“…the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have.”
~~ Bill Clinton
“…the problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence. So you have to mold the evidence to get the answer that you’ve already decided you’ve got to have.”
~~ Bill Clinton
Yet more proof that narcissists exist, that this is exactly what they do, and that it isn’t that complicated, nor is our situation so special, that no one else could possibly understand it. It’s well understood and it’s not uncommon.
These are exactly the bullshit things that Joe & Susan said, and the bullshit that everyone else allows them to get away with.
Because they were all born and trained to believe this bullshit, to accept these excuses, instead of seeing who is really responsible for their own actions, responsible for the pain and the dysfunction, and holding them accountable.
It’s not their fault that it happened, and that it was possible, in our fucked-up family, for bullshit things like these to be said and believed.
It IS their fault and their moral failing that they refuse to re-visit the problems with adult eyes and adult understanding; refuse guidance by anyone, even professionals, outside the “real family”; refuse to accept the truth of what we all were taught by an unhealthy, mentally ill woman; and refuse to do the right thing, the healthy thing, the moral thing, which is to hold those responsible to account.
It DID happen.
It WAS that bad.
It IS a big deal.
And it IS your fault.
I have no idea whether you “meant it” or not.
But I sure as hell did NOT deserve it.
I cleaned out a bunch of books this weekend. There are cabinets in our bookcase that I probably haven’t opened since we moved six years ago.
And what did I find but eight — EIGHT — Thurber books.
To understand the significance of this, you have to understand that Thurber is practically a religion for my sister (venerating our mother, of course).
The holy book of this unholy maternal worship is The Thurber Carnival. There is a dingy brown-and-orange hardback copy of it that was our mother’s, which I am sure is in my sister’s possession now.
This is the only Thurber book that counts, of course.
Yet over my younger years, I apparently collected EIGHT different books of Thurber. There is a kids book, which I am sure no one else has ever read. I even read his biography once.
Thurber is something that never fails to make my sister laugh. But in her hands, it is humor that excludes: a kind of a specialized language that the older siblings, especially, use to communicate among themselves, and exclude anyone who isn’t really in the club.
I guarantee not one family gathering goes past without some reference to Thurber. Just a few words of a cartoon caption from someone (but it has to be the “right” someone), and they are off and running and laughing themselves sick. Most of the time they don’t even have to finish the sentences.
Which would be fine — except that in-laws, for example, don’t have a hope of understanding what is going on, let alone of joining in the fun.
And for some reason, this conversation always seems to happen in the kitchen, or some other public, central place — and because it is so loud, with (certain) people shouting bits of prose at each other, and gasping with laughter, it grabs everyone’s attention, and takes over the entire gathering when it happens.
It is so much a part of my memories of family gatherings: it always happens. I can remember witnessing this display, trying to join in even, and eventually being pointedly aware that I was being kept firmly on the outside, looking in.
The humor of Thurber generates power for my sister by strengthening the bonds of the Triumvirate, and excluding anyone who doesn’t “get it” (because of course, they weren’t there) — thus neatly defining who the “real family” is, in a very subtle way, as it also emphasizes the all-important connection to Mom.
Today, I immediately recognize my Thurber collection for what it was: another sad, desperate, failed attempt to be accepted by my own family, to be admitted “into the club” — by my sister, and probably by extension, my mother.
It’s sad, but it didn’t make me cry, or want to cry. Instead it made me super angry by about the time I found the fourth one. It made me so angry to see this physical remnant of how I stupidly tried to earn acceptance into a group — or more specifically, acceptance by one person who runs the group — that has never had any intention of truly accepting me.
It’s funny how well I understood the unspoken communication, telling me that I am not a part of the “real” family, and it’s sad that I so diligently tried to find a way in anyway. Like it was my job to somehow become worthy of acceptance.
And it’s infuriating that my maladapted sister has the power here. Who died and made her the fucking arbiter of who is worthy to be in the club?
Oh, wait, yeah. Dad and Mom died.
And my sister has, equally desperately perhaps, tried to make me into nothing ever since. Her job would have been a whole lot easier if Mom had managed to hang on longer. Then again, maybe I would have figured everything out a whole lot sooner, in a post-Dad world, a world once again run by my mother. Who knows?
Normally, the chore of dropping off donations at various places is my husband’s job. But there is one box of books that I will be taking personally — or just possibly setting on fire.
It’s been four years since I sent that first letter of resignation to my FOO, and started out on a journey of trying to figure the whole mess out.
Four years since it finally got so bad that it was more painful to have a family than not have one.
Four years since I realized I did have that choice, and that there was a better chance for me to be happier if I made it.
Last night I dreamed I got an email from one of my nieces, telling me that one of my brothers was dead. It was very realistic: I could tell you exactly what it said, who sent it, who had died. The dream woke me up, and I was a little startled, and a little sad. Because if I find out at all, that’s how I’ll find out. I know that.
And I know that’s how this will all end, because — barring an act of god or some other form of miracle — I know this is how it will all stay.
And while it’s a shame, it’s still better for me than going back to the way things were.
I’ve made this decision, knowingly, consciously, rationally, because things were shittier for me without this decision.
That is my reality. That is what is real for me.
My FOO will instantly say that I’m wrong — because they have no other option. I cannot possibly be allowed to be right, even about myself and my own reality. Is that the epitome of arrogance, or what?
But they need for me to be wrong, so they can continue to be right.
That’s why nothing is going to change. Because what needs to be true for them is to deny me my reality. They need to erase me and diminish me, and hurt me — or at least, allow me to be attacked and hurt, and refuse to do anything about it.
And what I need from them: justice, fairness, and accountability, for the Susan Incident — along with equality, respect, and acceptance, for the long term, the things that are missing which allowed the Susan Incident to happen — they are still adamantly unwillingly to give me.
Given all that, it should have been an easy choice. It wasn’t. But my choice was really between two shitty things. For me, there was no “good” option. The choice to keep the peace, not make waves, not stand up for myself, just “forget” about the horrible way Susan and Joe acted towards me on the worst day of my life — that was also a shitty choice. It was an easy choice for everyone else, so for years I tried it.
Then four years ago, my youngest brother just had to throw it all back in my face, and that’s when I finally had had enough.
I am sure no one has blamed him for picking that fight. I am sure I get the blame for that too, right along with the fight I supposedly picked with Joe and Susan. And they can, and will, go on believing what they need to believe in order to make it all my fault.
I’m definitely better off without that bullshit. Easy choice, no. Right choice, yes.
This is the title of a Chinese movie. It’s not something I’ve ever been called by my FOO.
The movie is about three older siblings who, upon the death of their estranged father, find out that they have a much younger half-sister.
The older siblings have a shared history, lots of memories, which leave the half-sister out entirely.
She is the daughter of the woman who “ruined their family” – the woman their father left their mother for.
The older siblings are still angry and resentful towards the father — whereas the half-sister clearly loved her father.
An older woman in the film suggests that this is a good reason not to take her in, not to accept her, not to love her.
The half-sister understands the situation and internalizes this scapegoating: “Someone is always hurt, just because I exist.”
But these sisters can see the truth: “It had nothing to do with you!” And they invite her to live with them, to become part of their family.
The movie could have been over in the first 15 minutes. They could have gone to the funeral, met the half-sister, decided to be angry at her too, to blame her, and to push her away.
Instead they make the healthy, positive decision to love her, to include her, and not blame her for things she didn’t do.
And one of the older sisters says: “Maybe father was a kind man… He left us such a lovely little sister.”
Such a different ending to the story.
Amazing the stuff that keeps coming up in this election that illuminates family things for me. This is a series of tweets from Dallas lawyer Jason P. Steed, who was previously an English professor. He wrote his PhD dissertation on “the social function of humor” and here he is writing about Trump’s “jokes”:
1. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the social function of humor (in literature & film) and here’s the thing about “just joking.”
2. You’re never “just joking.” Nobody is ever “just joking.” Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).
3. To say humor is social act is to say it is always in social context; we don’t joke alone. Humor is a way we relate/interact with others.
4. Which is to say, humor is a way we construct identity – who we are in relation to others. We use humor to form groups…
5. …and to find our individual place in or out of those groups. In short, joking/humor is one tool by which we assimilate or alienate.
6. IOW, we use humor to bring people into – or keep them out of – our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it’s for.
7. Consequently, how we use humor is tied up with ethics – who do we embrace, who do we shun, and how/why?
8. And the assimilating/alienating function of humor works not only on people but also on *ideas.* This is important.
9. This is why, e.g., racist “jokes” are bad. Not just because they serve to alienate certain people, but also because…
10. …they serve to assimilate the idea of racism (the idea of alienating people based on their race). And so we come to Trump.
11. A racist joke sends a message to the in-group that racism is acceptable. (If you don’t find it acceptable, you’re in the out-group.)
12. The racist joke teller might say “just joking” – but this is a *defense* to the out-group. He doesn’t have to say this to the in-group.
13. This is why we’re never “just joking.” To the in-group, no defense of the joke is needed; the idea conveyed is accepted/acceptable.
14. So, when Trump jokes about assassination or armed revolt, he’s asking the in-group to assimilate/accept that idea. That’s what jokes do.
15. And when he says “just joking,” that’s a defense offered to the out-group who was never meant to assimilate the idea in the first place.
16. Indeed, circling back to the start, the joke *itself* is a way to define in-group and out-group, through assimilation & alienation.
17. If you’re willing to accept “just joking” as defense, you’re willing to enter in-group where idea conveyed by the joke is acceptable.
18. IOW, if “just joking” excuses racist jokes, then in-group has accepted idea of racism as part of being in-group.
19. Same goes for “jokes” about armed revolt or assassinating Hillary Clinton. They cannot be accepted as “just joking.”
20. Now, a big caveat: humor (like all language) is complicated and always a matter of interpretation. For example, we might have…
21. …racist humor that is, in fact, designed to alienate (rather than assimilate) the idea of racism. (Think satire or parody.)
22. But I think it’s pretty clear Trump was not engaging in some complex satirical form of humor. He was “just joking.” In the worst sense.
23. Bottom line: don’t accept “just joking” as excuse for what Trump said today. The in-group for that joke should be tiny. Like his hands.
The whole thing is fascinating, but around #6 is where I learned why I have never, ever been able to make my sister laugh.
I’ve hated the patriarchy for a long time, for what it did to my career. More recently, I’ve come to hate it for what it’s done to my family.
Dear Mr. Trump:
…I’m a social worker.
… when someone got angry, I got curious. “Why are they angry?” I’d think. Sure, maybe I was annoying, but where did that anger come from?
…I’m much more concerned about the kid who’s being “bad.” I’m wondering what the message is behind his taunting, her racial slurs, his homophobia, her violence, his haughtiness.
I’ve learned, and it hasn’t always been easy, to look for the message behind the behavior, no matter how horrendous that behavior is to others (or to me).
See, I told you social work is a weird profession.
So when I hear you mock Marco Rubio (“little Marco”), or when I hear you talk about women as if they’re reduced to their biological cycle, or when I hear you be dismissive of other people (“You’re fired!”) I admit, I’m curious.
I want to know why you feel the need to say things in such an inflammatory, divisive, dismissive way.
What is behind this need to do that to others?
And let me say, this isn’t just you that I’m curious about, Mr. Trump.
I know a lot of your supporters. I’m related to several of them.
I’m really, really curious as to what happened to you and to them.
…I want to know why you feel the need to say things in such an inflammatory, divisive, dismissive way.
Especially dismissive. Why don’t you have a conversation where you respect the other person talking?
What are you covering up?
…I really don’t understand why, with all your money, with all your power, with all your status you, you, you of all people need to humiliate others. To, for lack of a better word, “bully” them.
I know that if I’m in a conversation or an argument with someone, and I’m feeling the desire to say something cutting or shaming, it’s because I’ve usually run out of logical argument strands.
…But I know that when I do it always means I “lost.”
…You can be you without having to prove to everyone how you-ish you are.
… except when your mother, your culture, your religion, and everything else around you is telling you that you can’t.
“The fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it…the fool adjusts the truth so he has to do nothing different. He is never wrong; someone else is.” — Dr. Henry Cloud, “Necessary Endings”
I’ve realized this is the core trait of those who support Donald Trump.
These are people who do not cope well with things not being as they want them. At the same time, when faced with a problem, they don’t want to change anything about their own behavior.
Wise people, according to Cloud, listen to feedback, take it in, adjust their behavior accordingly. But foolish people DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. They want reality to adjust to them, not the other way around.
To summarize, again from Cloud’s book: When a conflict or problem comes up, foolish people refuse to take responsibility or change their behavior or thinking.
They get defensive, they shift blame, they minimize, rationalize, give excuses, manipulate, attack.
They look for and ally with people who agree with them to “prove” they are right, and divide the world into the “good guys” who agree with them and the “bad guys” who don’t.
They hate Obama so much, with his message of “Hope and Change”. And they love how Palin mocked it with her “hopey-changey thing”.
I recognize this behavior, because I come from a whole family of people like this.
There is a brother who thinks that if he yells loud enough and long enough, so that you give up and walk away, he’s WON THE ARGUMENT.
There is a SIL who will ask you a question, and when she doesn’t get the answer that she wants to hear, she adjusts reality to match what she thinks. She either ignores what you said, or she keeps asking the question in different ways until you are so sick of her you will say anything just to shut her up, so you tell her what she obviously wants to hear. And she goes away happy, genuinely believing that she’s given you a choice, and that, happily, you made the right one. Eventually.
Of course we have the elephant in the room, the conflict over The Susan Incident. And of course, these people are coping with it the only way they know how: Joe and Susan just know they are right, and I am therefore wrong. I’m the one who needs to change, not them. Never them.
There is another brother who thinks if he ignores the fact that I say there’s a problem, there won’t be a problem. And a sister who “refuses to get involved.” And they band together in their personal little echo chamber, validating each other, never taking in any outside opinions or evidence.
None of these people accept that there is such a thing as compromise, or agreeing to disagree. You either agree with them, or you are wrong. And they will never back down, no matter how much proof you show them, because admitting guilt or responsibility is MUCH WORSE than looking stupid.
It’s exactly why Trump appeals to a certain demographic so much.
He’s never wrong.
He never backs down when he’s shown to be wrong. Instead, he doubles down.
He yells louder, he mocks and demeans, he shifts blame, gets defensive, minimizes, rationalizes… you get the picture.
AND HE LOOKS NORMAL TO THEM.
Finally, there is someone on the public stage who acts the way they act, and who shows that acting this way can be successful — when for most of their lives, the way they act has been hugely counterproductive (although it is never their own fault that this is so). They’ve never seen anyone who openly thinks and acts so much like them in such a successful position before.
They go to the rallies because of all the other people there who agree with them, which “proves” they are right. No, really. They seriously believe that this means they are RIGHT.
And it’s exciting! People around them agree with them! The guy up on stage is saying what they think! They shouldn’t have to change! THE WORLD ought to change for THEM!
FINALLY! A CANDIDATE WHO “GETS IT”!!
Political correctness is terrible, because in effect it tells them they are wrong. My brother ought to be able to use the “N” word right out in public if he wants to! He shouldn’t have to change! Telling him he can’t – well, that’s saying that he’s WRONG.
No, Trump says. You’re RIGHT. It’s the WORLD that’s wrong, it’s the fault of someone else that things are so bad, that you’ve been made to feel in the wrong for so long. And Trump explains that this is all the fault of those other guys, those weak, liberal losers who are so pathetic.
That all makes perfect sense to them.
And it’s hugely validating. Finally, someone really big, a huge success, is telling them that they don’t have to change; and that they can win too, if they go along with him.
Who — after a lifetime of the kind of life that results from these poor coping skills — could pass up that carrot?
So what can a normal, healthy person do when faced with this?
[Well, in my personal case, I got the fuck away from these people. I set the limits and the consequences — and I did it badly, because I didn’t quite know that’s what I was doing. But it’s worked. I lost a “family”, sure, but what I lost wasn’t much of a family to begin with.]
On the political level, we can’t stop Trump. Trump is what Cloud’s book refers to as an “evil person”. That person only responds to “lawyers, guns, and money.” They do what they do because they can. Until and unless Trump personally does something that legally prevents him from taking office, or something that would turn his legions of foolish followers against him — he will not be stopped.
So the question becomes, how do we eliminate the possibility that he will win?
According to Cloud, the only thing that will work on foolish people is “limits and consequences”.
“The strategy… is simple: Quit talking about the problem and…communicate that you are going to take steps to protect what is important to you, the mission, or other people.”
1) QUIT TALKING ABOUT TRUMP. Refuse to give him any credence at all. Media, I’m talking to YOU. The more these people see him, in all his golden grandeur, and the more they hear about him, the more they become convinced that he is right — which means they are right — and that many other people think and feel the same way, which again convinces them that they are right to vote for him.
2) LIMITS AND CONSEQUENCES. I don’t see that there is any way we can set limits on their behavior. We cannot forbid them to vote; we cannot show them any potential consequence of a Trump presidency that is bad enough to get them to change their minds about him, because that basically starts off by telling them that they are wrong. Any attempt to show them the error of their ways causes them to “double down”, just like their hero.
You can try taking away your attention. You can refuse to listen to their derisive slurs and bigoted arguments, and make it clear that’s why you are removing yourself from the conversation – but don’t say it’s because they are wrong. Calmly say instead that you don’t share those values, that instead you believe ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, like the Constitution says. And just stop there.
Or you can try pointing out how a specific Trump policy will adversely affect them personally, if you can. Cloud points out “the only time they get it is when it begins to cost them.” You will probably have to speak in their bigoted language, though. “What are you going to do when Trump deports all the Mexicans and you can’t get your lawn mowed any more?”
3) Above all, you can VOTE FOR CLINTON, and tell others you are voting for Clinton. A third party vote is exactly what Trump is hoping a lot of people will do.
This is not the year to make a point.
This is the year to save our nation, ourselves and each other.
Wow. It’s been about 4 months since my birthday in April, when I finally finished the act of going NC with my FOO.
A lot of positive things have happened in just these 4 months. In June, there was the discovery of what a moral injury is. In July, what traumatic bonding is. Huge leaps in understanding what happened to me, and huge validation for what I’ve done and continue to do to heal.
I would not have believed it if you told me it would happen, but I haven’t cried one damned time about any of this since April. Not just that I haven’t cried — I haven’t WANTED to cry.
Last week we went to a show that reminded me forcefully of two of my brothers. I remembered the old connections, but I also had a new connection — a friend I made at the previous show — and I wasn’t upset or sad or nostalgic at all. OK, maybe slightly nostalgic. (And annoyed as shit that the tour t-shirt actually has my home town listed. I’ve blacked it out with a Sharpie though.)
In fact, I’ve made several new connections lately. Last weekend, we were doing the “stair hike” downtown and we met a lovely woman — roughly my sister’s age, and probably also income bracket — after we stopped to admire her landscaping. We talked with her for almost an hour, exchanged emails, and she thinks I’m “adorable”.
Then on the way back to the car, we stopped for a couple of beers and met another pair of people and we talked with THEM for another hour.
This woman was younger, mixed-race maybe, and she used exactly the same word about me. “Adorable”. What an afternoon. Maybe it’s not me that’s the problem, huh? Maybe it’s other people and their baggage and their histories.
Maybe things are going to be pretty damned good from here on out.
I still think about the FOO, and what they’ve done — but not as often, and with much less anger, much more philosophically. Oh well. That happened. I’ve got other, better things to do.
Like the fact that I seem to be writing a book now!
And the huge half-the-house remodeling project is going to get started — after well over a year of architects, drawings, planning — the first contractor is scheduled. This time next year I will have my new studio, built for me by my Dad. Or at least, by his money. A fitting legacy.
Because I’m just about ready to let go of his car, too. It has served me well for 16 years but it’s getting to be time for something new. Also very fitting.
Another new connection from just this past weekend — a man who is an executive coach — remarked on my knitting as a metaphor. We talked about the idea that a life is made up of individual days, moments, events and decisions, like a sweater is made up of individual stitches. And I half-joked, “And sometimes you just have to rip it all out and start over.”
And then I realized that the metaphor goes even further:
You CAN rip it all out and start over. It’s painful to do it, and you have to go back to before the part where the mistake is, even if the mistake was in the very beginning and is fundamental to the piece. But you CAN do it.
And, when you do that, it doesn’t ruin the yarn. You can still re-use the yarn, and re-knit it into something better.
That’s interesting because it is exactly what I’m doing with two of the first test sweaters for this book. I had two old sweaters that I wasn’t happy with any more. I tore them out, and am re-knitting with the yarn, using my new method. And they are working out great.
One of the old sweaters was one I didn’t get rid of because it had a connection to my Dad. I had been knitting that sweater on a visit home, and he talked about how much he liked to sit and watch me knit. It reminded him of his own mother and her crocheting. The sweater itself was oversized and dated, but I can re-use the yarn, and keep that connection, while at the same time making the old, dated piece into something new and useful. Something that fits, in fact.
In writing the “Acknowledgements” section of the book, I ended up working my way backwards chronologically, starting from all the students I have had who told me, “You should write a book!”
And I realized that the first three acknowledgements, in order, have to be: my sister, my mother, and my mother-in-law.
Kind of a pisser.
But also the truth. So it’s standing.
And it’s OK. I’ve ripped out the old mistakes, and I’m turning the old yarn into new shapes — knitting new and beautiful things that fit me.
“Don’t Bug People”
This came into my head today after a kind of weird day with a new-ish friend, in which I ended up feeling all wrong-footed and even though we apologized and talked it out, I still feel uncomfortable.
We text each other more-or-less daily, although if there is a pattern to who “starts” I don’t know what it is. So today I was kind of on the bubble as to whether I should text her.
This came into my head: “Don’t bug people.” The underlying idea was that if I texted her, or maybe texted her the wrong thing, she might get annoyed.
I tossed this around for a while and then settled on texting her about something “safe”: her mom had some medical testing done the day before, so I sent the message that I hoped everything was OK. That seems to have been acceptable, because I got a text back saying thanks for the concern.
I’m not convinced everything is OK yet, but in my gut I’m not intending to push my luck and text her anything else, probably until I hear more from her.
I am pretty sure this self-effacing concept of self is rooted in a mother who was basically uninterested in being a mom, at least by the time she got to me.
Mom didn’t have time for me. I was not important to her.
There is a theory that Mom had me in order to “fix” the marriage, which is offered as kind of an excuse or explanation — although as an explanation for what, exactly, was not made clear — but, I suspect it is for the obvious disinterest in me from Mom.
It’s also a tacit admission that a sixth baby was not really something anyone wanted just as a person, as another welcomed member of the family — but rather that baby #6 was viewed from the very beginning as a thing, not as a person — her conception was intended as a tool to be used as a means to an end, and her very existence depended on what that existence could potentially do for someone else.
In reality of course it is a fucking stupid idea, not to say manipulative — having more kids so the man will be forced to stay and provide. What a great plan.
I was supposed to buy her time, not take it up. And of course if I didn’t “do my job” — if in fact the idea backfired, and saving me from her became Dad’s reason for The Divorce — well, of course someone who comes up with that as a plan will have no problem holding that failure against me when the stupid idea doesn’t work.
When I got glasses in kindergarten, she would wash them every morning and dry the lenses, but then hand them to me with the earpieces still wet. I hated that. It is probably part of the reason I still hate wearing glasses. I remember I asked her to dry them off too, and she wouldn’t bother. I had to put up with wet earpieces until I became old enough to dry them off myself.
That’s not normal maternal love. That’s a person who doesn’t want to take care of you and make you happy. Who can’t even take an extra five seconds to at least not make you unhappy.
Actually, at 5 I was probably physically capable of drying them myself. What I eventually learned was more subtle and more important: I figured out that I could dry them off for myself. I didn’t have to put up with what she handed me — I could do something about it. I didn’t internalize completely the message she was sending, that I was entirely not worth caring about. I could care about myself.
Lesson learned. Take care of yourself, that’s the only person you can depend on. But you also don’t have to put up with someone else’s shitty, uncaring treatment. It’s a poor substitute for a mother’s love, but it’s something.
I have zero memories of us doing anything fun together in my childhood. There were very few hugs, hardly any physical affection from mother to daughter. In fact, she used to get me to brush her hair, because she enjoyed it — but I can’t remember a single time when she brushed mine for my pleasure.
So. Put that together with another thing my mother used to tell me regularly, which is this:
“You have a lot of advantages: you’re smart, you’re thin, you’re pretty, your family is well-off, and because of that, people aren’t going to like you and you’re going to have to be twice as nice to them to make up for it.”
Well. Apparently just existing as I am is enough to bug some people by making them jealous (obviously my mom is one of them).
So I guess I just shouldn’t be me? Shouldn’t be as good as I can be?
This is not an uncommon outcome for those who are victims of narcissism.
Another underlying message here is that having people like you is IMPORTANT. Everyone. As many as possible. Quantity counts, not quality.
And it becomes your job to placate them, to take on the responsibility for their feelings about you. Um. Scapegoating, in a word. If you “make” someone else feel bad about themselves — jealous or guilty or ashamed or angry — they dump that onto you, and then of course they have to keep you at a distance. Awesome.
“Don’t bug people” becomes “Don’t bug ME”. “Don’t bug US”, specifically. Don’t be so needy. Don’t be needy AT ALL.
Don’t ask for anything, because that would be bugging us because we won’t want to do it because we don’t care about you, we don’t love you.
But we will feel guilty and shameful about that, because family is supposed to be a certain way and we aren’t, so just don’t ask — don’t you dare make us feel guilty, it will be your fault for asking and making us either say yes and be angry, or say no and feel guilty or ashamed, so just don’t even ask. We will blame you for our bad feelings if you ask.
Sometimes you don’t even have to ask for anything. It happened with the very fact of my existence. My mother was so embarrassed at how old she was when she had me, that for years she would not put her birth date on my school registration card. For years I did not know how old she was, in case I told someone. Every year they would ask me about it, and every year I would have to tell them I didn’t know.
This is how scapegoating works.
She was embarrassed about the results of HER OWN ACTIONS. I certainly had fuck all to do with how or why she ended up having a child at 48, or how she felt about it. That was a result of her own choices, her own actions, for good or ill.
And the feelings of shame originated with her — they didn’t come from me. But she associated them with me. And instead of dealing with those feelings of shame by herself, working through them on her own, considering her own actions and her own responsibility and, just possibly, learning from it — she simply decided that *I* was the cause of those bad feelings.
After all, if I didn’t exist, she wouldn’t have those bad feelings, right? Must be my fault.
You certainly don’t have to follow the train of thought any further than that — it’s a comfortable place to stop. Much more comfortable than continuing on to the part where my existence — and therefore those bad feelings — is still her responsibility.
After reaching that easy first conclusion, all you have to do is keep the scapegoat away, or somehow contained, distant, separated — pretend they don’t exist — so you don’t have to deal with those bad feelings. Problem solved. Relationship fucked, but hey. As long as the narcissist is OK, that’s a win.
I suspect something much like this is what my MIL and my sister did to me, too.
My MIL had an alcoholic mother, and I don’t know much more than that. So while I can understand why she had her own bullshit to deal with, I am angry with her for not having dealt with it herself.
Then again, she was of a generation that just buttoned that shit up and put it away. And she was young when it happened. But she still prevented or affected 3 relationships by her refusal to face up to her own shit.
And my sister, too, was only 17, so I don’t hold the initial choice against her. After all, she had a bad example right in front of her, teaching her to blame the baby, to put those bad feelings there. She made the best decisions she could make at that age, with all that was going on, and the example that she had to follow.
As with my MIL, I do hold it against her that she refuses to revisit those decisions as an adult, refuses to talk or listen to me, or let anyone else talk or listen to me. Way to be a grown-up, Sis. Way to ruin a bunch of relationships. But I guess if you’re OK, that’s all that matters. Stay selfish and true to Mom, because that’s the important shit. And it’s easy.
Mom went away when I was just a baby, twice, once around 8 months and then again around 12 months. She came back physically, but whether she never cared about me, or whether what happened in hospital changed her, she never really came back.
Then my other caretakers, my older siblings, went away to college — but I didn’t understand that. The first was the one I depended on most, my sister, who went away when I was about 18 months old. Then my two older brothers.
Dad went away when he died, when I was barely 30. My best caretaker was gone forever.
I was immediately attacked for asking for something, from people who were supposed to be my family and my support, at the worst moment of my life. And when I needed protection from that attack, everyone I had known my whole life abandoned me.
Eventually the whole bullshit edifice that is “our family history” began to unravel, because someone had finally gone too far.
Treat me like a second-class citizen up to that point, I guess that was fine. At least, it was expected and accepted. Because I was young, I guess, I accepted it.
But Susan tried to fuck with me and Dad, and put herself ahead of me when it came to my dad — and that was going too fucking far.
In a way, that was the last gift that Dad had to give me: the ability to stand up for myself on this one thing at least, and start down the long, sorry road of recovering from a lifetime of being the one at fault.
I started asking questions and pulling on the loose ends. And the more truth I found, the more sense my alternate viewpoint made. And that is very threatening to certain people — the sister who is so angry she won’t even read what I write, and won’t let anyone else talk to me any more. Or the brother who does read it, and then insists that what I write isn’t true.
Because when the scapegoat starts asking why everything is her fault, why she doesn’t get fair and equal treatment in her own “family” — that’s a problem. It’s a HUGE problem for the people who hate the idea of having to treat her decently — especially when that comes at the expense of dealing with Susan, who will throw a holy fucking fit about being held accountable for her actions.
And of course, they rationalize that it’s the SCAPEGOAT who is “the problem”. Not them and the mountain of bullshit they hide behind.
Over and over I read that “no contact” is the only thing for me to do, to save myself and heal. It’s what Dad did, too, for himself and for me, to the best of his ability.
I am sure they say, and believe, that I have rejected them. That is how they would be forced to frame it, to make it fit into their fucked-up infrastructure. To say otherwise is like pushing over the first domino. To say that I might be right about anything is to admit that they might be wrong about something — and that opens the door to that whole mountain of bullshit falling on you like a ton of bricks.
Instead of accepting the testimony of experts, professionals, and myself — instead of being glad that I am doing what’s best for me — instead of offering loving acceptance if I should ever choose to return. Which of course, would be the loving, decent thing to do for me. And of which they are not capable, when it comes to me.
Fortunately, it is working. It doesn’t hurt much any more. Time and distance really do work.