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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.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 14th, 2014 10:41 pm (UTC)
Your dropping the rope metaphor is extremely relevant and very powerful. I decided to drop the rope with my ex and when he didn't pick it up.....I realized I didn't want to pick it back up again, either.

I really love that metaphor. You've said it before, I think to a comment in a post of mine, and that image STICKS.

You have to let them feel the strain. Whatever comes of it, well, that's another story. But that step - dropping the rope - vastly important.
May. 21st, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
Aaaabsolutely. "If nothing works, stop trying" is a powerful life lesson. And if you're like us, it's so goddamn hard to learn. But I'm glad you learned it and got out.

This is the second time you've liked something I picked up from the Dealing with the In-Laws (and Family of Origin) forum. You might want to check it out: http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a4725/dwil_nation
May. 21st, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for that link - I've been cruising and DAMN there is a lot to relate to there!
May. 21st, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
HELL yes. The place is Dealing with Abusers 101, 201, and 301 all in one session.

One of the threads that stayed with me was a woman who wrote that she and her mother had a great relationship, but her mother had just done this one weird and incredibly invasive thing, and how should she respond? The other members said, "Mm-hmm. She never did anything like that when you were younger...?" "Now that you mention it, she did." "And did she do this and this?" "Holy shit. Yes." The regulars knew patterns so well that they told her more about her classically narcissistic mother than she told them. Members of the estranged parents' communities would see this as them leading and indoctrinating her--abusers and enablers hate it when other people have pattern recognition--but when you've been there, you know. Abusers follow patterns. They follow patterns so well that sometimes it seems like their personalities are just the silicone molded around a robot's armature to make it look human, and just as irrelevant to the robot's functioning. The folks at DWIL are pattern-spotting ninjas, I swear. Evangelical pattern-spotting ninjas.
May. 16th, 2014 08:56 pm (UTC)
You know, I have sometimes wondered if I am a 'sick system'. I do participate in some of the behaviors you've listed in the past, and I'm pretty sure I've had a few people 'drop the rope' - So maybe I should look into recovery patterns for the progenitors of sick systems.
May. 21st, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC)
It's not something I noticed in you, but if you've seen it in yourself, then doing some work on yourself couldn't hurt.

The trait to start with is dependency: needing other people too much, expecting too much of them, not seeing the boundaries between yourself and them, and using conscious or unconscious tactics to keep them from pulling away from you. (Guilt trips, neglecting yourself to force them to take care of you, making them feel obligated to you so they can't refuse your demands, making them afraid of your rages, financial entanglement, etc. Anything designed to make the other person feel that your actions or choices are their responsibility.) Dependency can be combined with lots of care for the other people in the system--at the center of one of the most potent sick systems I've experienced was a woman who was incapable of making decisions on her own, but she had built herself up as a sort of mother figure and provider to the rest of the group.

BTW, the healthier you are, the more subtle your issues will be and the "shallower" your sick system will be. You'll draw in healthier friends who will be quicker to drop the rope when they sense something's off. It sucks because you're less likely to have the dedicated support network that sicker people have, but it also means you have way less work to do.

*scratches head* Trying to think of places to point you, since there's no literature on recovering from sick systems. You're not borderline or narcissistic, which are two of the conditions that predispose people to form sick systems. I remember you told me some things about your grandfather that made me wonder... Children of disordered people can pick up traits--they're called "fleas"--even though they're basically healthy, and they can repeat some of their family's dysfunctional habits with their own kids even when they're infinitely better than their own parents were. It's why people say the cycle of abuse takes three generations to break. Looking at your parents' parents might give you some idea what patterns are at work in your own life.

Hope this helps. *hug*
May. 21st, 2014 05:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the grandparents thing is probably part of it. Everyone in my family tries, but I do think I have some 'fleas' - specifically around boundaries and the whole 'sick people should never have to deal with anything that upsets them aside from their illness ' mentality.

Thanks! I don't think I'm actually a sick system - I've just been in too many to be complacent when I notice behaviors in myself that could lead in that direction. Thanks!

*hugs back*
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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