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Grandparents Tease, Mock, and Harass their Grandchild (long)


JNW
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We lived in Hawaii while mother lived in Pa. DD (20) went back for a visit and stopped in to see 'Nana'. Things went south. I wrote:

"Dear Mom, We've had our differences of opinion over the years, but I've always worked hard to treat you with respect, and we both know that the children have ALWAYS been polite and respectful to you. But, this afternoon DD called me, in tears, yet again after a visit with you. This can't continue to happen. My job is to protect my children and DH and I both feel you are dangerous to them. If you can't speak with my children respectfully, than I won't allow you to speak with them at all. DDs (over 18) are old enough to decide for themselves and are certainly free to visit as they like, but until the littlies are older or until you understand that it isn't okay to bully and belittle people, it's best if you contact them with an occasional letter or card. We'll no longer be stopping in to visit."

 

I sent it and haven't heard from her since....It's been 7.5 years. In our case it was a blessing. Sometimes family is toxic. But, it isn't okay to hurt my kids!

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Honestly, what I read about the OP's parents' behavior makes me so angry. What is wrong with people? What sick reward comes from mocking a 6 year old? OP, good for you for taking a stand on this!

 

My IL's are psychologically unhealthy and I have a zero tolerance policy for their crazy bs. Thankfully they live across the country. If I were in the OP's shoes, I would be all over them IMMEDIATELY, directly, and succinctly. TREAT US KINDLY OR WE WILL LEAVE. You would not tolerate such behavior towards your child from other people in her life - can you imagine if a teacher, Scout leader, or friend teased and mocked like that? HECK NO. It's a million times worse if it's a family member. NO NO NO. There will be NO teaching a 6 year old to tolerate that from people who purportedly love and treasure her. NO. Thank God she is already healthy enough to know she doesn't want to spend time with them alone. OP, You are doing a good job with this.

 

:grouphug: :grouphug:

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OK, not trying to NOT let the thread die, because I know I said "In Conclusion," lol, but...

 

I will not let my daughter take the brunt of the decision to not let her stay with them this summer. I will take it. I will just tell my mom it's not a good idea and if she presses I might tell her that I won't allow my daughter to be treated a certain way by them and that I prefer to supervise the visits, and that perhaps in the future if we see some changes, we might be open to it. I am not interested in arguing with them!

 

The "tough it out method," depending on the severity of the treatment, is damaging because it tells a person it's OK for someone to treat you badly, which in turn makes you feel like a worthless loser whose thoughts and feelings don't count. (pointing to myself) However, I'm not in favor of creating a hypersensitive cry baby, just a strong, assertive girl that knows when something doesn't feel right and handles it correctly.

 

This is trite, but this is a small example of how I believe adults sometimes think their wishes are supreme to those of children. They tried to make her eat the skin on her baked potato because no one felt like peeling it off for her. And maybe I was being extra babying toward her because of how they were disregarding her dislikes, but I said, "I'll take the peel off for you. We all have things we don't like to eat." Eh hem, Mom and Dad. We do make her eat vegetables every lunch and dinner, but I try to have compassion at the same time when it's something minor like baked potato skin. I'm sure it provides roughage and other beneficial stuff, but seriously...

 

You are awesome.

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I would teach my child "just ignore them, they have an odd sense of humor." But that's just me. If I really couldn't stand it, I'd tell the grandparents of some really bad effect such as persistent horrible nightmares or saying negative things about herself. I'd also keep the visits short until either they stop it or your child grows a thicker skin. But I would not send that email. It seems very likely to damage the relationship with your parents.

 

 

6-year-olds don't have the ability to ignore an adult who is harassing them. Nor should they have to.

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It is amazing how we can gloss over bad behavior simply because they are "faaaaamilyyyy."

 

It is a shock to my system to have to teach my parents how to treat us. But I'm learning, slowly slowly slowly.

 

Honestly, I was not trying to use my daughter as a buffer in telling my mom that she didn't want to visit them. She doesn't want to go. However, in order to protect my daughter, I will gladly make it about my wishes.

 

Maybe my parents will start to wonder what's up when they realize she spent three weeks with her other grandparents a couple of months ago, and she'll be spending at least another week with them this summer.

 

First, I think it's great that you are able to break away from these family habits! I have some relatives whose 'culture' from their own youth, is still right there with them; they are completely blind to it. In addition there were other complicating factors. We do live overseas which made it easier, but my children have never had a visit alone with certain relatives. I would have let them when they're in their later teens, around 15 +, or when they have a really solid sense of themselves, their boundaries, etc., but it didn't come up any more due to other factors.

 

It was so hard for me to deal with them when I was a young mother, so I can completely sympathize.

 

Second, I thought it was a good sign that your relatives had changed for the next visit, but with people like this, they could easily revert back if they are alone with your dd, so I wouldn't plan on having her be alone with them for years to come. It would take such a character shift and self-knowledge growth to let me even think of it.

 

There's a book that might really help you with saying "No" called The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship - and Still Say No by Ury (I wish I would have read it years ago when dealing with this problem) . There's something about the author's way of affirming a person's decisions and thoughts that for me - who is very susceptible to pressure - it was extremely freeing and strengthening.

 

You're right about 'growing'....there are lots of things to learn in these types of situations....

 

Joan

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Joan- I agree with everything you have said, and I will check out the book.

 

Family of Origin Work can be such a wonderful thing, and yet realizing that my FOO doesn't understand their FOO issues is troubling. :( All I can do is accept them and love them where they are, realizing that I have not "arrived" and we are each on a different path in life. But I finally do recognize the importance of boundaries.

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You are processing this in a healthy way, and it is really great that you can recognize what is and is not wrong.

 

Do not tell your parents that your dd does not want to go. This will set your daughter up to be the bad guy, the "princess," and to be viewed and spoken to even more unkindly. It will open the door to arguments between you and your parents about what your dd said or thought or didn't. It will open the door for your parents to treat your dd badly.

 

You can either be too goshdarned busy for a visit, or vague, "It's not going to work out this summer." Or you can choose to be the "bad guy" yourself, saying, "I have noticed you treat dd poorly and it is not good for her to live with that for a week." Honestly, though, I'd go with vague and busy and just deflect the question indefinitely.

 

One further thought--it is concerning that your dd is noticeably stressed about them. It is quite likely due to their verbal bullying, but it makes me wonder if there are other reasons for your dd's stress. For now, just don't leave her alone with people whom you know treat her so disrespectfully.

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"One further thought--it is concerning that your dd is noticeably stressed about them. It is quite likely due to their verbal bullying, but it makes me wonder if there are other reasons for your dd's stress."

 

Reasons such as...?

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I think it would be awesome if you could draw the line in the sand about their behavior in front of your daughter using some of the methods these other ladies have mentioned. What a powerful example for her to see mom taking a stand to protect her!

 

I think it would be great to draw the line in front of your daughter - you are on her side and she needs to know it!

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I may be dense but here goes... I was very direct in telling them not to tease her with my daughter present during the last visit a few months ago, and with my mom on the phone previous to that. They didn't tease per se during this visit, but they imitated her crying and laughed at her when she cried two or three times. I guess that counts as teasing?

 

Yes, it is teasing.

 

Maybe they are trying to control her behavior?

 

It doesn't matter why they are doing it.

 

Anyway, do I pack up and go if they imitate her crying, or laugh at her, or tease, or harass?

Yes.

Anything counts at this point since I already told both of them not to? Is that fair? Thanks!

Yes.

 

Tell your daughter ahead of time that this is what you will be doing so that she is clear that it is not her fault that you are leaving.

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When mocking a child's cry.... "You know that is really not helpful at all, in fact it is over the line. Please stop immediately." Any other form of teasing or taunting that crosses the line. "I am sorry, in our family we do not have fun by making other people unhappy. That is bullying. Stop right now or we will be leaving."

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"One further thought--it is concerning that your dd is noticeably stressed about them. It is quite likely due to their verbal bullying, but it makes me wonder if there are other reasons for your dd's stress."

 

Reasons such as...?

 

 

 

Anyone, especially a child, will react to bullying or critical behavior with stress behaviors. Those stress behaviors will vary between individuals. What causes the child to be unhappy could well be a "simple" matter of the way a person speaks to them. In that sense, it is absolutely plausible that your daughter's stressed response to her grandparents is due to the fact that they are critical and mean.

 

However, my years of working with abused and neglected children through both foster care and through years of service in the inner city means that when I see a child responding to an adult with those stress behaviors, a part of me wonders if that adult has been abusive towards that child, perhaps secretly.

 

You haven't disclosed enough in your posts for me to make any guesses on further possibilities, so I will repeat that it is completely believable that your daughter could be reacting solely to the mean behavior/words you have described. I do not want to make you paranoid about your parents, truly. I simply suggest that you continue to follow your good, protective instincts as a mother. You have seen that these people cannot be trusted to guard your daughter's heart appropriately, and you have seen that your daughter is fearful of them. Simply respond to her cues and limit that relationship as has already been discussed in this thread.

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Some very good advice has been posted (TibbieDunbar and HarrietVane, especially) (others, too, although theirs I took time to read more thoroughly).

 

I do not think the original letter is too long. It is eloquent and carefully written. OP can know that she did her best to communicate clearly.

 

I surmise, however, that OP may have suffered the same kind of abuse from her parents, or from other people, when she was a child, which makes her quick to notice occurrences of abuse toward her daughter. I applaud her for dealing directly with an ongoing problem and for wanting to spare her child pain similar to what she, herself, may have survived.

 

Sadly, I suspect that nothing is going to reform these grandparents. Minimizing, or even terminating, the relationship would be a heavy-duty decision with repercussions that might last forever. Think and act carefully, and gather guidance from people who know you IRL and whom you can trust to look at the "big picture" and advise you with wisdom.

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This is what I would do:

I would not let your DD alone with these relatives.

 

I would come up with a simple phrase and practice it if needed. "come on, stop it" or "That's not appropriate." or "quit that, right now". If they argue, then you repeat but do not explain. If they argue, leave the area. The key is not to get into a discussion.

 

Grandparents should be about the fun things whether it is baking cookies or going to the amusement park, if they are not about fun.... Kids get along surprising well without grandparents, especially grandparents that are not nice.

 

You have to project the confidence that you are the mother and what you say goes. No arguments. If that means you want to peel your child's potato, then the absolutely best thing in the world is for you to peel your child's potato and they should not even be questioning you about it. A good grandparent if they were really concerned about something might have a quiet word with a parent, but quibbling over small things is more about asserting their authority over you. Trying to undermine you or assert their authority over you, you need to nip that in the bud.

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Thank you all!!! Truly!

 

What I'm realizing is that this is about more than my daughter... it's about me. I'm finally seeing their behavior for what it is and coming to terms with it. I guess I feel like they need to see their behavior for what it is too. However, I will not be the one to enlighten them.

 

This all came up because they were just visiting over the week-end. We live a good distance away. We discussed my daughter staying with them for a week over the summer. My daughter told me she doesn't want to. If my mom brings it up I will tell her plainly, "She doesn't want to because she doesn't like it when you don't treat her nicely."

I wouldn't. I would simply say, "I'm not comfortable w/that." and when pressed, you can either repeat it, or explain that given the teasing and bullying they do, you do not want your child there for an extended period.

Don't blame the child for not wanting to, b/c that's playing off your responsibility as a parent.

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In my experience, the type of people who would mock, tease or harass another individual, let alone a grandchild, is not the type of person who would take an email like that seriously. I think the only way to protect your child is to tell your parents that their behavior is not acceptable and that you are leaving. No big scene, but act on your convictions. If you believe that your children should not have to experience this type of behavior (and they shouldn't) then you stop putting them in situations where they would have to endure such a thing.

 

Be prepared for things to escalate as this type of person will try to bully you back into behaving meekly for them. But standing your ground, not engaging, but simply living your convictions is the only way to get peace.

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I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with this approach. This is passive aggressive toward the grandparents and a poor example for the child, because the grandparents are still in the position of being too powerful to address about their behavior.

 

 

No need to apologize, lol. But, I don't think this is passive aggressive. I think it is clear and, if anything, aggressive aggressive.

 

This approach helps a small child name the unacceptable behavior and gives her the words to deal with it. It is a simple fact that many people are unable to identify unacceptable behaviors. I spend a lot of time naming behaviors and describing ways to deal with them. I.e., I tell the child the name of the bad behavior ("imitating crying"), say why it is bad ("is mean" or "makes you feel bad") and provide healthy solution ("leave"). I also help the child understand the reason for the behavior (this can vary a lot depending on the circumstance, but often is along the lines of "they must not understand that it's mean" or "noone taught him better" or "maybe he's having a very bad day" or, if it is a really nasty thing, "they might really be mentally ill" or even "he is just an a$$hole" -- although that one is reserved for real nasty a$$es and never in someone's hearing, lol).

 

I don't worry much about the bad actor's reaction, as I doubt I can influence them. In MY life, I use this technique generally around strangers (bad kids in the park, nasty people in line at the grocery, road rage freaks, etc), and so I generally avoid the strangers hearing me just to avoid the random chance of physical violence due to truly nutso' people. But, if I were dealing with "family" with whom I didn't fear physical violence AND I had some hope of influencing behavior, I would have zero qualms about saying that in front of them. The only times I've done this kind of thing in folks' hearing has generally been with my OWN badly behaving kids -- i.e., protecting one from another. Really, this is just a teaching moment. NAMING behavior can be very powerful IME.

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The potato peeling thing has me confused again. If you're feeding your child, you prep the food the way you like. If it's the grandparents feeding the child, then absent physical food issues, the grandparents should serve what/how they went to serve. I don't view grandparents as being subservient to parents. They are "other" important caregivers who have their own way of doing things. Experiencing some variety in lifestyles is good for a kid. I can't imagine telling my mom or dad what they are "allowed" to serve my kids or how they should present it on their plate. It certainly isn't bullying if a grandparent serves food the way s/he is used to serving it. And furthermore, it isn't some sort of evil that a grandparent was not inclined to peel a baked potato. (Frankly I've never heard of peeling a baked potato.) Unless the child is on the verge of starving, there's no need to fret over serving everything in accordance with her little whims. If you as her mom feel the potato needs peeled, peel it, but don't get angry because nobody else peeled it. Now if the grandparents went way negative on the kid for wanting it peeled, that might bug me. But honestly, I teach my kids that it's rude to complain about food that someone worked hard to provide. I do have some picky eaters, but I expect them to be considerate of the cook's feelings. If that's your idea of putting adults above kids, we'll have to agree to disagree.

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And why can a 6 year old not peel her own potato if she is really set on not eating the peel?

 

But that is beside the point because it really does sound like you need to set some boundaries. But on the other hand, if all the incidents are similar to the potato one, maybe you are overreacting a bit? The potato thing as the only concrete example did make me doubt how horrible the grandparents are just a little bit.

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:grouphug: It looks like you have put a lot of thought and a good bit of your heart into this. And I congratulate you for supporting your daughter in this.

But.... it's way too long. I would shorten it to "Hey, stop teasing my kid. You made her cry." Or better yet, tell them in person to knock it off.

 

I agree... It also can come across as condescending towards your parents, and they would probably just shut down. :grouphug: to you though - this has got to be very hard.

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At preschool here they teach the children to hold up one hand palm out and say firmly and loudly "stop I don't like that". I can't see it working against a determined bully but if she said that to her grandparent and you followed it up with leaving if they tried to belittle her statement or continue the action/teasing help?

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I wouldn't. I would simply say, "I'm not comfortable w/that." and when pressed, you can either repeat it, or explain that given the teasing and bullying they do, you do not want your child there for an extended period.

Don't blame the child for not wanting to, b/c that's playing off your responsibility as a parent.

 

In a more recent post, I said that after giving it more thought, I decided not to say anything about my daughter not wanting to go and that I would take the heat, not my daughter.

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For those who are quick to criticize, I would like to reiterate that I am waking up to things that I have accepted as normal and that I'm doing the best I can to deal with this situation going forward. I recognize that I have not always handled things correctly. When all you've ever known is teasing and humiliation, it is hard to separate what's healthy and what's not. I know that is foreign to many people but that has been my reality.

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When you say things like "quick to criticize," it suggests you come in assuming that everyone who doesn't agree with you is against you. Taking actions that can end a family relationship is a serious and often regrettable matter. Nobody wants to advise you to react strongly without being sure such action is merited from an objective viewpoint.

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For those who are quick to criticize, I would like to reiterate that I am waking up to things that I have accepted as normal and that I'm doing the best I can to deal with this situation going forward. I recognize that I have not always handled things correctly. When all you've ever known is teasing and humiliation, it is hard to separate what's healthy and what's not. I know that is foreign to many people but that has been my reality.

 

if people haven't come from an emotionally and mentally abusive home where the primary adult thinks they are the center of the universe and even small children are seen as an extension of themselves to do whatever they say, they really have no clue. I remember after I married, and realizing just how "different" some of the things we had to do with my grandmother were. . . . .just, wow. I put up boundaries. (I made no 'statements' I was not going to do what she said, I simply chose my own actions.) I was never forgiven by her for not allowing her to control me. (eta: I NEVER regretted any boundaries. 20 years after she died, I have no regrets.) I've since learned my grandmother most likely had a personality disorder.
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When all you've ever known is teasing and humiliation, it is hard to separate what's healthy and what's not. I know that is foreign to many people but that has been my reality.

 

 

This is so true an insight. The same words could be posted by a man or woman who successfully has escaped from an abusive marriage. That which always was assumed to be "normal" turns out to be anything but [normal].

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if people haven't come from an emotionally and mentally abusive home where the primary adult thinks they are the center of the universe and even small children are seen as an extension of themselves to do whatever they say, they really have no clue. I remember after I married, and realizing just how "different" some of the things we had to do with my grandmother were. . . . .just, wow. I put up boundaries. (I made no 'statements' I was not going to do what she said, I simply chose my own actions.) I've since learned my grandmother most likely had a personality disorder. I was never forgiven by her for not allowing her to control me. (eta: I NEVER regretted any boundaries. 20 years after she died, I have no regrets.)

 

I've had the same awakenings. My hubby has mentioned before about cowed my brothers and I were around a certain family member. It wasn't until 2 years ago that I really realized how awful some of the things that happened in my family were. I looked at my own daughters and just felt so sad for the child that I used to be.

 

But I was 31 before I ever processed that , "yes, that was abusive." Before I just accepted it.

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learniandgrow,

 

I grew up with a lot of dysfunction and abuse, and I know that people who grew up in normal families don't always get it, specially true if the majority of abuse was not physical but emotional/verbal. We can't show the scars they left on our souls/minds. I realized as an adult, that my ability to judge when I was being treated badly was broken. I've struggled with this on and on as a mother, dealing with my parents and I decided that I don't want my kids to grow up with broken cr*p meters - so I've taught them not to take bad treatment from anyone and that we can be polite but still walk away and back out of relationships if we need to . People who bully, are mean, make you cry, blame you for stuff and just mess with your ability to see the world....gone.

 

praying for you as you learn how to deal with this, I know that the extra-extra guilt loaded on top because they are your parents- is a heavy weight and it is hard to actually act. I decided to not accept the guilt - the ball is totally in their court; act kindly/ nicely and don't be mean or you won't see us much. - I didn't even bother to explain, I just started cutting down our exposure and didn't leave my kids with them unsupervised anymore. I think they might be figuring it out, they are much nicer these days.

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learniandgrow,

 

I grew up with a lot of dysfunction and abuse, and I know that people who grew up in normal families don't always get it, specially true if the majority of abuse was not physical but emotional/verbal. We can't show the scars they left on our souls/minds. I realized as an adult, that my ability to judge when I was being treated badly was broken. I've struggled with this on and on as a mother, dealing with my parents and I decided that I don't want my kids to grow up with broken cr*p meters - so I've taught them not to take bad treatment from anyone and that we can be polite but still walk away and back out of relationships if we need to . People who bully, are mean, make you cry, blame you for stuff and just mess with your ability to see the world....gone.

 

praying for you as you learn how to deal with this, I know that the extra-extra guilt loaded on top because they are your parents- is a heavy weight and it is hard to actually act. I decided to not accept the guilt - the ball is totally in their court; act kindly/ nicely and don't be mean or you won't see us much. - I didn't even bother to explain, I just started cutting down our exposure and didn't leave my kids with them unsupervised anymore. I think they might be figuring it out, they are much nicer these days.

 

 

Thank you for understanding. The fact that they are my parents does make it extremely delicate, and it's not just a matter of "putting on my big girl panties," and "why has it taken you this long to act?" My parents have bad behavior at times and they just don't get it.

 

One of my therapists told me that sometimes emotional/verbal abuse and neglect can be harder to identify and deal with because of the fact that it is done covertly and it is that family norm, and there is nothing tangible to point to as is the case with physical abuse. So thank you for understanding that. I honestly did not know that my family of origin was dysfunctional until fairly recently. Fortunately we can break out of cycles that have been repeated for generations with awareness and hard work.

 

I keep changing my mind on this as I work through it.

 

I think I will go the route of limiting contact, supervising all visits, and not creating a huge, messy conflict. This will be very odd because we have lived across the country from them for several years, and now that we are within a day's drive we won't be seeing them that much. I will have to work through the guilt as you have touched on, but it's a small price to pay for peace of mind and my daughter's protection. Thanks again!

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I think most posters understand the difference between a dietary preference and an attempt to usurp parental authority by grandparents. If some want to allow the grandparents to be co-decision makers, then so be it. But IMO, once you as the parent have chosen what to do with or for your child, that should be the end of the discussion. I also wouldn't take too seriously any criticism or advice from parents whose own parenting style I would never want to emulate. KWIM?

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for those who are interested in learning about some of the reality of emotional psychological abuse, here are some links for daughters of narcissistic mothers (but it applies to other sources of emotional abuse as well.) that can prove enlightening. one thing those who haven't dealt with this don't understand, is *we* are trained to think *we* are crazy if we dare to step back and think, something isn't right. Just doing that much, can trigger panic attacks. the first link has more practical information, but the second link does a better job describing the subtleties of the mind games. It is very subtle because above all - those on the outside must not see anything is amiss. The movie 'gaslight' with Ingrid bergman does a great job of showing this in action.

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Yes! I have heard it called "crazy-making." The minute I started saying, "Something isn't right" is the minute all of my problems escalated to new heights! I'm still learning and growing but more aware than I have ever been, and I thank God for that.

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for those who are interested in learning about some of the reality of emotional psychological abuse, here are some links for daughtersof narcissistic mothers(but it applies to other sources of emotional abuse as well.) that can prove enlightening. one thing those who haven't dealt with this don't understand, is *we* are trained to think *we* are crazy if we dare to step back and think, something isn't right. Just doing that much, can trigger panic attacks. the first link has more practical information, but the second link does a better job describing the subtleties of the mind games. It is very subtle because above all - those on the outside must not see anything is amiss. The movie 'gaslight' with Ingrid bergman does a great job of showing this in action.

 

 

exactly this. We deal with a cascade of events triggered by dealing with a dysfunctional family: of first, being taught to quickly do whatever it takes to make the parent happy and un-mad at us..this is so ingrained in me to jump to and fix *it* somehow so parent will be happy with me again and so there will be no drama (no yelling, screaming, stomping out) next- I have been trained all my life that I am probably bad because it is my fault...I am not being a good girl and third, I have grown up stuffing my emotions and not crying in front of anyone- if I don't cry or address the problems, they are not really there or tangible and fourth- I have been conditioned to take cr*p treatment and then thank the parent.

 

it is really, really hard to stop the pattern and stand up to a parent. We feel guilty, un-lovable, un-christian, mean. It is really hard that most people seem to think we should forgive, forgive, forgive and be a doormat forever because they are *family. And sadly, we put ourselves into that category by judging ourselves and telling ourselves that maybe it is not *that bad...

 

I do get it OP and I know it is hard. Stand up for your kids though, I stood up and decided that it stops here, I had no choice but to take it, but my kids are not going to be mistreated on my watch.

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For those who are quick to criticize, I would like to reiterate that I am waking up to things that I have accepted as normal and that I'm doing the best I can to deal with this situation going forward. I recognize that I have not always handled things correctly. When all you've ever known is teasing and humiliation, it is hard to separate what's healthy and what's not. I know that is foreign to many people but that has been my reality.

 

 

I m so glad you are seeing things more clearly now. That is a great breakthrough! Honestly, I would simply not subject my child or myself to these people. I would make a clean break. They sound very unhealthy for children.

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For those who are quick to criticize, I would like to reiterate that I am waking up to things that I have accepted as normal and that I'm doing the best I can to deal with this situation going forward. I recognize that I have not always handled things correctly. When all you've ever known is teasing and humiliation, it is hard to separate what's healthy and what's not. I know that is foreign to many people but that has been my reality.

 

 

 

I totally get that. :grouphug: I didn't see your posts before you edited them, but I would just cut off contact. It's hard because some people think you should put up with crap because "they're family." Just remember, you are your daughter's defender. Strictly view this as doing what's best for her.

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