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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 Fri 29-Nov-13 15:23:06

To everyone who has been wonderfully supportive on this thread I want to continue talking about this, but am still worried about this thread being too visible so I have started another thread in the other place. (Thank you Tribpot finally took your advice)

It is pretty easy to find, if you are at all interested in my pathetic family drama. PM me if you can't find it.

Thank you again to everyone so far flowers

Hissy Tue 19-Nov-13 19:37:58


Does anyone remember which thread someone posted a massive post about No Contact and what it means.

It may have come from some religious site iirc

I need to find it and store it and learn it chanty, head-noddy parrot fashion remind myself of it

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 19-Nov-13 17:32:53


Yes do visit the recent "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread.

BTW with reference to your comment on another thread I would not visit with your children in tow if your parents cannot hold back on the favouritism. They both either behave or you do not see them.

Basically if you find them too difficult/toxic (and from what I have read of your family they are deeply dysfunctional) to deal with, they are too difficult for your vulnerable and defenceless children to be around as well.

AllThatGlistens Tue 19-Nov-13 17:25:24

I'm with Hissy, my mother is a classic candidate for Stately Homes and I've posted on there a time or two over the years, my brother and I were only discussing her this morning, we're pretty amazed how relatively sane we both are! grin

It does get easier to break away, promise wink

Hissy Tue 19-Nov-13 17:21:54

Well done btw, you did a good job today! smile

Hissy Tue 19-Nov-13 17:21:36

i only realised the SH relevance to my life very recently. It's more of a home now than anywhere else. sad

See you over there! It does get easier. the truth really DOES set you free.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Tue 19-Nov-13 15:01:03

I called my Sis today - first time in months. I was supportive and let her talk it through, and you know what, I felt good about that. I was being there for her on MY terms, not because my DM has ordered me to, or my DF has threatened me to be nice or else, but because I wanted to.

I think I am finally able to sympathise with her - because while I had no time for her when she was arrogantly carrying on with her affair, lying and cutting out anyone who didn't agree with her - now, she is utterly devastated and lost. All the arrogance is gone (for now), and having experience of being suddenly dumped myself, I can support her in that at least.

She did allude to our falling out by saying that she didn't want to get into it, but she had felt so alone with no one to talk to. I didn't rise to the bait, I thought we'll take that up another day. But I just said that she didn't need to be alone, she needed her friends. She is planning to go to see her BF today.

I'm not going to get sucked into it, I plan to tell my DM and DF to stay out of it and refuse to discuss the situation with them. I have no sympathy for the OMs situation and won't listen to any false hope that he might suddenly grow some balls and leave his wife for my sister. I've told her exactly what I think of him. In other words, I will speak my mind and never be afraid again of doing that.

I have learnt a lot about my family dynamic from this, and I'm under no illusions that the problem is over. I'm sure, when my sister is feeling stronger, her arrogance may come back. I know I'll hear my parents minimizing what she has done, and possibly re-writing history again. If the OM suddenly has a change of heart, or more likely, his DW kicks him out, then the lying and headstrong 'I know better' attitude will come back in force.

But I feel like I have turned a corner. I have been very hurt, sidelined, bullied and gaslighted by my family. I have seen that for what it is, but I am still able to be the bigger person, and give my sister a shoulder to cry on when she needs it. I'm not sure I could have forgiven myself for continuing with this rift when she is so totally distraught.

My parents cannot blame me for not being supportive, but at the same time, I am no longer doing anything as a performance to them. I don't care if they know what I've done, or what they think of me.

I'm going to head to the Stately Homes thread and settle in there. I've been aware of it for a while but never read it, I never really thought it was relevant to me... how wrong I was!

Hissy Tue 19-Nov-13 14:36:12

And yes, this stuff IS incredibly hard, it is excruciating.

You would strongly benefit from being on the Stately Homes Thread, you really do need to read Toxic Parents and you really do need to face up to the fact that your family will never be what they should be, or what you need them to be.

I know how hard this is. All Stately Homers do.

Hissy Tue 19-Nov-13 14:33:31


I also wanted to say that your sister has not 'been dumped' she has had the MARRIED MAN she is screwing go back to his wife. that is not actually being dumped, it's called HIM doing what he should have done RIGHT from the start.

(can you tell I'm rather cross? wink I HATE cheats)

You are 100% right to be suspicious of her motives of paying the lip-service SHE needed about YOUR issues in order to get what SHE wanted.

Basically, if the end hadn't have been nigh with Mr LoverLover, she would not have given you the time of day. Why? because she doesn't actually care.

A real person would set aside their issues to support you (as you have tirelessly done). She has done what classically dysfunctional and narcissistic pricks do; to outpour to you ONLY what SHE WANTS BACK IN RETURN.

Abusers do this, they shower their prey with attention, but only, and purely to get it bounced back from them. the hole in their self esteem is so gaping that it can't be filled and you will never ever be able to satisfy it. They will demand more and more and more, and you will never ever be able to satisfy the need they have for attention and validation.

They don't have the self esteem to look at themselves and be content, the image to the outside world is all they care about and there is no price too high to pay to ensure it's maintained.

Basically your entire family has this gaping need to be pleased/recognised/admired and have raised you to be the one to try to do it. I say try because whatever you do is never enough. You will always 'fail' them, so will always be the one they go to to kick until they feel better. they are not a 'close' family, they CLING through terror of others finding out how mediocre/shit they really are.

What you need to do now is say 'I have supported you all in what I find abhorrent and immoral. I have hid things, covered for and lied to protect your collective image. I have done enough. Don't ask me for any more'

Let your sister suffer, she brought it upon herself. she has caused this suffering in the first place. She was warned against it, and still had to carry on with her journey. Is HER suffering more than that of the DW, or her DC? No. It was all utterly unavoidable.

You DO need to end the social thing, and you do need to take a long hard look at your life to make sure that you are living it for yourself and for your own immediate family.

Do not discuss this affair again with anyone within that lot. Tell them that it's over and you are not involved in any of the drama, nor do you want to be.

You HAVE to be strong on this. Your family have ridden roughshod over and over on you and your family, and it's gone on long enough.

EldritchCleavage Tue 19-Nov-13 10:46:03

Yup. Bluffs should be called. And then you will be free! Free! Mwah ha ha ha!

Meerka Tue 19-Nov-13 08:10:08

But I do think that any sudden dramatic pull back from me now would be met with frantic pressure from my parents,

actually, I think this is a very good reason not to go.

Because I think you need to actually face the full pressure of what they can do before you can -really- break free and face them on your own terms and not theirs. Right now you're beginning to mentally break free a bit but you are still very, very enmeshed in the whole family dynamics. I havent been able to post but have been following the thread and at the moment it seems that you can't stay free from them for more than 3 or 4 days; and you do get drawn back into the drama again and again and again and again.

Which is very understandable, after a lifetime of being pushed into a role and kept there its incredibly hard to break free. But I think that you do indeed need to break free and you still have a long way to go <said more gently than perhaps it sounds>

And yes, talk to the Ice Queen.

tribpot Tue 19-Nov-13 07:04:51

My gut instinct is that you should not attend the weekly social thing because they will use it to pull you back in, esp now you have shown interest in the situation with the OM and so are more likely to be suckered by the 'oh I need more of your excellent advice' routine.

On the other hand, provided you can get in and out with minimal contact, why give up something you want to do? A big, stroppy, point-making absence is more your sister's style than yours.

I agree with the others, reach out to the Icequeen and see what she has learnt about managing your mad family.

dozeydoris Mon 18-Nov-13 17:56:53

The Icequeen sounds a happy and well-adjusted person. As she isn't embroiled in her family's dramas she won't give a fig what they call her. Perhaps someone you can emulate, OP.

Lazyjaney Mon 18-Nov-13 17:25:43

"I did indeed once plan to emigrate - well to take on a position which would involve me working abroad. My Sister emotionally blackmailed me into refusing it. Told me I would miss my (future, not yet conceived) DNs too much. I agreed with her, refused the position, and have regretted it ever since"

That tells you all you need to know about your sister. She doesnt need all around her at all times. Don't get suckered in to all this again. IMO the only relationship your sister does is "I use you", which she is now doing with those who will support her. If they ever disagree with her, they also will be toast.

But good on you for getting out like you did, but I think your parents will turn it all on you anyway, so don't be disappointed. I do think you still bite your tongue too much, given they will hang you anyway.

And start building up other friendship networks!

"Little does she know that by phoning my DF with that comment, she has given me a boost in a situation she knows nothing about, and a little more insight to help me grow stronger"

Sounds like she is someone you would be well advised to get closer to!

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 18-Nov-13 17:21:55

albeit without the snippy and accusatory tone I am sure she employed you're damn right on that one Trib

and btw whilst all this has been going on, absolutely fucking none of them have done anything to help you with any of your REAL problems Good point there as well - last week my sis was messaging me being all 'supportive' over my TTC issues. She knew my AF was due this weekend, no one has actually asked me whether it arrived (it did, with vicious vengeance!)

And so it becomes clear that her sudden concern for me and my issues just happened to coincide with the breakdown of her relationship with the OM - apparently it has been on the cards for the last few days. I wonder whether she suddenly knew she would need me and so started being nice...?

I've sent her a message of support and told her i'm happy she is with a friend at the moment. Staying distant but being supportive. I can't be accused of doing any wrong with that.

And yes, back to keeping my distance. I'm still waiting to decide whether to attend our weekly social thing this week... going to see how I feel on the day to be honest. But I do think that any sudden dramatic pull back from me now would be met with frantic pressure from my parents, so it might be easier if I just go along and keep my distance in my head without making a big public thing of it..... I dunno.

tribpot Mon 18-Nov-13 17:11:23

I'll be there for her if she needs me -

I've managed to stay relatively distant from the whole thing.

It's one or the other, PlasticBag. Which one do you want?

I know what it feels like to be dumped, and you need your family and friends around you at all times.

But you don't need all of them around at all times - and btw whilst all this has been going on, absolutely fucking none of them have done anything to help you with any of your REAL problems, you've just had to knuckle down and get on with them, whilst she crashes about inside a drama entirely of her own making.

The fact that you think your parents can't rewrite history just because all participants were there at the same time is a triumph of hope over experience. They have done this repeatedly and, if it suits them, they will do it again over this.

However, this is the right outcome:

"I already have VERY good friends thank you"..

So I said, "That's great, you'll need them" and left.

Leave her to it. Last week you were determined to reduce contact with them once you had the dog back. The fact that the drama has moved on doesn't change that. Focus on your friends and getting support for yourself - the conversation with your sister could have been held in reverse (albeit without the snippy and accusatory tone I am sure she employed).

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 18-Nov-13 16:47:33

I think you have a point Eldritch - in this situation, my parent's meddling and criticism has made me hyper sensitive of the way they perceive my relationship with my sister - to the point that it has affected the way I interact with her, to the detriment of our relationship.

But the advice I'm getting on this thread is helping me not to care too much about what they think any more.

EldritchCleavage Mon 18-Nov-13 16:33:40

Something strikes me reading your update-how much of your behaviour is a performance for the audience of your parents, in this case, your interaction with your sister.

Your sister has her faults, but the relationship still has the potential to be a good one once it is conducted for its own sake, authentically, and not as a means of sending a message to your parents.

See your sister without them, without reference to them and as and when you want to. Similarly, see your mother (and father) without your sister and in the same way. At least for a while. That's if you want to see them at all. In your shoes I'd be booking Xmas in Norway with your DH.

Meerka Mon 18-Nov-13 16:19:01

YOu need to disengaged, disengage, disengage. Keep neutral.

If you keep on getting involved YOU are the one who suffers here - along with your DH becuase I'm sure he has to cope with you being upset and angry.

Secondly, if you get too involved you run the risk of them turning on you adn making you out to be the bad one even more than now. That makes you the black sheep of the family and if the worst comes to the worst, you'll have a lovely new role of being the Bad Guy instead of the previous role of the Supporting Cast Member.

Please, find someone else to look after your dog next time and keep to the neutral noises.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 18-Nov-13 16:18:18

By the way Hissy Stand back? Fucking EMIGRATE love! - that made me laugh, but that was more relevant than you realize.

I did indeed once plan to emigrate - well to take on a position which would involve me working abroad. My Sister emotionally blackmailed me into refusing it. Told me I would miss my (future, not yet conceived) DNs too much. I agreed with her, refused the position, and have regretted it ever since.

I'm at peace with that decision now, but it has impacted my life and career, and self-esteem very much.

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 18-Nov-13 16:14:23

There was another revealing conversation with my DF in the middle of all this.

I have a large family, with a lot of cousins, most of whom are very close to each other (see a pattern?). One, however, is a bit more 'reserved' and distant from the rest. She has always been criticized by the rest of her family for this who call her the 'Ice Queen'. (totally outing myself to anyone in my family now)

However, my DF (her Uncle) favours her because she has achieved a lot, which he loves to boast about. Well she called my DF recently to say she had heard about something I had achieved, and how proud she was of me. She said I reminded her of herself.

DF told me this today, but I think feels a little cognitive dissonance between being proud of me, hearing his favourite DN being proud of me, and yet wanting to blame me for the latest disaster. He is incapable of giving me a compliment without tempering it with some sort of criticism. So he said "She said you remind her of herself... huh, yeah an Ice Queen like her"....

I ignored, ignored, ignored... another tiny little achievement for me!

.. and I also gained a little insight into just why my cousin might be distant as she is. She learned how to step away from a very enmeshed family, and has borne the brunt of the criticism ever since, and yet seems to hold her head high and be close to her family in a way that suits herself. Maybe I am a bit like her after all.

Little does she know that by phoning my DF with that comment, she has given me a boost in a situation she knows nothing about, and a little more insight to help me grow stronger.

mummytime Mon 18-Nov-13 16:11:57

Why should you be sympathetic?

You really need to think about that. You need to back off big time, for your own sanity. Refuse to take part in their dramas.

You got sucked back in again. That was a mistake, but it's okay, stop now and start withdrawing again.
Fulfilling your family's role for you is a habit, that you need to break. It will be hard but start to retrain yourself. The less contact you have the easier it will be.

Try to take up some new interests so you just don't have time for them (so much). Of course emigrating is a good option too smile

DoYouEverFeelLikeAPlasticBag Mon 18-Nov-13 16:02:10

Well that was interesting

Went to my parents - Sis was there. Best outcome really, because rather than rely on hearsay, my parents got to see and hear for themselves how I have been reacting to her.

Despite that, DF almost what Eldritch predicted and tried to blame me before I'd even walked in the door. He warned me that she was in bits, and said "Don't be horrible to her, don't be nasty just be a sister to her".. as though anticipating I would be the horrible monster they have all decided I am. I said "Don't be ridiculous. Just stop this now" and ignored him (yay for me!)

My Sister is indeed in bits, and I listened, hugged her and was supportive. My DM actually said a few times (in a 'surprised' tone, or did I imagine that?) - "Plastic is giving you good advice here, she's right, listen to her". I felt like saying "THIS is how I've always been, when you've accused me of being unsupportive" So I was so pleased that they saw me doing, and being, and saying what I've always done without the opportunity for someone to twist it to make me out to be the bad guy.

I was a little hard with my sis - told her that she just needed to accept the OM's viewpoint on this now, he has chosen to save his marriage, and she should focus on herself. She didn't like that much, but still no one could construe that as anything other than constructive support. Her BF and DSil have been messaging her trying to support her, and she is ignoring them. When she mentioned this, DF steps in with "Oh just IGNORE them" because he believes they have wronged my sister by being pissed off with her behaviour. She has turned to new friends, including a lovely friend who to this point was just a social friend, but she has been spending a lot of time with her offloading on her. Classic behaviour of someone who has burnt all her bridges with her true friends. Here, I'm afraid I got involved, defended our friends, and said they are good friends to my Sis, she needs them, and they are trying to support her (and was of course also implying that I am too). She replied "I already have VERY good friends thank you"..

So I said, "That's great, you'll need them" and left.

DM tried to go into damage limitation, and asked me to go for a walk with her and Sis, but I refused , said thanks for having the dog, and got the hell out of there.

I feel SO much better. I'm sad for my sis, and I'll be there for her if she needs me. But I'm so glad my parents got to witness me doing what I've always done, with no opportunity for misconstruing things, and no chance for them to have a go at me for not being supportive. And they also heard my sister's attitude to not needing her friends. Now its up to them to deal with the mess their DD has made - I feel proud that I've managed to stay relatively distant from the whole thing.

Lazyjaney Mon 18-Nov-13 15:44:36

"I want to say that I think you are wrong here and that DPs believe that Sis is bad, that she is making a mess of her life, but.... they cannot admit the fact. Not to anyone. And possibly they know full well that you are not to blame for any rift but....... if they don't blame you, OP, they have to admit that they have produced Sis"

I must admit I thought the same, but the OPs recent posts make me wonder if they are in such very deep denial they are just unable to admit she is bad, so when someone else holds up a mirror and forces out the contradictions and they have to kick out and/or shut down. Even worse if it's people "in the circle" like OP, so the reaction is worse.

OP nothing you do will ever make your parents agree with you, but note the impact your disagreeing and withdrawing is having, they are desperate to get you on board. That means you have influence.

I think stick to your guns, and play the tough love card - reiterate the damage your sister has done to others and still needs sorting, point out their responsibility - that unless they step up to the mark here your Sis will just ricochet from one disaster to another, and use their ensuing denial as a reason to add distance for yourself

"Now, I have a dilemma. I love my sister, and I don't want her to suffer. I know what it feels like to be dumped, and you need your family and friends around you at all times. She has been there for me when I needed her, and I want to be there for her"

You've done your job, just tell your DM you've offered support but your sister wants to wallow in her self made bed and be told she is right, rather than actually step up to her responsibilities and sort herself out.

Hissy Mon 18-Nov-13 14:10:33

i don't know where to start love.

Your sister is owed NOTHING. She has been fucking someone elses H, your entire family have rallied round her, protecting her at every turn and making YOU the bad guy in the process.

They have had you dancing to their tune, insulting you and your own family by refusing to respect you or listen to you, refusing to actually host you properly and STILL now are writing history to make you look the bitch in all this.

Stand back? Fucking EMIGRATE love!

You are in a totally fucked up family. Your sister has only ever been there for you as it makes her feel better about herself, she's there to point score and gloat, or run YOU down to her parents.

You need to STOP talking to EVERYONE in that shit family and focus on the ONE person that IS there for you, your DP.

Collect the dogs and tell them to go fuck themselves leave it at that, don't call them, don't return calls, don't answer them. Let christmas come and go and see how you feel in the New Year. Send presents to your DN if need be, but fuck the rest.

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