Paranoia – While you may be encountering this with a TFM because of mental health issues, or due to a personality disorder, or them having an overinflated sense of their own importance, it may well be that the TFM has issues and behaviours off of the back of unwarranted suspicion and mistrust of people, likely stemming from a series of experiences that they’ve been through earlier in life. They have a wall up which leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. They behave in ways to provoke situations and test out people so that they can have that sense of relief of knowing that they can stay in their comfort zone but it also means that they end punishing innocent people for the actions of others, often because they didn’t get to have their say with these others in the past. They can cause a great deal of upset because they think about a possibility and then treat it as a reality, looking for evidence to justify what they’re feeling, failing to acknowledge that what they actually do is deliberately create situations to prove long-standing feelings. You will most likely experience passive aggression (see below) and it can be very hurtful to not only be mistreated due to someone else’s trust issues but to be accused of things that they’re actually projecting on to you that either reflect past experiences or things that they themselves would or have been doing – you see how their mind works. Other people’s paranoia can feel like a character assassination and until the point where they acknowledge that they are off base, their disproportionate responses can be very upsetting, frustrating and destabilising. In families, a TFM in your extended family can decide that because, for example, they’ve had issues with your mother that ipso facto, you are doing the same or are going to do the same thing, so in their mind, it’s only a matter of time until you screw them over. When this TFM is an in-law, you not being a blood relative makes you an ‘unknown’ no matter how you may have demonstrated your trustworthiness in the past. It might feel as if you only have to so much as breathe in the wrong direction and you are being accused of trying to destroy their family or your partner.
Passive aggression – Got a TFM situation and I can guarantee you that passive aggression, covert aggression that masks resentment, anger and frustration has a significant part to play in the tension. It might be just them but it also… might be you too. Passive aggression is about avoiding confrontation by instead, showing how you feel in more subtle ways that are unlikely to be owned up to. It’s resistant, rebellious, and obstructive behaviour that betrays true feelings and intentions so it can be saying one thing, doing another, put-downs, digs, sniping while claiming that nothing’s wrong, doing things badly to ensure not being asked again, purposefully doing things to a lesser standard, behaving in an unfair and unreasonable manner to provoke the other person into reacting (people do this with breakups), and behaving in an unfair and unreasonable manner to provoke the other person into reacting to underline the position used to avoid confrontation. We can all be guilty of passive aggression but when a person is habitually passive aggressive and even worse, does not own up to it, it’s very tricky indeed hence why facts are the only way to go with them. When a person is passive aggressive with you, it feels hostile yet it’s the equivalent of them smiling back at you or appearing to comply. A TFM with passive aggression issues believes that they’re justified in their behaviour because they have a fear of confrontation and predict judgment and criticism and then when they wind up people and get bad reactions, they feel that their behaviour is legitimate, not acknowledging what their actual annoyance is about. If you both try to passive aggressive each other out, it will be a long-running battle.
People pleasing – You (or they) put everyone else’s needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions ahead of yours (or their) own and try to please [these others] in the hopes of being rewarded with attention, validation, appreciation, affection or love. It’s also done in the hopes that by pleasing others, you (or they) will be spared from conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment. Instead, resentment and frustration ensues plus it’s actually a form of passive aggression where a person is trying to oblige you into certain things with ‘niceness’ or creating a debt through not being boundaried and then expecting others to pay it off. A people pleasing TFM is one that will bring up a myriad of emotions, especially if you can relate because you do some of the same things. They don’t mean badly but what they’re doing might bring up guilt or even annoyance because their behaviour reflects something back to you – we often get annoyed with people about stuff that we ourselves are guilty of. If you’re people pleasing and you have a TFM, part of the issue is about entitlement and expectations on both sides(see part 2). That’s not to say that your concerns about their tricky behaviour aren’t very real but in order for you to feel better, you are going to have to curtail your pleasing because the big problem with people pleasing whether it’s you or them doing it is that it’s about expecting others to change or to do something in order for you (them) to feel better about where you or they are not being boundaried.
Physical inappropriateness (without physical abuse) – crossing your personal space by getting up too close or raging at objects, smacking the wall, stomping around with their arms flailing all over the place, blocking your exit out of the room.
Physical abuse (violence to your body) – This is abuse, no exceptions. It is not provoked – it is their inability to control their behaviour due to the thinking behind it. Note that this person controls it in other situations such as at work or when they’re putting on a show outside of the family. This is a legal matter, not just a ‘family matter’.
Playing the victim – Won’t own up to anything, won’t take responsibility – nothing is ever their fault. If they do wrong, it’s someone else’s fault. Can also involve obliging people through claiming helplessness even when they’re not.
Poisoning — Yes, it would be more than tricky if they were actually trying to poison you (attempted murder!) but the type of poisoning I’m referring to here is when a TFM deliberately (even if they deny it) says things to other family members so that anything that you (or other family members) says after that, is discredited, ignored or even ridiculed. It doesn’t have to be that the TFM is doing it about you but in being aware of it, it can leave you in a conflicted place especially because they may deny that they’ve said things or switch to doing the same thing to you. (Also check out sh-t stirring).
Possessiveness – The TFM may be demanding all of your or someone else’s attention or love, which aside from being emotionally demanding and oppressive, is likely to tailspin into jealousy and envy which can knock onto other issues. The TFM may be one of those people who always has to have a favourite and is quite intense so they feel threatened by others (even when they’re not being) and if they’re possessive of you, will use emotional blackmail to try to maintain the status quo.
Praise hunting – There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little praise in your life but somebody who is always looking for strokes, even though it may be well intended, can bring up feelings of guilt, obligation, resentment and irritation. You might feel as if you have to pat them on the back in order to ward off potential issues about them thinking that you don’t like them or that there’s an issue, which can leave you feeling emotionally blackmailed. It might feel as if you’re being put into an authority role that you don’t want and even though you might have tried to draw your line, the TFM sees this as a ‘bad thing’ so the cycle continues. You might find that you feel guilty for feeling anything but pleased about what they’re doing, which may cause you to be or do something to shift that feeling, which just becomes part of a vicious cycle. If it’s you looking for praise, you might be looking for validation from a family member who has in the past withheld praise, so now you see their opinion as super valuable and try to right the wrongs of the past and in turn, give away your power and get caught out by entitlement and expectations. You might be expecting them to be someone they’re not.
Put-downs – Remarks that have the intention of criticising or humiliating a person, are a subtle form of personal attack. They’re covert and so indeed, passive aggressive remarks, that are delivered with a smile, humour, or even a deadpan. It is this body language and tone that is confusing to you as the recipient. You’ll know a put-down if you’re around someone who gives you backhanded compliments – insults coupled with supposed praise. E.g. “You’re really good at that considering that you’re a woman”, “You look great! Such a transformation from that wimpy / fat / whatever girl/boy you were when I knew you.” What compounds this appalling carry-on is that they might have the brass nuts to claim that they were just joking.
Remorse allergy – Might use the word “sorry” but not demonstrate through action that they are remorseful in the sense of showing regret and guilt about it via their subsequent choices, behaviour and attitude. They might also be someone who never apologises and just expects to pick up wherever they feel they conveniently feel that they left off – see Reset Button usage below.
Reverse accusations – They’re accused of something and then they accuse you of the same thing and take up victim status.
Reset Button usage – Acting as if nothing happened, often choosing to pick up from a point that they’ve conveniently selected. Breezing back in after disappearing, behaving badly, whatever it is. Refusing to discuss things. Being passive aggressive by swooping back in with gifts or apparent sunshine and happiness so that people will feel too awkward and embarrassed to bring things up. And don’t fall for that crap where they claim that their button pressing is “moving on” – no it’s not! If they don’t take responsibility and be accountable then all they’re doing is avoiding and also replicating the problem!
Role reversal – May have been going on since childhood but the TFM expects you to do their role. The most common one is that the parent acts like a child and the child is expected to take on responsibility. It’s exhausting especially when you’re a grown adult and possibly have your own children who behave more maturely than your own parent. You may wonder exactly when you’re going to have a mother or father who behaves like a mother or father and this in itself can be where the TFM situation rumbles on from – expecting the person to change and you continuing to fill the role they keep trying to put you in.
Rivalry – The TFM is competing with you for the same thing or to gain superiority over you. Rivalry can also be about long-standing tensions that you might no longer be aware of why they treat you as an adversary— you just know that it’s there. Sometimes its the TFM against you and sometimes, yes, it’s the both of you. Sibling rivalry is all too common and represents resentments about the dynamic, unresolved old wounds, perceptions etc. It is not uncommon for each sibling to think that the other is the favourite. There can also be rivalry between a mother and daughter which can feel as if you’re in your very own version of Mean Girls and it can leave you feeling abandoned and even hated because you’re not going to feel mothered by someone who seems to think that you’re adversaries. Rivalry can also be about where the TFM is competing with another family member and then using you as a pawn.
Scapegoating – The TFM has a habit of blaming a particular person for the wrongdoings, mistakes and faults of others. Hell, they might even blame you for their own feelings and behaviour. They do it, not because any of this guff is true but because it’s convenient and practical in terms of them never having to be accountable and responsible so they get to keep telling themselves the same story. They are not remotely concerned with truth, morals, fairness. What you will find when you’re the scapegoat is that you don’t even have to be involved in an event for the TFM to find a way to point the finger at you, so if they have a run-in with somebody, they will then claim that somewhere in the past, you must have said or done something to that person that has given them the impression that it’s OK to behave as they did or given them a reason that they’ve now taken out on them. It is horrible to be on the receiving end of this and one of the things that I’ve learned through my own experiences is that aside from it obviously not being your fault, the TFM has gotten into the habit of scapegoating because they experienced something in the past where after looking around for a reason, they decided to put it on you and then each time they’ve felt similarly, the reasoning habit is repeated. On some level, scapegoating is partly about jealousy and resentment, with it being used as a device to rain on your parade and disrupt your life plus, especially when a parent does it, it can cause you to feel responsible for the well-being of the family. Also see making sense out of nonsense in part 3.
Secrets – This is something that is not known or not meant to be known by others. TFM issues arise when a TFM tells you something that the rest of the family don’t know or asks you to keep something very inappropriate to yourself. The TFM may use the device of secrecy as a way of manipulating you or others – by spreading the load, they feel less responsible and even try to make you culpable. The TFM might be a drainer so dumping loads of stuff on you and burdening you. You may have felt valuable and needed in the past but it now feels oppressive. TFM issues also arise when trust is breached due to disclosure, which sometimes happens because they use claiming that other family members ‘should’ know but really, it’s about trying to curry favour. This is not with regards to abuse – it’s disclosing that a family member is for instance, gay, when they are not ready to come out. Some TFMs also pretend that they know something that you don’t, just to mess with your head. Also watch out for TFMs who have secrets with your partner.
Selective amnesia – It’s not uncommon for a TFM who loves bringing up old sh-t to have selective memory. They choose what they want to bring up but if you bring up something, tumbleweeds. If the TFM likes pressing the Reset Button, they’ll have selective amnesia there as well. If there’s historical abuse, you might find it bemusing that the family member can recall something they watched on telly back in the summer of 1962 yet they struggle to recall the trauma they inflicted on you. You might find that you keep trying to talk to a TFM about issues and realise that the selective amnesia is a way of delaying or outright avoiding confrontation as well as accountability and responsibility.
Show pony parenting – A parent who likes to talk about the things you’ve done to others and make all sorts of noises about how great they are without actually engaging with you in any real depth. They want to wheel you out on family occasions or when they have friends around but when you want them to be there for you, crickets. In this modern age, you might find that they present a front on social media and will ‘like’ your stuff on Facebook but not actually be in touch. It can also be where your parent hasn’t been around for some or all of your life but now wants to swoop in and claim credit for how well you’re doing or who expects to walk you down the aisle or be central to a key moment in your life – wants the glory without the effort. So many people get in touch with me about parents who they overhear telling the most elaborate stories to their friends, that won’t even speak directly to or see them!
Social media – It’s bad enough when you encounter trolls and other inappropriate folk online but even worse when it’s a TFM, kicking off, spouting vitriol, posting inappropriate content that they get super defensive about (homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist etc), unfriending, re-friending, spreading lies, passive aggressive posts etc – basically, bad boundaries. It can also be that the TFM keeps telling you what you should or shouldn’t post or misinterpreting things that you post – I once posted a picture of Woody from Toy Story and a ballerina doll that my daughter had left on the kitchen table in an accidental funny pose and my mother told me off for posting pornography that embarrassed her to family members… who I am not even connected to on Facebook. You may feel obliged to remain connected on social media because they’re family or because you want to keep the peace or because you don’t want to upset other family members.
Superiority and inferiority issues – A lot of TFM issues have an underlying issue about the perception of power. A TFM may seem themselves as having a higher status, authority or even ‘quality’ which will naturally lead to a spate of issues around boundaries. It can also be about a TFM having an inferiority complex so seeing themselves as less than you or other family members and then projecting this and also affecting their behaviour. If you see you as being inferior, this significantly impacts not just on how you respond to the TFM (it puts you in a child role) but it also affects your self-image and your other relationships.
Switchy – Can’t trust what you’re going to get next. This week they might be one person, next week they might be another. This week you’re flavour of the month and next week, you don’t exist. Mood might change on a whim and they can change the temperature and dynamic in a room with just a look or by walking in. They might be emotionally chaotic and in some instances, it could be about being disordered or possibly mental health issues, but keep in mind that some people are just very contrary and feel most comfortable with drama.
Those who doth protest too much – They keep going on and on about something that they are. Invariably, people who keep telling you for instance, how honest they are, are not honest at all.
Telling people what they want to hear – A form of people pleasing and yes, passive aggression, the TFM fears confrontation so tells you what they think you want to hear to delay confrontation and then does what they originally and truly intended anyway. Invariably, telling people what we think they want to hear is not really about what they want; it’s about what we want to avoid.
Too much drama – Some people would have a fight with a paper bag. TFMs who are always swinging from one drama to the next are a pain. It’s as if they cannot rest until they have found a reason to distrust or to be screaming, shouting, accusing, gossiping or whatever it is. TFMs who are drama prone often fall into the embarrassing family member description (part two) – you become wary of what trouble they’re going to create next. They cannot let something pass, they don’t pick and choose their battles.
Tyranny – Growing up in a cruel and oppressive environment. A TFM behaving in a cruel and unreasonable manner, often using personal whim to govern their decisions and use of power.
Verbal abuse – Using words to cause emotional abuse (see part 2) and in quite simple terms, being a verbal bully. They use their words (normally in the form of personal attack and excessive anger) to claim superiority over you, trying to cut you down to feel powerful and in control. If the TFM does not retract and apologise and in fact continues to fire bullets, they are being abusive. A person can be verbally abusive, so calling you a load of names, swearing, sneering, yelling which is all very intimidating when put together or even separately depending on context but if this is a pattern of conduct and you have become intimidated and in fear of their reaction, they are bullying you with words.
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?