One thing I hate when my parents are around is how I’m relegated to being baby once again. My brother is three years older, and he gets treated as if he were the font of wisdom whereas I’m…well, it’s complicated, and I’ll get to it in a second. One thing that everyone in my family has in common is that we all have Strong Opinions on things and will not let it go. It manifests in different ways with each of us. My father simply refuses to acknowledge points other than his own and hammers his own opinion over and over again. Over the decades, he has perfected the art of the blank look followed by simply repeating what he already said. He does not argue in good faith, and he’s not really looking for other opinions. My mother will acknowledge the other position, but then immediately want to drop the subject if it gets at all uncomfortable. In a way, it’s more frustrating because she’s vent for a half hour; I’ll give my opinion for five minutes; then she wants to change the topic if I don’t simply agree with her.
My brother states his opinions confidently, and while he’s willing to hear other opinions, it’s often hard to face his confidence with equanimity. Even when I know I’m right, I hesitate in the face of his certainty. One example that always stands out in my mind is Daylight Savings Time. For whatever reason, I had looked up whether the farmers were for or against it (I think we talked about it in taiji or something), and then it came up in a conversation with my brother and parents. This was a few summers ago, and I don’t remember the details. I do remember my brother stating the urban myth reason of farmers pushing for DST, which was what I believed before looking it up. Even though I knew he was wrong because I had just looked it up, he said it with no doubt in his voice, and I started thinking I had misremembered what I Googled. I looked it up again on, and I was right. Also, he does not get emotional reasoning at all (or thinks he doesn’t. He does it himself, but rationalizes it as logical), so he can’t understand why someone doesn’t just listen to all the facts he’s presenting and see the reasonableness of his position.
Me, I do one of two things. Either I say nothing at all or I forcefully state my opinion. There is no in-between for me, and I feel bad regardless of which route I choose. Nobody in my family can argue/debate without pushing it to the limits, and it gets really annoying when we’re all together. I’m working on my own issues around this, but it’s slow-going. I have a bad temper, which I try to keep under control. For the most part it works, but when my buttons are pushed, I blurt shit out without thinking about it because I’m pissed. Or at least deeply irritated. I get this from my father, and it’s not pretty. For many years, I just stuffed it down deep inside because I wasn’t allowed to show anger. Only my father was, and, oh, did he show it. Then, I was angry all the time and popping off about everything. I’ve managed to temper the rage somewhat with the help of therapy and taiji, but it’s still something I struggle with on a daily basis.
Being with my parents is like holding up a mirror to all my flaws–and a few of my positive traits as well. From my father, I get the aforementioned anger and, regrettably, the ability to give the silent treatment. I know it’s not healthy, but I differ on the opinion that it’s always a means of control or coming from a powerful place. In my case, I give the silent treatment when I don’t think there’s a way out of the situation. What I mean is that I learned early on that my opinions weren’t worthwhile. I also learned that I was not allowed to show any negative emotions whatsoever. But, I also wasn’t allowed to leave the room if one of my parents was scolding me/yelling at me. Therefore, my only option was to not say anything at all. I got berated for that as well, but it was the least-worst of the bad options.
In addition, there are times when I simply don’t have anything to say, such as when my mom want to rant for the nine millionth time about how my father is inconsiderate because blah-di-blah-di-blah. At this point, there’s nothing I can say that I haven’t said before–that I’ve been saying since I was eleven. I also get irritated because if I chime in, then she switches to defending him. And she doesn’t want to hear about my issues with him unless they are related to hers. So, I’ll spend a half hour saying, ‘uh huh’ at the appropriate intervals until it’s too much for me to even do that. I feel as if a heavy weight is pressing on my head, and the longer my mom jabbers at me, the more lethargic and exhausted I get.
I’m constantly worried about saying the wrong thing, so I often feel it’s better not to say anything at all. I know the look on my face is foreboding when I do this because it goes completely blank. I’m protecting myself, but it reads as walling others out. I see that same look in my father’s face, but I doubt it’s for the same reason. Or rather, I know it’s to protect himself because his ego is so fragile, but it’s not because he thinks he’s wrong. That’s the weird thing about narcissists to me–at least about him. He has both an overweening confidence in himself and an ego that bursts in one touch. It must be exhausting to constantly inhabit both those emotions simultaneously, but it’s even more exhausting dealing with the end result. One of the reasons I like writing is because it’s just me and the paper/keyboard. I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s feelings, but even then, I find myself inhibited from saying certain things.
From my father, I also get my sudden mood swings and the difficulty in keeping my emotional temperature at a reasonable level. There doesn’t seem to be a homeostasis for me, and it’s exhausting. The difference between us is that I’m actually working on myself whereas my father has only gotten worse in some ways in his old age. One funny thing is that he started meowing to tell my mom he was hungry (imitating Shadow, my cat). He only did it a couple times, but it was really strange. I honestly thought he was losing his mind until I realized what he was doing, but I didn’t say anything because with my father, there is a constant evaluation over whether a certain thing is worth bringing up or not. My mom runs herself ragged so she won’t incur his wrath, but I’m not as willing to do that any longer. Why? I’m not exactly sure. It’s partly taiji giving me more confidence, but it’s also because I’m not afraid of him physically any longer. It was three or four years ago when I realized he couldn’t hurt me, and I started speaking up more.
It’s complicated, however, because his way of dealing with my rebellion is to shove my mother in between us more than before. He knows I am more likely to do what she asks, though I’m not sure he understands why, and he’s either consciously or unconsciously triangulating to his advantage. I’m also pissed at my mother for falling for it every time. It’s one thing for my mind to accept she’s in an abusive relationship and that she’s doing what she can to survive it, but I’m collateral damage. In addition, she doesn’t want to leave him. She gets something out of their relationship as she admitted when she said she needed him, too. Whether it’s the ability to feel superior (she’s smarter, has her shit more together, has more EQ, etc.) or her martyr complex or her white knight complex, I don’t know. What I do know is that her example is the main reason I don’t want a romantic relationship.
It’s more complicated than that, obviously. But, watching her grind herself down into a nub for fifty years in the futile desire to make him happy, I have no interest in doing the same myself. My friends have said it doesn’t have to be that way, but I know myself. I know I have those tendencies inside myself. That’s my legacy from my mother, and I have yet to overcome these issues. I give too much to whomever I’m in a relationship with. I don’t think I’m allowed to say no, and I feel as if the world would end if I set a boundary. I’m not the best me when I’m in a relationship, and at this point in my life, it’s not something I want enough to try to change*.
I’m still recovering from the visit, and my sleep is all over the map. I’ll end this post here for now and pick it up later.
*Reading advice columns in which 90% of the relationship drama in heteronormative relationships is the dude isn’t doing enough isn’t helping. I know if I have a relationship, it will most likely be with a guy, and frankly, I do not have the patience for that.