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Guilt


Solstice
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My parents, now in their seventies, live across town from me. I know they want to spend time with me, and often invite me to dinner. But I make excuse after excuse to avoid them, for two reasons:

(1) My dad has some form of early dementia. Not Alzheimer's, but something else, probably related to his long history of drinking. He is still able to care for himself, but he's clearly losing his grip on reality. Since he used to be the smartest person I knew, it's incredibly hard to watch.

(2) My mother is a spiteful, narcissistic, verbally abusive person -- there's just no better way to say it. She verbally and emotionally abused me while I was growing up, and now she has turned all of that bitterness on my dad. Being in the room with them only reminds me of how miserable I was growing up, and I want to scream at her to stop but I don't have the guts.

The worst part is that I still love them and miss them and wish that I could spend time with them. But I have my own issues, which are largely overwhelming me right now, and I can't add the pain of being around them. The resulting guilt is eating me alive, and I don't know what to do. Any help/thoughts/anything???

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Sad to say sister it sounds like you've got your boundaries just right - now all you have to do is deal with the guilt. Sometimes (I come from a very dysfunctional family) we have to cut our losses knowin it is best for ourselves first and foremost.

Is it not possible for you to tell your mother your feelings on neutral territory when your dad's not around - that way you avoid the triggers and hopefully can state your case without becoming too emotional? If she is not prepared to listen to you at least you know you have expressed your concerns and put the ball in her court - that might lessen the guilt a bit?

I feel for you sister - the dilemma is not easy.

****

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Yeah, I try to remind myself that boundaries are good -- necessary, with my family (and yours, it sounds like).

Unfortunately, there's no talking to my mother. I figure I could probably manage to say what I need to say without becoming too emotional, but she'd get hurt/angry and take it out on me, my dad, and everyone else in the most passive-aggressive way possible. It'd just make everything worse, I think.

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That's good advice, VA -- but I've tried that path with her already. On the recommendation of a therapist, I wrote her a letter about how I felt about how she treated me when I was a kid. The backlash from her went on for years. It's not an experience I want to repeat. She never lets anything go, never deals with anything. The best advice I ever got on how to deal with her was from another therapist, who advised limiting my interactions with her. But then the guilt comes in, which is what started this whole thread...

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Staying away is a valid boundary. Not everyone can be talked to.

And isn't guilt somewhat of a denial of the facts? Guilt seems to be saying that you owe her a relationship she doesn't want ... She's your mother, and she raised you. Now that you're grown, though, you get to choose whom you spend time with. And if she chooses not to act in a way that you want to be around, isn't she really absolving you of any need for guilt?

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And if she chooses not to act in a way that you want to be around, isn't she really absolving you of any need for guilt?

I totally agree with this method of thinking!!!!

I know it isn't the same thing, if you plan a party and not everyone invited shows up. It is not the end of the world, life goes on, they are the ones missing out!!!!

If you have already tried to communicate in a healthy way with your mom, she is now fully aware of why you do not spend more time with her. You have already put the ball in her court.

Don't fall on the guilt trip she probably laid out for you!!!!

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Malign, VA, you are both so right. The logical part of me knows you are right. At the same time, I have this irrational part of me that cringes at the thought that I might be hurting my dad's feelings by staying away. Even before the dementia, there was little point in explaining to him why I limited my interactions with my mother -- he simply tunes out and denies any criticism of her -- so I'm sure he doesn't "get" why I am so rarely around. And there's even a part of me that is horrified that I might hurt my mother's feelings, despite the fact that she rarely hesitated to hurt mine.

But I guess what you are both saying is what a friend of mine says -- you don't get a vote in how other people act, just how you act. I don't get a vote in my mom's behavior. I gave her information on how her behavior impacted me, and she chooses to keep acting that way. So it seems my only healthy choice is to keep my distance. Just wish it didn't hurt so much.

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