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Don't know if my mother is a victim or what I should do about it

(27 Posts)
jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 12:37:30

This is a hard post to write. Please forgive me if it's long.

My father isn't the easiest person to be around. He's quite controlling and has also suffered from clinical depression in the past, and possibly still does. He was suicidal during my teens. I do not think he is a monster. I think he had a horrible childhood, spent some time in care, and went through some difficult things in his life. I have read up carefully about NPD and this doesn't seem to apply in his case. But I do think he is damaged, and I have gone on to replicate certain elements of my childhood e.g. I spent seven years in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Lately I've been looking again at things from my childhood and seeing that they are not in fact normal. Like when you bite into a piece of bread, then realise it's mouldy, and wonder how you didn't notice in the first place. My mother was always very dismissive when I tried to tell her how I felt, saying things like: "Well don't feel like that then," or "Just let it wash over you." Because she is intelligent and educated I always felt she chose to take the easy route and ignore me (my brother is older and things were at their worst after he had gone to uni). That she chose not to see, or act.

I've recently started therapy and my therapist asked me to consider whether my mum really made a choice. I said no, bugger that, I can tell you 50 things I would do differently if MY husband became depressed after we'd had children. But somewhere along the line something splintered. I read one too many threads on MN written by women whose husbands were EA and who couldn't see how it might be affecting the children, who had posters lining up to tell them otherwise because they couldn't see it. Because they were victims. And then the ceiling fell in and I realised that maybe my mother is a victim and I don't know what the actual fuck to do about it.

My parents have been married for over 40 years. My mother has a very impressive job and is extremely well-known in her field; my father is retired. They have a lot of friends and are are established and respected members of their community. None of which makes for a happy marriage, of course, just that I feel as if I am some insane person trying to cause trouble.

My dad is not some heartless, cruel bastard who sets out to manipulate everyone around him. I don't think it would help to see him as a wholly bad person, but I don't think he is a wholly good either. On the one hand, he is someone who helps me a lot financially, and who can sometimes be really sensitive and helpful.

On the other hand, he will sometimes decide a conversation is over (even if I'm answering a question he has asked) and start shouting at me. Recently, we had a birthday party for my nephew at my parents' house and my dad started talking about Gary McKinnon not being extradited. He often does this: sits there talking about finance, or the news, or other things of zero interest to my brother's children. I told him it wasn't really something we should talk about now and he stopped and glared at me.

My mum has always acted like we should laugh about these things, oh you know how he is, just ignore him. But he isn't some pantomime villain, he is my father. He is in his 70s. He broke his hip last year. He can't cook. He is a vulnerable adult who needs my mum. But does she need him?

Never in my life have I asked my mum if she is happy or if she would prefer to leave, or to have left. Never. Perhaps because I see her as complicit, as choosing to be with him and at times to side against me. Perhaps because she once told me that, if you love someone, you don't give up on them (which is probably the most dangerous thing I learned from her).

Somewhere along the line, I have realised that it is possible my mother is a victim of EA. And I don't know what the hell I am supposed to do about it. I feel like something has shifted and the world is hanging off its axis. It was Gettingbigger's thread that properly broke through.

I have no idea what my parents' marriage is really like or how she has been treated. All I know is that for years she told me to just ignore how I felt, that she always stuck her head in the sand. Which leads me to believe that maybe she isn't happy. But what am I supposed to do about it? I can't just storm in and tear down 40 years of survival mechanisms, so what do I do? Do I stay the hell out of it? Do I try to talk to her and ask if she is happy? Is there a book I should be giving her? Should I do anything at all? Is it any of my business?

I'm sorry; this IS hugely long. Please bear in mind that I'm feeling really shitty about all of this and am probably going to phone and offload to Samaritans after I've posted as I won't see my therapist until next week. I just feel like I've gone through the looking glass. What do I do? Do I do anything at all?

HollyBerryBush Thu 03-Jan-13 12:43:21

Never in my life have I asked my mum if she is happy or if she would prefer to leave, or to have left. Never.

I have realised that it is possible my mother is a victim of EA. And I don't know what the hell I am supposed to do about it.

Should I do anything at all? Is it any of my business?

It isn't any of your business. None whatsoever. As you have put it, you mother is an adult, and educated woman, they have a life time together, they have found a way to make their relationship work. Why do you feel the need to interfere?

He is a vulnerable adult who needs my mum. But does she need him?

Weird really that you seem to want to be coercing your mother to leave your father, now that he is vulnerable.

TBH I feel immense pity for someone who has a clinically depressed partner, it must be a terrible burden. But people do find a way to make their relationships work.

My advice - see your councellor, but don't project your issues about your father onto your mother and try and make her see him how you see him.

ThePoppyAndTheIvy Thu 03-Jan-13 12:51:21

I know (from personal experience sad), that is an awful thing to realise that your own mum is in fact a victim of EA. My dear late mum had a terribly emotionally abusive (and financially abusive) "husband" (her second husband, not my dad) and, tragically, only saw the situation for what it actually was a month before her death sad.

Up until that point, she knew something wasn't right, she knew she wasn't happy - but she couldn't see quite why she wasn't happy and just how bad & destructive her "H" was. I'm not saying for a moment that your dad is the same or as abusive as the waste of space I am talking about, but that sometimes it takes a hell of a lot for the person to actually see things they way others can. With my mum, she finally asked myself & my siblings to sit down and tell her exactly why we hated her H so much & why we were so worried. We had done this numerous times before, but this was the first time she seemed to accept and understand what we were saying.

Unfortunately though, the person suffering the abuse needs to want the help. It is horrible to have to watch these things happen to someone you love & not be able to change the situation for them. Sadly, the realisation came too late for my mum but, if things are as bad as you describe, I sincerely hope your mum can make changes sooner.

ThePoppyAndTheIvy Thu 03-Jan-13 12:58:13

Having re-read your OP, I have noticed more than I did before my first reply.

Your dad sounds nowhere near the nasty person I have described above (my mum's H), although the way you seem to be feeling about things is similar to my own reaction.

It can be very difficult to live with depression - maybe your dad needs more help & then things will improve for your mum?

nokidshere Thu 03-Jan-13 12:59:24

Its none of your business and you should do nothing - apart from sorting out your own issues with it which you seem to be doing already.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:01:01

HollyBerryBush I have to say I am stunned by your post. Yes, my mother is an adult and an educated woman. Lots of adult, educated women are victims of abuse, including EA. What you seem to be saying is: oh well, it's her choice, leave her to it.

Imagine if someone posted on MN to say they thought they were being emotionally abused and posters said: "Oh well, you've found a way to make your relationship work, just carry on and don't let anyone interfere." Yes, people find ways to make their relationships work, but that doesn't mean they are healthy relationships, or those people are happy.

Why do I feel the need to interfere? Because, for the first time in my life, I have realised my mother may be a victim and may need help. I don't think I am projecting my issues onto her. I have found your post hugely upsetting and unhelpful - it's only just dawned on me that things I have witnessed are EA and that maybe she needs someone to at least offer help, because nobody ever has.

I'm not coercing anyone to do anything. I'm recognising that my mother may not have had a brilliant time of it and am wondering if she still isn't. Why do you find that weird? What on earth were you thinking when you wrote your post?

ThePoppyAndTheIvy I don't know if she wants help and I don't know if, or how, to offer it. But according to HollyBerryBush she is an educated woman who has made her own choices so I should stand back and leave her to get on with it.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:07:56

I don't think nasty is the right word. But everyone has always had to walk on eggshells around him.

He isn't still depressed - certainly not in the way he was.

I always thought my mother should leave him, because he was not a pleasant person to live with, to say the least, but I guess I always thought she saw everything for what it was.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 03-Jan-13 13:15:24

Hi jess

Where you see posters lining up to tell women that they are victims, I see posters lining up to tell women to wake up, open their eyes, and save their children from growing up in abusive households.

Yes, your mother is a victim. She is still a responsible adult. And, when you were a child, she was responsible for you too. Victim status does not absolve her of this.

Neither of your parents are happy people, clearly. But they remain responsible for the choices they make.

And even if you tried very very hard to strip away her denial, I don't think you would succeed: only she can shed it. Prompt her if you feel compelled to, or don't if you decide it's none of your business. Whatever you choose to do, you will not be able to make her see.

They are unhappy people, and that is very sad indeed. But you can't help them, you can't fix them, you can't save them.

dequoisagitil Thu 03-Jan-13 13:18:01

I don't really know what you do about it, jessjess. I have a similar situation in some ways with my stepdad & mum.

You can tell your mum that what she experiences isn't normal or acceptable and be supportive, but whether she will want to make changes or accept your take on how their relationship is, I don't know.

I think it's a very good idea for you to talk to your therapist about all this when you next see them and get a handle on this horrible revelation.

Pancakeflipper Thu 03-Jan-13 13:19:25

Perhaps your mother loves him.

I am not clear from your post if he has been abusive to you or your mother or brother. I have read it twice and apologies but I am not clear.

He deffo seems to be a bloody awkward man but the examples you give like conversations he has about subjects like Gary McKinnon are stuff that happens with my DP's family. They are eccentric but not abusive

Perhaps your mother sees through these negatives of his personality but also loves his sensitive side ( that you mention) and his support. Has he been the support needed for her to do so well in her field of work?

Perhaps she knows he's a awkward bugger but thinks "better the devil you know".

I should think there is a lot to their relationship that you don't know about. You could have a conversation with your mother but that might leave you feeling more frustrated.

Nanny0gg Thu 03-Jan-13 13:20:24

I have no idea what my parents' marriage is really like or how she has been treated.
So why are you now trying to decide that you do know?

Use your therapy for you, not to 'fix' someone whose life (even though she's your mother) you know insufficient about.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:24:48

I should have learned, by now, to keep Stately Homer issues on the Stately Homer thread.

The Gary McKinnon thing has to be seen in a wider context. It's hard to explain. I wish I hadn't posted.

DonkeysDontRideBicycles Thu 03-Jan-13 13:26:44

I am not qualified to offer advice but I have seen what depression can do to people. It's like ripples in a pool affecting everyone. Your father may have been the way he is for years, pre-dating when he got together with your mother. She has evolved her own way of livng with him. At some point your mother made choices. You can't blame yourself. Had your DM wanted to offload to you, she would have. Many adults reject the idea of unburdening themselves to their children. It is alien to them. They may not even see themselves as having a problem in the first place. You can't fix what has gone on. You yourself find your DF a mixed bag, so to speak.

Please be cautious! Wading in could open up new wounds. You can identify issues with regard to your upbringing and how you go on from here but it doesn't award you insights as to your parents' marriage. The scales fall from your own eyes but it doesn't mean your mother will thank you for any fresh insights. You can offer her love and support but focus on yourself.

Pancakeflipper Thu 03-Jan-13 13:27:43

I am not having a go JJJ.

Trying to just understand. I have a difficult relationship with my own family.
Sorry you didn't get the responses you wanted.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:28:34

"Please be cautious! Wading in could open up new wounds." I know. My instinct is to do nothing, but then I wonder if that is selfishor wrong.

Wearsuncream Thu 03-Jan-13 13:29:37

I agree with hotdamnlifeisgood. Also stunned at HolyBerry - unhelpful at best.
I half wondered if you were my sister as our circumstances are similar (you aren't !!) - Ive given up trying to rescue my parents - they are master of their own destiny and no amount of my help talking offers will undo decades of their own inertia.

HollyBerryBush Thu 03-Jan-13 13:32:47

You can be as stunned a you like - you let peopel know you are there if they want to open up and discuss things with you - you cannot make them do so. And if thaat person doesnt open upto you, you have no idea how they are feeling, and it is projection to assume your feelings are the same as theirs.

Other peoples relationships are their business - unless they make it someone elses business.

dequoisagitil Thu 03-Jan-13 13:32:51

You could always ask for the thread to be deleted or hide it, jessjess - I'm sorry you're being misunderstood.

AttilaTheMeerkat Thu 03-Jan-13 13:33:42


I was wondering what your mother herself learnt about relationships when she was growing up and what her own childhood was like. From the little you have written I could say that she learnt many damaging lessons and that her own childhood was abusive.

She herself learnt that "when you love someone you don't give up on them". I daresay your mother has no real idea about what love actually is, her ideas are warped re same. You learnt that particular damaging lesson from her amongst many. It surprises me not a jot that you ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship; your parents well and truly set you up to replicate their role model.

I could only say that your Mother and Father get what they want out of it from the dysfunctional relationship they have; their toxic legacy to you is to leave you with the fear, obligation and guilt that such parents impart to their children.

HollyBerryBush Thu 03-Jan-13 13:39:28

And I apologise if I came across as terse.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:43:48

My mother's own mother almost definitely has NPD. So that obviously had a big effect on her.

I feel very sad for my mother, but it has only just dawned on me that maybe she isn't happy; because of all the women on MN who aren't, but pretend they are. I don't think I am projecting. I think I have finally woken up to the fact that my mother is not necessarily happy and nobody has ever bothered to find out if she is.

AttilaTheMeerkat It surprises me not a jot, also. Before I met DH, I spent a couple of years being deliberately single and then made a list of absolute dealbreakers and stuck to it - which is how I ended up marrying someone kind and sweet and nice. Freakily, I then went on to keep replicating that model but in other areas of my life, e.g. was bullied by male bosses in two separate jobs. I don't think it's my fault; I do think I unconsciously repeated things, if you see what I mean.

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 13:44:19

When I said I didn't know what my parents' marriage was like, I meant I don't know what happens when Iam not there.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 03-Jan-13 13:48:39

jess I remember feeling conflicted about my enabler Dad once I realised that he has spent 42 years suffering what I did in my own abusive marriage: I wanted to make him see , and I was also fucking furious at him for not manning up when he was the adult and I was the child and standing up to my mother's controlling and selfish behaviour.

I think now that I was projecting my own issues on him. I tried to get him to see, to understand the revelation that I had only just understood about my own marriage. It failed: he does not see, and he does not want to see. He wasn't ready, he may never be, and if he ever is it will be in his own time, and not my doing.

Your question is "What do I do?". I think: do what you think is right, but, IME, you might as well do nothing at all for all that it will change for your mother.

Now, if you need to tell her what you think for your sake, then that's a different matter...

jessjessjess Thu 03-Jan-13 14:17:51

HotDAMN, there is a lot of sense in your post. I suppose I am also worried that at one time she might have wanted help and not been able to seek it.

Lueji Thu 03-Jan-13 14:27:09

Maybe the best outcome is that your relationship with your mum can get better, because you can now identify with her, rather than see her as the enemy, or at least someone who didn't help you.

Perhaps now you can join forces in helping your dad, who is also vulnerable through depression before and now physically, and supporting each other?

If, when you normally talk to her, show some sympathy for what she might be going through with your dad, perhaps she'll open up to you?
Maybe you can ask her how she has coped and is coping now?

You don't have to "save her", but having you on her side might do her a world of good.

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