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Many years ago I had a partner who used to tell me, “don’t get to close to my grandmother (nanna). She’ll eat you alive.”

I thought this statement was cruel and abusive.

My own grandmother was saintly in comparison, but I didn’t yet know that from the few interactions that I’d had with “nanna.”

What I didn’t know, that my partner had learned from experience, was that nanna was toxic. Absolutely cruel and insensitive to anyones feelings or needs except her own. Narcissistic. No matter what you did for nanna, she found fault in your actions. A kind gesture was perceived as not kind enough, not good enough and reality took on a whole new dimension in her eyes. It took a few kind gestures on my part before I caught on. I can be quite dense sometimes, especially in regards to the elderly. I’m particularly fond of old folks. My grandmother really was a saint.

A few years later I met a woman who had distanced herself from her family. She had done (in the eyes of her family at least) something absolutely forbidden and taboo. She had married a wonderful man that her family did not accept due to the color of his skin. When I asked her about her mother, she’d say “I love her, but I can’t be near her. She’s toxic. I feel contaminated and unclean when I’m with her, and I can’t figure out if I feel unclean, or being with her feels unclean. Either way it hurts me to see her.”

I know that everyone has baggage. Everyone over thirty comes with life experience and not all of it good.

I’m certainly not unique in that way. I’ve spent years walking on eggshells, tempting fate, and being cautious not to upset my volatile (ex) partner, but what I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t alone. I had compatriots. Toward the end of the relationship I was held hostage by a partner who claimed to be suicidal. I was convinced that I had to keep calm, make no waves, and just get through whatever the “crisis of the day” happened to be at any given time. I didn’t want to live with the guilt, or somehow being the cause of her completing her suicidal threat. As my relationship deteriorated into a shell with no interior substance, my love and consideration was used against me as a form of hostage negotiation. The very essence of what made me good, and human, and kind, was used against me, to hold me within that deteriorating shell. My love for another person was used as fodder to gain an indefinite extension of time, taken in small increments of “just a little more time and it will be ok again.”

I lived with a person diagnosed with borderline personality for more than a decade. It’s difficult to spot personality disorders, especially when you’re not looking for them or the person is particularly gifted at hiding them. I had no personal history with mental illness or of unstable personalities. I guess it’s easier to say that there are no cracked up folks in my family tree, and therefore I had no obvious or defined warning flags to look for and this made me vulnerable.  At first I found myself making excuses, and rationalizing odd behavior that should have had me looking or running for the door. It took me years to see the full extent of damage inflicted upon my own psyche and in plain sight. Damage that friends and acquaintances saw, but feared to name openly.

I’ve spent the last three years trying to reunite my step daughter with her biological mother. My step daughter places stumbling blocks and absolute “no go zones” in my path at every attempt.

My relationship with my step daughter has an element of trauma bonding and I wish it were otherwise. Now I understand what this child has known for years.

Ordinarily this kind of revelation is not permitted in this forum or for public viewing, but it is unfortunately necessary to air some dirty laundry and to be open and honest about the past.

I am truly sorry for ever pushing her to reconcile with her biological mother. Some people really are toxic.