Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: family dysfunction

Point the finger back at me

There is a theory in psychology that something about another person that really bugs you is because you’re projecting, and it’s something you do yourself. It’s a simplified theory, of course, and it’s only one of the reasons, but I’ve found it to be true. The other night when I was pointing out to my mother that she wasn’t the savior of the world and that the world wouldn’t end if she wasn’t the one to help whomever it was in crisis at that particular moment. She came back with reasons why she HAD to do it, and I shut my mouth, even though I was fuming inside.

Of course, you can see where I’m going with this. I am the same way myself, especially with her, and while I can advocate setting boundaries all I want–I can’t do the same with her. In my last post, I talked about the period of our relationship when I held her at a firm arm’s length away. It was because I couldn’t set reasonable boundaries, so I just threw up walls. It’s actually the earliest stage of setting boundaries, and I thought I had moved past it by cautiously lowering the boundaries until they were appropriate.

I was fucking wrong. One and a half weeks to go, and I feel beat down. I’m so worn, and it’s because I can’t enforce reasonable boundaries with either of my parents. With my father, it’s because he’s a petty tyrant. If you don’t do what he wants when he wants it in the way he wants it, he either throws a major tantrum or he gives the silent treatment (which is where I get it from. Though I don’t go to the extremes he does, my immediate reaction is to shut down or lash out, the latter if I feel cornered). The latter can go on for hours, and he’s like my cat in that he makes it pointedly obvious that he is ignoring you. Unlike Shadow, however, my father is neither adorable nor lovable when he does it.

I have learned to choose my battles with him and only stand firm on the important things. One was the thermostat thing. I was not budging on it, no matter how pissed off he got or how ‘hurt’ my mother got. But, with other stuff, I just give him as minimal information as possible. Like today, for example. He wanted to get into his gmail account. He was trying to type in the password, and he asked me how to put a space. I told him that passwords usually don’t have spaces. When he asked me again, I told him to press the space bar. In my head, I added, “Like you do on a fucking computer”, but I refrained.


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Fool me a hundred times

My heart is heavy, and I’m grieving the loss of a relationship I never had. Or rather, two relationships. Or one relationship with two people. My parents. My relationship with my father has ranged from nonexistent to frosty to cordially distant. Right now, I would classify it as parent-child–with me being the parent. His faculties have diminished to what I suspect is early onset dementia, but it’s hard to say because he refuses most testing in that area. Funny because he’s a hypochondriac who goes to the doctor at a moment’s notice, but like most hypochondriacs, if there is a potential serious issue, then he refuses to go. And if it’s something that has a negative connotation about his brain, well, forget about even mentioning it.

To be fair, my mother told me that Alzheimer’s is looked upon as a personal failing and weakness in Taiwan, so I can understand not wanting to open yourself up to that. I suggested he get tested here, but his English is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and it wouldn’t be fair to use a test he took in English as a barometer. On the other hand, the longer he goes without treating it, the worse it’s going to get.

Do you notice how I immediately started talking about my father? I meant to talk about my mother as a starter, but my father is such the focal point of the family, it’s hard to avoid, even here. Why am I grieving my relationship with my mother? Sit back with your favorite cup of tea because this is going to take some explaining.

If you asked my mother, she would say we are really close. She made me her confidante when I was eleven, pouring out all her woes about my father and her marriage into my very unwilling ears. She would cry about how he treated her (very badly), and I would listen until I couldn’t take it any longer before telling her she should divorce him. Then, she would shift to how he wasn’t that bad. I would feel like a dupe, and I would vow never to say anything again. She also told me how depressed she was and how much she hated her life. Not in those exact terms, but that was what she meant.


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Family dysfunction in real time

My self-esteem, which is never really great, takes a beating when I’m around my family. My brother was over yesterday, and I could feel myself regressing more and more the longer he was there. I love my brother. We get along well these days. But. He’s still my older brother, and there’s a firm pecking order that we cannot escape.

Ian once commented that my mother listens to my brother when she doesn’t listen to me. It was validating because I had known it on some level, but was never able to articulate it. I’ve always felt it, but I never allowed it to come to the surface until Ian flat-out said it. Later on, though, I realized it was a bit more complicated than that. My mom is a questioner as I am. She also suffers high anxiety as I do. I’ve joked that her constant chatter is like the voice in my brain. It’s gotten worse in the past few years (for her), and I think it’s because my father retired so he’s around their house much more. He’s a petty tyrant with wildly variant moods (I come by it proudly), and she’s catered to him for fifty years.

Anyway, she always needs a second, third, and fourth opinion. I think it’s partly because my father is so set in his thinking, he can make you question yourself. He’s very good at gaslighting without even doing it directly. If you say something to him, there’s a high chance he won’t even respond. You know how the good social thing to do when someone is talking to you is to nod or look or them or say goddamn anything? Oftentimes, he won’t do any of that. He doesn’t even change expressions, so it’s hard to know if he heard you.

That’s one of the issues–he’s lost his hearing and refuses to wear his hearing aids at home. I’d bet he doesn’t always wear them outside, either, as he’s vain. If he can hear you, he may not understand what you’ve said. There’s two reasons for that. One, his English isn’t great. He hasn’t lived here for over a quarter of a century, and he doesn’t use English unless he’s here. Two, his comprehension is going. His mental faculties aren’t what they used to be, and combining that with his loss of English means that oftentimes, he just doesn’t understand. I think he feels bad when my brother, my mother, and I are babbling at each other because we talk at top speed, and he can’t keep up. Last night, my mother had to talk to him in Taiwanese and him respond in such before she translated it into English for us. Third, he hates admitting he doesn’t know something. So, he’ll agree to something or say he knows or that he remembers when it’s clear that he has no idea what is going on. You can’t point it out, either, because he’ll either double down or go back to being silent.


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Thoughts during a lovely wedding

My niece got married Friday night. I’m still digesting the fact that she’s no longer running around the lawn, screaming, giggling in glee as she babbled incoherently about whatever. She was such a happy, energetic child, and I marveled at how perfect she was. I know it’s trite, but I couldn’t believe that she had grown up enough to actually get married (just as a matter of time) even though I had seen it happen over the years. I mean, she had been living with Nick for several years, first in his parents’ house during the week, then in their own apartment, and then a house. They adopted their dog, Obi, who was their ring bearer with a pouch tied to his collar (and the groomsman using a spoonful of peanut butter to lead him down the aisle), and they both had full-time jobs–at the same place! I’ve seen her during all these stages, so it’s not as if she went from two to twenty-one without me noticing it. She told me about the wedding nearly two years ago, so it’s not like it got sprung on me.

The whole event was surreal. My brother called me up at 4:20 p.m. (bro) and asked me if we could be there by 5 p.m. My parents were sleeping, and that wasn’t doable, anyway. Apparently, they were doing family photos beforehand, and I told him we would be there as soon as possible. I woke up my parents, and sure enough, my mother freaked out. She’s an anxious type to begin with, and throwing a monkey in the wrench (heh) made it even worse. We managed to leave by 5:10 p.m., and we made it to the venue (the groom’s parents’ backyard) by 5:30 p.m.

There was only one picture taken (my mom for the grandmothers and niece pic), so it was kind of silly for us to be there so early. It was nice to snag a parking spot right across the street, though. Funny story before we left. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt with spaghetti straps (black) and a floral teardrop skirt (also black) that reached my knees. I had my hair down because I wanted to look nicer than normal. I had no idea what I was supposed to wear because I missed ‘church casual’ on the invite (which wouldn’t have helped me, anyway. I haven’t attended church in thirty years), so I decided to just do the best with what I had. It wasn’t a problem because people were dressed in everything from jeans to long dresses and everything in between.

Anyway, my dad looked at me and asked if I were going to bring a coat. I looked at him if he had lost his goddamn mind. It’s fucking summer. Who the hell wears a coat in the summer? Granted, it was going to be outside at night and the temperature was predicted to hit a low of 59, but that would be at like three in the morning–and I still wouldn’t wear a coat. I said as calmly as I could that I’d be fine–this is a long-running issue between us. Ever since I was a small child, he has been haranguing me to wear a fucking coat because he felt cold. This time, he said that seeing me without a coat made him feel cold for me. I said with a laugh that he could wear two coats and feel warm for me. He wisely let it drop, but it shouldn’t have come up at all. Later in the night after the sun went down, he asked if I was cold, and I said I was still hot. He refused to believe me, but I was.

It’s one of the most frustrating things about him–if he doesn’t feel/think/believe something, than he can’t fathom someone else could possible be different, especially his spawn. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s still frustrating.


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