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
This is the email subject under which Sister begins her message to me.
Translation: You’ve inconvenienced me.
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.
Translation: I tell you what you can and cannot do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m not behaving as Sister wants so I must be sick. More gaslighting.
Translation: I’m sorry that you’re deranged.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Translation: I am knowingly and willingly acting as a go-between for Family.
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.
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.
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.
Translation: I cynically agree with your statements that I choose to use against you.
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.
“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.
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.
I don’t mind being questioned but that’s not what Sister’s doing.
Translation: You gave me permission to abuse you.
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.
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.
Translation: I intended to hurt you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Translation: You’re failing to take responsibility for my feelings.
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.
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 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.
Translation: I’m entitled to what I want from you.
… that she deliberately chose to look for.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The victim goes along with the abuser’s criticisms but in an exaggerated, sarcastic, self-deprecating way that renders them ridiculous and cartoonish.
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.