"If someone in your extended family has a graduation or wedding, be quick to send a card and acknowledgement. and when any opportunity, show them what 'ya got inside--that you are actually not a monster like your mother said."
Wow this conversation is hitting home. How bout this little gem - lately my parents chose not to inform me that a lifelong friend of the family passed away. So I missed the funeral and looked like an uncaring jerk to the widow and their family. I finally found out... months after the funeral... and sent a card and called the family and the widow to send my condolences. Of course my parents had to have said something about me not being at the funeral (of course my parents didn't admit to not telling me - that would make them look bad!) so they let everyone think that I *did* know but just didn't give a damn or care enought to show up to the funeral or even respond with condolences.
That sort of manipulation has been going on my whole life, in little insidious ways that only now do I recognize.
Thanks for the tips on responding to people to show my real side - I am torn between establishing relationships with my extended family and starting over anew. The problem with mixing new relationships with my old familky is that my old family will try to enforce my old role in the family as black sheep and monster, and try to convince the newcomers that I am a jerk. My mother is such an expert at her manipulation that I had to try and deprogram an ex that I really wasn't a jerk. Meanwhile you guessed it - my mother was backstabbing my ex all the time. And my ex didn't believe me because she thought my mother was "soooo nice!".