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September 21, 2009

Dysfunctional Families Day: Inversion Experience
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:00 AM *

When I was twenty, two of my friends took me to Gay Day in San Francisco (I gather it’s now called SF Pride). And I had the perfect inversion experience: suddenly, instead of being in the majority, I was the exception to the general rule of sexual orientation. My attraction to men was something I could express futilely or hide. The women flirting with me didn’t attract me: should I react or not?

It was just for a few hours, and I wasn’t in danger of getting straight-bashed or anything, but it was still an enlightening experience.

One of the most difficult things about trouble at home, both when you’re a kid and ever after, is that it’s invisible. The pressure to hide family dysfunction is enormous, both from those inside the situation and from society at large. And that magnifies the problems a hundredfold. Secrecy is the abuser’s friend. Meanwhile, it isolates you, blocking off any chance of help or solidarity.

So today, here, we’re going to invert it. This is the space to be open about damaging childhoods and screwed up adult relationships. Those of us on speaking terms with our families can quiet down and listen. There’s a lot to learn of love and growth, strength and courage, even among the wreckage that people can make of one another. We did something similar last year, and the word I got back was that it was worthwhile.

Now, we’ve just had one tough but relevant thread, but I’m not minded to move this day because of it. Just remember to go a little gentle on one another, in case someone’s already a little raw.

A note on anonymity: Not everyone is ready to talk about this stuff under their own name, for any number of reasons. Last year, we had a fair few regulars take on various anonymized identities, and I’m quite happy to have that happen again. Remember, if you do so, that our (view all by) function is keyed to email address. Change the email address as well as the username or your (view all by) will pick up your posts. (I’ll patrol the thread and make sure that any mistakes get cleaned up.) If you want to link this year’s identity to last year’s, I’d suggest posting a link to a comment from that thread in this one.

A note on advice: It’s tempting for people outside of the situation to give advice along the lines of, “you should reconcile with them; they’re the only family you’ve got.” To which, after the initial, “thank God,” most folks from dysfunctional families have very few civil answers. So let’s just skip that step, shall we, and presume that people who are estranged from their families have good reasons for so being?

Comments on Dysfunctional Families Day: Inversion Experience:
#1 ::: T ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:44 AM:

I don't know what, if anything, was wrong with my family. I wasn't physically abused, I don't think I was sexually abused[*], I wasn't neglected in any rationally objectional way. And yet...

I've only seen any of them twice in 10+ years. I'm 37 years old. I've been in three relationships which I considered serious.

First was L, when I was 17. She was 19 years older than me, married, and having another affair. She's since divorced and re-married; we still talk sometimes, mostly about how she's still in love with the other guy she was having an affair with.

Next there was C, when I was 24. We met online. She was 14 years older than me and married. I moved halfway across the country to be closer to her. During the 4 years we were 'together', she never made the 5 hour drive to see me. I found out we were breaking up when she told me not to bother driving out to see her the next day for our annual weekend together, because she was flying to Texas to see the man she'd fallen in love with.

Finally there was L, when I was 35. Changing things up some, she was 14 years _younger_ than me, and married. And poly, with at least four other partners. Eventually I figured out she didn't care about me, just my money, and wasn't ever going to be willing to even pretend for more than a few hours at a time.

Other than that, I had a date once, about a year ago. I thought we had a great time and we made plans to see each other again; she stood me up, and then wouldn't/didn't/couldn't my calls.

Aside from L (assuming she counts), I haven't made a friend since I moved here 6 years ago.

I seem to be fundamentally broken. I've been in and out of therapy since I was 15. I don't see how it can get any better. Even if I could magically fix whatever's wrong with my mind and lose 300 pounds instantly, who would want to try to teach me all the relationship stuff I should have learned decades ago and didn't?

[*] I do have one half-memory of an incident with a babysitter with me in the bathroom in a way which felt weird at the time, but that's all.

#2 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:28 AM:

I am on speaking terms with my family, and remember plenty of bright spots in my childhood, but it generally doesn't give me a warm fuzzy glow. My parents did the best they could, but seem to have screwed up very badly along the way. They paid for their errors later in life. (My father died five years ago and missed the worst of it; my mother is bearing the brunt of the payback.)

Some of my sharpest memories are miserable ones: throwing and breaking a plate in a fit of pique when I was three or four, followed by my mother hitting me over and over with my father's leather belt as I scrambled to escape her wrath until I found myself trapped in the corner under a table*; being told, as a sick joke, that I'd been found under a tree and was adopted (all my siblings were born in the 60s, I was born in the late 70s), to the extent that I spent years as a child rifling through my parents' papers to find proof; a shouting match that broke out over dinner between my mother and my older brother that culminated in threats to shoot him, while I sat there thinking "Please don't do this on my birthday, please don't do this on my birthday, please don't do this on my birthday"; that period in my late teens and early twenties when none of my parents and siblings were on speaking terms and I was thrust into the role of peacemaker and go-between because I was the only one they would all talk to.

A year before I left the country for good, I received an emergency call at the office and rushed to a hotel suite to talk my brother into going to the hospital**. We thought he'd had a bout of brief reactive psychosis; it turned out to be a drug-induced psychotic episode, as we found out at the emergency room when he revealed that he'd been addicted to crystal meth for years. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder after that.

To this day there is plenty of enabling and codependency in my family. At 70, my mother is still paying off the debts of my 49-year old lawyer sister and my 40-year-old ex-junkie brother. Of my surviving siblings, two have never been in relationships and the other two have failed marriages. I'm not sure mine is doing all that well.

There are several reasons I'm never having kids; the possibility of fcking them up the way we were fcked up, and dealing with the fallout later in life, is one of them.

* Yes, I'd asked for it, and it was the only time she ever did it, and she confessed years later that it broke her heart to do it. As a child she'd gone through much worse. For their generation, being tied to a table and whipped, and being made to kneel for half an hour on uncooked grains of rice were ordinary forms of punishment.
** A conversation during which I heard how he'd flown over the main boulevard watching the traffic, diagrammed our family tree on a piece of paper for him, and discovered that his son was the second coming of Christ. When the car drew up to the hospital, he looked up and said, very clearly, "Thank you for understanding why I called."

#3 ::: NotRightNowThanks ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:56 AM:

Well, let's see.

No physical or sexual abuse, but a whole lot of emotional. Alcoholism - father until I was six, mother from the time I was sixteen onwards. Hearing the song 'Red, Red Wine' makes me physically ill.

Father was taking care of ill, elderly parents and took off, leaving me to try to explain to other family at subsequent funerals where father was. He's also the reason why I have to mentally go over everything I'm about to say out loud, lest I step on a verbal land mine.

Mother is the nicest, most generous, wisest and most caring person in the world. Until her first glass of wine. Jekyll and Hyde. I love her dearly and don't want her out of my life, so I've learned to navigate *that* minefield, where anything and everything, from an off-hand comment to a poorly-timed smile, might suddenly become the target for vicious verbal retaliation.

Both brother and mother, at various times, have told me that I was the sole reason why they didn't commit suicide. This freaks me out more, I think, than if they'd actually done it.

Family to me has always been a roller coaster. It's had its very good times, but it has never meant comfort or stability.

#4 ::: Anonymous semi-regular; male; random initials: LR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:19 AM:

This is the short version:

My first memories are of pure terror. My father was violently abusive towards my mother, beating and raping her and throwing her down the stairs. I remember hiding under the kitchen table with my siblings just waiting for the next crash. I don't remember being hit by my father - it probably happened - but I do remember being hit by my mother. I remember endless nights staring at the ceiling listening to every sound in their arguments, hypervigilant, trying to pick out the words so I could understand what was going on.

After one episode when I was 4 or 5, late at night, my father had stormed out of the house, and my mother packed suitcases for us and put us in the car and left. Drove several hundred miles to the house of someone she had met only once before. We escaped. That was the most important piece of parenting anyone ever did for me, that's for sure.

People like to mock Women's Liberation. Not. me.

So, leaving; it's not easy to turn someone down for a second date. It's still harder to break up with a casual girlfriend. It's still harder to leave someone you've lived with for a while. That's as far as my experience with leaving goes, but I've found all those things extremely hard to do no matter how good the reasons.

Now, when you add in "someone you're married to", "someone you've had three children with", and "someone who has regularly threatened to kill you" I can only assume that things get significantly harder. The most exceptional capacity of the human brain is the ability to make the most extreme and bizarre circumstances seem ordinary and everyday. It's that adaptability that is the biggest barrier to escape - the normalization of extremely aberrant situations makes it hard to visualize anything ever changing. I've been there in much milder situations myself, so I can only imagine how hard it must have been.

Anyway, I said it was the short version, so, father remarried, two more kids when I was in my teens, second wife left him too, after ten years or so. I had contact with him until about ten years ago, then dropped it. He grabbed me, in an argument - only once - when I was about 22. I didn't fight back, I just stood and cried. I'm not ashamed of that reaction, really. What was I supposed to do, fight back? Not really my thing.

Talking to him didn't help. You can't learn much from the rationalizations of someone who knows all the things they've done wrong but refuses to admit them. I assume at some point I'll talk to him again, but I'm not in a rush.

Aftermath: massive depression, couple of suicidal close calls, lots of weird relationship shit, can't concentrate on anything for more than three minutes, but you know, that's life. I think I got off lightly.

It's weird thinking that half your genetic material comes from someone you have tagged in your mind as "monster". Not History's Greatest Monster, but, sure, monster. Hard not to feel predestined there, especially when you see the ways you resemble him; chewing on bitter anger, lashing out - verbally - at someone who loves you. But you know, predestination lets him off easy. His father was a shitbag too, by all accounts. So what? Every time he hit or pushed or yelled, he had a choice. Maybe not always the clearest choice, given his drug intake and religious delusions, but still, a choice. I've had similar choices, and sometimes I yelled or broke something instead of not. So I know how it is. But it's still a choice.

The choice to take a drug or believe what god just told you is still a choice. You let loose a bull and it gores a bunch of people to death, you don't get to say "What, untying a knot is illegal now?"

Now: I'm married, happily. Very happily. We have a baby due next month. It's a boy. And I think, when his mother and I disagree about something, we will talk about it, and then come to a decision, and sometimes it won't be the decision I favored. And I think, when I get very upset about something, I will go and take a walk around the block, or go out in the car and drive on the freeway for a couple of hours, and then come home. And I don't think anyone will get thrown down the stairs in our house. Seems like progress to me.

#5 ::: Ruby Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:03 AM:

I'll just mention that facebook is a wonderful way to stay nominally on speaking terms with people you're not comfortable seeing or phoning. I'm technically on speaking terms with all but one of my siblings, despite a lot of bad history with a few of them. By posting updates and having comment chat on facebook I manage to avoid actually speaking to some of the ones who make me most uncomfortable, while still acknowledging that we're a family.

Another boundary-defining trick is calling parents at their jobs, or calling from my job, so that the conversation has a natural delimiter because someone will have to get back to work. And calling and leaving a message when I know they're at church buys me time between actual conversations.

If they were still hurting me, I wouldn't make the effort, but everyone is doing pretty well at being good and functional and sober nowadays. But it can still be so triggering to talk to some of them.

#6 ::: OccasionalCommenter ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:44 AM:

You make an excellent point about invisibility, secrecy, pressure. It can lead to a complete lack of awareness that your home life is anything different than anyone else's. I'm not sure most people understand that, leading to conversations like:

"Why didn't you tell anyone?"

"Tell them what?"

Baffling for both sides. And the realization process can be rather earthshattering.

#7 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:51 AM:

Ruby Anon @5: facebook is a wonderful way to stay nominally on speaking terms with people you're not comfortable seeing or phoning

Oh gosh yes. After a particularly bad weekend back in June I actually added my sister on Facebook, specifically so that I wouldn't have to see her in person again.

#8 ::: rp ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:55 AM:

There were times in my 20s when I wished I'd been physically abused, just so there'd be something to show. Or wished I'd had any physical contact at all.

The only physical abuser I know of in my family was my grandmother, who couldn't understand why her daughters-in-law didn't beat their children, and who (after one really bad event early in my oldest sibling's life) was never left alone with us kids again. Except the one time she was, which I don't know anything about because I was 2 at the time and all my older siblings remember is their father paying attention to them for once in their life.

The hardest thing all the way through has been the reality check. I see my siblings a few times a year, and have learned to pretty much say nothing about our supposed shared history because the version they remember is very little like the one I recall. (The same is true outside the family -- all of my father's friends and business associates uniformly reported what a charming, thoughtful person he was.)

OK, the other hardest thing is being in a relationship and having kids. I avoided the thought of kids for 20+ years because I was sure I would abuse them. Even now, under stress, it's kinda frightening sometimes, and that makes things a little fraught. And my spouse -- the idea that two people can disagree, sometimes fairly strenuously, and still love each other: that's a learning experience every time.

Can't imagine adding anyone from my family on facebook or similar sites, at least not until I get that different-kinds-of-friends thing going, so that they'll only see the sanitized stuff...

#9 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:18 AM:

Hmmn, a topic on which I know a little something.

My parents divorced when I was 3. My sister and I were given to my mother, because hey, she's the mother, and my father had a tendency to beat little kids when he was drunk and/or angry.

My mother, unfortunately, couldn't hold a job. When she could no longer afford heat or electricity in the trailer, we were taken away and given back to my father. I was about 5.

My father, meanwhile, was whoring around. He had no place of residence -- he lived with whatever girlfriend would have him. Two kids were not suitable to that lifestyle, so before long he put us in a military academy.

At 7, my mother came to the academy to take us on a 'weekend away visit'. She never took us back. We were introduced to a new father, new dogs, a new home.

That lasted for one week before my father kidnapped us back on the first day of our new school. He then dressed in drag and forced us to hide beneath blankets in the back seat, because the police would be looking for a man with two kids.

That's when the court battles really began. I was 9 years old when the judge asked me which parent I'd rather live with. I shrugged and said that my dad hit me, but I didn't really remember mom.

I was in the courtroom when the judge upbraided both parents for being complete morons and for screwing up their children for life. Then he awarded us to my father.

Things got more stable after that, and my stepmother deserves a lot of credit for pulling me back from the abyss. But yeah, that childhood did some damage. I go into unreasonable rages when I talk to my father. But I stay on good terms with him, by choice, and with some effort. Life's too short to hate your family, no matter the reason.

#10 ::: Annie Mal ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:39 AM:

I was the unwanted last child of a bad, bad marriage. My siblings were all born a year apart and then I was born several years later, so I suspect something about that conception gave me my black sheep status. Was my mother raped by my father? Am I the product of infidelity? No idea. The first is quite likely.

Mainly I was just hated. It sounds so passive but it was everything. I try to explain it this way: as a child, your family defines the components of the world for you. You know the sky is blue because they tell you it's blue. If they tell you it's green, then no matter what you learn later in life you'll still wake up, look sleepily out the window and think "what a lovely green the sky is today!"
So they hated me, and therefore built into the core of me was the notion that I was a thing that should be hated. My siblings were Good Kids, each with a special skill that was heavily praised - art, politics, science. Me... if I tried to accomplish anything it was labelled copycatting or a ploy for attention. If my teachers praised me then it would be privately dismissed as manipulation on my part, or cheating, and usually led to punishment of some sort. I still can't handle praise. Compliments make me physically tense and ill.

My siblings learned that I was fair game, so I was never safe, or comfortable, ever.

Mainly, being hated while they weren't taught me that I was an aberration. Everyone else was good, everyone at school and on TV said that parents always love their children; but I wasn't loved, or even liked. My siblings were loved so it had to be something uniquely wrong about me. That's still the core of everything in me now, and logic can't touch it.

There was some physical abuse - my mother would come into my room in the middle of the night to throw things around my room and grab me and literally grind my face into mess like a bad dog. One night she caught me outside my room sneaking a snack, and I remember curling into the banisters at the top of the stairs while she jumped on me, screaming. She threw me into a nearby sister's room, shouting for her to save me or she'd kill me. They just said "MommMMMM, it's a SCHOOL night" and rolled over. Eventually my mother left and my sister told me to get out, so I crawled slowly along the pitchblack corridors on the squeaky floors back to my room, which was right next to my mother's. Decades later it occurred to me that maybe I should have expected a sister to comfort me after all that, and that's the saddest part of that memory for me - knowing that care and comfort from family were and are so alien to me that it was never so much as a conjecture, much less a possibility. And my sister's reaction, so very "GAWD mom stop EMBARRASSING me" highlighting the very different realities for my siblings and myself.

I first wanted to kill myself at age seven, but was lacking knowledge of effective methodologies. Tried with nightshade berries that I mixed in with freshly picked raspberries on my cereal, but in the end was too afraid of the pain. I remember sitting and crying on a heap of rocks outside the house with the bowl in my hand, thinking of the life ahead of me, being wrong and unwanted everywhere, and unable to bear the thought of living through it.

Ended up living with both parents at different times, and I'm trying not to devolve into "and then THAT time he did THIS" but basically neither of them wanted me or liked me. Came out of it all with a nervous tic and a serious cutting habit and no self-worth whatsoever.

The beginning of Jane Eyre should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what being an abused child is like - that feeling of total watchfulness and total fear, of trying to be as unobtrusive as possible to avoid notice, of being made of nerves. And being accused of being sneaky or plotting as a result of always having to watch for the next attack, always trying to figure out the right answer to an accusing question because the truth doesn't matter as much as what they want to hear.

I haven't spoken to anyone in my family for a decade. I've felt more... human... since I removed them from my life.
The whole "but if they die you'll regret it!" argument was heavily rebutted for me when my father died and I felt nothing but an immense sense of relief that I could never, ever turn a corner and see him there.

#11 ::: NotARegular ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:43 AM:

I have a different take on this. My own childhood was normal and happy, although I had a tendency to introversion and modifying my behavior to fit in and camouflage myself. Literally couldn't grasp the idea of abuse -- the idea of being smacked with a wooden spoon or even a strap was horrifying to me.

However, my girlfriend/wife of 10 years suffered badly from physical and emotional abuse as a child. I feel completely helpless sometimes when she regresses back into those early memories.

Anyway, it wasn't long after we started going out that we had a major fight for reasons that I couldn't quite work out. She smashed up some of my meager possessions (which was deeply shocking to me -- I was always taught to be respectful of property). My rational brain could not link the incident and her response.

I clearly remember thinking to myself that I *knew* I didn't understand what was going on, but that I had a choice: I could either stay and fight through all the stuff I didn't get to try and help her, or just walk away. I chose to stay.

If I'd known just how hard it would be, I might not have. Screaming, being hit, being threatened with knives, abusive calls to my family and friends, random affairs -- trying to cope with all this was incredibly straining and completely outside of my experience.

My relationship with family and my friends has suffered enormously as a consequence. My wife knew that she couldn't conform to "normal" behavior and couldn't bear the thought of being judged by my parents and relatives so she point-blank refused to go with me to visit them.

She also loathed the idea of me trying to explain her problems to other people so I've become a master at excuses and avoidance when explaining her behavior and absences.

It took 6 or 7 years to reach a more stable situation. She's still pretty excitable but much less likely to fly off the handle these days and better at knowing her limits.

We've also started to rebuild contact with my parents but it was after years of virtual radio silence on my part. I found sneaky ways to stay in touch with my parents without triggering her paranoia, but it was hard work and my parents were worried that I was suffering in an abusive relationship myself for a long time.

I don't know -- perhaps I was, but I did and do believe that her actions were always driven by mental self-defense rather than control & malice.

I still worry that she is overly dependent on me (she hates me being away for more than a couple of days) and that I actually hinder her recovery more than I help.

But I love her and ultimately I think I give her a reasonable shot at stabilizing her life. Unfortunately, the only way I'll know if I have done a good enough job is if I fail.

#12 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:24 AM:

Sometimes a person can't help hating their family, for whatever reason, no matter how short life is. In that case, life is too short to stay around; find or make a new family.
Physical--hitting me, clear up into my teens; gouging up my skin because of some supposed abnormality in my complexion; one instance of sexual abuse that was swept under the rug, even though the offender knocked it off after spouse's warning; moving and dragging me along to a region beset with violent storms as well as earthquakes and not teaching me how to deal with these safely; using pot while having a dependent [me] as well as letting guests bring in other drugs [I steered clear, and was the only clean/sober person in that town.]
Emotional--years of finding bogus things wrong with my body, and failing to make doctors and p.e. teachers find some good ones to offset the (real) bad ones; grilling me and making me feel abnormal about body functions; telling me to worship a god they themselves didn't believe in, hypocrisy; each one pretending the other was doing nothing wrong to me even when it was right before their eyes; and the occasional attack on my being "too" interested in things/ideas, and "not enough" in people; blaming me for all school/learning problems for a long time, although I must admit no one else had heard of ADD then either.
And the unending shame of thinking it was all my fault, and then the shame of not having been able to defend myself better, after hearing of kids who hit back, ran away or otherwise secured respect. [The only reason I didn't run away was I had a lot of books, journals and posessions I could not bear to leave.]
Over the next 35 years, a lot of this has been apologized for by them when I confronted them, and things are much better, as they were smart enough to listen, eventually. But one parent still seems to think my only way to success in the world is to starve msyelf thin instead of fight for the rights of people of all sizes, and the other just stands there and nods. I am just coming to terms with the world's worst case of body-hatred. The other parent keeps trying to lump me in with the autistics, although getting a bit better--maybe--at shutting up. Add in some (now) real disabilities, and a messed-up educational and career trajectory, and no other friends (who have any power, that is.) (Other relatives, the few that there are, don't care about me much.)
Now my parents, who have as I said mostly wised up, seem to be my closest and perhaps sole allies in the struggle to get back on my feet. I have not been ever broken all ties with them, and currently glad of it. But I would not presume to say whether anyone else should or should not do so.
I would say get professional help on this if you can--if it causes you any problems now--but don't just settle for the kind of "help" that tells you to just get over it, or sits there and parrots back to you how much your life sucks and adds nothing that can help, or thinks this or that drug will fix all. Don't listen to anyone who tells you you have to reconcile--or to anyone who says you never can; either of them could be wrong.
But I know folks here aren't asking for advice so I'm done with that. I must say that my parents did some singularly good things for me as well--letting me help switch the generators in the settlement's powerhouse; letting me help cast jewelry; subscribing to Musical Heritage Society and letting me get hold of a Dover Publications catalog; lifelines while we were so far from civilization. All right, the last two were inadvertent, but still, like I said, they have wised up over the decades since. And in this I am fortunate, and will not presume to say what another should do, or at least I will try not to...

#13 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:29 AM:

--'Scuse me, but am I supposed to hit enter twice to make my paragraphs/spacing look like everyone else's, or what?

#14 ::: Lurker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:33 AM:

I have to say that my family was lovingly dysfunctional. It was clear that our parents loved and cared for us, but our mother was subject to occasional bouts of what, at this stage of life, it is clear was major league depression. Our father believed in "tough love" years before the term gained coinage.

I have one sharp and clear memory of our mother making us all dress up because she was so angry at our father that she was going to take all the children and herself and jump in the river.

I have another memory of my father on one occasion losing his temper at her when she had a breakdown and starting to hit her; then stopping when I threatened to kill him, and made clear that I would follow through on the threat. I was all of 15 at the time, and completely scared myself. I followed that by locking my parents and siblings up till they all calmed down. Everybody was shouting and screaming, and nobody seemed to notice me going from door to door turning the locks and taking away the keys. The next day our father took me aside and told me that our mother had strange turns from time to time.

#15 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:51 AM:

Angiportus, pretty much yeah. I've had posts that I previewed, changed, previewed, changed, posted because things still didn't work.

I'm not being anonymous for this. One of the things my sister and I agree on is that our parents didn't do a great job of information management-- I was in high school when I found out about my father's first marriage, and it's a very good thing Mom told me when she did (part of a conversation about another thing Dad never told me but told his [lower-class/not-my-kind*] students that got back to me via art class; she realized that I was really hurt by the omission and should probably fill me in on the next big thing) because not two months later, a friend said, "Oh, yeah, he tells us all sorts of things, like the first marriage..." and that would have sucked.

*not-my-kind is pretty close to what I mean. Me, smart shy weird sheltered white teacherkid upper/middle-class teacher's-pet. Them, Other. I can't figure out a way to describe it that doesn't make fourteen-year-old me seem really, really racist and classist, which probably means that yeah, that was fourteen-year-old me. But even ten years later, if I met those people again, I'd probably still think them Other. I'd just be less freaked out by it.

Anyway, point being. I can understand why my parents never told us things. We never had a pressing need to know, and it's not like it comes up in conversation. The problems happen when it is necessary to explain what's been going on and why we were not informed of the continuing situation.

Which is all preface to the fact that freshman yera of college, Mom said that she hadn't told me, I didn't need to know, I wasn't living at home any more so I didn't need to be interviewed, but my sister had called DCFS to report that Mom was abusing her. Rather, she told friends, who then called, and later, she called herself.

Mom blames A Child Called It and hates the book.

My sister was checked out-- my parents insisted, in part so she would understand. She went to therapy. She'd had some problems before. She called once when I was home, and that was one of the weirder family-related things that's ever happened.

We don't talk about it now. We ignore it. It never happened.

The therapist said she wasn't lying. Dad's response was, "So one of them's crazy," with a laughing look at me.

What I hate is that I doubt. I don't know. If my sister was telling the truth, I am a horrible sister, part of the abusive family because of my version of reality. Was my Good Kid status more than academically? Was my enduring own-little-world inability to notice things self-defense? I developed a really strong startle reflex in high school, and multiple people have said it's a sign of past abuse. Am I not remembering, have I erased, something horrible from my past?

It's so much easier to pretend it never happened.

#16 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:06 PM:

I don't feel like telling my story today (although I have shared it with friends and family in the past.)

I just wanted to thank Abi for encouraging people to talk about dysfunctional stuff. If there was less secrecy, there would be less abuse. Or so I hope.

#17 ::: Regular but usually lurking ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Thank you for posting this thread, and thanks to all for responding. It *is* about knowing that you're not the only one who went through this.

All I have to add is, anyone who tells you that you should stay in tough with alcoholic, abusive family members because you'll regret it once they're dead, is not from an abusive family.

My mother died fifteen years ago. The only thing I felt then, and the only thing I've felt about her since then, whenever I remember that she is permanently out of my life, is along the lines of "ding dong the witch is dead."

#18 ::: treekid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:15 PM:

Making sure that when you go to the pantry or the refrigerator to take something out to eat, you don't take enough for anybody to notice, and you put the jar or the box back exactly where it was.

Always knowing where everybody else is in the house at all time.

Not being able to enter a room without finding and listing all the escape routes.

Having an automatic mental checklist that includes "nearest thing that can be used as defense/weapon."

Starting to strongly consider suicide around age six or seven.

Hating "family portrait sessions" because somebody was going to stand there touching you or maybe with their arm around you, and you would not be allowed to escape -- and you would have to try to smile, or you'd get punished later.

Being in trouble at school and having to stay after could be better than having to go home.

Not being able to answer the teacher who was genuinely nice and who asked careful questions about what might be going on and what you needed. Not knowing what you needed. Not being able to imagine how to find out what you needed.

Being determined never to need anything.

Listening to people praise your parents.

Finding out as an adult which older relatives had abused which of your parents. This kind of discovery usually happened at or after funerals, in conversations in corners. Wondering how far back these chains extended.

Not forgiving them, because they knew what it was like and they did it anyway.

Having what looks like a good life, and still wanting to die a lot of the time.

Counting every day you don't die as a victory. But it still never feels like one.

Not knowing what to say when people give you strange looks when you don't join in with Mothers' Day platitudes, or when you look blank when they talk about how precious family is.

Knowing despite all this that you're a lot better off than if you had stayed.

#19 ::: Anonimonous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:32 PM:

So let’s just skip that step, shall we, and presume that people who are estranged from their families have good reasons for so being?

First, I want to thank you for saying that.

It's hard to say what is and isn't an "ordinary" lousy childhood. Not "too much" physical abuse? "Only occasional" sexual abuse? So many of us suffered so many of the same things, so consistently, I get to wondering if happy childhoods aren't the anomaly; if abuse isn't the norm.

I endured the semi-regular beatings, the very occasional fondlings, and what in retrospect seems like unending emotional abuse. My grandmother was a dreadful emotional abuser/pyschological manipulator; my mother, I think, got the worst of it - and became, of course, an abuser herself. Her whole life was built on varying degrees of resentment and anger, and I got the brunt of it (My brother, SFAIK, escaped because he was male, and younger). Among other things, she told me, in so many words, that getting pregnant with me ruined her life; that *I* ruined her life. My father was the spoiled baby of his family, which meant he was fine as long as things went his way, and went off the rails when they didn't. Dad's thing was verbal abuse; Mom was multi-talented and went in for verbal abuse as well as beating and face slapping. My (fortunately?) vague memories of sexual abuse include them both. Both were fond of telling me I was stupid, did things wrong, and would never amount to anything.

I seem perfectly normal and well-adjusted, but have no apparent ability to make intimate relationships work for very long. (I've pretty much given up on the whole idea and am a confirmed singleton now.) It's not so much a matter of trust as it is a matter of relinquishing autonomy. When push comes to shove, I just can't open up deeply enough, just can't let anyone into my soul. (Or maybe that *is* the trust factor!) And I have definite authority issues: I have to fight a reflexive dislike of bosses and managers.

And, yes, I have no relationship anymore with my parents. In the mid-90s, after years of no contact, my father lost his mind and I was saddled with being his Guardian for a couple years. Lots of resentment, and guilt for the resentment - and finally relief when I realized I just was not able to continue being his guardian (I live on the West Coast; Dad in Florida) and handed him over to professional guardianship. He died in 2000, and I didn't even know that until this year, when my brother told me (they found his name in Dad's papers or something): I felt absolutely nothing at all.

My mother and I stopped speaking in 1997 after a final fight. Her sister, my aunt (whom I adore), tried for years to get me to end the estrangement. Unfortunately, I didn't have the heart to tell her our whole history, nor even the major betrayals Mom committed against *her*, so she couldn't understand why I was so resistant... until 2 years ago, when she stopped asking me to "forgive-and-forget," and I wonder if Mom finally did or said something to give her a clue.

I'm entering a new phase in life, after a lifetime's indfference or hostilty to spirituality, trying to find a spiritual center or home, preferably in my native Judaism. This is the High Holy Days time of year, and the secular Jewish service I attended talked about forgiveness of others as a necessary step in self-forgiveness (the whole process of cleansing-atonement-renewal that's part of the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur cycle). And I thought about forgiving Mom. But I realized I wouldn't be doing so because I actually did forgive her - I don't think I can, and as long as she keeps denying everything, I don't think I should have to - but only because I wanted to "do a mitzvah." Also, and more importantly, Mom's still what she was, only more depressed and ingrown; so I'd - again! - never know when the snake would strike. So I've decided no, I'm not getting back into contact with her - and I feel fine with that.

And that's why I thank you for the statement of understanding why some of us don't, won't, and can't, end estrangements.

This feels a bit strange. I don't think I've ever set it all down before, in writing. It looks worse than I thought, laid out so baldly.

#20 ::: NamesChangedToProtectTheInnocent ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:36 PM:

Sparking off of NotARegular, I'm always amazed at the extent to which peoples' childhoods are a closed book even to those close to them, and the way that their effects crop up in the strangest places.

I also had a loving, happy childhood, and my partner did not always. In this case C's parents didn't do anything that would rise to a court's definition of abuse (or anything that could hold a candle to some of the stories in this thread.) But they did something that made C not trust them any further than she absolutely had to. C even freaked out at the idea of spending any amount of time with my parents initially, despite the fact that C charmed them from the very moment they set eyes on C.

And the strangest thing from my perspective is that even after years of living together, I may just have to accept that I'll never know the details, because that's what C needs, because C just isn't comfortable in talking about them.

Tragedies, greater or smaller, surround us even when we don't know they're there. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who are able to live their own lives despite them, even as I may wish for a perfect world in which they could more easily share their tragedies with those of us not as burdened, and so lighten their own loads to bear.

#21 ::: Annie Mal ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:38 PM:

treekid @18: Yes. Exactly. Thank you.
Also, knowing where in any room you can hide and knowing which hiding spots are safest and which allow you an avenue of escape if found.

#22 ::: Still Puzzling It Out ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 12:53 PM:

Argh. Facebook. I started an account because it's, you know, all the rage.

Now I've got people coming out of the woodwork who I thought I'd successfully evaded years ago. How do you turn a Facebook account off?

#23 ::: Not me, nope ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:05 PM:

The pressure to hide family dysfunction is enormous...

Heh. I remember having a friend over one afternoon when I was in grade school. We were in the kitchen talking with my mother. Don't remember what prompted it but I remember saying, "My dad drinks a lot."

My mother immediately shushed me and said, "We don't talk about that."

I was puzzled at the time, as I'd actually made the comment with admiration. (???)

It was only years and years later that I understood.

I was brought up without effective guidance. I treated my pets horribly, but the only time my mother would ever intervene was if she thought the nieghbors could hear.

It was never about the effect of my behavior on the victim. It was always about "What would the neighbors think?" Oh, the things I have to live with. It was years before I could bring myself to have pets again. Before I could trust my own inclination to kindness.

I finally contacted her years later, a year or two before she died. ("Ding dong, the witch is dead!") I asked her, point blank, how she felt about my having gone away and left no forwarding address.

"Well, it was embarrassing," she said, "when people ask about you and I have to tell them I don't know."


#24 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:14 PM:

Angiportus @ #13: yes, you have to hit enter twice.

Still Puzzling it out @ #22:
Settings > Account Settings > Deactivate Account.

I still find Facebook useful for keeping in touch, but I use the privacy settings to minimize unwanted contact. My name doesn't appear in search results, I cannot be added as a friend, people can't view my friends list, and when I'm tagged in photos they automatically become visible only to me (until I untag myself). I still allow people to send me a message, but that feature can be turned off too.

#25 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:20 PM:

Temporary - and if it isn't temporary, pull it - derail to the first paragraph.

I know that feeling of inversion. I took my motorcycle up the Alaska Highway one year, and stopped in Whitehorse, YT for the night. I unpacked and decided to walk downtown for dinner. It was about five minutes of feeling really weird - not uncomfortable, just weird - until I realized that everyone else out there was Native. I was the only white guy on the streets. And it was still weird. Embarrassingly, now a bit uncomfortable for five minutes or so, until I came to terms with it. So yeah, "that privilege".

(and the next day I was talking to people outside church when I heard the boom that is caused by a Volkswagen Bug full of fuel explodes after having been dropped 1000' from a helicopter. Yep, it's the start of the Airshow).

Somewhat on-topic, "what do you mean not everybody's family is like this?".. That. Hard to talk about it (over and above all the other reasons) when one doesn't know that what's going on is noteworthy. Hard to understand when your friends/fiancee describes, when your family isn't. Easier when you have a school "family", though (see other thread).

I wish all involved at least as good fortune living with this as I have had with my demons, and appreciate the courage required to talk about it, even anonymously.

#26 ::: Not me, nope ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:23 PM:

Annie Mal @10: Your story fills me with a deep, grieving sadness. I hope someday you can learn to hear a compliment and be made light by it.

"But if they die you'll regret it!"

Heh. My mother passed away in 1991, and every once in a while the thought occurs to me. "...and she's still dead!"

The only thing I regret is not being able to work on her until she got what she did to me.

#27 ::: Pro ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:39 PM:

What's hard for me is knowing if it "counts." If the occasional rage wherein my father would knock my sister's and my heads together "counts" as physical abuse. If my parents willfully ignoring my sister's diagnosed clinical depression for seven years "counts" as abuse. If the time my father jumped on me on the hotel bed because I wouldn't stop crying (I was six) and my mother continued to read her novel in the other bed was "enough" to "count." Does it count if it's rare, if it's just threatened, if it's "just" a sense that anything could happen?

Here's what I know. I am not estranged from my parents, not really, but I put plenty of space between us. We talk every few weeks about our dogs or my sister's kids, but never anything meaningful, never anything close to my heart unless I can't avoid it, and only then if it's a fait accompli.

I don't really understand family. My partner is very, very close with her family, and at some fundamental level it doesn't make sense to me, despite having created a close and wonderful family of choice.

#28 ::: For their sake I am not myself ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:45 PM:

For what it is worth I love my family. The eldest of my sisters I do not like much.

I was the dutiful one. She was the beloved one. I stayed home to work at the family business. I paid my own way through school. She had her boyfriend. He was a comfortably well off engineer. She would come home every three weeks, or so. Announce she was going to be home for a while and then "borrow" a hundred dollars or so, from the folks. The next day she would be gone.

When she moved 400 miles away, I found out because a friend of a friend had told him. The day before I'd been told, "She's going to 'x' this weekend." Not, "moving to 'x'", but "going.

10 years ago she was given custody of my "little" sister, so she could be taken to England when her husband was stationed there. The result was predictable. She had wanted custody of my sister since she was born. Once she had it she wasn't going to give it up. I've not seen that sister since.

She got in touch with me a few years ago, when her twins were born, asking for photos of herself a child. When I tried to catch up on events she asked, "what makes you think I want anything to do with you?"

Why? Because she was told I had taken advantage of getting her e-mail address to tell my father where my sister lived (the little sister is a half-sibling).

I was told this is why I wasn't given her contact info after that. Then I was bitched out for not having stayed in touch. I could smell my eldest sister's logic all over the thing.

I think that is enough for this year

#29 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:50 PM:

[using a pseudonym for this thread]

After a year of therapy for generalized and situational anxiety, I'm pretty sure now that I don't actually have to recount all the tedious details of how my wife drives me crazy to convey what's going on. I can just point at the section of the DSM-IV describing the Borderline Personality Disorder and say, "Not as severe as some cases, but definitely disordered. It's a real problem."

I'm keeping a journal. We have a son who will be four years old in a few months. Her borderline traits have grown more noticeable since our son was born. Like most borderlines, she refuses to consider the possibility that there's anything wrong with her, and even the most gentle suggestions that she might be able to stop making herself so unhappy if she were to talk to a professional about, tend to be received as a vicious personal attack.

It's very difficult raising a child with a parent in the house who exhibits a lot of borderline personality traits. It's extremely psychologically taxing, and there is a constant threat that some unpredictable event sequence, starting with something entirely innocuous, will eventually play out with an ending that involves a call to the emergency services, followed by the filing of very serious paperwork in a court of law. My whole life these days seems consumed with doing whatever it takes to not be one of those fathers whose kids hate him because he never defended them from their borderline mother, while at the same time, trying desperately not to let any particular situation escalate into a full-blown episode.

It's a very tough balancing act. Not at all fun. Do not recommend.

#30 ::: Neon Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:52 PM:

Diatryma @#15: Am I not remembering, have I erased, something horrible from my past?

I recall being spanked precisely once. I never had to live in my own house as if it were a war zone. My mother had a hard time dealing with raising a Martian, but she was never malicious; she hurt me, mostly, out of simply not comprehending me.

And yet...I startle very easily. I always check the exits, and do my best to sit where I can watch them. I sneak food out of my own kitchen, even food that my boyfriend doesn't eat and thus would never notice the lack of. I have a shortsword under my bed. My boyfriend, who is a bona fide abuse survivor, calls this "not acting like a civilian", and says it's how he tells others of the Usual Suspects.

What am I not remembering, then? Am I just a drama queen? Is there something from my childhood I've blocked, or am I getting hangovers from a past life or something? I never feel right getting into conversations between people who were abused, because as far as I know I wasn't. But there are these things, and I don't know where they come from.

#31 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 01:58 PM:

T@1: who would want to try to teach me all the relationship stuff I should have learned decades ago and didn't?

I hate to step on a thread about sharing with an answer that smacks of but i can fix that, because I can't and I don't mean to try. But I can tell you where you can find a whole bunch of other guys who, for one reason or another, missed out on learning "all the relationship stuff" the first time around, and are trying to figure it out later in life. It helped me; I've seen it help others; your road is your own, of course. I can give a recommendation for this guy and these guys, if it helps. I think both sites have open Confessions forums in a similar spirit to this thread.

#32 ::: For their sake I am not myself ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Life's too short to hate your family, no matter the reason.

I am sure you meant that well but that is bullshit.

Life may be better if you don't hate people but family are not special. If you are going to hate anyone family may have the best claim on being worth the candle.

#33 ::: Grace ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Compared to most of you, what my parents did to me is nothing. My parents live in a negative, controlling rut, which will never change without a miracle. There was never much that was obviously wrong...unless you lived with it. What Annie Mal said about the family's climate being subtle but overwhelming is dead on. I was wanted until sometime not long after I was born, but not after that. It isn't just my intuition saying so, either -- my sister told me that early in my babyhood my mom just decided that it was never going to work. No matter how good I was I would never ever be good enough. Add to that my mother's immensely negative and anxious outlook, her constant misery at what her life turned out like, how she would deliberately bait me into getting mad at her...the water for this little fishie was rejection and unhappiness.

The longer I live away from my mother, the better it mostly gets, and the more sympathy I can feel for her. And she deserves some, because if they held a tournament for unhappiest person in the world, she'd probably be in the top ten.

What is still hard is to deal with normal people, such as my future mother-in-law. She just will not/cannot deal with what my mother is really like, what my mother did to me, and how I feel about it. Since I've been gently explaining about this for a few years now, I'm concluding that the FMIL's optimism is willfully impenetrable. I can't discuss family around her without either censoring it, or her applying the happy-shiny-rainbows filter. Between the FMIL's reaction and not wanting to explain the kind and extent of mess, I mostly try not to tell people about it unless I expect to know them quite well -- it's a lot of work and will probably just upset them.

So you can see what a relief it is to be around my family-of-choice, where my case is normal, and I can talk about my family without having to pretend that my mother is Just Fine, Really. I wish more people were able to just accept that my blood family lansdcape has some scars in it. Putting doilies and knick-knacks on them doesn't make them go away -- it just makes them ridiculous.

#34 ::: rp ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:20 PM:

For their sake I am not myself #32

One thing to remember, though, is that hate is still a kind of involvement. If one can get to the point where one just doesn't particularly care, it can be less toxic. (I realized at some point, "these people's interests aren't similar to mine, their ways of thinking about things aren't similar to mine, their opinions on the few things we have in common are in unpleasant conflict with mine, so why should I go out of my way to be with them or worry about what they think?")

#35 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:28 PM:

No physical abuse but a lot of weird emotional stuff. I learned to read and then lived in my books and a few other hobbies. Three stories, examples of the dysfunction I experienced growing up:

(1) I remember being a small child, maybe 3 or 4, I don't remember if my brother and sister were home. My father had finished lunch and had gone downstairs to the basement (his hiding place). I don't remember what provoked my mother but she began screaming about leaving and how we'd be sorry if she left, that if she left we'd have to learn to do things for ourselves. The rant went on for a while. I remember crying myself, hysterically, telling her I'd be good, begging her to stay, climbing back into the crib where I (still) slept in my parents' room. Considering that my father spent most of his free time in the basement either alone or working on building things or his hobbies he was not a great presence in my in my life.

2) I'm in my 20s and visiting my parents for lunch on a Saturday. I'm telling them some story -- what it is doesn't matter -- but I start to stutter and I notice my father is turning his upper body away from me and is facing the wall and not me. I realize that he has always done this or something similar.

3) I'm in my mid-50s and visiting my mother in the assisted living facility. She's been talking to a neighbor and speaking in Italian and Spanish to some other ladies. The woman asks me if I learned Italian or Spanish from my mother and before I can answer my mother says "No, we had trouble enough teaching her English." I want to scream... I stutter, you had no trouble teaching me English, I learned English quite well, thank you. I had trouble talking, that is not the same as trouble learning English."

#36 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:30 PM:

I'm on the odd side of this thread.

I think I can fairly say that my childhood was at least somewhat abusive. I can remember being choked, beaten badly with a knotted rope (I had scars from that into my 30's), hit hard enough in the head to knock me down, and beaten until I couldn't stand a few times.

And I'm still on good terms with my family. (As in, I enjoy seeing them, look forward to family get-togethers, etc.)

I'm lucky, lots of ways.

#37 ::: Not me, nope ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:47 PM:

treekid @18: Not being able to answer the teacher who was genuinely nice and who asked careful questions

Wow. This line caused me to flash on a dream I haven't thought about in years. I think I had this when I was in maybe third or fourth grade.

I'm being led through cold, stone corridors lit by torches in sconces along the wall. I'm wearing a simple shift of thin white fabric, floor length but sleeveless. I'm barefoot and it's cold. My feet are cold. I'm cold. I can't remember if I have chains on my wrists or not.

I'm finally brought to a wooden door, led inside, and made to sit on a chair in front of a big desk. The man, an administrator of some sort, starts asking me questions. But I am unable to answer. Too afraid. Finally, he stops questioning me, and I am taken away, back to my cell or wherever I've come from.

It's only later that I realize that his questions were quiet, and he was watching me closely and carefully, but in a gentle way. I think he meant me no ill. If I had been able to answer him, he might have been able to help me.

#38 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 02:52 PM:

I don't want to go into the exhaustive details of what I went through just now; instead, I would like to list the effects of childhood sexual abuse and growing up with an alcoholic who only complimented me when I mixed her drinks or helped her look good and simply refused to make any hard decisions ever. Not to mention older siblings who had taken to heart the lesson that love is finite and must be competed for by any means.

*Working through the basic trust vs. basic mistrust mindset dichotomy for the second time AS AN ADULT absolutely SUCKS.

*Recovering repressed memories is nauseating, hideous, and painful. (No, a therapist didn't lead me through it; when I entered a relationship in which I felt safe and protected for the first time in my entire life, everything came roaring back.)

*Dissociation is damned inconvenient and embarrassing.

*When your surviving parent forgets to have your teeth checked or teach you basic hygiene, you become something of an outcast. To say the least.

*The flip side of flat affect as a protective mechanism is what happens when you get too tired or rattled to maintain it: emotions come roaring out, but you can't identify them, much less control them. This tends to put people off. To say the least.

*Teach children under your care basic social interactions. Teach them, teach them, teach them. Model everything and gently guide them. Telling a kid, "You need to get along with other people" is like telling a clumsy person, "You need to be more graceful." HOW? Children who grow up alternately ignored and terrorized need remedial work in this kind of thing!

*I grew up in an environment where loss was always just around the corner and nobody ever gave two shits about what the kid thought about it all. Sad because your only friend moved away? Get over it; you're little, you don't have any problems. It doesn't matter whether you feel least in danger in your room; if you don't clean it as I like, I will drag everything out and put it in the trash, and our parent will just sigh and click her teeth. This kind of treatment produces adults who hang on to everything familiar even when there are better alternatives all around. I stayed with a lousy, underpaid, soul-destroying job for years because I was convinced that I would get nothing better; when I finally got up the courage to quit, I was hired within a week for nearly double the pay.

Outwardly, BTW, I was the weird, unkempt youngest child of a well-paid government employee whose alcoholism was an open secret. The closest to help I ever got from adults was being categorized by a therapist as "borderline antisocial" (because I could not magically get along with other kids, not having the faintest idea how the hell to start) and being told by a nice older lady, "Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone." Because my parent said something dismissive and insulting to me in public and I reacted to it by being visibly hurt.

#39 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:00 PM:

Grace: I don't think it matters much what the other people in the thread had. My childhood was pretty good. I got a couple of beatings; they were a combination of "tough love" and what he had been used to as a child.

It was a belt, and it hurt like blazes. I don't think it did me any lasting harm. I also don't think it did me any good.

But my mother has some things she did/does which are not healthy for kids. That she loves us/them (she has four grandchildren) and is doing her best isn't really relevant. She is, in some ways, emotionally stunting. Have I gotten past that? I don't know.

How much of my problems are from my childhood, and how much from my adulthood? What of my adult-related issues stem from childhood issues?

Add the trials of being a combat vet, and the vagaries of dealing with those issues (my temper is both more restrained and shorter than it was before I went to Iraq), and I can't tell you.

My parents (all five of them) did their best. In most ways that best was pretty good. In some ways it sucked. When it sucked it sucked worse (for me) than anything else in the world. Being rejected, or made to feel unloved (or unlovable) are horrid.

We can't compare each to each, for each of us, is an island.

#40 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:10 PM:

SamChevre @ #36: And I'm still on good terms with my family. (As in, I enjoy seeing them, look forward to family get-togethers, etc.)

Same here. Aside from the eldest sibling, whom I make no effort to contact although we are on speaking terms, I really look forward to seeing them, and we have regular online chats.

Living in another country, and not dealing with the dysfunction on a regular basis, has a lot to do with it.

All in all, I count myself lucky. Although I went through a bout of major depression in my early twenties, I was the one who came out with the least damage (or at least, healed relatively well.)

#41 ::: For their sake I am not myself ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:13 PM:

RP: I think telling people what, or how, they should, or should not, feel, or lecturing them about how they are, or are not, involved with their families, and the memories and aftermath of same isn't really the thing to be doig in this conversation.

The OP mentions this//A note on advice: It’s tempting for people outside of the situation to give advice along the lines of, “you should reconcile with them; they’re the only family you’ve got.” To which, after the initial, “thank God,” most folks from dysfunctional families have very few civil answers. So let’s just skip that step, shall we,

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:20 PM:

rp @34:

While I'm delighted that you've found a way of dealing with your own past that you find less toxic than hating your family, that's not what's going to work with everyone. For their sake @41 is right. It's really not advisable to try to tell people what path they should take, or where they should be on it.

Anger and hate, while destructive in the long run, can be very useful tools for one stage in leaving a bad situation. They allow one to separate one's self from the wrongdoer, and help one to move from feeling guilty for "letting it happen" to blaming the people who "made it happen".

How it works, how long it takes, varies hugely from person to person and past to past. Despite the temptation to show people the way that's worked for you, I think it might be best to let the matter be.

#43 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Neon Fox @30: My mother had a hard time dealing with raising a Martian, but she was never malicious; she hurt me, mostly, out of simply not comprehending me.

It can be understandable, and maybe even forgivable, and still leave scars. That was a hard thing for me to learn.

For me it's that nothing I did was right, or enough, or living up to my potential. Not in a "do better or else" way, just "we're disappointed in you." Couple that with moving every few years so that I didn't learn how to form social bonds, and preferring the company of books to other kids in general, and, yeah. Most of what I know of how to interact in close relationships revolves around doing as much as I can to deserve trust and affection, and alternating between not being "needy" with desperation.

My parents had no idea how to raise me. They did what they could, and what they knew how to do. Sometimes I can manage to not blame them for it.

(Raising a military brat, though, should be grounds for a child abuse prosecution.)

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:42 PM:

abi #42: This is true. Every family is going to be different. Every family is going to have its own particular problems. I, for one, leapt at the opportunity to spend some time with my father at the end of his life. Opportunities I would not have had if my youngest brother had not felt that it would be terribly unfair to both my father and myself if we didn't have an chance for some kind of closure before he died. Someone else, whose father took the same delight in pooh-poohing every achievement as unimportant, or even wrong, and who had flat out told them that they never would receive a word of praise in their life, might have made a different kind of decision.

#45 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 03:46 PM:

It's worth remembering that a person can forgive someone, and still choose to never interact with that person again. And that can be a good, wise decision.

#46 ::: Annie Mal ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:03 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens @45: Yes.
While I never want to see my mother again, I have nothing but pity for her. She's had a terrible, sad, soul-destroying life, with brutes and bullies and trouble from start to finish. I recognize that a lot of her hate for me is based on needing a safe target for the anger and frustration she's had to repress her whole life. I never want to be in the same room as her ever again, but I don't need to hate her.

#47 ::: LR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:12 PM:

"This kind of treatment produces adults who hang on to everything familiar even when there are better alternatives all around."

Oh yes. I think this is the source of the anxiety that many hoarders feel. I had to consciously get good at throwing things in the trash after recognizing the inability to do so as a problem.

On the hate thing, I think there is the usual problem here which is that people tend to phrase personal descriptive accounts as normative statements. "It's not worth it to hate someone" is (probably) meant to convey "I found it was not worth it to hate someone, I would like to share that experience with you, and something similar might work for you."

As far as hate goes though, for me I found that hate was an expression of the continuing control of my father. If I did exactly what he did not want me to do, he was controlling my actions just as much as if I did exactly what he wanted. If I avoided doing something I wanted to do because I knew it would make him happy, what good was that? In my case that turned out to be relevant: I married someone of a particular ethnic group that he (like me, an outsider to that group) has an unhealthy obsession with. In doing so (I'm sure he follows along online enough to know) I probably satisfied some creepy wish of his. (And some part of me craves the approval that I would get if I talked to him about that - speaking of creepy!) But not doing it on account of that wouldn't have been right either. What I did was try hard not to care one way or another, which isn't really possible, but at least diminishes the influence. It's hard to ask "What do I want?" but for me at least learning to do so was a very important step in becoming happier.

#48 ::: ma larkey ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:15 PM:

I don't know how to begin to survive my family, because I am still locked in a life that involves them. I have been physically sick and unable to support myself on my own, so I am living with the very people who abused me as a child, and continue to abuse me as an adult.

I want to run away from my family. I want to be sick somewhere else, but I don't feel I can get very far, with so little money, and with a lot of my emotional baggage.

I've suffered rape, had my head bashed against a wall, had a dinner plate bashed on my head, had my spine cracked while being pulled down on a bench by my father. I still see him everyday, I loathe myself that I haven't escaped him yet.

my mother also used me as her slave as a kid, and I still live with her doing odd errands, even if I am often so sick I cannot get out of bed.

At least, I tell myself, I have the internet.

#49 ::: Vrdolyak ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:15 PM:

Neon Fox@30: I see we have the same t-shirt drawer.

I don't have a sword under the bed; I don't sneak food. But I have a hard time trusting people, I maintain defenses because my boundaries are porous in weird ways, and expressing a desire must not happen.

It turns out that my mother might be susceptible to clinical depression; it's hard to say because she seldom admits that that is even a possibility, even though my grandmother tried to commit suicide. I have no way to find out now whether my father was physically abused. His father was known to be a strict disciplinarian. My grandfathers were both dead by the time I was born.

I have in fact asked, but Mom swears that nothing like that could have happened.

I just do not know...

#50 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:21 PM:

@Nancy C. Mittens #45: Yes. Forgiveness is the act of ceasing to expect repayment of something that is owed. No more, no less. Forgiveness DOES NOT require interaction with the person being forgiven, even to the extent of saying, "I hereby forgive you." It does not require that the person forgiving the debt feel well disposed toward the debtor either. In my experience, forgiveness is often the last step in completely severing relations with an abusive or neglectful parent or other relative, usually after a lot of therapy.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:29 PM:

J @50:
Check your email address before you post again; you've used it in one comment under your full name.

I've changed both of your comments to "" if you want to use that to link them together from here on out.

#52 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:38 PM:


I've written about this in various different ways, coated with fiction and poetry and rants. Usually anonymously or at least locked. Lately I've felt that I don't want to delve into the memories, I don't want to analyze my feelings nor write down the detail. I like to hope that this means I am moving on. It's about time.

I'm not sure I'd call it apathy but it's a start.


That doesn't mean I feel I have to justify my feelings.

I will not detail abuse in order to get a general consensus of "running away was the right thing to do" or that I am justified X amount of resentment for Y years.


I remember him drunk, waving a loaded 357 around, laughing. "There's no one you can tell," he said, laughing. "No one you can call. You don't dare."

And I knew he was right.


I had lost all but nominal contact with that side of my family. Email exchanges tended to touch on sore subjects ("Have you phoned your father lately? Why don't you come visit?") but Facebook allows for a more superficial interaction, rather than direct dialog. I'm now in conversation with a few members of my family who I thought I had lost. It's nice. I also recommend this as a way of making a fragile bridge.


I cut off all contact for a while. Then I phoned him when his wife died, the first time we'd spoken in a decade. We haven't spoken since.

I read the mail he sends me (FW: The People of Walmart New and Improved) and I try to respond when I can think of something to say. I send a mail to say Happy Birthday, most years. Will I ever see him again? I don't know. I wonder if I'll end up regretting it but I'm making no plans.

He's learned to spell my name correctly because I now bounce all variations.

Social Interactions

My teenage son struggles with friends his own age. I have never considered before that it is because I don't know how to teach them. It feels frighteningly true.

#53 ::: Arien ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:39 PM:

People assume that ”mother knows best” when it comes to the children. Not in my case – or that of my younger brother. Not that she was an evil person, or abusive. She meant well, but she had mental problems, and was not truly capable of doing it.
Dad was eccentric, but able. He was a “New Ager” before New Age was invented. But allowing him to get custody involved a very, very bad court battle – and my brother and me ended up in an orphanage until the legal fight was resolved. Child Protection Services had been called in, and our time under their “protection” was what can be described as “Hell on Earth”. The start of that period might have been considered an omen – we were literally kidnapped from my mother’s apartment.

While physical abuse from the personnel was not exactly routine in that place, it certainly wasn’t nonexistent. As an example, I got my share of it when I started wetting my bed after my arrival there – probably as a reaction to being kidnapped. Big girls of 7 years old don’t do that kind of thing!
And they never restrained the older children from bullying and abusing the younger ones.
One of my roommates – she was somewhat younger than me, and I was about 8 years old, I think, was actually raped by one of the other (male) inmates. I am just thankful that I escaped _that_.
I have few clear memories of that period in my life – probably because I don’t _want_ to remember much.

Some years after we got out of there, I found a report on me and my brother. We were described as “deeply damaged” by the shrink who wrote the report.

I only occasionally had contact with my mother before she died. In the aftermath of her death (a very slow growing brain cancer) my brother speculated that it might have caused some of her erratic behaviour. But it is impossible to say at this late date.

Neither my brother nor I have become substance abusers, and are both reasonably successful – and that success must be laid at the feet of Dad. As I mentioned, he was eccentric, but able. Sadly, he passed away when I was in my early twenties. My brother is married and has children. I am happy enough playing the part of a doting aunt, but I have never had any urge to establish a family of my own. Or any other relatinship, really. And I am a dunce when it comes to dealing with other people’s emotions at all. Yet I _try_, as far as I can.
I suspect that the time in the orphanage has left me unable to deal with that kind of thing. I tried to protect my brother as much as I was able to, become a sort of parent for him, I guess. Which the budding sociopaths in that place probably took advantage of. What the people who were supposed to be responsible for us did about that is anybody’s guess.

So I personally am content enough at this point in my life. Yet at one level, I am aware that emotionally, I am a cripple. I have read enough about abuse to know that it tends to be inherited by the younger generations, like original sin. The scorched-earth state of my psyche ensures that I will not spread that plague any further. And my brother is actually fairly well-adjusted.

I never discuss this with somebody who doesn’t know. And I never volunteer information.

#54 ::: Frozen ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:41 PM:

My childhood was wretched in a quiet, WASP, "we don't talk about things" way.

My father gambled and womanized. My parents divorced; he did time in the penitentiary for passing bad checks. My mother worked and raised three children. We were all clothed and fed; she didn't drink or drug; we were only occasionally slapped or spanked.

BUT my mother was preoccupied with earning a living, keeping the house clean, and protecting my youngest sibling (who is retarded, legally blind, and crippled). I was expected to get straight As, do most of the housework, and NEVER EVER need any love or attention. In fact, she made it plain that I was a disappointment, abother, a drain on her time and money, and that I constantly made mistakes. She had an eagle eye for mistakes, which she would point out in a tone of triumph.

Being a socially clumsy geek at school didn't help.

I retreated into books. If I'm reading, I'm not here. You can't hurt me.

Years later, she's dead, and I'm still depressed, self-doubting, socially clumsy, and intensely introverted.

#55 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:44 PM:

I hope it's obvious but :

I have never considered before that it is because I don't know how to teach them.

By them I meant social interactions, not my son's friends. I never was very good at back references.

Although I liked the image of the controlling mother trying to explain that her boy didn't have friends because the friends just wouldn't listen

#56 ::: nony mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 04:52 PM:

It's not precisely enjoyable to read these, but I do feel less alone. I'll share, too:

My parents are very smart, funny, and loving, but once you've had one parent attempt suicide and had to talk another one out of it, multiple times, nothing can make up for it. My mother, manic, unable to sleep for days on end, snarling at my father, throwing things. He sat quietly and took it, read the paper, tried to deal with chronic pain, lost job after job until it was too much. My mother, depressed, laying in bed with pill bottles in the nightstand and a handle of vodka under the bed. I kept telling her it was okay, whatever she needed to sleep, to relax, to distract herself from thinking about her own childhood. My little brother practically lived on the computer, and every Sunday night when I went back to school, I was glad to leave, scared to leave, and guilty for being glad. But he's out of the house now, too, and my parents are sloooowly getting it together. I'm afraid to believe it, in case it collapses.

But is it any wonder I stayed in a dysfunctional relationship for four years, with a man much older than I was, who went to work every day, paid his bills, and mowed his lawn? We screamed at each other over nothing, I started having panic attacks, he punched the floor when he was angry, but 75% of the time, he was all calm dependability and I needed that. I see now how nuts that relationship was, though, and I'm going relationship-free until I find a good therapist.

But I still talk to my parents every night, about books or movies or whatever. I guess I'd rather have that than have parents who went to work every day but didn't give a damn. I guess.

#57 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:02 PM:

Pro @27: What's hard for me is knowing if it "counts."

If it gives you pain, it counts. If you were afraid, it counts. Period.

General note also: neglect counts as a form of abuse. IMnsHO.

xiaoren @29: It's very difficult raising a child with a parent in the house who exhibits a lot of borderline personality traits.

May all the gods bless you in all your days for being aware of the dangers and difficulties, and be willing to give it a try. I only hope that you have strong/wise support from outside of your family system to fall back on.

Neon Fox @30: Am I just a drama queen

The hind-brain, she does not lie.

#58 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:09 PM:
Forgiveness is the act of ceasing to expect repayment of something that is owed.

You have given me something to think about for a long time. Normally I hate it when people talk about forgiveness, because it always seems to mean "letting that person continue to behave badly." But that's a totally new perspective. Thank you.

On anger: I often find that I never (well, almost never) feel angry at certain people, as long as I have no contact with them. But the slightest little word, or even having to be in the same physical location, sets me off.

So if that's what it takes to be free from anger, and you can manage it, then go for it.

#59 ::: ... ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:11 PM:

I had a fairly normal childhood, until about age 10, when my family life went keel up. My father's business folded, and thanks to the late stage Reagan economy, he had to take a job out of state to make sure the bills got paid. At the same time, my mother's latent personality disorders went active. She spent the next decade in and out of mental hospitals.

I was never physically or sexually abused. I would say that I was never emotionally abused. But those times definitely left their mark. My parents tried, but they weren't really capable of taking care of my siblings and me. Friends and relatives helped here and there, but for most intents and purposes, I was on my own from age 10 on. I handled my problems, and (being the eldest) I did my best to keep the family functioning. Cooked dinner if mother couldn't. Made sure the lawn got mown. Dialed 911 when my mother made another suicide attempt.

I bring this up to make the following point: one of the reasons troubled kids don't always talk about their home life is that they know what normal is, and they don't want their family troubles polluting the rest of their lives. I was never happier than when I could forget about them for a little while.

#60 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:11 PM:

ma larkey @ #48:
Hugs, or good wishes, or both, whichever is welcome. It's hard enough processing past traumas; I can't begin to imagine how much more difficult it is to cope with being stuck in an abusive situation.

As shadowsong said in last year's thread, make a go bag in case you need to go away fast.

#61 ::: Hey nonny nonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Regular poster here.

I feel that all the familiar posters here are people I could share this with if I actually met them in person, but that if I write stuff here I am not just talking to you but the entire world.

My family is in an awkward situation with a younger man who has married my grandmother (my father's mother) for her money. Things were awkward with her even before that.

Now a lengthy and expensive court battle has been going on and we have not talked to her for years.

Even before all this started, there was tension and estrangement. I think that even from my father's childhood she never really accepted him because getting pregnant was an inconvenient interruption to her career. Or something. And they failed to get along any more as he got older.

So now I do not know what to see her as. Still accountable? Victim or brought it on herself? Give her a call, or how can I talk to someone who sues her own children?

More to say later, perhaps, but I have to go now.

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:30 PM:

Nancy #45:

Yes. It's also possible to recognize a person's flaws and that they're not really going to change in any fundamental way, and still maintain some level of conection with them. I think it's sometimes worthwhile, but YMMV and maybe I'm entirely wrong. The critical thing is to set up the relationship so that their flaws can have only a limited impact on my life. (Like, you can ruin my vacation, but not my finances.)

I have no idea at all how applicable this is to anyone else, it's just something that's worked for me, with a sometimes-difficult but not scary family member.

#63 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:38 PM:

I have a co-worker whose "only" family problem is that her mother has enough love for one child— her sister. She once told me that she sometimes wishes her mother had aborted her.

And— mind you— she's generally a cheerful, thoughtful person who seems completely well-balanced. But she has days when she wishes she'd never been born because of the lack of love in her life. It's tragic and there's nothing at all that would count as abuse in our legal system.

I once told her she might do well to move out of state. Sometimes you need to just cut off contact from the people who are poison.

To all who have suffered: It counts. Even if it's not "abuse." Even if you feel that it's not as horrific as the next person's story, so maybe it's not so bad? It counts. Children should be raised so that such stories are, to some extent, incomprehensible. It's enough to find out when you're an adult.

#64 ::: sometimes_lurker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:43 PM:

I have to imagine what it's like to be normal. I can fake it pretty well, these days.

There must be a special hell for parents who love their kids but not enough to actually get help for themselves. Of course, then they would have to admit to themselves that they need help... Years of hard work in therapy and I can tell you that mom was a histrionic narcissist codependent whose ongoing whine was that she only wanted her kids to be happy, only wanted her kids to be happy, etc. and yet when told that her selfish manipulative sneaky bulls**t behavior resulted in them being unhappy, switched up to "why do you hate meeeeeeeeeeee" and "you need to accept me the way I am" - which I did, eventually. I haven't talked to her in - yeah, years.

I too have huge gaps in my childhood memories. I have discovered that dissociating is still a problem for me - I lose track of time too easily, find myself drifting mentally at times when it's rather more important to be present, and if I work at it I can remember some things that don't typically resurface by thinking about trivial stuff, then pull the more stressful stuff into the light. I do know that I was sexually abused, and for years I was so depressed and codependent that I would take any sort of treatment to feel like there were people in the world who acknowledged my existence. I was also very angry at mom for staying with dad, and for the sexual malfunction that continues to dog me to this day. I was angry at dad but he was such a mouse and obviously very damaged by something he would not talk about in his past. I know that mom had her issues as well - she came out of poverty, from generations of horrible abuses of all kinds, something I pieced together from hints in her rambling excuse-ridden whines about how unfair it was that I was even bothering to be angry, you don't do that to your own mother, you should be grateful I've done so much for you and I never had anything like this, at least your father doesn't drink like mine did.... In the end, listening to her, all I could hear was that her feelings and her ideal reality were all that was important, and she couldn't recognize that depressed needy girl in front of her - all she could see was her projected ideal version of a daughter. Anything I did that threatened the ideal in the slightest was wrong.

So my communication patterns and my emotional life were shot to heck for years. I am doing better now. I don't get ostracized by co-workers so much any more, and I have been able to find a hobby group (finally) who appreciate me and my contributions. I survived a potentially very bad marriage, got out before it got really bad (he was very likely a borderline just like his ma, who later chased her ninth(!) husband around with a knife among other things). I survived a lot of humiliation and a lot of lost friendships when people figured out how broken I was underneath.

The trouble with our society is that we group together in homogeneous subgroups. Broken people are attracted to other broken people, less busted folks will find others within their norms, and there's not a lot of mixing for any duration of time. How does one retrain oneself for mixing with respectful and polite people of rational and sound mind when none of them will deign to allow you access to the kind of trial and error interacting that best addresses such ingrained, deeply worn patterns of emotional and relational dysfunction? And yes, the most broken people don't even recognize a need for self improvement - but there are enough of us who do that it makes sense to ask the question.

I am very much actively seeking answers, and not just for myself. After slowly becoming to the point that I thought it would be safe, I returned to college and obtained a master's to be a marriage and family therapist. I have completed an internship and will be licensed soon. After many hours with many broken families, it becomes more obvious to me that we are all in our own little boats full of dysfunction, riding together on the larger sea of a society that is losing the ability to produce emotionally stable and rational kids who make good use of a broken educational system to get somewhere in the world. We all feel very alone with our problems. It's very isolating to know you are not like the people around you.

You see I have also developed a social conscience. This is a late addition - if you are aware of Maslow, you will know that when people are stuck in survival mode, there's not a lot other than sheer survival going on, whether it's emotionally or physical food/shelter survival. Battered women face this constantly. Abused children too. Kids in the foster care system are abused by other abused kids in foster homes, when careful consideration of placement suitability isn't addressed. Kids have come to me with the matter of fact survival mindset that they feed me and give me stuff, my mother never did - it's a better place to be.

I thank my lucky stars that I have done enough of my own work to have good boundaries - if there is any one good use of all the badness of my upbringing, it's helping folks get through the really really really painful growing up years, if they are willing to do so and have not descended into the intractable realms of personality disorders despite all that's happened to them. By "growing up" I don't refer to the normal developmental stages of teens to young adults - it took me until age 37 to finally grow up to the point that I could manage to think straight about my past. Emotional maturity comes very hard to people raised by adult-appearing people who are emotionally stuck at about 13-14 years old.

To T, who feels fundamentally broken: I had many moments where things were going wrong with relationships and wanted desperately to hear from people why. I've actually begged one or two to explain why. Over time it came clear to me that either they feel it's too rude to say (the other person is actually someone raised to be polite and respectful) or they just don't have a clue themselves (know something is wrong but not how to put into words what that is).

There's nothing wrong with your mind. The most insidious damage parents inflict are the minute ways they inflict their own stunted emotional issues on their children. Things that you have been taught - not even things you can put into words - are in place and others don't know what to do about them.

Therapy isn't perfect, because therapists aren't perfect, but it's what we have. The best therapy I received was from a Jungian. As with the things that wrecked me internally for so long, whatever it was that happened in the room with the Jungian psychologist seems to have reset some of what was wrong with me. I can't put that into words either. I don't know that it would work for anyone else; everyone has their own malfunction and their answers aren't going to be generic fits-all, otherwise we could all be reading books.

Good luck on your journey and do not give up. I have high hopes for the future for all of us. I know that it's not hopeless. If "better" is all I can manage, it will be sufficient.

#65 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:50 PM:

rp @34: One thing to remember, though, is that hate is still a kind of involvement.

Huh, how interesting. This is something I've known intellectually for a long time, but when I read your comment, it suddenly clicked for me in a way it never has before:

Hating my mother in a strange way kind of fills the void where my love for her (and hers for me) should have been. This goes some way in explaining why I have been so completely unable to let go of it. It's not just that I'm a judgmental, passive-aggressive, little victim.

Huh. Well, thank you. That is weirdly validating, in a back-handed sort of way.

#66 ::: OccasionalCommenter ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Agreeing with much that's been said.

Particularly, that dissociation sucks.

And, interestingly, I sneak food too, even now in my own house. No idea why.

And also, cutting is a highly effective coping mechanism in particular circumstances. However, it is also dangerous in several ways, and extremely addictive. It is also not socially acceptable, or commonly understood as more than a cry for attention or failed suicide attempt, when often it is neither.

That said, does anyone know of an effective method for reducing or eliminating old scars? I think after 14 years (yay me!) they're unlikely to fade on their own. And, well, they look like what they are, and there are many circumstances where I'd rather not display that much about myself.

#67 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:11 PM:

Nope Not Me @65:

Somewhere I read that hate and love are the opposite sides of a coin, and that they mean "this person matters to me." Therefore the opposite is that the person no longer means anything to you.

Only when you do not care what happens to this person will you be free of the emotions you now connect with them.

It is often a long journey from "love/hate" to "no longer care."

#68 ::: Arien ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:20 PM:

(#53) To conclude I recently got [$$$] as recompense for a ruined childhood. The money is a mere band-aid on deeper damage that is never going to be resolved - never mind healed.
And for all those who are worse off than me - money may in certain circumstances serve as a sort of acknowledgement of damage. It does not mean that your pain is worth this amount of money. Or that a price tag can ever be affixed to damage suffered.

I was reluctant to even give an account of what I was able to relate about time served in the orphanage. My brother badgered me about it - he, although younger than me, and less damaged, remembered more - so I dredged up what I could remember and was able to relate. It paid of in cold, hard $$$.

Does that translate into forgiveness, or even healing? No, it doesn't.

There is a very impersonal acknowledgement of pain suffered, though no true acceptance of guilt. No real surprise, that: no true bureaucrat worthy of the liquid helium flowing in his/her veins would so betray The System.

#69 ::: Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:30 PM:

There's a face my teenager makes when he's hearing things that he doesn't want to hear. It's a half-sulky, half-apathetic look, a touch of defiance of the eyes. I tend to read it as "I don't want to react to this and you can't make me."

I just caught myself making the same face.

#70 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Nope, not me @ 57: "I only hope that you have strong/wise support from outside of your family system to fall back on."

Sadly, I don't really.

My health insurance covered getting my problems with emotional dysregulation mostly under control [meditation, cognitive behavior therapy and non-defensive communication techniques are very helpful], but now that I'm "well" again, they insist that I have to go out of pocket for my continuing mental health care for situational issues. And I need more therapy than I can afford to pay for out of the family budget, especially with the wife probably subconsciously aware that her crazy-making borderline behavior is the main reason I need the psych therapy. Sigh.

My health insurance probably would pay for continuing and open-ended family therapy sessions, but the wife isn't capable of giving that idea serious thought-- even in the aftermath of major episodes when everyone she knows is urging her to do it.

I'm kinda limping along hoping her borderline traits don't get more severe than they already are. I read case studies and they make my blood run cold. I hate thinking along these lines, but I have to keep promising myself daily that I will space my wife out the allegorical airlock at the first sign of physical or sexual abuse, or if the emotional abuse escalates to the point of intolerability (though, it's tough figuring out where to draw the line on that).

#71 ::: Heatherly ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Occasional Commenter at #66: Cocoa butter is effective, and there are multiple other remedies available in your drug. What I usually do with clients is refer straight to your family doctor (assuming you have a good relationship with them). There are different types of scarring, and different types of treatments based on both your skin type and the way you scar. But cocoa butter works well for me. :)

(I usually lurk due to lack of net accessibility at my job, but I just have to say thank you to Abi for this thread. I'm a social worker working with children in foster care, and have my own personal experience with abuse. Being able to break the silence and having a safe space to do so is an incredibly powerful thing. Thank you. )

#72 ::: Yet Another anonymous semi-regular ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 06:43 PM:

The older I get, and the farther away from my family I manage to stay, the more easily I find myself able to name them as abusive. The abuse was rarely physical (my father and I did have physical fights, but it's still hard for me to not try to take responsibility for them. I inherited his temper and propensity to blind rage, and it's taken me years and several ruined relationships to learn to control them; I certainly didn't have that capability when I was a teenager) but the emotional undercurrents in my family have definitely taken their toll. I used to blame it on the immigrant ethos--family is everything, family will always be there for you, family are the only people you can trust--but let's be honest, we're three generations out of Europe; there's only so much you can blame on the way things were back in the old country. Nonetheless, we were raised and expected to pay back the family for its unstinting support by becoming worthy of that support--not, on the surface, a bad or unreasonable thing, but imagine what your life becomes like when you're constantly asked to justify your worthiness as a human being.

As a child, it was all about proper behaviour--don't wear that, don't run/skip/jump/laugh too loud, don't talk about x, y, or z, even if you are just out at the mall with your friends because you never know who might overhear you and think the wrong thing about you or your family. Everything in your room must be put away at all times. Anything left sitting out on top of the dresser or nightstand when you go to school will be thrown out. (This included books.) After school time must be spent in the kitchen with the family--solitude is only permitted for half an hour before bed (and then only if younger siblings don't decide to let themselves into your room, because you are older and they can't be expected to understand why you wouldn't want to spend time with them). You may not have a lock on your door. You should not close your door unless you are getting undressed. Close every door and cabinet quietly. If you slam the door in a fit of temper it will be taken off its hinges for a week and you will have to change in the bathroom. You may not use the loo in the middle of the night because it will wake someone (I went through a brief period of bedwetting which my grandmother treated by making me smell the linens and chanting 'Pee-pee baby'. I eventually learned to walk quietly and not flush.) Transgressing any of these rules involved being screamed at (my mother and grandfather), chased up the stairs (my father), or, on one memorable occasion, slapped across the face (my grandmother, but only the once). This happened no matter who else was present--it was the humiliation, more than anything, that I feared.

Then I went to university. I wasn't allowed to leave the city my family lived in, though I did move out of the family home. I was expected to phone every day; if I didn't, my mother would call at 5:00 the following morning and wake my roommates. I was expected back at the family home on the weekends to help with the housework and my younger siblings' homework, and for dinner at every birthday and holiday. One afternoon a week, I accompanied my mother to the grocery store--not to buy food for myself, it should be noted (I have always been somehow terrified of my mother seeing what I eat), but because she disliked shopping alone. If my mother or grandmother had a medical appointment during the week, I was expected to go sit with them in the waiting room. I had to carry a mobile and keep it on at all times in case of emergencies; my mother called whenever she got lonely (I lost two jobs this way). I fixated on attractive members of my own gender, and mentioned this once to my mother who responded 'I would know if you were gay and you aren't. Don't upset your father with this.' I only ever brought home members of the opposite sex, though I made an effort to ensure they were as unlikeable as possible. I married far too young, largely (in hindsight) in an effort to get away, and then divorced when it became clear that 'across town' was the farthest my spouse would move. I fled the country. I enrolled in graduate school. I started screening my calls. I saw them only on holidays. My grandparents died, my younger siblings moved away. Things were peaceful for about ten years. My mother congratulated me for maturing enough to learn how to get along with my father. I decided that, on the whole, my childhood had been pretty OK, and I should consider myself lucky to have such a close-knit family.

Then I went for a visit. My father and I got in another fight (he verbally attacked me without warning or provocation) and I realised exactly how arbitrary all the fights and punishments that I'd grown up feeling I had provoked were. And how much I'd been living in fear of doing the slightest thing wrong--afterwards, I felt a curious sense of relief, like I had been holding my breath for ten years waiting for something to happen and it finally had. And I realised that this was NOT normal and NOT healthy and I need to get away from that cycle of co-dependence before my children get sucked into it, too.

I haven't spoken to my family in almost a year.

Part of me still thinks it's my fault.

#73 ::: Sorry about the line breaks ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:09 PM:

After my mother died
my sister's boyfriend's truck
got banned from the dump.
They thought he was tipping,
there was so much crap to get rid of.

She used to scream at the council inspectors
who owned the flat she lived in
she'd stand on the step and curse them
they didn't dare get closer.

They'd cleaned it up for her twice,
my aunt had done it once.
She resented it bitterly
she used to scream on the doorstep
raining curses down on them
that they would disturb her
disturb her things
demanding her rights
insisting they go away.

Nobody had been inside for years,
not since my half-sister got away.

The smell.

It's unimaginable
that anyone could choose to live like that.

There'd been a fire.
She'd put it out herself.
In parts of the flat, electricity still worked.
In others, there were candles.
She'd been cooking over fires.
There were rotting books and food, rotting,
photograph albums, clothes
beaten down in layers
half burned, soaked, trodden in,
years before,
years of cigarette butts.
years of catshit, birdshit, human shit
which has to be two words.

She had a degree in English.
She was a qualified teacher.

Dying she lied and said she'd been born to poverty
My aunt was outraged,
remembering my grandparents
doing without to educate their children,
going on holiday to a real hotel
drinking sweet sherry
in the house they were so proud to own.

She got half of their money.
She chose the way she lived.

Of course, her neighbours called her a witch
she revelled in that.

Of course, she was sick.
Sick in the head.

So many people tried to help her.
She knew how to extract sympathy
select the help she wanted
refuse what would have helped.

At any time they would have come and cleaned it up
fixed the electricity
there were so many safety nets
if she had only asked
if she had only let them past the threshold
they would have fixed it for her, free.

Instead she screamed at them to go away
huddled round the candles,
the cooking fires,
retreating from civilization
as from sanity
back in the cave of her head.

She made her own world
where this was the way things worked
her own reality
where help meant harm
where cigarettes were good for you
if you didn't agree you'd be burned
one way or another.

She would define good and bad
up and down
force her reality on her children
it's hard for children to get away.

Abuse isn't the point here,
not individual abuse
you can't talk to someone who needs
you to see the world their way
who demands their reality affirmed.

You know, if life is short,
it may be too short to hate
but it is also too short
to step back into that midden
to be bound in spider-webs of lies
sometimes getting away is
enough --
cut the ties
move away
change your name.

Find a distance where you can pity
but live your life unensnared.
Your own life,
that doesn't have her in it.

The electricity!
Long strings of abuse
the ash getting longer
screaming at them when they came to help her
her witchy hair snarled around her head,
making do with candles.

It's not like I don't feel guilty
hating her for insanity,
for what she did to me,
to other people.

It was the smoking killed her,
I never did it;
only in dreams.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:14 PM:

OccasionalCommenter and Not me, nope/ Nope, not me, you're both using an email address that a regular commenter uses.

I'm moving you to and respectively; can you enter these in your comment boxes instead?

Everyone, please use something other than First word of your nick at, or whatever.

#75 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:30 PM:

Posting as myself in the hopes that those of you who still feel broken won't feel as despairing.

Children who grow up alternately ignored and terrorized need remedial work in this kind of thing!

No, children just plain need work on social skills. It's really enlightening watching how some parents deliberately and carefully teach the details of social interaction, and others don't.


Both my grandfathers were alcoholics. Dad claims his father wasn't abusive. I don't believe him... Dad isn't especially bad as children of alcoholics go, but he's not on the super-stable side either. Neither is his little sister. His older brother is on the super-stable side. It's also really telling how their mom appears in family stories, but never their dad.

My mom's father was... evil. Physically abusive. Sexually abusive. Her mother and mother's mother were better, but not by much. Her dad's parents were her safe haven, and her example of sane, which is vaguely crazy. But the whole situation was insane and harmful, and I am very lucky that she has overcome so much damage.

So they were both relatively socially clueless. They did their damnedest to teach us whatever bits of social clue they'd learned. They did their damnedest to not be abusive, and largely succeeded. When they figured out I was dissociating due to school and an abusive teacher, they got me *out* of that school and into a safer one. When my brother tried to be sexually abusive, I felt safe in going to them to be rescued... and I got rescued. I was spanked, but that never left me feeling unsafe. Having a salt shaker thrown at me for being unspeakable to my mother was disturbing... but I was also being exceptionally awful. And I ducked. I am quite happy to eat what I like, have the knives stay in the kitchen, and be a relatively normal introvert.

There are still effects from the alcoholism. The impulse to secrecy is natural to me. Truth is hard. Both grandfathers were probably self-medicating, probably for depression. The rest of us have all had at least some bouts with depression, but mostly we're sane enough to not self medicate. Only one person has succeeded in suicide.

It is not easy to overcome the poison of alcoholism or abuse. I don't know how my parents, aunts and uncles did it, at all. I don't know where they found the strength. But they did, and we did. The great-nieces and nephews are visibly saner than my cohort was as kids.

Don't take this as "go forth and have kids"... just as a loving reminder that if you were abused it doesn't *have* to doom your children to the same fate. No need to forgive your abusers either... my parents are both decidedly glad the abusive relatives are dead. Not quite dancing on the graves, but I've seen their reaction to the deaths of relatives they loved, and the reaction to their abusers' deaths was very different.

#76 ::: ... ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:37 PM:

Seconding what Torrilin said. One of my parents came from a family which had been abusive and damaging in every available way for generations. As I said above, my childhood wasn't exactly great -- but my parents seem to have succeeded in breaking the cycle. We won't know that for sure till my kids are grown, but I'm pretty confident that I do know what _not_ to do.

#77 ::: BJM ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:47 PM:

Inversion of a different sort:

My dad was controlling and emotionally abusive when I was growing up. I hated him from the time I knew what 'hate' was. He wasn't intentionally mean, I think, just high-strung and ill-equipped to be a parent. I expected to be avoiding him for the rest of my adult life, but a medical condition means he takes Prozac now, and he's a completely different person, mellow and a real pleasure to have a conversation with.

Mom had always been my favorite parent, for obvious reasons. Several years back it came out that her brother had sexually abused his daughter, my cousin. Looking back I knew there was something off about his energy when he was around us teenagers, but I was younger than my cousin, introverted, and had never dated. ANY sort of high-energy social interaction made me twitchy, so I've given myself a pass on not parsing that situation correctly. My mom's reaction when it came out was to say that even if it's true, he shouldn't have done it, he knows he shouldn't have done it, and the cousin shouldn't be making a fuss about it now.

So yeah, my formerly-abusive dad and I are on pretty good terms now, and even though I talk to my mom often and to all appearances we're close, I've lost all trust in her. I'm pretty sure 'not making a fuss about it' explains my childhood.

#78 ::: Another Anonymous Poster ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 07:55 PM:

xiaoren #29:

Like most borderlines, she refuses to consider the possibility that there's anything wrong with her, and even the most gentle suggestions that she might be able to stop making herself so unhappy if she were to talk to a professional about, tend to be received as a vicious personal attack.

Yes. She's not the one with the problem, everyone else is, and why does everyone hate her so much? Not to mention the sudden mood reversals and random ultimatums, and the way you can never believe anything she says because as soon as you start to trust it, she'll deny ever saying it, and.... (In my case, at least, she was also passive-aggressive and manipulative, and I'm not sure whether that's related to the borderline thing or just bad luck. On the bright side, I consider myself pretty much immune to guilt trips by now, having grown up around so many of them and learned that even going along with them results in getting yelled at, so what's the point?)


Unfortunately, my father didn't get to the point you did of figuring out just what was wrong with my mother until after my sister and I had both moved out.

I basically haven't spoken with my mother in over ten years, and I like it that way, thanks. I wouldn't say I hate her, still, but most of the time it's like I forget she even exists.

#79 ::: Nowhere Man ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:12 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.

#80 ::: LUIX ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:16 PM:

I thought I had a happy childhood. I guess I did. I remember my best friend (who was murdered at 20) living at our house for weeks on end when her father was on a bender. He was an episodic drunk, and when he was drunk he tried to abuse her. She would climb out her window and come to live with us until the bender was over. Our school knew where she was at all times; in fact, our school counselor would drive over to her father's apartment and make him sign a form giving my mom the right to take my friend to the doctor in case of emergency. No one ever reported her father's behavior to any sort of authority. Not my parents, not the school, not anyone. And I was too young to know how to report him. But, the key thing is that we, my family, protected my friend to the best of our abilities at that time.

This year, I found out that when I moved hundreds of miles away during the summer I was 18, my next-younger brother started raping my baby sister whenever my mother was out of the house. I'm sure my brother would never have done it while I was there, because I would have stopped it. But no one told me about it, and when my baby sister told my mom, her only solution was to take my sister with her when Mom left the house. No one attempted to get my sister therapy or get my brother some help.

My sister, now a grown woman who has found a new life with AA's help told me about this recently. I was devastated. My parents, who could help my best friend, had no help for my sister. Both my parents are dead, so I can't ask them why.

I wish I could go back in time and bring my little sister away with me when I moved out of the house. I feel bad/guilty/angry because I wasn't there to help her.

She brought up a cogent point when she and I were discussing this (I am so grateful she found AA). She pointed out that someone must have abused our mother for her to behave the way she did.

How come I got issued the happy childhood? Why couldn't all four of us get one?

#81 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:20 PM:

debcha wrote last DF day:

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

If Mike were still with us, he'd be on this thread.

[in my prior post I referenced the older thread. I then posted on that thread instead of this. I proceeded to have multiple tabs open collecting various posts and pasting them into the comment box to dissect, quote, and respond. On the other thread. Referencing the other thread. Wondering how the thread was growing so large, so fast. With multiple FireFox tabs open, the window titles match, I didn't look up to the banner. Circa 200 words deleted, but my response to Debcha survives. We miss you Mike.]

#82 ::: M ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:28 PM:

Thank you for giving us a place to share.

My childhood had no physical abuse, and no overt verbal abuse, but thanks to a mother who is good at many things and was trained by her mother to pick out errors, I have a hard time trying things that I'm not confident I'll be good at.

Recently she told me how I would try so hard to listen and understand and be good when she yelled at me when I was small. I don't remember any of it, but from the way she said it, this was something that happened multiple times.

I love her, and I think she identifies with me way too strongly. And yet it's what I'm used to and when things happen to change that dynamic we both are affected by it.

#83 ::: pas de quoi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 08:58 PM:

Oh, dear. Mother didn't want more kids, father didn't either, but he wanted mother to have one. Blackmail, abusiveness, me, only I turned out to be a girl, which they neither of them were particularly interested in.

So, ugly divorce, and a regular dizzying swing between ignoring me and excoriating me with all that lovely pent up rage for insisting on distracting them from their far more important tragic lives by maliciously not disappearing.

I walk around sedated with impotence most of the time because self-assertion leads to abusiveness which could hurt somebody.

#84 ::: Mousy-None ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:04 PM:

Thanks to abi for starting, and all the commenters for contributing to this thread. Between here and the Bully Pulpit, there's a huge lot of interlinked important stuff that affects me to think about. So much. One tiny part for now.

"… children just plain need work on social skills. It's really enlightening watching how some parents deliberately and carefully teach the details of social interaction, and others don't."
And others don't have the skills, or have forgotten how they work, and isolation can make it hard for a child to learn from others.

My story isn't as extreme as some others here, but I'm still more than half-relieved I've never had children. It's likely I'd have damaged them. The guilt would be terrible. More than half-way through an average life-span, with friends and therapists, I'm slowly picking up less destructive ways of coping. It would be good to have some peaceful years while there's time; a small shy hope for a couple-style relationship, or at least a few close friends.

#85 ::: Orodemniades ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:05 PM:

Long time reader, first time poster (I think).

I have an 18 month old son, and reading this post, bearing witness to terrible acts that I feel so lucky to never have experienced, reading this post makes me so damned glad that he will never ever be treated as so many of you have.

And so terribly sad that you all went through it. And continue to go through it. May the cycle be broken.

#86 ::: Striving ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:12 PM:

No, I don't suppose you could say I was abused in any conventional sense. My depressive father vented his utterly uncontrolled anger at my mother almost exclusively. He was at bottom, I think, afraid to hit her, but the emotional atmosphere was toxic at almost all times. And I, deceptively articulate at age 10? I was Mom's therapist.

Eldest sister was boiling over with resentment of only she knew clearly what, so very much her father's daughter. Resentment perhaps of middle sister, in many ways the most superficially normal of us but her father's golden girl, R--- the Good. And I was the slight, too-smart kid who the doctors said wasn't supposed to survive but did. I ended up being the one Mom trusted when Dad's rages came closest to blowing it all apart. I sat at that butcher block kitchen table for hours and quietly, patiently took on burdens I wasn't supposed to have any way of understanding, let alone carrying. Seeing a professional therapist would have meant bills and insurance paperwork and explanations and fights and more poison in the atmosphere of the house. Talking to me for hours just meant I hunched a little more when I walked. Bolted my dinner to escape the table faster. Hardly looked my father in the eye.

I guess it's not fair to call that abuse. But what is it fair to call it? I don't know.

It didn't help that Dad never understood jack buggerall about the hell they were putting me through at school. That now. That was abuse. Mom understood but only too late.

I deal with my sisters only at the strictly necessary family gathers around holidays of which my kid shouldn't be deprived. We have so little common ground I might as well be a foreigner. (It's tempting to become one, honestly.) I talk to Mom a little more often, and even now she talks far more than I do. I'm in the habit, you see, of taking what she says on board and giving back very little - she's got so much to deal with, why should I add my bit?

Dad, I pretty much only talk to when logistics and barest courtesy require it.

At the birth of my child, I burst into uncontrollable sobbing. It wasn't for the reasons you'd expect. It was stark terror and despair, certainty plunging deep in me like a knife that I was going to be a failure as a parent. I wept and I prayed - not to any god, but to my daughter herself - for forgiveness for the myriad ways I didn't understand that I was bound to mess up and hurt her.

I'm doing my best. She says I'm doing well.

I am deathly, desperately afraid.

#87 ::: Yeah, no. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:20 PM:

@29 et al. - so, any advice on how to get a (possibly) borderline mentally ill partner whom one believes would greatly benefit from therapy to agree to go to said therapy?

#88 ::: boy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:21 PM:

I haven't seen this one before, though I certainly marvel at the range of dysfunction we share. And what I've got is the kind of thing that sometimes seems lame from both sides -- it INVITES people saying "well, can't you..." and "but it's not so...".

But I'm going to take Abi at her word. So I thought I'd add in a horrible yet extraordinarily subtle method of parental torture:

Raised by The Subtly Psychotic Narcissist.

A mother who decided, early in your life, for no reason other than a trend TOWARDS anger that he managed without difficulty -- as others have said, leaving to drive the interstate, and always knowing his limits -- that your father was threatening her to the point of abuse. And threatening you, too. And proceeded to spend the bulk of your life slowly, excruciatingly, pushing back against any scrap of self-identity you might develop by declaring instead that who you were was not what you claimed to be seeing, that you just needed to see that you were under siege, too, and you could be free, that you needed not to be HIM lest you be somehow ruined as an adult, while matching that with a growing tendency to explain movies by your side, color your relationships with your siblings and your family, and worse, do it in the guilt-tripping name of help.

The smiling face of the parent who was present, smothering, stunting, slowly growing insane, is insidiously evil, dark but hardly obvious, even to the parties involved. It may look like nothing but typical parenting. But with true conviction, especially when the parent is the only one home most of the day, it is ultimately wholly destructive.

Most of her friends still cannot see it. When she threw my father out with no prompting and the police, just a few months shy of their thirty fifth anniversary and just a few weeks after the birth of my second child, she spread her own "truth" through their social circle, claiming that he was "going" to hurt her, though he had never done it; claiming that he was threatening to break her most precious things, though there was neither evidence nor, ultimately, any consistency in her story, leaving him isolated, and tried to convince my siblings and myself of his rage all those years.

I went to him, though I had been apart for twenty years, mostly through her doing.

And found him with no access to the home and no conception of why he was on his own, with a new diagnosis of Parkinsons, living in a flophouse motel, unable to get his friends to return his phone calls.

If nothing else, I thank her for giving me back my father, after all these years. Though I lost my siblings to her lies, and -- worse -- to her insistence that she deserved "fair and equal" time, and that she either got to define what was fair and equal, or that would remain the only subject of conversation.

After a year in therapy -- LAST year, at her request, both with and without my wife, and only because her determination, her insistence, that other people's experiences are neither real nor valid unless they have passed through her was beginning to touch my children -- she had not budged: still, she maintained, the purpose of the therapy SHE had requested was for ME to find my true self, as SHE defined it, and that until I was willing to do that, it was "a shame" that I insisted that we needed to proceed based on who we both felt we were and are, now.

I told the therapist that I had come to understand she was mentally ill, and that she had not budged an inch in 36 years except to get worse. I missed my cousins, and the rest of my family. I needed the permission to be the self I thought I could be. And I walked out, quietly and with my wife by my side, thank G-d. And finally, after 36 years of living with the monster who does not allow others to perceive, who insists that the world is nothing but what she paints it, and who was beginning to tell my children that THEY were not who they thought they were -- at age FOUR, for god's sake, and the kid believed her -- I am beginning to let go.

It's hard, watching the kids forget her, and harder still to read the subtext in the letters she sends them each week. But at least now I know what to look for, in my insistence for cold hard truth, in my watchdog nature regarding social situations, in my reluctance to tell others what I think, in my inability to recognize, at any time, what I FEEL, in my wholly comprehensive lack of self except as defined by others.

Goodbye, Mom.

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:26 PM:

Wondering why my sister thinks I'm the most nearly normal of the three of us. (I don't think I am.) We weren't abused in any way, as far as I can tell, and I'm sure my parents loved us, and each other. So why are we all ... bent, somehow?

#90 ::: No ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:27 PM:

I typed a much longer post, but then it started falling apart and it was all over the place and far too long. More importantly, it was trying to shy away from what I wanted to say for numerous reasons/issues.

I had a good childhood, but it was lacking. The problem in my family seems to be the inability to express their feelings in any sort of meaningful way. It's not abuse, it's not neglect, but I've come to find that it's very insidious and it colored a lot of things. I don't really relate to people. I'm socially awkward. I keep my distances because I can't tell if they're polite or genuine, and god forbid I impose on them.

When I was 18, I realized that everything I thought I knew about relationships were lies and completely skewed. It didn't help much.

I don't hate my parents, I get along with them. I can't say I have a meaningful relationship with anyone, be it with my family or outside of it.

As much as I try to fix it, I have a feeling this will color the rest of my life. It's not abuse, nor neglect, but it still cripples me. Dysfunction comes in all shapes and sizes.

#91 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 09:42 PM:

Um, too lazy to come up with another name to use.

My dad was a drunk. He would be highly offended to be referred to as an alcoholic. He was my "good" parent.

My mother was schizophrenic. Auditory hallucinations, delusions, the whole nine yards.

When I was a child, I used to pray I'd been adopted. When I was a teen, I realized no one in or out of their right minds would give these people one much less three children to raise.

When I finally grew up (years after I should have, really), I realized something that I find wonderfully freeing.

My parents did the best they could. The very best they were capable of. Ok, their best sucked so immensely, it's hard to describe. But all I can ask of people is that they do their best. And my parents did their best, given all of their own problems.

I am grateful that my parents did their best, I have largely forgiven them for my awful childhood, I still love my dad. My mother is dead and I still miss her.

And I can appreciate all the skills I developed as a child to deal with them, skills I still need and use today in my career.

I feel at peace, most of the time.

(Years of therapy helped a lot, too.)

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 10:22 PM:

I don't mind posting under my real name; there's no one who might see this who'd be a threat to me. This is going to be very fragmented, because I'm just putting things down as they occur to me.

One thing I have to say about my parents is that I know they loved me and wanted what was best for me. They were unclear on the topic of what "best for me" might be, unwilling to consider that I might have different ideas about it, and damned poor at expressing their love in either words or actions. They also had some... peculiar... ideas about how the world works. Given enough time, I might have been able to reach an adult relationship with my mother, but she died when I was in my 30s. My father was hopeless; he lived in his own version of reality (based on a small-town upbringing in the 1920s-30s) and could never understand why I couldn't live there with him (didn't want to anyhow, but literally couldn't because, again, not the way the world works).

I never suffered physical or sexual abuse, and the emotional abuse was subtle. Always a disappointment to them, yes, although the grounds for it shifted constantly. Years later a friend said that I could never have gotten their approval because it was a moving target, and she was right -- no matter what I was trying to do in a way they would approve of, suddenly something else that I wasn't doing would become a higher priority. And I was never considered to be competent; there was always the assumption that whatever I was trying to do, I would be a failure.

Sometimes I think of them as incompetent abusers. They wanted absolute control over me, but it never seemed to occur to them to isolate me from environments or people that would provide reality checks for me. They hated most of my friends after elementary school, but didn't try to prevent me from having friends (or force me to have only the "right" ones). They hated the things and people I got involved with in high school, and much more in college, but they never tried to ground me and weren't willing to escalate to the kind of physical abuse that would have been necessary to keep me from being so involved -- I would call their bluff when they tried to "forbid" me to do something, because by that time I knew they were only bluffing.

The earliest betrayal I remember was when I was 5 years old and getting my first pair of glasses. My mother told me I could get any frames I wanted, and I picked out a pair of pink frames. She ordered them... the same style, but in blue. (I never knew why.) I threw a fit when we went to pick them up, the gist of which was, "but you SAID I could have the ones I wanted, and these aren't what I wanted!" It didn't change anything. I had to wear those damn blue frames for 2 years, and I hated them every day of it, and it was decades before I could even consider buying a pair of blue frames again.

If there was a disagreement between me and a teacher (or any other authority figure) I could count on them NOT to take my side. My third-grade teacher bullied me in non-obvious ways; my teacher from the year before was aware of it, but never mentioned it to my parents until the last day of school, at which point they were all, "Why didn't you TELL us?" My response was, "Because I didn't want to go to this (pricey private) school anyhow, and you MADE me, of COURSE you'd be on her side!" There was also a strong element of "because you wouldn't have believed me," but mostly it was just that I knew it wouldn't have done any good.

One that really hurt, later. At the end of my sophomore year in high school, I wanted to run for Publicity Chair for band & orchestra. My parents had been making noises about moving to Nashville, so before I announced my candidacy I had a serious talk with them about "are we going to move or aren't we?" -- because if we were moving, it didn't make any sense for me to run, and I explained it that way. They assured me that we were not going to move for at least another school year. So I ran, and I won; and this was a HUGE triumph for me, because my opponent was one of the pretty/popular girls, and I was over the moon. And one week later, they announced that I should pack my bags, because we were moving to Nashville... and confidently expected me to be happy and excited about it. It was as though that entire earlier conversation, and my delight in having won the position, had never happened at all. Years later, my mother mentioned how stunned she had been when I burst into tears and ran out of the room.

I was a good kid in high school, and not very rebellious at all (that didn't happen until I was nearly out of college). I got good grades, rarely got in trouble at school, never got in trouble with the law, didn't smoke or drink or do drugs or run away or get pregnant, went on and graduated from college and got a job like I was supposed to. To my parents... I was wild, rude, defiant and disobedient, the cross they had to bear, the only child in my generation of the family who ever gave their parents a moment's trouble; they hated my friends and my interests and the guys I dated, but I just wouldn't stop being myself and start "living right". They had no idea what was wrong with me, but obviously SOMETHING was, and they kept trying to fix me until they died.

When I did start my rebellious phase, it was strongly shaped by their attitudes. They were absolutely obsessed with sex, in a negative way; having sex and enjoying it was the WORST thing I could do to them -- far worse than drinking or drugs. And, inevitably, they found out that I was no longer a virgin, and then I got to hear half a day of my father ranting about how his WHOLE LIFE HAD BEEN WASTED since I was now "damaged goods". My mother just went on and on about how now my life would be ruined, just as she did whenever I wanted to do something she didn't like. (Funny, it never stopped me, and I don't notice my life ever having been particularly ruined as a result.)

Some 15 years ago, I saw a magazine article that expressed our relationship perfectly: I was Not The Child They Had In Mind. I wish I could find it again, but I don't even recall what the magazine was. But it was like having a light bulb go off in my mind; they had wanted a child, they just didn't want ME. They wanted a child who would be just like them, share their interests and activities and worldview, consider the kind of life they had to be the pinnacle of happiness. They wanted me to voluntarily want what they wanted for me, so that there would never be any arguments about my friends or interests or activities -- because of course, no friend or interest or activity they disapproved of could possibly be good for me. One of my friends once commented that she didn't understand why they had bothered to adopt a child in the first place; they would have been much happier with a miniature poodle, especially if they got one that was crate-trained.

There were a lot of boundary issues. Even the family therapist they finally agreed to see when I was in my 20s (but still living with them) noticed it -- they didn't seem to understand where they stopped and I started. Even after I'd been out on my own for years, married and later divorced, my father would look so bewildered when I disagreed with him about a course of action he was recommending for me; it was the same look you or I might get if our left hand started doing things independently of our will. And then there was the casual, repeated assumption that "not doing what they wanted" meant "mentally ill" (nothing like having your parents tell you that you should be in the loony ward), and the time when my father actually asked for my advice about what kind of computer to get, and then did exactly what I told him NOT to do, and then blamed me when it didn't work out well... (that was the "incompetence" thing again; OF COURSE the salesman in the computer store knew more about computers than his daughter who'd been a programmer for 20 years).

I learned, eventually, that it was much easier to have one meaningless fight about "you never TELL us anything about your life!" over and over again than to suffer the Death of a Thousand Cuts that happened whenever I let slip anything of importance. My mantra became, "What they don't know won't hurt me." They had been effectively excised from my life long before they died.

I totally understand (and share) the feeling of relief and freedom that comes with knowing one's parents are dead and you never have to deal with their crap again. And I continue to be grateful that I took as little damage as I did overall. Oh, there are still scars, and patterns that I haven't been able to break; one of them is that I have a strong tendency to ascribe ill wishes and/or motivations to parents and authority figures even when that's not necessarily the best explanation. But it helped a lot that, in many ways, I never bought what they were selling. I talked to other people, I sought reality checks (that was another odd thing -- my parents HATED that I "aired our dirty laundry outside the family," but they still let me have a phone extension in my bedroom; incompetent abusers), and I didn't let their warped worldview define me to myself.

Living well is indeed the best revenge; and while they might not have agreed with my definition of "well," I am comfortably housed and fed, and have chosen-family and friends and my partner, and leisure time to do things I enjoy, and that's good enough for me.

#93 ::: Paula (Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:13 PM:

As with Lee, my family is so non/anti Internet (wll, except my brother and that's a separate issue) that I don't need much separation from people that this will bother.

I was never, ever abused. I got a couple of whacks on the behind, the most notable of which was at about three where I think I kick dad in the shins, he grabbed a 'gimmee' yardstick and it broke across my butt.

On the other hand. My mother was horrible to me in a really specific way that still affects me.

I never, ever was praised without a "But" statement added. :"You got straight 'A's, but you're still fat. You did this, and this and this right, BUT this is where I think you are wrong and stupid.

And for a long time (until my father died, mom looked at the infant portrait of me, said, "You used to be so cute." and I lost my mind on her,( I felt totally dissaciated because she kept saying that, even to my friends

In some ways I'm getting payback. They managed to rein in their racisim until we moved out. But.

My brother-in-law married a very beautiful black woman. I love my nephews and niece beyond belief and make sure I show their current-most photos off to mom. Just to do something that she can't, by her sense of propriety, go "You're showing me something immoral by my standards..."

My mother-in-law is in on the subversion and enjoys me telling her about poking my mom's issues completely.

#94 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:24 PM:

The compliment-but and devaluing of things one is good at: it's not getting beaten with a stick, but it adds up. The book King of the Screw-Ups has a bit that really stuck with me, in which the main character realizes/is told that he consistently blows off all his skills, says they don't count. I do that a lot. It's hard for me to value many of my talents. I either brush them off as meaningless-- okay, good at spelling, who cares?-- or I find a new and larger pond to be a small fish in.

This isn't really something that goes back to my parents, though I think I affected my siblings with it-- if you have a Smart Kid, the next one's going to find a new niche and be the Sports Kid, or the Trouble Kid, or the Cute Kid. I don't think they were rewarded academically the same way I was. After all, I'd already done it.

#95 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:26 PM:

"Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone."

What a terrible catch-phrase that is. Perhaps some cynic, or someone disgusted at their fair-weather friends, originally coined it as a descriptive, but too many people use it as a prescriptive. As though to say, "If you want to be liked, never let anyone see you unhappy." As though to say, "You should know better than to seek sympathy and comfort. No one cares." What a terrible, terrible thing to teach a child.

Weirdly, I think the first time my grandmother used this phrase at me (in its damaging, prescriptive way), I was rather young and misheard it. Or re-invented my memory of hearing it whole cloth. (I have a few memories like that, which are clear as anything in my head but which no family member can confirm.) For some time I was convinced it was, "Laugh and the world laughs with you, but if you cry, no one anywhere can really be happy." I'm not sure if that's better (We're all connected!) or worse (You're responsible for the world's happiness!). It's different, anyway.

Life's too short to hate your family, no matter the reason.

I think of all threads, this is an especially important one to be cautious about using the 2nd person form in.

#96 ::: Triggered ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:36 PM:

I am feeling very fragile tonight. I watched the TV show "House" tonight. Tomorrow is the (many years) anniversary of being let out of the nuthouse my parents had me committed to as a teenager. I ran away once too often, and they lied to make themselves look good, and me "out of control". I would no longer go along with their emotional abuse. Back in the day, the parents were always believed, and the child, never. My father threatened to beat me to a bloody pulp - his usual threat - in front of the doctor if I didn't sign the papers. So I put an X. I was there for two and a half years, partly because I had no place else to go, and no way to prove I was sane.

I found out, years later, that I had been born 6 months after the marriage, not 18 months. They "had to get married" probably didn't want me. My father was either away from home, angry, or asleep, or that was my perception. My mother started taking diet pills when I was 7, and things went downhill from there.

I finally got out, aged out, whatever. I didn't speak to them for at least a dozen years, and had little contact after that.

This is all an over-simplification, But it's hard to write about. I've only told a couple of people about that episode in my life. It's years behind me now. I am free, with a good place to live, a loving partner, and enough money to pay my bills. But I still occasionally have nightmares about it.

#97 ::: NobodyAtAll ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:39 PM:

I'm not really ready, I guess. I've been trying, but I can't.

I'm glad this thread is here though. Thank you.

OK, one thing. When I was in college and just beginning to realize that my family wasn't normal, I asked some people how often their parents hit them when they were kids. I got back stories about THE TIME (singular) when their parents spanked them from a surprising number of people. A week didn't pass when I didn't get a whack or two.

I have no stories that are anything like what's been told here already. We're not trying to top stories or anything, I know. But it's just not coming right now. Maybe I'll try again.

#98 ::: Another Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:50 PM:

Grew up hearing, with some pride, how my parents never hit us, as if it had to be physical to count as abuse at all. Spent my childhood thinking it could be worse and working hard to convince myself it was normal. My father has what I now know is probably high functioning autism, maybe Asperger's, and was always more concerned with his own comfort and his own fascinations than with anything else. He cared, but in the way a child cares, only after his own needs were all tended to and only with whatever energy he had left over after that.

But my mother kept insisting he was "doing the best he could" and telling us we had to work harder at understanding him and not angering him -- even when we were small. She still does, years after divorcing him. She seems to have invested a lot in believing it was all all right, when all of us kids still long for the simple validation of, "Yes, he treated you very badly."

Anyway. The 5 a.m. yelling matches between the two of them were pretty bad. So was the hearing him rant and rage about hurts done to him 30 years past -- because he might ignore the details of our day to day lives but he never forgot the injuries done him, real or imagined -- and watching him pound the air or the walls when his anger grew too great for him to handle. So was watching him bury himself in his narrow fascinations and not caring -- not noticing -- if they interfered with his children's lives.

But mostly it was about not knowing when there would be arguments and yelling and screaming and a sort of non-physical-yet-terrifying violence; and the feeling that I didn't exist in any realm outside my father's narrow interests, didn't exist as an individual outside of him at all as far as he was (is) concerned; and my mother telling me that I ought not be upset, that I ought be more understanding, that I ought to handle it better -- telling me, without meaning to, that it was my fault, not his.

I used to wonder why I understood the mindset behind abuse -- from both sides, which still scares me -- so well. I'd never been abused, after all. I knew that. I'd been told it all my life.

I don't honestly know if my childhood does count as abuse. But understand now that I did grow up with violence, and quite a bit of it. And it was neither all right nor my fault.

#99 ::: Another Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2009, 11:52 PM:

(Thank you for this thread. I almost didn't post and was surprised at how good it felt to do so.)

#100 ::: M ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:17 AM:

And even non-abusive backgrounds can still be ... scarring, let's say. Compared to almost anyone I know, my childhood could be considered a happy one, I guess. As someone above said: My parents did the best they could. And that "best" wasn't all that bad. And yet, and yet.

My parents had no friends. Ever, to the best of my recollection. And so -- I can't make friends. And that's part of why. I keep people at a distance. Never let anyone in. Never trust anyone. We moved house every few years to a different part of the country -- new job for my dad, and all that -- so I never had roots. Never felt at home anywhere. Is it surprising that out of three kids, two of us -- the oldest two -- travel far afield, both marrying people from other continents?

My father -- well, he and I have never been close. I'm not sure he's ever really been close to anyone; even with my mother it's hard for him, I think. His family were and are ... stifling. And he does the thing of -- revising the past. You can never trust his memory of anything, ever. He's the joker with no sense of humor. The one that wants understanding but can't offer any.

My mother -- big crazy Irish Catholic family. Where crazy means should-have-all-been-committed-to-the-nuthouse. Religious mania; two of her siblings have converted to other religions and been REALLY STRANGE about it. The one brother who was an armed robber by profession and drank his way to an early grave. The father who was at least 20 years older than everyone thought he was. The mother who was a crazy, insane control freak, unstable, violent, dangerous. My mother left home at 18 and didn't speak to them again for at least ten years if not longer. When she got back in touch, my father had been dead for many years.

My mother is ... remarkably sane, considering. Manipulative, unable to praise without taking back, hyper-critical, histrionic ... but remarkably sane, considering.

Really, though, it was the hell of school that was more damaging than home, all things said. And the co-worker of my dad's that sexually abused me. I wonder if my parents worked that one out; for no reason I ever knew, they suddenly cut him out of their lives. Did they know?

#101 ::: Not Daddy's Girl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:24 AM:

I've never suffered anything I would comfortably call abuse. I was never physically harmed as a child, though to this day I still expect my father to snap and hit me, and the degrees of emotional crap I've dealt with haven't remotely approached anything detailed on this thread. Still, I can feel the echoes of my father's behavior pretty strongly in a lot of parts of my life. (Especially my love life. But that's a whole different ramble.)

My mother used to tell me when I was a child how happy my father was, when I was born, that he had a daughter. She used to tell me this, of course, when he'd said or done something that had upset me and sent me crying to my room. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that she told me the other half of that truth, in a revelation that was utterly characteristic of my father. That when my older brother was born, somewhat sickly, after 30+ hours of labor and a difficult birth, my father's first words were, "Oh, I wanted a girl."

Not that you'd have known it from his behavior towards me. I do think he likes me better than my brothers, but it's probably as much because I'm better at social pretense than they are as out of any real affection. I can pretend, when he's having one of his better days, that I haven't spent the past week on edge for fear of setting off one of his (admittedly rare) screaming rages, or those cutting remarks at which he so excels. I'm usually so relieved that his surly silence has finally ended (Ah, but for how long?) that I can swallow some of the resentment and chat about one of our shared interests, or engage in some snide banter about some political issue that irritates us both.

I've become more inclined to stand up to him in the past few years. I'll call him on his tone sometimes, or scream back when he's screaming at me or my mother. But I can tell that it isn't so much new courage as it is my temper growing shorter and more violent and more like his. We've always had too much in common. We've always been just barely capable of feigning social skills, which is more than I can say for my brothers. We've shared an interest in so many things. We've got the same dark sense of humor. And we've got the same propensity for festering resentment and scathing fury.

My mother told me once, as a kind of explanation, that his father had been abusive. Remembering the way he and my grandfather used to scream at each other until their throats were raw, I can believe that. What little I know of my grandparents makes it abundantly clear they should never have been allowed to adopt a child. (A child who would only find out about his adoption by accident, at nearly 30.) And while it's obvious to me that my father probably just needs some anti-depressants and therapy, I can't quite bring myself to feel sympathy for him. He knows his behavior is a problem. He just won't do anything about it. We're the ones who are supposed to change. And the trouble is that I have.

Looking this over, I have a nagging feeling I've made him sound worse than he is. But when I think about it, it's more that I'm so used to living with it that it doesn't seem bad, just normal. I don't want it to be normal. God, I'm just realizing how much more I could write about this. About how it's not like my mother's an innocent bystander all the time, though she always seems like the nice, approachable, sympathetic one. ("Why do you look so fat there?" she asked, looking at a flattering photo of me back when I could wear a size 4.) About how a college professor, the day before my graduation, said to them, "But of course you're proud of her." And they said, "Yes, of course." And I realized that I didn't believe them at all. About how that lack of pride and confidence has turned into self-fulfilling prophecy and I'm still stuck in my parents' home, broker than broke and unemployed.

#102 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:25 AM:

I totally agree that forgiveness does not mean laying oneself open to future abuse. It's just the way that forgiving a debt does not mean predending that the debtor isn't a bad credit risk. Unfortunately, many people are fed the "you must forgive, which means pretending it was all okay and letting it happen again" line. With a strong implication that only bad, selfish people protect themselves . . .

In the spirit of inversion, here are some things I thought of as normal:

1. Surviving parent will be drunk shortly after dinner if not before and should not be asked to do anything.

2. Lack of medical exams, lack of decent housing, lack of safe transportation, lack of veterinary care for pets, lack of door on own bedroom, thieving landlord, open sewage running over road: all normal and to be put up with. Doesn't matter that other people don't live like this, on similar salaries even. (Surviving parent had a history of making life-altering decisions on weird bases. We moved into a decrepit, trashed double-wide instead of a decent small house because the last tenant before the place stood empty had been somebody she knew. And we didn't leave for years.)

3. Older siblings exist to raise younger ones; the parent just provides the food, clothing, and study help. (That was one good thing she did for me: she gave up a degree in an information field for an MRS, but she didn't forget her education and she did her best to pass it on. Emotionally, however . . . ) There is no escape from the rage of two angry teenagers because this is the way things are supposed to be. They can do what they like and they are never disciplined for it; if you complain, it's just too much for the adult to handle and she will wave her hands and wail. And with two angry teenagers as models, you're going to be a rager yourself; you just don't realize it.

4. Not remembering conversations other people swear you had is your fault. Being terrified of being touched is your fault. Being wary of anybody bigger, faster, stronger, or louder is your fault. Being frightened of laughter is your fault. Going to a therapist, carefully rehearsing what you're going to say, and being unable to make the words come out or even come to mind when you get into the office is your fault. There is nothing wrong with the world. You're just weird. (Repressed memories and dissociative identity disorder. Whee!)

5. There is nobody to confide in and nobody to trust. If you get a severe injury while home alone, you don't call anybody; you treat it yourself.

6. You find yourself doing and saying bizarre things and people tell you that you are acting as if you feel [insert emotion here]. Okay, whatever. What emotions?

7. Basically, you're not human. Take what you can get and try not to be noticed.

And, again, I was in an ordinary town with an ordinary life of school, part-time job, and a couple of extracurriculars. I even had a dog. Most of the people I grew up with never had a clue about any of this. We're everywhere. "Civilians" (apt phrase, PTSD FTW) just don't see us because we are so good at hiding.

All I can say is, thank God for therapy. I can remember being this way. Sometimes I have nightmares about still being in that horrible decrepit old house full of mold and leaks in a bedroom (that had no opening window) or watching my parent do something dangerous while drunk (involving fire). I still struggle with my temper even though I have identified and connected with it. But my kids are, please God, never going to have to go into therapy to get over me.

#103 ::: M ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:41 AM:

And it's scary, reading over other people's postings, how I catch myself saying, "Oh, I know that one!" Especially about how we react, how we behave as if things are always our own fault. Oh how I do that.

And yet my background is so much not as bad as many of these.

My wife ... hers is as bad, in many ways. The "Not the child I wanted" syndrome. The poor boundary issues, the way her mother wanted a child to do exactly what she wanted at any time, even if there was no consistency about it. The beatings, for presuming to not guess exactly the right thing to say or do so as not to set her off. And then the constant accusations she faced from her mother and grandmother that "you're so cold, you don't care about anyone, you're so selfish." Um, no -- she's the warmest person I know. She was just taught, by the two of you, that showing any of that to you, ever, was giving you something to attack when you felt like being mean.

We don't have children largely because, I think, of my wife's terror of her mother getting her hands on them.

#104 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:47 AM:

I don't count as a person in my family. I'm the conveyor, the translator, the therapist, the phone system - but not a person in my own right. I haven't disconnected because I can't shake the certainty that if I did, none of the rest could maintain a relationship with each other at all.

My mother started treating me as her personal therapist at about age 6, when she became convinced my father was having an affair (he wasn't, though he has since). My father started treating me the same way when my eldest brother left home (when I was 8), and he lost his confidant. I spent my childhood having way too much information about things I had no way of processing. Nothing was TMI.

I hit middle school, and school was frankly and appallingly abusive. A teacher was feeling me up; my fellow students were beating me up; I had, quite literally, no friends whatsoever. But I got straight A's, and my parents never heard a word about any of it, because I was so convinced that their problems were everything, and mine counted for nothing. The whole of my existence was to not add "worrying about our daughter" to their list of problems. It never occurred to me that it was part of their job to worry about me - it was my job to worry about them.

I learned to wall all my negative feelings up inside where they wouldn't show and worry the people who mattered - everyone but me. And you can't wall away only the negative emotions, so I also cut myself off from joy, happiness, and any sense of fun. I've improved a lot over the last two decades, but I still have massive problems showing emotion. Every reaction I have is run through about fifty filters to make sure it's not too much, too dangerous, too likely to draw attention, too negative...

And my interactions with my family are still fraught. My parents have only gotten worse with time. I'm the keeper of secrets for the whole family. I know who went to a divorce attorney 3 days after their 50th wedding anniversary (but decided against). Who turned who in to the FBI as a terror suspect. Who's developing Alzheimer's (and hasn't been told and wouldn't believe me). Who might have Parkinson's, and won't tell anyone else because there's nothing to be done for several months yet.

I'm not a person. I'm the buffer and repository for my family, and there's no room in here for me.

#105 ::: Dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:56 AM:

I was not abused. My parents weren't always great at it - my mom in particular has a hair-trigger temper; Dad's is less easily triggered but once it is, he's really in a rage. But they never hit me beyond normal spanking and they never, ever, ever made me feel that I wasn't a person of value or that I couldn't become whatever I wanted. I've never been abused by a friend or teacher or lover or other relative.

Dad, on the other hand, had a childhood that featured beating, abandonment, and not being allowed (legally) to belong to the one set of foster parents who really loved him. In those days they took you away from foster parents for fear you'd grow too attached, and his mother was alive, didn't want him herself, but wouldn't let him be adopted.

I mention all this because I've had people tell me honestly that *every* woman they know has been abused in some way, and I think it's important to say that there are women who haven't, and children who haven't - and that it's possible for an abused child to grow up and raise one.

#106 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:20 AM:

Doesn't Count @#104: If we were in a support group in meatspace, I might be in the chorus telling you that if your family collapsed without you, that would totally not be your fault. That it would be perfectly okay for you to decline to play the role of family sump. I say "might" because I would have to get to know you and learn more about your situation first. And, believe me, I remember feeling as though the earth were going to crack open and swallow me if I dared to go against the family system--in my case, walking three or four times past my very first self-help book for survivors at the bookstore, terrified to be seen actually touching it even though the people I had survived were four time zones away. Saying is one thing, doing another.

Which, back on topic: Realspace support groups can be incredibly empowering. Imagine feeling like the lone freak, making oneself say things one never thought one would say aloud, and seeing nodding heads all around the room. Imagine never having to explain!

#107 ::: DidntThinkItWasMe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:51 AM:

I grew up with a depressed father and a mother who'd been traumatized (probably sexually) by my dead grandpa. Don't know for sure. But the family stories trace the pattern back to two centuries ago on a different continent.
She hoarded. Tried to control everything around her. Afraid of any kind of risk. Afraid of "what other people would think." She tried to live my life for me. We got into a couple fist fights when I was a teenager. A whole lot more screaming matches. My judgement was constantly questioned. Often told I was "irrational" or "hysterical." I liked throwing dishes into walls when I was mad because I realized real fast that, being the big sister, hitting people when I was angry brought on way more guilt than I wanted to deal with. Even if that's how she told me to handle spats with my siblings. Even when no one knew who started it. I could hurt them way more than they could hurt me.
It was a long time and a long separation before I realized I loved her. Before I recognized that doing things to spite her was letting her run my life, and in a very dangerous way.

But the worst of it was somehow I'd had roads tracked into my brain that drew me to people like her. Some of whom had deeper twists in their currents of pain and greater gifts of deception and reality distortion until you couldn't recognize who you were and what you thought. I spent sixteen years of my life with someone like that. Someone who attacked me when I was pregnant and twice in front of my toddler. It wasn't until a split moment where I realized that if I didn't fight back I was going to die that I realized something was wrong. I ended up with a black eye and a split lip and didn't leave for 10 months, and only after talking to a couple other people who brought it to my attention that waiting until "I could afford to" was poisoning me. Every second was poisoning me.

Now I wonder how I could have been so blind. But it really was so easy to trick myself, too.

#108 ::: DidntThinkItWasMe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:01 AM:

Well, and then, enough of the girls at school were vicious little harpies to me that I cut myself off from expecting anything good from people for a very long time. So when nothing good happened, I wasn't very surprised. I knew how to handle that. It took a long while to realize how inadequately I'd been prepared to function, socially. In any sort of non-defensive way.

#109 ::: e ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:02 AM:

At the age of 27, with my wonderful mother near death from cancer, I received a job offer 2000 miles away. I took it. My access to her was pretty much cut off at that point: phones were less ubiquitous in those days and across the state was not that different from across the country in practical terms.

She died about 5 months later. As it turned out, my father died about 6 months after she did, so the problem of being under his roof with her not there did not much arise. But I have to admit there is a certain lack of closure. (I am 55 now, older than either of them lived to be.)

I cannot point to much in the way of overt episodes of abuse at home, though I was harassed and bullied at school and my parents were profoundly useless at doing anything about it.

My brothers called me "The Mole" because I spent all of my time in my room with the door closed and usually locked. Always locked after bedtime, after I reached junior high school age. My mother never suggested this might be unnecessary. My father, when drunk, occasionally made it clear that he resented the barrier.

When he was drunk he made it clear he resented a lot of things about me. He definitely resented the fact that I enjoyed college. Or resented the fact that I got into college. Or something. He resented that on the very rare occasions he touched me, grabbing an arm or whatever, he always hurt me (somehow that was my fault).

All though high school (and beginning earlier, I think) When the Sunday paper was divided up, the first section I always read was Real Estate and Home.

I never quite reached the point of wishing he would die, but I spent years wishing she would divorce him (an impossibility for both logistical and religious reasons).

The weird thing is that I seem to be the only one who doesn't think my parents had this wonderful marriage and home.

I like my father's sister, a lot, and don't want to hurt her, so I don't push the issue. One time I suggested that I didn't think my father quite knew what to do with a daughter. My aunt said, "Oh, but on the day you were born I remember him saying how how wonderful it was to have a daughter." I thought it was telling that she couldn't remember any other later times in my life when he praised or bragged about me. I was high school valedictorian and a National Merit scholar, never in any trouble.

#110 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:28 AM:

Doesn't Count @ #104: I haven't disconnected because I can't shake the certainty that if I did, none of the rest could maintain a relationship with each other at all.

Yes, this. It was a major contributor to my bout of depression, that feeling that my only worth inside the family was as its glue. One of the reasons I cracked was because I just couldn't take it anymore.

I wouldn't wish depression on anyone, ever. It's an experience I don't care to repeat, but after being successfully treated for it, it was in many ways one of the best things that happened to me*. It forced me to let go of certain things, including the burden of expectation. I discovered that my family could muddle through without me. I became a lot more empathetic, and a lot less hard on myself. And I found out that they rallied behind me when I needed it most (got me into therapy, didn't try to deny I needed help, took me out of the situation that really triggered the depression in the first place). This is when and why I finally made peace with my family's fcked-upness, when I realized that most of us were (and are) doing the best we could, albeit with spectacularly bad results in many cases.

There was a high price to pay, but most of the anger and resentment are gone. I wish the same thing for my family, and for every person who's posted here.

* Fingers and toes crossed I never have to go through it again, but it also taught me that nothing is certain. When I'm down, I force myself not to wallow because I know how easily I can talk myself into going deeper into the hole.

#111 ::: PP ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 07:02 AM:

Had an idyllic happy childhood. Remember constantly being told I was loved by my father.

Many, many, many years later, when he was arrested for underage solicitation, my father revealed he lived a second life as a gay man, roaming beats. It hurt so much because it destroyed my whole childhood. It filled in a lot of things I had thought were passing strange (spending lengthy times in public toilets) with pain. Every "I love you" became tainted, not because of his sexuality (which I could have dealt with) but because of his secrecy, his guilt and the forced revelation.

I dealt with it (my own therapy), and talked it out with him, reached some level of closure and we were working on starting our relationship again. He had worked through some things, found religion again, and was on medication.

My partner and I had a daughter on the way. My sister and her partner had a son on the way. Two grandchildren were about 8 weeks away.

Seemingly on the spur of the moment (no note, no warning signs), he violently took his own life (on Mother's Day 2008 - if that was his idea of a gift, it wasn't appreciated).

I'm more angry at him now for not letting his grandkids get to know him than for anything he ever did to me. And I'm also relieved I'll never have to worry about him babysitting.

I know that Dad worked very hard to not become a physical abuser because he had endured it from his father. Unfortunately, he still ended up hurting us all. Breaking one cycle isn't enough sometimes - you've gotta watch out for the flip side as well. I'm trying my hardest to make sure that my daughter (and now son on the way too) don't have to experience any of my crap, but I know that no one makes it through childhood unscathed - I'm just hoping I can give them enough tools so that they can repair whatever I damage.

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 07:53 AM:

Torrlin @75:
It is not easy to overcome the poison of alcoholism or abuse. I don't know how my parents, aunts and uncles did it, at all. I don't know where they found the strength. But they did, and we did. The great-nieces and nephews are visibly saner than my cohort was as kids.

Yeah, this.

My maternal grandmother was raised in a house where people threw crockery during arguments. My mother was not.

My mother was raised in a house where everyone ate separately, because sit-down dinners led to vicious emotional blackmail, shouting, and slammed doors. I was not.

My father was raised in a house where neither parent felt easy expressing affection. I was not.

I come from a line of heroes who escaped bad childhoods and did not replicate them with their own kids. They did the best with the tools they had*, and now I and my kids† just sit here outside the situation and only dimly understand what you guys have seen.

* Thank God for the counterculture of the 60's and 70's, which let my folks essentially reinvent parenting from scratch.
† I hope

#113 ::: Pro ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Lee @92 -- yes, yes, yes. My father, to this day, criticizes me for not getting the same breed of dog he has decided is The Only Right And True Dog. Hi, I like pound puppies, not purebred terriers.

It's such a stupid example and yet so indicative -- this, such a stupid standard, is still used to criticize me.

Part of what is so hard about my parents is that they are unrelentingly, unabashedly negative. They criticize EVERYTHING but admit NOTHING. And yet they do it in a cheerful voice, and if you call them on it, they say it's just their opinion, and at the end of the day, day is night and left is right and it's hard to believe that anyone, anywhere is just able to acknowledge reality or ascribe kindness or good intent to others.

It took me years to recognize the reality-distortion, years to trust that anyone might be good.

#114 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:33 AM:

Come away oh human child
To the waters and the wild
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand

#115 ::: an unused identifier ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 10:44 AM:

I wish I'd found this thread earlier.

I'm currently (last year or so) attempting to find my way to being content. It took me a long time to see that things in my life relate to family issues - dumb, to me, but I've often been incredibly blind to such things, probably because I do self-analyse a lot, but in a bit of a vacuum.

I grew up extremely poor (Southern US, we didn't have running water or electricity for several years in my teens). My father is a substance abuser (not terribly picky, he just wants to escape). My mom did her best to hold things together, and to be fair, so did he, for a long time. They sucked at money, and we were always marginal. They did their best for me, as they could, really. I was a smart kid, got a mostly paid-for ticket to a small liberal arts school(tm) in NE. Dropped out after a year, moved to California, faked/worked my ass off into a quite well paying technical role.

I was developing a drinking problem through this. Hadn't really gotten bad yet.

I tried my first serious relationship. It was with someone I'd met/dated a bit in high school. We met on a summer program, she ended up in the same city. Over a couple of years (she moved away, I visited a lot, she came back) we courted, and once she came back we got a place together. It took me three years of living together to ruin it. In retrospect, I think we would have been ill-suited for eachother long term, anyway, due to different goals (I really do not want children, she did and now has one; she's happy being solidly corporate-riser upper class, I wasn't).

This ended deep in the dot.bomb when I ran out of savings and she left. I moved to NYC, spent seven years freelancing, becoming more of a drunk. Went through another relationship, this one with someone with whom I could have seen myself being with long term. Ran that into the ground with drinking.

Met a third person, really a wonder, whom I'm still not over. She caught me right at the tail of a bit of a spiral. The economy was tanking, my work dried up/I was fucking it up pretty seriously. She rightly couldn't stand being around me, although it hurt her a lot, she dumped me.

I'm now middle of nowhere, trying to pull something together. Again.

Confronting all the things I really dislike about myself is incredibly difficult. I'm on the slope to 40 now, deeply afraid that I've locked off an awful lot of options. I've built up what I'm seeing to be a pretty awful anxiety reflex, which is what I was drowning in drink before. My most recent ex, a child of therapy, convinced me that it could do me a lot of good with the right one, an option not open to me unless/until I recover to a decent income again. That took some convincing, as I had a terrible therapist for a couple years, a consequence of trying antidepressants.

There's a bit of mental instability in the family, something I think I have a touch of. I know understand better how money management works, but it still isn't instinctual. The depression still makes doing anything of value hard, exhausting, and I don't think I've had an unreservedly happy experience in years - there's always a bit of the hind-brain whispering corrosion. I'm getting to the point where I hate, _hate_ technical work - if I never write another line of code... but that's all I've done professionally. I've been flirting with artistic pursuits and writing, something I've always done, but I know I'm just not a writer at heart, and these silly interlocking impulses tell me to put off dumb arty things until after securing income, which, freelance, never ends. At least I have the drinking somewhat under control.

I've decided that I won't be trying another relationship until I've had a spell of getting by on a daily level of being - if not happy, content. I don't think I can be honest and good to someone else until I learn to do the same for myself.

I think that has been the hardest thing for me - I internalized a fair amount of shame and deprivation growing up, that turned into ambition without goal, and certainly without the requisite tools to manage the results. One of the most telling things, in retrospect, of my most recent relationship was that she'd ask what I wanted to do (we had a lot of freedom - both of us were self employed with NYC to play in), I would try to think of something I actually wanted to do, and draw a blank. Simple, honest questions about desires, goals, wants and needs, I couldn't answer. I've been spending most of my life complicating those questions without realizing that a mixture of nuance, analysis, rationalization and outright self-delusion does not make a life choice.

So, to now - I just try to slog on. I keep hoping that going through the motions will help a bit, and trying to move something, anything forward. Loneliness is a hard thing. I am extremely inward facing, although not socially awkward. I generally would rather be alone than with people who I don't really like a lot, and after close to 20 years of having the menu of people available in two of the best cities in the country, I admit to being too picky, which isn't good either.

If this - not reinvention, attempt at building a comfortable home in my skull, attempt to live in my body, attempt to find something that brings a simple joy, doesn't work, I think I am going to throw myself at travel for as long and as far as I can. Something I used to enjoy a lot and haven't done a lot of. At least it would be novelty.

Anyway, thank you for providing this forum. I currently have no real outlet for this stuff, and I cannot seem to write about it without an audience for it. I haven't commented here much, but read and enjoy you all a lot.

#116 ::: Bojangles ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:28 AM:

My family wasn't abusive. But it was dysfunctional. My parents genuinely loved us, and genuinely did their best. What's been hardest for me to admit is that their best was not good enough. They didn't love one another, and they didn't love themselves, and all the encouragement in the world doesn't erase watching their constant belittlement of one another, both to the other's face and to us their children.

Is it better to know that when your mother tells you people only like happy people, and so you should smile when inside you are in agony, to know that she was really, truly trying to help you? That when your father stops hugging you, or kissing you, or touching you at all in any way after the age of 10 that he honestly thought it was best?

They tried so hard. And I still ended up insular and untrusting and perfectionist and self-loathing and terrified of the world.

#117 ::: Anon4Now ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:04 PM:

I tried to write this last night and realized I couldn't post it as written. I'm going to try to write it differently in a way I can post.

I wasn't abused. I love my family and can trust them -- now. But a little over ten years ago, my mother was struggling with untreated depression. This led to rages, screaming, passive-aggressive pronouncements. I am scared even now to label it dysfunctional, because one of her favorite themes whenever there was family tension or argument was to start crying and saying "We're a dysfunctional family!"

I know this was just because she didn't know, then, how to handle tension or anger in a healthy way. She really did feel like she was failing. But it was also an effective way to get the original argument to stop, and to get us all working to calm her down and prove everything was perfect.

That's left me, even now, struggling to cope with any kind of tension or anger or argument in a healthy way. I only have two natural modes: to start stomping, yelling, screaming, and banging things, or else to swallow it down and just avoid the conflict because I dread it and because I'm not supposed to upset anyone. Neither are good.

I struggle (now as then) with depression too. When I was in a deep pit then, prickly and miserable, it tended to set her off as well, and I'd just end up adding a load of guilt to everything else for making her upset. When I mentioned suicide, it was treated as an irritating teenage dramatic gesture -- "Don't be ridiculous" was the usual reply. I still don't think she knows how close I came to actually doing it.

I was the good kid. I learned that my role was not to worry anyone, not to cause trouble. When I did cause any trouble, it was treated as practically a capital offense, unbearably shocking. My brother caused a lot more trouble, and while he certainly got in trouble for it, it was sort of expected coming from him.

We're all adults now. My mother has been in effective treatment for years and is now someone I can trust, even to share things that might "cause trouble."

Or so I thought until a couple of days ago. My brother gave up a high-status career path because it didn't make him happy, and is now reconsidering what he wants to do with his life. She's very angry at him, fearing that this was his last chance to accomplish something, and now he'll never amount to anything. She won't tell him this. She told me. I'd told her, a while back, that I was considering whether to continue with my career path, and she'd been supportive. Now she said "If you had quit then, I wouldn't have been as angry" (emphasis mine).

As angry?! Suddenly I'm terrified that maybe her love and approval really is conditional on my accomplishments. If I'd quit what I was doing to pursue something else, in her eyes, would I have really become the loser and failure of my worst nightmares?

I know it's just that my brother's decision was unexpected for her (well, it was for all of us, including him), and she's still reeling and doesn't quite know how to handle it. I know she'll process her anger, and I trust that she'll come to a point where she'll trust him to find his path in life.

But right now I feel thrust right back into my role as the good kid, calming her down, trying to convince her that she's not a failure by being perfect and trying to make everyone else perfect too. And I'm really angry at her right now for that.

I think of my family as extremely important to me, one of the biggest stable things in my life, a great source of happiness. But this is one place where I can actually admit that there were some deeply messed-up things about it too.

#118 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:09 PM:

I'm doing my best. She says I'm doing well.

I am deathly, desperately afraid.

You sound like my mom. And my dad really. I'm almost 32, and they're still worrying that they may have damaged me forever. On the whole it's probably healthy for abuse survivors to think that way.

They aren't really ever sure what's enough affection for kids. So they overcompensate and are very huggy parents. If I yelled and screamed and threw a tantrum, the moment I calmed down enough that it was possible, I'd get hugged and reassured that they loved me. I'd also get told that tantrums were scary and hurtful for them, and they didn't like it.

It worked pretty well.

What worked even better was being able to tell *them* that it scared me if they yell at each other, and have them listen. Mutual respect is lethal for a lot of abuse behaviors.

I'm still pretty damaged, considering how little abuse I experienced. Being prone to mental illness probably makes your brain and body less resilient in the face of stress. And my parents were able to teach some coping skills that were healthy, but a lot of their defaults are unhealthy. And it doesn't help that I was born with a strong startle reflex, and have very poor vision... a lot of my physical traits play into being introverted. Natural introverts don't pick up social skills very well, and that is a handicap in breaking the abuse cycle. The family extroverts are obviously better socialized.

Doesn't make me a bad person, just makes me me.

#119 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 12:51 PM:

Unused Identifier, I realized a few months ago that I hadn't made a conscious life-path decision in about a decade. I still don't know how to want in a career/life way.

It doesn't help that I can shrink down and tolerate quite a bit. It's taken me until the last three years to figure out friendship outside of context-- talking to work friends outside work, being the one to start and plan things-- in part because I can live without physical social interaction for quite a while. I have frog-soup tendencies.

I was a kid my parents wanted, no question about that, but not so much a kid they expected. My mother was prepared for rebellion the way she did it-- parties, sex, et cetera. At some point in junior high or early high school, she found a pregnancy test box in the trash bucket outside and reacted way, way out of proportion. She took some glee in teasing me about boys whenever I told her something, which I think was about twice-- it's affectionate teasing, but I don't think she realized that boy do I hate it.

She expected a kid who she could parent the way she might have been parented. She wasn't prepared for a weird kid, a kid who hated socks and jeans, a kid who followed rules wherever she could find them, a kid who desperately needed someone to explain how people work because it just didn't come naturally to her and there was no one else to help.

She was much, much better equipped to parent my sister, right up until things got weird. I'm not sure about my brother. Neither of my parents would trade any of us for anything, but we're three different people, and I think we surprised them each time.

I try not to think of my eventual kids and how to parent their weirdness, which of course will be identical to my weirdness-- there's no 'of course' about it. I don't have to worry about the kid just like me; I worry about the kid just like Mom.

#120 ::: Staying anonymous in case ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:12 PM:

Anon4Now @117: What you wrote makes me think of my partner, because I think she was in the same kind of situation. I wish I could sit her down in front of the computer and have her read this thread. She and her siblings clearly love one another and had a difficult relationship with their mom (dad was the easy-going diplomatic kind), but there was obviously some dysfunctional behavior while they were growing up.

#121 ::: Neon Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:12 PM:

Diatryma @#119: I don't have to worry about the kid just like me; I worry about the kid just like Mom.

Yes! What do I do if my child thinks that being conventional is the highest thing to aspire to? How do I handle it when my kid shakes their head and doesn't actually have to say how strange and disappointing I am for being not like all the other moms?

More to the point, how do I avoid assuming my children must be like me to be worthwhile, the way my mother assumes about me?

That isn't fair. She's just so perplexed that I don't see the obvious about what's important and worth attention. She assumes I know, and I'm just being perverse to vex her, I think.

#122 ::: Annie Mal ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:53 PM:

About pleasing unpleasable parents: I was lucky enough to have a moment of irrefutable enlightenment in the company of my unpleasable mother; I experienced what I can only think of as satori and was amazingly instantly liberated from that one dysfunction at least.

One of my siblings got into a very exclusive program (ten students per year in a small department that only offered four fields of study). My mother was intensely proud of them, telling everyone how talented they were to have gotten in. A few years later I got accepted to TWO of the programs in this same exclusive department. Her sole response? "Well, I suppose it depends on how many people applied this year."

And in that moment I realized that it didn't have a damn thing to do with me, that she simply didn't have that part in her that COULD be proud of me, no matter what the circumstances. I actually had to turn away to hide my face because I couldn't prevent a laughing grin.

That moment I will never forget. It marked the start of my freedom, my disengagement from her need to hate, the beginning of beginning to allow that there might be a worthy thing or two inside of me despite her constant disparagement.

I want to thank everyone for their participation in this thread. I feel less uniquely warped, if you will. Knowing that I'm not the only one who had psychiatry used against them as a weapon, who has a "good" life but still thinks of suicide daily... I could never handle a real life group meeting - severe social anxiety was one rather predictable outcome of my early life - but this really does help.

Writing and reading this thread initially left me rather profoundly gloomy, so I thought it might be helpful, if only for me, to think about the positives that arose from my childhood negatives.

1. Having no support throughout my life means I don't need any. I'll never be the girl at the audition who can't perform because her mother/father/boyfriend isn't there.

2. Having to take care of my physical problems all of life has made me physically stubborn. No matter how small and weak I was, I always had to manage physical things alone. So I became ingenious, learning how to leverage other objects to perform tasks normally accomplished by more than one person. And on a few occasions I've gone much, much farther physically to extricate myself from impossible situations than I would rationally have thought possible beforehand.

3. Having to take care of all my situations myself has made me independent and capable. I'm a screwup in many ways, but when it comes to tackling a new situation I'll always be able to dive in and logic or research things out as I go along, because that's just how it's always been. People may always frighten me but a challenge never will.

#123 ::: an unused identifier ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Diatryma -

I think there are similarities between us. My mother had me when she was very young. My brother is eight years younger, and with both parents working odd hours, I had to care for him a lot, until I bailed for school when he was 10. Mom and I were closer to cohorts than mother/son, and that colored a lot of things. As Dad become more of a screwup over time, there was an us v. him dynamic. I *was* a very responsible young 'in, for my age, for many values of responsible. I just didn't learn how to live other than by scraping by, or (I think more importantly) how to accept mentoring. Those, in combination, did not make for breaking into high stress, high pay situations well, but I didn't really start having problems for a while.

One of the few early decisions I made was never kids, under any circumstances. I was very careful about that for a long time, and had a vasectomy about 6 years ago to ensure it would never even come up. I knew when I was in my teens that kids were a serious responsibility that came at serious costs. I know now the joy those costs can yield, and I'm still happy with my choice, because I know what a fucked up person I am, and couldn't help but pass that on to people I loved and couldn't ever deserve it.

Insert therapist here, discussing unresolved parental anger for feeling that I don't deserve the unhappiness I've had. And that's certainly there.

There is no "fair" in any of this, of course*. Makes me glad I'm an atheist; having to attempt to make sense of Sky Dad in all of this would be that much more difficult and twisting, I think.

* One weird little thing I realized about myself was that I think I was drawn to writing software because it was a rich, complex environment over which I could exert control, replaying things until I got them right, something that can't happen with people. Fair doesn't even usually come in to play with flawed people all trying their best and still causing terrible results. /ramble.

#124 ::: me2too ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Where to start? I come from a dysfunctional family, that led me to get into an emotionally abusive relationship. Getting into something is one thing -- not having the skills to get out is worse.

Mom's parents were loving but strict. Or strict but loving. She complied, but I think she resented the authority. Dad was pretty much of an irresponsible, immature sociopath[1], but apparently a heck of a lot of fun. For awhile. Until the gambling, drinking, lying, and going into debt made things precarious. Mom made the right decision and left him, but that didn't solve all the problems; created a few more, actually.

She was sooo uptight, worried about doing the right thing, about making enough money to survive, about doing right by me, wanting me to have a great life (and of course avoid her mistakes). A lot of my behavior was motivated by wanting to please her and not worry her.

She could be very intimidating, and had almost no tolerance for anything even remotely resembling argument or "back-chat". Anger, my anger, was always WRONG, and I grew up with no ability to argue constructively, or trust my own instincts or needs. No ability to stand up for myself.

I've had lots of problems relating to authority figures, especially in work situations. (Guess what, Mom? Getting good grades and being agreeable is not the key to success in life.) But I tend to cave when anyone presents themselves in an authoritative way, which has been awful in my marriage.

At first, I really admired my husband for the way he had such decided opinions on all sorts of things. Me? I see things in shades of grey, and felt like I waffled around in comparison to him. Unfortunately, his decisiveness is more intolerance and selfishness. He's also a bully - not physically in the sense of hitting, but he raises his voice, calls names, berates, insults. If something doesn't meet his expectations, that's instant grounds for criticism and rejection. Since he's not psychic, and people (spouses, children) have a habit of not being exactly what you expect, he is often disappointed :/ Worse is the way he behaves to our children -- tells them they'll never amount to anything, never praises, is authoritarian and unfair. And I haven't protected them enough.[2]

For a long time I thought if I said the right thing, explained using the right phrase, had the magic formula, he'd understand me. And if he understood me, why of course he'd treat me better. Reasonable people work that way, right?

It took a long time and some therapy (finally) for me to realize this will never work. Not without me getting a lobotomy, anyway. We neither of us really want to be together anymore, but economically it's a dicey proposition to separate. Going along with all his crazy, time-consuming schemes over the years (in the name of "support" and "solidarity"), and also trying to be there for the kids has meant that I neglected my working life and am having trouble finding a job that will pay enough to support myself. I have no friends here, and my family is in an entirely other country.

Reading ML the last few years has brought me a lot of things -- being around a community of people who are articulate and interesting is fun and stimulating, and helps with the isolation -- but reading the threads has also given me a lot of examples of how to argue points respectfully but assertively, and also how to identify bullying behavior and unfair rhetoric. Hasn't made me an extremely frequent commenter, but I find myself using strategies I've seen here in interactions with my husband. It's helped.

[1]You could literally see the light bulb going on when I took Abnormal Psych, and and we covered Psychopathic Personality Disorder (as it was called then).
[2] It's an odd feeling reading this thread, both relating to aspects of various survivors of abuse, and feeling that I'M the dysfunctional one causing harm to my kids. They're old enough to see the conflicts, and I try to address things without over-involving them. Try to listen, praise, negotiate, embrace the (fabulous) individuals they are. Hopefully it will be enough in some meaningful sense.

#125 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:34 PM:

Striving @ 86: Regarding having to act as your mother's therapist at age 10, you write I guess it's not fair to call that abuse.

In the past this may not have been considered abuse. I believe that's changed, and these days many (most?) specialists consider this kind of parental sharing of age- and role-inappropriate information to be abuse.

It's not a reasonable thing to expect a 10-year-old to do. If officially recognizing that "yes, that was abusive" would help you work with how it affects you today, I think giving it that label would be entirely suitable.

Much respect to everybody who has shared here, and strong wishes that you may find your way to the best place of healing and strength for you.

When I look at the dysfunctions between my mother and her parents, or my father and his, I'm profoundly grateful to them both for having managed to pass along as few of them to me as they did.

#126 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 02:51 PM:

My family was in no wise prepared to cope with me. They come from a culture which discourages intellectual curiosity and they and their friends and their family have none of it. I did. And refused not to. Being punished for spending too much time indoors. Too much time reading. Hearing lip service to the notion that different was ok, but seeing behavior that said different is scary, bad, dangerous. And boy are you different.

I was spanked fairly regularly, usually with a hand or a switch, but that was completely normal in our time and place - I'm older than the general run of you - and I don't consider I was physically abused because of it. On the other hand, I remember with extreme clarity the time my mother slapped me in anger and the time she was so infuriated she used a belt on me that left bruises. If I ever mentioned those things - or other unhappy memories - to her she would look at me blankly and insist those things never happened. Oh, the number of things I remember which I've been told never happened.

My family has no concept of individual boundaries. The don't see themselves individuals, but as part of a family - and the family is far more important than the individual. This makes it ok to say whatever nasty and mean thing you want because later you can apologize and that makes it all right because "we're family". So not real physical abuse, no, but serious emotional and physical abuse. I don't know, though. Does it count as abuse if they don't know any better?

I'm no longer in touch with my mother or sister or any other relatives except my niece. And it's all my fault you know, I'm breaking their hearts. They don't see that they do not treat me with respect, as an adult. If I were to tell them that, they have a backup plan - they've accused me for years of feeling and acting superior to them. I was puzzled for the longest time until I figured out that it's because I know lots of stuff and like to share bright shiny facts with whoever's around. They see that as my acting superior - when I tell them a cool fact the don't think, wow that's cool. They think, she thinks I'm stupid for not knowing this. I didn't figure this out until my 40s and so, see, I have a long established history of acting superior and putting them down. I have explained to them my thought processes a number of time but they insist on viewing the world through their lens and not trying to understand other points of view. They live in a very tiny universe of people all just like them. They think everyone is just like them, or should want to be. (Also, convenient excuse to use to turn away any accusations directed at them; I'm so much worse you see.)

I was also an untreated depressive until I was 39. Well, usefully treated anyway. I had a number of therapists who did me no good at all. One who told me I was choosing to be depressed because it filled a need in my life and we needed to figure out what that was. Thank god for the doctor who, in 1992, first prescribed SSRIs to me. I now take an SSRI/SNRI combination which works pretty well, but you have no idea how untreated depression can warp and twist your personality. I really suck at making friends or being a friend because it's so hard to take the risk of being hurt. Because when you spent the first half of your life with untreated major depressive episodes, everything hurts. And by the time you get help, you can only remember that trusting people hurts. Oh, and of course, I do still get depressed from time to time when the meds need adjusting or something. Depressives are really a pain to be around, you know?

Between not fitting in anywhere at all until I found fandom at 24 and all that untreated depression, I have firmly adopted the role of Outsider and make myself into one even where I don't have to be. It's so safe and familar. And lonely.

I am very lucky though in one respect though. Well, ok, two. I do have a loving husband (who has his own mental/emotional problems, but hey, rocks in my head fit the holes in his) and I don't have to care who sees this or reads this or knows this about me.


#127 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Arrrg. That should be serious emotional and *verbal* abuse up there. I proofread the damn thing twice.


#128 ::: Silent as a Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:21 PM:

I don’t think there was deliberate abuse in my family, but I suspect that depends on how you define abuse. I don’t know. I’ve been digging for a long time, trying to figure out what’s going on in my head and it’s really hard, especially in a family that is as close-mouthed as mine often is. I can't bring myself to share here, yet, but I truly appreciate everyone who has. It helps. Thank you.

#129 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:40 PM:

J. at #106 - family sump is an excellent way to put it. My work towards disengaging thus far has mostly consisted of declining to put up with new impositions when they're particularly heinous. Like declining to help my mother cyber-stalk someone. I have major, major boundary issues. Not surprising I guess, when every issue in our family was all about someone else, even when it was about me. E.g. when I finally told my mother about the teacher who had been hitting on me (some ten years after the event), the discussion rapidly became entirely about my mother and her trauma about having to hear that she'd not been a perfect parent.

Even my husband, who is no more than the normal run of self-centered, has a hard time not taking over my traumas emotionally, because I'm so willing to discount my own feelings at every turn.

I have ceased to visit my parents or the larger family without my husband in tow. It's harder for them to discount him, and he treats me like a human being.

#130 ::: Anonymous chap ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 04:51 PM:

I distinctly remember the shock I got when I read Nowhere Man's Post a year ago: My defensive reaction was to hide from everything, and I still do. My superpower is invisibility. It was the shock of recognition.

Briefly: youngest child by far of middle-aged parents—in many ways had an only-child childhood. Parents were good people and we loved each other and it wasn't abusive, but... Father placid and disappointed, mother neurotic and controlling, and far, far too much of my childhood was spent trying not to wind her up in the many ways that she could be wound up. There's a mad mutant version of sensible concerns about child abuse that overestimates the danger by a factor of several thousand and is a godsend if you want to be neurotic and controlling, and my mother had it: my movements outside the house were controlled at a level that could only have been appropriate if Britain had had a one-per-square-metre concentration of pederasts all the way from Penzance to Thurso. "Cos then, there was this boy, whose // Parents made him come directly home right after school..."—that's me, that is. If you can't go to anyone else's house, and you can't bring anyone back to your own house, you retreat into yourself, somewhat.

I got to my teenage years and there should have been a crisis, then, really, but there wasn't: in that tiny little house where only the tiny living room was warm enough to be habitable year-round, I sat there with my parents and withdrew into my own little world of homework, counting the years until I'd be able to go off to university. It was only much later that I realised there was a lot of identity-finding and boundary-marking that I missed out on, and I had learned entirely duff coping skills.

Anyway, thank you, Nowhere Man, for an insight that I needed at the time and still haven't really assimilated a year on.

#131 ::: S ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Was my Good Kid status more than academically? Was my enduring own-little-world inability to notice things self-defense? I developed a really strong startle reflex in high school, and multiple people have said it's a sign of past abuse. Am I not remembering, have I erased, something horrible from my past?

It's so much easier to pretend it never happened.

This is where the flash of recognition hit me. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with myofascial pain syndrome--just shy of fibromyalgia. I was sick a lot at that time, and stressed out, and like a lot of my family I have a tendency to carry tension physically. My doctor asked at one point if there was any history of sexual abuse, apparently because my responses were somewhat atypical. I recall he tested trigger points and literally put me in tears, while I sat there, nodding and maintaining a stiff upper lip despite my inability to keep from crying. When he asked, I immediately said no, which I thought I believed. And then I looked to my mom for confirmation. And ever since then I haven't been sure.

Two of my older (half) siblings were abused by my father. To the best of my knowledge it was not sexual abuse. It was not as severe as some have described. But it was abuse. My brother, a full sibling and close in age to me, has been subject to plenty of emotional abuse and manipulation, although I don't know if he would characterize it that way. I don't think I was subject to any. But I don't remember much of my childhood. My earliest positive memory was from when I was maybe six or seven, after my parents divorced; although I recall a couple of things from before their split, it's fighting. But in my memories, I was never known to be a participant; simply an unknown spectator. I don't know what to make of it - if I believe that my parents tried to shield me from it, or if it was that they were too absorbed in their own storyline to realize that I was around too.

I found out last year that a family member had been engaging in substance abuse - seriously and to his great detriment - since I was a preteen. I still don't know how to cope with it, because that family member had been integral to my development - I had always tried to impress him. Instead, he was jealous. He went through treatment voluntarily but after completing it was back up to his old manipulative tricks: begging for a clean slate and then insisting that we recall his contributions while ignoring the damage done. I recently filed a restraining order against him - the hardest thing I have ever done, in part because the assistance I received in completing the paperwork involved tenaciously digging things up that I've tried just as tenaciously to bury - but it seems the rest of my family is carrying on as normal. My father asked if perhaps I wasn't overreacting.

I have a hard time trusting. I have a hard time with social interactions, too, as many others who have posted with the difficulty of learning social interactions somewhat later than others. (In some ways I feel this was compounded by homeschooling, and in other ways mitigated: I knew my mother loved me enough to devote her time to me; I knew she had enough confidence in my own abilities that I could develop into a viable adult without her needing to Do Something About It; but I didn't really have friends outside my family, and very few lasted longer than a few months. The internet - and MMORPGs, amazingly - helped. I explained this to a professor one day and he shook his head.) I have an especially hard time with relationships. I've had one serious relationship, which was good at first but difficult. I finally broke it off with him because, in the first place, I didn't think he genuinely cared about my well-being, and in the second place, I found myself struggling to establish and maintain boundaries with him. His reaction after I broke up with him confirmed for me that I had made the right decision.

I've really struggled lately with the question of whether to attempt another relationship. For quite some time after that relationship, I knew I wasn't ready to try again; now I'm not sure. I find my subconscious warning me off, but I don't know whether it's habit, appropriate caution, or inappropriate fear. (I remember the caution about advice, but for anyone still reading this far down, I'd welcome any thoughts.)

I've read every post so far on this thread. Thank you all for having the courage to share.

#132 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 06:19 PM:

@129 -- I have ceased to visit my parents or the larger family without my husband in tow.

That's a useful tactic in many situations. The presence of someone who is not part of the Family Game will often constrain the more egregious game-players to "company manners", since part of the game is to convince everyone outside the family that they are perfectly normal and you are the crazy one. One of the limits I had to set and enforce after my mother's death was that I would not visit my father without someone else being present -- my husband, or (after the divorce) some other friend. And it wasn't because I was afraid of him, it was because I wanted a witness!

The BTVS episode "Ted" really freaked me out, because it was an extreme example of the sort of thing that sometimes went on in our family -- the parent who's so charming to everyone else that no one will believe the chosen victim if they talk.

I've heard it said that the depiction of emotional abuse in Bujold's Komarr has been a literal life-saver for some women who recognized their own relationships mirrored by Tien and Ekaterin...

#133 ::: nonentity ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Very briefly: family very mixed bag of intellectual curiosity and humor, some kinds of emotional support, but also sexual/psychological/emotional abuse.

Simple, honest questions about desires, goals, wants and needs, I couldn't answer.

I still don't know how to want in a career/life way.

Yes. Of all of the issues I carry from my childhood (inability to trust or experience emotional or physical intimacy; a willingness and tendency to live in physical squalor; compulsive overeating; fear of failure/trying/taking risks; poor coping skills), this may be in some way the worst, or at the root of them all.

This simply not ever -- ever -- having been able to say what I want to do with my life, what I want to be when I grow up, what the genuine deep desires of my heart are. Which seems, in turn, to spring from not having any sense of myself as a being who exists autonomously, apart from other people's wishes and desires. Or who has a right to so exist.

Thanks to Abi for hosting this again and to everyone who has posted. I wish health and healing to us all, however they may come.

#134 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 07:57 PM:

Lee #132: Yep. The other thing that's really useful in that situation, in my experience[1], is having really clearly thought out responses to inappropriate actions, and making those clear as consequences for bad actions. If you create a big dramatic scene, I'm taking my family to the hotel across town, and we'll see you when it's convenient for us.

[1] Again, with a messed up and difficult, but not dangerous, family member.

#135 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 08:45 PM:

My own family life when I was growing up was... not good. Not as bad as most of the stories above, but damaging in its way. I may write more later, using a different handle.

I thought I'd mention a related oddity. When I was in my third or fourth year of high school, the University of Ottawa sponsored a "Prisoners' Dilemma" challenge. Each high school in the region was invited to submit one or two FORTRAN functions, with specified parameters, to compete in a round-robin iterated Prisoners' Dilemma tournament. Each function would play against each of the others for some number of rounds, and the one that came out with the highest total score would win. I submitted a pair of functions that I specifically intended to model a grotesquely dysfunctional family/relationship pattern: the utterly spoiled child, and the psychotic spoiling parent.

Each of the functions had a fixed pattern of responses for its first ten moves, which allowed them to recognize each other. If the "child" determined that the function it was playing against wasn't the "parent", it would check for several common PD strategies and generally try to do something reasonable in response. If the "parent" determined that its opponent wasn't the "child", it would always play to cause harm to that opponent, heedless of the cost to itself. If the "parent" and "child" recognized each other, they would always play to help the "child" and harm the "parent".

I'm sure it says something about my awareness of bad family dynamics that I came up with the scheme and put it in those terms. Thinking about it, this would likely have been shortly after my parents had announced that they were separating, and were not-quite not-exactly competing for custody, affection, etc. from my brother and me. What, me cynical?

#136 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Just an aside here. I found the metaphor of forgiveness as writing off a bad debt to be helpful. In particular: if the perp is still running up charges, it's too soon to forgive.

#137 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:44 PM:

Joel Polowin, not meaning to derail at all, but how did the program do? I can just imagine explaining your strategy to baffled judges.

#138 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 09:45 PM:

If the perp isn't going to quit running up charges, forgiveness can also mean putting hir on the Do Not Call list. No repayment expected--no further debts allowed.

#139 ::: anon juror ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 10:34 PM:

I was on a jury last week, and we convicted a man of aggravated sexual assault and indecency with his young stepdaughter. I don't regret serving on the jury, and I hope I never have to do that again.

The voir dire (the part where the attorneys ask people questions to see if they need to be eliminated from the jury) was horribly enlightening. There were 70 people on the panel, and about half had either been molested as children or had a single degree of separation from someone that had either been molested, or had sexually abused a child.

The prosecutor said that in every panel she'd done for a case like that, there would be at least one person that would need to talk to the judge privately, because it would be the first time they had ever told anyone what had happened to them. There were two in our panel that asked to speak to the judge privately.

When we got to the jury room, we compared juror numbers - the alternate juror had been number 42. The judge came and answered some questions after the trial, and he said it wasn't uncommon to bust panels - to not find 12 jurors from a panel of 70.

Anyway, thank you all for speaking, anonymously or not, because I think a lot of people don't know how widespread this is. (And I hope it was ok for me to talk a little about the trial here - I'm finding it very difficult to talk about with people I know. The little girl testified, and broke my heart, which is nothing compared to her pain. I hope she's going to be ok.)

#140 ::: not really here ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 10:41 PM:

Lee @132, that Buffy episode completely freaks me out too, in a deeply visceral, skin-crawling way.

I've been in that situation. One guy, the first time my mom brought him home to meet me, twisted my arm up behind my back and explicitly, verbally threatened to break it. Because I'd left the dinner table without permission. My mother was right there. She didn't do anything. I was eleven.

Before that there had been years of living with an alcoholic father who, even when he wasn't drinking, hit me with a belt for crimes I can't even recall now. (I was a skinny, quiet, shy kid who always had her nose in a book. Probably I "talked back"? I don't remember. I remember very little of my childhood.) And most of my life there was the continual denigration from my mother, constant, nonstop snipes and put-downs and undermining, while outside the house she bragged about her smart straight-A daughter to her friends.

She was rarely physical, although once when she did hit me I had to go to school with a black eye. I told everybody I walked into a door. A friend of mine said, "My mom thinks you're being abused at home" and I pretended to laugh it off. Don't be silly. Not that I didn't know it was wrong, but what was she going to do anyway? What was anybody going to do? It was what it was.

But I have never felt such despair as when I was eleven and terrified and I realized nobody, nobody, nobody was going to protect me.

#141 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:09 PM:

I was here last year, though earlier; I feel a little sad for being late. Spent a long time reading the thread.

No; we really can't say what is best for someone, even whether "forgiveness" is a good thing. I don't feel like repeating from last year, but my first memory is being five and trying to shield my mother---gods know why---from my father's rage. A punishment wasn't a belt; it was boiling soup poured over your hands, or a door scraped repeatedly over toes; being pinned to the ground with a knife at your throat; shoved against a wall with a flaming match next to your face as your father threatens to burn down the house with you in it.

And all over the slightest infractions. A salad not properly prepared could, on a good day, earn you ceramc plates thrown at you. On bad days, boiling water.

It was like that every day. A war zone is a bit of an understatement.

I have PTSD from all that. Over 20 years of abuse and no one looked twice, even teachers. It took years to get diagnosed.

In a way, because of the PTSD, the debt is never cleared, no matter how much I want to clear the ledger. The moments and in particular the feelings remain. I hate explaining to people that I'm not "just doing" this to myself on a whim.

Triggers... let's just say that I discovered this year how your brain can start to tie even the most remote experiences back to horrible, defining moments (like the death threats towards the end; like the night my father strangled me; and other experiences still worse).

I think my father---and my mother towards the end---cannot and should not be forgiven for what they did to me. Because that means it was reasonable in some fashion for my father to have smashed my mother's head through a wall, or for my mother to crush my hand when I didn't want to dine with my father in college.

And much as I wish it, forgiving doesn't ease the PTSD either. Who knows what the hell is wrong with me, that I can't make it stop.

The scars remain, and in more ways than one.

I blog a bit about my childhood and such on my site. (It's when I roll below 5 on the random topic d20.)

#142 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:22 PM:

Diatryma @ 137 -- Alas, the program needed one more debugging round before it was ready for the contest; the friend who promised to give it a test drive didn't follow through, and when the contest was run, the "child" crashed. (Its logic for identifying the common PD strategies was a bit complex, and it was written in structured FORTRAN, a dialect that I wasn't very familiar with.) I made special arrangements with the contest organizers to give it one more try, unofficially, just out of interest, and it did pretty well though I think it still didn't come in first place.

The organizers were somewhat startled to see the rather massive card deck I submitted, since most of the other entries were the simple standard algorithms like "tit for tat" and "always defect". They seemed to be amused by the premise, though I did get a few odd looks when I explained it in terms of a bad parent/child relationship.

#143 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:27 PM:

I wrote last year.

I'm the kid who cried if anyone looked at me like they were angry. I'm the one who confessed to every misdeed so that the questioning and punishment would end.

This year I am working to protect my children, to keep them safe and secure while letting them know that their safety and well-being are important to me. More important than the man I love and married, their Dad. He's mentally ill, he's left us twice, and we know we can live and not just survive without him. It was a relief to have him out of the house even if we missed him as the person he used to be before he became sick.

He's getting help, he knows he's sick, he's trying. We've recently let him back into our lives but I refuse to tiptoe around him. We won't live like that again.

Otherwise: one of my children we had to teach to make friends, she had no natural clues on proceeding even though she really wanted to. The next child has always been able to make friends, she does/says the right things naturally. How did my introvert husband and I end up with three extrovert children?

#144 ::: Anonymous Dad ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2009, 11:32 PM:

@98: ouch. Your story has affected me differently from the many others in this thread, in that I see a little too much of myself in your description of your father. I think I need to focus a little more on my family and a little less on my "narrow fascinations".

Thanks for the insight. I would never strike anyone, but it seems I might still be capable of abuse.

#145 ::: Blank Look ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:16 AM:

I wasn't beaten or sexually abused or screamed at or threatened or anything like that at all. But I've come to adulthood knowing that what I want isn't supposed to be a factor in decision-making, believing that any change is dangerous, freaking out if people learn anything about me and my personal business, refusing to ask for help out of fear of being badgered and belittled, and carrying a go bag with me everywhere. I've carried a version of that bag since I was 12. Having contact with my parents fade away was such a relief, even though the damage persists.

#146 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:16 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.

#147 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:11 AM:

Lee @ #132 - Never, ever visiting without my husband has literally been a life-saver for me. I made the rule after the last time I had an extended visit with my parents without him. I was 7.5 months pregnant, and had to stay with them for four weeks during a move.

When I moved in, my blood pressure was 120/70. Two days before I left it was 200/105, and I was lying to my OB over the phone, because I knew full well what would happen if I told him. I couldn't think of anything more likely to make me stroke out than leaving my 2-year-old in my parents' custody while I was trundled off for an emergency C-section.

Three days after I moved out, I went to see my OB. 120/70 - in the middle of a cross-country move.

#148 ::: K.S.A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:11 AM:

The issues in my family aren't close to what's been described in some of the other posts here, but it never approached "functional".

My father was something of a paradox. He was socially adept, seemingly able to get along with anyone, instantly break ice, become a buddy. But yet it was always superficial, never a strong bond developed, not even with his wives and children. To this day I don't have a sense of what his true feelings ever are. Is his affability sincere, or an act he's learned/developed to gain acceptance?

My mother always wanted me close, but this seems common among mothers. I was always more adventuresome than she was comfortable with.

My parents divorced when I was 10. I didn't really understand what was going on. There didn't seem to be any change in my parents' relationship leading up to it. They both remarried.

My stepfather was emotionally abusive. He could only build himself up by bringing others down, and the subject of his bullying was me and my sister. I resent my mother for letting this happen. She says she sees something deeper in him.

My stepmother was uncaring and cold towards me and sis, but her lack of involvement or interest was far better than stepdad's verbal attacks. That we passed like ships in the night tore at dad, he tried to get her and us to do things together until he and she divorced. He blamed her and me and sis for not engaging each other; after the divorce, he blamed her for that and himself for trying to paddle against the current. Lately dad's gotten involved with an engaging and rich woman (he'd never handled money well).

I have problems of my own. I feel emotionally distant from people, I have a hard time forming attachments, I pick up superficial friends easily and can let them go easily, like my father. I don't feel in control of much in my own life, except what's between my ears and behind my eyes. I couldn't influence any of my family with my wishes, so I did them myself or not at all, and I still operate that way, a loner.

My sister is undoubtably the most well adjusted of all of us. She has a strong network of long-time friends. After several years of marriage, she recently had two kids.

What's my relationship with my family as an adult? My father is like a distant friend. We're cordial, friendly, but I never feel that he's that interested in me. Sometimes I wonder if I'm that interested in him. My ex-stepmother is dead to me. My stepfather would be too, except for having to deal with him in my relationship with my mother. I treat him with distant formality, like a professional to an annoying client. He can't get to me. That he has no relationship with me annoys him, and he complains about how me and sis treat him to mother, and she asks us to engage with him, but he's still an asshole and we don't. My mother I find smothering, and I have to keep distance, or she'll disapprove of anything I do in my life. My sister is a fast friend, and though we don't talk as much now that she's a mother, I feel tightly connected to her. My dad's GF, I find accepting, and intelligent. I can talk with her for hours, about dad, or about anything else nonspecialized. So I feel more connected to her than to my own father.

This was hard to write. This thread has been harder to read. My thanks to you. There is much to take away and think about.

#149 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Lee @ #132 - Never, ever visiting without my husband has literally been a life-saver for me. I made the rule after the last time I had an extended visit with my parents without him. I was 7.5 months pregnant, and had to stay with them for four weeks during a move.

When I moved in, my blood pressure was 120/70. Two days before I left it was 200/105, and I was lying to my OB over the phone, because I knew full well what would happen if I told him. I couldn't think of anything more likely to make me stroke out than leaving my 2-year-old in my parents' custody while I was trundled off for an emergency C-section.

Three days after I moved out, I went to see my OB. 120/70 - in the middle of a cross-country move.

#150 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:14 AM:

Whoops! Sorry for the double post - the first attempt to publish got an error notice.

#151 ::: Shadowed Memories ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 03:01 AM:

Nowhere Man #79: 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"*.

Amen! My childhood overall wasn't abusive so much as flawed -- but I had my own inborn flaws, and the combination left me seriously unsuited for a mature life.

Dad was withdrawn, likely on the autistic spectrum, and Mom kicked him out when I was 5, because he "wasn't dealing with things" after the kids were born) when I was 5. So I saw him alternate weekends, along with my rowdy stepfamily. (I won't get into the stepfamily, but my shrink had some choice words about them....)

Mom was and is moderately narcissistic (according to my shrink, and it fits). It's not that she didn't care, but anything she didn't like fell under "people don't do that", and doing things differently than her was doing them wrong. Also, if she or my sisters remembered something differently than me, I was always the one who'd "misremembered". (She's gotten somewhat better over the years). Worse, and she had no clue about raising a boy, nor even friends who were raising boys.

Then Mom tried remarrying to give me a male role model -- a disaster, as he didn't have any prior experience raising a son either, and his relationship with his daughters was... disturbing. He was emotionally abusive to all of is, and managed to get in a few choice bits of composite emotional/physical abuse, covered as "discipline" (Thankfully, she booted him within a couple of years, but he still left psychic scars on all of us.)

And then there were my own problems -- as it turned out, I'm low on the autistic spectrum. Not enough to be crippling on it's own, but it turned the the lack of male role models into a yawning chasm in my world-experience, turned all sorts of conflicts and crises that would have been minor for a normal kid into traumatic experiences, and interfered with my trying to fill in the gaps with information from outside the family.

#152 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 04:22 AM:

I notice there are a lot of people here with parents who had narcissistic personality disorder, or seem like they did if they were never diagnosed properly (not surprisingly, perhaps, nearly all, if not all, people with this disorder do not seek diagnosis).

Here is a site where I've turned to before to deal with people with this (nobody related, my parents had other problems; my father was likely psychotic, according to two psychologists and my psychiatrist that I've gone to):

Narcissistic parents: you don't want them. They seem almost certainly to end up abusing their children through neglect and even worse, as various stories here attest to.

#153 ::: anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 04:25 AM:

I'd been thinking about this thread and how I've changed from last year, how yet-more-therapy had helped me move closer to where I want to be.

But then comes this week at work. One thing I got out of my dysfunctional family was a fear of being assertive. Why? Arguments were not-at-all possible to win, assertiveness just led to arguments, so the sooner I withdrew and retreated to my room to read a book, the better.

Although retreat-to-a-book isn't really reading. When I read for me, for pleasure, I read widely. When I read for comfort, I'll read the same book, whatever is at hand, over and over. It's the book equivalent of cheap whiskey, and I hate cheap whiskey.

My adult-me, at work version of retreating from assertiveness is the sooner I retreat to my desk and retreat into something like software coding, the better. It's getting into a state of flow for all the wrong reasons.

Except now, this week at work has been a game of musical chairs, and those chairs are next year's budget. I should have been arguing on why the budget must include my major project, but to do this would mean arguing. I fear arguing, because there's no point, I'll lose.

But should I have feared it more than seeing that the project isn't in next year's budget, as just got leaked to the whole company? (the budget was leaked, not my fear). Because, you know, if there is no budget for my project, there's no budget for *me*.

Maybe I could have asserted and argued for the project, and it would have been canceled anyways.
I suppose now I should have been focusing on *this* in therapy, rather than the other things I thought were important to work on, all leftover from dysfunctional lessons. Because without work, the therapy falls right off the budget. Ironic, I suppose.

Maybe I can still fight for my budget, assert that I'm right and the project is necessary.
ha-ha. I'm going to go read a book now.

#154 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 10:21 AM:
And much as I wish it, forgiving doesn't ease the PTSD either.

No, it doesn't. Forgiveness can only come after healing (if at all.) It's not a cure, I don't think, but a sign that you're cured.

#155 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:13 PM:

I posted last year as well and since I haven't seen my particular brand of family hell covered I'll post a bit again as an (eventually) positive data point.

Life then: Paranoid schizophrenic mother (officially diagnosed and occasionally institutionalized). All right when she's on her meds. Though she is likely somewhere on the autistic spectrum, she tried and she cared. Of course, finding out at 10 that she'd very nearly killed both herself and me when I was an infant screwed with my sense of security. Father lost from the divorce that happened with the off-meds episode when I was 3 till we rediscovered each other in my early 20s. Stepfather narcissistic and emotionally abusive, but hey he kept my mother more or less in balance so you live with that because it's better than the alternative. My grandmother lived with us and she was smart and funny and loving and she saved my life by being there. She also taught me how to be something resembling a normally socialized human being.

In the interim, theater, books, a hippie school, and my grandmother helped me hold it together through my early 20s, though I did develop into an adrenaline junkie as a result of all the subconscious death-wish driven risk taking behavior.

Enter my some-day wife, without whom I would almost certainly not be here. Our neuroses complimented each other nicely and we grew into what has become a terribly happy and well balanced life together over the last 20 years. No more death wish. I've still got the scars, but they're mostly worn down now and I can even deal with my mother on a pretty regular basis without twitching visibly.

#156 ::: Pyrephox ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Not going to bother with another psuedonym, since no one who could find this could hurt me with it.

I was raised by my mother. She was an alcoholic from way back, which is what ended her marriage with my father, and which is what led to my existence.

She was frequently physically abusive, but it was the emotional abuse that really did a number on me over the years. One thing I absolutely learned: never tell anyone anything that they can use against you, because they will, ruthlessly and repeatedly. So, I don't. Moreover, my attempts to self-regulate have their own bad sides. I identified early that I had the same explosive temper that she did, so I strangled it. Now...I'm not sure I know HOW to lose my temper. Or any other extreme expression of emotion. Whenever it starts, I just...clamp down. It's a reflex at this point, and I'm not even sure how to get past it.

I'm wary and defensive, and a very good liar. My first instinct in all things is self-protection, and I have to work to override that just to tell the truth, even harmless truths, if there's any chance it might lead to punishment. And to this day, the easiest way to make me shut down and withdraw is to try anything even approaching a guilt trip. I'm over-sensitive to them.

I recognize that my mother did the best that she could: she was a single woman, not well educated, and we were often on the breaking edge of poverty. It was stressful, and she genuinely did love me. But at the same time, life got so much /better/ after I left. There was just no comparing it, living a life without fear.

Unfortunately, it was so much better that I have a real problem committing to any kind of relationship, for fear of going back to that, getting so emmeshed in someone else's emotional problems, being expected to be the center of their world. It scares me.

#157 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:20 PM:

My childhood was the typical "too-bright, highly sensitive child gets tormented mercilessly by peers (and occasionally teachers)" mix, with a dash of workaholic father and extraordinarily controlling and overprotective parents and a cup or two of cultural anti-intellectualism and antagonism.

I feel like I've worked through a lot of that, so I want to talk about my parents. Two years ago, my mother discovered that my father was cheating on her and divorced him. She'd been trying to hold it together for the sake of my much-younger teenage brother, but the affair was the last straw.

It's been a horrible mess. My mother went from being a middle-class stay-at-home mom to working retail trying to make ends meet. My brother became depressed and violent. My adult sister rebelled in some ways considered shameful in that culture*.

My father, on the other hand, is living well on his income and some inherited wealth. He bought a luxury car and spends all his time and attention on his girlfriend and her teenage daughter, making of them a substitute family. In his free time he's busy suing my mother and trying to ensure she doesn't get a penny from him after her 30-odd years of raising his children and running his household.

The family's split into sides over it, naturally. I've been trying very hard to stay neutral, but it's not really working. I'm a state away, so I'm out of the immediate line of fire, but I feel like it affects me more than it should, and it just never ends.

*Miscegenation and children out of wedlock are still a big issue in some areas. This is one of them.

#158 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:27 PM:

@LDR #154:

Forgiveness can only come after healing (if at all.) It's not a cure, I don't think, but a sign that you're cured.

Perhaps one of possible signs. For from his poems throughout his life I'm pretty sure that Siegfried Sassoon never, ever forgave those who sent off men to die in World War I; but his chronic PTSD still eventually let up.

I doubt forgiveness is a real sign of being cured. I know people who still have PTSD who have forgiven the events that gave it to them---what can you do about natural disasters---yet they are not healed.

PTSD and trauma are complicated, and "did you forgive?" seems to not be a sign of anything, perhaps for some.

#159 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 01:44 PM:

Arachne Jericho:

I was going to add that people talk a lot about "forgiveness," and the alleged benefits thereof, but not everyone has the same definition. So perhaps it's just way too complicated to discuss. And as you say, PTSD is very complicated too.

But I do think we're encouraged to say that we have forgiven people, when maybe we really haven't.

I believe there is value in forgiveness, but if anybody ever asked me, "did you forgive?" I would probably not respond well. It can't be forced on a person.

#160 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 02:25 PM:

I like J #50's definition of forgiveness: Forgiveness is the act of ceasing to expect repayment of something that is owed. No more, no less.

Regardless of how you define it, I'd venture that the "therapeutic" part of forgiveness is simply the "letting go" -- releasing the energy that's bound up in the anger and other defenses against the offenders.

Naturally, it's wiser to hold off on this until you don't need those layers of defense anymore! When the offender really can't hurt you anymore, for whatever reasons... then you can forgive and benefit by it.

#161 ::: Annie Mal ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 02:28 PM:

I think another layer of resistance to the concept of forgiveness also comes from situations where a demand for forgiveness is part of the oppression.

#162 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 03:20 PM:

David @160, this is really powerful for me:

Naturally, it's wiser to hold off on this until you don't need those layers of defense anymore! When the offender really can't hurt you anymore, for whatever reasons... then you can forgive and benefit by it.

I wish I'd heard this earlier. As a kid, I spent a lot of time resentful and confused about hearing (in church and elsewhere) that one should forgive one's enemies and so on, but it was very difficult to do so when you knew the next time you saw them there'd be even more to forgive.

#163 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 03:30 PM:

I've thought about the various definitions of forgiveness (for you are right, LDR, people see different things in this word/concept).

Maybe I have a different view on things, as I'm out of the soup right now, although gods know if it will stay that way---I changed identities multiple times (all legally), but crazy people are crazy...

Anyways, my view on forgiveness is this: it is about not caring about the people who hurt you. In any way. Whether you expect repayment or you expect apologies or you expect retribution... if it's safe for you to not care, and you don't care, that is a "forgiveness"... although that is more "forgetting", while remembering that nothing they did was ever, ever justified.

To me, the danger of many definitions of "forgiving" is to think that what happened wasn't "as bad" or "as undeserved" or whatever, or to believe that bridges that have been burned can be mended. Forgiveness has embedded in it the concept of reconciliation, which, in some or even many circumstances, one should not do.

#164 ::: NobodyAtAll ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 04:00 PM:

OK, I'm a regular poster here, male. Mild (by the standards of this thread) physical abuse; emotional abuse; twisted family dynamics. A fair amount of drinking in FOO.

I assume that this quote:

Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. (Anne Lamott)
is about the letting-go form of forgiveness.

For me, I forgave because I needed to stop carrying the rage around. It was poisoning me. I kept blowing up at people who didn't deserve it.

This was made easier by the fact that my parents, especially my father, really did change. I still didn't want to spend a lot of time around him, but some was OK.* After all his kids were grown and moved away, he became what he should have been all along: a decent man with no children. Oh, he could still be irritating, but he was (at least around just me) no longer abusive.

So we became friends as adults, in the years before his death. I was very glad that reconciliation happened before he got sick.

That's not to say that I would have been able, or thought it was right, to reconcile with him if he had continued his abusive pattern with me, or if I had suffered the kinds of horrors some others in this thread have described. Forgiveness shouldn't mean putting yourself in harm's way; my situation was such that forgiving didn't entail putting myself in harm's way, and neither did the reconciliation that followed.

It also helped that he was small and frail even before he got sick, and I could have broken him in half if he'd tried to get physical with me. Amazing how much safer you feel from someone who, once the towering terrifying giant of your childhood, is now a fragile old man. Especially if you've grown into kind of a hulk. Also, I'm pretty good at manipulating conversations away from the danger zones.

It was work. Sometimes I had to walk away. Once I realised that my parents actually wanted my company and enjoyed it, I used depriving them of it as a tool. Call it manipulation if you want; I was also taking myself out of an unacceptable situation. I'm not sure if it ever got into his conscious mind that the length of my visits/our conversations was in part dependent on his behavior, but it seemed to work. Or maybe we were just learning to get along.

Oh, and about definitions of "normal," I remember when I finally figured out that "Dad gets meaner as the evening goes on" wasn't just how dads were, or because I was being bad. It had something to do with the wonderful-smelling, evil-tasting brown liquid he kept pouring into his glass.
*You know what, bullshit it was "OK." It was FUN. The guy was bright and funny and got all my jokes, even the ones no one gets in the con suite. When he wasn't being mean he was a joy to be around.

#165 ::: NobodyAtAll ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 04:05 PM:

Nothing in my post above should be taking as disagreeing with Arachne Jericho @ 163, or with any of the others who've said similar things. I agree 100%.

My situation was entirely different. I never had to hide from them once I was an adult.

#166 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:20 PM:

I want to thank everyone who's been writing here, triggery hard as it can be.

so I stayed up half the night this morn/mourn-part obsessive comfort reading (the Hobbit, though, so not a loss), part obsessive reading this thread and last year's.

this morning I did *not* continue to read. I girded my brain (thank you provigilant helper) and came in. I'm going to go assertive.

I think that the leaked budget was rude--an attempted psych--and I'm going to approach it with forgiveness, And then fight.

I can't point to the exact posts here that helped me last night, but the sum of your writing is powerful. thank you.

#167 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:21 PM:

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#168 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:22 PM:

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#170 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:26 PM:

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#172 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:35 PM:


I hope you get your budget!

#173 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:37 PM:

And I thought of something else to say - asserting oneself does get easier with practice. I've had to learn to do it, and it still makes me shaky, but I can do it when I need to.

#174 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:45 PM:

For me, forgiveness tends to require that the bully/abuser acknowledge the harm, stop doing it, and at least attempt to atone for the past harm. I'm not going to forgive X for harm done to me, even if it's years in the past, if I see X still doing the same thing to other people... especially if I know that I'll be victimized again if I come back to X's attention.

#175 ::: RTS ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 05:52 PM:

Longtime lurker, first time commenting. This is a very, very useful thread, and thank you.

There are a couple of facets of things here that I really thought were just me, and it's, well, it's helpful to know other people had them happen. I was my mother's-- well, not therapist; she wasn't (and isn't) capable of revealing that much personal information to anyone. I filled the role I suspect she thought of as 'best friend', the person you bitch to about finances, about housework, about how awful your sex life is and what could be done about that, about her fears for my father's health. I was eight, nine, ten and having to tell her whether I thought she should buy lingerie and whether I thought my father had a porn stash. She just-- ignored my age. Ignored any possible boundaries. Treated me like an adult until it was time to remember that I was a kid again and tell me to go to bed clean my room do my homework don't bother her. This fucks with a person; she was expecting me to be two people, one of whom was vastly older, wiser, and more experienced than I could possibly have been, but who still wasn't really trusted.

The other thing I thought was just me is that my parents, due to how unhappy and bad at being married and at life in general they are, have a *really horribly physically uncomfortable* house. It's clean, don't get me wrong. It's just that I was in college before I learned that there was such a thing as a *comfortable chair*. They have money, but it literally never occurs to them that they would, for example, have fewer headaches if they put lamps in the rooms of the house without windows so that you can read without squinting. Physical comfort does not matter to them, and if you bring up that something is actually causing you a problem, it is 'frivolous'. I learned very quickly never ever to pay any attention to my own body or my own comfort levels. I still can't tell when I'm thirsty, because I was given water with meals, and only with meals, when I was small-- not out of any sense of trying to punish me, just, it would never have occurred to them to do things any other way. And of course asking them for things, or using their things without permission, got me yelled at.

My mother also had the deep conviction that children could not own possessions; she considered herself to own everything that was mine. Sometimes she'd throw some of it out, to make sure I knew she had the right to do that. The minute I turned eighteen she told me I owned my own things, and in fact has never touched anything of mine ever again. But it's not like I believed her when she said it, by that time. I have never been secure in owning anything; I carry anything I really care about on my person.

The sexual abuse was not my parents but an older relative. But my parents didn't notice.

They never hit me. It's the most I can say. I was never good enough, never smart enough, never allowed to be myself, never allowed any privacy, never trusted with anything. I became a compulsive liar and it took me years to sort out. I would still rather do almost anything than tell my mother the truth, even about something like whether it's raining out. I sneak food. I can't let people know where I'm going and when I'll be back without feeling trapped.

And I have a panic disorder and PTSD and serious DID (multiple personalities), due to, basically, the existence of my mother plus the ramifications of the untreated/unrecognized sexual abuse. I have wonderful chosen family and a life I love, but sometimes every day is a struggle just to get out of bed.

I did go a while out of contact with my mother. But I am still pretty much the only person she has, and she is so unhappy that I feel bad about leaving her to it.

I get better year-by-year. I hope that everyone else's wars go well.

#176 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 06:20 PM:

EVERYONE: I awestruck at the power, courage, and beauty of the souls on display here. I feel deeply honored, humbled, and privileged to be allowed to be a part of it. Thank you.

#177 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 06:23 PM:

EVERYONE: I am awestruck at the power, courage, and beauty of the souls on display here. I feel deeply honored, humbled, and privileged to be allowed to be a part of it. Thank you.

Argh. Sorry.

#178 ::: prickly rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:01 PM:

Thank you to everyone who has written here. I appreciate knowing that I am not alone; I appreciate seeing others find out that they are not alone.

Two things I want to share today: Living with a borderline/narcissistic partner sucks. I was suicidally depressed before I left that relationship (after over seven years). I know that I stayed in it so long because the relationship felt so comfortable; it recapitulated how I'd felt growing up. Of course everything was my fault and I was not good enough, OF COURSE!

Two: My mom is Mexican, but she (and my American dad) decided to raise me in English. So she stopped speaking Spanish (which she spoke fluently) and raised me, her infant, in English (which she spoke poorly). She didn't sing lullabies to me, or read to me, or tell me stories. I craved my father's company and rejected her; she felt she was raising an alien creature. She felt that, because she WAS. I only figured this out in the last year. I really was her changeling baby. We didn't even speak the same language. I learned to read at three, and was far more fluent in spoken and written English than she was very quickly.

There were many, many things wrong in that marriage, and I can tell the story from everyone's side, and choose to make you weep for my poor mother, or my poor father, or their fucked-up situation. But I was a tiny little girl who just wanted my mommy to not act like I was weird and strange and foreign to her.

#179 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:11 PM:

Um, closure. I don't know what that means for others, and I haven't figured out what it would mean for me. People say you should reconnect before your parent dies, otherwise you can't have closure. Well, my father died in 1996, and I only just started a very desultory snail mail conversation with my mother just last year. My father was the reason I cut myself off from my family for almost 40 years (except for one visit when my father had a heart attack, which in hindsight was probably a mistake). My sibs all took his side of the "argument" (hell, the whole extended family did), and even now they're not much interested in contacting me. I gather my mother (who doesn't have a computer) convinced my sister to google me, and found my blog, but my sister hasn't even acknowledged the wedding present I sent her a few months ago.

It wasn't physical abuse, and while there was some emotional abuse, it wasn't anything like what so many here have described. But it was a very dysfunctional family dynamic where my father was to be worshiped and emulated in all things. He even wanted us to go to work for him, rather than find careers of our own. And I had never really learned confidence in my own abilities, so it was tempting to follow the plan. But somehow I couldn't, and finally I told him off and walked away. The cost was high, because even my cousins, aunts, and uncles refused to maintain contact with me as long as I was estranged, but I felt I had to pay that cost in order to remain an individual, making my own way in the world.

I don't have any real regrets about staying away; I still think I did what I needed to do to have a life. And I'm very happy I managed not to do to my own kids what my father had done to me. But there will always be some anger at the cost I had to pay.

#180 ::: Miss D. Grace O'Ghu ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:14 PM:

This has taken me a long time to write, and I'm still in textedit, so I may not even get to the point of posting this. I lurk here all the time, but rarely post. When last year's thread on this came up, I almost did -- got the text into the interface, even -- but I chickened. I don't know why. I just wasn't ready. I may not be ready now.

I don't know how to describe my childhood. It was hugely dysfunctional, but where's the line? I'm a Martian -- sensitive, observant, insomniac from infancy, a synesthete, the kind of frighteningly bright that makes top-ranked T&G programs shrug and say, "we'll try to educate her, but she learns faster than we can keep up." My parents are average-bright, but nobody's prepared to cope with a special needs kid, and T&G are the invisible special ed. I know I made it harder for them. They did better with my sisters, who are average-bright, like them. I guess we all got lucky that I have no attention deficit and seem neurotypical, save for music that has texture, words that have flavor, odors that have music. It's nobody's fault that I'm abnormal, and that's okay. Everybody did the best they could, and you know, I'm okay. I can hold a job, create art, function, maintain a marriage. I survived, mostly because I knew I was a freak before I knew it was bad to be a freak, and I've always relied upon my own perceptions first.

My father's military, and was into my teens. So we had that regular displacement, the uprooting of all social support. My natal family is not exactly the richest soil in which to plant roots. Every year, occasionally two, a new school, new faces, and the academic equivalent of test to destruction, as the school district tried to figure out how to educate me. Usually we managed to do it before school started, but when we didn't, I always saw my teachers' reactions. They'd get my results and the blood would drain from their faces. An elementary school teacher has a hell of a time trying to teach Hamlet or Faulkner, but they can't not educate a student, and leaving me without direction was worse than finding a way to teach me. Putting me in the special ed room (happened once, lasted two days) was disastrous. My mother always fought for me, and for that, I'm grateful. She also only allowed me to skip one grade, and only when it was a natural transition, and I already knew some of my new classmates. Keeping me with age peers was actually a very good decision. When I was in third grade, and reading at college level, ready for high school trig and calculus, they did discuss just bumping me to my freshman year. There's a good chance I would have been a mascot, but I'm glad they didn't. The best option probably would have been boarding school, but that would have come at my sisters' expense, and I don't know my parents could have afforded it, even if they existed when I needed them. So when I say I was a difficult child, I'm not exaggerating. I would not wish me on anyone.

However it happened, I did mostly okay socially -- but mil brats do make friends easily. They're superficial friendships, to be certain, to be abandoned at DoD's whim, but they serve their purpose.

The other side of the equation was the extraordinary emotional chaos of our home life. My parents married because of me -- I was present at the wedding. A mistake on the order of Land Wars in Asia. They weren't well suited, and they always fought, both cold and hot. I don't recall ever seeing a tender moment between them, though they had two kids after me, so I assume there were a few. My mother's religiously pacifist family hated my father, though his family adores my mother (to the extent that my mother was invited to their family reunion, and my father specifically excluded).

My father came out of Vietnam with several servings of PTSD, and the only place he could function was to remain in the Armed Forces. He was a brilliant officer, a model military man. He could not handle being a parent and he required a level of control over his wife and children that zoomed right past the border of pathological. He was paranoid, jealous, controlling and abusive. He rarely physically abused we children, but he beat my mother too regularly to be infrequent, too irregularly to be called routine. My sisters and I witnessed it, and lived through the type of emotional abuse that is called psychological torture when it is used on prisoners of war. Interrogations, hours of forced attention for lectures, restriction to "barracks" and "quarters", reality denial, public humiliation, and all the hostility of a really broken marriage... Plus my mother was almost never alone -- my father was convinced with Charismatic fervor that my mother would hook up with somebody if she was let out of his sight alone. (This was projection -- he's the one who had dozens of hookups and multiple affairs.)

My mother stayed because she thought the custody battle would be worse on us than living in an environment approximately as corrosive as the surface of Venus. In early elementary school, I'd read YA problem novels where the protagonist copes with some crisis -- divorce, disease, death. I envied the kids in the divorce books. Their parents separated and the constant battle ended. As soon as I understood what divorce was, I begged my mother to leave.

I haven't trusted my father since I was ten, when he almost killed me for trying to call the (civilian) police while he was beating my mother. Results? Mom: two cracked teeth, a broken collarbone and an unseasonable wardrobe for three weeks. Me: a patch of hair and scalp the size of a quarter yanked out, a compression-fractured wrist that tore several tendons and required surgery five years later, strangulation that put me out. I don't know how close I came to dying, but even in the 80s, domestic violence wasn't always taken that seriously. I knew better than to call the MPs -- MPs do not arrest their senior officers.

Someone in this thread or the one last year talked about those nights when zie just knew that nobody was leaving the table until everybody cried... yeah. We had those nights. We also had the nights when we could all feel the storm coming, and you know, sometimes we'd provoke it because the anticipation was worse than the actual storm. The physical violence was almost... secondary. It was a relief when it happened because we could stop holding our breaths waiting for it. Worse were the days of subtle invective they hurled at each other, and the low-level malice my father turned on us. Worse were the interminable lectures when something -- usually insignificant -- was unacceptable. When I was six, I brought home a note about mathematics because timed tests rattled me. The lecture required me to stand at attention, stare my father in the eye and listen. It started at 7:30. I went to bed at midnight, and only because my mother reminded my father I had school the next day. I recall another, when I was a young teenager that lasted until dawn. Those were the bad ones -- but three and four hour lectures were semi-regular events. By the way, if you stare at a person's ear, widow's peak or the place where the Cyclops' eye is supposed to be, they think you're looking them in the eye. I still find meeting other people's eyes unsettling for longer than a few seconds.

Worse were the casual humiliations. I was only peer-bullied once, but it was bad, and lasted most of a school year. My father's response was always to blame me for starting it. He did that in front of my friends. I had a birthday party one year, and my group of friends -- the school geeks -- was pretty evenly balanced, four guys, three girls. Both of my female friends ended up with the flu that week, so only the guys came. We were going to watch something geeky on the family room VCR, order pizza and play games. When my father came downstairs, he dropped a box of condoms on the table and said, don't get her pregnant. Thank the FSM for sensitive, geeky guy friends.

Lee mentioned incompetent abusers up-thread, and that sounds familiar, too. We were often grounded disproportionately -- three months without school activities, phone, et cetera for things like arriving home single digit minutes late (and you know, to this day, I wonder if my father didn't adjust his watch to make sure I was late because I always timed it to be early. That kind of distortion of reality was his favorite mind game). The problem with grounding your children is you have to put up with them so we usually got off. Still, the threat of being punished that way -- and you never knew if this time would be the time when Dad's attention span equaled his need for control -- was bad enough, especially when it was arbitrary. Further, he'd use "I let you off, so give in to whatever irrational crap I want to dish out" as a hole card, and nobody wanted him to have hole cards. Perhaps I wouldn't have minded being grounded so much if home hadn't been so toxic, and if my books weren't under threat there. I was a fairly solitary child, after all. However, my father really hated my reading. He realized I could escape within the covers, and my attention wasn't focused on him and "The Family" if I was in my books. I spent more babysitting money on destroyed library book fines than I spent on textbooks in four years of college.

Those were low points... the day-to-day details are exhausting. So here's the tipping point, when I knew that I was going to survive. It had been in question until my mother left my father for a year, and took my sisters and me with her. She couldn't afford a house in our school district alone, so she teamed up with another single mother (K) and her brother (L), who had just gotten medicaled out of the military and was in outpatient physical rehab at the local VA hospital. That was the best year of my young life, the year we lived in a crowded share-house, when my father regularly broke the restraining order against him, when the cops became close personal friends, when we were on food stamps and free lunches because my father refused to pay child support to children he was not allowed to abuse, when a disabled, 19 year old veteran was our best protection. When that disabled, 19 year old vet took advantage of the very young teenager who shared his house. Yes, that reads correctly. I was better off in a house where I was legally being sexually abused than I was in my family home.

That reads like L was a monster. He wasn't. He was a scared, traumatized, lonely, shy, intelligent, sweet, very upstanding young man who happened to share a house with another scared, traumatized, lonely, shy, intelligent very young woman who had learned all too well how to manipulate others. Yes, L should not have taken what a 13 year old was offering. (And to be clear, I was offering. I was reading everything from D.H. Lawrence to Danielle Steele, and I was bloody-damned curious. I was absolutely a willing participant.) Yes, L exploited my vulnerability. But I exploited his, too, so I guess that makes us even. I don't consider what happened to be molestation or statutory rape or sexual assault. I can't consider it abusive when I was happier, more confident, more content, better able to express my feelings and cope with what was going on around me than I was in years previous or in the years that followed. Documentary evidence proves that -- that's the first and only year where pictures show me smiling, not forcing a bared teeth grimace.

This isn't denial. I've been told frequently, by many therapists, what I'm supposed to feel about this, and I've tried to summon anger, horror, disgust, but L was kinder and gentler with my heart and body than my father was. Even if he didn't really care about me -- and I don't know, maybe he didn't -- he pretended interest in me as a person far better than my father ever did. He never said an unkind word to me, never asked me to keep secrets, never caused me pain (the physical aspect of the relationship was non-penetrative), and never once threatened me. We shared each other's sadness and pain, and our joys and achievements. (He was relearning to walk -- so there was a lot of pain, and a lot of achievement.) I helped him with his college classes while he introduced me to SF&F, synth-pop, electronica and gaming. He taught me it wasn't dangerous to have fun, that I didn't need to shelter myself inside the walls I was already building. If it wasn't a form of love, it was a damned good facsimile.

Emotionally, L and I were in similar states, both survivors of the wars, both too young and too old at the same time. We were both military brats, so we spoke the same language, had the same holes in our emotional landscapes. We had both been injured by trying to hit the moving target of parental approval. (L joined up to satisfy an impossible to please parent.) Academically, I was his equal. Time shift us both forward a decade and the age difference wouldn't even ping a radar.

Four months after my parents' divorce was final, my mother fell for one of my father's oldest tricks. He promised he'd started therapy, that he wanted her back, that all we all needed was the separation and now a fresh start. She disappeared for a week, and when they returned, they'd remarried and we were headed for a duty station on the other side of the continent. My father moved us 2000 miles away from my mother's family, all of our friends, social supports, schools and locational stability. He started beating my mother again within the first month, but now, she had nowhere to go, no local job (he'd gotten a serious promotion, with a big jump in pay, and "we didn't need the money") so no money, no exit. The marriage lasted another four years.

In those four years, I started my own flirtations with workaholism and self-isolation. I spent every hour I could scrape at school or school related activities just so I didn't have to be in that house with the two people I hated more than I have ever hated anyone or thing before or since. My parents. I cannot imagine what convinced my mother to return herself and us to that hell, but something did. We had a court order. We had CPS on our side. We did everything we were supposed to do to escape... and my mother screwed up. I haven't trusted my mother since she went back to my father.

Still, if I hadn't had the year of relative peace and unconditional love that living with K, L, K's child, Mom and my sisters gave me, one of two people would have died before I was seventeen and left for college. My father or myself. I knew how to kill him and I'm pretty sure I would have gotten away with it. I knew how to kill myself, too, but every day, I made myself think about how disappointed K and L would be to open a newspaper and read about it. That's the only thing that kept me going.

That's how twisted my adolescence was -- being sexually abused (within the legal definition) was the best thing that happened to me. And I won't be ashamed of it.

Am I okay? Yeah, I think I am. Admittedly, I have a flame-thrower, scorched earth policy WRT tolerating manipulation, toxic secrecy and emotional abuse. Nobody hits me. Ever. I am weird about second chances -- I'll give them, but when the second chances run out, there's no going back. I cut people off for things that others call insignificant, but when the little things reach critical mass, I'm done. It's that idea of forgiveness -- how many times do I have to experience the same damned offenses against trust and civility before I walk? It's the one advantage to being a mil brat -- walking away is always easy. It's as natural as breathing. Which can be scary, too. Trust is hard. Even my spouse doesn't know about L.

Decades later, I'm still trying to decide where the line between cluelessness and abuse lies, and what I feel about it. I do know I am a much more stable person with my family a thousand miles away. The problem with abuse is only the most egregious forms can be prosecuted; bad parenting isn't a crime, though it can be equally -- if not more -- damaging. A bad marriage can be as damaging to a child of that marriage as active abuse, but children have no means to escape a situation that cannot be improved if the parents aren't willing, able or aware of how bad the situation is. Without communication, there's no narrative, and IME, dysfunctional families always lack cohesive narrative. The lies and the half-truths compound until truth becomes impossible to find. I lost the expectation of understanding the events under my own roof before I was old enough to realize I should be able to understand. Coming to terms with that loss has been as hard as realizing that at least my mother made the best decisions she could, given her resources and obligations. I suppose it doesn't say much for the situations we as a group were in.

Still, the search for coherence is what keeps me up at night. I just don't understand, not why my mother married my father -- it really wasn't necessary. Why she let him hit her more than once. Why she stayed. Why she didn't abort me -- I'm a post Roe v. Wade baby and I screwed up her education and life. Why she went back. Why she won't tell me the truth when I ask. I know, thanks to cheap DNA testing, that I am not my father's daughter, but she refuses to admit who is. I wonder who could possibly be worse than the twisted creep she married, and that's scary. That lack of coherence bothers me far more than anything else.

Who decides what is and isn't abuse? And even if a trusted adult agrees that what a child is experiencing is abusive, what can be done? This sounds terrible, but I was better off in a sexually abusive household, where I got emotional support and intellectual encouragement, than in the slow acid vapor of my father's presence. By no means am I an advocate for sexual abuse... I'm just saying that in a choice of demons, picking one is hard. Yes, it probably would have gotten worse. I know that. But ambivalence is the curse I walked away with. Certainly, I was better off in the chronically moderate dysfunction of my parents' home than in foster care.

For ME, one aspect of an abusive/emotionally destructive/dysfunctional background that makes it like being from another culture or religion is the ambivalence it makes me feel -- not indecisiveness, but being strongly pulled in multiple directions. There's the innate childhood training, and what I've retrained myself to do so I can pass as part of the normal world. The latter usually wins, but every day, I have to fight to be normal, and that takes energy I could use elsewhere, were I normal. I start the day with an energy debt that people from normal families never have and can barely comprehend. Even just posting this, under open invitation, feels off. Part of me doesn't want to share this because it might hurt someone else, and after years of living on eggshells, who wants to hurt a random stranger whose words have been so profoundly influential?

Part of me wants to post this as a document -- to quote Assemblage 23, "to prove that I was here" -- but how selfish is that? I have to remind myself I'm allowed to speak, to write, to exist. That's something someone who doesn't come from a destructive background doesn't contemplate. Every word I put on paper comes through that filter. Part of me wants to believe I have let this past go, but when it creeps up and smacks me -- startle reflex? Check. Hyper-vigilant? Check. Trust issues? Check -- I know it hasn't. But I've been easily startled, distrusting and hyper-vigilant for as long as I can remember, and my memories go far back. (Un)Lucky me, I have never disassociated. My brain just doesn't work that way. The closest I get is some flattened affect.

That's the hardest part -- I have never had a foundation of certainty. Even as I type this last sentence, I'm still doubting whether I will hit preview, then post.

#181 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:23 PM:

I'm posting under my usual handle because I doubt my family will come across this, and I don't care if they do. My Mom and I can work out anything that needs to be worked out--and I don't think it does--and I am Done as far as my extended family are concerned.

I wasn't going to post on this thread--I was sure I'd come to terms with my past and my family. I'm another one of those 'it wasn't so bad' people, even though I know good and well that from the outside, it was Fucked Up.

And the hell of it is, it isn't the obvious and immediate family fucked up that is bothering me. I have come to terms with that. Mom was a drug addict during my early childhood and my granny had to stage a couple of interventions. For a long time I feared that when Mom would go out she'd never come back--not because she didn't love me, but because something she'd do or someone she'd meet would kill her. Sometimes Mom would go into illogical, frightening rages that got worse the older I got.

But for all of that, I knew she wanted me. She told me she loved me frequently and that I was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and showed it as best she could through what means she had. As I got older I understood more about what she'd gone through and how it'd affected her, how living with bipolar II and ADHD undiagnosed for so long explained so many things about the times she frightened me. The biggest proof of this was, although she often was frustrated by it, she never, ever punished me for being weird.

Because oh, was I ever (am I still!) weird. Very quiet, very inwardly focused, very stubborn, very self-sufficient, very bright... but I would throw tantrums at a much older age than I 'should' have done because I would get so upset I wouldn't be able to speak, I was either off in the clouds or so focused on something it'd take a crowbar to pry me out, I was very literal, teasing always upset me, I had bizarre and extreme reactions to how my clothes fit, how my shoes fit, how food felt and tasted. I was utterly unable to conform in any sort of way, even when I tried--but Mom backed me up.

Her biggest sin was taking my quiet, bright, self-sufficientness at face value. I was an easy child because I was so out of the way... so my inability to finish anything at other than the last minute, how I had almost no friends until mid-high school, how I stayed home sick as often as I could, how I kept sliding into deeper and deeper depressions--all of that didn't even register, or were taken seperately and ascribed (by outside parties who worked to convince Mom--thanks a bunch horrible stepfather, I'm glad she divorced your ass) that I was lazy or an ingrate or just a loner.

My extended family--aunts and uncles--fed the flames of my and Mom's self-doubt. When I started developing a more adult body at age nine, they started muttering about how I was getting fat and all the compliments on appearance--one of the highest praises someone in my family can get--stopped dead for me. They told Mom she was spoiling me, ruining me--they couldn't see past my 'fat' body or my hypersensitivity, they blamed her for every extreme mood I had and every social skill and physical grace I lacked.

Anything I didn't overhear or have get back to me I managed to divine from looks and actions, even as unable as I was to read body language. And they never said it where I heard or where it got back to me, but I could tell from how they acted toward Mom that they didn't think as highly of her as they might because she was a poor, uneducated single mother, falling right back into the humble beginnings my aunts and uncles and my grandparents had escaped. It was All Her Fault I was such a mess of a kid.

But I adored these people, these bright, educated, cultured, well-off people, for all I got a very strong impression that they thought I'd end up just like my mom by the time I was 20. The gentle patronizing and subtle scorn under their friendliness hurt and I couldn't understand just what I or Mom were doing wrong.

It didn't really hit me how screwed up it was until I married, moved out of the country, and came back to visit five years since I'd last seen any of them, and they still treated me as if I were twelve years old--and the twelve-year-old they thought I was, not the one I had been. A bit simple, undisciplined, childish, not very sensible. They threw a welcome back party for me and scarcely spoke to me. An uncle fussed at me for being 'whisked away' by my husband (who I'd known for five years when we'd gotten married). An aunt complained bitterly to Mom and my granny and even my oldest friend about my horrible, ingrateful behaviour because I, a woman of nearly 30, participated in conversations, politely voiced opinions that differed from hers and wouldn't back down on her insistence, and claiming I didn't pay for 'anything' when I funded half of the fuel and all of my own meals--then turned right around and bitched about everything Mom was doing while she (the aunt) visited.

And it's not just how they treated me, not by a long shot. It's their weight obession and how they wouldn't bring up my fat to me, but sure would to Mom. It's how they still treat Mom like a backwards baby sister, a bit stupid and not knowing her own mind, for all she was fifty years old and lived through hell and back. It's how that same aunt tried to poison me against my baby sister (13 years younder than me) by telling me how horribly she treats her boyfriend and how she's out of control--even though said sister is a smart, opinionated teenager who is very emotionally insightful and who lovingly takes no shit from her boyfriend. It's Mom talking to me about how even though she lives closest to Granny she sees her the least, because Granny is always visiting elsewhere or taking care of the young lady she is mentoring through AA, being her surrogate mother--and Mom getting tears in her eyes and saying that it doesn't matter that she's fifty, she still needs her mommy, too. It's knowing thaton top of knowing that Mom scarcely had a mother--being the baby in her family meant she was the one most often ignored and most often relegated to everyone else's drudge work.

It hurt so much. I came home terribly rattled.

I tried to keep in contact with my extended family, and felt guilty when I couldn't think of what to say, what kind of small talk to make (because I never could make small talk). I felt like it was my fault when I couldn't get them to keep mailing me, or that I must have done something wrong when they wouldn't e-mail me when they said they would, that they wouldn't ask about my husband or more than the most surfacey trying-to-be-nice questions about my life overseas.

I told the therapist I had for a brief while this, and she said something I, at the time, thought was horribly mean: You might need them more than they need you.

But she was right. And they don't even know me--they point blank refuse to even see me, much less get to know me--so why do I think I should need them?

I don't. I'll save that energy for Mom and my sister, because they deserve it way more.

#182 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:45 PM:

Miss D. Grace O'Ghu #180: That's how twisted my adolescence was -- being sexually abused (within the legal definition) was the best thing that happened to me. And I won't be ashamed of it.

To hell with legal definitions! As you describe, you, at 13, had a loving relationship with a 19-year-old, which help you develop as a person and gave you strength to deal with coming trials. I see no reason you should be ashamed -- America's obsession with preventing teenage sex is basically down to its Puritan streak.

#183 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 07:53 PM:

Miss D. Grace O'Ghu, I'm glad you felt able to post this year. Thank you (and everyone else) for telling your story.

Everyone's stories on this thread make me grateful for what I didn't go through, and resolved to be more vigilant with myself about how I go about my own parenting. I don't want to be a story like this.

#184 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Also, Miss D. Grace O'Ghu, absolutely seconding what David Harmon said. I fail to see where the harm came in.

#185 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:34 PM:

*hugs Miss D. Grace O'Ghu*

Your experience sounds a lot like my experience in many ways, except I never found anybody. I second David Harmon at #182. I don't think that was sexual abuse. I feel like, last year, I was at where you are at (you can still find my comments, which went, um, on and on and on, in last year's thread, and I also made mention of flame-throwers in about the same context).

Last year's thread helped me a lot. I hope this year's thread helps you a lot. Saying these things in a forum like this, supportive and intelligent and sharing and all that, somehow it helps.

Re: coherence. I stopped looking for coherence some time ago. People are complicated, make decisions that are complicated, and someone else's personal reasons are not something we will ever know for sure. And sometimes people also simply don't make sense.

Mostly I try to focus on being here in the now, so to speak---not that I always have a say in this, because PTSD is not a choice.

Bruce Cohen, re closure:

I don't know if it's necessary to reconnect to parents to have closure. I hope not, because my parents would try to kill me, and that would trigger me in even worse ways than anything I've had now, and I would be mentally foobarred and not have anything near closure.

What was closure for me was, after a time of attempting to establish sane boundaries, cutting them off with a long recital of their abuses and suchlike, and then hanging up. Yes, there was the stalking and the death threats and the constant running and hiding afterwards and the losing of identities and such.... but that point was the moment I could get away from them, view them as not my obligation anymore.

I don't think closure means you get to have peace, necessarily, although it would be good if that were the case.

#186 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:36 PM:

abi: Thanks, yet again, for doing this again this year. I think you've invented an important holiday*, and I will be interested to see how long it takes to metastasize into the larger culture.

I am especially pleased to note that, this year, I am reading (actually listening to) other people's stories with more compassion and a deep, gentle sadness. Less reading for opportunites to insert ME ME ME.

Also, less of the burning compulsion to Help and Advise. (Which, of course, are just secret ways to avoid experiencing evoked hurt and vulnerability, and so dissociate oneself protectively.)

I think this can be credited, in large part, to last year's thread, which appears to have bled off a huge volume of stored toxins. Fewer angry memories are coming up for me this time, they come with less triggering, and evoke more clarity and compassion for my younger self.

A fine empirical demonstration of Spider Robinson's principle: "Shared pain is diminished, shared joy is increased. Thus do we refute entropy."

So, again, abi: Thank you.

* Holiday = Holy Day = Day to honor the Hallowed Past

#187 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:48 PM:

RTS #175-Oh dear God this: I can't let people know where I'm going and when I'll be back without feeling trapped.

I battle with this regularly. Because there's no logical reason not to tell the person you love where you're going & how long you think you'll be gone. Except logic doesn't come into play with why I feel this way.

I've come to realize over the past twenty five years since I was able to truly break away that my mother was self-medicating with OTC drugs, food, liquor, whatever she could get her hands on to deal with manic depression. To say boundaries were an issue would be an understatement.

She took what seemed to be great delight in telling me regularly when I was a little kid that she wasn't well and probably wouldn't live much longer. I'm 47, she's still above ground, do that math. And imagine how that takes a kid out at the knees in terms of any sense of security.

I stayed away from any kind of relationship until my mid-thirties because I think it took that long for me to decompress from my childhood and realize that peace and quiet could be achieved even with another person in the house.

What I do know is my life has been 1000% better since I stopped having contact with her.

There isn't a post on this page that doesn't resonate with me in some way. The grace and courage here are breathtaking.

#188 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 08:55 PM:

A new old thing:

Partly as a result of last year's thread (thank you again, abi!), I've finally laid to rest a lot of tired old ghosts. Now I've got room for some new ones to rise up:

The thing I resent most now is that I was robbed of ambition. From the time I was eight, the sole and only goal I could articulate was: Get away. Get away from her. Get away and never go back. The nightmares have mostly stopped by now. It's been a few years since:

I'm living there, in my little room painted green. I hate it, but I have to, because I don't have any way out, no place to go. I fantasize about having my own place, visualize it.

But wait, I did once. I used to live on my own. I wish I could do that again.

Oh, wait! I have a place. On the other side of town. If I could just get out, get back to my own home, away from her.

And then I wake up, heart pounding. I am home, my own home. And I think, It's been a couple of years since I moved out again—no wait. I never moved back in. I never moved back there. I did it. I got away! I won!

But that was the only clear goal I ever had. I didn't go to college and study art, because "You'll never make a living at it." Now, I look online and see the portfolio of a high-school classmate. Burning green envy. That could have been me. But instead, I spent twenty-five years getting away and getting my mother's voice out of my head.

Only now, after I've crossed the half-century mark, have I finally cleared enough CRAP out of my head, that the muses are finally coming, staying, and insisting on attention. And I have the attention to give them.

Go forward. "It's only too late if you don't start now."

But it still enrages.

#189 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 09:14 PM:

Sometimes, when everyone else around us has a flu or cold, we are so busy that our immune systems can't build any momentum to show any symptoms. Then when our responsibilities die down, our immune systems take advantage of the inactivity to knock us down, to force us into the physical inactivity that will allow it to repair our bodies.

I'm wondering if this isn't a plausible analogy to the exhibition of abusive behavior. The amicable pretense becomes an aspect of keeping sh*t together, but instead of knocking us down so that we can heal physically, our individuality (like the pale worm-like thing inside of the Darth Vader armor) is trying to articulate an urgency left unarticulated in the first place from the behavior-stifling.

Optimally, we learn to articulate the neglected urgent-issue, just like we heal physically from a cold. It's not sexy. But all the signs of healing are forms of discomfort, where all the pleasures take place afterward from being a healed individual.

Reserving for ourselves the privilege to abuse others then works much like perpetually aggravating a flu or cold. We don't get to heal, keeping sh*t together becomes part of the pathology, and the dysfunction is contagious all the while.

Insisting on forgiveness sounds a lot like trying to will your way out of a cold. How stubbornly we insist shows the limits of our experience. But holding onto a grudge too long sounds like Alan Watts's analogy to starving from eating dollar bills. What good is being right if trying to enforce fairness prevents you from healing? Maybe like Renatus's account #181, you heal, and the people who gave you so much grief can't stand your authenticity.

#190 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 09:38 PM:

Joel Polowin #174: By my lights, that's simply demanding a full apology. Unfortunately, with many abusers, that's just a futile appeal. The point of J#50's definition is in part to give up on waiting for the impossible to happen.

Mike Leung 189: I think the term you want is "decompensation". "Compensation" in this context is when you've got automatic processes busy trying to "cover for" a deficit or injury. Body body and mind can do that amazingly well, but it takes a lot of energy, and eventually (or periodically) that effort collapses, which is decompensation.

For a physical injury, decompensation tends to mean collapse, and sometimes imminent death; for psychic decompensation, the death part is less common. ("You just wish you would." :-~) )

#191 ::: Anonyregular requests deduplication ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 10:04 PM:

My computer was telling me it couldn't post: it lied, several times. Could a mod delete the duplicates above? Thanks.

#192 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 10:16 PM:

sometimes_lurker @64: I am very much actively seeking answers, and not just for myself.

Friend of mine commented sourly that is seems damned inefficient to have to spend the second thirty years of your life repairing the damage done during the first twenty.

The good news is that retro-fitting adaptive functioning is possible. I'm a poster child. I would say that a good three-quarters of my current "personality" is manually installed. I got really lucky: I found My People when I was twenty one and, as a result, hooked up with a local group of friends who were, on average, ten years ahead of me on their own retrofits.

They knew, almost without being told, where I was coming from and what the implications of that history were. The combination of compassion and acceptance, and bright, curious, well-educated minds to model was nothing short of a miracle, and I credit nearly all of my current generally-good-functioning to their influence and assistance.

The two frameworks I've found most helpful are: NLP, for a basic nuts-and-bolts operating manual for my mind; and Harville Hendrix's Imago model for romantic relationships. IMHO, his ideas can also be applied more generally, to explain some of the puzzling choices we make about the people we allow/invite into our lives. (DidntThinkItWasMe @107, this might shed light on those "roads tracked into my brain that drew me to people like her.")

Lori Coulson @67: Hate and love are the opposite sides of a coin, and that they mean "this person matters to me." Therefore the opposite is that the person no longer means anything to you.

Yes, that. Further, hate is anger gone septic. I like Dr. Phil's formulation: "Anger is a secondary emotion. It is a response to the primary emotions of pain, fear, or frustration." Anger has a protective function, which is to alert one to danger or damage. So hate is anger that has festered for years, unhealed and unrelieved.

When the danger or the damage is finally made well, the hate can finally release. I actually achieved this state with my father, and after he died I finally felt safe enough to separate him and in my mind from my mother. I can finally think fondly of him, and wish that I could have been friends with him as an adult. (Of course, it also helped that he actually apologized to me for his part in my situation—without my prompting. My mother? Not so much.)

For me, personally, forgiveness can only happen when I feel safe from the danger presented by the perpetrator. And then, for me, it happens spontaneously. No effort. I just look up one day, and the hatred and resentment are just...gone.

Only when you do not care what happens to this person will you be free of the emotions you now connect with them.

For my reply, I'm going to change your meaning slightly to "will free you of the emotions that now connect you with them."

Because here's the odd thing. Having now realized that my hate takes the place of the love I should have felt for my mother, I now realize that my hanging onto it is not a weak unwillingness to let go of Being Right on my part, as many of my advisers have presumed. Rather, it is... um. I don't really have words right now for what it is. But it's not a bad thing. In a way, it's almost like a little teddy bear (albeit one in leathers with a studded collar) that one clings to in place of the real person.

This acceptance is crucial, because it relieves me of the cultural guilt and pressure to forgive.

Of all the doubts I've had, all the fears and uncertainties, all the challenges and dismissals my family leveled at me, again and again I discover within myself a deep core of judgement and wisdom that turns out, in the final analysis, to actually be pretty damn good. I'm a smart cookie, and now on good days, I can even experience that, sometimes.

xiaoren @70: My health insurance probably would pay for continuing and open-ended family therapy sessions, but the wife isn't capable of giving that idea serious thought-- even in the aftermath of major episodes when everyone she knows is urging her to do it.

In your place (and with my all-knowing objective outsider’s perspective, yar har) I would be very tempted to lay down the law and make this person’s continued presence in my life contingent upon their participation in therapy. But this presupposes having alternatives in case they refuse. This, I realize, is rather more easily said than done. And may not even be appropriate in your case. Nevertheless, I do pray you are able to draw your line higher up the beach rather than closer to the surf.

I think all of us who walk this path tend to be insufficiently demanding when it comes to our requirements of others' acceptable conduct towards us.

But, as the Famous Old Klingon Saying goes, "YMMV."

Sorry @73: Wow. I wish I had more to say. It's stunning. Vivid.


Lee @92: they had wanted a child, they just didn't want ME

Sing it, Sister. When I was a kid my brother had a dog. When I was five, I lobbied and begged, and finally it was decided I could have a dog of my own. I wanted a white toy poodle. (Looking back, it's terrifying how far along the path I was to becoming a Princess.)

Our financial circumstances were pretty straitened, so a poodle was out, but the breeder did have a toy dog, runt of the litter, that we could afford. We went out, late at what seemed like the middle of the night to me. With much fanfare we brought home this velvety little puppy who followed me all over the house as I got her water and food and settled her in. "This is my human!" I remember the perk of her little ears clearly saying as she watched me.

The next memory I have is my mother telling me to take the puppy out into the back yard to do her business, because my dad had not yet puppy-proofed the fence. I was immediately bored to tears: no clue how to play with a puppy...and no one bothered to show me how. (Ow...oh...oh. That just this instant occurred to me.) She went off exploring, found a gap in the fence, and tried to wiggle through. I tried to pull her back in; couldn't, went out the gate and pushed her face back through the fence.

Probably a few more iterations, I wound up holding her in my arms to restrain her. But that got old quickly (she was probably heavy for little five-year-old arms). So I chucked her onto the ground. She got up, came back to me, so I did it again. But this time she landed badly on her butt, and started yelping.

My mom rushed out to see. "What happened!?" I explained what I'd done. "She came back. I thought that meant she liked it!" I finished. I remember my mother's black, stony, anger as she drove us to the vet.

Not too long after, we moved to the southwest. One night, a week or two after we moved in, the dogs went missing out of the back yard. The sherrif said sometimes the Indians stole dogs to herd their sheep. We never saw my brother's dog again. (Riding in cars? Herding sheep? He would have been in heaven.) But my dog—the little, sickly, neglected toy, made her way all the way home to our new house. The walk permanently damaged one of her legs. She was semi-crippled from then on, and was No Fun as a kid's pet, so my neglect of her became worse, to the point where, aside from feeding her, the only attention she ever got was if I wanted to play with a live doll. She eventually died, old, sick, and ill-tempered, when I was in my teens.

Looking back, I can see how my treatment of her exactly mirrored my mother's treatment of me, and I want to wail with grief, for what was, and what could have been. "Little dog! I'm so sorry! Can you ever forgive me??"

So many elements of your account, Lee, so exactly mirror my own experience. My mother wanted a pretty princess baby doll, but what she got was a head-strong Martian.

You might find Spider Robinson's story Serpent's Tooth satisfying, if you can find a copy.

They didn't seem to understand where they stopped and I started.

One of the most chilling things I've ever seen: I'm sitting in the waiting area of a restaurant, waiting to be seated. In comes a woman. Slightly pudgy, with blonde hair cut in a Sugar Bowl. Attire: BRIGHT fuscia-pink pants with matching fuzzy sweater. With her was a daughter, identically dressed and coiffed. But what made my blood run cold was that the daughter walked right in front of the mother, steered by the mother's hands on the daughter's shoulders.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @95: "Life's too short to hate your family, no matter the reason."

I think of all threads, this is an especially important one to be cautious about using the 2nd person form in.

What you said.

Doesn't Count @104: You can't wall away only the negative emotions...

BONNNGGG!! God, that was huge for me when I finally got it. It explained so much, and finally (maybe) made life worth the price of admission.

But I still have massive problems showing emotion... Me, too. But, you know? I've decided that's okay. After the second time an abusive boss came after me with raging insanity.

I took it all in, nodded, made appropriate listening noises. Meanwhile (I later realized), inside I was using my full weight to hold the garbage can lid down on the mushroom cloud inside.

When it was over, I went away, thought about it, quickly figured out they were out of line, and responded as appropriately as I could in the situation. All while keeping my integrity and personal safety. Not to mention my job.

Really nice to be able to do that (or not) deliberately and by choice, though. Not just a lower ganglion reflex. I've finally achieved the state where, (mostly) instead of being afraid I'll Get It Wrong, instead I can just modulate for appropriateness. Much more peaceful and effective.

I've only recently figured out that when I'm chronically tired and depressed, it might be because I'm angry about something, and unaware of that anger. Digging it out and addressing the issue releases amazing amounts of energy and good cheer.

The behaviorists have it wrong. It's not "Fight or flight." It's "Fight, flight, or freeze."

#193 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 10:21 PM:

Sorry about the line breaks: No need to apologise, that was something else. I am not fond, by and large, of that style of poetry, it takes skill, and craft (e e cummings was doing what he did on purpose).

This was all of that, and a bag of chips.

#194 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2009, 11:31 PM:

Re tracks worn in the brain leading someone to a string of bad relationships: A big light went on for me when I read, in the proverbial Somewhere, that it is normal for people to replay bad circumstances in which they felt deeply betrayed in an effort to make things work out this time. In my case, it was a string of horrific bosses (rantin' ragers like the one sibling whose undiagnosed, untreated personality disorders ruled the house, and she was also supposed to be managing me) and awful rentals. Not that it was my fault that I ended up in the rut again and again, I just didn't realize I was even in a rut. The light went on, I saw the rut and started the process of getting out of it.

#195 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 12:39 AM:

Playing the game of 'I won't, and you can't make me, tell you what I don't want you to know' to the point where any relationship deeper that friendship is pretty much impossible. And not many friends at any one time, either.

Why? I don't know; it's well and truly buried, and was even when I was much, much younger.

#196 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 01:00 AM:

It's worth keeping in mind that some quirks are just that--quirks. My firstborn would have had a much easier infancy if she could have snuggled happily in a sling, been swaddled comfortably, etc., instead of being carried in arms, being upset when I had to put her in an infant seat so I could have my arms free for something, lather rinse repeat. But although she needed to be close enough to feel and hear me, she just plain could not stand having her limbs confined AT ALL. It was normal for her. It made our lives a bit tougher, but it was normal. She still, at kindergarten age, doesn't like to be cuddled close or swaddled up in blankets even when she's cold. Again, normal.

#197 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Hit Post too soon again. Looking over what I just posted, I really don't want to appear to be trivializing your situation. But is it possible that you are suited by nature to a few carefully chosen and fulfilling friendships where other people might be more gregarious or inclined to couple up? Sometimes ISTM that friendship is trivialized because coupledom is supposed to be The Happy Ending according to modern conventional wisdom--witness the numerous articles and posts that argue that of course Frodo and Sam were lovers, friendship could never keep two people going like that, etc.

OTOH, if you can't shake the feeling that there's a hole in your life, ignore what I said.

#198 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 02:24 AM:

Nancy Mittens@172,173

Today I found out who leaked the budget and who was on that distribution list. It was a rude leak still, but not to as many people as it could have been, which is helpy, perhaps even helpful.

Knowing these, I have practiced being assertive *with myself* to not say anything to the leaker, not now, not when my emotions are seething under such a thin, thin layer of solidity.

I practiced that a lot today. And was mindful enough to call it "practice" each time, so that I'm feeling good about having practiced something.

#199 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 08:44 AM:

David Harmon #190: I don't think decompensation is what I'm referring to.

I specifically remember hearing Oliver Sacks in an interview commenting how the severest medical misconception is that the symptoms of sickness and illness are observable signs of the disintegration of our individuality. He said the symptoms of sickness and illness are instead observable signs our individuality is asserting itself in compensation to the damage to our systems. Sacks's explanation seemed to completely fit in with the common sense of the experience of life.

So going by this explanation, when the challenge to our health is the collapse of our immune systems itself, our symptoms actually quiet down until, say, the discoloration from the bruises or cancers overwhelm our display of ourselves. This seems to be the kind of thing the definitions of decompensation I'm finding are referring to.

A pure collapse of our defenses itself carried over to behavior seems to be more faithfully demonstrated by how the pirate comic was included in Watchmen to foreshadow a vulnerability Veidt didn't otherwise show (stupid movie). For someone exhibiting abusive behavior, the exhibition of dysfunction showing through to his or her victims still seems to be defensive behavior.

#200 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 08:49 AM:

Anonyregular @191:
I'm not going to deduplicate because then I would have to go through everyone's up-references and clean them up, and I'm not really up to that at the moment.

If people are going to judge you because of multiple posts, well, all I can say is they're on the wrong damn thread.

#201 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Miss D Grace @180:

First of all, I'm glad that you were able to unload all of this. I hope it helps. And like just about every person on this thread I'm amazed at the strength and perseverance that you've shown just by keeping on.

But the thing I wanted to respond specifically to is the therapists who told you that you must be repressing some deep feelings about the horrible 19 year old who had sex with you when you were 13.

They don't have a fucking clue what they're talking about.

I'm sure that therapists come across lots of people who were shattered by their early sexual experiences. But there are also a couple of good longitudinal studies out there that look at this question (e.g. Laumann et al The Social Organization of Sexuality) and every one I've seen has come to the conclusion that there is one big difference between people in your position and the average person.

People who had an early, post-pubertal, non-coerced first sexual experience on average have more sex and more types of sex than those who didn't.

That's it. They don't report being more unhappy. They don't have higher incidence of mental illness or needing therapy. They don't report increased incidence of sexual dysfunction.

So not only are your feelings your own and no therapist is allowed to tell you that they're wrong, it turns out that your feelings are not unusual for people who've had that one specific experience.

#202 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 11:23 AM:

O'Ghu@180: The laws on what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate sex are a feeble attempt to codify societal consensus, and are usually behind the times. And society, this one, is pretty completely fucked up on the subject of sex. Your emphasis on "legally being sexually abused" suggests you don't really accept the legal definition, but your repeating it so often suggests conflict still.

Ways in which your relationship as described does not raise red flags: You had not known L from earlier in your childhood. L was not able to chase you physically. L was not in a position of power or authority over you (Hmmm; questionable in some ways, you don't give details). And, finally -- years later, you regard that relationship very positively, long after it ended.

At this point, society is not going to intervene. The opinions that matter are yours and L's.

#203 ::: Anonyregular ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 11:39 AM:


no worries. feel free to replace 5 of the 6 with a single line pointer to the 6th, or a burmashave or something if you wish. I worry about the extra kilobyes, nothing else. (browsing on the phone from work I notice those kbs. )

(browsing from the phone also means the sysadmins can't read this, and I appear to be productive. hey look, it's the leaker of my troubles. I'm ignoring them *and* talking about them simultaneously. modern tech for the win.)

#204 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 01:24 PM:

The "reconcile with your family because they're all you've got" idea is really interesting. I wonder if that's an American thing, and whether it's part of the trivializing of friendships and chosen "family."

I have a large extended family, most of whom gleefully participated in the larger culture of anti-intellectualism. They were threatened by the smart, geeky kid, period, and though no one was ever outright cruel about it, I never felt like part of the family.

Haven't talked to most of them since my wedding in 2001, and I'm just fine with that. They didn't add anything to my life then and wouldn't now. No one cut anyone else off or anything, we just don't talk.

Don't get me wrong: I envy people who have supportive, friendly extended families. Mine just isn't a candidate. I'm much happier choosing who I spend time with and rely on.

#205 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 01:43 PM:

On reading some other people's experiences, I'm seeing some similarity with my own. I remember hours-long lectures from my father; I'd spend entire evenings standing in front of his armchair while he lectured me about some trivial offense. I was pretty much a model kid - adorable, bright, quiet, followed rules by the letter, made top grades, involved in every extracurricular under the sun - but nothing was ever good enough. I'm still trying to deal with the knowledge that no matter what I do, I will never get compliments or encouragement from my parents.

Where is the line between no-nonsense/clueless and abusive? I used to describe my parents as emotionally abusive, then decided I was just being histrionic about it. Now I don't know. I don't have any real perspective about it, other than being grateful that things weren't worse.

Same for school experiences. In elementary school, a teacher pulled me out of field day (a once-a-year fun day with races and various physical games) activities, accused me of calling her names behind her back, and left me sitting outside the principal's office for hours until the end of the school day. (I don't know whether the principal even knew I was there; when the bell rang, I got up and left.) I found out later that the same group of students that usually picked on me had told the teacher the name-calling story. She swallowed it without even considering that, since these students openly hated me, maybe they weren't being truthful. It wasn't the only similar incident.

In high school, opportunities were accidentally and sometimes openly withheld from me. I was accused of cheating on a paper and successfully defended myself, but the incident was still entered on my permanent record and that too kept me from certain opportunities. I could have gone to a really good university and had an entirely different life path, but by my senior year of high school I was quite convinced that I wasn't smart or good at anything at all.

I suppose I'm just as bitter about the culture that succeeded in holding me back, destroying my joy in learning, keeping me from my full potential, as I am about my parents' behavior. Was the entire school system abusive? Clueless? I don't know. Like I said, I lack perspective.

#206 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 02:14 PM:

@192 Nope, not me

I like Dr. Phil's formulation: "Anger is a secondary emotion. It is a response to the primary emotions of pain, fear, or frustration." Anger has a protective function, which is to alert one to danger or damage. So hate is anger that has festered for years, unhealed and unrelieved.

ISTM that I've heard some bad things about Dr. Phil, but I totally agree with that definition.

@199 Mike Leung

I specifically remember hearing Oliver Sacks in an interview commenting how the severest medical misconception is that the symptoms of sickness and illness are observable signs of the disintegration of our individuality. He said the symptoms of sickness and illness are instead observable signs our individuality is asserting itself in compensation to the damage to our systems. Sacks's explanation seemed to completely fit in with the common sense of the experience of life.

Interesting. A form of rebellion, as it were. So someone who doesn't display any symptoms may actually have more serious problems?

This has all inspired me to come up with a few proverbs:

The nice thing about neglect is that it leaves you free to think your own thoughts.

People without social skills can say/do very hurtful things. But people who use their social skills to hurt or manipulate must be even worse, I think.

Related: brutal honesty can be brutal. But being constantly lied to, and required to believe the lies, seems like it would do a lot more damage. How could you ever recognize the truth if you heard it?

It's all about boundaries, isn't it? People who can't distinguish between their children and themselves, or believe that their children belong to them and therefore have no rights or recourse.

#207 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 03:05 PM:

Anonyregular @200:
You have a point about scrolling. I've snipped all but one of them.

Miss D. Grace O'Ghu @180:
...IME, dysfunctional families always lack cohesive narrative.

I just wanted to say that I find this a very interesting and powerful statement. (Not that I have much of an instinctive feel for these things.)

#208 ::: J. Random Hacker ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 03:27 PM:

Abi @42: ... can be very useful tools for one stage...



Thank you.

Do I really want to write about my situation? Not so much, because that would require thinking about it. Reading a lot of these stories puts me in fight-of-flight territory, but I shall try.

#209 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 03:55 PM:

Somewhat relevantly to this discussion, my favorite author Spider Robinson (whose writing I turn to when I need a lift) reads his favorite author to turn to, Theodore Sturgeon in a couple of his recent podcasts.

#210 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 04:13 PM:

I'm going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage and it feels like I am just waking up and figuring things out. Nothing has been too horrible -- he broke things but didn't hit me -- but the extent to which I discover I have allowed him to control me over the years is alarming. He's blamed my growing anger over the past three years on the fact that I was turned down for a promotion and it was given to a man who's a real jerk -- but I think the situation at work kind of woke me up to the fact that I DO NOT want to be, and DO NOT deserve to be, bossed about by a controlling man at home any more than I do at work. So -- working through it, enjoying my solitude, looking forward to waking up enough to start doing all the things I wanted to but couldn't because it would inconvenience him. Being free of my contant resentment of constraints on my time at home is such a relief. (And the most alarming thing has been that my family has been unsurprised and supportive -- they saw my unhappiness before I admitted it to myself!) Every now and then on this thread there's a zinger I want to write down and contemplate for a while -- thank you, abi, for getting it started!

#211 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 04:53 PM:

To all who doubt they themselves have been abused, but then go on to recount abuse of other members of their family:

Just occured to that I haven't seen this pointed out in this thread yet (watch, it'll be in one of the 100+ posts I haven't gotten to yet): Witnessing trauma can cause damage, as much as being a victim of it.

#212 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Caffeine @ 205

Something like your high school experience happened to me. I knew that I thought differently from most of my peers. I went to very small schools where there was no higher work and the attitude from most teachers was that if you understood the work - be quiet and let the other kids learn.

I was really interested in working with kids with special needs and had done volunteer work at a rehab center with burned children and a labschool for kids with autism. I told my school counselor that I was thinking of Child Psychology and she replied that I didn't have the brains for it. I totally believed her. I didn't tell anyone else about her comment for decades because I was embarrassed that I had thought I was pretty smart and obviously I wasn't.

I'm not sure why I was so vulnerable to her comment. Why didn't I challenge her statement?

#213 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Arachne Jericho @185: Bruce Cohen, re closure: I don't know if it's necessary to reconnect to parents to have closure.

Here's the thing I've found about closure: I managed to talk to my dad (very) briefly about two months before he died, after being out of touch for about ten years. As I mentioned above, he did actually apologize to me. So when he died, I was able to let go. Later I was even able to regret not getting to know him.

I talked to my mother about two years before she died, and it became obvious that she would never cop to anything (except to get me off her back). She took her conviction to her grave, and for a while I was able to give up on her, let go...but the entanglement has bled back into my mind over the years.

She still haunts me when I have a triumph. Occassionally, I almost forget that she's dead. I'm not completely free.

Maybe you have to have closure to have closure. It's much harder if they Just Won't Listen. And they can never listen once they're dead.

#214 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 08:05 PM:
LDR @ #206: The nice thing about neglect is that it leaves you free to think your own thoughts....

Well, if you call free being made responsible for securing work in a culture that denies any hypocrisy in explicitly reserving the privilege for itself of being indifferent to you -- except (not really,) to take every opportunity to infer offense from your behavior -- sure.

#215 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 08:51 PM:

I wish:

I didn't express pain as anger (so counter-productive)

I didn't get tooth-grindingly jealous of people for whom family is a source of love, warmth, support.

I knew how to make and keep friends (one of those that seems to have been second nature to my family and they never taught me)

That I could forgive - forgiving feels to me like giving someone permission to hurt me all over again

That I didn't experience compassion as something exquisitely painful

Anybody got clues to hand out?

#216 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 09:04 PM:

J, I wouldn't say that my family was dysfunctional as a group, but as individuals, we have problems, including inherited bipolar/unipolar at a frequency that had one doctor wanting to write a paper. (When it's that much a part of your environment, it doesn't feel like it's a big problem. YMMV.)

#217 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 09:30 PM:

Hiding a little @ 210: 'When I go down into the ground at last, as God is my judge, I pray my best-beloved may have better to say of me than, "He didn't hit me."' -- Lois McMaster Bujold, Komarr

Your description sounds remarkably like Ekaterin's situation in that book.

#218 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2009, 10:04 PM:

Nope, not me #213: And they can never listen once they're dead.

On the other hand, they can't hurt you anymore. No harm in reading your grievances over a grave....

Mary Kay #215: Mostly that you're not alone... those are all classic aftereffects of abusive upbringings. On forgiveness, you might look back at my #160. Compassion -- maybe having someone else recognizing your pain makes it harder for you to suppress it?

#219 ::: another survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:33 AM:

Something I've heard that helped me make sense of a lot of things: Perpetrators always present as victims, and victims are always made to feel like perpetrators.

In my case, growing up: several of my favorite possessions destroyed, address book cut up [you don't have any real friends anyway], once a favorite sweatshirt cut off of my body, but then those objects that could be put back together were. I don't know if my dad fixed that phone book, or my mom, come to think of it. Weird mixed messages.

Oh, god, puberty - the accusations that I was trying to compete with my mother to "get" my father from her, but that I would lose - I had no idea what she was talking about, but now I suspect this was grounded in her experience.

Being weighed before I left the house, and when I returned, to make sure I didn't eat anything so I would be slim and attractive. Being told to make myself throw up, being given laxatives, being given a vibrator at age 14 that I was supposed to use instead of eating. For a while, I snuck food when I was at other people's houses. Of course, my mom is obese.

Having had multiple elective cosmetic surgeries, plus braces, but not really regretting them--I know I look "better" than I would have otherwise, but probably would've been just fine without it. I could've done without the horrible self-image that accompanied them.

And this doesn't even begin to address the run of the mill verbal abuse and volatility and gas lighting that I needed to have witnessed before I realized that it's actually pretty "out there" behavior.

No friends or family ever came to our house - my mom was estranged from her surviving family, and my dad's family lived across the country - and I don't really think my parents had any real "social" friends who lived close by. I present as an only child, but I have two older brothers who I'm sure are wounded in their own ways. I don't really remember them being around much, and we were never at the same school at the same time.

As time has passed, I've realized that my mom never recovered from her own traumatic childhood, nor my dad from his (though he was more...ineffectual than actively abusive). Her behavior toward me was and is a skewed reflection of the messages she never got over - so when she says particularly cutting things to me, she's saying them about herself. I've passed her in some ways (educationally) so some of the things she says no longer apply, and I know it. Doesn't mean they don't sting, but not in the same way they once did - I don't believe them, but it's upsetting that she can come up with them at all.

There's more, but the fact that I'm kind, happily married, without a drug or weight or other compulsion issue, is pretty much a triumph. There are many things I wish I would do differently than I do, but overall I'm not doing too badly. I must have gotten this resilience from somewhere.

#220 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:36 AM:

(I'm writing this to a rather generic "you" here as it's a subject that winds me up and I don't want to run the risk of attacking someone on the thread)

The whole cultural concept of "you really should get closure" by "sorting it out before the family members die" just feels like more pressure to me to conform to what someone else thinks is the correct response to abuse.

Which for many of us happens to tie in with the abuser's response: it wasn't that bad, it wasn't that big a deal, you drove me to it, it's not like I broke your arm or anything, you make such a fuss, just let bygones by bygones.

I will not.

I will not lie. I will not hide it under the carpet. And I will not pretend it doesn't matter.

I have nothing to gain by some reconciliation at the eleventh hour. I have no interest in hearing some sort of apology (what? "I was just drunk?" "I didn't know it hurt?" "I didn't know it was wrong?") which I would not believe in any event.

An honest question: do people also believe that rape victims to talk to the perpetrators, make peace with them, talk it out, forgive? If your child was murdered, is it accepted as a part of the healing process to speak to murderer and forgive? What if there was never any legal justice as a result...

It just seems like sociopaths who are parents get some special status that I am not sure is deserved.

I am sure that there are specific instances in which discussing the matter with abusers can help with closure - there is great value to receiving the acknowledgement that something really was wrong.

But I don't believe that it is necessarily a good thing or a necessary part of a process.

I have moved on. I have decided that I don't wish to discuss the abuse with the perpetrator. The fact that his life may be drawing to an end doesn't change that.

#221 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:35 AM:

David Harmon @218: "Nope, not me #213: And they can never listen once they're dead."

On the other hand, they can't hurt you anymore. No harm in reading your grievances over a grave....

Hee hee. Yes, I thought about that just after I posted my comment. But here's the really insidious part: both of my parents donated their bodies to science. There is no grave.

I try not to interpret this as a deliberate plot to rob me of closure....

#222 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:37 AM:

Sylvia@220: Right. On.

Sometimes even the abuser's straightforward and (seemingly) genuine acknowledgement of the hurt they caused doesn't even help--sometimes/oftentimes it gives the victim a feeling of obligation to keep contact with someone who's hurt them, give the abuser a bit of a chance now that they've apologized.

I got a big dose of this sometime after I ended a four year long abusive relationship (which was also a prime example about how my mom's bad relationship patterns affected me). Well after I left and he came to terms with the fact that I was never, under any circumstances, coming back to him, he apologized, in that aghast I've-just-realized-what-I-did sort of way. And I believed him; it sounded more genuine than just about anything that'd ever come from him.

Except. I had this pressure that I had to give him at least a little chance to be a decent person to me because he'd given me a genuine apology. It made me vastly uncomfortable, especially when he'd fall back into condescending attitudes or complaining that he never saw me. He'd absued me in all sorts of ways, had taken my fragile mind and twisted it like a pretzel, and now I was supposed to give him a second chance?

I didn't find peace until I blocked him on every place he could contact me.

THAT was my closure. Realizing that I don't have to talk to him or my relatives or anyone who plays with my emotions or hurts me again is plenty of closure for me.

#223 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 08:44 AM:

#221, Nope not me:

It may be evil of me, but as the probable disposer of my parents remains whenever they do die, I take great pleasure in reflecting that I could have their ashes mixed and made into LifeGems - together forever as jewelry. The prospect would utterly horrify both of them, and I will almost undoubtedly never do it, but in an odd way, it feels like it would be an extended version of standing over their graves and telling them off.

Also, there's something about the idea of sweet, sweet revenge that doesn't actually hurt the person I'm avenging myself upon.

#224 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:15 AM:

Sylvia #220: It strikes me that one thing about the worst cases of abuse and neglect and just general f--ked-up parenting/home life is that the situations are all very individual. I don't really believe that famous line about all good families being alike, but seriously broken families can be radically different from one another.

And that pretty-much guarantees that the right response will also be very individual. Some people who've had some rough times with their parents can make up and become genuinely close. Others can regain the kind of relationship that you have with random coworkers and neighbors--friendly enough, but with well-established boundaries that are not crossed. And some people do better to keep their parents a thousand miles or more away, or to simply cut off all contact, or even to disappear so that their parents can't find them under any circumstances.

#225 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:19 AM:

There's a small, vivid scene in Grosse Point Blank when the main character goes to his father's grave, opens a bottle of Scotch and pours it out, then drops the bottle and lid and walks away. He does it all without a word or an expression on his face.

It's his first visit back since he left after high school. You kinda get the feeling it's his last as well.

(The film isn't really about dysfunctional families; it's about fucked up high school life. But that scene stands on its own pretty well.)

#226 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:27 AM:

Joel Polowin @217 -- Gad, yes, Komarr is the most horribly painful of the Miles books for me to reread. I see myself in Ekaterina's situation so much. I'm in the midst if a group re-read right now in preparation for the release of the new one next year, and I'm dreading/looking forward to Komarr now that I have taken myself out of that relationship. And I have a better understanding of her reluctance to enter into ANY relationship after Tien's death, even with a wonderful person like Miles who could say things like the line you quoted.

I find myself second-guessing myself, though -- am I being fair? Was it that bad? Is my reading of things like Komarr coloring my view of the situation, or just opening my eyes? Is a symptom of the situation that I doubt my own interpretation of it?

#227 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:44 AM:

Hiding a little @226:
I find myself second-guessing myself, though -- am I being fair? Was it that bad? Is my reading of things like Komarr coloring my view of the situation, or just opening my eyes? Is a symptom of the situation that I doubt my own interpretation of it?

Well, you know, if we had an alternate-universe version of you that hadn't read it, we could compare. But that ship has sailed. You've read the book, and it's either changed your mind or opened your eyes. The person you are now, the person you have become through thousands of experiences, including reading Komarr, can't be in that marriage any more.

You can drive yourself crazy with the what-ifs. What if you hadn't read that book? What if you had got that promotion? But you're not there. You're here, now, knowing what you know, feeling what you feel, doing what you have to do about it.

And yes, your doubt is quite probably a symptom of the situation. Remember what Miles says in A Civil Campaign?

Miles shrugged. "I only saw a little of it. I gather from the pattern of her flinches that the late unlamented Tien Vorsoisson was one of those subtle feral parasites who leave their mates scratching their heads and asking, Am I crazy? Am I crazy? She wouldn't have those doubts if she married him, ha.
"Aah," said his mother, in a tone of much enlightenment. "One of those. Yes. I know the type of old. They come in all gender-flavors, by the way. It can take years to fight your way out of the mental mess they leave in their wake."
#228 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:17 AM:

me @ #206: The nice thing about neglect is that it leaves you free to think your own thoughts.

Mike Leung @214:

Well, if you call free being made responsible for securing work in a culture that denies any hypocrisy in explicitly reserving the privilege for itself of being indifferent to you -- except (not really,) to take every opportunity to infer offense from your behavior -- sure.

I was thinking of neglect of children by parental figures, not by a whole culture. Neglect as the opposite of "brainwashing" -- constantly badgering someone, punishing them for any sign of independence, until it's impossible to even think things they don't want you to think.

You seem to be thinking of "neglect" of adults by other adults? I would call that disrespect, or prejudice, or discrimination, if I understand what you mean.

Of course, "thinking one's own thoughts" doesn't necessarily mean that anyone else wants to hear them. And even in prison, one is free to think.

#229 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:19 AM:

What, nobody has cited Tolstoy yet?

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

The second part, people seem to be agreeing with, at least, though there are certainly some patterns and categories. We can probably take as given that people here don't fully accept the first part.

#230 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:32 AM:

Renatus @ 222:

Well after I left and he came to terms with the fact that I was never, under any circumstances, coming back to him, he apologized, in that aghast I've-just-realized-what-I-did sort of way. And I believed him; it sounded more genuine than just about anything that'd ever come from him.

People can be genuinely sorry and still be incapable of changing their behavior.

For me, it's a question of, "What are they really sorry for?" They're sorry their behavior drove you away, because it deprives them of whatever benefit they were getting from having you around. And all they really want is to pick up where they left off.

Maybe they know it's wrong. That doesn't mean they can stop.

#231 ::: me2too ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:34 AM:

one of those subtle feral parasites who leave their mates scratching their heads and asking, Am I crazy? Am I crazy?

OMG, yes. When I was in therapy, my therapist remarked that she saw a lot of people who were coping with this sort of thing; that, in effect, the wrong people were in therapy. Not that they (we) didn't have hang-ups, but that the source of the true brokenness was elsewhere. Boy, did that give me a boost! External validation that I was, at heart, a Reasonable Human Being (tm).

That's what's been so fatal for me in these (also) 25 years. I am a Boiled Frog par excellence. The thing that I learned in my childhood was to normalize everything, to accept everything, never say "This water's too hot!" but to cope with it somehow. Keep on keeping on. And I am extremely good at it. Many people probably consider me pretty high-functioning in many senses of the term.

So when I object to things, want different things, and hear that I am wrong/unreasonable, I've stayed in the water instead of jumping out.

(And I too have said, "Hey, at least he doesn't hit me" and had others point out that the controlling and criticism were, in fact, abuse.)

#232 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:48 AM:

LDR @228, Mike @214's quote exactly describes my current workplace. Most definitely neglect of adults by other adults. On one hand, it's good that there's no active abuse or micromanagement; on the other hand, every reaction is either neutral or negative. It's not any of those terms you use, though, not discrimination or prejudice or disrespect. It's just...nothing.

#233 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 01:00 PM:

Sylvia, #220: An honest question: do people also believe that rape victims need to talk to the perpetrators, make peace with them, talk it out, forgive? If your child was murdered, is it accepted as a part of the healing process to speak to the murderer and forgive? What if there was never any legal justice as a result... It just seems like sociopaths who are parents get some special status that I am not sure is deserved.

Bingo! Also, your later point about it requiring acknowledgement to have closure is a good one. I did try, on more than one occasion, to discuss certain long-standing issues with my parents, and inevitably they pulled a Reagan: "I don't remember anything like that." Whether that was supposed to mean "it didn't happen, you crazy bitch person" or "it wasn't important, why can't you put that sort of trivia behind you and move on?" or even just "I may regret that, but I'm never going to admit I was wrong," it was still no help and no closure at all.

But there was a great sense of relief, especially after my father's funeral, about realizing that I was never going to have to deal with his shit again. I had won -- I was free.

Doesn't Count, #223: That notion appeals strongly to me as well, for roughly the same reasons. I think you should TOTALLY do it.

LDR, #230: For me, it's a question of, "What are they really sorry for?" They're sorry their behavior drove you away, because it deprives them of whatever benefit they were getting from having you around.

Well put.

#234 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 01:09 PM:


Mike @214's quote exactly describes my current workplace. Most definitely neglect of adults by other adults.

That's hard for me to imagine, in a work setting. I've either been lucky or oblivious. Is it a personality issue? Hard to believe it could be a policy.

#235 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Lee, I've had similar experiences with "I don't remember that" from my parents. And maybe those things were so trivial to them they really don't remember. (The particular instance I'm thinking of was the conversation in which I was told that I couldn't even apply to the perfectly good state university I wanted to attend, simply because my boyfriend [now my husband] was already attending it.)

When the other person refuses to acknowledge that an event happened, there's no point in pushing the issue.

#236 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 02:03 PM:

Renatus #222: (1) An apology can only go so far by itself, and it does not leave the offender clean-handed. Sometimes time and good-faith can help, but the time is not optional. (2) Even if you do forgive them, forgiving does not imply forgetting, nor opening yourself to further abuse. (3) Sometimes, an apology won't cut it, when they've really screwed the pooch.

#237 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 02:16 PM:

Lee @234, I think it's mostly a side effect of working for a giant corporation. It's not company policy, but company culture at all the levels I've seen so far. My manager is a first-time manager (I'm her only subordinate) and she hasn't figured out that good management requires feedback and at least occasional encouragement as well as correction (she has the latter down pat). The department manager, over both of us, is one of those folks who's excellent at managing programs and terrible at managing people. The stereotype of cogs in a machine most definitely applies here: do your work, keep your head down, and don't expect anything besides a paycheck.

It's not a harsh environment or an openly discouraging one, to be fair, but it doesn't exactly inspire employee motivation or teamwork. The previous place I'd worked for was much smaller and demonstrably cared about its employees. After being laid off, I started here and was shocked that not only did people not reply to my polite hello in the hallway, they occasionally glared at me for speaking to them. (And still do, after a year.)

#238 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 02:30 PM:

The advice columnist at Tomato Nation tells people looking for apologies from people who've wronged them to think about it this way: what do you want out of the conversation? If you feel that you need it, confront them, but keep in mind that you're unlikely to get an apology. (This is a good example.)

#239 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:27 PM:

Doesn't Count @223: LifeGems

Hm. Tangentially, you may just have given me a great idea for what to do with the ashes of a beloved pet. Thank you!

Irony is: I don't even have ashes to work with.

Further irony: I once had a converstation with my mother about the waste of resources used up in burials and funerals. Her response: "Funerals aren't for the dead. They're for the living." I get that now.

#240 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 03:35 PM:

"I've passed her in some ways (educationally) so some of the things she says no longer apply, and I know it."

Side note— getting a higher level of education than one's mother is a major risk factor for eating disorders, presumably because the adults in that family resent it, and behave as your mother did. Naturally, the biggest risk factor for eating disorders is the adults in the family harping on personal appearance, though it's often more subtle than what you've experienced.

#241 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 04:53 PM:

I've previously posted random related tidbits which I won't bother to repeat here, but felt the need to add this observation:

One of the worst moments of my life was realizing that despite growing up with a "Bad Demon Parent/ Good Nice Parent" mentality, the latter's main qualification was almost entirely by omission because of not doing anything.

Not predicting that I would grow up to become a prostitute[*], when I was ten and was found reading about sex in an old "marriage manual" of theirs from an old box in the basement. Not forever telling me that I was worthless, so that whenever I overheard my parents telling someone outside the family that I was smart/talented/etc., I felt ashamed that I was so pathetic that they had to lie to everyone else about me. Not railroading straight over all of my attempts to speak-- I didn't fully realize until my mid-20s that I *could* say "no" and make it stick (luckily I was too antisocial to undergo much of the otherwise predictable dating predicaments); I'm still usually incapable of finishing my own sentences because I expect to be interrupted and ignored, and let my train of thought fall off a bridge halfway through.

And also not stopping the "bad" parent from doing those things to me. The only exception I can remember is one incident when I was physically pulled out of a feedback loop of being hit harder because I wouldn't stop crying. But everything else? The whole chronic cycle of crushing my self-esteem into small pear-shaped pieces happened every day, year after year, without any attempt to intervene, much less offer any praise or affection to help me put myself back together.

I don't trust either of them anymore. In some ways, I wish I could, in that I have a better idea now about how their own childhood dynamics made them what they are. But that doesn't undo anything that happened, or retcon the lack of some things that didn't happen.

[*: I didn't, but kept considering that option most of the way through college (for which I had a four-year full-tuition academic scholarship). Not that I think that there's nec'ly something wrong with being any type of sex worker, although many of them are subject to exploitation and abuse.]

#242 ::: M ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:13 PM:

LDR@206: "It's all about boundaries, isn't it? People who can't distinguish between their children and themselves, or believe that their children belong to them and therefore have no rights or recourse."

My mother-in-law used to say the old one about "I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it again" to my wife, her daughter, on not infrequent occasions. It was presented as a joke, but it wasn't funny, and wasn't wholly a joke, either. There was a crazy thread of meaning it, running through that.

I don't think she was, anymore, capable of turning that into action; she wasn't strong enough, physically or mentally, to do it, but part of her always did see her daughter as a possession, an extension of self, "hers" in that spoiled-sociopathic-child way that she never completely came out of.

And this was with her daughter 25-30 years old.

#243 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:21 PM:

Komarr keeps coming up in this thread, so last night I started reNreading it.

Damn, Bujold is good.

#244 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:30 PM:

LDR @228: I was thinking of neglect of children by parental figures, not by a whole culture. Neglect as the opposite of "brainwashing" -- constantly badgering someone, punishing them for any sign of independence, until it's impossible to even think things they don't want you to think.

I am living proof that neglect and the brainwashing you describe are not mutually exclusive.

I only survived with my soul intact because somewhere deep down, I have a core of unshakable faith in my own intelligence and judgement.

She took a lot from me, and I had to be very stealthy, but despite unrelenting pressure, she never managed to rob me of that.

#245 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:39 PM:

Nope, not me #213:

Maybe you have to have closure to have closure. It's much harder if they Just Won't Listen. And they can never listen once they're dead.

For me, they were never going to listen or apologize anyways. (Or the entire Earth would need to suffer from random sudden existence failure first.) I think this is true for at least some others.

In that case, one can't tie closure to them giving one closure. That gives them too much power they never deserved. One must find closure in other ways.

I will, with any luck, never see the graves of my parents, because if I do, that means someone has dragged me over there to "reunite me" with them.

Does that rob me of closure?

Nah. Closure isn't about them giving me anything. Closure is about me closing a chapter of my life---or closing my mind on them. They may still try to kill me, they may still be trying to stalk me, but apart from wanting to stay alive, I don't give a damn about them.

That's closure. I've had it for years. Still have the PTSD, because that isn't a choice for me whether to have it or not, but them as a part of my heart's life? Yesteryear's news.

Maybe your parents did try to rob you of closure. Don't let them. Closure is, I think, something that one controls. Or that one should control.

On the other hand, I've got a very odd view on things.

#246 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:46 PM:

caffeine, #235: Precisely -- and this punches a large hole in the notion of "getting closure" by reconciling with the people who abused you. If they won't even admit that the abuse happened (whether because they honestly don't remember it, or for any other reason), it not only provides no closure, but it's worse than if you never talked about it at all. Because it proves that actions which may have shaped your whole life were TRIVIAL to them, and that's emotionally devastating all over again.

#247 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 05:48 PM:

Lee @233: I did try, on more than one occasion, to discuss certain long-standing issues with my parents, and inevitably they pulled a Reagan: "I don't remember anything like that."

Ghods bless Steve Barnes. In a conversation over dinner one time, he started quizzing me (with my permission) about my brother abusing me. "Have you ever confronted him about it?"

"No. I'm sure the response would be some variation of, 'I don't remember that.'"

Steve's eyes became lidded and suddenly went bottomless.* He said, "Well, then you can say, 'Well, I do. Let's go from there.'"

I never did confront my brother, but that response was incredibly validating for me.

*Please, Ghod, see to it that I never, ever, really truly, piss this man off.

#248 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:06 PM:

Arachne Jericho @245: Maybe your parents did try to rob you of closure. Don't let them. Closure is, I think, something that one controls. Or that one should control.

Okay, I'll bite: how? (I don't doubt you, and I don't doubt it's possible. It's just an experience that has entirely eluded me so far.)

#249 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:10 PM:

Nope@248: "Closure" is about a state in your head. It is not something that anybody outside can just give you (since we're on Bujold, it's like what Ekaterin tells Kareen after The Dinner Party: adulthood is not something you can earn by being a good enough child).

Now, your head may insist that something from somebody outside is needed to attain closure; your head is only to some extent under your control.

#250 ::: Nope, not me ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:13 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @249: Your head is only to some extent under your control.

Yes, that.

#251 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:39 PM:

Nope, not me:

What David says at #249 is what I think about the matter, more or less.

It's a unique path for everybody; perhaps it doesn't exist for some, but I like to think that it's a path that always exists, even if you have to go through brambles to get there.

For some of us, the mainstream version of "closure" is not a valid path (indeed, it can probably never be the path for me, 'cause PTSD is not something under one's control). There is nothing wrong with this.

In any case, closure is a paradigm shift. There isn't an easy way to get there, and it depends on the situation, and it involves a lot of individual soul searching and development and discoveries. Even mainstream closure requires mental shifting of one to acceptance---only that type of acceptance is not always valid, or healthy, or even right, for an individual situation.

Closure exists in other ways. Don't limit yourself to what society thinks it is. It's an individual thing.

#252 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 06:45 PM:

LDR@230, David Harmon@236: I know all of that--now, at least. How I felt seven-eight years ago as a young adult who was re-learning to trust her own perceptions but still operating under a broken this-is-how-relating-to-people-goes system is a different matter.

It took me until earlier this year to process and come to terms with it all. Once I got there, I understood that forgiving or reconciling or whatever people like to say is The Way to get closure wasn't going to do it--the only thing that served as closure with him was close his door into my life completely.

Which has in turn led me to understand that I don't have to forgive or reconcile with or please or even talk to my relatives, because I don't have to make them appreciate or understand me for me to be a good and successful person. That's closure enough for me.

#253 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:23 PM:

Generic "you" here - not applying to anyone in particular (except for the last paragraph).

If you're strong enough to be able to break the patterning and see through to it, "I don't remember it" or any of the other "not/no longer an issue" responses from the abusers can *be* closure, if you're the sort of person who works that way. Of course, I don't think I am (so I could be talking out of my hat).

Closure in the sense of "clearly, there is no benefit that can be had from continuing this relationship." It may alleviate the guilty feelings that come after you terminate all further ties. I didn't say it was a *good* kind of closure, mind you.

Of course, EPID, *especially in this thread*, and if this advice doesn't apply to you, shitcan(*) it with extreme force.

(*) I tried to think of a better word here, but nothing else seemed to suit the vehemence intended.

#254 ::: nonentity ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:38 PM:

Arachne Jericho @ 152: I notice there are a lot of people here with parents who had narcissistic personality disorder, or seem like they did if they were never diagnosed properly

Wow. Thinking about my parents in those terms is incredibly freeing.

I thought I'd long since internalized the truth that it wasn't my fault. But apparently, I really hadn't. Those labels somehow give me an emotional distance from them that causes feelings of lightness and well-being to float up from deep inside me.

So thank you.

Doesn't Count @ 223: I'm reminded of the scene in The Shipping News when Agnis takes the ashes of the brother who raped her to the outhouse, dumps them in, and sh*ts on them. Rather more extreme than your idea, but still.

#255 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 07:48 PM:

Nope, not me @ 221: mostly, bodies donated to science are eventually cremated and the ashes, if the person did not want them given back to family members, scattered at a site near the hospital or research facility. If you know or can find out where the bodies were donated, it might be possible for you to find that site and say what you need to say.

As discussed, closure can mean a lot of different things to different people. But if that moment at the grave is important to your meaning of it, there might be a way for it to be possible.

#256 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 08:58 PM:

Now I'm reminded of another Bujold moment: Miles, in "The Mountains of Mourning", burning his offering at his grandfather's grave.

"Well, old man," he whispered, then shouted: "ARE YOU SATISFIED YET?"
#257 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:11 PM:

They might have a memorial in a local cemetery, or an annual memorial service. (The school my father donated himself to did that.)

#258 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 09:35 PM:

A book recommendation for those who haven't read it yet: Toxic Parents, by Susan Forward. It's still in print, actually, though there are lots of used copies in circulation as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if some have ended up in libraries.

One of the many helpful things she discusses in the book, and which helped me get closer to closure, is what she calls a "script".

What I did was to write down what I wanted to say to my abusive parents, completely so that I could read it verbatim. Every grievance that sticks out in my memory, I wrote it down.

This is not a nice script, this is not a reconciliation script---this is a game-ender.

Yes, this is a flamethrower.

Then I called up my parents from a friend's place and read the script to them. Any of their objections, and believe me, they made them---I read over them forcefully and kept going until the end. And then hung up and disconnected the phone.

My friends took me immediately away to another county, and my parents really did come down to the University to hurt or kill me afterwards (they even threatened a dorm clerk and tried to get friends and colleagues to open doors to them, police got involved, oh it was fun times), but everything was done. No more obligations to hold myself beholden to them.

Now, I did spend several months trying to set sane boundaries. "I don't have to call you every day, just the weekends. I don't have to eat dinner with you every weekend, just once a month. I opened my own bank account, sorry. I got a job of my own so I'm not dependent on your money, sorry. I got a car of my own so I'm not dependent on you, sorry."

That kind of independence was too much for them. If they had reacted in some way other than screaming at me to quit my job this instant or to get rid of my car and use theirs this instant or to put their names on my bank account this instant or else dad would hurt mom, or mom would starve herself to death, or dad would hurt me, or mom would kill herself, etc etc etc... I might have tried for a little bit longer.

But they were insane and compromise was not in the works for them.

So after two months of this living hell, which was at least different, chop.

The death threats afterwards were kind of expected.

It was hella hard to do, and if I didn't have friends and the University/campus/local police, I couldn't have done it without getting seriously injured or dead. But even without the life-threatening bits, it would have been hard to do.

That all was traumatic indeed, but it was worth it, and it was still closure on a part of my life that would have left me trapped, stunted, and eventually dead.

It was a powerful experience for me in more ways than one. Reminders, however subtle, of events from that day still trigger my PTSD like whoa, but it's still worth it.

So. So worth it.

Mind you, that's me and my situation---as Xopher said last year, I didn't, and still don't, have many options. Not everybody wants the flamethrower. But for some, the flamethrower is what's necessary.

Actually, in some instances, you can modify the script to be more like an acetylene torch if your parents are dead. Reading the script over their graves---or over their memorials---or over their pictures---also can bring closure, without all the, ah, immediate excitement that can occur after a live script read.

Anyways. This is definitely when anger is useful. Closure as a result of fire.

Then afterwards one can concentrate a bit more on living, even if living is "run run run run run".

#259 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:19 PM:


[M]y parents really did come down to the University to hurt or kill me afterwards...
Do you find you spend a lot more time saying "No, I meant that literally" than people from a normal background ever will?

#260 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 10:48 PM:

Arachne, I have to ask -- why are your parents not serving long prison terms by now? Just the outcome of that scene at the university should have been enough to put them away for a while.

#261 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2009, 11:26 PM:

I don't know if I have closure with my dad or not. I don't talk to him, he doesn't contact me, and I'm mostly content with that. My mother thinks it's sad. Why, I do not know. I don't know why she maintains as much contact with him as she does. I keep on thinking I should get back in touch with him, that maybe I'll want him for something before he dies. But honestly, if he apologized, I wouldn't believe him. As far as I can tell, there's nothing he can say that will make things better. He has my email address, which he does not use. Of course, he's blind, which makes email a problem, but not an insurmountable one, as he can see things that are large and up close. Which you can do on a computer. I don't know if he has my phone number or not. I rather think he does. He doesn't call. If he's not making an effort, then why on earth should I? Mostly, I don't think about it. He's from some distant place that I mostly don't remember well. I inherited his bipolar disorder, what more could he want?

#262 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:23 AM:

You know what? Bugger this.

I accidentally posted above @239 with my identity in the clear. I sent abi a panicked email saying "Changeitchangeitchangeitplease!"

abi: Nevermind.

In case it makes any difference and there's anybody who (a) cares and (b) hasn't already figured it out, I'm Nope, not me.

I'm tired of hiding. I want to claim my experience. The only earthly being who is likely to be bothered by my posts is my brother, and Lydy's @261 says it perfectly.

So, fuck 'im. Here I am.

#263 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:45 AM:


I usually don't mention my past, thus the question of actual intent to kill doesn't hit the table.

Actually, the one time that topic did arise in spontaneous conversation outside of Making Light, I neglected to insist that my parents really did want to kill me, thus resulting in a misunderstanding that led to a friend deciding that it was safe to give my parents my first name change. And my new phone number. And my new research office location. And summaries of all conversations he'd had with me after I'd cut ties with my parents and was a mess, crying on his shoulder, etc. Because then he could reunite the broken family.

Something to do with being born-again.

I think sometimes the only reason I'm still alive after that (and much less naive about identity) is that he felt he should give me a warning, just before my parents started calling my phone number.


My mother never pressed charges against my father for anything, including the times he raped her and that time he punched her head through the wall, literally, much less the times he hurt me. This is a huge stumbling block for any prosecuting attorney.

The University never pressed charges against my parents. My parents didn't actually hurt the dorm clerk, after all; and I had not, at the time, been living in one of the closed circuit TV dorms. The University had no case that would hold up against a mediocre defense lawyer.

One might ask why I didn't press charges against my parents after 20 years of hell. That was because I knew my mother would testify that there had never been abuse. I had no legal counsel, either, and nor could the University provide me with one.

One might proceed to wonder why I didn't get a restraining order. The thing is that restraining orders are useless against crazy stalkers, and often precipitate their final actions in the matter, which generally involve guns. My parents fall into that category.

I did try, though. Getting a restraining order is an arduous process that involves five attempts spread out over months to make your stalkers/abusers show up in court. After the third attempt, I had no drive and no nerves (and no money...) left.

The only way my parents could have been put away is if I let them hurt me. Thing is, if I ever did let them get close enough to hurt me, no one would be fast enough to keep my father from killing me right there.

So my parents remain at large, up until they do something, or they die.

My life. It's a joke from the gods.

#264 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 12:57 AM:

*waves shyly to Jacque*

*offers flamethrower?*

#265 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 03:04 AM:

@Arachne Jericho: So their identity was wrapped up in consuming yours, to the point where they reacted to your assuming your own identity with threats of self-destruction and/or deadly force? Wow, and I thought my parents had killed my love for them.

Here's hoping you find a death notice in an upcoming annual Google search. When you do have reliable confirmation that they're both dead, may I suggest contacting writer Ann Rule? She takes true crime to a deeper level, examining why people do what they do and how they get away with it. I recommend _Everything She Ever Wanted_ as validation that invincible systems of family craziness do exist _and_ that it is possible to achieve a permanent escape.

#266 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 04:15 AM:


That's a good summary of part of the whole mess. "I can't live without you" has unfortunate overtones in such a situation.

I actually never seek information about my parents in any way, shape, or form. There are too many ways that can backfire---like obsession, getting my original identity hacked in the process, triggering flashbacks, and more or less wiping out closure.

#267 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 04:51 AM:

Apparently tangential to the thread, but if you're going to ask, re: #234 & #237: first, look what I can do:

I was let go from a job this year I'd been at 4 years. We were a small-project "accept all challenges" website-dev shop. At first, I'd get specs dozens of paragraphs-long. I'd get treated as a failure for something I'd overlooked a third of the way through the specs. Then I started to push back.

This meant really, really digging into my intuition to assemble the reasons that passing on the client correspondence and expecting me to pick-up the understanding of the project the project manager had (or just took credit for having) was really, really wrong. And, in case you need to hear it, "Assembling_Reasons ≠ Common_Sense". If "Assembling_Reasons = Common_Sense", we'd never have to drop an explanation at "It's common sense." So this was the circumstance in which I was a pain in the ass in the workplace. If you don't know really, really digging into your own intuition to linearize it into a verbal, rational description looks like you're having a conniption, then you're probably more like almost everyone we meet who doesn't know what it takes to verbalize our own common sense than you previously had reason to believe.

So then comes the time of job-cuts and, guess what, because I've been a pain in the ass, I'm the first coder they're letting go. I tell them what I've been *telling them all along,* which is that I'm the only one who's been passed ginormous, no-prestige projects (re: coding sample demonstrating what I can do) leaving me vulnerable to having the main axes of the projects buried 8 paragraphs in. Their behavior let's me know they're only hearing what I've been saying all along for the first time. They weren't listening to me in the good times nor the bad. I tell them something else I'd been saying all along, which is that their account can be that either I'm a ghost or I'm not a ghost, one or the other; they can't have it both ways without only pretending to be fair.

The theme of socialization has been emerging casually in this thread. If there's a scapegoat for the doubts of anyone around me, I'm it. I'll tell people that's what they're doing, that that all that's observable leaves me to image, and there's still no stopping them. There's no penalty for overdrafting on denial. There's only whatever *practice* I'm not privy to that allows others to not know what I know. People ask me what I'm going to do, and I tell them devoting all of my labor to changing my circumstances has accomplished nothing. I have no appetite or common sense for suicide, but that's the remaining path my thoughts take when I have to dwell on being railroaded back into being the supermarket cashier that paid for my college education. I can't just live for myself. No one can.

#268 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 05:53 AM:

Arachne Jericho @264: *waves enthusiastically back*

I'm pleasantly startled at how big a deal "coming out" about this here is not.

Y'all are magic.

#269 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 06:36 AM:

Mike Leung @267: Nosey question: does this situation bear any resemblance to family-of-origin patterns?

I'm fighting a not-dissimilar situation where I work. (Fortunately, I have a cast-iron deadpan, so I do pretty well at not being a pain in the ass. Less well at making sure my position is heard.)

I figured out quickly that my dynamic with my boss is nearly identical to that with my mother. Getting Very Old, and I've been Exploring Other Options, but it has been informative nonetheless.

Arachne: I have this little fantasy of arranging an introduction between your parents and our dear Mr. Terry. Warms the cockles, it does.

#270 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 07:18 AM:

Here's a good quote from the other thread: "I love beef, but I'm sure the cow would prefer hatred or bland indifference."

#271 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 09:49 AM:
Jacque @ #269: Nosey question: does this situation bear any resemblance to family-of-origin patterns?

My parents swam the pacific ocean with daggers in their teeth and 3 kids in their arms to raise them in the US. I was born 4 years after arrival, and it's no secret decisions had to be made after pregnancy, that weren't made before. My parents came from a culture where child-raising responsibilities were delegated down the birth-order. Practicing this outside the culture of origin with no other examples, I don't think my brothers would disagree receiving this kind of upbringing wasn't optimal.

I was fortunate in never evaluating myself by the harshness of my family. I was intuitively able to elicit laughs at school with perhaps a precursor of the kind of speak you see on John Allison's "Scary Go Round" webcomic, where I felt free to try to articulate common sense, but it's funny because trying to articulate common sense is itself against common sense (if you're familiar with the webcomic, you may know what I mean). I had a recent sunday with the nieces, and I was able to elicit some strong laughter without making any kind of sense to them whatsoever.

As a teen, I started listening to old recordings of Alan Watts aired on the old WNEW station early on Sunday mornings. There was a lot of shouting back-and-forth, but the parents weren't very effective arguing for conformity against something like "isn't divesting yourself of desires itself not a desire" and "if you distrust yourself, aren't you still trusting yourself to be untrustworthy" and "no, the reason you struggled and saved for me to finish me education was so that I could do what I want to do."

In other words, for whatever the harshness of my childhood, I still managed to carve out and enforce a fairness there that I had hoped to build in my adulthood to my own tastes, but I instead wasted my youth trying to establish. For the situations now like I described above ("They weren't listening to me in the good times nor the bad"), I can either suspend all thinking that leads there (a new discipline, and one that I mostly have reason to believe is better than an addiction, but I'm discovering I'm neglecting inches-long ear-hair where I wasn't before), or I can watch my thoughts on the issue pulled into their natural resting place of my damnation.

#272 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 10:00 AM:

Jacque, #269: The more I think about that idea, the better I like it. Terry is a good interrogator, the kind who can pull the truth out of just about anyone without resorting to Bush-era tactics. It would be supremely fitting for them to have to articulate, acknowledge, and face the truth about themselves and what they've done. Might not go as far as "the truth shall set you free," but at least they wouldn't be able to lie to themselves and the world about it any more.

#273 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 11:29 AM:

Mike @ 267
It sounds even worse than some of the downhill stuff we've been dealing with: tell people their project is due in late September, then give them a firm due date that's early in the month, and do it a week before that date. Ask for someone to do a project 24 hours (or less) before it's due. Set up deadlines and don't tell the people doing the work what those deadlines actually are until they miss them.
I like my higher-ups, but there are some people who I'm pretty sure don't have our best interests in mind - they'd rather see our project fail big, because then they can say 'See, we told you all along it wouldn't work'.

#274 ::: Anonymous chap ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Julie L@241 said: One of the worst moments of my life was realizing that despite growing up with a "Bad Demon Parent/ Good Nice Parent" mentality, the latter's main qualification was almost entirely by omission because of not doing anything.

One of the most striking things I ever read on the subject of families was in one of Dorothy Rowe's books: she said that if you say that you had one good parent and one bad parent, you're wrong: you had two bad parents, since the 'good' parent should have done something to prevent the other parent from being bad. It's a very harsh judgement and I don't exactly agree with it, but I think of it whenever I read a one good parent / one bad parent story. It draws attention away from the obvious perp and the obvious victim to a third party who's very close to the action but usually not doing much. In this sort of situation there's a very wide range of 'goodness' which I suppose depends on the dynamics of the marriage in question: there can be genuinely good people trying to keep a marriage with a horrible partner going; there can be terrified people who feel they can't leave the marriage for whatever reason; there are also people who have been warped by a sick partner into participating in a terrible good cop/bad cop folie à deux in which they connive at abuse but feel smugly distant from it.

(When books on 20th-century history contain photographs of atrocities—a lynching in the 20s, Jews being made to scrub the streets in 30s Germany—my attention is always on those nicely-suited people—it was an era of nice suits—spectating close enough to see all the gory details but not quite close enough for the photograph to suggest moral involvement. One scrutinises their faces for traces of evil, guilt, disapproval—what were they thinking? Some of them are smiling; are they faking it?)

None of which is intended as a comment specifically on Julie L's story or anyone else's; it's for the survivors to make their own judgements on the families they survived—but I am always thinking of the quiet partner in the background and wondering what the hell's going on with him, or her.

Thanks very much to everyone for sharing again this year.

#275 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 04:57 PM:

Anonymous chap, #274, I knew my father was a bastard as soon as I had thoughts. But I was in my 20s before I realized my mother was also bad because she never stopped him. I remember her standing in the doorway to the kitchen while he threw me at the wall when I was three and forgot to feed the hamster. But her reason for not stopping him was that in their religion, it was okay to hurt your kids emotionally and physically. She didn't like it, but she didn't feel she could stop him.

#276 ::: The Weed ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 05:28 PM:

I and my brother weren’t really that badly off when we grew up. (Compared to _some_ here our childhood was positively idyllic!!)
The problems started, I think, when the parents were getting divorced. I was quite young at the time, so any particulars I have learned or in some cases reasoned out at a later date. Mother was never very stable – she was institutionalized a couple of times because of this – and not really able to take care of her children. Part of this may have come from her own traumatic childhood: she was orphaned (and from what I have been told, in her case it meant having to take care of herself after her mother (and her father was never in the picture) died of cancer when she was 16. And I was told that she had to take care of her mother while she was dying.
She was never physically or psychologically violent towards me or my brother though. But she _did_ have issues. Which basically screwed up her life.

At the time my parents were getting divorced, the mother would almost automatically get custody, ant the father would just get alimony. Perhaps, if the mother was severely schizophrenic – and institutionalized – Dad might get custody. Dad tried – and he might actually have succeeded in getting custody, if mother hadn’t accused him of threatening and physically abusing her.
The result of the nasty court battles - stretching over years!! – was that I amd my brother were in the ungentle care of the Child Protective Services until my father eventually managed to convince the court – and the CPS – that he was not unsuited to take care of his own children.

In the meantime, my brother and I languished in Limbo.

I have never really managed to learn to make friends – while in Limbo my situarion was never stable. I never had anyone I could turn to when I needed it. Bullying from other children was at best met with indifference. And there was occasional physical violence. Like when I was bedwetting when I was “too old to do such a babyish thing” soon after entering Limbo. And having to change the linens myself.
One result of my time in Limbo is that I am deeply suspicious of _any_ kind of religion. While in Limbo, Mother (not my real mother, but the woman insisted on being called that) wanted to ensure that the children in her care got a “proper Christian upbringing”. And she was the sort of Christian that gives religion a bad name. So the result of that “proper Christian upbringing” is that I variously call myself an atheist, an agnostic, or a Heathen – whatever the mood calls for at the time.

In some ways, my brother did not fare as badly as I did while in Limbo. He did after all have me. A 7-year-old mothering a 5-year old (that was while we entered Limbo. We stayed there for several years.)

In most ways, he seems better adjusted than me. He has a lucrative career (software designer, though now he is in Management) while I did not finish my studies – and mostly had low-paying jobs. He married and had children, while I have never had any impulse to do so. While children are nice enough, actually living with another person is just something I am not able to contemplate.
Though lately I have begun to wonder: I strongly suspect that his wife has bipolar disorder. And I also suspect that in one way or another his daughters are inheriting that. If there is no genetic component, SIL is ensuring that the “inheritance” is affected through less physical means.

#277 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 08:12 PM:

LDR @ 228 The nice thing about neglect is that it leaves you free to think your own thoughts.

I wonder if there is a higher percentage of childhood neglect if you poll creative types. It wouldn't surprise me. Actually, I find the thought strangely pleasing.

Lee @ 233 I think my relief started when I decided that it wasn't my secret to keep. I think your comment in @246 is spot on : trivialisation by strangers is devastating. By the perpetrators? I don't even want to think about the effects.

#278 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 08:26 PM:

Here's hoping you find a death notice in an upcoming annual Google search.

Possibly easier and more anonymous: look at the Social Security death records via Rootsweb.

#279 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2009, 09:39 PM:

Delurking to add to the chorus of "thank yous" and to remark on the concept of denying closure to your victims:

George Zinkhan, after murdering his wife and two other people, went to a wooded area, dug a shallow grave, climbed in, covered himself up and then shot himself in the head.


#280 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 01:20 PM:

Jaque and Lee on Terry meeting my parents: you know, that is quite amusing to think about. But my parents are so delusional and have been so for so long that it would be quite a challenge.

My mother especially believes that she sacrificed everything for her daughter. Indeed, she might have sacrificed everything, except her own fear of changing the situation. Of contemplating the awfully many steps of getting us out of a bad situation where I was terrified and hurt, in multiple ways, every single day. I remember a policeman offered to help us, give us protection while she assembled divorce papers and filed---but she turned him down and instead brought me home to face my father's wrath.

Not a terribly good day. I believe I was twelve, but it's hard to get a fix on age during those days.

J, that is quite a good quote.

P J Evans, thank you for the advice about Rootsweb, though I'm unsure how it works for refugees. They never became citizens.

I'd like to thank abi for providing another Dysfunctional Families day thread, and for everyone who commented or read.

#281 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 03:37 PM:

Ignoring, for the moment, how I might react to meeting such parents/people: I can't get out of anyone something which they don't believe to be true.

Ok, that's not really true. If you have a specific story you want them to give, I know how to get it out of them. I don't know that it will serve the ends you might want.

Then again, this probably isn't a good time for me to be in such a place, as my present emotional state is variable, and I am not always a nice person, much as I may try to be a good one.

#282 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 03:51 PM:


I pointed Terry at this discussion, rather lightheartedly. But on consideration, I was wrong to do so in that manner. Our Terry is a real person, too, not simply an icon of the ability to get people to talk, not fast-penta with a penny whistle.

I know I would turn to him if I needed him and he could help, and trust him when I did*. (I hope he thinks the same of me.) I think that this little sub-discussion is born of that same instinct to trust him. It is in that sense a heartfelt compliment.

But it leaves him no space to be human, in a conversation where we really must do just that for our community. It externalizes him into a Force rather than a complex man with his own history.


Speaking personally, I'm sorry I was quite so lighthearted about it. I hope you take the compliment for what it is.

* In point of fact, he was one of the fastest and most practical respondents when the sister of a friend was stranded in San Francisco.

#283 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 05:43 PM:

abi: You were right to point me at it. At other times there would have been no worries at all.

Right now, well things are rough, and today is being hard. I am, to quote someone else who is, at heart homely, despite a life possessed of adventures, "feeling something like not enough butter on too much bread."

But I took it, as much as the day allows, in the vein it was meant. I almost didn't post, because it felt a bit pissy, when flatterment was all I saw intended.

Being a paragon is hard work; and I know my limits. I could, actually, engage in therapeutic discussions, but the subject has to want to have the painful things drawn out. That's the hard part.

I see, looking at the thread; and it has it's parts I just had to gloss. My homelife, while not horrid, had it's problems, and I am not unshaped by them. I have a terrible fear of failing people (and a terrible certainty I will, which leads to all sorts of self-fulfilling/destructive behaviors), a couple of types of things we deal with.

Dysfunction. Parents/Siblings/Loved Ones, who don't know how to treat other people, "properly".


I don't know if the shading, of dysfunction to abuse requires intent, but those, (barring delusion) I could drag out of someone. I am digressing, there was something else in there, something you said about not understanding, but being there for support, from the sidelines.

Ah... found it: I come from a line of heroes who escaped bad childhoods and did not replicate them with their own kids. They did the best with the tools they had*, and now I and my kids† just sit here outside the situation and only dimly understand what you guys have seen.

We see, as through a glass darkly; being wiling to look matters.

It was nice of you, to point me at it. In its way, it was cheering, and it's flattering, a small bit, to quote Burns, of, "the gift the Giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us."

You've done no harm, and I'm sorry I didn't manage to hang on to the pleasant bit (I boasted of being iconic to Marna, who is still making her slow way home from the States), and ended up being dour.

#284 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 06:03 PM:

I have been trying to work myself up to post something here since this thread opened up, as I tried to last year. I still find myself mentally blocked from saying anything, as I found myself paralyzed last year on that thread, and as I did recently on the bullying thread. When it comes to disclosing anything this personal online, even anonymously, the wall comes down and I can't fight it. I am probably managing to say this much only because I took half a Xanax to settle my anxiety over this and other things going on.

So I will just say that all of you posting here, anonymously, pseudonymously, or openly, have my empathy - not sympathy, not pity - and that I wish I could share as many of you have shown the courage to. I salute all of you who have passed your victory on, whether by choice to remain childless or by struggling to be better parents than your own could be. That will have to do for now.

#285 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 07:12 PM:

Terry, #281: My apologies. It was a passing pleasant little fantasy, but with no serious intent behind it. I can't imagine you being willing to do such a thing voluntarily -- it would skate much too close to the edge of being unethical.

(Although I still have to smile over abi's "fast-penta with a pennywhistle" description.)

#286 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 07:32 PM:

I had to go look up "fast-penta".

The mind reels.

#287 ::: I'd rather not say my name ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 08:52 PM:

I have never told anyone except my husband the extent of what happened to me because I didn't want to seem like or be a victim. Sorry for the epic and I am sure typo peppered post. No one has to read it. I just need to say the truth once.

Throughout my childhood I was sexually and physically tortured by Jim (my father). He was a sadist who murdered my first pet cat in front of me, stuck pins underneath my fingernails, constantly called me names, destroyed my favorite toys, choked me, dragged me around by my hair, broke my nose more than once, raped me, forced me to watch hardcore pornography, and lick his dirty feet. While he was doing this he was seldom angry, he was laughing. He was so cartoonishly villainous and over the top, I never feel like anyone will believe me. He had a piranha, and when I was five he would actually stick my hand in the tank and let it bite me (see unbelievable).

My mom divorced him when I was six for breaking her arm, then remarried him the next year because he went to therapy and was baptized and learned to cry remorsefully on command. He didn't abuse her after that, but it was worse for my siblings and me. I remember having to hide my baby brother in the laundry shoot when he cried and provoke Jim so he would go after me instead. He threatened that if I ever told anyone what he did he would kill my mom and my grandparents.

He would dress me up in my mom's nightgowns and when she would come home from her seasonal Christmas job she would be very angry with me. I realize now from the timeline of when my little sister told her what was happening and when we left that she got that job knowing we were being molested and deliberately left us alone with him so she could save money to leave. She didn't have to do this. My grandparents were begging her to leave him and move in with them.

To her credit she did leave him, although she confessed many times to wanting to go back. He was so terrified of going to court he gave up all custody, but he didn't pay child support. We were very poor for years living in a trailer on food stamps and welfare while my mom returned to college. She was deeply depressed and would refuse to get out of bed and feed us or take care of us. I had to raise my siblings, get them ready for school, help them do their homework etc. To this day we are really close and have a great relationship. Because my grandparents set a premium on a religious education, they paid for me to be sent to a private elementary school where I was the only poor kid and the only kid whose parent's were divorced. I was a pariah until high school.

My mom was abusive too, slapping, pulling hair, etc. but only when she was angry. Whenever I disagreed with her on anything-evolution for example, or whether a four year old should be allowed to watch an R rated movie, she would scream at me that I was just like Jim. Since she was a psychology student she would also tell me I was destined to become obese or a slut because I was molested. At this time she created a number of artworks I found very exploitive that depicted me naked being molested and showed them at a local women’s shelter and an art gallery. At the same time she was a sad lonely person, and I was her only friend. She confided things to me I never should have known.

When I was fifteen, she met someone and remarried in a three month period. She announced the marriage after a month at my birthday party. I told her I was happy if she was happy and didn’t criticize him. Then a week after the wedding, she started punishing me without telling me why or grounding me for a month over a minor infraction like forgetting to turn off a light. This escalated of course. I started cutting myself and hiding it under hoodies. My grades dropped from straight A’s in distance learning college classes to failing everything, even art and English (I am a professional artist and part-time author now). One night my mom walked in on me slitting my wrists. She laughed told me she wished I would die and left to pick up my stepdad from work. When she came home, they joked about what a pathetic psycho I was while I bled through my sheets.

Shortly after that I went to my grandparent’s house and refused to come home. They tried to report me as a runaway, but the cops wouldn’t do anything because I was only a mile away. The next day they showed up with a story about me supposedly smoking pot at their wedding. Only the people they said saw me weren’t at their wedding. They took me for a drug test which was clean. I was a complete goody two shoes. I didn’t swear until I was sixteen, didn’t have sex until I was eighteen, and didn’t drink until I was twenty-two. While my stepdad’s sister was looking for needle tracks on my arms, she saw the cuts and they tried to take me to the crises center instead to have me locked up. My mom admitted she saw me do it and laughed, and also said I was just like Jim. I was assigned a social worker and placed in my grandparent’s custody.

Years later I learned my stepdad was telling my mom I was coming on to him. Her example was me asking her to buy me a bra. Sexually provocative.

At nineteen I tried to kill myself was hospitalized and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the hospital I realized the only thing that matters is happiness if the lack of it could kill me. After lots of internal work I am no longer depressed. I am happily married to my best friend and most days I love my life. I forgive my parent’s for what they did, although I choose as a kindness to myself to never see them again. They are broken in a way they can never confront and therefore fix. I find that ineffably sad.

I have learned to see the dark fairy gifts of my situation. The years where I needed to disassociate led me to take refuge in books, art, and writing. I am also more compassionate and willing to take a stand than I might have been otherwise

#288 ::: sorry ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2009, 11:49 PM:

@175 "My mother also had the deep conviction that children could not own possessions; she considered herself to own everything that was mine. Sometimes she'd throw some of it out, to make sure I knew she had the right to do that."

I remember sitting on the porch while my mom put my pony up for sale [I know, cry me a river--you had a pony!] because I was irresponsible (and worthless and useless and stupid). I think maybe I forgot to do the breakfast dishes that day. Or hang up my coat. Who knows?

I DID take care of that pony (and all the others---she never did get sold), waking up at 5:30 in the winter; haying for 12 hours a day in the summer from the time that I could roll a hay-bale until I left home. I was feckless and scatterbrained and forgetful, I admit, but I never forgot the animals.

My parents did hit me. Sometimes a lot, sometimes hard.

I never lost the sense that whatever I did was never enough.

I've never felt that anything was my own.

#289 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:06 AM:

Terry, #286: But it's also repeatedly stated in the books that questioning someone with fast-penta is a skill, and that it's easy to obtain no useful information by going about it the wrong way. I have gathered that a person under the influence of fast-penta is rather like a computer, in that they will answer the question you asked rather than the question you meant.

#290 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:14 AM:

Lee: Oh, so it's sort of like real interrogation. :)

Rumor has it I am going to be getting a pair of books, signed; same book, different languages.

I think it's Barrayar but I don't know. I've read but Shards of Honor in that story setting (and one other, which I like better, the name of which escapes me; sort of medievalish for setting. Something about Paladin in the title, as I recall).

#291 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 04:45 AM:

Likely Paladin of Souls.

#292 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 11:04 AM:

David Goldfarb: Yep, that was it. Good book.

#293 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Terry @283: For what it's worth, my suggestion comes only partly with reference to your professional expertise. Mostly it comes out of my general impression of you as a Stand Up Guy.

Put it this way: in some respects you seem like the big brother I wish I'd had. Strength, advocacy. Like that. Does that make sense?

Does that help any, abi?

Clifton Royston @284: [inability to post] Be of good cheer. If my experience is any guide, your experience will evolve for the better. I am astonished at how much has changed in my mental landscape over the last twelve months, in large part as a direct result of sharing here.

Though abi has quite rightly cautioned against giving advice, I will offer one suggestion: Write yourself a fairy story. Allegorical. For your eyes only. That might give you some more distance on it. Come back next year and see if things are different for you.

It always astonishes me the power writing something out has. Allows sorting the experience out in ways that thinking about things simply doesn't do. Kind of "drains it out of the head," too.

But, as we know, Free Advice is generally worth what you pay for it. :)

#294 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 12:22 PM:

Jacque: There was no real harm done. I am, perhaps a trifle prickly on what I can/can't do.

I did take it as flattering, though my reaction might not make it seem that was the case.

#295 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Julie L@241: One of the worst moments of my life was realizing that despite growing up with a "Bad Demon Parent/ Good Nice Parent" mentality, the latter's main qualification was almost entirely by omission because of not doing anything.

This sounds like one of Scott Peck's master/thrall pairs (from People Of The Lie).

#296 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Serious derail, but Terry: I assume that you would also need the ability to restrict the subject's freedom, which in civilian terms is called "abduction", "forcible confinement", and a bunch of other terms that tend to result in, well, a term of forcible confinement. If you don't, I'm even more impressed.

I realize the restriction can be voluntary, but not likely in this case...

#297 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:16 PM:

Hi Terry,

I didn't think you would do it, and I wouldn't want you to in real life---it was just a fancy. I wouldn't wish for such a burden to be placed on anybody's shoulder.

I don't think you'd have any effect in real life. My parents are just gone and I don't really want or care about any vengeance against them---wouldn't really solve anything, and might just encourage them to try harder to do something.

Like all stalking situations, it is... delicate.

Many hugs to you.

#298 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Terry, #290: Very much so. All the fast-penta really does is neutralize the subject's resistance and make them more talkative; the rest is up to the interrogator. Her short story "In the Mountains of Mourning" has a fairly good explanation IIRC.

#299 ::: Anon At This Time ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2009, 06:57 PM:

In addition to having major religious swings (from very strict commune-fundy to nearly atheistic and back) that threw us kids completely off kilter when we was young, my Mom has had deep depressive episodes her whole life, and has been seeking help for depression for 20 years. The first twenty years of my life, however, she was an unmedicated, angry, extremely critical perfectionist who gave us kids guilt trips for everything from missing dinner to being in her way when she had one of her rages. Her own father was bi-polar (as I am) and a drunk who neglected his family so badly that my Mom's first memory is of her crib and baby things being repossessed. So, yeah, it's generational, and one of the major reasons I never had children.

Starting just after college, cutting became my closest friend, I attempted suicide half a dozen times, twice requiring CPR to bring me back, and was in and out of psych hospitals for six years while engaging in therapy with a series of psychiatrists and social workers. I had a horrible, horrible self-image for many years and still feel ugly and worthless 8/10 of the time. I also haven't been able to hold a job for more than 2 years at a go (usually much less) before I leave or get fired. I don't know if the last issue has anything to do with my childhood experiences, but I've wondered about it, every time I've left a decent job because I got bored or else felt the managers were out to get me.

I'm now happily married, and my husband is a saint to put up with the bull**it I throw at him sometimes, but I still have nasty depressive episodes (with manic kickers) every year or so, and am currently out of work. I live on the other side of the country from my parents and my brother's family, so I only see them every few years. That's completely fine with me, even though Mom has apologized a number of times for those twenty years of hell.

I do check out pics of my nieces on Facebook; it's a nice compromise for contact.

#300 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:33 PM:

Terry and Arachne: If I may belabor the point, I was thinking less of Terry's interrogation skills than I was of his valiant and level-headed advocacy of friends, as so beautifully demonstrated here. (Yes, I know, he wasn't the only one, but I thought his post was particulary clear and specific.)

(I'm feeling particularly fond of Terry these days.)

#301 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 12:43 PM:

rather not @287: Sorry for the epic and I am sure typo peppered post.... I just need to say the truth once.

I will wager that even your "epic post" leaves out volumes.

Saying the truth is a crucial piece of healing. Also justice. Yay, you, for speaking up!

Anon @299: I'm glad you came here to speak your piece. Family mental illness is particularly brutal for the kids. Not only do things not make sense. They can't make sense. A lot of what I had to cope with in my mom was a direct consequence of her having to cope with her mentally ill sister.

Courage, all.

#302 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 02:59 PM:

Jacque: I'm flattered, I assume that was the correct thread; because it linked to the last comment.

#303 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:07 PM:

Mycroft: Therapy can never be done with constraint.

Interrogation almost requires it. The police don't let one leave either.

Confrontational therapy... dubious. I don't think sandbagging someone with things is useful enough to merit the risks attendant.

So, no, to answer the question, I don't think I could be therapeutic absent willing participation. I could be investigive without it.

Arachne: No harm done. If it helped, I am glad to have been here.

#304 ::: Not my usual nick ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:25 PM:

...because this isn't about me, but about someone who could be traced through me.

Just a reminder for those who don't know (because I certainly thought this before learning) Borderline Personality Disorder doesn't mean "on the border between having one and not" (so a minor case); it means "on the border between neurotic and psychotic personality disorders". Neither of which are exactly minor issues, and having elements of both, even more so.

In the case I have to deal with, when things are bad, she knows she has a problem that she has to work on. Unfortunately, when things are bad, there's no spare energy to work on them. But she puts plans in place to do it, and maybe starts once or twice, and then things get good, and suddenly "I don't have a problem any more. I don't need treatment" Well, at least until the next time.

The other thing I learned that made a lot of things make sense for me is that (in her case, at least) *everything* is a potential abandonment issue - if I decide to watch the football game rather than go out tonight, I must not want her at all. But since there's a fear of abandonment, she can't just say "I really want to do this, would you mind...?", she has to subsume her opinion and sulk in the corner and let me do what I want, in case I decide that's it, I'm done.

Which would tend to increase frustration and issues in the relationship, yeah. Especially as I'm someone who won't get it unless you say something. Add that to one-sentence mood swings, and there's a reason that the book on living with a BPD person is called "Walking on Eggshells". For those living with it, and those living with *them*, good luck, and please don't assume it will go away on its own.

#305 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2009, 03:45 PM:

BPD, *glrk!* BTDT.

Good news, it is possible to work through. Bad news, one almost has to do it on one's own. I'm a hell of a lot better than I used to be, but I still have my moments. ("It's those half hours that kill me!")

WRT intermittent motivation to work on it: if it helps any, think of it as a long term project. IME, it's something one builds out of with a lifetime of sustained (if erratic) effort and insight.

Terry: Yup, right thread.

#306 ::: Meow ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 04:04 PM:

Just want to say Thanks, Abi, Lee, and everyone. I keep revisiting this page, rereading, appreciating the validation. Thnx.

#307 ::: Changed to Protect ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2009, 05:56 PM:

My family wasn't nearly as bad as most of the above. Bad enough for me, though.

My parents should never have gotten married. A few months ago, I asked Dad how he and Mom had gotten together. He told me that basically, it was all about the sex. It wasn't until a few months after the wedding that they realized that they had very little in common.

They're a spectacular example of the disastrously stupid principle of "staying together for the sake of the children". The longer they stayed in contact, the worse the friction got and the worse the emotional environment became. I remember many arguments, and several physical fights, with Dad pinning Mom against the wall. I remember seeing my parents kiss on only one occasion.

I visited my friends in their homes fairly regularly. It took me a while to become aware of the very different emotional environment there, to figure out that their parents liked each other.

My parents separated in my last year of high school, then divorced. Things had seemed relatively calm for a few months, then they announced the separation, and all of the ugliness they'd been repressing came out. There was then a period of mild quasi-bribery of the kids while they sorted out who would be living where.

Dad occasionally had a violent temper. This was mostly aimed towards Mom, rarely at my brother or me. A couple of times when he lashed out at the dog, I did what I could to protect her. In more recent decades, he's much more level.

Mom was mostly emotionally frozen, as far as I could tell, and still is, except for her dog. She's almost entirely estranged from her extended family for a variety of reasons, including what she describes as a somewhat abusive and domineering mother. A few years back, one of her cousins visited Dad while I was there, and asked me to give Mom a hug for her. I told her "sure" while thinking what a completely odd notion it was that I should hug my mother. And then on to the meta level of realizing how odd that was. Later, I talked it over with my brother, and he agreed that it probably wouldn't go over very well with Mom.

My brother and I didn't learn much about relationships at home. We got some idea about simple things like casual touching and hugging from our social groups, but neither of us has had a lot of luck with relationships in general – there's a lot of awkwardness, we don't know where to start, we're not good at reaching out to people. My brother had one brief relationship a couple of years ago, and a few months ago found a girlfriend, and I'm glad to see that it seems to be working out for them. I had an awkward relationship with a former high-school acquaintance for a couple of years, a few years ago, but we always seemed to be at cross purposes. Because of her own bad history, she wasn't comfortable with a strong emotional relationship until there was a good physical relationship, while I was uncomfortable with the developing physical relationship because the emotional side of things was floundering. Or at least that's how I saw things. We couldn't seem to talk about it.

I'd really like to have a girlfriend. I never quite give up on that. But it's the same old problem, not really knowing how to start, and frankly not being interested in most of the women I meet. Many of my friends are poly, which would be convenient except that I'm very much not. If anything, I'm much twitchier about poly, as an orientation, than I should be, and I suspect that part of that is because of the instability of my parents' relationship - the poly "drama" and flux freak me out. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure that Dad was having affairs; I don't know about Mom.

#308 ::: c ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2009, 07:48 PM:

If anything, I'm much twitchier about poly, as an orientation, than I should be, and I suspect that part of that is because of the instability of my parents' relationship - the poly "drama" and flux freak me out.


Oh god. No wonder I've been having such troubles.

#309 ::: Changed to Protect ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2009, 03:03 PM:

c @ 308: I'm glad that my attempt to analyze my own prejudices seems to have brought you to some insight. I don't want to nudge, but if you felt like unpacking that a bit, I'm curious.

#311 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:25 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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