growing out of a manipulative family

June 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

It is very difficult to identify the grey areas in relationships where boundaries are ignored or invaded. In my family of origin, the boundary violations take the form of shapeless absence. It doesn’t matter what boundaries I set, because no one in my family has the capacity to actually form the interest necessary to sustain an intimate relationship with me. Over 18 years, since I first came into recovery and began the task of repairing my relationships with my family of origin, I have made regular, periodic efforts to grow new relationships with various family members. On looking back, I can see that these efforts were entirely my one-sided attempts to build new connections. The situation, at present, is that there will be no meaningful contact from my family for months on end. When there is contact, it takes the form of gig notices and invitations to family dinner parties. I don’t attend the gigs because I grew tired of my designated family role as, “audience member”. I don’t attend the family dinner parties anymore because I don’t have any basis for a connection with my family that would encourage me to want to attend. In fact, the opposite is true, both I, and my husband, have had very unpleasant experiences at these family gatherings and we have decided not to attend any more unless there is an opportunity to discuss what happened at past events and assure us that these kinds of situations won’t happen again.

I came across this article in Psychology Today, “How to Spot and Stop Manipulators” by Preston Ni. Although I would not have thought of my family members as manipulative before reading this article, I am now questioning if that isn’t my deepest discomfort in dealing with them. I do experience my family’s insistence on very narrow, constrained modes of communication as a form of mental distortion and emotional exploitation. After all, isn’t their collective behaviour a form of shunning, which is indeed a deeply psychological harm. I know that I would be welcome back into the family fold in an instant if I would only agree to think and behave as the rest of the family does, that is, to not share any personal information of any emotional depth, to maintain appearances of a healthy, happy, successful family, and to spread only good news about our accomplishments and those of our offspring.

I find the social, emotional and cultural constraints imposed by members of my family as suffocating and destructive. I just cannot do it. So, yes, I conclude that my family is highly manipulative, to the point that they would shun me and leave me out of the family picture rather than contemplate, for a moment, my need and interest in growing new, authentically healthy family relationships.


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