For many years, I struggled to meet my sister and mother’s domineering expectations. There was a time when I would pander to their whims to keep the peace, but those days are long gone.
We lost touch for the best part of 13 years. It was entirely my doing. It’s a weird set up. Mum and Dad are from extremely dysfunctional families. They went on to create their own dysfunctional family, but appear to be oblivious to it. We always seem to be play-acting at being normal.
Attempts to explain to sister that I am unable to live up to their expectations, always fell on deaf ears. Estrangement became easier, albeit with the ghost of their tongues regularly haunting my mind.
Two years ago, sister appealed for my understanding, “You might not want to see us, but don’t you understand, we want to see you”.
There was so much history; too many years of being relentlessly criticised.. So much heartache and rejection whenever I failed to succumb to their wishes. It can feel difficult to remember that I am now pushing past middle aged, yet still dealing with the same inner-guilt-torment thing.
This might be the root of my inability to create or maintain friendships and relationships. In my experience, if we don’t meet expectations, bad things happen; people get hurt and disappointed, some even reject us. Somehow, it feels more peaceful and much safer to remain in a state of blissful isolation.
Despite living with a physical (painful) disability and despite suffering crippling depression and agoraphobia, my Mum and sister want to meet in central London, the weekend of the 20th of-flippin-DECEMBER. WTF?!!! They both texted this morning.
Yes, we are back in touch and already the expectations are steadily re-emerging. I would rather gouge out my eyeballs than go into central London at all; never mind so close to Christmas. But, can I overpower the gut-wrenching guilt for disappointing them?
This morning, I didn’t hesitate to text Mum and Sister a reply with a firm “NO”. I told them they were crazy to think about coming to London four days before Christmas and to count me out. My sister replied with a cold, “ok”, but Mum ignored the text with her typical passive aggressiveness. I imagine I won’t hear from her for some time, but I’m grateful for small mercy’s.
So, I’ve spent the day feeling concerns that they are creeping into my life again with their dysfunctional-expectations. It’s easier, I feel less guilty, when we are in touch, but I want that contact to be at arm’s length. I don’t want to feel responsible for their expectations. Will it ever be enough?
Sometimes we stumble upon things that can mean a great deal. I read these twelve steps on a completely new blog today. They made me feel better. It is what I will focus on in the coming days.
12 Steps to Self Care
1. If it feels wrong, don’t do it.
2. Say exactly what you mean.
3. Don’t be a people pleaser.
4. Trust your instincts.
5. Never speak bad about yourself.
6. Never give up on your dreams.
7. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’.
8. Don’t be afraid to say ‘Yes’.
9. Be kind to yourself.
10. Let go of what you can’t control.
11. Stay away from drama and negativity.
Bravo on your firm “No.” That was the exactly proper reply. Hold your boundaries! And love. 🙂
Thank you, Eric. It’s always such a struggle to hold those boundaries
I love your list! I’m so glad you are being assertive , even with family, that’s hard in my opinion. Caring for yourself and knowing what’s ok for you is so important. I’m going to read these often, thanks for sharing…lol
Thanks, Ziggy, I’m still feeling the backlash for my assertiveness…. but hey ho…. what’s new!
Hope you’re well, Zig
Its usually extremely hard to let go of such relationships but I’m glad this time you were strong enough to. The self-care tips were great. Really helpful.
I hope you are doing fine. Have a good day! 🙂
Thank you… today I’m withstanding the after shocks of my boundaries, but it’s worth it. I hope everything is going okay for you
You’ll be alright. Everything’s going to fall into right place at the right time.
I’m doing fine too. Thank you for asking 🙂
Well done you. Hard, painful and multitude of emotions must be bubbling up to the surface. Regardless of what your sister and mother think; you know your truth. xx
You’ve got it in a nutshell….loads of emotions are bubbling to the surface today. Gosh, how I wish I had stayed estranged from them. At one point during our ‘out of touch years’, I did considering disappearing so that they were never able to find me. I wish now….
It is so difficult to deal with a dysfunctional family when I’m the only one to see the issue….sorry, just a bad day
Thank you so much for contributing. The understanding is hugely supportive and comforting
Well done for standing your ground. I find it hard to say no to my family, or to deal with the avalanche of guilt if I do stand up to them.
“Avalanche of Guilt”, I love that… It’s never easy to stand up to them. The after shocks will resonate for a little while. Today was the worst, tomorrow hopefully better.
Thank you, Borderlion for contributing. I feel a great deal of supoort from it
You are always welcome x
Hi Cat. I’m sorry that your Mum and your sister can’t make this a little bit more about you and a little bit less about themselves. It sounds like you may have been willing to reach out some had the setting been a safer one. I am usually more willing to give a little when others give a little also. I have to tell you that central London 4 days before Christmas would be too much even for me! Seriously?!!
Good for you for taking that huge step towards self-care! It sounds like you followed the first item on that awesome list you found. I understand that the guilt of disappointment is what you may find yourself wrestling with next. I hope you will focus on your list. As I have learned from my therapy during the last week, our power comes from being able to ask for what we need and protect our own boundaries. It is not about being a bully, but about protecting and caring for ourselves. This is what you had the strength to do with your resounding “No”. I hope you will be able to feel good about yourself for this.
Thank you for sharing the list with us. I certainly can use it during this time. I may post it on my blog, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to credit your blog or Luzialight’s blog…maybe both. Thank you also for the pictures. They are always so peaceful to behold.
I’ve gone back to my phone twice to double check the dates… Maybe I misread it and it actually says November….. Nope, 20th December it is. It wil be hard for them to accept that I will not be joining them, even just for coffee. It pains me that they are so hurt. They genuinely cannot see it from my point of view and this is why they are so hurt. It’s crazy and infuriating. However, it doesn’t lessen the guilt or the fact I am upsett that they are so hurt. That doesn’t mean I should pander to them. I am only too aware, the more they get, the more they come to expect…. it’s always being turned up a notch or two. For them, it is never enough.
Protecting and caring for ourselves should be number 1 priority when recovering and those 12 steps hit that home. Up until I read your comment, I hadn’t been feeling good about saying no – wrestling with the guilt for THEM being upset meant I was battling with a lot of emotions today. But, now you mention it, I am pleased I am strong enough to say No and this little episode has made me see that this shit is theirs…. let them deal with it and I’ll deal with mine. Now I feel better about it, thanks, Rising, your support is invaluable.
Oh BTW if you were reblogging the steps, it should be the original writier who gets the credit with a link back to their blog, just as I did. I don’t know how to do fancy pingbacks and links. I also posted a comment on her blog, letting her know what I had done. MMMM…now I am wondering if it is a She or a HE?….
Good for you – if they do want to see you and you feel up to it at all, it should definitely NOT be in central London 4 days before Christmas! Gahhh! Why not meet in Harrod’s or something for extra fun?! lol Couldn’t they meet you somewhere else (again, only if you felt up to it at all?) And anyway, I’m sure there’s a part of you that knows how valid your aversion to dealing with them is and it makes total sense. Sometimes when I feel guilty for not wanting to deal with things – i.e. pushing them away in a way that hurts someone else or, like you say, disappoints their expectations – I tell myself very firmly: If I was ready to deal with it – I would have dealt with it. The fact that I didn’t was a gut decision that I need to get used to trusting rather than second-guessing!
Congratulations on your 2013 Nomination – Best Short/Long Story post (fiction or nonfiction)
Thank you, Kendall
It has to be one of the hardest things – to find the balance between keeping healthy boundaries and finding a the ‘right’ level of communication/connection with family members. By ‘right’ I mean right for YOU. This also includes our own needs to be caring and considerate of others and their feelings. But when you do the best your can to be caring and they still want something else that you don’t have, then that is when “letting go”, or detaching from their “need” comes in.
This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn with certain family members. Even though my father hurt me badly when I was a child…and he still has warped ways of relating to me…I like that I can still feel compassion for him. I’ve had to learn to close off parts of my life to him while finding a little area of myself that genuinely be present with him. Before that it was all or nothing. And I felt I had to hold onto my resentments in order to keep him from hurting me again. Now I don’t feel as much resentment AND I can extend kindness to him, write to him occasionally, send photos etc. He lives over a 1,000 miles away so it’s easier to do this. I’m not sure how balanced I’d be if we were to visit.
They may say they want more contact, but do they really want the real you? If they don’t know you well enough to know why meeting up with you 4 days before christmas in London would not be good for you, then it seems they are wanting something that isn’t you.
It sounds like you are navigating this stuff real well.
That’s a very interesting point you make about them knowing the real me. Mum hasn’t a clue but my sister knows how difficult this is. She usually says, “Yes, I understand, but can’t you understand we want to see you”. I can see there point, but I’m happier on my own.
I don’t hold resentments, but neither do I want to see them. Texting, emailing and an odd call here and there is perfect for me, but i’m accused of being selfish for not taking into account that they want to see me. Trouble is, if I made the effort and visited them (500miles away), they would then moan that it wasn’t for long enough. I had all that in the past, it was one of the reasons we became estranged for a few years. It’s very upsetting…
Hi Cat! those 12 Steps to Self Care do make sense… you’ll be fine if you stay away from negative “stuff” and toxic people… once you know what you don’t want, choices are easier! my very best and thanx for dropping by my posts! Friendly thoughts, Mélanie
Thank you Melanie
Cat, so sorry I didn’t see this until now. Been away on a retreat, packing to move, came back to hundreds of emails. So…families are extremely difficult to navigate, let alone dysfunctional ones. Been through it, I know, and I cut off relations with my own for years. Only now back in touch and navigating the waters, but am very wary and plenty self-protective. It’s a necessity for survival, my friend. No guilt attached.
You’re the one who gets to set up the ground rules for re-engagement, particularly since they don’t seem to respect your boundaries. Go slow. Set up where, when and a time limit. The first time doesn’t even need to be face to face. Ever heard of Skype? 😉
Yer, I heard of Skype…lol…my sister used to call me on it a lot…too much, I disconnected it. I do feel guilty, but I only want them to be at a distance. I know this upsets them, it does tear me up. However, the alternative is to become embroiled in their inability to accept the boundaries… always want more…never enough…. sorry, but been there, done that.
Many thanks for taking the time to comment, Susan. I hope you are finding a way through the backlog of stuff…
Truthfully, I looked for the email re: your blog first. Want to be certain I stay in touch. And for now, if you want them to be at a distance, it is really their choice to accept your terms, or to be upset about it. Let go of the chains of guilt. You cannot afford to be captive to it anymore. Allow yourself to be free in your own healing.
Hi Cat, I have a particular relative that I am not in touch with although, I would love our relationship to work it doesn’t. It only works when I agree with everything she says, back up her lies and twisted up view of things and agree that everyone is agaisnt her. For this particular person no one else exists, she has no concept of anyone except in the context of herself. When I retreat she missed her emotional kick bag (which is me) she only seems to be happy when she has me in a state of total depression and guilt. It to find has taken me years of trying to find this out.
I think we are like a drug to these people even though we love thm dearly, they need their “fix” of making us feel bad. You need to be selfish and concentrate on you now. its your time.
Thank you, Athena. I’m afraid I often worry that it is me who is too wrapped up in my own little bubble with little concept of other people’s opinions. It might be true, but I do need my own time to recover and they have been the source of a lot of my difficulties in the past. The trouble is, for them, it is never enough. If I met them every Saturday, they would soon moan I didn’t meet on Sundays and so forth. So, for me, there needs to be a cut-off point.
Cat, you don’t have to be domineered. Why not suggest a compromise. Tell them that you would love to meet up, but could they make it somewhere quieter, where you feel more comfortable. I hope it works out for you.
Thank you, Michael. The trouble is, I find I don’t want to see them at all! Yuck, very selfish, I know, but there is so much water under the bridge…maybe things I hang onto when I should be letting go….
Then you need more time to come to terms with what has happened. Take your time and get to grips with your own feelings, first.
Thank you for writing about this! Family can be so difficult! I have had to separate all contact from some family members, and keep contact at a minimum for others.
Sometimes they can be the source of so much heartache. Thank you for commenting, Jean Marie