POWS in our own minds

This topic contains 10 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Avatar Beachy 5 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #64610

    My oldest son spent his whole life disrespecting me, criticizing me, micro-managing me, and living, it seemed, to make my life miserable. I bent over backwards to try to make him love me. I thought that’s what unconditional love meant—you can treat me like crap and I’ll still be here for you and my door is always open. At family get-togethers, everything seemed perfect and we’d start to think things were changing for the better. The next day, we’d get a phone call or visit telling us everything we’d done wrong. My heart would break all over again. As the girlfriend (now wife) came on the scene, it just made it worse because he married his mirror image. We thought if we followed the ever-changing rules, if we towed the line, everything would eventually work out. It only got worse with every passing year. We even moved out of state in an effort to make them happy! He had us conditioned to think this way! After living away for 13 years and things becoming much, much worse (especially when a granddaughter came along), we decided to move back in an effort to “fix” our relationship. Big mistake! We were told, “How DARE YOU move back here without our permission! Nothing has changed! We will NOT see you! We will NEVER let our daughter know you!” and believe it or not, even worse was said to us. I was devastated BEYOND. One year after moving back here and being completely shut out, while I felt like my spirit was barely alive, I found Sheri’s book and this wonderful helping, healing Website for us hurting parents. It changed everything and I have never been happier. Now, we completely enjoy the company of our other son who lives nearby and of my sister and her family who live an hour away from us. We also see things in a completely different light. The colors are brighter, the jokes are funnier, the relationships are sweeter, the spirit is lighter, the heart is happier.

    When these broken/sometimes evil children of ours tell us over and over again that nothing we do is ever good enough, it erodes our self-esteem over time and we start believing the lies.
    Twenty years ago, I felt lower than low because of all the criticism and mental and emotional abuse my son heaped on me that I decided one day to start saving cards and letters from co-workers, friends and family that thought otherwise about me. When I got a note from someone telling me I’d touched their life in some way, even though my son had me believing these people wouldn’t think I was such a great person if they knew what my son said about me as a mother, I’d drop it in the box. Over the past 20 years, I kept having to get bigger and bigger boxes as the notes, cards and letters from different people were “box-worthy.” I remember thinking, “I can’t be what he says I am if all these people love me and tell me such wonderful things, can I?” I never visited the box, ever. The box is now a HUGE bin that is on wheels! And yet…even when the boxes became bigger and bigger, I’d still think, “But that’s because they don’t know what my son thinks of me.” That is, until I read Sheri’s book. Now I think of myself as having been a POW of sorts because I was conditioned by my estranged son to feel shackled, worthless and devalued and being grateful for any scraps he threw through the bars at me. I was conditioned to think this was normal!
    Don’t believe the lies. Before Sheri’s book, I could look at that big ol’ container of wonderful notes from people and I still didn’t feel worthy.

    I guess I said all THAT to say this: If your family that does NOT align with your estranged child(ren), your co-workers, neighbors, friends AND photo albums tell you that your child(ren) had a wonderful life and that you were an amazing parent, BELIEVE IT and not your broken, hateful estranged children.

  • #64644

    You know, I never thought about it like this, KindSoul, but you are so right! It is a prison, and we hold the key. It’s just so very hard to work our hands through those emotional bars to get at the lock sometimes.

    The kind words of others, oh wow. I thought the same thing, “IF they only knew what my daughters thought of me”.

    But then I realized that my daughters’ ‘reality’ was theirs alone. It wasn’t catching. And I was not responsible for it.

    When people complimented me, or thanked me for some kindness, or just enjoyed talking with me it would almost make me cry, so beaten down was I by my daughters’ cruelty.

    I am so glad that particular painful time is past. I think we all have to work through that in estrangement. Correcting the alignment our worth, basing it on reality, not the caustic words of our children.

    I have to ask my self these questions sometimes. Hubby really helped me with this, pointing out the obvious. Who dislikes you aside from your daughters? Do good people enjoy your company? Are you helpful and kind? Giving when you can? Joyful on occasion? Empathetic?

    Then you are probably a pretty decent person, children or no. 🙂

  • #64647

    This is a wonderful post and a good reminder to all of us, whether we are still estranged or in the reconciliation state, we are not what our children say we are.

    I know that I almost fell into the thinking you did when I was first estranged. I kept thinking how horrible of a person was I that my own child hated me so much and could think and say such awful things about me. It wasn’t until I read Sheri’s book and found this website that I figured out that it is not me, it is this epidemic that is going on with our kids. How is it that all these seemingly good parents who have bent over backwards for their children, like my husband and I have, could be discarded like trash? How is it that we are being treated so poorly?

    Well, for me it was such an eye opener that I set my mind to not believing him. Not allowing that to rule my life any longer. Not to allow the behavior when he tried it again at the beginning of reconciliation. When he was disrespectful, I called it out and gave it back. This didn’t set well, it wasn’t what mom was supposed to do, or what mom had done in the past.

    I can’t remember who wrote about her son coming over on her birthday after her daughters spent all day with her helping her and then she made a huge deal about him acknowledging her with dead flowers. I can totally relate to this. I used to give my son kuddos for the stupidest shit while expecting or overlooking the wonderful things my daughter did for me or how she treated me. I think this is the conditioning they do to us. If they treat us crappy all the time, the littlest bit of niceness we fawn over. Sad isn’t it?

    Opening our eyes and seeing that it is not us, but something broken in our children is a big first step. Understanding that some kids are just evil, rotten and not good people regardless of how they were raised or the examples they were given on how to treat people. We cannot control others, who they are, who they become and the influences they choose to have on their personas. Even if they are of flesh and blood.

    The gift of detachment and acceptance is something I will be forever grateful for and would not have been able to reach without Sheri’s book and the wonderful parents on this site.

  • #64680

    I read something this morning that really spoke to me and the subject of this particular thread. It said, “You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend or a new acquaintance. You don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change. But if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go.” Agreed!

  • #64688


    Wow! When I started reading your post, I had to double check that I hadn’t written it myself.
    Like you, I bent over backwards, jumped through hoops, put my son first . It was never good enough.
    I got so caught up in his controlling ways, he had me convinced this was normal and that I was an ultimate failure of a person and a mom and figured these were the cards I was dealt and this was all I deserved.

    I love what you say about co workers cards, notes, etc… it reinforced the thought for me that I am a likable person…I’m pretty confident that those who know me or have had even the slightest contact with me will all say good things about me…sadly, I’ve always carried his cruel words, criticisms and insults swirling around in my head, making me a sad, guarded version of myself.
    anyways…I could ramble on, but I want to thank you for your post that really hit home with me and also gives me hope


  • #64699

    I can relate to all of this too. I feel pathetic, looking constantly for any crumb of acceptance or affection. Stockholm Syndrome comes to mind – where you learn to love your abuser. They mess with your mind, telling you that you deserve their treatment of you and that if you try harder you will someday be good enough.

    I look back and find my son has been saying this to me for quite a few years already. He would criticize me because I didn’t have a good enough relationship with his children. The ones his wife wouldn’t let me see. The ones she would leave with when I would come to visit. So I tried harder and harder – seeing the kids at their sports games and one day he said, “Well now you’re tying a little harder.” I was shocked because I was the ONLY one doing anything to try and make a relationship. They made no effort. And it still wasn’t quite good enough. I was told it was all up to me and they didn’t have to visit me or bring the kids over. I was the only one expected to create this relationship! I told him it was a 2 way street and he said, “No, it’s not.”

    And I kept trying and trying to please, only to become more and more upset within. I didn’t FEEL any love coming from my family to me. I felt love for them but I now realize I’ve been losing them slowly over 16 years time. I was desperately hanging on, so scared to lose them. But I lost them anyway.

    I hope I can feel free myself over time. I fluctuate constantly from relief at not having to constantly “try” hard enough to win their approval and depression from the realization that they really don’t want me anyway.

    I notice too, and thank you for mentioning it, the only ones I don’t get along with are my children/their spouses. I have many friends, coworkers like me, I have plenty of offers to do social things and my efforts at helping others has resulted in many cards and expressions of appreciation as well. So I will hold on to that. I can’t be all that bad if everyone else in my life seems to think I’m ok.

    So sad to think my children are so unhappy. I wish I could fix it, but I’m coming to the realization that they are no longer who I used to love.

  • #64718

    Totally agree with what you have written KindSoul. It’s such a release to have those chains and locks undone finally. Not only was I brainwashed by my son, and held to ransom in exactly the same way as you were (i.e. the I’m not good enough ….) I have also been kept trapped to this way of thinking by my brother. He was the first bully in my life – punching and hitting me as a young child, and I would have done anything to make him like me. Absolutely anything. This was followed by my 1st husband doing the same thing, then my son. All the time I felt unworthy, and that it was my fault.

    Sheri’s book and this forum have helped me regain my self-worth, and move forward. Although my son is out of my life, I can still live. This is where my brother has crept back into my life to behave in the same way as he did when we were children. He has wanted me to reconcile with my son, and has done all he can to interfere and cut me down to the quick in the belief that I instigated this estrangement. I was so upset, and crying all the time with what he was saying, but after a counseling session earlier this week, I decided to use the information in Sheri’s book on my brother.

    It is his own hurt/pain/ or what ever it is, it is to do with him. Not me. If he is upset about the estrangement, I can’t do anything about that. I can only be responsible for my own feelings, no one else’s. So I did a very brave thing and emailed all this to him.

    I have never stood up to him before. I have never told him how it is, but now I have.

    I am not afraid of him any longer. The sky above the clouds is still blue, and life has gone on. No bomb went off when I pressed send.

    I love this new me.

    Thank you Sheri, wgkmom, and YellowRose. You will never know how much you have helped me. And thank you KindSoul for your original post. It’s a fantastic analogy.



    • #64738

      Yes, I have also had a terrible day. Hang in there.

      I have has several similar experiences in my life, my hat off to you.

  • #64727

    I think we have been subjected to a form of brainwashing – I don’t know if others had the same experience but with me it wasn’t just about bending over backwards and appeasing, take constant criticism and shut up.
    I really was a prisoner. I was required to anticipate and instinctively know her needs of the moment, her thoughts. I could be going about my business innocently, and all of a sudden I’d be barraged with anger and insults for stuff I should have said and done but didn’t – because I wasn’t even aware of what was expected of me. According to ED I ‘should have known” this or that but because I didn’t it was further proof of what a failure I am as a mother, proof that I didn’t really love her. I tried to explain that I’m not psychic, if she had needs she could talk to me and I’d do my best to help but no, she refused to do that on the grounds that if I were a good mother some things should come “naturally” to me. I can’t even explain the anxiety and paranoia, the guilt I felt at the time. Has anyone experienced this behavior from their children or my Ed took it to another level? I’d be interested in knowing what you think.

    • #64765

      Dragonfly – I can relate totally to this. I too was brainwashed. My son and his fiancee lived out of town, and frequently came to town for social and business things. They would often stay at our house, and I never knew when they were coming or how long they were staying for, Sometimes it was just my son, sometimes his fiancee as well, and sometimes the dog. But I always welcomed them, and thought I’d made them feel at home. They even left things here like toiletries etc, and I actually thought it was nice.

      Over the years, my son began to criticise how I was behaving when he was here. I had to stop what I was doing to show him I was fully interested in him. I couldn’t talk, or answer the phone. If my daughters wanted to talk to me, they had to wait. I was on tender hooks the whole time. I would turn off the radio or TV; not sing; not play any instruments or do anything that might set him off. If I wanted to speak to him, I needed to have a crystal ball to check whether or not he’d just had a long drive; he’d had a fight with this fiancee; he’d just had accupuncture; he was tired; he was hungry, he was too busy to listen, and if I did speak when any of these things had happened, I got my head bitten off. I was told I was showing no empathy for him … which I looked up and took that on board. Ok, empathy. I must show empathy …

      But the list became longer and longer! There were so many things to check that I couldn’t possibly get it right. I became paranoid that I was a narcissist, as narcissists don’t show empathy, so I was questioning myself at every step. Did I listen well enough? Did I cut my friends off when they were talking? Did I have the right answer? It nearly drove me mad.

      It was my daughters who eventually called time on all of this, because he was treating them the same way. It was like a huge wake-up call, that HE was the one with the problem, not me.

      I feel so much stronger, and like Dragonfly, it was brainwashing, gaslighting and fear that kept me prisoner. When I broke out of the chains, I was free!

      Even so, I’m still find myself second-guessing myself at times, although I’m much better now. It takes a while to change the habits of the last 25 odd years, but I feel really proud of myself for standing up to my brother, this week, who treated me the same way.


  • #64734

    “You know, I never thought about it like this, KindSoul, but you are so right! It is a prison, and we hold the key. It’s just so very hard to work our hands through those emotional bars to get at the lock sometimes.” ~MKL1961

    And the arrogance of one who acts on the assumption that they actually hold the key …

    I reserve the right to:

    – revoke a keyholder’s privilege,
    – determine a keyholder,
    – change the lock,
    – redefine the surrounding boundaries,
    – come and go as I please,
    – determine the visitors list,
    – disassemble the cell.

    Your post spoke to me. “It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change.”
    And the hallmark of a true toxic person is this lack of ability. Not one player in my situation possesses the decency required to apologize. As if, I am unaware and their actions are unknown.

    “The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough.” ~M. Scott Peck

    A history of childhood abuse conditions one to accept responsibility for the abusers and their characteristics as “familiar”. Unless there is a De-conditioning or awareness, there is a tolerance for abuse and for abusers to have a place in their lives.

    The greater the knowledge and awareness , the greater the intolerance for abuse. For me, therapy was a means of acquiring knowledge and awareness. Initially, was I surprised to find my life infiltrated with abusers?, well yeah, lol! But eventually, there was NO surprise, just disappointment.

    It is better late than never to realize one’s life is in need of a serious housecleaning of character disordered people. They can either clean up their act or stay behind. I have no room for anyone with a need to disregard my feelings, ignore my boundaries and treat me in a harmful way, they need to go. The absence of anyone with such behaviors, is NOT really a loss at all.

    Dotty, it seems that your brother’s behavior is having difficulty with your new “Awareness”. It is worth understanding that unless he gets himself up to speed, you will be speaking a language outside of his level of comprehension. Without those critical updates, he will continue to work with the dynamics of the past, which you were more than willing to accept responsibility for his actions.

    If he is pointing his index finger at you, then it is because the three fingers below are pointing right back at him.


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