Thanksgiving, Christmas and Dysfunctional Families


control and abuse in families

Today I am thankful that I came out of the fog of victim mentality. I am grateful that I don’t live in the dysfunction that was my entire life for so many years. In honor of the American Thanksgiving, I am posting a story of a not so great family holiday incident which took place during the process of “emerging from broken;”

Several years ago now, when my husband Jimmy and I were going through the process of repairing the damage done in our marriage (which was after I had gone through my process of emerging from broken), we started to see the dysfunction in our relationships with our parents and extended family.

When we embrace ourselves as valid and worthy people, there are bound to be changes that take place within the family dynamic. Our families were no exception. Busting through the fog is not something that happens overnight, but as we started to stand up for our individual rights, over time we began to notice that Jim’s father was fighting back quite a bit. 

The problems started to become more obvious to us when “grandpa” (Jimmy’s father) wanted our daughter to help him put a new roof on a shop, but he made it clear that he would pay her at the end of the job, and he would pay her what he thought that she was worth. As I said, Jim and I were coming out of the “fog” but we knew what his father’s idea of “what she was worth” was. It would end up being pretty much nothing.  He kept bringing it up, this business of not paying her until later until finally I asked him for clarification. He got mad. Eventually he asked what minimum wage was, and when we told him he got upset and said that he had more time than money. Our daughter didn’t get asked to help with the roof again.  The thing is that she would have done it just because but HE kept bringing up this whole money thing as though he would DECIDE her worth, and it was really De-Valuing to our daughter.  Jim was having memories and realizations of his own about the lack of value his father had constantly put on him.

Then came the day when his parents demanded Jimmy help them with something when he was in the middle of some important farm work of his own.  He finally said that he couldn’t do it because he had to get back to his own work, and his father was stunned… How dare he put his OWN work first? The truth is that Jimmy had never put his own work first before. AND he was constantly reminded by his father of how inefficient that he was as a worker, and that was a spin he lived in all his life ~ finally  Jim said no to something his father wanted and things started to get tense.

It was because of the whole one sidedness of the relationship that we really began to realize that Jim’s father never once regarded anything that Jim (or I ) did as important. That he was only interested in his own agenda. We were in our forties with three children of our own but we were being controlled by his parents.

Then came the Christmas Eve that his parents came over to tell us off and attempt to put us back in our places. They tried to make us submit to them, to bow down to them as we had always done in the past. In front of our children, they reprimanded us, told Jim that his business was a disaster, that he had made a mess of things and that it was my fault because I was a bully who had dictated how the farm should be run and had been allowed to make all the financial and business decisions even though in reality, nothing was a mess at all, and the reason we were in marriage counseling was because I was not ever included in any of the decisions about the business OR about how we spent money.

We were really stunned and at some point during this lecture from Jim’s father, we fell back under the spell of his control and abuse. We got told off. I was stunned realizing that something really bad just happened although I wasn’t really sure what the heck it was. Even though we tried to put up a fight and stand up for ourselves, the fog surrounded us again.

And then his father was happy again.  He got his authority back because we submitted to him. His order was restored. He was in charge again, he was on the throne. And we all went into the living room and opened Christmas presents. I felt like I was dreaming. It all seemed so horribly wrong and yet it was so familiar. I watched my husband relax as though the whole world was restored back to order. And in so many ways, it was. Familiar, safe, comfortable; according to the way that we live under the reign of an abuser Jim was safe, as long as his father was not upset with him. It was as though Jimmy believed that his father could still decide whether or not Jimmy lived or died.

After all the present opening and gift giving was done, and everyone was” oh so happy” we revisited the plans for the Christmas family get together (which had been planned but had never been confirmed because Jim and I were not being compliant) and we were told “No” they were going home. They informed us that they were going to let us “think” about what they said to us and then they left. It took us a few hours to realize that we had just been punished, but it didn’t take us long to realize that this is the way that it had always been. We started to remember all the other punishments.  We had to do exactly what Jim’s Dad wanted, we had to submit to his authority, we had to be who he wanted us to be and do things the way he said we should or we would pay the consequences. 

No equality or equal value, no respect. His definition of love (obedience and compliance) did not apply to him. It was all about power and control. His control. 

And we were great victims; we were always compliant and even PERFECT victims

but when we said no more……

They said goodbye.

But that was their loss. You may think that this story doesn’t have a happy ending, but think about it. What did we lose? What did we gain? We don’t have to live in that nightmare anymore.

Today I am grateful and extremely thankful for the fact that no one dictates what I do and don’t do. No one tells me who I am or who I should be. I am grateful for my freedom and wholeness, emotional recocery and for the fact that I no longer struggle with depression or dissociative identity disorder. I am grateful that we live in the truth. I am grateful that my husband wants to live in the truth with me, and that in our marriage I have equal value, respect and our children know the real definition of love. I am grateful that I got my life and my voice back. I am grateful that I got my identity back and that the fog is gone. I am grateful for each one of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Please feel free to share.

With love and gratitude ~

Darlene Ouimet with thanks to my husband  Jimmy B for contribution to this post.

Related post; The beginning of Emotional Recovery

Unfriending my Abuser ~by Patty Hite

20 response to "Thanksgiving, Christmas and Dysfunctional Families"

  1. By: lucy Posted: 8th December

    Thank you so much for this post and to all the people that commented.
    I am at the start of a very difficult journey – saying no, I won’t accept this. I wont be tricked into an argument anymore, I wont waste anymore years of my life defending every choice I make to you. And I wont subject my beautiful, loving husband to it, or your insults either.

    You’ve inspired me to write a post of my own. Thank you thank you thank you. xxx

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 8th December

      Hi Lucy
      Welcome to EFB!
      You will find lots of info and support for your journey here!
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Diane Posted: 19th May

    I understand the punishments from in-laws! I felt anger when I read the part of this story where grandpa was attempting to control his granddaughter….just like controlled his son….and it sounds like both in-laws were busy trying to control you…all of you! The old family patterns for the next generation! It is a wonderful thing thing that you were out of the fog enough at that point to put a stop to it! Your husband was also very brave to take his stand and not give in to the old ways. Doesn’t it seem like people who live to control others always end up throwing temper tantrums when someone ends up figuring them and their games out and calls them on it? I understand that on some level to them it isn’t a game…it is what they know and what they probably also endured from their parents, but I read one of your articles and had never thought about it before…that abusers/controllers never pull their behaviors on their children out in public…they are frantic to keep it hidden and secret….so on a huge level they KNOW it is wrong! My mother in-law was very difficult for me to understand in the first years of my marriage, and my husband refused to discuss her other than to tell me that “she doesn’t think anything” when I would ask him what his mother meant by some of her comments. His defensive attitude about her and the ways in which he seemed to act like a little boy around her made it impossible for me to talk about her with him or gain understanding. I discovered as time went by that he wanted me to be the one constantly keeping in touch with her, making our daughter talk to her on the phone , and basically carry HiS relationship with her, if that makes sense. His mother seemed very very nice, and she was generous with her money and with gifts, but as time passed, I noticed all of the subtle ways that she would put me down….always smiling or laughing….”teasing” me. I was confused because on one hand she seemed to like me, but on the other, clearly I was not good enough somehow. The end happened when she started in on my daughter. Favoring one grandchild over her, and then little comments. It was Christmas and she had informed me that I was going to fix the holiday meal….for the entire family. We were visiting and staying with my husbands sister, and I told my husband and he was actually happy to cook the holiday ham for his family. That day I lay down to rest my back and accidentally fell asleep. When I woke up, the relatives…my husbands family…were downstairs sitting in the dark, watching television. His sister was in her office working…Christmas day!…so I rushed around and put on lights and set the table and finished fixing the food. Finally, when his mother arrived, everyone ….not talking to me at all,…gathered around the table and my husband, who WAS helping me….brought out his masterpiece. I said to his mother that he had cooked the ham and she snapped at me “because you were too lazy!” My husband swears he didn’t hear her, but I felt crushed and angry and it was over for me. I realized that miserable Christmas all of the crap she had said or done to me and that it would only continue if I let it. I told my husband a few days later that from then on HE would be responsible for his mother and their relationship and he was now going to be the one to make certain if she received gifts and phone calls from our daughter to HIS mother. His mother called me and threw a fit on the phone, blaming me for all kinds of things and she decided from that day on that she would never ask me about myself again. Like I even cared at that point! My husband was angry with me, but they couldn’t guilt me or manipulate me back into that relationship. She has only now begun to call me….always making certain to lie and tell me that she couldnt once again find my phone number….and now she is mostly polite. My husband now calls her on his own and their relationship is good enough for them…and now he will discuss her with me . Too little too late. But I am free of her and that is a very good thing! I don’t feel a bit guilty anymore but I do find it pathetic that ppl are so wrapped up in controlling others that they lose out on what could have been a lovely relationship.

  3. By: Karen Posted: 25th November

    This could be MY story, it’s so familiar. It is devastating when our families walk away when we start to realize our true value and worth and stop letting them manipulate and control us. Ever since I stood up for myself and told my mom “no” for the first time, she got livid and wrote me some very nasty letters trying to regain control. In the last letter she said she needed time to think and I haven’t heard from her in six months now. She’s distancing me with her silence as a punishment like she often did when I was a child. So be it. I’m through with her immature games. She doesn’t know how to love or what loving someone else is about. It’s all about HER and catering to HER needs. I don’t have any rights in HER eyes. I’m just someone to play games with. A toy. An object. I’m not her daughter anymore. But that’s OK. I never was.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th November

      Hi Karen
      Isn’t it telling when only one NO or standing up once causes such a fall out! About punishment, realizing that pattern was SO huge and helpful in my recovery. My father in law must be in total shock that his punishment didn’t work. I have realized about 100 other punishments that I didn’t even catch on to before since the fog cleared.
      Thank you for your heartfelt comments. Hugs,

  4. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 25th November

    Hi Martha
    Thank you for your amazing and insightful comments! I so much victory! So my self empowerment and self respect. So much growth as you post from how it was to how it is now esp. in your thinking.
    I am sorry that your family has such little regard for you Martha… I am there too so I know those feelings too well myself. Learning to love and define myself has been the single most important, freeing and empowering thing for me on this journey too!
    Thanks for sharing
    Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Martha Posted: 25th November

    Awsome blogpost, Darlene!

    In our family we did not usually have fights, We didn’t usually say what we wanted, whether it was dysfunctional OR healthy; that is except in the course of disagreements, or merely statements.

    Then there was guilt and projections ( ‘Oh, so YOU think blah blah blah, about me..’) (‘Well I guess I’m just the biggest old bitch in town..’)

    It was agonizing living in our family because you never knew what awful thing was going to be attributed to you; when it would happen. It really was a twilight zone emotionally.

    In our family we made many assumptions about how each other felt; because no one was really healthy enough, or willing to try to communicate their own true feelings. Maybe we couldn’t; maybe we didn’t even know what they were. I don’t know about the rest of them, but I walked on eggshells, afraid to make anyone else mad, or offend my extremely hypersensitive mother most of my life- and till the end of hers.

    The danger in making all those assumptions about how each other felt was that many times those assumptions were very wrong; and they were acted upon without respect to real and healthy boundaries.

    In our family, a ‘boundary’ meant you just didn’t TELL the other person that were telling the whole world Your assumptions of what they were thinking feeling and doing, and then meddling in their business, trying to control them without telling them….Our dysfunctional ‘boundary’ meant you never were honest about what you meant, or what your intentions were, or what you were doing….As long as you did that and were NICE to each other, even when you were passively agressively insulting someone, well, everything ran like clockwork…Until people’s lives fell apart, And then, Why, no one had a clue about why….Talk about a group of people who hid themselves from themselves….

    Recovering from this has been terribly hard. I grew up not trusting anyone, and neither did I trust myself! I truly believed most of my life that if I thought something, it was wrong. It was the one thing I could count on; I was wrong. Imagine hanging your perception of the whole world on That. That meant- if that were true- and I was trained to believe that was true; that I had to go to someone else to tell me if how I felt and thought was the truth. It was my mother who held that power.

    I still love my mother. I even miss some things about her,she was the only mother I ever had. I don’t know what it would have been like to have had a different type of person for a mom. I have nothing to compare her with as a mom- but she really screwed up the thinking of each child in our family. Why? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

    I have had to go very slow, like a toddler, observing, listening to my feelings, making mistakes. For me dealing with reality about feelings and about dealing with other people has been at the heart of this. I HAD to begin learning to trust myself.

    Arguing and ‘defending my position’,or debating is not something I do well at all. I should not have to try to ‘prove’ to someone else why I do or don’t want to think a certain way, or feel a certain way.

    I don’t owe anyone explanations. I know I mean no harm to anyone; and I know my very life is at stake here.

    My family doesn’t speak to me really, except for one person.

    Earlier this year we had killer tornadoes in my area. After a whole day of F-3, F-4, and F-5 tornadoes rolling through here every couple of hours, sitting in my closet; I wondered:’Will my family even know if something hasppens to me? Will they even care?’ The answer is ‘No’.

    They live 2 hours away. Several people were killed in my community that day. I never heard the first word, then, or later about how we were were etc….

    I receive a Christmas card and bithday card each year from one, no personal message….Its as if I live across the world. They acknowledge I exist, but nothing more.

    I do not, in my personal life, anymore, want the people I love to believe I am indifferent, or do not care about them. I try to show the people I love that I DO love them.

    For me, I have had to learn to love myself. Indifference is a terrible thing to live with. All it conveys is you just don’t matter.

    Recovery has been rocky but FEELING as been the key for me.

    Happy Holidays everyone.


  6. By: Kelly Posted: 10th December

    “the devil I knew” wow I can relate to that! I often wondered why in my twenties i chose to be with such an obviously abusive selfish man who was so opposite my father but being with him felt “like home” so familiar. The way I would run into our bedroom and hide under the covers and cry just like I did as a child. It was my mother who had done the same to me and hid it all under religion. She still goes to church everyday, is in the healing ministry and her house is full of religious icons like it was when i was growing up but it took me until I was 40 to realizet that her heart is not Christian. Just because you go to church it does not make you a christian no moreso than going to the garage makes you a car. She is now ‘punishing’ me and my new wonderful husband and her only grandchildren because I have stopped the abuse. She was trying to turn my own daughters against me by talking bad about me to them. I am sorry but I live for my daughters. They are my whole life and I have sacrificed everything for them. My friends even tell me I do way to much for them but I realized how bad it was when my daughter one day said “Do you want to hear a typical conversation with grammy?” She put it on speakerphone and all I heard was bashing of me and my husband. All we have done is for our daughters – sports, the best schools, music lessons, theater clubs, volunteering as family, family pets that they wanted, playdates and having friends over – you know all the things parents who care do. I was shocked and i realized the talking back and defiance I had recently seen in my daughters stemmed from my mother telling my girls they didn’t have to listen to me or my new wonderful husband.

    He is so not the type i am usually attracted to because there is no drama, no guilt, no controlling, in fact it really made me uncomfortable and he let me lead or make decisions and i have to tell you my role in life has always been the peacemaker, and I found myself creating drama because it was familiar to me!

    Wow I am now 4 years into this marriage and my husband and therapy has shown me that it is okay to be happy to do away with guilt and just love myself for who I am , do the right thing and love others but it has also taught me to set boundaries and I can choose to not be a part of that dysfunction and those old dances that I refuse to dance anymore because someone always ends of being hurt and it is usually me.

    I choose not to play the placater, the appeaser, the peacemaker, the victim role anymore and it is freeing! I know that I am a good person and a good mom and wife and I am happy for the first time in my life!

  7. By: Jen M Posted: 27th November

    This was so wonderful, Darlene! You can’t imagine how similar it is to my own situation. The people in my life used illness as a means to control me. It got to the point where these illnesses were so well timed, I began to suspect there was some ability to control when they occurred. Anytime I put healthy boundaries to the relationship, another illness occurred. And there I was again, back in their control.

    Sad part is, I find myself falling into this trap with other relationships. Only recently am I learning that it is MY decision whether other people control me or not. Not their decision. And when I trust in God instead of myself or others, I am finding this situation easier to identify. God has a way of really showing what is true when we trust in Him.

    Thanks for your ministry. Jen

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th November

      Hi Jen
      Yes I can relate to this too. I even remember this one time that I was really sick and I got a lot of attention from it, and then since I got lots of attention from being sick I think I actually wanted to be sick because that is when I felt “loved”. I know in many relationships that I had as an adult I got sick especially if I got scared. And as you say, gave them all the control. Well, one thing I know for sure now is that I am rarely sick! LOL
      You are right, it is very your decision if people control you are not. It is up to us what the boundary is! (we just have to figure out what it is and then stick to it!)
      Hugs, Thanks for being here.
      Hugs, Darlene

  8. By: Kathryn Devine Posted: 25th November

    And Jim, I forget to mention you; a coupla of Virtual hugs to you as well.

  9. By: Kyla Posted: 25th November

    Thanks for sharing this Darlene, always inspiring to me and always makes me tear up. Thank you for sharing your journey and what you have been through, and what you have learned on the way. This brings inspiration, to those like me and others who come from a similar background and are on our healing journey’s. I feel i still need work on this victim mentality, i still at times find myself feeling as though that when my bf tells me something i take it as an “attack” or feel he is “messing with my mind” for awhile i actually felt i believed he was mentally abusing me) I think up until recently I realized the truth was, that I am still in that mode, of feeling like i’m being abused etc and misunderstand and or jump to conclusions. I know this isn’t good and is something I strive to work on and want to be at the point where i no longer think like that.

  10. By: Jim Posted: 25th November

    Im glad your husband and yourself over came such a controlling man as his father. My own father expressed my worth by constantly calling me a stupid brat throughout my entire life. So I became stupid to please him. It has taken me a long time to realize that I do have some intelligence. Onetime he even threatened to drive the car off a cliff because he was tired of his children, just stupid brats. I separated myself from the dysfunction although it still greatly effects my self esteem. My father was a very angry, controlling man. When I understood what kind of man he was, I felt so sad for my mom. She was such a loving , kind woman, yet so emotionally abused by him.


    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th November

      Hi Jim,
      This is a terrible way to grow up ~ being called a stupid brat. This is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. Some parents do it with actual words like your father, and others insinuate it, and make it hard for us to put our finger on exactly what is “wrong” with the relationship. When we grow up this way, the whole thing becomes normalized. Even if we see someone elses father saying these things it is easier to realize that “that father” is wrong, then to realize a parent of our own is wrong.
      Thank you for sharing Jim, great to have you here,
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Kyla,
      This process has many layers and levels of healing. The damage done to us as children has far reaching effects and it is easy to get mixed up about who is abusing us. That is why I am so big on sorting the roots of it out. Once I dug to the bottom of where my belief system came from, I started to see a pattern and started to realize what I believed about myself. Then in my present day situations, I could tell where a trigger came from and eventually I could tell if it was a “true” devaluing situation, or just a trigger from my past. So getting to the point where you no longer think like that requires that you figure the WHY of it out! And something else that I learned in a big way; relationship takes two people. I was used to and comfortable believing that I was responsible for the entire burden of the relationship. My husband had to learn a new way to participate in relationship with me, because he was fine letting me carry the entire burden alone. Turned out that he had his own issues that HE had to deal with. It wasn’t a one way street… so what I am saying is; don’t just believe that every problem you have comes from your “mind” and that YOU have to try harder to fix it.
      Thank for sharing and for being here
      Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Shanyn Posted: 25th November

    Oh emotional terrorists and controllers! Be they parents, siblings, grandparents, in-laws they all operate the exact same. And I’m so happy for you and for Jim that you escaped the fog Darlene. I remember so clearly the day I left my abusive ex husband, it was the day his mother shook me so hard I had bruises and yelled at me about what a rotten person I was, how I let them down by not getting pregnant, by questioning and trying to find my own way. By joining a cult (not really!) and for not ‘getting medicated so I was more manageable’. I realized that I was steps away from being in a place where death was close at hand. I went home for ‘lunch’ grabbed my dog and left.

    I went right back home to my own controlling family and right back into the safe cocoon of the ‘devil I knew’. No less controlling, no less bullying but familiar. Now when I look back I escaped once, walked away once and then learned to slowly try to stand up for myself, to speak up and to be heard.

    So hard, so challenging and I’m so sad that on some days I fight against the bindings that are no longer there and I lash out at old feelings because of the frustrations of family games (which I despise!)and because no one else wants to see or hear what is going on around them I pull myself back. Distance from THAT mess which isn’t mine is an amazing freedom to finally have. I can say, “Hey it’s your deal.” and go out the door.

    Hard won freedoms, slashing at the fog and cutting away the bindings of lies and abuse. Good for you, and good for Jim! Much love and many bright blessings…

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th November

      Hi Kathryn!
      Thank you for sharing your gratitude! I am grateful for all the things that you shared and that the fog is clearing. After I published this post yesterday, I started to remember all kinds of other things about my father in law, all kinds of little devaluing things that I accepted and put up with without any kind of fight whatsoever.

      Thank you for sharing Dr. Kathleen Young, I like her work. (I have guest posted for her blog if anyone is interested ~ here is the link ~ Learning to Love Myself ~ The Beauty in the Broken)

      Thanks for the hugs you sent Jimmy and I!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Shanyn!
      Wow, thank you for sharing your story Shanyn. It is hard and challenging. One of the things that I found out is that I had a false belief about how much I “needed them” and I had a lot of fears about standing up for myself. Those fears are from childhood, where we could not stand up for ourselves or we would pay even greater consequences. I got stronger with time away from them; more and more fog lifted and it became clearer to me that no one “deserved” to be treated with such ill regard. My father in law would not have tolerated me treating him the way he treated me, so why did I accept it from him?
      I thought of a zillion more blog posts I could write about that one night. I might do a continuation around Christmas. =)
      It does take time for clarity to come and for the fog to clear… but when it does the fear clears too.
      Thanks for being here Shanyn!
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: Kathryn Devine Posted: 25th November


  13. By: Kathryn Devine Posted: 25th November

    I am grateful that I watched the Oprah show a few years ago and heard the words that spurred me to do a similar thing Darlene; to say No to some highly abusive people; the people who wanted the old Kath to continue to behave, to do what she had always done, to not buck the system; to be quiet.

    I am grateful that I found the strength to walk away from such dysfunction and to do so as a woman, because women and women alone are much easier targets and sustain more abuse because their aloneness makes them that more vulnerable. It is just what bullies do; they like to/need to work in a gang an awful lot of the time.

    I am thankful that I have been able to withstand all of the nasty things that they did afterwards; the multiple attempts to try and make me feel guilty; to shut me up, to pull me down, to pull me into line. It has been hard going though, very hard. I have been so lonely sometimes that I contemplated doing desperate things.

    I am very grateful that I have learnt to read and write, because it has been in the attainment of those skills I have finally found my voice and which I have used in the best way that I know how. (The pen is mightier than the sword).

    I am grateful that I found people like yourself who have been there for me and my friends here in Australia, who did their damnedest to make sure that I was rarely alone; good and decent people and that I am making more friends.

    I am glad that I have found You and have been able to access your blog, as I continue to grow my strength and knowledge so that the fog of depression continues to clear.

    I found this handy article by Dr Kathleen Young this morning that I intend to print off and keep close by; to Remind me always and especially as the festive season fast approaches that what I/we have done is not uncommon and that it was a healthy thing to do.

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