Flying Monkey Autopsy

Like many (if not everyone) recovering from narcissistic abuse, I deal with my share of flying monkeys: enablers manipulated into serving the narcissist as their minions who seek to restore the status quo. And I find few things more validating than reading, hearing or seeing the recordings from other survivors of exchanges with the narcissistic abusers and flying monkeys that they’re dealing with. So this Flying Monkey Autopsy segment is for sharing and deconstructing my own contributions with a dash of reflective analysis for good measure.

The first flying monkey cooling on the slab is from my final email exchange with Sister.

Re: So Much For An Easy Morning

Sister
So Much For An Easy Morning

This is the email subject under which Sister begins her message to me.

Translation: You’ve inconvenienced me.

Sister
Hey bro, So I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any of your posts lately; guess you decided to unfriend me. You’re such an idiot sometimes.

I had removed Sister and several dozen others from my list of so-called Facebook friends that I felt I didn’t have meaningful relationships with or were professional contacts that I felt didn’t belong connected to a personal account of mine.

Translation: I don’t give you permission to leave me.

Never mind what precipitated my decision to unfriend her. She’s telling me from the get go that my reasons aren’t important to her. Only the results.

It had become a theme with Sister monitoring my posts, policing my behavior and shaming or ridiculing me for anything she didn’t agree with and this was my primary reason for removing her. Leading up to my decision to do this, I’d placed her on my restricted list so I she’d only see my public posts; however, I was only serving to restrict myself to posting privately things that I was afraid might set her off and I’d decided that this was unacceptable to me. There’s no love in fear. And if this is the nature of our relationship then we have no relationship.

Sister
Post THAT on your facebook wall, if you want.

Translation: I tell you what you can and cannot do.

Sister
You say your family dropped you without a fight but you’re completely wrong. Why have we all been fighting for over ten years then? Psh. Such nonsense.

I’ve unfriended, not blocked, her so Sister’s going back, picking through my public posts on Facebook that’s she’s missed and responding to things she doesn’t like finding in them.

Translation: Your experience isn’t my experience; therefore, you must be wrong.

This isn’t the first time Sister’s alluded to a “feud.” If there’s been a fight raging for decades then I’m involved in name only as Family have made it abundantly clear to me that I am persona non grata in my no longer seeing or hearing from any of them.

Sister
Speaking of SELFISH: You didn’t even wish me a happy birthday last year. Not even by email. (look, I can hold grudges too!)

She’s responding to one of my posts where I think I call Family selfish for expecting me to dependably come through for them when they not only don’t do the same for me but berate me when I ask anything of them.

Translation: You’re as bad as anything you accuse me of.

I’d texted Sister “¡Feliz Cumpleaños!” on her birthday the previous year. She sent me a response. Perhaps she didn’t recognize it was from me. Or she forgot. I didn’t forget because, like Mother, she loses her shit if she doesn’t get an obligatory “happy birthday” from everyone and I don’t want to deal with the unnecessary drama of it all.

Sister
And speaking of email, I think the last one from you was the singular sentence about christmas telling me you had plans. And then you’re there, Christmas eve, and didn’t bother to come visit when I was at Dad’s. So where is your argument for that?

Translation: You owe me an explanation.

I feel bad around her. I want less to do with her, not more. I owe her no more than basic courtesy and respect.

Sister
I’ve wronged you in some way as well?

Until I transcribed this text, I’d been reading it as “[Have] I’ve wronged you …” but this isn’t actually a question. It’s a statement.

Translation: I have wronged you as other members of our family have.

Sister
Have you looked up Paranoid Personality Disorder? You’re so smart to use every other term for your own arguments, but you’re completely missing the point.

No elaboration on what arguments of mine nor her completely missing point she’s alluding to.

Translation: Your experience didn’t happen, it isn’t real and you must be too stupid or deranged yourself to insist that it did.

This is gaslighting.

Sister
I feel for you sometimes.

I’m not behaving as Sister wants so I must be sick. More gaslighting.

Translation: I’m sorry that you’re deranged.

Sister
And then others, you’re selfish and self centered behavior really pisses me off.

Translation: I’m angry that you aren’t giving me the adulation I deserve.

I heard a great quote recently by an as-yet unknown author:

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

I’m partly to blame for Sister’s entitlement on display here, celebrating her life until my own took a turn and she reacted with resentment rather than compassion, perhaps becoming confused, mistaking my pulling away for the form of punishment (silent treatment) it’s used for in our Family. She, like the rest of Family, execrated me when I reached out for help. Now that I’m recovering without (and in many ways, in spite of) her help, she feels less dear to me than she did before. The result being that she receives as much and as little attention from me that she’s given to me. And she doesn’t like that anymore than I did, the difference being she’s not suicidal.

Sister
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. Love always, your sister

This is Sister’s hatred. Her sadness. She feels denied. These are her emotions — they must be because she can’t know my feelings or even infer them — and she’s projecting them onto me as though they’re mine and I must do something to resolve them for her.

Translation: I will withhold love from you until you comply with my demands.

Me
It seems to me that the family exercises a weird sort of proxy relationship with me through you that you feel pressure from. You’ve complained and blamed me for your feeling like your being “in the middle” of what you’ve described as a “feud” before. It’s as if you’ve been tasked with solving a problem that you do not have the power to fix, that you’ve been mislead to believe that I do have the power to fix, you’re angry that I don’t help you and, rather than listening to me, you’re rationalizing why I don’t help you. You’re right to be angry, not with me but with the very people you advocate for, that you believe you’re defending against me, that you desperately want me to reconnect with (to the point of leveraging/risking my feelings for you) as though that will take the pressure off that they’re putting on you, and me through you that creates tension between you and I.

I disconnected several dozen people from my Facebook account, as I do on occasion, including clients, relatives and former classmates. I felt that I was leading you on, acting as though your cavalier dismissal of what I think and feel about issues that are very important to me and carrying on with people who’ve failed me doesn’t bother me, silently condoning your hope that I would someday come around to complete your family portrait, all to avoid an ugly, inevitable confrontation. It’s difficult to want to be close with you when you mock me, call me names, tell me that I must be wrong, sick, crazy, tell me I’m selfish for not doing enough for you and otherwise completely invalidate me in order to make me feel worthless, ashamed, guilty, bad just like the rest of the family does, only now they have you to do it for them. When they tell you that they care about me but they don’t know what to do for me and they hope I’m able to get help someday, I want you to know that you are the only person I hear anything like that from. It’s also a backhanded comment and therefore insincere. This fight you think is raging across the decades because of and for me must a manufactured crisis between you and the family because, again, I only get any inkling of it through you. Maybe if they spent half the effort reaching out to me that they do convincing you that they give a shit about me, they might actually give a shit about me. But they don’t. They abandoned me to the broken devices I inherited from them for so long that I no longer need them to. Of the two of us, you’re the only one who knows how they feel about their failed decision to punish me into obedient submission because, of the two of us, you’re the only one they reach out to. It’s unfair how they put you on the spot, but it’s also not my fault. You have a choice.

I think you’re a fun person and, but for all the baggage of sharing a very messed up family, I think we’d be cool friends.

Sister
It’s nice of you to respond, but you didn’t bother with any of my points that would actually encourage a friendship between us.

Sister misunderstood what I wrote. We’re not friends because we’re family. This is surrender. Acceptance. Not a plea.

Translation: Our relationship is predicated on you giving in to my demands.

Sister
1. Why no happy birthday? 2. What was the deal with xmas and you not bothering to visit?

Submitting to her interrogation would effectively put me on the defense and, in all likelihood, provide her with more ammunition to use against me rather than answers to put these questions to rest. I have every right not to explain myself.

Sister
The reality is that you plucked out a small part of my email and chose to elaborate on your theory about my guilt or something from being in the middle.

This is an acknowledgement, not a denial, even though she’s trying to minimize it as just one more example of my wrong thinking.

Translation: Family is using me as a go-between to you.

Sister
Actually, I gave up on trying to mediate the last time I suggested mediation between you and mom.

Translation: I am knowingly and willingly acting as a go-between for Family.

Sister
Your assertion that you’d be better off without them in your life is continually undermined by how much you write about them.

Translation: Shut up and pretend nothing is wrong.

Every time I posted anything that Sister could possibly construe as criticism of Family, she’d put me down aggressively.

Sister
You are your own worst enemy at this point. YOU. No one else. I wish you would understand that.

Translation: Accept that you alone are responsible for causing, and therefore solving, this problem for me.

I used to believe exactly this and it seriously fucked me up. Sister is simply putting into words that validate what Family has always pressured me to accept for them. Healthy people do not do this to each other.

Me
I don’t need your approval and I don’t need to explain myself to you. Throwing a tantrum, disparaging remarks, trying to convince me that I’m the one who is messed up, selfish, hateful and in denial somehow because I’m not giving you enough attention and have the audacity to express a [newly reinforced] negative opinion about the undeserved treatment received from rest of the family who regard me just as badly as you evidently do. There’s no way I’m rewarding this. You might try being nice for a change. If you’re experiencing some sort of crisis, please get help. Seriously.
Sister
I almost can’t believe you actually posted my whole email on FB.

Sister’s not stupid. She can see that I air my dirty laundry online now and she doesn’t like it but it could also be useful to shame me with. She made it easy too. There were no details to redact, not even her name, and I posted it as I received it.

Translation: I expected you to post my exposé of your bad character.

And if I were actually the abuser, the villain, that I’m cast as in the narrative she appears to be operating under then, yes, I might feel guilty, be ashamed, be afraid of being exposed as the horrible person I’ve been made out to me. But I’m not that caricature. That straw man. Not really.

Sister
You’re right about something though, there’s no point in arguing.

Translation: I cynically agree with your statements that I choose to use against you.

Sister
You’ve been selfish a long time and I’ve tried being nice about it.

Translation: I’ve tolerated your lack of tribute to me long enough.

Sister ignores what I want, demanding more from me even as I’m pulling away from her. This is basically pure projection.

Sister
You seem to love playing the victim.

“Playing the victim” is what Mother liked accusing me of whilst simultaneously, and unironically, accusing me (blaming the victim) of hurting her feelings by my supposed playing the victim. Sister lifted this line (and tact, obviously) from her or wherever Mother picked it up. It’s Inception-style manipulation, is what it is.

Translation: I am playing the victim.

And she’s just as much a victim as I am; only, she mistakes me for abusing her and being powerful enough to do so. There’s only one person who is, whether she ever brings herself to accept that or not.

Sister
I only fueled your self righteousness and gave you something to use to make me bad in your eyes. So be it.

Translation: I accept what you’ve given me to use to make you look bad in my eyes and fuel my self-righteousness.

Sister can only know what she’s attributing to me, outside herself, if it’s coming from within herself. Projection this strong can be decoded by simply reversing the pronouns. Is the reversed statement now true?

She is certainly behaving self-righteously; exalting her superiority (even in this instance of blatant unawareness) while consistently dismissing not only my expressed thoughts and feelings but my very capacity to form valid thoughts and feelings.

My unfriending her and subsequent correspondence does appear to have given her enough material to regard me negatively. Anything to the contrary is selectively ignored. And this validates Family’s negative view of me which she wants to believe.

Ergo, the reverse statement is true.

Sister
You had told me to call you on your bullshit a long time ago, but I’m not sure you ever really meant it.

I don’t mind being questioned but that’s not what Sister’s doing.

Translation: You gave me permission to abuse you.

Sister
I don’t follow any of my friends or family blindly; I expect a little back and forth and I know that we’re all susceptible to anger and saying angry things.

Sister’s trying to frame this exchange as though we’re both equally at fault when that just isn’t true.

Translation: I’m treating you no better or worse than you’re treating me.

Sister
You’ve said plenty of hurtful things to me and I called you on it.

This isn’t exactly true. Sister’s clearly pained by what I have to say for myself but I didn’t say it to hurt her — much of what she’s aggressively responding to in this exchange, belittling and disparaging me on, she took upon herself to go digging for and interpreting personally.

Translation: I’m hurt by your criticism of others.

Sister
Of course you don’t like being called an idiot. I didn’t expect you to.

Translation: I intended to hurt you.

Sister
But you were honestly mistaken to think that we had any reason to try to be friends when you give nothing.

Sister can’t know what I’m thinking, if those thoughts are mistaken or if those mistakes are honest. She can only know this about herself. She doesn’t acknowledge my thoughts or feelings at all, rather she devalues and invalidates them which is why I dumped her from Facebook. She wants from me what she, herself, is unwilling to give.

Translation: I was honestly mistaken to think that we had any reason to try to be friends when I give nothing.

Sister
How often are you likely to give a compliment? A kind word? A random email to your sister to say hello and ask how things are going? When I’m four small miles away from you visiting and you don’t show up? I can’t remember the last nice thing that you did so I sure hope you can. And you say I should try being nice.

Translation: You don’t do enough for me; therefore, you give me no incentive to treat you better.

Unlike Mother whom Sister sides with, I’ve been supportive of her decisions. But that’s not enough. It never is. Like Mother, Sister needs the adulation. What she seems to think being nice is. She demands it, hurts when she doesn’t get it and seeks to punish me for failing to provide her with it.

Sister
You sound so entitled and I have such a hard time understanding why you think that’s okay.

Translation: I am entitled and can’t understand why you don’t think that’s okay.

She’s bargaining. This is the quid pro quo that passes for “love” in Family. She’s telling me that if I give her what she wants then she’ll give me what she believes I deserve. What I should want. But I won’t actually get what I want — acknowledgement, compassion, respect — because she’s not listening to me. I’m directly asking her for these things and, seemingly without irony, she’s responding telling me that she’s not going to give me what I want because I don’t deserve acknowledgment, compassion or respect until I pay her the proper attention. Will she acknowledge and respect me then? How could she? Is it showing compassion pretending to be nice? No, it isn’t.

Sister
Of course I’m angry about the things you say and the way you treat me.

What terrible things have I said? Sister’s the one insulting me. What terrible ways have I treated her? She’s completely dismissing how I say I feel. She’s making this entirely about her.

Translation: You’re responsible for my feelings.

Sister
I can at least admit that it comes from hurt feelings.

Translation: You’re failing to take responsibility for my feelings.

Sister
I would love to have a good bond instead of this email nonsense back and forth.

Nonsense? She just said that she expected a little back and forth from friends and family.

Translation: Shut up, pretend nothing is wrong and give me what I want.

Sister
I just can’t be the only one to keep trying and expect that bond to be there.

I think I’m making it obvious that I, for one, don’t expect us to have any sort of relationship but Sister’s still not listening to me — which is why we don’t have a relationship for her to hold hostage.

Translation: I can’t continue taking what you’re unwilling to give.

Sister
I don’t understand how you feel like you are above any reasonable expectations?

Sister can’t know how I feel — she’s not even listening to me telling her what I feel — so these must be her own feelings she’s confused by.

Translation: Accept that I’m above any expectation you may have of me.

By reasonable expectations I suspect Sister really means obligations. Family obligations. Mother’s designating me as scapegoat puts Sister above me in the pecking order that she accepts without question simply because “she’s mom.” Raised in the same unboundaried environment that I was, I believe her that the notion that she has the ability much less the right to question or reject our dysfunctional family dynamic does not occur to her as it did not occur to me until a psychologist told me so and she’s perplexed that I could or would behave any differently than her.

Sister
You just tell me that you’re not rewarding my “tantrum”? You’re just avoiding the questions.

Translation: I’m entitled to what I want from you.

Sister
I was pretty angry when I saw your post.

… that she deliberately chose to look for.

Sister
But you are fighting with ghosts.

Like the fights she says we’ve been having for the last ten years that I’m only just hearing about?

Translation: I am fighting who you are for who I wish you were.

Sister
I’ve never understood the choice to hang onto anger like that. It’s a poison. Take care of yourself.

Sister can only know what she feels, she’s well said that she feels anger and that she holds me responsible for that.

Translation: Stop making me angry.

Me
I think what you think me being selfish is actually me being withdrawn. I’ve learned that when I reach out for support from this family that I only get put down even more so I stopped reaching out. I can’t make you understand because over that same course of time you’ve learned not to believe me. You believe your mother who you know blatantly lies right to your face over anything I have to say for myself. I’ve struggled to come to terms with why any of this might be, including blaming myself for quite some time as you’d still have me do, and, no thanks to any of you, I’m figuring it out and I’m recovering from it. Without, to my credit, resorting to chemicals like [Aunt N] or suicide like Uncle Joe to escape the gaping emptiness left by this experience. The very things you complain about here, about feeling like you get nothing back, is precisely how I’ve felt for the better part of my life from all of you. Nothing is ever enough. No amount of money. No amount of attention. No amount of suffering. And all I ever get for what is expected of me is treated like I’m a selfish, ungrateful clod and lied about to everyone for expecting anything, even a kind word, in return. I am spent. I surrendered my fight a long time ago, told your mother that she won and began working out all the garbage I’d been saddled with on my own because she decided she was content to make up lies that make everyone angry at me rather than making things right. I accepted that far too long, felt worthless for far too long. Through all the punishment and trying to put me in my place, this family has rendered themselves worthless to me. But unlike you asking all that you’re asking of me and acting butthurt that I’m not adequately providing what you mistakenly believe is entitled to you, I ask nothing from any of you because I’ve learned to expect nothing, that I’m entitled to nothing. No acknowledgement. No emotional support. No financial support. No wisdom about anything in life. Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing except for more ugly accusations that I’m not doing enough to fulfill unspoken, arguably impossible, obligations. I didn’t ask to be born. I’m a hotel accident that happened to two irresponsible kids, one who said she was too young to get knocked up at 21 and the other who, at 26, believed that nonsense. If I appear to have poison in my veins it’s only because I’ve allowed you and your family under my skin. You can’t keep kicking me in the the teeth, telling me that you’re not kicking me in the teeth and then complain that we’re not close because I’m kicking myself in the teeth. That’s absurd. So long as you choose to be part of the problem, so long as you treat me as an invalid that, ironically, you demand validation from, you cannot begin to be a solution to it. I’m not suffering for you and, if you cared at all about me, you wouldn’t want me to. You wouldn’t think it’s okay to insult me the way the rest of your family does. I think a reason you struggle to understand is because you cannot accept that your mother, the product of a neglectful father who left her and her sister in the care of a crazy woman, is a severely damaged individual who is wholly incapable of loving at least one of her own children, who has actively contributed to the deterioration of my relationships with all of you and that I have a right to not be subjected to anymore of her destructive behavior, not even from you. I have as much right to be angry about that as I do to let it go – you simply don’t approve of the way I’m going about it, letting all of you go with it. If you wanted differently you’d treat me differently. Nobody is allowed to treat me this way, I don’t care who they think they are. Your feelings and opinions of me are as meaningless to me as you regard mine. I have worked hard to know my own worth with all of you trying to tear me down every step of the way. You need me more than I need you and you will give me what I want, you will acknowledge me, if you want anything from me. Stop telling me that I’m this or that and you wish I wasn’t, as if you can withhold our relationship for ransom to manipulate me into doing what you want. You don’t have to like how I take responsibility for myself and I don’t have to care.
Sister
I read that article you posted about reasons why one might sever relationships with family. It made some good points and after thinking it over today, I’m letting you go to your own devices.

Sister’s cutting contact with me because she doesn’t give me the right to cut contact with her. Mother did the same thing. Only, rather than do this for their health (no contact), this is done to punish me (silent treatment). Regardless, the result is the same for me with the additional benefit of their also taking from me the responsibility for this heart-rending decision that I struggled with for decades but that only took them hours, days at best, to embrace. This disparity of value is on full display in this exchange with Sister.

Translation: The problems you’re citing apply to you alone and I’m going enact against you this solution you’ve endorsed in order to spite you.

Sister
I hope the best for you and hope you find your way.

This is hyperbole. At no point over the course of this exchange has Sister demonstrated any inkling of, much less consideration for, my interests whatsoever.

Translation: I want the worst for you until you finally come around.

Sister
I’m sure I’ll see you at some time and I wish you no ill will.

This sentiment runs contrary to the entire tone of her message.

Translation: Don’t hold me accountable for my mistreatment of you.

And the truth is that it’d be a wasted effort to hold Sister accountable. I can’t compel her to enjoy the healthy, respectful relationship between equals that I’d prefer, as poisoned against me as she is, because she can’t have that and keep Mother who’s poisoning her anymore than I can refuse the poison and keep her.

This is the last I heard from Sister. It’s unfortunate that a cherished relationship could become so ruined — and that I was in denial about for years, hoping that she was strong enough, intelligent enough to perceive the narcissistic dynamic we’re both setup to play out in what seem to be deterministic roles — but I do feel less anxious about expressing what I really think, feel, who I really am now that she’s gone and am better for it.

Why Narcissists Abuse Those They Fear Being Abandoned By

Sam Vaknin describes why narcissists abuse their nearest and dearest in spite of fearing being abandoned by them. I don’t believe that Sister is a narcissist (that is to say that her behavior could be described as highly narcissistic generally) in spite of all the narcissistic traits she exhibits in this one exchange with me; however as a mouthpiece for Mother, she is effectively channeling a narcissist in this case.

According to Sam, the narcissist abuses for four primary reasons, all to resolve what he calls abandonment anxiety:

1. Devaluing others restores the narcissist’s sense of superiority and grandiosity.

If the gaslighting is any indication, Sister certainly wants me to accept just how inferior I am.

2. The narcissist preempts her own abandonment by precipitating it in order to control the situation.

She has done precisely this.

3. The narcissist’s abusive conduct elicits information from others.

She tried. Maybe she thinks she succeeded in some sense.

4. Abuse leads to the modification of the victims’ behavior and to submissiveness.

I believe that this was the desired, albeit unaccomplished, result.

Sam goes on to describe five primary abuse coping styles:

1. Submissiveness.

The victim acquiesces to the abusers demands.

2. Counter-dependent or conflictive stance.

The victim fights back, challenges the abuser, makes them suffer consequences. Sam notes that this coping style effectively destroys the relationship. Indeed, this appears to have been the fate of Sister and I’s relationship.

3. Mirroring.

The victim responds to the abuser using the abusers own words but rearranged in order to elicit a negative emotional consequence in the abuser such as anxiety or depression. The way Sam describes an example of this sounds very passive-aggressive. And I think Sister was responding to me in a style like this in many instances.

4. Collusion.

The victim goes along with the abuser’s criticisms but in an exaggerated, sarcastic, self-deprecating way that renders them ridiculous and cartoonish.

5. Displacement.

The victim redirects the abuse at third parties that both the victim and abuser can torment together.

I think this is Sister’s way of coping with the abuse Mother visits upon her (and she does, only Sister probably isn’t fully aware that she’s being abused as I wasn’t aware) in my stead, passing it off to me as though I’m the one abusing her. The narcissist needs a scapegoat. It’s easy to blame the former scapegoat for leaving us in this lurch, shirking our expectations of them. I blamed Brother for my pain as Sister blames me for hers.

And Mother — the reason why and for whom we suffer — lets us. I recall shouting at her in anger over the phone, “I hate Brother! I hate him!” And Mother responded with, “I’m very proud of Brother.” She is at the heart of every conflict in our family; solution to none.

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Tarraccas

Escaped Hippie Gamete, Art Geek, Sci-Fantasy Nerd, Political Junkie and Code Monkey.

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