Post-Partum Psychosis in the Modern Day

I found this article on post-partum psychosis at the BBC.  Some highlights:

  • Post-partum psychosis affects about one in 500 mothers (another source says 1 in 1000).
  • Relationship problems, stress, or the baby being unwanted do not cause postpartum psychosis.
  • “If you have ever had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, your risk of postpartum psychosis is high. You may also be in this high risk group if you have had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or another psychotic illness.”

Somewhere in the episodes of my first year, my mother was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia,” is what I was always told.

  • “Some mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies after an episode of postpartum psychosis. Usually these problems don’t last long. Most women who have had postpartum psychosis go on to have very good relationships with their babies.”

To me this is a red flag:  while it does say that “most mothers” get over this bonding problem, there were a lot of things about my mother’s illness that were not standard.  One in particular is that she wasn’t hospitalized until around the holiday season, which was at least 7 months after I was born in early April.

I will also note here that this timing meant that my mother would have had plenty of help with the chores over the summer, until the older kids went back to school in the fall, at which point my mother would have been expected to do her own job again.

  • It can take 6 -12 months or more to recover from postpartum psychosis. The most severe symptoms tend to last 2 to 12 weeks. The vast majority of women will recover fully. You may have further episodes of illness at a later time.
  • Over half of women with postpartum psychosis will have a further episode of illness not related to childbirth.
  • ECT or electroconvulsive therapy is still being used to relieve severe depression.

The TV program isn’t available online yet but should be here soon.

Avoiding Responsibility 101

Seth Godin nails it again.

Instead of saying “we” when you’re avoiding responsibility, try “I.”

It’s no coincidence that the fauxpology I got from Susan starts off with “I’m sorry WE…”

Most of it is an attempt to spread the blame — for something that is conveniently never quite named — equally between us, along with an attempt to claim she didn’t understand what I had asked for.

Never once does she take responsibility for what she did.  Never once does she say, “I’m sorry I did this to you”.

And Joe never apologized at all.


No Contact Means No Contact Means NO CONTACT

I should have known better.

But, in times of crisis, as we know, we revert to old patterns.

When my FIL died recently, it threw me back into a bunch of painful memories:  about my in-laws, and how they never welcomed me into their family because of my MIL’s issues, and about the deaths of my own parents, and of course, all the bullshit that went along with THAT.

So I did something that in hindsight I should not have done.  I broke my no-contact rule, and emailed my sister’s husband, to let him know what had happened.  Being the two men married to the two Henchal women, my BIL and my husband have always had an affectionate relationship.  Add to that, I have always felt like he genuinely liked me, and us.  (Of course, my BIL does not have the bullshit baggage from my mother that everyone else does.)

I felt like in normal circumstances, letting my BIL know what had happened to my husband was a courteous and normal thing to do.

What I wrote to him was, “I’m only letting you know because I think you and he both liked each other a lot.”  By this I meant that I intended the information for him only.  I suppose the exact words I wrote were not 100% clear in and of themselves, but in the context of the whole no-contact thing, I’d think it would have been obvious that I was telling him only, and not intending for this news to be spread around my family.

While my BIL has been kind and decent and sympathetic to us through all that has happened — and I know that what has happened breaks his heart too — our lives, what happens to us, and what we choose to do, is frankly none of anyone else’s damned business any more.

My oldest brother doesn’t respect my no-contact decision.  He insists on sending emails or cards or making phone calls on occasions such as holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries.  Pretending nothing is wrong.  Usually with an irritating remark that indicates that he is fully aware of my wish for no contact, but he is clearly and willfully ignoring it.

It is apparent that he thinks I have no right to get what I have asked for.  That’s happened before.

Instead, he does what HE wants to do.  He probably rationalizes it in some fashion as being because he “knows” better, but he really does it because it makes him feel better.

And because he is not used to putting aside what makes him feel better, in order to give someone else what they have specifically asked for.  That’s also happened before.

The youngest brother has a habit of coming on here every so often and leaving comments to belittle me, tell me how wrong I am about it all, how paranoid or irrational I am, and how much fun they are all having without me.  It’s another beautiful example of exactly the same behavior.

He knows I want no contact.  If he chooses to read the blog – that’s his deal.  No one is making him show up here.  It would be fine if it stopped there and he took responsibility for his decision to read what I write.

But he too is incapable of respecting my no-contact decision, because he can’t deal on his own with whatever emotions my writing brings up, and he has to throw it all on me, and make me out to be wrong so he can feel better.

He cannot help himself because that would mean denying himself something HE wants to do, even needs to do.  It would mean putting my wishes above his own, out of respect for me.  Whoops, whoa, no can do.

Of course I could block him.  But up to now, I have decided not to, because his comments are a useful reminder that the family I actually have is not the kind of family I wish I had.  A reality check.

The funny part is that he has now started “hoovering“, telling me (not INVITING but TELLING me) that I should “become part of the fam again”.

Right.  Supposedly he’s been reading the blog but apparently his reading comprehension is crap, too, because obviously I NEVER HAVE BEEN PART OF THIS FAMILY.   And nothing about this second-class citizen attitude towards me has changed — keeping Susan and my sister from throwing a fit is far and away more important than having me and my husband as part of the family.  The unreasonable person always wins with this bunch.

In fact, now that I look at that hoovering post again, I see several techniques that have been used by them.  Look at #1, “Ignoring your requests to break off the relationship and attempting to continue on as if nothing has changed.  That’s the oldest brother right there.  #2, “Asking you when you’re going to “get over it” and return to your past actions.”  Youngest brother, check.

And on and on.  Fake apologiesSending unwanted cards, messages, packages.  Ta-da.  How does it feel to see your own toxic behavior, all the bullshit you pull, all spelled out for you?  Don’t bother telling me because it’s not my shit to deal with.

Although, to quote my snotty sister, “You probably won’t be able to help yourself.”  (Oh, hey, another one.  “Drama games.”)

I doubt it occurs to my oldest brother that sometimes these communiqués make me cry.  That every damned time he does it, it is a reminder that I am not respected, in one way or another, by my FOO.  That I don’t have a right to what I want from my own family – that it’s THEIR needs that always, always come first.

That it’s EXACTLY what Susan did to me that night, when she and the hospice nurse knew exactly what I had asked for but decided that they didn’t really need to do it — that it would be good enough for me if they just gave my request lip service, and then of course continued to do exactly as they pleased.

And it is another reminder of the other people who don’t call.  Who have, in fact, never called.  My husband has pointed out how weird it is that in the nearly 23 years since he and I met, my sister has never once called me.

Like me, I suppose my oldest brother wishes for a whole and unbroken family, for love and connection — exactly what drove me to write to my BIL.

Unlike me, my BIL has not requested no contact, and is not being disrespected every time I do it.

Also unlike me, my brother (and for that matter, my BIL) could do something about it, could hold people responsible for their behavior, but doesn’t.

You can probably guess that the news was spread.  I know it was, because a couple of weeks later, a holiday card came in the mail from my oldest brother, with a few sentences saying that BIL had told them about my husband’s parents, and (despite knowing that we are not religious), that they would pray for them.  Shades of the same thing, really.  Praying will make them feel better.  It does absolutely nothing for us.

At least there were not any actual words of sympathy.  Such words coming from them, as my husband said, “after how they’ve treated you, wouldn’t mean shit.”

The card has sat around our house for a while, in a pile with all the rest of our holiday cards.  For a few days, every time I saw it, it would piss me off.  I got past that fairly quickly, but it didn’t seem enough to just throw it in the recycle bin with all the other cards after the holidays.

An old friend used to throw a New Year’s party every year, and she had a tradition of inviting everyone to burn an effigy in their fireplace at midnight.  Your effigy was supposed to represent something that you wanted to let go of or leave behind in the coming New Year.

You can see what’s coming, right?  😀

It’s a little late for New Year’s, but what the hell.  The blue bowl was once my mother’s, and I opened a really nice bottle of champagne, too.


The History, Part 5 – The Last Reunion

So.  My parents got divorced, my dad got custody of the three minor kids, and the house, until I turned 18.

I grew up, mostly alone.  My siblings were two older brothers, 7 and 3 years older, who weren’t much interested in a little sister, except on my youngest brother’s part as a target.  (I remember once complaining to him, about the “games” we played, “How come I’m the one who always gets beat up?”)

I went to college.  I noticed that most of my family communication went through my parents, and wasn’t sibling-to-sibling.  Pre-internet, I spent a lot of New Year’s making resolutions to write monthly letters, make monthly phone calls.  I set up schedules for myself and so on.  They always fizzled out pretty quickly, I now know because I always started with my sister, and of course got nowhere.

I graduated, moved to Texas, met my husband, got married.  In the years that I lived there, I (and eventually my husband) got to spend more time with Joe and Susan than I had ever spent with an older sibling before.  We thought we had a decent relationship with them, although I think now that certain incidents over the years added up to Susan not liking me much, because I didn’t play her game very well.

I remember one specific event, involving a Christmas present, that showed me how manipulative she was.  I also remember feeling that there had to be something wrong with me because I didn’t like Susan much, even though she was SO NICE.

In mid-2000 my husband and I decided to move to Oregon and immediately after that decision, my dad was diagnosed with the cancer that killed him less than a year later.

In early 2001, both my parents died and this shit happened.

In 2006, we started having the August reunions.  And I started feeling worse and worse about them every year.  I would talk about having to buy the plane tickets starting in January, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to buy them until June.

Susan continued her usual games.  The really shitty one that she pulled was when I reached out to her and Joe prior to the first reunion, and suggested that we do the meal planning together.  Of course, my suggestion was ignored.  We showed up, only to find that Susan had planned the meals on her own, and deliberately excluded me from my own idea.  She continues to be in complete charge of the meals every year — which of course snubs me, every year.

By the 4th reunion, in 2009, I was fed up.  I made up an excuse not to go, but wrote my sister a letter in which I told her the truth, at least as far as I understood it then.  My husband didn’t understand why we couldn’t just say we weren’t going, but after the histrionic response we got back which included a line about “what are we supposed to do about weddings and funerals?” he understood.

This started to make sense to me, though, in that there were certain events I was expected to be at in order to “complete the set”, but I wasn’t really wanted there.  My sister’s weird insistence on my presence, yet the way she all but ignored me while we were there (which was noticed by my husband), started to make a little sense.

There was a wedding instead of reunion #5, and we skipped the 6th one again.  That was the one at which the recording was made about my earliest years.

Then came reunion #7.

It was the second worst weekend of my life, the first being the one where my dad died.

We arrived late on a Friday night.  My sister didn’t stay up to greet us.

Saturday morning, the guys all went out golfing.  I got up maybe around 9:00 and walked out towards the kitchen in my pajamas, only to see my sister, SIL, and one of my nieces coming out of the other half of the house.

My sister looked at me and said, “We’re going to the Farmer’s Market,” and they all three walked out the front door.

She wouldn’t even say anything welcoming, like “hello, it’s good to see you,” let alone cross the room to give me a hug.  There was no chance I was going to hear, “Hey, why don’t you throw on some clothes and come with us?  We’ll wait.”

So I spent the morning alone in the house, got cleaned up, and got in touch with one of my online friends, Janet, who lives in the same town, and with whom I had already planned to have lunch.

With it being obvious that everyone else was having fun spending the day with others, that I wasn’t actually welcome at my sister’s house, and probably wasn’t going to be missed, I ended up spending the whole day with my friend, until dinnertime, and we actually had a very fun afternoon.

It turns out that people were upset about this:  this was interpreted as me rejecting the family, by choosing to spend the day with someone else.  Someone who was actually happy to see me.  How dare I.  And probably, how dare I find people like that.  People whose genuine, kind, loving behavior  make their behavior look bad.

This bit here is actually pretty key.  See, this has to be my fault — it can’t be framed as that I actually had a good reason to go hang with Janet; it can’t be justified due to the fact that I was left alone, and felt unwelcomed by my family.  Because that would mean that my sister and Susan and others were thoughtless and unwelcoming — at fault, or at least partly responsible.

And of course, this is a miniature version of the big problem, and it is treated the same way:  it has to be my fault that I have rejected the whole family.  It can’t possibly be true that I have plenty of good reasons to leave, because that would in turn mean others have at least a share of the responsibility.

Being shouted at, snubbed, ignored, bullied, deliberately disrespected — and having no one stand up for me against that kind of treatment, and getting more of it when I stand up for myself — those are my good reasons for leaving.

I can name at least two different people who have done each of those things to me, over the course of several years.  So it’s a systemic problem, not isolated to one or two people.

If it is acknowledged that I have good reasons for my no-contact choice, then it also has to be acknowledged that those are things that people in this family have done to me, and that they are bad things.  And then — GASP — they would have done something wrong!  It would be their fault!

That can’t be allowed.

One option to get around this is to acknowledge that these things have happened, but they aren’t really that bad and I should “just get over it”.

Another is scapegoating.  They start by figuring out who to throw the blame on — “it’s YOUR fault” — so they don’t have to deal with their own guilt, shame, embarrassment, whatever.  And then come up with any kind of bullshit reason to justify it — “for bringing it all up again the next day.”

That was the excuse created by Joe and Susan to explain why they were “forced” to yell at me the day after my dad died.  “I made them do it” — I’m not clear on how the reasoning works, but it is a simple, convenient, and total abdication of any personal responsibility for their actions.

I can see that the “reason” is indeed something they were pissed about — I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to bring Susan’s disgraceful behavior back up the next day.  Maybe it is a way of communicating what it was I did that they were unhappy about, and a subtle way of explaining what I had better not do again.  Maybe this is how narcissists train their prey.

But, back to the reunion story.  So, when Janet brought me back to the house, everyone was there getting things ready for dinner, and my youngest brother invited me to go “for a walk to the lake”.  I was surprised but accepted.  Thankfully, my husband decided to go along too.

This invitation turned out to be nothing more than an excuse to yell at me privately, so no one else in the family would see it.

His opening line wasn’t “How have you guys been this past year” or any kind of small talk.  He started right off with, “You have to admit that Dad was a lousy father.”

(Later I realized that this is actually true, in the sense that HE NEEDS me to admit it, because that is his excuse for being a lousy father.  I’ve never told him he can’t think Dad was a lousy father to him, but apparently even he can see this is a shitty excuse, so he needs this idea to be universal.)

He went on to say a lot of other shit, including accusing me of “trying to tear the family apart” and “digging up the past”.

(I now am pretty sure this was about was him being mad at me for getting them all to talk about the family history (for a grand total of one whole hour) THE YEAR BEFORE.  He had been saving up this shitty lecture for A YEAR.)

The part when I finally got mad enough to speak my mind was when he magnanimously said, “No one holds it against you the way you acted at Dad’s funeral.”

(Nothing happened at the funeral that I am aware of.  This is code for “when Dad died,” apparently because those words are too difficult to utter.  If you think this makes for very bad communication, you are right, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.)

That was when I said, “No one holds it against me how *I* ACTED?  Maybe I still hold it against all of you the way YOU acted.”  When he expressed surprise I said, “I know none of you stuck up for me.”

It went downhill from there.  At one point he actually threatened me, saying, “We’re all you have.”

There was one very comical moment, when he was on me about “there’s no point in digging up the past like this” and why I was doing it.  I said something like, “I’m just trying to figure out who I am and where I come from.”

He looked right at me, with my husband not 5 feet away, and told me what my name was.  Except that he used my maiden name.

I looked at him in astonishment and said, “I haven’t used that name in 15 years.”  It was now clear that the “conversation”, if such it could be called, was being held with someone who didn’t quite have both feet in reality.

But it was still upsetting and painful to have all that thrown right in my face, when every year I tried so hard to put it all aside for the sake of the family and the reunion.

Of course, he bears no blame for doing this to me, for “digging up the past” on his terms.  None at all.  (As far as I am aware, no one else has told him that he was out of line for doing this.  The same people who have no issue telling me what I’m doing wrong in terms of family relationships can’t bring themselves to hold one of the club responsible for doing something out of line.)

We all went back to the house and had dinner, and got through the evening.  That night I was horribly upset, couldn’t sleep, and spent most of the night crying, because of course my brother’s yelling at me had brought the whole Susan Incident back up, and I dimly realized the truth of how I was seen by my own family.

The next morning I got up early, just after 6:00, grabbed our laptop, went out on the front porch by myself, and tried to see if I could catch the train back to Chicago and go home.  I thought maybe I could call Janet to take me to the station.  By the time I got the wifi password right, I had missed the one train there was on Sunday, so I was unable to do so.

With that idea scuppered, I went back in the house to get a portable scanner that I had borrowed from a friend to take on the trip, and a pile of old photographs.  (My sister has uncontested custody of ALL family photographs, even the ones she isn’t in, or that are from places and times she can’t stand.  All I had been allowed to have were copies, so I had brought the scanner in order to copy ones I wanted.)

My sister and Susan were sitting in the living room talking, one on a chair, the other on the pulled-out sofa bed, practically knees touching, so that there was no other way to walk through the room but between them.  I said “excuse me” and did so, got the scanner and the photos, and then walked back out to the porch, doing the same thing.

When I came back in an hour later, looking for more batteries for the scanner, my sister looked at me in great surprise.  She exclaimed, in a tone that suggested she was completely taken aback, “When did you go out there??”

I mean, I had literally passed between them — inches from them.  They had to move apart so I could pass.  TWICE.  And she had not even noticed I was there.

She sure noticed that I didn’t ask her about being a grandmother, though.  That was thrown in my face later.  In fact, I was told that, “It was interesting that the universal post-reunion comment last year was that [you] did not ask anybody anything about what they were doing.”

In fact, people talked far more to my husband than they did to me.  They talked to him ABOUT me.  They wondered at the apparent irresponsibility of me going off with an online friend (who was a 75YO woman).  And more than one person talked to him about how “tolerant” he was of me not having a “real job” and bringing home a paycheck.

It’s clear now that this was an attempt at training him to see me in the “right” way, the way that everyone else saw me.  An invitation to complain about me, perhaps, and get some more fodder from my own husband that they could use to bolster their negative opinions of me.

So it also became obvious that I was talked about behind my back, and criticized, to my own husband no less.  My behavior was examined and found to be unacceptable — and of course this would be because I am unacceptable, and not at all because I had any reasonable reasons for my behavior.

Not at all because I had by turns been snubbed, yelled at, left out, and even my actual physical presence had been ignored.

Yet everyone was apparently universally aware that I hadn’t been interested enough in THEM.

There also was a misunderstanding about photo albums, which started with me asking my sister to bring my dad’s WWII photo albums to the reunion, so she did — along with a couple of albums in which she had zero personal interest, that included photos from my childhood years, so I’m not sure why she even had them.  The night before we left, she told me I could take “the photo albums” as she didn’t think anyone else was interested in them.

So I did.  Only I took the wrong ones.  I took Dad’s WWII albums — the ones that, as it turned out, my sister had had for a dozen years and yet her children had never seen them.  Huh.

The sister who couldn’t notice me while I was there noticed the missing photo albums within a half hour of our departure.  We got a hysterical phone call on the way back to Chicago.  I am still surprised that she did not demand I unpack them and leave them with her husband.

So anyway.  A few days after returning home, I decided I was never going back, and wrote the first “fuck you” email.  As you may guess, it didn’t go over well.

I was told I needed therapy, among many other things.  So I got some.  And I found out I was right.  I found out about narcissism, and how that kind of person behaves, and what it does to relationships, and things all started to make sense.

Part 6

So Much Damage

I had a text convo recently with one of my nieces, which included some discussion of the fucked-up dynamics of my generation of our family.

She happens to be an only child in her mid-20’s, whose father is currently not speaking to her, for reasons that are not mine to explain here but are fairly complicated.  Suffice it to say, she made about the best choice that she could have, given the circumstances: she faced the truth of her situation and dealt with it, and didn’t pretend it didn’t exist, and didn’t thereby set herself and others up for problems later on.

She is taking the parental shunning reasonably well, with the clear knowledge that this is not something that a healthy parent does.  (I forgot to tell her about how my mom once stopped speaking to me at about the same age, because she “didn’t like my tone” of something I said to her on the phone, and she insisted I had to apologize.  We didn’t speak for about a year and a half.)

Anyway, in the course of this text convo, I told her that while I know that being an only child has its downside, she could also consider herself lucky not to have siblings.  And then I went on to say,

“Actually I figured out that I am not so much the baby of the family as I am kind of an only.  I’m my dad’s only child.”

Which was something I had sort of realized before, but not in so many words.  Not quite in the way that it struck me this time.

Then I thought about how the Triumvirate is basically Mom’s “real” family.  I am reasonably certain that Mom had those first three kids and considered herself to be done.  Her family was complete.  The three of them do have that bond of sibling and family loyalty that (a) doesn’t extend to the rest of us and (b) seems to be instilled by a mother who creates and defines what a family is.

And then I thought, OK, so if the Triumvirate are Mom’s “real” kids, and I’m Dad’s “only child” — that leaves my two youngest brothers out completely.  At best they are grudging additions to Mom’s “real” family.  Given that neither of them made the choice to go with Mom when our parents divorced, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that bond wasn’t terribly strong.

And then I thought about this article that I read recently:

“The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself…

“The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs…  The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did…

“The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.”

“This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

“So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

And those two brothers are the ones with dependency problems.

So much damage.

My Sister’s Response

So, after I sent my second letter to my family, my sister responded.  (text posted below)

There are a lot of familiar things in her response.  There is the refusal to listen, the refusal to hear my side of things.  That is nothing new.  There is the continual defense of Mom, and the denigration of Dad, for EXACTLY the same behavior (#7).  Actually, reading that, it should come as no surprise at all that they can hold me accountable for what happened at both our parents’ deaths.  She, and they, have had a shitload of practice at that kind of cognitive dissonance.  It is just second nature.

In the course of a couple of years now of writing about this giant ball of shit — draft emails, real emails, and now blogging — I can’t help but notice that I often refer to the rest of my family as a sort of monolithic “THEY”.  I started thinking about whether this was fair to them, and whether I should try to separate out each person’s behavior instead.

I’ve decided that isn’t really appropriate, and here’s why.  I’ve noticed that all four of “them” have, on separate occasions, felt entirely free to speak for the others in this conflict.  My youngest brother, with his memorable lecture that included “No one holds it against you how you acted” when Dad died.  Joe insisting that “no one else has a problem” with Susan (when I know differently for a fact) — so of course the problem must be me.  My oldest brother emailing that The Triumvirate was brought up to be obedient, and they hold absolutely no resentment over what happened to the family around the circumstances of my birth – a sentiment echoed by my sister below, and one on which I call bullshit.  I don’t know a teenager in the world who would not be resentful about what happened.  Either they are lying, or they are saints.  And they are no saints, although they probably imagine themselves to be.

Information flows freely among the rest of the family:  I know for a fact that my sister has forwarded around emails that were written between me and her, as if to show everyone how hard she is trying, and how crazy and unreasonable I am.  This is classic character assassination and a common ploy of narcissists.

Last summer, after the email below, I received a package in the mail.  Apparently she “couldn’t help herself” to respond to my lack of response to her baiting in the email.  The package contained:

  • a slip of paper with three bible verse references on it – not the actual verses, mind you, just the references, presumably to make me look them up myself;
  • a bunch of pictures of me, my dad, and me and my dad — I am guessing this was some kind of purge, as she has always been fanatical about being The Keeper Of The Family Photos;
  • two printouts of emails that I sent OVER TEN FUCKING YEARS AGO, which mentioned (1) how much I had enjoyed some family get-together and (2) some indication of a belief in a hereafter — I imagine these were meant to show how wrong I am about not wanting to come to the reunions any more, and how wrong I am to be an atheist now;
  • Five notes that were written to me by my father, around the age of kindergarten, which refer to “cuddling” and so forth.

I admit these had me mystified — and angry.  Why did she have these?  And why had she kept them until now?  The answer to the first question is that she also made herself the Keeper Of All Mom’s Things.  These notes had to be in with Mom’s stuff.  So why these five notes?  I already have other, similar notes, that were in Dad’s stuff when he died.  The answer to that is, my mother tried to vilify the love between my father and me by suspecting there was something sexual about it.  These notes, the ones that mention physical affection, were her “proof” that there was something “dirty” going on.


  • Not one fucking word written by my own fucking sister.

I wish I could remember just exactly what it was that one of her daughters said a couple of years ago that made me realize that her daughters are perfectly aware that their mother does not like me.

A couple of years ago, her husband offered to meet with us, to talk and try to get to grips with all this family bullshit — only it would have to be in another town, he said, which made me realize that he was not allowed to fly to where we live.  And a few months ago, I called him to ask some financial advice, only to find out that my sister has forbidden him to to call us.

And let’s not forget the part where she is systematically leaving us out of family events.  First it was my nephew’s graduation, which she then stupidly described in her Xmas newsletter — or was it deliberate?  Who knows?  I found out from that phone call to my BIL that I had a grand-nephew on the way, and two nephews getting married next year.  I’m not holding my breath about being invited to either of those, either.

Yes, my sister does in fact treat me like this.  She forwards my emails.  She forbids people to have contact with me.  She does shit to me that you would not do to, say, a neighbor or a member of a social group that you happen to belong to.

Yes, this is considered abusive behavior.

Some sister, huh?

And, there is my sister’s email response to my Declaration of Independence.

What I notice most about this email now is that there is a very strong “Us versus You” framework here.  And I now know it has always been there.

This is what I referred to when I said in my earliest writings that I felt like some kind of odd cousin at the reunions, rather than a sibling.  And when I later wrote that I had spent the early decades of my life trying to establish ties, to write more letters, to have relationships.  And when I wrote that I had hoped the reunions would finally be my chance to be a real part of this family.

This is what my husband referred to when he said that “They don’t know how to interact with you.”

This is what I referred to when I said that “[My sister] acts as though the family ends with [brother #4] and treats him as the baby of the family.”

And what my husband referred to when he wrote, “In 15 years that she & I have been married I have always been surprised by the awkwardness of interactions between her and her older siblings… what was startling to me was that I never saw her being treated as the baby of the family. I saw everyone acting and interacting like [brother #4] was the youngest child. It is like the group is [my sister, brother #1, brother #2, brother #4], oh and then her …. And the unspoken distance between [my sister] and her in particular seemed very large.”31 Tess Second Half

Yeah.  Tell me again, sis, that I’m imagining it.

And I’ll look at the family photo album you put together, where everyone else’s birth gets at least one full page, if not two, and mine gets second place on a page with as many pictures of [brother #4] playing in the snow as of me.  And where for every new addition to the family, there is a line of pictures with all 3, all 4, all 5 siblings in a row, on an equal footing — but not one with all 6.

Since she has no issues sharing what I write, I’ll return the favor.  This is her email in its entirety:

Some thoughts and observations, in no particular order:

(1) We know and understand that you had a different relationship with Dad than any of the rest of us.  We accept it and we’ve made our peace with it.  We don’t resent the fact (or you, personally), and we are not jealous. That’s just the way things were. (Although if anyone WERE to resent it, it would have to be [brother #4].)  We understand your deep feelings, although we don’t share them to the same degree.  I know you won’t believe this, but We ALL love Dad. However, you seem unable to come to grips with the fact that our relationships, however different from yours, were what they were — and our feelings are just as valid as yours.

(2) You really don’t know me, and you certainly don’t “get” me.  Therefore, I find it disturbing to have you ascribe motives, feelings, and reactions to me that are simply untrue. (And I find it even more disturbing when [your husband] does it, considering that he knows even less than you.)  We are poles apart, in years, lifestyle, and philosophy.  One huge difference, of course, is that you never had (or wanted) a family. We’ve always been in different “places” in life and thus have had different perspectives.  For example, in 1988, when you were starting your second year of college, I was 36, running a household and caring for a newborn and three other kids ages 2, 5 and 7.

(3) You have said at various times that you do not enjoy coming to the reunions, and that you have little or nothing in common with the rest of us.  Yet you seem to resent the fact that we enjoy each other’s company and are able to have a good time without you.  What’s up with that?

(4) When you “friended” me on FB the day before the reunion, I thought it odd, and my first instinct was to “unfriend” you immediately (considering the nasty things both you and [your husband] had to say about me after the last reunion; see #2.)  However, in the interest of keeping the lines of communication open, I did not.  Considering the comments you made on FB and #3, I have to wonder if it was morbid curiosity on your part?

[I have to point out that I did not “friend” her as she thinks — what I did was to accept HER friend request that had been hanging out there for a year or more.  She thinks I somehow “friended” her against her will.]

(5) You have mentioned being ignored at the last reunion.  I know that I specifically asked you about your knitting classes, and whether you were doing anything with the house.  In contrast, you did not ask me about ANYTHING — how difficult would it have been for you to say, When does school start for you? or, What are you teaching this year? or, How do you feel about being a grandmother?  It was interesting that the universal post-reunion comment last year was that [you] did not ask anybody anything about what they were doing — with the possible exception of [my nephew].

(6) What is the purpose of your email? Is it meant to restore sibling relationships?  Do you WANT a cordial relationship with any of your siblings?  What DO you want from us, if anything?  What is your vision of the ideal response to your email?

(7) If you had a bad relationship with Mom, please think about the fact that Dad certainly colored your opinion — and as a 6-,7-, or 8- year old, you would not have even been aware of it.

(8) One of my favorite t-shirt quotes:  I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

(9) In the email exchange this last summer (which began, if you recall, with your questioning my veracity — before I had even a chance to reply!), I told you that there was no psychotic episode, and you told me that there HAD to be one, even though you did not have a shred of evidence for it!  If there were, don’t you think it would have at least come out in the custody hearing?

You have obviously been going through a bad time the last few years, and I do hope that you can find some peace.



PS — I did not read your last email.  I got the “highlights” from others.  Please do not respond to this, (although you probably won’t be able to help yourself)  because I won’t read it, either.  Your emails dealing with family issues are disturbing, not to mention, rife with “inaccuracies.”  My intention is to give you some food for thought, or fodder for the next session with your therapist.


The History, Part 6 – The Start of the Healing

My second letter to my siblings was written after a year of therapy — the therapy that I was oh-so-condescendingly told I needed.


Dear siblings:

At least three of you told me last year that I needed to go see a therapist, so that I can “get over my problems”.

So, I did go see a therapist. With Tracy’s help, I figured out a few things and I have a much clearer understanding of how and why some events transpired as they did. On what is more-or-less the anniversary of the email that I sent last year after the family reunion, I think that after a year’s worth of work, it is time that I share what I’ve learned. I don’t know if it will be at all helpful to any of you, but I feel it is only fitting that I should share the fruits of your own suggestion with you.

The type of therapist I worked with focuses on exploring patterns of thinking, and the beliefs that direct these thoughts. Brothers and sisters often have shared childhood experiences and memories and beliefs. Some of you have those strong commonalities, especially the Triumvirate of [my sister, brother #1, and brother #2]. While we have the same parents, and we do share some history, we do not have those shared experiences. Birth order, circumstance, and decisions made by others — some of them decisions that were bad for the family — have meant that I am functionally an only child. Most of you grew up in a “strict father” family. (James Dobson is a proponent of this parenting style. Mom loved him.) I grew up in a “nurturing parent” family. My beliefs were formed at different times, under different conditions, and for the most part, my beliefs are not very similar to those of the rest of the family. However, this does not automatically mean that my beliefs are wrong. They are just different from yours.


Foremost in this family, as far as I can tell, is the belief that I call, “Mom was a saint and Dad was a bastard.” My corresponding belief is pretty much the opposite. For me, what is true is that Dad was a dependable, loving parent, and Mom was uncaring towards me and didn’t put much effort into being a mother.

I think this difference in our beliefs creates a tension that underlies almost everything else, and it is probably what sets me up to be treated as a second-class family member. My therapist says it is a common problem in families where siblings had different experiences of the parents, but in this family, it is magnified a thousand-fold, due to a couple of major things: Mom’s illness, and The Divorce.

My belief deserves as much respect as your belief. I have respected your collective belief, insofar as I can without compromising my own, but my belief has never gotten the same respect from you. I have never once insisted that “Mom was a lousy mother” in anyone’s experience but mine. By contrast, [Brother 4] felt perfectly entitled to insist to me last year that “You have to admit Dad was a lousy father”.

The facts that I know, the documentation I have collected, and what I experienced contradict that collective belief. I know what kind of a relationship Mom and I had, and it was far more like the relationships that she had with [my sister]’s kids — distant and unconcerned — rather than anything approaching a motherly one. After The Divorce, when I would go to her apartment, what I remember most is she had me do her dishes, clean her fridge, do her laundry and her vacuuming. I do not remember very many times we went anywhere or did anything fun. The activities I can remember with her were centered around church: things like CCD classes, where I was in a classroom and I didn’t actually spend time with her at all.

For years I used to say I didn’t have a mother, so much as a sort of aunt. I was cognizant of this even at the age of six, when we minor kids were asked by the lawyer to choose which parent we would live with. Reading what the lawyer wrote about the reasons I gave for choosing Dad, it is apparent that I was entirely aware that Mom did not do things for me that mothers normally do. The lawyer’s own observations about Mom, from his interview with her, back this up.

I don’t think the older siblings realize that this is how things were for me/us. They were out of the house by then and not looking back. The ideas expressed during the recorded conversation that Mom’s neglect wasn’t actually bad enough for her to lose custody, or that the legal system had to be compromised somehow for that to happen, indicate that pretty clearly.

But Dad took on the job of a single father when he didn’t have to. He could easily have found another job, moved away, remarried, started over with a new wife and family. Instead, he chose not to abandon the younger kids to Mom’s haphazard parenting, but he gets no credit for this choice.

Within the past few years, I have tried to find out as much as I can about the period of time when I was born, and the years afterwards, and I thank those of you who have contributed to that knowledge. Unfortunately, I will probably never know why Mom checked out, apparently on just me. Apparently she was able to have loving relationships with everyone else, including [brother #4] (whose childhood was in the same timeframe, i.e. both before and after her illness and The Divorce).

It is hard to imagine what a baby could do to “deserve” such indifference from her mother. Thus I assume that whatever the reason was, it had to do with Mom or the circumstances, not with me as such. Presumably it takes an awful lot to break such a naturally strong bond as that between mother and child. I do not believe divorce would change how a mother feels about only one of her children. I have wondered if it was because as an infant, my mother completely disappeared twice during my first year of life, we were separated for a month each time, and that is what damaged our relationship. I have wondered if it had anything to do with the electroshock treatments, which can apparently have that effect, in rare cases. There is some evidence that post-partum depression can cause mothers to ignore their babies, and Dad alluded to some evidence of physical neglect, to the point where I had diaper rash so badly I was bleeding. But, I will never know for sure, unless anyone has any more pertinent information that they have so far withheld.


A second, related belief, is the collective belief that “Mom is never to blame.” What is more truthful is that Mom was excellent at deflecting blame onto other people. This behavior is not uncommon. I have a diagram from my therapist that spells out this, as well as several other unhealthy effects of low self-esteem.

Dad was her main target, of course. Once she and he were no longer together, The Divorce became her favorite excuse. At the time of Joe and Susan’s wedding, when [my husband] had the talk with Mom, calling her on the carpet about the hurtful things she was saying to me, Mom managed to blame even THAT on “You don’t know what their father did to me.” She would not take responsibility for her own hurtful words, spoken to me in conversations between the two of us, twenty years after The Divorce. The things she said to me were Dad’s fault, somehow. How does that even make sense? When looked at factually, the behavior defies logic.

Another blaming example, from when I was in kindergarten: At Open House, we drew life-sized portraits of ourselves, and we had to dictate a few lines about our families to the principal’s secretary, who typed them up on cards. The descriptions were posted next to each of our portraits. Mine said something like, “My parents fight a lot and my mother prays a lot.”

I don’t remember Dad’s reaction, but I remember Mom was horrified and embarrassed, and she placed the blame on me for not knowing that I should not have said those things. That was when I got labeled as a “big mouth”.

I have been ashamed of that incident for most of my life. I believed what I was told: that it was my fault, and I should have known better than to say those things, when asked to talk about my family. Six years old, but it was my fault. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong just by telling the truth — but from Mom I got the blame, I internalized it, and it caused me shame and guilt for years. However, looking back on it with adult eyes, I can see where the blame should have gone: to the secretary, and maybe the teacher, if she knew what that card said. Certainly there were adults involved who should have had better judgment than to post that for all to see.

Realizing, as an adult, just how screwed up this was and why, made the guilt and shame just vanish, instantly and completely. This example shows exactly how this kind of therapy is supposed to work: revisiting things that happened in the past, but with adult knowledge and empathy, in order to understand what really happened, and possibly what should have happened, and placing responsibility for the outcome where it truly belongs. (HINT: It’s generally not reasonable to shift blame onto a baby, nor a six-year-old.)

Part of the success of the blame-deflecting technique lies in choosing on whom it will be easiest to deflect the blame. If Mom had complained to the principal, or the teacher, she would have had a fight on her hands. But the defenseless little girl was a perfect target. Multiply that shame x 6 years x 365 days and watch a child crumble under that guilt, and I have an inkling as to maybe why Dad came to the decision to divorce Mom.

Another good example is Mom’s words upon seeing the picture of herself that [my sister] mentioned in the recorded conversation: “Look what your father did to me.” I could accept, “Look what happened to me” or even “Look what having that baby, after I was told by the doctors not to have any more children, did to me.”  But “Look what your father did to me”? How is that all Dad’s fault, exactly? Mom is the one who decided to not have the recommended hysterectomy. I could more easily accept, “I should never have had that baby,” because at least that would acknowledge that she made a choice that was ultimately destructive to herself and to the family.

The blame-deflection technique is an effective one, and it has worked in this family for decades. But it is very destructive to people and to relationships. Also, as a side effect of this continual blame deflection, there is a very strong habit in this family: when there is a problem, the very first thing everyone does is decide who is to blame, whose fault it is. No one says, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.” Instead it is, “It was YOUR fault!” or, “YOU MADE ME do it!”

And, conveniently, if one can blame someone else for the problem, one has no responsibility to try to fix it.

If these ideas make you angry, let me point out that we do not get angry when someone makes an obviously invalid challenge to our beliefs. We don’t get angry when someone says something absurd. We get angry when we are afraid the challenge might be valid.

“If someone pointed at your hair, claimed it was green, and then started to laugh out loud at how silly you looked would you feel hurt? Probably not. (I’m assuming that your hair is a more natural color than green.) When you know your hair is not green you would know this person is just being silly, on drugs, or having problems with their vision. You know the issue is with their perception… It only hurts if we believe… ”

I have always been a little puzzled as to why [my sister] was devastated (her word) to be told that “Your mother doesn’t love you.” Even at the same age, if someone had tried to tell me that “Your father doesn’t love you,” I would have laughed at the very idea. I might have been angry at them for trying to lie to me, but the statement itself wouldn’t have had the power to hurt me. In a similar vein, [brother #1] considered Mom’s psychologists to be quacks, and did not want to believe what they were saying. But he couldn’t just completely discredit them because Mom was manifestly sick and hospitalized. So his reaction was to be angry at them.


A third belief in this family seems to be, “We all have to agree on everything, or else there is a problem, and the problem lies with the one who disagrees.” At one point, Tracy asked me, “So, you aren’t allowed to have your own opinions?” What immediately came out of my mouth was, “Oh, I can HAVE them, I just can’t say them out loud.”

Case in point: my “discussion” with [brother #4] last year about sexual harassment in the workplace. Looking back, I realize now that the question he asked, “Why is something as innocuous as that in a book of things you can’t say at work?” was not really a serious question. What it was, was an invitation to agree with him. He was not open to viewpoints other than his own. So when I tried to explain my own, personal experiences to him — experiences that were painful and difficult for me — my story was not met with concern and empathy for my experiences, or a willingness to listen to or consider another point of view. Instead I was literally told by [brother #4] that I should not have said what I said, or done what I did — presumably because it did not conform to his own beliefs. Even later on, in emails, he suggested that the real problem was not that sexual harassment exists, and affects women negatively, but instead that I had “given up too easily”.

This mentality is actually a hallmark of the conservative worldview, in which the “other” is the enemy. Anything different is bad, suspicious, and met with criticism and ridicule. (As I suspect this letter will be.) But this crab-bucket mentality basically guarantees that things will never change (i.e. will remain “safe”, at least for some people). I’ve actually had people in this family tell me, “Well, I agree with you, but don’t tell (X) or (Y) I said that.” How screwed up is that? To be seen to agree with me openly is some sort of controversial stance? Apparently so.


All this leads me to a fourth family belief. With the first three beliefs operating, the only way to reconcile them with a person who has different beliefs is to conclude that the other person must be “wrong”. The word “wrong” here could mean stupid, untrustworthy, ignorant, or a host of other negative interpretations. I think the most accurate one in this case is “[She] is not one of us.”

The Susan Incident is the icing on top of that cake, but the cake was definitely already there. However, it takes one more belief to turn The Susan Incident into the issue it has become. The additional belief is that Susan is never wrong. It has been easily accepted and incorporated into this family because it has exactly the same form, and works on exactly the same blame-deflecting principles, as Mom is never to blame. And it means that I am not going to be allowed to be right about this, even though I am.

Once again, let’s look at the facts: I did exactly three things that night and day when Dad died.

  1. I politely asked Susan to take her cheerful conversation into another room, so I wouldn’t be hearing her laughter as I sat beside my dead father. She refused to do as I asked.
  2. I tried to talk to Joe about that refusal the next day, in the kitchen, just between us.
  3. When Susan burst into the kitchen and the two of them stood there yelling right in my face, I fled the house in shock and bewilderment.

No one can honestly say that any of my actions were wrong, or unreasonable, or overreacting. Except that they did. To take just one example, Joe has used loaded words like “emotional over-reaction” to describe my simple request of Susan to leave the room.

Everything else that happened, happened because of Joe and Susan’s actions, not mine. Once I was gone, those events, which were witnessed by no one else, were deliberately presented to the rest of the family in such a way as to put me wholly in the wrong, by people who have a vested interest in making sure it is seen that way. Joe and Susan’s explanation was accepted by everyone else, without anyone ever once talking to me about what happened, or even being willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. Of course, if “[She] is not one of us”, no one will bother to defend an outsider against a person who shifts blame onto her.

Joe has written that “my problem” is that I think I am completely innocent of blame in this conflict. Of course, that happens to be exactly the position that he and Susan have taken for themselves. In their case it is not “their problem” but simply the way things manifestly are, as though Susan has a god-given monopoly on being right in any conflict — even the ones she manufactures, as this one. There was no criticism of Susan in my request that she converse in another room, but she decided to see it that way.

I would like someone to explain to me how it is logical or fair that if I think I am right, that is a problem — but if they think they are right, that is just because they are right. It is an intriguing set-up that makes it impossible for me to even make a start on telling my side of the story.

Joe discredited the hospice nurse’s empathetic apology to me by saying “as for the hospice nurse, there are all kinds of reasons her apology might appear more “heartfelt” – for one, she could lose her job if you complained to her organization, and she doesn’t have any history of the family and personalities involved, either.”

Sooo… one has to have knowledge of the family history and personalities before one can come to the “right” conclusion? Interesting. No more evidence is needed to see that this whole issue has been entirely biased by beliefs, as opposed to being thoughtfully judged on what actually happened. This is unfair, because those beliefs amount to a set-up.

If I have a problem with The Susan Incident, it is that this family is perfectly fine with heaping all the blame on me without hearing my side of the story, no one wants to “get involved” with what is obviously “my problem”, and I am supposed to “just get over it”. I am certain this is why I was told to go to therapy, because everyone assumed the professional would be on their side and would also tell me to “just get over it”.

Well, the therapist didn’t tell me that. She told me that I am absolutely right. I did nothing unreasonable. Susan’s behavior at Dad’s deathbed was disrespectful to me. She and Joe treated me horribly, with no justification for it. And the rest of the family has let them do it. These are simply facts.

I am certain that the next move will be to try to discredit my therapist. I am equally certain that if I had reported that my therapist had told me to “just get over it”, there would be no such argument and she would be considered to be extremely creditable. So I think we can skip that obvious ploy, yes?

My behavior at Mom’s death has been brought up as an additional example of my supposed wrongdoing. A remark I made to [brother #4] at that time was taken to be extremely insensitive. Joe considers that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”

Well, in terms of what Susan did when Dad died, I couldn’t have put it better myself. She ignored what I clearly and politely asked her to do. If that isn’t “complete disregard of the feelings of others that had a better relationship” with Dad, then I don’t know what is.

But when Susan did it, she “did nothing wrong”. And when I did it, it was completely wrong.

Susan had a conversation at Dad’s death, I found the content upsetting, and asked her to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that. When I say something at Mom’s death, and [brother #4] finds that upsetting, he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.

The two events are equivalent, yet somehow people manage to believe I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. How does this happen? By letting beliefs take precedence over the actual facts. One side of the story is left out, the facts are manipulated to suit the other side’s views, the logical contradiction is simply ignored.

It is obvious to me that the outcome is predetermined. In some minds, I am going to be wrong, no matter what, no matter how the facts have to be distorted in order to make that happen. No matter if I have a professional therapist backing me up, even. Some excuse will be cooked up to explain why I STILL can’t possibly be right about this. If that is not true, then tell me what I would have to do — no, wait, that’s what I did. Forget it. I am done with jumping through the hoops. [I am] clearly in the wrong, because Susan can’t be.

Tracy pointed out, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.” If I try, I get shouted down — literally, as by Joe and Susan — and I will not forget Susan actually bending down in order to shout more directly into my face that horrible day — or as by [brother #4] on the walk to the lake last year — or figuratively, as in the various hateful emails that were sent. All of these things were done to try to shut me up, to silence my attempts at self-defense.

Or, I am just ignored. I am supposed to sit here and “get over it”.

People have nit-picked to death what I said and did, in an effort to judge whether I actually had any right to be upset, and decided I didn’t. I could point out several logical fallacies in the emails that have gone around, but there isn’t any point because apparently, the facts are not what matter here. The message is loud and clear: Mom was worth grieving over. Mom was worth getting upset over. Dad wasn’t. Because, of course, Dad was a bastard.

Except that he was my father, and he loved me, and I loved him. I miss him and I have no one to share in my grief for him. I’m sorry that the rest of you didn’t have as good a relationship with him as I did, but that is not my fault. I didn’t have as good a relationship with Mom as you all did, but I don’t hold that against any of you. I put the responsibility for that on Mom, where it belongs.


So where does this leave us? On this diagram, replace the word “partner” with the word “family”. The triggering condition was of course Dad’s death. I was expecting support from my family at this horrible, stressful time and everywhere I turned, I got a very negative response. It was traumatic for me. Most of this was a direct result of Joe and Susan’s actions. I had no one willing and able to defend and protect me from those hurtful actions. Certainly over the years it has become clear to me that I can give up on getting a positive response of any kind from at least half of the family. So, we are at “Distancing.”

If you believe that my role ought to be to put up and shut up for the sake of the family, then I can only ask why on earth should I do that? I am not the one who created this conflict. It is obvious that what most of the family has been willing to do for me in all this is a big fat nothing.

Certainly that option would be MUCH more comfortable for a big chunk of the family, but it sucks for me. I’ve tried it.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that the family I wish I had, is not the family I have. [Brother #4] has commented to the effect that this is my fault for being distant — note, this is blaming me again. (It is AMAZING how well that crutch works!)

At rock bottom, I think it has been a mistake to pretend to include me as part of a family that I do not think I have ever really been considered a part of. [My husband] and I are simply not in the club, and I think I never have been, other than to be expected to attend certain family events to complete the set. This distance goes back decades, far beyond our parents’ deaths and The Susan Incident. I can remember in my twenties and thirties, every single year I made resolutions about making regular phone calls and writing more letters, to try to bridge the gap that has simply always been there. The ties we have are not of affection, just genealogy. It was obvious to [my husband] from the first reunions that I am treated oddly, especially by my sister. [My sister] acts as though the family ends with [brother #4] and treats him as the baby of the family. No one calls or emails us just to say “hi” and see how we are doing. I don’t expect anyone will ever get on a plane for one of my milestone birthdays, as I have done several times for others. In the thirteen years we have lived here, we have had three visits from my family. And two of those were from [brother #2 and his wife], who had additional reasons to make those trips besides seeing us.

It is not me who needs to reach out to try to get back in everyone’s good graces, as a penalty for something that I didn’t even do. I have seen the therapist that I was told I needed to see, and came away with my knowledge reinforced that none of this is my fault, or of my doing. I am writing this letter to communicate that knowledge to you, and as part of the process of making peace with the whole situation for myself. Any effort to repair any relationships worth saving will have to come from someone besides me. This is not just my opinion, but also that of other people who actually care about me and my well-being: my husband, my true friends, and a professional, to boot.

I hoped that the Chicago reunions were going to provide the opportunity for me to finally be an accepted part of this family. I should have known better at the very first one, when I reached out to Joe and Susan beforehand, sending more than one email, with the suggestion that we do the meal planning together, and was ignored. We showed up, only to find that Susan had planned the meals on her own, and deliberately excluded me from my own idea. That wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t nice. That’s not my idea of a family. Last year I accidentally found out, from [my sister]’s Xmas card letter, that we were deliberately not invited to another get-together, i.e. [my nephew]’s graduation. That is not my idea of a family either. I will echo [my sister]’s sentiment that it is too bad that things are the way they are. I wish they were different, but try as I have done, they are not. If no one else makes an effort, this is how things will stay. I think for the most part that you all are pretty happy with the status quo: so be it. I am happier not being ignored or yelled at or simply feeling like a second class citizen.

I will return the favor, and would highly recommend that several of you go to some therapy yourselves, although part of the problem with the blaming thing is that the people who do it don’t think they are the problem. (Of course not! they are never to blame!)

I am open to thoughtful, honest, polite responses and discussion. Arguments, angry diatribes, attempts at invalidation, or further attempts to turn the facts on their heads will be disregarded.

You’re right, they’re wrong, but they won

Once again, Seth Godin gets inside my head.

Why is that? Is the world so unfair?

As Seth points out, it’s because they have a story, a narrative that they have learned since birth, a set of explanations that starts with “Mom was a saint, Dad was a bastard” and then looks for evidence to support that theory.

They do have a tribe:  the Triumvirate plus One, the one minor kid who didn’t choose Dad to go live with after The Divorce.  (The family legend says that he chose Mom, but according to the actual filings, he refused to make a choice.)

But mostly, it’s because they were prepared to spend a decade (or two or three) to change the culture of their part of the world in the direction that mattered to them.
Or, they had it done for them, by one selfish woman who laid the groundwork, and another who took advantage of a made-to-order setup.
It has taken me a while to accept that I’ve really lost my family.  That in fact, I had them taken away from me by that bitch of a SIL.  (And, that in some ways I never had them to begin with.  But it turns out that the loss of something you thought you had is just as painful.)
I have tried to figure out what her motivation for this could be.  I mean, why did she need to ruin everything for me?  Wasn’t there room enough in this family for everyone?
Well, no, there isn’t — not from the narcissist’s point of view.  To allow everyone to share, to allow everyone to have a place at the table, you need to care about someone other than yourself.
And especially in my case, Susan can’t afford to have someone around who sees through her bullshit, who will speak up and call her on her inappropriateness.
To a narcissist, other people are like parts in a machine that only get noticed when something goes wrong and they stop “working.” Once someone suggests they’re not perfect or experiences some other narcissist injury (something that reminds him he’s just another faulty human being) he will turn from Dr. Jeckyl to Mr. Hyde, raging, criticizing, blaming, giving others the silent treatment, and projecting his own deficiences onto others.
She can’t be comfortable around me, because to her I am a ticking time bomb.
Narcissists need attention (and sometimes pity) and want complete agreement with their wishes. They ignore or oppose people who refuse to supply them with these things, and they turn their attention instead to those who can offer these three things in unlimited supply. This is what’s at the heart of narcissistic supply.
I can’t be counted on to act the way I am “supposed” to act — because I wasn’t trained to it over a lifetime by our mother.  I am not a very good flying monkey.
Add to that, Susan comes from a family of two sisters.  I have no idea if her sister has her figured out or not.  But it is obvious that in terms of narcissistic supply, more people are better — and here is this big ol’ family of well-trained suppliers, that she can manipulate oh-so-easily into acting just how she likes it.  It must be like heaven for her.  There is no way she would ever give that up.
And, she won’t have to.  She’s got them all solidly on her side, or at least too cowed to speak up and do anything.  Because, you know, it might make trouble in the family.  For them, it’s only a little bit broken right now, and she’s got them scared to break it any further.  In fact, they managed to get brother #3 and his daughter to attend last year’s reunion for the first time ever — I suspect they see that as kind of “patching up” what’s missing, and, probably, further evidence that I am in the wrong.
For me, though, it’s completely shot.  I know too much about what is really going on now, and I don’t see any way that everyone else will work together to fix what is really wrong.

What’s There To Be Afraid Of?

Once again, a paraphrase of Seth Godin:

The pedant (that’s what we call someone who is pedantic, a picker of nits, eager to find the little thing that’s wrong or out of place) is afraid.

He’s afraid and he’s projecting his fear on you, the person who did something, who shipped something, who stood up and said, “here, I made this.”

My version:

The narcissist, who finds criticism in every little remark, who is eager to find you to be wrong or out of place, is afraid.  (And her flying monkeys, too.)

They are afraid and they are projecting their fear on you, the person who stood up and said, “hey, you are treating me badly, and I don’t like it.”

What are they afraid of?  What is there about doing the right thing, about establishing healthy boundaries and respecting them, about treating me as an equal instead of making me the scapegoat, that is so scary?

In my family’s case, I think the fear is that if Susan is held accountable for her actions, and Joe as well, that they will throw a fit of some kind, and refuse to participate in family activities.

This will upset my sister, with whom Susan has cultivated a strong friendship.  I think they probably understand each other very well.  Susan has a habit of sucking up to the person perceived to be “in charge” in any situation, perhaps with the idea that they will then protect her in the event of any conflict.

In the case of our family, that person is my sister.  She and she alone has the power to decree where and when the family will get together.  In the past, I have suggested that we take turns hosting the annual reunion, and I have suggested other activities — including a conversation about us all doing something for my 40th birthday — all of which have simply been ignored.  I have attended, sometimes by plane, at least 5 different milestone birthday celebrations for The Triumvirate — but don’t even think about anyone gathering to celebrate one of my birthdays.  I’m not supposed to ask for things like that.

Some pigs are more equal than others.

It’s easy to see this.  My sister will be terribly upset if Joe and Susan decide to leave the family or to boycott family events.  But if my husband and I decide to leave, that’s kind of OK.  At least, it’s better than if The Triumvirate gets broken up.

Accepting the unhealthy behavior of an in-law, at the expense of a sister, is perfectly fine — IF that in-law is married to a member of the Triumvirate.

At the end of 2012, the last year I went to the reunion, my sister wrote in her Xmas card newsletter about how the Triumvirate gathered in May of that year at my youngest brother’s home for the high school graduation of his oldest son — so 4 of the 6 siblings were present, with the exception of (1) the one brother who hasn’t attended a family function since long before or since the deaths of our parents and (2) us.

Strangely, this was the first my husband and I had heard of this “family event”.  We had gotten a formal invitation to the graduation, just prior to the event itself — but there was no indication in that envelope that it was going to be a family get-together.  No one mentioned it in our presence at the August reunion.  My husband and I were very deliberately left out of that gathering.  If my sister hadn’t screwed up and put it in her Xmas letter, we’d never have known about it.

Here’s my guess as to why:  I am guessing it was Susan’s idea initially, which she presented to my sister, who of course got on board with it.  Susan has a way of asking questions and manipulating conversations in order to get the answers and results that she wants.  I would not be surprised if the get-together was conceived by Susan as a way to show the rest of the family how much fun it would be to have a gathering without us.  Susan’s aim, at least from the time of The Susan Incident, seems to have been to cut me out of my own family, for reasons that are best known to her, but which probably stem from me daring to “criticize” her, and refusing to buy into her bullshit, her sucking up, and her narcissistic, unhealthy ways.  She simply can’t afford to have someone in the family who visibly doesn’t play along with her game, who refuses to take the responsibility and the blame for her shit that she flings.

From there, the graduation event guest list would have been cut short because, well, since this is Susan’s idea, it would be kind of awkward to invite the family member who is all unreasonably mad at her.  So we were not invited.  We got no emails, no phone calls beforehand to say, “Hey, we are all going to be there, would you guys like to come?”

Our mailed “invitation” came with a note scribbled on the outside of it saying something about it having gotten lost in a pile on a desk, or some such.

(ETA:  it got mailed to our old house, the one we had moved out of two years previously, and the new owners returned it to my brother after some unspecified period of time.)

But again, no mention inside of any get-together.  At the time, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, to be honest, as high school graduations have never been a big deal in our family before.  It was not a “given” that this meant everyone would attend in person.  In fact, I think this is probably the first graduation anyone in this family has ever done this for — of course, I may just not know about others, I suppose.

My youngest brother claims that this constitutes us being invited to his son’s graduation.  Well, yes, perhaps formally it does.  It is also an obvious, after-the-fact, bullshit, defensive justification for him sitting there and letting it happen, because that is pretty much what they wanted — “they” being my sister, at the behest of Susan, and the rest of The Triumvirate right behind them.

I won’t lie.  That sucks.  That hurts.  It hurts to know that my own family has been twisted so far against me that they PREFER not to have me around, that they prefer that to doing what is normal and healthy for a loving family to do.  It sucks to know that a normal, loving, healthy family is not what I have.

I suppose, on some level, maybe having a healthy person in your midst — someone who doesn’t play by the narcissist’s rules, so well-learned at mother’s knee — is a disturbing reminder of how fucked-up everyone else is.

The History, Part 2 – Mom’s Death

So, after all this shit happened — believe it or not, 3 months later, my mother dies.

So we travel back to my home town, and are staying at my dad’s house, which hasn’t been sold yet.

I spent most of the the time clearing out my mom’s assisted living quarters by myself, and I avoided everyone else as much as I could.

But two important things happened during that time.

One was that right after Mom died, as we were walking along the hospital halls, I apparently said something about our mom that my youngest brother considered insensitive, and all hell broke loose.  While no one can remember what it actually was that I said, Joe later wrote that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”

I have apologized to my youngest brother for whatever it was I said multiple times, and specifically for hurting his feelings with this mystery comment.

As far as I know, he still insists on believing that my motivation for making that remark was to “get back at everyone” for what happened at Dad’s death.

(Which is interesting, because it shows that on some level he recognizes that the two situations are in fact parallels.  But it simply isn’t true that I made my remark with intention for revenge — although ascribing such a nasty motive to me without any evidence is a completely normal thing to do to a scapegoat.  Scapegoats are guilty, even if they are proven innocent.  I also think that even if I had done it out of revenge, I’d think I might have some justification, after that horrible experience.)

Anyway, just to recap:

  • Susan had a jolly, laughing conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death (laughing while standing in the room with his body!).  I found that upsetting, and politely asked them to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that.
  • I said something shortly after Mom’s death, while walking down the hallway away from the hospital room.  My brother finds it upsetting.  But he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.

The two events are basically equivalent.  But I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. Susan “did nothing wrong”.  I, on the other hand, was completely wrong.

This set of events is what led me down the road of wondering how this is possible.  From there I learned about narcissism and scapegoating.  Voilà.  It explains many things that are otherwise inexplicable.

The other thing that happened was bullying.  While my husband and I were staying in my Dad’s room, at one point my youngest brother decided he needed to shout at me for something (I am not sure if it was the above-mentioned remark, or what).

He came into our room to yell at me, he stood in my way so I couldn’t escape, and he refused to get out after I clearly and repeatedly told him to. Once again, no one came to my aid, other than my husband. No one told my brother that he was out of line to physically corner me in that room, and shout at me, and refuse to get out or let me leave.

No one found it unacceptable to let him bully me like that.

When I told my therapist about all this, she said, mystified, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.”

This led me to the concept of healthy personal boundaries, as well as figuring out that I probably don’t have very good ones.

Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries… You may not believe you have any rights if yours weren’t respected growing up.

And guess who else doesn’t have healthy boundaries?  Probably just about everyone in this family, because the immediate reaction to conflict in this group is not to empathize, communicate, and resolve — but to shirk responsibility (my sister and my eldest brother) and to blame (Joe and Susan and my youngest brother).

… since you’re accountable for your feelings and actions, you don’t blame others.

Another article on boundaries has this to say:

…an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this… Mom is a narcissist, while the [child] is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her [child] is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The [child] is afraid of standing up to Mom, and she exploits his caregiving.

I am instantly reminded of my sister’s words about testifying for our mother in the divorce hearing:  “… She had no one else.  NO ONE.”

Odd, that my sister could find it in her heart to stick up for my mother in those difficult circumstances, yet refuses to get involved with the current conflict.

Well, not so odd.  My sister was parentified by our mother worse than anyone else in the family, probably because she was a girl.

…parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parent’s therapist, or take one parent’s side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.

And of course, if boundaries are learned, and our mother had lousy ones, then how would anyone else have learned anything healthy from her?

(click here for Part 3)