Not My Choice

I can’t get over how good this blog is that I just found.  Here’s some excerpts from another winner.

My goal was never to go ‘no contact’. ‘No contact’ was a result of the decisions that “THEY” made.

I was asking for something that I needed. I was asking to be treated with equal value and equal respect. My motive was for having a better relationship based on the true definition of love, which values equally ALL parties in the relationship and the response that I got was “NO”.

This isn’t my fault. I tried and I wanted our relationship to be one rooted in love and mutuality. My motive is based in love. Their motives are based in the misuse of their power for the purpose of control.

Therefore, I don’t feel guilty; I have nothing to feel guilty about…

When a person is not heard or given the right to have a voice or if a person is consistently devalued or disrespected, then the relationship (or contact itself) is conditional. When I looked at who was the one being ‘conditional’~ when I looked at who actually held the cards and who actually makes the rules and who set those rules in place, I saw the truth about the conditions on the relationship. These are all things that I had to take a look at when I realized why I was so tired in the first place and how I realized that ‘no contact’ was more of a result of the dysfunction and not a choice I made.
And today I have realized that there is a difference between me becoming a happier, healthier person, and me having relationships with my siblings and their spouses.  They are not the same thing.  One does not require the other.
Maybe they are, in fact, mutually exclusive.  Maybe the one has caused the lack of the other.  But I can be happy and have a good life without having to repair those bonds.  Partly because it is not really me who has broken those bonds; partly because those bonds were not very strong or loving, and so they weren’t contributing much to my happiness anyway.  But mostly because not having those bonds doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.
Yes, it sucks to have to say, “I have five siblings but they don’t speak to me and I don’t speak to them.”  Yes, it sucks not to be invited to family events.  But it doesn’t mean I’m the one who is “bad” or wrong.  It doesn’t mean that I can’t also say, “because my mother was mentally ill and narcissistic and she poisoned all my older siblings, but I was saved by my dad.”
I’ve pretty much accepted that there’s nothing I can do to fix things – the next steps are all in other people’s hands — but I ALSO don’t have to sit around and wait for them to take action in order for me to move on from this.  (And not in the “you just need to get over it” bullshit sense of “moving on” that they want to see.)
Which is a good thing that I don’t need them to do anything, because they obviously won’t.  But hey, that’s OK for the purposes of healing and moving on, because I don’t need the one to do the other.

Get Over It

Being told to “just get over it” is devaluing. It implies that I am making a mistake in processing an event. It indicates that something is wrong with ME because I am still confused about something that has not been resolved.  The statement is emotionally abusive.  And even when it is used in a positive context…there is a negative left over from all the abuse in the past.

WHY is it wrong to need to have something understood or resolved in the first place?

And of course the correct answer is, it’s not.  But some people just can’t deal with the fact that I’m not actually in the wrong here.

Furthermore, people who say stuff like this don’t have any solutions; they don’t ever offer suggestions on HOW to get over it or deal with it, because they don’t know how either.  They only offer devaluing and thoughtless instructions… I was not entitled to realize that I had been wronged. I was always the one who was wrong no matter what the situation was.

Until I learned that I do have rights, that I am as equally valuable as everyone else and that I AM ALLOWED to and NEED TO feel the pain of the past and get angry about it SO THAT I COULD “get over it” (which was how I did get over it)…

Well, maybe I’m on the right track after all.

My Sister’s Response

So, after I sent my second letter to my family, my sister responded.  (text posted below)

There are a lot of familiar things in her response.  There is the refusal to listen, the refusal to hear my side of things.  That is nothing new.  There is the continual defense of Mom, and the denigration of Dad, for EXACTLY the same behavior (#7).  Actually, reading that, it should come as no surprise at all that they can hold me accountable for what happened at both our parents’ deaths.  She, and they, have had a shitload of practice at that kind of cognitive dissonance.  It is just second nature.

In the course of a couple of years now of writing about this giant ball of shit — draft emails, real emails, and now blogging — I can’t help but notice that I often refer to the rest of my family as a sort of monolithic “THEY”.  I started thinking about whether this was fair to them, and whether I should try to separate out each person’s behavior instead.

I’ve decided that isn’t really appropriate, and here’s why.  I’ve noticed that all four of “them” have, on separate occasions, felt entirely free to speak for the others in this conflict.  My youngest brother, with his memorable lecture that included “No one holds it against you how you acted” when Dad died.  Joe insisting that “no one else has a problem” with Susan (when I know differently for a fact) — so of course the problem must be me.  My oldest brother emailing that The Triumvirate was brought up to be obedient, and they hold absolutely no resentment over what happened to the family around the circumstances of my birth – a sentiment echoed by my sister below, and one on which I call bullshit.  I don’t know a teenager in the world who would not be resentful about what happened.  Either they are lying, or they are saints.  And they are no saints, although they probably imagine themselves to be.

Information flows freely among the rest of the family:  I know for a fact that my sister has forwarded around emails that were written between me and her, as if to show everyone how hard she is trying, and how crazy and unreasonable I am.  This is classic character assassination and a common ploy of narcissists.

Last summer, after the email below, I received a package in the mail.  Apparently she “couldn’t help herself” to respond to my lack of response to her baiting in the email.  The package contained:

  • a slip of paper with three bible verse references on it – not the actual verses, mind you, just the references, presumably to make me look them up myself;
  • a bunch of pictures of me, my dad, and me and my dad — I am guessing this was some kind of purge, as she has always been fanatical about being The Keeper Of The Family Photos;
  • two printouts of emails that I sent OVER TEN FUCKING YEARS AGO, which mentioned (1) how much I had enjoyed some family get-together and (2) some indication of a belief in a hereafter — I imagine these were meant to show how wrong I am about not wanting to come to the reunions any more, and how wrong I am to be an atheist now;
  • Five notes that were written to me by my father, around the age of kindergarten, which refer to “cuddling” and so forth.

I admit these had me mystified — and angry.  Why did she have these?  And why had she kept them until now?  The answer to the first question is that she also made herself the Keeper Of All Mom’s Things.  These notes had to be in with Mom’s stuff.  So why these five notes?  I already have other, similar notes, that were in Dad’s stuff when he died.  The answer to that is, my mother tried to vilify the love between my father and me by suspecting there was something sexual about it.  These notes, the ones that mention physical affection, were her “proof” that there was something “dirty” going on.


  • Not one fucking word written by my own fucking sister.

I wish I could remember just exactly what it was that one of her daughters said a couple of years ago that made me realize that her daughters are perfectly aware that their mother does not like me.

A couple of years ago, her husband offered to meet with us, to talk and try to get to grips with all this family bullshit — only it would have to be in another town, he said, which made me realize that he was not allowed to fly to where we live.  And a few months ago, I called him to ask some financial advice, only to find out that my sister has forbidden him to to call us.

And let’s not forget the part where she is systematically leaving us out of family events.  First it was my nephew’s graduation, which she then stupidly described in her Xmas newsletter — or was it deliberate?  Who knows?  I found out from that phone call to my BIL that I had a grand-nephew on the way, and two nephews getting married next year.  I’m not holding my breath about being invited to either of those, either.

Yes, my sister does in fact treat me like this.  She forwards my emails.  She forbids people to have contact with me.  She does shit to me that you would not do to, say, a neighbor or a member of a social group that you happen to belong to.

Yes, this is considered abusive behavior.

Some sister, huh?

And, there is my sister’s email response to my Declaration of Independence.

What I notice most about this email now is that there is a very strong “Us versus You” framework here.  And I now know it has always been there.

This is what I referred to when I said in my earliest writings that I felt like some kind of odd cousin at the reunions, rather than a sibling.  And when I later wrote that I had spent the early decades of my life trying to establish ties, to write more letters, to have relationships.  And when I wrote that I had hoped the reunions would finally be my chance to be a real part of this family.

This is what my husband referred to when he said that “They don’t know how to interact with you.”

This is what I referred to when I said that “[My sister] acts as though the family ends with [brother #4] and treats him as the baby of the family.”

And what my husband referred to when he wrote, “In 15 years that she & I have been married I have always been surprised by the awkwardness of interactions between her and her older siblings… what was startling to me was that I never saw her being treated as the baby of the family. I saw everyone acting and interacting like [brother #4] was the youngest child. It is like the group is [my sister, brother #1, brother #2, brother #4], oh and then her …. And the unspoken distance between [my sister] and her in particular seemed very large.”31 Tess Second Half

Yeah.  Tell me again, sis, that I’m imagining it.

And I’ll look at the family photo album you put together, where everyone else’s birth gets at least one full page, if not two, and mine gets second place on a page with as many pictures of [brother #4] playing in the snow as of me.  And where for every new addition to the family, there is a line of pictures with all 3, all 4, all 5 siblings in a row, on an equal footing — but not one with all 6.

Since she has no issues sharing what I write, I’ll return the favor.  This is her email in its entirety:

Some thoughts and observations, in no particular order:

(1) We know and understand that you had a different relationship with Dad than any of the rest of us.  We accept it and we’ve made our peace with it.  We don’t resent the fact (or you, personally), and we are not jealous. That’s just the way things were. (Although if anyone WERE to resent it, it would have to be [brother #4].)  We understand your deep feelings, although we don’t share them to the same degree.  I know you won’t believe this, but We ALL love Dad. However, you seem unable to come to grips with the fact that our relationships, however different from yours, were what they were — and our feelings are just as valid as yours.

(2) You really don’t know me, and you certainly don’t “get” me.  Therefore, I find it disturbing to have you ascribe motives, feelings, and reactions to me that are simply untrue. (And I find it even more disturbing when [your husband] does it, considering that he knows even less than you.)  We are poles apart, in years, lifestyle, and philosophy.  One huge difference, of course, is that you never had (or wanted) a family. We’ve always been in different “places” in life and thus have had different perspectives.  For example, in 1988, when you were starting your second year of college, I was 36, running a household and caring for a newborn and three other kids ages 2, 5 and 7.

(3) You have said at various times that you do not enjoy coming to the reunions, and that you have little or nothing in common with the rest of us.  Yet you seem to resent the fact that we enjoy each other’s company and are able to have a good time without you.  What’s up with that?

(4) When you “friended” me on FB the day before the reunion, I thought it odd, and my first instinct was to “unfriend” you immediately (considering the nasty things both you and [your husband] had to say about me after the last reunion; see #2.)  However, in the interest of keeping the lines of communication open, I did not.  Considering the comments you made on FB and #3, I have to wonder if it was morbid curiosity on your part?

[I have to point out that I did not “friend” her as she thinks — what I did was to accept HER friend request that had been hanging out there for a year or more.  She thinks I somehow “friended” her against her will.]

(5) You have mentioned being ignored at the last reunion.  I know that I specifically asked you about your knitting classes, and whether you were doing anything with the house.  In contrast, you did not ask me about ANYTHING — how difficult would it have been for you to say, When does school start for you? or, What are you teaching this year? or, How do you feel about being a grandmother?  It was interesting that the universal post-reunion comment last year was that [you] did not ask anybody anything about what they were doing — with the possible exception of [my nephew].

(6) What is the purpose of your email? Is it meant to restore sibling relationships?  Do you WANT a cordial relationship with any of your siblings?  What DO you want from us, if anything?  What is your vision of the ideal response to your email?

(7) If you had a bad relationship with Mom, please think about the fact that Dad certainly colored your opinion — and as a 6-,7-, or 8- year old, you would not have even been aware of it.

(8) One of my favorite t-shirt quotes:  I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

(9) In the email exchange this last summer (which began, if you recall, with your questioning my veracity — before I had even a chance to reply!), I told you that there was no psychotic episode, and you told me that there HAD to be one, even though you did not have a shred of evidence for it!  If there were, don’t you think it would have at least come out in the custody hearing?

You have obviously been going through a bad time the last few years, and I do hope that you can find some peace.



PS — I did not read your last email.  I got the “highlights” from others.  Please do not respond to this, (although you probably won’t be able to help yourself)  because I won’t read it, either.  Your emails dealing with family issues are disturbing, not to mention, rife with “inaccuracies.”  My intention is to give you some food for thought, or fodder for the next session with your therapist.


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.


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.

(Which is interesting, because it shows that on some level he recognizes that the two situations are in fact parallels.  But it simply isn’t true that I made my remark with intention for revenge — although ascribing such a nasty motive to me without any evidence is a completely normal thing to do to a scapegoat.  Scapegoats are guilty, even if they are proven innocent.  I also think that even if I had done it out of revenge, I’d think I might have some justification, after that horrible experience.)

Anyway, just to recap:

  • Susan had a jolly, laughing conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death (laughing while standing in the room with his body!).  I found that 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, while walking down the hallway away from the hospital room.  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)