Helicopter parenting – This is a fearful parenting style where a parent is overprotective and takes an excessive interest in the life of their child. You might have your life totally together but the way your parent carries on, it’s as if you cannot cope or that the world is an unsafe place. You may feel as if you need to hide aspects of your life to keep the drama levels down. This can also be a source of tension if the TFM does it with their own child and is annoyed with you because you’ve said something about it or criticises your own style of parenting.
Hoarding up problems for a rainy day – Think everything’s going alright with a TFM and then boom!, they hit you with a list of grievances that they’ve been storing up. It’s very possible that they save it up for when things are going really well in your life.
Hot potato blaming – Resistance to taking responsibility and focusing on blame and the problem instead of the solution. Something goes wrong, the TFM does something wrong, whatever it is, the blame is thrown around like a hot potato. You’ll either encounter this issue with someone who just never takes responsibility for anything so no matter what you say, the blame is bounced elsewhere or, you can have families that just bounce it around to each other.
Historical abuse – The abuse is hopefully no longer going on but there is a history of emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse. It might be the white elephant in the room that is never spoken about or everyone’s aware of it (or key people are) but no one talks about it and tries to pretend that it’s in the past, which it might be figuratively but it certainly isn’t emotionally plus the effects are very present. A big source of tension is when the person who abused you doesn’t truly recognise what they’ve done or what you’ve been through (or does but rationalises, excuses or even denies it) and almost has a sense of entitlement that you should treat and regard them like a parent/relative who didn’t do those things. Another big source is you experiencing the side effects of abuse through your self-esteem and choices for instance, in romantic partners – there will be underlying hurt, resentment and anger around this. If some family members went through similar, e.g. siblings or a parent, but they’re all pretending that it didn’t happen, this is very isolating and triggers a sense of abandonment. You might find that relatives from previous generations have a very old school attitude to abuse because things that are not acceptable now in society (although still an issue) were allowed back then and if not allowed, certainly turned a blind eye to. A TFM who has this attitude might not be the person who abused you but they might be a pain in the backside because they are dismissive of your experience or keep telling you what you ‘should’ be doing, so they tell you to forget about the past or to stop trying to address issues and basically do what can appear to be advocating for the abuser. Don’t be surprised though if part of the TFMs lack of empathy is about their own experiences of abuse that they’ve rationalised. If the TFM abused you in the past but it’s not known about by other relatives so you have been living with the pain throughout your life, seeing that person playing happy families or acting as if they haven’t done what they did will keep reopening the wound and even bring up the shame that really should belong to them.
Image-obsessed – It’s the whole, “What will the neighbours think?” attitude. Families that are excessively concerned with how things look to everyone else invariably don’t care enough about how things are, concealing big problems, secrets etc., that can leave you struggling to fit in and feeling as if you cannot be yourself.
Insensitivity – We’re all guilty of being insensitive at times but somebody who consistently shows and feels a lack of concern for you has empathy issues although ironically, might be highly sensitive about what is said to them but have low regard for the feelings of others.
Jealousy – Feeling resentful of someone for their achievements of whatever they’re being or doing. They might feel as if you’re encroaching on something that belongs to them. They might feel angry that you have or are doing something that they think they should be doing.
Lies – These are deliberately false statements. Regardless of the intention, they do mislead people and be very destabilising. A TFM might tell lies that quite simply leave you unable to trust them or they might tell lies on you. They’re likely to be prone to drip-feeding, telling you as much as they think you need to know but telling you that it’s the whole truth and then dripping you some more of the truth when they get caught out.
Lack of discipline – Relatives often fall out due to differences of opinion about discipline, often resulting from an issue with one of their children which someone else (e.g. you) was affected by, that they didn’t address and because whatever happened was pretty big or it is a recurring issue, tensions have mounted. They may feel judged and you might feel as if you’re the big bad wolf.
Making sense out of nonsense – Trying to rationalise the irrational and treating the irrational as if it’s rational. You might be trying to rationalise the TFM’s irrational behaviour or they might be trying to be inappropriate while claiming that it’s legit.
One-sided conversations – Calling you up, demanding that they have their say first and then hanging up the phone, only liking the sound of their own voice, being unwilling to actually engage in conversation and hear you out.
Overbearing – The TFM puts you under a lot of emotional pressure, possibly with emotional blackmail or being too up in your business and treating you like a child. They may project their irrational fears on to you. A person can also be physically overbearing which a bad case of bad boundaries.
Over-giving – If you don’t know your own boundaries, you may have given too much to a particular family member who you now feel takes advantage of what may be combination of low self-worth and giving to receive (an element of people pleasing), which results in resentment. They might be an over-giver and may feel as if you’ve taken advantage of them. You may not have been aware where they were doing things with a specific expectation of what to get back.
Meddling – Interfering in people’s business that is not their concern, possibly claiming that it is. Jumping into things that you haven’t asked for help on, not because they want to help but because they want to be in the midst of things. They might be nosy, showing far too much interest in other people’s affairs. Like anything here, this is about boundaries but part of what might be motivating their behaviour is distracting themselves from their own inner turmoil that they don’t acknowledge.
Mental health issues – Diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues can cause a person to behave erratically and the sad thing is that if family members are not aware or in some instance, unempathetic, it can make for a very chaotic situation on all sides. Mental health is something that affects the majority of the population at some point in life and while there has been a shift in attitudes, it is still misunderstood and there is a level of stigma. It could be that the TFM has mental health issues that specifically contribute to some of the problems you’re encountering or that they are very cold and unsupportive for instance, about depression. It’s also not uncommon in families for members to pretend that a problem isn’t a problem or to do other things that make them enablers – see codependency in part 1. It can be very painful when a family member is suffering and they won’t take medication and going through a destructive phase. It can put you between a rock and a hard place if you’re faced with having to take the decision to step away until things calm down. Things may have reached melting point because you’re absolutely overwhelmed and yet feel bad for it, possibly feeling guilty, disloyal and even angry.
Narcissism – Whether they’re narcissistically inclined or meet the minimum criteria for being one and are diagnosed, both spell big problems. A narcissist cannot love and is very self-serving with delusions of grandeur. They will build you up and cut you down in quite breathtaking ways, all while having a harem (possibly of flying monkeys- see part 2), doing their bidding. If you are the adult child of one, part of what is going to cause you to keep knocking heads is expecting them to behave like an empathetic, non-narcissistic parent plus if you have been adored and used as a pawn by a narcissist and then arrived into adult life and been in for a rude awakening about what life is really like and their effects on you, you may feel resentful towards them. Watch out for going out with partners who are similar (or even worse) than the TFM. Any narcissistic family member though, is going to very disruptive to your life if you don’t get boundaried.
Name-calling – Using abusive and insulting language. If it’s coupled with swearing, it can be particularly venomous. Swearing on its own is not necessarily inappropriate (context!) but swearing coupled with other inappropriateness is a problem.
JOURNALING: Are any of these issues familiar to you in your TFM situation? See if you can summarise the specifics of what the particular issue is. Is there anything here (e.g. abandonment) that you think represents baggage that they’re bringing into the situation that’s affecting their behaviour and how they’re feeling and perceiving things? Explore your thoughts and feelings on this – use Unsent Letters and other resources if it feels as if there’s a lot coming up. Is there anything in this list that you hadn’t recognised it in your TFM situation until you read about it? What were you telling you before this? How does it feel to recognise something for what it is?