Dear Annie: My grandfather was violently abusive to his wife, and then his daughter (my mother), and then to me. He was also very racist — he punished me for having a black friend in grade school — and just generally cruel.
Now, his health is not so good, and his old age has mellowed him out considerably. He can still have temper rages if provoked enough, but most of the time he is calm.
The problem is that everyone in my family keeps urging me to spend more time with him “before he’s gone.” Everyone else is content with sweeping the way he treated us under the rug and brushing it off as “that’s just how he is.” Even my mom adores him, despite the things he did to her.
The thing is that I have no desire to see him again. I’ve visited before out of familial obligation, and I was uncomfortable the whole time. He’s never apologized for his behavior or the way he treated us, and he still thinks everything is either his way or the highway. I don’t wish him any ill will, I just don’t want to see him. Am I wrong to feel this way?
— Guilted Granddaughter
Dear Guilted: The answer to the question “Am I wrong to feel this way?” is always no. Feelings, in themselves, are never wrong. It is our actions that fall under the categories of right and wrong, actions such as behaving cruelly and abusively toward vulnerable people. What your grandfather did — not just across years but across generations — was wrong. And it’s easier for your family to engage in collective amnesia than to acknowledge that it happened.
It sounds as though you’ve made peace with this traumatic history and aren’t harboring any anger toward him — that you’ve made the decision not to see him out of love for yourself, not hatred for him. I commend you for doing all the emotional legwork it must have taken to reach that point. Hopefully, your mom will understand and meet you where you are eventually. In the meantime, know that you are not wrong.
Dear Annie: I read with interest the letter from the brother whose sister has Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. My husband has that diagnosis. He was motivated to change because, although he had no insight into his behavior, he wanted to keep our marriage intact. He had therapy with a fantastic therapist (I went with him sometimes) with no appreciable change, over two years. The therapist referred him to an excellent psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with OCPD.
The only way to treat this disorder is with medication. My husband takes an anti-depressant, not for depression but because it’s an off-label treatment. And it works! It’s not perfect; he still is stubborn and compulsive/rigid sometimes, but it changed the whole dynamic for the better. And he has some insight into his behavior, best of all. Our marriage has been terrific for many years now.
I realize the sister is not motivated, but perhaps all her unpleasant consequences could motivate her to go to a psychiatrist. Hope so!
— Been There, Came Out the Other Side
Dear Been There: Changing the dynamic from rigid to a little more relaxed is wonderful, and I congratulate you and your husband for keeping at it and finding a good psychiatrist who really helped. Thanks for sharing your story.
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