The abuser's side of the story
April 29, 2015 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Down the Rabbit Hole is a repository of observations about estranged parent support forums (previously). It contains comparisons of forum culture between discussion sites for estranged parents and those for children, themes of discussion found on estranged parent sites, and possible reasons estranged parent forums develop toxic dynamics.
posted by sciatrix (83 comments total) 170 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not even in this situation and reading through that made me feel queasy. Proceed with caution.
posted by thelonius at 2:05 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I found this fascinating (although found the organization a little confusing.) It's really well-written, also.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:12 PM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


The estranged parent communities are amazing.

Amazing, v. - to bewilder; perplex.

Would also accept terrific, adj. - causing terror; terrifying.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:12 PM on April 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is by the author of a popular Ask Mefi link about sick systems.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:16 PM on April 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


This page is kind of the clincher. The specific example given is pretty bananas. #notallestrangedparents
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:17 PM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fascinating! I am excited to read this. I've been super curious ever since that last post.
posted by prefpara at 2:17 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the "possible reasons" link, under "Mechanisms used to avoid criticism": Refusal to accept criticisms that they themselves don't agree with. . . . [and] Hypersensitivity to negative emotions aimed at them. Any criticism at all is interpreted as an attack, unhappiness is interpreted as rage, calm speech is remembered as screaming. Their children aren't hurt or upset, they're "filled with hatred."

Wow. Wow, wow. My sweet-as-pie MIL does all of the listed bullet points especially "refusal to accept," and she wonders why I go out of my way to avoid spending more time with her than necessary for politeness's sake. My husband (now reformed after years of hard work) did all of these, especially hypersensitivity, except for "refusal to accept" -- there was a steep learning curve but he figured out how to be open to my critiques and the therapist's.

I'll be reading every fucking word on these pages and forwarding them to a bunch of people. Thank you.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:19 PM on April 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


Everybody I'd like to forward this to would reply with a very injured ten-paragraph response about why it doesn't apply to them at all.

My child was most real and true to himself when he was a preschooler (and had not begun to defy me).

Zing.

Thanks for this excellent post.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:29 PM on April 29, 2015 [62 favorites]


This is an amazing analysis of how offline personalities influence online community culture. Thanks for posting it. For a slightly related look -- in that it deals with a community that focuses on estranged children -- might I recommend the Toast's piece, "In Which I Endorse an Online Community Other Than Our Own," which talks about Babycenter's "DWIL Nation."
posted by sobell at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


OK, so I've read a bit more and the site's very clear that it's only about members of estranged parent forums, which I'm pretty sure my MIL is not...but it illuminates so much about her, regardless. Like the whole "the only reality is MY reality" Armored Vehicle steamrolling thing she does, which made my brain spin its gears uselessly the first few times I experienced it and made me question my sanity because holy shit, lookit how loving and nurturing her words are, combined with how 100% certain she is that she's nurturing and taking care of me!
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:42 PM on April 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's a really good read. There's a big focus on "I don't know why they are so mad at me" when they talk about emails and rants and letters, and it's fascinating that no one ever asks "well, what did they SAY in the email?"
posted by jeather at 2:43 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


One of the great lessons of my life has been learning that not everybody was raised like this.

A good read, an intense read, and something that I'm glad to have come across. Oddly, it makes me a little more sympathetic. It's not easy being the narcissist, either, I suppose.
posted by harperpitt at 2:48 PM on April 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


many of these "how could they cut me off over something so meaningless???" stories remind me of this comment.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:51 PM on April 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I would be careful about who you forward this to. Some of them might just think, "Finally, a group that will understand me!"
posted by ckape at 2:53 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


As someone who has had to cut off parents for being abusive (the stepfather, who is cut off forever (though I'm sure I'll have to run into him at my sister's wedding)) or dangerous (the father, who I cut off for 11 or 12 years for refusing to either a) not drive with me in the car or b) take his epilepsy medication -- apparently, his faith was going to keep us safe (and, yes, this was after he had a seizure while I was in the car with him)), this was both a difficult and entirely unsurprising read. Even though we've been back in touch for several years now, my father still sometimes brings up those years when you weren't talking to me for some reason. And the last time I saw my sister's father, which was at his mother's funeral, he said something along the lines of "We had our differences, but thank you for coming." Yes, our differences -- I was 5 and you were physically abusive for 10 years.

Well, I seem to feel pretty strongly about this. And, yes, like the author surmises, I think both my father and stepfather have simply blocked out the real reasons -- I honestly think neither of them remember or are willing to try to remember. I'm fortunate that neither of them have tried to force their ways back into my life -- I can't imagine how much more difficult that makes the situation. Thank you for this post.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:59 PM on April 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


One thing that I learned recently is that abusive behaviour is mostly not about mental illness or inability to control one's behaviour, and it mostly is about beliefs around entitlement, as reflected on the How do you tell which parents are abusive and which are the victims...? page.
posted by clawsoon at 3:00 PM on April 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


That was a hard read. I have an aunt who has been estranged from most of our family off and on for the past 20 years or so, and the descriptions of these parents tick sooo many boxes of her attitude and outlook.
posted by KGMoney at 3:01 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


So... can narcissists change? I am very, painfully clear with my new MIL about boundaries, and am wondering how many years it will take, if ever, for her to realize that I say what I mean. So far it just seems that she thinks I'm really opinionated and harsh. So be it (for my sanity), but I wonder if she will ever catch on.
posted by schmopera at 3:32 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


BRB got to contact my mom and dad-in-law and stepdad and let them know how grateful I am that they're actually loving and wonderful people
posted by edheil at 3:49 PM on April 29, 2015 [21 favorites]


If you read "The missing missing reasons" page on the site, the author says, basically, no. The mindset is so focused on emotional rather than logical response, and the denial so deep, that even convincing them that they have a problem to begin with is incredibly difficult.
posted by KGMoney at 3:50 PM on April 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


(BTW, I just said mom, dad-in-law, and stepdad because those are the alive ones, not because the others were any less wonderful)
posted by edheil at 3:55 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


So... can narcissists change?

Not in my experience. Part of the pathology is the inability to hear or accept criticism (while often having deep insecurities): they won't go to therapy because it would mean validating external criticism and exposing their own vulnerabilities. Certainly my mother never did.
posted by suelac at 3:57 PM on April 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


# Stalk their adult children after requests for no contact by:

* Going to their children's and their children's spouses' homes or workplaces
* Going to their grandchildren's schools, concerts, and games
* Using Facebook accounts belonging to other family members to see their children's Facebook accounts
* Creating false Facebook accounts to trick their children into friending them
* Enlisting others to contact or photograph adult children who live too far away for the parents to stalk them directly
* Hiring private investigators to find adult children who moved without leaving contact information
Oh, yes, the stalking. They think it's totally fine, too. My mother actually is here on metafilter and literally says in her profile that she's here to stalk me. Clearly there is no shame involved, despite how disgusting and pathetic it is. I am not friends on facebook with anyone I'm related to because of this kind of bullshit. I don't expect it to end until she's dead, an occasion which cannot come soon enough.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:06 PM on April 29, 2015 [73 favorites]


My mother actually is here on metafilter and literally says in her profile that she's here to stalk me.
Jesus fucking christ.

Would any of you folks with fucked up parents like to borrow my mother sometime? Or my mother in law? They're both awesome. My wife and I totally lucked out.

(Well, aside from the long-dead fathers, I guess.)
posted by uberchet at 4:11 PM on April 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


Gah.

Totally sharing this with my therapist tomorrow.

I, too, didn't realize for a very long time that not everyone was raised by people like this. Is it wrong to say that I still feel relief when I'm reminded that I'm not alone?
posted by gsh at 4:13 PM on April 29, 2015 [26 favorites]


Would any of you folks with fucked up parents like to borrow my mother sometime? Or my mother in law? They're both awesome. My wife and I totally lucked out.

That is sweet of you to say. I actually got to "borrow" my friends' parents quite a lot as a child, and for years had in-laws who, while they have their own problems, are relatively calm and caring. It has really had a positive effect on my life and my emotional health.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2015 [24 favorites]


Since that post in January, I've been reading /r/raisedbynarcissists pretty regularly. If you have ever cut contact with your parents for any reason, it's super validating. It's a reminder that many people are quite happy never speaking to their parents again, and they usually have good reasons for doing so.
posted by almostmanda at 4:18 PM on April 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


This is extraordinary and disturbing and incredibly thought-provoking. Thank you for posting it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:21 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, the focus on authoritarian personality traits in the last link of the FPP reminds me of this Tumblr post I keep seeing over and over again:
Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.
posted by almostmanda at 4:30 PM on April 29, 2015 [219 favorites]


The article was really interesting but I have the feeling that this post, which the article links to, is going to be changing my life in small ways for a very long time.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:32 PM on April 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


My mother was not like this, but her mother was. If she were still here, I would have an extra incentive to hug her. She and I had our own troubles, but none of them were because she didn't think what I wanted mattered or that I was her accessory/servant. She loved and took care of her complaining, meanspirited, never-satisifed mother till the end with a grim determination that kind of gives me the shivers, still.
posted by emjaybee at 4:46 PM on April 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm curious what happens to the non-abusive people that wander onto these forums, either because they're non-abusive but estranged parents or the occasional person just tilting at windmills trying to be reasonable. The article mentions they typically don't hang around, but what happens first? Do they try to talk sense into the regular posters? Do they get banned? Do they enter and then back away slowly? The Grampa Simpson gif?
posted by JauntyFedora at 5:04 PM on April 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is really interesting, but... who is Issendai? How do I know this isn't some kind of Stephen Glass thing?
posted by Going To Maine at 5:15 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh god, the formula = CPS story. Let me share my version. When it was time for me to give birth, my MIL showed up at our house. I'd met her before, but didn't know her. She just took over my house. When I went into labor, she was there. In the birthing room. Staring at my vagina. For 27 hours. (Until I went into emergency surgery.) I asked her to go, I asked medical people to make her go, I even asked my husband to make her go...but she wouldn't go. Kept saying she was a nurse, it was ok.

After birth, my milk didn't come in. 12 hours after surgery, and only being able to hold my baby when someone else came into the room and took him away from her and gave him to me, she told me that it was my fault the hospital had to give him formula, and she told me to stand up and bend over, at which point she slapped my boobs so hard they looked like a newton's cradle, then while I was in shock, she did the other side, then pinched my nipples harder than any lover has ever done, and said "There, now they should work!" (Quel surprise, that didn't work. Huh. Not terribly surprising, the Nipple Nazi's did something very similar. The LLL really hate women that have trouble producing milk, they really, really do.) (It should be noted here that I moved into almost suicidal post partum depression during this stage...else, I'd kill someone for that shit, I can tell you.)

When I was allowed to leave the hospital, she threw away all the formula in the house. My husband was forced to smuggle it in, and we were warming it up in the bathroom sink in my bedroom. She threatened to take my son and leave and never tell us where he was. When he lost 2 pounds in the first week; and the pediatrician was justifiably concerned, and I told her that I didn't give a rat's ass what she wanted, my kid was getting formula at the dr recommended amounts, she called CPS. And they took her seriously because he'd lost 2 pounds. I'm shaking angry just thinking about this again.

The final straw was that she came down and took my son out of his bassinet and went upstairs...I just had major abdominal surgery, I'm not supposed to be wandering around...and I had to climb on my hands and knees upstairs to get my son, whereupon I took it upon myself to lock myself in a room with my son, and called my husband to tell him that it was me or his mom. But that one of us was leaving in the next 2 hours, and it would be a whole lot easier if he got rid of her, because I was leaving the goddamn country.

Boy is 13. He's met her once at a funeral, and she immediately started talking about taking him away for months at a time, at which point I made doubly sure that his school understood that he wasn't allowed to leave with anyone that wasn't me or his dad...because, really, I don't know how far the crazy goes, and I'm completely unwilling to find out.

These forums fill me with dread.
posted by dejah420 at 5:45 PM on April 29, 2015 [154 favorites]


Edit to add: She didn't call anyone she was supposed to call, not my family, not the rest of husband's family, not my friends...nobody.

So, I got no cards, no flowers, no visitors. I thought nobody cared. Nobody even knew I gave birth until my husband started calling people to ask where everyone was.
posted by dejah420 at 5:49 PM on April 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


I was kind of hoping this would give me some insight into an abusive parent who went completely no contact when he left the family, but it seems to be more about parents whose children have cut off contact. Not that I *want* contact; it just kind of got my hopes up that there might be more psychology to it than "screwed-up asshole really does just resent the children he brought into the world."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:02 PM on April 29, 2015


It's probably a sign that I started crying at reading the last few paragraphs of the missing reasons post that KGMoney linked to. My mother threatened suicide for years to stop me from putting up barriers before I finally cut her off. She's still alive; I'm still traumatized; she still says she has no idea why I won't speak to her and tells every family member what a terrible daughter I am.

If permission from a stranger on the internet is what I needed to hear to be free -- and it seems like it is -- by god, by god I will take it.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 6:02 PM on April 29, 2015 [63 favorites]


My father, three years ago, after I tried to explain that it probably wasn't appropriate to continually refer to a 13-15yo as an "ungrateful little shit" :

"Well, you were."
posted by PMdixon at 6:11 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm part of this club, as a daughter. This post brought so many feelings (very emotion, such feels).
I'm very, very glad that my mother is not internet savvy and that she hasn't looked for me. She's also estranged from her mother and siblings (a characteristic that's mentioned on the profile of average members of estranged parents' forums). The chain of pain keeps perpetuating itself. That makes me deeply sad.

dejah420, your post chilled me to the bone. I'm sorry that happened to you.
posted by clearlydemon at 6:29 PM on April 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


oooh these describe my grandmother so well. I am so glad she's out of my life! The crap that my Mom has had to put up with, poor dear.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:44 PM on April 29, 2015


Wow.

I've struggled with depression my entire life, but I am suddenly aware how much worse life could be if I had let mental problems cripple and ultimately destroy my humanity. Which is what I, charitably, am going to assume happened to these estranged parents who are completely unable to embrace reality. Indeed, each moment of their lives, is a reframing of what is actually happening into the world against them.

A reflexive, victim-oriented mindset is incredibly comforting. It is also a form of death. You as a decent human is dead and gone. The person may as well be an emotional vampire.

Luckily, my family has been great, and I hope to god I am a decent parent someday.

This was very good, if so hard, to read. Thanks. I'm going to cuddle my cats and call my mom and dad, I guess.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:53 PM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


re: dejah's post

jesus fuck christ wtf wrong ppl no words



murder
posted by M Edward at 6:54 PM on April 29, 2015 [27 favorites]


JauntyFedora: I'm curious what happens to the non-abusive people that wander onto these forums, either because they're non-abusive but estranged parents or the occasional person just tilting at windmills trying to be reasonable. The article mentions they typically don't hang around, but what happens first? Do they try to talk sense into the regular posters? Do they get banned? Do they enter and then back away slowly?

When I was in court dealing with custody stuff, I'd occasionally be approached by "fathers' rights" advocates. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some overlap between that group and the people who stick around on these forums.

My response: I didn't try talking sense into them. I had enough to deal with already, and I was overwhelmed enough by everything going on that I didn't know what "sense" was exactly other than a vague certainty that these guys didn't have it. Listen politely, don't follow up on their suggestions to get in touch with them. "Back away slowly," as you put it.
posted by clawsoon at 6:55 PM on April 29, 2015


my dad and i are sort of estranged but in a more oblique, he moved away and only occasionally calls me on holidays when his wife reminds him he has a son.

he adopted some teenager and had the kid renamed to dad jr.

like wtf dude you have a son who doesn't hate you but you gotta go adopt a kid and name it after yerself?
posted by M Edward at 6:57 PM on April 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm keeping a parent at arms' length for Reasons these days, reasons almost identical to the ones why I keep my sister there too.

My biggest, darkest fear in life is turning into them, and not knowing it. That fear gives me an awful lot of self-doubt. Disease begets disease.
posted by Dashy at 7:05 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Jesus, dejah. I'm glad you never see her and having met your awesome kid, glad you kept him away from her.
posted by emjaybee at 7:14 PM on April 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


Very interesting. It kind of reminds me of forums and online communities for people with personality disorders (particularly BPD and ASPD). Or this hugely, hugely triggering Reddit post from a few years back (the thread itself was removed but this is a link to a blog post about it): http://jezebel.com/5929544/rapists-explain-themselves-on-reddit-and-we-should-listen.
posted by armadillo1224 at 7:25 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh my, right in the feels.

And definitely FLEAS- I'm covered in them, and have to take comfort in the fact that I'm trying my darnedest to get rid of them to believe that I am not an utter monster.

Re: almostmanda's post. Thank you. Such a concise explanation of why this is a repeat pattern- not because I'm just seeing things, or that the problem was me (both of which I've been accused of) but because I thought this bs was normal.

Now that I know it's not, there's a night and day difference in the people in my life, and I'm so grateful for them it brings me to tears.

And dejah, hugs to you for persevering. The damn PTSD sometimes seems like the worst part!
posted by susiswimmer at 7:51 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Anything tinged with negative emotion, anything that makes them feel bad about themselves, shocks them so deeply that they block it out. The Missing Missing Reason.

Oh man. Definite varieties of this in my grandmother and her daughter, my mother. And I think I just got a window into what I find so triggering about hoarders, which also runs in both sides of my family. Every time I see hoarders on TV, I get so angry and agitated, and it's the whole thing where they're standing in garbage and they're all, "Nope! I need all this stuff! It is perfectly fine! Still good! Don't touch my stuff, mine mine mine!"

The complete inability to hear criticism and also to, you know, live in the real world. My mom definitely operates on a "If I feel it, it must be true" basis. I did a lot of years of therapy and she and I have a cordial relationship now, but reading the excellent site is bringing up some strong emotions.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:44 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


The LLL really hate women that have trouble producing milk, they really, really do.

The more familiar I become with the LLL, the more convinced I become that they really hate women in general.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:48 PM on April 29, 2015 [26 favorites]


Does LLL stand for La Leche League? I get that the acronyms are useful on sites where people are discussing this stuff on a regular basis, but anywhere where that's not the case, they just get confusing.

As for the actual link - man, this hits close to home. I got lucky; my dad had a lot of nasty fleas, but he's actually made a sincere effort to fix the abusive tendencies he had and still somewhat has. There was a long stretch there where he was one of these people. My heart goes out to the people who suffered from this even worse than I did.
posted by protocoach at 10:02 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know about other denominations, but about a decade ago, American Reform Judaism was sponsoring a support group/workshop series for estranged (avoided by their children) parents. I was working at the time, as I have mentioned here before, as the ED of my city's LGBT congregation, which was affiliated with the Reform movement. I did a lot of speaking engagements within the Reform orbit, and of course I was frequently asked about my Jewish upbringing (Conservative), my biological family, and how they dealt with my queerness. My answer, which was unfortunately common for gay folks of my age and older, was that they were not accepting of my sexual preference (or gender presentation), and that I had no contact with them. I was several times asked to participate in the estranged parent workshops around the country to provide the "other POV", including at my parent's synagogue (I don't think the rabbi who asked me knew I was the child of a group member, but we do have a distinctive last name I have not changed). I refused in all cases, as Halakhah allows children to respect their parents by avoiding strife with them, while supporting them from a remove if familial conflict is habitual.

I was lying, or at least allowing the impression that my family estrangement was due to their views about my queerness. While it's true my mother sat shiva (engaged in a week of formal mourning) for me after she found out definitively I was gay, she did not, in fact, leave me be after declaring me dead to her. My mother is a narcissistic tyrant, and my father enables her. I ended direct communication with her before the shiva michegas, and when it became obvious my father was her mouthpiece, stopped talking with him as well. I had to ask my extended family not to share information about me with my folks. My parents have used every means they can to contact me and attempt to return me to their emotional manipulation.

Reading the FPPs reminds me again I have made the right choices in cutting off my parents. I wish I could have escaped more gracefully and fully from the start. I wish I understood earlier that my parent's lies about how I felt were not my truth. I wish I had the ability, inclination or resources to manage my own seething fury with them earlier than I did. I wish I understood at a younger age my mother's (and her brother's) own abuse from their pogrom-scarred immigrant parents. I wish I better understood my chronically ill father being raised by a single mother in the 1940s and 50s. I wish I had more familial compassion for my folks, but honestly, I need most of it for myself since I'm never going to get it from them.

I eventually learned how to attract and be loved by chosen family. And I wish I could thank them all enough for teaching me that love doesn't have to be a struggle for which one of us is the real person with their own experiences and feelings. My chosen family and friends have taught me we're ALL real people; not real people and puppets who will always fail. But sometimes I want parents, even parents who will love me imperfectly, like most of the other people I know have parents.

Self-orphaning makes me feel like I'm still somehow playing my parent's game.
posted by Dreidl at 1:09 AM on April 30, 2015 [40 favorites]


many of these "how could they cut me off over something so meaningless???" stories remind me of this comment.

Heh, i have more than a couple moments like this in my life. I love that comment, and it's something i've failed to explain to quite a few people(or at least, they've failed to accept or absorb). Why would i ban my mom from my house indefinitely for becoming convinced one of my friends stole her debit card out of her jacket? the card was gone after all(but of course, later found at her house). Why did i stop talking to my grandma essentially forever after she gave me a can of root beer for my birthday?

I have five or six more like that, but it's always something mildly disrespectful but seemingly small.

It's like a hot doorhandle in a burning house. Someone who doesn't get it would point out there's no flames or smoke, so where's the fire? But that's not really the point, and it's kind of just ignorant of what it both demonstrates, suggests, and is just generally an example of.

Since that post in January, I've been reading /r/raisedbynarcissists pretty regularly. If you have ever cut contact with your parents for any reason, it's super validating.

I almost find this sub to be a bad thing. It just has a certain amount of "my mom took away my computer because i wouldn't leave the basement and stop playing WoW OMG she's teh narcissist!".

On one hand it's like, i don't know where to draw the line on what's legitimately terrible and whats just people going woe is me, but it has to be somewhere and there's definitely stuff in there that doesn't clear the bar because redditors are whiny.
posted by emptythought at 3:46 AM on April 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


@emptythought the current front page of that sub isn't like that. occasionally the wow player does surface and goes away.
posted by abbiecodes at 4:04 AM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know whether to say "Thank you" or "I feel gut-punched." These links are going to take some mulling over, sciatrix, and I appreciate your post.

dejah420, holy shit. Hugs.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:20 AM on April 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The abuser's side of the story", yeah, this shit can go on for generations if left unchecked, unquestioned, unrealized. One of the things that makes me very happy about the Internet is that it makes it so much easier for the abused and survivors to see and find echoes of their own stories, and start realizing that it wasn't them and they aren't alone. My own path to recovery actually started thanks to the Internet about 20 years ago, when I learned what "cult" actually meant and safely read about them on a Mac in the UO's School of Music computer lab. I even remember which computer I was on when it hit me: "this explains so much about my life" (raised by fundamentalist evangelicals). It's systematized abuse. I also remember realizing that my childhood desire to run away wasn't so childish; I was going to have to leave, and I would lose everything. But gain freedom.

I don't feel too badly that the Internet also leads to echo chambers for abusers, because they had plenty of those IRL before it came around, and vanishingly rare witnesses, no written background, no history to point to and say "you said the opposite back then, your story keeps changing." They may still get reinforcement, but they're also at least facing more apparent and visible questioning, and that is yet another good thing for people they've abused. They can see they're not alone. That the crazy is seen by others too.

I've told a lot of my family story here, in bits and pieces depending on context, but one part of it was fuzzy and unfocused until this Saturday. I got a photo of my Norwegian twice-paternal great-grandmother and namesake, from a distant relative, one of the few who's kept in touch with me. (And who also refuses to speak with anyone else in the family, because stalkers, yeah. Sigh.) In this photo, my great-grandmother's standing next to the second leader of an apocalyptic cult originally founded in Lofoten, where my Norwegian side comes from. Now. I had known that my great-grandparents were members of this cult, that my grandfather's childhood was not happy, but people always said my great-grandmother "was the nicest lady." Without specifics, 20/20 hindsight now informs me. That's always the abuser's side of the story. They're "nice people." Without specifics. Anyway.

Said apocalyptic cult leader was well-known for bigamy and systematized incest within the cult. Really horrific shit. (If anyone's curious about the cult, feel free to MeMail me and I'd be happy to send along specifics. Especially if you study cults/extremist beliefs, because this one still exists, and still isolates and abuses its children. There's increasing documentation – written & video – on it in Norwegian. I just don't want its name to be linked to my handle via web searches, it's that disgusting.) And there is my great-grandmother, her shoulder on his, a couple decades after the death of her husband, smiling for the camera.

So now I've got photographic proof, in addition to plenty of written records that now all fit together like puzzle pieces, that my father's side of the family is directly implicated in a long line of, Flying Spaghetti Monster bless me, I cannot find the words. My grandfather escaped it as he could; he and my grandmother, also from an abusive family, were outspoken atheists and always insisted that I trust my strength and intelligence in life, not anything hurtful people said to me just to be destructive. (They didn't like my parents' parenting, but never made it adversarial; they were both very smart and compassionate.) Mother's side of the family is a string of drunkards and narcissistic child beaters.

All of them "pillars of the community" and "very nice people", "true believers" with "a genuine dedication to their religion" (maternal side was also strongly involved in church).

Egads the stalking. I moved to the opposite side of the planet and even then they managed to try surprise visits. It's something I often said to my therapist: "they didn't want me, never wanted a girl, treated me like shit, essentially put me in an emotional dumpster, so why can't they just let go? They wanted me to die, I told them fine, I'm dead to you, and yet they still try to contact me. Why??"

I don't give a shit about the why any more. Especially not after seeing that photo. It was something of a last-straw gift: I finally realized, I am not these people and never will be. I'm me. I'm not giving them any fucking more mental space unless it's to heal and help me and others. My story has plenty more chapters to fill.
posted by fraula at 5:33 AM on April 30, 2015 [76 favorites]


This is a good post and a super interesting (if distressing) site. Thanks for posting it.
posted by latkes at 6:46 AM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


this was both a difficult and entirely unsurprising read

QFT.
posted by tilde at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2015


My wife is estranged from her family. I have never met any of them. Estranged to the point where I didn't know her parents had passed away until several years after the fact.

I know her mother had several diagnosed psychological problems. She had hired a P.I. to find my wife at one time, and managed to call our home phone number years later after we had moved several times without forwarding addresses. Apparently, on her death bed, her mother asked to see my wife. Not to reconcile, but so my wife could apoligize for what she had done.
posted by Badgermann at 6:57 AM on April 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


"they didn't want me, never wanted a girl, treated me like shit, essentially put me in an emotional dumpster, so why can't they just let go? They wanted me to die, I told them fine, I'm dead to you, and yet they still try to contact me. Why??"

Story of my life, sister, I hear you.

I always wanted to say to my mom: OK, legitimately insane person what birthed me, you always tried to get me to kill myself so you wouldn't get blamed for it, you told everyone you knew what a worthless, literally godforsaken wretch I was and how disappointing it was that I'd turned out to be so awful... but when I finally managed to get the hell away and build myself a good life, you told them (and me) that the only reason I had the ability to do so was because of you and how dare I stop speaking to you because I owe you everything I've ever had and will ever have. It's just straight-up nuts, like on FOX News, where people just repeat boldfaced lies over and over again until everyone believes them because why would someone keep saying something over and over if it wasn't true?

The first time she showed up on my doorstep, after I'd moved three times without notifying her and hadn't spoken to her for years, she pulled out so many distorted beliefs (#4 -- "My child is permanently subordinate to me," "Refusing to have having a relationship with me is abusive," "Children have no right to break off relationships with their parents") that it makes me shiver to read them. She is open about the fact that she believes she has an inalienable right to me, that she has at least partial (if not complete) ownership of every single facet of my existence, every decision I make, everything I own, and that there is absolutely nothing I will ever deserve to keep private from her. The weirdest part, though, is that she fucking haaaaaaates me. She hates me for everything I've ever been able to do that she couldn't. She tried to hamstring me in every possible way while I was growing up so she could be more successful than me, but it didn't work out quite as she'd planned, because here I am with a job and a house and friends and there she is, raising her last fatherless child alone in the projects. The one victory she did wrest was purposely keeping me out of the college-bound track I'd started on as a kid for no other reason than because she wanted to get a degree before me, which she did. So kudos for that, mom, you really got me there.

The #1 claim, though, has ALWAYS been this: "My pain is the complete justification for why my child should resume a relationship with me." My pain is nothing. It's actually less than nothing, it exists for no other reason than to insult her pain.

I spilled my guts like a damn fool in the other thread and didn't want to do it here again, but goddamnit, whenever people talk about this stuff, it all comes back like it happened yesterday. My father has been largely defanged by age, but my mother is the most terrifying person I have ever known. I'm always beating myself up for being scared speechless by a 5-foot-tall, 100-pound, 50-year-old woman, but I know what she can do, I know what she will do, and I won't feel safe until she's dead.

Apparently, on her death bed, her mother asked to see my wife. Not to reconcile, but so my wife could apoligize for what she had done.

This is my greatest fear in life and part of the reason for that is because I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will happen. For now, all I can do is wait.

Big ups to my fellow self-made orphans, I couldn't have made it through without your grace, strength, and perseverance. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by divined by radio at 7:08 AM on April 30, 2015 [65 favorites]


My wife was "estranged" from her mother for a while. There was an angry letter full of rage over the things that had happened in her childhood, brought on by finally going to therapy and acknowledging those things. There was an "I see you want to hurt us and I don't understand why" response from her mom. To all appearances it was the beginning of one of these Estranged Parents stories from the site.

BUT the difference was that her mother wasn't a narcissistic abuser; she just suffered from what this site calls FLEAS, the echoing patterns of abuse from *her* mother, which had affected her behavior. That made a huge difference. My wife and her mother were eventually reconciled and she turned out to be a wonderful grandma who was kind and loving to her grandkids and to her adult daughter.

The reconciliation just came on its own with some time and healing, not as a result of stalking and harassment and lawn tantrums and standoffs and manipulation. It just happened by people with some bad history who love each other, loving each other. I don't even remember specifically how it happened, it just was something they moved past with time.

So, like, even things which *start* this way, don't have to *stay* this way, if the parent behaves like a human being.
posted by edheil at 7:55 AM on April 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


if the parent behaves like a human being.

I suspect that at least a few of the commenters here will spot that "if" and ask, in good faith, "What does it look like when a parent behaves like a human being?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:06 AM on April 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


I suspect that at least a few of the commenters here will spot that "if" and ask, in good faith, "What does it look like when a parent behaves like a human being?"
Honest answer: In this case, if I remember correctly, behaving like a human being in response to this estrangement period meant being sad and confused, telling her that they loved her and hoped things could change... but accepting with some humility that this was the way things are for now... until the daughter had dealt with some of the pain and was ready, on her own terms and in her own time, to face them again and come together, at which point they were glad and grateful that things could be better.

Just for reference purposes, for people who unfortunately are unfamiliar with the phenomenon: that's what it looked like when she behaved like a human being.
posted by edheil at 8:42 AM on April 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


Stuff got better with my father in a similar way to what edheil describes. He sent messages through family members to the effect that it was ok if I didn't want to see him. There was a subtle difference in the sense that I didn't feel he was trying to draw those family members into the dispute, he was just legitimately trying to get a message through. When I went to see him, I still felt a lot of pressure and anxiety; my partner commented that he thought my father was actually addicted to certain kinds of behavior. He had remarried and now had stepchildren and I noticed him talking about one of them in a way that reminded me of my past relationship with him. So, in his case "acting human" didn't mean seeing the light in some big way and I am not sure it was really sustainable. But it was meaningful for me, not least because it enabled an improvement in relations with my siblings too. However I don't bring this up with the notion that it's something people should aim for. With us it was some combination of age, illness and no longer being each other's primary family. You can't manufacture something like that, and it bothers me when abuse survivors are told to reconcile.
posted by BibiRose at 8:58 AM on April 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Since my post from the previous thread has been brought up, I feel like I should note that this:

she just suffered from what this site calls FLEAS, the echoing patterns of abuse from *her* mother, which had affected her behavior.

was definitely a factor in that situation. There was a lot of recognition across the entire family that at least the aunt in question had been conclusively, unforgivably warped by her upbringing. It didn't mean that we excused her appalling behavior, but when she did occasionally sober up/get on *proper* meds and make stabs at repairing the breaches, they were usually taken as genuine, good-faith attempts. (And I truly think they were! But when she was not in sober recovery, all bets were off.)

But I think she really never grasped the scope of the damage she'd done, and the one of her kids who didn't escape is pretty much her perfect echo, which means there's at least one more generation of dysfunction to come. Wheeeeeeeee.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:43 AM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


FLEAS are one of the major reasons I never wanted kids. I'm sure I would repeat the familial abuse cycle. I'm certainly not easy long-term intimate relationship material, and this is after multiple go-rounds of intense therapy.
posted by Dreidl at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


Every time a thread like this comes up, I try to post a comment. And every time I find that I cannot complete it. So I will just say this- thank you to everyone who commented here. It helps those who cannot. (Not estranged, good and supportive relationship now, but the past is another country that I occasionally believe should be nuked from orbit.)
posted by Hactar at 10:59 AM on April 30, 2015 [32 favorites]


The damage on my father's side is more subtle and in some senses opposite from my mother's. My paternal family is well-to-do, not poor, emotionally locked down, rather than explosive, but my dad's mom was a cold bitter alcoholic and my grandfather was a complete narcissist and a hoarder, so yay?

On my maternal side, I have some sense that things got a little better with each generation. My grandmother was very likely raised in very abusive and controlling circumstances. She was a very unpleasant person, but less bad then her parents. Then my mother has some self-awareness and always struggled hard to be better, but still raised my sister and I in a flea-ridden atmosphere that was damaging to us. And due to our fleas and opportunities (born in '69 and '72, access to effective birth control, social expectations we would have careers other than home-maker) neither my sister or I had children.

So I think we both would've been better mothers than our mother, but we had the freedom to not take that risk.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:25 AM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


The cool thing about the way all this stuff works is that you can use it methodically on yourself to positive effect. When my boy was born I consciously made a habit of saying things like "we got really lucky with LastObelusJunior -- he's a really easy baby to deal with" and "LastObelusJunior really doesn't cry or fuss much, and when he does there's always a clear reason and as soon as you take care of it he cheers right up" and many many such variations -- basically a lot of pre-emptive reframing and contextualizing of my own experience.

He's almost 2.5 now and I do a fair chunk of primary caretaking (Fridays, and 2 hours in the morning on other weekdays), and this has indeed been my experience. I have honestly no idea to what degree it was/is literally true and to what extent I successfully mediated my own experience.

It's almost a guilty pleasure when he gets upset and starts to head off into terrible-twos-tantrum-land, because we talk about stuff and I can see him thinking about what I say to him and I can watch him master his emotional state and it is deeply emotionally satisfying.
posted by lastobelus at 11:59 AM on April 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


So, I don't have children and my family are pretty alright. But I did work for 5 years in high conflict divorce, and I can absolutely attest to the weird intersection between parental estrangement, parental alienation syndrome, high conflict family divorce, NPD, and MRAs. It's like this unholy clusterfuck of overlapping pathologies.

PAS was my big issue - Parental Alienation Syndrome is supposed to describe a situation in which one parent is deliberately pathologically poisons children against another. And it absolutely does happen. It's poorly researched and is not actually a diagnosis, even if it sounds like one, but there are criteria we would use.

However, PAS got massively co-opted by MRA father's rights movements, and has been used as a cudgel to allow abusive men to retain custody, or claim full custody of children, and to continue to engage with and abuse women.

While there is often some kind of biasing of children in high conflict divorces, the vast majority of people who claimed PAS were actually emotionally poisoning their own relationship with their children. Even when you pointed out areas where they were acting unreasonably or were emotionally harming their children, they would always be able to blame the other parent (i remember a guy who made his kids strip on the porch because he didn't want mom's clothes in his house - 'mom's fault').

The ability for these individuals to self-delusion was incredible, and it made it very difficult to come up with situational and institutional support for parents who were actually experiencing legitimate estrangement and PAS, because it became such a dogwhistle. For these people, PAS was another tool to offset responsibility and acknowledgement of their children as individuals instead of possessions to be fought over. It gave them another tool to use their children to punish the other parent.

I got out of that field soon enough. Child estrangement and high conflict divorce involve reprehensible people from all genders, but this was a very direct introduction for me into understanding what the MRA was all about, the kids of people who participate in it, and the actual harm it perpetuates, and it is very ugly indeed.
posted by robot-hugs at 12:57 PM on April 30, 2015 [39 favorites]


I think it's interesting to link MRAs and these types of parents. After all, abusing people when they're with you then stalking and demanding reconciliation when they leave is a classic partner-abuse pattern too, isn't it? And MRAs seem to have the same I-own-you-even-though-you-don't-deserve-me attitude.
posted by emjaybee at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


MonkeyToes: "What does it look like when a parent behaves like a human being?"

Happened with my grandparents and my parents. Grandparents obeyed boundaries set by my parents. They stopped assigning "chores" and "disciplining" grandchildren. They stopped yelling and insulting everyone around them. They stopped telling my mom she was a bad parent and berating my dad for being a bad son. They got sober. My grandparents acknowledged their faults and ask for forgiveness and changed their behavior.

How? It was a priest my parents had had a long relationship with whom my grandparents respected. He acted largely as a therapist for years. I don't know how and when the breakthrough happened, I was very young, but it happened.

Sure, they weren't perfect. My grandpa stayed racist and grumpy, my grandma had control issues: you eat what she served for dinner and you liked it. And yes, you wore your christmas t-shirt they gave you with the dinosaur on it to their house even though you were 13 and hated dinosaurs, because otherwise she'd ask and be hurt. (And mom would tell you to let grandma know you liked robots now). Grampa liked things done his way, but instead of yelling at you and calling you a degenerate, he'd just tell you how he'd do it and let you go about your business. but! But! my grandparents respected and listened to my parents and my uncle and aunt. They softened, stopped manipulating, stopped chastising and blaming. Visiting them was no longer a journey into a world of criticism and resentment, and instead a place where you were embraced, complimented and told to eat your spinach, and isn't it just delicious? Not perfect by a long shot, but better, much much better.

I know how lucky we were.
posted by Freen at 2:30 PM on April 30, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am in the crosshairs of a really ugly family clusterfuck involving a breathtakingly dysfunctional brother (NPD, Bipolar II, Alcoholism), his wife (BPD) and my-soon-to-be 5 nephews and nieces.

Oh and there's also my alcoholic, emotionally disturbed mother with dementia and a will that's being squabbled over. Guess who thinks the will is unfair and should be completely scrapped?

By all rights I should tell my bro and SIL to fuck off and get on with my life.

Why do I allow contact? The kids. The way I see it, I just need to stay involved long enough for the kids to know how to contact me should they find the need to flee their parents. The emotional violence inflicted by my brother and SIL on each other is appalling. Their house is a fucking war zone. My 7 year old nephew gets migraines. SEVEN YEARS OLD.

Yet when the kids eventually hightail it out of there, I'm betting dollars to donuts that bro & SIL will be shocked, just shocked that their selfish, ungrateful offspring abandoned the loving family that gave them everything.
posted by echolalia67 at 2:56 PM on April 30, 2015 [20 favorites]


This page makes me so glad that my estranged father has no interest at all in contacting me, at least at this point. But he's delusional and unstable, so who knows if that will change someday? (My family has been asked to please never give him my contact information.)
posted by sarcasticah at 4:59 PM on April 30, 2015


You get to live, you get to walk away. An orphaned state is regrettable, always on other peoples' edges, penumbras. There is at times a safety with sunny strangers rather than with those whose darkness and emotional IEDs torment every single possibility. Fare forward and take your teddy bear, best to you in a safer more lucent, earthly web.
posted by Oyéah at 7:39 PM on April 30, 2015


But I did work for 5 years in high conflict divorce, and I can absolutely attest to the weird intersection between parental estrangement, parental alienation syndrome, high conflict family divorce, NPD, and MRAs. It's like this unholy clusterfuck of overlapping pathologies.

PAS was my big issue - Parental Alienation Syndrome is supposed to describe a situation in which one parent is deliberately pathologically poisons children against another. And it absolutely does happen. It's poorly researched and is not actually a diagnosis, even if it sounds like one, but there are criteria we would use.

However, PAS got massively co-opted by MRA father's rights movements, and has been used as a cudgel to allow abusive men to retain custody, or claim full custody of children, and to continue to engage with and abuse women.


Oh, boy, tell me about it. My father did such a great job of alienating himself - with my mother fighting so hard to keep us from becoming alienated that it nearly ruined my relationship with her - that for decades I was unable to make myself believe that PAS was EVER a thing that actually really happened to ANYBODY. I'd hear about it with other people and just automatically assume it HAD to be a lie. To this day I give lip service to the benefit of the doubt but then just remove myself from the conversation because I know I can't truly understand the other side even well enough to be neutral.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:49 PM on May 1, 2015


i remember a guy who made his kids strip on the porch because he didn't want mom's clothes in his house - 'mom's fault'

That's appalling. But I always felt bad for children who dealt with even less extreme versions of this, like they had possessions that they couldn't take with them from one domicile to another. I can't stand hearing kids who only say "my Mom's house' or 'my Dad's house' - never 'my house'. I remember growing up, some kids actually seemed to envy me because I had a dead parent instead of divorced parents.
posted by thelonius at 1:32 AM on May 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, as hard as it was not having the financial support of two parents, I have to admit I did feel kind of sorry for the kids who had to divide their lives between two households. I mean, as an adult I know that plenty of kids do it and turn out just fine, but I always imagined it would be like never knowing where *home* was.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:58 PM on May 2, 2015


The Underpants Monster: My father did such a great job of alienating himself - with my mother fighting so hard to keep us from becoming alienated that it nearly ruined my relationship with her...

That reminds me in reverse of this Metafilter parent, who bucked the never-say-anything-bad-about-your-ex convention and
told them that they're wonderful kids and they fill the world with their joy, and the capital T Truth about their dad is that he is an asshole. It's more nuanced when we talk about it and I don't go around slamming the guy, but I've always made it clear that their dad's choice to live without his kids speaks to what a moron he is, someone who truly isn't worthy of a second thought.
posted by clawsoon at 3:11 PM on May 2, 2015


And this people, is why I'm very very very happy to be an orphan now. Even if it means my husband and I just had to have an hour long talk about who we can ask to stand in as grandparents for our little kids at a special grandparent's school event coming up.... THIS is why. No more new hurts.



Ding dong my mother is dead. Tralalalala.
posted by taff at 4:39 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Today's Carolyn Hax column has one of these.
posted by Melismata at 5:37 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have had no contact with my father since Easter of '97. He was nice to my fiance and terrible to my wife. That did it for me.

My cousins tell me he does not know why and pity him. I was pretty clear with him that day. My sister had cut him off a few years earlier and my wife survived the angriest, yelliest childhood you can imagine and I was not putting her through any more of that to "maintain" a relationship with my father.

I am pretty certain my father is not on the internet but I see his ghost in parenting forums. The person who makes 3 consecutive angry posts about Oreo cookies before subtlety admitting that he is 80 and has no interaction with his kids. Skeezes me out and limits the discussion.

Not doing right by your kids seems to bring on a plague of afflictions. I'm going to pick mine up and squeeze him for no particular reason. I'm bigger than him, and I do this without consent but not just because I can. I read shit like this and the urge overcomes me.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:22 AM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I lost a whole day reading these links, then everything else on that woman's blog. Wow.

I am struck by just how WELL she writes and the insights she presents as she documents the phenomena she happens to be looking at, at the time. How do people get such insight on all these things, did she have experience? She's not a psychologist. I think it's all the parts of her that are about writing, utterance - that have enabled such a cross section of understandings. She's been in tech, in advertising, all over the place. She has the vocabulary of the artist and the method of a dispassionate scientist. The bullet points of disordered behaviours and examples, the way she progresses her line of inquiry through a range of writing techniques really suits my brain. The material on estranged parenting forums in contrast with children-of-abusers forums was fascinating - it covers the evidence and allows you to draw the same conclusions she makes. From years of living in a family of narcissists, it is nice to be able to 'rest' my brain at the evidence instead of the second-guessing, self-doubt, uncertainty that pervades me when I think about my own story.

This was a VERY good post.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:04 AM on May 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


« Older Crowdsourced micro-etched emoji of the far lunar...   |   On unlearning Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments