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When I wrote the post that became Down the Rabbit Hole, I speculated that normal parents whose children were estranged filtered away to groups that addressed the reason their children were estranged--parents of alcoholics went to groups about alcoholism, etc. But I never followed up on it.

Recently I started reading the forums at Out of the Fog, a site for people dealing with personality-disordered relatives. It's been a revelation. There are plenty of parents of personality-disordered teens and young adults there, a demographic with significant representation in the estranged parents' groups. And yes, some of the parents do sound like they walked out of an estranged parents' group. But on average, the parents...

  • Tend to have children with a long history of trouble: problems in school, hospitalizations, even convictions. No one says, "We were so close until her terrible boyfriend came between us." A sizable minority of members of estranged parents' forums have children whose troubles started early in life, but most members who claim their children are personality disordered didn't have trouble until the children were old enough to start claiming some independence.

  • Tend to have younger children (preschool through very early 20's, with an uptick in the early teens), although a significant minority have children who are established adults.

  • Tend to have problems with just one child. It's uncommon for all the children in the family to have issues. A sizable minority of members of estranged parents' forums have problems with just one child, but it's more common for them to have problems with all their children, or all but one.

  • Are more likely to have an official diagnosis for their children.

  • If they have no official diagnosis, they're more likely to have narrowed down the possibilities to a couple of similar diagnoses. Members of estranged parents' forums tend to hit on personality disorders as one of several possibilities, and are easily distracted by new explanations for their children's behavior.

  • Are well educated in the traits of various disorders and the distinctions between disorders, or are working to become educated. Members of estranged parents' forums tend to rely on vague descriptions relayed by other members, make mistakes like confusing borderline personality disorder with bipolar, and do shallow, tentative research with haphazardly chosen resources.

  • Describe their children's behavior clearly and concisely, with illustrative examples, good timelines, and precise details.

  • Focus accounts of their children's behavior on what their children did, not on how it made the parents feel.

  • Use current psychological vocabulary (i.e., emotionally abusive alcoholic vs. mean drunk).

  • Tend not to take their children's behavior personally. They're less likely to feel judged as parents or invalidated as people because of their children's behavior, even though their children's behavior does hurt them and they sometimes struggle with guilt.

  • Don't feel defined by their roles as parents.

  • Don't resort to authoritarian standbys--"You must respect me because I'm the parent," etc. Don't frame encounters with their children as a struggle for control, assume that everything their children does is designed to hurt them, or express a desire to punish their children and make their children hurt as much as the parents are hurting. Don't use "respect" as an all-purpose goal or "disrespect" as an all-purpose label for their children's behavior.

  • Are more likely to be the estranger than the estrangee. A significant proportion cut contact with their adult children for the parents' own health and safety.

There are also similarities with members of estranged parents' groups:

  • Parents talk about their feelings of guilt and struggle with their desire to contact their children.

  • Many parents were married to abusive spouses, and they sometimes talk about a pervasive pattern of personality disorders in their ex-spouse's family. Some parents are married to spouses whose ex-spouse was personality disordered, and they're now dealing with personality disorders in their stepchildren. Abused people tend to be attracted to other abused people or abusers, so this is a red flag for abuse in the members' own families of origin.

  • The children often accuse the parents of abuse. Members of Out of the Fog are moe likely to give detailed accounts of the children's accusations.

  • Parents accuse their adult children of using the grandchildren as a weapon.

  • Parents stay in touch with their adult children only for the grandchildren's sake.

I'm still reading forums, sifting through the data, testing hypotheses. One of the complicating factors is forum culture: Does the Out of the Fog forum draw in people who are less emotional, more analytical? (Counterweight: The type of person who becomes a member of estranged parents' forums is not a great observer of forum culture, and posts the same kind of weepy, vague, emotion-saturated accounts in a vast variety of contexts.) Another is the children's age: Are parents more likely to be collected when their children are younger, and more likely to fall apart as their children age out of their malleable period? (Counterweight: A notable minority of members of estranged parents' forums are dealing with children in their teens and early 20's.)
The estranged parents' forums finally found my site on estranged parents' forums, and the response has been... predictable? Depressing. Let's go with "depressing." I'll skip over the black-and-white thinking, the failure of reading comprehension,* and the weird entitlement to write their opinions directly on my site, and go straight to an incident that sums it all up.

On one page, I said:

There are other signs that the parents who stay aren't the same as the parents who leave, or who never come to the group. For example, one member's adopted younger son had reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and tried to kill his mother when he was 14. On its own, that's not a sign that the mother was abusive. RAD does terrible damage to children, and we're still struggling to find a therapy that works for the worst cases.

But the school system twice notified CPS that they suspected the mother was abusing the son. And while disciplining her son in public, the mother was repeatedly interrupted by strangers who tried to stop her, then called CPS. CPS decided the charges were founded and "threw the book at" her. So when she disciplined her older son at home and the neighbors called the police, she was at risk of being sent to jail by CPS. The mother described herself as "a 'victim' of the Parent Police" who had "lost [her] freedom to parent."

(She also had a little dog that loved her right up until the day it bit her, when she threw it out of the house and told it not to return for a week. Two weeks later someone found the dog and called her, and her father brought it back.)



That last comment was a story she related off-hand in a thread about something else entirely. No one said anything about it at the time.

When the mother read my description of her, she repeated the story with more details, called my focus on it "bizarre," and said, "And I have to laugh at why the author of the post even thought a 40-yr old story about me and my dog is relevant?? The fact that I tossed the dog out the front door 20 years before I adopted my first child makes me a horrible person?"

Again, no one said anything.

When I wrote the piece I quoted above, I didn't spell out the significance of the story. Details make a stronger impact when you let readers come to their own conclusions. It's the slow burn, the creeping chill when you realize that this woman thought nothing of committing animal abuse. Not the hot, angry type of animal abuse, either, unpremeditated lashouts and screaming fits, but the cold, complacent type, the kind of abuse that comes from a lack of empathy so complete that it doesn't occur to the person that the dog can't understand why it's being thrown out. That it can't understand instructions to return in a week. That forcing an animal out of its home isn't acceptable punishment for biting, and that living on the streets for a week could easily kill it. The cherry on top: She didn't bother looking for it when the week was up, and she wasn't even the one to go get it when a good Samaritan called to tell her the dog was alive.

I volunteer for an animal rescue organization. We rescue dogs like this woman's--and we don't give them back. When a prospective owner tells us a story like this one, we take down their information and put them on our blacklist, then we call all the other organizations in the area and put her on their blacklists, too. Because a woman who can breezily tell a story like this and see nothing wrong with it, even 40 years later, isn't fit to own a dog.

This woman adopted two children. Christ. CHRIST.

No one said anything. No one, in either thread where she told her story, said a thing. A community filled with self-professed animal lovers. Not a one of them ever questioned whether she might, possibly, have committed animal abuse. Or maybe just overreacted a little. No one cared. She was in pain, so their attention was on her. Not even a reflexive flicker of empathy for her victims. She couldn't have victims. She was in pain, she was hurting, she was one of us.

(She goes to a re-adoption support group for help with her children.)

Christ. God in Heaven, prove You exist. Do something, because I can't.


-----

* Among other things, several of them can't tell when I'm quoting someone else. I'm not Ella's owner; I'm not Ginnie; and I don't have a mother-in-law.

RIP Miss Ella

Last night, Ella was hit by a car and killed.

Rest in peace, Miss Ella. You were the finest of small, squirrelly cats.

ETA: Ella's owner says:


Ella 2009-2014.

We're pretty sure she got hit by a car. Se didn't come home last night and Dad found her in a neighbor's yard when we was walking back from the bank. This was the first time she didn't come back for dinner since I gave in and started letting her out rather than her getting out. I know I should feel bad for letting her go outside because that's why she got hit but I can't. She always had a part of her that was wild and being outside made her visibly more alive. I can't feel bad for letting her have that. We put her under the trumpet vine with the other kitties. She and Munchkin can argue about who owns the yard.
In this long series of posts, Ginnie talks with another forum member about the likelihood of her personality-disordered mother-in-law getting therapy and improving.

The thread starts here...

In the middle, Ginnie discusses how family members who wake up to the family dysfunction usually try to handle it. If you're the family truthteller or scapegoat, you'll recognize this:

So if MIL [mother-in-law] has any kind of support/enabling network, she's not likely to profit by therapy. Because as pointed out it's not really her, it's you who has the problem--EVERYONE says so. Right? She won't be motivated to treat therapy respectfully. She won't see it as fixing her to alleviate her unahappiness, she'll see it as fixing you.

So to make therapy work you have to deprive her of her social support system. Which is a crazy-making and actually very controlling thing for you to do (controlling because you think you have a say on other people's relationships). But people try. Rather than change themselves, they decide MIL (or DIL [daughter-in-law]) needs therapy, intuit that as long as FIL, SIL, DS [dear son] or whomever is supporting the targeted dysfunctional person that therapy won't happen or work and decide what needs to be done is to convince everyone what a mess MIL really is.

You see DILs do this by starting with their husbands, "Your mother is ___". And they complaint to their siblings in laws, and their FOO [family of origin] and other ILs and friends, and hope to influence other people to see MIL the way they do. They honestly think they are revealing the truth and being helpful. And maybe they are right, but it's never helpful and doesn't work, because people have their own opinions, experience and needs with the MIL and aren't going to borrow trouble. Not only that, while the DIL is recruiting people to see MIL her way, MIL is recruiting those same people to see DIL MIL's way. It's a horrible mess, doesn't work and causes far more problems than originally existed.

The only way to cut out MIL's social support system is to completely withdraw from her, thus changing everyone's experience of MIL--this takes a lot of time and doesn't always work. But this is how it works. DIL is married to the prime MIL enabler. She completely withdraws from MIL in every way, a cut off. This is called 'removing the buffer'. Now DH's [dear husband's] experience of MIL changes as he becomes the target for MIL's dysfunction. He doesn't like it so he withdraws. Now MIL (after escalating and trying to force DIL and DH back into their roles) has to find another target, so she starts focusing on her second son. He's used to his brother taking the major heat from MIL, and resents this. It feels unfair of him. It has changed his experience of MIL from being annoying but tolerable to being impossible to deal with. So his first act is to put pressure on his brother to resume his MIL buffer role, if that doesn't work, BIL now withdraws. So MIL finds another target for her neediness/dysfunction/whatever. It might be FIL, a sister, a best friend...

But as the enablers disappear out of MIL's life, her crazy gets worse (because she's more and more scared). However, it can take between six months and 5 years for an enabler to completely walk away and mean it. Typically there is a long period of cutting of and 'trying again' a lot of guilt, a lot of escalation and promises and other games. If a MIL has 4 enablers in her support system, it may take 10-20 years to get her to the point that EVERYONE has 'abandoned' her.

And it might never happen. New people show up all the time. A new 'friend' at church, a reconciliation with a distant sister, playing one relative off against another.

The technique Ginnie describes is known elsewhere as "dropping the rope." It's useful in situations where you're getting a disproportionate share of the strain of handling the disordered person. For example, your husband doesn't want to deal with his mother, so he uses you and the kids as human shields, and because his mother's generation expected the wife to be the social secretary, your mother-in-law thinks it's perfectly natural for all contact to go through you. You can't stand your MIL any more than your husband can, but he refuses to back away from her because his experience of her is manageable--or at least, it's less painful than a cutoff. He might even claim you're making your MIL's crazy up.

So you drop the rope. She's his mother. He can make plans with her. He can call her every week. He can deal with her constant demands to Skype with the kids and her weepy guilt trips when he tells her no. You set your own boundaries, and let him deal with his mother in any way that doesn't violate them. In the in-law forum I read regularly, it often takes less than two months for husbands to come around and start cutting out their toxic family members on their own. All you need to do is let the people you're sheltering feel the strain.

Unexpected pleasures

Thor fanfiction has been tough for me to get into, not least because the fandom's favorite pairing is Thor/Loki. Guh, squick. It's not the brothercest that gets me, it's Thor. I don't even like thinking about Thor/Jane, and that pairing's canon.

So which pairing grabs me?

Loki/Darcy.


Sigyn (binding is not punishment)
by Aria

The first time Darcy meets him, it is in a dying autumn after the strangest summer of Darcy's short life. She's thinking of changing majors again. It was computer science, and then political science, and now it's maybe comparative religions, which doesn't have 'science' in it at all, except Darcy knows it does. She's witnessed an extradimensional godlike being eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Darcy doesn't dwell on it. She knows how amazing it is, but photosynthesis is amazing too, and those Sassy Gay Friend videos are amazing, and her cousin Derek on Red Bull is amazing. Darcy has met a Norse god; now she has to file a change of major form and buy some new rain boots.

This story. First it's charming, then it breaks your heart, then part 2 finds newer and sadder ways to break your heart. After finishing it I found a serious flaw in its logic and was glad, because the flaw meant I didn't have to believe one of the best and most bittersweet things I've read in a long time. It didn't help much. Go, read, be sad and charmed alongside me.

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Superhero movies aren't known for their tight, cohesive plots, but there's a fracture in the plot of Thor that's driving me nuts.

The story as it's told is:

one big spoiler from beginning to end.Collapse )
Driving me nuts, I tell you. The story could have been so much richer if it veered away from the usual punch-things-because-punching-makes-you-glorious superhero motivations and delved a little, but there was no delving. Only more punching.

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is...

...to have a thankless child.

Estranged parents like this quote. I like it, too. Once upon a time it pissed me off, but then I looked it up to find out which thankless child King Lear was cursing.

It was Cordelia.
The Mothers-in-Law Anonymous forum used to have a poster named Ginnie who was a hidden gem. She was a practicing psychologist in her 60's, and she had a talent for digging down to the bedrock of complicated psychological concepts and laying relationship problems bare with scalpel-like precision. She stopped posting a year or so ago, and a site reorg made forum posts from her active period inaccessible unless you know what to Google. I'm going to quote from and link to some of her best posts so the rest of us can benefit from her wisdom.

In this post, Ginnie tells the story of her neighbor and her neighbor's adult daughter. Watch how the story changes as Ginnie digs deeper or switches perspective, and how commenters' reactions change (or don't change) as the story evolves.


Here's a Story...
Posted 01 April 2013 - 07:52 PM

My neighbor of about 30 years and her daughter have a breach that probably is never going to be resolved. I thought I'd share with your ladies and ask for candid feedback to explore some very common issues--without having to hurt anyone's feelings or worry about being tactful. Neither of them read here, and no one has asked for my opinion, but I've gotten 'vented to'. So I will not be sharing any comments made with them.

However, this is such a common set of problems, I thought maybe people would benefit.

My neighbor is 70. She has two children a 51 year old daughter and a 49 year old son. The son is married and has a stepson but no children of his own. The son lives about 5 miles away from Mom.

The daughter lives 25 miles away and has a VERY interesting job in the Fed govt, the kind they make tv shows and movies about. The daughter is divorced twice and has 3 sons: 18, 21, and 23. With her second marriage she acquired a stepson and stepdaughter for about 5 years. They are now 13 and 16.

Mom got pregnant with daughter right around her 18th birthday, did one semester of college, dropped out, married her 19 year old boyfriend and set up housekeeping. Dad did not want to get married or be a father, but in 1960 that's what you did. Or you put the baby up for adoption.

( Mom's parents were strict type old stock german, rigid, hard working, judgmental... )

Stages of denial

Some interesting notes on the stages of denial from here:


Barrett and Trepper, in an article in the Family Therapy Networker (now the Psychotherapy Networker) in 1992, pointed out that families have multiple layers of denial, which often come out in the same order. As one breaks through each of these resistances, the next one pops up in its place.

The presence of these many stages of denial is not a reason to avoid attempting to metacommunicate. The presence of multiple resistances represents multiple problems to be solved, not multiple reasons for giving up. [....]

Barrett and Trepper’s predictable stages of denial are as follows:

1. Denial of facts (“it never happened; you’re a liar!”), followed by:

2. Denial of awareness (“I was drunk,” or “I didn’t realize I was neglecting you; you should have told me”), followed by:

3. Denial of responsibility (“You were the one who was seductive,” or “If your mother didn’t deny me, I wouldn’t have to have turned to you.”) and finally:

4. Denial of impact (“It only happened a few times,” or “It was only fondling,” or “OK, so I beat you. Why do you always have to dwell on the past? You’re just too sensitive; get over it!”).


...Yep, I've seen all of that.

The way of my people is to skip stage 1 and go straight to stage 2: "I don't remember." Neat, effective, keeps you arguing about whether or not they remember rather than focusing on the issue at hand. It also puts the power in their court because they can disremember anything inconvenient for as long as they like.

Someone online came up with a great reply: "I do remember, so we'll have to go by my memories." I haven't had a chance to use it, but my prediction is that when the power abruptly shifts to the other person's court, the person in denial will find their amnesia miraculously cured.

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Adventures in Whistling

After several frustrating days of not being able to play my tin whistle because the lower notes needed radically different breath pressure than the high notes, I asked Google what was wrong. Google said: Your whistle is a Generation brand in the key of D, which is one of the best whistles out there. Tons of professionals swear by their Generation Ds. They're amazing, they're incredible, and here's a forumful of people talking about having to test an entire box of them at the store before finding one that was worth playing. Because while Generation Ds are excellent when they work right, their quality is all over the place. Here are instructions for tweaking your whistle to fix the issues, and here are warnings that unless you know what you're doing, you're more likely to ruin your whistle than fix it. By the way, the known issues have nothing to do with the difference in breath pressure, but do explain why your whistle has angry-hamster overtones.

So I ordered a Clarke, the first ever mass-produced tin whistle and still one of the top brands. They're conical rather than cylindrical, which solved the problem of variable pressure nicely. They're famous for having "chiff," a desirable quality that I have no idea what it is. They're quiet, which is good for us apartment-dwellers. But the quietness brings another issue...

Imagine Pippin singing to Denethor, quiet, sad.

Home is behind, the world ahead.
And there are many paths to tread.
Through shadow,


Pippin throws his arms wide like a diva and belts,

TO THE EDGE OF NIIIIIIIGHT,

Quiet and sad,

Until the stars are all alight.

The overblown (high) notes are twice as loud as the regular notes. AGH. I've been learning Pippin's song, and TO THE EDGE OF NIIIGHT is loud enough to turn heads in traffic. People have played these whistles for over a century, so there has to be a solution, but damned if I know what it is.

The good news is that I'm no longer afraid of the overblown notes. It's not as difficult as I thought to learn the point where the note jumps octaves. If anything, my problem is that I blow too hard on the next non-overblown note. So: progress!

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