listening to shame

I just watched a powerful TED Talk from shame researcher Brené Brown. Wish I could embed it, but since I can't, I'll just ask you to follow the link, and I'll leave some quotes that caught my attention below:

"Vulnerability is not weakness, and that myth is profoundly dangerous... Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage."

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change."

"Shame drives two tapes: Never Good Enough, and if you can talk it out of that one, Who Do You Think You Are?"

"There's a huge difference between shame and guilt. And here's what you need to know. Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders. And here's what you even need to know more. Guilt, inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we've done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It's uncomfortable, but it's adaptive."

"We're pretty sure that the only people who don't experience shame are people who have no capacity for connection or empathy. Which means, yes, I have a little shame; no, I'm a sociopath. So I would opt for, yes, you have a little shame."

"Shame is an epidemic in our culture. And to get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us and how it affects the way we're parenting, the way we're working, the way we're looking at each other."

"If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can't survive. The two most powerful words when we're in struggle: me too."

"If we're going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path."

for my fellow truth-tellers

AMEN to that! I've found this to be very germane to both my feminist truth-telling and my family dysfunction truth-telling. People might not want to hear something, but that doesn't make it any less true.

how to block evite invitations

The customer service answer to my "please delete" request, just in case you ever want/need to use this feature. the link to "block this host" is inside the original email containing the link to the event. If you were hoping not to show up as having viewed the invitation, be aware that clicking the link will take you to the invitation, where you will verify that you wish to block the host. So the host will be able to see that you viewed the invitation, but hopefully will not be able to send other invitations to you in the future. 

Crossing my fingers that this removes one more annual intrusion. I know it's probably a vain hope, but it feels like another boundary defended. 

a little love for you

Going out to all of my fellow ACONs this morning. I hope you get a little extra love today.

Originally spotted on the Farm Food Freedom Coalition Facebook page. 

letter to my brother

In moving some files around, I found this message, which was part of an email back-and-forth among my siblings and myself when some of them took exception to my choosing to share "publicly" that my parents were lurking around the outside of my house. 

He refused to speak to me after I sent this message, saying that I always have to control the conversation and that I was being a typical narcissist, talking over people as usual (um, it's email, how can you talk over people? I thought the built-in turn-taking was one of the perks of that mode of communication). I read over my message again today, to see if I could understand his point of view. Was I attacking him? Devaluing his point of view? I still can't see it. I'm sharing it below (edits to remove names or provide context made in brackets). Tell me if you can see something in this letter that would cause somebody not to speak to his sister for a year: 

[Brother #1], I'm really hurt that you would diagnose me with narcissistic personality disorder. Really hurt.  Please consider reading more about both NPD and the various ways it affects children of narcissists before handing down a diagnosis like that.  Knowing my history with mom, do you not see how it might be hurtful to describe me as "cut from the same cloth" as her? How is that productive or kind?

This is the FIRST time you have told me (in my memory, forgive me if I'm wrong) that you have come to my defense. I can ONLY know this if you tell me. Thank you for doing that. [Sister-in-law #1], thank you for pointing out to her that she cannot set time limits and that even if I want to talk to her in the future, it may be years from now. I'm glad you both told them that they must stop talking to you about it. That's an important boundary to set. I hope she'll respect that boundary.

We simply disagree on public versus private information. Families perpetuate emotional abuse by putting pressure on each other to keep quiet. It's very well documented in therapeutic literature. And you know what? If mutual "friends" come to you, tell them to come ask me directly, ok? And no, I'm NOT going to stop talking in public about parental estrangement, because SOMEBODY HAS TO FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT. Every single time I post here or on my blog or talk to friends in person, people THANK me. My brothers are the ONLY people in my life who have not shown support and who ask me to shut up.

I also disagree with you about finding fault with parents. Mom doesn't just piss me off occasionally like a normal parent does. Mom routinely devalues me. Routinely. With no "good stuff" in between.

I will not go to therapy with our parents until they show human kindness and decency, a willingness to take responsibility for their own actions, and a respect for my boundaires. PERIOD. I've talked to therapists about that choice and they 100% agree with me that group therapy would NOT be productive right now while the parents are in the shame-and-blame Claire mode.

This is NOT about little mistakes mom and dad made along the way. Every one of us makes mistakes with our kids. Every one of us tries to do better than our parents did, even mom. This IS about continuing, constant disrespectful treatment at her hands. The reason I relate that to events in my past is because those events set the pattern that I see in my present.

I'm glad that she respects your boundaries. She does not respect mine. Ever. From conversations with therapists and oodles of reading, this also appears to be typical of women like her. Again and again I read about the differences between narcissistic mothers' treatment of daughters and sons.

I disagree strongly about Dad's role in this. He had an obligation to protect his children, and he chose not to do it. I have horrible memories of traumatic, inexcusable treatment from Mom and asking Dad for help and him just standing by. Yeah, he loves her. Yeah, he's loyal to her. BUT HE FAILED HIS CHILDREN. Parents have a moral obligation to step in and stop the other parent from abusing their children. If he didn't fail you in that way, awesome. It does seem like he has been there for his sons and for [sister].

I think I mentioned upthread that I DO have good memories, or maybe that's in the email that I wrote yesterday and waited to send. But being treated like shit in the here and now doesn't go away because of some good times and life skills learned. No amount of happy memories makes it ok to routinely treat another person with that much disregard for their autonomy.

Re: visitation rights: Mom told [my husband] straight out that she is planning to sue us. She held it out as a threat. She told him this on two separate occasions, over the phone, about 2 months ago. Dad never spoke to [my husband] about it. We haven't been sued yet and I honestly don't know if she will or if she's bluffing.

Re: calling the cops - that is what I will do if/when she does this again. [my husband] wanted, instead, to go out and try to defuse the situation. I HAVE told her to get lost (but more politely, even while being firm).  I HAVE laid out clear boundaries. She chooses to disregard them and I'm going with the best advice I have, to stop engaging with them.  This is standard how-to-deal-with-stalking advice. Please don't second-guess our decisions. You weren't here.

Re: [Husband]'s parents: actually, YES, [his] parents are better. MUCH better. They're fantastic grandparents, they actually want to know our children for who they really are and value them for that. They focus on them in ways appropriate to each child rather than expecting my children to perform for them or show love for them in the way THEY want it, at the exact time they want it.  Before [son #3] was born we had a confrontation with them about the way his parents, especially his mother, were treating us. Over the course of a year we all did a lot of work and the end result was that they took things to heart, we had some fantastic open discussions, and today I actually have a great relationship with them, for the first time in our history. They showed a willingness to listen, to work, to think deeply. Our mother has shown NONE of that willingness. Every communication with her - EVERY SINGLE ONE in the past four years has been a litany of Claire's faults.

RE: benefit of the doubt - it would be helpful if all of you would offer kindness and support more often instead of festering and making assumptions. It would be helpful if you would ASK ME if you want information. About a year or two ago I started holding back more and actively avoiding discussing this with you guys out of a desire not to have a constant bitchfest going on. You can't have it both ways - either you want to talk or you don't. If you want to talk, I can't know that unless you tell me.

I'm really happy for you guys [bro & sil #1, bro & sil #2] that Mom and Dad are good grandparents to your children. They are NOT good grandparents to MY children. Mom's "good grandmother" phase with us ended before [son #1] turned 2. She and Dad do not play an active, positive role in the kids' lives. My children are fortunate to have two other grandparents who work  hard to relate to them in ways that are emotionally and developmentally appropriate. The kids adore Grandma and Grandpa. They don't adore Nona and Pop. The reason they were "excited" yesterday is because they're excited any time somebody comes to the door, especially people they recognize. They have, unfortunately, witnessed mom's shitty treatment of me and understand (well, mostly [son #1] understands, [sons #2&3] not as much) that some people are unable to be kind to other people. We talk about the importance of treating people with kindness and also the importance of sticking up for yourself.

Submitting myself to mom's poor treatment would be unhealthy. I understand that the rest of you have different interactions with her and I am absolutely NOT asking people to choose sides. I do wish all of you could show more empathy for me, but I understand that that might not be possible.


what would you do in their shoes?


Today I'm creating a log file to record unwanted contact from my mother and father, so that I have a running record. This is both so that I can see the frequency/type in black and white, and also so that I have the information if I ever need documentation of their harassment.

Last year they sent an evite invitation to their home for Easter. This has become a de facto annual tradition - mostly because they declared it to be so. We went there for Easter a few times when my oldest son was little. At the time I remember my oldest brother and I were both hoping to start our own family traditions rather than feeling like we have to report for duty on specific holidays, but now that I'm not on speaking terms with my parents and that brother, it's suddenly an annual tradition that nobody can part with, and we're the killjoys who rain on everybody's parade by not showing up (as if it would be pleasant for anyone if we did).

This year's invitation arrived in my email inbox today. UGH. I hate taking a quick dip into my gmail account to discover their names staring back at me. It makes me mad that she inserts herself into my life in this way. It's an unnecessary little spoonful of yuck added to my day. I deleted the message and will not view that evite. But the whole thing - the invitation, the new contact log, re-reading a message I sent to my brother about a year ago, the continued contact - has me wondering: what would I do if I were the parent, and my child wanted me to leave them alone? Would I do it? Would I continue to "reach out" by sending birthday cards and invitations?

I really don't know.

On the one hand, I do think a kind person reaches out and says "there is always a space for you here." I know my mother feels like she's the wronged party, and that I'm the prodigal daughter, and that someday maybe I'll come to my senses and run (grovel) back to her. So from her point of view, she's being a good mother.

But on the other hand, she ISN'T the wronged party. Nothing in her history with me is actually welcoming or reaching out. These cards and invitations are empty gestures. Whether or not she knows it, I know it. And if I were a delusional-enough person to parent badly and not own up to it, and my child asked me not to contact him, and I still did it, he would absolutely be justified in thinking that I'm an asshole for not going away.

And the thing is, I wouldn't be in this situation, because I would have chosen option C: get therapy for my own issues and figure out what I did to alienate my child. I would 100% believe that I owned at least a sizable chunk of the problem, if not the whole thing.

Please please please let me never end up in their shoes.

And now another question - have you ever figured out a way to block an evite user from inviting you to their events? I tried sending a customer support request last year but I don't think it worked.

no excuses

The other thing that stuck out for me amidst the reactions to Jezebel's coverage of Project Unbreakable was this comment from user VisforVanity:
I'm always a bit angry (okay, more than a bit) when people try to use "Well, I/he/she/they were abused as kids..." as an excuse for passing on the cycle of abuse. It is ALWAYS possible not to abuse your kids and to change that cycle
I struggle with the idea that I should have more compassion for my mother, who was abused (physically, emotionally, and possibly sexually) by her father. The abuse she received at his hands was worse than what I experienced at her hands, and I have the feeling that I'm supposed to be grateful that she was better than her father, and let her off the hook. "All parents make mistakes," after all. But again and again, I come back to the fact that it is NOT OK to abuse people, whether you do it a little bit or a lot. Regardless of what she experienced, she chose to have children, she chose not to get help, she chose to seek parenting advice from people whose own control issues and abusive temperaments should have been glaringly obvious. She was a psych major for a while, for goodness' sake. She should have understood normal development and the importance of parenting and the risk of passing on abusive behaviors. She knew her father was abusive, yet she didn't ever consider herself at risk for being an abuser, herself.

It is ALWAYS possible to break the cycle.


If you haven't already heard of Unbreakable, a project intended to support people who have experienced sexual abuse, I highly recommend that you look into it, whether or not you yourself have been assaulted. This effort, started by a 19-year-old photography student, seeks to foster healing, remove the stigma associated with having been abused, and illustrate the horrible reality of rape and molestation. But before I link you to it, I want you to know that it has the potential to be very triggering to women and men who are survivors of sexual abuse, so please make sure that you are in a safe and healthy place before viewing it: Unbreakable.

(I should come right out and say that I was not sexually abused by my parents, even though my mother insists that I have insinuated that she did. Let the record show that I do not have any evidence that my parents sexually abused any of their children.)

I came across the site last night and as I read parts of it, I was reminded several times of the way that sexual abuse relates to other forms of relationship abuse. The quotation above about fear resonated with me, not from the standpoint of having experienced years of sexual abuse, but from experiencing years of emotional abuse. So often, abusers seem shocked and incredulous that their child would fear or dislike them, even though they spend many years carefully training us to fear.

I was trained to fear my mother's disapproval or disappointment. "Not living up to your potential" was something that hung over my head well into my thirties, and still sometimes lurks. I became what Karyl McBride calls a "Mary Marvel" type of daughter - always striving to excel, to achieve, to be the best at everything that I tried (and not try anything for which I might not be the best). "Ohhhh, Claire," is, to this day, a lamentation that haunts me. All my mother had to do was utter that phrase and I knew that I had, once again, both failed to meet my mother's expectations and simultaneously completely fulfilled her expectation that I would fail. I was expected to rise above her expectations of me. I feared expectations, because they essentially said "you must pass this extreme level of excellence in order to be considered a good person, but we all know that you're really a flighty, ditzy, bitchy, lazy thing, and will probably manage to fuck it up."

I was trained to fear my mother's anger, and to fear punishment. She purposefully led me to fear these things. She explicitly stated a belief that children must fear their parents in order to learn how to behave. She used pain, degradation, and humiliation to keep us in line. She considered other parenting methods, especially those based in compassion and gentleness, to be bad parenting, and said so often.

I cannot understand how somebody can so purposefully, so carefully train her children to fear her, who says point-blank that she doesn't want to be a kind, generous parent, and then be surprised and dismayed by the fear itself.