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Feelings are the true F-word.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Family Frauds

Posted by fxckfeelings on February 4, 2010

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If someone’s related to you, there’s no guarantee they’re going to be honest with you, or even honest about you to anyone else. You can try to get them to own up to their problems with anger, eloquence, and/or the help of the court system, but the smarter choice is to stop pushing them towards the truth and hold onto the facts yourself. As long as you’re calm and factual, people can draw whatever conclusions they want and your relatives can stick to their version, but your part in the family affair is settled.
Dr. Lastname

I’m fine now (I’m 14), but I’m trying to figure out how to deal with a crazy father who physically abused me until a couple of years ago—that’s when my mother finally figured out what was happening and had me come live with her. The trouble is, I guess you could say my father doesn’t see reality the way other people do and he never remembers hitting me. In his mind, when he’d hit me, it was because I was trying to destroy him, so what he tells the judge is that he loves me and that my mother is a raging alcoholic who has brainwashed me to hate him (my mother stopped drinking after the divorce, years ago) and he really believes what he says. My goal is to get him to stay away from me and convince others that his version of reality isn’t real.

Kids aren’t the only ones who have trouble accepting the fact that we often can’t protect ourselves from scary crazy boogeymen, particularly when the craziness isn’t obvious, and the boogeymen are family.

We’ve said it here before: certain crazy people are not obviously crazy and are particularly good at persuading other people to see them as injured victims because they truly, truly believe they are, no matter what really happened. It’s a kind of sickness for which no one has the cure, and nobody feels sicker than the victims in the wake of these sickos, who don’t necessarily feel sick at all.

So cops, judges and social workers often can’t figure out who is telling the truth for a long time. Meanwhile, they often make mistakes and put restrictions on kids and families that hurt everyone and cost more money than the family can afford. It’s a sad fact of life, but they’re trying to do the right thing.

The system usually works to try and protect the weakest party, and when you’re aggressive, even if you’re just aggressively trying to get people to see the truth, you make sickos look that much more weak and innocent. It’s unfair, but pushing hard to express the truth will often push it underground.

So Dr. Lastname’s advice for kids is the same as for adults: don’t think that expressing your emotions sincerely and eloquently will solve the problem. If your father is sincere and has a good lawyer, he’ll persuade the judge that you have, possibly, been brainwashed by your mom, and they’ll treat you like a poor, emotional kid who deserves pity but doesn’t really know his own mind. Then everyone will spend lots of time visiting shrinks. Thanks for the business, but no thanks for the bullshit.

First things first, give up on the goal of convincing others, and try instead to make positive sense of this experience and prepare a statement that you could, if necessary, read to your father.

The less anger and fear you put in your statement, the more it will help others get at the truth. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have negative feelings—of course, they are what they are—but the goal of your statement is to keep out the negative feelings without in any way holding back on the facts of what really happened.

You might not make his sickness go away or get people to see the truth, but being clear, honest, and emotionless is the best protection against the boogeyman.

Here’s an example. “I think it’s a bad idea for us to spend time together. I know you care about me and want to see me, but I think you forget about the bad things that happen when you get upset and lose your temper. You forget about (put in details, including bruises and dates). I don’t want to hurt you and I want you to be happy but I don’t think we should spend time together until I’m old enough to protect myself from your temper. Sincerely.

I’d like to get help for my wife’s younger sister because she drives the family crazy. Simply put, she’s a lying drug-addict, and my wife’s parents are always trying to help her in a way that ruins things for the rest of us—they give her money, pressure my wife and me to accept her at family events, and then make us feel guilty if we don’t want to see her. She’s totally poisonous as she is, but I know she can’t help herself, and I’d like to get her real help, not just hand-outs and pretending everything’s OK, so we don’t have to continue like this.

Your goal is just as bad as your wife’s parents’ goal, because you’re both assuming that your sister-in-law can be helped when all the evidence points the other way. They’re throwing their money away at her directly, you’d be throwing your money away at “real help” she isn’t ready for. It’s a lose/lose.

Really, everyone wishes your sister-in-law could be helped, but proceeding on that assumption when it’s not true is a good way to make things worse, and that’s exactly what you’re complaining about.

The sad fact is, treatment is often hopeless. You know that’s true for lots of medical problems, from cancer to Crohn’s disease, so why not accept the fact that it’s equally true for everything else.

Instead, stick with the realistic hope that she’ll change someday, and that you (and others) will have an opportunity to help. It might happen, but it’s not something that you can make happen or are responsible for.

In the meantime, don’t blame her, because there’s a good chance she has as little control over the problem as you do, even though it’s her body and her problem. Blame life, it sucks more reliably than anyone or anything else.

Now that you’ve listened to me and given up on your goal of getting help for your sister-in-law, realistic thinking suggests some positive things for you to do. Since you’re not responsible for saving your sister-in-law or protecting your parents-in-law, you can bow out of family events you don’t really want to go to.

Ignore feelings of guilt or responsibility. You’d help if you could, but you can’t, and there are other important priorities, like going on with your life and enjoying time with those you love.

Prepare a statement that responds to the most guilt-provoking accusations you can imagine. “I’m concerned about my sister-in-law and take full responsibility for helping her whenever possible. One thing I’ve learned, though, from watching her parents do a wonderful job of trying to help her is that, for the time being, it’s just not possible. When it’s not possible, we do more good by distancing ourselves from her problems so as to limit their harm and provide her with more incentive to change. Distancing ourselves from her problems does not mean distancing ourselves from her. The better we protect ourselves, the more welcoming we will be if and when she begins recovery.”

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