Cutting off family - stories, thoughts, hope? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 07-06-2010, 11:48 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm visiting my family for the first time in 18 months. After our last trip, I knew that I needed a break from them. The short version is that if there's a way in which a family can be dysfunctional, our family does it.

I'm here now at my mother's house. I'm shaking. I got to my grandparents' house on Saturday evening, and my cousin's 2YO was spanked twice that night. I had a panic attack and went into our bedroom. The rest of the trip has been that way. Said 2YO told me Monday that she wanted to call me Momma because "you're nice to [dc]." She cried & sobbed to come with us today when we left to go to my mother's house, which brings me to...

I got here, and my mother & step-father are arguing. They're icy with each other. My mom greeted me with "[housekeeper] starts cleaning the back of the house at 9. Have them dressed and out of there by then." My sister walked up while I was talking to my husband about things at my grandparents, and she started telling me how bad the 2YO cousin is. It deteriorated from there with me telling my (childless) sister that she doesn't know what's normal for 2 and that she & my mother say every single preschooler they know is bad, including my son, which is why we haven't visited for 1.5 years.

When I came back in, my mom started in on how she "can't believe" that we have such ill thoughts about her, yada, yada.

I'm just so done.

But...I'm still an abuse survivor. I'm still trying to move past that part of me that will feel guilty and that won't be able to shut them out. I'm not sure I can do this, even though I know I should and that being here has set back my recovery process by a year at least.

Any stories of mending ties with abusive family members or cutting them out completely?

It's us: DH , DS ; DD ; and me . Also there's the . And the 3 . I . Oh, and .
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#2 of 15 Old 07-07-2010, 02:40 PM
 
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Not so much mending ties between my mother and me as acceptance and coming to terms. My mother was rarely (if ever) physically punitive with me. She's a very sad and troubled woman, though, and is able to make that a priority over consideration of anyone else in a given situation. She has manipulated, demeaned, criticized, and bullied me throughout the years, all cloaked in the sweet voice of maternal concern and childrearing.

I had to realize that my mother was unable to offer optimism, reassurance, and support. I spent so many years trying to get that from her one way or another, being as "good" a daughter as I could, pleading, explaining . . . but she could never get outside herself (her own negativity) without feeling that she lost in some way by doing so. Seeing her impaired capability was a huge step for me.

After that, I took a little time and decided exactly where I needed to keep her and how to do that. When she lays out emotional bait, I don't rise to it, and usually am able to find a mild and noncommittal answer that still acknowledges her state of mind. So she feels heard, and I feel as though my core is someplace warm and safe.

A key to this being in any way successful is that my mother responds to my work to find a way that she and I could enjoy one another. She does love me, DH, and our children, as much as she knows how, and she wants to do things that make us feel good. She's too broken to override the damaging things she does, but she has gifts of generosity, warmth, and humor . . . so the bottom line is that it takes effort from everyone to go well.

My MIL? She's a book. Things are evolving to shutting her out completely.

I'm so sorry for your situation. There is no "should," OK? You care for yourself and your child(ren), honor the wounds you bear, and prevent new ones. Give yourself what you would give a child recovering from abuse.

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#3 of 15 Old 07-07-2010, 04:52 PM
 
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For me it required severing contact with both parents and lots of reading and therapy. My parents were emotionally and sometimes physically abusive, and those scars run very deep. I never even thought of myself as abused until I spent a lot of time around DH's family and realized that not all families are sick and twisted like mine. After all, my father never used his fists on us--just a leather belt, and only when we were really "bad" and "deserved it". My mother never left any bruises or marks, but she liked to slap and pulled my hair a lot. Both parents are master manipulators and verbally and emotionally abusive, something they continued long after I reached adulthood. Sometimes it's not easy to see abuse for what it is, and it's almost never easy to admit it was done to you.

My ILs are far from perfect--MIL even spanked DH and his brother, something we will never do to our children no matter what--but they love each other and treat each other with dignity and respect, something that I still have trouble getting used to.

I'm sorry you were born into a family like yours. You deserve better. Unfortunately, we can't choose our parents. But we can choose whether to let them be a part of our adult lives. For me, it took many years and a lot of soul-searching (and a disastrous visit with them a few weeks after my first child was born) to realize that I needed to walk away and let them be who they are, instead of hanging on and trying to force them to treat me with the love and respect I need and deserve.

I highly recommend the book Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. That was the book that woke me up and helped me realize that hey, this isn't normal or okay and I don't have to stand for it any longer. And definitely consider talking to someone. Not because you're crazy or damaged or because you "need help", but because processing these things alone is horribly daunting and having someone to vent to about it will help in ways you can't even imagine now. And therapy, painful and difficult as it is, has a way of letting old wounds...if not heal, at least not fester anymore. The scars are there but they fade with time if you shine enough light on them.

Choosing to cut my birth parents out of my life was both the hardest and most painful thing I've ever done, but also among the most rewarding. It still hurts, especially since it deeply affects my relationship with my siblings and extended family, but the positive impact on my life has been enormous and I don't regret my decision, especially when I see that I've broken the cycle of abuse and that my children will never have to witness the kind of crazy I grew up with.


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#4 of 15 Old 07-07-2010, 04:55 PM
 
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I also wanted to add one thing that I have found very helpful to remember. When you start feeling like the black sheep of your dysfunctional family and wondering if it's really possible that you're right and they're all wrong, remember this: these people, taken individually, would be the black sheep in a normal healthy family. Basically, you were born into a family composed entirely of black sheep who are drawn to each other out of necessity and shared dysfunction. None of the toxic behaviors they display would be accepted in a normal, loving family. It's not just you.

The fact that you're willing to seek change and try to work on bettering your situation says volumes about how healthy you are in comparison.

Just something to think about.

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When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty. --George Bernard Shaw

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#5 of 15 Old 07-11-2010, 12:11 AM
 
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After lots of work and pain, all leading to no improvement in the relationship, I told my father that I'd welcome his written letters but didn't want to talk for a while. He wrote once in 2 years, I think.

At some point, I became concerned that he was sick (he wasn't, not more than usual, anyway!) so I made phone contact.

He and my stepmother have NOT changed, they are exactly the same people they always were, but more so.

But, I changed. Some nonspecific thing changed in me, and continues to change, so that I have been able to increase contact with them gradually while monitoring my own tolerance and need for space.

At first it was just a phone call every 3 months or so. I'd be depressed for a week after, and dread the next one. Once that got easier, the frequency increased. Same reaction. When calls every month got easier, I had dinner with them. Same reaction.

Now I see them for a meal at their home (site of some past trauma for me) once a year, and they come to visit for one long (very very long) weekend per year (they stay at a hotel.) I spend each visit getting lots of support from husband and friends, and reality checks, and weeping in the shower. I'm only depressed for about 4 days after. It's a choice I make fresh each time that my suffering is worth it for the learning it brings me and the happiness it seems to bring them.

Anyway, you get the idea. Relationships will always change, and they can do so even when you are maintaining distance.

Take all the space you need, and trust yourself to evolve the boundaries that will make less space tolerable/ desirable in the future at the right time.

Mom of one child (2008), wife of one husband, tender of dogs, cats and chickens. Household interests: ocean life (kid), bitcoins (husband), simplifying (me).

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#6 of 15 Old 07-11-2010, 02:44 AM
 
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I hear you on the dysfunctional family. My mother said to me recently while talking on the phone "You're lucky you don't live here". I am by no means perfect and far from the parent I want to be, but compared to some of my family I am a saint.

If your family doesn't get that what they say comes off as ignorant, rude, mean, or whatever you can let them know and then remove yourself from the situation. Some people never change and others learn from their mistakes. Here's hoping your family is the latter.

Story: My grandfather says that when he dies he says we should flush his ashes down the toilet.

And you know what, with the way he behaves sometimes, I wouldn't be surprised if they actually follow through. Sounds harsh, I know, but my family is so screwed up that I hardly know where to begin. My DH says all kinds off great things about his family. And my retort- Yeah, well we don't live by them do we, so stop talking about how awesome they would be in this situation and get us the heck over there (all the way to Africa LOL)
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#7 of 15 Old 07-11-2010, 02:57 PM
 
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I just cut ties with my parents completely. It was soooo difficult, but now I feel great about it. I feel freed. I respect myself. I don't want to hurt my parents, but I CANNOT tolerate people who disrespect and hurt me. They need to learn to be nice to people. I thought about what if we are in a position where I have to take care of them when they are old? For me, I wouldn't be taking care of them out of love, and that is not fair to any of us. They need to find other people to love them for real.

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#8 of 15 Old 07-11-2010, 07:03 PM
 
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Visionary Mom, I feel for you and I wish that you (and the rest of us here) didn't have to deal with these painful situations.

I have recently chosen to cut out the majority of my relatives on both sides of my family because of emotional abuse, manipulation, drug dependency, and violence to name a few. It has been difficult but, at the same time, I have experienced a freedom and lightness to life that I didn't expect would come so automatically. I can't say that it's not lonely and I don't yearn for family connection but when this happens I just remind myself that what I am looking for in an extended family (love, support, friendship, understanding) just doesn't exist in my bloodline - I am yearning for something that isn't a reality, kwim? You have every right and every obligation to protect yourself and your child from the pain your family inflicts of you. You don't need to apologize, feel guilty, or second-guess yourself. - I hope you find peace in your decision.

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#9 of 15 Old 07-11-2010, 10:05 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for sharing your stories.

I got home last night around 10:30. This is the first moment I've had to myself after un-packing, grocery shopping, etc. I'm still in the thinking phase, I suppose. After DC go to bed tonight, DH & I will swim & discuss everything.

I rescued a dog from my grandparents' house. They always have several dogs & cats around. They just toss out food scraps to them. My cousin had a dog that she couldn't take with her to Japan (long story), and he was at my grandparents' house. He's a very small dog, and he was starving having to compete with the others for food. This dog is just so tiny that you can see his ribs, pelvic bones, etc. through his fur. I couldn't leave him there.

I didn't tell DH I got him because I knew he wouldn't want him, but he had to *see* this dog to get it. Last night, when we got home, DH said, "I hope there's not a live animal in that carrier," and I just burst into tears. I told him that I couldn't leave the dog. I can't save the people in my family, but I can save that one dog, you know? So, I think he got how bad the trip was for me.

Anyway, I know that I cannot see them again. I would like to cut them out of my life, but I know my mother would search until she got a phone number or would just show up, though she's visited me 3X in 12 years. (I'm always, always guilted into visiting them because I moved away.) So I don't think I could just disappear for their lives. Still, when I was on the way home, I was listening to a show about sibling rivalry. The host was talking about how important it is for siblings to get along because no matter what they'll share the big moments in life, and I got really sad realizing that I won't ever have that with my sister.

The problem I have with my family is that they all work so hard to pretend nothing happens that they start to make you wonder about your own memories. There are things I know happened, but if I mention them, it's like I'm making them up. My uncle once broke my cousin's arm with a hammer. I remember this happening, remember him having the cast, remember the worries that someone might report the family. But when you say anything, everyone acts like "oh, when he fell off his bike & broke his arm?" It's bizarre.

It's us: DH , DS ; DD ; and me . Also there's the . And the 3 . I . Oh, and .
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#10 of 15 Old 07-21-2010, 08:55 PM
 
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The problem I have with my family is that they all work so hard to pretend nothing happens that they start to make you wonder about your own memories. There are things I know happened, but if I mention them, it's like I'm making them up. My uncle once broke my cousin's arm with a hammer. I remember this happening, remember him having the cast, remember the worries that someone might report the family. But when you say anything, everyone acts like "oh, when he fell off his bike & broke his arm?" It's bizarre.
My family is like that. It really helps to limit contact to the printed word--letters or emails. Supportive friends are also pretty much necessary for breaking away. I'll never forget trying to explain to a friend why my house wasn't heated in the dead of winter: I wasn't eligible for any heating assistance because of some inherited securities that my parents manage for me (nor should anyone whose family invests in the stock market and breeds purebred obedience trained show dogs), there wasn't any place I could purchase firewood with an out of state third party check and my parents *couldn't* send the check made out to me because they had to make sure I didn't spend it on food, homeschooling curriculum, or dental care.

As the words came out of my mouth and I realized how crazy I sounded, I felt the tears well up in my eyes in anticipation of familiar, condescending words about how much my parents must love me to want to help and how it must break their hearts how ungrateful and dishonest i was and how I must do as I was told and...

But instead of dismissing me as mentally retarded and/or mentally ill, she said, "Your parents are crazy! Go grab (xmas present I didn't want and had no use for) and I'll run you down to the pawn shop so you can get some money for firewood."

Another friend did a "reality check" online after my father lit into me about how there was "simply no excuse" for wearing sweatshirts in public because "certain types of teenagers might be able to get away with it, but on a mature woman, it is lazy and sloppy."

I was looking back over letters my parents had written me in college last night and all the warning signs were there. It was hard to believe how much I trusted these people who had nothing but contempt for me. I can't understand why I didn't just apply for financial aid to attend the college I wanted to go to instead of agreeing to the school they were willing to pay for and the course of study i was allowed to major in.

I wanted so desperately to be loved by these people that I couldn't see what was right in front of me.
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#11 of 15 Old 07-21-2010, 10:19 PM
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It took me a LOOONG time to realize how abusive and manipulative my parents had been in my childhood, and how the manipulation kind of continued into adulthood.

I don't talk to my parents now and I am SO. MUCH. HAPPIER.

Of course my little sis doesn't talk to me much because I don't talk to my parents but I guess that's the price I have to pay.

"Our task is not to see the future, but to enable it."
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#12 of 15 Old 07-21-2010, 11:21 PM
 
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VisionaryMom, you're in my thoughts. I hope you are doing well and taking care of yourself.

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Anyway, I know that I cannot see them again. I would like to cut them out of my life, but I know my mother would search until she got a phone number or would just show up, though she's visited me 3X in 12 years. (I'm always, always guilted into visiting them because I moved away.) So I don't think I could just disappear for their lives.
I just wanted to tell you that if you want to cut them out of your life, you can do it and should do it. It might be hard at first but I'm guessing that once they realize you are serious and they can't emotionally abuse you or mentally control you any longer, they will move on to other family members who are not as strong or brave. If someone shows up at your home that you do not want there, call the police immediately. Don't ever let guilt be the reason you do anything.

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#13 of 15 Old 07-22-2010, 12:33 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I really do want to thank all of you for sharing your thoughts & experiences. I can relate to many of the things said in the posts.

My mother texted this morning and asked how I am. I just said "ok." Other than that, I haven't talked to them. I'm trying to heal from being with them. My sister & I had a huge fight just before I left, and she said I always act like I'm mistreated. (Did I say this before? I may be repeating myself.) My mother has always used that language, and it really hurts. It hurts more coming from my sister. She's only 21, and I try to keep that in mind. I know I wasn't at a place of dealing with my family then, and she's more dependent than I was because I was cut off financially when I was 18. She's still in college and completely on their dime. Anyway I always tried to protect my sister from our lives. When my mom finally left her 3rd husband - yeah, she's on #5 now - he stalked us. He threatened daily to kill us. He held a gun to my head. He broke out my mother's teeth and caused her to need surgery to repair a collapsed sinus cavity. I worked hard to make sure my sister never knew those things. She was 6 when we left, and I stepped in a number of times when he was going after her. For her to say that I act mistreated...devastates me.

My sister has some mystery illness right now. I personally think she's stressed, but my mom has built it up to grand proportions. Sis is going to specialists next month and has had 4 MRIs, a lumbar puncture, etc. None of the tests show anything, but my mother is just insisting that something is wrong and creating phantom symptoms. (This behavior was common throughout our childhood.) My sister has become convinced my mom is right, and now they (mom & sis) think she has lupus. So everyone is so worried and upset about my sister. Maybe there is something wrong. I'll feel terrible if there is because all I can think is that she's so incredibly ungrateful and that I & my family of choice have to live with a lifetime of scars.

And my father is dying. He has cancer, and he's stopping treatment. He was pretty much non-existent in my life except for a couple of periods here & there. He showed up when I was 23 and wanted a relationship. Now he's going to die, and people we know keep asking me how I'm handling it and saying all of the inane things people say when someone's dying. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel, but I certainly don't feel any great devastation or loss because I really don't know him that well. I talk to him maybe every 2-3 months, and that's the most frequently I've ever talked to him my entire life.

Ugh. This is all just rambling, but I need to share it. Many of my IRL friends have heard me reference abuse, and I have made it a point over the past year to say that I'm a child abuse survivor, but I can't (nor do I want to) talk to anyone about the particulars. It's hard enough telling DH, and he has a vested interest in knowing.

It's us: DH , DS ; DD ; and me . Also there's the . And the 3 . I . Oh, and .
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#14 of 15 Old 07-22-2010, 09:10 AM
 
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My sister has some mystery illness right now. I personally think she's stressed, but my mom has built it up to grand proportions. Sis is going to specialists next month and has had 4 MRIs, a lumbar puncture, etc. None of the tests show anything, but my mother is just insisting that something is wrong and creating phantom symptoms. (This behavior was common throughout our childhood.) My sister has become convinced my mom is right, and now they (mom & sis) think she has lupus. So everyone is so worried and upset about my sister.
I apologize if this is off topic, but this situation really sounds worrying. Does your mom get a benefit from your sister being ill? Or being evaluated? Attention, accommodation? Your remark that this was common throughout your childhood reminds me of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BC...drome_by_proxy Your mother may not be inducing it (currently, or ever), but it sounds as though she's getting off on it, and it certainly maintains a certain balance of power with your sister. I'd consider anonymous contact with a hospital social worker, or something along those lines. The health and / or counseling office at her college once school starts next month? They are bound by privacy laws and don't have to discuss her details with anyone.

That said, I'd like to stress that you call this to the attention of someone who can advocate for your sister rather than taking it on yourself. If you do anything, just make the call and let it go. You have got to tend to your own well-being so you can come out of this. Getting wrapped up in what your family wants sounds as though it would compromise your well-being and that of your family. You have a lot of damage from them (your FOO) to address in your life. Do you have access to counseling? It's too much to carry without a lot of help . . .

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#15 of 15 Old 07-22-2010, 09:37 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I apologize if this is off topic, but this situation really sounds worrying. Does your mom get a benefit from your sister being ill? Or being evaluated? Attention, accommodation? Your remark that this was common throughout your childhood reminds me of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BC...drome_by_proxy Your mother may not be inducing it (currently, or ever), but it sounds as though she's getting off on it, and it certainly maintains a certain balance of power with your sister. I'd consider anonymous contact with a hospital social worker, or something along those lines. The health and / or counseling office at her college once school starts next month? They are bound by privacy laws and don't have to discuss her details with anyone.

That said, I'd like to stress that you call this to the attention of someone who can advocate for your sister rather than taking it on yourself. If you do anything, just make the call and let it go. You have got to tend to your own well-being so you can come out of this. Getting wrapped up in what your family wants sounds as though it would compromise your well-being and that of your family. You have a lot of damage from them (your FOO) to address in your life. Do you have access to counseling? It's too much to carry without a lot of help . . .
My therapist & I have discussed the possibility of Munchausen by proxy. My mom does have many of the hallmarks, though I'd say she's mild. She a nurse, which isn't entirely uncommon for people with Munchausen and also makes her a "good" resource as far as the doctors my sister sees are concerned. She gets what most of those folks get - sympathy. The attention my mother is getting because of the "challenge" God has placed in their lives. Bah.

I hadn't considered calling a social worker since my sister is an adult. I honestly don't know what I could do or who I would call. My sister's being bounced to all types of specialists right now. I really think it's because they can't find anything, but my mother is so convincing that they're afraid they're missing something. She went from "my back hurts" when I was visiting with them to a neurologist in the span of one week. When I met them for a weekend in late May, my sister said she wasn't feeling well, and we spent half of the weekend in the ER with my sister getting IV fluids, lots of bloodwork, and a "nothing" discharge. I knew then that my mother wouldn't let it drop, and by the end of the next week, Sis had an appointment with a neurologist. At one point, my mother was *convinced* she had a rare disease that primarily strikes middle-aged men of Middle Eastern descent (which we're not). It's just...absurd.

Anyway, I don't know that I can help my sister. I am very specific with my doctors that NO ONE ever, no matter what she may say, can get my medical info. She once called my husband's endocrinologist and pretended to be from another office to get his records. They did it without questioning her. This woman is exhausting.

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