Protected: Today’s session: Family Dynamics

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More on emotional manipulation

Not everyone that emotional manipulates you is actually toxic. Apparently plenty of people emotional manipulate others based on their own inability to express/handle their anger or disappointment and, much like I said last night about my Dad, it’s all down to feeling insecure and rejected.

Some people who have been brought up to swallow their anger, or to be scared of their own angry feelings for various reasons may act out their anger passively – such as sulking and ignoring. It’s not always done on purpose to guilt you or take back control (though that may happen), sometimes the person reacts that way completely automatically and doesn’t even realise how they are feeling or what they are doing.

Some people however, absolutely do.

For me thinking about the reason behind the behaviour is proving quite important.

My instant reaction was to feel angry, resentful and upset at his behaviour as it felt like manipulation. I guess the anger (which has surprised me) is down to feeling “no way, not again!!”. Since learning all I have in therapy about the various ways I was emotionally abused, neglected and manipulated from the day I was born until I got therapy…. now that I’ve learnt what I have, it’s like if I see any sign of someone potentially taking advantage or controlling or manipulating me and my anger is triggered. Self-protection. I get that actually.

In fact, I think it’s probably a good thing. It’s taken me years of therapy to care enough about myself and my own worth so the fact I feel anger is pretty good really but… but I have spent the week feeling angry so that’s not so good. It’s clearly a work in progress.

Now, obviously you can’t control someone else or change them and so the only power you have is to control or change your own reaction to them/their behaviour, right? With that in mind I need to bring my focus back to myself rather than my Dad.

I’ve been triggered by this, quite a lot actually, much more than I expected I would be. More even than I realised I was.

The reason for being triggered: A lifetime of being emotionally abused, neglected, manipulated, guilted, gaslighted, controlled, enmeshed etc by my mother and two older female “friends” at work for many years.

Reaction: Feeling resentful, angry, upset, worried, overeating, bloated/stomach issues.

So what are my boundaries? What do they need to be? What will and won’t I accept?

This is tricky because when someone sulks or stops responding to your messages there isn’t much you can do. It’s a clever tactic really because the person doing the withdrawing/punishing can deny they are doing anything by saying they were just busy or forgot. It’s hurtful to the person being ignored and yet it feels like you’re being silly because someone isn’t shouting at you or verbally expressing their anger.

I don’t know what the right way to respond to the silent treatment is. Is it to ignore it and wait it out? Is it better to call the person out? Is it better to say “hey, it feels like you’re ignoring me – is something wrong”? Is that playing into their hands or is that the more mature response?

I’ve been googling this a lot today and everything I’ve read seems to talk about the fact that people who use the silent treatment use it because they are scared of being abandoned, because their ego has taken a bashing somehow. They push away because they fear they are going to be left. Because they are too scared to express their feelings directly. Because they are copying their own parents’ behaviour etc etc…. I’ve read that you should allow them their space to calm down but also that you should teach them a healthier way by saying you are there to talk when they are ready. Demonstrating something healthier.

I’m guilty of this myself actually. When I was angry with T the Christmas of 2017, I refused to come to my session and didn’t contact her for weeks. I was steaming angry. It felt like “I’ll show her!!!”. That was clearly my way of trying to take back control. That was my way of trying to make HER feel as bad as I did. Guilt her. Worry her.

Another example could be when I’m angry with my husband and we’ve had a row and I storm out the house and go somewhere without telling him or I hide upstairs for hours. It can be helpful to remove yourself for a while but you know when you can say “I just need a bit of time out to calm down and then we will chat” and when you’re just stropping.

I’ve read that when you have managed to talk to them that you should tell them there are healthier ways to express their feelings.

Perhaps I could have said “it feels like you are not responding to me because you are angry with me for not being able to come to the wedding. I’ll leave you to calm down but it would be much better if we could talk about any problems rather than leaving them to fester“.

Ugh I don’t know.

It’s funny, this type of emotional manipulation (conscious or not) used to work a treat on me because I was absolutely desperate for approval and I needed to people please. I would panic about the withdrawal of love and I would feel so much guilt for making someone else feel bad. Now I’ve gone the other way and I’m instantly furious that someone would be so nasty just because they weren’t getting what THEY want. Not a healthy mixture.

Ha… middle ground anyone?

My Dad giving me the silent treatment is actually about something from way back in his past and my reaction to it is from mine.

I can clearly see that his reaction isn’t about me, not really. I can’t make something and that’s that. It’s not a huge deal. He is disappointed and angry and feels rejected or insecure but that is HIS stuff to deal with. He gives me the silent treatment rather than just telling me he’s angry but perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to risk us arguing and falling out when our relationship is still so fragile? Or perhaps it was to punish me by his withdrawal – who knows.

The healthiest thing would be for me to say to him…

Dad, I need to say something. I love you and I really want us to continue having a good relationship but when you ignore me or give me the silent treatment that hurts. It makes me angry because it feels like you’re punishing me and clearly you are angry too and it doesn’t help either of us. In the future if you’re angry or upset please can we agree to communicate and talk about it – even if that’s not instantly? I don’t want us to damage our relationship because you’re secretly angry and so am I – I want us to be honest and open with one another even when we don’t agree.” (Needs work I know).

What stops me from saying that? Fear. Of what? I’m not sure exactly.

Anyway to summarise:

  • His reaction isn’t about me (really)
  • My reaction isn’t about him (really)
  • An honest conversation could have prevented me spending an entire week feeling annoyed and preoccupied.

This might be easier if it wasn’t my bloody parent!

The loud silence

Hi everyone,

I am SO glad the weekend is finally here. I’ve just had a quick bath and chucked some pjs on. The kids are due to arrive any minute now so I’m taking a quick five minutes out in my peaceful bedroom before the next 24 hours of noise commence!

This week has gone really fast, mainly because work has been busy, I’ve had my two therapy sessions plus two evenings out in a row, one evening with friends and one with my husband’s father last night (more on that later). We’ve also had a stressful week as my husband’s niece has been in hospital. She’s only 13 and was rushed in with suspected meningitis. We are currently awaiting lumber puncture results but sepsis and pneumonia have both been confirmed. Needless to say that’s been a worry and on top of that, my Dad has been sulking and giving me the silent treatment over the most ridiculous thing and that’s caused me some stress too.

Anyway, I was laying in the bath just now thinking about all the above and thinking it’s no wonder I’m already desperate for bed time and as I sat on my bed to dry my hair, I suddenly felt like I needed to write.

I also thought I’ve been extremely bloated this week and my tummy has been playing up a lot to the point I actually went to the chemist and got some pills which I never do for stomach things (advice given to me years ago by a specialist). It occurred to me that I’ve eaten badly this week, mainly due to the busyness, but today I ate a naughty fried breakfast and then an even naughtier lunch AND bought a chocolate bar this afternoon at work.

These things make me think these days because T often says there’s an emotional reason for physical body symptoms like bloating and because I am sure she would also say there’s a reason I’ve been eating so badly – probably something to do with pushing down feelings, comfort eating etc. I’m pretty open to these things myself and I felt like I haven’t really given myself much time to sit and “feel” or even “think” this week. As I type that I feel rather self-obsessed because clearly I’ve had two hours of therapy which not many people have so perhaps I’m just being a bit… well, whatever. The point is, bloating plus overeating (yeah I know – the latter causes the former) is happening for a reason and I want to take some time to think about those things. Hopefully writing some of this will help somehow.

So my Dad, lets start with him. He’s upset me this week. This is what happened: last Saturday I received an invitation to a cousin’s wedding. That evening I mentioned to one of my brothers that we would probably only be attending the evening reception of the wedding because of the children. He didn’t seem very happy and clearly went home and told my father. My father sent me a message on Sunday morning asking if we were definitely not coming and I sent a long message back explaining why we wasn’t. The main reason being that we have the children and couldn’t ask to swap because things aren’t amicable between my husband and his ex, but also I said that none of my cousins on that side of the family came to my wedding last year OR even bothered to RSVP (rude). I didn’t say this next bit but, my dad seems to forget that I barely know my cousins on his side because me and my dad barely spoke for years!!

My dad didn’t reply to my message. He read it immediately, then went offline and I still hadn’t heard from him 5 days later.

In therapy on Tuesday I told T about this and said I thought he was sulking. I also told her my theory that my cousin had initially not invited us and that my dad has persuaded them to invite us so we wasn’t left out (nice of him). We spoke about this for quite a large part of my session and I felt myself getting angrier and angrier. By the time I left I was pretty pissed off actually. My Dad does this, he gets annoyed and just goes silent. This has been the cause of MANY arguments in the past, some of which lasted literally years because he would be stubborn & so would I. We were both to blame, BUT I was a literal child and he the adult. Now we are both adults but he still does this.

After talking about this for quite a while, me and T discussed the fact that he clearly really struggles with rejection and when he’s feeling those type of feelings he tends to sulk and punish by silence. We also spoke about the fact that actually it’s quite manipulative in that it makes you want to do what he wants so you don’t have to feel his anger, passive as it may be.

This was the part that got me angry really. The more we spoke, the more I realised how much it annoyed me. I said to T that it reminded me of my mother and she agreed and said she understood that. I said I was fed up with people throwing strops when they didn’t get their own way. My mother was much more verbal and obvious with her anger, but my old narcissistic work friend used to punish me much the same way my dad does with sulks, ignoring me, huffing and puffing or making comments such as “fine, I’ll just be on my own then” or similar things. The thing they all had in common? That I then did what they wanted rather than what I wanted in order to not have to experience their anger.

I said to T that I was hypersensitive to this now and that the moment I see this pattern, I’m furious! Probably too much so.

T told me that it was important I remained firm with him and didn’t change my mind now just because he was angry. She suggested that when we did speak about it, I just made it clear that it wasn’t about him – it wasn’t a rejection etc but that we just couldn’t make it and then leave him to it.

I waited another 2 days after talking to T and then on the way to my session yesterday afternoon I text and simply said “Hi Dad, you didn’t reply on Sunday. Is everything okay?” He replied a while later saying he had been waylaid…. I didn’t buy it for a moment. A couple of minutes later he sent another one saying “I can’t say I’m not disappointed”. I replied to say that I understood his disappointment but also said that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend the day with him AND said that we only get to see the children at weekends so it couldn’t be helped. I also said we have a holiday together later this year to look forward to and he replied saying “That’s true. I’m looking forward to that“.

The thing is my other bug-bare is that just because the children aren’t biologically mine, people think that I should come to weddings or other events on my own (without them and my husband if we can’t go). It annoys me – why would I want to do that?? If the kids were biologically mine they wouldn’t say that…. it winds me up also that people don’t understand that I actually WANT to be with them – that they are my family. The children are rarely invited to come too and so we wouldn’t see them for that weekend – imagine in the course of a year how many times that could happen when you think of all the weddings and parties and birthdays and things we get invited to.

We go to a few things, the ones we really want to go to, and we decline the rest. I don’t mean to sound harsh, and I wouldn’t say this to them, but if I don’t actually WANT to go to something, why should I go alone and miss time with my husband and the kids? Why would I WANT to go and sit at a wedding by myself when I don’t want to be there anyway? No thanks.

In this particular example, I barely know this cousin, I don’t know his fiancĂ©e at all and they don’t know my husband. The kids aren’t invited and they didn’t come (or rsvp) to our wedding so to be honest, I really don’t feel bad about it.

Blah blah blah… sorry I’ve gone on and on about it and actually the ins and outs and details of it don’t really matter. What does matter (to me) however is that it’s caused a lot of hurt and anger that I’ve kept mainly inside apart from my discussions with T.

Last night when I got into bed I moaned to my husband about it and I felt the same anger I described earlier. I said I felt anger that I had to be the grown up all the time. I felt anger that he would be so childish over something so small. I was angry that potentially if I didn’t have T, if I hadn’t done work on myself, if I couldn’t hold that it was actually his shit and not mine, potentially our relationship would fall back to nothingness again and that’s so fecking ridiculous when we’ve worked so hard to get to the place we are in now.

And I guess the child in me is angry because that makes me feel scared. Scared at quite how fragile things still are. Scared that my dad may actually not be as great as I had thought/hoped. For the avoidance of doubt let me just say I only mean that he’s human and normal and has some not so great traits like everyone else – I’m not damning him. But like… you know that feeling when the person you’ve had sat on a pedestal falls? …. that.

I felt anger and sadness and then dismissed it before I cried and went to sleep.

So yeah… eating a lot (and badly), bloating, stomach upsets etc….. anger or fear related perhaps?

I stayed grown up and rational with my dad but inside is still the little girl or perhaps the less grown up me who wants to be like “are you fucking kidding me though???”.

Rejection is clearly something that triggers a lot of people in my family. My mother despite all her falseness and narcissism is terrified of feeling rejected. My father – the same. Myself? The same, rejection is horrible. Perhaps we all felt rejected as babies or children and that is why…. perhaps it’s why my parents were attracted to one another until it all went awfully wrong….. when I was born… perhaps I made them both feel rejected and insecure …. my mother spend the rest of my life trying to make sure it was my dad that I rejected. And I did but only because she told me so many times how he didn’t love or care for me.

Meh.

Anyway, I’m hoping this anger and sadness or whatever simmers down because surely I’ve done enough therapy by now not to let this have such a big impact on me….?

We shall see I suppose.

Thursday

My mother text me yesterday afternoon about 5pm. Coincidentally she text literally minutes after I had received some really fantastic news, it felt like she knew somehow (though she couldn’t possibly). That’s happened before, it’s like a siren goes off inside her head that in happy or something and she gets the need to remind me of her presence.

Her first message was worded slightly weirdly for her. She said in it that she was checking “I was well”. I know that’s a perfectly normal thing to ask, it’s just not her usual way of speaking.

I replied and matched her tone/words and said I “was well”, was she?

She made small talk and I replied to her small talk dragging it out as much as I could so that the reply at least filled some of the screen… I won’t lie it was hard to do. It was one of those conversations where it felt empty and pointless…. strained.

She said at the end of her second message “perhaps we could meet up soon as it’s been ages”. A slightly different tactic to normal, usually she was more…. forceful… usually its not a question, it’s “when are you free????”. This time I tried to avoid the question and kind of brushed it off by saying that we should arrange something soon and then said I was out this weekend and then have my best friend’s, brother’s, sister’s and husband’s birthdays in one week. She replied and said something along the lines of “keep happy and let me know when you’re less busy. Love you always”. Again, not her usual wording or style.

I didn’t really feel much about any of this. Maybe I should but I just don’t… as horrible as it may sound there’s a relief that she’s text and I’ve replied because her silence was starting to panic me. I’ve worked out I seem to see her and then get about 3/4 weeks before she asks to meet again. Then I seem to be able to put it off for a further two weeks before I cave and see her in order to “get her off my back” so to speak.

I said to T today that it is all so pointless. I told her I know that. I told her that I don’t hate her, I don’t absolutely not want to see her to the point it’s worrying me or making me feel stressed or sick or anything….. I just don’t WANT to see her either. T said that’s because now the illusion has gone, I can see there really is no connection there. I can see we have nothing in common. I can see it for what it is, and that’s empty. It really is empty. T said that’s why I feel the way I do, because there is nothing else to say and nothing else to feel. She said that’s why I find the text conversations so difficult, because I literally don’t have anything to say. We don’t know each other anymore… we never really did. She saw me for what she needed and I did the same. Now I’ve given up on her changing, now that I no longer seek her approval, now I no longer need her to tell me who I am and what to say and do… it’s just nothingness.

I thought to myself as I drove to T’s earlier what I would say to her if she asked me outright why I never want to see her. I played out a conversation in my head. T asked how that went and I said something like this…

Her: why don’t you ever want to see me?

Me: Mum, you must understand that when we fell out and didn’t speak for half a year, nothing ever got resolved in any way. I contacted you to invite you to our wedding so neither of us regretted it but things have not been the same since. I suppose I’ve got used to it and my life has changed a lot. I did mean the things I said that evening and as much as I want to leave it all in the past now, it doesn’t mean things can go back to the way they were before. Too much has changed, Ive changed.

That’s about it.

Equally logically I wouldn’t want to have that conversation because then it would start off a dialogue about how we should talk about it now then etc and I just don’t have any interest in that. It’s a shame I can’t just say “The illusion of you has gone now”. But you know… she would never understand that.

It’s funny, I never ever thought I would feel the way I do now about her (or about myself). I’m shocked I’ve been able to get through all the intense anger and shock and grief to this stage. I wonder if this is the way it will stay or whether there’s another stage after this?

I wonder often if I’ll be able to see her now and again enough to avoid any huge drama or whether something will happen and change that. I wonder if when (if) I have my own baby I’ll feel and see it all very differently – even in my dream team other week I did, becoming a mother in my dream made me insistent on staying away from her. Feeling that maternal love made me hate what she had done to me too much to be able to see her – it removed all guilt I suppose.

Only time will tell if that is what I will feel or not.