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September 21, 2011

Dysfunctional Families Day: Tangled Emotions
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:49 AM *

You know, one of these years I would love to come to Dysfunctional Families Day and have nothing to say. I’d love to have a whole year pass by without seeing anything that makes me twitch in that peculiar way.

This is not that year. Because this is the year Tangled came out.

Plenty of Disney films have wicked stepmothers; they’re quite ordinary villains in the genre. They do things like banish the heroine to the kitchen or send her out into the forest to be murdered. There may be rags and neglect involved. But Tangled’s Mother Gothel is much worse than that. She uses love like a poisoned apple or a witch’s curse, as a tool to achieve her own ends. And she’s clearly written by someone who knows, bone deep, how that works.

It’s well done, too. The song where she persuades Rapunzel not to try to leave the tower is a virtuoso tour of emotional manipulation. The first verse is designed to isolate Rapunzel from the outside world; the second loads her down with emotional debt, and the third belittles and diminishes her. And the end is the purest dysfunction of all: the exchange of I love you’s turned into a contest, so that Gothel can win.

But that’s not the tell. That’s not the sign that someone in the film’s production team has lived this, right down to the bitter dregs of emotional damage. Rapunzel’s range of emotions at escaping the tower is the real shibboleth. That ambivalence, that cycling back and forth between joy and guilt? That’s the detail that makes it ring true.

The only weakness in this portrait is that Rapunzel seems to escape the damage of this formative relationship. Her reunion with her parents is unshadowed. There is no hint of the struggle she’ll face after the closing credits, learning how love, generosity and sacrifice really work.

Back here in the real world, the kind of childhood Rapunzel survived has consequences. They’re not always permanent: some people manage to unpick the hurts and habits and build up new emotional structures that work. But sometimes the tower is harder—or impossible—to escape. Then victory doesn’t look like the satisfying resolution of a children’s film. It looks like a happy day, a good relationship, a healthy child, a satisfied nod at the face and figure in the mirror. It looks like a good night’s sleep and a good day’s work, the confidence to take risks, and the emotional energy to recover from failures.

May all who strive for these victories achieve them, and more.

Some administrative notes for this thread: Just like on previous observances of the day, I’m running this under very tight moderation. Please note that:

  • Anonymity and the use of a second identity is explicitly welcome.
    To disassociate your comments from your usual identity, change the email address you post under. Then your comments won’t show up under “view all by” along with those of your mainline identity.
    If you blow it, don’t worry. I’ll be patrolling the back end and cleaning up anything that looks like a failed attempt at anonymizing.
  • Conversely, one-off identities and blurred identity are discouraged.
    Pick a handle in the thread, and make an email address (it doesn’t have to work) that matches it, so that all of your posts are associated with one another, and so that others can tell that they’re conversing with one person.
  • Some kinds of advice are not advisable.
    If you’ve never been in these discussions before, it’s sometimes tempting to advocate for the impossible. Comments like, “but they’re the only parents you’ve got,” or “give it one more try” are more than mere noise in threads like this: they’re active agents of damage. I’ll be dealing fairly harshly with them.
  • I love you guys.
    Some serious shit goes down in these threads. The situations we’re discussing give rise to powerful emotions, not all of which are considered “appropriate” to either hold or express. It’s OK. This is the place to talk about what is, not what should be, no matter how dark and difficult and awkward it is.

By the way, these relevant comics came up in a recent Open thread. It’s the fullest assortment of Clarissa comics I’ve seen on the web (click on the “Monstrar Spoiler” links to reveal them.) If you’re familiar with Clarissa, you know what to expect. If not, this is a trigger warning: these deal with the effects of sexual abuse in an explicit and unsparing fashion. Some people find it healing to see the matter discussed openly; if this is not you, do not look.

Comments on Dysfunctional Families Day: Tangled Emotions:
#1 ::: ma larkey ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:54 AM:

I felt this coming on, too, when I saw Tangled. Yes, ambivalence---the very word. The varied valences and energies involved in confronting escape and dealing with dysfunctional families. What can I say but I love ML and this space, where smart people can talk about difficult things, be thoughtful, be a community of the sort that can form and reform.

Thank you Abi. and everyone on this page.

#2 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:23 AM:

On a similar note, I played both "Portal" games earlier this year, after hearing about the sly wit and humor.

The puzzle aspects were interesting, but I think GLaDOS would be a lot more funny to players who didn't grow up with a RL authority figure repeatedly talking to them that way.

Somewhat tangentially, I'm also disturbed by some (female, judging by their DA portfolios) fans' adoration of Wheatley after the end of "Portal 2". Whfg orpnhfr ur fnlf "V'z ernyyl fbeel" qbrfa'r znxr hc sbe gur snpg gung ur gevrq gb xvyy lbh.

#3 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:51 AM:

Conversely, there's some of us who find GlaDOS hilarious for exactly that reason - because it invokes the kind of crap we got from certain authority figures as kids, but is done in a particular way that makes us have to laugh. Which doesn't make your point invalid. Humor's weird.

[Recent fictional character I have SERIOUS trouble reading because of bad triggers, to give a counterexample: Dolores Umbridge. I could barely get through that book because of Umbridge. There has been a fair bit of talk about whether the fate Rowling writes for her is excessive/justified. I can only say that, personally, there could not be a fate horrible enough for that woman to suit me.]

#4 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 12:04 PM:

I didn't see "Tangled", not being much into romance (though I can tolerate it if the other stuff is really good.) So I don't know if the bit about "Isolating Rapunzel from the outside world" quite matches one thing I've noticed about the people I grew up with.
They sometimes make me feel more abnormal than I already know myself to be. They act all surprised at something I don't find all that surprising, perhaps wouldn't even notice if it was them that did or had it--and probably would have the sense to shut up about it then. [And I am not all that socially insensitive.] Examples--well, it's hard to dig some up all of a sudden, but there's been times I've wondered what they would do if something *really* alien came along. My cousin apparently thought it was unusual that I, after dragging a suitcase uphill, drank a big glass of water all in one shot. But my throat is normal. I'm thinking of saying, next time anyone starts pulling that stuff, "If you really think I am that much of a freak, I am going to start charging you for the thrill of looking at me."
But I must admit I am somewhat oversensitized to this, as well.
So there is the kind of isolation where they won't let you keep your friends, or seek friends elsewhere, or do your own shopping, or go to school, etc., and there is the kind where they make you think you are the only person who ever a, b, c, or d, and that this is some sign of evil.
And kids don't know how to fight back against this, and when they grow up and find out, it's going to be a bad time to be in front of the fan. Especially if they are already one of those kids that sensed themselves to be different somehow, more than one somehow, right from day one, and don't need someone piling on more differences, real or fake, without so much as a by your leave.
I put the story of my childhood on one of these threads some years back. I hope for healing and justice for all of you.

#5 ::: change_is_scary ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 12:07 PM:

He's gone. It's very hard to find out what normal might have been. Old habits are hard to break.

#6 ::: You_have_to_be_there ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 12:27 PM:

My parents are the kind of people everyone loves from a distance. When I tell most stories, they sound kind of normal, but when you're around them, you get the full brunt of the crazy energetics around them.

This year's visit was the best. My mother asked me if we were going to return to our plan to adopt. I said no. She asked why. I told her some of the ethical considerations that had led us to back out of the process and decide to just live child-free.

Her response? "You just need to find a nice girl who's been raped."

I can't make this shit up.

#7 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 12:47 PM:

Both my parents are children of alcoholics.

My Dad's dad lied to my face about drinking in our home. He repeated the lie to my Dad, his son, in my presence. This was during the visit in which he sold a used car to my Dad, for me to learn to drive in. Those supposedly new tires on the car? Yeah, not so much.

Both my parents needed things to be O. K. To the extent that showing emotion just didn't happen. Everything had to be O. K. Emotions were things to be controlled. Did I mention that we're all very good academically? It's not hard to get good grades when you don't have an emotional or social life.

I handled it all very well. Too well, I think. I wonder some days if I'm a psychopath, just faking the presence of emotions for the consumption of others. Can't imaging how else I survived childhood in that home.

I do have a problem with broken promises though. Can't imagine why.

#8 ::: LN ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 12:49 PM:

Columbina@#3: My family was only moderately dysfunctional growing up (often-depressed mother and high-functioning alcoholic father in frequent shouty conflict, but no abuse), but I still cannot watch that particular Harry Potter movie because of Dolores Umbridge, and I found myself skipping ahead in the book. Even though I have no specific past trauma in this regard, the distillation of everything I hated and feared about authority figures into a single, perfect blob of pure vileness proved just too much for me to stand.

My sincerest sympathies to anyone who ever had to face a real person with all of Dolores Umbridge's qualities; they were bad enough distributed over a long series of unpleasant people.

#9 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:05 PM:

Thanks for doing this again Abi. The first one of these helped me enormously in ways that are still ongoing.

I had a funny experience in the whole dysfunctional families thing this year by discovering another complete branch of the family that no one had told me about, and the probable existence of another.

That was a hell of an email to come out the blue: Are you by any chance my nephew?

I expected that one to cut deep once it sank in, but it hasn't. In fact it's mostly turned out positive. Which means that, hey, maybe I'm getting better.

#10 ::: belle ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:06 PM:

LN #8:

I have the same problem as you: nothing I absolutely know of to cause my incredibly bad reaction to Umbridge and all her ilk. I'm not sure if I shouldn't spend a little time sometime trying to figure out if there really is something I haven't remembered.

#11 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:24 PM:

abi: The link to the Clarissa comics above is throwing malware warnings, so here's a list of direct links:

Bed Bugs 01
Bed Bugs 02
Clarissa Ruins Thanksgiving
Family Portrait
Stuffed Friend

These initially turned up in Open Thread 161

#12 ::: Ambivalent One ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Erm. I have read through a couple of years of these, but never felt brave enough to actually post my experiences on here. But this year? This year has brought me to wonder exactly what the hell is wrong with me.... (and maybe there's nothing that is, but I sure feel that there is).

I grew up as the oldest child in a family that was neglectful, when they were not being downright abusive -- my dad, in particular, was a rage-a-holic, who could have spectacular tantrums and basically trash the house and try to kill us if the bacon was cooked wrong. My Mom, while not so spectacular, did enjoy beating me with sticks. There were excuses, of course -- my Mom's parents were both raging alcoholics and, in particular, her father is the one I suspect of molesting me (the only CLEAR memory I have is of a French kiss, but I know something worse happened... I just don't really care to dig deep enough to find out, you know?) and I was a six-month-preemie who was in and out of hospitals all the time, until I was like, six... I cost them beaucoup bucks in medical bills, and I wasn't a boy. That was part of my sin. My Mom went through seven more pregnancies to get that boy, all of which ended badly except the one that netted my brother, also a preemie, because my Dad basically didn't care that she wasn't healthy enough to have kids when he didn't have that boy. I'm pretty sure I'm the result of a date rape, too. Erm. Anyway.

I grew up being very able of talking to adults, but not so hot on kids my age, since we moved A LOT. Like, I went to about twelve different schools in my kindergarden to high school progression. I also started reading early, which became my happy means of escape -- I still do that, a lot. I was definitely not happy with myself or my body (I turned out to be a fat adolescence after I finally started getting some weight on me but I was rail thin before puberty). I still feel like "a brain in a jar".

All of that, I thought, was left behind once I married a guy who loved me and who supported me in getting better and healthier. Even more so, I thought it was done and over when both my parents died. I grieve my Mom, some, but I find I am also angrier with her than with my Dad. I guess because I always knew my Dad was not so hot, but I empathized with her as a fellow victim... but she could've left, you know?

Anyway. This year. I have a daughter, who's 30 and who left an abusive relationship and came back home with her two children. She's lived with us ever since, about six years now. We recently moved out to the country, so she has to do more driving with me (I cannot drive due to physical problems). And she *gulp* hates it, and hits me. And yells at me. And is generally abusive. I hasten to add that while she yells at her kids in ways I find abusive she has never hit them as far as I know, and I *would* have discovered that.

So what is wrong with me? Why did I have a nice twenty years in between suck and suck? Why can't I find a way to deal with her, without kicking her out (since that would take the grandchildren, too)? I hate myself for being a weak idiot.

#13 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Intentionally *not* anonymizing:

I'm an adult survivor of child abuse and a chronic PTSD sufferer, both of which I've talked about in intermittent detail in my blog.

( would be the relevant tag.)

It's been an interesting year for me on that front. Especially as I've just gotten into my first serious relationship in, oh, seven years (or longer, depending on from when you date the death of my marriage--the fatal accident, or when I took it off the respirator, or the actual finalization of the divorce) and its necessitated navigating all those minefields anew... and explaining them to the undeserving bastard who's stuck with the dubious privilege of picking his way through them, so at least he has a map to work with.

The funny thing is... I've discovered that epiphantic healing does exist, after all these years of denying it was possible. I'm suddenly in a position where things *are* better, they are easier, and it's *possible* to believe that somebody actually cares about me and more, that I deserve to be cared about.

That latter is intermittent and shaky at best, but it appears to be taking, and nobody is more croggled than me.

Some of that is the influence of somebody who really irrefutably does hold me in some affectionate esteem, and can make me believe it. And some of it is... well, I imagine it's the twenty-five years of shoveling out the huge festering piles of damage that came before.

But there was, in fact, an epiphany. A moment when I had a visceral realization that all my internalized self-loathing wasn't really deserved. I've had that knowledge intellectually for a while--but getting it in the gut was new.

It's led to even more hard scary work afterwards--but it's made that hard scary work possible. Which it wouldn't have been, otherwise.

I guess what I'm saying here is, healing is possible, and even if the scars never go away, it does, in fact, get better.

#14 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Argh. Sorry; one of those links is still contaminated.

#15 ::: 30more ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:30 PM:

I survived a childhood filled with sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Then I survived a marriage filled with sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. At the age of 41 I ended my last relationship which was replete with emotional abuse. (It was long distance, which might explain the lack of any sexual or physical aspect to the abuse.)

I am now 42 and determinedly single. I've unbroken myself enough to support myself, deal with my peculiar mental health circumstances, have a cautious social life with a few select friends, and above all make sure I'm in a position where no one can ever fuck with me again.

I am glad to be alive. I am glad I know how to love and trust, despite those who abused that love and trust. I am glad that I have reached the point where I am whole enough that I can work with mental health advocacy groups, and give back a little of what was given to me during my struggle for emotional health. I am, although it feels strange on the tongue, glad to be me.

But I wonder sometimes, wistfully, what it would have been like to be normal, even though I know that the concept of normal is a rainbow-pooping unicorn that only exists in the imagination.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:31 PM:

People browsing at work or with net nannies, be aware that the "Bathtime Fun" and "Bed Bugs" links in Jacque's list are to 7chan and may be blocked.

#17 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:35 PM:

I am now on the other side of the country from my family-of-origin, and, with a few exceptions, much happier that way. I was surprised by how much freedom I feel, knowing that I'm so much less likely to run into someone who wants to maintain one of the old family myths about who and what I was.

(I will post more later, but just wanted to get that out there.)

#18 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:39 PM:

30more @15:
But I wonder sometimes, wistfully, what it would have been like to be normal, even though I know that the concept of normal is a rainbow-pooping unicorn that only exists in the imagination.

I tend to say that the spherical normal person of uniform density is a chimera, and you can wear out all your joy chasing it.

And as Cordelia reminds Aral in Shards of Honor*, there's more than one way to find yourself miles from "normal". Even people whose families were functional can get their hearts broken or their spirits bruised.

* "Your customs seem so free, and calm, to me. As innocent as sunlight. No grief, no pain, no irrevocable mistakes. No boys turned criminal by fear. No stupid jealousy. No honor ever lost."

"That's an illusion. You can still lose your honor. It just doesn't happen in a night. It can take years, to drain away in bits and dribbles."

#19 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Ambivalent @12: You are not a weak idiot. You are a person in a difficult situation, and burying yourself in self-loathing is part of the program that the experience of abuse leaves in us.

I think it might help if you and your spouse find ways to set appropriate boundaries and enforce them--and how you do that, of course, is going to be influenced by the exact details of your situation. I'd suggest, if you can afford it, finding a competent therapist who specializes in abusive family dynamics and getting as many members of your family in to see her or him as possible. If you can't get your daughter to go, or your spouse... you go by yourself.

30more @15:

I know that longing so well. That desire not to have so much more work to do than everybody else. That sense that we started off not just with a handicap, but on a different racetrack altogether, and we've got to climb a fence and sneak past the guards just to find the one everybody else is on.

I think about where I might be in life if I hadn't spent twenty years reconstructing myself, and I get so angry all over again.

But there are advantages, I guess. I know myself better than most people do; I have learned some hard lessons about compassion and ruthlessness. I have some insight I might not otherwise have.

And boy do I appreciate things that it seems like most people take for granted.

Still, it's so easy to be bitter, some days.

I quote the inimitable Tom Waits, because he comforts me: "You can never go back / and the answer is now / and wishing for it only makes it bleed."

#20 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:45 PM:

My father, who died when I was 16, and left my mother when I was 4, was a drug and alcohol addict, child of a drug and alcohol addict, and brother to someone who died of an OD. My father died of a drug related accident.

He was a minimal part of my life, and as much as I loved him, I'm guiltily glad for that.

#21 ::: marwen ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:45 PM:

I desperately wanted to pick Rapunzel up and hug her at that point. My experience is by and large second-hand, from being the one passing over the tea and countering the "I am the worst person in the world" mantra with the "no, your parent sucks" stick where asked, but still: it rang like a bell.

#22 ::: Seanan ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:47 PM:

When I was four, my mother married a pedophile who liked little blonde girls. I put him in prison five years later. This was nowhere near soon enough. It kept him away from my sisters. It destroyed my mother, and for a very long time, it destroyed me. I was an old woman at nine, a child at fifteen, and crawled my way to healthy adulthood a little bit at a time from there.

Sometimes people tell me I'm lucky for coming out relatively normal. Sometimes I don't want to put icepicks in their ears for saying this.

#23 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:49 PM:

To the commentary about Tangled, I will add this: May it serve as a signpost, for those who see it while still trapped in the tower, that THIS IS NOT NORMAL -- that not all families interact this way, and that not being happy about it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. May it give at least some of them the resolution to walk away, in the same way that reading Komarr made some women decide to leave abusive marriages. The fact that real life isn't like the end of a Disney movie won't be a surprise to any of them.

This thread is coming up at an inconvenient time for me this year, so I may not be saying very much. But I will be reading, and listening, and sending GoodThoughts for the people who post.

#24 ::: 30more ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:53 PM:

Abi @18:
I agree with you, so I traded trying to be normal for trying to be balanced. I've had a lot more success that way.

ebear @19:
I think about where I might be in life if I hadn't spent twenty years reconstructing myself, and I get so angry all over again.

I deal with this feeling, too. I've accomplished a great deal despite my slow start and wonder what else I could have done, if I'd had support when support was most needed. But it is what it is and I often remind myself that I am doing just fine, despite those nastybad peoples' efforts.

Did I mangle that possessive? I think I did.

#25 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:54 PM:

AnonCowardSevenBillion @7:

FTFY. May I gently suggest that: Discrete + private /= coward! Furthermore, speaking your truth = courage! Just sayin'. :)

#26 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:06 PM:

One of my long-term goals that I've begun this year is to try to not be ashamed of my history and heritage of abuse, to accept that it wasn't my fault, that I didn't deserve any of it... and it's hard. Part of me wants to use a pseudonym, to hide these words from those mentioned below who are still alive. But that...that runs counter to what I think I need to do, which is put it out in the open, expose it to sunlight. And hiding only protects those who failed to protect me, and I'm angry and hurt enough to consider that they need no protection. So here I am, under my own name.

My paternal grandfather was a survivor of the Louisiana orphanage system, a merchant mariner in WWII (family lore says he had 3 ships shot out from under him), an alcoholic and an abuser. My father stopped talking to him for a time, until he stopped drinking, but my earliest memory of him is tossing back beers at a barbecue.

My maternal grandfather was a distant, cold man to his children, who considered his job done so long as a roof was over their heads and food was on the table. I only recently found out that he had stopped speaking to my mother before I was born, over her support of a friend's interracial relationship.

My father... my father is a physical and emotional abuser and a bully with a serious anger management problem, a man who enjoys using his physical presence (6'4" and 300lbs of muscle throughout my childhood) to intimidate and overpower others. The physical abuse taught me to say anything, do anything, to keep it from happening again, or to stop it while it was happening. The emotional abuse taught me that I was stupid and worthless, that every mistake I made was evidence of a fundamental character flaw, and (despite being a straight-A honors student) I'd never amount to anything, never succeed at anything.

My mother couldn't really do anything about the abuse. She was severely, morbidly obese throughout my childhood (400+ lbs), with chronic allergies and chronic back problems. She also almost died of pre-eclampsia and toxemia while carrying me, and then later, my sister, and had her tubes tied after my sister's birth, because a third pregnancy would have killed her.

My sister, the better part of four years younger, but with a more aggressive personality, picked up the bullying behavior from my father and entered into it with the glee that someone on the bottom experiences when they discover someone weaker than they are. It didn't help that I was very well aware that both she and my mother had nearly died in her birth, and I was under the strictest expectation (and orders) to Not Do Anything To Hurt My Baby Sister. A fact which she exploited to the fullest.

I could never rely on having anything. I was in band for awhile, and enjoyed it, but we moved, and my parents never got me another instrument. I suppose, in retrospect, they expected me to ask for it, but I was too afraid to ask for anything significant, especially if it involved spending a lot of money. I wasn't important enough to have my wants considered. I couldn't outwardly express unhappiness or anger, even when I was being punished; if I did, that was cause to increase the punishment. And if I made a mistake, did something wrong, I was expected to figure out by myself what I'd done wrong or how to do it better. I was so smart, after all. But not smart enough to have avoided making the mistake in the first place.

I was very good at talking to adults, but we moved about every two years, so I was complete crap in dealing with people my own age -- the very picture of book smart, socially stupid. I was bullied in school until high school, and it was useless to expect my parents to do anything -- my father just expected me to toughen up and fight back. Except, of course, against the biggest bully in my life, who taught me on a regular basis that fighting back just made it worse.

I'm 37 and still trying to fix the damage. Still trying to believe that I'm a worthwhile person. Still trying to believe that I actually am smart and talented, and stronger than I believe. Still trying to figure out what to do with my life (besides fixing it). And I have a husband, a man who loves me for what I am, and helps me to be better, who believes it, and who tells me that every day.

But it's still a question of head vs. heart, especially with the legacy of a decade of mistakes made as a young adult (contributed to by chronic, untreated depression) hanging around my neck. And there are days I simply don't know how to keep going, except through the dumb plodding of one foot in front of the other.

I'm very good at that.

#27 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:06 PM:

Tangled emotions is an excellent summation. I'm grateful that my family dysfunction was very mild compared to many; I was never abused physically, I just had to deal with emotional abuse and manipulation. I still love my Mother and I'm quite sure that she loves me. Unfortunately when her love is combined with and shaped by her zealotry everyone involved suffers, which is why I finally had to curtail my contact with her. I've also barred her from contact with my wife, and will not allow her to have any contact with any child I have.

Re. Abi's 'Don't advocate the impossible.' statement - I'm tempted to have that printed on a form to hand to folks who try to lay that sort of crap on me. My Mother knows I'm angry, but in spite of many discussions still does not understand *why* I'm angry - she still apologizes for not doing enough, rather than apologizing for the things she did *wrong*, that have left me with damage that I'm still trying to heal. 'One more try' isn't going to change that, and will only hurt both of us, so thanks but no thanks.

There's more to write, but I need to stop here. One of my small victories is being able to stop worrying at the unchangeable past and focus on the good things in the present. So I'm going to go do something fun for a while. :)

#28 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:12 PM:

Well, here I am back for another year. I got out of a poisonous relationship (ragey, controlling husband becoming progressively more alcoholic), after aiding my daughter to get out on her own, about two years ago. I still feel some guilt that I didn't get us both out sooner, but there's a lot of risk in leaving a really vindictive person before you have all your ducks in a row, especially after you've gone and put them through law school. And I had still harbored a faint hope that if it was just the two of us, things might get better. Nope.

My daughter is in a good, mutually supportive relationship with her fiancee; they've been through some of the same things (divorced parents, eating disorders, coming out) and fit each other well. I just got word that my ex signed the papers severing his next-to-last financial hold over me, which is good, but there's still a big one hanging over my head making me nervous. And always the question -- was he being malicious or just incompetent? In, well, pretty much everything?

I'm feeling -- guardedly optimistic? I'm still trying to find out who I am in this third quarter of my life, and I'm currently working my way through a couple of books looking at women's psychology through goddess archetypes and seeing a glimmer of where I want to head and what I want to root out of my behavior and mind-set. I went from Persephone -- the young girl waiting for some man to come along -- to Hera -- the wife centering her life around her husband's demands. Neither was ever a really good fit, but seemed to be what was expected of me. It's the virgin goddesses, all-in-themselves, who appeal to me now, particularly Artemis and Hestia. I'm spiraling inwards and centering. (Hopefully I'll come back out.)

#29 ::: 30more ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:14 PM:

Before ducking out gracefully, I just want to say I admire everyone here for their bravery and honesty and ability to speak their truths.

It's not easy, but it is worth doing.

#30 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:15 PM:

Jennifer @26:

I so totally get that "don't want anything" thing too. Wanting things, caring about things, is just giving a weapon to the enemy.

of course, if you can't ask, non-enemies don't know when you *do* care. And by "you" I mean "me."

#31 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:19 PM:

Oh, and Lee @23 -- Komarr. Yes, reading that was the instant the solution precipitated. That was MY marriage, more or less, right there on the page.

#32 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:20 PM:

abi @16: Thanks for pointing that out. I missed that because apparently my work net-nanny has now decided that 7chan is okay. Or something.

#33 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:22 PM:

I've been a lurker and very inconsistent poster on ML for years, and been deeply affected by the past (and present) DFD discussions. I've been hesitant to post, since my family's dysfunction has seemed to pale into insignificance next to that of some of my friends'. My family didn't all. Not that I didn't feel loved, but I was very infrequently touched. The Scandinavian over-the-top reserve is quite the joke in the upper Midwest and particularly in my home state of MN (thank you very much, Garrison Keillor). My father didn't hug me until my wedding day. As all my relatives were Scandinavian as well, I thought (or convinced myself) this perfectly normal, despite evidence to the contrary.

To this day, I can't stand to be touched by anyone I don't know extremely well. In this hug-positive world, that presents some problems. Presented with a hugger, I simply don't know what to do.

Columbina@3 - I honestly thought I was the only one. Finishing that book was grueling for me, and I only did so for the sake of the books to come. The appearances by Umbridge felt to me like someone pressing on my funny bone with the point of a pencil - wrong and painful and and and...

#34 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:24 PM:

I apologize for springing Clarissa on Open Thread 161 w/o adequate warning.

It is a truly disturbing piece of work, but usefully disturbing. A gut-punch look at the pain and hurt abuse brings.

I'm not sure if I want to know how the strip came to be.

* * *

I should go see Tangled again.

#35 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:30 PM:

abi @18: there's more than one way to find yourself miles from "normal".

And this is a splendid irony, isn't it? My mother fancied herself very open and honest about Certain Topics. And in many ways, when she had her consciousness on, she actually lived up to that. But, as the saying goes: "Yes, he has his moments. But it's those half hours that kill you."

I had my face all fixed to sit back and watch this year's thread from my newly attained Benevolent Wisdom, having at last largely—as a direct result of previous years threads—turned loose of a lot of the neuroses that have haunted much of my adult life. But then I hit the part of abi's post that starts with "But sometimes the tower is harder—or impossible—to escape."



I'm working on my post. It may take a while.

#36 ::: Faustroll ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:31 PM:

My parents weren't abusive, however I realized something disturbing this summer when my parents came to visit: my mother has an eating disorder.

She takes only a quarter of a serving of food, then finds excuses during the meal to get up and do things like refill drinks, or help with my sister's baby; anything to distract her from actually sitting down and eating. She'll eat half of what's on her plate, then claim she's full. After the meal, shell help clean up and pick at leftovers when she thinks no one is looking. In between meals, she'll gorge on peanut butter sandwiches.

This is her behavior on vacation, when most of us are pretty lax on our diets. From my father, I've learned that she keeps herself so busy most days at work that she skips lunch altogether and then misses dinner two to three times a week, meaning that half of her working days, all she eats is a piece of toast and a cup of tea for breakfast.

I don't know how long this behavior has been going on. My mother has had medical issues related to digestion for well over a decade and as long as I can remember, always had a bit of a weird relationship with food. I guess it developed so gradually that I and my father and siblings never noticed before. I only did because, for the first time in my life, I live far enough away from my family that I don't see my folks but once a year, so I was seeing the latest stage of this behavior without the gradual steps in between.

My wife has noticed this as well and we're at a loss as to what to do about it. How do you sit your 63 year old mother down and tell her that you think she's had an undiagnosed eating disorder for the least 20 years?

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:36 PM:

Melody @33:
I've been hesitant to post, since my family's dysfunction has seemed to pale into insignificance next to that of some of my friends'.

Ah, this one. It's a neat little hole we all dig for ourselves and jump into from time to time. It's nicely recursive*: the fact that I didn't matter doesn't matter.

This isn't the Olympics. There are no tryouts or minimum-dysfunction levels for posting here. If it's bugging you, bring it up.

You matter. Your pain matters.

* for values of nicely that include "not at all nice, actually"

#38 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:38 PM:

ebear @30:

Yes, that, exactly. My husband knows how hard it is for me to ask, to even acknowledge that I do want something, and he's constantly encouraging me to "get a little something for myself". It's gotten better, but it's still something I have to watch.

And conversely, I have to be careful how I ask for things -- I'm trying to break the habit of edging around something I want to ask for, circling in from the outside in hints and oblique references, trying to find ways to pre-justify the request, and instead just coming straight out and *asking* for it.

Columbina @3: The biggest flashback I got from that book was Harry's writing the lines, and I thought, "It would have been just like my father to make me use that pen." And then I put the book aside for several days. He had a *thing* about lies, you see. And, yes, as a small child I lied to try to avoid being beaten. It wasn't that I didn't know it was wrong, it was that my pre-rational brain decided I was better off trying to get out of the punishment, and it wasn't as if *not lying* meant that I wasn't going to be beaten *anyway*.

But those childhood lies meant my father never, ever believed me after that. Even when I grew up and tried to prove differently.

#39 ::: stick potato ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:41 PM:

Jacque @11: Thank you. Those ... certainly are something.

The first page of "Stuffed Friend" is what got to me. For a moment there, you're offered all the things you want: Your mother smiling. At you. Paying attention to you. Offering you something she hopes will make you happy. A gift of consolation. Evidence that she's been thinking about you. Spontaneously doing something that's just for you, with no price exacted. A moment that could be from the happy little kid universe you've read about, and seen pictures of.

You lost that universe years ago. You told yourself that feeling like everything's okay is something only little kids do, and now that you're seven it's only normal that you should constantly have that sick, heavy feeling that's like having a rock in your chest. But you've never stopped wanting that universe, and when you see it for a moment, glowing, the dull ache in your chest turns sharp and sweet as a knife.



You just saw her sitting there with a blank, disappointed expression and a thousand-yard stare, scarfing down mother's little helper. When she looked at you, you desperately wanted it to make her feel a little better. It didn't have to be a full smile. You just wanted to see her to feel a little better because you were there. It didn't happen. It never happens.

Instead, you get the big fake smile that tells you she's briefly remembered that you're supposed to be acquainted with the happy little kid universe, so she's going to make a gesture in that direction. It's pure appearance, something she's supposed to do. It has no connection with you. She's reassuring herself. Your role is to act like you live in the happy little kid universe all the time, and this is a typical happy interaction. Afterward, in the long stretches of blank bad times, the existence of this brief interaction will be cited as proof that everything is okay.

It is not okay.

The stuffy may help, though. You can side with each other at the actively bad times, like when your father semi-randomly loses his temper and beats the shit out of you with a heavy leather belt, and then before the welts have finished rising on your arms and legs and back, your mother comes in and guilt trips you for "rejecting" your father's attempt to apologize and make nice to you immediately after he's finished beating you. "I don't understand how you can reject your father like that. I could never carry a grudge the way you do," she says.

Someday, randomly, the stuffy will disappear. You'll never know why. If you ask, they'll say they don't remember you had such a thing.

#40 ::: Catt Kingsgrave ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:45 PM:

The saddest thing I know of is that as I meet more and more people, I find less and less of them who have not been abused, and spectacularly abused in some cases, than who have not.

It makes me rather wonder how our species ever managed to ascend above the level of systemic cannibalism some days. Other days it just makes me wish real hard for one good, solid asteroid strike.

#41 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:49 PM:

'Not even to see fair Lothlórien?' said Haldir. 'The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

'Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back, and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime.'

--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

#42 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:54 PM:

Columbiana @3: Umbridge...

I love the Harry Potter books, and lots of things that happened to Harry weren't good, but the chapters with Umbridge enraged me to the point of wanting to kill something. On the first read I had to keep putting the book down and doing something else for a while every time that woman made an appearance.

As for what happened to her -- frankly, I was unhappy she survived it. Dammit, JKR I know why Dumbledore had to die, but couldn't you have balanced the scales a bit by offing the odious Umbridge?

#43 ::: Dog on a Cold Tin Roof ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:01 PM:

It's come around again already? Ay! But serious kudos to you for doing this.

My family are quite as peculiar and occasionally hard-to-take as I am - for pretty similar reasons: we are cold-glazed nerds of many colours, mildly asocial even unto cluelessness, something headstrong in our attachments and enthusiasms - yet acquaintance with many flavours of others has left us all devoutly glad that we wound up with each other instead of anybody random. You never value a drink of water until you've seen a lot of wells, and all that. BUT...

The parallel families we have imposed on us by order, and in particular through the education system, are quite another thing.

Columbina @ 3: I have fallen, as an infant, into the charge of a Dolores Umbridge. All I will say at this time is that when vicarious violence failed to mold me into... that plastic matter which she preferred to human beings... she made the fundamental mistake of trying to get me taken into psychiatric care, without having well judged either my parents' calibre, or the existing suspicions of an honest politician who was just waiting for one witness who would not evaporate as soon as asked to go official. The results did not go in her favour.

They didn't lead to any disciplinary action against her, because then at least, scandal was not a permissible outcome. But they did get me home free to a school whose staff considered love of learning to be their meat and no poison; and diversity* of pupils a benefit, rather than a sin to be eradicated this side of the law or the other. And they did also put the Umbridge under discreet, permanent, and reportedly mortifying Governors' supervision until her retirement. I like to think that other kids were spared my experience, or the sundry other horror stories that emerged during the exercise, as an end result.

Still, the scars down my cortex ache a bit in cold weather; and sometimes they are what summons it. Six-year-old kids are none too well armoured against monsters like that. I would not undo what I am - but I would not see those things done to another, albeit there be many very much worse deeds troubling the Just Lady's scales.

It is some consolation to know that, although I think my country's education system has degenerated in many ways, it would now be somewhere between harder and impossible for Mrs Procrustes to get away with one sliver of what she got away with back then. Other evils, yes; but not her sins in particular, or not without brains and connections far better than hers.

This is a small silly scorpion that I cannot for all the world forgive and put behind me.

* (It subsequently emerged that there were very few short children accepted under her reign. Or tall, or fat, or thin ones. And most definitely not many ethnically suspect ones. I was suspected of 'cleverness' and eccentricity: 'stupidity' and 'dullness' were offences also. The woman seems to have been an uncommonly consistent maniac in her vindictive worship of her own private normality. Curiously, her school remained strangely undersubscribed, whereas all the other local ones were busting at the seams, including the one with a much better reputation.

She considered the inevitable remaining standard deviation far beyond the acceptable, and did not seem to care very much what she did to penalize it, so long as it did not directly involve her in obvious criminality.

For significant parts of this we are reliant on the word of the politician. This was off the record, though corroborated by a lot of what other parents had said to my mother but dreaded to press officially. He was wildly opposed to most of what I now believe in. He became a minor national figure later, and I have met other people who knew him from before. Neither his admirers nor his detractors considered this the sort of thing he would have lied about.)

#44 ::: Forgot Handle I Used Last Year ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:03 PM:

Jennifer Baughman @38:

Yes, that, exactly. My husband knows how hard it is for me to ask, to even acknowledge that I do want something, and he's constantly encouraging me to "get a little something for myself". It's gotten better, but it's still something I have to watch.


I've been divorced for a bit over three years now (not of my choice, and with little warning) and at the time I felt like my one bit of stable ground had been skimmed out from under me, my One Healthy Relationship. Not-allowed-to-want-things featured heavily in my childhood and he knew that, he even supported me when I chose to cut off contact with my mother.

And yet.

After our son was born and I was out of work, I reminded him we had agreed that at that point I'd have an "allowance," some money of my own I could count on and plan around and do things with. I didn't care if it was $10/month, just something.

He said no, I should just ask him when I wanted to buy something or go to a movie.

I had to ask. He made me ask. Knowing full well that I never, ever would.

*snipped for rampant cursing*

It's just this last year that I've started to unpack how much of the damage of my childhood got repeated and reinforced in my marriage. There were... bigger things, that I'd either written off as "normal" or intentionally not though too much about, but I keep tripping over the smaller signs that it wasn't just random unkindnesses on his part...

Christ, there goes the brain-tape again, telling me this is all so trivial and I'm making mountains out of molehills, etc.

Hitting post before I delete the whole thing.

#45 ::: Dog on a Cold Tin Roof ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:16 PM:

ebear @ 41: Thank you for words well quoted, at a time when they are best wanted.

#46 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:18 PM:

Forgot @44:

I am so sorry you had to go through that. It took my husband and I literally years for us to discover how our family-imposed habits and problems were exacerbating each other, and how to overcome or bypass them. It's still an ongoing process, though the work we've done has made us much more committed to each other. The key to it, though, is that both partners have to be willing to acknowledge the problem and commit to fix it.

And no, it's not trivial, you're not making mountains out of molehills. Your hurts are valid, and deserve to be acknowledged; one of the worst things about being abused is having the fact of the abuse, the hurt from the abuse, denied.

It happened. And it was wrong. And pulling it out, unpacking what happened, learning from it, is your right to do or not, as you have the strength. But it's not pointless.

#47 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:20 PM:

Jacque @25:


"Anonymous Coward" is how certain message boards label those who post under pseudonyms, without credentials. For a post sent with a pseudonym, under a fake email address, it seemed appropriate.

Lori @42:

The off-screen subtext, for those who know their mythology, is that Umbridge was gang-raped by the centaurs. I don't know whether this is really any consolation.

Personally, I started and stopped the first book several times before I could finish it. The way Harry was treated by his step-parents was just too painful to read.

#48 ::: Alphabet Soup ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:20 PM:

If I'd been braver, I could have stopped it.

Other people had it worse, so my pain doesn't count.

My pain doesn't matter anyway.

Those other people? They don't like me, really. They're just putting up with me for some reason.

Everyone is staring at my scars and thinking that I'm nuts.

I'm really an impostor, pretending to be normal.

I'm just trying to get attention.

If I were stronger, it wouldn't bother me.

I don't deserve any better.

This list is entirely bullshit.


Only one of these things is true.

#49 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:29 PM:

Alphabet Soup @48:

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

"If I hurt myself enough, maybe nobody else will hurt me more."

#50 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:35 PM:

stick potato @39: That's the glory of Clarissa, isn't it? That she has strength to deny the fantasy. She'll play her part, like the good little automaton she's supposed to be. But she won't support the lie.

If only it they didn't make it impossible to be so strong.

#51 ::: Alphabet Soup ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:39 PM:

ebear @49:

Oh yes, how could I forget that one. It doesn't increase the number of true statements at all.

Of course, saying it is the easy part.

#52 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:43 PM:

I almost put off reading this thread. I remember from last time that I spent a lot of time wanting to go and kill family members of some of the posters (I didn't, so if they met their richly-deserved fates that wasn't me).

Columbina #3: I could read about Umbridge OK, though I agree that her fate wasn't nearly bad enough. The movie with her in it, though, I flat out could not watch. Never have watched it. Haven't seen the last two either.

Alphabet Soup #48: Only one is true, but all of them have been in my head at one time or another!

ebear #49: Yeah, that one too. Remembering periods of my life when I wore long sleeves in short-sleeve weather...

#53 ::: stick potato ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:44 PM:

Jennifer Baughman @38:

[My father] had a *thing* about lies, you see.
It sounds to me like your father used "lies" as a game to justify playing head games with you and beating you. If so, he could just as easily have used theft, respect, work, selfishness, or a dozen other rubrics. The point wasn't lies vs. truth. The point was that he always got to be right, and you always got to be wrong.

Are you aware that it's normal for little kids to lie? It takes them a while to sort out what true and false mean, and to differentiate between real and imagined. Demanding strict truthfulness from little kids just manufactures excuses to punish them.

And, yes, as a small child I lied to try to avoid being beaten. It wasn't that I didn't know it was wrong, it was that my pre-rational brain decided I was better off trying to get out of the punishment, and it wasn't as if *not lying* meant that I wasn't going to be beaten *anyway*.
That wasn't wrong. That was sane. Your father is the one who was doing wrong. You are not guilty for the things you did to try to cope with that.
But those childhood lies meant my father never, ever believed me after that. Even when I grew up and tried to prove differently.
IMO, he didn't disbelieve you. He didn't believe you, either. Belief and disbelief were never the point, just like truth and falsehood weren't the point. The real point of the exercise was that he was always right and you were always wrong, so he always had the power, and he always had an excuse to exercise it.

#54 ::: the quiet one in the back of the classroom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:50 PM:

I've hesitated to post in these threads in the past because there's nothing I can point at and say: there, that, that shouldn't have happened. There was no violence, there was no emotional abuse. When I asked for things, I got them. I was a miserable social outcast for most of high school, but for reasons that had mostly to do with Los Angeles' geography and my own terror of embarrassment and ineptness at picking up social cues.

And yet.

The terror and the ineptness came from somewhere, didn't they? That miserable teenager's desire to live somewhere far away, as unlike LA as possible, and never go back, that came from somewhere too, didn't it? How is it that other people growing up in very nearly the same context had a much better time of it?

And since then, my life in general is much improved, but any sort of contact with my parents has become an unpleasant chore, and I look back and see parallels and I wonder. Does it only seem like it wasn't that bad because I learned not to notice?

#55 ::: stick potato ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:57 PM:

Quiet One @54, do you remember loving them, or them loving you? I don't mean as an abstract background assumption; I mean a real and immediate connection that you can feel right then.

#56 ::: Pro ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 03:59 PM:

There are so many layers.

The frequent rages and the occasional violence, the latter of which would come out of nowhere. There's a "funny story" about how I "earned" my first spanking at 7 days old. One week. Having to tell my father, at 16, that if he ever hit me again that I'd clean out my savings account and leave. I had money. I had a passport. I would have done it.

My mother's studious ignoring of all violence, even when it was done in her presence. Her icy silences when we did something she didn't like.

The constant stream of criticism about every. single. goddamn. thing. The job I took. The job I left. The (non)breed of dog I have. How I clean my kitchen. My choice of spouse. You name it, they criticize it. But when I call them on it, it's only their opinion.

Moving every three years, with no acknowledgement of or support for the losses of that. Never having constant adult relationships to tide me through or show me a different way.

To this day, I respond to any, even implied, criticism with an instant deflation and protective stance. I don't understand family.

They live 1,500 miles away. We talk every few weeks. I visit every few years. I'd see my sister and my nephews more often if they didn't live three minutes from my parents. In fact, my sister is caught in a severely dysfunctional cycle wherein my parents don't fully grok that they are the GRANDparents and not getting a do-over, and wants to be further away from them but fears my mother's retribution.

#57 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:04 PM:

quiet one@54:

Speaking from experience: you don't realize how bad behavior x is if you live with it all your life, you have to get away from it/be exposed to healthier interactions so that you have a basis for comparison. E.g. finding others who love you without trying to force you to live exactly a certain way through emotional blackmail, makes you realize that a parent who does that is not healthy.

#58 ::: crabby ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:05 PM:

I'm anonymizing though I'm sure I've shared much of this with my proper 'nym.

Awhile ago I learned I have to not blame myself and the more I learn, the more it becomes difficult to blame mom and dad.

Growing up there was never any question that my parents loved us. The occasional belt-beating for bringing home a B when "... there's no reason a girl of your intelligence shouldn't be getting A's", or when a lapse in homework was discovered (why should a girl of my intelligence have to do busywork when there were so many books to be read?) or when my younger siblings had done some mischief ("... they follow your example - you should have kept them in line.") was no indicator of lack of love. I got sneaky - I read their parenting books and found out ways around them. Just a little passive resistance to balance the scales was the way I saw it.

At any rate, while I know they loved us, I never once got the feeling they liked being parents. I talk with some of my friends who now have school-age kids of their own and I am astonished by the sheer joy they take in being parents - and how fun their families can be. It never occurred to me that it was anything more than an obligation, and an onerous one at that. Parenthood, of course, was an unspoken pre-requisite of my parent's mormon religion.

I was the eldest of three (a woefully small LDS family), was put in charge of my two year old sister at 6, and both siblings by around 7 or 8. It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I realized this was not "normal". I had a lot of responsibility, including my own happiness, the sibs' happiness, and looking back, my parents' happiness. Growing up I made the best decisions I could, but it wasn't until I was - again - in my 30's that I discovered I should never have had to make some of those decisions. I shouldn't have had to be so self-sufficient, and frankly, the mistakes that I regret were not a product of my own idiocy, but the product of WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU EXPECT A 14YEAR-OLD TO BUY HER OWN FOOD?! or LACK OF JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG, CAR-LESS PEOPLE WHO COULDN'T WORK SUNDAYS AND HAD EXTRA-CURRICULARS SHOULDN'T MEAN THAT COLLEGE HAD TO BE AVOIDED BECAUSE I COULDN'T AFFORD THE APPLICATION FEES!!! ("... too bad you didn't get those A's, so maybe you could have gotten a scholarship. oh well!")

I made it out OK. I mean, nothing was too traumatic when not in retrospect. But in my 30's I learned that my mother had survived some profound and pervasive physical and sexual abuse as a child and subsequently dissociated as a coping mechanism. By the time I was born, she had checked out, as it were. When mom started remembering, she had memories of things that had never existed (no mom, you did not make sure we had all the facts of life, and condoms, and BCP when we hit puberty. your sole sex-talk was when I was 16 and you told me that Mormons Don't Do That Before Marriage) and vast swaths of my childhood were missing from her memory. She had created other personalities to deal with different things, and she was just starting to recover some of that. So much of my childhood started to make sense - I had never been abandoned, but dang if I can hardly remember a time when she was particularly "present". I know Dissociative Identity Disorder is a particularly controversial diagnosis, but it's the only thing that makes sense.

So who do you get angry at when you realize that you should have had a better advocate when you were a kid? Your mom, who wasn't there? Your dad, already suffering from bipolar, SAD and god knows what else? At this point, both of them have spent more than one stint in a Mental Health Facility. I feel like sometimes I can't get angry with them because of their own histories, and yet the history they shared with us is part of what puts me on such a short fuse.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:25 PM:

There's a pattern I'm seeing here. I see it every year. Let me pick it out.

stick potato @39:
When she looked at you, you desperately wanted it to make her feel a little better. It didn't have to be a full smile. You just wanted to see her to feel a little better because you were there.

crabby @58:
I realized this was not "normal". I had a lot of responsibility, including my own happiness, the sibs' happiness, and looking back, my parents' happiness.

I've met many people who felt responsible for their parents' happiness. It seems to be either a subtype of peacemaking-as-coping-mechanism or the product of parents who have not learned the kind of unselfishness that their role demands.

It's pernicious for all of the reasons that pegging your self-worth to the emotions of others is usually pernicious. But because family life does require sacrifice and unselfishness, it's an easy trap to slip into.

#60 ::: King George commands and we obey ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:27 PM:

Pro, #56: "Moving every three years, with no acknowledgement of or support for the losses of that."

Constant moving. Yeah, that.

When I was a kid I thought I loved having lived in so many places, loved always being the person from somewhere else.

When I reached my forties I was startled to realize how angry I still was about it.

#61 ::: Luka ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:37 PM:

Thank you all for making me feel a little less isolated.
I ran from an abusive family to an abusive relationship. Still working on fixing it all. I need to figure out how to trust people enough to talk to my friends about it.
Remember: they really do care, even when you feel like you don't deserve it.

#62 ::: Life Is Victory ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:42 PM:

(wups commented on a previous years thread instead, reposting)

So many brave stories. Thank you.

Trigger alert, don't read if you are easily triggered and are one of us lucky incest survivor winners (hey, we LIVED and GOT OUT, I'd call that being a lucky winner)

I know my own times were real, and have gotten validated by therapists, friends, etc over the years. The Clarissa comics are so poignantly real. Was startled to see they are also the work of the guy who did/does "Weapon Brown", a gritty "Charlie Brown grown up in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world" series. I shudder inside thinking of what the author's childhood might have been like.

Things I remember-- spending a week out of town with my Dad at the apartment he had in the city he worked in. I can remember what the door looked like, and I remember walking by some rocks by the seashore and thinking of jumping off them, and I remember hanging out with kids on a dock, trying to catch crabs with a hook and line (futility! but with enough hope to be fun). I was 14. That's all I remember about that.

Waking up on the floor as often as I would wake up in bed from about age 6 to, um, all the way thru highschool. Tho after Dad got a job out of town, that stopped when he wasn't home, from about freshman year high school til I left for college.

The time my 5-yrs younger brother and I argued in the hallway by the woodshed in the barn, and he was holding a pitchfork to my abdomen and threatening to push it in. Bestest irony ever: the argument was "you're Daddy's little girl and special and he doesn't pay enough attention to us!" Oh, you wouldn't like the attention, kiddo.

Further irony. That brother was old enough to come into my room while growing up and play with my usually-you-can't-touch dinosaur models and dioramas. I know he saw/felt something, because to this day he describes me as "hot" and when he hugs me, I can sometimes think he's trying to cop a feel. ***SQUICK*** Wow, I feel queasy typing this, even after years of therapy. Think I'll go up and put a spoiler alert on this one.

Years of letting boyfriends do what they wanted, because I didn't know any better and hey, it's not like I could FEEL anything. Why not let 'em, I'll get a hug and cuddle afterwards. By what lucky stars I avoided STDs, I don't know, but I test clean on everything, even HPV and cold sores (herpes 1), and am SO GRATEFUL.

To this day it amazes me that I got through this all, got away, made something of myself. I still limit my own successes-- could have had a vastly more successful and remunerative career if I'd let myself. Nearing 50 years old, life more or less in some semblance of pleasant order, exploring art, literature, having friends, living from a space of "I want" vs "I should", etc.

Didn't realize I had crud to spew, but feel like I got something out. It's like an odd kind of chelation therapy-- there's always a little more to come out, even if you didn't know it.

Much love and safe hugs to y'all for giving a space to let it happen. Thankee.

#63 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:48 PM:

Look at that, I just found another knot in the scar tissue. And now I know why I always hear "let me help you with that" as "you're doing it wrong/can't you do anything right?" Maybe that'll let me work some of the poison out.

#64 ::: radiantlisa ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:48 PM:

I've been doing PTSD work this year as part of my addiction recovery, and came to realize that I lived all my childhood in mortal fear of my father's anger. When it came, it raged throughout the house, and left as quickly as it came, leaving untold damage in its wake.

I spent my childhood learning to be as small and quiet as possible, in the hopes that the rage wouldn't notice me. It's only now, as I close in on the age of 50, that I realize that I'm still living that small, quiet, invisible life. Who am I hiding from now?

#65 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Getting uprooted from a place I'd gotten used to, getting dragged around hither and yon like a dog in a crate...Not knowing how many years would pass before you ever get to lay eyes again on the places you loved...That might be part of the reason why I will have 25 years in my present home this Nov.
Thanks, Alphabet Soup and Ebear, for the scripts or whatever they are that you hung out to dry. They sound very familiar all right.
The constant criticism some of you mention overlaps with the mind-game I mentioned above, the "false isolation" or what I sometimes call freak-tripping--making a person feel like a freak when they are not, sometimes by simply showing more surprise than expected, and not in a good way. I think there used to be books on manners that stressed not acting surprised, keeping it under control, and now I know why.
Sometimes they say something out of the blue that just puts you off-balance, that you don't know what to say. I'm not going thru that craphole of a childhood any more, but I still have an adult relative or two who plays these little games, and I'm working on strategies. But it isn't easy when certain closer relatives don't even seen what's going on when it is going on right in front of their faces. I'd like to think I don't do that sort of thing with them, and I shouldn't have to take what I don't dish out.
If something feels not quite right, that means something is not quite right.

#66 ::: PartlyBetter ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Alphabet Soup @48:
"If I don't care, it doesn't matter."

The luckiest thing in my life was realizing that no matter what happened, being elsewhere would be better than where I was. So a teenager alone could be raped, beat up, kept prisoner and abused ? That was different how ?

A couple thousand miles and a few decades, and lots of luck, and it's possible to build a person out of scraps. But it really does need lots of luck, not just lots of work.

#67 ::: Life Is Victory ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:56 PM:

An addendum, of a regret.

One of the hardest things for me to get over has been (maybe still is?) not being a parent. My husband, whom I love dearly, has a mental illness, and while it is controlled with medication, having a kid in the house would be too much for him to handle. I would need a co-parent who could pick up MY slack, as I am a second-generation (possibly more) child abuse survivor.

So I chose not to have any kids. Crack-addled teens can become moms and turn their life around, but I can't risk a child's well-being on the uncertainties of my own life. There's a deep, deep sadness in that, that only my sense of pride in making a choice for that child can ease.

I found out that you can get pregnant (if you are me) while you are spotting and starting your cycle, and think maybe this once a condom isn't needed. My daughter (why am I so sure? I don't know, I just am) was terminated at the 6-8 week boundary by a D&C. She would be 19 this year.

I cry every year around what would have been her birthday, and hope I did the right thing. If we are all irrevocably uniquely transient, I hurt the world as well as myself by not letting her be born. If, as childishly naive as it sounds, there is a moment where some uniqueness of a higher order bonds with this physical plane, releases, and can rebond again, maybe she's out there somewhere, with a better set of parents than I could have given her.

Crying while I write this. Dang. Better go do something else for a while.

Wish I could get a job where I could work with kids, but I'm not cut out to be a fulltime teacher, and I don't know the first thing about taking care of them either. Well, ok, I know some things. Be easy on yourself. In the meantime, I try as best I can in some nerdy ways-- encouraging girls when I see them doing things like fixing their bikes or using computers, enjoying saying hi and waving at babies, etc.

Maybe someday I could write software for kids and make up for it that way. "It"? Not being part of raising the next generation. Something I feel is a gap or a sin on my part (not others, just myself) on the order of not voting. It's not doing your share to keep the world maintained and running. Maybe I can plant trees or something instead. I dunno.

Ugh, first crying, now rambling. Definitely better stop.

Thanks for listening. If you have kids, give 'em an extra hug for me.

#68 ::: Suzanne F ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Earlier this summer I sat at the deathbed of my dad's mother, who had filled his life with vitriol and poison, and who I hadn't seen for twenty years. She had brain cancer and didn't know anything except her pain and I felt sorry for a suffering human.

A friend of hers came into the hospital room and tried to make me perform granddaughter: "hold her hand so she knows you're here." So much more horrible than just watching her die.

I wasn't allowed to go to the funeral, for reasons I don't understand. There are so many layers of secrets that I don't know exist until I hit against their boundaries.

#69 ::: Sigrid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Third generation child of alcoholics. I really, really like not speaking to my father. It's SO happy-making for me. We tried a family intervention about two years back, and I am the only person who has stuck with the consequence of not-talking-to-him-because-he-still-drinks. That's okay. We all make different choices.

Somewhere in the last ten years I figured out how to live me life for ME. I like it this way.

#70 ::: crabby ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:08 PM:

abi -

I think the insidious thing about feeling responsible for your parents emotional needs is that as a kid you don't realize that's what you're doing. Would that they gave degrees, because a childhood of silently and quickly calculating all the outcomes of all possible responses to a strange parental mood so that the desired outcome (harmony? amity? forgetfulness? chaos?) could be achieved would have earned me a PhD in Passive Aggression by now.

Those well-worn neural pathways now present as "paranoia" more than anything - like the time a couple of months ago when my roommate came home, saw my door closed and assumed I was already home and asleep and so locked the chain on the door before going to bed. Luckily for me it was installed poorly and I was able to undo it from outside, but I did spend all night and most of the day attributing anger and passive aggression to HER, as her reason for locking me out, when it was instead a mere misunderstanding.

#71 ::: Runner-up Miss Kolob of 1926 ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:15 PM:

Crabby @58:

Parenthood, of course, was an unspoken pre-requisite of my parent's mormon religion.
The Utah Baby Namer got less funny to me when I realized how much the bizarre names some Utah Mormons give their children resemble the character names in bad fantasy slush.
So who do you get angry at...?
Your parents.

You were a little kid. They were grownups. They had the strength, power, money, and emotional clout. They made the decisions. Nobody forced them to enact the whole Mormon programme. They decided to do it, then resented their own decision and acted like someone else was forcing them into it. They chronically scanted their contributions to their family. As a result, they didn't take proper care of you, and they fobbed their later children off on you rather than take proper care of them.

Okay, your mother had a tough background, and your father has emotional disorders. It's understandable that you're sympathetic. But they had jobs. They managed an independent household. They produced children. They were not helpless. Was there never a moment of clarity wherein they could have observed that they didn't like being parents, didn't find it fulfilling, and had no particular inclination to take care of you, and concluded that they ought not add two more children to the mix? If they could pass for normal well enough to stay employed and not have their children carted off by child protective services, shouldn't they have had enough sense of the social norms to know that 14-year-olds aren't normally expected to provide all their own food? And so forth.

Nobody's life is perfect. If we're capable of taking action, we're capable of taking responsibility.

#72 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:17 PM:

Ambivalent One @ #12, I am sorry that you are dependent for transportation on someone who abuses you. I hope you can find some help.

I think transportation is a HUGE and unappreciated issue for many, many people. (I learned today that the reason a patient had trouble getting to appointments is that patient's adult son took the family car and vanished a week ago, and the neighbor who's been backup transportation now has a spouse in the hospital.)

#73 ::: Just some guy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Pro#56 To this day, I respond to any, even implied, criticism with an instant deflation and protective stance..

I have nothing that compares to the posts on this thread. There was emotional abuse - when I was able (fortunately easily) to leave home at 18 I never considered going back. I think my dad genuinely believed he was preparing me for the harsh and disappointing world he expected me to encounter; that was always his schtick. And yet oddly so far nothing in it has ever been quite as hard and hurtful as being a teenager in his house was.

My parents are part of my life, and grandparents to my child, and yet this resonated with me so strongly I had to post something here. I don't think they're even aware that everything they say is a criticism*, or notice that I would never, ever volunteer information or ask for advice.

It just makes it that much harder to open the shell, crack the veneer of all-consuming competence, and let anyone in. And that in turn comes across as arrogance and emotional disengagement.

* seriously, who tells you your perfectly normal 15 mth old is fat without even thinking about it?

#74 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:33 PM:

One of the reasons my son has been depressed is very likely his memories of his early childhood being triggered, either because of the turmoil of adolescence, or the various triggery events in the past year or so (or some combination of them all).

Even though he was only four when he came to live with us, he had already learned how to mediate conflicts and to soothe his mother, how to charm the strangers around him (he used to shake hands with wait staff), and how to manipulate grownups all around him. He didn't know his numbers, or the alphabet song, or how to use his imagination, but he knew those things.

His birth mother is still an addict; when she thinks of him, she is overly and cloyingly affectionate in a very fake way. He doesn't like her.

Her legacy is not just the early exposure to drugs (a risk factor in ADHD), but also the neglect, as she spent money on drugs instead of food or diapers; it was also the inappropriate behaviors demonstrated in front of him, the adult television shows that he was parked in front of, and the utterly inappropriate behaviors that she, her husband, and her parents thought were amusing and encouraged. It was the lack of good food, so that he had protein malnutrition; the lack of any calcium in his diet, so his teeth literally rotted, and his leg bones grew soft; it was the insistence on feeding him fast food and sodas, and candy, and cake and ice cream so that he had nutritional rickets as well as rotting teeth. She never brushed his teeth, nor read to him, nor played with him.

He was like a little sponge, absorbing everything we gave him. I'll never forget the tone of wonder in his voice when I came home from work (which amazed him, that we worked every day) with groceries. Instead of letting him sit in front of the television, inches from the screen, we insisted he play and read and run around, and take a bath, and have a snack, and brush his teeth, and then we'd read to him until he fell asleep.

For years he had nightmares.

We haven't had the chance to deal with his trauma in therapy yet, but his therapist and psychiatrist are well aware of his background, and once he's stable enough and strong enough, we'll address those issues. I don't think he's fully aware of them, because we told him "mommy was sick and wanted him to have a better life, so she sent him to us", which was a very careful editing of the truth. Now he knows she's a drug addict, but we haven't discussed the abuse.

One of the reasons I so despise his current girlfriend is that she displays a lot of the same manipulative, highly-sexualized behaviors that his birth mother did, and she's a pathological liar, also like his birth mother. I'm sure there's something to be explored in that, at a later date.

Regarding Umbridge: I recognized her but I don't remember who in my past was like her. That character sent chills down my spine when I read the books or saw the movies, but thankfully I didn't have as much damage as some others did. That's one of the most dangerous kind of person one can ever meet, outside of family; utterly poisonous and so sure of their righteousness that there's no room for anything else. Maybe it's better that I don't remember who it was.

#75 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:34 PM:

I don't usually post on these. Except I think I did, last year, but I don't remember the handle I used. And I wasn't going to again this year, except that I got poked in an unexpectedly sensitive spot during an open thread a few months ago, and I've been scratching that itch trying to figure out where it came from.

I was raised in the suburban south. My dad was mostly absent, out of town on business five or six nights a week, and came from a US subculture in which dealing with kids is a women thing. My mom grew up in New York and had classic northeastern liberal values and manners that put her out of sync with the culture I lived in outside of family walls.

So at home the rule was conflict avoidance. "If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all." "Well, if you would be nice to people they would be nice to you." "You can't have your way all the time." "/Nice people/ don't fight."

When mom wasn't looking the rules were of course different, and I got teased and harassed and verbally fought with on a near daily basis. The harder I tried not to fight, the more I got fought with. I did, eventually, learn to fight, sometimes physically, later verbally or just with a sharp edged, wary presence that radiates "I'm not fighting with you yet, so don't make me do it." They did back off, those kids, once I got past my upbringing to hit them hard in the kishkas, to prove that when I said fuck off, I meant fuck off, and was able and willing to back that up.

But that of course makes me a bad person, now that I've moved cross-country a couple of times and am currently living a quiet life as a New England liberal.

There are levels on which I've accepted that if fighting back, in defense of my self or of something I hold dear, makes me a bad person (or a bad liberal), then I'll just have to be a bad person, because my deep, scarred sense of self-preservation is too strong and too jagged to lie back and take (another) one for the team. But it still hurts to be reminded that I am, ultimately, the enemy.

Because after all, We Are Nice People, and Nice People Don't Fight.

#76 ::: the quiet one in the back of the classroom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:41 PM:

stick potato @55: I think yes, when I was a small child, I loved them and was loved in return, as small children ought to be. It's hard to remember back that far, and what I do know is that as I got older, something went wrong. When I was a teenager, I felt stifled and limited by them -- which to some extent happens to every teenager, doesn't it? But we didn't come out of that as a healthy family. I am not sure precisely what happened, but as I said, having successfully moved away (for college) I never wanted to go back.

In the present, I still care about them the way one cares about people one has known for a long time, but do not particularly like them or feel close to them.

(I'm probably not going to be able to hold an actual _conversation_ in this thread. It's moving too fast and I have a bunch of things to get done today.)

#77 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:41 PM:

abi: I've met many people who felt responsible for their parents' happiness.

Yes, this. My mother's untreated depression led her to lean on me, particularly after my father's death, as the only one of her children who "understood" her. Like hell I understood her. Now I'm fighting not to do that to my middle daughter.

#78 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:41 PM:

stick potato @53:

All I can say to that is "thank you", because I think it sums up exactly what was going on. He had the power, and he wasn't afraid to use it, and he only needed an excuse. And my mother stood by and let it happen. Respect was another one of the words he used a lot -- I had to respect him, because He was The Adult and My Father, but he didn't have to respect me, because respect "has to be earned".

Pro @56:

Oh, yes, that was terrible; moving every two-three years, always being the new kid in school.

And the criticism. Pickpickpick, nothing's right, nothing's perfect, it's (I'm) just not good enough. No praise for doing things correctly, no suggestions for doing it better. Perfection was the standard, and anything less meant I was a miserable failure. And now, even a well-intentioned, constructive critique slides into my spine like a blade, and the defensive reaction it triggers is hard to shake aside.

Life is Victory @67:

FWIW, I think you made the right decision, as hard and painful as it was for you. Or, if not the "right" decision, at least the best decision from those available to you. We are active in the lives of our friends' children (some of whom have grown up to be our friends as well). We get to be the eccentric aunt and uncle, and the kids have a set of adults they can trust that aren't their parents, and the parents know that we won't let them get away with anything they shouldn't, but a few things they *should*. If you have friends with children, maybe such a role would work for you?

#79 ::: Hyacinths ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:42 PM:

I spent 20 years of my adult life making spectacularly bad relationship decisions, before it ever occurred to me to wonder WHY. Why such an intelligent person would be stupid enough to get married at 19. Why, once divorced, such an intelligent person would engage in self-destructive, cringe-worthy behavior with anybody who showed her the least bit of attention or affection.

I'd told myself that none of it had harmed me, you see. That watching my father emotionally and physically abuse my mother hadn't hurt me. That being moved to new towns and schools every year for 5 years didn't bother me, that it even made me "more adaptable". That I barely remembered that Mom left my brother and me alone at night, in charge of an infant she was being paid to babysit, so it must not have scared me at the time. That my stepfather's emotional abuse of my brother only harmed him, because I wasn't the focus of it.

And certainly that the things my father said and did to me were not "really" abuse because, after all, he didn't have *sex* with me, he only did some lesser things that scared and confused me.

No, it was a completely mystery to me why I was so screwed up. So needy. So fiercely motivated to make relationships work, even if they weren't worth 1/100th of the effort I was pouring into them. It was a complete mystery to me because I was *fine*. Nothing wrong with me. All the stronger for the things I'd been through.

Only after my father's death did I let myself admit, even to myself, that maybe everything wasn't fine, after all.

#80 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:43 PM:

Abi @ 59

I'm also seeing a repeating trend among the biographies. It's a subtle thing, but noticeable to me, who was wanted and desired. These are children who had parents who didn't want to reproduce, they were expected to reproduce (sometimes by family, but mostly by the society). There is a school of thought that a person isn't a true adult until you marry, own/rent a house and have kids. I have a co-worker that buys into that ideal.

I had the blind luck of being born into a mostly functional family (I doubt there are any 100% functional families out there. Statistics alone says there must be, but I have my doubts.) I was the supportive friend helping the wounded heal themselves by saying "It's okay to hate your parents. They did hateful things." I also pulled a few all-nighters on a suicide watch, too, when memories became too much for others.

I just want to say, "Bravo. Brava. and Good on you" for taking a stand and fixing things, especially when that means breaking thing off for once and for all. You are very strong and worthy and wonderful people. Long may you thrive.

#81 ::: crabby ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:47 PM:

Miss Kolob-

So you're saying that my concern for my parents over my own is another faulty script? That might make some sense.

I went through a rough patch after a big move around the age of 13. After the episodes of catatonia, they found me a shrink who was also a guidance counselor at an affluent high school. The sum-total of his therapy revolved around telling me it would really be better for myself and the world if I just conformed. (years afterward when my younger brother was seeing him and I stopped in to "check in", he told me with no small amount of distaste, that I had always "marched to the beat of a different drummer". he also mentioned how attractive I might be if I just "took care of myself". ? ick). Most sessions consisted of about 45 minutes of me sitting stoically with my arms folded in defiance. That was productive. Sometimes he would take me - an avowed vegetarian - to a hot dog stand to get a red hot or Italian Beef. He did attempt to get my parents to do stuff that would help my social development - such as when I said I needed more clothes, they should buy me things that I wanted - and demanded that they pay me for my "babysitting", which may have gone far to keep me in tofu-dogs. But these were treated as cute suggestions by my parents, and pretty much ignored in the same way I ignored his repeated exhortations to conform. Why it took their other two kids to spend time in InPatient Mental Health Facilities before someone realized that Family Therapy isn't supposed to be "Therapy for the Kids that the Parents Get To Listen To" - and why none of these therapists told them to get their own damn help I'll never know.

I made it through my teens through sheer stubbornness, a lot of black lipstick and eyeliner and oddly, an increasing faithfulness to the mormon church. That must have been more parent-pleasing at work. Maybe if I proved how adult I was by being just like them there would be less hostility in the house. That ended before I could start the cycle anew at least. No marriage, no mission, no kids. My kid sis sent me a mother's day eCard a couple of years ago. She says she understands why I never wanted kids - "you already did that when you were 6..."

So yeah, I'm emotionally self-sufficient. So much so that I just don't do intimate-partnered type relationships. I'm tired of compromising, I'm tired of taking other people's needs into account. I kind of don't want to see a shrink because I don't want her to tell me how broken that makes me.

#82 ::: Still Projecting ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:51 PM:

I had loving parents who did the best they could, and siblings who were generally good kids doing the best they could. That's really my reason for being anonymous; I would hate to hurt them if they ever found this under my name. But I hate the way I end up hurting other people because of little, inconsequential things that added up over time.

When other people ask for things, I get angry at them, and resent them. I never asked for things because I knew we couldn't afford them, and my little sister asked for things because she wanted them, and I was the one who found my mother crying in the kitchen over the bills run up in trying to keep us kids happy with Stuff on a stupid cheap missionary income.

When I'm making friends with someone, and they seem to be more interested--even briefly--in someone else, I drop the first person and run off and pretend not to be interested in them at all, because it hurts less than seeing all the attention go to people who are more interesting than me. (Who's more interesting than me? All my siblings, of course, who are all vivacious extroverts who are socially adept, compared to me, who's none of the above.)

I worry about what it'll be like when I have kids. Am I going to be possessive and jealous about all their relationships too? Am I going to be angry when they ask for things? (Especially if I say no, and the spouse says yes, and suddenly I'm the parent who's No Fun, like my mom was stuck with for years, handling all the discipline and limits while my dad got to be the fun one who gave treats and presents and trips.) I don't want to be a bad parent. I'm not sure how well I'll be able to turn these things off.

And all of this with loving parents who did their damn best. It's a wonder to me, some days, that humanity makes it anywhere.

#83 ::: Lisa N. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 05:59 PM:

(long-time lurker, occasional poster, going semi-anon for this)

This thread could not have come at a better time for me, since I've just discovered yet another landmine in the minefield of "Lisa has no idea what normal is", and I'm dealing with the usual (for me) rollercoaster of fallout from that.

There are the things that I realized pretty fast once (or before) I became an adult. My mother is an alcoholic, and verbally and emotionally abusive; my dad, while an OK guy, was mentally and emotionally checked out of any relationship with us, and did nothing to stop her. I have issues around that, but I know they're there. I can work on them even if I'm not past them.

What kicks me in the head, over and over, is the stuff no one told me wasn't normal.

I have OCD. Until I was 21 I was scared nonstop, on the verge of a panic attack unless I was having one. And I know there were signs. Among other things, I used to pull my hair out in giant hanks. (My mother says she never saw me do that. I remember her yelling about it, and I know at least one of my teachers called her.) But no one took me to a doctor or, apparently, considered something might be wrong.

Anxiety disorders run in my family. My mom takes benzos daily and when she has a panic attack. Yet, when I had them, or when I tried to tell her about the things in my head that wouldn't shut up, it was a sign of my failure to Deal With Life. If she was in a good mood, she'd give me one of her pills if I started hyperventilating. She actively resisted the idea that I might go to the doctor and get my own prescription. She has a Medical Problem. I had a character flaw, and I needed to Suck It Up.

When I saw a psychiatrist, she was openly contemptuous. This was the ultimate sign that I couldn't Deal With Life. When I came home with a diagnosis, a prescription, and a therapy plan, she scoffed. The doctor was fishing for business. I shouldn't take the meds, they'd just mask "the underlying issue" - my inability to Deal With Life.

Diagnosis was a revelation. Other people didn't live this way! I wasn't just bad at Dealing With Life! I wasn't expected to walk around feeling like that and acting like nothing was wrong! I was giddy with it, especially when the meds kicked in and I got a taste of Normal. Things weren't perfect, but life's not easy, right? This had to be how Normal felt. I'd just Suck Up the rest of it.

Fast-forward to something I learned a couple of weeks ago: it appears likely I have narcolepsy. I have a sleep study coming up to be sure, but all signs point in that direction. And I never suspected.

To be fair, partly that's because the media depiction of narcolepsy is so different from the way it usually presents. I mean, I'm tired all the time, and sometimes I fall asleep, but I've never, as my brother put it, "faceplanted in the mashed potatoes." And the other symptoms - cataplexy, sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations - I thought those happened to everyone. I never thought to ask anyone about it.

But I would have suspected something was wrong a lot earlier if my family hadn't treated my constant sleepiness and occasional dropping off as another glaring character flaw. I was lazy, you see, and inconsiderate, screwing up everyone's day with my excessive sleeping. I needed to Try Harder.

I Tried Harder for years. I was basically functional - it helps that I don't have a severe case - but I screwed up my schedule, and other people's, and I'd get caught sleeping at work and be embarrassed, and I walked around in a fog. Because nothing was wrong with me. I just couldn't Deal With Life.

Then I was given narcolepsy meds to deal with the side effects of another med. It was like a lightbulb going on. I realized I had no idea what 'awake' felt like. I interrogated my friends about it. That led to an appointment with a neurologist, and here we are.

Part of me is thrilled to have even a potential diagnosis. Someone saying (again), "Actually, no. Not everyone feels this way. We don't expect you to spend your whole life Dealing With It." Part of me is freaked out, because I really needed another neurological disorder, you know? Part of me is amazed at what I'm capable of on the meds. At the way Normal apparently feels.

And I'm really angry at my parents. I know they couldn't have divined exactly what was wrong - but if they had treated my distress as anything other than whining, if they had treated me as anything other than a problem to be dismissed or a noisy homunculus to be ignored, maybe we'd have figured out some of this shit earlier.

I don't know what life would have been like in that world. I'm happy with the life I have now. But I'd really like to know what could have been if my brain had been a little less miswired for so long. Or if I'd known that I wasn't the world's biggest wimp for being upset about the way I felt all the time.

I've thought about trying to get a hashtag going. #ItsNotNormal, maybe. We could tell each other what we've learned not everyone has to go through, and what can be made better even if it can't be fixed. But then I think about how fraught with the dominant cultural hangups it would end up being, and it just makes me too tired.

So now I've written a novel; sorry about that. I really needed this thread today. Thanks so much for posting it.

#84 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:03 PM:

Oh, Lisa. Meds. /MEDS/.

I'm 38. Just this week I got my first albuterol inhaler. THIS IS HOW BREATHING IS SUPPOSED TO WORK!

Turns out I've probably had asthma / reactive airway disorder for 25 years.

So maybe I wasn't really lazy and out of shape after all.

#85 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:10 PM:

radiantlisa @64: I realize that I'm still living that small, quiet, invisible life. Who am I hiding from now?



One miracle of this thread is that, sometimes when someone else says it, you suddenly see it in one of your own dark corners, and can finally grab it and drag it wiggling out into the light.

Barbara Sher says, "Isolation is the dream-killer." I know that. And yet, I still cower under my rock. I kill my own dreams.

Thank you, everyone, for being here and for posting. Especially those of you who have to talk yourselves into posting, for whatever reason.

#86 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:17 PM:

There are more Clarissa strips not linked yet. I remember finding some of them when they came up in the Open Thread, but now I can't remember what I did. Searching on "Clarissa comic" brings up a lot of references to them, but very few actual links. I did find a few things in the images: (first page of a missing comic) (this seems to be one of the other pages) (last page of that comic, but there's at least 1 more page in between)

This is Clarissa fan-art:

Chalk me up as another one who can't read Harry Potter because of the way he was treated by his stepfamily in the first book. I have never been able to get past that. Umbridge, in the movie, was enough to provoke near-homicidal rage.

Velma, #17: I hear that. A few months after I moved from Tennessee to Texas, I realized that I should have done something like that 10 years earlier. It wasn't just being away from my parents, it was being away from everyone who knew them and might carry tales about seeing me in the wrong sort of place, or with the wrong sort of people, or doing the wrong sort of thing. Even though I had already arranged my life so that this was unlikely in the extreme, Nashville is a pretty small town for being a city of 1,000,000 people, and the emotional difference between "extremely unlikely" and "impossible" was startling to me.

Melody, #33: "It could have been so much worse" is not the same thing as "it wasn't bad" or "I shouldn't let it bother me" or "how can I even think of talking about my little problems in front of these people who were REALLY abused".

I am very much aware of how much worse it could have been. That doesn't mean that I didn't take damage from the crap my parents did, or that I haven't had to work to repair that damage. Same goes for you. Humans need affectionate touch to thrive, and being deprived of it causes damage. Whether your family intended that or not, they did it, and now you have to deal with the results. That matters.

stick potato, #39: Someday, randomly, the stuffy will disappear. You'll never know why. If you ask, they'll say they don't remember you had such a thing.

This is gaslighting, which is extremely common in emotionally-abusive situations. A recent blog post extends this definition to the behavior of telling women they're "over-reacting" when they express ANY negative emotion, which is very common in many situations that wouldn't be pegged as abusive.

Alphabet Soup, #48: I have a friend who struggles constantly with #4 and #8 from your list. And also with an entry you didn't make:

"Any praise given to or about another person is an implicit criticism of me."

Pro, #56: Ah yes, the criticism thing. That's the main reason I basically stopped telling my parents anything important about my life; no matter what I was doing, it wasn't the right thing, and they would let me know that at great length. It was SO much easier to just have the one fight about "Why don't you ever TELL us anything?" over and over again, because that one had no power to either hurt or anger me.

#87 ::: cwinslow ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:28 PM:

abi @37:

'the fact that I didn't matter doesn't matter'

That choked me up. I didn't realize until I was in my 40's that was the real dynamic that was so crippling. My mother and generations on both sides were alcoholics. All the energy of the family was devoted to making that household look perfect, and it did, from the outside. I don't know that I'll ever heal completely, but the fact that I didn't matter does matter to me now because I finally found people who showed me it mattered, something I'd never had most of my life. Thank you.

#88 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:30 PM:

Lisa @83:

I never knew, before meds, what it was like to live a day, a week, without feeling like any good mood I had would shatter without warning, and every bad mood was a morass that I'd never escape.

Victoria @80:

My sister, who still has a relationship with my parents, swears up and down that I was a very wanted child. I just don't see it.

#89 ::: Alphabet Soup ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:31 PM:

The list gets longer, but no more true.

It's probably not infinite, because generally people break in certain ways, but very, very long.

#90 ::: clawr ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:35 PM:

I don't really know what my family is, except that we are dysfunctional. I'm young, I guess I don't have to know, yet. I know I love them; I know they love me. Some of them love each other.

My father was and is verbally abusive, more to my sister than to me, but definitely to me, on occasion. Anything I did right was evidence that I was a genius; anything I did wrong proved that I was a moron. "Right" and "wrong" were not necessarily what you'd expect, nor were they consistent: In fifth grade, he gave me $20 for getting called to the principal's office (my dad's always been sort of anti-authority); in fourth grade, when I got a C in science, he explained how Einstein used to get D's; when I was fifteen, I got a B on a math test and we had a huge fight; when I was nine, I held a ladder incorrectly, and he screamed at me for being an idiot. By turns I was lazy, moronic, a bitch, a slob; or I was brilliant, beautiful.

Physically abusive? Not really, to me. He yelled a lot, and got in my space. He used to shake me a lot; I have scattered memories of him being physically aggressive towards my sister. He only ever hit either of us a few times. (That I know of. My mother used to push me out of the house when he and my sister fought, because I'd try to get in the way.) I only ever bruised three times; only visibly once. Once, when I was thirteen, he pushed me over, and my shoulder fell against a door frame. I couldn't raise my arm properly for the next few days. On occasion, that shoulder aches inexplicably; I don't know if it's connected. That was the worst it ever got.

The worst thing my father ever did to me was tell me that he hated my sister.

He also was, and is, a fun, intelligent, and generous father to me. And he loves me more than anything. I wouldn't trade him. But the good stuff doesn't negate the bad, or vice-versa.

#91 ::: theodore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:45 PM:

Never posted here before, and not sure I can give order to my thoughts, but here goes.

I'm another one of the 'abused? who, me?' crowd - never mistreated physically or sexually, parents honestly 'loved' me for their own value of 'love', everything outwardly hunky-dory. But there must be some reason I'm in my mid-thirties and have never been in a romantic relationship or had anything resembling a sex life; some reason for the numb anhedonia I've almost come to think of as my default self; some reason why, although I'm no longer actually contemplating suicide, most days I still feel it would have been so much better not to have been born.

Dad: only child of Holocaust survivors, narcissistic to the point of psychopathy; the whole world must indulge his desires and recognize his artistic genius or, if thwarted, he readily explodes in outbursts of rage. Never at me, to his minimal credit. But at his second wife, on a daily basis, with ten-year-old me hiding in my room wishing it would end. It never did, the year and half I lived with them; and she gave as good as she got. He was taking cocaine at the time, I later found out. He 'loves' me more than anything, if you ask him, but somehow I can't think of a single occasion when this translated into an act of actual caretaking. I take more account of my cat's needs and desires than he did of mine. When I moved in with him and his wife it was because he wanted it and assumed I did too - he never thought to ask. And I was too scared to tell him I didn't - so scared in fact I lied to my mother to make her agree. She should still have known better, and stood up to him when I couldn't. But I think she honestly believed me that I wanted to go. The result was a year and a half of living in a war zone with a drug addict. I wish I'd raged right back at him, then or later, but I've never been able to do that to anyone.

Mom (with whom, plus second husband, I spent most of my childhood). I don't think she loved her husband much; I can't remember any spontaneous displays of affection, or any other reason I might have had to think that a woman might actually love and desire a man, as opposed to resignedly tolerating him. This possibility hardly occurred to me until I was in my late teens or twenties. Her friends were mostly radical feminists who liked to trade jokes about how despicable men were - with an adolescent boy within hearing range, damn it - or if there were any men in her circle they were always of the sort who are so in touch with their 'feminine side' that they wouldn't admit to possessing a molecule of testosterone. Is that what she wanted me to grow up into? Is that what she wanted to do, psychologically castrate her own son?

I know her past and I can understand what all of this came out of, but I don't care.

Then there was the constant moving - I went to five different elementary schools (I never realized this until I thought to count just now), in two different countries. I was always the new kid who gets to stand up and be introduced to the class in the middle of the school year. They shouldn't have done that to me once; they did it four or five times. So no, practically no friends for most of my childhood. Still practically no friends, in fact.

I don't think I intend to have kids, even though I've always wanted them. I can't take the chance they might end up like me - better break the cycle of suffering right here. Philip Larkin said it best.

#92 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:45 PM:

Ah yes, it's that time of year again, isn't it?

I haven't often been posting here under my real name lately, and my family life is probably the main reason for it. I promise, when I get my head put back together, I'll be around here a lot more often. It's just that, at the moment, I'm kinda buried under therapists and lawyers and mediators, oh my.

So hey, where are we now? Let's see:

- she's probably not psychotic, or at least, not currently... just *really* NOT very easy to live with... so, not psychotic: that's a good thing, and...

- this season... the maladaptive traits in her personality that come to the fore most often are more narcissistic than borderline... so, that's a change of pace, at least...

- that breaking cycles thing... pretty certain now that the boy is suffering *more* from my failure to initiate separation from his mother than from any damage that would naturally follow from my making a clean break. Yeah, I shouldn't have waited.

Anyway, that's where I am. Thus, the thing about therapists and lawyers and mediators, oh my.

How'd I get here? Oh, when I'm being charitable to myself, which isn't often these days, but I'm not trying to fish for sympathy here, I say it happened like this: I learned from my therapist to set some limits and stand my ground on the non-negotiable parts of my relationship with my wife. Limits were enforced. Ground was defended. Wife finally decided that this was an intolerable state of affairs, kicked me and my stuff permanently out of the bedroom, informed me that our marriage was now an "open" one (huh? i don't think that means what she thinks it means), took off her wedding ring, and told me that I could sleep on the floor in the basement or I could find a roommate and move out. (My lawyer advised me to choose the floor in the basement, which I have done.)

Unsolicited advice from the crazy pseudonymous person on your Internet: when your 5-year-old child is the one growing up in an emotionally abusive environment, when the emotionally abusive other parent vigorously refuses to see any kind of psychological healthcare specialist whatsoever, when your own therapist in all seriousness makes an analogy between your marriage and the Trail of Broken Treaties, then it's over. Call the lawyer. Stop waiting. Don't skimp. Hire the most well-respected litigator you can afford, as early in the process as possible. You'll be sorry for every minute you waste trying to find an alternative. If your spouse is refusing to see a family therapist or a couples counselor with you, then it's fairly stupid to expect that person to work *with* you, rather than *against* you, in trying to keep your kid's family from exploding.

I'm going to soldier through this phase of my life. My five-year-old son SHALL NOT, if it is possible for me to prevent it, be subjected, for any longer than required by a court order, to her constant stream of scolding, her ever-present disapproval, her shrill tone and raised voice at every slight misstep and delay, her maddening and unpredictable vacillation between hypomanic over attention and disdainful neglect. Even if I'm only able to win *joint* physical custody, I know I'll be able to give him, both of us really, a well-deserved respite from the crazy. I'm not exactly a shining paragon of sanity myself, but at least I'm seeing a therapist, I have a diagnosis and I'm keeping with the treatment plan.

If it sounds like I'm trying to talk myself into believing something I haven't quite figured out yet, then you're very perceptive. There's also probably a bit of me feeling like I owe this community a promise to fight to the bitter end for a kid I suspect many of you would feel some sympathy for if you saw what he goes through on a daily basis in our home. There's that, I can't deny it. (Not that I wouldn't fight otherwise, just that I feel like you folks ought to get a promise from me.)

But. This episode is very painful for me. I used to say that the worst day of my life was when my parents sat me down, told me that they were divorcing, Mom was marrying another man and she would soon be starting another family. Now, I say the worst day of my life was watching my own son go through almost every part of the same ordeal. (Unlike my dysfunctional Dad, I *did* have the wits to spare my kid the "pick which of us gets to keep you" dilemma. I'm not *that* messed up.)

Best wishes to everyone else in this thread. Thanks, abi, for keeping this going.

#93 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:48 PM:


I've never known anyone like Delores Umbridge, but the character is despicable enough that I interrupted a recent re-watch of the Order of the Phoenix movie until I was in the mood to put up with her again.

(Did J.K. Rowling have a real-life Umbridge in her past? I could picture a walking pathology like that infesting a boarding school.)

* * *
@Lee: I'm not sure if I should thank you . . . coming across new Clarissa comics is like finding roadkill I feel obliged to turn over with a stick. Horrible but compelling. (And the fan art is a most satisfying image. I think she'd be acquitted.) (Or perhaps a grown-up Clarissa will someday get to pick out a nursing home for an invalid Wolf.)

#94 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:51 PM:

Lee@86, re. criticism: Yeah. Being told how you *almost* got it right... or how you weren't critical enough of someone else's mistakes... etc. Just not discussing anything important with such people is much, much easier.

One of things that took me a long time to figure out was why my Mother's "I'm proud of you" statements made me feel guilt and anger: they were frequently qualified with "but I'd have been prouder if you had only done it my way/better" subtexts. To this day I sometimes cringe inside when someone praises me, because I expect it to be followed by a tear-down that hollows the praise.

More bluntly: Parents, if you say "I respect you" and then heap disrespect on your children, you're lying to them and yourself, and hurting everyone involved.

#95 ::: ema ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:54 PM:

The thing I still can't figure out, at this point in my life, is what to do about all those other family members, the ones who were less directly abusive, but stayed out of the way of my father, or helped him continue to have access to me. There's the aunt and uncle who were complicit by looking the other way, by insisting it wasn't so bad, and by repeatedly telling me my abuser really doesn't deserve to lose all contact with his daughter. And my grandmother, and cousins, and a half-brother I haven't seen in years... everyone acting like it's just fine. Normal. I'm the one with the problem, right?

It's worst at Christmas. And my birthday, too, somewhere in the unsorted mail is a check from my aunt that I haven't deposited, because I'm working up the nerve to shred it instead. It's the same aunt who's the only one who pushes to find out why I'm not answering calls or letters or showing up at dinner--but when I told her why, she refused to accept it, so now I pretend I didn't get the message, or lie.

I would really appreciate hearing from any of you who've found a way to handle something like this. I spent my entire childhood thinking that everything I felt was wrong, because so few people believed me when I tried to tell them what was going on. That happens very rarely now that I'm an adult, thankfully. But I still can't seem to figure out a response to the rest of this part of my family that doesn't involve total silence on my part.

#96 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:09 PM:

ema @94: I hear you. I'm not sure I can say anything that will help, because I did cut family relations off at the knees.

Not as unequivocally as I would have liked: my brother was in charge of my trust, so there was a bribe and twenty years when I couldn't quite bring myself to disconnect completely. (Which, of course, leaves me feeling dirty and hypocritical for having "sold out" for the sake of a few measley hundred bucks a month.)

And then there was the aunt who just. wouldn't. hear. me. when I told her I really didn't want to maintain contact with her. (Her: "But what did I do?" Me, coming to more clarity later in life: you refused to hear me when I asked for what I wanted.)

She persistently called me every year on my birthday, which is only one reason why I tend to want to hide on that day. My (unsatisfactory) resolution? I would avoid answering the phone on that day (nobody else is likely to call me), and if I do forget and pick up, I was polite but unresponsive.

The last time she called, she said (without a trace of irony), "I'm not really sure if you want me to call or not." Me: "Um, uh." Really!? You're joking, right?

She finally had the grace to die, and now I don't have to deal with that any more.

The best I can offer is this: Say your Truth. If they can't or won't hear it, then act to maintain your boundaries. But don't waste "sorry" on them.

Easier said than done, of course.

I, also, will be very interested to hear what others have to say about this.

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:13 PM:

Stenopos, #65: My father liked to phrase questions in have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife style. Often, this made the question come out sounding like something a little kid might ask in all seriousness. My now-ex, who was a day-care teacher, took to treating them that way, and giving preschool-level explanations. It actually broke my father of using that tactic in only a couple of years! I never did quite get the knack of it, but I offer that story in case it should be useful in dealing with your relatives.

Lila, @72: Transportation, oh yes, that's an issue. My parents used it as a way to try to control me (with only partial success, as I learned how to ask friends for rides in such a way as not to wear out my welcome), and to this day it takes a LOT to make me refuse someone else's request for a ride. As in, inconvenience isn't enough; it has to be genuinely impossible -- I'm out of town, my own car isn't running, we're in pre-con thrash and I literally don't have the time. (Or, just once, "this person is totally taking advantage of me and I need to stop letting it happen".) And one of my personal definitions for "really good friend" is "someone who would give me a ride if I needed it, unless it was impossible". The idea of leaving someone else in that cage if there's any way I can help is just intolerable.

AnotherQuietOne, #75: FWIW, I don't see those as "liberal values"; they are the sort of things my (deep-Southern, very non-liberal) mother used to say. I see them as part of the Culture of Bullying, and in particular, I see them as a variation on Tolerance Judo -- "If you liberals are so tolerant, you have to be tolerant of my [bigotry/abuse/other bad behavior] too!" And that's an attitude which occurs much more commonly in non-liberal environments. Your mother may have been exposed to enough of it to catch the plague, but it is a plague, no matter who says it.

crabby, #81: You've established a life that makes you functional, and a level of emotional involvement (or non-involvement) that pleases you. You're not broken. Anyone, shrink or otherwise, who tells you that you are is full of shit (and if it's a shrink, you fire that one and find another). If you thought you were broken, that would be a different thing.

"Nobody is a failure who is enjoying life." I think that was originally said WRT people who have opted out of the rat race, but it applies under these circumstances as well.

#98 ::: PartlyBetter ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:14 PM:

I didn't speak to most of my siblings for about a decade, because they insisted that our family was Just Fine. My sister wasn't a junkie because their sister could *not* be a junkie! Dad never beat up the kids, and certainly I didn't aim my brother's rifle at Dad and threaten to shoot him with it if he didn't stop beating my brother's head on the stairs.

Denying that it happened is abusive. We all have the right to protect ourself from more abuse.

I was lucky to have one sister that I could talk to -- we remembered different bits, and there are vast holes in the memories, but having someone validate your reality is priceless. I still cry about her death, and wonder if all that I remember was real.

If your family, and those who were there, can't or don't believe you, find those who will, and talk about it there. It's possible that some of your family will come around, eventually -- two of mine did. The rest ... are distant relatives. I have chosen family who love me.

#99 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:18 PM:

ema@94: If you can, I suggest using the power of NO. For example:

NO, I will not help you pretend everything's fine and dandy.

NO, I will not allow anyone to dictate what sort of relationship I should have with an abuser.

NO, I will not allow anyone to dictate that I must have any relationship at all with an abuser.

The same goes for those who enable abuse, even if only by intentional blindness.

Some people say that you have to maintain family relationships, even bad ones; I disagree. Sharing DNA does not give anyone the right to hurt you, and *you* get to decide if an ongoing relationship with anyone is in your best interests or not. If a connection to another person is hurting you, you can set the terms under which you're willing to continue the connection, or, if need be, sever that connection. That's not to say that telling someone you're done with them is easy, or something to be done lightly; it's tough, usually hurts like hell, and may require you to sacrifice other things. But you should always remember that you have the option.

#100 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:27 PM:

ema @94:

Oh, I understand. And, like Jacque, I don't know how much I can help. Those who weren't *directly* abusive are still gaslighting you. They're still ignoring your wants, your needs, your lived experiences. That's why I cut off all contact with my family, and only recently (and very carefully) allowed some contact with my sister, which I control (FB, some IM, occasional phone call). That last is very important to me -- I had no control over my own life for so long, not even my own emotions, that I won't be in a relationship where I'm at someone else's mercy. Even if it's a minor relationship.

You might try coming up with some stock replies, and rehearsing them so they become natural. "We've had this discussion, and you know that I don't feel safe around [my abuser], and I know that you don't want me to feel unsafe. So, how about those [sports team of choice/weather/political gaffe of the day/safe alternate conversational topic]?"

I can't tell you what to do, but I can say that, at least in my case, I couldn't heal, I couldn't grow, with people around me who were constantly negating my own lived experience. Hence my decision.

#101 ::: Ari ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:32 PM:

@48 - Ow. Ow, ow ow. I started tearing up at the first item, and had to come back several times.

I don't know that I'm ready to tell my story, but I've received enormous comfort from reading those already here. Comfort not because "hey, I didn't have it that bad!" Comfort because "ohmygosh other people think the same things? You mean it's not just ME?"

About the only thing I can dredge up to say about myself is that the phrase "redheaded stepchild" makes me cringe something fierce. Yep, I'm a redhead, and I distinctly remember my stepmother telling me at one point in time that she wished I'd been in the car when my mother had her fatal car accident. Yeah. Heart of kindness, that woman is. And she wonders why I don't particularly care to reconcile with her?

#102 ::: Froth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:36 PM:

My brother hit me from the day I was born.

No, that's not true. He was a danger to me from the day I was born. He wanted to hug me, and didn't understand that the baby needed to breathe. That's what my mother tells me. I wonder now if he was trying to smother me deliberately, trying to stop the noisy crying thing that took his mother's attention and wouldn't do as he wanted. Mother put me in a box and carried it around with her, or set the fireguard against the wall with me inside it, so she could leave the room and come back to find both her children alive.
He is disabled. He has moderate to severe learning difficulties, mild physical problems, and is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He was four years old before he learned to speak.
He hit me from the day I was born and he didn't stop until I moved out at eighteen. I am afraid of that man, bigger and stronger than me, violent and unpredictable. I do not love him. I do not want to be near him ever again. He's my brother.

And then my little brother arrived. He caught a respiratory virus and spent two weeks in an incubator at two months old, spent months and years with a box strapped to his chest to sound an alarm when he stopped breathing. It left him with asthma so severe that he was given multiple adult doses of steroids daily to keep his infant body breathing.

There was no room for me in that family. Not when my brother was disabled, and my other brother couldn't be relied upon to keep breathing on his own, and my mother was cripplingly depressed from the stress and we had no money. There was no room for me to hurt or need or want. I was the unimportant one, the child who did not and could not need attention.
I was not allowed to cry. I was not allowed to throw tantrums.

I developed migraines at two and a half, around the time my baby brother was born. They came every month to six weeks, each attack lasting up to eight hours before I threw up and fell unconscious.
I was nineteen before I discovered that it helped to be held through a migraine.

And for all that, my personal hell is school.

#103 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:38 PM:

@83, @84, @88:

Did someone say meds?

I have a chromosomal defect that makes my balls not work right. Among other things, this I naturally produce about as much testosterone as a post-menopausal woman. I went through my 20s thinking it was completely normal to be exhausted all the time. Diagnosis came at about age 30, and after being on hormone therapy for four days I came to understand that no, other people didn't just put a happy face on over the severe depression.

For me there weren't a whole lot of external signs. During my adolescence, a competent pediatrician might have noticed that my nuts were small, and that I didn't grow a beard, and that I had man tits, and that my skeletal development was female-type, and that my voice hadn't changed appreciably, and that I wasn't putting on any muscle mass to speak of, and that my pubic hair was in the classic inverted-triangle female pattern, and... gee, I guess that is a lot of external signs, isn't it? But that would have involved my parents taking me to a doctor, and apparently that just wasn't in the budget. Allergy shots, sure, those made me easier to live with, but routine pediatrics? Nope.

After being on meds for a few weeks, I realized I had never been a young man.

After being on meds for a few months, I realized I never would be a young man. Society does not well tolerate a 30 year old man, with a job, a house, a family, who acts like a teenager. No matter that this 30 year old man was just completing the latter half of adolescence. The straits of responsibility do not permit a man in his 30s to exhibit the type of rambunctious idiocy one rather expects of a man in his late teens and early 20s.

I have never been a young man.

It took many, many months for me to stop being incandescently angry over opportunities lost and beliefs betrayed.

For over a decade now, I have been on meds that cost several thousand dollars a year. Sometimes insurers have paid the costs, sometimes not. I expect to be on these meds, and incurring these costs, for the rest of my life. This helps me lead a semblance of a normal life, but it will never give me back my youth.

#104 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:45 PM:

Froth @101, "I was the unimportant one, the child who did not and could not need attention."

/me feels punched in the kidneys just reading that.

#105 ::: ema ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:46 PM:

I appreciate the validation. I think part of why this is hard for me is that I really thought, when I was finally able to break off contact with my abuser, that would be the end of it. I couldn't imagine that other relatives would work so hard to stop that (I mean, everyone told me once I turned 18 it was my decision, right?).

The one useful thing is that it's helped me see their earlier role in a different (alas, less positive) light, and to have more insight into what motivated some of the adults around me to respond so inadequately. Not a happy thing, but useful, if that makes sense?

#106 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:56 PM:

ema@104: "Not a happy thing, but useful, if that makes sense?"

That makes a lot of sense - I know that looking back at events in my childhood, with an adult perspective, has helped me understand and fix parts of my psyche. Understanding gives you something to work with, much more so than ignorance.

#107 ::: John Peacock ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 07:57 PM:

Don't have anything useful to add other than the entire Family Portrait strip is available beginning

#108 ::: Temporarily Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Froth @101, "I was the unimportant one, the child who did not and could not need attention."

Occasionally I come across heartwarming stories about families dealing with a kid growing up with disabilities or terrible health issues. You know the kind of story . . . Parade magazine fodder.

If there's a sibling involved, there's a trope that he or she has a great big smile and gladly pitches in when needed and utters phrases like "Oh, I've LEARNED SO MUCH from helping out Deeby."

Coming from a family where a younger sibling had (fairly mild) learning disability and (fairly mild) behavior issues, and the vast majority of the spare time that our mom could spare for involvement in our education was spent trying to get a fair shake for said sibling . . . these depictions of the heroic sibling always strike me as false.

I'd love to see a little bitterness and regret over lost opportunities along with the heartfelt thanks for the Opportunities for Growth.

#109 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:27 PM:

I'm here again. I'm reading. I'm sad and wistful and hopelessly floundering and frustrated and helpless. But I'm here, fully present, and staying here.

change_is_scary @ 5 He's gone. It's very hard to find out what normal might have been. Old habits are hard to break.

My father died this year. It's ... it feels as if a vise has disappeared from around my chest. I feel sad for the life he lived. Sympathy? Or just sorrow ... I'm not sure. But whatever, I'm free. I'm safe. It changes everything. I've not seen him in fifteen years. It didn't change anything.

Alphabet Soup @ 48 Those other people? They don't like me, really. They're just putting up with me for some reason.

There's still that voice, that believes that you don't like me, not really. I don't know if it'll ever go away. But that doesn't stop me liking you. That's all I can hold onto.

Jacque @ 85 One miracle of this thread is that, sometimes when someone else says it, you suddenly see it in one of your own dark corners, and can finally grab it and drag it wiggling out into the light.

So true. That's my selfish reason for being here. And still, I refuse to feel guilty.

#110 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:44 PM:

crabby @81: that doesn't make you broken: that makes you adaptable. In large part due to my childhood, I've chosen (so far) not to have children. That doesn't make *me* broken. It makes me wise enough not to pass on what happened to me.

Part of the reason I was single for such a long time was because I didn't think I could have a healthy relationship, and I damned well wasn't going to have another toxic one. The fact that somebody eventually got past my guard... well, let's just say, I had my cat lady housedress all picked out, and I haven't entirely resigned it as a backup plan. ;-)


I just want to say that "did you love them?" is not always a useful question for diagnosing abuse. I loved my abuser desperately, with the passion that only a child who has already lost one parent can muster. And she used that love against me, used it to harm and cow and control me.

One of the most powerful weapons an abuser has is withholding love.

And the only cure for that is to withhold the love yourself--to fall out of love with the parent or lover or other person who is abusing you. Which is hard.

If turning love off were easy, there would be no such thing as Western literature.

I no longer have those feelings of love. But I remember them, and I know how badly they have poisoned so many of my other relationships.

A friend told me recently that I needed to forgive my abuser. I told her that no, I didn't. I am not a Christian; I do not believe that I need to forgive anybody that unequivocally evil.

What I need to be able to do is not live in her shadow, and my anger--now that I have found it--is one of the things that makes me strong enough to keep pushing at the limitations and the scar tissue she left me with.

re: gaslighting. Oh god yes. And one of the bad patterns of my adult life has been carrying that along, and getting involved with people who would tell me that what I remembered just wasn't so.

#111 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:46 PM:

A mantra that helps me sometimes (Cribbed shamelessly from Criminal Minds, a TV show that is secretly all about surviving trauma):

"You're here. S/He's not."

#112 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:48 PM:

Quiet One@54: The terror and the ineptness came from somewhere, didn't they? Oh my yes. My father had an explosive temper, and to deal, Mom and I just shut up. Drove him wild, but better that than...well. Learned the lesson so well that I skipped Phy Ed a few weeks in a row in HS because of a group of Mean Girls (or whatever we called them back in the day) - my own friendly little pod of Dementors. I almost got, the goodie two-shoes Debate/Orchestra/Speech nerd. I honestly never thought to speak up and say anything to my crud of a PE teacher (or my counselor, or my Mom or ANYONE), because you just don't do that, right?

Abi and Lee - thanks. Thanks to all of you, while I'm at it.

#113 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:58 PM:

You can't pick your DNA, but in many ways you can pick your family.

There is nothing wrong in deciding who may and may not have access to your person, your time, your energy, and your data.

After my father died, well at the memorial service, I implemented my policy of I get to decide who is and isn't family.

It has meant occasionally telling the overly persistant to piss off in varying ways, but I'd rather put up with that than the other options.

It's been of enormous relief, because I get to choose not only who to delete but who to admit, and I'm the only one who decides who is and isn't my family in the ways that matter to me.

#114 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 08:58 PM:


you're all precious, valued people, whether I've replied specifically to you or not, and whether you've gotten any specific reply here or not. please know that your words have been read, and your perspective valued.

dona nobis pacem

#115 ::: Lisa N. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:03 PM:

@84, @88, @102: Meds, meds, meds. And all the while that little voice in the back of my head telling me that if I were a stronger person I wouldn't be taking them. Or that voice on the phone, although these days she couches it in concern about "all those pills" I'm taking and how they can't be good for me ("At least it's not two bottles of wine a night," I want to say).

Maybe I should just not tell her. Let her think I have become a capable, calm, reasonably-well-adjusted adult by magic. Let her think that I'm just Trying Harder, and she was right all along. But dishonesty does not come easily to me, and you know what? I don't want her to think she was right. Even if she never truly believes that I'm sick.

And part of me still nurses some kind of hope that she'll see my example and try going to an actual psychiatrist, instead of just letting her GP write her endless scrips for Ativan. Look, Ma! It doesn't have to hurt!

Also, @102: Insurance is of the devil. Mine is currently declining to pay for my newest medication. I've appealed, but they say it could take them up to five business days to render a decision - and meanwhile, because of days spent trying to coordinate between doctors and pharmacies and voicemail mazes, I took my last pill today. So I'm stuck trying to decide if I tough it out for a week - because there's a weekend coming up, so it'll be seven calendar days - or pony up several hundred dollars and hope they pay next month. And even if I do stick it out, they might just decide not to pay after all.

Navigating the medical system should be a full-time job all on its own.

#116 ::: Used to Know ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:06 PM:

@everyone Thankyou.

And a special thanks to those parents and non-parents who have chosen to get help and break the cycle. My dad is one of you, and he is the bravest man I know.

I barely know my dad's dad, and I am thankful. It may not be "normal" to keep out of contact, but it is sensible.

#117 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:06 PM:

I have not spoken to my mother in over fourteen years. I don't miss her, or her emotional manipulation one bit. The last conversation we had on the phone, she called, was talking in a very weak, 'I'm so sick' voice. I didn't recognize her. Asked who it was. "It's your mother" in a robust voice dripping with venom. I replied, "What a miraculous recovery." She said, "I won't live much longer (a statement I'd heard from her a million times since I was a kid); don't you come look in my dead face." I replied, "Ok, whatever you want." I can still hear her gasp of shock at me not falling for her bullshit and calling her bluff.

I wish my sister could learn to do it.

#118 ::: Lisa N. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:17 PM:

@115: Oh jeez, the threats (because that's what they are, threats) of imminent death. I had almost forgotten about those. You had better love me as hard as you can and do whatever I say, because I'll be dead soon and you'll be sorry.

The first time my mom told me she had cancer, I was six. She told me she had no more than a year to live. I had hysterics - in my room, because even then I knew that I wasn't to bother her with my problems. And yet here it is, 25 years later, and even though none of her many bouts of cancer of various kinds have ever resulted in her getting any kind of treatment, she still seems to walk the earth.

My aunt told me once that she's been doing that at least since she was eighteen. She hasn't pulled it on me since I stopped taking (most of) her bullshit. I've still never called her on it. I'm sure she'd just deny it ever happened anyway.

#119 ::: Saddened and Scared ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:37 PM:

I too, felt, insignificant. I too had parents who were so busy coping with trauma of other people that they ignored me, other than an occasional relieved sigh that I was doing all right. So I covered for people. When I was eighteen, I was date raped and did not report because my father, who occasionally -- if he felt threatened -- would engage in or threaten serious violence towards people outside the family, would have shot the bastard, and it would have been my fault if Dad had ended up in prison. I still have not told my family, over three decades later.

The dysfunctional family I worry about most these days is the one in which I am a parent. I have Bipolar Disorder. My spouse engages in neglect and what one friend has described as emotional and economic abuse. (I would rather not go into more detail than that.) I am not working -- and arguably should not be, until the severe depressive episodes are under better control -- and I cannot leave for financial reasons, but mostly because if I left I would lose the medical insurance which buys the drugs which makes it even remotely possible to live. Because of the BD and other conditions, I am pretty much uninsurable.

I so wish we had single-payer health care in this country.

Most days seem okay. It is only when I see things like this thread and start to write all this down do I start to cry and realize exactly how much I have gone numb. My spouse thinks that, because I do not fight anymore, that I am happy with our relationship. I've simply given up hope. They're not a bad person, but are replaying the sever dysfunction in their own family in ours.

I live with the guilt about the damage I have caused to my offspring by my behavior during the time I was unmedicated. The meds -- and the DBT skills I have learned -- help a lot to ameliorate the manic/destructive/vicious symptoms. I have talked to each of my kids, and I am trying to get them professional help, and hear what they say, as hard as it is for me. I am hoping before either they, or less likely me, leave I can begin to undo some of the damage, even as it may be happening. All three of my sons -- the teenagers and the young man -- are willing to talk to me and for that I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you for listening.

#120 ::: Donna ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:47 PM:

@clawr - #90: You say that your father wasn't really physically abusive, that he only shook you and hit you a few times, mostly yelled and got in your space. I am not trying to define your experience, but in my world, that is physical abuse. If nothing else, it's physical intimidation. I really apologize if you're not ready to hear that, but I honestly feel like I'm talking to myself, twenty years ago. "It wasn't that bad; he just yelled at me; big deal. Mom just doesn't understand me and criticizes me; that's not abuse." My sweet patootie.

My version:

I have worked for years to try and understand what made me such an annoying kid. I was all the trouble in the world (honor roll, read books all the time, took care of my brother & sister) and was always saying true things. It was clearly my fault. What was my fault? Everything. I was always exasperating, annoying, useless. I stopped asking for anything whatsoever. I learned to steal if I had to, and made my own menstrual pads from toilet paper rather than ask my mom for money.

I tried for years to understand. I had bad relationships. I even told my mom I was going to a counselor and her response? "I hope you don't want me to come in with you! My friend's daughter wanted her to go to counseling with her, and I couldn't believe it." Everything was my fault. I was too sensitive, too crazy, too honest, too outspoken.

So you can imagine my surprise (I'll turn 40 next year) when my mom offhandedly mentioned that my dad is getting more money each month for a disability he has, "and, you know, his PTSD, too."

Excuse me? PTSD? So those rages he went through where he would yell at anyone in sight and you would yell at him to get out of the house, those weren't normal? I wasn't being too sensitive? There was an actual DISORDER involved, eh?

My first thought: D'ya think maybe you could have told his KIDS about this? Y'know, the people that were most IMPACTED by this?? Second thought: Do I get a percentage of the money involved, to cover the therapy, bad relationships, bad investments, and all the money I spent because I thought no one would be friends with me if I didn't buy them stuff?

I've truly dealt with a lot of this and dealt with it well. I work now in my dream job and am building my own business. I have worked and dreamed and believed my way into a life that I truly love. I have learned so much from my experiences that I wouldn't trade. But that doesn't mean I don't mourn for the little girl who couldn't understand why her mom loved her brother, but never loved her. Why her dad only loved her mind, and only when he was in the mood for a challenging discussion, not when that same mind was challenging his authority. Why nothing was fair and her friends only pretended to like her so they could trick her and make fun of her again.

I hang out with that little girl a lot. I tell her it's okay, that she's beautiful and I love her glasses and she's amazing just the way she is. Because that's all that I wanted back then. I didn't get that feeling very often. Just enough to survive and want more. Now I have more and I try to share as much as I can.

Sorry if this is too long. I appreciate the forum and the anonymity. I am grateful for the stories. I am heartened by the love and survival I see. Thank you.

(For anyone who pings as sharply as I did over the title, there is a book called "When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends" by Victoria Secunda. I read it about once a year.)

#121 ::: Sigrid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 09:55 PM:


Oh my god, the undiagnosed ocd. Oh my god, that.

All I could think, through high school and college, was, "if they ever find out it will ruin everything." They being my father, whose "I am so proud of you" turned into "you betraying heartless bitch" when I told him I needed something. I never told a *soul* about the ocd until therapy gave me the tools to live with it.

Now the ocd is something between a quirk and a, a mugger looming in the shadows that I keep a wary eye on all the time. Good for you for getting the meds, and the therapy, and the self-knowledge.

#122 ::: Polyxena ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:07 PM:

Kelly@63: "I always hear 'let me help you with that' as 'you're doing it wrong/can't you do anything right.'"

Yes. I have very nice friends who often offer to help when I'm doing something in the kitchen. If I have a group over, sometimes several of them will cycle through over a period of time and do this. I know it's not a conspiracy against me, but it can feel like one.

I started making family dinners when I was 10 years old. I think I can cut a fricken onion on my own.
I am Joe's Slow Catharsis@93: my Mother's "I'm proud of you" statements made me feel guilt and anger: they were frequently qualified with "but I'd have been prouder if you had only done it my way/better" subtexts.

The rare times I'm on the phone with my father, I get the "I'm proud of you" statement. It pretty much enrages me. I see what you mean about the qualifying subtext, but for me, it's like... If I am proud of something I did, it's because I know how much work it took for me to do it, and I am going to receive something in exchange for that work. So, when someone is proud OF me or something I've done, then it seems like they are taking some credit for the work that I've done -- making whatever I've done less awesome.

Like, a soccer coach being proud of his players that he worked really hard with. Yes, he can take some credit for that.

The guy who sold the chunk of marble to the sculptor being proud of the statue of David... not so much.

Does that make any sense?

I feel like my accomplishments are in spite of my parental figures.

#123 ::: hope ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:16 PM:

#116 Thank you for mentioning that.

My mother also managed to break the cycle somehow. Not perfectly, not without consequences, but still in a way that made us a family. We were basically functional, with problems, rather than dysfunctional. The family unit still worked. The love was real. Yes, I still have scars from the places she didn't know how to fix, but not nearly as many as I would have had if she had been less strong, less brave, less insightful.

#124 ::: Finny ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:42 PM:

Over the last couple years, I have disowned my father, temporarily done the same to my mother, moved to a different country, and forgone all contact with relatives on either side of the family in order to keep my father from finding out where I am (not all in that order).

I know all of that was some of the best decisions I've made; I had to escape somehow. Yet it still feels wrong, bad.

She laughed when I told her I was trying to kill myself. He did...things...I still cannot remember (outside of fever-induced delirium). She called me crazy for being terrified that she would hit me, and laughed while insisting she never had (and simultaneously says that my memory is wonderful, while insisting that anything I remember about her actions has to be wrong or never happened). He...I still flinch and jump and startle when touched, though the husband does not touch bad...I cannot remember why, or what is so scary.

And I am rambling. I will shut up now.

#125 ::: she pushes down on my head so I won't grow ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:42 PM:

...I don't know where to start. The habits of keeping everything a secret are so ingrained. Yeah, I need a good shrink.

("You don't need a psychiatrist, dear. Your real problem is spiritual. Just get your soul right with God - oh, and take your vitamins. Besides, I don't want some wacko messing with your mind.")

Sexual abuse? Thankfully not, although I have to wonder what it does to a seven-year-old's mind to have a Lesbians Are Evil message!porn novel dedicated to xem. (Okay, they did tell me not to read it - but I was a scarily literate seven-year-old, and I'd run out of books again. :P)

("It's such a shame you can't marry X's son Y like we decided when you were both babies, but he has a hereditary genetic problem that would affect your kids.")

Physical abuse? Not usually, I think. No belts, no sticks - just hands (my dad has hands like hams) and kitchen spoons - but we were repeatedly told never to tell anyone our parents spanked us or Child Protective Services would evilly take us away.

I said "not usually". Dad had the occasional towering rage; I've still got strong PTSD about anyone / anything touching or encircling my neck, from That One Time. And I have to sleep with my feet toward the door, from That Other Time where I finally learned I could fight back even against someone that big, if I was prepared.

("Your daddy loves you, dear! You're the apple of his eye! He would never do anything to hurt you. You must be remembering it wrong.")

Emotional abuse? much to say. So much to second-guess. So much I don't even realize isn't normal, because happy families on TV are just fantasies and nobody real is that wise or loving. *longtime Bonanza fan*

There's an episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" where Odo the shapeshifter meets his abusive adoptive dad again. The ep is troublesome, because it ends with a "they've reconciled! it is happymaking!" riff, but the first forty-odd minutes are... my life. My life with my mom. It's a brilliantly-done portrayal of a type of emotional abuse I'd never recognized from outside before, where the abuser honestly loves and wants what's best for the abusee - according to the abuser's own lights. Which involve forcing "humility" and perfection, and being the center of the abusee's world.

("I have a schedule all set up. I don't need to get up yet. Won't you please let me run my own life?" - "Not completely. I won't let you lose your job by being late all the time.")

Utter lack of privacy ("What are you doing that you don't want me to know about?"). Dismissal of emotion ("You can't just do what you *wrinkles nose* feel like, darling. Life is not a beach."). Misdirection ("Of course, if it IS disease Y, they'll probably put you on pill Z. I was on it when I was your age, and it made me deathly ill. Besides, we can't afford a doctor visit right now."). Emotional manipulation ("I trusted you to do X chore, and you never did! Well, don't ask me to trust you with anything again!") Body-image shaming ("Here, I took a photo of your backside with my cell phone so you can see how you look when you're happy-dancing in those jeans. Why don't you wear a nice skirt instead?"). Bad advice ("If you want him to like you, you can't try to get his attention. Boys hate that. You have to play hard-to-get." Result: twelve years of not speaking to a boy I just wanted to be best-friends with till my mom started romantically matchmaking us.)

And oh yeah, the gender essentialism. ("Your name was going to be [boy's name], but you turned out to be a girl. We love you anyway." "Stop being rambunctious - I want you to grow up to be a beautiful and gracious young lady." "Stop that; gentlemen don't swordfight with girls." "I wish you liked to do girl things." "Why don't you like pink? Don't you want to be pretty?" "Under all that prickliness there's a very soft and feminine heart.")

And then there's Little Sister #2's... what I now recognize as "gaslighting". Fascinating term; I'd never heard it before.

("That's not abuse. You're just wallowing in self-pity. You can't say you got out of a bad situation when other people are in much worse situations right now." "It wouldn't help if you did move away - you'd just be running away from yourself. You have to face your problems!")

...and I've totally forgotten to mention Dad's absence (though he lives in the same house), brushing-off, self-centredness, and cruel sarcasm. Mainly because they weren't directed primarily at me. But my issues about his first-idolizing-then-neglecting me would fill another post this size. :S

#126 ::: Another Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:51 PM:

Temporarily Anonymous @108

I've been reading this thread mostly as a sort of - I don't know, way to get perspective on just how many blessings I've been granted in my life (all twenty-one years of it), and a way to gain a little more understanding about what some friends of mine might be dealing with. And then I read your post, Temp Anon, and now I'm... speechless. (which won't stop me from writing a novel, apparently.)

My little sister has ADHD (and is possibly on the spectrum). She spent most of her preadolescence undiagnosed and untreated, not through lack of effort on my parents' part, and Mom and Dad put a lot of time and effort into helping her. She was difficult - beyond everything else, she was also very smart, very fast learner with an intuitive grasp on manipulatoion. She wasn't malicious, but she understood at four that, for example, since Dad was only home in the evenings and weekends, he would be more sympathetic to her, and often take her side against Mom.

And me? I was smart and quiet and five years older than her. I didn't take any effort. Mom and Dad, to their credit, recognized this and explained the situation to me and told me over and over that the attention my sister was getting wasn't good attention... but I also remember how, for years, I quietly did chores that weren't asked of me, and weren't really noted - unless they weren't done. I don't know.

What I also remember is my little sister and my mom fighting on a pretty much constant basis from the time she was walking and talking until... well. They still fight, but the kind of screaming matches I'm talking about stopped when my sister was around ten, I think. I can remember, with perfect clarity, sitting at the computer in the living room at age 12 and typing as quietly as I could, being as small as I could, while they screamed at each other over stupid things - Mom having to hound my sister for ever inch of homework, or to clean up, or whatever.

Mom never screamed at me. No one ever hit me, or molested me, or told me I was worthless. It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned how emotionally abused both my parents were as kids. It's always been a joke how passive-aggressive dad can get.

But I've been realizing just how much emotion I turn inward. I don't have a problem with joy, or with surface things - but real anger? Upset? Crying is out of the question.

This week, I got a savage, fairly personal, and pretty public beatdown from a professor who was critiquing my work - the kind of attack that slips a knife between the slats of your armor and goes for the heart. I didn't cry in class because I don't cry in class, but I went to my best friend afterward. I was telling her what had happened, and I stopped to swallow back the lump of tears and keep going... and then she said, "It's okay to cry."

And it was a god damn revelation. And I just don't know.

I'm sorry for the endless, petty post. I'm sort of feeling my way through this for the first time - the idea just never occurred to me before. I don't know if this is worth seeing a therapist over, or just talking to my parents, or if I'm just overblowing things.

#127 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:56 PM:

Another Anon @126

(and everybody else)

You don't have to be sorry for things that were done to you.

And you never have to be sorry for talking about it.

That shaming and silencing is not your friend.

#128 ::: jeci ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:00 PM:

You do forget, sometimes, how powerful it is to actually talk about this stuff honestly, and realise that other people go through the same-but-different crap.

The really unnerving points are when you realise the narrative you're running through your mind doesn't always bear relation to reality, or to the story you tell the world, it's just there so that you don't have to think too hard about how to respond to things 'normally'.

I loveloveloved Tangled because of that scene after she leaves the tower, I literally couldn't believe they put something so... real in there. The irony being that I can't seem to leave the damn tower myself. Apologies in advance for the essay, I have jetlag and felt better writing it down then trying to sleep tonight.

I've heard a million excuses from my family about why my dad is the way he is, and I guess there are reasons somewhere for it, but my earliest memories are of hiding while he screamed abuse at my mother for no reason. It takes a long while when you're a kid to realise that other people's fathers don't explode when a child accidentally spills a drink at dinner; that they're not all being held hostage to someone else's irrational temper.

It's dreading the car arriving outside, the key turning in the front door. That sick panic of running into a well-meaning neighbour's house for help at 8 or 9 years old because you're convinced your mother's about to be beaten to a pulp or worse, only to be told 'don't be silly, everybody argues... your dad will just buy flowers and they'll make up'. Only there were never any flowers, never apologies. Just more nauseating worry about what was coming next.

The most insane part? That he was jailed for three years a decade ago, for corruption and theft charges that he wasn't even guilty of (he's shitty at being nice to his family but he wouldn't do anything to jeopardise being a policeman. We know who set him up, and it's on the verge of being made public soon). So we actually got a break from him for a while, and it was so great even with the money issues - and then he got released early for good behaviour, and came home minus his old job and his pension, and with a couple hundred more reasons to behave badly.

As I got older, I'm stuck in the same pattern - I always used to be the one that didn't argue with him, didn't answer back (want to see me in a blind panic - have an authority figure criticise me over the tiniest thing). But the only way I could salvage any shred of self-respect was to start getting in the way when he pushed my mum around; start screaming back at him. And I know it will always make the situation worse, make it escalate to violence, but I can't help myself and stay quiet. I expect the bruises now when I get in the way of him trying to shove my mother out of the front door, and then he starts trying to shove me out too. Once we start arguing with him, we apparently lose the right to live in 'his' house that we all pay for, although he seems completely freaking incapable of doing his own washing or cooking without us. It's not overt 'hitting' though, as such, though I do have a nicely memorable chipped front tooth from when he smacked me in the face about 15 years ago. That kind of thing is hard to forget.

So I turned 30 this year and I still live with my parents; am still trapping myself in this ridiculously unhealthy situation. I used to tell my friends when they asked why I didn't leave that I was staying until my youngest sister left. My middle sister left very quickly as soon as he got released, as she seems to have inherited some of his issues too, and she's the only one of us having counselling and on meds for depression/anger problems. She also has a high-powered, well paid job, and a outwardly charming boyfriend who she tells us has irrational anger issues as well. I think she sees what she's doing, but we can't talk about it properly because she seems to like his status and social circle too much to consider ending it.

My youngest sister is just about to start her third year of college, so it's hard to use that as an excuse anymore. I have to face the fact that I'm staying here so my mum isn't left alone with him, and there isn't an expiry date on that. And much as I know that I'm the only person who can make the choice to do anything to improve my life, I look at my mother and panic about what might happen if I go. I've tried to get her to leave so many times, but I also have to be realistic with her about how few financial resources we have between us to find somewhere else to live, and how difficult it is to find somewhere with the two dogs (who aren't exactly easy to rehome and we seriously couldn't bear to).

So she stays, and I stay, and I'm trying to make my peace with the fact that we live with someone who goes out of his way to wreck everyone's birthday and Christmas day with some kind of screaming tantrum and won't take his anti-depressants for more than a couple days, as they 'don't work'. I decided a very long time ago that I would never let anyone else have that kind of power over me, and my solution to that has been to stay single, which has actually suited me fine, despite being totally 'abnormal' in this day and age apparently. And I'd like to think I'm taking the sensible path in never wanting children because I wouldn't know how not to screw them up. I wish more people would take the freaking time to think this through before raising kids in the aftermath of unstable mental health issues (need I say, at least half my extended family on both sides, are on medication for that - my mother and I are notable exceptions).

What's started to get to me this year is that the only way I've been able to deal with this situation in my own head has been to unconsciously make myself forget that I ever dreamed about doing or being anywhere else. Someone mentioned that above, killing your dreams off, and it made a lump in my throat. I spend all my time being frightened about things, jumping at noises in case I need to go intervene before a bad mood escalates to something irretrievable. It's not terrible all the time, that's the irony - half the time he's fine, I have a fairly nice life; it's just all poisoned by knowing what's coming, inevitably. And the likelihood that I'm going to end up resenting my genuinely lovely mother for indirectly making me choose to stay here, even though I'm the only person that can take responsibility for myself in the end.

I spent my college years counselling a couple of friends through nervous breakdowns, hiding the knives when they asked help with the self-harming, driving hours because someone was threatening suicide... it's left me so profoundly tired of it all. I don't get to crack up; I didn't get to threaten to drop out of school like my sister is at the moment, or see a counsellor because that would be admitting I have a problem, and in my mind that would make it worse. So thanks for letting me vent tonight. I'm in awe of some of the things people have survived on here, much as my story isn't nearly as extreme :o)

#129 ::: clawr ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Donna@120 - Abuse is a big, scary word to apply to someone whom I love. And yeah, there's an element there of "Well, it doesn't really matter." It's all just stuff I have to think about--stuff I've been thinking about for a long time, and probably will continue to for a long time.

#130 ::: The invisible One ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:10 PM:

I wasn't going to write anything, until I saw various small things distributed here and there that made me remember that I'm not invisible, as comfortable a place as that is for me. Yeah, my hurts aren't that big compared to some. But I've been slowly learning that I'm not invisible, and that sometimes that's a good thing.

It's been a long time since I've thought of all this stuff, but there were a few triggers upthread that brought it back.

I was married, once. When he left because we "needed some time apart", I was devastated. A few months later when we saw each other again at the counsellor's office, I realized just how horrid he had been making me feel, the whole time we had been together, and how he was still behaving as if it was all on me to change to make it work, as if the changes I had gone through in those months hadn't happened and he could go back to his same old behaviors and have them accepted as normal. I realized then that I was no longer ambivalent (an improvement over devastated, at least) and that I wanted nothing more to do with him, ever. I couldn't get those divorce papers signed fast enough. I even chose the form that required nothing from him other than receiving them and not making an objection. ("Are you trying to tell me something?" I did not answer that email.)

His criticisms when we were together were always oh-so-helpful, always presented in a caring way. But whenever I disagreed with his sister or his mom, I was wrong. I'm introverted: I was broken because I would have a quiet conversation in the corner of a party and he was constantly worried that I wasn't having fun and therefore he couldn't have fun. He was the only person who ever made me feel like I grew up poor. I got depressed while unemployed after graduation; he reminded me in little ways at many times that I wasn't paying my share of the rent, even though we had an agreement that after I got a job he would go back to school and finish that degree, and I would pay the rent for both of us. Then he put off going back to school for a while but couldn't "summon any enthusiasm" for "making a huge number go down a tiny bit", and it was so inconvenient to transfer money between our bank accounts to put something toward the mortgage regularly. Once we were separated, interestingly, regular payments started coming in, so it can't have been all that difficult. I speculate that he got advice that if he wanted any kind of claim on the house he had to show some kind of payment. At one point he asked me if I could quit some hobby we both enjoyed so he could be "best" at something for once. (I wasn't trying to beat him at everything, I just have this drive to do the best I can at whatever I find interesting, and that typically led to me doing better than him. I don't know why he didn't take up golf or something else that he was interested in but I wasn't.) I mentioned starting a new project that interested me, and he said I shouldn't spread myself too thin, I was already tired, so I didn't. Oh, and if I got upset or angry about something I was overreacting.

It wasn't until my best friend repeated a few key phrases back to me, which I had just said to her while trying to deal with the separation, and asked me what my advice would be to a friend who said those things to me, that it clicked. Emotional abuse was the only way I could describe it, and my advice to that hypothetical friend would be DTMFA!

I spent the next couple of years learning how to be happy again, instead of always waiting for him and trying to make him happy. There had been a lot of waiting on my part. My suggestions for things to do together of an evening or weekend were never interesting to him, unless it was TV or sex, even when I tried to tailor my suggestions to activities he had enjoyed in the past.

I still don't know how to compromise, how to find that balance between doing stuff for myself and doing stuff for a partner. Sometimes I wonder if I should bother trying to learn that. But I don't want to go back to waiting for somebody. I have my own projects now, so many more of them than I would have thought possible while in this relationship, and they energize me where he sapped my energy and left me with too little to have projects.

What a waste of ten years of my life that was. I'm so glad it's in the past, and that there were no children involved.

#131 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:18 PM:

I spent every scene with Mother Gothel in Tangled saying "You evil fuck. You evil, EVIL fuck." over and over again. I'm sorry for the other people that were in the theater. I've been lucky not to be in a dynamic like that, but I've seen it in action and loathed it.

And as far as Dolores Umbridge goes, I still remember a Stephen King review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (it wasn't in Entertainment Weekly: I thought it was in The New York Times but I can't find it at their website) that had a line something like "As a professional I wish I could have invented a villain as evil as Dolores Umbridge."

#132 ::: little black dragon ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:23 PM:

Temporarily Anonymous @ 108:

Well, to be fair, I have learned so many things from my life with my family of various special needs, in especial my middle sister with the most intense Autism of all of us (high functioning plus separate likely mental retardation).

I've learned that a lot of people are shit, and hide that shit until you're vulnerable and then try to use you.

I've learned that people like to talk big about righting wrongs of the world and standing up for people, and often crumple the first time it actually becomes necessary.

I've learned that human energy is not infinite, and human compassion has its limits, and that you can love someone with every piece of your soul and STILL want to scream at them for doing Yet Another Stressful Thing in a Very Stressful Day.

I've learned to be viciously, ferociously defensive about what's Mine from other people. I've learned that almost all kids benefit from the amount of attention an Autistic kid needs, it's just you can get away with not giving it to the "normal" kids, whereas if you don't give it to the Autistic kid, everything will explode.

I've learned that no matter how hard a mother who really, really wants to tries, SHE has only so much energy to go around. I've learned that mothers are human, fallible and usually overwhelmed and overworked.

I've learned that coming out of that, I just do not understand the way other people's sibling relationships work; I don't understand a world wherein being the eldest doesn't mean being the extra parent, auxiliary mom over in the corner.

I've learned that one of the best ways to keep someone from resenting a sibling as a competitor is to make them consider the sibling a responsibility.

For a while, I had learned that I was the one-who-didn't-have-anything-wrong-with-her, that I was the one with weaknesses and selfishness while other people had real problems and reasons. That I was lazy and antisocial and never tried hard enough and never appreciated what was done for me.

(Later, I learned that actually, I was chronically depressed and also had Aspergers and was just Gifted enough that, distracted by my sisters' problems, nobody noticed. I also learned that I came by the chronically depressed via my mother. I learned also that just because someone loves you and genuinely thinks they're doing their best for you, and just because YOU think they understand and they're your refuge from difficult stuff at home, doesn't mean they aren't fucking you up in their own special way.)

I've learned that the thin pap spouted in those kinds of Happy Special TV Spots makes my lip curl, mostly because it doesn't even remotely approach doing justice to the way I love my sisters (because if you're training ME, you can't really train me to look after one of them and not the other, they're both mine).

I've learned that gladness or resentment are both passing, ephemeral things, things I feel in the moment and which pass, subsumed to the simple reality that these are my sisters, and they're my sisters even if I'd really like to scream right now.

I've also learned that there's nothing that leaves me quite so awed as being trusted, implicitly, by someone for whom the entire world is continually and constantly even more terrifying, more overwhelming, more adversarial and more difficult than it is for me, and who can't really trust anything or anyone, because she knows people lie and she doesn't understand why.

It's not simple. She's my sister. Resenting her would be like resenting my cat for throwing up on the carpet: it's a pain in the ass and a bugger, but it doesn't matter, because she's mine. Even moreso with my sister. And I can't really regret things, because I can't think what would have been different, not in a way that doesn't leave a sister-shaped hole ripped out of me.

Frustrated, FUCK yes. Tired as hell, FUCK yes. Sitting there in the middle of the floor wondering how it's possible to keep doing this and desperately wanting someone to come and make it all better and knowing they won't, gods of my own, yes. And terrified and impatient, worried and anxious - all kinds of all the negative stuff.

And all the positive, too. It's complicated. She's my [nickname]-girl.

#133 ::: CB ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:26 PM:

I read and lurk on occasion, but this is my first time posting here. And I was very hesitant about posting this, because compared to what happened to many others here, I had it easy. I was the only child of a nice, well-off middle class family. I was not physically abused. I was not sexually abused. I have an overall good relationship with my parents.

But there are still things that are off. My parents were war kids and gave me every opportunity in the form of music lessons, rollerskates, bicycles, etc... If I did not want those things, because I had never asked for them (I'm not s sports person, never have been), I was ungrateful. Because I was an only child and my parents had me fairly late in life, they were overprotective. They did not really restrict my movements, but they always wanted to know where I was going or drive me there. They also made it very difficult for me to move out, because while I got everything I wanted as long as I lived at home, it was also clear that I'd be on my own financially if I moved out. There were also subtle jabs that I was incapable of living on my own, because I was dirty and lazy and spoiled, because I would only oversleep and wouldn't be able to feed myself, wash my clothing and pay my bills on time. Oddly enough, I managed all that well enough during the semester I studied abroad.

When I had trouble finding a job after university, I got a lot of subtle jabs how it was all my fault, since I took too long to finish university and was too old and how I did not send out enough applications and how I would be unable to hold a full-time job anyway, because I was lazy and spoiled and weird. Most of those are from my mother. My father is the sort of very technical person who thinks his own job is the most important in the world and how everybody else's work isn't important.

At school I was bullied by classmates and viewed as a disruption by teachers, though I was a very good student. The teachers basically viewed me as a spoiled little rich girl, which was strange because I never had brand-name clothing or electronics and never wanted those things either. I tried talking to my parents about the bullying, but they usually brushed it off, even if they witnessed it. I did not realize how bad that school really was, until I ended up teaching there for a while as an adult, working with many of the same teachers who had already been there when I was a kid, and lost that job when I called attention to students being bullied once too often. It was only then that I realized that my self-image as a spoiled brat who'd best say nothing, because she'll only brag, had been instilled by that school and that quite possibly I wasn't that person at all.

My father was away for much of my childhood, either working abroad or working long hours. My mother always told me how smart and wonderful I was, though I always strongly suspected that she didn't like how I turned out, because I was too angry and not affectionate enough. My Mom has always had a disturbingly close relationship with her older sister, my aunt, who lived an abusive marriage with an alcoholic and is an emotionally abusive bitch. I strongly suspect that their mother, my grandmother, was emotionally abusive as well, though I can't prove it, because she died before I was born. I can see my aunt's poison seeping into my Mom, whenever she's talked to her. I repeatedly begged her to reduce or sever contact with my aunt, but apparently I'm just saying that because I'm jealous at not being the sole center of attention. And maybe I am jealous, because my aunt's never-ending family drama was always foremost on my Mom's mind, while my own pain was brushed off as unimportant. And maybe it was unimportant, but when your child comes home crying from school, because she's been bullied, talking about your sister's marital drama the moment she comes through the door is not the way to act.

Sometimes my parents say hurtful things to me and when I call them on it later, they deny it and call me a liar. It doesn't help that I do lie on occasion, because sometimes lying is easier than trying to explain things they won't understand. Except that I clearly remember the hurtful things they said and I don't think my memory is that bad. Never mind that when they cannot deny that something bad happened, I get blasted again for being unable to forgive and forget.

I have a pretty rotten image of myself as a nasty, selfish, lazy, spoiled, aggressive person whose only redeeming value is that others think she's smart. I don't know whether my parents instilled that image or the bullying at school, but I sometimes think I can't be all that bad.

#134 ::: Ambivalent One ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:29 PM:

Note: I hope I remembered my anonymous email....

But: thank you to Abi and the other commenters. I haven't really gotten up the courage to read through the entire thread, because I'm still raw from writing what I did. That's one thing I've realized today -- it still feels shameful to talk about it. As if it's my fault everything was broken -- if I hadn't been born sick, if I hadn't cost so much money for hospital/doctor bills, if I'd only been a boy... my life would have been okay. Because then they wouldn't have had any reason to not love me. My chest hurts and my throat is full of swallowed tears.

I did notice that other people did a lot of moving when they were little -- what always gets me about our moving was that it was all in the same small town, but I ended up going to three different schools in third grade, ditto fifth grade... but when my brother started school, and the diagnosis of ADHD was made, my parents chose to stay put, so he'd be in the same school all the way through. I don't know why that always makes me feel so unloved, when there are worse things, but it still gets me.

#135 ::: Donna ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:46 PM:

clawr@129: I wish you nothing but the best. Take good care of yourself through the process, whatever that happens to be. If it helps (and it helped me), identifying bad behavior isn't the same as naming a person "bad".

#136 ::: Hairlight ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:50 PM:

@36. This.
Twenty years ago, we asked our then-shared family doctor if my mother-in-law could have an eating disorder. "No, women who are almost sixty don't have those. I think it's a hormone balance. Thank you for bringing up your concern." We got a new family doctor, and it was hard bringing it up to her. Of course she didn't have an eating disorder. Her doctor thought it had to do with her time of life.
Fast-forward to a couple years ago - lots of family effort and energy spent asking her if she wasn't just a little too thin. She landed in the hospital for yet another fainting fit that broke yet another series of brittle bones. And it was a teaching hospital. And they diagnosed her "metabolic problems" as straightforward anorexia.
After eight weeks in the hospital psychiatric ward, she began to put on weight. She began to work through some very old issues. And she would never have strong enough bones to live in a house with cellar stairs leading to a cement floor.
But now she's feeling better. And she doesn't need the therapist. And she's given away clothes because they don't fit - they're too baggy.
There's no happy ending with lights. Just sometimes people trying to do their best to make a tolerable middle.

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:54 PM:

Quiet one, #53: The terror and the ineptness came from somewhere, didn't they?

You'd think so. But there's also the possibility that this is just how you're wired, and nothing caused it in the trauma sense. Some people are naturally shy, and shyness causes all sorts of add-on effects. Not saying that this must be the case, but it's another angle to consider when you're thinking about this stuff.

Kelly, #63: I always hear "let me help you with that" as "you're doing it wrong/can't you do anything right."

Yeah, and sometimes it's meant that way. My preferred formulation is, "Do you need any help with that?" of "Is there anything I can do to help?" -- and if the answer is no, I take that at face value. The "let me" thing sounds like I'm shoving in, and I don't want to do that.

I Am Joe, #94: (Do you mind my shortening your nick?) My parents were much less subtle than that. I was just Doin It Rong, and anybody should have known better than to do it that way. If it was stuff around the house, my mother would then proceed to do it over, to show me how much better her way was, complaining all the while. I didn't try to help out around the house much; that was the "better to have the one harmless fight over and over" thing again, with a side of "If I do what I want and get yelled at, or do what they want and get yelled at, why should I bother to do what they want?"

After I moved out, it expanded to my choice of housing, the cars I bought, my leisure activities, and pretty much everything else. My friends had always been fertile ground, but the people I was dating were even better. My now-ex was the sole exception to that (and no, that's NOT why I married him!), because I think they considered me not quite good enough for him rather than the reverse.

ema, #95: That's impossibly hard to deal with. I've had some friends in that kind of situation, and AFAIK the only thing that's ever affected it was for the abuser to be publicly accused, arrested, and hauled off for things they did to someone else. And then it immediately switches to "But why did you put up with it, why didn't you TELL us?" *eyeroll*

You may ultimately have to get hard-line with the enablers -- tell them that it's your life and health you're protecting, and if they can't accept that, you don't want to talk to them either. Set a very clear boundary -- they can talk to you about other things, but not about that -- and then make it stick.

Why do you want to shred the check, IYDMMA? Is it an attempt at emotional blackmail?

Polyxena, #122: I would guess that from your father's POV, he has the right to be proud of you because you're part of him. Yeah, that's like being the guy who sold Michelangelo the marble block, but it's an attitude our society strongly encourages.

#138 ::: clawr ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:02 AM:

Donna@135 - Thank you.

#139 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:05 AM:

she pushes down on my head so I won't grow@125:

It's a brilliantly-done portrayal of a type of emotional abuse I'd never recognized from outside before, where the abuser honestly loves and wants what's best for the abusee - according to the abuser's own lights.

This. Oh yes, this. Plus enough arrogance to *know* that she's right, so if you're not doing things the right way/her way, she'll make you do it, not by force, but whatever else it takes. But then force isn't needed if you've been trained to obey her.

#140 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:11 AM:

Not going anonymous this revelations. Also, parents dead and gone.

Another Anon @ 126--

Yeah, it's worth talking to a therapist about. If you're at college, they undoubtedly have some on staff for dealing with young people's inevitable meltdowns. Talk to the therapist before your parents; telling the story another time will get it sorted out in your head. Maybe it isn't even something you need to talk about with them...but you should talk about it with somebody. If you like. What else isn't allowed?

I have been poking more at my writing in the past year, and the question has arisen: why do we have stories? The human race, that is. Every culture has stories, and lots of them. There are the religious ones, and the ones that are obviously moral instruction, and the funny ones. But what about the other ones? Where do the Greek tragedies come from? (Greece, ha ha, I know, but why do we want to hear about Oedipus putting out his own eyes?)

Here's my theory: they're instruction manuals. They're there to teach how to make a life out of a pile of rubble. We want to see characters wounded and maimed, so we can have an example of what it's like to survive the worst the world can throw at us. There are lots of ways to reduce stories to their essential core, like Bradbury's somebody comes to town; somebody leaves town. The one that's working for me right now is: this is what you can make with what you have left.

Everybody here has walked that path. We're not going to get to change places with $FAMOUS PERSON and have a $PERFECT LIFE. Things don't work like that. We're fucked up. The alternative is being dead.

What we have left may not look like much. But it's ours--we paid enough for it, after all.

#141 ::: I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:39 AM:

Lee@137: Shorten away, I don't mind at all. In retrospect I probably should have chosen a shorter nym, but it fits and it makes me smile, so I'll stick with it.

Re. damned if you do or don't so why exert any effort: I remember one conversation where she told me how worried about me she'd been because I wasn't interested in setting up rooms in the house the way I wanted and/or taking an interest in maintaining the house with my name on it. After thinking about it I realized that anything I did had to be with her approval, and had to suit her *first*, or I'd just be making things that much harder for her/disappointing her (read "she would hit me with yet another guilt trip"), so I'd pretty well given up on making the effort long before, without every really thinking about it.

#142 ::: mdh ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:41 AM:

Thank you all for sharing. I'm having a super tough year and your perspectives are super valuable and insightful.

We lost our parents last winter, and I was the only one of the three of us who had really reconciled with my Alpha Male father (see comment 125, loves you but enforces what he thinks is best for you, that's him) and arguably NPD mother. I took the time as my mother was dying of cancer over two years to be present 24 hours a day at least 3 days a week to keep the house running. I wanted to be there all the time, but time there took its toll. My parents were still my parents, but their need beat my self-preservation instincts, and I am proud of what I was able to do for them, and the rightness I have with myself about it.

My siblings came over with the grandkids occasionally. I'm the youngest of 3 and had none of those joy-bundles to offer. I left my career and worked part time, I cleaned, shoveled the snow, shopped for groceries, and made my father the only home cooked meals he ate in the two years my mother was sick.

But I am the unreliable one whose words are meaningless and who does whatever he selfishly wants, apparently.

My father passed 2 weeks after my mother of a heart attack. I was with him. That sucked.

And my sister once accused me of giving him food poisoning. And my brother has felt it necessary to not once in 6 months keep a single promise or address an unkept one. He offers to help, then evaporates. Oh, and he's the executor of their estate, he's months late on being even barely organized about it. Awesome. No control drama there. No way.

On the upside. I know the difference between assertive and aggressive, and I am vigilant no matter how upset they can make me. Not perfect, but vigilant. I have the advantage of knowing who I am better than they do, but they have a knowledge of my press-able buttons (being directly responsible for a few of them).

So, thank you all so much for sharing. I haven't felt so okay about my current family and emotional situations in months. Maybe next time I'll be able to say how exactly I got through this morass.

Friends Help. Thats always a good start.

#143 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:56 AM:

Lisa @115:

Emergency rooms are often the last resort of the desperate.

And insurance is the devil incarnate. On top of everything else (worrying about whether insurance will pay what they say they will pay when they say they will pay it), the state of insurance in America means I have a secret which I must keep from employers, lest they decide that I am the reason their insurance premiums are going up, and that they can no longer afford to keep me.

Happy fun secret time does not a joyous employee make.

#144 ::: Invisible Girl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:03 AM:

I don't even know where to start. It was just a million little things that all combined to make me invisible.

I was supposed to allow my younger sister have or do whatever she wanted, because I was "old enough to know better"--whatever that means when you're five and she's three. What that meant was giving her my toys, balloons, anything so she'd stop crying. It meant she got to go to summer camp and overseas and I got one plane ticket (purchased with frequent flier miles) but only after I threw a fit. It meant that I put gas in the car we were supposed to share in the summers and she got to drive the car. It meant that she got to go to the doctor when she was sick or injured and I didn't unless I broke a bone.

There were two sets of rules. One for me and one for her. I had to behave all the time. Not behaving lead to recriminations and humiliation and occasionally getting hit. Every so often I couldn't take it anymore and talked back, which generally ended in me getting grounded for insane periods of time--but only after I got smacked around a bit.

There were complicated social rules I had to follow, more when I became a teenager. They all had to do with me not drawing attention to myself and not making a pest of myself and imposing on people. My mother was obsessed with reciprocity from my friends in really weird ways. I really didn't have much of a social life because of this obsession. Even now, I worry that I am too demanding of a friend.

My cousins--on both sides of my family--have since told me that me and my sister were freakishly quiet and well-behaved at family gatherings. I don't think they realize the consequences that I would have have faced for being noisy or badly behaved. I don't know if my sister would have had similar consequences.

Once I was a teenager, my father would comment on my body. My father never understood why I refused to walked around the house in my underwear, because his sisters totally did when they were my age. The implication was that there was something wrong with me for not wanting to walk around the house in my underwear.

The kicker there is that my mother--and her sisters--were probably sexually abused by their father and my mother was absolutely terrified that our father would molest us. As far as I know, he only looked and made gross comments. I don't remember anything more.

I gained a bit of weight the summer after my mother died. My father refused to buy me new clothing unless I agreed to get clothing that met his standard of fitting (he thought my clothing was too baggy). I chose to go without and ended up going to college in a place that gets lake effect snow and correspondingly low temperatures without a winter coat that I could button or zip up. Or any other appropriate winter clothing. I was supposed to be grateful he was paying for my tuition and room/board completely out of pocket. How dare I expect warm clothing and spending money on top of that? I did not have a car when I lived on campus and my lack of a FAFSA on file prevented me from getting a job on campus, so I was completely dependent on my father for everything those two years; after I moved off campus I did have a job, but all it paid for was groceries and gas. And getting a full time job was out of the question--I was taking 17+ credit hours a semester and researching/writing an honors thesis. 10-12 hours at a retail job was about all I could handle.

This is all stuff I've been trying to unpack for the last few years. I feel very invisible a lot of the time and I hate it. But I don't know how to not be invisible--I have so many years of practice at not being noticed that to try to be noticed terrifies and fascinates me at the same time. I'm lucky in a lot of ways: I have an amazing spouse and lots of chosen family, I am gainfully employed. I don't have to deal with my father hardly at all anymore and my sister is a good friend--we have been able to both get distance on our respective childhoods and recognize that things were screwed up and not either of our faults and she's doing her damndest to be a good mom to her kids.

And this all seems so inconsequential when I read everyone else's stories. What do I have to complain about, really? (And posting this feels frightening and like I'm trying to get attention. And just argh.)

#145 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:09 AM:

To everyone posting in this thread—You are so strong. Believe in that.

#146 ::: CB ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:14 AM:

I know how you feel, Invisible girl @144. That your story really isn't that bad and how it feels terrifying just to type this in a place where no one of your family will ever read it, because it feels like attention seeking and we've been told seeking attention is bad.

But it helps to speak about all this, even if other people have much worse stories.

#147 ::: Emotional punching bag ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:38 AM:

It is hard to figure out where to start since I never talk about this stuff. My family has always been a loving one and still is most of the time. The root of the problem is my maternal grandmother who is very emotionally abusive toward my mother who is her sole caretaker. As I have gotten older my mother has, in turn, started treating me the same way that her mother treats her and I am not allowed to say anything about it since that results in her blowing up at me. She isn't always like this, we usually get along really well, but she has these random moods that are not predictable. I am not allowed to have emotions or needs during these times because when I express them I am told I am selfish and hateful. I feel like the wolf at the very bottom of the pack that everyone picks on because it isn't allowed to fight back.

This is really just the root of everything and I keep editing and almost deleting it.

#148 ::: chinders ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:41 AM:

Breaking mid-thread to come add my own story.

My parents love me. I think that's the part that breaks my heart. My dad had a temper. When I was about 8 we were fixing a ceiling fan together and he dropped the glass light cover and flipped out, swearing and yelling and throwing things. I cowered in the room until it was clear that I wasn't ameliorating the problem with my presence, then fled. A few minutes later, I told my mother: "I just wish that I'd been closer. If I'd been able to catch it he wouldn't be angry."

He's the one I still talk to regularly and plan to invite to my wedding.

My mom was emotionally abusive. I thought it was me; I thought I was just a terrible kid. I thought I was too sensitive. Shit, I don't know what I thought. But the guilt trips, the rituals of taking some privilege away from me until I groveled enough, the martyrdom of how she was doing it *all for us*- it was there. It was.

It just wasn't enough for the youth counselors to see the one time that she hit me and I left home. I went into our mediation with a list of things I wanted, starting with "mom won't hit me anymore". I left with a promise that she wouldn't hit me if I didn't mouth off.

I left home for college at 18, and I've never looked back. I haven't had to depend on her for another cent of money, and I've slept under the same roof with her since then a number of times I can count on my fingers. I'm 26 now, and I'm very high functioning, professionally and emotionally. I'm not sure if that's because of or despite how I grew up. I'm...incredibly lucky, actually. Most days I believe I'm worth loving.

Most days I believe I can be loved without having to earn it through service and sacrifice and martyrdom. Most days I believe my chosen family when they tell me they love me.

It's the other days, y'know?

#149 ::: theMole ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:47 AM:

I don't know if there is a word for something subtler and more threatening than passive-aggressive. I'm fairly sure I'm high-functioning Asperger's, so I may have misinterpreted the patterns I saw in our house (the bullying at school was less ambiguous and taught me that I could not expect support from those who were supposed to be in authority). Everyone else seems to think that my parents marriage and our family was this wonderful ideal thing.

I never felt safe at home or elsewhere. My brothers called me the mole because I spent all my time in my small room with the door closed. Nowadays I'm slightly claustrophobic.

But nothing happened that I can point to.

When I went away to college I came home on weekends HAPPY and bubbling about how great it was to have people I could talk and joke with, and my father HATED it, and drank enough to have the excuse to tell me embarrassing stuff he should not have talked to his daughter about..

I once mentioned to my Aunt that I didn't think my father really knew what to do having a daughter. She said "Oh no! When you were born he was so excited!" I was 27 when he died and our families were close, but noticed that she couldn't remember any (noncreepy) enthusiasm from the other 27 years.

I miss my Mom (she died first) and I think she did her best for a rather weird daughter. But I don't think it was all in my head.

She never suggested that I should leave my door open and unlocked at night to let some ventilation in, even in the summer when my room was stifiling.

#150 ::: MouseInTheWalls ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:55 AM:

Another invisible child, checking in.

First-time poster...but I figured I had to speak up because, well, not speaking up is the default. (Now tearing up as I type. Wow.)

What I wanted to mention is my tagline in dealing with my dad: "I don't speak alien." I'll do damage control (for mom & younger sibs - yes, I'm the oldest). I'll do polite superficial phone conversations. Some things I can kind of explain by analogy with myself. (I have a wacky/nonfunctional time sense; he has none. Or lives in a different dimension, or something.) But I don't speak alien, & sometimes that's really all there is to say.

So, yeah, thanks for this thread. Some things to think about, here.

#151 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:10 AM:

Coming late to the thread. I am grateful to abi for fishing out my previous fauxmail address.

Now that I am an adult, my most valuable tool for dealing with my mom is "nobody gets to talk to me like that." And I go away until I feel ready to give it another try. At one point, we could go up to 6.5 days before she'd step. She can't help it, probably: nobody else enforces boundaries against her.

Stenopos @65: I will have 25 years in my present home this Nov.
December for me! It's awesome, isn't it?

also: If something feels not quite right, that means something is not quite right.
That should be either embroidered into a sampler or engraved over a mantel, one.

Life Is Victory @67: I cry every year around what would have been her birthday, and hope I did the right thing.
You did the right thing. My mom had no business having children, and if abortion had been an option way back then, I'm convinced we'd all have been happier. I'd've caught the next bus, is all.

AnotherQuietOne @75: They did back off, those kids, once I got past my upbringing to hit them hard in the kishkas, to prove that when I said fuck off, I meant fuck off, and was able and willing to back that up...But it still hurts to be reminded that I am, ultimately, the enemy. Because after all, We Are Nice People, and Nice People Don't Fight.
That was my strategy, as a small, weak, brainy kid. When someone tried to bully me, I turned into a tiny berserker, and the bullies left me the hell alone. I have endeavored to use this power for good and not for evil, and I hope that you can forgive yourself: fighting in self defense is something even a Nice Person may do.

We didn't start it, we just make sure it ends.

Jennifer Baughman @75: Perfection was the standard, and anything less meant I was a miserable failure.
That is abuse right there. Making mistakes is how you learn things. A really good teacher will exhort her students to go out there and make as many mistakes as possible. Fear of making mistakes is the mind-killer. Bah!

clawr @90: By turns I was lazy, moronic, a bitch, a slob; or I was brilliant, beautiful.
And at some point you notice "This has nothing to do with me. This is all about whatever's playing in $PARENT's head." That's a lovely, clarifying moment. May we all experience it.

ema @94: what to do about all those other family members, the ones who were less directly abusive, but stayed out of the way
The most important thing is to do whatever makes you the most comfortable. If I get a decent apology, I'm prepared to have polite discourse with them. If they insist "nothing bad happened," then I won't have anything to do with them. Because their reality and mine are like anti-matter and matter.

Lisa Spangenberg @113: It's been of enormous relief, because I get to choose not only who to delete but who to admit, and I'm the only one who decides who is and isn't my family in the ways that matter to me.
Three cheers!

Phyllis @117: I can still hear her gasp of shock at me not falling for her bullshit and calling her bluff.
Mom (going for the nuclear option): "I wish I'd put you up for adoption!"
Me (evenly, clearly, cleanly): "So do I."
Mom rushes out of the room and Does Not Speak to me for two weeks.
Me (under my breath): "Oh, no, please don't throw me in that briar patch."

I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis @139: But then force isn't needed if you've been trained to obey her.
Oh, my mom was very big on obedience as a virtue. (She got pregnant with me as a side effect of disobedience, so you can see where it leads.) Unfortunately, the other thing she was strong on was "Don't Be A Sheep." So, yeah. sucks to be her.

#152 ::: ema ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:23 AM:

Lee@137: Shredding the check, well...

Part of me happy is that I don't need the money, unlike other times in my life when I put up with all sorts of things that made me miserable because I didn't have the resources to do otherwise.

Part of me remembers the succession of random crap my father (and later, my stepfather, hmm) would give me as presents, and how the disconnect between people giving me what I need and want vs. whatever seems convenient for them seems like a Significant Pattern (I don't mean this only in a tangible goods sense). In the case of my aunt, I feel like taking the money when I'm not talking to her is playing out a role I don't want. Because you're supposed to be grateful to receive things, right? Especially when you grow up on food stamps and there's never enough money to take care of basic needs. Grateful even when it hurts you.

[Sort of a tangent, but... did anyone else have the thing where they got yelled at for being given things that their parent did not approve of (either because it was something you weren't supposed to have, or because the giver shouldn't be wasting their resources)? Basic rules of hospitality still sometimes make me feel confused and twitchy.]

I started buying myself birthday presents a few years ago, so I could have exactly what I wanted, without the guilt, disappointment, or stress. Sometimes I feel a little silly about this, but it's really nice to be able to dictate exactly what I want or need, skipping all the passive-aggressive games. (My stepmother used to say, "look what your dad got me!" when she had picked the present out herself but he paid. Ugh. Not like that.)

#153 ::: Lisa N. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:27 AM:

Oh, and one more thing, because I have absolutely no idea what to do about it, but at least I can get it off my chest: I am pretty sure my mother is abusing my grandmother.

OK, no, not pretty sure; she is. I think the physical abuse has stopped since my parents started having home health care workers in. I know the verbal abuse hasn't.

See, my grandmother is bedridden, and has been for the last two or three years. And she can be extremely frustrating to deal with, because she often refuses to participate in her own care, and resists most attempts to make her life easier and more comfortable.

But she's 93 years old, and she's been living in one room for three years now, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and occasional doctor's appointments, and honestly, it doesn't matter how frustrating she is to deal with. She doesn't deserve to be screamed at every day (in that special way that my mom knows how to do, where she finds your deepest cracks and shoves a sharp wedge in them). She didn't deserve to have her legs forced apart when she was embarrassed about being sponge-bathed and didn't want to be cleaned intimately. She doesn't deserve to be handled with unnecessary roughness when she's fallen out of bed because she tried to reach for something instead of calling for help.

My mother relates all these stories to me with an air of great put-upon-ness. I am meant to be a witness to the tribulation that is her life. One of the things I hate most about myself, for a while now, is that I haven't been able to bring myself to say Mom, that's really fucked up.

I mean, I know how it would go, and it would just end in me being a bad person somehow, and nothing would change. But at least I would have said something. And I haven't, and I hate myself for it.

#154 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:50 AM:

I Am Joe, #139: My parents had a much milder version of that -- or maybe it was just that I had a much bigger ration of Stubborn than they did, and could not be forced to obey by any means they were willing to use. (Thankfully, the means they were willing to use did not extend to the kind of physical beating it would have taken to break me.) But yes, it was very much a case of "we love you and want what's best for you, without reference to anything you might need or want that would be different, because of course that would be BAD for you." To some extent, I consider it a failure of imagination; they were perfectly happy with the (IMO constrained and unutterably boring) life they had, and literally could not comprehend why I wouldn't want one exactly like it.

One of the reasons I've chosen not to have children was that I couldn't escape the question, "What if I were to have a child who turned out as alien to me as I was to them?" And honestly, I don't think I'd have handled it at all well, although I probably wouldn't have repeated their major mistakes.

ema, #152: I get it. Whether she means it so or not, it feels manipulative to you, and then there's the feeling of freedom that comes with being able to tear it up because you have enough safety margin not to need it. Makes sense.

I was looking back thru one of the older threads, and found a piece of wisdom I'd like to repeat here for those who might not have seen it at the time. It was posted by someone going by J.

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

I think that's a very useful way to look at the concept of "forgiveness" in this context. The debt doesn't disappear; but you accept that it's never going to be repaid, and move on, and the moving on does not have to include the one who owes the debt.

#155 ::: Reyes ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:14 AM:

It's 3am here and I need to go to bed, so I'm sure I'll be reading more of this tomorrow and maybe posting more.
I keep struggling between, "There's no point in telling my story, it's not as bad as these" and telling myself not to minimize things.

My mother was terribly emotionally/verbally abusive. After she divorced my father, my older sister and I became the worst thing that ever happened to her. Not my fault that I was born. We were too much like our father. Forgetting to clean my room was something I did specifically to harm her - because of course, kids never forget to clean their room, right? And all of our family members had meetings together on how to make her life miserable - that's what we did when my dad had custody! (She honestly believed this, somehow?)
Her parents were supposedly bad to her and things happened to her when she was younger, but honestly...I don't care. It doesn't excuse what she did to me or my siblings. And I have no obligation to forgive her or give even the smallest of fucks. To use a line she always liked to quote to me, "You've steered your own ship into the rocks".
She used to tell me I was the most terrible person in the world. She told all of us that we were psychopaths. When I was in grade 4, I came home from my father's and she handed me a letter and sent me to my room without speaking. She wrote to me that I was the worst person she had ever met, and that I was no longer her daughter. I stopped trying to please her after that. After that is was just about surviving. But I know that I've internalized some of the things she said (and I hate myself for that, and am still trying to deny it).
The sad thing is that I think she actually caused me to become some of the things she accused me of being. She said I was manipulative - I ended up having to be so, to keep myself safe in the environment she created, and then I didn't know how else to be. She said I was TRYING to make her miserable - and now I would LOVE to see her miserable. She deserves to die old and alone and guilty about what she's done.

It's hard for me to have feelings toward people now. Complicated. When family members have died, I don't really care. I can pretend to have a relationship with someone, but I don't feel it. I had to pretend to be upset over my grandad's death, so that I didn't seem strange. I've had to pretend a lot of things so that I don't seem strange. Then I think "I don't care at all about this, so I must be a terrible person" - just like she said I was.

I...really should be sleeping. So maybe when I am more coherent, I'll elaborate more. I may have glossed over so many things in my mind so that I don't have to remember them anymore.

#156 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:36 AM:

I'm late, because yesterday I had no reliable internet - travel involving airplanes and hopping over watery bits will do that.

I'm right with you, abi, on a fervent desire to have nothing I *have* to say on this topic. And yet, still,... everytime this day rolls around, the amount that wants to pop out in response leaves me with a kind of mental knot, something like the psychological equivalent of that funny squeak an oboe makes when the player keeps trying to blow too hard.

I know at least I don't have to get into the Olympics of Oppression here, where my experience is allowed to have significance only if it's demonstrably more damaging/painful than someone else's idea of worthy. Thank you for leaving us this space. I'll be thinking throughout the day, and perhaps I can leave something here, for myself and for others. A little pebble of remembrance.

Crazy(but getting reconciled with it)Soph

#157 ::: PartlyBetter ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:39 AM:

Emotional punching bag @ 147:
My mom was intermittently nuts for all of her life, as best I can tell. For my time, she was mostly normal-ish (well, dealing with an abusive husband who was probably a junkie) until I was 11, then really Not Sane for a few years, then again mostly normal once I was in my 20s. But yes, the hard thing to deal with was that the reactions were not predictable -- the simplest thing (like, "please sign this permission slip so I can go on the field trip") could result in a screaming fit and me being locked in my room for days, or maybe it would be fine. The hardest part was not knowing which. Being invisible was the only safe option.

I wish I had some words that would help, but the best I have is that the person my Mom was when she was nuts was not the same person she was when she was normal, and treating her as someone entirely separate made it easier to cope. I don't think it was necessarily under her control, so thinking of that person as someone else made it easier to deal with, for me. (And yeah, it was a lot easier after I could choose when to deal with her, and leave if she got crazy...)

Being witness to the abuse she suffered made it harder to stand up for myself, but (reasonable or not) seeing abusive-Mom as a different person from okay-Mom made it easier for me to cope. If that's a broken way to live, well, it's still a working coping mechanism for me.

#158 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 04:56 AM:

I'm in a good enough place right now that I feel I can post something this time around under my usual handle, which is a blessing. Would that this be the case until next year, and the year after, and the one after that.

So. I do nice things for people I like and care about; it makes me happy to see them happy, and to me, it's often more painful to rein in spurts of generosity than to succumb to them, even at risk of having my offering rejected.

Someone told me in a conversation that there are those who take care of others because that way others will take care of them, and there are those who don't do it because they're convinced that others wouldn't lift a finger to help them out just because they care.

It gave me pause. And made me reach the conclusion that I take care of the ones I love* because I have to, I'm wired that way, but I'm convinced that no one will do the same thing for me, which is why I'm still busy picking out the names of the three cats who'll be keeping me company when I'm old and alone.

And this is also why I have a nasty habit of dropping otherwise good friendships and not making an effort to maintain contact with people I sincerely appreciate, and hurting (at least some of) them in the bargain. There's a hiccup in my brain that says everyone, me first of all, will get left in the lurch sooner or later, and shit happens, and tough beans.

In my head, I know that some of the people I care about feel the same way about me. I know I matter to some people. I have ample proof, both tangible and intangible, that this is the case.

In my heart? Not so much. Or rather, I do know it—the same way I "know" it'll never last.

The upside is that this makes me want to live bravely and carpe diem et cetera et cetera. I try not to think about the downside too much.

* this word, I rly haz a problem with it.

#159 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:07 AM:

I'm crying. I'm not sure whether it's wholly in sympathy, or just catharsis. I suspect a bit of both.

I am so tired of never being good enough. I suspect at least part of the problem is that I gave up trying years ago - I just reached the point of despair, and stopped trying. I'm not actually killing myself, but I'm not making a particularly strong effort to live, either - and I've no idea how to stop neglecting myself and start living. In the end, I think it all comes down to believing I'm worth saving, and I don't.

I know I'm sabotaging myself when it comes to things which would make me feel better. Even little things like dealing with the housework. I've noticed lately when I start clearing the backlog of stuff on the benches, and start getting rid of the pile of laundry, I'll suddenly stop dead and let it all back up again. It's like "if I get all of this cleared, I might have to find something else to do to improve the situation around here" or "if I get the backlog of dishes done, I might wind up having to sweep the floors". At least with the house falling into squalor, I can pretend I'm actually doing something about the mess when I take some time and clear things up a bit. I stopped taking my meds a while ago, after ages of taking them intermittently. The psych meds I'm not missing so much. The thyroid meds I might be - but I can't see my way clear to actually trying to get back into the routine of taking them again, because I know I'll probably wind up forgetting or stopping again or just neglecting it for a day or a week or a month or two. After being told (in a highly disapproving tone) by a GP that starting and stopping those meds increases my chances of getting thyroid cancer, well, I can't really justify starting again just to stop again. So why not give up on that, too, and kid myself it's a way of staying healthier long-term (hey, I'm reducing my chances of cancer, right?).

I don't actively try to commit suicide. But then, I don't actively try to live either. So where does that leave me?

There's a biblical phrase to the effect that the sins of the parents are visited nigh unto the seventh generation, and I tend to take this as meaning that it takes at least seven generations to deal with the after-effects of abuse. I was emotionally neglected, by parents who were both emotionally neglected, by grandparents who were either partially orphaned, impoverished, or again, emotionally neglected, and so on back seven generations. Maybe somewhere back in all that low-level stuff, there's a big shining TRAUMA, like a rape or a murder, or an alcoholic in the family. Or maybe there isn't - maybe it's just the confluence of two lines each with their own history of depression, meeting up and landing the world with a couple of kids.

I'm slowly learning to recognise some of my triggers - I can remember hiding in the far corner of the house one day because one of our neighbours was screaming at her partner, and all of a sudden I was the scared kid who had to stand there and take it because Mum had reached the end of her rope, and was yelling at me, and all I wanted to do was run and hide and get away from it. I don't like being reprimanded for other people's wrongdoings - I spent too many years being referred to as "you kids" by my mother (usually because either my brother or myself had done something to annoy her, and my brother wasn't physically present... not that this stopped the rant). Loud noises make me wince.

I can't forgive and forget and accept and let it all go by any more. I'm too broken. Okay, maybe it wasn't her fault for being depressed and not having the tools to cope with it. Maybe it wasn't Dad's fault for trying to be the father he thought he was supposed to be (distant and impartial). But it wasn't my fault either.

So yeah. I'm in a worse spot this year than I was last year. And at present I don't see any way out of it.

#160 ::: Danish Modern ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:09 AM:

I normally wouldn't ever post in a thread like this for a lot of reasons: partly because I think my family is probably slightly more functional than average, partly because I know that it'd make members of my family sad or angry if they knew I felt this way, and partly because "playing the victim" was the number one thing I was made to feel terrible about my entire life.

But this thread turned a huge light bulb on. I think I need to talk about "playing the victim."

My mother tried very hard to be a good mother, and in many ways succeeded. I still talk to her all the time, and love her a great deal. She's my favorite family member. I think that if I'd been the only kid she had to deal with, I'd pretty much have no complaints. But my deepest family-related scar comes from something she did to try to avoid being negative, critical, or abusive. She tried to be really, truly fair. She took our side against other authority figures who tried to mess with us. Problems only arose when it came to inter-sibling disputes.

Whenever there was a fight between siblings in our house, she would refuse to take sides, claiming that both parties were responsible and we had to mutually come up with a way to work together. That sounds good, right? Sadly, this was her reaction to every single conflict. If my brother and I got into a fight over what TV show to watch, then it worked well. But if my brother went into my room and started tearing my books into pieces for no discernible reason, she'd treat it in the exact same way... I must have done or said something that caused the conflict, so we had to work together to figure out how not to have him tear my books up anymore. How does a ten year old figure out what words trigger angry outbursts, and learn not to say them anymore?

Any time I dared to say "no, I don't think this was partially my fault" I was accused of "playing the victim." Even if I admitted that I had contributed to the fight, but suggested that I was possibly slightly less at fault, I was "playing the victim" again.

When my brother was a toddler, it was understandable: toddlers don't know any better, and a toddler isn't being malicious when he destroys your stuff. But when he became conscious of his actions he realized that, no matter what he did, he would never be punished, and would also never be considered to be at fault. If he hit me, my mom would ask me what I said or did to "contribute to the fight," so he learned that whatever action he took, he could always find a corresponding action of mine that caused it in some way, and the breaking things with bats and throwing things continued. And every time it happened, every time he hit me or broke something of mine, my mother would insist that I try to figure out what I could do differently to prevent fights in the future, because any time there was a conflict there were two sides: nobody was at fault. I think it was supposed to teach compromise, and avoid making either of us feel like we were bad or guilty.

Instead the lesson I learned was this: when your brother hits you, hit him back just as hard. When he breaks something you care about, break something he cares about. When he screams, scream just as loud. You will get equal blame no matter what (actually, you'll get slightly more because you're older), so you might as well do all the same things. There was a period of about four years when we would have at least one screaming, hours-long, physical fight every month, often ending in standoffs between us. Thank god we were fairly equally matched at the time, and neither of us was ever seriously injured. When you know that no matter how far you go, you're not going to be rewarded or punished either way, the only justice you have is the feeling that you gave as good as you got.

My mom never understood why we fought. She got upset when we fought, and tried to get us to talk it out after. I'd feel guilty for fighting and usually try not to retaliate the next time something started... but she'd be just as upset whether I fought back or not, so why not fight back? I lived that way for several years, until I couldn't keep escalating things. We were getting big and strong enough that there was a risk of serious injury. I would look at my bruises (and my brother had bruises too, I'm sure) and realize that things were getting bad, so I just withdrew instead of fighting back, and spent weeks in my room. For over a year I'd lock my door when I left and pick the lock in order to get back in, then lock the door behind me. It worked really well until my brother learned to pick locks too.

I don't want to give the impression that my brother would break into my room to beat me up... but he'd break into my room to talk to me because he was bored and lonely and genuinely liked me. And most of the time it'd be ok, but if I disagreed with him there was a chance he'd get angry, and if he got angry we'd get in a fight. Then he'd tell my mother that I was making fun of him, or that I said something in a mean voice, and my mother would tell him it wasn't ok to hit me, but she's also tell me not to be mean. The thing is, those accusations of emotional abuse on my part weren't an attempt by my brother to manipulate my parents: he had truly internalized my mother's explanation, her idea that it was impossible to assign any blame in that sort of conflict. Because of that, if he hit me, he truly believed that it always HAD to be because of something I did that I could change... it was impossible that he was actually completely responsible.

To this day my brother really seems to believe that every time I say anything critical to him I am deliberately trying to enrage him, and that breaking something by hurling it to the ground in response is entirely justified, because it's just a response to my "emotional abuse." To this day I have to be incredibly careful about the words I use and my tone of voice around him, otherwise I might be accused of "egging him on." And leaving the room when I just can't cope anymore? I shouldn't do that either, because I should know that that just upsets him. When I flee, I'm unhealthily suppressing my emotions.

When I do bring this up (it's rare, but I've tried to talk about it before), my mom is compassionate about it, but she ultimately dismisses it by claiming that my brother and I get along better than "most kids" do. The sad thing is, she's probably right. Most of the time we get along great, but every once in a while we'll disagree, or I'll let my shields drop for just a second and say something sarcastic, and he'll hit me or destroy something of mine I care about, or we'll get into a screaming fight. And when we fight, my mother insists that we are equally at fault for those outbursts. If I try to explain why I think my brother is slightly more at fault than I am, I'm "playing the victim."

I feel incredibly guilty typing all of this. After all, I'm just doing what I've been doing all along: trying to make my little brother look bad because I don't understand him and can't communicate with him properly and I think I'm never at fault and I want people to think I'm the "good one." But I don't actually think I'm never at fault. There are some times when I know that I'm in a bad mood and I say a mean thing first. Those times do happen. But if I say that I think they happen slightly less often than the alternative...

I feel guilty just typing about this. Honestly, the thought that I would actually say all these bad things about my family is making me cry, because they're all good people, but I'm making it look like they're bad and I'm the good one. That means I'm "playing the victim" again. It's insidious. So I guess I'm writing this out in case there's anyone else who has that.

#161 ::: Galadhir ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:54 AM:

@radiantlisa Me too. And now he's old and alone, and they expect me to look after him. I know I should, because he's my father, but I fall apart for days even after going to visit. It was OK when I moved out and I could stay away from him, but what am I going to do now he's starting to need me? What kind of a s**t would I be if I didn't look after my own father in his old age? But how can I do that when the thought of being around him terrifies me?

#162 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:12 AM:

trigger alert for joke

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




Your brother would know . . .

#163 ::: radiantlisa ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:21 AM:

Galadhir @161 - I'm coming close to that showdown, too. For now, his health is good, but my mother won't be able to take care of him when the time comes, so the job comes down to me. Can I play daughter? I don't know.

#164 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:48 AM:

Danish Modern, #160: if matters are as you have said, your brother is dangerously violent and your parents are complicit.

I don't know where you live, and I don't know the laws and policing practices are there, but seeking legal protection might be appropriate.

#165 ::: Sleep disorders & gaslighting ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:06 AM:

Okay, I was pretty sure I had nothing to contribute to this thread on my own behalf until Lisa N. @ 83.

My parents have been very supportive to me since I've gotten this sorted out, but the way it was framed when I was a kid was that I was just "lazy"... I brainwashed myself, with the help of my family, to believe that I just "liked being nocturnal". Being nocturnal screwed me up to the point that I couldn't live normally for a long time, until I got onto medications that help me regulate my sleep schedule, and I've spent the last few years re-evaluating my life, just from having a vague idea of what "healthy" looks like.

But, on gaslighting: I just get so mad when I think about how my sister was treated. I really think of myself as "the one who escaped" relative to her... see, she's more neurotypical than me, and programming that slid right off my aspie brain went into hers.

And when my sister was 8-10 and I was in my teen years, my mother constantly harrassed her about eating too much. It didn't matter that she wasn't actually eating too much. She was slightly chubby and that was all. But the comments kept coming. And I told my mother that she was putting my sister at risk for an eating disorder...

...which my sister, now an adult, suffers from and requires expensive therapy for...

...and they both deny that it ever happened. Well, my mother denies it completely - and my sister, after much pressing, said, "...well, I guess that she might have said something, but I don't remember it really well; what I remember is the boys who insulted me in middle school."

The thing is, they wouldn't have made an impact if Mom hadn't broken down her defenses.

And I feel like I was complicit in that, not at that time - at that time I yelled at my mother about it - but in other things, in that I felt harrassed by her and pushed her away. (When she was a toddler and I was an older child; she injured me in a random toddler rage and Mom wouldn't take my fear of violence seriously since my sister was so much younger, and from that point forward I just tried to stay away from my sister because interacting with her had been set up as a no-win.) So... I feel like I could have and should have seen the dynamic and done something about it. But I was a kid, and a non-neurotypical kid, and social dynamics were really far from my awareness.

#166 ::: A.Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:16 AM:

If you’ve never been in these discussions before, it’s sometimes tempting to advocate for the impossible. Comments like, “but they’re the only parents you’ve got,” or “give it one more try” are more than mere noise in threads like this: they’re active agents of damage. I’ll be dealing fairly harshly with them.

Thank you. My mother tried to do the "oh, but he loves you in his way" stuff about my sire (an emotional abuser), and it has contributed to making me very, very bitter.

Also, I really, really must watch Tangled now. And probably talk about it with my kid.

#167 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:24 AM:

My abuse was at the hands of age-mates (I refuse to say peers), not my family, although an extended family expectation kept me in the path of risk until it escalated beyond what they could minimize or ignore. But that's not what I joined in to say.

I just wanted to say, Lee @97, I hear you so very much on transportation. My sketchy access was, I believe, a matter of logistics: I grew up in a suburb with limited public transportation, starting in high school I went to a private school that drew its students from many towns, teenagers are only allowed to get their driver's licenses at an age older than freshman year of high school, my parents had the ordinary amount of other demands on their time that sometimes precluded driving me places, and, while they encouraged me to get my license at the earliest legal opportunity and provided me with my own set of keys to one of their cars -- and I can see why not both, I'd also be reluctant to give a driver with barely any experience the keys to a car under a year old, so only giving me access to the larger, more solid, and less valuable car was reasonable enough -- giving me my own car and paying for its insurance was not in the budget, nor could I have afforded to cover that myself on the sort of part-time job available to a high school student. Same thing for having my own car in college.

So. Due to circumstances I can only call ordinary, not abusive, my teenage access to control over my own transportation was limited, and it chafed. And my emotional commitment to giving other people rides, as a way of paying it forward for the rides I got, is very strong. So your description of your own emotional commitment struck a chord with me. That's all.

#168 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 08:01 AM:

I can't really call the failure to get diagnosed bipolar 2 until age 40 a product of abuse, either. A lot of the signifiers were within the range of "young person, flaky" when I lived with them, and they did notice enough of the problem to help me get a diagnosis of depression.

I just want to say how much I winced when the first words out of my mother's mouth when I told her about it last year was "No, you're not! You can't be. You must have been misdiagnosed." If my initial context had been abusive, I probably wouldn't have had the confidence to say, "You haven't lived with me for the last twenty years. Trust me, I think the doctor's right, and the meds are HELPING." And if my situation had been abusive, my mother would not have backed down quickly from her initial resistance to the idea. It was just... I winced, but I'd sort of been EXPECTING her to say that. A pattern, one that I recognized and didn't enjoy.

But for all the people who didn't get their diagnoses until adulthood, because their families believed their symptoms to be evidence of character flaws: oh, do I ever hear you.

I did not have my own diagnosis before I had my kid. Now it looks as if the kid has inherited my own brain troubles. I have a great deal of regret, not for having the kid in the first place, but for having unknowingly passed it on, and for all the times my undiagnosed self was a crappy parent due to the disorder.

My kid seems to love me anyway. And trusts me with far more information than I trusted my parents with, at the same age. My mother tended to raise loud fusses over relatively trivial matters, like fashion trends of which she did not approve (oh, the battles I fought about wanting to wear a lot of black! and rhinestones, and lace gloves! But 80s teenage trends, while often unfortunate, were usually harmless) so as a teenager I got in the habit of tucking hated accessories into pockets and donning them out of her sight, and the habit of concealment and deception crept into other things, so my strategy with the kid has been about Picking My Battles, and trying to encourage trust.

It seems to have worked. So, even though I berate myself for having often been a crappy parent... I have to suspect that I may be doing some things right.

#169 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 08:54 AM:

Julie L @ 2 (without having read any more of the thread yet): That explains a lot about why Portal gave me nightmares. Thank you.

#170 ::: A.Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:29 AM:

And, after reading more... For everyone invisible, who thinks, "Oh, it wasn't as bad as that other thing over there"... That doesn't make it good. That doesn't make it right. I have always found that it not only helps to talk about it, but sometimes it is vital. Talking about it... It can help tear down the "oh, let's all pretend we're normal" lies.

Talk, if you can and it helps. You matter. You do.

#171 ::: Suzanne F ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:38 AM:

On "being grateful"

In Eight Days of Luke, David, who is under the care of a neglectful and emotionally abusive family, is always told to be grateful for the little they offer him. But then he has a conversation with an outsider who asks him "Is a stone grateful to the earth for being dropped on it?"

Is a stone grateful to the earth? Wow. I got it.

#172 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:39 AM:

My mother was a non-standard sort of narcissist. She took good physical care of the family. She wasn't flamboyant. But she seemed to believe that her emotional states were the only real ones. I don't know how much was things in the back of her mind and how much was my reaction to I don't know what, but I came out of being raised by her apparently believing that if I couldn't love her (and I didn't, I just didn't want to be anywhere near her), then I couldn't get anything right with people, and there was nothing I could do that would make up for it.


I gave up on my mother when I was so young that I can't remember it. I've dedicated a lot of my life to the belief that people can't think straight when they're angry, so I have good set of not pissing people off skills. My reputation for being reasonable online is valuable to me and I believe I've done some good by being reasonable, but there's some neurotic stuff underneath. When I'm very angry and not showing it, people are apt to say I look tired.

The paradox in regards to my beliefs about anger and my giving up on my mother is that I must have been enraged when I made that decision.

I can't help wondering how many well-developed skills are the result of feeling driven-- which doesn't undercut the value of the skills, it's just that I wonder how much of the world is like that.


"Normal" has been a theme for me lately, in the sense that I'm finding out how much I have a backgroung belief that there are normal people, they're the real people, the important people, and I'm just not one of them. And related to not giving impossible advice: I know my ideas about normal people aren't true, but I'm interested in reading about experiences about getting loose from that sort of background belief.

#38 ::: Jennifer Baughman:

I'm very dubious about extreme anti-lying morality. I realize lying is a pain in the ass to deal with and it has emotional costs, but it's also a very important defense for those who can't actively defend themselves.

#42 ::: Lori Coulson:

Umbridge made me realize that I cared more about Hogwarts than any of the characters, and she made me hate Snape less-- he was a horribly abusive teacher, but at least he cared about Potions.

#54 ::: the quiet one in the back of the classroom:

I've got a background with some overt emotional abuse, but it doesn't seem like it was enough to explain how much I've got in the way of emotional problems.

After having spent years trying to figure out what was wrong in the family, I'm going with the theory that the main problem was lack of affection rather than particular things that happened.

I've heard a lot of people say that one thing and another was bad in their families, but they knew their parents loved them. I don't know how that works, or where any particular case is on the range from accurate perception to self-delusion to endure being hurt.

In re ineptness on the micro level: I've been making some progress on breaking a clumsiness/anger cycle. I realized that I was clumsy because I wasn't focusing on what I was doing, and then angry about things being difficult, which made focusing unattractive.

I was going on the assumption that I was supposed to do things faster than I could notice them. (If you pay attention to what's going on in your mind when you play video games, you may find something interesting.)

I'm getting some clues that what seem like attention/coordination issues (not especially serious, but I'm picky about this stuff) are actually psychologically based. I probably had some very mild difficulties than got amplified.

Lately I've noticed I'm not as extremely cautious about tight corners on my bicycle. I'm more sure about where I am relative to what's around me.

OBSF: I appreciated the bit in one of the Paksennarion where her hero-level coordination evaporates for a while, and the world becomes a much scarier place.

#112 ::: Melody:

One of the things I'm angriest about in regards to school is that I was doing mathy stuff to kill time in class (figuring out how to draw n-pointed stars, for example), and it never occured to me than anyone else might be interested.

#92 ::: xiaoren:

This reminds me of something I've wondered about. The usual advice in divorces is to not say anything bad about your ex to your kids-- don't interfere in the parental relationship, but does this make sense if the ex is abusive to the kids?

#100 ::: Jennifer Baughman:

My extended family is a remarkably decent bunch for me to deal with as an adult.

This doesn't mean I feel especially close to them.

When I was a kid, I somewhat hid at family events because I couldn't remember their names, and didn't want to be criticized for it.

At my mother's funeral, where, thank God, no one got on my case for avoding her for decades and they treated me as though I hadn't been away, one uncle asked me where I'd been all for decades, I wasn't hurt or offended (the question seemed like a straight request for information), I didn't answer at the time, but offered to do so by phone. He hates phone conversations, so I steered the course between truth and tact when I saw him again six months later.

The thing is, my snap reaction was "where were you?", meaning that I could have used some support from the extended family when I was a kid, but when I did complain about my mother (can't remember to whom), I was told to respect her. That was why I didn't want to be around them. There was enough of a spread effect from what feels like less than three incidents that I just didn't trust them.

Also, all I wanted was a chance to complain about my mother-- it didn't occur to me to try to make relationships.

But I'm not sure how fair that was-- did I just seem like a sort of withdrawn kid? Did Mom seem to be in the normal range? If I remember correctly, a lot of the worst didn't happen when other adults were around.

Anyway, when I talked with my uncle again, I framed the problem with the family as all in the past. Maybe I should do a group letter about thinking about whether what happened to me could be building up again. How would you know? How could you tell the difference between me and someone who was just very introverted?

What I said went over well. I've gotten a decent level of respect as an adult. I don't know whether it's just that adults tend to get more respect than kids, my extended period of no contact was taken to mean that there might be something serious, whether how hard my mother was to be around became more obvious, and/or whether the fact that my siblings (who did help my mother but who found her company consistantly painful) talked about that and also remained in contact with me.

#159 ::: Megpie71:

I've got serious problems with inertia/anxiety about doing things that would make my life better. I'm not sure why the root of action is semi-cut for me.

Compassion and Self-Hate is a book that's helped from some angles-- it focuses on self-hatred as a semi-autonomous process, and compassion as the only way out.

The author distinguishes between self-hatred which is limited to internal monologue and such vs. self-hatred which manifests as pervasive self-neglect (sometimes that's huge neglect of potential, sometimes it's general paralysis), but I can't find the book to check on whether there's much about what causes the difference.

One surprise for me was that the book was a very specific salve for the side effects of reading Ayn Rand. My third grade teacher lent me Anthem-- she liked me, and it wasn't a totally unreasonable choice. I went on to read the novels many times, and all the subsidiary material I could find. It wasn't a total loss-- it made it easier for me to detach from my mother.

However, Rand's heroic characters are very passionate and energetic, and I didn't realize how much I was beating myself up for not being like that. Most people who dislike Rand seem to do so because of her emphasis on selfishness, but I needed to be reminded of self-care rather than generosity to pry loose from some ill effects.

It wouldn't surprise me if the effect wasn't so much from the main characters as from the tone of despising people who weren't like that.

I mentioned this to a friend, and he said he hadn't realized what he'd been doing to himself because he felt as though he should be as competent as a Heinlein character. Heroic fiction: threat or menace?

#165 ::: Sleep disorders & gaslighting:

In re whether harassment by other kids could have driven your sister into an eating disorder: Brene Brown's I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't), a book about women and shame, has it that the culture has gotten so bad that girls are at significant risk for eating disorders unless their parents actively support good body image for them (the girls). Just not being abusive isn't enough.

#173 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:48 AM:

Danish Modern @160--It is not normal for an adult (or near-adult) human to react to an incident of disagreement with a violent outburst, even if it is directed at an inaminate object and not a person. It is fucked up for your brother to do this. He needs to learn to not do this, because he will apply it in other relationships eventually.

Your mother meant well. This does not mean that particular choice for problem resolution was a good one. It is possible to mean well and still screw up it up; decent, normal people do this regularly. With luck, they realize it and with even more luck they can do better.

#174 ::: eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:53 AM:

Thank you everyone who has written. I'm in the 'But my problems are nothing compared to...' and yet I still manage to be broken. But reading other people in similar situations and realising I don't think it's nothing when it's applied to them helps in an odd way.

There had been no sexual or physical abuse growing up. But I think I first realised I wasn't just over sensitive when a friend who I knew had been through hell got so angry on my behalf at the way my father treated me. If she, who had 'real' problems, saw a problem... maybe it wasn't all my fault.

I can look back on my recent relationship now and thank god he didn't listen to my begging to let me come back and I'd love him 'properly'. Now I just have lots of anger. My sister and friends, who know some of it think I'm right to be angry. Or at least even if they don't fully understand it, they support me anyway and don't try to tell me I'm bad/at fault. I haven't told anyone all of it, not even my sister. Even now I feel a bit guilty because it wasn't really like that, if it was I would have done something about it, it was my fault, etc etc. I'm sure everyone here knows the spiel. But this is anonymous, isn't it? So I can't just be trying to get attention.

I was going to go on, since it's anonymous, but I can't find the words to even type it. A little voice in my head is telling me I'm stupid for thinking like that.

I just know that I'm scared shitless that if I ever do find someone who I want to be with again, I'll fall into old habits and let them treat me the same way. I hope even if I let the emotional stuff go by, I won't let the other stuff pass. But then that seems foolish.

I don't know. He would complain often it wasn't as much fun for him when I didn't want it/it hurt me. Gosh. I wonder why?

Anyway. I know I have problems outside of this. I've never been diagnosed or anything, but from what I understand, I'm borderline Aspergers (and would have been full only a few years back - is that possible? Is it something you can get better?) Well, I am better. I don't freak out when people touch me anymore, except occasionally. I look forward to meeting up with a friend who hugs for greetings and goodbyes because I've learnt to crave that contact. It's easier now without the ex to be ashamed of me, and I've realised people can like me for who I am. My sister and friends tell me I'm better at people than I think, though it only sometimes helps.

I wouldn't normally post this. But even though I'm better, I'm in a phase where I'm sick of trying. And sometimes I wonder how people would react if I told them about the Other Stuff... then won't because I don't want to be told I'm being bad/remembering wrong/trying to get attention/etc. But I have friends and family who love me (even my father and our relationship is something I can deal with now I live this far away and only see him sometimes). I hope to one day be in love again. So maybe I can work this out.

Sorry for lots of words. Thank you for listening and thank you again to everyone who posted.

#175 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:01 AM:

Galadhir @161 (and everyone else dealing with the issue of caring for a hated, feared and/or otherwise ungood elder).

Our society can place a dreadfully high level of expectation on caring for our disabled elders. I know people who think putting Grandma in a Home is the Worst Thing Ever. It is not. A good care facility can amke life much better for everyone, including the declining elder. Even an adequate facility can be better than home care in quite a few cases.

I have an acquaintance who tells people, when pressed "I obey the Fifth Commandment to honor my parents, by not running them down to random strangers. I figure that's the minimum required, and that's all they've earned." To many that sounds harsh. As one who's heard some of the details, I don't think he (or others in similar positions) should be asked to do more.

Can you do it at all, without severe risk to your own well-being? Caring for even a loved and trusted elder is stressful; caring for one who isn't will not be any less stressful.

Can you do it without giving in to the urge to retaliate? It's at least as hard to maintain your ppatience and self-control in these circumstances as it can be with children.

You can say No, and not be a bad person.

#176 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:22 AM:

Also, all of you all are awesome. Hard as it may have been, bad as it may be now even if it is "better", that you are all still trying (and often succeeding) to build something better than you were given is great and good and wonderful.

It is not a sin or a crime to be a victim. It is a triumph to be a survivor.

#177 ::: Neon Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:40 AM:

I was heavy when I was a teenager, plus I had, as they say, huge tracts of land. To do her credit, my mom never tried to put me on a diet; there was a lot of stuff about baby fat and how it would go away.

I had a breast reduction between high school and college. And I was odd, in that my Freshman 15 was negative--I suspect that the inconvenience of getting to the dining hall, which meant I averaged about 3/4 of a meal a day, contributed there.

But sometime in my 20s, I started putting on weight. And I was tired all the time. We had a few go-rounds of suspecting I'd inherited my father's hypothyroid condition, but it always turned out my levels were normal, even when they did the more sophisticated tests.

And every time I talked to my mother, there was a note about how I should just go out and take a walk at lunch time, instead of sitting at my desk (reading). How a lot of times, when you think you're hungry you're actually just thirsty. How it's not good for a person to live on pizza--I have no idea where she got the idea that *that* was the problem, but OK. This kept up even after she bought me a bicycle and I started using it to commute to work.

Finally, a bit over three years ago now, someone worked out the problem: I have PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome. They put me on a few drugs, and over the course of a year or so I lost 40 pounds. And for a while, Mum was so pleased.

But now, when we go on one of our periodic clothes-buying expeditions, there are some things that don't get bought because who knows how much more weight I'm going to lose?

Thing is, I don't need to lose any more weight. Yes, by BMI I am "overweight"; BMI is a load of crap, especially given the muscle mass I've gained from biking. Mum doesn't care.

Because, see, she was overweight in her 20s too, and then lost weight after having me; clearly she had PCOS too! She can't blame me being fat on my dad anymore, so the next best thing is to have it be something that makes me more like her.

I think it was here I picked up the phrase "My mother was expecting a daughter and got a Martian".

This doesn't make a lot of sense or flow well, but if I try to add in all the caveats and explanations and details I'll be at this all day.

#178 ::: Polyxena ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:43 AM:

Back in college in my 30s, been out of contact with the parentals for years as much as possible. Taking two classes and working full time, plus a boyfriend and social life. I get an A-. First thought: A minus -- why wasn't that an A? Had to take a deep breath and step back from that one. That was not my voice, and not a voice that mattered anymore.

I remember once in 7th grade, I stayed home while my parents went to the 3rd quarter parent/teacher conferences. I finally had a teacher who hated me -- she even wanted to get me kicked out of the gifted program. Anyway, I had been absent for the day of a big exam, and was so terrified of the teacher that I never talked to her about making it up ... so I had a C or C- in history.

When my parents came home, my mother went straight into her bedroom and shut the door (she would periodically lock herself in her room for days at a time) and my father took me to the other end of the apartment to talk. This was serious business, because my father didn't deal with disciplinary issues. He told me that, because of this C/C-, my mother was in her room feeling like she was a bad mother and that I needed to get my grades up. Needless to say, I did not bring any Cs after that.

I was told I was a perfectionist because my mother wanted me to be one. She and my best friend commented so much on my breasts (I was, out of proportion, a big girl) that I wore baggy clothing until I was in my 20s. She would scream at me before we left the house to meet my friend and her mom for dinner, and then be jovial at dinner and expect me to act normally. I would make the same teasing joke about my father that she did earlier, and she would call me an ugly bitch for saying it. When I was... 7 or 8?... my brothers pinned me down and squished zucchini through a gap in my teeth to get me to eat it, while my parents laughed. I don't remember it, but it's a family joke. I gag if I get tricked into putting zucchini in my mouth, and I can't even stand to spear it with my fork to move it off my plate.

When my grandmother died a few years ago, they sent me an e-mail with the subject line FYI to tell me. They had treated her like crap for as long as I remember.

Man. This got really long. Sorry.

#179 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:46 AM:

eleanor @ 174:

from what I understand, I'm borderline Aspergers (and would have been full only a few years back - is that possible? Is it something you can get better?)

From what I understand, it's definitely something that one can learn to diminish, whether by therapeutic intervention or devising personal hacks around the issues and actively courting desensitization. That's why there's a focus on diagnosing children early -- to start the training and interventions that will help them to react more conventionally to stimuli.

I got some interventions for sensory processing issues when I was five -- I have vague memories of the diagnostic screening (the PT was nice, I was really ticklish, her work space had a big yoga ball and a low balance beam) but not the interventions -- I asked my mother recently what they WERE, because people I care about show sensory issues, and I knew I'd been diagnosed but not what they'd been told to do, and I was wondering if there were things I could apply. My mother said it was a matter of changing the stimuli I was offered -- using a gentler touch, and making an effort not to startle me, and getting me accustomed to slow strokes on the arm that didn't startle me into being ticklish... not directly applicable to the adults I was wondering about, but it was interesting anyway.

They barely knew about Asperger's in the 1970s, and certainly didn't diagnose highly talkative and interactive young girls with any sort of autistic disorder then -- that was for nonverbal kids who banged their heads against walls and sat rocking in corners. But the sensory issues (diagnosed when they were concerned about my gross motor coordination, which the therapist assured them was a soft delay caused by me preferring reading to playing outside) make me wonder if something like that applies to me and might explain the social difficulties I had when young, and the conscious effort it took me to learn how to behave like an ordinary earthling and not a human-looking alien.

#180 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:52 AM:

Bravo to everyone posting on this thread. And virtual hugs to those who accept them.

I'm preparing a story post of my own, turning memories over in my head but I might hold it for next year. There's a lot to sort out and I want it to be coherent, not stream of consciousness.

I want to thank everyone for opening up. You give us others things to think about that we try so much not to think about.

#181 ::: forgot last year's handle too ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 11:15 AM:

"I feel like sometimes I can't get angry with them because of their own histories, and yet the history they shared with us is part of what puts me on such a short fuse."

This. Is one of my triggers. Sure, my father had an abusive mother. And a father so distant he (my father) counseled him to kill himself rather than messing up his career. And my mother had gently-abusive parents and older siblings who beat up on her. You know what? I don't care. They were still moral agents, they still decided to be borderline abusive themselves, they're the reason that throughout my late childhood and adolescence I measured the moral goodness of an action by how much pain it caused me. So yes, I'm angry with them. 23 and 15 years after they had the ill grace to die without closure.

Yes, I also feel sadness and sympathy for them, but that's alongside the anger. And as long as I feel that anger, I will do so unapologetically.

Or let me come at it another way: "I don't think it's right to think of Dolores Umbridge as evil. Surely she didn't do all the things that Rowling and the screenwriters portrayed her as doing, and even if she did, she was responding to pressures from others. And how could she possibly have reached her position in a mostly male-dominated hierarchy without suffering quite a lot of damage. She grew up in a different time, so it's easy to misinterpret her words and actions. I'm sure she intended what she did to be for the best, and any suggestion she derived pleasure from inflicting punishment on people was just the result of overwrought imaginations."

#182 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 11:15 AM:

Re: Dolores Umbridge: I didn't run into her ilk until late enough in life that I was able to, at least subliminally, correctly identify the sugary "loving-kindness" that cloaked the vicious control junkie. I take delicious pleasure in thwarting their attempts to manipulate me.

I count myself very lucky.

#183 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 11:47 AM:

I had ambitions of posting with my identity in the clear. I guess that's not going to happen.

I thought I was all done needing to post to this thread; the last three years did very well at draining most of the poison out of my head.

But then abi goes and says this: sometimes the tower is harder—or impossible—to escape. Then victory doesn’t look like the satisfying resolution of a children’s film. It looks like a happy day, a good relationship, a healthy child, a satisfied nod at the face and figure in the mirror. It looks like a good night’s sleep and a good day’s work, the confidence to take risks, and the emotional energy to recover from failures.

Hits all the core points in one short paragrah. (How do you do that, abi?)

Marianne Williamson says that, in any area of your life where you find yourself stuck, judgement is at the root of it. Well, let's see:

This last year, I've graduated from "overweight" to "obese." Yearly exam came back showing "high blood sugar."

I'm fat.
I'm soft.
I'm weak.
I let myself get sick.
I'm lazy.
I'm irresponsible.
I stink.
I'm poor.
I'm shabby.

I desperately want someone to love, who loves me. The last time I had a real relationship was over fifteen years ago. And even he didn't want to commit to me. "Poly," he called it. "Philandery," I call it. Will the day ever come when I find someone who doesn't leave me feeling like they're doing me a favor by letting me love them?

Forgot @44: this last year that I've started to unpack how much of the damage of my childhood got repeated and reinforced in my marriage.

With me, it's work.

I am in a profession that doesn't interest me, working at a job that (while it has it's points is) is really hard to get up for in the morning. I am working well beneath my capability, both in terms of what is asked of me, and what I offer. My boss is like a bad flashback to my parents.

I want a different job. But: doing what?

Most of those "find out your perfect profession" or "live your perfect life" things start out with the question, "What did you want to be when you were 10?" The only answer I can pull out of my memory is, "Get away from my parents." Well, I've managed that. Now what?

I know I'm perfectly capable of setting goals and following through until they're achieved. And yet....

The things I love to do—I only love to do them until it's time to do them for someone else. I could be a pretty competent and successful SF artist, I think. Until I confront the idea of doing it for real. And then I freeze up.

It's not that those in the profession discourage me; quite the contrary, the professionals I've talked to have universally been very encouraging and supportive.

I've finally worked out, just this last month or two, how much of my life is ruled by fear. Paralyzing fear. To the point that getting up of a weekend morning and getting my basic housework done becomes an impossibility.

I've been watching a lot of Dog Whisperer lately. The episodes where he's working with fearful dogs leave me weeping uncontrollably.

radiantlisa @64: I realize that I'm still living that small, quiet, invisible life. Who am I hiding from now?


#184 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:02 PM:

Sylvia @109: "when someone else says it, you ... can finally grab it and drag it wiggling out into the light." So true. That's my selfish reason for being here. And still, I refuse to feel guilty.

But when you say: I'm here again. I'm reading. I'm sad and wistful and hopelessly floundering and frustrated and helpless. But I'm here, fully present, and staying here. ... I hear you echo what I'm thinking, you then pay it forward.

I am glad you're here. :->

#185 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:03 PM:

Danish Modern, #160: Two things jump out at me in your narrative:

1) Hitting people or breaking something is NOT a legitimate response to disagreement or angry words, and your mother has utterly failed to convey this to your brother. When you say something he doesn't like and he physically attacks you or breaks something belonging to you, he is more at fault than you are. Your mother is dead wrong about this.

2) You can't apply normal-relationship standards to abusive relationships, and your brother is abusing you. "It takes two people to make a fight" is true ONLY if neither of them is a bully or an abuser. It is possible for only one person to be at fault.

From the sound of your post, you appear to still be living at home. IYDMMA, how old are you and what's your financial situation? Your options are very different depending on whether you're still in high school, in college, out of college and working, in good health or bad health, etc.

Neil, #162: Actually, the punchline is, "Your BROTHER would know!" The verbal emphasis is important; for an explanation of why, read The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin. It's all about the way bullies and abusers use language to put other people at a disadvantage.

Eleanor, #174: Yes, external validation is important. I knew that the way my parents treated me as an adult wasn't how most families work, and still, the day my now-ex and I got back into the car after a visit with my parents and he said, "Wow, your mother was really out of line in there!" is a memory I treasure.

This is one of the reasons that so many abusers are very careful to behave normally to everyone else and/or when anyone else is around to witness them. The BTVS episode "Ted" was very hard for me to watch.

Polyxena, #178: When I was... 7 or 8?... my brothers pinned me down and squished zucchini through a gap in my teeth to get me to eat it, while my parents laughed.

If you have ever had any doubt that your family was abusive, that single incident is enough proof. Your brothers were being taught that using physical force to get their way over a woman's resistance was perfectly acceptable (and I sure as hell wouldn't want to date them!), and you were being taught that your parents considered you a legitimate target.

#186 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:08 PM:

ebear @110: If turning love off were easy, there would be no such thing as Western literature.


Oh, that's a sad commentary, isn't it? I vaguely recall reading somewhere that during some periods of history, what we now refer to as romantic love was regarded as a horrible sickness. There are days when I think they had the right of it.

#187 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Phyllis @177: I can still hear her gasp of shock at me not falling for her bullshit and calling her bluff.

Oh, this makes me smile.

#188 ::: Not Today ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:05 PM:

I love my parents, and I know they love me.

My father will not be convinced that things he says in fun have been hurtful.

It might be more exact to say that my father has said things which he has not intended to be hurtful, but could without too much effort have anticipated would be - and when called on it, has been devastated to think that he has wounded me*, so he has hidden behind the pretense that he was only funning all along. One of his lifelong issues with his own father had to do with the latter's merciless teasing, so you'd think that might inform my dad's decision to use this as an excuse, but no.

I think my mother is more able to see through to the never-intended-to-be-hurtful in the first place than I am, and my adored younger sibling is less apt to be hurt, so I may be the only one who gets the just-kidding defense. I'm happy to say, though, that they agree with me that take-a-joke is not an adequate or appropriate substitute for I'm-sorry, even granting that both come with a side of it doesn't happen (in that particular form) again.

All of this is hard to reconcile with the very strong impression I sometimes get, and can't bear, that my father loves my sibling less than he loves me.

#189 ::: Not Today ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:22 PM:

* I guess I meant to put a footnote there, but turned it into the next paragraph instead.

#190 ::: mdh ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:37 PM:

Nancy @ 172
"Lately I've noticed I'm not as extremely cautious about tight corners on my bicycle. I'm more sure about where I am relative to what's around me."

I grok you on this one. Also too, road rage.

#191 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 01:41 PM:

ema @152: Shredding the check, well...

Maybe rather than shred it: mail it, endorsed, to the appropriate charity of your choice?

That way, the money goes to good use, and the giver gets to feel sanctimonious...until they notice who actually cashed it.

#192 ::: Kadia ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Ah, family dysfunction, the gift that keeps on giving generation after generation. The more I learn about my mother's upbringing the more my own starts to make sense. It's hard to maintain my anger when I realize she just didn't have the skills or the support she needed when she needed them. I guess that's where my fear of having children comes from. Mom swore she would raise her children differently and ended up doing most of the same damage. How do we stop the cycle? Is being aware enough?

#193 ::: Anon4Now ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:02 PM:

As in previous years, I've started writing my post twice and then closed the window thinking that it was pointless and whiny and no one cares.

After last year's Dysfunctional Families Day, I apologized to my partner for subjecting him to the same unpredictable rage/verbal abuse that I was subjected to.

It was a symptom of my untreated depression and anxiety, just as it was a symptom of the same thing for my mother. It doesn't make it okay in either case.

For a long time I couldn't understand why my partner got so upset and angry at me when I got frustrated with something and started yelling and swearing at that thing. After all, it wasn't aimed at him, right? He should just offer to help me with the thing frustrating me, or just let me vent, and I'd calm down in a minute anyway.

Then I read a Dan Savage column, with a guy whose girlfriend did exactly what I did. And Dan told him it was not normal, not okay, probably abusive, and could be a warning sign that she'd become violent towards him.

I was stunned. Shocked. I was being abusive? This wasn't normal? This behavior would scare a reasonable person? Oh, my God.

Good meds have completely abolished those sudden overwhelming rages -- both for me and my mom. But I wanted to apologize to my partner -- so he would know I understood what I had done was wrong, that I understood why he had gotten so upset about it, that he wasn't crazy for thinking it shouldn't be that way.

When I made my apology, he awkwardly patted my hand and mumbled "I know. It's okay."

A few months later, he tremulously approached me about a matter that could be taken as personal criticism -- I was sleeping too much and not keeping up with my work responsibilities. He was clearly beyond nervous, almost terrified, to speak up. I suddenly realized I'd gone off on him in a similar situation before. So I focused on responding to him with respect, understanding, acceptance that he brought it up out of compassion. (It was a side effect of a med that needed fixing, and his bringing it up gave me the impetus to talk to the doctor.)

So I'm under no illusions that the apology fixed things. And I don't know if the damage I caused can ever really be healed. But I hope it helped to hear me say I was wrong and I'm sorry.

Oddly, I don't feel much like I need to hear my mom apologize. I guess this is because I don't need her to validate my understanding that it wasn't okay when she did it.

So maybe my apology was more for me than him. I don't know. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.

This whole thing is also the reason why I find the "Shut up and listen" and "It isn't about you" phrases popular in the progressive/activist blogosphere to be super-mega-triggering, even though I understand (and more or less agree with) their intent. But that's a whole entire other post.

#194 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:10 PM:

#190 ::: mdh:

Would you be interested in expanding on that?

I forgot to mention that I was hassled frequently in my family (probably by my mother, but no specific memories) about being spacy, and I think some fraction of my get moved into my body project has been driven by shame, though most of it was a feeling that something was wrong/could be better.

The shame bit needs to be cleaned up and/or I want to clean up the shame bit. I'm sure it's interfering with the process, and is painful in itself.

(Tamar Lindsay gave me the idea that people only seek enlightenment for unenlightened reasons. This is probably an oversimplification (I've been looking at inspiration), but it's a good starting point. After all, if most of what's going on in your head is habit and compulsion, it's what you've got.)

For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation? I'm thinking now about how much at my end was being pushed because I feel as though something is wrong, and how much is having a feeling that things should be better.

#195 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:10 PM:

#190 ::: mdh:

Would you be interested in expanding on that?

I forgot to mention that I was hassled frequently in my family (probably by my mother, but no specific memories) about being spacy, and I think some fraction of my get moved into my body project has been driven by shame, though most of it was a feeling that something was wrong/could be better.

The shame bit needs to be cleaned up and/or I want to clean up the shame bit. I'm sure it's interfering with the process, and is painful in itself.

(Tamar Lindsay gave me the idea that people only seek enlightenment for unenlightened reasons. This is probably an oversimplification (I've been looking at inspiration), but it's a good starting point. After all, if most of what's going on in your head is habit and compulsion, it's what you've got.)

For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation? I'm thinking now about how much at my end was being pushed because I feel as though something is wrong, and how much is having a feeling that things should be better.

#196 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:10 PM:

Okay. Like now. I've got this task to do. I have to do it by hand. It will take tens of hours, is is the kind of tedium that makes me want to stab my eyes out with a fork. We have the equipment to do it right. But I'm not allowed to use that equipment because, well, it's somebody else's machine.

Meanwhile, someone else has come in and "helpfully" stirred the material with a stick, so I get to spend a couple of hours getting it sorted out again, because they couldn't be bothered to check in with me before "helping."

This task isn't even part of my job description.

And I can't work up the balls to say to my boss, "Look. If you want me to do this task, let me do it right. If you don't want me to do it right, then get the #@¢X out of my face with it."

Because, you know, I'm lazy and irresponsible, and if I wasn't working on this task, I'd just be screwing off, anyway.

At least I had the foresight to tag the material so I could tell that it had been scrambled.

#197 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:14 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @172 :: "The usual advice in divorces is to not say anything bad about your ex to your kids-- don't interfere in the parental relationship, but does this make sense if the ex is abusive to the kids?"

Sadly, due to the way family courts resolve disputes, this advice is generally sound even in (maybe even *especially* in) cases where the spouse has a high-conflict personality and is verbally and emotionally abusive to the kids.

You really want to get through the divorce by mediation and an out-of-court settlement if you can. It's not safe to fantasize about a court victory in which your abusive spouse will never ever ever ever again have sufficient access to your kids to permit their continued abuse. The courts just don't do that. Almost never. The usual outcome, even in cases where the judge knows only one of the parents is an abuser, is joint custody and a co-parenting plan. Even in cases with the most horrific kinds of abuse, the outcome typically permits court-supervised visitation by the abusive parent.

Therefore, you don't want to present a credible picture of a parent who is actively trying to alienate a child from their other parent. Marital dissolutions, when they escalate into court hearings and judges and psychological evaluators, can go horribly awry, especially when there is a "persuasive blamer" personality involved. It's important not to give your abusive spouse even an irrational and distorted cause to escalate, and saying bad things about her to your kids is a great way to launch an episode of splitting that you never know how it can shake out ahead of time.

Believe me, this is a very painful reality to face. My son is quite plainly telling me he wants his mother to leave him alone forever. Honestly, that's what I want too, but unless she agrees to my request for full legal and physical custody in mediation, that's just not going to happen. I can't promise my son that his mother won't be able to abuse him for much longer, because I don't actually have the power to keep that promise if push really comes to shove.

When I tell my son that it isn't his fault that she yells at him and she scolds him when he hasn't done anything that warrants it, it enrages her if she overhears me. She calls it "undermining her authority" and takes it as a personal attack. Just imagining her distorted thought pattern if she heard me telling him that she does it because she's sick, and not because she doesn't love him, sends a chill down my spine. He'll hear that from me later, but not at this stage.

When you're going through a divorce from a "persuasive blamer" personality type, and there are kids involved, you absolutely have to play the long term game. You're going to be at arm's reach with that person at least until the kids are grown and launched on their own. It's critical that you pick your battles carefully. Your kids are going to be fucked up in the process, it can't be prevented, so plan for them to have their own psych problems later. Your job is to dissolve the marriage cleanly. Every iota of acrimony you introduce into the process, by slagging on your ex-spouse or what have you, will be counter-productive and should be avoided.

#198 ::: ML ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:17 PM:

I told myself I wasn't going to post on this thread anymore but I feel it's time to say certain things. Where else am I going to share this?
I've shared stories about myself over time, to various people, and invariably felt betrayed after by those who didn't understand, or refused to help, or minimized, or tried to pat down my pain with platitudes and admonitions to pray and forgive. One of the worst things said to me is that I brought it on by my karma, or I attracted it with my energy, or I didn't pray enough, so God was calling to me that way.

I was told I was wallowing, taking too much time to recover, living in darkness, not claiming a victorious abundant life. I overdosed on self-help books, and so-called counselling from people who essentially told me to put up and shut up and wear the compleat costume of the "all better now" survivor. You know, the ones who proclaim that God saved them, and they completely forgive their abusers and those who raped them, and now they are completely at peace.
I thought I had that grace, for a time I believed that. Sometimes I do approach the edges of what might be called forgiveness, because I don't go around hunting my assailants with knives and guns, because I can still bring myself to talk to the abusers.

But here's what happened. I was raped as a prepubescent, never reported it because similar abuse was happening at home and I truly thought reporting it would kill me. Later, much later, I was raped as an adolescent by a family member. Then I found religion. Then I was gang raped as an adult, drugged nearly senseless, and only recovered memories of it weeks later. I didn't report any of this. I live in a society where reporting such things only brings more grief and more terror, there are no shelters for people like me. Then I got sick and realized who my friends really were. My religious relatives and friends all have stepped away, seeing that I won't convert to either a lazy ass spiritualism or a cardboard church driven life.

I won't go into other details, let's just say: I don't believe life will ever be right or fair, there is no justice, I don't believe in God, and if there is any grace in the world, it is in the myriad kindnesses, the knowing strength of skeptics, the fight to just survive.
If there is any grace, it is in the shared pains and pieces of life here on this thread, as in other places where it is safe to speak the truth.

#199 ::: A.Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:21 PM:

#172: "The usual advice in divorces is to not say anything bad about your ex to your kids-- don't interfere in the parental relationship, but does this make sense if the ex is abusive to the kids?"

Speaking as a kid who wished her parents had divorced much, much sooner than they did? No. Or if the ex is abusive to one of the spouses. If they're really young, and haven't seen this crap, or eavesdropped on it (I snuck out and listened to my sire's emotional abuse of my mom when I was... 5? 6?), then maybe stay neutral. If the kid has seen it, though? For the love of all that's holy, don't pretend. At the very least, validate what the kid says, y'know?

A divorce may well be scary. But I was briefly suicidal because of my sire trying to strangle my mom while I was in the house, because I was aware that I was the only reason they were still married. "Think of the children" and get that bloody divorce, is my mantra.

#200 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:40 PM:

SpawnOfTheDevil @151: The fear of Doin It Rong has crippled me for most of my adult life, because I've had to teach myself how to work through mistakes, how to learn from them, and how to not just quit in sheer frustration at the first sign of trouble. And to ignore the mental cry of "I'm supposed to be so smart, dammit, why can't I just do this?" I crashed and burned my only semester of college because I didn't know how to study, I didn't have any internal discipline, and I was too used to coasting on pure brainpower.

Lisa Spangenberg @113: Isn't that a glorious feeling? Knowing that you're the doorkeeper of your own time, your own self?

Megpie71 @159: *cries for you* What you're describing sounds very similar to what I refer to as my "black year". I'd been unemployed for over a year, and no prospects for better; I was unmedicated; I was thoroughly convinced of my own worthlessness. And, in retrospect, I was near-suicidally depressed. Everything was pointless: housework, learning new skills, the fruitless job search.

All I can tell you is what my loved ones told me: you are worthwhile, you deserve better. And if doing it all is too much at once, baby steps are all right. And it's ok to take time and thought and care for yourself. Do things that you enjoy, that bring you peace. The house isn't going anywhere.

To all that I haven't addressed personally (yet -- still catching up), I admire everyone's courage for speaking out, no matter what it takes for you to do so, and I see so many parallels, so many little things that resonate with me. And thank you all.


Last night I remembered a habit I had as a child. I constantly told my parents "I love you." And it came as an epiphany to me that it wasn't that I loved them (though, then, I did), but it was that I was seeking validation that they loved me. And I remember that at night, I'd curl up around "my" dog (who was a snuggler anyway, so he never minded), because that was the closest thing I could get to comfort, to a loving touch, and I'd cry myself to sleep, and this was "normal".

And I still wonder if it makes me a horrible person to realize that I don't really care about my parents anymore.

#201 ::: SR ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 02:50 PM:

I'm hoping that secondhand dysfunctional family discussion is good, too.

My wife is a recently-ordained pastor, and her work heavily features kids and families in poverty: some urban, mostly rural. We* pick up a fair bit of parenting roles for many of the kids simply out of need. The single dad with a big family, who's single because he kicked out his ex for driving his kids around while high on who-knows-what? I'm in his corner.

We've got one family, though, that I'm certain is at minimum emotionally abusive of their kids. As best I can guess, mom and dad lacked the knowledge of how to parent a child, lacked the desire to improve on the first, and lacked the decency to stop after the first kid made this all apparent. Having dug this hole, they've functionally decided that the best way to avoid pain or regret on their part is to ensure that the kids won't ever do better and will thus remain "grateful" for what they've got. A sample stunt: a couple years back, dad decided that their trailer should have 10-foot ceilings (so as to compare better against the neighbors, I guess). So in *December*, he pulls the roof off and the walls down, moving the family into an unpowered pop-up camper and a tent. Spoiler alert: the walls and roof have never gone back up. DHR won't move the kids, as they're all teens already -- plus, the kids have been indoctrinated that the evil gubmint will take them away (To a place with heat and running water! The horror!).

So we've ended up with the responsibility of getting these kids past high school, away from their family, and into the world as functioning, independent adults. And it seems every week I'm confronted by things I'd scarcely imagined which they take as normalcy.

How do you tell a kid your hope is that they never have to see their parents again?

How do you get a kid to transportation independence (echoing the importance of this above) when the parents will steal the car given half a chance? How do you get them a job when they can't get anywhere? How do you get them a place in town when the parents have already stolen their savings?

How do you talk to a graduating senior about going to four-year out-of-town for-real college when social promotion is the only reason they're past the eighth grade? When they're finally discussing hopes and dreams, how do you tell them to adjust their aim, short-term, to getting a job at a supermarket -- without squashing those dreams yourself?

How do you encourage the growth of emotional maturity? How do you teach them that Real Soon Now, their actions will have consequences? That a job doesn't handle sleeping in like the school does, that the police treat you differently at 18 than at 17?

How do you teach them that they have to engage with reality as it is, not as they imagine it to be? Example: "We're not poor." Yeah, you are. Don't turn down that offer of a new pair of shoes and a winter coat out of misplaced pride.

Where are my life experiences and assumptions leaving me blind to their needs? Who am I to assume that I "know best"?

What if I choose the wrong answer?

Thanks to Abi for opening this space and thanks to all those who are sharing. I've lurked enough, through these threads particularly and through Making Light generally, that it starts to feel voyeuristic, but I'm appreciative of what you've done to open my eyes.

*"We", here, often includes the church body as a whole. They're good people, and were I inclined to declare church membership, I'd be happy to do so with this group.

#202 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:06 PM:

Danish Modern @160: I feel guilty just typing about this.

Put a slightly different spin on it for a moment: You and your neighbor are having a conversation. You're aware that your neighbor has some issues, and you try to be mindful. But you say something your neighbor takes wrong. In response, he punches you in the stomach. Or throws a rock through your window.

Is that an appropriate response on your neighbor's part? In my neighborhood, this would be entirely reasonable grounds to have a conversation with the police, and discuss the entirely reasonable possibility of having the neighbor arrested and charged with a crime.

Even if you did deliberately say something with the intent of getting under your neighbor's skin, it is your neighbor's responsibility to respond within the bounds of the law.

He has the option of calling you on your bad comment. He has the option of exiting the situation so you can't say things like that to him. He does not have the right to injure you or damage your property.

Your mother failed in her responsibility, and you can tell her I said so.

#203 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:07 PM:

Jennifer Baughman @200 :: "All I can tell you is what my loved ones told me: you are worthwhile, you deserve better. And if doing it all is too much at once, baby steps are all right. And it's ok to take time and thought and care for yourself. Do things that you enjoy, that bring you peace. The house isn't going anywhere."

I just wanted to hoist that comment out of its context and hold it up in front of the assembly for the positive recognition it deserves.

#204 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:16 PM:

Galadhir @ 161 Oh, do I understand this, and I want to second fidelio as firmly as possible: You don't have to do it. Really, you don't, and not doing it won't make you a bad person.

Letting go of the need to take care of those family members who have harmed you is really brutally hard with all the pressures our society puts on us to love and like our relatives. But sometimes it is the only thing you can do. You are not a bad person for not letting him hurt you any more, no matter how much he needs help.

One of the single best decisions I ever made in my life was deciding that nothing was worth putting up with my step-grandmother anymore. Despite considerable family pressure, I stopped dealing with her. I stopped going to gatherings where she would be. Later, I didn't visit her in the nursing home. At the end I didn't go to the funeral. I have never regretted walking away. It was the right decision.

#205 ::: belle ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:25 PM:

"Save your tears for something that matters." If I heard that once as a child, I heard it a thousand times from my mother. What I never could figure out was, if this didn't matter, whatever it was, then what did? Because whatever it was that was worrying me, it never mattered.

The thing about the shoemaker's kids is that they didn't get shoes because the shoemaker couldn't afford to make them, because if he gave them to the kids, he couldn't sell them. In a schoolteacher's universe, it's different. You don't pay attention to the child, because it's just like all the fourth-graders you teach, an interchangeable unit, part of the classroom of which you're in charge. You make all the decisions, and never put anything up for debate, much less to a vote.

When this carries over into your home life, what input your child, your own child, might have into any decision-making process is probably nil. It's probably OK to not consult a child on what it wants for dinner, but it is not OK to assume that s/he doesn't care about anything else, or have a valid opinion, leading to what I took thirty years to recognize: my mother's complete inability to recognize the rights of any stakeholder other than herself. There's a long history of her forgetting to ask the wishes of the person(s) most intimately concerned, and assuming that she knows best.

And then the other thing, more with my father, with the promises and the prohibitions. "No" always meant "no," immutably, but "yes" was always subject to change, or to just plain being forgotten. Any suggestion that something that fell on the floor had been agreed to was liable to be treated as a failure of my memory, not theirs.

#206 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 03:29 PM:

I found this last week, and remembered it today, and thought it would be appropriate to share with everyone.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure about you.
We were born to manifest the glory that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

- Nelson Mandela, 1994 Inaugural speech

#207 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 04:39 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @195: For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation?i>

Believe or not, mostly I do it because it's fun and interesting. That the results make me more functional in the world doesn't hurt at all.

A huge piece of the frustration I'm feeling this year is that I feel like I've gotten all the low-hanging fruit, and where I'm at is as far as I'm going to get.

And it's not good enough!

In some very core issues, it's felt like not only have I not gotten anywhere, but that I've slid backwards in some respects.

Why do I want to heal? Because the alternative is...unthinkable. (Except when it's not. There are days when my pets are the only thing that keep me going. If I left, what would happen to them?)

#208 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 04:41 PM:

Like I did a couple years ago, I have been reading this thread feeling gutpunched. I have no abuse in my past to process or confess (well, except for what comes of being a too-smart loner in junior high -- there's that), and I am safely warned away from offering advice (not that I have any), but I have this feeling that if I say nothing, I might as well not be here. Perhaps there's some value in saying I'm listening? Stenopos, You_have_to_be_there, AnonCowardSevenBillion, Ambivalent One, ebear, 30more, Jennifer Baughman, I Am Joe's Slow Catharsis, Hiding a little, Melody, Jacque, Faustroll, stick potato, Dog on a Cold Tin Roof, Forgot Handle I Used Last Year, quiet one in the back of the classroom, Pro, crabby, Life Is Victory, Kelly, radiantlisa, PartlyBetter, Suzanne F, Sigrid, Just some guy, Ginger, AnotherQuietOne, Hyacinths, Still Projecting, Lisa N, clawr, theodore, xiaoren, ema, PartlyBetter, Ari, Froth, Temporarily Anonymous, Phyllis, Saddened and Scared, Donna, Finny, she pushes down on my head so I won't grow, Another Anon, jeci, The invisible One, little black dragon, CB, Hairlight, mdh, Invisible Girl, Emotional punching bag, chinders, theMole, MouseInTheWalls, Reyes, Pendrift, Megpie71, Danish Modern, Galadhir, Sleep disorders & gaslighting, Rikibeth, Nancy Lebovitz, eleanor, Polyxena, forgot last year's handle too, Anon Amus, Not Today, Anon4Now, ML, SR, belle -- thank you for sharing. I feel like I cannot ever really understand, but now I understand more than I did.

My mother was the daughter of an alcoholic. She broke the cycle. I wish I could ask her more about how she did that, but she's gone now.

#209 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 04:53 PM:

Another Anon @126: I don't know if this is worth seeing a therapist over

I hardly have standing to give this advice (I'm having trouble psyching myself up to follow it myself), but: why the heck not? If you have insurance, or can afford it, there isn't actually a minimum misery threshold you have to meet to see a therapist. And no matter who you are (the Buddha excepted), you've got some shit in your head hiding in your blind spots. If a sympathetic outsider can just point out what you're missing, that's probably worth the price of admission right there.

Professional athletes aren't embarrassed to hire coaches. Why should the rest of us be?

#210 ::: Christian Severin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 04:58 PM:

#160 ::: Danish Modern:

Woa, woa, wait:
Judge Mom would split the jail time evenly between the rape victim and the rapist?

Hitler and the Jews would have had to "mutually come up with a way to work together"?

Sharon Tate was just "playing the victim", there was nobody at fault, and she should "figure out what [she] could do differently to prevent [being murdered] in the future"?

OK, these are over the top, but she must admit that there are cases where the guilt is overwhelmingly clear, right? And that even if there was cause, not all responses are appropriate to the cause, right?
(OK, so maybe the rape victim did wear a short skirt, and maybe she did call the guy a "spineless cocksucker" -- but that can only ever be an attempt at explanation, never an excuse.)

And your brother? That guy needs help, fast. After reading this: "if he hit me, he truly believed that it always HAD to be because of something I did that I could change", I could just hear his voice in my head, crying "I'm sorry, honey! I'm sorry -- but you know you shouldn't talk to me like that!"
He needs help.

#211 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Forgiveness comes up every year. There are always people being urged to forgive, and it drives me nuts.

Having forgiven someone—or even wanting to, is not a goal of the healing process. It's not a step one can choose. It's a symptom of having got to that point by other means.

Telling someone that they should forgive is like telling them their rash should be gone already; why are they still all red and itchy?

#212 ::: stick potato ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:07 PM:

Reyes @155:

My mother was terribly emotionally/verbally abusive. After she divorced my father, my older sister and I became the worst thing that ever happened to her. Not my fault that I was born. We were too much like our father. Forgetting to clean my room was something I did specifically to harm her - because of course, kids never forget to clean their room, right? And all of our family members had meetings together on how to make her life miserable - that's what we did when my dad had custody! (She honestly believed this, somehow?)

Her parents were supposedly bad to her and things happened to her when she was younger, but honestly...I don't care. It doesn't excuse what she did to me or my siblings. And I have no obligation to forgive her or give even the smallest of fucks. To use a line she always liked to quote to me, "You've steered your own ship into the rocks".

She used to tell me I was the most terrible person in the world. She told all of us that we were psychopaths. When I was in grade 4, I came home from my father's and she handed me a letter and sent me to my room without speaking. She wrote to me that I was the worst person she had ever met, and that I was no longer her daughter. I stopped trying to please her after that.

Reyes, that was one seriously screwed-up situation. You mother had some kind of personality disorder, and was out of control. Everything was about her: you deliberately didn't clean your room in order to hurt her. Your family regularly gathered to plot how to make her life miserable. She, uniquely, had children who were all psychopaths, and included in their number the most terrible person in the world (you). No way is that sane.

Your mother was an abusive, raving loony. You and your siblings should not have been left with her.

#213 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:23 PM:

belle @ 205: You got that one, too? Though I more often got either "How can you carry on so much about this? What are you ever going to do if something major actually happens?" or the most common variation, "Quit crying, or I'll give you something to cry about."

It's probably not actually a good thing that I feel so at home here on Dysfunctional Families Day. And even though I've promised myself when I left that I would always be upfront and speak up about my mother being abusive, in case it helps even one other person going through it, I've never once said anything on any of these threads until now.

I feel like it's too long to go into. I feel like it's too little to be still so easily upset by. I feel like I'm just fishing for attention. I feel too tired to tease it apart. I feel like I'm still broken and worthless, lazy and unmotivated and useless and stupid, untrustworthy and undependable. After all the anger that motivated me to get out and stay out did its job, and my beautiful, loving (also broken, but along different lines) partner helped me shed so much of it, I feel like all I have left is this useless lump of a life that I don't even know what to do with. I'm so scared of being a failure that I'm a 35-year-old failure without ever trying. Some days, I even miss being angry; days when I feel like that white incandescence was the closest I'm ever going to come to being Beautiful and True.

#214 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 05:44 PM:

I've been having a lot of trouble writing in this thread. Some of the stories I want to tell are distinctive enough that using a pseudonym would not help.

As my nym implies, I was another invisible child. My siblings were allowed and encouraged to keep me that way: it was OK to yell at me to shut up, at any time, especially if I was singing (which wasn't considered "real" music in a family of instrument players). I don't think any of them has picked up an instrument in years.

I had a tendency to retreat into my own world (this was partly neurological, but not recognized at the time); when I missed something, I was laughed at for being "oblivious." Or yelled at.

One time at lunch (I think I was about 13) my dad set the lid on the pickle jar without screwing it down all the way. I picked it up by the lid. The jar fell from the lid to the floor and broke. I instantly dropped to the floor and started trying to clean it up. My dad punched me in the head.

He mellowed out toward the end of his life. I just think he shouldn't have had children.

#215 ::: once removed ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:04 PM:

Thank you for all of the stories posted here, and in previous years. They have been very useful for me to read as the partner of someone who came from a dysfunctional family. If my partner were here, she would certainly be in the "I didn't have it so bad" camp. Her parents were narcissists, emotionally overbearing and undermining, and it left damage that she's still working through to this day.

I think she has been nothing short of amazing in this work. That said, I think I need to find some resources on being a supporting partner. I worry that, when under stress, she and I fall into a different kind of dysfunction (I cope with her negative emotions when she can't) that doesn't feel healthy to me and may be confusing for our kids as they get older. Can anyone suggest some good reading?

#216 ::: stick potato ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:16 PM:

SR @201, I've been surprised over the years by all the people who can't imagine that parents would ever steal from their children. It happens all the same. Parents empty their kids' piggy banks. Cash out the savings bonds or checks grandma sends. Swipe money from the kid's wallet when he or she gets a job. Borrow their car and forget to give it back. Guilt-trip them into making loans the parents never intend to repay. Embezzle student grants and loans, so that not only does the kid have to drop out for that semester, but he or she has to pay back the embezzled money before being readmitted.

I've never seen public discussion of what used to be a common form of parent-child theft. The parents would falsely claim their self-supporting son or daughter as a dependent on their tax return. This knocked a few dollars off the parents' taxes, but completely screwed up their offspring's ability to get financial aid at college, sometimes losing them five-figure sums. The students had no recourse.

I've heard they've changed the rule now, but there used to be thousands of cases like that a year.

#217 ::: Rama ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:20 PM:

I was raised in a lower middle class military family who's idea of 'saving for college' was enlisting. My most vivid childhood memories of my father revolve around a cycle of absence and beatings. He would deploy for months, return with anger and physical abuse, and then redeploy. He was not a front line solider, but worked linguistics in the air force. As an adult, we have no relationship to speak of, and so I’ve never discovered the source of his rage. I felt monstrous as a child, especially during desert storm/shield, as friends and family worried for their loved ones…and I only felt intense relief that his deployment was likely to last more than a year.
We were stationed overseas, far from extended family, and moved every year or so. My mother (who had a horrific childhood of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse) was terrified when he was home, and had emotional breakdowns when he left. She did not protect us, but stood mutely by. I find that my anger at her has acquired softer edges now, but as a child I felt betrayed by her silences. His anger was never predictable or logical - he once beat us for an entire afternoon over a dirty butterknife left on the kitchen counter. He would line my brothers and I up, mother standing in the background, and beat us each in turn. You saw what was doled out, and knew what was coming for you. I think we could easily have turned into a family of backstabbers, just to escape a few more blows, but instead we worked together and 'confessed' in rotation. We siblings are all still intensely close to this day, and I can cherish that at least.

The physical abuse was no picnic, but I think the worst was what followed it. He would ice your bruises, and try to befriend you while telling you what you were feeling. This, I think, had the most lasting damage on me because I grew up completely divorced from my emotions. My emotions were something my father interpreted for me, and I was certainly never allowed to express myself without the possibility of it “disrespecting him” which only led to another beating. Best to tamp all those feelings down, say a crisp "Yes Sir", and let him inform you of your own emotional landscape while ignoring his own. I left home as soon as possible after HS graduation, and spent my twenties in a series of one-sided relationships and friendships. Someone told me they liked me, and we proceeded from there. I certainly never expressed a preference, and let myself be led around by whoever currently had my emotional leash. I was witty and sarcastic, in turns, but never anything else. I carry the majority of the blame for the disasters that ensued, because what else could they do but fill in a blank whiteboard with their own scribble? When I was finally quite fedup I spent a year alone in a tiny effeciency apartment trying to sort myself out, and then cautiously tried out some real friendships with an actual give and take. I still struggle internally, and have to watch myself around alcohol (lest I use it as a crutch for loosening my emotional inhibitions). I have slowly learned to share my feelings without expecting a swift retaliation, or outright negation, and I have my current relationship to thank for that. She is from an abusive home as well (do we gravitate towards people who are broken in similar ways?), and we spent our first two years together learning how to even admit we liked each other. It was a rocky and immature courtship, but at least it was genuine, and uniquely our own. It's refreshing to be honest, and to feel safe enough to be honest. I still feel emotional immature a lot of the time, but at least I can communicate that now.

#218 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:53 PM:

Jacque @184 Thank you.

Forgiveness: I've posted on this voraciously I think. But the short version is: it's not my job. Keeping the secret is not my job. Understanding why is not my job. Forgiving is not my job. It's taken me a long time to understand this and I'm not letting go of it.

#219 ::: charming quark ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:58 PM:

Stick Potato @216: This is also why child actors in California are required to have Coogan accounts.

#220 ::: mdh ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 06:59 PM:

nancy @ 195

Glad to expand, and I probably ought not have been so vague. I was trying to work with your notion of physical coordination being tied to that sense of knowing where you are relative to other things and other people. I get that.

I wonder if not being as quick to pick up on what other people are doing (where they are, what their direction and intent is) feeds into the controlling behaviors exhibited by people (myself included) when road (or internet) tempers flare.

Just musing on what I feel was a sharp observation on your part, and sharing a little of my own de-escalating thought process. I've found that physically moving a conversation to a place with longer lines of sight can open people in my life up to different perspectives on a common disagreement. But maybe it's just the fresh air?

#221 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:07 PM:

mdh @220: I've found that physically moving a conversation to a place with longer lines of sight can open people in my life up to different perspectives on a common disagreement.

"Change of Perspective—It's Not Just A Metaphore!" :)

#222 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:15 PM:

"I've found that physically moving a conversation to a place with longer lines of sight can open people in my life up to different perspectives on a common disagreement. But maybe it's just the fresh air?"

No, it just occurs to them that you may have snipers deployed.

#223 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @172: I can't help wondering how many well-developed skills are the result of feeling driven
They're expensive, and they're precious.

I have a background belief that there are normal people, they're the real people, the important people, and I'm just not one of them.
As I get to know people, I find that most of them fear (secretly or not) that they're not normal, or important. In fact, I can't think of anybody I've ever talked to in any depth who considered herself normal.

I've heard a lot of people say that one thing and another was bad in their families, but they knew their parents loved them. I don't know how that works, or where any particular case is on the range from accurate perception to self-delusion to endure being hurt.
It made a tremendous improvement in my quality of life when i switched my self-story from "they didn't love me enough to X" to "they loved me the best they could: they just weren't very good at it."

Also: there are a lot of really, really ugly definitions of "love" out there.

Jennifer Baughman @200: I crashed and burned my only semester of college because I didn't know how to study, I didn't have any internal discipline, and I was too used to coasting on pure brainpower.
::raises hand:: Actually, it was my second quarter. I got (horrors!) Bs my
first quarter, and then crashed and burned. Didn't go back for, oh, about twenty years.

And I still wonder if it makes me a horrible person to realize that I don't really care about my parents anymore.
It's the inside of your own personal head. You get to define horrible for yourself, and you're well within your rights to exclude "not caring about abusive people" from the definition.

abi @211: Telling someone that they should forgive is like telling them their rash should be gone already; why are they still all red and itchy?

This. Goddess yes.

alsafi @213: I'm so scared of being a failure that I'm a 35-year-old failure without ever trying. Some days, I even miss being angry; days when I feel like that white incandescence was the closest I'm ever going to come to being Beautiful and True.
{{{{{{alsafi}}}}} (I hope you don't mind virtual hugs. No disrespect intended.)

The rage was fine, wasn't it? I hope you will discover that what it burned away was everything that is not Beautiful and True.

Neutrino @214: I just think he shouldn't have had children.
My hope was that there'd be fewer dysfunctional families as reliable birth control became available. Do we also have to make it socially acceptable not to breed? Because, really: why on earth do such people do it?

#224 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:27 PM:

#215 ::: once removed ::: "Can anyone suggest some good reading?"

Without more context about your and your partner's specific mix of personality traits, I'm not sure any recommendations you get here will have much chance of being helpful. I don't know if you're in couples counseling with your partner, but if you're not-- and you're resisting the idea or hesitant to bring it up with your partner-- then I hope you will reconsider your resistance and/or find the $whatever to bring it up. I used to be one of those people who thought that everyone else's problems were more serious than mine, and that my cognitive misbehaviors were therefore not serious enough to require the attention of a psych professional. In retrospect, I now view that as basically similar to refusing to go to the dentist about a toothache, until the ache stops, because the nerves are dead, and gangrene is setting into the jaw. (Which is something else I did once upon a time.)

A session or two with a good couples counselor may set you on a path toward finding the books you should be reading. When I was still trying to keep my marriage from foundering, some friends lent me a copy of PASSIONATE MARRIAGE by David Schnarch, Ph.D., and while it wasn't much help in my case, it sounds like your case is way way different. I thought it was an excellent book, and I wished that my situation were the sort where its contents could have been more useful to me. May it be of use to you, too. It certainly helped one couple I know and admire greatly.

#225 ::: Marcos ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:33 PM:

... ? What happened to the FTL post?

#226 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:49 PM:

The Gnomes are Gnomulating. No URLs, and no idea what Word Of Power may have offended.

#227 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:55 PM:

SpawnoftheDevil #226: Released the gnomed post.

A phrase accidentally matched a common phrase from comment spam.

You'll probably never run into it again.

#228 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:57 PM:

Marcos @225:

It was intended to be a particle. And now it is one. Thus is destiny fulfilled. Much like high fantasy.

SpawnOfTheDevil @226:

I had a word with the gnomes. They checked everywhere—under sofa cushions, between the biscuits (I helped with that), under the tea cosy. The comment is nowhere to be found, not even in the spam bucket.

They, and I, are sorry for the loss, and hope you can reconstruct it.

#229 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 07:58 PM:

No wonder we couldn't find it. Jim had it in his pocket, next to the string and the multitool.

#230 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 08:30 PM:

#223 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: "Because, really: why on earth do such people do it?"

I'm expecting to have to answer this question from my own child when he's older. The answer I'm currently mulling in my head is, "Because we mistakenly believe we are not as fucked up as we really are, we think we can handle it better than our parents did, and we don't really know what we're getting into when we do."

#231 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 08:52 PM:

stick potato @ #216, the elder brother of a high school classmate of mine was allowed to live at his parents' home for 6 months out of the year so they could claim him as a dependent. Then they kicked him out for the remaining 6 months. He was under 18 at the time.

My neighbor the crack addict stole money from his kids all the time, until his wife finally threw him out for the last time.

Rama @ #217, my own family was orders of magnitude less scary than that, but my mother did play the "I know how you feel and you don't" card from time to time. The first time she tried it on one of my children I put my foot down BUT GOOD, and in front of the child in question. To her credit, she never did it again. That is one of the triggers from my youth that can still make me feel sick at my stomach when I see it in a work of fiction--and I'm 50 years old.

#232 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 08:53 PM:

There was something on the sidelines on the order of "holding a grudge is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die". Whoever said that didn't realize that so many of us had the rat poison injected long before we could ever do anything to keep it from getting in our systems--and now we are supposed to get blamed for it too?
Add me to the list of those who are sick of hearing about forgiveness. Aside from the religious taint, there seems a whiff of newage/psychobabble in there too and I ran into enough psychobabbbling twits all these years, I came close to making some twit-shaped holes in the wall.
No, there must be other roads to healing than rolling over like a scared puppy and acting like everything is just fine when it damn well ain't. Perhaps helping the next generation to have an easier time of it? If only by using one's skill with words, if one is better with words/ideas than people? I'm glad I'm not one of those East Germans that was expected to all of a sudden make nice with the Stasis justlikethat, and so on.
Neutrino--thanks, that cheered me up! To "snipers", add "trebuchets".

#233 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:02 PM:

Just the other day there was one of those headlines I knew better than to read the story under. It happens every so often, with unnerving regularity it seems. Some child, some old person, or some animal[s] found under horrible conditions, sometimes not making it out alive, and there is always someone who should have known, or perhaps even did know, but didn't act in time. And the cry always goes up, just as inevitable--how did this happen, why was it not caught earlier--as if the same thing hadn't happened last year or last season or whatever, like no one had learned a thing.
And this aft I had to interrupt reading all this to call 911, when once again the apartment next door sounded like it was about to explode. There is an infant living there and I hate to think what said infant will grow up with.
I hope that this place is one of the ones where the making-things-right will start, not just for us but for the ones who aren't even here yet.

#234 ::: Danish Modern ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:43 PM:

Thank you to those who have expressed concern about me. I'm currently living on my own again, this is stuff that happened a little while ago, before I moved.

I was underemployed for a while recently and decided to move home to save money, partially because my mother and brother wanted to have me around again and miss me when I'm gone, and I legitimately miss them. (Ideally, I'd be living somewhere about forty-five minutes away from them, so I could see them periodically but wasn't pressured to do it daily.)

In the few months that I was home, my brother only broke two or three things, only one of which belonged to me explicitly, and that was not expensive or irreplaceable. (The other two were minor, low cost shared things that belonged to the family). He's gotten much better, the problem was that the few times that we did have a conflict, my mother's form of "conflict resolution" gave me flashbacks to times when it was worse and more constant. He'd hit me occasionally, but it was in the "brothers punching each other not-very-hard when one of them says something dumb" way that is portrayed on TV as a "normal part of life," and which he has completely internalized as normal as well. He hasn't hit me harder than that for years (since back when we used to mutually escalate), so I don't feel like I'm actually in danger.

The interesting thing is that my mom is completely capable of taking my side against anyone in the entire universe except my brother. She just doesn't want either of us to feel like one of us is the "good" one and one of us is the "bad" one.

I do wish my brother would do more therapy. The problem is that he's been to about four different therapists at different points, but the first few he ever went to were really really evil... Umbridge types, actually, to reference things earlier in the thread. So he's always hesitant to try a new one out, even though it's been explained to him that he might have to try a bunch of them before he finds one who he likes. He actually found a councilor he really liked who ended up getting him some meds (that may account partially for his recent improvement) - the thing is, he only talked to her about his other issues, the ones that were interfering with his own activities. He was too embarrassed to talk about the stuff with the family, which shows me that he knows on some level that this isn't actually a good thing. His early experiences with hyper critical, manipulative doctors has made both him and my mother view therapy as potentially adversarial.

At this point, these outbursts would barely bother me at all if it weren't for the fact that I know that if I complain about them my mom will say "there, didn't it feel good to talk about it? Now we can work out how to communicate better. I know this is bad, but it's something that we all have to work on." If they happened and there were actual consequences, I'd not really feel put-upon at all. That sounds weird to type, but it's true.

It also doesn't help that my brother has a lot of medical problems that he has difficulty coping with. I had medical problems when I was younger too, and benefited a lot from my mom's willingness to go to elaborate lengths to solve those kinds of problems, but in my brother's case I think her motherly concern and willingness to fight for her sick kid have sort of overwhelmed her other impulses.

The funny thing is that I have really high self esteem and self confidence due to the support I've gotten from my family in every other part of my life over the years. If you asked me where most of my trauma and emotional damage comes from, I'd definitely say school rather than home. I've always seen this as just something frustrating that would make it hard to move back home long term if I wanted to. It hasn't desensitized me to violence (in fact, it's made me better at watching out for it, and opposing it when I see it), and I don't think it's really affected me outside my relationship with my family, other than giving me a very strong sense of justice, and a strong desire to figure out which side, if any, is right in a given debate. This is why it's hard for me to talk about it in a medium like this. I'm still talking, though, because I can tell this is important.

I don't want to seem to be dismissing my own problems, or anyone else's, but I always feel like I'm not explaining things right when I write about this. Yes it's not good, but it's not so bad. Based on conversations I've had with my friends, in general my mom did better than most... I got someone who would fight for me in most situations and who really wanted me and cared about me, there was just one thing that she was really dumb about. And even that comes from a desire to break a cycle... both she and my father felt like the "less favorite children" in a lot of cases, and she didn't want her kids to feel the same way, so she went too far in the other direction.

Sorry if any of this is weird or doesn't make sense or doesn't fit into this discussion. I've had this post open in a window for like three hours trying to figure out how to say it right... at this point, better to just hit post.

#235 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 09:55 PM:

As always, I enter into this conversation with trepidation, and with the frontend that abi, et al: if this is less than helpful, or hlepy at all, feel free to feed it to the gnomes.

Because my family was, and is, the saving of my life. And I was 17 and actively suicidal for my other reasons before I realised that for some - if not many - that is Not The Case. And I wept then, and I weep now.

So I read this thread every year, to Witness. I believe it is important to witness, and I can - so I must. There always are other reasons, it turns out. But to you all - you are heard, and you are important, and what you have to say is important and worth reading. Those with the courage to say things now matter. And you are known, in society, even if this society is "people I'll never actually meet, but thanks to Berners-Lee et al, I can know". Those without, currently? DFD comes around once a year, and I'm sure it's at least partially so that it's OK to be "not ready yet" - you matter, too.

Other reasons? How about:
AC7G: I got the "AC" reference (and the vulture sticker to prove it). I thought it was cute, and appropriate. But Jacque is right - no coward ye.

Specifically at 103, though: it is possible to go through adolescence later - I did when I went back to University at 25 (for different reasons). Sure there were things that I couldn't do; sure there were things that I didn't get to do because doing them while being 8-10 years older than the crowd were creepy; but much much less than one would think (including, of course, the stupid and embarrassing ones. Luckily, they were more often as not treated as anyone of the right age would). Unfortunately, "I have responsibilities" is a problem; but it can be worked around sometimes (I was the city's resident Dr. Scott for Rocky Horror for 5 years, for instance).

Melody #33: Me too. Very loving family, but not physical. To this day I feel uncomfortable hugging anyone I'm not intimate with (but I can do it), and I feel goofy holding hands with who I *am*. Those people who are all "dear and hugs" freak me out. But you are allowed to be as reticent as they are present, or as experiential as you see fit, and you are as important to that particular social dynamic as they are.

This one seems gendered, as well - as a man, I'm not expected to hug anywhere near as often as women are; conversely, it's less socially odd for two women who are just friends-of-common-friend to hug than two men (and I spend a *lot* of time as the only straight guy in the room, and strongly feel that it's incumbent on *me* to fit in, rather than for them to conform to me).

Thanks for pointing that out - I hadn't thought of it that way before (even though I did know about the physical leeriness).

stick potato #55: oh that's a can of worms, for totally different context than the one you posted it for.

I have no idea what love feels like. In my case, it's Alexithymia and 25 years of not knowing what *any* emotion really felt like. And now I'm in a relationship that I feel uncomfortable saying "I love you" - because I'm *scared I'm lying*. I want to be with her, and all the things that people in love are supposed to be - but do I feel love? I sure hope so!

You in this thread, seem to have nutshelled a lot of things for others - just chalk this up as one more, completely serendipitously. Thank you.

crabby, #81: oh the "one bad psychiatrist" experience. How do I feel for you on that one. For me it was a breach of trust (well, a we know what's best for him, but because he's 10, it's not important to either get his permission nor let him know what's going on (which catastrophically erased any good, and more, that could have come from it when I finally figured it out)). But for 15 years, I just assumed that that was the way of all pshrinks. So, of course, I didn't go...

The right psychiatrist can do wonders. So can the wrong one. As I said, I sympathize...

Sylvia #109: I, too, am selfish here. And there's nothing to feel guilty about - and don't listen to those tapes that are trying to tell you otherwise.

That goes for us all - the tapes have to win or they *aren't needed*, see? So they do whatever they have to, including *lie*. Which I guess is me agreeing with the Alphabet Soup list.

Megpie71 #159: "I'm not actively trying to live either". Again, that resonates. That was a year of my life, and frequent months around it. I told my cousin years ago that I had a reason to not die, but I had never in memory had a reason to live. That year - it was worse. Still reasons to not die, but "now I lay me down to sleep" became "please, just let me not wake up".

So, my sympathy, and my witness, and I believe you. Which was all that didn't sound like BS when I was there. There's hope there, too, because I've "known" you from here and other, more Monkish places, and appreciate you, and care; but I know that former me would read that as BS, so.

Lastly (here anyway), because in my humble (and this time I mean it) opinion, it is so important: "Girl" at 144, and all the others saying the same: No Longer Invisible, explicitly because of what you have done here. You are noticed, and paid attention to, and valued. Your courage in posting here, and the things you do in your lives from day to day, have made you so. It's not much, I'm sorry, but it's all I can give, and it's true. I hope it's something.

All those who apologised for being "so long" - we at Making Light have been known to read so much more long than anything here; almost by definition. And when it's important and not banal, it's reading time well spent. So.

#236 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:32 PM:

j h woodyatt @ 230: The answer I'm currently mulling in my head is, "Because we mistakenly believe we are not as fucked up as we really are, we think we can handle it better than our parents did, and we don't really know what we're getting into when we do."
You will be mindful, as the parents discussed in this thread could not be. You have community. I'm also going to guess that you had children on purpose, because you wanted them, which puts you ahead of the pack right there.

No aspersions on parents posting here were intended.

#237 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:36 PM:

wow. So, this is my first one of these. And it's timely as all get out, even if I am a day late. Sorry it's so long. So many things that resonated with me, it'll take until next DFD to process them all.

My thumbnail is a teenage mother who was (and is) thoughtless and self-absorbed. When she hinted I should have children, I said she didn't seem to like being a mother much. To her credit (I guess?) she said, no, she hadn't. I am her only child.

Anyway, her first husband (not my father) was an incredibly warped and manipulative human being who screwed with her head and raped me from the time I was 4 until I was 14. There were regular beatings of varying severity. I was a bright kid with a big mouth who slotted nicely into the role of adult to my mother's child-bride. Husband #1 went to prison, served 2 1/2 years, and was a free man before I got my driver's license.

Since then. I have had some good therapy, and have a great husband of almost 2 decades. I've done lots and lots of work, and I still have miles to go before I sleep. I'm currently learning to work with Jungian active imagination and mythos therapies. We shall see.

So. Now you guys know more about me (or rather, that part of me) than most of my closest friends. Stenopos, way upthread at #4, talked about not being able to predict what will make people treat you like a freak or a sideshow. This. Oh so very fucking this. So I don't tell anybody.

I grew up in a small city, lived there until my 30s, and moved across the country 4 years ago. And I took that opportunity to not have to tell anyone about where I came from - the poverty, the drugs, the abuse, the dysfunction. I looked smart and successful, and by dog I wasn't going to tell them that I wasn't, or that I hadn't always been.

But this last year, something's been off. Old, unhealthy patterns are coming back. Bad memories are becoming intrusive, paralyzing. All this stuff I had sorted through and put in boxes was being left on my mental staircase and if I wasn't careful, one of these times I tripped on it, I was going to fall and break my neck.

I was watching SYTYCD this summer, of all things, and after a moving performance, one of the choreographers said, "You show people you're not ashamed of your struggle." And I froze. And I wept. Because I realized that somehow, the nasty, insidious script in my head had managed to make this positive thing I'd done into something shameful. And it's hurting me. And so the work starts all over again.

And I keep tweaking and freaking on this so I should ustpost it now.

#238 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 10:43 PM:

Also, I don't know if ebear is still checking in on the thread but I wanted to say:

When Kit - clever Kit, capable Kit, wonderful Kit - is reduced to terror by the appearance of his rapist, I put down that book and

I used to cross paths with my mother's first husband after he got out of prison. And the unreasoning fear, the instinct to flee at all costs that is so overwhelming is something I've never been able to convey so that my husband understands.

Thank you for understanding.

#239 ::: xious ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2011, 11:33 PM:

I'm fond of commenting to my mother that every generation finds new and unique ways to fuck up their kids. I'm also fond of the bit about the sins of the father. On mom's side, it just took one alcoholic to screw up three generations.

It's a long complicated story, and I'm not sure I want to get into it, but suffice it to say that there were secrets -- there are secrets -- that my grandmother insists must stay secret. And secrets poison relationships.

And ... well, that's all I feel like saying right now.

#240 ::: Life Is Victory ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 12:33 AM:

stick potato @ 216, re parents stealing from children

Oh, my, yes. My mom would take my babysitting money, pilfered part of my GSL in sophomore year, would go through my drawers and closet looking for money, would take money from my greeting card presents, etc. She finally found the little leather changepurse that I kept silver coins in when I found them, and took those. After I had to drop out of college I asked about the bank account I had always been told that money was going into when I got money or savings certificates as gifts, and was told that had been cleaned out 'years ago'.

Whenever I would ask about getting paid back, she would say, "Sure honey. Let's see, I owe you $21 from your babysitting money. I figure we spend at least $1000 a year on you on room and board and clothes, and you're 14 years old. So how about we call it even?"

Of course. Wouldn't that be more fair?


#241 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 12:34 AM:

Mycroft@235: Thank you for Witnessing. It matters to me, more than I can say in words, that people do listen, and witness, and believe, that when I speak, I'm actually heard and not dismissed.

And that you to everyone in this thread who speaks. I'm glad we've all made it this far.

Tangent, of bitter humor: for years, I used to rent the I, Claudius videotapes and watch them in sequence between Christmas and Twelfth Night, and say to friends, "Well, my family is dysfunctional, but my grandmother never painted my grandfather's fig tree with poison/my uncle never let my cousin starve to death in a prison cell/etc." It's only been recently that I've internalized that most people don't seriously make those sorts of comparisons of their home life.

#242 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:15 AM:

Velma, I always say that The Lion in Winter is my favorite Christmas movie, because it reminds me of my family Christmases...though Henry and Eleanor and their kids are a lot more polite to each other.

People think I'm kidding.

#243 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:45 AM:

Apropos of several passing comments, I just want to observe that I'm not sure any of us can function with a completely accurate picture of how screwed up we are, or of the dangers lurking in various decisions we make in the courses of our lives. The human inability to correctly assess risk is a feature.

#244 ::: AnonCowardSevenBillion ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:45 AM:

Mycroft @235:

Thank you.

Thank you for reading, for noticing, and for caring.

As you might expect, life is a bit more complex than fits easily into a few paragraphs which one is comfortable sharing with strangers, even from behind a veil of anonymity. As regards #103, let it only be said that the ambition and drive of a single 20 year old embodied in an older man does not make the older man into a young man. The older man does not have the years remaining to aspire to what a young man thinks possible; the older body has not the resilience of youth; nor has the older man the freedoms to pursue all the avenues available to he who in his youth has not yet put down the roots of family, home, and career.

I have collected around me people who are dear to me, and who depend on me. I will not screw them over in pursuit of what many would term a midlife crisis. Were I a young man, I would no doubt have people dear to me, but my responsibilities to those around me would differ by orders of magnitude.

#245 ::: once removed ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:48 AM:

xiaoren@224, thanks for the reply, and point well taken about Internet advice. It was a little eerie, though, to see that while I was dithering about my first post, Anon4Now@193 had come along and more-or-less described my relationship from the other side. I could easily be the boyfriend in her story.

I don't think counseling will be in the cards any time soon; these days, getting out of the house alone together happens every other month or so, and we're usually to exhausted to talk about much when we do.

#246 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:00 AM:

SpawnOfTheDevil, #223: Do we also have to make it socially acceptable not to breed?

Yes. At the very least, that would help. But I fear it wouldn't help enough, because there's a parenting-related version of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome too. Some of the people who are most unsuited to be parents are absolutely convinced that they do a fine job of it, as witness the story related by SR -- no parenting skills, no wish to improve on that, and not enough sense to stop with just one. If that's not DKS in action, I don't know what it is.

#247 ::: ThisIsAnAlias ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:43 AM:

My mother...I don't even know how I'm supposed to feel about her. I'm nearly fifty and I'm still running into experiences that I thought of as normal but that others tell me weren't at all.

My mother didn't want kids, and she didn't want me. I know this, because she told me that frequently--not just when she got angry, but when she was calm. She regarded getting pregnant with me as a terrible disaster that had forced her to give up a career that she loved. I believe that if she had known where to obtain an abortion, she would have done so.

She was once a tad overweight--not fat, not obese, but just a little on the slightly plump side. I've seen photos. By the time I came along, she'd pretty much stopped eating. She was thin to the point of emaciation, and her face was skull-like.

She believed in discipline, which translated to "a big thick leather belt cut into strips." She called it "my cat-o'-nine-tails." She loved using it. And she would use it on my bare back and bare bottom until her arm wore out.

I wasn't allowed to put anything on the welts afterward to make them less painful. I'd earned them, you see.

Even so, the strips of leather were less bad than the belt buckle. The belt buckle godged flesh and blood. Sometimes she would aim the buckle at my head or my eyes and tell me not to dodge if I loved her. I always dodged. Then I got hit worse.

When I was ten, I found the belt, wrapped it around the inside of a garbage bag and threw it out for Monday's trash collection. She looked for the belt for months after that. I don't think she ever knew what happened to it.

Her emotional ups and downs were worse than the beatings. I could tell when she was working her way up to a beating. I could never predict her silences. One morning she would be fine; that afternoon, she would be tense and tight-lipped, unwilling to speak to me. I would have to beg her to tell me what was wrong.

Of course, she wouldn't answer. She would simply tell me not to lie, that I KNEW what was wrong--of course I did. And wasn't she looking at an Oscar-winning performance! Oh, I wanted a hint as to what I had done? TUESDAY!

And then she would shut up. Completely. She wouldn't speak to me. She wouldn't acknowledge that I was there. Sometimes she would "forget" to put food on my plate, or to make lunch. (Making my own lunch or dinner counted as "defiance" and "not trusting her" and only extended the silence and earned me the likelihood of a beating when the silence ended.

Her silences lasted, on average, about two weeks. Her longest silence endured for two months. I never did find out what had caused that. I did ask her. She denied that she had been silent at all.

The weird thing is that she wasn't 100% hateful. I mean, she took pains to dress me well. She paid for math tutoring (math and I are not friends). She took me on private vacations; she made sure that I attended museums and art galleries from an early age. She baked cookies and laughed and bought me all kinds of books. And I loved her when she was like that.

I just can't square that woman with the silent, angry and abusive one.

#248 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 03:47 AM:

Shouldn't have read Clarissa, because that's me, except that I didn't tell the truth at Thanksgiving dinner--I attacked my father with a knife so he would quit--look, the rest of this paragraph would be a huge trigger, so I'll just repeat someone's earlier warning: If you have flashbacks, don't read Clarissa.

Sensory flashbacks. Not gonna sleep much tonight.

SO. Tangled. I've been discussing this with some people who were raised in fundamentalist U.S. Christian homes of various types. They say that it maps eerily well onto their own experience. Here's a summary gathered from what they and others have said about it online. Will ROT-13 because this movie is really REALLY good, go see it if you like gorgeous animation, romance, eye-popping fight scenes, or crazy cracky humor.

SHORT VERSION: Tangled is about freedom, victory, and joy.

LONG VERSION: Here's how it can be read.

Bapr hcba n gvzr gurer jnf n pbzzhavgl (gur xvatqbz) gung cynprq terng inyhr ba n cnegvphyne eryvtvba (gur fha flzoby). Bar cnegvphyne snzvyl (gur Xvat naq Dhrra) perqvgrq gurve eryvtvba jvgu fnivat gurve yvirf yvgrenyyl be zrgncubevpnyyl (gur zntvp tbyqra sybjre). Gurl unq n urnygul snzvyl yvsr naq jrer ernql gb tvir hapbaqvgvbany ybir naq gehfg gb arj zrzoref (gur pebja). Ubjrire, cneg bs gung snzvyl (Tbgury, cebonoyl n zna naq n jbzna zneevrq gb rnpu bgure) sryy vagb gur shaqnzragnyvfg irefvba bs gur eryvtvba (gelvat gb xrrc gur zntvp tbyqra sybjre sbe gurzfryirf) va juvpu cneragf qrevir cbjre naq fgnghf (rgreany lbhgu) sebz univat gurve qnhtugref, cnegvphyneyl gur ryqrfg (Enchamry), pbeerpgyl cresbez shaqnzragnyvfg qnhtugreubbq (gur zntvp unve). Fb gung cneg bs gur snzvyl "frcnengrq sebz gur jbeyq," nf H.F. shaqnzragnyvfg Puevfgvnaf chg vg (xvqanccvat Enchamry naq inavfuvat).

Gur ryqrfg qnhtugre terj hc va n pnershyyl pvephzfpevorq jbeyq (gur gbjre) va juvpu nyy vasbezngvba jnf pbagebyyrq ol gur cnerag(f) (abgr gur guerr obbxf: obgnal sbe cbggrq cynagf, trbybtl sbe gur ebpxf gur gbjre vf znqr bs, naq pbbxvat). Fur fhozvggrq gb na rire ybatre yvfg bs cerfpevcgvbaf sbe pbeerpg cresbeznapr bs ure ebyr (gur zntvp unve tebjvat gb 70 srrg) naq rira yrnearq ubj gb hfr vg sbe ure bja arrqf (gur zntvpnyyl fgebat naq navzngrq unve). Fur qvq nyy gur guvatf n tbbq "fgnl-ng-ubzr qnhtugre" vf fhccbfrq gb qb, ohg ba gur phfc bs nqhygubbq, fur ortna gb srry pbafgevpgrq va ure ebyr (gur navzngvba naq ylevpf gb gur bcravat ahzore). Abg ernyvmvat gung ure bayl inyhr gb ure cnerag(f) jnf va ure pbagvahrq cresbeznapr bs shaqnzragnyvfg qnhtugreubbq, fur vaabpragyl nfxrq sbe zber serrqbz naq tbg tnfyvtugrq naq chg qbja vafgrnq ("Zbgure Xabjf Orfg"). Ohg fur jnf abg nf genafcnerag gb gur zbpxvat tnmr bs ure cnerag(f) nf gurl gubhtug (Cnfpny).

Bar qnl, fbzrobql nppvqragnyyl onetrq vagb ure pnershyyl neenatrq yvsr (Sylaa Evqre--va gur erny jbeyq, creuncf fbzrobql jub gbbx bar bs gur genpgf fur unq gb cnff bhg qbjagbja rirel jrrx naq fbzrubj fgehpx hc n pbairefngvba, be whfg gur arvtuobe ynql jub crefvfgrq va orvat arvtuobeyl va gur snpr bs shaqnzragnyvfg qvfqnva). Gung crefba fbzrubj erzvaqrq ure bs gur hapbaqvgvbany ybir fur unq rkcrevraprq sebz ure rkgraqrq snzvyl orsber ure cnerag(f) "frcnengrq sebz gur jbeyq" (gur pebja nccrnef). Naq ur/fur/gurl qvq ABG unir cbvagrq grrgu nsgre nyy! Fur bapr ntnva nccebnpurq ure cnerag(f) naq gurl fgbccrq cergraqvat gung fur unq n pubvpr (Tbgury fnlvat cbvag oynax gung Enchamry pna arire yrnir gur gbjre).

Gur qnhtugre fhozvggrq bhgjneqyl, ohg fur unq frra gur penpxf va gur snpnqr naq pbhyq abg hafrr gurz. Fur znqr ure ovq sbe serrqbz, abg jvgubhg dhnyzf--fur jnf yrnivat ure ragver jbeyq naq fur unq orra gnhtug ure jubyr yvsr gung gur pbafrdhraprf gb ure naq ure cnerag(f) jbhyq or qver (gur zbbq fjvat frdhrapr). Fur jnf greevsvrq bs gnyxvat gb fgenatref (gur guhtf ng gur Fahttyl Qhpxyvat), ohg jura fur fhzzbarq hc ure pbhentr, fur sbhaq gung gurl jrer ernyyl avpr crbcyr. (Va gur erny jbeyq, OGJ, guvf jubyr nqiragher pbhyq or nf fvzcyr nf--jryy, bar crefba eryngrq ubj fur hfrq gb oybj bss genpgvat va beqre gb fgbc va gur pbzvp fubc--fva fva FVA--naq gnyx jvgu gur thlf oruvaq gur pbhagre, jub gerngrq ure yvxr n yvggyr fvfgre naq jbeevrq nobhg ure fnsrgl.)

Gur qnhtugre yrnearq naq terj naq ernyvmrq gur orarsvgf bs orybatvat gb gur ynetre pbzzhavgl (abgr ure fghzoyvat fbyvgnel nggrzcgf ng "n ovg bs onyyrg" va gur bcravat frdhrapr if. ure wblbhf qnapr ba gur rir bs gur ynagrea srfgviny nsgre gur yvggyr tveyf oenvq ure unve). Fur sbhaq bhg ubj pncnoyr fur ernyyl jnf naq fb qvq bgure crbcyr (gur Selvat Cna bs Juhcnff--"Bu, Znzn, V unir TBG gb trg zr bar bs GURFR!"). OHG--ure cnerag(f) sbhaq ure bhg riraghnyyl (Tbgury ng gur Fahttyl Qhpxyvat, be va gur erny jbeyq ernqvat Enchamry'f r-znvy). Gurve fcvevghny zrny gvpxrg naq cebbs bs fgnghf pbhyq abg or nyybjrq gb rfpncr! Fb gurl sbbyrq ure vagb guvaxvat gung fur jnfa'g fnsr bhgfvqr nsgre nyy (Tbgury cybggvat jvgu gur Fgnoovatgba Oebguref--va gur erny jbeyq, nal yvr gung znxrf frafr va gur shaqnzragnyvfg flfgrz).

Ohg gur qnhtugre erzrzorerq abj: ure rkgraqrq snzvyl jnf abg ybfg va fva; gurl ybirq ure naq gurl unq arire tvira hc ba ure, rira jura fur pbhyqa'g erpbtavmr vg (gur ynagreaf, va gur erny jbeyq Puevfgznf pneqf, uryybf ba gur fgerrg, be rira cenlre). Guvatf tbg ernyyl htyl va ure sbezreyl pbml yvggyr jbeyq nf fur gevrq gb nffreg ure serrqbz (ure vqragvgl nf gur ybfg Cevaprff).

Ohg gur qnhtugre abj unq sevraqf ba gur bhgfvqr, naq gurl ershfrq gb tvir hc ba ure (Sylaa, Znkvzhf, naq gur Phqqyl Guhtf gb gur erfphr). Riraghnyyl gurer jnf n pbasebagngvba orgjrra ure arj sevraqf naq ure cnerag(f) (Sylaa gb gur erfphr) va juvpu ure cnerag(f) hfrq gurve zbfg greevslvat jrncbaf (fgnoovat Sylaa, va gur erny jbeyq guerngravat qnzangvba be "cenlvat n urqtr bs gubeaf" be jungrire). Gur sevraqf sebz bhgfvqr ershfrq gb pnir naq gur qnhtugre ernyvmrq gung ure cnerag(f) unq ab cbjre bire ure (phggvat bss gur unve). Gurl jrer ab ybatre snpgbef va ure yvsr (Tbgury tbrf gb cbjqre). Naq fur erpbtavmrq gurve birenepuvat yvr, gung fur bayl unq inyhr, fgeratgu, naq pncnovyvgl vs fur cresbezrq shaqnzragnyvfg qnhtugreubbq (Enchamry qvfpbiref gung fur pna urny jvgubhg gur zntvp unve).

Va gur pybfvat frdhrapr jr frr gur qnhtugre nf n pbasvqrag nqhyg, jub nsgre lrnef (guvf vf va gur fpevcg, ubbenl!) bs serrqbz, pubbfrf gb ragre n eryngvbafuvc va juvpu abobql onggraf ba nalobql ryfr (fur zneevrf Sylaa). Fur vf fheebhaqrq ol ure rkgraqrq snzvyl naq gurve pbzzhavgl, jub inyhr ure jvfqbz naq ure bgure pncnovyvgvrf, naq fur vf ybirq hapbaqvgvbanyyl (fur jrnef gur pebja).

OK, the phantom sensations have receded, I'm going to try going to bed.

And yes, I'm the J. who wrote about forgiveness. I still have difficulty with forgiveness on nights like this, when I have to steel myself to go to bed with a man who loves me very much. But allowing myself to be angry at them all over again and then shutting the box is also forgiveness: I know this debt can never be paid, so I won't pour water into this hole.

#249 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 04:11 AM:

J, that is a brilliant interpretation of the film.

Sleep well. Be well*.

* I mean, only if you want to. I'm not trying to override your agency here... ;-)

#250 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 04:15 AM:

Not worrying about the anonymity this year.

I was going to post something about how this year was actually an improvement, because the situation the past few years (of the whole family pulling closer because mom is sick, and spending time living with my mom and babysis) let us kind of reset some patterns established when I and my sis were kids, and reframe them in more equal, adult terms. And that's absolutely true, as far as it goes...

... And then I remembered that a month ago, someone was telling me "If someone else were telling you about this and it was happening to them, you would call bullshit and tell them that this is an abusive behavior and they should get out." To which I brilliantly responded "But... it's just... it's not like that!" Because it's okay, as long as nobody has to directly confront anything unpleasant, right up until nothing is okay anymore and then there's an explosion, but, you know, it's over as soon as everyone's had a chance to scream at each other, and then it's all "okay" again as long as everyone is careful not to actually try to talk about it...

So. Mixed bag, this year, it seems.

On the other hand, I can't really bring myself to focus on it in detail at the moment, because that would be taking time away from playing with my perfect new baby girl (objectively the most adorable, brilliant baby on the planet, by any measure). I'm having far more fun keeping that relationship as functional as possible right now...

#251 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 04:56 AM:

Danish Modern @234: She just doesn't want either of us to feel like one of us is the "good" one and one of us is the "bad" one.

Might be worth reminding her of the difference between "bad people" and "bad behavior."

#252 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 05:41 AM:

Mycroft W @235: All those who apologised for being "so long" - we at Making Light have been known to read so much more long than anything here; almost by definition. And when it's important and not banal, it's reading time well spent. So.

Thank you, yes. This bee has been bumping against my window, too, though I couldn't find a way to say it.

To all those who fret about length, may I direct your attention to the Open Thread, a conversation that has been noodling along now in one form or another to the tune of some hundred thousand plus comments.

Which reminds me, it's time to thank our gracious hosts again for providing such a splendid venue, and to our mods for such a wonderful and safe forum.

#253 ::: eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 06:10 AM:

I know the day is over, but I wanted to add/kind of ask something. I told myself I can't post now, it's too late, then realised I was trying make up a legitimate excuse. So even though I feel like I'm about to confirm that I am just petty and playing it up, here it is.

I've never been suicidal. I've wanted to curl up in a ball and have the world disappear around me, but that's different from actually wanting to kill myself. And I've been told in different ways that if I was actually hurting, I would be. So my hurts must just be little hurts. Is that true? Is there a line with suicidal on it and if you don't reach suicidal you are further up the line than you think?

Thinking about it now it seems like it's akin to non-advice. But I still can't help think, well, no I'm not suicidal. The idea is alien to me. So am I just pretending to hurt?

I was going to apologise for going over the day - then I found myself apologising for the apology. So. Um.

#254 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 06:39 AM:

eleanor @253:

First of all, the day is not over as long as the discussion runs. September 21 is just the annual excuse to restart the discussion (which we, as a society, would be better having more often).

And second...
I've been told in different ways that if I was actually hurting, I would be. So my hurts must just be little hurts. Is that true?

Nope. Different people have different ways of trying to deal with emotional pain. Some people are more prone to self-destruction, some to retreat, some to lashing out.

There's not a single continuum from "happy" to "suicidal". It's a sunburst of lines, each going in a different direction. If your line, if your character and culture and upbringing, doesn't head for suicidal feelings, you won't get there, no matter how far from happy you are.

Which is a subset of my earlier comment: this is not the Olympics. This isn't about how you compare to other people, neither in degree nor direction. It's about your own experiences, and how you're dealing with them.

Give yourself permission to be in pain. Take yourself seriously. You matter.

#255 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 07:42 AM:

#253 ::: eleanor:

The people who told you your pain didn't count unless you were suicidal may have been operating out of a misconstrued idea of toughness, However, my snap reaction is that they were trying to kill you. This may be unfair on my part-- there's certainly a lot of information I don't have. How did they treat their own pain?

I've never heard of that standard for pain before.

abi, I think there might be a physical basis for suicidality. I used to have a background feeling that suicide was a live option, even though I wasn't making plans. When I got close to making plans, I'd get scared and pull back fast.

However, I was also maintaining the live option aspect-- I was concerned that I might really want to commit suicide sometime, and what if I couldn't get myself to do it?

It felt like a suicidality switch that I could turn on or off. Now that I think about it, the physical explanation for why I had that much control isn't plausible, but I'm not sure what is plausible. Was it just the ordinary control people have of their thoughts and moods? That doesn't wash, either, since it doesn't seem as though that kind of control is standard.

In any case, I eventually decided my idea that I needed to maintain the option didn't make sense. My future self could make its own choices.

More recently, I've had problems with an internal voice which would keep saying "Why don't you just kill yourself?" I seem to have gotten that one faded out, but it's occurring to me that I haven't taken this level of internal attack seriously enough.

So far as fading it out goes, I'm not sure of all the things that helped. I'm doing therapy. It was a big step when I realized that I was amplifying self-hating thoughts (there was more stuff than telling me to kill myself), and that while I couldn't prevent the thoughts, I could choose not to amplify them.

I've explored what I was getting out of amplifying self-hatred. I'm still not sure (the intensity?), but I think the "what's going on here?" attention helped.

Moving my sense of self away from the self-hating internal monologue and towards kinesthesia helps. Realizing that part of what's wrong is a habitual point of view that I'm looking down on myself and judging myself has helped-- it's problematic even if the judgment is positive. I literally work on moving my sense of self lower in my body.

I'm not sure when or why it happened, but I stopped attacking myself for having that much self-hatred.

I read a while ago that the default is for people to believe that their selves are in their viscera or their hearts. The idea that you live behind your eyes is based in scientific research which discovered that the brain is crucial for consciousness, but it may not have a basis in felt experience.

Anyway, the self-hating monologue has become much less frequent and not nearly as loud or emotionally intense.

#256 ::: Delurkingtoday ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:22 AM:

I don't think I realized that my family might count as dysfunctional until I read this thread. I've been used to thinking of my brilliant father as the man who taught me to think, taught me to read, and made the space for me to write. We didn't always get along but I know he loved me.

He's also the man who told me he fantasized about strangling my pet.

There's a lot more that I've been thinking about over the last day--a lot of stuff that resonates with what other people have been talking about. Like the time I had to write a 2000-word essay of apology for disobeying him. And the apology had to be sincere, which meant I had to be crying when I handed it in, otherwise I'd have to do it over.

I guess I knew not all families were like that, but my friends' families weren't all that great either. And at least my dad didn't drink and he and my mom had a great marriage. A marriage so great that she still grieves for him, years after his death, and doesn't remember him doing all this stuff, just says mildly that she didn't always agree with his parenting style.

Now my brother lives with my mom. He's a recovering addict with some health challenges and my mom is trying to help him out. He steals from her occasionally. He sexually harassed our cousin. I asked my mom to kick my brother out, and she said she wouldn't do that, because he is sincerely sorry for what he's done.

Wrongs and consequences. I can't tell if my mom is trying to make up for my dad's harshness, now that it's too late. I can't tell if my brother is capable of being good, and I don't know if I have a responsibility to stick with him while I wait for that to happen. I know I'm a bit afraid of him, of the damage he can do, and of the damage done to him.

Thanks for listening.

#257 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:28 AM:

Eleanor - seconding abi here. I was so far from all right that it took me two decades to realize I didn't know what happy even felt like. But for ages, I thought the only time I was in "real trouble" was that one semester in college where I gave all my knives to a friend to keep - and even that was likely just me being dramatic, because I never made any serious efforts to kill myself. Suicide ideation was a way of life, more aspirational than serious - that was okay, right?

Than one day, more than a decade later, I was walking down the street, a couple weeks after getting antidepressants for the first time, and realized I was happy. The realization made me stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk. I hadn't realized until that moment that it was absent from my life. It wasn't like I never smiled, or laughed, or like I didn't love anybody. It was just that there was this pervading hopeless sadness underlying all these things - I didn't deserve them, and they'd probably be taken away soon anyway.

I was no less in trouble in those two decades of "not happy, ever" as I was in the one semester of sort-of suicidal. It was just a little more submerged.

(Well, look at that. I managed to post under my usual name for the first time.)

This year's challenge has been accepting that I have some right to feel (angry, neglected, put-upon?) by my brother's treatment of me at his wedding. He asked me to play the organ, when I didn't play organ, just piano. I agreed, paid for lessons, and spent a year learning what I needed to know to play - and I was happy to do so because I love both my brother and his bride. Only to have him spend his entire wedding treating me far worse than he would have dare treated a hired hand. I couldn't get access to get even straight-forward questions about the ceremony answered, so I would know what I needed to do; my presence was completely ignored, except for when he read me the riot act about how to behave at a wedding - in public, in front of about half of our extended family. And not because I had done anything, but pre-emptively, because apparently I'm still six, not over 30, and might upstage the bride if I'm not squashed ahead of time. It was one of those infuriating lectures (about maturity and propriety) where you can't answer back without looking like you deserve it, so I was forced to stand there and just take it.

My husband was furious on my behalf, and though he acquiesced to my requests not to say anything at the wedding, pretty much insisted that we leave as soon as we put in a token appearance at the reception after. At the time I thought he was being overly touchy, but I'm beginning to think he may have a point, and that I ought to try to address this tendency of my brother's to revert to treating me like a dense pre-schooler when under stress - though I'm somewhat at a loss as to how.

#258 ::: Ghost Boy ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:35 AM:

Trying to sip from the firehose here.

Stealthy or unstealthy criticism: I see Jennifer James hasn't been mentioned yet, so let me briefly plug the various incarnations of her The Slug Manual (latest at bottom of linked page).

abi #211: Telling someone that they should forgive is like telling them their rash should be gone already; why are they still all red and itchy?

Brilliant (along with other comments).

alsafi #213: belle @ 205 ["Save your tears for something that matters."]: You got that one, too? Though I more often got either "How can you carry on so much about this? What are you ever going to do if something major actually happens?" or the most common variation, "Quit crying, or I'll give you something to cry about."

Um, wow. I'd never seen the connection between these two attacks.

AnonCowardSevenBillion #244: let it only be said that the ambition and drive of a single 20 year old embodied in an older man does not make the older man into a young man. The older man does not have the years remaining to aspire to what a young man thinks possible; the older body has not the resilience of youth; nor has the older man the freedoms to pursue all the avenues available to he who in his youth has not yet put down the roots of family, home, and career.

A serious issue for me, as I spent over 10 years rotting in severe depression. And for other reasons, I never got a proper adolescence either....

eleanor #253: I've never been actively suicidal, but sometimes I wondered why I wasn't.... I've certainly done enough self-destructive stuff.

#259 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:58 AM:

First, thanks for those who are reading and witnessing, as Mycroft calls it. Even getting these things off my chest anonymously helps.

On forgiveness: I left my last job some ten years ago in part because is was at a religious-connected institution and I was being urged to forgive a serious betrayal of trust. The brother of a student employee, a kid I had costumed for school plays, broke into my office and stole the departmental cash, and when he realized I had a webcam up, took my computer outside and pissed on it. Which is kind of amusing in retrospect, actually, especially since the webcam was connected to a server in another room. But the pressure to forgive, when I had been betrayed and he had not apologized or made recompense, was a bit much.

Anyway, something that struck me about my relationship with my ex. I think Robert A. Heinlein has a lot to answer for. We both devoured his books as sexually inexperienced teenagers, and therefore thought something was wrong with me for not remaining, after adolescence, the constantly horny, ever-ready sexy woman his women were. And "wake me up in the best way possible"? Sorry, being woken up out of a sound sleep by a man forcing himself on you does feel quite a bit like rape. Even if it's your husband. Especially when you are guilted into thinking you are supposed to like it and if you're not interested in having sex when you're awake, this is his right and will keep him from having a rage/sulk about "not getting enough."

Hmm, that's about trust too, isn't it?

#260 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 09:42 AM:

Eleanor @253--the term has been over-used to the point where it's denatured, but take a look at apathy, if you have a chance, and look especially at the section on the medical sue of the term. From the Greek, A (not) + pathein (feeling). Then consider that people experiencing intense physical pain can black out. Apathy, in many cases, could be the emotional equivalent of that. If the pain is so bad--maybe better not to feel anything, at all.

Indifference to whether you live or die may not be actively suicidal, but it's a very bad thing. One of the cautions people treating severe depression are given is that a patient recovering may become, at some point in the process, actively suicidal. Why weren't they actively suicidal when the depression was worse? Because they were, at that point, so depressed that working their way through "I wish I was dead" to "I can be dead" to "This is how I will die" was too complicated.

Apathy and its close kin anhedonia are not "little things". There are not "no big deal". They are signs of serious problems, and a good psychiatrist or therapist who hears a patient say "I have no joy in life. Nothing matters to me" is likely to put "rule out depression*," on their mental list for that patient. Other problems can cause these emotional states, but depression is the king of them all.

Chronic illnesses can destroy your perspective on things; seriously screwed-up people who have done their best to screw you up since infancy will also have done their best to do so. The hangnail I trimmed off this morning was "not a big thing"; the pain, distress and misery of human lives is a big thing. Not only should someone like me, who had stable, competent, loving parents and siblings not dismiss or trivialize it, please don't do this to yourselves.

You matter. You have a right to a chance to get better, if it's possible. "It's not possible" is only a hypothesis, and deserves the same treatment as all hypotheses.

*For those who do not do doctor speak "rule out X-condition" means "This is a likely problem, and steps should be taken to make clear whether this is the main thing going on, before going on to other possible causes", not that they have already decided X can't be an issue here. I realize this may be obvious, but just in case it isn't...

#261 ::: forgot last year's handle too ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 09:51 AM:

Hiding a little @259. Ohhhh. Back in my overtly religious days, one of the things that stuck with me was the idea that confession and absolution didn't do any good without true repentance. You can't really forgive someone who doesn't understand that they did wrong; there's some other term, but it requires understanding them as not a full moral agent. The people who insisted you "forgive" were just wrong.

Also: Nancy Lebovitz and Cynthia W and eleanor's discussion of "suicidal". First, as Nancy said, anyone who seriously requires that as a threshold for being in pain is either mistaken or abusive. Second, "suicidal" is so not a simple state. Sure, when you get to the point of making plans it's obvious. But there's also the thought of suicide as comfort, knowing that if things get too bad you can always leave. Or suicide as compulsion, always standing firmly next to a wall on subway platforms. And it's not until you stop that it becomes clear how much you were.

#262 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 09:59 AM:

Besides all the other bad things that were done to me (physical and emotional) there was one slimy little stunt pulled by a couple of close relatives that really hurt, and I haven't heard of it being dragged out in the open before, so...
They told me it was wrong to be more interested in things or ideas than people--one relative just went off on me unexpectedly when I innocently asked "one too many" questions about this or that thing, and another, many years later, suggested that I had some mental illness. In the first case, all I could do was shut up from then on, but in the second, I defended myself and the guilty party pulled back in their shell and at least was quiet. But they did not apologize, and I have never really been close with them like I thought I once was. The other relative has been called to account also, and wised up.
I've known I was different ever since day one--sensory/esthetic stuff and a tendency toward fascination when young. It was mighty confusing to hear grownups say one minute that individuality and diversity is good and then turn around and dump on certain seemingly harmless varieties thereof. That my interests could not translate into good grades and big bucks--due to memory/attention problems that went undiagnosed and still can't be treated--was no help.
At 16, inspired by the gay rights movement, I decided to accept myself as I was. I was still not out from under the abuse at home but it was a start.
I sometimes feel like the last sector of humanity that it is still okay to dump on. I hate being associated even momentarily with the consumerist, materialist, outdo-the-neighbors mindset that is often associated with enthusiasm for things. I figure if I treat people right, I've got the right to love (problematic word) whatever else I want, whether I can put it in words or not. And yes, there are some people very dear to me--they are the ones who accept me the way I am. For me, people and things/ideas are kind of like apples and oranges. I take care not to hurt people because they are sensitive/fragile and things aren't, is about how best I can explain it.
No, I am not on someone's "autistic spectrum." I researched. No, the bad experiences with people are not what caused me to turn elsewhere--I was turned that way from the start. No, I am not objectum-sexual--but I know some people who are. Yes, there are strong points and weak points both for people like me--so let's quit hearing only about the latter. Which is why I am grateful to our hosts and the rest here for understanding about this. I don't know if I am thru, but thanks again to you all.
Introversion is not a crime.

#263 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 10:29 AM:

Also, too, from Shakespeare's Henry V:

The Dauphin (to his father the king, who had his own history of mental problems):
Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin
As self-neglecting.

I hesitiate to casually throw the term "vile sin" around you all, who have suffered more vile sins than you have committed, but dismissing your problems because you "don't matter" is Not a Good Thing. Please don't do it to yourself.

#264 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 10:34 AM:

That happened to me in an RPG once. Clever, capable, Badass Adorable1 Tetsuko was confronted like that and went entirely tharn.

It worked out well -- an ally who saw it took it as an excuse to eliminate the antagonist later, and then sent her a written apology for having infringed on her honor by not allowing her to perform the kill herself. That apology, and her written response to it absolving him of any wrongdoing towards her, were considered high comedy by the standards of the game, because of the way they both felt the need to put a face-saving gloss on what was actually "Fixed that for you" and "OMG THANK YOU."

But I am left with the memory of that feeling of tharn, and wondering where exactly in my life it came from, since it was so easy to access for the game. When I think of individual perpetrators, the first feeling is rage; but if I think of incidents, it starts to pop up.

Ouch, but thank you.

1 warning: link goes to TVTropes, enter at your own risk, or prepare for a Lost Time Experience.

#265 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 11:24 AM:

Cynthia W. @ 257:

Suicide ideation was a way of life, more aspirational than serious - that was okay, right?

I was accustomed to using the duration of the space BETWEEN the visualizations as a barometer of my stress level, somewhat like timing childbirth contractions -- if they only happened once an hour, I was fine, every 10 minutes was just a regular bad day, and it was only at the worst of times that they got as close as every 30 seconds. And I never, ever DID anything about them, so they didn't really count, did they?

It took a psychologist doing a screening to tell me that, yes, in fact, that really DID count, and make me rethink my self-assessment.

#266 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 11:36 AM:

Hiding a little @259:

And "wake me up in the best way possible"? Sorry, being woken up out of a sound sleep by a man forcing himself on you does feel quite a bit like rape.

I have made a point of telling new partners, "Don't do that. Don't even start fondling me when I'm asleep. Anything more than a static arm around me, and it works its way into my dreams, and the way it shows up is never nice, so... it'll have the opposite effect to what you were hoping for."

I was never so happily surprised as when my current partner gave me a shocked look and said "it would never occur to me to start anything while you were asleep! Not my thing at all."

I'm not sure I like what it says that I was surprised by his reaction.

#267 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Rikibeth @266, I hadn't really connected it before, but I used to have attacks of sleep paralysis when I slept in the same room with this man. I've never had one since I moved out, or when he wasn't in the room. I'll bet that had a lot to do with it.

#268 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 12:20 PM:

If you're new to Making Light, please note that the fact that I have posted another thread does not mean that this conversation is over. We'll keep talking here until we're done, and I'll be reading every comment.

But if you're shy and have been unsure of joining in, feel free to take the presence of another post as a slight shift in the focus of the community, like when the bulk of a party moves to another room. If it helps, tell yourself that now it's just those of us who read the tail ends of the threads sticking around. Pull up a chair and talk.

#269 ::: Kadia ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 12:33 PM:

Hiding a little @ 259, that thing you said about the "rage/sulks" due to "not getting enough", I kinda laughed/sobbed when I read it. A very familiar thing for me, along with all snide little comments about how long it had been and why didn't I want to, for him at least? At the time I didn't know/couldn't articulate why. The relationship never recovered. He didn't understand why. Looking back I can see his comments for the same kind of emotional manipulation I grew up with. It took me even longer still to realize it wasn't my fault that I wasn't the way he wanted me to be. I can only be who I am not what others expect.

#270 ::: belle ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 12:35 PM:

Cynthia #257:

I think the first thing to enter my mind would be "I am so sending you a bill!" (And if I were already getting paid, pad it out--more than a bit.) If he treats you like help, than treat him--all very professionally, of course--like an employer. He'd never ream out the video guy or the florist, right?

(This is probably just hlepy at this point; if so, I apologize and you can ignore it.)

#271 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:10 PM:

I wasn't going to post this year.

Had my first EMDR session yesterday; I expected it to be tough, but a couple of the things that surfaced? Yeah. Ouch. Honest-to-ghod felt like I'd been slammed in the center of my chest, in a that-came-out-of-nowhere way. Not sure how the EMDR thing works (nor is anyone else, I suspect, though there are studies showing that it indeed does work), but I think it's going to be very helpful. (Hell, even if it's placebo effect, I don't really care, as long as there *is* a positive effect. *very wry*)

(And I, too, do that thing of "but everyone else had it so much worse", and in many ways that's true, but... I'm finally realizing, at gut level, that that doesn't matter. Whatever happened to any of us, there are scars.)

--g, probably spending the next few days hiding processing stuff; and next week the cycle continues.

#272 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:46 PM:

I guess I just don't know what I'm supposed to DO about my mother now. Part of me just wants to cut her off, but then I start to feel bad, because it's not like she's done anything THAT bad. It's just the death by a thousand cuts. And she's not very self-aware, so if I do, she'll never understand.

When I point out her behavior, our old dynamic reappears, in which I am the parent and she is the child. She begs and bargains and claims it wasn't like that. It's like my disapproval (never mind my anger!) presents a def-con 4 level of danger to her.

And part of me wants to find some way to hack our relationship, find those moments where I can open her awareness and build a new dynamic. Because I am her only child and she won't have the good grace to die of a heart attack, so I'm going to be responsible for her in her old age, when people become even more intense versions of themselves.

It's just ... I ought to be smart enough, big enough, well enough to fix this. I know so much, I've grown so much. Why can't I fix this? And, failing that, why can't I walk away?

#273 ::: crabby ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:48 PM:

Delurking @ #256 -

You've brought up an interesting point, and may be part of the reason that some of us who were in slightly less abusive but still dysfunctional families wind up with so much accumulated baggage; the same parents who beat me, provided little emotional support, withdrew financial support at the same time they made it impossible for me to support myself, who never should have had children are the same parents who:

Made sure we had food, even grinding wheat for bread and tending an extensive garden, when we were very poor in my early childhood.

Instilled a love of reading in us and made sure we always had access to a library card and 2nd hand books.

Taught us the importance of caring for pets when they spent money we didn't have on various vet and surgery bills for a stray who had adopted us, even when the vet recommended euthanasia as an option. (the kitty lived another 18 years)

As tough as it is to reconcile their two natures, it's even weirder for me to interact with them as an adult. As they finally got therapy (after the kids left home and the damage had already been done) they're completely different people. My mom's recovery is taking longer, but judging by my dad's new behavior I sure as hell wish they had prozac when we were growing up. When my parents come to visit I don't associate them with the people who raised me at all.

#274 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 01:57 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @255: More recently, I've had problems with an internal voice which would keep saying "Why don't you just kill yourself?" I seem to have gotten that one faded out, but it's occurring to me that I haven't taken this level of internal attack seriously enough.

A friend of mine went through something that sounds similar. He found himselve having recurring, intrusive visualization of doing himself various degrees of physical harm with sharp objects.

The counselor he went to see about it took it extremely seriously, and set him up with meds and follow-up counseling post haste.

#275 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:07 PM:

eleanor @253: If you look back at old threads, you'll notice that the "day" gets longer every year, and the last one spilled into this year.

The only one who can measure your pain is you. If you hurt, you hurt. Period. If you hurt enough that it gets in your way, your hurt is serious hurt.

If your hurt gets in other peoples' way, it might be worth examining their motives very carefully.

#276 ::: Lisa N. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:14 PM:

Jacque @274: Intrusive thoughts of self-harm and doing harm to others (without concurrent desire to act on them, but with a constant fear that I might) are a big part of what got me diagnosed with OCD. Not sure if that's what your friend got hit with, but you just gave me another little dose of "oh, that happens to other people, too," and I wanted to thank you for that.

#277 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:22 PM:

Rikibeth@265 - I used my dreams the same way. A good night only had one dream (that I remembered) where I was killed off, and it would be in some relatively quick way, like being shot. A normal one had 2-4, and started getting into messier, more prolonged deaths - the bad ones? I don't discuss those.

It was such a standard part of my life that I didn't even consider them nightmares. They were just my standard dreams. Except that people gave me funny looks if I mentioned anything I dreamed. Suicide ideation just seemed an extension of my obviously morbid imagination.

It wasn't until I took an on-line depression test, purely because I had run into one, and I must take any non-spam personality test I run into. And to my shock, on a perfectly ordinary day, much, much better than my bad days had been, I tested 33 out of a possible 35. My screen literally lit up in flashing red - CALL A SUICIDE HOTLINE, OR GET TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM NOW!!

I found several other depression inventories, and the least alarming of them called me moderately depressed, the rest ranged from severe to the "GET HELP" variety. I didn't quite believe them - after all, how bad could it be if I'd been this way or worse for twenty years? But nonetheless, when I next went to my doctor, I confessed some things (not the suicide ideation or the extent of the dreams), and was referred and put on an antidepressant, which led to the discovery of happy a few weeks later (being very fortunate to hit the right AD on the first shot).

#278 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:32 PM:

belle@270 - I wasn't charging him, and wouldn't try now. We did however decide to declare the music our gift to him, rather than giving him the present sitting in our trunk.

Also, apparently my other sister-in-law (not the one he married, but our other brother's wife) had a few words with him about embarrassing me that way, which I really appreciated. Unfortunately, he seems to have taken it to mean that he shouldn't lecture me in public, rather than meaning he shouldn't treat me like a recalcitrant six-year-old.

#279 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 02:36 PM:

PNH @243 -- "Sometimes it seems that the most merciful thing in the whole world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." Speaking of lurking horrors....

I've been witnessing too, even though it precipitated a bout of depression.

Eleanor @253, Nancy L. @255, Rikibeth @265 -- I'm with Nancy in having spent a great deal of time keeping suicide as a live option. At one point I started looking on the mechanism I was thinking of as a pointer to what area in my life was not going well (knife to heart = emotional problem; hanging = separation of head and heart; drowning in ocean = feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the world; leaping off tall building = fearing something in the future that's coming at me Really Fast; drugs = being really tired and just wanting to sleep, for examples). I found this reframing helps me use that part of myself. It's still not a happy part, but it appreciates being listened to.

#280 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 03:04 PM:

To anyone who has felt that their problems "aren't bad enough" to justify therapy, look at it this way...

Many of the smarter communities out there recommend that people get counseling on a regular basis. It might be marriage counseling, or parenting counseling, or even just talk therapy, but the basic point is that "perfectly normal" people ought to get counseling too. I've heard it referred to as "maintenance."

So don't feel as though you have to be "really bad emotionally" or whatever to "deserve" counseling. Yeah, I'm using a lot of scare quotes. Everyone can use a little help sometimes.

#281 ::: Hiding in plain sight ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 03:06 PM:

I... don't know why I'm here really, not when I've read everyone else's posts. It's really more of an accidental dysfunction than anything. Maybe that's why it's so hard - there's nothing you can point to and say 'that's abuse' or 'that's neglect' or anything like that. But there comes a point between the anxiety and depression when you realise (or are hit over the head by friends) that staying with them is not helping your own peace of mind at all.

My father's first response to anything is always negative, not even necessarily harshly so, just never positive. My mother is a peacemaker - in the sense that she pretty much caves to everything. I know his mother was hugely passive agressive and emotionally manipulative, but my father escaped the worst of that - his sister caught it instead - but his father was a lovely guy. I don't know much about my mother's parents - they both died when I was too young to remember much of them, but she's the youngest of 4.

I know they love me, I know they'd be horribly hurt to think they were responsible for any of the crap I've been through, but any time I go back for any length of time it all starts closing in again.

Maybe they are why I am how I am, but I know there are other factors too. Maybe I wouldn't have turned out this way if certain things hadn't happened at a point when I was vulnerable, maybe their influence wouldn't have been as influential.

All I know is it's taken me this long after years of anxiety and depression to even realise they are as much a part of the problem as of the solution. I've taken steps, I'm working on it, I like to think I've made some kind of progress, but I still have no idea who I am, who I want to be, or how to be that person. I've clamped down on so many things for so long I don't know how to feel anymore, how not to weigh and calculate and second guess before I emote anything, how to just relax the control, I don't even know if there's anything behind that wall anymore. I seem to fake normal well enough, I'm not entirely sure I want to be 'normal', but I'd rather it were a choice.

I suspect a lot of this is incoherent, but I daren't re-read or I'll not post

#282 ::: AnotherAnonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 03:35 PM:

Wow. Managed to miss all previous versions of this thread. Saying out loud that I'm broken makes it harder to pretend I'm not, and that's a house of cards I can't afford to knock down, not yet. Maybe one of these years I'll manage more than that, but I wanted to say I'm so impressed and proud and humbled by all of you, so much braver than I.

#283 ::: salted caramel ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 03:44 PM:

This was the year I realized that the relief I presumed would come with the death of Mom wouldn't come. Mom's alive; it was being on a business trip with someone an awful lot like Mom that informed me. At least now I can better recognize now that when someone behaves that way, it's not my fault.

I have noticed, like others above thread, that there seems to be a skewed sense of normal, that more children are abused than not. I like to believe that those of us who have taken damage have some way of finding each other. I like that more than the probable reality.

#284 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 05:39 PM:

AnotherAnonymous @282:

Obviously, you know your own circumstances best, and can best determine when it's time to speak and when it's time to be silent. But that doesn't sound like a lack of courage to me; it sounds like self-preservation.

Don't beat yourself up. Hold it together if that's what you need to do. That takes a hell of a lot of courage, too.

#285 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 05:47 PM:

Wow, time for some catching up...

Suzanne F @171: Your koan on gratitude is perfect. I always thought that the expectation of gratitude, especially gratitude expected for the performance of an obligation (say, providing food, clothing, etc.) cheapens it. That it becomes nothing more than another step in the dysfunction waltz.

Nancy Lebovitz @172: What has helped a great deal is one member of my extended family coming forward lately and saying, "Yes, we noticed X, and I'm very sorry we weren't able to do more." I don't blame them for not doing anything, we generally lived across the country from that part of the family, but what really helps is the outside acknowledgement that no, it wasn't all in my head.

Polyxena @178: Don't worry about the length. Your voice matters. Your truth matters.

Anon4Now @193: I've been lurking at ML for 4 years, and avoided posting on DFD this whole time, because I thought the same; then, I worked up the courage to post, and in doing so, discovered that people do care.

Congratulations on your apology to your partner, and to your commitment to making a change in the way you interact with him -- breaking patterns that are so deeply ingrained is a very difficult thing to do. It was absolutely the right thing to do, and I hope that you and your partner both find healing from it in time.

ML @198: *wishes you comfort* The only person who gets to decide how a survivor should feel and behave is that survivor. You didn't bring any of the pain and abuse upon yourself. It wasn't your fault. And I wish you healing and peace, in whatever way and at whatever pace you need.

alsafi @213: I understand how that line of thought goes. After all, we got through it, didn't we? So it must not have been that bad, and we should just let it go, let the past be past, and we're too sensitive, why does it still hurt after all this time?

As for it being "too little to matter"? I once had a splinter of wood work its way deep into my foot, over several months, without me feeling a thing. Until it started to rot; then it felt like my foot was going to explode. And it was such a small thing to cause such pain... How long have those small emotional needles had to work their way into you?

Please, allow me to say that just from your courage in saying this much, that you are Beautiful and True, and that Beauty and Truth are found as much in quiet courage and small kindnesses as in the incandescent moments of liberating fury.

abi @211 and Stenopos @232: To me, forgiveness requires at the very least acknowledgement of the harm done to the forgiver on the part of the transgressor. Actual repentance would be better. That I work to overcome the anger and the hurt and the damage done isn't forgiveness, even if I get to a point where it doesn't hurt me anymore. And IMHO, those who abused me aren't entitled to my forgiveness.

Mycroft W @235: Thank you, for being willing to bear witness, to try to understand.

crabby @273: Yes. The same people who abused and ignored me made sure my sister and I had access to libraries, and bought us books, and tried to get us into the best possible schools, no matter where we lived.

#286 ::: topaz ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Ok I'm still hanging in there, and my mother is still living with me...

The newest wrinkle? She keeps talking about conflicts between us that happened when I was a teenager and I don't remember the incidents at all.

I am wondering if I am insane...and I haven't said anything to anyone about it, because I'm so freaked out that I have no memory of these events.

I don't know what to do.

#287 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 06:46 PM:

To anyone who finds it curious that a parent could be abusive to their kids while also working very hard to provide them with everything a kid could want or need in life, I have to tell you... I know how that works.

There is a certain kind of pathology that makes for people who can be... to quote from the Wikipedia page on it... "controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of others' needs and of the effects of their behavior on others, and insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen." As a class, they also possess a well-known tendency to abuse their kids. Especially with emotional and verbal abuse.

It might seem odd that such people would think to have children, but the more functional ones, usually the ones whose pathology isn't so severe as to qualify as a full-blown personality disorder, will have children-- not out of genuine desire to experience the ups and downs of parenthood-- but, because they wish to be *seen* by others as good parents. Our society heaps praise on people we think are good parents, and this pathology is fueled by the reception of such praise, usually without any regard for whether it is actually deserved.

Seriously, if you were abused as a kid by a parent who also seemed to be making a real effort at being a "good parent" all other things considered, then the explanation may in fact be very, *very* simple: it may have never been about you. Everything you experienced at your abuser's hands, all the good parts along with all the bad, may have always and totally about *them* being seen by others to be a good parent, and not anything at all actually good.

Something to consider. Believe me, it's not easy coming to view somebody you love as having a personality like that, but you should know that this pathology is depressingly not as rare as we would all like it to be. You may, like me, find that framing your experience this way helps explain things that are otherwise inexplicable.

I will, of course, refrain from making any comment on whether people with such pathologies deserve your sympathy and forgiveness. That's for you to decide.

#288 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 06:59 PM:

topaz, oh my goodness -- no you are not insane. I don't know you or your mother, but there are all kinds of reasons why your mother's memories of conflict and yours don't match. Maybe she isn't telling the truth. Maybe she genuinely remembers events which did happen, but her interpretation of the facts is faulty. (Think about how flawed we now know eyewitness accounts of crimes can be.) Maybe you've forgotten what happened, in order to protect yourself. I spent years consciously teaching myself how to forget pain. Maybe she's forgotten what happened, and is simply making up stories to please herself. And those are only the first four possibilities off the top of my head, in 30 seconds of consideration.

Don't blame yourself. I repeat, don't blame yourself.

To everyone who has posted here: your courage is astonishing. Inspiring. *fireworks*

#289 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:03 PM:

Lizzy L: #288: To everyone who has posted here: your courage is astonishing. Inspiring. *fireworks*


Still percolating my own try for this year.

#290 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:21 PM:

Jennifer Baugham @ 285: "but what really helps is the outside acknowledgement that no, it wasn't all in my head."

Indeed. When my parents both separately acknowledged after my divorce that there always seemed to be something off about my marriage from the outside, it was such a relief. Though I could wish they had asked me about how things were going sooner -- but I guess I put up a lot of barriers. People at work certainly never knew.

#291 ::: Child of a survivor ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:33 PM:

Huh. I didn't realize until #259 and #266 that the reason I don't like nighttime sex is because that is when my older adopted brother--adopted when he was just turning ten--would offer me the choice: me or my little sister. He was 11. I was seven. My sister was 2. He then lied about pulling a loaded gun on my cousin, lied about the abuse, and lied about how my parents treated him--even knowing what he did to me, they didn't respond violently. Even when they found him with my little sister sitting on his lap in a closet in the house, the week after they found out what he was doing with me.
I'm 35 now, and it's only in the last year that I can bring this up with my mother, over email or IM. My therapist agrees with me, that I have worked my way through it on my own, and come out the other side OK, but I am still pissed at my otherwise-doing-ok-family for the cone of silence about this. And how I wish I could just tell my sister that what she hated about me being the protective older sister didn't come out of thin air, without making her feel guilty for it. Not sure if this makes sense but if I don't type it out and get it out there, I never will.

#292 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 08:33 PM:

Just sharing my state of mind, because my therapist is off at a conference and I don't have anywhere else to turn than here.

I am not a firework. I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake. I am the crap of the world.

I am the destroyer of my wife and child's home. I am a self-absorbed asshole who should have been a better husband and father. I am Jack's overwhelming sense of shame and guilt-- shame at being a mental case who's incompetent in family matters, and guilt for doing everything wrong to keep from blowing my marriage to smithereens while pretending like I knew what I was doing.

With luck, getting that off my chest will enable me to remain calm and face the coming weekend at home without losing the bubble on what I need to do next to help my kid through this ordeal with only minimal psychic damage.

#293 ::: ma larkey ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 10:41 PM:

I'd like to add this. No one is alone here, in wanting that calibrated equilibrium between self-absorption and self-preservation. I am talking about the teetering between thinking that no: I am not worthy even of the small graces because I am so loathsome/damaged/terrible---and the other extreme of just blanking out, filling the mind with white noise so that I can survive on autopilot.

This memory just came up: as a little kid, refusing a birthday party, or any kind of birthday cake, gifts, anything, because I felt that I wasn't worth celebrating--or more accurately, I used to be worth it, but wasn't anymore and I didn't want to pretend that I was okay.

Now I just skittle past my birthdays and try to find the small things, the footholds to tell me that it is okay to go on, even if I have a horror of birthday cakes with my name on it.

#294 ::: MinorQ ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 10:43 PM:

Advice sought. Narrator possibly unreliable; eye-witness testimony is bad enough and introspective or self-reflective much more so; but will try to be as accurate as possible - heck, what would be the value otherwise?

Don't expect (in the sense of 'feel that it *should* happen'; am fairly confident and grateful that it will in fact happen) anyone to read what is likely to be a lengthy monologue here. Thanks, muchly, to the hosts for providing this space both safe and helpful.

Marriage of a dozen or so years, two kids, no unmentioned external issues (i.e. far from broke, safely housed, etc.). Spouse under heavy work pressure that has intensified recently: absent long hours, much travel, working at home also, etc. Kids have begun to notice, although the younger probably not consciously.

Possibly related, certainly major source of conflict: spouse raised Catholic, self-identifies as such. Wishes to raise kids with positive exposure to such, including Sunday school, confirmation, etc. I'm atheist, scientist, and consider organised religion in general to be bad but the Catholic church in particular to be evil and harmful. Pre-marriage discussion agreed without too much trouble that we'd present both sides; both of us clearly feel that the other is not living up to that.

Issue: external work pressure (which includes fear of being fired by incompletely rational boss; on my end I'm an academic trying to get tenure, not exactly pressure-free) has led to my trying to juggle family-tending, support for spouse, and my own career etc; but any failure to be perfect in such has begun to result in verbal abuse, belittling that has now spread to be in front of the children, and announcements of divorce plans. That last is certainly in part in combination with religious differences (setting tone, I think) becoming increasingly impactful as children get older. The abuse fades, and the intervening patches are still decent, but the bad periods are getting worse and longer. I'm accused of what I just discovered is called gaslighting; commitments made by spouse to me or the elder kid are routinely missed because of need (perceived or real) to work, always just long enough to be damagingly late but not actually completely miss. I'm told that "I'm the least supportive jackass I've ever met" if I fail to guess what's wanted.

Anyway, enough: the question is, what to do? I took a vow that included 'for worse' and intend to honour that, but would really like to figure out how to (i) tone down the abuse, (ii) get through that no, really, what I'm telling you is not a plot to fuck with your head, and (iii) find out myself if there's some way I *should* or can be being more supportive. If it comes to it, first priority would be whatever is best for the kids (which spouse would not believe, given that I would have been happy not to have them at all; has never gotten through that 'didn't feel a need for kids' is orthogonal to 'love and care for them more than anything now.').

Apologies for rambling. Suggestions of resources and/or actions (including those which suggest I'm in the wrong, if that's the case!)?

Or to sum up all of the above: "Um, help?"

#295 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 11:04 PM:

MinorQ @294: A therapist, who is local to you and can pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal communications, is most likely to be of help. Best if both of you can get in together; still good if you can only go alone. Do not expect the first therapist to be the right one: interview at least three. Interview 3 even if the first seems to click -- knowing what a "non-click" feels like is important, too.

At this remove, through a low-bandwidth communication channel like this: very difficult to tell what's real and what isn't (particularly when you aren't sure).

Since you asked for recommendations.

#296 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2011, 11:52 PM:

I second Tom's comment whole-heartedly. A couples' counselor will also work on one half of a marriage if the spouse is unwilling to come; there are also family-style counselors that will involve the kids (either with the parents or separate, in order to let them know that whatever is going down is not their fault.)

I hope that your spouse also sees the value of counseling, because it's a valuable thing.

#297 ::: blind wisdom ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:02 AM:

oh, man, gaslighting. i'm glad to have a name for it.
i have a tendency to get insular and ask others for perspective, to make sure that what's on the inside of my head makes sense from a different angle. i have now realized that i can't count on my husband to be the only one to provide perspective - i don't know if he's lying, revising, or genuinely sees things that way, but the perspective he gives me is definitely skewed from the way everyone else i talk to sees it.

i am fairly sure that my husband would check all the ticky boxes required for a definition of abusive; even more sure because any time i come close to implying such a thing he is not just horrified, but furious at the suggestion.

i have known this was a problem since we were dating. i got married anyway, because i am scared of change and conflict. i always believed that getting divorced in less than 5 years was giving up, and that was always my out: if i still feel like this in five years, then i'll leave. well, it's been five years, i still feel like this, and i'm still here.

every time he has a depressive episode and tells me i don't love him, i liiiiiiiie. sometimes i wonder if he knows, or suspects. i know all of our friends who are not my few confidantes think we have a wonderful marriage. they always tell me "you're so good for him, he's so lucky to have you," but i can't help but wonder if they are insightful enough to also think the corollary: "you can do better than this, why do you stay with him?"

i stopped being interested in sex not long before we got engaged. a lot of it is that i gained weight and stopped feeling sexy, and that either the disease (depression) or the cure (ssri) killed my sex drive, but really it's that gradually i started seeing him as threat. he is physically abusive in his sleep: jostle him the wrong way and he will start acting out his dreams, which are usually violent. he'll try to grab me and shake me, or grope me, or get out of bed and follow me.

when not asleep, it's not much better. he always appears to be caught off guard when i react poorly to him reaching straight for my crotch. "you seemed to like it last night," he'll say, trying to pay attention to my needs and desires. last night? i don't remember snuggling or petting last night. ....oh, you meant while i was ASLEEP. yes, i'm sorry my unconscious reactions confused you. perhaps try touching my non erogenous zones for a while, while i'm awake, instead of cutting to the chase.

he likes to think of himself as a feminist, but only about things that he's discovered on his own - and, i suspect, only about things that have been recommended by people whose opinions he trusts. if i show him anything that he has not previously vetted, he'll react with disgust and view it as a prime example of the things that give feminists a bad name.

sometimes i feel bad about tuning him out all the time, but whenever i decide i'm going to listen and participate in the discussion, it doesn't take very long before i realize that he doesn't really want to have a conversation: he just wants to give a lecture. he can mansplain on any topic - in addition to explaining to women what they experience, he will explain martial arts to a black belt, music theory to a songwriter, sewing to a costumer. sometimes, after declaiming something particularly dubious he'll note, "i have no idea how i know this stuff!"

this was a big part of my gaslighting problem before i realized that assuming he was always full of shit was a better bet than assuming he knew what he was talking about. he had a friend who was a compulsive liar, who was demonstrably worse than he is, so i suspect he would never think to consider himself a compulsive liar.

we get in arguments about our arguments. i suspect part of it is because he has real-time editing running in his head, so the longer the argument runs, the more it diverges from his memory of the argument. he's also an alcoholic which, shall we say, doesn't help. i've been sleeping better recently because once i start to notice his statements not matching reality, i just go to bed.

he has, more than once, actually said to me, "maybe i should just hold you down. do you WANT me to rape you? because that's what it sounds like to me."

#298 ::: Chameleon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:21 AM:

(My late entry into the thread is not so much from hesitance -- although there's some of that -- but mostly because it's hard to find time during the work week to compose the sort of thoughtful essay I want to post. Especially since I've had to keep pruning off the digressions.)

It seems almost to be a trope that a DFD post that begins "my family wasn't that bad ..." soon slides into the reveal of horrors made more horrific by their normalization. But seriously -- sincerely -- my upbringing had no more than the usual random allotment of "normal" disfunctions. If my parents didn't always figure out the right thing to do, they rarely actively did the wrong thing. (And, to be fair, in the late 50s when my brother[*] was born, people didn't have the category and label of "Aspergers" available -- but then, it isn't as if anyone's found the magic formula for how to successfully parent an Aspie even today.)

My contribution is on the theme of: sometimes you can be broken [copula + adjectival participle] without necessarily being broken [passive of the transitive verb].

I've found ways to cope in the world. In my second half-century I've even figured out how to leash the Black Dog so he isn't regularly dragging me off the path and into the Slough of Despond. But there are these snapshots that turn up occasionally.

Snapshot #1: I'm talking to my mother about something -- I think I was around 8 or 9 -- and I turn to her and ask, "Would you care very much if I killed myself?" And I remember she was terrified and said, "Of course I'd care!" But I also remember that I wasn't actually suicidal, I was asking it out of academic interest because I wasn't actually convinced that anyone but me cared about my existence.

Snapshot #2: I remember desperately wanting to figure out how one interacted socially and acquired friends. I had no idea. It was as if everyone else knew some other unspoken language in which these things were arranged and negotiated and not only did I not know it -- nobody would admit to me that it existed. I tried talking to adults about it but didn't get any useful advice. So I gave up. I stopped wanting. I think I accomplished that somewhere in the middle of grade school. It didn't last -- in my later 20s I started wanting again ... without any more of a clue how to accomplish it. My 30s were quite unhappy underneath the mask. (I was recently going through some old files and found a bit of writing dating to that decade that was the literary equivalent of cutting myself. I'd forgotten that I was that angry and unhappy. I shredded it.) I'm working my way past that but I still haven't figured out how to have a successful romantic relationship.

Snapshot #3: One of the few yelling-and-throwing-things fights I witnessed in my childhood came out of my parents' attempts to coach my brother through one of his refusals to compromise/negotiate with the world. (They were yelling; he was throwing things.) I hid in my room and didn't even come down for dinner because I was so upset. I wasn't afraid of my parents -- I was in an empathic meltdown because I couldn't make the world right for my brother. Here's the crazy thing: nobody ever told me to take up the mantle of protecting and rescuing and doing emotional front-work for my brother. Nobody ever expected me to. I took that on myself. (I probably modeled it on the way my mother did the emotional front-work for my father, but I wasn't expected to follow that model.) And yet I ended up with the same co-dependent reflexes as if it had been imposed by an outside force. I'm still rescuing my brother on a regular basis. Each time I swear that the next time I'll actually make him ask explicitly for help and each time he never has to do more than mention the existence of the problem and I've snatched up the flag and charged the hill. Every once in a while he even says thank you. But if he takes it for granted, it's because I trained him to do so -- and I have no idea why. (It has occurred to me that if I'd been straight I probably would have ended up married to a man who was a twin to my dad and my brother.) I've started managing to control my impulse to rescue other people, but the reflexes around my brother go very deep.

Snapshot #4: I remember, when I was a kid, wishing that I'd have some sort of accident that clearly wasn't my fault and that left me seriously hurt ... so that there would be a reason for other people to take care of me and make a fuss over me. I was the kid who wasn't any trouble. I was flexible, I didn't have strong dislikes or preferences, I didn't have acute needs. And paradoxically I hated being the center of attention. I was paralyzingly shy: the best way to keep me from doing something was to draw attention to it. But if I were to fall down and break my arm or something -- well, then it would be ok for people to make a fuss over me. And then, when I did break a bone (pure accident -- seriously!) at the start of a vacation week, it was only rational and logical that I was left in the hospital for the rest of the week (since the cabin would have been hard to negotiate on crutches) while everyone else finished out the vacation. I don't mean that at all sarcastically -- it was the rational and logical thing to do. But still, it just figures.

Yeah, I'm a bit broken. But as best I can figure it out, nobody actively broke me. I just have these odd bits sticking out in places that the world keeps bumping into.

[*] I actually have 3 brothers, but "my brother" defaults to the eldest, my close age-mate. And then there's the half-sister I Don't Talk About. But that's one of the digressions that got trimmed.

#299 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:21 AM:

eleanor, #253: Different people have different tolerances for physical pain. Why should everyone's reactions to emotional pain have to be all the same?

I have a hypothesis that for someone to have serious suicidal thoughts, they have to have an existing tendency to clinical depression. If I'm right, this means that someone who doesn't have that tendency may undergo intense emotional pain without ever thinking seriously about suicide. That doesn't mean their pain is any less; it means that their reactions to that pain don't include suicidal thinking.

Forgot, #261: That's the first I've ever heard of that concept! I'd be very interested in finding out what the term is, if you can dredge it out of your memory, because I'd like to learn more about it. This would be a very useful tool for dealing with people who insist that you should "forgive" someone who can't or won't acknowledge that they've done anything wrong.

topaz, #286: Ouch, that's a tough one. Is there anyone external you could ask for a reality check?

I know that when I tried to being up various incidents with my parents (years later after I was grown and out of their house), their insistence that nothing like that ever happened felt like "this thing, which was so important to me that it still hurts years later, was ABSOLUTELY TRIVIAL to them" and one more proof that they didn't care about things that hurt me. It would be horrible to be on the other end of that and not know if the other person was imagining things, or if I'd really forgotten something they considered important.

#300 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:27 AM:

I'm another witness here, after a couple threads explaining both my anxiety about my family and my relief that the anxiety wasn't warranted. Beyond the listening and reassurance, I also see these threads as a way of vaccinating myself against the behaviors-- not that I can avoid an abusive situation, necessarily, because it's not like it's anyone's fault to find themselves in one, but that I can be more aware of what I do and not be an abuser. There are things I should be aware of and am not, but these help remind me. And I made my first report of possible domestic abuse this year. This thread made it clear that I can't be a silent watcher. I have to Do Something, because that is what people do.

On parents and fault and being angry at someone who is also a victim: I work in special ed as a sub, so I see ages 3-21 and a pretty wide range of abilities. It turns out that there's a switch in my head that flips when the student is in high school-- might be early, might be late, but high school's it. That switch controls whose responsibility I think the student is. Three-year-old scratches me because I won't give him his goldfish? Totally okay. Seven-year-old screams because he is ANGRY and he HATES ME BITCH and I'm holding the time-out door shut? Also okay because he's seven and we are teaching him to identify and express his emotions. But at some point in high school, my thoughts are, "You know, even if you weren't autistic, you'd still suck," and, "Having Down's doesn't make you not an ass."

And that is where I am with abusers who are themselves victims. There is a point where people have to take responsibility for themselves. It is not the child's job to be responsible for the parent.

#301 ::: Chameleon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:39 AM:

It's probably just that I suck at this inventing-anonymous-addresses thing, but I'm curious why clicking on "view all by" on my previous posting turns up a bunch of cancelled spam.

#302 ::: celestineangel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:39 AM:

I'm a little late to the party, I guess, but since I discovered this thread, this is the first chance I've had to contribute.

I am an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse by the man my mother chose to replace her first husband, who was my biological father. My stepfather often made comments in front of her that should have set off warning bells, yet somehow did not. Even when I told her, straight out, what he did, she acted... let's just say that throughout my childhood, I imagined the moment when my mother found out her husband had molested me to be a very, very different one than what actually happened. No avenging angel with a flaming sword.

Now I am an adult, but am stuck in the house with both of them because I literally cannot afford to support myself. She still likes to live in a fantasy in which nothing is wrong. I am in my thirties now, but I will always be a child to her, a rebellious teenager at best (which is odd, considering I never really had a rebellious teenager phase), thus my thoughts, opinions, and feelings are not worth her attention--and she honestly does not understand why I am so angry, why I hate living with them despite living rent free, despite having so much handed to me. She said she wouldn't leave him because then "we" would be poor, and have no money, and we should stay so we could use him for his money. Every single thing he's ever bought for me, I've had to pay back. She argued a couple of years ago that he put down $6,000 on the car I now drive... but the rest of the $10,000 I have to pay back. Meanwhile, SHE has a new boat. SHE also bought a new car, but SHE isn't the one paying the note on it. SHE also bought a new computer for herself AND a new laptop, which she never uses, and the last computer he bought for me, guess what, I had to pay it back. I'm not really reaping any benefit from "using him for his money."

I completely understand the person upthread who said they are more angry with their mother than their abuser. It's the same for me. I don't trust him, but I am FURIOUS with her.

This woman loves to say that we should be good to family, because "family will always be there for you."

The end result has been that I find the concept of blood family to be the most prevalent lie we tell ourselves, because we want to believe it. I do not believe that "family will always be there for you," because my mother was not there for me when I needed her most. I do not trust family relationships, because the one that was supposed to be the strongest turned out not to mean anything. And I constantly find myself at odds with people who either have never experienced any sort of abuse, or whose abuse was by a non-family member, who cannot understand why I feel this way.

I just want to scream, "They will desert you at the first opportunity! They will ignore you if you make them uncomfortable, and it is convenient for them! THEY ARE NOT THERE FOR YOU!"

Then I have to remember, maybe their family isn't like mine.

#303 ::: celestineangel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:54 AM:

I'm also still trying to catch up with all the comments, and there's just so much going on, so many comments that strike me as familiar emotionally, so many people I want to agree with or say something to, and it's just too late and I'm too exhausted to reply to everyone I want to reply to.

Basically, your stories have meant something to me, every single one.

#304 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:47 AM:

Today I've stalled out on several responses. I seem to be devolving into hlepy, which I recognize is a bad thing. This is just to say that I am still here, still reading, and holding you all in the light.

You are brave, you are strong, you are awesome, all of you, even in your sadness, your pain, your confusion. Maybe especially then, because it's easy to be awesome when everything else is good.

#305 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:59 AM:

As someone who is extremely fortunate in all ten of his parents, I haven't posted on any of these threads before. I haven't felt I had the right. This one has featured a few people speaking up to say "I'm reading"...and perhaps it might do some good in some way to add my own voice to that.

I'm here. I'm listening. (Those of you who say, "this is so long that probably no one will read it" -- no it's not.) I was here for the previous years' threads as well.

Those of you who are looking for healing: I hope that you find it.

#306 ::: blindsided on a tuesday ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 02:18 AM:

My brother was older than me, a year older. Popular, a mid-level athlete in school - but a born follower. As a child he let his friends "borrow" his skateboard until it broke, as a teenager he was constantly having friends over to call those 1-900 numbers on our home line so their parents wouldn't find out, and as a young adult he was always buying the next round of cheap beer. He had this pack of alpha boys around all the time. They were loud and obnoxious and I learned to hear them coming from a long way off.

Anyone who was a thirteen year old girl and spent any amount of time around fifteen year old boys (that don't regard her as a kid sister any more) knows the tension that sets in. This is the time in my life that taught me shame, and fear, and that sinking, weary, get-ready-to-flinch feeling that I have never shaken off around groups of men.

Like this: coming home from school to find four or five of them in my bedroom, my underwear drawer open, my dirty laundry basket rummaged through, all my panties gone. To be found again over the next few weeks - taped to my locker at school, in the gutter on the street that ran past our house, hanging from his friend's backpack like a flag. Bras became slingshots and ceiling fan decorations. And Christ, the tampons and the pads - I remember that. The sticky backs taken off and the pads stuck to my bedroom walls. An entire box of tampons distributed throughout my things - some of them covered in snot or in shit. The derisive laughter surrounding it all.

At thirteen, awkward, breasts developing, insecure, I was marketable to my brother's friends. I was the new skateboard. I was the round of cheap beer. I was the attraction, for a period of several years - the female it was okay to humiliate, torment, sexualize and abuse. My brother, he thought this was fantastic. He had this grin - I didn't know the word "glee" at the time - it would be pasted to his face when he saw me. Me chancing upon them in the act made it better. There was no attempt to hide what they were doing. My reaction did not inspire any guilt or shame. Quite the contrary - it was cause for delight. For humour. My expression was the punchline. My tears the encore.

None of them ever touched me. I believe their abuse of me made me dirty to them. I wasn't worth touching. I was already used. The things they took from me and manipulated and destroyed were the most intimate items I had - the things associated with the most sexual parts of my body. It was a bizarre ongoing psychological sexual violation. And they just found it so funny - so exciting. And I never fought back. I never did anything but stand there and cry.

I get so angry and I have nowhere to put it. People tell me I was lucky to have an older brother - a "protector". I can only stare at them in wonder.

#307 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 02:46 AM:

I wrote here a year ago, a couple of years ago. I don't exactly remember what I said, but it helped when I was desperately in need of help.

I think I need help again. I should be all right, but I'm not. It shouldn't be that bad, but it is. I can't really point to sexual abuse. I was sexually abused in primary school, but not by my family. They didn't believe me anyway. That hurt more than the abuse.

I can't really point to physical abuse. A lot of it between my siblings when I was younger, a few incidents directed at me that have a clarity in my head that's hard to shake. A lot of it is mental. A lot of it is emotional.

Sometimes I understand what it's like to feel things. The emotions I understand are sadness and anger. Happiness is weird. I've had it a few times, and it was strange. Not bad, but odd.

I don't know what counts. I don't think it's about what counts; it's about what hurts.

And it hurts to deal with my blood family. It hurts at every dinner with my sister, it hurts every time I have a conversation more personal than 'did you take your meds?' with my mother, it hurts every time I reset the running tally of how long my father goes without speaking to me.

It hurts to live here. But I am disabled, and housebound, and I am trapped. I have to live with it, and I don't know how. Sometimes I hate them all so much, but most of the time I'm numb. Does my sister's right-wing vileness at dinner after dinner after dinner against people who are different from her, against everything that matters to me, matter? Does it matter that if I dare to be more than silent, she reacts with accusations of not supporting her? Does it matter that my mother frowns every time I eat more than she thinks I should, and frowns at the size tags on my clothes, and used to control my food to the point that I would weep for another serving? Does it matter that my father remains silent during it all, convinced that silence is neutrality?

I think this is a large part of being suicidal, for me. I have no money, no opportunities, nowhere else to go.

They want me to be able to provide for myself when they die, but they've taught me not to care. Soon I won't care again.

#308 ::: lisajulie ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:21 AM:

going into moderation here, but still apropos...

This be the verse by Philip Larkin.

/me no can has stamina to post about upbringing.

#309 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:54 AM:

Another witness here. I am impressed with the courage and strength of those of you who have shared your lives. May you continue to find the strength you need, and ease for your pain.

#310 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 04:37 AM:


It's a bug in the (view all by) algorithm; your underscore is putting it with certain spam comments. I've stripped the underscore from your contributions to this thread.

#311 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 08:33 AM:

So, two days later, I'm back.

A bit of perspective helps. Thursday was, as my partner put it, a Black Dog Day, and he managed to help me out of the worst of it. But I'm now in what I call "flood clean-up mode" - the waters rose around me, I almost drowned, and now they've receded... and just like real floods, everything is under a several-centimetres-thick layer of muck. So now I'm going through my mental living space, and picking everything up, airing it all out, finding what's beyond repair, and trying to clear the muck of depression off the salvageable bits.

Just like real floods, these metaphorical ones take time to clean up after. There's also still some rain left in the black clouds surrounding me. But I want to try and shift everything that can be washed clean in my mental living space out into the metaphorical back yard, so it can be rinsed off by the rain, rather than needing me to scrub it clean by hand... yeah, I'm lazy (or as a more positive way of looking at the same trait: I'm efficiency-minded).

I'm taking a leaf from SpawnOfTheDevil - I think it's from last year's thread - and dedicating myself to half an hour of housework each day. I figure that while the hopeless battle against the forces of entropy may be ultimately unwinnable (and now I have a picture of a typical fantasy hero angsting away about the Terrible Hopelessness of his Futile Quest to Defeat The Undefeatable Forces Of Darknesse, and being told to get over himself by a middle-aged housewife - "you want ultimate unending quests, chum, try keeping the kitchen clean!") even half an hour a day is better than nothing. I know from previous experience that setting myself nice low goals (and nice easy-to-reach limits) helps me actually do things, and get over the worst of the terror of success (which, in some ways, is worse than the fear of failure - failure I'm used to... but what the hell am I supposed to do if I actually succeed?).

It helps that the past couple of days have actually been physically sunny ones (in terms of meteorology) over here as well - a nice contrast to the previous week (unfortunately, the grey skies and rain are due back again tomorrow, and for the rest of the week... yays). Time to start scheduling the little bits of self-care for the next week or so.

A somewhat random thought: one of the things I've been very definite about with both my parents and Himself's parents is that I cannot and will not be taking them in when they reach the stage of physically being unable to look after themselves due to advancing age. I've pointed out to them I'm barely capable of taking care of me, much less someone else. In the case of my mother, I've made it clear to her and Dad when I chose to take her advice and not go into nursing as a career, I admitted to myself that I am not suited to be a caregiver. No way, no how. I've been straightforward in these statements all the way along the line, and I'm not planning on backing down from this position no matter how many guilt games either side attempts to play.

I see this as being a positive step, to be honest. I refuse to feel guilty about not being the "perfect" daughter.

To Nancy Lebovitz, Mycroft, Jennifer Baughman and the others who offered personalised reflections, thank you so very much. Your words mean so much to me it's hard to describe it.

#312 ::: Hiding a little ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 09:01 AM:

MinorQ @294, another reason to be choosy about therapists: The controlling abuser will take what he learns in couples therapy and push your buttons even harder. Even if he goes in with the best of intentions, he's still gathering this information about "what really bugs you" and if he backslides, will not hesitate to use it. I speak from experience here. And yes, to me your husband is sounding like a controlling abuser. Try to find a book called Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You? -- it's a real eye-opener about the dynamics of the controlling abuser. You may find that having your own individual therapist, or having individual therapy in addition to couples therapy, would work better.

#313 ::: Blue ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 09:04 AM:

While I have never doubted that my parents love me, I have also always known that they don't particularly like me. I am NOT the child they wanted. Things got a bit easier after the arrival of my sister, who was the kind of girl they wanted to have.

I took a lot of physical abuse and bullying from grades 6-12. My mom tells me that they consulted experts, who told them that if they intervened, I would grow up to be weak and unable to function. They should leave me to figure out how to cope. When I quit talking about it (what was the point when they did nothing?), they thought the problem was solved. The fact that I was such a weirdo, and hung out with total losers (who didn't hit me - all that mattered to me) led to anger, frustration, and verbal abuse. (I hate telling people I'm you mother. They always wonder what's wrong with me that I have such a weird kid.)

In addition, it became a basic family rule that nothing I said was worth listening to, because I was always complaining and exaggerating and over-dramatizing everything. I've asked for examples, but no one can remember anything specific, only that I "always" did that. My counter examples include the time I kept saying my ear hurt, but so calmly that no one listened. Plus, I kept reading, as my mom always points out. My aunt finally insisted on taking me to the doctor. (We were at her house for Christmas, and there was a lot of expressed anger at how horrible I was for making things up at such an inconvenient time.). The ear infection was so bad that the doctor threatened to turn my mom in for child neglect. She was really hurt by that, and when I had to stay in bed all Christmas, the other kids opened my presents, played with them and broke some. I made the mistake of complaining, and she really lit into me for being a totally self-absorbed little brat.

Now, it's awkward. I'm the one who moved away, and my brother and sister (who were the kids my parents liked and wanted) insist that none of this ever happened. Mom and Dad have been to therapy with me, and say that I'm the one where they would do everything differently. We've come to a place where I can see they were well intentioned, and they can see it was a mistake. My brother and sister are angry at what they see as me guilting my parents over nothing.

What I learned from all of it was that I wasn't worth protecting or caring for, with predictable results in adult relationships. I went through a horrible patch with one of my kids a while back, and was surprised at the vehemence with which my only clear thought was "No child of mine will ever think she wasn't worth the effort.". I'm sure they'll have other issues; that won't be one of them.

#314 ::: Phyllis ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 09:38 AM:

First, thanks to those who are here to witness, to support. It's most appreciated, because what I know I didn't get as a kid (and I know many others here didn't get as well) is the validation that what I experienced was actually my experience. It takes a lot to get to that point, especially when every time I expressed to my mom that something made me sad, or hurt or angry, or even happy, her response was "You shouldn't feel like that."

Several folks have mentioned bringing up childhood incidents as adults to their parents, only to be told, 'That's not what happened'. My mother' favorite has been (said in a 'woe is me, I tried so hard to give you a good life and this is how you repay me' tone) 'I just don't remember it being that bad'.

Of course you don't, because your entire existence has been about not taking responsibility, and if you remembered it as it actually happened, then you'd have to admit your own culpability.

#315 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 10:19 AM:

MinorQ @ #294: I second B. Durbin, since you asked: take yourself AND THE KIDS to a therapist. With or without Mom; her choice.

blind wisdom @#297, you haven't asked for help, but surely you are aware that you're in danger. Please consider escape plans.

forgot the name @ #307, is there a doctor or a social worker or a therapist you can tell this to? Even if they can't get you out, having someone witness the truth can make it more bearable. Maybe there's at least a way to get you a few hours per week of respite from your family.

Apologies if I'm being hlepy.

And oh yes, the fear of success. I've shot myself in the foot so many times it's a wonder I'm still ambulatory.

#316 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 10:37 AM:

Abi said that this is not the Olympics. (She is so right.) There are so many people saying "it wasn't that bad" or "compared to others...".

It was bad enough. The parental, sibling, or other relative's behavior was BAD ENOUGH to leave scars and make you feel that there was something wrong with you. IT WAS BAD ENOUGH. Your memory and opinion of what happened is what matters. That it affected you in some way is what matters. Whatever the seemingly mitigating factors -- the behavior was BAD ENOUGH.

I think we can agree on that.

#317 ::: Another Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 10:56 AM:

I am the child of a survivor. Her sisters broke all contact with their father after their mother died. My mother didn't, and lost her sisters in the aftermath. He probably deserved it: the more I hear, the more I am amazed that my Mother has done as well as she has for herself and with us.

And still #48 resonates with me. I know they are untrue, these things I say to myself, but still I repeat them.

I read this thread every year. I cry, every year. I bear witness, every year. Thank you.

#318 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:26 AM:

blind wisdom, Lila is right: please figure out how to get out. You do not deserve this. Fixing himself is his problem.

#319 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:51 AM:

Hiding a little (259)

I do enjoy Heinlein's books and I also had an ex who complained that I didn't want sex "often enough". I definitely felt inadequate about that. We averaged once or twice per week, which toward the end of the relationship I found out is actually relatively frequent. (Sometimes comparing yourself to national averages is a good thing... or at least provides a dose of perspective.)

I don't, however consider Heinlein's women characters to be particularly strong in general. Maybe strong for the popular perception of their time in that they had aspirations beyond babies and the kitchen, and it's true that there's nothing wrong with enjoying sex, (and that I've heard rumors there exist women who do want sex daily) but the characters were uniformly way too sexualized.

#320 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:18 PM:

The forgiveness in the "rat poison" quote isn't the abusive pretense so many of us were taught from an early age. It's the state of mind achieved by truly accepting that living well is the best revenge.

"Forgive and forget" accomplishes nothing so much as setting you up to be abused again.

I'm always amazed at people who find religion to be a comfort. For me, it will always be bound up with "forgive and forget" and, just as damaging, "conviction of sin". Defining mental illness as a spiritual failing is actively evil, AFAIAC.

#321 ::: rain in the house ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 12:37 PM:

I'm here to witness, and to confess my own fears. I wouldn't call the family I grew up with dysfunctional. But I had one sibling with schizophrenia and a diagnosis that was too little and too late. And now one of my parents is in the grip of Alzheimer's. Support from relatives is nil. I'm raising a kid (and that parent, in a way), and am terrified I'm going to screw things up with my temper (I'm fine most times, I think, but things go south pretty badly when I'm tired and stressed and everyone seems to need something from me). The presence of that parent with Alzheimer's complicates what attention and patience I can give to my child, and vice versa. I've yelled at damn near everyone I care about since the kid was born. I'm ashamed of it, yet over and over I did it to get more help with the parenting thing because I've discovered I can't do it on my own. And I feel guilty about THAT, especially since my spouse likes to remind me how hir parent did it all alone. Oh, and the relationship with my spouse? I'm pretty sure neither of us is happy with it. But damned if I can feel any compulsion to do anything about that; I'm tired all the time (health issues a factor) and it's low on my priority list, and oh, only giving me any attention when sexytiems is wanted? Major freakin turn-off. I'm just trying to get through one day at a time, hoping in the long term, we keep it together and please let me/us not fuck up the kid.

I thought this post was going to be about the past, because recently I've been unpacking it alongside the challenges I'm been facing, wondering why I don't speak up more, why I cave in to other people even when I know I'm right, why it's always others first and me last--even in my own head, why I never feel I deserve anything, and feel guilty when I get it--I'm starting to figure it out, but it's also happening all on my own, and some of the mistakes I don't want to repeat with my child, well, I have to fight others on. It feels like I'm fighting all the time. I (try to) practice mindfulness. I have tight self-discipline. But I crack spectacularly sometimes, and feel major guilt right after. I don't need to hear that it's OK. it's just what I'm working on.

If you can see this post, it's because I managed to hit the post button and tell myself it deserved to be read (or at least put on the page to be skipped over). My problems are small compared to those of others. But I want to say, especially with every comment I've read, is that I wish I could help, heal and hug all of you. You have more courage and strength than I can imagine.

#322 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:00 PM:

Abi, thank you for providing this venue, and to everyone who's been writing and reading.

#172 me:

I wonder how much of my and other people's concerns with not being 'normal' are neurotic self-depreciation, and how much is realizing that something is wrong internally, and jumping to the conclusion that other people are innately getting it right.

For example, on the something wrong front, I'm tense enough that it restricts my breathing. I've worked on this in various ways-- and it took me quite a while to even have a felt connection between tension and breathing. Well, not getting much air and burning energy on maintaining muscle tension and not being able to move really easily are all things that don't feel good, enough if they're the least bad ways to live I've come up with.

There can be things that go wrong with the "something's wrong" sense. (Wouldn't it be nice to have an accurate readout system for malfunctions? On the other hand, even machines don't seem to be able to have completely reliable and accurate diagnostic systems.) One thing, at least for me, is assuming that if something is wrong, it isn't going to change-- feeling as though focusing in on it as a stable sensation/memory is the right strategy-- but actually allowing for change is crucial.

I've been gradually accepting the feeling that moment by moment change is a more accurate view of the world than static images.

Another-- which I don't seem to have an extremely bad case of as people go-- is believing that other people are magic and free of the background wrongness. I do have stuff about other people being normal and myself being an outsider, but it's not quite the same as latching onto someone else's charisma. (I'm inclined to think that charisma is actually something that works (whether intentionally or not) as "I've got something better than your boring little life". This is rather an outside guess, and may not be fair.)

#177 ::: Neon Fox:

In re "My mother was expecting a daughter and got a martian": My sister was/is much more like a normal person than I am, and that didn't satisfy mom either. Fault-finding can be a compulsion.

Still, I wasn't nearly as hopelessly weird as I looked in my family-- it was rather easy for me to make friends in college and in fandom. Part of it is that I probably am somewhat weird, but I think part of it was that being around my mother was (and by memory still is, I think) emotionally exhausting.

Another piece is that we live in a culture which is destructively obsessed about fat-- this amplifies family dysfunctions.

#179 ::: Rikibeth: Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World has a lot about sensory issues-- for what are no doubt historical reasons, a lot of the treatment for them is (was?) concealed under occupational therapy where people aren't likely to find it.

In addition to specific details, there's somewhat about how much sensory issues get misdiagnosed as moral weakness, depression, or autism/aspergers.

#183 ::: Anon Amus:

Yeah, I hit a blind spot on that goals thing, too, with a side order of what's wrong with me if I'm being told I have/should have goals, high goals, officially socially sanctioned goals. What kind of a piece of shit can't even figure out the most basic thing about living like having goals?

After all, if they keep saying, "seek your goals" as though knowing what the goals are is an easy and obvious first step, it must be because any normal person, any one who's remotely capable of getting what they want, must be able to get a simple little first step like that right. People who try to be inspiring are a public hazard.

Actually, I'm wondering if one of my problems with goals is that I don't trust my ability to live safely if I set a direction and then am so gung ho that I don't care what happens to me along the way.

I do have a bit of a hot button about being told what I ought to want.

At least at my end, dealing with self-hatred is a rather subtle problem-- it's necessary to make changes to get out of it, but trying to make changes can set it off.

#198 ::: ML:

I think I ran afoul of a little of that kind of inspirational material lately. Get Me Out of Here, about recovery from borderline personality disorder through psychoanalysis and The 60-Second Novelist by a man who went out with a typewriter and got paid to write short fantasias about people are both books that start out with quanitities of interesting people stuff, and then head off into a silver haze of wonderfulness that makes me crazy.

#203 ::: xiaoren:

In re baby steps: I hang onto the idea that gentleness is a learnable skill.

#206 ::: Jennifer Baughman:

The quote which begins "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate" is from Marianne Williamson, not Nelson Mandela.

Mandela's achievements are amazing. His success was not guaranteed.

#207 ::: Anon Amus:

In re feeling that you've gotten all the low-hanging fruit in terms of healing and are stuck: I recommend giving your subconscious more time to come up with ideas.

Also, just to recommend something that doesn't seem to be on the list of most people's approaches-- one of the things that stabilizes self-obstrucive mental habits is self-obstructive physical habits. Thoughts have muscular correlates, and it's possible to change one by changing the other.

Yoga, Feldenkrais method, standing meditation (The Way of Energy is a very good introduction in spite of the generic title) are ways of working on the mostly physical side.

#216 ::: stick potato:

I googled on [parents who steal from children]-- there was a little about parents doing identity theft, and a claim that children have no legal right to property. So I tried putting quotes around the phrase and got back very little. If anyone's looking for a book to write, I think the topic has a book's worth of material.

#235 ::: Mycroft W:

I'm still digging my way out from translating "I love you" as "You are obligated to stay around while I keep hurting you".

The thing is, I don't think my mother meant me any harm. I believe incompetence is much more common than malice.

Damn, I just realized that part of my problem is not believing that I can be competent enough to get by. It's that background sense of The Place Where People Get Things Right which doesn't include me.

And I know that taking competence as this single abstract chunk is a problem, but at the same time, there's being better or worse at things, and the difference matters.

#258 ::: Ghost Boy:

I used to hate myself for not having been a real teenager. There was no way to manage it-- I was afraid of sex (and not willing to force myself into it), I find loud sounds acutely painful, and (as I found out later) I don't like mind-altering drugs.

I don't remember much about high school-- I think I've blanked it out without the use of chemical aids.

I hope there's such a thing as reincarnation. I want to have a life that isn't spent in a crazy culture.

#260 ::: fidelio:

I've been looking at how people decide whether they've been hurt-- it seems to be a complicated process, and a lot of it has to do with social support.

#262 ::: Stenopos:

The way your family treated you was atrocious. Still, there never seems to be a last group that it's ok to dump on, there's always bunches. For example, young people in general seem to be a target, and for some reason, I've been noticing how much women past middle age get dumped on.

It sounds as though you're not just introverted, you're intelligent and interested in the world.

I suspect that people who say that being interested in people is the most important thing mostly just want to be paid attention to, combined with the rather common habit of assuming that one's traits are THE BEST EVER and trying to get other people to believe it.

#264 ::: Rikibeth:

This may not be anything you need, but I found In An Unspoken Voice, which is about somatic experiencing, a gentle method of undoing PTSD, to be very helpful. It's got a detailed description of the neurology behind freeze reactions.

Um, actually, I didn't pay attention to the details, it was just a relief to see something with multicolored brain diagrams, instead of feeling like I was being told "You had a normal human reaction, now get over it".

Now I'm wondering if part of what goes on with me is reacting very differently to words (and frequently reacting badly) rather than images.

#281 ::: Hiding in plain sight:

One thing I'm inclined to believe is that this stuff is partly physical-- it's plausible that I got a genetic inclination to dysthemia/mild-to-moderate depression from both sides of my family. This doesn't mean there's no way to improve things, but just looking at the interactions may not be the whole story.

And something which has been a comfort is thinking that some of my mental habits (like having anger as a very easy default) isn't exactly the result of abuse. I think some of it is that I was a kid looking at my mother, and thinking that the way she was, was how to be a person. It's normal developmental behavior in a bad situation rather than things just plain being bad.

#285 ::: Jennifer Baughman:

I haven't gotten that sort of acknowledgment from my extended family, but it was something when someone who'd been in school with me told me decades later that she saw I was being bullied, and felt very bad about letting it go on.

She was nervous about telling me, but I was grateful, and said so.

My mother's father said once that she was "nervous". I have no doubt that he was part of the problem, but it was still a relief to have someone say that there was something possibly off about her approach.

#287 ::: xiaoren:

I can't speak for anyone else, and I can certainly believe that there are people for whom everything about their parenting is a performance, but my impression is that my mother actually understood the importance of physical comfort and safety, but she had no idea what she was doing emotionally-- and the emotional side was driven by fear of other people

Sometimes I feel as though a relationship between me and her was impossible-- what there was, was her wanting me to look "right" for other people. Please take that as provisional-- I suspect it's a partial truth.

#292 ::: xiaoren:

I've been dumping a little of my self-hatred here, and have done rather more such dumping in writing privately. I've been astonished at how much it helps me.

For some reason, writing works a lot better for me than talking or internal monologue.

#323 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:03 PM:

There is a thing I wanted to say, along the lines of abi's "this is not the Olympics":

Dysfunctional =/= abusive. Abusive is only one flavor of dysfunctional. A loving family that nevertheless manages to screw up dealing with ordinary or extraordinary challenges? Counts as dysfunctional, because it's NOT FUNCTIONING WELL under the circumstances.

Even good people, well-intentioned people, screw up sometimes. You don't have to be a monster to cause damage. And damage is damage, whether it was intended or not.

#324 ::: Variant of Last Year ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:09 PM:

I'd waited until today to join this thread, but not first by reading the previous ones. I've written before about how a sibling was affected (and the stress to the rest of us). This past week, I've found another variation or echo of my childhood popping up in my own life.

I'm almost 40, and went through much therapy in my 20s to work out having had a verbally abusive parent. Brilliant, able to keep an Eliza-like argument going for hours type of abusive person (able to stop instantly if a phonecall came in, then start right up again.)

What I'm seeing this week at work is, given an ambiguous situation that could resolve one way or the other*, I'd rather it resolve negatively than for nothing to happen. The shoe is going to drop, my heart believes, might as well make it happen.

If I could just ignore the ambiguity and work well, I'd be better off, but I can't. Catch22. Instead I can't sleep, then try to deal with things with the focused fake clarity of extreme tiredness.

So far, as my lifepartner points out, none of my fears that things must be bad have become reality, other than people not liking how I get when stressed***. But, still, somehow part of me wants my fears to become reality, so that at least my fears aren't just my imagination.

My partner P. doesn't have the energy to keep hearing my "I'm worried this and that will happen" when I get home from work. On the other hand, if P. doesn't know I'm in a state of fear, then P gets surprised when I react un-resiliently to other (nonwork) situations. catch22.

I wish I could treat ambiguous situations as "hey, I don't have enough information, so I'm suspending judgment" instead of "It's all going to end in tears, might as well get it to happen."

This week, I just can't, and the feelings welling up are so very, very familiar... childhood familiar.

* new boss, doesn't seem to want to give me as much feedback as others get, not so good on answering emails. Could be respect for my work and belief I don't need help, could be something negative. When I discovered yesterday that a co-worker had been able to meet with said boss about her project, I started crying** in front of her. Oh good gauze, why did I do that?

** hers is an urgent project, so there's no correlation between her getting a meeting and me getting a meeting. Still, I felt jealous.

*** like a case where I wasn't invited to one type of meeting because I was angry about whether or not I was invited to that meeting. I was being overly sensitive. I've been working on it.

#325 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:35 PM:

Rikibeth @264: Just to verify your use of the term "tharn," which I had to look up. Means, "frozen in terror," as in "deer in the headlights," yes?

#326 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 01:59 PM:

Lisa N. @276: a constant fear that I might) are a big part of what got me diagnosed with OCD.

Oh, now that's interesting. This same friend of mine is a caffeine junkie. I've heard that one of the reasons caffeine seems to help with ADHD is that it stimulates the inhibitory neurology, which is what helps sufferers to shut out the chatter and focus.

I wonder if this friend has some OCD-like issues, and is using caffeine to tamp that down? Hm....

"oh, that happens to other people, too," and I wanted to thank you for that.

And that boys and girls, is why I love the Net.

Interestingly, I get these self-harm visualizations, too, but in my case they don't worry me. First off, I have no inclination to actually follow up on them, and secondly, I've finally worked out that it's an internal flagging system.

I tend to dissociate physically when I'm under stress (which probably accounts for the "high pain threshhold" doctors have commented on), and these images, I've realized, serve as a non-kinesthetic re-route of the pain signal. If I attend to the body part I'm visualizing cutting off or stabbing, for example, I realize that it's hurting. "Oh, okay." I say to my body. "That hurts. Thank you for pointing it out." I can then safely deal with/disregard the situation as appropriate.

Don't know if I would ever have noticed this process if I hadn't seen my friend go through his experience.

#327 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 02:03 PM:

me @326: Huh! And then there's Tom Whitmore @279, quite demonstrating my/our point. Talk about recursion!

#328 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 02:18 PM:

Jacque @325, yes, exactly. Frozen, can't move, can't think, can't get out of the way of impending DOOM.

#329 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 02:56 PM:

topaz @286: I don't know what to do.

The short, and most important answer is: No, you are not insane. (Well, barring actual pathology, but that doesn't sound like what's at play here.)

What I would do depends a lot on the specific context.

My mother was of the "My reality is the One True Reality," and totally didn't get that other people experienced reality differently than she did. If they did, they had Problems. (And if they were me, she felt compelled to "help" me with those "problems.") By that time, I'd had enough experience with the human thing to understand about subjective versus objective (if there is such a thing) reality. My solution was to nod and make it clear I'd heard what my mother had said (or not, as appropriate), and resolve to keep my subjective experience private from her in the future.

But your situation sounds more like an experience I had with an acquaintance of mine: I said something, which she badly misheard (and I know she misheard it because I remember clearly what I said). She came after me and demanded apology/atonement for my infraction. I just simply refused to comply, requoted to her what I'd actually said (which of course slid through with no resistance, because she was so tied up in her trauma from what she'd heard), and otherwise just refused to play. It was easy for me, because this was the last in a long string of issues between us, and I was on the brink of cutting off the relationship anyway.

Your situation is trickier, given that you have no memory whatever of what your mother is accusing you of.

Actually, here's another thing that might be parallel: My brother had no clue about how bad my relationship was with my mother. I was shocked and startled when this came out decades later. It was The Definining Factor of my life when I was living with my parents, and it was so all-pervasive in my life, I had just assumed it had been obvious all along. When I told him, he was shocked and startled.

Looking back, though, it made sense: he was five years older than I; his life was on a completely different track than mine. His relationship and his conflicts with my parents were about completely different (polar opposite) issues than mine. Furthermore, he lived very independently while he was living at home. (His room was in the basement, the back door ammounted to a private entrance; he could come and go never say a word to the rest of us. We never ate meals together, so even if he ate at home, I never saw him at mealtimes.) Then he moved out when I was twelve.

Additionally, given the particular brokenness between me and my mother, I went to extreme lengths to hide the depths of my distress, and never voluntarily discussed my issues with anyone in my family.

Yet, my misery was like the air; how could anyone in that house not see it. Well: who sees air?

I wonder if your mother, for whatever reason, kept her reactions to the conflicts she was having with you private and, either consciously or unconsciously, assumed it was clear and obvious, and so never talked about it explicitly. (Presumption of telepathy is a sadly common human failing.)

You may have had no reason/opportunity to even know that there was a conflict.

Were I in your place, here's what I might try (Keeping in mind the classic line from the instructions for the Japanese bicycle kit: "Assembly of bicycle require great peace of mind."): listen carefully to her reports. Repeat what she says back to her to make sure you're hearing what she's saying accurately. Then quiz her about context: when was it (what age were you)? What was going on in the household? What was going on in her life outside of her relationship with you?

First off, this may dredge up enough context for you to identify what was going on in your life at the time of these conflicts, and allow you to paint in the background more fully. You may actually be able to pull out your corollary memory of the situation.

Secondly, what you're mother is probably really concerned about is how she feels now. If you can help her identify and address her present distress, this may obviate the need to "deal with" the past conflict.

#330 ::: theodore ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:02 PM:

On the forgiveness thing: I've been thinking lately that it takes two to forgive. I can't forgive you by myself, because - even if you apologize, even if I know you're truly sorry for what happened - I can't forgive you until you understand what you did. And that may never happen.

If I had the courage, I'd try to make them understand. Not my dad - I could never get it through his solipsistic skull - but at least my mom. But I don't, because I'm still scared to admit just how vulnerable I was a quarter century ago as a little kid.

#331 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:46 PM:

MinorQ @294: Oh, good. An actual solicitation for free advice, so I don't have to feel guilty about dishing it out. :-)

First: (((MinorQ))) Hang in there. Be mindful that stress/exhaustion fucks with people's heads, and narrows their perceptions of what is real/possible.

Okay: you say you are adequately supplied financially: I would, forthwith and poste hasted, seek counseling. If you have a doctor/dentist/other health care worker whom you like and trust, ask if they have any professionals they can recommend. (I've discovered that this is actually a remarkably reliable way to find good caregivers.) If you can get a recommend for Catholic-literate counselor, all the better.

START COUNSELLING. First you, next: you and kids. Broach the subject gently with spouse. You-all are clearly overextended emotional-resource-wise. But whether or not your spouse aggrees to counseling, YOU go.

Unilateral approaches: Brainstorm ways to reduce your work pressure: can you put off tenure ambitions for a time? Can you find help/a way to manage the crazy boss? Is a leave of absence an option!?

Make time, rain, shine, hell or high water, to sit down for a few minutes/half an hour EVERY DAY for a while, and think about the question, "What do I want?" Do your best to state the goals in positive terms. (I.e., "I want peace and good communication with my spouse," instead of "I want to stop fighting with my spouse.")

Then, spend some time asking yourself the question, "What can I do, today, to work towards achieving these goals." (Don't take on sole responsibility for fixing things, but any solutions you can employ on your own will reduce the load on the overall system.) Further, spend some time thinking every day about, "What can I do—even little things—to be a better spouse?" Do this for you, but even if you're angry with your spouse, it's surprising how little stuff can soften the conflict. It may be that one reason your spouse is being absent is that being away from home is less unpleasant that being at home. Anything you can do (with all personal integrity) to tip that balance will help you move forward.

Write down your values and priorities and order them: What's most important? What can I let go, even if with extreme reluctance, if a more important value is at stake? Pay particular attention to how your personal values are expressed innately in your actions. Being more conscious of your priorities will save you attention, decision-making time, and energy.

Make time to listen to your kids. Ask them about their experience as they see it. (Be particularly careful to refrain from fixing/controlling/advising how they should experience their experience.) (This is good advice for parents under any circumstances—it's especially useful in crisis situations.) Even if things are difficult, if they perceive you as an honest and open ear who cares about them and what they think, this can make up for a lot.

Where possible, do the same with your spouse.

Outlaw telepathy and expectations of telepathy in your household.

Catch people doing stuff right, and comment on it.

Read Assume Love.

Read What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers.

Watch the Dog Whisperer (available on Netflix and the National Geographic Channel website).

#332 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:48 PM:

MinorQ @294: Oh yeah, keep us posted.

#333 ::: AnotherQuietOne ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 03:49 PM:

I've been quiet but reading the past few days. Thanks to everyone - those who write and those who bear witness.

I'm resonating a lot with everyone else who has mentioned the "If good things happen I don't deserve them" kind of baggage. I'm having a bad case of that with my new meds - like I don't deserve them, or at least I don't technically need them, because I've coped for so long with no treatment at all. Like breathing easily and feeling well is a sort of special privilege and not a basic human right.

I'm almost afraid to use them, because I like them so well, just in case someone decides I don't really need or deserve them and takes them away.

Add in the frustration of decades worth of not being listened to, being told that what I experience in my own body wasn't so, and all the rest of the litany of crap...

I mean, I was the kid who diagnosed my own chicken pox. (I don't remember this, but my mother does, and likes to tell me about it, usually when she's accusing me of being too smart for my own britches. That I was right when nobody believed me doesn't seem to have stuck.)

I realize this is fucked up, but I am still wrestling with how fucked up it is.

#334 ::: celestineangel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 04:03 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @195: For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation

The idea that I am 31 years old and still living at home with my parents; I pass it off to "normal" people as simple desire to get out of my parents' house.

But I'm 31 years old, still living with my abuser and my enabler of a mother, in a job that pays me basically nothing (and is withholding merit increases due to the economy), and not only do I want to get far, far away from these people and never have to see them again but can't... I don't know what will happen to me when they die. If I'm not able to support myself by then, what will happen to me?

... but I don't think I'm doing a very good job of healing. Every effort I've made to do something to get out of this situation has ended with failure. Right now I'm floating in a terrified-but-unable-to-see-how-to-change-it place.

#335 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 04:12 PM:

Topaz @ 286:

Maybe you suppressed the memory of the incidents she mentions or maybe she's making them up and they are figments of her imagination. I say, ignore them.

In her last years my mother told people that I cried at not going to C. W. Post College and that I didn't want to go to NYU. What???? If I cried over anything my senior year it was not going to the prom and being turned down by the guys who I asked to go with me. (These were chemistry lab partners and a group of them were going as I group and I thought to join the group.) But cry over going to NYU instead of Post. Not bloody likely. NYU was the school I really wanted to go to, Post was the fall-back easy acceptance.

#336 ::: celestineangel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 04:35 PM:

As far as the discussion about procreation and children goes:

I have decided to be child-free for many, many reasons, which include but are not limited to the fact that I cannot take care of myself let alone a child who would be completely dependent on me, and I am not at all certain I wouldn't manage to fuck it up somehow.

Not to mention, I just don't like children all that much. There are certain ages when they're cute, but I like being able to give them back to the people they really belong to. ;)

#337 ::: Delurkingtoday ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 05:01 PM:

Chameleon #298, re wishing for an injury: I totally hear you. I still wish that, more often than I would like. Partly because I imagine it would be easy for people looking at me to tell something hurts, if I have a cast or a bandage or something. And partly because it would theoretically get me off the hook for looking after everyone else in the family, whose problems are presumed to be much more intense and serious than mine. I am the fine one, the stoic one, the strong one.

Yet, while I resent this position, it is also true... I really am the strong one, and I would hate to give up this role, because status is also very important in my family and I am the one who has it. So I keep myself in the box. I fear what would happen if I gave anyone else the idea that I needed something from them.

Also, if I ever did get in this hypothetical accident, I would get tons of unwanted attention from my mom, who would drop everything to camp out at my bedside, give me no peace, and tell the entire extended family the details of my intestinal health. So I know that even apart from the real unpleasantness of physical harm, it is one of those wishes that I really, really do not want granted.

I still think about it a lot.

#338 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 05:03 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @322: THANK YOU for responding.

The crowning irony is that it's not like I've never had goals; I have actually achieved some things that, had you told me as a kid I would get to do, I would have call the guys in the white coats because you were clearly delusional.

Hm. Unpacking this some. A television show ended recently that, until it was gone, I hadn't realized how much my psychic landscape was oriented around it. For years, always in the back of my mind, was the thought that, once I developed my artistic skills to a professional level, I would set to work getting hired by that production company.

But it's gone now. In addition to feeling like a dear old friend has died, it's also like my polestar has suddenly disappeared from the sky. It fills me with grief and leaves me feeling lost and rudderless.

Even doing this same artwork for a different, similar production, leaves me cold. Before, the Holy Grail would always be out there to aim for. Even if I wasn't actually working at that place, at least I was paying my dues.

Now: what's the point?

"Yoga, Feldenkrais method, standing meditation"

Yeah, I've actually done some of that. (I have a very good yoga program, and lots of good books and videos.)

Problem is, right now I don't have even the motivation to do the easy, available stuff. It's like pushing a rock uphill with my nose. I can do a session one day, but then it's weeks or months before I can work up the energy to do it again. Which is, like, useless.

However, your point just knocked something loose in my mind:

A friend of mine is a Rubenfeld Synergy practitioner, and I've been very intrigued to hear him talk about this stuff. Maybe it's time to go look for a local practitioner.

#339 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 05:10 PM:

xiaoren @287: this pathology is depressingly not as rare as we would all like it to be.

Hah! That's actually a remarkably accurate description of my mother. Thank you!

David Harmon @289: Firework.

::goose bumps:: *TEARS* :-) :-) :-)

Still percolating my own try for this year.

I await.

@292: :-( {{{{xiaoren}}} (if welcomed) Some other time, I will tell the story of the weekend when I got to kill four of my guinea pigs because I'd f*ed up and run my life into the ditch. Not the same, I know, but even in this, you are not alone.

blind wisdom @297: Yes, he is abusive. Yes, you can do better. (Being alone would be doing better, IMHO.) (((hugs)))

blindsided on a tuesday @306: People tell me I was lucky to have an older brother

This line makes me want to puke. Getting struck by an asteroid would be better luck.

Everyone: I'm resisting the impulse to respond to every post, because I don't necessarily have anything useful to say, and it would tie up bandwidth not helpfully. But know that I'm reading, and I take the reading part of this transaction very seriously.

forgot the name @307: Yes. It matters. YOU matter.

#340 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 05:20 PM:

Abi, would it be possible for you and the other moderators to list the posts that have been reclaimed from the gnomes? I want to read everything, but I don't have the stamina to RE-read some of these while looking for posts that have been released from limbo and retroactively inserted into the thread.

#341 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 05:23 PM:

shadowsong @340:

Can do. The only two of late are blind wisdom @297 a couple of hours ago and Anon Amus @338 just now.

#342 ::: Ghost Boy ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Also in the camp of "not important enough to talk about, but here goes:

Narcissistic mother -- not to the point of a personality disorder, just "self-centered". Anything she didn't approve of, "people don't do that", and there were subtler versions of "put on your coat, I'm cold". Then we have a street-wild stepbrother on Dad's side, a short-lived stepfather (domineering and sleazy), several threads of sexual abuse running through from different directions, all sorts of non-obvious flows and pressures. And me, the "weird kid", "learning disabled", but also a genius... as it turned out, on the autistic spectrum. This did not turn out well.

Maybe more later....

#343 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 07:11 PM:

This has been a really strange year.

I always knew my father was a monster, but what I didn't realize until this year was that it wasn't just emotional abuse, it was also physical abuse, and my mother did it too, along with other kids and even teachers at my schools. And my mother's expert manipulation had me blaming my father for everything she was doing to me and myself for all the rest.

I'm 29. This went on until about this time last year. I'm a regular reader of the site (although I never post; you're all much more interesting than I am), and I happened to read last year's thread, and saw a lot of other people talking about things I have been through. It was enough to make me think that maybe I wasn't at fault, and to look into getting help. I'm a long way from healed, but I'm a lot further along than I was, and after almost a year in therapy I now know most of what there is to heal.

So, thank you. Best thread ever.

#344 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 07:31 PM:


Thank you. For the safe space. For listening. For sharing. For witnessing.

#322 ::: Nancy Lebovitz:

#179 ::: Rikibeth: Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World has a lot about sensory issues-- for what are no doubt historical reasons, a lot of the treatment for them is (was?) concealed under occupational therapy where people aren't likely to find it.

In addition to specific details, there's somewhat about how much sensory issues get misdiagnosed as moral weakness, depression, or autism/aspergers.

Holy *crap*.

That... ghods. Almost always feeling like like my skin is literally too thin; loud sounds feel like an assault (and yet, symphony, opera, organ recitals? home).

I think I've learned, more or less, to cope with a most-of-the-time sensory overload. Somewhen, very young, I learned not to actually complain about it, just endure what I can, then go into whatever hiding I could. And right now I'm wondering how much of that is related to having had migraines since I was very very young; whether it is ... hm. words. Sound and light and smell become difficult to cope with, with migraines; could the lower-intensity always-overloaded be a sort of low-grade background non-head-pain migraine? Chickens, meet eggs. *wry*

(Just searched the library catalog and put it on hold; it may be one of those books I have to buy, budget or no.)

Thank you for this. Just seeing the title and description is validating something that I didn't consciously realized needed validation.

#345 ::: Stenopos ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 08:01 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz, #322--thanks. I had at times wondered if "You're not interested enough in people" sometimes means "You aren't fawning on me as much as I'd like." Just like "You're very bright" actually means "We want a little living trophy to show off and are just trying to get more out of you." Or even, "We are handing you this big pile of flattery to put you off guard so as to lay more trips on you."
Introversion, so far as I understand it, means just not being real social, and is not linked to the level of intelligence or interest in non-human parts of the world (natural or otherwise.) (Don't get me started on those who think that anything created by minds is somehow less noble or legit than anything that happens in nature.)
Reading some of the other stories on here made me want to cry; I had to skip over some of them. I wish I could just fix everything for all.
We will get thru this by helping each other, even if it is just listening. Some of you have said things that cleared it up for me just a bit more than previous. Thanks again.

#346 ::: Moonlit Night ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 08:21 PM:

Each year this series has been running, I've read it, and thought about posting, and didn't, because surely what I'd been through wasn't that bad. But this year, I am posting because I know it was that bad. Say whatever you like about this not being the abusee olympics -- and it's not -- recognizing that it was really THAT bad and my story belongs here is one hell of a lot of progress.

The following list of horrible, insidious lies is roughly 3/4 of my childhood. It's in my mother's voice except for the marked items. Many of these weren't even spoken; they radiated out from my mother the way the sun radiates light, and my father and aunt both passively reflected some onto me too. I have grouped them by theme:

  • Trouble/problem

    • You are a problem/you are too much trouble. So is everyone else, but you're worse.

    • Stop causing trouble

    • Why can't/won't everyone else be as miserable as me?

    • You are cruel/vicious/psychopathic/a source of pain -- and you do it on purpose (this one she used to tell me out loud, often, as well as radiating it)

  • Not good enough

    • You are not good enough and never can be

    • You can never please me

    • You're useless/you can't get anything right -- I can't stand trying to teach you anyway

    • You can't have what you want (because you haven't been good enough/don't deserve it/life is SUPPOSED to screw you over don't you know)

    • You can win the argument/get what you want IF you argue rationally and well enough -- but I define "rationally" and the acceptable evidence (result: you'll never win if I want you to lose)

  • Unwantedness: I hope Quiet One sees this because I think something similar happened to her. My sister has told me that sometime when I was a baby, that my mother decided -- like a switch flipping over in her head -- that there was something wrong with me, that I would never be the child she wanted, and started treating me that way and radiating unwantedness at me. My mother always made me believe that it was because of something I had done intentionally, something I could change, but THAT WAS A LIE. IT WAS NEVER MY FAULT, NEVER. I try to believe that, but it's so hard to uproot the lie.

    • You aren't wanted for yourself and never will be

    • You are unlovable -- so why do I bother/why am I stuck loving you?

    • I wish I didn't love you -- then I could solve you the way you deserve

    • I wanted you until I knew what you were like -- then I stopped.

  • Relating to others

    • Nobody will help you unless you pay for it

    • You shouldn't need or ask for help

    • You shouldn't impose on people, and being/doing/wanting ______ (or sometimes just being/doing/wanting, period) is imposing

    • You are less important than other people -- and you should be, because that's how you be unselfish, like me

  • Grab-bag of insults disguised as flaws

    • You never work hard enough

    • You're weak

    • You are wantonly destructive

    • You are so selfish/greedy

    • You are not smart enough

    • You are worthless

    • You are wasteful

    • You are a parasite/you can't earn a living (this also was out loud, often)

  • Enabling

    • [father's voice, aunt's voice, sometimes mother's too] If you could get it right (=do/be what your parents want), then all these problems will go away and you will be loved and approved of

    • [father's voice, occasionally aunt's voice] Why do you insist on making your mother unhappy/hurting your mother?

My parents actually do love me. You can see it flashing occasionally through the forest of dysfunction, like a red cardinal or something. They're just incapable of behaving like sane loving functional people because my mother's the most broken person I've ever met, my aunt can only function inside her carefully constructed box (which is way better than my mom managed), and my dad is just clueless and enabling, and possibly has some Asperger's or something too. I also have an older sister. She was the "good" child, according to my mother. Out of self-preservation and helplessness, she stayed the hell out of the line of fire. Of course I wish she had tried to stop them, but like me, she couldn't have known how bad it was until many years too late, and if she had stood up for me then, she would have become a major target, instead of a minor one. If our situations had been reversed, I might not have endangered myself for her either, so how can I be mad at her for that, especially after she actually apologized for it? I think my father and aunt deserve much more blame. They should have known this was wrong and they should have stopped her instead of backing her up so that I would be alone, helpless, and trapped with the mother-monster. They've never even admitted my mother did anything wrong. But how on earth can you live with, or even visit periodically, someone doing this to a child and NOT notice it's wrong?

My mother thinks she is a good parent compared to her mother. I don't know what her mother did to her. She won't talk about it. Period. The most I have ever heard -- and this was secondhand -- was that her family of origin was like living in a bath of sulfuric acid. Sometimes, her probable history of horrors makes me feel sympathetic. Mostly it makes me think she should have done a fuckload better than this because knew how much it hurt. And I think that somewhere deep inside that she DOES know what she's done, and knows she should have done better. I also think that that part has been ruthlessly suppressed by the part that needs and enjoys abusing, and that the mother I should have had either has gone screamingly insane or is well on its way to doing so. If you have concluded that my mother should have been in intensive therapy for a long time now, you're 200% right. If you also think she would never ever have chosen to get it, or allowed herself to be subjected to it, you are 400% right. My mother is casually rude and disrespectful to me, then and now -- I don't think she even notices she's doing it, and she can do it so smoothly that unless you're watching for it, you might not notice. She used to bait me deliberately for the fun of seeing me explode and the excuse to punish me, but over time I exploded so often so hard that today she's scaled back, what with her anxiety problems increasing with age and stress, she lives in mortal terror that I will go broke, move home and then Those Fights will start happening again. At least I hurt her back.

I have probably been gaslighted most of my life -- I can't really tell for sure which is probably a sign that I have been. Maybe nobody was doing it deliberately, but growing up with THAT and still trying to believe that I should be loved and wanted and wasn't all the horrible things they tried to make me believe about myself...having nobody who could or would say that I was angry and desperate because of something REAL and BAD that was happening...well, that's having your perceptions messed with, isn't it? I've never felt depressed per se, or been suicidal, but I'm usually tired and want lots of sleep, and maybe that's because I'm lifting 2,000 pound emotional weights all day just to function? And when I have to do something hard, like job-hunt, then they go up to 10,000 pounds? Do most people go through life having to work at believing that they could be, and even are, loved, wanted, and valuable? That that list up there is all lies even though for 2/3 of my life it was true, because that was the reality I mostly lived in?

My psychiatrist has not seen this list yet. I'll bring it with me next week. Even so, he's asked me several times over the past year "how did you live with this situation and NOT acquire any major psychological disorders?", because he really wants to know how I did it. My best answer so far is fiction for escape/life support, and later, getting friends and finding out what not-entirely-fucked-up human relationships could be like. I should tell him that it's possible I have a case of PTSD (I startle SO easily) and/or depression. It's hard to tell because if I do, I would never NOT have had them.

#347 ::: Moonlit Night ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 08:25 PM:

@26 Jennifer: the bit about being "stupid and worthless" and "I'd never amount to anything" was me too. However, my parents didn't say it. They just acted it. All the time. Simultaneously, they took the straight As and of course you'll go to university for granted.

@54 Quiet One: "Does it only seem like it wasn't that bad because I learned not to notice?" The answer could be yes. Please see my post -- it was for me. Whatever it was could have been really bad indeed, if that was the most effective coping mechanism. I was going to post the list of horrible lies anyway, for me, and now I will be posting it for you too.

@120 Donna: I too was somehow -- but how? -- an annoying kid even though I should have been a cakewalk compared to many. My best guess is that my mother was not equipped to deal with a teenager period, and especially not one who resisted being abused and was finally getting a little data that what she had been living with was not how it should be, and that it COULD be otherwise.

@72 Lila: you're dead right: lack of transportation was one of the ways that my parents deliberately made me helpless. They chose a particularly nasty way -- I couldn't learn to drive unless I could pay for the lessons, the gas, the insurance, the licensing fees, and the car. But realistically, how is an asthmatic, badly dressed teenager who can only walk or bike going to get a job in a village that has perhaps 4 places that hire teens, in a place with cold snowy winters and steaming hot humid summers? Especially one who can't stand to either babysit or to apply at the grocery store where all the classmates who tormented her daily from Gr 1 to Gr 8 work?

@155 Reyes: my mom too used to tell me I just had to be a psychopath because my not doing what she told me when she told me, and my being unwilling to help with chores was clear proof that I couldn't feel compassion or sympathy for others. She diagnosed me herself based on radio programs on CBC.

I completely understand your having to pretend positive feelings about your family for others who either don't understand or you aren't willing to explain to. Sometimes I feel bad about feeling this way. But you know, when I think through how they treated me, and how I can care about and help people that *have* treated me with love and consistency, well, I can tell myself it's okay, and that being distant to them is a lot better than pushing them down the stairs or attacking them with a carving knife, which I would have wanted to if I had let myself, back when I lived with them.

@247 ThisIsAnAlias: sometimes I got to see the woman that my mother should have been, and I wish there was a way to kill the monster that's been smothering that woman to death her whole damn life. Unfortunately by now that monster has pretty much possessed my mother, and I'm not sure it CAN be killed...because the person who'd be left would still have to deal with the consequences of what the monster's done all these years. And that's a lot.

#348 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 09:39 PM:

On not being interested "enough" in other people - I've been told I have that "flaw" more than a few times. A bunch by the ex, but also by the unspoken assumptions of those around me, and quite often explicitly by the submission guidelines of magazines.

Find the human interest angle.

I'm the reader who skips the description of what the scientist looks like and what they do for fun to get at the meat of what they actually did that prompted the article, and if I were to write an article I would skip the description of the scientist. And I have written a few such articles, but then I don't know how to insert the human interest angle so I never submit it to the places I would like to see it published in.

I'm the writer who doesn't understand what that adds to an article about some scientific discovery. I think the discovery is cool enough without the human interest angle.

Once upon a time I had aspirations of writing for magazines like Scientific American. Maybe I talked myself out of it and my articles would be fine, but I've seen that guideline so many times and I simply don't know how to address it. (And yet, I have been told I write some good, real-seeming characters in my fiction. Go figure.)

#349 ::: Angelica ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:41 PM:

My mother's birth parents got married after her mother got knocked up with her older brother; she was second of four. When she was 9 years old, her birth mother looked at the group of them, said "you're not worth it" and abandoned her children to go off with the next in her long line of men. Then entered the evil step-mother. My mother's father and step-mother beat her and always treated her as worthless. Her father specifically ignored her pleas to help her avoid sexual abuse from his father. He was (and probably still is) an awful bastard.

My father was adopted when he was two years old. His early life sounds downright peachy compared to my mother's. And yet. He ended up with an anger problem and a tendency to blame others for his own faults. I don't know how that happened.

Both my grandfathers stopped drinking around the time I was born, I'm told. I'm not sure if this was code for "they were alcoholics" or not. My therapist tells me my father is a "dry drunk" for his anger spells.

Anyway, me: three of the four grandparents I knew are guilty of sexual misbehavior against me when I was a child. I blocked out what happened with my mother's parents until I was an adult. But I remembered the inappropriate touching from my father's father. I was just absolutely convinced that he could not possibly know what he was doing - he was the kindly, indulgent grandfather, after all. I believed this, despite my therapist's insistence, until I got married and sexually involved and realized the impossibility of this. No, you do not ask your granddaughter to put her hand where she can feel your curlies. This is not okay. And worse likely would have happened, if I didn't already know to be afraid.

Anyway, I've had seven years in therapy and dealt with a lot of the crap from the awful sexual abuse I endured from my mother's parents and from never trusting my own parents. What really bugs me now is how everyone in my family thinks my paternal grandfather is the best guy ever, while I know he is the kind of person who repeatedly touched me inappropriately while we were alone and I was an adolescent girl.

I feel that I can't ever tell my family. My mother's family disowned us years ago in conjunction with us warning my aunts to guard their children. I'm not willing to cause that for my family again. And this man is the closest thing my mother has had to a real father. And he's really old.

But I still feel bad about hiding from my family, and for them thinking he's something he isn't.

#350 ::: cayce ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:50 PM:

The thing I've been grieving this past year, after leaving to go to college, is my relationship with my second family. Which requires some explaining, I guess.

It's sort of a misnomer, because my mother was around the entire time, but you'd never know it if you talked to her. She brings up my father, sometimes, when we're alone - I think she needs to be reminded, just like I do, that it really *was* that bad. It's been years since he's really messed with us. He was central to my first family - him and his mother. There were other people - girlfriends, their kids, uncles, his eventual wife and her sons - but it was all about him. (It still breaks my heart into itty-bitty pieces when I think about the fact that somehow, even with everything that happened with me, he got custody of one of my brothers.)

It feels like another lifetime. And it's so easy to convince myself it wasn't that bad, that surely no one could actually control everything the way he seemed to, that I'm just being paranoid. But I'd swear he did. It even sometimes seems like he still does - there's no way he doesn't know where I am, I'm sure he's just busy with my brother. I wish that was an exaggeration, but he literally knew people everywhere. Police, government, school system, hospitals - I haven't a clue how, he even managed to set it up when my grandfather was dying in the hospital that my mother called to find out about visiting and within 5 minutes the phone was ringing and he was on the other end of it.

And no one ever seemed to know. No one ever believed it - except for the long string of women and children out there who have personal experience. He was arrested for selling prescription narcotics (the DEA raided our house on Valentine's day searching for marked bills), lost his medical licence and went to prison for four years (in defiance of the minimum sentence, somehow), and then last year he was arrested again for practicing without a license...a few days before they were about to give his license *back*. The newspaper article about it is something I cut out and saved, actually - because it's the only one that doesn't look like it's coming from someone on his side. (I wish I were kidding.) I cried so hard when I saw that, because it was right there in black and white -"Records show he had been suffering withdrawal from opiate dependence and depression, and was diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder."

Which, of course, the next paragraph says he got better from. But, well, you know. My father has always been persuasive.

...I really didn't mean to type all that. The point, I guess, is that until I was about 10 my life was the kind of exceedingly improbable thing you'd see in a bad romance novel. I still don't tell people much beyond the fact that my father was abusive, and an addict - I'm afraid of not being believed. When I was 10, after the DEA raid, he 'accidentally' overdosed before they could arrest him, and my mother finally got custody of me. I'd lived with a few relatives briefly before that, and sometimes temporary foster care, but my father always got me back.

When my mother and I talk about my brother and sister, a lot of times it's in the context of "well, after me, nothing can be that difficult!". I was an absolute nightmare. Except...I don't know, I've still got warring perspectives in my head on this one, and the truth is somewhere in between. On the one hand, I was her first child, my stepfather's first child, and they had absolutely no idea what to do. They made a lot of mistakes, but they're mistakes that they genuinely regret and have apologized for - and they were so much better than my father and his mother. They actually cared about me. And I was so angry, so defiant - at first, at least. Eventually I stopped talking, stopped arguing back, and turned all of that anger inward. On the other many things happened that still make me angry to think about. Two weeks after I moved in with my mother and stepfather, I tried to kill myself because I felt like I'd gone from worse to bad, and it was never going to get any better. Someone was always yelling at me. I'd wake up, get yelled at for something, go to school, do my homework, and then clean or do yardwork or other chores for the rest of the night. I wasn't allowed any fantasy or science fiction books, I'd pull out the drawers of my nightstand and hide them underneath because reading was my only even vaguely healthy coping strategy at that point. I wasn't allowed to have friends outside of church, and even that was strictly controlled - never mind the fact that the only people who wanted to be friends with me were the ones in the writer's group at school. There stepfather eventually stopped talking to me completely, because all he ever did was yell and I'd completely shut down and it would make him even angrier. worse. It was a very hostile environment. For a few years there were weekly visits from my social worker. My mother took me to a psychiatrist who told her that it was all me, that I was a problem child, that I had an attachment disorder, that I was dangerous and she needed to keep me away from the other he knew all this, I don't know, because I scarcely said a word to him. It was all from my mother, who liked to tell me that I was just like my father.

Out of the people who were around then, they seem to be evenly divided on whether it was just me or whether my mother and stepfather were actually doing something wrong. High school gets even messier - I'd become so invisible by then, learned how to avoid making them angry, I was doing well in school...and I also wasn't eating, and was self-harming and suicidal. And taking care of my brother and sister, and cleaning up after everyone because my mother had fallen through the roof of the garage and hurt her neck and wasn't supposed to. I also got seriously ill a few times - once I was walking around with atypical pneumonia for months, and no matter what I said my (doctor) mother wouldn't listen until I actually passed out trying to walk up stairs. But I had friends, finally - church friends, but true friends, ones whose families were as chaotic as mine. I don't know if I'd have survived without those friends, except that by the end of high school we weren't friends any more.

And then community college, when I got my laptop and found people online who got it, and wrote about it, and gave me hope and something to work towards. But I was also taking classes and working two jobs - not for the money, because I was still living with my mom and stepfather, but to stay away from them and out of the house, and to not have to think. And because I found healing in both jobs - the one I'd had since high school, working in retail, where I found someone who became like a brother. Someone who would off-handedly mention that yeah, he'd had a few spiral fractures as a kid - because he'd seen the burn scars from my father's cigarettes. Kind of hard to mistake if you know what those look like. And the other job...I went back to the elementary school I'd attended, which hadn't changed much. A lot of the same teachers, same principal and guidance counselor. I worked with the kids in the after-school program I'd been in, and I worked with a lot of kids that were there for the same reasons I'd been - their parents didn't want them at home, or had forgotten about them again, or were too drunk to come get them, or...whatever. There were even a few that were smart like I had been, too aware of everything and ostracized by their peers for it. (Not that I'd trade that part - it gave me the time I needed to cope, because I didn't pay attention in a single class until I was halfway through high school, and sometimes not even then. Still aced all my classes - my mother would have killed me if I hadn't! - but they were in no way my focus until I hit community college.)

And I'm rambling again, sorry. i don't usually talk about these things.

My sister turned 13 last month. My brother is almost 10, and he's as much of a problem child as I was - except he was my mom and stepdad's child, so they didn't automatically just assume he was evil, and it turns out he's on the autism spectrum. The people at his school taught my mother all about sensory processing disorder, and she came back from that conference and told me it did fit him, but even moreso it was a perfect description of me as a child. Guess I wasn't actually evil, was I? Just overwhelmed and scared out of my mind. good

Anyway - my mom and stepfather have done a good job with my sister and brother. There's still stuff they do that makes me cringe - my sister is responsible for taking care of my brother, and my stepfather still has a quick temper and is probably even more religious now - but my brother and sister don't seem to notice beyond rolling their eyes, because mostly things are good and they have no reason to be afraid. A huge part of the reason my parents have gotten so much better is because my sister is far better at communicating than I ever was, and...I think they honestly didn't understand what they were doing when I was a kid. I don't really know what to think, any more. My relationship with them has gotten a lot better since I moved out a year ago to go to college. And the thing that keeps going around my head is "if I had just been a normal kid, they could have been good parents."

I get so angry, and so sad. We're very shakily on good terms, right now - that would probably fall apart if they knew I was an atheist in a polyamorous lesbian relationship, among other things. But they've been shockingly good to my cousin and her girlfriend - soon to be her wife! - although my mother was telling me the other day that she doesn't know whether she'll be going to the wedding because she doesn't want to "expose the kids to that". Maybe eventually. Despite everything, they're not the same people I was so afraid of, so angry at growing up. But hope is scary, and it hurts, and it's so much easier to walk away and not look back...but then I'd never see my brother or sister or cousins or aunts and uncles or...anyone. All that's left to do is wait and see, I guess. Everything is so confusing right now.

Er. This is really long. If anyone actually read all that, you deserve a cookie.

#351 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:56 PM:

@ Stenopos 345: I've heard that the real definition of being an introvert is that being with people drains energy from you (as opposed to extroverts, who get energized by being with people.) My husband, classic introvert, will sometimes go shut himself in our room when he's stressed so that he doesn't run out of spoons. And there is nothing wrong with that.

@ the invisible one 348: You may need to look for another market. I know all sorts of people who geek out about scientific stuff and don't care about "the human angle". I'm rather annoyed at the tendency to try and stuff all media into the same mold; there must be someplace that caters to the heavy scientific crowd.

To all: I am witnessing. I am listening. And I care.

#352 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2011, 11:58 PM:

Ghost Boy @342,

Please tell your story here, if you can bring yourself to share it.

--Love, xiaoren (the guy about to divorce a women who sounds a lot like your mother, and who is also a guy worrying himself sick about custody of their 5-year-old child)

#353 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 01:34 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @322:

I appreciate the suggestions. The one on sensory defensiveness will probably be of more use to me: I found SO much to recognize of myself in Raising Your Spirited Child, which also addresses that. I'm going for an ADD evaluation on October 5th, and I'm very curious if it'll come up "yes, ADD," or "no, but so many sensory issues that it mimics a lot of ADD behaviors," or what. There are things about ADHD-inattentive that fit me; there are really clear sensory things that fit me; there are some Aspie-like things that fit me too, but more in my history than now, and I distinctly remember having to TEACH myself how to get around them, not that I learned them naturally as others seemed to. I'm socially adept enough now for fannish purposes; I'm still not great at passing among mundane types. Oh yeah, and bipolar II is diagnosed and seems accurate, given how well I respond to that flavor of brain candy. My brain, it does not work like the average bear's.

The PTSD stuff is there but mostly manageable; the triggers are mostly located in stuff I have no interest in doing (just, well, don't sing certain Hebrew folk songs around me, and, no, I don't know which ones until I hear them), and others can largely be avoided if people have MANNERS - when is sneaking up and grabbing anyone from behind ever OKAY, anyway? Likewise, it's pretty easy to tell someone "I don't like being tickled" and "avoid touching the front of my neck." The RPG character freezing was in a situation that the game had made emotionally real to me, but didn't exist in my non-game life. So while the book would be interesting, it'd also be largely academic. I might read it anyway.

Thanks, though. it's nice to have a discussion about it and know I'm not alone.

#354 ::: orange chocolate ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 01:37 AM:

How could my mother love and care for her children until the age of five or six and then just...lose interest, as if we were cute toys to begin with but once the shiny wore off we were just boring obligations? Obligations that she could mostly manage to avoid fulfilling, at that. After all, children don't *really* need medical care, or clothes that fit, or, hell, hugs. Although we did get whatever validated her own sense of good parenthood (oddly as that was defined), so at least there were things like library access. Books were my lifeline; I can't imagine what would have become of me without them.

I don't think I will ever understand how she could do (and not do) what she did. I find my father's emotional absence easier to categorize - at least he never particularly pretended to care about us. (He seems to want to reconcile somewhat these days, not that he's put much effort into it. I'm not interested. Some debts cannot be repaid, some acts cannot be forgiven, and acts of omission are acts all the same.)

My love for my mother lasted a lot longer than hers for me, but it died eventually (or I killed it in sheer self-defense). I don't regret losing that; it's not a good idea to love someone who doesn't love you back, and I'm in a better emotional place now. And yet. When one of my close friends talks about her parent with Alzheimer's - the which has been a painful progression for everyone in her family, and very hard on my friend - I feel bad for her, I genuinely do, but there's also this little guilty piece of...envy, because she actually loves her parents and they seem to love her back.

I don't know if it's really better to love your parents and then lose them than it is to *not* love them and *not* grieve when they're gone. I tend to prefer emotional safety, as a rule, and feel very ambivalent about the "better to have loved and lost" idea. And yet.

#355 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 01:40 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @322: I want to thank you AGAIN for your comment. That item that got knocked loose earlier has jostled a couple of other things, and I begin to see some tentative movement in the logjam. A few specific action items have suggested themselves and, well, we see the beginnings of a Plan.

Forward momentum, ho!

Relatedly, when I told a friend about this earlier this evening, he made a hopping-up-and-down-and-pointing-frantically recommendation for the book Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, by Miriam Greenspan. He calls it "the missing manual for what emotions are for and how to be with them."

I have my copy on order.

Thank you again, Nancy and everyone, for being here and helping.

#356 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 01:49 AM:

Well, goodness. Since that was so gratifyingly productive, let's toss this one out for the Collective Wisdom:

I'm in this job, see, which I hate, in a profession with which I long ago lost whatever residual interest I might have had. Even if I was interested, I don't have a degree, and this seriously limits my options career-wise.

I'd love to run out and get an MFA (or, hell, even a BFA), and launch a new career. But, barring a miracle, that's not going to happen.

Does anybody have any recommendations for economical approaches to finding new professional direction? My primary field of interest is illustration (I am not a designer; I figured that out the hard way.) I also take great delight in coming up with ways to make data-entry go away, using locally available computing resources.

Any thoughts are appreciated.

#357 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 02:37 AM:

cayce @350 and Anon Amus @355 have both been rescued from the gnomes.

Remember, guys: if your comment doesn't show up, it's just that the spam filter triggered it. Make another comment saying you have something in moderation and I'll go fish it out. It's just regular expressions, not any kind of a hint that you shouldn't be here and talking.

Because you should. This is an important conversation. Also, love.

#358 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 02:57 AM:

cayce @350: that would probably fall apart if they knew I was an atheist in a polyamorous lesbian relationship, among other things...
Er. This is really long. If anyone actually read all that, you deserve a cookie.

Read it. Stayed with you the entire time. I honor your strength and your tenacity. The lesbian atheist bit was just icing on the cake. (Such tasty icing.)

Or cookie, I guess. Thank you for the cookie. I think you rock very hard.

#359 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 02:59 AM:

cayce @350: This is really long. If anyone actually read all that, you deserve a cookie.

No, no cookie needed. :)

#360 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 05:30 AM:

cayce @ 350:

Read through it all; I'll take that cookie, if you'll take one of mine. Or a scone. Will be making those later this morning; dried cranberries and lemon zest, I think.

I just... haven't the words. How do people even survive these things, at all? (And, answering myself: Many don't. *wordless*)

#361 ::: Just Another Letter Of the Alphabet ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 05:34 AM:

Every year, this thread reminds me of things I've deliberately forgotten. Every year, I remain ambivalent as to whether that is a good thing or a bad thing; but I still read the whole thing, every year.

This year has been particularly tough to read everything: my husband has been climbing out of a multi-year period of depression, and has been on medical leave for almost a year now. I feel like I've forgotten what normal even feels like any more, and I'm starting to despair of ever reaching normal again. So this isn't just bringing up all the painful memories of the past, but also triggering all my fears for the future.

Anon4Now @193: Your description of your anger hit an unfortunate chord with me. I, too, had been unable to understand why my husband gets so upset when I scream, swear, and threaten inanimate objects when they misbehave. I guess I'll have to bring this up with my therapist next week. Thanks. I think.

#362 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 08:07 AM:

Anon Amus @ #356, my second career (after stay-at-home mom) came with an Associate of Applied Science degree from my local public community college. Check yours out. Tuition is reasonable; my school had a lot of departmental scholarships they could pretty much hand out at their own discretion (i.e., even if you already had a degree in something else, or had been out of high school for decades, which will disqualify you for a lot of scholarships). Also, they had a very wide variety of majors from surgical tech to technical illustration to resort management.

An associate degree takes about 2 years. There are certificate programs that take less. Community and technical colleges tend to be accommodating of students who have jobs; they often have night and weekend classes. And they are FAR more committed to their students' success than the for-profit colleges. (My program had a 90+ percent pass rate on the national licensing exam, and a similarly good job placement rate.)

List of community and technical colleges in the U.S.

#363 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:19 AM:

#351 B. Durbin: Maybe I do need to look beyond the big populars. I know I can't be alone in my preferences, I just don't know how to search for some things.

#350 cayce: Nothing is too long for this crowd. You said what you needed to say, today; don't apologize for your pain. That's what we're all here to talk about, and to witness.

#364 ::: Dan Dusk ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 02:49 PM:

Rama @217

My dad would do the exact same thing to my mom, brother, and me. He was a Korean War Vet and had been an MP. He was pretty imaginative in what he came up with.
He would play "Game Show" with us sometimes. He'd have us sit on the couch and ask "questions*". If we took too long to answer he would pick one of us to participate by slapping his choice on top of the head like he was hitting the buzzer on a game show. If you answered correctly he would flick your forehead with his middle finger and shout, "Ding!". If you were wrong or took too long to answer, he'd rap the top of your head repeatedly with his knuckles and loudly make the "incorrect" tone.
We also rotated taking the blame but that rotation landed more heavily on mom than us. The crushing burden of giving her up to save myself or my brother remains a shame I acknowledge, understand, and can't shake. I realize I was a kid, I was terrorized, she was willing to protect us from him, she forgave us for doing it, and...I guess I'm not done punishing myself over it. *shrug*
Not helpful to do that, but I haven't worked it through yet.

*The "correct" answer was always what he wanted to hear. The truth had nothing to do with it.

#365 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 03:21 PM:

Just Another @361:
Every year, this thread reminds me of things I've deliberately forgotten. Every year, I remain ambivalent as to whether that is a good thing or a bad thing; but I still read the whole thing, every year.

I do much the same: every year, I read the entire thread, and go back and read the earlier threads -- but I feel that, for me, it's a good thing. I'm reminded that I'm not alone (though I wish no one else were in this club, as it were), reminded of the incredible resilience and grace of the people I know, and given resources to keep rebuilding myself.

I'm glad that we've all made it this far.

#366 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 04:57 PM:

Resilient, that was the word I was looking for. The people who post here are beyond survivors. I used to think that living well was the best revenge. Now I know that it's the only revenge.

Here's to living well.

#367 ::: Cissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Tpoaz @ 286-

My mother collects grievances. When she can't find one legitimately, she makes them up. She keeps them polished daily and shiny, and lovingly cares for them daily.

Which means that she never, EVER forgets anyt8hing that might be a grievance, and that she makes them up and there are no facts that can persuade her that one is an invention once she's added it to her collection.

Many of her grievances toward me were the way I "reneged on promises"- like, when I was 5 and said "I'll be there in a minute!" when she called me, and 60 seconds later, I was not in fact there. She's got entire roomsful of those polished and on display.

And then there's the time when I waqs a teen that I wanted to redecorate my childish room a bit, and replace the drawer pulls on which she'd painted flowers. She immediately decided that I wanted to PAINT OVER her careful work- which was never what i had in mind- and brought it up to me every few weeks as a "fact" with which to reproach me for years. And it was not and never was true.

I could go on and on... but grievance collectors will never let go of anything in their collection, even if they are provably false.And they are eager enough to add to their collections that they do make stuff up.

#368 ::: Donna ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 06:36 PM:

I want to thank Abi again for hosting this for another year. This year has been an amazing year of fabulous changes for me, but I still bump against all of these issues every time a change comes around on the guitar. My most recent example happened just yesterday. I traditionally have no problem completing things and doing amazing amounts of work, pushing myself to the brink: as long as the work is done for or with someone else. By myself, I seem to trail off into bouts of complete inactivity, restlessness, and structureless sighs.

I have recently started my own business, and for the last few weeks my partner has been out of town.

You can see where this is heading, can't you?

Yesterday, I realized I had spent at least two hours solid playing a computer game and my shoulder felt like it needed to be dislocated and put back in. I hadn't showered, I had barely eaten, and as I read the updates on this thread, I realized that it was all connected. So I got a piece of paper out and wrote this in really big letters:


Grammatically, it could use some work, but it really cleared my head. I then started listing items on a user's manual: "Donna, Care and Feeding of". I've got about two pages, and I plan to build an actual daily schedule from it.

For many decades now, I have been other-driven. I can be happy and funny and productive and smart just as long as someone else is involved. But by myself I just eventually fall to pieces and rot.

I cannot let this happen again. I will not let it happen again. I may backslide, but I won't beat myself up about it. (Acknowledge, then make a better choice.) I'm learning a new way of relating to myself, one that assumes that I have actual value. Intellectually, I can know that. But my behavior has always spoken louder than my thoughts.

It's time for things to change. Thank you all for being a catalyst for that move.

@347 Moonlit Night - I'm glad you were able to understand that it could be better and different for you so early. I knew it could be better, but I could not ask for anything. I just latched onto any injustice I could find and yelled as loudly as I could about that as venting for my own unjust, unprotested situation, from 4th grade to the first Gulf War. I had a lot of anger to channel.

Thanks to all again, for sharing your stories and suggestions. You are all amazing people and I'm honored to witness and empathize with each of you.

#369 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 07:18 PM:

Donna @ 367: Thank you for this. It resonates deeply with me and points a way out of my current malaise.

(I'm going to print it out and paste in my date book.)

#370 ::: Sadira ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 08:35 PM:

You know, I still think it must have been me. Or maybe I am just making it up all over again because how could this be. And how could my mother deny it, again.

So sometimes no, I think it didn't happen. My father is, was an undiagnosed something but I do know I have memories of going to bars and pubs with him from ten. And there were men and money changed hands and I went with them, didn't I. And then there's something at four, I don't remember.

It stopped when I was fourteen. That was after the stranger rape. But...I was a straight A student. Involved in all the activities I could be. A little shy maybe, but I always wanted to help but...maybe I am the narcissist lazy psychopath my mother called me after all because I couldn't lose enough weight, even starving myself. The cutting, the thoughts of suicide, the ridiculous high standards.

(There's a reason I look at JJ Jareau and Aaron Hotchner on Criminal Minds and see me, in lots of ways).

And then, then I went overseas in my second year of Uni was like a lightbulb. Suddenly something dawned. I could do things by myself. I could budget and live and laugh and breath. I got involved, though never as much as I'd like.

Then, a couple of years ago he raped and tried to kill me. My father, that is. And yet, the only reason I went through with charges was that he threatened to kill my horse. He got six months for assault. No one knows. My mother took up with a nice man who looks enough like my father that everyone thinks it's him.

No one knows and it's so unbelievable I can barely believe it myself. I'm out of there and I still have to hide and cry and I barely hold it together. I still have trouble doing things for me and I am terrified of hurting people, of being a burden. I guess it's getting better. I wish I could believe a little more.

My family are middle class. Educated. They rubbished my being religious (Jewish, in a complicated way). My mother spits venom against no one, except if she found out I was gay I would be hated even more. It's never been good enough.

I never even knew my father was Persian/Syrian Jewish until a year ago. And suddenly so much of heritage made sense. I'm still desperately fucked up, I guess but I'm learning to do stuff for me, kind of.

#371 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 09:12 PM:

Anon Amus @356: One thing that may be worth checking into is if there are any local colleges or universities that are hiring in the area of your current profession. Many colleges will offer free or reduced tuition to their employees, which might give you a chance to at least slowly work on getting a degree in a field you're more interested in.

Personally, I've found knowing that I'm doing something to try to get myself out of a career I hate, even if I know it's going to take me a while, has made easier to bear one day at a time.

#372 ::: Caretaker ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 09:41 PM:

OMG. I've never seen this "Day" before and I can't believe...I'm overwhelmed that there are 36x posts. OMG. I can't read more than about 50 right now because I have to go throw up. I'm still trying to figure out the whys and truths and lies. My life has been screwed up for 56 years and I can't decide whether there's a fix or whether I should just cut it off now. I'll read some more later and maybe find some answers. Blessings on all of us and healing for our pain.

#373 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:20 PM:

Caretaker, 371: If you've survived for 56 years, you are among the strongest people here. I hope you'll choose to keep that strength in the world.

#374 ::: cayce ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:29 PM:

SpawnOfTheDevil @358 - Heh. Everyone I know would agree with tenacious, I think, except they'd be more likely to phrase it "hellaciously stubborn". ;)

Glinda @360 - Sure, I'm up for a pastry swap! And...yeah. With so many of the folks in my social groups being survivors, that's one of the things I've seen firsthand.

#375 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:48 PM:

Caretaker @ 371:

Please hang on. (I... gah. am having trouble typing this one out.)

Things I've learned after my own suicide attempt not quite nine years ago, and the suicide of a friend a couple years later, include this one that is huge for me: One cannot know what effect for the good one will have in later years (being told that I've helped someone else hold on, or change for the better, by a couple of people, is... yeah. Don't have words, because ... oh ghods, that goes back to the not having value thing, doesn't it? Aha.) And the other, from Dinah's death, is that you don't know how much it might hurt someone else, someone to whom you don't think you matter. And the whole horrible "why didn't I help enough so that she'd not have killed herself" thing? That hurts. Still.

OK. Posting this now, before I wimp out.

#376 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:54 PM:

"I couldn't lose enough weight, even starving myself."

I don't know why this phrase (or versions thereof), is apt to infuriate me so very much. Maybe because it's a form of abuse which is considered acceptable by the public at large. Maybe because this nation's cult of Thin is based on so many mistaken premises that it makes my head spin. Maybe it's because otherwise reasonable people think it's okay because the "alternative" is obesity (hint: obesity--actual medical issues as opposed to "overweight" based on a ratio created by a long-dead Belgian--is a physical/health issue, while eating disorders are a psychological issue and aren't on the same continuum.)

Maybe it's because so very many of my friends, who might have otherwise been perfectly well-adjusted, obsessed about their weight and their food and it made them so very unhappy.

Sadira, you are not a lazy narcissist psychopath simply because you couldn't force your body into the mold somebody else thought was appropriate.

And I am highly indignant on your behalf that your [expletive deleted] gene-donor got a mere six months. Please look into survivors' groups if you can't afford therapy.

#377 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 10:55 PM:

I haven't posted on these threads in the past. My immediate family is functional; I didn't feel I had anything to contribute. But I do. I can witness, and I can stand up (metaphorically) and say so.

I've read these threads in previous years, even though I didn't post. And I've learned some things, like the fact that I don't have to grok everything someone is going through to help.

And I guess this isn't the first time I've witnessed, either. The look in my cousin's eyes (at a family wedding) when I told him "We've been making sure you and your sister never had to sit near your parents at dinner" and he realized it was true - my brother and I had kept my cousins occupied, while my parents kept my aunt and uncle occupied - that look of delight and relief made it all worth it. 'Cause my immediate family may be functional, but my extended family hasn't always been so lucky.

(I'm still not satisfied with the previous paragraph. But I know - because they had said so - that my cousins don't much like their father. And my parents and brother and I all agreed that just because Grandma wanted to see everyone at a wedding was no reason for my cousins to suffer through their father's dubious company.)

#378 ::: Lenore Jean Jones/jonesnori ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 11:38 PM:

I haven't read through this entire thread yet, but wanted to respond to one post:

Anon[Coward]SevenBillion @103 - I had a somewhat parallel experience. I became substantially hearing impaired after a bout of measles when I was 4 years old, but wasn't diagnosed until I was 15. It had been suspected from time to time, but either ignored (by my parents, who thought I just had "great powers of concentration") or incompetently tested (by the school). I'm smart and made good grades, and somehow learned to lip read completely unconsciously, or it would have been picked up sooner, I'm sure. As it was, it didn't happen until my parents divorced and my father married a nurse. She saw it right away.

I may have done well academically, but this was a major issue socially. It didn't help that we moved every four or five years. I found myself having more and more difficulty making friends in the new locations, and getting more and more depressed. I got my first hearing aid the same summer as our last move while I was still living at home, when I was a rising junior in high school. Despite that, those two years were hell for me. I really didn't start to grow socially until college, when suddenly I wasn't surrounded by people who already had all their friends picked out, and I could hear somewhat better, both.

I think the experience is still affecting me; I feel shame around not understanding, even though it's totally not my fault and I know that. I also fear that people will think me stupid or socially inept. I feel awkward a lot in new social situations. Every once in a while I allow myself to feel my anger about this.

I also had the hyper-critical mother issue. Even though I can see now that her criticisms came from her own self-hatred and weren't really about me, I still carry that around in my head.

#379 ::: Dog on a Cold Tin Roof ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 12:38 AM:

Just to say that I'm still here, and I'll be listening to the end of this, and the length of every tale that wants to be told is just as long as it takes. And to thank and pay my respects to everybody who's offered theirs here.

I wanted to write twenty things more, but if I even start responding to any of these posts directly, I shan't be able to stop, and I'll be incapacitated with ruth and rage for days. All I can do is hear, and think, and send good wishes for what they are worth.

*bows head*

#380 ::: in the corner of my mind ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 04:33 AM:

My Step-Father molested me. My mother knew and stayed married to him.
He died 20 years ago and still haunts me.
My Mother plays passive agressive head games.
My Sister has gotten control of all of my mother's assets. My Brother is 300+ miles away.
My Sister won't drive my mother to radiation or her doctor's appointments, so I do.
My mother refuses to tell me who my biological father is.

I pray I don't f*&k up my 5 year old - who is so much like me that it's frightening. I don't want her to lose her innocence and trust like I did.

I'm afraid I'll drive my husband away.

#381 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 09:16 AM:

I haven't apologized for writing (even though I feel as though I've taken more damage from less trauma than most people) or for writing at such length (though my posts at 172 and 322 did seem to be very long-- it turned out that those core dumps included some very useful information).

#338 ::: Anon Amus:

Strange coincidence: It was Rubenfeld Synergy (then Gestalt Synergy) which got me started on all this stuff. It's amazingly powerful.

You've got my sympathy/empathy on motivational collapse. I've got a library of good techniques, and it's close to impossible for me to get myself to do any of them.

I don't know if part of it is fear of getting better. I'm reminded of writing about my project of moving into my body, and getting a comment from someone who said he'd never started on that sort of thing because he realized that it meant moving into his life, something that didn't occur to me until after decades.

This may be something like my realizing (before getting involved with bookselling) that it would consist of mostly of moving heavy objects, not of reading. My impression is that there are people who don't realize this until after they've got the bookstore.

I tell myself, just do *something* for ten minutes every day, but it doesn't move me.

Update: I've been doing some work I'd been putting off, so at least part of the logjam is loosened.

#345 ::: Stenopos:

I also suspect that "You can do anything you want" can mean "You can do anything I want".

And "anti-social" is reframing not wanting the speaker's company as an ideology.

One of my friends has beaten up on themself for years because they're a Christian but doesn't care about love. Their real metaphysical drive is for the Light.

They may never have been a people person, but their parents spent decades hammering on that person's heart-- if there's a barrier around it, it's no wonder.

Ever wanted to kill a friend's parents several times over?

(If you guess who this might be, don't post it. And even in private, I will neither confirm nor deny.)

I've wondered if I was on the autism spectrum, but I've come to the conclusion that a combination of at the low end of ordinary talent for such things combined with being emotionally abused can result in something that looks a little like being on the spectrum. Or maybe not. When I've mentioned the possibility that I might be on the spectrum, no one else has agreed with me. I do think I get along with people who have mild to moderate aspergers better than most neurotypicals do.

I still have a mental category of "that boring people stuff". I don't focus well on fiction that's mostly about intrigue, status, or territory.

#346 ::: Moonlit Night:

You can get kitchen tiles that say, "If momma aren't happy, ain't nobody happy". If it's too literally true, it isn't funny.

My mother had a much milder case of whatever it is, but she'd say "I'm your mother, not your friend. I love you, but I don't have to like you." I could have used being liked.

One way that my family seems to be unusual is that instead of playing obvious favorites, my parents managed to give each of three children each the impression that the others were better liked. This is damaging, but probably better than clearly playing favorites.

#348 ::: The invisible one:

You shouldn't pre-reject your articles. You aren't the only one who would rather get information with less fluff.

#353 ::: Rikibeth:

I did a little survey a while ago about being hugged from behind. It turned out that no one liked it if done at random. A few people had a short list of intimates that they'd accept it from.

#357 ::: abi:

Just to check-- will having live links trigger the spam trap?

#361 ::: Just Another Letter Of the Alphabet:

I have enough privacy that it's at least possible I'm not making other people's lives worse when I yell at things. Is there any cost to me if I do? Going by feel, there might be, but I'm not sure.

#364 ::: Dan Dusk:

Even after everything I've read about child abuse, your father's "game show" still shocks me.

One thing I kind of appreciate about my family is that they were doing damage, but except for some of my father's teasing (mild as such things go), I never got the impression they were hurting me for fun.

#375 ::: B. Durbin:

Abuse about fatness is more of a theme this year than I remember from past DFDs.

The subject might be worth a top level post.

Stress from stigma affects fat people's health:

The folks who don't want to listen:

The Fantasy of Being Thin:

This one is a classic, and includes the fantasy of being extraverted and blonde-- I swear, the Swedish Bikini Team is like white sugar for the imagination.

#382 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 09:34 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @380:

I did a little survey a while ago about being hugged from behind. It turned out that no one liked it if done at random. A few people had a short list of intimates that they'd accept it from.

Then why the HELL do people persist in doing it? Is it an unacknowledged dominance game?

Also, I'm kind of far along the "does not like" scale -- it has been my observation that, while most people dislike it, not that many of them respond with immediate, back-elbowing, instep-stomping defensive violence. As I do. And it's taken a bit of effort to get down to that level from "jump, 180-turn, claw face." Probably also a good thing that I no longer operate in environments where the walls are lined with metal lockers, or where I'd be holding a heavy math book.

Note to all Fluorospherians: don't sneak up behind me. You won't like the results.

#383 ::: Ghost Boy ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 10:07 AM:

Continuing a bit, this time on a different aspect: My parents divorced when I was 5, and barely aware of the world. I always had trouble keeping aware of things (sensory overload and other issues), and repeatedly got scolded for "not paying attention". Except nobody ever bothered to check that I'd actually heard what people were talking about among themselves... after all, they had discussed it, so it must be my fault for not remembering it. Naturally, I was the unreliable one. If my memory didn't match how Mom or my sisters told the story, I was the one who had it wrong.

No men in the house, except for the Temporary Stepfather (TS). No men in mom's friends' houses. Aggression and overt dominance were promptly squelched, along with any number of classically male behaviors. (As I found out later, a lot of that was because I was "acting like my father".) Leaving my clothes around the room, or not cleaning up in the bathroom, didn't get "don't be a slob", it got "people don't live that way". No exposure at home to the male sides of courting behavior or dominance play, and damn little outside. This got a little better as I reentered public school for high school, but even so, by college, I was too far out of step to learn from my agemates.

The Temporary Stepfather was when Mom decided we needed a father figure in the house. He turned out to be a bully whose elder daughter had him wrapped around her finger. We don't think they actually had sex, but there was certainly something deeply twisted going on there. Happily, Mom sent him packing a couple of years after the marriage, but he managed to do a fair bit of damage to our psyches in the meantime.

#384 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 10:43 AM:

Lila @362: Filed an online application with my local CC yesterday. It's an interesting challenge, because I'm not willing to go further into debt to go to school (I need to talk to my employer; sticks in my mind they have some sort of continuing ed allowance), and I don't know where the hell the time will come from, since I'm already overcommitted.

But as Nancy's suggestion reminded me, suggestions are not only worth paying attention to for their own sake, but for the collateral ideas and opportunities that they spawn.

#385 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 12:18 PM:

Rikibeth@381: I also loathe being jumped on from behind. I have been thisclose to slapping my kids for doing that, and definitely yelled at them. I don't know whether it is related to some old trauma or not. What I do know is that my back and neck are extremely sensitive, and that being held lovingly from behind is a wonderful sensation to me. Maybe that's why an unexpected assault there feels so terrible.

#386 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 12:28 PM:

Donna @367: "Donna, Care and Feeding of".

I love this. :)

Nancy Lebovitz @380: Please don't be bashful about writing as much as it takes to say what you want to say. Your posts are always a full gourmet meal, with meat and potatoes and tasty steamed vegetables and quality bread, and dessert that's really unconscionably decadent even though it's actually healthy.

So there. :)

I tell myself, just do *something* for ten minutes every day, but it doesn't move me.

Heh. I break it down even farther than that. Get the checkbook out, set it on top of the bill. Sometime this week, I'll get a stamp onto the envelope....

#387 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 12:30 PM:

Suzanne @370: are any local colleges or universities that are hiring in the area of your current profession.

Oh yeah! That's a good thought. There's even a selection to choose from.

Nancy Lebovitz @380: I've got a library of good techniques, and it's close to impossible for me to get myself to do any of them.

Yeah, that! It can be very depressing, though, that sense of undifferentiated stuckness.

I don't know if part of it is fear of getting better.

I've been reading some Cheri Huber, and it has slowly come upon me that my life is ruled by a low-grade, all-pervasive, unconscious fear. Not necessarily fear of anything. Just...fear. So that's my main target right now.

#388 ::: topaz ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Lizzy L @288: Thanks -- IF the conflict she's reporting DID happen it would have been when I was in high school. At that time my Mom was working as an LPN while studying to get her RN. Prior to that, she'd held a part-time job while she was getting the LPN degree. Stressful -- yes, and we still laugh about her and her classmates studying for the State nursing license exam!*

My parents divorced when I was about 14 years old, my brother is 8 years younger than I, and I ended up being a latch-key child that was also babysitting him. For the record, my Mom was wonderful when I was growing up, and while things were rocky when I was in high school, I'm sure I would remember being slapped, because neither of my parents ever raised a hand to me. (I did get several spankings when I was MUCH younger, as in under 6 years old, but I can count those on the fingers of one hand, and in all those cases I was misbehaving.)

Unfortunately there is no way for me to check with someone else as to this incident, if my brother was in the house at the time, he'd have been in front of the TV set in another room, totally oblivious to his surroundings.

So if I'm not crazy, I have to ponder if something may be going wrong with Mom's mental wiring...that's worrisome.

*As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn't there...he wasn't there again today, I wish I wish he'd go away!

#389 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 01:18 PM:

topaz #387:So if I'm not crazy, I have to ponder if something may be going wrong with Mom's mental wiring...that's worrisome.

Not really -- normal human in general tend to confabulate a lot, and that gets roped into the service of any agendas they may be carrying.

#390 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 01:31 PM:

topaz @387, could your mom be remembering conflicts with your brother but attributing them to you?

Nancy Lebovitz, Anon Amus, and others who are talking about the motivation / goals / stuckness thing - recently, I have found a lot of value in the book "Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up" by Patricia Ryan Madson. It's applying the principles of an improv group to life - things like "start anywhere" (because you waste time & effort trying to pick the "best" out of multiple equally valid starting points). I was feeling a need for more spontenaity and less rigidity, and the suggestions are good for that.

I have more to say about this year's thread, but I'm still thinking about it. Meanwhile, count me as another who reads them all. For the most part I have no help, or even hlep, to offer, but you have been heard, and you matter.

#391 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 01:43 PM:

The latest strip from A Softer World is apropos. Of course, ASW covers this territory a lot.

#392 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 01:46 PM:

OtterB @389: "start anywhere"

This only works if one can work up the energy to start at all. :)

#393 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 02:19 PM:

Nancy @380:

Comments containing more than 7 live links will visit the gnomes. Comments containing fewer than that many may, if those links match the link styles of some of our more common spams. Comments with nothing but prose may also find themselves having tea with our Dear Little Friends*, if their prose contains the wrong words or phrases.

It's a pain, but it's less of a pain than having the place overrun by commercial static.

* I'm allowed to call them that. Archery competition. Complicated.

#394 ::: topaz ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 02:35 PM:

OtterB @389 -- I'm wondering if she's conflating it with a conflict with her mother or grandmother?

I know she's never slapped me, and I can't imagine her slapping my brother. But I know that it was not always sweetness and light with her mother,* and that they did have major disagreements over her education. And Mom calls one of her grandmothers "a cold-hearted bitch." (When she mentions the other one, it is always with fondness.)

*My favorite cousin and I had a code name for her in our correspondence - "Dragon Lady."

#395 ::: Annie Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 02:38 PM:

I could say more, but I know myself. If I try to write up everything I'll get so bogged down in trying to say it perfectly that I won't say anything at all.

I'll keep it to three simple statements about my mother.

1) Since she left my father when I was 10, she has made no secret of her hatred of him and of her disdain for his family.

2) She makes no secret of the fact that she thinks I am much more like Dad and his parents and sisters than I am like her or her parents and siblings.

3) She does not seem to understand that point 1 would affect my reaction to point 2.

#396 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 03:20 PM:

Kadia @269: It took me even longer still to realize it wasn't my fault that I wasn't the way he wanted me to be. I can only be who I am not what others expect.
Zomfg, yes. My first marriage (during which I had serious suicidal ideation) confused me so much. He said he loved me, and yet, and yet... It took a couple of years to work out that while that may or may not have been true, the evidence of his actions was that he didn't much like me. And I didn't have to spend my life with somebody who didn't like me.

I could never do the "what others expect": just not wired for it. They can like me as I am, or not, and if not, they can just go away.

Thing w Wings @272: I guess I just don't know what I'm supposed to DO about my mother now. Part of me just wants to cut her off, but then I start to feel bad, because it's not like she's done anything THAT bad. It's just the death by a thousand cuts. And she's not very self-aware, so if I do, she'll never understand.
::makes averting-hlepy sign::
Oh, Wings. You don't do it for her. You do it for you, because the thousand cuts? They are killing you. She will (probably) never understand, but that's not your responsibility. You are your responsibility. If she were doing this to someone you loved, you would take that someone far away from her. Behave as if you love yourself, and protect that precious being.

Why can't I fix this? And, failing that, why can't I walk away?
It's because the problem hasn't been formulated properly yet. As it stands, it is unsolvable. What worked for me, eventually, in my first failed marriage, was to keep trying new ways to state the problem. The last place I looked did the trick.

Nancy Lebovitz @322: One thing, at least for me, is assuming that if something is wrong, it isn't going to change
I've found it useful to assess wrongnesses by way of "Is this a problem, or is it a fact?" A problem is amenable to solution. A fact needs to be accommodated, worked around, or accepted. (I think it was Peg Bracken who pointed out that "problem hair" is no such thing. It is a fact.)

When I was a teenager, my mom's drinking was a fact. I just put my head down and got through it as best I could. On my eighteenth birthday, it became a problem, and the solution was getting the hell out of Dodge.

Jacque @386: Get the checkbook out, set it on top of the bill. Sometime this week, I'll get a stamp onto the envelope....
Amen to that. There's a little niche between stuff on my bedside table, into which bills (eventually) find their way. Then at some point the checkbook will join them. When checks have been written, I can reach around in the shelves behind the bed where I've stashed a ziplock bag with return address labels and stamps. At some point in the next day or two, I'll remember to take the envelopes downstairs, and out to the mailbox.

And may I beg indulgence for a little boasting? Every year, as you can imagine, preparation for doing the taxes is ... a challenge. I've been trying to game that system, stack the deck in my own favor. One shallow drawer in a file cabinet is dedicated to receipts and copies of checks I've received: they just get stuffed in any which way, and later get entered into spreadsheets. (Yes, I've heard of Quicken and Quickbooks. The idea of learning yet another system fills me with dread. Spreadsheets I understand.)

A couple of weeks ago, I opened the drawer and little pieces of paper tried to escape. I dumped them all into a box, and spent a half hour just arranging them into stacks all facing the same way, clipped together. Just making the bundles took several days. Last night, though, after many many 10-minute bursts of activity, I entered the last of the receipts into my spreadsheet. Worst case now, I'll only have 3 months' worth to enter before I do taxes next year.
::chortles with glee::

#397 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 03:53 PM:

When I was a teenager, my mom's drinking was a fact. I just put my head down and got through it as best I could. On my eighteenth birthday, it became a problem, and the solution was getting the hell out of Dodge.

You had the serenity (or just endurance) to accept what you couldn't change; when circumstances changed you had the courage to change what you could, and the wisdom to know the difference.

My admiration.

#398 ::: charming quark ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 04:54 PM:

Rain in the house @321: I hear you, and you deserve to be heard as much as anyone else here. Sending you (((((gentle hugs))))). You have a lot on your plate, and it sounds like it is overwhelming you to the point of breakdown sometimes, and self-care is the last item on your list.

At the risk of being too heply, I’d urge you to look at the book Nancy Lebovitz@322 mentions: "Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World", as well as Elaine Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person.”

Jacque @331: I sometimes think Dog Whisperer should be required viewing for everybody.

Glinda@344 and Rikibeth@353: I’d add “The Highly Sensitive Person” and “The Out-of-Sync Child.”

“Just seeing the title and description is validating something that I didn't consciously realized needed validation.” Oh my, yes!

B. Durbin@351: I’ll be sending that spoons link to several people. It’s always good to realize I’m not the only one with those limits.

Ghost Boy @382: …repeatedly got scolded for "not paying attention". Except nobody ever bothered to check that I'd actually heard what people were talking about among themselves... after all, they had discussed it, so it must be my fault for not remembering it. Naturally, I was the unreliable one. If my memory didn't match how Mom or my sisters told the story, I was the one who had it wrong.

Oh man do I recognize that! You are not alone on that one.

#399 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 04:58 PM:

blind wisdom @297: Please, please, at the very least contact a local women's shelter and see if they have a counselor that you can talk to. From your description, you are in a dangerous situation, and it's a short step from threats of rape to the actual act.

topaz @286 and Lee @299: The day I walked out of my parent's house for the last time, I overheard my mother, in tears, say, "She sounds so angry. I don't understand why." I pretended not to hear it, because I desperately wanted to turn around and scream at her that if she didn't understand, she clearly hadn't been paying attention for the previous 18 years, and if she didn't understand by now, the day after my father had called one of my friends (and by extension, me) a whore, she never would.

hiding a little @259 and The invisible one @319: My favorite Heinlein female protagonist was Friday, for the longest time, because while I wasn't an artificial person, I certainly didn't feel like a real person, and I empathized with the idea of being that powerful and competent, yet always feeling that she was LESS THAN, despite her abilities.

Nancy Lebovitz @322: Thank you for the source of that quote -- I had seen it attributed to Mandela, and didn't stop to think that he might have quoted someone else.

cayce @350: Read, and witnessed, and absorbed. I admire your courage in going back to a school that reminded you of hell and offering your hand to other children who needed it. And might I offer you some cheesecake in return for the cookie?

Anon Amus @356 and @383: If you're an illustrator, and if there are any video game designer/publishers in your area, you might send them your portfolio and see if they have openings for a concept artist?

orange chocolate @354: I think that's a decision that only the individual can make. My parents are both still alive, but they might as well be dead for all the influence they have in my life. (Current influence, that is; the toxic aftereffects, of course, are taking time to clean up.) I loved them, once. Now, even the anger's grown cold. What I grieve is not the love itself, but the lost possibilities.

And yet, I would not trade a single instant of my time with my beloved husband, laughter and tears alike. So it depends, I think, on the person, and the loved one, and the situation, and there is no right answer other than that which is right for you.

Cissa @367: Oh, hells. You just, in many ways, describe me, the way I hold onto grudges. It's something I hate, but I think I just realized where it came from: my parents rarely allowed me to express unhappiness or anger, so I learned to hold them inside, and, yes, polished them and lovingly cared for them, because they were both symptoms of how badly I was being treated and proof that I was as horrible a person as they thought.

And now, the holding of grievances does nothing but form an emotional dam, preventing me from addressing problems in a timely and reasonable way, and when the dam bursts, I throw them like stones at the nearest target (usually my husband).

I really need to be more aware of that, to understand that I can express disappointment, that I can be unhappy, but I can do so in ways that don't hurt either of us. Thank you; your perspective has shed some light on my own nature. And I hope you're healing from your mother's acts.

Donna @368: I often have to be reminded to eat, or get dressed, or shower, and I usually write it off as being absent-minded, but maybe it's more than that. I'm so used to putting myself last... I need to repeat that to myself. I am worth taking good care of.

Caretaker @372: Please, do keep your strength in the world, and I hope you find, if not peace, perhaps answers, and the strength that comes from knowing that you aren't alone, and that there are others listening. If you choose to speak here, we will hear it.

Nancy @381: You don't have to apologize; I've gained a lot from your speaking up. And as abi said, this isn't the Olympics. Your experiences did what they did, and there's no need to compare them.

And it's hard to get started. I am just now making a start on getting our apartment in something resembling a livable state. Doing it in small steps: 15 minutes here, 10 minutes here. Put the laundry in before work, swap it when I get home, fold it the next day while watching Breaking Bad. My husband never fails to remind me to focus on what I do achieve, rather than what I don't.

B. Durbin @375, Nancy @381: I'm fat, and I'm finally (I hope, and not without backsliding) looking at getting into better health for the health benefits, and not for weight loss, which may or may not happen. I would very much read and contribute to a top-level post on the intersection of fat and abuse.

#400 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 06:13 PM:

Jennifer Baughman @399: if she didn't understand, she clearly hadn't been paying attention for the previous 18 years

One of the more valuable skills I've developed over the decades is to identify when someone is Not Listening, and to abandon trying to communicate with them.

my parents rarely allowed me to express unhappiness or anger, so I learned to hold them inside

About fifteen years ago, I finally gave over being an Angry Person. One of the crucial factors was that I had finally reassured myself that I was free to be angry. It was only then that I began to feel free to be happy.

Yes is meaningless unless you're free to say no.

If you need (or want) to be able to express anger violently, have you considered purchasing a heavy bag?

#401 ::: Anon Amus ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Jennifer Baughman @399: If you're an illustrator, and if there are any video game designer/publishers in your area, you might send them your portfolio and see if they have openings for a concept artist?

concept artist ::goosebumps::

I know that's a hit, because the idea terrifies me. And I already know two people I can potentially network with....

Ooooo! Thank you!

(Now I just gotta get this fear thing under control....)

#402 ::: Late Anon ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 07:13 PM:

Posting three days late, because I've been burying myself in work. That's my coping/not-coping strategy right now.

My father, the liar, the bad temper, the lavish-gift-giver, left us for good this year. Pushed up the daisies, as it were. My mother, who has smothered me so hard all my life that I've learned how to turn goose-down into oxygen, has hardened her arms around me into concrete.

I finally told her about the time my brother's friend molested me, but it didn't seem to make much of an impact. It didn't happen to *her*, after all.

What energy I have after working two jobs I spend on making her happy. I'm whittling myself away - I can feel it (although I'm still not skinny enough to make her stop sighing at me with those pitying expressions).

One day I'm going to wake up and say to my reflection, well, no point in putting up with this anymore. This terrifies me, so I keep myself busy.

I miss my father - it's a good thing that he died now instead of later, before he could do more damage, but he was the only person in my family that I was *like*, you know?

Okay, back to work now. Thank you so much, survivors and witnesses. I read this whole thread every year, and it helps. It really helps.

#403 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 07:18 PM:

Dear everyone else here,

One thing I have learned from reading this year is that I didn't fully appreciate until now how important it could be to make sure that my son doesn't have to move around a lot as a result of his parents separating.

That will, sadly, require more cooperation from my soon-to-be-ex-spouse than I suspect she will be capable of making. We currently live in a pretty urban environment, and our child attends an urban elementary school and has friends all over the high population density parts of town. One of the things that contributed to the breakdown of my marriage is the extent to which my soon-to-be-ex feels deeply uncomfortable in an urban environment.

On top of that, after this past weekend, it's quite clear that she's wasting no time trying to find a suitable replacement husband-- yes, even while I am still sleeping on the floor in the basement-- and I'm really not very confident in her ability to choose a new partner who will be as good of a role model and authority figure for our son as I would like.

Negotiating a co-parenting plan is going to be a nightmare.

#404 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Ghost Boy @382 ::: …repeatedly got scolded for "not paying attention".

Thanks for posting. Yeah, from what I understand, that's a pretty common reaction to the kind of environment you're describing. Now that you've written more about *your* mother, her behavior sounds awfully familiar to what I'm seeing in my own home.

Our five-year-old is currently displaying noticeable trouble with focusing his attention. It's a problem for him at school, for one thing. At home, I can see his mind just completely shut off when his mother is scolding him. It's almost like a light goes off in his eyes, and he turns into a different little kid than the one I see in him when she isn't around to torment him. It's heartbreaking.

I don't know what to do about it. I'm struggling with the decision to take him to a child psychologist. If I do that now, it will make his mother explode in an irrational rage, and she might do something that would imperil my negotiating position going into custody mediations. The fuckedness quotient in my home seems to be well and truly at an all-time high and the trend is for progressively increasing fuckedness into the foreseeable future.

#405 ::: sarak ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 08:16 PM:

This year two things were explained to me or became clear, something like that.

1) I've been going to high school reunions where there are 3-4 people I knew in middle school.I was surprised at how little they remembered and they were surprised at how much detail I remembered. Then I saw a report that people who experience things under great stress remember more detail more vividly. Also that stress was probably the source of my stink which wouldn't stay away even with multiple showers a day.

2)My daughter in high school asked me about an incident in high school where a counselor crushed my career dream (said I didn't have the brains for it). My daughter asked why I didn't tell my parents for decades and why I believed the woman. As I thought about it I realized that I didn't trust my parents to speak up for me because they had let me get hurt physically and emotionally before Plus I thought she must be right and I would be devastated if my parents agreed with her that I was stupid.

My sister and I frequently tell each other: It won't always be like this. It might get better or worse but it will change.

#406 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 08:54 PM:

charming quark@ #398:

I’d add “The Highly Sensitive Person” and “The Out-of-Sync Child.”

Thank you. *adds to list, for later* (maybe much later; between the run-up sessions, the actual first EMDR session last week, and all of this here, I'm glad I don't actually have to put on the competence persona and leave the apartment daily. Ye holy ghods is stuff surfacing; am starting to make very brief notes. And giving myself credit for letting things surface, not trying to stuff them back down or minimize them or... yeah. There also seems to be a certain therapeutic value in spending most of the day and evening curling up with comfort re-reading. *wry*)

And WTF is going on that I don't want chocolate? (Ah yes, levity, self-aimed, one of my best coping techniques.)

#407 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 09:26 PM:

Variant of Last Year @ 324 ...
What I'm seeing this week at work is, given an ambiguous situation that could resolve one way or the other*, I'd rather it resolve negatively than for nothing to happen. The shoe is going to drop, my heart believes, might as well make it happen.
[ ... ]
I wish I could treat ambiguous situations as "hey, I don't have enough information, so I'm suspending judgment" instead of "It's all going to end in tears, might as well get it to happen."

FWIW, I've been the boss on the other side of this equation. I'm generally comfortable with ambiguity, and figured that most folks were okay with it, or would push if they weren't okay with it... but I could see that somebody working for me was getting more and more unhappy -- but just couldn't figure out why.

It took talking this over with my mom to finally realize that the environment that I felt entirely comfortable with was what was driving the person working for me around the bend (and contributing to some behaviour that was driving both of us batty) -- but the end result seemed to turn out well (the person's still willing to talk to me, at least ;>)

... which is a longwinded way of saying that your boss may be as oblivious to how the ambiguity's affecting you as I was -- and that I'm hoping things work out well for you, as well.

#408 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 09:40 PM:

Just wanted to say (since it seems to be of value for people to know that their posts are being read) that I am also reading all these threads as a witness.

#409 ::: chinders ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 10:52 PM:

Alphabet Soup @48:

I've been thinking (read: crying) a lot about your list, and I wanted to expand on "Those other people? They don't like me, really. They're just putting up with me for some reason."

- They don't realize that I'm unlovable. Yet.
- If I ever make a fuss about anything, they will realize that I'm unlovable.
- I manipulated them into liking me and now that they've realized what I am they're too nice to get rid of me.
- They're putting up with me because of what I can give them. (It doesn't help that this actually happened a lot to me in school; people would pretend to like me long enough for me to help them with their work.)

Maybe you folks have more insight into how to get past this than I do: how do you get yourself to a place of actually believing that other people love you? I have altogether too easy a time hearing "I don't love you" when that isn't the intended message at all.

#410 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 11:14 PM:

I think Lee was the one who brought this up in an Open Thread, I think it applies (chinder, please read all the way to the end): the inner dark

#411 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 11:18 PM:

Diatryma, #300: Yes, exactly. At some point you have to become an adult and take responsibility for your own behavior. For people of normal intelligence*, there comes a point at which "what your parents did to you" becomes a crutch and an excuse. The past is the past and can't be changed, so to blame the past for you being an asshole in the present is to deny the possibility of you ever not being an asshole. I've done a lot of work on de-fanging my own triggers, and continue to do so.

celestineangel, #302: Yes, that's an extreme version of one of the triggers I haven't been able to completely get rid of yet. I am much too quick to assign malevolent motives to the parents of friends, when that is probably not the controlling factor -- it's hard for me to think of parents as not "the enemy". But I'm still working on it, and it's not as bad as it used to be.

Nancy, #322: Re goals -- you'd probably be surprised by how many people (especially women) have never clearly thought about what they want from life. You can't seek your goals until you've identified what they are, and that's what the rah-rah fails to acknowledge. Furthermore, a lot of those who would say they do know their goals are just following somebody else's script, and haven't seriously thought about whether or how well it actually fits them.

Re parents stealing from children -- I'm sure it happens more often than anyone realizes. The idea that children have no right to property is a large contributing factor, but not by any means all of it. I think another contributing factor is that, as a society, we don't really recognize that the concept exists (except in special cases such as child actors). There's a bit in the Zenna Henderson story "Captivity":

"You took HIS money," Twyla said, her eyes steely in her bright young face. "You stole the money he was saving!" She whirled away from the chair, her skirts and hair flaring. "Someday--" she said with clenched teeth, "someday I'll probably be old and fat and ugly, but heaven save me from being old and fat and ugly and a THIEF!"

I read a fair amount of YA fiction, and the idea of parents stealing from children doesn't seem to be mentioned much if at all. That quote sticks in my mind because it's one of the few examples.

Moonlit Night, #347: I too was somehow -- but how? -- an annoying kid even though I should have been a cakewalk compared to many.

Oh boy, do I hear that! By "normal teenager" standards, I was no trouble at all -- I got good grades, didn't drink or do drugs, didn't run away or get in trouble with the law, didn't get pregnant (or even date much until college, for that matter), went on and graduated from college like I was supposed to, the whole nine yards. To my parents... I was wild and rude and defiant and disobedient, the cross they had to bear, the only child in my generation who ever gave their parents a moment's worry**. Years later, I asked my mother if she realized how many parents would have been delighted to have traded places with her. "Like who?", she sneered. I told her, in considerable detail. Not that I think it did any good, but I wish someone had offered that perspective while I was still living with them.

Also, the driving thing. I wasn't allowed to get a driver's license. My parents said I didn't need one, that they would drive me anywhere I needed to go... by which they meant, if they thought I needed to go, which meant that most of the non-school-related things I wanted to do were Right Out. But as mentioned up-thread, I got really good at calling around to my friends and getting rides***, even though we lived 15 miles out of town in a direction that nobody else I knew did. And of course that caused fights.

cayce, #350: I wasn't allowed any fantasy or science fiction books, I'd pull out the drawers of my nightstand and hide them underneath because reading was my only even vaguely healthy coping strategy at that point. I wasn't allowed to have friends outside of church, and even that was strictly controlled - never mind the fact that the only people who wanted to be friends with me were the ones in the writer's group at school.

That's abuse. It may not have felt that way to you because of your previous experience, but that sort of intensely-controlling, isolating behavior is one of the hallmarks of the kind of abusive parent that comes out of a severely hierarchal mindset... the sort that's common in (though not limited to) religious cults.

Throwmearope, #366: Indeed. And I have. It's not the life my parents wanted me to have, but it's the one that suits me, and they can't do anything about it.

Lenore, #377: Oh ghod yes, their voices in the back of your head. I call that the Goddamn Tapes, and it's something a lot of us struggle with.

Rikibeth, #381: I think maybe some people do it because they've never had it done to them (at least not by anyone they weren't already close to) and haven't thought it thru. But those who do a lot of it, and especially anyone who does it after having been asked not to -- yeah, that's a dominance game, and a fairly naked one. (For which, incidentally, I think your unedited response is perfectly appropriate.)

* Which is to say, I'll cut some slack on this if someone has the permanent mental age of five. But in that case, they shouldn't be living outside of an institution, let alone having kids.

** Note: There were 4 children in my generation. My oldest cousin eloped during her senior year of high school -- I don't think her parents disliked the guy, but they didn't want her getting married that young. My second-oldest cousin has chosen not to marry or have children; I've never asked her why, because it's none of my business. My third-oldest cousin didn't really decide what he wanted to do with his life until he was nearly 40 years old. I'm the youngest of the four, by nearly a decade. Selective memory much?

*** There was a bus. It ran between morning and evening commuting hours on weekdays -- no evenings, no weekends. Not having access to a car made for a very effective trap.

#412 ::: Diana ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 11:41 PM:

"For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation?"

Because things can be better. As the characters in the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs would say, "I still live!" Or to take another example, a Lensman never gives up. Plus Dickens who knew more than any writer ever living about growing up in a dysfunctional family.

those books got me though my childhood.

Yoga gets me through adulthood; that and waking up every day in my own space, with my own loving cats, and going to work at a job where people appreciate me and where I feel I can be of some use to the world. If you're physically well enough to exercise, you can feel healthy; if you can work, you can go, every day, to a place where people prize functional behavior.

Know hope, as Andrew Sullivan likes to say.

#413 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 01:24 AM:

I read this every year. Usually months after it happens. I never had the courage to post.

I grew up in a strict non-white family, and everything was honestly loving and good. Then my mother got cancer. The chemo was hard on her, and she fought, fought against the idea that she could be dying. She raged against everything, including us.

My father, who loved her dearly, fell to pieces when she died. He went away to mourn, and in a very real sense never came back. My sibling and I, who are closer than average, have never spoken about our mourning. Perhaps so as to forestall the floodgates. My father remarried, for companionship and to give us kids someone to look after us. To this day he is ostracised by many who once called him friend, for "betraying her memory". I don't remember any of his friends reaching out to him to help or support the whole time. She was the youngest of many children and woefully out of her depth at being landed with traumatised teens.

That's when it started. The rules and laws. We had checklists of chores, strict timetables and our housework would be checked after it was done. I chafed more under the weight and become her favourite target. Everything I did was interpreted as rebellion. I wasn't allowed ever to close the bedroom door ("What are you hiding?"), even being told to get dressed behind the door when it was ajar. I got grounded for running from the bathroom to my bedroom in a towel after a shower so I could get dressed. I got yelled at for answering back, for "glaring" when I held my tongue, and finally shouted at for "just standing there like that". While we (or I) were never hit, we were grounded, fined of pocket money or privileges, curfewed 'til we choked.

My sibling bent more easily, and I never begrudged taking the brunt of it for them. My father never intervened in front of us, but we could hear them shouting at the other end of the house about her actions. She would get furious and take her frustration at my apparent resistance out on him. I moved out as a fait accompli while she was on a holiday with her friends. That year I had everything go wrong. My first catastrophic breakup, my project going wrong, my father deteriorating, my sibling moving overseas. They found me in the kitchen halfway through my suicide attempt, and I spent many hours in ER being sat on by various orderlies because I wouldn't stop trying all night.

Years of strong meds and psychiatry have ensued from that time, and I am at least nominally functional. I have held a succession of jobs, and have good friends whom I know I can ask for anything. I own a home and a car and a career, and am back trying for postgrad again.

But my father doesn't understand why I don't want to reconcile with his wife. He doesn't bring me up in front of her, and catches up with me around her schedule so our paths don't cross. He waves it off as "not making trouble", but doesn't comprehend that there was nothing there to reconcile in the first place.

I was recently diagnosed with a near-silent genetic disease that finally explains my frequent illnesses, my headaches, my physical weakness and reaction to chemicals of many kinds. So now I have a name for why I was called lazy, weak, malingering.

I am stuck with my clinically diagnosed severe depression and my anxiety, my daily meds and my monthly psychiatrist visits. I do not feel worthy, deserving, capable or competent. I am constantly terrified that people around me will discover the terrible person that I am and throw me away. I am completely unable to ask for anything, and I am constantly spending money on other people to bring them joy. Because if I give them a little trinket to brighten their day, to buy a smile, then I matter to someone for a while. Good thing I have a well paying job. The less charitable would sum it up as 'abandonment issues and a daddy fetish'.

I am broken. I admit it. I don't know whence it came. Did I always have something wrong with me, that just splintered when others might have stood firm?

#414 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 01:35 AM:

I read this every year. Usually months after it happens. I never had the courage to post.

I grew up in a strict non-white family, and everything was honestly loving and good. Then my mother got cancer. The chemo was hard on her, and she fought, fought against the idea that she could be dying. She raged against everything, including us.

My father, who loved her dearly, fell to pieces when she died. He went away to mourn, and in a very real sense never came back. My sibling and I, who are closer than average, have never spoken about our mourning. Perhaps so as to forestall the floodgates. My father remarried, for companionship and to give us kids someone to look after us. To this day he is ostracised by many who once called him friend, for "betraying her memory". I don't remember any of his friends reaching out to him to help or support the whole time. She was the youngest of many children and woefully out of her depth at being landed with traumatised teens.

That's when it started. The rules and laws. We had checklists of chores, strict timetables and our housework would be checked after it was done. I chafed more under the weight and become her favourite target. Everything I did was interpreted as rebellion. I wasn't allowed ever to close the bedroom door ("What are you hiding?"), even being told to get dressed behind the door when it was ajar. I got grounded for running from the bathroom to my bedroom in a towel after a shower so I could get dressed. I got yelled at for answering back, for "glaring" when I held my tongue, and finally shouted at for "just standing there like that". While we (or I) were never hit, we were grounded, fined of pocket money or privileges, curfewed 'til we choked.

My sibling bent more easily, and I never begrudged taking the brunt of it for them. My father never intervened in front of us, but we could hear them shouting at the other end of the house about her actions. She would get furious and take her frustration at my apparent resistance out on him. I moved out as a fait accompli while she was on a holiday with her friends. That year I had everything go wrong. My first catastrophic breakup, my project going wrong, my father deteriorating, my sibling moving overseas. They found me in the kitchen halfway through my suicide attempt, and I spent many hours in ER being sat on by various orderlies because I wouldn't stop trying all night.

Years of strong meds and psychiatry have ensued from that time, and I am at least nominally functional. I have held a succession of jobs, and have good friends whom I know I can ask for anything. I own a home and a car and a career, and am back trying for postgrad again.

But my father doesn't understand why I don't want to reconcile with his wife. He doesn't bring me up in front of her, and catches up with me around her schedule so our paths don't cross. He waves it off as "not making trouble", but doesn't comprehend that there was nothing there to reconcile in the first place.

I was recently diagnosed with a near-silent genetic disease that finally explains my frequent illnesses, my headaches, my physical weakness and reaction to chemicals of many kinds. So now I have a name for why I was called lazy, weak, malingering.

I am stuck with my clinically diagnosed severe depression and my anxiety, my daily meds and my monthly psychiatrist visits. I do not feel worthy, deserving, capable or competent. I am constantly terrified that people around me will discover the terrible person that I am and throw me away. I am completely unable to ask for anything, and I am constantly spending money on other people to bring them joy. Because if I give them a little trinket to brighten their day, to buy a smile, then I matter to someone for a while. Good thing I have a well paying job. The less charitable would sum it up as 'abandonment issues and a daddy fetish'.

I am broken. I admit it. I don't know whence it came. Did I always have something wrong with me, that just splintered when others might have stood firm?

#415 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 01:59 AM:

Nancy @ 195
"For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation?"

A couple points that haven't yet been raised:

Sheer cussedness. I can see no reason why people I hold in contempt should have any say over my happiness or success.

Also, when I'm not wasting energy on people who take and never give anything back, I have a lot more energy to spend on being supportive to myself. Having the energy and emotional independence to be happy is a much nicer place to be in than the alternative.

#416 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 02:12 AM:

I don't know why that double post is there (*points at #413 and #414), can one of them be zorched, please? I didn't mean to.

#417 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 02:13 AM:

I don't know why that double post is there (*points at #413 and #414), can one of them be zorched, please? I didn't mean to.

#418 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 02:13 AM:

Ah crap *facepalm*.

#419 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 02:45 AM:

No-Face, I don't know any regular poster who hasn't had at least one double post. No blame. It's the nature of the interface here that makes it incredibly easy to do that.

Thank you for having the courage to post what you did.

#420 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 02:48 AM:

No-Face @413: I got yelled at for answering back, for "glaring" when I held my tongue, and finally shouted at for "just standing there like that".
Oh yeah. I got hit for sassing, and then for "looking at me like that." Eventually I got to the point where, if I was standing at the other end of the room, with my back to you, and I thought you were an [epithet], you'd know it. I got expressive.

I have held a succession of jobs, and have good friends whom I know I can ask for anything. I own a home and a car and a career, and am back trying for postgrad again.
I do not feel worthy, deserving, capable or competent. I am constantly terrified that people around me will discover the terrible person that I am and throw me away.
The first part is objective reality. The second part is scar tissue. You will not always feel this way. (Here's another good mantra: "This will pass.") By the time you're old, you'll be able to look back and think "I was a good person." With luck, maybe you can get there sooner.

I am broken. I admit it.
Everybody I've ever met who was worth knowing has been, one way and another, broken. Put another way: "Everybody's got something. This here is mine."

I've found it very useful to do thought experiments: if all this had happened to somebody else, and they manifested whatever symptoms I've noticed in myself, what would I say to them? Would I side with them, or with their abuser?

I honor your courage in posting this year. I honor your strength and determination. You are a worthwhile human being. Namaste.

#421 ::: Puffin ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 04:18 AM:

I grew up with my maternal grandparents and my parents in the same house. My mother insisted on nursing her mother through her long, long, terminal illness. I can see why she had to, and why it was not negotiable - now. Forty-five years ago there was nowhere my grandmother could go and be properly looked after - or at least, nowhere affordable. She had severe dementia and incontinence, she was speechless. She could not walk, but thought she could. Most of the time she sat picking at the restraints she had to have, or she'd have fallen and broken bones, while weeping aloud. It was horrible, and it went on for years.

Then there was my grandfather, my mother's father. He was a difficult man, but no worse than difficult. He was gloomy, disapproving, pessimistic, depressed. Probably it was clinical, but he had plenty to be depressed about, as well. Two of his brothers and two of his nephews were alcoholics and abusers, but he never touched a drop, and he was no abuser. And I treated him with disdain. I was thirteen to twenty years old, and I acted like a complete arse to him.

Not what you'd call actual abuse. Not verbal, certainly not physical. I just treated him with disdain. I didn't speak to him unless required. I was barely polite, if that. He deserved better.

He'd fought through a war and the depression. Some came through it OK. He didn't. Was that his fault? That he was a skilled - I mean, really skilled - carpenter, and he was out of work for three years? It broke him. They lost their house. He was never the same again, my mother said.

And I was no help at all. I was part of the problem.

Years of it destroyed my parents' marriage. By the time both my grandparents died, it was irreparably damaged. My father was a Presbyterian minister who became a frequent adulterer. He eventually kidded himself into thinking that he'd be happier elsewhere (and was wrong about that). He left, to my mother's utter devastation. She wept every night for years. I didn't speak to him for twenty years. Not until after my mother died.

Did I delude myself that I was making up for my behaviour towards my grandfather by taking her part? I can't tell. If so, what an idiot.

What I can tell is my shame. I behaved shamefully to my grandfather. I had no decency, let alone charity. I am ashamed of myself. The situation was horrible, and I made it worse. It coincided exactly with my adolescence, but that isn't an excuse. Nothing can excuse it.

I did get to talking with my father after my mother died. His second marriage had come to pieces, too. I don't really know why. He was all right, I suppose, by then, but also by then a stranger. He'd never been abusive.

This isn't on the spectrum of abuse. But that family was dysfunctional. I was part of that dysfunction. I am ashamed.

#422 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 07:41 AM:

Another essay here, I’m afraid. A bit late, because I was busy elsewhere, missed the thread until the weekend, and wanted to read it all before posting. First, thanks to everyone – your posts have helped me to post. These threads over the past three years have been a revelation to me and have helped me hugely, so I'm going to post and hope something might help someone else.

My mother was - and is - emotionally abusive. Manipulative. She's Always Right (TM) and if you're hurt or upset by something she said, that's your problem for misunderstanding her, because all she said was X, which is true and correct, and it's not HER fault if you read more into it (though of course, coloured by years of experience, what she said wasn't "just" X, whether or not it was true or correct). She's spend my whole life making it clear that I ought to put her wants and concerns first, and telling me my faults. Ignoring or denigrating what I was interested in, but expecting me to listen for hours to tales of friends of hers I don’t know or have barely met. 20 years telling people, in front of me, about the grammatical error she'd spotted in an essay I'd been writing at the age of 13, and holding this up as an example of how my generation don't know how to write properly; staring at my face when I was about 19 and saying "you really ought to do something about that moustache" (way to encourage your daughter's self-confidence); interrupting me while I'm replying to one of her friends asking what I do "oh, they're not interested in that"; berating me for not wearing makeup, for wearing comfortable, practical clothes and shoes, not dresses and high heels for everyday wear - so many things, each perhaps small in itself, but the cumulative effect... I can't remember any occasion, going to see her not in public, between when my sister left for university and when my now-husband came on the scene (i.e. when I want alone), that I didn't leave her house in tears*. And yet she wonders why, when visiting our home area, we always stay with our stepmother, never with her – and expresses how hurt she is about this.

In the last few years in particular, with support from my wonderful husband, and my fantastic step-mother (and from my lovely father, before he died), I've been trying to come to terms with things. I've managed to come to a point where I've realised: (1) she won't change. (2) It's not my fault that I've been damaged the way I have, but I do have some power to heal myself, or to get myself help to heal. Which is hugely different from "you just have to stop letting X hurt you."

In the past year I've been on a couple of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) courses (thanks, Terry Karney for recommending them) and learned a lot. I've read some books on self-assertiveness and come to realise that on one level I have very low self esteem. That I've managed to accept that I must always put the feelings and wants of others first. That I and my feelings don't really matter, that I don't deserve consideration. Well, I've come to realise that I damn well do!

I've been through a recent experience in some volunteering I've been doing, in which I've had a conflict with someone and everyone else has been really supportive, and kept confirming that the other person was being immature and unreasonable, that it wasn't my fault AT ALL, and that I was doing really well in coping with it. That has boosted my self esteem and self-confidence, and has actually made it easier for me to cope with my mother: because I realised that the way this the person kept trying to turn things round so it would be my fault had similarities with the way she always tries to turn things round and make them my fault. Suddenly, it's much harder for her to guilt-trip me. Previously I've either given in (then felt frustrated and angry with myself for doing so) or said no (then felt guilty, and then felt frustrated and angry about feeling guilty). Now I'm just calmly saying that yes, I do have to make my own choices about what's important. And then I'm making that choice on what's right for me, not just what she wants. Next I have to see if I can take this revelation and use it effectively in a difficult situation in my work life.

I've still got a way to go. I still have fantasies that my mother will actually take an interest in what I do, actually praise me for succeeding in something that isn't an area of endeavour -she- considers important. I realise that I'm still wanting/needing praise from others, because I really want it from her and I'm not getting it and I'm never going to get it. But I'm working on that.

*At least I refused (despite huge pressure from her) to promise not to talk with my father and stepmother about how hurt I was by what she said to me.

#423 ::: PassingThrough ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 10:03 AM:

#193 ::: Anon4Now

That... is a thing. I have emailed it to myself and I think at some point I will have to show it to my boyfriend.

He has OCD. And he nerdrages. At inanimate objects and at himself, and I sit there in the corner with my flight reflex telling me to RUN, NOW. Until I have to go cry in the toilet and hope not to be noticed, because, hey, I don't want to make things even worse for him, right? He already doesn't like himself a lot of the time, and if he knew he was upsetting me that much he'd hate himself more. And later he'll be over it and grinning at me sheepishly and I'm left feeling the aftereffects of an adrenaline spike for the rest of the evening.

I feel guilty for preferring it when he's having a full panic attack, because it's easier for me to deal with than the rage.

#424 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 11:40 AM:

And compared to many of the stories above, and in previous years of this thread, my mother isn't bad at all. And she can be (materially) generous, and apparently she praises me to other people.

And part of me is worried that my mother will see my post, and be upset by it. Except she won't, because although I've told her about Making Light, she hasn't listened, because it's SF-related, and SF is one of those topics she's not interested in, and rubbishes.

And what I've gone through is minor, and I did have a loving father and step-mother, wh supported me. But I'm in my forties, and I'm just beginning to deal with the results of a combination of my mother and the school bullying - which she enabled, because when I told her, she just said I should ignore it, because "sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you" and "if you ignore them, they'll stop" - so it was months before I dared to tell another adult (my father and step-mother, who promptly asked my permission to tell my teacher, who immediately stamped on the worst of it). So I guess it's not so minor after all.

#425 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 11:57 AM:

No-Face @413 We had checklists of chores, strict timetables and our housework would be checked after it was done.

Oh, sweet Jesu, this. My husband has a hard time wrapping his head around this when I try to explain it, the minute-by-minute schedules for my summer days, the amount of housework piled onto a pre-teen child, the backlash when I couldn't get it all done. The cruel irony of this is that my mother is not a naturally tidy person and a terrible housekeeper, so there was always more work than one child could do in a day or a week, or even a whole summer.

Or when I couldn't get it all done to *her* standards. ("I thought you said you cleaned the bathroom!" "I DID clean it." "You didn't dust the perfume bottles on the windowsill. So not only did you not clean it, you lied to me. So you're going to do it again. And you're grounded.") Her high standards paralyze her, and so she sloughed the work off onto me.

Now in my late 30s, I look back and realize she was only 27 and trapped in an abusive marriage when she did those things. I truly believe she did her best, it was just woefully inadequate. I understand on an intellectual level, much the way you, No-Face, understand your step-mother's inability to cope with her role.

But. But.

That was the only childhood we will ever get. Nothing can bring it back, and nothing can make those things un-happen. You are not a terrible person. You are worth cherishing. You have value and worth. You deserve dignity. You did not deserve what you got instead.

#426 ::: An Ood ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 12:41 PM:

My childhood was pretty awesome, but there is one incident I didn't think about for years and now find weighing on my mind. I have never mentioned this to anyone until now.

When I was in second grade, I had a special friend. I don't remember his name. He wrote me little notes. I remember one said "I think you are the prettiest girl in school." He kissed me once (just a peck). Looking back, it was all pretty adorable Precious Moments stuff.

My mother hit the roof. She confiscated the notes, told me to stay away from him, and I think intervened to have him moved to another class. I never understood why, really, except that it had something to do with him being black and me being white*, but I got the message loud and clear. No more special friend.

Today I am 33 and identify as aromantic asexual: no interest in sex or dating, either gender, ever. I'm content--I've always been this way, so it feels normal for me--but I have to wonder... did that early experience have something to do with it? Like aversion therapy?
But then I think, no, asexuality is a sexual orientation; nobody "made" me asexual any more than anyone makes a kid turn gay.

All I know is that no one has written me a love note since.

* The peculiar part is that my parents are certainly not antimiscegenation types. I still don't know why my mother reacted so strongly. (I am SO not going to ask. I suspect she either doesn't remember or will pretend not to.) Maybe it wasn't even race--was there inappropriate content in those notes? I don't remember their content, except for that one line I quoted above.

#427 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 03:47 PM:

I don't want to have this dissuade anyone from doing what I did, but I want to tell the story of my day.

Energized by my therapist's encouragement, Tangled, and this thread, I sent my mother an email last night explaining that I wan't going to let her be part of my life any more, and why. My father responded, with a death threat.

As an aside, this is typical: rather than let the focus be on what I said and whether it was right or not, now the focus is on how much I hurt my mother by saying it, and how I can protect myself from being hurt by my father in return.

I'm more all right than I was a couple hours ago; I'm well-medicated, just got back from my therapist's office, and have a deputy sheriff on his way over to take a statement (which will likely end in a restraining order). And I don't want this possibility to be a reason for you not to speak up to your abusers. If they have to resort to death threats to quiet you then you must have been justified in whatever you said, and despite what's now happening afterward I'm glad I finally told her that the way she treated me was Not Okay.

Like I said, I just wanted to share the story of my day.

#428 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Ross, if abusers didn't respond that way, they wouldn't be abusers. Congratulations on dealing with this sanely; I hope the restraining order process is smooth and that your father isn't psycho enough to disregard it.

Sometimes only separation can allow healing. People who think they did nothing wrong (who are sometimes people who think they can do nothing wrong) seldom understand the necessity, and if they're abusive and selfish in the first place, that's how they're going to be about the separation too.

I honor your strength and wish you all the best.

#429 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 05:19 PM:

Ross: wow. As Neutrino said, I hope the restraining order is effective, and I admire your courage.

In a way it's almost satisfying: good luck convincing someone that you're the sane party in a relationship, when you threaten to kill the other party for trying to get out of it. If nothing else, this is pretty clear evidence that "someone is crazy, and it's them" (to paraphrase JoCo).

#430 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 05:22 PM:

Ross: what Neutrino said. Well done on having the courage and strength to go through with what you did, and sympathies for the response.

#431 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 05:47 PM:

xiaoren @404: Is it possible that, possibly with the help of your lawyer, you could see about getting a court-appointed or mandated representative for your son, focused solely on his needs? If not, or if you think that would backfire, feel free to ignore the suggestion. I've just heard of it being done before in situations where one parent didn't feel free to give the child what they need, for fear of how the other parent would interpret it, and making it part of the court decision took some of the pressure off them.

Puffin @421: It's ok to take responsibility for what you did, but you might also want to consider that you were still a child in a very difficult situation. It's not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

dcb @424: I would like to stamp that pernicious little saying out of existence. It's a lie that everyone involved knows is a lie. It's fundamentally blame-the-victim and a tacit endorsement of the bullying behavior, and it allows those who should be responsible for stopping the behavior to pat themselves on the back for "toughening you up".

Ross @427: Congratulations on taking steps to protect yourself. You are absolutely not responsible for your father's reaction; in fact, it seems as if your mother, your father, or both, are panicking over the idea of not being able to control you anymore. Please stay safe.

#432 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 05:49 PM:

glinda @406: And WTF is going on that I don't want chocolate?

That kinda thing is really bizarre, isn't it? I almost went to bed last night without my daily dose of Haagen-Dasz.

Lee @411: I call that the Goddamn Tapes, and it's something a lot of us struggle with.

Bless all the ghods of Time and Space, I finally lost those sometime in the last decade. (Damnedest thing: woke up one morning, realized I wasn't hearing my mother's voice in my head. Thought about it for a while, realized I hadn't been hearing them for quite a long time. Boggle.)

The bad news is that I've gotten quite good enough at limiting myself that I don't need her voice in my head anymore. ::sigh::

No-Face @414: I am broken. I admit it.

I commend to your attention this line from the Theodore Sturgeon short story "Slow Sculpture."

...when you start [a bonsai tree], it isn't often the strong straight healthy ones you take. It's the twisted sick ones that can be made the most beautiful.

Nancy @195: For those who are working on healing, would you care to write about motivation?

KayTei @415: Sheer cussedness. I can see no reason why people I hold in contempt should have any say over my happiness or success.

I don't know how the hell it happened, but somehow I came into this world with an incredibly strong self-concept. I knew that the limitations my mother tried to lay on me were bullshit. I knew that there were possibilities wildly beyond her feeble imagination. I knew that what I was was valuable and important, and that her efforts to squash that were wrong.

Implementing that knowledge, now that's where the challenge has been.

Puffin @421: I am ashamed.

I have deep shame too. The only way I've found to address it is to try to Do Better in the here and now.

dcb @424: compared to many of the stories above, and in previous years of this thread, my mother isn't bad at all.

ObRef Olympics. Yes she is. Reading about her behavior leaves me feeling nauseated. /validation

An Ood @426: I am SO not going to ask. I suspect she either doesn't remember or will pretend not to.

Steve Barnes recommended the following response to me: "I do. Let's go from there."

Ross @427: have a deputy sheriff on his way over to take a statement

Oh, go you!! This makes me smile, very much.

::scratches head:: In what universe is threatening to kill someone supposed to make them more likely to want to spend time with you? *boggle*

#433 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 06:01 PM:

Apparently in Texas a threat isn't a threat unless it meets four criteria: it's not conditional (so no "send your mother any more emails and I'll..."), it's specific (so no "I'll hurt you very badly", more like "I'll shoot you"), the victim believes it, and it's in person (so no emails). So it's not a threat and they won't arrest him. But! if I send him an email now saying that any further communication is unwanted, then after a week, if he persists, then it becomes harassment, which is actionable. So I sent him another email.

What I'm worried about now is, my mother will send me an email, I'll send her one back starting her harassment-clock, and then my father will come shoot me for sending her an email.

I also love how the deputy explained that "it's not specific, he could have just meant he was going to come down here and yell at you until you cry. That really hurts!" Gee. Thanks. Tell me more, o wise oracle.

So once again I asked for help from an authority figure and got ignored. At least I didn't get blamed.

#434 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 06:09 PM:

Oh yeah, and to Jacques, Jennifer Baughman, dcb, Neutrino, and especially Lila: "If they're shooting at you, you must be doing something right." :)

#435 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 06:49 PM:

Those whose stories have saddened and/or horrified me beyond having any idea what to say: Sadira @370; Late Anon @402; No-Face @413. My good thoughts go with you.

Ross, where in Texas do you live? In the event of a worst-case scenario, at least those of us who also live in Texas and might hear the incident reported in the news can provide copies of your posts here to the DA's office.

Also, how feasible would it be for you to move somewhere much further away from them?

#436 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 07:00 PM:

Lee: I'm in Katy, in west Houston. They're in Friendswood, in south Houston. It's about 45 minutes away by troll road, and I can't move much farther away without giving up a truly awesome job.

That would be great if it ever happens. I already told my therapist "if I actually do end up dead, it's not because I killed myself" (because I've had suicidal ideation in the past. Glad I didn't get rid of my gun when I did!).

One thing I noticed is that when you get a restraining order, you can check off the parts you want them restrained from, but, you can't un-check the box about "respondent cannot own firearms". My father has an impressive collection of firearms, not all of which are legal. So if that does happen and they go to take them away, things could get real interesting. This is a guy who fantasizes about having a shootout with the government.

So I guess I'm saying, if it gets that far, then I'm sure you'll hear about it on the news. But I really can't believe it'll get anywhere near that far. I'm hoping that this is the last I ever hear from them.

#437 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 07:04 PM:

I feel like posting under my own name this year. I haven't, in the past.

In response to Jennifer Baughman @285, who suggests "forgiveness requires at the very least acknowledgement of the harm done to the forgiver on the part of the transgressor." This is an excellent statement, and sums up why I have not forgiven my father, although he has "apologized" for his years of sexual abuse of me and my sister. But he doesn't understand what it did to us, why our lives have not been all that they could have been. And he can't even begin to see that other things were wrong too, that it's all tied up in something like narcissism mixed with perfectionism on his part. That's why my brother prefers not to deal with him, either.

But it has been a hard couple of years dealing with him. My mother passed away nearly two years ago from cancer, and he refused to admit for several months that the end was near. She was willing to believe him, until it became too late. Her last months could have been so much easier if she'd gone into hospice care earlier, but we were all in denial and he refused to consider it when I and my sister suggested it early that fall. I regret now not pushing harder.

But, then, I stayed away from much of her illness. I was busy with my own issues (more on that later), and she wasn't entirely blameless for the pain of my childhood. She was depressed much of the time, and I think chose to ignore the abuse rather than to deal with the situation. I know in her later years several times she considered leaving him because of his narcissism etc., but always decided to stay - I believe that she was afraid of being alone.

Part of how this affected me was that I waited a long time to have my own children. Almost too long - my husband and I struggled with infertility for nearly 4 years, going through miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies and multiple IVF cycles before finally succeeding. I was 42 when my daughter was born this past spring - she's named after my mother, but I deeply regret that my mother never knew of her. I never knew my mother's father - he died before I was born - and I know now that how she spoke of him and how he would have enjoyed knowing me - that's how I will have to speak of her to my daughter.

And now as a parent, I am filled with a fierce determination to try to do better for my daughter than my parents did for me. And I am filled with the fear that I won't be able to, that somehow my brokenness will be passed on in some way. That's part of why I waited so long - I had to feel that I could actually take good care of someone else. I'm doing my best, but as physically tiring as these early months are, I know the hard parts are yet to come.

One thing I do know, though. My daughter has met my father, and we do attend occasional family events that include him. But she will never be alone in a room with him, ever.

The one good thing is that he's the kind of man who can't bear to be alone. Fortunately, though it's also infuriating, he "mistakenly" signed up for e-harmony just two months after my mother passed away, and met a woman right away. They started dating, and they just got married this spring (not quite a year and a half after my mother passed away). I think he was quite proud of himself that he waited that long to remarry. My siblings and I are caught somewhere between being frustrated that this happened so quickly, and delighted that he is spending all of his time with this woman so that he doesn't try to spend time with us. [I probably shouldn't speak of her as "this woman" - she seems quite nice, really. But since I keep him at rather more than arms length, it'll never be a cosy relationship with her.]

It makes me angry sometimes that he's the remaining parent - for all my mother's faults, she was a better parent than him. I'd always had the vision that he would die first, and she'd be able to go into a retirement community where they would take field trips to museums and concerts - all of which she loved and he hated, so they never went. And we'd have visited her regularly. But no, now I have to spend the rest of my father's life - which could be 20 years or more, given his family history - figuring out how to keep him at more than arms length. I can't cut contact completely, because there is a financial trust - some of my mother's property - that he is the executor of.

And I struggle with feeling broken, and he'll never acknowledge that he had anything to do with it.

#438 ::: celestineangel ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 07:13 PM:

Lee @ 411: it's hard for me to think of parents as not "the enemy".

Yep. I can't count how many times I've had a variation of this conversation:

"I have to go, I'm meeting my [insert family member here]."

"Ugh, I'm sorry you're being forced to hang out with family."

"Um... I'm not being forced. I LIKE hanging out with my family."

"... why?"

It's not helped by the fact that I know so many people whose families actually are dysfunctional and mentally and emotionally abusive, who do everything they can to make their families happy, without reward. It makes the people I meet who don't have this or similar issues all the more... surprising and poke-it-with-a-stick odd.

#439 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 08:24 PM:

@Singing Wren 377--

A dear friend got married a few years back. Her father used to rape her when she was young. Her mother became an alcoholic after she finally figured everything out. Took her mother a couple of decades to notice, I guess. But they are a large Catholic (with the big C) family, so everybody had to be invited to the wedding. Including the rapist.

So she asked me and another friend to keep her father away from her mother. We spent the entire wedding and reception babysitting him. He was astute enough to notice what was going on. But I told him to be grateful that both of the women reining him in were very charming people.

The wedding went off better than anyone would have thought it could. And I was heartened to note that his second wife knew exactly what he was and watched him like a hawk.

Sometimes just being the barrier can be enough.

#440 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 10:29 PM:

Throwmearope @ 439:

Honestly, we didn't much care if my uncle knew what we were doing. At least one cousin has already effectively cut off contact with him (she won't visit him of her own volition, but she won't avoid family events just because he's attending), and said uncle is self-centered enough he may well not have noticed what we were doing.

Our big concern was keeping Grandma from noticing. We all love her dearly, but she is very much the sort to make the sort of comments Abi has (very properly) banned on this thread, without understanding how very unhelpful such comments are. As far as I can tell, Grandma remained quite unaware that there was any deliberate avoidance and separation going on.

#441 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 12:27 AM:

Jennifer Baughman @431, I have a very grizzly divorce lawyer who reminds me of Kambei from THE SEVEN SAMURAI, and if he tells me that our son needs a lawyer of his own, then I suppose I'll go find one for him. I suspect, however, that such arrangements are usually made in my state only when the *judge* thinks that neither of the parents and their collective legal counsel are Doing It Very Well.

Nobody should worry about me being unable to do what needs be done when my lawyer advises it, even if there is a risk of inciting my wife into a psychotic rage. As I said above, the one possible eventuality which has had the potential to keep me from acting all these years has been the fear of having to see my child react to the news that his parents are divorcing. That fear no longer has any hold over me. Seriously, I've been more terrified of that than being subjected to physical violence or false accusations of domestic atrocity.

I don't think my soon-to-be-ex fully appreciates how much power she has given up by forcing the issue like this. With luck, she won't ever find out.

#442 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 12:33 AM:

My previous comment could be read as happy about the (remote) possibility of a shootout where innocent people could die. If you took it that way, I apologize.

I feel like I should talk some about my past, since everyone else has, and what all led up to this.

My father was emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive for most of my life. I got out as soon as I could; my sole criterion for a college was "as far away from my parents as possible." I always thought of my mother as the good parent until I realized a couple things: first, if you had one good parent and one bad parent, then you had two bad parents because the good parent should have done something. Someone in (I think it was) last year's thread said that and it's true. Then, more recently, I started looking at some of the things I was remembering in a new light, and I saw that my mother was, if anything, more hurtful than my father. My father stopped hurting me when I left; my mother never has.

She wanted more than anything to pretend that we were a happy family, so if my father hurt me, it's because I did something to provoke him (sort of like Danish Modern's story, except instead of brothers, it's a bullying father picking on a son too young to defend himself). He got to do whatever he wanted to me or to her, and because he's a psychopath, he did. I remember ho used to torture our family dog. Poor creature was so nervous and skittish, he died very young. This man is a monster. He hurts people mostly just because he's bored.

Of course, whenever I fought back, I was provoking him. Other actions that provoked him were "acting like I was better than he was" (including things like showing off things I learned in school), graduating college (he flunked out; when I graduated I got a long lecture on how people with degrees don't know any more that anyone else, they just like to throw their worthless piece of paper in people's faces), being angry when he would violate my privacy, my body, my right to possessions, or even trying to defend her from his abuse.

Yeah, that's right: he abused her too. And she blamed me for defending her because it meant that I wasn't buying into the happy-family myth. So sick.

So I did what I had to do. I shut down. I learned that showing any emotion was a sign of weakness that would be brutally attacked, so I didn't. I learned that expressing any personal preference was dangerous: if I suggested a movie we hadn't seen and he didn't like it, I would get blamed and ridiculed for everything wrong with the movie. Same with restaurants. To this day I can't watch a movie with another person in the room unless I've seen it before, preferably if we've both seen it before. Restaurants too. I'm terrified, like literally have panic attacks, about suggesting a restaurant that someone else doesn't like.

As an aside, buying a DVD drive for my PC in 2000 was one of the best decisions I ever made. Before that I used to download scripts of movies I wanted to see and read them, like Jerry Maguire or Americam Beauty. I remember the first time, 2 AM with headphones on, that I watched American Beauty as an actual film instead of a poorly-formatted text file... I was blown away. The only things I had ever seen before then were 1950s war movies and SF movies that I liked when I was six (my interests weren't allowed to mature at all; I've apparently wanted to be an astronaut my whole life). Not that the SF movies I liked when I was six are bad, mind you; I'll defend The Last Starfighter to the death! But this was a window to a reality I had never seen. I got to see how people who weren't sick and abusive acted. We had TV, but the only shows we watched were sitcoms of the laugh-at-the-dysfunctional-family variety. I still find Roseanne too painful to watch.

So I spent a lot of time in my room, practicing not feeling anything. I told my father this once, god only knows why, and he made fun of me for it, called me "Mr. Spock". It didn't really hurt though; by that time those nerve endings were long gone.

Now all this is coming back up again. I think it might be because of my wonderful girlfriend; I'm having to face the fact, er, problem because there is a solution, that I don't know how to love anyone, or to recognize that that's actually a real thing that some people experience.

Today I had a fun exchange with my therapist:

Me: My eyes have been doing this for a few weeks off and on. It's not allergies; I'm not stopped up.
Her: When does it happen? At work?
Me: Yeah, or when I'm reading things, like it kept happening when I was reading that Making Light thread I told you about.
(at this point I was thinking she was about to suggest a new monitor)
Her: Yep, those are tears, love. You're crying. Don't worry, it's normal, and healthy for you.

Emotions aren't a gradient from green=happy to red=sad at the other end, emotions are a gradient from green=happy to red=sad about 2/3 of the way down, and then the remaining third is just dead black because you have no more pain in you left to feel. Congratulations, you cannot be hurt any more, and all you had to give up was the ability to be happy.

Supposedly you can get it back, but it means going through that red part again first, and you'll apparently cry for weeks and not recognize that that's even a thing your body does.

#443 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 12:42 AM:

#381 Nancy Lebovitz: I know intellectually that there's no sense rejecting my stuff myself and I should let other people have a shot at either accept or reject. (And I made myself rephrase that; originally I wrote that I should let other people reject it.)

I still have a very hard time with the concept that other people might be interested in what I have to say. Maybe that's why I prefer fiction and science as topics; they aren't about me, they're about something that's more interesting that me. Part of being invisible.

#399 Jennifer Baughman: I think I'm going to have to find and re-read Friday. It's one of the very few Heinleins that I don't have. I think I read it as a teenager from the library, and never bought my own copy later. Sexygirl on the cover didn't appeal.

To others, I read some of the descriptions of things done and I see to my shame that I do some of those things myself. Lack of empathy, I guess? leads to me being very impatient with people when they miss something that I find obvious, or don't have a skill that I find easy. And yet I can also be a patient teacher to somebody trying to learn; I think the impatience really kicks in when the "I can't do that" response comes out. I have to remember that my "I can't do that" is there too, it's just on different topics than the ones that make me impatient, and learning how to get past that is hard. I don't yell, but I do go silent when I'm mad. I learned from my ex that yelling leads to "you're over-reacting" and dismissal of the issue. Silence doesn't resolve the issue either. I haven't found yet something that does; apparently I phrase things poorly when I try to calmly explain why something annoys me, and it comes across as an attack.

(And, not trying to justify my impatience, much, but it's really frustrating to patiently support someone through a job change to one much more challenging, see them learn to handle it - I knew you could! - and then six months later see them move within the company and go through the "I can't handle this, why did I do this, maybe I should go back to the old job" all over again, exactly like the first time. Did I say to stop being pathetic the second time? I hope not, but I know I was thinking it. They did it once. They can do it again. It wasn't a jump from an easy job to a challenging one like it was the first time, either, just between two different project groups.)

#444 ::: Digger ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 01:03 AM:

I love my mother dearly, and her life was terrible for a very long time. I don't blame her for the result--honestly, I'm surprised she managed as well as she did.

Still, there was a long stretch when I was the only emotional support she had, and she leaned on that a lot more than was healthy for anybody. And we were very poor, and she would come into my bedroom about once a month to inform me that she could not pay for the property taxes and we would be losing the house and be homeless Any Time Now.

She was suffering severe depression and spent time when she wasn't at work sleeping. Sometimes I'd wake her up to go get something to eat, but a lot of times it was easier to just skip dinner and let her sleep. Mostly I remember her telling me about money woes and how we were going to lose the house because she couldn't manage.

Well, years pass and time heals some things well enough--but I have this intense neurotic fear of losing everything and being homeless. Well, so what? I figured everybody's scared of poverty--particularly if you grew up poor--so I never thought much of it. But years later I realized that I had to be working all the time, because if I wasn't working on some project that might make money, then I was laying myself open to...some vague unknown badness. Just thinking about it made me feel like there were small animals inside my chest screaming and clawing and scrambling over top of each other.

My stress response to anything was to stay up until all hours working. I was like Boxer the Horse. "I will work harder."

By objective measures, I have accomplished a seriously absurd amount in my life, but I still have a hard time believing that I am not desperately lazy, because there are large stretches of the day when I am not working, and surely that cannot be right.

The number of other artists I know who also work like Boxer to keep the Vague Bad Thing at bay is...well, something, anyway.

#445 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 01:16 AM:

Ross, two things:

1) My partner and I live in Houston, near 290 & 610. We should get together and hang out. What are you doing for Halloween?

2) He has some suggestions for you which might actually bear fruit. I'm going to turn the rest of the post over to him.

[swapping bodies on the chair]

Bearing in mind that I'm not a lawyer, and that this is not legal advice, here's what I'd do in your place:

- Having been brushed off by a deputy, I'd take the threat to DPS, particularly if you and the threat source live in different counties. DPS, like all law enforcement agencies in Texas, has jurisdiction statewide, but they are the only agency that routinely takes that broad view, and their scope is not limited to just traffic laws by any means. If the DPS officer doesn't act interested and/or won't take the report (and I'd expect them to be a bit less unprofessional about it), then I'd check to see if I'm residing in a Constable's district, and take the report to them. Last ditch is to send a written report and complaint to the Sheriff by name, via certified mail with return receipt, so that I'm on record as having informed law enforcement authorities of the problem. I might file the report with the relevant Sheriff and Constable for where they reside, as well. When doing so, include a photocopy of their communication. This could be important later.

- I'd get an attorney started on the process of filing the paperwork with the court for a restraining order. Without the court order, cops can't do much in this kind of situation unless they actually see an attack in progress, and then they can only arrest and detain if an actual assault takes place. (Arguably, by my understanding, the written threat may be assault already, but cops prefer to have somebody throwing a punch or pulling a weapon to take the incident over the edge into clear-cut territory.) Getting a court to issue a restraining order isn't easy, however; that's where a decent family-law attorney can advise you best.

Tactically, it may be wisest to simply refuse to communicate with them in any way whatsoever; the less you say to them, the less they have to hold against you. But I'd consider sending the perp a certified letter (once again, with return receipt requested) that specifically states that having received their written threat of bodily harm, you are now specifically informing them that they are not welcome on your property, that they will be trespassing if they come to your door, and that you have no choice but to assume that they meant what was stated even if they retract it in the future. Make it clear that you do not trust them, and that you consider that their threat is credible and sincere. Say nothing about what you will do if they show up in your presence; that could be considered a threat on your part. I'd almost bet that they'll refuse to sign for the letter, though.

If you're aware that the main threat is someone who possesses a handgun, now would be a good time to become conversant in the legalities of weapon possession, use and display in Texas. There is no easier way to do this than to take the course that is available from most gun shops in the requirements and responsibilities for a concealed carry permit. The actual permit itself costs quite a bit to get ($140 just for the permit fee, and there are other costs as well), and I'm betting your potential assailant doesn't have one - in part because if they did, that threat probably wouldn't have been made, as it might endanger their ability to keep the permit. This makes me think they probably don't understand a lot of things about the law in the area of assault; it's to your advantage to get conversant in this subject swiftly so that you can make sure that anything *you* must do is not going to leave you open to bigger problems. If nothing else, read the (rather voluminous) DPS pamphlet on the subject of the Concealed Handgun License itself. Hopefully, that information will never be a real issue - but knowing when a line has been crossed may give you the tools to get law enforcement to act.

#446 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 01:20 AM:

Digger: Do you also have an intense fear of wasting anything? Tonight I had poured a can of Dr. Pepper into a cup and I was only halfway through it when my girlfriend wanted to go to Sonic for slushes. I was ashamed for longer than I probably should have been about wasting half a can of Dr. Pepper.

I have the same intense fear of being poor, and the same "I should be making something right now" work ethic, but mine also manifests itself with wasting, is why I ask.

#447 ::: Variant of Last Year ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 01:39 AM:

Xeger @407

Thank you.

#448 ::: Digger ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 02:14 AM:

Ross @446: Hmm, not so much. I am more likely to go the other way and want to throw out three-quarters of everything I own, so that I can travel light in case of unknown catastrophe. (Which honestly probably has a lot more to do with my divorce and Hoarders I Have Known and a horrible stretch when I realized that I owned things I Could Not Lift and had to impose on people to help me, but that's another ball of earwig wax...)

I suspect you're not alone, though--a dear friend of mine will keep leftovers until they actually crawl off the plate and lobby for equal rights, and she makes six figures a year in the process of keeping badness at bay.

#449 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 04:18 AM:

Spawnofthedevil@420, Thingwithwings@425 and Jacque@432:
Thank you for your words. Thank you for making me feel that my tiny drop in this bucket of suffering stands with all the others.

I live with a faint whiff of PTSD, I've just realised. I get all hoard-y with high end pantry things; it's not unusual to find expensive condiments unopened and several years out of date in my kitchen. I've usually forgotten I had it. I hoard clothes and jewelry and memories. I have a walk-in closet you can barely see the floor in.

I avoid children. Their carefree natures make me dizzysick with envy. Sometimes I want to scream at them about what the world is like, and how hard life will become. But I never do.

I know I'm lucky. I was not beaten. I was not a victim of incest.

I think that a Day like this one on Making Light is a precious thing. It reassures those who walk in pain like myself that our suffering is no less real and no less tragic despite its occurring in the secret quiet places.

And we will limp on. For the first time in years I don't want to die any more. I refuse.

#450 ::: cayce ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 05:44 AM:

My mother kept records when I still lived with my father. Recorded all their phone conversations, photographed my injuries, wrote things down. I have a copy of the written records, and I've been looking through it.
It's not the injuries that are the hardest to read about, even the hand-shaped bruises on my thighs or the ones that nearly killed me. The notes like "she didn't eat all weekend" or "he left her with his girlfriend's son for two days" are harder to read. The worst, though, is reading all the ways he messed with my head. "She said 'I am so angry with my Daddy!' I asked why, and she said 'I told him I missed you and he said he wished you were dead.'" All the times his words came out of my mouth - "Daddy says" shows up over and over. His ideas show up over and over. Things like "I thought he punched Poppop and made his eye bleed but everyone said he fell and hit a chair so maybe I made it up in my head like Daddy said" are a consistent feature.
It still makes me "so angry".

#451 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 07:37 AM:

Jennifer Baughman @431: Yes, me too. And looking back, I realise I must already have internalised the "your feelings don't really matter, you don't deserve consideration" (as indicated @422) or I'd simply have shrugged off my mother's response and gone straight to my father & stepmother.

Jacque @432: Thank you. The validation means a lot to me.

No-Face @413: {{{{{you}}}} (Virtual hug - hope that's okay). I do not feel worthy, deserving, capable or competent. But you are all of those things. And see the list below - reading it helps me; I hope it may help you a little.

Ross @442: {{{{Ross}}}} (virtual hug - if that's okay for you). I wish you luck in your journey up through the pain and sadness to the realm where happiness can happen - a place we all deserve to spend some time in.

The invisible one @443: (feel free to ignore the following advice if not useful) Can I suggest an AVP course or two, or something similar? May not work for you, but... They give you options - tools for how to respond, when feeling frustrated, other than with yelling or silence. They really explain and demonstrate the difference between aggressive and assertive behaviour, and I watched it being useful for people who tended to respond aggressively, as well as for me (I tend to respond with silence because I'm trying not to cry because I don't know how to respond assertively). Also, like these threads, you can get resonances with other people's stories which give you a different viewpoint, a different perspective, and can help you. Some of the books on assertiveness and non-violent communication are useful as well, but I think different books work for different people.

cayce @450: Sympathies. We're listening.

And going back right to the start of this thread: ebear @13 "that I deserve to be cared about...I've had that knowledge intellectually for a while--but getting it in the gut was new." Yes. That.

Also: a list which I'm reading to myself daily at the moment. I got this version from AVP; there are other similar lists online.

"Assertiveness begins with the belief that you and others have basic human rights, including the right to:

- Be treated with respect and consideration.
- Say NO without feeling guilty or selfish.
- Have and express directly one's own opinions and feelings, including anger.
- Express one's talents and interests through any ethical channel.
- Make mistakes.
- Set one's own priorities as to needs.
- Be treated as a capable adult and not be patronized.
- Be listened to and taken seriously.
- Be independent.
- Ask others to change behaviour that continues to violate one's rights."

#452 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 09:28 AM:

dcb: learning how to express anger without either crying or going silent would be good. I never was one for yelling and the closest I ever got to violence was to imagine somebody's face on a punching bag, during a martial arts class where we were supposed to go all out on the bag.

My comment about yelling above was, now that I think about it, less actual raised voices and more brief displays of normal anger (I think: what's normal?) before transitioning to crying. Whether I was angry or upset-crying, I got the "you're over-reacting", and "stop crying" - specifically in the "I don't know how to handle you crying when you're upset so you have to stop being upset so I don't have to deal with not knowing what to do" vein. Lots of bad assumptions in that statement. I tried to tell him that when I got upset I would cry for a while then get over it, but that wasn't good enough, I had to not cry. So I withdrew and did my best to not show it to him.

I still hide what I'm doing if I get criticism. I don't stop; I just don't reveal to the criticizer that I'm still doing it. I hate feeling the need to hide things, but if it's something I enjoy (or just don't feel is bad) I'm not going to stop - but I'm also not going to leave myself open to further negative comments.

Also need to remember that overall my life is pretty good. Talking about this stuff sometimes helps, but sometimes drags me down until it's all I can think about. (I refuse to do freewriting exercises. They just spiral straight down into depression. Tried it on the advice of a counsellor and told her no more after a few tries that ended up with me curled up in bed crying, unable to get up and do anything that day because what was the point when everything sucked so bad.)

#453 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 10:56 AM:

dcb: Thank you. :)

Digger: I have a little of that too. The only way I know of to cheer myself up most days is to buy something, which feels wasteful and shameful, and so I'm guilty about owning too many things. Spending my money on my (temporary) happiness is a waste, I'm not worth that, right? I should spend that money on other people.

It also doesn't help that I can't get rid of them because that would be wasting things. I was elated when I discovered that I could give things to Goodwill; it doesn't feel wasteful as long as someone is going to use it.

Lee & partner: I appreciate the offer, really. I'm very shy around new people, so I'm afraid of taking you up on it. On the other hand, it would probably be good for me, so I'll think about it. I know my girlfriend has been wanting to have some party-like thing to do for Halloween.

As for the other thing, that's all good advice. I think I want to try what the deputy advised first, wait a week or two and see if the harassment continues. So far it hasn't, and because they probably feel like they won (to be fair, they did; I no longer feel relieved that I told her off) then they'll probably just leave me be. From their perspective, I fell in with the wrong crowd (therapists are so manipulative, and break up families!), which hurt them terribly, and they had to cut me off. However they want to spin it, as long as they leave me alone.

Last night's nightmare was a good one, probably as good as Saturday's: my father holding a gun on me and me screaming at my mother to get him to leave me alone, and her not willing to look at me.

#454 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 10:58 AM:

Ross @ 446 I do that! I have a terrible time "wasting" things. This extends beyond food, where its problematic enough that my husband has taken moldy food out of my hand b/c I was just going to cut off the mold rather than waste the whole thing.

No-Face @ 449 Yes - it also led me to hoard clothes, books, fabric, sewing supplies, costume jewelry, and all sorts of 'nice' things, because I was always waiting for the day when, despite my 2 and 3 jobs, the money would be gone and I couldn't buy "nice things" anymore.

I've been able to finally let go of some things in recent years, by donating them instead of throwing them away, thereby circumventing my waste issues. That's part of my healing process I've actually been able to make good progress on.

But this year I have discovered a weird, new wrinkle. I've always been the breadwinner in my adult family. It is my preferred role, to the point of having a mini-breakdown when I was laid off last year. Therapy has uncovered that this is partly because I want to take care of people, and partly because I don't believe anyone else will take care of me, no matter what they say. So it's better if I'm in control of it.

Financially, we are okay. I've been able to do what I used to do (edit books) as a freelancer, and my husband and I have been delighted to discover that we still enjoy each other's company, even 24 hours a day in a 1-bedroom apt. But.

He can't get me to spend money on me.

Like I said, we're fine. And I still bring in the lion's share of the money. And I trust him when he wants to buy something. But I don't trust me. I feel like I must have limits or ghod knows what I will do. I feel wanton and reckless and like a thing that must be contained or controlled. When I decided that the 'rule' was, I could do something 'selfish' like get a haircut once a month, I almost cried with relief. Because now I had limits.

And I now know that voice--I am selfish, ungrateful, incorrigible, how dare I want so much, who do I think I am, do I think I'm special or something--I know that's my mother. I just haven't figured out how to evict her yet.

#455 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 11:06 AM:

The invisible one @452: Oh boy can I sympathise! For me, I think it started in my childhood both at school and at home: didn't want to swear (and not swearing was seen as pathetic by the bullies, so anything I said not emphasized by swearing wasn't taken seriously), not allowed to physically hit (a girls' school), and at home, not only would I naturally not swear or hit, but anything I said to my mother was twisted around anyway, so the anger/frustration went inwards and the only outlet it found was tears. Now I'm an adult, and crying in response to anger/frustration (including in response to other people's aggressive tone of voice) is seen as weak, childish (not helped by my small size) and as proof that my POV is worthless/unimportant. Not helpful. Being told "well you just have to learn not to cry" was worse than useless, because it was basically being told it was my fault, I was choosing to cry, obviously.

I'm still on the learning curve, but the AVP courses were really useful. Strangely, learning how the people who shout and swear and start throwing things or hitting their partner are also not in control of themselves, but feel controlled by the anger, was useful to me. I always thought they were the ones with the power. With my mother (who always wants me to agree that her opinion is the truth and her way of doing things is better than mine), I'm learning to make neutral noises or say things like "oh, that's interesting" or "mm, I'd never looked at it like that before" or "yes, I can see how that could work" or whatever - but without actually agreeing with her or agreeing to do it her way. In the recent volunteering disagreement, I was able to keep saying stuff like "I regret that you see it that way, but..." and "No, that isn't quite what happened, what you said was..."

And yes, thinking about it all & discussing it can sometimes be good, and sometimes spiral down. For me, spiralling down is more likely if I'm tired, and I've learned to recognise that.

Re. "I still hide what I'm doing if I get criticism. I don't stop; I just don't reveal to the criticizer that I'm still doing it." Sounds sensible to me!

And please, feel free to make use of any of this that's useful to you, and disregard anything that isn't!

#456 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 11:19 AM:

Ross @436: Let me be certain I understand you: some of the firearms are illegal to possess.

If true -- you can make an anonymous tip to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It's MVHO that you should do so.


Since this s.o.b. threatened you, it's time he lost access to his "toys."

#457 ::: Thing w Wings ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 11:30 AM:

xiaoren Your situation breaks my heart. But I want to tell you, as I told a friend in a similar bind recently, that as a child in an abusive home, I had a very keen awareness of those people who would have helped me if they could have, and those people who simply chose not to.

You and my friend are very clearly in the first category. Kids are smart and perceptive. They know the difference. Just keep doing right by your son. He can see it, even if he can't articulate it yet. I hope this helps.

#458 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 12:08 PM:

Ross @442: Her: Yep, those are tears, love. You're crying. Don't worry, it's normal, and healthy for you.

(((Ross))) :-(

I'm even more impressed with your actions wrt your parents, now.

green=happy to red=sad about 2/3 of the way down, and then the remaining third is just dead black because you have no more pain in you left to feel. Congratulations, you cannot be hurt any more, and all you had to give up was the ability to be happy.

Supposedly you can get it back, but it means going through that red part again first, and you'll apparently cry for weeks and not recognize that that's even a thing your body does.

There's a book recommended upthread that might help with this: Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair, by Miriam Greenspan.

That link points to online excerpts. I've got it on order; it looks promising.

Lee & Partner @445: See, now, this is why I love the Net! :-) Mods: Would it be worth adding a pointer to this post to the Emergency Preparedness index? (Tangentially, I don't see a link to the EP index on the front page?)

Ross @446: Do you also have an intense fear of wasting anything?

Heh. Fortunately, mine is less fear than OCD but: I've gotten my landfill contributions down to a couple of pounds a month. (You know you're obsessive when you constantly keep an eye out for things to use as trash bags.) This derives, I suppose, from parents who grew up in the depression plus being a devout Greenie.

Ross @453: The only way I know of to cheer myself up most days is to buy something

One hack I've discovered for that is to find some promising pieces of trash and Make Art out of them. Lately, I've discovered the joys of paper mache. (True, you have to buy wheat flour, but that's really cheap.)

Perhaps not coincidentally, I've managed to convert the "You Must Be Doing Something Productive At All Times" imperative that my mother layed on me to Must Do Art—because it's fun and so damn interesting. (Makes it hard to make time for housework and to get to bed on time, but oh well.)

#459 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 12:13 PM:

xiaoren @441: Oh, I wasn't meaning to imply that you wouldn't do what you needed to for your son; your devotion to his well-being comes through in every word. I was just trying to suggest something that might focus the soon-to-be-ex's psychotic rage elsewhere, and my apologies if it came across as hlepy.

Ross @442: I tried to do the whole 'shutting down emotion' thing, and my father punished me for it -- either he interpreted it as angry (apparently, years of abuse and depression have made my 'neutral' face look unhappy or angry), or it wasn't 'appropriate'. No surprise there, nothing I did was 'appropriate'.

And I understand what you're saying about the emotional gradient. Mine is similar, except that for me, black is numb because it's pain overload. It becomes nothing but pain, and I shut down in self-defense. At that point everything in my life becomes grey and pointless; I'm beyond even despair. I feel like I've been X'd out, like everything that makes me a person is drowned beyond recovery, and it takes me days to fully recover.

The invisible one @452 and dcb @455: I physically cringe at raised voices; the impulse travels from the small of my back right up my spine, and I'm often not even aware of it. And my two default reactions to anger are either to break down and cry uncontrollably, or to go into a very, very cold state in which I find it very very easy to let the governors off my tongue. I don't like either of those, but I prefer the first; the second scares me, because I learned very well from my father how to slice someone to ribbons with words alone, but I can only really do it when I'm in that cold rage. I've been working very hard on recognizing when that 'switch' flips and *not* saying the things that I could say, and I've gotten better about it. But still, I wonder what it says about me that I'm capable of that. That, at some level, it feels *good* to cut loose.

Something that I've found useful is disengaging from an argument before I reach either the crying or the rage, and doing other things to calm myself down so that I can express the anger later, more reasonably, without totally breaking down in tears (and convincing myself it was all my fault anyway), and without saying things in the cold, cruel, hurtful manner.

#460 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 01:37 PM:

cayce @ 450: Oh man. I have a friend whose ex has partial custody of her daughter. He's not physically abusive, but he's a complete narcissist with all of the secondary psychological burden that implies. All of her friends have been having to support her through the times when her daughter has to go off with that man crying, or when her daughter comes back sad because her daddy doesn't love her.

I've been telling her to document everything, because the unfortunate thing is that he's not crossed the line into outright abuse, so my friend doesn't have grounds to revoke his custody. (And, of course, he's vindictive enough to retaliate if they try and fail.) My hope is, though, that those records will show a continuing pattern that will allow her daughter to cut him off when she's old enough for a court to take her seriously.

#461 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 02:36 PM:

Ross, #453: Being shy I understand -- but also, having friends to provide reality checks is one good way to fight back. I was thinking more of a casual get-together, but depending on the day, there are a couple of parties we could go to. (This may be complicated by the fact that I have a show that weekend.) Drop me an e-mail at fgneqernzre@zvaqfcevat.pbz (ROT13) and we can take this part of the conversation private.

Goodwill is good. Freecycle is even better IME, because you know that the person who gets your item wants it and is going to use it. With sufficiently good-quality stuff, there's also the sell-via-Craigslist option, which can at least partially offset the "wasting money" reflex because you recoup some of what you spent on it.

Also, Lori is absolutely right @456.

Thing w Wings, #454: Identifying the source of the problem is the first step toward solving it. Is it possible that gradually expanding the limit (allowing yourself to do two "selfish" things per month, then eventually one per week, etc.) would work for you?

#462 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 02:59 PM:

Back again.

My family is contentious and pretends not to be. My family are all, from a distance, very nice people. My sisters are abrasive people, but nice. My father is distant, but nice. My mother is overhelpful, but nice.

When it's family, though, the 'but nice' gets taken off.

My father is distant, but nice to people who aren't family. For me, he lost interest when I was eight. We've barely talked since. I used to miss him; these days I don't remember who I missed.

They believe they are good parents. Perhaps they are. They want me to be happy. They want me to be safe. They want me to be successful.

They want me to be happy and safe and successful as long as it matches up to what they consider happy and safe and successful.

But as I said, my father is distant. Most of this is about my mother.

So. Starving me, berating me for my fat and my weight, telling me that my good weight was at least ten kilos beneath whatever weight I was at the time, telling me that I was unhealthy and I was going to die, bribing me if only I would lose x amount of weight by the end of the year, the looks, the disappointment, the anger as my weight went up and up and up -- all that was in the name of my future health and happiness, and my eating disorder apparently never existed. Apparently she never starved me, or wanted me to starve. According to her. But she wanted me to lose weight so fast, so badly. What other way was there to be loved?

So. Being safe meant never being alone, never being taught how to use emergency services, never allowed to hurt myself by accident, never allowed to learn how to be on my own, never allowed how to learn to use a bus timetable, never allowed to walk anywhere, never to experiment, never allowed to go out, never allowed to leave the house, never allowed not to tell them exactly where I am, why I am where I am, and when I'm coming back.

These days it's a little better. I can be alone in the house. I have been alone. It is good. Relieving. But she says she misses me while she's at work. When she's seen me that morning, less than ten hours ago. She misses me. She says it so many times. She wants to go places with me. She wants ... I do not want to be safe, if this is what safe means. But any attempts at independence are met with fierce resistance, and more often than not I am terrified of going outside.

She wants me to be successful. This means uni. This means marrying. This means having a house and children and a man. This means a job and this means ... frankly, not being so disabled that I can barely handle part-time university, this means not being asexual lesbian, this means not being so depressed that I can tell myself that I have to go to the toilet over and over and over for hours before I can make myself get up. This means not having a family history that says 1 in 3 of any potential children that survive my toxic extremely-miscarriage-prone womb will survive past the age of ten, and means not being who I am.

I know that I would be an abusive, neglectful partner, and moreso as a parent. I know that I would not care about it. I know that it would mostly die very quickly if it was left to me, and I also know that I would not care. Probably relieved, if anything, although I would then be annoyed by the prospect of corpse disposal. Perhaps this truth that I don't care, that I care about my family only when I remember to, that I feel very little love or pleasure or fondness that isn't generalised, abstract affection, makes me a monster.

The sad fact of the matter is I know that my base desire is to be cruel, particularly to anyone who is dependent on me; cruelty brings me my only pleasure. Who is more dependent than an infant? My indifference is in fact an improvement.

Perhaps this is what makes me monstrous.

Of course, my mother refuses to believe that I am or will be anything other than what she wants me to be, and I remain a disappointment.

#463 ::: Digger ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 04:20 PM:

Okay. Took a bit to get up the nerve on this one. This is one that requires anonymity, because it's not just my story.

When I was about thirteen, my mother was raped by her then-boyfriend. He lived about five hours away on the coast, so we went there every weekend. One night he decided they were going to go to the next stage of their relationship, regardless of her opinion in the matter, and the next morning she acted like everything was normal, got in the car, drove home, got into the bathtub and didn't come out again for two days.

I went to school the first day, because people go to school, it's just kinda something you do. When I got home again, she still hadn't gotten out of the tub. She must have told me what had happened. I honestly don't remember what I said, or if I said anything at all. I hope I said the right things. I remember that the bathtub was a ridiculous shade of dusty pink my grandmother had liked, and that the bathroom lights gave everything a yellow tint, but the really critically important bits seem to have dropped completely out of my memory. Which is probably not that unusual.

I stayed home from school the next day, and somewhere around noon I guess I figured out that sitting in lukewarm water for days on end is not a good idea, because I pulled her out and put a nightgown on her. She was pretty limp. It was a very long blue-checked flannel nightgown, the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a Mennonite's closet, and if I ever see one like it again I'm going to set it on fire. I put her into my bed and brought her tea and spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how the hell I was going to kill a man twice my size who lived five hours drive away. If I had been sixteen and had access to a car, this story would probably end with something like "And that's how I went to prison the first time..." but I was thirteen and didn't know how to drive and was surprisingly realistic about my odds of successfully stabbing anybody to death. (We were liberals, we didn't have guns.)

Eventually she got up again. I don't know how many days that took. The whole incident is set kind of weirdly apart in time in my head. I don't remember what time of year it was outside or anything else. I guess it couldn't have been more than a few days. I assume I was probably terrified out of my wits, but I don't remember that either. (You'd think that'd stick around in memory better than crap about nightgowns, but as has been said many times up thread, memories are weird.)

I'm not sure what I would have done if she hadn't gotten up. I had no other adults to contact. Our relatives were all dead or freaks. Talking to a teacher or counselor or something was just...not even on the radar. They were at school. School was not real. This was real and I was in it. But anyway, she did get up and I went back to worrying about beating pirated video games on my Amiga and normal teenager stuff, and it's not something we talk about because I'm afraid she'll apologize for how awful it must have been for me, and I can't stand the thought that she should have to feel any worse about the whole insane incident.

This is an awkward story to tell, because what I went through is so little compared to what my mother must have been going through, and even understanding that suffering is not a zero-sum game, I never know how to tell it so that it doesn't sound like I'm some weird emotional ambulance chaser. But you've made me feel like I can talk about it without doing that, and I appreciate that a lot.

#464 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 04:30 PM:

Digger, it's my sincere intention never to find myself in the kind of place your mother did. If I were to, I'd be grieved and ashamed that my kid had to carry that much of the burden.

And, at the same time, I would be deeply, thoroughly, unquenchably proud* of my kid for tackling the situation with such care and tact.

Because wow. Way to bring grace to a terrible situation.

* Not in an ownership sense. But in the sense that I'd managed to create a space where a thing was possible.

#465 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 05:12 PM:

cayce, I know this isn't the dysfunctionality olympics here, but anybody who survives a parent with a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder deserves a bit more forbearance than most people otherwise would, if my opinion on the subject were invited. You sound like you're managing better than I think I would.

#466 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Yeesh. Forbearance is *so* the wrong word. I shouldn't have used that one. I'm searching for the right word... I'll find it... I'll find it... give me a few... um, days... sorry.

#467 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 05:25 PM:

xaioren @466:

Credit? Latitude? Admiration? Respect? To give themselves a bit more of a break?

#468 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 05:32 PM:

forgot the name @462: Still pondering what to say.

Two obvious things come to mind:

1. Starving someone is one of the most reliable ways to make someone gain weight. (Leaving aside all the questions about personal boundaries, etc.)

2. I hear you on the cruelty thing. I went through a similar dynamic, and had a deep cruel streak when I was a kid. The good news: I got over it. Took a long time of being very very far away from my mother.

Consider the possibility that your "monstrosity" is situational, and that, given the opportunity, you might discover kindness and love. I did.

As far as I'm conscerned, you're already ahead of the game in recognizing the problem.

Digger @463: I went through is so little compared to what my mother must have been going through

Don't discount your experience. Witnesses of trauma can be traumatized quite as much as the primary victim. Ask some of the folks here....

#469 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 06:14 PM:

Ross@442 - Oh. Ouch - that hits some really sore spots in my own life. My parents have much the same dynamic, though not to as drastic an extent. It took me ages to sort through enough to realize they were 'both' broken. I hear you so hard on not being able to recommend restaurants or movies (or decide on what to cook for dinner if anyone is eating but me). Except in my family, Mom went the extreme passive-aggressive route, where she manipulates you into suggesting where 'she' wants to go, so that she can then blame you if Dad isn't happy with it.

Speaking from what seems to be a few years further down the road, it is possible to get happy back. It takes a long time, and an awful lot of tears (and in my case medications for a while, though I'm off them now), but it's possible.

(((Ross))) best of luck, and I hope you get to a good place, where you don't have to deal with them unless you decide you want to.

#470 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 06:32 PM:

forgot, #462: Again, I am horrified beyond words. I wish I could do something to help you get out of there.

Digger, #463: Please tell me that was the last time either of you ever saw him. I won't even ask about whether she reported the rape; she'd been dating him, which meant the chance of anyone taking such a report seriously was pretty much zero.

#471 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 06:35 PM:

Just to clarify: forgot, I am horrified by the way your mother treats you. I don't think you're a monster; I think you are a much more responsible person than she is, because neither of you is fit to care for a child, but you realize this and she doesn't.

#472 ::: cayce ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 07:33 PM:

B. Durbin @460 -
Oh, yeah, that sounds awfully familiar. Emphasis on the awful part. In hopes that it might help another family, here's the part that I deleted from the last post:

My mother had been trying to get full custody since they split when I was 3. She had evidence every time - police reports, doctor's reports, state records from the times DYFS was called in, you name it. Before my father's overdose, there was only one time she even got far enough for the judge to talk to me. (I don't know if this is typical - I sincerely hope not - but my father and his parents have connections everywhere, including the court system and in law enforcement and...everywhere.)

I was 8. The judge made me promise to tell the truth, and then asked what I really wanted. I'd been instructed to say things on all three sides - my mother wanted me to say I wanted to come live with her and never see the others again. My father wanted me to say the opposite. His mother was a bit better at playing the game, and told me to say I wanted to come live with her because she'd make sure I still saw my Mom and Dad whenever I wanted. (Which, of course, was a lie - she hated my mother. But my grandmother was even more manipulative than my father.)

I'd walked in there all set to say I never wanted to see my father again, because my Mom had promised I could still see my grandparents if I wanted. (And despite my grandmother being where my father picked up his crazy - her three kids are my father, an alcoholic who can't hold down a job, and my other uncle who moved as far across the country as possible to get away from her and last I heard had been arrested for sexually abusing his daughter - my grandfather was literally the only sane, stable, healthy person in my family.) So I was all ready to say that...and then the judge asked me, if he had a magic wand and could make anything happen, what would I want?

Magic wands could fix things that real life couldn't. I told him the truth - that my first wish would be for my father to stop hurting me and love me. If he couldn't do that, I didn't care what he did to me if only he'd love me.

The judge sent me back to my father, and I got the opposite of what I'd wanted - out of fear for his public image, he stopped hurting me and started taking it out on whoever he was dating at the time instead. Or my dog. Or, by the time I was 11, his second wife and my stepbrother. I got to fetch icepacks when he broke my stepmother's nose, and change my brother's bloody sheets, and do the cooking and cleaning. As for the love part, he...tried. Sort of. Got really drunk and talked about his feelings, took me out on dates, paid more attention to me than he did to his wife - the kind of attention that I really, really didn't want. His wife hated me. My mother was furious I hadn't done exactly what she'd said, but my stepfather was even more angry.

They were even angrier later on, when my father OD'd and was arrested and they finally got custody, and I visited my grandmother and let her talk me into visiting my father. While my mother and stepfather were trying to get a restraining order to make sure I never had to see him again. They didn't understand - my stepfather only started talking to me again (beyond things like "pass the ketchup") this year. They thought I'd lied to them and actually wanted to see my father. I didn't - I was protecting myself because I didn't believe I'd never have to see him again.

Your friend, I hope, has more luck than my mother. If not, I hope she has more patience and understanding than my mother did - and a better support system.

#473 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 08:13 PM:

Thing w Wings @ 454:

When I decided that the 'rule' was, I could do something 'selfish' like get a haircut once a month, I almost cried with relief. Because now I had limits.

Oh ghods, is that one familiar. The first therapist I saw when I'd become homeless was really good; she got me to - at least sometimes - substitute the phrase "self care" for "selfish" or "frivolous." And yes, that voice for me was my mother.

#474 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 08:53 PM:

abi @467, all of those taken together are much closer to what I meant than what I wrote.

#475 ::: xiaoren ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 09:28 PM:

cayce @472 ::: "...then the judge asked me, if he had a magic wand and could make anything happen, what would I want? ...I told him the truth ...I didn't care what [my father] did to me if only he'd love me. ...The judge sent me back to my father."

This is a judge who has not even the faintest clue what the term "Antisocial Personality Disorder" means. I'm trying to squelch some very unpleasant thoughts about the man.

"...I don't know if this is typical - I sincerely hope not..."

One of the books* I've been reading to prepare for my divorce talks about the problem that family courts are still not very well adapted to handling disputes where people with narcissistic, borderline and antisocial personality disorders are involved. It may have been worse when you were 8 years old than it is now, but my conversations with lawyers when I was interviewing them a couple weeks ago suggests to me that, no, it's not good enough for us to be having any celebrations yet.

Please forgive me. I have to go find a way not to be terrified at the prospect of facing down the family court system now.

* is an excellent resource if you're thinking about divorcing someone with a natural-born talent for persuasive blaming.

#476 ::: Moonlit Night ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 09:42 PM:

@462 forgot the name: just came back from the therapist and want to give you some hugs. The therapist, with 30 years of psychiatric experience, tells me that my mother is Something Special and that he is surprised I'm still alive. It sounds like yours is in the same class.

The key thing is to get away from her, the further the better. Once you are safely out of reach, you can and should get help with the burdens, both psychological and of daily life. You can survive, and once you get away from the torture, you can thrive. I don't know your situation or your location well enough to make specific recommendations, but you CAN get through this and get better. And I agree with Jacque in #468 that if you can get away from the reason you want to be cruel that you'll be able to deal with the urge, especially since you recognize it for what it is.

I too don't think I'll ever be equipped to have kids. Maybe we could be eccentric aunts?

#477 ::: cayce ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 09:45 PM:

@xiaoren - I wish you and your child the best of luck.
And as mentioned above - it helps so much for a kid just to know that someone is willing to fight for them.

#478 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 09:49 PM:

Cynthia W.: One of the most shocking moments in my recent life was Thanksgiving last year, when I went to my girlfriend's grandparents' house. Her grandmother had made some sort of cranberry salad thing. Everyone but me took a just-to-be-polite bit (I have a policy of eating whatever I damn well please, because I have enough neuroses without adding that one on). Someone, I think my girlfriend's mother, said "mom, I don't like this at all, it tastes really bad."

I instantly froze up. Everything had been so pleasant so far, but I knew it was a trick! Now the combat was about to begin in earnest!

Her grandmother just replied "oh, well, I like it" and spooned out some more for herself, and everyone laughed. It was so shocking. How did this not turn into a fight? I was so confused.

Jennifer Baughman: Have you ever had "I don't want to talk about this any more" equated with "I want the last word in this argument"? It sort of makes sense, I guess, since you do want "I don't want to talk about this any more" to be the literal last words. This happens whenever I get in a fight any more: I see things are getting out of hand and I want to stop before I lose control. So I say so. Then they say one more hurtful thing, and I internalize it because I can't respond and still have the fight stop.

I don't really know how to act in that one. I tried to write just now why I am afraid of losing control, and I couldn't explain it in a way that makes sense when I see it written out, so it's possible that I worry too much about hurting other people too badly while they're in the process of hurting me.

I understand completely about being X-ed out. I describe it as turning the volume down on the world. I went a few months recently where all I did was read meme pictures on Reddit, all evening, had no interest in doing anything else. Still amazed that my girlfriend stayed around through that. Must be that "love" thing I don't get.

Jacque: That looks really good! I added it to my list. While looking at it I also found one called For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence that looked pretty interesting.

Thing w Wings: I have a horrible time with the money thing. If I get charged a fee for something, like an overdraft fee, I feel like I wasted money and it's my fault, and go into a deep depression and punish myself by refusing to spend money on myself for days or weeks. In the past this has included not being willing to buy myself food. I was really proud earlier this month when I bought a movie ticket early, forgot to go to the movie, and then only beat myself up about it for a day.

Lori Coulson: I'm thinking about it. Part of me is just hopeful that it's finally over, and part of me is afraid that would be taken as provocation to do something worse. It is absolutely true though. He has at least one class III weapon and has never even considered getting a license for it.

#479 ::: Tak of The Archives ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2011, 11:12 PM:

Wow. I'm 45, left home at 18 and I thought I was relatively fine, but reading all these posts brought it all back. Literally couldn't remember the name of hotmail to set up a sock puppet until I did something else and had a cup of tea. Jeez.

You're all stars.

I (and my brother) were beaten for the slightest thing by my father, as early as I can remember. Flung across rooms at the age of 4. Kicked square in the nuts at the age of 8. And so on. Generally for trivial offenses, often completely out of the blue. One Christmas morning he held my bleeding head in the toilet while he repeatedly flushed it (after smacking my head about on the porcelain for a while) - for waking him up at 8am. Not many broken bones, but pleny of cuts and bruises over the years. Never had a whole peaceful week in one go. That'll do, I don't want to make this a novella. Taught me to be a great liar, although not an entertaining one. And oddly, I can stand up to most bullies, but still can't face down my dad.

A telling moment was when I was about 13, came home and my dad went spare about the state of the house. So I'm vacuuming the living room, in tears, when he asked me what was wrong. He literally didn't have a clue what might have upset me. That really spooked me.

I've got a young son whom I love (I've split with the mother) - and nobody's ever hurt him. I did worry as a teenager that I'd turn out like my dad, but apart from some superficial similarities (we look and sound the same), I've never hurt anyone in my life. My siblings also have children, and my dad's a model grandfather to them, but there's no way in hell he'll ever find out about mine - I don't think my dad's any risk, but damn him anyway. He didn't deserve children and he doesn't deserve grandchildren.

Something that does really bother me is that I owe my dad a huge amount - not just money (well into 6 figures) but a very good education.

And strangely, he's taught me values he doesn't have himself - gentleness and pacifism, mainly.

(Something that "amuses" me about his hypocrisy is that my parents met at a CND meeting, yet now he makes nuclear weapons for a living). He thinks I'm a bum, I know he's scum. And that's where I'll leave it.

#480 ::: hiding in the crowd ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 12:10 AM:

Reading all this has made me realize something.

I spent eight years going to a therapist (to try to deal with parents which are completely another story). Much of the time was useful, but the last two years he frequently cancelled appointments, got upset with me when I questioned him, and kept changing offices. His life was imploding, and it ended with him borrowing $2000 from me and soon after disappearing for three months. I saw him about a year ago just to find out what had happened and he said he would stay in touch and pay back the money, but he hasn't.

And I have spent the last year and half hoping that he still likes me, and wondering if it is my fault.

It's not a parent, but some of the feelings are the same. Maybe if I see that I can quit hoping to hear from him.

#481 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 12:12 AM:

Tak, if I may say so, you don't owe your dad anything. Whatever money you "owe" him, consider a payment toward the settlement of the lawsuit you'll never file, for his lifelong abuse.

Don't let it bother you. Most especially, don't let it continue to bind you to an abuser.

#482 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 01:04 AM:

cayce @ 472: As somebody else pointed out, the judicial system doesn't currently have any means of dealing with parents who "merely" have things such as narcissistic personality disorders, which all of my secondhand information seems to point to. Honestly, it seems as though he fought for partial custody to annoy the girl's mother (whom he dumped when she got pregnant because she wouldn't have an abortion for him) and continues with it because it fits his self-image. He doesn't seem particularly interested in her, to the extent that when he decided to marry his current girlfriend, he didn't invite her. But he did invite her half-sisters.

Sample phrase (guaranteed to make me see red): "Why doesn't Daddy love me?"

So all of us long-distance friends can only offer what helpful comments we can, and hope that one day, he'll cross the line of neglect* and she'll be able to sever relations.

*What a horrible thing to wish for. What a horrible, horrible thing.

#483 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 10:46 AM:

dcb 455:

"Now I'm an adult, and crying in response to anger/frustration (including in response to other people's aggressive tone of voice) is seen as weak, childish (not helped by my small size) and as proof that my POV is worthless/unimportant. Not helpful. Being told "well you just have to learn not to cry" was worse than useless, because it was basically being told it was my fault, I was choosing to cry, obviously."

"learn not to cry". How very unhelpful.

Yeah, I don't deal with criticism or angry people well; I end up trying desperately not to cry in front of them, and unable to speak because that effort takes everything I have. Unfortunately, after the fact I still can't think about it calmly, because just thinking about it makes me upset and cry all over again. It's really annoying and I am unhelpful to myself by telling myself to not cry.

It was #49 who prompted me to post this year. Speaking of criticism...

It's performance review time again at work. This includes a self-review and a review by others. I was thinking about last year's, and my boss asking indirectly why I was so hard on myself in my self-review. Outwardly I just shrugged, but inside I thought, almost word for word: if I say bad things about myself, it's not likely anybody will say worse. And, I realized that I was basically planning to do the same thing again this year.

#484 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 11:22 AM:

Ross, the main reason I'm asking you to do this, is because I've been one of the people waiting for the angry guy with a gun to show up.

Many years ago, one of my friends fled an abusive husband in the middle of the night, and showed up on my doorstep. Not long after she arrived, her husband showed up with a gun -- I was not foolhardy enough to try to figure out if it was a shotgun or a rifle. We had all the lights in the apartment out, and were trying to become one with the carpet.

He yelled for a while outdoors but when he got no response, he left without firing the weapon, and very soon after that my friend got a divorce. I have no idea what happened to the ex, nor do I much care.

But I can still feel the fear that one of us was going to catch a bullet...and I really don't want another human being to go through that experience if it can be prevented.

#485 ::: Digger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 11:36 AM:

Abi, I hardly know what to say. Thank you. Twenty years now, and I never really thought about whether I handled it well or badly--it was just one of those things where you do the only thing you can think of, and then the next thing and the next thing. Since I've only told that story to a handful of people before, nobody's ever said anything like that, and I'm amazed by how much it means to me to hear that. Thank you.

#486 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 01:42 PM:

The invisible one @483: I end up trying desperately not to cry in front of them, and unable to speak because that effort takes everything I have. Oh yes. Oh, and what can make it impossible to keep the tears in? Someone noticing I'm close to tears and being sympathetic.

Regarding the performance review, would it be possible for you to write it as if for someone else? Try to dissociate the facts from their being about you? Even use a different name, then change it to "I" at the last minute? Hm, I'm going to have something of the same problem when my performance review happens... maybe I should try that

Lori Coulson @484: I'm in the UK, so guns were not a problem, but I once had a friend arrive at my office door, 10-year-old son in tow, at 5 pm on a Friday evening. Her partner had hit her, she had walked out and they had nowhere to go*. Various friends were not willing to have her come stay, in case the partner turned up on their doorstep. I was so glad I was able to tell them to stay with me. Her son hugged me. They stayed for about two weeks (luckily I had a two-bed flat with a sofabed in the main room, so it was pretty easy to sleep three). The aggressive partner didn't know where I lived, which was helpful - they were able to relax.

*Social services had said they could sleep in their car.

#487 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 03:02 PM:

dcb @ #486, I've been on both sides of that equation. My best friend in first grade used to come to our house with his little brother: "Daddy's drunk again and he has a gun. Can we stay here for a while?" Their mom would call when dad either passed out or left again. This was back in the Bad Old Days when the victim of abuse had to be willing to file charges. Eventually dad shot mom and then himself, and in an amazing stroke of good fortune she lived; he didn't.

OTOH when someone broke into the house next door when I was home alone, my VERY good friend let me come over and sleep on her couch at 3 a.m. Not because I was scared of the (long gone) burglars; I was scared of the drunk next-door burglary victim who came to my door ranting after the cops had left.

I won't go into my angry guy with guns story; most of y'all have heard it. Four dead including the gunman. If a genie offered me a wish, I'd ask for a worldwide subliminal suggestion that would be triggered by murder-suicide plans: "SHOOT YOURSELF FIRST."

#488 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Lila @ 487: If a genie offered me a wish, I'd ask for a worldwide subliminal suggestion that would be triggered by murder-suicide plans: "SHOOT YOURSELF FIRST."

Amen to that!

#489 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 04:29 PM:

Well, rats. The implicit ID-blurring in the last post wasn't intended. I'm one of the lucky ones, but I've used an alternate ID upthread - none too obfuscated - purely to shield a particular personal hot-button incident from casual outside googling.

My apologies for this needless bit of confusion.

#490 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 04:38 PM:

Gray Woodland:

Need anything cleaned up? The gnomes owe me favors after I taught them how to re-block felt hats.

#491 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 04:50 PM:

abi @ 490: Thanks - it might be simplest just to nuke both posts above, and presumably this whole sequence, since after all my contribution was something less than profound.

#492 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Gray Woodland @491:

No, I'm not minded to delete anything, particularly not in a thread where we've been discussing gaslighting and manipulations of people's memories of what really happened.

Consider this the little noodly musical bit between the hard-hitting lyrics of the song that is this thread.

Dum, dum, dum, dum, deedle-eedle-dum dum...

#493 ::: Neutrino ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 05:18 PM:

Eventually dad shot mom and then himself, and in an amazing stroke of good fortune she lived; he didn't.

I offer this friendly amendment: Eventually dad shot mom and then himself, and in an amazing stroke of good fortune she lived and he didn't.

But maybe I'm just an angry person. I think both halves of that are good fortune.

#494 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 05:30 PM:

Ross @478: For Your Own Good

Oh yes! A classic in the field. Everyone: go read this! :-) I can't remember if I've actually read that one; even if I have, probably time to go look at it again.

Tak of The Archives @479: What Neutrino said.

#495 ::: Fooey ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 05:56 PM:

So, one day when I was about 9, my friend and I rode our bikes to the library, which was not unusual. Unfortunately, on the way back, the chain on her bike broke in such a way that it jammed her back wheel. We had to drag/carry it all the way back, while also wheeling my own bike. This meant that I did not get home until after dark, which was very much against the rules.

When I finally got home, my older sister was there alone, gloating: "You're in so much trouble. She's going to kill you. She's out looking for you - she's going to kill you when she gets back! Ha ha!!"

So, I sat there waiting in growing trepidation. When she finally walked in the door and saw me sitting there... the expression on her face terrified me. I ran for the bathroom (the only locking door in the house), but I did not make it. I never knew she could run that fast. And when she caught up to me, she hit me, as hard as she could. And then she hit me, and hit me, and hit me and hit me and hit meandhitmeandhitmeandhitme... while I tried to hold my hands over my head and shove myself into the space between the bathtub and the toilet, and my sister stood at the door screaming and crying "Stop it!! You'll kill her! Stop! Stop! You're killing her! Oh, God stop...".

Neither my mother nor I spoke a word.

I think she stopped when she got tired. She just turned around and walked away. My sister stared at me for a bit, and then shut the bathroom door. I stayed where I was without moving until I heard both of them go to bed.

My mother didn't usually hit us. There are people who will say she reacted that way because she was so scared - I'm sure she was. Not knowing where your child is has to be the most terrifying thing in the world. The correct response is NOT TO SLAP THE FUCKING CRAP OUT OF HER WHEN YOU FIND HER.

Have been grown up for many years now, and have tried to talk to her about that incident. She insists it never happened, and memory being what it is, it's likely that she honestly doesn't recall. She's like that a lot: I call it her "NoSuchEvent Horizon". Things that pass the Horizon don't come back out.

Her other stuff was/is mostly passive-aggressive manipulation. Although I don't live with her, circumstance dictates that I see her every weekend; as long as we only talk about what she wants to talk about, and I never disagree, it goes OK. Mostly, she talks, I nod.

I cannot recall ever being hugged by her.
I cannot recall ever being told "I love you" by her.
I am generally uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of such things (where do my hands go? Should I squeeze? What do I say now?).

A couple of weeks ago, she was unpacking the groceries, and accidentally reached into my bag and took out the hamburger meat.
Her: "Why was your meat in my bag?"
Me (not having seen this happen: "What?"
Her: "Your meat was in my bag!"
Me: "Oh, I don't know."
Her: "I'm not paying for your meat!" (never mind that I've spent about $5000 of my own money on her house in the past year, with no expectations of repayment)
Me: "Well, you don't have to pay for it. I paid for it"
Her: "Then why is it in my bag?!"
Me (finally noticing the two bags side-by-side): "I think you took that out of my bag"
Her: No I didn't!
::continue for a few iterations, her getting progressively more angry::
Me: "Will you stop? You're getting yourself upset over something that didn't happen!"

I picked up my things and left. Neither one of us said another word.

The next week, when I saw her again - it had passed the Horizon. No such Event had occurred.

And... This was longer than I thought it would be.

#496 ::: Cynthia W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Fooey@495 - may I borrow that term? My mother is not as scary (Dad did all the overtly scary stuff in our house), but if she doesn't want something to have happened - it never happened.

Being molested by a middle school teacher? Never happened - I never told her about it; she knows nothing about it. Even though I've told her in detail on at least three separate occasions. Taking my allowance money (six months worth, saved, I didn't get much allowance) to buy gas because she was out of cash? Never happened - never paid back.

Dad gaslights her all the time, and she understands how freaky it makes one feel. But it doesn't stop her from doing it to her kids pretty much constantly. If something makes her uncomfortable, it didn't happen

#497 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 07:23 PM:



#498 ::: Fooey ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 07:40 PM:

Cynthia W. @496

Fooey@495 - may I borrow that term?

"NoSuchEvent Horizon"? No problem. If anyone else finds it useful, consider permission given.

#499 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 09:15 PM:

Fooey, #495: Oh yes, the NoSuchEvent Horizon. My mother used to do that a lot during the course of an argument. I could quote back what she'd said, word for word, not 5 minutes later, and she'd swear herself blind that she not only never said that, she never said anything that could possibly be interpreted as that, and why was I lying to her? If there had been such a thing as a voice-operated mini-tape-recorder when I was growing up, I swear I would have bought one, just to be able to play it back for her when she pulled that shit. (I remain grateful that neither of my parents had the habit of physical violence; if they had, I would probably not have survived my teens.)

Both my parents did it about things I tried to bring up for discussion after I was grown and out of the house; in those cases, I'm reasonably sure that they indeed didn't remember it happening. Not that this makes it any better, when something that hurt you to the bone was clearly so completely TRIVIAL to them.

IYDMMA, why are you still constrained to see your mother every week? That can't be good for your health, mental or physical.

#500 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2011, 11:08 PM:

For anyone who's worried, it's been almost three days now and I haven't heard or seen anything. I think if anything were going to happen then it would have happened by now, so I'm trying to get over it. I think it's likely that he probably just wanted to get revenge by scaring me, and he's done now.

It worked.

Jacque: Another good one I've read recently is The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson. When I read it I kept recognizing familiar things about various monsters I have known.

Fooey: Wow. If you still have to see her, do you think it would help to write down a log of anything notable that happened every time? So later you know you're not imagining things.

#501 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 12:12 AM:

Jacque @ 468, Lee 471:

I first realised it when one of my friends started talking about wanting children. I knew there was something generally wrong with me, because I felt nothing for children, and there was so much about how motherhood was wonderful and changed people, etc etc, so much propaganda, I suppose.

But she spoke of them with a kind of ... desire. A wanting. She anticipated them, she imagined lives and names for them. It was very disconcerting to watch in very sharp relief yet another way my reality and her reality differed.

She wanted them. They were wanted. I didn't understand why or how. I still don't understand. It confuses me.

But I am still the person lost children approach in the supermarket. A few times a year I turn around to a tug on my skirt, or to a snotty a little thing pushing between me and the shelf, and I resign myself to time wasted and start the tedious process of "what's your name? who are you here with? what's their name? do you remember where you were?" Frequently I end up sitting by the information desk listening to them blubber. I've noticed it calms them if I say things occassionally. I used to sit in silence with them and the noise GRATED. Wah wah wah wah. Ugh.

So. Some of them are confused by the fact that I hold conversations with them and remember what they say to ask them questions about it. I often end up telling them about how conversations work. About respect, and about listening. Basic lessons in rhetoric. Sometimes we play the tautology game when they say things like 'I'm too loud' or 'I talk too much'. "Too much snot is bad for you because..."
"Too many farts are bad for you because ..."
"TOO MANY!" And then I pretend to fart, or work up some snot, and I ask them if there's too much or if it's too many. "Nooooo! I can do MORE!"
I let them go on for a bit. "Ahhhh, too much for me!" and wave my hand around.

Sometimes I ask them if I talk too much for them, and sometimes they consider it.

These days they are giggling when their flustered whoevers arrive, which is still irritating but generally much less piercing. What weirds me is that the parents thank me. Weird weird weird. If you don't find the parent, you find the information desk. It's what you do, right?

I've been told that I'm a very concrete thinker and I pay too much attention to "what you do". That I should go with the flow. That I am somehow a good person for sitting and talking to a child for the time it takes for store staff to page them and eventually find them.

I emphatically do not tell them that if I did not have these guidelines of what to do, that if I decided to "go with the flow", I would backhand every one of them. I know it is wrong to hit a child, even if I don't understand why, even if I want to the same way I want to harm everything that frustrates and delays me. I don't need to understand, the same way I don't need to understand my bewildering friend who wants children.

It is what it is, and a few times a year I play tautology games. A few times a year I wonder: if I had a different family, a better life, a different personality, would I want to be a good mother?

#502 ::: lune ascendant ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 12:19 AM:

So, just what is it I need now to do?
I wish I knew, I wish I knew.
Well, part of me does: “Find Work!” it screams.
“Why spend all your hours on wishes and dreams?

“The lottery? Okay, daydream now and then,
“It’s nice to have ‘plans’ for a make-believe When.
“But DO SOMETHING productive in this real world
“lest you find all your stuff in the street being hurled!”

You’d likely admit it makes all kinds of sense
That, when facing foreclosure, I’d get off the fence
And do more for myself than just reading job postings.
That I’d send out my resume, samples and “boastings”.

Talents have I in the art of the word:
When proofing munged copy I fly like a bird
Through the rat’s-nest of prose that’s in need of a polish.
When I speak for myself, though, things get all brick-wallish;

I’m fearful, I’m tongue-tied, I think of my mother
Whose thoughts on promotion of Self (but not Other)
Were such that I don’t take a compliment well—
Which gets in the way when you’re trying to sell

Complete strangers on why they should offer to YOU
The contract or project or full-time job. Too,
There’s the fear that, once hired, I won’t last a week,
That they’ll figure it out ’fore my work can but speak…

“She’s a fraud! She’s incompetent, grossly unsuited
For this task that’s important—it’s time she was booted!”
And so I’m defeated, my chances made thin
Not from outside, but inside, before I begin.

So what can I say? I’ve a talent for wishing…
Just not so much so at the art of job-fishing.

All of which is prelude...

What Donna said at 368 fits me as well, to a large extent: if my work is for someone else, I go great guns, but doing the work I need to do for my own benefit never gets done. Like working to find clients, or find a job that will pay me enough to keep my home. And it's biting me in the ass big time, and I think I may have stumbled upon a connection while reading this thread.

I am also one of the lucky ones, in that my family's dysfunction wasn't of the violent kind. (I wrote about some things in the first iteration of this thread under this nym.) But my family was still broken, and to a large extent it revolved around money.

Mom grew up during the Depression, worried all the time about where the money for their next meal was coming from, working several jobs to help make sure there was money for the next meal. She knew she couldn't count on her family, and she had rotten Relationship Radar, and so she either didn't wind up with any man she could count on, or she left without really giving them a chance. (Well, during my formative years, anyway. The ones she went out with once I hit high school? Forget it--Not Suitable for a variety of reasons.) Anyway, the gist is that she always worked very hard to earn money...and only once do I remember ever having a conversation about the subject.

That is, my mom never talked to me about money. Not the earning of it, the saving and spending of it, budgeting, goalsetting--even if she'd have used different words based on her own experiences, we never had those kinds of conversations. (Somewhere upthread someone talked about not knowing how to set goals--that's also me, in spades.) I never received an allowance; I was never paid for chores. The only money I received, other than the occasional dime for a treat from the ice cream truck, was as gifts, and they went right into my savings account.

Not that I had any idea what I was saving for, mind you. That was just what I was supposed to do with it. No idea now whether I ever actually spent any of it, or if it just stayed there in Home Savings until they were taken over by Great Western Bank and I maybe converted it to a checking account... Oh, well.

I mean, I knew money existed, and I knew she worked hard. I learned early on not to show too much enthusiasm for the newest Barbie or fun-looking game that appeared on TV because I knew my mother would want to get it for me--and I didn't want to be the cause of her having to work even harder so she could buy it. The one time we did talk about money, it was in the negative: "I"m sorry, honey, but all we have for dinner tonight is hard-boiled eggs in cheese sauce because I can't afford anything else right now." And me turning my nose up at it because I was going through some stupid phase where I didn't like hard-boiled eggs unless they were deviled, and her standing there with the saucepan under my nose telling me I'd either eat it or go hungry that night, and I honestly cannot remember if I ate or not, if we both cried (although I kinda think so), what dinner had been the night before or was the night after, as in was it just a short paycheck because she had, for some reason, worked only ten hours of overtime instead of her more usual twenty hours and maybe her next paycheck came the next day and so it was moot by then?

Up until a couple of days ago, I was convinced that because Mom had come through the Depression, she just never wanted me to worry about the kinds of things she did when she was younger. That she thought she was sparing me something by not "making" her child deal with money issues the way she did as a child, from both the standpoint of budgeting an allowance and that of how hard she worked to pay our bills. But reading this thread gave me a brain-flash about a different possible explanation: somewhere along the line, I think I convinced myself that the reason we never talked about money is that my mother didn't think I could be trusted with it.

So you can imagine the guilt I lay on myself every time I read a job listing online and think I might be good for it, but never quite get around to submitting a resume. Hell, I've got a whole nother browser open with a batch of jobs and it's been open since yesterday and I have spent more time thinking about writing this entry than about applying to ANY of those jobs. Then there's the guilt about the fact that my mother worked like a damned dog to have the money to put down on this house, that she had to fight not to have an impound fund when the loan officer half her age told her that "as a divorced woman, we really think you should have one"--and she won, that she was so proud of this place...and I'm the one who's going to undo all that and lose it because I can't be fucking bothered to get my fat ass off the couch and find a job. I've got myself in such a bind right now, due soley to inaction, that there's virtually no way I can buy myself another postponement of my sale date.

And I'm so scared, so scared, and I know there's been stuff out of my control, like this stupid loan that no mortgage broker with an ounce of fiduciary responsibility toward me should EVER have guided me to, but I wasn't as smart as my mother about asking questions for the long term (which itself may be moot because I don't know if this kind of loan even existed when she bought the house, or if she would have been able to ask the right kind of questions about it), but there's been so much that's been well within my control, like how much I spend and on what, and how I really should have been eating out almost never during the last year or more and yet I convinced myself it was okay to eat out two or three or four times a week if I was only eating that one meal during the day--and often, that restaurant meal was the only thing I ate all day, so I could "conserve" what I had at home and not have to go to the store as often. Ha.

So. Broken about goalsetting, about planning ahead, about having self-confidence enough to state clearly that yes, I am worth what I'm asking because my work is that good ("The kids who tease you are just jealous that you're so smart." Sure they are. That's why they try so hard in class--not.). I mean, if I spent half the time sending out resumes as I do on my elaborate scenarios about What I Will Do When I Win The Lottery, I might already have the job that will pay me enough to get another postponement while I qualify for a loan mod.

Or not. What gets me is I've lost that time now, so I'll never know. I'd welcome ideas or suggestions, but there's a part of me that says I'd be a hypocrite if I said I'd actually DO something about them.

Not sure how much sense this makes. Some of the situation may sound slightly familiar, since I have posted about it both under another fake nym and my usual one, so if you make the connection, please don't use my real nym if you comment on this. And count me as another apologizing for the wall 'o text.

To all who have posted--your bravery is humbling. I wish you healing, and safety, and joy.

#503 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 01:02 AM:

Ross, #500: Not to be paranoid, but it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you. Are you sure he's not just waiting for you to relax your guard?

I still think you should take Lori's advice -- but it might be advisable (if you think the danger isn't immediate) to wait a month or so, to reduce the likelihood that he'll connect it to you. It may be someone else's life that you save; people with large collections of guns and the habit of violence/bullying have a tendency to end up eventually deciding that somebody needs killing, as a number of recent news stories have demonstrated.

forgot, #501: You might feel differently about children if you'd had a different upbringing... or then again, you might not. Some people are just wired not to want children, period, the same way that some people are wired to be gay.

It speaks very well of you that you're willing to suppress your distaste for children long enough not only to take a lost child to the information desk, but to sit there and amuse them until the parents are found. I don't think I could do that; I'd consider my duty done when the child was handed over to someone official.

If you haven't yet discovered the childfree movement, you might want to do some research in that direction. Warning: some childfree groups are active hate-groups, as nasty as racists or gay-bashers. Those of us who just want our choice not to reproduce to be respected despise them; they make OUR lives harder. If you run into a group that uses hate-speech, drop them and look somewhere else.

#504 ::: J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 02:05 AM:

A note for people who don't want children: It sometimes happens that a switch flips in a child-averse person's head and then that person does want children--perhaps very suddenly.

If it happens to you, it won't mean that you were wrong and now suddenly you are right. It won't mean that you were right and now suddenly you are wrong, either. You simply will have changed.

And sometimes people who did want children suddenly don't. Parents who love their kids do not act on such feelings and they generally pass. (I stop wanting kids whenever the one child whose response to pain is to play I Am Screaming At You To Come Here So I Can Scream At You To Go Away gets a headache.)

#505 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 03:06 AM:

Lee @ 504: Thank you. You've been very kind. I've heard of childfree -- it's not something I quite grasp, either, since what I've read focuses so much on describing children as a specific unwanted monolith, and that's not really my view -- I feel the same about anything dependent on me. Responsibility and power aren't things I take well.

I do appreciate the recommendation, and I hope that someone reading gains more benefit from it.

more in general: thank you for this thread, abi, and thank you for the previous years as well. It's been a difficult few months, family-wise, and reading the posts from others as well as the response to mine has been very helpful.

#506 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 08:19 AM:

Lune: jobsearching makes you hate yourself. I tell this to everyone. It does not mean you are worthy of hate. It just happens. If you ran a marathon and woke up with sore knees the next day, it would not mean you had arthritis, just that you ran a marathon. Likewise, if you jobsearch and hate yourself later, it is not because you suck but because you are jobsearching.

There are so many tiny omissions possible in parenting. My parents tried to raise us not homophobic, but did this by never actually telling us that gay people existed. Kids absorb a lot and will learn a huge amount from their environment, but parents don't always know what that environment is or what the kids are learning. It's one of the things I hope to avoid when I have kids.

#507 ::: Fooey ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 11:01 AM:

Lee @ 499 Fooey, #495: IYDMMA, why are you still constrained to see your mother every week? That can't be good for your health, mental or physical.


I like kids - other people's kids. I'll play with them. I'll babysit. I have no desire whatsover to have my own. Every time I try to envision children of my own, I get a very strong DONOTWANT feeling.

In conversation about a friend's baby shower, I mentioned this to my mother. Her face was horrified and shocked: "But you have to have children!! You just have to!!!

Me: "Why?"
Her: "Who will take care of you when you're old?"
Me: "That's what I am? Your geriatric care plan?"

She walked away (and yes, that conversation passed the Horizon as well). That's why I have to go: I'm her plan.

#508 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 12:16 PM:

lune ascendant, in the wake of the mortgage crisis, I have this to say:

Due to various deregulations of the financial industry and mortgage brokers over the last thirty years (something that came to a head when Glass-Steagal* was repealed), a LOT of really bad behavior started happening in the banking industry. And it started to accelerate.

Folks who grew up with the impression that they'd be thoroughly vetted financially by any bank wanting to give them a loan—because that's the way it used to be—didn't realize that the rules had changed, and that banks were willing to take on a WHOLE lot more risk than was advisable on either side. By "folks" I mean "everyone who didn't have a deep suspicion trained into them to understand every aspect of their financial life" (i.e. 95% of the population.)

SO the fact that you got talked into a loan you couldn't manage isn't some deep failing on your part. It's a common side effect of not getting the financial training that would have kept you out of harm's way.

As regards to your current situation, let me iterate that there is no shame in renting. Many people's lifestyles are better suited to rentals anyway; guilt over not owning a house is a holdover from the Clichéd American Dream™ that says you must follow the checklist of getting married, buying a house, having kids etc.

Fooey: that's awful.

*don't worry, there won't be a test.

#509 ::: lune ascendant ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 03:54 PM:

Well, getting that out of my system seems to have done some good: I just applied online for a job that, all else being equal, should be a perfect fit, as it blends what I'm doing now with what I did when I was in Corporate America. It didn't list a salary range, which might be a red flag, but I'm still hoping to get a call in the next day or two. And if I get hired, I can still do freelance work on the weekends to augment my salary.

Going back to Corporate America isn't my ideal choice, since it will likely mean leaving the networking group I've belonged to for nearly 8 years...but I would much rather keep my house!

Any good thoughts/mojo/white light/etc. in this direction is/are greatly appreciated. Please consider them returned as desired/needed.

forgot the name @ 501, count me as another who never really felt the urge to have children. I figured that, since I couldn't really get along with kids when I was one, having my own might be a recipe for disaster. I can get along better with them now, in some cases, but in general...not so much. Your choice is your own, and better you keep to your own choice than succumb to another's opinion on the matter--it is such a life-altering decision.

B. Durbin @ 508, thank you. It has often struck me that setting things up so everyone has to be an Expert in Everything in order to protect themselves from incompetence/evil intent/etc. sort of undercuts the whole concept of having experts--in this case, paid professionals in the banking and mortgage business--in the first place. It would seem to make much more sense that we have regulations in place to...inspire the experts to be responsible.

But I think I mentioned that I'm a dreamer... :)

#510 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 04:19 PM:

Fooey @495: "NoSuchEvent Horizon"

Hah! My mom had one of those.

And... This was longer than I thought it would be.

They always are. :-)

Ross @500: monsters I have known

I am suddenly grateful that, while my childhood was no picnic, that's at least not a catalog I have. ::shudder::

Let's not forget Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child. Wow! It's online! (Heh. Original title: Prisoners of Childhood.)

forgot @501: Yeah, the idea of wanting children is an idea I've always found vaguely...repellent. I don't run into them very often, but when I encounter one of those sorts who go on at gooey length about how they love children, I refrain from saying cheerily, "I prefer mine with hollandaise."

lune ascendant @502: I can't be fucking bothered to get my fat ass off the couch and find a job.

"Hi, there, come here often?" ::sigh::

It's almost like a phobia, isn't it? With some people it's snakes. Others, it's heights. Me, it's job-hunting. I have less trouble now than I used to (except that now you can't just grab the local classifieds, and all that intails), but it still takes a ridiculous level of panic to get me over that threshhold into action.

Not sure how much sense this makes.

Far too much. :-(

I'd offer suggestions (we all know I'd love to), but the best I can come up with is: You're Not Alone.

Lee @503 & Fooey @507: Some of us just have no interest in moving to Bolivia. (Thanks to Miss Teresa for pointing this one out.)

That's why I have to go: I'm her plan.


Sometime in my late teens, my mom and dad were having an argument, I forget about what. My dad said, "But what if I die before you?"

"Oh, Jacque will take care of me." I trust she didn't see me blanch. "Oh, no I won't either," I thought to myself. (In retrospect, it boggles me that she was so monumentally out of touch that she could even think this, much less expect it. But, then, maybe I was just that good at keeping my opinions to myself.)

It's really fortunate for her that my brother was willing to take care of her, because there was NO CHANCE she was going to eat more of my life than she'd already gotten.

I woke up one morning, a few years ago, some years after she'd passed away (two years after my dad, as it happened), and remembered that conversation. "I won," I thought to myself. "Hah! I won!" Cold, smoldering satisfaction.

Fooey, may I gently suggest that just because it's her plan, it doesn't have to be your plan.

lune ascendant @509: Well, getting that out of my system seems to have done some good: I just applied online for a job

Oh, go YOU! :-) :-) :-)

Sometimes, the monsters just want to be heard, and then they'll turn loose of one's hind-brain.

Please do yourself a huge favor and run-do-not-walk over to Liz Ryan's website. She's a former HR worker, and has mountains of good advice out on the net. Her focus is teaching people how to search for work from a powerful, self-valuing attitude.

All appendages crossed on your behalf.

#511 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 04:29 PM:

Hah! Jon Singer just pointed me at this. Hee.

#512 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 05:46 PM:

Fooey @507; Jacque @510: I'm really really hoping that my mother will remain relatively healthy then just drop dead of a heart attack one day. Because there is no way I'd have her come live with us. My stepmother, absolutely, if she wanted to. My mother-in-law, no problem. My mother: no way.

Diatryma @ 506: homosexuality wasn't something that was specifically discussed when I was a child, as far as I remember, but it didn't need to be for me to know my father's views. In his office (he was a medical doctor for students) was a large poster saying: "Gay? Need to talk?" - then giving contact details for a support group.

#513 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 05:51 PM:

Fooey, #507: You may be her plan, but the best-laid plans of mice and men (which this demonstrably was not!) gang aft agley.

I will also say to you what I said to another friend last week: "There's no one else who will do it" is NOT synonymous with "I have no choice." Unless your personal finances are so inter-tangled with hers that people could come after your assets, you can choose to make other arrangements.

I think my parents were on the ball enough to understand that relying on me to care for them would be a Very Bad Idea -- they arranged things in such a way that I didn't have to.

#514 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 06:25 PM:

dcb @512: I'm really really hoping that my mother will remain relatively healthy then just drop dead of a heart attack one day.

My plan is for a direct meteor strike on their house.

Hey, it's as good a plan as Fooey's mom's.

#515 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 06:46 PM:

Having just started a new job after looking for more than a year, I agree with the idea that job-hunting makes you hate yourself. First you hate yourself because you lost your other one--even if you know that it really wasn't you. Then every rejection makes you feel worse, even if the interview makes it clear that you and the job wouldn't have fit. (I won't even talk about how applying for unemployment benefits is a deliberately humiliating and needlessly complicated process.)

#516 ::: lune ascendant ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 08:55 PM:

Re: TexAnne @ 515--the unemployment benefits thing has not, in the few weeks I've been part of it, been too onerous...but maybe that's because my state offers online options for initial registration and the biweekly claims process ("Did you work this week?", etc.). We don't even get checks anymore, we get debit cards that are automatically "recharged" after filing the biweekly claim.

Now, if I had to go into an office and see all the other people there in my same boat (or worse off), I can imagine it being very depressing. And if the staff is overworked, poorly trained, unsympathetic (even if only as a self-defense mechanism)...I can imagine it as a nightmare.

#517 ::: Ross ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 10:23 PM:

Jacque: Excellent! My copy of For Your Own Good arrived today and as soon as I read the introduction I wanted to read Prisoners of Childhood too.

One of the terrible things about child abuse is that children are wired to seek approval from their parents. If they can't get it, then they'll keep looking for parent-like figures to get it from. Before I realized what I was doing, I spent years trying to make people who hated everyone like me. The more judgmental and abusive someone was, the more determined I was to be the one person they liked, no matter what I had to put up with from them or what impossible standards I had to meet. And of course when I couldn't, that was because I was a worthless horrible person.

So I've unfortunately collected a lot of monsters-I-have-known.

#518 ::: Donna ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 12:51 AM:

Ross @517 - *flash of recognition* Over the last ten years I have come to realize that I was doing this exact thing. I have been very good friends and occasional doormats to very disapproving, strong women for whole decades of my life. If I could just get them to love me and accept me, then maybe I could find the magic key to make my mom love and accept me.

Nobody can make anyone else happy. I had to figure that out the hard way, many many times, for it to sink in. For me, this was less obvious than my Honor Roll Gold Star needing to get authority figures' approval.

Both of these behaviors are tough because you have to change them in relationship. You can't say, "This time will be different" and expect your behavior to do what your mind says it will. You have to be in a relationship with said person, and change how you interact with them in the moment. It's so hard, and yet so worth it. Thanks for the reflection.

#519 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 05:57 AM:

It's been unnerving to get that much praise. This doesn't mean folks shouldn't have done it-- this has been helpful in figuring out something I think is central. At least it feels central, even though I haven't made huge improvements in being able to get things done.

I've got a background belief that I can't generate a goal that's important enough, and nothing I can do counts as an effort.

Doing things that count is what other, superior-to-me people do. If I do something looks like an effort it isn't enough. An effort, an accomplishment, anything important isn't really me, and I mean that actually succeeding is self-destruction because I've got it defined as something I can't do.

I'm not totally incapitated by this stuff, but doing things or succeeding has to be done by limiting either the amount of accomplishment or by not counting what I'm doing as making an effort. People keep telling me that I'm working hard at my dealer's table, but somehow I don't frame it that way.

I think part of what's been happening for the past year or two is that I got sick of the fight. And I can't put a finger on the details of the connection, but my mother dying about a year and a half ago is hooked into this somehow.

I know logically that my ideas about me and goals and effort don't make logical sense. I'm not sure how to defuse them. Rational attack might help, but this "if it matters, it's out of character for me to do it" isn't something that I've been ruminating consciously. This is stuff that popped up in the past week or so and that feels absolutely solid.

#382 ::: Rikibeth:
In re why people hug from behind: I do think it's mostly a dominance move, but it may also be a way of unilaterally placing oneself on the intimates list because it feels nice to be on an intimates list.

#383 ::: Ghost Boy:
Children need justice. This comes up often from the child's point of view, but I don't think I've ever seen an explicit discussion of what it takes for adults to manage it.

#396 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil:
There are ways in which I couldn't get better until my mother died.

I believed very strongly that if I become stronger/more emotionally connected to people/etc., I'd have to deal with her because healthy people have to take on things like dealing with their mother. My only excuse/reason for avoiding her was that I was desperate. If I wasn't desperate any more, I'd have no excuse.

When I say desperate, I mean I gave up when I realized that even a brief conversation with her with nothing obviously wrong with it meant I wouldn't get anything done for two weeks afterwards.

This wasn't just her stuff (it wasn't in her universe that she was a hard person to deal with), it's cultural.

After a while, I was able to dredge up not only the belief that I would have to deal with her if I became more capable, but the realization that it didn't make sense. If I was actually healthier, surely I could make better decisions in that state.

However, I couldn't get past the emotional hook, so I just waited. This is still seeming kind of pathetic.

#396 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil:
ct Thing w Wings: What was the formulation that finally did it for you?

More generally, looking for new ways to restate the situation sounds like a great strategy, and I've been mulling the question of where creatively compassionate impulses come from.

ct me: The thing that snags me is not realizing how much emotions change on their own. One thing which surprised me in the course of all this introspection is how much I think of my current mental state as permanent, and how inaccurate that is.

#399 ::: Jennifer Baughman:

ct me: I'm not sure that Mandela ever said that at all.

ct Cissa: I found that I became somewhat less inclined to hold on to grudges when I became better able to take care of myself in the present. One purpose of grudges was to remind myself of who wasn't safe to be around.

#409 ::: chinders:

I find it helps to remember that I can like people. Liking people is part of the normal range of behavior, and it's plausible that people who want your company and treat you well like you.

The other cognitive side of this is that while it's possible that you could be better in some way, the people who apparently like you can't see your ideas of how you're falling short-- all they see is the actual you, which may well be quite good enough for them to like.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that this addresses your problem. I seem to model people in less detail than you do, and may not be expecting hostility in the same way. I go in for undifferentiated fear rather than having theories.

#411 ::: Lee:

Aside from having an active blind spot about my own goals-- it feels as though they're concealed because I don't want to take them on-- you're right that I'm hardly the only person who's got that problem.

I think the other piece was (for reasons which are not obvious to me) getting hooked by a system of "you've got to have goals-- and if you don't know what you want, I'll tell you".

#412 ::: Diana:

I've obviously got a rather stubborn desire to live and to enjoy some things, even if not exactly to thrive.

Damn, there was an insight that got away-- something about my degree of anger, I think.

And there's something about having to sneak in what I want.

#413 ::: No-Face:

I am broken. I admit it. I don't know whence it came. Did I always have something wrong with me, that just splintered when others might have stood firm?

You've taken a lot of damage. This doesn't mean it's irrepairable. Damn English anyway-- it's got too many static words for things that may change.*

Also, thinking about unusually capable people is a risky thing. They can be used for inspiration, but sometimes (and I have a bad case of this) they can be used to reinforce a sense of inferiority and helplessness.

*I especially resent the way 'can't' is structured. In my ideal language there would be at least "can't do it now ([circumstances|ability]", "can't do it ever", "can do it with some work on skill-building", and "can do it with a lot of work on skill-building". At least English does have 'won't'.

I want a language with grammatical structure or vocabulary or something which really acknowledges how living systems change, including self-healing. Are any existing languages good about that sort of thing?

#432 ::: Jacque:

ct Lee: I'm inclined to think that the internal voices are markers for feelings.

#437 ::: oliviacw:

My father died before my mother, which is not the order I would have chosen. While he was not good news for me (basically emotionally absent, minor tendency to tease, generally didn't seem to like having a family), he did seem basically sane, and I wondered what he'd be like if he didn't have to deal with Mom. No way to find out.

#443 ::: The invisible one:

ct me: A distant parallel: It took me a long time to realize I could say "When I was a kid, I played blockball in my neighborhood" rather than "The other kids let me play blockball with them".

#450 ::: cayce:

I had a persistant notion of taping my mother so she could find out how she sounded when she was angry. My impression is that she had no idea.

I never had the nerve to bring up the subject.

I didn't have it nearly as bad, but I wish I had records.

I do know I gave up keeping a diary because I couldn't find words for how angry I was at my mother (relatively functional family-- I had faith that she wouldn't read my diary), and there just didn't seem to be a point if I couldn't write about something that important to me.

#451 ::: dcb:

ct Jennifer: I'm apt to think that my emotions/desires aren't very strong, so I should give in if someone else seems to want something a lot. I've talked with someone who believed that she was tougher than most people, so she should accomodate them. How odd to have such different theories leading to the same outcome.

#453 ::: Ross:

The way I'm off-base about possessions is that I'm apt to buy more than I can use (this can be true even of books). I think buying things can cut through a depressive haze the same way sugar can.

#454 ::: Thing w Wings:

I thought cutting mold off some things (notably cheese) and eating the rest was completely ordinary. Why not?

#478 ::: Ross:

ct Jacques: For Your Own Good is fascinating-- it argues that there were at lot of popular books on child-rearing which demanded strict discipline starting at six months which affected Hitler and his generation-- he played the harsh father they were used to.

I can't remember whether there was anything about why a generation of parents was so ready to take those books seriously.

One non-specific thing I got from it is that people who write child-rearing (and self-help) books may well just be making it up.


I wrote this. It was an effort-- mostly to get started, but it's not nothing to do this much poking around in my head. I'm giving myself credit for doing some work.

#520 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 06:04 AM:

me @511: I've received corrected attribution to the poster I linked above.

#521 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 06:36 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @519: However, I couldn't get past the emotional hook, so I just waited. This is still seeming kind of pathetic.

I've lost count of the number of decisions I "made" by conveniently arranging things so the unwanted option was impossible. (Don't want to go to college? Make sure you fail to fulfill the academic requirements in high school.) We do what we need to do to keep ourselves safe.

I'm not sure that Mandela ever said that at all.

Wikipedia says that Mandela quoted Williamson during his inaugural speach.

I found that I became somewhat less inclined to hold on to grudges when I became better able to take care of myself in the present. One purpose of grudges was to remind myself of who wasn't safe to be around.

Forgiveness, for me, is impossible until I feel safe from the infraction against me. I was only able to start recovering my good feelings for my father after he died.

I'm inclined to think that the internal voices are markers for feelings.

In my case, I think it's more of a conditioned response: I find myself in situation X, which triggers the memory of being in situation X in my mother's house, which then triggers the memory of her voice, which then triggers the feeling.

Nowadays, I just cut straight to the feeling, which I think is just a response to perceived capabilities/desires. Which is still frustrating, but certainly saves a lot of arguing with that voice.

I'm giving myself credit for doing some work.


#522 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 06:38 AM:

Nancy @519:

Never discount the value of the things that you, and the other stalwarts here, have been doing on this thread. What I hear, year by year, is how these conversations dissolve people's emotional gridlocks and allow them to work on situations they'd despaired of. I get the feeling this is going to be as helpful as previous ones.

And that's not something I do—I can start the conversation, and guard the participants, but I don't have the perspectives to carry it. That's down to people like you, who have the experience of the dark places and are willing to share that to help others. Even when it's hard, costly and triggering.

This is real praise for a real piece of work that really improves the world. If I were to recommend a thing for you to try, if you have the spoons, it would be accepting that praise.

#523 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 11:02 AM:

@Hiding in the crowd #480

I kept hoping one of the more articulate posters here (pretty much everybody) would address what you posted. Since they didn't, I'm gonna try, but if Abi wants my vowels, they're hers.

Your story absolutely horrified me. Your therapist taking advantage of you in that way was far, far worse than parents stealing from their children. When I read that my heart sank to my toes. Borrowing money from a patient, with apparently no intention of paying it back, is unconscionable.

This kind of behavior ought to be addressed by licensure boards. I'm not saying you need to turn him in, or even that you should. But most boards have the ability to mandate that the helper get help.

You did nothing wrong. If he seems to dislike you or avoid you, I hope it's because G_d is searing his conscience. I have to end this because I know all the things I'm thinking will make my vowels vanish.

#524 ::: The invisible one ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 01:12 PM:

#486 dcb: oh yes, the sympathy. "Are you ok?" will tip me from mostly successful not-crying into crying.

I might try that method on the performance review. While I don't want to rule it out by saying I can't do it before even trying, I do have a tendency to not know how other people see me. I suppose the question literally is, how do you see yourself. But nobody wants to know the real answer to that question, especially at work, so I try to figure out something appropriate to say that isn't too far off what others see. If I can figure out what they're thinking, that is.

lune, diatryma: job hunting is indeed a horrible, self-esteem-destroying place to be. (And, lune: congrats on sending out an application! I know I'm a day late saying it, but congrats anyway.) I don't know what field you're in, but my field is one that rarely places employment ads and relies pretty heavily on networking. I am horrible at networking. I spent longer than I like to think about unemployed after graduating, because I had the bad luck to graduate into a recession. (There was a conference in my field, in my city, right after I graduated, which traditionally had a specialized job fair which would have been a perfect place for me to put out applications. The job fair portion of the conference was cancelled because none of the companies wanted to suggest that they might be thinking about hiring by having a booth at the job fair.)

Most of the time I wouldn't even get an acknowledgement form letter in response to my resume. The form letters were basically "don't call us, we'll call you".

I got depressed and would go weeks between sending out resumes; I also was at it long enough to get to the point where I simply didn't know of any other companies to send resumes to. I had even gone through the yellow pages listings for consultants in my field.

I finally did get a job offer, but it took a long time and business was starting to pick up in general when it happened.

The next time I was unemployed it was another recession. I was still not responding to job postings because there weren't any, but just sending resumes out to companies who had at least one person on staff with my educational background. (Professional membership listings helped. A LOT. I can ride the coat-tails of other people's networking, I guess.)

The second time around I also changed my application strategy. It was hard, but I got much more positive responses to my applications, instead of being ignored or getting a form letter. It was hard, yet very simple: precisely one week after mailing my resume and cover letter to the manager in charge of my field within that company (NOT to HR; never to HR) I would phone that person to confirm that they had received my resume.

I didn't have the guts or the self-esteem to do a self-promo, a sales job on myself, anything like that as recommended by all the job-hunting advice out there. But I could call them to make sure the mail got through, and ask if they had any questions about my resume. That, I could do. And if they weren't hiring at that time, I could ask them if they knew of any companies who might be, so I could send resumes to those companies as well.

It made an amazing difference. The managers I spoke with were willing to talk to, and even to help as much as they could, a complete stranger. One even told me that because of my phone call, if they had been hiring my resume would have moved to the top of the pile of people to interview. They weren't scary, they weren't uncaring, they weren't hostile. And I wasn't begging for a job, I was offering to answer any questions they had about my resume. And, talking to them helped me build motivation to send out the next resume that probably wouldn't get me a job, but might get me another lead.

I got a couple of short term bits of work out of it; one was doing tech writing for a company in my field. Apparently the overlap isn't that common and they needed a manual updated; they were happy to have somebody with both the writing skills to make something comprehensible and the background to understand the technology, even if only for a few weeks.

Eventually I got a full time job in my field. And I also own the manuals in the company, because I can write, and I'm willing to write.

And I still say bad things about myself in the performance review, but the boss seems happy with my work so far. I'm sometimes scared to say "no" when the boss asks me to do something because I don't want to be unemployed again, but I have managed a few times to turn it into a discussion of scheduling my time and priorities.

#525 ::: SpawnOfTheDevil ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 02:33 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @519: What was the formulation that finally did it for you?
In my first marriage, the formulation was "The evidence here is that, whether he knows it or not, he doesn't much like me. And I do not have to spend the rest of my life with someone who doesn't like me." It took a couple of years to get there, but when the sun finally came up, it was dazzling.

With my mom, the formulation was "I cannot change my mother's behavior, but I am in charge of my own whereabouts. I require minimum standards of behavior for anybody I spend any time with. Courtesy and respect, for starters. Fail that test, lose my company."

The thing that snags me is not realizing how much emotions change on their own. One thing which surprised me in the course of all this introspection is how much I think of my current mental state as permanent, and how inaccurate that is.
Here's a visualization that really helps me: I am an ocean. Up top, there are hurricanes, some days, or high winds, or brilliant bright clarity. Down deep, however, it is very very peaceful. When I'm in a difficult patch, I remind myself: "It's just weather. It'll pass."

I wrote this. It was an effort-- mostly to get started, but it's not nothing to do this much poking around in my head. I'm giving myself credit for doing some work.
I salute you for the work you have done. (I visualize you in a bathysphere, making notes as you study the deeps.)

abi @522: I can start the conversation, and guard the participants
And that is huge.

#526 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 07:31 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 519:

Oh. Oh ouch. So much of that hits home with me. Some of it came up in the session with my therapist yesterday.

Doing things that count is what other, superior-to-me people do. If I do something looks like an effort it isn't enough. An effort, an accomplishment, anything important isn't really me, and I mean that actually succeeding is self-destruction because I've got it defined as something I can't do. [...] I know logically that my ideas about me and goals and effort don't make logical sense. I'm not sure how to defuse them. Rational attack might help, but this "if it matters, it's out of character for me to do it" isn't something that I've been ruminating consciously. This is stuff that popped up in the past week or so and that feels absolutely solid.

I don't know if anyone has already suggested this, and I don't want to be, or come across, all hlepy, but can you sort of step outside yourself and look at your accomplishments (or non) as something someone else is doing? If someone in similar circumstances did what you do, would their efforts be efforts that count for something? (Which thought just went to a line from Richard Bach's Illusions, "We teach best what we most need to learn." Or, in other words, I'm not very good at this one myself. Am working on it.)

However, I couldn't get past the emotional hook, so I just waited. This is still seeming kind of pathetic.

Not at all pathetic, IMO, it's just the coping tool you developed to get through.

Also, thinking about unusually capable people is a risky thing. They can be used for inspiration, but sometimes (and I have a bad case of this) they can be used to reinforce a sense of inferiority and helplessness.

Oh, sheeeit. Thank you for saying that; I needed to hear that today. My mother, who had been blind since her childhood, taught me to bake bread. To say that she was super-competent is an understatement; I decided somewhere along the way, I don't remember when or how, that I didn't have to live up to that in some areas. In most others? Still trying. And failing.

I wrote this. It was an effort-- mostly to get started, but it's not nothing to do this much poking around in my head. I'm giving myself credit for doing some work.

Thank you for writing it, and posting. I needed to be reminded about how extremely capable people, way above whatever the norm is, sometimes way beyond "excellent", aren't the best or safest models to be following.

abi @ 522:

ct Nancy @ 519: This is real praise for a real piece of work that really improves the world. If I were to recommend a thing for you to try, if you have the spoons, it would be accepting that praise.

Abi, thank you for saying that. It's something I've learned to do about my jewelry making, these past few years, but it hasn't moved into other areas. I... nah, not words.

Also, Abi, thank you so much for starting and watching over this thread. For me, this year, the timing could not have been better. (What's getting dug up for me here, in combination with the EMDR therapy, has me feeling very fragile, even shattered; but (this will sound strange) it's a good fragile. Instead of just pounding on the weak places yet again, creating yet more scar tissue, this is *beneath* all that, removing that, and I can almost see an outline of what might be rebuilt.)

#527 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 08:33 PM:

Another book recommendations, regarding monsters-we-have-lived-with: People of the Lie, by Scott Peck.

As the author puts it, "The Road Less Travelled is a feel-good book. This is not a feel-good book." I doubt that the pattern he describes represents the whole of human evil, but it's a damn big chunk, and he specifically discusses monstrous parents among others.

#528 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 09:45 PM:

David Harmon @ #527: I don't much like Scott Peck, but I have to agree that, for parents who gave their younger son HIS OLDER BROTHER'S SUICIDE WEAPON AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT, "evil" is the only word.

#529 ::: CZEdwards ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2011, 11:51 PM:

I've known this thread was coming for two months. Knowing it was coming meant two months' compounded interest of dread. I stopped even opening Making Light because I could feel Damocles' sword. Yikes. With other stuff going on, my emotional dishwasher just could not keep me in spoons.

I realized this summer that younger sister X (hereafter, Lou, not her real name) had turned into our father, and younger sister Y (hereafter, Mari, not her real name) has become our mother. This is massively painful and disappointing on many levels, not only because it means we didn't manage to get off the train at Dysfunction Junction, but because we're refighting a lot of old battles.

My family is in a post-war period rather than a hot, shooting war. We've got a legacy of factions, grievances which have been addressed but not yet fully repaired, and a lot of weapons around. We've done the major sweep and gotten most of the landmines, but there is unexploded ordnance that can be set off by a light step... or nothing at all, as their timing mechanisms decay and fail.

I've been processing this situation through its various permutations for two-thirds of my life -- sometimes by myself, more often with professional help. At this point, I feel like Jake Stonebender at the beginning of Callahan's Key -- ready to throw my hat on the floor and gream, "G*ddammit... AGAIN!?!?!"

Our personal Gaza Strip is money. I'm not sure if my family's financial problems are a symptom of dysfunction or the result, and it's probably some of both now. My mother's family has farmed for some value of forever. Farming means being asset-rich, but cash-poor, with an irregular cash flow. Spending every dollar when it arrives is a generational pattern that's become maladaptive. Our parents were moderately affluent, but they did not communicate well, and our father had multiple issues that amount to abusive bully. There was almost always more month than money. Our father seems to still have that problem because he hasn't addressed his other issues, but after their divorce, Mom seemed to get a handle on it. She remarried and was doing pretty well.

My mother's second husband died in 2003, leaving her with major financial and emotional wounds. Several times since, she's needed a cash infusion and I've done the donation, but overall, she's kept herself afloat. However, she has no economic shock absorbers -- no savings now, minimal retirement, one income and often, iffy health care and transportation. Then she was seriously injured on the job last year. Workmans' Comp and Unemployment Insurance kept her from absolute destitution, but her injury left her partially, permanently disabled. In one stroke, she went from economically viable to vulnerable.

I help Mom when she has a problem. I'd prefer she called when she needed $X0 than after she's let $X0 and $Y0 and $N00 slide and compound under late fees, but Mom has her own issues with communicating her needs. She's better now than she used to be -- she eventually asks, rather than expecting me to read her mind. Mom comes to me rather than distributing the burden between her three children because Lou is a bully. If Mom asked and Lou actually gave, Lou would use it as a bludgeon for years. (Mari is in questionable financial waters herself.)

Lou's current Brilliant Scheme (TM) for "helping" Mom is to browbeat Mom into selling her house, euthanizing her cat and giving up her career to move in with Lou and be full-time nanny, housekeeper, cook and tutor. (Unpaid, natch.) Leave aside that Lou's house cannot accommodate Mom having even her own bedroom, and that Mom's cat is important to her, and that my light-freak mother would wither and die in a midwestern winter. And leave aside that Mom has already raised her kids and is done, and probably cannot sell her house at all, and that Mom's religion and Lou's do not get along...

Mom handled this by being non-committal and changing the subject, but when Mom had a financial crisis this summer, Lou started demanding the immediate implementation of the Brilliant Scheme. At which point, I told Lou to drop the idea and explained the dozens of reasons why it was a Worst Idea Ever. We did this in conference call, Lou, Mari and me, and when I asked Mari about it later, she said I was reasonable and that, indeed, Mom should not move in with Lou. However, being told why the Brilliant Scheme was up there with the Invasion of Moscow set off a number of Lou's personal land mines. Lou has been throwing a tired toddler level tantrum ever since, screaming into my voicemail (once she started screaming, I hung up the phone and started sending her incoming calls directly to voicemail until I hear that she's calm -- this is an old tactic), writing long email screeds and going to several other relatives to try to get their support for the Brilliant Scheme. (Fortunately, all of them agree it's a Worst Idea Ever.)

I have the advantage of being 1000 miles from Lou, Mari or Mom -- communication becomes selective, which it was not when my father had these same tantrums. But Lou's tactics are just like our father's -- repetition, brow-beating, some gas lighting and emotional violence. I've no doubt that, did we live within driving distance of each other, Lou would be on my doorstep to continue the fight she's determined to have. That's one of our father's tactics, too -- wear down the opposition's resistance with ceaseless attacks. Like our father, Lou does not consider how her plans affect others. If it's a good idea to her, it must be a self-evidently good idea to everyone else. Any argument is a personal attack on her. Like most bullies, both Lou and our father are terribly thin skinned and seem to look for things to take offense over.

Lou is at about the same age as our father was when he started growing more abusive, and she's got a lot of the same stressors. She's got the same target -- Mom -- for the same reasons -- Mom is passive and conflict-avoidant. It's the same damn pattern, and I see where it's going. I'm hoping that distance and the difference between a marital relationship and a parent-child relationship will keep this only a cover version instead of a repetition. What worries me most is not my mother -- it's my elder nephew. He's a bookish, quiet, sensitive, slight kid -- the polar opposite of my aggressive, physically domineering, loud, bullying sister. Mom has agency on her side. Elder Nephew doesn't.

These dysfunctional variations on the theme just keep going because the damage is done. Mari and Mom have similar communication styles -- both are placating, conflict-avoidant, relatively passive. Lou... well, see above. I've been the mediator almost all of my life. I don't know what my difference is, but I was six the first time got between my parents when my father was abusing my mother. Usually that defused the situation, though not always. It made me something of a moral bitch, or a Lawful Stupid Paladin -- that which pings my injustice radar gets deeply under my skin and stays there. (Except I tend not to be very Lawful...)

Now I have to do it again. It's not as bad now, nor as directly violent, but it's the same pattern. And I don't want to. I'm tired of fighting this battle. I want my mother to stand up for herself. She's a clever, kind person whom I don't mind subsidizing, but I desperately need her to find her inner bitch. On the other hand, I want Lou to get her butt into therapy and find her inner softie before she (further) damages her elder son and passes on her bullying to her aggressive, physically dominant younger son. And I want Mari to get her butt into therapy and find her inner assertiveness so she has the fortitude to stand up to her Mother-in-law Gothel for my nieces' sakes.

With Lou, I'm done. I'm not close enough in physical or emotional terms to my nephews to be a counter-balance for them. I've never been in their lives. Lou has done the interpersonal equivalent of trolling for much of the past couple of months, calling and emailing to tell me just how awful she thinks I am. (It would be funny if it wasn't actually kind of sad.) She doesn't get feedback -- her email goes directly into its own file that I never look at and she rants into my voicemail -- but... yeah. She's even doing the grand flounce -- her voicemail messages keep telling me she never wants to speak to me again. (Which is definitely a bit WTF? for me, since she's calling me.) That sounds like a grand plan to me, but she keeps dialing.

I sometimes wish I had whatever emotional insulation it takes to just cut them all out and keep them all out. I've done it once -- my father is not in frame and has not been for most of my adult life -- but it took egregious fault to get there. Lou's at that point now, but Mari and Mom really aren't. However, I'm still the moderator and advice column and social support for Mom and Mari, and thats stressful for me. I'm our lone introvert, and even being on the phone with them is draining. That spikes my stress levels, which feeds into my incredibly random anxieties. Eventually, my body gets to its break point and gets the emergency signal through by whatever means necessary -- usually an anxiety attack. Then I have to back off whatever other stressors I have, and that usually means having to drop things I'd really like to do or people I prefer so I can deal with relatives. In a normal family, if I said that, it would be heard, but in this post-war fragile peace, it would be withdrawing support.

And what seriously drives me bonkers about this? It's about money. Which is the dumbest thing to fight about... except, it's not. It's about power and who has it, and who is willing to throw how much muscle behind the fight. And here I am, the Lawful Stupid who can't just let people fight their own battles.

#530 ::: Ellemay ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 03:32 AM:

I normally only lurk, but at the moment, I'm living the dysfunction, at 24, as things fall to pieces around me and I suddenly realised that things that I'd previously assumed were normal really, really aren't.

And even talking about it is hard because telling someone is dumping problems on them and hearing about how everything makes my mother's life hard is one of my problems and it's one I'm trying to avoid. Talking is wrong and not talking is wrong, and I'm trying to convince myself that talking is better, when I suddenly catch myself on "forcibly spilling out all your problems on someone else is a burden".

I feel trapped in a situation with my parents and siblings that I believe is unhealthy, and I really want to leave... but I can't leave. Because financially the board I pay is what is keeping ends meet for my mother, and my father just walked out and moved to another state, so mentally my mind keeps shrieking that me moving out is abandoning everyone.

Especially since if I did leave, much of the burden would be passed onto my younger sister, and I can't make myself deliberately make her situation suck more.

I was raised to be competently domestic and be able to handle small emergencies. And yes, I'm basically second mum to my little brother and currently the person taking up most of the missing Responsible Adult slack that got dropped. And I get pissed off, because everything I do right now is either ignored (as people just accepting as given my going above and beyond), or overly profusively praised, like I'm a small child or animal in need of positive reinforcement to repeat a behaviour.

It's a cage. With a door that I can see, and know how to get out of. But the guilt... it keeps the door closed.

#531 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 04:12 AM:

The invisible one @524: But I could call them to make sure the mail got through, and ask if they had any questions about my resume.

That's brilliant. I'm going to have to remember that strategy, next time it comes up.

CZEdwards @529: Geez. Gimme a call if you need to vent. You know where to find me.

desperately need her to find her inner bitch.

Have you said this to her in so many words?

Ellemay @530: Does it help any to consider the possibility of finding a different boarder?

#532 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 01:29 PM:

One of Peck's anecdotes that really hit home for me:

He's stationed on Guam. At the time, the Guamanians are fighting an introduced snake species that isn't venomous, but is big, prolific, and apt to turn up anywhere. Two military wives come to him describing identical symptoms of ophisthopobia (sp.?), which they never had to deal with before because they didn't come from areas with lots of snakes. One of them acknowledges that her situation is not normal and asks for help in getting past the paralyzing fear. The other acknowledges that her situation is not normal, goes on to blame everyone else (Guamanians, military authorities, her husband) for her rotten awful life, and asks for help getting off Guam. Peck tells one woman that he can help her and writes "Neurosis" in her file; he tells the other woman that he can't help her and writes "Personality Disorder" in her file.

He does not argue that all people with personality disorders are evil, but he does point out that personality disorders seem to want to continue themselves, like tumors, and so they provide fertile soil for a lot of evil behavior. The woman who wanted the whole world to change instead of acknowledging that her fear of snakes was irrational was willing to heap a lot of crap on other people in the service of that fixation. This way of seeing things put my life in perspective: My mother did provide an excellent intellectual upbringing, she did stand up for me once or twice . . . but she had narcissism. She would not seek treatment--maybe she never considered that she needed treatment. And because she didn't or wouldn't, she continued to be sick. When her narcissism came into conflict with her responsibilities as a mother, the narcissism won. Nothing I did or didn't do could help her be a better mother because I am not trained in the treatment of mind tumors.

#533 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 01:52 PM:


This is the thread to be talking in. Speaking for myself, things aren't so bad in my family this year, and I am reading because other people need someone to listen to them, just as they have listened to me in other years.

So don't feel bad about opening your mouth here. That's what this thread is for.

#534 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 02:04 PM:


Nancy's right. This thread is your gold-edged, hand-addressed, engraved invitation to tell people your troubles. People may or may not have solutions to offer, but there are a lot of people reading and caring about what gets said. And the act of speaking itself -- of naming and describing -- is often helpful.

You're not a burden. You're not imposing. You're not doing anything wrong.

#535 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 04:34 PM:

Ellemay, #530: That's a hard trap to break out of. It's much easier when all you have to overcome are your own problems, and you can cast it as "your toxic family member vs. your own life and health". Adding another person to the mix, whose life and health will be affected by your decisions, doesn't just double the difficulty -- it squares it.

In addition to what Jacque said, I see another couple of possibilities to consider:

1) Could you get out and take your sister with you?

2) Could you get out, continue to send money to your mother, and still have enough to live on?

I am making the (possibly erroneous) assumption that your mother is in fact toxic; this appears to be supported by your post, but if I'm wrong, please say so.

Also, if your father has just walked out, are there any legal resources you can pursue? Would your mother be amenable to filing for divorce so as to get an enforceable support settlement?

#536 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 04:53 PM:

CZEdwards @529--Ouch. Just--ouch. My sympathies, and hope that your ability to be patient here doesn't fray and break under the strain.

I hope this isn't helpy; family money matters can be really fraught, even with good will and intentions on both sides of question. My father's youngest sister took early retirement because of health problems, and had always earned less than her full potential as she had been stuck in small towns most of her working life, because she found herself on the role of Looking After Mamma/Daddy. She was careful with her money, and not particularly in want, but after talking it over, my parents, who had a larger income and more assets, decided to give her a set amount monthly--to be spent or saved as needed, without questions by them, or asking for the help by my aunt. It was there if she needed it, to cover the day to day problems that can arise with life on a fixed income. If a similar arrangement would work for you and your mother, it might be worth considering. I know it might not be a good solution, but it's one way to handle the problem, especially with someone who puts off asking for help because they feel they should be able to manage, somehow.

#537 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 05:13 PM:

Ellemay @230--sometimes having a safe place to vent makes all the difference between coping/not coping. Venting here is not adding to anyone's problems; people who don't want to deal with what's on this thread know not to read it.

Wanting to be off on your own at your age is entirely reasonable, and not a bad thing. It may not be a practical thing, but wanting it anyway is not bad. So don't feel badly because it's what you'd prefer.

It might help to see if you can see a terminus to this set-up. How old are your siblings? What will it take for them to be independent or in a situation to help your mother? Do they, if old enough, understand that because you are helping now, it doesn't mean you'll be willing to hold still for this five years from now?

Does your mother have enough cope left right now to make plans for what she can do if you aren't helping out financially? That date doesn't have to be tomorrow, but in the near future, rather than ten or twenty years from now. If she doesn't have the cope right now, what needs doing so she can reach the point where real planning that involves all adults in the household takes place? This needs doing soon, before Holding Things Together turns into your lifetime role instead of a temporary position.

You are not bad for wanting a life of your own. Helping out in the short run is something good families do for each other, but so is finding ways to let go.

#538 ::: Moonlit Night ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Something interesting: writing out that list of lies (see #346) was helpful. However, talking it over with people and especially the therapist is even better. You see, it hurts less to have that list, ugly as it is, be (allowed to be) real and to (be expected to) have hurt me. There is no question, looking at that list, that those things were abuse and poison pure and straight up, and that nobody sane could have done that so consistently so long. Therefore that list is lies and my mother is insane and my father and aunt covered for her. Those things being true hurts less than the alternative of "it can't be that bad you must be imagining it so get over it already and learn to be loving and forgiving because surely it was never as bad as it felt." Most of all it takes the responsibility and guilt and inadequacy right off my shoulders and puts it where it always belonged. I'm doing better in life, and being better to them all, than they deserve, and they should be grateful.

This is probably the first time in my life that I have been seriously letting myself believe all these things and it feels so good (and so much easier) compared to trying to pretend some or all of it was okay after all.

I think it is time to add a new item or two to the list of good truths and then to write both lists out again.

#539 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2011, 08:00 PM:

Donna @518: I have been very good friends and occasional doormats to very disapproving, strong women for whole decades of my life. If I could just get them to love me and accept me, then maybe I could find the magic key to make my mom love and accept me.

*waving* Got that t-shirt, too, except mine doesn't have "occasional" before "doormat". It didn't work while my mother was still alive, but I still keep trying. I recognize the pattern, and am much faster to get out of it, but I still stumble into it.

#540 ::: Ellemay ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 12:01 AM:

Thank you.

I wouldn't call my mother toxic. She's just very hard to live with. She's the sort of person where everything is all about her and her problems and I know why that is: she was held responsible for her three younger siblings through most of her childhood, her parents went overseas for a year when she was 21, leaving her behind as guardian for her three younger siblings, two of whom were still in high school (and the third of whom was an adult, but is minorly mentally retarded). She then got engaged at 22, married at 24 and had me at 25. My aunts tell me she's never really grown up past the person she was at 21. She plays the suffering martyr extremely well, and 'don't upset mum' is one of the base family rules, since everything goes so much smoother if we don't. Also... a lot of the time she does things and helps out with things for the praise, and expects praise for both helping out and for doing/putting up with *Thing She Doesn't Like* just to help out. The latter praise is always leveraged from family members.

My father is less of the problem. I understand him pretty well and we get along as both of us are fairly introverted and can spend a lot of quiet time together not saying much. We also share a lot of interests. He's the sort who never talks about anything, and that's caused the current crisis, since he found a job in another state and took it, and moved down there, telling us once he'd arrived. He hates the city I live in and has itchy feet and changes jobs every 5 years or so. He's still financially helping out, but not -quite- so much as before, and he was the one handling the finances and has half the bills in his name solely, which has caused me and Mum a good deal of trouble.

My sister is 22 and still at university studying, with another two years to go due to travel and changing degrees. I'm 24 with a full time job. My brother is 14.

My sister is a wonderful person and we've been supporting each other emotionally and looking out for the other since our mid teens. Since about that time, our mother has had a certain about of attention focused on both of us. There's a level of looking after Mum, listening to her complain, comforting her, being present, doing jobs for her and putting up with her invading my privacy to talk at me about how she is that she puts on her daughters, which is split between us if we're both there, and falls solely on one of us if the other is out of reach (Both of us have spent time overseas at different times and found one of the best parts of it is Not Dealing With Mum, though we know the other is having to take all of the weight while we're away).

I'm pissed at my father, since he caused the current crisis. I've wanted to move out for the past 2+ years, and been forcibly working towards it for the last 12 months, because I can't cope with living with my mother any longer, and she's a lot easier to take in very small, rationed doses.

Crisis point was end of July.

My sister completely understands that I am currently holding things together as best I can, and is contributing what board she can manage, helping out as much as possible and has done a number of small things to make things easier that I've been asking her to do for a while: we got her onto youth allowance to give her some more money because she works once a fortnight at the same place my mother works, and she has a hard time working more around a full load at uni plus her drama commitments, and she's finally going to the optometrist to get her reading glasses prescription adjusted, because her current one isn't working.

My brother - less so. My sister and I have sat him down to explain things as much as possible on a number of occasions, since he's old enough to appreciate us treating him like an adult for serious things. But he's still 14 and the youngest. He doesn't fully understand "helping out around the house doing things you hate does actually take the pressure off your big sisters, since if you don't do them, they have to". He tries, and he fails, but he's 14. I don't hold it against him (though I would seriously appreciate it if he pitched in a little more).

On the night everything went down, I told my mother I would help out, but it couldn't be long term. The biggest problem, of course, is the bills and mortgage; if my mother was paying them all on her own, they'd all be covered, but there would be no food and no petrol and my brother would have to change schools, with no camps or excursions. My father is still contributing money to the bills account and pays some of the bills himself, since they still direct debit from his account, but it's still juggling to make sure everything gets paid.

We've also been advised by a family lawyer that the best thing to do with the house is to hold out until if/when there is a divorce, since it gets less messy that way. Unfortunately, the mortgage payments is the real killer in the bill department.

Also... me being here is convenient for my mum. She doesn't have time during her work hours to go down to the credit union to deposit a cheque, but I can just use my entire lunchtime taking the train to a suburb where the credit union has an office and doing the deposit. She can't free up half an hour during work hours to be on hold to the gas company because we got a late notice on a bill, but I can call while at work since I'm a secretary and have a phone line, and use my lunchtime sitting on hold to the gas company to sort out what happened. So I now have my name on a whole bunch of our bills along with my parents.

Plus, she's using me now as arbitrator of the cleanliness of my brother's room. "You can go out and see SoandSo if Ellemay approves your room as clean enough".

I don't regret helping out, since they're my family and I do love them all, but I can feel myself digging myself deeper into doing this long term for my mother since it's convenient for her, even though it's only been just over 2 months at present. She's visiting him this weekend to try and sort things out and talk about it all, but I can't realistically see anything changing, since he's asked her to move to be with him and she's said no, and neither question or response is likely to change in the near future.

In dream world my sister and I would just move out together and find a flat somewhere, but my job is about to move offices to further away from the direction of her university in the next month, and one or both of us would be faced with an ugly commute (actually, in a month, I'll be faced with an ugly commute that increases to over an hour and half, with requisite increase in transport costs, which is part of the reason I would really like to move out, so I could be closer to my job).

If I moved out I would be financially better off and it would cost me less. If I moved out and gave my mother the difference in the money, or maybe even decreased my savings contribution and gave her a bit of that too, it still wouldn't be enough to cover everything, and making my sibs life harder is not something I want to do.

It's just so frustrating.

#541 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 03:09 AM:

Just a question for a newbie to Making Light:

There are several entries I noted in which people have posted chunks of text in what looks like a deliberate form of gibberish. Usually involving things that may be spoilers or triggers.

How do I translate these? Is there some sort of sticky reference for this sort of thing?


#542 ::: No-Face ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 03:11 AM:

I just asked what seemed to me to be a fairly simple thing, and my post was kidnapped.

I haven't received a ransom note yet. Anyone seen the gnome(s) responsible?

#543 ::: Moonlit Night ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 09:00 AM:

Something interesting: writing out that list of lies (see #346) was helpful. However, talking it over with people and especially the therapist is even better. You see, it hurts less to have that list, ugly as it is, be (allowed to be) real and to (be expected to) have hurt me. There is no question, looking at that list, that those things were abuse and poison pure and straight up, and that nobody sane could have done that so consistently so long. Therefore that list is lies and my mother is insane and my father and aunt covered for her. Those things being true hurts less than the alternative of "it can't be that bad you must be imagining it so get over it already and learn to be loving and forgiving because surely it was never as bad as it felt." Most of all it takes the responsibility and guilt and inadequacy right off my shoulders and puts it where it always belonged. I'm doing better in life, and being better to them all, than they deserve, and they should be grateful.

This is probably the first time in my life that I have been seriously letting myself believe all these things and it feels so good compared to trying to pretend some or all of it was okay after all.

I think it is time to add a few new items to the list of good truths and then to write both lists out again.

#544 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 09:24 AM:

No-Face @541, now free from the gnomes:

There are two ways that text on Making Light can end up looking like "gibberish". They both come from the same desire: to prevent people from reading text immediately and without conscious choice.

1. A comment that the moderators have deemed offensive (usually because it's personally insulting to someone else in the conversation) may have its vowels removed. Disemvoweled text can be read with practice, and there's at least one re-emvoweler on the web to help.

We do this to prevent people from reading upsetting and inflammatory comments unintentionally and without their intellectual filters on. I don't think there's any in recent threads; I certainly haven't taken anyone's vowels in a while.

2. Spoilers and potentially triggering material may be ROT-13'd. Again, there are decoders on the web, or you can get a Firefox plugin that will do it from the context menu.

Hope this helps. If you're new here, know that we'd love to have you stick around, either under this name or another, non-Dysfunctional Families Day one.

#545 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Ellemay @540: It certainly does sound frustrating.

Several thoughts: I commend to your attention the following trick I learned from Heinlein (Have Spacesuit Will Travel?): solve the parts of the problem you know how to solve, then look at the problem again to see what's changed.

One sweet-spot I see for adjustment: in my experience, 14 is by no means too young to take on some responsibility in the family. In days of yore, particularly in farming communities, it was common practice for every child in the family to have "chores," the upkeep of which were crucial to the smooth running of the family estate, such as feeding and milking of livestock, dunging out of animal pens, and so on.

Hell, when I was four, my brother (nine) and I had to help out with the housework because my mom had to go back to work. (To be fair, that blew up for some reason I don't recall, but still.) (Oh, and did I mention? It was uphill both ways.)

Does your brother get allowance? Would it be an option to tag his recompense to chores completed around the house?

For managing your mum, I commend to your attention the book What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers.

#546 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 12:25 PM:

CZEdwards @529: In addition to fidelio @536's very good comments, I'm also curious: would it be worthwhile leaning on your mother to alert you to money issues before the compounding starts? Point out that doing so would be a sign of sound judgement and good resource management.

#547 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2011, 12:30 PM:

abi: I just wanted to thank you for providing this space each year in which we can say all this stuff, safely. It really does help.

Ross @ 517: children are wired to seek approval from their parents". Oh. Yes. So that's why I still crave my mother's praise, and why somehow, praise from people like my step-mother and my husband don't quite make up for the lack of it from my mother. Now you've pointed it out in so many words, I've started working through it. Thanks

Nancy Lebovitz @519: Reading what you've written, unpacking stuff, is helping me to unpack stuff. Thanks.

The invisible one @524: We do seem to have some similarities...

Some projects I've been involved in, I've had to contact people and sk them to work with us - on stuff that would benefit them. I used to have to nerve myself up to make the telephone call. If the answer was positive, okay, I could make the call to the next person on the list. If it was negative, it could take me until the next day to dredge up the energy to make another call. I was always expecting that they would say no, because I was the sort of person people said no to/didn't want to play with/didn't want on their team (yup, goes back to the childhood bullying). Just recently I've started to manage to send e-mails requesting copies of academic papers feeling in a positive frame of mind - that people would say yes, rather than expecting they would say no. After all, they -want- people to cite their papers, so they want people to access them!

529 ::: CZEdwards @ 529. Sympathies. I'm listening. Sounds like you're doing really well with your strategy for coping with Lou. And I'm not surprised you don't want to do have to be the buffer between your mother and Lou as you were between your mother and your