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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

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 00:13:14

Thanks for getting through my epic post MumsyBlouse

When my DP suggested I 'write it all down' I was thinking 'I will.. on MN!' - this is great therapy, and a record for me should I ever need to remind myself of what I've been through.

We are indeed very enmeshed - something I've recently realized and will be working to change. And yes, you're right about the moral guardian thing - I suppose it's because my DF is minimizing what she has done, and I want to say "But what she did is NOT OK" and I want to hear him say that. He never will, so I should stop trying.

I'm partly upset by what she has done, but also by how she has treated me - and the pressure from my parents to be OK with how she has treated me. That's what I'm focusing on - our family dynamic. But it is all inter related.

I was doing so well with keeping out of it all... feel annoyed with myself for letting my DF start this horrible nasty argument today sad

2 steps forward, 1 step back and all that...

CanucksoontobeinLondon Mon 11-Nov-13 02:33:16

I agree with the others. You need to take a step back and disengage as much as possible. Which is easier said than done, especially when your parents and sister are desperately trying to suck you back in.

How long do you usually go without contacting your parents? A few days? Maybe if you start by leaving contact for 48 hours longer than you normally would, just to give yourself a break from all the drama. Good luck.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 06:26:26


Get someone else to drop DN gifts round.

Get someone else to take the dog for the weekend.

This situation is NOT fine, and yes, strong possibility of a nervous breakdown.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 08:56:08

I did take a big step back, hadn't spoken to them in about a week, and felt much, much better. I've also avoided talking about the situation with them at all, so that really helped.

I do have to see them all this week, I don't want my DN to suffer for this. And they really are the best people to care for my dog - he has some complicated medical issues - so again, for his sake I need to go there this week.

But after that, I have no plans to see them for a while. I'm seriously considering leaving the club we all belong to - on the one hand it would give me a much needed break, and shatter their carefully crafted illusion of normality in front of all their friends (sounds like I want to be vindictive I know) - on the other hand, I would be cutting my nose off to spite my face, as it's the only time I get to see my other friends who I would really miss. So I'm going to sleep on that decision for a while and see how I feel.

So I know that cutting down contact helps. I just need to let go of the need to change their opinion - they believe my Sis is not that bad, and I'm to blame for our rift. Once I stop caring what they think, and accept I will never change their views, I can move on.

How do I do that?

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 08:58:20

I think after last night's episode (my Mum's screaming at me is still ringing in my head sad) I'm just caught up in needing to show them how much I'm hurting, how I'm innocent, how my sister's actions have upset me etc.

I want them to have this big revelation - "Oh, it is DD1 and OUR actions that have caused DD2 to be hurt"..

That's never going to happen is it? It's always going to be my fault.

Help me not care about that!!!

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 09:02:56

Sweety, sorry, but they won't ever acknowledge that you're hurting, they don't care at best.

At worst they derive a kind of depraved pleasure from seeing you suffer.

Your DN won't suffer if you still get gifts to her, your dog could be looked after by others.

When are you going to prioritise your feelings, and those of your H and indeed your pet?

Make bold decisions and be clear to ALL why you're making them.

Bugger the illusion of the united family.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 09:04:01

I've cut my entire family off for a variety of different, but similar reasons, I know how hard it is, but you know you feel better when you don't have contact. Focus on that.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 09:10:06

My DNs keep telling me they miss me, and it breaks my heart.

I want to be the one to see his little face when he opens the present I bought him. So I will go - but I will just get in, and get out quickly. No pretending to be happy family, no talking to Sis, DM and DF. I know I can do that without causing too much fuss.

The NC can start next week, I just need to get through this week without too much upset. Then I can be free from all this shit for a while.

passedgo Mon 11-Nov-13 09:44:34

Plasticbag - I haven't read this thread in its entirety, this is mainly related to the OP and the observations made there.

Wow this resonates with me. Not a narc parent situation, just crap family dynamics. My brother had MH problems and rather than encouraging him to become independent they mollycoddled him and cushioned him to protect him. I always wanted to look after him but they never wanted us to do this as it had to be on their terms, ie, mollycoddling and over-protecting.

So in the end I said to them one day 'Don't think I am going to look after x when you are gone, he needs to learn how to be independent now and if you can't help him with that I'm not going to pick up the pieces'. I felt like a hard-nosed bitch.

However it made them realise that they had to deal with the consequences of their behaviour towards him.

Other sibs had previously given pseudo psychoanalytical explanations of 'dm needs him and is keeping him at home for her satisfaction' but in the end it was just them being crap parents and trapped in a spiral of fear for his future and wanting to protect. This turned into a need to control others around him so they were no risk to that cloying relationship.

I think sometimes we have a duty to put our parents on the spot and make them truly see their mistakes, let them live with them. Perhaps then they will allow their 'golden' or overprotected child to be free to make his/her own mistakes and learn from them.

Sometimes it's a simple explanation and they just need to be shaken out of it. But certainly as a sibling you need to excuse yourself from guilt, unless of course you have done nothing to change the dynamic.

Also it seems that parents letting go means that they have to allow a child to grow up, to have a future for themselves that doesn't necessarily involve them. It could be like losing their best friend. Encouraging them to see a future for the child - one where they will be OK - may help with their feeling of loss.

mummytime Mon 11-Nov-13 09:44:50

You really need to try to find ways to do things without engaging. So you need to start looking for someone else to look after your dog (put a card in at the Vets?).
A quick trip to your DN.

Finally: what would you do if anyone else started to yell down the phone at you like that? I am sure you would (and should) just hang up. You would still be upset, but it wouldn't be quite so bad.

You need to stop trying to justify yourself to them. If they ask a question you can answer it briefly and factually, but if they start to argue DO NOT argue back, just say "Sorry but I'm not prepared to discuss it". And keep saying that like a broken record. If they push it, say "Goodbye" and hang up (or leave if you are with them in person).

Its actually useful that you don't have children, it is much easier to leave swiftly with just you (and DH) involved.

BTW - I do not see it as my job to "clear up my children's messes" but to help them learn the consequences of their actions, and help them clean up their own mistakes.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 11:04:16

I think if you can get in, get out with minimal damage done, that's as good as you can do.

If anyone says anything, state that you're there for DN an nothing else and don't wish to get any further sucked into this hideous mess than you already have been.

If they don't respect that? Kiss your DN and leave. Just like that.

You can only be in the drama if you allow it.

See what options you do have for the dog, and if seriously there are no alternatives, again, make it plain that it's the last resort and you'll not be there otherwise.

Yeah you will feel like a total bitch, because that's what works for THEM.$ but it's the other way round, and you are not doing a single thing wrong.

Lazyjaney Mon 11-Nov-13 14:12:02

Judging by your DF and DM reactions I think they do see your point of view, but very much don't want to and want you to change it! That again tells me you have more influence than you think.

Well done for laying it on the line too. Your DM is completely out of order, your DF is at best a numpty. I think if it were me I'd make it clear to DM that a fairly substantial apology is required.

It mY help to write things down so you can be more articulate when you face them off, but there is no point in sending anything.

Like everyone else is advising, I think it's time to look at every tie that binds and work out ways of cutting them so you can choose when and how to engage.

EldritchCleavage Mon 11-Nov-13 14:41:50

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

Think carefully about this: in what way is it 'easier'? Emotionally? Does that mean you placate the others and suffer the upset yourself? And if so, is that sustainable over time or are you just going to break down/blow up?

And I agree about the phone calls: it really isn't healthy, normal or constructive to let someone scream at you like that, let alone hand the phone over for the next person to have a go.

This family is like the Mafia: no one can ever walk away, even when being abused and denounced.

EldritchCleavage Mon 11-Nov-13 14:43:51

Sorry, I meant let alone stand and wait while they hand the phone over for the next person to have a go.

I screamed at my parents once over something. They walked out. We dealt with it-I was right about the underlying issue (which was serious), and they were sorry, but they still were not prepared to stand and be screamed at. And they were right about that, too. Some kinds of behaviour are Just Not OK, and the fact that it is your parents doing it doesn't make it right, it makes it even more wrong.

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 11-Nov-13 14:47:52

"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"

He's right you know; you can refuse dinner.

They do not give a fig that they have upset you; all they care about is maintaining the dysfunctional family dynamic that you are unfortunately still enmeshed in. It also sounds like you are very much still in what is described as FOG with regards to them; fear, obligation, guilt. You seem to have all three. Playing their game is something you simply have to stop doing.

I would also recommend that you start reading "Toxic Parents" written by Susan Forward if you have not done so already.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 14:56:14

I think refusing dinner is a great idea, tell them that you have plans and therefore you won't stop, no need for dinner.

Please listen to your DH, he is not bound by the fucked up logic your family have inflicted upon you.

WE all know how scary you find this, but this fear is what they have drummed into you for the precise purpose of doing what you have been told and to keep THEM happy, even (and especially) at your expense.

Place your trust in us and your H. Let him guide you through this, he will be there for you. We will be here for you.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 14:59:32

I'm reading Toxic Parents atm, it really IS very good.

It's the Why Does He Do That for victims of dysfunctional families! Very freeing!

Holdthepage Mon 11-Nov-13 17:00:05

You are being turned into the scapegoat here OP. The problem in the family is made out to be you and your stance on the whole sis/affair rather than the affair itself IYSWIM.

Everyone on here is telling you to step away from the drama & that includes not commenting on it to your parents. Start developing some standard replies. When they tell you that everyone is ok with the situation just reply, "ok, if thats what you want to believe" & then leave it at that. When you make comments about your sis they are jumping in to defend her & you are getting hurt by it.

tribpot Mon 11-Nov-13 19:34:31

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.

This. Will. Never. Happen.

They do not care about how people feel, they care about how things look. You are not making things look right, therefore you are wrong.

On your previous thread you spoke about how you wouldn't need to see your sister for a while - yet you have two events in one week and are contemplating extending the second so as not to rock the boat. You can't start to break free of this web by waiting until you don't have any existing engagements with them, you have to start now. Next week they will have thought of some new ways of dragging you back into this mess.

Get DP to drop the dog off for the weekend. No dinner. Seeing your nephew is justifiable but contact with your parents is not.

Cut the ties - it is always going to be painful, there is always going to be a reason not to start.

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

Do it. It will be better for you and it will undermine your parents' desire to create an artificial show of unity at all costs. Win-win.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 11-Nov-13 19:38:04

Thank you everyone for making it through my massive rant!

LazeyJaney and Eldritch I'm glad to see you both here, you were both so supportive on my last thread.

WE all know how scary you find this...Place your trust in us and your H. Let him guide you through this, he will be there for you. We will be here for you. Hissy that made me cry, thank you for being there, you're all so wise!

You are being turned into the scapegoat here OP. The problem in the family is made out to be you and your stance on the whole sis/affair rather than the affair itself IYSWIM - YY to this, I think this is exactly what is happening. And I just have to refuse to be that scapegoat.

I've just had a message from my Sis, to check that I'm still going to see my DN. I will, of course, because I love DNs more than anything. She said she knows that DF and I had words, and that he was wrong. She says the reason she was avoiding us was because of DSil, not me, for lots of reasons (this angers me a little, DSil is as innocent as I am, but then I don't know what was said between them and don't want to). She said that whatever I think of her, she loves me unconditionally.

I don't really know how to respond to that - it's not her fault that my DF had a go at me. But it is partly her fault that I'm in this situation in the first place.

It's clear that my DM has told her about last night, but omitted the bit where she screamed at me and told me I was 'bitter and jealous'. To be honest, DF's stupid comment hurt me a lot less than my DM's full on heartfelt attack.

Not really sure how to respond other than "Yes I'll be there. Yes both DF and DM hurt me very much last night. I'm upset at being blamed for something that is not my fault, and because of that I need space from everyone for a while"

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 19:43:17

Just reply, i'll be there, wouldn't miss seeing DN for anything or anyone.

Will not stay for long though.

tribpot Mon 11-Nov-13 19:43:45

she loves me unconditionally

Christ! If this is unconditional I would hate to see her version of conditional love! The conditions are feckin endless with this woman!

Nice that she is scapegoating the SIL to you (and no doubt vice versa). More reason just to avoid the whole pack of them for a while - as the recriminations fly around and around and around the one person who has actually done something wrong. But never landing on her. I wonder why ...

Don't respond to her at all except to say you will be there. She wants you to give her chapter and verse on what happened so that you're drawn back into the web, so she can report to your DM what you've said. You really, really need to Stop. Feeding. The Drama.

Hissy Mon 11-Nov-13 19:46:42

Narcs will write history any way they can to look good.

She's playing at being magnanimous and 'the bigger person' except she hasn't got a right to that position.

Go for your DN and give him the gift, then leave. Seriously, it's the only currency you have.

If you mumsnet on your phone, know that we'll be with you every second, so be as strong as you can be, and know we're all cheering for you.

Mumsyblouse Mon 11-Nov-13 20:08:12

They just keep dragging you in, don't they? I don't think I've ever had such conversations as 'I love you unconditionally' it's just not something that needs stating.

It seems like the default setting in your family is drama, with you as the audience and some-time cast member. Really you don't need to see them so much or phone them so much or respond to every calculated move so much. It's fine not to jump every time the phone rings.

AliceinWinterWonderland Mon 11-Nov-13 20:59:09

You are being turned into the scapegoat here OP. The problem in the family is made out to be you and your stance on the whole sis/affair rather than the affair itself IYSWIM - YY to this, I think this is exactly what is happening. And I just have to refuse to be that scapegoat.

Coming from the view of someone who has a family dynamic that is all messed up, IMO you need to let this part go. You are not going to get them to listen to what you have to say and if they are determined to place blame on you then they will.

I had to literally derail communications with my family for a time (about 7-8 years ago) just to put things back on my terms. Easy for me to do at the time, as there was a fair distance separating us. So for over a year, all communication was by letter or email. No phone, no "in person" contact. This allowed me to respond normally to "normal" discussion, think through what I wanted to say, and ignore anything that was toxic or simply negative.

After awhile, I noticed that communication with my mother started improving as she realised I was not responding to anything that was negative. The same with one sibling. The other two siblings are just now starting to figure that out. I have been talking to my mother on the phone now for the last three years. I initially only rang my mother and didn't give her my phone number. Conversation was fine but the minute she began getting negative or manipulative, "oh there's the door, I must run" and disconnect the phone. It didn't take long for the penny to drop. I've just recently been able to finally give her my number, although as I ring her fairly regularly now, I doubt she'll ring me, as she knows I will be calling.

None of my siblings have my house number. They have my mobile - and if they ring, I let it go to voice mail. Then I answer via email. It's just nice not to be put on the spot. And any gifts or cards for their children are posted to the children. Easy (and kids love getting post anyway!).

It was really hard to make that initial break in communication. I literally had NO CONTACT with any of them for 6 months before I started with written communication. But I set specific boundaries (with myself - I didn't discuss it with them), and stuck to them. And if anyone attempted to drag me into any family arguments, I had a stock answer "I'm Switzerland - I'm neutral - I'm not choosing sides." Always. Same. Answer.

Sorry for the long message, but I think that you may need to think about a complete break, and then when you're ready to reintroduce communication, make sure it's on your terms all the way.

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