Codependency and Dementia

My FIL and my husband enabled my MIL to not deal with her control issues and her dislike of me — which was probably because I defied her attempts at control, from the get-go.

Planning the wedding was a nightmare (and, needless to say, I did not have an older sister or a mother helping me out on that one).

We were planning the wedding in Boston, long-distance from Texas, long before the internet would have made it so very easy.  His mother had it all figured out:  we would get married in the chapel of the school at which she worked.  I didn’t much care where we got married, but I wanted the processional and recessional to be the traditional (secular) selections, and kept after her to make sure her chosen venue would allow it (some church venues don’t, because it’s secular music).

I suspect I earned her enduring wrath the day she called and told me, “I found out about your music.

“You can’t have the music you want, but that doesn’t matter.

I immediately replied, “Well, we can’t have it there then.”

And apparently to say that to her was unthinkable.

It wasn’t unthinkable to tell a bride she can’t have her chosen music, mind you, but it was unthinkable to deny her what she wanted.

Looking back, I’m surprised I prevailed, but I did, and without even a fight.

Something in my voice must have told her that this was Not A Thing To Mess With.  I got the music I wanted, in a 130-year-old church instead.

And I got one pissed-off mother-in-law, who basically, childishly, pretended I didn’t exist for the rest of her life:

After both my in-laws died, when we were cleaning out the house, I was talking to a neighbor who had been close to them.  Along with praising my MIL for how warm and wonderful she had been to her — “treated me like a daughter” — and if you don’t think that was a twist of the knife, you are much mistaken — she also said, “I’ve never heard a thing about your wedding.  You could have been married in Jamaica for all I knew.”

In the nearly 20 years that I was married to her son, no one put a foot down and said, “Look, she’s here to stay, you need to figure out why you don’t like her and deal with your issues, because they are YOUR issues.  She hasn’t done anything to deserve the way you treat her.”

Well, that isn’t 100% true.  It happened a time or two, with varying degrees of success.  I can remember a meal at our previous house where the four of us actually had a 4-way conversation — the only one I can remember — and it was really very nice.  And it happened once.

Most of the rest of the time, in person or on the phone, his parents spoke to their son, and not to me.

At one point during that visit, we took them to a place they wanted to see.  There were walking paths, so my husband and I went for a walk around the perimeter.  His parents walked for a bit and then sat on a bench.  When we walked back up to them, his mother looked directly at him and asked, “[name], how was your walk?”  She made sure it was clear that she was not asking both of us.  Only her son.

Standing in the bookstore, his dad came up to the two of us and said, “[name], did you ever read The DaVinci Code?”  My husband said, “Yes, we both did.”  That small statement changed the conversation to be among the three of us, not just the two of them.  But his mother was nowhere nearby.

Another episode occurred when she and I were buying tickets for a ferry.  The woman at the window asked my MIL where they were from and why they were visiting.  She replied, “Oh, we’re here visiting our son.”  With me standing a foot away.  I said pointedly, “And his wife.”

I also distinctly remember another meal during that same visit.  After I had cooked it and served it and we all ate it, his dad looked not at me, sitting across from him, but diagonally across the table to his son, and pronounced, “She cooks a good meal, [name], you can keep her.”

At the time this infuriated me.  I considered it belittling, to refer to me as some kind of property, even one “worth keeping” — and was angry as hell that he apparently just couldn’t bring himself to look at me and compliment me directly.

Now I know that he wasn’t allowed to treat me nicely.  If he had looked at me, spoken directly to me, and complimented me, there would have been hell to pay, I am sure, in the form of his wife’s wrath.  But it was OK to speak to me in the bookstore, because she wasn’t there with us.

We once got a phone message on our anniversary.  His father left a message saying, “[Name], this is your father calling to wish you a happy anniversary.”

Never mind that by definition, an anniversary is celebrated between TWO PEOPLE.  Without me, there wouldn’t BE a damned anniversary.

But of course, there was that thing with the wedding and the fact that she didn’t get her way…

(there is in fact whole a list of weirdness and conflict that happened around our wedding and his mother, including that she used the same pattern for her dress as I chose for the bridesmaids.  And she doubled the cost of the dinner without telling me, and then skipped out on paying the bar bill after she said she would.  The best one was when she decided that one usher (her other son) wasn’t quite good enough, and she wanted her other son – the groom! – to leave the altar and come to the back of the church to also escort her to her seat.  I have a fond memory of telling my mother this, to which my mother replied, “If she gets both of hers [sons], I want all four of mine.”)

Over time, his dad started signing cards “Don or Dad” which I took to at least be a tacit admission that I existed at all.  I’m not sure how he got away with it.  I figure he probably signed the card after she did, and put it in the envelope.

Because no one could call her on the carpet about it.  There was way too much history there.  She had an alcoholic mother — she became parentified and had to do her mother’s job.  And from a very young age, she had to be in control.

When it came to the wedding planning, we later joked that I was probably the first person to tell her “no” in 40 years.  (And I figured out why her own daughter flat-out refused to have a big wedding.)

My MIL (and everyone around her) would probably have benefited from some therapy, but she was of a generation and a culture that didn’t do that kind of thing.  You toughed it out.  Maybe you prayed, but you kept it to yourself and god.

And, you ruined relationships — because prayer is a shitty substitute for therapy.  Therapy actually works a lot of the time.

The result of her inability to grow, to work through her own issues, affected three relationships.  Four, actually, if you count theirs.  When she was suffering from dementia later in her life, there was a lot of anger that came out against her father, and was directed against her husband, who was trying like hell to take care of her.  It was so much more difficult for him than it had to be.

And that’s not love.

“There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person.”  ~~ Dr. Henry Cloud

If not actually harming, then at least you are enabling them not to face reality, denying them a chance to grow as a person.

I can see the same thing happening in my FOO.  My sister doesn’t let her husband contact us.  This controlling behavior spills over into the rest of the family as well.  And it goes without saying that Joe can’t be friends with us, even if he wanted to.

But dictating who another person can be connected with is inappropriate and manipulating.  Make your own choices, sure, but don’t force those choices on another person, no matter how close.  You get to be responsible for you — they get to be responsible for them.

Anything else is just a way of avoiding hard work.

If you have to control others’ interactions, if you can’t deal with letting other people be responsible for themselves, if you have to force others to also pretend that a family member doesn’t actually exist because you can’t deal with them — then you probably need to do some.

After seeing what my FIL went through, I can’t imagine how my brother and my BIL will deal with their wives if they ever develop dementia.  As with my MIL, unresolved issues from early life can be reactivated, but by then it’s too late to deal with them cognitively.

“Relatives and front-­line care staff often notice a history of trauma in the lives of people with dementia. Investigations into the backgrounds of an initial 51 people with dementia identified what appeared to be unusually high levels of childhood loss, particularly the death of fathers…

“When I was considering with the son of one of them the concept that the burying of traumatic memory might constitute a route into dementia, he commented that his father and numerous uncles and aunts had the advantage of being able to complain heartily to each other about their childhood experience whenever they met at family gatherings over the years because their father was profoundly deaf and couldn’t hear what they were saying(!)”

“Having someone to believe and validate one’s traumatic experience is an essential part of the healing process. Siblings may, at least sometimes, be able to help each other keep painful memories within conscious awareness rather than feel obliged to bury them.”

But of course, you’d have to love the other person, really care more about them than you do your own comfort, to go and face your issues and deal with them, after a lifetime of trying to bury them.  Of course my sister and SIL won’t do it for me, as my MIL did not.  But maybe they should do it for their spouses and children.

capture(from “Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s Or Dementia“)

The Importance of Kindness

Some notes from this excellent article, written about married relationships, but with concepts applicable to any relationship.  There are three parts that I found most applicable.

As I read the first, I thought about how I spent years – decades, really – trying to somehow earn a place in my own FOO, and how those attempts almost always started with my sister, and how they were always unsuccessful:

…partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

 The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

Boy does that feel familiar.

How many of my bids were rejected over the years?
How many suggestions did I make that were rejected?
How many bids to me were never made, as they were to others?

Yet my sister (and apparently others) got upset over the fact that I didn’t make the “right” bids 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”

The fact that during the first 12 waking hours of that weekend, I had been deliberately snubbed by her, as well as attacked and yelled at by my youngest brother, of course had no bearing on this at all…

Why would anyone feel like asking someone anything, when they have made it plain that they can’t even be bothered to give you a hug after not seeing you for a year?  Or when the first thing they do when they see you (again after a year) is invite you out for a walk, and then yell at you?

Yet it is expected that I will continue to be interested in THEM, no matter how they treat me.  And the obviousness of the score-keeping is just disturbing.

Of course, not every interaction with every FOO member has been horrible.  There have been good times, with some people.  But the alliances that those people have with the other ones prevent them from being allowed to extend any bids, or accept any that were made.

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

I wrote about this idea before, with respect to my parents’ relationship.  But it’s also applicable to a scapegoat.  Blaming and criticizing the scapegoat is so important, it’s nearly impossible to admit that they could ever do or be right.

And finally, there is this section:

One of the telltale signs… inability to connect over each other’s good news… being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality. How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship… in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

…In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Reading this just stopped me in my tracks, because once again — there’s a name for it.  I recognized this behavior long ago, but I didn’t know what to call it.

Years ago, in April 2008, I got an email from my FIL that simply said, “Funny pictures of cats with captions,” and it had a link to a website where I was fortunate enough to fall into a group of the funniest, cleverest, and above all, kindest people I had ever known.  I’ve traveled the world to meet them:  New Zealand, England, and The Netherlands, as well as too many meetings to count in the US.  (This year, we’re going back to England to spend Xmas with a couple of them.)  Many of them have supported me steadfastly through this journey of  jettisoning people who refuse to love me.  They have, in fact, become, in large part, my new family.

In 2010, I was pictured and quoted in the New York Times after attending a Mariner’s baseball game with the site CEO and hundreds of other fans.  Can you guess what my FOO’s reaction was to my fun and awesome news?  Oh yes.  Passive constructive, at best.  I especially remember my sister greeting my news with less than lukewarm interest — which was odd, given that she seemed to appreciate that I would email her a selection of the funniest postings every week.  (Of course, that was of some benefit to her.  Being happy for me about the article was, of course, asking too much.)

But it goes a lot deeper than that.  When my husband and I were planning our trip to New Zealand at the end of 2008, I was hesitant about posting anything about it in the group.  I distinctly remember that being an issue for me.  For weeks I was actively resisting my natural impulse to post about the trip.  Not because of safety:  because, I realized later, I was expecting to receive criticism, jealousy, disinterest — anything but “active constructive” responses.

I was afraid of ruining my new-found friendships with my good news.

How fucked up is THAT?

The reason I know that’s what I was expecting is that I was both shocked and overjoyed when the responses were, instead, overwhelmingly “active constructive.”

My friends were EXCITED for us!  My friends wanted us to post pictures!  No one was jealous of us being able to go on such an exciting, expensive trip.  No one was telling us how crazy we were to be meeting up with an online friend.  Everyone was so positive and happy for us.  Not one negative or jealous thing was posted on the website.

And I was grateful, as well as stunned.

One member in NZ privately contacted me, and offered her help with the planning.  We ended up going to meet her, and we stayed at her house, watched a beautiful sunset off her back deck, met her cat, and spent New Year’s Eve and Day with her.  What a great time.  (She didn’t even get upset when we accidentally backed the RV over a small retaining wall and crushed it.)  We had the World’s Most Not-Northerly Cheezemeet.  She died of breast cancer a few years later and I still miss her.  But I’m so glad we had the chance to meet in person, even if only for a day, and I got to hear her voice, which was beautifully deep and rich, with that wonderful New Zealand accent.

That experience of getting a friendly, kind, “active constructive” response from a bunch of people who at that time were essentially acquaintances was the very beginning of this journey.

That was when I started figuring out that the way my FOO acted towards me was not the same.  They did not act towards me the way that nice, normal people, with no axe to grind or psychological baggage about me, acted towards me.

Side story:  In fact, the one person attached to my FOO who has always treated me similarly is also a person with no baggage about me:  my BIL.  My sister’s husband has always been kind to me, and I was able to recognize this even at the age of 13, when my oldest niece was born, and my siblings and my mother and I all traveled to their home for the baptism.

During this visit, one evening after dinner “the boys” were going to watch a Dirty Harry movie (this was back when VCR’s were a new-fangled thing and watching ANY MOVIE YOU WANTED, or at least any one they had at the video rental place, was incredibly novel).

I wanted to watch too, but my mother didn’t want me to, saying I was “too young to understand it”.  I now think what she really wanted was for me to “help her with” (in other words, “do”) the dishes in the kitchen.

But my BIL stuck up for me, saying I was plenty old enough to watch the movie, and he even let me sit in his recliner with him, and I remember him telling me, “If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask me and I’ll explain it.”  I’ve always remembered that small kindness, probably because it stood out like a fucking beacon from my normal familial interactions.

Getting back to the NZ trip:  in contrast, I know that not one person from my FOO ever asked us about it.  How’s that for scorekeeping?  But you have to understand that this was a huge event for us:  a three-week trip to the other side of the world, further than anyone else had ever gone, except maybe my father during his days in the Coast Guard — as well as it was in celebration of my husband’s earning his first sabbatical.  Lots of milestones.

And I remember that we brought our laptop full of pictures to the next reunion, hoping to share about our wonderful trip, and finding no one cared.

And it’s not that they aren’t capable of doing it.  Now that I know the difference, I know it happens between others in the family.

You would think that all these clues would have added up a whole lot sooner for me, but what this shows is that up until I met my online group, I had very little “normal” to compare and contrast with my lifetime of experience.  In the same way that an abused kid grows up thinking abuse is “normal”, the three negative modes of response were what I was used to, and what I thought was more-or-less “normal” among people who professed to love each other.  I’m so thankful that I found a place to learn otherwise, and real friends who truly love me, and who will hug me tightly whenever and wherever we happen to meet.

Our Little Sister

This is the title of a Chinese movie.  It’s not something I’ve ever been called by my FOO.

The movie is about three older siblings who, upon the death of their estranged father, find out that they have a much younger half-sister.

The older siblings have a shared history, lots of memories, which leave the half-sister out entirely.

She is the daughter of the woman who “ruined their family” – the woman their father left their mother for.

The older siblings are still angry and resentful towards the father — whereas the half-sister clearly loved her father.

An older woman in the film suggests that this is a good reason not to take her in, not to accept her, not to love her.

The half-sister understands the situation and internalizes this scapegoating:  “Someone is always hurt, just because I exist.”

But these sisters can see the truth:  “It had nothing to do with you!”  And they invite her to live with them, to become part of their family.

The movie could have been over in the first 15 minutes.  They could have gone to the funeral, met the half-sister, decided to be angry at her too, to blame her, and to push her away.

Instead they make the healthy, positive decision to love her, to include her, and not blame her for things she didn’t do.

And one of the older sisters says:  “Maybe father was a kind man… He left us such a lovely little sister.”

Such a different ending to the story.


Just Joking!

Amazing the stuff that keeps coming up in this election that illuminates family things for me.  This is a series of tweets from Dallas lawyer Jason P. Steed, who was previously an English professor. He wrote his PhD dissertation on “the social function of humor” and here he is writing about Trump’s “jokes”:

1. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the social function of humor (in literature & film) and here’s the thing about “just joking.”

2. You’re never “just joking.” Nobody is ever “just joking.” Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).

3. To say humor is social act is to say it is always in social context; we don’t joke alone. Humor is a way we relate/interact with others.

4. Which is to say, humor is a way we construct identity – who we are in relation to others. We use humor to form groups…

5. …and to find our individual place in or out of those groups. In short, joking/humor is one tool by which we assimilate or alienate.

6. IOW, we use humor to bring people into – or keep them out of – our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it’s for.

7. Consequently, how we use humor is tied up with ethics – who do we embrace, who do we shun, and how/why?

8. And the assimilating/alienating function of humor works not only on people but also on *ideas.* This is important.

9. This is why, e.g., racist “jokes” are bad. Not just because they serve to alienate certain people, but also because…

10. …they serve to assimilate the idea of racism (the idea of alienating people based on their race). And so we come to Trump.

11. A racist joke sends a message to the in-group that racism is acceptable. (If you don’t find it acceptable, you’re in the out-group.)

12. The racist joke teller might say “just joking” – but this is a *defense* to the out-group. He doesn’t have to say this to the in-group.

13. This is why we’re never “just joking.” To the in-group, no defense of the joke is needed; the idea conveyed is accepted/acceptable.

14. So, when Trump jokes about assassination or armed revolt, he’s asking the in-group to assimilate/accept that idea. That’s what jokes do.

15. And when he says “just joking,” that’s a defense offered to the out-group who was never meant to assimilate the idea in the first place.

16. Indeed, circling back to the start, the joke *itself* is a way to define in-group and out-group, through assimilation & alienation.

17. If you’re willing to accept “just joking” as defense, you’re willing to enter in-group where idea conveyed by the joke is acceptable.

18. IOW, if “just joking” excuses racist jokes, then in-group has accepted idea of racism as part of being in-group.

19. Same goes for “jokes” about armed revolt or assassinating Hillary Clinton. They cannot be accepted as “just joking.”

20. Now, a big caveat: humor (like all language) is complicated and always a matter of interpretation. For example, we might have…

21. …racist humor that is, in fact, designed to alienate (rather than assimilate) the idea of racism. (Think satire or parody.)

22. But I think it’s pretty clear Trump was not engaging in some complex satirical form of humor. He was “just joking.” In the worst sense.

23. Bottom line: don’t accept “just joking” as excuse for what Trump said today. The in-group for that joke should be tiny. Like his hands.

The whole thing is fascinating, but around #6 is where I learned why I have never, ever been able to make my sister laugh.


“Don’t Bug People”

“Don’t Bug People”

This came into my head today after a kind of weird day with a new-ish friend, in which I ended up feeling all wrong-footed and even though we apologized and talked it out, I still feel uncomfortable.

We text each other more-or-less daily, although if there is a pattern to who “starts” I don’t know what it is.  So today I was kind of on the bubble as to whether I should text her.

This came into my head:  “Don’t bug people.”  The underlying idea was that if I texted her, or maybe texted her the wrong thing, she might get annoyed.

I tossed this around for a while and then settled on texting her about something “safe”:  her mom had some medical testing done the day before, so I sent the message that I hoped everything was OK.  That seems to have been acceptable, because I got a text back saying thanks for the concern.

I’m not convinced everything is OK yet, but in my gut I’m not intending to push my luck and text her anything else, probably until I hear more from her.

I am pretty sure this self-effacing concept of self is rooted in a mother who was basically uninterested in being a mom, at least by the time she got to me.

Mom didn’t have time for me.  I was not important to her.

There is a theory that Mom had me in order to “fix” the marriage, which is offered as kind of an excuse or explanation — although as an explanation for what, exactly, was not made clear — but, I suspect it is for the obvious disinterest in me from Mom.

It’s also a tacit admission that a sixth baby was not really something anyone wanted just as a person, as another welcomed member of the family — but rather that baby #6 was viewed from the very beginning as a thing, not as a person — her conception was intended as a tool to be used as a means to an end, and her very existence depended on what that existence could potentially do for someone else.

In reality of course it is a fucking stupid idea, not to say manipulative — having more kids so the man will be forced to stay and provide.  What a great plan.

I was supposed to buy her time, not take it up.  And of course if I didn’t “do my job” — if in fact the idea backfired, and saving me from her became Dad’s reason for The Divorce — well, of course someone who comes up with that as a plan will have no problem holding that failure against me when the stupid idea doesn’t work.

When I got glasses in kindergarten, she would wash them every morning and dry the lenses, but then hand them to me with the earpieces still wet.  I hated that.  It is probably part of the reason I still hate wearing glasses.  I remember I asked her to dry them off too, and she wouldn’t bother.  I had to put up with wet earpieces until I became old enough to dry them off myself.

That’s not normal maternal love.  That’s a person who doesn’t want to take care of you and make you happy.  Who can’t even take an extra five seconds to at least not make you unhappy.

Actually, at 5 I was probably physically capable of drying them myself.  What I eventually learned was more subtle and more important:  I figured out that I could dry them off for myself.  I didn’t have to put up with what she handed me — I could do something about it.  I didn’t internalize completely the message she was sending, that I was entirely not worth caring about.  I could care about myself.

Lesson learned.  Take care of yourself, that’s the only person you can depend on.  But you also don’t have to put up with someone else’s shitty, uncaring treatment.  It’s a poor substitute for a mother’s love, but it’s something.

I have zero memories of us doing anything fun together in my childhood.  There were very few hugs, hardly any physical affection from mother to daughter.  In fact, she used to get me to brush her hair, because she enjoyed it — but I can’t remember a single time when she brushed mine for my pleasure.

So.  Put that together with another thing my mother used to tell me regularly, which is this:

“You have a lot of advantages:  you’re smart, you’re thin, you’re pretty, your family is well-off, and because of that, people aren’t going to like you and you’re going to have to be twice as nice to them to make up for it.”

Well.  Apparently just existing as I am is enough to bug some people by making them jealous (obviously my mom is one of them).

So I guess I just shouldn’t be me?  Shouldn’t be as good as I can be?

This is not an uncommon outcome for those who are victims of narcissism.

Another underlying message here is that having people like you is IMPORTANT.  Everyone.  As many as possible.  Quantity counts, not quality.

And it becomes your job to placate them, to take on the responsibility for their feelings about you.  Um.  Scapegoating, in a word.  If you “make” someone else feel bad about themselves — jealous or guilty or ashamed or angry — they dump that onto you, and then of course they have to keep you at a distance.  Awesome.

“Don’t bug people” becomes “Don’t bug ME”.  “Don’t bug US”, specifically.  Don’t be so needy.  Don’t be needy AT ALL.

Don’t ask for anything, because that would be bugging us because we won’t want to do it because we don’t care about you, we don’t love you.

But we will feel guilty and shameful about that, because family is supposed to be a certain way and we aren’t, so just don’t ask — don’t you dare make us feel guilty, it will be your fault for asking and making us either say yes and be angry, or say no and feel guilty or ashamed, so just don’t even ask.  We will blame you for our bad feelings if you ask.

Sometimes you don’t even have to ask for anything.  It happened with the very fact of my existence.  My mother was so embarrassed at how old she was when she had me, that for years she would not put her birth date on my school registration card.  For years I did not know how old she was, in case I told someone.  Every year they would ask me about it, and every year I would have to tell them I didn’t know.

This is how scapegoating works.

She was embarrassed about the results of HER OWN ACTIONS.  I certainly had fuck all to do with how or why she ended up having a child at 48, or how she felt about it.  That was a result of her own choices, her own actions, for good or ill.

And the feelings of shame originated with her — they didn’t come from me.  But she associated them with me.  And instead of dealing with those feelings of shame by herself, working through them on her own, considering her own actions and her own responsibility and, just possibly, learning from it — she simply decided that *I* was the cause of those bad feelings.

After all, if I didn’t exist, she wouldn’t have those bad feelings, right?  Must be my fault.

You certainly don’t have to follow the train of thought any further than that — it’s a comfortable place to stop.  Much more comfortable than continuing on to the part where my existence — and therefore those bad feelings — is still her responsibility.

After reaching that easy first conclusion, all you have to do is keep the scapegoat away, or somehow contained, distant, separated — pretend they don’t exist — so you don’t have to deal with those bad feelings.  Problem solved.  Relationship fucked, but hey.  As long as the narcissist is OK, that’s a win.

I suspect something much like this is what my MIL and my sister did to me, too.

My MIL had an alcoholic mother, and I don’t know much more than that.  So while I can understand why she had her own bullshit to deal with, I am angry with her for not having dealt with it herself.

Then again, she was of a generation that just buttoned that shit up and put it away.  And she was young when it happened.  But she still prevented or affected 3 relationships by her refusal to face up to her own shit.

And my sister, too, was only 17, so I don’t hold the initial choice against her.  After all, she had a bad example right in front of her, teaching her to blame the baby, to put those bad feelings there.  She made the best decisions she could make at that age, with all that was going on, and the example that she had to follow.

As with my MIL, I do hold it against her that she refuses to revisit those decisions as an adult, refuses to talk or listen to me, or let anyone else talk or listen to me.  Way to be a grown-up, Sis.  Way to ruin a bunch of relationships.  But I guess if you’re OK, that’s all that matters.  Stay selfish and true to Mom, because that’s the important shit.  And it’s easy.

Mom went away when I was just a baby, twice, once around 8 months and then again around 12 months.  She came back physically, but whether she never cared about me, or whether what happened in hospital changed her, she never really came back.

Then my other caretakers, my older siblings, went away to college — but I didn’t understand that.  The first was the one I depended on most, my sister, who went away when I was about 18 months old.  Then my two older brothers.

Dad went away when he died, when I was barely 30.  My best caretaker was gone forever.

I was immediately attacked for asking for something, from people who were supposed to be my family and my support, at the worst moment of my life.  And when I needed protection from that attack, everyone I had known my whole life abandoned me.

Eventually the whole bullshit edifice that is “our family history” began to unravel, because someone had finally gone too far.

Treat me like a second-class citizen up to that point, I guess that was fine.  At least, it was expected and accepted.  Because I was young, I guess, I accepted it.

But Susan tried to fuck with me and Dad, and put herself ahead of me when it came to my dad — and that was going too fucking far.

In a way, that was the last gift that Dad had to give me:  the ability to stand up for myself on this one thing at least, and start down the long, sorry road of recovering from a lifetime of being the one at fault.

I started asking questions and pulling on the loose ends.  And the more truth I found, the more sense my alternate viewpoint made.  And that is very threatening to certain people — the sister who is so angry she won’t even read what I write, and won’t let anyone else talk to me any more.  Or the brother who does read it, and then insists that what I write isn’t true.

Because when the scapegoat starts asking why everything is her fault, why she doesn’t get fair and equal treatment in her own “family” — that’s a problem.  It’s a HUGE problem for the people who hate the idea of having to treat her decently — especially when that comes at the expense of dealing with Susan, who will throw a holy fucking fit about being held accountable for her actions.

And of course, they rationalize that it’s the SCAPEGOAT who is “the problem”. Not them and the mountain of bullshit they hide behind.

Over and over I read that “no contact” is the only thing for me to do, to save myself and heal.  It’s what Dad did, too, for himself and for me, to the best of his ability.

I am sure they say, and believe, that I have rejected them.  That is how they would be forced to frame it, to make it fit into their fucked-up infrastructure.  To say otherwise is like pushing over the first domino.  To say that I might be right about anything is to admit that they might be wrong about something — and that opens the door to that whole mountain of bullshit falling on you like a ton of bricks.

Instead of accepting the testimony of experts, professionals, and myself — instead of being glad that I am doing what’s best for me — instead of offering loving acceptance if I should ever choose to return.  Which of course, would be the loving, decent thing to do for me.  And of which they are not capable, when it comes to me.

Fortunately, it is working.  It doesn’t hurt much any more.  Time and distance really do work.


More on Blind Tribalism

The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

“But the Us in blind tribalism is creepy. In blind tribalism, the tribe’s guiding dogma doubles as the identity of the tribe members, and the Us factor enforces that concept. Conscious tribe members reach conclusions—blind tribe members are conclusions. With a blind Us, if the way you are as an individual happens to contain opinions, traits, or principles that fall outside the outer edges of the dogma walls, they will need to be shed—or things will get ugly. By challenging the dogma of your tribe, you’re challenging both the sense of certainty the tribe members gain their strength from and the clear lines of identity they rely on.

“The best friend of a blind Us is a nemesis Us—Them. Nothing unites Us like a collectively hated anti-Us, and the blind tribe is usually defined almost as much by hating the dogma of Them as it is by abiding by the dogma of Us.

And if there isn’t a Them around anymore — perhaps because he has just died — they will find a new Them to attack.  The one that was associated most strongly with the old one, perhaps.

“Whatever element of rigid, identity-encompassing blindness is present in your own tribal life will reveal itself when you dare to validate any part of the rival Them dogma.

“Give it a try. The next time you’re with a member of a tribe you’re a part of, express a change of heart that aligns you on a certain topic with whoever your tribe considers to be Them. If you’re a religious Christian, tell people at church you’re not sure anymore that there’s a God. If you’re an artist in Boulder, explain at the next dinner party that you think global warming might actually be a liberal hoax. If you’re an Iraqi, tell your family that you’re feeling pro-Israel lately. If you and your husband are staunch Republicans, tell him you’re coming around on Obamacare. If you’re from Boston, tell your friends you’re pulling for the Yankees this year because you like their current group of players.

If you’re me, try saying that your reality is that Mom was selfish, lazy, neglectful, and disinterested, but Dad really loved you.  That Joe & Susan were shitty, and they should feel bad about what they did, and apologize.  Try saying that you don’t want kids to your family and your MIL.

“If you’re in a tribe with a blind mentality of total certainty, you’ll probably see a look of horror. It won’t just seem wrong, it’ll seem like heresy. They might get angry, they might passionately try to convince you otherwise, they might cut off the conversation—but there will be no open-minded conversation. And because identity is so intertwined with beliefs in blind tribalism, the person actually might feel less close to you afterwards. Because for rigidly tribal people, a shared dogma plays a more important role in their close relationships than they might recognize…

“As far as society is concerned, when you give something a try—on the values front, the fashion front, the religious front, the career front—you’ve branded yourself. And since people like to simplify people in order to make sense of things in their own head, the tribe around you reinforces your brand by putting you in a clearly-labeled, oversimplified box.

“What this all amounts to is that it becomes very painful to change. Changing is icky for someone whose identity will have to change along with it. And others don’t make things any easier. Blind tribe members don’t like when other tribe members change—it confuses them, it forces them to readjust the info in their heads, and it threatens the simplicity of their tribal certainty. So attempts to evolve are often met with opposition or mockery or anger.

But without change there is no possible growth, personal or otherwise.

“…when you are the experiment, negative feedback isn’t a piece of new, helpful information—it’s an insult. And it hurts. And it makes you mad. And because changing feels impossible, there’s not much good that feedback can do anyway—it’s like giving parents negative feedback on the name of their one-month-old child.

Which basically explains why nothing I’ve ever said has been taken on board by anyone.

“…they were “trapped in their own history.

“…Being trapped in your history means you don’t know how to change, you’ve forgotten how to innovate, and you’re stuck in the identity box the world has put you in.

More confirmation that mostly, I’ve made the right choices:  to be myself, to speak what I believe to be the truth, and to rid myself of a whole litany of dogmas:  Catholicism, mother-worship, career choices, patriarchal thinking.  Phew.

The price has been what it was always going to be.  It’s a steep price tag, but it’s been worth it.


Helpless, Angry, Hopeless, Healthy

From this article about a very old book, “I’m OK, You’re OK”:

…Transactional Analysis can be linked to ‘blame’, for which Jim Davis TSTA developed this simple and helpful model. Commonly when emotions are triggered people adopt one of three attitudes relating to blame:

  • I’m to blame (You are okay and I’m not okay – ‘helpless’)
  • You are to blame (I’m okay and you are not okay – ‘angry’)
  • We are both to blame (I’m not okay and you are not okay – ‘hopeless’)

None of these is a healthy position.

Instead the healthy position is, and the mindset should be: “It’s no-one’s fault, blame isn’t the issue – what matters is how we go forward and sort things out.” (I’m okay and you are okay – ‘happy’)

Wouldn’t that have been nice?

They want to blame me, be angry at me, and for me to be helpless — to be the scapegoat, the youngest, bottom of the totem pole.

I refused to stay in that helpless position — and got angry myself.

I don’t know that blame isn’t the issue, though.  We’ve gone past the idea of who caused the initial problem (or I have, anyway) and we are now on to the much MUCH larger problem of, why is blame so important in this family?  They started with the idea of who is supposed to be at fault (me) and worked their way backwards, creating a story that fits their pre-determined ending.  How on earth is that fair or useful or even smart?

Why does everyone else get a pass but I get blamed?  Why am I not an equal member of this family?  Why do I not get respect and the benefit of the doubt?  Why does no one care about my side of this story?

Why is everyone too chicken to think about these questions, and answer them honestly?

The answer is, this family isn’t healthy enough to do that.  And I don’t want to be a part of this family badly enough to stay that unhealthy.

Yet Another Article…

…that proves my point. Find the whole thing about manipulation tactics here (part 1) and here (part 2).  Looks like a lot of good stuff on this professional’s blog.

“Let’s talk first about the tactic of rationalization. Actually, a better term for this tactic would be “excuse-making” or “justifying.”

“…When disturbed characters make excuses for their behavior, they know what they’re doing. They have a clear purpose in mind when they’re seeking to justify themselves. They use this tactic only when they know full well they’ve done something or plan to do something most everyone would regard as wrong. But even knowing it’s wrong, and knowing how negatively the action reflects on them, they remain determined to do it.

[I’ll add that this is exactly the definition of a mortal sin.]

They might feel “entitled” to do it… they’re actively fighting against a principle they know society wants them to adopt. And more importantly, they’re also trying to get you to go along with it.

…Why are the elaborate “explanations” and justifications necessary if the person doesn’t realize how most people would judge their actions?

“It’s not that they don’t know most folks would regard their behavior as wrong. And it’s also not that they truly believe in their hearts that what they’ve done is okay. Rather, they simply don’t want you to negatively appraise their character and possibly be done with them. And, more importantly, they don’t want to accept and internalize the notion that such behavior should not be done again.

“Let’s look at another tactic: denial… Refusing to acknowledge the truth is not the same thing as neurotic denial. It’s simply lying…

“Manipulators will often couple denial with other tactics such as feigning innocence. This is when the person you’ve confronted acts like they have no idea what you’re talking about or pretends in a self-righteous manner that they’ve done absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for. Sometimes they can use denial and feigning innocence with such intensity and seeming conviction that you begin questioning your perceptions…

“One of the more common responsibility-avoidance behaviors and a frequent manipulation tactic is minimization. This is when the disturbed character attempts to trivialize a wrong or harmful behavior. It’s their attempt to make a mole hill out of a mountain. You might confront them on something serious, but they try to get you to believe that you’re over-reacting…

“…disturbed characters make a habit of trivializing really important things – things that reflect most strongly on their character. Maintaining a favorable social image is important to them, even when they know their character is deeply flawed. And their minimizations are frequently paired with other responsibility-avoidance behaviors and tactics such as excuse-making, blaming others, denial, feigning innocence…

“Disturbed characters, most especially the aggressive personalities, hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see… they can focus like a laser beam when it comes to something they want… they simply don’t want to pay attention to it because if they took it seriously and with an attitude of acceptance, it would mean two things:

1) the way they prefer to do things is erroneous and in need of change; and

2) they would have to work at changing, which would also mean paying some deference to you, and to the generally accepted rules, etc.

“And that’s way too much like respecting someone else’s needs… More importantly, it’s far too much like subordinating themselves – something narcissists feel no need to do and the aggressive personalities abhor.

“The fact that so many times neurotics in relationships with disturbed characters waste their breaths expounding on things that simply fall on deaf ears is one of the main reasons I advocate simply taking action over trying to reason or persuade…

“Lastly, there’s lying – the responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic that disturbed characters have turned into a virtual art form… One of the most effective ways to lie undetected is to recite a litany of true things but leave out a crucial detail or two that would change the whole picture. It’s a way to give yourself credibility while simultaneously taking advantage through deceit.”

A perfect example of this is when Joe and Susan told the rest of the family about the fight that occurred, but conveniently minimized/denied the part where it was they who started it.

April Fools!

2015-11-09 08.43.56So, tomorrow is my birthday.

And, anticipating that my oldest brother would once again ignore what I have asked for, and decide to do what he wants to do instead, while including some clever remarks that indicate that he KNOWS exactly what he is doing and why it’s “not REALLY a problem” — a few weeks ago, we decided to be proactive and try to avert this shit for once.

So my husband wrote him an email well in advance, repeating the request, asking him politely not to ignore it this time, and explaining that whatever his little reasons are, they don’t matter to us — in the same way, obviously, that what I want doesn’t matter to him.

Yesterday we got a response that is breathtaking in its arrogance.

He says he will “consider your idea” — how gracious!  but that our view is “disordered”.  His intentions are good, and therefore his actions are totally not disrespectful.  My wishes are not “wise” or “appropriate” and besides, I can just ignore what he sends — it’s easy for me to do that!

Never mind that it’s even EASIER for him to just NOT FUCKING DO IT.

Just for fun, let’s look at the pattern yet again:

  1.  I make a request to someone in my family of origin to change a behavior that causes me pain.
  2. They tell me how wrong I am and how my request is “unwise” or unnecessary.
  3. Having justified themselves, they refuse to change said behavior and go on with it.
  4. I call them out on that rudeness and unwillingness to acknowledge my rights and/or wishes.
  5. They get pissed off and defensive and yell at me for daring to call them out, or stick up for myself.

Over and over.

(Interestingly, I am also finding another pattern.  In steps 4-5, whenever my husband gets involved, speaks up, tries to protect me, my siblings accuse him of having some nefarious motivation.  I guess that’s because it can’t be possible that someone just loves me for being me, and wants to protect me, because that’s what love does.  Shades of my mother twisting my father’s genuine love for me into something sexual.)

Of course I already have my brother’s email blocked, along with almost everyone else’s, at the ISP level.  Of course I know how to do that — I run my own fucking websites.  I’ve done everything I can think of to protect myself, and I’m not stupid nor incapable.

But you can’t block snail mail.  And I tried setting up a call block on our home phone — which oh-so-easily took me over an hour of being on hold with Verizon/Frontier, and 4 different reps before one was found who knew how the hell to do it  — only to find that for some unknown reason, it won’t work on their phone number.

(UPDATE 4/14:  I am now up to FIVE separate calls to Frontier and over THREE HOURS of my time, because when it didn’t work I asked them to remove it, and they instead removed our voicemail entirely, which I didn’t even know for almost two weeks, so who knows what fell in the cracks while it was off.  GOOD THING THIS IS SOOOOO EASY FOR ME TO DO.

God, it must be sweet to be able to just blithely write off other people’s time and resources like that in order to get your own way.  Yes, there are days I wish I could do that too, but then I remind myself that I choose not to treat others as if they don’t matter in comparison to myself.)

Of course, we will be screening calls, as we always do — but it’s still an effort that WE have to make because SOMEONE ELSE is too inconsiderate, not to mention fucking self-important, to simply do what he is asked to do.

Because he wants what he wants, and nothing and no one else matters.  Like a little kid.

As I have quoted before:  ‘No Contact’ is not a welcome choice that scapegoats make to push family away, but rather a decision of last resorts they are driven to in order to protect themselves from ongoing abuse by family members who refuse to respect healthy limits or behavior.

Also, as I have written beforeif it is acknowledged that I have good reasons for my no-contact choice, then it also has to be acknowledged that people in this family have done shitty things to me.  And then — GASP — they would have to take some responsibility, and deal with their guilt, for their actions and/or lack thereof.

The real pisser, though, is where he says that he intends to “keep his door open” and continue to “ping” me once in a while to “let me know he cares about me.”



In some fantasy world of his — probably the one he prays about — he still hopes that I will turn back into a good little doormat, and accept all the blame so Susan and everyone else isn’t upset, and I’ll go back to the family that I’m only a second class member of, so he can stop feeling bad about it all, especially his own complete lack of action and power, and my sister can go back to having the whole group under her control, but still ignore me and treat me like shit.  GOT IT.

OK, here’s the deal.  I would have to be insane to do that.  That is not going to happen.

In fact, this one sentence illustrates exactly how little effect anything I’ve ever said has had. It shows that there is still absolutely no responsibility taken on by anyone else for their actions, or lack thereof. It clearly shows that no one has any intention of doing anything except sitting around with their thumbs up their asses, excuse me PRAYING, waiting for me to capitulate and for things to go back to how they were. Except that probably they get to treat me even worse, given all the trouble “I” have caused.

If anything is going to change — as I’ve said from absolutely the very beginning — that change will have to come from THEM.  I’ve already done my share of the work.  It’s all right here on this blog for anyone to read.

  • It will have to include an agreement that when I ask for things, I will get them, with no argument; and that if this doesn’t happen, and I or my husband call anyone out on such behavior, my word has to be accepted, the behavior has to stop right then and there, and an apology immediately issued.
  • It also needs to include some kind of recognition that criticism of basic truths about who I am will not be tolerated.  Atheism, childlessness, feminism, and progressive political opinions are beliefs I hold or choices I’ve made that make me happier — they are to be accepted, and not to be looked upon as personal flaws or mistakes I’ve made.  I’m happy to discuss them, but only in a respectful atmosphere.  I won’t be put on trial for them.
  • And, of course, a pony.  Because what the hell, none of the rest of it is going to happen either.

So here it is, clear and unequivocal:

Any communication, in any form, from any of my siblings except CEH, or from Susan, to me or my husband, that does not include the above elements (well, ok, not the pony) is unwanted and constitutes harassment.  If such communication persists, we will get legal protection.  I’ll spend Mom’s money to do it, too.  It will be a pleasure.

This is not a joke.  I’m done with this shit.

ETA:  after all that, I find this hilarious.

CaptureI don’t write this blog as a direct address to my siblings, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

Seriously, you went to the trouble of setting up an anonymous email just so you could, in effect, go, “nyah nyah, I’ll show you!”  LOL.

I know that on some level, probably the only conscious one, you will claim that you are “just wishing me happy birthday!”

Here’s a hint:  genuine, sincere birthday greetings are not sent from behind a wall of anonymity, and do not include “damn”.  No, what this is is one-upmanship, and cowardly one-upmanship at that.  It’s still harassment, and you’re still an asshole for doing it, even (especially) without attaching your own name to it and having the guts to own it.

Frankly, I’d love to see you admit to and be proud of that act in front of an actual adult — say for instance, a peer, or a boss, or even a mental health professional — instead of the family echo chamber that you all immediately turn to in order to validate each other.

It’s also cute to note that this actually circumvents all those reasons he gave that made it OK for him to do because it’s “easy” for me to ignore it:  I could block his email, right?  Except that he didn’t use it, so I can’t.

But the very best part of this is that this is the brother who once upon a time sent me an email that said that he was “happy to converse with me on almost any other subject”, but that he “refused to further discuss the family break” with me any more.

In case you missed it, that would be a boundary which he set and which he fully expects me to honor.

I wonder how pissed he’d be if I ignored his wishes, decided I KNEW BETTER, and emailed or called him up a couple of times a year and INSISTED on bringing up the subject?

His boundaries are absolutely supposed to be honored, but not mine.

This is why I’m gone.  Call me when you grow up a little and you can act as respectfully towards me as you expect me to act towards you.

Believe me, I’m not holding my breath.

Scapegoat Notes

Full article here: “No Contact – The Scapegoat’s Last Resort”

I still find it incredible that a group of well-educated people who consider themselves intelligent can be aware of the existence of articles like this, written by a professional, that EXACTLY describe my family situation and how it came about, yet can deny that I am right about it.

Then again, “Narcissistic family members lack insight” so maybe it’s not that surprising.

‘No Contact’ is not a welcome choice that scapegoats make to push family away, but rather a decision of last resorts they are driven to in order to protect themselves from ongoing abuse by family members who refuse to respect healthy relationships, limits or behavior.

…More typically amongst scapegoats, ‘No Contact’ is open ended, meaning it will be retracted if their abusers acknowledge mistreatment and make a commitment to not engage in abusive behavior again. Unfortunately this is rare and unlikely, but demonstrates the hopefulness, desire and mental health on the part of the scapegoat to improve and hold onto family relationships. The fact that scapegoating families are willing to deny the truth about abusive behavior is a statement about the psychological dysfunction of the family system as a whole.

Scapegoats have usually tried repeatedly – often over years or decades – to maintain and improve relationships with difficult family members, only to be continuously put down, lied about, shamed, blamed… if they try to stop scapegoating behavior, they tend to be punished repeatedly for attempting to break free of their role as the ‘family problem’. Scapegoats are frequently told they are creating family problems… many scapegoats choose ‘No Contact’ as a last resort to distance themselves from ongoing mistreatment… targets are considered to have few or no human rights by family members who mistreat them…‘No Contact’ is an act of desperate self preservation by scapegoats who want healthy relationships with their family, but desire more to flee the humiliation, hurt and craziness of ongoing mistreatment.

By saying ‘No’ to scapegoating, targets are escaping the nightmare of never being allowed to be right – especially when they are.

…escaping the repetitive nightmare of never being allowed to be seen as loveable or worthy members of a family that frames them as the bad guy… targets are resigning from toxic patterns of abusive family dynamics… In the end they are choosing basic sanity and peace of mind.

Scapegoaters become defensive when their abusive behavior is being openly identified… A ‘No Contact’ stance tends to elicit angry denunciation of the target’s decision by scapegoaters, and becomes fuel for more false outrage, blaming and framing the target’s choice as further evidence of their ‘badness’.

Loss:  ‘No Contact’ can be one of the most heart wrenching choices a scapegoat can make. In spite of a legitimate decision to move away from abuse, ‘No Contact’ represents a break from and, sometimes, the permanent loss of family. As most scapegoats are mentally well, they experience normal, healthy grief in the face of this loss.

Scapegoats have been deprived of the one thing they come into this world deserving – to be wanted and loved by family…

extended family relationships are damaged or lost due to buying into the scapegoat myth. This creates a greater sense of loneliness for scapegoats, especially at traditional family times such as Christmas…

Many scapegoats come from family systems that are character disordered –often narcissistic – meaning controlling, self centered, unloving, unsupportive, discontented, mentally unhealthy people are at the helm.

…narcissists have unconscious fears of inadequacy which break through when they are not being put on a pedestal, they are being criticized or asked to take accountability for negative behavior. When this happens, narcissistic rage arises, and the scapegoat is made responsible for this unhappiness.

Denial and minimization of personal responsibility, blaming others, and rage are the main defenses of narcissistic people.

It’s a shock to the system to separate from your nuclear family, and requires a process of grieving and adjustment.

Family should be made up of people whom you trust and who care about you, and vice versa.

Expect to feel sad sometimes. You did not ask to be born into a family that does not value you or respect you for who you are. You have lost a lot in being cheated of a loving family. But you are also a survivor who has chosen to break the silence and end the cycle of abuse. It takes courage and self awareness to break free from the toxic legacy of scapegoating. For that huge reason alone, you deserve to feel good about yourself.