#741: Visiting parents and a short “Boundary Practice” course.

Dear Captain,

My parents keep visiting me over the summer and living in my apartment on my couch. One of my parents is looking for a job both in my current state and in the state of my hometown (where she actually officially lives when she is not visiting me). She sometimes has interviews out here and I am her host.

My dad, meanwhile, stayed three weeks at my place over the summer. I repeat: three fucking weeks. I did not need his “help” (his reason for visiting), but I felt bad telling him because I know he is going through a difficult time in his life (unwanted retirement) and wants to feel useful. I know I don’t *have* to satisfy those feelings for him, and I’m in therapy to try to get over this thinking.

I feel like crying. I was (and still am) a “parentified child” (chaotic home, traumatized parents told me about their adult sexual and financial struggles as though I were a healthy confidant) and having to host my parents now in my early 20’s is really triggering the sad feelings of powerlessness and numbness I used to feel. The feeling that I have to care for and baby my parents rather than enjoy being young, being a kid and having a fun place to live *on my own*.

I was saying to my therapist yesterday that I need to balance what my parents want from me as a daughter, to what society thinks a daughter should reasonably do to help her struggling parents. I burst into tears because she said, “Well, and you also have to balance those things with what YOU want.” I hadn’t even considered my own desires in terms of my apartment and my boundaries with them.

Do you have any scripts on re-setting (or rather, setting for the first time) boundaries with my parents? I know that part of the process will probably involve my knowing what I actually WANT for boundaries–but frankly yesterday is the first time I have ever thought about it with such precision.

My mom still doesn’t have a job yet, and I know she is probably going to come back out for more interviews. I have suffered enough of my parents’ rage and regret over finances and lost jobs. I am so tired and fragile right now. I also am terrified of setting boundaries–I don’t know that I believe they can get on without my help. Plus, you know, I love them.

Any help or advice or scripts would be amazing.

–Healing from parentification

[Ed. note: Description/definition of parentification is here.]

Dear Healing,

I’m glad you have a smart therapist who can remind you that your needs matter on an ongoing basis.

My best suggestion is that you get a notebook or open a file on your computer and start writing. Finish these sentences:

  • “In a perfect world, when I see my parents we would…”
  • “My ideal houseguest would….”
  • “I would be up for hosting my parents ____ times/year for no more than _____ days at a time with at least _____ of notice.” (Your ideal number can be zero, by the way: Zero times/year for Zero days at a time).
  • “The things that really bother me the most about their visits are…”
  • “If I talk to them about it and set a boundary, I am afraid they will…”

See what comes up when you write it all out, and bring it all to your therapist to process.

In the meantime, start practicing setting boundaries and stating preferences in small ways in your day-to-day life, both with your parents and with other people you interact with. Pay attention to how you assert yourself in lower-stakes situations that aren’t so emotionally charged.

  • “Server, this sandwich isn’t what I ordered.”
  • “Coworker, can you turn the music down please?”
  • “Mom/Dad, this isn’t a good time. I’ll need to call you back.”
  • “I’d prefer to sit closer to the front.” 
  • “That movie doesn’t interest me. Howabout this one, instead?”
  • “Your party sounds lovely but I won’t make it this time.” 
  • “Please put me on your Do Not Call list.”
  • “No beer for me, thanks. Do you have iced tea?”
  • “No iced tea for me, thanks. Do you have a beer?”
  • “No thank you, I’m not interested.” 
  • “Thanks for lending me that book, but I know I won’t get to it any time soon, so I’m going to give it back to you.”
  • “That restaurant is out of my budget right now. Can we do something less expensive, or save it for another time?”
  • “Excuse me, but I was next in line.”
  • “It was really nice meeting you, but I don’t think I’m interested in another date.”
  • “It’s awesome how much you love ____ (show, book, movie, band). I never could get into them, myself.”
  • “Boss, I’d love to take that project on, but given x, y, and z projects I can’t make it a priority unless something else goes. What do you suggest?” 
  • “Whoa, TMI! Let’s change the subject.”
  • “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be offensive, that that comment was pretty racist.” 
  • “I’m going to have to reschedule our meeting.” 
  • “I wish I could stay but I have a busy day tomorrow, so I’m going to head out.” 
  • Do you mind putting your phone down and not texting while we’re trying to talk?” 
  • “That’s all the time I have today, we’ll have to pick this up another time.” 
  • “I can’t do that favor this time, sorry.” 

Practice not picking up the phone if you don’t want to take a call.

Practice not answering the door if you weren’t expecting visitors.

Practice cutting a conversation short when it’s going nowhere.

Practice asserting yourself positively, too. “You look great today!” “You did a good job on this.” “I really appreciate the ride.” “You made my drink just right.” “I am really happy to see you.” “Thank you for introducing me to that organization.” “I loved that book you recommended.” “I really liked going on a date with you, let’s do it again sometime.” It’s all part of not sitting on your feelings.

Pay attention to how it feels when you say “no” to someone. What are your anxieties? How does the other person react, relative to your anxieties? What’s hard about it? Does it get easier over time? Do you find yourself apologizing a lot? Negotiating an adult relationship with parental figures is rarely easy for anyone, but I think you have been particularly trained and groomed to never disappoint people (i.e. your parents), and that it’s unrealistic to go from “Sure, whatever you need” to “Have you considered the hotel?” with your family without some practice in realizing that disappointing someone is not the Worst Thing In The World. With a little practice, you can work up to:

  • “Three weeks is just too long, Dad. Three days is more like it.” 
  • “Thanks for your offer of help! I’ve got it handled, though, so let’s plan a visit where I come home next month instead.” 
  • “Mom, I’m happy to put you up for a job interview for a day or two as long as I have x days’ notice.”
  • “I love seeing you, but hosting somebody on short notice/for so long really stresses me out, and we need to figure out an alternate arrangement.” 
  • “I need you to ask me if you can stay, and sometimes I need to be able to say no if it’s not a good time.” 
  • “It’s just not a good time right now.”
  • “Sorry, that won’t work for me.” 
  • “Parent, can you take your private financial/relationship stuff to a counselor or your friends? I’m not comfortable hearing about that stuff.” 

The first time you set a boundary is the hardest time and when you will most likely get the strongest pushback of the “But we’re a faaaaaamily and families do ________” or “We’re not guests, we’re faaaaaamily” sort. You might get some guilt trips and cutting comments about ungrateful daughters and all kinds of cultural pressure. If you remain clear and stick by your boundaries, people mostly can and do learn to ask first and to take “no” for an answer. And you can be very direct about what you are doing, and why. “Mom, Dad, I love that we’re a close family and I do love seeing you. But now that we’re all adults, I want us to have more of an adult relationship, and I want to be able to balance being able to count on and support each other with adult behaviors, like, asking before you plan to come stay, setting limits on how long visits should be, and being respectful of each other’s limits and space. My tiny apartment isn’t built to have more than one person living in it for any length of time. I know money is tight right now, so I’m not saying you can’t crash here sometimes, I’m just saying we need to put some limits in place so that it can be a very pleasant, happy thing when you do come.

Or “Mom, Dad, if you want to visit (city), please plan to stay in a hotel from now on. Hosting you won’t work for me anymore.” You are allowed to choose whatever honors your needs, your wants, and your safety and I don’t want to give the impression that you should somehow make short visits work if you don’t want to. FYI, my parents almost never stay with me when they visit, so don’t believe any “ALL families do this!” nonsense.

It also helps if you model the behavior back at them – ask if you can stay with them when you visit, ask if they can pick you up from the airport, thank them for hosting you, etc. They may say “You don’t have to ask!” (translate this is “You don’t really expect us to ask, do you?” h/t @brigidkeely) but keep asking. Some families really have a culture that says “manners are for OTHER people, families shouldn’t have to worry about them” and those families will keep me in letters until I am old and gray. I think manners & consideration in your close relationships are even more important than they are for casual social interactions. You’d probably laugh at how much my Gentleman Caller and I say “thank you” to each other – “thank you for breakfast,” “thank you for reading my resume,” “thank you for picking up groceries,” “thank you for coming with me” “Am I interrupting you?” “Do you have time to do x?”, etc. – but if we’re gonna share this 600 square feet for the forseeable future I think we gotta be gentle and considerate and not take things for granted.

Your parents can survive some limits around visiting. You can survive not being the most accommodating daughter. Your relationship and your love for each other can survive all of this. A new normal, where asking first/limiting visits is just the routine thing that y’all do, is possible.

379 comments
  1. Ugh, my utmost sympathies about parents never asking. I’m in my 40s, and the closest my mother has ever come is, “I’m on vacation for a few days next month. I’M ASKING YOU TO COME STAY WITH YOUR FATHER.” (the only reason she did that was because her sister heard her say that she’d just get me to do it and said, “Have you even asked her if she can?”) Ditto on parentification. Dad was terminally ill at the time she was ASKING me for help, and I was also the emotional dumping ground for my mother’s caregiver burnout because nobody would understand what she was going through. So on top of managing my own emotions around losing a parent and trying to deal with his emotions over his approaching death, I was expected to shoulder mom’s emotional turmoil as well. It was an ugly situation all around.

    Things are better now, since Dad died and I moved a few hundred miles away and only see her twice a year. That said, it’s still a constant struggle to keep those boundaries up when she’s used to ignoring what I have to say and I was trained since childhood to answer every question and listen whenever she has something to say and not interrupt.

    The Captain has it right here. I wish you the best at being able to do it, and don’t be hard on yourself if it’s too much at first and you don’t hold as firm as you want. With practice, it should get easier, and less fraught.

    • That story reminds me of when I was 16 and my mom dragged me out shopping because she didn’t want to shop alone. I didn’t have much of a choice but to go along, lol. Well, I slipped and fell on a wet section of floor that hadn’t been marked. My mother looked back at me and then continued walking away down the aisle. Another woman who happened to be passing us at that moment knelt down and asked me, “Are you okay?” and helped me up. My mother heard this, looked back, and suddenly shouted, “Oh my god, are you okay?!” as she rushed back to me. If she were still alive, I’d dearly love to punch her in the face for that one. But she’s dead, and so is the violence.

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        Hugs! Yeah, the pretend Good Parent whenever there was an audience.

        • … so I’m not the only one who tries to bring a sweetie/friend/warm body along with me when I see my folks so my mom will behave like a human being?

          … that’s not just me being weird?

          Okay then.

          • Nope. I always try to get my husband to come whenever I have to board the Mothership of Evil Bees.

          • Ms. Pris said:

            No, you are not alone! I refuse to be with my biological mother without a non-family member witness present, usually my partner. She tries to hide her abusiveness in front of other people, because “what people think” is very important to her. It still slips out, of course, so other people *do* get to see that she is horrible, but she’s much better behaved this way.

      • Big Pink Box said:

        Oh god, there are others?

        I had an at-work injury that involved 4kg of heavy shit dropped on my head/neck. Went to A&E (ER) and was told I was concussed. Three days later, at home, my head and neck pain is awful. I asked if my dad could take me to the hospital after his bath. She said no, that I knew that he went to his club on a Wednesday night. I asked if she’d come with me if I took the bus (3 actually) , “No. I’m watching EastEnders”. Oh.

        My Auntie (mother’s best friend) lived across the street, and her husband was in hospital. She visited him every night at about this time, so I popped to her house to ask if she would mind giving me a ride with her. I offered petrol money, and said I’d get the bus home, and she (as always, so lovely that woman) said of course she’d take me, and that I would neither be handing over money, nor using a bus!

        Five minutes later I turn to go home for my bag, and see my mother RUN across the street to where we were standing. The mother hen bit was atrociously embarrassing, and I was mortified. Guess who was now coming along with me?

        As soon as we got there and Auntie had gone up to visit her husband, maternobot GT01 resumed her typical flat affect, irritation and narcissism. I had to buy her two sandwiches, three coffees, and two magazines to shut her up about missing her soaps, and saying how stupidly clumsy I was for getting hurt.

        Two hours later, diagnosis of severe whiplash and a referral to get checked out by my usual neurologist, and we go to meet Auntie. Guess who returned? Supermammy! Kind, caring, Oscar nominee boohooing about her poor daughter.

        Sorry to the rest of my siblings in spirit, with similarly messed up mothers. Jedi hugs to all of you.

        • ashbet said:

          Oh, Maternobot — I know her well. I actually refer to mine as the Wire Mother (referring to the Harlow experiments on baby monkeys — that’s the least distressing article I can find about it.)

          Absolutely awful and abusive in private and around “faaaaamily,” seemingly solicitous, giving, and self-sacrificing whenever she was performing in front of an audience. My high-school best friend thought I was terribly mean and ungrateful when I talked about my mother, until she witnessed her slapping me in the face for eating a spoonful of cookie dough. The Wire Mother puts on a GREAT act.

          I’m sorry that you had to go through that — *Jedi hugs* in return ❤

          But, yeah. Setting boundaries with steamroller parents is so, so important!

          I'm really glad that I had 15 years of independent adulthood (where I set very good boundaries with her) before I became disabled, because now she has financial strings on me that she yanks whenever she wants something. At least she's finally stopped threatening to pull my daughter's college tuition money if I "disobey" her (it's in an account that she controls, after my Dad's death), because she's graduating next year 😛

          • I am deeply sorry for those of you who also experienced this! Yet I confess I’m glad I’m not alone. That kind of shit is crazy-making. It took me years before I figured out why that memory bugged me so much, because I was so used to just accepting that her lack of caring was normal. There are other similar memories – but you all have been there, done that. The specifics are different, but the pain is the same.

            Huge Jedi-hugs to you all, and e-versions of your favourite treats!!

          • Big Pink Box said:

            Haha I am a Maslow Monkey! Way back in the mists of time, actually at the same time I was working at the place with falling boxes, I was at university doing a psychology degree. I’d sit as the lecturers explained various child-desteoying behaviours (like the “Come here/go away” style headfuckery) and I’d think “Wow, this is fairly standard stuff, if X caused psych problems in kids I would be screwed!”. Oh how I can laugh at that now, at my poor, Stockholm Syndrome suffering, Maslow monkeyed self .

            I only fully realised how Fucked up my childhood was when I met my wife. As my then-GF listened I’d tell “amusing” childhood stories, and then become puzzled as she went pale and her mouth gaped. I’d stop talking, then ask if she was okay, and she’d ask “What the fuck was that? That’s horrible! What really happened?”. I would be really confused, and restate what I’d said, and she’d sit there mute. She would then, every time, patiently explain that Y is not funny, and that doing that to a child is wrong. She’d deconstruct my ideas that I was bad/deserved it/ being a huffy brat. 11 years later it’s still all being processed as I remember other things.

            I mentioned downthread about “friends” who’ve thought I was so disrespectful and “mean” to my “lovely” mother. Someone replied that my friends just weren’t listening, but as you know too well, the wire mothers are con merchants whose superficial charm makes them appear to be funny and sweet. An added complication in my case is that she has no problems with the fact that I’m a lesbian, whereas one of my friends has very homophobic parents, and sees my mother as a cloth monkey.

            WRT to the “screwed” in my first paragraph, I have clinical depression, PTSD and OCD, and a history of self-harm. My brother is a bipolar alcoholic who, unfortunately, is currently living in my parents’ wire beehive. Which is… ugh. I’d self-immolate rather than go “home”, but kiddo (who’s 35 but still my little brother!) has no real choice, and I fear for him.

            Reading about other people with similar stories engender a horrible happy/sad in me, because as grateful as I always am to find people who just get it, it hurts that their experiences allow them to get it.

          • People get confused when I explain that my parents’ house is not “home” and never really was. You cannot really call a place home where you are not allowed any personal space or to enter certain rooms without permission or to even touch anything that does not exclusively belong to you (and even then, you are always told “it’s not YOURS, because I paid for it. I just let you use it out of the kindness of my heart.” Yeah, it’s dead generous of you to let me use the little girl sized clothes that I’m sure you would be wearing otherwise 😉 )

            Likewise, I used to get confused when people asked me if I “lived at home.” Surely, I thought, the definition of home is a place where you live? So are they asking me if I’m homeless, or what? It took my poor autistic brain years to work out that what they were really asking was “do you live with your parent(s)?” Which, to me, was a totally different question. I never, ever felt at home or safe in my parents’ house. I wasn’t allowed to.

          • loonybrain said:

            Oh man, I’ve used the Wire Mother term in my head too! (Though in my case, Dad was the worse contender; Mom was just spaced out most of the time.)

          • thegirlfrommarz said:

            My god, these stories. Jedi hugs to you all, if you want them.

            Fuck the carpet and Wire Mother are now added to the CA glossary – let me know if the definitions need tweaking.

          • Wow. I never knew about the Harlow experiments. Wire mother it is. Great phrase.

          • RedinSC said:

            I remember studying the baby monkey experients in college. Every once in a while I wake up in a sweat having dreamed about them. Gawd, hearing this in relation to one’s upbringing is just heart breaking.

            Hugs to all of you, who didn’t get the parents you deserved, and are still dealing with the trauma of the ones that you have.

        • Box, your story touches me. I am truly sorry you went through that incident, but I am also sorry that you grew up with someone like that. Isn’t it creepy that people with mothers like the ones we had all have stories about vivid personal injury that the mother (and sometimes father) figure either outright ignored, or used as ammunition for insults, or both?

          During one of my parents’ many violent fights, which resulted in many, many broken household things, I stepped on a piece of glass that sank almost two inches into my heel. It was a serious wound; that spot of my foot is still incredibly sensitive, thirteen years later. I’m incredibly lucky I didn’t sever a tendon. My mother saw me hopping to the bathroom, leaking copious amounts of blood onto the pale grey carpet, and lost it – because I was staining the carpet. (She later blamed me for their having to replace the carpeting, because “Kitchenchantress bled all over the carpet like an idiot.”) I needed stitches, but she refused to take me to the hospital. I had to call friends who lived 90 minutes away to come and take me. I was pale, faint, and shivering by the time they arrived. Good times.

          All this to say that I truly understand where you’re coming from. I’m still very raw from my upbringing, as this comment probably illustrates. I offered Jedi hugs below, but I think we need a Jedi hug circle, lol.

          And you know what? Fuck the carpet, man!

          • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

            I’d been telling my mom my stomach hurt for a couple of days, and it hurt a lot. She ignored me. My dad finally came home, I kept my “stupid mouth” shut about my stomach until maybe 4 am, when I couldn’t stand it any more and screamed. My mom told my dad I was just faking and wanting attention. My dad said, “I think she is in pain, because she knows better than to make a sound otherwise,” and took me to the ER. Well, they diagnosed bursting appendix and that I had to get into surgery now, and my mother finally got out of bed and drove down–to argue with the surgeon that I was just faking and wanting attention. Fortunately, he more or less told her she was an asshole, and I went into surgery. Yup, bursting appendix. No one came to visit in the hospital, because as my mom told me later, I was too selfish to have visitors. (I think I mentioned this before here). Anyway, I was absurdly grateful to my dad for decades–until it finally sunk in that normal parents would OF COURSE take their kid to the hospital if the kid was in pain. OF COURSE. But that’s what the bad parents do to your sense of reality.

          • Big Pink Box said:

            CONTENT NOTE -I’ll be mentioning an incident of self injury.

            I’m crying for you, that’s terrible, and many hugs back to you. Things like that incident were so normalised to me that I used to tell them as funny anecdotes, having no idea that other people had parents who tended their wounds,cared for them in times of need, and didn’t treat pain as weakness.

            I have a bathroom carpet blood story too, but my bleeding was from SI, and I thought she was going to kill me because she was so angry. I got the stain out, but the way she behaved you’d think I’d shit on her pillow.

            So glad I made it out of there alive.

          • I just wanted to offer Jedi hugs to everyone in this sub-thread. Big ones. There are some horrible, horrible stories here and I’m glad you have this space to vent. I feel very grateful for it myself.

            Nothing that horrific ever happened to me, but these stories resonate with me all the same because my mother used to hit me so hard with belts, broom handles etc that I was covered in bruises (and worse psychologically) but would flat out deny it had ever happened if I ever brought it up again. Not the same as a total lack of acknowledgement/sympathy at the time but rather a retrospective denial of my suffering. Ugh.

          • Mathglot said:

            I vote for “Eff the carpet!” as the latest entry in the double-secret probation CA glossary of terms.

          • Divizna said:

            Let me just bow to you. Why, you ask? Because you retained the knowledge that you CAN call your friends.
            I think I told the story of my sister-induced knee injury (no blood) a few letters back. As I couldn’t get up, I ended up lying on the floor in the living room for almost 24 hours. My parents gave me a good portion of guilting over the evening and went to bed, then resumed the guilting in the morning (for closing a door, after which my sister kicked me from behind). Technically, I could have crawled to the phone, but never thought I had any right to…
            So let me bow before you on the knee that, eight years after, doesn’t hurt very much but hurts almost constantly.

          • ashbet said:

            Oh, I have one of those! (CW: abuse)

            Freak accident with cheap discount Superglue wound up taking a deep chunk out of my thigh (I’d been wearing pants and sitting cross-legged when the bottle came apart, and I have a genetic disorder that causes thin skin and weak connective tissue), called my parents for help, got harangued all the way home for being stupid, clumsy, and “should have known better.”

            Got to the house, my Dad starts in on me, my shoe is filling with blood as I stand there, on the front step and then I (who NEVER yelled or swore at my parents) finally had enough and screamed “WOULD YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET ME SOME BAND-AIDS”…

            …at which point they BOTH slapped me across the face and split my lip.

            Wound up running past them, locking myself in the bedroom, packing the wound with gauze, and taping around my thigh to hold it in place.

            Told them we should go to the ER, but I was “exaggerating.” Didn’t get medical attention until 3 days later, when it got infected.

            Still have a lumpy, awful scar about the size of a pack of playing cards, as a souvenir from THAT fun incident in Ashbet’s teens :/

            [hope this doesn’t post twice, I think my phone ate it, the first time]

            *fistbumps of FUCK THE CARPET solidarity!!*

          • Jenny Islander said:

            I still remember my mother’s surprise–her honest surprise–that when I fell and wrenched my ankle so badly that the doctor said, “Any harder and your foot would be technically detached except for the bone,” and after that somehow got myself out of the hole in the rocks, up the rock cliff above the beach on one foot, up the hill above the cliff on my butt, around the house, up the stairs on my butt, into the house, and onto a kitchen chair, I made myself ramen instead of calling anybody. The idea that I could actually call for help was just not in my brain pan. Oh how could that possibly have been the case.

          • peregrinations said:

            Oh man there are some horrible stories here! Jedi Hugs to everyone sharing their stories here. Also, some commiseration.

            My mother’s parentification style with me flipped when I was ~11. When I was young (like 5 until 9 or 10) I was her confidante, therapist and marriage counselor; I remember her sitting on my childhood twin bed crying about how awful my Dad was, her life was, etc. I remember feeling overwhelmed and scared that they would divorce, feeling the world on my shoulders, but also feeling honored and special that she confided in me (and I wonder why I keep getting in friend and romantic relationships with needy people!). Finally, though, I couldn’t take it anymore and cried – and that was the end of that. After that parentification came in the form of being expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, and housework (even their personal laundry). Also pampering and walking on eggshells around her as she went through her inner child phase (while doing the exact same things, or more, to us that she complained about her parents doing).

            When I was young she’d rush me to the doctor for the slightest scratch or bruise – and with my pale skin and tomboy rambunctiousness I had a lot of them – to the point that the doctors started getting concerned. But that flipped around the same time too: Around 13 I got a deep cut in my hand from a kitchen knife. I had to get her off the phone to take me to the ER, and never heard the end of how “stupid” I was to cut myself. Similarly I was “clumsy” when I tripped over a rug, split my knee open, and spilled a plate of food I was carrying into our summer cabin at ~15 (I didn’t get to the ER that time until it got infected several days later, and I still have a big scar); “faking” to get out of work when I threw my back out working a summer job that I liked in college (the only summer I lived at home); and an expensive nuisance when I broke my leg the first time in college (and still on their health care plan).

            I learned that I shouldn’t expect anything when I got hurt, so the second time I broke my leg I drove my stick-shift truck 4 hours back home rather than trouble anyone for a ride. Years later a friend who lived nearby is still upset that I didn’t call her to come get me, which shocked me – certainly that was too much to ask? It really became clear when I got sick with whooping cough while on a family vacation as an adult at the same summer cabin. She claimed not to have noticed me coughing nonstop and literally turning blue, meanwhile she demanded that everyone come and fawn over a blister on her toe and got angry when I didn’t show enough interest. It wasn’t until my sister, the golden child, caught whooping cough from me that mother started paying attention. To this day I still hate to ask anyone for anything when I’m sick, preferring to hide away until I’m better.

          • LA said:

            Oh god, yes, fuck the carpet.

            It has taken years for me to not freak out when I spill something on carpet, even my own. I didn’t even realize that not getting upset was an option until I spilled some Pepsi while at my boyfriend’s house. I IMMEDIATELY began apologizing profusely and ran to get something to clean it and he was all “…it’s okay; I can clean it later.” It was honestly hard for me to accept that he wasn’t angry that I’d spilled something on his carpet.

          • Mathglot said: “I vote for “Eff the carpet!” as the latest entry in the double-secret probation CA glossary of terms.”

            That and “wire mother/cloth mother.” Definitely.

          • mstabbity said:

            @Jenny Islander

            The idea that I could actually call for help was just not in my brain pan. Oh how could that possibly have been the case.

            Thank you. When I was a kid I used to look at those child help line ads on candy boxes with this sort of distant fascination (I dissociated a lot as a kid). It never *ever* occurred to me that the child help line was a real thing that a kid could call if they needed help, or that anyone would ever in a million years actually help the kid who called it. I always thought I was just kind of dumb because in hindsight my sister and I were in the exact kind of situation that help line was supposed to help, so it’s weirdly comforting to hear I’m not the only one.

          • Ha ha, yes. I remember screaming through my sobs when my mother was hitting me that I would call ChildLine. She was all “don’t you DARE! What about parent line? What about MY rights, you don’t care about how much you’re making me suffer, do you?” She sort of convinced me that it wouldn’t be fair for me to call them about her, because there was nobody she could call about me. Fairness was a big thing in that house (even though it really wasn’t!).

            I once got as far as the phone but didn’t dare dial the number. I was too scared of what she’d tell them about what a horrible child I was and how badly I’d behaved. I actually thought they would side with her, and yes I also thought my situation wasn’t terrible enough to warrant telling anyone.

          • Anodyne said:

            “I once got as far as the phone but didn’t dare dial the number.” That’s – my sister and I once got that far, too. We knew the number. We had the phone. And our father – who was (and still is, really) verbally abusive and prone to violent tantrums – had gone out and told us to have the house clean by the time he got back. I think I was 11 or so – she would have been 9. And the house was the sort of “cluttered-messy” that (I assume) you get in a house where both parents work; one parent is depressed; the other parent acts as if him doing housework on top of his 9-5 job is a gift which should not be relied on, rather than simply what an adult should do; and none of the three kids have ever been taught how to clean up, just berated when they fail to clean to an arbitrary standard. It wasn’t dangerously messy, but there were piles of things, and the carpet probably needed vacuuming more often than ever happened, and there were usually a few dishes piled in the sink. But we didn’t go hungry, we didn’t lack dishes to eat off of, and we never lacked clothes to wear, and the house wasn’t such a mess that things were growing on the plates in the sink.

            But we didn’t know what would happen, if we dialed the number. And we knew – because we had *asked* – that mom was only staying with him because she felt we needed the material support. So, there was the fear of “what if we make things worse by calling”; I didn’t know about things like child support, or I would have argued with my mom harder about divorcing him. And it’s too late now to make any difference there.

        • perlhaqr said:

          Gods I hope this comment comes across properly. It is intended sympathetically.

          As I get older, and hear more and more stories from friends, acquaintances, and ethereal people on the internet, I realise that the views I had of my “fucked up childhood” that I had when I was like, 20, could have been so, so much worse. :-/

          😦

          Mad sympathy to you, and jedi hugs if you want them.

          • perlhaqr said:

            Actually jedi hugs to everyone in this thread, because holy fuckballs, Batman. I apologize in advance for any jedi tears that might get on you from the jedi hugs, though, because seriously, I just lost it at I think she is in pain, because she knows better than to make a sound otherwise. Not to diminish any of the other stories, of course, just, that was the little jiggle of the knife handle after the twisting post-stab, that hit the right nerve or something. 😦 😥

            Fuck the carpet indeed. 😦

        • Serious Jedi hugs all around. It is rage inducing and crazy making because even my partner says that he has to really put in the mental energy to see my mom as the narcissist she is because of the super sweet, quiet, unassuming mother act she puts on. And she LOVES him so she is on her super best behavior whenever he is around (he does believe me and is very supportive). But even when she is narcissistic it’s in this babyish, woe-is-me-I’m-such-a-VICTIM way that plays so perfectly to my savior syndrome and kept me fooled for most of my life.

          I have not had any physical calamities or ailments (thank jeebus!) but whenever there is a big emotional upheaval she suddenly gets a Very Bad Cold that means she needs all my father’s attention and leaves me to my abusive and BPD sister and then scolds me when sister inevitably ends up screaming at me or hitting me because I should know better than to agitate her.

          The last time this happened was when the person I was closest to in the family died. She and I had such a special connection that even her bio-kids came up to me at the funeral to comfort me and tell me I was her favorite (in a genuinely compassionate way). I was emotionally wrecked and of course my mom was “sick,” my dad was busy attending to mother, and my sister – after 2 days of emotional abuse telling me what a spoiled, selfish brat I was – literally pushed me off the couch because I was “taking up too much room” by sitting normally and then made me sleep on the floor of the hotel room because I was running a fever and she couldn’t sleep because I was making the bed too hot. All this in front of my parent’s who ignored all of it.

          The really f*cked up part was not one part of me even considered this treatment to be bad. This is just what comfort looked like to me. It wasn’t until I got off the bus from the trip back from the funeral and my partner was there to pick me up and take me back to my apartment he had cleaned for me and let me cry and cry and cry while holding me and bringing me tamales that I saw the light and felt what real comfort and support was like.

        • Oh god, injuries.

          I’d stayed up late and, while I was walking the dog in the wee hours of the morning, I slipped and broke my ankle. I hopped back into the house and started shouting for Mom. She comes barreling down the stairs (2nd floor condo) hissing at me for why I was shouting and to KEEP IT DOWN NEIGHBORS TANYA. I tell her what happened and, no lie, she got me to limp my ass up the stairs and try to go to sleep so she could take me in the morning because HOW WOULD IT LOOK if she took me in that late in just my PAJAMAS and without a SHOWER.

          She tried to prop my broken ankle up on fifteen pillows and IT’LL BE FINE I’LL TAKE YOU IN THE MORNING JUST TRY AND SLEEP. She finally relented when my teeth started chattering and I couldn’t get warm, but she was angry with me the whole time.

          That was the first one.

          I was visiting for my birthday, years later, and slipped on the stairs while I was leaving and, again, busted my ankle. Before she would take me to the ER, she left me sitting on the stairs for fifteen minutes while she changed her clothes and freshened up her hair and makeup. I’d never been so angry with her in my LIFE as when she put her image ahead of my pain.

          Echoing all the Jedi Hugs.

          • These stories are all so familiar. I, too, had a self-harm incident that involved my mother. I slashed my wrist with a pair of scissors. I was not just bleeding, but gushing onto the goddamned carpet. (Yep, same carpet. To this day, I loathe pale grey carpet.) Mother took one look, mouth dropped open, then she just looked back down at what she was doing. A later incident of the same kind and she started complaining loudly that I was unstable and kept crying for attention. Then there was the time I OD’d on pills and began throwing up into the trash can in my room. My mother appeared in the open doorway and started shrieking at me that I was making a disgusting mess. Never asked what was wrong, never took me to a doctor. A year later, I OD’d on pills again, and I woke up my parents to take me to the ER because I realised that I didn’t actually want to die. They drove me to the ER, for which I still feel absurdly grateful, and then pretended like everything was fine and that I had really managed to swallow 120 acetominophen pills by accident. Another close call; I nearly died. I can still taste the activated charcoal, fourteen years later.

            My mother used me as a therapist, too. Starting at the age of three. She would tell me all about how my father was fucking other women (which he was, for years), about how worried she was about bills, how she wished she were dead, how she wished I’d never been born because I ruined her life. (My brother, the golden child, never got this treatment, and still thinks mom walked on water.) My father routinely beat my mother (and sometimes me – but again, never my brother), and when I would come to comfort her after a beating, she would scream at me to go away. It was very confusing. I remember my mother taking my brother and me with her to track down my father, and him standing in the parking lot of the restaurant, laughing, as my mom and his girlfriend, with whom he’d been dining, got into a literal punching match. That same girlfriend broke into our house repeatedly over the years, broke our windows, and tried very much to get my dad to leave my mom for her. I wish he had, actually. Mom was horrible, but dad, with his constant terrifying screaming, beatings, and destruction of walls, property, and souls, was far worse.

            I remember so many days of being hungry and mom just crying because my father was nowhere around. She had a job and could have bought food, but she didn’t, and I have never figured out why. My hunch is that she enjoyed the victimhood. I remember when I was fifteen and still a virgin, catching crabs from my parents’ toilet seat – brought home by my father. I was too terrified to tell them what was happening, which I barely understood myself, because I knew my father would beat me for, in his mind, being sexually active.

            My upbringing was so fucked up that it took me until just recently to wonder – why did my mother leave me with her mother for weeks at a time, when she spent my whole childhood telling me how horribly her mother had abused her? Why did she make me sleep in her brother’s bed (he still lived with their parents as an adult) when we stayed at her parents’ for Christmas Eve? Why didn’t she notice that I suddenly began wetting the bed after that night? I am never having children, but if I did, there is no way I would let them stay with relatives like these. The uncle by marriage who had raped my mother as a child was always at my grandparents’ for family gatherings, and my mother brought me around him. What. The. Fuck.

            How I wish I could go back in time and make things better for myself and for all of you who know the paths I’ve tread! You have my undying respect for having survived tales similar to mine. We are strong, and we are wise beyond our years. And we know that carpets don’t matter, people do.

          • Fucking. hell. Fuck that FUCKING carpet.

            That’s atrocious. I’m so sorry. And it struck a chord in me because of the time I OD’d and ended up in hospital with my mother screaming at me down the phone (she didn’t bother to visit) about how stupid and selfish I was and that I didn’t think of “the people you leave behind” and their feelings while I begged her to let me go as a nurse simultaneously screamed at me to get back to bed because the battery on my IV equipment needed to be charged and I’d risk death if I didn’t plug it in NOW. Hanging up was unthinkable. And I didn’t dare say what I was thinking, um, how about MY feelings, y’know, suicidal over here?

            That Christmas my mother gave me a herb chopper and used it to mock my suicidal state, saying “don’t you DARE use it to slit your wrists” and laughing.

          • Drew said:

            OMG, amber. I am so sorry you went through that, and I kinda hate your mother right now. That’s awful.

          • I am sending strong Jedi-hugs to each one of you. The amount of personal strength expressed in this comment thread is absolutely amazing.

        • sorcharei said:

          This is in reaponse to Box, in particular, and all the people telling stories here, in general. I am like Box’s wife. When I was getting to know my partner, there was this repetitive thing we would do, where they would tell me a “funny” story, I would feel faint and freaked out, and I would have to explain how it wasn’t funny, at all, it was tragic and awful. It took twenty years before they really believed me, I think, and a lot of therapy on their part.

          It is so so easy for those of us who grew up in basically loving homes, with parents who were flawed like all people, but who loved us and parented us pretty well, to assume the rest of the world is like us. It still freaks me out when I think of some of the stories my partner has told, and which their parents have confirmed. And yet, even knowing what I do, my partner’s mother can be charming and their father can be endearing. I stare at them and remind myself of the things they did and remind myself that even today, they think that the torture they performed on their kid was not only okay but the source of “funny” stories.

          Jedi hugs to all the brave survivors of this perversion of parental love and caregiving.

          It’s bullshit. And fuck the carpet, indeed.

  2. slfisher said:

    It isn’t clear to me exactly what the issue is with the parents visiting. Is it just Having Another Body around? “I have baggage around my parents and it’s stressful because it reminds me of when…”? “They revert to treating me like a kid”? “They don’t respect my space and start rearranging the furniture”? Any of these is valid, and it would be helpful to both LW and the parents to know exactly what the buttons are.

    I remember my parents wanting to come out to where I lived for a visit when I was living with a young man, and I think they stayed for a week and ten days, and we set up very clear boundaries — don’t smoke in the house, we have to work so we can’t play tour guide all the time, etc. And it was wonderful because they actually did follow them, as well as do some very useful things like take out all the recycling that had been piling up. And we took turns buying dinner each night. So hopefully with clear boundaries everyone’s needs can be met.

    • msethyl said:

      I think this is one of those things, though, where if you come from a family where “no” was heard and respected, that reasons are things to want that make sense. For people who come from boundary-trampling, manipulative situations, reasons are things to be argued with and not respected.

      • MellifluousDissent said:

        +1! That was well- and succinctly-stated!

      • Alli525 said:

        +10000

        My mother came to visit me shortly after I moved to NYC. I was temping but working all day at my gig, so I gave her lots of maps and instructions for the things she said she wanted to do (Statue of Liberty, etc.) … instead, she snooped around and found my diary (which was full of all the things I DIDN’T blog about – i.e. sexytimes), spent the entire day in (my) bed crying about it, and picked a fight with me that completely derailed our evening plans.

        Then two days later, we were walking around and she complained that I was walking too fast. I tried slowing down but kept speeding up after a few minutes. I recognize that I could have tried harder, but instead of behaving rationally, she started following after me screaming about how I had the devil inside me, I was wicked, etc. On a Sunday. During brunch hour, in the East Village. I was mortified.

        So, yes, if you have a normal family, being able to articulate wants/needs/boundaries is probably pretty easy. I wouldn’t know :/

        • JenniferP said:

          “Walking fast” = “Demon possession”?

          Who knew?

          • Alli525 said:

            Hey it baffles me too. It’s almost comical now – or at least the caricature of my mother running around the streets of NYC screaming about Satan.

        • loonybrain said:

          Bahaha! Man, for my parents, it was my tattoos proved I was cis! Gotta love those “WTF are you on” moments…

          • Because everyone knows that tattoos are for…

            For…

            Because everyone knows that tattoos are gendered!

            Seriously, what even?

          • Jenny Islander said:

            Because historically only true-blue red-blooded manly MEN…

            Um.

          • loonybrain said:

            RE: solevioletrose (because nesting is dead)

            Because everyone knows that tattoos are gendered!

            Pretty much! Because I had a phoenix and a turtle dove tattooed on my shoulders for my wedding, and obviously men can’t have birds tattooed on them or they lose their manhood. If I wanted to be a guy, then I should’ve had a bulldozer made of penises and drinking beer tattooed on me.

          • I’m so glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read, “bulldozer made of penises and drinking beer.” Now I’m thinking back to the Powerthirst fake-commercial: “You’ll feel like a fighter jet! MADE OF BICEPS”

        • Cactus said:

          I was going to commiserate with the “STOP WALKING FAST!” thing, but actually you have me beat there…going for a walk with my MIL might be tiring and require much smaller strides, but she has never called me the devil.

      • Mayati said:

        Exactly! And the problem with having her parents around is that LW simply doesn’t want her parents around, not like this. Being pushed back into an unhealthy childhood role is terrifying and tense enough without it literally taking over your adult home. But just not wanting them there is reason enough.

      • Tapetum said:

        +forever. No reason is good enough for me to say “No” to my parents. If I do, they don’t hear it. Not don’t respect. Literally act like I never, ever said the word. If I say a visiting time is problematic, they come anyway. It doesn’t matter what my reasons are.

        The only time they actually listened to my reasons at all, was when I told them I wouldn’t host my (early stage Alzheimer’s, one week post totaling her car) mother for a week, because she was supposed to arrive the same day my husband came home from the hospital after having a kidney removed. They listened just long enough to say “Oh good! She can help you then!” – and then Dad pretty much literally dropped Mom on our doorstep.

        It’s taken me into my forties to even really get an idea of where my boundaries would be, if I could assert them. I’m pretty resigned to the idea that boundaries are something I only get when my parents aren’t there, though. Which would be why we never, ever live less than a 10-hour drive from them. I love my parents, and the less I see them, the more I love them.

        • loonybrain said:

          Ah, the lovely “that never happened” gaslighting. Gotta love it.

          Seriously, what assholes.

          • Dear LW

            The Captain’s suggestion to start small is brilliant.

            You may be like me: never says no (but steps away and does what she wants) if you are, No practice is essential and oh so helpful.

            My parents gave us way too much info way too young and my ma in particular still orients the world around herself, but I’m in my 50s and actually getting along really well.

            Practice at boundaries, constant gentle correction all helped.

            There is hope.

            And Jedi hugs if you want them

        • Anisoptera said:

          Ugh yikes! So hard to have a difficult mother show up when you’re in the situation of caring for your husband. Mine offered to come and stay with me to help me move one time, and the thought of them there while I was packing to move and trying to get rid of surpluss possessions (mum is a hoarder) made me so upset I wanted to throw up. So I can’t even imagine how I would feel if I was dealing with a major crisis. Anyway – I was going to say, it *is* possible to set boundaries, but you have to have consequences apply to the no. As in, when your Dad comes to drop off your Mum on your door step you need to not be there, and have the door be locked. I once told my mother she couldn’t visit without checking with me first and the only thing that got through to her on that was pretending not to be there when she just showed up one time. Then she started calling from the end of the street to ask if she could visit – I had to several times just say no, I was about to go out, she couldn’t come, and send her off on the hour long drive home.

          Tapetum I have so much sympathy for you – I’m almost 40 and it’s still hard to set boundaries – but I wanted to tell you that you can make progress. Moving far away is a good start (I too moved far away and it reduced many problems to a dull roar) but you can also push back on other things. You just have to be willing to detonate the chaos and drama bomb by actually following up “no” with consequences. It’s a massive massive drama when it happens, and it might have to happen a few times, but when ignoring your “no” starts to majorly inconvenience them they do actually start to listen. They will probably still go on and on about how mean you are and how you have all these special rules and you’re so sensitive and unkind or whatever, but they’ll listen. Because if they don’t they’ll be standing on your porch in the dark while you’re at a hotel trying not to think about it and not answering your phone.

          Be prepared to play a horrifying game of chicken with them though. They will make you do things that make you feel like a terrible awful daughter to get the point accross. Don’t flinch. If they call the police and make a huge embarrassing fuss because they thought you were dead (supposedly) don’t flinch. Turns out anyone who can navigate normal society at least moderately well can, in fact, hear the words their children are speaking and understand what they mean – they just need to have a reason to care.

      • msethyl said: “For people who come from boundary-trampling, manipulative situations, reasons are things to be argued with and not respected.”

        100% correct and beautifully put.

        Here’s a handy tip. If you find yourself apologizing and making excuses for normal (not terrible) human behavior, and if your friends frequently tell you to stop saying you are sorry for everything, you might, just might, have been raised by a wire monkey mom (or wire monkey parents) who accuse you of lying when you are not (because the truth is inconvenient or would require actual intervention of some sort or some decent parenting or adulting and they just can’t be bothered), or being hypersensitive when they cut you down endlessly with “jokes” that aim right for every soft spot, insecurity, (perceived) flaw or failure and anxiety you possess, or tell you that someone doing something terrible to you must have “learned that behavior from you” (when they didn’t).

        To this day, requests to honor boundaries are ignored. Ask Wire Mother to call before coming over and barging right into your house? But we’re faaaaaaamily, and you only have a roof over your head due to her charity and big heart, and therefore you need to endure unscheduled intrusions as quid pro quo. Oh, if your insomnia kicks in and you are sleeping in on a weekend morning? Narcissistic Wire Monkey Mom will shout your name and bang things around to wake you up and drag you into the living room so she can talk at you and give you chores and (if you’re really unlucky) lecture you about all your failings before launching into the latest chapter in her Book Of Me, Glorious Me. ANd if shouting and banging doesn’t work, because you are so exhausted you are sleeping like the dead? She will barge into your bedroom and shake your bed, or you, while shouting. You WILL wake up, and you WILL drag yourself downstairs to be talked at for at least an hour.

        Have mental or physical illness? She has the same thing, only worse! But she bootstraps through it because she is a better person than you are. Tired, haven’t slept for two days? She hasn’t slept for three! Busy, not in the mood for company? She’s not company, she’s faaaaaaaaaaaamily! It will just take a moment. (Optional: guilt trips and manufactured woe about how you haaaaaaaaaaate her and she just doesn’t understaaaaaand.)

        But yeah. If, once you escape from your family of origin–maybe to go off to college, maybe once you have a full-time job getting you out of the house, maybe you got married or moved away–your friends and co-workers and acquaintances may tell you to stop apologizing for existing. Bonus points if you flinch when someone tries to touch you, not because you were beaten, per se, though maybe you were, over inconsequential, tiny, stupid things, but because Wire Monkey Mom embraces–or the casual “aren’t we close!” arm flung without permission asked over your shoulders to yank you in close when around other people–are full of hidden pressures and secret pinches and heavy, silencing weights. If this sounds familiar, you may have an over-coercive, self-centered Wire Monkey parent or two. And Wire Monkey Parents see “no” as a challenge to surmount. Reasons and excuses are to be trampled or argued with. If you physically aren’t around, you will be punished in other ways, to be announced later.

        Maybe it isn’t you that’s the problem, tho.

        LW clearly isn’t the person who is the problem. LW has a life of their own, a home away from mom and dad, and is doing A-O-K out in the world. It may depend on how wiry and monkey-like the parents are, but boundary-setting is a skill, and if you aren’t allowed to set boundaries when at home, it is really hard to go through the world apologizing whenever you exist without directly working for or benefiting someone other than yourself and having opinions and wants and needs and other things like that. You can do it, LW! It gets easier. The first time you blurt out an opinion or state a need or say “no” really firmly, it will feel like you coughed up something with three-dimensional substance, right out of your mouth. But you didn’t, and the roof won’t fall in on you. It’s OK to say no. Or to be unavailable. Or to be “out of town” some weekends. Or to not pick up the phone. Or to say you are “busy.”

        • Diloolie said:

          And if your Wire Mother also has a disability (mine has MS), all of this shit gets SO MUCH WORSE. Suddenly, BOOTSTRAPS, BOOTSTRAPS EVERYWHERE.

    • peardi said:

      … It seemed pretty clear to me? The parents were abusive when LW was a child. Expecting your child to be the adult when they are a kid is a form of abuse. And now they are doing the same thing, expecting the LW to be the adult with ‘provide us shelter whenever we want, listen to our financial woes’ etc. And just expecting LW to do these things, not allowing them to say no. When you’re a survivor of abuse, being put in a position where you don’t feel like you have any control is … well it’s pretty traumatic and destructive. And LW said that’s what their problem is:

      I feel like crying. I was (and still am) a “parentified child” (chaotic home, traumatized parents told me about their adult sexual and financial struggles as though I were a healthy confidant) and having to host my parents now in my early 20’s is really triggering the sad feelings of powerlessness and numbness I used to feel. The feeling that I have to care for and baby my parents rather than enjoy being young, being a kid and having a fun place to live *on my own*.

      That’s absolutely a sufficient reason in itself, LW doesn’t need to tease out specific examples of why their parents are bad house guests. And they don’t need to explain this to their parents or make them understand because A. it’s entirely possible their parents would never accept or believe this is true, and B. it doesn’t matter whether they accept the reasons, the important thing is that they stop the harmful behavior. A boundary isn’t a two way thing. If I say ‘don’t touch me’ then you don’t touch me, it’s not I say ‘don’t touch me’ and then if you agree that my reasons are valid you don’t touch me. Frankly, until the parents prove they can respect LW’s boundaries at all, I would say they are not *safe* people for LW to explain their pain to. I think LW is absolutely doing the best thing for themself right now, working with a therapist and looking for scripts to slowly build up their boundary-asserting muscles.

      I wish you luck LW, I think you’re doing a really brave, great thing for yourself.

      • Chani said:

        “A boundary isn’t a two way thing. If I say ‘don’t touch me’ then you don’t touch me, it’s not I say ‘don’t touch me’ and then if you agree that my reasons are valid you don’t touch me.”

        This is a very important lesson, one that I didn’t learn until I was nearly thirty. My mother, on the other hand, flat-out refuses to learn it. Apparently having no respect for boundaries is part of her definition of being a mother. 😦

        • Holy crap, mine too. When I lived with her, she NEVER knocked when she came into my room, even when she knew I was getting dressed or whatever, because “I’m your mother. I own this house and do what I want in it” and “What have you got that I haven’t got?” Because obviously, I’m not a separate human being, I’m an extension of her, and our bodies are not only identical but mine also belongs to her. Part of being a mother? Totally. I hear you.

          • shehasathree said:

            Ditto. My mother will (even now) go into my (adult) brother’s bedroom when he’s not home, while *commenting that she knows he wouldn’t give her permission if he were home*. I think I’m supposed to agree that he’s being unreasonable/give her sympathy that she can’t just go in anytime? When I was growing up (and into my twenties) she used to do the knock-and-open maneuver, though, so that when I asked her to PLEASE KNOCK first, she could be all hurtbewildered about how she *always* knocks, how dare I say she doesn’t. The thing that finally got her to knock-and-actually-wait-for-an-answer (see, she could learn, after all!) was when she walked in on me and my boyfriend snuggling in bed together (fairly innocently, thank goodness).

          • shehasathree said:

            I wanted to reply to your comment about “living at home” but nesting limit is reached. Just…flailing with resonance at everything you said. Also the reason that the movie Garden State hit me so hard: “home is…feel[ing] homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist.” I always hated that question; it was made clear to me that my parents’ house was not my home years before I managed to move out.

          • Sonata said:

            Oh my god this so hard. I started locking my door in my mom’s house, because while she’d just pick it and come straight in anyway (it was a very simple lock that you basically just needed to poke with a skewer, which she kept sitting on top of the doorframe and immediately replaced whenever I, say, got fed up and broke it into little pieces and threw it away), but at least the couple seconds of hearing her picking the lock gave me some warning to pull a shirt on or something, because she also loved to chew me out for being insufficiently clothed in my own bedroom with the door closed.

        • UGH, YES.

          More my father than my mother, but if I never hear “You’ll always be my little girl,” speaking words that could be mistaken for sentimental if the voice weren’t actually sneering / mocking, it will be too soon. I mean, thanks for reminding me that I’ll never be free of you, dude, no matter how badly I want to.

          • Druidspell said:

            OMG, me too. My dad is just… just the worst, ok, and even if I never ever have to hear him say “you were always on my mind” or even worse, quote the whole song in an email, I will still never forgive him for the more than 2 year long campaign of terrorization when he tried to convince me that I should up and abandon my life in another state and come back to my hometown and live with him and my mom and sister. *jedi hugs*

          • Jedi hugs for you, too, if you’d like them. Why do they never get that we’ve fled for a reason?

          • Anne said:

            My father used to make me promise I would never get married and “leave him.”

          • Jesus wept. Anne, that was so gross and inappropriate and awful of him.

        • Dear gak… my husband STILL doesn’t understand that. I say “don’t touch me” (technically, the term I use is “mess” and it’s shortened over time and through sheer repetition to simply “no mess”) and he responds with “I have a right to touch you” or “I should be able to touch you at least once a year (or whenever) or even, “I’m not doing anything wrong” (as in “I’m not messing”).

          And then I read some of the hells that other commentators have suffered through and I wonder what the eff is wrong with me that I would feel so bad about my husband finding me *attractive* when other people have had it So Much Worse!

          • Sonata said:

            Nonono, it’s not a matter of so much worse! That’s a basic violation of your bodily autonomy! And I can say from experience that wow does that kind of thing mess with your head. I tried to rationalize, too, that I should be glad that my then-fiance found me attractive, but you know what? I didn’t want his hands on me, and that means it was not okay for him to put them on me, even if he meant it to express affection or because he loved me. I didn’t want him to, and I had told him I didn’t want him to, and he did it anyway.

            It’s never okay for someone to touch you without your permission. The fact that my ex-fiance refused to understand that is a big part of why he’s my *ex*. Don’t use us to justify that something that is hurting you isn’t that bad! Just because someone else has polio doesn’t mean you don’t need to take care of yourself when you have the flu!

            If it makes you feel bad, that means something is very wrong. Listen to what your feelings are telling you, not your husband’s justifications.

            If you’ve told someone that something they’re doing hurts or upsets you, but they choose to do it anyway, they are fundamentally choosing to hurt or upset you, no matter what their other justifications are.

            You deserve to not be touched when you don’t want to be. You have a right to bodily autonomy, and that overrides any kind of “right” your husband is trying to claim. No one but you has a right to your body. It doesn’t matter if they’re your parent or your kid or if you married them – *no one* but you has a right to your body.

            There is nothing wrong with you. There is a lot wrong with what your husband is doing.

          • “If you’ve told someone that something they’re doing hurts or upsets you, but they choose to do it anyway, they are fundamentally choosing to hurt or upset you, no matter what their other justifications are.”

            BINGO. Very well put.

          • rinna2412 said:

            Because it’s not about your husband finding you attractive–it’s about your husband hearing your boundaries and ignoring them. He does not, in fact, have a right to touch you. He is, in fact, doing something wrong when he touches you when you’ve said no. Just because the magnitude of the violation isn’t as great as some of the horrific stories on here doesn’t mean that it’s not a violation. You’re feeling bad because your husband is ignoring your boundaries around your own body. You are reacting appropriately.

          • Ruana said:

            Sonata’s right. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your husband is being an entitled ass, and you DO have every right not to be touched if you don’t want to be. You’re not obliged to find it flattering, any more than if it were a stranger on a bus pawing at you.

            I mean, my parents didn’t put me through half what many of the commenters here have been through at the hands of theirs; nonetheless, I get to be angry about having been physically and verbally abused. You get to feel however you feel about a significant other who doesn’t acknowledge your bodily autonomy.

          • Speaking as someone who has also had issues with people touching me (in my most-recent-ex’s case, he’d want to be snuggly, so he’d pull me in for a hug, which was fine, except when he was in bed and I was standing up next to it and he’d pull me in hard enough that the bed frame would bruise me across the thighs, and then blame me for pulling away. Or he’d hug in such a way as I wasn’t upright any more (curved back is unsupported upper body weight for me, which I would then have to use core muscles to keep vaguely comfortable, and those muscles would get sore and tired). Or he’d rest part of his weight on me without letting me stand in such a way as I can support the upper body of someone a foot taller than me)… speaking as someone who went through this, my experience is that when the painful/unwanted touching ceases, I am more likely to reach out and initiate touch myself.

            There is no one in my life right now who hugs me such that I cannot get away if I want to. And they check first. And I feel comfortable that I am heard when I say that I’m having a sensory overload day and need to be bland for a bit. As a result, I am comfortable in initiating contact (or at the very least, making the expression and slight movements which say that I’d like to, but this-friend’s-PDA rules say no, to which they make the smile that says that they understand and they feel the Jedi-hug. Gods I love my friends!)

      • A-9 said:

        “A boundary isn’t a two way thing. If I say ‘don’t touch me’ then you don’t touch me, it’s not I say ‘don’t touch me’ and then if you agree that my reasons are valid you don’t touch me.”

        I started crying when I read that line. I mean, this whole thread was heading in that direction, but holy shit. That.

        • Tris Prior said:

          This. So much this. I’m in therapy trying to learn not just how to set boundaries, but why it’s even OK for me to have them, and something similar came up last night; I said, “she always wants a REASON why I can’t talk or can’t do what she wants.” The concept that I can just say no without having a reason that she’d find acceptable is still foreign to me. And I’m over 40. LW, I’m sorry you are going through this but glad that you are recognizing 20 years earlier than I did that this is not OK.

      • peardi, as the LW for this post, I thank you so much for your understanding and insight in this comment.

    • Guava said:

      it sounds like the parents are still expecting LW to do a lot of emotional and logistical care-taking for them. And if LW’s space is small, the parents’ presences might go from another-body-on-the-couch to Looming Cloud of Despair that LW Must Fix pretty darn quickly :/

    • This is one of those things that if you come from a reasonable and reasonably healthy family of origin, you’re just never going to understand in some very basic ways what it’s like to come from the opposite of that.

      It was pretty clear to me what the issue was, since she wrote about it. 🙂 (And my parents are also a nightmare.)

      • boutet said:

        Yeah. Reason only works on the reasonable.

      • doodleoo said:

        Yeah, this. When evil bees are in your home, you can’t make it OK just by agreeing that they’ll, I dunno, keep the buzzing down after 10pm or something. The issue is that they are there, unavoidably, in your space, being what they are.

        • perlhaqr said:

          When evil bees are in your home, you can’t make it OK just by agreeing that they’ll, I dunno, keep the buzzing down after 10pm or something.

          Thank you for giving me a chuckle. I really needed it at this point. And I’m only halfway through the thread. :-/

      • mildlymagnificent said:

        … if you come from a reasonable and reasonably healthy family …

        That’s me. My husband and I are friends with another couple, of those two it’s the husband with the reasonable family background. After dinner and a few drinks, he and I become like weird specimens in a zoo for the other two – halfway healed or barely healing survivors of disastrous families.

        Might I add that I’m the only one among the four of us that’s not yet 70. My in-laws died over 25 years ago so it’s – mostly – in the background for mrmagnificent unless something specific triggers him. For our friend, her husband had had to intervene to grab her father’s upraised hand once – she was over 60 at the time and dad was seriously going to hit her. Until he died recently at 90+ years old he had been tirelessly sending her 5+ page email diatribes – right up until the day before he died. She never, ever, found a way to be the “daughter he could be proud of”. Of course, he found a way to cut his one and only child out of inheriting any of the sub.stan.tial estate he left. There’s always just. one. more. rejection, one more insult they can inflict. At least her children and grandchildren will be OK.

        If anyone can find a way to make any of the Captain’s suggestions make any improvement in their lives at all? Do it. Stick with it. Parents like this will never, ever, find their own way to change into decent people.

        Whatever you can do to minimise the harm they continue to do to you is worth it. You don’t want to still be dealing with it when you’re retired yourself.

    • I have a good relationship with my dad. I still wouldn’t want him staying in my one-bedroom apartment overnight. I’m kind of a hermit and need lots and lots of space that, physically speaking, I wouldn’t be able to achieve no matter how many boundaries I established.

      Now, if my mom were still alive…holy shit. My mother was the sort, I’ve come to realize after reading much CA, who saw boundaries as great causes for personal offense, and a daughter who set them was a cruel, unloving monster of the sort she couldn’t be-LIEVE she’d unleashed upon the world.

      So I do encourage my dad to come visit me in my new city because I’ve never even had to have the “Sorry, I don’t have enough space for you and Stepmom” conversation…he would never ask, and being a bit of a loner himself, he would understand why I couldn’t put him up. My mom ever reaching such a level of understanding if it were still possible, though? BAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!

  3. Oh my goodness, Captain, this is such a wonderful answer. I really love the part at the end about thanking the Gentleman Caller in your day-to-day activities. My husband and I are like that, too, and it really is important to me. It’s important to me that my husband knows I don’t take him for granted, and it’s important to me that I know he doesn’t take me for granted, whether it’s cleaning the tub or packing a lunch or cooking dinner or bringing in the mail or making the bed or giving a hug when a bad day has been had. I am grateful for his presence and positive influence in my life, and vice versa. The point about how treating the people you’re closest to with good manners, and how that influences everything else about how you interact with others, is well-taken.

    LW, you deserve to have well-mannered interactions with your own family. I know you can get there!

    • Chani said:

      My husband is like that too 🙂 It was really weird for me when he started doing it – my sense of social norms was so messed up that I wasn’t comfortable thanking him, it felt like it was manipulative or something… but he kept at it, and eventually I started copying him; the discomfort slowly faded and now I like it. 🙂

      • Yeah, social norms are super hard when you were raised by rabid wolves–it took me way longer into adulthood than I’d prefer to stop acting like a rabid wolf. It gets super frustrating because right about the time you think you’ve mastered walking upright, something happens and you realize that you’ve been doing this other horrid thing constantly. It’s hard on the old self-esteem to fail so hard at everything supposedly “intrinsic to human behaviour” for so long.

        • Ms. Pris said:

          I just want to thank you for this comment. Of all the comments on this thread, this is the one that brought me to tears. I feel a lot less alone after reading it. Thank you.

    • Alexia said:

      “The point about how treating the people you’re closest to with good manners, and how that influences everything else about how you interact with others” –

      Yes! It’s so true. It baffles me whenever I get closer to someone and they decide to treat me *worse* than when they didn’t know me. I understand that it’s more “natural” to treat others for granted, but I don’t find that makes it OK. After all, it may be natural to want to scratch that itch, but we don’t scratch all our itches in public… It’s so important for me to treat my loved ones well, even if it’s for something small. When I come across someone who pays little attention to their loved ones, I feel as if I’ve come across a public ball-scratcher.

      • I LOL’d at that analogy. Brilliant!

      • That part about manners and expressing gratitude stuck out to me, too. I’ve tried to do that regularly, and The Partner does, as well.

        In my family of origin, people make a point of treating strangers and acquaintances well. The closer to home, the more the company manners (which really are just *manners*, IMO) fall off. At some point I was reading a book by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, and they were talking about folks who are uniquely shitty to people in their inner circle, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Because my sister-in-law joked, in a really painful way, about how she realized she was really part of the family the first time my father yelled at her over nothing.

        • aebhel said:

          I think there’s a difference, too, between ‘company manners’ and treating people decently. I mean, I’m more likely to burp or scratch my ass or wander around in ratty pajamas (I am so classy) in front of my parents, husband, or very close friends than in front of, say, my coworkers–but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, translate into being an asshole to them.

          It seems like for some people, being a raging asshole is their ‘comfort zone’, which is depressing.

          • SarahTheEntwife said:

            Yes! There’s a huge difference between being appropriately informal and being a jerk.

          • Irene said:

            Yes. From C.S. Lewis (who could be horribly wrong but every so often hit a nail on the head):

            “We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters’ side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance? Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don’t, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously–sometimes of their religion–insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question ‘Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?’ Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?

            If you asked any of these insufferable people–they are not all parents of course–why they behaved that way at home, they would reply, ‘Oh, hang it all, one comes home to relax. A chap can’t be always on his best behaviour. If a man can’t be himself in his own house, where can he? Of course we don’t want Company Manners at home. We’re a happy family. We can say anything to one another here. No one minds. We all understand.’

            Once again it is so nearly true yet so fatally wrong. Affection is an affair of old clothes, and easy, of the unguarded moment, of liberties which would be ill-bred if we took them with strangers. But old clothes are one thing; to wear the same shirt till it stank would be another. There are proper clothes for a garden party; but the clothes for home must be proper too, in their own different way. similarly there is a distinction between public and domestic courtesy. The root principle of both is the same: ‘that no one give any kind of preference to himself’. But the more public the occasion, the more out obedience to this principle has been ‘taped’ or formalized. There are ‘rules’ of good manners. The more intimate the occasion, the less the formalization; but not therefore the less need of courtesy. On the contrary, Affection at its best practices a courtesy which is incomparably more subtle, sensitive and deep than the public kind. In public a ritual would do. At home you must have the reality which that ritual represented, or else the deafening triumphs of the greatest egoist present. You must really give no kind of preference to yourself; at a party it is enough to conceal the preference. Hence the old proverb ‘come live with me and you’ll know me’. Hence a man’s familiar manners first reveal the true value of his (significantly odious phrase!) ‘Company’ or ‘Party’ manners. Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there. They were merely aping those who had.

            ‘We can say anything to one another.’ The truth behind this is that Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer. You may address the wife of your bosom as ‘Pig!’ when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say ‘Shut up. I want to read.’ You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment–the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt. The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love). But the domestic Rudesby means something quite different when he claims liberty to say ‘anything’. Having a very imperfect sort of Affection himself, or perhaps at that moment none, he arrogates to himself the beautiful liberties which only the fullest Affection has a right to or knows how to manage. He then uses them spitefully in obedience to his resentments; or ruthlessly in obedience to his egoism; or at best stupidly, lacking the art. And all the time he may have a clear conscience. He knows that Affection takes liberties. He is taking liberties. Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate. Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side. He is hurt. He has been misunderstood.”

          • Anothermous said:

            Oh wow, Irene, that passage. Wow, I’m going to chew on that for a long time, and send it to a bunch of people I know. Thanks for posting it.

      • NorahMancer said:

        It’s a sneaky thing, because some people will try to blur the difference between “you know me well enough to know which things I’m okay with” and “you know me so you can do whatever you want no matter how I feel about it”. Eg, my boyfriend can come into my house without knocking because I’ve said he can, but I would be absolutely entitled to tell him he couldn’t. My mother, while not as bad as many mentioned in this thread, used to think absolutely nothing of opening my backpack and flipping through whatever she found inside – textbooks, class notes, agenda, personal journal – and offering comment. When I started to push back, reminding her that she would never do that to a stranger’s bag, she would roll her eyes and say, “But I’m not a stranger!”

        • Cactus said:

          Ahhhhhh, panic. My mom used to do that too. She went through the drawers in my bedroom, my notebooks for school, all of my bags; she ripped multiple pages out of my diary once because I wasn’t “using it right”…you get the picture. And now she wonders why I am ulta-paranoid and Zoloft is necessary for my existence.

      • Shannon said:

        YES! My partner and I show utmost respect for each other, we thank each other for doing chores, running errands, we both check in with each other daily, we ask permission before talking about negative things, such as venting about work or people we know.

        It’s the polar opposite to the abusive house (note that I don’t use the word home, or family) that I grew up in.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        C.S. Lewis writes about listening to a clergyperson go on about how at home we are free to be our natural selves–and watching the expressions on the members of the man’s household who happened to be at the table…

    • Guava said:

      Yup. I still remember being blown away when my SIL explained to me that our nieces had been taught that they didn’t have to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to us because ‘they should be able to just relax around family.’ WELL OKAAAY THEN.

      • perlhaqr said:

        I’m just flabbergasted. My nieces and nephews all say please and thank you to everyone, just as the adults do, because how in the ever loving fuck can you expect them to learn to be polite to people who won’t cut them any slack if you don’t model it around people who are perhaps willing to cut them some slack while they’re learning?

        I mean, admittedly, sometimes the 3 year old gets confused about where the please is supposed to go, or, maybe forgets if he’s already said it, but honestly, “Please Uncle Perlhaqr will you please cut my meat for me please” is pretty cute. 😉

        • Guava said:

          I know, right? I don’t get that mentality at all, you aren’t doing your kids any favors. They are older now, and one of them has picked up manners from people outside of her nuclear family. It’s been a hard lesson for the other girl, she has spent a lot of time being jealous because her sister “gets more” from people. I told her, “it’s about making people feel like you appreciate them when they do stuff for you.” She’s working on it, and has gotten a lot better.

      • Leonine said:

        I had an adult student once who had been badly neglected as a child, and one of the hardest parts for her now that she was trying to get her life together was that her neglectful mother had never taught her any manners. She didn’t have “please” or “thank you” or “excuse me” or “if you don’t mind” in her day-to-day lexicon. This absence made adulting even harder than it already was. 😦 Meanwhile, why would you teach your children that gentle words are only for–and from–people you don’t know?

    • Kacienna said:

      This also made me think of the fact that my partner and I have explicit verbal consent pretty much every time there are pants-activities. Not because we’re unsure of what we actually want to do, not because we’re afraid of being accused of rape, but just because it’s habitual and comfortable and does not kill the mood at all – much more the opposite, since we always know we’re on the same page.

      • It’s exactly the same at my house and I absolutely love it 🙂

      • Jenny Islander said:

        There is nothing as sexy (and ego-boosting) as “OH MY DEITY OF CHOICE, YES ALREADY GET OVER HEEEEERRRRRE.”

        • storyranger said:

          YES THIS A THOUSAND TIMES THIS. And being verbally explicit with consent all the times gets you used to TALKING before/during pants activities, which makes it so much less awkward to bring up new ideas and ask for changes when you want to.

          LW, a personal story for you: I, like you, had zero boundaries and no capability to set them, until one day I fell in love and realized that I wanted boundaries. Because consent is ill-taught and can be hard to understand if you’ve never been allowed to revoke it, and I wanted to do things right. So I did like the Captain suggested, and I practiced. It was hard, it was really really hard. I had to start super small, with asking for my drink EXACTLY the way I like it at the coffee shop. That took weeks to not feel weird. Then I worked my way up to bigger things, like saying no to my boss or asking a professor to post the lab on time because they’d promised us a kajilion times or asking the lover to stop kissing for a bit and just watch the movie for five minutes, then go back to kissing, just to see how they’d react. My point is that setting boundaries was unthinkable but not having them was miserable, but there was no way I could have gone 0-60 on this. Practice is so, so important. And eventually I successfully set the boundary with my parent that phone calls are for emergencies and anything I need to remember past tonight goes in an email because my auditory input->save function is pretty broken. Still working on more, but you know what? Snowball effect is real and it’s the best friend you can have in this quest.

  4. si1verdrake said:

    LW, I don’t have advice on setting boundaries, but I just want to say that not wanting to host your parents extensively as an adult is completely reasonable, even without any problematic childhood issues. My relationship with my parents is and has pretty much always been fine, but I certainly wouldn’t be at all okay with hosting either of them for three weeks. Probably not even three days. In my specific case, it’s because outside of about 4 people I’ve ever met, being around other people for more than a few hours is really draining, and after about 2-3 days I need to run away and hide from the world, which doesn’t work very well when you’ve got houseguests, especially parental houseguests. So if my parents come to visit, they stay in a hotel nearby, and we go out for lunch/dinner/day trips regularly, but I still have my own space and don’t start contemplating parenticide. It’s not a failure of me as a child, or somehow a crime against faaaamily, but a reasonable compromise that allows my parents to see me without leaving me a stressed-out mess.

    Wanting to have your own space (especially in your early twenties, when most people are still establishing themselves as independent adults!) is not inherently selfish or wrong. It’s fine to say no, I can’t host you. Basically, your therapist is right in that what you want matters too.

    • Standing O! If I have more than one person TEXTING me, or texting me for too long, I freak out and want to retreat from the world. Interacting with people at all is a really big drain on me, even if they’re people I love and generally enjoy spending time with. I shuddered to think of LW crammed into a one-bedroom (!!!) apartment with people she (? I assume? The word “daughter” appeared in the letter) clearly doesn’t enjoy spending that length of time with.

  5. MellifluousDissent said:

    Hi LW! Like you, I am a parentified child, but I’m a bit older than you are and I’ve weathered the boundary-setting storm. So, here’s the thing about being a parentified kid – we’re raised with the (false) belief that there can never be any gaps at all between “what parents want” and “what child is willing/able to provide.” We either give them everything they demand (and even stuff they don’t demand, but that we need to anticipate that they “need” without them asking for it, because OF COURSE they want *thing* and ANY DECENT CHILD would obviously JUST KNOW that *thing* was required in this particular circumstance, even if *thing* is a thing they’ve never before requested or provided to anyone ever in their life), or we are evil hateful children who hate our parents and are ungrateful for what wonderful parenting they have bestowed upon us, in all of their awesome helpful wonderfulness.

    Because of the parentified-child dynamic, the boundary-setting we have to do here to protect ourselves is a lot more complicated than setting boundaries with reasonable people, because we are essentially turning to people who have taught us, from birth, that our entire value and love-ability as a human being is predicated on our ability to please them and meet their needs, and telling them we’re no longer going to be able to meet all of their needs. That’s why setting boundaries feels terrifying – because we know there is going to be an unholy sh!tstorm of shaming and guilt and blame directed at us when we do this, and our parents have programmed us so well, we have a really hard time believing we don’t deserve it, on some level.

    But here’s the thing: We DON’T deserve it. Not any of it. We don’t deserve to have been made to feel like our value/worth/loveliness as a daughter is somehow predicated on what we can provide for our parents. We don’t deserve to feel like we are our parents’ “only hope” or “last resort” or whatever other lie (yes, lie) our parents have told us to make us feel like they won’t survive unless we provide them with everything they’re demanding. You, and I, and all of us, are each our own person, with our own separate wants and needs and desires and dreams and goals, and we deserve to – we have the fundamental right to! – put ourselves first, and take care of ourselves. Think about it – isn’t putting themselves first exactly what our parents are doing now, and have been doing our whole lives? They don’t get to build their lives on our backs. That’s not how adult-ing should work.

    Everything the Captain recommends about how to set boundaries is spot-on, and you should absolutely, 100%, do all of those things. And as you do those things, please try to hold on to the fact that setting boundaries is not something you are doing *at* your parents to be mean to them (and I would bet a million dollars that that’s how they’re going to try to cast it when you first start setting boundaries). Setting boundaries isn’t mean or ungrateful or anti-family or selfish – it’s part of the standard-issue basic rights of personhood that we all get by virtue of existing.

    Also, snapshot from your potential future (aka, my actual present) – boundary-setting is so, so, SO worth it. In my case, one parent “got with the program,” so to speak, and while that parent will never be my best friend or parent of the year, we’re able to have a mostly friendly, mostly enjoyable relationship, on terms that I am comfortable with and that parent doesn’t hate. My other parent so far hasn’t gotten the hang of respecting basic boundaries, so I don’t really see that parent at all now, and it’s been really freeing to frame that lack of interaction as parent’s choice – I gave parent the terms of engagement and parent refused, so if parent wants to re-engage that badly, it’s on parent to get with my entirely-reasonable programming re: how we treat each other.

    • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

      Oh, gods, the ability to “predict” whatever they wanted, when I’m not the Amazing Kreskin. Drove me crazy.

    • Teppy said:

      I’m also a parentified child (in my 40s), and it’s true that setting boundaries with parents who raised you to believe you were NEVER allowed to say “NO” is terrifying at first. However, my therapist at the time asked me “Will your mother disown you?” I said no. She asked “What are you afraid will happen?”

      I was afraid my mother would get angry with me. Because her anger when I was a child living under her roof had very immediate effects. But as an adult who lived on my own, my mother’s anger was just noise. And guilt. SO MUCH GUILT.

      But something clicked when I realized, so what? So what if my mother is angry? So what if she tries to guilt me into agreeing with her that I am a terrible daughter for not doing [whatever it is she thinks I should do]? The “so what”, in my case was…nothing. I established my boundaries, she was furious at first, tried to guilt-trip me, and I just responded neutrally. (Which infuriated her even more.) But then…it blew over. When my mother realized I wasn’t going to be guilted into agreeing with her that I was a terrible daughter, the subject was dropped, because she didn’t want to discuss anything where there wasn’t total agreement that she was right.

      Over time, she’s decreased the guilt trips when she slams into one of my boundaries, and when she DOES try a guilt trip, I’ve built up enough of an emotional defense to her guilt trips that they just bounce harmlessly off me. It was hard work to get there, but it was definitely worth it.

      • JenniferP said:

        The strategy of agreeing with their statement but enforcing the boundary can work if they do give a guilt trip. “Yes, I am a terrible/selfish/ungrateful daughter, and no, you can’t come stay with me next month.”

        • MellifluousDissent said:

          Oh yes, this is my favorite strategy!

        • loonybrain said:

          BAHAHAHA that is absolutely great! Because it calls into question, “If I’m soooo terrible, WHY DO YOU WANT SO BADLY TO BE AROUND ME?”

        • This to the nth. “Yep Mama, I’m awful and selfish. And I’m still not moving in to take care of Dad when you’re away. I’m hiring someone for the over nights and coming every day”

      • MsM said:

        “So what?” is such a useful question, and not just when it comes to setting boundaries.

      • Well, said:

        FWIW – as someone who also had horribly abusive parents; she never disowned me, but I did disown her. That is probably the thing most people are afraid of. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. It’s bad, but being a decades long victim of intense mind-altering abuse is also bad. If you are afraid of letting go of that toxic person in your life, I want to encourage you to take a deep breath and at least consider diving in. It doesn’t have to be forever, but you may just find you want it to be, once you give it a try. That being free of them can be one of the best gifts you ever give yourself.

        I am not trying to pressure anyone or trying to say that it is everybody’s good solution. But a lot of people are afraid of this outcome, and it is not always as scary as all that.

        • mstabbity said:

          It doesn’t have to be forever, but you may just find you want it to be, once you give it a try

          Strongly seconded! I personally knew when I cut my mother off that I wasn’t going to resume contact for many years if ever, but for people who are less 1000% done with their abuser’s bullshit, please know that you can take a temporary break. Blame it on work, blame it on illness, blame it on anything you need to, just know that you are allowed to not answer the door/phone/text/email/facebook message/etc.

          You might feel guilty if you cut your abuser off, I still do sometimes even though it was absolutely the right choice for me. My mother is so deep in denial that she may not consciously have any idea why she doesn’t have my phone number or mailing address. Sometimes I do feel shitty about that, but you know, nobody forced her to do all the horrible shit she did.

          On the upside, cutting off contact with someone awful feels amazing. This enormous weight just lifted off my shoulders when I realized I never had to hear from her ever again. I’m a better friend (I spent so much time angsting about having contact with her that I was sick of hearing myself talk about it), better partner, and better person in general because I’m not anxious about what shit she’s going to pull next without her. It is indeed the best gift I ever gave myself.

          • Well, said:

            Yes!

            Saying no to other people’s BS is a gift that just keeps giving. And you made a great point. If you are not in a place where you can cut off an abuser for YOU – it is always an option to consider cutting them off for other’s you love. That is such a good point. Every precious second that we waste putting up with an abusive person is a second we don’t have for ourselves OR our loved ones. It really is a ripple effect.

          • Ms. Pris said:

            And sometimes, taking that break can be really healing to the relationship. A friend of mine went low-contact with her mother, and eventually sent her mom a letter explaining *why* and describing how she wanted the relationship to be in the future. It took a few years of enforced boundary-setting and very limited contact, but her mom was one of those who really did genuinely love her and wanted a relationship. So eventually, her mom did change the behavior and they developed a good relationship.

            In my case, going low-contact has made my mom easier to bear, but not really changed her behavior at all. So it doesn’t always work, but sometimes it can. Either way, it makes things better for the adult child in the equation.

        • My older brother did. And every time I’ve spoken to my mother since, she’s ranted at length about how much he’s hurt her and what a terrible person she must be, knowing full well that I’m in contact with him.

          I’d give almost anything to cut her out myself, but the “almost anything” doesn’t include losing my dad and younger brother, who live with her. My dad is basically her doormat and brother is disabled and wouldn’t be able to see or contact me without her help.

          If it weren’t for this situation, I would totally do it. And if you wish you could do it and CAN do it without a sacrifice you’re not willing or able to make, then I would echo the above.

          • This was my reason for years – I still had two brothers at home. But the older one moved in with me when he was 16 and then my younger one had his own phone. I am glad I waited because I am close to my brother. But it did almost break me and really it was only when it started effecting my kids that I really pulled the plug. ((((hugs)))) Life has been so much better since, but I just wanted to say I understand. and send you all the ((((hugs))))

          • Well, said:

            This!!

            FWIW, I also waited until my sister was in college and I could visit her without needing to go home. That is a really reasonable concern, and one a lot of people live with. With siblings, at least, they often grow up, and we can take our chance. With parents, at some point, you have to just make a call, and I imagine that can be really hard.

            “Luckily” my parents are acrimoniously divorced, so I can have one without needing to have the other.

        • Godless Heathen said:

          It’s not a good solution for everyone, but estrangement from my entire family has worked out pretty well for me for the last, gosh 21 years now. In my case I was getting out of a really horrific home life that I don’t want to get into here, but the more I see, the more I think it doesn’t have to reach extreme levels of terrible to decide the relationship isn’t working anymore. If anyone said we had to stay with abusive romantic partners because of reasons, I think a lot of reasonable people would object to that. I don’t think family gets a pass because faaaaamily. If you don’t want these people in your life, you don’t have to have them in your life. It’s hard at first, and scary not to have a familial safety net in hard times, but it’s not the end of the world.

          I’m not saying LW should, I’m just saying it’s a valid option.

      • Enmathy said:

        My mother actually did disown me after I established boundaries … around Facebook. (“After I have unfriended you, blocked you, explicitly told you not to look through my profile, it’s an invasion of privacy to log on through a family member’s account to go through my profile … to see the same photos I had sent you (in a Dropbox folder set up to be un-shareable because you have no boundaries”. – “You have ruined my upcoming vacation! You will no longer bully me and my family!”)

        Thing is, though, despite disowning me (for whatever that’s worth), she still kept calling, texting, and making inappropriate gestures* to try to get back into my life. I do think that people that are emotionally manipulative and abusive like this will say whatever they want – and take back whatever they think you want them to – to get back into your life. I’m still not quite sure what she wants from me, given how much she seems to dislike me. Even disowning doesn’t seem to matter.

        * On the first day we’d decided to meet to talk after a year of limited contact has passed, she got down on her knees to beg me to forgive her. In a public park. Despite previously maintaining that I’d overreacted when I told her she was invading my privacy (“It was like you were pouring poison in my ears!”), and refusing to see why -disowning someone for wanting to have their stupid Facebook page left alone- wasn’t the bigger, and disproportionate, overreaction (“You’re right, I should’ve just grit my teeth and taken that slap to my face”). Then she called me after to suggest I use her booked ticket to go on a week’s trip to Mexico to a wedding of a cousin I am not close to and wasn’t invited to go to.
        I have some friends that have terrible mothers, and I often have a hard time believing mine is at least in the same leagues. Typing this out (and having told this to my therapist) is such a good reminder that she’s at least Medium-to-High awful, and my Feelings Are Valid.

        • The first time I was disowned by my mother, the sense of relief was outrageous. It didn’t last long–I think she honestly thought that I’d fall in line, and when I didn’t, she frantically began calling again–but it really showed me that what I wanted most passionately from my relationship with my mother (I wanted, when I was younger, a good positive relationship with *a* mother so badly, but I realized as I got older that I needed to restrict my wants to what was possible from *my* mother) was…nothing. Its absence.

          I cannot overstate the feeling of freedom that realization gave me.

          • Jenny Islander said:

            Hee hee. One of my caregivers, who rarely spoke to me without a putdown or an accusation, announced that due to something or other she wouldn’t speak to me or look at me for A WHOLE DAY.

            I couldn’t stop smiling. She was very confused.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      Not the LW, but your description of that messed up dynamic made me cry. People get it, they get this, and I’m not all of those bad things. There are people who, unlike my “friends”, won’t say ” OMG I cannot believe you’re so meaaaan to your parents, I would never treat my mum like that!”. Friends who don’t see the button-pusher happily jabbing away at the buttons she installed in me, in plain sight, making me look crazy or pathetic.

      Thank you for getting that.

      LW – I may not know you, but I know how you feel. Know that you’re not alone, that you deserve boundaries, healthy interactions, and unconditional love. Know that you have every right to safeguard yourself from their bullshit.

      Many Jedi hugs if you’d like them.

      • neverjaunty said:

        I kind of hope those “friends” fall down a mineshaft. They aren’t getting it because they’re not listening to you, not because empathy is impossible. Grrr..

        • MellifluousDissent said:

          A hearty +1 to this!

        • perlhaqr said:

          Profuse apologies to Big Pink Box if I have misunderstood, but it seemed to me she was saying before that her mother wasn’t that way around the friends. Which… I dunno if I’m using the term precisely correctly, but it’s kinda like her mother was gaslighting her friends. Or Big Pink Box. Or both!

          It’s not that empathy is impossible, but just rather that when mother Hel only shows the pretty side of her face in public, and the corpse half of her face in private, the friends might be confused when the ugly half gets talked about.

          Which… I dunno. *throws arms wide* Empathy for everyone! (Empathy for some, tiny American flags for others?)

          • neverjaunty said:

            I applaud your empathy for everyone, but I’m going with the tiny flags on this. There’s a big, big difference, at least to me, between “But your mom seems so nice” or “I don’t understand why you’re angry at her” – which acknowledge that the friend has a disconnect between what they’re seeing and what Big Pink Box is seeing, even if Friend thinks zie is in the wrong – and “OMG you’re so meaaaan!” (shaming, name-calling) or “I wouldn’t treat MY mom that way” (making it all about Friend and centering Friend as the one true arbiter of proper behavior to one’s parents). People can react to gaslighting by being clueless, or they can react by letting their own inner jerk flop out.

            Big Pink Box, I apologize if this came off as lecturing you about your friends or who you choose to have in your life; it isn’t meant to be in any way. Just that I don’t think this is so much about your mom gaslighting your friends or your friends having no frame of reference as your friends being, as you note, “friends”. Jedi hugs if you want them.

          • twomoogles said:

            Yes; one of the worst things about people like this is their ability to make themselves look like the abused, put-upon victim, and outsiders can genuinely feel they *are* supporting the “real” victim (ask me how I know…)

      • mstabbity said:

        “OMG I cannot believe you’re so meaaaan to your parents, I would never treat my mum like that!”.

        I hate that shit so much. SO MUCH. I could maybe understand it from total strangers (although commenting on how a total stranger interacts with their parents would be beyond rude for other reasons), but from “friends”? Who’ve met you before? And have seen how you interact with people who aren’t horrible to you? And presumably have noticed that you aren’t in the habit of being “mean” for no reason?

        For that matter, what kind of “friend” watches a parent go out of their way to make their child look bad and thinks the child is the asshole there? Even if you were ridiculously oversensitive (if that’s how your mother justifies hurting you for fun I would not be even slightly surprised), she’s had your entire lifetime up to that point to learn how to avoid setting you off! She must not have been paying much attention if she hasn’t learned by now how to avoid setting you up for a meltdown.

        I, uh, have a lot of feelings about the subject 🙂

        • Fish said:

          I give a pass to friends with dead parents, because they’re imagining someone else is my parent and feeling regret for every slight they put against their own parent, and wishing for more time. A full pass means I change the topic, and if they don’t double down then we’re good to go. Death is hard and scary.

          I give half a pass to friends with children, because they’re my behavior coming from their child. A half pass means I gently point out the relevant ways that they are different from my parents and if I get an apology or at least support and affirmation after that, then we’re good to to. Parenting is hard, and scary.

          Other people get a goddamn earful, or massive avoidance from there on out, depending on my mood. I don’t have time for “I can’t believe you abandoned your mother”.

          • mstabbity said:

            I don’t think I can find it again, but there was a comment not so long ago about how the commentor’s friend desperately missed her late father and would give anything to see him again, and the commentor felt weird complaining to their friend about how badly they got along with their father, and friend was such an amazing human being that they were able to say (I don’t remember the exact words) “I’d give anything to see *my* dad again, not your dad.” I just thought that was such a loving thing to say.

            Death is indeed hard and scary, and I would probably give someone who had lost a parent a pass too.

            A woman I used to work with had almost teenage children at the time and worried a whole lot that the older one would someday stop speaking to her. I had to kind of dodge the subject because I really didn’t want to get into why exactly I had (and have!) no contact whatsoever with my mother, but what I could never quite find the words to tell her was that if she was capable of reflecting on her own decisions and worrying that she wasn’t a good parent then she was almost certainly fine. Parenting must be tough too, and it actually makes me really happy to see that some parents are capable of thinking about the impact their actions have on their children. It is frustrating to see people worry about it too, though. Nobody cuts off a parent for no reason (okay, there are a few sociopaths out there who would, but realistically…), so if you’re not tormenting your child then chill the fuck out.

        • SarahTheEntwife said:

          For a while I was doing a bit of that with my boyfriend when I heard him on the phone with his parents, though I mostly tried not to say anything because, well, it’s his mother, I don’t really get a vote on how he talks to her. And then I actually met her, and now I understand.

          • mstabbity said:

            That’s a tough one. In general it’s a massive red flag when men in particular are disrespectful to their mothers, but on the other hand sometimes people have a really good reason for acting that way. My emotionally abusive ex wasn’t particularly nice to his mother, but in that case she was in fact unbearable and had no concept of other people’s boundaries. Of course, that doesn’t mean the evil bees are coming from only one hive, because “emotionally abusive ex.”

        • Anne said:

          I’m 66 now but all the years I was young and anguishing about my emotionally (and physically to my brother) abusive father so many people said to me, “But he’s your father.” (as in how can you hate him so. ) I was absolutely dumbfounded that my father got a pass to treat me in a way that no other person would be allowed. Did no one see he was supposed to be held to a *higher* standard, not a lower one? It made me just crazy.

          • I once had a friend who reacted with shock and disbelief every timeci criticised your mother. I got all the “how can you say such things about your own mother!” crap. One day I said, “So just because she’s my mother she can’t possibly do anything wrong?” She just looked confused, so I asked her if she thought there were any bad people in the world or any people who habitually treated others badly. She said of course. I then asked, “So don’t you think any of those people ever had children?” You could almost see the wheels turning in her brain. She didn’t criticise me for that again.

          • diloolie said:

            YES, THIS. There is such a double standard at play. An abusive father can get away with more junk than an abusive mother, because women are seen as bad in general. I’ve been forever frustrated by this and I’m only 25. (He claims he stopped hitting me when I turned 18, though he didn’t really)

        • diloolie said:

          My ex did this when I was 17 and she was visiting from out-of-state. I cried for a few days after, wondering why I was a bad person, and only now have realized what it was.

          And it probably didn’t help that she was an abusive jerk, on top of it all.

    • Spudtrooper said:

      “They don’t get to build their lives on our backs. That’s not how adult-ing should work.”

      Thank you for summarizing exactly how my mother has always made me feel, but I never had adequate words for.

    • Beri said:

      Oh my. This.

      This is exactly what I needed to read, having just moved out of my emotionally abusive mother’s house this past weekend.

      I think I’m going to print this comment out and highlight the especially important parts. Thank you.

  6. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

    Oh, LW, my empathies. My parents routinely shared ALL their adult stuff with me, including (when I was 12) that my mom didn’t like to go down on my dad but did like to go down on her affair partner. They had NO boundaries. I was there to do what they wanted and needed and listen to whatever they felt like yammering about. It is really difficult to get out of that mindset, and “parents” like that will fight hard to not let you be an equal, rather than a servant/ear/punching bag. (My mom, rather than work out her problems with my dad, would punch me out.) I hate to say, CUT DIRECT,” but that was what worked with my mom, who really believed that I had no “boundaries” or selfhood. I still remember her shock and astonishment when, at 28, I grabbed her wrists and did not let her continue slapping me when she was mad at my dad. She was SHOCKED that the punching bag didn’t let her punch. My dad, who was marginally better in that the only time he physically hurt me was when, during an argument with mom, he turned to me and twisted my wrist, would sulk and pout when I’d ask him not to “share” his belief that the best thing a woman could do for a man was suck him off, or how “broke” we were, or his stupid company politics, or his girlfriends. Sulk and pout and pout and sulk LOUDLY for DAYS AND DAYS.

    LW, it’s possible your parents will sulk and pout, or argue and yell, and that’s what you fear. They’ve trained you to accept your place as the Sounding Board and the Servant. That you will house them and listen to them and forego your own life (forever!) because they have ALL the needs and you are supposed to have none. But you are an adult and, barring physical violence, you have the right to throw them out (call the cops if you have to), bar them from coming to stay with you, make a list of what they have to do in order for you to let them stay with you, set a firm time limit on stays, or anything else the Captain has suggested. You are NOT responsible for assuaging your dad’s boredom. Yes, he’s made you “feel” responsible for it your whole life, but he was wrong to do so. They were both wrong to make you their audience/servant for your (previous) whole life. They were wrong. I can’t stress this enough–they were wrong. If your dad wants to bother you because he’s bored, well, that’s his problem, not yours. You have Stuff to Do. Your Own Stuff. You cannot have him visit because you have your own stuff to do. If he gets angry, he’ll either die angry or get over it.

    The first few times you lay down your boundaries will be the worst. Their crying and sulking and yelling and guilting will be the loudest then. But–I promise you–after they get used to your laying down your boundaries, one of 2 things will probably happen–they’ll die angry or get over it. I’m predicting they’ll get over it. They may whine and pout some more, but they’ll start to adhere to your boundaries.

    And don’t make it super-comfortable for them if/when either visits you. No picking up after them, no catering to them, no deferring to them. They’ll go away faster the less comfortable you make it.

    • Alli525 said:

      Geez. I am so sorry for what your parents put you through. Jedi hugs (to “former you” or “present you” or both), if you want them.

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        Thank you–Past one appreciates it, and so do I.

    • That’s horrific. I’m glad you’ve grown and don’t have to take that any more

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        Thank you. Ain’t seen my mom since 1999. Haven’t missed her. Ditto my dad.

    • Light37 said:

      “My parents routinely shared ALL their adult stuff with me, including (when I was 12) that my mom didn’t like to go down on my dad but did like to go down on her affair partner. ”

      I’ve just remembered something and you’ve given me a whole new perspective on it. I met some people who seemed like lovely people and was over at their house when Wife told me that she hated performing oral sex on her husband because reasons. Now, she had legitimate reasons, but the fact that she told me this after knowing me for five minutes squicked me out.

      What I just remembered is that her adult daughter was there in the room and seemed utterly unfazed by her mom’s confession. I very much doubt this was the first time she’d heard it. Judging from the description of parentified children, I don’t think Daughter was one, but it does help to explain some of the oddities about that mother-daughter relationship, at least as far as emotional caretaking goes.

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        …yeah, I just…now, in the present, I just don’t get it. Then…I just accepted that this was how people talked…

  7. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

    Oh, yeah, if they’re physically violent to you in any way–Cut Direct.

    • diloolie said:

      I’m sorry, I don’t know what Cut Direct is, can you explain it?

      • Sparky said:

        From Bartleby.com, posted just below “when to bow”

        “THE “CUT DIRECT”

        For one person to look directly at another and not acknowledge the other’s bow is such a breach of civility that only an unforgivable misdemeanor can warrant the rebuke. Nor without the gravest cause may a lady “cut” a gentleman. But there are no circumstances under which a gentleman may “cut” any woman who, even by courtesy, can be called a lady. 25
        On the other hand, one must not confuse absent-mindedness, or a forgetful memory with an intentional “cut.” Anyone who is preoccupied is apt to pass others without being aware of them, and without the least want of friendly regard. Others who have bad memories forget even those by whom they were much attracted. This does not excuse the bad memory, but it explains the seeming rudeness. 26
        A “cut” is very different. It is a direct stare of blank refusal, and is not only insulting to its victim but embarrassing to every witness. Happily it is practically unknown in polite society.”

        Might also be called ignoring or blanking.

        • diloolie said:

          Thank you!

          • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

            Oh, sorry about that. I mean, if the parents are violent to you physically, that’s assault/battery. And of course you wouldn’t accept that from some stranger on the street, so you don’t from parents. Better to ignore them forever.

  8. ioethe said:

    I just want to recommend a couple of min scripts to the “But faaaaaaaamily” response; “Yeah, well (repeat boundary)”, “Be that as it may, (repeat boundary)” and, “Still, (repeat boundary).” They’re very, very hard to argue with.

    • ioethe said:

      Whoops, “mini”, not “min”.

    • They really are! Last time I had to fight with my father about boundaries, he resorted to calling me “wacky” (repeatedly). He kept repeating it, in increasing bewilderment that it wasn’t working, as I stuck with “Uh-huh. And in my family we do not touch without consent.” “You’re so wacky, I wish your mother would intervene so we could have some adult sense in this conversation.” “Uh-huh. And in my family we do not touch without consent.” “You’re so wacky I can’t even explain how wacky you are.” “Uh-huh. And in my family we do not touch without consent.”

      It works because these types of parents don’t HAVE any real, arguable reasons; they don’t have a thought-out position. They need you to give them a rope they can use to hang you with, and they’ve set things up so that any normal conversational response is a rope. Neutral phrases that indicate you heard them — but which are essentially meaningless — are not ropes.

  9. Oh LW, I feel ya.

    I’m not sure what your parents carry in their personal arsenal of guilt tripping weapons but my mother’s favorite is calling me selfish. I have spent 30+ years proving to everyone how so very not selfish I am by lacking any boundaries because (in my family’s world) boundaries are mean and selfish. Of course with my total lack of boundaries I have become resentful, mean, and emotionally drained. I have spent most of mental energy honing my intuition of what everyone else around me wants and I have almost internal intuition. [It’s taken a while to realize this and I am now fulling embracing my “selfishness” with gleefully wild abandon. It’s the most calm and creative I have ever felt in my life.]

    Not sure of your gender but if you are female then calling you selfish is a super effective way to get you to feel guilty about any boundaries you set (not that this doesn’t work for male identified folks as well, but the “selfish bitch” trope is so ingrained in our culture that it carries an extra wallop for women). Just be prepared for this in case it comes up and talk with your therapist about it so you can get some external validation that setting boundaries doesn’t make you a Bad Selfish Person. It makes you strong, healthy, happy, and in a much better position to build relationships with yourself and your loved ones.

    Just keep repeating that to yourself until it actually feels true. 🙂

    Also you DO NOT NEED REASONS to set boundaries. Boundary pushers loooooooove to find “reasons” that they can argue with. With boundary pushers it’s best to not give any reasons at all. Keep it short, simple, and compassionate. Then stick to it and do not give in to the millions of “but why????” variations they will throw at you. When they do that, redirect immediately to a topic that resonates with them (for my mom I immediately ask her about her job – a big source of pride for her).

    Try and spend a lot of time with yourself. Figure out what makes you FEEL good. If you are at all like me this lack of boundaries with your parents bleeds over into other parts of your life and you find yourself ignoring your feelings. Write, walk, draw, knit, talk, cry, read, meditate, whatever. Just get to know yourself. Listen to your feelings not the never-ending conga line of self-abnegation that fuels this unhealthy relationship with your parents. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings even if you think they make you a horrible person. You aren’t. I promise. Cuidate.

    • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

      Oh, yeah, the “selfish” card. “Selfish” because you need some sleep in order to go to work, rather than listen to your mom rant at 3 am. “Selfish” because your nearsightedness requires glasses. “Selfish” because anything. It’s selfish to want to live your own life, rather than be the audience for theirs.

      Back in college, this one…person…told me that I “had” to quit school and leave town because I was “selfish” in dating the person she wanted to date. I realized…that I had no reply to this because I’d never been able to reply to my parents’ accusations of “selfishness” ever in my life. Saying, “GFY and GTFO” was beyond my capabilities because of my parents’ training. It was then I realized I had to change (and no, I didn’t drop out or leave town).

    • For my family, it wasn’t being selfish it was being MEAN. And no one will ever like you if you’re MEAN.

      As an adult I’ve had to learn to catch my own assumptions that leaving people to be responsible for their own stuff (yes, even if we’re in a romantic relationship!) is not being mean.

      It is not being mean to fail to take on the responsibility for other people’s lives. It is not mean to take care of yourself. It is not mean to have a boundary.

    • Alexia said:

      What is it with these pejorative labels and adjectives some parents give their children?

      For me it was “useless”. “Useless” for not keeping the entire house clean on my own, “useless” for not parenting my 4 siblings, “useless” for not making money as a teenager in what has slowly and literally been becoming a ghost town, “useless” for making a decision they disagreed with, “useless” for being unable to drive without anyone teaching me how to handle a car. “Useless” because they had to spend money on me at all and couldn’t just 100% dump me on the nearest adult forever without facing scorn from the entire community.

      And we spend so much freaking time trying to prove we’re not these horrible things that we have a hard time believing we were not the horrible ones to begin with.

      • Cactus said:

        Yep, mine was “negative” (which is why I now cringe when I hear new-agey types make blanket statements like “don’t associate with ‘negative people'”)…which in my adolescence morphed into “you’re going to turn into [Mean Aunt] someday.” (That one, they still use.) I don’t particularly act like Mean Aunt, when she’s in her bad moods–I lash in, not out; I don’t really get jealous; and I don’t purposefully needle people just for fun. I…enjoy new experiences, usually? (That’s a weird one; because I also don’t judge people who prefer their comfort zone, which I also do, some of the time; but I don’t want to get into the huge specificities of this weird family situation.) I don’t intend on having kids, therefore I will not be treating anyone with the same types of Bad or Imperfect Parenting she’s aimed at my cousins. But I’m quieter and shyer and less happy-go-lucky-friendly than they’d like, and I hold grudges against people who have legitimately caused me pain; therefore I am the second incarnation of Mean Aunt (though I don’t even know if “shy” is how I’d describe her).

      • Mine were “airhead,” “space cadet,” and “little snot.” The last time my father hit me, about 10 years ago, I remember being (strangely) most infuriated that I hadn’t yet graduated to “bitch” in his estimation. It didn’t occur to me to wish that he wouldn’t hit me, or yell at me, or insult me: I wanted him to use an insult that recognized me as formidable and independent, instead of an infantile pain in the ass.

        • Oh, I was always “bitch.” But usually “little bitch” so I knew my place. It wasn’t as if I was fully grown or anything, you see.

          • Anodyne said:

            Mine was “lazy”. Because surely a depressed teenager who lives in a ghost town where there are very few jobs at all, and fewer for anyone still in high school or college, should be able to go find a job right away, right?

      • Shannon said:

        Ahh yes. I used to think it was normal for parents to just get frustrated with your existence and call you names. I also used to think it was normal that people didn’t let their kids out of the house for any reason, ever.

        In a way, I’m kind of bizarrely glad that I never *truly* grasped the many ways my family was messed up until after I left. I would never have survived otherwise.

        (sarcasm) Here’s some of my fav treasured memories….

        cn: piles of slurs, sex-shaming

        Bitch, slut (from the age of 12! Got worse when I started seeing someone, god forbid I should have a relationship outside the household and also I WAS A VIRGIN UNTIL AFTER I MOVED OUT AT 17 like why would you even judge the amount of sex you assume your child is having YIKES), stupid (top of my god damn class my whole life, not ever good enough), *UNGRATEFUL* (i was meant to be grateful that my father isn’t a paedophile apparently), useless, etc etc etc

      • Mine was “uptight” (when I wouldn’t sleep with two older guys my mum bought home when drunk and I was 15) and “snob” because I didn’t want to hang out with her horrible sexist, racist boyfriend or sit in a beer garden all day watching them get drunk & fight.

        • diloolie said:

          To what you have in parentheses: WHAT THE FUCK. All the jedi hugs.

        • That’s not uptight or snobby, that’s having standards. Spending time with people is something that one should be picky about, because their words and actions are going into your brain, and I’d rather make those good ones instead of average or poor ones.

      • Nanani said:

        Mine was “independent” usually prefaced by curse words.
        Making my own decision about anything was being “fucking independent”.
        I somehow managed to learn that independence is a good thing to have despite that.

        Also, as a point of anecdata, I moved far, far away from my family of origin and maintained low contact for over a decade. Now that I’m nearby again, the relationship is a LOT better – therapy proabably happened while I was away, but mostly I think showing that the option of not being available at all for years on end is always on the table did the trick.
        That is, distance and boundaries: THEY WORK!

      • Jenny Islander said:

        “Slob,” “spoiled,” “lazy,” “selfish.” Also–I was eight–“slut.”

      • Druidspell said:

        In my family, it was that I was “undeserving.” It’s taken me literal decades to internalize the idea that the only thing I didn’t deserve in that house was the abusive treatment by my father, and the gaslighting by my mother of the “it didn’t happen/didn’t happen like that/wasn’t that bad” variety. (Because if it didn’t happen or wasn’t that bad, you see, then it’s okay that she ignored what was happening.)

        Jedi hugs to all of my fellow members of this horrible extended family of abuse and awfulness. We didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t ever our fault.

      • ‘Useless’ was one of the words in my family, which had a history of some violence and abuse, certainly not to the degree of some of the other commenters in this thread. (Not that it’s a race to the bottom, but still!) It often came from my breadwinner dad to us kids and to my stay-at-home mum. ‘Useless’ used to feature in my suuuuuuuuuper negative self-talk and used to be something that really got to me.

        Now, though, I find it freeing – because human beings ARE useless. They serve no inherent use. They just are. I don’t HAVE to have a ‘use’ (unless I want to be particularly ‘useful’ in a way that works for me). ‘Useless’ in my family also tended to tie into ideas of social utility, ‘making a contribution’ in specific ways, usually financial, and overlooked the work that my mum did as a stay-at-home mum which let dad go and be a breadwinner. Basically: it had sexist, classist, racist and ableist potential to be insulting and demeaning. *slow clap*

        But yes. Human beings don’t have to have a use.

        How great is that, tho, now, really.

        • That is a BRILLIANT way of looking at it.

          Now that I think about it, actually I don’t want to be used. So not having a use is fine by me.

          Thank you!

      • Sonata said:

        Ah, ‘useless’.

        I have this memory. I’m not sure I trust it, because it’s very old, and my memory is very unreliable. (A lifetime of gaslighting and dissociation will do that to you. The head trauma* and epilepsy as a small child probably didn’t help either.) My mom strenuously denies that it’s true, but she strenuously denies that a lot of things are true, including things I have unquestionable proof of.

        But I have this memory of being about seven years old and struggling to help carry in groceries from the car (enough at a time, fast enough) and my mother (probably ‘jokingly’) saying “What good’s a slave if they don’t do anything?”

        And whether it really happened like that or not (I have so many qualifiers here, I feel so guilty about ever mentioning this, can you tell?) – it rather says a lot that I find it plausible that that would have happened, doesn’t it?

        *Not physical abuse related, I just fell on my head a lot. Or in one case, ran straight into the edge of a solid oak door that I apparently thought was open enough to go through, a story my father has told me about watching occur. I certainly don’t remember it.

        • muse142 said:

          I hate the feeling of being my own unreliable narrator and not being sure whether a memory is real… but I’m weirdly heartened to know I’m not the only one. Gaslighting is incredibly disabling. ❤

          • Sonata said:

            It’s so frustrating not to be able to trust yourself about your own life! Sympathies about being another member of this shitty club ❤

      • Luke B.A. Lady said:

        Mine was “inconsiderate” and “ungrateful.” Everyone my mother ever met was inconsiderate, her daughters were inconsiderate *and* ungrateful, and every boss she ever had was incompetent.

        I read a theory somewhere that people who are unaware of their own terrible behavior will latch onto one or two negative adjectives that have been applied to them and them use them against everyone else around them. So someone who is genuinely lazy, but completely in denial about it will turn around and call everyone else around them “lazy,” even in situations where it makes no sense to call them that. Because they know that “lazy” is an insult, but have almost no idea what it actually *means* because they can’t connect the word to their own behavior, even if you stick a dictionary right in front of them. What everyone else considers “lazy,” they consider normal/default, so the word might as well be gibberish to them because they just can’t grok the concept. So they turn around and use it as an all-purpose insult because they understand that other people think it’s a negative trait even if they don’t understand *why.*

        According to this theory, my mother, Darth Narcissa (the indirect reason behind Letter #728), was inconsiderate, incompetent, and ungrateful–I can attest that she was two of the three. And she was probably incompetent, too, considering she would periodically bring work home with her and then dump it on me to complete.

      • Frith said:

        Crazy. Crazy and wacko and destined for the loony bin. Usually said accompanied by incredulous laughter. Guess how it made me feel when I developed severe depression with SI in my teens, which I never dared mention until I was away at university. And also when I found out it had been recommended to have me tested for autism when I was a toddler, but this didn’t happen because my dad refused to consider I might be “abnormal” like that and it took until my early twenties for me to come to this conclusion on my own.

        • Aaarrrggghh this! I got “you’re mad! You need your head examined! YOU NEED TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST!” This was spat at me in a tone that implied that having a mental health problem was equivalent to being unworthy of being allowed to mix with Normal People and that it was impossible to sink any lower than to see a psychiatrist (and that if I did, it was my own fault).

          Even after I’d got a degree in psychology I still got all this nonsense, even after I started receiving treatment for actual mental health issues, attempted suicide and did indeed see a psychiatrist. When I tried to explain that I’d learned what psychiatrists actually did and the people who see them are just…people, no less worthy than anyone else…well that was met with jeers and “Oh yes, you think you know everything since you went to university!”

    • Planegirl said:

      OMG! Another victim of the dreaded S-word! Yes, I too grew up with my Mum calling me “selfish”, “wilful”, “hard-hearted”, “hard-bitten”, “callous” etc, telling other people that I had a “cobra stare” and so on, and I too bent over backwards to be ultra-nice and prove that I was none of those things. As a result, I became the target of other people who really were selfish, demanding, etc.

      And, as my folks got older and got ill, other family members pulled the guilt-trip on me about looking after them, raging at me for not giving up my life to care for my “perfect” parents. After a nasty incident of SI that needed stitches, I backed all the way away from them. I got my parents into nursing care (well, my Mum now – my Dad has now died). I still feel the guilt, but at least I have a life.

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        Hmmm. Seems your other family members were–pretty selfish–in not giving up their own lives to care for such perfect people. It should be easy to care for perfect people, so those family members were really quite selfish….

        • Ah, but I was told by the person accusing me that she would have looked after my parents for me but she had a BABY – thus stressing that she was vastly superior to useless, selfish me.

      • Hlyssande said:

        …A cobra stare sounds like a good skill to cultivate. I wonder if it’s like a murder walk?

        But for real, I’m sorry you had to deal with that (and sorry everyone here had to deal with all of that). 😦

    • I have joyfully embraced selfishness and vanity (the two worst things my mother could accuse anyone of) as an adult, and it’s pretty great. Vanity is fun because it allows me to indulge my own desires and preferences and selfishness is relaxing because I don’t have to constantly worry about what other people want to the exclusion of what I want. 🙂

      • I really love your style of commenting – a sassy truth followed by a beatific smiley. Shine on!

    • Guava said:

      As I read these comments, it becomes abundantly clear that all these insults – “selfish,” “callous,” “uptight” et al are all intended to disarm a child’s instincts toward self preservation. They’re pushing you to bend over backwards to Not Be That Thing, to override your normal instincts to take care of yourself when your parents or family members are draining you dry.

      With me, it’s “self-centered,” “lazy,” and “cold” and also “spoiled princess.” Still better than being a doormat.

      • Wow. Guava, you just sparked something in my brain, for which I’m very grateful. My coping strategy when people were fighting, yelling, whatever, was to zone out. My father’s choice of insults pointed directly at the mechanism that was giving me a little bit of cushion against his rage.

        I mean, I don’t like that I zone out in response to shitty things. I’d rather get away from the shitty things! But it was a rational thing to do when getting away was not possible, and it was my brain’s way of shielding me from some of the worst stuff.

        Thank you for that insight.

        Also, I am so sad and angry for all of our younger selves. No one should have to depend on a person who isn’t safe to be around.

        • Guava said:

          Me too. I’ve been having a (head exploding) moment, sitting here at my desk. It’s kind of taking the sting out of the insults themselves, tho, sadly, not the intention behind them. Jedi hugs of solidarity from a fellow zoner-outer.

          • Jen said:

            Big squishy Sith hugs. Been there, done that.

      • “all these insults – “selfish,” “callous,” “uptight” et al are all intended to disarm a child’s instincts toward self preservation. They’re pushing you to bend over backwards to Not Be That Thing, to override your normal instincts to take care of yourself”

        Negging, the family fun edition!

        • MellifluousDissent said:

          “Negging, the family fun edition!”

          I know – firsthand – what a serious subject this is and all, but that line still had me cracking up (also I’m probably going to steal it and use it in therapy – such a good shorthand!).

        • Guava said:

          Yeeeeeeup!

      • diloolie said:

        That makes so much sense, thanks for saying it.

    • My heart goes out to everyone on this comment thread. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone but like I told my therapist, it’s like we are all in this club together where joining is compulsory and none of us want to be there.

  10. Min T said:

    Ah, boundaries. Something my in-laws completely lack. We’re living in husband’s parents’ old house at the moment (they live around the corner 10 minutes away) and they still treat it as if it’s ‘their’ house. Okay, yes, it technically is their house, but it’s also OUR home. Which is why it was a surprise to come back one weekend after being out of town to find a stranger sleeping on our second bedroom’s floor. Apparently, my father-in-law had told her it was perfectly okay because “we were out of town.” He didn’t tell us he’d allow someone we didn’t know to spend the night in our home. Weird, because the house my in-laws live in have 3 spare bedrooms. With beds in those bedrooms.

    That and the fact that my father-in-law has a habit of just letting himself into the house if I don’t answer the door immediately during the day (I frequently work from home) means we are not giving them spare keys when we move (hopefully at the end of this month).

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      Oh look! All the keys and locks broke at once, and you needed to change them now! And the key-making place just can’t seem to make you any copies, so they’ll have to wait until you move out to get the new keys! Oh how sad. 🙂

      In all seriousness though, this is why my lovely mother-in-law with actual boundaries gets a spare key to our house while none of the other parents get copies. Jedi-hugs to you if you’d like them, and I hope your move works out!

      • Divizna said:

        Why that complicated? You lost a whole bunch of keys. Of course you needed to change the locks, that’s common precaution. What if your keys somehow ended in the hands of a burglar?

        • Min T said:

          True, I did briefly contemplate ‘losing’ the keys. But, it’s still their house right now so they would have the right to ask for a set of the new ones (and then we’d be right back where we started). Plus, then we’d never hear the end of how irresponsible we are to lose keys. The trouble with being married to a parentified only child (and being parentified myself, but at least my parents are thousands of miles away) is that my in-laws tend to parentify me too.

          • Serin said:

            I own a rental house, and I don’t have a copy of the key. (My rental management company could get me one in an emergency, but I don’t have one in my possession.) The tenants have a reasonable expectation that people who don’t live in their house won’t walk in without warning, even though it’s “my” house. That’s one of the things they pay me rent for, a house that has walls and doors to keep the rest of the world out.

          • NorahMancer said:

            Reply to Serin: May I say, on behalf of tenants everywhere, how much I appreciate your understanding of that particular boundary? I have occasional annoyance with my landlord, who lives in the basement of my shared house, and will sometimes wander through the common areas upstairs. He, however, is not nearly as bad as the story I once heard of a young woman living in a rental property whose landlord would not only not give notice, but sometimes wouldn’t even KNOCK before coming into her space (in which she lived alone), because it was “his house”. He legitimately did not understand why she would be startled to find him in there, even after he once came in while she was having a shower.

    • bleh said:

      Been there – managed remodel of investment house for them while paying above average rent. They also pretended that we were being gifted this space – brothers-in-law didn’t know we paid rent until we told them. And they were surprised when we changed the locks. Yeah no. You cannot come into my home without my permission.

    • Cor! said:

      I can not tell you how happy I was when I got to the part of your comment that said you were moving. Best of luck.

    • Shannon said:

      Yikes I’m so sorry, that’s awful.

      Related story: one of my parents threw a swearing, screaming tantrum at me when I did not allow them to have keys to the place I was renting.

      I think that was the only time I’ve ever seen my other parent *almost* acknowledge that there is maybe something wrong with that level of entitlement. They still defended the tantrum-parent anyhow.

  11. Consolaré said:

    Honor thy father and mother? The same book also says don’t make your children angry and teach your children well. Parents are supposed to be honorable people. What you are fighting emotionally is not just childhood trauma but a cultural command drummed into our heads from babyhood. We shouldn’t mistreat our parents because we are not supposed to mistreat or use ANYONE! Parents don’t seem to understand that this means them also when it comes to their children. Good luck funding equilibrium.

  12. loonybrain said:

    I was kinda parentified too… though in that case it was related to incest, which is kind of another kettle of fish. So I want to give a heads up to LW–your folks might do what mine did when held to boundaries, which is COMPLETELY FLIP OUT. They may sic other family members on you, try to contact you through third parties, gaslight you to the extreme and claim they never did any of the things you discuss, claim YOU never stated the boundaries you discuss, and so on.

    Also, I do want to give the warning that if you’re like me and go back on your boundaries, you train them to believe that all they have to do is wear you down long enough and you’ll cave, and it’ll get even harder the next time you try.

    Like, I realize your parents are not mine and may be much less creepy and manipulative, but I want to warn you just in case.

    • TurquoiseDra9on said:

      I . . . . don’t even have words. Hugs if you want them. Good luck.

      • loonybrain said:

        It’s okay; they’re out of my life now–though I anticipate they’ll ramp up their behavior again once they realize that no really, really AM gone this time. (We’ve been playing this song and dance for five years.) And though it cost me a year of homelessness, the realization that I had enough backbone to go through that rather than crawl back to them has been a huge lifechanger. That said, I obviously hope LW never goes through that and things are much nicer there!

        Mostly, I just figured it might be worth throwing out a worse case scenario, just in case their reaction to boundaries is so overwhelming that the urge to cave is almost unbearable. Something to plan for.

        • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

          Major hugs and glad you can keep them out now.

  13. Mary said:

    >>“I would be up for hosting my parents ____ times/year for no more than _____ days at a time with at least _____ of notice.” (Your ideal number can be zero, by the way: Zero times/year for Zero days at a time)

    This is a really good thing to practice: I have pretty good boundaries, and I still find it useful to check in with myself on this kind of thing. LW, I just want to emphasise that you will probably have to ask this one of yourself in several different ways, because I bet you £50 that the first time you do it, you’ll start bargaining yourself up. “What would I be happy with? Well… I *suppose* I could stand to have them around for two nights … I mean, I should probably say three, three wouldn’t be *so* bad…” No! The point of the exercise is to work out what you’d be *happy* with. What would make you positively look forward to seeing them? As the Captain says, if the answer is “literally zero nights. The only way I’d be happy is if they were staying in a hotel and I was driving and could literally leave any time”, THAT IS LEGIT. If it’s “frankly, I don’t want them near my state”, ALSO LEGIT.

    The point of this exercise isn’t to figure out where your boundary should be, and you aren’t letting yourself down or boundarying wrong if your ideal answer is zero but you decide to offer 2 nights twice a year. The point is to allow yourself to *want* something and to identify what that is, so that if you decide to compromise, you know that you’re compromising. People who are good at boundarying are allowed to compromise: you just need to know what you’re compromising and why.

    So do it several ways. Test yourself on no nights. On literally not seeing your parents all year. On having them for two nights, out of the house all day, and taking you out for dinner to say thank you. Ignore the guilt, and the, “But fi said that, they’d say…” and pay attention to the feelings of relief, happiness, sickfeelingness and stress that you feel for each version. If you’ve really visualised and imagined and slightly fallen in love with the vision of Your Flat, Parentfree, For One Whole Year, it is easier to stick to your boundary because you genuinely feel like you have something to lose.

    Good luck! I hope it works out. 🙂

  14. solecism said:

    I know that you wrote in and received excellent advice regarding boundaries around your parents visiting you. I just want you to know that the corollary is also true: if and when you choose (your choice! it will be your choice!) to visit your parents, you can set boundaries around that too, and it is just as important.

    My visits to my mom and her husband at their farm declined over the years because of how toxic they were together. The only way I would consider it is if we could bunk in a physically separated space–say, a tent in the yard or now the custom RV/horse trailer. And we usually only day-trip to visit my dad or stay in a hotel. When my mom and her husband visited us, we set limits on the visit, such as no bringing dogs into our dog-phobic cat’s house. When my stepfather agreed to help us move from my apartment into the house we bought and then turned up with his dog, we quickly made arrangements to ensure the 2 animals did not come in contact, and the dog smell didn’t come into the house to frighten our cat.

    In addition to practicing setting low-stakes boundaries before the next parental visit, be sure to have plans in place to simply not be at home if they should decide to drop in despite your no. Make sure they never have their own keys to your apartment (do not offer spare keys for their use). Be plenty busy during the visit so that you simply cannot be available to let them in on their schedule. Nothing says unwelcome like being locked out of lodgings for possibly hours. This adds to their discomfort and likelihood of them making other arrangements or rethinking the whole expedition. It will be hard to do these things, but the more you arrange the circumstances to reinforce your verbal no, the more likely they are to hear it and take it seriously next time.

    Good luck.

  15. I don’t have direct advice about the boundary-setting.

    I do have a comment about a helpful thing to do when resetting boundaries and expectations in a troubled but valued and salvageable intimate relationship in general, and it is this:

    At the same time, actively work to maximise positive interactions.

    Meaning, wherever it is possible for you to make a thing that is positive for both (all) of you to happen, try to do that thing.

    It’s really artificial at first, but ithat doesn’t matter so long as it is sincere, and it is super helpful.

    When you can truthfully say a pleasant thing, say it.
    If there is a conversation you can have that will go well, even if it’s completely trivial, have it.
    If there’s a thing you can do together that you genuinely enjoy, try to do it more.
    If you have silly jokes in common, keep them running.
    If there is a compliment you can truthfully give, give it.
    If there is a thing you appreciate, express that.

    Even if they’re tiny. Especially if they’re tiny.

    I swear, this has helped save many of my relationships. The more positive interactions you can manage with a person, the better you like them, the less overwhelming the bad interactions become, the more comfortable you get, there are a whole lot of subtle effects.

    Now, it’s tricky. I do NOT mean, give in where you want to say no, agree when you want to dispute, spend time and money you don’t want to spend, any of that. In your case, you’re going to be working wth your therapist and on your own to handle that stuff, which is awesome. This isn’t really even related to that, it’s more of a scaffolding to help hold things up while the work is ongoing.

    What I do mean is, where there are non-problematic, pleasureable parts of your relationships with your parents, try to play them up, make them take up more of the overall space, and pay attention to what they are and how much of the overall relationship they take up.

    They will probably, not certainly but probably, start to reciprocate as they discover that they enjoy this sensation.

    I started doing this when my marriage was in an incredibly rough spot, and ten years later it’s more-or-less automatic, we all do it, and I can still see the benefits.

    • JenniferP said:

      Very, very wise advice.

    • Kacienna said:

      +1 to this! I’m working on having a positive relationship with someone I have to interact with for Reasons, and this definitely helps!

    • Serin said:

      Yes to this!

      The spouse once showed me an article predicting how long marriages would last based on the ratio of positive to negative interactions. The thing that stunned me, though, was how trivial the positive interactions could be and still have an impact — “Pass the salt, please,” in a pleasant tone of voice, was enough to make a difference.

      • Jane said:

        This doesn’t really surprise me, though? I feel kind of ashamed of myself for this, but a pleasant customer service interaction is enough to make my day a lot better. It’s more exaggerated when I’m stressed, but there have been multiple times when a cashier or a barista speaking to me in a gentle tone of voice and smiling almost made me cry with relief.

        • Jane said:

          and that’s not necessarily someone I have to see again.

        • Kacienna said:

          I’ve also had pleasant interactions with strangers brighten my day significantly, and I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of. Humans are social animals (even introverts like me) and it makes a lot evolutionary sense for us to have positive feelings associated with being accepted/having good standing in our primate troop. Or, from a different perspective, it’s great to have enough sense of connection to your fellow human beings that you can find joy in those interactions (though I know from my own experience that it can also make me more vulnerable to bad feels from minor negative interactions with strangers as well),

          • Jane said:

            x100 to feeling vulnerable to bad feels from negative interactions with strangers, unfortunately.

            I do feel like it could be useful to keep customer service interactions in a framework of “this person is doing their job very well! I am very appreciative that they are doing their job in this fashion!” When one (ahem) is in the habit of having emotions hijack reality, it’s really good to have at a touchstone for said reality.

          • I do love hearing the relief in someone’s voice when I’ve called their company/business because something has gone sub optimally, and I’m nice about it instead of a douche. It’s like, I can make this person’s life better, or at least not worse, by just being understanding. And usually, they bend over backwards to make things right for me, because the human interaction with me is positive and they like the positive.

            Seriously, if I’ve been on hold for a while, I joke about it having given me time to catch up on Facebook, because I sincerely don’t mind. And when people have had long phone queues all day, they’ve had to deal with a bazillion cranky people, my sincere niceness shows up in sharp relief and I get such a buzz out of the happy in their voice.

  16. Ah yes, parental boundaries. My parents are the exact opposite (i.e. they baby me a lot of the time) but the same boundary issues apply.

    I can confirm that the good captain’s advice is spot on because that is pretty much the only thing that has worked for me. When my mother found out I was pregnant, one of the first things she said was “we (meaning herself, my dad and my brother) will come and stay with you for a couple of weeks before and after the birth.” Some people would welcome this, but my mother is a classic Darth Vader parent and I would have cut her out of my life years ago if it wouldn’t have meant losing my other relatives. I was absolutely unequivocally NOT prepared to expose my newborn baby (and myself, in a vulnerable postpartum state) to the myriad evil bees with which she would have filled my house. I had to go through the following:

    “It’s lovely to hear you want to be involved, and it will be nice to see everyone, but now we’ve turned our guest room into a nursery, I’m afraid we don’t have room for an extra three adults to stay in the house.”
    (Mother: “How dare you try and stop me seeing MY grandchild! I have a RIGHT to see MY grandchild! FAAAAMILY etc”)
    “I am not trying to stop anyone visiting, but we do not have the capacity to have overnight guests, especially with a newborn baby to look after.”
    (“We’ll be there to help you. You WILL need help! I did, so you certainly will!”)
    “Thanks for offering, that’s very nice of you. I’m sure we’ll manage fine, but it would be nice if you dropped in for an hour or two each day you’re staying in the area. Let me know if you want any ideas about fun stuff to do for the rest of the time you’re here.”

    Which is how I eventually persuaded her to abandon her idea of descending on us and sharing our space for a week, and instead staying in a hotel for three nights and doing bite-sized visits on each of those days.

    I’ve found that the trick is to set one boundary at a time, don’t try and throw everything at them simultaneously, and don’t be sidetracked until you are sure the message has been received and understood.

    • loonybrain said:

      Seriously, what is WITH people who act like grandchildren are their right and property? This is something I’ve NEVER understood but always found deeply creepy. I mean, seriously, if you want small children, MAKE EM YOURSELF, or go volunteer with children! Don’t just… act like your offspring are contractually obligated to make them for you and then let you do whatever you want with them!

      • Light37 said:

        “I am entitled to grandchildren and unlimited time with them” people rarely spring full-grown from Zeus’s forehead. They’ve usually been that kind of toxic with their children. Seeing their children as an extension of themselves. Or I’ve seen them try to use the grandchildren as a do-over for things they objected to about Child.

        And yes, it’s a deeply self-centered view of the world. “My children owe me grandchildren!” was the rallying cry of someone I know. You will not be surprised to hear that his children won’t let him within a country mile of the grands. They know exactly what he’s like.

        • Hmm – that’s probably one of the main reasons I don’t have children. My Mum had various favourite comments to make to me as I was growing up, especially since my Dad was sexually abusing me – she saw me as the guilty party. One regular comment was (to other onlookers) “she’s good breeding stock”. Another one (also delivered in public on occasion) was “If you sleep around, I’ll keep the babies”.

          Not only did I never sleep around, thanks to my parents I have had no sexual relationships. Ever.

          • That’s… horrifying. I’m so sorry.

          • perlhaqr said:

            Sometimes I really despise my species. This is one of those times. What the fuck, parents.Planegirl, What, The, Fuck?

          • Oh my FSM. Jedi hugs as well as Jedi any other pleasurable indulgences of your choice.

          • mstabbity said:

            “she’s good breeding stock”

            OMGWTF. I just can’t WTF hard enough. All the jedi hugs, I don’t even have words for how massively inappropriate and cruel and unacceptable that is.

          • Thanks everyone for your kind words. Things are better now – luckily I am a curmudgeonly old git and am quite peculiar, so the single life suits me!

      • NorahMancer said:

        I had an encounter once with someone who almost bluescreened when I said I wasn’t planning on having children. It pretty much devolved into, “But if your parents say you have to, then you have to” vs. “No I don’t”. She was getting quite frustrated with me, like a parent trying to tell a child that yes, they do have to go to school. I in turn could not seem to get it through to her that there was such a thing as not caring what your parents thought, and that their words didn’t automatically have the force of law.
        Admittedly, I am the kind of person who thinks to herself, “What would happen if I didn’t put on clothes today? Hm, people would stare at me. I’d probably be arrested, if not held for mental concerns. Also, I’d be really cold. Yeah, wearing clothes today is a good idea.”

        • My mother genuinely believes that “the law says” a child has to do everything their parents tell them to do until they turn 18, because the parent is legally responsible for the minor. Her reasoning was that if I went out against her wishes and did something illegal, she’d be held responsible as my parent.

          It was a long time before I realised that the fact that here in the UK the age of criminal responsibility is 10 meant all of that was bullshit. Now I sometimes work in law enforcement I can see even more clearly how tenuous a grip she has on it. I would dearly love to say, “WHICH law do you think says that? Because I can tell you exactly which piece of legislation you were breaking (the Children’s Act 1988) when you imprisoned me in your house at 16 because you didn’t want me to go see my friends.”

          Not that I’m bitter about her still blaming me for being sexually assaulted after having my soft drinks spiked with alcohol as a teenager, because she didn’t want me going out in the first place therefore it was my fault.

  17. Elf Krystal said:

    Excellent advice Captain and amberxebi . I have always had difficulty setting boundaries for others and as a result get walked all over constantly. Trying to set up boundaries, even one at a time when you are a people pleaser is HARD. For example, MIL came over, when she had a key, and changed the shower curtain; and bedspread on our bed, which was a big surprize when we got home. We’re supposed to be happy for the new stuff and not shocked at the intrusion. Also I am a nurse, and one day during conversation at dinner asked me, “So, How many people have You Killed during your long career?” Since my identity is all wrapped up with being a caring person that was like a kick to the gut. Evil Beeesss…… At least we got the house key off her.

    • loonybrain said:

      WTF, if someone came and changed my sheets without me knowing about it, I would FLIP OUT. That’s such a creepy thing to do! I mean, I don’t even allow other people to do my laundry unless they ask first. (Reason being an unfortunate accident involving detergent I was allergic to.) To have someone who doesn’t live with me just up and change shit without warning is horror movie crap.

      Seriously, we teach kindergartners not to take other people’s things!

      • boutet said:

        My MIL came by while I was in hospital after the problem-riddled second birth and did my laundry. And folded. My underwear. My worn and battered pregnancy underwear that are best gathered and burned and never, never pass the eyes of any person but me. It took me almost 2 months to feel calm enough about it to bring it up with her because otherwise I probably would have yelled or cried. Or both. “Help” is not helpful if it is unasked and intrusive.

        Happily MIL doesn’t have bees, just a lower threshold of privacy than me. She accepted that I don’t want that level of help and hasn’t done anything like it since.

      • Heh, reminds me of my own MIL. She’s mostly very nice and always well meaning, but doesn’t have a great grip on my boundaries. Once I was staying with them for a while but had to nip home for a couple of days in the middle. To avoid lugging heavy bags around three times, I brought everything I’d need for the whole trip at the beginning, then took my dirty laundry home with me and left the clean stuff at their house for the rest of my stay.

        When I returned after popping home, I found that MIL had gone through my bags, taken out all my clean clothes and washed them. They were soaking wet and there was no dryer. I had literally nothing to wear the next day and had to wear my husband’s T-shirt and shorts. In December, in Scotland.

        I mean, it was nice of her to try and help but it was not nice of her to go through my stuff and I was super furious.

        • kathleen wyatt said:

          Depending on what part of Scotland you are in, t-shirt and shorts in December might be considered a tasteful outfit for going out on a Saturday night. Seriously though, I would be furious too! My ex-mil could be somewhat overbearing and meddlesome, but she never went through my belongings. What the hell are some people thinking?

        • I know the thought behind the helping may be kind, but surely it’s common courtesy for the helper to ask the helped “Would you like me to do [laundry, house-cleaning, etc]? There seems to be a sense of “we’re family, we don’t need to ask”, as has been mentioned up-thread.

      • hellephant said:

        That was like a few years ago (I was still in high school) my paternal grandmother was staying with us and when I’d gone out one day she’d decided to clean my bedroom. She also decided to not mention that she’d done it, let alone where she’d put any of my stuff, which resulted in me running around the house on the first day back at school frantically looking for my school shoes, right up until she casually looked up from her coffee and said “Oh, I put them at the top of your wardrobe”. Where I never put any of my stuff. Needless to say, I was not happy.
        Nthing boutet’s comment of “‘Help’ is not helpful if it is unasked and intrusive”

  18. Evie said:

    Oh LW I feel for you. My parents were never this bad, but one in particular did have trouble creating and respecting boundaries. E.g.:
    Me: I’m sorry but I can’t be an audience for conversation about x family history topic anymore.
    Them: you’re horrible and unsupportive!
    Me: I’m sorry but this topic is very painful for me to discuss and it’s been everywhere in all our covers around and I need a break.
    Them: painful?! For you?!!! You don’t know what pain is (monologue about how I could never understand etc).

    As a result the last time I moved, while this person knew I was moving, and to what area, they didn’t know my address for at least the first 6months.
    “We can help you move!”
    “Thanks but I’ve got it sorted”

    “We can give you a lift to your place!/pick you up for activity!”
    “I’ll get myself there thanks”

    “We still haven’t come by to see your new place!”
    In my head: yeah I know. For good reasons!
    Outloud: “maybe next time/another time/soon”

    The effect was that they learned that it was a freaking privilege to be in my space and so (for the most part) they were on their best behaviour when I finally did allow them to visit. It helped that I was so flat out and perpetually exhausted with work at the time that I really couldn’t be so available to them, and was in a perfect position to be grumpy about any infringements on my time to help bolster boundaries.

    One thing about your letter concerns me though – and it might have already been addressed – but if your mum lives far enough away from you that she stays over for several days for job interviews, have you thought about what is going to happen if she lands one? Because I think it will be far too easy for her to “just stay for a couple of weeks” while she (and your dad too?) gets her feet under her – starts the new job, finds a place to live etc. and I do not think for a moment that you want to do that – if only cause these things can take a bunch more time then they are often expected to and your parents are not going to be the sort who self evaluate and realize they’re cramping your style. So I hope to high heavens that for your sake you can get into the habit of setting boundaries before this happens.

    I wish you courage and strength and a super busy season at work which leaves you super decided about the need for your own space. Jedi hugs if you want them!

  19. neverjaunty said:

    LW, a suggestion around guilt and your parents’ needs: reframe asserting your boundaries as something that is ALSO good for them. Because it is. Expecting and encouraging people to treat you with equal courtesy and honor your boundaries is sensible, and is good for them, even if they hate it like a five year old being told she can’t have candy for dinner.

    (Of course this isn’t meant to say that you SHOULD prioritize your parents’ needs! Only that reframing it may be a way to squash the guilt Jerkbrain.)

  20. Clarry said:

    More scripts:

    No.
    You’re going to need to get a hotel.
    You can come, but the door is going to be locked. You’re going to need to get a hotel.
    No.
    Because it didn’t work for me last time.
    It just didn’t work.
    Hmmm. What a shame. (Distracted look.)
    No. That’s not going to work for me.
    No.

  21. amockingbird said:

    Captain, thank you for that link at the top of your answer. I recognized too much in what LW said. I started to write out ways but realized everyone here will know them, they will know the horrible tangle of being made to feel like the parent and a genius and an incompetent child in such quick succession you get dizzy. Of feeling you can’t say no because they do so much for you, and that maybe saying yes will pay some of that debt, either emotional or financial.

    But that link. I recognize so much I’ve been sobbing uncontrollably for half an hour, have worried the cats, and will probably throw up soon. But as you all here will also know, it feels like an exorcism. Because it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault I feel like I fail totally at being an adult. That I feel alone and angry and scared to be vulnerable or close to people. That I run towards people who act indifferent to me (that’s more NPD mother than parentification, but y’all know that one, too). Therapy is awesome, everyone should do it. And the fact that this summer I recognized how harmful my coping mechanism was, even if I can’t yet replace it with a healthy one, is huge Yay therapy! progress. But sometimes, what you really need is to find out it’s not you, you’re not a freak, not a failure, and not alone. So thank you, and thank you to the Awkward Army, and to all who have shared the messy, ugly, scary parts of themselves. Thank you. It’s only by being able to recognize the faulty wiring that we can start to fix it.

    • @amockingbird – you’re not alone. I totally get what you are saying. Good luck with the therapy, and Jedi hugs from me.

    • diloolie said:

      I’m also doing the recognition right now, and though I’m not crying, I think I’ve disassociated and the understanding of just how messed up I am on top of the already-messed-up bits are just…. really messing me up.

  22. Consolaré said:

    On a practícal note: Are you renting? You can say, probably truthfully, that any more than x days and they have to be put on the lease which requires a background/ credit check. I’m guessing they won’t pass but if they did, your rent would go up and you need the money up front. I did this with a sister.

    • VA said:

      These sound like people who would be only too glad to add their names to LW’s lease, because then they would have more control and access to their child.

    • Cactus said:

      I’ll probably have to use that one with my MIL sometime. She always wants to stay for much longer than I would ever want (and longer than anyone else has ever stayed). But the limit for guests in our building is a week. The last time she came, even though we knew she’d be in town for 10 days, we didn’t worry. since she said she’d stay with other relatives for most of the time. But that was either a ruse in order to get us to agree or something she totally forgot to do, because they were out of town almost the entire time she was in town, and so she was staying at our place illegally.

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      While this sounds like a great idea on its face, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading CA comments it’s that people who don’t respect boundaries don’t respect reasons, either. You can have the most airtight, logical reason for wanting them to do something, and they’ll just use that as ammunition or a “problem” they can “solve.” It sounds easier to give a good reason, but it winds up causing more problems. The difficulty of just saying “no” winds up being more effective.

  23. Polychrome said:

    Healing — I am sure you have heard the phrase “put on your own oxygen mask first”. It’s what they tell parents to do on airplanes, in case of a drop in cabin pressure, because if they black out from insufficient oxygen while trying to selflessly help their little ones first, everyone is hosed.

    You might be right that your parents are actually incapable of adulting. One thing that some of the suggestions here assume is that if you train your parents, they’ll improve. They might not. It sounds like they’ve had a lot of lessons from the school of hard knocks (finances, lost jobs) and they just sort of live and don’t learn. Some people are like that. You might have a kind of love for them that includes, now that you are an adult, a special sort of tender anguish at seeing them genuinely bewildered and devastated that their latest terrible decision has had a bad outcome.

    You will be in a better position to be there for them over the long term if you limit how much they can damage your fledgling adulthood. Assume the worst case scenario: they are going to continue to trail disaster wherever they go. It will be better *for everyone* if these disasters are happening someplace other than in your home and your life. Think of your home and your life as kind of a ?safety deposit box? I can’t quite think of the right metaphor, but something that has to be kept safe and dry for everyone’s sake. The better you make your life, the more you genuinely can act as the kind of resource your parents want you to be. It sounds like they run through jobs, savings accounts, good fortune, employer patience etc. etc. Don’t let them run through you!

    I mean, don’t feel guilty if they run through your patience and goodwill — you can bail, of course. What I more mean is don’t let them literally run through all of your youthful potential, your peace of mind, your ability to establish a stable home of your own. I”m reading your letter as not wanting to bail, just not wanting to get swallowed. Your self-protective instincts are *right on*. You don’t have to explain to them “I’m not letting you sleep through your aimlessness on my couch, I’m not letting you use my home as a base to look for jobs right where I live (as has been mentioned above, this sounds like more invasiveness in the making) FOR YOUR OWN GOOD”.

    But you can quietly think it to yourself, at those moments where you need your resolve stiffened in a way that also affirms your love for your flawed parents. You actually can have both of those feelings at once.

    • moseyonby said:

      @Polychrome Wow, thanks for such a great comment (I’m LW). Especially the bits about “not wanting to bail, just not wanting to get swallowed” and being able to have seemingly opposite feelings for my parents at once. Thank you. (Okay, and WHOA at the insightfulness of the “tender anguish” comment–oooffff! That so hits home.)

      • Polychrome said:

        Aww, you are welcome and thanks for telling me. And the tender anguish — I am fortunate that for me it’s not been my parents, but I do have a relative for whom I feel this feeling so heartbreakingly often, and it is tough. You are figuring it out early, which is going to help you so much I think!

  24. lizinthelibrary said:

    I’m so grateful I grew up in a “manners are for family” family. Husband and I always use please/thank you with each other. I was thinking about teaching manners to our little toddler and realized how much easier we have it since she is already seeing it modeled. And we don’t have to think about modeling it. (FWIW, Please she got down quickly since we wouldn’t hand her things until she said please, but once she had it, there was no motivation for thank you.”

    • lizinthelibrary said:

      Erm, I now realize that comment sounded braggy and “my family is awesome” and I’m sorry! I was trying to make a point in support of the “manners are for family” argument from above.

    • solecism said:

      I early on got into the habit of thanking my mom for making dinner. Don’t know where or when I picked it up, but it’s pretty ingrained to thank whoever the cook is for whatever meal. I remember the absolute shock when my maternal grandmother came to stay with us for 3 months while I was in high school and my mom was across the country for a work gig. I finished dinner, thanked her, and started upstairs to my room. My grandma launched into an attack on me because she thought I was mocking her or something. Did not compute. That’s when I began to realize that my FOO might have been seriously fucked up, and there’s a reason my mom doesn’t talk about family, herself, or so many things.

      So yes, manners have value in even the most routine, daily activities in life. Such little things set the tone in so many ways. Go you for the family norms with your toddler.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      My flatmate has an 18 month old who’s been going through a phase of picking things up and handing them to people so we just thank her like it’s the BEST! THING! EVER! every time she does. She talks a lot but it’s still 99% incomprehensible so no idea yet if it’s effective.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        At about the same age, my youngest saw me folding laundry, marched up, scolded me in Toddlerese, and began handing me socks. They want to be helpers and they do pick up manners–in a spotty and inconsistent way, but they do.

    • Lou said:

      Toddler will probably pick up “thank you” soon 🙂 My mother used to watch a toddler and, due to modeling (totally unintentionally!) he’d always say “no thanks” to something he didn’t want to do and “bless you” when someone sneezed.

    • We accidentally taught our dog to move out of the way when we said “excuse me,” because we said it as a matter of course, even for her. We didn’t even realize it was such a habit for us until she started moving out of the way. I like that about us.

      • Cactus said:

        Awww. I wish my cats knew those words. …I might have to try training them…but they’ll probably just ignore me.

        • perlhaqr said:

          Dude. Cats. Not happening. 😉

      • Kacienna said:

        I once reflexively said “Thank you” to a vending machine 😛

        • Amphelise said:

          I just did a sort of parrot-shaped laugh at this and have had to try to explain to my 7-year-old what was so funny 😀

        • attica said:

          Hey, I thank my GPS’ robot voice (aka satnav) All. The. TIme.

          • Kacienna said:

            Totally OT, but my husband found a GPS voice file that’s made to sound like GlaDOS from Portal. I have an interesting relationship with my GPS 😉

        • I have been known to apologize to walls after I run into them. Because that’s what you do when you run into something. Apparently.

  25. Jen said:

    LW, be prepared that if your parents are anything like mine, shit WILL get worse, once you start enforcing boundaries, an extinction burst. (Your therapist should have some good ideas for coping mechanisms.)

    Also, you didn’t mention, but if your parents have co-signed for the apartment, it might be a good time to move. It’s one less thing they have over your head. If you’ve been a good tenant in the past and like your current landlord, many will renegotiate a co-signed lease.

  26. nonniemu said:

    “Some families really have a culture that says “manners are for OTHER people, families shouldn’t have to worry about them” and those families will keep me in letters until I am old and gray. I think manners & consideration in your close relationships are even more important than they are for casual social interactions.”

    So much good advice for the LW here from people who have experience with the issue so I have nothing to add there except “good luck in working this out!”, but I HAVE to address the above quote, because holy crap, I am SO HAPPY to see someone else saying what I have said for years. I have horrible family members I refuse to acknowledge even exist anymore, they have been so terrible to some of our (normal, nice) family members. I don’t pull drama, I just don’t speak to them, and if they’re around I tend to just quietly find another place to be (“well I should probably be going, I have laundry I have to get done”, not “OH NO THAT PERSON LET ME LEAVE LOUDLY AND DRAMATICALLY”). And yet I keep being taken on long, monotonous guilt trips of “faaaaamily!” *I* gotta give respect to people who don’t respect the people I love? “Oh” they say, “but we want to spend time with both of you together and so you’re hurting us when we can’t do it.” I’m sorry**, but *I* wasn’t the person who acted in a manner that was selfish, assholish, or sometimes outright illegal, who continues to do so, and who shows no remorse for doing so. I am also not the family members who are ignoring, excusing, and/or glossing over those actions and therefore encouraging and enabling that behavior, making it so that other family members suffer the same things later on. So on what planet is *my* behavior the problem here? I’m sorry**, but no fucking deal. I’ve got better things to do with my life than reinforcing selfish, asshole, and sometimes outright illegal behavior in a (so-called) adult simply because we share a family tree.

    ** just to be clear, I’m really really really really really not sorry. Like, not even a bit.

  27. TheMantisWatches said:

    I would highly, highly recommend the book “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” by Manuel J. Smith. It has been my holy grail for learning to set appropriate boundaries, and is one of my Top Three Most Useful Books in my entire life. I bought multiple copies (it’s a cheap paperback) and give out to my friends whenever I think they could use it.

    The beginning has a section for the Ten Rights each person has for themselves, which, if you grew up with controlling or difficult parents, might be completely unfamiliar to you. Three examples are as The Right to Be Your Own Judge, The Right to Not Have to Justify Your Choices, and The Right to Say, “I Don’t Care”. Even better than those, which take a while to sink in fully, there are descriptions and examples of specific techniques you can use to help set boundaries RIGHT NOW. There is The Broken Record, which is just calmly stating your boundary over and over. There is Fogging, which is agreeing with their point without letting them dissuade you from yours, such as “Yes, it IS selfish to ask you to limit your stay with me, but that is what I’m asking you to do.” There are others. They are powerful and liberating to use. Each is explained in the abstract and then demonstrated through a sample conversation.

    There are also multiple sections which focus on different kinds of relationships, from intimate ones like close family to work relationships to the annoying door-to-door salesman who pops by your house. Each section has example conversations taken from real life situations which point out the mix of actual techniques in action and the counter moves the other person tries to use to deflect your boundaries. These include the mom who wants her daughter to visit more, the co-worker who keeps giving all his work to someone eles, the salesman who won’t give the customer a refund. It can feel a little analytical to break down a conversation into such small components, but in the heat of the moment, that gives me the emotional distance I need to hold strong to my point. I can actually have a boundary conversation with my mom now, where I don’t get upset, where I can keep at it until she actually hears me, where I don’t get overwhelmed with emotions while I’m talking to her, and where I end the conversation reasonably calm and collected and confident that I got my point across. It’s amazing.

    • Clarry said:

      I loved that book. It was a lifesaver for me. Its weakness for me was that it doesn’t help a lot in figuring out what you want. For instance, if I go into a department store to return a toaster I just bought that has proven it doesn’t work, the book helped me enormously in working out how to go in calmly and stating that I want my money back. Great! I needed help with that. The problem with my parents is that I often didn’t know exactly what I wanted. If I was able to figure out that I didn’t want them staying with me and sleeping on my couch in the summer, then I’d use the book to help me repeat that they weren’t welcome to sleep on my couch. I’m sure I was channeling Manual J Smith when I wrote my “no is a full sentence” post above. Trouble is that the LW doesn’t know exactly what boundaries to set, and that’s where the book, I think, falls down. Still, go get the book. Where it’s good, it’s wonderful.

    • Adding this to my To Read list. I’ve checked around the site (I’m still fairly new) to see if there is a reading list somewhere and I don’t see one. The Ravenclaw in me can’t help but want a list of all the great books that CA and Crew mention (The Gift of Fear, Will I Ever Be Good Enough).

      • Anothermous said:

        “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft and “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense” by Suzette Elgin are also things that could be on a CA reading list. 🙂

  28. Helen Damnation said:

    Man is this timely for me. I just moved out on my own for the first time less than two weeks ago, but I’m still really close by, and in my Dad’s work’s catchment area. My parents each have a key to my new house. Dad’s plan is to come by during his lunch hour to take the dog for a walk, which is… helpful? So far there has been an awful lot of helping. Very helpful helping! In my house. With their keys to my house. Without consulting me.

    He says a lot of things about coming over here, letting himself in, and making himself lunch, and even about staying overnight alone sometimes while I’m at work (I do shiftwork, often nights). This has not happened. It is probably mostly a joke? I have said no, only come when I’m there and expecting you, or to take the dog for a walk.

    My parents are mostly really great and loving and respectful and so on, but there have been problems in the past. When they almost got divorced three years ago, it was really fucking awful. I became my mother’s confidante, and I was almost crushed under the weight of her depression. I leant my father money. I tried so hard to stay strong for them. To be calm and placid and loving and not to judge or choose a side, just to love them and be there for them. It was really, really fucking awful, and a big part of why I moved out is I don’t want to be in that house the next time they implode. I just can’t do it again.

    So: Mum with massive abandonment issues, whose sister died a few months ago. Dad whose brother is dying. Probably going to break up again soon. Being very very helpful in my house.

    I have tried to enforce some boundaries. E.g. I put the chain on the door when I was home and asleep and Dad had not mentioned coming over. This caused some pouting the next time I spoke to him but no real fights or problems.

    It’s really hard, though, to enforce boundaries with people who are a) hurting and b) being genuinely helpful.

    I love them a lot, and it’s not actually bad right now. I’m just worried about what it could turn into when (not if) they next break up.

    • BeldamSansMerci said:

      It’s really hard, though, to enforce boundaries with people who are a) hurting and b) being genuinely helpful.

      Oh gods, yes. And sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier with time and practice. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to keep on trying.

      I have an overly-helpful mother of my own, and in the past ~20 years (since I first moved out of her home) she has only found it more and more painful to be forced to acknowledge any boundaries I set in our relationship. It may be to do with her increasing age/frailty; although looking back, it seemed to get worse with every significant step to independence I took in my life (getting married; owning my first house; etc). I wonder if deep down she really believes I will never be able to cope on my own, and my silly insistence on trying to do things without her guidance distresses her.

      Sometimes it’s hard to not just go along with things ‘for the sake of peace’/’for her peace of mind’. I have to remind myself that I need to look after myself, not only for myself (which would be sufficient!), but also for the sake of everyone else around me – the people I live with, the rest of my family. It does none of us any good if I break while trying (and inevitably failing) to live up to the ideal where I meekly acquiesce to everything because “she means well”, “she’s only trying to help”, etc.

      It helps to remind myself what happened the last time I tried – when I lived under her roof, and had zero autonomy in any area of my life (as an adult) because, “my house, my rules”. The effects on my mental and even my physical health were dire. And my mother still wasn’t happy! – because although I had to go along with everything pretty much exactly as she wanted, there was always something more I could have done, or something I should have done better.

      Another thing that helps is to play a game with myself. My mother’s refrain when I fail to appreciate her ‘help’ (because I have wants that are different to what she wants for me/thinks I should want for myself), is “You’re so ungrateful”. Every time I hear any variant of this from her, and manage to let it slide, or respond calmly (if I must respond), I award myself one point. Once I reach five points, I get a prize! (a bar of chocolate or similar.) I’m pretty sure that many people – not least my mother – would have much to say about how this flippant attitude is absolutely disgraceful; but in the moment it helps me keep my cool and react appropriately. Before that, I was at a stage where statements like “Anyone else would be grateful…” were almost guaranteed to start me foaming at the mouth.

      …And when I am reminded that so many people have survived childhoods with genuinely awful, actively abusive parents, I do often feel ungrateful, and selfish, for not doing more to please my mostly-lovely but overly-solicitous mother. “Looking after myself is not selfish” has become an important mantra.

      • Wow – I love your rewards system so much I’m going to give it a go myself. If it prevents one argument, that’s an extra stack of spoons I’ve saved.

        Also, I dunno, I’m not you and I don’t know your mother but that whole “grateful” thing sounds pretty damn abusive to me.

        Call it what you want, but you don’t have to think that other people maybe being in worse situations somehow makes yours any easier. You can’t compare your reality to anyone else’s; if you’re having a hard time that’s what matters to you and whatever YOU feel is valid. Other people’s suffering doesn’t lessen your own. Jedi hugs if you want them!

      • Just because someone else’s situation is worse doesn’t mean yours isn’t bad. Appendicitis might hurt more than a sprained ankle, but the sprained ankle still hurts and needs to be taken care of.

      • Hey. So I’m going to tell you what I told a friend who said pretty much the same thing after telling me TERRIFYING stories about his mother’s emotional abuse, which he felt bad about feeling bad about, because “other people have it so much worse”.

        First, emotional abuse IS active. It is someone making a choice to make you feel bad.

        Second, abuse can always be worse until you’re dead. I had it pretty bad but it could have been a lot worse. It can always be worse. That doesn’t mean I have to feel grateful for the degree of physical abuse my parents stopped at, it means that abuse is abuse, and of course it has lasting effects on you. You are a survivor, just like the rest of us.

        • *nods*

          I recognize the “other people had it much worse– why am I complaining?” I was (mostly) emotionally abused. My brother experienced a lot more physical abuse than I did– our abuser treated one of us as the “good kid,” the other as the “bad kid.”

          But there’s been research on the effects of emotional abuse: http://healthland.time.com/2013/06/05/sexual-and-emotional-abuse-scar-the-brain-in-specific-ways/

          I mean, if I’d actually trusted my own experience, judgment, and perceptions, I wouldn’t have needed a peer-reviewed paper to tell me that emotional abuse affects the part of the brain that handles emotional management. But– CATCH 22– I *did* need a peer-reviewed paper to tell me that, because after experiencing gaslighting for years on end, I didn’t believe I had any judgment.

          *offering a Jedi hand-squeeze of commiseration*

          • mstabbity said:

            I recognize the “other people had it much worse– why am I complaining?”

            Yep. At this point I’ve heard that so many times that I automatically assume it was that bad because I haven’t seen people work that hard to minimize what happened to them without there being something big to minimize.

            My abuser did that too. I still think my sister had it worse, but waking up every morning and wondering if today was the day she started hitting me too was no picnic. It took me a long, looooong time to be able to use the word abuse for what she did to me (at first I typed “what happened to me”, but dammit let’s put the blame where it belongs).

          • Lynne said:

            Huh. That article made me think through something that’s been bothering me that I hadn’t managed to articulate before. I’m capable of feeling empathy, but so often I don’t really, in situations where I know I should. I *perform* empathy if I don’t feel it, act sympathetic and supportive when a friend is going through a hard time because that’s what a Good Person is supposed to do. But presumably a Good Person would be acting that way naturally, and while occasionally I do actually feel it, so much of the time I’m just…cold. I’ve avoided thinking about it because I don’t want to think of myself as…what? Partially sociopathic?

            But maybe it’s childhood scars, a lack of development in those areas of the brain. Maybe I’m not secretly a monster because *I didn’t care* when a close friend’s dad died and she was so broken up about it. Maybe this lack in me is something that can be fixed, something my brain can learn eventually.

            I do think, as the years go by, I might be getting a little better at actually feeling something underneath the performing. Maybe the “fake it till you make it” approach is working, maybe the ice around my soul is slowly thawing and someday I will be able to consistently feel empathy for friends when I am supposed to. I feel for fictional characters in books…it’s not right that in real life I am so indifferent to people – good people! people I like! I know it’s not. 😦

          • mstabbity said:

            @Lynne I used to have trouble feeling much of anything (it felt like I was feeling everything from behind glass) because dissociation was my main coping strategy as a kid. I worked so hard to not feel when everything was terrible all the time that when I was finally safe I didn’t know how to turn my feelings back on. It took a long time for me to even recognise there was a problem and then a bunch more years and a whole lot of therapy to get out from behind the glass. I probably still seem cold at least some of the time because it takes me ages and ages to get attached to people.

            In short you’re not the only one who doesn’t feel things/feel them as hard as you think you should and I don’t think you’re a monster. Our minds and brains do all sorts of weird stuff to try to cope with horrible situations.

          • Leonine said:

            @Lynne: Same. Glass wall and everything. I still process emotion intellectually (I got very strange looks at dinner one evening when we were talking about feelings and I said, “I use my feelings to figure out what I think. What do you use your for?”), but the empathetic feels are definitely there. It’s gotten a lot better since I started sympathizing, first of all, with my child self, who, it turns out, was not to blame for not knowing how to do things that kids don’t know how to do, and for needing to be taken care of as children do. After that, I started making an effort to actually feel what I was actually feeling (instead of denying it or recriminating myself for weakness or pretending to feel how I wish I felt–you know the drill). I started small, using very simple words to explain what I was feeling. I stuck to the basics: happy, angry, sad. Sad was a breakthrough. It was not until I was nearly thirty that I ever felt safe enough to admit to myself that I ever felt sad. Safety is essential. I’m emotionally safe now in a way that I never was as a child. Build a nest for yourself where you can be safe, and that should help.

            You know what, though? You are fine. You are totally fine. It sounds like it just hasn’t been safe in the past for you to feel your feelings, so you don’t. That’s smart. It’s gotten you this far. But if you’re safer now, maybe you can let some of those feelings come out of hiding. But you are totally fine, and you are going to be fine.

          • Lynne said:

            @msstabbity and @Leonine: thank you. That makes me feel better. Like others have said, it would be better if no one else had been there and understood, but I am so glad not to be alone.

            You’re right, I think a lot of it is about safety. I’m in so much of a better place now than I was as a kid, thank goodness, and I do feel safer, but it’s all a work in progress, I guess.

        • Sonata said:

          …Oh man, that ‘worse until you’re dead’. I have a friend whose father very nearly killed him – his uncle found him in time, or he would be dead in the ground a long time ago. And it’s hard not to lay that against ‘one time my dad pushed me over and I fell on a basket and it broke and tore my arm open, and also he tells this story about how one time he pinned me to the floor and sat on me like it’s really funny for some reason’ (ignoring all the emotional stuff, because it’s so hard to credit that on my own account, especially when I can’t trust my memory) and feel like I have nothing to complain about.

          Thank you.

          • Divizna said:

            “he pinned me to the floor and sat on me”
            Huh? There are other people whose parents did such things?
            My father used to knock me onto the bed, pin my hands overhead, and sit on my chest while yelling at me to calm down or he wouldn’t let go as I was struggling for breath. Starting when I was about eight, regular-then-irregular occurance into my twenties (stopped when I was willing to make a scandal and demanded an emergency check-up to prove to him I actually couldn’t breathe when he did that; the doctor said it wasn’t possible to check this, but his hearing me describe it to a third person seems to have made it). (I was thirty when I realised that it wasn’t only physical abuse but also had a sexual subtext. At least in its effect but I’m pretty convinced in his motivations, too.)
            I’ve never heard someone describe anything similar.

          • Sonata said:

            @Divizna
            Yep. I think he’s claimed he had to do it because I was trying to bite him? I don’t remember that. I just remember not being able to breathe, because he was bigger than me, and struggling because I couldn’t breathe, and him using my struggling as a reason that I obviously still needed to be pinned down because I would… hurt him or something? Even though he was way bigger than me?
            I have a vague idea that the confrontation happened because he was trying to get at my leg to see where I had it bandaged from self-harm and I was trying to not let him see that, but that might have been a different incident. Most of my childhood is pretty fuzzy.
            I don’t *think* my father was sexually abusive, but I do remember the time I was reading a parenting book of his (Dr Spock On Fatherhood, I think?) because I read everything I could get my hands on when I was bored, and there was a section on how it was completely normal to be attracted to your daughter as she went through puberty and developed secondary sexual characteristics, and I was absolutely paralyzed with terror. And the sick horror of that has stuck with me for a decade. I don’t know if that’s a ‘normal’ reaction.
            (My father says one of my mom’s friends claimed he sexually assaulted her when he was just giving her a friendly hug because she didn’t like him.)

            Ugh. Family. What could we be if we didn’t have to spend half our lives recovering from our childhoods?

          • You’re welcome. I hope it helps.

            But yes, agreeing with someone above–when I hear someone minimizing their experiences I just assume it really was that bad, because the Dance of It’s Not That Bad is a dance people only do when it really is that bad, it just didn’t leave visible marks most of the time.

          • Divizna said:

            @Sonata
            I feel a bit guilty about having any positive emotion about you having the same horrible experience, but I have to admit that knowing someone on the other side of the world has gone through this carries a chunk of relief as it makes me feel like less of a freak. Hope it makes sense.
            I’m also sorry, of course, because I know how scary that is, especially the first time when you don’t have any clue if he lets go when you stop trying to breathe, or just suffocates you to death.
            (And at least my father didn’t think it was a funny thing to brag about.)

          • Sonata said:

            @Divizna No need to feel guilty – it’s a terrible club, but it’s still a relief to find you you’re not alone in it, even though you wouldn’t wish membership on anyone.

      • Helen Damnation said:

        I see your mother and my mother share the same definition of the word “favour”. In *my* definition, things I don’t want, didn’t ask for, and repeatedly asked you not to do, do not fall under the “favour” umbrella. Which makes me ungrateful.

        Basically, yeah, this seems pretty familiar. And: it’s OK to be upset by your Mum’s actions, even if she’s not evil incarnate.

        • “I see your mother and my mother share the same definition of the word “favour”. In *my* definition, things I don’t want, didn’t ask for, and repeatedly asked you not to do, do not fall under the “favour” umbrella. Which makes me ungrateful.”

          Did you ever get made to express gratitude for being born? I remember thinking I didn’t choose that, it was my parents who really really wanted children and yet I had to be grateful to them? This led to the realisation at the tender age of six that I really didn’t much like being alive so it didn’t seem fair that I had to keep thanking someone for it.

          Conversely, I often express gratitude to my daughter for being born, even if she didn’t do it on purpose. I really wanted children too, and she’s made me very happy.

          • Serin said:

            Occasionally I thank my kid (who’s sixteen) for not being two and a half.

    • Queen of scarves said:

      “it’s not actually bad right now”

      If their help is actually welcome (this is different from objectively helpful), sure.

      But it sounds from your comment on chaining the door like your dad is in the habit of letting himself in even when you are at home. And that seems weird to me. To give you another perspective, my parents have a key to my sister’s place because they look after her children a couple of times a week. But if she is home they ring the bell and wait for her to open. And the only times they go to her place in her absence is when it has previously been agreed. I think the first time they came over (while she was home) after she’d given them the key they let themselves in. My sister and her husband asked them not to do that and now they stick to this boundary. Granted, my parents have (mostly) better boundaries than the examples in this comment thread

      I’m sorry you had to go through that when your parents’ marriage was on the rocks a few years ago. I wish you the best of luck in establishing the boundaries you want with them now. I hope the scripts in the Captain’s answer and in the comments will be helpful to you as well as to the LW.

      • sorcharei said:

        My dad has a key to our place so that if something happens to us, someone can feed the cats. When he comes over for supper or to have us fix his latest laptop crisis, he leaves the key at home. Because why would he need it? He would never use it unless something happened to us and he needed to take care of the cats.

        Remind me to hug my dad extra hard the next time I see him.

        The person who gets to decide if X is an actual favor is the person receivng it. Intent matters somewhat, I guess, but if you don’t want X, then doing X for you is not helpful. It’s an imposition.

        • Similarly, I have a key to my parents place, because if they get hit by a bus, someone needs to take care of things. However, the only time I have ever used it since moving out of my parent’s house was when I was staying with them and was either the last to leave the house (in which case I locked up) or the first to get home (in which case, unlocking).

  29. “In a perfect world, when I see my parents we would…”

    This is gonna sound so horrible, but we would be at their funeral because they died painlessly and simultaneously together in a fiery single-car crash careening off the highway and smashing into a tree without injuring anyone else.

    • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

      Yeah, I had that vision myself a few times.

      • Me too.

    • ashbet said:

      You’re not alone in this, trust me.

    • I’m shaking my head and chuckling dryly, because my mother did die seven years ago, and while I do have moments of sadness over her passing, they are almost always followed immediately by, “But she’d be making my life a living hell if she were still alive.”

    • Lynda said:

      Yep. Makes sense to me.

    • Alli525 said:

      I am there with you – it sounds horrible, but only to people with happy, loving homes. The rest of us know the guilt you had to endure and the strength you had to find just to be able to say that “out loud” to others. ❤

      • I had a happy, loving home and Comradde PhysioProffe’s comment don’t sound unreasonable to me. Abusive parents reap what they sow.

        • Ecchhh, DOESN’T sound unreasonable.

        • Queen of scarves said:

          Seconded.

          Actually some if this thread is enlightening to me about how two-faced abusers can be. I hope I’ll never be one of those “friends” who disbelieve accounts of abuse based on knowing a different facet of the abuser.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      …have spotted each other at the grocery store and they would immediately turn around and walk the other way, abandoning their grocery cart if necessary, because they know they are not supposed to be anywhere near me or any member of my family, EVER, on pain of going back to jail.

      Luckily, they’re both dead.

    • From my perspective, you’re not wishing them pain or loneliness. You just don’t want them to do any more damage.

      My vision is, my father goes quickly and quietly in his sleep, taking the bees with him. Mom gets a chance at life without someone belittling or threatening her every time she feels successful or proud about something. Maybe she finds a new partner who revels in her ideas and supports her growth. Maybe she discovers she really likes being single.

    • Definitely no judgement here. I remember when I was a kid I heard my parents fighting, which they never did because my mother was too fragile, and I was so giddy with excitement I couldn’t sit still. This was it! They were going to divorce! And I could live with my Dad, even if he did have raging temper at least he loved me . . .

      They are still married, co-dependent, and my father and I barely speak anymore so as not to incur my mother’s jealous wrath.

    • diloolie said:

      While leaving me a great amount of money so that I can take care of the house on a minimum wage job without losing it. Yes.

    • Luke B.A. Lady said:

      I offer Jedi hugs, honey.

      It was 8 months from my mother’s cancer diagnosis until her death and she’d shown worrying symptoms for about 6 months before the diagnosis. Once she was finally in the ground, my first thought was, “Man, why couldn’t that have happened sooner?”

    • sleepysunday said:

      Sometimes in brainstorming how to deal with them, my brain wanders into “if they died, I wouldn’t have to worry about this or jump through hoops. That’d be awesome.” Then I’d consider ways that could possibly happen. I felt so guilty the first time but it actually helps reset my stress spiral. It jogs my brain down the path of, if things would be so much better if they were dead, why the he’ll am I trying so hard to please them/cater to their feelings? And then I do what I want or is most convenient for me.

      • Extremely Anonymous said:

        This comment reminded me. When I was thirteen or so, I remember seeing a story in the news about a 12 year old boy who had killed his abusive father and was being tried as an adult. And I remember the bottom absolutely dropping out of my stomach, because it meant there was no way I could rescue myself from my parents. And then I spent the rest of my adolescence reminding myself that I could be tried as an adult whenever I was tempted to daydream about brake cutting or rat poison.

  30. Oceanesque said:

    LW, for what it’s worth, I have a recurring nightmare that my parents have come to stay with me/moved in with me without asking, and won’t listen to my arguments as to why this is a bad idea, and I wake up covered in sweat, and shaking.

    So, you have every right to be stressed about this stuff. This stuff is stressful.

  31. Geranium said:

    Hi, LW. I’ve been through some of the same emotional work you’re looking at. (although thanks be to God, my black-hole-level needy, clueless-about-boundaries, emotionally abusive, mother was so limited in her ability to deal with the world that, once I moved 500 miles away, I was pretty sure she was never going to show up on my doorstep. That didn’t stop me from having recurrent dreams about her doing it, though.)

    Anyway here are a few things that really helped me a lot when I took my first tentative steps at setting boundaries with her:

    – “You can [not do the thing] and feel guilty, or you can [do the thing] and feel crazy.” This was from a story in a book about Adult Children of Alcoholics – a recently married man wanted to spend Christmas with his new wife on a ski holiday, but of course this was bringing out the “Buuut YOU’RE RUUUUINNNNING CHRIIIIISTMAS” chorus. His therapist pointed out to him that he actually had two choices, this first time: go on his ski trip and feel guilty, or go home for christmas and feel crazy.

    This was *soooo* liberating for me! I mean, I was trying to figure out what was the exactly right thing to do or say so that things would come out right and no one would be mad at me and I would be happy, right? Well unfortunately in the early days of learning to set boundaries with parents like these, there actually IS no choice that will be a “good” choice in that sense. Which sucks. But it’s liberating to *know* that! because now you can *choose* which crappy outcome you prefer. And hey, you’ve been living with the “crazy” crappy option all this time — why not try the “guilty” crappy option to see if it’s any better? Plus, knowing that this is how it goes, and that the guilt I’d feel after I said “no” was really *all* about the fact that I had been trained to always say yes, much more than it had anything to do with actual moral guilt. (I have a friend who says, “Of course your parents can push your buttons — they *installed* them.” Like that.) So that meant that, even though I still felt the guilt, the guilt was less powerful and had less power over me.

    – Broken record technique. Someone already mentioned this upthread but I wanted to repeat it because it actually *worked* on my wouldn’t-know-a-boundary-if-it-clonked-her-on-the-head, argue-your-choices-for-a-month-of-sundays mother. The particular variant I learned was to, first, formulate a clear statement of the boundary, and memorize the exact words (or write on a piece of paper for phone conversations). Ideally, make this boundary an “I” statement that focuses on your agency as much as possible.Then, in conversation, you state the boundary in those exact words. Then in response to every pushback you get, you respond with $AcknowledgingPhrase, but $SameExactWords. (eg, “I can understand that, but I am taking a six-month break from hosting you; at the end of the six months I’ll reconsider.”)

    Using the same exact words every time, with the same inflection every time, exactly like a broken record, is the key part of the technique, and I think it is so effective because, honestly, it’s absurd to do that in conversation…. and so doing that tacitly conveys that what they are doing in conversation is equally absurd.

    – Don’t give your reasons. If your family culture is like mine, reasons for decisions are never actually respected; they’re only debated, pooh-poohed, sneered at, argued, bla bla bla… the point is to bully you into changing your mind. Reasons are hooks they will use to engage and try to key you into old patterns. Don’t do it. Be vague. “Just not working for me.” “Realized I need to.” (Never explain *how* or *why* you need to.) That kind of thing.

    (Note that broken record *also* helps with not giving your reasons, because you didn’t put your reasons into the memorized statement! )

    – You said “I don’t know that I believe they can get on without my help.” This was me, so much. But one of the books I was reading said, “You probably feel like your needy parent really depends on you and will fall apart without you. This is almost certainly not true. Your parent will find someone else to be needy at and dependent on, because this is what needy people do.” It was scary, but I took a deep breath and decided to believe the book. And I’m here to tell you *the book was right.* Next time I saw her? She glommed on to somebody else, and turned to *them* for help with all the stuff she used to turn to me for.

    – The most helpful book I read was “Dance of Anger”, because it explained the pushback dance that people do so clearly when you first set a boundary. Watching the response that the book had predicted was going to happen really helped me stick to my guns.

    Good luck, LW. We’re all rooting for you. So many of us have been through what you’re going through, one way or another, and have learned to set boundaries and stop the craziness. If we could do it, you can do it. Good luck!!

    • perlhaqr said:

      I have a friend who says, “Of course your parents can push your buttons — they *installed* them.”

      Holy fuck. Epiphany. *sits here looking stunned*

  32. Kfish said:

    LW, I am sorry that you had to go through all of that, and I hope that you establish boundaries with your family that work well for you. If it helps, please remember that boundaries are not just for difficult families, but an important part of happy family relationships as well. I have a key to my parents’ house, but I still knock and wait to be let in because that’s how I want them to behave at my house. We’re a fairly close group at least partly because of the boundaries, not in spite of them.

  33. moseyonby said:

    Wow… I am shaking. Thank you so much to everyone. I haven’t had a computer for several days and to think that the first thing I get to see when I’m finally back online is my own letter and the responses to my letter is so uncanny and wonderful.
    I just wanted to write in my thanks, and when I have gotten over the shock and the shakes I will join in the fray a bit more, probably later tomorrow evening.
    Thank you all so much for great scripts and insights.

    • moseyonby said:

      Oh sorry–it’s the LW here; I don’t know how to change my handle to something specific to this post.

      • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

        Hi, LW. You are not alone! Hugs!

      • Teppy said:

        Hi, LW. You are definitely not alone, and you can do this!

    • So much love, LW. This is a crowded boat!! You are going to be okay! 🙂

    • SO MANY HUGS TO YOU. I believe in you, LW.

  34. espritdecorps said:

    LW, all this hard work you’re doing will pay off, not just now, but 15-20 years from now with your senior parents. (If you are already their hotel/therapist, I can guarantee they’re counting on you to be their retirement plan/nursing home later)

    My mother has some serious health issues (which she is managing very well, to her credit). While she’s still independent and capable, she’s starting to have difficulties and will need assistance with daily living in the next few years.

    Recently she casually mentioned her plan to move across the country until she was sick enough to need to live in one of our bedrooms.
    16 years of boundary setting came in handy when I told her that if she was planning on our help, she would need to start investing in that now. Either by getting on a waitlist for one of the lovely senior apartments in town that have on-call assistance, or helping to finance the construction of a separate in-law suite on our home.
    Because while I will help to care for her, there is no way we would be sharing the same living space.
    Also, organizing the logistics of a cross-country move, condensing all of her things into one room, while rearranging our lives to care for her, and having all that sprung on us at some undetermined time in the 5 years, Nope.

  35. B said:

    Just going to emphasize what the captain said up there; my parents always ask and plan well ahead of time if they are going to visit. They usually stay in a hotel, even when I offered them a bed when I was in a small apartment; when I have a bigger place with a separate guest bedroom and bathroom, then they usually stay with me. So yeah, it’s perfectly normal for family to ask before visiting (genuinely ask – with “no” or “X month would be better” being easily accepted answers) and to NOT stay in the same tiny space as you when they do.

  36. Myrtle said:

    Dear Healing, congratulations on all the hard work you’ve done! I admire how you have all the right labels for behaviors and motives, rather than the guilt-inducing snarl these relationships usually come with. I admire your bravery and perseverance to get that prize.
    Replying to your concern about your mom- if shes not already working with a “temp” agency, encourage her to list with a couple good ones. Theyll put her in jobs right away and it’s my own experience that employers see a person working in their offices and then want to hire them permanently. The agency is paid a commission by the employer, so they’re very happy to use their inside connections. Agencies also have all the current software to brush up on, and counsel and advise their clients.

  37. Whoa. LW, you have my sympathies. I love my mother and she is a great houseguest, but it stresses me out to no end when she visits because she drives two days from her home state and never tells me how long she is staying! I have finally started to ask her – it’s not an unreasonable question! – but just that little bit of stress is more than I want, so your suffering must be enormous. It was so hard to ask her about her schedule! It is not so easy to set boundaries with family! Good luck. There is nothing wrong with what you want – indeed, it is perfectly reasonable.

    • PS. I do not mean to imply that you do not love your parents. What I did not express well is that my mother has never forced me to be her parent and that we have always had a healthy, good relationship. Even in that situation, it can be very hard to 1. have a parent as a houseguest, even for less than a week, and 2. ask what seems to be a very rude question – “How long are you staying?” – as it seems to imply the guest is not welcome.

      • Kat said:

        Maybe amending the question a little could help? “How long are you staying? I’d like to make sure I’m stocked up on your favorite coffee / snacks / breakfast cereal” could be an option. Or something like “Will you still be here on (day)? (Friend) asked to do (thing) and I’d hate to leave you alone.”

    • Serin said:

      My in-laws used to travel cross-country in an RV to visit us without giving us exact dates! Their reasoning: (1) Because they had the RV, they had a place to sleep other than our house; (2) “If we tell you, you’ll feel compelled to clean for us and take vacation days for us, and we don’t want you to.”

      There is some justice in point 1, but it took years before I was able to articulate to myself, “Why do they need to control whether we clean or take time off??”

      • crooked bird said:

        Argh, I know right? I have an elderly friend I invite over for tea once a week who’s always stressing about me not cleaning the house for her or going to extra effort. I LIKE getting and having the house all clean for a guest, thanks, and putting a candle on the table and giving a little “special occasion” polish to my day. What I don’t like is having to reassure people that they are no trouble. That is the part that feels like trouble to me. Cleaning doesn’t. C’mon folks, I’m a grown-up, inviting you was my choice, cleaning or not cleaning is my choice!

        I guess that’s the “feel compelled” part. People assuming you’re more compelled than you really are, somehow it’s less than respectful.

        • This is exactly what I HATE about having my in-laws over. They’re lovely and I adore them, but it pisses me off when they come to my house and start cleaning and doing the dishes and any other chores they can think of. I know they are being kind and trying to help, but I feel they’re undermining me as a host (I say me not us, because my husband isnt bothered). I love hosting and one reason why is because I love giving others the gift of not doing all that shit for a change.

          Plus, when I manage to put all the hard work I have to put into cleaning and tidying for their arrival, it feels kind of insulting that they turn up and start doing more cleaning, as if mine isn’t good enough or they’re looking for and finding dirt/mess/undone chores. Or as if we’re not good enough hosts, so they have to do the cooking and look after themselves and stuff. I know they don’t mean it that way, but I want to go LOOK WE ARE ADULTS WE CAN LOOK AFTER OUR OWN HOUSE AND GUESTS!

          I still haven’t managed to broach the subject with them because they just laugh if I tell them it’s ok, I’ll do it. I’ll try the captain’s advice 🙂

          • Queen of scarves said:

            So I’m one of those people who, when I am a house guest, tends to chip in with chores. To me it’s a show of appreciation for the hospitality, and, yes, to lessen the additional house cleaning burden that my presence entails. Extent of cleaning and of permission I seek before chipping in depends on how close I am to my hosts.

            I think if someone told me what you wrote above about how you see it as a gift, it would resonate with me and I would stop. It’s a lovely way to frame it, and I think it would be a great way in for broaching the subject with your in-laws. Good luck with it, when you are ready for that conversation!

          • CB said:

            My mother does a very similar thing with regards to cleaning – almost every time she visits, she’ll either comment on the state of the house or get out a broom and start sweeping. I suspect that her motivation is somewhat different from your in-laws – she doesn’t approve of my standards of cleanliness – but whatever the reasoning, it really is annoying behaviour. I think you’re perfectly within your rights to feel somewhat insulted. If someone comes in and immediately starts cleaning, they must have been judging the state of the place and finding it wanting – or at least, that’s the way it feels when it happens to me.

            In my case, my mum’s behaviour means that I’m very reluctant to have other people in my room/house/car etc, because I’m convinced that they will be judging me negatively if it’s not perfectly clean.

  38. DameB said:

    I’ve dealt with parents (okay, really, my mom) without boundaries for a while. I can’t add much to Cap’s excellent advice, which is great boundaries 101. I can offer a small advanced workshop in “dealing with boundary-less parents” by suggesting something to look out for that Cap didn’t mention. Not only will it feel weird the first time you set boundaries, it’s likely that your parents will routinely try to circumvent those in sneaky ways. You should be prepared for this.

    And example: Once, my mother told me that she was bringing her dog to my house when she visited. I told her no. “But she’ll be all by herself all day!” she whined. I explained the reasons and reiterated my reasons. I don’t know why, but I was legitimately shocked when she showed up with her dog.

    “I told you not to bring the dog.”

    “Well, I didn’t think you meant it,” long pause. “What am I going to do, lock her in a freezing cold car while I visit?”

    And she had me there. I couldn’t endanger the dog’s life and I was unwilling make her turn around and drive back three hours and screw up the holiday visit with the grandchild. I sucked it up and let the dog come into my house and hound my cat and generally make everyone’s life unhappy. (Though I insisted the damned thing stay off my leather chair. My mother was, again, shocked.)

    It was a deliberate and explicit violation of my set boundaries and done in such a way that I couldn’t do anything about it… right then. Mom thought she’d scored a victory. And she had.

    But I’ve stopped inviting her up as much.

    I didn’t make a big fuss and say, “Because you deliberately ignored my wishes, I will invite you to my house less.” I just… stopped inviting her up. So, long-term, she lost.

    An example that I could see (speculating wildly from the limited information of your letter): Showing up, unannounced, late one night “because I have an interview in the morning,” and if you suggest a hotel, saying, “But it’s too late to get a hotel room!” or “I can’t afford a hotel room.” That’s straight up putting you in a situation where you have to decide to let your mom violate that boundary or let her be homeless for the night. It’s not right and it’s not fair and, if your mom is anything like mine, it’s entirely probable. I found I did better when I thought about what my mom might do and then I had time to come up with some strategies for dealing with it before it happened. (In my wildly speculative example: keep a list of hotels or airbnb options; simply don’t answer the door when you see it’s her; etc.) Reacting thoughtfully on the fly is hard when you’re also trying to wrestle your emotional demons.

    Also, be prepared to forgive yourself when your folks violate your boundaries and you can’t quite defend them. It’s going to be hard work and you’re gong to fail at it at first. I used to get furious with myself when I failed at maintained a boundary. I finally realized that defending your boundaries is a skill and and, like all skills, you’re going to have to practice before you get good.

    Also, internet high five of deep admiration for getting a therapist and realizing all of this when you’re still young. Took me a much longer time. Hugs if you want them.

    • Zippy said:

      Sometimes we can respond with,”What are you going to do?” Like, “I told you the dog couldn’t stay here, so what are you going to do?” And the answer might be turning around and driving for three hours to get home. And sometimes you don’t want you mother and/or the dog to end up in a ditch, so you don’t say this at the time, but it can be a useful tool. Let them figure it out. They violated a boundary, you’re holding firm to the boundary, what are they going to do? This can be said firmly or nastily or with genuine curiousity.

      A story: My dad’s mom was much worse than either of my parents. In the late 60s my grandmother was going to house sit for my parents while they went somewhere else. There was a fight, it was agreed she would not house sit afterall. When my parents returned, my grandmother had stayed in the house after all. A neighbor let them know that when the police were called because someone was breaking into the house the neighbor was able to identify my grandmother, so she wasn’t arrested. It was the 60s, not sure if this sort of things would slide now. My dad tried his whole life until my grandmother died to both set boundaries and have a relationship with her. It didn’t work, but I think he feels ok about it. And he married 3 different women who are a great deal like my evil grandmother, and planned (maybe not consciously) to hide behind them and let them fight with his mother. That didn’t really work, but he and my step mom are happy with a sort of mother son arrangement.

    • NorahMancer said:

      An especially good trick would be that if you and your mother had a definite agreement (perhaps via email, to avoid “but I never agreed to that!” conflicts) that she would stay in a hotel, then the first night she’s due to arrive, simply be actually elsewhere. If she turns up on your doorstep having violated the plan, she’s now got to get her own self out of that particular jam.

    • B said:

      Hmm, if your mom ever shows up with a dog again like that, would it be possible to board/kennel the dog? (at your mom’s expense, of course) Not saying you did anything wrong!!! Just brainstorming ideas on how to handle the situation if it pops up again! ie, “Either put your dog in X kennel, or go back home”

      • DameB said:

        That’s a great idea if it happens again, thank you. Sadly, the first time it happened was Thanksgiving Day so kenneling was not an option. I think she’s gotten the message about the dog and moved on to new and better ways of boundary violations. Sigh.

    • B said:

      ETA: I should say I’m pretty horrified at the situation; I am NOT a dog person, in fact I am rather allergic to dogs, and a dog in my house would be a full on “HELL NO”.

  39. I have a great relationship with my mum (not that it has always been plain sailing) and I love it when she comes to stay with me. Here’s what she does when that happens:
    1) Waits to be invited
    2) Agrees a schedule in advance
    3) Makes sure her visit fits in with my work, and never pressures me to take time off for her
    4) Offers suggestions of what she’d like to do and listens to mine
    5) NEVER comes into my bedroom uninvited and does not go through my things

    These are the actions of someone who respects boundaries and doesn’t take other people for granted. It’s obvious that your situation, LW, is completely different. If I hated my mum coming to stay it might be unreasonable, but I promise you, you are not being unreasonable. My shoulders were up round my ears reading your letter. I can only endorse Cap’s advice, that setting and maintaining boundaries is something you can practice. It feels very weird to start with but it does get easier.

    Best of luck to you, LW, and I hope that when you try saying “No” to your parents the first, tremulous time, you picture the Awkward Army at your back, armed to the teeth and cheering you on. ❤

  40. Hannah said:

    I don’t have a lot of advice about setting boundaries with difficult people, but I really want to say: I have a great relationship with my parents, and always have, and when they come visit me:

    1. They do not stay with me. They find an inexpensive option nearby (AirBnB is great!).
    2. They ask me what my work schedule is and when I’m available to spend time with them. Sometimes my mom has a work reason to visit my city, and it turns out I’m pretty busy at that moment, so we just have lunch or dinner. If I have to spend a morning working, they’ll do something fun on their own.
    3. They never come for more than a few days.
    4. I always have at least several weeks’ notice ahead of time.

    When I go visit them:

    1. I stay with them, in my former room (the guest room). They do not come in without knocking and waiting for me to invite them.
    2. They understand that I have other things to do in my hometown. They ask me before scheduling family events. (There was ONE incident when I was in college, when my mom scheduled me a haircut without asking and it turned out I’d made plans with a friend for that day. She apologized, I worked out the scheduling with my friend, and it never happened again.) Conversely, I make sure to tell them when I make plans with friends or whatever so they know when it would be a good time to have my brother over for dinner etc.
    3. If I say, “I’m pretty beat from all the socializing, I think I’m going to go read in my room for a few hours,” they say, “Okay, see you at dinner/tomorrow morning!”
    4. Because of all of the above, I’m happy to stay with them for as long as two or three weeks sometimes (ALSO because I know that they are happy to have me for that long), but by the end of that, I’m still itching to get back to my own space that is mine.

    I just wanted to lay all of this out to point out that IT IS NORMAL AND HEALTHY AND GOOD. There are a lot of boundaries in the above paragraphs, primarily having to do with respecting another adult human’s *space* and *time*. My parents do not impose on my space or time without asking me (and honestly waiting for a sincere yes). This is not a sign that I am a terrible daughter! It is a sign that we have an awesome, healthy relationship, in which we understand that the way for us to BEST enjoy and appreciate each other’s company is to respect each other’s needs and wants.

    So basically, if your parents say that any boundaries you enforce are NOT WHAT FAMILIES DO, that is bullshit. The whole REASON I truly, genuinely love spending time with my parents, am excited to go visit them or have them come visit me, is because they respect my boundaries.

    • Clarry said:

      Yep. It was a gigglingly good day for me when I realized that the horrible punishing things I was inflicting on my mother, things like talking to her on the phone only once a week, not discussing my finances, and not sharing hotel rooms when we travel, were the same things my friends with great relationships were doing to (with) their mothers.

  41. Skye said:

    I’m wondering how or whether it changes things if the needy parent is chronically ill. My mom is on disability and has a lot of free time during the week, so she would really, really like to help out with my newborn pretty much every day if she could. I prefer short visits no more than twice a week, but I get nauseous every time I turn down her offers to come over, so it ends up being more. I keep thinking about the sadness and regret I might later feel if I don’t say yes all the time right now. When I do end up giving her more time than I want to, my anxiety kicks in hardcore, with all the sleepless nights and emotional outbreaks that entails. It was always hard for me to enforce boundaries with my mom, but now that she’s sick it’s really, really difficult.

    • Clarry said:

      People with the most fantastic relationships in the world with their parents also feel enormous sadness and regret when their parents pass.

      • Skye said:

        Of course. I’m just struggling with balancing my sense of duty, which was always heavy but seems much heavier now that my mom is sick, with my need to be independent and not responsible for her emotional health. I feel so guilty when I tell her no. I essentially vacillate between guiltily, reluctantly letting her in, and then anxiously, angrily pushing her away again. I can’t seem to stop this cycle.

        • Anothermous said:

          I think maybe what Clarry was getting at is this: you’re going to feel sadness and regret regardless. You would feel them even if your mother were perfectly able, and even if you had a perfectly respectful relationship. Those are not things that you can prevent from happening when your mother passes. So, maybe, accept that that’s going to happen, and then redefine the here and now accordingly.

          It just strikes me how much on CA we all talk about the ways we twist ourselves into knots trying to prevent a future emotion, or emotional reaction. People want to hang onto unhealthy and unhappy relationships because they don’t want to feel lonely, or feel like they’ve wasted their time. People want to bury their own needs so they don’t have to feel like “the bad guy”. So many letters basically come down to “How to I do X without provoking feeling Y?” either in themselves or others, and over and over, the answer is “you can’t.” The older I get, the more I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that my emotional maturity isn’t about learning how to avoid or prevent heartbreak, or sadness, or pain, but how to weather them with grace.

          Sorry, I’ve kind of rambled on here. I guess what I’m thinking is this: your mother’s passing is going to be an occasion full of heart wrenching sadness and regret, no matter what. That, you cannot change. But you can potentially change your panic and anxiety around the time you do have with her now, by honoring your need for independence and boundaries, regardless of your mom’s illness. Much easier said than done, I know–I’m watching my own mother and her sister go through it with their mother (who is very much not well) right now. It’s certainly making me think hard about the inevitable aging of my own parents, and what I will and will not be able to do for them in the future.

          Good luck!

    • DameB said:

      I found I was a lot more willing to enforce my boundaries when I framed it as modeling good behavior for my kid. Yes, she was in nappies, but “begin as you mean to go on”, right? If I want her to be able to tell a dude to stop trying to go up her shirt when she’s 15, I needed to be able to tell my mom to stop pressuring me. If I want her to correct someone who speaks disrespectfully to her, I need to correct my mom when she is rude to me. (And I need to not do it, myself, of course.)

      I also thought of it as setting boundaries FOR my kid. “You ASK HER before you brush her hair,” was simply unthinkable to my mother.

      • Skye said:

        This is really helpful! Thank you.

        It’s interesting that you bring up that physical boundary regarding your child’s hair. I’m struggling a lot with grandparents wanting to watch as my daughter’s diaper gets changed, kiss her all over, put their fingers in her mouth, etc. And put her picture on the internet, too. I am kind of obsessed with protecting her privacy. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m being too overprotective. My mom’s feelings get crushed with one wrong look or comment, so it’s hard to bring this stuff up with her. Which is a big reason why I react by limiting visits so much.

        • Wow, I could have written that myself. Right down to all the ways in which my mother treats my daughter like a toy. The internet? Yeah, that. I told my mother that my husband and I had decided we would not put any photos of our daughter on the internet ever, until she was old enough to understand the possible consequences of doing so herself. My mother mocked this, told people I thought you needed to get a baby’s consent to take a photo of him/her, then after I unfriended her on Facebook, she posted an album of photos of my daughter. My best friend tactfully drew my attention to this, and when I gently confronted my mother, she cut all ties with my friend (whom we had known almost all my life) for being a “snitch.”

          Then she had a go at me along the lines of “you thought *I* was overprotective! Ha, I told you you would understand once you were a mother too!”

          Why, yes I do think you were. You refused to allow me to do ANYTHING you’d never done yourself, for example…

          I explained to her that in my mind, *protective* was respecting and upholding someone’s choices and consent or erring on the side of caution if they didn’t have the capacity to express those; *overprotective* was continuing to err on the side of caution despite it being against that person’s expressed wishes. So if my daughter was, say, 13 and I forbade her to put her picture up on Facebook just in case…whatever, then I would be overprotective.

          Don’t know if that helps you get your own thoughts straight, but either way I get you.

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      One thing that has helped me assuage the guilt in a similar situation (someone wanting a lot more from me than I’m willing to give, but I’m torn about saying no for reasons not unlike yours with your mom), is to set up a schedule that is consistent. So, instead of having to decide on a case-by-case basis – “Can we do thing today? How about tomorrow? How about now? But, you know, maybe tomorrow and the day after that?” – I can just appeal to the schedule. If *thing* is scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4, and I get a call on Friday asking to do *thing*, it feels a bit less fraught to be able to say “hey, we do *thing* on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so not today but I’ll see you Tuesday”, instead of just issuing a series of nos. (It also really simplifies the decision-making process for me, which is great when I don’t have the spoons to logic myself into or out of doing something – instead of having to weigh and consider all the variables, I get to just check the calendar, and then acquiesce or decline based on the day of the week.)

    • Clarry said:

      Your mother’s illness doesn’t change the basic principles, but it does add some convolution that makes it harder to sort out. The big convolution I see is that your mother is chronically ill herself but she wants to help with your newborn. No, chronic illness/disability means she need care herself, not that she’s able to care for an infant. So first you have to untie that knot. After that, it becomes easier. To care for a parent, and to do it with boundaries, you have to:

      -Consider what your mother genuinely needs in terms of care.
      -Distinguish that from what she’s using her illness to manipulate you into thinking she needs but that she merely wants.
      -Think about what you’re capable of providing given that your big responsibility is to your baby (and yourself).
      -And you have to consider what you want to provide for her given that you have a history of being manipulated.

      It’s especially difficult given that all of those will legitimately change over time. Baby’s needs change a lot. Feeding schedules change as they grow. Sleep schedules change. They catch cold this week and are over it the next. They start sleeping through the night, then might start teething and wake up. You’ll do your reasonable best to keep up, but you’ll never get it down exactly. Similarly, folks with chronic illnesses and disabilities have needs that change too. People do improve with physical therapy and meds, then might get injured again. It is hard to keep up. And your stress levels, anxiety, feelings of nausea, that’s all going to vary too.

      Once you’ve figured out, sort of, what you’re able to provide, you’ve got yourself a boundary, and you can start stating it and enforcing it.

      • sorcharei said:

        Actually, depending on the chronc illness, it’s entirely possible for a person with a chronic illness to engage in appropriate self-care AND also care for an infant. Nor do all chronically ill people require care from others. It’s not always possible, of course, and the parents of the infant have to make that call based on the specific circumstances in play. But a blanket statement that equates “chronically ill” with “incapable” is ableist as fuck.

    • diloolie said:

      I want to know this, too, because my mother has MS and while we live in the same house, she still does push boundaries.

  42. Amandor said:

    I’m a parentified child too! My parents, who are divorced, loved to use me as their middle person. I too am learning boundaries, or even what they are half the time. It’s hard, amirite. I’m 33 and honestly, no matter how many times I would try to tell my parents to back off, or whatever it never worked. I finally stopped taking to both of them earlier this year. So, while on hand I feel like a terrible and ungrateful daughter who’s being over dramatic, I also feel that weight of carrying their burden off my shoulders and I feel like I can breathe and figure out my life on my terms finally.

    So, if you totally want to stop communication with your parents just to figure yourself out without them I think that that would be wonderful. You know, teenagers and college kids get to go through that life stage where they limit conversation with their parents, effectivly limiting their parent’s influence so they can figure things out themselves, and we never got to do that. Life stages are important so when you skip one, it affects you. So I’m 33 and I feel like I’m going through this life stage late, but I also know that it’s the best thing for me right now. I can feel things actually coming into focus of what I want, instead of what I should be doing, or what I think society says I should be doing, or essentially what my parents think I should be doing.

    I’m going to be honest, I’m hella depressed and have suicide ideation daily but it was so much worse last year, and this focus that I’m attaining from just cutting my parents off for now, has given me more hope in which to keep going.

    So if you need to just cut your parents out for a while, you totally should. There’s an odd clarity that comes from doing so. I wish you the best in your endeavor to learn what you want, what boundaries you want, and becoming your own person in your eyes and not your families eyes.

    • @Amandor I’m so sorry you’re struggling with depression and suicide ideation. Thank you for your comment, and I hope you continue to enjoy the feelings of liberation living life on your own terms is giving you, even with some of the doubts that flare up. I really appreciate your words here 🙂

    • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

      I salute you for having the strength to find out who you are and what you want!

    • Gallantqueer said:

      I don’t talk to my Mom, who was my abusive main caretaker. I totally also went through increased depression and suicidal ideation after making the decision.

      Friendly reminder: its okay to go to the hospital even if you think you’re capable of keeping yourself safe. If you can afford it. I went to the hospital last Monday bc resisting the urge to hurt myself was wearing me out. It was a good decision bc it helped me stabilize more quickly. Yes, mental hospitals aren’t fun and can sometimes be infuriating in their own right, but they can be a good tool. You just have to stick up for yourself

      • Amandor said:

        The problem is, is that I don’t know how to stick up for myself. I’m obedient as hell and always end up doing what others tell me, even if it’s something I feel really strongly about. I probably should have stopped talking to my mom 10 years ago, but definitely should have 6 years ago when I told her I was sexually abused and she told me to get over it already. It takes me a long time before I’ll finally stick up for myself.

        Last year I went to check myself in the hospital but they sent me home because they said I didn’t belong there. They sent me to DBT intensive outpatient program, where I forced myself to do things against my will so I have a lot of resentment. But you better believe I go around telling people they have the right to choose what they want to do, since I don’t have people telling me that in real life. One day I’ll be able to say it to myself and believe it.

  43. “Well, if you don’t have a reason why I can’t come visit, then why don’t I just go ahead and book the airline tickets?”
    Yeah, that’s what my mom said to me when I tried to not give reasons, after putting me through several rounds of ‘But whyyyyyyy?’. Any suggestions for scripts for that?

    What worked for me (the most recent time, at least) was handing back the awkward ball with a combination of ‘But whyyyyyy won’t you listen to me?’, the actual reason why*, and ‘Look what you pushed me into! I didn’t want to talk about this and poke fingers into my emotional wounds that are still bleeding, but you made me, you monster!’ I handed her the exact same sort of crap she was handing me, except that I knew what I was doing was manipulative and wrong but I had run out of care. I don’t like being a monster – especially when it works.

    * In my case, the real reason was ‘The last time you visited, I had a full-blown anxiety attack and started having one again every time I needed to think about you the next few weeks.’

    • Geranium said:

      “Well, if you don’t have a reason why I can’t come visit, then why don’t I just go ahead and book the airline tickets?”

      That framing is so telling, isn’t it? Entitled much?

      • Divizna said:

        The reason they can’t come visit is that it’s been made explicitly clear they’re not invited.
        Should be obvious, but for boundary-ignoring people, it isn’t.

    • Yeah, I got a lot of whyyyyy won’t you talk to me? in the early years of my disengagement, and the answer (“Talking to you disrupts my life in serious ways, as I spend several hours immediately afterward crying and am emotionally labile in ways that I find upsetting and sad for many days afterward, and I have shit to do.”) was both unlikely to fly well and also kind of upsetting to contemplate saying *to my abuser*.

      Sometimes all you can do is Let It Be Awkward, and continue being your own best Team You Member.

  44. Epiphyta said:

    CW: homophobia

    Hey, I’m 50 and I got to set a boundary with a parent today! Which is fun at Bullshit O’Clock in the morning before you’ve had your tea, when your friends are pinging you because someone has dropped a load of homophobic religious argle-bargle in the comments section of your FB page, that someone being your parent, and they are reluctant to launch the usual paean of “Sing, Muse, of WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS EVEN”. Bonus points for “I’m sorry I am a terrible parent” being the first line. Whee!

    Even after living well away from my biofam for 30 years, my first reaction was “OMG if I say anything they’ll be so maaaaaaaaaad”. Happily, that was overridden by “One of the women who commented earlier waited 25 years to marry her wife. One of the men helped his husband fight for custody of the children of his first marriage, and then worked to clean up the emotional muck left by the same sort of homophobic religious argle-bargle. YOUR child is reading this and wondering what you’ll do. THIS WILL NOT STAND.”

    After thanking my parent for bringing me up as someone who recognized that other people’s lives were as real and valuable as my own, that oaths were serious things and that the rule of law was important, even if you disagreed, I asked if they felt they were terrible because we disagreed? Because we’d done that before (boy howdy have we), and we probably would again, but that it didn’t change the love I had for them, just as I loved and respected many of the other adults I’d argued with down the years.

    That said, what we wouldn’t be doing would be having an argument about Constitutionally-protected rights on my FB page, because as someone I loved was fond of saying: “My house; my rules”: in my space, other people’s life experiences are not treated as theoretical debating points.

    So far, radio silence. I have the phrase “I can live with your disappointment” and the block button on stand-by; in the meantime, I’m going out for a walk with the Brom.

    Dear LW, you can learn to do this. It’s hard. It’s still hard. But it can be done, and I believe that you can. All my Jedi hugs to you.

  45. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

    Amberxebi, Peregrinations, Jenny Islander–all of us–wow. We’re tough. Sometimes in stupid ways, but we’re tough. We survived them. LW, you’ll survive, too. It just…sucks in the moment. But, you know, we can all be proud that we didn’t stay stuck back there; that we’re learning to be real adults and not…whatever the inadequate people who so graciously allowed us space in their house when we were young were. Mega Jedi sparkle hugs to all.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Necrodiagnosis suggests narcissism (caregiver one), a simple conviction that physical power carries the right to do as one likes (caregiver two), and complications of growing up with alcoholics (caregivers three and four).

  46. Sparky said:

    Sorta OT here, but please bear with me for a moment. I really enjoy Jennifer Boylan’s books, and I tuned into the reality show I Am Cait maily to see her. The show also has Jen Richards, who I was not familiar with. She has a very warm, gentle presence. I searched to see if she had written any books, because I thought I would like to read them. I didn’t find any books written by her, but I was led to the site WeHappyTrans, which has a short bio by and about her. My point (and I do have one) is she concludes her bio with, “She humbly requests your latitude as she figures out what the hell she is doing, and remains genuinely open to feedback. She earnestly loves truth, beauty and goodness. She also loves you, madly. Yes, you.” Just coming across these unexpected words on the internet gave me a warm glow. So, anyone who needs to read this can go to http://wehappytrans.com/contributors/ .

    May I offer gentle jedi hugs to the letter writer, and to all of the other posters who had parents and families who didn’t value them? I don’t think I’m capable of loving anyone madly, and I don’t think anyone (else?) loves me madly, but I think I can say I see the humanity and value of the posters here, and I’m so sorry the adults around you didn’t protect and cherish you. I hope you’re all in safe places now.

  47. indigo said:

    I’d never in my life heard the term parentification, but after looking at the link several things clicked into place. My mother with the severe mental disorder relying on me, her thirteen year old (at the time), to give financial and emotional and career advice, to act in place of a therapist. Continuing to assume this role my entire life. My brother, forced to cook and clean and take on adult responsibilities after Dad left. I realize that we’ve been cast into the roles of parents to her, and what’s worse? I’d KNOWN for years how wrong it was, how messed up it felt for us to assume these roles. I’d never have thought it to be abuse. My father was the abusive one, emotionally and physically. It’s so weird to realize how much this messed both me and my brother up, how we struggle to act as adults. My issues with emotionally fulfilling others, to the point of anxiety. My brother’s often reckless independence, his (seemingly) inexplicable anger issues, anger at her.

    Sorry, but the whole situation is blowing my mind. So much makes sense now. Thank you, LW, for bringing the term parentification to my knowledge, and I sincerely hope you find a way to cement your boundaries into place.

  48. Jenny Islander said:

    Back on topic: LW, there’s been so much good advice here. The basic gist is that your parents appear to be treating you–your time, your life, your space–as a sort of annex they can make use of whenever. And you are completely within your rights as a separate human being to add a door to that annex, with a deadbolt on your side only.

  49. Gallantqueer said:

    +1000 to the importance of saying thank you to people close to you

    When I worked in food service I made a point of saying thank you to my coworkers often. Sure, it was their job to give me the food to bring out or do a bit of cleaning with me, but they didn’t have to do their job efficiently or pleasantly. Thanking them made sense when they did.

  50. Rachel said:

    This probably wouldn’t work in many situations, but my apartment lease specifically prohibits me from hosting overnight guests for more than 4? 5? nights (something in Washington State legally gives people squatter’s rights after that period, meaning you have to go to court to evict them). I wonder if that excuse, true or not, might work for OP and others having difficulties enforcing boundaries with parents. “Sorry, but if you stay longer than this, my landlord can evict me and I don’t want to risk that.”

    • It’s useful information to have in deciding what the boundaries are, but as something to tell the boundary-pushers, it gets us right back into “reasons only work with reasonable people” territory. Can’t be a guest for more than X nights? That’s okay, we can just put my name on the lease too! Then I can stay as long as I want, no problem!

      • Jenny Islander said:

        I call those “Work Night Earplugs” solutions. Can’t sleep on a work night because I have to watch my shows at high volume directly over your head after bedtime? OK, here are some cheap foam earplugs! (Yes, this actually happened.) I win, you lose, everybody who matters is happy!

  51. duaecat said:

    One thing I thought of reading this, and what gives me help standing up for myself, is that it sounds like right now the snowball is rolling. You have realized X behavior annoys you. You have realized that being annoyed by X is valid. And from that point every X is going to feed the rageosaurus. And I’ve found in the past if I try to pretend like X isn’t bothering me just leads to everything building up to the point the rageosaurus takes over, I Hulk out, and it ends up a huge mess where I angry cry and yell things. And the possibly worst part is that it provides a very easy excuse for them to paint me as ‘the bad guy’ and ‘the irrational one’ and to feel like even if I get what I needed, it wasn’t worth it.

    It is much much easier to go into battle wielding your No sword and shield of Indifference when you’re ready for it and on your terms than to be pushed into a corner and instinct kick in to try and save you.

    So for me it’s easier to remind myself it’ll be easier on everyone if I go ahead and speak up rather than think if I suffer in silence it’s worth it.

    • Kacienna said:

      Yes! I’m still working on learning this. I really want to be reasonable and accommodating and, yes, nice – so I tend to try and do the calculus of “Is this really a thing worth bringing up?” And sometimes it really isn’t, but sometimes it is and I go from apparent zero to Deinonychus in about 20 seconds. A related thing I’m working on is being aware of it when something is bothering me so I have more time myself to plan a response before the rageosaurus takes over.

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