Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Aftermath, Part 2

I feel diminished.

My heart hasn't gone completely to stone, but it is amazing how much good can get cancelled out by so little bad. The altruism I was raised to harbor in my being is gone. I write this not to complain, or bemoan the situation, but to reflect upon it. I want to be able to remember these feelings should they leave me, use them as inspiration for works, or simply to dispel complacency.

For everything that happened, I am not stronger. Every time sit to write, the scars on my hands remind me of what happened that day, and for days thereafter. We so rarely are given a real means to remember the calamity. It is like the fates don't trust me to remember, and that I need to recall these things daily.

We always see the sum of ourselves, before great calamity, as being something hopelessly unequal to our current state. Still, we try to keep score, a karmic tally to see when things can be normal again. We think we should be past it, ready to move on, just as soon as everything falls back into place. We think that if we can just get even, it'll be like whatever happened, never happened.

It's preached that we should be the change we'd like to see in the world, but what if kindness, altruism, charity, and trust are just liabilities you can't emotionally afford? Some probably just shut themselves in, a few lash out, and most just try to feel nothing at all. Being me, I want to use these sensations in my writing, channel it all into some dark literary journey.

I want to feel it all in ways I can describe later, even if I can't be rational about it now. Maybe it is my own way of coping, but I like to think it is just the measure of any good writer to remember these things. It is hard to impart to others a thing you have never known.

So, I leave this here as a trigger. If I am ever too content or too happy to write something believably, I'll have this to remind me, and my scars.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Escaping Caustic Relatives

If I’m in a room with two people, one has a story about cutting off a caustic relative. Depending on the stage of familial dismissal, the story takes a different form. I have had to give it all a lot of thought recently, and as I began to write those thoughts down, I realized they may be of use to someone else.


First comes the fear, that “oh shit” moment when you realize one of your family members is a danger to your freedom, mental health, or physical safety. You know you need to get clear of them, but you’re worried about what they’ll do, how they’ll react, and when, or where, they will lash out. Likely, the caustic relative has engaged in all sorts of chicanery to hold you emotionally hostage and mess with your agency. If they can’t hurt you directly, they seek a proxy, or directly hurt someone you care about. The need for attention and to be acknowledged is relentless for people like this.

Then, the anger comes. You’ll be angry at the caustic relative and yourself. After all the blame games, second thoughts, self-doubt, and eventual acceptance, none of that will matter. You can’t do anything to change the past, only work toward a better tomorrow, and the day after that. Your sleep will be disturbed for a while, your rituals disturbed, and your life altered in ways you did not expect.

Finally, indifference or acceptance sets in. It is not easy acknowledging that, for your own well-being, you need to avoid someone for the foreseeable future. You will have to carefully obfuscate your movements, online presence, and other activities to make sure you do not have contact with the caustic relative.  

Staying Safe

With caustic relatives capable of doing you physical harm, take no chances. Get an alarm system with a panic button hooked up to police dispatch, reinforced entry doors, a firearm you are comfortable using, or a big dog that loves you. If your lease is up, move somewhere else, and do what you have to in limiting the number of people knowing where that is. Be vigilant, and have your head on a swivel. It’s never just another day walking to your car in the morning when someone wants to hurt you.

If a caustic relative comes to do you harm, get somewhere safe, and call the police.

Emotional violence is more complex.

For example, I have been threatened with surveillance, and having my privacy violated. Basically, the caustic relative told me I was being watched and that if I did something they did not like, they would know, and unspecified consequences would follow. It might be an empty threat, born of their own impotence, or they may actually have a means to keep track of you.  

Blocking on social media, email, smartphone, changing passwords, and removing any access to your life from the caustic relative is important. Even after all that, you should probably limit geographically tagging your movements online via review services and similar. You leave more of a trace online than anywhere, and limiting your exposure is important.

Also, limit what you disclose to anyone that may still be talking to the caustic relative. That part sucks, because they are often unwittingly disclosing information to that end. Having a frank conversation with people choosing to still interact with the caustic relation is probably the best way to head that off. If a caustic relative can get at you through a proxy, they will absolutely do it.

The Aftermath

Navigating the landscape of family drama in the wake of familial dismissal is difficult. There is no advice for this. You may get to watch your share of abuse get appropriated to others still choosing to interact with the caustic relative. Just because you have removed yourself from the equation does not mean the mathematics behind the abuse ceases to be. Malignant mental illness, substance abuse, or whatever created the caustic relative will continue to drive them in your absence.

It helps me to remember that I’m not a trained clinical psychologist, substance abuse counselor, or similar. I don’t have the tools, or resources, to grapple with whatever created most caustic relatives, and I can’t force them to seek help. Everyone copes in their own way, and clearly I intellectualize and write to that end.

Most caustic relatives are driven by a profound desire to be acknowledged, feel important, and the illusion of power to put salve on their own general impotence. They took it for granted, that because you were family, you’d always be there to kick around, and be controlled. You departing that situation is a cold reality they are not equipped to deal with in a healthy way.

They might threaten to harm themselves, others, or find a new way to hurt you. Often, they will go after whatever it is that gives you the most security. That might be your job, a spouse, or your reputation. Identifying where you are vulnerable and installing safeguards is not just important for your peace of mind, but will speed the moment when the caustic relative’s behavior will hopefully terminate.


Caustic relatives will adopt tactics to lure you back. Gifts, and other gestures, a kind fa├žade, or other subterfuge will get employed if bullying you won’t work. The more cunning your caustic relation, the more subtle the tactic that will be employed. Falling for this means that they can quickly return to their old patterns, and you’ll have to start all over, and try to remove them from your life, again. This effectively resets the clock until they terminate their original behavior.

Any tactic that actually works, allowing the caustic relation to gain access to you again, will be the starting point next time. They’ll likely skip escalation and go straight for what they know. That means that the longer you hold out the second or third time around, the more dire and extreme they will become. Something worked last time, they just need to start there and work their way up.

Building a ritual of avoidance will be necessary, and in building any ritual there must be rational thought. Departing your emotions to grapple with a caustic relation is key, because those are the primary weapons they’ll try to use against you. Checking with mutual relations and friends to make certain they are not going to show up where you do, and conducting reconnaissance to that end is tiring. I try to keep it in perspective, knowing that contact with a caustic relation will cost far more emotional resources than keeping my ritual.

Identifying Caustic Relatives

If a relative does you physical harm, call the Police. Don’t even fuck around with this, get the cops involved, file charges, and document the act. Get an order of protection, and make yourself as safe as possible.

If a relative does you mental or emotional harm, this is harder to identify. I have seen all sorts of emotional violence perpetrated by caustic relatives, some more insidious and harmful than others. Simply, caustic relatives will try to erode your identity, personal agency, and devalue you so that you’re easier to control.

Every caustic relative I have known has two or more of these archetypes they assume depending on the circumstances. Regular people engage in this nonsense as well, but your caustic relative probably uses these archetypes constantly, possessing no other way to interact with others.

The Cheerleader – Relatives of this type will use gatherings meant to put the focus on you to push their own agenda or engage in some form of self-aggrandizement. They will arrive with people you did not invite, add events designed to showcase their abilities, or otherwise act to monopolize the attention of attendees. If you have any thunder, caustic relatives of this type will try to steal it.

The Critic - It does not matter what your goals are, they will not be happy to see you pursuing anything that might grant you more independence. They will be superficially be glad you’re trying for a better job, heading to college, or preparing for a trip. However, they’ll tell you that it’ll probably be useless, temporary, or that you could be doing something better… if you’d only just listen to them.

The Matchmaker - They will attempt to manipulate your relationships with other people. This is particularly the case if you have a protective spouse or family member actively preventing the caustic family member full access to you. Caustic relatives trying to meddle in your marriage are the most dangerous as they want access to your most important relationship and a primary source of your agency and security.

The Handler - If a relative constantly uses a proxy to deal with you when disagreements occur, this is a red flag. Only people up to bad things limit their personal liability in this way. For example, if you find yourself constantly dealing with your caustic relative’s beleaguered spouse when things go wrong, that’s a bad sign. People that lack empathy, or a conscience, will often assign someone the role of emotional proxy. The most dangerous caustic relatives will manipulate several people into handling crisis situations, they likely created, for them.

The Lawyer – These are relatives that try to get what they want through binding verbal agreements, while implying you are not trustworthy. If you have to swear an oath, which “they’ll hold you to”, in resolving even simple issues, this is a giant red flag. People who use lies and subterfuge to conduct their affairs only feel safe if they assume everyone else is doing the same thing. The most malignant caustic relatives use this tactic to erode your sense of worth, suggesting you are not trustworthy, and need supervision they will happily provide.

The Bully – Relatives that hold their achievements as better than yours, their choices superior, or resort to name calling when they don’t get their way. They’ll try to devalue you through overt verbal violence, attacking your choices, appearance, and anything they have identified as important to you. You’re easier to control if you think you’re worthless. A relative that delights in using a demeaning nickname for you as short form for showing their displeasure, is a bully.

The Consultant – Your relative tries to step in, deeming yourself and/or spouse insufficient to keep you safe. These people freak out if you don’t answer your phone when they call, or respond to their text messages within a few minutes. They’ll want access to your property, computer, and similar, all in the name of keeping you safe. They’ll want to know who you talk to, recommend you stop talking to certain friends, and try to manipulate your social calendar.

The Shaman – Relatives of this type often speak for the opinions of the deceased, God, and/or claim to bear the standard of tradition for the family. Your dead Uncle Bob (God rest his soul) would be so angry right now if he could see how you are not doing what this relative wants. God, Jesus, or some other mythical being does not want you to have your own agency or life. You need to grow up and devote yourself to whatever thing the relative thinks you should be doing. Also, everyone in the family going back to colonial times has been doing the thing, and if you are not doing the thing, you are not a “real” member of the family.

The Leech – These relatives are helpless. They need help, and nothing less than all your time and resources will be required to keep them just this side of disaster. You are the only one that can help them, and no one else loves them the way you do. If you are not there to help them avoid even the simplest calamity, you’re a selfish monster, irresponsible, and should be ashamed of yourself.

The Double Agent – These relatives go through your drawers, attempt to get you to disclose personal information, and will sit at your computer and check your browsing history while you get another burrito. They derive power and satisfaction from knowing things about you that are none of their business. Even if they never use this information to embarrass or control (rare), they still have an unhealthy need to feel power over you.

The Accountant – These relatives keep a strict accounting of what you have done for them lately. They will compare you to others, recounting what they have done for them, and be sure to point out what you haven’t.  These reprobates deal in a sort of imaginary relationship capital that they use to get what they want. They will place conditions on attending gatherings, and negotiate terms when sharing in expenses and other endeavors. With people like this it is always give and take. You give. They take.

The Samaritan – Relatives of this type seem to always be doing things for you, even when you don’t want them to. They have assigned themselves the role of caregiver. They are uniquely suited to solve problems within the family, for reasons they will happily tell you about over and over again. If you don’t strictly adhere to their proposed solution, you’ll be called selfish. If you don’t want to part with your possessions or time for the cause, you’re greedy. If you don’t want to be part of the mob in their latest misguided interventionist adventure, you’re immature, and need to grow up.

The Bankroller – This relative has money, and uses it as social capital to manipulate you. They’ll gleefully cosign on loans, lend you money, and straight up buy you things. Because they have spent money on you, have a stake in your agency, and own some piece of you. If you are not on their side in argument, or complicit in their nonsense, watch out. They will mess with you to the extent that they have compromised your fiscal agency.  

The Monster – Caustic relatives of this type are your best friend, stalwart ally, and confidant until you do something they don’t like. The monster side of these relatives will resort to intimidation, loud vocal outbursts, and the actual use of, or the threat of, physical violence. These relatives will destroy your property, try to intimidate your spouse/friends/coworkers, and threaten you with all kinds of things. They will regularly give you only one more chance to shape up, before they cut you off. They are unpredictable, dangerous, and have few limits when it comes to their behavior, unless you do exactly what they say.

If I forgot any, go ahead and drop them in the comments.