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London Meetup + #462: When is it time to cut off communication with abusive family?

Reminder, monthly London meetup is tomorrow. Sorry for not posting this sooner, guys! It’s been the week of 1000 meetings.

Dear Awkward Army,

London meetup this weekend, 23rd March!  All welcome.

11:00 am onwards, Leon restaurant, 36/38 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TT.

The venue so far has worked out well, so I’m sticking with that.  They’ve also offered us 25% off all our food and drink.

Map: http://goo.gl/maps/i9COr

Leon have a variety of good food at very reasonable prices – for central London, anyway!  Menu here:http://www.leonrestaurants.co.uk/menu/

This branch has an accessible toilet, and we’ll be on the ground floor in the back (around behind the food service counter).

I have long brown hair and glasses.  I will bring my plush Cthulhu to use as a table marker.  It looks like this: http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/7cb0/

My email address is kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com

As discussed at previous meetups, I am happy to teach people to knit, so if you want to start or want help, bring something along!

By the way, I think it’s likely the April one will be on the 20th rather than the 27th, sorry about any confusion.

Cheers,

Kate

 

And now, a letter.

Hey Cap (and friends!),

There’s a little bit of background to this, but I’ll try to keep it short.

I have issues with my family. I guess you could say I’m the “black sheep” in a way. I’m the middle child, the only creative person, the only one who could be described as liberal, and (perhaps most importantly) the only one to inherit my mother’s bad depression, with a side of social anxiety. Add to this a big old heap of emotional abuse from my father and, later, my stepmother (who is thankfully gone now).

When I was in high school, I went through a lot of trouble, including self-harm, that was more or less ignored, and I didn’t do very well in school despite having clear potential. It was only later when I asked my parents about it that they said yeah, they always sort of knew that I had depression, and knew that it was holding me back, but they didn’t want to bring it up with me at the time because…they haven’t given a solid answer. As far as I can tell, they kind of sacrificed my academic future on the altar of not having an awkward conversation with me.

A few months ago, I moved out of state to live with my boyfriend and see about continuing into college now that I have things more under control. But every time I talk to my parents or my brother and sister, it seems like they have nothing nice to say at all.

I love my brother and sister, but every time I chat with them, they seem to be always upset with me. “Why haven’t you called us? Why haven’t you called Dad? You need to call us more and not be so ungrateful. You don’t even want to be part of the family.” Even putting aside the fact that they know I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to talking on the phone, I don’t understand how being busy up here and not able to contact home every day counts as ungrateful.

Then, the other night, a minor disagreement on Facebook randomly spiraled into them accusing me of hating our father, of not wanting to be a part of the family, and of being selfish in even moving away. These overtures were common before I’d moved, but now it’s been magnified so that they’ve become outright vicious about it.

I’m out of a toxic environment, but now the environment is starting to follow me. How do I tell my brother and sister that I still love my family (I really do!), but they need respect my decisions and treat me like a person?

Oh goody, when your abuser recruits others to do their abusing for them.

I want to review a few things about abuse (which includes neglect and/or emotional abuse). Well, I don’t want to. But I will. People can grow up in the same household and have two totally different experiences of what happened. Your brother and sister are probably being wound up by your dad, and investing in this story about how they are the Good Ones and you are the one who causes problems. And your leaving affects the stories they want to tell themselves about how they grew up. If they grew up in an awesome place, then why are you leaving it? And if they didn’t grow up in such an awesome situation, and you can just walk away from it, then they could theoretically walk away from it, too. But they aren’t, so are you like, judging them by making a different choice? Or leaving them alone to deal with JerkDad on their own, which is somehow “unfair”?

None of this surprises me, is what I’m saying. Abusers need to control the story about what happened, and will go to great lengths (including deputizing others and making them miserable by proxy) to keep that control, because it’s a way of controlling you. If your parents had gotten you help when they noticed you harming yourself, they risked that you would tell other people what it was really like in your house, which may have had real consequences for them or the imagined consequence of “someone somewhere thinks they are not very good parents.” Maybe you would have moved out, and been outside of their control. Maybe you would have gone off to school, and learned things, and been outside of their control. Maybe people in your town would have given them the side-eye at church. Or, maybe they saw you hurting yourself and they just didn’t give a shit, and now that you’re old enough to tell the story I and everyone reading this thinks maybe they weren’t very good parents. That cat is out of the bag, Letter Writer, so take care of yourself now that you are out of the house and have that agency for yourself.

Honestly, who knows or cares what their logic is. You don’t actually have to know in order to make good decisions for yourself.

Here’s what we do know:

1. Many people don’t get the whole “making a different choice than you is not an attack on you” thing. You left. They could leave too, if they wanted to. If they choose to stay? Great, enjoy that, then! Not actually a referendum on love or a reason for yelling.

2. Starting a conversation with someone who calls you with WHY DON’T YOU CALL MORE, JERK? is a good way to get people to call you even less, because why put up with the hassle? Telephones, roads, emails work both ways.

3. Living where you are living and putting some distance between you and your family is a good decision for you right now.

Your family doesn’t have to be horrible for that to be true, by the way. Some people grow really well while staying very close to and entwined with their families, but some people need to go off on their own and really break away for a while before they can come back and figure out an adult relationship with their folks. The stayers aren’t better people than the leavers, and the leavers don’t necessarily grow up better than the stayers – it’s just, whatever your situation is, you need to do what is right for you.

It sounds like your family sees you as a perpetual fuck-up. Guess what? For much of my adult life, mine did, too. They wouldn’t use “fuck-up”, they would use “We’re very worried about you,” or “We don’t understand your choices (to seem to fail at everything).” For a lot of my 20s, when I was really struggling with depression and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, being around them for long periods of time would make me start to feel like a fuck-up. And then it would be self-fulfilling – I’d be so miserable and wound up that I would be in a reactive mode because I was so ashamed and on-edge all the time. If you’re constantly criticized, you start to react to people as if they mean to criticize you even before the words come out of their mouths, so it’s easy to launch the “Why are you being so dramatic/exaggerating/blowing things out of proportion/I was just asking/jeez, overreact much?” brigade and the you feel more like a fuck-up because you’re being gaslighted into believing that having normal reactions – stress, aversion, shoulders-up-around-ears, being on guard are somehow your own fantasies and not reactions to the constant criticism that’s being leveled at you.

You know what was a great decision for me? Moving really, really far away and staying there, and seeing them in smaller doses.

I just spent a few days with my folks last month, and we’re on much better terms now and it was mostly a great visit. But by the end of it, my dad’s constant mansplaining had escalated to the point that he took my toast out of the toaster, put it back in “correctly,” called me “stupid” for not being able to find the correct drawer where knives were kept on the first try in a kitchen where I don’t live, and actually SCREAMED at me for microwaving food for what he deemed to be an incorrect amount of time. Screamed. Spit flying and hitting my face. Screamed.

And that was a “great” visit. And if he read this (I don’t think they read the blog, they’ve never mentioned it, and I’ve never mentioned it to them though I don’t hide my actual identity), he’d tell me I was overreacting and blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Because screaming about things like “where we keep the knives in a rental kitchen” is normal in his world, so normal that there is a 75% chance he does not remember it at all, and I was raised to think that was normal. I would be the “emotional” one for being mad that someone screamed in my face (and having to walk out of the room and go cry privately and text my boyfriend because I honestly felt like I was going crazy), and he would be the rational one, because…he is a dude. A dude who gets so upset about microwave times that he screams. Rational!

And then I left, and I went to the small quiet room, where no one screams at me, ever. And if someone in my life now screamed at me, they would not do it twice, because they would not be in my life anymore, because screaming at people over trivial shit is not okay. I learned that by leaving home, pretty much forever, which was not without costs and anxiety and working hard to schedule visits so that I can get in and out with a minimum of screaming. Going home & maintaining that relationship means trying to always make sure I have a rental car, or schedule time with friends who live nearby so I have a break, and ALWAYS having my phone with me so I feel connected to people who don’t yell at me, and sometimes, honestly, Xanax. It means when they are nice and pleasant it makes me doubt my own reality, like, do I really need to keep my shields up? Am I being unfair? Ohhhhh wait, there is screaming about trivial stuff again, nope, it’s okay to keep my guard up. It also cost years of therapy to learn how to interact in a healthy way, keep my temper (or lose it more selectively), and be able to disassociate from what was happening and remind myself that their vision of me is not me. It also cost long periods of not interacting with them, with the explicit message “If you are not nice to me, I will not be around.” Eventually it worked and made everyone try very hard to be nicer. But I won’t ever lie and say it was easy.

Alphakitty said something really great in a comment yesterday:

I think part of a mother/father’s power to hurt comes from the Pedestals of Infallibility young children are encouraged to put their parents on. Even once we grow up and learn that our parents are just people, with biases and baggage and all that, we still invest their opinions of us with greater Truth and weight than we would give anyone else’s opinion. It’s all swirled together with the “Mother/Father knows best,” and “we only want what’s best for you” (even though their values probably aren’t quite the same as yours, so their definition of “best” is not going to match yours), and an implication that “we know you better than anyone else, even you” (though parents’ opinions of their offspring are often a) outdated, based on behavior/characteristics the “child” has outgrown, and b) distorted by their own values and their need to believe certain things about their kids).

Your parents, and your brother and sister, DON’T KNOW YOU BEST. And they don’t know what is best for you – they proved that when you needed help and mental health services and they just kind of forgot to hook you up with them. And this story that they have about how you are a fuck-up is not the only story, and not a story that everyone will have about you. And I think you were smart to get far, far away from them.

I think that now that you are away, you should do a couple of things:

1) Find (or continue) treatment for your depression.

2) Put your brother, sister, dad, and anyone else who makes you uncomfortable in social media jail. There are ways you can stay “friends” with someone on Facebook but make it so they can’t really see anything you post or do on Facebook. Or, consider unfriending them, or making a second profile where you connect with people you really want to. “I love you, but I refuse to get in Facebook fights. From now on email me at _____.

3) Filter their emails and phone calls so that you choose to interact with them at specific, regular times. And possibly cut off all contact for a while, if it helps you gain some distance and perspective. For a long time, this is what I did: I would call or hang out periodically, and be pleasant as long as they were pleasant. When the first mean thing was said, I would leave the conversation and not interact again for a period of (generally) 1 month. 2 mean things? 2 months. 3 mean things? 3 months. It was not perfect, and it was very hard and painful and took a lot of psyching myself up and second-guessing on my part. But it was pretty essential in reminding myself: “Whatever happened in the past, I do not have to stay in conversations with people who are rude to me.” Sometimes I would just excuse myself, “Sorry, out of time to talk, catch you soon!” and sometimes I’d say “This conversation is really starting to stress me out, so I’m going to end it now” – it depended on how mean it was and my overall stress level.

4) Repeat “I am not responsible for everything they feel” until it sounds believable.

5) If you want to, say something like “I am really happy and excited to start school. I am taking a break from communication for a while while I get settled, and I’ll be in touch when I’m ready.” And then let them feel about it and react however they want. They will not like it, they will not understand, they will be mad, but it might still be what you need in order to feel okay.

6) It may never be okay. It will always hurt a bit and feel weird. That’s because abuse is destructive and it ruins everything, not because you are a bad mean ungrateful daughter. Your family is blaming you for things they did to you. Not okay.

7) The rest of your family might not believe you or see it your way. “But that’s just how he is…” “But I deal with it, why can’t you?” “You’re exaggerating.” “It’s not that bad.” Well, maybe it is that bad, for you, and they don’t have to agree for you to do what is right for you. It would be awesome if your sibs could be your allies, but if they aren’t, admit it and disengage. “We think you’re the worst, so move back here and prove you love us, or we’ll think you’re the worst” isn’t really a compelling proposition.

8) Kick ass at your studies and enjoy your new life.

 

 

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240 comments
  1. Saira Ali said:

    Oh my goodness, this right here: “And if they didn’t grow up in such an awesome situation, and you can just walk away from it, then they could theoretically walk away from it, too. But they aren’t, so are you like, judging them by making a different choice? Or leaving them alone to deal with JerkDad on their own, which is somehow “unfair”?”

    That explains SO MUCH about how my sisters treat me. Thank you, Cap, for giving me a new frame to look at my own family ish.

  2. Rachel said:

    So much of this advice is so, so true. I have an emotionally abusive mother, and a father and brother who enable her and blame me for not enabling her. and it’s so hard to even type this in an anonymous public forum.

    Setting limits on their ways of contacting you is such key advice, seriously. I have all of the emails from my parents and brother (and various other relatives) going into a folder. I set limits on the time I spend with them on the phone. More than ten minutes and it’s veering into an uncomfortable guilt-trip realm? “Oops, gotta go, my friend’s here,” or “my bus just arrived” or “oh, I gotta finish dinner, see ya!”

    They don’t have my best interests at heart. They have their own best interests at heart. And I am not responsible for keeping them happy, because they aren’t looking out for me.

    I’ve been keeping them at arms length, and living far away from home, and being mentally buffered from them, for about five years now. I don’t cry anymore when I get a phone call. When there’s a guilt trip in an e-mail, I can ignore it. I don’t feel bad about saying, “no, I don’t want to go home for a weekend, I really can’t right now.” This is growing up and away from them. They don’t understand it, but they don’t have to: what matters is I understand what’s best for me.

    • I just want to say I feel you there. I once seriously told my father-in-law I had to go because the stove was on fire. Now, it was in fact on fire. However, that’s because it was a gas stove and supper was simmering away on it.

      • Katie said:

        I am totally using this! One more reason gas stoves are awesome.

  3. kathleen said:

    My mother is just plain vicious. How vicious? When my sister and I were little, if we misbehaved, she would threaten to “call the orphanage to come and take you away”. She sometimes went so far as to actually pick the phone up, pretend to dial, and tell them to come and get us, while my sister and I sobbed hysterically and swore to be better. My sister moved away some twenty years ago, to put half a continent between herself and our parents. Ten years ago, my parents followed her, and purchase a home a couple of miles from where my sister lives with her husband and kids. You can imagine my sister’s joy.

    I have set limits and erected barriers. She is totally out of the loop on topics like finances and health. A lot of things, actually, now that I sit and think about it. Her advice and commentary are consistently wrong, so emotionally corrosive and toxic. I have learned that there is no situation so awful that she can’t make it just a little worse. Recently my sister reported that our mom told her that “I can’t tell her anything. She won’t listen to a word I say.” I laughed and told my sister, “Good. Then she’s gotten the message.”

    • Wow. Context matters so much! Sometimes my parents would do a similar thing, with the calling up the orphanage or threatening to send us back where we came from, but we always understood it to be jokes. Because our home was safe and we were heard and loved.

      It is just not okay that your mother was cruel enough that my joke was your abuse. Grrr.

    • Mortifyd said:

      Holy crap! Your Mum and mine could get together and talk about how horrible we are. We used to drive past an orphanage on the way to my grandparents house – and *every single time* both directions – they would threaten to leave me there and never sign the papers for someone else to adopt me. For years. Just me, not my brother.

      It’s weirdly a relief to know that other people grew up in families that are similar kinds of seriously messed up.

      • Spc. Agent Bluejay said:

        yi. It’s a special kind of cruel to add the detail about not signing the papers to let anyone else adopt you!

        • Mortifyd said:

          She insists it never happened. Dad says it was a joke – which of course means it DID happen. She rewrites history a lot to make things disappear.

          It was no joke. Sometimes they pulled over in the drive just to make me cry and swear I would be better.

          Sickos. Both of them.

      • Kathleen said:

        Oh, and get this… She got pregnant on accident shortly after she and my dad got married, because she was being a good Catholic and was using the rhythm method. She cried for weeks, she said. Then the baby was born premature and didn’t survive. After that, nothing would do but she had to get pregnant again as soon as the doctor gave her the ok. That was me. After a “horrible, traumatic, stressful” nine months I was born healthy. My parents celebrated my birth by going to Florida and leaving me with my Grandmother for two weeks.

        After my sister and I had our own kids, my mother was offended that our babies displayed an obvious preference for their own mothers over her, the grandma. She snarked that it was because we breastfed. But the fact that they were also visibly fond of their fathers, and would go to them for comfort or just to play *really* chapped her ass. Our own father was so passive and uninvolved in our care that until we were quite a bit past early childhood, he was just kind of “that guy who also lives here”. So therefore, her grandchildren’s preference for their highly involved dads meant that they had been poisoned against her and they would rather be with anybody but her.

        • Mortifyd said:

          Holy crap for crap! I was a bounce back baby right after a miscarriage. And I heard constantly how I killed her with my giant head – she had to be given IV blood and jumpstarted when she bled out.

          My dad was Army and gone all the time – 10 months a year on average. So I was her confidant, her whipping boy, her gorging companion – and when I left at 17 you would have thought the world ended I was so “selfish.” Treatment for my issues would “ruin your father’s career” – along with late library books, the car being dirty, the grass too long… but my younger brother’s (see? not actually dead!) diabetes was from a virus, so that was okay.

          Now I’m back in her clutches and was recently informed how it was “good” I wasn’t capable of having kids or adopted – because SHE is too impatient to be a good granny. *headdesk*

          Our mums are messed up. I’m glad you have kids. I’m glad your partner/husband is an involved parent. And I’m glad it chaps her ass.

        • Mortifyd said:

          I was right after a miscarriage. And I’ve heard a thousand times how I “killed” her with my giant head. (she lived.) I got away for a long time and now I’m back at home – and was recently informed it was “good” I don’t have any kids – bio or adopted – because SHE is too impatient to be a granny. I’m glad you have kids. I’m glad your husband/partner is involved. I’m glad it eats her up. That is just horrible.

          • Estrella said:

            Oh, wow. How horrible for that to have been said to/held over you guys. ): I was a half-miscarriage (as in, I was Twin A, and Twin B died in utero mid-2nd trimester) & am the only surviving child of many attempts by my parents. Fortunately for me, my parents took the “we’re blessed to have YOU” route. But as a kid I learned that my grandmother had a similar experience, and I’d hear the things she would say to my mother (the Girl Who Lived), and…yeah, it was an awful lot like the things you’ve related here. I grew up sort of being haunted by that, even though my parents certainly never blamed me…but did I do the previous generation out of more grandkids, in their minds? Yeah. Therapy.

            LW, as usual I love the Captain’s advice. You know yourself best, and it sucks to be held hostage by familial expectations, especially selfish ones. Email folders, Facebook filters, caller ID…these are great starting tools for detoxifying your environment. As long as they carry on the whole “we’re right, you’re wrong, and you’re so meeeeean for not doing things our way!” thing, distance in all possible ways will act as a salve to your wounds. I hope you can feel some of that weight lift as you build the barricades of you-ness up.

          • @Estrella

            I have a friend who is one part of a pair of twins, one dead before delivery. All his life he’s heard that should his twin be alive, he or she would be better at everything and more worthy of their love.

        • PM said:

          Kathleen said: “After my sister and I had our own kids, my mother was offended that our babies displayed an obvious preference for their own mothers over her, the grandma. She snarked that it was because we breastfed.”

          A friend of mine, “Susie,” is a loving functional adult and fantastic mother DESPITE of her own mom, definitely not because of her. Her mother, “Dinah,” raised Susie a toxic stew of resentment, criticism, violence, gas-lighting, and crippling learned helplessness. Dinah basically became “too sick” to handle the adult responsibilities required to manage the home. Since there was no dad in the picture, Susie had to get a job, pay bills, take over cleaning, keep up the laundry, etc., while Dinah languished on the couch with a “headache,” all the while telling Susie that she deserved to do all of the work because Susie had ruined Dinah’s life by being born.

          Susie went to college without any financial or emotional support from Dinah, got a good job, married a really nice guy (who Dinah hates because she can’t manipulate him) and had two beautiful children. When Susie was pregnant with her oldest, Dinah crowed that this baby was her “second chance” to be a mother and how she and this baby would have a special “mother daughter” relationship.

          Susie basically had to tell Dinah, “You were a crappy mother the FIRST time, I’m not going to let you do it a second time.” And drew some serious boundaries with when, how, how often Dinah was allowed to see the baby. Six years later, Dinah is still shocked when Susie won’t allow Dinah to go to the kids’ school for parent recognition events, or that the kids prefer to do “mother-daughter” things like pedicures with Susie or that Susie’s kids don’t honor HER as their mom on Mother’s Day. She figures the recognition should just skip over Susie and land on Dinah, where it “belongs.” Clearly, Susie had worked against Dinah, by telling the grandchildren horrible lies about her childhood.

          Narcissists will never understand why someone else is favored over them. Even if they have treated that person terribly, the narcissists are so that they deserve special treatment, that they cannot grasp that there might be a legitimate reason why they are not liked. There has to be some irrelevant reason.

          • Marie said:

            That is almost exactly the story of the woman who writes this blog:

            http://narcissistschild.blogspot.co.uk/

            Susie should be careful: nothing indicates that Dinah isn’t done trying to take away her children from her (the mother of the blogger did some very, very horrible things to separate the blogger’s children from her).

          • JenniferP said:

            That is a great blog. So useful!

          • Ethyl said:

            Even if they have treated that person terribly, the narcissists are so that they deserve special treatment, that they cannot grasp that there might be a legitimate reason why they are not liked. There has to be some irrelevant reason.

            Woah. Thank you for saying this so clearly. A big lightbulb just went off in my head. I will definitely try to remember this the next time I start wondering if maybe I’m wrong and they’re right after all, that maybe I am just a terrible, unfair (that word again!) person.

          • Actually, it’s more than that, isn’t it? She (your mother) believes that she is entitled to all good things within her sphere. The corollary to that being that you are entitled to nothing.

            Which means that in her mind, every single thing she ever did that benefited you in any way (even something as basic as throwing an occasional peanut butter sandwich your way or making sure you were not actually naked — every scrap of food, or attention, or basic human kindness) was an act of great generosity for which you owe her love and appreciation and attention — even if it was the most fundamental parental respoonsibility and the only reason she did it was to enhance your value as an accessory and/or that she did not want anyone to notice how neglected and miserable you were, because that would reflect badly on her.

            And every single thing that inconvenienced her in any way (like having to stay home when she’d rather have gone out), or where you got something she wanted (be it something tangible or, worse, the attention of someone she thought should be paying attention to her), or made her look bad (like having someone notice how miserable and neglected you were) was an offense against her right to shine and have fun and be adored and have all good things. And so you owe her for those, too.

            She can not acknowledge that she ever did treat you terribly, because that would be to acknowledge that you had a right to expect better. That as her child you had a right to expect her to put your needs ahead of hers at least some of the time. And that she cannot do. If she couldn’t do it before, when you were actually dependent on her, she sure as heck isn’t going to do it now.

            There is no winning, because everything you do for her is only her due. And anything she wants you to do and you don’t is another debit to your account. Because she is like a black hole in space, only capable of taking.

            And that is ALL on her. You didn’t make her that way, and you can’t fix it. The only thing you can do is protect yourself.

          • PM said:

            Marie said: “Susie should be careful: nothing indicates that Dinah isn’t done trying to take away her children from her (the mother of the blogger did some very, very horrible things to separate the blogger’s children from her).”

            Ugh, I hate that there are more “mothers” out there like that. But I wouldn’t worry about Dinah trying to take Susie’s kids away. Dinah made it clear that she had no interesting in babysitting or anything that resembling taking care of the kids. (Something she expressed in numerous voice and emails – which Susie promptly saved in her “Mom – Custody” file.) Dinah only wants to do the “fun” things like taking the kids shopping for adorable dresses (on Susie’s dime) or for ice cream or for the Mommy-Daughter things like pedicures or church teas.

            And again, she is shocked when the kids prefer to do these things with their mother. She stopped asking because “the kids just don’t love me. You’ve turned them against me!” So now, she just sighs and acts wounded because the kids don’t want to spend time with her.

    • Satsuma said:

      My parents would threaten to send my stepbrother to live with his biological mother when he misbehaved, which probably had much the same effect. It’s bittersweet to hear that other people also got similar treatment, I suppose.

      • devymetal said:

        I relate to those threats, too. As a child, whenever my mother was about to make a really terrible decision, if I dared to express sadness, shock, disapproval or anything less than enthusiasm, she threatened to send me to my biological father’s house. Even though he was an active cocaine user, dealer and evil narcissist.

        When I was 10, my mother decided to marry another addict who was so far gone he could neither walk a straight line without stumbling, nor get through a single sentence without sniffing or stuttering. She told me I had “ruined every relationship she’d ever had” grabbed me by the throat, threw me against a wall, and DARED me to say a single word against my new stepfather. She was, by the way, a reference to her last horrible relationship, with a man who had emotionally and verbally abused me while she stood by… until his father molested me. After she left, she decided it was all my fault. And that, “Maybe it’s time for your father to deal with you.”

    • it was my dad, and “if you don’t like it here, then you can go live in foster care”, for me. it did not occur to me that this was anything other than perfectly normal until long after I moved cross – country. he also threw the world’s biggest tantrum when he realized that I’d actually made it to Virginia from California. (I’ve currently not been home in 3 years, and when I do go back it will be with a rental car and enough money for an emergency ticket home).

    • Dane said:

      I can relate! My mother pulled the “If you don’t stop crying RIGHT NOW, the neighbors will call CFS (child & family services) and they’ll take you away and you’ll just have a garbage bag full of clothes and you’ll have to live with a poor family!” when I was a little kid, and when I was a teenager she would threaten to call the police to take me to a teen home, where I would live on $5 a day in a hovel with no clean clothes surrounded by juvenile delinquents if I didn’t calm down RIGHT NOW. This being a response anything from staying out 10 minutes past my insanely early curfew, to an anxiety attack to self harm. Thank FSM for therapy!

      • Oh my gods. My mother is/was (I don’t know which, we haven’t spoken in almost 6 years, and I am GLAD) a horrid toxic (word I shouldn’t say here, but I am thinking it). When I was six, she destroyed my doll collection when I told her “daddy” in response to her asking who I loved more. Well, of course I loved him more, he wasn’t a screeching harpy from hell at the drop of a hat. At seven, she went into a fit of rage screaming “I hate you! I hate you! I wish you were dead!” then beat me with a belt and ignored me for two days because I didn’t want to go to the mall with her and dad (he went alone).

        Between the ages of 9 and 12 I was slapped, screeched at, called names, knocked down, beaten with a belt, dragged by the hair, and threatened with ‘the juvenile authorities’ on an almost daily basis. My heinous crime was stupid kid stuff: getting a bad grade, forgetting something, having a tiff with my sister (who because she had some developmental delays was spared the crap I went through), and as I got older wanting to be more independent and do my own thing more. I was a chubby kid until I was 9, and my mother used to call me “Fatty fatty 2×4″ and threaten me with doctors who would “strap me down and slice off my fat with no anesthesia”.

        I had ADD as a kid, and she wouldn’t let me be on Ritalin because she said it made me like a zombie. I would sometimes cut up in class because of it, and at age 8 she first threatened me with juvenile detention over being distracted in class. I personally think she didn’t want me on it just so she had more excuses to be abusive.

        The physical abuse went on until I was 17 and escaped to the Navy. I found out later that she turned on my sister when I did. I still struggle with that 25 years later. My sister ended up involved in drugs and the dregs of society as a way to cope.

        The emotional abuse continued until 6 years ago. There was a respite for three years from 1992 to 1995, when my dad, who had been aware of her behavior but not the abuse, told her bluntly to get on some medication or the marriage was done. She went on Prozac, and for a while, I actually had a proper mother. Then my dad died, and she said hell with the meds and did what she wanted.

        She had some kind of collapse related to a DUI charge where she lost her license for a year, and since she needed a relative to get her out of the nursing home they had her in, I went home to help her out and make sure she was okay before going back to Denver. Also, I had little to no cash, and had to work just to get enough to go back to my home to begin with.

        I went through seven months of hell with her (this was in 2007) and her batshit insane behavior, and she wouldn’t let me call or chat with friends back in Denver. I did a lot of sneaking around and it felt so asinine, because I was forty-fucking-two years old. I’ve learned since that a hallmark of all abusers is cutting you off from others. I guess I went home to help her thinking we could finally connect and because it was the right thing to do and blahdi blah, justification, etc.

        Once I made it back to Denver, she would abuse me in emails if I didn’t answer her fast enough. Finally I’d had enough and cut ties with her. I wish I’d done it 30 years ago. I’m 47, and I’m straightening myself out.

        I’ve since found out that she has/had the ‘zero to instant screeching rage’ sort of bipolar mixed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I have the more depressive sort of Bipolar, which wasn’t helped one bit by her refusal to let me get help growing up.

        • redgirl said:

          Oh my god, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m glad that you’ve cut ties and are taking care of yourself now, but it sucks that it took this long and you had to suffer so much.

          Big Jedi hugs here.

      • KL said:

        With my mother, the threat was PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision). Wow. This whole thread is giving me all the feelings.

    • staranise said:

      It’s so fascinating how differently that line gets used in different families. My mom spent her first few years in foster care and actually got adopted into an emotionally abusive family, so she used it with us when we were whining and crying about not getting a toy or a treat we wanted. She’d say, “Go call Children’s Services and tell them how bad you have it, see if they take you seriously.” (Subtext: they’d tell us we had it easy.) But it was always in a way that said that if it was that bad, then Children’s Services would help us.

      It’s always really weird to hear that for most people, the threat was always the total opposite: it implies that any alternative ever to family is awful, awful, awful.

      • And, for a completely different twist on it… in my family, it was my mother’s way of dealing humorously with her all-pervading ‘I Am Not A Good Mother’ guilt. So, her running joke would be that every time she did anything slightly wrong she would dramatically exclaim “Oh, no! You have to call Social Services!” (the UK term). She handled it in a way that really did come across primarily as funny rather than Emotional Dramz, so it was a pretty cool way of dealing with her own issues.

    • Commander Banana said:

      Wow – it’s amazing seeing so many comments about how many parents did this. For some ungodly reason, I visited an orphanage in Florida (or maybe it wasn’t an orphanage, maybe it was a home for wayward children? My memory is spotty, but all the girls were wearing those Mormon-style dresses and the poofy French braid) and my mother told me that if anything “happened to her,” I was going there. I was a really literal minded child and was terrified that she could so casually announce that I’d be going to the orphanage, like I was a puppy that wasn’t working out. O f course, this is the same woman who left my brother and me a note about how she wasn’t going to be our mother anymore because we left some dirty dishes in the kitchen. I

      • Ali said:

        Holy shit, the note leaving. I’d forgotten about that.

    • In my family, the threat was sort of bizarro-reversed – my stepfather would threaten that if we didn’t behave/pull our weight/act like Stepford children, our mother would have a breakdown and have to go to an asylum. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that my mom has serious and untreated mental issues and that she maybe would have been better off with some forced treatment. Regardless, we all ended up with serious boundary issues around Mom’s mental health and feeling responsible for her issues. About to wade into therapy for myself again. Fun!

    • hellanova said:

      “Emotionally corrosive” – That term. That fucking term. I need to remember that. This it the perfect way to describe my interactions with any family that is not my brother (and even him at times, because abuse is the gift that keeps fucking giving, hurfuckingray) and that dynamic you cite?
      Spot on.

      She has a need to invade, harrass, and manipulate me to get whatever information about my life she’s lacking, and the will “advise” me on it in the most shitty way possible, and when I ask firmly and politely to knock that shit off?
      You know, “I don’t want to talk about this with you/right now”, “This is making me stressed out and I can’t with it” etc… assert basic boundaries, y’know?

      She actively scorns my boundaries, and goes on about how I’m the only one who has these ~boundaries~ and, just, ugh.

      I love her though and she’s in a really brutal abusive relationship she can’t evacuate yet, so I feel like I need to be there for her, and I tbh can’t figure out if that’s an artifact of her guilt trips, my own conflation of TAKE! ALL! THE! SHIT! with being a decent person, or if I’d really be an awful human being for putting my own emotional health first when I have good reason to be afraid for her physical health.

      Fucking families, man.

    • hellanova said:

      Dammit, I also meant to add that I’m so sorry for your hideous experience with your mum.
      That orphanage thing is just brutal and awful and not at all ok.

  4. PM said:

    In dysfunctional families, there is a lot of pressure on the scapegoat kid to keep them in their assigned role. So when your (jerk-ish butthead) siblings say, “Call us more! It’s like you don’t want to be part of our family!” What they’re really saying is “Step back into a position that makes US comfortable! Step back into our sphere of influence so we feel in control!”

    Reasons for this are legion and extremely crappy:

    1) You’re doing better. You’re changing. They don’t know how to interact with you in any way beyond your assigned role of scapegoat. They don’t know how to deal with the “changed you” which makes them feel out of control and off-balance. Because there are still problems in the family, and they can’t be attributed to you being a “problem.” If you’re not going to take on the blame when holidays don’t turn out perfect or there is tension at a family gathering, who will they blame? It couldn’t be (gasp) THEIR fault things are Rockwell perfect?

    2) If you’re not in the scapegoat role, with guilt and blame piled upon your head, that means they can’t control you anymore. If they can’t guilt you into compliance with their unreasonable demands through nebulous claims of “but we have done so much for you!” or “it’s like you’re not even sorry” for all of the things you’ve supposedly done, that means you might actually do what you what’s best for you instead of what they want.

    3) If you’re not in the scapegoat role, you might ESCAPE!! If they can’t wrangle you back into the “family” by guilting you into calling more, visiting more, etc., you might decide you don’t need to see them at all, period. This would mean your siblings would be left alone to deal with your abusive father on their own. It’s very much an attitude of “Well, we can’t get away from it, so neither can you!!”

    I agree with putting these a-holes in social media jail and all of the other suggestions above. They think you’re uncommunicative, they haven’t even SEEN uncommunicative. You need space and time to rid yourself of the poison they’re pouring into your ear.

    • AnotherEmily said:

      This is so true. When I had a mental breakdown in college and finally started getting therapy, the end result (although not directly my fault or anything) was my parents divorcing and one of my siblings and I not speaking to my father for five years. Because once I could no longer hide how deeply fucked up our family was, and started taking steps to change the dynamic, I stepped out of my family role as “crazy one,” and that forced other family members to actually look at how abusive my father was, and make choices. One sibling chose to stick his fingers in his ears and go “I can’t hear you!”, but he’s also the only one who still tells me I’m crazy. Everyone else is like “…wow. Yup. You grew up in a super dysfunctional household.”

      Point is, LW, your family is invested in the narrative of you as The Other and the wrong/crazy/oversensitive one, because that means all problems are yours, and not the result of anything they’ve done, and thus, they have no need to change. But the best (and one of the hardest) parts about being an adult is that you get to write your own narrative, one that feels true to you. I wish you all the luck in the world.

    • I don’t have too much to add to this awesome comment other than THIS!!!! Well said. LW, my parents are much like yours, sounds like. My mother likes to do this thing where she offers financial help on the rare occasions when I’m in a serious financial bind, such as “i need emergency money for medical expenses and it cannot wait.” Last year I needed help paying for my therapist – the one who prescribes me antidepressants without which I cannot function, and she knows this – so she lent me her credit card for the visit and the meds, with the understanding that I would not have to pay her back. I repeatedly offered, and she said no, that she wanted to help and to “not worry about it.” Well, I worried, and rightly so. We are currently not speaking because, on the day she got the credit card bill, she called me at my office screaming at me about the amount charged and then sent me hateful texts all day long demanding I pay her back. We have not spoken since. Worse things than that have happened between us, WAY worse, but that was the last poop straw on the cumulative shit pile. I am sure I’m being reviled all over their house and called ungrateful and all sorts of names. I don’t care. I am pretty happy about not speaking to her. Go figure! And yeah, I unfriended and blocked her on Facebook ages ago. A++ would do again. I’ve decided they don’t get to treat me like crap any more, ever again. It’s a pretty great feeling. I also highly recommend this. Having horrible parents is embarrassing sometimes to me, but I try to remember it is not my fault. It’s their fault they suck. Not mine.

      • Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear that your mother is like mine. You’re so right though, it’s their fault that they suck, not yours (or mine). Any kind of financial situation with my mother is SO FRAUGHT that I’ve gotten to the point that I’d rather be homeless than accept any help from her, or even admit that I have any kind of problems in my life.

        • I have said that I’d rather live under an overpass than ever take another penny from her. The emotional price is too high. What’s been also on my mind as I’ve been reading the comments is the infuriating idea that if I (scapegoat/black sheep) ever “screw up” (going to college rather than getting a job right out of high school was considered screwing up in my family), it’s 100% my fault. However, all of my accomplishments since then are obviously the result of their stellar parenting and non-existent encouragement. She digs hard at me to open up – or used to – but if I ever gave her an inch, it was turned back on me as proof that I was a failure, etc.
          I am so sorry our moms are alike! Gross. I’m sorry. There is a strange comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this. My parents are extremely invested in the idea that they are good parents, and will flat-out deny any evidence to the contrary. It was not until I was well into my twenties that I realized that my home life was not healthy. Like another poster said, I would mention things that happened at home and then see the looks on my friends’ faces and it would hit me: this is not normal. Other families are not like this.
          Some of this stuff is so outlandish it’s hard for me to comprehend, and I was there. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina (I live in New Orleans and did at the time of the storm) I stayed with my parents during evacuation. After about a week, my mother got sick of my “moping” and told me, I swear to god, to “get over it.” My house was destroyed, job/health insurance gone, and I had no idea where most of my friends had ended up and no idea where I was going to live, and was almost completely out of money. But my sadness and anxiety over this was apparently harshing her mellow. And my dad’s. I left that day and did not speak to them for a year. I should have cut them off completely then.
          It is a powerful testament to the strength of the LW, CA and the commenters here that we are who we are, in spite of them.

          • sasha said:

            For instance, after Hurricane Katrina (I live in New Orleans and did at the time of the storm) I stayed with my parents during evacuation. After about a week, my mother got sick of my “moping” and told me, I swear to god, to “get over it.” My house was destroyed, job/health insurance gone, and I had no idea where most of my friends had ended up and no idea where I was going to live, and was almost completely out of money. But my sadness and anxiety over this was apparently harshing her mellow.

            OMG, are you me?!? I also was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and stayed with my parents for a while when I evacuated. I spent days glued to CNN watching my city drown, and doubting whether I’d made the right choice to move there, and panicking while trying to figure out WTF to do now. I had an extended and severe panic attack that was closer to a breakdown. In the midst of this, I failed to police my speech appropriately and made the “mistake” of making an offhand comment indicating I was not 100% thrilled and overjoyed to be back in Hometown living in Parents’ house. O.M.G., you’d think I’d accused her of smothering puppies. She flew into a rage, started in with the accusations of my being a horrible daughter, selfish, ungrateful, cruel, etc. etc. etc. I apologized, I begged her to stop, I held out my shaking hands and told her I was in the midst of a breakdown and couldn’t deal with this Could She Please Stop? Nope.

            As horrible as the experience was, it was eye-opening. I had still believed up to that point that my “childhood problems” (aka, the emotional abuse, which I didn’t recognize as such yet) were All My Fault for being Horrible. That was the first time I realized that, wait, maybe it’s not all me. I wish I had been as brave as you and walked out then, but alas that took a few more years, and a few more similar episodes (omg, my wedding!).

            It is a powerful testament to the strength of the LW, CA and the commenters here that we are who we are, in spite of them.
            Yes, this.

          • JenniferP said:

            I grew up to be a person who doesn’t scream at people and who doesn’t look at them only to criticize, and yeah, it’s a victory. We take them where we can find them, right?

            I’m so sorry you went through that.

          • ReanaZ said:

            I’ve always said the best revenge is turning out awesome despite all their suckiness.

  5. K said:

    4 years ago, I completely cut off my entire family…. after trying similar things (long periods of not talking to them, going over for short visits and promptly walking out when things became abusive)… I ultimately just did not want to deal with the pain and drama anymore, and it finally truly hit home that I “owed” them nothing, not even cordial “friendship”.

    Blocking them on FaceBook and emails, and writing that last note ending with “do not contact me further, including a response to this email” was the most painful and healing thing I have ever done for myself. It’s allowed me to move on and live my life more fully than I ever imagined, and to really focus on cultivating healthy friendships and connections with those who truly care about me. Chew off a finger to get out of a trap? You learn to live without it and find new ways to function without it!

    Of course, despite being blocked on multiple channels, they’ve found ways to contact me, especially recently, and it’s creeped me out more than most online weirdos ever have. Nothing that can’t be resolved with the “delete” key, or a quick note back (as advised by a counselor) saying: “Do not contact me. You’re not my friend. Leave me alone!”.

    I think the hardest part about having cut my entire family off is dealing with other people and society’s pressure in general. When my boyfriend’s sister’s mother in law got intrusively nosey over Thanksgiving dinner, I emphasized how thankful I am that his family is so healthy and wonderful, and that my family was like “those bad kinds of families that you read about” (and no, I didn’t want to get into the gory specifics with her over dinner, but to trust me that it was a painful last resort, since nobody *wants* to completely cut off family like I did). That shut her up and changed her attitude for the better! People do, and will, understand. The best ones will respect you even more.

  6. BadDaughter said:

    I am replying mainly because I know a lot of other people will be replying who will NOT give my advice. So. This advice is to be examined carefully and put away on a shelf if it is not useful.

    Leaving your parents is not a crime. It does not make you a bad person (although, witness my username, it will make you feel as though you were.). It can be a necessary act of survival.

    I have not spoken to my parents for almost twenty years, and I know my life is the better for it. Every now and then, I get guilty thoughts about it, but even in the worst depths of guilt, I know — I am not fooling myself about this — that resuming contact would not increase my happiness by the weight of a mite’s footprint. I get the guilty feeling because I know they want me to make contact again. They would be made happy by being able to abuse me again. I would… essentially be carpetbombing my hard-won sanity if I did such an idiotic thing.

    In any case, I am not responsible for making them happy.

    In my day I have known a great many people who were survivors of abuse. I have always felt pretty alone in taking the “extreme” route in dealing with abuse. But it works; it works well; and I found great reserves of capacity for happiness that I had no idea were there.

    If they treat you badly, they don’t deserve you. If they act like they deserve you, they don’t deserve you. If you feel great dread and unhappiness at the thought of interacting with them, they don’t deserve you.

    In fact, they don’t deserve you because no one “deserves” you.” You get to make the decision of who to spend your time with.

    I know our culture really disapproves of not having contact with parents. But I, for one, quite approve in particular cases.

    • Marvel said:

      This. I am not in contact with my parents, haven’t been for a while, and don’t plan to be any time soon. If people ask or the subject comes up in conversation, I tell people I don’t have parents, because I essentially consider this to be true and I don’t want to make the conversation awkward with a whole lot of detailed explanations regarding parental abuse and breaking off contact.

    • Elizabeth Perry said:

      THIS. I have refused any and all contact with my biological father for a decade now, and recently Things happened that meant he came up in therapy again, and my therapist suggested I examine why I continue to be absolutely-blanket-unqualified “fuck no” to opening up any kind of contact.

      My answer: because I don’t owe him the chance to prove he isn’t going to abuse me again. You (editorial you) do not owe your abuser anything. You especially do not owe him or her or them (because your (LW’s) siblings’ behavior sounds pretty fucking gaslighty to me) the opportunity to continue behaving badly or abusively.

      When I publish some of the poetry I have on my hard drive? I guarantee you my biological father will be OUTRAGED. And the only thing I am going to say to the people he convinces of his narrative (because he is smart and persuasive and we have some overlapping social and professional circles, unfortunately): “If he wanted me to write about him more kindly, he should have behaved better.” I don’t owe him anything. You don’t owe your abuser anything. You get to choose your narrative.

      • I cut all contact with my biological mother when, two weeks after my wedding, she told me that, “after your first divorce, you’ll understand.” Yeah, I’m going to understand why you left, why you beat me before you left, and then why you’re such a pretentious asshat to talk to me about my *first divorce* weeks after I got married? Yeah, no. I haven’t taken her calls since. My husband and I have been married 19 years come August.

        • Pterinochilus murinus said:

          How old were you when you cut off contact? I ask because I’m thinking it was probably your early twenties or so, in which case you have a really awesome anniversary coming up in the next few years: the time your husband has been in your life longer than your mother was!

          • Nora said:

            That really is an awesome anniversary! Can’t wait until I can celebrate it. :)

          • I was indeed in my 20s when I cut off contact, but it’s not as if she was in my life all that time. She ran off with dad’s best friend when I was 3, then magically popped up in our lives again right around the time I turned 14. I spent 7 years trying to have some sort of relationship with her, but the whole “first divorce” thing was the last straw. I swear, there are some days I am only married becasue she is still alive, and I will not give her the satisfaction of seeing me get divorced.

    • Amatyultare said:

      I love this. I don’t have any contact with my father anymore for pretty much exactly what you said: it would add absolutely nothing good, and quite a bit of bad, to my life. My sister and my mom (my parents are divorced) think I’m harsh, but it works really well for me.

    • Ve said:

      “I know — I am not fooling myself about this — that resuming contact would not increase my happiness by the weight of a mite’s footprint. I get the guilty feeling because I know they want me to make contact again…”

      This can be hard to deal with, agreed. I went through a similar cutting-someone-out-of-my-life fairly recently and for a while I felt bad because I knew this person wanted me to talk to them, “needed” me, but I knew that there was ABSOLUTELY nothing that I would get out of it. My overall health is still recovering from what I’ve been through the past year.

    • ‘If they act like they deserve you, they don’t deserve you. If you feel great dread and unhappiness at the thought of interacting with them, they don’t deserve you. In fact, they don’t deserve you because no one “deserves” you.” You get to make the decision of who to spend your time with.’

      Thank you, so much, for this. This will definitely not be put away on a shelf for me.

      • If you feel great dread and unhappiness at the thought of interacting with them, they don’t deserve you.

        Yes! Yesyesyesyesyes! That is exactly why I cut off contact with my mother. Every time she sent me a letter, I dreaded opening it. I spent so much time venting that dread to my friends that I got tired of hearing myself talk about it. I can’t express how freeing it was to just not give her my new address when I moved.

        It hasn’t always been easy, but cutting off contact has hugely improved my life. My mother is both a bad parent and a bad person, but she’s also so deep in denial about the terrible things she’s done that I honestly believe she doesn’t know why her letters started getting returned. On some level, she’s just a sad old woman who doesn’t understand why her oldest daughter stopped speaking to her. That’s sad, but she’s the one who made me so miserable that my life was better without her in it. If she ever wants to acknowledge how awful she made my childhood, I’ll be willing to hear it, but you know, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

        Also, other commentors here have made me incredibly grateful my mother doesn’t do social media (or even computers, period). There’s been no social media stalking, no changing of email addresses for me, all I had to do was not bother to give her my new phone number or mailing address when those changed.

        LW, you really, honestly, do not have to stay in contact with people who make you miserable. I know it’s been said elsewhere on this blog, but if you were really so awful, why would your family even keep hassling you? If you loathed someone as much as they seem to loath you, wouldn’t you be happy if they didn’t call, write, or visit?

        It’ll be tough sometimes, and you may feel like the biggest jerk ever to jerk around holidays and birthdays, but they’re the ones who decided to be so awful that not having any contact started sounding like a good idea.

    • I’ve had the same experience. Best decision of my life, and maybe one of the hardest. Even though I still loved a few of my family members, they didn’t love me back. I haven’t been in contact with most of them for about 25 years.

      My mom died last year but I didn’t find out about it until about 6 months later via a casual reference to the funeral in a cousin’s yearly Christmas newsletter, and that hurt because one of my sisters, though claiming it went against the grain to have any association with me, had promised to tell me if a parent was terminally ill, dying, or dead, and she didn’t.

      People are always telling me that all mothers always love their children, which isn’t true. But I think a lot of children love their mothers, even when they don’t want to and know that the mothers don’t deserve their love. So, it’s not without pitfalls, but maintaining radio silence is well worth the benefits, even with this kind of drawback.

      L.W., you may choose to try to have some kind of compromise where you still get to have a family, but know that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not wrong to turn your back on their continued abuse. It hurts, but it can be very freeing.

      • “People are always telling me that all mothers always love their children, which isn’t true.”

        THIS THIS A MILLION TIMES THIS.

        Of all the things I have done in my life, people judge me the most for the fact I do not speak to my mother. I don’t care. Let them judge. I am saner and healthier and happier without her. The people who judge did not live my life. They did not survive what I did. They get no say in how I run my life.

        It is a hard path, no question about it. But I would not change that decision. It does make other tough decisions much easier, because you have made one of the toughest ones of all.

  7. When is it time?

    When you’ve given all the fucks you once had. When you’re no longer hoping that things will change. If I do this, maybe they will love me. If I only talk less, or study harder or weigh less. Then they’ll accept me.

    For me reading your letter, I’m struck by how your parents knew about your depression and didn’t do anything. That is a huge red screaming flag for me. If they’re fine sacrificing your mental health because it makes things easier for them, what else of yours are they happy to sacrifice?

    After a fight or a conflict when you’ve made up there’s this sweet spot of “yay, now it’ll be alright”. You feel respected and that you’re feelings are being heard. You feel loved. When you’ve had the same old fights a while that squishy feeling starts to lessen and go away. You no longer have hope that things will be alright. Not really. Only if you do that they want. And then what is left of what’s truly you? You longer have anything to lose from cutting contact.

    For fucks sake, I once told my dad I was depressed and he took that as me being on drugs. Called me into his office, all knight in shiny armor like, ready to send me to rehab. I believe he thought he did the right thing. But I wasn’t on drugs, I was depressed and increasingly more so because that was clearly unacceptable to my father. A drug problem was better, in his eyes. That was when all my fucks started to fly out the window. I cut all ties with my family years ago. Now and then I miss having a family, but then I remind myself that they weren’t a family, not to me. What I miss is something I never really had. I choose my own family now.

    I think your brother and sister are still caught in this sick black web that living in a bad for you-family spins. Maybe they’re just trying to get along with your parents, maybe they don’t have the same opinion as them but won’t stand up for themselves. That isn’t important now. They’re not safe for you. They don’t have your best interest in mind. Neither does your parents. They are not likely to ever accept YOU. They’ll chip away at your personality until you fit in their preferred slots for acceptable behaviour.

    If you are strong enough to stay in contact, you are strong enough to cut ties.

    • tiny said:

      “… your parents knew about your depression and didn’t do anything.”

      My m*ther once told me: “Oh, I knew that you were unhappy, but I didn’t think that it was *that* bad.” Made me want to puke.
      She knew that I was an unhappy kid, she had enough psychological background knowledge to *know* that the way my f*ther treated me was destructive and would fuck me up. But she’d rather I be fucked up ‘a little’ than leave her husband – who was also abusive towards her, but that was also okay because, I guess, she abused him just as much.
      I haven’t talked to them in two years now. Or maybe three? It still makes me happy, the thought that I’ll never ever have to have anything to do with them. And I get so incredibly angry when I think about them and their excuses and how they ‘forgave themselves’ and ‘love me as their daughter and will give me all the time I need to heal’. As if I just have to change a bit for everything to be okay between us. Hah.
      I’ve never even liked them and it feels good to admit to myself that I hate them with the intensity of a giant raging bonfire for everything they did to me, for the fact that they destroyed my life, for the fact that they made me hate myself so much that I cut myself and desperately wanted to kill myself, and for the fact that every success of me will be seen by them as evidence that they ‘still did something right and can be proud of me’.

      Really, people give hate too little credit. It’s healing to admit to it, to let it rage for a bit every now and then, because it’s the healthy parts of you screaming about the injustice that was done to you, the healthy parts that want to fight for your rights, defend you and protect you from all harm.

      • PM said:

        “And I get so incredibly angry when I think about them and their excuses and how they ‘forgave themselves’ and ‘love me as their daughter and will give me all the time I need to heal’. As if I just have to change a bit for everything to be okay between us. Hah.”

        Forgiveness is a bit of a sticky wicket for me as well. I have a relative who has done some crazy, messed up, illegal crap. My husband and I drew the line and said, “You know what? I refuse to see you while you’re committing felonies.”

        Seriously, you would have thought I declared plans to eat puppies and puppies only for the rest of my life. The adorable puppies. She cried, “But I’ve ALWAYS forgiven you for the things that you’ve done to me!”

        I am still scratching my head over that one.

        I don’t see this woman. I haven’t for four years. I still occasionally get the “you really should forgive her for the sake of the family” lecture. But I don’t have to forgive her. People with this type of personality see forgiveness as a “reboot” – an opportunity to go back to square one where they can pretend they never did anything wrong (and you’re MEAN to say that they did!) and you’re put in the position having to accept the same crap all over again.

        • BayTree said:

          I think the problem is that people say “forgiveness” when they actually mean “acceptance.” Forgiveness is a personal thing that has nothing to do with how you treat a person. Forgiving my abuser does NOT mean I have to be nice to him, or talk to him, or move back in with him. It does NOT mean I have to accept someone’s petty cruelty. It just means I’m not holding onto that anger anymore, even though I know I have a right to be angry.

          So when people say you should forgive for the sake of family? That’s a pile of steaming bull. Forgiveness won’t change the things they want changed, but it sounds so much nicer than what they really mean.

          • PM said:

            Agreed, when people ask me to forgive and forget for the “Sake of the family,” what they’re asking is, “Please stop making me uncomfortable. I don’t like having to deal with the aftermath of you drawing healthy boundaries.”

            Dysfunctional families are like machines. As long as all of the little cogs are in place and performing their duties, (aka, pretending that nothing is wrong, everything is fine, and we all should just ignore the fact that one of the cogs behaves like a raging a-hole) the machine runs fine. But once on of the cogs pops out of place under the enormous strain of pretending no one is an a-hole and says, “ENOUGH” the whole machine breaks down.

            From what I’ve seen, the goal of the dysfunctional family is maintaining the status quo. They don’t know how to deal if things get better. They can’t cope if things get worse. So they bend themselves backwards just to keep themselves in a crappy situation, because it’s all they know and think its the best they can do.

          • I know to well that feeling. I couldn’t have said it in a better way.

          • ReanaZ said:

            Word. “Forgiveness is the act of letting go of anger /you are entitled to./ It has nothing to do with reconciliation.”

          • AutumnFire said:

            I remember when the saying used to be, “Forgive and forget.” Sorry, no. I may forgive (depending on the severity of the action against me) simply because it is healthier for me, but if you think that for one teensy moment of time I will EVER forget, think again. Remembering is what saves me from being abused or maltreated. You deserve to say “No” to them!

        • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

          I can’t remember where I heard this, but it stuck with me: ‘you can’t forgive a crime in progress.’ Meaning, you can’t forgive someone who is still, or would be if given access, in the middle of committing an offense which requires forgiveness. I have two people in my life who did some stuff which met my maximum awfulness limits, and led them to being permanently unforgiven/cut dead. Coincidentally, neither of them are at all sorry, have expressed no remorse, and made no reparations, unless spinning things to blame me for the abuses they committed counts as ‘remorse’. ‘Forgiveness’ and ‘closure’ bother me when they’re used as levers to try to force a wronged/injured person to stop talking about their pain. What’s worked for me is to come to a certain degree of peace with what happened. There is no longer searing anger and hatred and impotent lust for vengeance rotting my insides. I no longer care what becomes of these people, they have been reduced to insignificance, a tiny little footnote in the story of my life so far. So, long roundabout trip to the point I was getting at: you can have peace of mind without extending forgiveness to the unforgivable. Forgiveness, and you can call it something else that works better for you, is something you do *for yourself* more than for the ‘forgiven’ individual.

          • Luminous said:

            ‘you can’t forgive a crime in progress.’

            I am totally going to remember that. So true.

    • sasha said:

      I’m struck by how your parents knew about your depression and didn’t do anything. That is a huge red screaming flag for me.

      I’m…amazed that this is an obvious red flag to people, because I had one of those lightbulb moments when I read that in the Captain’s post. You mean parents actually do things like try to get their children treatment for depression? Really? Of course, thinking about it now, of course I would do so if I had children of my own (heck, I worry about the mental health of my cat!). But the thought that my parents could have helped me get treatment for the depression I’ve had since childhood never even crossed my mind! It was made clear that I was on my own to get over it myself. My mother even once told me that once I was an adult, I should get therapy to deal with my childhood. But heavens forfend she try to get me help then, much less change her own abusive behavior!

      Like you, I gave my last fucks several years ago. But unlike the LW, my sister is supportive of me despite still being enmeshed, so I keep in touch (where “keep in touch” = talk only about the most trivial of topics) with my mother for sister’s sake as much as anything.

      LW, I agree 110% with what CA and others have already said. It sounds like your siblings are still enmeshed with your family, and are struggling to maintain the status quo, while you’re “rocking the boat” from their perspective. But you’ve gotten away, and you need to take care of yourself now. If that means rocking the boat, so be it – in fact, all the better. Take care, and enjoy your freedom and new life!

      • Ve said:

        “But the thought that my parents could have helped me get treatment for the depression I’ve had since childhood never even crossed my mind! It was made clear that I was on my own to get over it myself.”

        Exactly. I was first suicidally depressed when I was 12 and was finally diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder when I was 21/22. Before I reached the point of daily suicidal ideations as a pre-teen, I mentioned to my mother that I was depressed. As someone who was/is super religious she told me, “If you truly believed you were a child of God, you wouldn’t be depressed because you’d have nothing to be depressed about.”

        While this is a common, toxic behavior in our church too, there were so many things she has said over the years where I felt that as illogical as they sounded, and as abusive as she was (it’s taken me a while to call what she’s done “abuse,” I still don’t think I can fully “claim” that word), I was in the wrong because she was the “Good Christian.”

        • This reminds me of an article I read years ago. (No link, no recollection of the author or title.) A chronically ill Christian woman sought support from her church and got it … for a while. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to get any better, her brethren distanced themselves from her. They thought that if she truly believed, or whatever, Jesus would heal her.

          The woman moved to a different church where the members weren’t asshats. Too bad it’s not as easy to disconnect from a toxic family.

          • Ve said:

            That is my parents’ exact belief. Our neighbor died of cancer last year and they said essentially that.

        • Daisy said:

          God, this thread. I love my parents and they’ve really changed how they behave towards me, but I haven’t ever fully forgiven them for not getting me help as a child.

          Even when I was a teenager, and read the enyclopaedia and realised I probably had a mental illness, my mother discouraged me from going to the doctor on the grounds that it would be on my medical record forever. (I eventually went to the doctor anyway, at sixteen or seventeen. He recommended I do more exercise and sent me away again. So, that was a useful visit.)

          I lost most of my adult life to dealing with depression and anxiety, but it was clear and obviously there from when I was a child. I still have some bitterness about that. Why, as an educated, competent person, would you just leave a small child to struggle and suffer every day? Why wouldn’t you help them? I don’t really get it.

          • It’s just my personal theory, but think there are two big categories of why:

            The first is ignorance regarding mental illness. To help your child with depression, anxiety or other mental illness, you have to recognize that what your child is going through is mental illness, not just a normal phase of childhood. Most people have been unhappy at some point in their youth — perhaps even desperately unhappy for a time — whether because of undiagnosed mental illness of their own or because of external circumstances that made unhappiness or anxiety a perfectly reasonable response to their reality. And because some unhappiness is part of life.

            Even if their own suffering was also something that deserved an intervention by loving parents and mental health professionals, if they didn’t get it (and the older you are, the less likely it is that they would have gotten mental health care for anything so “trivial” as even profound, debilitating unhappiness or what other people would have seen as irrational anxiety… you had to be scary to get treatment, and the treatment you got wasn’t necessarily kind), they simply may not recognize what they’re seeing as symptoms of a diagnosable, treatable condition. They think it’s just “attitude,” or that you need to “toughen up.” Which is WRONG, but not necessarily something they’re believing at you. It’s just a really sucky thing to have your parents believe, when you have mental illness.

            A close corollary of that is what was once the prevailing view (and is still all too prevalent): that mental illness is a matter of choice or character — that if the sufferer just tried harder, or if the parents just applied sufficient corrective discipline, the child could and would get over it. Oh, and of course the idea that tough and insensitive is a virtue. Some of that can be summed up as “nobody coddled me, and I turned out ok.”

            Add to that the fact that “normal,” healthy kids do go through phases of moodiness and withdrawal, and even good parents sometimes don’t realize their kid is suffering something both dire and treatable. Or, conversely, that something doesn’t have to be dire and disastrous to be something that a professional could help with. That there is no award at the end of a life for having muddled through without professional help!

            The other big reason — one that seems to describe some of the deeply disfunctional families described in this thread — is self-centeredness. We’ve all met people who evaluate everything in terms of how it affects them. And unfortunately, sometimes those people become parents. When they decide to have kids, they are picturing blithely happy, low-maintenance children who make them feel loved and make them look good to others.

            From the start, people like that care only about behavior, not the mental state that underlies that behavior. Also, not being particularly empathetic, they’re not very good at seeing things through the eyes of a child and giving children what they need to feel secure (e.g., open love, clear, age-appropriate expectations, consistency and consideration). So, perversely, they don’t create the kind of conditions that make it easy for kids to behave “well.”

            Parents like that are all too likely to consider a child’s personality problematic because the child had colic — and to favor another child who by pure happenstance didn’t. The shy child, the rambunctious child, the too-persistent child, the stubborn child…god forbid, the child with genuine mental illness — any child who requires that the parents adapt themselves to the kid’s needs, rather than playing the role of a good little accessory is an inconvenience and annoyance. If there are siblings who either (in the lottery of life) got “easier” dispositions or who watched the dynamics around them and figured out what behavior would please mommy and daddy, and managed to adapt to that, then they become the “good” ones, the other, perfrectly normal child the “difficult” one.

            And, of course, there are all sorts of combinations of the two phenomena, in varying degrees.

          • sasha said:

            alphakitty, I <3 you and want to bake you a whole plateful of cookies. You are awesome and totally Get It. That is all. Thank you

          • Astral said:

            I second Sasha. alphakitty’s explanation describes my family perfectly.

            I can relate to sooo much: Telling my parents a relative was hurting me – I egged him on. Crying regularly from being bullied – people just don’t like us. Begged to see a psychiatrist – I was being dramatic. Starved myself – at least taken to the pediatrician; an anorexic daughter doesn’t look good for the “perfect” family. Mom’s explosive rage over trivial things similar to which knives in which drawers – constantly. I’ll stop before I get to things that made me finally set some serious boundaries.

            I’m sorry we’ve all had to go through this stuff! But hearing your stories and ways you’ve dealt helps me keep on keeping on. And not feeling so bad about my plan not to attend anything related to the upcoming holiday. Because, yeah, that feeling of dread.

          • hebbyn said:

            One of the jokes in my family (it’s funny if you’re us!) is that it’s good we’ve been playing mental-illness bingo for three generations (depression, manic depression, schizophrenia, mania w/psychosis), because it means we know what to if it hits one of us.

            Which isn’t exactly true but… well, it’s pretty good odds that the reason my mum’s alive and her mum isn’t, is better medication and access to support. When sibling became manic? My parents knew that a mental health hospital was a much better option than *not* being in one. My (schizophrenic) uncle is a pretty good poster-child for why taking your meds is a good thing. You know that bad brain-chemistry isn’t anybody’s fault.

            And the flip side—it also teaches you that nobody can do everything for somebody else, which means you can’t pin responsibility for your wellbeing on somebody else. Which should be blatantly obvious, but (from looking at friends’ relationship with parents) really isn’t.

            But that all comes because we recognize and acknowledge it, when it’s happening to someone. If you’re in a group that refuses to do that, they’re missing the chance to take something pretty awful and actually sift through it to find something useful.

      • Zeenat said:

        I know what you two mean… My pediatrician in high school told my mom that I was showing signs of depression and referred me to a psychologist. When my mom got to the car berated the heck out of me. Because I talked to much and I didn’t have a problem. Thanks…

        • Pelusa said:

          *jedi hugs* to you both if you want them

      • Kristin Leigh (formerly Holden Cauliflower) said:

        Ha, I get this. My mom’s reaction to my obvious depression was always (and I put this in quotes because it’s pretty much verbatim what she would tell me) “you CHOOSE how you feel, so if you’re unhappy it’s because you’re not choosing to be happy hard enough!”

        • sasha said:

          “you CHOOSE how you feel, so if you’re unhappy it’s because you’re not choosing to be happy hard enough!”

          Ha ha, oh yeah, I know that one well! Of course, meanwhile, she was going to a therapist and reading self-help books to deal with her own Inner Child. Which was doubly ironic, because she was doing the Exact.Same.Things to us that she was complaining about from her mother! But when I talked about how sad I was about X, it was all “get over it.” FEELINGS were her exclusive province, well her and the favorite daughter, us scapegoats weren’t allowed.

          Sorry you know this too.

        • Commander Banana said:

          Yikes, do we have the same mom?! Mine is happy because she chooses to be happy! Why can’t I do that? Probably a combination of long-untreated mental illness, faulty chemical balances in my brain, and living with the consequences of a lifetime of emotional abuse and neglect? No, it’s because I choose to be unhappy! Oh, and also, I may possibly be possessed by a demon. (No, seriously.)

          • Lunaduck said:

            Commander Banana! If you want some demon free jedi hugs, I will send you a whole horde! My parents and brother also accused me of being demon possessed because of the depression and anxiety of being the scapegoated girl in a misogynistic crazy-ass religious cult family. It truly sucks.

      • staranise said:

        :/ It’s so common and so heartbreaking. And yet, the vast majority of kids in therapy are put their by their parents. Very few kids actually up and ask to see a therapist. (I did, when I was a teenager, and still feel eternally grateful that my parents immediately set me up.)

      • Trjgul said:

        It took me a while to really understand that the way my parents reacted and treated me after my mom found me attempting suicide at 14 was wrong. Hell, it took me a while to realize how dysfunctional it was. At first their primary worry was how traumatized my sister would have been had she found me first, oh, and the mess I would have left for them to clean up. Then it was only a month of therapy before my mom asked if I was better yet, as therapy was expensive. Seeing as I was also the scapegoat and not the favored child, and pretty much used to it by then, I lied and said I was better.

        I haven’t talked to anyone in my family for about two years now, and I’m starting to get a handle on things, sort of. It’s funny because I had initially written to my mom saying I needed time and space, and to not contact me, and she agreed. Well Christmas rolls around, and me, the husband and kids had gone to England to spend it with his mother and her husband. We get back home and I find an email from my sister bitching me out for not calling Mom. She ranted about how they’ve always put up with my “bullshit drama”, then told me “rot in hell you selfish bitch”.

        What better way to know I did the right thing? It’s incredible how willing people are to let someone else live in pain just so they’re comfortable.

        • sasha said:

          Then it was only a month of therapy before my mom asked if I was better yet, as therapy was expensive. Seeing as I was also the scapegoat and not the favored child, and pretty much used to it by then, I lied and said I was better.

          I hear you. I’m so sorry you went through this.

        • Mortifyd said:

          Oh yeah – I know that feeling. I’ve seen a doctor 3 times now for my schizophrenia and got some pills – I should be totally cured, right? UGH. Not instahealing is totally “selfish” – to selfish people.

          I’m sorry you got rush/pushed into leaving treatment. It sucks.

          • I read that most of the pills don’t have any effects… Well if you don’t notice any difference you may just leave it and live without pills.

          • Mortifyd said:

            “I read that most of the pills don’t have any effects… Well if you don’t notice any difference you may just leave it and live without pills.”

            That’s um…. nice. For me they actually DO seem to be working, thanks. Some side effects, but rather better than what I have been dealing with until this point. Since I’m the one that has to live with it – I think I will give them a go and then decide.

          • That’s good then.^-^

      • Heh, I *also* sort of didn’t notice that as a red flag because I had almost the opposite experience – it would be my mom who would periodically suggest therapy for me, but in this judgy tone that made it because something was wrong with me and I needed to be sorted out. That + internalized stigma about mental illness and therapy = I didn’t actually get therapy until I was far away & had some friends in therapy who could reassure me that it could help. (And some of those friends were in therapy because I’d convinced them to go there! It’s easier to accept these things in others than in oneself…)

        Anyway, this thread is really helpful, as is the Captain’s answer. Even with a family that’s merely somewhat dysfunctional rather than really abusive, there’s a lot for me to absorb and think about here.

      • hellanova said:

        For me too.

        I had my first “talking to” about “threatening suicide” when I was in 5th grade. My principal made it very clear it was “serious” and that I shouldn’t go talking about stuff like that or “serious measures” would be taken.
        Great job terrifying a kid into shutting up and not making it your problem anymore, asshole.

        My family believed that medication was for pansy-types who hadn’t worked an honest day/sweat of brow/on and on it goes with no hint of plot, you know the sort. The idea that I should’ve been helped? Honestly never occurred to me until this thread, though I’d stopped blaming myself in my early 20s for being unable to “power through” thinking about offing myself NEARLY EVERY DAY.

        Thrilled to say 2 1/2 weeks ago I got medication for the first time, and y’know what? I’ve not felt suicidal once in that span, which is a new record. I am so fucking amazed at how simple small things actually are now, instead of 3293283287283 obstacles to brushing my damn teeth. I <3 my meds.

        Funny thing, though, my dad's been REALLY adamant I not "focus on the past" when I was grieving for the 15+ goddamn years in a pit of abject nonfunctioning despair I wasted for no good reason.
        Reading this thread I finally figured out why. :(

        • I’m so happy the meds are working for you!

  8. Pqw said:

    I wrote something really long, but I know from Twitter CA is already feeling triggered, so I deleted all of it.

    LW, I could have written your letter, except my situation was worse, and I’m the eldest child (not the middle). I haven’t spoken to my parents in >7 years, and while it was wrenching to cut ties with them, it has made my much-better-now life possible. I don’t miss my parents. At all. I do miss believing my aunts and uncles and cousins actually cared about me. Now I know they didn’t, because practically the only time anyone ever contacts me, it’s because my mother asked them to plead her case with me. Ugh. (When I’ve contacted them, they don’t answer.)

    I don’t know your feelings, LW, but time away from my Darth Vader family allowed me to realize that I don’t love them. It’s been very liberating. I’m now working on becoming an amazing person who delights and surprises herself.

    Your instincts are solid — listen to them! Good luck to you! Jedi Hugs (if you want them).

    • Lunaduck said:

      Pqw, it’s so brave of you to admit you don’t love your parents, and why should you?

      I can relate to this, and will now also proclaim, “I don’t love mine either!” and this makes me so happy.

    • Ve said:

      Over the past year, I realized that my definition of “love” had been so warped throughout most of my life, regarding the “love” I felt I received and therefore gave. I love 97% of my family in an “I’m obligated to say that because we’re related although I’d never associate with you we were not relatives” way, and it never occurred that many people genuinely do love their families, as in that “love” emotion gives them joy and not dread, unhappiness, grief, frustration. Although things have improved regarding my relationships in my immediate and extended family, and we both have seemingly increased our love for each other, we are just different people.

      • Oh, yes. I’m an only child with…difficult parents, and it was not until I bonded closely with my partner’s wonderful younger brother that I went “Oh. *That’s* what loving your family feels like?”
        I’m cautiously, conflictedly fond of my parents these days, but it’s a far cry from love, and I never knew.

        • Ve said:

          Exactly, it was a really strange realization for me. Even now I can’t imagine “loving” much of my family. At the moment things have gotten better between my parents and me — relatively speaking, after several screaming arguments the past several months — but I can’t imagine not feeling, at best, a sense of dread and/or frustration when it comes to dealing with most of my family.

          • Yep. We’re on okay terms at the moment – mostly because I haven’t done anything terribly disapproval-inducing recently – so I’m basically being selfish about this and continuing to accept their help with medical fees and my upcoming move. Because, uh…I prefer feeling icky and manipulative and stuff to being ill and homeless.

            But it looks like I’ll be financially independent by the end of the year, and have paid them back for the house and stuff…and *then* I can tell them about the transgender thing. The shit is really going to hit the fan then.

            It’s really sad that the knowledge that we’ll have arguments and my mother will cry a lot at me and stuff does not elicit much of a reaction anymore. I’ve definitely got to a place of “whatever, if you don’t like my life, feel free to not be a part of it”.

            A really great indicator is “do you want to go to x person or run away?” If my mother was ill (but not dying or anything), I’d feel really conflicted about, say, going to spend a week at my parents house. Whereas if Dylan (aforementioned younger brother) were ill, wild horses could not keep me from showing up with food.

          • Ve said:

            Frustratingly, whenever I talk to anyone who is not my parents they tend to have a similar viewpoint as I do (even when I don’t give my opinion on something first, or try to use my parents’ viewpoint to rationalize something). It’s aggravating to always be treated like you’re the crazy one for thinking a certain way. And things have gotten better us, largely since I don’t back down from confrontation anymore, but frankly this is probably about as good as things are really going to get.

            That is an excellent indicator. I’d be pretty conflicted if my mom got sick too, especially since it’s not like I don’t care for her well-being. But when my best friend got particularly sick during college, I showed up to the hospital before he did.

            I lived in Spain for a while during 2011 – 2012 and am trying to move back now, in part because that’s just what I would like to do in any event, but also because I’m more than happy to leave and not have much obligation to my family and life in Chicago as a whole. When I had problems there, I honestly never had a desire to come back because I knew things would be worse here (and frankly even I wasn’t prepared for how bad the past 12-ish months were going to be).

  9. miss_chevious said:

    I wouldn’t characterize my family as abusive, but my mother is a Very Opinionated and Strong Willed person and she has raised a Very Opinionated and Strong Willed child, so we get along best when my visits are kept short. Otherwise it degenerates very quickly into arguments and criticisms of things that happened literally decades ago, and YOU DON’T APPRECIATE ME THE WAY A DAUGHTER SHOULD! Which…no.

    In other words, LW, the Captain’s advice is spot on. I think you will find many many other people out in the world who have boundaries and limitations about their relationships with their families in order to preserve those relationships. If I gave my mother what she wanted in terms of interaction, we wouldn’t have a relationship at all because I would be angry and defensive and bitter all the time and would tell her the bare minimum even though I would be there a lot more. Instead, we talk and see each other less than she would like, but we get along much better and I am comfortable enough to share much more with her. I’m not saying your family will ever be safe enough for you to be vulnerable with — they don’t sound that way at present, anyway — but at the very least, the boundaries will help you feel better and allow for that possiblity down the road, if you want it.

  10. botias said:

    I just want to bolster the reality where screaming at people is not OK, and it is OK to stay away from people that are mean to you.

    • Charlotte the Harlot said:

      Yep. Like the Captain said, you might think that certain behaviours are normal because your family acts that way, but that’s not necessarily the case. Moving out was wonderful for me, because nobody screams at me anymore, or criticises my appearance or social life/lack thereof. Why? Because those things *aren’t normal*, and my friends, co-workers, and (past) roommates never do those things. And it’s really freeing, in that I no longer have to shout back at anyone; that always felt terrible, but it was kind of necessary with a family that shouts at you for the smallest things.

  11. Also, just because you love someone doesn’t excuse their crappy behaviour. Just because your family loves you* doesn’t make you a bad person if you decide to cut contact. Their feelings don’t define you. You get to have your own truth.

    * I have my doubts. What is love (baby don’t hurt me)? Look at their actions, not at their words. Their definition seems to be a big ol’ iceberg’s way off mine.

    • I know what you mean with words and actions. That’s way I can’t believe anyone who says I love you to me. I believe my mother because she’s always there for me and accepts me even if she doen’t like it much. She and 3 of my friends are the only people I belive that they love me. By other people I always thing, you say that but you doen’t act like it towards me.

  12. Kitewithfish said:

    I think the advice is all spot-on today, LW, so I will add just one more thing.

    You are allowed to be sad about the fact that your family is so difficult and joy-siphoning and guilt-tripping. You’re allowed to wish they were different.

    And be aware that your wishing will not change them, and that you need to evaluate their conduct towards you without the wishful hope that they might get better. It’s really unlikely that they will. And you have to deal in reality.

    But in a safe quiet place, well away from family’s actual treatment of you, it’s okay to be sad that they are so screwed up and unkind, and wish that things were different. Because this is a grievously sad thing- you don’t have a family that loves you without hurting you, which everyone deserves, and many people do not get.

    You’re still going to have an awesome life that will include many wonderful people who love you and don’t hurt you, and who think you are awesome in many ways that your family would rather punish you for.

    I wish my mom were better. I keep in my what she is really like, so that, when I do talk to her within my own boundaries, I do not expect much of her. But when I figured out exactly how screwed up she was, and how screwed up *I* was when I’m with her, I kind of needed time to grieve the passing of the illusion of our “great relationship” and how we were “so close!” I was pretty well brainwashed, and it took me a while to see it, and when I did, admitting that I was sad about it made me able to get on to the next thing.

    • huia said:

      I find your comment really comforting and valuable. Thank you so much!

    • Ve said:

      I find it comforting too.

      My mother has NPD, I’m sure, and is very abusive towards me. I was brainwashed to think that I was always the problem, a horrible daughter, would never accomplish anything to make her proud, despite my clear overachieving nature.

      My family on both sides is full of chaos — the type of family that could indeed discourage someone from wanting to marry me. I mentioned that until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that many people do “love” their families in a way that gives them joy, my family has only ever filled me with dread at best. It’s sad that I can’t rely on 98% of my family for love, acceptance, stability (although things have improved somewhat over the past several months), but that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of love.

      That being said, I need to heal and figure out how to have relationships outside the lens of constant abuse, manipulation, criticism, degradation, fits of rage, neglect, being the not favored child/scapegoat, etc….so what is “normal,” what is “healthy,” what are “happy relationships/marriages/etc.” I plan on getting the books, “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life,” and “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.” We’re not alone.

  13. JetGirl said:

    Last year, I saw a film that really stuck with me. It was called “Hello I must be going,” and is about a young woman who has moved back home while dealing with her divorce, lack of career, etc. Her whole family, especially her mom, treats her like the black sheep and looks down on her. She eventually finds her way, and I’m not going to spoil the film for others, but there’s a point where she has lunch with her soon-to-be-ex. And she says to him, “I don’t like myself when I’m with you.”
    And I thought about that a lot. Because in my case, my family always made me feel like I was wrong, and bad, and worthless. In my brother’s case, it was deliberate. It took me almost 30 years to understand that I was not any of the things they made me believe, and I found my quiet room, and now I have no desire to spend any time with them at all. Because I don’t like myself with them. I don’t like the role they force on me, or the way they see me. Luckily, they now live on another continent. And we talk very briefly. And we e-mail occasionally.
    But at least I like the me I am without them. Good luck to you, LW.

  14. I’ve actually been struggling a lot in my relationship with my mother lately because we’ve gotten into a really bad cycle. We’re actually mostly close, with no major baggage, but sometimes we fall a little out of touch — I get busy/careless and don’t call for a week or a little more, and that makes her feel unimportant to me (though she knows I hate phones — and as the Captain says, phone lines run both ways). So when we do talk, there’s a needy flavor to the call that makes me pull inward, and the more she pries for info the less enjoyable the conversation is for me. It starts feeling like an interview at best (as she runs through everyone in my life or my husband’s family asking how they are doing), an interrogation at worst. For someone who hates talking about herself/her life in the first place AND hates phones, it’s awful. So my answers get increasingly clipped. She gets even more aggressively intrusive to keep me on the phone. And then when she pries a tidbit of info out of me that it’s obvious I wasn’t going to volunteer, she feels like her persistence/interview technique has been vindicated. Which makes me want to howl with frustration. And does NOT make me more inclined to call my mom again any time soon, though I know that’s what I need to do to break the cycle. And that’s all in the context of a GOOD mother-daughter relationship!

    I mention it because IF you choose to try to have a relationship with your siblings (and I quite understand if you choose not to), you need to talk to them (or email them) about breaking your version of the vicious cycle. Point out to them what a huge percentage of your phone calls involve them criticizing you for not being geographically closer, for not calling more, for being a Bad Daughter, for being a Bad Family Member. And that each time they say something like that, it has the effect of pushing you a little farther away, because the constant criticism, in which you are held responsible for everything that is less than ideal in your familial relationships, sucks.

    Explain that if what they want is someone to blame for family misery, or to punish you for all the ways they think you fall short of their expectations, then that is up to them — but they are going to have to do it without you, because you are not going to stick around for that shit. Every time a phone call starts in that direction, you will simply hang up. Every time an email says something like that, you will stop reading and delete the email.

    But if, as they claim, what they want is to be closer to you, they should try experimenting with this stuff called kindness, with its corollaries interest and support! They can call (or answer your call) and ask how you’re doing! Express pleasure in your happiness and successes! Express regret on your behalf when you have hit a bump in the road or are struggling with depression, without undertones of criticism, blame, and “what the hell do you expect, being the loser you are, with such unrealistic aspirations, out there on your own?” Generally let you know that they love you and that your happiness is even more important to them than their selfish desire to haul you back into a life that literally made you want to cut yourself!

    If their response to this is a good faith effort to be kinder, maybe you can salvage something. if it is another shitstorm of how much you suck, I would think that would make it easier for you to walk away with no regrets.

    • anon7 said:

      Alphakitty — what your mother does is exactly what my mother-in-law does! I’ve never met anyone else who does this and it has confused and upset me for years. My husband and I joke that it’s like being in a deposition. She is especially hard on me, I think, because I have more problems (health and job-wise) than my husband. The questions she asks me are usually geared towards finding out how I can “fix” all of my problems. With my husband, she acts like we are keeping important aspects of our lives secret from her, especially fun and exciting details, as if our lives are really glamorous. (Which, trust me, they aren’t. Haha) I think the interrogation is the main point, though, moreso than the exact topics.

      I have struggled for ages to find a way to deal with this — I really do like her and everyone else in my husband’s family, but seeing her makes me incredibly anxious. I like your suggestion of getting in contact more to prevent the onslaught (especially since we live far away from them, so I bet she feels neglected a lot, just like your mom). But the stubborn/rebellious side of me feels like that is just giving in to her arguably bad behavior. Anyway, sorry to derail the thread, couldn’t help chiming in.

  15. Rocketpants said:

    This is awesome advice. I’m still living in a situation like the one CA described her family being [I've been yelled at because I dared to sneeze before answering - and was the unreasonable one for being upset over that!] So, it’s awesome that you’ve moved away from that environment!

    That said, even if you follow the Captain’s advice, there will be times outside people will try to tell you ‘it couldn’t be that bad’ since ‘it wasn’t *really* abuse’, and yeah. Say you’re ungrateful for ditching your family like that. Some will understand if you tell them it was ‘like those bad families in movies’, some won’t. Those that won’t might very well try to find ways to ‘convince’ you of their point of view – and if they do? Don’t feel bad shutting off all contact but what you *have* to have for where ever you know them from.

    I hope things work out for you.

  16. EB said:

    SUPER JEDI HUGS TO YOU CA!!
    You continue to amaze me with your wisdom, compassion and totally kick ass advice.

    I ditched a few super controlling family sociopaths and suffered a year of fallout from my brothers who wanted me to continue in my role as whipping girl so THEY wouldn’t be the ones getting cruel and toxic phonecalls, emails and letters. Luckily, I hit a rough enough point there was no going back.
    The toxic Aunty and cousin (more intrusive than most parents or sisters) took their revenge and gossiped and backstabbed about me for for years. Before that they had been lying to me about things my brothers said about me, and vice versa, to divide and conquer us. It started to work, I tried to fix everything, and fix everybody but had no help and no cooperation. I could not fix it. So, I cut them off and walked away. They begged me to let them back in their lives, I shrugged and said: “I am just completely unable to trust you anymore after that cruelty” because that is true. And sociopaths like that, they hate the truth.
    They were tenacious to the level that cutting them out completely was the only way. In a sense I am glad they took the lies and cruel games to such extremes because I had gotten so used to it, I might have put up with their miserable controlling ways forever.
    It was only when I had to stand up for my Mom’s health and life, that I grew the spine that I used to later defend my own self and get the fuck away from them.
    As painful as it all was, I am much stronger woman for it. No more emotional blackmail or visits that feel like hazing. My energy and love goes to people a who actually deserve it because they give me the same. It’s a whole different world without all that guilt and abuse altering your perceptions. It’s like coming out from under the darkest cloud.
    This is what the toxic assholes are afraid of, all of us telling the truth!
    Jedi hugs to all making this journey, and those inspired to share their stories of freedom here. I am proud of all of you! And forever grateful for CA for creating this awesome place where these things are finally revealed and understood.

  17. Ve said:

    “….he’d tell me I was overreacting and blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Because screaming about things like “where we keep the knives in a rental kitchen” is normal in his world, so normal that there is a 75% chance he does not remember it at all, and I was raised to think that was normal. ”

    OMG yes, this is my mother, especially the ‘this is such normal behavior of hers she would literally not remember were I to bring it up.’

    “It means when they are nice and pleasant it makes me doubt my own reality, like, do I really need to keep my shields up? Am I being unfair? Ohhhhh wait, there is screaming about trivial stuff again, nope, it’s okay to keep my guard up.”

    I hate to put it like this, but I’ve screamed at my mother so much over the past several months about how she treats me, how I’m tired of being disrespected, just snapping in general, that I almost feel bad that she’s much nicer now. It’s hard to explain, but bit-by-bit she’s is working on how she acts towards me, especially since I’m not functioning well right now. I still have self-doubt issues and am also dealing with depression, anxiety, psychosomatic issues, aftermath of trauma, and need to improve my health in general once my finances improve, and it’s hard for me to feel like I deserve to treated well.

    • The thing is, when you get out into the real world of Nice People who don’t abuse you. You still carry some of those beliefs and behaviours. You’ve been brainwashed. I know I was a lot harder and scarier those first years after cutting out my family and before finding a good therapist.

      Even with therapy, there’s those moments where you realize: “Ooooh! That wasn’t normal. Well that sucks.”

      • Ve said:

        Definitely, I’ve been trying to be my own therapist for the past several months (both because of finances and transportation issues), and I go up and down with my “progress” sometimes.

        I figured out fairly recently that a lot of my self-worth issues are wrapped up in money/my finances. I’ve said to myself, “Yes, I’m [insert list of positive characteristics], but what do I have to show for it?”

        After talking to my mother’s youngest sister (who said that my mom is the female version of their father), she said that’s a “generational curse” in our family, as their father was super abusive when stressed about money.

  18. Part-time Jedi said:

    LW, I would just like to point out that in most healthy families, the parental units aren’t interested in raising children who will stay with them indefinitely, in a perpetually dependent state. They raise children with the ultimate goal of those children becoming responsible, autonomous adults who go off and live their own lives.

    If your family is having a shit-fit just because you’re trying to become functional without them, then they don’t have your best interest at heart. And you don’t owe them a opportunity to try to derail your plan for your own life in favor of theirs.

    • Ve said:

      As dumb as this sounds, I pretty much need someone to tell me what happens in most healthy families. I didn’t realize how JUST how effed up my family was — immediate and extended — for years because most of my closest friends have had traumatic upbringings too.

      Like I mentioned in an earlier CA post about abusive families, had I not watched Tangled (and analyzed some scenes in the movie Precious, the staircase fight scene most notably) I would have never embarked on this introspective, therapeutic quest and confronted my mother. In all honestly, probably never.

      • Part-time Jedi said:

        From what I’ve read here, and from personal experience, that’s not dumb at all. If your family has worked in a particular way your entire life, why would you ever question it? How would you know how healthy families work, unless you ask?

        I’ve got a kid from camp who’s in a bad home situation (and she may wind up moving in with me) and she frequently asks me “Does x happen in normal families?” or “Did you ever experience y growing up?” or “I get the feeling that z is not a normal, healthy thing, is that true?” Like CA said, resetting your sense of what is normal, acceptable behavior is a big part of recovering, and doesn’t make you dumb at all.

        • Ve said:

          Yeah, I always knew that my family situation was less than good, but I never really had anything else to compare it to. I did wonder some things about my parents as a child, like “Do adults have friends?” Since I’m Black, when I saw Precious the first time I thought, “Is Mo’nique actually ‘acting’? Hasn’t every Black person grown up with someone like that?”

      • Ali said:

        Tangled was so triggery. I’m glad I watched it at home by myself; I’d have had to leave the theatre if I’d seen it before it came out on dvd.

        • Ve said:

          It took me 6 or so months to finish watching it, I ended up watching it in 3 halfish-hour blocks and within the past month made myself just sit and watch the entire movie nonstop. I’ve told people, “They made Rapunzel Swedish so I couldn’t sue Disney,” my life is very parallel to hers, much above and beyond her relationship with Mother Gothel. When I stopped watching after the first halfish-hour, at the “At War with Yourself” scene, I was like, “No seriously, who do I know who works for Disney…”

          But yeah, I wonder how this movie would have affected me if I saw in theatres. I would have had to leave as well, probably like 15 – 20 minutes in.

      • Zeenat said:

        Ha ha, I watched tangled and the scene where she’s switching between crying and happy was exactly what happened to me.

        I don’t have kids yet, but I try to monitor/evaluate my behavior with my husband to make sure I am acting like a loving spouse, and not a selfish one.

        • Ve said:

          Yeah, that scene made the movie a little too real. When I saw it, my eyes got really big, I literally said, “Whoooooa,” turned off the movie, then said, “I have a LOT of thinking to do…”

      • BitterAlmonds said:

        Yeah, Tangled was hard to watch but turned out to be the best litmus test for how awful my mother is. I didn’t know about “Mother Knows Best” in advance, so I agreed to watch it with her. In the middle of the song, she turned to me and said, “This is how you guys treat me. You guys abuse me just like this.” (Guys here being me and my sisters). And that’s when I knew limiting contact was the right choice for me! :D

        • Ve said:

          Only a “villain” would look at that song and try to make you feel sorry for Mother Gothel lol.

      • goldenpeanut said:

        I’ve just started watching Veronica Mars, and her relationship with her father is killing me. That kind of mouthing off would never have gone over in my family. I just keep waiting for him to explode. Instead he just gets a little exasperated, and he treats her with respect for her feelings and takes her seriously and plans things to do together. I’m just like, wow.

        • Ve said:

          I’ve seen that on a lot of TV shows. I realized recently that I’ve never really felt respected, especially since people seemed to treat me however, but if I showed my true thoughts — especially since I was a good child, I wasn’t particularly irrational — it never went over well. My mother’s response to anything I questioned was “Because I said so/Because I’m the mother.” On the other hand, my dad would explain what he was uncomfortable with on the rare occasions he wouldn’t allow me to do something. Even the fact that he never seemingly said no just to say no gave him some clout, so sometimes he didn’t have a reason other than “I don’t have a good feeling about it” and that was fine.

      • Commander Banana said:

        Please don’t ever think that’s dumb! It was something of a revelation for me when I realized that we tend (especially as children, but also as adults) to think that people/families are more or less like we are, which is natural – our own experiences are the only thing we have through which to filter our understanding of life. I didn’t start realizing how abnormal my relationship with my mother was until I started working as a nanny and some of my friends had children, and I saw for the first tmie how affectionate they were with their children, and it made me really uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t articulate, until I realized that having a mother who has never, to my memory, hugged me without cringing is not in fact normal or healthy. I’m in therapy now and I’ve been having to ‘learn’ how people interact with each other in a healthy way because I didn’t learn that while I was growing up. So if you grew up in a screamy family, of course you would think that’s normal until you have a broader range of experience against which to compare it.

        • Ve said:

          Exactly. Frankly, my mother was so incredibly hostile to me that my dad’s hands-off, passive, somewhat apathetic demeanor was greatly preferred. He’s never really been affectionate towards me, and as cheap as he was as he never wanted to spend on us for anything, doctor’s visits included (which made me realize that at best, I felt tolerated in my family), and while many people would probably view him as an somewhat uninvolved parent, and while he had always defended my mother’s behavior…to me he was the loving, non-abusive one.

    • Sarah B said:

      Seconding this.

      I went to university at the other end of the country from my parents, phoned them for a short call once a week, and even though they would undoubtedly have liked to hear more all they ever expressed to me was support that I was getting on and living an independent life.

      I stayed at the other end of the country, they moved halfway across the world, we switched to occasional emails and roughly quarterly phone calls, and we were all good with that; because although we missed each other, that was balanced by knowing that we were all doing our own thing the way we wanted to do it, and I was happy that they were, and they were happy that I was.

      Now they’re back in this country and we’re back to weekly phone calls and occasional visits, and everyone’s fine with that. We’re an independent lot, my family.

      • Ve said:

        So sad that this is an alien concept to me.

        I moved to Spain for a while during 2011 – 2012 (and am currently trying to move back) and my mom tried to control me even then.

        “You need to Skype more” (Specifically video chat)
        “We know you’re busy, but you HAVE to reply to our emails”
        “You MUST reply by tomorrow”
        “You can’t talk for five minutes to your mother?” (At that exact moment I was packing to leave town the next morning, trying to get work done, had spent hours walking around posting flyers, etc. She tried to demand that I video chat her, IMing was never sufficient)
        “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT TO STAY LONGER?!”

        I thought, “I’m halfway across the damn world and she’s still working my nerves.”

        • Part-time Jedi said:

          O.O Wow… I cannot imagine how stressful that would be.
          When I was in college, I would regularly go more than a month without talking to my parents. (I was double majoring in chemistry and secondary education, so I was a little bit busy with learning ALL THE THINGS.) Every once in a while, they would call or send an e-mail along the lines of, “We would really like it if you would give us some indication of your continued existence.” But that was about it.
          I found out after graduation that sometimes, my mom would sort of lament to my dad that my sister and I didn’t call home much, and his response was always, “They’re off, their living their own lives, and they don’t need our help any more. That means we did a good job raising them.”

        • This was a cue to me that it was time to stay longer. When I first went away alone for 6 months, I was terrified and lost and ended up calling home because my mom is decent when I’m freaked out. The second time I went away for 10 months, talked to my parents when they called my local cell phone, and came back frustrated, feeling I hadn’t gotten as much of a break from ties in the US as I wanted. When I left most recently, for 2.5 years, I (mostly) successfully trained my father to recognize that not contacting me for a long period would result in me phoning him, whereas contacting me would result in a terse “I’m busy now” and I would not contact him for EVEN LONGER. And it trained my mother to know that I won’t answer most of her phone calls/inane emails/dog picture texts but I will answer when she sends me a snailmail letter or card. So…

          • Ve said:

            YES. I feel similarly, it’s helped me to find a way to sustain and support myself in Spain for a longer period of time, especially since my ultimate career/life goals involve relocating overseas anyway. Things are at least a bit better between my mother and I at the moment (and other family members to some extent), but they’ll only improve once they are able to contact me less and I see them very rarely.

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      OMG. I’m not the OP, but that is word for word exactly what I needed to hear tonight. Thank you.

    • Hi, I know I’m late in internet-time, but…

      Thank you for explicitly stating that. I kind-of-sort-of knew that in a vague way when I was fighting against my mother’s control so hard from 3k miles away* but I couldn’t articulate it until your post. Especially since my blood family doesn’t understand why I don’t want her “help”.

      *My favorite was the time she threatened to call the cops because she was convinced I was dead. I hadn’t contacted her in a grand total of a week. Looking back, I should have taken my husband’s advice and told her to check the obits if she was that worried. She isn’t really worried about me being dead, either. She just cannot stand to be seen as a “bad mother” and me not remaining close to be used as a tool to make her life better (her words, actually!) is an affront and means she did something wrong.

      My mother. She’s a piece of work. And not my problem. Woo!

  19. L. said:

    Captain Awkward, I just wanted to thank you for putting this great blog out there. It’s an amazing resource for so many people but I think it must be hard at times to read so many sad stories, or things that are triggering for you personally, or just to not feel overwhelmed by all the letters you can’t respond to. I can tell your posts must take a lot of effort and work (from you and from the other folks who sometimes post replies as well). I appreciate this place and and all of yourself you’ve put into it.

    • Seconded.

      (And if you need anything I can help with, drop me a line).

    • Ve said:

      AGREED, this has been one of my best random internet finds, I stumbled upon it because a friend-of-a-friend commented with one of CA’s posts on a FB status conversation that I was participating in.

      • Pelusa said:

        AGREED. This may be my favorite thing on the internet. Thank you.

    • Fourthed. Your site helped me work through loads of nicely-packed baggage from a 10-year relationship with an alcoholic, AND helped me realize a lot of stupid things I was doing to other people. I’m still very much a work-in-progress, but you’ve helped me get to a lot of conclusions I wasn’t getting on my own. It’s very much appreciated.

      • And fifthed. I recommend reading through the archives to people all the time and I tell them that they have to read the comments as well. Thank you so much for doing what you do and letting all of us come together.

    • I feel the same way. I am so thrilled that my daughter introduced me to this site and the Captain and the Awkward Army. I’m fascinated and charmed by the lovely people who write in, but mostly, I am in awe of the wonderful scripts and the compassionate help, advice, and sensible, sensitive insights shared here.

      Good job. Be proud.

      • I’m so happy for your daughter that she has a parent like you who she can share things like CA with (i.e. share ideas about boundaries and healthy relationships). :)

    • griffykate said:

      Ditto this entire thread. Captain, when was the last time you took a vacation from this blog, not because you were busy focusing on other things but just because ‘VACATION :D’? We love you and your blog with ALL the jedi hugs, but we can get by for a bit while you take some time to refresh your soul. <3

    • anon7 said:

      +1 Thank you Captain. This site is wonderful.

    • piny1 said:

      Yes, same here. This post is really relevant–especially the part about getting to the point where you expect to be treated like the family leaky reactor.

    • Erika said:

      Oh my gosh, YES. Not only have you helped me personally, but I’ve recommended your blog to several people who then called me up (one crying) and told me that simply recommending your blog was one of the most helpful things anyone has ever done for them. You are amazing.

    • Good Wolf said:

      YES again. This blog has helped me SO MUCH. It has helped me come to terms with some traumatizing things from my past, helped me make decisions about social situations in the present, and even made me change my own behaviors towards others. I honestly believe I am living a better life right now because of this blog, and while I realize it must be emotionally exhausting at times, I just want CA and the rest of the community here to know how appreciated they are! Thank you everyone – this means so much!!

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      Definitely this! So thankful for Captain Awkward and the space she provides for the Awkward Army to grow.

  20. Zeenat said:

    That was a great post! My family caused me a lot of trouble in the past, both abusive themselves, and ignoring other’s who abused me as a child. Yet while I was still on good terms with my family, I wanted to be a part of it until I had to choose between the man I loved and them. I chose him, thankfully, and my life has been infinitely better in the last 4 years. I got help for my depression, and have been working through all my issues one at a time. The decision might have been forced on me, but I would NEVER go back. My youngest sister chose the decision on her own to leave, and both us are very happy and have found people to support us.

    But people still say a lot, both from my parents and sister who stayed, and other extended family and friends who think it’s their business. From “I feel sorry for your mom” to “they need you”. Thankfully we are far away from all of that. I am going to share this post, because there is so much truth in there! Thank you!

  21. Zeenat said:

    Reblogged this on A Stranger In My Skin and commented:
    There is a lot of truth in this post… Toxic family members are better left far, far away!

  22. mdevile said:

    Oh wow, that hit close to home. I’m estranged from my mother and my father&stepmother for reasons much like this.

    [TW: rape] I was raped in ninth grade and I didn’t tell anyone about it until just before graduation. I internalized the shit out of it and became a lot moodier, partied a lot, skipped class, stopped caring about my grades… textbook acting out. Obviously acting out. There were a lot of other issues in my home life, but this was (obviously) a major contribution to my behaviour.

    I finally decided to tell my dad and stepmother about it when I was 18 and living with them because I needed a break from my alcoholic mother. I was scared and nervous of being disbelieved. I was still hurting. I told them at the kitchen table, on a night when we were just sitting around chatting. Their reaction was to shrug and say, “we thought it was something like that.”

    I was devastated at the time to realize that these two people who purported to love and care for me could have known what I had gone through and somehow decide that they didn’t need to talk to me about it. Didn’t need to help me through it. Didn’t need to be my fucking parents and get me some professional help if they didn’t think they could do it themselves. Could actually shrug as I revealed to them one of the most painful, traumatic moments of my life, in trust, and dismiss it with a pithy assertion that they already knew and chose not to act.

    I regret that it took me almost a decade after that to cut them out of my life completely, but anytime I start to question if it was the right decision, I remember that conversation. I remember what it felt like to have my disbelief at their casual cruelty literally spasm across my face.

    I love my sister dearly, but sometimes she pushes me for reconciliation. I’ve developed a mantra that helps me shut that down, maybe it can help you: “If it was anybody except my parents that treated me this way, you’d be congratulating me for getting out. Think about that.”

    Good luck. *internet hugs*

    • Pelusa said:

      Oh, this was painful to read. My dad and stepmom also conspired to make me feel like my pain was the least important thing in the world (in my case about my mother’s death among other things). It really hurts. *jedi hugs* if you want them.
      I’m glad you got yourself far away from those people, as did I with mine, and I really like your response to your sister!

    • MK said:

      That is really great advice. I really resonated with the Captain’s statement of “It means when they are nice and pleasant it makes me doubt my own reality, like, do I really need to keep my shields up? Am I being unfair? Ohhhhh wait, there is screaming about trivial stuff again, nope, it’s okay to keep my guard up.” Both your comment and her reply remind me that holding on to one dramatic example of the abuser’s ability to hurt you can help prevent you from questioning yourself on leaving/having a shield up/enacting boundaries.

      [TRIGGER warning: rape] Your parents reaction to your rape is horrifying. I am so sorry. Whenever I doubt myself and think my mother is safe, I just compare my dad’s reaction to me telling him about my rape and my mother’s reaction (when months later I got tired of her telling me to hang out with my rapist since she thought we were still friends.) My dad talked about killing him (the rapist was my neighbor and a close friend of 7 years) which made me laugh. We talked about the dog pooping in his lawn. My mother? After sharing some personal unrelated story that made me feel awful for a bunch of reasons, she pretty much sided with my rapist. She didn’t outright blame me (I’ve heard of this happening to others, it sounds worse than hell), but she worried about my rapist more than me. She told me not to ruin his life by reporting it or labeling him as a predator because he was so obviously not one in her eyes. (And he was a predator. He sexually assaulted other friends I found out later.) Putting this in rational how parents should act speak helped me so much. A mother should worry about her daughter’s happiness and safety before her daughter’s rapist’s happiness.
      [end TRIGGER]

      That’s what I found most useful in this post. If you have the problem of worrying if you are being unfair (because your siblings, relatives, third parties, or my dad in my case) is telling you that you are, just remember that one obvious incident of “This is not how a good parent would act in this situation.” And I say this not to mean holding on to one little thing forever, but for when that thing was bigger or continuous. In case a third party used it as a blame tactic or a way to say “get over it.”

      Whatever you try to do LW is up to you. From your letter, a big obvious bad parenting thing is not helping with your depression when you were a kid. A good parent wouldn’t do that. So if you ever need a reminder of why you should enact/have boundaries or limited interaction or cut them out; there’s a big and good reason that’s easy to remember.

      This was a beautiful post Captain, I cannot even imagine going through your “better than normal” experience of being yelled at over a knife drawer. That is completely unfair and awful. Thank you for all you do. I know these threads must be difficult to read.

      • Ve said:

        “This was a beautiful post Captain, I cannot even imagine going through your “better than normal” experience of being yelled at over a knife drawer.”

        It took me until fairly recently to realize how having such incredibly low expectations for appropriate behavior i.e. “better than how my mother treats me in an average week” has really affected me throughout my life.

  23. Mortifyd said:

    It took me years of being away before I realised that other people got their kids help too, not just the designated Sick One. I was the designated Healthy Kid – the one who “didn’t need” their time and attention. The one expected to have an adult sense of understanding and self care from age 4 up – and the autism and the freaking TB! and the fallout of a stressed out bipolar mum – that wasn’t REAL because I was designated Healthy Kid. I was just “exposed” to TB and treated “as a precaution.” And was just “weird” – because “autistic” means defective – and that’s not possible in their universe.

    Now I’m schizophrenic and have been forced by circumstance to live with them again – at least until SSDI and tweaked meds mean I have the functional ability and financial freedom to live on my own again. They have “taken me in” – ashamed I might “do something” to “make them look bad” by being ill. Can’t have that.

    If I just “change how I think” and “stop being so selfish” I should be better in no time! Because that’s all you have to do – and they certainly didn’t do anything “wrong” in their universe by ignoring my very real issues – I was the Healthy Kid. They still flip out over completely inane things and willful refusal to see that I am ill – and call the boundaries I do have “sickness.”

    LW, our parents are sick. They will never admit that anything they did through neglect or did not deal with in themselves or getting us help as children would have made a difference. Rock that boat. Cut those ties or stretch them as far as you need to in order to be comfortable and build up yourself. Get a strong Team You – and don’t look back. And be awesome in spite of them.

    • gallant_girl said:

      Parentification sucks. Oh god. The “if you just thought differently everything would be better” card. I get this one alot from my Mom. I think she doesn’t get that there’s a difference between me “taking responsibility for my own feelings” and “blaming myself instead of her and fixing the relationship in the way she wants me to.” The first involves increasingly more emotional/mental space and the second involves me trying really hard to do something impossible and getting increasingly anxious while she gets to feel like a “good Mom.” Cheers to you for resisting.

      To both the LW and the Captain: Jedi hugs to y’all. Hope as you are in these stressful times you do some comforting things for yourselves. At 21 I’m just at the point in my relationship with my emotionally abusive Mom of beginning to tell the truth and grieving that things might never be the way I need them to be to be truly close with her. It helps me so much to see that there are people in similar situations who are continuing on there on journeys. Its good to know that I can come from a dysfunctional family and still have nice things. Of course I know this intellectually, but seeing examples helps me really feel that way.

      • “The “if you just thought differently everything would be better” card. I get this one alot from my Mom. I think she doesn’t get that there’s a difference between me “taking responsibility for my own feelings” and “blaming myself instead of her and fixing the relationship in the way she wants me to.” The first involves increasingly more emotional/mental space and the second involves me trying really hard to do something impossible and getting increasingly anxious while she gets to feel like a “good Mom.” ”

        This. I’m going through pretty much the exact same thing with my own mother. One of the things that has clued me in to just how messed up my understanding of some things is, is the sheer difficulty I sometimes have wrapping my mind around the basics of how healthy emotional boundaries, etc. actually work in practice. When I’m not at home and am mostly free of her influence, I can read things or hear it explained to me, and go ‘ok, now I get that. Awesome! Things make SENSE now!’ Then I go home and try to put it into practice, and suddenly it’s like a world of funhouse mirrors and I cannot even keep certain simple concepts straight in my head. Because her emotional reality has completely taken over and the only options left are, as you said, “blaming myself instead of her and fixing the relationship in the way she wants me to,” or “trying to assert myself, hurting her, and Failing At Everything.” Last time I was home I tried to end an uncomfortable conversation instead of going into “uh huh” (*secretly seethe*) mode, by saying “I can’t talk about this anymore.” I was told (among other things) I was an unkind person and that I ought to be able to simply set aside all of my anger and other feelings when responding so that my tone would not be wrong, and ended up crying in my room and wondering (I kid you not) “am I evil?” The conversation involved disagreeing about something fictional on TV.

        I could say more, but I think I might as well just write the letter I’ve been thinking of sending the Captain. But yeah, I hear you. Fun, isn’t it? Jedi hugs if wanted.

        • gallant_girl said:

          Jedi hugs greatly appreciated. Yeah I also know the “silently seethe and say ‘uh huh'” mode all too well.” Cheers to you for speaking up!

          Often times when I’m talking to my Mom I completely freeze up in my ability to express my own needs/wants/opinions. Which she can also use against me because it becomes a thing of “If you would just talk to me things would be better.” I’ve tried to do alot of work on being present, honest, vulnerable, and managing my own anxiety. I’ve come to the point where I see that shutting down is an adaptive response to being in a situation where its not safe to be open. Your ancedote, as well as CA’s advice, makes me realize there are multiple ways of speaking up and handling these relationships. I don’t have to just put out my emotions so they can be stamped on. I can, however, instead of shutting down insist that I be treated a certain way or leave.

          Good luck to you moviemaedchien! If you send your letter I’d look forward to reading it.

      • Mortifyd said:

        Jedi hug things back to everyone.

        She just flipped out on me for wanting to eat something before “dinner” – I was dragged out of bed to accompany her on errands. Never mind I wasn’t given a chance to eat anything before we left. Literally throwing the food on the floor temper tantrum because I was “wasting” a tasty food by eating it myself. I have retreated to my room where I keep snacks for just such occasions – as the Healthy Kid – it shouldn’t matter I’ve eaten nothing all day, I should wait until she gets around to cooking.

        And now the FOX is on the kitchen tv (just outside my door) extra loud and slamming drawers and cabinets as punishment. Time for some Doctor Who I think.

        Sometimes we just have to remember that we aren’t the crazy ones and back away slowly.

    • Healthy kids unite. I am one and it took a long time to realize just how angry I was about the reality of my childhood. It’s something much of the talk about chronically ill children ignores. When they do address it it is only to praise good and model behavior in ways that can shame you for being angry.

      Good luck with the tweaking and I hope you find more peace soon. Jedi hugs.

  24. FullyAnonForThisPost said:

    There are a few books on the subject of narcissistic parents:
    “Children of the Self-Absorbed” and “Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern” by Nina W. Brown
    and
    “The narcissistic family: Diagnosis and treatment” by S. Donald-Pressman
    Both are well worth a read to understand the subtle pattern of emotional abuse that one can suffer in those families.

    • Laura said:

      I can vouch for “Children of the Self-Absorbed” and especially “The narcissistic family: Diagnosis and treatment.” The latter was extremely helpful for me, but then I’m the science type that likes logical explanations for illogical behavior. It helped a lot in the mental attitude area.

  25. This is a great and interesting post with fruitful commentary. The timing was pretty perfect, as I just wrote this post not too long ago:

    http://abetterkindofbitter.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/siblings-cant-live-with-them-but-can-you-live-without-them/.

    As far as making the decision about contact with an abusive family member, I have found the question that works for me, is asking myself, “What do I need? What is good for me right now?” Being honest about the answer helps and allows you set clear boundaries. The other trick I use is setting a specific ring tone for certain family members. I don’t grab for my phone and have moment filled with anguish about ignoring the call. I just hear the certain tone and let it ring. It has helped a lot.

  26. BitterAlmonds said:

    While we’re talking about things it’s okay to do, if you don’t want to discuss your situation with your family, it is completely okay to not explain to others. My family is terrifyingly similar and that’s one of the big hooks that kept me stuck with them: how do I explain this to outsiders who want to know why I’m not going ‘home’ for Christmas? Societal pressure is a hell of a thing. Learning the delicate art of political nonanswers will really serve you well here if you haven’t learned it already.

    • BayTree said:

      Yes, indeed. Some useful ones include:

      “I’m doing (awesome thing with friends/partner) for (holiday)”
      “We don’t really keep in touch.”
      “I don’t see them very often, but that’s okay… I like quiet time at home.”

      Or if you do want to tell people but don’t want to make the conversation uncomfortably serious, you can keep it light. I often tell people that my family gets along like a bathtub full of cats, or that I love them more the further away they are. Most people have the social grace to not press further.

      • Ali said:

        I’m a US expat living down under, and get a lot of questions about how much I must miss them/when will I go back to visit/when will they come to visit. I’ve found that, “We’re not very close” shuts things down quickly with a minimum of fuss. It can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who’s asking and how they’re asking, and generally makes it clear that further discussion will not be happening. If they persist, I make a joke about how I only get along with my mother on the other side of the world (true!) and ignore additional comments.

      • “Gets along like a bathtub full of cats” describes my extended (though, thankfully, not nuclear–this thread has really made me appreciate my parents and stepmother more!) family to a T. May I steal it?

    • Zeenat said:

      I understand that. I grew up in a very close group of families, and I have friends and closeness to a lot of them. When I go to events and weddings, the default question is “are you going to talk to your parents.” No not going to happen.

      Oh man it was worse for my sister. Some of our parents friends cornered her and made her sit with them at dinner. She apparently sat there fuming. I didn’t find out about it till much later.

      Sometimes the best thing you can just say is simply “With loved ones”. and if they ask about the toxic people, every answer is short and sweet, no.

    • ReanaZ said:

      There’s actually an entire thread from a few month ago–lots of interesting perspectives and good advice with balancing the “I don’t want to snap about people trying to make friendly conversation but gad if I have to answer that question one more time, and oh, yeah, also dealing with pushy assholes.” thing around the holidays. Might be worth a read before the next big holiday season: http://captainawkward.com/2012/12/19/409-guess-what-not-everyones-family-is-awesome-and-not-everyone-loves-the-holidays/

      My take is if people are being well-intentioned making small talk, a few practices lines (light truths, half-truths, white lies, or deflections), especially ones that include a positive thing + subject change is the best approach, with demurring noises if they express sympathy for you not getting to see them. Baytree has some good ones. I’m a fan of ones where I can think the truth [in brackets] but say something light and socially comfortable: “Oh, they’re far away [OH, GOD, SO DELIGHTFULLY FAR! BY CHOICE!] and it’s such a hassle traveling at the holidays.” or “Oh, I can’t make it home [BECAUSE I WILL GO CRAZY AND HATE MYSELF], so I’m going to friend/partner’s lovely, lovely family instead. [UNLIKE MY NIGHTMARE MESS.]” “Yes, I’m sure they’ll miss me. [But I won't miss them. Mwahahahahahaha!]”

      If they are rude/pushy beyond that, then it rapidly becomes “I don’t want to talk about that.” + walk away as quickly as possible.

      • Ve said:

        LOL those brackets, yes! Perfect :-D

  27. Pelusa said:

    I just have to say, Captain, thank you SO MUCH for this post and for sharing your story. That takes a lot of courage. It really helped me to read it and see that you have worked through something similar to what I am trying to work through now in therapy. You gave me some serious hope that I, too, can be as awesome and centered in my boundaries and knowing what is right for me and insisting on it as you are. I am just at a moment where I am feeling like “This will never end! I will always feel gaslighted when I am not being gaslighted and not notice when I am!” You made me feel like maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So thank you.

  28. Jedi hugs to LW, CA, and all the commenters who have had to deal with toxic or unreasonable parents. I had something to add, but Part-time Jedi covered it:

    LW, I would just like to point out that in most healthy families, the parental units aren’t interested in raising children who will stay with them indefinitely, in a perpetually dependent state. They raise children with the ultimate goal of those children becoming responsible, autonomous adults who go off and live their own lives.

    Yeah. My parents were sad when I moved from Indiana (a four-and-a-half-hour drive from them) to Tucson (plane trip), but they never interpreted it as a reflection of my feelings toward them. They were just bummed that we wouldn’t get to see each other as often.

    Which is exactly why I’d be happy if we did get to see each other more often.

  29. drnaomi said:

    Best and most appropriate post (for me) ever. Thank you Captain Awkward. Thank you so much.

    I am nearly 45 and a mother and stepmother and this stuff with my family of origin is still really hard for me. At least my sister has broken free herself. We cheer each other on, without ever letting my folks know that we speak. After reading this post I think, yay us. We’re not odd. Just sensible.

  30. H. Regalis said:

    House of 1000 Corpses<Week of 1000 Meetings<Land of 1000 Dances

  31. JT said:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It helps so much to know one’s not alone.

  32. A Sibling said:

    Thank you so much for this response, Captain. You’ve reassured me that I made the right decision.

    The sibling stuff in this letter really got to me. I have a good relationship with my parents, but my brother and his wife have become super emotionally abusive in the past few years. I don’t know where it comes from on their end (because we both have good relationships with our parents and there’s never been abuse there), but it’s as though my decision to live a life that’s far away from home (and far away from them) is somehow a referendum on every decision they’ve made. The fact that I’m in my late 20s and still single (and with a successful career [I'm a cishet woman]) seems to needle at them. Layer that off with a healthy dose of some pretty toxic religion, and we have a recipe ripe for gaslighting and emotional abuse.

    I cut them off in early 2012 (though it took awhile for it to go to complete radio silence). It hurt for a really long time, I realized this year that I am on a more even-keel mental health wise, I’m happier, and I am more able to make friends. And a lot of this “I like my life now” is because I’m no longer worried about whether or not what my brother and his wife said about me was true – it’s given me space to know myself and be comfortable and confident in who I am now.

    So while cutting them off may seem drastic and ungrateful and any number of insults your family may hurl at you, the life you create for yourself and the person you *choose* to become will be someone you like and can be happy with – because it will be someone you *chose* to be, not created to make other people happy.

  33. datdamwuf said:

    Captain Awkward, I cannot begin to tell you how much your blog and the community it has created means to me. I have no words for how much you have helped me over the last year with your awesomeness. I have tears today, for you, for me, for all of us. If I could I’d send you sandwiches, thank you for helping me realize I can make them for myself too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Aw, thank you!

      • datdamwuf said:

        thank you! did you know that when you type sandwiches in google you get 86,400,000 results? and can you imagine me trying to logic out the right search terms to send sandwiches and looking at page after page of sandwiches to find the right one? I know you can :)

  34. Alice said:

    Because screaming about things like “where we keep the knives in a rental kitchen” is normal in his world, so normal that there is a 75% chance he does not remember it at all, and I was raised to think that was normal.

    It’s a little reassuring, and a little bit sad, to know I’m not the only person who grew up like this. Actual topics of the last three giant screaming holiday family meltdowns:

    1. Dentistry
    2. Whether coffee is an acceptable drink with dinner
    3. How my failure to schedule a longer Christmas visit makes me a selfish, thoughtless person (a perennial favorite)

    The morning after one of these meltdowns, everyone acts like nothing happened. No one in my immediate family has ever apologized for anything.

    • JenniferP said:

      The beauty of a rental car is when someone starts screaming at you about the proper way to load a dishwasher, you can walk out the door, get in it, and drive away. When you come back 2 hours later and the dishwasher is loaded and everyone is pretending nothing happened, it’s surreal, but better than if you couldn’t leave at all.

      • Megay said:

        I’m sitting here and starting to twitch, because before I started reading at this site, I believed I was the only person with these kinds of problems. Surreal and heartening.

  35. My mother her Sister, well I’ll call her, B and her daughter G, they always give me the feeling that they are judging me.

    My family always wants to tell me what to do and I hate it. I have the feeling they don’t understand that when I’m saying: “I just don’t know what I want.”
    I want to figure it out but they keep on telling. This is somehow holding me back.

    Well about the judging thing. I’m the only one who started studing at a university and which familiy wouldn’t be proud? Well not mine… They told me I couldn’t do it and I wouldn’t make it. Well they told it over and over again that it came true. Not completly.
    I found out that this subject wasn’t what I want and I think, when they find out that I’ll break it up, they’ll say “We told you so”.

    I’m pretty sure that will happen, Why? Because my Cousin G gave me to understand very well what she thinks about me. My opinion is that a birthday card which you choose because it suits the person you give it, means more than a present, which you buy just because you have the feeling you have to. I’m honest I give a shit on presents like THAT!

    I’m an easy person, really I’m. I’m happy over a cute card or just a bottle candies from HARIBO. Well I’m also happy, when I get what I wanted. Like my birthday present from my mother and my stepfather and his family. I wanted screwdriver and such things because I don’t have them at my place and when I need it I don’t want to go and ask anyone when no shop is open. Well image that in the middle of the night? XD
    When I told my aunt B and my cousin G they said: “Something like that shouldn’t be given as presents”. I don’t understand why not?
    I feld bad because now they think my mother und stepfather and his family don’t know what presents have to look like.

    Well even I don’t know that! If a person wants something and I give it to him and it makes him happy, than it was a success. Wasn’t it?

    ___________

    After reading your blog entry I’m even more sure that I won’t see them for a long time.

    Thank you^^

  36. BayTree said:

    Thank you so much for this blog. You helped me realize that I was sane, that I’m not alone, that the things I experienced aren’t trivial. You told me it was okay to stop talking to someone if they’re being mean, that there doesn’t have to be another reason. I can’t explain with words how much that means to me.

    • JenniferP said:

      We teach what we most need to learn – this place has changed my life profoundly for the better as well! Thank you and you’re welcome.

  37. Utter East said:

    “Because screaming about things like “where we keep the knives in a rental kitchen” is normal in his world, so normal that there is a 75% chance he does not remember it at all, and I was raised to think that was normal. ”

    Ha! Yes, definitely been here– one that sticks in my mind was “screaming tirade for signaling incorrectly in a turning lane” while I was trying to learn how to drive, which she forgot instantly and was surprised and puzzled when we arrived at our destination and I left the car to take the bus home.

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      Ugh, driving lessons. As far as I know, the only time my sister’s mother (we’re half-siblings) ever hit her was when my sister was learning to drive. She panicked and started hitting her WHILE SHE WAS DRIVING. AS A LEARNER DRIVER.

      Whereas my mother didn’t hit me, but the only time I’ve ever seen her have a full-blown panic attack was while I was learning to drive and we were going through a big, complicated roundabout. I’m the family’s designated mentally ill person, and she was right up there with me at my worst.

      • ReanaZ said:

        ….and this is why I falsified most of my learner driving hours… Driving as an inexperienced driver alone, being super cautious because I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, was waaaay safer than driving as an inexperienced stressed out mess being yelled at for not being perfect my first couple of goes.

    • Sarah B said:

      When my father was at his most mentally ill, after his breakdown, he had a screaming rage at me for not pulling out fast enough at a roundabout. It was literally ‘GO GO GO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR WHAT WHY DID YOU JUST PULL OUT DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT CAR COMING’.

      I wasn’t a learner, and we were in my car. I pulled over the next chance I got and told him to get the heck out of my car. He ended up walking most of the ten miles home.

      Because if there is one thing that you don’t need when you’re an inexperienced driver, it’s someone stressing you the hell out. In retrospect, I am /really glad/ my family had the money for a driving teacher, because being taught by either of my parents, much though I love them, would have resulted in a homicide.

  38. Nomette said:

    De lurking for the first time to say wow, this post has been super great! Today my mom barged into one of my conversations to say that she thinks that people who wear headscarves deserve to get beat up and then yelled at me for thinking otherwise;today at dinner my mom interrupted my dad and he walked up behind her, pulled her head back and mimed cutting her throat.

    And this has been a very mild spring break, I think. I put up with it for my brother, who is 15 and a genuinely good kid, but if you feel that you should get out, run for it. Support jedi hugs for everyone on this thread, this site in generally immensely cheering!

  39. Katamari said:

    As a child of an emotionally abusive dad (I thought Captain Awkward was describing my dad there!), I want to stress the importance of accepting that your abusers, whoever they are, may never ever change. These are sick people who never dealt with their own childhood issues and are constantly in reactive, defensive mode. They can’t look as far as their own need to protect themselves from getting hurt, which means constantly looking for someone else to blame and never ever (God forbid!) taking responsibility for their own actions.They are simply incapable of understanding how hurtful they are and how much damage they are doing – if they were truly able to understand that, they wouldn’t be doing it. Those people may well remain miserably entrenched in their problems for the rest of their lives and it’s not up to you to change that. Truly accepting this hurts like hell because there is such a burning desire to have them acknowledge – not even apologize, but just acknowledge – all that they’ve done. But the harder you try and fight to make them respect you/stop blaming you/acknowledge what they did to you/accept you the way you are – the more exhausted and disappointed you’ll be. This was the hardest part of dealing with my dad – I struggled so hard to explain to him what he was doing wrong and I got so angry with him when he didn’t get it. Now I just accept that he’s so emotionally crippled that he’ll never get it, and I don’t even try to relate to him in a way that requires any emotional intelligence at all. But in doing so, I had to grieve for the healthy relationship I now know I’ll never have with my dad.

    • Zeenat said:

      I wish I could quote your whole post!

      I still grieve for not having good parents. Father/Daughter dance’s at weddings are the worst. Even if my parents came to my wedding, that dance would have never happened because it’s not “a part of our culture”.

    • duaecat said:

      This. With my own mother, when she died it was… strange. Because it felt like I was mourning the person I couldn’t help but hope she could become, not the person she was. I was relieved the person she was was gone because it meant she couldn’t hurt me anymore.

      • Ve said:

        A friend of mine (who annoys me, admittedly enough) would mention every so often on FB that his mother having died when he was a child was the worst thing ever, “there’s nothing harder.” Inside I would always feel so much rage and think, “What-the-fuck-ever, my life would have been SO much easier, we could switch,” especially since she was still a horrible person to me. It took months for me to realize that not only is that not a normal reaction, that is a troubling, disturbing reaction to have when hearing someone talk about how much they grieved…to lose a parent…as a child. I didn’t fully realize just what that reaction signified until then.

        • Zeenat said:

          Heh. I used to get annoyed at kids who were mad about their parents divorce because I so wanted my parents to get divorced!

          • Ve said:

            I was glad that my parents didn’t get divorced because I thought, “There’s no way I could live with just my mother.”

  40. On my BF:s side, we have mostly passive aggressive stuff, with one exception. One woman got screaming outburts of rage over the smallest things. Could be calling a spice the wrong name, could be someone having a different opinion than her over dinner. Could be a child playing. BF:s other relatives just took it, no one confronted her. I was new to the family and mostly observed in horror. Years later she got diagnosed with a brain tumor and died shortly after. It was horrible to see her suffer.

    But guess what? One cancer diagnosis and ALL your bad behaviour over the years is suddenly fine. It was all explained away. Never mind what her doctors told us about how long she’d been sick.

    • Epiphyta said:

      You’ve just described my sister. She’s back on the “blocked” list after a meltdown: yes, things are profoundly screwed up among the members of our bio family — in one case, to the point that the police and the bankruptcy courts are about to get involved — but that plus a brain tumor doesn’t equal “permission to scream profanities at anyone who comes within range”.

  41. Jo Rankins said:

    I knew it was time to stop talking to my mother for good during out last attempt at having a relationship. I had been a bit more open about my struggles with intense depression, specifically how bad it got when I was living with her. In reality, I genuinely believe that I would have killed myself (or at least done some serious damage) if I hadn’t moved out to live with my father. My depression was more than a little exacerbated by her constant emotional and psychological abuse, especially considering she bullied me out of seeing the ONE therapist she suggested we visit when I was well into my teenage years.

    When she asked me what happened, I had to lie. Any small suggestion that she had any responsibility over my mental state or my unhappiness always started a fight. My mom could go from 0 to 100 in a second, and she liked to scream, and when she asked me questions about my mental health it was always with a subtext of suspicion, like she was daring me to blame her. So I lied and said I probably would have been depressed or had a breakdown regardless of where I was living or who I was with. I think she believed it because she wanted to.

    I had a lying problem as a child (bet you can’t guess why), but as an adult I tend to be painfully and uncomfortably honest. I’m generally a really open person, and lying to my mother about something so important and so person was killing me. I felt like I didn’t have a choice, because my mother fights like a ten year old having a tantrum, and one upset from her had a way of ruining my emotional state for days at a time.

    What sucked was that it wasn’t having to lie about the fact that her abuse nearly drove me to suicide that was a big enough red flag to make me cut her off. It actually hit me in a real way that our relationship couldn’t be a thing when I realized that the book I’m writing has her all over it — and not in a good way. The characters that most resemble my parents are a big part of the story, and I knew people would ask me questions about them if it was ever published. It sounds silly, but I knew I wasn’t going to lie about my book, even if I lied about my life, and realizing that my mother’s legacy in my creative endeavors is a horrifically abusive zealot of a character was the actual red flag.

    And then after that I finally accepted that my overwhelming sense of dread I felt every time I had to contact her was my body telling me not to do it. I feel bad about it, sure, but I haven’t spoken to her in four months and it’s for the best. When I tried to have a relationship with her, I hated myself, I was always anxious, and my relationship with my wife was suffering because I wasn’t really myself.

    Do I wish it was different? Yeah, of course I do. But it’s not my responsibility to teach her to behave appropriately toward me. It isn’t my job to excuse her mood swings, her attitude or to make her honest. It’s hers, and it’s a job she isn’t doing, not for me and not for anyone. If she can’t fulfill the bare minimum requirement for decent, friendly behavior, then I can’t be around her. It hurts, but it’s not my fault. It took me a really long time to stop blaming myself for not managing her actions and emotions well enough. But I’m a good person who takes responsibility for my own actions, and if I can handle that, so can she. She just chooses not to. So she’s not my problem anymore.

    • Hi, we appear to be the same person.

      • Congratulations to both of you for having come so far. I cannot imagine.

  42. Amylase said:

    The story of your dad and the knife is so familiar I laughed out loud in shock, and yet even on an internet forum none of my family will ever see, the impulse to protect the abuser is so strong that I can’t share any of the details of my own story.

    Except to say that after making it out alive through happenstance only, I went back for a visit. And I realised that the power differential had changed forever, because they want a relationship with me and I am indifferent. My mother actually said: “I guess you’re not used to people shouting at you anymore, I suppose everyone treats you with respect now.”

    She said this in the exact tone you might expect someone to say “I guess you expect limousines and caviar now, I guess you think you’re a hotshot.”

    Feeling a disconnect from the culture of abuse, seeing the abuse and not thinking “ah yes, the family way!” but “HOLY FUCK THIS IS NOT THE WAY HUMANS SHOULD LIVE” — it was the first time I had real concrete proof that I have healed.

    It was also quite something to be taller and stronger with complete financial independence and my own transport.

    • Celeloriel said:

      It was also quite something to be taller and stronger with complete financial independence and my own transport.

      THIS.

  43. Anonymouse said:

    This. All of this. I’ve never commented on a blog post before, possibly because years of schoolyard bullying and family abuse have left me with communication issues and a deep-seated fear of rejection. But these posts make me want to cry because they resonate so well with what I went through. I have severely limited contact with my parents and younger brother to one word emails when they ask how I’m doing. None of them, except for my sister who went through something similar (without the bullying) probably remember what my adolescent life was really like.

    Off the top of my head: My mother screaming at me on a regular basis (daily) that I was worthless and that I was never going to amount to anything because my grades weren’t as high as my younger brother’s (despite me making the honour roll every year); my mother screaming at me for taking too many towels for my shower (2) because she had to wash them (I was doing my own laundry at the time); my mother threatening to pull me out of school because it was teaching me disrespect (after I told her I did my own laundry); and a host of other things – mostly to do with comparing me to my brother, who in her eyes is the golden child. I was so miserable that my guidance counsellor used to call me in to her office on a weekly basis to ask me if anything was wrong since I never smiled. I was too young to know that my home situation was not normal and besides, I was terrified of telling her anything since in my culture, you don’t air your dirty laundry to anyone outside the family.

    Things came to a head a few years ago when my brother asked me why I was always so angry all the time. That told me he wasn’t on my side. Thankfully, I still have a sister who knows and experienced the same things I did.

    I am much happier now. I live a whole ocean away from home and that helps a lot. It took me a long time, but I slowly learned that my self-worth is not measured in relation to what others think of me. Nor does it have anything to do with how successful the people around me are in comparison to my own successes (or failures).

    • Marie said:

      Your mother sounds awful. I’m glad you’re on another continent right now. I’m also sorry to hear about the schoolyard bullying. I was bullied myself at school, and, yeah, it does mess you up in a bad way.

      *Jedi hugs*

  44. Bananana Dackry said:

    I recognize a couple of the dynamics other commenters have described – my sister is the Golden Child, and also the delicate sickly one, and I am the Healthy Child who could be safely ignored. So much was couched in pseudo-compliments – I was never any trouble, so good, so reliable, so brave, so smart. Totally never needy. Not ever. No problems, I’m not the type who has problems. In fact, I am so smart and sensible that my parents can confide in me about their problems with each other, even though I’m only nine years old.

    And now, apparently, I have abandoned them and think I am too good for them. There’s a story they tell each other about me, and no reality can break in. If I do have problems I’m either not noticed at all, or accusing them of some terrible crime. And I get the “you don’t call us” lectures.

    It’s still hard because they obviously want to keep contact for some reason (to pretend everything’s fine?) but have no clue as to how to communicate with me. They never ask me anything about my self. So I subject myself to the weekly phone monologue from my mother, which is mostly about how unwell my sister is, and tiny life minutiae like what she had for breakfast and how many items came in the mail. I’m not quite sure why; she’s not going to change.

    I’d never thought of myself as abused or neglected, but I’ve realized that I was very neglected emotionally. It’s made it quite hard to care for myself, or to accept that other people might care for me if I am anything less than 100% perfect.

    • Astral said:

      “It’s made it quite hard to care for myself, or to accept that other people might care for me if I am anything less than 100% perfect.”

      Me too. Your experience sounds sooo much like mine. Because despite the problems I mentioned above, I was considered the Golden One because I was smart and a people pleaser. So clearly, if I was smart and well behaved, I didn’t have have any “real” problems.

      A roommate once asked what I’d been doing for the last hour. I said, “Oh, I was on the phone with my mom.” “But, I haven’t heard you at all…” Exactly. My mom has said to me on a number of occasions, “I just need you to be my sounding board.” And she really, really doesn’t get that there’s anything wrong with that. She does ask me about myself, but usually launches into another story before I get anything out. Also, I’ve learned that I can’t have anything going wrong because she has to take care of everybody else’s problems; she needs things to be going okay with me, so she doesn’t lose it. I’ve also learned I absolutely cannot trust her with anything that has gone wrong. I even had to be the brave one when I got shots or dental work as a kid because she couldn’t handle it.

      To this day, I’m afraid that if I ask for anything in a relationship I will be seen as too needy. I often don’t think I really deserve affection or love. I wonder how all these average people have good jobs and relationships while I’m always working and trying so hard and considered by others so accomplished and together, but almost always feel like I could lose my job at any moment. And my love life, while it’s had some lovely moments, hasn’t had any lasting, fulfilling love.

      As for caring for myself, yeah, I realized I wanted to take a bubble bath last night and had to fight the, “But I’ve only worked 47 official hours towards my job this week and the next month is so busy, and I’m not proving that I’m committed enough to keep this job if I do something trivial like a bubble bath instead of more work.” Annoying jerkbrain!

      • Ali said:

        We have very similar jerkbrains. My brother and I actually took turns as the Golden Child, depending on whichever of us suited her mood at the time (usually not me). She has a very…revisionist history of what our childhood looked like, as I am now officially the Golden Child. I presume this is because distance makes the heart grow fonder, or something, because I moved to the other side of the planet to be away from her toxic house.

        I struggle with the paradoxical ideas that everything is my fault and within my control, and that I am bad and useless and not putting in enough effort at anything. My one real relationship has crumbled under my complete confusion about how one has normal relationships with people. My work LIKES me a lot and I’d have to be pretty terrible for a very long time to get fired, but I’m still always taking the overtime and extra shifts and whatever you need, sure, I can do it, because what if they fire me tomorrow??

        Everything sucks when you get stuck in this jerkbrain cycle, and my birthday is a real trigger for me. It’s in a week and I’m a mess.

      • Wow, that sounds really really hard. I.e. dealing with your mom and the jerkbrain you have to develop in a situation like this. Go you for taking that bubble bath! It’s hard to learn that you deserve stuff, but it’s also really nice to do this kind of stuff for yourself. You deserve it, promise.

    • So much was couched in pseudo-compliments – I was never any trouble, so good, so reliable, so brave, so smart. Totally never needy. Not ever. No problems, I’m not the type who has problems.

      I’d never thought of myself as abused or neglected, but I’ve realized that I was very neglected emotionally. It’s made it quite hard to care for myself, or to accept that other people might care for me if I am anything less than 100% perfect.

      Oh hi, fellow Good Child! When my parents divorced and my younger brother got angry and kind of scary, I got perfect (or tried as best as I could). A lot of the compliments were sincere, I think–I was smart, I was way ahead of my grade in most things besides physical coordination and social skills–but I’m still trying to shake the perfectionism and the desperate need to please authority figures. I’m 27, and last year was when I finally started learning to engage with and recognize my emotions instead of squishing them into my everlasting internal tangle of shame and fear.

      • solecism said:

        Wow! That sounds exactly like my situation, angry brother and all. I’m 42 and finally starting to see a therapist. I am apparently disconnected from my emotions. But I feel like I usually know what I’m feeling–it’s more that I’m disconnected from expressing my emotions. And that’s been reinforced over and over by friends and coworkers because whenever I let any emotion seep into my voice, anything from enthusiasm to frustration, it seems to frequently be interpreted as anger. By now, that’s become a trigger all by itself and makes me upset.

        I don’t feel like my childhood family experiences were abusive, which is why it is such a struggle now as an adult, trying to interact with my parents who each seem to have slipped into separate abusive relationships/patterns of communication. Like where did that come from? Was it always there and I just didn’t realize it, or it’s become more overt over time? I am so confused by it. And sadly, I have had to limit contact with family as a result.

  45. Susan said:

    wow … I’d never realized that there were so many of us around. It’s sad so many of us have gone through this, but there’s a certain comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this.

    I was raised by two narcissists; their approach to life I’ve described as bending the universe to their will. When it didn’t work, there would be major tantrums. I was threatened with being put out on the street to fend for myself; scary at eight and, even in my teens it was scary. Later they expanded it to being committed to the state mental institution. And the last time my mother flipped out over my doing something improperly, it was because I wasn’t putting the corners on the fitted sheet on in the proper order.

    Now … they’ve cut me off. I’d stopped calling – for years I’d call and listen to them. They had no interest in my life and I was essentially told that most of my life was not to be discussed. My mother believed that the purpose of therapy would be to turn me into the person she wanted me to be … when it had the opposite effect, she believed it was making me worse.

    It makes me sad that I can’t have a relationship with them, but my life is so much more pleasant without them.

    • Not that you need me to validate your decision to have nothing to do with your parents. But I do! It’s not ok to put the corners of a fitted sheet on in whatever order you happen to put them on in, but it is ok to terrorize and undermine your child???

      Not in my reality. I’m glad not in yours anymore, either.

    • Laura said:

      Oh my gosh! I relate to the narcissistic parent. My dad was very much this. When I was 23 and telling him about my new job, he said “What makes you think I’m interested in this?” Twenty two years later, I was caring for him while he was sick. After a week, he’d run out of things to tell me and said, “Too bad we don’t have more in common,” I suppose because otherwise I’d have nothing of interest to tell him. Even now, I tend to have the “What makes you think,” phrase in my head during every conversation. There’s more to the story, like he never called me himself unless he needed something. Or like him picking out a Christmas present instead of delegating it to Mom was a Big Deal. Mainly because he’d used HIS time for such a task. Anyone with a narcissistic parent and an accommodating parent knows how everyone in the house revolves around the one and never any others.

    • popesuburban said:

      The use of therapy as a bludgeon to make you into someone else happened to me too. I sometimes still have trouble believing it, just because come on, it’s therapy, what am I on? But my parents didn’t send me to therapy when I told them I was depressed and was begging for help (It was just “an excuse” to be a failure. My mom’s childhood issues, on the other hand? A perfect reason for her to belittle, threaten, and hit me. Oy). It was only when they thought they could use it to make me back into a straight-A student that I got any assistance, and it was stated as such. It doesn’t help that the therapist was an unprofessional weasel who told them things I had said that did not pertain to immediate harm in the least, but…yeah, it happened, and only just now am I starting to entertain it as a thing that happened and not some incredibly vivid, bizarre dream. I feel lucky that it didn’t put me off therapy forever, though I would dearly love to find that woman again and report her for gross ethical violations.

  46. Former whipping boy said:

    On siblings and their experiences of family life sometimes been vastly different:
    After I left home for University (which felt like and really was running away from home) my parents and my siblings wrote me FEELINGSMAIL a couple of times. Mainly they demanded more phone contact whilst admitting that they had in fact stopped even trying to text or phone me as they were waiting for me to contact them to prove that I actually still cared and they weren’t going to contact me until I contacted them first because I so clearly didn’t care about them… yeah that really makes sense!

    One letter in particular broke my heart and has caused me much guilt and grief over the years. One of my siblings wrote to me effectively blaming me for the abuse she was currently suffering because I wasn’t there to take the abuse any more and she’d taken my place as the child who tried to comfort our raging mother once she’d stopped throwing things by standing nearby and apologising on demand and agreeing with whatever awful thing was said until she was placated. I’d had that role for close to ten years and then I just left and my sibling had found herself taking my place. She hated it and she hated ME for it. Not her abusive parent or any of the adults in the house who might stand up to that parent and protect her, me the whipping boy who ran away. But she was still a child and a child living in an unsafe place – I can’t blame her for telling herself that story to get through this time in her life. I seem to recall when I was still whipping boy I blamed whoever had “provoked” my mother’s anger – not my mother for being unable to deal with her anger in a safe and sensible manner.

    With time and therapy, I’ve come to see that there is precious little I can do for my siblings whilst they are still living with my mother. I see them when I can and I make sure they know I love them but I can’t rescue them until and unless they actually want to leave. I can’t stop them blaming me either. But at least I now know that I’m not to blame.

    • Kate said:

      FWB, you’re right that until they want to leave and until they see the abuser and not just the abuses, you can’t rescue them. I’m really sorry your little sister blames you for the inherited abuses.

      When my older sister left for college I knew what I was going to inherit. But I never blamed my sister, in fact I was happy and relieved that she got out. Then broken hearted when she caved to Mom’s pressures and returned to live at home two years later while finishing out college.

      Mom (and Dad) hated the fact that my sister and I are best friends and did her best to drive a wedge between us by triangulation, slander, switching the role of golden child and scapegoat, and dangling promises of inheriting her wealth. We have none of it and these days Mom is lucky if we contact her twice a year.

  47. Wow you guys. I just read through all the comments and what hit me hardest was the theme of ‘if it feels bad it probably is bad’. I have always had the impression that if there was not some really good, solid logical reason to be unhappy than it was not okay to be unhappy. I am always apologizing for feeling someway that is not ‘appropriate’. Because I am the ‘good child’ of the entire family I am not allowed to have any ‘bad’ feelings. It is sad that I am almost 28 years old and am just now figuring it out.

    http://twitterpatedss7.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/is-it-okay-to-be-happy/

    • Actually, consider yourself precocious. I was over 40 before I figured out that being quiet and self-contained rather than chatty and effervescent (and usually happier at home than at a party) was…. fine. Not better, and less conducive to “popularity,” but not bad. Just another way to be.

      • Laura said:

        Ha! AlphaKitty, trust me, if you were chatty and effervescent, your family (or at least mine) would tell you to be quiet and nothing’s that great, funny, sad, or whatever. I spent a lot of time hating myself for not being quiet and self-contained, and still tend to apologize for being ‘too much.’ Even being 47 hasn’t been enough time to teach me I’m fine as I am. And, yeah, I feel like I’m lying when typing typing “I’m fine as I am.”

        • Aaaaaugh! It’s like the straight hair – curly hair thing!

          Actually, I’ve always found people like you and me go well together. And I’m 47, too. So you can be ying to my yang, or vice versa! (Now you can tell people “my quiet side lives in Vermont.”)

          • Laura said:

            LOL on the curly/straight hair thing, so cute and so right! And you can tell people your chatty side lives in Missouri. They might want to get a cushion for their ear if they call and be prepared for some “So tell me about yourself” questions. Nothing too intrusive, because I’m supposedly an interrogator due to my open ended question style and try to tone it down a little. Although, considering the person who told me that was the same person who told me to be quiet, I may not be. :)

    • Beth said:

      Wow you guys is right. I’m reading it bits and pieces at a time, because it’s borderline-triggery, so I haven’t got through it all. But wow, all of you.

      I got hitched and ran cross-continent at 16 to get away from my family (spoiler: the marriage was also awful, as I’ve talked about in other comment threads, but it was not that particular frying pan) and now I’m in my thirties and my kids are grown and beyond their influence, and every so often I start to think about getting back in touch, “doing the right thing”…

      and then I come to Captain Awkward and read one of these toxic-family discussions and get my head back on right. Thank you, each and every one of you who has shared a story here.

    • I have always had the impression that if there was not some really good, solid logical reason to be unhappy than it was not okay to be unhappy. I am always apologizing for feeling someway that is not ‘appropriate’. Because I am the ‘good child’ of the entire family I am not allowed to have any ‘bad’ feelings.

      Are you me? Because, word. Also, lots of ‘positive thinking,’ meaning that I got to talk my mother through her emotional breakdowns and her wondering ‘what did I think/feel wrong that made this bad thing happen, I have to find it and FIX it and you will help me because you are Wise and Mommy’s Darling and What I Live For’ after every crisis (cancer, job loss, etc.) from a young age. Then I grow up and struggle with depression and anxiety and wonder what I’ve done wrong to make myself this way and am I messing up my future life by feeling bad and why can’t I just FIX myself, I’ve obviously caused all the problems I’ve ever faced….

      Nope, no possible connection there, none at all.

      So, thanks. :) Still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that it’s ok to feel however you feel.

      • JenniferP said:

        I have to remind myself of that at least once a year.

  48. For all you ladies who had/have narcissistic mothers (like myself), I would highly recommend reading the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” (linked here: http://ow.ly/joLYI ). I found it to be very helpful in pinpointing how exactly that messed up relationship has affected me and my relationships with others–it’s just a great starting point for healing.

    Also, for EVERYONE, try family constellation therapy! Look it up! It is a one-session thing that helps to reframe your ancestral issues and give you a different perspective to move forward in the most positive way. I did it recently in a group and I can’t even begin to describe how powerful it was.

    • Celeloriel said:

      I second the book recommendation. It’s been very helpful and like the author was reading my mind when she talked about family dynamics and the fears you might have.

      • Megay said:

        Third the book recommendation.

  49. Mortifyd said:

    Hey everyone – I just wanted to say that I’ve really gotten a lot out of this one. SO MANY people have had craptastic experiences that I can relate to, sympathise with – and as horrible as they all are – we’re getting better. So much good advice, stories, suggestions on how to handle things – it lets me know I’m not alone, I’m not crazy – at least not about THAT at any rate! – so THANK YOU.

    Jedi hugs and/or fistbumps to everyone for being so awesome and sharing and stuff. Without this place I might not have known to keep fighting for my right to be a person.

  50. This story reminds me so much of my childhood. My Dad was a massive yeller and would lose it over things like the TV being too loud (at a volume he preset). Money was a massive trigger; whenever anything set him off he would yell about how ungrateful and lazy my Mum, half-sister, brother and I were, and how he had to “carry the lot of you”.

    He also hit my sister and my brother in separate incidents. The incident with my sister happened when I was 2 years old and resulted in her moving out, at the age of 16. She was homeless for a few nights and then couch-surfed with friends, eventually dropping out of school due to working to support herself and mental health problems.

    The incident with my brother I can barely remember, but it involved him hitting my brother’s leg “accidentally” with a tennis racquet. While my brother was pretty much asleep in his bed. My brother slept with a cricket bat under his bed for years after. My sister found out about the incident and called the Department of Children’s Services, much to my parents’ mortification. Think, “dirty laundry” + “what if people think we’re bad parents” + “Dad has an anger problem but if you just ignore it then it’ll be OK.”

    His yelling used to scare the living shit out of me. Once when my brother and I got into a fight and my brother tried to attack me with a knife, I punched him in the face to defend myself and ran out of the room. I was going into shock and had grabbed the phone to call a friend (God knows why) and Dad got the phone off me and yelled in my face about how I had “better not have knocked his teeth down his throat”. I was so terrified I actually pissed myself. I was about 13.

    Given that I was so much younger, a lot of the details of why my Dad and half-sister (they are step-father and step-daughter to each other) were never explained. My sister would occasionally visit but often arrange visits with my brother and I at my parents’ house, and not come. Looking back I can totally see why she would have a hard time going back to the house, but at the time it was devastating and felt like she didn’t want to see us. Additionally, she had some issues with mental health and during manic or low periods, would talk about my Dad (and our Mum) in incredibly negative ways. I would come back from visits with her not knowing who, if anyone, I could trust or believe.

    Things are much better these days. My sister’s and my Dad’s relationship is much better, to the point where she moved back in with them in order to study and save. Dad’s anger issues are so much less now that he is older, although he is still pretty bad at communicating emotion. He is quite controlling still – for instance, he goes through everyone’s rubbish bins in their bedrooms, ostensibly to make sure all the recycling is sorted. Even when he is asked not to do this in his adult children’s rooms, he does. He also has a habit of re-stacking the dishwasher after you have put your plates in because “you’ve done it wrong”. And standing over you while you are finishing a cup of tea waiting to put your cup away. And telling you to put the peanut butter away or seizing it and putting it away himself when you are still using it etc.

    I’m afraid that for a long time I was probably like your siblings in this scenario, LW. I didn’t understand fully why my big sister had left (and left us alone with Dad). It felt like a betrayal, even though obviously it wasn’t at all. I was angry at her for “being a fuck-up”, blaming her for the confusion and hurt I felt every time I was left wondering about whether my Dad was a truly hideous person or whether my sister was an unstable manipulator. I felt guilty that my brother and sister had both been hit and I hadn’t. I decided that it meant that I was different to the both of them and the only real difference I could see was that a) I didn’t talk back – I was too afraid and they weren’t; and b) I was “more academic”. So I became perfectionistic over school work to the point where I would have a panic attack over assignments and anything less than an A+ (even an A) was a disappointment. I’m sure I had perfectionist tendencies anyway but they were certainly enflamed by the thought of – what happens if I don’t do well and make him / them proud?

    I moved out four months ago (for the second time, but this time it will stick) and it is heavenly. I make tea and nobody tells me off for not using a tea spoon correctly, or tries to put the milk away before I have finished with it. I talk on the phone and nobody yells at me to get off, that they need it for work and that’s more important. I have a small, safe room with a beautiful view that is nothing like the wood shed I used to sit in when I wanted to cry and run away. No one yells at me, period. It is a deal-breaker, just like it is for Jennifer. I have a far better relationship with my sister, whom I understand so much more now and whom I believe has forgiven me for once being so angry and hurt AT her. I have been able to start distinguishing my values, thoughts, anxieties and sadnesses from those of my parents, and it is lovely to have some demarcation around what is my shit and what is theirs. I have a great therapist, something I could never have had at home because it was seen as “Oprah bullshit.” I take meds for my depression, something which my parents were set against because they thought it meant there was something wrong with me and that I was using depression as an excuse for laziness or youthful inexperience or something.

    I love my family, but I find I am so much happier, more stable and more successful when I don’t have their judgments, anxieties and even their conditional approval in my ear. When my Mum made a comment on the phone the other day, “Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much?”, which ties into some recent comments about my eating and weight, I could ask her to not make those comments. She replied to say that she is concerned about my weight and she was sorry to have mentioned it, and I didn’t need to follow up. I don’t need to buy into their concern, anger, frustration, money worries, fears about the future or the world. I can visit them and spend time with them and enjoy conversations and try to depart those conversations when I start to find them difficult. I can take the best parts of them, and leave the rest gently at the door on my way out.

    I don’t have any constructive advice to you, LW, except to wish you the best of luck. And to say: don’t believe that you should feel guilty that you moved away. I felt guilty for a long time and it, plus the fear that I “wouldn’t make it in this world” without them, stopped me from going. Feel the guilt, but don’t buy into it and believe that you were wrong to move. It took my brain years to unravel some of these hazy past events, the misinformation, the weird “broken stair” accommodation of my Dad’s anger, my own mistaken guilt at not protecting my beloved siblings. It took me years to realise that my Dad was a good man who had done bad things and that it wasn’t a battle between my sister and my Dad.

    I hope that you can find some peace in your geographical distance from them, and that you can fill your small quiet room, your life, your days with people and activities that fill you with joy and satisfaction, rather than exhaustion, queasy fear and insecurity.

    • ReanaZ said:

      <3

    • JenniferP said:

      I relate very strongly to the teaspoon thing. And the dishwasher thing. And the putting stuff away when you’re in the middle of still using it thing. Neat freak + anger = a lot of tension in the house.

      And OH GOD THE GOING THROUGH THE TRASH THING.

      In my parents’ house, after you read the paper, you must place it back exactly as it came (with all the sections in their original order) and place it in the pile with the others, where it will be recycled at the end of the week. If you put the sections back wrong, there might be yelling.

      True story: I had this statue of E.T. that my aunt made for me that I found terrifying. I hated E.T. If I found that thing in my back yard I would have kicked it to death or called government scientists to come find out what it is and oh god if there are any more. So I kept trying to throw it away. But my dad would fish it out of the trash and put it back in my room. But before I figured out that that’s what he was doing (I was like, 7), I thought that every time I threw E.T. away it climbed out of the trash on its own and got back on my bookshelves. Then I figured out what was happening. I asked if I could get rid of it but was told that I could not. So then I hid E.T. deep in my closet. But a few years ago I was home for the holidays, and there was fucking E.T., back out on display. So I took E.T. back to Chicago with me, and after my housemates and I spent a while hiding it around the place to terrify each other, E.T. was smashed, the shards were set on fire, and the ashes were put in separate garbage bags.

      If I see that thing again I am calling an exorcist.

      • unlurking said:

        WHAAAT. A few years ago? This battle was still going on?! And why was it ever going on in the first place, as a kid, but then also as an adult. D:

        (P.S. I though E.T. was super-scary, too.)

        • JenniferP said:

          I think they were sorting through old stuff in the closet, found it, and thought “Here’s Jennifer’s E.T. she loved so much, let me put it out” while I thought “GRAAAAAAAAHHHH!”

        • Very recently, my 37-year-old sister had a pair of cheap sunglasses that were a bit scratched, that she didn’t particularly like any more. So she threw them out in the bin by her desk in her room.

          She found them back on her desk after Dad had gone through her bin.

          She threw them out again.

          And back they came.

          She eventually broke the earpiece to make it clear that THESE WERE RUBBISH and threw them out.

          Back they appeared, with Dad’s attempt at a glued hinge.

          • JenniferP said:

            This is my favorite story ever. I can relate SO MUCH.

      • OMG this reminds me of the worst Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

        So I am a person with a touch of SAD (I am sleepy from like November to February EVERY YEAR and that is the good years when nothing makes me depressed in that time frame) and also a tendency towards taking things seriously. PLUS I am a progressive with a bit of an anti-capitalist bent. As a result, one of my least favorite things in the entire universe is: Advertising-based mall-run stuff-driven “Secular Christmas”. I goddamn hate the big debt-and-inflatable-snowmen thing. I hate it even more since in my family, Buying-Stuff-Christmas becomes a big contest about who can prove they love people they hate the most by buying them the most expensive shit and everyone gets all score-keepy if their present to you was more expensive than your present to them and ohhhhhhh my goddddddd all I ever wanted to do at Christmas when I was still young and Catholic was have a nice peaceful private religious holiday about Jesus ‘n’ shit and not have it be a big public event, and all that I wanted after becoming not Catholic anymore was to be able to opt out of Christmas.

        This deeply offended one of my aunts, who loves Christmas and loves score-keeping and hates everybody, so one year for Christmas she got me a Coca-Cola Santa snowglobe. COCA-COLA SANTA. I was 100% sure and am still 100% sure that this choice of gift was deliberately intended to piss me off.

        I tried to leave it behind but my father rescued it, and promptly forgot about the circumstances under which it was given to me, and so put it up as part of the Christmas decorations EVERY YEAR, and was apparently quite legitimately baffled about why I disliked it so much. I finally a few years ago I explained WHY I hated the damn thing and now he still puts it up but it’s become sort of a family joke that he puts something in front of it when I come over.

    • notmyusualname said:

      Oh, god, the dishwasher. I still fear loading the dishwasher wrong, even though I live on a different continent than my folks.

      And when I was living back with them during the end of my undergrad and for grad school (and paying part of their property taxes in lieu of rent and paying for most of my own food, but still being treated like I was freeloading by my stepfather *ahem*), my brother and I, both in our twenties, had to plan things very carefully if we wanted to get takeout for dinner together, we had to do it on the night when the trash went out for collection, and immediately put the stuff in the trash and take it out ourselves, so we wouldn’t get yelled at for “ungratefulness” because we wanted, say, chinese food instead of what the parents wanted to shop for. When I started grad school and had a desk in a TA office, I’d work late regularly and get takeout delivered there.

  51. LW, you have all my sympathy. When I was getting ready to move across the continent on short notice, it occurred to me that I could just not mention it to my crazy relatives. This is not an easy decision to make, so I consulted pretty much all of my closest friends, to make sure I wasn’t just being bizarre and neurotic about it. Every last one of them told me to just go. Most particularly the ones who had actually met my parents.

    I got the last accusatory nastygram months later, from my sister, who has grown up to be exactly like my mother.

    The answer to your question is that it’s time to cut off communication when you realize that the stress of dealing with the abusive people is greater than the stress of sometimes having to explain to normal folk with normal families that your relatives are crazy as, and in some cases crazier than, the proverbial shithouse rat. If their behavior doesn’t change no matter what you do — it sounds like it, from your letter; I know it was the case with my family — then any efforts you make to keep a relationship with them going are really just for your own peace of mind. If you’re not getting any from the effort, then perhaps the effort is wasted.

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