Honesty, compassion or both?


#1

Sometimes I think I’m far too emotionally screwed up to be a “good Catholic.” I have a deep fear of being manipulated into doing something and then feeling used. My paternal Grandmother, who raised me, could never just directly request anything, she had to cajole and pressure, i.e. “If you loved me you’d have noticed that my marigolds need to be weeded” rather than “If you’re not busy could you weed my marigolds?” Happily most people in my life are straight with me but one big one is not: my mother-in-law.

I’m not going to try to analyze her but recently she’s started to try to get her way by using pressure and tears. She wants us to be at her disposal but she doesn’t want to commit to anything in case HER plans change (she always wants to see the kids Sunday afternoon, but she gets mad if we’re not available). Most recently she got upset because she was only invited to one of our younger daughter’s birthday parties (one was for family and one was for her little friends). She chose herself to not attend the one she was invited to and she can’t seem to control her tongue around one of the people we invited to the other, but she called me to complain that she’d been excluded. Well, called to complain is putting it mildly. She ranted about how she’s been excluded her entire life and she loves her grandchildren, etc., and never let me get a word in at all. She’d flip out if I told her that she wasn’t invited because we wanted to make the Other Person comfortable and yell that we were choosing Other Person over her (she’s done this before) and when she pulled out the guilt trip (“I moved back to town for my grandchildren and you’re keeping me from them.”) I hung up. Rude, I know, but I feel like she was bullying me and she wasn’t willing to listen to anything I had to say. A week later she showed up while I was out and brought clothes for the kids and some strawberries and apparently THAT was an apology. I’m still ticked. It feels the same as when my GM would bully me into doing something.

Anyway, I think we should be straight with her about how her behavior is overstepping the bounds a bit; I think that it’s important to give an adult the dignity of owning their mistakes and making them right. My husband – who has his own set of issues with his mother – thinks we should ignore it and just withdraw from her further. What would yo do?


#2

Sorry to hear you’re in such a sticky situation. I know where you’re coming from, though! :whacky: My husband’s family is like that on BOTH sides (his parents are divorced).

You should go ahead and talk to her about it. If she’s a person that cuts you off, write it. Your husband is wrong to just withdraw more…if you can get this straightened out it would be great for your kids to have a loving grandmother in their lives. If it can’t be straightened out at least you both are clear where each other stands.


#3

Well, thank God I do not have this problem-- but one of my dear friends does have this same problem IN SPADES. Her MIL is an absolute terror.

She finally learned to just remove herself completely and let her husband deal with MIL. They do not let her BS upset them anymore and they have set the boundaries.

I agree that avoiding it won’t make it go away-- but it needs to come from her son, not you.

Good luck. I’ve heard the book Toxic Inlaws is a good one, perhaps it will have some helpful info in it if you pick up a copy.


#4

When I catch someone trying to manipulate me, through as statement such as “If you love me, you will do this for me.”, I explain that love is concerned with the best for the person, not be a slave of the person. The context of who said it and the background behind it, sets the tone and way I say it.

In society today, we often hear, “If you love me, you will approve of all my actions.” My response, “I do love you, but hate when you sin and endanger your immortal sin. Loving you and approving of all of your actions are too very different things.”


#5

[quote=T.A.Stobie, SFO]When I catch someone trying to manipulate me, through as statement such as “If you love me, you will do this for me.”, I explain that love is concerned with the best for the person, not be a slave of the person. The context of who said it and the background behind it, sets the tone and way I say it.

In society today, we often hear, “If you love me, you will approve of all my actions.” My response, “I do love you, but hate when you sin and endanger your immortal sin. Loving you and approving of all of your actions are too very different things.”
[/quote]

I have read an excellent book by Suzanne Hagin Elgin called, “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.” Unfortunately it is out of print, but easily found I think. She has some other books, but one sequel I saw didn’t come across nearly as useful as the first.

Anyway, this is the exact format of “Type 1” among eight patterns of verbal abuse she examines. The format is, “If you X, then Y.”

X could be “love me” or “care about my grades” and Y could be “stay home tonight” or “buy me a laptop computer,” respectively.

Your great response, "I do love you, … " directly addresses X, which carries the “payload” or the “presupposition” of the statement, and where the violence is hidden – in this case the payload is “you don’t love me.” Many times people are suckered into responding directly to Y, which is the bait. Taking the bait without addressing X actually results in “buying into” the payload. By addressing X first, you have clearly established that you are firmly rejecting the payload, even though you are willing to attack the bait as well! :hmmm:

In other words, says Elgin, if you say, “but honey, how can I approve of all your actions when some of them are against my value system,” or, “other kids are getting good grades and they don’t have a computer,” then we have tacitly bought into the presupposition and accepted the violence.

Another approach she describes is to address X directly and leaving the bait alone entirely, such as:

Daughter: “If you loved me, you’d support my decision.”

Mother: “Honey, how long have you felt that I may not loved you?”

The use of a “time” question such as “when did you start thinking I may not love you,” or “how long has my love been in doubt?” This makes it more difficult for the attacker to reinforce the statement. A “why” question would not likely do as well, such as “why do you think I don’t love you” is just an invitation to repeat the assertion.

That book was instrumental in helping me recognize and deal with verbal violence and manipulation.

There is a listing for the book on Amazon.

Alan


#6

Maybe this is the “big I” syndrome, but I feel I have thrown cold water on this thread by coming off too nerdly or something.

The book itself is very good and is very simple, but when I try to explain it I’m afraid I come off like I think I’m an expert. Maybe I know what this book teaches, but I also observe that many others are much better at dealing with these things than I am without having read the book.

This (how to respond to manipulation and verbal “violence”) is one of my favorite topics, as this is one skill I did not develop on my own and it hurt me – and after reading this book and taking some “assertiveness” lessons from a psychologist I was much helped.

If I am just being paranoid, than please forgive this superfluous post. If I have messed up the discussion, please forgive my barging in so strongly. In addition to my possibly ersatz apology, I wanted to convey the following with this post:

-bump-

Peace,
Alan


#7

Alan, you’re not a threadkiller; I love reading your posts. Thank you for responding to me, thank all of you for taking the time to care about my litle domestic drama.

The only thing I DO know for certain about manipulators is that they live in a world of fear: fear of being told no, fear of being found out, etc. I cannot imagine living that way. I’ve kind of willed myself into stupidity about bullying because I fear using it myself. But I’m supposed to be walking in love, not fear, and speaking the truth in love, which brings me back to a question I should have posted initially: when you’re dealing with someone like this, is it better to err on the side of brutal honesty or compassion?


#8

How complicated human relationships are, aren’t they? It’s so difficult to always know how to respond in every situation that is thrown at you, or even if you should respond at all.


#9

[quote=jazzbaby1]Alan, you’re not a threadkiller; I love reading your posts. Thank you for responding to me, thank all of you for taking the time to care about my litle domestic drama.

The only thing I DO know for certain about manipulators is that they live in a world of fear: fear of being told no, fear of being found out, etc. I cannot imagine living that way. I’ve kind of willed myself into stupidity about bullying because I fear using it myself. But I’m supposed to be walking in love, not fear, and speaking the truth in love, which brings me back to a question I should have posted initially: when you’re dealing with someone like this, is it better to err on the side of brutal honesty or compassion?
[/quote]

It sounds by your question like you’re trying to “set another person straight,” then I think a direct attempt thereat is probably ill-advised. To “corner” the person with a case you have built up communicates a negative message about yourself as well, in that in the past you have been passive about not saying this, but actually taking time to “work against” the person by building this case.

Certainly you want the person to get better for their own peace, but who’s to say that they recognize their situation as anxious – and certainly how many of them actually realize how unpleasant they make life for everybody else. It’s going to take some convincing that THEY actually need to make a change, because basically their whole life view is centered around making other people dance to their strings – IOW do all the changing. Therefore, if you tell them they have a problem, it will just confirm they have more work to do with you! :banghead:

Worse, if others support you, then it will come across as a conspiracy. If you are right about the fear then maybe paranoia is not far away?

That’s why I’m opting for an incident-by-incident response, rather than a confrontation-type approach. That way it won’t come across as premeditated. To do that requires that you make decisions about your own limits, what you will agree to and what you will not. You let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no” and do not explain yourself because by explaining yourself you leave it open for manipulation. Say, “yes, I can come over but I’m terribly sorry I cannot make it before 4 pm. If that will not work, would it be better to schedule our meeting for next week?”

One exception I can see is if we are avoiding somebody to the extent there might even be no contact at all unless we confront the issue, then maybe you will have to take the initiative to correct the problem. In that case I say both compassion and honesty, as opposed to “brute” honesty. Here’s a scenario I can envision:

I’d say choose one particular case, especially the one which seems most currently responsible for tensions, and call and apologize for something. Maybe say, “hi, I felt badly about how our last visit went and I’d like to offer an apology for not talking to you about it sooner.” This way you put yourself into “sinner” class without groveling, (edit: taking the lower seat at the table, so to speak) by confessing not to a big thing like messing up anything but to the lesser crime of not calling sooner – a fairly safe thing to confess to since after all the other person didn’t talk about it sooner either. :smiley: Then if she starts going off, just listen to her, and act like you are learning something new about how she feels – like, “oh, it almost sounds like you felt left out of the decision loop” or whatever. Here we’re building them up enough so they’ll shut up. If, instead of going off, she lets you lead or even better says, “oh, I didn’t realize there was anything wrong,” (to which you can play the “silly me I imagine things” for extra flavor if desired) then you can just say, “oh, well then I’m glad I called” and then you change the subject like, “well, that’s good to know because I was concerned about that … I also called to ask whether you could come to Joey’s school play on the 25th.”

Then, having broken the spell, forget about bringing up past wounds ever again, and proceed on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, that’s one possible way I can see it go. Hopefully you can find something in it to use. :slight_smile:

Alan


#10

Try this on for size:

“Look Granny you are starting to burn my a**, stay home until you figure out how to be a normal human being.”

Nevermind the psychological Kung-Fu. The sooner she knows her place the better it will be for everyone.


#11

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.