False virtue alert! False virtue alert!

Dear Amy: My daughter is toxic. She and her husband live with me, but with my help of a hefty down payment they will soon be moving out.

I am looking forward to their absence. I am thinking of changing the locks once they leave.

My abrasive daughter tends to get angry and then cut out whomever she thinks offended her.

The list is long and includes her only brother, my sister, a nephew, my brother, his only daughter, many of my friends and their spouses, many of her own friends, her husband’s family and all of his old friends.

My elderly mother (94) and myself, at least some of the time, get caught in the crossfire, and then she will stop speaking to us for weeks at a time.

Recently, however, her angry behavior escalated. She knocked me to the floor. Although I wasn’t injured, I was shocked.

I believe she needs therapy to deal with her outsize anger. I spoke to her about it. Not surprisingly, it turned into an argument.

Of course, I was wrong to poke an alligator with unsolicited advice, but I am her mother and I do care about her.

Her husband is a nice person, but he is cowed by her furious temper.

When my daughter takes offense, she inflates the issue to gargantuan proportions, adds it to a litany of former insults, and believes she is the victim. She does not tolerate any disagreements (no matter how small) and when she argues she tears her opponent to shreds with every imaginable insult.

The strategies that are NOT effective include, tiptoeing around, agreeing — (thereby fueling the rage), apologizing (which justifies her feeling offended), trying to provide insight into the insignificance of the problem, trying to be understanding, or trying to ignore it.

Have any ideas?

— Mother

Mother: Yes, your daughter needs help. I could speculate about what is going on with her, but she should be seen by a physician and a mental health professional for an assessment. Will she submit to this? Probably not, because one aspect of her malady, temperament and personality is that she cannot admit that she has a problem, or that she IS a problem.

However, I’m most concerned about you and your 94-year-old mother, and in my opinion, you should be concerned, too.

If your daughter ever threatens or physically harms you or anyone else in the household, you should call the police and she should leave the household immediately.

She has a history of initiating arguments and then declaring estrangements.

This tendency could ultimately protect you, but if this escalates and she won’t keep her distance, you should file a restraining order.

You may have to love her from a distance.

Unfortunately, you cannot protect her husband, but you can hope that he will find ways to protect himself. (c) Ask Amy

And then we have Miss Manners today…

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law is a bully. For many years, I tried everything to make this relationship work. I attempted to ingratiate myself, politely stood up to her, and let the tears fall as she insulted me. According to her, it is not her fault that I am too stupid to do anything right and am so ridiculously hypersensitive — two of many things she cannot stand about me.

I try to manage the situation by encouraging my husband to visit her alone, and to call her with reasonable frequency. Our adult kids refuse to see her because of the way she treats me, which is not my wish, nor do I want to be the cause of a rift between my husband and his mother.

However, her tongue is getting sharper with age, and I am becoming more resentful — both of the way she treats me, and the fact that my husband ignores the outrageous behavior and demands that I do the same. I believe that he can care about his mom, be a good son and still tell her firmly that she must not speak to his wife in an abusive manner.

He says she will never change, there is no point to confronting her, and I should just be grateful she does not live next door. I feel his silence gives her permission to be unkind, and tells me that I don’t matter to him at all. After so long, I have come to realize that “Mom” is not the only one who will never change, but I am deeply hurt every time.

This has been a particularly bad year for me, far beyond the COVID-induced stress that we are all feeling. I am dreading an upcoming visit, and am not sure I can handle myself in a way that I would not later be ashamed of. Under the circumstances, would it ever be OK to just walk out and not return until her visit is over?

GENTLE READER: The dictate to “turn the other cheek” is catchy, which may explain the popular misconception that it is a rule of etiquette as well as of religion. It is not.

If your husband is unable, or unwilling, to modify his mother’s unacceptable behavior, then it is time to absent yourself when she is present. Walking out in a huff would be rude, which is why you will be discovering unavoidable conflicts, for which you will apologize on your way out the door. (c) MISS MANNERS

And both of these letters got me to thinking about WHY we value making an effort in such relationships. I think both letter writers made long lists of what they’ve already tried so that the advice columnists couldn’t say, “Well, have you tried such-and-such psychological tip for getting along?”

As another example of that, a lot of people mention that they’ve already sought therapy in hopes that the advice columnist won’t refer them to a therapist. What’s funny is that Annie Lane is sort of obtuse to this, so her advice will be, “You really ought to keep discussing it with your therapist!” [Facepalm.] It’s not a very inspired response to, “Therapy isn’t helping. What else can I do?”

Anyway, I’m just wondering why we as a society value making an effort as being the virtuous path, even when the person in question is impossible to get along with. I’m starting to think it’s a false virtue. I don’t see anything good about it at all. I mean, really:

Under the circumstances, would it ever be OK to just walk out and not return until her visit is over?

She doesn’t need my permission, but YES YES YES! It’s okay to just walk out and not return!

Walking out in a huff would be rude, which is why you will be discovering unavoidable conflicts, for which you will apologize on your way out the door.

I agree, but with one caveat: if the letter writer finds herself in a situation where she has to walk out in a huff (because she’s backed herself into a corner somehow and can’t make up a pretend outing on the spot), then she should indeed walk out in a huff. Anything would be better than being forced to tolerate her mother-in-law, and that would include rude, huffy departures. Geez.

Like, don’t be a hero. Put yourself first.

It’s a hard lesson to learn that some people shouldn’t be kowtowed to, and I think it’s hard because we’re socialized to be tolerant and accepting and to honor family members just because they’re family members. I say, enough is enough. I mean, the family members in question here sound beyond horrible.

If I were the second letter writer, I’d have no issue whatsoever with my husband spending time with his mother. But she wouldn’t be allowed inside my home. I’d have to draw a hard line there. Maybe if it’s that important to my husband, and she can be trusted not to snoop, and if she can come when I’m elsewhere. Maybe. I’d be willing to try it on a trial basis in the name of marital harmony.

The dictate to “turn the other cheek” is catchy, which may explain the popular misconception that it is a rule of etiquette as well as of religion. It is not.

Thank you, Miss Manners. Amen! Preach!

I’m a huge fan of Jesus’s, but the whole concept of turning the other cheek is a bit… how to put it… too tolerant. I think the general message He intended was that we shouldn’t seek revenge, not that we should let people mistreat us again… and again… and again. My sense is that He was referring to how to react when someone hurts you unexpectedly, not how to react if someone constantly bullies you. I’m not a Biblical scholar, but that’s my take. Jesus, as I know Him, doesn’t want bullies to thrive on tormenting people.

But this gets us back to why it’s such a false virtue to tolerate bad behavior. Badly behaved people can count on the rest of us to be tolerant, since we were raised and socially conditioned that way, and they totally take advantage of that. That’s not good.

So I’m here to preach alongside Miss Manners and Ask Amy that it just shouldn’t be tolerated. Avoid the person in question as much as possible! Just don’t subject yourself to it! There’s no reason why in-laws have to get along. There’s no reason why parents and their adult kids have to get along. And in fact, oftentimes people don’t get along. Why push yourself past it when that never works anyway? Why make the effort? There’s no goodness inherent in doing so, not that I can see. All you’re doing is subjecting yourself to misery.

And I do see it as being devoid of virtue. There are no arguments to be made in favor of it. In the second letter, if the husband were to say, “But I really want you to be close to Mother!” Well… and I really want to win the lottery. I love you, my husband, but no. Just no. 

And if that same husband were to say, “But you have to keep communications open so our kids can spend time with Grandma!” (Assuming the kids are minors in this scenario.) Well… is this the sort of grandparent I’d want to expose my kids to? Snort. Nope. Like, I don’t see that happening.

But even outside of those arguments, I don’t believe there’s anything innately or inherently “good” about pushing yourself above and beyond to get along with a bad family member. I’m hoping that at least one person out there who needs to hear this today will stumble upon my blog. (‘Cause the rest of you all probably already knew I felt this way.) I’m just saying, if it doesn’t serve the higher good, then it shouldn’t be considered virtuous.

Look at this again. This is what the first letter writer has tried for her daughter:

The strategies that are NOT effective include, tiptoeing around, agreeing — (thereby fueling the rage), apologizing (which justifies her feeling offended), trying to provide insight into the insignificance of the problem, trying to be understanding, or trying to ignore it.

And the second letter writer:

For many years, I tried everything to make this relationship work. I attempted to ingratiate myself, politely stood up to her, and let the tears fall as she insulted me. According to her, it is not her fault that I am too stupid to do anything right and am so ridiculously hypersensitive — two of many things she cannot stand about me.

And then, look at this, also from letter writer 2!

Our adult kids refuse to see her because of the way she treats me, which is not my wish, nor do I want to be the cause of a rift between my husband and his mother.

Wow. She’s saying, “It’s not my desire for my mother-in-law to have failed relationships with everyone, nor do I wish to cause problems between her and her son.” But, um. Now, we’re really being too virtuous. The fact that the mother-in-law can’t get along with her adult grandkids and others in the family is entirely her fault. And if someone mistreated me that badly, I’d want my (fictitious) adult kids to take my side–not because I’d really want to cause problems (because it wouldn’t be me causing the problems!), but because no one should stand by and tolerate such abuse, and all in the name of familial harmony or other such ridiculousness!

Bullies thrive on people who make too many concessions and allowances for others. The most virtuous thing that the rest of us can do is to NOT keep giving bullies exactly what they want. That needs to stop. Don’t feed the bully. 

*****

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I don’t know whether I want to blog about it yet or not, but in the meantime, you all, I got a fabulous Tarot reading from Maria at Emotional Musings. She is incredibly talented, and I highly recommend her services. You all should turn to her for all your Tarot needs. I’ll share my Tarot reading later if I decide to blog about its topic, and she said she doesn’t mind if I do, in fact, share the reading (I checked!). But just let me say that she’s all that!

Speaking of talented Sagitarrius Tarot readers (because what other kind is there?), I think I might write to my former friend, Ash, and try to explain the situation the way I see it. It does seem, as Ashley pointed out to me, that she might’ve felt taken advantage of or confused about psychic readings versus friendship, so maybe I should plead my case here. After all, there’s no harm in attempting to communicate. I’ll keep you all posted!

2 thoughts on “False virtue alert! False virtue alert!

  1. In letter #1, describing one’s own daughter as “toxic” across the board is pretty yucky. Clearly, there are behavioural issues, but my guess is that mummy dearest has contributed to the situation far more than she’s letting on.

    I hope you get a positive response from Ash!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise an interesting point! Now I suddenly want to know what sort of mother the letter writer has been, particularly while her daughter was growing up! 😮 Good insight!!

      Thanks!! I’ll keep you posted!! Here’s hoping!!

      Liked by 1 person

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