Is it as simple as saying, "Please leave me alone"?
August 26, 2016 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Just trying to live a peaceful and functional adult life beyond the reach of a controlling, emotionally abusive parent. But I was tracked down by a PI and I'm worried that it's only a matter of time before I have to face this awful person again. What do I say to make clear that I have no intention of reestablishing ties and that I wish to be left alone?

I don't believe that there's a threat of physical danger by interacting with this parent, for which I'm grateful, but I prefer to continue my life without contacting him and his side of the family. Almost a decade ago, I stopped communicating with all of them, and I began to see that I could be a worthwhile person when I wasn't surrounded by people who relished opportunities to tell me I was stupid, fat, unlovable, and whatever else. I'm an adult now and I have people who I know care for me, but I feel so anxious when I think about seeing any of that family again, and it takes me back to a time when I was a lonely kid, and the only people around were the folks I most depended on and yet they seemed dedicated to breaking me down whenever they could. I know that things could have been much worse -- I'm sure this parent would point to his own physically abusive father and say that I got a better deal than he did. But he didn't have to perpetuate the abuse-as-love theme from his own childhood.

So a few nights ago, a PI visited my home (someone else opened the door and confirmed that I lived there even though the PI asked for me by my old name) and handed me an envelope with a typed letter inside. He also asked for a photo -- which I declined -- saying that this parent just wanted to see me again. I was frazzled and foolish because it was only after the PI left that I wondered if maybe he had been asked for more than just a photo. Like an address. The PI gave me his name, but the phone number I found through a Google search went to a non-working number, so I don't think I'll be able to call and ask him to keep the address private. I'll likely need to just email this parent and ask him to leave me alone, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

Have any MeFites done something similar, and if so could you provide some useful phrases to include in the email? Also, any general advice and encouragement would be helpful. I've thought of just pointing him to my doctoral student profile page as that has a decent photo of me and he might take heart simply from knowing the university and the program into which I matriculated. Maybe then he would let me be...?

* There's likely an earlier Ask about this same thing so please point me in that direction if you know about it. So far my AskMeFi search turned up topics about how to cut ties (which I've done) and dealing with one's own feelings about the cut ties (which I dealt with long ago). But how do I shut down someone who is trying to reinitiate ties that, at least for now and the foreseeable future, I do not want?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I would not respond to the letter. Any communication at all will be taken as encouragement to pursue further. Any information you give will be exploited to get at you. I'm sorry.
posted by praemunire at 1:48 PM on August 26, 2016 [30 favorites]

Do not engage. Any request you make of the PI is going to be ignored, since you're not the one paying his bill. Any request you make of the parent is likely to be ignored, since they're controlling and not content to leave you alone in the first place.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Consider it targeted spam. Flag it and move on.
posted by theraflu at 2:03 PM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

I am sorry that you are going through this. I agree with the advice above: don't engage further with the PI (who is unlikely to care what you prefer), and don't reach out to the parent (who will take any proactive response on your part as "engagement" and therefore encouragement to badger you further).

If you do hear further from the parent, then you can say once, simply: "I do not want to be in contact with you." Don't need to say anything more complicated than that, because it is unlikely that lengthier explanations will be more convincing to them.

It might CONCEIVABLY be different if the typed letter is 1000 percent apologetic and 0 percent demanding. But that would be pretty astounding.

I think it's great that you figured out how to build a good life for yourself. Don't get drawn back in to negativity. You don't need it and don't deserve it.
posted by sheldman at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Get a restraining order.
posted by at at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2016 [24 favorites]

Do not contact them, it will only confirm the information the PI gives them was correct. Don't bother contacting the PI they don't work for you, they don't care what you have to say.

Do not respond to any communication even to tell them to go away, return all letters to sender or destroy them (read or unread is up to you).

Do not answer emails, do not answer calls from numbers you do not know. Do not give them any response, any response will be taken as a sign they can keep trying. You give one response even to tell them to go away & they will escalate, assuming they got a response once they'll get one again if they just keep trying. You want them to receive every indication that the information they have is incorrect. Be aware they will most likely also know where you work & may try to contact you there.

Also don't be so sure the PI hasn't already taken photos.

If they are seriously just worried if you're alive or not they now have that info, they are not entitled to know anything else.
posted by wwax at 2:10 PM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Don't pursue the PI. Don't initiate contact with the parent. If they contact you, absolutely do not say "Please leave me alone"? That is one of the worst ways you can try to ask an abusive person to desist.

If they contact you, try to not make them feel attacked, criticized, etc. Do your best to channel "These are not the droids you are looking for, we can move along now."

I had someone hire a PI to find me. I talked to them just enough to let them know that it was long ago and far away and there was nothing more to discuss and he needed to just let it go and move on. I haven't heard from him again. That was many years ago.

But absolutely do not initiate contact. If you absolutely cannot avoid them, do your best to be all "Meh, sure, parents and children do routinely stay in contact. We did not. We have nothing further to discuss." As much as possible, do not get into the dirt from the past. You want to focus on "There simply is no future here. That's all."
posted by Michele in California at 2:15 PM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make it known to your housemates and your place of employment that they should not grant access to unannounced visitors of any kind. Nor should they confirm or deny that you are home/at work.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:39 PM on August 26, 2016 [25 favorites]

I'll likely need to just email this parent and ask him to leave me alone, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

Nope. If you don't want to be in touch with this person, don't reach out to them!

The PI might well have more information on you that they would pass on... or they might have been hired to get specific info and aren't doing any more work than they have to. Obviously they have your address. You aren't paying the bills here and have no power over what info the PI will give them.

someone else opened the door and confirmed that I lived there even though the PI asked for me by my old name

Do you know if anyone said your current name in front of the PI? Ask the person who opened the door while they might still remember. This might be useful to know later on.

I've thought of just pointing him to my doctoral student profile page as that has a decent photo of me and he might take heart simply from knowing the university and the program into which I matriculated.

It seems like this probably has your current name, your workplace, and possibly some other info. Plus they would have your email if you email them. So you are thinking of giving all that info to someone you want to leave you alone. Do you really think that's a good idea? (Spoilers: NO it is not a good idea)

Don't ever provide this person with a photo you have ever used anywhere else online, or will ever use anywhere else online. Reverse image searches can find it. Actually, it seems like a good assumption that facial recognition technology will improve in the future, so providing them with a current photo is probably not a good plan. (Although in many places it's perfectly legal to photograph people in public places, so depending on how much this parent has paid the PI might already have photos of you, or take some in the future)
posted by yohko at 2:47 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Either some new can of worms will be opened by this, or it won't. Wait and see; don't open it yourself. If something happens, figure out next steps then. Read The Gift of Fear if you haven't, as there is advice there about going and remaining no-contact.

You can tip off your housemates that if anyone comes asking for that old name again, say they've never heard it. It's not really their job to run any more interference for you than that, but there are other bad things that can come from giving away more information than actually requested to strangers at the door, even if they are PIs or even if they are cops, so best practice is to be skeptical and reticent.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:59 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

But how do I shut down someone who is trying to reinitiate ties that, at least for now and the foreseeable future, I do not want?

First of all, the PI very likely will give your address to the parent in question; your parent has paid for this information. That does not mean he or she will arrive at your door.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:26 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you know your parent's address, I'd get a paralegal to draft up a Cease and Desist and send it to them. At the very least, it would establish a precedent that you are refusing a relationship with them and do not want to be contacted. A restraining order typically requires some kind of justification before a court will grant it, and then there's the question of whether cops would actually enforce it. Some can be pretty dang lax about "domestic disputes" and brush it off as, "Oh, parent and kid problems, just a family disagreement, they're blowing it out of proportion" and then you have to deal with the parent *and* have to spend a bunch of time trying to get your order enforced. I'd at least try the C&D first to go on the record.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

I responded earlier but will add this. Some awful and estranged parents are presently dangerous in a sense beyond "dammit every time I think about them it drags me back in a bad way." They might actually cause physical harm. But some are "merely" bad in a more limited way: that we do infinitely better (happier, wiser, etc.) if we stay away from them. Some of the more aggressive advice above is very good if your parent is, or may be, of the more presently-dangerous kind. It sounds to me, from your post, like you believe that your parent is not actually a present danger to you. If that is what you believe, you may be right. Don't be positive about it - continue to be alert and smart - but if that is what you believe, then part of the solution may be for you to worry less, even while remaining steadfast in your preference not to have anything to do with them.

(Summary: don't let them into your head even now. Be smart, but don't give them a lot of headspace or energy unless the situation actually requires it.)
posted by sheldman at 5:41 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Summary: don't let them into your head even now. Be smart, but don't give them a lot of headspace or energy unless the situation actually requires it.)

This is really good advice, but the framing is a little bit like that "Don't think about an elephant!" trope. It might be more useful to a) focus on improving your safety generally and b) come up with some kind of positive mantra to focus on in place of worrying about your parent so they can't take over your headspace. Actively fill it with other things that are better than this.

posted by Michele in California at 6:47 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Don't reach out to the parent. Establishing contact will confirm they were successful in finding you. Abusive, stalkery parents don't reach out because they love you, they reach out to regain control of you and prove that you can't escape them. Don't give them any ammunition.

My other concern here beyond the abusive parent trying to stalk you by proxy is the private investigator. In my state, private investigators must be licensed and must have at least two years of prior experience in a related field or a related degree. Private investigators are also not free from behaving ethically. Even if they don't violate the law, they can still be sued or face legal consequences for enabling illegal behavior. It is also illegal to operate without a license in most places that require licensing.

The fact that this person gave you false information may indicate that they're not acting ethically and may be violating the law by impersonating a private investigator. If you can find the office of the PI, assuming they're actually legit, you may be able to report them to their local licensing authority. If they're not legit and it's illegal, I'd file a police report and report it the local licensing authority.

Also, I disagree with others who say not to contact the PI. If you can find viable contact information, inform them that they're enabling stalking behavior by an abusive parent and that if they continue to enable such behavior you will report them and file a police report.

Last thing - while licensed investigators sometimes have access to more restricted databases (DMV, Social Security, etc.), it's possible that they didn't have to dig too deep. Publicly accessible databases like Intelius and others compile huge databases of information on private individuals. You may want to look into removing as much of that information as possible. While you may not get everything, making it harder for your abusive parent to use these tools on their own could be worthwhile.
posted by i feel possessed at 7:55 AM on August 28, 2016

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