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I Am What I Am - Breaking out from enmeshed family dynamics

(122 Posts)
DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Tue 05-Nov-13 17:16:06

Having been through a difficult situation with my own family, the support on this thread has helped me to realize that I am part of a very co-dependent enmeshed family dynamic.

I am working on detaching from my sister, given her recent bad behaviour. My DM is putting huge pressure on me to forgive, forget and get back in my old role of underdog to save making waves.

An excellent post from LazyJaney has given me much food for thought - copied below:

"I think my family like the fact that we are considered a very close knit family, and that my Sis and I are considered 'best friends'. So part of it is about maintaining that perceived closeness. They have always been very proud of it.

My DM is worried about my Sis having no support, and is leaning on me to give that to her"

I think this is the top level explanation, but IMO there is something else underneath it. This is just my view of course, but in essence I think your approval is essential for their dynamic to function.

I think something like this is going on:

- DSis is the Prodigal Daughter. She was once the Golden Girl and has been indulged all her time as golden girl and has grown into a selfish, headstrong, and error prone woman.

- For some time it's been clear she is very tarnished, even to your parents, as they have had to bail her out more than once (as a matter of interest was she both parents' golden girl, or just one?)

- Your parents know all this (or maybe just your DM, your DF so far comes over as very ineffectual), and are very worried about your sister's future, but cannot directly face up to it without admitting all sorts of other past errors.

(I wouldnt be surprised if they are also burned out by her dramas, and want to offload some of the burden)

- You on the other hand are succeeding. You can help.

- But that is not in their narrative, and threatens it.

- They feel if they can strap you closely to her then you can help "save" her. Otherwise all the responsibility falls on them. As a bonus harnessing you brings you back into the narrative in the assigned role, and reduces the painful comparison.

Your fitting in with the solution/story they have woven is thus absolutely essential to your parents (DM especially?) as otherwise, you are saying their little empress has no clothes and that you are not prepared to be yoked to her. This means all the responsibility for DSis' failures falls back on them, and they have to face up to the unfaceable.

In short, without your collaboration, the whole thing will fall apart. I can't tell whether DM or DF calls the tune, but DM is definitely the one leading the dance. I bet DM also worries DSis is on a train wreck trip with OM, exH, kids etc.

So, that's why there is the immense pressure on you to conform right now.

IMO it actually puts you in a position of more power than you think. IMO your DM is very manipulative, but is becoming more desperate as you slip away. I think you can start to put conditions on what your support looks like, but it will be breaking a lifetimes habituation.

Anyway, treat the reasoning as cod psychology from another Internet random, but I think my main point - they need you desperately to hold the edifice up - is correct.

I hope we can continue the discussion here grin

Gunznroses Tue 05-Nov-13 17:21:12

Lazeyjaney Excellent! just excellent.

tribpot Tue 05-Nov-13 17:22:30

Just marking my place. I think if you're inclined to do anything about your current situation, I would do some reading about family dynamics and then think about whether counselling might benefit you.

Whilst you remain critical of your sister's choices, you remain a threat to the façade your parents wish to project. It might help if the news becomes made more public so that others, with less immediate ties to your family, can express similar sentiments...

something2say Tue 05-Nov-13 18:42:05

When we change, other people are forced to change too. The dynamic has changed and ought not to go back, otherwise you will be unhappy.

But also, I think people sometimes go away. They dont like the change and don't want it to be. So you lose them. It changes between you and them.

But be brave. You deserve happiness and to live as you see fit.

I second the idea of maximizing other relationships while the dust settles, and possibly thereafter. I also wonder if you might need to grieve, for what once was, what could have been, and your loss. But in amongst that, is there a certain peace of mind?

Spoken by one who has had to do this; chosen to do it, in fact.

AnySpookyWolfyFucker Tue 05-Nov-13 18:57:23

Just wanted to say I'm still listening.

Lulu1083 Tue 05-Nov-13 19:18:39

Totally know how you feel OP. My dm worships the ground my younger twin sisters walk on. I'm not perfect but one conversation made me see her clearly.

I'm a sahm, with my dh living in our own place, my youngest had just gone full time at school and she told me I was stupid and now 'worthless in employers eyes' because I'd taken 5 years out of work. On my birthday. I cried so much I didn't go out that evening as planned.

However one of my sisters is 28 and never had a proper job. She has done 4 years of a degree at uni, that she doesn't even use, and has taken countless internships for no pay to get experience in the field she apparently wants, which is a good idea for a while but she's now out of work, not even on the dole and living with dm. This is apparently fine though. She even took her shopping last week and spent £100+ on new clothes for her.

I found out today I got the first job I had an interview for, and only the 3rd job I applied for. Turns out I'm not so stupid or worthless after all!

DontCallMeDaughter Tue 05-Nov-13 19:24:55

That post could have been about me. My eyes were only opened this weekend when the whole family was together and I finally saw my sister for what she is. I'm at a loss for what to do next, I want out of her drama (and out of the responsibility my dm puts on me to keep the peace) but I don't know how to do it.

tribpot Tue 05-Nov-13 19:40:08

Bloody hell Lulu! Well done you, plus a real 'up yours, mother' into the bargain!

Lulu1083 Tue 05-Nov-13 19:59:22

Thanks Tribpot, I wrote my text to tell her with a big smile on my face! She said well done, but also that it will be scary, not really sure what she's getting at there, as I'm not in the least bit nervous about it. My dh earns enough to 'keep' us but was always in the plan that I would work now too so we're just sticking to the plan!

My lovely dad sent me a text saying that he's so proud of me so at least I know I have one sane parent grin

something2say Tue 05-Nov-13 20:01:35

I have two bits of advice for people in this dynamic.

1.) Change. Change how you behave. Fight your inclination to do what you have always done.

2.) Don't expect the family to like it or approve, and do not seek long heart felt conversations about why you are doing it with them, which they suddenly agree with and support you. In this way, you sort of 'lose' them, as things with them change. Expect to be left out, and to know that. You are being left out, for you have changed. I wrote upthread that they will change, and I think they will. They may not like what you are doing, and they may close ranks with each other and leave you out. Only as time passes will you see things more clearly.

Results - in general I would wonder if you will feel relieved at not being involved in the drama anymore. You may find you do other things, enjoy life more, have less heart sinking conversations, less upset, feel less let down. I also found that members of my family sought me out for advice around each other. I had to watch that, as I could have been drawn in. I was rejected after that, and then I was revered and they changed their tune towards me and said they respected what I had done. I found it sad that it had to be that way, but it did and its all water under the bridge now.

DontCallMeDaughter Tue 05-Nov-13 20:33:25

Something2say you speak a lot of sense. I know that any actions I take to extract myself from the situation will result in me being left out, talked/gossiped about, laughed at etc.

It's really just a case of coming to terms with the prospect of losing my family, which I know is for the best, they're all toxic. It's just a hard path to start down.

I have a really wonderful and supportive dh and more and more I see him and my dd as my family.

It's good to hear from someone who's done the journey and happier at the end of it!

tribpot Tue 05-Nov-13 21:02:22

On the other thread, Numpty's just noted that it's not a question of 'family back each other no matter what' so much as it is 'everyone shall obey Sister no matter what' - and she says the same about your father. Has it always been the case that they are the dominant pair and your mother (and until recently you) forced to be the appeasers? It might explain why your mother seems so desperate for a sign that you intend to continue to appease. Your mother seems to be trying to bully you into resuming the role of appeaser.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Wed 06-Nov-13 08:18:00

Glad you all found my new thread, and I'm also glad that other people who are going through the same thing are able to post here too - I want this thread to not be just about me - we can all support each other.

Lulu excellent news! The best thing you can do is show your mother you're succeeding and happy despite her bringing you down. She probably realizes your sister isn't pulling her weight, and was probably a little envious that you have done so well for yourself. As someone said in my previous thread, your Mum probably knows all this but doesn't want to admit it.

DontcallMeDaughter I've had some wonderful support on my other thread, it has really helped me. Hopefully this thread can help you too.

captainmummy Wed 06-Nov-13 08:32:14

Excellent post lazeyjaney. I bet DM also worries DSis is on a train wreck trip with OM, exH, kids etc. - I'll bet she does too. If she also fails at this relationship with OM, well, dm, and df have invested a lot in it 'supporting' her. Though of course at that point they will rewrite history...

Lulu - great news!

I had the same with my parents - dsis the PFB, my younger brother the 'Golden BOY', me just a second girl, another mouth to feed. My sis now is a spoilt, lazy cow who I don't see. My brother is v introverted, and no-one sees him no and hasn't for about 4 years. I got away, I'm happy, have a lovely family of my own and friends to compensate for sister/brother/parents (they certainly have always been there more than family have) and I've realised recently how much my sis is jealous of me!

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Wed 06-Nov-13 08:51:56

As for me - well LazyJaneys post copied above really struck a chord, and made me feel that actually I do have some power here and my parents DO value my sensible head. It has given me the confidence to stick to my convictions, and keep repeating my reasoning - I'm here for her, but on my terms.

Last night, I phoned DF and it turned out they were all (Sis, DCs) at my parents house having a fireworks party. My DP commented after - "Didn't we go to that last year?"... and yes, we did but apparently weren't invited this year. Usually this would have really upset me, but I just laughed and said "Oh well!".

My DF also made a comment that my Sis had offered to do something for me "Even though you're not speaking to her". Like. It's. My. Fault. I just calmly repeated that I am speaking to her, and just stay out of it. Again, this would usually have made me very upset, but I'm fine.

How can I describe the dynamics with my DF. Well, he certainly favours my sister, I've never been in any doubt of that. For example, when the shit started hitting the fan about my Sister's affair, I said that she was also irresponsible with money, and had they forgotten about the huge bailout a few years ago (tens of thousands). My DF's response was "Well YOU owe me £15 from the other night". He wasn't joking, at all.

My DM has always been fairer between us. (** I must make it clear here, in their defence, that when I talk about favouritism I'm not talking financially or materially - they have always tried to be fair in their support of us both. What I mean is emotionally - Sis can do no wrong, whereas I argue with my DF a lot and get picked on for the tiniest thing).

But my DF is quite old fashioned, proud and headstrong. He also hides his emotions, finds it difficult to say nice things to us. I've lost count of the times our friends have assured me my DF loves us, but I've never, ever heard him say it himself. He just can't. I mentioned the favouritism recently to my cousin, and she said funnily enough, it's me he talks about (or rather boasts about) the most, and he doesn't mention my Sis much. This is only because what I do is more 'interesting' or 'boast worthy' than what my Sister does. I used to find the boasting very very difficult to handle - I used to feel that how dare he boast about me when he doesn't support me emotionally, but things have got better recently and Im ok with it now and just laugh.

So my DM and Sis hide things from him, especially the full truth about my Sis' behaviour. My DM's kneejerk reaction when I told her my Sis' latest round of nasty lies was "Oh I won't tell your father". To which I replied angrily that she must, I'm sick of him not knowing the full truth and then defending her. They treat him like an idiot - but how can he be expected to deal with things if he never knows the full truth?

I think my DM is just trying to keep the peace, not upset my DF and keep us close. I also think maybe she doesn't want to shatter my DFs illusions about my Sis... but I think it would do him good to see her for what she is!

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Thu 07-Nov-13 13:30:01

Well I'm making progress.

I have downloaded 'Codependency for Dummies' and have started reading it on my kindle smile

I'm keeping my distance from the issue and not talking to my parents about it at all. I've made it clear where I stand and they seem to respect that for now.

I have been pleasantly supportive to my sister, and she has invited me to spend the day with her and DNs on the weekend. Here is where I feel uncomfortable. The easiest thing in the world would be for me to just fall back into line, stop fighting for the new dynamic and relent back into the old one. I don't want to do that, I have come so far.

So how do I get to be pleasant, thus removing the whole 'Plastic isn't speaking to her sis, how awful we must intervene' thing, whilst maintaining my stance that her behaviour isn't OK and I won't just sweep it under the carpet??

I'm planning on just being nice, but if the subject of the OM comes up, refuse to talk about it. Or I could say that I'm willing to listen, but she must also be willing to listen to my response without attacking me.

I know i'm being petty or vindictive here, but I don't want her to think "Oh, Plastic is being nice, it's all back to normal". And get away scot free... But I don't feel that now is the right time to tell her how much she has hurt me - that time will come in the future.

My DP just said that I don't need to tell my family about my new position - I just need to know it myself and stick to it. They will soon realise, when I don't just jump at my Sister's whim, that something has shifted in me.

What do you reckon - am I still being a doormat, or is sticking to my guns in a silent way enough?

ljny Thu 07-Nov-13 16:43:33

It should be enough to just stick to your guns in a silent way. You're doing it for yourself. Your sister won't change, your family won't change.

I can't help wondering if a full day isn't too much to start with. Might it be easier to practice the 'new you' on shorter visits first?

tribpot Thu 07-Nov-13 17:20:29

My DM's kneejerk reaction when I told her my Sis' latest round of nasty lies was "Oh I won't tell your father". To which I replied angrily that she must, I'm sick of him not knowing the full truth and then defending her.

This is what you must stop doing, feeding the unhealthy dynamic with new fuel.

I do not think a full day with your sister is a good idea. If she puts the guilters on you early in the day about the OM it will be impossible to sustain a friendly distance, then you'll end up either seething or leaving early but either way you'll end up being the villain of the piece again. I would say you have plans but could pop in for an hour. And keep it to short visits for as long as you can get away with it. Remember, they want you drawn back in to the family dynamic, and so prolonged exposure works far more in their favour than it does yours.

I think you will need to confront the issue of OM, though - suggest that you've given her your view on the matter, and since discussing it leads to disagreement it would be better to leave it.

But you realise that she wants you back so that she can offload all her angst about the OM? There is honestly no way for you to be 'supportive' of her at the moment without condoning her behaviour as your parents have chosen to do.

Hissy Thu 07-Nov-13 18:51:26

She's inviting you for her own selfish reasons love.

Don't go, you know she'll manipulate you, you know the subject will come up, and you know you'll get angry/have words.

So don't.

She wants you to STFU and get over what she's done so she can feel better and pretend everything is just fine, that she hasn't done a thing wrong.

Don't play.

If your dad asks, tell him the truth and bollocks to all this cloak and dagger stuff.

Dump it and run.

Kundry Thu 07-Nov-13 19:32:11

A full day is a looooong time and very much her agenda not yours. I like your 'I will listen but you have to too and you may not like it' approach.

Can you say you aren't free for a whole day but you can meet up for an hour?

Aussiebean Fri 08-Nov-13 07:11:54

You could always do the diversion. Technique and refuse to engage.

'Om won't leave his wife'. 'Oh that's a shame. Have you tried this dip it is so nice. I wonder if I could get the recipe?'

'Dh is being really unreasonable.' Oh well did you watch that program on lizards last night? I never knew they could do that.'

If she pushes explain that she already knows your opinion, doesnt like it and SHE will ruin the day if she continues to bring it up. Then talk about how you have had to put the heating on already!

You don't have to do this if you feel she is genuinely asking for your honest advice. But if not, you are establishing your boundaries in a polite but firm manner.

captainmummy Fri 08-Nov-13 08:23:10

trib - well said. Personally I would stay well away from your sis for a good long while - be too busy. At least until this with the OM is either a) established, or b) over. (And i don't suppose your sis will let it be 'over' unless/until she wishes it)

And how hurtful that your parents had a fireworks party and didn't invite you! Wonder what they were scared of?

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 00:00:48

Well I'm back to square 1 emotionally - but not because of Sis, because of my DF.

Massive essay warning! - Sorry, just needed to get this all out

Day out with Sis did in fact turn out to be just an afternoon, and it was fine - I was nice, we didn't talk about 'The Situation', just left it as the giant elephant in the room. So I felt like a good person for doing a nice thing, and I got to spend time with my gorgeous DNs which made me happy.

Today, DF calls me about something else, but quickly gets on to talking about how everything is great with my Sis, her DH is fine, she told the DCs and they're fine isn't life wonderful. So I said <BIG MISTAKE ALERT> that that was great, but what a shame she didn't have the decency to leave her DH before having an affair, and as a consequence of her actions she has had to hide away from our social group. So DF said "She isn't hiding away, she has had to stay away because YOU were shitty with her, and DSil was shitty with her".

Now, those of you who read my previous thread will know that this is so far from the truth - that DSil has been amazing with her, but couldn't cope when she pushed her too far. I have been far from shitty with her, I have attempted to support her, but been honest with my feelings and have had nothing but spite in return. As a result, I have stayed away from her to avoid another outpouring of nastiness. A week or so ago, my Sis announced she was quitting the social club we belong to 'because my head is fucked' and she needed space (because now most of our friends know and my guess is she wants to hide for a bit). Both DSiL and I were really nice to her about it and both sent messages of support saying she didn't need to do that, we can all be friends and it would get back to normal soon. She still said she wanted to quit. (And in actual fact, didn't quit at all, so it was all just a bit of attention seeking)

So I flipped. I told DF that he cannot blame me for her actions, that I have done nothing wrong here. He denied accusing me of anything, denied blaming me. I asked him to apologize and he said "well I apologize if that's what you think I said". My DF's reaction to any argument is to cut off immediately, so that's all I get from him.

So then DM gets on the phone, and I admit I was raging at this point. I was angry at this continual deflection of everything, spinning it to make it my fault once again. She told me off for blaming her for what my DF said, which I did apologize for. She said I had to let go of what has happened with my Sis, and forgive and forget (so we're back to demanding I just stick to the script and everything will be fine). I reminded her that I'd spent the day with my Sis the other day, I had tried to do the right thing. But I thoroughly object to being blamed for any of this horrible situation.

DM kept saying we just need to move on, and I need to let go of my anger. She said I'll make myself ill and have a nervous breakdown - I think this is some way of manipulating me to make me believe this is my fault?

I said that I am angry that they keep spinning the truth and sweeping up her mess behind her. I reminded her that when this horrible situation originally unfolded, my DM asked me why was my Sis like this. So I said that the reason she was like this was because my DM and DF continually sweep away the mess she makes. She said that is what a mother is for - she believes it's her job to clear up the mess her daughter makes. (I really don't agree with this - but I'm not a parent - can any mothers out there tell me what would be a normal response to your married daughter having an affair with a married man?)

I also said that I was hurting too, when were they going to take note of my feelings and my hurt?

Then DM said that "this Jealousy and bitterness is really not becoming of you". She said I am jealous and bitter of my sister's life.... this floored me a little. I said I am categorically not jealous of her at all but that I am bitter about the favouritism that they have showed her. I said that I am still bitter about the financial bail out they gave her recently because my Sis was nasty to me over that, and that I'm very worried about how they will have to bail her out with her latest disaster.

My DM ended up literally screaming down the phone at me. She said I had to stop doing this, it was hurting her. She said that my issues with my Sis were between me and her, and she didn't want to be in the middle. So I reminded her that she had put herself in the middle when she demanded I talk to my sis, and reported back to my sis. She can't have it both ways.

She said I had to stop dragging up the past all the time - but I said I had stopped, I had gained some space and I was doing fine. It was my DFs accusation that dragged it all up. And I cannot defend myself without saying "But I didn't do that, I did X,Y,Z" - In my DMs book - that is me 'raking over old coals' and is not acceptable.

So - I have learned a lot through this thread, and the previous one. And my DP has just said the same thing as a lot of you have been saying.

1. I know I can't change their attitude. The only thing I can change is me. I know speaking to my DF about it was a mistake - we proved that in spectacular fashion tonight.

2. What they think privately of the situation, and what they say to me and present to the rest of the world could be very different. They want me on board to present a united front, to keep up the pretense that everything is FINE and therefore what their daughter has done isn't that bad. If I refuse to play along with this pretense, I get attacked.

But I can refuse. What they want is for our friends to see that our DSil, her DH and I are standing alongside my Sis, and so she isn't a bad person. If I refuse to do that, the breakdown in the relationship will be very apparent to all who know us. I'm currently considering whether I should quit our social group for a while - both to give myself much needed healing space, and to blow apart their crappy little facade.

3. I still feel anxiety and a need for approval from my parents. I want them to think I'm a good person, hence me trying to do the right thing by my Sis. So when they twist the truth and blame me for something that's not my fault, it really hurts. I need to let go of this need for approval, because if I didn't care what they think I could have brushed off DFs comment today and not had this massive argument.

I'm frustrated because I fail to articulate these thoughts clearly when I'm in the middle of an argument with my DM, with her screaming down the phone at me. I wonder whether I should write it all down and give it to her in a letter. What I want is for her to realize how this has made me feel, and how hurt I am at the way they have treated me. I want them all to feel sorry for the hurt they have caused me. (I give up hope of my DF ever seeing things my way, he favours my sis and always will, nothing I can say could make him feel sorry for that)

Am I stupid for thinking I can ever get them to see my point of view?

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 00:04:08

Oh and forgot to add - I know the solution right now is to take some space from them all. But it's my DNs birthday this week, so I have to see them all. A couple of days later I'm dropping my dog off with them for the weekend, and they want DP and to go for dinner - still striving desperately for 'normality'.

DP suggested I just refuse dinner, let them know I'm pissed off. But I'm afraid of doing that - I don't want to upset anyone more than I already have, and think it might be easier just to go along with things.

I can be strong in my own head, and just state that I refuse point blank to discuss anything to do with my Sister's affair because I don't like how she is behaving and we don't seem to see eye to eye on that.

Mumsyblouse Mon 11-Nov-13 00:07:35

Write the letter don't send it, it won't change anything.

You all still seem very enmeshed in each other's live, I really think a bit of distance and back to polite superficiality might be the way forward for a bit. It does come across like you are acting as the moral guardian here- but really, what is it to you if your sister is unfaithful and awful to her DH? Why is it your job to keep reminding your DF of that- they all know, deep down.

Keep out of it, don't discuss it, concentrate on your own immediate family.

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