Learning to Say No

Carolyn Hax’ advice column here

“If you’re done being suckered, pick more mature friends…

“But you’re in control — of you, your time, your phone, your car, your definition of crisis and your availability to help with one real or imagined. All you.

“Slide a peek over at Alex; I’m as confident as I can be about a complete stranger that Allison doesn’t badger her for anything because her hysterics don’t work on Alex.

“When Allison accused you of being selfish, that was manipulation 101. Do you see it? Allison spun her neediness into your fault.

“Until you do see it, you’ll be dogged by Allisons. They spot people more worried about losing their friends than about losing themselves, and they latch on. The powerlessness you feel is what losing yourself feels like.

“It’s not uncommon, but fix it now, please — with a counselor at school if need be — while your Allison is just Allison and not your boss, child or spouse.”

All true, and excellent advice.  Except in my case, it was my siblings.

And eventually, after a lot of hard, emotional work —  I found out that losing my siblings was not actually the worst thing that could happen.

The journey of finding that out started with the absolute worst moment of my life, and it led to a lot of other bad ones as I confronted the fact that I was not and never had been fully accepted into my own damned family, nor loved by the ones who, after the deaths of our parents, anointed themselves the arbiters of what our family was now:  of what would and would not be allowed, who would get to be mean to whom, who would get to behave badly and who would be blamed, who would be allowed to talk to whom, and who would even be allowed to exist.

I still miss parts of my extended family:  mainly the parts that were never tainted by the resentment over my birth and the circumstances that surrounded it.

But I do not miss the anxiety I experienced every year in preparation for the annual trip to see them (never a trip out here solely to see us; always there was another, better reason to go along with it.  Not even my 40th birthday was celebrated).

I suppose the one saving grace here is that while I lived nearly 40 years under the illusion, I started figuring it out pretty quickly once the reunions started:  from the first draft I wrote about feeling like an outsider in my own family, in 2007 (after only 3 get-togethers), to fighting back in 2012, only took about 5 years.  It took a few more years to come to terms with the grief and the loss, and some of it will never go away completely.  But every year brings more peace.

I now have friends who I consider family, and vice versa.  I spent a long weekend in New York City with three of them this fall, and it was a ton of fun — better than my own wedding, better than any family reunion.  Because they truly WANTED me to be there.  One of them made the trip from Canada basically just to meet me.  <3

It was a great feeling, but there were moments of the weekend where I still felt a little weird — and I could tell it was because I was on a par with everyone else in the group — even though half of them are the age of my older siblings, they still somehow managed to treat me as an adult and a friend and yes, A SISTER.

I’m still not quite used to that, at least not from the older women in my life.

Now some of us are thinking about planning another trip, to — of all places — CHICAGO.

One friend works for the FAA and travels a bunch, and she recently spent a week in Chi-town for meetings.  It looked like she had a blast.  She posted photos of public art and architecture that I’ve never seen, despite having “family” in Chicago for practically all my life.  She went to the Bean at night, which I’ve never done even though I love the Bean.

She didn’t get to the art museum to see one of her favorite paintings, though — which was the seed of the idea that maybe the group should plan a repeat, and all go to Chi-town for fun.  (And one prominent friend of the group lives in St Joseph, where my sister’s lake house is.)

Well, naturally this got me thinking about what I would do if I were actually back in Chicago.  Would I contact my BIL and nieces and nephews, whom I miss?  I thought about it all afternoon.  Would it be better to suggest a lunch or a dinner?  Wouldn’t it be fun to get to see my great-niece and great-nephew?  And maybe there are more of them than the two I know about!  Would I maybe get to meet spouses whose wedding I was not invited to?  What kind of news would I hear about my siblings’ health and circumstances?

But then,

Would anyone even want to come?  If they did, would it simply be an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy, childless aunt?

(After all, it’s not like my nieces and nephews have made much effort to keep in touch with me and my husband.  To be fair to them, I know that my sister has forbidden my BIL to contact us, and I can only assume the same dictum was handed down to my sister’s children.  And it’s tough to go against your mom, and I can guess especially tough to go against a mom that got trained by OUR mom.

And it’s also true that I have blocked all my relations on Facebook, even the ones I don’t have an issue with — because for several years it proved to be too hard to see happy, laughing photos popping up of a family I was not (ever) a part of.  I learned that one the hard way.

Also, I don’t send our annual New Year’s newsletter to any of my nieces or nephews, because I know there’s a good chance it would get shared with people I don’t want it shared with.  That has happened before with emails I have sent to them, which my sister actually asked to see, and was shown.  My sister has also shared my emails around the family (in order to show that she’s the “good guy”, of course) without including me or asking my permission.  See?  No boundaries.  So, no more newsletters.

It may well be that these stances I have taken to protect myself are interpreted as stances of rejection — probably because they’ve been framed that way to them, by people who would prefer me to be seen as unreasonably rejecting them all, rather than as reasonably taking a position, based on evidence and experience, to protect myself from further harm.

OTOH, this is 2017, they are almost all in their 30’s, and everyone still has email and texting, or even just the traditional holiday card.  So they are adults and can make their own choices, and keeping in touch with us is clearly not one of them.)


Would such a meeting devolve into a fight or an attempt to get me to be “reasonable”?  Worse, would they bring my sister and try to force some kind of fake reconciliation, as my BIL tried to do with her and our father?

Or would it just be supremely awkward and sad, something no one really wanted to do, and felt guilty about?

I finally, sadly, reluctantly came to the conclusion that no, I would not contact them to say, “I’m coming to Chicago, and I would love to see you again.”

I miss them, or at least I miss the people I used to know.  But we’re strangers now.

With my sister, that’s my choice (although technically, initially, it was her choice to reject me, and to foist her choice on everyone else.  Me going no-contact is just me following through with my own choice in response to hers).

But with her kids and her husband, well, that’s at least partly their choice as well as hers.

We’re not family.

Or rather, I’m not family.

In fact, that simple sentence is what all of this — ALL of it — ends up coming down to.

I’m not family, and that means I’m not important enough to take risks for, to stand up for, to care about, to remember.

And while intellectually I know I never was family, deep down my heart is stupid enough to keep hoping.

Learning to say no to that hope is painful.

Mea Culpa

Women are willing to take a lot of blame for a lot of things, but the problem in these recent cases [of sexual harassment] is not that women haven’t worked hard enough or advocated well enough for ourselves

At one point, in the disagreement over sexual harassment, which occurred at the last reunion I went to, I was told that my departure from my profession in high-tech engineering was my own fault, because I “gave up too easily” and that our father would have been disappointed in me for doing so.

I “gave up too easily” — after enduring things at work that made this brother lose his shit when I just acted them out in front of him.  He specifically said I shouldn’t have communicated these things to him:  “you shouldn’t have said what you said or done what you did” — I guess because he didn’t want to know about what actually happened to me.  Day after day.  Year after year.  He couldn’t handle a description of one incident, let alone the reality of thousands.

I want to see how well he would hold up in that kind of environment.  I bet he wouldn’t make it 17 years, like I did.

There’s a Name for It, Again — The IP

Notes from here.

[side note, if anyone from my FOO clicks on that link, I would bet a substantial amount of money that what they will take away from it is that my husband and I must be in couples therapy, and a self-satisfied confirmation that I’m obviously a mental wreck and our marriage is in trouble.]

“When I used to treat children and adolescents, I’d typically get a call from the parents explaining why they wanted their child to see me… the parents would be concerned, and would want to get their child help.

“Sometimes, though, it wasn’t just the child who needed help — it was the family. The child had simply become what therapists call “the identified patient,” or IP — the person unconsciously assigned to be the keeper of the family’s troubles. The IP looks like the one with the problem, but really she’s the healthiest one in the household, because in her own way, through her symptoms, she’s acknowledging the family’s issues. Instead of denying them or scapegoating others, she’s calling them out.

“While the IP in a family is often a child… the IP might be the [person] who’s depressed, or checked out, or gets upset “over every little thing.” The IP is the one who seems more sensitive or fragile or in need of therapy, while the other [person] is “just trying to help.” (The supposedly helpful [person] is hoping that the therapist can “fix” the [person] who needs it.)

“It’s natural to want to feel in control, and it’s also true that some people have early experiences that make being in control not just desirable, but necessary for their very survival.

“How does it serve… you to make [someone else] the IP? Because… you don’t have to examine yourself.”

8 Common, Long-Lasting Effects of Narcissistic Parenting

Full article here.

2.  Echoism.

If you’re particularly sensitive or empathic by nature, you’re more likely to respond to narcissistic parenting with a stance I call echoism… Narcissistic parents who explode without warning, or collapse in tears any time a child dares to express a need, force sensitive children to take up as little room as possible, as if having any expectations at all is an act of selfishness.

I interpret this as not wanting me to exist.  This reminds me of my sister’s bouts of hysterics when I said I wasn’t coming to one of the reunions, and when I asked her about the possibility of a psychotic break.

3.  Insecure attachment.

The neglect, abuse, or emotional absence of a narcissistic parent can make us question how safe we are in other people’s hands. Roughly speaking, insecure attachment can take two forms: avoidant attachment… and anxious attachment, where we chase after love, pursuing—sometimes angrily—the connection we long for with our loved ones (Why won’t you pay attention to me!). Whether you become anxious or avoidant depends on a complex combination of temperament and consistency in care and attention, but ongoing neglect tends to create avoidance, and unpredictable attention generally yields anxiety.

I suspect I got neglect from my mother, and unpredictable attention from my older siblings.

4.  Need-panic.

A related problem is something I call need-panic. Narcissistic parents can make their children terrified of their needs, who bury them by becoming compulsive caretakers or simply falling silent. They may hum along for a while, seeming to need nothing from their partners or friends.
Then, a crisis hits, and suddenly—in ways they find deeply unsettling—they call their friends incessantly or seek constant reassurance.

For a few months after The Susan Incident, I was almost incapable of NOT talking about it to anyone who would listen.  This impulse surfaced again after 2012, when my youngest brother threw the whole thing back in my face, after 11 years of trying to stuff it down — plus more unpleasant revelations about how everyone had responded to it —  and I finally started really working on it.

7.  Extreme narcissism.

The more aggressive a child is by nature, the more likely they are to respond to narcissistic parenting by playing a game of if you can’t beat them, join them: “I’ll just make sure I’m the loudest, prettiest, smartest person in the room. That way no one can make me feel unimportant again.” If you’re born with a stubborn, bombastic temperament and exposed to the kind of neglectful or abusive parenting narcissists often provide, you’re more likely to end up narcissistic yourself.

My SIL in a nutshell.

Who’s the real victim?

Notes from here:

“In my own writings about the abuse I’ve experienced… I go into a lot of detail, get angry, and do a lot of research into such things as abuse and personality disorders… I pour everything in, all the details I can think of, along with trying to figure out what drives a person to act like that, quotes from my research which describe common abusive behaviors… what is abuse and what is normal.

“I have a strong will and don’t just figure I deserved what I got; I get very angry… I hope that these comments/blogs are not saying that if you’re angry, if you’ve done a lot of research into personality disorders and do know family history and have good reason to think disorders are at play, that it automatically labels you as the abuser playing the victim. In my case, the anger is part of the detachment/healing process and a natural response to being abused, and learning about personality disorders has reassured me that I did not deserve what I got.

When a person says “I’ve been abused, and I’m angry about having been abused!” that is not necessarily a sign that they are falsely playing the victim… anger is part of the detachment/healing process… It shows the victim is making an excellent recovery, in my opinion.

A genuine victim initially expresses lots of confusion and self-doubt:  “Am I the one at fault?”“What is going on here?” – “I’ve tried everything I can to improve my [family relationships], but I must be missing something because nothing I’ve tried seems to work.” – etc.

This bewilderment gradually shifts into “I think that maybe I am being abused.”… At this stage, many victims do an intensive search to learn more about abuse, trying to understand WHY the abuser behaves the way she does… As this research quest leads to material that labels the abuse as the problem (rather than blaming the victim), the victim begins to express more anger and outrage. This is a good sign of progress in recovery. Recovery isn’t simply about becoming angry, but when self-blame and shame are dispelled, healthy anger can come to the surface because anger is an appropriate response to injustice.

That’s what I’ve observed in the typical language of genuine victims as they move from the fog into recovery and healing.

Now I’ll outline what I see as the typical language of perpetrators who claim to be victims.

They don’t express the initial bewilderment and fog stage while the relationship is intact. They only start to talk about problems in the relationship when their victim institutes separation.

I submit that the complainant’s supposed shock at the relationship suddenly ending is a mark that the complainant was an abuser. In abusive relationships the victim will have tried over and over to explain her unhappiness in an attempt to improve the relationship. But abusers brush off all these attempts and/or twist them back so as to blame the victim and exonerate themselves.

So if I’m right, distinguishing mark #1 of a false claim is the suddenness of the complaint that is made when the victim takes drastic action to try to put a wall up against the abuse.

And conversely, distinguishing mark #1 of a true claim is that the genuine victim takes some drastic action of boundary-setting after having expressed fog-like bewilderment over a period of time, and given hints and waved “help” flags signalling that the relationship was in strife.

Along with this, the true victim may read things to try to understand why their abuser acts the way she acts.

So what is distinguishing mark #2 ?

  • It isn’t the sheer fact that the complainant expresses anger. True victims express anger when they are well on the road to recovery.  Both real victims and pretend victims can express anger.
  • Nor is it the fact that the complainant talks about their partner having a mental health problem. Some victims and counselors talk about abusers having personality disorders like narcissism or sociopathy. And readers here know that many abusers claim their spouse is ‘crazy’ or has a personality disorder.

The one common denominator of all destructive relationships:
The other person doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior.  Ever.

(The above was not written by me but is, quite literally, the story of my life.)

Abusers don’t willingly give up their victims.  Abusers aren’t the ones who leave the relationship.  Why would they?
The person complaining about someone leaving them is not the victim.

Typical Abuser Excuses:

  • “I was just joking.”
  • “I was having a bad day.”
  • “You got me upset.”
  • “It won’t happen again.”
  • “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
  • “You deserved it.”
  • “You know what sets me off.”
  • “You’re just as bad as me.”
  • “You know I have an anger problem.”
  • “It didn’t happen like that.”

    Ten behaviors characteristic of emotionally abusive women:

  • Bullying
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Verbal attacks
  • Gaslighting (lying and then claiming he is crazy)
  • Unpredictable responses
  • Constant chaos
  • Emotional blackmail (guilt trips)
  • Rejection
  • Withholding affection and sex
  • Isolating

The result?  You’re constantly on edge, walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a trauma response. You’re being traumatized by her behavior. Because you can’t predict her responses, you become hyper vigilant to any change in her mood or potential outburst, which leaves you in a perpetual state of anxiety and possibly fear. It’s a healthy sign to be afraid of this behavior. It’s scary. Don’t feel ashamed to admit it.

“a non-abusive, loving spousal victim will not willingly give the minor children over to the predator”

The Typical Abuser

You may not realize that abusers feel powerless… They often have the following personality profile:

  • Insecure.
  • Needy with unrealistic expectations of a relationship.
  • Distrustful.
  • Often jealous.
  • Verbally abusive.
  • Needs to be right and in control.
  • Possessive; may try to isolate their partner from friends and family.
  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively.
  • Has a history of aggression.
  • Is cruel to animals or children.
  • Blames their behavior on others.
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems including depression or suicidal behavior.

Abusers can have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde.

Recently I was reminded of a very common tactic of the abuser.  What to call it?  Hounding?  Badgering?

…she appears to have a psychological need to justify his crimes, and for this she needs the victim’s affirmation.  Thus she relentlessly demands from her victim professions of respect, gratitude, or even love.  Her ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a WILLING victim.

…That means the perpetrator must wear down the victim until he willingly admits that she is justified in what she does, that he has been wrong, and so on.

So it is psychological warfare.  It is abuse.

“Does this person seem to feel unjustifiably entitled?” is the basic question I’m asking myself when I’m listening to a person who is complaining about their spouse or their marriage. The word “unjustifiably”  is important in that question, because survivors of abuse may so yearn for justice that they can come across as if they feel ‘entitled’ to justice. But victims of abuse are justified in yearning for justice – it’s not wrong for them to feel that way.


Quote from this article:

“I was at a well-known university about nine months ago when I was in office and I asked an audience of 400 faculty and students the following question:

‘How many of you look at emotions as a source of weakness versus a source of power?’

And nearly every hand went up. This is the paradigm we have to flip in this country.”

Which one?

Had a FB convo recently that started off with one member of the group talking about how, as a baby, according to the advice of the “experts” of the day, she had been left in her crib to cry — so she could learn “discipline” FFS — which has led to her having abandonment issues.

A second woman chimed in with this story:

My mother was in the hospital in an oxygen tent for the first 5-6 weeks after my premature birth, with spinal meningitis, so I was home with an incompetent, elderly, agency baby sitter who had to chase after my two older brothers, aged barely 3 and 1.5 yrs old! So I spent most of my time in the crib and I REALLY had abandonment issues!

I am guessing that my early infancy was much the same, unfortunately, as far as the lack of attention goes.  “You had diaper rash so bad that your butt was bleeding,” was one of the few things my father ever told me about that time.

After some conversation about other horrible advice given to new mothers back then…

(side note:  about breastfeeding, etc.  One amazing example:

[my mother] was instructed that she had to wash her breasts with soap and water before each feeding, and then dust them with… wait for it… hexachlorophene powder!! So maybe it was a good thing she didn’t continue nursing either him or the rest of us– Hexachlorophene was one of the earliest antibacterial agents — doctors went nuts with it– insisting hospital nurseries be scrubbed with it, babies be bathed in it, hands be scrubbed with it– It turned out to be carcinogenic! And also toxic in too high quantities. There was a cluster of neonatal deaths at one of the hospitals through which my father rotated as an intern or resident, which was traced to excess hexochlorophene being used and not rinsed off the infant bassinets and incubators.

…the convo then turned to frequency of pregnancies back in the 1950’s days of Catholicism and little-to-no birth control.  I mentioned my mom had had her first three kids in 4 years.  The woman whose mother was hospitalized after her birth, had this to say about her extended family:

There were 5 of us born in 6 yrs, and when I was very young, I was always afraid one of us [me, the only girl] would be left behind– at gas stops on family cross-country car trips, after my father’s massive annual department picnic, after shopping, etc.  Recurring nightmare, even.  I never put the two issues [early infancy abandonment and later abandonment issues] together until much later.

But she went on to say:

It’s not like I can think of a brother I would trade for anything in this world to have made the circumstances less crowded or under-cared for.  I love all my brothers fiercely.  And I learned that rationalization from my mom’s baby sister, who learned it in turn from HER mom, who was her parents’ 12th  child in 20 years!  when she [my much neglected aunt, along w/ some of her over-worked “little mothers”/ aka older sisters] would have their moments of “Jeez-Louise, Ma, why the heck did you and dad have to have so dang many kids, anyway?!?

Grammy would then say,

OK, which of you all would you have wanted me to ‘send back’?

Of course, this question is the sort of thing that would be asked by a mother who — despite having a similar background and many of the same issues as my own mother, or worse — promoted not resentment but unity and togetherness — who really DID practice her religion and honored her wedding vows and “accepted children lovingly from God” — who loved ALL her children, and whose children thus ALL genuinely loved and cared for EACH OTHER.

The answer to the question is meant to be an unthinkable choice, one that no one could possibly make…

…but in my fucked-up FOO, there is an answer to that question — “Who do you want to NOT BE HERE?” — and it’s me.

(Incidentally, there’s also someone to put ALL the blame on:  “Look what your father did to me.”)

Logically, I have the ability to look at what all horrible choices were made, and the dysfunctional things that happened as a result, and say, in all honesty, that my FOO would probably have been better off if I really HADN’T been born.

But that idea, that because of the inconvenience to everyone else that I represent, I really am not wanted — or at least, I am not wanted badly enough for anyone to actually show some backbone on my behalf and hold other people responsible for their shitty actions to me

“well, we will let you join us as long as you’re no trouble, but on no account expect us to do anything DIFFICULT for YOUR sake now (because we did enough for you already back then, REMEMBER, WE CHANGED YOUR DIAPERS!!11!!)”

— that still hurts me deeply, sometimes.

Especially when I get a glimpse, through someone else’s words or pictures, of what “healthy” could have looked like.

One of my knitting friends once inadvertently did this when she asked how old my sister was when I was born, and I said “17”, and she said, “at that age she should have been head over heels about you.”

That idea, or the idea that anyone in my FOO could love me “fiercely” is just alien to me, except for my dad.  And now that our parents are gone, they all still have each other — as it ought to be, only I should have been included.

For me, the only one who really loved me, and would have done anything for me, is gone.  Those who are left obviously won’t, and thus I no longer have a family, and they no longer have a little sister — but it’s clear that this doesn’t matter as much to them, as long as mom’s “real” family, The Triumvirate, stays intact.

They got their wish.  I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of mine.

Couldn’t Possibly Have Been A Psychotic Break

Well, this story makes my blood run cold.

“Catherine Hoggle, the 30-year-old Maryland mother suspected in the 2014 disappearance of her two young children, was charged Thursday with killing them, a major development in a case long enveloped by Hoggle’s mental illness.

“Hoggle was charged with two counts of murder, after a grand jury indictment, and was being held without bond Thursday night in the Montgomery County jail, according to officials familiar with the case and jail records.

“Hoggle has spent the last three years locked in a state psychiatric hospital, refusing to tell detectives and family members what might have happened to 2-year-old Jacob and 3-year-old Sarah Hoggle.”

Two things about this story disturb me.

She is smart:  an IQ once tested at 135

She is also mentally ill:  she has earlier been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia

Well, three things really:  the third being that she probably killed her own children.

Three Strikes

“…I talk a lot about fighting back in The Asshole Survival Guide. There are three factors that especially predict how successful you will be at stopping or bringing down a bully. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is whether you—or them— have more formal power (the more powerful they are, the tougher it will be to win). The second is whether you are fighting back alone or with others, the more allies you have, the more likely you are to win because it is harder to portray you as a lone nut and you also have more power (even against a boss or other powerful person). The third is documentation; keep notes, emails, and social media posts, anything that provides objective evidence that you and your colleagues are in fact being bullied.”

I found out I have no formal power in my own family of origin.

I also found out I was alone in that “family”.

I am the “lone nut”, the scapegoat, the outsider, and as such I am not to be believed, let alone defended.  In some eyes, I am not even supposed to exist, not supposed to take up physical space, be noticed, be cared about.  (With the notable exception of being noticed for what I fail to do correctly, i.e. being criticized.)

And there was no documentation – the incident that started the whole thing, or rather brought it into the light, was deliberately engineered to have no witnesses, other than my husband and a brother who also has little formal power.

No wonder it all turned out the way it has.

A related article shows that there weren’t too many other options.

The powerful bully

Who they are: The engineer with hard-to-replace skills whose creepy overtures get overlooked. The rainmaking dealmaker whose boorish behavior goes unpunished. Whether they’re explicitly in charge or simply influential, too many organizations look the other way when top performers or top bosses behave badly. Sutton points to Roger Ailes — the powerful Fox News chief who left the media empire amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations. “Going to HR didn’t seem to help anyone for years,” he says.

What to do: Tread carefully. “You’re fighting the cool kids,” Sutton says. In such cases, getting out is really often the best advice — especially if the behavior goes beyond milder incivilities. “This is one when you often leave, or when you hide, or when you lie in wait until their power diminishes,” Sutton said.


A fascinating article on neuroscience here.  I found a few things in it that I’ve already learned:

Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

So much for “just get over it.”

we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don’t it’s painful. And I don’t mean “awkward” or “disappointing.” I mean actually painful.  Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.  In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain

When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better.

And just what do you suppose happens when those same loved ones turn hostile to you in the most stressful situation of your entire life?

And later, when you find out that those loved ones don’t really love you?  That they see you as a problem, and they feel all superior for “not holding against you” the perfectly normal things you did?

Over the past five years I have come to understand that they don’t like me, and I don’t really like them either.  They aren’t happy or fun or accepting people, at least not to me.  We dislike each others’ values.  They don’t want to listen, or understand — they don’t let me speak my mind or offer my opinions.  They criticize my life choices, and I don’t like their superior attitudes — but they were my family, once upon a time.  They were people I had known my entire life.  And that rejection hurt.

Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life… I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Guess what?  Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.

There are ways in which I am grateful for this family rift, and even for eventually being forced to go no-contact with them.

It is a relief to finally understand some of the things I was always told, or which were “understood”, but which never made any sense.  And not just about our parents — it now makes sense to me why the reunions were the symptom of the problem, and why they would ALWAYS have to be on my sister’s turf, under her control.

Finding out about narcissism explains why I never really had a mother, why my father was so important to me, and even why the rest of them have to believe the opposite; and why I never really liked Susan.  And it feels good to know that my instincts were healthy.

It’s comforting to deconstruct situations which had always been presented in black and white, Mom=right and Dad=wrong, to find that they were really so much more complicated, and to know that there really weren’t any other better options than the one my father chose — perhaps mostly for my benefit.

And it’s great to no longer be obligated to spend time and money to be around people who have, in the past, been SURPRISED to find out that they could enjoy my company and conversation, or when they found out I wasn’t “just a spoiled brat”.  People who I now know have always seen me and treated me as a second class family member, as a problem, as some kind of “wrong” person — simply because I was born, for the very fact of my existence; and because I experienced a different father, and mother, than the rest of them did.

I do miss some of them:  my sister’s husband and kids, in particular.  I lost my past that day five years ago, but I also lost the future.  Not having kids myself, I have always cared about my sister’s kids.  Now I am cut off from them, and I don’t know their spouses or kids or anything about their lives.

That’s been a heavy price to pay, but for my own self-preservation I’ve had to pay it.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a relationship with them that doesn’t continually include painful reminders of the people to whom I am not a beloved little sister, but instead a convenient scapegoat, to be punished for things that were never in my control.