Fighting Back

All the events, and stories, and jealousy and anger and manipulation and blaming and lies that got us where we are today, were set in motion 40 years ago or more.

I was a kid.  I was a helpless baby at more-or-less the start of it, when my mother was hospitalized.  I was only 6YO when it culminated in The Divorce.

It was a horrible, stressful time for the whole family.  Mom and the kids hated actually living with Dad day-to-day.  They all missed their previous location.  Dad had a new job, an important job.  And there was a new baby.  These three things alone would cause a great deal of stress.

If you look at the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory there are a few more things to add to the list:

  • Change in health of family member
  • Pregnancy / Gain of new family member
  • Sex difficulties (I’m going to lump “being a teenager” in with this one)
  • Change in financial state
  • Change to a different line of work
  • Change in number of arguments with spouse
  • A large mortgage or loan
  • Change in living conditions
  • Change in work hours or conditions
  • Change in residence
  • Change in school/college
  • Change in recreation
  • Change in church activities
  • Change in social activities

I’ve kind of lumped these all together — for instance, Dad had the job change, while the kids changed schools — but no matter whose point of view you take, they total well over 300, which is the lower limit of the high-risk category.

OVER 300 POINTS: This score indicates a major life crisis and is highly predictive (80%) of serious physical illness within the next 2 years.

Frankly, it isn’t surprising that someone got sick, although Mom’s illness wasn’t physical, but mental.  And you might be able to count my sister’s suicide attempt as “serious physical illness”.

What did the teenagers have to cope with?  New schools, no friends, no teachers or mentors to confide in — just a bunch of nuns and priests who would probably advise them to “pray about it” and “be obedient” if they were consulted.  I think you could just about count on being invalidated if you went to them for help and understanding.

Mom is too sick to talk to, and she can’t be held responsible for any of this anyway.  They hate Dad and are used to blaming him, but that’s no longer safe because now they are dependent on him for everything, not just money.  And of course they are not allowed to be mad at God or blame him for anything — remember, “He doesn’t send you any more than you can handle!!”  😀

It’s bad enough that they are already feeling like outsiders at school:  now they have to take turns staying home from school to run the house while Mom is sick.  But it can’t be Mom’s fault she is sick…

…it’s the baby who “made Mom sick”.

Side note:  You know, I’ve always kind of accepted the responsibility for that part.  I always accepted it was the fact of my birth that made Mom go crazy (although obviously still not my responsibility).

It’s only recently that I found out it probably wasn’t — Mom was probably schizophrenic all along, and was at high risk for post-partum psychosis.

What actually made Mom sick, if you have to assign the cause to a chain of events, was her refusal to have a medically advised hysterectomy, coupled with her refusal to accept sex as a normal part of marriage.  I’m pretty certain she thought the jeopardy to her health that would be caused by additional pregnancies could be easily eliminated by simply eliminating sex altogether.  Her insistence on following church doctrine became her excuse:  can’t have a hysterectomy + can’t use birth control + can’t risk another pregnancy = Voilà!  A “get out of sex free” card!

This is similar to what I believe was her real reason for not learning how to drive:  that too was a “get out of doing something for other people” card.

But that bastard husband of hers, who was supporting her, still wanted some.  A pregnancy resulted.  “Look what your father did to me.”

What’s comical about this to me is, isn’t avoiding sex in a marriage just as much going against god’s will as using birth control?  I mean, it IS birth control.  Yet somehow abstinence is considered an OK method of birth control to use, even within a marriage.  SMH.

…it’s the baby who “made Mom sick”.

This stupid baby with diapers to change, who is just a bunch more work, and really, really easy to label and blame as the cause of all their problems.

It makes sense that my sister is the one who holds this grudge the most deeply, because obviously she was the one most affected.

As a girl, and the oldest, she would have been expected to do the bulk of the mothering chores.  It was her senior year, yet here she was living the life of a teenage mom, without even having the benefit of having had the sex to go with it.  And if she attempted suicide, obviously she was deeply affected.

I wonder if my sister looks at me and thinks, “Look what my father did to me.”

A friend once pointed out to me that if things had been normal, if my mom had been healthy and done her job and not enmeshed and parentified my sister, if she had been free to be a normal teenage girl, my 17YO sister would likely have loved me to pieces.  If you don’t think that realization broke my heart, think again.

To all this injury, add the insult that Dad and I went on to have a loving relationship, and instead you probably have a recipe for the kind of relationship my sister and I have failed to have.

A helpless baby who couldn’t fight back was the only safe place to dump all that shit.  I became the scapegoat for them, as my dad was for my mom.  They had her example to learn from, after all.

I know of one other family who had a similar situation.  A knitting friend told me once about a family she knew — they were cousins or some such — with a lot of children, spread out over a lot of years, such that the oldest children were almost adults when the youngest child was born.

The youngest sibling was a woman who was now estranged from the rest of the family, because she was universally considered by the rest of them to be the cause of the mother’s death.

The woman who told me the story said that nobody ever talked about what had actually happened, so for a long time she had assumed the mother had died in childbirth, or shortly after.

At some point she found out that the truth was that the mother actually died SIX YEARS LATER.

It had nothing to do with the youngest child at all.  Yet the rest of the family somehow found a way to make it her fault.  It was probably their way of coping with the senselessness of what was happening to them.

Their scapegoat was only 6YO, and she couldn’t have fought back against the blame that got heaped on her.  She was a safe place to put their psychological garbage, their difficult-to-deal-with anger and grief, because she was too young to do anything but accept it.

No wonder they never talked about what actually happened, because the truth would destroy the warped story that they concocted to make themselves feel better.  And no one would then want to admit how unfair it was that they blamed this child her whole life for things that weren’t her fault.

And no wonder that poor little kid is estranged from the rest of them now.  That’s what happens when the helpless baby finally starts fighting back against the injustice of what has been heaped on her.

All that shit, years and years of tiny little things said and done, or not said and done.  Hugs not given.  Phone calls not made.  Letters unanswered.  Outreach ignored.  Happiness for another’s accomplishments eclipsed and snuffed out by jealousy.  Criticisms made, trust betrayed, snide remarks, bullshit apologies or none at all, excuses made for the fucked-up behavior of everyone else but me and Dad — we two who never, ever get defended.

Love not given.

Acceptance in the family withheld, always out of reach.  Just being born wasn’t enough –in fact, being born was my original sin, and keeping me out of the family is probably my well-earned punishment for that.

It all comes back in one big wave of shit, sparked by one unforgiveable-because-still-unapologized-for incident (which conveniently allows people to easily invalidate it all, and me, by saying, “Geez, is she STILL upset about that?”)

And you get this blog to go with this fucked-up family, these broken relationships.  That’s the only part I’m responsible for.  If they hadn’t done what they did, and failed to do what they failed to do, I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

The rest of these things are entirely the result of other people dumping 40 years’ worth of pain, trauma, and emotional garbage on someone else, instead of working through their own shit like responsible adults.  And now it’s come back home to roost.

It’s a shame for them that their target grew up to be wise enough and strong enough to figure out everyone’s bullshit.  And I know it won’t truly change anything with my siblings, but I’ll be damned if I don’t fight back somehow, and put all this shit right squarely back where it belongs.

They have admitted that they were angry.  They never asked themselves what they did with that anger.  They transferred it to me and never, ever looked back.  It is a high, stinking pile now, but that’s what happens when you don’t go back and clean up after yourself.

I know my writing won’t change my siblings, but it is changing me, and healing me, and that’s worth doing.

What DO I Want?

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.

Post-Partum Psychosis in the Modern Day

I found this article on post-partum psychosis at the BBC.  Some highlights:

  • Post-partum psychosis affects about one in 500 mothers (another source says 1 in 1000).
  • Relationship problems, stress, or the baby being unwanted do not cause postpartum psychosis.
  • “If you have ever had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, your risk of postpartum psychosis is high. You may also be in this high risk group if you have had a diagnosis of schizophrenia or another psychotic illness.”

Somewhere in the episodes of my first year, my mother was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia,” is what I was always told.

  • “Some mothers have difficulty bonding with their babies after an episode of postpartum psychosis. Usually these problems don’t last long. Most women who have had postpartum psychosis go on to have very good relationships with their babies.”

To me this is a red flag:  while it does say that “most mothers” get over this bonding problem, there were a lot of things about my mother’s illness that were not standard.  One in particular is that she wasn’t hospitalized until around the holiday season, which was at least 7 months after I was born in early April.

I will also note here that this timing meant that my mother would have had plenty of help with the chores over the summer, until the older kids went back to school in the fall, at which point my mother would have been expected to do her own job again.

  • It can take 6 -12 months or more to recover from postpartum psychosis. The most severe symptoms tend to last 2 to 12 weeks. The vast majority of women will recover fully. You may have further episodes of illness at a later time.
  • Over half of women with postpartum psychosis will have a further episode of illness not related to childbirth.
  • ECT or electroconvulsive therapy is still being used to relieve severe depression.

The TV program isn’t available online yet but should be here soon.

Babies are what now?

So I found a new friend recently – someone with whom I had a lot in common, much more than I usually do with people I meet.  We are the same age, each with no kids.  She also likes cats, she spends time online, she lives nearby, she doesn’t have a day job either.  She’s had some shitty people in her life and is also interested in figuring out what the hell happened.  We usually text each other just about every day.

So the other day new friend drops a bombshell of a text:  “I’m pregnant.”  We didn’t even know they were trying, so this was completely out of the blue.

And because I have been able to identify with her more than with many people, this announcement had the effect of triggering me badly on pregnancy/motherhood issues, sort of as if it was me who was pregnant, or maybe an alter ego.

My issues on motherhood go in both directions.  They include my own disinterested mother, and probably the infant abandonment as well, when she was hospitalized.  Let’s not forget that the person who was probably my surrogate mother, my sister, also abandoned me when she went off to college the next year – as well as she plainly dislikes me, or at least wishes I didn’t exist.

I’ve never had anything you could call a loving mother.  People talk about the “universal” bond between mother and child, the unfathomable, unbreakable, unconditional love a mother ALWAYS has for her child.

I have no idea what that is like.

But also, I NEVER had a positive model for motherhood, for seeing myself in the role:  never spent time around babies, never got to see motherhood or pregnancy expressed as a positive thing.  I’ve never changed a diaper in my life.  In fact I have a phrase in my head that I don’t know where it comes from, but it is this:

“Babies are bad.”

(In my head it’s to the tune of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins… as if maybe I heard someone singing it to me.

As it happens, the movie came out about 5 years before I was born.)

My own mother was so embarrassed about having had me at such a late age — I suspect mostly because it revealed to the world that SHE MUST HAVE HAD SEX — that for years, all through grade school, she wouldn’t put her birthday on the registration form and every year I got asked about it and had to say I DIDN’T KNOW HOW OLD MY MOTHER WAS because she was so embarrassed at having me.

She was ashamed of my existence, because of WHAT IT SAID ABOUT HER.

In the other direction, over the past few years, as I have figured out all the other stuff about my fucked-up family, I have come to realize that my choice not to have kids was probably mostly a result of the slanted, negative view of motherhood that I was shown, and that I never got a chance to experience the “good side” of it and thus form my own opinion either way.

I was 13 when my sister had her first child.  (Fun fact:  I am closer in age to my two oldest nieces than I am to my sister.)  My lousy sister might, for example, have had me come and stay with her over the summers as she had her kids, but of course she would not have wanted me around (although you’d think she might have at least enjoyed turning me into a household slave, as was done to her).

My mother used to explain my childless choice away by saying that it was because “you had your own mother taken away from you.”  She meant by my father, and The Divorce (because of course it had to be his fault).

(Note this also presumes my choice is wrong, and has to be blamed on something.)

I think she was almost right, but not for that reason.  If my mother was “taken away from me” it was because of her mental illness.  A distance of four fucking blocks is not enough to keep a loving mother from loving her child.

But being a self-centered narcissist who worried more about what other people would think of her, than about her own child — that will do the job.  You can pull that one off in the same damned house.

So, I used to think that not having kids was my own choice.  But for a while now I have been worried that I made the wrong choice, based on other people’s garbage.  And I’m terrified that as I watch my new friend’s experience, and spend time with her and her baby, it will confirm that I made the wrong choice.

Confirm that once again, I have lost out on something important — maybe even essential to a happy, fulfilled life — that I should have had.  Because of my fucking fucked-up family.

Over the years, as I’ve lost my whole family, and a few friends, there haven’t been a whole lot of new people coming in to fill up that empty space.  My husband’s mother had her own issues, and certainly didn’t welcome me with open arms into their family.  I had hoped my new friend would maybe fill up a little of that lonely, empty space — but of course that’s changed now.  She will have new priorities, and a lot less time for friends.  And that is as it should be.

But if I had had my own kids, maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely — I would  have someone, a family of my own.  And I probably got robbed of that opportunity.  Certainly I was only given biased information, and didn’t have the opportunity to truly make my own choice about it.  And it’s too late now to change that.

Maybe things will be fine.  Maybe I will be perfectly happy with this opportunity to be an “aunt” to my friend’s child, and maybe, just maybe, the experience will confirm that I really made the right choice for me.  I suppose there is a 50-50 chance, right?

But what if the opposite does happen?  What if I hold my friend’s baby, and my heart breaks?  What if I find out that yes, I got manipulated into making this hugely important choice WRONG, based on my mother’s fucked-up bullshit, and the collusion of a bunch of selfish angry teenagers (my siblings)?  How angry will I be then?  I don’t know if I can live through that.

ETA: after a few days and some help, I’ve been doing a lot better with this.

Since I don’t have a current therapist, I consulted with a longtime online friend who also happens to be a psychologist, and she said several things that helped a ton.

For one, she pointed out that if I wanted to change my mind, it isn’t too late, and she’s right:  I am not actually past child bearing age.  Ironically, my mom had me at about my age.  One year younger, I believe.

Of course, that doesn’t much help with the one-sided, negative view problem.  Nothing can fix that, but overall it seems my gut reactions are still holding.  One of my other online friends is babysitting her great-nephew today, and discovered she can’t use a computer around him because he keeps grabbing and touching.  My immediate reaction was “holy cow I could NOT deal with that.”

For another, she said this :  “Your feelings about your friend do not actually come from her having a baby. You are jealous because that baby is going to have a wonderful mother and that mother was your friend before she had a baby. So you have to give up your friend to a third party that isn’t going to bring you any joy. Even her baby gets a good mother and you have to give up your friend and hear about how much someone else loves their baby.”

Which is pretty accurate, although there is probably something in there about how that baby is going to have a great mother WHO IS A LOT LIKE ME.  And that makes me feel so sad.

Let me be clear:  I totally don’t grudge that baby her great mom – but I just wish so badly that I had had the same.

Sometimes I see moms hugging with their kids, out in the grocery store or whatever, just happy to be together, and it just about kills me.  I can see how reassuring, how comforting that must be to have.

In the recorded conversation, my sister speaks wistfully about a family they knew with several kids in it about their own age, one of whom my brother Joe was good friends with and another my sister apparently dated for a bit.  Joe refers to them as second parents; my sister remembers how they were a warm, loving family, and how the dad always hugged her when he saw her and how much she appreciated that physical show of affection.

Yet she can’t understand how it makes me feel when she doesn’t hug me in greeting, or barely speaks to me when we are together.

It’s also strange to me that our father’s physical affection to a 5YO me was so easily cast as “dirty” — yet this physical affection of an unrelated older man to a 16YO is perfectly innocent and a good thing.  Just goes to show the deeply ingrained prejudice against any action of my father’s, no matter how normal it might have been.

My online friend kept saying, “Your kids are never your friends,” and that was kind of “off” from what was making me feel so bad — but that helped me realize that when I was saying that “if I had had kids, at least I would not be so lonely” it was not so much a desire for friendship, as that A FAMILY THAT I CREATED WOULD NOT BE ONE THAT I COULD BE KICKED OUT OF, or have to struggle to earn a place in — or in the case of my in-laws, never let into.

And that is probably the heart of the whole thing.  I’m always outside looking in.  I’ve never had a mother’s love.  Never had the experience of a real family.  I’ve experienced a dad who did a damned good job of filling in for that unloving mother, but I lost that when I was pretty young.  And I have a wonderful loving husband.  But I’ve also had five siblings who never quite allowed me the membership in the tribe that was rightfully mine.  And I had a mother-in-law who, for reasons of her own, kept me out of “her” family.

Now I am faced with being outside looking in again, at a warm, loving, happy family that I’m not truly a part of.

That may or may not come to pass, but it is painful to contemplate.

My online psychologist friend said that what I am feeling is pretty normal for the situation.  And she also said some very nice things about how far I’ve come in the time she’s known me.  So that was good to hear.

And finally, I’ve decided that if I had to get it wrong, I’d still rather make this mistake than the other one:  where I had a kid, and found out that motherhood wasn’t what I really wanted, and ended up being a mom who was neglectful and disinterested.

Of all the things I’d hate myself for, doing to someone else what my mom did to me would be the most unforgivable.

Maybe that means part of my original choice and my child-less identity is less about “Do I want to have a child or not?” and more about, “I’m going to be smarter and more considerate and a better, healthier person than my mother,” but so be it.  It’s my choice, and I own it now.

The History, Part 4 – The Back Story

Here is what I have been able to learn about the years just before and after I was born.

Some of the following is is admittedly informed speculation, based on my solo research.  At one point I tried to get my mother’s hospital records, only to find out that they are only kept for 40 years by law in Iowa, and I was about 2 years too late.  I have asked the family if anyone has any official records, but if anyone has any documentation, they have kept it from me.  Most of the quotations come from a recorded conversation among my siblings.

The move

Prior to the year before I was born, my dad’s jobs required him to travel most of the time.  He was usually gone during the week.  Then, he got offered a prestigious job in a new city.  It was a sudden move, because the job offer resulted from the death of a colleague.

So the family moved from the place where they had lived the longest (about 10 years or so).  They moved in the late summer of ’67, so the kids could start school in the new city, and at first they lived crowded into an apartment for about 8 months.  My sister (15) started her sophomore year of high school that year, and the next two boys were in 7th and 9th grades (14 and 12).  Brother #3 was 5YO and brother #4 was around 18 months old.

My birth

The following spring, early ’68, they moved into the house I grew up in, and I was born about a year later, in spring of ’69.  My sister was finishing up her junior year.

Mom’s mental illness

In the fall of ’69, at the start of my sister’s senior year, and a few months after I was born, it is agreed that my mother suffered a “nervous breakdown”.  This is the terminology that I have heard all my life.

A couple of years ago, I got a book from the library about post-partum depression, and learned about post-partum psychosis as well.  What they used to call a “nervous breakdown” is now called a psychotic breakdown.  This can involve dangerous delusions and violent behavior.

As part of her treatment, she received electroshock therapy, or what they now call ECT.  This is also undisputed — although it is unilaterally considered by everyone else that it was a “ridiculous” “unbelievable” treatment choice.

Well, here are the reasons they do ECT.

“ECT is often used with informed consent as a last line of intervention for major depressive disorder
ECT is considered one of the least harmful treatment options available for severely depressed pregnant women…
For major depressive disorder, ECT is generally used only when other treatments have failed, or in emergencies, such as imminent suicide.

Hospitalization may be necessary in cases [of major depressive disorder] with associated self-neglect or a significant risk of harm to self or others. A minority are treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).”

Mom was indeed hospitalized twice during my first year, for a month each time:  once in the fall, when I was around 6 months old, and then again in the spring, when I was close to a year old.

I tried asking my sister about what happened to cause Dad to hospitalize his wife:  in other words, what was the psychotic break that almost certainly had to happen, to precipitate everything that followed?

And, knowing that she always, ALWAYS defends our mother and will do so to the death — it occurred to me that if she did know anything, there was a good chance that she might decide not to tell me, and just say she didn’t know anything.  So I asked her, if that was the case, to at least tell me that truth, and not lie about it.

Well, that was a mistake.  She got extremely defensive and lashed out, claiming that I had no evidence for anything like this happening.  All she does say is that Dad packed a suitcase for Mom and took her to a doctor, and that she wasn’t sure if Mom knew what was happening or not.  (Which gives some credence to the idea that she was not right in the head at that point, but I digress.)

But simple confusion on the part of his wife would not be likely to lead a man to pack a suitcase for a trip to the doctor.  If you don’t think there’s something seriously wrong, you would just take her to the doctor.  Then when the doctor decides to check her into the hospital, that’s when you go home and get the suitcase.  Or possibly you have called the doctor, described what is happening, and the doctor told you what to do.

I say that conjecturing that there was a dangerous and/or violent psychotic break makes far more sense than conjecturing that my father just suddenly decided to up and check his wife into the looney bin for no good reason — especially with a 6 month old baby, and a 3YO and a 7YO, to care for at home.

The family had been limping along for months, if not years, in denial, trying to function as best they could with a mother running the home who was increasingly nonfunctional.  My dad never talked much about it, but he referred a couple of times to things such as, “soiled clothing being put back in drawers,” instead of being washed, and that I “had diaper rash so bad that [my] butt was bleeding”.

If this kind of thing was able to be rationalized over time, it seems ridiculous to think that Dad just suddenly had a revelation one day.  Something must have happened to make it clear to him that she was mentally ill and needed medical help, and whatever it was, it was bad enough for him to know that he had to remove her from the house.

It at least seems clear that Mom was severely depressed.  Prior to being hospitalized, Mom was “crying all the time”.  She badly missed their previous home, and with the move, any support system she may have had had disappeared.  She didn’t work outside the home and she never learned to drive (a circumstance that was always and forever blamed on my father), so she was isolated at home all day.

She made few, if any, friends in the new town.  This is held to be one of the reasons why she didn’t win custody in The Divorce, because she had no one to testify on her behalf.  (But over the following 12 years, when she was working outside the home and had every opportunity to socialize, I rarely saw her do so.  I remember she tried square dancing for a while, but that didn’t last very long.  I never met any friends that she made, other than a few women who would give us a ride to or from somewhere — usually a church function.)

The job change meant my father was home more.  Instead of being gone all week, he was now able to come home every night, and even come home for lunch.

One brother said, “I saw that as more of a threat than anything else.”  (and everyone else laughs.  They have no idea how twisted and unhealthy this sounds in the mouth of a teenager.  It’s called “parental alienation” and it is a serious form of child abuse.  It’s not normal — at least not if a parent is not abusive [in that case it is called realistic alienation], and I have never heard anyone claim that Dad ever raised a hand to them except in earned punishment.  It is learned from the alienating parent, the “aligned” parent.  See also the defense mechanisms of splitting and idealization and devaluation.)

Admittedly Dad was an absent parent during the week, because of his job.  For whatever reason, though, this arrangement held sway for years and I believe it allowed much of the dysfunction to take root.  I think things would have been very different if Dad hadn’t traveled so much, but there are also plenty of families who make this arrangement work just fine:  military families, for instance.)

It is clear that the man was not welcome in his own home.

Another brother noted that previously, when Dad would leave for the week, for the first 2 or 3 days, they “could do anything” and were able to “screw around” instead of doing chores and so forth.  Dad’s return at the end of the week was seen as an unwelcome end to the fun (more laughter), as they then had to rush to get things taken care of before he came back “because Dad was coming home”.  See who gets blamed for Mom’s inability to run the house properly and their own teenaged lack of discipline?

(This is exactly the situation that Flylady used to call “crisis cleaning”.  It’s a lousy way to run a household.)

They saw him as a “workaholic”, someone who “enjoyed” doing work and chores, and never had any fun.  Well, when the work doesn’t get done as it should, during the week, and then it gets done in a half-assed way because it’s being done in crisis mode — well, someone’s gotta do it, and that someone probably ended up being my dad.

But it is not hard to imagine that when he returned from a week of sales and schmoozing, what he wantedand, according to the social contract of the day, had a right to expect — was to be welcomed home by his wife and children, and have a nice meal in a clean, tidy, and well-maintained home.

He didn’t enjoy working hard all week to come home to a mess, to be required to punish his sons for a week’s worth of misdeeds, and then to reward that by going out to eat, and finally to spend his weekend catching up on chores that should have been already done.

Of course he wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t any fun.  He was being let down by his wife and alienated from his children, week after week after week.

And his was a pretty normal reaction to the situation, as it turns out:

“Rejected parents, generally fathers, tend to lack warmth and empathy… instead, they engage in rigid parenting and critical attitudes.”

Dad was considered unreasonable for things like wanting dinner to be at a certain time.  They complain that he never wanted to go out, he never wanted to have any fun.  (Oddly enough, my experience of my mother in the years that followed The Divorce can be described in exactly the same manner.  Mom rarely took us anywhere or did anything at her home that could be called “fun”.  I remember doing a lot of reading by myself in the living room, or doing her housework.)

The words used to describe living with Mom are: “relaxed”, “flexible”, “not exactly haphazard, there was some structure but it wasn’t to the letter”

The words used to describe what it was like when Dad was home:  “like having someone breathing down your neck”.

One brother referred to seeing Mom at the hospital and thinking that she was so much happier, that maybe being away from Dad for that long (a month or so) was a good thing.

I’ll note that also while she was in the hospital, she wouldn’t have had to lift a finger, and she probably enjoyed being waited on by the staff all day.

But see how Dad is made to be the source of the problem?  Mom may be mentally ill and have severe depression, but that’s only because of the unthinkable circumstance of being forced to actually live with her husband around all the time.  Not because her husband wants and expects reasonable things, that she is too unreasonable to do.

In fact, my siblings believe that the situation was abusive, and that any professional would have told Mom to get the hell out.  (Which begs the question, so why is the divorce such a horrible thing?  but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

But — no abuser willingly lets the target of their abuse go Yet Dad was the one who left the marriage, and Mom was the one who resented The Divorce.

I agree, it was abusive — but not in the direction they believe.

Mom is praised for putting herself through misery and sacrificing her personal life in order to save the marriage.  WHAT MARRIAGE?  She resented the shit out of him for expecting her to do things — normal, everyday, housewife, marriage things, like cooking and laundry and cleaning and sex — and apparently, changing my damned diapers — that she simply didn’t want to do.

And incidentally, this poor decision made everyone else’s lives a fucking misery too — to the point that somewhere in all this mess, my sister tried to kill herself.  That is so far from praiseworthy I can’t even.  That is, in fact, abuse.

I have wondered just what would have made my mother happy at this point in the narrative.  She needed and wanted Dad’s income, and refused to give up being provided for in the manner to which she had become accustomed — but she hated Dad, and living in the same house with him, as his wife, made her miserable, and by extension, everyone else too.

The only thing I can think of that would have “fixed” the situation would have been if Dad had conveniently died, and left her with all “her” kids and a big beautiful house, and a big insurance policy, so she would never have to work.

The other thing that came out of this was the information from the doctors.  The only actual diagnosis I ever heard was “paranoid schizophrenia.”  But Dad related some bits and pieces to the older kids, in sound bites, like “Your mother is crazy, and she doesn’t love you.”  The doctor also famously told Dad, “She hates your guts.”  (To which one brother said, “which I could sort of see that.”)

I think it was during this period that Dad learned about things like blaming, and contempt, and how destructive those things are to a relationship, and began to see how hopeless it was that anything would ever change or get better.

During the first hospitalization, Dad used up his vacation to stay home and take care of the house and the younger kids.  Then the older kids were drafted to stay home from school in a rotation to do the job.  At some point after the initial “episode”, as it is delicately called, a housekeeper was hired, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent the second hospitalization.

The divorce

Things were admittedly dysfunctional even before the move, but the enormous stress load just made everything worse:  the move, the new job, and the changes in the household routine, with the new baby and a bigger house and of course, Dad’s increased and unwelcome presence.

And in the course of Mom’s hospitalizations and having to run the household end of things on top of doing his own job, Dad found out about things that Mom was spending money on behind his back, such as astrologers and horoscopes — and in particular, she spent money on a private investigator to track Dad, and tried to hide it from him.

This was a huge betrayal to Dad, because to him, money was equal to love; it was how a man showed his love for his family, by being a good provider.  Letting his wife handle his money that he worked hard for was a symbol of his trust in her.  To then find that she wasted a lot of his own money by paying someone to spy on him was, to him, the height of dishonesty and treachery.

Of course this is not Mom’s fault – not even really her doing.  The blame for this is placed on the private investigator!  who is held to have manipulated Mom into doing it.

Predictably, they fought about sex (mostly my mother resenting my father and making him out to be a bastard for wanting to have some).  Apparently at some point Mom accused, “This is all about sex, isn’t it?” and Dad either (a) didn’t deny it or (b) agreed, depending on whose memory you rely on.

It would be funny if it weren’t so unhealthy.  The woman who didn’t want to have sex with him got paranoid and mad when she thought he’d found someone else to have sex with.  Sex is generally considered a normal and healthy part of a normal and healthy marriage.  The person who doesn’t believe this is the one who is not normal or healthy.

At some point Dad started spending his weekends somewhere helping someone remodel a house.  (It’s not clear if this was before or after the bit with the PI.)  He would come home on Friday, throw a bunch of tools in the car, and leave.  But this was considered to be “great, because he’d be gone all weekend.”

So, they fought about money.  They fought about sex.  But so what?  These are the two of the most common things married couples fight about.  What they were apparently unable to do is communicate effectively (without blaming!) and resolve the problems.  This was absolutely, positively, not all on Dad.  Yet the excuses are all made for Mom.

Mom was “under an awful lot of stress”.

Mom was “trying to keep the marriage together”.

Wasn’t Dad?  Wasn’t it stressful to find out that no one wanted him around?  That his wife was spying on him?  When Mom was sick, wasn’t he using all his spare time to do as much of both jobs as he could?  And this was while his day job was brand-new to him.  Oh, no, that’s not stressful.

But Mom is the one that they “feel so bad for”.

Guess what?  That is the hallmark of a manipulator.

My BIL — a man whom I believe everyone in the family respects greatly —  once said something to this effect:

A man wants three things out of a marriage:  to feel important in his own home, to have a good meal, and to have a roll in the hay every once in a while.

My dad got none of the three out of that marriage.

So at some point over the next 4 or 5 years, he decided there was nothing left for him, and probably nothing positive for his younger kids, in keeping this relationship going.  He had nothing, in the way of family, to lose.  So he decided to divorce her.  He really had no other choice worth making.  And alone of his kids, I’ve never blamed him for making that choice.

Because I’m in the same position:  a family that doesn’t want me around, that refuses to even consider that they could be part of the problem.  And just like it was to Dad, it’s been made clear to me that nothing is ever going to change, and there is nothing left for me to do but leave.  I too have nothing, in the way of family, to lose.

It’s still painful.  Rejection always is.  But it’s a pattern that I can at least recognize now, and get away from.

Part 5

Stars and Stripes Forever

One of the worst things about the family situation is that I have almost no one with whom to share any good memories of my dad.

Here’s one for the 4th of July:  my dad loved this piece, particularly the piccolo solo.  I played the flute for years in junior high and high school, and he almost bought me a piccolo so I could learn it.

I’m Almost With You

(It’s a little rough, but I prefer this live version to the studio one.  The studio version is clean, produced, and loses the raw feeling.  Also, this solo is awesome.  The acoustic version is also good, and better than the studio version for some of the same reasons.)

See the chains which bind the men
Can you taste their lonely arrogance
It’s always too late and your face is so cold
They struggled for this opulence

See the suns which blind the men
Burnt away so long before our time
Now their warmth is forgotten and gone
Pretty maid’s not far behind

Who you trying to get in touch with
Who you trying to get in touch with
Who you trying to get in touch with

I’m almost with you
I can sense it wait for me
I’m almost with you
Is this the taste of victory?
I’m almost with you

See the dust which fills your sleep
Does it always feel this chill near the end
I never dreamed we’d meet here once more
This life reserved for a friend

Who you trying to get in touch with
Who you trying to get in touch with
Who you trying to get in touch with

I’m almost with you
I can sense it wait for me
I’m almost with you
Is this the taste of victory
I’m almost with you

The History, Part 3 – The Reunions

So, a few years after the deaths of our parents, my sister’s oldest daughter gets married. We attended the wedding, at which the idea of a yearly reunion was floated.  Of course, the hostess would be my sister.  ALWAYS.  I tried bringing up the suggestion that we could rotate the hosting duties so everyone would have a chance to host, but — like almost any other suggestion I have ever made to this group of people — that idea was completely ignored.

We started going to these reunions in August every year.  And year after year, I came home feeling left out.  Wrong-footed.  Like a second-class citizen or a weird, ill-defined relative.  Maybe a cousin or something.  But definitely not a part of the group.  (Everyone else gravitates to the phrase, “like a red-headed stepchild” to describe this.  I won’t even comment.)

I now know I was there just to “complete the set”, to prove my sister’s control over the whole family.  (And, I suspect that my absence from the reunions now is probably pleasing to her and to Susan.  Especially since it is “all my fault” that I’ve decided not to show up every year just to be treated like garbage.  But I’m getting ahead of my story.)

At first I put that not-belonging feeling down to the simple fact that everyone else had a different opinion of my dad than I did.  That was an open secret:  everyone knew that Dad and I had been close, closer than anyone else.  And I knew that I had better keep my mouth shut about it.  It was my role to just sit and listen when the others started talking about how awful Dad had been.  (Looking back, I have wondered if this was supposed to punish me in some way, or if I was a stand-in for my dad as they expressed the hurt they had been unable to express when he was alive.  Who the hell knows?  It’s not like anyone will actually discuss it rationally, so there’s no hope of finding out.)

After a couple of years, I was able to add “religion” and “politics” and “race” to the list of things that my siblings had very different ideas about than I did.  I will never forget the moment during 2012 when the Olympics were on TV and my youngest brother casually referred to an Olympic athlete with the n-word.

It was becoming apparent, too, that to voice any dissenting opinions on these or any other topics would result not in a debate, not in an exchange of ideas, nor even in an agreement to disagree — it would start a fight.  And you can just guess who would be blamed for starting that fight and, probably, ruining the whole reunion for everybody.

My therapist asked, “So you can’t have your own opinions?”  Immediately what came out of my mouth was, “Oh, I can HAVE them, I just can’t say them out loud.”

After a few years of this, listening to other siblings reminisce about events that happened before I was even born, I started wondering more and more about just what DID happen when I was born.  I realized that this was a period of the family history that NO ONE ever talked about.  At all.

You know how most people have stories that get told about silly things that they did when they were 2, or whatever?  I realized that for me that period was just a big blank.  About all I knew was that Dad had gotten a new job and the family had moved to a new city just before I was born, and then about 6 years later, our parents got divorced.  Oh, and it was all Dad’s fault, of course.

So, I started asking questions and requesting official records.  I have the county documents from the divorce, as well as my father’s military records.  I have a recording of an hour’s conversation among my siblings, that they made at the 2011 reunion, at my request.  (I had to deliberately phrase the request so that it sounded like it came from a therapist or other outside authority, though, or they never would have done it.)

I was a few years too late to get my mother’s hospital records, dammit, because the state of Iowa only requires them to be kept for 40 years, and I called at some point in my early 40’s.

And finally, I worked with not one but two therapists, professionals who have confirmed the work I did on my own, and guided the painful conclusions I came to.

That history is detailed in the next post, but what it all adds up to is a broken family.  Broken because of a mother who didn’t want to do the job she signed up for, but who also convinced most of her children that she was completely innocent of any blame or responsibility for what happened at least partly as a result.  A mother who didn’t actually say she wanted custody of the children in the divorce.  A mother who would say hurtful things to her own daughter because she wasn’t being nice enough to her.  Who liked to be taken care of, waited on, and wouldn’t get her own fucking glass of orange juice if there was someone around she could convince to do it for her.

But wait!  Mom can’t be part of the problem!  The possibility can’t even be raised.  It’s a lot like the Catholic Church, where you just believe and do what you are told, and questioning anything only gets you disapproval and eternal punishment.  Such a convenient tactic, used by dictators the world over.  They dress it up and call it “faith” and make out like it’s some noble thing to not question things that obviously don’t make sense.  And if you do ask questions, you get yelled at, shut down, ignored.

On to part 4 – the back story.

Tribal Narcissism


How do narcissists do what they do?

You have to be able to appeal to people’s biases and appeal to their sense of grievance and on a positive level appeal to their sense of hope and aspirations, even if you’re going to betray those promises. You have to be able to sell who you are to people, and people have to come along and lend you the power that you need. Or lend you the support that you need initially to attain power.

…tribalism in this case really is just narcissism, the grandiosity of the group… There’s narcissism of the individual and there’s narcissism of the group, and in both cases it’s essentially the same thing. We are better, we are more entitled, we are different or at least less interested in the people around us, or the tribes or nations around us, because we’re worthier than they are.

I think I just found a new phrase to describe The Triumvirate.  I’ve said before that “some pigs are more equal than others.”  Some of my siblings can be just fine on their own, but when the three eldest encounter the prospect of going against one of the other three — or in my case, going against one of their spouses — oh hell no, that’s just too difficult.  Not even for an actual, flesh-and-blood sister.

There is a phrase I have heard all my life:  “Well, the divorce was really hard on [brother #3].”

And, “The divorce was really hard on [brother #4].”

Never once in my entire life have I heard anyone say, “Well, the divorce was really hard on [me].”  And I have confirmed this observation both with my husband and with brother #3.

So why exactly do you suppose that is?

Is it because the divorce really wasn’t hard on me?  Anyone who intends to claim with a straight face that the divorce of a 6YO’s parents wasn’t hard on her can just kiss my ass.

The only other option is that we are willing to make excuses and cook up defenses for the behavior of brothers #3 and #4 — but little sister doesn’t get, doesn’t deserve that same defending from her siblings.  No, what she gets, what she deserves, is all the fucking blame.


The Four Horsemen

These are the four things that indicate a marriage apocalypse is on its way:

  • Criticism

    Complaints are fine. Criticism is more global — it attacks the person, not their behavior. They didn’t take out the garbage because they forgot, but because they’re a bad person.

Both my parents had, um, “high standards”.  The difference was that Dad could help you learn how to meet them, whereas Mom simply criticized, for the most part.  I can remember her complaining about how I dressed –  but it was not so much an indictment of my clothing, but of me personally — “You’re SO DRAMATIC!” was her favorite.  In particular, I remember that she criticized the dress I sewed for Homecoming my senior year — not the workmanship, which of course she might have been able to teach me how to do better — but she complained that, “You can have a dramatic color, cut or style — but not all three at once!”  Of course, this was after the dress was well under way, if not finished.  (Besides, it was the 80’s.  And frankly, I loved it and I looked awesome in it.)

I can also remember that while she was staying with me for Joe & Susan’s wedding, at one point my own mother told me to my face that she liked Susan better than me, because Susan was “nicer to her.”  (Susan is a suck-up to whoever she thinks has power in any given situation.  I’m not the only family member who has noticed this.  One guess as to why my sister likes her so much.)

Mom actually said several hurtful things to me during this visit — she also voiced the actual statement that she would not bother to attend my wedding — but the one where she said she liked Susan better than me was the worst.  At one point my husband-to-be said, “Every time you go somewhere with your mother you come back crying.”  Finally he had had enough, and he picked her up from church and had a talk with her about her behavior.  Mom tried all her usual tricks to deflect accountability:  “You don’t know what their father did to me” was the trump card, of course.

So let’s think about that for a minute:  first of all, the assumption is that everything was 100% Dad’s fault — which at this point has been accepted for so long, it practically goes without saying.

Second, this is a MOTHER saying straight out to her DAUGHTER that she likes a woman who is practically a stranger BETTER THAN SHE LIKES HER OWN FLESH AND BLOOD.  WTF?  This is unbelievably nasty.  A mother telling her daughter that she doesn’t like her as much as she likes someone else.  Because that someone else sucks up to her, and feeds her sense of superiority — that is the hallmark of the narcissist.

ETA:  I recently recounted this incident to a longtime friend, whose mother was a kind, loving, generous woman — despite having some serious marriage issues of her own.  I can remember one year she and my other best friend’s mother each sewed their daughters a popular three-tiered skirt, and this woman made one for me too, so I wouldn’t be left out, because she knew my own mother wouldn’t do it.

When I repeated to this friend the words that my mother said to me, my friend actually physically flinched.

Third, my mother then attempts to blame her current nastiness ON MY FATHER.  What he did to her all those years ago apparently forces her to make these nasty remarks 20 years later.

It would be pathetic, if it were not pathological.

The sort-of-but-not-really amusing part about this is that she also habitually criticized my father for being critical.  “The criticism game is the easiest game to play,” she would sneer.  Projection much?

In contrast, I can remember having a phone conversation with my dad when I was in college, where I told him I got a 98 on an exam and he immediately asked, “Why didn’t you get 100?”  I called him out on that one, saying that 98% was frankly pretty damned good,  and a few days later I got a note from him that I still have.  It is very faded and torn, taped back together, and full of holes from having it pinned up on bulletin boards for probably 10 years or more, but the words are precious to me.

Congratulations on the superIMG_20140917_0003 test grades!  I guess I most times just expect you to do well, as you have always had exceptional grades.  You have to know how proud I am of you and your accomplishments.  You should do well in life if you continually strive to be the best at what you do.  Everyone can improve if they want to, the main thing is to want to.  Am proud of you!… Keep up the good work!  Until later — Love you!  Miss you!  Love, Dad

  • Contempt

    “…name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt – the worst of the four horsemen – is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”

My mother referred to my father as a “bumpkin” because he came from a dinky little town in Iowa and she came from Chicago.  Another of her favorite nasty things to say about me was, “You’re so PRAGMATIC — just like your father!”  The tone of voice she used left no doubt that in her view, being either of these things was contemptible.

  • Defensiveness

    “…defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so deadly.”

Narcissism writ large.  Blame-shifting is an art my mother was a master of.

  • Stonewalling

    Tuning out. Disengaging. This doesn’t just remove the person from the conflict, it ends up removing them, emotionally, from the relationship.

I have very little to go on to get an idea of how my parents might have tried to resolve their difficulties, although with a narcissist it usually just isn’t possible.

Two things I can remember:  one is, I can remember running to the back door to greet my father when he arrived home (side note:  I believe I was the only kid who did this) and he picked me up, hugged me and carried me into the kitchen — whereupon he and my mother started fighting about something.  I can remember tugging on Dad’s ear and whispering to him to please stop, but it didn’t work.

The second example is from when I was in kindergarten, and includes both of the last two items:  blame-shifting and stonewalling.

To make decorations in preparation for Open House, we lay on pieces of brown paper and someone drew an outline to create life-sized portraits of ourselves.  I can remember working very VERY hard to re-create the pattern of interlocking circles printed on my blue corduroy pants, and I can remember being disappointed that I didn’t have time to finish drawing it over the whole area.  (I think someone noticed and was impressed by those efforts, but because of the rest of the story, I don’t think it was anyone in my family — it was probably the teacher.)

We also had to dictate a few lines about our families to the principal’s secretary, who typed them up on cards. The descriptions were posted next to each of our portraits, for everyone to see.

Mine said something like, “My parents fight a lot and my mother prays a lot.”

I don’t remember Dad’s reaction, but I remember Mom was horrified and embarrassed, and she placed the blame on me for not knowing that I should not have said those things.  (Pretty fucked up, yes?  but business as usual for the narcissist.)

But the other big clue was the second half of my statement:  “my mother prays a lot.”

10261759_701864376564285_892702048_nI have long felt that my mom was not very good at solving her own problems, which may have engendered her desire to be coddled and taken care of.  If you suck at running your own life, your options are threefold:  to figure out better ways to do things, to live with the way things are, or to get someone else to do the work for you.  She was apparently incapable of doing the first (or, as in my father’s note, she simply didn’t want to); the second was not acceptable; the third was her way of coping with just about everything.  I believe praying falls into that third category:  trying to get god himself to do your work for you.  Talk about narcissistic!  The almighty has nothing better to do?  JFC.