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Even toxic people have feelings...

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

I am really struggling.

 

My MIL has shockingly poor boundaries, is controlling, overbearing etc. etc. you have all heard it a million times before. My H has struggled with it his whole life and I have been dealing with it for 12 years. We have finally, for the first time had to/chosen to enforce a boundary. The ILs blatantly broke a clear rule with our DS and we have decided to be kind and firm and take a break from them for a few weeks. This "rule" was not a safety rule and it will seem silly if I explain it, but people with poor boundaries etc. sometimes need to be given overly clear guidelines so that it is more clear and obvious when a line has been crossed, you know?

 

That is fine. DH and I feel awesome and empowered and shocked that we were able to TELL them that they crossed the line and we wouldn't be hanging out with them or having them see DS for a few weeks. I wrote an email that was very firm, kind and clear (I have been reading/absorbing/working through "The Dance of Anger"). My husband was pretty freaked that I actually told them what was up, instead of us just trying to evade and avoid them for a while. He was a little mad until he read the email I sent and he found no fault with it. He had wanted to have a(nother) sit down convo.

 

Well, MIL unleashed hell and fury on him, which was to be expected. He realized immediately that nothing but an email would have worked. Her reaction was so out of proportion to the actual words in the email. Talking to her in person is madness. But, many of you have experienced relationships like this, they seem pretty textbook.

 

All that is fine, understandable etc. The part I am struggling with is all the hurt feelings she has that are unrelated to the boundary/control issues. She wants us to be friends and I don't want to be friends with her. My MIL is an outgoing, funny, beautiful woman who everyone adores when they meet her. She is also a toxic person in the lives of many people, but that isn't really relevant. My mom is shy, introverted awkward an not into her looks at all. They last time we all got together was a dressy event and I told my mom she looked pretty. I never tell my MIL she looks pretty, so this really hurt MILs feelings. MIL is really into her appearance and really wants people to tell her how wonderful she is in every way, including appearance. I know this. The kind thing for me to do is to compliment her on her appearance. But I don't. I am loathe to. This is the dynamic I am struggling with. This is just an example.

 

I withhold kindness, love and affection because of all the ridiculous stuff I have to put up with. It's really making me feel like a bad person. I have other friends who I know need words of affirmation and even though I don't get that, I do it out of kindness and understanding (never lying or exaggerating) Why can't I do this with MIL?

 

All of this came out in MILs rant to DH. So mixed up with the madness were some very very valid points about my behavior. I realize that instead of enforcing boundaries with MIL I got back at her for her bad behavior by withholding love, kindness, affection, time etc.

 

I feel so good and comfortable about enforcing our boundaries (and it's pretty dramatic considering the nature of our relationship) but I don't feel good about the other stuff. I am pretty sure she has a personality disorder or something but that is really not relevant to her FEELINGS. She thinks she is normal and wonderful and is very very hurt by me all the time.

 

It's also part of the broader question about what do you do about someone being sad that you don't want to be their friend?

post #2 of 21
hug.gif This is a complicated situation, and your perspective and insightfulness is impressive.

It's tricky. Yes, toxic people have feelings, too, very real feelings. Yes, it is admirable and mature to address those feelings and be sensitive to them, to treat others as you wish them to treat you.

However, you are not responsible for others' feelings. And people with personality disorders have feelings that may not have ANYTHING to do with those people or events around them. Controlling personalities frequently blame others and make others feel badly as another means of controlling them. You may also have very valid reasons why you are not as warm and affectionate with your MIL as you are with other people, and forcing yourself to treat her the same means being disingenuous to your own feelings. Not to mention, this may be a defensive, protective mechanism to guard your own feelings and relationship.

In other words, there may be a lot of reasons why you struggle to connect with your MIL. It is within her right to be sad about a relationship that isn't the way she would like it to be, but that doesn't mean you have to change or make her happy.
post #3 of 21

I sympathize with you azgirl! I agree with Mosaic, that you are not responsible for others' feelings. I wish I had some of my own good advice for you, but I don't as I'm in a similar situation with my MIL and at a loss about what to do. I'm interested in hearing what others have to say. So keep it coming! 

hug2.gif

post #4 of 21

I'm also sympathizing with you. My MIL has tried SO HARD to not be the "horrible mother in-law" that she had, but her efforts, combined with her off-the-wall nature, have totally backfired and always make me feel uneasy in her presence. I know she mourns the mother/daughter relationship she thought we would have, but I just can deal with her. I married her amazing son, not her. I should be nice, polite and kind with MIL - but I don't have to be her best friend. It is hard though, to know that your actions cause someone else pain. 

post #5 of 21

Wow. I so appreciated your unique post on the eternal MIL issue. Soooooo many of your details are similar to my situation, as is your self-questioning. In addition to withholding the easy compliments and small attentions that are so soothing to my MIL, I also get into this sequence of events:

 

I sometimes overcompensate with excessive attention - which she truly cannot get enough of, and sees as barely her due...

and then I harbor more anger and resentment about the lack of appreciation for the lengths I have gone to...

and then I freak out because that's exactly the way she would phrase her disappointment in, um, everything ("with the lengths I went to, you'd think they'd at least send me a thank you card! After all, I did show up at their opening!" etc)

and then I think I have an opportunity to be compassionate, but really I just can't get there

and then I start withholding again.

 

But honestly, I give this woman an inch and she takes 100 miles. So it's no wonder I don't want to cut her any extra slack and offer those niceties. It's kind of like needing to keep the compliments to myself is the only way to have any boundaries in her actual presence. I'm also speaking from a childhood in which I was nearly annihilated by the narcissism of all the adults around me, so it's not like I don't know WHY her disorder pushes my buttons, I just wish I were grown up enough not to react with any unkindness in my heart. I give myself a break, though, on the sins of omission, and criticize myself much more for the sins of commission - an example is offering an excess of sympathy for some complaint that she's enjoying nattering on about: "And then they didn't even have wine with the dinner!" "No! Really? That's quite shocking, isn't it! What did you do? It must have been awful!" (ashamed.)

 

So anyway, kudos to you for a least holding it to a sin of omission, and don't forget mosaic's wise point that her feelings may only rarely be related to the actual You in the actual Present Time. It's practically a rule with my MIL that if she's overt about her disappointment with us, it's because something else has tipped her over the edge.

 

Wish me luck this weekend as I indulge her in a bridal morning mani/ pedi, which she initially declined by saying "I couldn't possibly schedule one more thing on Saturday! I suppose that's the only time you can do that for me?"    ...Breathing...

post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 

Thank you all so much for your wisdom and support. I am up late in part because this is so on my mind.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mosaic View Post

hug.gif This is a complicated situation, and your perspective and insightfulness is impressive.

It's tricky. Yes, toxic people have feelings, too, very real feelings. Yes, it is admirable and mature to address those feelings and be sensitive to them, to treat others as you wish them to treat you.

However, you are not responsible for others' feelings. And people with personality disorders have feelings that may not have ANYTHING to do with those people or events around them. Controlling personalities frequently blame others and make others feel badly as another means of controlling them. You may also have very valid reasons why you are not as warm and affectionate with your MIL as you are with other people, and forcing yourself to treat her the same means being disingenuous to your own feelings. Not to mention, this may be a defensive, protective mechanism to guard your own feelings and relationship.

In other words, there may be a lot of reasons why you struggle to connect with your MIL. It is within her right to be sad about a relationship that isn't the way she would like it to be, but that doesn't mean you have to change or make her happy.


Thanks, Mosaic, for reminding me that her feelings aren't my responsibility. I definitely grasp at coping and defense mechanisms when dealing with my MIL. It's tough because other people's feelings are always their own but in other relationships I try my best to be kind. I may fail often, but it is always out of oblivion, accident or ignorance. I just can't plead ignorance in this case :(

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by HonkyTonka View Post

I'm also sympathizing with you. My MIL has tried SO HARD to not be the "horrible mother in-law" that she had, but her efforts, combined with her off-the-wall nature, have totally backfired and always make me feel uneasy in her presence. I know she mourns the mother/daughter relationship she thought we would have, but I just can deal with her. I married her amazing son, not her. I should be nice, polite and kind with MIL - but I don't have to be her best friend. It is hard though, to know that your actions cause someone else pain. 

 

My MIL tries SO hard also. It makes me anxious and does not help me be at my best. My MIL is off-the-wall also. She is so intense and intensely, passionately and admirably wants a wonderful relationship with her kids and their SOs. It just isn't working out at all. I really am heart-broken for her. My MILs behavior is off-the-wall ridiculous, though...
 

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by LCBMAX View Post

Wow. I so appreciated your unique post on the eternal MIL issue. Soooooo many of your details are similar to my situation, as is your self-questioning. In addition to withholding the easy compliments and small attentions that are so soothing to my MIL, I also get into this sequence of events:

 

I sometimes overcompensate with excessive attention - which she truly cannot get enough of, and sees as barely her due...

and then I harbor more anger and resentment about the lack of appreciation for the lengths I have gone to...

and then I freak out because that's exactly the way she would phrase her disappointment in, um, everything ("with the lengths I went to, you'd think they'd at least send me a thank you card! After all, I did show up at their opening!" etc)

and then I think I have an opportunity to be compassionate, but really I just can't get there

and then I start withholding again.

 

But honestly, I give this woman an inch and she takes 100 miles. So it's no wonder I don't want to cut her any extra slack and offer those niceties. It's kind of like needing to keep the compliments to myself is the only way to have any boundaries in her actual presence. I'm also speaking from a childhood in which I was nearly annihilated by the narcissism of all the adults around me, so it's not like I don't know WHY her disorder pushes my buttons, I just wish I were grown up enough not to react with any unkindness in my heart. I give myself a break, though, on the sins of omission, and criticize myself much more for the sins of commission - an example is offering an excess of sympathy for some complaint that she's enjoying nattering on about: "And then they didn't even have wine with the dinner!" "No! Really? That's quite shocking, isn't it! What did you do? It must have been awful!" (ashamed.)

 

So anyway, kudos to you for a least holding it to a sin of omission, and don't forget mosaic's wise point that her feelings may only rarely be related to the actual You in the actual Present Time. It's practically a rule with my MIL that if she's overt about her disappointment with us, it's because something else has tipped her over the edge.

 

Wish me luck this weekend as I indulge her in a bridal morning mani/ pedi, which she initially declined by saying "I couldn't possibly schedule one more thing on Saturday! I suppose that's the only time you can do that for me?"    ...Breathing...

 

Good luck this weekend! Imagine how good it would feel to give her what she needs if you can muster it :)

 

So, yeah, our dynamics are similar...and I just didn't post about my sins of commission. There are many. Actually you have made such an important point that I haven't realized: I didn't have the tools, guts, courage or confidence to enforce my boundaries the right way, so I grasped at any way I had to be autonomous and not be manipulated by her. I missed so many countless chances at standing up for myself in vulnerable moments when she was being controlling and overbearing that I made up for it by being snarky in other situations where she couldn't turn it into a criticism about me (which were always in the guise of wanting to help me).  All in all, I have not behaved admirably. To be fair to myself, I was young, inexperienced, damaged and frankly, hoodwinked into thinking that she was a really nice person who cared about me and I only gradually realized how much more complex the truth was. By then we had gotten into a routine...ugh.

 

I just wish I had spent the last decade standing up for myself in a kind, graceful and respectable way, but nope, I leave a long trail of bad behavior. Now I know better...but it feels too late to undo the damage and I struggling with a bit of shame.

 

I've been looking into personality disorders: she most certainly does not have a full blown personality disorder. She does have a lot of the building blocks. I don't think it's kind or relevant to psycho-analyze people but I am trying to decide how to move forward. I know that I will enforce boundaries and firmly and kindly let her know when her behavior is hurtful and unacceptable. That is required for us to have a civil working MIL/DIL grandmother-to-my-DS relationship. But I am having trouble with the more relational stuff...do I talk to her about the behavior that makes it impossible to be friends? I do not have a history of discussing behavior that bothers me with my friends. I normally accept people as they are and decide if I want to become or remain friends with them...so I don't have a lot of wisdom or experience in this area. I was called out in a thread a while back when I discussed that and I guess maybe I am missing out on having authentic relationships or something...

 

I am dealing with this semi-successfully in other areas of my life...but...any tips for breaking patterns of behavior? Do I need to practice? Role-play? Is there a way you to be less emotionally reactive without being completely emotionally detached?
 

 

post #7 of 21

You're punishing her where it hurts the most.. her heart, her soul. She's your mother also now and yes I do feel you bear some responsiblity to her feelings. I don't know what outlandish cruel things she's done to you though. Saying she's mental might just be an opinion and an excuse. I don't know. I feel sad for you both. If she is cruel to you and your children you have no choice but to withdrawl.

post #8 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by babygirlie View Post

You're punishing her where it hurts the most.. her heart, her soul. She's your mother also now and yes I do feel you bear some responsiblity to her feelings. I don't know what outlandish cruel things she's done to you though. Saying she's mental might just be an opinion and an excuse. I don't know. I feel sad for you both. If she is cruel to you and your children you have no choice but to withdrawl.


The OP did not call her MIL mental.  She has explained things here very clearly.  I personally think it is helpful to read up on personality disorders ( not "mental") when dealing with toxic people.  Some people are just not rational and need firm and clear boundaries.  So I applaud you OP for setting some boundaries.

Cultivating compassion towards her is a great thing, but that doesn't mean she can treat you and your family poorly.

 

 

post #9 of 21


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by azgirl View Post

MIL is really into her appearance and really wants people to tell her how wonderful she is in every way, including appearance. I know this. The kind thing for me to do is to compliment her on her appearance. But I don't. I am loathe to.

 

I have other friends who I know need words of affirmation and even though I don't get that, I do it out of kindness and understanding (never lying or exaggerating) Why can't I do this with MIL?


I wanted to address the above specifically.  My mother is very concerned about her outward appearance.  Weight, clothing, hair, makeup, jewelry, you name it she's obsessed with it.  It is to the point that at least 75% of her/our conversation is about her appearance.  I consciously choose to not compliment her appearance and to steer the conversation to other topics because I feel that encouraging her obsession is bad for her.  Of course, I am annoyed by it as appearance is way down on my list of important life issues.  However, feeding her need/want for praise of her external only makes it worse.  As I type this out I'm realizing that what I should probably do is ignore/not comment on appearance and begin to praise/affirm those characteristics of hers that are actually beautiful (ie generosity, curiosity, etc.).  I wonder if you could focus your words of affirmation in that direction as well?

 

post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by babygirlie View Post

You're punishing her where it hurts the most.. her heart, her soul. She's your mother also now and yes I do feel you bear some responsiblity to her feelings. I don't know what outlandish cruel things she's done to you though. Saying she's mental might just be an opinion and an excuse. I don't know. I feel sad for you both. If she is cruel to you and your children you have no choice but to withdrawl.

I really share your point of view, babygirlie, which is why this situation is such a struggle for me. Ironically, the more "crazy" or "mental" I think she is the more I am able to take the stuff she does less personally. That is my husband's defense-mechanism, actually. It adds to my struggle; if she is crazy how do I manage that (my dad has actual severe mental illness and I have been clumsily navigating those waters for a while.)  If she doesn't have an actual mental problem...well, then I sort of feel like it's okay for me not to respond well to her aggressive, undermining, controlling, disrespectful and hurtful behavior. Do you have some suggestions for how I can deal with her? Have you successfully maintained a kind and gentle relationship with someone who hurts you?

 

I would not characterize her behavior as "cruel" I really think it's important to reserve words like that for more heinous actions. I do have a lot of anxiety that she would do something cruel in the right circumstances (my biggest fear is that if my husband dies she will use her formidable wealth, connections and force of will to get full custody of my kids guilty.gif) this is, I think/hope an irrational fear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sebandg'smama View Post




The OP did not call her MIL mental.  She has explained things here very clearly.  I personally think it is helpful to read up on personality disorders ( not "mental") when dealing with toxic people.  Some people are just not rational and need firm and clear boundaries.  So I applaud you OP for setting some boundaries.

Cultivating compassion towards her is a great thing, but that doesn't mean she can treat you and your family poorly.

 

 

Thanks, I think people throw around labels a lot anytime someone doesn't behave the way we think they should. I am trying to understand what I am dealing with so I can act accordingly. It really isn't compassionate to expect someone to behave in a way that they can't. I just don't want to sell her short when there is a chance she could change and improve. My H insists she is not capable of change. He thinks she may respond to boundaries, but more in a behavioristic way. Not accepting, understanding or respecting our decisions or even really believing we have  a right to make decisions, but just following the rules to get what she wants (time with us and DS). I dunno. I don't think I have been doing a very good job so far so I wonder if I did better if she wouldn't do better...
 

I just met with my BIL's old girlfriend who I am very close to. They have been broken up for 5 years. This girl still has my MIL on her bank account. Her bank statements go to MILs house. This girl, who I adore, is constantly thinking about what MIL must think of her paycheck, purchasing habits etc. Everyone tells her she needs to stop using that account and open a new one. This girl is too afraid that MIL will see that as a slap in the face and an act of aggression that she just can't do it. It's been years. They aren't friends and they have very little contact. It is madness the lengths we will go to avoid drama with MIL. It's irrational. MIL wouldn't DO anything!! It's just we are so intimidated and out of touch with what normal is in our relationship with her.

 

*I do ask why MIL was on her account in the first place...more controlling and overseeing in the guise of helpfulness from MIL...

 

No, she isn't on any of mine and DH's bank accounts, but we have a lot of other inappropriate entanglements.  Our "secrecy" drives her nuts.

 

post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucy Alden View Post


 


I wanted to address the above specifically.  My mother is very concerned about her outward appearance.  Weight, clothing, hair, makeup, jewelry, you name it she's obsessed with it.  It is to the point that at least 75% of her/our conversation is about her appearance.  I consciously choose to not compliment her appearance and to steer the conversation to other topics because I feel that encouraging her obsession is bad for her.  Of course, I am annoyed by it as appearance is way down on my list of important life issues.  However, feeding her need/want for praise of her external only makes it worse.  As I type this out I'm realizing that what I should probably do is ignore/not comment on appearance and begin to praise/affirm those characteristics of hers that are actually beautiful (ie generosity, curiosity, etc.).  I wonder if you could focus your words of affirmation in that direction as well?

 

Yes. Such a good idea! I will keep that in mind and put it into practice as soon as we are seeing each other again.
 

 

post #12 of 21

Ok, you brought up a really important point - the question of how to break patterns of behavior and such. That is, being able to stand up for yourself in vulnerable moments, in an assertive and direct way enforcing your boundaries. I just did this for the first time with my MIL. I won't go into all the details, but basically the incident went something like this: she ambushed me (as is her style) at the last minute, was completely inappropriate and then left. Because I didn't have time to directly respond I wrote her an email later that day kindly but firmly telling her that her behavior made me uncomfortable, that it was inappropriate and that I didn't want to be involved. I then kindly asked for the behavior I would have liked instead moving forward. Well I got a response back that completely ignored what I said and asked for, and just repeated what she did initially that made me uncomfortable. I couldn't believe it! It was like a broken record with no acknowledgment of anything I asked for. I wrote back once more, this time even more directly, and again got the same sort of non-response just pushing her own agenda. This just happened by the way.

 

The thing is -- I felt so proud of myself for actually being direct finally, but then I was so let down by her lack of acknowledgment. It felt honestly like she overran my boundaries even more blatantly with her responses to my email b/c she just repeated the same behavior I was calling her out on. It was like the Twilight Zone. So I guess what I'm trying to say (after my mini vent) is that even when you change your own behavior patterns (i.e., setting boundaries), you can't necessarily expect that they will change theirs. So if they don't recognize or change how they respond to your setting your own boundaries, what do you do?
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by azgirl View Post

Good luck this weekend! Imagine how good it would feel to give her what she needs if you can muster it :)

 

So, yeah, our dynamics are similar...and I just didn't post about my sins of commission. There are many. Actually you have made such an important point that I haven't realized: I didn't have the tools, guts, courage or confidence to enforce my boundaries the right way, so I grasped at any way I had to be autonomous and not be manipulated by her. I missed so many countless chances at standing up for myself in vulnerable moments when she was being controlling and overbearing that I made up for it by being snarky in other situations where she couldn't turn it into a criticism about me (which were always in the guise of wanting to help me).  All in all, I have not behaved admirably. To be fair to myself, I was young, inexperienced, damaged and frankly, hoodwinked into thinking that she was a really nice person who cared about me and I only gradually realized how much more complex the truth was. By then we had gotten into a routine...ugh.

 

I just wish I had spent the last decade standing up for myself in a kind, graceful and respectable way, but nope, I leave a long trail of bad behavior. Now I know better...but it feels too late to undo the damage and I struggling with a bit of shame.

 

I've been looking into personality disorders: she most certainly does not have a full blown personality disorder. She does have a lot of the building blocks. I don't think it's kind or relevant to psycho-analyze people but I am trying to decide how to move forward. I know that I will enforce boundaries and firmly and kindly let her know when her behavior is hurtful and unacceptable. That is required for us to have a civil working MIL/DIL grandmother-to-my-DS relationship. But I am having trouble with the more relational stuff...do I talk to her about the behavior that makes it impossible to be friends? I do not have a history of discussing behavior that bothers me with my friends. I normally accept people as they are and decide if I want to become or remain friends with them...so I don't have a lot of wisdom or experience in this area. I was called out in a thread a while back when I discussed that and I guess maybe I am missing out on having authentic relationships or something...

 

I am dealing with this semi-successfully in other areas of my life...but...any tips for breaking patterns of behavior? Do I need to practice? Role-play? Is there a way you to be less emotionally reactive without being completely emotionally detached?
 

 



 

post #13 of 21

It's common for toxic people to be wrapped up in themselves; that's part of what makes them so toxic.  (This is my MIL exactly.)   So, part of setting boundaries is realizing that you're not, ultimately, responsible for their feelings.  My MIL wanted me to call her "Mom" and be her best friend, too, and I just couldn't do it.  That's really ok.  We have to live our own lives. 

post #14 of 21

Personality disorders are really (REALLY) hard to diagnose--even with a lot of experience in that area.  But even without meeting official "criteria", I think that a person can still have many of the core traits and behaviors that make dealing with them very very difficult.  The big issue with personality disorders is that they generally are long-standing in nature and VERY resistant to change.  The way the person acts, to them, fits in with their view of themselves and their life and-somehow- gives them what they need (or think they need) so the behaviors are reinforced because the result feels good.  This may not even make sense to the rest of us... like maybe your MILs behaivor keeps being reinforced because the outcome (her awful behavior when she reacted to your email) of drama, victimhood, etc. is actually what she needed and her bad behavior is a means to this.  Of course, all without her actually being aware of it. fun.

 

I'm pretty sure a very close relative of mine has a personality disorder- histrionic PD.  It makes things VERY hard between us.  In my case, I had to decide that our relationship would NEVER be MY idea of close/best friends etc.  but that there was still a relationship worth having, even though it was going to be based on HER limitations in many ways.  Oddly, things are now really good between us... mostly because I've decided to adjust my expectations of what she can bring to a relationship, and to know that it won't be like others in my life- and that it is OK with me.  SHE thinks we are BEST friends who tell each other everything and couldn't be closer.  In reality, she calls 5x a week, I take aobut 2 of the calls, and get off within 10 minutes.  I listen to her talk A LOT and tell her facts and details of my life (and my kids' lives) that make her feel included and involved but which don't actually mean much to me to share, if that makes sense.  for example,I'll tell her about DD1 learning to read in kindergarten, but not about her behavior problems with the teacher and how we feel about that.  I'll tellher about how adorable DD2 is these days, but not about our mixed feelings about some of the ways she and DD1 interact.  I'll tell her when DD3 started solid food, but not about how I cried as I packed up the box of 3-6 month clothes for the first time.

 

I'm not sure if any of that makes sense, but I think that some of the issue is about reframing what you want out of the relationship, and deciding that having a relationship with her (even if it is for the sake of your DH and DC's) is worth doing even if it is imperfect and not on par with the expectations you have for others in your life.  If you can have some sort of relationsip with her, based on her limitiations- all the better.  Enforce the boundaries that y ou need to make that work for you in the long term, and give in on the points (i.e. giving her the type of feedback/compliments she needs) that you can be generous on even if it isn't totally natural/comfortable for you.

post #15 of 21

OP, have you read "The Art of Speedreading People"? i recommend it. it's analysis of Meyers-Briggs personality types. it can help you understand where people are coming from.


Edited by ElliesMomma - 5/28/11 at 10:07pm
post #16 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by MamaofLiam View Post

Ok, you brought up a really important point - the question of how to break patterns of behavior and such. That is, being able to stand up for yourself in vulnerable moments, in an assertive and direct way enforcing your boundaries. I just did this for the first time with my MIL. I won't go into all the details, but basically the incident went something like this: she ambushed me (as is her style) at the last minute, was completely inappropriate and then left. Because I didn't have time to directly respond I wrote her an email later that day kindly but firmly telling her that her behavior made me uncomfortable, that it was inappropriate and that I didn't want to be involved. I then kindly asked for the behavior I would have liked instead moving forward. Well I got a response back that completely ignored what I said and asked for, and just repeated what she did initially that made me uncomfortable. I couldn't believe it! It was like a broken record with no acknowledgment of anything I asked for. I wrote back once more, this time even more directly, and again got the same sort of non-response just pushing her own agenda. This just happened by the way.

 

The thing is -- I felt so proud of myself for actually being direct finally, but then I was so let down by her lack of acknowledgment. It felt honestly like she overran my boundaries even more blatantly with her responses to my email b/c she just repeated the same behavior I was calling her out on. It was like the Twilight Zone. So I guess what I'm trying to say (after my mini vent) is that even when you change your own behavior patterns (i.e., setting boundaries), you can't necessarily expect that they will change theirs. So if they don't recognize or change how they respond to your setting your own boundaries, what do you do?
 



 


You asked what to do when they don't respond to your boundries and I wanted to respond to that.  My mom is a toxic person for whom I've had to set very clear boundries.  With her it's mostly been about not tolerating her verbal abuse anymore and over the years it's evolved to me simply not talking about anything that's meaningful or personal to me so as to limit her opportunities to say anything caustic.  Conversations are short, infrequent and boring.  Because I refuse to play into her drama, she finds me quite dull and mostly ignores me now. Ideally, she would have seen that constantly trying to get in her jabs didn't lead to anything good and would have stopped but that didn't happen. What happened instead has been a growing distance but I find that far preferable to dealing with the disfunction.  Like another poster said, for many people, this negative behavior is not only long-standing but it serves a purpose for them. For my mom, she sees herself as a wise-cracking and funny Rosanne Barr type when in reality she's cruel and bitter. It's much easier to declare that I'm too sensitive and/or aloof than to really look at how she comes across.
 

 

post #17 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ElliesMomma View Post

OP, have you read "The Art of Speedreading People"? i recommend it. it's analysis of Meyers-Briggs personality types. it can help you understand where people are coming from -- it gives you an idea of why people are the way they are. you can "type" your MIL and yourself (and your DH and everyone else you know too)... and you can see how you guys interplay with each other based on personality type. some people just lead with Feelings and are very extraverted in expressing feelings. from the sounds of it, your MIL might be one of these.

 

i have a little experience with MILs. you don' t have to love her or truly "be friends" in a BFF kind of way. but you DO have to find a way to get along. i have no idea of what your history with her is like, and i can only imagine toxic scenarios, which i'm sure are legit. but as long as you are married to your husband, she's going to be a part of her life. if humoring her gets you by, i'd say do it. i think learning about personality types can be a huge boon to your insightfulness about people in general, too. and it's just so darn interesting. 

 

i have also found that it enables me to be much more forgiving of people who offend me by violating boundaries (for instance), saying the wrong things, being insecure, etc. the truth is many people just can't help it. and unless they have really worked at strengthening the "weaker" sides of their personalities, people are just living out the "typecast" they've been randomly assigned by birth.

 

good luck!


On of my few, and unfortunately not very lucrative, talents is reading people. I think that is one of the things that spurred my post: I know EXACTLY how to treat MIL to make her happy. She does not confuse me, her actions and words are totally predictable and transparent. I am exploring how to deal with that...Your last paragraph is so important...I really want to have compassion and understanding. The truth is, that at some point we really are responsible for growing and getting past whatever personality traits we have that cause great harm to others. As someone who has had to really do a lot of work to greatly reduce SO MANY bad habits and hurtful behaviors (toward myself and others) I don't have an abundance of sympathy for people who opt not to grow and work to change.  And in MIL's case, she specifically chooses not to grow from experiences. I need to meditate a bit more on what you have said, though. I would be happier if I practiced more compassion. It is so hard to be compassionate AND keep your guard up. I think that exact combo is probably a big key to maturity and a happy adulthood...

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by savannah smiles View Post




You asked what to do when they don't respond to your boundries and I wanted to respond to that.  My mom is a toxic person for whom I've had to set very clear boundries.  With her it's mostly been about not tolerating her verbal abuse anymore and over the years it's evolved to me simply not talking about anything that's meaningful or personal to me so as to limit her opportunities to say anything caustic.  Conversations are short, infrequent and boring.  Because I refuse to play into her drama, she finds me quite dull and mostly ignores me now. Ideally, she would have seen that constantly trying to get in her jabs didn't lead to anything good and would have stopped but that didn't happen. What happened instead has been a growing distance but I find that far preferable to dealing with the disfunction.  Like another poster said, for many people, this negative behavior is not only long-standing but it serves a purpose for them. For my mom, she sees herself as a wise-cracking and funny Rosanne Barr type when in reality she's cruel and bitter. It's much easier to declare that I'm too sensitive and/or aloof than to really look at how she comes across.
 

 


Are these all the same woman? I can't believe how similar they all are...What you have described is such a spot-on explanation of my MILs behavior and one of the ways she hurts me so much. The wise-cracks and jokes. I am a little bit serious and sensitive, true, but in my regular life I don't seem to have a problem with getting so hurt by jokes. But, I don't hang out with people who hurt my feelings. If someone "joked" constantly about me being a neglectful mother I would not be hanging out with them either. I mean, when I repeat her "jokes" to other people their jaws drop. I don't think it's just me...and it is so difficult to defend yourself. They always say "I was just joking" etc. That is one of the reasons I reacted so strongly to the "rules" they broke. It was black and white and can't be explained away. I guess I feel more comfortable reacting strongly against something that can't be played off as a joke...

 

MIL sent us a decent email a few days ago. I haven't responded yet because I just need some space and distance to regroup and figure out how to go forward. My husband insists that they just want a shallow hugs & kisses and gushy relationship and I can't expect anything deeper etc. It is so hard for me not to share what I feel and talk about things seriously and still be warm and engaged. When MIL talked to my husband she mentioned how detached I act and how it sometimes seems like I am barely tolerating her. She told him that some of her bad behavior is in reaction to that. (not rule-breaking, but just rudeness etc.)

 

Oh well, she can't have a closer relationship to me unless she changes or behaves differently. I can't force her, I can only control myself. I just have to keep my resolve to keep her at arms-length but behave sweetly...How do you confront every little thing and remain pleasant?  It's just so tough. Oh, and she is mean to my mom. Ugh. I think that I could behave beautifully if it wasn't for that. I am strategizing how to deal with that dynamic...

 

Thanks again for exploring this issue for me...

 

I am thinking that it's going to be a life-long process for me to become a woman that can have healthy relationships with my adult children and their partners.
 

 

post #18 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MamaofLiam View Post

Ok, you brought up a really important point - the question of how to break patterns of behavior and such. That is, being able to stand up for yourself in vulnerable moments, in an assertive and direct way enforcing your boundaries. I just did this for the first time with my MIL. I won't go into all the details, but basically the incident went something like this: she ambushed me (as is her style) at the last minute, was completely inappropriate and then left. Because I didn't have time to directly respond I wrote her an email later that day kindly but firmly telling her that her behavior made me uncomfortable, that it was inappropriate and that I didn't want to be involved. I then kindly asked for the behavior I would have liked instead moving forward. Well I got a response back that completely ignored what I said and asked for, and just repeated what she did initially that made me uncomfortable. I couldn't believe it! It was like a broken record with no acknowledgment of anything I asked for. I wrote back once more, this time even more directly, and again got the same sort of non-response just pushing her own agenda. This just happened by the way.

 

The thing is -- I felt so proud of myself for actually being direct finally, but then I was so let down by her lack of acknowledgment. It felt honestly like she overran my boundaries even more blatantly with her responses to my email b/c she just repeated the same behavior I was calling her out on. It was like the Twilight Zone. So I guess what I'm trying to say (after my mini vent) is that even when you change your own behavior patterns (i.e., setting boundaries), you can't necessarily expect that they will change theirs. So if they don't recognize or change how they respond to your setting your own boundaries, what do you do?
 



 


Yes, what do you do?? This is where I find myself. I chose to write an email and take an actual break from her. I don't feel like I have any other tools at my disposal. Hmm...I can say that enforcing that boundary has allowed for some clearer thinking on my part. I have taken baby steps in having non-family members babysit...I am considering not doing so many holidays/events with both sides of the family to avoid having to stress about the mom/MIL dynamic, etc.  (These seem so obvious, I know, but they did not seem plausible/doable to me) Maybe asserting your boundaries will help your creative problem solving, it might not change her, but it could change you :) This is what I am finding in a few areas of my life. Haha, I do think I am a pretty slow learner...duh.gif

 

post #19 of 21

Well, I know I'm a little late on this post, and I can't address everything that I agree with that has been said, but I just want to reiterate:

 

You do not have a responsibility to be her friend. Be civil, yes, make shallow pleasantries, okay, but there is no reason you should feel guilty about not being buddy-buddy with your toxic MIL. 

 

I have been there with some of the things pps are describing; you cannot make this woman happy even if you complimented her 24/7 about her looks and fed into all of her demands--she would just keep taking advantage and find some other reason to deprecate you. So drop the "rock" you're carrying of feeling guilty over her perceived hurts. It's not your fault that you don't get along intimately with her.

 

Honestly, I would delete the email listing all your perceived sins against her, and put it out of your mind--don't give it another thought. Yes, behave kindly in the best way you can, but you do not have to feed her ego and walk on eggshells to keep her happy. It's not your fault that the two of you are not friends.

 

hug2.gif

 

Good for you for standing up for your values and taking some space!

post #20 of 21

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by azgirl View Post




Yes, what do you do?? This is where I find myself. I chose to write an email and take an actual break from her. I don't feel like I have any other tools at my disposal. Hmm...I can say that enforcing that boundary has allowed for some clearer thinking on my part. I have taken baby steps in having non-family members babysit...I am considering not doing so many holidays/events with both sides of the family to avoid having to stress about the mom/MIL dynamic, etc.  (These seem so obvious, I know, but they did not seem plausible/doable to me) Maybe asserting your boundaries will help your creative problem solving, it might not change her, but it could change you :) This is what I am finding in a few areas of my life. Haha, I do think I am a pretty slow learner...duh.gif

 

 

Yup azgirl I'm with you! I'm taking a break from my MIL for awhile, and I'm hoping I can get some clarity, as well some rest from the whole thing. I just find the whole thing so emotionally draining. Visits are definitely out of the question for near foreseeable future. I think it makes sense to limit holidays/events with both sides in your case too. I think you're right about asserting boundaries changing you, even if they can't change her. I didn't think about it that way before, but yeah, I think I see what you're saying. 
 

 

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