How to handle family drama/estrangement? (Narcissistic Mother Version)
June 6, 2022 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I had a rough week with family, who ultimately drove me so nuts that I changed my flight and left the situation much earlier than expected. Now my family (my narcissistic mother in particular) is royally pissed at me. Where do I go from here?

I flew out of town for a long-anticipated gathering with my parents, as well as my aunt and uncle (Dad’s side of the fam). I hadn’t seen the aunt and uncle in nearly a decade, and we were all looking forward to it.

To make a very long story as short as I can, it was a disaster. The aunt and uncle took over every part of the house in every way imaginable, left their crap all over, made messes in every room, and made it extremely uncomfortable for everyone else. They kept the TV on all night long. The rest of us had difficulty bathing, sleeping, and everything in between.

Then there was the conversation. I’ve never heard such horrific racist statements from family like this before. I lost count of the uses of the “N” word, the vitriol against LGBTQ+, and anyone else who isn’t a white, Christian conservative. They hijacked conversations, talked over other speakers, and were just plain rude in general.

Finally, I decided that I had it, changed my flight, and got out of there 2 days and 2 nights early. That’s when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Enter the narcissistic mother.

She was livid that I was leaving early. She said, “This was supposed to be a time for family, but I guess you don’t care about that!”. She threw a tantrum and stormed off down the hall. She made her rage apparent at multiple opportunities throughout the day. She did drive me to the airport, but she tried to keep my dad from coming with us to see me off. When dad and I decided that he was coming along, that pissed her off more. When we were hugging goodbye at the airport, I told dad that she was so mad at me, and that’s when she came up and said, ‘I am SO SICK of everyone treating me like everything I do is wrong!”. Then she stormed off (again), climbed into the driver’s seat, leaving my dad and I on the curb to say goodbye. She didn’t say a proper goodbye. It hurt. I cried. Damn.

I absolutely feel that I did the right thing by having the self-respect to remove myself from all of that toxicity, but her tantrums and guilt-tripping are still haunting me. It’s tough to process it, and I’m sure there will somehow be more hell to pay down the road (possibility of becoming estranged/cutting me off from the family, or any number of awful things). Furthermore, I feel like the family hates me now, and I don’t know where to go from here. I feel like none of them will forgive me (or attempt to understand why I left a miserable situation). All of this is compounded by my mother’s narcissistic behavior, that it seems to be gaining greater frequency/intensity in recent months, and that her mental faculties are beginning to slip. It makes me worry for my dad, who’s got a lot of health issues, and is weary to the bone from my mom’s nasty jibes in his direction all day long.

How have those of you with narcissistic parents navigated tricky family situations in the past? Do these toxic types of parents ever truly forgive, or have you ever arrived at somewhat of a common ground? What do you do to keep your own sanity? (I do have an appointment with my wonderful counselor this week, but I’d just appreciate a little more personal insight from the Hive Mind.) Thanks, everyone.
posted by chatelaine to Human Relations (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I feel bad being an early commenter, because I'm gonna try to see things from your mom's side and I don't want that to skew the overall conversation in that direction. That said...

I don't think you should be terribly surprised that your mom was upset. For one thing, it sounds like you don't see each other often, and you leaving means she'll see you that much less. For another, it sounds like she was under quite a bit of stress herself. You said it: she had difficulty bathing and sleeping, and there's crap all over her house. Of course she's not at 100%.

One thing I don't see in your post is whether you've talked to your mother about why you left. That's kind of important. It doesn't sound like you're actually upset with anything she's done, but she seems to be under the mistaken notion that your criticism is of her. I'd let her know that you weren't mad at her, that (like her) you were under a lot of stress, that you appreciate her driving you to the airport, and that you'd like to get together again in more favorable circumstances. That last part is wonderfully vague, in that if she is a horrible narcissist that you never want to see again, the circumstances just might never be favorable enough.

The other thing I don't see anywhere is how your mom felt about your aunt and uncle's rants. It's one thing if she agreed with them and egged them on; it's another thing entirely if she was gritting her teeth the whole time just to make it through. The latter is probably a generational difference. Her generation, especially women of her generation, were socialized to be more averse to open conflict, while younger people are more direct about calling out problematic stuff. But if she was a part of it all, yeah, the circumstances I mentioned before are probably not going to be favorable anytime soon.

In general, let it cool down for a little while. This wound is still fresh for both of you, and part of healing the relationship is healing your individual wounds.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:33 PM on June 6, 2022 [15 favorites]


I don’t mean to pile on your mom’s side. She acted very poorly. But, what if you were the buffer that made your dad’s relatives bearable for her? They sound truly, truly terrible. It’s surprising your dad didn’t put his foot down just a little, in his own house? In any case, we do not have the whole story, of course. And I don’t think you did anything wrong. But, try to see your mom’s side. Even if she took all her stress out on you. I agree with kevinbelt.
posted by Glinn at 2:48 PM on June 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Your mom is a grown adult; she shouldn’t be relying on her children to “shield” her from anything. I’m sorry for your very emotionally immature mother, OP. It must have been hard to grow up with an inadequate parent.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:50 PM on June 6, 2022 [56 favorites]


Have you tried telling your mom how that trip made you feel?
Ultimately you can't change your mom and sometimes, if they aren't willing to hear your side and see it from your perspective, the only thing you can do is shore up your boundaries and change your expectations. It hurts. I'm sorry.
posted by erattacorrige at 2:54 PM on June 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


How have those of you with narcissistic parents navigated tricky family situations in the past? Do these toxic types of parents ever truly forgive, or have you ever arrived at somewhat of a common ground?

My second-hand experience is that there is no real solution, parents that are toxic usually do not have the skills to respond in the way their children want them to. There are only two vaguely successful routes, either you acquiesce to all demands when asked, or you emotionally distance yourself (with the latter usually easiest with physical distance).
posted by plonkee at 2:56 PM on June 6, 2022 [19 favorites]


Family can be hard. Even friends can be hard. And everyone has their faults (present company excepted? just kidding). I'm talking about your mom here because it doesn't sound like she was the awful family but that she handled your leaving poorly.

My heart twinged painfully when I read "She didn’t say a proper goodbye. It hurt. I cried. Damn." because you felt so much pain and surely she did too. I have to say I have been on both sides of this at times - the adult child and the parent - and neither feels great.

If I wrote a happy ever after to this story it would be an adult-to-adult (because you are an adult now, not a child) conversation between you and your mom acknowledging that both of you were hurt, because you were, and hoping for better in the future.

(It IS hard to grow up with an sometimes inadequate parent and it IS hard to be a sometimes inadequate parent - not sure there are any other kinds, I mean are there perfect parents somewhere?)
posted by RoadScholar at 3:02 PM on June 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


Best answer: When my mom acts like this, it's because she doesn't have the emotional skills to do better. I remind myself pretty often that she's doing the best she can with the upbringing she had. Therapy helped me model some different behavior and set some boundaries, and we all deal with conflict a little better now.

I give her (and me) a moment to calm down and then find her and start with something like "I don't want to fight with you. I'm sorry that you feel like I don't care about family. I care a lot and that's why I came all the way out here to visit." and let her respond. It doesn't always work, but sometimes she feels heard and I find out whatever underlying thing she's actually upset about, which usually has nothing to do with whatever the outburst was about, that was just the thing that tipped the bad feelings into meltdown mode.

On preview: I agree, don't get into a deeper discussion about your feelings or try to have a heart to heart, you will be disappointed.
posted by momus_window at 3:09 PM on June 6, 2022 [24 favorites]


Do these toxic types of parents ever truly forgive, or have you ever arrived at somewhat of a common ground?

Forgive you for what? Not wanting to have to listen to endless hatred?

And frankly all the posters who are feeling badly for your mother for hosting overt racists need to examine their values, not yours.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:11 PM on June 6, 2022 [25 favorites]


And frankly all the posters who are feeling badly for your mother for hosting overt racists need to examine their values, not yours.
Her husband's sister. Let's not leave Dad out of the blame here. The mom might have been in an awkward position too.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:13 PM on June 6, 2022 [14 favorites]


I’m sorry this happened, and I absolutely think you did the right thing to remove yourself from your bigoted family members . I wish your parents had the skills and willingness to make them leave when this behavior started, but since they she did not, you took steps to protect yourself and not support them with your silence. I’m glad you got out of that situation.

I wish I had a great answer for you for navigating these personalities. In the example close to me, a permanent rift has taken hold and we no longer speak to the parents in question, nor do I expect we ever will again. That would require a level of willingness to actually admit to mistakes and bad behavior that will never, ever come from that parent.
posted by Stacey at 3:14 PM on June 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


So, if I'm understanding this correctly, your father's awful relatives behaved horribly in the house and said horrible things, your dad did nothing, and the person you're most angry at is your mother?

I feel like we're all missing significant context here about your mother's previous behavior (and even her actions at the time--was she chiming in with the racist, etc. remarks?). But if I were gritting my teeth and putting up with awful relatives in my house so that my husband and adult child could see them, and then my adult child decided to peace out (which you were totally entitled to do), I would probably be upset. I would certainly hope that I would handle it much better than she did, but I think I would have feelings of frustration and disappointment with this child. Without context, I can't say whether her temper tantrum was an unfortunate lapse in a difficult situation or a continuation of years of misbehavior, but, without more information, it would be wrong not to consider the former.

Also, I really can't help but notice the way you have completely excused your dad in all this. It was his shitty relatives being shitty all over the house. Why didn't he do anything? Did all the work of trying to clean up all the mess fall on your mom (and/or you)? Did he try to deflect the conversation from the bigotry? And now you're worried about her "jibes" towards him? Sounds like Mom is getting scapegoated a little here, when the worst behavior was not hers.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on June 6, 2022 [23 favorites]


You did wonderfully. And it is for your mother to call and ask YOUR forgiveness.

That out of the way, I made the choice not to be in contact with my toxic family. It has been bliss. I have certainly grieved, but not enduring this sort of awful, painful nonsense has been a very effective balm. I did try to have conversation to work things out along the way, but as noted above everything I said was twisted and manipulated against me. Now I would only tell them what I would be comfortable with my worst enemies knowing, because it can’t be used to hurt me. I do believe they love me in their way, but that’s not actually enough. I have “reconciled” with them a few times by shoving myself down into a tiny thing with no needs or wants or opinions. But it didn’t last because that’s an awful painful one sided relationship and I deserve more than just trying not to make someone angry. So do you.

I’m sorry about the trip, but incredibly impressed with your fortitude at saying something! And then removing yourself from the situation! You did amazing! What comes next is being grateful you don’t live in the same place.
posted by Bottlecap at 3:44 PM on June 6, 2022 [5 favorites]


Best answer: And it is for your mother to call and ask YOUR forgiveness.

Just in case my comment wasn't clear, I completely agree with this. You did nothing wrong, OP, and everyone else in that house was acting out. I only think that (again, without more context) it's not fair to make your mom the major focus of your anger and frustration. But she still owes you an apology.
posted by praemunire at 3:50 PM on June 6, 2022 [6 favorites]


The mom might have been in an awkward position too.

The mom might have been in an even more awkward position. Potentially being upset and angry, but being powerless to say or do anything about it. And what happens when you're powerless to say or do anything about what's upsetting you? You take out your anger on someone you do have the power to say something to.

Like everyone else, I'm not trying to excuse the OP's mom. I'm just saying, see things from her perspective, and it makes a little more sense than "she's a monster". And if you want to have relationships with real people and not just characters in a family systems textbook, you're going to have to do things sometimes that you feel like should be the other person's responsibility. Real people are rarely perfect. Now, maybe there's more backstory on your mom, but as other people have said, we don't know.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:06 PM on June 6, 2022 [4 favorites]


Best answer: She said, “This was supposed to be a time for family, but I guess you don’t care about that!”. ...., ‘I am SO SICK of everyone treating me like everything I do is wrong!”. Then she stormed off (again), climbed into the driver’s seat, leaving my dad and I on the curb to say goodbye.

This is not the behavior of someone who is mentally healthy. And I am only saying this because (as someone with an N-Mom) it's worth sometimes framing things that can help make them make more sense. Because, hey, maybe she's always been like this, or been this way for a while, so it may be unclear just how messed up it is to have a parent who has tantrums like this, but it's messed up.

My mom would do this. Make any conflict about HER. Get to a funeral and complain on and on about the traffic. Be at a wedding and fuss over where she was seated. Be at your birthday and complain about what you decided to serve, or that you didn't appreciate her enough. Get her friends to guilt trip you by telling them lies about you (Telling her writing group, "My kids never want to read anything I've written!" Huh?)

So like, I get it, the family vacation thing didn't go anyone's way and I think that was probably stressful all around. But you made a grownup decision, after people were having a hard time with boundaries (like... tell the TV people to turn it the fuck OFF, it's your house) and that seemed like a smart idea. And boundaries are like catnip to many bad-boundaries people, they either ignore them or they resent you for making them and rail against them.

The last straw with me and my mom was a week after me and my longtime partner had split. She came up presumably to support me and help out. Instead she picked fights with me, was terribly self centered when I was just a zombie and then when I went upstairs to get a little space from her bitter negativity, she yelled up the stairs "GOODBYE JESS" and made to leave. I chased her down (for the last time) and told her not to leave and the next day we had a longish conversation about how she was welcome to feel how she felt, but that she amount she wanted to talk to me and be with me and have me a part of her life was unreasonable considering how much she was willing to have an interactive mutually beneficial relationship with me. And that was that.

After that, I set my own boundaries, she could take them or leave them. I refused to speak to her on the phone. I would go visit mostly with short notice (so she couldn't pile on expectations) and I mostly didn't stay in her house. She was cool with it sometimes, complained bitterly at other times. Played up my other siblings and how much better they were than me. Complained that I hung out with my dad more than her (they were split up, he was an alcoholic which was the preferable dysfunction for me). And... hey she feels how she feels. But if she was being awful I'd leave. If she called me I wouldn't pick up.

I wish I could say we reconciled but we didn't really. I stayed in touch (emailed her most days, she'd sometimes reply sometimes not) and didn't go no contact. She mellowed with age somewhat. She died from cancer a few years ago, leaving a huge house full of stuff she never got rid of because she was just living her life (and not thinking about anyone else's). I'm not sure the family ever really *got* how she treated us because it was a secret, kind of. I'd focus on building relationships with the people in your family you want to, spend more time talking to your dad. Drawing some boundaries with her and caring less what she thinks of you. Getting some therapy which can help with "This isn't your responsibility" feelings. Sometimes it's good to hear someone say "I'm sorry that happened to you. That was messed up" so I'm saying it to you.
posted by jessamyn at 4:09 PM on June 6, 2022 [35 favorites]


> When we were hugging goodbye at the airport, I told dad that she was so mad at me

Wait, so your dad didn't even know your mom was angry with you? Your mother didn't talk with her husband how she was feeling about their mutual child??

> She said, “This was supposed to be a time for family, but I guess you don’t care about that!”

Why does she think you were leaving because you don't care for family? Did you not talk with your mother and explain to her the real reasons why you were leaving? If you did explain to her and she simply refused to hear you, that's a very different situation than if you did not explain your reasons to her (perhaps because you don't get along with your narcissistic mother, you believe you do not owe her an explanation even when the event you are leaving early from is one she is hosting).

> she came up and said, ‘I am SO SICK of everyone treating me like everything I do is wrong!”

Again, why did she react this way? Why did she think that "mom is so mad at me" means the same thing as "mom has no right to be mad at me, mom is wrong to be mad at me"? Did your words and tone to your dad actually have this implication? Or did she just assume she was being blamed even when you were not at all blaming her?

> I’m sure there will somehow be more hell to pay down the road (possibility of becoming estranged/cutting me off from the family, or any number of awful things).

Are you saying that you're afraid your mother will cut you off? Or are you afraid you will cut your mother off because she guilt trips you and throws tantrums?

> Furthermore, I feel like the family hates me now, and I don’t know where to go from here. I feel like none of them will forgive me (or attempt to understand why I left a miserable situation)

Wait, did "the family" (who exactly is "the family"?) ALSO express anger towards you for leaving early? Not just your mother but everyone else in attendance?? If so,
(a) why does your father seem to not know about this anger towards you that literally everyone except him feels?? Why did you have to inform him of your mom's anger? Did you ever inform your dad of "the family"'s anger?
(b) what leads you to think these people will never forgive you? What exactly did they say and do when they got angry with you for leaving early? It's strange that you left this out completely while describing in detail your mother's anger and actions.

Something's really quite strange about this whole scenario, OP. You obviously have context and knowledge that we don't have, because this is your life. All we know is just this post and what you wrote in it. And based solely on the contents of this post, I am worried for your mother. There is, at the very least, a toxic triangle of you, your mother, and your father in which you and your dad have teamed up, and turned your mother into such an outsider that she can't even confide her feelings about you to her own husband. Your family's history and context possibly gives you and your dad good reason to triangulate this way, but from your post, I can't get an idea of what those reasons might be.
posted by MiraK at 4:09 PM on June 6, 2022 [3 favorites]


Good on you for leaving when you did.

We are clearly missing significant context here and I'll take your word for it that your parents exhibit objectionable behaviour patterns routinely, not just on this occasion. So perhaps consider this as an excellent opportunity to figure out what your boundaries with your parents are going to be going forward.

If they are narcissistic and toxic they are not capable of having a relationship with you that would benefit from revisiting this visit, trying to work through what went wrong and how to move on from it. It doesn't sound as if you have anything to apologise for. It doesn't sound as if you can have a realistic expectation that they apologise to you. They are who they are and that is apparently not people who share your values or have boundaries themselves or are willing to support you otherwise the situation would not have deteriorated they way it did.

So use this as a point to reset and figure out where you want to go from here. And then stick to that.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:11 PM on June 6, 2022 [1 favorite]


Have you tried telling your mom how that trip made you feel?

I would go with the opposite take: have you asked your mother how she thinks you felt? I'm not necessarily optimistic this will get her to reconsider, but on the other hand it might be instructive to you - if she is truly narcissistic, she is not guilting you for what you did but for the reasons she believes you had for doing it.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:42 PM on June 6, 2022 [1 favorite]


Best answer: You did nothing wrong. In fact, you did everything right to leave this unhealthy, emotionally unsafe situation. I'm sending you my love and validation. It's so sad when we try so hard, grow so much, only to go back to situations where nothing has changed. Even when unhealthy older parents want to get better, it's so incredibly hard to change, and it's frustrating and heartbreaking for us. I'm dealing with a situation like this myself right now, too. <3

For now, take care of you. Connect with friends who understand your situation, who don't tell you what to do or judge you or your family -- people who support you! If you decide visit again, we can help you make a game plan. There's no wrong or right next move for you other than to give yourself time and honor your feelings.

One more thing to consider: your father chose to marry her and stay married to her all these years, including before he got sick. He is part of this unhealthy dynamic, too. I understand that you feel bad for him, of course, but please don't feel guilty.
posted by smorgasbord at 4:45 PM on June 6, 2022 [7 favorites]


Best answer: And yes, OP, you were perfectly in the right to leave. It was the responsible decision and kudos for taking care of yourself that way. From the comments you have favorited here, it seems like you are mainly concerned about whether you should be feeling guilty for leaving. And the answer is NOPE.

I would encourage you to clearly communicate to your mother that your leaving was not her fault. She seems to think that the reason you left is that you were angry about something she did, and it's understandable that would make her feel quite upset! She's feeling blamed and guilty. She's wondering if it was her fault you left.

This is all very similar to how you are feeling, coincidentally. You feel blamed and guilty for leaving. You're wondering if this whole mess is all your fault. It makes you feel a lot less upset when you're given the reassurance that you did nothing wrong by leaving.

Being given this reassurance makes you more capable of taking in the suggestion that you could communicate your actual reasons for leaving to your mom so that she can stop blaming herself. Perhaps if you can reassure your mother that your leaving was not her fault, she might be better able to take in the suggestion that she should have a conversation with you to ask why you are leaving early instead of throwing tantrums and accusations at you.
posted by MiraK at 5:07 PM on June 6, 2022 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Yep, you guys are right that I need to give bit more context, so let me try to answer as many of your questions as I can. (My head is an upset, muddled mess after all this, so my apologies for not putting everything in the proper perspective up front.)

I have been very close to my parents. Even though I live in another city now, we still talk 3 to 5 times a week, texting too. Sometimes emails. We get along a lot better with a few hundred miles between us.

I completely understand why mom is upset. She's a good human. She's been through more shit in life than anyone should ever have to endure (I won't go into it, but just imagine the worst and go from there). That said, she has been this angry, perhaps justifiably so, given her past experience, all her life. The pure evil she experienced in her upbringing is something that we as a family are still trying to process, or at least I am.

I did tell her why I was leaving, and that's when she got angry. I gave the simpler excuses to the other family members, but I wanted her to have the full story. I knew it was a mistake to do so, but I am so tired of not speaking my truth, my reality, to protect other people from difficult feelings. My therapy is teaching me not to walk on eggshells, to use my inner voice of wisdom, and to be true to myself.

As to the family rants/racism, it was mostly my dad and uncle doing it, but the aunt just kind of laughed, and when I said, "WTF??", mom defended their behavior, saying that "it's just a word we used all the time when we were young, don't get so offended", etc. And I'm still sitting over here like, Jesus, what the actual fuck?

So yeah, dad did not put his foot down on the racist/BS behavior. He took part in it. (And you better believe I'm mad at him for that!) Dad has historically been a domineering, abusive force in the family, for years. I don't know if I'll ever get over that (ergo, I'm in therapy addressing it now). He's no innocent. That said, ever since he had a bad stroke almost a decade ago, it changed his outlook on life and I've watched him soften considerably over the past ten years. I lightly joke that the evil part of his brain died in that stroke... I've rarely seen a person change for the better as much as he has since this happened to him, and I'd rather let bygones be fucking bygones.

To watch my mother treat my father the way he treated her and me growing up... it cuts to the quick.

The reactions of the other family members?
Dad: Disappointed.
Aunt: OK, you do what you've gotta do.
Uncle: Cold, eh, whatever.
I'll probably see the aun and uncle next at my father's (his brother's) funeral, because they've hardly made any attempts at a relationship with any of us.

Also Jessamyn, are we long-lost sisters or something??? :D

Hope that helps a bit more, guys. Thanks for all of your thoughtful words, as always.
posted by chatelaine at 5:16 PM on June 6, 2022 [1 favorite]


this situation is complex and sad but ... the OP who has not been home in ages and makes their own plane tickets is not "a child" and their aging mother isn't supposed to "protect" them from hearing the comments made by old racist relatives? Maybe it is cultural for me but I don't get this perspective. Family members who are all adults should stand up for each other.
posted by rainy day girl at 5:34 PM on June 6, 2022 [5 favorites]


OP , you were right to go, of course, and your mother was not justified in her self-centered behavior. It’s so difficult to actually enforce boundaries and live your values and you did it. White people who use racist slurs should be shunned, I thought we all agreed on that! And you’re always free to leave bummer situations.

In my experience, it’s so hard to muster the strength to set a boundary, that you can forget the next part—letting people have their reactions—is a million times harder! You’re in the hard part now, the part where intellectually you’re proud of yourself and you know you can’t control anyone’s response, but actually it sucks and nobody is really hearing you and everyone is stuck in the narrative you’ve matured enough to leave behind.

If your mother’s a narcissist, everything that doesn’t go her way is a great injustice, and she’s a victim and someone else is the villain. Part of leaving this role is, painfully, that you have to accept you’re still there in someone else’s mind. And learning to be okay with it.

Think of all the bullshit and drama and racism you’re not participating in today and be glad! It’ll get easier the more you do it.
posted by kapers at 5:50 PM on June 6, 2022 [4 favorites]


Best answer: I have two N-parents... let me know if you ever want/need to trade war stories...

I may or not be estranged from my father. I kinda finally laid down some boundaries and went off back in January... haven't heard from him since...

I'm grey-rocking my mother, only because I want to at least *try* to have relationships with my sisters and their young children. My sisters cyclically get stuck in the drama-whirlpool because they live in the same town.

I'm sending you lots of love and support. And Validation! If you say your mother is a narcissist, then I believe you. What you've written here could've been me/my parents. You did NOTHING wrong here. Anyone who responds to an adult leaving an unacceptable situation with "but FAMILY!!!" doesn't have a healthy idea of "family". You do NOT have to sit through that vitriol, live in those conditions, simply because they're family!!! The great thing about being an adult is that you get to live far away, hold reasonable boundaries with "family" of blood, and choose the family you want and deserve.

*I had a paragraph here with a "but FAMILY" story, but deleted it as de-rail. Feel free to MeMail me*

I don't have much in the way of advice to offer, though grey-rock and boundary setting are helpful. Just want you to know that you are not in the wrong here, nor are you alone. Your mother may or may not come around, but will move on to the next thing eventually. Take care of you!
posted by MuChao at 5:59 PM on June 6, 2022 [5 favorites]


You were right to remove yourself from the situation. Give it a week or two once emotions have simmered down and if you think you can bring it up without starting WW3, try to explain your point of view calmly.

This will help them see what your boundaries are so that next time when they start on the racist talk, when you tell them that’s your cue to leave and get up, no one is surprised. Who knows, they may actually change their ways. (I doubt it but one can live in hope and at least you can tell yourself you tried.)

I’m sorry you’re going through this, I have lived it too. Honestly there’s no real solution short of removing yourself from it either temporarily or permanently.
posted by Jubey at 7:04 PM on June 6, 2022 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to say having grown up in a family with really messed up boundaries and dynamics, the anxiety/fear/dread of breaking the family rules, even as an adult, sounds familiar. It's overwhelming.

Captain Awkward has some great resources about boundaries and family estrangement, and she recommends Will I Ever Be Good Enough?
posted by Geameade at 9:21 PM on June 6, 2022 [4 favorites]


This sounds really painful and confusing.
I don't have any experience with narcissistic people so I can't respond to that part of the question. But something that stands out to me is how much of your hurt seems to come from your sense of empathy for your various family members.
Does it feel as if you feel their pain?
That can make everything even more confusing and heightened.
I have the habit of mentally placing myself in the other person's place when I try to understand them.
This can be a good habit, but it can also be really unhelpful and unhealthy because I don't *really* know what someone else is thinking and feeling.
Other people are fundamentally different to me and when I basically say "what would I do/feel if I were in their place" it can create a very powerful illusion that I actually know what they think and feel.
When that doesn't match with their actions, the cognitive dissonance can be fierce.
Couple that with trying to control someone else's actions and feelings,("don't be angry at me I have done nothing wrong") and things get really tough.
For me, it helps to trust myself, that I am being a decent person. Do a basic self-check to make sure that I'm not being selfish and harmful, and then stop second guessing myself. Stop testing all my actions by imagining them from another person's point of view.
Stop having imaginary conversations with the people who are upset with me.
All of this makes it easier to accept that people can be angry at me no matter what I do, even if I have done nothing wrong. That happens sometimes.
I can't control them.
posted by Zumbador at 9:39 PM on June 6, 2022 [2 favorites]


this situation is complex and sad but ... the OP who has not been home in ages and makes their own plane tickets is not "a child" and their aging mother isn't supposed to "protect" them from hearing the comments made by old racist relatives? Maybe it is cultural for me but I don't get this perspective. Family members who are all adults should stand up for each other.
This. No winners in this story, but people don't get to conveniently choose when they are the small vulnerable child needing to be "protected" (by their aged parents, no less) and when they're the independent thinking adult setting boundaries. Pick one.

I know this is not the dominant opinion here, but that's my take.
posted by redlines at 6:18 AM on June 7, 2022 [2 favorites]


parents have an obligation to their children that children simply don't have towards their parents.

When it comes to adult children: This is a very, very culturally and historically specific position, not an existential reality.
posted by nantucket at 9:04 AM on June 7, 2022 [8 favorites]


This was supposed to be a time for family, but I guess you don’t care about that!”

right, you don't care about your hateful, racist, abusive family enough to subject yourself to their company. I hope this is true. it would unquestionably be good if it were true.

it sounds like you are so conditioned to respond with guilt feelings to certain tones of voice that you are not stopping to consider the actual content of what is being said to you, and, when it is true, whether it is anything to deny or feel bad about. when a family member accuses you of something good, it doesn't matter that they think you should be ashamed of goodness. they want you to respond by desperately denying that you have ethics and self-respect because if you do that, you are accepting their value system and accepting that you should not violate it. but you do want to violate it! you did violate it! and good for you, you were right to do it!

possibility of becoming estranged/cutting me off from the family, or any number of awful things

I understand that this might be extremely painful even when necessary, but becoming estranged from the virulently racist and/or abusive members of the family would be a good thing for you to do for yourself. you do not have to wait for them to do it to you. if there are any non-racist, non-abusive members of your family, I hope you are able to maintain contact or pursue reconciliation with them. but the rest of them cannot hold out the threat of losing their acceptance and love to control you if you are able to find principles and people you value more.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2022 [6 favorites]


Clarification: I'm certainly not attacking the OP. I feel bad for her. Never said she shouldn't set boundaries. Never said the mother handled it well. I just don't think it was the mother's responsibility at all to shield OP from unpleasant discourse made by her husband and in-laws. If the OP was 10, yes.

@nantucket above expressed my perspective perfectly. I'm allowed to share a take that's not mainstream Anglo 21c (from a culture where roles shift from child to parent as the parent ages), yes?
posted by redlines at 10:56 AM on June 7, 2022 [2 favorites]


Something I was told once about boundaries that forever changed me: You are allowed to have boundaries, and those who experience your boundaries are allowed to not enjoy them. In fact, they often won't.

You cannot control how your parents react to your choices. All you can do is act in integrity with your values. I recommend pairing that with some of momus_window's advice about communicating your good intentions and wishes verses engaging in a disagreement about the facts on the ground. All you can do is keep your side of the street clean.
posted by amycup at 12:06 PM on June 7, 2022 [3 favorites]


As to the family rants/racism, it was mostly my dad and uncle doing it, but the aunt just kind of laughed, and when I said, "WTF??", mom defended their behavior, saying that "it's just a word we used all the time when we were young, don't get so offended", etc. And I'm still sitting over here like, Jesus, what the actual fuck?

Your mother didn't just helplessly stand around while your relatives spewed racist rhetoric: she defended them. Saying "it's fine to be racist because we've been racist our whole lives" is a defense of racism. Your mother is not an innocent bystander. She is a participant in the reason you had to leave, even if she wasn't saying the words herself. I have zero sympathy for her.
posted by decathecting at 1:24 PM on June 7, 2022 [6 favorites]


Best answer: I haven't logged into my account for a very long time, but I wanted to log in to offer some support. I've been in therapy on and off for years due in part to my mom either being a narcissist or having many of the traits. The behavior you describe is very similar to what my mom does when she is angry. If this were me, my mom would be mad that I left early because of how it looked more than anything else. She would bring it up for years.

I have also had the experience of posting a question about my covert narcissist mom (that specific term was very useful to read about) and have askmetafilter not understand. Most people do not have the lived experience and will tell you to respond as you would with a normal person. it is not your fault.

Don't talk to her about your feelings. Do cool off. I think you did the right thing. I found physical distance and low contact to be what worked for me. Keep the visits short and the topics light. Enjoy the things you can, but keep your expectations low.
posted by emmatrotsky at 8:45 PM on June 7, 2022 [10 favorites]


the OP who has not been home in ages and makes their own plane tickets is not "a child" and their aging mother isn't supposed to "protect" them from hearing the comments made by old racist relatives? Maybe it is cultural for me but I don't get this perspective. Family members who are all adults should stand up for each other.

You don’t have to think the mother needed to “defend” her child, because you yourself said that “adults should stand up for each other,” which no one in this family did EXCEPT the adult child. Or is it just a one way obligation of child toward parents? Children should entertain every childish whim of their aging parents who go around whipping out the n-word? Is that what we’re calling traditional values these days?
posted by stoneandstar at 9:56 PM on June 7, 2022 [2 favorites]


The mom is abusive. This isn’t rocket science. If you’re fine with being screamed at and berated by people as long as they’re only mildly racist, that’s a personal quirk of yours.

The OP clearly stated they are in therapy to deal with their dad, and were upset enough by everyone’s racism that they decided to leave early. The fact that none of the other people involved personally attacked OP might have a slight bearing on their reaction to the traumatic abuse that did happen (and most likely has been happening all their lives, or they wouldn’t be susceptible to it). It’s not their responsibility to “save” their mother from her own fucked up tolerance of the situation, even when she’s screaming at them and acting like a 5 year old.

Abuse is abuse. You don’t get to create a special ranking of what people should or should not feel abused by.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:40 AM on June 8, 2022 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Please ignore any comment on here that suggests that the poster doesn't have direct experience being parented by a narcissist/narc-adjacent person! It just isn't possible for them to understand what growing up in this toxic, identity-obliterating environment is like, and how triggering their behavior is even into adulthood when they can't "hurt" you any more. That said, I wish I had an answer, because I haven't figured out a way to go no-contact with the narc without losing my non-narc parent (who admittedly is a co-dependent enabler but one I love) or making their life even more of a living hell. I struggle even though my parents and associated relatives are sensible, non-horrible people politically and socially. If there was asshat racist shit going on on top of the baseline toxic biz there's no question that peace-ing out was the right thing to do for your sanity. You have to come to terms with the fact that there will never be a satisfactory resolution to this situation; they aren't capable. Mourn it, then work to reparent yourself. Highly recommend Crappy Childhood Fairy and Patrick Teahan YT channels.
posted by SinAesthetic at 12:00 PM on June 8, 2022 [5 favorites]


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