I’ve been very low contact with my parents for quite some time now, several months. We’re mostly limited to the occasional email. This has been so very helpful for my mental health!
I have my email set up so that my parents emails get filtered into their own folder that doesn’t get checked automatically when I check the rest of my mail, so I don’t ever get notified about anything they send me, and I have to manually go in there to see what they’ve sent, if anything. This makes it very easy to ignore them entirely for as long as I need to, which is also great for my mental health.
I really have to be in a good state of mind to check their email folder, it is always a bit risky because I never know what to expect. I generally dread checking it.
Today I felt brave enough to check my parents email folder, after not checking it for a few weeks. It was pretty educational, to say the least.
My dad’s messages all seemed very friendly and polite on the surface. I had told him I have a lot on my mind lately, and that’s why I’ve not been responding much. It looked like he was respecting my boundary by not asking what I’ve been doing or how it’s going, he just wished me good luck with whatever it was. And he asked me about a thing we’d talked about that he wants me to do, but I don’t want to do it, and I told him I don’t want to do it and also why. He asked me if I’d spoken to anyone I trust about it, and what they said. At first glance, this tells me two things:
1) He knows how to behave well, and can actually do it at least some of the time.
2) He knows I don’t trust him, which I find very interesting in particular.
After thinking about it a while longer, it tells me more things.
- He might know how to behave well, but he’s terribly inconsistent with it. As soon as he’s in a bad mood, all bets are off, boundaries go out the window, right along with politeness and general decency. But he never apologizes, never admits any wrongdoing, and if anyone dares to suggest that he’s done something wrong, he gets angry. Yet he’s not incapable of behaving well. He could choose to work harder on this and be more consistently well-behaved, or at least admit it when he’s wrong, but he doesn’t.
- He knows I don’t trust him, but he doesn’t trust me either. I told him I don’t want to do the thing, and I told him exactly why, but does it matter what I think? No, he wants me to talk to someone else and have them tell me it’s a good idea so that I’ll do what he wants me to do regardless of how I feel about it. I guess he assumes whoever I trust will tell me his plan is a good idea to go along with, which is sort of funny because that’s not true. A trustworthy person wouldn’t tell me to go along with something I don’t want to do – a trustworthy person would respect my feelings about it!
- His messages and general niceness is probably some form of love-bombing. Be nice for a while so that I let down my guard and he can be a nasty abusive piece of shit again when I’m unprepared for it. But I’m not falling for that! I felt suspicious the whole time reading his emails and I trust my gut. Sure, a part of me felt optimistic, and wanted to believe that he really can be good like this all the time. But I know better – it never lasts.
Later on, I was thinking about how it’s been 5 years since I started trying to stop dissociating all the time, and how awesome it is that I no longer rely on that as my #1 method of… well, existing in general.
And then, a little voice in my head told me that it’s all lies. I’ve been lying to myself for 5 years, dissociation isn’t even real, it’s all nonsense, I need to stop pretending that I know what I’m doing, I need to go back to my dad and let him take care of me because I clearly have no idea what’s going on.
I recognized it for what it is… my inner critic. Thanks, gaslighting! I reminded myself of all the things I’ve done without my dad’s “help”:
- I didn’t need him to help me earn my black belt.
- I didn’t need him to help me navigate foreign countries alone.
- I didn’t need him to help me figure out that I’m a lesbian.
- I didn’t need him to help me get better at art, writing, skating, website designing, etc.
I did all those things despite his bad influences holding me back!
My inner critic is pretty quiet and soft now, she rarely screams at me anymore. Honestly I found it more funny than anything. This tiny little whisper is nowhere near the raging dragon it used to be.
I realized it was the thing my dad said about trust that triggered this… my dad’s behaviour and comments have always made me doubt myself, made me afraid of making choices on my own, without help from someone “actually competent”. I always felt like I had to have some authority telling me what to do, that it wasn’t safe to make decisions or to trust myself or my own feelings. He has never taken my feelings and opinions seriously. He knows I don’t trust him, but as long as I trust anyone but myself, he’s apparently okay with that. Heaven forbid I actually trust myself, and make my decisions based on my own feelings, research and preferences. Religion also played a role in this, with the whole “trust in god” thing, and general discouragement of people thinking for themselves. But that’s something for another post!
I recently finished reading Breaking From Your Parents, by Daniel Mackler, which is a very good book. He said that he actually finds a lot of value in his interactions with his parents, and that’s why he hasn’t gone completely no contact with them. He keeps them at a safe distance, but every now and then he finds it useful to interact with them briefly, so that he can learn about what triggers him and why, so that he can work on healing that.
That’s pretty much what happened with my email situation here. Because I have been at a safe distance from my parents for a reasonable amount of time, and I don’t constantly hear from them, I’ve been able to recover from them to an extent.
I was able to read those emails and extract the value out of them, instead of being triggered into a flashback, or getting sucked back into thinking he’s really not that bad and going back to giving him too much information about me again and getting burned.
I wouldn’t have been able to do that, however, without going very low contact first. I needed that distance in order to heal and recover. This is a great sign of progress, and I’m really grateful for those emails, which seems like a really odd thing for me to say, but it’s true.