Distant, detached, disengaged, aloof - the non-intrusive family system

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JenniferSmith

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I've spent a while on these forums and the overwhelming majority of threads are about unhappy relationships that involve intrusive and invasive family dynamics - where people feel they are harassed by unwanted  phone calls, emails, texts, or even visits to their home.   It makes sense that this would be very stressful and people need support and advice for how to cope.

But I wonder if there are any folks here who suffer due to a very different style of dysfunctional family.

In my case, one branch of my family is best described as aloof, disengaged, and distant.  There is no overt abuse or dysfunction (such as substance abuse). The members in this branch are, on the surface, friendly and kind to one another. But there is a lack of closer connection and emotional bonds.  The people in this branch don't live close to each other and don't initiate much contact.  They seem very self-contained and do not prioritize relationships in general. These are not people with psychotic disorders or severe mood disorders - which can cause people to be absorbed in their own world to some extent.

The feeling for me over the years has been one of deep loneliness and isolation.  It appears I "have family" but I don't feel I actually have any sort of bond or connection with them (despite trying for decades).  If I were to do all of the work of reaching out and connecting, they would be responsive, but rarely initiate. And the connection remains very much on the surface. Its like they are just not capable of having a deeper connection where one cares about the feelings and interests of another person, except in a very superficial way.

I'm not posting this to find a label to put on them. I don't think it really matters. I'm more interested in hearing from others who may be able to relate to this sort of pattern in their family. 

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Call Me Cordelia

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My family was somewhat like this once I became an adult, at least in the being distant and aloof. They werenít ever truly kind but liked the attention when I reached out. Which was often, I admit. Way more often than was healthy for me, even though to the Imaginary casual observer we never appeared to be ďclose.Ē When they were around it was horrible for me so I was glad they were aloof most of the time! Once I set some boundaries it all blew up and all the harassment came from my parents and the discard from my siblings so Iím not sure my experience meshes with yours. I think my parents were more ignoring narcissists, until I struck them right in the ego and went NC.

My DHís extended family have always been very distant from each other, with a few notably enmeshed relationships among certain relatives. He almost never speaks with his sister, even though they get along and never had a falling out. What you said resonated. Self-contained and donít prioritize relationships in general. Something happened in the family to form children that way, to seemingly not desire connection. Something in that part of them was wounded and they feel better on their own. Family gatherings with them were generally fine, as in no one was screaming or in a snit, but as you describe very superficial and there was a lot of anxiety over appearances. Is that similar to your experience? Nobody seemed inclined to linger for sure. My MIL is an N if ever there was one, but most of the extended family is FILís FOO. They all play nice for the most part.


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nanotech

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Yes I can relate to this, the cool detachment for much of the time. Love wasnít expressed. or shared.
They got angry though, when I began to comeOOTF.
My UNPDbrother is the original cold fish.
Iím not missing much being non contact with him. 🤔☺️
Because they liked to try to punish through  Indifference and by giving me the silent treatment, it did make it simpler for me just to go no contact.
They didnít notice at first!
Then they mostly ignored it. They are not ones for chasing and harassing me.
There were a few times though when I first I began to de-enmeshand that angered them, when things suddenly became very emotionally charged.
 Against me.
That doesnít really happen these days. And if it does, I donít respond -and it expires from lack of hot air. Lol.
Iíve learned a lot about my own patterns of behaviour, and Iíve changed them.
Strangely, my own low/ no  contact seems to keep them from re engaging, and it also seems to have blocked their anger.. Itís set the cat among the pigeons, yet nothingís happened. All quiet!
  I feel they may be secretly seething, but as we were so socially distant anyway( I always was always the one trying to get us all to be closer) now that I am distancing myself of my own volition, they can hardly complain.

So it made it all the easier, I took a huge step back from my fixer role, and because my role, though very real, was covert and deniable, they couldnít very well complain.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2020, 10:49:21 PM by nanotech »

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PeanutButter

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IME it is more to do with expectations and beliefs about what and who family is and what that means.
 I experienced people who put expectations on me it seemed solely based on that I was their blood relation. As if they had defined how our relationship should be based on my being their biological relative and didnt look for a natural interaction that would grow over time on whatever level it would.
 But yes I have a very disconnected extended family.
 
If there is a hidden seed of evil inside of children adults planted it there -LundyBancroft  Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong good or bad -DebbieFord The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none -Thomas Carlyle

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lavalove

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Yes, I can relate to this.  Mine is distant, disengaged, and aloof unless they want something from me or I don't act in a way they expect or want me to.  Then they are passive aggressive, abusive, intrusive, and give me the silent treatment.  However, what they want is not communicated to me so I don't know what they want or expect in the first place.  Guess I'm supposed to mind read?  :stars:  I won't play the mind reading expectation game.  If I try to discuss it, they are passive aggressive, abusive, intrusive, and give me the silent treatment.  I won't play that game either.  My sibbling non-communicates the same way now too.  Isn't it fun?
« Last Edit: June 01, 2020, 05:48:26 PM by lavalove »

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theonetoblame

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Oh ya, I have an entire side of the family that is aloof and disconnected. It's like a combination of covert narcissism and schizoid traits, they all grew up under an alcoholic and abusive father. 

It was best described by a cousin as "the shop is closed!! don't even bother trying", he hasn't spoken to his father in years and his dad has made no effort to reconnect. Although my cousin sees it as a problem, he also carries some of the same traits and got upset about a minor thing and then never initiated contact with me again.

It simply doesn't matter how much a person tries, it's like throwing energy and caring down a bottomless well. Nothing ever comes back. Really, it's brutal to be on the outside of but at the same time I don't think a single one of them is aware of how the behavior is seen by others. They just seem quietly content and completely oblivious.

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JenniferSmith

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Oh ya, I have an entire side of the family that is aloof and disconnected. It's like a combination of covert narcissism and schizoid traits, they all grew up under an alcoholic and abusive father. 

It was best described by a cousin as "the shop is closed!! don't even bother trying", he hasn't spoken to his father in years and his dad has made no effort to reconnect. Although my cousin sees it as a problem, he also carries some of the same traits and got upset about a minor thing and then never initiated contact with me again.

It simply doesn't matter how much a person tries, it's like throwing energy and caring down a bottomless well. Nothing ever comes back. Really, it's brutal to be on the outside of but at the same time I don't think a single one of them is aware of how the behavior is seen by others. They just seem quietly content and completely oblivious.
[/b]

Yes... this sounds the most similar to what I experience in this branch of my family.

Its very hard to talk about because its just an absence of connection.  Its not the silent treatment and its not punishment or retaliation. Its different than that... exactly like you said in your last sentence- "quietly content and completely oblivious". 

This happens to my en-father's side of the family. They are introverted, highly intelligent, and focused on intellectual pursuits. Emotions, feelings and connecting with others is just a low priority.  Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that captures these people. If you with them, they will talk to you and engage with you, but if not, months and years can pass without contact.

It makes sense that there aren't many posts about this type of dynamic ... because its just kind of empty... there isn't a lot to really talk about.

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Amadahy

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Yes, this resonated, although I hadn't thought a lot about it before your post. 

I remember spending the night with a friend when I was young and being amazed that the parents/children hugged and kissed before bed and told each other of their love. We never did that in my FOO (two parents, one sis).  I liked it and initiated it with my FOO, who thought it weird, but then kind of liked it.  Strange, eh?  There were some major shut down emotions, there.

Now, as a result of Nmom's triangulation and other factors, my only sis and I are not close.  She'll contact me when she wants something and gush words of love, but as soon as she feels satisfied or loses interest in me, it's crickets. LOL.  I don't get too worked up about it, but it is weird. To be fair, I don't contact her, unless it's to inform about mom's health. 

One purposeful goal I had was that if DH and I had children, we'd foster a close, loving relationship with and among them.  Three young men later, I call it a success.  These guys love each other and are openly affectionate, playful, at ease.  It's really nice to see!  I'm glad we can encourage healthy things in our children, even when we didn't have examples ourselves.  It's really kind of miraculous!

Thanks for bringing it up.   :)
« Last Edit: June 02, 2020, 07:30:34 PM by Amadahy »
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samtosha

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Wow, this makes so much sense to me! My parents (now-deceased uNPD F and PD M) were exactly this - detached, superficial, distant, aloof. My F had NO relationship with any of his family, and I have lots of relatives, including first cousins, I've never met. He was severely antisocial and shut down emotionally his entire life. The only person who seemed to matter to him was M and he wasn't that nice to her either. Hints have been dropped about what his childhood was like, but his parents passed away decades ago and nobody every talked about this kind of thing in my family, so I have no idea what he went through as a kid. Regardless, I never felt like I had any relationship with him at all. Father's Day was/is mystifying and depressing to me. He was verbally abusive to my brother and mother, while he ignored me.

My M is also some kind of PD and was domineering, controlling, you name it, to ME most of my life - but in a weirdly detached way. Like, it was clear she'd rather not be bothered with me or my kids but if we are around her, she gave us sh*t sort of reflexively, needing to assert her superiority but just when convenient.  ::)

I've found this confusing since being on this forum because the behavior is a bit different from what most people here experience with their PD parents, but this way of looking at it makes a lot of sense. Oh, also, my brother, abused by F, is her GC. It was like they each picked a kid to torment. We definitely didn't grow up expressing or understanding or talking about emotions. As a young adult, my EQ was very low. I've taught a lot of emotional intelligence to myself over the years and I'm amazed at how little it existed in my family. Suppress, repress, distance, criticize, repeat...

In any case, I've noticed that since I started setting boundaries with her regarding her criticism and superiority that she's withdrawn almost completely. She's a lot happier now since my F died (in Feb) and I had expected she'd start hassling me and being needy but she seems to have adopted the same distant, disengaged attitude my father always displayed. I don't mind! Of course, this is only unless she needs something from me, then she becomes really insistent and annoying and weirdly superficially loving although in a bizarre NPD way. I realized the other day when she said "I really only have one child" - me - because my bro lives too far away to help her with anything - that she sees her kids as existing only to the extent we can do things for her. Even though he's her GC!  :stars:

Anyway, just wanted to say that I do relate to this and I appreciate the chance to join the conversation!
« Last Edit: June 03, 2020, 01:02:06 PM by samtosha »

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theonetoblame

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Oh ya, I have an entire side of the family that is aloof and disconnected. It's like a combination of covert narcissism and schizoid traits, they all grew up under an alcoholic and abusive father. 

It was best described by a cousin as "the shop is closed!! don't even bother trying", he hasn't spoken to his father in years and his dad has made no effort to reconnect. Although my cousin sees it as a problem, he also carries some of the same traits and got upset about a minor thing and then never initiated contact with me again.

It simply doesn't matter how much a person tries, it's like throwing energy and caring down a bottomless well. Nothing ever comes back. Really, it's brutal to be on the outside of but at the same time I don't think a single one of them is aware of how the behavior is seen by others. They just seem quietly content and completely oblivious.
[/b]

Yes... this sounds the most similar to what I experience in this branch of my family.

Its very hard to talk about because its just an absence of connection.  Its not the silent treatment and its not punishment or retaliation. Its different than that... exactly like you said in your last sentence- "quietly content and completely oblivious". 

This happens to my en-father's side of the family. They are introverted, highly intelligent, and focused on intellectual pursuits. Emotions, feelings and connecting with others is just a low priority.  Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that captures these people. If you with them, they will talk to you and engage with you, but if not, months and years can pass without contact.

It makes sense that there aren't many posts about this type of dynamic ... because its just kind of empty... there isn't a lot to really talk about.

I think this side of my family is also quite intelligent, but only one of them became an academic. He also happens to be the most schizoid of the bunch, I had posted about this earlier when trying to understand him. I think it's more a situation of intelligent, childhood trauma, lack of resources and simply never being taught how to be emotionally available or that it was important. Looking back, it's almost funny, it took me years to figure out that nobody ever initiated contact with me. If I reached out, they would often be polite even to the point of one or two of them inviting me over (a couple never did this either, ever). But, that was it.

I got wise to it in my late 20's and eventually 'experimented' with not contacting anyone. Really, it's the easiest family in the world to go NC with, it was like I was never there in the first place.

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nanotech

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It simply doesn't matter how much a person tries, it's like throwing energy and caring down a bottomless well.


I  got wise to it in my late 20's and eventually 'experimented' with not contacting anyone. Really, it's the easiest family in the world to go NC with, it was like I was never there in the first place.

This is how it was for me. I realised I was doing all of the work. I would often have my knuckles rapped -
ĎWhy are you texting me at this time?í or similar grumpy and dismissive responses.
Now they donít get any texts or emails.
As soon as I got wise and stopped, all communication completely stopped.
Wow. Just goes to show how they viewed me.
Everything stopped, that is, except for  the occasional gloom- ridden family meals in a pub/ carvery, where I was expected to turn up with a smile on my face and accept PA behaviour from them for two hours or more.

So why should they mind that Iíve blocked them on Facebook?
 They DO mind this.  :doh:
They donít want normal one to one, or even normal group contact, but they like to see what Iím up to.
Plus they loved to get passive aggressive on group messenger chat. Iíve blocked them on that too.
They sent the flying monkey out to get me to relent on this. Most recently the present pandemic was used as leverage by the FM, who told me Ď they are your brother and sister and it would be a very good time to reach out.í
I had been reaching out for 55 years!
I did tell her that they could always email me.- as in taking the initiative.
I know they wonít.  They donít want to.
 They just want to look at my Facebook photos and read all the comments and form their opinions, without contacting me.
But yes, itís been easy.really.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2020, 04:23:43 PM by nanotech »

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BreakAway

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The feeling for me over the years has been one of deep loneliness and isolation.  It appears I "have family" but I don't feel I actually have any sort of bond or connection with them (despite trying for decades).  If I were to do all of the work of reaching out and connecting, they would be responsive, but rarely initiate. And the connection remains very much on the surface. Its like they are just not capable of having a deeper connection where one cares about the feelings and interests of another person, except in a very superficial way.
:yeahthat:

I have realized over that last few years that I grew up without parents. It was an "in-name-only" situation and they might as well have been foster parents because they just didn't care any more than in a "we did our Job" (feed, send to school, etc.) kind of way. It was my job to create a relationship with them, but I was a child and no amount of trying was going to achieve that.

When I was away in college, they never called me. And if I called them there was always some excuse as to why they needed to get off of the phone. I had better have some kind of "business" to discuss, like what day I was returning "home" for a break or something. This was back before cell phones and you shared a house phone with your roommates. One of my roommates did not believe I actually had parents (I found out later) until they showed up for graduation.

So when going VLC/NC, they didn't really notice much. It wasn't until other family members and relatives mentioned communications with me that they got irked because it made them look bad that they did not know what was going on with me and my family. They must be the "hub" through which this info flows and look like the "connected" parents/grandparents, even if it is entirely superficial. It is all about appearances. We live out of state and have only seen them twice over the last few years at a wedding and a funeral, where they basically ignored us beyond "hello". We were in town last Summer and saw my brother and niece and did not contact them, that really ticked them off. When F tried to call me out on that much later on a phone call, I asked him "why would we invite you to lunch when at the last two events you ignored us and barely spoke to us?". He didn't really have much of a reply to that.

I sometimes worry that I am not more social. But I think that I was so rejected by my own family that I have never felt comfortable with pursuing friendships or putting myself out there. I don't plan parties or invite people to things because I don't believe that they would want to come. I have never bothered with Facebook or social media much at all. I do have a fabulous husband, married 27 years. I have two caring and intelligent children who are now grown. And I have a handful of dear friends. I am good with that.

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nanotech

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Yes, this resonated, although I hadn't thought a lot about it before your post. 

I remember spending the night with a friend when I was young and being amazed that the parents/children hugged and kissed before bed and told each other of their love. We never did that in my FOO (two parents, one sis).  I liked it and initiated it with my FOO, who thought it weird, but then kind of liked it.  Strange, eh?  There were some major shut down emotions, there.

Now, as a result of Nmom's triangulation and other factors, my only sis and I are not close.  She'll contact me when she wants something and gush words of love, but as soon as she feels satisfied or loses interest in me, it's crickets. LOL.  I don't get too worked up about it, but it is weird. To be fair, I don't contact her, unless it's to inform about mom's health. 

One purposeful goal I had was that if DH and I had children, we'd foster a close, loving relationship with and among them.  Three young men later, I call it a success.  These guys love each other and are openly affectionate, playful, at ease.  It's really nice to see!  I'm glad we can encourage healthy things in our children, even when we didn't have examples ourselves.  It's really kind of miraculous!

Thanks for bringing it up.   :)
Yes about our own kids.  Mine are close too, and itís great to see.They speak directly to each other- I donít orchestrate things like my parents did. Itís healthy.
I learned about hugs and words of love from other families too. X