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September 21, 2010

Dysfunctional Families Day: No Expectations
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:10 AM *

My parents grew up in the middle of the last century, in very different suburbs of very different Californian cities. Both families suffered tragedies of different sorts, both struggled with deep and fundamentally irresolvable interpersonal conflicts. Both were, at times, powerfully unhappy. But the image that each presented to the world was as close to the Ozzie and Harriet ideal as they could manage, because that was what was expected of them.

Now, of course, we accept that families are more varied. Blended families, same-sex couples, lone parents, multiracial marriages (or, indeed, people of color at all): all these previously invisible families are now part of our ordinary landscape. So are unhappy families, of course: Jerry Springer, Oprah and Judge Judy have seen to that. But there are still these expectations about what it means to be in, or from, a dysfunctional family, and those can be as damaging as the complete denial of family troubles at all.

I don’t agree with Tolstoy that happy families are all alike, but it’s certainly true that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I think we need to give more space for that idea in our society, and for the varied ways that such unhappiness leaves its marks on people.

Making Light regulars will know that September 21 is Dysfunctional Families Day, when we give some space for those in our community whose families were, in each of their distinct and different ways, unhappy. We’ve done it twice before, and it’s my intention to continue the tradition as long as it seems worth doing.

As usual, anonymous comments are welcome in this thread. Not everyone wants their everyday identity linked with the most painful stories of their childhoods. Remember that the Making Light (view all by) functionality is keyed by email address; change that as well as your name to be anonymous. To avoid confusion among different anonymous commenters, it’s useful to create a spoofed email address using your chosen anonymous name.

Also as usual, I will be patrolling the thread with extra attention, cleaning up email address mistakes and ensuring that this is a safe space for difficult discussions

Comments on Dysfunctional Families Day: No Expectations:
#1 ::: Anonymous Coward 99 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:19 AM:

I grew up in the midwest with an alcoholic father and a suicidally depressed mother. I found my mother on the floor and called the police one night, she nearly died.

By 15 I was in drug rehab, and then kicked out for inhaling a can of deodorant.

I have been sober for 26 years now.

But, I had a very good friend. He and I smoked our first joint together. We got into trouble together, and then we got sober together.

Our lives took different paths. After ten years of sobriety, he went back to drinking. He lost his job and his marriage, and I just heard two days ago that his 17 year old son was found dead in a river. I just saw the kid this summer and my heart broke when I heard the news. He had been struggling with addiction as well, and he most likely drowned because he was so intoxicated.

Whenever anyone asks me, 'You got sober at 15, how can you be so sure that you can't just have a beer now?', I point to my poor, dear friend who can't put two days without drinking together, whose son is dead, and who has been in the ER more times than I can remember.

I don't know why I was blessed with a chance to live without drugs and alcohol while so many others can't escape the miserable life of addiction.

My biggest fear is that my son will inherit this disease, or that I will fail him in the ways my parents failed me. So far, I have been a loving, sober, and faithful father, but I live in terror of becoming what often feels like my birthright.

To everyone who lived in a unhappy family, here's to overcoming and loving the people around us, even when we don't feel like it. I love this blog and the people who post on it, and I am rooting for all of us. Sorry if this is too earnest, but this topic makes me very emotional.

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:00 AM:

Anonymous Coward 99:
My biggest fear is that my son will inherit this disease, or that I will fail him in the ways my parents failed me. So far, I have been a loving, sober, and faithful father, but I live in terror of becoming what often feels like my birthright.

One of the reasons I run these threads every year is as a kind of Danegeld. I can see my own flaws so deeply, my own weaknesses and how they could affect my efforts to be a good parent. Talking about this stuff reminds me (a) of the ways I'm not messing up and have not messed up, and (b) strengthens my resolve to keep on doing it right.

(It also (c) makes me feel like I'm contributing to the larger task of making the world a better place and the people in it happier, which is also one of the reasons I had kids.)

Sorry if this is too earnest, but this topic makes me very emotional.

Not at all. This is the thread for earnest, emotional, vulnerable, and honest. Thank you for commenting, and for being part of the community.

#3 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:38 AM:

I remember the previous threads vividly, even though I only worked up the courage to post about halfway through the second one. I always end up reading them late at night, usually while shaking violently, but ultimately they're very therapeutic.

This has been a hell year for me. All my boundary issues with my parents came pounding through loud and clear when my father-in-law (who was living with us) and my mother developed cancer almost simultaneously. I found I simply do not know how to say "No" to someone who has a genuine need - no matter how overstretched I am, or how unsuited I am to fulfill it. I was never given the option to say "No" when my parents needed something, and though I am slowly learning to do so in minor situations, I'm still completely unable to refuse someone in any kind of crisis.

Except myself, of course. I don't have crises. I have moments of being less than perfectly competent for which I beat myself up. As if I should be able to be a perfect full time caretaker for a dying man in one state, and for a post-surgical patient two states away simultaneously if I could just be better organized.

As a child, asking for help never actually got me any help, so as an adult I never ask for help. Which turns out to be self-fulfilling, because by now, when I gird my loins and ask for help? My friends over-react terribly precisely because I've failed to ask for help in horrible situations, so things must be truly dire. It's a nasty little dilemma, especially with my discomfort with drama, and I don't know how to get out of it.

#4 ::: MassHome_for_Bewildered ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 07:07 AM:

I saw these threads in the past, and hesitated to post.

We all know why.

I grew up with a "functional drunk" as a father, and never really knew him. What I knew growing up was him + bottle. I didn't actually get to meet *him* until about a year before he died.

My mother worked all through my childhood, sometimes at two jibs, but always on the night shift, first as a charwoman for a bank and then in the Post Office. She would have breakfast ready for us all, but then we wouldn't see her, because by the time we got home from school she was getting her time-shifted sleep, and sometimes would not be awake for dinner with us.

Of the three kids, I was the "smart one," and the youngest. and was in the position to be both the one to be the exemplar and constantly being told "why can't you be like XX?"

Always, at the same time, trying to both get more attention than the "leftovers" from my sibs, and trying to hide, and not be noticed. But I still felt left out when my father came home early one Sunday morning (at about 3 AM) and woke my sister to show her the Sunday comic pages from the newspaper.

I learned to be the nurturer and caregiver (read "enabler") and that poisoned relationships all through almost to my mid-thirties, including a first marriage that really never should have happened at all.

I was a "high functioning" person who bulled through depression until, when it finally caught up with me, came near to destroying me.

I have a sister who is somewhat short in reality appreciation, and my brother is a borderline alcoholic.

And I'm still taking antidepressants, and likely always will, and still find it really hard to say "no." (this is complicated by the fact that society treats with approval people who are overly helpful and giving -- no matter what the cost to that individual)

And this is nowhere as cogent and coherent as I had laid out in my mind when I decided to post.

#5 ::: change_is_scary ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 08:59 AM:

This is the year I have finally admitted that he has mental health problems I can only deal with by leaving.

Now I have to leave.

#6 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:30 AM:

I'm thinking about this slanchwise this year (I think I posted in the first year's thread, and not in last year's). Mine was a sporadically abusive family, with alcoholic parents, one of whom tried to kill me at least twice, and thought nothing of grabbing me by the throat and slamming my head against a wall while screaming at me. I am the only one of the three younger children who never moved back in with my parents (funny, that).

As some of you know, I'm about to go in for surgery in eight days, and there are people around, family-by-choice and friends, who want to know what they can do to help Soren and me, since I'll be out of commission for something in the area of six weeks.

And I can't answer.

I can say, "Take care of Soren; make sure he gets fed and gets sleep; check in on him while I'm in the hospital," but I am choking on, "This would help me."

Because I am not supposed to need/want/ask for help; I'm supposed to be able to take care of everyone else, and then fade into the background. Since I wasn't a desired child, the best I can be is useful; if I'm not useful, I have no right to exist. (I've talked with several of my female friends about this, and suspect that it happens more with girl children than boys, but am not sure.)

I'm doing a workaround of thinking of things that will help both of us, and phrasing it as, "This would make life easier/better for Soren," but I think that's another part of the legacy my dysfunctional family gave me.

#8 ::: privileged anonymous coward ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:35 AM:

I blame my evil grandmother. Yeah, the one who berated my mother for wanting more from my father than kids and a roof over her head. The one who said it was easy to treat a baby with colic: "You just put them on the floor and hit them till they stop crying." The one who lied and invented nasty things that people said and did to her. The wone who thought that not changing a baby's diaper was a good way to punish it for not being toilet-trained at 12 months. It's a way to focus.

Probably the first thing we learned about my father was that he was "undemonstrative" -- he really did love us, we were told, he just didn't show it. Wonder where he got that. The idea that parents would resent their kids for being a time suck and kids would return the favor was just a given.

No real surprise, then, that I internalized the notion of existing on sufferance: never quite smart enough, funny enough, good enough at sports or anything else. (Every christmas, before the presents were given out, we kids had to play something on the piano or recorder, or sing a song or recite a poem to show what we'd learned that year. Of course my parents would have disclaimed with horrified laughter any connection between doing well and getting the presents.)

I didn't know until much later, after decades of being tormented as "the baby", that my older siblings resented me for having had it easy, for being the boy and the focus of my parents' ambitions. Not surprisingly, we seldom talk to one another.

Oh, and if you're a young independent adult looking to make a break and tell your parents you love them but aren't going to put up with their shit any more, it's really better not to start that dialog a couple months before your father acquires a brain tumor and spends the next few years dying horribly.

#9 ::: the middle one ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:36 AM:

No one ever hurt me, beat me, tried to kill me, neglected me, let me go ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed. No one ever sexualized me before my time.

They even loved me, most of them.

They just never liked me.

They still don't.

And whenever I start to forget that, they remind me.

#10 ::: Solomother ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:48 AM:

Velma pointed me here.

I sometimes feel as though I don't 'deserve' to claim an abusive family life. I mean, look at us, we look great from the outside, don't we? But I've survived a mother whose fury and disapproval was routinely distilled to crystalline days of hideous silence, punctuated only by her vicious humming of various folk rock songs she'd loved in the 60's and 70's. To this day, the sound of her humming sends me into a panic. She needs hearing aids but doesn't wear them, and when she doesn't hear what I said, she ignores it... which sends me right into being a child who was in trouble with her mother--who wouldn't speak to her for days.

I grew up with two drunks. My mom got sober sometime after my eighth birthday. An only child, I learned to retreat. I never brought home friends. How could I? I never knew which parents would be home... the drunks, or the ones who were sitting there waiting to be drunk. They were casually abusive, and thought it great fun to send me away from the dinner table so they could hide my plate. They'd make me look for it until I found it, laughing at me all the while. I still have nightmares of the mingled voices of disembodied men and women, laughing cruelly. At Christmas time, the carols would start: "You better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, I'm telling you why... Santa Claus is dead."

When my mom quit drinking, she turned into a dry drunk. Still furious. Still cold. Still disconnected. When I was in eighth grade, she told me I'd ruined her life. When she quit smoking, and gained weight, she hated me for being 16 and still slender, still young.

No desire of mine was respected. No Model UN or ballet or not going straight to college. Nothing I did was good enough. I was not allowed a voice in my family, and the will with which my seven year old son sticks up for what he feels is right and wrong is a revelation to them. Imagine my despair when I first realized how well they treat him, and compared it to my own childhood.

We have a truce, and I even have come to understand my father a bit. He comes and hides at my apartment, or drops by just to make sure he's not nuts, when my mom starts humming at him. He's actually a well-respected, charming man around town. At home? He's a silent, sullen man who watches television and drinks his beer or wine.

I am afraid of my own fury--I don't want to be angry, anymore. I am afraid of how much my son needs, and how little I sometimes feel I have to give him. I've learned to open my arms to him when he is hurt, afraid, insecure. I never had those arms when I was a child. I had to learn how to love and care all on my own.

#11 ::: Angel in the Details ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:53 AM:

I'm in this funny place with this thread. In a lot of ways, my family is "not dysfunctional enough" to be writing here. No physical abuse, no alcoholism, no estrangement, no divorce. Just garden variety mental illness (bipolar on one side, OCD on the other); the secrecy borne of paranoia about discrimination (possibly justified, but also unhealthy), the isolation for fear others would find out, the unwillingness to ever talk about the past.

They told me when I was 16, the way some other parents talk to their kids about sex. So much fell into place then -- why dad would sometimes come home from work and go straight to bed; why mom's rules were so rigorously, angrily enforced at times and ignored at others; why my behavior was constantly scrutinized for signs, I realized then, of obsession, of mania, of compulsion, of depression.

I drew away from my family and put my trust in my friends, partially because my family was unreliable and partially because I was terrified of becoming my mother and partially because, well, I was 16. I was told not to tell anyone, but promptly did (which, for the record, I don't believe had any negative effects on my parents). I was intensely high-functioning, top of the class, gifted. And my own depression went untreated (or was diagnosed as "just stress" or adjustment disorder) until after I was in the process of crashing and burning out of grad school.

I was 28 before I learned how horribly critical my grandmother was of my mother, how habitually unfaithful her father had been. I know my father was institutionalized for part of his young adulthood, but I don't know where or how, just that it was before lithium (which has allowed him to live a mostly normal life) and that he has a strong affinity for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

They love me, I love them. In so many ways, they did well as parents -- I have no doubt that I was cared for, and that they were doing what they thought was best. We live far enough now away that interaction isn't a chore. I see their faults and their limitations more closely when I visit or video-chat. My brother struggles with the same issues as my father. My mother still drives me crazy. My father is growing so old.

The latter half of my 20s has been mostly a struggle with the ebbs and flows of atypical depression (the kind where you can be happy in the morning and having suicidal thoughts by nightfall -- though no mania, thank god), a loss of direction, and a loving but increasingly unhappy marriage. I'm looking at my early 30s as rebuilding years -- more intensive therapy, taking responsibility for my behavior (even for the problems I wasn't intentionally causing), deciding whether my marriage can be salvaged, regaining my self-confidence and my (retooled) ambitions.

There will be no children until progress is made -- my promise to myself. And if there are, someday, there will be no secrecy. I will tell them about my life as it is, as it has been -- and I will not define my life by my illness.

#12 ::: Solomother ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:54 AM:

Velma pointed me here.

I sometimes feel as though I don't 'deserve' to claim an abusive family life. I mean, look at us, we look great from the outside, don't we? But I've survived a mother whose fury and disapproval was routinely distilled to crystalline days of hideous silence, punctuated only by her vicious humming of various folk rock songs she'd loved in the 60's and 70's. To this day, the sound of her humming sends me into a panic. She needs hearing aids but doesn't wear them, and when she doesn't hear what I said, she ignores it... which sends me right into being a child who was in trouble with her mother--who wouldn't speak to her for days.

I grew up with two drunks. My mom got sober sometime after my eighth birthday. An only child, I learned to retreat. I never brought home friends. How could I? I never knew which parents would be home... the drunks, or the ones who were sitting there waiting to be drunk. They were casually abusive, and thought it great fun to send me away from the dinner table so they could hide my plate. They'd make me look for it until I found it, laughing at me all the while. I still have nightmares of the mingled voices of disembodied men and women, laughing cruelly. At Christmas time, the carols would start: "You better watch out, you better not pout, you better not cry, I'm telling you why... Santa Claus is dead."
There was one year when my birthday didn't happen. I was informed, after I'd chirped downstairs, all thrilled to be turning (seven? Eight?) that, because my birthday had fallen on a national holiday, the holiday took precedence, and we would not be celebrating this year. They kept that up ALL DAY. I haven't had a good birthday since. In fact, I've never believed I deserved any good thing in my life after that day.
When my mom quit drinking, she turned into a dry drunk. Still furious. Still cold. Still disconnected. When I was in eighth grade, she told me I'd ruined her life. When she quit smoking, and gained weight, she hated me for being 16 and still slender, still young.

No desire of mine was respected. No Model UN or ballet or not going straight to college. Nothing I did was good enough. I was not allowed a voice in my family, and the will with which my seven year old son sticks up for what he feels is right and wrong is a revelation to them. Imagine my despair when I first realized how well they treat him, and compared it to my own childhood.

We have a truce, and I even have come to understand my father a bit. He comes and hides at my apartment, or drops by just to make sure he's not nuts, when my mom starts humming at him. He's actually a well-respected, charming man around town. At home? He's a silent, sullen man who watches television and drinks his beer or wine.

I am afraid of my own fury--I don't want to be angry, anymore. I am afraid of how much my son needs, and how little I sometimes feel I have to give him. I've learned to open my arms to him when he is hurt, afraid, insecure. I never had those arms when I was a child. I had to learn how to love and care all on my own.

#13 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:59 AM:

I've come to understand something about dysfunctional families (or my dysfunctional family) the past year: they're deeply committed to the business of protecting their dysfunctional members.

Okay, said like that it seems obvious. But if you're someone in a dysfunctiona. family who's problematic, everyone rushes in to protect you. You're not hated for your toxicness--you're shielded from a world that, unlikely your family might call you on it. You're seen as weak and in need of protecting.

But if you're more or less functional, a victim of dysfunction sometimes but not a cause of it? If you more or less have your act together?

Then you clearly don't need protecting. You're on your own, and so you'd better learn to protect yourself.

I like to imagine that in functional families it's the other way around, and the tres of harm get proected, rather than those causing it.

#14 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:08 AM:

I was never abused. My parents are good people. The things that they taught me - silence, self-denial, the virtues of martyrdom and the unacceptability of anger - were the things that they had been taught, and they didn't do it to hurt me. Knowing this doesn't help much.

My depression, my anger, my inability to ask for help are things that I am still struggling with, and one of the hardest parts is the resentment. Why do I have to be the one who finally deals with this? Why couldn't they have shown some courage and strength? For years I tried so hard to hold my family together and no one told me it wasn't my job.

And now my parents are separated and my sister lives halfway across the country and my father's girlfriend has stated that she's not interested in being around for his slow death from cancer and it's all on me again. I know how you feel, previous posters. Compulsive caregiving is an addiction. It feels so good, so powerful to be needed, to say yes, to have someone look at you with gratitude. It's so validating. But if I don't find a way to say no to my dying father, I'm going to break. I can feel it already, all my support struts creaking under the weight, and it terrifies me.

#15 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:10 AM:

High-functioning autism? May be almost charming in children or members of our skiffy community, something to be treated in the children and smiled at and tolerated in fandom.

But it's hell when it comes from a parent.

Confession: this means that some of the borderline autistic behaviors that are tolerated at cons, and that they're even a safe haven for? Make me twitch, twitch, twitch. Because some of what reads as normal to much of our community reads as abuse to me.

#16 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:32 AM:

change_is_scary @ #5, I feel for you. That's the same conclusion I came to a bit over a year ago. When I realized that no, I wasn't always wrong and no, there really wasn't anything wrong with me, and that no, most adults don't get what they want in a relationship by throwing temper tantrums and breaking things and getting drunk and not talking to their partner for days on end. When I realized how much my toleration of this behavior had affected my daughter's view of relationships.

I left, and it's been very good for me and for my daughter. She's in a stable, happy relationship now where they talk out problems together. BUT -- I'm too scared to start another relationship. I have caught myself apologizing to men exhibiting the warning signs of exactly the same sort of passive-aggressive controlling behavior. Maybe I just need to give it more time. I saw a rule of thumb somewhere that it takes about 10% of the time you were in an abusive relationship to really get over it enough to get your balance back. I may need a couple more years.

#17 ::: And Another Thing ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Genetics is a wonderful thing. Or not.

I want to start by saying that my parents were both smart, funny, capable of great charm...all of the things that, on a sunny day when the wind is right, make a kid's life terrific. All true. That just wasn't all they were.

My mother's father, who I met as a toddler but do not remember, was an alcoholic. My mother was too. I don't know much about Doc (my grandfather), and what I do know is filtered through my mother's stories--my mother was the original unreliable narrator--and my aunt's, so I can't say anything much authoritative about him. But I know that my mother's alcoholism was, in fact, self-medication for anxiety and depression, with perhaps a shot of OCD thrown in. In the dawn of the Age of Antidepressants, when my mother was put on an SSRI, she never had another drink. And for a brief time the mother I remember from my smallest days--anxious but loving and funny and charming--was back again. I got that mother back for six weeks, and then she died.

Before the SSRIs, my mother went into a tailspin of manipulative, hateful, enraged drinking which led to a battery of physical ailments. My teen years were spent trying not to go downstairs unless I had to, because Mom sat at the kitchen table like a malevolent spider, and if I got stuck in her web in passing I was in for an hour or more of haranguing about the terrible things her mother, her father, my father, and the world had done to her. Nothing was ever her fault, and the flaws of her culture and upbringing--hidden anti-Semitism and racism she would have been horrified by when sober--would come welling up. During these screeds I was supposed to agree with her--because my place in the family was to be Her Child, and the polite nice one--and I could not walk away or even say "I have to go finish my homework now" because then I would be one of the ones doing Terrible Things, and I couldn't handle it.

In my family, my brother was The Saint and I was The Person. My brother had the looks and the brains and the talent, and I was the handmaiden and helper. (I was well into my teens before I discovered that I wasn't actually stupid.) I tend to avoid conflict and argument even now, because it takes me right back to being caught at the kitchen table, unable to escape from the stream of my mother's rage and disappointment. I learned to be a caregiver and caretaker--which has actually been a job skill in some situations--and not to ask for help until I was in extremis. I want to do it all myself because then I'm sure it will get done and I don't have to feel disappointed or abandoned.

Mom was the big florid problem, but my father wasn't a saint; he's an artist with an ego as big as all outdoors. And he left us to my mother because in those days that's what was done: he slew the wooly mammoth and brought home dinner, she raised the kids. Their relationship deteriorated (although they stayed married until her death, thirty years+, because he would not abandon a chronically ill wife) and together the wit and the charm became sarcasm and manipulation.

And then there was the revelation of just how much of my mother's viciousness and anger was chemical. It was a relief in some ways, but it also meant there was no one to be angry at--how could I hate my mother for her relentless venom when it was a physical problem? It's like hating someone for having a broken leg. Took me years, and anxiety attacks and therapy, to work that out for myself.

Now, in the Age of SSRIs, life is better. Because my job was to be the competent manager I took a ong time to recognize my own biochemical issues (anxiety and depression, far milder than my mother's, thank God, and dealt with very differently). And when my daughter went through a truly frightening depressive episode in high school--featuring a three-day hold in an adolescent psychiatric lockdown and therapy and drugs to follow--I had many tools to help her. Anxiety runs on both sides of the family--my husband's and my own--and there are times when I think the dog is the sanest person in the house. But knowledge has been a really powerful thing: knowing something of what we're all prone to, knowing there are medicines and therapies that help, and holding fast to the fact that things change, often for the better, and just because you're in the bottom of the well doesn't mean you're doomed to stay there.

#18 ::: me2too ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 12:44 PM:

I want to do it all myself because then I'm sure it will get done and I don't have to feel disappointed or abandoned.


#19 ::: Families_stink ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:12 PM:

When people tell me that blood kinship is all it takes to make people love their children, their parents or their other relatives, I go ballistic.

This is my situation:

1) My father's side of the family does not acknowledge that I exist. Their son married out of their faith, so my mother and I do not exist to them. I have tried to get in touch with my father's side of the family, too. Nothing. I have never met them. Aside from my father, I don't know the names of any of them. (And considering that I've inherited a genetic disorder from my father's side of the family, this is a real problem. It means that much of the medical information that I desperately need is missing.)

2) My father was a drunk. He spent most of his life alternating between being drunk, getting religion and getting sober, and then getting drunk again. He did not want a child, and was still angry, years later, that I was not a boy. He felt entitled to have a son. I saw him three times in my entire life, since he and my mother divorced before I was born. I cannot recall ever loving him--only feeling uncomfortable, awkward and angry that he expected me to love him automatically when we were merely strangers who happened to share DNA.

3) My mother was, I strongly suspect, an undiagnosed sufferer of bipolar disorder. She went through periods of enthusiasm in which she would scour the house in two days--and then, just as suddenly, she would lose all energy and be unable to function. This was referred to as her "coming down with the flu." I was in high school before I learned that no one came down with the flu that frequently.

She also went through periods when she refused to speak to me. Her personal best was two months. Two weeks of silence was far more typical. She grew more infuriated if I told her that I didn't know why she was angry or why she wouldn't talk to me.

And she did not want me. She tried very hard to be a good mother--and in many ways she succeeded, especially when it came to my education--but she told me too many times during my childhood that she had wanted an abortion and regretted not getting one. If she had not gotten pregnant with me, she said, she would still have a career in the armed forces. I was not an adequate substitute.

4) My mother's side of the family dumped me emotionally after my aunt (my mother's sister) died. When I called my aunt's other sister with the news that she had died, her sister told me that she didn't care and she had a Labor Day barbecue to get back to. Her son ordered me to sell my aunt's house WHEN WE WERE AT THE FUNERAL RECEPTION. Her oldest daughter sued me for most of my inheritance--and got it, because my lawyer sucked and my aunt had hidden her will so effectively that it wasn't found for six years after her death.

I hate these greedy, evil swine and no longer have anything to do with them.

Don't tell me that just being related to someone is enough to make them love you, understand you, and treat you right. Just...don't.

#20 ::: Cuckoo ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 01:33 PM:

I haven't spoken to my mother in three years. It's been a long road of getting to that point.

She still calls and leaves me messages - alternates between pleading and guilting and whining and ranting. Sometimes it's just "I love you, I wish you would call." She tried to guilt me into calling on her birthday this year.

The trouble is, all my life, she's been the center of everything and the family lets this go uncontested - the unspoken rules are, she's happy or no one is happy. She's satisfied or we get to keep trying. All conversation within earshot of her must be approved by her. We have none of those shared family anecdotes other families repeat at holidays - my memories and my brother's are fractured, two different exclusive sets of family history, because there is no rehearsal as other families do. NO talking about the past. We build no family mythos together. We are required to be happy Or Else. Our script is intended by her to be a Doris Day movie, at the end we are all perfectly aligned and singing happy songs together. I am the good Christian daughter of a conservative Republican family who are all in agreement that We Are Right And Everyone Else Is Not As Smart or Wonderful as We.

I got to the point that I just told her, flat out, that she doesn't even know me - I'm not Republican, nor Christian, and haven't been for a long time. I'm not in agreement with anything she says, and I don't intend to be. I even wrote it out and sent it in black and white when she started to whine about my not calling her often enough to suit - and then she tells me not to write "mean letters." The bottom line of why I don't bother anymore - she doesn't listen. She proves it by whining endlessly that she doesn't understand why I don't call. I told her, in plain and simple English, that she does not listen.

She is probably the sort of person you would never imagine has the deep seated prejudices and assumptions and awful gaping holes of ignorance she displays to her "loved ones." But she made me endlessly unhappy when I tried to be around, to be the good daughter, to be a part of that world. How did I escape this morass of black and white thinking? Doesn't matter. I'm still riding out of her solar system on an escape trajectory. Maybe someday I'll call her - but I don't see that happening soon. I tend to only talk when someone's listening, these days. It's less crazy-making that way.

#21 ::: A. Mousie ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:30 PM:

My dad was an alcoholic. I didn't even think there was anything off about his drinking-- he had a beer or two at dinner (every night), and on Saturdays he left early in the morning to do the grocery shopping and then spent most of the afternoon at a nearby bar. He wasn't an angry drunk, so there weren't any beatings, or anything. Instead, he just wasn't really there much, even when he was watching the Muppets with us. To me, it was normal-- I mean, everyone knows that women are the caregivers, and men earn the money and aren't demonstrative and all that rot, right? What I did notice, was that Mom was an angry bitch an awful lot of the time.

When I was in high school, my dad tried to go two weeks without drinking, and partway through admitted he was addicted to the stuff. He started going to AA, Mom went to Al-Anon, and my sister and I went to a couple of Alateen meetings. My sister and I both decided it wasn't helping us that much, but Mom and Dad kept up with theirs, thankfully. Mom got her husband back, my sister and I discovered that both our parents are actually pretty awesome, and to this day I wonder: if Dad hadn't gotten help, would I have hated my mother til one or both of us died?

Also, since no one wanted to admit that Dad was sick, I offered myself up as scapegoat. Tantrums, horrific depression, bad poetry, probable anorexia, underachievement-- I count it a miracle that I didn't end up with an addiction of my own. Unfortunately, a bunch of that has lasted well past Dad's recovery. So now, here I am at 33, still a college freshman, hoping that this semester will be different from the previous 5.

#22 ::: Meow ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Thanks for the thread. This and the past two have really made me feel better. Much appreciated.

#23 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:35 PM:

I did *not* grow up with an abusive family, or one that was particularly dysfunctional.

And I am saying that here out loud as a tribute to my father.... who *did*. And to my mother, who I think expected a happy stable family so strongly that maybe it was easier to live up to her expectations than not.

#24 ::: brotherless ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:37 PM:

My family just sulks. My brother has basically ignored me since late 2001. He will fly 7400 miles across an ocean to stay with a friend half a mile from my house, and in the three weeks he is there he will not bother to call me or reply to my calls.

But my brother is an amateur. My mother sulked at her sister for seventy years.

#25 ::: Neon Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:38 PM:

I think this is the same email I used for this pseudonym last year.

About three weeks ago, I found out that my mother considers all the problems we had when I was a teenager to be entirely my fault.

Now, you know, I was a teenager: I was evil. Teenagers are, because they haven't learned to think yet. But the mere suggestion that there might have been other factors as well--like, say, our fundamental incompatibility of communication styles--was met with a tolerant "Oh...I guess". I didn't even suggest that she might have been *wrong* sometimes, because I have been dealing with my mother long enough to know that she's never *wrong*.

When I was about 16, in the middle of another epic fight, I told Mom that I wished we could just be friends. She replied with something that boiled down to "I'm the parent and you're the child," and that was the end of that. A year or two after I graduated college, she told me that we should start going to do things together, like friends.

It makes my life easier that I didn't tell her that that ship had sailed. It makes my life easier to dress in ways she'll approve of when I'm going to see her. It makes my life easier to agree to lunch and shopping expeditions.

I still cried, when I found out my mother thinks it was all my fault.

#26 ::: Faustroll ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:40 PM:

My brother and sister are actually my cousins. This is because my uncle never managed to become a functional adult and so my parents adopted my sister and became legal guardian of my brother.*

It wasn't until last year that I discovered the reason for this. My uncle had long harbored the suspicion that my sister was not his child, that his wife had cheated on him and gotten pregnant by another man. So he had no problem putting her up for adoption. He didn't want her and told her this at age 9.

After letting another woman take advantage of him, abuse him emotionally and verbally, my uncle has retreated further, reneging all responsibilities as an adult. He now lives with my parents who, after raising his children as their own, now care for him, a man in his late 40s who behaves like a child. My parents are in their 60s now. they shouldn't have to care for my mother's brother like he's a child. But they do, because he's family.

* I still cannot figure out just what to call them, cousins or siblings. They're family though so that's all that matters.

#27 ::: Espalier ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Faustroll@26: Well, do you want to accept them as your siblings? Or not?

My sister was born my cousin, but that's relevant primarily as a mildly interesting bit of family history. She's my sister.

"They're family, though, so that's all that matters" is a bit triggery for me. Family can have immensely strong positive ties; but training one that one has great duties to family can also be an abuse enabling mechanism.


#28 ::: S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 03:20 PM:

I don't speak to my father any more. It's with one exception been more than a decade.

There's a lot I could say about why, but if I have one wish for Dysfunctional Families Day, it is this. That in this world in which child sexual abuse in rampant, in which mental illnesses in parents go untreated, in which gender performance is enforced upon children with physical violence, in which parents are sometimes unhinged with grief, in which some parents remain physically violent towards their children even into their children's adulthood, in which, in which, in which in which we all know Bad Things Happen Unfortunately Often... it is that the great mass of people would finally start to Kindly Dig It and we who walk away from our families wouldn't have to tell our stories to justify our choices.

Blessings upon everyone who does wish to share their stories. It can be enormously therapeutic; I've done it many times myself. And it is powerfully educational both to those who had the privilege of a protected upbringing and to those who didn't know they weren't the only one. Without those stories, those who don't come from such families have no idea. Without those stories as a background, I could not even post this.

Today, however, I will be joining you by not telling my story, by insisting on the legitimacy of our choices without our having to tell complete strangers our most private business. For every time someone's response to learning I am not in contact with my father was to spontaneously lecture me about the merits of forgiveness (assuming, of course, that there is no present issue of safety) or to tell me how much he loves me (assuming that was the issue in question) or to pontificate on the negative mental health effects upon me such severance would have (without knowing the consequences, mental health or otherwise, allowing contact could have) -- in short for every time someone shot off their mouth to me, proceeding on the unexamined presumption that dysfunctional families don't exist, or at least are so uncommon that statistically I whom they address must not be from one, and that if I were, I would have said something in the brief span of our shallow acquaintance -- for these, I am insisting. No. You should know by now these things happen. You should assume that if someone choses not to associate with their family of origin, they have good reason. You should assume such a radically norm-violating act from an otherwise adequately socialized person is the desperate measure of someone doing what is necessary for their safety and well being. You should not need it explained to you. And you most definitely should not be putting rape, battery, assault, neglect, attempted homicide, and human trafficking survivors in the position of having to divulge the crimes against them just to get you to treat them with basic courtesy and respect.

If you would not tell a rape victim to just marry her rapist, do not ever presume to tell someone how they should relate to their father, because you may be precisely be telling a rape victim to welcome her assailant into her affections. If you would not presume to lecture a hate crime victim on the merits of forgiveness, do not presume to lecture someone how to relate to their mother, because you may be precisely telling someone who was brutalized for their sexual orientation they should justify their attacker.

To those of who for whom these stories are glimpses into another world, for whom they have the fascination of the carwreck: kindly remember. You and your upbringing is not more normal than ours. You are not entitled to assume that what you knew of childhood is what anyone you might encounter knew of childhood.

And above all, you are not entitled to these stories. I am not posting my story to remind you that you are not entitled to it. You should not need it to be able to treat my choice with respect. You should not to need to know that something happened to allow for its possibility, especially when it is so very common. You should know better by now.

You are not entitled to these stories, to be given "fair warning" that the person you are speaking to has good grounds for their choices, any more than you are entitled to be notified in advance someone's ethnicity before you make a racialized joke. You are not entitled to be notified when you start making assumptions about other people and their relations to their families of origin, or about the experiences of childhoods in general. You may not with any claim to decency expect that you will be told these things happened to your interlocutor should you shoot off your mouth.

Please kindly stop romanticizing childhood as a universal idyll. Stop assuming the word "family" has a positive valence to all audiences. Stop thoughtlessly promulgating toxic, dismissive "advice" to people you hardly know about situations you do not begin to understand. We are here, too, everywhere, a vast sad nation you all unwitting live and work among. We are not a trivial minority, easily dismissed as marginal. Our stories are not yet rare exceptions. Remember us when you speak of families. Remember us.

#29 ::: The Family Disappointment ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 04:14 PM:

S., I think it's important that you should do what you need to keep yourself safe. You're in the best position to know what that is.

In the last few years, I have made some very cautious attempts to reconnect with my mother. It's painful and difficult, and I'm still uncertain that it's a good idea for me. (Ten years ago, I was certain it was a bad idea. Both of us have changed.) People respond differently to being hurt, and I would not presume to tell anybody they're not hurting, or challenge them to prove they have valid reasons for their pain and fear.

#30 ::: Emptiness Weighs Heavy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 04:30 PM:

My father is dead, the world a better place for it despite the lies told at his funeral.
My mother is alive. We haven't spoken in twenty years. I don't hate her, but pity her for the sorrows of her life that led her to make me the safe target for decades of suppressed rage.

I'm functional. I have a job, got married, have cats instead of kids.
I don't have many friends, and don't speak to them very often, sometimes not for years, until they fade away. Friendship is hard when the wiring for trust has been burned and the ground salted.
Whenever I see parents with their children in a movie or book I cry.
When the story is sad, I cry in remembrance of the dark nights, alone and terrified and waiting for the bedroom door to be burst open in rage. I cry remembering every attempt I ever made at love being dismissed as lies and manipulation.
When the story is loving I cry even harder because I can't imagine, can't feel, can't understand how a mother can teach a daughter to cook a favorite recipe, how a father can be proud of their child's achievement.

I'm functional. I don't expect more.

#31 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 04:32 PM:

I'll post under my own identity, because for whatever perverse reason, I keep feeling like the only way I will ever own my life will be if I write my name upon it.

But today, I only have questions.

When you were raised by parents who had issues that at least partly came from the way they were raised by their parents, is it to just be expected that you will also exhibit a tendency choose mates with more than their own fair share of issues as well? Because this describes me.

When your parents were never completely mature themselves, despite having you at a later age than most of their peers had children, and you grew up sometimes having to be the adult (and failing miserably at it, of course, because you were a child), is it to be expected that you will often feel even in middle age that you are failing miserably at being an adult even for your own sake?

What happens when you take the above mixture and add into it the fact that you are an only child, one of your parents is no longer among the living and your remaining parent needs pretty much full-time supervision and care, and it falls to you and your issues-having mate to provide this care? Further complication: the parent in question is the one who was always the hardest to talk to, the most cantankerous and the least emotionally available of the two. Is it okay to feel resentment from time to time at having to be their caretaker?

Oh, and what if your mate, despite having volunteered four years ago to help take on this caretaker role, now expresses his resentment at you for how it is affecting his life? Or for how you are affecting his life by being yourself affected by the need to care for said parent?

What if you are secretly envious of the fact that said mate at least gets to escape for several hours each day to a workplace and then to a classroom, both of which represent venues in which he at least gets to interact with non-impaired adults of his own age group, for whose well-being he is not responsible... while you get very few hours per week of that, and virtually none of them without a feeling of guilt for taking them?

Now add being in a financial bind most of the time because you aren't yet working again after having initially quit in order to evaluate said parent's need for care. Chalk this up mainly to a combination of the economy taking a dump right around the time you felt you could safely re-enter the workforce, and of course now things have changed again so now you are needed at home for more hours, and you need to finish a licensing course that will allow you to take a fairly flexible job you've been offered that will, while not promising a completely steady income, at least give you some. Bear in mind that it also means you will have to figure out a way for the aforementioned parent to be cared for while you work, and all without costing more than you are making and thus rendering moot the fact that you are actually working. How stressed, exactly, ought one to feel in this position? Oh, and you also have to come up with the money to finish the licensing course and then actually get licensed.

Additional complication: events related to societal ills, toxic political climates and just general having-had-enough have conspired over the years to make you want to eventually emigrate to some at least marginally-saner nation (when you find a way), and you don't want to find yourself under medical treatment for any sort of depression or other mental health issues such that it could adversely affect an application to do so. Therefore you want to find other ways (and really, you probably don't need meds anyway; what you need is a solution to your situational problems) to deal with everything; is this a reasonably sensible approach or isn't it?

Like I said: questions, all of which do not necessarily expect answers, as they are posed at least in part as an exercise in airing-out. (Not that I would object to any answers given; I just want it understood that they are in no way obligatory.)

#32 ::: Niwolop Leoj ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:06 PM:

I'm going to be in the hospital for fairly major surgery tomorrow. I'll be recuperating in hospital for several days.

I was trying to figure out how to keep my parents from meeting at the hospital. I'm not going to have a phone immediately. One suggestion was to split the visiting hours in half: Mom would come in the first half and Dad the second, or vice versa. Mom was all in favour. Dad flatly refuses to abide by any restriction on when he might see or talk to me. It "distresses" him that I would try to restrict him; he says that he and Mom can get along after all these years. Mom's reaction: "He's being completely unreasonable, as usual. Right?"

I suppose that if things get ugly while I'm trying to recover in the hospital, I can have them both removed. <*Sigh*>

#33 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:07 PM:

It's been a tough year for me. My grandmother died. She was the only person in my family to "get" me. My income level has remained at a level where I'm forced to live with my mother. We get along fine, so long as I constantly stay aware that her emotional state is more important than mine.

I try to make my own space, for myself, for a few hours every day. Sometimes I think that this does more damage than good - hope is the last, worst monster, after all.

I'm really glad for this thread. Thanks for being there, everyone.

#34 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:11 PM:

Re: #32

Best of luck on the surgery and recuperation. Sending healing wishes your way.

#35 ::: Anon4Now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:22 PM:

I wrote about this last year. I'll write about it again. It's still hard to find the words that mean the truth. Because I wouldn't call my parents "abusive parents." But they sometimes did things that were abusive.

My family is, now, a safe, loving, unconditionally supportive place that I value greatly. But there were times that wasn't always true.

My mother, for a long time, had depression and anxiety (and possibly bipolar disorder) that was untreated and unmanaged. She would fly into rages, use sarcasm, guilt-tripping, passive-aggressive, every kind of emotional manipulation. "I'm such a terrible mother!" "You don't care about me!" "We're a dysfunctional family." Every argument was always The End Of The World, proof that we were doomed as a family or that she was doomed as a person. This was supposed to stop the argument by making us rush to comfort her.

My mother and I would often spiral down together when we argued, catastrophizing more and more in our attacks on each other. The argument would be won when one of us said something that made the other person feel so guilty she would back down from the argument and start comforting the other person. Other times, I would try to be the voice of reason, trying to keep my mother calm before she descended into a total freakout.

I went back and forth between trying to control the situation by saying manipulative things myself, and trying to control it by keeping the peace. My choice of tactics depended on my emotional reserves that day -- when they were low, I'd respond to the guilt-trip bait by lashing out myself.

When I gave voice to my depression -- saying that I felt like hurting or killing myself -- my mother would say "Stop being so selfish and dramatic." I didn't talk to my parents about these feelings in any kind of normal way; I didn't want to be a burden. So the only time they would come out was as an attempt at the nuclear option in an argument with my mom. I guess it was the only way I knew to ask for comfort. Just like I think those guilt trips were the only way she knew to ask for comfort.

My father would also fly into unpredictable and really frightening rages. Not nearly as often as my mother, but more frightening. He'd stay silent in the face of an argument, not react, not react, not react -- and suddenly he'd be slamming one of my siblings up against the wall.

Neither of them have done those things in years. Once my mother started getting effective treatment, she became all the time the loving, caring mother she was between attacks of anxiety or rage.

I'm not sure what changed with my father, but he doesn't rage anymore either; he's become all the time the loving, supportive, patient father he was sometimes when we were kids.

My father came from a family with alcoholism. He doesn't drink and never has. He also doesn't talk about his childhood much at all. But I really wonder if his inability to manage anger when we were kids came from his experiences growing up.

Before I got effective treatment for anxiety, I found myself periodically having the same kind of rage attacks as my mother did, verbally lashing out at my partner in exactly the same ways. I feel intensely guilty to have done that to my partner, especially because if I had sought treatment sooner, it could have all been avoided. But I am glad that I've gotten effective treatment before having any future children.

I understand that my mother didn't mean to hurt us, just as I didn't mean to hurt my partner. She was sick, like I was sick -- brain pumping out overwhelming levels of fear, sadness, dread, anger all the time. Everything got all twisted up until I (she) didn't know what else to do but open my mouth and say what I'd (she'd) been screaming at myself (herself) in my (her) head. All those guilt trips and sarcasm, those were the things I (she) was most afraid were true, and didn't know how to admit to those fears in any other way.

But that doesn't mean the hurt didn't happen.

I feel guilty writing about this because it makes them sound like terrible people. They're not. I don't hate them, I'm not even still angry at them. First of all, in between bad times, they did really good-parent things. Second, their behavior has genuinely changed, and they have earned my trust. (I know that in some families, the behavior never changes. I am intensely grateful that it changed in mine.)

But these bad things are true. They really happened, and they affected me. Talking about them is important to understand how I react to conflict now, important to recognize similar dynamics, important to prevent recreating those dynamics.

#36 ::: Working on it ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:33 PM:

In the interest of making this day less necessary for the next generation, does anyone have any advice on cycle-breaking? I felt pretty confident about my ability to do so before getting pregnant, but the farther along I get, the more scared I get for this little dude. My partner doesn't have much to offer except "you'll do great" and hugs, which is sweet but not always enough.

(I hope this isn't considered derailing; it's been on my mind lately, and in light of #28, I feel less of a need to show my credentials. Sometimes saying it makes things better, sometimes it makes things worse, y'know?)

#37 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:50 PM:

My mother was (and maybe still is, or maybe she isn't-I'm not taking the chance to find out) so filled with rage and frustration, I think she just had no viable outlet for it. I realize now that she was Bipolar, was self-medicating with cigarettes and sweets and gallons of coffee.

Once she sent me to the store with a $20 in a bank envelope to get a few things. I clearly remember her cautioning me to be careful with it, as it was the last money she had for a few days. As I was walking to the store, my brother came running up behind me and bullied me into letting him 'see' the money. When I got to the store, no money. I had to trudge home, no stuff from the store, no money. I was in hysterics. I remember telling her what happened. 'Mike came up, I showed him the money, I must have somehow not put it back in the envelope.' She beat me black and blue (and I mean that literally-my friend wanted her mom to call social services, but that wasn't done in those days in our nice neighborhood).

I was in my 30's when it popped into my head that my brother had stolen the money, then stood there and let her beat me.

She wonders why I don't have contact with her. I mean, when you spend the first twenty years of someone's life making it abundantly clear to that person that you clearly prefer one child over another, to the point where others comment on it to you, what do you expect?

#38 ::: Anon4Now ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 05:56 PM:

Working on it @ 36, as discussed above, getting treatment for underlying mental health problems has helped me not to keep doing what my mother did. In my case that meant medication as well as therapy. The point is to find something that works.

I've found that cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective therapy style for changing my ingrained patterns of thought + behavior, and would recommend it to anyone who has hurtful or toxic ingrained patterns.

#39 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:17 PM:

#36: In the interest of making this day less necessary for the next generation, does anyone have any advice on cycle-breaking?

You don't really break the cycle. You kill the bits you can see. There are always problematic behaviors, or ones that are overused or used inappropriately where you can't really see it, because it's part of your mental landscape.

But you will do better than your parents, because you are looking for the hurtful behaviors. Your kid will do better than you. This is a joyful thing, and something to wish for wholeheartedly. And hopefully, someday your grandchildren will do better yet.

Other thing is, don't tie too much of your self-worth and self-esteem into breaking the cycle. Your child will be his or her own person... and you can't force them to desire good and do good. (see also: my brother, who I love but avoid contact with, because despite everything, he thought that incest was an awesome idea... still not over it, and probably never really will be.)

#40 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:19 PM:

Summer Storms @ 31: I'm in my forties and still dealing with stuff from my childhood - related to my mother, and to school bullying. Your reactions
sound normal to me. Yes, of course you're going to feel resentment sometimes at having to be a caretaker. The feeling guilty about wanting/getting some time to yourself is an all-too-real downward spiral. I've been lucky to at least learn to recognise when everything is getting me unreasonably down, and I'm off on the downward spiral - usually comes when I'm tired, so if I'm tired, that's a big hint that problems are probably appearing larger than they really are. For me, relaxation/meditation helps, or running (I don't need both, either/or is fine). And I've learned that I'm mentally and motionally more stable if I get to read at least two books per week. Good luck with finding what works for you, and finding the time in which to make use of whatever works.

Niwolop Leoj @ 32: Sympathies.

Working on it @ 36: Recognising that there is a cycle that you need to break out of is probably half the battle. Wanting to make sure it gets broken, most of the other half. And then not beating yourself up because you, too, (like everyone else) get stressed when tired, and sometimes need a break if your baby has been crying for hours, or your toddler whining at you all day.

#41 ::: seems highly functional ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:40 PM:

Can't remember if I posted in previous years; I might have chickened out. Or I might have posted about the possible anxiety disorder my parents neatly gave me by being loving, caring, perfectionist, and incredibly controlling.

Either way, the fallout from my parents' divorce after 32 years of marriage continues, mostly in the form of ongoing lawsuits. My wealthy father, who had the affair that ended the marriage, continues to throw money at lawyers (and, possibly, the suspiciously pliant and almost certainly corrupt judge) to prevent my mother from getting a penny. My mother, who has not a penny or a thing to show for 30 years as a stay-at-home mom, struggles to make ends meet.

In the post-divorce chaos, my younger sister got pregnant. My (much) younger brother turned into a delinquent. I got more anxious. My sister took my father's "side." My brother, by virtue of being a minor still at home, was automatically "assigned" to my mother. I've been walking the line for years, trying not to take sides, not to be part of the conflicts, not to lose family members.

I feel like, as an adult child of adult parents, I shouldn't be affected by the divorce and fallout like a child would be. Or at least that's what I feel the expectation is.

As a child, everything was my fault, or caused by my lack of discipline or attention or effort. Now, as with everything else in my life, I can't even tell whether the divorce legitimately made my anxiety worse, or whether I even really have an anxiety issue, or whether I should just get over myself or what. I have no perspective, and I really, really resent that.

#42 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 06:45 PM:

dcb, #40:

Thank you. (And yes, I got the whole school bullying thing, too. Gah.) I do seem to do better when I am well-rested, and have had time to read, to relax, and manage to shut down that guiltmongering voice in the back of my mind long enough to do those things necessary to my own well-being. I'm beginning to think that as long as we continue to have decent weather, I may make time to take a vigorous walk each morning before my father wakes up. That's my best chance of having time to myself, and some endorphins couldn't hurt.

And as others here have echoed, it isn't that my parents never did anything right or good or even awesome for me when I was a child, because they did, including paying tuition so they could transfer me out of the school district where I'd been bullied unceasingly for eight years. It's just that the good stuff is all so mixed up and in with the many other things that were decidedly... well, not good, not right, and not awesome.

Awkward business all the way around, isn't it?

#43 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 07:37 PM:

#36 -

Good for you, seeking out solutions beforehand. I thought I had, and then discovered that I really needed to have been more explicit with my partner. I thought we were on the same page...doing some active work would have given us a chance to work it out.

My kids are 3 and 1.

The Reader's Digest version of my advice is, "defense in depth" - know what your overall philosophy is, and why. And then, because like all plans, theory and practice usually fail to align perfectly, know what your fallback is. And the fallback to that. Know what your absolute no-go boundary is.

I'm a big fan of time-outs for the parents as well as the children. Modeling de-escalation as a constant go-to for problem solving. Teaching creative problem solving, and using humor instead of coercion wherever possible. Not setting up oppositional situations between parent and child.

Being prepared for children to have their own agendas, and their own personalities. It's not all in your control. Be prepared for other people meddling - some of it is useful, a lot of it is not.

There are a handful of internet communities I find useful for getting a baseline on sane parenting, and for getting advice on solving problems that I alone can't manage.

I don't imagine I have all the answers, but I'm happy to share what I've found. You're welcome to e-mail me.

#44 ::: IGoAnon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:05 PM:

Mother with borderline personality disorder.
Child with Asperger's syndrome.

Childhood spent watching as mother wrecks every possible relationship, losing jobs, friends, boyfriends, court cases. And being briefed in detail by Mom, which with no intuitive source for understanding the motives of others, leaves a lot to unlearn after leaving the nest. In the meantime, you get no relationship between how you act and how you're treated. You're an absolute angel one moment, and a spoiled worthless wretch of a son the next, with the transition announced with a ringing slap across the face.

So you resort the the classic autistic response to a mad world, of just shutting down into your own. Which prompts your mother to pry deeper and deeper to draw you out of it. So you shut down harder. And on it goes, in a vicious cycle with ever rising voices and ever intensifying anxiety.

You leave for college. Annoy lots of people. Befriend others. Learn to do more of the latter than the former. Life starts to improve.

Years later you learn that your behavior is connected with just enough hyperventilation to become a health hazard. You discover this a week after a phone call from your mother send you down that path. And a few minutes after the hyperventilation has caused you to lose consciousness, when your wife is shaking you awake with one hand and holding the phone in the other to call 911.

"High-functioning autism? May be almost charming in children or members of our skiffy community, something to be treated in the children and smiled at and tolerated in fandom.

But it's hell when it comes from a parent."

That's what my child(ren) may have to put up with. But not as much. I'm always mindful on improving myself.

#45 ::: Child of a survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:26 PM:

Working On It #36:
I had written 3 pages of a word doc describing my mom's life growing up, which was pretty horrific, and how it impacted my sister and I growing up. I realized it was impractical to continue and post, since I had only gotten to the high school years. My mom is 58, and I would say only in the last few years has she been able to say good bye to some of the worst parts of her past. Of course, it helped that her mom died a few years ago. For a long time, the reason I believed in God was because there had to be some kind of opposing force to the evil that was my maternal grandmother.

Despite her experiences, both my parents, although human and flawed, are still good parents. They still have their own fights and demons to deal with, but so does everyone. I only had a few experiences dealing with the awfulness that my mother did (including possible kidnapping by an uncle who had started and maintained his own cult), but I saw her work through these things again and again over the course of my life. I have learned some lessons for myself along the way, which work for me and for my own new family, but which may not work for anybody else. Please feel free to ignore.

-I have learned that secrets only have power over you when they are kept secret for no good reason. The family has a history of manic depression/BPD/depression/anger/rage/visions of the Virgin Mary/satanic activities? So what? there's often a great deal of help for that, either through medication or therapy. Go get it.
-Don't let someone else's judgment keep you from getting the help you need if you need it. It's not dishonorable or a sign of weakness or shameful to talk to a professional. Grandma was always good at separating her children from those people who might be able to help them. Noone could take care of her darling boys (always the boys) like she could. Of 4 sons, only 1 has not committed suicide. Of course, this runs in another direction: my mom didn't get counselling for a long time because my dad couldn't understand why she needed it. Hadn't she been away from her family with him, after all?
-Don't stick with a professional if it's not a good fit. Trust your instincts on this one.
-Expect that things you had thought were over and done and settled in your mind will be brought back to light, snarling and snapping big teeth once you have a child. Think about lining up counselling now, as a gift to you, your child, and your partner. Before I had my son, I would not have thought I needed to speak to anyone, but now my son is 3 and I was falling apart from the weight of Keeping It Together, including dealing with the deaths of my maternal grandparents and the resulting stresses put on my mom, who often spoke to me as if I were her counselor. I was also freaking out that I was perpetuating a family cycle, and needed someone outside who could help me work through what in thunder was really going on.
-family history and cycles will always be there. slipping into the cycle once or twice will happen, but you will also have lots of experiences where you can see it for what it is, and make another choice. Sometimes, even seeing that there can BE another choice, is victory enough for the moment. -Be kind to yourself when you can be.

I guess I want you to know also, that my mom felt like you did when she started having kids. No, it hasn't been easy for us kids, and we have our own legacy (once removed) to deal with. But we are. And it's ok.

#46 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:30 PM:

Sigh, good years and bad years.

I participated in the last two years, and posted some very long comments the first year. I was fairly functional then, but only by coincidence.

The biggest issue in my life currently is that I suffer from severe PTSD as the result of abuse from my father (and my mother enabling him, although that gets severely complicated). There are good years, and those are good; and then there are bad years, and they're just brutal.

This morning I had horrible nightmares. The two that really threw me off-kilter were the one where I was thrown back into a situation involving my father raging behind the bedroom door before he broke it down---why, I don't know, maybe he feels better when he's beating someone who's scared to death? I called for 911 but the police didn't arrive in time, and by then he'd done something awful to me and I never saw them arrive.

The second one involved my father murdering my mother and... doing things to her afterwards so that I would see. It was more surreal but it was somehow worse than the first nightmare.

And then a third dream (the third dream in the set was just ridiculous, unless one has a phobia of pie crusts and gluten-free baking)... and then when I woke up, I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. It's happened before, and this is the first time it's happened so severely and I was still conscious, in the middle of it all. I couldn't leave the bedroom and oh my gods it was horrible. I wrote more about it here and I do not terribly feel like writing it again.

The past year I've been writing about my experiences more and more (even about the sessins I have with my psychologist). It helps that I've always operated under a different name.

Probably the second biggest thing in my life that I have to deal with is that I'm convinced I'm evil. Evil for leaving my parents, evil for not trying to make amends, evil for having had to cut myself off entirely from a social network to prevent information from traveling back to my parents, evil for quite a lot of odds and ends resulting from needing to run for so long (a period I call the Years of Zorn and Tharn, after the two rabbit language words from Watership Down)... evil for burying my original name beneath the sea, evil for using other names, evil for not using my real name everywhere (but what's a real name to me anymore?...)... basically the root cause is the circular logic my father enforced in me when I was very young. I was always evil, no matter what I did, by those rules. There just matters of degree.

And the evil deserve to be punished.

So yeah. I have issues. Despite having burned several of my bridges with flame-throwers, I still do. But I would not be around to have those issues had I not done so... had I not been so evil.

I talk about a lot of this stuff on my blog. I use it as an external memory, because without it, I cannot and will not remember what's happened in the past in terms of trying to cope with triggers and behaviors and even thinking. This has become a public thing for me, too, because ... well, possibly because I have no shame because I'm evil.

And yes, I know I'm not evil... probably. But my brain does to me the same kind of thing it did this morning: I know consciously it's not real, but the rest of me believes the opposite.

I guess this is a long way for me to say: damn, I'm barely functional, and I wish I operating on all blasters, so I could read and comprehend but right now everything swims if I'm not careful.

Now I need to go buy medication before the sun sets. I don't know what will happen when the dark comes back. Probably not pleasant things.

#47 ::: nameless ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:34 PM:

For the first time in my 35 years, I won an argument with my mother. I told her topic A was off limits, and we would not discuss it, and we would not discuss not discussing it. (I didn't want to get into the arguement about whether or not I was right, she just meant that she loves me, and is so worried about me and topic A...)

It's only taken a third of my life in therapy and 7 years of SSRIs to get to this point.

It still hurts that she will never see me as a person, only as an extension of herself. She doesn't know me, and never will, because she's incapable of it. It still hurts that though I love my mother, I don't like her, and I will never be able to have a real conversation with her.

Her patterns and behavior are what helped her survive her parents and family. I just wish she'd learned new ones before having kids.

#48 ::: Worthless Piece of Shit ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 09:52 PM:

My father probably only called me that a few times, but he made it clear that's what he thought of me.

Mostly I don't believe it anymore, but when I'm out of work...his dead voice comes back, yelling at me about how worthless I am. And my response: prove it's true. The more worthless I feel the more worthless I act. I'm a good friend to my friends, and a good uncle to my nieces and nephews, and a good worker when I have a job. None of that matters.

"I begin to envy Petronius." - I, Claudius

#49 ::: silverfish ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:18 PM:

My upbringing, I've come to realize, was amazingly functional (though I'm pretty sure my mother's wasn't) - so I don't know where my own family problems come from - well, my spouse has multiple mental and physical issues - like other posters, I guess I'm a compulsive caregiver; it makes me feel like my existence is justified. Trouble is, I also feel like a robot or something - I don't feel in love with him, although I care about him; I'm not sure I'm capable of love as it's usually described, except in its unrequited forms. I know I'm strong enough (and stubbornly proud enough) to care for him indefinitely, but it troubles me that this is what I am - a conscientious machine.

#50 ::: There are holes ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:26 PM:

Mostly, I do okay. But there are gaps. One of them is this:

my mother was sure she could not be a good parent. I don't think her mother did anything horrible. But they were separated for several years when my mother was a teen. My mother doesn't usually use the word "refugee." She talks about the foster family she was with. If she talks about it at all. But she was in one country, her parents in another.

That disconnect never healed. And it left my mother sure that she didn't know how to do it right.

I wish she had never told me this.

#51 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:30 PM:

Loej @32:

We're frequently told that if one person says "I won't go to the party if you invite X," we should go ahead and invite X. That may be valid sometimes, but not always.

And in this case, if X refuses to get out of Y's way, it may be time to disinvite X. Or not: if this were a functional family, you wouldn't need to do this, and as it's not, your father might not listen. (Though you probably can tell the hospital to admit only a few specific people, not including him.)

#52 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 10:53 PM:

Dunno how I missed last year's "celebration," but this year I am chez maman, because she is having cataract surgery tomorrow, and her husband isn't allowed to drive any more.

She's on medication now (many, many, medications), and we get along ... pretty okay. Last time I was here, I was having some physical issues of my own, and we got into three separate fights. On the last day, she told me that if I disagreed with her, she didn't want to hear about it. Oooooooooo-kay.

So this time, if she says something I disagree with, I don't say a word. If she asks "Isn't that right?" I say, carefully, "Mmm." Then she remembers, and doesn't ask again.

The doctor's office left a message two days before the surgery to say they had to reschedule her. She'd been expected to present herself at 9am. New time: 6am. She flew into a rage. Maybe she'd just cancel the surgery. Maybe she'd just say no, they could kiss her [indelicate]. Her color got high.

I mentioned, as neutrally as I could, that the problem with rage was that it doesn't do any damage to its object, only to its subject. She scoffed, and said she wanted to feel angry, that she had a right to feel angry.

Twenty minutes later she was complaining of a stomach ache.

And I said, "Mmm."

Surgery's tomorrow.

(Everybody: I've read all the posts so far, and would like to take a moment to address each one of them, but I have to get up at 5 tomorrow, and just don't have the bandwidth. Suffice it to say: I think you are all brave, and smart, and kind. For Niwolap Leoj: yes, you can have them both put out. It's very effective. Kinda satisfying, iirc.)

#53 ::: Worthess Piece of Shit ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:32 PM:

He's dead, by the way. We got along fine the last few years, mostly because I acted like nothing bad had ever happened, and he didn't do anything bad again.

I know my family wasn't as bad as some here. Not by a long shot, thank God! But even I have trouble getting it across to people that no, I find visiting with family stressful, not relaxing; no, they're not the people who know me best; yes, I can get along with them, but only with great care.

#54 ::: Sad Mom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:42 PM:

I had a bad childhood. Not as bad as some. I swore that I would never treat my daughter the way my mother treated me. I wouldn't turn her into my unpaid housekeeper. I wouldn't expect her to be perfect. I would give love and support. I think I did fairly well at breaking the cycle.

But ... now that she's grown up and left home, she doesn't want to have much to do with me. Doesn't return my calls, reply to letters, reply to emails. Expresses no sympathy when I have troubles. She's polite when we interact, but she wants to keep interaction to a minimum.

I don't think I did anything to deserve this! No drink, no drugs, no verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. I bought her things, sewed her clothes, I drove her places, didn't criticize. Issues on which we clashed were minor.

I understand not wanting to deal with parents who were abusive ... I couldn't stand to be around my mother, because she directed a constant stream of criticism at me. But I don't think it's fair to assume that a rejected parent is rejected because the parent failed.

#55 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2010, 11:56 PM:

Mmmm. My mother and I fought horribly, the entire time I was in highschool and jr high. Untreated, unrecognized depression on both sides.

We've made up, more or less. I don't think we'll ever agree on those fights -- she's desperate to believe she wasn't a bad mom, and I can't for a minute understand how her reactions were proportionate to the things she says she was upset about.

But when I cut my genuinely emotionally-destructive aunt out of my life, my mom backed me up. I don't even know if it's progress, it just sucks.

#56 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 12:02 AM:

First, Velma... {{{{hugs}}}}

Second, I've read through up to #19 or so and can't read anymore tonight. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not. Acknowledging everybody's pain and hurt and hoping everyone lives better in the future but I'm starting to remember a lot of my family's dysfunction and don't want to right now. Healing and well-being to all.

#57 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 12:44 AM:

IGoAnon (#44): I'm guessing the fact that you know you display some autistic behaviors around your kids puts you way, way ahead of my Dad, who would probably be amazed and deny it if we used the word Asperger's around him, but who has trouble even seeing anything except as it relates to his obsessions--including his children, who only exist in relation to him and only matter when their endeavors relate to areas he can understand.

#58 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 12:46 AM:

I've posted my own sob stories here previously, so I won't do it again. I will add, however, that the more I think about that Tolstoy quote, the more I think it is true: happy families show respect, show love, show flexibility in dealing with changed circumstances, and care about the other members of the family for their own sake, ie they do not value their children because having children gives them the status of being Mother or the power that comes with being Father.

#59 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:08 AM:

Sad Mom - a parent doesn't always have to be a horrible parent or a horrible person for their offspring to decide they're better off apart. Sometimes personalities, goals, or values are simply too far apart or too clashing for both to feel comfortable. Sometimes people are simply incompatible. Sometimes those people are relatives.

Speaking as someone with a few second degree relatives about whom this is true, and with some friends for whom it is true of their parents, it ranges from difficult to downright impossible to explain this to the relative in question. Often the only way to get the point across directly would cause immense hurt - so the indirect method of withdrawal is applied instead.

I don't know you or your daughter, or what she would have to say, but not every case of cut contact means that the parent was awful.

#60 ::: Yet another anonymous person ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:24 AM:

Re #28: This. I should be able to admit to deliberately limiting contact with my parents, or even just admit to not missing them / not particularly wanting to spend time with them, without feeling I have to justify myself to anyone. I don't really feel that anyone is *owed* an explanation of my reasons, but sometimes the cultural expectation that *of course* you love your parents is suffocatingly strong, and it's hard to go against that and say no, I don't, without providing an accompanying explanation.

I just try to avoid the subject, but I won't lie about it anymore if it comes up. I don't usually give out details, or go so far as to flatly tell people I don't love my parents, but I refuse to pretend I have a happy family; the lies stick in my throat these days. So I say I can only deal with them in small doses, which is true enough, and a much more socially acceptable statement.

...Also, I want to say thank you to Abi for doing this. I posted in the thread two years ago, and it helped tremendously to actually *say* some stuff and get...external validation. To be heard, and believed, and understood. Thank you so much for creating this space.

#61 ::: ikucu ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:29 AM:

For a long time - three-fourths of my life, roughly - I thought the biggest issue with my family was that my father sexually abused me and my sister during out teen years. For maybe half of that time, I also have been able to acknowledge that my mother was depressed and untreated for it for all of my childhood. [After I went to college, she had a manic break of some sort, was hospitalized, and ended up on lithium which helped her a good deal.]

Only recently have I come to understand that the abuse by my father was merely a specific expression of his more generally narcissism/egocentricness/self-centered focus. Everything my family did growing up centered around his interests and needs, and this affected my brother as much as it did my sister and I, although the expressions took different forms. All of his interactions with my brother and sister and I as adults are about getting our attention and approval. He's never really apologized to me or my sister for his abuse. Oh, he's asked for forgiveness, but really hasn't understood that he needs to be penitent first. (Needless to say, I've never told him that I forgive him - there have been too many effects on my life from his behavior, and he's never offered to help in any way, say financially, when he is perfectly capable of doing so.)

But what finally opened my eyes to this and helped me put words to it was his behavior during my mother's illness with cancer and her death last winter. All the decisions he made about her health care were to make him feel better, not to help her. He took her home from the hospital when he didn't have a good home care plan, because he couldn't stand to think of her dying in the hospital (and we promptly had to get her back to the hospital less than three days later). He refused to enroll her in hospice care because it was "giving up hope" until the doctor told him that she would likely never regain any intellectual functioning (my sister and I had been encouraging hospice care for several months). And then, he spent two months "deeply mourning" her death, after which he signed up with eHarmony and immediately began a relationship with another woman. As my sister puts it, at least he's busy with her and not trying to call and visit us often - but he's not that old, it's just that he can't stand to be alone.

I am grateful to have had this recent understanding, because it's helpful in figuring out how to reframe my relationship with him. We're coming up on a tough time of year (my mother's birthday, the anniversary of her death, and the holidays when we all used to get together because my mother really wanted us to), and getting through this while being true to my feelings and needs is going to be challenging. My dad wants "family togetherness" and I don't want to pretend it any more.

#62 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:01 AM:

Sad Mom #54: Also, she may simply need time to herself to work on her own identity.

#63 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:09 AM:

I have learned that secrets only have power over you when they are kept secret for no good reason.

Child of a Survivor @45:
This. I recognize that my mother was also consumed with shame, and is incapable of talking truly openly about anything. I have a half-sister that is about five years older than me. Found it out from my father on his deathbed. A child my mother had out of wedlock in the late 50's before she met him. She remains mad at him (and he died in 1993) because 'he told'.

There's something to be said for owning your story, for talking openly about things. If for no other reason than maybe there is someone listening who has a secret that's killing them, that they believe will kill them if 'they tell'. It's the not telling that eats away at you.

#64 ::: privileged anonymous coward ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 09:42 AM:

It's interesting to me how many commenters weave a "but my family wasn't that bad" into their stories. On the one hand, of course it wasn't "that bad" because somebody survived enough to post here. On the other hand, believing things aren't really bad enough to merit attention is pretty much a hallmark of certain kinds of dysfunction and abuse.

#65 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 10:23 AM:

Worthless Piece of Shit @53 -- My father once told me I was ugly inside. It still comes back to haunt me now and then, and I wonder if it's true. He only said it once, and I was certainly being a provoking, sullen teenage drama queen at the time, but I still do not feel totally at ease talking to him.

It's very hard not to take something like that to heart -- when someone with power over you says something like that, how do you ever totally erase it? Particularly if they never acknowledge they said it, and in fact probably forgot it the minute the words were out of their mouth? I do hope I never said anything like that to my daughter. But how do you learn to love yourself when someone says something like that?

#66 ::: NotThatBad ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 10:33 AM:

I hear you. A conversational exchange from my early adolescence:

Me: My worst fault is procrastination.

Adult Close Relative (under the influence): Your worst fault is that you're cruel.

Once heard, never forgotten. Doesn't matter that I know she'd been drinking (she's been sober for decades now); doesn't matter what a despicable thing that was for an adult to say to a kid in middle school; doesn't matter how many alternative opinions I've gotten before and since from people who know me better and who matter more to me; it's permanently engraved.

#67 ::: anon anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 10:47 AM:

Sad Mom

After I left a home with a Mom who was assuredly doing the very best she could under some tough circumstances, I avoided her for years - because I felt myself that I was contaminated and no good and that she was truly better off without me messing up her life further. It was kind of a screwed up kindness; looking back now it was the cruelty only clueless kids can do, but I did it. This is among my life's biggest regrets, and it has put a wedge in my Mother and my understanding of each other that I despair of bridging.

Long story short (too late! too late!) it wasn't her, it was me -- and perhaps it might not be you, it might be your daughter. Sometimes we do the wrong thing thinking it is a good thing.

#68 ::: me and my girl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 11:10 AM:

After years of a bad relationship track record with my partner -- screaming, emotional manipulation, etc -- we now have a gorgeous baby girl.

The pregnancy was rough. She threatened abortion a few times. But since the day our baby was born she has been trying so hard to be a perfect mom even though it doesn't come naturally to her. I take the brunt of her stressed reactions but I figure as long as it's not the baby.

Her mother basically lost interest after about a year when she a wasn't a novelty and dumped her with the grandparents. Emotional and physical abuse continued after that for many years with deep scars.

Despite all this it could be SO MUCH WORSE. My life has many problems, but I will take each and every one of them without complaint if it means that my baby is safe and her mom loves her.

#69 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Niwolop Leoj @32: Do you have any large and, er, imposing, friends who would be willing to supervise visitations?

See also: "Yo! Dad! It's Not About You. For once!"

Best wishes for a safe and serene recovery.

#70 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Niwolop Leoj @32: Do you have any large and, er, imposing, friends who would be willing to supervise visitations?

See also: "Yo! Dad! It's Not About You. For once!"

Best wishes for a safe and serene recovery.

#71 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 11:44 AM:

Working on it @36: does anyone have any advice on cycle-breaking?

Journal. When you feel the worry start creeping up, grab your notebook and start writing. Put down everything as it comes to you, no matter how fleeting or trivial it seems. (I've actually started a special section of my journal for such things: I call it "Skippity Thots" for the worst ones that zip through and leave my heart pounding.)

This does two things:

1. I've found that writing stuff down, especially emotionally loaded stuff, drains it out of my head and allows me to let go of it. (Thoughts are a lot like noisy children: often they just want to be heard. Once they're convinced they've gotten their message across, they're content to quiet down and fade into the background.)

2. Putting stuff down in writing makes it possible to lay stuff out so that it's easier to see what's really going on. Gives additional "swap space," if you will. This makes it easier to unpack and clarify issues, and often solutions, or at least useful questions, will offer themselves.


And I'm with your partner. Being Aware is half the battle. You'll screw up (it's inevitable) but, on balance, I'll bet you do fine.

#72 ::: Exhausted Daughter ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:19 PM:

Sad Mom #54:

My mother was, objectively, a terrible parent, not abusive but incredibly selfish and self-obsessed. But she shares my interests and sense of humor and now that I'm an adult and only minimally emotionally invested, we have a lot of fun together. My father was a wonderful parent who spent most of my childhood fixing the damage my mother left in her wake and providing me with nothing but love and security, but we have absolutely no interests in common. Guess who I spend more time with. Now guess which relationship I value more.

My brother almost never talks to my father; I'd probably talk to him a lot less too, but I don't want to hurt him. My father doesn't see it as "my son and I care about each other don't have much in common." He sees it as "My son is deliberately trying to hurt me". He doesn't understand -- or refuses to acknowledge, since when he's not complaining that my brother never calls he's complaining about how boring or objectionable my brother's interests are -- that it's possible to love someone deeply and, at the same time, not particularly enjoy talking to them. He also doesn't understand that my brother's 33 and their interactions aren't going to be the same as when he was 15.

I don't presume to know your family, or whether or not your daughter's behavior is genuinely, deliberately hurtful; your family may be nothing like mine at all. Still, I want to say that being a great parent doesn't necessarily mean you get to be -- or have to be -- your adult child's best friend. My Dad's the person in my life I'm most grateful for. The fact that my brother and I don't want to talk with him about the genius of Glen Beck for six hours in no way diminishes that fact. I just wish my Dad would let himself understand that.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:27 PM:

privileged anonymous coward @64:
On the other hand, believing things aren't really bad enough to merit attention is pretty much a hallmark of certain kinds of dysfunction and abuse.

This is a really important thing to highlight. Thank you for pointing it out.

It's easy to turn the idea that other people have it worse into a way to belittle your pain and denigrate your needs. I have been known to do it in other matters, enough to know it's just a way the Goddamn Tapes (Lee's phrase) take another piece of your courage.

The subtext is either I'm weak, I'm a wimp, a better person would not be broken by this thing, or look at that, I'm second-rate even at being [insert form of damage]. Both of them are...unhelpful.

When I remember to, I think back to a scene in a Brief Lives. A man who is old enough to remember the scent of mammoth dies, and the cute Goth girl comes for him. "But I did okay, didn't I?" he asks. "I mean, I got, what, fifteen thousand years. That's pretty good isn't it? I lived a pretty long time."

Death replies, "You lived what anyone gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."

You know? You took what anyone takes, dear people. You took enough. Don't do comparisons.

#74 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:28 PM:

me and my girl @68: please be careful. One of the things that most new parents eventually learn is that stressed-out "perfect" parents are not great for kids. I hope you and your partner can figure out ways to take enough time for yourselves to reduce the stress level.

#75 ::: 'nother 'nonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 01:49 PM:

#68 & #74
Perfect parents tend to want (demand) perfect children. This is rough on the children. Good or above average is better to shoot for.

#76 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 02:02 PM:

me and my girl @68:

As mentioned above, perfect parents are a myth. Comparing herself to the spherical good parent of uniform density*, then beating herself up for missing that mark, is just another way of replaying the message that she got from her mother.

My suggestion would be to make friends with other parents, online or in person. Seeing how every parent messes up from time to time, even really good ones, is tremendously comforting. And venting and fretting at one another can reduce stress levels tremendously, which leads to easier and better parenting.

* in general, comparisons to any form of spherical normal person of uniform density are poison.

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 03:28 PM:

silverfish @49, Sad Mom @54:

Heads up! You didn't change your email addresses when you changed your usernames.

I've changed them to and to remove it from your (view all by) records.

Thank you (and everyone) for posting here.

#78 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 03:56 PM:

abi: Thank you yet again for doing this thread. Miraculously enough, I've ready all the way into the #40s, and have felt no particular need to post my own saga, so far this year.

This I credit directly to posting here the last two years.

If you have those days when you wonder if you're doing any good in the world, please refer to this comment to reassure yourself that: yes, by damn, you are. Concretely. See also: [TP]NH, for providing this forum.

Thank you.

#79 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Adding my thanks for this thread, Abi. It's a valuable service to the community. I've posted in the past two, but am feeling much more at peace this year. Enough so that I don't need to relance the boil, in part because of talking about it in the last two go-rounds.

#80 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 04:28 PM:

I was reading through the various posts, and thinking . . . "well . . . my childhood wasn't wonderful, but it wasn't abusive . . . " And then I began to remember.

First of all, let me say that I am posting under the name I usually use here (and most other places). There's no need for me to be pseudonymous, because I already am, in effect. You won't find me by Googling "Older" and you probably wouldn't find me by Googling my Real Name either. And because I am, as I often claim to be, much older than all y'all, who would there be to care if you did find me? Not my family, that's for sure.

Yes, I did suffer various forms of abuse as a child. I told my doctor at one point that I am the only one of my family who was never addicted to anything. I was raised by alcoholics. I was beaten, by which I mean, with sticks. I was never good enough in school, although I was put ahead two grades and continued to be at the top of my class.

But what really matters to me is that my mother never loved me. I used to think she loved my brother, but you know, I don't think she did. I think she coddled him because he was the image of our father, with whom she had a relationship that was extremely close, but I'm not sure that was love either. My grandparents were gentle, and loving, and sensitive to their children's needs. I wonder sometimes how my mother came out of that family. How did they raise this chilly, demanding, abrupt, self-centered person?

Was she an Aspie? Could be. I sure was. I benefited enormously from my grandmother's painstaking lessons in how to treat other people, which I remembered when it came time to pass them on to my children.*

The real difference between my mother and me was that I had kids because I actually wanted them, and having had them, I actually liked them, would rather spend time in their company than not, would rather travel or vacation with them than without. She counted every hour away from us as blessed, although she never said anything about it to us, or at least not to me, until I was an adult, when she began to talk to me as if I (of course!) shared her opinions.

After I recovered from the shock of this discovery, I began to think. She never loved me, but she did her best for me, in her own way. For instance, she sought out the best educational situations for me that she could find (although as an adult, I'd dispute some of her choices). So for the rest of her life, I did what I could to show my appreciation for her efforts. I think I succeeded. I hope I succeeded. I'm sure she would have treated me better had she been able, and since I was able, I wanted to do as well by her as I could. (Both my father and my step-father died young, which is why I haven't discussed them here.)

I spend my life trying to be fair, trying to be honest, trying to be forthcoming, trying to be all the things that my mother wasn't, and trying not to forget to be the good things that she was.

*Those lessons? Tune in to "social" behavioral standards. Don't win all the games, just because you can. Talk to your friends in whole sentences. (If you don't want to play, don't just say "No" and shut the door in their faces.) And of course, if you can, find your own kind and live among them. My oldest son says that these lessons contributed to making him a pretty good fit in the military, where he feels safe and secure because all social relationships are prescribed, and he knows what to do in every situation, because it's in the book.

#81 ::: Temporarily Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 05:27 PM:

My family was reasonably functional. We had our bad spots, but overall I have very little to complain about.

I'm posting here to say two things:

1) Thank you to everyone who has posted in this and previous threads. It isn't easy reading, but it has helped me to reset my assumptions about "normal" family life and made me less likely to cluelessly blunder like the people S. complained about above.

2) For those who worry about what kind of parents they will be: Perfection is impossible. Striving for perfection causes its own set of problems. Set your sights on "good enough."

#82 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Update from last year: today is the day I called the pediatrician's office to get a referral to a child psychologist. Yay!

Things are... how shall I say this?... not getting better. We are on a steady downward trajectory. About breaking cycles... yeah, that. It would be nice to believe there are practical ways to do it intentionally, rather than just merely lucking out.

#83 ::: Meow ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 06:41 PM:

It has been very hard for me to understand what was going on in my family. No substance abuse, no physical beating, but something was not right. I’ve always felt as if I were living the movie Gaslight . My childhood memories are of being ridiculed, contradicted, and scorned. (And being screamed and sworn at, but that was mostly by the other parent.) It was confusing. I’m in my forties now, and I have very little contact with my family, but I’m still trying to figure out WTF. Having this kind of family—or having the role of scapegoat in this kind of family—bothered me very much for many years. Since turning forty, I’ve been able to feel a little distance from it. It still hurts, but not as bad and not as often.

Re: breaking cycles. Sometimes I hear myself yelling at my child the way I was yelled at as a child. Thank goodness, it doesn’t happen all that often. I always apologize. I always tell my child that the fault is mine, that losing my temper that way is wrong and inappropriate. The apology and the adult taking responsibility, not blaming the child, is different than the way I grew up. It would be better, much much better, if I didn’t lose my temper to begin with. But if I do yell or swear, I’m hoping that apologizing and taking responsibility will help to break the cycle.

#84 ::: Doesn't want kids ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Last week an old friend who I haven't seen in years was in town. She wanted kids, but turned out not to be able to have them.

She told me I was selfish for choosing not to have children, and that if educated women stopped having children eventually the choice to not have children would be taken away from us, because educated women have the most successful kids, and it's bad for the country not to have lots of successful kids.

This is the same friend who witnessed the emotional abuse of my home life when I was in high school, and didn't know how I stood it.

I explained that not having children was my choice because it was my opinion that I'd be a terrible mother. I don't have any maternal instinct (rather like my own mother, in fact). She told me that I was wrong, that she was sure I'd have been just fine as a parent. And again, I was selfish to choose not to procreate, and "one day" that wouldn't be an option "because of people like you".

#85 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:09 PM:

@Arachne Jericho: If this helps, I ran an Edit--Find on this page for your name so I could be sure that you're alive. As one of my favorite authors put it, guard your honor, let your reputation fall where it may, and outlive the bastards.

Since posting in previous years, I have raged at my kids. I am deeply ashamed of this. I try to make it very clear that it isn't them, it's me, and I am becoming able to warn them ahead of time that I am about to blow and they had better leave the room (unless I can leave, in which case I do). I am becoming better able to detect the signs that I may lose my cool and I can sometimes head it off before it happens.

But I still rage at my kids. And I hate it.

#86 ::: MassHome_for_Bewildered ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:22 PM:

Doesn't want kids (# 84)

Now, admitted, part of your acquaintance's attitude may be an expression of her rage/sorrow that she cannot have children.

But her reasoning sounds just like the ranting of the people who say the "white race" is doomed because all the people of color will "out breed us."

#87 ::: anonymously grateful ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:23 PM:

These posts have enabled me to have positive conversations with my partner about his upbringing. Last year's, especially, helped us both get to a place of deep understanding in this relationship where one party has a loving, happy family, and the other an abusive one. I hope that the lessons we've learned in the conversations spurred by these posts help us create a loving, caring environment for our own children.

Thank you, thank you, everyone, for sharing your stories.

#88 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:25 PM:

J: The first step in not falling down the hole is to see it ahead of you. Bless you for this awareness.

That's one of the things my mom did right, on occassion. If she could tell she was in a bad mood and likely to respond badly, "She'd say, this isn't a good time; I'm in a bad mood." This made it possible for me not to introject responsibility for her mood (in that moment, at least).

Here's to baggage, not loaded.

#89 ::: MassHome_for_Bewildered ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 07:45 PM:

I mentioned a "first marriage" that never should have happened.

It lasted for 10 years.

Due to the inability to say "no," and the baggage from being the enabler while I was a child (even if I didn't realize it at the time), I wound up being verbally, emotionally and physically abused for most of those ten years. (I also found that, for the most part, societal attitudes, especially where the police are concerned, towards spousal abuse where the male partner is the battered one are at the point equivalent to that in the 1940s were for women - "she deserved it"/"a good punch once in a while is good for 'em")

It was a real revelation, years after my divorce, and it took some lady friends to forcefully get through my pointy head that it really *wasn't* all my fault that I had been battered, and that I *really* did *not* "deserve what happened" because I wasn't good enough as a father/breadwinner/etc.

I *knew* that it wasn't "my fault," but I never *believed* that. And it took two ladies, one my age peer, the other decades younger, to make me believe that I might have some worth of my own.

And as "S" said/intimated up-thread, it is incredibly hurtful for someone, on the outside of the relationship, to keep on insisting that you *have* to keep contact, "for the kids sake" even if the kids don't give a d*mn and the former partner just want's to be able to abuse some more, including playing the guilt tactic themselves of "you're being a bad parent."

Sometimes you just have to say that enough is enough and cut your losses.

It's been almost 3 decades since that marriage dissolved and it still scars.

#90 ::: Doesn't want kids ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 10:09 PM:

MassHome @ 86

What most astonished and dismayed me (well, besides the cavalier dismissal of my own self-assessment) was her repeated insistence that if "educated women" didn't choose to have children that choice *would be* (and, by implication, should be) taken away from us. No doubt. Perfect certainty.

And this from a big fan of A. Rand.

#91 ::: Plaid Monkey ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 10:44 PM:

I've lurked for many years, but never felt I had anything to contribute. I'm going to take advantage of this forum, though, and I'm grateful to Abi for the opportunity.

So. Were my parents physically abusive? By the standards of the time and place, it's a borderline call, but probably not. By today's middle-class (sub)urban standards, though, they were well into the red zone.

My mother liked to spank and hit, and she was none too careful with where the belt landed while she was spanking. I think she only caused visible bruises once, though.

My father was rarely violent, possibly because he was rarely present. When he did hit, he got creative. The most memorable incident was when I was judged guilty of sass-talk at breakfast: he pulled an interesting move by grabbing my hand and pinning my arm in place, using my elbow on the table for leverage; he then began to pound on my wrist with his closed fist. Even though he was rarely violent, though, he made sure we knew he was always primed and ready to go off at any moment.

They were both emotionally abusive, even by local standards. I got the "you're not worth shit" speech from both of them at different times. My mother was a champion screamer who regularly made sure I knew how horrible and worthless I was. Of course, she liked to mix it up with saccharine displays of how devoted to me she was, how I meant the world to her, etc. Variety is the spice, I guess.

My father was more often distant--or maybe just absent--than outright abusive emotionally. His infrequent displays were a master class in domestic terrorism, though. Leaving his loaded guns in the pantry and utility closet during a days-long fight with my mother. Literally cutting the phone lines before leaving to live with his mistress (he came back after a few days). All the broken dishes are barely worth mentioning.

When I moved away for college, I had a total meltdown. My mother insisted I was just lazy and faking; she was a psych nurse, so I assumed she knew what was talking about and didn't seek help. I eventually lost my scholarship, flunked out, and had no option but to move back home. They told me how welcome I was to move back, how they'd help me get straightened out, and so on; when I got there, they hadn't bothered to move any of the junk they'd been storing in my bedroom. The daily lectures about how lazy, irresponsible, and worthless I was commenced immediately.

It took me several years to finish up at the new school; that time is a miserable blur. Family and friends actively worked to prevent me from seeking psych help, and my depression deepened until there were weeks I spent delusional. I finally got out about ten years ago.

Today, my father has mellowed considerably. He wants to have a relationship, but he understands why I'm not comfortable with that. It's shocking how much he's matured emotionally since they finally divorced.

My mother is puzzled and distraught by my distance. Whenever we're together, she does her best to act the role of a loving mother. Because her own upbringing was so cruel and bizarre, though, she is literally acting. Everything she knows about how families "should" act has been gleaned from Hallmark Christmas specials, and she gets upset when we don't act out our roles beside her.

At Christmas last year she told me how unhappy I make her when I'm around; when I apologized and got in my car to go to my father's place, she was devastated and genuinely uncomprehending of why I would leave after she told me to go. It turns out she'd been watching a lot of Dr. Phil-type shows, where people air their grievances, have an instant catharsis, then hug and make up.

Sorry this was so long, and thanks to anyone who read all of that.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2010, 11:22 PM:

Sad Mom, #54: Sometimes things look very different from the other person's side of the fence. Not having been there, I can't say whether or not this would be true in the case of you and your daughter. I can say that my parents might well have written your last two paragraphs word-for-word, and meant every word of it most sincerely... but from my end, there most assuredly was a reason that I didn't let them hear much about my life after I moved out. They just didn't see anything unusual or flawed in the patterns of our communication, so of course they didn't understand why I was unwilling to expose myself to any more of it than I had to.

Doesn't want kids, #84: I'm sure you've figured this out already, but I suspect that most of your friend's attitude stems from the fact that she wanted children and couldn't have them. In the back of her mind (possibly not even consciously), she's thinking about how you are just THROWING AWAY something she'd give her eyeteeth to have, and the bitterness comes out in her lectures to you.

No rational argument you can present is going to make a dent in this, because it's not about reason to begin with. So you will have to decide whether being in continued contact with this person is going to be worth being harangued about this issue over and over again.

In general: I have noticed, over the years, that most of the people in my circle of friends tend to come, as I do, somewhat damaged and scarred. I think Xopher summed up the reason for this nicely a few years back; if you don't have anything like this in your background, it's nearly impossible to understand those who do.

More recently, I've developed a few friends whose family backgrounds are, if not "normal", at least a much closer approach to it than mine. At first I wondered whether I would find myself envying them, but that turns out to be a very limited part of my reaction. Mostly, I find myself being profoundly glad for them, and happy that they won't have to deal with the issues I've had. Misery loves company, but it seems not exclusively so. :-)

#93 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 01:15 AM:

My mother died early in the month, and this was something of a relief, as she had advanced dementia, a traechosomy, and a feeding tube. It was also a grief.

My father died last year. He was emotionally abusive the last three or four years (by my reckoning -- my brother may figure it to be longer, and I don't know what my mother would have said before the dementia kicked in).

And it isn't that it was so awful or anything. I mean, there were times it sucked rocks, but I am extremely lucky all around, and managed to find the strength (after much encouraging by friends) to break contact with my father, and I had sufficient grace and luck to patch things up enough that I'm not berating myself for things left undone. At least, I'm not doing that when I'm not hit by a general wave of guilt because I could not somehow be magically supercompetent and fix everything.

But, my life got so much easier when he died, and that is very sad.

My life is also a bit easier with my mother dead, and that is even sadder. Years ago, I realized that she was my friend as well as my mother, and that I had a great deal of respect for her. And some years after that, I learned that she was capable of examining her opinions and revising them when encountering new facts, something that is not easy to do.

#94 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 02:43 AM:

[Common exclamation of dismay with an explicit yet tacitly ignored religious basis!], this has been an appallingly bad-luck year. I think the world and the people in it deserve a more-than-generous balance period.

Healing thoughts to all. Preventative, curative, ameliorating, or otherwise, as you prefer.

I think I shall dedicate a wall to solving all the world's ills, for a while. At least until I come up with some workable answers. It can run into the wall for solving my life. It's just been that sort of way, lately. Reality needs fixing.

#95 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 02:46 AM:

Do you know, that was initially intended to go under the open thread. But I think it works as well here. So ... fine, then, kismet. You win this time...

#96 ::: NotToday ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 03:05 AM:

Abi - thank you for this thread. It is incredibly healing to have a safe space for this conversation. And there is so much courage in the people who post here.

My first comment on Making Light was on the thread two years ago. I was worried about my sister, who was then in the throes of a serious psychotic break. People on this thread were so supportive and kind. So I owe a belated thank you to the Making Light community.

A short time later my sister died in the hospital due to a medical mistake. The medicine that gave her ten good years ultimately caused her death due to poor monitoring of complicated side effects. She accomplished a lot in her life and I'm proud of her.

I'm commenting on this thread because I'm still angry. At the family member who told me I shouldn't invite my sister to my wedding because it would be too stressful for the rest of us. I invited her anyway, stressed about how family would interact and talked to my friends about having a plan to prevent physical outbursts, if they should happen, but ultimately my sister decided that she didn't want to come because of the stress of seeing Sybling#2. Sybling#2 who stopped all contact when my sister was still in high school. 30 years of no contact. Sybling#2 told me -- at the funeral, natch -- that those 30 years were shaped by the need to NOT be anything like our sister who had just died. Cold, heartless, and lacking in empathy.

And I'd be lying if I said that my life had not also been shaped by the deep need to not be like my sister who had mental illness.

And I flinch when I realize the relief I feel at knowing that now when I think about whether to adopt a child I am now in a universe where my only issue is whether I want kids -- not whether I could keep them safe from Auntie having an episode.

So my anger at my sybling is also directed at me because I totally get it at the level of deep fear and boundary setting. But at least I kept contact with my sister. I told my sister that I was proud of her. I drew boundaries, some in the wrong places for the wrong reasons, but she had the emotional maturity to accept those boundaries with good grace. And we had a relationship which allowed me so much. I got to know her, at least in some ways.

It is so easy to pick a family scapegoat and try to say all the troubles are because of X. My sybling told people for the past 20 years that there are only two of us. That hard line meant missing out on a sister.

My other parent had a pot of money set aside for my sister. After my sister died my parent gave the entire amount to Sybling#2.

I'm angry. I am also sure that Sybling#2 could post on this thread about how rough it has all been to have such a cold sybling as me, and how I don't reach out as much as I should.

I only have one sybling left and I do want to reach out. And between getting the pot of money and what I got from opening even a small part of my heart to my sister is no contest. I am richer because I didn't turn away. And I totally get that people have to set boundaries where they feel safe, and for my sybling that boundary was set MILES away from having contact with our sister. But actions have consequences. Seeing my sybling turn away without ever looking back and without ever really trying to understand or empathize with my sister? Or just cautiously find out if anything had changed in 20 years? No. I totally support the need for folks to draw their own boundaries and what I'm saying here is only based on my observations of one situation and one family, but I have no trust in my sybling and I never will.

And that makes me sad.

#97 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 09:04 AM:

Lee @92: In general: I have noticed, over the years, that most of the people in my circle of friends tend to come, as I do, somewhat damaged and scarred. I think Xopher summed up the reason for this nicely a few years back; if you don't have anything like this in your background, it's nearly impossible to understand those who do.

True dat. Those... they aren't necessarily safe, as such: the responses to abuse are to stop or to perpetuate, and it's possible to be horribly wrong about which is the case for any given person. But they have a shared frame of reference, at least. When they hurt it's more likely to be intentional and thus avoidable.

It's only recently that I've realised that some measure of the difficulties I've had with relating to a significant other stem from lacking that. You know how your parents were always really supportive of your choices and tried hard to make sure you knew that as long as what you did with your life was making you happy, it was okay? Yeah, me either, but she does. It's taking some learning for me to understand that without bitterness.

#98 ::: Anon4Now ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 09:52 AM:

One thing this thread has made me vow is to never, ever be drunk around my possible future children. I'm not mean, angry, or weepy when drunk, but having a parent who's clearly not sober, not in control of him- or herself, is frightening to a child.

Ruminating more on what I posted, I think the worst thing about the anger meltdowns was knowing that, at those times, my parents were not in control of themselves. That's what took it across the line. It's normal for parents to get angry sometimes, argue with their kids, even yell sometimes. But it was terrifying for me, as a kid, to see my mom out of control of her emotions, screaming and lashing out verbally, or my dad drop his calm, stoic demeanor and physically grab one of his kids for mouthing off. (He never hit us -- neither of my parents believed in spanking -- but the sudden grab always made me fear he was about to. He might have been about to, and stopped himself. I don't know.)

I was a child, still developing control over my own emotions. I needed my parents to help me with that. When they themselves were out of control, it felt like the ground was falling out from beneath my feet -- there was nothing stable to rely on.

If and when I become a parent, I want to make advance plans for situations when I feel like I'm about to lose control, when everything is driving me crazy and the kids are tap-dancing on my last nerve. Sort of like having an advance plan for a house fire or natural disaster. Something I can just do on automatic when I'm too overwhelmed to make good parenting decisions. I'm not sure exactly what that would be, but something.

#99 ::: Hiding for now ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 11:33 AM:

Doesn't want kids @84: My stock answer to people who (still) hassle me about not wanting children is "I think kids deserve parents who want them."

Update from last year: My marriage failed, and it was probably the best thing that happened to us. Now we're finding the space to be friends again.

I'm still dealing with the mental and emotional fallout from the way my siblings and I were raised to think, on one hand, that we were better than everyone else, and, on the other hand, that whatever we did would never be good enough. Our body image issues are very deeply rooted; I only realized the extent to which they colored my view of myself and of relationships when I finally started getting past them.

One telling story, though: when I told my surviving parent that my spouse and I had decided to call it quits, she replied "I saw it coming! You were too smart for him. Enjoy your freedom, find someone who's on the same wavelength as you, that's what you need in a partner. But you need to lose weight because you're really fat. Your face was as round as the moon the last time I saw you."

#100 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 02:48 PM:

Usual handle, different email so the comment won't appear in 'view all by'.

Props to all those who have posted upthread. Nearly all have much more dramatic stories and have lived through more obvious physical threats. May you find strength and peace in the families of your choosing, and may those who take such strength and peace from their blood families learn to respect and honor your choices.

The invitation of privileged anonymous coward @64 "... believing things aren't really bad enough to merit attention is pretty much a hallmark of certain kinds of dysfunction and abuse." leads me to say just a few words.

Mother was always rather subtle. Judgmental, primarily. It wasn't in-your-face denigration, but a constant stream of value judgment. Anything not meeting her personal pecadillos was a target. It only takes a few formative years of "Who would possibly like that?" to realize that there's a way you should be, nay must be, or else yourself be the focus of Mother's intolerance. I suppose it's a way of enforcing emotional distance, not having any empathy with circumstances other than one's own. Woe to the child who does not actually conform to Mother's concept of right and good.

Father worked long hours, and mostly wasn't there. Emotional distance is pretty easy to achieve where you're just not around. Both Father and Mother are children of alcoholics. I'm told lack of emotional connection is a typical trait in such parents. Knowing it's common doesn't make it any easier to live with.

Last winter, in the spirit of family togetherness, I spent a week or so visiting my parents and staying in their home. The barrage of judgment and intolerance brought out an all-too-familiar passivity, a coping mechanism learned in those formative years. It's familiar and easy to let the words roll by, to become numb in the face of disapproval. Better that than be seen as the one precipitating family fights, yes? Better to bottle up the hurt, to paper over the disconnection between what one is expected to be and who one really is, right? Ha.

Passivity led to about half a year's depression. Fortunately the suicidal impulses were only intermittent.

It would likely be best for all if I just didn't visit again, ever, but I too grow weary over time of explaining that No, my family just doesn't work that way. No, visiting for the holidays is not a good idea. Yes, I know it's been years. Yes, I know they're my parents. That doesn't make it a good idea. Really.

I don't have scars or scare stories. I wasn't beaten, or raped, or locked out, or sent to military school. I won't say my experience equals that of anyone else here in degree or severity, only that I don't function in that house.

In closing, may peace find those who seek it, and strength find those who need it; and may all of us be someday blessed with tolerance and acceptance from those who have not known what we have known.

#101 ::: Never Alone ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 03:01 PM:

When I was a child, "normal" parents didn't abuse their children. Only "bad" ones, with a long list of pejoratives attached. And "abuse" was always physical.

Which meant it was very hard for me to even understand what was done to me. The fearlessness to try something new, slowly eroding in the face of the constant drip, drip, drip of public humiliation at not being good the first time I tried. The comfort in knowing someone will lend a hand worn down by the incessant degradation of not being good enough to do it myself. Always having to consider how much something is worth doing, in terms of weeks or even months of having my imperfections repeatedly dragged in front of people in the most shaming way possible. Never being allowed to not answer a question, but rarely having my answers believed.

I had an epiphany just the other day. I feel a bit smug and amused when friends discuss saying "I never...." I avoid saying "I never..." because I know it always comes back to haunt. Until I realized I do say "I never." I say it to myself, in words so quiet, even I can't truly hear it.

I never want to be in the spotlight.
I never want to ask for help.
I never want to hug someone, just because.
I never want to do anything that will cause people to ask questions, the questions I cannot refuse to answer.
I never want to try anything new where I will see the people I learn from again.

I realized I still dance the puppet's dance, even when the puppeteer is no longer around. A simple puppeteer, because no master would leave strings so very tangled and walk away.

I have used a number of therapies over recent years, to take charge of my own strings. But even when old fears are removed, old habits are not. It is sometimes heartbreaking to realize

I don't know how to hug people.
I don't know how to ask for help.
I don't know how not to answer questions.
I don't know when saying "no" is ok.
I don't know when it is safe to say "yes, I'd love to."

I have found people with habits I wish to model. I am learning. I am more than I was. And yet, there are days when the old habits yank me up short. When I realize I could have said no, or could have joined in. Or hugged someone.

I still dance the puppet's dance.

But not as much as I used to.

#102 ::: AuntieEmAuntieEm ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 03:03 PM:

I don't think my family was abusive, just big, so I have no tales of my own to tell here. I'm just glad Abi does this so people who have experienced personal hells on Earth know they're not alone.

I do have a concern, though.

I have a great nephew, M, who was taken away and hidden from his father, my nephew, by his mother. (Who lied about taking birth control. Who informed my nephew he was going to hell based on his religion, as well as other things that lead me to believe she has sociopathic tendencies.) We didn't hear anything from my great nephew or about him for two years. Before the kidnapping, M was happy and reasonably well adjusted for a three year old who was bouncing between homes. After two years of being on the run, we got him back, but he's not the same child. He is seeing a child psychologist, and is getting better, but I can still see the effects of his mother in some behaviors. He's quicker to anger, and is missing some social eptness. Once or twice he's tried to upset me by either calling me weird or fat. Both are true, and I acknowledged both facts with a simple "Well, yes." Only he tried to escalate the issue by repeating himself. I met each iteration with a "can't deny it" or "It's pretty obvious." All in all, it reminded me of the playground bullies from my childhood. (I was bullied a lot.)

I'm not sure if he stopped out of frustration, or the realization that the adult who was paying him attention didn't think it was a big deal. I do wonder if I should tell his father.

#103 ::: Cowardly Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 04:16 PM:

@91: At Christmas last year she told me how unhappy I make her when I'm around; when I apologized and got in my car to go to my father's place, she was devastated and genuinely uncomprehending of why I would leave after she told me to go.

It's interesting that the ones who complain are the ones that seem hurt when you say "Okay, I won't trouble you again". After being told by a toxic sibling that I was dirty, depressing, boring, living in a horrible house, not wanted in the same town, and worthy only of being seen only at holiday occasions, to which of course said sibling would very magnimaniously invite me (plus some, IMO, appalling behavior at our mother's funeral) I finally broke contact by not telling said sibling my new address, phone number, or email. Amazingly enough, this disturbed the sibling enough to be highly concerned about my continuing unworthy behavior. I finally had to say "our mother is dead, we dislike each other, get out of my life". And that's fine with me. I don't miss the sibling at all. About the only time I do think of the person is that we're going to see each other again at the next funeral and I don't want my cousins (who know all about this) to have any trouble. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do then.

#104 ::: Never Alone ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 04:22 PM:

It's easy to turn the idea that other people have it worse into a way to belittle your pain and denigrate your needs.

It's an amazing double standard, comparisons against other people. If I am to compare myself only to myself when trying to achieve something, why can't I compare myself against myself when I don't like where I am? ("Don't worry about being as good as X. Just be the best you can be." vs. "Why do you feel so bad? There's so many people worse off than you.") I really don't care how much worse someone else is. I care that I am worse than I was, or than I want to be.

My usual response when someone says, "At least you're not as bad as..." is the above mentioned "mmmm." Or the occasional chuckle, if the comparison is meant to be humorous. If the person makes the mistake of trying to lecture me on the subject, the response gets a bit more heated. I had enough of being told as a child I couldn't feel what I was feeling because someone else was worse off. I have learned to moderate my response, because I never really could get those types of people to understand my "so, are we supposed to find the world's most broken person, and nobody else can complain about anything on that subject, because everybody else is better?" I now say, "I am not comparing me to anybody else. I'm comparing me to me."

The people I keep as friends rarely try lecturing me again. It's their convincer strategy, not mine, and we both get that. I say rarely, because sometimes many years have passed, and they forget. The people I must be in contact with that don't get it, I speak to them only of banal generalities.

#105 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Regarding the toxic nature of comparison, I may have mentioned this here before, but I always liked my mother's response to that kind of thing. "I don't do comparative misery. I'll do you the courtesy of assuming that your misery was as bad as you could tolerate if you'll do the same for me."

And, of course, if they didn't see fit to do her that courtesy, she avoided interacting with them in the future.

(Personally, I don't think anyone owes anybody else an explanation of their own family dynamics. It's one area where my usual Californian let's-discuss-everything-and-find-a-consensus-that-works-for-us-all disappears behind a Yankee stone wall. Am I doing [x] with my family? No, that's not how my family does it. "But why?" That's just not how my family does it. "But if you tried—" No, that's not how my family does it. "But a good daughter—" That's not how my family does it. Repeat until they get disgusted and give up. I have very, very little patience for the idea that anybody else has a right to demand information about me or to tell me how to live.)

#106 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 06:41 PM:

Cowardly Anonymous @103:

It occurs to me that maybe it's the only way that person knows how to communicate, or is so accustomed to that pattern of communication, that when you don't respond to their script, they are thrown for a loop.

I'm not excusing their behavior; just trying to grasp where they are coming from. I know, from my siblings, the crap that gets poured into your head from this stuff comes out differently with each person.

#107 ::: Jack ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 09:36 PM:

I read these comments with no small amount of "there but for the grace of" sentiment, right up until a couple of stories about deeply hurtful, never forgotten comments made by a father to his child, such as those revealed by Hiding A Little and Notthatbad @ 65 and 66. I think I have... ridiculed (there really is no other word for it), on multiple occasions, my teenage daughter's practically mandatory (for a teenage girl) compassion for animals while pointedly, dismissively, contrasted this sentiment with her (as I preceived it) dismissal and/or lack of concern for the suffering of actual people. For all I know she may very will "pershaw" such concerns, but I think I will be calling her tomorrow. Cause there could be other things as well. Man it would suck to create long lasting emotional stress and never learn of it, and thus be able to mitigate it, until you are on your death bed, or gone entirely.

#108 ::: Worthess Piece of Shit ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Jack, it matters enormously that you care. I hope your daughter is able to internalize what you say.

It was antithetical to my process of reconciliation with my dad to confront him on it. He wouldn't have admitted doing anything wrong anyway. He either would have denied ever saying such a thing, or just said that I must have really pissed him off.

And now, as you say, it's too late.

#109 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 01:49 AM:

@J #85 - Thanks. :)

Also, the first step is awareness. It's a difficult step, and it's awesome that you're aware. It'll get better with practice.


#110 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 04:20 AM:

#100 ::: Mattathias:

Thank you very much for posting about your situation-- it's a good bit like mine. My mother was steadily critical, and I find it very hard to do much of anything.

I quit talking to her when I realized I was knocked out for two weeks after hearing her voice, even if the conversation seemed to be innocuous.

She died this past spring. I was nerving myself to see her near the end, but she died faster than that, and I have no idea whether seeing her would have been a good idea.

I've wondered if a group intervention about how much emotional damage she was doing would have been a good idea, but I don't regret avoiding her. I have no good memories of time spent with her.

I do know that (in addition to her mental decline), she never became a good person for her kids to be around-- my brother and sister did visit her. The consensus seems to be a bad case of anxiety, though I've wondered about depression in addition.

Any thoughts (from anyone) about breaking the inertia? It's very tempting for me to beat up on myself for what I haven't done, and if I defuse that, I'm more comfortable with killing time, which doesn't solve the general problem.

I'm getting therapy, and it's helped with some things, but not with that.

#111 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 06:16 AM:


Don't ask me. If I were any good at breaking inertia, I wouldn't still be up at 3am finishing things that ought to have been done rather earlier.

I'll get around to deal with my procrastination issues eventually.

#112 ::: Quiet kid ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:23 AM:

Thank you, abi. Every year, this helps. I wrote last year, but that's actually pretty well processed now. The past, that's dealt with, and I've got a good handle on just what key sequences my family programmed into me that set me off. Yep, I don't ask for help well, and I don't trust easily and I end up being the Responsible One more often than I like, but sometimes just knowing the trigger is theer is enough to keep it trigger locked.  

This has been the year of low- grade bats#!+ when it comes to the family. Even though I live more than 800 miles from any family member (quite intentionally and always will), even though I have well established rules regarding communication with them... It keeps creeping in. 

I don't speak to my father. There are a ton of reasons for this - chronic infidelity, physical and emotional abuse, narcissism with enough other comorbidities to fill a DSM - but recently, he has been expressing a wish to my siblings that I speak to him again. Thus, when I was last in his state, I left him a letter, telling him how he would have to work to get anything like a relationship started. I haven't heard what the repercussions were, but I felt great. I returned all of the things he told me to do as a child with respect to his mother - be helpful, contribute, no backtalk... I probably pissed him off, but that's not really a challenge. If I closed that book of my life, that's perfectly fine. If I actually got through to him, that's even better because it will improve my grandmother's quality of life.

My mother, on the other hand... Okay, she's got more issues than the National Geographic, and I know this. She has played the rotten hand she was dealt very well, but her hand was at best a pair of threes.  Abused and neglected herself, and raised in agricultural cyclic poverty, she's got control issues and caregiver issues and relationship issues and and and. I'll be the first to admit this has been a rough year for her - her father died just over a year ago, and that funeral was a clusterf^€ of epic proportions stemming from her step-family being in fact more screwed up than she is... 

But my mother's big problem is money. Mom's a project manager by profession who used to be an accountant. On the job, she's great with money - she has never once in her career brought in a project over budget. Most of the time, she's under budget. At home? Her credit is shot, she's always a paycheck from disaster, and she let's critical things (like car registration) slide until she ends up with really bad consequences, leaving my sisters and I to bail her out. (currently, we three are looking at a $2k impound fee because she failed to keep her tags current.)

Her self defense mechanism is ditzy humor and feminine wiles, which she uses on everyone when she's in trouble - even me, and I am most assuredly her daughter. It's horribly unprofessional and creepifying in a personal context, not to mention irritating... And I notice that when she uses it on me, I hear my father's words coming out of my mouth in reaction. Arghh!!! What makes it sad? It's what seems to work, so I find myself in the awful position of having to either treat her like an adult and watch her continue to repeat her young teenager type mistakes (meaning I have to Houdini a couple grand every six months or so), or descend into low-level abuse to motivate her to responsibility. There is no middle ground.  

Even better, she managed a serious injury at work this summer. When I went down to get her home from the hospital, I saw that she's becoming a hoarder. She's always been somewhat OCD, but now... I am dreading the future. She's not keeping every newspaper yet, but the furniture stacking is there, the crowding is there, goat trails are becoming the norm...

 Worse, I am dreading the fact that she feels she can't be single, and will take up with any loser who gives her the time of day (and realizes she's a free lunch). I quite often have to give her the "tag and bag" speech. Condom education is just not something I want to be talking about with her, but she comes from the generation where prophylactics were for birth control, not disease prevention, and she's been sterile for most of my life.

I am also watching my sisters' low-level ack... Both married rather useless men in the sense of understanding themselves (both are employed, not visibly abusive and not addicted to anything, but both have other issues.) In other words, they married their father. One has converted to a faith that terrifies me for my nephews' sake and continues to follow our father's path of narcissism and selfishness... This is mostly annoying (and she is the reason I have rules about leaving voicemail messages if she wants a callback) but I see where this trend goes and it does not end with fluffy kittens and rainbows.

The other... Has a good southern boy who is still tied to his momma's apron, and momma is a MIL from Hell. Which means that my very intelligent nieces are stuck in awful schools, caged in a dying culture that tells them that being smart and self-directed is hateful for people of their gender, deprived of the better opportunities that exist elsewhere... And my sister is stuck with three children, one of whom is several years her senior. 

This year, it's all about the little bubble-gum-on-your-shoe things, not the dragon issues, but I do think I prefer one dragon a year to 52 bubble gums. The little things wear me down more, distract me more, and I feel like there's never any recovery time. This year has made me want to change my contact info and sell my house and go incommunicado for a few years again, but now there are little people who actually need their auntie, so that's not possible anymore.  

#113 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 09:31 AM:

Both sides of my family have a range of issues - there's my mother's paternal grandmother, who was a manipulative hypochondriac bitch who enjoyed stirring up drama within the family; my father's mother who was institutionalised as a result of post-natal depression; the chronic depression within my mother's family which is only exacerbated by the fact that most of them are Christadelphian (so they were fundamentalist Christians before it was cool); and so on. So I suppose it's not surprising both of my parents have depression and so do I - my younger brother appears to have missed out on it, which is something of a novelty.

In any case, at least part of the whole problem is that I was raised by inadvertently emotionally neglectful parents who were raised by inadvertently emotionally neglectful parents, who were most likely raised by inadvertently emotionally neglectful parents ditto. Over the years, starting with a few talks with each of my parents as a teenager, I've come to realise that there's more truth than most people realise in the old dictum that "the sins of the fathers shall be passed on, yea unto the seventh generation" - particularly if you think of said "sins" as including things like patterns of behaviour or styles of interaction (or non-interaction). In a lot of ways, realising the whole damn family "culture" I come from is about thirty degrees from normal at the best of times and waaay off on a tangent at the worst helped me to come to terms with what's happened to me in my lifetime.

In many ways, I've come to the realisation that what happened as I was growing up was nobody's fault. It wasn't my fault for being born, or for being an emotionally needy child who happened to be born to a couple of people who didn't even know how to meet their own individual emotional needs, much less anyone else's. It wasn't my mother's fault for choosing to return to her marriage when she discovered she was pregnant with the embryo which later became me, or for choosing to stay together with her husband "for the sake of the children". It wasn't my father's fault for attempting to be the kind of father he'd been brought up to think was proper - distant and unemotional, or for not having the least idea what to do with children in the first place. It wasn't Mum's fault for being born into a family full of undiagnosed depressives, or Dad's fault he grew up with the stigma of having a mother who'd been "put away" for a while. If I'm going to assign blame for how I've turned out and for my mental illnesses, I'm going to have to do one hell of a lot of family research and genealogy (most of it in another country) and even then, it's not going to actually change my situation one bit.

#114 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Mattathias and Nancy--Oh! Thank you for sharing your stories--I've been so long feeling like it was just that I'm some kind of lazy, unmotivated, irresponsible congenital failure, and fighting a constant battle (aided, I am grateful to say, by my deeply beloved partner, whose mother fckd her up too, but in different ways) to acknowledge the things I have accomplished, and do accomplish.

I've read obsessively, but never posted in these before. Even as I respect the hell out of everyone who shares their stories, at the same time, I feel like sharing mine is "just whining." "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about," was my mother's phrase, and she still will go on the verbal attack until I'm in tears, and then tell me what a weak-minded, weak-willed, timid, overly-sensitive person I am for getting upset. If she was in a good mood, I could bring down rage by doing something that upset her, but no amount of doing the right thing could ever make her happy, and nothing was met without criticism. I refused to smile in pictures for more than a decade after she told me my smile was ugly.

And I've always known that I was the lucky one. My brother has always been "the favored child" as far as she's concerned. Which means he's the one whose back she broke an inch-thick wooden paddle over, or beat around the face while "teaching him to fight" when she was angry at him for being upset about being bullied at school. He's the one she carefully crafts guilt-trips and emotional blackmail for--I get them more or less reflexively, so she can keep her edge honed.

In a lot of ways, I've forgiven her--in the sense of learning to let go of the constant anger and bitterness and resentment that was what kept me going all through my teenage years. I think a lot of people who don't come from abusive situations think of forgiveness as a thing that's whole and entire, and makes things okay. It took me years and years to figure out that I even could forgive her and shore up my boundaries with regards to her at the same time--that (for me) forgiveness was a necessary step to kicking her enough out of my head to put a stronger wall between us.

And I've had therapy, too, but I haven't really been able to address the paralyzing perfectionism and the resulting avoidance, procrastination, and all the rest of that related ugliness that having a hypercritical parent seems to plant in the soul.

(And now I have a boss who is like an even more judgmental copy of my mother, and who is constantly picking at me about how I must be broken in some profound way because I don't have a good relationship with my mom. I wish there was a socially approved way to say "MYOFB," and "you're acting in a triggering way.")

#115 ::: Topaz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 11:43 AM:

"...never any recovery time..."

Ghods that sounds like the last mumble years.

Several years ago, my mother moved in with my partner and I. Having her live with us has reduced our financial burdens, and it looks like I will be out of debt before I retire. That's the good part.

The bad part -- Mom is living on her Social Security benefit. Her pension from the hospital she worked for (she was an RN) just covers her Medicare supplemental plan premiums. She's gone from $50-60K a year to maybe $22K a year. There are constant complaints from her as to how little money she has. Please note, the amount she's getting is about the same as my take-home pay.

I'd thought when she moved in, that she would probably work part time but she hasn't been able to as she has had to have two joint replacement surgeries. Now that she's recovered from those I'm praying she'll be motivated enough to get out more.

The first year she was with us wasn't bad but now it seems like her conversations are more complaints than anything else. If this was how she behaved with my brother and his ex-wife, I can understand why my former sister-in-law finally asked her to leave and I think it may have been a factor in their divorce.

I feel defeated most of the time, and I'm frustrated because my mother pretty much brought this all on herself. She never saved any money, not from her job, not from the sale of the two houses (the first one she got from her divorce --that had a mortgage payment of $125 a month) or her parent's house which she inherited free and clear on my grandmother's death. I have worked since I was 18, and because I've always known I'd have no one to take care of me but me, I have put ten to fifteen percent of my income into retirement savings for most of my career.

I was the child that was told (by her) when I was 18 I would be out on my own. My brother and Mom lived in the same house or apartment for most of his life until he married. He was never asked to leave after he reached age 18 (I do know that he contributed toward the house expenses once he had a job, so his wasn't a completely free ride).

I'm spending more time at work because home isn't peaceful any more. She recently said I should go back to the Buddhist temple and participate in the chant and meditation, "because you're more relaxed when you do that" but no amount of time spent on the cushion is going to relieve the constant wondering when there will be another angry barrage from her, which includes the fact that my partner hasn't quite figured out the safest way to present something so it doesn't cause an explosion.

What kills me is that I would love to be able to do what she hates -- have the time to stay home, get the house in order, to bake, to garden, to watch the birds at the feeder, to have no set schedule beyond walking the dog every morning....

#116 ::: recoveringme ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 01:08 PM:

I have been trying to not read this thread, knowing that it is here. It helps to know that there are others dealing with pain and suffering with such courage, able to handle their stories with such grace.

I agree that not everyone is entitled to know the stories I carry. Not everything can be spoken, shared, laid out for examination just because someone claims a special need for disclosure, or sharing, or camaraderie.

I am in such pain, and it helps to read things here. Even if there is much I cannot share, and will not be able to share. Walking along the edges of what I can bear.

I would like to say, though, that I am grateful for this thread, and for your voices.

#117 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Nancy, Mattathias: Intertia, killing time, and procrastination.

Oh, yeah. Definitely, yeah. And I don't have a clue how to fix that in myself, either.

#118 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Erm, "inertia". Fingers have a mind of their own, today. I suppose I should be glad that some part of me is capable of thinking right now.

#119 ::: jessica lavedas ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Here it is my mother was an ahcoholic for all of my childhood up until i was about 13. When i was in first grade to fith grade my mother would forget about me and lock me out of my house. she would run away and live in abanded cars or in people garages. I have watched my mother shit herself and so many other things. my father was an angery man and still is. he was always yelling. throwing things around the kitchen because my mother had not made him any sweets. Now my mom became sobor because my father became a gambler. My mother couldnt deal with it so Oct 3, 2006 my mother moved out of my dads house. My dad quit gambling the next day and now has a better look at life. But my momther life was no good on her own. She was a cat collecter and a shit collecter. the begining of 2009 my mom lost her job and started drinking again. She was on xanax also but she was givin it by a doctor. Anyways she overdoesed on jan 28 2009. I miss her everyday sooo much. My father doesnt talk much about it and i havent gotten over the things she did to me. I feel bad that i havent. I just dont know how to recover. i miss her so much everyday. I wish i could talk to her.

#120 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Nancy Lebowitz and others -- on breaking the inertia. One of the books I read about divorce had a rather tough but wise chapter on NOT forgiving and just moving on anyway. We are so programmed to believe that we have to forgive in order to move on, and really, it's not entirely true. It IS true that the more you dwell on that person and the pain they caused, the more they still own you, but there IS a (sometimes very narrow) middle ground, if you can just let the pain sit where it is and work past it. It may even, the author said, simply just not be there one day.

#121 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 03:30 PM:

I am an interloper here, because while there were some "family dynamics" issues, and still are, really, they're with people that are/were associated with my family, not family itself. As a result, if anybody thinks anything in here is famsplaining or otherwise unhelpful, mods, feel free to delete it.

All I can say to the people posting here straight is "I'm sorry. I've read - all of it - and I care. This shouldn't happen, but it does, and you're all doing a stellar job of dealing with it."

No, really. If you're still here, and you haven't killed anybody *else*, either, you're handling it stellarly. Anything over that is putting you into spectacular territory.

Note: that is *not* saying that "everything's fine" or "you don't have a problem" or "don't worry about the rest, it will just handle itself." Just that as the definition of a good pilot is someone with the same number of takeoffs as landings, sometimes success is simply having the same number of wakeups as sleeps - but better is *always* better.

You see, my "family" started at 0700 every morning when I got on the bus, and finished at 1700 at night when I got off. And I really understand the "my family isn't like that", and the people saying "it shouldn't be, all you need to do..." - because I get that about school. "Why don't you go back for reunions?" "Because the number of people I want to see again is smaller than the number I want to kill." Usually shuts them up, just from audacity, as they look at me to see if I'm serious - and then continues to shut them up because I am (well, basically. I wouldn't *do* it. But it's just best if I avoid any opportunity, really).

Of course, I've never had a problem with people hitting glass walls hard when they try to intrude on my non-"standard" personal space. It's like anything else society believes - "families are good and should be maintained", "your social life is publicly available knowledge", "everybody understands western body language" - ain't necessarily so.

#122 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 04:31 PM:


I'd say there's a very important difference between bullying someone weaker than yourself and lashing out at someone a) stronger and b) safe. I wouldn't be too worried about the kid on that score: calling you names is not bullying.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of anger at my dad (he kinda sucks, nothing horrible but not a great dad). It wasn't real safe to express that to him (not dangerous either, he wouldn't have hit me or anything, but) so I took it out on my mom (til I got some therapy and figured some shit out, anyhow). That's because my mom was stronger and smarter, and I knew (not consciously, of course) that she'd handle it appropriately (and she did).

Sounds like your great-nephew has a lot of anger too, and I'll bet you're someone he feels safe expressing that to. Hard on you, of course.

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 04:44 PM:

recoveringme @116:

First and least, you forgot to change your email address. I've changed it to to break the link to your (view all by).

Second, and really the thing I want to time during a difficult discussion of problems without real solutions, one of my friends said that what she really needed was "someone to sit and be afraid with me."

That's a big piece of what this thread is about. Even if it's not the time and place for you to talk in detail about what's troubling you, this is a place for us to sit and be troubled together. It is my hope that this is a helpful thing.

#124 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 05:04 PM:

jessica lavedas @119:

Sorry your comment got put into moderation. Nothing personal; we get a lot of spam including drug names.

i havent gotten over the things she did to me. I feel bad that i havent. I just dont know how to recover. i miss her so much everyday. I wish i could talk to her.

I don't know if this is a useful suggestion—ignore it if it's not—but I wonder if you could write a letter containing all the things you wish you could say to her? Just to write it out and see it in writing?

#125 ::: K.S.A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 05:22 PM:

Interesting discussion right from post #1.

Should I talk about my family? I have a very good relationship with my sister, but my father remains distant to us, more so to me than to her, but things happen all the time to still remind us of how checked out relationship-wise (friendly but superficial) he was & is. I'm probably contributing to what dysfunction we have, me being unemotional with my family, connected only to sis, and socially nonexistent outside the family.
Family-wise, things haven't changed much in the last year since my last post.
I'm a little better at navigating Mom's control issues, and more effective at shutting out my emotionally abusive stepfather. Maybe a little better at getting deeper with Dad, I'm not sure.
These threads show starkly that many others have family experiences that were far worse. I admire those who came forward to tell their stories, the bravery in baring themselves.

As for me myself, socially I've become withdrawn, tired of my superficial friendships, like Dad's seemed to be. I have become cold, unsocial, distant, and I don't like that. I try to socialize, and I get weary, so much is shallow, stupid, vapid. If something interesting does come up in tangent, trying to pursue it gets ignored. I can't connect, and trying drains me. I always feel so "outside".

I was fired early this year, and have been unable to find a job. I don't try hard enough, for in this economy you have to try hard. Or I don't try hard consistently -- when I do it's just as much of a brick wall, so I stop because making applications and getting unemployment is easy. I'm considering going to school again and changing careers. Would that be personal growth? Or change nothing, really?

#126 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 07:28 PM:

A little bit late, but I'm here and reading. It's hard sometimes, frustration and helplessness combine. Taking part in this the previous two years has freed me in a tremendous manner. I posted anonymously and then as myself. The world did not end. I can't explain the relief that accompanied this revelation.

This year, it has helped just to read. I have new understanding about how quick we are to belittle ourselves and how important honesty is with my child.

I'll be thinking about this for a while so I just wanted to say thank you for all those who took the step to write about their past and their feelings. It is valuable.

#127 ::: No, that must have been someone else ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 07:39 PM:

My sister phoned me today: "Did Mom tell you she's in the hospital?"

"Of course not. What's happened?"

It's a fairly bad UTI that developed while she was on vacation in Hawaii. She's 84. They've hospitalized her and put her on large antibiotics.

My sister was simultaneously upset that Mom hadn't let her know -- for one thing, my mother is scheduled to visit her a few days from now -- and apologizing for being upset. For being unreasonably upset. Was it unreasonable? She paused; said again that she was sorry; then: "Wouldn't most people figure that was something you'd want to know?"

"Yes, they would," I said firmly. "You are having a normal reaction. Normal people would react like you're reacting. They'd be upset. It's not your fault."

(I am obscurely reminded of the time my sister told me that she and her second husband had finally decided to divorce. I had barely started to tell her how sorry I was that it had ended badly when my mother broke in cheerfully -- she and my sister were on different extensions at the house -- to say "But that's okay, because I'm getting married, so we come out even!" Which, btw, was how I found out that my long-widowed mother was getting married again.)

But back to the conversation about Mom being in the hospital. We talked about having to accept that there are transactions that will never happen and others that will never change, no matter what you do. I mentioned that every time I've had to laboriously figure out some elusive diagnosis -- narcolepsy, for instance, or my father's family's idiopathic but clearly hereditary hearing loss -- I'd tell Mom about it, and she'd say oh yes, that runs in the family. "I always say, 'Mom, are there any other health problems you want to tell me about?' I concluded, 'and she always says no.'"

My sister laughed. "And it's always bullshit," she said. "It doesn't run in the family."


"She says that no matter what. I've gotten to the point where I tell her, 'Mom, who exactly? Name one,' and she never does."

Ah. A significant datum. Tag that one for the permanent files. The enormous, intricate, endlessly recompiled permanent files, laboriously toted around with me throughout my life, like a hermit crab's shell.

Years ago, I challenged the standard family mythology about my father's and grandfather's supposedly trauma-based hearing loss, pointing out that in stories about Great-grandpa Nielsen, he appeared to have a hearing loss too...? Mom then admitted that yes, it was hereditary, and explained that my patrilineals had been embarrassed about it, so they'd blamed it on war injuries. Then she asked why I was asking.

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. Could you repeat it?" I said. We had to go through that exchange two more times before she realized what I was saying.

"Oh, you too!" she said, pleased that she'd figured it out.

Back in the early 80s, when I finally tracked down the thing that was wrong with me and it turned out to be narcolepsy, I pointed out to my family that it tends to be inherited. For once they compared notes, and were amazed at how many narcoleptics and sleep disorder cases turned up on both sides of the family tree. My father was an undiagnosed narcoleptic throughout his adult life, and blamed himself for it. My sister has an idiopathic sleep disorder, and when she doesn't think about it is still inclined to blame herself for it. Two of my three brothers have myoclonus. Three out of four of our grandparents had apneic snoring patterns. Great-uncle Fred retired on disability with a full-blown and fully documented case of narcolepsy. (My mother was surprised to hear that. "I always just thought Uncle Fred was an alcoholic," she said.)

Undiagnosed narcolepsy put a big dent in my life. It took me years and a lot of work to figure out what was happening. My sister took a lot of grief for her difficulty waking up in the morning. After I brought the news home, my father talked to me a little about hypnagogic hallucinations, but he never did come out and admit that the reason he'd take one of us kids with him on business trips around the state was because he'd start to nod off and run off the road if we weren't there to keep a conversation going. It could be stressful. I didn't get talked to a lot, so I didn't have a large store of conversation. On the other hand, hey! Talking!

Talking is good.

My sister and I once compared notes about how we'd tied our shoelaces when we were little. Turns out we'd both had to invent our own way to do it. Our parents hadn't tracked on the fact that they'd never taught us how to tie our shoes, but we'd have been in trouble if we didn't have our shoes tied when it was time to go somewhere. My sister came up with a better method than I did.

I told her that if she'd been born into a different family, they'd not only have accepted her; they'd have thought she was swell. That surprised her.

But I digress. Only I'm not. Anyway, I told her this afternoon that Mom had phoned me to chat just a couple of days ago, and never mentioned that she was ill. In fact, when I asked her, she'd said she was fine.

My sister and I worked out the dates. There's a good chance my mother was phoning me from the hospital.

#128 ::: ikucu ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:14 PM:

Referring to my own post @ 61, said father called me last night that he would like to pay a visit - just for a day - to talk with me "since we don't talk much." That's a three hour drive each way for perhaps a 3 hour visit (which I will conduct in a restaurant or set of public places, perhaps a farmer's market). Although he said there was no particular reason for this proposed visit, I am suspicious of his motivation, as he tends to approach big topics obliquely. At the moment I am toying with the idea that he has decided to remarry and wants approval. Sigh. I'd be happy to be told over the phone if this is the case.

#129 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:16 PM:

Teresa, do you still get mail at the address on the home page here? I can send you some more and better news.

#130 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:23 PM:

Velma @6, I have our text messages back and forth from the day you went into the hospital. I was asking over and over what you needed, and you couldn't tell me. I wasn't perplexed by it; I could tell what was happening; but it was weird to see how unnaturally absent those thoughts were from your head.

#131 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:25 PM:

Bless you, Linkmeister. Please send me the news.

#132 ::: Emptiness Weighs Heavy ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:25 PM:

My sister and I once compared notes about how we'd tied our shoelaces when we were little. Turns out we'd both had to invent our own way to do it.

A nurse from the mental ward (yeah) bought me my first bra.
I was taught how to use deodorant at age 15, in a locker room at a health club, by my father's current mistress.
I got my first period there too. Freaked out, then used the accumulated wisdom of TV commercials to go to the drugstore, where I spent half an hour staring at all the products before guessing which I should be using.

The worst part of it all is when you first realize hey, that wasn't right - at age 35.

#133 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 08:41 PM:

Teresa @ #131, check your mail.

#134 ::: Child of a survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 09:21 PM:

Meg Thornton @113, and others

One of the reasons I know so much about my mother's family is due to the genealogists. She and one of her sisters (of the nine kids) tracked down family history for the last two centuries, and what turned up was enlightening and terrifying as certain traits seemed to be passed on to people repeatedly: alcoholism, drug addictions, patterns of rage and abuse, probable BPD, manic decpression... the list goes on. But. There were always a few people, usually the ones who really didn't make that much of a splash in terms of their awfulness to their families, who held the line and did something different, enough to help people survive. I'm thinking in particular of my great-grandfather who took my aunt from her mother (his own daughter, my grandmother), after she attempted to hang herself at the age of 9. Genetics play a role, yes, most definitely, in some of the things that get passed on, but sometimes there are choices we can make that may not affect us, immediately, but which affect those who follow us, biologically or otherwise. I'm not sure if this I'm presenting these thoughts clearly.
Reading through the several binders of family history, I can see the horrors starting from the 1860s on, but I can also see the beginnings of maybe a glimmer or two of a different kind of soul. I'm realizing that over time, those souls become more and more obvious and turn into some full-fledged bright ones over the years.
I think I said this up thread, but I really believe the more those family secrets are exposed, the more we recognize the nastiness for what it is and what it is not, the greater the possibility of lessening the power any of them have. I just think that when my great-greats were dealing with this stuff, it was Not Done to talk about it, either in the family or out of it. What kind of vocabulary did they have for this, really? Since there are forums like these, and people can and do talk about it more than they used to, and have medical options for those issues that can be treated thusly, there's more hope for changing the future. Doesn't mean it works right away, but even a slight change to the pattern is a change.

#135 ::: Child of a survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 09:21 PM:

Meg Thornton @113, and others

One of the reasons I know so much about my mother's family is due to the genealogists. She and one of her sisters (of the nine kids) tracked down family history for the last two centuries, and what turned up was enlightening and terrifying as certain traits seemed to be passed on to people repeatedly: alcoholism, drug addictions, patterns of rage and abuse, probable BPD, manic decpression... the list goes on. But. There were always a few people, usually the ones who really didn't make that much of a splash in terms of their awfulness to their families, who held the line and did something different, enough to help people survive. I'm thinking in particular of my great-grandfather who took my aunt from her mother (his own daughter, my grandmother), after she attempted to hang herself at the age of 9. Genetics play a role, yes, most definitely, in some of the things that get passed on, but sometimes there are choices we can make that may not affect us, immediately, but which affect those who follow us, biologically or otherwise. I'm not sure if this I'm presenting these thoughts clearly.
Reading through the several binders of family history, I can see the horrors starting from the 1860s on, but I can also see the beginnings of maybe a glimmer or two of a different kind of soul. I'm realizing that over time, those souls become more and more obvious and turn into some full-fledged bright ones over the years.
I think I said this up thread, but I really believe the more those family secrets are exposed, the more we recognize the nastiness for what it is and what it is not, the greater the possibility of lessening the power any of them have. I just think that when my great-greats were dealing with this stuff, it was Not Done to talk about it, either in the family or out of it. What kind of vocabulary did they have for this, really? Since there are forums like these, and people can and do talk about it more than they used to, and have medical options for those issues that can be treated thusly, there's more hope for changing the future. Doesn't mean it works right away, but even a slight change to the pattern is a change.

#136 ::: Child of a survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 09:22 PM:

Shoot. I only clicked submit once, I swear! Sorry for the double post.

#137 ::: You're saying hugs are supposed to mean something? ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 09:42 PM:

There's a question that's been haunting me since F. Gwynplaine Macintyre died and I read his account of his childhood.

How many of you had the experience of being treated completely differently from your siblings, for no perceptible reasons?

It takes different forms: you were beaten and they weren't. Or they got financial and emotional support but you didn't. Or your parents treated you well enough, in a detached way, but there were major categories of interactions they'd have with your siblings but refused to have with you. Or you got left out and forgotten whenever there was nothing to remind them that you existed. Or when they spoke thoughtlessly, it was clear that they didn't think of you as belonging in the same category as the rest of the family.

This might say more about me than them, but to me they feel like one of those Oliver Sachs cases where someone has a perfectly good leg, but they can't perceive it as theirs.

#138 ::: Emptiness Weighs Heavy ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 10:00 PM:

How many of you had the experience of being treated completely differently from your siblings, for no perceptible reasons?

Absolutely. My siblings were all-stars, artists, valedictorians. Praised and a source of pride. I was (told I was) a liar, attention-seeker, manipulator, mistake and sub-human. The beatings in the dead of night took place in a bedroom I shared with my sister, who was never touched (and who never acknowledged them except to tell me to shut up when I cried afterward because I was keeping her awake. Another thing that took me thirty years to see as wrong.).

Much later, when I got a copy of my file from the mental ward where I spent some of my childhood, I saw some notes on therapist sessions with my mother, which gave me horrific insight into the misery of her life; I look a like lot her and was the last child of a terrible, terrible marriage, possibly conceived in violence with intent to keep her locked in. So... I can understand why she hated just me, as manifestation of her hatred for herself with bonus hatred for the husband-based trauma. I don't think many people get the benefit of this kind of privileged insight.
My father, on the other hand, was an abusive asshole to everyone.

#139 ::: Bad Daughter, Bad Bad Bad ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 10:06 PM:

I was born in 1952. I have to set the scene. It's been a long time since 1952, so I've had time to comprehend some stuff about my family of origin.

My parents didn't like children. There were three of us; my younger sister was laughingly referred to, in her presence, as "an accident". They had children because the war was over, and everybody came home, and that's what post-war Americans did: they grabbed on to what they believed to be normal life, and did their best to follow the rules.

My mother was an only child. I have only recently learned that as an infant, she was placed into the care of an aunt, because my grandmother was very very ill, and my grandfather, working 6 days a week in a tool and die shop, hadn't a clue (or the time) to care for an infant by himself. I don't know why my grandmother was hospitalized. Any reference to it when I was young made mention of a "female troubles", possibly a cancer of some sort, the end: we don't talk about it any more.

Now, I'm pretty sure my grandmother was hospitalized for post-partum depression or psychosis. I remember her as a nervous, agoraphobic woman who often took care of us for the weekend while my parents went to homecoming or got together with their college friends. Only now do I realize that the fact that she'd bundle us up and take us to the park, or to "Main Street" for a matinee was evidence of an heroic attempt to be a grandma to us.

But obviously, I know now, my mother was permanently affected by this.

My father was one of six children, and to listen to him, he was the only child who loved his mom, and as a consequence, he never got any of the good stuff (like good Christmas presents or tuition to an elite college), because, he said, his mother knew that he, and only he, would understand. So my father both romanticized his upbringing and raged against his siblings (and his parents) for having been cheated out of everything important.

I've always imagined a good marriage or partnership to be based on people whose strengths and weaknesses didn't mirror each other, but made up for each other. My parents were a mirror-matched set, and it pretty much inspired me to never, ever form a long-term committed relationship with anyone in this or any other reality, dimension, or universe. Their frailties and weaknesses and resentments were so similar. Their marriage lasted because they achieved a state of Mutual Assured Destruction: my mother knew that she'd married beneath herself, and that my father would never be the sort of provider she ought to have had. My father knew that regardless of the money stuff, he was far more intelligent than she was, that she was not very bright, and that this fact accounted for their failure to really excel.

I think they enjoyed the experience of my mom being pregnant and my dad being exuberant about his potency. He was also thrilled that even though he was the much-maligned middle son, he was the first to produce a grandchild. And it was a boy! His oldest more-favored brother's first child arrived months later, and it was only a girl.

This is turning into a Book One. Maybe next year there will be Book Two. The pertinent point is that once their babies were born, and the photos taken, and the cigars smoked...we didn't go away. We children kept re-appearing every morning, wanting breakfast again, wanting stuff, wanting stuff they could not afford, needing stuff that meant they could not get the toys they wanted for themselves.

I have often thought that I could make a fortune if I could develop a line of Potemkin Children. As infants, they would smile or pout or blow bubbles and have tiny little toes and fingers, and they'd be on, ready for the admiration of everyone from whom admiration was wanted.

And then they'd go away. They would have their shelves or cubbies. For road trips, they'd be plopped into the back of the station wagon, waving or sleeping as needed. At family holidays, they'd curtsy or shake hands adorably, and then disappear until it was time to wave bye-bye and make everyone go "Awww, so cute". And then, again, they'd go away and not need anything or ask for anything, or stand there all big-eyed and acquisitive. Potemkin Children: ensuring that happy families really are all alike.

There's more, but this is more than enough.

#140 ::: Bad Daughter, Bad Bad Bad ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 10:09 PM:

Oopsie. I thought I was avoiding a View By All. A fix would be much appreciated. Sorry.

#141 ::: high definition distortion ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2010, 11:37 PM:

Nancy, Mattathias:

Another sufferer from badly sprained ambition here. I don't know how much abuse there was* in my childhood, but I do know there was certainly a whole lot of emotional neglect. I'm a perfectionist, a procrastinator, and a lot of the time all I want in the entire world is a cup of hot tea, a good book, and a comfy chair to enjoy the previous two items in.

I am approaching the point of making peace with that. When I look at how narrowly I avoided becoming an addict...I can, and do, enjoy the occasional drink of alcohol. But I can never pull out a cork without being aware of the possibility of falling into the bottle. Hasn't ever happened, and probably won't. But I'll never be able to not think that.

I spent some time doing a little amateur research and came up with a theory. I suspect that one's ambition can get permanently stunted in infancy. Infants require bodily contact, support, etc. as much as they require air and food. Go read about Harlow's monkey experiments, if you have a strong stomach. I think that an infant who isn't getting the attention he/she needs may use giving up desire as a survival strategy. "I didn't want your stupid hugs anyway," would be the thought here, if they were old enough to use words.

The problem comes later, when you need to pick out something for yourself (like a spouse or a career, you know, nothing significant) and there's no internal reference: what do you like? You've no earthly idea; you've mooched off of other people's opinions forever. You want to lie down until people stop bothering you.

Or--maybe--not caring was the only way your childhood self was able to rebel against your parents. Children are not just the legal subjects of their parents, they are physical, moral, intellectual, and emotional subjects as well. If the only place available for escape is inside your own head, some part of your brain is going to start digging a tunnel.

I don't know how to fix this. I'm trying some stuff now. I was going to write a short story and see if anyone wanted to print it. When I sat down all I could write was poetry instead. Close enough.

Many thanks to those who've spoken out, this year and the previous two. I missed the other threads before and read 700+ comments over the last two nights...thank you.

* Suppressed memories, they is real. Do you have any idea how odd it is to find out your own brain has been playing tricks on you? The thing that happened to me was remembering half of a magazine. (The half without the pornography, oddly enough.) When I found it again years later, I could remember the color of the cover, several of the articles, and the Zippy comic in back...but the naked pictures? All new. So who knows what else has been deliberately misfiled?

#142 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Last year, I posted a bit about my sister calling DCFS on my mother and not knowing who to believe. I've gone back and forth on whether to post this-- let me know if it's inappropriate to the thread.

This past week, I finally decided that if I think my family's general closed-mouthness about Issues is exasperating to infuriating, I should maybe consider being somewhat more forthcoming, and asked my sister what happened.

My sister had issues and did not deal with them well, or not as well as one might expect looking at her. My mother never hit her*. My family isn't toxic, and I am not the complacent or in-denial sibling.

(*Swats don't count.)

There are still some things going on. Sad Mom, I am having trouble navigating adult daughterhood in part because I am now the age my mother was when her mother died. My mother and I are trying to figure out how to communicate with a minimum of prickliness and biting. Some months are better than others.

I think that a lot of my childhood, and now my adulthood, has been weirdly affected by not being the daughter my mother expected. I'm not sure about my brother, but my sister definitely got some of that too. And then there's the Good Mother thing, which honestly we could live without.

But for now: my mother never hit my sister. My family is not toxic.

#143 ::: Emptiness Weighs Heavy ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 12:49 AM:

high definition distortion @ 141:

I think that an infant who isn't getting the attention he/she needs may use giving up desire as a survival strategy.

I've spent the last 20 years trying to figure out why I have no willingness to accomplish anything. Thank you for those thoughts. If I say anything else I'll cry so... thank you.

#144 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @110
Any thoughts (from anyone) about breaking the inertia? It's very tempting for me to beat up on myself for what I haven't done, and if I defuse that, I'm more comfortable with killing time, which doesn't solve the general problem.

I totally get that (inertia), and there are workarounds.

Visualize. I've found that the clearer I am about what I want to be the case, the easier it is for the universe to configure itself appropriately. (Also, asking for what you want makes it much easier for people to give it to you. It's like magic.) Write down what you want to be true, and look at your list every day, and ask if there's anything you can do to nudge things in that direction. Or make a list of things you can do to nudge, and look at that list, and pick one.

Have goals. Or even better, have one goal. Do at least one thing every single day that puts you closer to your goal. I turned 60 last year, and my goal is to put off "frail" as long as possible. I joined a gym. I do strength training 3x/wk. If DayOfWeek = [Monday|Wednesday|Friday], then I Go To The Gym. I sweat. I work all the muscle groups, hard. I have a nice shower. I emolliate. I have the smug. 5 or 6 days a week I do 30-60 mins of cardio, which is to say I Do Something In The Yard. (A thing of beauty and a job forever. I will never run out.) Bonus: in 6 months I brought my cholesterol numbers down close enough to target that my doc isn't whining at me to take meds for it. (Do I slack off? Oh yes. And then I get back on. Being human means never having to pretend I'm perfect.)

Use a timer. My dentist prescribed this mouthwash, after which I am not to eat or drink (or chew gum) for a half hour. I set a timer, and for that time, I work on something I've been avoiding all day. There's a stack of paperwork that needs attended to, and IJustCan'tMakeMyself. For a half hour, I pick up the top piece of paper, and Deal With It. If one page takes that long, it's fine, the stack is still shorter. Last year I attacked my abysmally untidy room, 30 minutes at a time. After 6 weeks, it was absolutely gorgeous, and it took only 5 minutes a day to keep it that way. (Do i backslide? You bet. Do i get back up on the horse? Eventually, yes, because clutter is really, really annoying.)

For every smallest accomplishment, pat yourself on the back. You don't have to cure cancer to deserve praise.

There's lots more, but these are the big ones. That I can think of. At the moment.

#145 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:06 AM:

alsafi @114
In a lot of ways, I've forgiven her--in the sense of learning to let go of the constant anger and bitterness and resentment that was what kept me going all through my teenage years. I think a lot of people who don't come from abusive situations think of forgiveness as a thing that's whole and entire, and makes things okay. It took me years and years to figure out that I even could forgive her and shore up my boundaries with regards to her at the same time--that (for me) forgiveness was a necessary step to kicking her enough out of my head to put a stronger wall between us.

Thank you for this. Well said, and congratulations. When the rage is the only thing that kept you going through the teenage years, it's like your best friend. Like cigarettes are your best friend, except they're trying to kill you.

Also, that boss? S/he's wrongity wrong wrong wrong, and you might just want to keep your resume updated and your eyes open. (/unsolicited advice)

#146 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:20 AM:

Just to touch in on the subthread re: lack of motivation/ambition/momentum...

I can't say for others, because obviously I don't see the full picture for anyone but myself. But I do want to point out, because it's a thing I'm guilty of myself, that it's possible to be achieving stellarly, and not realize it, because what you see of other people is what they let you see. Also, I, at least, have a definite tendency to compare my worst traits to other people's strong suits. And coming from twisty backgrounds, it's easy to lose the distinction between acceptably "normal" behaviors and, er... all that other stuff. So for me, whereas objectively, I'm comparatively accomplished, I still struggle with feeling like I'm failing the adulthood thing, all the time. (Mostly because I suck at housekeeping and routines. I don't pretend it's rational.)

I am also informed that my standards of acceptable organization and accomplishment are, perhaps, ever so slightly excessive. And that the addition of a whole bunch of ugly stressors is a legitimate reason for dialing back and taking care of oneself, even if that means letting go some things that one would otherwise prefer to progress. And I can't help thinking that that last bit, in particular, is pretty relevant to those of us who've been through more than our share of the hard stuff. (Also, having been through some intensely awful stuff, and having had long stretches of luxurious pleasantness, it is WAY harder to get anything done and/or organized when sh!t is flying and I'm miserable and overwhelmed and in pain. I know, right?)

#147 ::: mea ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:39 AM:

I'm posting as me because I just want to echo the roars of encouragement. This thread is amazing -- so much courage and woven into the stories so much explanation and help flowing between people.

#127 - Wow, so sleep apnea in one family member and difficulty waking up in another family member can be related via a genetic component? Thank you, that is a connection I never made before and it might have some explanatory value in my family.

I need to get me a timer.

On siblings being treated differently - yes, it happened in my family. I wasn't the target. Explanation is probably the same one mentioned upthread -- the child reminded my parent of things that parent couldn't process, in this case a too-strong resemblance to a person from parent's childhood.

#148 ::: Doesn't Count ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:40 AM:

How many of you had the experience of being treated completely differently from your siblings, for no perceptible reasons?

Not for abuse purposes, but my two brothers and I might as well have been in three different families. My eldest brother is Dad's protege. Dad would happily spend time and energy on him, Mom used him as a surrogate mother for me but otherwise ignored him. They don't talk at all now. My middle brother is my mother's favorite. Dad could never be bothered to spend time with him, Mom adored him but didn't understand his extreme energy and emotional tendencies very well. He now lives on a completely different continent.

And then there's me. I'm a decade younger than either brother. My parents basically handed me over to my brothers to raise (and then expected me to be thrilled when they both went off to college by the time I was eight). By the time they left, my parents were well in the habit of not having to deal with me. And so things stayed until my Mom discovered I made a great confidant, and started using me as her sounding board and therapist 'round about age ten.

My experience of my parents is very different from a lot of the people who've posted. Instead of being told I'm awful or worthless, or anything like that, I get blasted with approval, but in ways that negate my choices and opinions. According to my family I'm so awesomely competent that I never need help, could never be having emotional difficulties, etc. etc.. No matter how much pressure I'm already under, my parents and brothers all feel utterly free to lean on me more, because I'm just so perfect that I can obviously handle it.

I was the straight A student for whom suicide ideation was a way of life. At this point I don't think anything short of running amok with an axe would convince my family that I'm not a paragon - and that my job as a paragon is to keep the family running.

My brothers envy me the ability to deal with both parents. I envy them their ability to be human and have our parents acknowledge it.

#149 ::: JustAnotherLetterOfTheAlphabet ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 01:56 AM:

On the subject of "other people had it so much worse":

"My father molested me" is a factually accurate statement about my childhood. My experiences met both the legal and layman's definitions of the phrase, and multiple qualified mental health professionals have agreed with no reservations.

And yet... Every time I say that phrase, even just in my own head, I feel the need to qualify it, to clarify, to backpedal. Because emotionally, it feels like a lie. It feels like I'm misleading people, claiming unearned sympathy: like I'm somehow mooching off the sympathy that people who really had it bad deserve. That without clarification, people will assume it was more severe, more frequent, more traumatizing than it really was.

I know this is irrational. I know that it was severe enough, frequent enough, traumatizing enough, and that there is no absolute scale of misery. And it helps to be reminded that just because I survived doesn't mean it was no big deal; just because I'm happy now doesn't meant I didn't have a legitimate reason to be unhappy then. I'm not sure whose voice it is in my head, whispering "Sympathy whore!", but I wish it would shut up already.

#150 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 02:06 AM:

#120 ::: Hiding a little:

In my case, at least, it isn't about a felt demand to forgive my mother. I spent a long time being angry at her-- probably till sometime in my thirties or later, being angry at my mother was the biggest emotional fact in my life. Since then, I've gotten a better appreciation of the fact that it's hard to be an adult (and she didn't make a totally bad job of it), but I'm still sad and angry. And so far as I'm concerned, I just want her ghost to dissolve into the universe, and it's painful to think about it, but I don't think I'm obligated to feel differently.

#144 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil:


Sort of. I'm in a little better shape at the moment, but I can have a hard time wanting to do much of anything.

And screaming rage that I'm not passionate and ambitious. Real people have accomplishments. Real people care. My emotions are never good enough.

And going straight into trying to be rational about that stuff can be another way of saying that my reactions are wrong.

Which is why this is a very valuable venue-- thanks, abi, and everyone who's made this place what it is. I didn't realize until I just wrote this why doing logical analysis (emotions just are, I have good qualities that some of those passionate, ambitious people may well envy, everybody's real) too fast is another sort of self-attack.

I'm sick of looking at myself as an object which has to be managed. Which may not be fair to the approach you're describing-- it does seem to work for a lot of people-- but I may need to make some preliminary changes for myself. Or maybe I can do some of that sort of thing now even if I couldn't seem to face it for quite a while.

#151 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 03:10 AM:

high definition distortion @ 141:
The problem comes later, when you need to pick out something for yourself (like a spouse or a career, you know, nothing significant) and there's no internal reference: what do you like? You've no earthly idea; you've mooched off of other people's opinions forever. You want to lie down until people stop bothering you.

I just lost my fiancee of four years because, despite two years of therapy, I couldn't get past this; I didn't know where to go next for myself and had reached the point of hating on the things I loved to do in order to keep allowing myself to do them. I moved out; I don't have a job. And I still don't know what to do.

I'm going to therapy twice a week.
I've basically cut off contact with my parents; it's down to a minimum.

I have no idea who I am, after 28 years of making myself be the golden child.

#152 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 03:13 AM:

Bad Daughter @140:

I've changed both email addresses to

I know I'm trying to stay neutral and calm in this thread, but I found myself unable to commit "" into our database. I got the shakes just typing it into the comment box. And the address you suggested for yourself...I have severe allergies to calling people morons. It felt like participating in abuse.

This selfish unwillingness is stronger than my commitment to neutrality, to listening rather than talking. To the extent that that is a failing, I apologize.

#153 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 03:46 AM:

SpawnOfTheDevil @144:

Being human means never having to pretend I'm perfect.

If I could put one sentence in this thread in lights, and arrange people with trumpets and cymbals and other attention-getting instruments around it in eye-catching and intriguing ways, this would be the one.

Being human means never having to pretend I'm perfect.

#154 ::: recoveringme ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 08:24 AM:

Thank you Abi, for that vigilance. Not that I want to worry any more that I already do.
Between being ill, and being pressured to not talk about it by immediate family, because the myth is that I'm just being 'needy', and 'dramatic', and 'don't really need help', I really really wish I had the distance from my predicaments to be able to frame them, flatten them, and square them away.

If I am in extremis, no one can tell, because am too busy being a relative hermit, and my condition is something that allows me to look "normal". Sometimes I wish I had some obvious visible ailment, something that would make people immediately take in that I am feeling fragile, and no, I don't want to pretend that my family is such a supportive haven, because in so many ways it isn't.

I suppose what hurts the most is that when I am not feeling well, no one brings me anything, or checks on me, and while it's not as if I want to be waited on hand and foot, it's that I have grown up feeling as if nothing I do counts unless it is service to others as a nanny/cook/errand girl, and even then it doesn't count for much.

I still have to talk to, sometimes be with, and sometimes serve the people who have hit me, maimed me, and abused me emotionally and psychologically, and while I am aware that this makes me a figure of contradictions, being able to name this and yet being unable to walk away, it is the way things are right now. I don't think I can go anywhere else at the moment.

I am terrified that my condition might have been caused by the beatings before. I have asked for help from other friends, believe me, but so many things have to be in place before I can walk away, and I am just waiting for that time. I don't want to wait too long, or I might actually be too sick to finally leave.

The important difference between last year, and this year, is that I was handed some objective proof that something is wrong physically, something that should not be denied by my family, and yet they continue to do so, because to face it would mean facing all the other things that are all too neatly crammed into dark cupboards.

I know I have to leave, I just don't know where to go, and what to do, and how to break it all down into smaller steps without being derailed.

I had a "go bag". And it was stolen from my room by the very people I was trying to escape. Have to put another one together with a coherent plan. I've internalized this helplessness too well. Fighting to name this task, to get the wherewithal to get some distance, this is what I need. Reading the stories on this thread gives me hope. I want to talk about the terrors as past, sometime.

#155 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 12:36 PM:

Also, to everyone:

It's okay to cry.

And it's okay to want to cry.

That's not just relevant here, but it is definitely relevant here. (I have been having a hard day for other reasons, but needing that reminder myself, I figured other people might, too.)

It's also okay not to cry.

#156 ::: young and a little bit too emotional for comfort ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 02:05 PM:

I tried writing here last year but broke down in tears. To raw I guess.

But now, I could need some advice. I just now very recently had a blow up with my mother(woman who abused me through childhood. Physically, verbally, emotionally, the works. I seemed to have the wonderful habit of getting possessed you see) lots of bile came spewing out, amongst it she told me that I am the product of rape. Yaaaay /sarcasm.

Since I was told several times growing up that she wished she had aborted me, it wasn't that much of a blow, besides her words stopped hurting me a long time ago.

The look in her eyes though, I remember it from growing up. A very special sadistic glee. I only saw that specific.. glow when she was trying to get me to cry with words alone.

Bitch also admitted to hitting my sister. That. That? Got me in a rage.

I can deal reasonably well with everything else. One sad woman with fucked up baggage that I occasionally took the brunt of? Okay. I'll deal. I'll also refuse to let that woman define me.

But this? My sister? She hurt my goddamn baby sister? No. Just no. That will not stand. I don't care if it was a couple of smacks or full on beatings(dear god please no).

I didn't call child services on her when she choked me until I was unconscious on the floor(or rather she got me to take it back, stupidest thing I ever did, but I was just a kid) But I got away, one attempted murder was one too many thank you very much.

I tried to lessen my guilt over leaving my sister behind with the knowledge that my mother had never even touched her. She was the good child, she wouldn't be hurt. Or so I thought.

This time I'm getting my sister out.

I am scared though. Probably just a hang up from when I was a kid and told the child services was the bogeymen.

What will happen to my sister? Will I be able to keep in touch? Will she hate me for this? I'll talk to her before I get the ball rolling of course but, what if she doesn't want to? Or won't give me a definite answer. Do I still go ahead? I- I just could need some advice, if there is even anyone reading this tread anymore. If there is anyone with experience with this.

#157 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 02:25 PM:

young and emotional...

I don't know where you are, and I am not remotely an expert on this, but if you're over 18 and want your sister to live with you, Child Protective Services might be willing, even happy, to give you custody. In a lot of places, they're big on keeping families together: a child living with her older sister is likely to be a better situation than being placed with even the most well-meaning strangers.

But this is definitely a place to look for more expert advice: CPS might be able to at least point you at someone.

#158 ::: wellno ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 02:46 PM:

I'm not ready to write it all out. I can't even read the whole thread, but I recognize, in what I did read, the effects of growing up in a hostile environment. The depression, the underachievement, the self-destructive sabotage, the difficulty in relating to others. The hostility in my family was emotional; my parents couldn't stand each other and the house was a tense place. The only thing they agreed on was raising us; we were cared for and loved, not physically abused in any way, but all three of us kids of that marriage from hell are broken.

#159 ::: not petronius ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 06:21 PM:

Arachne Jericho #46: I send you light.

Doesn't want kids #84: This post articulates some thoughts on having/not having children, and preserving one's sense of autonomy.

And to everyone, strength and lovingkindness.

#160 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 07:52 PM:

The sub-thread about parents treating siblings differently has been thought-provoking. As the older sister, I grew up getting something like a bike or stereo, and then two-four years later when it was my brother's turn he got a better one. But it didn't bend me too out of shape, really -- I might be briefly hurt but it didn't stick. By the time it was his turn, technology had advanced, my parents had more money, I had a job and should be paying for some of my own things, whatever. Maybe there WERE some gender issues there, I don't know. But I'm a grown-up now and can buy myself all the toys I want, so it doesn't matter to me anymore. My ex-husband, however, carried a serious burning resentment of his mother's "favoritism" towards his younger brother everywhere with him. "Mother always liked YOU best" was never a joking matter with him. The thing was, I never saw any difference between how she treated them. Never. Hell, up to the day she died she bought them the exact same presents every Christmas and birthday. I did see a difference in how THEY treated HER. (The old adage -- look at how a man treats his mother, because he'll treat you the same way eventually? Oh so true, at least in this case.)

The other interesting thing I've found out is that my mom always thought I was her optimistic child and my brother was the pessimistic one. For him, I can buy it -- but I was surprised by her assessment of me. Still, I suppose I took my divorce easier than my brother took his, but then, learning in part from his experiences, I made damn sure I waited and arranged things so any complications would be absolutely minimal. Maybe optimism is just a result of good advance planning?

#161 ::: Anonymous Squirrel ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 09:00 PM:

I read these threads. I don't remember whether I posted in the in past years. Probably.

The recent subthread on 'lazy and unmotivated' rings true in a way that makes me wonder if I'm a little more broken than I realized. 'Lazy and unmotivated' was the epithet of preference my mom directed at me as a teenager - at least until I responded to "Why don't you go [whatever it was she wanted done]?" with "Because I'm lazy and unmotivated."

She did learn. She stopped addressing us all as "Hey, Stupid!" when my brother, father and I all answered and it turned out she was talking to the dog.

And I'm pretty sure she tried. She was the last child and her oldest sister was the favorite and she tried to make things absolutely fair and equal for her two kids - but sometimes fair and equal isn't right. She had (has?) body image and food management issues; when she was on a diet the rest of us couldn't have any junk food either, or else something was bought as a Special Treat and ceremoniously divided into Four Equal Portions which then had to be consumed immediately because otherwise my father would eat someone else's share when they weren't looking. I was well into my teens before it occurred to me that this kind of behavior (and my own resultant hoarding of sweets) wasn't normal.

I ended up fat anyway, but I've made peace with that. I was ALWAYS 'too fat' even when I wasn't - or if I wasn't fat, I was going to get fat, and I shouldn't eat ice cream or shouldn't sit around and read because I WOULD BE FAT and so on and so forth. She did learn; she did figure out that my weight was not an okay topic when I yelled at her over the holiday dinner table that I'd heard all my life I was going to be fat and you know what, I -was- fat, get over it and pass me the potatoes already.

We're probably an average degree of broken, all of us. We don't talk much now. Sad Mom up the thread, you could be my mother wondering what happened, except that my mother isn't very good at the internet yet and I wouldn't expect her to be around here.

I know that we don't talk much because as far as I can tell we don't have much of a relationship. It's not that we have a bad relationship, it's just... absence. Get along fine with them when I see them but we don't talk about anything substantial. The meat and bones of my life, the fact that I'm a person in here, and have been for almost four decades? Doesn't seem to register. I'm their kid, the Good Child (as opposed to my brother), and either it doesn't occur to them to ask any further questions or they've decided not to because they don't want the answers.

This thread's leading me to wonder whether some of the issues I have with figuring out my own direction and knowing what I want (and paranoia about being watched when I'm learning something or figuring something out or practicing a new skill, and disconnect from my partner who is, all things considered, a gentle and patient and loving person who still nevertheless trips my triggers and I don't know why) might stem from all the years I spent entertaining myself and staying out of the way, or resentfully playing with the younger kids and keeping them out of my mother's hair, instead of getting to interact with adult people and see what the world was. It comes back to me now and then at church - I belong to a congregation that is heavily invested in treating its kids like human beings, and the kids are really responsive to being respected, but I freeze up sometimes: I don't know how to interact with kids as people because when I was a child kids weren't.

#162 ::: f nony mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 10:37 PM:

i've read both threads but never felt comfortable posting -- i think because i was still trying to find peace with my childhood, or something like it. like many who have posted i come from a family with mental health issues -- mood disorders, alcoholism, etc. while i was never beaten, life was pretty challenging.

my parents divorced when i was small: my mother got custody and my father moved away soon after and was largely absent throughout my childhood. unfortunately, my mother was completely unsuited to parenting, having never grown up herself -- a classic narcissist with mood disorders and substance abuse to round out the trio. while she did her best and succeeded in getting me a first rate education, she also saw nothing wrong with putting me out in the unheated garage in the dead of the midwestern winter for hours so she could have a tryst with her married lover; saw nothing wrong with introducing me to illegal drugs before i was even a teenager; saw nothing wrong with stealing from me (loan money when i was in college); saw nothing wrong with continuing to use me as her personal bank of first and last resort whenever she got herself into financial trouble, which happened pretty often (she got a 20k settlement for some medical malpractice issue, managed to not only blow through it in a month but overdrew her bank account by about $1200 -- guess who she asked for the money to pay back the bank); saw nothing wrong with being emotionally abusive to get her way or to avoid dealing with reality in all its sometimes unpleasant glory. as the good girl and adult in this relationship, i always bailed her out until i just couldn't anymore. her behavior has only deteriorated as she's gotten older (her half-sister, my aunt, and i have caught her in a number of lies surrounding her finances and personal situation in the last couple of years) and in the last year i've essentially broken off contact with her though i live in fear of becoming her.

#163 ::: Casey ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Evil, crazy mother. Wonderful, loving father who sacrificed me to her so the community would venerate his patience ("NEVER talk about this with anyone else)". I was always the sick one, the vulnerable one, the one everyone had to put up with, and that they'd be so much better without. My beautiful, popular younger sister would lecture me on how easy it was to get along with Mother, until I escaped to college and all of a sudden she became the target. She called me, in tears, saying she never knew.

Fast forward. Years of therapy. Loving relationship with wonderful husband. 35 years. Chance to have life-changing multiple therapy intense week - was I ready to be well? Was spouse willing to let me be well? Went for it, and it worked.

Then spouse lost his job, and his manipulative mother ran out of rope and ended up in a county home. They agreed this was my fault.

About five-six years of hell, stepping back into being the goat, supporting his increasing abuse for all the years he took care of me.

Got out before my business and health hit total collapse. Two "accidents" with carbon monoxide - turned out my job was to be sick and taken care of. He was forbidden to visit me. Rebuilt. Amazed at how much energy I have now that isn't needed for defense.

Major resonance with "but others have it so much tougher, I'm not really in this club". My constant failure has been feeling that I was strong enough to deal.

The "aha" was that "but s/he had horrible things happen" was my qualifying phrase, first with my mother, and then any time I have to explain why I left this wonderful, loving guy that most friends and family think I should reconcile with.

Maybe not any more? No. Not any more.

Thank you all for being here.

#164 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2010, 12:51 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @110: Any thoughts (from anyone) about breaking the inertia? It's very tempting for me to beat up on myself for what I haven't done, and if I defuse that, I'm more comfortable with killing time, which doesn't solve the general problem.

When I'm feeling inert, the first thing I do is check my diet: if I'm not getting vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) this is my first stop.

Once I've made sure to eat well and get enough sleep for a couple of days, then I sit down and ponder what it is I'm being inert about.

Is there stuff I'm "supposed" to do that I'm avoiding? If so: is it really necessary? Cooking, eating, sleeping, work, keeping the pigs clean, drawing, those are necessary. Everything else is "should."

If it's "should," why I "should" I do it? Like right now, I should get up, get the pigs fed, and go to bed. But I'm still spinning down from having to cope with an Issue, so I'm giving myself a little play time before calling it a night.

Will the "should" further a necessity? Will it further a desire? If so, break it down to it's simplest piece, and do that. For me: jobhunting: small piece: go scan the list of emails from my teacher. Often, taking that one simple step (which is small enough that I know I can actually do it) is enough to break the inertia and I can get going.

If the "should" is in response to a Voice In My Head about what I oughta do to be a [Proper Person, Good Girl, &c] I politely invite it to FOAD, and go do some cat-vacuuming.

If none of those work, I then try to figure out what I'm mad about that I'm supressing, and drag that out into the light and deal with it. Often invoking that anger is enough to get me going in a useful direction.

Any help?

#165 ::: bdaughter ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2010, 02:03 AM:

Thank you, Abi. You are very kind.

Since reading this thread, I've been thinking of a Shawn Colvin song, The Story, from her 1989 album, Steady On. Part of it goes:

Well our father he married our
mother too young
And he took on a world like a
fortunate son
But in the cellar downstairs waiting
for the bomb scare
He would hide from us under the kitchen
Where she simmered so soft with
her weapons of tin
And like so many suppers she just
gave us to him
And he never did guess
in her cast iron dress
She was burning beyond recognition

Best, kindest wishes to everyone.

#166 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2010, 10:04 AM:

Jacque @ 164 ...
It's certainly food for thought for me... (as I sit here, failing to feed the cats, and cursing the people screaming cheers outside)

#167 ::: blindsided on a tuesday ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2010, 02:40 PM:

I spent years thinking of ways to forgive my father. This was years of imagining his fear, his guilt, his made-for-tv soft-focus anguished tears over his inability to Do Right by his kids. This was years of thinking about cutting things to say at a key family event which would properly shame him and then, the music swelling, the gracious forgiveness and the Start Of A New Relationship. Years of trying to puzzle through comments made by relatives about my dad, years of putting together a distorted puzzle of my father as he grew up and how his background might have justified him leaving us, moving in with his girlfriend six blocks away, and spending the next fifteen years not calling and not visiting and not acknowledging us in any way, ever.

It took me years to realize the stark truth: he didn't want us. He didn't speak to me because he had nothing to say. He didn't see me because he didn't miss me at all. He didn't acknowledge me because he'd forgotten he had children, ones he'd never really wanted except in the way he wanted black leather couches and an SUV: because it fit his image. Now the couches are green suede, the SUV is a Mercedes, and he doesn't have any kids. New image. No room for us, for me.

All this came to me in a flash when I was leaving work a few months ago, wearing a suit, walking with a senior colleague, and it turned out this senior colleague knew my father from way back. We stopped, I froze, my dad looked right at me, smiled politely, and extended his hand. He had no idea who I was.

It turns out all of the cutting things I wanted to say were flimsy and weak and stupid, the useless bravado of an angry child. I didn't even have the satisfaction of seeing him realize - my name is different now, we were introduced and nothing clicked, why should it? And I will spend the next ten years trying to forgive myself for shaking his hand and smiling back, politely.

More than anything it's that my dreams, my ability to imagine a way in which this doesn't hurt, in which I make it better and it all turns out to be okay - that buffer between me and reality, it's gone. I'll never be able to fool myself ever again.

#168 ::: privileged anonymous coward ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2010, 09:44 PM:

Oh, g*d. That moment -- that has to be endlessly repeated -- when someone else (I'm riffing off 127 and others) intentionally or accidentally gives you a reality check. "What, in your family people don't flinch when someone reaches out a hand to them? Siblings snuggle up next to each other and act like they're comfortable? You actually let your parents know about things you care about?" It's so affirming and shaming and rage-inducing at the same time, because if only someone had said that 10 or 20 years ago.

#169 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 12:30 AM:

@ 168 (Well, okay, it started there, and then it went it's own way. Leaving in the ref so it feels a little less like it's coming completely out of left field.)

I have a friend who still holds a grudge that on one occasion when he loomed up out of my blindspot unexpectedly, I flinched away violently before I even registered who it was.

A different friend, much earlier in my life, spent a certain amount of time deliberately invading my space until I stopped flinching in terror when someone reached across to do something like fix my hair. I understand what she was trying to do, in retrospect, but I would have liked to be allowed to make the decision about whether that was something I was ready to work on then, myself.

Not sure where those hyper-reflexes came from, actually. I wasn't struck that much, less than a handful of occasions after I hit my teens. Maybe just an extension of the constant stress and terror I was under at the time.

I work a lot on not acting like an abuse victim. Every so often I realize something new, and sometimes I've asked people to call me on things I'm not managing to get under control by myself. But I've been informed of my lingering quirks in a whole bunch of different ways, and I've always appreciated most those people who bring something gently to my attention and let me decide how I want to address it. I get that it takes patience, and I understand it doesn't feel good to be the "source" of someone else being uncomfortable. But I really really appreciate that non-judgemental release of control over me and my actions. The other stuff plays into my issues, and ... potentially makes things worse, depending on the situation. Regardless of the intent of the person "trying to help."

#170 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 01:49 PM:

abi @123: ...this is a place for us to sit and be troubled together. It is my hope that this is a helpful thing.

This is a very helpful thing. Thank you. Again.

#171 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 03:42 PM:

You're saying hugs @137: How many of you had the experience of being treated completely differently from your siblings, for no perceptible reasons?

::raises hand::

I was really interested, in Gladwell's Outliers, in his discussion of the differences between how afluent families raise their children versus how poorer families do. In brief, the former get actively cultivated, shown the ropes, and are coached in how to navigate the world. The latter—mostly left to fend for themselves as far as learning the world goes.

Strangely, this correlates with a lot of the difference I see between my brother's upbringing and mine: When he was born, and was little, my parents were building and then had sold a prosperous family business and were very well off. Shortly after I was born, a major investment went bad, and our family was plunged into poverty for much of my early years. (I've only recently thought back and identified it as "poverty," that bread-and-butter sandwiches for lunch maybe weren't normal.)

My brother got to do Scouts, and violin lessons, and had all sorts of adventures, and my parents hung on his every word.

Me, not so much. To be fair, if I asked for things like music lessons, they were made available, but my parents (well, my mother, mostly) didn't have any particular interest in me or anything I had to say or offer.

Just before he died, my father asked if I felt there was any "favoritism." The question caught me so off guard that Courtesy cut in ahead of Honesty, and I said, "no, not really."

But looking back: uh, yeah.

That one little question was close enough to an apology that I was able to forgive my father (I didn't do it, it just happened) and was able to recover the good feelings I had about him after he died.

So, to answer your question: yeah.

#172 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 04:19 PM:

high definition distortion @141: ...a lot of the time all I want in the entire world is a cup of hot tea, a good book, and a comfy chair to enjoy the previous two items in.

Oh, gods yes.

Did you get the imperative that you were supposed to be perpetually Doing Something! ? And that "not doing" is being slothful, neglectful, lazy?

It was really startling the morning I woke up and realized I no longer heard those voices in my head, hadn't for a long time...and I couldn't remember when they'd stopped.

#173 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 04:24 PM:

And, of course SpawnOfTheDevil @144 gets there before I did, only better.

Being human means never having to pretend I'm perfect.

Hah! I need to paste this backwards, on my forehead.

#174 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @150: I'm sick of looking at myself as an object which has to be managed. Which may not be fair to the approach you're describing-- it does seem to work for a lot of people-- but I may need to make some preliminary changes for myself. Or maybe I can do some of that sort of thing now even if I couldn't seem to face it for quite a while.

This is very good to be aware of. I dearly love Steve Barnes and am always interested in what he has to say. But most of the time, his advice just slides right off, and usually because it's pitched at the wrong level for me.

There's stuff I have to do first to be able to make use of the stuff he recommends, and trying to use his stuff too early in my process causes more damage than help.

It's very hard, knowing where you're at and figuring out what you can/should do to move forward. Many days, moving forward for me means lying quietly in bed in the dark, just being with myself, because I never got go be with someone I loved growing up. And when I can settle down enough to do that, it's incredibly healing.

#175 ::: ikucu ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 04:45 PM:

Back @128, I mentioned my suspicion that my [narcissistic and ecocentric] father's sudden interest in talking with me in person might imply that he's decided to get remarried (despite his denial that it had any particular motivation). After giving him every possible opening over the phone to do so, and him denying it any such reason repeatedly, he called me back the next day and said yes, that he had already proposed to the woman he's been dating. (Brief refresher, my mother passed away 9 months ago).

Apparently after getting negative responses when telling my brother and sister, NOW he's decided that maybe he should talk to his children about our feelings about his getting remarried. He didn't actually say this, I deduced it after talking to my sister. [How he told my sister: in a phone call, he said "Debbie is now wearing a new ring on her left hand!" with all the smarmy intonations one might expect from such a backhanded announcement.]

I don't actually care that much that he's going to get remarried, aside from some practical concerns over what will happen to some of my mother's belongings. What I dislike is his behavior around it, which is totally consistent with his general lack of consideration for other people's feelings and concerns.

#176 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 04:58 PM:

I have read these threads each time this anniversary rolls around, and each time I had come away feeling very strongly that my partner had grown up in an abusive household. I kept wishing I could show her these posts.

"Did you get the imperative that you were supposed to be perpetually Doing Something! ? And that "not doing" is being slothful, neglectful, lazy?"

This right here summarizes it. Her family -- her mother, I suspect, was the source of this Voice -- is always Doing Something. One of my now ex-partner's complaints is that I never did anything. I hope I can carefully explore this in our counseling sessions, because she still needs to read these posts. Only now I don't get to point her here.

Thank you for bringing this to light.

#177 ::: Caushasty ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 05:23 PM:

After some time spent with relatives recently, and talking to some 'on the other side'° of the whole not talking to each other thing, I've come to the conclusion that there is little worse than a family with money, inequitably* distributed, especially when there's the outside possibility that someone could get more if they did x or y.

The tragedy is, It's Just Money. Or at least it was when it started. Then it became Money with a side of Bad Behavior.

°Sides being what they are, there are more like n+1 sides.
*as viewed by participants.

#178 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 05:59 PM:

#174 ::: Jacque:

I wasn't thinking about Steve Barnes' stuff. He been consistently polite and kind to me, but his stuff (some of the specifics have been valuable) in general leaves me feeling as though I need to be totally demolished and spend the rest of my life doing things I fear and hate if I'm to be worthy of any respect at all. Yeah, not safe for everybody.

#179 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Just in case I haven't said it recently: I love You People.

I am more grateful than I can say for this forum and the people in it.

#180 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 01:03 AM:

FWIW, about ambition and infant contact:

I do kick myself a lot about not being ambitious. We have—had—a business that we got as far as a website and bright ideas and a prototype, but it's pretty much dead in the water. People tell us we should compile a book or two of our columns, and we've fantasized about it and about who we'd like to publish it. (Malcolm Margolin.) But we've never got so far as compiling it or approaching him or anyone else, partly because of waning energy and partly, yeah, lack of ambition.

I've got a double handful of reasons of my own to cite for this, but I will mention this one here: I was born in 1949. I was breastfed (the only one of us sibs who was, and the one with the worst allergies; that thing about how anecdotes aren't data is true in reverse too) but, according to the current ideas at the time, on a strict every-4-hours schedule.

#181 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 05:27 AM:

You know what hurts?

Doing the therapy, the habit training, the careful self-examination needed to root out reflexes that harm more than they protect, all the stuff that is subsumed under the glurgey title "uncovering your true self . . . "

. . . only to discover that your true self is the type that even your friends have to put up with. The kind who gets the look, not at you, but between two other people who are listening to you burble on about stupid crap, when you think you're offering a conversational hook or passing on something amusing or thought-provoking.

I have one mom friend. Just one whose kids are at the same stage as mine AND whose life allows us to spend time together. We help each other out a lot. I thought I had rooted out look-worthy things in my relationship with her. I tried so hard to keep the focus off my little mental rabbit trails and listen more than I talked and not say those stunningly unapropos things and SHUT UP.

The other day, I caught her giving the look to one of the ladies at Girl Scout signup, where we happened to be at the same time to put our kids in Daisies. This woman didn't know me from Adam's off ox. This wasn't even, "Oh, we two know her." This was my friend saying with her eyes, "Yep, she's that type, you called it."

I am a bore. A bloviating bore. That's my true self.

I have known this for, Jesus God, more than 15 years since the enlightenment struck. A decade and a half of trying to put a filter on my stupid mouth.

I am stuck with it. With this true self. This is me. This is it.

#182 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 11:10 AM:

Blindsided on a Tuesday: I'm Anonymous #151.

And I will spend the next ten years trying to forgive myself for shaking his hand and smiling back, politely.

More than anything it's that my dreams, my ability to imagine a way in which this doesn't hurt, in which I make it better and it all turns out to be okay - that buffer between me and reality, it's gone. I'll never be able to fool myself ever again.

You won't be able to meet him for the first time ever again. But you don't have to spend the next decade hating yourself. Go to his cubicle some day and say, "it was nice to meet you last Tuesday; you might not have realized I was your daughter." And then do whatever you need to--turn and walk away, sit there and talk, give him the finger, whatever. It's his turn to feel discomfited, for an hour or the next decade.

#183 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 11:15 AM:

KayTei @ 169: Hi. I'm Anonymous @ 151.

I know the feeling. I hadn't even realized I had a phobia of water from teapots being poured on my head until I freaked out, that one time, and scared my friend in costume.

It's obvious, in retrospect--my god, the thing she threatened my sister with, just for laughing at the dinner table!

#184 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Thanks for offering this place to vent-- I'm in somewhat better shape than I was a few days ago.

And one thing-- I've been something like a couple of years digging my way out from raging self-hatred that some of Steve Barnes' stuff set off (I swear it's the only reason I've been beating myself up for my lack of relationships-- it helped a great deal last year to see how many people from dysfunctional families don't do relationships) to really assimilate that even if he talks as though anyone who's fat and/or isn't in a good sexual relationship or broke has failed to live as they ought to, he doesn't exactly mean it. At some point, I'll figure out why I get so hooked by the authoritative voice (yes, it is possible to be a fan of Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, and Heinlein simultaneously), but meanwhile, it's a relief to not be driving myself as crazy.

And I will spend the next ten years trying to forgive myself for shaking his hand and smiling back, politely.

Possibly relevant: I've noticing and sometimes undercutting my habit of getting pulled into painful emotions, while letting positive ones drain away.

I'm not saying it's bad to feel bad-- just that in addition to what looks to me like spontaneous reactions, there's also a habit of replaying and amplifying what's painful.

#185 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 11:59 AM:

not petronius, #159: Wow. That's one of the best essays on being childfree I've ever seen. Funny how that reframing of the issue puts an entirely different perspective on it! I'd like to see "moving to Bolivia" become an in-joke around the childfree community...

blindsided, #167: Please don't beat yourself up for that. You described it perfectly -- you were blindsided, and fell back on reflex to handle the situation. Frankly, your reflexes are better than mine; one of my besetting issues is that when I'm caught amidships like that, the tact circuit tends to cut out and I default to "in the mind, out the mouth" with no filters in between.

Anonymous @182 has one good suggestion for recovering gracefully from that tangle, although it wasn't clear whether or not your father also works near where you do. However, I would also suggest finding a way to let your co-worker know what happened there. You might frame it as concern for his position, in case someone else ever puts the pieces together: "Just so you're aware of this, Mr. X that you introduced me to last week is my father. We haven't had any contact since he left my mother Y years ago, and it's best if everyone just pretends that was our first meeting." Or something like that.

#186 ::: I'm gonna eat some worms ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 12:44 PM:

J. @ 181

Hey, you wrote my post for me, except that I wouldn't have written it that skilfully and I'd have reversed the genders.

I hope I'm not doing something wrong by claiming another's feelings or experience. What I mean is that I also experience working hard on my ingrained patterns only to find, when I am able to look at myself through the eyes of others, that I am an unlikeable, difficult and risible character.

Even the people who love me have to put up with me.

My humor is not often funny to, really, anyone. I am Crispin Glover at the beginning of _Back to the Future_.

I suspect that, when counselors tell me not to be too hard on myself, that they are telling me to give up on ever being a valuable friend, husband, father, because that would be too much to ask for in case as bad as mine.

It does help me to realize that this suspicion is itself probably a symptom of my screwed-up patterns and to think purposefully of ways that my temperament and background give me certain strengths and capabilities.

#187 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 01:02 PM:

#186 ::: I'm gonna eat some worms:

It's possible that some of the social habits you've got that aren't working for you are side effects of excessive self-criticism, but this is only a guess. I have found that having a lot of internally generated noise in my head makes me less competent.

On the other hand, you might lack learnable skills or just have a difficult set of defaults-- which of the three is the case can be very hard to tell.

#188 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 02:08 PM:

J. @181: I am stuck with it. With this true self. This is me. This is it.

Oh, sweetie. Speaking as someone who has spent way too much of my life sucking on my feet, this is excruciating to read. At the risk of solutionizing, may I caution against confusing character with behavior?

It's sad and annoying to be the one in the group about whom the others roll their eyes (Hi there!), but may I submit that it is not the worst thing? Being willfully cruel and thoughtless, then I would worry. I wish you kindness and gentleness for yourself, because you are clearly working toward behaving the way you want to. And that is a character trait worthy of pride.

I'm gonna eat some worms @186: You too. :)

Nancy Lebovitz @184: As previously stated, I like and admire Steve a lot. I think his "triangle" model has a lot of merit, too. But he comes out of the Tony Robbins school of coaching, which means he can be dangerously insensitive to context, and it also seems like he has drunk the Hollywood celebrity-status body-image Kool-Aid in the last few years, which saddens me, and also undercuts my trust in his judgement.

It saddens me that you have taken damage as a result of his cousel, and your situation illustrates perfectly my reservations about his approach. (BTW, if you still have my phone #, feel free to call and chat sometime.)

And @187: I have found that having a lot of internally generated self critical noise in my head makes me less competent. Because it interferes with attention and cuts the ground out from under confidence and self-possession.

Just wanted to emphasize and expand on this.

#189 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 04:55 PM:

Nancy, #184: there's also a habit of replaying and amplifying what's painful

Just so. It's distressingly easy to replay scenes where you did (or feel that you did) something wrong, or said something clumsy, or made a fool of yourself, or made someone angry, or didn't respond to someone else's bad behavior the way you should have -- to run them back thru your head over and over again, spiraling down into depression and despair as you do so.

But the thing about that pattern is that unless you have clinical depression, it is mostly a habit -- and habits can be broken. I had to break one that was similar back in my 20s, when I was spending entirely too much of my life being angry with random assholes, and I realized that I didn't like the person I was turning into. It took considerable effort over the course of a couple of years, but I did manage to retrain myself to let go of that anger -- to expend it in a couple of cusswords or a brief vent, and then go on with my day rather than letting the asshole spoil the next 3 or 4 hours for me. I suspect it's possible to do the same thing with the self-criticism spiral.

#190 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 07:00 PM:

Yeah, letting go the angry thing. Took me finally convincing myself that, no only did I have the right to be angry, but I had the freedom, too. Once I felt sure of that, I could begin letting go.

The self-criticism thing...much harder, as it depends more (for me) on positive outside feedback. But I try to weight the validation I get more than the dis[*]al, and slowly we make progress. Most days.

#191 ::: Hey Nonny Nonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 07:05 PM:

I am the same Hey Nonny Nonymous that posted the last time this topic came around but I may not be using the same non-email address.

This is hard. I keep meaning to say something but putting it off because I do not know how to carefully craft what I need to say.

A few years ago a younger man married my grandmother (my father's mother) for her money, and she has been the football in a dragged-out lawsuit ever since.

Even before that things were difficult between her and her son (my father).

To some extent, it seems like she never wanted to be a parent and this estrangement is her wish come true. Looked at from another angle it looks like it wasn't her choice at all, and I am not sure whether she understood the choice when she made it.

Lawsuit is concluding but the rift lives on.

And I have other stuff to get on with.

That's all for now. I may say more.

Thank you for putting this thread here.

#192 ::: not petronius ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Lee #185: I agree. I'm pleased to see that it's made its way into THN's Particles! The author (Havi Brooks) thinks a lot about how to construct metaphors (she calls her process "Metaphor Mouse"), and I'm not surprised to see Suzette Haden Elgin's _Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense_ recommended in her sidebar.

#193 ::: not petronius ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 08:15 PM:

PS: All of the comments posted by not petronius are by me (#159, #192, and this), but, like Hey Nonny Nonymous #191 I used a different email address when posting the second time. FYI, in case some archivist of the future looks back on this and needs it for a footnote.

#194 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 08:35 PM:

Seconding Jacque @ 188. I mean, the huge value in being a grownup is that I get to pick people to hang out with who are interested in the things I care about, and for whom a few odd quirks add interest.

The further I get away from the toxicity of my hometown, the less tolerant I am of people who feel like they need to display open contempt toward me or anyone around me.

I find it distressing, the notion that this is a thing about the person contemptified. It is infinitely more a thing about the person casting contempt, and their lack of empathy and comprehension.

I deny any and all bias in this regard.

#195 ::: I think I'll be anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 10:05 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @184 At some point, I'll figure out why I get so hooked by the authoritative voice (yes, it is possible to be a fan of Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, and Heinlein simultaneously)

I find this extremely interesting, since I also have been a fan of all three simultaneously. It's not just authoritative voice; it is authoritative voice telling you what kind of person you should be in order to Be Worthwhile.

I read these threads each year, with more of a feel of bearing witness than anything else. I greatly respect the people who have lived through these things and are still struggling with the effects. I would not have said that I should speak up in this company, since my family is not perfect, but for the most part is/was quite adequately functional.

But I've found the inertia subthread and this comment resonate with me. And I think you've put a piece in place toward solving something I've been puzzling over for several years. I spent some time in therapy because of the inertia problem and became aware that I had an extremely self-critical version of the Goddamned Tapes running; unlike many of you, I had no obvious source for the voice. When I was asked where I got the strong feeling that one had to be smart, competent, and high-achieving or else a hopeless loser, I couldn't answer. I actually thought of Heinlein as a possible source for the meme, but it seemed silly to think that an author would carry that much weight.

But I have come to think that as I child I observed that my parents had put my brother with cognitive disabilities, seizures, and other issues in a residential school, and that they had returned to the pound a dog that our vet said had brain damage and would be unable to learn, and I came to the conclusion that living in our household was contingent on performing. As an adult, I think my parents made reasonable, if difficult and perhaps arguable, choices. I am sure they would have been horrified to know that I felt myself at risk, and I wasn't consciously aware of it myself at the time.

But I think that insecurity made me receptive to the authoritative voice articulating the things I felt intuitively: perform or else. Which was actually, in a distorted kind of a way, a positive message, because it said that I had some control over this. There were things I could do to make sure I stayed accepted. And so I did. Which was fine until I hit my first major failure, which wasn't until well after college, and that coupled with some other LifeStuff threw me into the inertia that I have never completely recovered from.

Long introspection. I was going to remove it to my journal instead of posting, but I thought perhaps Nancy or someone else might find my process of connecting the dots useful. I did decide to go back and be anonymous, which I had not originally intended to do.

And I will point out, tangentially, that Rand, Heinlein, and Lewis share one value that I continue to hold, which is a strong preference for straightforward truth over bureaucratic obfuscation and weaseling.

I've always hated unspoken rules, too. Just tell me what I need to do, so I can do it.

Really useful cascade of thought here. Thanks for bearing with me.

#196 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 12:15 AM:

I could have sworn that I'd written about my former workplace being an(other sort of) abusive relationship in one of these threads, but my search foo seems to be lacking.

Even so -- I'm now just shy of two years out of that job (which was 3-odd years, iirc, of which only the last year was utterly dire), and have almost gotten to the point of replacing flinching and expecting bad things if my manager wants to talk to me with twitching, and then trying to patch the reaction with a "It's not necessarily going to be a bad thing".

It's painful and amazing to me how quickly the flinch reaction accumulated... and how slow it is to go away :(

#197 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 12:28 AM:

I, too, have no idea where the Tapes come from.

Of course my parents weren't perfect, but their love wasn't contingent on my achievements. They didn't give me any reason to have such a profound lack of belief in myself. In my family there are simply people who don't tend to doubt themselves and people who do, quite profoundly. It's not seen as a fault; it's just an aspect of character, like the innate ability to spell (another trait distributed unevenly among us).

I'm wrestling with inertia right now, after what I can only describe as a horrendous and crushing first half of the year. I haven't been that low since high school, and all kinds of attendant emotionally self-destructive behaviors came out to play. I can think of two friendships that I certainly deserved to lose, based on what I put the people in question through. The fact that I did not is humbling and touching.

One problem with my Tapes is that when I get into that state, they tell me that I should be able to handle this, that the only reason I'm having this trouble is because I'm inherently weak. A good half of my thrashing about wasn't because of the problems at work that floored me at first, but because I beat myself up for being floored.

This is part of the reason that my mental model of depression is that it is a living, intelligent thing, with an instinct for self-preservation. It's what delays me getting my light box out when autumn comes, it keeps me indoors and still when I'd feel better getting out and doing things. And this recursive loop in the Tapes is part of the pattern, too, another weapon the worm in my head uses against me.

(I find othering it helps give me the momentum to fight it.)

This isn't really relevant to the core theme of the thread. I'm sorry if I'm intruding with it, but perhaps some of the things I've observed about myself might help others.

#198 ::: Mattathias ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 01:46 AM:


All else here have the option of skimming or skipping those parts of the thread which are too painful to read. As moderator, you and you alone shoulder the burden of bearing witness to all those who speak here, however their words may move you. Props to you for the bravery to open and shepherd this discussion, knowing by past example the paths that such discussion may take.

Those paths include:

abi@2: This is the thread for earnest, emotional, vulnerable, and honest.

abi@73 quoting privileged anonymous coward@64: ...believing things aren't really bad enough to merit attention is pretty much a hallmark of certain kinds of dysfunction and abuse.

abi@153 quoting SpawnOfTheDevil@144: Being human means never having to pretend I'm perfect.

I should hope, then, that your own humanity, your own imperfection, would be as welcome here as that of anyone else. Your dysfunction in your families of choice, be they by marriage, employment, or friendship, are as material and relevant as that in your family of birth.

Besides, who shall confess the confessor?

#199 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 03:51 AM:

@I'm gonna eat some worms, no. 186:

I do try to keep in mind that the same person who puts up with me is impressed by my nearly unflappable parenting style (note that this is my style in public; it's harder to keep my cool at home) and the way I have pried more than one SCA feast from simmering disaster in such a way that nobody at the tables noticed that anything was wrong. And this person recommended me for more than one SCA recognition for service above and beyond. And she has been so kind and generous even as her life has been boiling over. And I have successfully helped her out, not made things worse.

And yet. And yet. A life of having one friendship after another end over stupid shit coming out of my mouth or the conditions of my crazy upbringing being too obvious to hide has implanted a reflex. She isn't going to return my call about her kid coming over for her weekly playdate with mine tomorrow, I just know it. She's going to write me off the duty roster for the SCA feast and just not tell me. Part of me knows that this is irrational. We are not nine and this is not me inviting the girls from school to play in my room full of cat shit and spiders because I don't know any better (and none of them came over again for years, and none ever past the living room). We are not in high school and this is not me disastrously misjudging a situation, saying something that still makes me cringe 20 years later, with the upshot that the girl I said it to now lives across the street with her kids and has made it quite clear that she has no respect for me at all. I don't blame her. What I said was the kind of thing only a saint could forgive. But that was then, this is now, and this is S., who (surely, surely!) trusts me to do the right thing when it counts. And yet, and yet, and yet.

And I do have to keep in mind that S. is from out of town; she didn't know me when. I met her after I had spent years pulling weeds out of my head. I know I have improved. I know I am a lot less bizarre and offputting. And we started from a different place. Surely, surely.

#200 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 05:29 AM:

xeger @ 196... I had one of those too. Within 2 weeks of starting there, I realized what I had gotten into, and and it took 2 years before I could escape, and a few years more before I stopped wanting to throw a brick at their front window whenever walking by one of their stores.

#201 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 05:33 AM:

Abi @ 197... A good half of my thrashing about wasn't because of the problems at work that floored me at first, but because I beat myself up for being floored

You too?

#202 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 06:35 AM:

#188 ::: Jacque:

I don't think Steve Barnes is an awful person. I do think his craziness and mine interacted in a way which was very bad for me.

On the credit where it's due side: I believe him when he said he's rougher on himself than he's been on people in general in his columns. He's strongly recommended The Five Tibetans, a yoga/calisthenic system which I'm convinced is what enabled me to fall safely when I slipped on some ice last winter. He moderates discussions very firmly towards courtesy and respect.

And yes, you're right that my internally generated noise is very apt to be self-critical.

189 ::: Lee:

Agreed about the tapes-- and one more that I've cut way back on-- imagining annoying things that other people might say, and then trying to figure out what I might reply. This isn't about people I know-- it's a purely imagined someone.

I'd been doing that for a lot of years, and then the revelation struck-- it's totally pointless, and contributes nothing to my life. This is one I don't beat myself up about. I just try to stop it as soon as I notice it, and that's pretty much worked. A little introspection about what starts it going might be worthwhile.

#195 ::: I think I'll be anonymous: Thanks.

From Karen Horney, an early psychoanalyst: If small children are abused, neglected, or overly interfered with, they come to the conclusion that just being a human isn't good enough, and they invent inhuman standards-- always right, always helpful, always victorious, etc. I hit emotional overload reading The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, but one of these years I'll get back to it.

And here's a topic that I hope isn't too distracting-- cultural influence. Born to Kvetch is about Yiddish and the culture it reflects. One aspect is pessimism and the fear of praise. I'm not sure how much Yiddish my parents knew-- catch phrases at least, and they weren't superstitious.

Still, I'd feel mild physical fear at the idea of praising people, with no obvious source, and at this point I think it's cultural rather than my family's particular craziness.

Everyone, and every family, has their own spin on their culture, and it's not as though everyone Jewish is depressed. Still, the pickiness-- the nothing is ever good enough attitude-- the feeling that you can't just relax into enjoying something... it can be a problem. (The joke version is the Jewish restaurant where the waiter asks "Is anything all right?".)

Still, getting back to inertia-- there's something about the roots of action that I'd like to get a handle on.

It isn't surprising that a lot of self-help books are by people who've dialed back their perfectionism and workaholism. There are damned few books about getting over pervasive inertia-- the only one I can think of is Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery, which tells his story of getting over anxiety-driven procrastination along the way to becoming an excellent jazz musician.

#197 ::: abi:

"I should be able to handle this" is one of the deadly ones.

#203 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 07:58 AM:

Nancy @202, I think you've hit something with "cultural influence." I've refrained from posting here because I can't identify anything behavioral in my family of origin that would have screwed me up in the ways I believe I'm screwed up -- but what you describe? Oh, yes, that's my family. My grandmother praised me often, but ALWAYS with a "pooh-pooh!" afterwards to avoid drawing the Evil Eye. (And she explained it that way!) Baby showers were anathema -- gifts only after the baby was born safely, and all baby gear had to be stored away from the expectant parents' house, or you were tempting fate (with horrific stories of an aunt's late-term, car-accident-induced miscarriage, because she'd dared to decorate a nursery in advance).

Good things could only be achieved through effort, and unless you were putting a great deal of effort into getting them, you weren't trying hard enough; good things that came on their own were not to be trusted, and might be snatched away at any moment. So might the good things achieved by effort if you bragged about them too much.

One of the good things that might be snatched away at any moment was the safety of my continued existence. My family largely escaped the Holocaust, mostly because they'd all come to America from Russia-etc. in 1888 to avoid pogroms, but Holocaust history featured heavily in my education -- too heavily. One of the reasons I'm so ambivalent about my Jewish heritage is that one of the earliest things I learned about it was it makes people want to kill you, and you can't get rid of it.

A lot of the things wrong with me are probably either chemical or neurological in origin. (I keep meaning to make appointments about it, but when it's really bad, I don't have the energy to call, and when it's not quite that bad, I don't REALLY need the help, right?) But the pessimism -- yes, I believe that's cultural.

#204 ::: Nameless Cat ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 10:58 AM:

{posting this before I chicken out, then going back to read more}

I take some grief now and then for a certain coping mechanism. "You sound so sure of yourself" is the milder form, and not always, or not entirely, uncomplimentary. The harsh form is when someone decides that I sound arrogant and need "taking down a peg."

I sound sure of myself because I had an even younger sib than myself to protect, and I needed to sound sure in order to keep them from panicking. (I wasn't big enough to carry them if they freaked out and became immobile, or ran away, or ran into traffic, or whatever.) I wasn't sure on the inside, but I needed to sound sure on the outside. (Wasn't sure on the inside? I was a complete freakin' mess on the inside. But it was made clear to me early on that whatever my emotional state was, my emotions were an inconvenience at best, if they weren't matching what the family script was. Somebody up earlier in the comments talked about a parent who had gotten their Happy Family scripts from Hallmark shows. Yeah, that. So I was permitted to have emotions if they supported that script. Otherwise I was either troublesome or incomprehensible, or invisible.) Anyhow, I learned to take charge because nobody else was going to. (Going to what? Feed the kid. Fold the clothes. Call the ambulance. Put out the fire, literally. Deal with the scared kid, or the freaking out adult who was hallucinating and scaring the kid. All of this was before the age of ten for me.)

The parents? Not so much good at taking care of us kids, or at taking care of themselves or each other. Note to any parent who needs a clue: washing down the dose of lithium with nice big glass bourbon is a sign that there's probably plenty of other shit wrong too.

I sound like a field marshall in times of stress sometimes because I got saddled early with the job of Keeping Somebody Here From Dying. And that's not an exaggeration.

I try not to sound like that when I can help it, these days. But I can't always get there in time to avert it. It's a well-worn pathway, and in moments of (what feel like) emergency, it's got vintage flashing neon signs on it, and it's not always easily avoidable.

And then when somebody lights into me for being arrogant or giving orders, I want to cease to exist.

Getting shut of codependent behavior, especially the leftover coping behavior, is harder when it gets rewarded some of the time and (OK, say it) taken advantage of, and then used to scream at me about.

Learning to be a responsible and responsive human being is a lot of work. I'm still figuring out where my edges are. I'm also working hard on not seeing every bit of "helping" as something I must do in order to pay my rent on the planet for one more day. (And I'm trying to unlearn the deep conviction that I'm so far in the hole that anything I do could not manage to bring me up to break-even.)

If I posted this under my known name, there would be a lot of "Oh, but surely YOU can't possibly feel that way."

You know what? Now and then, I don't feel that way. But it's taken a lot of work to get there. Just because you can see the good parts, the parts that I've worked hard for -- just because you can see those things does not mean it was easy for me to do it, or that other things are easy for me, or that life has no pain.

God, I want a culture that can acknowledge two simultaneous truths: I have succeeded in accomplishing a bunch of pretty cool things, and I also have a lot of broken places that require me to do taking-care-of-myself stuff that is sometimes really hard, not to mention inexplicable to people who haven't got knowledge about folks who have lived through certain kinds of difficult stuff. Can I be a banged-up success? A broken wonder? A me, with all my complexity?

And can I learn to let somebody else cope, instead of being a field marshall? That's the really scary one some days. In several situations, I'm afraid that if I don't, nobody will…but that's usually how that one works, isn't it? Sigh. Insidious.

Anyway, if I have a plea it is this: please have a little compassion if you can spare it for the Take Charge person. It might be a reflex they learned in horrific circumstances that they're now trying to unlearn. And it might also be good to ask where you're riding on their reflex, and what benefit you're getting from knowing that "So-and-So will handle it."

Field Marshal Nameless Cat, semi-retired

#205 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 11:09 AM:

xeger @196: Me too. I'm currently in a pretty dysfunctional situation and, yes, it really does aggravate the inertia thing.

I get home and all I want to do is draw, soak up some happy-healthy, when what I really need to be doing is pouring time into looking for a different job.

I've got a weird double bind. I think I'll be anonymous @195 talks about "Perform or else." I've got a strange opposite of that: I do fine until I try to perform, then then I get punished. It's the weirdest thing. Happened all the time in school. I'd resolve to really buckle down and focus on my school work...and my grades would to down.

In my current job, if I try to do the things I was hired to, I get reprimanded.

I just don't freakin' get it, you know?

#206 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 11:20 AM:

abi @197: This isn't really relevant to the core theme of the thread. I'm sorry if I'm intruding with it,

You're not. In my opinion.

but perhaps some of the things I've observed about myself might help others.

Verily: because you're witnessing to how you carry the pattern along in yourself.

And, really, that's the whole issue with abuse, isn't it? If the abuse just happened and was done, like a broken leg, then we wouldn't even need this thread, would we?

But the fact that we keep rebreaking our own legs (or, worse, breaking the legs of those who share our lives) long after the old perpetrators are gone.... That, to me, is the real crime of abuse.

So, no. Thank you for sharing your story, abi. It helps us all.

#207 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 11:54 AM:

abi, et al: my minister (who has a habit of writing sermons for me alone, at least it feels like it; but others say the same about other ones, so it's all good, he isn't peeking in my bedroom) said one thing about God's Absolute Forgiveness that has stuck with me ever since. Paraphrasing from memory:

"It's not that what happened didn't happen, or that you don't have to do anything about the aftereffects. It's not that you're allowed to just go through life being whatever boor you want because 'you're forgiven'. But the event, itself, is over and done with. When it comes back [the Tapes here - M], look at it, tell yourself God has forgiven you doing that, however horrible and stupid it was, and if God forgives, why aren't you? Is your judgement better, more accurate than God's?

Look at it, tell yourself that God forgives you and that you forgive you, and let it move on. Repeat every time it comes back."

Now it may be that the other things in my life were getting better that made it happen, but The Stories that have been coming back for 30 years (and that I knew were stupid, but not earth-shattering at the time, never mind now) have *finally* gone away with that treatment.

This may only help with the Tapes that say "remember this thing you did? can you ever be worthwhile when you do things like this?" and not the Tapes that say "well, you've always been X before, you'll be X again, don't bother trying or expecting anything different" - even when you haven't *always*, even *most of the time* been X, it's just that every validating instance is remembered, every "just worked" instance is not. Don't know.

And, of course, like all treatments for the kinds of things we're talking about, Every Person Is Different, and the Solutions That Work is trial and error. If it doesn't work for "you", then all it means is that it doesn't work for "you"; try something else. It certainly does not mean that "you"'re wrong. I shy away from any solution in this area that claims it always works; unfortunately, "it worked for me" is the best we can do.

#208 ::: privileged anonymous coward ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 12:59 PM:

J @199: If someone who lives across the street hasn't gotten over something that happened 10 or 20 years ago, that's getting to be their problem.

And (in line with what a lot of other people have said since 200) there are definitely kinds of damage that lead people to have much higher standards for themselves than for those around them (which for me can contribute simultaneously to a feeling that I'm no good to anyone and to a feeling of superiority because, hey, martyr points. And no good because martyr points are a bad idea.).

There's a much longer rant that goes with this, but it's kinda pointless.

#209 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 01:26 PM:

I remembered posting in previous years of this thread. Came as a shock, looking back, to find how little I said, compared to the huge feeling of relief it gave me to say it - maybe I should have gone anonymous and written more. Anyway, I'd like to thank all who have posted on these threads (and on the bullying thread last year, where I did post more), because many parts of what has been said has really resonated and has helped a lot.

abi: It's what delays me getting my light box out when autumn comes Like when I'm feeling down and fed up and need to work, but don't put music on, even though I know that helps me to work better? Thank you for articulating this. I've now put a bright yellow note just above my laptop screen saying "PUT MUSIC ON - NOW!"

#210 ::: Nameless Cat ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 01:35 PM:

KayTei #169: "I have a friend who still holds a grudge that on one occasion when he loomed up out of my blindspot unexpectedly, I flinched away violently before I even registered who it was."

Oh, boy. Yes. I had somebody in my life a while back who got really upset about that. He was mortally offended that I could consider him "threatening."

He was a piece of work. Within a year of that, he blindsided me with the admission that he had abused a younger child when he was a young teenager, and then he expected me to give him freakin' absolution for it.

"I work a lot on not acting like an abuse victim. Every so often I realize something new, and sometimes I've asked people to call me on things I'm not managing to get under control by myself. But I've been informed of my lingering quirks in a whole bunch of different ways, and I've always appreciated most those people who bring something gently to my attention and let me decide how I want to address it. I get that it takes patience, and I understand it doesn't feel good to be the "source" of someone else being uncomfortable."

Yeah. It took me a while to understand that one, I admit. But then, in my life as it was then, I would jump through hoops to avoid making anybody uncomfortable: my sib, because I was trying to protect them, and my parents, because if I made them uncomfortable they might decide to do something about inconvenient child me. The idea that anybody had the right to be offended by how somebody else reacted to them was completely foreign to my child-brain. My child-brain was probably too full of survival options and contingency plans, and my self was too empty of Self, for the concept to make any sense to me at all from the inside. Later when it happened that somebody took offense at my reaction to them as an adult, I was trying to not to freak out about having all my fight-or-flight reflexes triggered, and feeling intense shame about it (what's wrong with me??) and them taking offense came across like I had done something unforgiveably horrible to them and I had better start crawling and begging to be forgiven.

That was a bad time.

I didn't ask to have those reactions. I was unplugging them as fast as I could, but at least one person back them was determined to take my failure to cheerfully accept being grabbed unexpectedly in the ribs from behind as a huge meanness deliberately aimed at poor innocent them.

Yeah that relationship went to hell fast.

"But I really really appreciate that non-judgemental release of control over me and my actions. The other stuff plays into my issues, and ... potentially makes things worse, depending on the situation. Regardless of the intent of the person "trying to help.""

Hell yes. They can have the courtesy to ask, rather than just invading. Or rather than deciding never to approach within three feet of me but NEVER TALKING TO ME ABOUT IT.

OK, some old anger there, I guess. This topic is so informational, isn't it?

#211 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 01:47 PM:

Nameless Cat @210: I didn't ask to have those reactions. I was unplugging them as fast as I could, but at least one person back them was determined to take my failure to cheerfully accept being grabbed unexpectedly in the ribs from behind as a huge meanness deliberately aimed at poor innocent them.

Heh. Some years ago, I had a coworker who had a sense of humor appropriate to about the seventh grade. I was on the receiving end of a fair amount of crap from him, and it got really old.

Then, one day, I was walking down the hallway to the bathroom. Something on the bulletin board caught my attention. I had subliminally noticed this guy and a companion coming toward me down the hall. As I'm standing there, bent over, reading, this guy comes up behind me and jabs me in the ribs.

When I froze, perfectly calm, my fists were about an inch from his nose.

His eyes got really big, "Oooo! She's gonna beat me up! Wooooo!"

But you know, he never gave me any crap again.

::blows imaginary smoke from tip of forefinger::

#212 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Rikibeth @ 203: Good grief, woman. You've described my particular personal (and to some extent, family) superstitions to a T, with the possible exception of the baby-related stuff. And most of that matched baggage appears to emanate from my late mother's side of the family and Mom assigned the origin of a lot of her quirks in that regard to her mother, which is starting to make me really wonder about her Grandma's cultural heritage. (There has always been some question/mystery there; the paperwork says she was Swedish, but it also says she was a different age from her real age, and a few other things that don't entirely add up. And she showed up in the States in 1918, so she could have been fleeing who knows what.)

#213 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 05:36 PM:

#204 ::: Nameless Cat:

One way I was fortunate was that no one said we were a happy family. I don't know whether it was a respect for truth or not even having the fantasy of being a happy family, but I've noticed that a happy family myth adds a lot of pain to dysfunctional families.

#214 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Mycroft, #207: I think I'm going to try a version of that on some of my Goddamn Tapes -- the ones that insist on instant-replaying, at random, some incident that I handled badly or am embarrassed about. Intellectually, I know that even when it involves someone I actually know (as opposed to J. Random Stranger), they have probably long since forgotten about it, but the instant-replay insists on continuing to serve it up. Perhaps your technique will work.

Nameless Cat, #210: my failure to cheerfully accept being grabbed unexpectedly in the ribs from behind

Jeezus H. Christ on a pogo stick. I've never been physically abused, and *I* won't put up with that! There was one cow-orker some years back who pulled something like that, and got really upset when I spun around with my arm out and whacked him in an indelicate place (he'd snuck up on me while I was sitting at my desk and grabbed my shoulders). Fortunately, the supervisor agreed with me that his behavior had been unprofessional and inappropriate, and that was the end of that.

#215 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Lee@214: Yep, those are the ones. They used to keep me up all night, reading well past comprehension or coherence - because whenever I put the book down, or turned off the light, the voices came back. After a week of that, I'd gone through almost all of (what was then complete) Miles again, not that I remembered much of anything...

One of the interesting aftereffects is that *now*, I have to work on "how to get to sleep the normal way" - the voices are gone, now the coping mechanisms are the problem.

#216 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 07:26 PM:

So hearing you on "the (problems) are gone, but now the coping mechanism is the problem", Mycroft W. @215. Amazing how often that happens. I see it in physical form with massage work regularly, so it's not just mental.

I am not ready to talk publicly about family problems here (and I'm uncomfortable with anonymizing it right now), but I've been reading and realizing some stuff about where some of my own difficulties come from.

#217 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 08:28 PM:

Abi, thank you for this.

I thought I'd posted in previous years, but if I did, I haven no idea what alias I used. And I have no idea why this year has been so rough on me, but I *see* myself reverting to old tapes. So much of what other people have said resonates. The "not good enough" and expecting too much from myself, and on really bad days thinking I must be faking disability, I should be *doing* things, 'cause if my mother, who was blind, could do so much, whyinhell can't I? (Oh, right. CFS, fibro, chronic daily migraine. My favorite one-liner about my upbringing is "It's tough being superwoman's daughter.") (Even tougher, being told by my mother, when I was eleven, that I was an accident, she didn't want children. Not "hadn't wanted", "didn't want". Yeah. I'd known that I wasn't wanted anyway, but hearing it? I can still see the room I was in, see the sunlight coming through the windows at summer-late-afternoon levels.)

I guess all I really can say for now is that I'm still working on things, as much as I can.

Abi @ 197: This is part of the reason that my mental model of depression is that it is a living, intelligent thing, with an instinct for self-preservation.

Oh yes, this. And it takes advantage of every overstressing thing, of every physically low time, and comes stomping back in wearing big, heavy boots - or else sidles back in, surreptitiously, until it's taken over your life again.


Good things could only be achieved through effort, and unless you were putting a great deal of effort into getting them, you weren't trying hard enough; good things that came on their own were not to be trusted, and might be snatched away at any moment.

Oh, yeah, to both parts of that, but the first part was the spoken one ("Self praise stinks" comes to mind); the second part, I learned on my own from history - don't count on anything or anyone, don't ask for help, don't expect help if you ask for it, but you'll be blamed for asking anyway - don't trust other people when plans have been made - don't expect anything good to last.

I'm often surprised that I have friends (and I do; a few close friends, several more at the more-than-acquaintance level) and still have that nasty little voice in my head saying that if they really knew me, they'd not stay with me.

And this is me doing better than at some times, though worse than a couple years ago. *sigh*

#218 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 09:11 PM:

abi@197: I should be able to handle this, that the only reason I'm having this trouble is because I'm inherently weak

I had the amazing opportunity to learn to fly a powered glider when I was 17.

I've mostly been good at things, which is probably why what the (incredibly experienced) pilot said to me as I failed has stuck with me ever since - "nobody could do that the way you're trying to do it"

Sometimes you blame yourself for failing where, because of the way the way the situation is set up or because of the direction you have to approach it from, almost nobody could succeed. I hesitate to post this here of all places (where people are struggling through so much more than I have ever had to deal with) but what you said brought it into my mind.

I'm not trying to say this is a helpful perspective for anyone here - I'm just saying it resonated for (and was news to) me.

#219 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 09:47 PM:

Something I've told other people repeatedly (and try to tell myself, with varying degrees of success) -- when you're looking for people to compare yourself against, to see how well you're doing, Nobel Laureates[0] aren't generally your best choice... [1]

My most recent conversation along these lines was with a colleague in professional services, who was comparing himself to the lead developers for a product, and feeling that he came up lacking -- he's very well respected in his organization, and is absolutely and completely competent... but is comparing himself to people that absolutely aren't doing the same thing, and don't really need the same skills.

[0] ... or Ghandi, or Stevens or
[1] See also: 'set realistic, albeit stretching goals' and 'unrealistic expectations'

#220 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 09:56 PM:

Lots of YES. I'm having trouble thinking of specific, linear, related ways to respond to specific individuals, but I have lots of YES in me on this topic.

It just feels cluttery to start making lists at this point. Cluttery, but amusing to contemplate... (lists of people, quotes, entire posts...)

#221 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 10:32 PM:

xeger @ 219... Nobel Laureates[0] aren't generally your best choice (...) or Ghandi, or Stevens

Cat? Warren? Leslie?

#222 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 11:10 PM:

Occurs to me to note, on the inertia question, I've kept accomplishment journals in the past, updated nightly to show all the stuff I did that day. When it works, it works well, because it motivates me to do things so I can praise myself. And then I get to be praised! That's lovely.

Broke the habit a while back, as the result of a malevolent chaos-flux, and have temporarily replaced the accomplishment journal routine with a small memory book. I'm not trying to do both right now, because the memory book is a greater need, and my experience is that I get overwhelmed by too many routine expectations. Also, I am enjoying scribbling things off, and tearing out and scrimpling papers full of crossings-out, and throwing them across the room.

#223 ::: still lurking ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2010, 12:39 AM:

A note on the Goddamn Tapes: The one in my head generally tells me variations on "You suck" or "What the hell is wrong with you?" But a few years ago (now that I think about it, after reading the first Dysfunctional Family Day thread) I started talking back to the tape. It would say "You suck" and I'd reply "Are you kidding? I'm fucking awesome."

It's actually really helped. It gives me something to do, rather than just soak up the misery my brain was broadcasting at me. And the more I said it, the more I started to believe it.
Sometimes I'll even say it to myself when the Tapes aren't whispering, which might make me a raging egomaniac, but it's better than the alternative.

I don't want this to sound like this is an easy fix for everyone. My own neuroses are pretty mild, I think, but making a conscious decision to speak back to those internal voices was a big step that helped me, and it might help other people, too.

#224 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2010, 01:54 AM:

Russ @218: "nobody could do that the way you're trying to do it"

Actually, this is a helpful perspective. "You can't straight-arm 250 lbs? Why you wimpy, weak little fool!"

See also xeger @219:

The variation of this that's most familiar to me is: "You can't paint the scene in perfect photo-realism, out of your head, the first time? Hah, and you call yourself an artist!"

It's hard to remember, sometimes, that letting myself be seen as imperfect, as struggling, as having to figure it out can actually be a gift to those coming up behind me. Maybe then they can just work on developing their mastery, and not waste so much time and energy on doubt and self-criticism.

KayTei & still lurking: Those are both really good ideas. And I totally get what you say about too many routine expectations. That's one of my favorite tar balls. The fact that I'm starting to get ping-back on the end of my life means that I'm getting much more mercenary about where I'm willing to spend my time. Still haven't figured what the hell to do with the three magazines that I subscribe to. I'd like to read them cover-to-cover, but you can't read and draw at the same time, so they're piling up and I'm feeling increasingly guilty. Haven't quite worked up the nerve to unsubscribe yet, though. Feels like a failure to do that.

#225 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2010, 08:57 AM:

I'm not going to bother with anonymizing.

Last year I wrote here, bled on the keyboard, about how terrified I was that I would fail my daughter, that I could see the signs that I had screwed her up in ways I couldn't make good.

I dropped her off at school a little while ago. She's staying with me the rest of the week, by her choice, to make up for the time we missed when I was hospitalized. Last night as we cleared from dinner and settled in for a relaxing game of cards at the table, she stopped and said how nice it was to see me standing and human-colored and not throwing up after a full meal.

She's smart, quirky and creative, hopeful but realistic. She has a kind heart and a generous soul. She's my kid, and she loves and appreciates me.

Lurking deep, there's a big part of me that is profoundly convinced I don't deserve her and can still bring me to tears with the thought.

But there is hope for the future. For breaking the cycle.

#226 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2010, 02:18 PM:

xeger @ 219 — I've seen a similar idea expressed as "Don't make the mistake of comparing your insides to other people's outsides."

#227 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2010, 10:05 PM:

Serge @ 221 ...
xeger @ 219... Nobel Laureates[0] aren't generally your best choice (...) or Ghandi, or Stevens
Cat? Warren? Leslie?


#228 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2010, 12:09 AM:

Lexica @ #226 et al:

I've heard Garrison Keillor say that the trouble is that we have a backstage view of ourselves and a third row view of everybody else.

#229 ::: No Initial ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 01:02 AM:

Well, my therapist confirmed I suffered verbal abuse as a child, and that my living environment (angry father, passive mother) combined to make my home "not safe." So I guess I belong here. I still have that reflexive twitch that "it wasn't that bad" and "it certainly couldn't be considered abuse." I don't *feel* abused.

Things are a lot better now. I have a good and functional relationship with my parents now, and am holding down jobs and pursuing the things I love. Most of the damage was done in childhood, and my parents have, by and large, acknowledged their wrongdoing.

Still and all, I get morning anxiety, and haven't connected it with my upbringing until now. So there you go. Even writing this, I am still anxious.

#230 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2010, 09:27 PM:

Via Suburban Guerilla: A study on adult health effects of childhood trauma. Thought people might find it interesting.

#231 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2010, 07:14 PM:

No Initial @229: Teh Anxiety Knows! If it's enough to provoke the nervous system, you certainly "qualify." IMHO.

Wow, PurpleGirl, thanks for posting that!

#232 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2010, 03:06 AM:

PurpleGirl@ 230: A really inteersting article - many thanks for the link. One of the bits I found most interesting came near the end:

But, once Kaiser doctors began administering the ACE questionnaire, after getting some basic coaching on how to broach sensitive issues, they found the interview process to be quick (a few minutes per patient), surprisingly painless, and astonishingly positive. Considering that no actual therapy was involved, the process was even therapeutic for patients. Only a small minority were referred to a psychiatrist or a weight-loss or smoking-cessation program. Not only were the patients willing to talk to their physician about the most fraught issues of their childhoods, they clearly felt relieved and gratified by even this small acknowledgement of their past suffering. Furthermore, they apparently derived benefits that seemed disproportionate to the amount of face-to-face attention they received. A data-mining firm compared ACE participants with other Kaiser members -- 120,000 people altogether -- and found that one year after the survey, the former showed a 35-percent drop in doctor's visits, an 11-percent drop in emergency room visits, and a 3-percent drop in hospital visits. If the ACE program had been in place for all Kaiser members, Felitti estimates it might potentially have saved outpatient services $4 billion.

That. Just having their past acknowledged helped.

Thanks again, Abi, for this yearly thread.

#233 ::: Jenna ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2010, 03:32 AM:

@ #156 ::: young and a little bit too emotional for comfort :::

Oh, god, you sound just like me. I'm reading you, and here's what I've got to say:

My mom was insane. Beatings, bouncing between meds, willingly making us homeless, running everyone off from supporting her, never bothering to get a job, exposing me to sexual predators... I could keep going, but I'd rather not. Problem is, she gave birth to my baby sister when I was 15. The father is one of the sexual predators, she just married that one.

Never will I ever live down the guilt that I feel for abandoning my sister to our mother and her father when I had to leave to save myself. I try to be there for my sister now, and she says Mom has never hit her. That's good, but Mom has my sister emotionally hamstrung, on prescription meds since age 5, and so totally codependent that I'm not sure I can fix anything at all. The damage is worse than physical abuse.

I was in a marriage where my husband said I shouldn't involve myself, and I was afraid my sister would end up with her dad and I'd never see her again. I stuck with the devil I knew and hoped like hell I could save her. Didn't work - she graduated high school 2 years late. Can't get a job due to this shit economy. Can't get out. I know she needs to get out, and that she'll need a year or two to decompress- she needs to normalize in the least destructive way. My decompression took my college career and finances with it. I don't want that for her.

But every day I wish I had just bucked up and pissed everyone off. I wish someone had done that for me.

I remember being naked and photographed by cops and asked where the bruises came from and I lied my ass off. I only knew the law to be unjust, and I didn't want juvy or foster care. I only knew that the court hadn't given me to my dad or my grandparents, so I thought that was the final word. So I didn't speak up for myself, but I wish I had. Later, when I started asking for help, I didn't get it for the same reasons. I wish someone had helped me.

With my sister, I think she wished someone would have helped her - but I was afraid to throw mom under the bus. I was doubly afraid to throw her dad under the bus, too, since I was worried they wouldn't give her to me.

If you have a way to do it, ask your sister what she wants. Say that you know she's been hit. Say that you were hit, too, and you want to get her out, if that's what she wants. If she does want to bail, then talk over what she'll need to say to the authorities. Take her to see your attorney. Get proper advice, and get her the hell out. It's the hard thing to do, and the right thing to do. I wish I had had the strength to do it when I should have.

Yes, there's the chance she can turn on you. I don't think she will. If she balks, leave the door open, and say that she should let you know if she needs out. Then, see an attorney anyway. I will say from experience that calls to the police or DFCS end up in the kid being naked in a group of strangers while they get photographed and inspected, and that's not a fun place to be. Best to get your sister's input. Best to tread carefully, and ONLY get things going if you can get your sister to say harm came to her - that way it's the word of 2 people against just one. Do your best to only get the ball rolling if you're certain that your attorney can get it to work. By 'it', I mean that your sister gets put in your custody, and your mom only gets supervised visits with her.

Oh, and you can kiss whatever shreds of relationship you have with your mom and some other members of your family goodbye, but if you're anything like me, you won't give a damn if your sister gets to be safe.

#234 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2010, 05:24 PM:

A more comprehensive overview of the effects of repeated/pervasive childhood trauma-- not obesity-centered. It's also got a history of efforts to get the effects of such trauma officially recognized.

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, a memoir of the same.

#235 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2010, 04:30 PM:

So now that we've got the dysfunction described, how do we fix it? Anybody know of:

A) Full, complete, operational descriptions of healthy upbringing? And/or:

B) Effective proceedures for comprehensive recovery in adulthood?


#236 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2010, 04:59 PM:

Jacque, I'm afraid those books go next to "How To Fix All The World's Problems" and "How To Be A World-Famous Grocery Clerk"*—the shelf labeled "books we wish could exist."
*"Actually," thought Snoopy, "there aren't more than one or two world-famous grocery clerks."

#237 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2010, 05:58 PM:

Effective proceedures for comprehensive recovery in adulthood?

Two books that might be useful: (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate and Be the Person You Want to Find: Relationship and Self-Discovery, both by Zen teacher Cheri Huber*. "Be the Person" is, on the surface, written about romantic relationships, but if I remember correctly, much of it is applicable to platonic or familial relationships.

*"Lexica's recommending Cheri Huber again?" Just call me Johnny One-Note. Cheri's books and teaching have helped me go from a lifetime of struggling with depression and fighting not to give in to the suicidal thoughts, to being content and often downright happy most of the time. The awareness practice techniques she teaches have been literally life-changing and life-saving for me.

#238 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2010, 10:35 AM:

All I can do is point you towards what helped me -- finding a Buddhist temple (Karma Tegsum Choling) and taking meditation classes.

#239 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2010, 04:04 PM:

Re: the "my situation isn't nearly that bad, so I don't have anything to complain about and should just suck it up" meme, one of the bits of dialogue from M*A*S*H that has resonated most often for me over the years:

Potter: What is it, Burns?
Burns: Well, Colonel, I'm still worried about Margaret.
Potter: We're all worried, Major.
Burns: But I'm more worried than anybody else.
Potter: [gently] It's not a contest.

(From "The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan")

It's not a contest. Even if you think that someone else's problems or situation are much worse than yours, your pain still matters.

#240 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2010, 11:36 AM:

Lexica @237: Two books that might be useful

On order. Those actually look like they might directly address some issues I'm dealing with right now, so: Thanks!

Lori @238: I seem to have lucked into a useful meditation practice: I've been doing a lot of drawing lately, and this seems to have been having salutory affects on my memory and general self-possession.

Joel I really like that. Thanks for sharing it.

#241 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 02:52 PM:

I want to drop this XKCD cartoon into this thread, because it strikes me as a metaphor for a particular sort of emotional abuse. I've encountered a number of people who were the guy on the left, and spent years trying to figure out why every time they tried to talk to their abuser, THEY ended up apologizing.

#242 ::: change_is_scary ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2011, 09:23 PM:

I understand why people become alcoholics. The soothing numbness and distance is frighteningly seductive.

#243 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2011, 11:37 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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