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OT -- Am I obliged?

marblefawn's picture

I had a blowup with my mother a year ago. I realized then that the family dynamic I'd lived with all my life was bad for me and I wanted to change it after the blowup, but how do you change an entire miserable family?

My mother refused to clear the air with me -- she flat out told me she would not discuss it.

So I disengaged from my mother -- just for a little while at first, then it became a year because it just felt so damn good. Because my sister also played a silent role in the blowup, I also disengaged from her. No big loss -- I only heard from her when she felt like it and it usually sucked for me because...she's exactly like my mother.

Although this fight didn't involve other family members, everyone has avoided me for a year without explanation. Because I took a stand? Because I'm stirring the pot? Not sure why -- I never discussed any of it with anyone except my mother. (My mother is a classic narcissist and borderline personality -- I'm sure she poisoned the well and they fell into line against me like the good little soldiers a narcissist counts on to keep the power!)

So for a year, my husband and I have not been invited to any family gatherings, got no holiday cards, I have no idea where anyone spent the holidays or what they did for's as if my husband and I stopped existing.

Now my niece is pregnant with her first kid. They always know where to find me at gift time, so I received an invitation from my sister-in-law for the shower this sister-in-law who has not reached out to me once in a year...

Am I obliged to go to this shower? I am on good terms with my niece, but she doesnt' bother with me since her wedding. I don't want to sit with my mother and sister, but I won't know anyone else there. I haven't seen my sister and mother in a year. This would not be the best venue for a reunion that will be chilly at best.

If I don't go, I'm sure everyone in my family will treat it as me just being petty, and then extended family will probably hear what a shit I am too for not going. It will DEFINITELY offend my sister-in-law, who thinks everyone should be there to celebrate her kids whenever she sends out the call, but my sister-in-law has avoided me for a year, so why should I be uncomfortable for even a moment on her account?

I'll add this. The people who will be offended if I don't go could have reached out to me at any time over the past year to keep me part of the family. They might have even tried to mend this rift between my mother and me if celebrations like this are so important to them. They didn't.

And here's the other thing. Emotionally, I don't know if I could even make it through the shower. Since I've disengaged from my family, my head has been host to a lot of thoughts I never had before and it's all been overwhelming. I'm not ready to face those people, especially alone.

For a year, everyone in my family has quietly taken sides against me. Now they want to be one big happy family because they have something to celebrate and they want warm bodies there to cheer on the procreators. Would appreciate any thoughts on what my obligation is. Thanks!


Siemprematahari's picture

Growing up you never think your family can be toxic but some are and I've learned that it's ok to disengage and remove yourself from those dynamics in order to save yourself. Whether its family, friends, coworkers, need to take care of you.

You see from stepping away how much peace you have been feeling. I know its tough because the rest of the family takes sides and they have their own perspectives on things but this is your life Marble. People will always have their opinions but this is about you and healing yourself. Regardless of what others think do you want to go to this shower? If you feel it will set you back and trigger you I wouldn't recommend it. Do some soul searching and dig deep. You are not ever obligated to do ANYTHING you dont' want to do, especially if it physically, mentally, and emotionally impacts you.

Wishing you much peace, clarity, and healing.

ladybug3's picture

You are absolutely not obligated. I went through almost the same thing except with my brother. He is an extreme narcissist, and we stopped talking to each other after I got married. I feel so free not havin to engage with him, and it sounds like you're the same way. Because I stopped talking to him, he went around and ruined my reputation with all of our mutual friends, and there were a lot of them. It hurt at first, but now I don't care. If people want to buy the b.s. of a mentally ill person, let them. And don't let them take advantage of you when they want something. 

I'm a firm believer that if you haven't gotten an apology, nothing has really changed. They'll all take sides against you somewhere down the road, so just spare yourself the frustration. 

hereiam's picture

No, you are not obligated.

I have a dysfunctional family, as well. Last year, I heard through the grapevine that my SIL was pregnant. Did anybody actually call me and give me the news? Nope. Not my brother (technically, half brother), not his mom, not my dad, not SIL, nobody. But I sure received an invitation to the baby shower. For a baby that I wasn't even told about.

I did not go. I did respond that I was unable to attend but that was it (didn't send a gift, either). And I don't feel bad about it. I have nothing, personally, against my brother or his wife but it just showed me how much I am thought of as "family" and it's not a lot.

I did family things for years out of obligation and frankly, I'm tired of it. I'm only family when it suits them, like when they want to show off what a great blended family we are (haha). I'm done.

Aniki's picture

Of course you are not obligated! These people have not been in contact with you in a year. They know NOTHING about your current situation, real obligations, or commitments.

So... DON'T GO. Send a small, thoughtful gift IF you want to. If not, send a card. You are under no obligation to attend NOR give them any explanation as to why you are NOT attending.

I'm certain your narc mother has spread her own BS version of events and the sheeple have either bought into her lies are are too intimidated to rock the boat. Don't destroy your peace for toxic people.

Evil3's picture

My parents consisted of my extremely narcissistic father and BPD/NPD mother. I went NC for several years before my mother's passing and have never looked back. NC is pretty much all you can do with this cluster of personality disorders because they find ways to destroy people around them. They're really good at gaslighting and laying on the guilt and making the person who decided to go NC in order to save themselves, feel guilty.

These people could have reached out to you, but they didn't. Do not fall for any guilt if you decide to stay away. Do what you want and don't fall for any guilt trips or gaslighting. If you want, mail a card to your niece, but don't fork out any dough for a gift for someone who is an adult and could have reached out to you. You had a blow up with your mother and sister and no one offered you support. I say f*ck 'em.

If you're having a hard time with guilt or just thinking about the event when it's on, take yourself to do something that you enjoy. Go for a walk on the beach, go to a cafe and try an expensive, funky latte, go to chocolate shops or do a Netflix binge with junk food. Whatever suits YOUR fancy. Hugs! You have support here, so if you really get down, come here and vent and we'll have your back.

futurobrillante99's picture

I would just chuck the invite in the trash and if asked, say you never got it. End of story.

Kes's picture

The "black sheep" of a dysfunctional family is usually the one that is most psychologically healthy, and won't accept all the BS that is propogated by the rest of the clan. Just saying.   Of course you are not obliged to go, nor are you obliged to apologise for not going.  Saying to the person who issued the invitation, that you will not be going, is fine. 

marblefawn's picture

I hope I am getting healthier, Kes. I am trying to understand what was, apparently, a more traumatic childhood and family dynamic than it seemed before I disengaged a year ago. All this insight is flooding in and I can't get through a day without breaking down lately.

I want to own my part of the problems and make sense of today's rift and the history, but I don't have anyone to ask if I'm wrong or way off base.

Since this happened, I am seeing things so clearly and it's so frightening and painful. Years ago I went to therapy briefly about some work and boyfriend issues -- NOT about my mother. But somehow the subject of my childhood came up and I told her a little. She concluded, "Well, you didnt' feel safe in your childhood home." I thought the woman was nuts because I wasn't talking about my dad beating me or there not being food to eat.

Now it makes sense.

Gimlet's picture

I get this on so many levels, marblefawn.

I have been in therapy for a long time and with the support of my therapist, my husband,and some lovely women I met on this board, in the past two years have gone no/very low contact with my family.  For anyone who tries to make me feel guilty about it with their "oh, but it's your family" bullshit, they can go piss on a sparkplug.  Family dysfunction is generally not limited to one or two people, it's a whole family culture.  When they see someone "defect", they cannot understand it or they resent it.  You've removed something from them - whether it's being "the responsible one" or "the black sheep" or their whipping boy.  So in moving away from your mother and sister, you've violated the family norms.

Safety isn't just not being beaten.  It's the second level on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and it also includes emotional security and personal well-being.  Because of my childhood and family, safety is super important to me.  Being in relationships where you do not feel secure in them or feel safe expressing your needs is not going to satisfy your need for safety.  

It's probably flooding through because it's hard to see from the inside.  With more distance, the cracks become more apparent.  I have told my husband stories that I thought were mostly normal, and he has looked at me and said "Gimlet, that's f*cked up".   And because you iternalized those norms, it's hard to see where they have affected your life.

So my vote, clearly, is do not go. If you choose to retain or reform relationships with the healthy people inside your family, do so.  But I would not subject myself to an event that would be this stressful for you, with people who don't make you feel safe or cared for.  Send a gift if you want to.

Keep going to therapy.  You will untangle all this, you will find a new normal, and you will be happier for it.  

And by the way, I still love my family.  I just have to love them from a distance.

ndc's picture

You're not obligated.  I find it rude when people who can't include you in their usual celebrations and events manage to send an invitation when there's a gift grab opportunity.  If you want to go, go.  If you don't want to go, decline.  If you want to maintain a good relationship with the niece, send a gift.  If you don't care, don't bother.  I personally would not go to an event where I'd feel awkward or uncomfortable, or where I'd be forced to be with relatives I did not care to spend time with.


24 years as a SM's picture

I have a very large extended family that I haven't contacted for over 17 years, they are the most dysfunctional group of people I have ever seen. They love to draw everyone into their drama and expect the whole family to pick a side in a stupid family feud. I want nothing to do with any of them. The only time I hear from any of them is for something that involves giving a gift or a death in the family. I receive birthday, baby showers, & anniversary invitations for cousins, aunts & uncles, nieces & nephews, with a list of items the person is wanting. I don't respond to any of this crazy entitled crap.

Every once in awhile, one will call to let me know that a family member has passed away, no information about funeral services, just the person has passed away. all I say to them is sorry for your loss, please pass my condolences onto the family. I usually get the big, F.U. and they hang up. It's not worth putting yourself back into the drama.

Capricorn63's picture

If I called an estranged person from my family to inform them that a family person has passed away, and I got the response of 

"sorry for your loss" I would be so dumbfounded that I would think the person has the coldest heart on the planet.

I don't care who it is - the death of a family member deserves an acknowledgement of passing, memorial note about a good memory, monetary contribution to the charity of their choice, something.....anything.

My sister when she disengages is like that.  She thinks everyone else is dysfunctional, but she is actually the one that has 4 mental illnesses and personality disordered. 

I think the most important thing on the planet is Love.  Showing that you have that feeling and emotion is important, even to people that you feel don't deserve it/

24 years as a SM's picture

17 years ago, I called most of my extended family, when my father died to let them know and the location of the funeral services. Almost everyone of them responded with something along the line of, "Did he leave me anything?" , "I am not driving 2 hours for a funeral if he didn't leave me anything" , "Sinces he gone, I would like his XXXX, you don't have any use for it", "Your dad promised to leave me some money when he kicked the bucket, so when can I pick up that money" So if that makes me a the coldest hearted person on the planet, Oh well. 

Capricorn63's picture

dysfunction all around I guess. That response is not right either.

BethAnne's picture

Don't go if you don't want to go. You are not obligated to be anywhere, being an adult though you can realise that where you go can have consequences. If you go, it sounds like you will have an awkward time. If you do not go then the family will see that you are continuing to ignore them and stay away, they may make their own judgements as to why. 

I am not sure though how you can blame your SIL for not reaching out to you when you did not reach out to her. If you do not like your SIL that is fine, but to me it doesn't seem healthy to project your resentment at your mother on the rest of the family that you have been ignoring equally as much as they have ignored you. 

You do not know what everyone is thinking because you have not heard from them or reached out to them yourself. If you are happy to continue being outside of the family circle then stick with your guns, it seems to be working for your mental health. If you want some contact and inclusion from indivudual family members then you are as equally responsible for reaching out to them as they are to you. 

If you want a middle ground, send a card and/or a gift directly to your neice. It doesn't have to cost a fortune, but does show that you are thinking of her. Equally, if you like the neice you could give her an excuse for the baby shower but meet up with her for coffee or something to catch up with her another time. 

marblefawn's picture

I did not disengage from everyone in my family -- only my mother and sister, and I do like my SIL, so I have reached out several times over the last year, but there is a real chill in the air. I suggest getting dinner or getting together, but it just never happens anymore. I haven't asked their "feelings" on my fight with my mother because it has nothing to do with them -- I won't put them in the middle.

So why this chill is in the air with other family members who have nothing to do with this disagreement? I don't know.

I specifically reached out to my SIL less than a year ago when she had surgery. I offered to do "anything" she needed -- cook, clean, drive her, keep her company. She lives an hour away, so I can't just pop over there, but I was willing to do whatever she needed. She graciously said she didn't need anything. That's the last time I heard from her.

I typically talk more with my brother, but he's been distant since this happened. We still talk, but he never took me up on any offers to get together. What more can I do?

When the holidays or events came around in the past, someone usually floats an idea, someone passes the info onto others and the plan is made. It is rarely at my house because all the other women compete to have it at their houses, so I don't even attempt to have anything at my house. It's a pissing match. Still, no one ever called me about anyone's plans. I sent everyone holidays cards, as I always do, even my parents, and got none back.

When my father got sick, my brother wrote me an email to let me know and opened with, "I don't want to get in between you and mom, but she wanted me to let you know dad is in the hospital." I greatly resented the insinuation that I had put anyone in the middle of anything -- he needs to put that manipulative shit right where it belongs -- on his mother. I had never even mentioned the argument with my mother to anyone! I very kindly wrote back to my brother that I had not put him in the middle of anything and what happened with my mother has nothing to do with him and I'd no intention of it having a negative effect on my relationship with my brother or his family. I reminded him that for decades, I was the one in most contact with my parents so I always let everyone know when someone was sick and it was never considered anything more than considerate -- passing along important information was never regarded as "getting in the middle" of anything. So this was telling to me.

I never heard back from him, but I did contact my parents regarding my father's illness because I thought it was the right thing to do. And that was that.


BethAnne's picture

Ok, so this gives a different version than was implied in your OP. You are in control of your side of relationships. Choose to do what you want and accept the consequences. It seems like not going will keep you out of a difficult situation and avoid confrontation/awkwardness but will not give you and your familily a chance of starting to re-build relationships right now and may cause them to judge you. Neither choice is good or bad, they are just different. You know what you want to do, I think that you are not quite ready to accept the consequence of not attending and want permission to decline the invitation. 

marblefawn's picture

I don't feel in control of anything. I feel as if I got the consequences either way because they're already giving me the shaft and the shower hasn't even happened yet!

My big power move was telling my mother last year, no, it's not OK for you to treat me this way. She stopped talking to me. When we finally talked again, I tried to be a big girl and asked her if we could talk about the rift and how to avoid similar things in the future because they are painful to me. She would not engage in that discussion.

I told her if she refused to talk about it to find a new way to resolve things in the future, I didn't know when I could reengage with her because going on as things were was too painful to me. It didn't matter. She would not talk.

So that was my big-girl move, my healthy-person move, my I READ OPRAH MAGAZINE move.

But instead of this improved communication and dynamic with my mother, I got chucked by everyone else.

Things got out of my control almost as soon as I tried to take some control.

Aniki's picture

Toxic people don't like it when their targets take control of their own lives. You have removed her sick pleasure by refusing to tolerate her toxic crap. 

You do what you need to do to keep the poison at bay.

Capricorn63's picture

I don't get it.  You are the one that had a blow up with your mom.  You are the one that disengaged from the family and everyone in it.

In my family, when someone disengages ( usually my sister ) no one contacts, invites, etc. until She is ready to resume family relations.  So that is exactly what happens when you disengage.  Your wishes are accepted.

It sounds to me like you got into a family rift, you think the family is dysfunctional, you disengaged and now you want everyone to provide you attention and try to bring you back into life. - Oh hell no!

Look all families have their issues, good and bad.  But that is what it is about, family!.  I personally would base my decision about going to this shower on the relationship and bond that you have with your niece.  Nothing wrong with showing up, giving her a hug and congratulations, handing her a present and telling her that you had another commitment.

I actually have a niece graduation party this weekend that I am invited too.  This nieces mom has informed me that my BF is not invited to her events any longer because he made a joke in bad taste to my SIL.  I will be more than happy to show up for my niece with a grad present, give her a hug, tell her I am proud of her and let her know that I can't stay.

marblefawn's picture

It sounds to me like you got into a family rift, you think the family is dysfunctional, you disengaged and now you want everyone to provide you attention and try to bring you back into life. - Oh hell no!

Perhaps I was unclear or perhaps I don't see myself clearly.

I disengaged only from my mother and sister -- after an argument only with my mother. It was not a "family rift."

I am happy for your perspective, Capricorn, so PLEASE help me understand this: tell me how I am seeking attention (or anything) from them. What exactly did I write that made you think I want their attention? What did I ask them for in the last year? I thought I was being careful not to ask and not to expect from them in the last year, (which is what they usually manage to deliver), so please tell me what you see that looks like me asking because that is not the appearance I want to give.

And likewise, Capricorn, PLEASE tell me what I wrote that would make you say I expect them to "bring (me) back into life?" While I'm not sure exactly what that means, I am so very clearly NOT asking them for a thing, so I was surprised by your interpretation that I am attention seeking and asking them "back into life."

And yea, they are dysfunctional.

Step lightly's picture

If you want a diplomatic out, say you can’t go but send a nice card/small thoughtful gift to the expectant parents. You don’t have issues with your niece who’s having the baby right? But you guys aren’t particularly close either? 

If other family members gossip, you’re really only confirming that it was the right call to remove that toxicity from your life.

I know it doesn’t make it easier though. Hugs.

marblefawn's picture

Thanks, everyone. I think the advice is good and useful...of course, you did kind of tell me what I wanted to hear!