Trouble discussing family with friends

Does anyone else struggle with discussing their own family with their friends and colleagues? Even questions about what they do or the nature of my relationship with my parent (whether we're close, etc.) I know it would probably appear odd if I just flat out didn't answer the question, or just changed topics, but I usually internally tense up a bit when people ask.

The other day my professor, who has turned into a mentor, said they wanted to meet my mother because she was a big reason I've been so successful; I get it, but it also feels weird when others feel so great about her, considering her abusive behavior that nobody knows about except for me. A lot of people see her as sweet and a good person, which I don't necessarily disagree with, but still. I know there's probably always going to be mixed emotions toward abusers, and that's something I'm coming to terms with. It also feels weird in my dating life when people I'm seeing will ask about my relationship with my family. I'm close, and for the most part everything seems wonderful, yet I'm always worried about what would happen if I came clean and they found out. I would have to eventually introduce them to my family, which seems awkward.

Anyways, tl;dr uncomfortable discussing family with friends and other people, especially abuser, and unsure of how to approach that without "tipping others off."
 

vleon

Learning
In my experience, most people with basic social skills will pick up the cue if you answer "I prefer not to talk about it" when asked about your family. Similarly, I would tell the professor something along the lines of "I don't think it's a good idea." I know it can be hard to speak with that integrity and self care if you're not used to it, but try it if you can.

I'm always worried about what would happen if I came clean and they found out
What do you imagine would happen?

For me, telling the truth is a virtue, but we do not owe the truth to anyone we meet. There are people who will be be avoiding you if you tell them about your trauma. Question is, are those the people you want as friends and partner, if they regard  you as the problem because you were a victim?

but we do not owe the truth to anyone we meet
A clarification: what I meant to say is that we do not owe the truth to every person out there, but to the people we have voluntarily chosen as close friends and partners. That doesn't mean you have to answer every question asked about your trauma. It would be truthful as well to tell them why you cannot or do not want to answer the question.

I also want to add that if you feel that you can open up about your trauma to someone, say a potential partner, it is also helpful to tell them how you are dealing with it. You didn't choose to be a victim of trauma, but you can choose what you will do next. There is something admirable in a person who has gone through hardships but still chooses to live their lives and find friendships and love. A good person will see that quality in you, rather than regard you as damaged goods.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
yes, i have problems discussing family with friends and colleagues. it used to be parents and siblings i had a hard time discussing, but at 68, they seem too socially distant for the topic to come up often or in any great detail. when i do discuss them, it feels as safe as discussing Genghis Kahn or Mata Hari. these days it be my adult children who are hard to talk about. as middle agers, they are as ? ? ? puzzling? ? ? as my parents and siblings ever were.

i keep it to the broad strokes. we are estranged. please don't make me **go there**.
weather we're having, isn't it?
 
I know it can be hard to speak with that integrity and self care if you're not used to it, but try it if you can.
Good point! Not used to that as I grew up in an environment with no boundaries. I always forget it's an option.

What do you imagine would happen?
Mainly that they would think my parent is a terrible person. I feel less worried about people thinking of me as a victim or in the wrong. This probably has to do with the fact that it's very different when someone else judges my personal situation compared to when I do it. It's a liminal space where I can imagine the two seemingly opposite thoughts of first impression vs. reality interact. On a deeper level, I worry that if someone I was close to found out, they would have conflict with my parent, and conflict tends to make me uncomfortable (like I could have just avoided a conflict entirely had I not said anything or introduced the two people).

A good person will see that quality in you, rather than regard you as damaged goods.
Thank you for saying that! Super kind of you. Sometimes it's hard to wrap my head around that.
 

gealach

MyPTSD Pro
discussing their own family with their friends and colleagues?

Colleagues.... are co-workers. Full stop. We can be friendly, but that doesn't obligate me or entitle them to shared information about my life outside of work. Our relationship is centered around work, and my family/childhood/etc aren't a part of that relationship. I understand that people will ask the typical and expected get-to-know-you questions (married? kids? parents?), and they are expecting ''normal'' answers. Since I can't do ''normal'', I have routine vague answers for those questions (no, no, just my mom). Anyone that wants to dig, I tell them I don't discuss my family/childhood/whatever they're digging into, at work. I say it with finality, and have never had a co-worker challenge that. I also don't ask them about their family/childhood/whatever, unless they have first asked about mine - people typically only ask questions of others, that they are comfortable answering about themselves.

Friends... only 1 IRL knows a bit about what happened in my 20's, and that person has also had a glimpse at my mother's abusive behaviour but doesn't know anything about my childhood. That person and another IRL know that I changed my name. No one else knows anything else. I don't have close enough friends, so I don't share any of that. They're good enough friends that know something really terrible happened, and they're good enough friends not to ask about it.

relationship with my parent (whether we're close, etc.)

Are we close (my father)? No. <----- just 'no', no explanation or context, just 'no', and that usually shuts that line of questioning down
Are we close (my mother)? She's lived with me for a number of years. We get along now. <----- and then I typically move the conversation along.
Siblings? No. <----- again, no context or explanation, just 'no'

dating life

That is much more complicated, because it is an intimate relationship, and I think at some point they're due some disclosure. When I was still dating, unless the relationship was serious and long term, I left it at that diaphanous something happened. Only serious, long term, talking about future/marriage relationships, where it's time to either move ahead or move along, got any kind of gradual disclosure. I have no choice about living with these traumas, but my partner does, and it's their choice to make, whether they can live with someone who is living with that. When it reached the point that it was too much for them to handle, the relationship was done.
.
 
Colleagues.... are co-workers. Full stop. We can be friendly, but that doesn't obligate me or entitle them to shared information about my life outside of work.

Very true! Your were responses were so clear and thorough... thank you for that!

Anyone that wants to dig, I tell them I don't discuss my family/childhood/whatever they're digging into, at work.

How would you deal with peers asking the same questions? I'm on a full ride so my "job" is my college education, and I often feel like college blurs the boundaries a bit with roles such as friend, acquaintance, regular person you're working with, etc. The topics that will be discussed with fellow students is going to be more informal and less structured than work. While this does open up more opportunities for mutual connection, I think it can be tricky to navigate at times.
 

vleon

Learning
Mainly that they would think my parent is a terrible person. I feel less worried about people thinking of me as a victim or in the wrong.
That's great, that your friends would take your side. Cheers to that! 🥂
On a deeper level, I worry that if someone I was close to found out, they would have conflict with my parent, and conflict tends to make me uncomfortable
If I had a partner that had suffered from abuse from a parent, it would be painful for me to see her interact with the abusing parent if the abuse had not been acknowledged by the parent, followed by all the hard work to change as a person and and make up for the abuse, to what degree that is even possible. If I were to build my own family with a partner with abusing parents, it would be an absolute demand from me that we protect each other from abusers by not inviting them in our lives.

It seems that you are afraid of a confrontation with your mother. How dependent on her are you right now? Do you expect to be less dependent after you have completed your studies?
 

gealach

MyPTSD Pro
How would you deal with peers asking the same questions?
I don't really see it as being that different from work, except in your case work is an educational facility, and you are fulfilling 2 roles: employee - to work, and student - to learn & earn credentials.

Post-secondary is fun (really, really fun ☺️), and as people get to know you, it's reasonable for them to ask questions about your life, that's a totally normal progression. That still doesn't obligate you or entitle them to shared info on your family/childhood/history/traumas. You can anticipate the questions in that particular environment, think ahead of time about what you're comfortable sharing with this or that person/group, how to respond with as little or as much detail as you choose to share, and how to create a boundary.

'Questions that I consider with these conversations:

Why is this person asking?
- making small talk, they expect a normal answer
- they're oblivious
- gossip, rumors, morbid curiosity
- getting into a deeper friendship
- shared experience/trauma
- they want to disclose

What is my motivation for answering?
- poor boundaries
- sense of obligation
- I want to disclose
- shared experience/trauma
- to deepen the relationship
- the relationship is worthy of this level of sharing/detail

What are the consequences for answering? what do I expect to happen?
- humiliation, judgement
- loss of relationship
- career/professional side-effects
- understanding
- deeper relationship

Unless there's a good reason for them to ask AND for me to answer with any detail AND the consequences are reasonable, my reply is a simple ''no'' or ''I don't talk about... in/at (this environment)''. IF all conditions are met I provide detail gradually, and with the understanding that this may become too much for the other person and they may walk away.
 
It seems that you are afraid of a confrontation with your mother. How dependent on her are you right now? Do you expect to be less dependent after you have completed your studies?

At the moment, I'm living with her for the summer break, but I plan to switch my permanent address to my college; a little worried that it won't work out since it's unknown territory for me. I also depend on her for general questions that relate to finances and getting stuff done. She also does research for me for scholarships and programs I can apply for that will help me when I apply to medical school (but that stuff is more casual). Will be working on reading books on finances and educating myself toward further independence. I do expect to be less dependent after I have completed my studies (and hopefully sooner🤞).
 
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