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Time with family members triggers old shame


Sarati

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I am a grown-up woman (or so I thought!), with grown children and even a couple of beautiful grandchildren. I have a job that I love, and have carved out a meaningful place for myself there, and have gained the respect of my peers and colleagues. I feel comfortable in my skin, and I like the woman staring back at me from the mirror -- until recently.

 

One of my daughters came home and stayed with me for 11 days. Our family has recently spent a lot of time together, and one of my other family members (by marriage) does not like me, and let her spouse know that I "bother" them. This person "hid" (took a nap, actually, played x-box) from me when I was at their home because I "bother" them. Ironic, too, because I know that person's need for space and when I see them, I am simply cordial, and I don't force any interactions with them.

 

Regarding the daughter who stayed with me, we had some very fun times but she was openly critical of my clothing, my manner of speaking, and and just snappy in general, and always on her Blackberry. After her 11-day visit, she is now at her sister's house -- and I'm glad, frankly; I can relax and don't feel so tense. Even though I love her dearly and am glad she is home, I am glad to have some space.

 

I guess my question is this: has anybody here noticed that, after extended time with family, the self-confidence or self-image you have built (and it has taken me a lot of work) seemed reduced, or did you feel that extended time with family = criticism = several steps backward in self-esteem or left you feeling emotionally drained, or that the life you have built for yourself felt like a lie? I almost feel that the good feelings about myself it took me so long to earn or build, have been extremely fragile and it may take time for me to recover them. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but I just feel icky, old, tired, wanting to withdraw, and like my "old yucky self" feelings came back. Any thoughts on the matter would be most appreciated.

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I think it is hard when adults interact specifically adult children and parents and in law kids. Everyone is always "hyper" aware of criticism. It is why I like visits to be short and sweet and then one can breath and be themself.

 

Lol, thanks Victoria -- I had to chuckle, because you are right, short and sweet is always best and 11 days is in no way short. I am not sure what to do about the kid-in law who is married to one of my kids. It makes coming to see the grandchildren very uncomfortable. I forgot to mention that, when visiting daughter and I went to see them, they (the married couple) were in a tiff and tense and bickery, not even remembering that visiting daughter traveled 3,000 miles just to see them. What to do about an unsociable, arrogant, elitist crank like that?

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I almost feel that the good feelings about myself it took me so long to earn or build, have been extremely fragile and it may take time for me to recover them.

 

 

I think this part of what you said is very telling. Even though you know you worked so hard to build good feelings about yourself, you saw that these feelings were changed quickly, depending on who you're around. Maybe it would be good for you to now work on strengthening how you feel about yourself?

 

 

Not everyone gets along, by the way and in the age of Blackberry's and Xbox's, some people just aren't social but that has no bearing at all on who YOU are.

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Lol, thanks Victoria -- I had to chuckle, because you are right, short and sweet is always best and 11 days is in no way short. I am not sure what to do about the kid-in law who is married to one of my kids. It makes coming to see the grandchildren very uncomfortable. I forgot to mention that, when visiting daughter and I went to see them, they (the married couple) were in a tiff and tense and bickery, not even remembering that visiting daughter traveled 3,000 miles just to see them. What to do about an unsociable, arrogant, elitist crank like that?

 

It sounds like they are having troubles.....of a personal type and maybe they are unaware it affects others.

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I think this part of what you said is very telling. Even though you know you worked so hard to build good feelings about yourself, you saw that these feelings were changed quickly, depending on who you're around. Maybe it would be good for you to now work on strengthening how you feel about yourself?

 

Not everyone gets along, by the way and in the age of Blackberry's and Xbox's, some people just aren't social but that has no bearing at all on who YOU are.

 

Yes, it is a good time to strengthen my feelings about myself and my life. I guess I should be more clear -- my feelings didn't change quickly, it was after several days and a string of uncomfortable (but not terribly many) experiences. I think my self-esteem is pretty solid now, and I get worn down (being an introvert) if I am around too much intensity. I think that is true for many people. I appreciate your post!

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I understand better now that it took days to sort of...break you down, so to speak. I had a friend staying with us when he was going through a hard time and after a little while, being that we weren't used to being around each other all the time, we started feeling so claustrophobic around each other I was leaving the house at night more than when I was single! We just needed space from each other. I was going absolutely anywhere to be alone for a few hours. One night I sat in my truck in a parking lot just to get some "air".

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I understand better now that it took days to sort of...break you down, so to speak. I had a friend staying with us when he was going through a hard time and after a little while, being that we weren't used to being around each other all the time, we started feeling so claustrophobic around each other I was leaving the house at night more than when I was single! We just needed space from each other. I was going absolutely anywhere to be alone for a few hours. One night I sat in my truck in a parking lot just to get some "air".

 

You are very kind. You know exactly what I mean. And guess what? Visiting daughter has only been gone for 5 hours and I miss her already. Human relationships (especially family) are so tricky sometimes. But I would not want a life without my family, that is for sure. Here is a sweet quote: "The family-that dear octopus from whese tentacles we never quite escape nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to." ~Dodie Smith

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I guess my question is this: has anybody here noticed that, after extended time with family, the self-confidence or self-image you have built (and it has taken me a lot of work) seemed reduced, or did you feel that extended time with family = criticism = several steps backward in self-esteem or left you feeling emotionally drained, or that the life you have built for yourself felt like a lie? I almost feel that the good feelings about myself it took me so long to earn or build, have been extremely fragile and it may take time for me to recover them. I don't know if any of this makes sense, but I just feel icky, old, tired, wanting to withdraw, and like my "old yucky self" feelings came back. Any thoughts on the matter would be most appreciated.

 

Yes yes and YES! As much as I like my family/extended family, I don't like to spend too much time in their presence. I feel like they don't see me as the adult I've become but simply the kid I used to be. Whenever I'm 'home' I feel like I'm slotted back into the role of 'baby of the family' which I hate! Therefore, I don't go home much and when I do, I don't stay long. It's hard to describe, there are so many little things but they're noticeable to me and I don't like that feeling of reverting back to my childhood self. I'm completely different now but not in anyone elses eyes. Is that kind of what you meant?

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Two things I noticed. One is that you act in a...fake way when you interact with X-Box girl. Not that you're doing something wrong, rather that the two of you have perfected a fake situation that you slide into when you are near each other.

 

She seems immature and probably insecure and petty. You can do a world of good for her by showing her the more mature way to behave - i.e. just be honest. If you're in an uncomfortable situation, just be out with it. "You're going to take a nap? Look, I understand that you feel uncomfortable around me. I don't know why you do, but it makes me sad, because I try really hard to be as non-threatening and good to everyone as I can. So can we talk about what you feel I'm doing that you're uncomfortable with? I'd like to know if I'm doing something people find off-putting." Whether you say that in front of others or not is your call, but I'm kinda the person who would do it in front of your son(?) who she's married to, so you can nip it in the bud now, before it solidifies into a lifelong habit.

 

The other thing is that you seem to have given your daughter power over you. Maybe you were that way when you were raising her - lots of mothers fear upsetting their kids and let them badmouth them and say nothing; I don't know the whole story. But I see over and over again that, no matter how much power the child thinks they have over their parent, they are still ever always on guard lest their parent disapprove of them. Maybe this is her way of pre-empting that, the criticism and the burying herself in her Blackberry.

 

But you are her parent. You have the right still - even now - to set rules of decency in your own home. You may want to try to turn this balance back around to where it should be. The next time she comes over and criticizes your clothes, etc., smile at her, take her hand in yours, and say "Honey, I know you mean well, but I changed your diapers and I cleaned up your spit; I really don't want to hear how you think I'm not up to your standards. Ok?" And then hug her, keep smiling, and walk away. That's probably all you'll have to say.

 

Have you ever read The Dance of Anger? It's an amazing little book that teaches us how to set boundaries for ourselves - lovingly - with our loved ones so that we are on an even keel. I highly recommend it.

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Yes yes and YES! As much as I like my family/extended family, I don't like to spend too much time in their presence. I feel like they don't see me as the adult I've become but simply the kid I used to be. Whenever I'm 'home' I feel like I'm slotted back into the role of 'baby of the family' which I hate! Therefore, I don't go home much and when I do, I don't stay long. It's hard to describe, there are so many little things but they're noticeable to me and I don't like that feeling of reverting back to my childhood self. I'm completely different now but not in anyone elses eyes. Is that kind of what you meant?

 

Yes, that's exactly what I meant! It's as though people (your children or parents, especially) still see you in the old context. I this comes up strongly for people with difficult histories because we've had to work extra-hard to shake the shame that sometimes comes with having a really dysfunctional upbringing. Thanks for understanding! I think it's good to put healthy distance between oneself and situations or people that trigger these feelings. You can still love your family and have a little adult distance.

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Sorry if I made it sound like my daughter was bad-mouthing me. It wasn't as overt as that, and both my children really have grown into lovely young adults. They don't outrightly badmouth or abuse me, and I do know that they love me.

 

As far as the kid-in-law, I think it is a good idea to bring up the discomfort and other stuff with them. I am not sure how I am going to do that yet, but I do agree with you about not allowing it to become a lifelong pattern. Also, I'm going to consider that book you told me about. Thank you for your input!

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