Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Mentally ill momma: For more than a decade (I am in my early 30s now), my mother has engaged in a cruel habit of inviting me to a family gathering only to disinvite me at the last moment. Her motivations for doing so always have to do with the fact that I did not demonstrate “enough deference/respect/sympathy” toward her in some trivial conversation leading up to my visit. (I live 1.5 hours away.) These are all imagined offenses, but they are nevertheless used to turn a pleasant holiday into an emotionally charged sympathy session for her.
I understand (along with the rest of my family), that this behavior is largely due to the psychological abuse she suffered as a child. However, after a decade of being invited and disinvited by my own mother, I now see this behavior as abuse in itself. I am reeling and hurt each time she does this and I cannot get her to stop.
I don’t know what to do, but I am tired of feeling like a heartbroken orphan around every holiday. I have written heartfelt letters, given ultimatums, and spoken with my father many times about this. Although my father recognizes that this is abuse, he cannot get her to address this hurtful behavior. (I suspect she suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, but she refuses to a see licensed mental health professional. She only takes part in super-religious theophostic prayer therapy.) I am at a loss.
A: I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this bewildering cycle of offering then withdrawing invitations, affection, and intimacy for so long. I think you have done your best to challenge your mother’s behavior, and must now accept that she is not likely to change, no matter how eloquently you express yourself or how politely and respectfully you make your request.
Your mother knows this behavior hurts you and has decided not to change. Your father knows her behavior hurts you and has been unable to address it. I do not think there is anything else you can do or say that will result in either of them changing their ways.
I think you should stop attending family gatherings and start spending the time and energy you used to spend on getting her to modify her behavior on yourself. Go to a therapist even if she won’t. Make plans independent of your family during the holidays. Spend time with the people who love you and who treat you well.