Saturday, December 24, 2016
Toxic Mothers Again
A neighbour of ours from years ago (I haven't seen her or lived next to her for more than twenty-five years) took it upon herself to write to me (she got my address off a card I sent my mother) to interfere in the incredibly complicated train crash which is my relationship with my mother. I rang her and told her in no uncertain terms that she could butt out. You just don't get involved in other people's family arguments. This has caused me to reflect again about this whole thing, and to offer some more reflections for those who suffer from toxic parents.
You do not have to justify preserving your own sanity. This may seem very basic, but the thing is that people do expect you to justify it. To my mind, even to explain the decisions you make as self-preservation is a waste of time, since society's expectation is that you will play happy families with your parents, and no amount of rationalisation will make people understand that your relationship with your parents is permanently fucked.
You are an adult. Your life cannot be determined, beyond what you agree to, by the demands of your parents. You will come under pressure (or the emotional blackmail of sympathy, illness, sentiment, or old age) to let your parents take up a disproportionate portion of your life. This to me is actually the defining factor of a toxic family, that rational negotiation cannot happen or appears to happen and is then reneged on.
Your parents are adults. This may seem very basic, but some parents create a dynamic where their children are expected to act in a more parental role. You are under no obligation to do this.
Behaviour patterns set over decades are difficult or impossible to change. There is therefore no point hoping that anything is going to get better or even markedly different. Nor is there any hope in the philosophy that you may be helped by changing your own way of thinking, when you are dealing with a parent who does not respect your boundaries.
The ageing self-absorbed and manipulative parent will use their old age as a major tool to manipulate you. This is probably the most counter-cultural thing I have to say here, but the reality is that some old people behave incredibly badly and are perfect devils. The fact that the parent has illness or disability is of course a cause for concern, but the toxic parent will either use this to make you look bad, to draw you in, to emotionally blackmail you.
You will always 'lose' in some way with a toxic parent. Since the key defining feature of a toxic parent is that you cannot negotiate a mutually agreeable modus vivandi with them, it is therefore essential to understand that in your parent's eyes you have to lose. If anyone reading this thinks 'Surely not,' then consider yourself lucky not to have a toxic parent. Ignore them, or have them walk all over you, whatever you do for your parent, you will be the loser.
You will always look bad. Again, the odds are completely stacked against you, so that whatever you do the toxic parent will make damn sure everyone knows that you are a neglectful child, selfish, and so on.
You will be forced to take action to look after yourself, and that action in itself will cause further guilt and make you the 'loser'. At this point your actions will be in some way forced by your impossible parent and the need to preserve yourself, but whatever you do will still be 'wrong' in some way. Remember with a toxic parent there is no way you can ever come to a mutual agreement, and so whatever you do is wrong.
I am writing these things down, because I know that there are other people in the world in the same situation with their parents that I am in, and I also know that the people who will say these things are few and far between. In our world, your 'family' is expected to be your bedrock of security. There is now a greater recognition of unconventional families, but it remains unacceptable to be out of kilter with your birth family. I hope that anyone coming across this on the internet will know that they are not the only people who have these experiences and will feel validated.
My wish for all who read this is a willed and ecstatic new year, with adult relationships built on mutual respect and leaving the need to look backwards.