Underneath my yellow skin

Hard truths about ‘but faaaaaaamily!’

In my last post, I talked some more about the dysfunction within my family. I mentioned at the end of the post that I wanted to talk about how being constantly abused changes you as a person–and not in a good way. I have been reading several posts on Ask A Manager about abusive behavior (in a relationship that spills over into work life) and a few on Captain Awkward as well. In one of them, someone said they hated their mother for not leaving their abusive father (the commenter’s  father). I think it was Captain Awkward because that is more the ethos of that site than of Ask A Manager, but other people quickly chimed in to agree. Each of them recounted the damage they had suffered in their childhood because their mothers rationalized staying by saying it was for the children.

To give my mother credit, she never used that as an excuse. In her case, it was religion (fundie Christianity) and culture (Taiwanese) that made divorce verboten for her. I started begging her to divorce my father when I was eleven (when she forced me into a confidante role), but that was just unthinkable. I gave up at some point, but it was still what I truly believed in my heart.

I learned how to tiptoe around my father when he was home and in a mood. Meaning, when he was angry at someone (usually my mother, but not always) and refused to talk to anyone. It wasn’t just that he would sit quietly. Oh, no. He made it VERY clear that he was UPSET by pointedly being silent AT everyone around him. You know how when a cat is mad at you, it will sit a few feet away from you with its back to you? An if its really mad at you, it will deliberately point its ear back towards you? At least, my cat does that to clearly express his displeasure. That’s my father when he’s mad. He’s scrupulously silent AT you. If you try to talk to him, he will pointedly ignore you and not say anything.

Here’s the thing. I’ve done it myself. The silent treatment, I mean. When I’m furious enough, I can’t say anything nice so I keep my mouth shut. And I go as still as a stone. I know I look like a statue. It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s what
I do, though.  I learned it from my father and I still do it, but only around them. Because abuse is a gift that keeps on giving.

While they were here, there were a few really bad fights that started with my father being angry at my mother for some reason or another. He is a narcissist who is edging into dementia and is exhibiting paranoid behavior (he thinks my mother, my brother, and I are trying to steal all his money). He has called me by my niece’s name and has forgotten who I am. Same with my brother (thinking he was my mother’s brother). It doesn’t help that my mother indulges his paranoia and tries to rope me in as well. Such as trying to find a document he swears he put in a certain place, but it wasn’t there. My mother spent hours looking for it because he would be unpleasant to her if she didn’t. But, I contended that he was equally unpleasant when she gave in and it only fed his delusions.

Back to the question of a mother leaving her abuser if it affects the children. The commenters at the website, again, Probably Captain Awkward, wrote about how they resented their mothers for not leaving their abusive fathers. How much it hurt them and hot they were not going to forgive their mothers. And, you know what? Yeah, I agree with that. In fact, many times, I’m angrier at my mother for enabling him than at him for his actual behavior. She’s a therapist. She knows better. But her own psychological issues makes it easier for her to indulge him and enflame his bad behavior than to stand up to him. In part because he’s so unpleasant when it happens.

But this ]thing about not blaming abused people for staying in the situation–I think that statement isn’t applicable as a child of an abuser and an enabling mother. It’s a parent’s job to protect their children and my mother has flat-out failed in that capacity. More to the point, she has made it clear that she will always put my father before me (and my brother), which means she’s not a safe person.

One time, she and my father were having an argument about something. I jumped in to defend her (stupid,
I know, but it was in front of  me. Another time, they came into the room I was in to have their verbally violent disagreement), and my father said it was none of my business. He had such hatred in his eyes as he shouted at me except I was not afraid of him. I had stopped fearing him years ago. I told him that it was my business because they had made it my business. He was complaining about how he was everyone’s slave and being taken advantaged of, which is a joke. He doesn’t do jackshit and my mother caters to his every whim. I told him that he was wrong and that he did nothing. My mom did everything for him and he just took it for granted. I was shouting, too, by the way. He said did I think he couldn’t do anything for himself and that he was useless? I said yes, that’s pretty much what I was saying because he didn’t do anything could not take care of himself.

This is what I mean about abuse warps a person. This was an incredibly cold thing to say to him, but I just didn’t care at that point. Another time when he said that he was everyone’s slave, I pointed out yet again that he was the one who did nothing and took it for granted that everyone else would do everything for him. And, yes, I was shouting at him as he was shouting at me.

My mother brought this up later when she asked me to apologize to my father (because I tried to shut down him making up shit when describing what happened to my brother.) I said I had nothing to apologize for and she pointed out that I yelled at him, too, when I said he was shouting and being mean (to her! It started with him abusing her and then her running into the living room because I was there!). I pointed out that he had been shouting at her first, and she said, “Oh, I forgot about that.”  I mean….what? But that’s her pathology–‘forgetting’ things that place her in a  bad light (or him, to a certain extent).

No one came out of that looking good–including me. I became a person I didn’t like during that argument, but
I can’t say I regret what I said or did. It felt good to get it out, but I was also conscious that I was yelling at an 82-year-old man who was never going to change. And that my mother had her own part in the whole fiasco. That’s the other thing about abuse–it’s easy to become abusive yourself. My mother’s coping mechanisms include gaslighting (“Oh I forgot that happened” about a traumatic exchange. Even if she did forget something that did happen two days ago, it’s still gaslighting me to say that. And a mighty convenient excuse.) and denial, and I realized when I was in my thirties that  I could not take anything she said at face value. She wasn’t lying, exactly, but she was telling things as how she wished they would be, not how they actually were.

One summer in my twenties, she bugged me about having children almost every day. It was severe, and it made me very upset. She used every tactic in the book to try to get me to have one–manipulation, guilt, shame, etc. I felt ill every day because she would not respect me saying I did not want to talk about it. I can still remember how much I hated that summer–and her. Years later, she mentioned that summer and how much fun we had together. Excuse me, bitch, what? So, yeah, I believe nothing she says.

A few months ago, she sent me an email, mourning the distance in our relationship. She’s under the illusion that we were close at some point. We never were. We never will be. I have accepted this because she will not change, either. And as I’ve said before, she likes the idea of having children, but she doesn’t actually like me. I’ve known this for decades. I have not answered the email because what can I say that isn’t fluff or a really harsh truth? That during my medical trauma, I realized with certainty something I’d suspected all my life? That if she had to choose my father or me, she would choose him every time (and has)? That she doesn’t know me and what she does know about me, she doesn’t like? That part of the reason I chose a path so different from hers is because I was appalled to see what her life was like?

There’s no point to that for two reasons. One, it won’t make a lick of difference. Any time I try to be real and painfully honest with her, she either turns it on me or doesn’t get what I’m trying to say. Or she wants reassurance that she is a good mother–which, I’m sorry, she just isn’t. The other reason is that she won’t change. She herself has said that she’s old-fashioned and traditional, and she does not want to be anything but that. So, yeah, what’s the point? In addition, I don’t want to be closer to her because there is no benefit to me.

The best we can be is polite and civil to each other. That’s enough for me, even if it’s not for her.

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