Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

transactional/ one-sided / martyr relationships where you don't actually like the martyr

(37 Posts)
parentsvsPIL Sun 16-Oct-16 20:36:19

My mother has all sorts of issues. She isn't a very nice person to put it mildly, and a lot of her life is spent in festering resentment, or judgement of others.

One of her reasons for judging others is deciding some aspect about them is inadequate - and then she decides to "fix" this by constantly being "helpful" with suggestions, buying stuff, doing things unasked - and then getting massively resentful when the other person isn't grateful enough "after all she's done for them". She believes that "no personal effort is too great when you know the person and you know what they really need" - and consequently the recipient should put in an equal amount of effort showing their undying gratitude to her. Particularly when she makes it abundantly clear just how much she has sacrificed for them.

So in my case it's that I am boring, stupid, unsociable, unhospitable, ugly, deliberately dumpy, dowdy and scruffy, and lack any concept of good taste or manners. Her idea of how to fix this is to have told me this regularly for the last 40 years, and every now and then buy something expensive that I haven't asked for and don't want - and then carp on about what an ungrateful, ugly slob of a daughter she has, to anyone and everyone.

Every time she and my father go away she buys stuff - comes back saying "I bought this, you probably won't want it, but I did it anyway just to get your goat. You're so dowdy, this might help." I then say thankyou, remind her that it's really not necessary to buy things but the gift is much appreciated. She then carps endlessly abouy how much she has given me over the years and how OTHER people have daughters sho appreciate their mothers' huge personal sacrifices.

When it gets too much I eventually say "our house is really too small, please don't just buy things without asking, we really don't have the space", this is taken as rank ingratitude, the carping gets worse, my father gets furious and screams and shouts at me for being vile... I say "look all of this has been very much appreciated but none of it was actually asked for"... and then the next time they go away it all happens again... and the cycle goes on and on. Every gift comes with criticism. I refuse any offers of anything from either of them, but I can't stop them just buying stuff and then throwing it at me (sometimes literally - my mother once bought a set of guest towels because apparently ours weren't good enough - and threw the plastic bag full of towels at my head while telling me she thought my housekeeping was disgusting).

There are bloody crates of stuff she's bought sitting in our garage that I feel too guilty to get rid of, but that I don't want to be reminded of.

How do you deal with this? It's not just me she does it to - it's most people she knows well. My parents can't understand why they have very few friends and why friendships never last.

Dozer Sun 16-Oct-16 20:38:48

That sounds very hard. Sounds like you need the "stately homes" thread in "relationships"!

Dozer Sun 16-Oct-16 20:39:04

Get rid of the stuff!

RunRabbitRunRabbit Sun 16-Oct-16 20:50:43

If you feel too guilty to get rid of the stuff, seek professional help, because that's bonker thinking.

You don't want the stuff. The person buying it knows you neither want it nor need it. It was bought specifically to make you feel inadequate. Why would you keep that stuff anywhere near you? I'd have it on eBay that very evening.

You are keeping it close to you. Boxed up and hidden but still you hold it close. Probably like your mother's views of your inadequacies. Shame you can't put her away in a crate.

Sell the stuff, buy something you actually want with the money. Be free.

I know they'll scream and shout about you being ungrateful but they do that anyway, so whats to lose? I'd spend much less time with them if I were you.

parentsvsPIL Sun 16-Oct-16 21:04:03

I already spend almost no time with them - see them once a year at most, always in the company of other people; skype them every few weeks always with Dh present and doing most of the talking so I don't have to engage with it all.

Also am already having counselling. But it's about to finish as I'm about to have DC1. And the parental pattern is getting more pronounced, probably because my mother will feel the need to start up another transactional relationship with the grandchild... and then complain about how ungrateful he is. I am doing what I can to keep him away from her, but again - stuff will just arrive in the post. At least for the next few years it's possible he might never find out about stuff that can just go straight to the charity shop. But in a few years it'll be impossible to ignore unless we have gone NC (which is currently just too difficult to do).

parentsvsPIL Sun 16-Oct-16 21:12:56

To clarify on the counselling - it's with a psychologist. She's nice but in several months we've got as far as her taking a history and then suggesting mindfulness becasue challenging negative thoughts under these circs isn't really going to help much (she agrees that objectively the situation isn't good or really fixable other than me developing greater acceptance and distance from it all).

I guess i just wondered if anyone had any more specific strategies than mindfulness. Or going NC.

RunRabbitRunRabbit Sun 16-Oct-16 21:17:28

I am a bit confused about what you want to achieve.

You are already successfully LC.

What is it you want to change?

parentsvsPIL Sun 16-Oct-16 21:24:34

RunRabbit I'm probably confused as to what it is I want to achieve to.

I feel sad and guilty that effectively my parents don't understand why I am so distant. So they do feel hurt by what they see as my rejection of them. But it seems the only way to have a relatinoship with them is to be drawn into all their judgement and transactionality, where approval only comes with endless reciprocal gift-giving/ bowing to mother's views of the world (which father goes along with)/ triangulation/ bonding over judging others. Obviously this is not a relationship worth having.

I don't know. There really probably isn't anything to do other than be as occupied as possible with other things. I just wish they could somehow understand that the relationship could be so different. But it's not going to happen.

user1466690252 Sun 16-Oct-16 21:26:13

I have a relative like this, but nowhere near as bad as what yours is, but who buys unwanted gifts and doesnt take no for an answer. I give them away, to people who need them . I feel like having their stuff in my house is suffocating. Its like control they know I dont like it but continue to put it upon me. So giving it to others who need it more makes me feel like im turning something negative into a positive. I don't tell them, they have no idea. Its me gaining control back

Wolpertinger Sun 16-Oct-16 21:27:49

Could you identify one item sitting in your garage that you could get rid of in some way - giving it to someone who really will appreciate it/selling on ebay/taking to charity shop/ceremonially burning it or frankly just taking to the tip, whatever you feel the most comfortable with.

At the moment even though you know the gifts are unwanted, like your mother's comments you can't quite get rid. Given you are LC with your mother who never even sees that they are all hoarded in your garage I think you would find it liberating to pick one item and free yourself from it and the negative messages it came with.

Once you have done one item, it will be much easier to do more and deal with your mother and father's ridiculousness

RunRabbitRunRabbit Sun 16-Oct-16 21:38:45

I know what you mean about feeling sad and guilty that they don't understand. I remember that stage. You are still trapped in the FOG, where you are responsible for their feelings.

When you feel guilty you are continuing to listen to their voices telling you that you are responsible for their behaviour and feelings. You might not see them physically very often but their voices are in your head.

If I were you I absolutely would not stop counselling just as you have DC1. For me DC1 made a huge difference in my attitude to them. It gave me a huge push out of the FOG. It was extremely painful. I suddenly realised just how awful a person has to be to treat their children like that, how little love there was. It was hard. Especially when sleep deprived.

Cherrysoup Sun 16-Oct-16 21:41:20

My mother does this: ' You probably won't like this' as she hands me some cheap plastic jewelry/horrible wooden cat ornament (I have dogs). I tell her over and over again to spend her money on herself, I don't need anything.

Tell her very clearly that you do not want 'gifts'because as you say, you'll have tons of stuff arriving for the baby. Charity the stuff in the garage, preferably in the next town so you never see it again.

Congrats on the baby flowers

Lovelyideas Sun 16-Oct-16 22:11:33

I get you OP. My mum is not very nice either

We don't do NC in my family. I get that you want to avoid that.

parentsvsPIL Sun 16-Oct-16 23:05:15

Wolpertinger I quite like the idea of the ceremonial pyre... grin - given how lovely much of the stuff is I am actually thinking about selling it to create a fund for DC1.

Cherrysoup I actually have the opposite problem - a lot of the stuff my mother buys is absolutely beautiful, if stonkingly impractical and the kind of stuff I'd just never use - she's always been very disappointed that I don't lead some high society life involving dinner parties and beautiful clothes and flats in Paris - and picks her gifts accordingly. So any gift always stands as a rebuke that I have given up my high-flying career, that I cant afford that kind of lifestyle - and that I am apparently tasteless because my house only has stuff out in it/ I only wear stuff (eg jewellery) that I have been given by nice people (which often isnt my taste, but I'm damned if I am decorating my life with reminders of what my mother thinks even if I actually secretly share her taste in many ways).

RunRabbit - good points about FOG, counselling and DC1. Unfortunately that's just the way the timing has worked out with a limited run of sessions with the psych. Pregnancy has made me a bit more able to recognise the FOG for what it is, even if I am currently kind of floundering in the face of it.

saintagur Mon 17-Oct-16 07:21:31

I am a bit confused by your last post OP. You say that you actually secretly share your mother's taste in many ways, yet you reject these gifts - which you presumably in fact like - because you don't like her. I get it that Cherry hates the crap her mother buys her, who wouldn't, but why wouldn't you use lovely towels or things that you actually like? Is it because you think that you are not good enough for them?

What is your house like, is it a mess? What are you like, have you neglected your health and appearance to the extent where it is damaging your self esteem? Ditto regarding your career? Deep down at some level, do you think she's right in what she says and resent her for it? So you go to the opposite extreme in an act of childish rebellion, even though you are not a child any more?

I can't tell from your posts whether this is just a mother problem or a more general problem. It sounds as though your parents do care about you, but are extraordinarily tactless and stupid in how they are going about showing it. They are probably hurt that you communicate mainly through your husband and, as you say, 'don't engage'. I can't imagine that anybody is gaining anything from the relationship as it is now.

Have you always had a poor relationship with your parents or is it a more recent development?

I am probably going against the flow here, but if you want to build a better relationship and for your DC to have a relationship with grandparents, isn't the answer more rather than less contact? How can they know how you actually feel if you don't tell them? Have you considered writing them a letter saying everything you have said on here, or even just printing off the thread and sending it to them?

Anniegetyourgun Mon 17-Oct-16 07:46:35

I don't know, I think it sounds more as though the mother has deliberately put her daughter down from an early age so that she can then build her up again. I don't think the OP would rebel just for the sake of it, do you?

ps Rule No 1: never show a thread to the person you're complaining about. An issue you're disputing, maybe, but not something fundamental or emotionally sensitive.

Offred Mon 17-Oct-16 08:01:04

Oh god no showing them the thread is a massively bad idea. I totally agree with the psych - detaching emotionally and practicing mindfulness is what is needed here.

LC only works if you can detach emotionally. Getting rid of the stuff is the first step I think. You need to aim towards seeing the stuff as just stuff and dealing with it in the way you would if it had no feelings attached to it at all. That's not going to happen overnight, some ceremonial burning of some of the things might help.

At the moment you are allowing yourself to be held captive in your own home by the things they have bought and what they represent. The only thing you can do is reframe their meaning to you and hold over you. You can't make your parents treat you differently.

toptoe Mon 17-Oct-16 08:03:57

They aren't gifts at all if they're used as a tool to criticise and control you. Gifts are items needed or wanted given out of kindness. These aren't that.

Sell them as you said and make a fund for your dc. Let got of the guilt and shame - they are relying on these feelings to control you.

RunRabbitRunRabbit Mon 17-Oct-16 14:01:03

I would strongly recommend getting rid of the crates of stuff before your baby is born.

If you don't, it will be years before you get round to it.

sophiestew Mon 17-Oct-16 14:18:51

It sounds as though what you want is for them to be loving "normal" parents. You want them to change, by some kind of epiphany of suddenly understanding that their emotional abuse of you is unacceptable.

This really is extremely unlikely to ever happen. Can you accept that? That the only parents you will ever have are faulty and will never be able to relate to you the way you would like them to? It's incredibly painful but I can't see how you can move forwards without that kind of acceptance.

Then you should be able to give away/sell anything you don't want, and stay VLC if you can't bear NC.

I suspect that once the baby arrives she will ramp it up and you will be in a fix as you have to decide whether to go NC or struggle retaining boundaries with LC.

Good luck with it all, I do understand how you feel flowers

Every1lovesPatsy Mon 17-Oct-16 14:25:31

Donate to charity and let her know.

My mother "gifted me" a massive, huge microwave oven, that was sitting taking up space in her ulility room, unused for years. Apparently I was supposed to be grateful.

I later told her I was donating to St. V De P along with a few other bits, she called to my house and took it back. tOO GOOD FOR sT. V de P (!!!!!)

I am not the dumping ground for your shite (mother).

Anyway, stop with the guilts and just donate and let her know. She will think twice about foisting unwanted crap on you.

Recognise the back handed insult each time one is meted out. "Mother please stop insulting me, it is damaging our relationship and my self esteem and it makes me think you are toxic to be around. "

AndTheBandPlayedOn Mon 17-Oct-16 15:51:24

What Offred and toptoe said.
Sorry in advance, this is going to be long.
I had this from my sister. This "gift" giving dynamic is not about you. It is not about the gift. It is all about the "generous" "thoughtful" one. As said above, it is a tool. Giving you a gift creates the moral high ground for her because you now "owe" her. This is what we are conditioned to believe, brainwashed if you will, and is the source of the guilt. Is getting a gift a contract? No.

If you fall to your knees in gratitude and grace her with five full minutes of standing ovation applause every time you see her as though she were an archangel from another dimension, she will be pleased...but you have sold your soul. If you do not present the gratitude and adoration then you leave yourself open to being shamed, diminished, and otherwise verbally spanked. Win-win for her, lose-lose for you. She will have her ego supply at your expense. It is not mentally healthy for you to be in contact with her. No Contact is the holy grail here, but I understand that everyone is not able to do/achieve that for whatever reasons. As your mental health deteriorates (this can induce depression-my experience), the whatever reasons diminish and No Contact becomes the only relief available.

If it is not mentally healthy for you to be around her, then it certainly will not be mentally healthy for any of your children to be around her either.

To protect your (and your dc) mental health, imho, you need to emotionally detach. Not just emotionally detach from the gifts, what ever they may be, but emotionally detach from her. Stop caring. Stop listening. Get out your "Don't Care Bear" and stop caring about what she thinks, what she says to others, what she says to you, what she buys, what she gives, across the board.

At this point, a thread on MN, it is pretty clear that she has already worn your care out. At some point that just isn't a renewable resource anymore. Family duty card is punched out.

The guilt is another conditioned response. I learned in counselling that other people can not make me feel guilty. Only I can make me feel guilty. It took me a while to get this, but it is true. You can make an executive decision and choose to not feel guilty about it. It does take courage and a little practice but it is so liberating. Start-then it gets easier and easier. It is a play out of their playbook-dismissiveness (just a wee bit of payback). It isn't done to be in a pissing match with them though, so be clear: this is a self-defense strategy for your emotional health self-defense.

The gifts...strings are attached. I think part of the dynamic is that the giver wants you to think of them all the time. So all the stuff is constant reminders of them. I also think that the giver wants to feel "needed" so forces you into a template or role of being a needy one. That reduces you to being a prop in the Story of Their Life-you may as well be a cardboard cutout. This manifests in how they do not listen to you.

You have a baby on the way. I strongly recommend that you put boundaries in place now and stick to them. If you think she is batshit crazy now, a baby will only magnify that many times over. She will dismiss any and all of your parenting skills/decisions/actions over any topic- sleep/food/indoors, outdoors/weight/fashion/product choices/milestones, events. This will be a huge source of ego supply for her, without end. Nip it in the bud.

You do not owe her a relationship with your child. Please do not think that you can let her have a couple of years/3-4 and then reduce contact: it will be so much harder then and she will have been well underway in undermining your position to your child by then.

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Mon 17-Oct-16 17:56:36

The desire to "Fix you" by making your life more like theirs is both challenging and insulting, so I really sympathise - It wont solve the actual problem - but you might be able to "Manage the symptoms" - which is all you're really left with if NC is not possible...
I would suggest - rather than confronting, which is just going to lead to fighting - channeling their desire to give, into something that might allow both of you to win

What I mean is - express your desire for something really big - but a long way away..such as a holiday of a lifetime with baby on their 18th birthday - or a university fund for them..
or perhaps you'd like them to put aside enough for a musical instrument and lessons...
anything that will really benefit you and / or your child - and also appeal to their middle class sensibilities.
you can tell them how much you appreciate the small stuff but it can be problematic if it doesn't quite work for you, and that all that money tied up in small purchases and unused towels could be put really positively towards babys future

I know this is suggesting some rather underhanded "handling" of your parents but if you cant address the actual problem - then you are stuck with endless "handling" - so this wont be new to you.

WindPowerRanger Mon 17-Oct-16 18:13:41

Your psych sounds a bit shit. I think there is more you could do with someone better, but perhaps not right now.

There is a line in a film I've watched, when a character is given a life-changing amount of money that is the proceeds of drug-dealing; "Money don't know where it came from". Similarly, the presents in the garage don't. Could you just see them neutrally, as things that are not representative of anything?

Be ruthless. Take the stuff you like or need and use it. Doing so is not a validation of your mother's apparent opinions about you (which sound a lot like projection to me). Bin the rest, give it away or donate it to charity without guilt or scruple.

I agree with others that confronting your parents will be pointless. However, I would never say thank you for a present that is expressed to be given to 'get my goat' and because I am dowdy/scruffy/a slattern or whatever the insult may be. Nor would I ever ask them for anything, such as saving for your DC or baby things.

The present-giving is your mother's issue. Keep your distance from it and from her feelings about it.

Revealall Mon 17-Oct-16 18:14:09

I was going to say ask for stuff or even better demand it.

If their behaviour is bothering you despite the distance I think you need to be pro active.

You seem to get a bad reaction to your polite attempts to be a dutiful daughter. So don't bother, be the demanding opinionated one they seem to want you to be.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now