Releasing the past in order to find myself

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mixed Emotions

I've been having a hard time lately.   A weird, funky depression has hit me and I'm struggling to pull myself out of it.  Part of this has to do to with some recent developments surrounding my NMIL.  Please note this will be a rambling post.  Also note that I am not trying to be judgmental or critical of NMIL and her issues, but that I feel the details of what is going on speaks to the larger picture.  I have already been told once -by an ACoN- that  I am just "taking her inventory" in an attempt to control her.  Hearing that pushed me into a bad place after opening up about some very difficult feelings for me.

MIL is very ill.  She has always had stomach issues.  Several years ago, she had major surgery to deal with stomach issues.  She was told then to get her diet under control.  (She was also supposed to modify FIL's diet by cooking more healthfully).  A couple of months back, she was stricken with an infection in her abdomen.  (I'm going to leave out the details, out of respect.)  The infection is due, most likely to poor food choices and not modifying her diet.  She had surgery to remove it and spent over a week in the hospital.  Three days after being released from the hospital, she was at my son's birthday, indulging on cupcakes and snack foods.  Despite wincing in pain, she allowed my kids to climb all over her.  Two days later (five after being out of the hospital and major surgery and illness) she remained committed to taking a distant vacation with FIL.  I can not imagine that she ate well on this trip (she really has no self control.  This is not a judgement, just an observation.)  On the return trip, she picked up my niece and nephew to babysit.  She had not been out of the hospital for more than two weeks.  And sure enough, as could've probably been predicted because she was not taking care of herself, she wound up back in the hospital.  Infections again, reactions to medications, and tons of pain.  She came out of the hospital for mere days, and was back in the hospital again.  They can't figure out why she isn't healing.  It is looking quite serious.

MIL also has food issues.  I do not begrudge anyone their coping mechanisms and fully understand vices.  I have mine too.   But I do not ignore my issues and believe myself "healthy".  As with any alcoholic or drug addict or shop alcoholic, she seems to have a compulsion to eat in order to soothe emotions she does not want to feel.

As is probably obvious, MIL has emotional issues.  She only has two: glee and anger.  And maybe boredom.  She absolutely will not deal with any other emotions.  At all.  And so she consoles herself with food.  I've seen it over and over.  And while she is eating, she is completely oblivious to it.  She sort of "sneaks" it on herself (by slivering off teeny "extra" helpings.  She suddenly has eating two or three extra servings, but sees it only as "a little sliver").   Whenever she is in emotional discomfort she eats.  And then she complains (and reacts jealously to my thinness) about her weight.  She is forever on a "diet".  Not a healthy eating plan, but a diet.  To me, the connection seems obvious.  If you don't deal with your emotions, repress them constantly, and then "soothe" yourself with junk, it's bound to catch up with you.

Now, I have lots of sympathy for people who are struggling, who have emotional issues and addiction issues.  But when someone won't even ADMIT that they struggle or have issues and claim some sort of superiority over others....well, I have less compassion for that.

This woman has spent almost two decades scapegoating me and bullying me and pushing "her way of life" on me.  She has acted morally superior and put me down and blamed me.  She has refused, even for a second to thing that maybe SHE is the problem.  She refuses to take a look at herself and has continued to do whatever she wants, despite the consequences.  And she expects everyone else to be just like her.  She didn't allow her kids to develop any sort of emotional health.  She taught them to ignore any and all emotions too.  Several of them have rage and stomach issues too.  She has refused any attempts to change the dynamics of relationships.   And she expects everyone to go along with her unhealthy way of being and any suggestion to the contrary is met with anger or ignoring on her part.

I'm struggling to feel any compassion for her.  I feel AWFUL saying that.  But I'm struggling to feel badly for someone who will not help herself.  I am struggling to feel compassion for someone who has never felt it for me, and rarely feels it for others.    Any compassion for her makes me feel vulnerable and afraid.  I'm sorry she is sick.

But I'm also feeling relief that she is not bothering me at the moment.  Before she went into the hospital, she was "winding up" on my husband again and I could feel another N-wave coming at me.  I feel badly that my relief is coming from her pain and agony.

I'm angry that she hasn't taken better care of herself.  That she continued to proclaim that stuffing your emotions and not dealing with anything is the "right" way of dealing with things.  That putting "the family" above taking care of ourselves as individuals is the "moral high ground".  That never saying no (like to my FIL about the trip and my BIL about watching his kids) came above taking care of herself.  That this is the "rightous" thing she has always expected out of me (and my husband).  That martyr yourself is the right thing to do.  She can not say no.  Almost all of her relationships are "transactional" (this isn't my term).  Meaning, she does things for people and then she draw love back.   And if you say "no" to her, it means you don't love her.  I'm angry that this sort of unhealthy behavior contributed to her not being well now.  And all the while I've been condemned as a "bad" person, "unkind" for daring to ever put my physical (and God forbit, my emotional) well being as a priority.

I'm terrified of what this means.  DH and I FINALLY had started setting boundaries.  She was not happy about it, but I was finally feeling relief and some control over my own life.  I wasn't feeling helpless anymore.  We had separated and have distanced ourselves from his family.  I wonder how all of this will effect that progress.  I wonder how dynamics will change from here on out.  I am afraid that, if something should happen to her, DH will come to resent me.  That his family will resent me.  That I will (as always )be blamed for being "against" the family (this was the story up until now: if I didn't go along with whatever MIL decided, I was "against" the family).  I wonder if something should happen, how much FIL will attach himself to us.  Not that I don't like FIL, but he is extremely co-dependent on MIL.

I'm sad that I feel a tad bit of relief thinking about what might happen if this is it for her.....I don't even like saying that out loud.  I feel like an awful person.  Who feels positive feelings about something like that?

Especially in the face of the fact that so many people are so upset.  FIL is devastated and overwhelmed.  My husband is stressed.   His siblings are upset (although, oddly, two of them -one of them the golden child- have not gone to visit her at all.   And it's not because he can't go.  He lives close enough and has spent the weekends visiting other family members, so it seems odd to me.....)  Partially, it's annoying seeing so many people tell her how wonderful she is.  And maybe she is to them.  But she wasn't to me.  (There I go again, being a jerk.  Seriously, I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for these feelings.)  I struggled to see one of her son's describe her as the "strongest" person he knows.  For me, she has always seemed weak: frightened, angry, resentful, bitter, and repressed.  It's frustrating that a woman whom I've never seen had a vulnerable moment in her life be described as "strong".

It also makes me fearful about what happens in the future with my own family.  I feel so much healthier being away from my sister.  But what happens when something happens to our parents?  The thought of having to deal with her (and the odds of that happening are getting better and better) makes me upset and sad.

And some of this just makes me sad.  It didn't have to be like this.  Our family didn't have to be like this.  Her whole illness sort of seems symbolic to me of the whole "infection" in the family.  Constant repression, constant "soothing" with outside things, no emotions allowed and a sickness eating us from the inside out.

I appreciate any thoughts, but please be gentle with me.  It took a lot for me to own up to a lot of these feelings.  I've beaten myself up quite a bit in the last few weeks.  It has made me doubt so much of my choices and I'm struggling to stand in my truth.  I often wonder if I'm just a horrible, callous person.


  1. Hello my dear friend,

    So here's one initial thought that I had reading this post - Can you try redirecting some of the strong emotions you are describing so that you can focus more on having compassion for yourself and to an extent, your DH? You have pointed out that you're struggling to feel compassion for your NMIL and I'm trying to figure out why you need to.

    You start off the post talking about experiencing a mild depression, which is, I imagine, stemming from so much of your NMIL's nonsense. And I think the really deep pain you're feeling is linked to the fact that it's incredibly painful to constantly be seen as and treated like the freaking "bad guy" by a person who does absolutely zero to take responsibility for her own life. Your description of her illness is so crucial to understanding exactly how limited your NMIL is in her willingness to deal appropriately with her own emotional and physical health issues - it's a terribly deep kind of hypocrisy on her part.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say, "Any compassion for her makes me feel vulnerable and afraid." I have experienced this when dealing with narcissists too - I imagine to them it's the second best thing to having you pity them. If they can't get that from you, well then at least they can get you to feel guilty for NOT feeling compassionate towards their self-induced "plight."

    I hope your DH is able to see, whether or not something worse ends up happening to his NM, that you are not, in any way, blame-worthy here: either for your refusal to cave on your boundaries during your NMIL's illness, or for your emotional struggle with the whole thing. I really hope he is far enough along in his own process to understand that nothing you do is going to help his mother - and that she is responsible for her own outcome.

    If I were in this situation, I would try to maintain those boundaries you've been working so hard on in spite of whatever crazy narcissistic nonsense comes your way.

    And I know this doesn't count for a whole lot, but reading this made me feel really proud of you for being able to recognize so much of what is going on inside your own head, and for your astute observations re: your NMIL. Also, for the record - "I'm sad that I feel a tad bit of relief thinking about what might happen if this is it for her.....I don't even like saying that out loud. I feel like an awful person. Who feels positive feelings about something like that?" <-----I do. You're not alone. And I don't think it makes us awful people to feel some relief in imagining that these people who have hurt so many (without remorse), even if having done so unknowingly, will someday be gone.

    Hang in there, my friend.

    1. It does comfort me some to know that other's feel like I do about the relief. It's one of the cruelest ironies I think of Ns: that having something bad happen to them helps us to feel relief from the pain.
      I guess it's true that maybe I'm finally able to process this stuff and recognize it. It has been really painful for me. But I'm trying to remind myself that this IS painful, and confronting it head on is important.
      I have had compassion for DH (although that's complicated too, to a certain extent. It's hard that he loves someone so much that has hurt me so badly. And some of his need to "rally" the family and lead them all to help her has triggered me. I'm glad he is doing what he can for her and I've actually encouraged her. But some of it feels like a slippery slope.) I'm actually glad that I've been able to support him, even though it's been hard. Keeping my mouth (mostly) shut has been a big deal for me.
      I do hope he can hold onto all the ground we've gained. He seems to have up to this point. I wish we had gained more ground before this "test period". But it is what it is.

      The depression has been exacerbated by all of this stuff. But I've really struggled with loneliness right now. Trying to really engage the "friend angle" with some people, while finally really letting go of my relationship with my NM and NSIS has just piled on. Not to mention that I recently lost my grandmother. Just a lot of emotional hurdles to jump at the moment.

    2. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you don't already have compassion for your DH - I know that you do. And I also know that struggle well (having to figure out a balance between feeling compassion and not taking it personally that this person you love also loves someone who has treated you horribly). I have to agree with you though, it is a slippery slope. At some point, they've got to realize that putting themselves in a role where they are helping the narcs, almost always ends up putting themselves and their FOC in a dangerous/unhealthy position.

      Unlike you though, I pretty much never kept my mouth shut. So it could be that DH didn't feel as much compassion from me as I'm pretty sure you've given to your own DH.

      I hope you can find genuine support elsewhere, because I am finding that it's really necessary in the process of breaking away from narcissists in a healthy way. DH and I were just discussing that issue in regards to his young cousin, whom his Narcissistic Aunt just used as a "reason" to contact DH after almost three years. I've long felt that this particular cousin might actually have a way out of her family because she has some pretty strong personality traits that someone like NSIL, for example, completely lacks. But that won't happen yet - she needs more time and a HUGE support system that's emotionally detached from her FOO. I like to imagine that someday maybe she will get away and try to contact DH for real. But who knows? Anyway, having a healthy support system seems like a requirement in getting away from a NFOO. I can understand the struggle you're facing.

    3. I didn't think that you felt I wasn't compassionate towards DH. No need to apologize.
      And you are right, it can be difficult to have compassion (or not be a bit angry) when DH continues to interact with people who have clearly harmed me. It's a bit hard in this situation too, because for HIM to be available to his father and NM, he has to put himself out there a bit and step back into the family dynamics. And since we are just feeling comfortable with the boundaries that HE has finally set (he had none before), I worry about losing ground in our progress. The other day he arranged something for his mother, which was very sweet of him, but it smacked of NMIL's favorite brand of NS. So, that was a bit tough to swallow.
      It's just hard. It's hard to wrestle my own feelings, while trying to be there for them and trying to remember to be kind. It's not about me at the moment, but I know that ,whatever happens, will have repercussions for me.
      And no, I don't have a strong support system at all. It can be very difficult to make it out when you have few people to call on.

  2. First, stop beating yourself up. Have I ever mentioned that I had to make an agreement with myself that I would never follow my NM downstairs? It became a joke with my sister to help me deal with the anger. I would never actually follow through on the thought, but I hated that I even had it. Now, I give myself permission to laugh at the insanity that drives a kind person to such desperate thoughts. Laugh or cry: I choose to laugh. Mourning the loss of familial relationships is fraught with myriad emotions, including anger and denial. In a way, the loss has already occurred. You know you can't have a healthy relationship with them, and that's just sad. I also become frustrated with people who do nothing to help themselves, especially when their behavior is self-destructive. I admit, for me, it's partly because I hate that in myself. Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of hopes for happier relationships. It's also the kind of grief that will recur whenever you're reminded of the loss. It isn't weird; my counselor warned/prepared me for it. So, from time to time, I grieve the loss and then I continue to endeavor to be healthier.

    1. Oh, Judy, thanks for the "stair" comment. It helps so much to have someone who understands. And it is insanity.
      The thing I'm best at is beating myself up, and I really struggle to let that go.
      And who knows, maybe she'll pull through. It just is such unstable territory that I'm feeling uncomfortable.
      Thanks for your support.

  3. I think what you're feeling is totally reasonable considering the upbringing you had and it's almost like we have a sixth sense with this dysfunction thing. There are times that I think it will be easier when my mom dies because it will mean no more drama and having to feel like I need to cater to her dysfunctional behavior and my sister's dysfunctional behavior. Your MIL is not strong. She has not taken care of herself and this is what happens. She brought this on herself and setting boundaries to limit this dysfunction in your life is strong and necessary. You have very young children and I would not want my kids to be raised thinking guilt, martyrdom and bad habits are normal. I would be quiet and be compassionate towards my husband if he were dealing with this type of life challenge. Eventually, he will see that she brought this on herself because she doesn't know what a healthy limit has ever been in her life. You are normal for feeling this way. I pray she heals quickly and strength for you.

    1. Thank you Anon. I have decided to take the path of being quiet and as supportive as I can of DH. I do think he realizes that her unhealthy limits brought this on.
      Your point of not wanting to have my kids raised like that is very helpful. I'm trying to remember that analyzing what is going on in the situation is helping me to reaffirm the decisions I've made to move away from limitless, guilt inducing behavior. I see how my niece and nephew are being raised to think this is OK (they are often used to make MIL feel better, which I find so very sad). I just hope to have things be different for my kids.
      Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. You aren't taking inventory to control her. You are taking inventory to make sure you have all the facts to make sure she doesn't CONTROL YOU. Crazy that she said that, but I think you are a lot like me in that it only takes one person to say something, even if what they say is incorrect, to make me doubt myself. It can seriously put me in a bad mood, and shift all my focus in towards myself to analyze ME. It's a bad place to be. If where you are, is anything like that, I am so sorry.

    You have a lot of empathy, even for shitty people like your NMIL, which says a lot for the type of person you are, so don't feel bad that you are losing your empathy for HER. It's not a good thing to lose empathy, I get that, but she is not a normal person in any way. I have scared myself often over my own MIL and how much I cannot stand her. When I said I could easily shove her off a cliff and dust off my hands, I meant it. There are just some people that are so vile and so "wrong" we KNOW IT. It's human nature to feel disgust and contempt for such people because someone like YOU is so very much the opposite. It doesn't make you a bad person to feel it or recognize it. It makes you, at least in my mind, a better person because you can acknowledge it and feel it. That takes a special person. They are your feelings and you have a right to them.

    Not sure what to say about your DH. You just don't know what's going to happen or how he's going to feel if something happens to her. I often wonder the same thing with mine. I'm so openly not nice about her now. I try to keep quiet about her with DH as much as I can because I know he's trying, so I don't want to say anything that's going to send him in the other direction to want to defend her UNLESS I have proof of what we are discussing. I do wonder if anything ever happened to his mom if his guilt over his trying to keep his distance from her will pop up. I suspect it might, but then, I suspect it'll go away fairly quickly too. Again, just a guess. That being said, I'm not going to change. She's a terrible person and I'm NOT going to let her back in our life or let her control him like she was either. I'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it. You too I'm thinking.

    1. Thanks for you kind words MA. Yes, I tend to take everyone's comments as fact and forget to look at where things are coming from. I'm getting better at trying to put things in perspective, but man, it was a rough few days. And especially, when it comes to how I feel about MIL, I can be hard on myself (it comes from being told for YEARS that I was over reacting to her.)
      One of the big steps I had with DH was when I realized that I had to let go of my fear of him divorcing me over it all (or us divorcing because we couldn't reconcile it). This had me trapped into putting up with a lot of things I didn't want to. We've had a few talks about my fears and he's been really supportive. So, yes, I'm trying to not to worry about the "what if's" and just make the best decisions I can.
      Thank you for your support. I really appreciate it.

  5. Hi Jessie,
    I'm behind and I hope that at this moment you are doing better. I have to take a minute after reading this because this was the situation with my MiL, down to the hospitalization. I won't go into the details, the stories are similar, to the point that she let something that could have been treated easily go on to become a life threatening infection when she came to visit us overseas and she ended up spending a month in the hospital here and FiL stayed with us. She said "she didn't want to ruin the trip" that is why she didn't deal with her pain sooner. I have since found out a repetition on her illnesses/hospitalizations from her best friend and the real story.

    I can relate to how you feel to the point that I didn't have compassion for my MiL. I felt guilty and ashamed even if she was in denial about every time she had pain. I think that you are dealing with these powerful emotions head on and not denying them. That is a very strong thing to do. Please know that I am not 'preaching' and I believe you know this already and doing what you need to do best for your FOC . It is hard to have compassion when our boundaries are constantly being crossed. I wasn't compassionate to my MiL because she over stepped my boundaries. And then I questioned how much is necessary or good enough? I think, in my situation, I was empathetic in the sense that I didn't attack her or belittle or disrespect her. That was the best I could do and I think that was enough. Anything more was too much.

    And it seems like you already are empathizing with her. Even with her conditions she has no right to overstep the boundaries you and your DH are practicing. You are doing great and I hope this message finds you well. Hugs, TR

    1. Hi TR. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It feels somewhat comforting to know that you experienced something similar. Your MIL's comment of she "didn't want to ruin the trip" sounds so familiar. My MIL refused to cancel her trip (even though in significant pain) because she didn't want to "ruin" it for FIL. While I understand her wanting to not let FIL down, the consequences have been quite dire for her. If she had let herself heal, I wonder if it would be this bad.
      The situation is continuing on, at the moment, so I haven't been able to really come around on my feelings about it, but I appreciate your kind words about my approach. FEELING all of these feelings can be exhausting. And even in her dire state, MIL managed to cross over a boundary yesterday (using my kids and my husband as NS on FB.) She can't be troubled to do the rehab work they ask of her (she's still in hospital) but can find time to suck NS. Sigh.
      I'm hoping something gets sorted out soon, as it's starting to wear on me (that and the other Ns who are flying around). It's caused additional troubles for DH (who has had to pick up some slack) and I can feel myself becoming irritable and tired.
      But hopefully, it will resolve soon. Thank you again for your thoughts.