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Those of you who have a boundaried relationship with a toxic parent...

(14 Posts)
june2013 Sun 20-Jan-13 18:04:47

I've spent years learning to negotiate the relationship with my father who drinks too much. I would call him an alcoholic, but the rest of the family don't, in Ireland I think acceptable levels of alcohol are somewhat different to the rest of the world...

I spent years agonising and feeling guilty when I didn't respond to his emotional requests / demands (eg. phoning drunk at midnight often midweek, and accusing me of being 'BORING' when I said I was asleep, saying I didn't call / visit enough, accusingly tell me that I was so much like my 'mother' - insert spit and venom here). I went to Al-anon, AA for families and friends of alcoholics and after a few years I feel like I have made huge progress. Our relationship was not as difficult as many of you describe and different in many ways so I'm not suggesting that I have the answer. But - in my experience, setting out clear boundaries worked, but not in the form of 'I'm setting boundaries here because I find our relationship difficult'. Rather it was 'you cannot call me at midnight drunk anymore, you cannot announce that you are visiting me at 1 days' notice and expect me to be happy about this', etc. I enforced it diligently for a while and then he stopped doing these annoying things. This is just an example. I also resolved to stop feeling guilty, trying to fix him, trying to pander to him, etc. I found this group enormously helpful. Interestingly enough, we now have a good relationship (most of the time).

For those who feel guilty, struggle to set boundaries, look after yourself, etc, you might find the X-anonymous groups helpful (you don't need to be religious contrary to popular belief (I'm not), but it is not for everyone, so I am not trying to preach or proselytise!). Coda = dependents anonymous is really good. Websites might have some useful tips and info.

Good luck & take care!

blusterywinds Sun 20-Jan-13 13:54:22

Thanks for all the other responses. I so wish I had more time to be on here at the mo...would love to read badtoworse's thread and join the stately homes one. I have already had much support under different names (I live in fear of mother 'finding' me on here). Compared to the shit some of you have to deal with I have it quite easy so I will carry on with avoidance...I think you are all right that spelling it out would only lead to denial and guilt trips. I just need a punch bag for the hour after I get off the phone with her!

forgetmenots Sat 19-Jan-13 22:53:54

Can only (thankfully) talk about my ILs here. We tried spelling out boundaries, that was completely ignored, mocked and disrespected. A choice phrase was 'privacy from your own family? What a ridiculous concept'. We then tried reducing contact, stopping phone calls when they got heated, only replying to emails that remained civil. This led to anger about us 'handling' MIL and how we should trust her. Justified, but it was frustrating.

Eventually we just went no contact after a very nasty incident. There have been emails, letters, calls, banging on our doors and windows, shouting through our letterbox and attempts to reach us at our workplaces. We have just point blank refused to reply. It's ongoing after quite a while. But it's less than the other options and we hope to keep limiting even our access to their bile - mails redirect to spam filter, phone number has been changed and we hope to move house soon. Security at work have been notified. This too shall pass...

My advice would be to just work on keeping the boundary firm, whether that is by taking steps as I've mentioned above, or by emotionally detaching as Pilgit described. Good luck, it's not easy. thanks

Shattereddreams Sat 19-Jan-13 21:53:23

Stick with the avoidance approach.

I have been doing this for years but had no idea I was doing it! Or why! I felt guilty but that was a much better feeling than they way my family make me feel.

Then I read GoodtoBetter thread (linked above) and the penny dropped.

I get so much grief from my family for being an outsider. Thankfully I live 30 miles from them all so can easily get away with it.

I see them when I want to on my terms and if they have too much alcohol around, I leave immediately!

garlicblocks Sat 19-Jan-13 21:35:20

I never answer the phone! It's what voicemail's for - I have telephones for my convenience, not everyone else's grin

OP, I laid things on the line with my mum. It was a long and sometimes painful process, but am glad I did it. I refused to let her in when she popped round. I rejected the absurdly crap gifts. I watched her meltdowns compassionately, but silently. I discussed when she was ready, but never gave in to the guilt trips.

I was supported all the way by the wonderful women of Stately Homes, to whom I'll be ever grateful smile

Seriouslysleepdeprived Sat 19-Jan-13 19:40:27

Reading this with interest as I'm also trying to distance myself from my toxic parent.

Funnily enough I also don't plug in my landline. In fact I actively avoid answering calls. Instead I try to ring back at a time that suits me when I feel I can deal with it.

I tend to space out contact by cancelling with illness or use various appointments as an excuse. Spelling things out does not help at all from my experience and I'm usually manipulated into feeling guilty somehow.

Zazzles007 Sat 19-Jan-13 12:01:37

I am with all the posters who have said that there is no point in trying to set boundaries with toxic parents. In fact, the boundaries you set should be about yourself.

Eg my boundaries to prevent/minimise exposure to my toxic parents include:

* Not having my landline plugged in - they will just call and call leaving guilt tripping messages. I only plug it in when I want to make an outgoing call.
* Not responding to the guilt trips they put on - detach and ignore
* Not going to family events unless I really want to
* Not seeing them for more than a few hours at a time
*taking teh voice mail off my mobile so they can't leave messages there either

Hope this helps

Pilgit Sat 19-Jan-13 08:16:49

I'm with sashh on this one. I simply refuse to engage with my father or wicked step mother. I'll talk civilly but have emotionally detached. They lie, gaslight, and try to manipulate everything so that they are the victims. They are not they are simply toxic and have managed to rearrange the universe so that their actions are reasonable and its the rest of the world that has the issue. The only way to deal with such fantasists is to to detach and refuse to get emotionally involved. They will not see your POV so save your energy and limit contact to what you can handle. Don't engage with their crap and remember you choose your friends and are lumbered with family and good family should be friends as well.

sashh Sat 19-Jan-13 07:40:55

There is no point spelling anything out to a toxic parent, they will gaslight or ignore it.

GoodtoBetter Sat 19-Jan-13 07:40:44


GoodtoBetter Sat 19-Jan-13 07:40:08

Hello, I am new to this as I have only recently worked out why my relationship with my mother was unhealthy and a bit weird and smothering (very long thread about my voyage of discovery: )
so I'm not really sure what to suggest. Cureently trying to put some boundaries in place. We're moving out of her house, so there are some new limits being set iyswim but I'm not sure what to do once we unavailable I should be.
It's very hard work, isn't it? Totally identify with this bit of your OP: plaintive requests for more contact and the disappointed, wounded voice.
Out of interest, how was she toxic to your DD, as this is something I worry about with my DC (now nearly 5 and 2).

blusterywinds Sat 19-Jan-13 07:21:51

Yellow thanks so much for your reply...I did read it on the day and it helped enormously I just haven't had time to MN since. I think you are right...I always want to deal with things head on but doubt it would do any good. Your point about her being wrapped up in herself rings so true. I'll carry on with my current approach for now I think.

yellowsubmarine53 Wed 16-Jan-13 15:14:02

I never found the spelling it out approach successful with my mother - she's so wrapped up in herself that she can't see things from someone else's pov, and it took me 30+ years or so to realise that it's a bit of hiding to nothing.

It's taken time for me to no longer feel guilty or responsible for her well-being. Her being toxic around my dd was the final straw I suppose, and I decided that I can only change myself and not her.

It's not always easy - sometimes I've seen her and wished I hadn't bothered and sometimes I've delayed contact and it might not have been too bad - but you can't always get it right.

If you can bear it, saying something like 'I know, I wish we had time to see everyone that we wanted to too, but we're just so busy/everyone's been ill". My mother seems to like to be sent pictures that the children have drawn/photos etc.

Good luck.

blusterywinds Wed 16-Jan-13 15:06:17

Did you spell it out to them that the relationship was now gong to be on different terms or did you let it happen by refusing to talk about certain things and refusing too much contact? Just wondering as after another hideous episode with my mother last year I have made a resolution that the relationship be on my terms...I thought she had understood this but clearly not as is wanting to see us more frequently than previously. I am ok with stating when we can see her and when we can't, but struggle to cope with the several plaintive requests for more contact and the disappointed, wounded voice. I tend to use excuses for now...saying we are too busy and hoping she will get the hint as I really don't want to have to spell it out (ie say that I simply don't want to have her in my life too much). I thought after what happened last year she would get it but clearly not. Do you think i should carry on managing the relationship so that it is on my terms or explicitly state the terms to avoid the endless pleading from her and ensuing guilt on my part?

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