Best way to respond to passive aggression? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 12:10 PM - Thread Starter
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I just can't have it in my life right now. But I feel like there are people who will never get past this mode of communication.

I'm not sure what to do when someone says something passive aggressive to me. Mostly, it kicks me back to my childhood when I couldn't stand up for myself and I freeze up. I don't want to return fire with fire though, but it's so insidious and I don't know how to fight back.
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#2 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 01:25 PM
 
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I wish I could help, but I don't know either! Don't you just hate it when you go home, and think of the perfect thing to say? But by then, it's way too late! Some people know exactly what to say, right in the moment--how I envy them! Maybe somebody will come on and give us advice.

 
 
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#3 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 02:13 PM
 
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I usually just respond sarcastically or ignore it and let it roll off my back. Some people only know how to communicate w/ passive aggressiveness and it drives me up the wall. Honestly, I've cut most of those people out of my life completely because I don't need that kind of negativity in my life, you know? I'm a much happier person by not having to deal w/ the BS!

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#4 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 03:13 PM
 
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I ignore it, utterly and totally. Passive aggressive behavior gets NO reaction from me. Passive aggressive speech gets ignored like it wasn't said.

Passive aggressive people count on your reaction. They do hostile things in a deniable way so that when you correctly point out their hostility and hurtfulness, they can pretend it was unintentional. But if you refuse to acknowledge it, you completely take the wind out of their sails (and will often drive them to more overtly aggressive behavior, which exposes their real agenda for all to see).

It took me a long, long, long time to not be triggered by passive aggression because it reminds me so much of dealing with my toxic parents, but I'm finally there. Ignore it--walk away when the person is mid-sentence if you have to. If it's a behavior, ignore it and remove yourself from the situation so it can no longer affect you.

But no matter what, ignore it.

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#5 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 03:20 PM
 
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Ignore it! Sometimes throw in a raised eyebrow or something...

Or, if it's someone you know well, call them out. I have to do this with my parents/brother. I just let them know (firmly) "Passive Aggressive behavior will not get you what you want. It's juvenile and insulting." They don't respond well...but *I* feel better about it, you know? Like I did something without feeding into it.

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#6 of 21 Old 10-08-2010, 07:04 PM
 
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Originally Posted by peainthepod View Post
I ignore it, utterly and totally. Passive aggressive behavior gets NO reaction from me. Passive aggressive speech gets ignored like it wasn't said.

Passive aggressive people count on your reaction. They do hostile things in a deniable way so that when you correctly point out their hostility and hurtfulness, they can pretend it was unintentional. But if you refuse to acknowledge it, you completely take the wind out of their sails (and will often drive them to more overtly aggressive behavior, which exposes their real agenda for all to see).

It took me a long, long, long time to not be triggered by passive aggression because it reminds me so much of dealing with my toxic parents, but I'm finally there. Ignore it--walk away when the person is mid-sentence if you have to. If it's a behavior, ignore it and remove yourself from the situation so it can no longer affect you.

But no matter what, ignore it.


Ignoring others' snarky, snide, or baiting comments or actions works for me too. Of course, I'm not perfect and sometimes I do feed into it. In general however, I make a point of reminding myself that passive-aggression stems from the aggressor's insecurity, and that makes it easier for me to "let it go."

If you have a friend or family member who seems to be unbothered by drama-starters, hanging out with them and observing their reactions to others can be helpful. My husband is virually oblivious to passive-aggression (his dad and brothers are masters of the medium), so I've taken some notes from his playbook.

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#7 of 21 Old 10-09-2010, 07:01 AM
 
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Smile in a quiet, amused way to yourself and ignore it. They'll probably notice, see you're on to them, and feel ashamed (or angry enough to be more direct). F'rinstance:

MIL: I saw Julia's baby the other day. She's SO well-behaved. I'm so glad Julia got her onto a schedule so she wasn't whipping out her breast every hour.
YOU: [Duck your head and smile in an I-recognise-this private-joke kind of way] How's your bridge class?

Or:

SISTER: I have some old pants you might like. They're too big for me since I started taking care of myself.
YOU: [Half-repressed amused smile again]
SISTER [defensively]: What?
YOU: [Beam sunnily at her for a moment, as if to say "I find your machinations so darlingly transparent I can't even be cross with you, let's all have a giggle at what you're trying to pull here" - continue until she starts to look a little uncomfortable, then say quickly] I found an awesome recipe for cream of leek soup the other day. You have a blender, don't you?

In theory you could keep repeating the smile every time your sister said "What? What??", if she's that type (well, and if you have a passive-aggressive sister!). After a few such instances she'll realise you know what she's up to. You have to get the smile right, though - think of it as the smile you'd give if a friend with a great sense of humour was standing in the room with you, and you'd just been talking about your sister's passive-aggression with her before the sister turned up.

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#8 of 21 Old 10-09-2010, 11:56 AM - Thread Starter
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Smokering, you are one amazing lady. I wish I knew you in real life.

Do you actually manage to pull this off?
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#9 of 21 Old 10-09-2010, 06:24 PM
 
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Dude, no. I'm Aspie, I'm lucky if I can get through a social encounter without blurting out my views on circumcision or attempting some rollicking Calvinist humour. I thought it was a good idea in theory, that's all.

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#10 of 21 Old 10-09-2010, 10:41 PM
 
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This made me stifle a laugh so as not to wake the kids. You sound completely charming to me, and I would be so delighted to meet someone who would attempt rollicking Calvinist humor.


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Dude, no. I'm Aspie, I'm lucky if I can get through a social encounter without blurting out my views on circumcision or attempting some rollicking Calvinist humour. I thought it was a good idea in theory, that's all.
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#11 of 21 Old 10-12-2010, 07:19 PM
 
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Smokering I don't know if you're serious that you don't actually practice the advice you gave, but I can attest to the fact that it really is great advice and does work!

The key to pulling it off is knowing/believing/REMEMBERING at every interaction that the other person's passive aggressive nature has NOTHING to do with you. It's not a value judgement on you, however much they may present it that way.

That's the part most people have trouble integrating when trying to deal with or ignore passive/aggressive people, but if you really can smile "amusedly" to yourself and just move on with some other comment, it really does deflate them. But if you are triggered by their behavior, it's harder to do... at first. But you can get there! Just keep trying in little bits!
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#12 of 21 Old 10-12-2010, 11:21 PM
 
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I used to think ignoring the little digs was good advice...but I have very recently changed my mind.

Now I think it might be more beneficial to (gently) point out the transgression.

For example:

SISTER: I have some old pants you might like. They're too big for me since I started taking care of myself.
YOU: <understanding smile>I'm sure you didn't mean that the way it sounded.

MIL: I saw Julia's baby the other day. She's SO well-behaved. I'm so glad Julia got her onto a schedule so she wasn't whipping out her breast every hour.
YOU: <eyes open in surprise> Oh, are you uncomfortable with frequent breastfeeding?

I have a friend who has been driving me nuts with her passive aggressive crap ever since I've known her, but it's gotten really bad over the past year. I ignored, ignored, ignored the nasty little digs. I started seeing her less and less. She escalated into just rude and aggressive (she was angry with me & she said my child self harms because I've failed as a parent.) When I called her on it she claims I misunderstood, and then it was all my fault for being angry & she was the hurt one....

I would like to resolve this issue with her so that our kids can see each other again (eh, or not,) but each time we start to talk about it, she starts in with the little digs. Since I'm still ignoring the little digs, our conversation just can't get off the ground.

I wish I'd started calling her out on the rude stuff before it got to be unforgivable. I'm not going back now, though. It was a stressful relationship, and I have a much greater degree of peace without it.

In thinking about other passive aggressive people I've known, I think that's a pattern. Once you start ignoring the little digs, they will either fade away, or if they can't/aren't willing, they will escalate the rudeness until it becomes something that's sure to cause a big fuss.

I'm trying the new thing in the future--calling out the crap as it happens.

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#13 of 21 Old 10-13-2010, 12:46 PM
 
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I used to think ignoring the little digs was good advice...but I have very recently changed my mind.

Now I think it might be more beneficial to (gently) point out the transgression.

For example:

SISTER: I have some old pants you might like. They're too big for me since I started taking care of myself.
YOU: <understanding smile>I'm sure you didn't mean that the way it sounded.

MIL: I saw Julia's baby the other day. She's SO well-behaved. I'm so glad Julia got her onto a schedule so she wasn't whipping out her breast every hour.
YOU: <eyes open in surprise> Oh, are you uncomfortable with frequent breastfeeding?

I have a friend who has been driving me nuts with her passive aggressive crap ever since I've known her, but it's gotten really bad over the past year. I ignored, ignored, ignored the nasty little digs. I started seeing her less and less. She escalated into just rude and aggressive (she was angry with me & she said my child self harms because I've failed as a parent.) When I called her on it she claims I misunderstood, and then it was all my fault for being angry & she was the hurt one....

I would like to resolve this issue with her so that our kids can see each other again (eh, or not,) but each time we start to talk about it, she starts in with the little digs. Since I'm still ignoring the little digs, our conversation just can't get off the ground.

I wish I'd started calling her out on the rude stuff before it got to be unforgivable. I'm not going back now, though. It was a stressful relationship, and I have a much greater degree of peace without it.

In thinking about other passive aggressive people I've known, I think that's a pattern. Once you start ignoring the little digs, they will either fade away, or if they can't/aren't willing, they will escalate the rudeness until it becomes something that's sure to cause a big fuss.

I'm trying the new thing in the future--calling out the crap as it happens.
I agree with calling the digs out as they happen, especially with people who are in your life longterm. My MIL makes HORRIBLE digs at me. She visited us for three weeks this past summer, and I've already posted about it. However, I told my husband that if I am to forgive her and move forward, she has to stop making digs at me. For example, she and I have had several conversations about how DH and I plan to nurse for at least 2 years and to do child led weaning. MIL recently inquired to DH on the phone if 8 month old DS was still nursing heavily. DH said yes, that he would be for some time. MIL said that SHE wouldn't nurse past 1 1/2 years, knowing our goal is at least 2 years. DH did stick up for our planning to continue to nurse DS.

DH's perspective is it doesn't really matter what MIL says because it's not going to affect our decision. My perspective is that it's damaging for me to be the recipient of her digs all the time. (The nursing is just one example; honestly, it's the least problem I have with her over things she's done and said.) We've agreed that in the future DH will say something like "I understand that you wouldn't do X. However, that is the parenting decision we've made and it's not up for discussion." Then move on to something else. Honestly, he'll need to repeat himself time and again.

Now, when she says things to me, I do plan to toss it back to her. For example, when she says horrible things to me about my mom (who she doesn't even know) in front of the grandchildren, I'll say something like, "MIL, do you have a problem with my mom? You seem to say awful things about her." But mostly, I'm just having DH deal with her. Ignoring her doesn't work for me, though. Things just build to a point where they're irreparable.

Somebody did mention this book to me, but I still need to order it: http://www.amazon.com/Sheeps-Clothin...=2WA1HA2A0BPJP
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#14 of 21 Old 10-13-2010, 12:53 PM
 
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It depends on how involved you want certain people in your life. For a close bond, then call them on it. Exactly along the lines PPs have described, or even lobbing it back to them ("Why would you say that?" "What exactly do you mean?").

But for people you'll be keeping on the periphery? Pass the bean dip.

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#15 of 21 Old 10-13-2010, 01:07 PM
 
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I don't keep passive aggressives in my life, so for me, responding will only involve me deeper in their weird little games. Ignoring them keeps me out of it and keeps the person at arm's length. It's like putting up an indestructible but invisible wall. You can still be cordial to a P.A. while having absolutely no investment whatsoever in their insanity and mind games. Having grown up in this type of chaos makes me really uninterested in volunteering for it now.

If you care about the person and want to try and maintain the relationship on a deeper level, or you think what they do is maybe just a bad habit and not a deeper sign of some serious character flaws, then calling them out might work. For sure it is really satisfying in a dirty kind of way. But in my experience it doesn't do anything to change the behavior, because a passive aggressive person likes conflict, which is why they try to foster it while trying to appear to be blameless (usually with all the guile and subtlety of a sledgehammer).

I tried the "call them out" method for years with my very passive aggressive mother, and it only resulted in histrionic tantrums complete with tears and screaming, aggressive smear campaigns, triangulation (i.e. pitting people against each other), and the other blame-shifting, gaslighting, crazymaking behaviors that passive aggressives are such experts at. So for me, ignoring it seems to work best. I have no interest in dancing with crazies these days and distance myself immediately from toxic people.

Engaging with someone who enjoys drama is generally a lose-lose situation for me, but maybe others have more patience than I do when it comes to this kind of nonsense.

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#16 of 21 Old 10-13-2010, 01:21 PM
 
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Originally Posted by mamallama View Post
I used to think ignoring the little digs was good advice...but I have very recently changed my mind.

Now I think it might be more beneficial to (gently) point out the transgression.

For example:

SISTER: I have some old pants you might like. They're too big for me since I started taking care of myself.
YOU: <understanding smile>I'm sure you didn't mean that the way it sounded.

MIL: I saw Julia's baby the other day. She's SO well-behaved. I'm so glad Julia got her onto a schedule so she wasn't whipping out her breast every hour.
YOU: <eyes open in surprise> Oh, are you uncomfortable with frequent breastfeeding?

I have a friend who has been driving me nuts with her passive aggressive crap ever since I've known her, but it's gotten really bad over the past year. I ignored, ignored, ignored the nasty little digs. I started seeing her less and less. She escalated into just rude and aggressive (she was angry with me & she said my child self harms because I've failed as a parent.) When I called her on it she claims I misunderstood, and then it was all my fault for being angry & she was the hurt one....

I would like to resolve this issue with her so that our kids can see each other again (eh, or not,) but each time we start to talk about it, she starts in with the little digs. Since I'm still ignoring the little digs, our conversation just can't get off the ground.

I wish I'd started calling her out on the rude stuff before it got to be unforgivable. I'm not going back now, though. It was a stressful relationship, and I have a much greater degree of peace without it.

In thinking about other passive aggressive people I've known, I think that's a pattern. Once you start ignoring the little digs, they will either fade away, or if they can't/aren't willing, they will escalate the rudeness until it becomes something that's sure to cause a big fuss.

I'm trying the new thing in the future--calling out the crap as it happens.
I gotta say, that is much more me than even the "knowing smile" thing. I usually do call people on it, and I do that with everyone, whether they're in my life long term or not. Mainly cuz it annoys the crap outta me and I feel like people who operate that way do so because it works for them, and I like being one person who it didn't work for (because calling them on it like "Oh, that's interesting.... why are you so uncomfortable with breastfeeding?" is NOT the reaction they're trying to get).

Usually, when I'm faced with P/A people, by the time I respond they shut up. No continued drama, because if you call them on it the right way, they can't even get defensive, all they can say is "That's not what I meant" and I smile and say "Oh, ok, because that's what you said." and usually that's the end of it.

But if you're someone who doesn't call people on stuff easily, I think that's a lot harder to get in the habit of doing than just smiling quietly and changing the subject. So for someone who's triggered or easily made uncomfy by the P/A digs, that quiet smile and changing the subject just seems like a much more doable practice to get into than challenging the person by pointing out what their P/A statement says about them.
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#17 of 21 Old 10-14-2010, 04:49 PM
 
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DH's perspective is it doesn't really matter what MIL says because it's not going to affect our decision. My perspective is that it's damaging for me to be the recipient of her digs all the time.
Yes! I realized this a couple of years ago with DH's family - mostly his sister. Just ignore, ignore, ignore doesn't work if you're not *really* ignoring it. So, I would ignore for the sake of family harmony, including walking out when SIL said something insidious. The problem was that she never learned, and she wasn't going to. All that happened was that I felt I had to be defensive every time we visited DH's family knowing what was going to happen. I finally just completely lost it with her, and she's been much better since then.

In the aftermath of my complete blow-up, I told DH's whole family that I felt we were treated like doormats all the time and that I was done with it. I actually was shocked that FIL said he felt treated the same way by MIL and SIL, and really things have been much better since it all got out in the air. The problem with ignoring PA behavior is that it really doesn't teach others how to treat you. I'm not even sure most of them know you got it; instead I'm pretty sure many PA people think a non-response means they got one over on you.

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#18 of 21 Old 10-14-2010, 04:55 PM
 
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If it's someone you don't deal with often, I say ignore it.

BUT I have a close family member who is very passive aggressive. Things didn't improve until I wrote her a little letter describing how I felt about her behavior. Things improved almost instantenously (after she broke down in tears and attempted to shift the blame to me). I didn't let her get away with it and called her on her behavior. Our relationship is now decent. And that's all I want.

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#19 of 21 Old 10-16-2010, 03:32 AM
 
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YOU: [Beam sunnily at her for a moment, as if to say "I find your machinations so darlingly transparent I can't even be cross with you, let's all have a giggle at what you're trying to pull here" - continue until she starts to look a little uncomfortable, then say quickly] I found an awesome recipe for cream of leek soup the other day. You have a blender, don't you?
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#20 of 21 Old 02-28-2014, 02:41 PM
 
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I grew up with a very passive-aggressive mother, and although I could fight back (and did), I found that this behavior just tends to wear you down.  I didn't realize how bad it could get until my wife and I lost our baby to stillbirth.  My mother sent her a letter (she was famous for her hideous letters) and accused my wife of murder, and blamed the entire death of the baby on her.  This was 2 weeks after the death, and my mother was working in a hospice at the time...go figure.  Passive-aggressive people rarely think of anyone but themselves, and they will do many things to hurt those around them.  Suffice it to say that my wife will probably never forgive my mother for that, and to be perfectly honest, I don't blame her.

 

However, I found that the only way to save myself from any more abuse (and there was a lot of abuse over the years) was to simply sever ties.  This doesn't mean that I closed the door on my mother...I did not.  I just chose not to initiate communication with her.  My mother had never called me anyway (she only sent a letter once a year (perhaps once every other year).  We have not communicated in over 10 years now and it has been the most restful, peaceful and productive years of my life.  I justify my actions here by observing, and contrary to what most people have been raised to believe, particularly in western culture, when a child is (or has been) abused by a parent, the law of honoring one’s mother and/or father is suspended.

 

When parents abuse their own children there is a significant breach of trust and the abuser consequently forfeits any entitlement that is traditionally afforded to non-abusive parents.

 

Similarly, acceptance of abuse, by victims or non-committal bystanders, whether the abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological, also does nothing to serve any higher purpose.  In fact, acceptance of abuse communicates that abusers, in particular parental abusers, have rights that victims do not have, which in effect is the epitome of bullying and abuse.

 

The abused can choose to react in a number of different ways, but it is always up to the abuser to correct their behavior and to seek reconciliation and forgiveness; never the other way around.  When the abused “forgives” it is solely for their own well-being, so that they can move on in life without the continual thought of revenge or resentment, which only serves to destroy one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and to prolong victimization. 

 

As long as the proverbial door is left open it is then up to the abuser to open it, communicate, and to seek forgiveness.  Failure to adhere to this one rule will only reinforce the abuser’s actions, and validate their behavior, which will then only serve the abuser and allow their abuse to continue

 

The way I look at it is that I know my mother has not had an accident where she lost both of her hands...if me not initiating communication with her bothers her in any way she is still free to use her healthy hands to pick up the phone and call any time she wants.  She knows this, but it is she herself who has opted not to call....ever.  It's definitely her decision though, but in the meantime I can certainly continue to live this way.  After decades of abuse from her (and my brothers are quite messed up to this day because of this too) I feel that I have done really well putting as much distance between me and that life as possible.  In my view it's one small sacrifice to find peace and harmony, and to move forward.

 

I hope this helps.

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#21 of 21 Old 02-28-2014, 02:43 PM
 
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I just can't have it in my life right now. But I feel like there are people who will never get past this mode of communication.

I'm not sure what to do when someone says something passive aggressive to me. Mostly, it kicks me back to my childhood when I couldn't stand up for myself and I freeze up. I don't want to return fire with fire though, but it's so insidious and I don't know how to fight back.

 

I grew up with a very passive-aggressive mother, and although I could fight back (and did), I found that this behavior just tends to wear you down.  I didn't realize how bad it could get until my wife and I lost our baby to stillbirth.  My mother sent her a letter (she was famous for her hideous letters) and accused my wife of murder, and blamed the entire death of the baby on her.  This was 2 weeks after the death, and my mother was working in a hospice at the time...go figure.  Passive-aggressive people rarely think of anyone but themselves, and they will do many things to hurt those around them.  Suffice it to say that my wife will probably never forgive my mother for that, and to be perfectly honest, I don't blame her.

 

However, I found that the only way to save myself from any more abuse (and there was a lot of abuse over the years) was to simply sever ties.  This doesn't mean that I closed the door on my mother...I did not.  I just chose not to initiate communication with her.  My mother had never called me anyway (she only sent a letter once a year (perhaps once every other year).  We have not communicated in over 10 years now and it has been the most restful, peaceful and productive years of my life.  I justify my actions here by observing, and contrary to what most people have been raised to believe, particularly in western culture, when a child is (or has been) abused by a parent, the law of honoring one’s mother and/or father is suspended.

 

When parents abuse their own children there is a significant breach of trust and the abuser consequently forfeits any entitlement that is traditionally afforded to non-abusive parents.

 

Similarly, acceptance of abuse, by victims or non-committal bystanders, whether the abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological, also does nothing to serve any higher purpose.  In fact, acceptance of abuse communicates that abusers, in particular parental abusers, have rights that victims do not have, which in effect is the epitome of bullying and abuse.

 

The abused can choose to react in a number of different ways, but it is always up to the abuser to correct their behavior and to seek reconciliation and forgiveness; never the other way around.  When the abused “forgives” it is solely for their own well-being, so that they can move on in life without the continual thought of revenge or resentment, which only serves to destroy one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, and to prolong victimization. 

 

As long as the proverbial door is left open it is then up to the abuser to open it, communicate, and to seek forgiveness.  Failure to adhere to this one rule will only reinforce the abuser’s actions, and validate their behavior, which will then only serve the abuser and allow their abuse to continue

 

The way I look at it is that I know my mother has not had an accident where she lost both of her hands...if me not initiating communication with her bothers her in any way she is still free to use her healthy hands to pick up the phone and call any time she wants.  She knows this, but it is she herself who has opted not to call....ever.  It's definitely her decision though, but in the meantime I can certainly continue to live this way.  After decades of abuse from her (and my brothers are quite messed up to this day because of this too) I feel that I have done really well putting as much distance between me and that life as possible.  In my view it's one small sacrifice to find peace and harmony, and to move forward.

 

I hope this helps.

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