Tag Archive: Behavior


bizarro world

bizarro world (Photo credit: purplepix)

Despite my resolve to stick to my principles, my sister got to me again. This time she pulled out the abandonment card, “When Dad dies we will be the only close family you will have. I will always love you.”

I am not saying that she is a complete liar. I think she does love me on some level. But not enough for it to show in her actions. Love is first and foremost a verb, as I explained in my last article.

The past week has been very confusing for me to deal with in regards to my sister. She was nice to me when our dad got sick and landed in the emergency room. Fortunately he was not in serious condition and was released with a prescription. Despite the fact that this wasn’t the best of circumstances I thought this might be a good time to try to work things out with her. It ended in a disaster when her husband once again accused me of being unworthy of any love and respect. She did not respond at all.

Three days later my sister sent an e-mail to our dad and I saying in a cheerful tone with a smiley face next to her name that a cousin wanted to get together for Easter and “who’s up for it?”

Ugh! Does she live in some bizzaro world where context doesn’t matter?

Her position is that I am being unfair to her because she has made an effort to be “nice.” She wants to put everything behind us and can’t understand why I can’t do that either.

She does not get it that I can’t do that because this is a pattern of abusive behavior that goes back years and years. We have tried sweeping it under the rug and it hasn’t worked.

The other problem with her rational is that it is very condescending. She still believes that everything that happened was my fault but has decided not to let that get in the way of our “relationship.”

Gee thanks, sis, that makes me feel a WHOLE lot better!

This is just another attempt to get out of her responsibilities towards me and our relationship.

I sent her an e-mail telling her that I would not come to any get-together unless she promised to treat me with the same respect and dignity that she would treat any guest in her house. She accused me of trying to bring up “that old argument” and banned me from coming.

It was a simple yes or no question. If she really wanted me in her life she would agree to these terms. I ask nothing more from her than she asks from me, which is RESPECT.

Again she framed it in a very insulting way, “My husband and I feel that since you are so upset that you are not ready to participate in a family get-together. Maybe some time in the future we can reconsider our position.”

WHAT???

I told her that I want no further invitations for family get-togethers and that I don’t want any contact unless it involves a family emergency, such as our Dad becoming ill.

That is what prompted the heart-rending appeal that I mentioned at the top of my post.

I gave her one last chance by telling her that it was not my desire to cut them off, but that I had no choice because of their behavior towards me. I said that if she was willing to treat me with the same respect she expects from me, and is willing to talk through our misunderstandings instead of assuming that I have done something to her on purpose and getting mad at me for it, then I could reconsider. I told that I am not asking for anything more than what she would do with a friend, which is to listen to my side of the story and work through conflicts in a mature manner.

I have had no response from her. So I guess I have my answer. She really does not want a relationship with me at all.

It is time for me to leave this behind and move forward. I am still sad about this but I am working on letting this go. I wish things were different, but as my dad always says, “Things are as they are.”

Read more about abusive behavior in my blog post Characteristics of Emotional Abusers.

A Love Hate Masquerade

A Love Hate Masquerade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I have a love/hate relationship with the words “I love you.”  When someone who really cares about me says this, it is the most beautiful thing in the world to me. But a lot of the time I cringe when people whom I suspect are not sincere use these same words to manipulate me.

The way I was raised set up this dichotomy where my mother would essentially blame me for ruining her life, but then after she was finished demolishing any trace of self-esteem that I had she would hug me and say “I love you.” Huh? It was the old “I love you/go away” game.  Maybe saying those words made her feel better, but it didn’t make me feel better at all.

So a lot of times when people use the words “I love you” in a flippant, self-serving way I absolutely do not trust it.

Here are my thoughts on the proper use of these words:

1. Love is a verb first and foremost. You can’t beat me up emotionally and “love” me at the same time.

2. Love is not just a feeling, it is a commitment to the person that you will treat them in a loving way.

3. Saying “I love you” is not a get out of jail free card. You are still responsible for your actions and words if you behave in a hurtful way towards others.

4. You can’t wallpaper over years of abuse by saying “I love you.”

5. Saying “I love you” when you have hurt me is meaningless unless it is accompanied by an apology and a change of behavior.

6. Love means recognizing a person’s inherent worth, despite the fact that you may disagree with them.  Attacking my character is not “love.”

7. Love means putting in an effort to help create and maintain a relationship.

8. Love means appreciating what you have been given, rather than complaining that it isn’t enough.

9. Love is about giving and receiving, not taking and blaming.

10.  Love means appreciating who a person really is, rather than trying to change her into what you want her to be.

 

Any more thoughts on this people? I welcome any input! 😉

Portrait of Sadness

Portrait of Sadness (Photo credit: Paula Abrahão)

I have talked quite a bit here about my conflicts with my sister and brother-in-law. We were not speaking for several weeks, but last week my sister called to let me know that our dad was in the emergency room at the hospital. She gave me a ride which I am very grateful for. It turns out that our dad was not in serious condition, and he was released to go home with a prescription.

When my sister took me home I told her that I was very grateful for her giving me a ride, since I would have had to spend a fortune on cab fare if she hadn’t. Then I broached the topic of why I am having trouble with the local dial-a-service, because part of our argument was that she thought that I had intentionally decided not to use it at our last visit. I think they have cut their services way back because there seems to be a rush going on and when I try to call first thing in the morning I often cannot even get through to them. When I told this to my sister I was under the impression that she accepted my story.

One nice thing that happened was that I was able to take my nephew aside and explain that the conflict between my sister and I had nothing to with him and that I was sorry that this affected him on his birthday. He seemed to be okay with that.

Then I made a big mistake. I thought that since my sister was being so nice that maybe I could write an e-mail to her to explain to her my confusion as far as what happened between us. My basic point was that she cannot expect me to be a mind reader. I did not know that she expected me to pay for part of my nephews birthday lunch. Furthermore I explained that our dad had no idea that he was expected to pay half either, because it was his birthday also! My sister gets mad at me for “tattling” but actually I think that if she claims to speak for our dad that in fact she has already brought him into the situation and I have the perfect right to ask his opinion.

I explained to her that since I had no idea that she expected our dad to pay either, that she came across as insisting that I pay for my nephew’s entire meal. Since I am on disability I do not have a lot of money available. I was planning on paying for my own meal, and also part of our dad’s. It sounded like she was demanding that I shell out a considerable amount of money, meanwhile I did not have a lot of money left for the rest of the month and I had no food in the house.

The most ridiculous part of this whole thing was that she was mad at me for my giving my nephew a gift, instead of paying for his meal! My understanding of birthday etiquette is that I am required to bring a gift only. I gave my nephew what he wanted, not what she wanted and I got kicked out of her house for it!

The reason why she kicked me out according to her was that I would upset our dad, because you see in her mind I was taking advantage of him by not paying my “fair share.”  I pointed out to her that that would have been up to our dad to decide what was fair, not her. Again she does not have the right to speak for someone else. I went to the source and our dad was completely baffled as to why this should be an issue, because he is used to both of us being short on money. Besides he has been paying most of their bills for over two years because her husband refuses to look for a job! He is not completely lazy. He started his own business, which is not a bad thing in itself, however my dad has made it clear that he cannot pay their bills while he is doing that. My brother-in-law apparently thinks that by deciding to try a different career path that gets him out of his wedding vows to take care of his family!

In my letter I did not mention the hypocrisy of her position, although she is well aware of my feelings in that matter. What I mainly focused on is that there was a huge lack of communication on all our parts and that this is what led to this situation, especially since her husband was planning on paying for everybody and did not communicate with her about it at all! I told her that I need clear communication from both her and her husband, and to not expect me to always agree with them. I told her also that I have the right to set certain boundaries on her behavior as well. The ironic thing about this whole thing is that she has set boundaries on me to not yell, scream, and make wild accusations, and yet she does not feel compelled to abide by the same rules herself.  I have not engaged in that kind of behavior for years, which apparently does not matter to them at all.

I also told her that it is very hurtful for her to automatically assume that when I do not do what she expects that I have done this on purpose to hurt her. I gave the example of the dial-a-ride situation that she jumped to the conclusion that I chose not to use their services despite that fact that I had told her very clearly in my e-mail requesting a ride from her that I was unable to get a ride with them. She does this a lot, she does not read what I have said and then attacks me for her misperception. I once sent her an e-mail making a request from her and I specifically said that I did not blame her! Yet she attacked me for “reaming her”, which I did not do. When I told her to look at what I wrote she just came back with the attitude that it was still my fault because of my “abusive” behavior in the past. So let me get this straight. I do something wrong, I get clobbered. But if I do something right I get clobbered twice as much!

It was a big mistake to say I felt hurt by her attitude because I forgot the cardinal rule in our relationship which is that I am not allowed to feel anything. Only they are allowed, not me.

I really do not understand my sister anymore because we used to be able to work out the small stuff and while she has always had a tendency to be controlling, I have never seen it to this extent. I do not know where this rage is coming from at all. This why I thought that it was worth one more shot at resolving this.

She has not responded but I got this “lovely” e-mail from my brother-in-law:

“Mary, our recent experiences are not new or unique. You want to know what we expect of you? Here it is: act like a grownup. Contribute. Don’t expect us to pay your way.

In almost every encounter I’ve had with you (beginning about ten minutes after we met), you complain about something. You take without giving, and argue over the pettiest things. You wallow in self-pity and demand that we rescue you from every jam you get yourself into, but you don’t give a damn about me. Is it any wonder you have no friends?

You mess with my wife, you mess with me. If you can’t be grateful, or at least cordial, please leave us alone.”

This is the last straw with them. They have made it clear that I am simply their whipping post. My feelings don’t count at all. If I am hurt by their behavior I am being “petty” and I am “wallowing in self-pity.” I take without giving? I gave a gift to my nephew. If I hadn’t then they might have cause to complain, but in fact I am a very giving person. I also gave them my car gratis because I knew they needed it. It was in excellent condition and it had low mileage. I could have sold it and gotten several thousand dollars, which considering the fact that I am disabled and live on only a thousand dollars a month, that money would have been a big help to me.

I don’t expect them to pay my way. I was planning on paying for my own meal. Frankly it is them that expect everyone to pay their way. They do that to our dad and now they tried to do that with me!

As far as the “jams” I have gotten myself into? He is talking about my mental breakdowns! And I have never asked them to rescue me from anything! The only thing that I can figure he is talking about is that there have been times when my dad has asked them to help me with moving, because of my mental condition I could not always stay in the same living situation as before. Besides he expects our dad to rescue him from the results of his lousy work-ethic. The entire time I have known him he has never been able to keep a job for very long because he refuses to follow orders! This ‘”man” is in his fifties for god’s sake. Shouldn’t he have learned a thing or two about keeping a job?

The fact is that I try to not ask them for anything! I get dumped on for the one time that I could not get a ride and needed help to go to a family get-together! The only other times I have asked for help is when it was a holiday and the dial-a-ride wasn’t running.

His attitude that I am ungrateful is totally unwarranted. I thanked them both profusely for helping our dad out and for giving me transportation to see him. But if they expect me to be grateful for trying to throw me under the bus, then that is crazy!

The fact is that all of their accusations apply more to them than to me. In the past I have let my entire self-esteem rest on what others think of me. I can’t do that anymore, because that will destroy me.

This is the end for me. I am sad that this has to be this way, but I cannot work with people who won’t at least meet me halfway. I am not their “emotional toilet” that they can just dump on whenever they feel like it. I am a person and I deserve to be treated with the same respect that they ask from me. They want to call me petty? They are the ones being petty for making this into a huge issue. They are the one’s being petty when they will not take any responsibility for their own mistakes. They are the ones being petty for ruining this friendship, placing a dispute about money over a relationship with me. While my brother-in-law may be right that I don’t have many friends, I seem to know more about friendship than they do because I would never treat a friend the way that they have treated me!

Update: 3/28/13

I had my new resolve tested today. Believe it or not my sister actually e-mailed me as if nothing had happened and invited me to a family visit with a cousin. By my sister’s name was a little smiley face. I politely said I was interested as long as she would agree to treat me with the same respect that she would show any other guest in her home. I did not really expect her to respond well, but I thought it needed to be said. She recinded the invitation.

My Upside Down Bill of Rights

It's not that hard to say no

It’s not that hard to say no (Photo credit: cheerfulmonk)

 

I have still been doing a lot of thinking about my relationships with my family and as upsetting as this whole situation is I know that this is a learning opportunity for me (although the lessons SUCK). The truth is that spiritually anyone who pushes our buttons is our teacher. In this case I need to separate myself from other people’s hurtful behavior and learn where my boundaries lie. This is very difficult for me because it is hard for me to know when something is legitimately my fault or the other person’s fault. I go back and forth between feeling like a completely worthless person who can’t do anything right so I try to please everyone, to feeling like telling everyone to leave me alone and go to hell. But one thing I am learning is that even if I have done something wrong, IT IS NEVER OKAY TO BE TREATED LIKE A WORTHLESS PERSON.

Some of my relatives have had legitimate reasons to be upset with my behavior in the past with my bipolar disorder. And yet what I have found is that as I have tried to make things right with them it seems to have given them permission run right over me.  They insist on standards for me that they are not willing to abide by themselves. So for instance it is not okay for me to yell and scream and make wild accusations and I haven’t done that in years. But it is okay for them to yell and scream and make wild accusations against me! I feel very betrayed because frankly they are taking advantage of my genuine desire to make things right.  Nothing is good enough for them. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I got a while back:

“YOU HAVEN’T YELLED AT ME FOR A WHILE, SO YES, THAT’S AN IMPROVEMENT. BUT IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. NOT EVEN CLOSE. THE NEXT STEP IS TO LEARN HOW TO GENUINELY CARE ABOUT PEOPLE, AND SHOW IT, AND PUT A STOP TO THIS CONSTANT SELF-PITY.”

Learn how to care about people? I gave them my car for FREE, low-mileage. That was several thousand dollars in their pockets!

I got another e-mail saying that my standards of treating them weren’t good enough, and THEY DEMANDED THAT I LIVE UP TO THEIR STANDARDS (without specifying what they were).

Apparently living up to their standards involves doing everything they say without question.

That was from about a year ago and I thought we had recovered, but no things fell apart again and this time I’ve had it. I can’t deal with this anymore. It doesn’t work to do everything their way just because I feel guilty about the past. It is time to move on and if they don’t like it, tough.

IT DOESN’T MEAN THOUGH THAT I DON’T HURT. I CRY A LOT. BUT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE ANY FEELINGS AT ALL BECAUSE THAT IS “SELF-PITY.”

Anyway these are some thoughts I’ve put together about MY RIGHTS in a relationship:

1. I have the right to make mistakes and learn from them

2. I have the right to be imperfect and be okay with that

3. I have the right to not take on other people’s emotional baggage

4. I have the right to not live up to other’s expectations if I don’t agree with them

5. I have the right to negotiate the terms of any relationship I choose to be in

6. I have the right to expect mutual respect in a relationship

7. I have the right to have my feelings be taken seriously

8. I have the right to express my needs

9. I have the right to end unhealthy relationships without being made to feel guilty

10. I have the right to live my life as I choose without anyone’s permission or approval

We Are All Broken

Brokeness

Brokeness (Photo credit: TheMarque)

 

I was discussing with a friend of mine our mutual frustrations with our families and she pointed out something that someone had told her: We are all broken.

All of my life I have felt that something was wrong with me, even before I developed bipolar disorder. The wrongness I felt had nothing to do with mental illness, it had to do with something more basic than that. It had to do with being imperfect, being held to a standard that I could never attain. Now I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I didn’t deserve discipline from time to time. It was my mother’s over-the–top reactions that was the problem. Even though she never abused me physically, her words cut me to the core. The difference between constructive criticism  and emotional abuse is that the first addresses your behavior and the later attacks your character.

As an adult I still have trouble differentiating between the two. I have a tendency to beat on myself about every little actual or perceived  mistake. It doesn’t help when my sister chimes in and does the same thing to me.

I have been hurt so much by my sister and yet I need to acknowledge that she has suffered from the same perceived need to be perfect that I have. That isn’t apparent at first glance because she never received the harsh judgments that I did from my mother. In fact, she was held out as the example of how I should be, and I was constantly told “Why can’t you be like your sister?” This in spite of the fact that I was a different person, with different needs and a different personality. Also I was three years younger than my sister and my mother had no concept of age-appropriate behavior. Whenever she said this to me I felt an extreme sense of shame and also confusion and the question that always came up in my mind was “How can I be like my sister? I am me!!!” In fact in my immature reasoning I felt like my mother was telling me that I had to be my sister, not just follow her example. Not literally of course, but the basic idea was that there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was and not just my behavior.

That must mean that my sister had a better time of it than I did, right? Well, yes and no.  She was never subject to the verbal abuse that I was but I really don’t see was spoiled in any way either. She was expected to tow the line too and yes she was punished from time to time. One time she put off doing a school report until the last minute and she was forced to stay up all night to finish it. I consider that appropriate punishment.

Surprisingly one of the few things that my sister and I do agree on is that she was the favorite (although both our parents denied this).  So I have learned a few things about her perspective of what went on.  While I was expected to be like her, I was also held up to her as an example of who not to be. I was the “bad” kid and she was the “good” kid and while that provided a certain sense of self-esteem (which I argue was not true self-esteem because it was not based in unconditional love) for herself it also created anxiety. She was expected to take on the responsibility of being a good role model. To a certain extent that is fine, but I get the impression that she was expected to take this on at a very young age, possibly when I was a toddler. In a sense she was robbed of a normal childhood and held to an unrealistic standard just as I was.

She has never gone through a lot of the normal development that kids have growing up. She never went through the teenage “rebellion” stage which is necessary to building a sense of self-identity.  She is extremely dependent on other people’s opinions, and belongs to an extremely controlling church that tells her exactly what she should do at all times.  I have always been wary of this church, and although I have heard that it has changed, I am still not convinced. One of the many things that I was worried about years ago is that every member of the church that was single was required to go on a “Saturday Night Date” (with only church members of course and always in a group). Eventually this was supposed to lead to marriage. In other words it was wrong if you just wanted to be single and enjoy your life on that basis! This was labeled “New Testament theology” but to be quite honest I have never found anything in the New Testament to support this kind of extreme control over its members.  Eventually their own leader got expelled from the church because he broke one of his own (ridiculous) rules! He had a rule that anyone who was a leader in the church had to control his own family. If one of the family members left the church then the person could no longer qualify to be a leader. So the mighty emperor was defrocked when his own wife left the church!! Sweet justice!!!

This kind of environment is extremely attractive and yet also very toxic. It is seductive because if you have all the answers handed to you then you can believe that you can never be wrong and thus it relieves anxiety. It is toxic because the people who claim to have all the answers usually don’t. Advice turns into abuse and you are locked into a certain mindset where if you question anything then you are questioning God himself and you are in danger of going to hell.

Even as I am writing this I realize how much of a victim my sister is and how impossible it is for me to expect her to change. She has created the same environment that she grew up with where if things are not perfect she flips out. I have a hard time understanding why a small change in her plans (which she expected me to magically know) would cause her to get angry and throw me out of her house. But here is the thing, I don’t think she was reacting in anger alone. It is hard for me to see this when she is being sanctimonious towards me. But I think she was panicked because she thought our father would get mad. Of course this was never the case.  Our dad is not like that and for him it was a non-issue. It was a non-issue for everyone involved except her.

As wrong as she was I can definitely identify with the fear of not being perfect. In that way, we are the same although we deal with it in radically different ways. I have always wanted her to be something that she can’t be, a nurturing and unconditionally loving sister. But she is as trapped in her role just as I have been in mine.

Should I have compassion towards her? Yes. Should I accept her improper behavior? No, because I can’t take on the responsibility of trying to heal her. That is her responsibility alone. I have the right to be treated with respect and when I am not then I have the right to separate myself from that person.

I do miss her and in my better moments I have prayed for healing for both of us. I have trouble with this as I tend to nurture my anger, however I keep having to remind myself that her journey is different than mine. We are both wounded and in essence I cannot expect her to be anything other than who she is.

Sad Clown free creative commons

Sad Clown free creative commons (Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography)

Here is something I wrote in 1997 during my “depressed poet” phase:

i anorexically

keep to myself

i want, i need,

i want

Deprivation is a form

of Saintliness

i am not the Bitch,

the Whore,

the War-monger

i just starve

i hurt no one

I am not anorexic and never have been, but the symbolism of a starving young girl speaks to me.  It is the loneliness of the damned, the crying out for love, and yet knowing that you deep down you don’t deserve it.  It is a self-imposed prison of course, but the iron bars seem real enough, solid enough that you know you will never be free. Who erected those bars? Was it me or others? I can’t tell anymore.

I have grown a great deal since I wrote that poem sixteen years ago. Yet I still find myself in that cage. I venture out into the world to forage a bit for sustenance and then quickly duck into my hidey-hole when I sense a shadow above me. In my mind it could be a hawk, circling around and waiting until I have let down my guard. Hawks have good eyesight, they can see my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, my shame. I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of living under its unholy gaze pinning me up against the wall, letting me know that he only lets me live so that he can remind me of my sins and how unworthy I am.

Ironically enough, I have learned to become much more social since I wrote that poem, but only to a point. I am most comfortable in support groups and I am very vocal. I feel safe in that environment. However I still have trouble with making one on one friendships. I am pretty much terrified because I feel so ashamed. I am constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. I am too needy, and weak. They are going to see me as a burden at best, at worst as an evil person who they would avoid like a leper.

I know that much of this comes from my childhood environment, where I felt like everything was my fault. I was a scapegoat then, and even now there are some family members who still treat me that way. I am fortunate that my dad does not see me that way at all. He actually loves me and does not see me as a “bad” person at all. I literally owe him my life. He is the main reason that I haven’t offed myself a long time ago. He is my best friend. Still he is eighty-five and I do not want to burden him in his old age.

I have to venture into the big, bad world and make some friends. Right now I have only one and she is dealing with her own issues right now. I try to be supportive of her and not burden her too much with my problems.

Another friend that I had turned out to be completely unreliable and took advantage of me. He has schizophrenia but decided to go off his medications. He ended up jobless, homeless and demanded that I take him in. Long story short, instead of sending him to the local mental health agency so he could get help and a place to live, I felt that as a friend I should take care of him.  I felt I owed him (he used to be my boss as well).  While I understand that someone who is schizophrenic may not be in complete control of his behavior, the fact was that when he chose to go off of his medication (and knowing perfectly well what could happen since he had done this before) he chose a course of action that affected others. By taking him in I was acting like an enabler, just as much as I would if I had taken in an alcoholic or a drug addict. Unfortunately I ended up losing what I considered a good friendship.

I realize that many of my problems with people are due to not knowing how to set good boundaries and not knowing how to determine whether someone is trustworthy or not. I grew up not being able to set boundaries for myself in my family. Basically only my mother’s feelings mattered, not mine. The same with my sister, and I am still having problems with her and her family. In fact at this time I don’t consider them trustworthy at all. I do not want to be estranged forever, but I can’t let them trample on me anymore.

My dad, who seems to be the only voice of reason in the family, has in frustration pointed out that my sister has never been sympathetic towards me and has told me that I need to make more friends. I am trying to hold on to someone who has never been there for me and most likely never will be. Her reaction towards my bipolar illness has been that of sheer rage, even when it hasn’t been warranted, such as just wanting a shoulder to cry on. The first time I ended up in the hospital (in my twenties) we were working for the same company, although different shifts. Our boss asked my sister to cover my part-time shift. She was already working full-time so it meant that she was working seven days a week. When I was released from the hospital I was on medication, but I was far from well. My sister raged at me and said “I thought you would be better by now!!”  I was clearly not in shape to go back to work. I literally could not stop crying. But I felt guilty of “inconveniencing” my sister and so I went back to work. Fortunately I worked the night shift and pretty much worked alone except for people who were passing through. I had a big roll of toilet paper beside me to wipe my tears and told anyone walking past that I had a cold. I did my job even though I was crying the whole time.  It never occurred to me or my sister that maybe our boss could arrange for someone else to cover my shift.

That was a long time ago (I am pushing 50 now) but she really hasn’t changed much. I think for a long time she thought I was faking or exaggerating my problems. Now she says that she does believe that I have bipolar disorder, however she shows little understanding of what it actually is. She still treats it like it is a moral problem. She accuses me of “using” my bipolar disorder as a “weapon to manipulate her.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I thought that if I could explain my illness that she would understand things better.  But no, I apparently still am the “brat” who is an “inconvenience” or worse according to her.  So it is patently obvious that she has not changed in twenty-some years. Only the vocabulary has changed. She still thinks I am a brat, just a bipolar brat.

So why do I keep going back for more? Because in my family we are Christians who “love” each other. That rational has been used many, many times to gloss over our problems. I let my sister off the hook because I don’t want to be responsible for “breaking up the family.”  And I am sad because when my dad passes on I won’t have any close family. I am also sad because I want to get to know my nephew, which seems impossible now. In four years he will be eighteen. Will he even want to have any contact with me? I hate the way things were left between us, my sister threw me out of her house and he thought it was his fault that we were fighting.

But there is a more basic reason for why I have continued to be in a destructive relationship with her. I think it is the same reason why anyone stays in an abusive relationship. I just want her to love me, pure and simple. I want her to see who I really am, to acknowledge that I am a good and worthwhile person. Instead I get morsels of approval and get led about like a horse with a carrot dangling just out-of-reach. And even though the track that I am on looks different, it is actually the same stupid circular road we have always been on.

So right now seems a good time for me to learn to recognize what a trustworthy relationship looks like and how to set healthy boundaries. I will talk about that in my next post.

Bipolars: Are We Victims?

Original logo of FIP, later adopted by the FACIM

Original logo of FIP, later adopted by the FACIM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I am not the victim of the world I see.

A Course in Miracles, Lesson 31

 

I am a student of A Course in Miracles. Sort of. Actually a relapsed student. While I agree with many of its points I still find that some are hard to take in.  Fortunately there is no requirement that I have to accept everything verbatim.  The Course is really about trying on new ideas and new ways of interacting with ourselves and others. It is a kind of spiritual psychotherapy.

The central theme of the book is summed up as follows:

“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

So what does that mean? It means that the only thing that is real is God’s love.  Period. Anything that does not come from God is a form of attack upon ourselves and others. The aim of A Course in Miracles is to learn how to get rid of our psychological blocks to God’s love and to release ourselves and others through forgiveness. Forgiveness of others is defined as learning to recognize their innate innocence as Sons and Daughters of God. Whatever “evil” they have done is due to their psychological separation from God and His love. This applies to us as well.

Although I find the Course intriguing, I will confess that I find it hard to understand because of its’ very intellectual format.  However there are many books and websites commentaries that I have found very helpful as far as understanding the concepts and how to apply them to my life.

One of them is ACIM Mentor. Here he answers a question about victimhood:

The personal thought system (ego) in your mind has a story for you. A Course in Miracles refers to this as your individual or personal past…This is your “personal story” and it is not an obstacle to peace in itself but functions as one when you identify with and are attached to it because it is not reality.”

What better way to describe my turbulent emotions I experience with my depressive disorder?  And also the fact that I frequently flash back to the emotional abuse that I experienced as a child? And what about the pervasive guilt that tells me that I am no good, that I am a mistake and no one would want to be around me?

“You know that you identify with and are attached to a personal story when you feel that it defines you and that you have to defend it.”

Yes I do identify with my bipolar disorder. It is a part of my story. However I am not sure that all of my problems are due to this insidious disease. It is too simplistic to say that every problem I experience is completely out of my control and that I cannot make changes to make my journey easier.  Plus there is more to me than just having bipolar disorder. I am not a disease. I am a child of God.

“When you identify with it you feel under attack by others, the world, and sometimes even your own “nature”. In other words, you are an innocent “victim” surrounded by cruelty and you are powerless. You are hurt easily and you take everything personally. You see everything that happens around you, like neutral events and other people’s actions and words, as being about you.”

Guilty as charged.

Some roles, like “victim”, are interpretations that always function as obstacles to peace because they are the result of you projecting your own thoughts onto others. The personal thought system projects from its personal story into the present to perpetuate the roles that it has assigned to you. For example, let’s say that your personal story is that your father left your family when you were a child, leaving your mother to struggle to support you and your siblings. You have grown up thinking of yourself as a victim of abandonment. You view your relationships with others through this filter. You expect abandonment and interpret others’ actions through this expectation. You may also be attracted to others who are likely to abandon you so that you can perpetuate the victim role.”

In my own life the story has been about feeling abandoned by my mother because of her harsh judgments on me. I have been reenacting that scenario with my sister and brother-in-law for years.

“Inner peace is the result of being aware of the Truth (God) within you. When you first invite Truth into your awareness you experience a magnificent peace, but you soon find that it is hard for you to maintain an awareness of Truth and to stay at peace. The reason is your belief in and attachment to your personal story for yourself.”

Perhaps this is one reason why I have been sporadic in my studies of A Course in Miracles. It seems too hard for me to change.  However, the Course is not about instant change. It is about gradually learning to see ouselves in a different way.

“So when your peace is disturbed you must look at this story and all of your conscious and unconscious beliefs in and attachment to it so that you can recognize how this affects you now. As the Truth becomes more real to you, you will find that you can let go of this story because you have Something with which to replace it. In time you will simply rest in Truth within and let the personal story unfold in front of you, without judgment on it or attachment to it. You will recognize that it is not you, but only an idea in your mind.”

Read the entire post here.

 

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Doll

Doll (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

 

I never had a Barbie doll.

That sounds like a trivial thing to be upset about, but it was never about the doll. It was about forgiveness. Specifically my mother’s lack of.

When I was little I accidentally broke my sister’s Barbie doll. I didn’t know the doll couldn’t bend in a certain way. I tried to make her straddle a model horse, and her legs broke.

My mother was very upset, and vowed that I would never get a Barbie doll until I learned how to take care of my toys. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t in the habit of breaking my toys. (Unless you count my trying to bathe my cloth baby doll, which had a device inside that made it cry. Poor thing never cried again.  That was treated as a joke in the family.)

For years I waited for that Barbie doll, even when I would normally be considered too old for one. On my eleventh or twelfth  birthday my mother got me a cheap knock-off version of a Barbie doll. The doll didn’t last long because it was (literally) held together with rubber bands. The bands broke and I was left again without a doll.

Now I don’t think that my mother knew that it was held together by rubber bands when she bought it, but she was not apologetic when she found out. She never suggested that we could go get a better doll. Although I do not remember her going into a rage about it, it was understood that that was my one and only chance to prove I was worthy of a Barbie doll.

Even as an adult I have struggled at times with a profound sense of guilt when I have accidentally broken something. One time I broke the chain of a necklace that a boyfriend had given me. I had set up a camera on a tripod and as I bent down to take the picture the chain got caught on one of the parts of the tripod. When I stood up the chain broke. I felt so guilty that I never got a new chain and never wore that necklace again.

The reason why this is coming up for me now is that my sister is behaving in the same way. Getting upset and banishing me for little things, such as my not having enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal even though I gave him a gift.  And I happen to think it goes a lot deeper than just these things. It doesn’t make sense to go into a rage over things that can be easily worked out.

In a sense I feel set up. Just as I was set-up by my mother so many years ago. Nothing I do will ever please my sister. She has claimed that if I had talked to her before we got together that we could have worked something out. I don’t believe her because she would have probably found something else to be angry about. In fact, she did. She was already mad at me for something that I had no control over, transportation to her place. She decided that I had purposely neglected to schedule the Dial-a-Ride service (for the disabled). She knew full well that the services have been cut and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride.

I believe that at least some of her behavior is due to the fact that she simply will not forgive me for the past, the things I said and did when I was ill with bipolar disorder. Strangely enough, she seems to be furious that I have moved on from that kind of behavior and that I have learned to treat her and others well.  For her, things were better when she had a reason to be mad at me. Now she doesn’t know what to do because she is faced with the prospect of forgiving me.

I am certainly not a mind reader but I am putting this theory together based on things that she has said over the past year:

1. She acknowledges that I don’t yell at her (or her family) anymore but insists at the same time that I haven’t changed and that I am “disrespectful” towards her and her family. She won’t give me an example of this so-called “disrespectful” behavior.

2. She has told me that I do not want to deal with my “abusive” behavior in the past. That is not true. I have offered to go into therapy with her before and she has declined. I think the problem as she sees it that I won’t admit to having the motives that she has decided that I must have had during my bipolar episodes. I have tried to tell her that my actions during my illness had very little to do with her. She apparently thinks I am lying.

3. At the same time she has also engaged in abusive behavior against me when I was ill and, although I cannot hold her responsible for my behavior, she didn’t make things easier for me. For instance, when I needed a shoulder to cry on she would get angry and say sarcastic things to me. This was part of a pattern of her trying to control me when I was sick and of course I would get upset at her interference in my life. Another example was her deciding that my taking medications was a moral issue and accusing me of lying about my symptoms and  “making excuses” when I tried to explain why I needed them. (Of course she and her husband thought that I was the one being abusive when I got angry!)

It is for all these reasons that I don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with her. She wants me to admit to things that I have not done. Yes, did some wrong things when I was ill. But I never intended to hurt anybody. For example, my suicide attempts were about punishing myself, not others. That ought to make my sister feel better about what happened, not worse!

One of the reasons my dad and I get along so well is that he figured out a long time ago that my behavior in the past was not about him. He actually forgave me before I even asked him to!

Why can’t my sister do the same thing? I am not engaging in any of that behavior now.

It doesn’t matter to her. In her mind I deserve to be punished forever. Just like my mother did. So if my sister can’t find anything to punish me about, she will make up one. Or several. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as she delivers her self-righteous punishment and banishes me from her presence like the Queen she seems to believe herself to be.

This is why I feel like that there is no way that I can fix what is going on with my sister. Because she doesn’t want to put any work into this relationship. She is letting me know that I am not “good enough” just like our Mom did. For me, that is a losing game.

coming out of the fog

coming out of the fog (Photo credit: theloushe)

In my last two posts I have talked about my difficulties with my sister and her husband, and how I have come to the conclusion that it is best to cut off contact, at least for now. It is not my desire to do this but their behavior has become so toxic to me that I feel like I have to back off for my own mental well-being. What has complicated our problems for so many years is that I have at times been out of control with my bipolar behavior and so they did have some legitimate grievances with me. But as I have worked on improving my behavior I have found that to my surprise they have become more angry with me, not less. There is another dynamic going on, something that I haven’t wanted to acknowledge until recently. They have serious behavioral problems themselves and often take it out on me.

I am not completely ignorant of what constitutes abusive behavior, however it is difficult at times for me to recognize it simply because I am used to having blame placed on me because of how I have acted when I have been out of control with my bipolar disorder.  But things are becoming much clearer to me now because while I have changed my behavior towards them, they have not changed their behavior towards me at all.  Well, that is not entirely true. Their behavior has gotten much worse towards me.

Anyway here is a list of characteristics of abusers that can help identify whether you are in an abusive relationship:

1. They demand respect, but do not feel obligated to give it.

2. Only their feelings matter. If you express a feeling you are belittled and told that you are feeling sorry for yourself. Often you are accused of being selfish, sitting on your “pity-pot”, or being a “cry-baby.” Tears are not allowed.

3. They expect you to be a “mind-reader”, to anticipate their every need or want, and to comply with their desires without question.

4.  They will accuse you of their own flaws to deflect responsibility from themselves. So for instance, if you have a need and express it then you are being “manipulative’ and “selfish.”

5.  There is no room for compromise. It is either “My way or the highway.”

6.   When they get angry, they assume the worst about you. They pretend that they are mind readers who “know” that there was some evil motive behind your actions. When you try to explain you are accused of “making excuses.”

7.  They make you responsible for their unhappiness. Everything would be fine if you would just behave yourself.

8.  They consciously or unconsciously set you up to fail. Remember the comic strip “Peanuts” where Lucy would set up Charlie Brown every football season? Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie to kick and then when he got a running start she would pull the ball away at the last minute. Nothing you can do will be good enough for your abuser.

9.  Abusers are addicted to being “right.”  Have you heard of the saying “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  Of course what this says is to not sweat the small stuff. Unfortunately, abusers would rather forgo happiness than to admit that they are wrong. And then they pass their misery to the rest of us.

10.  Abusers will always deny that they are abusive. They will paint themselves as long-suffering saints and act like you are the one who is unreasonable. They will say or do anything to try to justify their irrational behavior, including telling outright lies. For example, my brother-in-law  told me that when he yelled at me to get a job (I am disabled), that he meant it as a compliment!

I hope you all will find this list helpful. If you have anything to add please feel free to share Winking smile

Upset

Upset (Photo credit: Jeremy Bronson)

My nephew had his 14th birthday last month. My Dad also turned 85.

I was looking forward to a nice get-together with them both. I had thought that my sister and I had a truce and that things would go ok. Last year we didn’t get together because we had had a misunderstanding that had developed into a huge “lets-bash-Mary-fest.” While neither my sister or her husband apologized, they both indicated that they were willing to put our differences aside.

Apparently not. Within an hour of us getting together I was kicked out of their house. Why? For the grievous “sin” of not have enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal, something I had never agreed to pay for in the first place. I gave my nephew cash, which is what he wanted. But apparently I was, in my sister’s convoluted logic, expected to pay for his meal also.  She claimed I had done so in the distant past (which I can’t even recall) so that means that I should have done it this time as well.

Now I would never put a petty argument about money above my nephew’s happiness. But I am on disability and have had a lot of extra expenses this year. While It would have been better for me to have brought this up before the big day, she knew that I was having financial problems in general. Before I even gave my gift to my nephew I told her that I had $70 to last for the rest of the month and I had only peanut butter and vegetables in my house to eat.

Her response was to scream at me “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” like a two-year old.  For once, I did keep my calm and tried to reason with her, but that only ended up in me getting kicked out. I had no clue as to why she reacted in such a violent manner.

As I was leaving my brother-in-law showed up with my dad. I was absolutely in a state of shock and I was crying. I went to my dad to try to explain why I was leaving since we were celebrating his birthday as well. My sister started shrieking at me to not say anything to my dad because that was “tattling.”

Later on, she sent me a e-mail which she tried to make it sound conciliatory but in fact it was simply another attempt to put the blame all on me.

She said that I should have arranged to postpone our get together until next month when I had more money. Huh? Really? Yes I would have had more money but that was not the main issue at all. The money issue was a trigger for her rage, not the cause. She claimed that she would have “understood” if I had put it off. Yeah, like she really has shown a good track record of being “understanding” towards me.  The fact is that I did consider that as an option, but I was afraid that she would get upset. I was in-between a rock and a hard place.

She said that she had to kick me out because she didn’t want to “upset” our dad and her son with our quarrelling. Too late! My nephew was so upset that he tried to give the cash I gave him back to me because he thought the argument was his fault. Our dad considered going back home because of this. But of course, none of that was her fault. It was her crazy, bipolar, abusive sister’s fault!!!

But here is the craziest part of her “logic”. Everything was my fault because if I didn’t pay for my nephew’s meal then that means that I was expecting our dad to pay and that I was putting her in a bad position with Dad.

Um, no. I never said that it was our dad’s responsibility to pay. In fact, all I was saying was that I not only could not afford to pay but that we never had an agreement for me to pay in the first place. It was up to her to decide how to work it out. In fact she was the one saying that our dad had to pay, not me.

Now all of this happened before we even went to the restaurant so there was plenty of time to work things out. There was no reason that it had to be decided right that moment. Thus there was no reason to kick me out. The most obvious solution was exactly what ended up happening. My brother-in-law paid, which apparently he was planning to do all along, but failed to communicate that to my sister.

After that, you would think that she would realize that she owed me an apology. But no, instead I was bombarded with other accusations:

1. She was angry that she had to pick me up from my house even though I had made it clear that the dial-a-ride service (for the disabled) that I use has become unreliable and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride from them in the first place.

2. We all had agreed to meet at their place and decide from there about when and where to go for lunch. I suggested to my sister that before the guys got caught up in deep discussion regarding “computer stuff” (usually we have difficulty prying them away once they have gotten into something) that maybe we could discuss with them about going a bit earlier than usual, since I had very little food to eat in my house and hadn’t eaten breakfast. According to my sister I was being demanding and selfish and wanted to ruin everyone’s “plans.”  What plans???  We hadn’t made any yet and it was open to discussion!  Plus it was almost 2:00 anyway and no one had eaten since breakfast as far as I knew.

In spite of everything that indicated that I was not the one at fault I trotted off to my therapist and asked him honestly to show me where I went wrong. Maybe I should have known these things would upset her. Maybe I had been insensitive to her feelings. It was the same sick feeling of shame that I had when I was growing up and my mother accused me of intentionally trying to hurt her when, for instance, I talked at the wrong time.  I am not saying that she was wrong to punish me. But she would cry and tell me that she couldn’t understand why I wanted to hurt her. In reality it was a case of my being thoughtless rather than intentionally trying to upset her. I actually grew up believing that I must have had some bad intention when I did not.  One day it dawned on me that in fact I had no evil motive and sobbing, I told my mother that I did not mean to hurt her. She told me that I was just feeling sorry for myself and that was the first and last time I ever expressed a genuine feeling to my mother. Or even felt a genuine feeling. Until I had a nervous breakdown at sixteen.

What has complicated the problem of who is to blame when I have had problems with my family is that yes, I have behaved inappropriately many times with my bipolar illness. So there are times when I feel like I need to get someone else’s input.

My therapist told me point-blank that he did not see that I did anything wrong and that my sister had acted inappropriately. Something was going on with her and I just got caught in the cross-fire. He also asked me when was the last time she ever apologized for anything. I couldn’t remember.  Ten or more years, at least.

In order to solve a problem, you have to label it correctly. Since I did everything in my power to avoid a conflict with her then that means that I was not the one who was being abusive, she was.  And I am under no illusion that she will ever apologize.

I have a pretty good idea of what is really going on with her. My dad finally gave them the ultimatum that my brother-in-law needs to get a job rather than mooching off of him.  I didn’t create this situation and frankly I really have very little sympathy for either one of them. My dad has supported them for over two years after my brother-in-law got fired from his last job. This is just one of a long string of jobs that he has been fired from and expected my dad to pick up the pieces. Dad has been supporting them for much longer than two years when you count in his support he has given over the years. Quite often even when my brother-in-law was working he made no effort to keep his hours up and expected my dad to make up the difference in his wages.

My brother-in-law decided this time to not look for a job because he had started his own business and so that should have been enough for dad.  Except this is not what dad agreed to. Dad never agreed to invest in his business or support his family while my brother-in-law tried to make it work. My dad is 85 years old and he worked hard to save money for his retirement. At one time he had a very nice amount put away but he was never rich. Now he has to worry about whether he will have enough to last him for the rest of his life. The only reason why he has let this go on as long as it has is because he didn’t want to hurt my sister and his grandson.

My sister is not completely blameless in this matter, though. She has supported her husband’s bad behavior. Not only that, but she is physically disabled and has qualified to get disability benefits for many years and yet has refused to apply like my dad has repeatedly told her to do.

Basically the only way to get either one of them to act has been to give an ultimatum to just completely cut off the money to them. He has given them two months to work things out. Now they are facing possibly going on welfare. My dad has been more than fair to them and he would not have to take such drastic action if they had acted responsibly in the first place.

My brother-in-law’s excuse? “I didn’t mean this to happen!”  In other words, he is saying, “I knowingly put my father-in-law in a position where he would have to pay my families’ bills if my business was unsuccessful, but that can’t possibly be my fault!!!”

Puhleeze!  The guy is in his fifties and he has never learned to take responsibility for his own actions.  In fact he is extremely critical of me for being on disability for both mental and physical problems even though I do not expect my dad to support me.

So all their accusations against me have to do with their inability to take financial responsibility for themselves.

There really is no reason for me to feel guilty because my actions only revealed the cracks that were in our relationship in the first place. And I didn’t create those cracks, they did.

I feel badly that others have to suffer for this, such as my nephew and my dad. But my therapist said that he felt it would be a bad idea for me to give in simply because it would just give them permission to continue their bad behavior.

Right now, I do not believe that our relationship can be salvaged. It really is up to them if they want to continue this. If this results in a permanent rift, that is not my problem. I cannot give up my integrity to please them. They are the ones who are not playing fair.

I have been laboring under the impression that as I took responsibility for my bad behavior when I have been sick and learned to control it, that my relationship with my family would get better. Actually it has gotten far, far worse because they see it as an opportunity to blame me every time we have a disagreement. They are taking advantage of my genuine remorse for my behavior in the past.

This whole thing has opened my eyes to the fact that I am powerless to fix the problems in our relationship simply because not all of it is my fault.  Real relationships involve give and take, and they are not willing to do that. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about that at all.