How to let go of anger?
June 20, 2012 1:02 AM   Subscribe

How to let go of anger?

Almost a year ago, I asked this question:

Things have greatly improved. My SO has definitely stood his ground and we've moved into our own apartment.

The issue is that I still, occasionally, will experience a great deal of anger. SO's mother has backed down and things have calmed down (in the sense that she mostly ignores me now, a step up from being attacked), but it doesn't change the fact that she is a mean, hurtful, and untrustworthy person.

I have many examples of her unacceptable behavior, and SO agrees with me. He's disappointed that his mother cannot be more...reasonable, I suppose, because it puts a distance between them. She calls him, hugs him when she sees him, and of course is very vocal in her opinions of what he should and shouldn't do, but he's told me he doesn't feel close to her. And she appears oblivious to that fact. When we see her, she goes on as if everyone should do what she says. Which is sad, for him and for me. I wish things could be more pleasant.

In any case, I am still really angry. I keep it to myself, after all, there's nothing that can be done. I keep thinking of all of the times I felt powerless. That's the thing that is most upsetting. Usually when someone treats me poorly, I can say something, call them out on it, talk about it. In this situation, I can't because that's just how the dynamic worked. She was deceitful and petty, and bashed me behind my back, and I expressed my hurt to my SO and he did the best he could to mitigate it.

This evening I was thinking about an incident that happened involving one of my cats. She's always made it clear that she didn't like that we had cats, but I told her from the beginning that I was going to have cats, and that if that was a dealbreaker for her, then I would not be able to rent from her.

Anyway, she came over to the house that we were renting from her. I heard a cat wail like I've never heard before and when I asked what happened, she replied "It stepped on my foot." I went into the other room and saw one of my adult cats there and just assumed that she was the one who got stepped on because I didn't see any other cat around (we have three.) I comforted that cat and SO's mother watched.

A couple weeks later, she accused me of having a "conniption" over the cat and said that it was funny that I was comforting the wrong cat. That, in fact, the cat she had actually stepped on was my 6 week old kitten who went to hide. When I heard this, I just didn't know what to say. And now, of course, I'm thinking about what I should have said. Instead of standing there flabbergasted, I should have said, "What would you have done if I hurt one of your dogs so hard it yelped (which by the way, I would never do on purpose, and if I did accidentally, would feel awful about)? Have some compassion. What you did was not only petty, it was downright lousy."

I have countless experiences like this. Thankfully, I only see her about once a month, and when we do see each other, I maintain a respectful distance, letting SO handle the bulk of the socializing.

SO agrees that the incident with the cat was shitty and childish, but I don't think he feels as strongly about it as I do. It's one thing to call me names, to bash me behind my back to my partner and my mother, but this? Really? This, among other instances, just makes my blood boil.

I have a hard time living with disagreement. So one of my coping mechanisms is the adage, "If you can't beat them, join them," and I find myself trying to be okay with her behavior, because that releases the tension. But I don't think I should have to do that.

So after all that, the question is:

How can I let go of my anger without condoning the behavior that makes me angry? How can I let go of my desire to one day just really give her a piece of my mind?
posted by DeltaForce to Human Relations (38 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, I think part of the anger comes from how it seems like she can do these incredibly vicious things and just get away with them. And you have no control over it. So, I think one thing that might help is to take a bit more control over it --

I should have said, "What would you have done if I hurt one of your dogs so hard it yelped (which by the way, I would never do on purpose, and if I did accidentally, would feel awful about)? Have some compassion.

This assumes she has a conscience. People who don't have a conscience are not going to be swayed by appeals to... conscience. There's just nothing in that space. People like that are only swayed by the prospect of direct and harmful consequences to themselves. The way you can protect yourself from them is when they know that if they do whatever vicious thing they are thinking of doing, then something they really don't want will happen. So, I'm not saying your mother in law is definitely consciousless, but if you start thinking she might be (stepped on a kitten on purpose??) then I think that's a more effective way to deal with her. I bet you can think of some things that you know she REALLY doesn't want to happen.

Another way you can get rid of some of the anger is to remember that her behavior hurts her more than anyone else. I'm sure you and your SO aren't the only people she's driven out of her life. Plus, her son doesn't feel close to her. He's pulling away to support you instead, he's probably not seeing her as much as he could if he wanted to. That is really sad. I would probably do a lot of crying in her situation. You only have to see her once a month, but she has to wake up as herself every single day, remember that. She never gets a respite from how she is.
posted by cairdeas at 1:15 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned."

Yep, she sounds like a real winner. But giving her a piece of your mind won't change her, her behavior, or even make her feel a little bit bad because she is the hero of her own story. There's simply nothing you can do to her that will make her behave the way you want her to--because, in reality, if you somehow made her see the light even that resolution wouldn't be satisfying because you had to force her into it.

There's nothing wrong with getting angry--the problem is letting it go, right? The key is to deal with the situation in that moment. If you SEE her step on a cat, speak up. "Please don't hurt my animals." If you HEAR her badmouthing you, say "I heard that, and it hurt my feelings." Then be done.

It sounds like the real issue at this point is that people are hurting you and stoking the fires by telling you what she's saying behind your back. Unless we're talking about life-threatening stuff, emergencies, or other truly need to know information, no one is doing you a favor by telling you hurtful things. In this situation I see nothing wrong with blissful ignorance. If you're worried that your mother or your SO is taking these shovelfuls of shit as gospel, then that's a conversation you can have with them. But even they can't be expected to advocate for you or defend you. They might, they might not; the only thing you can control in how you manage the relationships you DO care about, and it sounds to me like you're working on that.
posted by xyzzy at 1:29 AM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

It might be a good idea to lock your cats away when this hideous excuse for a human being is around.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 2:35 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can I let go of my anger without condoning the behavior that makes me angry? How can I let go of my desire to one day just really give her a piece of my mind?

Anger is an unmet need. When we are angry, it is because we feel as if we need something that is not being offered to us – that we do not have a path toward physical or emotional security.

What is the unmet need in your case? It sounds as if it's respect from your SO's mother, both for yourself and for your animals. And if not respect, then at least civility. Both of those can be closely tied with a sense of personal dignity – the basic need to have your needs recognised, validated, and accepted.

SO agrees that the incident with the cat was shitty and childish, but I don't think he feels as strongly about it as I do.

More importantly, he is not taking a stand on the matter. It sounds as if he is sitting in the middle between you and his mother, attempting to placate both sides. It's unclear as to the power dynamic involved given the living situation (I did not read the other post), however I wonder if part of your anger is coming from the fact that he is not altogether aligned with you. He is not standing up to the mother on something that is really causing you distress, thus you and he are not functioning as a unit, but as two individual people.

There may be a boatload of issues on the mother's side, or an unfortunate dynamic between SO and his mother. There may be a lot of emotional history that is not apparent. Regardless, the mother is involved in your life (and that of your cats) because of your relationship with SO, thus he does have an active responsibility to manage that relationship. If there's a problem between you and his mother, that is a problem that weighs squarely on him as well, for he is the common link. It's a presumption, but it sounds as if he operates from a place of indifference. He is not taking steps to alleviate the tension between you and the mother; rather avoiding it and keeping his own relationship with each of you complacent.

If that is the case, it makes sense that you feel angry, for you are being expected to resolve a situation without the key support of the reason you are in that very situation. Another presumption is that he may well be passively playing you and the mother against each other. Not in a conscious way, mind you, but rather, each of you desires his allegiance to you, and he can freely oscillate back and forth, never quite provoking the anger of either side, but also never fully supporting either side.

Does that sound like a situation which can generate anger? It seems to in that the fundamental issue is that your SO is not being fully supportive of you. As mentioned, I am not aware of the larger situation, but it sounds like you need him to make a choice. If he continues to weakly support you whilst his mother tries and dominates you, you will continue to be angry. If for him, it is a choice between siding with his mother and his significant other, that choice will have implications either way. Maybe you have to find a new place to live. Maybe he needs to find a new SO. Who knows? Regardless, it seems to me that his lack of choosing to support you is exposing you to a situation where latent anger is developing. That is unsustainable, for at some point, you will demand he support you. The result will probably be same, whether now or later (and I say that with no prediction of what that result will be), thus you can either require his support now, or you can seethe in anger until you will need to demand it.
posted by nickrussell at 2:47 AM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

This struck me as very possibly being gaslighting, especially if you didn't notice any behavioral changes in your kitten right after MIL's visit: A couple weeks later, she accused me of having a "conniption" over the cat and said that it was funny that I was comforting the wrong cat. That, in fact, the cat she had actually stepped on was my 6 week old kitten who went to hide.

If you didn't notice your kitten being more fearful of people, then who knows if what she says is actually true. Plus, her professed emotions speak directly to gaslighting: "it was funny" that you were "comforting the wrong cat". She's fishing for negative emotional reactions from you with a damn bright, practically-irresistible lure right there. Sometimes it helps to recognize that. In my own therapy, it's been immensely relieving to hear my own therapist point out, simply, "your mother did that on purpose. It was clearly part of her larger pattern of making you distrust yourself", and she brings up patterns I myself didn't notice from talks about other events. It's like, "oh, whoa, it really wasn't me," and part of the anger goes "puff!" never to return.

In any case, I am still really angry. I keep it to myself, after all, there's nothing that can be done.

You can do one thing – express it (not keep it to yourself). Anger can be expressed in constructive ways, namely, by seeing it as a sign that something's not quite right, identifying what that is, and expressing that. On preview, nickrussell has some lines of investigation you could follow with your anger. As long as you express it calmly, it would probably be helpful to say something like, "Honey, I was really angry about how your mother handled hurting the kitten. Did you say something to her about it?" You could also ask him why he sees it the way he does – open-ended, non-accusatorily, genuinely wanting to hear his own thought & emotional process. This has the potential to help you both a lot, if your communication is strong in other areas.
posted by fraula at 2:58 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Express your anger. Write it down. Write a letter to her detailing how much you hate her for everything she's done, how she'll never get contact with any kids you plan on having, how she's a shitty excuse for a human being and you hope she dies slowly and painfully in a horrific fire. Get everything out. Then burn it or bury it. Repeat as and when required.

For me, I think I would also be setting boundaries like whoa. She would not be welcome in my house if she is going to hurt my pets. She would not be welcome to spread her poison to my children. She would not get to make her little digs at me, because I would do my best to pretend that she does not exist. I would not socialise with her or spend any time with her at all. She would be dead to me.

Make sure she knows she's never getting to spend time with your kids, if you plan any. And stick to that.
posted by corvine at 3:50 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't bother to say anything to MIL about her previous behavior --- not only would it not help, it would probably make MIL *HAPPY* to know how much of your head-space she's taking up! It's extremely unlikely you can do anything to change her behavior, all you can do it change your reactions, and it seems you've already taken steps to mitigate much of her nastiness: you've moved away from her direct control and your SO clearly has your back.

It seems to me that the best thing you can do at this point is protect your own mental health, since MIL's is hopeless; perhaps a bit of professional therapy will help with that anger.
posted by easily confused at 3:51 AM on June 20, 2012

How can I let go of my anger without condoning the behavior that makes me angry? How can I let go of my desire to one day just really give her a piece of my mind?

I agree with nickrussell that part of the anger comes from your SO's unsure and almost neutral stance on this.
It might be good to talk to him about this. For example, you could ask him 1. Think of a plan to stop his mother's behavior. 2. Tell him this situation not being resolved makes you feel hurt and angry, partially towards him, because you need to feel secure and safe in your relationship.

Beliefs that certain people and incidents are important can fuel anger.

An effective way to let go of your anger is to let go of the belief that this woman deserves more of your time than the periods when you have to interact with her. You are much more, and have much more going on in your life, than her. This will make you happier in the long run. You might focus on the relationships, plans, and people that make you happy. With your SO, this focus may make him happier too, and may cause him to be, in the long run, more resolved about his mum.
posted by Firegal at 3:58 AM on June 20, 2012

This evening I was thinking about an incident that happened involving one of my cats.


One way to let go of anger is to stop the addictive process of constantly turning over incidents where someone did you wrong in your head. It's in the past. Let it stay there.

You say things have calmed down, but your anger remains at the same level. It's time to let yourself calm down, as well. If you can't deal with her, then don't. She will always be your SO's mother, though, so unless your SO banishes her from your lives (which it seems like what you want), then you'll have to find a way of dealing with her on some level. If that mean you are simply not there when your SO and mother-in-law are together, that can probably be arranged, but if she's calming down, then it makes sense to me that you could adjust your anger levels to deal with things that are happening in the present, instead.
posted by xingcat at 4:10 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wonder if some of your anger towards your MIL is misdirected from your SO because you don't feel safe expressing your anger at your SO's behaviour. Your SO sounds like he is unwilling to stand up to his mother (she should have insulted you ONCE, he should have said "that is unacceptable, do not do it again", and at the second insult he should have been enforcing consequences). It sounds to me like he is okay with you being the target of her abuse because it is deflecting her abuse away from him. In other words, he is using you as a human shield. Are you guys in counselling? I think having a third, neutral person validate your feelings in the face of this gaslighting and working with your SO on setting appropriate boundaries (with a mother like that he has probably been trained to meet her emotional needs over his own or any one else).

Otherwise, your anger will not go away. Which is a good thing because it is your gut telling you this is an awful, dangerous situation (to your happiness and self esteem and relationship) to be in and to protect yourself it needs to change. You feel powerless because your partner has thrown you under the bus. His mother (not you!) has put him in the situation where he has to chose who he loves more, his mom or you.
posted by saucysault at 4:49 AM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

How can I let go of my desire to one day just really give her a piece of my mind?

In your situation, what I would do every time I thought of what I should have said or what I would like to say would be to write it all out in an email to her... and delete it. For me the act of actually putting my feelings into words is more valuable than actually having those words heard.

If you're feeling more dramatic, write it down on a piece of paper and burn it.

If nothing else, writing it down will help solidify how you feel and if the time comes when you do end up having a heated discussion, your thought processes will be clearer and you'll have more of an idea of what you'd like to say.

Good luck with this and I think that your idea of letting go of the anger itself is absolutely the best way to approach this. You can't change someone else's behavior, you can only change how you yourself react to it.
posted by sonika at 4:58 AM on June 20, 2012

Inlaws irk me too.

Thank god I have a wonderful therapist who listens without judgement and then decides it is not worth dwelling on in the context of life and more important things such as her next walk. My rottweiler rocks.

Good thing you have cats. My old cat used to pee on my least favourite auntie.

Pets are wonderful.

Treat your inlaws like pets. Don't acknowledge bad behaviour.
posted by oink at 5:08 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can I let go of my anger without condoning the behavior that makes me angry?

Being angry is being like her. You see her as powerful but her power is an illusion created by ignoring her powerlessness; e.g. her lack of influence over her son who doesn't feel close to her. When you can see her desperation instead of her power, you'll feel less angry.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:17 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait, have you moved into your "own place" that is actually owned by your in-laws? Maybe I'm misunderstanding your question, but is your SO's mother your landlady? Because if so, I'd say that the first step is to actually get your own place that is totally separate from them, so that she's not popping by randomly and so that she has no excuse to make backhanded comments about the way you choose to live.
posted by decathecting at 5:19 AM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

This woman is never, ever going to change. At this point, I don't think your SO plans to either. Do you really want to be around either of these people when she "accidently" hurts one of your future children? Because she will. She will do whatever she has to do to get to you, because she is crazy.

Personally, if somebody like that hurt one of my animals I would get her alone, smile sweetly, stare at her for a count of five and say in a normal speaking voice, "Listen carefully, you pathetic piece of hurt one of my animals again, you are going down a fucking staircase". And I would mean it. She would know that I meant it, and who cares if she repeats it to all and sundry. At least half those people already know she's a lying bag of crazy.

When you look someone right in the eye and tell them at true thing, they know it.

And then move to a different state. If your SO does not want to move, too bad. Pack up your kitties and wave at them both as you drive away.
posted by moneyjane at 5:48 AM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

IMHO, you seem to have some issues which escalate your own anger. As soon as a conflict arises find ways and strategies to defuse them. The main way is not to let your imagination take control. Your description of the cat incident makes a huge number of assumptions about what actually happened. Some of those assumptions obviously turned out wrong.

The only reason that you feel powerless in these situations is that she can manipulate you into being angry. If you find ways to derail that path then you will have the upper hand. If that seems like it is too much of a challenge then seek outside therapy to get over it.
posted by JJ86 at 6:06 AM on June 20, 2012

She is playing you like a fiddle. Don't let her. When she starts in on you, walk away laughing at how hilarious it is that a grown woman is trying to play these games.

Don't let your SO get caught up in it either, because that's what his mom wants anyway -- to make her boy choose between you and her. He doesn't have to.
posted by Etrigan at 6:20 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, re the anger - the only productive thing you can do is be assertive with MIL from here forward. What is past is past, and there is nothing to be gained about stewing over how you could have or should have said or done something better in the past. Treat all that as water under the bridge and resolve to be calm and assertive starting now and going forward.

I went back and read your last question. I'm very glad you got out of that toxic soup. Now, you are in your own apartment, as I understand it. So why be in contact with MIL at all? You need her in your life like you need your brain pierced. Can you enforce a "no-contact" policy? How about saying, "This is my apartment, too, and I do not want your mother around because she is a danger to me and our animals. If you want to see your mother, you have to go to her. I do not want her in the house. Period."

It also seems like your SO continues to be a milquetoast with mommy at heart. Does he flat out tell her "You cannot treat DeltaForce or her pets the way you do. Play nice, or I will have to cut off contact with you, because this is not acceptable behavior." You are his wife, and at least in US culture, married people are supposed to put their spouses first. Does his supportiveness consist of placating mommy and then turning to you, wringing his hands, and saying "I know she was wrong to treat you that way, but that's just the way she is" and then not really doing anything to enforce boundaries with her?

I strongly suggest couples counseling to help your SO cut the iron umbilical cord and for you to define what is acceptable grown-up behavior on the part of a spouse. Couples counseling can help you work through impasses and issues surrounding families of origin and setting boundaries around your new, chosen family. If money is an issue, many colleges with MFT degree programs offer supervised counseling by students at a lower or sliding-scale rate.

Finally, if you are at all dependent on this woman for money or anything else, for God's sake get to where the two of you are self-sufficient. Being financially dependent on someone who abuses you is as toxic as being immersed in battery acid. If you are financially independent, that's even more of a reason to declare your apartment a MIL-free zone. Put your foot down, hard.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:31 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am unclear as to why you persist in having a relationship with this woman. Your SO can have a relationship with his mother without you.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:38 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're 22 years old in a shitty sounding relationship where your boyfriend's mother hates you? Don't waste any more of your life with this dude and his family. The idea of couple's counseling for someone in your age bracket without shared children is madness.
posted by last night a dj saved my life at 7:09 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I told her from the beginning that I was going to have cats, and that if that was a dealbreaker for her, then I would not be able to rent from her.

Did I read that you're renting from this harpie? Why are you complicating your life in this way?

For fuck's sake, there are millions of places to rent, why are you putting yourself at her mercy AND entangling your finances with her????

That's craziness right there.

Get an apartment she doesn't have a right to pop into whenever she feels like it. I don't care how nice it is, how convenient it is, how big it is, I'd rather rent a shack by the railroad than from someone who hates me and hurts my animals.

You need boundaries and plenty of them.

Why are you dealing with this lady at all? If you don't like her, don't have her over, don't go over to her places. She's proven untrustworthy with your pets, you don't get two strikes with that.

As for your SO, he needs distance too. He can see his mom without you, your home should be your sanctuary, and it can't be if this lady has control over it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:24 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

How to let go of anger? Step one is to remove the elements that reduce your power in the situation, and the obvious one is to move out of the house she owns!! Why are you renting from her? If you lived in a regular place that she didn't own, she wouldn't have a key! She wouldn't be coming by and stepping on your kittens!

She perceives you as subservient because you are. Step one: you and your husband get independent by renting some other place, even if it's a step down real estate wise. You will feel SO MUCH BETTER when she's no longer your landlord. Step two: next time she pulls shit with you - if she does - whisper to her that she will never get to see her grandchildren.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This doesn't exactly answer the "how to let go of anger" question but should help to alleviate any future incidents...

If I may repeat what has been said plenty of times - why are you still renting from this hellish bitch? You may be getting a deal for the domicile but is it worth your peace of mind and sense of tranquility for a few dollars a month?

It sounds as simple as, "It hurts when I do this." Well, then don't do that.

Move to another house, another town if possible. Limit your exposure to and dependance on her. Tell you SO of your anger and ask for his support in keeping her as far away as possible. From what you've told us, he sounds understanding enough to make that happen.

In regard to the cat incident, tell your SO that you would like for her to to be constantly escorted when in the house due to the risk to cats. It doesn't sound as though she hurt the cat in any real way (have you noticed the cat limping or otherwise affected?), and your SO might not have the same anger and emotional attachment to the cats as you so his lessened concern is understandable.

I have a similar relationship with my sister in that she does things that infuriate me all the time. Almost all of her choices are seemingly designed to fail and put her children - unwed, 2 from 2 different fathers that couldn't care less about these beautiful boys that are some of the sweetest, smartest and gentlest on the planet - in emotional turmoil. The latest is that she is dropping out of school after nearly two years due to an administrative error that caused her financial aid to come late. She tells me that she doesn't want to give such idiots her money. Two years of time and money down the drain for her silly "pride". I don't believe her but that's beside the point.

Anyway, when she is around, the entire family is in a state of anger and resentment towards her stubborn selfish idiocy. A couple of years ago she moved to the other side of the country and while we worry about the kids and wish that we could help them without her dragging it down into exploitation, it really has been better since she moved. I speak with her on the phone, keep everything light and pleasant, and our relationship has improved. Improved in that we don't get into screaming matches and actually talk to each other, at least superficially. Absence really makes the heart grow fonder, if even just a bit.
posted by dozo at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2012

xyzzy has it: what's wrong with giving her a piece of your mind? Calling someone out on hurtful behaviour is a totally fine thing to do. You don't have to yell or threaten or cause a scene, just concentrate on the actions. A good tactic is to question her outright, but without making it into an argument. With your cat example I'd have been saying "What? So let me get this straight, you trod on a kitten and then lied about it?", and then raising my eyes and shrugging at whatever she responded with.

The key is to stop dwelling on her motivations or subtext - what people think and feel is not as important as what they do when it comes to inappropriate behaviour. It is absolutely fine for you to throw it back at them by asking them to question their actions in the moment. And then move on, because whether or not they are contrite you'll at least have made your views known.

I can understand that it might feel challenging when you're 22 (adults should know better, right?) but if you can find some way of express this stuff when it happens you will feel less impotent and the angry feelings will become more manageable.
posted by freya_lamb at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2012

Er, I meant 'expressing'!
posted by freya_lamb at 8:13 AM on June 20, 2012

So is this apartment you are renting also owned by your MIL? If so, you have to (as in MUST) get out. ASAP. Any money you might save is not worth the heartache you are enduring.

From experience and observation, the main weapon toxic parents use to keep their children chained to them is money or other material help. So you need to be independent of this woman right now, stat, ASAP, yesterday. So what if you have to live in a dump and eat ramen? It's better to live in a shack in peace than live in a palace in fear and anger.

If you would truly be out on the streets without this woman's charity, you need to get financially independent - again, right away, no stalling, no excuses. I don't know what state you are in, but if you google [Name of State] Social Services you will find links to where you can get food stamps, Social Security disability (if one of you is disabled and can't work) and other assistance. If one or both of you is unemployed - yes, this economy sucks, but it would be worth it in your case for you and/or SO to take anything available - fast food, day labor, temp agencies, whatever can get you some money to achieve financial independence and cut MIL out of your life.

One more thing: You're 22. That's young! Is this man the love of your life, someone you want to marry and have kids and grow old with? If so, counseling. If not - consider whether the relationship is worth this crazy toxic lady who is related by blood to your SO.

In any case, you need to DTMILA.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:19 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think anger is appropriate and healthy at this point, in the sense that it will motivate you to distance yourself from this person. Looking through your other posts, you're at an age where people are still separating from their parents (in the US, anyway, where we have this weird long adolescence). Even with the best of relationships, it can be a jarring transition period. At your age, I was married and my husband was often shocked by my parents' behavior towards both him and me. I was a combination of habituated to it, over it and in denial. When I saw the stuff they did through his eyes, I was incredulous. At one point, I was so depressed after a visit from my mother that I stayed in bed for three days. With time, we developed a sense of humor about it. My husband said parents get really obnoxious during that period for evolutionary reasons, like birds pushing their babies out of the nest. I said their awful behavior when staying with us was their revenge for years of my messing the house up and coming home late.

But I also think you have to let your husband know what you need, in terms of validation and support. Both my long-term partners now have been treated pretty badly by members of my family. In the case of the person I'm with now, I wish he had let me know exactly what happened on a couple of occasions where people were mean to him in a very sneaky way, and how it affected him. I would have been much more supportive at the time, had I known. I appreciate that he took the high road at the time, but it upsets me that he suffered in silence.
posted by BibiRose at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you're misdirecting your anger. Your mother-in-law is the person who's acting horrid, but there is only one reason why you have to deal with her at all. Your SO. If you were not in a relationship with him, you would never see that woman again. He has to know this. So why isn't he turning himself inside out to protect you?

If I were you I'd think about him some more. Not that he isn't a wonderful, loving, and supportive person, but that if you are going to spend the rest of your life in anger and being unhappy, is he worth it? How is anyone worth that? This is your only life! You won't get another. Spend it being happy and content, not staring at the ceiling at 3am in a rage over his mother.

You're only 22. Something I learned as I got older: Love really isn't enough. If you are in love and miserable, love isn't enough.

When I was your age my boyfriend of 2 years broke up with me and at first I was upset, but then I realized I would never have to be in contact with his best friend again. Ever. I never had to spend another moment of my life thinking of that jackass, not a single braincell needed to even remember his name, and I was happier then I had been in months!
posted by Dynex at 9:02 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Reading your question, I felt my anger directed towards your SO more than the MIL. Your SO should be standing up for you. In order not to feel angry, I think you need to feel empowered. I don't think your MIL should be allowed in your home anymore. I would refuse to have contact with her. If your SO wants to see her, he can go see her. It's completely unacceptable that he tolerates his mother treating you so poorly. I would seriously consider leaving the relationship.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:39 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your anger is a signal to you that this woman's behavior is wrong and that you need not to expose yourself to it (or to expose yourself to it as little as possible). It might also have a component, as others have said, of your displacing your impatience with your partner for not shielding you from his mother's unconscionable behavior.

But anger isn't itself a bad thing. It's part of the spectrum of healthy emotions.

That said, rehearsing to yourself what you "should have said" isn't getting you anywhere. Your partner's mother has some kind of serious problem. She is not a healthy person for you to interact with. I would encourage you to treat her like radioactive waste or some other toxic environment and just minimize your exposure rather than trying to argue her out of her toxicity.

And if you feel like your partner isn't respecting the boundaries you set for yourself vis-a-vis her, talk with him about it.

Also, agree with everyone who says "protect the cats from her." She sounds horrible and spiteful and definitely like someone who would injure pets.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:43 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone for your thoughts so far, I greatly appreciate it.

I just wanted to clarify that we rented a house from her for one year and moved out into our own apartment this past February. She is no longer our landlord.

Your description of the cat incident makes a huge number of assumptions about what actually happened. Some of those assumptions obviously turned out wrong.

I also wanted to clarify that I assumed it was a certain cat, when it was another. The description of what happened wasn't assumed, it actually happened that way.
posted by DeltaForce at 10:00 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Deltaforce posted: Anyway, she came over to the house that we were renting from her. I heard a cat wail like I've never heard before and when I asked what happened, she replied "It stepped on my foot." I went into the other room and saw one of my adult cats there and just assumed that she was the one who got stepped on because I didn't see any other cat around (we have three.) I comforted that cat and SO's mother watched.

The description confuses me and doesn't seem to make much clear. A cat wailed after it stepped on your MIL's foot and you were angry at your MIL. Did the cat say the quote to you? Ok, assuming that the incident happened to the cat's foot and not your MIL, how do you assume it was intentional? I can't count the number of times I've accidentally stepped on an animal's foot which must make me a horrible monster in some people's twisted eyes.

The only right you would have to be angry is if it was intentional and you have definite proof. Unless there is something more to the incident than you posted, I can't see the anger. From the description she seemed a little manipulative but nothing that even the SPCA would even waste time on.
posted by JJ86 at 11:21 AM on June 20, 2012

I don't know if what happened was intentional or not. My description is a little confusing so I'll elaborate a bit.

I was in the bedroom of the house that SO and I were renting from her. I heard a cat cry out and went to the kitchen to ask what happened. SO's mother replied "The cat stepped on my foot." I didn't say anything because obviously saying that the cat stepped on her foot is a load of nonsense, but very much something she would say. The cat made a really loud sound, indicating that it was the cat who got hurt and not my SO's mother.

I saw a cat in the kitchen. The cat was looking startled, but now I know it is because of the loud cry the kitten had made. I picked up the cat and made sure she was okay. SO's mother watched and didn't say anything.

Several weeks later she explained that she thought it was funny that I comforted the wrong cat.

I don't think this is an issue for the SPCA. But it's, like I said, really lousy.
posted by DeltaForce at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2012

But so this doesn't become about cat stepping, this is just one example out of many. My other question gives a better picture.
posted by DeltaForce at 11:50 AM on June 20, 2012

Right now, it's not important to know exactly which cat MIL stepped on when and in what way. What is important is that your MIL is a cruel and toxic person who is capable of injuring an innocent animal.

Part of letting go of anger is knowing that what is in the past can't be changed. Your MIL hurt one of your cats. That is water under the bridge. You want to let go of obsessing over that, and you want to harness your anger to help you, not waste it on piddly "she stepped on this cat, in this manner" details.

The only way to go now is forward, and the best way to deal with your anger is to shout out, Twisted-Sister style, "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!" (Let that be your anthem!) No more MIL in the house, ever. No more talking to MIL, no more answering the door to MIL, no contact, not ever. If your SO absolutely must talk to his mommy, he can do it on his own time, out of the house, without you.

Both of you absolutely, positively must be on the same team about this. You MUST. Otherwise he will continue to cave and she will continue to be an unwanted, toxic presence in your lives. If your SO cannot help you enforce the "do not darken our doorstep again, MIL" rule then you might want to think twice about what having this woman in your lives, in your future children's lives, for the next 50 years might be like.

You might want to check out the book: Codependent No More, Adult Children of Alcoholics (even if your own parents weren't alcoholics or addicts, the help and support offered is great for all kinds of codependency issues), and the site Baggage Reclaim, to help you on your journey away from this toxic relationship.

Use your anger to go forward, not dwell in the past. DTMILA.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:11 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate the title, but Anger Management for Dummies really helped me work through things that were causing a lot of anger in my life. It's a relatively quick read, has some good exercises to do, and provides a lot of guidelines for reducing anger in the moment, dealing with difficult people (like your MIL) and for letting go of things more easily. That book literally changed my life.
posted by Fuego at 1:09 PM on June 20, 2012

A priest once told me that when Satan makes me think about people I don't like or who have harmed me in the past, that I should pray for them. Something like "Dear God, please bless so-and-so and keep her well." Something non-specific (for example, you shouldn't pray "Dear God, please make so-and-so stop being a jerk") and short.

I've found this to be a strangely effective way of breaking out when I'm stuck in a loop reliving some old hurt or pain that makes me angry. I say a little prayer for the person who caused the pain, and I usually feel like a weight has been lifted off me and I can think about something else.

I suggest this with no assumptions about your own spiritual practice. If you aren't a praying person, maybe you can adapt it somehow for yourself. I also suggest it without advocating for the priest's unspoken assumptions about Satan or about me.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

OrangeDisk is essentially advocating loving kindness meditation, which I *almost* suggested. It helped me let go of my anger at my parents for past hurts and allowed me to focus on the present. It's not that I no longer get angry; I'm just able to drop it sooner and adopt an attitude of acceptance of hurtful behavior. It's important to understand that acceptance is not the same as condoning or enabling bad behavior, though. It's more of a recognition of the suffering of others; surely a woman who behaves in this manner is suffering, whether she realizes it or not. It's also a method of self-care. Harboring anger is self-destructive and can interfere with enjoyment of all the good things in your life.

This isn't for everyone, though.
posted by xyzzy at 11:45 PM on June 20, 2012

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