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OK. I just read the book 'Toxic Parents' by Susan Forward, which some people on here have mentioned before, and...wow. Explains quite a lot.
The question I have is...the whole business of, as the author says, confronting your parent. I.e. facing them with what they did, how it hurt you and how you feel about it. She insists this is essential. And she says you will be resistant to the idea. Which, OK, I am, and I doubt I'd be ready to do it anyway, much as I'd like to. Even so, I do think there are some real problems with this. a) It's very hard to get any privacy with her in the NH, and to do it in front of the staff would make me look like Ms. Evil. I don't want to put myself in a situation where, once again, I'm the 'bad daughter'. b) While Forward says confronting a sick parent is OK if the experience is unlikely to affect their condition...she has vascular dementia, and F. says nothing about when your parent can barely even follow the thread of what you're saying any more, let alone emotionally comprehend what you're saying...also, her own distortions of the past notwithstanding, her brain is so out of whack that she probably genuinely doesn't remember a lot of that stuff now. c) I've been pretty sure for a while that she's an N. I therefore know, even if she did understand, that this would end up turned against me and wreck the just-about-salvaged relationship I have with my brother. I doubt that she even has the smarts to do this any more, but I can't be certain. Anyone have any ideas on this? Especially if you're one of those people who's read this book and knows what I'm talking about...I know it's been mentioned on here, so I'm pretty sure some of you have. I'm half considering the unsent letter thing, but I don't know if - her still being alive - that's some kind of cop-out...
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Hi EmmieK, First of all, I've not read the book that you are talking about. I didn't confront my parents until very late in their lives and I was already their caregiver. My entire life, I had been the perfect daughter and tried to win my parents love by doing everything they demanded that I do. I swallowed my hurt and my pain and I pretended that it didn't matter and I didn't matter. At times, keping it in literally make me feel sick! When I finally did confront them, they acted like I was totally out of my mind and they had no idea what I was talking about! They looked at me with wide eyed innocence and said that I was just being melodramatic, that it was all over with anyway and I should just forget about it. (I don't know, my mother was so crazy, and under the influence, maybe she didn't remember!) I know my dad knew what my mother did to me and was capable of doing, but of course, according to my dad, he had a good excuse to look the other way. She was crazy and he was as helpless as I was! He was busy making a living and had no control over my mother. He only stayed with her because I was conceived. You're right about confronting your mother in the NH. You would appear to be the evil daughter who is picking on an sick, old woman. If she can barely follow what you are saying, I am doubtful that she will get it and in the end, you'd look like an elder abuser. In the end, I realized that my parents would never admit it or apologize, if they'd lived to be as old as Methuselah! Even when some of these abusive parents have their minds, they will not admit it or 'get it'. After their minds are gone, I would think it would be hopeless and less than satisfactory to their victims. I know I didn't get any vindication or satisfaction from my own confrontation with my parents. The unsent letter is probably the best solution, at this date and time. Whatever your decision, good luck. I know how you feel. ~ok~
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I didn't read this book either, but have read many others about this. My opinion and experience is smiliar to OK's. I tried to confront the issues with n parent and was met with crazy making events. It really made things worse for me, with stress and problems with other family members who didn't understand how bad my n parent really is. I became the problemed one labeled bitter and resentful. How could I do this to a little old man? I would carefully weigh your pros and cons. Is the stress, crazy making turn arounds, possible estrangement with your brother worth it? Because the probability of getting any validation is minimal. But also, it may do something within you that is really needed. To say what you feel to your mother without expecting validation, just to validate and stand up for yourself is empowering. It may be something that you have been fearing and doing it may end any control she has left over you. Which is huge. I wish I had better advice for you. The only thing that I know is good advice is ... Do not expect validation or listening if you do decide to confront her. Be prepared for a warfare like situation. Because, as OK said, it will probably be turned around to be your fault or your issues that make you remember it soooo wrong. Which is very distressing when not prepared for it. Hope whatever you decide helps you on your journey to freedom.
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Also, I like the idea of an unsent letter too.
Also journaling and self validation exercises helped me a lot. Have you tried this?
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EmmieK i have not read the book either even if she was in her full faculties, she would never acknowledge your 'enlightenment'. to do so would require acknowledgement on her part of 'her' past actions. you'd have better luck trying to grow roses on a rock. becoming a whole, mentally healthy person is enough revenge on a "N". probably the best. write your letter, then burn it wrapped around some fire crackers. then learn how to move on........ blessings for movin on
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I'm afraid I know more about toxic parents than anyone should and so do you. In fact, no one should know about them because they shouldn't exist. But they do. I know the Forward book, it was among the many references I used in writing my own book about surviving difficult and toxic parents. I have also studied with Gloria Davenport who pioneered the concept of toxic aging. This character disorder gets worse after age 75. I'm pretty much in agreement with everyone on the confronting issue. The sad truth is, they do no care how you feel so confronting them will not change a thing but it will bring you another venomous outburst. They cannot change, don't want to change. You can't do anything about toxics, but you can take care of yourself. There are ways to communicate with difficult people, but they work better if dementia is present since they'll have a short attention span. Writing out your anger and frustration is excellent medicine. Writing about life's traumas yields physical as well as psychological benefits. It helps reduce stress which all caregivers deal with. What I like better than Forward's confrontation, is this idea from Lillian Glass who wrote Toxic People. She calls it vicarious-fantasy. You create a fantasy about the toxic person, either in your mind, in writing or through drawing, expressing all the horrible things you wish would happen to the offender. Perhaps write a cartoon or short story about the situation with justice being done in the end. But do remember it is a fantasy. Don't act it out! You want them locked up, not yourself I could go on for hours on this topic but I've said enough for now. When dealing with toxic parents my opinion is that confronting them on paper then burning it helps us much more than a face-to-face.
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I confronted my mother in therapy and in my private journal and in my imagination. Very cathartic. From my experiences of a lifetime with a narcissist and from everything else I've read about the disorder, IMHO I can't imagine anything more pointless and destructive than confrontation. The only successful strategies I've found are to avoid my toxic elderly mother as much as possible and enforce a polite, functional relationship with her. Boundaries and distance. I think attempting such an emotionally charged exchange with an elderly dementia patient is a horrible idea.
If ... if my sister had lived and I hadn't ended up an only child ... if I hadn't wanted to maintain a relationship with my dad ... I might have confronted my mother at a much younger age and ended our relationship altogether. Maybe. Now I am satisfied that we have achieved this delicate balance where I can see to her eldercare needs and she has learned to accept civilized boundaries. This is the best I feel I can hope for.
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Hi EmmieK, I haven't read the book either. Several years ago, before my mother got dementia, my brother confronted her on her behavior towards him. When he told me about it, he said that she looked at him like he was nuts - claimed she had no idea what he was talking about. When my brother was telling me this, I could absolutely see it in my mind. She always believed that we were an Ozzie and Harriet family - perfect. At least that's what I think she believed - all evidence to the contrary. I have to agree with the others. Confronting a toxic person - parent or otherwise - makes the situation worse. The person will never get it and it will only lead to more conflict. Nothing to be gained. And if it's a parent with dementia - there's really no point to it anymore. No, find another way to come to grips with it - writing, reflecting - and maybe most important of all: Learn how not to be anything like that person. If you find yourself about to say something like your mother would say, stop yourself dead in your tracks. Stopping the cycle might be the best thing you could ever do for yourself and your loved ones. sue
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Frankly, while the idea of confrontation is interesting, it is on the whole not practical. People are not easily changed, they are resistant to change. All you can do is change the way you relate to them, and try to avoid issues that will induce conflict.
Confronting an very elderly person would serve no purpose, especially if they are of confused mind. I know dad is not going to change, he has a disorder, he never has and never will understand other peoples issues. I can only move him a little this way and that, to get whatever outcome I would prefer. Learning negotiation and dispute resolution skills comes in handy - I got this training in my last job and it has been most useful.
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EmmieK, rather than confronting your mom, how about "confronting" yourself, that is, establishing new rules for yourself:
1) Mom's past behavior (and present) was/is unacceptable, mean, unloving, nonparental, etc. You're an adult. Your relationship with your parents must be based upon mutual respect. Our parents don't get "special privileges" to be abusive because we're their children. 2) You will no longer passively accept her bad behavior, nor tolerate it. You are owed respect. You aren't servant, slave, or whipping boy/girl. 3) You will no longer passively accept or tolerate her bad behavior. Period. No more excuses or rationalizations allowed for bad behavior. 4) You will now "call her" on her bad behavior. You will respond with "that's not nice", and not silently absorb her mean-spirited words and bad behavior. If it occurs, you will leave her presence and/or end conversation right then and there. So long as she's "safe" you don't owe her the opportunity to hurt you further. 5) You won't be swayed by "caring what other people think". A toxic parent can present a sweet public disposition while a monster at home. People easily say "but she's your mother" without ever dealing with that toxicity. "Toxic parents" have so rationalized their right to mistreat their children that "confrontation" is utterly useless. They won't acknowledge their "bad behavior", or that their words and deeds have been unacceptable, cruel, and damaging. "Confrontation" gives a toxic parent righteous indignation without self-realization. Sudden intolerance from a meek adult-child is more likely to receive attention.
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Hi, EmmieK, There is so much wisdom on this thread that I am going to bookmark it. Since finding this forum after another wonderful Mother's Day I've been fortunate to read many posts by many of the contributors to this thread. All I can add is that I am the only child of NP's. I've read Toxic Parents, and I think it was one of the first when I was getting an understanding of narcissism as its own category of emotional abuse. For me, the "bible" is Children of the Self-Absorbed, by Nina Brown. NM, while not formally dx with dementia, processes through the filter of narcissism, including selective forgetting, redefining history, her and NF's perfection, my eternal status as a child and a firm belief that most of the world revolves around her, and what does not, should. IMO, if I confronted her now it would not be productive, the drama would, in her mind, only validate her. On the Narcissistic Parents thread, there was a discussion of books read by and helpful to some with NP's, they are post #638-654. If you did not see those posts you may want to take a look. Best wishes; whether frequent contact, limited contact or no contact, having NP's is and/or was exhausting.
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Wow! This is so close to what I am going through! I am caring for my grandmother, and my two little ones, and it is HARD. She is into that self pity stage, and nothing anyone in the family tries will get her to leave the house! Any suggestions?
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By this dictionary definition of toxic I avoid a person the same as a toxic chemical. to allow ones children to be exposed to toxic anything is not good. Main Entry: 1tox·ic Pronunciation: \ ˈtäk-sik\ Function: adjective Etymology: Late Latin toxicus, from Latin toxicum poison, from Greek toxikon arrow poison, from neuter of toxikos of a bow, from toxon bow, arrow Date: 1664 1 : containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation < toxic waste> <a toxic radioactive gas> <an insecticide highly toxic to birds> 2 : exhibiting symptoms of infection or toxicosis <the patient became toxic two days later> 3 : extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful < toxic sarcasm>
tox·ic·i·ty \täk- ˈsi-sə-tç\ noun
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Thanks, all of you, for your replies.
I was already pretty sure that confronting her in any way wouldn't get anything like a positive response. I think what it was, was that I knew I was looking at advice coming from a psychologist, a qualified person who's worked with abusive parents and knows their ways, if you like...but there were things in there that still didn't ring true in this particular situation. I did feel that advising people always to confront might be a little unrealistic! But, it's good to have reassurance. I'm inclined to think the unsent letter is the best move - that way I can work on this over as long as it takes. I have a huge amount of RAGE around this to deal with, I still find - somewhat to my embarrassment...a lot of people I know tend to be all for 'what's past is past'...but for me, the emotional stuff inflicted on me during vulnerable times in my life is always going to be unfinished business, and acting like it didn't happen is not an option. I acted like it 'didn't hurt' and was 'OK' for years, and it nearly killed me. Still think my SIL very much goes by her relationship with her mother, and with her adult daughter (both very close), to assume that every mom and daughter relationship can be salvaged and end up 'naturally' all nice and cosy. Not so! And yet I think she's holding out that there'll be some kind of reconciliation. I'm afraid she's going to be disappointed...from my side. My mother may now be a frail little old lady who barely speaks at all, let alone says anything nasty (although it wasn't so long ago she was still at it, and I was already limiting contact anyway), but it was the illness that did that to her. She's not 'turned nice towards me' any more than a pickpocket who's lost his hands in an accident has given up thinking like a thief, if you get my meaning. Ah well. S'pose I'm on my own here...apart from knowing that many of you here have been through the same, or in some cases far worse. It's good to be able to come here and have the situation understood. (Sorry if I'm rambling. I'll be seeing her at the weekend, and while, as I said, she hasn't played up lately, I still get tense at the idea.) Carol, I like your idea...I'd considered a fairytale. With me having the happy ending. (There have always been bits of Snow White that are way too close for comfort, for me.) We have precious few books about the whole N thing in any stores over here, and what there is mostly seems to relate to N male partners. I mean, been there, got the T-shirt (thankfully some years ago), but I think I need to get myself on Amazon and get hold of something more specifically parent-oriented. Thanks for the suggestions.
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Hope you meeting with your mother goes as well as possible. Just remember, and I know this is hard, but they only have as much power as we give them.