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Emotionally unavailable parents


Bloodberry

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I had been speaking to my therapist.  She had told me, when she met my parents some years ago, that she had never, in her 20-some odd years of practice, met a couple who were so emotionally cold and unavailable. 

I should have asked for a trophy to bear that dubious honour.

I grew up in a well enough household.  The youngest of 4, my parents made enough money to keep us in a middle-class home. 

But fond memories of the parents are few and far between. 

Mainly, I was left alone.  The best summation I can think of to my relationhip with Mom was the time she told me, when I was about to run the dishwasher, "if you start that dishwasher I will beat the shit out of you.  Dad's taking a shower.  Be nice to people."  Mom would also suggest I was wierd (in a bad way, that is), and once she even said "you must have pony shit between your ears."  If I got mad, she told me to not be mad at anyone but myself.  See, no mention on how to learn from my mistakes, but just take it out on myself.  Which started me cutting myself.  Mom was grand at emotionally threatening me, so she rarely needed to hit me.  As a girl, I was given a stricter curfew; the boys could come back much later.  Hell, when I was living with my parents a few years ago, they gave me a 10pm curfew (I was in my earlier 20's).  These are the same people who didn't like the idea that I talked to boys on the phone at age 16, and went out on a date ONCE with someone when I was 18.  Other times, I had to fight tooth and nail so they'd allow me to meet a mail friend for coffee, on a Friday night, at a cafe less than a mile from where we lived.  At age 18.  I would only go out when my parents left on vacations (I'd see a note "went to the Bahamas.  Be back Friday.")  They'd still call up at night, but once the call was out, I was gone, living it up ... you know, having coffee at the cafe.  woo hoo.  This is the same woman who took my spare desk key and my spare diary key when I was younger; her excuse was that in case I lost the one key, she'd have the other then.  HA!  Same person who wouldn't let me close my bedroom door except to change clothes.  Same person who said one day when I told her she didn't understand about being depressed "yes we do.  Your Dad and I are trying to keep you busy so you don't have time to think about that.  And we're trying to wean you off of depending on us so heavily for things" (herein was the funny part; they kept me at a 10pm curfew, and their method of dealing was to keep me busy.  I was already exhausted.  And I was looking to NOT depend on them, by trying to get some freedom, but it was hard when they wouldn't give up control!). 

Mom only hugged me when she was feeling mad about my sister.  Told me I was a good kid, then.  She also tried to initiate a journal exchange, where mom and daughter would give their thoughts that way.  The same person who told me on occasion I was a shithead.  The same person who, when I tried to send letters to Grandma as a penpal when I was younger, decided she needed to read all my letters before I sent them out, after Grandma called her when I expressed that on occasion, I was...depressed!  Mom would only let me send out letters on her approval, so I stopped sending letters.  I also didn't help but think that she way trying to get dirt on me now. 

**************possible trigger phrase**************

These are the same people who say I set myself up to be gang raped in college because, "obviously, any teenager would have known not to get caught up like that."

*************end trigger rant warning*****************

When I was finally on my own, my parents had set up a room for when I failed and I had to move back in with them.  I haven't had to use that room yet. 

People told me I was a brat and didn't have a real reason for being depressed (people had it worse than I did, after all). 

Then my psychiatrist called me immature. 

I rather resent being called immature.  I've been on my own for about 5 years.  I'm finally learning the things I wasn't allowed to.

It hurts.  It's hard.  I learn, though.  In some ways, I love it, and in some ways, I regret the blunders I make, and in that way, I think I'm normal, too. 

Anyway, my therapist thinks my parents are to blame about me being emotionally unprepared.  In the time I've been "cut loose" (or rather, I cut myself off them), I've dealt with my depression, rage issues, PTSD, fear of intimacy... I'm dealing with being dumped after my first real relationship, and more social blunders, and my wondering at times if I really am a worthwhile person. 

I honestly think that my parents did the best they could.  But I also accept that I have a lot of work ahead of me. 

Sorry if you think it's a bratty rant.

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People told me I was a brat and didn't have a real reason for being depressed (people had it worse than I did, after all). 

Then my psychiatrist called me immature. 

I rather resent being called immature.  I've been on my own for about 5 years.  I'm finally learning the things I wasn't allowed to.

It hurts.  It's hard.  I learn, though.  In some ways, I love it, and in some ways, I regret the blunders I make, and in that way, I think I'm normal, too. 

People who don't understand and/or fear mental illness will say some of the cruelest things, such as calling you a brat or stating you had no reason for being depressed. 

I think it's unfair of your pdoc to call you immature in my opinion.  If you were so immature would you even be concerned with taking responsibility for your health?  I don't think so, but that's my opinion. 

I'm sorry if my opinion seems harsh towards your pdoc and the people who called you a brat, it just appeared very unfair in light of the circumstances.  Perhaps it's because I identify with your situation to some degree.

I honestly think that my parents did the best they could.  But I also accept that I have a lot of work ahead of me. 

Sorry if you think it's a bratty rant.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I underlined your text above because that's something I would expect to read from someone who's taken some time to think about their life and how they can improve it.  Something I expect a brat would have great difficultly doing.

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Bloodberry, I don't think this was a bratty rant!

To be honest, I'm a wee bit jealous ;)

It's taken me years of therapy to get close to where you are.

Thanks for posting this--it's given me lots to think over.

spike

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Goodness... thanks so much Maddy and Spike. 

I was kind of disappointed with my psyche because it seemed like a stereotypical "mom didn't hug me enough so I hate them" excuse. 

I don't hate them.  But I'm disapointed... I'm quite sure they love me, but what I remember and feel most was an uneasiness, as if I would be yelled at about something. 

But my parents always made a good case.  They were logical.  They were reasonable.  They didn't regard the emotional aspect of things, because that got in the way.  To them, it was reasonable to not acknowledge your distress and to get busy and do something to take your mind off it. 

Because my parents were so well put together and logical and had a plan, they just managed to make me look like a raging brat who was ungrateful for their support and care. 

I don't know.  It's hard to explain. 

They tried to help in their own way, but it left me feeling boxed in, regulated, controlled, and compartmentalized.  Well cared for physically (except for the occasional beat-down when mom got really mad), but resentful for the sterile way they treated my depression and my concerns. 

Dad one day admitted he wanted a daughter who hugged him and was affectionate.  But practically every time I reached out for help from them, they smacked me away, so to speak.  It was do it their way, or get out of the house. 

I found out Dad takes medication for anxiety attacks and Mom is an emotionally high-maintenance person, sometimes, who assigns intent to the smallest things, sometimes. 

Food for thought. 

I'm tearing up some really old groundwork in my mind and laying a new foundation.  It's hard work.  Sometimes I find the old foundation is pretty dang stubborn, and sometimes the new groundwork has to be taken up and put down anew. 

That's okay, though.  I keep thinking I can do this.  For me.  By me.  And I will stand, on my own two feet. 

Just as my parents and myself have wanted, all along.

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  • 3 weeks later...

"Invalidation" is the word here. 

Mom and Dad never really acknowledged my concerns, my fears, my reactions... if I were tired of taking meds, well, I had been taking them most of my life, so why does it bother me now?  Who cares if I were tired of them at all, I still had to take them... 

Growth hormone injections from about age 4. 

Cancer at age 11 (with continuing injections of Growth Hormone)

Hormone therapy (post cancer) as a teen

Crazymeds (no more growth hormone) and hormone therapy (up to today)

When some parts of Chemotherapy just made me sicker, rather than being easier to handle (Mom even told me when I was throwing up that it wasn't supposed to get harder and to stop throwing up RIGHT NOW!), it was "deal with because you have to." 

On a side note, I think my parents, in a way, had a harder time than I did.  They didn't bargain on adopting a girl who didn't grow.  They knew that in the long term, there was a very very small chance I could develop Kreutzfeld-Jakobs (spelling?), the human variant of mad-cow disease, in my 50's, but if I didn't receive the growth hormone, I would always be less than 2 feet tall.  It was a quality of life decision. 

Then there was the cancer at 11.  I knew some stuff, but mainly, I just had to get weekly testing, receive an iv infusion, take home some oral medications, and then bear up through pain, disorientation, appetite changes, nausea, headache, fatigue... but they had to watch.  But again, my parents had to watch all this; the testing and what the pediatric oncologists and endocrinologists were looking for, the next round of medication and the side effects, the ever-present possibility of the therapy failing and what would need to be done. 

Finally, the post cancer hormone therapy

And then Crazymeds came into my life (about damn time, too, since I was feeling depressed on and off as long as I could remember)

Perhaps it was that my parents were so concerned with me and raising my older sibs and working that they could only do a "do what the doctor says" mentality. 

And yet, for all these things they did for me, I still felt belittled, abandonded at times, neglected but not wanting the attention my parents would give me, as that would usually be a criticism of some sort. 

Still left me cold, and feeling very alone, even on the nights when I was in the hospital with an IV and Mom was there in the same room during visiting hours. 

Huh. 

I need to go think some more.

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My dad has been emotionally distant all of my life, and only became worse after his stint in Viet Nam...my mom was born with a plinky heart,And after here first minor heart attack when I was ten, decided to spend the rest of her days being bedridden and pitiful but was otherwise crazy as hell. She was emotionally unavailable and yet clingy and manipulative. I'm just glad as hell I didn't have kids.

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Posting again to clarify after reading thread from "I've still got issues" board. I am going to make this personal because it is how I justify my parent's shit in my head.  They are fucked up too.  They too had parents who messed with their heads and traumatic experiences.  Now.  Can I blame THEIR parents???  No, because (you guessed it) THEY TOOO have their own fucked up lives.  Everyone has fucked up lives.  You can say "Hey wow I wasn't treated quite right by these people" and still have empathy for them.  This does not in any way make it OK for you to blame yourself for things other people do to you. 

Maybe we should stop playing the blame game and deal.  And at the same time not put up with unacceptable behavior.  la di da di da - I don't know - la di da di da - I don't know....

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To start off with: thanks so much for the replies thus far. 

To reply to Supergwen on the question about "they had to watch."  I honestly believe for them it was harder, because parents, it was their duty to provide a safe, nurturing environment.  And when someone who's under your care gets sick, it's sometimes the hardest thing to have to stand there and be helpless, wanting to do something and only being able to wait and take things as they come.  It's why I do think they had it harder. 

Obviously they succeeded in making you believe YOU were to blame for your illnesses and YOU were bad because of them. 

I don't think I was to blame for being sick, though I did feel bad for being the sickly one.  I was "bad" when I was "bad" regardless of whether I was sick, and they dealt with it, independent of any illnesses.  (That's semi-sarcastic, by the way.)

As for blaming: maybe I'm not communicating as well as I wanted to.  It's not so much the concept of thinking that things are their fault, neener neener...it's been more finding the roots of influence that have allowed me to develop defense mechanisms, barriers to self-improvement, and depression.  I found a lot of family has been a big influence, as much as I didn't want to admit it.  So, once again, no, I'm not saying "I'm this way because it's their fault," because to a very great extent, it's much like laying the responsibility at someone else's feet.  I'd rather say "I know that X triggers response V, and I will take responsibility for making sure I know how and why I have that trigger, and doing what I can to work on that issue."

I think there is some generational stuff going on, and I'm trying very hard not to be caught up like that. 

I do feel kinda sad for my parents; if what they did to me is a reflection on how they were treated, it's small wonder I see them as far more emotionally fragile than I did as I was growing up. 

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I can understand where you are coming from. My mother was emotionally unavailable and my father was busy taking care of her. She was an unmedicated bipolar. I don't blame anyone but it hurt. This is part of the reason I got labeled BPD and took dialectical behavior therapy.

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  • 6 years later...

it's very very sad you had their behavior in addition to being so ill...my thought is they sure didn't handle their feelings about your illness well at all, very selfish, almost evil, and there is all their crap going on behind it...doesn't mean it was ok or is ok...perspective can be used to help you feel better about it now...but not take it away

I'm sure I'm much older, but the mother (maybe her generation) seemed to admire the "we don't talk about anything unpleasant" philosophy, so if your parents were raised anything like that it could explain some of it, in other words, deny deny deny!! and for me, it made me question my reality...did that stuff happen or not?

my one very serious suicide attempt was referred to as "that little stunt I pulled" !

your attitude toward all this is great...I don't think I could pull it off

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