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emotional abuse

Dear Captain Awkward,

Now that my spouse and I have purchased a house, my mother (who is a difficult person, reminiscent of Alice, but with her own special nuances) is constantly sending us my family’s old junk.

Here’s how the conversation goes: Mom says (for example), “I have all of these lawn ornaments that have been sitting in a box in the basement for 15 years. Do you want them?” I say, “No, we really just want to choose our own stuff.” She says, “Think about it.” The conversation closes. Then, the next time we talk, we have EXACTLY THE SAME conversation. Then, she sends it to me or brings it with her when she comes to visit. And I take it to a thrift store. When she visits, she looks for the previous stuff she has given me, and becomes either sullen and pouty or aggressively angry when she can’t find it. It makes visits extremely stressful.

None of the stuff on offer is anything with which I have a sentimental connection. All of those things—stuffed animals, correspondence with friends, books—my mother got rid of a number of years back (and not by giving them to me). Additionally, during my childhood, my mother took away things I liked away as a form of punishment for (often imagined) bad behavior. This happened over and over again with basically anything I had a connection to, eventually extending to pets that were re-homed and with friends that suddenly became “bad influences” that I wasn’t allowed to see. So I have a weird relationship with stuff in general and with stuff from my childhood in particular.

And now there’s this wave of childhood stuff coming at me. And it sort of feels like an apology? But there’s another part of me that thinks she’s using me, so she doesn’t have to feel guilty for throwing all this stuff away. So she transfers the guilt to me.
She’s a boundary-ignorer and a grudge-holder and a non-apologizer. What do I do?

Drowning in Junk

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A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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Dear Captain Obvious,

My mom has always been on about how I look, but since I’ve turned 16 it seems to have gotten worse. She got me a fitbit that she makes me use (which I hate because it tells me I eat too many calories a day, even though it’s the recommended amount), made me diet with her, and constantly makes comments on how “I should go to the gym more,” even though I’m a perfectly healthy weight for my height. If i’m about to leave the house with no makeup on, she says “Oh why don’t you put a little foundation and mascara on before you go?” and is visibly embarrassed if she sees m in public wit none on. She also hates me wearing my glasses, as they “cover up my beautiful face” and will make more comments on them if I wear them outside the house instead of my contacts. My boobs aren’t very big, but my thighs are, so she’s always pushing me to wear push up bras and slimming clothes. It’s gotten to the point where I’m embarrassed to not be made up, am starting to obsess over my weight, and am just downright lacking in self-esteem. I’ve tried bringing it up before, but she either plays the victim or pretends like she never did any of that. Any advice on what I can do?

Sincerely,
I’m only 16. I’m not a model.

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If this blog were a child it would be a five-year-old today, and I would buy it Star Wars action figures and a bake it a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting in my mom’s old Mickey Mouse-shaped pans. Happy New Year/Blogaversary, Awkward People!  Here is a poem that I think is about forgiving yourself:

Attende Domine (Thomas Lynch)

To lie in the tub on New Year’s morning
awash in bath oil and resolution
observing the Feast of the Circumcision
is to seek the water’s absolution,
according to the law that juxtaposes
Cleanliness and Godliness. I suppose
it is time to examine my conscience,
to make a clean breast of it and amends
to such as those I might have offended.
Attende Domine et miserere! Lord
I’ve sinned with my eye and did not pluck it out,
and with my hand and yet my hand remains
blessing myself against your righteousness.
I’ve sinned with my mouth and loved the sound it made.

I took an honest-to-goodness vacation (I saw family and friends and met a camel and read Goblin Emperor, finally) instead of writing intense 2015 recaps or 2016 pronouncements, so, let’s just dive back in to what we do here.

Today’s question is about when a past toxic relationship bleeds into the present. How do you know what’s reasonable to ask for? And how do you correct someone or set a boundary with a new partner without constantly calling back to the old one?

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Edited to add additional follow-up from the Letter Writer below the jump.

Dear Captain Awkward,

First off, I want to let it be known that we are a family of Christians; I believe there is only one true God and that to be saved it must be through Jesus Christ. I have raised both my children “Paul” – 19 years old – and “Mary” – 24 years old – to be strong in faith and put their trust in God.

However, I fear for my daughter’s life. She recently confessed to me (this past summer) that she is seeing someone, let’s call him “Jim.” Jim is not who I want for my daughter and I worry that their incompatibilities and differences will lead to her being hurt.

One, his family is Catholic. We are a Baptist Christian family. I don’t believe in the teachings of Catholicism. Even worse, Jim is an atheist and does not believe in God and I feel that he will drag Mary down spiritually. This is the biggest thing that I am scared of, and while I have tried to tell Mary that she should break up with Jim for her own wellbeing, she will ignore me or pretend I didn’t say anything. It hurts me deeply that she would choose to ignore her own mother like this. She should know that God’s love is not to be taken lightly.

Secondly, We are a Chinese family and Jim is from an American family. I worry that the cultural compatibility will be an issue.

Three, Mary has a masters degree whereas Jim has only his bachelor’s. I feel that he will come to resent my daughter for having a higher education since he is the man in the relationship (and I have seen many relationships end because of this).

Four, I am scared that he will be a bad influence on Mary. He does not smoke or do drugs but according to Mary he does drink on occasion. Mary tells me she does not drink (she claims she does not see the point) but for how long until she gives into the temptation of drinking? What about peer pressure from hanging out with his family and his friends?

Five, I feel like Mary is settling in life and Jim is a result of that. Another example: She is in a marketing job and they are not paying her very well (only 40K and she has a masters degree). She says she loves it but I don’t think she does, I think she’s just trying to rebel against me. She doesn’t even listen to my suggestions that she move back home to Virginia (she lives in New York) to save on rent or so that I can help her grow.

Six, I am scared that Jim will pressure Mary to do sexual things. I have already warned her that her purity is an important gift from God, but I am so scared that she will ignore my pleas. And because Jim is a man, I am worried that he may rape her even if she says no.

Mary has always been very independent, but she is still young and not mature. I need help in making her realize that Jim is not a good person for her and that she will suffer in the long run as a result from being with him. If she does not break up with God, how can I help lead them back to God so that they can have a Christ-like relationship?

Thank you,
Concerned Mother

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Hi, Captain,

My mom and I have had a fraught relationship for most of my life. Her parenting was often verbally and emotionally abusive, she spent much of my adolescence self-medicating with alcohol, and she’s both extremely volatile and prone to interpreting criticism as an indictment of her entire being (so, for instance, “Mom, I feel like you don’t really listen to me” is met with “Well, I’m SORRY that you have the WORST MOTHER in the WORLD!” and similarly manipulative, derailing crap).

Because she’s very conscious of how others see her, she’s a pro at turning on the Cool Fun Mom routine, which she used to win over most of my childhood friends. Any time I was critical of her parenting or expressed frustration about not having my needs met, she would invalidate me by pointing out that my friends thought she was awesome, and therefore the problem must be me. It made me feel terribly alone and doubtful of my own perceptions, which of course was the point.

Our relationship is marginally better now that I’m an adult and we live in separate states, but lately she keeps trying to pressure me into a closer relationship that I’m frankly not interested in. After years of reaching out to her and being rebuffed, her newfound zeal to be my pal feels like too little too late, and very one-sided. Like, “I know I was checked out for most of your childhood, but please get over it because being your mother is finally convenient for me.” I also can’t help but notice that the way she talks about being closer always necessitates me changing to accommodate her, but never includes any explanation of how she plans to meet me halfway by, say, addressing her anger issues and constant need to criticize with the help of a therapist.

As far as I can discern, her vision of our new and improved relationship basically amounts to me giving up my boundaries for her comfort. Example: I asked her to stop prying into my dating life because a.) it’s annoying and b.) it’s not a subject I feel comfortable discussing with her, and I assured her that if there was anything she needed to know I would clue her in. She responded by telling me how hurt she was that I wouldn’t be more open with her and then asking if I was secretly gay.

Occasionally she’ll get tearful and ask why I won’t give her more of a chance. This is a trap, because then if I try to explain (“Well, Mom, you’re relentlessly judgmental and kinda mean, you refuse to admit fault for anything, and you won’t respect my boundaries, all of which makes you not a lot of fun to be around”) the inevitable outcome is a heated, defensive lecture about why my feelings are wrong and her toxic behavior is totally defensible.

This does not make me want to be closer to her.

Captain, I would like to have an amicable, well-boundaried relationship with my mom. I would like for Christmas Eve to never again involve “IT’S OBVIOUS THAT YOU HATE ME!” being shrieked in my face. I would like to be able to work through disagreements with her peaceably instead of getting baited into a shouting match over who’s right and who’s wrong. But I don’t get the sense that my mother is prepared to do her share of the emotional heavy lifting that building a better relationship would require.

What do?

Difficult Mom Is Difficult

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