Sobbing uncontrollably like a weepy, open wound that just won’t heal, I’m sitting, wilted in defeat, across from a counselor at Tacoma Community College who is patiently, very patiently, listening to me blubber out word sounds. He’s a professor and, as it happens, a psychologist. After a few minutes, he leans forward and says to me, “I think you should cut contact with your brother until you feel that you’re ready to contact him again.”
And then he ushered me out of his office to attend to obligations beyond treating the unscheduled human meltdown that’d stumbled in. But in the mere fraction of an hour he had listened to me, he had acknowledged how I was feeling, what I was expressing and he had empowered me with the knowledge that I had the right, the choice to deal with members of my Family (none of whom have ever validated me over the course of my lifetime) on my terms – a simple but powerful notion that had never occurred to me before.
Rise of The Golden Child, Fall of the Scapegoat
A culmination of confusing, hurtful interactions with Family over the past few years had brought me here. Most salient of these involved Brother. He’d cheated on my friend who’d made the mistake of marrying him, adding insult to injury by actually insisting to her that she and he remain roommates (because she was supporting him through the college he found her replacement at and he depended on her financially) while he continued the affair. Family had staged a failed intervention to try to force me to accept his new partner and that had triggered in me what I now know was a dissociative event.
I tried to move on, get over it. I really did. But Brother became increasingly entitled and abusive and why not – things were working out perfectly for him. He could demonstrably lie, cheat and steal with impunity. Better yet, he was rewarded for it! It just didn’t seem fair, especially since things weren’t working out all that well for me. Everything Brother took for granted, I found that I couldn’t. In short order, it became too costly (emotionally or materially) to be around him as I was trying to survive the post-DotCom recession and he just didn’t a fuck whether I was able to make rent or not or anything. It was always about him.
Family was antithesis of supportive. They had begun to compare me unfavorably to Brother, promoting him to favorite while demoting me to disappointment. I didn’t even know I was favored until I wasn’t. I remember Mother chortling, “It’s like [Brother] is the big brother now.” To them, I became a perpetually unemployed loser (who Mother asked for money from) who could do no right and berated for it if I tried reaching out to them. I couldn’t depend on them for even a kind word or any sort of encouragement. They weren’t safe.
I felt increasingly isolated, abandoned, discarded, like no one cared if I was alive or not, powerless, hopeless, and desperately anxious about this escalating panic in me. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. I was losing everything in every respect. I didn’t know what to do, who to reach out to who wouldn’t humiliate, hurt me further. I couldn’t think. I tried to remember the last time I felt happiness, hope. College! And so I went to nearest college.
I didn’t really have to ignore Brother. Neither of us reached out to the other; however, it seems that while I was literally pouring myself out to a college counselor, he was sharing his butthurt over losing his brother, whom he apparently thinks he’s entitled to keep treating like crap no matter what, with Family.
Mother contacts me and demands that I patch up whatever my problem is with Brother. So I email Brother, informing him that Family wants us to get along. He replies, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I forward his response to all Family and never hear of it or from Brother again.
Time goes by.
Enter The Enforcer
Mother emails me that she’s selling the place she got from Father when she divorced him, this was one of my childhood homes and Sister and I express to her how not thrilled we are with this news. Unable to take what she just dished out, Mother slinks off and taps her boy-husband and primary enabler, Motherfucker, who responds in her stead:
The more i think about what you wrote the easier it is to see how you caused the rift between you and [Brother]. Your arrogance and self righteousness is un-fucking-believable. take a look at yourself…. you say hurtful mean spirited shit all the time and we, especially your mother have to take it and welcome you back because your family. [sic]
This from a small, insecure man who caved like the little, lapdog bitch he is to his flinty-eyed, iron maiden of a mother who refused to attend his wedding to Mother unless it was a proper Catholic wedding for which Father, siblings and I (and apparently all the years they’d been noisily humping in sin up to that point) all had to be annulled in the eyes of the Church for the bargain price of several hundred dollars. Motherfucker hated Brother and I, viewing us as some sort of male competition, vying for Mother’s attention, you know, like children do. A very damaged individual.
I had finals that week requiring my attention and chose not to respond. I never heard from Motherfucker ever again. I can only guess (because expectations are like, everything else, a game of Minesweeper in Family) the onus was supposed to be on me to “take” the “hurtful mean spirited shit” said to me and “welcome” him back because he’s “family?” Or what? Miss out on more of this wonderful joy he brings to life?
Time goes by.
The Silent Treatment
Mother asks me to visit her, informing me that Motherfucker will be away as though he – as off-putting as he is – is the reason I don’t visit. No, the reason (one of the reasons) I don’t visit is because she’s the sort of person who would have a person like Motherfucker in her life who is so weird and abrasive that she has to schedule other people around him. If Mother had a girl friend visit her, Motherfucker would take off work so he could be present to monitor them. Did I mention he was insecure? Not to mention, whatever she chose to confide in him clearly did nothing to endear Brother and I to him whatsoever, all the while rationalizing his emo-abusive behavior towards us like it was normal somehow. This destroyed person only existed in our lives because of her. She was responsible for him. The mere thought of being around her and Family began filling me with dread.
Speaking with a neighbor one day, he suddenly begins to lecture me about how Mother is unhappy with me not speaking with her, going on about how “we can’t choose our family” and other well-meaning, ultimately vacuous platitudes. And all in response to a lie he’d been deliberately fed as I was still on speaking terms, albeit limited, with Mother. She got sympathy. I got shamed. He got used.
I confronted Mother in an email, telling her that I didn’t appreciate her telling my neighbors (she lived several hundred miles away) that I wasn’t speaking to her, that if she had something to say, that I preferred she do so with me directly. Underscoring this, I sent her my updated cell phone number that I’d recently received.
She writes back:
Hi Tarraccas! I was just going to plain delete your message but decided to reply in respect for both of us. I’m thinking the negihbor you imply must be the [correctly guessed neighbor]. It doesn’t really matter. I have a tendency to be open-hearted,hence I share what is in my heart. I have sent hello cards/messages in hopes of even a simple hello back. That didn’t happen and I don’t think I would have received this message from you except the need to ‘put me in my place’ .i was happy to hear from you and then came the omnipresent jab. I’m sorry we can’t have a relationship. I shall leave you alone as it appears that is what you require. I don’t know. It’s sad that we have lost touch with one another. I will stop.love,mom [sic]
This began a prolonged correspondence, the end of which I had her snail-mail letters (her preferred medium of communication) returned to sender (they were to Father’s address anyway while I knew she knew my address because she’d send shit to him there so that I could see that she was) and again insisted that she speak to me directly or not at all (which she told Father and Sister who then confronted me about it because of course she did). Speaking of “ominipresent jab[s],” every piece of communication from her had become tinged if not dripping with backhanded comments and passive-aggressive resentments. The last birthday card I received from her contained nothing but photographs of the girl her and Motherfucker had adopted (and accused me on several prior occasions of being jealous of as though I received any consideration before they took in this child that they were now using as attention bait). I’d had enough.
My unwitting flying monkey neighbor happened by after the following Christmas asking me why Mother hadn’t sent he and his family a card like he said she usually does. I didn’t know what to say about it, I told him. But I knew. She was punishing him for outing her the way she was punishing me for calling out her gossip with her sulking, go-to torment: the silent treatment.
Mother’s sister, Aunt, calls and tells me that Mother told her that I am trying to cut her out of my life and that I should apologize to her. Apologize to Mother for her own decision to throw a tantrum and whine to everyone who will listen that I hurt her feelings by failing to meet her unspoken expectations rather than carry on with me like a normal, healthy adult? No. That wouldn’t be an apology. It would be submission.
I haven’t heard from Mother or Aunt since.
Time goes by.
I connect with mutual Family friends and extended family on Facebook who, one after the other, suddenly and without warning turn on me like triggered flying monkey sleeper agents, each running the gamut of the bully’s manipulation playbook as though possessed by Mother speaking through them. When I post to opine about these blowouts, Sister responds with derision, ridicule. Again, I’d had enough. By this point, I’d studied the stories of other narcissism survivors about losing siblings, I knew I was unlikely to salvage a relationship with Sister and I quietly unfriend her.
Months later when Sister discovers that she’s missing one of her many hundreds of Facebook contacts, she completely loses her shit and lets fly what she really feels, writing in part:
[…] guess you decided to unfriend me. You’re such an idiot sometimes. […] Maybe you’ll hold onto your hate and denial until we’re all in the ground, and that’s sad, but I can’t help some one who doesn’t want to be helped. […] after thinking it over today, I’m letting you go to your own devices.
Every last flying monkey says and maybe even really believes that they’re helping the victim that they’re in actuality only serving to re-victimize on behalf of the abuser for whom they actually give a damn. Sister is no exception, though she is the most up-front of Mother’s mouthpieces, and this excerpt is just the tip of the shitberg of what I can only assume is her idea of “helping” me somehow. I can’t say what constructive “devices” she or Family provided me and, per usual, nothing is elaborated on, everything is superficial. Any attempt to get at a deeper issue is met with extreme resistance.
I haven’t heard from Sister since.
Growing up I was led to believe (and wanted, continued to believe in spite of growing evidence to the contrary) that I was a valued member of Family who would always have my back. I was wrong.
The reason I was hurting was because what I believed (and reinforced by Family’s words) was not being corroborated by what I was experiencing and this incongruity frustrated, confused me. Family did not have my back but I was still expected to have theirs, by which they measured my value. When I adjusted my own expectations, beliefs more realistically and applied their metric back to them, they became as worthless to me as I was to them and they didn’t like it anymore than I did. Family is just as angry and confused by it as I was. Understandably so. But what I have in means and will to understand, they do not begin to reciprocate. I’ve repeatedly asked, begged for acknowledgement but the truth remains that I’m worth less to them than their lie, each of us is unable to bring ourselves to validate the other and so I’m blamed for “trying to break up the family” by the same people who’ve rendered me powerless to bring us together, much less break us apart, in a feckless bid for my complete and utter submission to their toxic vision of what family means.
Only one person has the power to unify Family as she has so divided us. Only one. Mother. She could heal all this pain by listening to us, acknowledging our feelings, validating our thoughts. She has the authority to correct the record, to undo her lies and give her approval. However, pushed to a rare moment of honesty, Mother once remarked to me, “Whatever you want from [Brother] and me, you’re not going to get it!” And then she hung up on me. Unfortunately, she’s right. She will withhold from me, deny me everything within her power to maintain her control, her engorged sense of entitlement regardless of cost. When someone tells you who they are, believe them.
The Smear Campaign
Like the childish contrarian Mother is, Family followed her indomitable lead in cutting me from their lives rather than permitting me to go no contact with them. This is designed to take the decision away from me, allowing them the delusion that they can decide when I’ve been punished enough without them. It also grants them control of the narrative, a bullshit tale of woe about how I’m the villain they had to heroically do away with whilst simultaneously being victimized by my pushing them away, narcissistic propaganda they feed to their flying monkey recruits who sympathize and enable them. And it works! They slurp it up and tear you to pieces like ravenous animals. Never underestimate peoples’ preference for a beautiful lie to an ugly truth. It’s the bread and butter of every con. Nevertheless, trash that takes itself out is always preferable.
As with expectations, there was always this unspoken threat Family and I understood, that if you offended Mother then she and her loyal minions would ignore you until you learned your lesson and came groveling back into the good graces of her little dictatorship. I’m an example to others that she makes damn good on that threat and they don’t dare risk even the appearance of sympathizing with me, lest they suffer the same unimaginable fate. Rather, they seek to please her (as I once did), to enforce her rule and become her instruments, her flying monkeys, to inflict punishment they must consequently believe that I so richly deserve.
Prepare To Lose Everyone!
This has revealed Mother’s impressive network of influence in stark relief. People who I thought knew me, who I believed valued me, that I shared history with, will all of a sudden begin to browbeat me out of nowhere, revealing me to have always just been a prop to them, nothing more than a bit garnish intended to make Family appear good, wholesome, normal (all things this experience has taught me Family most emphatically is not) so these cowards could feel good about their relationships with them. I had become an existential threat to what they believed about themselves, put in a position where they had to choose between the shame of being duped by Mother’s lie or that I was lying to them.
As cognitive dissonance would predict, they chose the latter and moved to correct rather than listen to me. People who value us, who care what we think and how we feel will give us the benefit of the doubt. These people did not extend to me that courtesy. Each of them proceeded to hold hostage the relationships I had with them as leverage to pressure me. There was no doubt that they were right and I was wrong. No questions asked. They had zero respect for me. They didn’t want the best for me. They could not be reasoned with. They would not change for the better. I could not fix them. The relationships were forfeit. I had to let them all go, cutting them like a cancer from my life.
This seems a drastic measure to most folks who can’t (and don’t want to) imagine the devastating impact losing their family and social network extending from it. Humans are social creatures and, indeed, many of us fear social rejection, ostracism over death. Society generally favors the group over the individual, regarding with scorn those of us who have made the difficult choice to go no contact or who have been banished without addressing any of the painful events leading up to these breaks. People always ask me, “What did you do?” Not, “What was done to you?” Unless they’ve survived a similar experience, I find people don’t understand how the grief of ending a relationship with one’s family can be less painful, less destructive than trying to maintain said relationship with them. I’ve been misjudged as ungrateful, selfish or some other petty thing.
The Only Way To Win Is Not To Play
No contact, unlike the silent treatment, is liberation from punishment and nearly always a last resort after all other efforts at reconciliation have been exhausted, usually at our sole expense, and we just have nothing left of ourselves to give. No contact is time to grieve the loss of those who never actually loved us. To rest. To reflect. To start putting the pieces of a healthier perspective together, recover a sense of self, connect with other healthy people and fill our lives with wonder again. To chart a course forward in life with as little drag as reasonably possible from past abuses laden upon us by those we innocently trusted to look after us. To succeed where they have failed us. That much we owe ourselves.
I still have lingering doubts, a faded ache of loss, but nothing like the dark thoughts and raw nerves that were driving me to the brink of sanity before I learned that I could and decided to go no contact with bad people who were basically poisoning me against myself. Quarantining toxic people is the only productive way of managing them.