Friday, December 27, 2013

Get down off the cross...

I am feeling somewhat better this morning, at least so far.  I want to use this surge of fresh energy to write about a conversation I just had with Bill.  If you've been reading this blog, you know that Bill's dad left a "Brently" message on Bill's phone on Christmas morning.  If you're curious about the term "Brently", click the link for the backstory.  But I have a feeling that as you read this post, you'll figure it out…

My father-in-law has this nasty way of laying guilt trips.  It's a manipulative thing he and his wife both do… and I think they both may have learned it or sharpened their skills after hanging out with Bill's ex wife, who also does it.  They probably don't realize that what they're doing is emotionally abusive.  What they're trying to do is envelop Bill in FOG…  fear, obligation, and guilt.

They want Bill to pay them a visit, but instead of cordially extending an invitation for a specific date, they call him or text him to remind them that his dad isn't getting any younger and will eventually die (fear, obligation); they are "disappointed" in him (obligation, guilt), and they "know" he's not going to call them for Christmas, so they're calling him instead (guilt).  Getting a message like that sure doesn't make one feel warm and fuzzy, does it?

Bill told me this morning that he desperately needed to "end this row" with his dad.  Not being able to keep my trap shut, I pretty much broke it down the way I see it.  First off, Bill's dad is making "ASSumptions" about what Bill is thinking and feeling.  That's a pretty natural thing when people don't talk to each other.  I do it myself… in fact, I even did it yesterday.  Turns out I was wrong about one of my sisters, who did send me a pleasant note after getting my e-card.  The other one hasn't yet responded, but I'm less concerned about her.  But anyway, Bill's dad assumes that Bill is "mad" at him and leaves him a message kind of shaming him for that, since he "doesn't know" why Bill should be angry.  He also doesn't know what Bill is thinking or feeling… he is ASSuming.  And yes, I realize I am a hypocrite.

Bill and his dad haven't talked since Bill's birthday in July.  Bill doesn't enjoy calling his dad because when he does, he gets a guilt trip about not visiting or calling him more often.  No one wants to get an ear full of guilt when they call someone to say hello, so it's understandable that Bill is reluctant to communicate with his father.

When Bill doesn't call after a few months, his dad will eventually pick up the phone and call him himself.  But then he leaves shitty phone messages, which makes Bill even less inclined to want to talk to his dad.  Or he gets his wife to leave shaming text messages on Bill's phone, which he doesn't end up seeing until they've been there awhile.  When he finds them, he ends up feeling shitty anew.

I think this is a pretty common problem among aging parents and their kids.  Bill didn't grow up with his dad because his parents divorced when he was very young.  But he has always loved his dad and was never alienated from him.  His mother let him see his dad without interference, even though they lived in distant states at times.  They never had a normal father-son relationship, though… one that involved conflict.  They've never had the fights or conflicts that normal fathers and sons have, so they both sort of walk on eggshells around each other.  I don't think Bill's dad even knows how to deal with conflict in an assertive way.  And Bill's dad may naturally be a guilt monger or he may have picked up the habit from his wife, who is a master at emotional blackmail and martyrdom.

So anyway, I looked at Bill and said, "If I were you, I'd ask your dad if he has a vendetta against your enjoyment of major religious holidays.  Because seriously, he and his wife (along with Bill's ex wife), have certainly done their part to ruin quite a few of them over the years…"

Just off the top of my head...

Christmas 1999
Easter 2000
Christmas 2004
Christmas 2012
Christmas 2013

The last two weren't quite as bad as the others were, but still… holidays are supposed to be fun and enjoyable.  I want to ask my father-in-law if he really just wants Bill to visit him out of a sense of fear, obligation, and guilt.  

Wouldn't he rather Bill visit him because he wants to visit him?  Because it's not like Bill doesn't love his father.  He does love his dad and wants a relationship with him.  But when his father leaves shitty, guilt-laden messages on his phone or uses a holiday phone call to shame Bill, that doesn't make him want to pay a visit.  In fact, what Bill's dad is doing is very manipulative.

The logical thing to do, of course, is to extend a pleasant, cordial invitation to Bill and allow him to have some input as to when he should come see them.  Bill's dad would do well to understand that his son is going to be 50 years old in 2014 and is an adult with adult responsibilities.  He should deal with his son on an adult level and refrain from the guilt tripping, because that doesn't make Bill want to talk to him.  Seems pretty simple and logical, doesn't it?  It does to me.

But to get to the point at which Bill's dad understands that FOG is not useful for strengthening their relationship is going to take time.  Bill is going to have to tell his father straight up that his tactics aren't working, and that is a stressful prospect.  Bill is a nice person and doesn't want his father's feelings hurt.  But he also doesn't want his feelings hurt every time he speaks to his dad.

Bill knows his father is hurting… but in all honesty, his dad needs a lesson in empathy.  Because Bill still talks to his dad and is willing to see him.  Bill's daughters, on the other hand, don't want to see or talk to Bill.  And Bill's father aids and abets them by not holding them accountable for the way they behave.  Bill's dad apparently thinks it's okay that his granddaughters disowned his son and he expects Bill to just swallow the bullshit and drive on.  And why?  Because that's what makes him comfortable and what's easiest for him.  It apparently doesn't matter to Bill's dad that those kids have been hateful to Bill and his mother.  It doesn't matter that by allowing Bill's ex to stage her dramas in his home, he has helped the ex in her parental alienation campaign.  Bill's dad has helped these people be cruel and disrespectful to his son and then expects Bill to honor him for his efforts.

Bill and I understand why his dad gives in to the ex.  He just wants everyone to get along so he can have a relationship with his grandchildren.  But what he doesn't understand is that we're finished with the ex and her abuse.  In order to really be finished with ex, we have to go "no contact".  We don't want ex to have access to us though Bill's dad.  Bill has told his dad how he feels and his dad seemed to understand.  His actions suggest otherwise, though.      

Anyway, at the very least, I think Bill's dad needs to understand that the guilt tripping isn't an effective way to get Bill to want to see him or talk to him.  Someone needs to tell him that you get more flies with honey than vinegar.  If he wants to communicate with his son more often, Bill's dad should treat him with more consideration and respect and refrain from leaving guilt trips in text messages and phone calls.  That's a cowardly, passive-aggressive way to get one's needs met and even if it does result in Bill visiting or calling, it will be done as a duty or response to guilt rather than a true desire to connect.  Most healthy people would rather not be an obligation to their loved ones, though perhaps they don't always realize that resorting to FOG techniques weakens their position and makes people less interested in talking to them.
   

2 comments:

  1. This is a really tough conflict. If Bill's father has such problems with behaving considerately on holidays, it would probably be best if Bill had any contact he'll ever have with his father on non-holidays. Sometimes holidays are so emotionally charged that they bring out the worst in a person. It certainly seems that they bring out the worst in Bill's father.

    Bill's father absolutely needs to accept that Bill desires a complete and total divorce from his ex. He has it in a legal sense, but a person cannot be mentally healthy with ties to truly toxic people from their pasts. Furthermore, bill's wife cannot have her cake and eat it. She supposedly wanted Bill out of her life and the lives of her children. Then when she had them out of all of their lives, she wasn't happy and couldn't leave well enough alone. She can't deal with the inability to manipulate Bill, and his father doesn't seem to realize the degree to which she is manipulating him [Bill's father] in effort to get to Bill in any way that she can.

    Then you have, added to the mix, the normal aging process and the degree to which it seems to bring out less than stellar examples of one's coping and parental skills, and tends to maximize, from what I've seen, the tendency to attempt to guilt one's offspring into doing what one wants him to do. It has to be difficult for you, as a mental health professional, to watch all of this unfold and to understand from a clinical perspective exactly what is going down, yet to have limited capacity to do much about it. I don't envy Bill in regard to this situation.

    Is Bill his father's only biological offspring, or does her [Bill's father] have other children with another woman [or other women]? Does Bill's father's present wife have any offspring?

    I hate to be a step-parent basher, but one person I don't find terribly likable in all this, in addition to my obvious dislike of Bill's ex, is Bill's father's wife. she seems to have elevated passive aggression to an art form.

    Court is on midday recess. There's no way we'll seat a jury today even with divine intervention, but we have a prayer of finishing up before noon on Monday if things go well. There's no guarantee even of that, however, as pseudoaunt will not leave a peremptory challenge unused unless she has a presumably perfect panel of jurors. she's only used two challenges so far, and so has eighteen remaining challnges. The defense attorney, on the other hand, has been largely unsuccessful at having jurors dismissed for cause (pseudoaunt says defense attorney seems to lack the ability to fram her requests favorably) and has needed to use ten peremptory challenges just today, in addition to the eight used yesterday.

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    Replies
    1. Bill has an adopted half sister. She's 19 years younger than he is and a lesbian, though she has a wife. I like her. She's very mature and outgoing. Bill's stepmom is pretty passive aggressive. She's also a second generation Italian American, born and raised in the South, and very Catholic.

      She's been married to Bill's dad for over 30 years... Much longer than Bill's parents were married. Yet Stepmom in law is jealous of Bill's mother in a big way.

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