stepmom broke up with me
January 11, 2012 1:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I emotionally begin to handle the end of my relationship with my ex-stepmother? This is the end of a very tangled family situation and I have no idea how to deal with it. I feel terrible.

I seem to use MetaFilter a lot to help me better understand social relationships and get a better sense of what the right thing to do is, and it's really helpful. I really appreciate that this resource exists.

I feel very emotional about this issue but I will try to be as factual as possible for clarity's sake.

Some background, very long-winded:

When I was younger, about 13 or 14, my father married my stepmother and she and I began to have a relationship. At first it was based on the family group (which included my twin sister and I, she and my father). Later, my twin sister moved to live with my mother full-time and later my aunt. Her reasons were complicated but my father had a lot to do with it. He is an ex-drug addictand my stepmother believes he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At the very least, he is not mentally healthy, which makes sense since his father is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Anyway, after my sister moved out my relationship with my stepmother deepened and we began to rely on each other for support against my dad. This culminated in their breakup, and I stayed with her instead of moving with him. He physically and emotionally abused her, and I know he has a history of being abusive towards my mom as well. My life with my stepmother was severely limited but I had a strong sense of stability which I thought was worth it. Neither of my biological parents were able to provide this stability. They both have mental health problems and my mother is poor, unemployed and has a four-year-old to take care of.

My stepmom was very judgmental, and I often felt like her yes-man. I very rarely raised my voice against her and hardly ever criticized her to her face. She started all conflicts between us, as she is very confrontational. Our dynamic was strange, which we both acknowledged. I was afraid that we had a codependent relationship. She would say things to me like, "Of all the hell I endured with your dad, you are the good thing that came from it." and "The spirit of your grandmother [who died maybe a year before my dad met her, and was a co-parent] found me to take care of you girls." I didn't want to betray her and make other stronger relationships, and as a result I didn't really make newfriends in high school. After high school, I broke away from this and moved an hour and a half away for college.

So here's my story:

Recently, about a couple of weeks ago, my stepmother helped me move out of a house where I rented a room. A couple of days later a friend of mine (my twin sister's boyfriend) told me that he had had a long discussion with my stepmother which led to an argument which concerned me. He said that my stepmother had said several hurtful things about me which caused him to realize that she had some issues and wasn't as trustworthy as he had thought. He described the conversations to me and showed me part of it which took place over facebook IM. (He ended the conversation with, "I can't continue this conversation. I'm going to go talk to Athena.") I was very distraught by this (will explain in a bit) and didn't talk to her for a day. She left me a voicemail saying, "You have been ignoring me for 24 hours. How would you feel if I ignored you for that long? I bet not very good. If you continue acting this way towards me, I will be forced to cut you out of my life completely, as I don't need the drama." A few hours later, I tried to call my voicemail and ended up calling her back on accident. (I had intended to wait a few days and calm down before I talked to her.) We both voiced that we had some frustrations and I agreed to head over to her house then and there to talk about them. I went over, talked to her for about twenty minutes, yelled at her, and was then kicked out of the house forcibly (she grabbed the front of my shirt). She also yelled that I was just like my father, her ex-husband, that I could never come back again, and that she was going to "throw my shit out onto the street."

A complication to this situation was that maybe a week before that, I transferred $1500 from my bank account to hers. My father had been giving me $250 a month to help me with living expenses. (Initially, he had been giving it to my stepmother after they split up and he moved out, to help her with living expenses for me. She took a parental role with me and we had a close relationship for years which was somewhere between a friendship and a parent-child relationship. After I moved, he began giving the money to me. He did not give my twin sister equivalent support because she had cut off contact from him before he and my stepmother broke up.) I offered this money to my stepmother after I moved out for college, since I knew she depended on it to make rent and I had financial aid. She refused it and suggested I hang on to it in case something came up. In the months following, she and I talked about it and I gradually was convinced that I should look at it as more of a security fund for her, myself and my twin sister, since they deserved it as much as I did. When I moved to where I currently am staying, I payed a lot of money for the deposit, first and last, and some Costco and Ikea stuff my roommates (friends) and I bought for the house. I also paid too months' extra rent, which I couldn't really afford, because I really wanted to be able to move here with friends. My stepmom was very opposed to this and also didn't like the friends I was moving in with. Also, it upset her that I spent so much money on this and also wasn't careful with other money i spent (on clothes, food, etc.) One thing she said was, "I shouldn't be nickel-and-diming while you are buying leather jackets." She suggested I transfer money into her bank account and if I needed it I should ask her, so I would have more accountability. I agreed. Shortly after this she cut off contact with me.

Today, my biological mother called her and asked her to give me that money back. I hadn't pursued this because I knew, from the facebook conversation she had with my friend, that she felt entitled to the money. What she said (and I directly read it) was that since my dad had screwed her over, she did deserve the money. But I had talked to my mom and other family members about this and they were all very upset and urged me to try to get the money back. Later in the day my stepmother sent me an email. I won't post it here because it's long, but I will post it if anyone thinks it's important. Essentially it said that I had been spreading lies about her stealing the money from me, but that I knew the truth, which was that I said she could have it because I owed her. She charged $20/hour for her services, and she had spent many hours helping me move. The moving van to move me to my college town and back was $400 each way, which was
$800. And then there were three months' rent ($1500) which I owed her since I suggested my boyfriend could rent a room from her for three months while he waited for his friends' place to open up. (These plans were never finalized.) She said that this was the closest she could come to breaking even. It ended with a bolded "I want to wash my hands clean of you. Get out of my life."

I feel so, so emotionally unresolved.

These are the things that really are weighing on my mind:

- Why did she change her mind about me so fast? Was it all the money I spent while she was "nickle-and-diming"? What is my responsibility--should I blame myself for spending money? I mean, she really was on a smaller budget than I was on financial aid.

- Why did she think I was like my father, and how can I make sure she's wrong? My dad is definitely fucked up. I've always wanted to not be like him. Being super crazy mentally ill is my worst fear. But I feel like she used this to hurt me. She knows how to make me feel like a horrible person, and that's what she has done. Essentially what she talked about when she talked to my friend was how much I was like my father and if I knew, I would probably kill myself.

- She has a history of weird codependent relationships. Am I a codependent person? Did I attract this? I don't just want to be another person in her life she keeps for a while and then decides is crazy and cuts off. I see now that I am. Can someone understand this and explain it to me?

- I just feel like I don't live in a world where this makes sense. I feel like I loved and trusted this person and I was convinced they were a good person and they thought I was too and they just turned on me.

Should I email her back and try to stand up for myself, or try to fix the relationship? Not having it there is a huge relief actually, but I feel really bad. I know I hurt her and she truly is doing what she thinks is right. I never intended to hurt anyone. I really feel bad. But for once I want to not be the one who apologizes. She also said all the stuff I had at her house has been "disposed of," including my birth certificate and security card.

What can I do to be a good person? This all makes me feel crazy. I just want to make people happy, goddammit.

My stepmom cut me off. How can I know if it really is my fault?
posted by athenadanae to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: ugh. sorry, so long. Should say I'm nineteen, she's almost fifty.
posted by athenadanae at 1:45 AM on January 11, 2012

This all sounds like garden variety emotional abuse. I don't think that you're codependent or crazy or at fault, but rather that those self-doubts are typical of someone who's been through this. Moving an hour and a half away was a great first step toward dealing with it. I'm not suggesting you completely wash your hands of a loved one, even though she is prone to lies, aggression, back-biting, manipulation, and general meanness. I mean, feel free to keep loving her and caring about her. She helped you through some tough spots--like most awful people, she can be great at times. But I think you do need to set aside your hope that you can figure her out and make her happy. This is the kind of relative for whom polite but firm attitudes, fond memories, reasonable distances, and thoughtful Christmas cards were made for.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:57 AM on January 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You feel guilty about money and your father's relationship with you/her/sister/bio-mother, but this is probably a consequence of being way too involved with all of this dynamic from a young age. You've been emotionally worked on and I'd say, abused by this woman.

You're 19, barely out of childhood; she's an adult acting like a four year old instead of a responsible parent. It doesn't sound to me like you have done anything wrong here. Stop feeling guilty [said an internet stranger!] and start judging this situation for what it is. The relationship was built on dysfunction - from her entry into your life, her battle mentality of allies and foes in your family dynamic, her control over money, her over-confiding in you [a kid!] etc. Worst of all, she is holding the threat of abandonment over you to manipulate you. This is the thing she fears from you the most, she's articulating her own fear of you leaving her - hence all the channeling through money arguments; hence all the 'help' and owing mentality.

If she has said she is cutting you out of her life, it sounds like a good way forward for you. She has manipulated and finagled you for your entire adolescence. She doesn't need your rescuing or your money. She just wants you to feel indebted, and also use you as proxy in the fall out of her relationship with your dad. You deserve money to live on, and you deserve to have a life - with or without a pair of pants, leather or otherwise.

I don't know if you are, but your tone sounds pleading and anxious - you need to drop that because you do not have to plead for your own money. Maybe you could write a very detached response suggesting that she return the money to you by such and such a date or you will be taking further action. I'm not a lawyer, but I would think that she has NO claim on your money at all. The time to invoice you for moving house was when it happened, not retrospectively. As it stands, she has stolen your money. Get that in your head and believe it.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:04 AM on January 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

She sounds a lot like my mother, who would "charge" me for making a ten-minute phone call I never asked her to make and try to use it to justify stealing thousands of dollars from me.

You deserve moving help. No one should charge you for it. You deserve love. You deserve a stable home where you can have outside interests and friends. You deserve love.

Stay strong. It will get better, I promise.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:58 AM on January 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

Don't worry too much about labels.

"Four year old" is an interesting phrase. She's getting lots of attention right now, and she's the one everyone else is running to. She has power. She also gets to write a narrative where she's a martyr/hard done by/etc.

I can see two paths. First is to escalate - throw a couple of threatening lawyer letters around, just to see what gets stirred up. Put your father's name on them too. I'd do this if I cared about the money and the stuff, but I didn't care about the relationship.

Second is the long hard slog of teaching her that good behaviour gets rewarded with attention, but bad behaviour gets ignored. There's no overnight fix there, it might take years, but I'd start by cutting off contact for a month or so and concentrating on the positive things in my life. Read one of those self-help books that get mentioned in these mother/daughter threads, then see if you can figure out how to approach this problem again in a month's time. (If she contacts you in the meantime, well, then the dynamic's already starting to shift in your favour).

Rhetorical question: is there anyone in your family she treats more respectfully than she treats you? Why?

Oh and yeah, it never does any harm to be careful with money, but that's something you do because it's sensible, not because you're comparing your situation with someone else's. Your money, your business, your hole to dig if you mess up.
posted by Leon at 3:02 AM on January 11, 2012

Should have mentioned that the second path may mean you have to let go of the money. Or at least appear to.
posted by Leon at 3:04 AM on January 11, 2012

For a 19 year old, you have an incredible ability to start naming the problems and intricacies of this situation.

You are already not like your father.

It sounds like you actually provided the stability to your stepmom, rather than the other way around. She's someone who, as an adult, chose your father and stuck with him for awhile -- she wasn't so healthy coming in.

I suspect in the next few years you will learn to occasionally appease your stepmom, but no longer expect her to come through for you. In fact, you'll limit her opportunities to help you along, because it comes with too many strings attached.

We're all a little bit flawed, but I suspect you are no where near as broken as these parent figures. Your question demonstrates humility and kindness. It wont serve you to point out to them that they are flawed or to try to convince them of it, and they will retaliate by shaming you about your very minor flaws.

During the times that you have a relationship with them (I suspect you will have to enforce moratoriums at times) you will extend yourself to them with time, companionship or resources (like money) but it wont be reciprocated in equal measure.

I'll leave it to others to recommend specific books and counselling. But I want you to know that at 19, you're already ahead of the game. You're working on figuring things out. You're curious about how to improve things. Your parent figures are much older and may not even have the capacity to get along with others in a healthy way. They haven't even recognized it as a goal.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:41 AM on January 11, 2012 [26 favorites]

You really do show an amazing level of maturity in dealing with this. You grew up with unstable, emotionally abusive adults, and still formed good relationships with them. Amazing.

It sounds like your stepmother is trying to manipulate you into being her "yes-man" again. She's trying to make you realize "how much you need her" or something, whereas the truth is that she needs you for stability. Frankly, as much as it hurts, trying to forge a relationship with her while she's in this emotional state will only cause drama. Give you and her time to cool off (and this may be weeks, months, even years) and perhaps one day you can form a healthy relationship with her. Yeah, it hurts.

As for the money -- think of it like money lent to an ex. You're never getting it back. Putting attention on money when the important thing is relationships makes people feel like you don't care about them and there was a price tag on your relationship. It does sound like she unfairly guilted you into giving her the money, but I don't think anything is to be gained by pursuing it.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:23 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with DoubleLune, you sound amazingly stable given the situation and that's a blessing for you, that you're able to even function given that these two "raised" you. Kudos to you and double kudos to you for asking for help.

I'd take that urge to ask for help one step further and maybe seek some therapy/counseling. You mentioned you were in school -- I imagine that they can help you find something affordable on campus. Give that a shot.

As for the short time, I can only offer personal anecdotes in the form of my own experience with a grandmother (my mother's mother) who sounds like a carbon copy of your step-mother. When dealing with someone who has made it their life's goal to be a martyr you really just have to cut them off. I know that in your situation she seems like she's been a pillar of support but you need to realize she's had a bomb sitting at the bottom of that pillar for years, waiting for an opportunity to come out on top here. I know that's unbelievably hard but it sounds like the truth to me given what you've said here.

Why did she change her mind about me so fast? Was it all the money I spent while she was "nickle-and-diming"? What is my responsibility--should I blame myself for spending money? I mean, she really was on a smaller budget than I was on financial aid.

I know it's hard to understand because you would never turn your back on her but things like this are much easier for people who are, let's face it, assholes. It wasn't the money you spent and it wasn't your responsibility. It sounds like your dad never paid child support so I would look at his money to you now as that -- and even if he had when you were young, that money is to go directly to assist in raising you and providing opportunities for you. That was YOUR money. I wouldn't feel bad about spending it.

Why did she think I was like my father, and how can I make sure she's wrong?

She doesn't think you're like your father (and if she does, she's insane) but she likely knows this would hurt you and knows that hurting you breaks you down. I know it's hard to believe that she would do such a thing on purpose but it helps her to accomplish her goal, whether she's doing it with forthought or not, and I'd work on recognizing her motivations here and not putting too much stock in her opinion.

She has a history of weird codependent relationships. Am I a codependent person? Did I attract this? I don't just want to be another person in her life she keeps for a while and then decides is crazy and cuts off. I see now that I am. Can someone understand this and explain it to me?

Did you attract it? FUCK NO, YOU'RE 19! I can't comment on whether you're co-dependent but I would say that it seems like you're no more dependent than any other college bound kid looking for support, emotional and otherwise, from those who raised them.

Look, I know all this is insane and if I said my mother cutting off her own made everything better quickly, I'd be lying. It's over ten years on and she still cannot understand why her mother "hates her". But everyone in the family is better off -- we're happier. Much, much happier. It's a long process and the first step in that is having a serious talk with yourself and working on realizing that you did nothing to deserve this and it has very little to do with you as a person and says everything about who she is. In the end I hope you can grasp all that and be thankful this woman did you this favor when you were 19 instead of 50.

Good luck to you (in this and everything else you do).
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:48 AM on January 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: She also said all the stuff I had at her house has been "disposed of," including my birth certificate and security card.

She probably did not dispose of these, but I would write them off anyway, and set about getting new ones. Your state's vital records office will tell you how to get a new birth certificate, and you can replace your Social Security card without the drama your stepmother is trying to goad you into.

I would highly recommend freezing your credit reports as well.
posted by headnsouth at 4:51 AM on January 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

Why did she change her mind about me so fast? Was it all the money I spent while she was "nickle-and-diming"? What is my responsibility--should I blame myself for spending money? I mean, she really was on a smaller budget than I was on financial aid.

DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF. Unless you have a child yourself, nobody else's financial problems are ever, ever, ever your responsibility.

I am a single parent who receives (sometimes) child support from my children's father. That money --- every single penny of it --- is THEIRS. Not a single penny of it is mine.

And mine are minors still! You are an adult, living independently, and your father gave you money the same way a million other college students' fathers give them money. It's between you and your father. Nobody else on the entire planet has a claim to that money. You could have spent it all on Hot Tamales candy and nobody would have a right to complain.

she and I talked about it and I gradually was convinced that I should look at it as more of a security fund for her, myself and my twin sister, since they deserved it as much as I did.

Nobody "deserved" that money. It was nobody's business that you even had it. The next time you have money, put it in your savings account and don't talk to anyone in your family about it. Talk to a credit counselor, your school's financial aid office, etc., even a trusted friend (who is not involved with your family) but it's important to separate practical things from emotional things. Family+money=drama.
posted by headnsouth at 5:12 AM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't answer everything that you've asked but I can say that people very often say and do terrible things when they feel that things are going against them.

What I would suggest is, now that you have your new place and you're paid up in advance, you live your life and hang out with your friends and try to get everything financial which is tied up with your stepmother untied. Once that's been established for a while, then get back in contact with her. What getting things untied entails is something that you're going to have to do by yourself.

Once money is no longer in the picture you'll be able to see, much more clearly, what you and your stepmum have in common, as people.

If it's worth pursuing, you will. She wasn't always about the money, was she? Money problems cause great stress in just about every type of relationship.

Get through the money shit and see what remains, I reckon.
posted by h00py at 5:24 AM on January 11, 2012

One part that got me was where she was flipping out because "You have been ignoring me for 24 hours." Excuse me?!? How the heck often ARE you 'required' to call her?!? It sounds to me that your instinct to move away for college was *exactly* right. You might be 'only' nineteen, but I'd say you're definately the mature, sensible and mentally-healthy person in this equation --- none of which apparently describes ex-stepmom. (And why in the world is your ex-stepmother dragging your sister's boyfriend into arguments about you???)

Besides having moved away, perhaps you need to drastically reduce contact with her. Start by limiting any contact to a single call OR email per week, and remove her from your facebook friends (so she can't track your every move that way). You do NOT owe this woman anything, whether it's every detail of your life, your emotional support, or your money.

And if that doesn't work, cut all contact with her entirely: you sound like you've got your head screwed on straight, and don't need the crazy in your life!
posted by easily confused at 5:50 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, hon. I'm so sorry.

Please do freeze your credit report, put a fraud warning on it - YES.

Manipulating your stepmom will be pretty easy at this point, so you can at least get your stuff back from her house (I too doubt it's in the garbage, but if it is, go get your stuff out of the garbage asap!) However, manipulating your stepmom so you can have access to your property has consequences I think are not worth it. Taking a route like this means you'll have to kiss the money good bye. Essentially, the trick is that she wants a "yes man" and she wants you to grovel? Then you go ahead and put on a big act for her and say "yes" a lot and grovel. Then you take all of your stuff out of her house and never ever speak to her again.

BUT. The $1500.

I believe she conned you and stole your money. A crime has been committed and you should go to your local police station ASAP. The story is as follows.... She convinced you to transfer the money for "your own good," then she created a drama to sever ties with you and keep your money. The moving costs and fees she cites? Made up after the fact to cover up the crime.

Go talk to the police. They might tell you it's a civil matter, but I hope not. To me it's like every other financial scam - she played on your trust and stole your money. There's quite a paper trail documenting the crime on FB and email from what I gather.

If you talk to the police, you don't have to press charges right away. But I would. You can drop the charges when she pays the money back, if she still has it.

Don't mention going to the police to her. That is an incindary and foolish foolish move. DO NOT.

I just want you to know that you have rights and what happened here was a crime. Leave out the drama and focus on the facts when you speak to the police. I really hope they can help you, or at least you get a better grasp on what's taken place even if the police feel there isn't enough hard evidence to proceed.

I'm so sorry someone you trusted did this to you. I think you have a lot of good options still for getting back some or all of your stuff. Don't agree to a partial return of the money if she offers that UNLESS you put it in writing that you are accepting partial payment AND she still owes you the remainder payable by X date. At the very least, you want to keep open the option that you can take this to small claims court.

I would DEFINITELY file in small claims court over $1500. It only costs a small fee to file. They have clerks at the court house to help you fill out the paperwork. If all else fails, go this route.

From now on, everything you say and write, pretend a judge is going to be reading it or hearing testimony about it. Behave accordingly.

When this is over with, never ever speak to this person again and seek healing.

Good luck! I really really hope you get ALL of your stuff back.
posted by jbenben at 6:41 AM on January 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

When you go to small claims, you can and should include the replacement fees and expenses for any items she unlawfully disposed of. Ditto seeing if you can add your items lost to any criminal complaint.

Again, good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:43 AM on January 11, 2012

Best answer: Every time you want to ask "why", answer the question with: "Because she's not emotionally healthy." That is all the why. You need to consider that fact every time you make a decision about interacting with her. Obviously you want a parental figure in your life, that's totally understandable, and none of your candidates are very good. None may be better than some in this case, for your own mental health. You need to move past this "I hurt her" business, because not doing what someone wants you to do isn't hurting them.

However you decide to proceed, you need to draw a hard line on gossip. That includes your sister's boyfriend or whoever, you need to tell these people that they are not to discuss you with other people, not even so they can turn around and tell you about it. People who do that are shit-stirrers and are trying to manipulate somebody, possibly you.

Trying to sue someone for money you gave them is probably not going to end well and will provoke the crazy.

I don't know about your belongings, but there are processes in place for replacing birth certificates and social security cards. Don't let her hold pretend things hostage, just move on and take care of yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:51 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is pretty much classic co-dependent behavior on your step-mom's part. From your description, what happened is, you broke the unstated "you and me against the world" contract between the two of you by daring to grow up and move toward an independent existence that doesn't include daily emotional enmeshment with your stepmother. She is beginning to feel her hold on you slip, she is terrified of being abandoned, and so she is lashing out and preemptively kicking you out of her life. But not really, because her hope is that the money issue will keep you bound up with her in a way that gives her power over you like she used to have, when you were a pre-adolescent who was necessarily dependent on her. She has no control or power over anyone else in her life; you were pretty much it and now that's slipping through her fingers, too.

I'm familiar with these dynamics because I have lived them in one fashion or another over and over again because I was raised in a crazyhouse. I have done the things that your stepmother is doing in a desperate attempt to hold onto a person who was struggling to rid themselves of my psychological death grip; I have been on the receiving end of this same treatment, as well. I have rescued, been victimized and victimized, as have most co-dependent people. It's not a point of pride, believe me, but I just want you to know that you're not crazy, you're not responsible, you didn't do anything wrong, and your feelings and instincts are one hundred percent valid, and I say that as someone who's pulled the shit your step-mother is pulling and lived to regret it. And she already does, because there's nobody as isolated within themselves as a person who's trapped in co-dependent behavior patterns, utterly clueless as to how to go about getting the intimacy, care and attention they crave in a healthy, mature, normal way.

So, what to do? Well, you have a number of options. Some of them are unhealthy and deeply entrenched in co-dependent game-playing. Some of them are healthy and in keeping with your spirit of independence and fair play. It's up to you to decide which is a good fit for you. I'm going to guess that the unhealthy ones will go completely against your grain, make you feel sort of queasy, and be just too gross to consider. That, by the way, is a sign that you're sane, healthy and ready to move on from the sort of insanity and chaos your stepmother is trapped inside.

Here're some scenarios:

- You cut your losses with your stepmother completely. No calls, no letters, no e-mails, texts, nothing. You forfeit the money. You realize soon enough that $1500 is a small bail to post to get out of this particular prison with your stepmother. You get a job on campus or wait tables or babysit or clean people's apartments, and before you know it, you have replaced that money and have plenty on top of it to start a little nest egg for yourself. You have made that money back in no time. You do as headnsouth says and get your vital documents replaced. You feel so much less encumbered emotionally not having to pay attention to your stepmother's needs, but rather attend to the business of establishing yourself within your own hard-won life. You get distance and emotionally detach a bit from your stepmother's influence. You pity her and people like her, and see them coming from miles off for the rest of your life.

- You call your stepmother and tell her you're sorry. You tell her you know you messed up, you really love her, you don't want to hurt her feelings, you know how much she's done for you. She cries and insults you a little at first, but then softens and gradually (grudgingly, of course, for you have been a very bad "daughter") lets you back in. You feel relieved at first, but ultimately defeated and perhaps a little sickened. You continue on indefinitely in this vein until you can either a.) rifle through her belongings when she's not home one day and retrieve your social security card and birth certificate or b.) cajole her into giving you back the documents and, perhaps, reconsidering her stance on the $1500. You prepare yourself for more falling-outs, more crawling back with hat in hand, more apologies, more drama, forever.

- You send her a letter stating how disappointed you are in her, how truly appalling her behavior is, how unfair and unreasonable she's being, and stating that you didn't deserve any of this. You appeal to her good graces, her sense of fair play and integrity, her own dignity. You reluctantly threaten her with legal action if she doesn't do the right thing and give you what's rightfully yours. You prepare yourself for a long, protracted, ugly battle, both in and out of court. Nothing would give her life more meaning than a righteously indignant battle against an ingrate like you, after all. And after all she's done for you! But you do have the fleeting satisfaction of telling her the truth about herself. So, there's that.

- You have your dad get off his lazy rump and go to bat for you. This, you find, is not unlike using a hornet's nest as a pinata. You spend many years in a triangulated goo of verbal sparring, ugly voicemail messages, guilt flinging, invective and just generally massive unpleasantness.

So, as you can see, you have options. You also have good judgment and free will. Which one do you choose? Which one feels like the right thing for you?

Good luck. Really, really, really good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:51 AM on January 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Walk away from the drama. The $1,500 seems like a fortune now, but the emotional toll you will endure trying to get this back from her is enormous. Small claims court? Lawyers? Forget it. Consider it a lesson learned and stay away from her. Your step-mother has an unhealthy view of relationships and for your own well being, you should cut off communications.

Agreed about getting a freeze on your credit report and getting new legal documents yourself. If the other items she has are vital, you could ask a 3rd party (non-family) to represent you and try and retrieve them, but be prepared to get nothing back.

There is nothing wrong with you - your family's emotional/psychological behavior and issues do not define you as a person. Make a choice that is right for you alone without consideration of them and consider the phrase "blood is thicker than water" doesn't hold true for everyone on the planet. Take care of yourself and surround yourself with people who respect and love you and let go of others who don't.
posted by cyniczny at 7:54 AM on January 11, 2012

Probably people have already said this, but what you're going through is HARD! So pat yourself on the back for managing as well as you are and make sure you take advantage of whatever support is available to you. School psych services, if they don't suck as bad as my school's did. Friends. Make phone calls. Join a group therapy group for a few weeks if there's one handy. Alateen or Al-anon would be good support, too: they're $2, all over the place, and always available if you just want to pop in for some company and support. (You're allowed- you've got addiction in your family, not that anyone in my groups ever asks.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:04 AM on January 11, 2012

Your stepmother has a history of relationships with people who treat her badly. From that, she comes to the assumption that everyone will eventually treat her as badly as your father apparently did.

As soon as you weren't kissing her ass 100% of the time and doing everything you were told, she saw that as you treating her just as badly as your father did.

It's not really about you -- you were switching from an unhealthy level of sucking up to a more normal relationship -- it's about her, and her 'with me or against me' view of the world.

I'm sorry this is happening to you and it sucks mightily, but it isn't your fault.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:20 AM on January 11, 2012

I normally always preach cutting off people like this forever. And I'd normally would be OK with the OP walking away from the money! Just this once, I feel pretty strongly the OP must at least research her legal rights for her own sake. Researching the matter is reasonable and responsible. It's positive action in the right direction, even if the OP ultimately decides not to pursue the issue further once she has all the facts about her legal rights. Why? For one very very good reason...


What's not ok is if the OP feels defeated and she takes no action, or only enough action to lick her wounds.

The subconscious mind is a very powerful thing, but it is not a nuanced instrument. The stepmother has inflicted deep and devastating harm on the OP. If the OP doesn't take physical positive steps in the opposite direction, she might be scarred for life from this. A waste and a shame, since making the extra effort on her own behalf will be enough of a signal to her subconscious to get the message of, "Hey! I didn't deserve this, and I'm not a victim in this situation or in life, no matter what I decide to do about what happened!"

I suggest the OP look into protecting her rights, not as a way of inviting more drama and continued dysfunction, but as a powerful tool to send herself a message about the reality of this situation, which will help the OP heal in the short term and the long term.

Also, I think the OP has nothing to lose by going directly to the police and pressing charges if that's possible. Sure it's the "nuclear option" here, but this was most definitely a deal breaker event and a drama ginned up to steal the OP's $1500. It's a crime and deserves to be treated as such. This relationship is 100% over either way. The OP sounds too smart to get sucked back in.

Furthermore. I suspect the police are the only ones who can get the OP's money back because stepmom is clearly very very mentally ill. I think the stepmom will hand over the money and voluntarily disappear from the OP's life if she gets arrested. Charges can be dropped once the property is returned, and the stepmom learns indisputably that her favorite victim has grown-up and is no longer vulnerable or her victim.

Good luck again, OP! And if you find other positive ways to send yourself the right messages, positive actions you're more comfortable with (because you're the only one who matters here) then take those steps, instead!

Start creating a new reality for yourself. Start by handling this situation as your best self would. You'll be fine, no matter what, because you've already escaped.

posted by jbenben at 9:37 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, check it out. It might help.

It sounds to me like your step-mom is trying to gaslight you. This isn't your fault.

If you want somebody to talk this over with I'm willing to listen and give you an unbiased opinion. Memail me if you want.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:40 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to pile on here with 1) Kudos to you for being so self-aware and level-headed. You are saving yourself decades of floundering around, self-doubt, and self-sabotage. Keep up the good work, and think about getting yourself into therapy - not to "fix" you but to support you on your journey and give you tools to cope and move onward and upward. If not therapy, a support group like ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) might be something to consider. I say this because it's important that you have people who have your back, especially when your family (who should love you unconditionally) is abusive. A good, strong, sane support group and/or therapist will help prop you up during moments of self-doubt and assure you, "it's THEM - THEY are crazy and cruel - YOU did nothing to deserve this; you just drew the family short-straw when you were born out of bad luck."

2) Agreeing with those who say "go to the police." You may or may not get your money back. But, IMO, "they're faaaaamily and you don't sic the police on your precious family" won't wash in this case. Your family member stole money from you, and stealing money is a crime, last time I checked. And, dollars to donuts, you are not the first family member your stepmother has stolen from. And you won't be the last - unless she is stopped. Usually, people who steal money from family members are serial stealers-of-money-from-family (and friends). They get away with this because the family members and friends are reluctant to file a police report for various reasons ("the police won't do anything," "you don't call the police on family," etc.).

Filing a police report - even if you decide not to press charges, or the police aren't very helpful - makes a statement that "Stepmom, I know what you did was wrong. I will not put up with it. You are on notice, and anyone else you meet down the line who you might be tempted to steal from will know that there is a police report on you for stealing." It could mean an end to a possible serial stealing/fraud career. (Or it could not but at least you tried!) You are a college student with a lot of opportunity to recoup that money she took from you - if stepmom targets some elderly person on Social Security for thievery that elderly person might never recover the financial hit.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:50 AM on January 11, 2012

(Please note, I'm not an advocate of going to the police when a family member steals $20 from your wallet or borrows a few hundred dollars and doesn't repay it. But brazen theft of a large amount from a bank account from a vulnerable family member - in this case vulnerable because the one doing the stealing is a parent figure - then it's time to file a police report.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2012

Best answer: - Why did she change her mind about me so fast? Was it all the money I spent while she was "nickle-and-diming"? What is my responsibility--should I blame myself for spending money? I mean, she really was on a smaller budget than I was on financial aid.

She's got her own issues, as you have hinted at and as she is making clear. What she's doing is not about you, it's about her. You have done nothing wrong -- you are spreading your wings like any young adult would do, and even if you did step on her toes in some manner, part of having adult relationships is being able to confront slights without putting the whole relationship in jeopardy every time.

- Why did she think I was like my father, and how can I make sure she's wrong? My dad is definitely fucked up. I've always wanted to not be like him. Being super crazy mentally ill is my worst fear. But I feel like she used this to hurt me. She knows how to make me feel like a horrible person, and that's what she has done. Essentially what she talked about when she talked to my friend was how much I was like my father and if I knew, I would probably kill myself.

1) Don't kill yourself.

2) There are some ways in which you probably are a little like your father. And like your mother. And like your stepmother. Kids inherit things, both good and bad, from their parents and the big influences in their lives.

But that's not the end of the story. The person you are most like is you, and you have the power to make different and better choices than any of those people.

- She has a history of weird codependent relationships. Am I a codependent person? Did I attract this? I don't just want to be another person in her life she keeps for a while and then decides is crazy and cuts off. I see now that I am. Can someone understand this and explain it to me?

Your intuition is good on this one. It sounds like you have a lot of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. These things have kept you safe thus far, and will serve you well in the future.

You have probably learned some things from her that you might want to examine as you get older. Your relationship with her is probably co-dependent, and that's something you may want to think about.

But don't worry about it too much. We're all a little co-dependent at times. It's not the end of the world. But you don't have to let that define you. It's just a feature, and it's not your only feature and it's not the only way you can relate to people. It may take some work at first to develop new ways of trusting people and setting healthy boundaries -- it takes work for all of us who were raised by flawed people (which is to say, humans).

- I just feel like I don't live in a world where this makes sense. I feel like I loved and trusted this person and I was convinced they were a good person and they thought I was too and they just turned on me.

Of course you did. As a kid, you didn't have a lot of choices, so trusting this person was probably the safest of a lot of bad options. What were you going to do, live on the street? No, so you had to live in a way that pleased your stepmom. You had to learn to dance to whatever tune she was playing. And you learned it. Probably pretty well, from what it sounds like.

Now, you're starting to play your own tune, and she doesn't know how to harmonize. She still wants you to dance. But it's your time to play your own tune. You can't be a child forever.

Should I email her back and try to stand up for myself, or try to fix the relationship? Not having it there is a huge relief actually, but I feel really bad. I know I hurt her and she truly is doing what she thinks is right. I never intended to hurt anyone. I really feel bad. But for once I want to not be the one who apologizes. She also said all the stuff I had at her house has been "disposed of," including my birth certificate and security card.

If she has destroyed your property, after having taken it to hold in safekeeping, she has legal liabilities. That's probably not where you want to go with this, but it's there in the background if you need it. If she did destroy your stuff, then she is, in all likelihood, a deeply disturbed and vindictive person who has little regard whatsoever for you as a person. But she probably didn't, because then she'd have a lot less leverage in this situation.

Don't worry right now about the personal documents. You can get a new Birth Cert with a little bit of effort from the appropriate organization (which organization will depend on where you were born). You can get a replacement Social Security card. Don't stress about those unless you need them coming up (like, say, for a new job).

To address your actual question, I think you should make an effort to recover your property which she is holding. (The money, we'll set aside for now.) You should think about how you want to handle her, and what you are willing to talk about, and keep the conversation to those topics. Practice in the mirror, saying "Barbara (or whatever), I'm not interested in talking about those things right now. I'm interested in what you have done with my stuff and when you are going to give it back to me. If you keep changing the subject, then let's postpone this conversation until another time."

Ultimately, I'd be surprised if she's really destroyed your stuff. As I say, if she has, then she is the one who is ending the relationship. That's on her. She's throwing a tantrum and breaking your stuff because you didn't call her for a day? This is not grown-up behavior, and it's not the behavior of anyone who has your best interests in mind.

It's up to you to decide whether getting your stuff back is worth having to interact with this woman any more. It's up to you to decide what boundaries you want to set with her going forward. It's up to you to decide whether you want to call the police, with all that that entails. It's not my step-mother, and I can't tell you what's right for you in this relationship. If you decide to cut her off for now, good for you. If you decide to cut her off forever, good for you. If you decide to try, and try again, to have a real, grown-up relationship, good for you. The important thing is, it's your decision to make, and you can make a different decision later if you're not getting what you want.

(And if you think "$1500 is not a lot of money in the scheme of things, it's not so much that it's worth losing my relationship with my stepmother over", that's true and well and good. But that works both ways: it's also not so much that it's worth your stepmother losing her relationship with you over, either. If you decide to cut her off for a month, and then she comes back with "you cut me off over $1500", well, it's equally true that she chose $1500 over you and she could just as easily have not done that.)

What can I do to be a good person? This all makes me feel crazy. I just want to make people happy, goddammit.

You are not going to make her happy, because you are not the source of her unhappiness. She is acting out her fears or insecurities or whatever other baggage she has picked up along the way. And even if you could fold yourself back up into whatever shape she wishes you were in to meet her needs, that's not going to make you happy. And it's okay for you to be happy.

OP, I want to recommend a couple of books that may be helpful to you understanding where you are in life right now. If these books don't help you, that's totally fine. The first book is The Drama of the Gifted Child, which describes a particular kind of parent-child relationship that you might see yourself in, in which the adult imposes his or her emotional needs onto the child and makes the child responsible for the adult's emotional stability.

The second book is Where to Draw the Line, which is about setting healthy relationship boundaries. If I'm right, this is a skill that you were probably not encouraged to develop as a child, but that you may find useful now.

Please be kind to yourself. You are not making your stepmother act this way. Even if you've slighted her (and I really don't think you have), healthy adults don't respond this way to slights. You can be a good person by living with integrity: it is hard to live with integrity when you have to dance to someone else's tune.
posted by gauche at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've got a ton of good advice advice already (do try to get your money and things back, don't let your stepmom badger or manipulate you, try to keep a cool head about everything, especially when dealing with her.) Just want to add some general advice for dealing with crazy people-and that is unquestionably what your stepmom is.

Don't let the crazy in. Dont let the things they say affect you, have the knowledge that hurtful words and actions are coming from the crazy, not from anything you did or didn't do. Know it is something you have no power over. I have a couple of really severely mentally ill people in my life, and besides my father I am the only person who can deal with them for extended periods of time. This is because I have the ability to distance myself emotionally from their words and actions, and still occasionally enjoy their company. Nothing they do can hurt me because I know none of the things they say actually originated from anything real about me, they are coming from someone with a twisted view of and interaction with the world. These people can be very manipulative, they know how to push buttons. You must not question yourself because of things this person says to you. If you can't find the ability to distance yourself like this (and it seems most people can't) then you should have no further contact, and know it is not your fault.
posted by catatethebird at 10:46 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am very sorry you spent much of your childhood without a dependable adult you could count on. I know you thought you had a stable relationship with your step mom but I would encourage you to forget the positive aspects of that relationship and any attachment you felt to it for the time being. I sympathize with you and will share what I have learned in a similar situation by answering your questions below.

But first I want to say that there are many people on Metafilter who, for some reason or another, have cut ties with or felt like they could not depend on their biological parents. I encourage you to seek out the many, many questions on this topic and read the answers so that A) you know you are not alone and B) you can learn to cope with the sad feelings you'll sometimes get when you wish you could have a storybook-style relationship with your parents. It will happen at many times in your life, but the good news is that your family is who YOU chose to surround yourself with, not who you are genetically related to.

Your questions:
Why did she change her mind about me so fast? Was it all the money I spent while she was "nickle-and-diming"? What is my responsibility--should I blame myself for spending money? I mean, she really was on a smaller budget than I was on financial aid.

She was probably manipulating you.

Why did she think I was like my father, and how can I make sure she's wrong? My dad is definitely fucked up. I've always wanted to not be like him. Being super crazy mentally ill is my worst fear. But I feel like she used this to hurt me. She knows how to make me feel like a horrible person, and that's what she has done. Essentially what she talked about when she talked to my friend was how much I was like my father and if I knew, I would probably kill myself.

Again, she was saying these things to hurt you and manipulate. Have you asked yourself WHY she was having a Facebook conversation with your sister's boyfriend when your sister had cut off communication with her and your father? Even if you set personal boundaries with them, manipulative people are very good at "getting in the back door" to continue their influence on you.

She has a history of weird codependent relationships. Am I a codependent person? Did I attract this? I don't just want to be another person in her life she keeps for a while and then decides is crazy and cuts off. I see now that I am. Can someone understand this and explain it to me?

You are not a codependent person, but it sounds like she is. What codependents do is set up situations so that the people THEY desperately depend on therefore become dependent on them as well. They try to make the situation mutually beneficial, so the other will not want to leave. This include providing free rent, favors, etc.

The timing here is a huge flag for me, as I was around 18-20 when my situation began. You have just moved out. You are going to college. You have roommates now who help you share the burden of rent and other bills. Your codependent stepmother is looking at all this in panic and thinking to herself that you no longer need her any more and are on the verge of abandoning her. She is retaliating in the only way she knows how.

I just feel like I don't live in a world where this makes sense. I feel like I loved and trusted this person and I was convinced they were a good person and they thought I was too and they just turned on me.

She probably did love you, in a way, but she also has some fucked up things going on that are interfering with real, no-strings-attached love. If you need something to help you make sense of this, I recommend these two wikis, only because they are easy, broken-down descriptions of what I think is happening: Codependency and Borderline Personality Disorder. The book recommended by Two Few Shoes is also good, but if you need soothing right now you might not have time for an entire book to help you feel better. (NOTE:, I am not a doctor, but I am person who has lived with a co-dependent, BPD relative.)

Should I email her back and try to stand up for myself, or try to fix the relationship? Not having it there is a huge relief actually, but I feel really bad. I know I hurt her and she truly is doing what she thinks is right. I never intended to hurt anyone. I really feel bad. But for once I want to not be the one who apologizes. She also said all the stuff I had at her house has been "disposed of," including my birth certificate and security card.

Others have offered different advice, but at this point I'd say it's time to cut your losses, both with the relationship, and the money. Make a clean break and consider yourself the wiser. Also know this: you've described what happened as a breakup. You've been betrayed by someone you thought you could trust. It will probably take a long time for those hurt feelings to go away. Seek counseling if you think it might help (it helped me). But in the long run you'll be better, smarter, and more independent for having gone through this bullshit. My thoughts are with you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Memail me if you need to.
posted by Brittanie at 2:41 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

My mistake, Two Few Shoes' link is not the book I had in mind — it's a very helpful in-depth website and deserves your attention.
posted by Brittanie at 2:46 PM on January 11, 2012

Others have answered you with some good advice and avenues you can take. What I would personally do/have done is not relevant. I only want to address this:

What can I do to be a good person?

You already are. The fact that you even care about this is proof that not only are you a good person, you are a better person than she is and undoubtedly a better person than your birth parents. And to help you continue to be a good person, please do take advantage of the support system your school can provide via counseling - it may help you to have an outside supporter who is not directly related or emotionally tied to your family situation. In any even, right now, you don't have to have all the answers or even a definite plan for where to go from here regarding this relationship. But you do need to take care of yourself and your emotional needs lest you risk your fears of becoming like the toxic members of your family.
posted by sm1tten at 5:22 PM on January 11, 2012

Back way off.

Type up a short, polite letter requesting return of the 1500 that she offered to hold for you. Send it certified mail. If she refuses to return the cash, go to small claims court. Right now, make notes of conversations and understandings about money. Save her emails. In small claims court, you tell your story, she tells her story; a judge decides what is fair. You may have to meet with a mediator beforehand; it's not scary or intimidating.

Find a place to store anything currently at her home; get the police to help you retrieve all your belongings if necessary. Their willingness to do this will vary, but yours is not an uncommon scenario. Bring a strong friend or 2 if there's a bunch of stuff; cops don't help you move; they enforce you claiming your own possessions. I had a scenario where somebody ejected me from her home where I was a guest; I threatened the police, and got my luggage, and a lovely walk on a cold night in the freezing rain....

She's not an emotionally healthy person, and you would benefit from therapy to help you sort out a lot of the mess the adults in your life have put you in. You may be able to have a relationship
posted by theora55 at 7:03 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to all the sensitive, thoughtful, and supportive comments in this thread. I really appreciate all the responses and they have given me a lot of perspective.

Mssr. Caution, I think that christmas cards would be a good idea, but I have no option to do that. She has literally asked me never to contact her again and to keep completely out of her life. I don't think making reparations is an option here, unless I did like another commenter said and came back to grovel, which might work. But she's probably not going to suddenly change her mind and begin to believe that any part of the scenario was her fault.

In other situations where she has had a lot of attachment, she has done a lot to avoid taking responsibility for the end of the relationship. She had a boyfriend (after my dad) who may have been somewhat mood-disordered, and when he couldn't see her a lot because of this, she did a ton of research and bought a lot of self-help books to figure out what his 'problems' were. She then confronted him by going to his work and (at one point) entering his house without asking permission to tell him about all this and try to 'help' him. He was understandably paralyzed and couldn't deal with her there, so she decided he had Aspergers' and was really antisocial. The whole time she was sending him long emails about this as well, and he was responding with short ones telling her to go away, which she was analyzing to ridiculous proportions. At no point did she see her behavior as inappropriate.

honey-barbara, I think you have shown a lot of insight. Maybe you are right that she feared that I was going to 'break up with' her. But I already mostly had. I would talk to her on the phone maybe every couple of weeks (although it was usually for longer than an hour).

Come to think of it, I don't think I mentioned that she told me she was suspicious of my motives because I seemed to only talk to her when I needed something from her.

Leon, you asked, "Rhetorical question: is there anyone in your family she treats more respectfully than she treats you? Why?"
The answer is no. She views herself as separate from my (and her own) family, a black sheep. she never tried to connect with my family and doesn't respect their opinions or lifestyles. That was why it was so difficult to stay connected with my family when I was with her.

I think that she sees herself as a better person than most of my family. Part of this is how self-sacrificing she is, and then there's her control of money, her tendency towards being really organized, and her control over her social life. (A lot of my mom's side of the family are 'flaky' and tend towards depression, but they are also more relaxed and open-minded.) And another part is her thing with spirituality. She jokingly says she is a "good witch" and that she is psychic, but this reflects at least a partial belief in her 'powers'. She claims to know what is going on under the surface and be able to tell when people are lying. Once she told me, "The more you hide from me, the blonder your hair gets."

DoubleLune, seeing the money as something I couldn't get back was my instinct too. I'm not sure if I want a relationship with her or not at this point.

youandiandaflame, the bomb-pillar analogy makes sense to me. At the same time, she just said so many supportive things to me over the years that this doesn't make sense. I mean, this was someone who got up early for years to make me lunch and send me off to school.

headnsouth, thank you, will do.

jbenben, you're awesome, and I really appreciate the kind words. I agree, I'm done being dishonest about my feelings. I'm never doing that again. If I have a problem I'm just going to have to have out with it. Otherwise, if I can't learn to do this, I'll never be happy with myself. So no groveling, it's not worth it.

But I don't think I am going to legally pursue getting the money back. For one thing, it acts as a check. I don't want to feel as if I am standing up for myself because of greed. I am doing this for my emotional health, and money doesn't have a lot to do with it for me. The other thing is that I did willingly transfer the money to her bank account. Technically what happened was that she sent me a request for payment over PayPal and I accepted it. It will seem like I just gave her the money and then changed my mind.

In the future however, I will never do this again. Seems that the appropriate boundary is that my money = my business.

If you have recommendations for resources as to looking into my own rights, I will gladly look at them. This seems like a worthwhile exercise. However, I don't think she would necessarily just hand over the money. She is someone who comes off as really charming and who is also very convincing when it comes to personal rights. She identifies as someone who is forthright and upfront and honest. Everyone else just looks bad. She is also very aggressive, which doesn't help. Bio-mom told me she thought she was "scary." The point is that I don't think she would give up in a legal battle.

Ironically she has a list of emotionally healthy and unhealthy relationship traits on the fridge at her house. It goes along with her view of herself as the only one who sees wha's really going on in situations like this.

Lyn Never, you're right. The only answer is that she is not emotionally healthy. I am going to have to work on developing better boundaries so that I can recognize this.

TryTheTilapia, thank you so much. Your experiences have provided a lot of perspective and you outlining what could go down has helped a lot. That seems exactly right. I think I'm going to take option #1 and just cut my losses altogether.

I have not involved my dad at all. It would get really ugly. I think that it would seem like I used to be on my stepmother's side, and now that I've shown my true colors I'm on my dad's side after all. What's more, I'm sure he would insist on taking legal action and act inappropriately, and it would just get ugly, ugly, ugly. There has already been a lot of triangulating bullshit in this family dynamic and I don't want to see any more. I'm not doing this because I'm like my dad. I stood up for myself because she was being a bully.

I don't want to tell my dad because I think it would hurt his feelings or anger him that I gave the money away. At the same time, I'm borrowing money from him now just to make ends meet, which I feel bad about since he already gave me ample support.

Gauche, thanks very much, you seem very clear-headed. If I do make an effort to recover my property (which was some papers and legal documents, some checkbooks, a wireless graphics tablet, some other stuff like childhood art and whatnot), I will try to take on the attitude which you describe. But it is going to be very painful for me to do so. She asked me to get out of her life, and even to get my stuff, I know she won't make an exception. How do you suggest I go about asking her? Should I email, or call, or what? Should I address her email or just say "did you really dispose of everything I had there?" How do I know if these things are worth the unpleasantness of having to deal with her again?

Thank you for the book recommendations.

Just out of curiosity, can anyone tell me how realistic a $400 moving fee for a Uhaul trip 90 miles each way is? A friend says that's ridiculous.

I think I forgot to mention that in her email she said she already had used the $1500 to pay off her credit card debts, despite telling my mom on the phone that she would give me back the money. Sigh.
posted by athenadanae at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2012

Response by poster: That may have been overkill. Sorry, I guess I'm using this space to pull stuff apart and think about it.
posted by athenadanae at 1:48 PM on January 13, 2012

how realistic a $400 moving fee for a Uhaul trip 90 miles each way is?

It cost me I think $128 to rent a Uhaul, excluding gas, for a trip 20 miles each way. If you got any extras, or a bigger truck than I did, add $30 at least. Then filling up on gas... I got about 10 mpg in my Uhaul. So... 18 gallons of gas is like another $80. So yeah, $400 is almost double what it probably was (unless it was rented for multiple days -- then it might be right).
posted by DoubleLune at 3:28 PM on January 13, 2012

Thanks for the update. I'm sorry to hear you are lying to your dad about finances and it makes you look bad to your dad. See - that's a little message of shame your subconscious is getting right there. You want to avoid situations like this in the future. Do not compromise your emotional well being in the future. I get it this time. There'd be drama between your dad and stepmom, I appreciate you had to weigh that.

I bet if you went through your emails, and she discussed the money with you at all in writing, there would be ample evidence for financial fraud. I dunno. If you are past pursuing it, I understand.

Ahhh, yes! The spirituality and claim of special powers!! Oh, ask me how I know ALL about this! It's a common feature in people like your stepmom. While she believes she's really psychic and stuff, the truth is it's mostly a manipulation tool. She can't see or feel you, at least, not without your permission. Out loud, withdraw your permission for this person to be connected with you in any way, shape, or form. Not because she's a real witch, silly! But because she's programmed you to believe that and fear her. You need to re-program yourself from the ground up. Start with this. Disempowering her in your mind is step one if you plan on getting healthy.

She WILL contact you again, probably well after she thinks the $1500 thing has died down. It could even be years from now.

You can protect yourself from this dangerous woman by at least sending her a proper demand letter for the $1500 via certified mail. You want her to KNOW the door is closed forever.

Please don't send this person a Christmas card. Send one to the new therapist you'll be seeing from now on, instead!

Thanks again for the update. Be well!
posted by jbenben at 10:40 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

It was so heartening to read your update. If you're reading this, just know that you've got a really solid head on your shoulders and you're going to be just fine. I wish I'd known what you know at 19. Best of luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:14 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

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