When Warmth becomes Wrath

You know that word game, I think it is called Words Within Words?  Considering my pessimistic state at the moment, I pulled out HARM and WRATH from warmth.

My former friends (Marian, Lydia & Don) and my mother-in-law taught me a very important lesson about the sudden warmth of a flame:

“Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned” ~Pink (song lyrics from “Try”)

Whenever I started to pull away from unhealthy relationships – less attention, less adulation, less ‘doing’ – I ignited a change in their behaviors.  They all became nicer, too nice, rather uncharacteristically so.  Marian got me a gift out of the blue, MiL started sending me e-mails/messages (after ignoring mine for years) and Lydia & Don started complimenting me instead of subtly putting me down.

It felt so weird, like syrup coating my teeth.  My response to all this sudden warmth was to proceed with caution (and schedule a dentist appointment).  What happened after:

Marian ~ started talking about me and my projects at work to managers (telling them my projects were delayed)

MiL ~ started telling DH about her messages to me and telling him how much she was trying thereby influencing DH to treat me like I was the source of the ‘problem’ of our ‘distant’ relationship

Lydia & Don ~ only contacted us when they needed a place to stay – after not ‘obliging’ twice contact has virtually ceased

It was a period of a lot of stress in my work and personal life.  The lack of genuineness and one big mess to deal with taught me that sudden acts of kindness (as opposed to random) succeeded by prolonged disrespect, disregard and an absence of mutual reciprocity are something to FEAR.

fire

“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.” ~Robert Herrick

My fear (anxiety) was ‘kindled’ anew after DH sent an e-mail about NO more gifts to his brother (BiL) and his wife (SiL) – Thank you for all your help.  The boundary was accepted verbally.  What seemed like a great first step in establishing boundaries (DH and I together) soon became a familiar scenario.

After DH sent the e-mail at the end of September, we have dealt with a bunch of odd behaviors throughout October.  The first hint was very small – almost could have been brushed off – BiL brings up gifts for their father subtly.

Then, for the past few weeks there has been an abundant amount of communication from SiL.  DH said:

“There’s no communication for how long and now all this stuff.” ~DH

To sum up the communication of 2014:

Before setting boundary (January – September): SiL sent us two e-mails – the first, their trip itinerary and the second, a link to view 1100 photos of aforementioned trip.

After setting boundary (October): SiL has sent us four e-mails.  All e-mails are of the same type – soliciting Thank You’s.  Indeed, a Thank You was necessary for two of them.

Most communication happens between DH and BiL (e-mails and phone).  DH finds it particularly odd that SiL is communicating with us and not including BiL on the communication (when she normally excludes me from the communication).

All of these behaviors, on their own, are quite HARMless.  And I have that rational part of my brain that says – “this may be nothing to worry about.”

I don’t know if WRATH will make an appearance in the form of smear campaigns, triangulation, etc. like it did before.  BUT I would be naive not to factor in the prolonged disrespect, disregard and lack of mutual reciprocity of our past interactions (circa like 6 weeks ago).  I rely on my instincts not only because of the above patterns but also because I have never experienced authentic affection, warmth or kindness from DH’s FOO.

That’s what it is really about.  The sudden warmth isn’t real warmth, is it?  Sending us e-mails that socially coerce us to say Thank You without extending dialogue, absent of regard for others is not WARMTH.  A fire for warmth behaves differently than a fire which destroys.

The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns yourself more than them. ~Chinese Proverb

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16 thoughts on “When Warmth becomes Wrath

  1. Yes! This is it exactly! After all the serial disrespect, they think a blip of kindness is enough to make all their unpleasant behavior go away like it never happened. That is exactly what I’m dealing with right now. NM is attempting to offer a blip of concern on my behalf, ignoring all the ways she’s proven what I need isn’t relevant to her. I’m not ignoring her gesture of thoughtfulness, I’m aligning it to all the thoughtlessness surrounding it. Thank you! ((TR))

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    • “I’m not ignoring her gesture of thoughtfulness, I’m aligning it to all the thoughtlessness surrounding it.” Yes, that is an excellent way of stating it. We’re zooming out and seeing the whole picture. 🙂 ((Judy))

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    • Hahahah, totally. My mother’s voice would become sweet when she wanted something – it was a clear signal. Thank you, I feel that things will be okay no matter if the WRATH comes or not, especially so because I’ve had practice.

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  2. Hi TR,
    You make a very good point with “I rely on my instincts not only because of the above patterns but also because I have never experienced authentic affection, warmth or kindness from DH’s FOO.” That’s the key, right? that the sudden warmth is not consistent with their previous behaviour. Well, as they say, “forewarned is forearmed”, so at it least you’re better equipped to deal with it than the first time round. I have noticed that type of behaviour in my FOO too, that when I set strong boundaries, they become sweet as pie or they leave me alone for a while. Keep us posted on how it goes.
    Hugs,
    Kara xx
    P.S.
    I LOVE the photograph. Did you take it?

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    • Hi Kara,
      I feel better equipped for a few reasons, DH ‘sees’ the inconsistency in their behaviors, rather than jumping to their ‘good’ intentions and I feel in a state of (for the first time) what your chalkboard says: “Think what you like”. There has been subtle smear campaigns by SiL of other members of DH’s FOO so I can imagine that will be her preferred choice if the WRATH comes. I no longer feel this need to be seen as a ‘good daughter-in-law’ – which I think I had been holding on to. “Think what you like” is already packed up in my suitcase for the holiday visit. 😉
      xxTR
      P.S. Thank you. I did take it a few years ago during a long weekend in Bath. I think it is in the town center somewhere.

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      • I think seeing the patterns is one of the hugest steps we can take as ACoNs and what, ultimately, allows us to make sense of all of the nonsense. Taking each individual behavior as it comes leaves us a bit “blinded” to the reality of it all. That your DH can see the inconsistencies now is a good sign and an important step in changing things (it is unfortunate that we have to live with the behavior for so long, however, in order to see the patterns.)
        My ILs have been doing much of what Kara says above. I think my MIL, who suddenly offered an “apology” after she sensed DH pulling away from her, is of the same pattern as your ILs. A token to try to push us back into the old patterns. I’m very much hoping my DH can recognize that she has done little to actually CHANGE, has not offered up anything other than a vague apology, and has already pushed us to see her (despite being told that DH needs some time and will get back to her). His brother has also “suddenly” started around again, wanting to hang out, and I’m trying to gently point out the pattern of BIL coming around when he’s bored and has thrown away his latest friendship (he goes through them like tissues). I hope DH can see that it won’t last and is just part of the much bigger cycle.
        I’m glad you are letting go of the need to be seen as the “good DIL”. That’s a hard one and one I’ve been working on too (as well as the “good daughter”). I finally had to decide that I could decide if I was being a “good daughter/DIL” and, as long as I satisfied myself that I was, than what they portrayed to others or thought themselves was not my problem.

        Best of luck as the holidays roll around, TR!

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        • Hi Jessie, That is it – seeing the patterns. Because they are there in family systems. I, too, was blinded and for a long time I ‘fell’ for the acts of kindness. The apology is a similar response what your MiL did with DH when she felt he was pulling away. My MiL spoke to DH constantly about how much she was trying and doing without actually doing anything. When I spoke to her directly, man, not following the family system guidelines, I was not heard or respected and MiL got worse in managing her image with DH and trying to change his image of me. I was angry a lot and I shut down and I did the bare minimum when it came to family obligation stuff. I see a similar pattern with SiL unfortunately (which is really weird to see how the pattern continues to the next generation if we don’t stop it) and I am trying to handle this in a different way. I wish you well in this ‘apology’ situation and I can understand how one apology can create havoc and disrupt the family of choice. xxTR

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  3. Thanks for pointing this out, TR. I have to keep my “meanings” in check whenever someone who has been cruel or dismissive beyond the norm, suddenly turns nice-as-pie. It’s the “sudden kindness switch” and it used to turn on my meaning-maker every single time and there I’d go off on a jolly spree, attributing lofty notions to their kindness. If my sister brought me balloons, I’d doubt my perceptions of the past, blame myself for being cynical, bypass critical judgment and leap for the crazy train, believing she was sorry for having decimated my character in my neighborhood. I’d assume she was too timid to apologize but the balloons would apologize for her, that she was ashamed of herself and wanted to be friends even if she couldn’t say it with words—thus the balloons. Did I mention that my thinking was nothing but hot air?

    Once someone taught me to examine the assumptions I WAS MAKING, I’ve been able to slow down the meaning-maker in my heart because it got me in serious trouble every time. Balloons are cute and they are pretty but if you hold them too close to your chest, they’ll pop. Now I just say, “Hey, thanks for the balloons!” and that’s that. It doesn’t mean anything until the behavior changes.

    I LOVE your idea about “sudden acts of kindness”. Sure, we don’t want to live our lives expecting something horrible to happen whenever someone is “suddenly kind” because that’s a miserable way to live. But just seeing it as an “act of kindness” and nothing more, will keep our feet on the ground and our heads in reality. Your post sounds like you’ve “detached” in a healthy way from whatever their intentions might be and that will keep you from being hurt, too. The real pain, the serious injury, is when we don’t realize what “we” are doing. I think narcissists expect us to fill-in-the-blanks for them and then they won’t have to DO the WORK.

    Love
    CZ

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    • “Sure, we don’t want to live our lives expecting something horrible to happen whenever someone is “suddenly kind” because that’s a miserable way to live.” I have a fear sensation whenever someone does something kind for me. I have to keep it in check and say Thank you and SHUT UP (outwardly and inwardly). Then, I would berate myself for thinking ill and judging him/her – not taking the big picture into account. The problem is I couldn’t differentiate the fear signal in me, it would go off, I would silence it with shame and deal with the aftermath if there was any. Today, I’m trying to regulate that fear signal better and understand when it is valid and when it is not.
      Great point, it is about the assumptions we are making – I tend to think negatively and DH thinks positively. I hope that DH and I learn to slow down so we are not constantly reacting to situations from our own skewed view.

      Thank you, I looked up what the word random (acts of kindness) meant to find a differentiating word that fit this situation. One of random’s definitions is ‘without purpose’ while one of sudden’s definition is “changing angle or character all at once”. I was inspired by how you spoke of sibling rivalry as misbegotten rivalry so I tried to find another word to better communicate what I actually felt from the recent acts of kindness.

      Love, TR

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  4. TR, I agree with you that sudden acts of kindness, or warmth, are things to FEAR. F=figure out what they want from you. E= evaluate whether the kind act or gift will change the relationship for the better permanently. A= accept the kindness, but keep your distance. R=remember. Always remember what they have been. The persistence of behavior is the only reality to pay attention to, IMO. It’s why I am so thankful my mother hasn’t sent me any “gifts” these last two years. If she were to, I would write a “thank you” note, and leave it at that, not changing anything else. I truly believe that people who switch warmth on and off are USERS. You don’t owe them anything. What’s most heartening about this post is that your DH is lining up with you, behind some boundaries for you both. RE: the upcoming visit, just keep in mind that as a grown up, you don’t have to care what they think about you. This is the hardest thing in the world to truly believe. The suffering we endure trying to get people to think well of us, to see us as the full humans we are, what a waste of time and emotion. Acts of kindness should in my view be small and regular, to have any meaning you can rely on. FWIW. love CS

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    • Hi CS, LOVE the abbreviation! That is something I will keep with me. “The persistence of behavior is the only reality to pay attention to.” ~CS That was it for me, I think you and I chatted about the belated birthdays and the card mishaps before and for the last 14 years my b-days have been belated. This year, it was on time and there was persistence. They wished me happy birthday 3 ways. The first, a card, for which I thanked them, and then Facebook, for which I thanked them again and then in my e-mail (with DH on it). I stopped there because of the persistence on the SAME act and its suddenness. That persistence for the same act is a common attribute in all my in-laws. They talk it to death where we are saying ‘thank you’ for the same act over and over again. Ugh. It plays on that need to be ‘good’ and be seen and while I wonder if I should have thanked them the third time (and maybe it was a mistake), I can’t escape the feeling of being bullied. Love, TR

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  5. I hate this, that you are experiencing this, TR. But it’s like a progression. these people are so transparent…and out to maim and wound. It’s so damn complicated because these are family ties….different than ‘friends’ you can just delete from your life.

    Yes, there is a woman , a former friend and neighbor, who only calls when she wants something, but challenger her and she turns frosty…like in “why did you leave the two cats I gave you outside and they were killed by a neighbor’s dog?” And she doesn’t have the time to answer or talk about this tragedy.

    I learn very slowly because I keep thinking that people will come to their better senses…but some people…..just don’t have the humanity or the mental sense to do this.

    I think CS gave excellent advice here: these people are USERS and you deserve better than that. We all do. Frankly, I get very confused when people are ‘nice’ to me after they have been horrid. It is unsettling and makes you second guess your sentiments AND your experience with them.

    You don’t have to care what they think of you. If they have hurt you before, you know that hurt is again around the corner. They are users and this is what users do.

    Love, jane

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    • Hi Jane,
      Very true, it is complicated because of the family ties and with my in-laws, it is so incredibly subtle that it is so hard to see in real time. I think that is a very good point, when direct communication is used they avoid it like the plague.

      I understand that feeling of confusion when someone is nice. I have to take a pause whenever I receive a compliment and step back for a minute and not equate a kind act with a sudden kind act of people who have routinely used me. I second guess myself too and I feel awful when I think they have ‘bad’ intentions. I’m learning to separate their intentions (slowly) from the act so that I can thank the act and not jump to a conclusion. I guess the one thing I want to try and do is proceed with caution instead of jumping to the conclusion – which is what DH and I are going to do this holiday visit.

      That is the other great point you and CS bring up – it is about caring what they think about me and I am letting go of that after a long battle with anger and aggression this year, I feel that letting go of that has been a benefit to all the anger I have been feeling. Love, TR

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  6. Interesting point TR about not being able to escape the feeling of being “bullied” by “Thanks.” By the third venue, it has become aggressive poking. I remember my mother was so over the top thanking me when I sent her a complete boxed set of a tv show she’d always loved. She went over the top. This was in early 2008, before I discovered the betrayal of the plagiarism. She squealed on the phone for 30 minutes about it, having opened it 2 days early (of course. what narc can wait until her actual bday?) Then at my niece’s graduation, which I flew out for, my mother went on and on and on and on, enthusing about the boxed set. There was an edge of hysteria to her over thanking. I think I wrote a post about this, along the lines of ‘over-thanking for one thing to cover up not thanking for a more important thing.” I realized after she gave me her “book” (in a sealed manila envelope) at that graduation, when I saw that she’d left me, my work, our phone conversations, all the ideas she literally took from me down to phrases verbatim, completely out of ANY acknowledgement of any kind. I then understood why she acted like an overjoyed stuck pig about the boxed set. It was acting, meant to distract me from what I was about to learn. That she had failed to thank me for what she’d learned from me, gotten from me, used from me, in her work. Excessive thanks, like excessive birthday wishes, are usually covers for some betrayal happening on another front. You are right to feel bullied. I would also be aware of being blindsided. Stay as detached and noncommittal as you can during the visit. When is it again? Kara has this wonderful image that she and CZ cooked up, Kara drew it, of a wall of happy surrounding you when you are there. WE will all be buffering you on your visit. love CS

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    • “Excessive thanks, like excessive birthday wishes, are usually covers for some betrayal happening on another front.” What you say, I wonder this too. The excessiveness and why now? I’m trying to not get too worked up over it and keep calm and mind my anxiety about it so that I can address something if it happens. I fear being blindsided because with DH’s FOO they are so extremely subtle. I am ready to address it, I often fail to see it in real-time. I will have to remember to take breaths and pause and think.

      We are going back end of December to beginning of January. Two weeks in total. For Thanksgiving BiL and SiL go there (we don’t) and we have to do the obligatory Skype, which I will not be participating in this time because what comes out of that visit/call is a whole lot of boundary violations and control tactics for Xmas. This time for Xmas, SiL will be there. Thank you for your support, it helps so much when I have to deal with them. I remember the wall separating, thank you for the reminder. xxTR

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