What Can I Do about an Abusive Grandparent?

07 May 2019

What do you do about an abusive grandparent, parent or other senior? What happens when they reappear in your adult life in full abusive mode?  And why does it happen, anyway?

Most commonly it happens when, as they perceive it, you are denying them something that they feel entitled to. That “something” can change from person to person.  It may be that you have had a more – or less easy – truce between the two of you for some time, even some years.  Then, the day comes when something that you do – or don’t do – triggers their old resentments.  Equally, something may happen that threatens to “rob” them of what they feel entitled to.

When the abusive grandparent’s mask comes off

All of a sudden, the evil-tongued fiend that you thought had mellowed with time with reverts to type. They remind you of just how toxic they were.  Everything you have ever done to improve their quality of life is dismissed as worthless.  Once again, they  throw a world-class toddler temper tantrum to let you know that want what they, want right NOW.   They will publicly shame you, if possible, to get it.

You find yourself catapulted back into the no holds barred brutality of their emotional abuse.

Once again, you struggle with the shock, trauma and disappointment that whatever you thought you might have been able to build with this person has been shattered.

Plus, you feel emotionally devastated because , no matter how many times you see it, it is still shocking to see an abuser rip off the mask to reveal the venom that lies beneath. Still worse to have to acknowledge that that venom is directed, mercilessly, at you.

So what do you about an abusive grandparent or other elder?

Address your own feelings

First off, as ever you have to address your own feelings.  In this case, you have to address your own feelings and beliefs around mortality.  You have, likely, been taught to respect your elders.  Abusive parents, it seems to me, are particularly good at instilling knee-jerk respect for elders-and-betters into their offspring.  After all, that is their best way to make sure that they have a comfortable old age.

In reality, the belief that you owe your elders-and-betters respect is  actually just another manifestation of the belief that you owe everyone unconditional  – selfless – respect.  Everyone except yourself.

Once again, you need to rework that belief.  The elderly are entitled to respect.  But then so, actually, is everyone – including small children.  Everyone should be treated with respect.

By the same token, everyone should treat everyone else with respect. Abusive people are exceptionally good at blathering on about respect – for themselves – while showing precisely none to their “near and dear”.

The mortality issue

Your elders-and-?  may well be closer to death than you are. However, that does not mean that you owe them anything more than you have already given them – and they have already treated as worthless.

As an adult, you have the right to say, “I have done enough and given enough.  Now, I finally need to prioritise myself.”

If that means that the abusive elder dies without the reconciliation and closure that you would prefer, that is unfortunate.  But it is not your fault.   Sadly, this is not an ideal world. You have had an incredibly unequal relationship with them in which you had to go the extra five hundred miles all the time, while they would not move an inch for you.

Being an adult means accepting the reality as it is, rather than pursuing the fantasy you would prefer.

Reject unfair and unkind demands

All abusers, right up to and including an abusive grandparent, make outrageous demands as if they were the most normal thing in the world.  As one adult to another, it is your right to say “No”.

Expect fallout

It’s time to get as comfortable as you possibly can be with the fact that, whatever you do or don’t do, there will always be fallout.

If you try to satisfy them to “keep the peace”, the fallout is that you will undermine your own healing process. If you bow to something that you know to be manifestly unjust, you end up re-enacting so many past injustices and, ultimately, taking your bad feelings out on yourself.

On the other hand, if you refuse to give them what they want, they will “go nuclear” to the best of their ability. The result won’t be pretty. On the plus side – because I believe there is always a plus side – sit two important considerations,

1) You have redressed past wrongs and finally stood up for yourself.

2) You get to see the reality for what is and understand exactly why you could never have a relationship with them that was worthy of the name.

The best that you are ever likely to get around an abuser, regardless of “seniority”, is a limited, partial win.  They use the amount of pain and guilt that they can cause as a very powerful deterrent.  For them, it is like riding a bicycle – they never forget how to do that.

Cut yourself some slack

This may be the abusive grandparent’s swan song – although, equally, it may not.  An awful lot of abusers seem to go on to live very long, venomous lives.

Either way, they will ensure that they rob you of something along the way.  At the very least, they will rob you of your peace of mind for a while. They are determined to make you lose out somehow – and they will.

So, all you can do, is acknowledge that – once again – you have been hit by the truck of abuse. You are hurt.  Your wounds may well take a while to heal.  The suffering that they are putting you through should never have happened to you. However, around someone like that, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Move on

Still, it was never your fault. In the end, the best that you can do is to accept that you were caught up in a war not of your making. You are hurt but you will heal. Your win in the situation is moving on and denying them further access to you.  By their bad behavior, they have sacrificed their right to a privileged place in your life.

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