In 1977, when I was 6 months sober, my Marine husband received orders for us to be deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was especially a great move for me because I stayed there after my husband was deployed to Okinawa. We were separated legally when he left and I was able because of the remote location to take a huge time-out (five years) from my immediate family.
Other authors’ views about distancing from families:
“Is it okay to distance myself from a family member who continues to treat me with sarcasm and rudeness?”
– what’s on my mind today, are the sufferings we endure, when our fear precludes our setting boundaries around unacceptable behavior. I accepted many years of abuse – physical, emotional, verbal – because my self-image was so damaged that I didn’t believe I had the right to say, “No more!”
When I was a kid, whatever happened behind the closed doors of a family home was the inhabitant’s business, and no-one would interfere, as long as it didn’t become blatant.
Things are somewhat different now, at least with the justice system in this country. If I were to call the police because the neighbor was screaming abuse at his wife and kids, they’d come out and talk to him, give him both a warning as to his behavior, and options for seeking treatment for anger management.
But how many of us convince ourselves, that we have no choice but to accept unacceptable behavior, for one reason or another? I know I struggled for years with feelings of hurt and distress, with “jokes” which were nothing of the sort, they were thinly-veiled insults. If I protested, I’d be asked, “Can’t you take a joke?” or be told, “I was only kidding.”
It wasn’t until I decided that I was going to challenge each and every one of these “not-jokes,” that they diminished in frequency. As long as I tolerated them, the alcoholic used them as a way to take digs at me, without having to take responsibility for what he was doing.
I have to decide what I will, and will not, accept from another person. If I allow myself to be treated abusively, it’s likely the person abusing me is going to continue with that behavior, because it works for them.
I can lean on the support, experience, strength and hope of my friends in Al-Anon, as I set new boundaries. If I quietly and calmly state that I will be treated with respect, or I will remove myself – from the room, the house, or the relationship – I’m letting this person know that things have changed, and it’s not going to be the way it has been. When I act with calm dignity, it’s because I’ve had an internal change, and this is how it’s manifesting itself – in a desire to be treated with the respect that I deserve.
We all have to decide for ourselves how we are going to deal with family – I don’t give specific advice, but I do suggest that you talk to other people in Al-Anon, and find out how they’ve dealt with this problem in their lives. We get tunnel vision; another viewpoint can be helpful.
“Jennifer McNeely, 39, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, grew up in what appeared to be a well-adjusted family. Her dad worked hard to support the family while her mom stayed home to care for her and her older brother. But throughout McNeely’s childhood, her mother was extremely verbally abusive.
“She repeatedly told me I was a ‘problem’ and that I had mental issues,” McNeely says. Instead of supporting her daughter’s educational and career ambitions over the years, McNeely’s mother told her she’d become overweight and unsuccessful. “She jabbed me with hurtful comments whenever she could.”
The pattern took a toll, and like others who’ve endured long-term verbal hits, McNeely internalized her mother’s criticisms as truths, which made it difficult for her to develop confidence. Even after she moved from her parents’ home, the aftershock of her mother’s words lingered, affecting McNeely’s ability to thrive in her career as a Pilates instructor.
Her struggle makes sense. Even after young adults physically leave their childhood homes, the psychological scars of abuse linger. In fact, research shows that child maltreatment can alter brain development, fracture one’s ability to form trusting relationships, and cause post-traumatic stress disorder, the same psychological condition that affects war veterans.”
Let’s say you tell your parents that their demands are getting on your nerves because no matter how much you do, it never seems to be enough for them, and that that they seem to ignore the fact that you have other things to do and cannot just drop everything at a moment’s notice to do things for them. Say they respond by telling that you are grossly exaggerating how much they ask of you, and that you ought to be happy to take the time to help them out. They add that you are being ungrateful. Just think of all the sacrifices they had to make for you when you were growing up!
How not to respond:
- A) Argue with them about the frequency or reasonableness of their requests, or how much they sacrificed for you as a child.
- B) Attack them and tell them they are insensitive, overly-critical clods.
- C) Defend yourself by pointing out that your life is busy and of course you cannot always just drop everything to come over and do something for them.
- D) Explain in detail your feelings and go on and on about how those feelings are justified.
E). Scold them or lecture them about etiquette and the proper relationship between adult children and their parents.
The basic form of the recommended response:
“Well, maybe so, Dad, but I am finding this situation to be a big problem. Do you think you could help me out by checking with me first about when it would be convenient for me to come over to help you?”
This sort of response is basically a refusal to argue about the merits of your personality characteristics, but trying instead to make a relationship better. In doing this, you are neither agreeing nor disagreeing with their characterization of you. It might be accurate, partially accurate, or complete wrong. Who’s to say, really? That isn’t the point. The point is how you are reacting to them when they do something, not whether your reactions are justified or not. They should want to know that so that everyone can, to quote Rodney King, just get along.
Surely they’d prefer a pleasant relationships to an unpleasant one. I know that it often looks as if this is not the case, but nonetheless, I advise that you give them the benefit of the doubt.
4. A longer and more detailed post: 5 Reasons Why Adult Children Estrange From Their Parents.