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Author Topic: Targeted by BPD In-Law, and we don't speak the same language. Literally...  (Read 258 times)

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Gender: Female
What is your sexual orientation: Straight
Who in your life has "personality" issues: Inlaw
What is your relationship status with them: married
Posts: 7

« on: November 29, 2017, 06:31:06 AM »

Hello, I'm new here.  I started reading some threads, and so many people's experiences reflected what I'm seeing in my own situation, so I decided to log in and see what I can learn.  My husband and I just moved into the same very small town as his elderly parents (next door). He’s lived far away from them for decades, so when they offered us some unused land next to their house where we could build ourselves a home, it seemed like a good opportunity for us and a chance to reconnect with his loved ones.  After a few exceptionally confusing and distressing months, I have come to suspect that my MIL has many traits of BPD. It seems like the entire family is completely enmeshed, including my sweet husband.  Here's the extra twist:  she and I do not speak the same language, so I can't easily communicate directly with her.  This is why it took me so long to realize what was going on.  I sensed that behind the overly warm behaviors, she had a lot of frustration, hostility, and pain, but I didn’t understand that she was directing them at me.  We usually got along well on past visits except one time when she threw a tantrum about me walking away from her, but I thought it was a cultural misunderstanding and missed the red flag.  I was shocked when after a brief period of charm and overwhelming affection, she started targeting me.  Even without the ability to speak to me using words, or understand anything I say, she still found a way to launch an incredible social campaign against me. She did the same thing to the wife of her other son (for decades, I’m now learning), so I think they’re all used to it and don’t take it too seriously.  I am not used to it.  I think her behavior is having a toxic effect on everyone.  Until people started translating for me, I had no idea that she was demonizing and criticizing me in front of the whole family. She verbally attacked my smile (can't be real), my happiness (must be a lie), my beliefs (not as good as hers because she's created a special hybrid type of religion), my family, heritage, and culture. She tried to tell me what to eat, how to act, what choices to make, and how to perform minor tasks.  Any time I did not comply with her way, she would lash out.  She said there's "a devil between us."

I first came here with a lot of genuine warmth towards her for raising the person I love most in the world, but after a month it became clear that nothing I did could please her. I’m a naturally happy and smiling person, so when I started to feel hurt, she probably felt like a light bulb turned off. She blamed me for being hurt by her criticisms about me because she believes that only evil people can hurt others. So if I got hurt by her, she thinks I’m calling her evil. (That was my little “welcome to the rabbit hole” moment).  She criticizes me constantly (in a foreign language so I can’t defend myself) and tries to make me do things I would never do, then gets angry when I refuse to be her puppet.  At one point she wanted me to do a ritual to give her back her soul. I felt that doing this would be like confirming the notion that I had taken her soul from her, which I don’t believe is a reflection of any reality I’ve ever heard of.  When I told her through a translator that I couldn’t lie about my beliefs and do rituals about souls that I don’t believe in, she became angry and amped up her hostility campaign.  She then spent two solid months glaring and hating me and treating me in ways that I felt were extremely emotionally abusive. I looked up emotional abuse, and she practices almost every single type with great precision.  The family here is so used to her behavior that they feel I should just let everything go and try to keep the peace. It is my perception that this is not possible, no matter how hard I try.  If she runs out of real complaints she just starts inventing things, so I can't prevent that, no matter what I do.  She was so threatened by my closeness with her son and others that she started (unconsciously?)  trying to convince them that I am awful, and I am hurting her with rejection, and need to be forced to show her love even if I don’t feel it anymore.  When we first moved here, my husband and I often held hands, but after the emotional grace period ended, she complained constantly that our closeness was unhealthy and we subtly stopped showing affection in front of her to avoid getting our relationship targeted. If I got along well with someone, she snapped at them or did something cruel to hurt their self esteem, even if the person was a child (destroying her grandkid’s art project because I helped him, trying to “crush” a nice young girl verbally “before she fools and controls everyone”.  When my husband and I were celebrating a big accomplishment together she verbally tore us down immediately, telling us how she didn't like it and would do it better, completely killing the joy.

All of my interactions with her started to feel like no-win situations, where there was no room between us for me or my personal boundaries. For example, she would shove a plant into my bra (I’m not sure why), then become offended when I instinctively recoiled from the invasion of personal space. Another time she put a handful of food full of live maggots into my hands, then got offended when I no longer wanted to eat food she offered me. She threw bones at my face at a family dinner in front of 10 people, but in all these types of instances, she somehow convinces everyone else that it was an accident, even though she grins at my reaction and only seems happy if she gets some sort of emotional response. I understand that she is terrified of “people not accepting her” but the loyalty tests don’t sit well with me. She’ll do something mean when we’re alone, then try to get me to do something loving like hug her right afterward when there’s a witness, as if she wants me to reject her in front of people to justify her complaints about me not accepting her.  The wacky thing is that I really did accept her before she started terrorizing me. At one point, when I walked into a room and greeted everyone with a blanket “hello” instead of giving her personal attention and a hug, she cornered my husband the next night and raged about me not being warm enough to her (for 3 hours), then she threatened to take our house away from us because of me.  When he was shocked by her threat, she felt such shame that he ended up consoling her (!), then came home emotionally drained.  I didn’t even find out about the extent of her feelings or thoughts about my lack of a personal greeting until the next day.  She didn’t say anything to me directly, just took her complaints to everyone else.  The list is endless, and it’s difficult to watch her slowly and subtly impacting everyone’s perceptions and feel powerless to end the roller coaster ride. They know she’s “like that” but when certain things are repeated often enough, it’s like advertising, and people start to believe them.
It seems like the entire family is so focused on keeping her from going over the line (she apparently has threatened to harm herself before, and has what they call “dark periods”) that they are willing to accept emotional abuse and can’t understand why I won’t do the same.  They don’t see it as abuse, but the intense distress she causes is not normal. Their view is treat her like a little girl, let all the criticism roll off your back, and show her lots of affection and respect. I admire their poker faces, and I can avoid reacting much, but I can’t pretend to love her after receiving months of her irrational hostility. There’s no pre-existing bond between us, so I can’t fall back on the good old days like they can, and show her warmth after she’s criticized me for hours. My lack of affection for her means she’ll always have an excuse to escalate with me.  The rest of the family here has been extremely supportive, and I am endlessly thankful for their presence but I can’t figure out how to remove myself from my mother-in-law’s spin-cycle.  I can’t even effectively set clear boundaries or respond to her unfair treatment in a thoughtful and timely way because she and I don’t speak the same language, so my response is on a time delay.  If I completely cut myself off from her, it will put my husband in the impossible position of having to deal with her rages (about me) alone, and even if he tries not to, I know he will see her reaction to my choice as my fault, and resent picking up the mess she will inevitably blame on me.  Just thinking about being in the same room as her without a lot of people there as buffers makes me feel sick, and I hate the way this has impacted my other relationships here.  I was trying to build a life with the man I love in a foreign country and am now wasting a huge amount of time trying to figure out how to feel emotionally safe in a situation I can’t yet understand or cope with effectively. My husband is caught between two people he loves, so our best days are when she isn’t creating drama between us. When she’s angry at me, he’s stuck in the middle, consoling her and accusing me of being overly sensitive and too emotional about her one moment, then seeing my side the next. I feel like we’ve let her create problems between us, and I don’t know how to move forward to heal if these issues aren’t confronted and resolved. He’s a sweetheart and I know we’ll figure it out together, I just don’t know what to do yet... .  He sees his mom as an extremely loving (I see smothering) but immature person who can’t be held responsible for her actions, so we have to ignore our own needs to keep the peace. That tactic makes me feel like he can’t protect me from her, and it just shows her that he accepts her conflict-seeking behavior and will ignore her emotionally abusive impact on me. He wants me to have a good relationship with her, like I did before she started being shockingly hostile toward me (when she thought I was a saint), but every time I’m near her I feel like I have no right to be myself and everything I do gets criticized or punished.  It’s obvious that being near her threatens my emotional wellbeing, and my relationships with others, but my husband can’t accept a no-contact situation between her and I.  He feels that would lead to us having to move away. I’m not willing to give up our dreams here because of bullying from one little old lady, but I’m also not willing to act like I accept her bad behavior and I’m so exhausted from walking on eggshells all the time. I believe we need to find a middle ground.  We’ve already invested everything we had into moving and building our dream house here, and she’ll always be his mother, so at some point we will need to figure out how to deal with her in a way that doesn’t destabilize our own psychological health and closeness with each other.  He and I have had open conversations about her, but we have different perspectives in this case, and he has expressed the very valid concern that I am damaging his perception of his mother (I am), and that hurts him. I feel like my desire for only emotionally healthy relationships is threatening his very deep and understandable need to believe that his mother loves him and has only good intentions.  I don’t believe she has evil intentions, I just feel like she is a desperate, out of control person in a lot of pain who continues to create chaos in our lives and we don’t deserve to be treated this way. I think it is hard for him to understand that I feel he is asking me to have a relationship with someone who continues to be psychologically abusive. He can’t see her that way, and she has convinced him to pressure me into acting warmly around her.  I can’t do that, and I’m not sure how to proceed... .She recently started acting happy and sweet again, but still messes with me whenever nobody is in the room to witness it. I don’t buy the sudden, inconsistent nice act, but everyone else feels the disaster has passed. Her impact is insidious, so I don’t think that’s accurate.

In tiny ways, my husband is starting to see me the way his mother wants him to (too sensitive), and he doesn’t seem aware of the way she is getting him to fulfill her perceptions by creating situations where I feel emotionally unsafe or trapped. The thing is, I fully own the fact that I am truly a sensitive person, and many years ago I recovered from PTSD, so that accusation is true. I feel like she is very good at finding my triggers, and I don’t want to give her the power to make me feel vulnerable, but it’s a process.  Even though I would love to have a poker face and a thick skin, I simply don’t.  I can’t change my awareness level, only my behavior.  At first I was trying to placate and please her, so she wouldn't create chaos around me, then I tried calmly telling her that what she did to me was not pleasant (I learned how to say it in her language), but that just made her do it more, so now when she acts out, I just look non-plussed and try my best to ignore her, but she 'wins' because I'm not smiling. I need to feel emotionally safe in my environment, so I continue to advocate for setting boundaries, despite intense resistance. Unfortunately, my husband was raised with some of her beliefs about open doors to all people however off, and boundaries being a very bad thing.  I'm a very private person, and I learned the hard way that boundaries are both desirable and necessary when around people who can't take responsibility for their treatment of others.  My husband sees this as something to fix, but I don't share his view.  I'm happy with who I am, and although I always want to grow and be better, I don't want to do emotional gymnastics to conform to other people's pressures.  I would like to learn how to deal with my undiagnosed MIL, and how to improve my own choices so my husband and I can grow from this exposure to her instead of getting more damaged.

I’m now so aware of the emotional manipulations going on around me that my B.S. detector goes off often. I have no idea what to do to make things better.  I am trying to spend less time feeling distressed about this, but so far, I have unfortunately reacted to this by becoming too frustrated and moody at home, which of course extends the problem and makes it my fault, too.  I’m trying to let go of the intense feelings of distress, and try to keep in mind that my perception is threatening a whole web of coping mechanisms people here have developed to protect themselves from an emotionally flailing matriarch, and I need to be patient.  I don’t believe that calmly accepting hostile behavior is an effective life strategy and every course of action seems to have undesirable consequences for people I care for. I’ve started reading books on the topic, but they all seem focused on verbal communication and my mother-in-law and I do not speak the same language.  I am communicating openly with those I can speak to directly. The people here are generally level headed but incredibly enmeshed, so my perspective is less rosy than theirs, and there is a lot of dissonance in our ideas about mental health.  The culture here seems fairly anti-psychology.  My primary objective is protecting my marriage.  I don’t like how this is impacting my relationship or daily life and I desperately want to figure out a course of action that can lead to some sort of return to normalcy.  I don’t want so much of my life to be focused on my mother in law.  I’m a sensitive person, and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but any reaction or lack of reaction I have seems to trigger negative consequences. Any ideas and suggestions are very welcome. Sorry for the long post.  I wasn't sure how much information to give, and I'm just so relieved to have found a forum where people might have some recommendations and constructive advice.
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Gender: Male
What is your sexual orientation: Straight
Who in your life has "personality" issues: Parent
Posts: 3482

« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2017, 07:40:57 AM »

Hi thedetails

Thanks for sharing all those details with us Smiling (click to insert in post)

Your MIL's behavior definitely sounds quite problematic. The fact that you live next door to her makes this situation even more difficult. Setting boundaries is indeed very important when dealing with BPD family-members. Communication techniques are helpful too, but an important thing about boundaries is that they don't necessarily have to be verbally communicated. Boundaries can also be enforced/defended in a non-verbal manner through your actions.

When you describe your husband, it sounds like he in many ways is very much in denial about his mother. Do you perhaps also feel like he behaves this way out of fear, obligation and/or guilt?

As you get started here, I encourage you to take a look at this thread:
BPD in-laws: Experiences and coping strategies

Many of our members have shared their experiences there dealing with BPD in-laws. They also describe some of their coping strategies which might be helpful to you too.

Welcome to our online community

The Board Parrot

Oh, give me liberty! For even were paradise my prison, still I should long to leap the crystal walls.

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Gender: Female
What is your sexual orientation: Straight
Who in your life has "personality" issues: Inlaw
What is your relationship status with them: married
Posts: 7

« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2017, 08:08:25 AM »

As you get started here, I encourage you to take a look at this thread:
BPD in-laws: Experiences and coping strategies

Hi The Board Parrot  ,

Thanks so much for reading through all of my messy situation and sharing your thoughts .  I definitely need to learn a lot more about non-verbal boundaries.  The ones I've set up for myself so far just seem to make her angry, so I'm probably not doing it right.  You're also 100% right about my husband being in denial.  He's completely swept up in the F.O.G.  I know I'll need to be very careful not to rush him as he finds his way into his own healing process.  Thanks too for the link to that thread.  I really appreciate it.  I'm going to go look through it right now.  I'm hungry to learn all the coping strategies ever invented.

Wishing you lots of joy,
the details
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