We moved to a very small town a year ago because it has one of the best VA hospitals in the country and we have family here. When I first announced we wanted to move, the family out here was very excited and offered all sorts of help. However, I made the mistake of buying a house that my aunt did not look at. I didn't think it was a big deal. I needed to place an offer on the spot or risk losing the property. I knew it was perfect the moment I first saw it. The house closed, and my husband and I began to pack for the move. All of a sudden the cousins out here couldn't be available to help. Not one family member bothered to call us when we arrived. It was a nightmare.
Then the gossip began getting back to us. My relatives had been told that we bought the house in haste, didn't have any furniture and had moved here to sponge off the family. I couldn't understand where this was gossip coming from. It was not based in truth in any way.
I soon learned that my aunt is the self-proclaimed matriarch of this family. She will tell you what you should think, how you should live, and what you should do - and if you don't abide by it, she makes you an outcast with the rest of the family. She has always had major control issues, so this behavior is not a symptom of old age. To the public, she is a very sweet lady. To us, she is evil.
I am physically limited and it sometimes leaves me unable to function. When I suggest she allow me to do the things I physically can (such as washing dishes) instead of walking up and down the steps to put things away in the basement, my aunt refuses. If I sit down to catch my breath and calm my heart, I am avoiding work. If I don't call her, I am not calling out her just to be spiteful. Should I need to cancel a visit due to being unable to move, I am doing it only to be lazy.
I have basically written the whole family out here off. I want nothing more to do with a bunch of weak willed human beings who worship my aunt as some sort of chaotic goddess. I was raised to be a strong person, despite my limitations, and I don't need to ask someone's opinion on whether or not I should use the washroom before I eat (trust me, the woman is that controlling.) I enjoy being self-sufficient, and that angers my aunt most of all. She seems to have this deep desire to be "needed" by the world. My husband will no longer tolerate her. My mother is angry, and very hurt that we are being treated this way. The family was not involved with us before we moved, and the only side of the aunt I ever saw was the "polite side", so I don't have any qualms about parting ways.
My problem is that she is too controlling to leave us alone. When people don't please her, she goes out of her way to discredit them, which she has already done to me at one church (I changed parishes, and I don't tell anyone we are related.) I worry she will try to discredit us should we seek to adopt our child. She has lived here so long and been so involved with everything that almost everyone knows her.
I have tried talking with her (she won't let things go), I have tried being polite, and I have tried reaching out to my cousins. They won't acknowledge me, in fear that it would get back to the aunt. What's your opinion of all this? Any ideas on how we can protect ourselves from her, other than moving away, which we can not afford to do?
Signed, Caught in my Aunt's Town
Let's assume your aunt is basically a happy and contented person, who knows that everyone admires and likes her. Can you imagine someone in that frame of mind engineering such a destructive chain of events as has befallen you? No? Well neither can I.
Your aunt is almost certainly a desperately unhappy person. She has towering, raging, monumental insecurities. She is neither blind nor stupid, so she knows what others think of her. She has come to be this way because many years ago she had no faith that others would like her or pay any attention to her of their own free will. So one day, probably as a child, she tried being overbearing. Lo and behold, it worked! She was able to bully someone into listening to her ... and there was a momentary high, a personal validation. For a brief moment your aunt actually mattered -- the reaction of that other person made it so in her mind. Her fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy; it caused her to become a person who is difficult to admire.
So her niece moves into town and tries to be polite and reasonable in an attempt to get her to change her time-proven strategy. It won't work. Your aunt could change, but it would mean identifying and addressing all those personal fears of inadequacy. These have been part of her self-image so long that at this point she believes them to be carved in stone. This is her reality. People don't like her (she believes down deep inside, perhaps not even consciously) and they never will. Such longstanding fear is resistant to change. It would require a will to change on her part and considerable therapy to make headway against it. Unfortunately, nothing you say or do will be enough to change her.
Ironically, she has no power over anyone unless they willingly give it to her. If every single person she talks to understands what is going on and refuses to give in to the emotional pressure, then her approach would be utterly ineffective. Unfortunately, many of us are averse to confrontation so her strategy tends to get people to knuckle under to her will. Do you have a shot at changing how most of your small town reacts to your aunt? I doubt it.
The only person you can control in this scenario is you, and it sounds like you are doing what you can in that department. You are holding your head high and refusing to play her game. Good for you. You have put some distance (figuratively) between you and your family, including her, to insulate yourself from the effects. That works for me.
As I see it, though, your primary problem is that you can't insulate yourself from everyone in town. Living in isolation is no fun. So you seem to have two possible strategies. You can seek out others within the community who have also refused to fall under your aunt's spell and choose to fill your life with those folks. If that doesn't seem possible, I would start planning for the day when you can afford to move.
You moved there for the hospital and family. The second one has ceased to be a draw, so that leaves the hospital. Surely other communities have good medical facilities. Your house would sell ... in time. If jobs and income are an issue, start looking elsewhere and something will eventually pop up. You may not be able to afford to move immediately, but I bet you could do so in time.
In a larger community, I would simply advise you to seek out other people. If this is not possible in your small town, your best bet might be to cut your losses and head for less poisoned waters.
All the best,