What’s There To Be Afraid Of?

Once again, a paraphrase of Seth Godin:

The pedant (that’s what we call someone who is pedantic, a picker of nits, eager to find the little thing that’s wrong or out of place) is afraid.

He’s afraid and he’s projecting his fear on you, the person who did something, who shipped something, who stood up and said, “here, I made this.”

My version:

The narcissist, who finds criticism in every little remark, who is eager to find you to be wrong or out of place, is afraid.  (And her flying monkeys, too.)

They are afraid and they are projecting their fear on you, the person who stood up and said, “hey, you are treating me badly, and I don’t like it.”

What are they afraid of?  What is there about doing the right thing, about establishing healthy boundaries and respecting them, about treating me as an equal instead of making me the scapegoat, that is so scary?

In my family’s case, I think the fear is that if Susan is held accountable for her actions, and Joe as well, that they will throw a fit of some kind, and refuse to participate in family activities.

This will upset my sister, with whom Susan has cultivated a strong friendship.  I think they probably understand each other very well.  Susan has a habit of sucking up to the person perceived to be “in charge” in any situation, perhaps with the idea that they will then protect her in the event of any conflict.

In the case of our family, that person is my sister.  She and she alone has the power to decree where and when the family will get together.  In the past, I have suggested that we take turns hosting the annual reunion, and I have suggested other activities — including a conversation about us all doing something for my 40th birthday — all of which have simply been ignored.  I have attended, sometimes by plane, at least 5 different milestone birthday celebrations for The Triumvirate — but don’t even think about anyone gathering to celebrate one of my birthdays.  I’m not supposed to ask for things like that.

Some pigs are more equal than others.

It’s easy to see this.  My sister will be terribly upset if Joe and Susan decide to leave the family or to boycott family events.  But if my husband and I decide to leave, that’s kind of OK.  At least, it’s better than if The Triumvirate gets broken up.

Accepting the unhealthy behavior of an in-law, at the expense of a sister, is perfectly fine — IF that in-law is married to a member of the Triumvirate.

At the end of 2012, the last year I went to the reunion, my sister wrote in her Xmas card newsletter about how the Triumvirate gathered in May of that year at my youngest brother’s home for the high school graduation of his oldest son — so 4 of the 6 siblings were present, with the exception of (1) the one brother who hasn’t attended a family function since long before or since the deaths of our parents and (2) us.

Strangely, this was the first my husband and I had heard of this “family event”.  We had gotten a formal invitation to the graduation, just prior to the event itself — but there was no indication in that envelope that it was going to be a family get-together.  No one mentioned it in our presence at the August reunion.  My husband and I were very deliberately left out of that gathering.  If my sister hadn’t screwed up and put it in her Xmas letter, we’d never have known about it.

Here’s my guess as to why:  I am guessing it was Susan’s idea initially, which she presented to my sister, who of course got on board with it.  Susan has a way of asking questions and manipulating conversations in order to get the answers and results that she wants.  I would not be surprised if the get-together was conceived by Susan as a way to show the rest of the family how much fun it would be to have a gathering without us.  Susan’s aim, at least from the time of The Susan Incident, seems to have been to cut me out of my own family, for reasons that are best known to her, but which probably stem from me daring to “criticize” her, and refusing to buy into her bullshit, her sucking up, and her narcissistic, unhealthy ways.  She simply can’t afford to have someone in the family who visibly doesn’t play along with her game, who refuses to take the responsibility and the blame for her shit that she flings.

From there, the graduation event guest list would have been cut short because, well, since this is Susan’s idea, it would be kind of awkward to invite the family member who is all unreasonably mad at her.  So we were not invited.  We got no emails, no phone calls beforehand to say, “Hey, we are all going to be there, would you guys like to come?”

Our mailed “invitation” came with a note scribbled on the outside of it saying something about it having gotten lost in a pile on a desk, or some such.

(ETA:  it got mailed to our old house, the one we had moved out of two years previously, and the new owners returned it to my brother after some unspecified period of time.)

But again, no mention inside of any get-together.  At the time, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, to be honest, as high school graduations have never been a big deal in our family before.  It was not a “given” that this meant everyone would attend in person.  In fact, I think this is probably the first graduation anyone in this family has ever done this for — of course, I may just not know about others, I suppose.

My youngest brother claims that this constitutes us being invited to his son’s graduation.  Well, yes, perhaps formally it does.  It is also an obvious, after-the-fact, bullshit, defensive justification for him sitting there and letting it happen, because that is pretty much what they wanted — “they” being my sister, at the behest of Susan, and the rest of The Triumvirate right behind them.

I won’t lie.  That sucks.  That hurts.  It hurts to know that my own family has been twisted so far against me that they PREFER not to have me around, that they prefer that to doing what is normal and healthy for a loving family to do.  It sucks to know that a normal, loving, healthy family is not what I have.

I suppose, on some level, maybe having a healthy person in your midst — someone who doesn’t play by the narcissist’s rules, so well-learned at mother’s knee — is a disturbing reminder of how fucked-up everyone else is.

What the Hell Could I Possibly Have In Common With Zoe Quinn?


In fact, I’ve come to realize that most sane people can see through a smear campaign… the people who refuse to see it for what it is would find a reason to hate me regardless.  Let’s face it — if they found any part of the campaign convincing, they clearly didn’t need much convincing in the first place.  Keep all of that in mind if you ever find yourself at the wrong end of something like this.

Of course, that won’t undo the damage to your personal life… But it (hopefully) won’t be the end of the world for you.  Eventually things will move forward, and you’ll still have your friends to help you pick up the pieces.  Hell, sometimes you even make new ones you wouldn’t have expected.

Being The Scapegoat

I have at least started to learn some healthy boundaries.  One of them is to call out someone who mistreats you.  Hello, Joe & Susan!

For about a dozen years, I tried to “just get over” all this, as instructed.  I was told this is my problem, and I needed therapy to find a way for me to deal with it.

Well, I went to therapy, and learned a lot of things.  Most of the stuff I am writing about here stems from those sessions.

We got to narcissism very quickly:  on my second visit, after I had been asked to think about what beliefs operate in my family of origin, I said to my therapist, “Susan is never wrong, and Mom is never to blame.  Are those two the same thing?”  She got this huge, genuine, happy smile across her face, as though I had done something really clever.  (I might add, I immediately had a very strong urge to do whatever I could to see another smile like that.  This probably tells a lot about how little approval and smiling I got from the people around me, growing up.)

Another thing I learned about was scapegoating.  Mine was relatively (ha!) subtle in some ways — until our parents died.  While my father lived, he prevented the continuation of the old pattern as best he could.  When he died, it came back with a vengeance.

This article and this one describe the phenomenon clearly.

How to Tell if You Have Been Scapegoated:

  1. You are held responsible for family problems, conflicts or challenges, even if they have nothing to do with you.  Other people blame you for their actions.  You may end up feeling a lot of shame for being ‘the bad guy’, and/or anger for being blamed for negative family dynamics.
  2. You are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’ on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.
  3. There has been a history of one or more family members being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive towards you.  Other family members seem to accept or look the other way when you are bullied or aggressed against like this.  You may feel like the ‘black sheep’ of the family.
  4. You find yourself repeatedly being accused of behavior the scapegoater is engaged in. For example, a family member repeatedly yells at you, and then accuses you of being abusive, or being thoughtful and then told “all you care about is yourself”.
  5. You act out the negative ‘expectations’ of scapegoating such as not living up to your potential, or getting into relationships with abusive people because your self esteem is has been damaged.
  6. Being the mentally healthiest family member, but being accused of being sick, bad, etc.
  7. Occupying the role of family outcast, and being treated with disdain or disgust by family or yourself.
  8. Your achievements are belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected.
 Ta-da!    Seven out of eight.

Those two articles, as well as this one, point out that the scapegoat is likely to be the healthiest one in the family, the one who goes looking for answers.  And I found some.

If you are the scapegoat, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are the one most likely to go searching for answers – and find them. That is because you are the one in the most pain from carrying the burden of blame for the family. The scapegoats are also usually the truly strong ones in the family, as well as being the truth tellers.

I guess you know the bad news. You are blamed for everything. The scapegoats are the ones who allow the rest of the family to appear to be “normal,” purged of their wrongs. Narcissistic personality disordered mothers chronically scapegoat. If everything is the scapegoat’s fault (and it’s not), then the rest of the family can continue to avoid the real issue. The narcissistic mother can keep pretending to be “normal,” since you are supposedly the problem. “While they [malignant narcissists] seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense.” The People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

The very existence of a scapegoat in the family signals a problem, because a scapegoat is only required in a family when someone consistently refuses to take responsibility for their own actions…

…Those same qualities of strength and emotional honesty or truth telling will greatly work in your favor in the healing process. If you are the scapegoat, you have the strength to escape, heal and lead a healthier life. As hard as it may be, try not to internalize all of the blaming and scapegoating. Realize you are dealing with a very sick parent. The truth hurts, but then it really does set you free.

So for the past couple of years, I have instead been trying the healthier alternative of calling out this mistreatment of me to the people involved (or, as in the case of my sister, studiously not involved).  I figured I ought to at least give them a chance to learn, to grow, to address the issues that have plagued our family for decades.

It has not gone over well.  My “family” have refused to hear any of this — probably because of their own unhealthy boundaries and behaviors.  It is much easier for everyone else if I remain the scapegoat, if we all pretend that what Joe and Susan did to me was perfectly OK, and it was not hateful behavior on their part, but an over-reaction on mine.  If we insist that me doing exactly the same thing as Susan did, three months later, is some sort of heinous crime the second time around.

Like I said, I tried that for a dozen years.  It didn’t work for me.  Another healthy personal boundary is to put one’s own needs first, and that is what I am now doing.

There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved… Be aware that some people in your life may fall away as a result of your outlook and demand for respect. But these aren’t people you want in your life anyway… Whatever you do, don’t compromise your values, integrity, and self-respect simply to keep someone in your life.

The History, Part 2 – Mom’s Death

So, after all this shit happened — believe it or not, 3 months later, my mother dies.

So we travel back to my home town, and are staying at my dad’s house, which hasn’t been sold yet.

I spent most of the the time clearing out my mom’s assisted living quarters by myself, and I avoided everyone else as much as I could.

But two important things happened during that time.

One was that right after Mom died, as we were walking along the hospital halls, I apparently said something about our mom that my youngest brother considered insensitive, and all hell broke loose.  While no one can remember what it actually was that I said, Joe later wrote that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”

I have apologized to my youngest brother for whatever it was I said multiple times, and specifically for hurting his feelings with this mystery comment.

As far as I know, he still insists on believing that my motivation for making that remark was to “get back at everyone” for what happened at Dad’s death.

(That simply isn’t true — but you know, even if it were, I’d think I might have some justification for doing so, after that horrible experience.)

Anyway, just to recap:

  • Susan had a conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death.  I found the tone and content upsetting, and politely asked them to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that.
  • I said something shortly after Mom’s death.  My brother finds it upsetting.  But he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.

The two events are basically equivalent.  But I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. Susan “did nothing wrong”.  I, on the other hand, was completely wrong.

This set of events is what led me down the road of wondering how this is possible.  From there I learned about narcissism and scapegoating.  Voilà.  It explains many things that are otherwise inexplicable.

The other thing that happened was bullying.  While my husband and I were staying in my Dad’s room, at one point my youngest brother decided he needed to shout at me for something (I am not sure if it was the above-mentioned remark, or what).

He came into our room to yell at me, he stood in my way so I couldn’t escape, and he refused to get out after I clearly and repeatedly told him to. Once again, no one came to my aid, other than my husband. No one told my brother that he was out of line to physically corner me in that room, and shout at me, and refuse to get out or let me leave.

No one found it unacceptable to let him bully me like that.

When I told my therapist about all this, she said, mystified, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.”

This led me to the concept of healthy personal boundaries, as well as figuring out that I probably don’t have very good ones.

Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries… You may not believe you have any rights if yours weren’t respected growing up.

And guess who else doesn’t have healthy boundaries?  Probably just about everyone in this family, because the immediate reaction to conflict in this group is not to empathize, communicate, and resolve — but to shirk responsibility (my sister and my eldest brother) and to blame (Joe and Susan and my youngest brother).

… since you’re accountable for your feelings and actions, you don’t blame others.

Another article on boundaries has this to say:

…an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this… Mom is a narcissist, while the [child] is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her [child] is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The [child] is afraid of standing up to Mom, and she exploits his caregiving.

I am instantly reminded of my sister’s words about testifying for our mother in the divorce hearing:  “… She had no one else.  NO ONE.”

Odd, that my sister could find it in her heart to stick up for my mother in those difficult circumstances, yet refuses to get involved with the current conflict.

Well, not so odd.  My sister was parentified by our mother worse than anyone else in the family, probably because she was a girl.

…parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parent’s therapist, or take one parent’s side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.

And of course, if boundaries are learned, and our mother had lousy ones, then how would anyone else have learned anything healthy from her?

(click here for Part 3)