Myth: A horse is a horse, of course.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

I didn’t understand this proverb until about six months ago when it came up in a discussion during my language class.  I found out that it means:

one should never be ungrateful or critical of a gift  

For me, one of the earliest triggers that something wasn’t right with my relationships was the act of gift giving.  Maybe because I was uncomfortable with lying about how thankful I was or the fact that the gift was a tangible reminder of the true nature of our relationship.  I don’t know, exchanging gifts has never been a positive experience growing up nor is it, today, with DH’s FOO (my in-laws).

horseIt felt like a good time to revisit it since the year of the Horse begins in China on the 31st of January and especially since some new stuff regarding this subject came up over the past six months with DH’s FOO, including this past holiday break.

1. Horse sense (common sense, practical thinking)

This past Christmas, DH received a really nice iPhone camera accessory from his brother (BiL).  This is a very cool gift…if you have an iPhone.  BiL makes fun of DH constantly because he doesn’t have one.  Needless to say, DH returned the gift.

This past summer during our visit home, BiL was showing us his new belt (don’t ask me why).  As we stood in awe of this invention to keep trousers in place, BiL says to DH: “you should get one”.  DH says: ‘No need, I have the same one already’ and points to his waist.  It was kind of a ‘funny’ moment (funny is code for totally ridiculous) to see the brothers wearing the same belt coincidentially.

A few weeks later, it is DH’s birthday and a package arrives for him.  And you guessed it, BiL sent him the same belt.  Not only was it the very same belt but there were two of them in the gift.  But wait, that is not even the best part.  BiL ordered the same size for DH as for himself.  Although, the two brothers are similar in height and used to wear the same size, DH’s size has changed drastically.  DH lost a tremendous amount of weight.  One could say BiL was playing it safe but wait, it gets really good.  DH lost this weight eight years ago and has maintained it since and has routinely communicated not to get him clothing (because it is always the wrong size – the old size).  The two belts (which cannot be adjusted for a smaller size) are waiting to be donated.

What about you?  Any gifts that made you say: huh?

2.  Beating (flogging) a dead horse (to insist on talking about something that has already been thoroughly discussed)

Following-up on a gift is quite common in DH’s FOO.  DH and I often have found ourselves saying ‘Thank You’ too many times that it ends up sounding like a broken record.

During the past holiday break FiL said we could use his car instead of renting one.  It was a generous offer until every day (12 days) when we saw him he would ask: “How is the car running?” and then repeatedly say “Bet your grateful that it has seat warmers in this cold”.  This is no joke – every day without fail.  And without fail, responding to the sound of FiL’s tone DH would say “Yeah, thank you for letting us use it.”

A couple days before Christmas FiL wanted to go to the supermarket to buy a ham for his old neighbour and then to drop it off at her house.  The situation transpired as such (DH was not with us):

FiL gives the ham and the Neighbour and her daughter thank him.  They share with us their holiday festivities and then:

Neighbour: What are you all up to? (I believe she was asking what we were doing for the holidays since she had told us what they were doing.)

FiL: Well, we went and got the ham, that’s what we have been up to.

Neighbour: Yeah, thank you so much for doing that.  How is DH?

(I answer her question.)

FiL:  I got you a good size ham because your family has grown (referring to the new grandchildren)

Neighbour: Yeah, we certainly have.  

Neighbour’s daughter: We especially love fighting over the bone every year (referring to the fact that FiL brings the ham over every year).

FiL:  Yeah, well this time, I got you the one without the bone so you can make soups out of it later, ya know (points to the ham resting on the table).

Neighbour’s daughter: (goes to the ham and picks it up) Oh yeah, thanks, good idea.  We will have to put it in a cool place…

The Neighbour and her daughter fuss over where to put the ham, in the garage, in the front closet where it is cold but won’t freeze, wrap in a towel, etc.  As they are doing this, FiL says his goodbye and we leave this awful, 100% uncomfortable situation for me, behind.

3.  Straight from the horse’s mouth (a source of insider information)

It is common in DH’s FOO to use clichés and reinforce them – like, it’s the thought that counts.  Referring to the fact that when someone gives you a gift, regardless of whether or not thought about the gift receiver was considered, the important thing to remember is the gift giver’s intentions.  This may well be the case in healthy relationships, bad gifts can be given with good intentions.  Except growing up narc, good intentions don’t mean much when it is frequently and consistently followed by hurtful behaviours or ulterior motives.  But do gift givers always have good intentions?  I got a little insight into how DH’s FOO view gift giving.

Background: BiL and SiL went on holiday and bought gifts for their friends.  Here is the conversation that transpired after (word for word):

BiL: …across from Town X and across that other bridge is another little town basically but it’s where XYZ vineyard, so the winery is there, so we picked up a bottle for a co-worker.

DH: That’s one who…? (asking who the co-worker was to see if he knew him)

BiL: Who will love you forever

(SiL answers DH’s question about who the co-worker is since DH does know him)

chocoPerhaps, he meant it as a joke.  And as the conversation continues SiL and BiL inform us they went to our supermarket to do their chocolate shopping (to bring back chocolates for friends back home) and began to laugh when telling the story.  They said that the chocolates were a lot cheaper at the supermarket than the boutique chocolatier stores.  The supermarket does sell speciality chocolates (as stated on the box).  To end the conversation SiL says (about their friends) with a laugh (word for word):

SiL: “And they don’t know really” (laughs)

Even If I cut them some slack because no body is a perfect gift giver, my intuition tells me the manner in which they told the story and how much they chuckled and laughed made me feel uneasy.

During this past holiday break, FiL (DH’s father) gave a box of food to some of his neighbours.  When he told us that he had done so, he added:

FiL: “I figured that will bring in dividends throughout the year, ya know.”

He is referring to the fact that he will get free meals from his neighbours throughout year.  What percentage return is FiL figuring?

“A gift is a gift, of course?”

The definition is:

“A gift or a present is an item given to someone without the expectation of payment. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free.”  (Source: Wikipedia)

When does a ‘gift’ stop being a gift?  When I think of BiL’s phrase “who will love you forever” I think about the times I tried so hard to give the best gift ever to my mother and how much I wanted her love in return and how that expectation never came through. A gift, for me, was a way to buy love and get recognition – I wanted something in return.  It was the hope that this one item would transform a relationship that was never based on anything of value – respect, unconditional love, trust – I used to believe that a gift was magic.

When I think of DH’s FOO and the gift giving expectations, I am conflicted with my disgust for them and for myself.  Mostly, because I know I carried this expectation of gift giving with many of my friends into adulthood.  My friends and I don’t exchange gifts anymore – not to punish myself or them – but to really understand its meaning for me.

This last holiday season I read an advertisement in the metro and it said:

“it isn’t the thought that counts, it’s thought that counts.”

That felt appropriate to how I am feeling about it after this past holiday season – I need to give this some thought.  Gifts are not about obligation or images or anything.  A gift is a gift – nothing more, nothing less.  If this can’t be so with DH’s FOO then I’ve got my work cut out for me during the Year of the Horse, fittingly enough.

Hugs, TR

Related posts:

@ IBC: Gift Giving by NarcissistsGiving Gifts to Narcissists

The Narcissistic Continuum: Super Santa

P.S. The photo of the horses is of a traditional event (“ring riding”) in a small village where the rider uses the pointed stick to catch the ring that is hung in the air while riding the horse down a short track.  As the competition goes on the diameter of the ring gets smaller.


The Power of Silence

If I had to choose one word to describe my week long visit with my mother, father and my in-laws I would choose: Silence.  Because I didn’t say much for most of the trip.  And even DH seemed to be more silent than usual – he talks more in group situations than I do (in general).

Our trip started with a few days with my parents in Chicago.  The visit with my mother and father was nothing new.  She didn’t ask anything about me, barely spoke to me, didn’t look me in the eye.  My cousin was there – she barely asked about us (DH and I) and we had to do all the question asking.  At one point I stopped and felt good about doing that when I saw that she wasn’t inquisitive into my life as I was in hers (We haven’t seen each other since we were kids).  I let silence fill our conversations.  Silence was my friend.  When silence usually can feel awkward, it felt like my new best friend and it comforted me. It gave my mind time to think.  And I thought about you guys in these periods of silence.  I thought about things you guys had said, advice, support and specific posts you have written*.  And it brought back the things that can easily be forgotten when dealing with Ns.  You and silence stood by me in my parent’s apartment.  It felt really good when all this toxicity was coming my way.

My dad (who is very ill) looked better actually.  It was great to see him and see that he was looking a lot better.  He has trouble speaking and so we don’t really get to talk and we went for a walk since it was nice outside that day.  It was good to see him and when I left I wonder if it will be the last time I see him.

Then, came the in-laws.  Perhaps, I am just used to my mother’s behaviours – in some ways, I have her figured out.  And it feels easier to deal with her.  My in-laws are so subtle, there is still a lot of ‘figuring’ out I have to do.  However, I realised that even if I can’t see stuff in real time I still have Silence and with Silence I found the answers with your help.

Most of the time was spent with BiL and FiL.  SiL flew in for one day.  BiL was the same – behaved selfishly, self-centredly and I found that I didn’t speak that much with him.  I decided – he doesn’t ask about me, I don’t need to ask about him.  I found that I just didn’t care enough to ask about SiL either.  And I realised that I actually don’t care about the answer – I had come to the point of true acceptance with them.  That is how they behave all the time – nothing is going to change except me.

FiL deserves a separate post.  For the first time I was able to see what he was saying that was so terrible.  I could see all this toxic behaviours in real time.  Silence let me see them.  I stayed silent until there was a question asked of me.  Which there never was – so I remained silent.  And the silence allowed me to hear his very toxic words, his dangerous words.  (I’ll write a follow up post)

And then SiL came.  I noticed that DH wasn’t in any hurry to get over to FiL’s apartment from the hotel that morning.  His behaviours said more than his words.  I can tell you exactly the kind of conversation we had – none.  When we first saw her, DH asked her how she was and I thought, great, I don’t have to ask because it would be fake – I don’t care how she is doing.  Then, DH asked her a few questions about her flight that morning, etc.  I remained silent.  She didn’t ask anything about us.  DH even stopped with the questions, he (I imagine) was starting to realise he was doing all the asking and the answers never led to conversation.

In my monkly state, I began to see things in SiL and BiL I hadn’t noticed before.  BiL would say something and then immediately contradict himself.  I started to pay closer attention and I saw that there was communication going on between BiL and SiL – the use of slight head nods and shifting eyes she was telling him if she disliked or liked what he was saying.  If he got the ever so slight head shake of NO he then would change his opinion.  (I tape recorded our conversations – I have to go through it and type up the transcripts, so I will post on this later)

Mall of America with no people - Silence is what you hear!

Mall of America with no people – Silence is what you hear!

I did take a break from this vow of silence with true friends.  We did have time to relax and have fun with them.  The highlight of the trip no doubt.  I played with my friends’ kids and just caught up with the people I love and the people that I want to hear their stories and they want to hear mine.  Because life is great because of this?

Overall, the visits went better than how I thought they would.  Their behaviours were the same but mine were different.  The one thing I’m beginning to notice is that although I change how I handle Ns in my life I still need a recovery time after it.  There is still toxicity after all – I just don’t crash for as long because my behaviours didn’t play into their scripts for continued toxicity.  But the toxicity is still there and my body was exposed to it for 8 days.  It felt the beating.

Thank you for your continued support, it helped so much during the visit.

*Here are the posts that I scrolled in my head when I was silent:

The Project: Me by Judy – Stand on the Rock on FB – this picture represents how I feel when dealing with them and reminds me that it is real.

Brave New Kitty – Reactivity

Caliban’s Sisters – Passive Agression, a Primer

Through the Looking Glass – Don’t Panic: A Guide for ACoNs

Hugs to you all,