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Need advice about coping with internal strife

tryingjusttrying's picture

Hello all, Happy Easter to those who celebrate. I'm writing for advice about developing a sustainable attitude that would allow me to both cope with the stress of living part time with an unreliable SS, and still be able to keep my values in tact. I'm finding that the two are in conflict for me, and I was seeing if people could share more about how they manage internally.

There's a few components to this that add to my internal strife. My SS is on uber good behavior mode this weekend. He's not ignoring me, and even initiated a conversation, and he hasn't been defiant either overtly or covertly. It's odd because he and his girlfriend broke up last week which he apparently took hard. They've been together a year and a half, was super intense (talked about getting married at 17), and were highly codependent with each other. Honestly, I thought they were enmeshed in an unhealthy way. But this weekend, it's as though it was nothing at all. He said he's already past it. And he's uber calm and good, as I said. It makes having him here easier in one way, but actually, since I know there's another side to him, it doesn't ease my peace of mind. It actually adds to my internal strife because I start to question and doubt my own thoughts and impressions. I am prone to feeling guilty, so I'm always on the verge of feeling like maybe it's my problem and not his. And so when he's like this, it makes me question myself even more.

Another component is that I have been feeling super crappy about how much animosity I feel towards him. Even, again, while he's showing good behavior, I have highly critical thoughts, about him being being a liar and sneaky, etc. I find myself hoping he suffers some consequences etc., and so I find myself hoping he fails in this and that. In a way, it would be good for him to get some real consequences. But it really grates against my soul to be someone who roots against another person. By the way, if I start to feel this way about someone at work or wherever, I would typically walk away and try to understand that person, but from a distance. But it is so hard to do that when you have to be in the same home almost 24/7 with said person.

I was at church today feeling like I don't really belong. As a community, we try our best to love, forgive, and understand. I do know the many reasons why I can't feel joy around my SS. He's done some crappy things to me. I'm not saying I'm not justified in feeling the way I do. But if I could choose, just for my own peace of mind and my own sense of decency, I would not harbor all of this animosity and resentment. It weighs me down so much to carry that around with me.

But I go around in circles: How can I feel loving and kind when I'm in protective, defensive mode? If I'm wary and worried about what SS could do next, it just makes me vigilant and unable to be open and flexible. But this is where I'm hoping you all would have advice. Can you share some thoughts that have helped you to strike a balance between your sanity and integrity? Allows you to feel secure in yourself but also open to both the good and the bad of a person?

Rumplestiltskin's picture

Forgive yourself for your thoughts. Anyone would feel the way you do if treated badly. Especially if their partner doesn't protect them from this treatment. Focus on your actions. Are you polite and respectful? If so, congratulate yourself. That's hard to do when others treat you badly. As far as wishing him ill, one thing that keeps me wishing the SDs in my life happiness and success is that i know if they are happy and successful, they won't be a burden on my SO and therefore won't be a burden on me if we get married. Does that make me a saint? Nope, but it works for me. 

ESMOD's picture

Absolutely this.  You don't have to love him.. you don't have to approve of him.  You do have to co-exist with him.. and for that.. be thankful for the respite from his overtly toxic attitude.  Maybe he has turned a leaf... maybe he hasn't.  It doesn't mean you have to change your underlying feelings about him.

But.. disengaging from a kid who is almost 18.. and hopefully will be launched in some near time is probably the best you can do.  I agree with hoping for the best since it means he will be more likely to launch if he has success.  It makes it easier on you in the end.  


Elea's picture

I tell my DH that before my feelings about SD's change, I will have to see them have changed, improved actions and behavior over an extended period of time. Not just 2 or 3 days of improvement here or there or throwing a bone our way from time to time but long-term, continuously appropriate behavior. Until then I have no faith in SD's whatsoever. Actions speak louder than words. While we're at it, I would also like an apology.

For myself and many other's, I think the main reason we as SM's have a lot of negative thoughts about our SK's is because our SK's are really god awful people. We think they are sneaky, rude, ill mannered, raised by wolves, the product of guilty/permissive parenting, lack social graces, passive/aggressive and so on because THEY ARE. They've never once said "sorry" for any mean, nasty behavior or word they have said to us. At least mine hasn't.

Perhaps my SDiablas's are a little better with strangers and outsiders than they are with us (or BM) but they still tend to be solitary loners. They can't get or keep a boyfriend. They complain to DH about turbulant peer friendships. For example, OSD's friends got sick of her being overbearing, judgemental and intense.

I feel guilty about how much I dislike my SK's too but my goal is to allow myself to have those feelings without judging them. There is nothing wrong with having feelings. Try to give yourself grace to feel what you feel and hopefully let it pass. (It hasn't passed for me yet but maybe one day?)

Try to find places and people with whom you can be your genuine, true self, the person that you want to be. That can be with your own friends and family or volunteer or get involved in something with someone, anyone, other than and away from your SK. Do something that you can do to remember and feel good about the generous, kind, loving person that you are.

My advice is that when thoughts about SK's or BM become too repetitive, consciously chose to think about something else or do something that distracts your mind from lingering on them.

Maybe you should find a new church?

Elea's picture

I came back to add that IMO the broken family court system is a big part of the problem as to why divorced families end up as f*ed up as they do. It is a monetary system that increases conflict and incintivizes bad behavior by one or both parents. There is no reason that child custody and money should be so closely tied together but as of right now, except for in the most of amicable of divorces there is a big monetary component of divorces that include children. Much more so than divorce without kids. It needs to change IMO and it's not the SK's fault that our system creates major dysfunction in divorced families. It would help to decrease child support or eliminate it when possible and it would also help if lawyers and everything else court related wasn't so freaking pricy.

tryingjusttrying's picture

Thanks for your reply, Elea. I very much relate to the things you said. Like my SS, your SKs probably objectively have problems stemming from inconsistent parenting, so it's not like I'm making things up in order to demonize him. There are issues there. And so long as there is, I'm going to have reactions to them, and they're going to reflect SS's behaviors which are antagonistic and negative. Sometimes I can accept that, but many times, I find that I'm gaslighting myself for even having these hostile reactions, but it helps a lot to get feedback from other SPs who have gone through similar experiences.

CajunMom's picture

From your post, you attend church, as I do. So, we have our "religion" in our ear, so to speak. In the area of forgiveness, the church has had serious mis-steps with it's "forgive and forget" mentality over the past decades. But that mindset is changing.

I'm going to suggest 2 books that have been instrumental in my healing from some serious toxic treatment over the past 17 years (and I hope help you with that unwarranted guilt you are experiencing). Forgiving What You Can't Forget, & Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa Terkeurst. Major points: #1. Forgiveness is commanded in our faith and it only takes one...the offended person. Reconcilliation takes TWO people willing to do the WORK to restore a broken relationship. Many relationships will never be restored and that is okay.  #2 Boundaries are GOOD; they don't have to be walls...just a good solid boundary. #3. I only give of my heart to those who have shown trustworthiness with what I have already given. 

Things got really bad here in 2018 and I haven't seen most of DHs kids since then. This past year, we've had a few interactions and I see more in the future. Still...I do NOT trust DHs kids and I will NOT subject myself to their behaviors ever again. As long as all parties are respectful to each other, that's all I want. It's not my place to look for the "good or bad" in them...just take them at face value and protect myself appropriately. We are humans that would never be friends in any other situation, so I go with "civil and superficial." I care about them as I care for all humanity....not wishing ill on anyone but we will never be close and personal. And I'm okay with it intelectually and spiritually.  The two interactions in our home - I was civil, offered drinks, said a few pleasantries and excused myself to do other things....letting DH visit with his kids. 

I hope some of my story helps you. I know those struggles you are having personally (with the guilt and emotions). Please know you aren't wrong or bad for your feelings and's natural for what we've been through. Wishing you the best.

tryingjusttrying's picture

Thanks so much for your post and book recommendation. I'm on it! I very much appreciated your comment about it not being your place to look for the good or bad, and that since you'd never seek out a friendship with SKs, then the attitude of polite civility is as much as can be expected. I am very close with my nephews, and I have always taken a care/guardian type attitude to children and teens (for example, I lead a youth group). So being merely polite with SS also makes me feel guilty because I'm used to do more for the young people in my life. I feel guilty even though he rejects my offers of help!

I do not trust SS at all. The over the top niceness this weekend was temporary, and I know it is. I have to stop questioning my own judgment since it is based on real, habitual patterns of behavior.

Harry's picture

You were being disrespected by SS.  Someone who disrespect me I would feel the same. Just because he a SS Does not remove all of his responsibilities. Yo you and the world.  You just dintblove a SS because of his father.  He must earn it 

At some point in my life I came to the realization that emotions are good. That I was jealous of her past relationship.  She and her ex could  just go to McDonald fir a hamburger before chrildren.  Me. It's was a major thing, getting a babysitter, leaving instructions,  the babu=ysitter costed more then the hamburger.  That I miss the big wedding,  she had.  She had a big wedding , No one woukf pay for the second wedding . With three kids and no support, food was the major problem, not a wedding.  

ImperfectlyPerfect's picture

I understand this completely. I have a similar situation with one of my adult SSs. He's insincere, doesn't apologize when he does horrible things, attacks - blames and shames. He moved out and boomranged back - it was painful. After he left the second time my numbness turned to red hot anger at his selfish and horrible behavior. He held me personally responsible for everything wrong in his life. It took years for me to process the anger and realize it was abuse. Afterall he was a child for much of the time I helped raise him but now he is a large grown adult male. His behavior hasn't changed but my attitude and how I conduct myself has. Not sure this will be the same path you are on and it's extremely hard when they are in the house but start figuring out how when he comes to adult age you set him free and set yourself free. I have a feeling there will be quite a bit of relief for you when he leaves and a sense of peace. Count down the days. Don't feel bad or guilty. This guy is takign from you and not treating right or respectfully. Spend time making sure he has a plan and is out. 

My experience is they don't really get better with age or mellow out - so far they've kind of stayed the same with their bad behavior but I am not subjected to it on regular basis. I also very happily opt in and out of things that don't suit me. I just stopped trying to be it all for them and I view them as guests that I respect but I don't place a lot of emotional energy into them. I also accept after over a decade that they don't have concern for me, love or even care. They don't and they probably never will. I am simply a vehicle to get what they want or an obstacle if they don't get what they want. 

I still have my moments of anger and frustration but I work hard to realize that this is a missed opportunity for them, less so for me. Give yourself a HUGE break and pour the love into you. 

Rags's picture

You gift yourself joy by living your best life.  You can do all of that while being clear on what and who SS-17 is. He has shown you who he is. Believe him.  These types rarely if ever change.  Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance/behavior.  He has proven this. He will prove it again, more likely than not.

No need to beat yourself up over SS's behaviors. Even when he is on his temporary best behavior, he is still a liar and still a sneak.  Those are behaviors he has repeatedly perpetrated against you and who knows who else and how many of them.

Forgiveness does not mean you forget or that you continuously serve yourself up to their toxic behaviors.

There is nothing for you to forgive yourself of IMHO. He has earned neither forgiveness nor forgetting his repeat toxicity.   Faith does not mean you abandon intellect and reality.  So, don't.  

Our greatest gift as a species is intellect. Use it.

Don't doubt yourself and for sure do not tolerate him to undermine your own best life, joy, happiness, and confidence.  You know him, you know the truth. Make him live that truth.

Regarding your concern with your Church community. There are any number of scriptures that emplore protection from evil doers.  Remember intellect and free will.  Though not a scripture, God does protect those who protect themselves. So, do for yourself what God has indicated will be done for you. Psalm 140 is the primary biblical reference that I am aware of on dealing with dipshit evil people. So, deal with SS.  Help God help you.

IMHO of course.

Living well is also the best revenge. Enjoy both living your best life, and having that life exact a just and pointed revenge.


tryingjusttrying's picture

I want to thank everyone for their comments. I read through them all closely. I think forgiveness and boundaries are the two main takeaways to focus on because I can't see a way to change either my SS's behavior or my natural responses to them. Two other very helpful pieces of advice were to remember that SS's success also means that it will be more likely that he launches, which though in a twisted way does incentivize rooting for him. And also, Imperfectly Perfect's thoughts really made me feel heard. Yes, SS will always only see me as a useful tool or a block towards his own goals, but he's not going to care about me as a person. He barely shows love and care towards his own parents. I can opt in or out of participation, totally up to me, and I don't have to feel obligated to do more.

By the way, I just want to make it clear that SS did not turn a new leaf. I know and knew that his over the top niceness this weekend was temporary. It's not totally fake, it's not like he had an agenda, but he has this very narcissistic/codependent personality. I know that some people would not put those two personality types together, but I'm finding that they do belong together because either way, SS lives and dies by the attention of others. His niceness had to do with some psychological need on his part to draw me and dh into giving him time and attention to make up for recent interpersonal losses. Ironically, the need for attention is so strong in him that he can't even stand by his dislike of me. He was asking my opinions, asking questions, and super interested in what I had to say. Before this, I don't think he's ever asked me a single question about anything, including 'how are you?' I've seen it in the reverse most usually - SS frequently declines or abandons plans with his dad (and/or with me) if his friends or girlfriend wanted to do something with him, even something quite trivial.

But, his girlfriend and he broke up a few weeks ago, and this weekend, I overheard some phone conversations in which I learned that SS was having some trouble with his friends. I honestly have wondered how SS has managed to keep his friends from middle school, who are all nice, hard-working, good kids. I've seen SS do some crappy things to his friends - there are two friends in particular that he bullied. Both of them forgave SS after some profuse apologizing and backpedaling by SS. That's SS's MO with his friends. His friends will blow up once in a while because he created some type of drama, but they always forgive (SS is so good at talking and is so persuasive). I think he was popular among them in middle school because he was the "crazy one" and his friends were fascinated by his boldness. But now that they're about to graduate HS and more mature, I don't know if they'll be as tolerant of SS's antics.

But the fact that SS had so many good kids as friends and a conscientious, hard-working girlfriend contributed to my self gaslighting because it was evidence to my guilty conscience that I was making up all sorts of stuff in order to demonize SS. But his trouble with relationships of late remind me that others do see what I do too. They might be able to tolerate it more for various reasons. But that's also a part of my turmoil - I have to search and seek evidence that supports my point of view which keeps me focused on SS instead of myself. I also appreciate that advice by Rags - to focus on my own sources of joy. Because whether anyone else shares my reactions or not, even if I'm alone in them, I need to stop doubting myself and accept my feelings instead of gaslight myself.


MorningMia's picture

Gaslighting yourself -- I'm so glad you said that because it appears that this is exactly what you have been doing.  It's easy to do. And I agree with what everyone has said. It's so hard to be a good person, to truly want what is best, and then to be confronted with some of the worst, hurtful behavior in others. It's especially hard because people like us DO question ourselves. I hate that! Your reactions are normal.
I made the mistake of letting my guard down a number of times with my skids. At one point, SS was calling me to discuss his issues with a girlfriend. But after each time of thinking things had changed, believing that maybe there was a relationship there, my hopes were stomped on.
It's really hard to accept that some people just are the way they are, and that only long-term change will prove otherwise. But it's also such a relief to accept what you see as real and to move on from there. Disengagement has helped my mental health and sense of serenity enormously! 

tryingjusttrying's picture

Thanks Morningmia. I do question myself. In this process, I'm learning to stand up for myself, which will be a good thing for me in general. I think I read that giving people the benefit of the doubt was biologically ingrained in us. It works against you when you're confronted with unreliable people.

BanksiaRose's picture

Neuroplasticity (brain can adapt and change throughout life, depending on nurture/environment), genetics, early developmental experiences can be overridden - all these ideas took off so much that we're completely in denial about some people never changing no matter what. 

Popular psychologists/ psychiatrists and academics flood us with all these amazing stories of feral creatures becoming kind-hearted, intelligent, contributing members of society. Yet, this is a percentage of all feral kids born to feral parents. The ones that had all professional, world-class resources thrown at them. And even then only some succeed, while others go down the drain. All these stories are political, serving those selling a new method, technique or approach - we must remember that. 
It is easy constantly being bombarded by  these success stories to believe that if you do A, you will get B, but it's not so linear. Some people are genetically predisposed to little or no empathy, impulsivity, anger and inability to connect and no amount of love and kindness will put these qualities into them.

Rags's picture

Oh yes. THe pseudo science syndrome of the month in the publish or parish not really science "professions".

Sadly, the great and professional therapists who are worth their weight in gold are polluted by association in sharing a career with the the "look at meeeee" hacks who seem to be a huge majority in that space.


tryingjusttrying's picture

That's an interesting take, Banksiarose. I agree with what you're saying. I'm not sure whether SS's behaviors are "genetally predisposed" or from nurture, but at a certain point, certain characteristics in personality and temperament become rigid whatever the origin, so the effect is the same. I definitely need to accept a certain range of behaviors as fact, so that I go forward with trust in my grasp of reality. SS is not going to admit any responsibility, so I have to use my judgement and not constantly qestion myself even if it is the latest expert opinion. Something to really think about.