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Old 11-09-2018, 10:35 AM   #1
DavidMartin
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Trig The other side of family life...

What is wrong with the following story. What dangers did I face and how would you have responded in this situation? What do you think of my (former) friend and her husband? I would be especially interested to hear from anyone with a background in psychology and law enforcement.


*My name has been changed.


Many thanks in advance.



An expatriate former co-worker, turned friend, invited me over to stay with her husband and young son in Spain. They are middle aged, with fairly good education. I am in my 30s and single. My friend was extremely popular at work. I would describe her as an empath and a highly sensitive person. To the surprise of everyone, they had given up their careers in healthcare/social care, sold their house, car and 99.9% of their possessions and left the UK for good. My friend had spoken about starting a business in Spain selling fast food from a van or massaging feet, but that didn't happen. In 18 months, they never worked or applied for a job. Prior to my departure, we spoke several times over Whatsapp about the holiday. My friend asked me to send my bank details, so they could provide me with spending money in Euros and help avoid exchange rates. I declined to provide the details.


The family met me at a railway station and drove 60km back to their apartment in the north. The apartment complex was half-built, almost completely deserted and in the middle of nowhere. My friend gave me a tour of the flat. First, I was shown my bedroom, but she told me not to unpack. I was not allowed to put any of my items in the wardrobes or drawers or use the shelves, in case I damaged them and caused the forfeiture of their deposit. My friend explained that I could use the shower in bathroom 1, but not the toilet, in case the smell entered the bedroom next door. I could use the toilet in bathroom 2, but not the shower cubicle, as it was "too small". I joked that this seemed like a long list of prohibitions, rather than a welcome tour. I sat with the family in the living room, but they did not offer me any refreshments. I eventually had to ask for something to drink. In conversation, I noted a story from the husband about how, on an early trip to Morocco, he'd "inadvertently" found himself in possession of a large piece of cannabis resin that had been given to him by a cafe owner.


I left a gift for my friend as a surprise when she woke up, but this was never acknowledged. There was a terrible atmosphere in the apartment. My friend had become very aloof. I felt uneasy, but the husband was much easier to communicate with. The son was at school. We drove for over an hour through mountains to a national park. The journey was about 70km. When in the car, the husband explained that his wife was not competent enough to drive in Spain. My friend sat in the back, hardly speaking and barely responding to anything I said. We had a picnic in the canyon and then walked for an hour into the park. The husband out of the blue suggested that my friend and I could wait in the canyon, while he drove back and fetched their son. I didn't think he was being serious, but he persisted, while I politely deflected his suggestions. I felt uncomfortable at the idea of being left alone with someone who had become uncharacteristically aloof. There was no phone signal. We had no food or drink left. The husband had made me feel uneasy with stories about snakes, scorpions, bears and processionary caterpillars. The husband then decided to give me the "casting vote" as "our guest". I could either agree to his suggestion or the day out would be ended. He ended the day out, we returned to the car and drove back.


On the return journey, the husband explained that they had moved 3 times in 18 months. The son was attending his 3rd school, which contradicted their earlier account of not wanting to move schools while in the UK. I was surprised to hear that southern Spain was "too hot", as the couple have visited most countries in the world. The husband said very negative things about people in their current locale. They were being stalked by a woman, the family opposite were trying to exploit them and the man across the precinct was a “tosser”, despite having never spoken to him.


We collected the son and went to a disused railway station in the mountains. Despite their earlier insistence at having the son join us in the canyon, the parents repeatedly told the son to stop talking and berated him for putting their upcoming holiday at risk by potentially walking near where scorpions might be hiding. Entering a supermarket later on triggered the feeling that I'd made a huge mistake coming here, but there was no obvious way of leaving independently. I noticed very negative body language between the couple at the supermarket checkout.


Most activity seemed to revolve around the husband, who did all the cooking, driving, most of the speaking and always directed the son as he completed his homework. In winter, the central heating is kept switched off and the family just wear layers and sit under blankets. There are occasional and unexpected "treats" - a lavish tour of southern France and he "allows" her to drive sometimes.


It might come as a surprise that the husband most of the time is a pleasure to talk to. He is charming, intelligent, witty and well educated. You would like him. But I felt like being in his company was a roller-coaster of emotions. I doubted my perception of events. He was very persuasive at making me doubt things I knew to be true. Little things, like almost convincing me that 99% of cars are rear-wheel drive. Whenever I tried to include him in a photo, he'd start running out of view or would turn his back. He had no reservations, however, about being photographed using a device he owned.


The next day, we visited an upmarket town for a picnic and tour. After we'd eaten, the husband told us a story about how they had been targeted by a paedophile in southern Spain. I heard graphic details about what the predator had wanted to do to the son. We walked around the streets for a while, but stopped when my friend nearly fainted. I asked her what was wrong and why she had been so quiet, but she said everything was fine. I asked them why they hadn't decided to live in the upmarket town, but the husband said the town had a "very rough neighbourhood", which would negatively affect their son. I asked to see the neighbourhood, but the husband said "maybe another time".


I was quite annoyed when, back at the apartment, the husband made belittling comments to my friend in-front of everyone. She brushed them off as normal behaviour. The husband tried to humiliate me later in the holiday - I experienced mild panic attacks every morning while facing up to another day there and one morning, I went to the living room prematurely. They had opened all the doors and windows, despite the cold air and it make me shake even more. Later that evening, he said to the son, "David's* an alcoholic and he sits there in the morning shaking. You don't want to end up up like him when you're older".


The family took me to play tennis, but I didn't enjoy it. The husband encouraged the son to cheat against me and seemed to enjoy making negative remarks about my game. Later that evening, I took the son for a game alone, but the mother fetched us within 5 minutes. Subsequent games in the courtyard were always supervised.


On another long car journey along narrow mountain roads, the husband (a former paramedic) described the horrific injuries suffered by road traffic casualties he'd dealt with in the UK.
Possible trigger:
This information was shared in the context of the husband being a great driver and in the company of an 8 year old boy. The husband spoke about being “traumatised” by the incidents, but there was an obvious difference between his vocabulary and his actual emotional presentation.


The husband had agreed to drive me back to the station on the final day, but his wife kept making suggestions about combining the trip to Lidl, "just to make the journey worthwhile". The planned trip to Lidl was abandoned, but the husband found out that a student neighbour required a lift that morning for her exams.


On the penultimate evening, the husband said I wouldn't be allowed to take a shower in the morning, as it would wake him up. I felt unhappy about returning home unclean, so I went for a quick wash, but on my return, I noticed that the son was being comforted in his mother's arms. It was the only time he'd been completely silent. The couple seemed to be making a conscious effort to be more pleasant and started talking about people back in the UK. The son went off to bed, but his mother recalled him, so he could give me a goodnight hug. The boy gave me a quick hug and started walking off, but his head turned right back and he engaged his eyes directly at me. He looked sad and confused.


At Madrid airport, I phoned my mother, who advised me not to contact them again. At home, I uninstalled Whatsapp and blocked them on social media and email. None of my colleagues have mentioned anything negative to my knowledge, but a few people asked how the holiday went and I responded with generalities about how nice the food was and the beautiful scenery. They had a reunion in the UK back in the summer and colleagues attended, but the family is back in Spain.

Last edited by bluekoi; 11-12-2018 at 11:27 AM.. Reason: Add triggger icon. Apply trigger code.
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Old 11-13-2018, 04:10 PM   #2
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Hello DavidMartin: I noticed this is your first post here on PC. So... welcome to PsychCentral. I read through your post. But I don't think there is really much of anything I could offer regarding what you experienced. From what you wrote, it sounds like this is a pretty dysfunctional family. Not continuing to pursue them as friends is probably the way to go. I hope you find PC to be of benefit.
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Old 11-13-2018, 05:15 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Skeezyks View Post
Hello DavidMartin: I noticed this is your first post here on PC. So... welcome to PsychCentral. I read through your post. But I don't think there is really much of anything I could offer regarding what you experienced. From what you wrote, it sounds like this is a pretty dysfunctional family. Not continuing to pursue them as friends is probably the way to go. I hope you find PC to be of benefit.

Hello Skeezyks,


Many thanks for your comment. I am of the opinion that the husband is highly manipulative and possessive. The wife is highly sensitive and the husband knows which buttons to press. The wife and son were initially very keen to have me visit, but I think the husband sabotaged our friendship behind my back in order to keep her socially isolated and therefore easier to control. Look at the possible reasons for why they moved three times in 18 months. The husband doesn't bond with anyone. He is a loner, who refused to even have a celebration when he resigned from his job. The wife and son made friends, he couldn't handle that, so he talked them into moving to create geographical isolation. He wants family life to revolve around him and no-one else. In the United Kingdom, coercive-controlling behaviour is illegal, but Spain is a different jurisdiction. I doubt he ever physically assaults her. He is so adept at control, that he doesn't need to use force.
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Old 11-13-2018, 07:47 PM   #4
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David, welcome to PC. I think your assessment of the relationship your friend is in is pretty accurate. Unfortunately, a person who is friendly and empathetic like your friend can end up in a relationship with a very controlling individual like this. He is isolating her and that's sad. He has probably been gaslighting her to a point where she has become very insecure too, again that's also sad. You got a glimpse of that when this man opened the windows and you shivered and he tried to convince you were a bad person, an alcoholic because he did not want his son to trust you. It's understandable that you would feel strange and uneasy in what you saw your friend living with.

Toxic controlling individuals do isolate their spouses and they also take actions to get their partner away from their friends so they have no one to talk to or reach out to.
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Old 11-14-2018, 05:10 AM   #5
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David, welcome to PC. I think your assessment of the relationship your friend is in is pretty accurate. Unfortunately, a person who is friendly and empathetic like your friend can end up in a relationship with a very controlling individual like this. He is isolating her and that's sad. He has probably been gaslighting her to a point where she has become very insecure too, again that's also sad. You got a glimpse of that when this man opened the windows and you shivered and he tried to convince you were a bad person, an alcoholic because he did not want his son to trust you. It's understandable that you would feel strange and uneasy in what you saw your friend living with.

Toxic controlling individuals do isolate their spouses and they also take actions to get their partner away from their friends so they have no one to talk to or reach out to.

Thank you, Open Eyes, for your supportive comments. Since my former friend was encouraged to believe that the issues emanated from me and considering her continuing close relationship with my co-workers, I am afraid that these events may have harmed my professional reputation. I work in adult social care and in August, a service user repeated highly negative and personal comments made by two co-workers about me. The comments didn't specifically refer to my former friend, but they described me as a "weirdo" and someone with a reputation to be avoided. I complained in writing to senior management, who unsuccessfully attempted to identity the two co-workers. They did send a letter to all staff, detailing the incident and reminding staff to respect professional boundaries or face disciplinary action. I am a lone worker, but sometimes have to work in pairs and I feel uneasy with this. I recently worked with a staff member who is very close to my former friend and he was professional, but uncharacteristically subdued. I used to meet another retired co-worker on the bus and she often asked about how my former friend. I stuck to generalities. When she asked if I was attending my former friend's reunion party, I denied being aware of it. I now avoid the buses she travels on. I have purposely refrained from mentioning the holiday disaster to anyone associated with her, as her immense popularity would make disclosure problematic for me. People would have difficulty believing my story and it could backfire on me.
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Old 11-14-2018, 10:45 AM   #6
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Well, from what you shared of the holiday it sounds like your normally friendly and outgoing friend was withdrawn and different. Unless her other friends get to see that for themselves they would have trouble believing what you described.
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