with the arthritis and fibromyalgia and stuff about ten or twelve years ago, they put me through a full physical workup prior to starting physical therapy. In the X-rays they found the broken left leg (which I knew about, remembering the bicycle accident and the cast and everything pretty vividly) and finding the damaged right hip joint, with the ball of the legbone (right femoral head) pushed into and partly through the hip socket. That had never been treated; when I complained about the pain, my parents told me to toughen up. (Yeah, I remember that pain pretty vividly too, but... they told me to stop complaining. So I did.)

So I didn't know until my mid-thirties that my right hip had actually been damaged, and that there was chipped bone and bone spurs in there. And that there was a reason I couldn't bend easily on that side, and that it was not that I was out of shape and lazy. (I got called lazy by my parents a lot as a kid, because I needed to stop and rest sometimes.)

And when, a few years after that, I actually confronted my mother about it, she said, "Oh. I suppose we should have taken you to the doctor or something. I thought you walked funny."

That's as good as it's ever going to get. And I can't even think of confronting my father over it... though I suspect that's coming. Something's on the boil, and it's probably this.

#177 ::: Shifting to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:51 AM:

Ok, for this I have to switch to anon, sorry.

pedantic peasant @#168: I feel I should explain this, because you're clearly not trying to provoke, and I can tell you mean what you say kindly. And it's true that when you carry things with you, they can fester.

Here's the problem: saying "put it behind you" to an abuse survivor is like saying "get up and walk" to a spinal-injury survivor. We don't choose to have depression, anxiety, etc. We don't choose to live in fear. I would certainly prefer not to have PTSD. These are the common after-effects of abuse, and the idea that forgiving our abusers makes the problems go away is...odd. If you have a stroke, does forgiving the blood clot in your brain mean you have full use of your limbs and speech again?

Abuse isn't an isolated event that happens once, typically. It's an entire pattern of living, like religion or national identity. There is simply no way to put it entirely behind you. You can have a healthy relationship with your past, or an unhealthy relationship with it, but there's nothing that will ever free you from it.

We spend a lot of time blaming ourselves, when we're struggling to survive abuse. An important step in healing is to put the blame where it belongs. Many of us spent our entire childhoods putting one awful event after another behind us; forgiving someone over and over for terrible cruelties. Once you get free, if you get free, you're kind of done with that.

#178 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 02:32 AM:

"Thirty-six Hudson in the garage / All sorts of junk in the unattached spare room..."

I'm listening to the Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree, John Darnielle's autobiographical album about his childhood under the thumb of an abusive stepfather, and it's very appropriate for this thread.

mea @55, at first I thought you were my sister. Mental illness runs deep in my maternal bloodline; it is impossible to tell how far it spreads, how far back it goes, why my great-grandmother was institutionalized, did her mother have it, too, because even now, you don't talk about these things. On my father's side, it is domestic violence. I was in high school before I was comfortable around men. And it's one of the many reasons I don't want kids.

I honestly feel I am better off without my mother's presence in my life. I don't want to be reconciled, I just want to be away.

All right, getting on with my day, will be back when I remember what else I planned to say. Thank you, abi, for making a space for this.

#179 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 02:49 AM:

@ Petals on a wet, black bough #142

"Forgiveness" too often translates to "you're not allowed to be angry that your parents did awful things to you."

And that strategy is one of the best blame-the-victim ones that I know. I see it in action every day and yes, it makes me very angry.

I have found anger much more healing than forgiveness.

When I was a child, I wasn't allowed to be angry.

*hugs*

I understand that too. I wouldn't have found the strength to get away from my parents if I hadn't become angry about my situation. Without medication or therapists of sufficient quality, anger was my friend because it kept me from going back. It kept me going when any other feeling would have made me just accept my fate because it was too hard otherwise. For the first time I felt it was OK to hate my parents. (And frankly it's still okay.)

When you're angry, really angry, you do things.

@ Anonymous Three #144

Generally regarding forgiveness: I freely confess I don't understand it. For me personally, I've found that an absolutely necessary precondition is that I feel safe from the danger that the dysfunctional behavior presented to me. Once I do, forgiveness happens on its own, with no conscious thought or effort on my part.

Now that I think more about it, I think you and Petals and other folks are right---forgiveness is something that has to just happen. You can't force it to happen.

Right now I feel safe. Mostly because of where I live. There are a lot of places where people can sneak in and mess you up bad. Living in a close-knit small town community on an island? Not so much. This, of course, is a bit of an illusion with a little bit of stuffing behind it, but the medication helps.

I continue to scratch my head over the whole topic. I've never felt an impulse to revenge so much as a need for the guilty party to hear and acknowledge.

Oh, I gave up on that hope a long time ago. That's just my personal situation, though. It can be different for other kinds of situations.

Re: your brother.

This is my advice. It comes from my experience of my parents. Your situation is different and is your unique situation, so this may not apply. But anyways, here's what I experienced and did:

After burning myself repeatedly on the stove, I didn't try to resurrect the relationship with my parents. It was a good way to go crazy for no reason at all.

But I had a friend with advice similar to yours: confrontation. Also advice from _Toxic Parents_. *This* wasn't meant to cement a broken relationship; this wasn't meant to get apologies from them; this wasn't meant to make me feel more "forgiving"; this wasn't even meant to make them aware of my grievances, because they certainly knew. It was closure for *me*, pure and simple, and it didn't need forgiveness. Forgiveness played no part.

I wrote a script with the help of my friends. It listed my grievances, both in specific big incidents (strangling) to repeated patterns (knives), and was surrounded by a lot of angry words. Anger fueled *this* closure. That letter-generating link up at the top is good for laughs, but is strikingly similar to what I used. Even for me, it wasn't a long script; just the essentials, but enough.

With script in hand, I called my parents (who were some hours way and could not immediately come over and kill me) and read them the script. Of course they tried to interrupt. It's not the kind of script most people will sit through even if they are guilty. I just kept going---I made it clear that I was going to read this and they wouldn't interrupt and would listen, and when they did interrupt, I would say sternly, "I'm not finished yet," and if necessary, talk over them loudly. Until the script was done.

And then I didn't bother to try working things out or even leave any openings; I just hung up. It wasn't about working to a solution of the problem; it wasn't about starting a bridge of "understanding"; it was purely about breaking the hold that situation had over me.

That confrontation helped me move forwards. Without it, I wouldn't have, or it would have been much harder. It wasn't easy, and it was really hard on me, but it had to be done.

Of course, then my parents called back and left death threats on the answering machine, then drove over to University and threatened the dorm clerks when they couldn't find me, and started breaking down the doors of my friends---who were all away, or were actually with me in another county altogether. The police knew about the situation, and so did University security, so when it flared up... well, I hear it was a fun night in University town.

You don't have that aftermath possibility.

A note from Toxic Parents: people have done script reading over their parents' *graves*, and it still helped a lot.

Keep in mind: there's no doubt that your brother is toxic, and my parents are toxic. But my parents are toxic on the level of the radioactive nuclear waste incident at Chernobyl. I don't know where your brother is on this scale, but molesting seems to put him around radioactive waste. In which case I personally would not try to pursue a relationship, but confront, and deal with my personal aftermath later, even if there's none of the death threat business.

Hmmm. That all came out a bit forceful. But confrontation where toxicity is concerned is not a gentle action.

I think people, perhaps wiser, will disagree with me; and is just my experience, after all, in a situation that was arguably more escalated. But yes... I bear witness to those words.


@ Tucker #158

If you have PTSD, a PTSD book will put you out for a week for sure, but it helps in the end.

Also, "strong" never seems like the right word. The obvious response is "i'm not strong, i didn't do anything, i just survived." That's no less something to be praised, though.

Hmmm. That's very true.

@ Julie L. #159

The high-five story touches me. I had quite a few of those experiences when I joined the sane world.

@ C #160

I don't think you're whining. Don't worry about that. Dysfunctional is dysfunctional. "Levels" only make a difference in how much law enforcement needs to be involved. I think. Or something.

And I totally second Lee's advice at #172.

@ Marilee #169

You are so awesome.

@ Shifting to Anonymous #176

I second everything you say here.

My PTSD scares me, and believe me, I don't want to have it. But it's not the kind of thing that goes away just because you will it to. Your brain has changed, period. (And medication at best mitigates it.)

#180 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:08 AM:

Forgivers are called full of grace;
But to forgive takes time and space,
More than some have who for so long
Have suffered cruelty and wrong.

They also bring forth grace and light
Who simply try to make things right
- Including things and people curled
In one's own corner of the world.

But when there is no right to make,
And some still cannot have, or take,
The privilege to quite forgive
They have much grace who simply live.

#181 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:24 AM:

pedantic peasant @ 168 - I think you're overlooking a crucial point (as well as the excellent ones raised @ 176 & 178).

I'd say that a great part of the proper business of childhood is to grow and learn and develop. Those who live through abuse during that time never get the chance to develop as children in functional families do. They spend their lives enduring, surviving, in combat (I mean this literally), and often struggling to protect other siblings from the worst of the abuse.

This isn't something that can be shrugged off with an "oh, just put it behind you". This is an entire lifetime of growth that never happened - was never allowed to happen.

For those who survive (and many don't; you can read about some of them in the newspapers), this is something that (in my view) needs to be acknowledged, honoured, owned, and eventually *reclaimed*.

It seems reasonable to me that one may need to spend *at least* as long processing the harm done as it took to do it, and *at least* as long catching up on the lost development as a child from a functional family might need. This work cannot even begin until one has found or made a safe place for oneself, which may take years or even decades.

So the entire process may well take somewhere in the region of 50 or 60 years. After that, it may be appropriate to talk of letting go, or of forgiving. But until then, it's simply a matter of trying to escape, get safe, process the damage, and (if possible) catch up on the normal development one has missed.

#182 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:48 AM:

Mary Dell @ 167 - that's a good list. I agree that 'transcendence' is a more helpful concept.

The brand of forgiveness I come across most is Surrender 1a. I'm amazed how often I see or hear some version of "You have to forgive, which means go back to being abused and feel happy about it."

To which I reply: "No, I don't, and it doesn't, and I take no orders from you."

Mayhem ensues. :-)

#183 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:25 AM:

abi @122

* Well, not the physical violence, or the sexual abuse, but what if my own weaknesses, the times I've lost my temper, are doing that kind of damage?

Thank you for crystallizing why I kept writing and then erasing posts. I have wanted to say something supportive and thank all the people who have been posting about dysfunctional and non-functional families, and I kept getting hung up on (1)not being condescending (i.e., if you came from a dysfunctional family, it isn't your job to educate everyone) and (2) the fear of being a dysfunctional parent now.

Part of that fear is because my son was once our grandnephew, and his mother is a drug addict. She did neglect him, and acted abusive towards him -- we are not sure how abusive, but it probably didn't need to be very much. Although he's been living with us for nearly 9 years, and has been our legal son for nearly 3 years, I don't want to mess up his second chance.

Then I look at how much he loves to hug, and all of the different responsibilities we are letting him assume, and I think just maybe we're doing the right things. It's hard, because he's getting into adolescence, he has anger issues anyway, and we're all loud. But despite all the disruption of his first four years in life, he's a good kid.

So, thank you all for posting, and sharing your darkest memories, and reminding us all how precious children are, and how we can make our own families when the birth ones are failed, and that human beings are amazingly resilient if given just the smallest chance to grow, escape, protect, or give a hand.

Finally, I can post a message.

#184 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:50 AM:

Ooh, hey, step-father nightmares. It's been a while since I've had those. I probably should have seen that coming when I started talking in this thread, but somehow they always catch me by surprise. For 20 years I've been big enough and strong enough to break him in half and for 15 he's had no real emotional or financial leverage over me, but I still get bad dreams when I think about him in a concentrated way.

It probably says a great deal that I don't get nightmares about my mother and the paranoid schizophrenia. At least as much as the fact that completely cutting myself off from his mother meant not needing to compulsively watch "The Ref" two or three times around the Holidays every year. Interesting thread this. It's broken open some sores that needed air.

#185 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:03 AM:

Our family is very small, and dying out--fortunately. But at gatherings, they all know better than to touch me.
Rich Cousin tells me, if I ever mention the bad things done to me, "Just let it go," and I have to keep telling her that IT won't let ME go, and I am allergic to that soppy forgiveness goo anyway. She has never had to worry about money in her life, and she has never had to get therapy even though her dad disappeared down the mouth of a whiskey bottle.
There is a differance between pretending everything is all right when it isn't, and Cutting Some People A Little Slack In Some Circumstances And I Do Mean Some. Most of the stuff done to me wasn't slackworthy. The situation is complicated by how one parent is senile, the other is staying for the senile one's money, too much of which has already been blown on a wastrel stepbrother, and I myself have various disablities that have not been properly helped and can't seem to hold on to a job even though I am clean/sober [and still in better shape than the stepbrother.] I am afraid of having to put up with who knows what or getting cut out of the will, when my future is so uncertain anyway.
I don't have a support network of friends, either; I always seem to wind up with the ones that are either in worse shape than me or just don't have time for me. There is a dedicated person helping me on the employment issue, anyway.
mpe #180 got it right. I don't know if I'll live long enough.

#186 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:03 AM:

Tucker @ #158:

(contra Velma @114, and Lila @152, any time someone questions my perceptions I automatically assume that I'm wrong)

One of the reasons the zebra incident was so memorable for me is that it was unusual. I used to get "I never said that; you must have dreamed it" from my mother, so I don't always trust my own perceptions either.

B. Durbin @ #163, when I was in elementary school a friend of mine used to bring his little brother to my house to hide out when his father came home drunk (and often armed). Eventually the father shot the mother and then himself. Contrary to the usual outcome in such cases, she lived and he didn't.

On the general theme of escape: this is my main objection to homeschooling. It gives parents WAY too much control, and isolates the kids from (1) seeing that not all families are like theirs (2) getting help (3) libraries, friends' homes and other temporary refuges, and (4) the affirmation that comes from realizing that not everyone who sees you thinks you're useless, or evil, or stupid, or whatever.

#187 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:21 AM:

My father's family is heavily weighted toward bipolar or unipolar whatever. As in: at least five kids out of the seven in his family. (It's not so bad in the next generation, I think.) We suspect his father's father might be the source, but everyone who would know is long dead.

I'd like to blame some of my earlier teachers for some problems though.

#188 ::: Anonymous Fore ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Unfortunately I'm beginning to see a dysfunctional pattern develop among friends of mine. One parent is depressed. The other is hyperanxious. The child looks shellshocked and is retreating. Both parents gripe about the other. I have suggested counseling, but "the other isn't willing". This behavior has been going on for years and the child thinks it's normal. At least there's no substance abuse (that I can see).

What to do?

#189 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:37 AM:

My mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was 16 years old. I had to call all our relatives and siblings and tell them that terrible news (my father was at the hospital).

I blamed myself for her death for YEARS; I had changed the oil on her VW right before she left, and convinced myself if I had been a little faster or slower in my work, she would have been elsewhere when the drunk driver lost control of his car and slammed into her's.

My father remarried almost exactly a year after my mom's death, to her best friend (a divorcee' with 4 children, all my age or younger). She was a devout Catholic with views somewhere between Palin and Outer Space. She tried to 'convert' my dad, me and my younger brother, treated us much more strictly than she did her youngest daughter (14 years old, acted like she was 24), even after I graduated, joined the Navy, got discharged on a medical issue, got a steady job and then went on to college.

At least I got out of the house; my younger brother was stuck there with her for four years until he could graduate. As soon as he could after graduation he joined the USAF and never came back home, though.

My dad eventually divorced her, but she continues to live in the house my brother and I helped my dad build, while he and his third wife live in a converted workshop.

#190 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:07 PM:

Tucker @ 158: If hugs are appropriate, consider one offered.

Aw, thanks! Some time in high school, the gang I hung out with somehow, group osmosis? all figured out we could hug each other. Without any strings or weird hidden agendas. Most of us had gotten way more physical discipline from our parents than affection, I think. Anyway, once we figured that out, we went around hugging each other all the time.

Another Anonymous @ 162: This may or may not apply, but I kinda think that 16 is still a bit too young to be responsible for recognising that illness in another, esp a parent, has reached life-threatening stage. Grownups are supposed to know how to take care of themselves, and if they seem not to be doing so, still, it is not easy to go from the normal minor dependent child mindset to independent assessment and decision.

At 16, my mom would have to have been spurting blood before I would have known something was really wrong and that she might need emergency assistance, and that it might be up to me to sort it. When I was a kid, I was told what to do and when to do it, and messing with the grownups' business was not on table.

#191 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:22 PM:

I think that this proposed holiday is in the family of The Feast of Nemesis.

#192 ::: qwerie ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:37 PM:

SpawnoftheDevil @164 - I must say I'm impressed with your ability to coach acceptable behaviour. Do you give classes and can I take one?

I have largely come to terms with my family (which, btw, this thread makes look normal) and can interact with them most of the time despite never being quite good enough in their eyes. I have recently, however, helped my SO cancel communications with his mother, which was a)about time and b)about as much fun as having my wisdom teeth pulled.

#193 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 12:50 PM:

A word to those who are "staying together for the sake of the children:"

Don't -- Please. Even today, 40 years later, the sound of a man and woman arguing in the middle of the night will wake me and send me into a panic attack.

The "abuse" in my childhood home took the form of scorn from one parent, and left me with severe doubts in my own competence. When I was finally made to realize that there were many things I was competent at, it seemed like a miracle.

Thank you to all my mentors who run conventions -- without your perception of my abilities, I would never have realized what I could, and can, do.

#194 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:26 PM:

I wish there were some way to go back and help all the children you once were, but there isn't.

What I can do, though: I have been, and will continue to be, reading every single comment on this thread. Even when/though I don't know what to say...I hear you all and wish you all the best possible lives going forward.

#195 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Petals on a wet, black bough @142:

I have found anger much more healing than forgiveness.

When I was a child, I wasn't allowed to be angry.

I missed this on my first pass through; thanks to Arachne for pointing it out again. I was a very angry puppy up until about ten years ago: I had to be to fuel the strength to reclaim my lost capabilities. Once I got them back, I found myself free to be not angry, and have since become a much happier puppy. But I figured out a long time ago that if you're not allowed to say "No," then "yes" is meaningless.

Lee @157: One of my most treasured memories was of the time I stopped by my parents' house to pick something up after I'd moved out. My mom, my dad, and I were having a reasonable conversation about nothing much in particular, when I let slip something I immediately realized I didn't want to share. (Nothing much, just none of their business.) I clamped my mouth shut and didn't continue. True to form, my mom pounced and started prying. When I refused to continue, she started getting agitated. "We were just talking about communication!" Well, no we weren't. That was her slight-of-mouth maneuver to get leverage on me. I held firm, and said that I wasn't going to elaborate, it was none of her business, and if she didn't back off, I was going to leave. Well, she pushed, and (reveling in my freedom) I left. I remember my dad watching this whole exchange with a look of wonder and glee.

Some years later, I was telling this story (among others) to a roommate, when she popped out with, "Your mother can't stand secrets." I blinked, thought about it, and realized this was true. So many of the conflicts I'd come into with my mother had centered around her terror of secrets.

Given what I'd been told about her upbringing, this made complete sense. There was evidently some fairly severe mental illness in her family-of-origin that made secrets dangerous. Where the problem came for me was that she made no distinction between secrets and privacy. She also conflated fantasy with psychosis. This, combined with my determinedly Martian nature, pretty much guaranteed conflict.

Being the stubborn little soul that I am (I love the zebra story!), I didn't wait for them to die before I divorced them. Far as I can tell, the only one who really clued in was my father.

Tucker @158: Any time someone questions my perceptions I automatically assume that I'm wrong. Oh, ick. I wrestle with that one to this day. I do much better than I used to, but it's still a reflex I have to watch out for.

This is one of the most pernicious things about growing up in a codependent dynamic: What is said and what is done are often in direct opposition: to preserve one's sanity, one has to pick which one to believe. The politically safe choice is to believe what is said. But this pretty much guarantees that one has to question or summarily discard one's own perceptions in favor of the party line's consensus "reality."

One of the things I've been very slowly regaining over the course of my adult life is the ability to actually look at the faces of people I'm talking to, and read the physiological indicators of their state: skin lividity, eye moisture, eyelid engorgement, breathing patterns, etc. I actually feel safe enough (usually) to let awareness of their internal state into my consciousness.

I don't know that the perceptual doubt you report is universal, but it surely is common. The good news is that it is possible to fix.

C @160: This is me mentally broadcasting my stubborn streak and generally contrary nature to you to be used at your discretion. In your place, I would be very tempted to have a nicely framed and calligraphed sign prominently on display for Christmas, describing the household rules of conduct for when your parents visit. Set a large roll of duct-tape nearby, "for dealing with transgressions." The last line of the rules would be "The decisions of the Judges (you, your fiancee, and roommate) are final, and may or may not be arbitrary."

Heh. This would be in addition to the measures suggested by Lee @172. Which is, if I may say, a very sensible idea.

A further suggestion: hire SpawnoftheDevil as the Official Holiday Bouncer for the Household. Heh.

I share your ambivalance about chosen families. It's a great idea, but I find that I don't seem to be any better at that than I was with blood family. With a very few stellar exceptions, most of my "chosen" crowd has drifted away over the years.

I'm still a bit lonely. Maybe that's just the way I'll always be. I'm not sure.

Yup. I can't tell if I'm solitary by nature, or my ability to bond closely with other people is irretrievably broken.

SpawnOfTheDevil @164: Wow! Yay, you! If you're Devil's Spawn, this might be a Devil worth knowing. I wish I'd had your spine. I might have taken more lumps, but I suspect it would have been worth it.

silent E @173: Ew. Shudder! See, this is what I mean. I hated growing up in my family, but I'm really glad I didn't grow up in yours. I wish upon you joyous self-determination.

Shifting to Anonymous @176: Abuse isn't an isolated event that happens once, typically. It's an entire pattern of living, like religion or national identity. There is simply no way to put it entirely behind you. You can have a healthy relationship with your past, or an unhealthy relationship with it, but there's nothing that will ever free you from it.

Worse, it's a worldview. It deranges one's entire perceptual landscape. It rots the core assumptions one has about other people's intentions and motivations. It impairs one's ability to give benefit of the doubt—or disables one's ability to withhold it. It undermines one's ability to act in one's own best interest, because self-protection and self-nurturing are so often conflated with selfishness. Abuse is a lens that forever colors one's experience. And while it is sometimes possible to retrofit corrective optics that produce a healthier paradigm, it's almost never an effort that can be "finished," and "left behind."

I like Dr. Phil's definition of trust: basically, it's the confidence that one can handle whatever it is one will be faced with. Forgiveness, for me, is much the same kind of thing: once I've attained the skill to handle the kind of mistreatment I suffered in the past, I can dismiss it and let it go. If I'm still fuming about it, that means there is still danger for me. Even if—especially if—the chief perpetrator of the mistreatment against me is myself.

Arachne @178: Your advice regarding confronting my brother: Very good, very interesting. Thank you, I'm glad you elaborated. I will put this in the pot to ponder with the other advice I've gotten: yours sounds much more relatable and to the point than previous advice I've gotten, however.

One of the questions I need to answer for myself before I decide whether to confront him or not is: "What do I want?" My objectives are very foggy and undefined as of now. Thank you for good fodder for thought.

Dysfunctional is dysfunctional. "Levels" only make a difference in how much law enforcement needs to be involved.

[Falls over laughing.] How very...practical. Hee hee hee!

Lila @185: re homeschooling: Hear hear! One of the reasons I've largely given up on trying to have a relationship with my best friend from high school. She grew up to become one of Those. I actually witnessed her lay into her daughter physically, unprovoked (far as I could see) in public. Unfortunately, I didn't have the self-confidence and self-possession* to challenge her on the spot: "What in the name of Creation do you think you're doing!?" One of the deepest regrets I'll take to my grave.

John L @188: My mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was 16 years old. ... I blamed myself for her death for YEARS.... If it helps any, consider that self-blame of this sort is actually logical—in a magical-thinking kind of way. "If it's my fault, then I could have prevented it, and it wasn't some random bad luck or act of the gods." Sometimes, feeling empowered but guilty is less terrifying than feeling innocent but powerless.

*One of those "if we disagree, I must be wrong" moments. I have (had) tremendous respect for her judgment. If she was doing this, There Must Be A Good Reason. I have since realized that there is no damn reason that's good enough.

#196 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 01:48 PM:

Mary Dell, I agree with others that your comment about forgiveness vs. transcendence vs. surrender is genius.

I think one of the biggest mistakes that can be made, either by the person with the problem, or by those talking with the person with the problem, is trying to get them to ignore their anger, and a lot of helpfully-meant remarks are going to sound just like that, whether that's what the speaker meant to say or not. Ignoring anger is deadly; you have to own your anger in order to do anything useful with it*, and if you do not own your anger, it will for damn sure own you. So either you control your anger (not "suppress", "reject" and so on; more like "aim", "direct", "take the wheel of", and apply it for your benefit, or your anger owns you, and so controls you, and you screw yourself up even more.** I learned this the hard way, because my family is not very good about admitting to being angry about things. It's an untidy, unpleasant, dangerous emotion, and we try not to look at it too much, so instead we have ulcers and high blood pressure and depression.

I'm grateful that, having learned the hard way (luckily at a young enough age that I didn't make my life much worse) that ignoring anger can drive you crazy, I also learned that eating a steady diet of nothing but anger for too long can ruin you, too, and you need other things to gnaw on as well. I'm also lucky that I had a much smaller portion of anger to deal with than a lot of people in the world, and that the people who did their best (intentionally or otherwise) to screw up my life were outside my family, but learning to admit to anger was such an important step that I feel like I can't make too much noise about it. To get to Mary Dell's transcendence, I had to own up to it, and I think trying to take that away from someone is a drastic mistake. There's no "Go straight to GO, collect $500" in the process that I've ever heard of. Eventually, it may wear thin, or lose its savor for some, but to get to the point where you can see anger's past its sell-by date*** and toss it in the trash, you have to admit that it's even in the pantry.

On the organic nature of forgiveness, or transcendence, if that term works better, I recall a friend saying this about his late and not particulrly lamented mother, and also about his father, "I'm working on forgiving them, and some days it's not too hard. I hope to reach the point where I just don't have to think about them at all, and if I ever get there, maybe that's when I'll have forgiven them, or at least written that account off." That made a lot more sense to me, instead of trying to imagine "forgive" as some sort of emotional switch you could turn on like a light bulb.


*whether you use it as fuel for flight, fighting back, or rebuilding, or all three in their turn. Just so, you know, you don't use it on you.

**I don't need, I think, to mention that this is where a lot of self-destructive--colorful or quiet--and self-defeating behavior comes from, do I? Right, didn't think so. Anger's a busy hive of bees, and will get out and go to work on something.

***Some sell-by dates may be well past 2074, and that's just the way it is. Not everything deteriorates as fast as active yeast in those little foil packets. Even fine wine may age to vinegar after 50 years, but the hard liquor of anger can hold up a lot longer, just like rye whiskey. It's not your fault--you didn't add anger to the shopping list, right after 1 dozen eggs, toilet paper, 2% milk, a fresh loaf of bread, salad greens, and the rest. They put it in the bag when you weren't watching and there it was.

#197 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Christopher Davis @ 193 - Thank you for putting my thoughts into words -

#198 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Mary Dell 161: I'm not challenging your take on forgiveness--you have a really appealing sense of the big cosmic, which informs your take on this kind of thing. For you, negative energy directed at another person is a form of self-harm, and I totally get that.

Thank you! It is partly that, but also I discovered that I got tired of being angry all the time, and I mean ALL the time. I got tired of lashing out at people who were trying to love me (in a non-toxic, non-controlling way) because I couldn't let go of that anger. I got tired of having my stomach hurt when I thought about my childhood, and I got my fill of just never thinking about it, too.

I took a trance journey once, and ended up on a narrow platform with a low rail surrounding a ten-foot-wide jet of flame, which represented my well of rage. Even without the heat, the force of its upward motion was destructive. There was no way to entirely escape being burned while standing on the platform, which represented my entire life.

FOR ME (and yes, I know it doesn't apply to everyone), letting go of that was essential to my mental and even physical health. Mind you, I didn't see my parents for ten years in there. And when I did, I discovered that my parents had become people I could be around without pain, and/or that I had become a person who didn't mind their foibles so much and whose buttons were less easy to push. For the periods when they visit or I visit them, I can treat them as friends, and it works. This is a very joyful outcome.

Mind you, I'm acutely aware that that doesn't work in every situation. My abusive ex? I cut him out of my life entirely, and asked mutual friends not to tell him that they'd seen me, because I didn't want him to think about me at all. I hardly think about him now, except in certain weather, or when I have a bad cough, and then the old wounds hurt again—the torn cartilege at my sternum has never been the same, and this last time I started worrying about my heart (gee, I wonder why?) and then realized that it was just the damage from the ex reasserting itself.

Another ex I broke up with when he drove me so crazy I was afraid I was going to start hitting him. The ways a person can be toxic to me are many and varied, and I know when I have to cut off contact. Sometimes it's permanent, as in the case of these two exes, and sometimes temporary: one of my more difficult friends jumped in and told the punchline of a joke I was telling once, and I hit him. It wasn't more than a slap on the upper arm; I've hit people harder in play—but the trouble was, I was out of control. I hadn't hit a person in anger in fifteen years. I wasn't able to be in his presence for six months, but then it was OK.

So the only advice I'll give to anyone on this topic is: figure out what solution lets you have the best life, provided you've already found one that lets you live. Arachne doesn't have a lot of options, since survival is paramount.

And by the way, I think any definition of forgiveness that means "go back to being abused" is crap, or a good definition of a crap concept. FUCK THAT. No one should go back to being abused, ever.

SpawnOfTheDevil 164: This story is a story of virtue victorious. My deep admiration, especially for the adoption and 18th birthday episodes. Right on!

Lizzy 165: [Forgiveness] doesn't mean I must now be friends with these people who hurt me when I was unable to defend myself. Forgiveness does not require me to allow them to enter my life. (That's a whole 'nother journey.)

That's what I've been trying to say and failing. Thank you.

Mary Dell 167: Transcend, never surrender. Excellent post.

Ginger 182: Sounds like you're taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy. There's no better way to live. Strive for perfection and raise a truly twisted child. I'm not a parent, but I'm a former child, and I remember. Thank you and bless you for folding your son into your family's love.

Lila 185: Eventually the father shot the mother and then himself. Contrary to the usual outcome in such cases, she lived and he didn't.

You know what I call that? A happy ending. Cold? Me? Yeah, well, fuck it.

And you and your family probably saved the lives of those two boys. Bright blessings on you all.

Anonymous Fore 187: Can you take the child for an occasional day? Allow the kid to rest from the tension in the house, possibly see what a normal family looks like?

Might your friends hear "then go on your own; it will still help" if you put that to them? How about if you "get all the liars in one room" as an ex-boss of mine used to say? Then they can't both claim that they're willing to go for counseling and the other is not.

#199 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 02:52 PM:

People who say that "you have to forgive to get past this" may not realize that you can't just decide to do it and be done with it. I suspect that forgiveness (or transcendance, if you prefer), is the last stage in a more complex healing process. I don't think you can skip straight to that stage without going through the prerequisites.

Since everyone else is being honest here, I'll explain with reference to my own experience. It's not a matter I've discussed before on the internet, but I think it's the right time and the right thread for it.

When I was about six (I don't recall the precise date), I went into a garage with what we will call the wrong guy. I can't even recall whether he was an older teen or an adult, but I remember what we did there, behind the trash cans. I did not tell my parents; I was already a secretive, private child.

I spent ten years burying the memory, and (as a consequence) everything I could about sex and sexuality. Of course, though, adolescence brings these things back out. Then I fumbled about a bit till I got to college, where I realized that I was very angry. I was furious at him (whoever he was), at men in general, at a world that let these things happen and then went on as though it was nothing.

I learned a lot about my anger then, watching what it did to me and the people around me. I found that it was a good servant, allowing me to make a clear break with my feelings of guilt (I went in there willingly, after all), and to assign the blame where it belonged. But it didn't stop there. Anger wanted to be my master, and it started poisoning my present life. I lashed out, and I hurt people who did not deserve it.

And then one day, somehow, I was ready. That's when I forgave him—or found that I had already forgiven him—and was able to move on with my life. I'm not the person I would have been, of course, had it not happened. But I'm OK, mostly, most of the time. As Teresa said in another context, I am not what I intended to be, just what I can be.

Now, I took about 15 years to get to forgiveness from that single isolated incident. It wasn't a straight road or an easy one. Given that, I don't know how much time it would take to get through the healing and recovery process for an entire childhood. It may be more than a lifetime for some people, a thought that grieves me beyond measure.

(I see fidelio posted a better version while I left this hanging at preview for a while. I'll post it anyway, for parallax.)

#200 ::: Switching to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:12 PM:

Xopher @#197:

Definitely, different choices for different relationships. I haven't forgiven the person who sexually abused me. I don't expect that I ever will, but I don't feel crippled by anger any more, either--I've done a couple of decades of work on it. I've mostly forgiven my parents, whose wilful ignorance allowed the abuse to happen, and to go on and on and on. My father was easy to forgive, because he was heartbroken when he learned what had happened, and he has tried really really hard to make it up to me. My mother is a little tougher, because she keeps pushing me to reconcile with the abuser--she's more concerned about him than about me, because in her view I'm doing ok and he's not. I try to forgive her for that anyway. She's not right in the head, as they used to say, and the way to get her attention and approval is to fail on an epic level. So the abuser wins that contest, hands down.

The one I really struggle with--where I have no clear path to know what I should do--is my aunt, who was responsible for much of the good in my life--who is probably why I turned out as sane as I did. But I tried to tell her about the abuse when it was happening, and she vaguely told me I should stay away from him, and otherwise did nothing. She died a few years ago, which of course complicates things.

I'm a fan of taking a break from parents or whoever in order to get perspective and healing. If they can respect the silence, it's a good sign. I took 1.5 years off from my parents and they didn't try to break down that wall--so I was able to take it down myself, but leave some of the important sections in place.

#201 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Shifting, #176: This is going to be hard to articulate, and I apologize in advance for any infelicities. I said upthread something similar to what pedantic peasant said, and I want to elaborate more on what I meant by it.

It's absolutely true that you never lose the scars -- physical or emotional -- and in that sense, you can't "put it behind you". But the past can't be changed, so if you continue to blame the past for everything, you're also saying that you can never change; like Captain Sisko at the beginning of DS9, you "exist in that place". At some point, you have to say to yourself something along the lines of, "Okay, I have this, this, and that as a result of the past, and they will never go away. What can I do, going forward, to make my life better?" The past shapes you, but you don't have to let it define you.

In some ways, this is the inverse of what you think pedantic peasant was saying. If (for example) one of the things that is continuing to cause problems is repressed anger about what was done to you, then acknowledging that anger is an important step in the "moving forward" process. In my case, finding emotional hot buttons and working to change my conditioned responses to them (realizing, for example, that no matter what it was code for when my parents said X, my boyfriend or co-worker didn't mean it the same way) was a major hurdle. Saying, "I react like that because of what my parents did" was a reason but not an excuse, and not sufficient cause for me not to do what I could to change my reaction, once the issue had been recognized.

I don't think I'm saying this well, and again, I'm sorry. Maybe if we go back and forth a few more times I can get it to come out right.

Vassilissa, #179: That's lovely.

Lila, #185: It's possible to homeschool without isolating the child(ren), but it takes a significant amount of effort on the part of the parents. Some parents aren't willing to make the effort... and for others, the isolation is part of the reason for the homeschooling. And I don't know what can be done about the latter without interfering with the civil rights of the parents who just want their child to have a more comprehensive education.

Anonymous Three, #194: It's amazing what kinds of insight a friend can come out with! My best friend from high school, many years down the road, said to me, "There was no way you were ever going to win your parents' approval, because it was a moving target." The more I thought about that, the truer it looked -- no matter what I did that they said they wanted, something else that I wasn't doing immediately became a higher priority. I wish she'd said it 10 years earlier; it might have saved me some time and heartbreak. Of course, it's likely that she hadn't articulated it that way prior to the conversation in which it came up.

My parents didn't have a good concept of privacy either, but in their case I am convinced it was boundary issues. I was their child, and therefore they had the Absolute Right to know everything I said, did, or thought -- and if I refused them access to anything, it must be because it was something Bad or Wrong. Because, y'know, if I didn't have anything to be ashamed of, why couldn't I just TELL them? This is where I got my immunity to (and deep distrust of) that particular meme.

I find that my chosen-family depends to some extent on proximity. There are people I was very close to in Nashville who I've drifted apart from since moving to Texas, or after they moved elsewhere. There are still a few who I know I could depend on in a desperate situation, and for whom I would make commensurate efforts if they were desperate, but not many. OTOH, there are people near me who now fill that slot. And it occurs to me to wonder if my experience of being able to walk away from family might have over-generalized a bit.

It rots the core assumptions one has about other people's intentions and motivations.
Oh, yes. That's a hot spot I'm still working on; when any of my friends mention a conflict with their parents, I am much too quick to assign malice and/or disrespectful motives to said parents. This is a very hard response for me to uproot, but I am trying.

fidelio, #195: I love your anger-as-groceries analogy! And that ties back into what I was trying to say above. Also, "writing that account off" is IMO a much better turn of phrase than "putting it behind you"; it acknowledges that something is still owed to you, but you know you're never going to get it and you've stopped trying.

#202 ::: another anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:14 PM:

Another thing that helped is quasi-spiritual. I'd visualize going back and sitting next to my miserable younger self and whispering in her ear "It won't always be like this. You won't always be at the mercy of crazy people. Some day you'll be surrounded by people who love you and treat you well."

was in post #164

thank you!

I am currently in therapy and it is having its first successes. This is a heartwarming thought.

#203 ::: Anonymous Too ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Lee @ 137: I was the youngest of 4, but my parents definitely had boundary issues, so I can relate to that - they were smothering in their good intentions, and like shards of sharp little glass in their less good moments.

Rose White @ 113 (via Arachne Jericho): Forgiving them means it was *their* fault, and I didn't deserve to cope with their dysfunctions when I was so young, and when all I wanted to do was grow up.

Yes, exactly.

Arachne Jericho @ 138: I never seem to know exactly what "now what" is.

Me either. I function in the world because I have to, but I have no particular sense of direction. My real journey has been inward, getting to a place where I can feel that right to exist, and that there are people in the world who would care (and not feel/be better off) if I weren't in it. Maybe by the time I am 80 or 90, I will have some idea.

Petals @ 142: When I was a child, I wasn't allowed to be angry. I am still afraid of my own anger. It took me until I was in my mid-30s to get enough distance from my parents, geographically (I took care of them for years, another warped version of Christianity) and emotionally that I could begin to feel my rage at them. But I am still afraid that if I let myself get angry at/with someone I will speak the way my mother did, with words that do so much damage.

Anonymous Three @ 144: The kind of stress that children provoke is exactly the kind of thing that would bring out the worst in me.

I do pretty well with my pets, and with other people's kids. But yeah, maybe not so much with the full-time actual kids.

Lydy @ 148: Dad was a world-class manipulator, and got some sort of kick out of raising a crisis. It was deep psychodrama, with him as the starring role.... so he was going to go out with his gun and shoot himself.

I had a therapist tell me once that my father had a dirty book playing in his head, and he had made me a character in the book. But holy sh*t, I'd forgotten until I read your comment that my father used to "offer" to kill himself for me, if it would "help me." I was always terrified (until I was much older and understood he was too selfish) that he would go through with it and I would be left feeling guilty about it.

mpe @ 180: So the entire process may well take somewhere in the region of 50 or 60 years.

Thank you. It makes me feel better about the amount of progress I have, and haven't, made.

#204 ::: Nowhere Man ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:54 PM:

I've long realized that part of the whole equation isn't necessarily how badly you were treated, but how well you coped with it. The emotional and physical abuse in my childhood weren't severe at all, but I dealt with it quite badly, and didn't realize there was an issue at all until about High School. My defensive reaction was to hide from everything, and I still do. My superpower is invisibility. In Jr. High School, I could leave a class without being noticed. I perfected this in High School by not going to class at all. While being invisible does have it's good points, it isn't useful when you manage to hide from the people who were supposed to notice the problems and help you. Since then I've successfully hid from relationships and opportunities. Right now, I'm hiding so good from responsibilities and challenges, I'm about to lose my house. I'm so secretive about myself (which is part of invisibility) that I didn't inform anyone for months when I got bladder cancer. I was so invisible to myself that I ignored the clear signs for a year until it started to hurt. I was lucky, and I get to keep my bladder.

So, what superpower did survival give you?

#205 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:55 PM:

The situation where one's reality is at odds with the official version forcefully brings forth Cassandra, who was doomed to be able to see the future and state it correctly but have no-one believe her.

Echoing a central theme in this thread, Cassandra was doomed to this fate by Apollo, because she would not "return his love". "No sex? I'll mess with your reality. No one will believe what you say. See how much you like *that*!"

I don't know if the sexual abuse is required in order to form a Cassandra-like personality. It happened in my case, though.

In my family, the final blow that I refused to withstand was when my father (who was not the sexual abuser!) remarried, about half a year after my mother died, and his wife began an attack on my reality perception. They took hostages: my siblings weren't allowed to speak directly to me. Two were thrown out of their home (and headed directly to me), one remains convinced that I am the devil incarnate.

My family lived its life pretending to express a particular ideology, which is based on a particular religion. As a result, I have a devilishly hard time trying to accept anything about that religion as not-an-attack (on me or on others). This is very difficult to handle in a culture that seems to adulate that particular religion. Relatively simple political situations become hidden in the ideological fervor that Americans bring to the central questions of those religion and ideology (which I am NOT discussing here). Complex questions and situations become unspeakable in the culture at large - and yet, that is the background against which my family's insanity and abuse were played out.

I have no idea how to see the space between That Religion and the people who hurt me in its name. I have rejected the religion and ideology personally, but that has implications that are hard to handle (such rejection is frowned upon by American culture, apparently). Is it bigoted to step away from something that one disapproves of?

This thread has been very helpful in putting words around the whole issue (which troubles me very much; I'm not a bigot, I have ideological disagreements with a religion).

And should time machines become available, I'm right with y'all.

#206 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 03:56 PM:

Lee, the friend who came up with that one is a wise child indeed--one of those people you sometimes hear described as an old soul in a young body. Maybe that's helped him get as far as he has.

I do know for sure, though, that pretending the anger isn't there pretty much stops you from getting anywhere in the long run, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise isn't helping, however good their intentions may be. If you don't admit it's there, I don't see how you can get past it.

#207 ::: Ailbhe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:31 PM:

Homeschooling / Home education - I'm doing it to protect my children from the destructive and isolating system of institutionalised education.

And yes, it takes a lot more effort in re their social lives, because I have to accept and exercise my responsibility for the health of their relationships. I can't leave it to teachers to notice and mitigate damaging relationships.

I think it's worth it. My mother's jealous that I am able to give this to my children; the home in which she had to raise her children was not safe enough and so we had to go to school, which was not a good way to get an education, for us. Though it was an excellent way to learn to pass exams.

#208 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:45 PM:

Anonymous Three @ #194:
This is one of the most pernicious things about growing up in a codependent dynamic: What is said and what is done are often in direct opposition: to preserve one's sanity, one has to pick which one to believe. The politically safe choice is to believe what is said. But this pretty much guarantees that one has to question or summarily discard one's own perceptions in favor of the party line's consensus "reality."

Welcome to the 2008 Presidential election.

#209 ::: Shifting to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:48 PM:

Lee @#200:

Don't worry, I'm not in the place where I get mad if we don't agree. But I think you're misunderstanding (or I'm miscommunicating) what I'm getting at.

The thing is, if a guy you knew tasered you every third time you saw him, you would start going out of your way to avoid him. If you weren't able to avoid him, you'd get used to being tasered. Eventually, if you saw a taser lying on a table, you might flinch, instinctively. You might change your route to work so you didn't have to walk past the taser store, because seeing so many tasers makes you feel queasy.

You would probably be pretty angry at taser guy, but your anger would not be the reason for the flinching and the queasiness. It's not the anger that causes the terrible after-effects of abuse. It's Pavlovian conditioning.

In this scenario, forgiving Taser guy is the worst thing you can do. Because if you truly forgive him, presumably you'll be willing to see him again, with no conditions, so he'll be free to bring a taser along with him.

I think a lot of the romance of "letting go of the past" is predicated on the notion that it's over and we're safe now. But when it's a family problem, it's not over, or safe, until everyone who had a hand in it is dead.

#210 ::: FoName ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 04:55 PM:

A difficult but important thread for me, as I just went through a dysfunctional event that flashbacks old memories and emotions. To keep from thinking about it (repeated mulling, over and over) I've been compulsively reading books in my spare time, although that leaks into my not-spare time.
This evening I'll write instead.

Problem 1, the past:
As a child I had one parent who was ordinary-in-behavior, and another who was not. They could swing from ordinary to sullen or argumentative, angry, irrational (but not visibly irrational to others) and very verbally abusive for days at a time. I'll call this 'The Mood.' This Mood wasn't most of the time, but we never knew why what triggered it, triggered it. My other parent helped us sibs understand that none of us caused the triggering of The Mood, so we didn't worry or blame ourselves for that. However, Moods didn't change their verbal skills. Those sullen arguments felt like you could possibly say something helpful.

Imagine talking to an Eliza program programmed by a malevolent psychologist. You felt like you were this close }{ to saying something that would convince them they're wrong, but there is no talking to a person in this BPD state, because they can't hear you*.

This mood mostly affected family events (the horrors of The Mood showing up in a car trip to the shore), but also a bit for dating and work**. Because there is a certain tone of voice, a certain type of argument, that wakes up my emotional memories of the bad times. I have a good sense of what I'm vulnerable to...

Problem 2, the present:
One of my sibs, one I'm close to most of the time, has it, this same thing. Not exactly like that parent, but close. Months can go by, and then it's triggered, and I sometimes interact with the sib when it happened. They're in therapy off and on for years, getting help, but it's there.

Did I mention that the BPD parent could usually turn off all the bad behavior for non-family (like a business phone-call), and then turn it right back on? Only when they were really badly off did they lose the ability to hide their problem from non-family.

Very recently other people who know me and Sib told me that Sib was worrying them by behaving a little too 'off.' These people couldn't figure it out, was Sib not getting enough sleep? They're concerned, can I help?

Uh-oh. Frack. They don't know Sib's history like I do.

I called sib and damn but that voice was there, same as my parent, means there's The Mood. Something like BPD and mania together, Sib was ready to act a plan that came straight from the illnesses (like to quit their job, something they'd never do outside of The Mood). I tried carefully to talk. By the end of that call, they'd said hurtful things, and there's nothing like a sib to know exactly what hurts. We share common vulnerabilities. In The Mood they take cruel advantage of that.

I know it's the illness and not them, and I have my cognitive therapy techniques etc etc to use. But it still hurts in the short term (today is still the short term), and those memory-pathways bring up decades of childhood-to-early-adult old emotions of the parent, and more recent emotions of the Sib. Those emotions are weaker than before, I've got therapy and more to work on them, but they exist.

Days later my sib leaves The Mood, and truly is going for stronger treatment, pushed by how friends were worried too. My phonecall helped in that. huzzah and brownie points for me.

But I still have the old feelings brought up, and I resent that when Sib leaves The Mood, I'm still stuck with the emotional exhaustion for a few days. I said nothing the friends didn't say, the friends didn't say anything that I haven't said for years. But I haven't gotten a 'thank you' phonecall. The friends have.

What I do I do by choice, believing that I'm making the best decision (out of a set of hard decisions) in how to interact with Sib. But I still wish Sib would call me and ask me how I'm doing, taking back the words they said (but might not exactly remember).

I can handle a few days of depression more than they could handle a spiraling Mood, so I chose what to do. I know my down feelings are temporary. But while they're here- ouch. Now to find a cheerful book, reading like I read back in high school as i listened to my Parent's rants through the doors.

Thanks for a place to write this.

footnotes
* Instead, just leave, or (on innocuous topics) simply agree with everything they say to derail their rant.

** When I first started going on dates, I found my 'chemistry' was unfortunately attracted to a type that shared traits of this parent. I learned over time to ignore then retune my chemistry, so now I'm with a calm, regular person who knows to stop the instant I say 'My blood pressure is starting to rise, I can't talk about XYZ right now, we'll talk later'.

There's even one type of boss that I could only handle by also going through therapy, because they'd remind me of the parent.

#211 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Dena Shunra @204: am I remembering correctly from another thread that you were the one subject to a Certain Country's convoluted laws on marriage and divorce, because of the religion your parents assigned you to at your birth?

Even though I was raised with an attenuated form of that, I sympathize with your ideological differences.

Anything else I was going to say turned... pessimistically political, and this is not the thread for that.

And complaining over my family traumas surrounding religion seems petty, in light of other stories on this thread. Suffice it to say that, because of expectations from my grandparents' generation, which were bound up with financial assistance, I was compelled to continue with religious training, very much against my inclination and will. Unbelief wasn't sufficient grounds to discontinue it. Physical assault by my peers at least got me removed from the particular class, but not from the training itself, until I'd completed the required rituals.

I avoided further participation after that, and was mostly left alone about it. But I've discovered that it's not merely a case of unbelief and indifference -- if I attempt to participate now, going through the motions for the sake of family harmony, it's a PTSD trigger.

For the most part, no one pressures me about it, which I suppose is a sign that the remaining generations are reasonably functional. And the PTSD symptoms are usually not at the forefront.

I just wish I weren't able to recognize myself so strongly in Rachel Manija Brown's descriptions of PTSD.

#212 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:08 PM:

Shifting 208: Because if you truly forgive him, presumably you'll be willing to see him again, with no conditions, so he'll be free to bring a taser along with him.

Only if you insist that the "surrender" definition (or something similar that doesn't involve them repenting) of 'forgive' is the only one that counts as "truly forgiving." If taser guy has renounced tasers, and been to Taserers Anonymous, and been taser-free for 20 years, forgiving him doesn't put you in actual danger of being tasered. No, it won't cure your queasiness with regard to tasers themselves (I'm still quite nervous around drunk people, even the happy friendly kind), and it probably won't let you be around taser guy comfortably, but then as I and several others have said, forgiving someone doesn't have to mean letting them back in your life.

That's an abuser meme. It's something they try to teach us, so they can force us to let them in again and again, because otherwise we're being "unforgiving." When the demon of your childhood becomes a total stranger whose face reminds you of terrible things, you still say goodbye, even if you bear that stranger no ill will. It worked out better than that for me (in the case of my parents), because I acquired the strength to stand up to being with them without letting them harm me, and they lost the desire to do the things that did harm me. But I forgave them in the full expectation that I would never have any but the most distant relationship with them; I was pleasantly surprised. At no time did I say "all right, it's so important to have a relationship with my parents that I'm going to bare my back for the lash once again."

I guess what I'm saying is that the definition of forgiveness which requires letting them back in is another way they have of hurting you, because you either have to let them in or be unforgiving. The "transcend" definition has no such problem, and of course is not "real forgiveness" to the abusers, or anyone who buys into that worldview.

Which is not to say that if you don't agree with me you're buying into their worldview! That would be pretty arrogant of me to say, an abusive meme in itself, and presuppose telepathy on my part.

#213 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Rikibeth @210:
complaining over my family traumas surrounding religion seems petty, in light of other stories on this thread

As Nowhere Man quite cogently observes in 203, part of the whole equation isn't necessarily how badly you were treated, but how well you coped with it.

#214 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:19 PM:

qwerie @191: I must say I'm impressed with your ability to coach acceptable behaviour. Do you give classes and can I take one?

I do an online version, which, alas, does not include demonstration of The Look (which, amusingly, I learned from my mother). Some day I should have someone videotape it and post it on Youtube.

Short version: the key, as in buying a car, is Always Be Willing To Walk Away. I can't control how people treat me. I can control my whereabouts. That's my only stick, but it's a powerful lever because I have a place to stand: I know how valuable I am, I know where my boundaries are, and I know that I deserve respect.

(As an aside, this is also how I walk through dangerous parts of the city: I make eye contact, and project my assessment of the situation. "Yes, you could probably take me. But I will make it very, very expensive. Have a nice day." So far, at least, it's worked a treat.)

So what you do is expect to be treated with respect. When that respect falters, you may say, "Nobody gets to talk to me that way. Take it back." If an immediate retraction is not forthcoming, stand up, get your things, and walk out. Apologies may be accepted at a later date, but give yourself time before you go back and give it another try. Six weeks, six months, a year. The time away from your valuable company is the punishment that reminds the malefactor that the behavior needs to be changed.

Extra credit: The Look. Very useful tool in many situations. At a job interview, for example. You approach the interview confident, relaxed, expecting to like both the interviewer and the company. Your face is relaxed, your eyes warm and interested. Unfortunately, the interviewer asks a wildly inappropriate question. ("Are you married? Planning to have kids? How old are you, anyway?") Continue to meet his gaze, letting the muscles in your face go perfectly still. Let all the warmth drain out of your eyes. Look down at your notepad and write down what he just said.

Back in the day, I used to tell people I had a doctorate in applied psychology. Then colleges started offering them, so I had to stop.

Anonymous Three @194: A further suggestion: hire SpawnoftheDevil as the Official Holiday Bouncer for the Household. Heh.

Oh, I'd be delighted. "Oopsie, that was three strikes. Hello, you must be going. I'll get your hat."

Anonymous Three @194: Wow! Yay, you! If you're Devil's Spawn, this might be a Devil worth knowing. I wish I'd had your spine. I might have taken more lumps, but I suspect it would have been worth it.

Yes! Lumps were coming whether I "deserved" them or not. If I could sense that an explosion was on the way, sometimes I'd just go ahead and trigger it, to get it over with. :: smack! smack! :: "Go To Your Room!" "Okay." That's where the books were, after all.

Somebody upthread talked about dinners that weren't over until Everybody Cries. (I had a boss like that once. She never made me cry. I think I scared her. Comparatively, she was an amateur.) At our dinner table, we were ducks in a barrel. My practice was to take as little food as possible, eat as fast as possible, ask to be excused and go to my room to "do homework." Mom grumbled that I never spent time watching television with the family. Did I think I was better than them? (Well, yeah.) "No, of course not, I just have this report to write. You want me to get good grades, don't you?"

It's a wonder I didn't get an eating disorder.

Xopher @197: This story is a story of virtue victorious. My deep admiration, especially for the adoption and 18th birthday episodes. Right on!

Hee. Like you, I lived much of my early years with rage as my default emotion. The love of a good woman (may she rest in peace) did much to civilize me, teach me about other ways to be alive. "Think about the outcome you want." What a concept! I'm pretty good at it now.

another anon @201:thank you!

Welcome. They say you can't change the past, but sometimes, in small ways, I think maybe you can. You can certainly nudge the memories you have. I was never alone. As a child, I thought it was angels, and maybe it was, but it was also grownup, kickbutt, not-a-victim, powerful me.

Nowhere Man @203: So, what superpower did survival give you?

Rage. Fearlessness. Boundaries.

Dena Shunra @204: And should time machines become available, I'm right with y'all.

Posse! Can I bring my flamethrower?

#215 ::: Ailbhe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:20 PM:

Quoting abi in 212 who was quoting - "As Nowhere Man quite cogently observes in 203, part of the whole equation isn't necessarily how badly you were treated, but how well you coped with it."

Some of that has to do with other advantages one was given. For example, I had a solid grounding of love and security from babyhood, which meant that I had a self built up before the personalised abuse started when I was 4. The abuse was, objectively and subjectively, horrific -- but when I was extracted from the situation and fed with the things little humans need, like attention, acceptance, trust etc, I had enough of that secure infant self still buried in me to build an adulthood on.

Doing it without that would have been much, much harder.

#216 ::: Another Anonymous Poster ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:33 PM:

I don't have any sort of physical abuse in my past, so whenever these types of discussions occur I feel like I'm back in my childhood, thinking that because of that I have no right to complain. I don't think you're supposed to be thinking about that kind of question at all when you're a kid, though, so....

First, I want to say that my father's pretty normal, and although I don't consider us close--I don't consider myself close with anyone; although there are some I enjoy spending time with, generally the most positive actual feelings I have for other people are more along the lines of tolerance than anything else--we get along pretty well and always have, so far as I can remember.

I've definitely felt a lot better since cutting off all contact with my mother ten years ago, however. When I thought of her as crazy while I was growing up, I somehow assumed I had to be exaggerating, because surely if she was more people would notice, right? But several years ago the rest of my immediate family came to the conclusion that she has undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. Reading about it, it's scary how accurate the descriptions are. The extended family doesn't see anything wrong with her, really, but I think it's telling that all of us who actually lived in the same house with her for a couple decades have left. (I'm the only one who's cut off contact, but I'm also the only one who's still living within several hundred miles of her. I think it helped that I had long known my sister was "the good child", so by the time I reached my decision I was beyond being able to feel guilty about it. Doing something so obviously Wrong and Ungrateful was only to be expected of me, right? And actually, at this point I consider myself nearly immune to guilt trips; I've been guilt tripped by a master of passive-agressive manipulation for years, and you know what? Most people can't even come close.) Even though my father and sister are still in contact with her, among the three of us there's a lot of "don't tell your mother X" about the simplest, most innocent things, because it's just not worth the fallout. They even say that to me knowing it's not possible since I won't be telling her anything. Everything's always about her, and if she finds out that someone forgot to tell her something, it must be a deliberate slight and a sign that they hate her. Which, okay, I kind of do, but in a passive way at this point. Most of the time I kind of forget she exists, and when I do remember, it's generally more of an awareness that "Oh yeah, I hate her" than any actual emotion. I'm not sure about the others, beyond the fact that they still pick up the phone when she calls and my sister puts up with visits a few times a year.

Actually, she pressured my sister into a career she had no real interest in, and although my sister eventually got out of it by means of becoming (in a non-deliberate but quite possibly stress-exacerbated way) unemployable in that field and has worked in a few wildly different fields since, my mother has apparently been trying to force her way into the new career that my sister is hoping to start. I've often said that I consider myself lucky that when we were growing up she mostly ignored me.

I remember growing up I used to frequently wonder why my father stayed married to her, but I also was afraid that if he divorced her she'd get custody, which would have been a nightmare. I suspect he was worried about the same thing, because he didn't leave until after the kids were living on our own.

I'm still screwed up in plenty of ways; I don't take even implied criticism well at all, I have a hard time whenever I don't do something perfectly, I'm so afraid of confrontation that it's incredibly hard for me to complain about even something as legitimate as my phone or cable service going out. The biggest, though, is probably my inability to trust pretty much anything anyone says. I'm always expecting offers or invitations to be reversed at any moment, or something said one minute to be completely contradicted or outright denied the next. I'm still getting used to the idea that it's not a given that anything I say will be wrong, or that (usually) I'm not going to get in trouble for not doing something I was never told to do in the first place. To make things worse, after someone here mentioned Nonverbal Learning Disorder a few months ago I've been doing some reading, and so has my father, and we both think I probably have it--so I would probably have been hampered in learning how to interpret what people say and do in any case, even without having one of my primary examples be completely unreliable. I'm pretty sure I would have disliked being around people a lot in any case, though.

Usually when I say I haven't spoken to my mother in a decade and have no intention of doing so, people react the same way they do with so many of you. (My immediate family, OTOH, never has, nor have they ever tried to change my mind the way extended family used to.) It's always such a relief when I come across someone who has done the same thing, regardless of their reasons. Actually, I never feel a need to ask the reasons; it's irrelevant. The point is, they understand. That's one of the things I like about this thread, hard as it is to read about some people's experiences. It makes me feel less abnormal.

(Oddly, although I'm just fine with telling people everything I just wrote under normal circumstances, I know my mother tries to google me and still don't feel up to dealing with it if she sees this.)

#217 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Because if you truly forgive him, presumably you'll be willing to see him again, with no conditions, so he'll be free to bring a taser along with him.

I'm with Xopher. This definition of "forgive" is harmful and bad.

For me, forgiveness is "I can stop dreaming of revenge, and desiring harm to him." When I could stop wishing for all their dreams to come true on the people who hurt me--that was forgiveness. I haven't spoken with some of them since, and don't intend to, and remembering or thinking about them will still bounce up my heart rate--but I no longer wish them ill.

#218 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:47 PM:

FoName @209, you have my admiration for dealing so compassionately with Sib in the throes of The Mood. (I had a BPD boss once. I nearly didn't make it through. Fortunately, I can be provoked into walking off shift.)

I suggest bing very kind to yourself for the next while, and actively seeking out things that reward you. You very much deserve them.

#219 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 05:55 PM:

abi @212, thanks. It troubles me somewhat that I've remained so persistently broken in that one circumscribed area -- it seems like the insults were minor enough that I ought to have been able to cope better, and that it reflects poorly on me that I haven't, not in twenty-five years.

When we get that time machine and those flamethrowers, I won't be going after my family members, but there are a few twelve-year-olds who are going to be TOAST.

#220 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:12 PM:

@ mpe #180

So the entire process may well take somewhere in the region of 50 or 60 years. After that, it may be appropriate to talk of letting go, or of forgiving. But until then, it's simply a matter of trying to escape, get safe, process the damage, and (if possible) catch up on the normal development one has missed.

This is what scares me the most. I am so disappointed in myself sometimes because I haven't put everything together and I end up hurting my relationships with other people. Sometimes it's due to chemicals in my brain... and... sometimes... um... it might be due to chemicals in my brain or possibly a character flaw. The problem is that it's hard to tell which is which, but there's something someone said... "If it doesn't happen when you take your meds, it's probably not a character flaw."

My meds are wearing off right now, so it's like... argh. I'm on medical leave (unpaid; told you my health care was not great) until we figure out this sh*t.

The fact that I can post is encouraging though. It means I haven't lost interest in everything. Before this thread came up, I was on the verge of giving up... I don't know what. Not life. Maybe letting the fear overwhelm me again. So I'm up and going, and it's good and gotten me talking to people, which is great. Even online talk is great.

I mean, I probably would have been alright after a while anyways. But this thread helps a lot.


@ Ginger #182

*hugs*

Thank you for taking care of your legal son. I don't know him. But I feel like thanking you from the depths of my heart regardless. That is what he needs.


@ Lila #184

I never thought about that part of the homeschooling aspect. But for some homes, that is definitely not a good idea. But for some others (like my understanding friend's place, and apparently Ailbhe @ 206 's place, it can work).


@ Anonymous Fore #187

I had a schoolteacher who would take me on outings. She was very careful not to set off my father's "this person will TAKE my CHILD AWAY from ME the RIGHTFUL parent DAMN them GET THE HELL AWAY you C*NT" reaction. I don't know how. She just managed it.

So she let me stay late to grade English papers (I think that may have been a bit of the reason why I have a flinching reaction to some things about the setting up of essays and non-fiction stuff) and enter grades and do library stuff unto 7pm, which was the latest my parents would let me go out "under guard". We visited museums and zoos and stuff. We experimented with shopping for clothes and also makeup. Girl stuff, you say, but it's not like I was going to get *anything* even close to that at home.

She may be the reason why I'm here at all. She helped, even though she could not---not even legally---help at all. This was the 80's. It wasn't a terribly educated time for dealing with abuse, and we both knew that the school board wouldn't do anything for me. In fact, any time abuse was reported, they would tell the parents, and not do anything, or maybe they disciplined the reporting teacher behind doors; I don't know. My parents certainly disciplined me when I got reported.

Maybe my teacher was among them so she knew better than to raise ire, and provided me with *something* that she could. It was not the best thing in the world, but it was there. And it helped. I think it's a good part of why I'm here typing to y'all right now.

These days I assume more things can be done, but I have no idea what. Things have to be pretty extreme, I think, before child services step in.


@ pericat #189

This may or may not apply, but I kinda think that 16 is still a bit too young to be responsible for recognising that illness in another, esp a parent, has reached life-threatening stage. Grownups are supposed to know how to take care of themselves, and if they seem not to be doing so, still, it is not easy to go from the normal minor dependent child mindset to independent assessment and decision.

Yes, 16 is too young to reliably know what's going on and how it should be dealt with. People are still growing up and forming concepts about the world.


@ Lori Coulson #192

A word to those who are "staying together for the sake of the children:"

Don't -- Please. Even today, 40 years later, the sound of a man and woman arguing in the middle of the night will wake me and send me into a panic attack.

Here, here.


@ Christopher David #193
@ Everyone doing same

Thank you very much.

Stories are good and well to tell, but having someone hear them or read them... that's something else. I don't know why but it makes sense.


@ Anonymous Three #194

Being the stubborn little soul that I am (I love the zebra story!), I didn't wait for them to die before I divorced them. Far as I can tell, the only one who really clued in was my father.

I remember watching TV with a case of a child divorcing their parents. My father said it was sinful and I should never think of it, then we had a "conversation" in his room later that night.

I think the divorce itself is still a good thing. My father's understanding of it, not at all good thing.

Tucker @158: Any time someone questions my perceptions I automatically assume that I'm wrong.

Oh, ick. I wrestle with that one to this day. I do much better than I used to, but it's still a reflex I have to watch out for.

Hey, I totally have the same problem! I accept things like a sponge. It's only later that I might, or might not, actually think about the things. I'm learning to think about the things, but I still have that first reactin that you and Tucker speak off.


C @ 160: I'm still a bit lonely. Maybe that's just the way I'll always be. I'm not sure.

Yup. I can't tell if I'm solitary by nature, or my ability to bond closely with other people is irretrievably broken.

Same here. Except I go with broken every time.

I agree about SpawnOfTheDevil@164's behavior modification techniques. Takes guts, and patience, and strength, and recognizing a situation where it will work and how to work it.


Your advice regarding confronting my brother: Very good, very interesting. Thank you, I'm glad you elaborated. I will put this in the pot to ponder with the other advice I've gotten: yours sounds much more relatable and to the point than previous advice I've gotten, however.

Glad I could help, but please do think carefully. These days I take matters of my parents with a certain amount of attitude that can, and does, worry other people. Then again, in my situation, tooth and claw, red, nature, etc.

(The indirect matters, the stuff in my head that's wrong, is something else entirely and still just scares me.)


Dysfunctional is dysfunctional. "Levels" only make a difference in how much law enforcement needs to be involved.

[Falls over laughing.] How very...practical. Hee hee hee!

My humor can run very dark in this kind of situation. That's just a practical aspect of it.

I have, actually, made some fairly tasteless jokes while in the throes of trying to describe my situation to my string of various therapists in the past. We're talking, in the darker times, murder, stalking, and suicide jokes. It ended up as a kind of litmus test. Some of them concluded that, because I was able to make jokes at all, I was a lying bitch. Only one of them ever accepted it as a genuine coping technique, and could laugh along with me, and then we'd talk of other things after that icebreaker.

That, of course, just underlines several times the difficulty of finding a therapist. And the deeper the rabbit hole goes, the harder it is to find a therapist who can take it. It's not you---it's just that some of them just aren't prepared for this kind of thing and just can't take it. We, their clients, just don't have the time nor responsibility to reassure them, the poor things. All we can do is find someone else.

By the way, I don't make those jokes anymore and anyways I can't remember them.

Some little bit of practical humor remains, but it's just practical, not dark.

@fidelio #195

I think one of the biggest mistakes that can be made, either by the person with the problem, or by those talking with the person with the problem, is trying to get them to ignore their anger, and a lot of helpfully-meant remarks are going to sound just like that, whether that's what the speaker meant to say or not. Ignoring anger is deadly; you have to own your anger in order to do anything useful with it*, and if you do not own your anger, it will for damn sure own you.

That is true and very well said.

@ Xopher #197

So the only advice I'll give to anyone on this topic is: figure out what solution lets you have the best life, provided you've already found one that lets you live. Arachne doesn't have a lot of options, since survival is paramount.

You're very right---the best life (given that you get a life at all) is the best aim, and what makes for the best solution.

My advice is at the level of "flamethrower" which is not what everybody needs. Though I think anything that ends up requiring confrontation needs the backbone that goes with it, if not everything else.

And by the way, I think any definition of forgiveness that means "go back to being abused" is crap, or a good definition of a crap concept. FUCK THAT. No one should go back to being abused, ever.

Totally and Exactly.


@ abi #198

*hugs*

And this message can't be seen enough times, I think. It can be hard to get through some people's brains. For a long time, it couldn't get through mine.


@ Lee #200

It's absolutely true that you never lose the scars -- physical or emotional -- and in that sense, you can't "put it behind you". But the past can't be changed, so if you continue to blame the past for everything, you're also saying that you can never change; like Captain Sisko at the beginning of DS9, you "exist in that place". At some point, you have to say to yourself something along the lines of, "Okay, I have this, this, and that as a result of the past, and they will never go away. What can I do, going forward, to make my life better?" The past shapes you, but you don't have to let it define you.

I kind of understand what you're saying, or trying to say, even if it's not put in the best way---and really, I can't think of a great way to put it; many variations ultimately sound like "it's all your fault for your problems if you can't move past it," which is not true and usually not what's trying to be said.

From my situation, here's what I learned. The past shaped me. No doubt 'bout that. But it also continues to shape me---how I process things, how I understand things, how I think, that was all developed by the past and those things continue. That cannot go away. But at the same time, I try new things.

Like, you know, before I had keys that could only open certain kinds of locks to certain kinds of doors. But now I in this space where keys are available, I can now have more keys so I can open more locks to other kinds of doors.

However. I still have those old keys. I am most familiar with them. Sometimes I will not yet have the key that can open a certain kind of door, or I don't know how to work the new keys, so I try it with my old keys until I either find one that works with a different kind of jabbing motion, a hairpin, or the actual key(s) and/or turning technique that will work.

Those old keys though, they remain on my keychain. Sometimes they are just what I have when I really need a certain kind of door.

... And yes, this analogy is probably influenced by the "keys" episode in Harry Potter. *hangs head*

@ Nowhere Man #203

I've long realized that part of the whole equation isn't necessarily how badly you were treated, but how well you coped with it. The emotional and physical abuse in my childhood weren't severe at all, but I dealt with it quite badly, and didn't realize there was an issue at all until about High School. My defensive reaction was to hide from everything, and I still do. My superpower is invisibility.

So, what superpower did survival give you?

I don't think it gave me anything other than eventually letting me build the equivalent of a flamethrower. I guess it's more like the story of Iron Man.


@ Dene Shunra #204

*hugs*

I like your metaphor. I mean, I know it's a metaphor for a bad thing, but it involves The Odyssey! I just use Harry Potter. *g*

*many more hugs*


@ Shifting to Anonymous #208

Because if you truly forgive him, presumably you'll be willing to see him again, with no conditions, so he'll be free to bring a taser along with him.

I agree with Xopher and SameChevre. This is the same definition, from a different side, that the abusers use to make you feel like nothing can change, and that they have complete control over you merely by existing.

It's not true for most cases, I think, not even in my own case.

You may not be so lucky in your case however. It may be a very different case altogether. This is just me.


I think a lot of the romance of "letting go of the past" is predicated on the notion that it's over and we're safe now. But when it's a family problem, it's not over, or safe, until everyone who had a hand in it is dead.

There is that though; it's not 100% safe for me if I run into my parents again, even if it's probably a low probability at this point. IF my father was not lying about his age (that's a pretty damn strong if) then when I was in my 20's he was in his late 40's. When he gets to 80 I will decrease my worrying very much. So yeah. Only a little over 30 more years of waiting. You may not be as lucky.

I have the keys to my past, and I may choose to not use them. Problem is, someone else also has the keys to my past, and they are quite willing to use them.

Nevertheless, I believe it is able to know this and yet to accept it, not as surrender but as fuel to prepare for the possibility. And to not let it rule my life and still move forwards---and maybe one day find the door that leads to "they are totes gone and can't touch me."

But I don't really worry about it, or them, or wanting to kill/hurt them (unless I have to do it in a face to face situation). If only because of my possible "superpower." And just knowing I have move on or I will just die here and... uh... that's letting the abusers win. Which is hokey but is kind of true.

Again, this is just me and what seems to be working for me. I may entirely regret this later.

#221 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:17 PM:

@ Rikibeth #212

I think you shouldn't beat yourself up over it. This is why therapists (good ones) are around.

I mean, a lot of people who cope do, at one point or other, beat themselves up over not coping better. *I* beat myself up on not coping better, and for some reason lots of people don't agree, and indeed, if I saw someone in my situation (or yours) beating themselves up for not coping better, I would say "Noooo! Get a therapist, don't beat yourself up!"

(Of course, I can't find a good way to say that to myself.)

#222 ::: A Nonny Must ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:19 PM:

Thank you so much for everyone's sharing. This has been a very enlightening thread and I've found a lot of solace.

My own story is one of lack. Most of my memories of childhood are of me amusing myself or my parents finding ways of encouraging that. Instead of throwing around a ball with me, they went to a garage sale and got one of those pitching practice nets that bounce the ball back. Rather than have to read my favorite story to me over and over, they attempted to record it on tape so I could play it back whenever I wanted. In fact, when my parents got divorced, my real struggle was whether I could stand to leave the house I grew up in or not, because that's where my real attachment was. It came down to who could afford to help me with college. Even then, I still hear about how they paid my way even though I got nearly a full-ride at a private institution (which had to be, of course, that we were poor and nothing to do with my 4.0, National Merit Scholarship, or band and drama activities).

But then there's the pieces that start to look odd years later, with perspective. Like, why did dad have two cans of ether in the cabinet we inherited from Grandpa? How exactly did I get a bilateral skull fracture as a baby and why wasn't there more to-do about the cousin who supposedly dropped me? Why was I told that it was rude to invite myself over to a friend's house when I was asking if I could come over to play?

Truth is, I won't know. My Grandma taught my dad how to keep secrets, and Grandma only told her doctor about her failing kidneys until she was two weeks away from the grave. Near as I can figure, our family poison is something along the lines of deep narcissism as a protection from having to face that there is no such thing as a perfect human being. It's weird. They say they're really proud of me, but give no support or encouragement to pursue what I love, or anything at all.

Anonymous three@194 "Sometimes, feeling empowered but guilty is less terrifying than feeling innocent but powerless."

Thank you. That hit me like a ton of bricks. A friend of mine died from Reye's Syndrome at 17, and I had noticed the night before she was taking a ton of aspirin. That, coupled with a much longer story I don't feel quite comfortable sharing, has always held a little space in the back of my mind that said maybe, just maybe, I could have done or said something to prevent it. But that's not the truth, and it's good to be reminded of that.

As for forgiveness, I go back and forth. Especially when dealing with narcissists, getting any kind of acknowledgement or reaction to past harms is futility defined. Expecting that they will at some point only keeps me unhappy. Emotionally, I'd like some sort of revenge, but intellectually and spiritually I know that there's not really anything that could happen that would make up for it. I tried that once with an old boss. I had worked at a movie theatre I despised and long after I had quit, I found myself on screen. I called back to let him know to look for me there on his screen. It felt great for a total of about 5 minutes. Afterwards, it seemed pretty pointless and still didn't make up for being talked down to or smacked upside the head (gently, but unprofessional and possibly illegal nonetheless). In the end the forgiveness for me has nothing to do with the other person and is more about breaking the rage cycle that was driving me batty, very similar to what Xopher was talking about.

Forgive never meant forget though. Now that I'm healthy enough to have new boundaries, I try to maintain them with Marine-like vigilance.

#223 ::: C ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:25 PM:

Lee @ 172:
I strongly advise you to shoulder the expense of putting your parents up in a hotel room during their Christmas visit, and keeping their access to your home as minimal as possible.

Why didn't I think of this? That way they also won't complain that the hotel is too expensive, or find a hotel at the last minute (12 miles out of the way, or next to the strip club, were popular choices in the past).

This will at least help with the problems you foresee. And close the doors to all the bedrooms.

The doors close, but don't lock except from the inside; I'm concerned that my parents will snoop.

I wish I'd had doors that locked in any direction, growing up. Absolutely maddening to be trying to muffle sobs into a pillow and having your parent come in without knocking and say, "Stop crying. I'm sorry you had to hear that, but she just makes me so angry. If she was more like you everything would be fine. Is there a way you can talk to her to make her do what we want her to?"

So...she should be pliant and quiet and terrified, while I was supposed to be more social, athletic, and dress in colors other than brown?

#224 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:36 PM:

@ C #222

I've thought about this a little more. Could you tell them not to come at all? You have more than enough reason enough to do so.

I know that holidays are supposed to be where one puts up with people, but to me this is just not right in the situations on this thread, yours included. Definitely included.

And I know I have this flamethrower approach that can come out, but this is just wrong.

On the other hand, I know what the flamethrower approach can result in, and that it has many ramifications, and while I can deal with that (and it is favorable for me, in my situation, to deal with that than the other possibility) this may not be good for others.

But I can't just shake the feeling that this is all so wrong and the holidays shouldn't be used like this.

#225 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 06:37 PM:

I'm one of the lurkers who's usually terrified of posting amidst such world-class intellects, but this thread has really got to me and made me fall in love with you all all over again.

Due to various problems after my parents' divorce, I went to a child psychologist (I was about 6 at the time). I vividly remember her office and talking to her; my mind tells me in absolute terms that I went there twice, three times at the most.

I learned recently that no, I actually saw her twice a week for six months.

I cannot recall any of that, and I'm terrified of what else I'm not remembering.

#226 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:18 PM:

Arachne @219: That, of course, just underlines several times the difficulty of finding a therapist. And the deeper the rabbit hole goes, the harder it is to find a therapist who can take it. It's not you—it's just that some of them just aren't prepared for this kind of thing and just can't take it. ["You can't handle the truth!" Sorry, couldn't resist] We, their clients, just don't have the time nor responsibility to reassure them, the poor things. All we can do is find someone else.

It may help to remember why most therapists go into the field. (Knowing Look.) I.e., to fix themselves.

And regarding dark humor, I didn't tell anybody at work when my mother died, because I figured most people wouldn't deal well with the sight of me skipping down the hallway singing "Ding dong, the witch is dead...."

C @222: The doors close, but don't lock except from the inside; I'm concerned that my parents will snoop.

Time for the duct tape again. Put a stretch of it across the jam of the closed door, with the words "Private, do not enter," printed clearly across it. That way, if they are compelled to snoop, at least they can't pretend they didn't know better. (They can read, can't they?)

#227 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:41 PM:

SylvieG @ #224, is there any possibility that the psychologist is still practicing, and that you might ask to see your records?

#228 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:54 PM:

I think the word "forgive" is overloaded. It gets used for times when you wipe the slate clean ("I forgive you for breaking my favorite coffee cup"), where forgiveness really means that this past thing won't have much effect on our future relationship. It also means something I've tried to do in one particular case in my life. Something more like "I am no longer harboring a grudge for the nasty things you did to me. I have come to accept that this is just how you are, and that safe and non-nightmarish interactions with you are possible only within certain boundaries, and so I will continue our relationship within those boundaries." For some people, those boundaries involve speaking only on holidays, or moving far away and never seeing the person, or even getting restraining orders to keep them away. But the critical part is to drop the grudge, to no longer have some spare process in your brain working out how you'd like to tell them off for all they did, or to get revenge for their evil ways, or replaying the horrible things they did and reaffirming their evil.

ISTM that the first kind of forgiveness is mostly between you and the other person. It's a return of your relationship to its normal healthy state. The second kind is much more internal to you. You have decided to stop spending energy trying to repair the break, and now are deciding, from what you know now, what to do with that relationship.

I'm not sure this is helpful to anyone here. I have much less to forgive than many people posting in this thread, so maybe it looks this way to me because I simply don't have to do the really hard kind of forgiving.

#229 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 07:54 PM:

First, I am grateful for this thread, though I have to take breaks to read it, and sometimes must skip (my demons, not the commenters'). I agree that dysfunction is dysfunction. When our meters peg over, we adapt or suicide. As malleable children, most adapt. With good luck and a lot of work, we can push through into some kind of functionality. Many of us accept that we cannot have children, yet with the conditioning of years, can have other people's children, safely.

Discussing health insurance on another thread, someone noted how many of us have serious health issues. There's another Chinese "blessing": "no disease, short life; disease, long life" - because you have to pay attention. This thread shows how many of us have serious emotional issues. And Nietzsche: "if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger".

What makes this such a dynamic, caring group? Strength, compassion. We excel at using our intelligence to find work-arounds to fit ourselves in. We are what we are because we've come through the fire. What about Abi, and the others self-confessed as "lucky"? They have come to the same place without as much, perhaps comparatively little, trauma or terror. But they're here, with their love, support, and beautiful minds.

I will stand shoulder to shoulder against the onslaught with any of you, any time.

#230 ::: FoName ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:03 PM:

SylvieG @224,
Anecdotal theory on why it could just be the nature of memory. AT the same age I went to hospital for 10 days with a bad illness, days filled with tests, doctors, xrays, tubes, everything. It would all be new and strange to me at 6 years old. I'd think I should remember most of that.

No, I remember exactly two 5 minute scenes, including one (a screaming painful test) I remember only as lying on a table. my parents remember, and have told me about it, but those two fragments are all I have.

My memory of time-in-general back then seems to have been much more malleable, memories shrunk down and compacted and archived.

maybe your first and last visits to the doctor would seem like what you'd remember most, 1st: Who is this? Last:Now I'm done!, not all the repetitious stuff in the middle?

#231 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Lila @ #226 - hmmm... it was 25 years ago. Does anyone know off-hand how long doctors keep patient files? (I'm Canadian, just to make it more challenging)

FoName @ #229 - I do like the idea that my memories are just zip-compressed rather than something horrifying I've been repressing. You've eased my mind somewhat, thank you!

#232 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:23 PM:

I never thought of my family as particularly dysfunctional, especially when I compared them to the freak-shows that half of my friends growing up had to endure. (The other half either had families that were merely impaired, like mine, or they were better off than mine, i.e. their parents loved them and one another, and home life was generally pretty idyllic.)

As I've grown older, and I'm helping to raise a family of my own, I've grown acutely aware of the dysfunctionality of the home that produced me. My spouse isn't one of the lucky ones either. Both of us are clearly the products of families where both parents were not wired properly.

I guess what I'm saying is that reading this thread, from its start to this point, has filled me with a very strange sense of foreboding about the home my own 2-yr-old son is growing up inside. We do our best, but I worry— no, I'm terrified— that one of us will be weakened by some catastrophe yet to transpire, one not currently even foreseeable, and my son will be forced to grow up in household with parents rendered incompetent after meeting with bad fortune— that I will turn out to be the incompetent parent, and that my son will never be able to forgive me for something I did wrong when I was too stupid or too weak in the clutch, one of those moments you have only one chance to get it right and if you screw up, you're done, it's over. You are forever the parent of a kid you fucked up.

Anyway, thanks for the read, everyone. You're all very brave. I hope I have as much courage when I need it.

#233 ::: Nowhere Man ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:41 PM:

[It figures that one of the only ML posts I've made that actually gets responses and furthers the discussion is when I'm invisible anonymous]

My sibs can still get into a useless game of one-downmanship: "Father treated me worse". Sad.

So, my sister came home from a road-trip with some friends around 2 in the morning (she had her own car). My urbane-in-public father gets up and cheerfully makes them breakfast. What people don't seem to get, even when it is explained to them, is that this is both hers and my only truly good story about him. The only other one that I sort of have is lying in the grass with him when I was around six years old looking at the figures in the clouds -- it was kind of a good memory for me in a way, but it seems my father was going through alcohol withdrawal.

Carol Kimball (228):
Nietzsche: "if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger". While I've always liked the concept, it is patently untrue -- e.g. Scarlet Fever. It also has the unfortunate property of sometimes killing you.

Arachne Jericho (219): The problem with a flamethrower as a superpower is that it is a bit imprecise. </understatement>

SpawnOfTheDevil (213): re: superpowers
Rage. Fearlessness. Boundaries.

Ever thought about renting them out for a bit? I could user a change. <g>

#234 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:45 PM:

j h woodyatt, I gotta tell you. I can remember several times where my parents said stuff that I'm sure they regret, stuff that was hurtful and that I remember as being so. People do that to each other. It sucks.

Yet my family isn't dysfunctional. I always felt -- and feel -- fundamentally loved, accepted, and safe in my family. I remember many, many more instances where my parents made sure to let me know how much they loved me and valued me and would take care of me. I've more than forgiven them for things said in anger or depression -- because they really were isolated incidents, they weren't part of a larger pattern, and there were certain lines they never crossed. There's a huge difference between normal family arguments, and the kind of things people are talking about here.

My point being, I really don't think you can fuck up a kid all in one instance of weakness or stupidity. And it doesn't sound like you're likely to do something truly awful, unless you completely lose your mental capacity, in which case there should be other stuff going on to make sure your kids are taken care of.

#235 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 08:59 PM:

j h woodyatt - if it helps, it seems to me that, for the most part, people who actively worry about being bad parents aren't the ones who *become* bad parents. Just the fact that you're thinking of your children's welfare (and potential well-being if things go awry) at all makes you a high huge step above a lot of others.

#236 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:07 PM:

I'll add my gentle disagreement with Nietszche.

It's true in the sense that facing adversity confers experience in facing adversity.

But I would have been stronger if that adversity had not come at me in childhood and adolescence, from inside what should have been my trusted circle.

I don't know most of the people in this comment thread, nor anything about them other than what's shared here, and I generally don't wish to universalize my experience even to people I *do* know. I do see a long line of people here who have responded to adversity of various kinds with the strength and tenacity sufficient to make it this far. It's a remarkable thing and a testament to the human spirit, and I wouldn't be surprised if every one of us here could relate a survival skill picked up along the way that has helped in non-abusive adverse situations. Etc.

But what would it be like for each of us if we'd each been able to apply that same strength and tenacity to growing up without the abuse, the neglect, to put that energy into the service of becoming who we wanted to be without it being undermined or subverted by those who should have been helping?

What feeds me well makes me stronger. My parents failed at this in literal and metaphorical senses both. I'm proud of what I've accomplished in life both professionally and personally, and it's nothing compared to what I might have done if I hadn't had to do it on my own.

#237 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:16 PM:

@ Anonymous Three #225

*smile*


@ albatross #227

Re: restraining orders

They're the folded pieces of paper you find in the wallets and purses of the dead with whom their tormentors have finally caught up with.


@ j h woodyatt #231

I think your kid will be okay. As Caroline says, it's usually not one incident that screws up a kid (unless it's molesting) but a long pattern.

And you're thinking about it enough and are aware enough that, well, things seem like they'll be fine.

#238 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:20 PM:

@ Nowhere Man #232

True that, about flamethrowers. They are very much last resort.

@ Chris Clarke #235

Yes. Total yes.

I would be a stronger, better person without the PTSD and what probably made the bipolar worse.

#239 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:23 PM:

"My point being, I really don't think you can fuck up a kid all in one instance of weakness or stupidity."

I think there are certain times, when a kid is at a tipping point and you've lost almost all credibility and respect because of the well-known forms of weakness identified in the comments above, e.g. failing to react properly to news of somebody else being a monster, that you really can lose the remaining balance just by not saying the right thing at the right time. To get there, you have to already be a lousy parent, I'll admit, but I suspect it's going to be a constant worry when my kid is a teenoid and going through the normal phase of rebellion against parental authority.

I don't think I'm an incompetent parent— yet— but then, there is the Dunning-Kruger effect, and I've already got a track-record of bad self-assessments.

#240 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:50 PM:

Sometimes once is enough. If one time your father hauls off and throws a plate of food at your head (or a sibling) then you are always aware that it can happen again, anytime, without warning. And if he can do that, what else can he do? He may never do it again or anything like it but that knowledge is there.

OTOH, when I was in my 30's my parents came to each of us sibs and apologized. They said they disciplined and they saw that their methods weren't working but they didn't know what else to do and kept on. They said they should have stopped and searched for an alternative. They were wrong not to have stopped, they were very sorry. Then they supported me and my sister in not using the same discipline methods when we had children. They were truely sorry. They wanted to make as much better as they could at that late date. It taught me a lot about mistakes I have made and will make and how I can as a good parent react. I can admit my mistakes to myself and my kids, I can apologize, I can try alternatives and seek guidance from others.

Speaking of guidance: I need help communicating with my bipolar spouse. He doesn't want to tell me stuff, he doesn't think he's bipolar and was until lately unmedicated, but some things I need to know for safety and financial planning etc. Should I disagree when he assigns motives to me that I don't have or says things happened which did not?

#241 ::: Shifting to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 09:51 PM:

Xopher @#211:

I use the "no conditions" definition of forgive because that's what is being asked of me by some members of my family. I was raised very strongly catholic. It didn't take, theologically, but the philosophy doesn't wash off. As I learned it, Forgiveness=Reconciliation. That's what my mother would like to see--me and my abuser, friends again. Except, like, without the incest. The subtext, of course, is that the incest was caused by me--female sexuality is the rock that men stub their holy toes on. If my poor abuser fell from grace, I should be helping him to find his way back. Etc.

My abuser, ironically, has made a sincere effort to respect my boundaries; we haven't spoken in almost 20 years, and he's done his part to avoid running into me. The one time I've seen him in the past two decades was at a family funeral--he told a safe intermediary ahead of time to let me know that he wouldn't try to talk to me, and he sat on the other side of the church from me, after making a small gesture of thanks. All things considered, he's been graceful about the situation.

For my part, I don't wish for his death any more; I even accept and acknowledge my part in our interactions. And I feel sympathy for him, a lot of the time. The problem is, I felt sympathy for him back then, too. He was struggling with psychosis, and needed help, but instead of real help all he got was unrestricted access to a little girl. So I tried to make him feel better, by doing what he wanted. That's the problem with having an open heart--it's what makes my life happy nowadays, and it's what could lead to truly forgiving him in the sense that you use that phrase, but it's also the thing that kept me in his clutches for so long, and it's why I'm exposed to my mother's pestering about it (she has incipient dementia, so can't control what she says any more, but it's an illness, so I'm sucking it up). So I struggle with true forgiveness, partly because, for me, it grows in the same loam as victimhood.

#242 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Shifting, #208: Ah. Yes, I think we were talking past each other to a certain extent. What I would recommend in the kind of situation you've described is to completely sever contact with Taser Guy, and then work on neutralizing the conditioning as far as possible. And I would say, not to "forgive" him, but to "walk away" -- never, ever let him anywhere near you or your life again, so that maybe, eventually, what he did to you won't be the uppermost thought in your mind every morning when you wake up and the last thing in your head every night as you go to sleep.

Also, listen to Xopher in #211. He says what I was trying to say, but much better.

FoName, #209: You are a much stronger person than I would be capable of being. It's one thing to escape from a nightmare, and quite a different thing then to walk back into it of your own free will!

And I know what you mean about other people triggering things. I had one co-worker who managed, without apparent effort, to press every single button just the same way my mother did. I worked with her for 10 years, and it was like that the whole time -- but she was the only unpleasant person in the office, so I was able to handle it.

*wistful* If y'all do get that time machine, could I maybe go back and convince the adoption agency to turn down my parents' application? They weren't bad people -- but they should never have been given a child to raise. A clear case (by their faith) of Someone Is Trying To Tell You Something, with that infertility... and they didn't listen.

Another Anonymous, #215: I used to frequently wonder why my father stayed married to her, but I also was afraid that if he divorced her she'd get custody, which would have been a nightmare.
That's one place where "staying together for the sake of the children" is a valid argument -- when the father is sane, and the mother not so clearly insane that she'd be ruled unfit. Not leaving her was probably the best protection he could give you.

Arachne, #219: Things have to be pretty extreme, I think, before child services step in.
Depends on where you are, and whether or not your family situation is unconventional. I have some good friends right now who have had their children summarily snatched by CPS because they live in a poly household. This is being defined as "child abuse". And the worst part of it is, it happened because they were trying to report a genuine abuse situation with a relative who doesn't even live in the same house. Think those kids will ever trust a government agency again? But I'll bet that same agency would fall all over themselves to return a kid to parents who were beating the shit out of him or her, because, y'know, family. Yes, I'm bitter as hell about this.

*hesitant* Have you ever seen the movie Sleeping With the Enemy? If not, I recommend that you watch, not the whole thing (it would be triggery as hell for you), but the last 15 minutes. There are some situations in which I genuinely believe that the only solution is a pre-emptive strike, and stalking is one of them.

C, #222: Why didn't I think of this? That way they also won't complain that the hotel is too expensive, or find a hotel at the last minute.
Darkovan proverb: "The burdens of others are light to the shoulders." :-) Seriously, though, I am good at coming up with practical solutions for boundary issues; I've had lots of practice.

You can buy key-locking interior doorknobs at any hardware store, and they're not difficult to install if anyone in the house is at all handy with tools. If it's a rental, keep the old ones around and re-install them when you leave. (This kind of advice is what comes of living with a handyman-type for 10 years!)

The next potential issue is whether they'll get upset if they try the bedroom door and it's locked. If they do, then you fall back on Ann Landers: "Why in the world would you want to be snooping around in our personal belongings?" Make the point, over and over again, that they have now amply demonstrated WHY you need a locking door on the non-public parts of the house -- that this was a test of their upbringing and manners, and they've just failed.

#243 ::: FoName ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:02 PM:

Rikebeth @217

Thank you. I'm trying to take care of myself--aside and apart from the losing myself in books. I bought some precooked foods instead of expecting myself to cook (and then eating nothing but cereal). I'm taking walks.

It is just a normal part of my life that comes up one or three times a year. Discover that Sib is in Mood, ignore or deal with Sib (the latter if it looks bad), get several days of reaction after dealing, each time slightly less reaction, and then back to usual. The short spike of depression-sadness-memory will and does fade away.

I gave myself a reward by writing here--being able to tell my story for it's own sake, not because there's a moral to the story, or a lesson, or warning, or inspiration.

And "story" isn't exact-- if this was a story, wheres the dénouement?

Still where else can I say this, what I haven't said in many other places other than the therapists office?
Choices I've voluntarily made regarding that parent's mental illness and my sibs illness have cost me things I'd have preferred not to lose. And I'm never, ever going to tell them that.

In a moment like right now, I wish I could let them know (because right now I'm letting myself experience memories, rather than just examine memories). But it would be a telling that causes pain without purpose. What could they do with that knowledge? Nothing. Will I want to tell them later this week, or 99% of the year? No, not at all. Just temporarily, right now, in this story.

(And what does "loss" even mean in this context? The alternate history where I made different choices doesn't exist, so I can't compare the two. This is my world, and I wouldn't live in a different one.)

And where but here (and therapists) can I also say that it bugs me today, right now, that because the Sibs Mood is gone, they're doing all their usual social stuff. Including with the acquaintances who warned me about Sib's odd behavior. Do i want them to be unhappy because I'm unhappy? No.

I can't tell those acquaintances how painful it was to deal with Sib, because that goes into the history of my Sib's health. Those people didn't know what they were asking me to do, and I knew exactly what I was doing when I responded. Will I want to tell them later this week? As above, no. Do I wish they'd apologize for something they didn't and can't know they did? No, because that's like them apologizing for my Sib's illness. They can't.

Am I glad for a place that I could write this? yes. Thanks Abi and all.

#244 ::: Shifting to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:02 PM:

Just to clarify, although my abuser has respected my boundaries thus far, that's because my boundaries are made of iron. If he had to negotiate something more subtle than total avoidance, he'd start in with the creepiness and the line-crossing in no time...he wouldn't be able to help himself.

#245 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:15 PM:

Forgiveness is generally presented as the sole alternative to anger and bitterness; I think this is heavily entangled in the establishment of Christian moral authority back in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, because they were trying to displace various revenge cultures while advocating for emulation of an omni-benevolent god.

I don't think that forgiveness is either the sole alternative to anger and bitterness, or an inherent good, fundamental to human nature or the conduct of civilization. I have deep suspicions about any system of belief that insists you must forgive, because it's asking for a serious loss of choice space for no obvious sufficient return. (I am not saying people shouldn't, or can't, forgive; I am arguing against the position that one must forgive.)

I think there's the option of Over. Other people are not your responsibility because you can't make choices for them. (Doesn't apply to small kids, of course, but that's why being a parent is scary; the kid has to live with the future that sits on your choices as its foundations.) Harmful interactions can be declared Over, and the decision upheld by whatever least sufficient means prove required.

This is, I suppose, not inherently less or more difficult than forgiveness, but I have found it a more practical option. I am not responsible for their actions; they are..

Then again, I have been told I am unusually socially ruthless.

My childhood, well, if you're going to have a crazy parent, try very hard to avoid having it be a pediatric psych nurse who is smarter than you.

This year is the year it's been half my life that I have neither seen nor spoken to my mother. It was reading this thread as caused me to notice that, so I must be doing something right.

#246 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:33 PM:

@ sara_k #239

Hmm. Never thought about "once" in that way. Of course, in my family, "many" was the rule of the day, so "once" is an unusual concept to me.

Speaking of guidance: I need help communicating with my bipolar spouse. He doesn't want to tell me stuff, he doesn't think he's bipolar and was until lately unmedicated, but some things I need to know for safety and financial planning etc. Should I disagree when he assigns motives to me that I don't have or says things happened which did not?

1. Are his meds working? Might be soon to tell, but he should be working closely with his psychiatrist on this. If he's being secretive about results this is not a good sign.

2. Is he seeing a psychologist? You need both when you're bipolar. The psychologist is the bartender---you talk to him about bad things, he listens and gives you advice; shows you patterns and things. The psychiatrist is the candyman---he gives you drugs and works with you to find out which ones work.

3. It helps if the psychologist and psychiatrist work in tandem. That way things that are covered up tend to be uncovered by one party or the other.

Bipolar (which I strongly suspect my father of having, either that or psychosis) can have unfortunate effects when it dips into the depressive cycle. They don't always happen, but if the bipolar is *really* bad (as in worse than mine, and mine was bad) then the symptoms you talk about are some of them.

The psychologist and psychiatrist will be expensive folks. But you need them both, and you need good ones, and you should be prepared to have lots of appointments to start with. Say a year, maybe two, maybe more.


@ Lee #219

re: child services

:-(

re: Sleeping with the Enemy

I've never watched it. And I trigger pretty easily wherever stalking or extreme abuse is involved. Shine practically had me in convulsions, sobbing all the way.

I'm kind of scared of Sleeping with the Enemy now. (examines Wikipedia entry) Yup, all triggers would go off if I watched it all the way. The ending looks like it would do it, too; it actually reminds me of some of the near life/death situations I had with my father, except for the killing, and replace the gun with a knife, and replace Ben with my mother-the-mere-enabler. I do understand the pre-emptive strike philosophy.

#247 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 10:43 PM:

PS, @ sara_k #239

re: more about bipolar

If the question is: will he be violent if you disagree with him? It depends on his personality and his history. If helps if he knows that things are not right (he's willingly seeing the bartender/candyman, in other words); if so then he's more likely to listen. But I would talk to his bartender/psychologist first.

#248 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:37 PM:

jh @ #231: writing cautiously here, as I am NOT in a position to give you advice.

As SylvieG said, if you're aware of the possibility of fucking up, you're less likely to fuck up.

Further, if your home is open to a variety of people, and your child associates with lots of other families, he/she will have perspective, lots of sympathetic witnesses and potential helpers, and the notion from Square One that his/her family is not the world. All these things would tend to mitigate any damage you might inadvertently do.

#249 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2008, 11:46 PM:

Rikiebeth @ 210

Religion! How could I have omitted religion? It was ubiquitous in my house. Sunday school, morning service, fellowship hour, evening service, and Wednesday prayer meeting. There was also supposed to be family bible study, but there mostly wasn't. See, daddy was a preacher, and he didn't want to work at home. But the religion played a central role in intimidating me, making me feel inadequate and sinful. God was very close in my house, God was daddy and he was a vengeful god. I remember right before being spanked, if Jesus would do what I was being punished for. The trick, see, was to get me to cry even before the spanking began.

It was a little fundy looney toons church, you've never heard of it. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Keep in mind, presbyterian is a form of church governance, not a dogma. We were emphatically Calvinists, not quite so emphatically Evangelical. You are dirty and evil and only god can save you, and you don't even know if he is going to save you, it comes with no guarantees. This is an oppresive doctrine for a normal adult. It is bewildering and frightening to a small child. We didn't even have the "born again" thing, that reassuring experience of being saved by god. Infant baptism, don't you know.

It's hard to describe being a PK (pastor's kid). The generalization is that they're wild and rebellious. I wasn't. I was scared all the time. Getting called for supper triggered a suppressed panic reflex. Just one parent or another calling my name. Daddy scared me worse, though.

There are unmentionables. Things that were going on behind my back that brought on tensions that I couldn't comprehend. Sex was severely off topic, I was seventeen before I worked out how people fit together. Nevermind that I had a perfectly frank sex ed course in high school. The thing was, daddy was slipping out to gay bars and picking up men in the evenings. He didn't tell anyone, no one even guessed until he told my mother upon the event of my losing my virginity. This actually makes a pretty funny story, especially if you throw in the fact that my mother had slept with two of my boyfriends. I can't describe what homelife was like. It was fraught and tense, and for reasons that were not obvious. Fortunately, I found out about this when I was well out of the house, and free from religion. I don't know what I would have done if I'd still been devout. It was pretty flooring, but it didn't take too long to fit it into the story of my childhood. And it was damn funny. It explained so many things, like where daddy was during the evenings when Mom wanted him to be home for family worship. It pulled the pieces together, and explained what little of my parents' sex life that I saw.

I wonder if some of this was more obvious if you weren't trying to see my parents as good Christians. Maybe not. It came as a complete surprise to the church my dad served when it all came out. They knew what to do, by gum. They excommunicated him and sent someone from the church to tell him while he was still in hospital for a suicide "attempt." (It was just a dramatic gesture, claiming he was going to kill himself and then shooting a hole in the roof of the garage.) I don't care for my dad all that much, but I don't hold in charity the people that thought it was a good idea to serve excommunication papers on someone in hospital for suicidal impulses.

I find that I'm not explaining the all encompassing thing that was our church. I remember when I was about four, my mother was ironing sheets (I can still smell them) and I, being a studious and solemn child, wanted to know what happened to the people in Darkest Africa who didn't know Jesus because no one had told them. My mother said that the glory of god's creation was sufficient to bring people to the path of Jesus, and if they didn't find the path, they would go to hell, even if no one told them. I cried for the people in Darkest Africa, but I didn't dare argue with my mom. It was obvious to me that you can't intuit the name of Jesus, nor his final suffering, if what you had to go on was a leaf. That was when my first "split" happened. I lost my faith, but I couldn't do that because my parents would only love me if I were a Christian, and my parents could read my mind (one of the creepy mind control tricks my dad played on me), so I had to really be a Christian, so I locked up a part of me to keep it safe. I've had a diagnosis of MPD. I think of it more as a dangerrous but useful metaphor. I don't experience time loss or anything like that. I just sometimes like to talk to myself in several voices. I do this in my head, not all out in public or anything.

Being able to filter reality was a great help in getting by in the crazy loony-toons church I was in and the equally crazy loony-toons parents I had. It was often necessary to believe two opposites at the same time. That's how I resolved the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent characteristics of our very black and white conception of god. To this day, I don't see how sane people believe in it. When I was coming out of my religion, things like that just broke. It didn't take me very long to quit the church. I don't think I was a college a month before it started happening. I stopped needing to reconcile two opposite facts, the ones I was told, and the ones in front of my lyin' eyes. The pattern was in the church, but my parents were also very good at giving off contradictory orders and facts which must not be challenged.

It all seems so long ago, now. I haven't been in a church in almost 30 years. Barring weddings. (Oh, and a couple of midnight masses, attending with my hosts. The Catholic ceremony was so unlike my home church that it didn't trigger my PTSD on the topic.) My sisters' weddings were hard on me, but they really appreciated it. I no longer want to crusade against all Christianity. I've lost the cant. I can't remember my bible verses anymore. It all fades. Thank goodness.

#250 ::: Ariel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 12:50 AM:

SylvieG @224: I was in a mental hospital for depression some time ago, and my parents (who I have an excellent relationship with) came up to visit. (After asking me first, to ensure they wouldn't make things worse. I appreciate how incredibly lucky this is.) They sat in on one of the doctor's interviews, when he asked about my history and what my childhood had been like. I said "Eh, perfectly ordinary." They looked at me in absolute shock and said "You don't remember???"

*That* was terrifying. I still am not entirely sure what's in those six or so years of mostly-blank-space; until they said that, I thought I'd only lost a single year, not the majority of elementary and middle school. My best guess is that what was under there is years of isolation and wearing emotional abuse at school, but since that's what I *do* remember... well, it's a bit scary. I haven't had the nerve to ask them for more details, especially since I'm sure they would have told me if it was anything really serious. I've been told since then that high stress and massive emotional overload can cause amnesia by reducing the brain's ability to record the short-term memories to long-term storage, so it may just be that my childhood and your parents' divorce broke something.

...which is a long way of saying, you're not the only one, and yes, it's scary. But it may not hide any big skeletons.

(Hm. There's something a little disturbing, in retrospect, about my considering years of social and emotional abuse from classmates as *ordinary*... but I think that's more society's problem with geeks in general.)

#251 ::: Anonymous for others' sake ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 01:36 AM:

Thank you. Thank you, abi, for starting this thread. Thank you, everyone, for being willing to tell your stories.

I'm lucky, and my biological family was definitely functional. (It had quirks, but none of them really impacted me, or were serious on the scales discussed here.) But I still appreciate your letting me and others read them. I passed this thread along to a friend who *has* been in these dark places, and hasn't really had the chance to internalize that they're not the only one. I think this is a Good Thing, and perhaps more healing will come of it.

And... well, this is a thread for uncomfortable topics, and many people here have talked about how chosen families can make up for the failures of biological families. I had a very strong chosen family in college, but it was seriously and overwhelmingly dysfunctional. People don't get that; biology, you have blood, people get that that's hard to walk away from; romance, well, people get attached. But friends? Why are you so close to *friends* when things aren't healthy? Never mind that, from my perspective, this *was* family, and understood me better than the vast majority of my relatives ever would. Maybe people here will understand a little better. My close friends know this story, but I've never had the nerve to talk about it. (And yes, this is anonymous for the sake of others. I'll get to that later. My own flaws I don't mind making public.)

The center of the dysfunction was my best friend. Toxic love, of the kind that I think has been referred to here. Wanted me to be everything I could be, take on the world, live up to my potential, understood my dreams and hopes and fears... and also a master of emotional manipulation and abuse. Love and fear and joy and pain, all tangled up together. People assumed that romance must be the important part, but it wasn't... they were dating someone else, and from all external appearances were, if not happy, at least stable. Yeah, we were teenagers, and of appropriate genders, but the friendship was what mattered. The overwhelming power and wonder of someone who *understood* cannot be exaagerated. But it wasn't healthy. There was dependence there, and it wasn't all accidental. Pain caused for no good reason, but always with impeccable justification, even if it was "that shouldn't have hurt, and you shouldn't let anyone else cause you pain. Make yourself stronger." Power over others, used (if lightly) because it was there...

I'd have been my friend's slave, willingly and without any hesistation, if they'd ever asked. They never did. But that realization-- that someone as overwhelmingly independent as I've been my entire life would freely give up free will, and that this someone was *me*.... that's a truly terrifying thing to realize about yourself. It still gives me cold shivers thinking about it. Ugh. I don't know whether, for the strong survivors of this thread, it's recognizable. Maybe you blame me. Maybe you should. For me, it's still a horror story.

I suppose this story has a happy ending. I found a healthy scaffold and pulled myself away long enough to find a clear perspective. My friend found a path out of the mental illness that, in retrospect, made so many things so awful then. We've managed to forgive each other-- it's not like I'm blameless, in that relationship or some of the other dysfunctional pieces in that whole dysfunctional chosen family. (Perhaps I'm an enabler. I hope not. I hope I only enabled my own pain. I fear I'm wrong. I was young, but that's no excuse.) We're still close friends, though not so close as we once were, or are now to our respective spouses, and that's probably a very good thing. We're still, mostly, a chosen family, though the bonds are weaker now. But the pain's still there, deep down. I hadn't really realized how much it's still there until reading this thread, like a swollen cyst that's tender to the touch, nerve-deep emotional discord resonating when it's probed. It hasn't bothered me in years, but I'm not quite sure what to do about it now. Go on, I suppose; there's too much good and too much healthy love and joy in those once-toxic relationships for me to want to revisit anything. I *have* forgiven, if not forgotten. (And that's why the anonymity; I wouldn't want my dear and beloved friends to be tarnished for their past mistakes, when I just want to worry at my own twisted memories.)

But some nights, when it's really dark out, it still hurts.

#252 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 02:39 AM:

Rikibeth, religions all seem to yield "recovering" people. And the intensity at which a religion's (often mis)interpretation slams into a person seems to have little to do with the actual core of the religion per se.

Your experience is just as valid as mine. Your pain is just as painful. I wish neither of us had to feel that way. I wish no-one did, about any religion. (If wishes were horses, baled straw would cost more than gold.)

*****

As to the time machine - one of the ways I was hurt was to become entirely nonviolent. I could not go back and hurt the perps (although I wish I could!) What I would want to do is go back and keep them from harming people. Some could be kept from harming others by some seriously intense time-machine work that would change things all the way back, gazillions of generations ago. Some would just need to be restrained, but if I can wish for a time machine, I can wish for strong restraints.

Flamethrower? More like lots of portable prisons. With cushioned walls.

******

One of the issues that isn't touched enough in this thread and probably ought to be brought out in the open is the autism spectrum issue. (NLD and autism spectrum stuff are quite similar, to the point that the differential diagnosis depends on whether a psych/dev person got there first or a neurological/dev person did.)

Many of the people who end up reading science fiction and fantasy seem to be somewhere on that spectrum, sometimes on the undiagnosed-but-really-odd-and-eccentric part of it. Spectrum stuff tends to have a genetic component. This would imply amazingly horrible parenting skills as it tends to include "mind blindness", the inability to have an intuitive grasp of what another person is feeling/perceiving/wanting. Parenting pretty much requires such a grasp (otherwise, you'd end up leaving your kids in a car for some hours in emotionally fraught situations, for example. Paula, your parents' actions and thought processes make my arms shake with suppressed violence that I would never take out on anyone alive.)

******

Abi, I wish that hadn't happened to you. Because I want the world I live in to be good to you, and because it is emotion-bigger-than-frustrating to know that even loving, caring parents cannot protect one's children from such travesty, nor even support them when it occurs.

******

Arachne, my inner earth mother is knocking herself out, trying to protect you backwards and forwards in time. I wish I could. You and the other 7 billion of us. Plus all the cats and dogs and horses and elephants and...

...this way lies insanity (for me. I know that.) I breathe in all the sorrow and misery in the world, past, present, and future, and blow out to it the peace and plenty that I have at this moment. Again. And again. And with that practice I can feel with the world.

#253 ::: Lune Ascendant ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:06 AM:

One of the temporarily anonymous crowd, only because my cousin is Internet-enabled and I have no interest in him ever finding this.

Opening caveat: My folks divorced when I was a little over a year old; Mom got custody, and I always knew she loved me, and there was no abuse of any kind. But she was coming from a place of damage, and some of it lapped over onto me. Not as much as might have been, thank Ghu.

Taking things in chronological order, we start with my maternal grandparents. Grandfather...well, Mom always described him as weak, in that he was apparently unable to provide for the family. During the Great Depression, mind you. Anyway, he always sounded like a good egg to me because, during the Depression, he was prone to inviting those worse off to come home with him for dinner...which, according to Mom, made for some slim pickings at dinner, but never mind, she always said that she was her father's favorite, and her sister (my aunt) was their mother's favorite. Grandfather's health wasn't the greatest, having been exposed to mustard gas during his service in WWI, and he died long before I was born.

My grandmother, on the other hand, was a manipulative bitch. Never to me, and not, I think, to my cousin. But she managed to royally screw her two daughters, psychologically speaking. Mom told me, some time after her mother's death, that her mother said more than once, "I had your sister to love. I had you to work for me." And work my mother did, at as many as three odd jobs at a time while still in grade school.

At some point, Mom told her mother that she wanted to give up one of the jobs so she could concentrate on her schoolwork. As she related it, her mother began putting on her coat and hat and gloves, and picked up her purse, saying, "I don't know how I came to have such an ungrateful child. I can't stand the shame of it; I'm going to throw myself into the river." And proceeded to walk out of the house in the direction of the nearest bridge, with her 12-year-old daughter following her, crying and begging her not to do it.

She didn't of course. Her kind rarely does, unless they're clever enough to work it out so whatever they do isn't actually fatal, just leads to having more ammo for manipulation.

Going on 20 years ago, or maybe more, my cousin and I sat down at lunch one day and compared notes, because each of us had been hearing the "I was Daddy's favorite, my sister was Mamma's favorite" story. We finally concluded that Grandmother had played her daughters against each other. And even into adulthood, those three women could never be on good terms with each other all at once; there was always one who was out in the cold with the other two.

Fast-forward through the stuff I never heard about, or not much, like my mother moving several thousand miles away from her mother and sister...only to have them follow her; and stuff I knew about because I was there, like my aunt mooching off my mother for at least my entire lifetime, and my mother hating it but giving in because my aunt was Family, and you couldn't let Family end up on the street (despite even my having figured out that if users know they have a safety net, they never change, no matter how many times they promise to).

Fast-forward again. I'm six, or a few months older than six, and my 11-year-old cousin begins using me as a masturbatory device. Wasn't fun, could have been infinitely worse, didn't go on for any great period of time. I distinctly recall two instances: one, in his bedroom closet, when I pulled up the top of my bathing suit and said NO, and he pulled it back down and said YES; and what turned out to be the last time, when he was sprawled out on his bed and, in a different choice of words, demanded a blowjob.

I locked myself in the bathroom until our grandmother got home (she was living with my aunt and cousin at the time).

I never forgot what happened, but I didn't talk about it--never told my mom or my aunt, and it took me a while before I could tell any of my friends. It, in conjunction with my mother's apparent inability to date an undamaged/undamaging man (I know of Married Man I; Married Man II; Innocent-Seeming Man from Church Who, After Mom Decided Not to Marry Him, Possibly Because the Idea Upset Me, Married Another Divorcee with a Preteen Daughter and Turned Out to be an Abuser; Alcoholic Unhappily Divorced Catholic Teacher from My High School; Unhappily Separated Man Whom She Could Only Meet in the Park Because He Was Afraid His Wife Would Find Out; and Widower from Our Church who was Also the Grandfather of One of My Schoolmates, and He Smelled Bad, Too) has royally screwed up my confidence when it comes to relationships.

***sigh***

A few months ago, my cousin called, and in the course of the conversation, revisited an incident from shortly after my mom's death, in which he had come over to help me and two of my friends move some of Mom's bedroom furniture to the garage and pull up icky carpeting. Not the first time he'd brought it up, and he said the same thing he'd said several times before: that my friends had been pretty snooty to him and seemed to dislike him without reason. And I said what I had not had the nerve to say on any of those other occasions--"Of course they disliked you, I told them about you using me as a masturbatory device when I was six and a half."

There was a brief period of silence, and then he said he'd wondered for forty-odd years if I was ever going to bring that up...so he could apologize to me. It turns out that his motivation for those actions was, the 18-year-old babysitter was molesting him, and he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to be getting out of the deal. And then he told me that his mother had molested him when he was little--and had given him the clap.

Great Ghu.

I don't know if I've reached forgiveness. I think I'm more working on transcendence, but it's nice not to be pissed off about it every day. And I realize that I'm extraordinarily lucky to have gotten an apology, when so many others never do.

Thank you all for sharing your stories. Blessings on each of you.

On an entirely different topic, the pregnant feral cat (well, mostly feral: she will let me pet her, and will purr, but swipes at me if actually sees my hand) who's been hanging around my house for five months--since she "moved in" under the house with her last litter--used the queening box I set up for her in the back yard and has had at least four kittens. (The only way to be more certain of the number is to use a flashlight, and I don't want to disturb the family.)

While I'm sorry I didn't get momma-cat spayed before she got pregnant again, I have to say I'm looking forward to meeting the kittens. :)

#254 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:25 AM:

Nowhere Man @232: re: superpowers
Rage. Fearlessness. Boundaries.
Ever thought about renting them out for a bit? I could user a change.

Oh, it is my practice to share them as widely as possible. Appropriate rage (outer directed). Awareness that nobody gets out alive, so you might as well take risks and have fun. Boundaries: I can tell when they're being violated, because the rage's head snaps up and points it out to me.

Which would you like to borrow first?

#255 ::: mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 04:39 AM:

FoName - dealing with a sib is its own special stress. If you managed to intervene and prevent the need for institutionalization by getting sib to treatment, good for you - and you deserve time to re-energize. Right now my sib is in the hospital, again, and calling to talk to me with the usual heart-wrenching statements ("I don't feel safe here taking a shower") combined with Cassandra Cruelty (the ability to unintentionally twist the knife in all of my emotional tender spots) and complete psychic break stream of consuiousness. I know that there are opportunities for rape or sexual manipulation when someone is hospitalized for mental illness, and some of the statements sib has made over the years lets me know that we have had very different life experiences. In a way that terrifies me and makes me respect the extent to which she is a survivor. But I also know that any current pressure to get her to shower is probably just to reduce her body oder. But it is a tangled web of guilt and denial and there-but-for-the-grace-of-god. And my parent was only damaged from growing up with mental illness, not suffering from it directly so the emotional drain I feel is probably significantly less than yours.

I also find myself retreating into comfortable books I've read a lot or childrens books that won't challenge me. I'm middle aged and reading Ann of Green Gables and Pern novels. And it is OK, because dealing with a sibling in a mood can leave you feeling raw and in need of time to rebuild protective coatings. So, take care of yourself. And let us know if you decide to have a sit-down with your acquaintances. They were tuned in enough to know that something was up, the question is whether having a post hoc discussion would benefit you or educate them in a useful way enough so that it would be worth the inevitable frustration of them not getting it.

#239 sara_k said "Speaking of guidance: I need help communicating with my bipolar spouse. He doesn't want to tell me stuff, he doesn't think he's bipolar and was until lately unmedicated, but some things I need to know for safety and financial planning etc. Should I disagree when he assigns motives to me that I don't have or says things happened which did not?"

Sara_K, oy, you are in a tough spot. Folks upthread had good advise on meds and therapist but that also requires you having access to those folks who are treating your husband. Please recognize that you might need more than your spouses treatment team, you also need to seriously think about the legal protections that you could put into place. Mental illness is a sliding scale and I've dealt with a sib who slides to the extreme during a breakdown, so my take on things might not be correct for your situation but here is what I have learned from my n of 1:

1. unmedicated OR medicated but the medication hasn't stabilized the person yet plus denial of mental illness in someone who already has a firm diagnosis can be a good warning sign of an episode. When someone is in that state, it is a really uphill battle to get them to stick to reality so the issue isn't just your communication with him. The issue is what to do when your attempts at communication may not be enough. Is it it information that you need from him? Or control of the finances? Or to make sure he isn't doing stupid shit that leaves you in debt? These are three different things that require different strategies - some require him to cooperate, some might require you to take legal action.

2. Be clear on what you need to know, and what you need to get done in order to protect yourself (and your children and your spouse) and set boundaries. Be willing to declare your loved one a danger to himself and others and get him hospitalized if that is necessary for safety.

3. You need good documentation that your spouse has a mental illness because that diagnosis is really, really useful if your spouse starts making things up and other people get confused and believe him and start seeing you as an estranged spouse acting in a manipulative way. If you are not already up to speed on this topic (And it sounds like you probably are), you need to get educated on your legal liabilities from his behavior and legal options with respect to power of attorney generally, for health (to have access to medical records), and financial conservatorship to be in charge of money issues. Even if you are in a really loving and stable marriage, you might want to start asking around for a good family law/divorce attorney who understands mental health issues so that you can get legal advice on these areas.

4. You will need to have at least two conversations with your spouse - the what do I do to get this information I need when he is crazy (which might involve letting him believe all sorts of crazy things as long as you find a way to extract the information you need) and the lets sit down and discuss now that you are under control. Things you say during previous conversations can be misremembered, twisted, or entirely forgotten. You will have to assess what you can get from your spouse when he is in an episode. You have to assess how rational your spouse will be when medicated and what strong-arm measures you might need to take during an episode will cause permanent damage to your relationship versus temporary damage. It is really hard to figure out how you ought to act since mental illness is such a sliding scale and what works for one person might not apply to another.

5. From the outside, an episode can seem like a funhouse mirror and it can really exaggerate self-centered and paranoid behavior. Will disagreeing with spouse be productive in extracting the information? I'd avoid "no, you are wrong about me" and try sideways conversation because you are dealing with someone who isn't in the most linear of mental spaces. You might need to start with a "remember this good time" story to try to get the spouse into a different mental space. Flattery is good. If one conversation fails, try again. Listen hard for patterns of paranoia. Try having the conversation WITH his therapist or a third party professional so that you have a witness to his behavior and support for your arguments. It helps if the third party is someone he respects.

I feel at a loss to provide really helpful advice, but I hope that some kernel of what I have said can be useful to you. Good luck, and remember to take care of yourself after any such conversation.

#256 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:11 AM:

Arachne Jericho @ 219 - thank you for being here.

I am so disappointed in myself sometimes because I haven't put everything together and I end up hurting my relationships with other people.

In my view, survival is a victory. Reclaiming oneself is another. Refusing to perpetuate the abuse is yet another.

I think it's too easy, as a survivor, to feel that one should be doing "more" with one's life than "just" surviving. But actually, working to stop the chain of abuse - gathering the strength to say: "It ends here, with me" - is a noble and worthy lifetime's achievement.

j h woodyatt @ 231 - you seem to have two good things going for you: self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility for your actions. Those will, I think, help you to parent well. That said, I think it's worth taking your intuition - your sense of foreboding - seriously. If you're worried about your ability to cope with a catastrophe, it might be worth building some safeguards now.

#

On forgiveness in the absence of repentance: what has been helpful to me is to imagine the abuser/enabler realising the full extent of the harm they caused, deeply and sincerely regretting it, and asking for forgiveness. With that image in mind, I've found it easy to forgive, love, and bless them. Then I mentally parcel that up and leave it in God's pigeonhole with their name on it. It's there for them to take if they ever get to the point of needing it.

Then I've done my bit, and I can get on with my life.

This is predicated on having a safe place to live, time to explore and deal with the ramifications of abuse, a network of love and support, and time for plenty of personal growth. It's not something that can be rushed or forced.

#257 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:13 AM:

@ Anonymous for others' sake #250

I don't see why anyone should blame you.

My father was a crazy psychotic physically abusive loon, obviously, yet when he asked me if, when he let me go to University, if I would come back and basically serve him for the rest of my days, and of course, that still included all the insanity I mentioned up thread...

I said yes. And I truly believed there was no other future for me, and that this was the absolutely right thing to do.

(Thus I got to go to University. I suppose my father must be extra mad with for me breaking a contract of sorts. I have no regrets about breaking it.)

It's completely recognizable to me and I don't blame you and don't see why anybody should. The important thing is that you didn't end up in that place.

*hugs*

@ Dena Shunra #251

Ah, but my father had a very fine grasp on other people's feelings and manipulating them. He knew me like the back of his hand, up until I went to University and he lost control of me. If it weren't for his decidedly percussive effects on me I'd say he played me and everyone around him like a violin. When he wasn't batsh*t insane.

Though there's probably severe autism going on in some of these cases. Maybe even my father's, but my psychologist has, from my stories, settled more on "psychotic bipolar manipulator".

*hugs*

@ mea #254

That sounds like good advice to me. I gave my advice from the patient's perspective (and that's with the perspective I finally had after sanity reigned again, more or less).... you have it from the outside the patient in the patient's family.

--

Just thought of something a bit funny. I talked earlier of not liking to be touched. This is pretty much true. But it's okay for me to hug people if *I* am the one initiating contact. Plus hugs are different somehow. Anyways, I do initiate hugs a lot. I just can't stand most other variations on the theme of touching.

Isn't that weird?

My parents, oddly, never hugged me. It was always something else.

Anyways, many *hugs* all around. Or encouraging encouragingness. Whatever works best.

#258 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:37 AM:

Hey, I learned useful things from my family: Never give information to authority, one lie is better than a thousand screaming matches, and it's better to have a mediocre but consistent tale than a brilliant one that you can't keep straight after a decade or two.

As long as you never told anyone anything they didn't want to hear, my family was reasonably happy (well, except for the food issues). Most of my friends had it worse. Only one of them has children.

#259 ::: pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:52 AM:

Here goes things I've never said publicly before, and at long length, because I sort of got on a roll. Ahoy there, posting jitters.

My family looks normal from the outside. It's pretty normal from the inside, except for all the bits that aren't, because I've very rarely spent time with other families. I was born after all the pain went down, and it reverberated in my life, and still reverberates and shapes me, and one day my sister or mother will find this (oh Google, making my life harder) and probably confront me about it, and say our family doesn't deserve to be mentioned here, don't I know I'm airing Private Family Business?

To which I say: screw it. Because my family is dysfunctional, and we function because we don't in fact function. We love each other, but damn are we dysfunctional, and this is my family's collective recovery. I don't know how I would have survived if I was born even a year earlier; I almost didn't as it is, mainly because I was suicidally depressed as a child (I was two the first time I tried self-injury, verging on suicide attempt) and remain so now, although to a lesser degree. (I had a three-week streak of my first thought on waking not being 'I want to die' a couple months ago, which in my memory has never happened before, but I broke it with a crying low that's still going. Dang.)

I love my family and they love me, and they mean well. Sometimes it helps to know that; sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't stop dealing with them from being utterly exhausting, either way, and it doesn't mean that everything isn't fraught with stress. Our family dynamics work if we're not under stress. Then it goes to hell, and my mother and sister rely on me to reassure themselves that there's someone they can protect to distract themselves from how much they hurt.

My mother is an eldest child who had to watch two of her siblings, her daughter, and her parents slowly die. She finds every excuse she can to smother my and my sister's life in care and concern and worry and protection (although mostly mine now that my sister's grown something of a spine), subscribes to the toxic definition of forgiveness outlined so well above, and I suspect it's the only reason she's lived this long with my father without demanding a divorce; she truly believes that definition, you see, and faithfully puts it into practice, and watching her do it is like helplessly watching a small child toddle trustingly into the road in front of an oncoming car, over and over again. I strongly suspect she has PTSD.

She's excellent at guilt-trips and emotional blackmail, but my father is the one who really lays on the passive-aggression; if there were a competition, he'd overshoot the winning mark by about a thousand points, and I love him dearly, but once I grew up past the 'lookit a truck!' stage, he had no idea what to do with me, and I don't know him. I don't think anyone knows him. I'm not sure he knows himself. I suspect him of stronger PTSD but his coping is isolation, not frantic devotion.

He's a good man and a terrible father, mostly by not being one at all, and I think my mother makes him unhappy in some ways; he loves her, but again, my mother is -- well, my mother, and she subscribes very rigidly to traditional gender roles. (My household is very traditional. I have a big red 'shut up and submit' button in my head when it comes to men, and I fight it and I fight it and it doesn't do me much good because it's so ingrained. How do I explain that there are tones of voice, particular types of commanding attitudes, particular dictions that will have me automatically pouring tea and clearing the table and agreeing to everything as a Good Woman Should?)

Anyway, my mother's view and my father's view clashed badly. He's descended from generations of military men, a father who had numerous affairs while posted overseas and home two weeks of the year and a mother who was, to term it politely, strong-willed and neglectful. (The only thing my father will ever say about his mother is that he loved her, the same way I keep repeating here that we love each other, as though it possibly mitigates the ways in which we are fucked up.) My father only knew a mother, and he wanted to be able to be that role for us, and to do it better, but my mother pushed him out of the picture early on and he resigned himself to being a veto vote without much input otherwise a long time ago. It doesn't make him innocent. There are periods of time that I don't remember clearly and that my mother and sister don't talk about, and will only say 'it was bad' with that particular pinch-lipped look adults get when they feel bound to answer you honestly but really, really want you to change the subject now.

My siblings are more fucked up than I am: one is a Korean adoptee, and for most of our lives, she fit the classic definition of PTSD to an eerie degree, and was abusive to my elder sister while our parents didn't do anything because my PTSD-tastic sister was one hell of a time, money and attention sink. She's getting better now, and I have to say that I like her a lot more now, and it's easier to love her truly now that she and my other sister can actually hold a conversation without coming to blows, and are now willing to sit at the same table. That was a milestone. (For the record: It took her well over twenty years to even start being able to arrive at some semblance of stability, and she's still in the early stages. Have patience with yourselves.)

My elder sister did not have a good childhood at all with our adopted sister around, and she still has issues, mostly because she's been left to cope and deal with things on her own, mostly, and there was a period of time in there after PTSD-sister moved out that she got some good attention, but then I was born and until recently I was as narcissistic as my adopted sister and similarly a time/money/attention sink (that 'emotional vampire' thing? Me, until as recently as two years ago, and still so very me in some ways), and wholly indulged in the cruelty that came with it. (Growing yourself a conscience is hard, also for the record. Still working on it. I suspect there are things broken in my head.) She's never been treated particularly well, I'm sorry to say, and she's -- well, she's slowly healing, but the effects are still plainly visible. She's another of those 'always will be a little lonely' people, and like other comments, I can't say whether it's the brokenness or some internal characteristic.

And in all of this I was a quiet bookish child everyone distracted themselves from all this with, and I had serious anger and chronic pain issues and the abovementioned case of narcissism that, in retrospect, occasionally crossed the border into psychotic sociopathy when I wasn't looking, to the point of attempted murder, and multiple instances of intentionally driving others to suicide and, in at least one case, it's only a tossup whether I succeeded because the attempt didn't take. (I'm not proud of that anymore, trust me.) Put it this way: I still would never, ever, ever trust me with a child, and I refuse to ever interact with them beyond a polite don't-talk-to-me smile until I have a better grip on myself. The vindictive urge to take that young little mind and twist it is almost overwhelming, and I still don't trust myself not to do it.

It's odd in the way it isn't, actually. My family have all had so much worse, relatively speaking, but I've always coped half to a quarter about as well as they do. It really is about coping.

Essentially I grew up in a house of varying levels and forms of PTSD and developed some secondary PTSD of my own. I'm really, really good at dealing with people with PTSD now. Yay?

It's a funny thing, really -- someone saw a photo of my parents a few years ago, and said, 'they look like such nice people!' and they are, they're good people, but my mother is so nice it's suffocating, and my father is so pleasant he might as well not be there at all. I would willingly trade some of that niceness for a little less codependency, and a little less feeling like I'm the only thing stopping my family from disintegrating into something worse. And I would really, really like not to have known since I was very young the truth that yes, I am all there is keeping my mother and elder sister sane. It's the guilt that eats at me: maybe if I was a better child, maybe if I weren't so mentally ill, maybe if I could pretend that I'm not so physically sick, maybe things would be better. But then I remember that my mother needs someone to take care of, and my sister needs someone to treat as she wasn't herself treated, and my father needs someone willing to emotionally support both of them and balance them out into something approaching functionality, because he sure as hell doesn't know how to do it, and I'm just stuck, because I'm trying to get better, but ... see above. Yeah. I love my family, and I'm so grateful to them, but damn.

#260 ::: pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:54 AM:

abi, could you please crop the URL out of that comment?

#261 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:57 AM:

PS, @ Dena Shunra #251

Arachne, my inner earth mother is knocking herself out, trying to protect you backwards and forwards in time. I wish I could.

Thank you for that, by the way. I forgot to say thanks, but the words are very much appreciated.

@ mpe #255

Arachne Jericho @ 219 - thank you for being here.

Thanks. I hope I help, though I worry sometimes that I am really pushing it. My view of these things is ultimately tainted by my experience, so my views are pretty extreme. On the other hand, my parents sort of covered the spectrum apart from sexual abuse, so I understand a lot of things, having covered a lot of the same ground. Obviously not everything though.

I think it's too easy, as a survivor, to feel that one should be doing "more" with one's life than "just" surviving. But actually, working to stop the chain of abuse - gathering the strength to say: "It ends here, with me" - is a noble and worthy lifetime's achievement.

Those words are wise and very true.

Sigh. The good kinds of victory are never easy....

#262 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:01 AM:

pseudonym @259:

Cropped before you even posted the request.

#263 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:09 AM:

@ pseudonym #258

Essentially I grew up in a house of varying levels and forms of PTSD and developed some secondary PTSD of my own. I'm really, really good at dealing with people with PTSD now. Yay?

*HUGS*

Is it possible for the family to go to group therapy together? Being a linchpin in a family is a lot of pressure on one person, and I worry about you.

#264 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:26 AM:

My New Yorker desk calendar had a fitting cartoon for Sept. 23.

I'd like to thank everyone here for sharing. There's a lot I'm wrestling with, especially in the area of forgiveness and setting limits, and your thoughts and experiences are helping me come along. It's going to be a long way to transcendence.

#265 ::: Shifting to Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:48 AM:

This thread has been enormously helpful on some internal level for me. That said, I spent the night having nightmares and vomiting, because it's also enormously triggering. So I'm going to step away (for today at least), recover, and go back to being my non-anonymous, mostly healthy self.

Thanks, all. Seriously.

#266 ::: pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 08:12 AM:

Arachane Jericho, #262:

It's a lovely idea, but as abi so succinctly put it in the original post, my sisters would rather learn autotrepanning than be in therapy together, and would look at me like I'd just gone up another level of crazy. Theirs is a tentative armed truce. In fact, the times they have been in therapy, they've gone to therapists in different states.

You don't need to worry about me all that much, I think. At this point our father just got done fucking us around on something majorly important and putting us through the kind of slow-dragging psychological torture we thought he'd mellowed out of for the last three years (did I mention he's passive-aggressive? and that his decisions can never, ever be trusted until they're signed and sealed and stamped and witnessed and sworn to kingdom come?) so I expect linchpinning will be much less like actual work soon enough.

#267 ::: Clyde the Glyde ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 09:09 AM:

I've been following this thread since it was posted. My family is functional, although a little goofy.

I thank all of you for your bravery, courage and strength.

As a father of two sons, I am committed to raising them healthy in body and mind - my fault is that I tend to yell - that habit has decreased to about 0% after reading all of your postings. It will stay that way.

Peace to every last one of you.

If the time machine works out, give me a yell, I'll take a ride and deal out justice.

#268 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 10:01 AM:

Dena, the religion and I would have likely bounced off each other with minimal damage, except for two things: first, the knowledge that within my mother's lifetime, membership would have been seen as cause for death, and in the eyes of the executioners it wasn't a membership I could ever renounce (the Inquisition offered more mercy than that!); and, second, but more immediate, the presence of vicious children as fellow students in the religious classes I was not permitted to stop attending, because in my parents' eyes, my grandparents' expectations were more important than my unbelief.

I'm grateful at least that my physical safety was a consideration, to the extent that when the taunting escalated to five-on-one assault, they took me out of the organized classes -- but I still had to complete my bat mitzvah training one-on-one with the rabbi, when really I wanted never to darken that doorstep again.

My unbelief and ideological disagreements wouldn't be such an issue if I didn't also get triggered by particular melodies, or feel that spot of itchy ice growing between my shoulder blades when sitting at services. I do fine at family occasions where the observance is held at HOME -- it's going to temple that wigs me out. And, apparently, some of the songs sung around the Shabbat table, because my family wasn't observant enough to do those at home, so the associations are all of the music class in the basement with my tormentors.

So, yeah... mostly, my family wasn't too dysfunctional, but that one expectation about religion led me into a minefield not of their devising, and I didn't get pulled out until the damage was already done.

#269 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 10:07 AM:

oh, and Dena, I admire your nonviolence and renouncement of flamethrowers. I'd settle for a time machine and a really big roll of duct tape, if it came to that.

Although I wouldn't cry too much if their parents were all late picking them up for their car pools once they'd been duct taped, and they spent perhaps half an hour outside waiting. It was December, after all. Half an hour wouldn't kill them, but they wouldn't enjoy it, either.

#270 ::: Not Going There ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 10:30 AM:

A few thoughts on things raised by others above.

Boundaries: There is something both liberating and horrifying about realizing that you would rather see a close relative living in a box on the street than in your guest room because that's the only way both of you might survive. Not proud of that one, but not going to budge either.

Theophobia: Being raised in a household with someone who has a psychosis with a strong religious component will pretty much turn you off religion for life. There was/is a one to one correlation of depth of psychosis and religious fervor in my psychotic relative. Because of that religious expression and psychosis read identically for me and religious services of any kind tend to give me a case of the screaming creepies.

#271 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:16 AM:

Don't start that time machine until I build my railgun. And I'll bring my quarterstaff, the one with the spike on the end, just for a bonus. The trebuchet is a little small...
It might be a little late to throw in my story, but it has some facets worth noting. Me, only child; bio-parent; shadowy other bio-parent; step-parent who replaced other bio-parent when I was 8; wastrel step-sibling 8 years older than me.
Bio-parent enjoyed gouging up my face and back because convinced that there were things growing out of my skin, and would not stop even when begged. As I got older, step-parent never stopped this but endured same treatment without complaint. Step-parent also sometimes went into tantrums and slapped me around, and bio-parent was right there but didn't lift a finger to stop this, ever. They got along perfectly with each other, and never quarreled, except one time about wastrel step-sibling who was in and out of trouble since 'Nam. Oh, and the time that step-parent--who liked horseplay--put a hand where it didn't belong--that was creeeeepy to the max--bio-parent, when told, went and extracted a promise to not do that again, but I felt this was more done from jealousy than any concern for my safety, and it got swept under the rug. Bio-parent did send me to a shrinko, who was totally useless--knowledge went in but none came out.
Besides this, I got yapped at for not living up to someone's invented fantasy that I was unusually smart--the trouble I had in school was always my fault, and the abuse I suffered from other kids was simply not discussed let alone stopped. I also once got viciously slammed by bio-parent for being more interested in things/ideas than in people. As if I hadn't known since day one that there was something different about me.
They encouraged me to say a placating verse at dinnertime and bedtime to the stern daddy-figure in the sky, but never told me why we didn't go to church after the arrival of step-parent. I was 12 when I kicked the sky daddy to the curb, and my announcement thereof was met with indifference. Much later I figured out they didn't believe in him themselves. When I called them on the lie, stepparent apologized and said there weren't any books on how to raise atheist kids, and bio-parent got all evasive--often does, I feel like trying to nail jello to a tree.
The hitting and gouging went on till late teens, when the parents were just too stoned. They never drank, and I guess I had the idea that if they were sober, it must be my fault or something. The pot mellowed them out (they started when I was 15) and so did the presence of company (they were the unofficial unpaid village innkeepers in the remote town they dragged me off to.) But it wasn't enough to protect me. I didn't even have good grades to wave in their faces. Sometimes we would have long talks about politics and history and so on and they would tell me how lucky I was to have parents who could have long talks like this.
I had hardly any friends and no adult mentors. I finally got a GED and lived on my own. I began to see how wrong the things done to me were--and how half the damage is in not what they tell you but what they leave out--and came this close to cutting all ties. But I didn't have the nerve.
Years later, it began to come out--I confronted one then the other, never both at once, about this or that. But it has taken bio-parent longer than it should take anyone that smart, to realize that some things were extremely damaging. As for step-parent, courageous apologies were given to me, but recent delusion that my weight is the cause of my career problems (a bit fat but not huge) persists and despite promises, step-parent brings it up occasionally--and bio-parent has taken 20 years to realize this isn't useful or right. I feel unable to properly put a stop to this because my financial situation is so iffy I might need their or someone's help.
Now both parents live a couple hours away, and bio-parent says that their will is split 50-50 tween me and wastrel stepsibling, whom-bio-parent despises and who has already cost them oodles of money. I just hope step-parent croaks first.
It still hurts to recall how I wasn't able to fight back, or make them understand they better keep their damn hands to themselves. They know it now, but still. One therapist said I have PTSD. I thought that only happened to combat veterans--like step-sibling--but that party at least got to shoot back.

#272 ::: qwerie ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:36 AM:

SpawnoftheDevil, that sounds like a good course. I recognise some of the techniques I use to handle my family, but not as consistently and deliberately applied.

#273 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 12:24 PM:

#193 ::: Christopher Davis: Thanks. Not having any adults take what was going on with me seriously was one of the most destructive aspects.

#194 ::: Anonymous Three: On trusting perceptions: for me, it's so much mistrusting myself if challenged by someone else as a general disconnect between my consciousness, my perceptions, and my ability to take action. I don't know if this is connected to abuse (though low-grade nagging about it was bad for my self-esteem) or some mild neurological problem that I was born with. Trying (with moderate success) to heal it is what drives my fascination with T'ai Chi and such.

I have good friends, but I wouldn't say I've got chosen family.

A while ago, there was a news story about a genetic variant that doesn't seem to make any difference for kids with good upbringings, but strongly affects their ability to recruit adult help if they've been abused. Until I'd read that article, it never occurred to me that I'd have been better off if I'd been establishing affectionate relationships with adults other than my parents rather than trying to find someone who'd listen to my complaints about my mother.

I still can't imagine what establishing those affectionate relationships would have been like.

(I don't know whether this is genetic or something else.)

Someone upthread asked "how can you know what good is if you've never seen it?". This is a question for Socrates, and possibly better on an open thread, but I think most of us have the experience of apparently just knowing what good logic is, and running up against people who don't. I think that sort of apparently innate knowledge happens with artistic and physical and emotional skills.

I'm generally in favor of home schooling-- the current system is a moderately destructive monoculture. However, I realized that homeschooling puts kids at higher risk of comprehensive abuse, and I don't know if there's anything as good as requiring out-of-the-home schooling for preventing that.

#200 ::: Lee: It would probably help if you put that initial chunk in the first person rather than the second.

#203 ::: Nowhere Man: I've got a lot of won't power. It's not helpful with getting things done, but it has tended to keep me away from things that would have been bad for me.

#204 ::: Dena Shunra: I don't know if this will help, but I believe that people make their religions in their own image. Yes, there are holy texts, doctrine, and group effects, but especially in large old religions, the label tells you almost nothing about what's really going on.

If you knew nothing about Christianity except the New Testament, you wouldn't be able to predict Catholicism (which is also an unmanageably large chunk) or Unitarianism.

#218 ::: Rikibeth: I've got a pretty clear idea of how much I didn't know when I was a kid, and how that limited my ability to deal with things.

One of the destructive aspects of my upbringing was that my parents didn't seem to have an idea that learning is a process. I was supposed to just know things.

As for insults stinging for years, that's normal as far as I can tell. Being able to ignore and/or forget insults is a rare (sometimes cultivated) ability. One of the crazinesses in our culture is the idea that everyone ought to be able to ignore insults.

I believe that people affect each other. That's why it's important to treat them decently. There seems to be an ideal of the indomitable soul which has little or no basis in reality, especially if you apply it to people in general.

This goes into a lot of detail about emotional abuse. The section on invalidation is especially relevant for me. I afraid I do that to other people (in sense of ignoring emotions-- I don't think I attack people for having them) though less as the years go by.

I hang on to the idea that I still have problems with my problems because they're serious. It's not that I'm fucked up for not having gotten perfect already.

There's a place in hell for people who say that you should have gotten over your mother problems by the time you're 30.

#225 ::: Anonymous Three: In re therapists who can take it: The Ethical Psychic Vampire is a fascinating book on that and much else.

By the way, I recommend my therapist, Jim Brann (215-830-8460)-- he's at least able to handle what I throw at him. (I would say that he isn't a psychic vampire of any sort.) He's a little north of Philadelphia, and he also does phone sessions.

#258 ::: pseudonym: Thank you for posting and for working on recovery.

#274 ::: Anonymous Three ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 12:32 PM:

Arachne @178: Turns out you are probably right about my brother. I alerted him to this thread, in response to an(other) overture offering contact he'd made to me. True to form, the response was basically, "Oops! Sorry, that overture was a technical malfunction. Nevermind, and forget I asked." *Sigh* Sad, but consistent.

Krikey, you'd think by now I'd know better than to even contemplate contact. Unfortunately, logistical issues make complete divorce impractical for now. Heavy *sigh.* "Patience, Willow."

j h woodyatt @231: I offer to you the thought that really the only thing you can do that will cause irreperable harm is to abdicate responsibility for the effects of your actions. As long as you're willing to own your decisisons, and acknowledge any perceived harm on the part of the parties on the receiving end, I think you'll do okay.

I like Randy Pausch's model for apology: It has three pieces:

1. "I understand that what I did hurt you."

2. "I'm sorry."

3. "What can I do to make it better?"

(Apologies to the degree that I've quoted this wrong.)

Step #1 is by far the most important and powerful.

j h woodyatt @231: [I]t's going to be a constant worry when my kid is a teenoid and going through the normal phase of rebellion against parental authority.

I would offer that in this pass your best defense is a good interest. Ears, sincere interest, and approval (of the kid, if not the specific behavior) are a parent's best tools. IMHO.

sara_k @239 makes my point rather better than I did.

#275 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Shifting 240: I think that you have forgiven in the sense we're advocating. In the sense your relatives advocate you never should IMO. What if you told them "I have forgiven him. I no longer wish him harm. But I don't feel safe around him and I don't want him in my life. If you have more to say about that, say it to the wall because I'm not going to listen to you on this topic ever again"?

#276 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Nancy 272: Oddly enough, my friend whose mother attacked him with a razor blade lives north of Philadelphia and needs a therapist.

If only I can get him to actually go. He's only been to therapists his (adoptive, non-psychotic) parents were paying for, and they've all been Dysarts.

#277 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 01:59 PM:

mea @254: But I also know that any current pressure to get her to shower is probably just to reduce her body odor.

Suggest sponge baths? She won't have to take off all her clothes at once that way, and if she's clean maybe the hospital won't be bugging her to put herself in a scary place.


#279 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 02:43 PM:

This house we've moved to has all tile floors. I've changed how I move around, how I carry things. I use both hands a lot more often. I've already broken a favourite bowl, don't want to break any more.

This thread has been enlightening, and enraging, awful and inspiring. It's brought a lot of stuff back to mind, some of which is good to remember, a lot that might be or not, dunno. My head feels a lot fuller at the moment, and kind of lumpy.

That may be so for other contributors? If so, watch how you walk around with yourselves. Use both hands. You are precious.

#280 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:07 PM:

Nancy 277: Dysarts?

My term for a therapist beholden to someone other than the client, who works the client for the benefit of the therapist's employers, rather than for the client's best interests. It's why I've told my friend he needs to pay for the therapy out of his own pocket, rather than let his parents pick up the tab.

Where I got the term is a spoiler for Equus: Znegva Qlfneg, gur cflpuvngevfg va Rdhhf, gubhtu ur fgehttyrf jvgu gur vffhr, hygvzngryl qrpvqrf gung ur'yy znxr Nyna Fgenat vagb n fbpvnyyl-npprcgnoyr "abezny" crefba, abg whfg svkvat jung znqr Nyna qb greevoyr guvatf, ohg renqvpngvat nal genpr bs havdhrarff Nyna unf, orpnhfr ur jbexf sbe gur fgngr naq gur fgngr arrqf Nyna gb or whfg yvxr rirelbar ryfr.

#281 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:18 PM:

Dysarts almost works on its own, in some mad Dutch/Greek linguistic hybridization scheme.

"Dys" is a negative prefix, from the Greek, and means "bad" (dystopia, for instance). And an "arts" in Dutch is a practitioner. A tandarts is a dentist (tanden = teeth); a dierenarts is a vet (dieren = amimals); a huisarts is a general practitioner (huis = house).

So a dysarts is a bad practitioner.

#282 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:47 PM:

Hmm, the equivalent German would be arzt. I wonder if Peter Shaffer had these sorts of things in mind when he named the character?

#283 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 03:59 PM:

@ Debbie #263

I rather like that cartoon.

@ pseudonym #265

It's a lovely idea, but as abi so succinctly put it in the original post, my sisters would rather learn autotrepanning than be in therapy together, and would look at me like I'd just gone up another level of crazy. Theirs is a tentative armed truce. In fact, the times they have been in therapy, they've gone to therapists in different states.

Well, okay. My parents wouldn't have gone either, so I know how it is.

You don't need to worry about me all that much, I think. At this point our father just got done fucking us around on something majorly important and putting us through the kind of slow-dragging psychological torture we thought he'd mellowed out of for the last three years (did I mention he's passive-aggressive? and that his decisions can never, ever be trusted until they're signed and sealed and stamped and witnessed and sworn to kingdom come?) so I expect linchpinning will be much less like actual work soon enough.

In my experience, though this was just on the protecting my mom side of things, the linchpinning doesn't go away. And it's possible that pressure will start to increase from all sides because they see that it works for one side. If the linchpinning gets better, then okay. I do tend to come down on the pessimistic side of these things.

@ Clyde the Glyde #266

Making Light posse!

@ Rikibeth #267, 268

*hugs*

It's kind of crazy, but I was a pariah in school as well. I don't know why; perhaps the kids just hone in on the weak ones. Like chickens.

Just a minor rant now. You probably didn't mean to push this button, but it has been pushed. And just in case some people really are aching to push this button....

Flamethrowers used wisely are nice when there's no realistic other option. And when I refer to flamethrowers I refer to techniques of separation. They look harsh to others, but they're vital in getting away. My parents are in either possess mode or kill mode---and I'm NOT about to be possessed by them ever again.

Some people would say that's a good trade, since I'm likely to just be terrified rather than actually dead. Then I could just wait it all out.

I don't think it's such a good trade. They might still kill me while I'm there, even if it's just "by accident".

As for padded cells: the only way my parents are going to get into jail is if they actually hurt someone. I'm their only target, of course. It was, in fact, totally possible back where I was to get them into jail, if I would just go with this scheme.

Be bait. Only when they've done something will they be jailable. I'm an old hand at surviving my father, relative to everybody else, so the chances were ... well, as best as they can be. And then there was the question of how much I needed to let them hurt me so that, were people late to rescuing me, that fighting back would hold up in a court of law.

That was the price of putting them in jail.

Perhaps I should have paid it, but I decided "flamethrower and get the hell out of dodge" was a better idea.

And then there are people who tell me, "Yes, but you could have just gone back with your parents, and your imminent destruction should you ever meet them again wouldn't happen. You survived it for 20 years; surely you can do it for 20, 30 more. And you probably won't be dead, although you'll probably be smart enough not to get hurt again. Isn't that preferable for all involved? And maybe you all could heal."

Um. Yeah. Sure. You be my proxy and try to survive the night when dad wakes you up with the bread knife in hand and says, "You were never meant to be my child!" and tries to stab you. Well, he gave you warning, so you know, it's just a game of trying to not get cut and/or survive, if he's having one of his bad nights.

I could do it, actually. Have done it. Am good at it. Depending on how much of a warning I have, and how much the extra complexity of my mom being in the way will handicap me. And in the end, the way to stop the game is to find safe ground and a locked door and call the police, or failing that, mutilate myself until he's satisfied or feels sorry for me, I can never tell which it is. Then he goes away.

I *can* win it. Reliably. Until the night he decides it's just better to stab me and see what happens.

But, you know. The "I'd really rather die then live through that again" thing does come into play for me. At the moment, it has morphed into "I'd really rather die than live through that again or run again."

Anyways. Button has now been pushed. Moving back to quiet contemplation of the chance, and then just letting it go until actually needed.

#284 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 04:14 PM:

Just a note for those of you who may not have resolved* your dysfunctional relationships: make a go bag. You may not ever use it or even need it, but if you DO reach your breaking point and need to go - somewhere, anywhere, so long as it's away from here - you will be ready.

*i.e. you're either still in that situation, or in a position where it could be rekindled, or even in a situation where feeling like you don't have an out causes unpleasant emotions and reactions. A go bag removes some of the stuff blocking your escape.

#285 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 04:19 PM:

@ Angiportus #270

*hugs Angiportus very much*

I wish everyone could get away like I did. I didn't do it until I did have some financial safety---and it would only have been provided reluctantly by the friends who could offer it (I think they were afraid that I wouldn't do anything if I felt safe with them. Actually, probably they didn't want the crazy near their house. Which is fair and sensible).

Sometimes I try to figure out if I could do it without the lucky chance that came my way. Or if I could somehow have made that luck always happen, so it wasn't a concern. I think without it, the only other way out would be a permanent one. Of course, I'm still to stubborn to die, but I wonder how long I could still be in the face of *that*.

So yeah. A lot of people just can't get away. Even if they try really hard, as hard as I did.

I wish I could help everyone escape.

re: PTSD. For me, it was always the flashbacks that were the killer. Plus when you have PTSD, you are hyper aware, in case something bad happens. The fight/flight response always at your fingertips.

A friend of mine, who is quite a nice person actually, said she didn't like me around because I always walked as if on eggshells, and felt a little hurt that I couldn't trust her (or, at the time, anyone) enough to let that go.

Well. I read the book and found out that you *can't*. Not without serious help. And not everyone can get that either.

@ Anonymous Three #273

Turns out you are probably right about my brother.

I wish I was wrong. *hugs*

Krikey, you'd think by now I'd know better than to even contemplate contact. Unfortunately, logistical issues make complete divorce impractical for now. Heavy *sigh.* "Patience, Willow."

I'm sorry. I wish you (and others) could get away from situations like this. But patience is probably warranted in some cases.

@ pericat #278

The new meds seem to be holding, although I'm really not terribly sure about that. I could just be on a mild upswing and it might rise up quite a bit before I fall. But last night and this morning was actually rather comfortable, and it hasn't been for weeks.

*crosses fingers*

@ Xopher

re: dysarts

I keep thinking "dessert" for some reason...

"I'd like a frozen dysart with whip cream and chocolate chips on top."

@ shadowsong #283

Re: go bags

That's an incredibly good idea. I never read Making Light back in college, but I had something like a go bag. I always had it with me. People wondered why. I didn't always feel like filling them in.

Seems a good project for the week.

#286 ::: Anonymous Too ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 04:56 PM:

Arachne Jericho @ 282: And then there are people who tell me ...

No one in their right mind would tell you that. Sorry, they just wouldn't.

#287 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Anonymous Too 285: Depends on your definition of "right mind," yes? Anyone in their right mind who would say that deserves to be killed, though, so your assumption is more charitable.

#288 ::: Anonymous Too ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:14 PM:

Xopher @286, I must confess that suggesting that the abused willingly surrender to the power of the abuser does not fall within any definition of "right mind" that I can conceive. It's like saying, "Well, if you soak that burn in some nice, scalding hot water, maybe you'll heal." Completely nonsensical to a degree that boggles me.

#289 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:32 PM:

mpe @ 255: "If you're worried about your ability to cope with a catastrophe, it might be worth building some safeguards now."

Yeah. I've been inspired by this thread to make some phone calls today that I thought hoped I would never need to make. That's about as much as I'll say here. (I'm disinclined to use a temporary pseudo to talk in more detail.)

#290 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Arachne @284: But last night and this morning was actually rather comfortable, and it hasn't been for weeks.

Oh, yay! I am really just awfully happy about that.

#291 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:43 PM:

@ Anonymous Too
@ Xopher

I lived in the Midwest. While there are doubtless many clueful people in the Midwest, and doubtless many clueless people on the coasts, I heard that line more than once. It was a 50/50 chance back when I didn't know better than to shut my mouth about these things around people whom I didn't have a handle on their cluefulness.

Plus there's teh Internets.

Making Light, though, is a nice place and an exception. I don't think anyone would tell me that here. My experience in good forums has been like that, and among a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest (though not all).

My experience elsewhere... not so much. And arguably they were all in their right mind. Just idiots.

Several of them---several formerly close friends, or so I thought---in the Midwest helped my parents stalk me.

Fortunately I had other close, very protective friends and the University helped too. There was an argument, I think, at some point about whether "Thou Shalt Honor Thy Parents" applied to my situation or not.

Just that memory makes me want to curl up and die, more than anything my parents ever did to me. Which I did not at the time think was actually possible.

So I'm a little afraid sometimes. And I know Making Light is cool and all that---this whole thread, the political threads I've been reading recently, and abi and pnh and tnh and Jim and others are cool to the max. But I'm afraid of getting hurt like that again. That will go away the longer I hang out, of course. And it's probably mostly gone by now.

I mean, at least I *knew* for sures my parents would hurt me. That was a constant.

Please don't take offense. Sometimes I react a little too strongly when it's not necessary.

#292 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:51 PM:

@ pericat #298

Arachne @284: But last night and this morning was actually rather comfortable, and it hasn't been for weeks.

Oh, yay! I am really just awfully happy about that.

Me too. And yes, I still feel fairly comfortable right now even though, um, I have issues and am going tl;dr again with long posts of past serious pain that don't seem to stop. I feel happy regardless. That sounds kinda weird but it's true.

I suspect some of what's been going on with me has to do with my understanding friend switching to another company and possibly moving away, and wondering where I would find sanity if all that happened. Of course, Making Light is not *enough* and I need to (sigh) go find understanding people again, but it's nice to know there are lots of sane people in the world spread everywhere.

I think that is what makes feel better.

Okay, that and dialing up the meds. But meds don't work as well when you feel like hell.

#293 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Arachne @ 290: while I am not a moderator or in any way In Charge around here, I'd say you already have a goodly cushion of slack built up: you came in civilly, on topic, and with remarkable courage, and your contributions furthered discussion rather than impeding it.

Someone who does that automatically builds up more goodwill and thus more slack for the occasional strong reaction than someone who comes in like a Troll Bingo card.

So set your mind at ease, as much as you can.

#294 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Arachne @291: What Rikibeth said @292. And your posts aren't tl;dr.

#295 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Ariel @ #249 - Thanks for sharing that. I do remember the emotional abuse that led me to need a therapist, so I'm at a loss as to what else might have been uncovered that I *can't* remember. Though I didn't have to stop seeing my dad (he was given the ultimatum to stop drinking or never see me again, and to give him credit he stopped) so whatever turned up couldn't have been *too* bad.

I'm, frustratingly, guilty of telling *myself* that it was all in the past, I should get on with my life, people have had it much harder than me, what I am whining about, etc.

I find that one of the hardest types of emotional abuse to overcome is that which you heap upon yourself.

#296 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 06:31 PM:

Anonymous Too 287: I must confess that suggesting that the abused willingly surrender to the power of the abuser does not fall within any definition of "right mind" that I can conceive.

I guess I believe that some people are cold sane, yet consciously and deliberately evil: the sort of people that will pour scalding hot water on a fresh burn, not just tell you you should. I wouldn't say they're not in their right minds, unless you think conscious deliberate evil is a form of mental illness, which you could make a case for.

You could make an even better case for the not-in-right-mindness of people whose ideology leads them to behave in reprehensible and/or insane ways. I have in mind the story of a woman who couldn't find any doctor in her area to do an abortion for her even though the fetus she was carrying was dead. Does any "no exceptions" ideology automatically qualify as not being in your right mind? Well, arguably so; in that case the people who believe, against evidence of exceptions, that all families can be healed if everyone just forgives would be in that category.

The problem I have with that is that it lets people off the hook too much. Saying that people aren't in their right minds implies, at least to me, that they aren't responsible for their actions, or that they at least have diminished responsibility for them. I think people are responsible for their own beliefs, for changing those beliefs in response to good evidence that contradicts them, and for making sure their actions are situationally appropriate. I don't want to let those doctors off the hook because their belief that intact dilation and extraction must never be done means they're crazy. They knew the fetus was dead, and they chose not to make an exception. Crazy, maybe, but also evil, and they deserve the karmic and/or legal consequences of those evil choices.

Now when my friend texted me and said never to contact him again and that I was just like all the rest and that he hated me, he wasn't in his right mind. He had to go off his meds because he was doing chemo, and his meds were really enabling him to be sane. When he went back on them he went back to normal; he was horrified by the things he'd said to me. That's what I mean by "not in [their] right mind." I feel it was appropriate not to hold him responsible for that. (I DO hold him responsible for taking his medication when it's medically possible, though. If he just stops taking it on his own, he's responsible for any consequences.)

And, of course, one could argue that abusers aren't in their right minds. That fact makes me think that perhaps not being in one's right mind doesn't carry, for you, the implication of lack of responsibility that it does for me.

#297 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:35 PM:

@ Rikibeth #292
@pericat #293

Thanks. From my points of view, I think some of my posts are tl;dr. It's just that the material in them is so familiar to me. It's things that have been coming out or running in my head for years.

I guess it just builds up from time to time. I occasionally let off steam on my blog with little stories, although lots of them just allude to what was there rather than hit it full straight on.

99% of the time, though, my blog is full of geekery and Kindle and meta-bloggery and SF/F stuff. I'm not like this all the time. This is not all of me there is.

@ Xopher #295

I classify that sort of thing as more idiotic and/or cowardly than evil. Mind you, it has the same results....

#298 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 08:28 PM:

Arachne @290, your par there saying "whether "Thou Shalt Honor Thy Parents" applied to my situation or not" sparked a flash insight that the Abrahamic example could be used to support that. I can't follow the thought further now, because the combination of cold chill and fiery anger it brings won't help get the work done that's needed today.

My sympathy, appreciation & respect for all the people who've contributed here. Another example of how teh intarTubes can Do Good.

#299 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 08:58 PM:

j h woodyatt, re raising kids: One thing that I've seen helps a lot is being open with them, to the level of their understanding. Obviously, a 6-year-old isn't going to comprehend the family budget, but a 12-year-old should be able to be told why something is "too expensive".

Also, at least going on my personal experience and my observation of my partner's relationship with his daughter, teenage rebellion can be minimized by things like:

- Giving the child control over as much of his life as he's old enough to handle. If you don't let him practice making decisions when it will do little harm to make a bad one, how is he going to be able to make effective ones when it's important?

- Picking your battles. Stand firm on the things that are really important (such as grades), and don't sweat the trivia. So many parents get completely bent over clothing or messy rooms or friends or interests/hobbies, and it really wastes both effort and credibility. (Example: when my parents called me a "cradle robber" for dating a guy who was one year younger than me -- because I was in college and he was still in high school -- it permanently blew ALL their credibility WRT their judgment about men.)

A lot of teenage rebellion is about separating oneself from one's parents. The harder you fight that separation, the worse the rebellion will be. Give your teenager space (emotionally) in which to establish himself, and you take a lot of the pressure off.

Arachne, #282: I can't BELIEVE that anyone would tell you to walk back into an environment where people were actively trying to kill you! Well... actually I can, and that's truly awful. But jeez louise, anyone who'd suggest that is a LOON.

#300 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 09:00 PM:

To Numerous:

Sorry I was unable to post yesterday ...

I thought twice about posting that, and should apparently have taken "third thoughts." I knew I was having trouble with the words, and couldn't get what I was trying to say to come out right.

But I also recognize and realize that, in this, what I have to say doesn't matter. I tried to pour oil on troubled water and apparently grabbed kerosene instead.

My sincerest apologies to any and all whom I unintendedly offended. You are, of course, correct that you are the only one(s) who can know your situation, and others should not attempt to tell you how to do that. In so far as my poorly chosen words were doing the same, you have my most profound and abject apologies.

I am amazed and awed by your strength and perseverence, and as was said earlier by others, you have my sympathy and admiration always, and I appreciate your bravery in opening yourself here, and the honor and trust you show by including me in that forum.

Thank you.

-pp

#301 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Reading this thread at the same time as interviewing, being offered, and accepting a new job has been very interesting.

The repeated comment from co-workers has been "I'm -so- glad you're getting out" with overtones that are frighteningly reminiscent of some of the (definitively more nasty) posts other people have made.

It's only been a bit over 3 years of coping with the various dysfunctions, but this thread has helped me to see that I've already developed flinch reactions and an irrational caution about what I say/do that didn't exist before. It's a pale hint of understanding of what's been done to far too many people on this thread, and a chilling one, if this is "the workplace of the future".

OTOH, I have to thank the posters for this glimpse -- beats the hell out of not realizing what's going on with the reach/flinch reactions, and running smack into problems with the new job as a result.

It's really an amazing feeling to think that I'm almost free...

#302 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:13 PM:

xeger @ 300:

Congratulations and good luck!

#303 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:18 PM:

It's been very helpful to read all this -- to dredge up topics to think on that I do not often dredge up, and to work on emotions and honestly facing a screwed up history -- even if I haven't wanted to join in. I bet there are a lot of such readers. Thank you, everyone who witnesses here. I'll be reading over a lot of this for a while, and following some of the links. I'm especially grateful for some new definitions of forgiveness. I've held on to the quotation "forgiveness is giving up hope for a better past," which is okay if I take it the right way. Now I have another set of ideas to attach to the word "forgiveness," to help me away from the toxic versions and toward the transcendent. This has all been most helpful.

#304 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:28 PM:

Arachne: Forgive me if I use just your first name, but formality feels strained in a confessional.

We all have buttons. I don't know anyone who has ever been a steady poster who hasn't had it happen. Some of us have said some very unpleasant things... things which cost vowels. There have been those asked not to return.

For my part... you have done no thing needing apology. Your explantions were cogent, polite and well done. I thank you for them.

In short, don't leave on my account. I've been less polite when mine were pushed. This may not be as good a a real person to spend time with, but it's helped an awful lot. There are a few people here whom I owe a great deal, more than they would ever believe, or I ever repay.

Allow me (as just a gentleman ranker, no one of authority) to say please stay. For our sakes, if not your own.

#305 ::: Mary Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:46 PM:

Regarding forgiveness:

Sometimes, forgiveness isn't about the other person at all. It's about YOU.

It's about letting go of the pain or anger or gut-twisting tension that you associated with someone, because you don't have to hold onto it anymore. You can let it go. You can let go of THEM.

You don't need the adrenaline rush to help you escape; you don't need the anger to help you stay strong and hold your boundaries. You don't need the hyper-awareness that becomes an automatic part of you, that makes it a habit to sit with your back to a wall, never a door.

There's a great story about two monks crossing a river: one helps a woman by carrying her over it, and the other monk is appalled that the first one has broken a rule by doing this, and starts complaining some time down the road. The first monk says, "I put the woman down once we crossed the river, why are you still carrying her?"

Forgiveness, as I see it, is all about putting down what you've been carrying. It's about lightening YOUR load.


Far too often, the idea of "forgive" is tied to the idea of "forget".

You can forgive without forgetting.

You can remember that someone you know or knew is toxic to you and not to be trusted and not someone to be in the same room/state/country with, and choose to act on that knowledge.

But remembering doesn't mean that you always have to feel the terror/anger/panic/hatred that you experienced when that person was there with you.

You can remember, and establish boundaries, and stay away from that person, and tell yourself that YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF, and you don't have to keep feeling the emotions you once felt to keep taking care of yourself. You can know it in your head, and not have to always feel it in your body.

Writing this, and reading the previous postings, I realize that what I'm saying may assume that you can reach a safe place/time. That you're not in the midst of a life or death or sanity-threatening conflict RIGHT NOW where you DO need those survival skills.

I was tremendously lucky in my family. They gave me unquestioned love, and without them, I might have ended up like the kid in my eleventh-grade class who committed suicide. I don't know if any of the kids at school who harassed me for years realized how hellish they made my life.

For years I couldn't think about that without getting caught up in old emotions. But at some point I realized I could let those emotions go. I could forgive, not in the sense of erasing the past, but in the sense of changing the present. I could let go of the sorrow and the tension and the fear of that time because I didn't need it any more. I could be safe without it.

May we all create -- and find -- safe havens.

#306 ::: Mary Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 11:52 PM:

Several of my friends grew up in dysfunctional families. From what they've said, the best analogy I can come up with, is that living in a dysfunctional family must be like living in a minefield, never knowing when a perfectly innocuous step will cause a mine to blow your leg off.

#307 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 12:16 AM:

@ Epacris #297

Ah, Abraham. Yeah. That was always a kicker of a Bible story.

Teh Intertubes do help if you run into good folks.


@ Lee #298

re: Loons

I think they just didn't know better. There are people who honestly can't believe that a parent could bear to hurt their own child. And because that "can't be true" then the child is just over-excited and should be returned to their parents to be calmed and comforted and loved.

... yeah. About that.


@ xeger #300

Workplaces can indeed be abusive and hostile environments, and some places are extremely dysfunctional. I'm glad you're getting out, too. Good luck!


@ Terry Karney #303

No worries about the first name thingy. I'm a very down-to-earth kinda gal.

I'm glad I didn't come across as crazy angry. I try to hold down my temper. Unlike my father.

I'm here to stay. :) It's not just support for dysfunctional family issues. It's also support for this dysfunctional election....

Thanks for your politeness and gentlemanly manners.


@ Mary Mark #304

I kind of feel like we're covering old ground here and I should just let it go. But I kind of take exceptin to:

It's about letting go of the pain or anger or gut-twisting tension that you associated with someone, because you don't have to hold onto it anymore. You can let it go. You can let go of THEM.

Well. I'm sort of just holding it back. Until it's needed. It's kind of over with me, but at the same time, not really over. I contemplate like a monk. Doesn't mean I don't watch both ways before I cross the street, or I don't have amazing dragon fists of rage, or whatever it is in the Kung Fu movies. There is a chance for me that they will be needed.

You don't need the adrenaline rush to help you escape; you don't need the anger to help you stay strong and hold your boundaries.

Yes, I did; and yes, I did.

There's a great book out there called _The Gift of Fear_. The writer? Also lived in an abusive household. His attitude is that fear is not a bad thing. It's a warning system; it's a tool. The trick is not to let it go off on false alarms.

When you're being abused, or dealing with your abuser, it's not a bad idea to remember that. Fear is not the enemy.

That you're not in the midst of a life or death or sanity-threatening conflict RIGHT NOW where you DO need those survival skills.

Well, I'm not.

For years I couldn't think about that without getting caught up in old emotions. But at some point I realized I could let those emotions go.

There's this thing called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Your brain changes chemically. You can't just put this stuff "behind you".

But then again, this is old ground that's been covered. Who knows; it's not like I'm an expert at this kind of thing.

Several of my friends grew up in dysfunctional families. From what they've said, the best analogy I can come up with, is that living in a dysfunctional family must be like living in a minefield, never knowing when a perfectly innocuous step will cause a mine to blow your leg off.

Yes. It is exactly like that.

#308 ::: Lynn (not my real name, but it will do for this thread) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 12:31 AM:

I've been lurking on this thread for a while, and I think I've finally figured out what I want to say. I don't have much to complain about compared to many of you; no active abuse, really, or not much. Just...neglect, physical and emotional. I can't remember being hugged once after I was five or so, and I don't think anyone ever said "I love you," or any variations thereof. (I have, at last, learned how to hug people and not feel uncomfortable while I do it. It is a small victory but an important one to me.)

But - backstory. I've never been sure how to explain some of this; my parents had weird priorities. They didn't have much money, but there was always money for certain things, like tech toys, and even stuff for the kids - I got skating lessons, dance lessons, drawing lessons, swimming lessons - anything "educational" was okay to ask for (and I didn't even have to ask for most of it). But anything else...I suppose glasses didn't count as educational (though I did learn a lot of tricks for pretending not to be myopic, so I guess not having them was educational, in a sense.) Nor dentist visits; I spent seven or eight years in ever-escalating pain from cavities that probably would have been simple to fix if someone had bothered to do something about it when I first complained (and it hurt a lot - when I got appendicitis not long after moving out on my own, I delayed going to the hospital longer than I should have because I didn't think it hurt enough, in comparison, to be really serious. And then the doctor said I must have a high pain tolerance, and I just had to laugh.) But the cavities are a good example of how I learned that nothing would change if I said anything, so it was better to just keep quiet. I still have a hard time asking for help when I need it - I got through my severely depressive year in uni without saying a word to anyone about it, and without killing myself either. I manage to be glad I didn't, most days.

Suppressing memories...I've done that to some extent, and I only wish I could suppress more of them. Especially the year or two in my early teens when I was so miserable I kept taking it out on my younger brother. I feel, and have felt, so ashamed and guilty about that, and I wish someone had...dammit, I was a kid too, shouldn't someone have cared that I was bullying my brother, and done something to stop me? It's not like no one noticed; they just didn't do anything about it.

My parents aren't bad people. Really, they're not. They just...I don't think they were cut out to be parents, or responsible for anyone else, even a pet. If it weren't for some of the more harmful things I remember (there's stuff I haven't gone into; isn't there always?), I'd even say they tried their best. As it is, well, say they tried, and leave it at that. I visit them a few times a year, and we're polite to each other and don't talk about anything important - that's never changed, and I'm not sure I even want it to anymore.

And I try to build my life, and avoid suicidal depression. There are people who would care if I weren't in this world anymore. I know that. It's probably the only reason I am still here. I have friends, a few close enough to be chosen family. I have a good relationship with my sister these days (and a tolerable one with my brothers). I've even done some good, worthwhile things with my life. And I still feel, when I let myself think about it, like none of it really amounts to much. And - if I let myself, which I mostly don't - I think wistfully about going back in time and somehow stopping myself from ever being born in the first place.

I don't tell anyone that, either. I'm the cheerful one, and everything's just hunky dory, yeah. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, and I don't want to feel like I'm whining and making a big deal out of nothing (shades of my mother's voice there, come to think - and I didn't accept that "you're making a big deal out of nothing" maternal dismissiveness as being right or fair when I was a child, so I certainly don't now either. But I think I still half-expect to get that reaction from other people, if I say I'm upset about something, whereas if I just keep it to myself, I don't have to second-guess my right to feel upset.) So, I don't share any of this, or not more than the tip of the iceberg. The only reason I can stand to post this here is because it's anonymous. And because it's online so it's okay if I start to cry (I should go eat something - low blood sugar + family talk = hard to maintain one's self-possession), and also...well, maybe reading this thread and all the other stories that are worse than mine has given me a little courage. And it feels like a safe space - thank you for doing this, Abi.

*hugs all 'round*

P.S. Since this topic has come up in the thread - I was mostly homeschooled (my mom didn't approve of public schools...not that she spent much time teaching us herself instead, but at least she covered the three R's, and I picked up a lot from being addicted to reading. Oh, you may notice the lack of references here to my dad - it's not due to anything horrible, just, he was a distant figure, seldom around and I don't think he knew/knows how to relate to kids.) I'm not sure if the homeschooling made things better or worse - it was very isolating for me, but schools can be pretty awful places, too, especially for kids who aren't socially adept, and I wasn't. (Whether that was caused by the homeschooling, I can't say. It was certainly exacerbated by it.) So...I have ambivalent feelings about homeschooling, even when the parents have Good Intentions (mine did, after all). But it does seem to work out very well for some people, and Ailbhe, I certainly wish you the best of luck with it.

#309 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 12:36 AM:

Mary Mark, #305: Yes. My parents had their own version of the minefield; sometimes I'd mention something with fear and trepidation only to have them brush it aside as of no importance, while other times a casual comment about something I considered totally trivial sent them ballistic. And even though their explosions were verbal rather than physical, it's the uncertainty factor that does the damage.

Arachne, #306: Ah yes, the old "hysterical" ploy. So easy to use against the powerless in any given situation...

#310 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 12:48 AM:

My father died in March and I don't think I'll ever forgive him, but I'm not nearly as angry as I used to be. When there was even the merest chance that he'd say he was sorry, that he was wrong, I was angry that he wouldn't. But he can't say that now, so a lot of the anger has gone.

#311 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 01:50 AM:

Arachne: I tend to assume the name somone uses on screen is the name they want to be called. I am also strangely formal. Feel free to call me Terry.

This is the place I am least likely to ignore. It's support for so many things. I have had people, when I was losing it over something, send me an e-mail making sure I wasn't suffering emotional distress. I'm glad you're here.

#312 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 01:58 AM:

@ Terry #310

Ah yes, my full name. I tend to put it all up there so that I'm not confused with any other Arachne's that turn up.

*looks left*
*looks right*

Well... just in case. I'm fine with just Arachne. AJ, too, but there used to be another AJ around so I don't feel like appropriating their initials.

Nothing wrong with being formal; either formal or informal is cool with me, but I shall call you Terry. I wondered if you were British. *g* In any case, hallo there, and I'm glad to be here.

#313 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 02:38 AM:

Arachne: I use my full name, well because I do, there are several Terry's in the world, and this makes it easier. For those whom I am feeling comfortable with, just Terry is fine (and we could go into how oddities of 16 years in the army, 25 years in print, and the study of Russian have colored how I see my name, and it's use)

No, I am not British, though I am strange of phrase.

#314 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 07:03 AM:

Long comment.

Mary Mark @ 304 & 305

You don't need the adrenaline rush to help you escape; you don't need the anger to help you stay strong and hold your boundaries. You don't need the hyper-awareness that becomes an automatic part of you, that makes it a habit to sit with your back to a wall, never a door.

I think it would be helpful - at least to me - if you didn't use the word "you" in this kind of context. It comes across to me as denying the reality of what many survivors deal with every moment of every day.

Several of my friends grew up in dysfunctional families. From what they've said, the best analogy I can come up with, is that living in a dysfunctional family must be like living in a minefield, never knowing when a perfectly innocuous step will cause a mine to blow your leg off.

I find the minefield analogy a bad one, personally, because mines aren't responsible for their behaviour whereas humans are. But I'll go with it anyway, because I think it ties in with my point about the previous quote.

Think about a baby born in the middle of the minefield, to parents who alternate between hysterical giggling and crazed rages where they bayonet anything that moves. The baby may move and set off a mine, in which case the baby dies, or s/he may move and get bayoneted by the parents, in which case the baby dies.

If the baby survives at all, s/he learns to keep very very still - especially any time the laughter stops.

The baby stays in that minefield for eighteen years. If s/he ever gets the chance to learn to crawl, maybe even to walk, it will be only during the intervals of giggling. In the meantime, more mines and more bayoneting.

If the child survives at all, s/he may try to escape. (This presupposes that the child gains any notion that things may be different elsewhere). More mines, more bayoneting. The child may lose one or more limbs and be left to stop the bleeding and tend the wound while rolling and ducking out of the way of explosions, shrapnel, and blades.

If the child manages to get away from the parents and not get blown up, there are plenty of people in and around the minefield who'll kick, punch, throw or bayonet him/her right back. (These are enablers.)

The (rare) young man or woman who actually gets to the point of crawling out of the minefield, crippled, bleeding, weeping, still needs to fight through the armed gangs forcing him or her back.

This survivor knows two things: when to keep still, and when to move.

The body has two basic responses to threat: mobilise energy and direct it inward (ready to flee), or mobilise energy and direct it outward (ready to fight). The conscious mind experiences the first as fear and the second as anger. But that's not what they are - it's merely how they are perceived.

The survivor's entire life experience has taught him or her the following responses:
fear = stay still
anger = move

So. Our survivor waits. (No laughter: stay still!) No mines so far. No blades so far. They could come at any second. Still nothing. Voices. Hands. Very strange.

Blade! - move

Telling a survivor, at this point, that "oh no, it's not really a bayonet and anyway I wasn't going to use it on you, gosh you need to learn to let go of your body's natural reflex reaction to threat" isn't helpful. It is, in my view, deeply offensive and borderline abusive.

Our survivor is lucky. S/he has just happened to reach a field where there are no mines, no crazed survivors (the people in the minefield are surviving too, as best they can), but there is food and shelter and medical care.

How long do you think it's likely to take before this survivor can see a scalpel without either turning very very still or lashing out?

How long before they manage to wrap their heads around the concept that there are no mines and bayonets?

For me personally, it took fifteen years of close regular contact with caring functional people before I was able to understand that they weren't going to assault me. Not ever. Not even if I annoyed them, or upset them, or if they raised their voice.

I still grapple with the concept of there being places without violence. (I literally start to black out when trying to conceptualise it, because my brain can't process visual input at the same time.)

So. Our survivor is in a safe place, and beginning to grasp that fact. Now s/he may begin the long and painful and difficult work of receiving proper medical care for the permanent injuries received, learning to live with severe disability, learning to manage prostheses and anything else that might help him/her lead a relatively functional life.

When all this is done, maybe s/he can start talking about the experience of life in the minefield. Maybe s/he can even begin - and perhaps, given time enough, even complete - the journey towards being able to feel joy at the sound of laughter, or admire the beauty of a well-crafted blade.

But don't count on it. Those physical responses - energy mobilised and directed - are what brought him/her out of the minefield. They are a deep and integral part of what makes someone a survivor.

Without them, we'd all be dead.

#315 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 09:11 AM:

Lynn @ 307

I don't want to feel like I'm whining and making a big deal out of nothing

It may help to bear in mind that children physically need attention and affection. Lack of it can lead to serious illness and even death.

Also, neglecting a child's health and welfare to the extent you mention seems to me a clear case of physical abuse. If a child is in pain and the parents deny or dismiss it (which is also to block that child's access to treatment), then they are actively causing the pain to continue.

#316 ::: Mary Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 10:53 AM:

The way I phrased my posting about forgiveness seems to have made readers feel that I was saying that one's experience "should" be a certain way. I wasn't trying to say that other people are or ought to be or necessarily ever will be at a point where they experience forgiveness in the sense I described it. Other people have their own experience, and I don't assume or expect their experience to be like mine in this, past, present, or future.

But I wanted to describe my own experience of forgiveness (which I find hopeful), and to suggest that there may be a possibility that some other person (that awkwardly-phrased "you") may someday be at a point where their experience may be like mine.

If that seemed like a demand to ignore your personal experience and replace it with mine, I apologize.

#317 ::: Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 11:00 AM:

mpe @ 314:

You...don't know how shocked I am that someone actually took what I said seriously. And I'm shocked that I'm shocked, because I didn't expect anyone to not take it seriously (or at least, I hadn't thought I was expecting that. Hm.)

If a child is in pain and the parents deny or dismiss it (which is also to block that child's access to treatment), then they are actively causing the pain to continue.

And then I started to think, but it wasn't their fault, it was mine - and then I thought, what the hell am I thinking?

I think I maybe need to spend some more time processing. Thank you for this.

#318 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 12:30 PM:

My gracious, this stirs up so many feelings, I'm not sure what I think: 10 kids, including family of 9, abandoned.

On the one hand, that must suck so hard right now for those kids. On the other hand: better out than in, yes?

#319 ::: The Absent One ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 02:01 PM:

As one of the victims of dysfunctional families, I'm none too sure I want to read this thread, much less post to it, but there are some points that seem to want making. This may duplicate other posts; when I haven't been ignoring the thread outright, I've been skimming, and may have missed others saying the same things. (Some of it may sound like an attack. It's not meant to be, but I find I can't distance myself from this enough to achieve objectiveness.)

Why the particular pseudonym? Because growing up, I discovered that the way to survive was to simply not be there as completely as possible, to have no wants, to make no demands, to do nothing. This was the surest way to win approval, or, at the least, to avoid being hurt.

---------
"You are precious and loved".

This reads to me like the writer Has No Clue. I am not "precious and loved". I am worthless and unwanted. My parents made this clear to me as I was growing up. Being told I am "precious and loved" by someone who has never met me grates as much as "family comes first". I'm sure that pedantic peasant had good intentions in saying them (and I'm glad that other people actually appreciated them), but for me, they appear to dismiss as irrelevant all the pain and personal experience I've had which prove otherwise.


(The iconic example: My mother took me to a school for emotionally disturbed children "just for running some tests". She lied. I was left there, forcibly restrained by staff members as I watched her drive off without me.)

--------
On family: As far as I'm concerned, I don't have one. I have people who happen to be genetically related, but they're not family. (I can make sense of my childhood only by assuming that my parents didn't love me. [Suffice it to say that I don't claim they're bad people, only ones overwhelmed by problems of their own.] I credit them with doing what they saw as their duty as parents, and even with trying to do their best at it, but that's a very different thing.)

--------
On forgiving: These are the words that made forgiving make sense to me (from A Pretty Good Person by Lewis Smedes):

For every person who loses control to his or her rambunctious passions, there are a hundred who lose control to the unfair wounds they did not deserve to feel. Someone they trusted betrayed them. Someone they loved brutalized them. Someone they depended on left them dangling alone. They feel deeply hurt. But it is not only the hurt that they remember. It is the feeling of outrage at being wronged. Hurt and wronged, the memory is like a videotape permanently installed in our minds. We cannot turn it on, we cannot turn it off. We are condemned to let it play its wretched reruns inside our minds at its own whim. Our bitter memory of wrongful pain takes over control.

...

The only way back to control over our painful memories is the way of forgiveness. When we forgive we surrender our basic human right to get even with the person who hurt us. But this surrender is not a defeat. It is the ultimate win. When we forgive an ancient wrong, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us. When we forgive we dance again to the melody of healing. When we forgive we reclaim control of our lives from the slavery of a hurting memory.

...

As long as you do not forgive, you are lashed to a pain you did not have coming in the first place. Now then, suppose that the only way to be fair to yourself is to forgive the person who was so unfair to you? He does not deserve to be forgiven. Of course not. But what do you deserve? Where is the fairness in being handcuffed to an escalator of unfair pain?

(Google uncovered this item by Smedes, also on forgiving.)

#320 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Long post is... not so long.

@ Terry #312

Heh. I'm odd of phrasing too; but I tend more towards the Internet.

@ Lynn #316

I take your story seriously. What your parents did to you was abuse, not neglect. (Something I've also had experience with and have decided: yup, pattern of abuse.)

Also, what mpe said.

Also, *hugs*

@ The Absent One #318

*hugs*

I am not "precious and loved". I am worthless and unwanted.

You are not worthless and you are not unwanted. Your parents lied to you. *They* may not have thought you precious and *they* may not have thought you loved, but *you* are not worthless, and *you* are not unwanted.

You are worthy, and you are wanted.

To be worthless, it means you can't contribute anything to anybody. Your parents totally lied about that. To be unwanted implies that you did something really wrong. Your parents totally lied about that too.

My father told me I was retarded; told me I dragged the family down; told me I was a liar; told me I should never have been his child; and also tried to kill me on a number of occasions.

Well, apart from the murder attempts past and possibly future, he was all lies.

Perhaps this is a denial of what happened to me. I think it's more a denial of the opinions of whoever did those things to me. And while I think this is really hard to think and really hard to remember, you must remember this: your parents are fucking liars. They do not deserve to have that hold over you.

Don't beat yourself up; don't let the liars win. I know that's harder than it sounds, and I know it's too easy to think that parents told you the truth. It took me years to realize that my parents lied---and even so, I don't always remember that.

And I know that PTSD exists, because I have it, and I know it doesn't go away. The fact that I'm on medication dialed up nearly as high as it can go is a testament to that.

And I know that, realistically speaking, feeling safe takes ages; and even after that, letting go takes much, much longer. It is hard, and it's not something that you can will. It takes time.

There is pain in this thread; there's also a lot of support on this thread.

You are not unwanted on Making Light, and you are not worthless here either.

Trust me---I'm not trying to belittle your troubles. And I'm not trying to say that I know exactly your troubles---I just say that I have had similar problems. Gods know that I'm the last person who should try to deny other people their feelings; but that one, at least, was the first barrier I broke.

You can break it too. Just. Be. Angry. In the right direction. Hate your parents. Don't hate yourself.

The truth is out there. It's just not with your screwed-up parents.

And many *hugs*. Be mad at me if you want to. It's okay.

#321 ::: Innominate ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 04:07 PM:

I don't know that I had a dysfunctional upbringing. I had a stable family life. Father, mother, siblings. The works.

No physical violence between the parents. Occasional physical "chastisement" by my father. Threats of whipping. A bull's pizzle prominently displayed as a threat and never used.

What there was was constant verbal putting-down. I was told for years that I caused trouble before I was born. I didn't find out till I was in my late teens that my parents had anticipated the parson and got married five months before I was born. My father blamed me for that. He took every opportunity to call me lazy and worthless. To disparage every effort I ever made to achieve anything on my own. Nothing I every did could be right. Nothing. Success in anything was never sufficient.

I gather that this was justified as a goad to effort on my part. I don't know that it succeeded.

#322 ::: Anonymous Too ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 04:39 PM:

Xopher @ 295: And, of course, one could argue that abusers aren't in their right minds. That fact makes me think that perhaps not being in one's right mind doesn't carry, for you, the implication of lack of responsibility that it does for me.

I think there are gradations of impairment and hence responsibility, not an absolute either/or distinction. I think I used that formulation in responding to the people who said those things to Arachne Jericho because to me, their statements were utterly irrational, and not something *I* could have said without being, as Lee puts it @ 298, a loon. But I agree that there can be, and are, people who are capable of evil. Whether the people around Arachne Jericho were loons, or idiots, or evil is, I guess, open to question in the absence of either omniscience or further evidence.

Your points about accountability, though, are well taken. I don't believe in letting people off the hook, but I do believe, sometimes, in giving them the benefit of the doubt (unless their behavior makes it out of the question - I'm thinking here more of people on the periphery, not actual abusers or enablers). And even when there are extenuating circumstances, I don't think it lets people off the hook. My mother was molested by a stepfather; she had a difficult childhood, and a mother and grandmother who were manipulative at best, and possibly worse; she was treated for depression during my childhood. I understand that she was wrestling with her own emotional pain while I was growing up. Does any of that let her off the hook for her own emotional abuse, or for not protecting me? No, it doesn't.

Mary Mark @ 305: not exactly a minefield, but yes - the uncertainty of never knowing when something would happen. Any time I was alone with my father, even for a moment - in a car, in our house, somewhere public but momentarily isolated - or any time at night, when others were asleep - or even in broad daylight, with others around - he might do something, or say something, or both. I never knew what, or when, or what precise form it would take. And @ 304: My parents have both died; I am beyond their reach. I no longer have to go to the very back corner stall in a public restroom. But I do not sit with my back to a door, or a room.

xeger @ 300: Congratulations; may you be safe, and know it.

Lynn @ 307: What mpe said. Ignoring a child's pain is indeed abuse, not "just" neglect.

The Absent One @ 318: Thank you for posting, even (especially) when it was difficult. I understand about absence as camouflage; I was so good at it that my parents regularly forgot to pick me up from activities. But Arachne Jericho is right about your parents: they are fucking liars. They are not the arbiters of your worth or value or lovability. Those things are utterly independent of them.

You are not unwanted on Making Light, and you are not worthless here either.

Yes.

#323 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 04:42 PM:

Innominate @320: I was told for years that I caused trouble before I was born. I didn't find out till I was in my late teens that my parents had anticipated the parson and got married five months before I was born.

Yes, that. Wait, hold on, what? So: they were fooling around and you got born and that's your fault? I can just visualize it, little unconceived you holding a gun to their heads and demanding that they "Fornicate Now. I Insist On Being Born, However It May Inconvenience You."

Pretty fancy work for somebody who didn't even exist. Nice going.

My mom (who apparently slept with the devil) used to make a big point out of having given me The Gift Of Life. I don't think I ever said out loud "It's not a gift if you don't want it."

But here we are, and on most days it beats the alternative. And I've managed to do a few things I think improved the world. One of them being getting my tubes tied at the earliest date I could convince a doctor I knew what I was doing. Another: helping a neighbor kid with her homework her first year in school. Smiling at random toddlers in the supermarket.

I'd hazard that the other contributors to this thread have also. Hells, contributing to this thread counts as making the world a better place.

#324 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Anonymous Too #321: Where I've (totally personal, YMMV) held sick people accountable is in acknowledgement and selfrestraint. I wouldn't blame an infant for biting me when nursing and I would take into account the developmental age and frustration level of a 2 year old biter but I would hold accountable my 16 year old (who has never bitten me). If my husband is mentally ill, then I try not to take personally his verbal attacks but I do hold him accountable for not taking his meds - then he is in some way more accountable for actions taken when unmedicated. He's an adult, when he is medicated and relatively healthy he know better, if he chooses to not do that which keeps him from hurting us, then I do see him as responsible.

And I keep taking breathes and try to separate mentally ill from mean and vicious. If I use the man I knew for 20 years as the standard then he is obviously mentally ill. If I use an objective social view he's vicious.

#325 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:01 PM:

Foname #209: I've knitted 4 pairs of socks in 3 weeks; that's how long it usually takes me to make 1 pair (or half a pair).

#326 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:04 PM:

SpawnOfTheDevil @ 322 re: Innominate @320: So: they were fooling around and you got born and that's your fault?

I think that's more likely "we had to get married, and that's your fault". It's like staying together for the sake of the children, only worse... and in this case, blaming the children for the misery.

#327 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:25 PM:

MPE @ 313: Well put, and thank you for articulating that.

#328 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:36 PM:

The Absent One @ 318 - in my view, your parents were wrong.

Some things I personally have found useful:-

Say aloud: "Maybe no one else does love me. But I love me." (It's not necessary to believe it. Just saying it is OK.)

Visualise that suffering, abandoned child and then walk over as the adult you are now and cuddle him/her. Say they'll be OK, that they're loved, that they're safe. (Acting this out physically may help. No one ever needs to see.)

It's OK to cry. It's OK to scream and punch walls, too.

#329 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 05:39 PM:

Rozasharn @ 326 - thank you. It was tough to write, but I'm glad I did.

#330 ::: anonnynonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 06:14 PM:

a nonny nonny for this post at least.

Anonymous Three @#194:

I actually witnessed her lay into her daughter physically, unprovoked (far as I could see) in public. Unfortunately, I didn't have the self-confidence and self-possession* to challenge her on the spot: "What in the name of Creation do you think you're doing!?" One of the deepest regrets I'll take to my grave.

Anonymous Too @#202:

I am still afraid of my own anger.

It angers me that the adage "no good deed goes unpunished" seems to apply most when children are concerned. I have a very strong protective streak. I'm fortunate that it hasn't been tweaked very hard yet. I don't know what I would do if I saw someone smack a kid in a supermarket (other than wondering why a baby goat was in a supermarket... /OBhumor).

I want to think I'd have the presence of mind to at least challenge them verbally, or physically step in and attempt to prevent another smack from occurring, or if I'm quick enough, to keep the first smack from landing. Unfortunately, the 'ol rational mind says grabbing the attacker's wrist before the slap lands makes me guilty of assault. Even being verbally assertive could be viewed poorly - others have mentioned how strongly parents are defended. Depending on how onlookers/authority figures view the situation, that could get me arrested, charged and dragged through courts, etc. This would possibly get me in trouble at work, and could mess with my ability to provide for my own family. I don't know that the risk to my family would be worth it, but not doing anything would claw at me, and those claws are sharp because I sharpened them myself.

My anger scares me, too. What I could do if provoked, well, I hope I never get provoked in just the wrong way. As the provocation necessarily entails threat of or actual harm to my loved ones, I'd have motive. I don't know if I'd be able to establish sufficient alibi, though there are those I consider friends who may be close enough to help on that score. Maybe I'd be able to keep my head and help the victim learn some sort of self-defense. Maybe I'd opt to remove the threat, in the only way I know for sure would be permanent. I don't want to find out.

I don't know that I'll post much in this thread about my issues. I'm out of time for today. I have read it all, though it took a few days. I'm more fortunate than most who have shared here, but as others have said it isn't just what was done or not done, but how one dealt/deals with it. IMHO, emotional pain is highly subjective. While a 1-10 pain chart may help in the ER, it isn't necessarily that useful when talking about life. One may have had an objectively OK time of it, especially compared to some of the horrors described here. That doesn't mean one wasn't affected by what did happen.

Take care all.

#331 ::: The Absent One ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 09:18 PM:

Me:
I am not "precious and loved". I am worthless and unwanted.

Arachne Jericho:
You are not worthless and you are not unwanted.

My head knows that. The rest of me hasn't really caught on yet.

Your parents lied to you. *They* may not have thought you precious and *they* may not have thought you loved, but *you* are not worthless, and *you* are not unwanted.

While I accuse my parents of many offenses, lying to me about that isn't one of them. I believe that they were, in fact, doing the best they could to make me feel loved and wanted. Failing, yes, but not for lack of trying. Unfortunately, for them and me, less than a year before I was born, their first child was killed in an accident. I don't think they'd recovered from that by the time I was born, and were (unconsciously) keeping themselves distant to avoid being hurt again. It undoubtedly didn't help when their second child died of cancer a few years later. I think they wanted to want me, but just didn't have the strength themselves to pull that off.

To be worthless, it means you can't contribute anything to anybody. Your parents totally lied about that. To be unwanted implies that you did something really wrong. Your parents totally lied about that too.

You can be unwanted for reasons completely unrelated to anything you do. If there's not enough food to feed everyone, each extra mouth is going to be resented, however precious the person owning the mouth might be. I think my parents just didn't have the emotional reserves to welcome me into the family. (What I've described isn't the whole story by any means, just enough to suggest the load my parents were already coping with when I came along.)

[Y]ou must remember this: your parents are fucking liars. They do not deserve to have that hold over you.

Your parents I'm willing to call evil. Mine don't rate that. All their sins were ones of omission, of doing only what they were strong enough to do, rather than all I needed them to do. Yes, they had their illusions--some years back, my father wrote that he saw us as a normal family (rather than the train wreck it really was)--but I find it hard to fault them for being human and fallible and weaker than I wish they'd been. (And, yes, it's taken a lot of working through the hurt to reach the point where I can say that.)

As well, I take the attitude that my parents stopped controlling me years ago. Yes, they certainly set things in motion, and my life would be very different had they done things differently, but it's been me keeping the plates in the air since then. It's been me choosing to take the safe path of staying invisible, of telling myself how worthless I am, etc. No, this isn't me beating myself up, only me accepting that I am the one running my life. It's me giving myself power: if it's me screwing myself up, then I can stop screwing myself up, too. The problem is discovering how I'm screwing myself up, learning what to do instead, then putting that into effect.

Just. Be. Angry. In the right direction. Hate your parents. Don't hate yourself.

Anger isn't the tool for me. Nor is hate. Yes, my parents hurt me. Badly. Deeply. But not, I think, deliberately. I grew up angry. It's no fun. I count myself fortunate that I've managed to cry the pain out enough to let the anger subside. Anger gets in the way of happiness, and, frankly, I'd rather be happy.

Moreover, while being angry is indeed motivating, it has a huge drawback: to be angry, you need someone to be angry at, and by making anger a large part of your life, you make that person an equally large part. As long as you're angry at your parents, you're shaping your life around that anger, and, unavoidably, around them. As long as you're angry, you're putting time and energy into being angry, time and energy that might be better spent creating a life all your own.

Much better, I think, is to write them out of your life altogether, to run your life to suit you. Yes, that means not getting back at them for all the nasty things they've done. But aren't there other things you could spend that time on that would improve your life? Do what makes your life good, whatever that may be. If they approve, fine. If not, too bad for them. I think that truly the worst thing you can do to them is to say, "Mom, Dad. You don't just matter to me anymore. i've got a life, and you're not part of it."

Be mad at me if you want to. It's okay.

Why would I be mad at you? You've done nothing to justify it. Besides, it most certainly is not okay for people to be mad at you when you've done nothing to deserve it, nor is it okay for you to accept that treatment.

#332 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 10:40 PM:

SpawnOfTheDevil, #318, probably better out, but hard to know. What if the parents wanted them, but had their home foreclosed? If you can give up a child for any reason, there will be good reasons and bad reasons.

#333 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 10:53 PM:

Arachne Jericho (#292, echoed in #297): am going tl;dr again

On this thread, there is no such thing as tl;dr as far as I'm concerned. I may be a day or two behind sometimes[1], or set aside longer comments to read later/not at work/etc, but that's all.

I agree with Rikibeth's #293 and pericat's #294.

I feel happy regardless. That sounds kinda weird but it's true.

This is very good to hear. May it continue for you.

--, (#297): This is not all of me there is.

All the more reason to hang around ML! We'll soon wander off into bizarre Bonnie Tyler covers or something again soon, I'm sure.

SylvieG (#295): I find that one of the hardest types of emotional abuse to overcome is that which you heap upon yourself.

Yup. For one thing, you're always there to heap it 24/7; you can't take time off to be by yourself without yourself around. For another, if you're thinking it to yourself, there's no opportunity for a friend to say "hey, wait a minute, you're being unfair to yourself".

If it helps any, imagine a friend saying that to you.

xeger (#301): Congratulations! I recently switched jobs and am much happier since, though not because of anything like that kind of dysfunction...more a case of not wanting to be sitting at Stagnation Station[2] for the next few years.

The Absent One (#319): I am not "precious and loved". I am worthless and unwanted. My parents made this clear to me as I was growing up. Being told I am "precious and loved" by someone who has never met me grates as much as "family comes first".

I won't tell you that you're "precious and loved". I will say that you are not worthless and unwanted, because your comments have worth and I want you to feel like you can continue contributing to ML, under whatever name and in whatever thread.

[1] Like now, which is why I'm replying to a bunch of comments that go back to yesterday.

[2] It's just past Conjunction Junction.

#334 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 11:25 PM:

Absent One, #331: No, this isn't me beating myself up, only me accepting that I am the one running my life. It's me giving myself power: if it's me screwing myself up, then I can stop screwing myself up, too.

Yes. That. And recognizing that the problem exists is the first step in the process of doing something about it. You're dealing with what I call the Goddamn Tapes -- your parents' voices in the back of your head, constantly replaying all the triggers for the viruses they installed in your operating system. It is possible to de-virus yourself, but it's not easy.

#335 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Lynn: When I was a child, my Nana* had a book about Warm Fuzzies. It was a little 60s-silly but it had an interesting concept, one that I still remember.

In this land, everybody was given a bag of Warm Fuzzies. They gave them to one another all the time. But one day a sorcerer came and asked them "What happens if you run out?" So they became afraid, and hoarded their Warm Fuzzies.

But people died if they didn't get Warm Fuzzies. So the sorcerer sold Cold Pricklies— they kept you alive, but they didn't make you feel good. And soon there was a cottage industry of people disguising Cold Pricklies as Warm Fuzzies.**

The book ended with hope— a lady who came to the land and gave away her Warm Fuzzies without hoarding. In a rather strange move for a children's book, that's where the story ended.

It says a lot about human interaction that we need contact. Good or bad, we need contact. So emotional absence is something that is very harmful.

*The woman who raised my mother, not my grandmother, who bore her. No legal adoptions involved.

**Boy, ain't that the truth?

#336 ::: FoName ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2008, 11:47 PM:

Xeger @301, congratulations on a new job.

All-
I'd thought by now I could write more in this thread, because there is profound writing here.

But there's a big thing at work, and they need extra hours. That's draining, and then this thread isn't an easy one to read.

Something happened yesterday and today as I thought about this thread, that my connection to, or my emotional response to this thread isn't just my sadness and fatigue this month about my Sib. It isn't just family memories.

Argumentativeness, nitpickiness, those can both be part and parcel of bullies. And a manager at work is doing that. Demanding long meetings that can't come to conclusions. Making too many deadlines that aren't based on real needs, so it is always a crisis time. I mean, if you know two weeks in advance what the team has to find before the deadline, why wait a week and a half before telling them?

Because I'm looking right at my emotions, I'm seeing something this week that I didn't see last week.
I'm not feeling stressed at work because I'm working badly, or not using my skills right. I'm feeling stressed at work because my manager is being stressful.

Not that I can change work, but I feel somewhat better putting a name to it.

Naming something does give you power. When I finally found a match between my parent's behavior and BPD, I could know, deep down, that there isn't anything I can say to them to snap them out of The Mood. Didn't make The Mood less painful, but I gave myself permission to stop trying.

#337 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 06:19 AM:

@ The Absent One #331

Ah. Sorry for the mistakes on my part. You're moving forwards and that's good. And hard.

As you can imagine, I have a very thin tolerance for abuse, meant or not, by parents or anybody, in unfortunate situations or not. After all, technically I was born at a very inconvenient time for my parents. Even if I was unwanted by them, that did not warrant everything that followed, including the more, ah, minor abuse.

I know, to some extent, what drove my father to abuse, and I definitely know what drove my mother to abuse. Plus they were personally too weak or too inconsiderate to hold back. I also know that, for a sick sense of it, they both loved me. In toxic ways. There is a viable argument that, given the prejudices of the time, the poverty, the generational history of abuse, the lack of socialization, and the very probable psychosis or extremely bad bipolar, that my parents simply were trying to do the best they could, but the best they could do is the same result as if they were actually evil.

Personally I and a lot of people still see my parents as malevolent, despite all the excuses that could be made (and have been made to me by others who shall remain unnamed, and anyways I've mostly forgotten their names) for my parents' behavior.

The degree of malevolence is quite different, however.

Anyways, that's just my view of the world, which is admittedly not an unbiased one, and I don't know your situation and shouldn't have made assumptions.


Why would I be mad at you? You've done nothing to justify it. Besides, it most certainly is not okay for people to be mad at you when you've done nothing to deserve it, nor is it okay for you to accept that treatment.

Eh, I don't mind accepting it from sane people when it's not warranted in some situations, plus sometimes it actually is warranted---like if I made egregious errors in assumptions.

People get upset; it happens. Sane people usually apologize later, normally within less than a couple days, if apologizing is necessary on their side.

Insane people don't.

Though acceptance is not quite the right word.

#338 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 06:22 AM:

Lynn @ 317 - I won't say "I do know", because I'm not a telepath. But I spent some years in a place that sounds similar to yours.

Based solely on that, what I can say is: It's a long road. Go easy on yourself if you can.

To everyone who has kindly taken the time to say that my comments here are useful: Thank you very much. It means a lot to me.

#339 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 06:25 AM:

@ B. Durbin #335

That is an awesome story made of truth.

#340 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 08:52 AM:

@335, B. Durbin:

Why, look what I found!

in fact...

This made the grownups very worried. To protect the children from depleting their supplies of Warm Fuzzies they passed a law. The law made it a criminal offense to give out Warm Fuzzies in a reckless manner or without a license. Many children, however, seemed not to care; and in spite of the law they continued to give each other Warm Fuzzies whenever they felt like it and always when asked. Because they were many, many children, almost as many as grown ups, it began to look as if maybe they would have their way.

... it's looking even more relevant today.

#341 ::: a collection of reminisces ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 06:39 PM:

I didn't have a bad family; there was never any doubt that I was loved and wanted, there was certainly no abuse. And yet, the lesson of my teenage years was that if I wanted to be happy I couldn't share anything about my life outside the house with my parents, because they would manage to ruin whatever good things were happening. I'm certain they didn't mean to, but they had a knack for it anyway. As this was Suburban America and if I wanted to go anywhere I had to get them to drive me, I didn't get to have much of a life outside the house until college.

A few years ago I was briefly friends with someone who had had a much worse childhood. They displayed what looked to my untrained eye like symptoms of a serious collection of clinical mental problems, starting with PTSD and stopping just short of schizophrenia, which is why I say that some of what they told me about their childhood may not have been true. But even allowing for that, it was up there with the worst that's been mentioned in this thread.

This person used me for a couple of months as a stand-in for a real psychologist. I broke contact because it became clear that a stand-in would not be enough to help them and being a stand-in was not good for me. But one thing that was very clear was that they were actively holding on to the trauma in their past and the suffering it gave them in the present. And one of the ways I couldn't help was, I didn't know how to teach them to live without it. I hope they found a real shrink who could. I think, though, that learning to live without present suffering for past trauma is maybe the positive sense of "forgiveness" that people are trying to get at when they say it's necessary.

Time, distance, and independence have gotten me past the notion that (for instance) I will immediately lose any significant other I even mention to my parents; I can visit, have civil conversations with them, and not feel trapped; I would say that - with occasional lapses - I'm done suffering for my childhood. But I'm never going to share as much of my life with my parents as I know they would like. I think the right label for what I don't have for my parents is "trust." And it's normal, necessary, not to trust everyone. It's unfortunate that one cannot always trust one's family, but, well.

#342 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2008, 11:52 PM:

albatross @228:
I count at least three meanings for "forgiveness":

  1. atonement, in its original meaning, or reconciliation;
  2. closure;
  3. resignation
#3 is far too often what people mean when they tell others to forgive, and is the toxic one. #1 is the one which too many people think they have to achieve, which prevents healing. But while it is ideal, often #2 is the better choice because it allows you to begin healing (which might sometimes enable #1).

#343 ::: Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:33 AM:

Arachne @ 320: I take your story seriously. What your parents did to you was abuse, not neglect.
& Anonymous Too @ 322: What mpe said. Ignoring a child's pain is indeed abuse, not "just" neglect.

Thank you both. I think I needed to hear that.

B. Durbin @ 335:

I love that Warm Fuzzies story! (And thanks for the link, Pete.)

mpe @ 338:

Based solely on that, what I can say is: It's a long road. Go easy on yourself if you can.

I try. I think I'm getting better at it...it seems to take a lot of practice. But at least one thing I am not hard on myself about is my needing to be better at not being hard on myself! One must draw the line somewhere, heh. Besides, if I did that I might find myself trapped in endless recursiveness. ;)

Warm Fuzzies to everyone here. :)

#344 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 03:43 AM:

a collection of reminisces @ 341

they were actively holding on to the trauma in their past and the suffering it gave them in the present

In my experience, that's a normal part of the processing phase. Attempting to halt or disrupt it only delays completion.

#345 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 06:59 AM:

Lynn @ 343

But at least one thing I am not hard on myself about is my needing to be better at not being hard on myself!

Heh. Yes. It's a good place to start. :-)

#346 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Lynn @343: But at least one thing I am not hard on myself about is my needing to be better at not being hard on myself!

Here's a useful question: "Would I say that to somebody I liked?"

Like most people, I carry a pint-size version of my [critical parent] in my head. She can be pretty mean sometimes. What's worked for me is to acknowledge her presence and instruct her to Be Nice. I insist on it for all the outside people. She doesn't get a pass just because she's in my head. Usually, the tape shuts right up.

An inventory, a census, of the residents of my head reveals (besides mom) a complete set of stairstep kids: a baby, a one-year-old, a two-year-old, and all the way up to an angry, angry adolescent. There are also some adults at various stages. And an inner pirate crew. The kids take care of each other, to the extent of their abilities, and they get great satisfaction from ganging up on mom and yelling "Be Nice."

The pirate crew mostly mutters and sharpens their cutlasses, plotting red revenge.

#347 ::: Nowhere Man ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:14 PM:

I think that my comment from last year is worth stating again:
It isn't about how badly we were treated, it's about how we coped with it. We all have and had different levels of awareness and different thresholds of "pain"*. It is hard for me to reconcile the (comparatively mild) level of abuse I received with my amazing dysfunctional reaction, especially in light of all of you who somehow survived much worse. That isn't the point, and isn't a useful way to think. That way lies madness. That way says our individual problems don't count because we had it easy. No. We hurt. It has caused many of us to adapt in ways that have cause us problems later in life.

Today is the magical day that we get to talk about it, shine some cleansing light into the dark corners, and maybe show our boogymen† for what they really are, and maybe even burn some of the pain away.

We also survive. Not everyone does.

*Our individual pain takes many forms, not all of them recognizable as pain in the classic sense.

†Neither boogeypersons or boogythings had the right ring, consider it a gender-neutral boogy.

#348 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:14 AM:

My mother was a crack addict and she would often taken me along to her crack deals etc etc. and miraculously I was never hurt or even threatened (perhaps my presence was meant to assure that no violence occurred) and my dad coped with this by acting like it never happened, until we were robbed one night by armed men looking for drug money. Luckily, again, no one was harmed there, but that was the wake up call for my father, who got a divorce. My father was obviously granted custody, but for some reason had to give my mother a large monthly alimony, even though she would, and did, spend it on crack. This put my father in a poor financial position, and we lost the house we lived in. Another issue was that this whole episode did not go over well within my dad's company, bad PR no doubt. I still do not know the full details behind this but I know that my dad took a deal to keep his job where he was demoted and he ended up working whatever and wherever the company wanted. So, this began the odyssey where we moved every 6 to 18 months, as he ground his way back up the food chain.

This all began my Kindergarten year, from that year to when I graduated high school, I attended 27 different schools. So, when I should have been making friends, putting down roots, I did none of this. It was very transient and stressful and I never really had any friends until my adulthood. The larger reason behind this is my father would have to work long hours, and frequently go on business trips. There were no options when it came to caring for me. We had no family, he himself could not make any social connections with people whom he trusted enough to leave his son with. So, I had to watch out for myself. On normal days it was always come home straight from school, close the blinds and curtains, don't answer the phone or the door. My father would often get home around 9 to 10pm, this was reasonable enough to me, but little did I understand at the time as I know now, Social Services probably wouldn't like a 9 year old boy making his own dinner by himself, doing his laundry, all these things, with no supervision. When my dad left town for work, it was of course the same rules, but stricter, that would have been a god damn disaster had anyone found out a 9 year old was living alone for up to 2 weeks at a time. I would have emergency contacts and money, but it was made known that it had to be something absolutely life threatening in nature before I could make that move. This naturally scared the shit out of me and I began to fear people whom I should have been friends with, the other kids at school. I laugh now but I would even hide behind the couch, and remember the blinds and curtains are already closed anyhow, when someone from class would ring the bell and see if I could come outside.

Needless to say I had a very isolated childhood. My dad I believe would agree today that this was abuse, as many therapists have told me it was, but at that time he didn't see any other way. The real damage however is now I just don't know how to operate in this world. I mean, I'm very very shy, I am quiet to a degree that people I think find creepy and off-putting. It's not that I don't want to talk to them, it's that I can't, I don't know how to start, and if there were a conversation, what would I say? If the Internet didn't exist, where I can use AIM, where I can do things like this from my home, the environment I'm clearly going to be comfortable in, where I'm not looking anyone in the face, where I'm anonymous, I wouldn't communicate with anyone at all.

I feel like a large part of me is missing, I feel just a giant empty space where my personality should be. I'm a 27 year old man and I"ve never been on a date or had a relationship, how could I? It's all a mystery to me. I have a few friends but I communicate with them online as well, though I can say I'm comfortable around them physically. It's just, this problem seems hardwired within me. I just never learned these skills like a normal person does, it's a strange puzzle to me.

It's affected not just personal relationships but my career too, or lack of it. I consider myself a fairly smart guy, I have a college degree, but I have never had a serious job, I've only worked in low paying hourly type things. If you think a job interview is terrifying for you, think how I see it, it's just, absolutely untenable. I always fuck up big time, stammer, freeze, just blank out. THe only jobs I've had are ones where there WAS no interview, or they were exceedingly desperate or had such low standards. (I was once hired by answering the question "Can you speak English?") ALso, networking is a huge part of getting a good job, and I obviously cannot do that either. So, I am really really stuck.

My formative years were spent in this bubble that consisted of myself, my father, and a WHOLE lot of TV, and Super Mario Bros. and books. It's amazing how one little thing can cause a whole lot of damage, and I don't think I'll ever escape the situations I was put in. In fact, I lost my job last month, so now, I'm back at home, living with my dad, just me and him, again. I don't know how I'll ever get out and have an existence I can call my own.

#349 ::: Miniscule ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:16 PM:

This thread has changed the way I look at my life choices to date. Many thanks to all here for sharing their experiences. I am in the "didn't know if it counted" category, and I see many echoes here of my family's problems, and the reflected results in my adult life.

I have been castigating myself for decades over why it is I can't maintain a relationship for more than a few months (I'm now in my fifties, and guessing I'll remain single for the rest of my life...which really, I would rather not). But autonomy seems so necessary. Because of things others have said here, I realize that the necessity of depending on myself alone started very early, at 6 or 7, when I'd run to my mother for comfort and be pushed away or even slapped to make me stop crying (the un-logic of which always bugged me, even at 7). Then there were the hairbrush and belt thrashings, and the screamed threats to poke my eyes out, with flyswatter handle poised three inches from my eyelids (I'd been giggling after lights-out with my little brother; we were 7 and 8).

My mother does not remember that particular event. I asked.

The 'rents are ancient, toothless and sweet-natured these days, and it does heal my heart some to be able to visit them without rancor. There's love there. Twenty-four hours is still the limit, though, or flashpoints occur.

It's also good that I'm physically stronger than either/both of them now, and independent of them financially forever.

Thank you in particular for this phrase which made me realize that yes, it counts:

"Being determined never to need anything."

Aha. Explains some of those increasingly overt hoarding behaviors that I watch myself engage in with fascinated horror, including caloric hoarding (the whole cupcake thing is really getting out of hand).

And wrt the "fight or flight" phrase that's come up a few times: the most memorable thing my therapist ever said to me was this: "It's not fight or flight. It's fight, flight, or freeze."

I was a champion freezer, and the therapist helped me learn to recognize that. And all the ways the freeze propagated, and practical advice for chipping away the ice: weirded out by roommate's boyfriend? Well, said she, put a lock on your bedroom door, if you can't move.

That simple notion never occurred to me. Mental freeze. Still catch myself doing that in various ways; I expect that'll continue, too.

#350 ::: Miniscule ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:21 PM:

And yes, I got the anonyname from the lovely Making Light "Spelling reference" list, conveniently located just above the "Type your name here" field. It was kind of a hard choice though. It's Its was tempting.

#351 ::: Minuscule ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:23 PM:

gahh. which didn't keep me from misspelling it TWICE.

(under rock now).

#352 ::: Minuscule ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 12:31 AM:

Quick note to the last two commenters before me, Nowhere Man and Chris, if you're reading here: you and I all commented on the year-old thread rather than the new one (if you're wondering about getting no response).

#353 ::: Minuscule ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 12:31 AM:

Quick note to the last two commenters before me, Nowhere Man and Chris, if you're reading here: you and I all commented here on the year-old thread rather than the new one (if you're wondering about getting no response).

#354 ::: Life Is Victory ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:32 PM:

So many brave stories. Thank you.

*********************
Trigger alert, don't read if you are easily triggered and are one of us lucky incest survivor winners (hey, we LIVED and GOT OUT, I'd call that being a lucky winner)
*********************

I know my own times were real, and have gotten validated by therapists, friends, etc over the years. The Clarissa comics are so poignantly real. Was startled to see they are also the work of the guy who did/does "Weapon Brown", a gritty "Charlie Brown grown up in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world" series. I shudder inside thinking of what the author's childhood might have been like.

Things I remember-- spending a week out of town with my Dad at the apartment he had in the city he worked in. I can remember what the door looked like, and I remember walking by some rocks by the seashore and thinking of jumping off them, and I remember hanging out with kids on a dock, trying to catch crabs with a hook and line (futility! but with enough hope to be fun). I was 14. That's all I remember about that.

Waking up on the floor as often as I would wake up in bed from about age 6 to, um, all the way thru highschool. Tho after Dad got a job out of town, that stopped when he wasn't home, from about freshman year high school til I left for college.

The time my 5-yrs younger brother and I argued in the hallway by the woodshed in the barn, and he was holding a pitchfork to my abdomen and threatening to push it in. Bestest irony ever: the argument was "you're Daddy's little girl and special and he doesn't pay enough attention to us!" Oh, you wouldn't like the attention, kiddo.

Further irony. That brother was old enough to come into my room while growing up and play with my usually-you-can't-touch dinosaur models and dioramas. I know he saw/felt something, because to this day he describes me as "hot" and when he hugs me, I can sometimes think he's trying to cop a feel. ***SQUICK*** Wow, I feel queasy typing this, even after years of therapy. Think I'll go up and put a spoiler alert on this one.

Years of letting boyfriends do what they wanted, because I didn't know any better and hey, it's not like I could FEEL anything. Why not let 'em, I'll get a hug and cuddle afterwards. By what lucky stars I avoided STDs, I don't know, but I test clean on everything, even HPV and cold sores (herpes 1), and am SO GRATEFUL.

To this day it amazes me that I got through this all, got away, made something of myself. I still limit my own successes-- could have had a vastly more successful and remunerative career if I'd let myself. Nearing 50 years old, life more or less in some semblance of pleasant order, exploring art, literature, having friends, living from a space of "I want" vs "I should", etc.

Didn't realize I had crud to spew, but feel like I got something out. It's like an odd kind of chelation therapy-- there's always a little more to come out, even if you didn't know it.

Much love and safe hugs to y'all for giving a space to let it happen. Thankee.

#355 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:23 AM:

Closing this thread. If you have a Dysfunctional Families post to make, please seek out the current iteration of the conversation.

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