Once again, this is a well-understood psychological construct. It’s not unusual, special, speculative, or unique. IT’S HOW CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE.
Full article here.
If you’re particularly sensitive or empathic by nature, you’re more likely to respond to narcissistic parenting with a stance I call echoism… Narcissistic parents who explode without warning, or collapse in tears any time a child dares to express a need, force sensitive children to take up as little room as possible, as if having any expectations at all is an act of selfishness.
I interpret this as not wanting me to exist. This also reminds me of my sister’s bouts of hysterics when I said I wasn’t coming to one of the reunions, and when I asked her about the possibility of our mother’s psychotic break. Continue reading “8 Common, Long-Lasting Effects of Narcissistic Parenting”
“In my own writings about the abuse I’ve experienced… I go into a lot of detail, get angry, and do a lot of research into such things as abuse and personality disorders… I pour everything in, all the details I can think of, along with trying to figure out what drives a person to act like that, quotes from my research which describe common abusive behaviors… what is abuse and what is normal.
“I have a strong will and don’t just figure I deserved what I got; I get very angry… I hope that these comments/blogs are not saying that if you’re angry, if you’ve done a lot of research into personality disorders and do know family history and have good reason to think disorders are at play, that it automatically labels you as the abuser playing the victim. In my case, the anger is part of the detachment/healing process and a natural response to being abused, and learning about personality disorders has reassured me that I did not deserve what I got.“
When a person says “I’ve been abused, and I’m angry about having been abused!” that is not necessarily a sign that they are falsely playing the victim… anger is part of the detachment/healing process… It shows the victim is making an excellent recovery, in my opinion. Continue reading “Who’s the real victim?”
The metaphor of the Missing Stair came from The Pervocracy. It’s a very useful metaphor for a toxic person.
The basic idea is this:
“Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it? Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it? “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”
“Some people are like that missing stair… Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?” Eventually you take it for granted that working around this person is just a fact of life, and if they hurt someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.
“…Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn’t do their job, but everyone’s grown accustomed to picking up their slack. A lot of social groups and families have that one person. The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to. (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.) The person you don’t bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants. The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they’re perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry.
“I know not all these people can be fixed, and sometimes they can’t be escaped either. But the least you can do is recognize them, and that they are the problem. Stop thinking that your inability to accommodate them is the problem.”
You know Racist Christmas Uncle? He’s a Missing Stair. It’s a person with whom you have to socialise who damages other people. They make racist/sexist/homophobic statements, or inappropriately sexual comments. They tell rape jokes. They talk about your weight, and whether you should really be eating that. A Missing Stair enjoys upsetting people to some degree, even if they’re not deliberately baiting you.
The Missing Stair is someone you can’t just avoid. They’re a relative, or a co-worker. They’re the partner of a friend, or a friend of your partner. They belong to the Group that does your Thing: gaming, or wine club, or whatever else normal people do…
This isn’t just a person who’s a bit socially awkward. You know you have a Missing Stair when the thought of going to a social event you know they’re going to be at makes you feel sick. You really know you have a Missing Stair when you complain about their behaviour to a mutual friend and they say, “Oh come on, you know what he’s like. Don’t let him get to you.”
Because that’s the thing about the Missing Stair: everyone knows what they’re like. If you quietly say, “I don’t know, one of the guys there, he kind of creeps me out,” everyone knows who you mean. Everyone knows the stair is missing. Nobody fixes it. Everyone is expected to work around the Missing Stair.
People will not handle you being rude to the Missing Stair. The Missing Stair has a free licence to be a jerk, that’s just the way they are, but you are socially obliged to not make a scene. The Missing Stair can tell you you’re raising your children wrong with no sanction at all. Yet if at any point you call them a fucking moron, somehow you’re the one starting a fight. You can be told you must support the Missing Stair because they are family, or a friend – as if you somehow magically aren’t.
If you ever do manage to get a Missing Stair out of your life – by moving city, for instance, or through a death – that’s when you really start to realise just how much energy you were putting into constantly working around it. The relief is amazing. I have, a couple of times, been rude enough to deal to a Missing Stair, and having other people come up and thank you afterwards is little compensation for the stress and adrenalized sickness of the confrontation they totally failed to back you during.
M. Scott Peck ‘The People of the Lie’
I picked up this book a while ago and have not started reading it yet, but I came across this fascinating passage today:
“There really are people…who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness and would destroy the good insofar as it is in their power to do so. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil — indeed, seeking to avoid any such awareness.
“…Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…
“Truly evil people, on the other hand, actively rather than passively avoid extending themselves. They will take any action in their power to protect their own laziness, to preserve the integrity of their sick self. Rather than nurturing others, they will actually destroy others in this cause… to escape the pain of their own spiritual growth. As the integrity of their sick self is threatened by the spiritual health of those around them, they will seek by all manner of means to crush and demolish the spiritual health that may exist near them.”
My mother used to tell me the version that goes, “You take everything too personally.”
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.
“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.
Toxic people… engage in maladaptive behaviors in relationships that ultimately exploit, demean and hurt their intimate partners, family members and friends.
a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: “That didn’t happen,” “You imagined it,” and “Are you crazy?”
One sure sign of toxicity is when a person is chronically unwilling to see his or her own shortcomings and uses everything in their power to avoid being held accountable for them. This is known as projection. Projection is a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else. It ultimately acts as a digression that avoids ownership and accountability.
Instead of admitting that self-improvement may be in order, they would prefer that their victims take responsibility for their behavior and feel ashamed of themselves. This is a way for a narcissist to project any toxic shame they have about themselves onto another.
Narcissistic abusers love to play the “blameshifting game.” Objectives of the game: they win, you lose, and you or the world at large is blamed for everything that’s wrong with them.
Narcissists on the extreme end of the spectrum usually have no interest in self-insight or change. It’s important to cut ties and end interactions with toxic people as soon as possible so you can get centered in your own reality and validate your own identity.
3. Nonsensical conversations from hell
Malignant narcissists and sociopaths use word salad, circular conversations, ad hominem arguments, projection and gaslighting to disorient you and get you off track should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way… In their eyes, you are the problem if you happen to exist…now your entire childhood, family, friends, career and lifestyle choices have come under attack. That is because your disagreement picked at their false belief that they are omnipotent and omniscient, resulting in a narcissistic injury.
4. Blanket statements and generalizations
…they generalize anything and everything you say, making blanket statements that don’t acknowledge the nuances in your argument or take into account the multiple perspectives you’ve paid homage to. Better yet, why not put a label on you that dismisses your perspective altogether?
…invalidate experiences that don’t fit in the unsupported assumptions [and familial beliefs] … they are also used to maintain the status quo.
…“You’re always too sensitive” rather than addressing the real issues at hand. It’s possible that you are oversensitive at times, but it is also possible that the abuser is also insensitive and cruel the majority of the time.
5. Deliberately misrepresenting your thoughts and feelings to the point of absurdity
…your differing opinions, legitimate emotions and lived experiences get translated into character flaws and evidence of your irrationality… Narcissists weave tall tales to reframe what you’re actually saying [or what you actually did] as a way to make your opinions [or you] look absurd or heinous…This enables them to invalidate your right to have thoughts and emotions about their inappropriate behavior…
This is also a popular form of diversion and cognitive distortion that is known as “mind reading.” Toxic people… chronically jump to conclusions based on their own triggers rather than stepping back to evaluate the situation mindfully. They act accordingly based on their own delusions and fallacies and make no apologies for the harm they cause as a result. Notorious for putting words in your mouth, they depict you as having an intention or outlandish viewpoint you didn’t possess…they have succeeded in convincing you that you should be “shamed” for giving them any sort of realistic feedback.
6. Nitpicking and moving the goal posts
The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the presence of a personal attack and impossible standards… they just want to nitpick, pull you down and scapegoat you in any way they can. Abusive narcissists and sociopaths employ a logical fallacy known as “moving the goalposts” in order to ensure that they have every reason to be perpetually dissatisfied with you. This is when, even after you’ve provided all the evidence in the world to validate your argument or taken an action to meet their request, they set up another expectation of you or demand more proof [or just declare that you’re still wrong].
…able to instill in you a pervasive sense of unworthiness and of never feeling quite “enough.”…they aren’t acknowledging the work you’ve done to validate your point or satisfy them, their motive isn’t to better understand. It’s to further provoke you into feeling as if you have to constantly prove yourself.
7. Changing the subject to evade accountability
It is a literal digression from the actual topic that works to redirect attention to a different issue altogether [which is always The Divorce]… they will reroute discussions to benefit them… This type of diversion has no limits in terms of time or subject content, and often begins with a sentence like “What about the time when…”
On a macro level, these diversions work to derail discussions that challenge the status quo [the beliefs that Dad was a bastard and Mom was a saint].
8. Covert and overt threats
…instill fear in you about the consequences of disagreeing or complying with their demands… If someone’s reaction to you… having a differing opinion from your own is to threaten you into submission… this is a red flag of someone who has a high degree of entitlement and has no plans of compromising. We can never have the reunion anywhere else but on my sister’s turf. Deciding not to come is met with hysteria. No one can call Susan or Joe on the carpet because there is some unstated threat there.
Narcissists preemptively blow anything they perceive as a threat to their superiority out of proportion. In their world, only they can ever be right and anyone who dares to say otherwise creates a narcissistic injury that results in narcissistic rage.
…A well-researched perspective or informed opinion suddenly becomes “silly” or “idiotic” in the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath who feels threatened by it and cannot make a respectful, convincing rebuttal. Rather than target your argument, they target you as a person and seek to undermine your credibility and intelligence in any way they possibly can… realize that they are resorting to name-calling because they are deficient in higher level methods.
10. Destructive conditioning
Toxic people condition you to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories with abuse, frustration and disrespect. They do this by sneaking in covert and overt put-downs about the qualities and traits they once idealized as well as… sabotaging your goals, ruining celebrations, vacations and holidays. They may even isolate you from your… family…
[Mom telling me repeatedly that people weren’t going to like me because of all my positive qualities. Susan sabotaging the meal-planning. Everyone else being free to talk about how awful Dad was at any family get-together.]
11. Smear campaigns and stalking
…they start to control how others see you; they play the martyr while you’re labeled the toxic one. A smear campaign is a preemptive strike… so that you won’t have a support network to fall back on…
A victim… often doesn’t know what’s being said about them during the relationship, but they eventually find out the falsehoods…
Toxic people will gossip behind your back (and in front of your face), slander you to your loved ones or their loved ones, create stories that depict you as the aggressor while they play the victim, and claim that you engaged in the same behaviors that they are afraid you will accuse them of engaging in.
12. Love-bombing and devaluation
…the saccharine sweetness a narcissist subjects you to…
13. Preemptive defense
…a high level of sympathy and empathy at the beginning of your relationship to dupe you… Genuinely nice people rarely have to persistently show off their positive qualities…
Bringing in the opinion, perspective or suggested threat of another person into the dynamic of an interaction is known as “triangulation.” Often used to validate the toxic person’s abuse while invalidating the victim’s reactions to abuse… They also use the opinions of others to validate their point of view… Everyone is essentially being played by this one person. Susan using Joe to support her view of things. Mom using my sister for the same purpose.
15. Bait and feign innocence
Baiting you into a mindless, chaotic argument [like the one over turning off the oven] … it becomes clear that the person has a malicious motive of tearing you down [more like making sure I was the one seen as being at fault].
16. Boundary testing and hoovering
…The more violations they’re able to commit without consequences, the more they’ll push the envelope… [my brother refusing to respect my wish for no contact]
17. Aggressive jabs disguised as jokes
Covert narcissists enjoy making malicious remarks at your expense. These are usually dressed up as “just jokes” so that they can get away with saying appalling things… a way to divert from their cruelty and onto your perceived sensitivity.
18. Condescending sarcasm and patronizing tone
So long as you’re treated like a child and constantly challenged for expressing yourself, you’ll start to develop a sense of hypervigilance about voicing your thoughts and opinions without reprimand… you begin to silence yourself. [This is less about sarcasm and more about simply not being able to express an opinion that goes against the grain, such as not agreeing that Mom was wonderful and Dad was shit, or being atheist or progressive.]
…It can also be used to destroy and whittle away at a victim’s self-esteem: if a victim dares to be proud of something, shaming the victim for that specific trait, quality or accomplishment can serve to diminish their sense of self and stifle any pride they may have. [Back to mom telling me people weren’t going to like me]
…manufacture situations or conflict out of thin air… engage in disagreements about irrelevant things and rage over perceived slights.
I found out yesterday that a high school friend of mine suffered a serious stroke in late April.
Of course I hope she fully recovers, which it appears she is well on the way to doing. I feel sad for her, and glad that she obviously got prompt medical attention and her life was saved. Those are normal feelings that healthy people with empathy have for other people in misfortune, and of course I have those feelings for her.
That isn’t what this post is about. It is about the other feelings that have come up for me with reading about this news.
My friend’s Facebook page, and the website they set up to keep everyone updated, is chock full of family and friends writing things like, “I love you so much” and “Thinking of you every day” and “Love love love to you and to your family” and “I’m so proud of you”.
All that tangible, visible proof that the people around her love her and care about her, in the biggest crisis of her life.
Her mother. Her mother-in-law. Some of our other high school friends, who are like sisters to her. REAL sisters, I mean. The kind that don’t heap a lot of shit on you that isn’t your fault, but just love you instead.
They just love you. Out loud, in writing, with a little note or a phone call or a comment on a web page.
I have another high school friend whose Facebook page often shows a comment from someone in her equally large and extended family. A niece, or her sister, or a brother, or a sister-in-law. Always something loving and kind, and obviously not there because it’s a birthday or something — just because they felt like saying it.
I don’t know what that’s like. I see it, and it looks wonderful. I wish I did.
I actually can’t imagine my sister writing anything like that to me, ever. “I love you so much.” I challenge anyone who knows both of us to try it. You can’t picture it, because IT NEVER HAPPENS.
She has excuses — there are too many years between us, she was busy raising a family, we are poles apart on many things — but shit, it’s not like she ever tried.
I did, once upon a time, but after enough failures, eventually even I got the message.
Nor did I get that kind of love from my mother. Facebook wasn’t around 30 years ago, but the one time that I know of where my mother was invited to write a letter about why she was proud of me, what I got was a chilly, formal letter. It was so bizarre, I don’t think they even read it at the pledging ceremony — or if they did, it was in such contrast to everyone else’s letters that I have blocked the memory, out of embarrassment and shame at how impersonal my mother’s letter was.
She didn’t even write it by hand — she typed it. In the handwritten note that accompanied it, she even wrote “end”, as if it were a business communication. And of course, she had to make it about a topic that was important to her: religion.
Years later, my sister defended my mother’s coolness on this occasion with a bunch of bullshit about “she didn’t know who was going to read it” and so on.
Fucking hell. Someone who loves you doesn’t CARE who reads it. THAT’S THE FUCKING POINT.
But that’s the way it always goes. I expressed my disappointment in the way my mother wrote this letter — because it hurt me to be shown so starkly the contrast between the chatty, friendly letters that she wrote to my sister when she was in college, versus the one that I got when I was in college (by the way, there aren’t any personal letters from my mother from my college days, because I was expected to call HER every week).
And my sister didn’t say, “I’m sorry she couldn’t love you.” My sister didn’t say, “I bet that was important to you. I’m sorry you were disappointed.”
No, what my sister did was defend my mother’s abnormal behavior. Because my sister has apparently inherited that abnormal behavior, that unwillingness to love me, or to let anyone else love me.
This is very similar to my mother-in-law, who was the oldest daughter of an alcoholic mother, and also strongly parentified. And while she couldn’t stop her son from marrying me, she wouldn’t let her husband be too nice to me, either.
Once she was gone, he spent his few remaining months trying to finally be friends, but he didn’t have much time to work with. But we could have had a loving relationship, I think — if it hadn’t been for my MIL, and the anger she directed towards me for us making a life decision that she didn’t approve of, and as she saw it, depriving her of her “right” to grandchildren.
Because of course she can’t direct that blame at her son, and besides, women are “supposed to” have kids — even if they are women as fucked up as her own mother, and my mother, I guess. See how well that worked out.
Over the 20 or so years that I knew her, she did her best to retain some control and undercut me with “her” son as well — even criticizing me to him under our own roof — and often she pretended I didn’t actually exist.
I remember one time they visited us, and she and I went to buy tickets for a ferry. The woman at the kiosk asked my MIL why she was here, and she replied — with me standing right next to her — “We’re here visiting our son.”
Another time we were all out at a garden, and my husband and I went for a walk while his parents sat on a bench. When we came back, she looked directly at him and, using his name — so it would be clear that I was not included in the caring, no matter how trivial — she asked him, “How was your walk?”
On another memorable occasion, his dad left a phone message wishing him — specifically and only him, again by name — a “happy anniversary”.
Kind of like my sister not even giving me a welcome hug, or noticing that I’m in the room. (At the same time that she can sure as hell notice that I failed to ask her about being a grandmother.)
Little wounds. Over 20 or 40 years they add up to big ones.
It would be one thing if the people involved were like this to everyone, not just me. But they hurt even more when, after she’s gone, you get to hear from the neighbor how wonderfully warm and loving your MIL was to her — treated her “like a daughter,” in fact.
So eventually you learn that no matter if you are nice, and caring, and give love to others, they don’t give it back. And you learn not to make the effort any more. That’s the person I’ve become.
Which is why my siblings will say – have said, in fact – “Well, but YOU don’t show love to US!”
Because of course, to them, it’s all about them. (Except the part about who’s responsible. That is most definitely not about them.)
We are each too wounded to put our own pain aside in order to love the other person.
The difference here is, my siblings’ wounds were not inflicted by me — but mine were inflicted by them. I don’t have anything to apologize for, but they do.
I tried for years and years, and got rejected over and over. And the ultimate wound, of course, was the moral injury of the night my father died, and the morning after. And the lies about it, and the believing the lies, and the not upsetting Susan and Joe, because it was easier and simpler to upset me.
Their wounds were not inflicted by me. Theirs were, at the heart, inflicted by a mother who was selfish and sick and couldn’t let anyone else have love. Our mother’s version of the control was to not let “her” children love their father. She deprived them of that hugely important relationship, for her own selfish reasons.
See the pattern here? Selfish, angry, injured women, deliberately ruining relationships between others. I’m not the one who’s doing that.
I used to have brothers, and even a brother-in-law, who at least appeared to care about me, but they are no longer allowed to do so.
My brothers have said some nice things to me in the past. One of them once said he enjoyed conversations with me, but of course that was said in the context of the rest of the sentence, which was that he refused to discuss the family issues any longer. So yeah, he enjoys conversations with me as long as they are on his terms.
I have other brothers who probably couldn’t say a nice thing about me if their lives depended on it.
My sister won’t let her husband speak to me any more. Nor, I suspect, are her kids (and eventually, their kids) allowed to contact me. Once in a great while, as on the actual birth of a child, I get a picture or two from a niece – that’s the return I get now on the investment of years of caring about my sister’s kids. Of course my sister never had to put out anything for the ones I didn’t have. And we aren’t even told about their weddings any more.
This isn’t exactly new: we have been left out before, not told about get-togethers until someone lets it slip after the fact, not invited until it’s too late for us to come.
This is controlling and dysfunctional and fucked up, of course, but it kind of works. It’s easier than the alternative. Can’t do anything to upset my sister and SIL, or there will be hell to pay.
As my father used to say, and I know where he learned this lesson: “In an argument between a reasonable person and an unreasonable person, the unreasonable person will always win.”
They are the ones who have won, by being unreasonable, by being the bigger threat to familial harmony. By having the power to throw the bigger tantrum. Me leaving is no big deal, compared to what they could pull off.
Another Facebook friend has a son who is getting married this fall. All week her posts have been about planning the wedding, her excitement, her happiness about having a new daughter-in-law to love.
It’s hard to read those posts. I actually don’t like to think about my own wedding, because even for the one fucking time it was supposed to be all about me, it wasn’t.
Not for my mother. My mother wouldn’t even shop for her own dress. I had to go shopping for her in Dallas, buy and ship a few dresses to her, and then harp on her to send the others back so I could return them.
For context, up until my wedding, my mother’s immediate first concern about any such event was what she was going to wear, down to shoes and accessories, and she often sewed her own dress for such occasions. I had to hem her fucking skirt myself, the night before the wedding.
In hindsight, the complete lack of giving a shit is crystal clear. And, I suspect, it also sent a subtle message to everyone else that this event wasn’t something they needed to care about.
The excuse made for her is that she was getting sick at the time, but I defy you to show me another loving mother who lets physical illness get in the way of caring about her daughter’s wedding.
Not for my MIL. I recently found out from that same neighbor that my MIL never spoke about our wedding. “You could have gotten married in Jamaica for all I know,” she said. The only thing she ever heard about our wedding was that at some point, apparently my father asked where my FIL was, and said he needed to talk to him, and went to find him.
Somehow that offended my MIL. What she had to say about our wedding day, after the fact, was vague criticism for my father.
Before the fact was worse. The planning was a nightmare. She had her own separate guest list. She literally doubled the budget for the reception dinner. She used the same pattern that I chose for the bridesmaid’s dresses for her own dress. At one point she told me directly that what I wanted didn’t matter. And there are weirder parts that are too long to tell here.
It would have been awesome to have a sister and a mother or even a matron of honor who was on my side through all of that, who could have been a reality check, but no. It will be no surprise that my matron of honor was also a narcissist, who was also no help to me at all, and actively contributed to my problems, instead of helping.
[Side note: A few years later, when we told her and her husband that we were leaving Texas and moving to Oregon, the first words out of her mouth were “Oooh, I’ve never been to Oregon!” The first thing she thought about was herself and what good we could be to her. Classic. We never gave them our new address.]
And not for the rest of my family, either. Ask them about my wedding, and you will hear about how much fun they all had in Boston together the day after, without me or my husband.
But, they will say, you had just gotten married. You were busy.
Of course, that’s not the fucking point, but that is seriously how they see it. That’s their excuse. To all of them, the important thing about that event was not their sister (their daughter, their son, their friend) getting married. It was not welcoming their new brother-in-law. It was about them, having fun doing something else. Something that, in fact, specifically didn’t involve me, or us, because I was “busy”.
The “something else” that I was busy with was, in fact, supposed to be the center of attention and the whole fucking point. That’s how it is when people love you and are happy for you, anyway.
They didn’t ask us what we would like to do that last day. I don’t think we had anything specific planned, but it’s not like anyone said, “Hey, what is the plan for Sunday? What would you like to do? Oh, there’s nothing planned? Well, here’s what we thought we could all go do.”
They didn’t even ask us if we wanted to go along. They just assumed, I guess, that we wouldn’t want to go? I don’t know. I do know we didn’t get invited, even though it was the last day everyone would be there and we all knew that and it was MY FUCKING WEDDING.
“Often clients tell me that they felt that their family didn’t understand them, that they felt different from the rest of the family or like an outsider. What is being described is the trauma of invisibility.”
That doesn’t even come close to describing it. It’s not so much being invisible – it’s that they see you, and they don’t care anyway. They don’t love seeing your face, or think of you “just because”. In fact, they hate the sight or the thought of you so much they will pretend you aren’t there.
Years and years and years of being rejected by the people, especially the women, closest to me — being met with criticism or disdain, or unacknowledged or taken advantage of, every time I tried to reach out and build relationships — has taken its toll.
I don’t reach out to anyone any more, because my love kept getting met with rejection. Rejection from my mother, from my sister, from my mother-in-law: all women in my life that you would think would have been a bedrock of love and support. The kind of love that is visible, the kind I see other people getting.
Love that is allowed to be expressed, and doesn’t have to hide for fear of pissing off some fucked-up, controlling, unhealthy person, who can’t stand to see someone they hate being loved.
I don’t know why I ended up with so many of these women in my life. Some sources say that being trained by one narcissist leads you to attract others. Certainly I think the familiarity factor is how my SIL ended up in the family, and why she is so welcomed.
Intellectually at least, I realize now that they all had issues. Just as I now have issues, and am unable to simply feel for my friend, without also being envious of what she has that I don’t have.
I don’t have the capacity to just be openly loving and caring, without these other feelings getting in the way. I don’t have enough logs in my raft, the hole hasn’t been filled enough.
I could have been that person, though. It’s what I wanted to be — still wish I could be. A healthy, loving person, with people to love, who love me back.
But at least I have the guts to work on my issues, and not perpetuate the bullshit.
Sometimes I am that person. For example, one thing I have noticed in the past couple of years is that I don’t do art unless it is something FOR somebody. I am not an artist for myself. I don’t make time to draw, or paint, for my own enjoyment. But let me get an idea for something someone I care about would like, and I am all over it. I love to make art that will make someone I love happy.
There have been loving women in my life, here and there: a housekeeper, a friend’s mother, a junior high school teacher — but they all fell away, one way or another, because they just didn’t have the same tie, day in and day out, that you get with a mom. You don’t get a second chance at having a mother or a mother-in-law or a sister, someone who’s been there your whole life, who just loves you.
I did have Dad. I got about 15 years less of him than I should have, but I did have that. I have loving notes, and letters from college, and some saved emails, and a box full of other things that I still haven’t gone through in the 15 years since his death. In the absence of a loving mother, that’s what saved me, but it’s still not the same.
Mostly, it’s just too late. I don’t see where I will ever find that kind of love at this stage, or people TO love. I’ve been cut off from the next generation of my relatives. And the healthy people all have wonderful loving families of their own. There’s no room in them for a couple of strays, and there’s no replacement for those 40 years of shared history that we wouldn’t have. I don’t see any way now to find or make a place like that where I really belong.
Maybe if I’d had kids, I’d have one. More likely, in my 20’s I’d have been the lousy mother that I suspected I’d be, even though I didn’t quite know why. I understand why a lot more now, and I even think I’d be a decent mother now. But it’s pretty late for that, and “to not be alone” is a shitty selfish reason to have kids anyway.
At least I’m not carrying on the tradition.