For a while now the million dollar question here has been, so what do I want?
You’d think that would be easier to answer than it apparently is. For one thing, people who have been raised by narcissists don’t always have a good idea what they want. They’ve spent a lifetime always deferring to what the others want. They’ve been trained that that is the simplest way to deal with the toxic person: give them what they want, in order to avoid an argument, a confrontation, a fight. But this is at the expense of themselves, their own identity.
The lack of boundaries between a narcissist and their prey can cause a lot of unhealthy shit to happen: parentification for one, which in the case of our mother and my sister happened to such a degree that my sister basically IS our mother. Almost a carbon copy.
Viewed from a distance, my sister’s life looks rather suspiciously like our mother’s might have been, in an alternate universe. It might even be a person’s attempt to vindicate our mother by “proving” that everything would have been fine, if our mother had married a “decent” man, instead of our father.
Some similarities and differences:
My sister spent most of her life as the SAHM to her family, while being supported by a financially successful man. They had four kids, but she wanted six — just like her mother. / Her husband apparently wanted to stop at four, and while I have no idea what choices were made to accommodate that wish, it obviously was honored by some method.
My sister has lived her whole adult life in Chicago, where my mother grew up, and she married a city native. / My “bumpkin” father took our mother away from Chicago and big-city life, eventually to small-town Iowa.
My sister is extremely religious, just like our mother / although interestingly, she married a Jewish man – but on condition that the children be raised as Catholics.
Exasperated by the behavior of her two younger children, both boys, my sister once tried to get my two oldest brothers to come to Chicago and beat them, physically punish them, because her husband (rightly) wouldn’t.
Shades of our mother, keeping a tally of the boys’ transgressions all week so that when Dad came home on Friday, first thing he was supposed to do was physically punish them for it all. (Shades of the Catholic god, too, come to think of it.)
And my sister has worn our mother’s wedding ring since her death.
WTF is up with that?
It’s not like it’s a fancy piece of jewelry. It’s a very plain band, and I am not even sure it’s silver, because as I recall it doesn’t shine like silver and it isn’t quite as white as silver. It could be stainless steel.
Somewhere I once read that “people wear jewelry to tell you something about themselves.” It’s a pretty good truism. Wedding rings, fancy watches, expensive engagement rings, too much jewelry — all those things tell you something significant about the person wearing them.
My psychologist friend says that NO ONE wears their parents’ wedding jewelry — not as a casual thing. Grandparents, sure, but not parents. Whatever my sister’s reason, it is significant far beyond just a piece of jewelry.
My guess is that my sister wears it for the same reason our mother wore it for over 20 years after The Divorce: as a constant, daily rebuke to the man who defaulted on his vows to her. Carrying the torch, so to speak.
(BTW, remember that by the time Mom died, Dad was already dead. Talk about holding a grudge. And they tell me that holding one for a dozen years is “unhealthy”. But I learned from professionals.)
My guess is informed by something I know about our mother: she had a necklace that was a large black heart. And every year without fail, she wore it on Valentine’s Day — as a rebuke to the man whose fault everything was.
I don’t know where that heart necklace is now, but if my sister knew about that “tradition”, I’ll bet money that she has it and wears it — although probably not on Valentine’s Day, because that would signify her own husband.
No, my money would be on October 16th, our parents’ anniversary, and October 18th, the date The Divorce was final. And possibly October 7th, Dad’s birthday.
Bu here’s the thing: while my sister may have, consciously or unconsciously, “proved” her point, she really hasn’t.
Because our parents’ marriage didn’t fail because Dad was a bastard.
I am the proof that he wasn’t a bastard -that he was capable of being a good, healthy, and loving father. (Which may be what the big problem is that she has with me.)
So where exactly was the problem in that marriage?
Did it fail because they couldn’t communicate? Well, who can communicate with a narcissist? They either get their way or throw a fit. End of “discussion”. My father was fond of saying that “in an argument between a reasonable person and an unreasonable person, the unreasonable person will always win.” I think this is pretty clear evidence of what the communication was like.
Did it fail because Dad traveled a lot, and was an absentee father for a large part of it? But Mom and most of his kids preferred it that way. Or at least they believe that they did. And plenty of people manage to maintain a marriage and a home with one partner traveling all the time. Look at military families, to give just one example. But you have to have a partner at home who can keep it together.
I think it failed mostly because Mom wasn’t interested in, or wasn’t capable of, 1) taking care of anyone or anything besides herself, and 2) solving her own problems, instead preferring to have others solve them for her.
Praying about things instead of actually doing something about them is the ultimate example of this. Mom was a champion, so my sister of necessity became more competent at running a household than our mother.
One example: my siblings lament the fact that when Dad came home on the weekends, he never wanted to eat out or go anywhere. Well, of course not. He had spent the whole week away from home and eating out. But equally of course, Mom and the kids had spent the whole week at home, eating in.
So what is the obvious solution here? Well, how about if Mom takes the kids out to eat once a week while Dad is gone?
Except that she couldn’t, because she didn’t drive. And that’s Dad’s fault. It’s his fault she can’t drive, and it’s his fault he isn’t there to take care of her/them.
So: one really big difference between my mother and my sister is that my sister learned to drive, and took on the responsibility that goes with that. I can’t overstate how much of a difference I think this could have made in our parents’ marriage.
I don’t know for sure what my mother’s real reason was for refusing to learn, but I think she figured out that if you can drive, you are expected to drive other people, such as your children, to places, and she didn’t want to do that. She much preferred the opposite, being chauffeured everywhere.
While I am convinced that this is the true reason our mother never learned to drive, it obviously couldn’t be the reason that was given whenever someone asked.
So — ask anyone else, they will tell you it’s Dad’s fault.
Oh really. Now there’s a shocker.
There are two instances (that I know of) involving my sister, our father, and money, that I think are significant. One reason I can say they are significant is that they are obviously significant to my sister, as they are the stories that she chose to tell.
Remember that to our father, money equaled love. Money — or being a good provider — is how a man shows love for his family. (And it’s no accident that my BIL is 1) very wealthy and 2) very generous with that wealth.)
Anyway, with all the dysfunction going on, by the time my sister was in college, our father had to be aware that he was basically hated in his own home — hated by people who still needed his money.
This became his lever. I’m not going to try to say that this was a good or healthy way to respond to the situation — it wasn’t. But it was what he did. He used money, or the threat of withholding it, to exert some influence or control over his wife and his daughter.
In the case of our mother, she basically earned this response. She originally had control of the household finances, and at one point she chose to spend Dad’s earnings on a private detective to spy on him, betraying his trust. So he took away the checkbook, and made her account for all her spending.
In the case of my sister, I don’t think this was fair to her. She really hadn’t done anything to earn this treatment, other than to be so enmeshed with her mother that she probably couldn’t see straight. And that certainly wasn’t her fault.
One of the instances, which shows a crucial difference between my mother and my sister, involves my sister’s tuition check for college.
One Christmas our father wrote out her tuition check for the next semester — but he didn’t mail it. He propped it on the mantelpiece, with the threat being that it might not get mailed.
She took it and mailed it off herself. Of course Dad still had the power to stop payment on it, but he didn’t. I think this was a kind of test, which she passed by showing that, unlike our mother, she had the wherewithal to figure out a solution to her problem, and the guts to execute that solution, as simple as it was.
The other anecdote is that one summer she decided that she wasn’t going to come home to live and put herself back under his thumb. She planned ahead, got a summer job, found an apartment to share, and so on and so forth. She sure showed him! And she was chagrined to find out that Dad was proud of her and bragged about her doing this.
This was significant not only because she figured out what she wanted, made a plan, and executed it. It is significant also because she did what she wanted to do, instead of coming home to Mom. If what she thought she was doing was snubbing Dad, well, hell. I think after everything else, he could take that easily, if it meant his daughter was going to be OK.
So where is all this going, and what does it have to do with what I want now?
Well, for one thing, I know that I don’t want to rejoin the “family”. I know that I don’t want to deal with the dysfunction, the narcissism, the blaming and manipulation and control issues — never mind the conservative thought patterns, the racism, misogyny, and self-righteous religiosity. I’ve grown well beyond where I could even spend a weekend in that kind of unpleasant stew that occurs when the FOO are together.
(If anyone were to get some therapy, and really change some of this dysfunctional thinking, I might reconsider re-establishing contact on a one-to-one basis — but there’s really no chance of anything changing, so it’s frankly not an option to which I have given a lot of thought.)
For another, Dad’s decision to free himself and what was left of his family from Mom’s unhealthy influence — which influenced almost the entire family against him — is neatly paralleled by my decision to free myself from, among other things, my sister’s bizarre, distant, second-class treatment of me — which has influenced the entire family against me.
And my sister is the closest thing to my mother that is still on the planet, and for all that she has made some significant improvements over the original model — when it comes to me, I believe the old tapes are still playing and the old beliefs are still very much in force.
My sister’s deliberate creation of distance from me is, I believe, exactly equal to our mother’s distance from me. She was thoroughly trained by our mother and she was right there when that distance developed, doing our mother’s job at least half the time — so I bet she knows exactly why it’s there.
And I want to know why that is.
I want to know what she thinks justifies ignoring your daughter / little sister for decades, and wishing I didn’t exist. I want to know what her problem is with my physical presence: why she won’t hug me, won’t talk to me, hardly even notices me or speaks to me (yet complains that I don’t show enough interest in her). I want to know exactly how, as an adult — and for that matter as a Christian — she justifies blaming, criticizing, and talking behind my back.
I want to know what exactly is her problem with me.
Because then I just might have the answer as to what the fuck my mother’s problem with me was too.
And I bet it’s bullshit, and I bet it doesn’t make any goddamned sense whatsoever, when it’s brought out in the open.
Am I being blamed for my mother’s mental illness? Bullshit. Even the fact of my birth isn’t the cause of that. She was mentally ill, probably before I was born. I’m not the reason for that.
Am I being blamed for the marriage falling apart? Bullshit. Even if Mom did have me as simply a desperate way to tie our father to her for another 18 years, that’s hardly my fault that it didn’t work. What, was I somehow defective in my duties there? Bullshit.
Or am I a problem for my sister because, as I said, I am the proof that Dad wasn’t a bastard — proof that he was capable of being a good, healthy, and loving father? If that’s the case, well and truly bullshit.
If the reason I am shut out is because I am an uncomfortable reminder of that truth, then she has a serious problem and she ought to work on that herself instead of sloughing it off onto another person.
And I bet that’s why I’ll never know what it really is. Because there aren’t any reasons good enough, and it’s all fucking bullshit.
If I’m right about any one of these, if I were her I’d be embarrassed to admit to me whatever stupid shit I still believe.
But I’d still like her to tell me — if only because it would be nice to finally know, and oh-so-easy to refute.
But maybe I can come to understand that it doesn’t actually matter if I ever know what it really was that robbed me of a loving mother AND A LOVING SISTER.
Because whatever it was, it wasn’t because there was something bad or wrong with me. That’s the scapegoat version, created to allow the narcissist to shift the blame and pretend that there’s nothing wrong with her.
And it’s irresponsible, dysfunctional, selfish, and prideful. It isn’t love, and it isn’t family. And if that’s how it is, then I’m not missing out on anything worth having.
I may indeed have been deprived of a loving mother and a loving sister — but apparently those were never options for me. That’s a shame and a definite loss, but it isn’t my doing, and I can’t do anything to change it. All I can do is realize it, internalize it to the very core, be myself, and move on from there.