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How do I share my abusive childhood experience with my in-laws?
August 8, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I "read in" my in-laws on my childhood physical/verbal abuse? My wife's immediate family is very close and I spend a fair amount of time with them (I see some of them weekly and all of them at least once a month). One part of my life that I've only shared with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend (in a very generic way) is that I was sadistically abused by both of my parents for a good portion of my childhood. This has created a barrier between us and while I've only heard whispers about it from my wife, I know they sense that I don't give them much in terms of who I am and what I'm feeling. I've known them throughout my relationship with my wife which started over 16 years ago, so there's a lot of history there.

After years of off-and-on therapy and soul searching, I finally confronted my parents about their abuse almost one year ago. It was a topic that was never discussed growing up and we had the classic functional front going on with outsiders. In recent years, my mother began a revisionist campaign on my childhood memories where everything was positive or bad things that happened to me because bad things that happened to her. The only negative that was allowed was my "angry young man" years when I was a teenager that according to her narrative came out of nowhere and were a big mystery.

I don't see all the gory details being relevant here, but stories of what I remember have disturbed my therapists and even made one cry (which was not a positive experience). My mother on at least one occasion lied about me doing something and manipulated my father into beating me for it--and she smiled as he drug me down the hall for my punishment. That's the type of people I'm talking about.

What I do think is relevant is that I was (unsurprisingly) in denial myself about how bad things were. For a long time, I wasn't even sure if these things happened to me or if I had exaggerated them. About 4 years ago, while I was discussion another issue with a close family friend, she brought up that she had witnessed my mother beating me with a 2x4. She further explained that I had called her son asking them to call the police because I thought my parents were going to literally kill me. More recently, I found out from the woman's daughter that she also witnessed my mother routinely beating me. I had no memory of any of those events.

My world changed. I had confirmation that I really was abused and that my suspicion that there were many things that happened to me that I had blocked out was real.

So, my point here is that denial and the associated burying/being ashamed of what happened is a big part of my life.

Fast forward to last year. My parents made yet another passive-aggressive rude remark about my wife's family and I had enough. I decided that while I was explaining why their rude remarks about them would no longer be tolerated, I was also going to cover the abuse because my mother had been extra revisionist during this trip. I asked them to stop lying about what happened to me and admit what they did. Of course, they denied they did anything wrong--going with the extreme position that there was nothing remotely close to abuse that happened. I left it on a positive note, hoping that we could build on this and have an honest dialog in the future.

I wasn't prepared for the cut-off. I haven't spoken or heard from my parents since that confrontation, other than a Christmas Card they sent with no note inside and a check. I went back into therapy and that culminated with a letter to my parents that I sent in February along with the Christmas check explaining that until they took responsibility for what they did, I didn't want to communicate with them again. I got no response. I have no living extended family and the family friends who served in the aunts/uncles role have basically cut me off as well.

Obviously the recent events have been extremely hard on me and I know I've been acting "strange" around my wife's family. Due to the inevitable thoughts that come up about my own parents, being around them at times has been difficult. Especially during the holidays. My wife gave them a fairly benign explanation of why we weren't going to my hometown anymore and why they shouldn't bring up my how my parents are doing, but they obviously know there's much more going on.

Since I'm coming up on the 1-year anniversary of "The Confrontation", I felt it's probably time to let them in on what has been going on and break down some of these walls I've put up. My wife and I were thinking of having them over to the house to talk about it. I'd love to get some advice on how to do this and hear any similar experiences from those of you who may have gone through this already.

Some factors:

* My wife and I don't have children -- what happened to me is a big reason why, but we don't want to get into that with this discussion

* My brother-in-law was also abused by his ex-stepmother. Further complicating things is the fact that my sister-in-law stayed with the stepmother after the divorce and considers the stepmother her mom (her biological mother died when she was 2)

* My sister-in-law is a social worker and spent a couple years on a child psych ward in a hospital

* I plan on writing about my experience for friends and maybe on a wider scale at some point, so I'd like to share this with my wife's family before I start doing that


My concerns:

* My sister-in-law had a daughter last year, who my wife and I adore. Given my sister-in-law's profession and experience, I'd really hate for anything I say to become reasons for her to keep me away from my niece--although I recognize that I can't control that

* I'd like to make it as non-traumatic as possible for my brother-in-law, given his past experience

* I know they will look at me differently after this, but I'd love to avoid the pity/freak response

Thank you in advance!

Throwaway if you'd rather use that: a0sgeu9rtgirmd56v9@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I had a very hard and abusive childhood, which I've been working through via talk therapy. As a result I've removed myself from my parents for a time, perhaps indefinitely, and most of the extended family siding with them have removed themselves through me.

"Some of my working through this may involve writing about it, and finding my way to feeling more normal / healed (whatever is appropriate - I'm not saying you are abnormal and are trying to be normal, more like, choose a word that works for you). Since I moved from home and started my relationship with [wife], I've strived to model myself away from any behaviors that might be reflective of that behavior. If anyone has any thing they'd like to discuss with me, I'll discuss it the best I can."

That's about the gist of it. I've seen people who have grown up with not quite that level of abuse described but near enough. They worked hard to move away from that parenting model relatively successfully.

There may still be, even after therapy and practice, "holes" in your life or your visible personality similar to the "wall" your inlaws have noticed. For example, you won't necessarily have "good stories" to share about funny family growing up experiences - learning to drive, fishing, sleepovers, exploding cake disasters, but no one may ever notice, or you'll have family family past stories "great uncle rick on my mother's side once removed" to share instead.

Since you've made this anon, you likely want whatever writing about it to be anonish as well. Your friends or family in law might know who you are and some folks might be semi fictionalized, but it will have no big ties back to you, to avoid professional repercussions.

One blog I've seen like that (do a search) is called the [something] of Divorced Pauline. Not going to direct link it but she's dealing with that rather well [anonish blog].

Good luck.
posted by tilde at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless you really want to get into the details with them for some reason, I really don't think you have to. Your wife telling her family that your parents are abusive and that you've made the decision to cut them out should be sufficient to explain why you have been going through a difficult time over the past year. You can decide together how much detail you want to share, if asked, but you really don't owe anyone a detailed run down of everything you've been through.
posted by something something at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


I meant to say since I don't know f you're ever going to have kids, though you are an uncle:

Move away from that parenting and personal model - so for example, they don't smoke, drink, have guns, or motorcycles. Or they don't yell, or spank, or skip religious education or whatever. They take the 'bad things' they remember from childhood and turn around and do the opposite.
posted by tilde at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am so sorry this happened to you. I'm glad that you're in a healthy relationship and that your wife's family is an important part of your life.

I don't think that you need to disclose all the details of the abuse you suffered. You can however have small conversations with family members, in couples or alone, and just say something simple like, "I've had a troubled and abusive relationship with my family my entire life. I had somewhat of a relationship with them up until about a year ago, when their hurtful denial of their actions made it impossible for us to continue seeing each other. Getting over the physical and mental abuse has been hard, and their refusal to admit what they did is even harder. I'm sorry if you feel that I'm reserved or weird around you, it's just that I'm still processing everything that happened to me. I am so grateful to have such loving people in my life and I want you to know that I love and respect you."

Chances are they'll accept that and understand.

Good luck to you. You deserve it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Abuse is something that happened to you, it doesn't define you. If your in-laws are rational people, they should know this.

First, don't give details, but state the issue plainly like you've said here.

"Guys, I know you've noticed that there's friction between me and my parents. We are no longer speaking because they refuse to acknowledge the abuse I suffered from them as a child. This is very difficult for me and I really could use your love and support in this difficult time."
posted by inturnaround at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm so sorry you had these terrible experiences.

I really honor your wish not to trigger your brother-in-law's own memories of abuse.

My guess is that spending some time coming up with a set of things you want to share about your experiences, and how you're dealing with them going forward, with your in-laws is going to be difficult but productive for you. It might be something you want to do with a therapist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2012


I'm with Ruthless Bunny. Have that paragraph down and people should respect it if they respect you. What's happened here is not your fault and was outside your control. You might think of it as a medical condition -- who would blame you for having a problem with your stomach or your kidney? There'd also be an understanding that you don't want to have to hash out/relive trauma.
posted by angrycat at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2012


I'm so sorry that you went through such terrible things. My only advice is to think through ahead of time the ways your in-laws are likely to respond, so that you can react in a way you'd want to. I completely hear you when you say you don't want them to treat you like a freak or with excessive pity, but be ready for the likelihood that they will react with horror and pity - not because they think you're a freak, but because horror and pity are emotions that compassionate people are likely to feel when faced with the knowledge of horrible things.

If your goal here is to build up a closer relationship with them, be prepared for this if you have a tendency to feel bothered by other people's pity (I say this based on my own experiences of telling people about - much less awful - things from my childhood; being responded to with pity often annoys me and will show through in my facial expressions if I'm not careful, which tends to push people away). Remember that they care about you and will inevitably be upset to hear of terrible things you've suffered, but that does not at all mean they'll think any less of you or that they'll think you're defined by those experiences alone.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:15 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless you find a good segue in conversation, I think your wife should do the talking, as she is the one who has hinted to her parents about this in the past. They were the first ones to perceive the "wall" and as such they should take responsibility for knocking it down.

I too "adopted" my in-laws as de facto parents and they get the hint about why, without needing too much detail. In fact they seem to be touched that I prefer them.
posted by moammargaret at 11:44 AM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny has it.

I think the first disclosure to relevant family members should just be acknowledging that you are 1) in pain, 2) in therapy, 3) appreciate having their support, and that you 4) welcome an opportunity to open up more if they would like to talk about it with you.

Give the people you would like to open up to an opportunity to initiate the more in depth conversations. This is heavy stuff, and you are handling this remarkably well.
posted by skrozidile at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


*I meant to include a vote for using a note or email for 1-4 above.
posted by skrozidile at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2012


My sister-in-law has a history of abuse. When she decided to share with us, she had my brother tell us just enough that we got the gist. Since then, she has alluded to it, but we have never spoken about it in any direct way. I just want to address your worry about the pity/freak response. When I think about what happened to my sister-in-law, I ache because I love her and I feel powerless to help her from my vantage point (what's done is done, and it's just magical thinking to wish that I could go back in time and protect the child who became the adult I care about)- but I am also well aware that her childhood experiences don't define her. I thought she was a great addition to the family before I knew, and knowing didn't change that whatsoever. I feel honored that she shared this part of her life story; even though we don't really address it, it has helped me understand her more. I wish you the best.
posted by katie at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it will depend on what your in-laws are like, and your wife will have the best insight into that. I would tend to think the best way to proceed is to speak mainly in honest generalities ("serious physical abuse"), rather than getting into specifics. Or, if you want them to know specifics, it might be easier for a third party (your wife) to relay those.

I say this because specifics may be harder for them to react to, in the moment, in a plain supportive "the past is past" way. Specifics about terrible things that happened to you as a child or teenager will tend to evoke very strong feelings (anger, protectiveness, etc) that they will need time to process, and it might be easier for you and them if you don't have to be present for them processing the feelings.

I think specifics have more of a "life of their own," too. They're more apt to stick in people's minds in the ways you are concerned about (eg, pity, or someone looking for a pattern of behavior repeating in your present life) and they're more apt to be repeated in contexts that are not of your choosing (eg someone mentioning things to the brother-in-law that you would not have chosen to tell him).

Of course, it all depends on what they are like as individuals and what their family information-sharing dynamic is - so your wife will be the best sanity check here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:53 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also think that they may wonder if there was a component of the abuse that was sexual or not. You might think about what you want to share on that issue.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Be ready for the likelihood that they will react with horror and pity - not because they think you're a freak, but because horror and pity are emotions that compassionate people are likely to feel when faced with the knowledge of horrible things.


+1
posted by Capri at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2012


Sorry, but as an abuse in childhood survivor, I don'y buy any of this. Where is it written that we must open to others/in-laws etc. our inner pain or wear it on our sleeve for others to see. I choose who needs to know about me and that's very few people. My in-laws have been extremely accepting of me just the way I am with all my strangeness and peculiarities. How will sharing of this pain help your relationship? If it's your behavior that is affecting the relationship, address the behavior. Yes I've done therapy over this. What is your therapists recommendation on self revealing? If you feel you need to go forward this, do it, but think about the possibility of not doing this.
posted by Xurando at 3:29 PM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have not read any other answers, but please please please do NOT tell your wife's family about your upbringing. Period.

Who cares what they think about how close you are to them??? OMG. If they are really pressuring you, than they are inappropriately nosey.

"It's too pleasant a day/evening/event to discuss my family and their drama. Should we get an iced tea? Great!"

---

Now. I share your childhood. Here is my very good advice to you from someone who has successfully worked 99% of it out over many many years, and many many mistakes.

- Work it out in therapy with professionals, not amongst family and friends who are lay-people.

- When you are sufficiently recovered, then you can talk about it or become some kind of advocate. But for now? That shit is TMI and has no place between you and others you deal with professionally or socially. Get it? Good.

- There are many good places on the Internet to interact with others. Find these places, and use them as an outlet as you process. Do not dump this on your friends and family.

You are fragile. Your information is overwhelming. You can't afford the rejection or the judgement right now, so PLEASE be discrete and do not discuss this information with lay-people.

Am I clear here? I'm not saying you should bottle it up! I am saying you do not need to "confess" this, and that you never need to discuss it with anyone ever unless it is really really YOUR CHOICE TO DO SO.

- Your parents have disappeared once you confronted them? Yep. Happened to me, too.

What a relief, right?? Read books and blogs about loss and grieve these people like they are dead.

Likely your parents are not coming back into your life. You'll get over the fact that they can't admit the truth to you, eventually, with time and therapy. TRUST ME ON THIS - YOU WILL GET OVER ANY NEED TO HAVE THE TRUTH ACKNOWLEDGED.
That said, you probably need a specialized therapist. More on that later....

And BTW...Don't be afraid to block your parents on all social media and consider changing your phone numbers. You don't need unexpected bullshitty attempts from them to get you "back in line" as you process and explore the abuse of your childhood. You are an adult now. You owe these people nothing. One day you might feel some distant compassion or understanding for them, but don't worry about that right now. If you hate them with the fury of a thousand suns for the time being - so be it. And if you have not felt significant anger towards them yet, get ready, it's coming.... A good and qualified therapist can see you throu here.


-----


I just want to say that as someone who did lots of therapy back in the day, you owe it to yourself to seek out a professional well versed and educated in situations like yours. A qualified and experienced therapist specializing in adult survivors of extreme childhood abuse can accelerate your healing.

You deserve an awesome life. Qualified help is out there. Go get it.

Best.
posted by jbenben at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Giving trust is the only way to get trust from what I understand, and what is damaged for many childhood abuse survivors is their ability to trust that other people will see their vulnerability and not hurt them. Sharing with other people helps to break the cycle of denial which the OP feels has been a significant barrier on his road to recovery. If it's something his intuition is pushing for, he's probably wise to listen to it.

That said though, recognize that as well-meaning as your in-laws may be, they will be limited in how well they can respond to your story. Don't expect disclosing to them to replace the gap in understanding you've suffered from your own parents.

I also think Ruthless Bunny has it, especially here: "I'm sorry if you feel that I'm reserved or weird around you, it's just that I'm still processing everything that happened to me."

You're not asking them to bear the burden of understanding 100% of what happened to you. If you say it like this, it's a clear request for their patience as you continue to ground yourself and integrate into their family. Understandably, you need time to find your comfort zone in what is a challenging situation unique to you. Not unique in the universal suffering sense, but largely unique in the context of how you relate to your in-laws.

Do save the abuse specifics for sharing with your wife and therapist. Do it out of courtesy, as disclosing full detail is likely to be triggering for those family members with unresolved abuse issues. And consider group therapy if you're feeling the need to share your story in hopes of gaining understanding and support. Other abuse survivors (who have done their recovery work) will have a greater capacity to reflect the empathy your wounds need.

I'm going to email your anon gmail. If you start a blog, I would love to read it.
posted by human ecologist at 3:55 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Upon preview....

I liked what Ruthless Bunny said (as usual:), but recommend much much less detail if you go that route.

And really, what Katie said about how the spouse clued everyone in the family in, to a degree, and now folks are respectful of the sister-in-law's privacy? THIS.

Lastly, Xurando just above my answer - I notice another fellow abuse survivor who thinks that any need to disclose this information is inappropriate.


(Although... HA! I definitely remember the feeling to get it off your chest and shout it from the rooftops. It is totally natural at your stage in the process. It is!!)


Find a great specialized therapist and an online or IRL support group.

Reconsider any big reveals to your in-laws in 6 months time or so, after you are getting more personalized treatment.

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:03 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


human ecologist brings up a great point about trust - the problem here is that survivors of childhood abuse have pretty crappy compasses and intuition for all sorts of things in life.

Now is not the time for big decisions. Now is the time to process childhood and adult experiences, and work on developing a new and better tool kit for dealing with all decisions in life, both big and small.

The in-laws will be there in 6 months time if the OP still feels the need to bear their soul in an intimate manner.
posted by jbenben at 4:13 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


"bare their soul"

Whoops.
posted by jbenben at 4:22 PM on August 8, 2012


[This is a followup from the asker.]
First, thanks for all the comments and advice. I realize this is a very complicated situation and I value all the feedback.

My intention was not to go into great detail about the situation with my in-laws, but just on a superficial level let them know that my parents abused me, that this has had long-lasting effects that I'm still dealing with, and the recent developments in the situation have forced me to face a lot of feelings and memories that I had been not dealing with. I totally agree that it's not fair to burden them with the details and it's certainly not going to help me to do that.

I think the suggestions to not do anything for now are definitely something I'm considering. I thought about talking to them much earlier on in this process and realized that would not be helpful. I'm not sure it's helpful now either. I know my recent distancing and behavior has bothered them to some degree, but I also know it's worth thinking about if I'm doing this for myself or for them--if I'm being honest, it's probably more of the latter.

Doing this did come up in my therapy (it's suspended at the moment due to how my therapist approaches things--he believes in taking breaks once critical issues are handled) and his suggestion was that it's definitely not required and might not be helpful, depending on how I approached it.

Thinking about this some more today, I guess the real force behind this is I'm feeling a strong need to share my story. I'm tired of hiding this part of me (and while the abuse does not define me, it's a huge factor in my life). But your responses are making me strongly consider sharing this information in another way.

I'd rather not get into what I've gone through to get where I am today since that's beyond the scope of this question, but it's been extremely difficult and maybe I am rushing this part of it, if it should even happen at all. I'm sure a huge part of this is me trying to be okay with who I am rather than gaining the acceptance of my in-laws.

So, to those of you who said I'm not ready to do this: yeah, you're probably right about that.

Getting through all this stuff is such a messy endeavor, as I'm sure those of you who've been through it can understand.
posted by cortex at 5:24 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the one-year mark is a good opportunity to bring up the subject.

"There's something I'd like to say, because you all are very supportive and you mean a lot to me. I haven't had any contact with my mother and father for a year now.

Your wife can say this part: "His mother and his father both beat him throughout his childhood. They abused him verbally then, and they still do.

You: I tried to keep the the door open to them, but they've cut off contact completely. I didn't expect that, and it hasn't been easy to come to terms with it.

They probably won't ask for details, and most likely will say what a terrible thing for you... we're sad for you. Find a way to say that you appreciate your wife's family, their welcoming you in, supporting you. Keep it all about your experience and your feelings. There might be someone wanting to know for themselves what all happened so they can decide how bad it is. The important thing is how it affected you and is still affecting you.

Now, here's something from my own (very nice) family and a few friends' experiences: Some parents are very uncomfortatble with the idea that a parent should be held accountable for everything they've ever said or done to a child. Good people can be completely unable to imagine the horrors that bad parents commit. My own mother likes to say, "kids grow up and go to therapists and suddenly we're the bad guys. We did our best." She also has forgotten some of the things she did to me when she was overwhelmed. If anybody shows a lack of empathy -- "Being a parent is really tough" or" it's better to forgive" -- just let it slip by. This whole discussion will be a disturbing moment for them. Someone there might not know how to handle it.

Tell your wife how much detail you're willing to let her family have. I was the one who told my parents examples of what my husbands mother did to him and his brother. If he had told them, it would have been a long conversation with all kinds of condolences, but when I told them it was just, "here's some facts that we wanted you to know."
posted by wryly at 5:51 PM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess the real force behind this is I'm feeling a strong need to share my story.
"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives -- the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change -- truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." ~Salman Rushdie
The more you tell your story, whether you are talking with your wife, working with your therapist, writing in a journal, or starting to share with your inlaws, the less you will have it bouncing around in your head, using up your energy and making you feel ashamed. Your parents were (are) wrong. You are not. Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 6:13 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wryly has a great point. People in general and parents in particular often make weird little polite noises in response to shocking information, platitudes about forgiveness or different types of upbringings or whatever. They don't do it to be unsympathetic, but it does happen.

So when you do decide to share the info, you may have this tension between wanting to share enough details to make your point, and wanting to withhold enough to not be overwhelming. So be ready for that. And maybe it should be your wife who does it, not you, just in case.

And in the meantime I think the recommendations for group therapy are excellent. Because you deserve to put down this burden, this secret, and in a community that will really truly hear you and believe you. People who would never in a million years consider beating their child with a board, who can't even imagine that scene, are not the right audience for you to process with. They can't even think about it.

Once you've gotten used to not having to keep this secret, you'll be better able to judge just how much you want to share with your in-laws.

Good luck. And your parents are terrible, horrible people that you are well rid of. Good for you for creating a new family for yourself.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:14 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"People who would never in a million years consider beating their child with a board, who can't even imagine that scene, are not the right audience for you to process with. They can't even think about it."

Man, I can't nth that enough. I'm much older now and laugh it off, but it really screwed with my head back in the day.
posted by jbenben at 9:43 PM on August 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess the real force behind this is I'm feeling a strong need to share my story. I'm tired of hiding this part of me (and while the abuse does not define me, it's a huge factor in my life)... I'm sure a huge part of this is me trying to be okay with who I am rather than gaining the acceptance of my in-laws.

Keep learning to be okay with who you are! :) And how a lot of what you're dealing with is about what happened to you --not who you really are which to some extent, I wonder, is part of the feeling that you're carrying a big secret inside, since you really DID have to keep it a secret throughout those abusive periods. In group therapy, both sharing your story and listening to others' stories will help you tease out what's you (in your current behavior/identity) vs. what's not you (artifacts from the abuse). It's a great moment when in someone else's experience you can pick out the, "Me too!" and then be able to consciously deal with that artifact. Group therapy really complements individual therapy well, IMO. Good luck OP!

Man, jbenben, wired much? :)
posted by human ecologist at 10:31 PM on August 8, 2012


MetaTalk.
posted by jbenben at 11:51 PM on August 8, 2012


"People who would never in a million years consider beating their child with a board, who can't even imagine that scene, are not the right audience for you to process with. They can't even think about it."

Also seconding this. My family was very similar, though minus the 2x4s. Still, the lying, manipulation, gas-lighting, generalized sense of terror because you never knew what was going to happen (how can you when you're a kid and dealing with adults who lie?) etc. were all present.

I'm 36 now and went through a long, long period of talking about the abuse in generalized terms with people I trusted; people I'd known for years before I brought it up. The only times it helped were with other adults from abusive childhoods (who had introspected about it and recognized the abuse for what it was), and my therapist.

My ex-not-quite-in-laws replied with, "how can you say that about your parents when they're not here to defend themselves!!" Eeesh.

A friend who was planning on having a child reacted with, "oh my god, what are you going to say about ME if I ever have issues with my kid??" I tried telling her that I wouldn't even be talking to her about it if I thought she were even in the same galaxy of abusiveness as my parents, but as she had no concept of severe abuse, she never understood, and I let it drop for both our sakes.

You say your brother-in-law was abused by an ex-stepmother. Do you know how your father-in-law handled/reacted to that abuse? It might be good to know more about that before talking to them about it.

I understand the urge. It is indeed an attempt to regain control over the narrative of your life; a narrative that was deeply poisoned by family. I too have contact with no one in my family, due to the depth of their control of the narrative – in their circle, anyhow. It gets to be pretty weak sauce when their crazy reaches people who've known me independently for years. I've even had a couple friends ask if they had a second daughter they hadn't met, heh. (I'm the only one.)

The urge to share really does decrease in time. You've "only" been no-contact for a year now. You've got many years of growth and self-discovery ahead, in which you will learn more about who you are free of that rot and poison. I too would recommend giving yourself more time free, trusting yourself to become a broader, deeper character in time. It's a wonderful experience, if scary and sorrowful at times. It's like those trees you see growing around old signs nailed onto them. For a while you can see the tree weeping, but several years on, it's growing around the sign, not weeping any more, and eventually you can't even see the sign. It's somewhere inside the tree, but no one outside would be able to tell, except perhaps noticing irregular bark in spots.
posted by fraula at 4:55 AM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to add (or emphasize):

Of course, they denied they did anything wrong--going with the extreme position that there was nothing remotely close to abuse that happened. I left it on a positive note, hoping that we could build on this and have an honest dialog in the future.

I wasn't prepared for the cut-off. I haven't spoken or heard from my parents since that confrontation, other than a Christmas Card they sent with no note inside and a check.


This part makes me feel very sad for you, and I can so identify. My big abuse discussion with my father was actually at his instigation. (As I recall, he was pressing me to clarify some comment I'd made like, "Come on, you know what you did when we were kids.") He acted at the time like he appreciated my honesty-- even sent me an email to that effect-- but then he turned around and started doing damage control with other relatives. I gather he presented it like, "She's claiming I abused her, but..." So, while it wasn't the same thing that happened to you, I can understand the feeling of being blindsided and kind of stalled by the response you got.

In your shoes, I honestly wouldn't worry too much about the in-laws for now. I'm not saying this in the sense that it's socially inappropriate to share with them or anything, just that they don't need to know the details. And it may be that when sharing with any group of people, a certain number of them will just not be able to process it or will indeed resist it, and that will just add to the aggro for you. Because I hope this doesn't sound intrusive, but it's really with your parents that communication is blocked right now. In your shoes I might be tempted to start up communication with other people because of that, but it won't resolve that particular frustration. Better to speak in a safe place, with people who are there to talk about that kind of stuff. I went to a women's group with people who had been abused, and the sense of freedom was amazing.

That said, by all means let the in-laws know your family background is troubled. Coming from the other side of it: someone who married into my family died a couple of years back, of alcoholism, frankly, and at a young age. His wife mentioned to me after his death that he came from an abusive home and never really got over it. All I knew up to that point was that he seemed unhappy and there was some sense that he was estranged from his parents, but for all we heard it could have been for all sorts of reasons. At his death, I felt an immense sense of missed opportunities because here both of us had been abused and it never ever came up, even though he was very special to me. We did the same obscure major in college and had all kinds of similar points of reference. But usually when I saw him there was this kind of weird sense of reticence and shame, over precisely what was unclear.

All the best of luck to you in navigating this. By the way, I think it's weird that your parents sent a check but it may have been their idea of a peace offering and you may yet come to a better understanding with them, if that's what you want.
posted by BibiRose at 5:40 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


You put it well, and this is what I would convey to your in-laws, either directly, or letting your wife tell them, whichever you feel most comfortable with.
My parents abused me, ...this has had long-lasting effects that I'm still dealing with, and the recent developments in the situation have forced me to face a lot of feelings and memories. I'd rather not get into what I've gone through to get where I am today

I'd add "Being part of your functional, close family has offered me a refuge, and I appreciate your support while I deal with my family issues."

I'm feeling a strong need to share my story. I recommend more therapy, possible your primary therapist can help you find a group, or a 2ndary therapist you can talk to. You've got a lot to process. I wouldn't share too much with anyone who isn't a therapist or group member.

Your parents are unlikely to admit wrong-doing, and are likely to manipulate you and lie. At some point, you may be able to establish boundaries that would allow you to be around them in a healthy way. For now, being cut off is a gift. You may never comprehend how they could hurt you so much, but you can still be healthy and whole. Choosing a spouse with a close family was a smart move; you've been building a support system.
posted by theora55 at 6:53 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think your therapist knows enough about the situation to have given you the best advice.

I really can't relate to people who say sharing their abuse has held them back in recovery. I think that if you do it from a position of wanting to inform people, and if you aren't in a delicate position, then it's not actually a huge deal either way. I don't think it's "oversharing" to say that you had abusive parents any more than it is oversharing to tell people that you had great parents.

I have told my in-laws about my disconnect with my family due to their abuse, and while it hasn't contributed in any meaningful way to my healing, it hasn't damaged it, either. Our lives are intertwined enough due to vacations, children, etc. that never mentioning it EVER feels like lying and hiding, and I'm not interested in hiding anymore. I did that enough when I had to do it to survive and it does feel good to be honest.

That said, I wouldn't necessarily have a big sit down conversation. Instead I would probably wait for it to come up naturally and then mention it as relevant, instead of glossing over it or avoiding it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:48 AM on August 9, 2012


anonymous posted">> Since I'm coming up on the 1-year anniversary of "The Confrontation", I felt it's probably time to let them in on what has been going on and break down some of these walls I've put up. My wife and I were thinking of having them over to the house to talk about it.

* My sister-in-law had a daughter last year, who my wife and I adore. Given my sister-in-law's profession and experience, I'd really hate for anything I say to become reasons for her to keep me away from my niece--although I recognize that I can't control that
* I'd like to make it as non-traumatic as possible for my brother-in-law, given his past experience
* I know they will look at me differently after this, but I'd love to avoid the pity/freak response


I think inviting them over just to talk about it is not the way I'd frame it. Have them over, make an announcement, and then carry on having the relationship that you have with them.

I think you can accomplish all three of the things above in one fell swoop by not sharing any details about the abuse. Nothing that will allow their minds to start to speculate or envision it. I wouldn't even advise describing it as "sadistic," just say "very serious physical and emotional abuse."

Likewise, I'd say to keep the details of the estrangement off the table for discussion -- perhaps just state the fact of the abuse, that you confronted your parents a year ago, they cut off contact, you're in therapy, and that if your wife's family has noticed any oddness about you over the last year, it's because coping with your feelings has been a really difficult process. They will inevitably ask why you didn't tell them earlier, and you can just say that you weren't ready, and leave it at that.

This is breaking down a wall -- you'll be trusting them to take your word for it and believe you.
posted by desuetude at 9:05 PM on August 9, 2012


You may need to come to grips with the idea that your parents never will understand, much less acknowledge, what they've done. In this respect, the notion of closure with them is a false hope, so long as you expect any form of repentence, or even an empathetic nod. (I suppose you have already come to this realization.)

As for the in-laws, my experience tells me that a general statement works fine. Those who have personal experience--having been abused themselves, or having a relationship with an abused person--will decide if they want to have a dialogue with you about it.

In our family, a meeting was taken by several people who'd suffered abuse. It was productive because they were all related, and they'd suffered abuse from the same person--for many years, they were not aware that the others also had been abused by this person. In addition, they'd all had some experience in counseling: useful inasmuch as counseling helps you identify and use certain tools. The perpetrator of all this misery had never acknowledged his role, and he went to his grave claiming that his victims were complicit in his deeds. Other members of the family, in time, were advised of all this, and they had to make their own adjustments: they all knew, and many of them liked the perpetrator. I call him the perpetrator only with the greatest restaint.

Please prepare yourself to be shunned by the callus or wounded. Know that it's about them, not you, when they react that way. BTW, be slow to form opinions about them. This is yet another human dimension where right and good don't seem to carry much weight. Even people who love you, and whom you love, may not be able to deal with the demons that come crawling when you flip over that rock.

Best wishes.
posted by mule98J at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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