One of the final exchanges Mother and I had from several years ago, illustrating a narcissistic response to boundary-setting and probably drawing to a close this series of blood-letting.
At this point in my recovery, the anger that fueled my interest in understanding narcissism in order to heal from and move beyond the destructive role it’s played in my life seems to have been more or less exhausted. Oddly enough, EMDR therapy seems to have helped diminish the bad feelings and ruminations or maybe that happened to be coincidence. Perhaps the shared experience of Donald J. Trump exemplifying to a staggering degree textbook traits of a severely malignant narcissist as he stumbles about on the world stage to everyone’s horror has led to demystification of the disorder through sheer burnout. In any case, the dull ache of loss and emptiness I once felt has become a quiet space.
As such, this entry has been collecting dust with my waning motivation to develop it but I feel that it’s important to complete this dysfunctional family portrait in their own words if only to see it all laid bare, ending properly with the source from whence this transgenerational madness flows and revolves around.
Thank you for all the letters and cards and photographs. I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season. The usual snow storms and floods here. Sorry to hear about your hip. Hope your surgery goes well. I’ve had a few medical procedures, myself, last year. Suffice to say, I now know what a tire feels like to be inflated and it’s not pleasant. That’s not wobbling your tires do, they’re trembling in fear.
Sister gave me grief over writing “your family” instead of “our family” but Mother was remarried to man I never considered a father figure (though Brother had begun referring to this man who’d abused him as “our stepfather” rather insistently) and they were raising an adopted child I barely knew living in a place I’ve never been to — though I was invited (and declined) to house/pet sit for a week one winter in exchange for $100 (which would have maybe barely covered the costs to travel several hundred miles there and back again) and all the satellite television a presumed-to-be unemployed loser like myself could want (no one in Family seems to consider freelance contracting an actual job) while Mother and her family spent Christmas holiday with her in laws in New York. ?
Also, my new cell number is (###) ### – ####. Keep that for your records. Don’t call it unless absolutely necessary. I have a no-contract personal policy and it burns through minutes.
Translation: Your wants or concerns mean so little to me as to barely dignify a response at all that I was going to simply dismiss them (as usual) but you hurt me and I can’t let that go unanswered in kind.
Mother doesn’t respect me. If she did, she wouldn’t be lying about me in clandestine missives to people I see every day. She’d actually try communicating with me.
Translation: Who betrayed me to you?
It does really matter to Mother. She’s been exposed, humiliated. And the leak, her flying monkey must be punished.
The following December, a little less than a year after Mother sent this email, the neighbor she suspects outed her stopped by to ask if I might know why he and his family hadn’t received their usual annual Christmas card from her. She’d given them the silent treatment, ghosted them.
Translation: I tell people how I feel about other people.
The problem here isn’t that she’s “open-hearted” — it’s what she chooses to share and with whom that I take issue with.
Mother’s shared all sorts of things from her open heart with me too but it’s all been gossip about other people (including Family), not how she feels about me. However she feels about me I hear about second-hand, as in this case.
Translation: My spreading rumors that you’re deliberately ignoring me successfully caused you to pay attention to me; therefore, I was right to do it. You have no right to ignore me.
For context, the last thing she’d mailed me at this point was a Christmas card with literally the only words written in it reading, “In other news I’m having hip replacement surgery.”
To be fair, I had become less and less responsive in the years since Mother refused to take me back in after burning out from college, citing her boy-husband’s fear that “this would happen”, and I was relegated to a tiny, poorly heated camping trailer over the winter of 1996-97 mere yards away from the back door of their home where I, broke and starving, watched her feed warm leftovers to the dogs and the only sporadic attention I received from her was to demand that I get a job so I could pay her half of the student loans she signed off on (to get me out of the house I was now unwelcome in) and lay down a guilt-trip about how, because of me, she couldn’t afford to get my siblings (artifacts of a previous failed relationship that we are) out of the house … er, help them with college. It began then to dawn on me that I had no meaningful support that I had taken for granted I could depend upon prior and I drifted further away with every subsequent failure from that low point in my life to elicit anything resembling love from her, slowly, painfully, becoming cognizant that she did not (could not?) love me.
I wanted (and want still, though I’ve lost hope for) the supportive family I’d previously (mistakenly) believed I had, didn’t know what I could do to have that and agonized over how to broach the issue with Mother, afraid that she would react by abandoning me completely and take with her Family (Sister in particular) I didn’t want to lose (which is precisely what occurred, ultimately). I wrote letters – many of them – but they’d invariably devolve into exhausting, angry screeds and I wouldn’t send them — terrified of hurting her feelings, Mother’s happiness being paramount. So I did nothing. At best, under the optimistic delusion that she would somehow come around and this issue would magically, passively resolve itself. At worst, to delay the inevitable loss of primary people that my life was founded upon.
Mother’s letters were usually banal narratives, transcripts prattling on about her everyday goings-ons that lacked any sort of meaningful engagement with anything being described and expressed little to no interest in my life but for little backhanded comments here and there, like a sadistic game of emotional minesweeper. I came to dread receiving them. And I no longer felt any excitement or urgency to respond anyway as she’d disapprove of something if she acknowledged it at all. At times she seemed to indicate some awareness that there was a problem that she’d ask forgiveness for but never acknowledge much less apologize for or seek to remedy.
My email to Mother here was one of my few attempts at boundary-setting with her and she reacted just as poorly as I feared she would, focusing on it and her feelings about it to the exclusion of my stated feelings and everything else in my message rather than acknowledging and respecting my reasonable needs to be able to trust her — assuming our relationship is important to her; dubious, given her cavalier dismissal. Previous attempts had resulted in my siblings calling/messaging me to rip me after she lied to them, saying that that I called her a “bad mother” (a task she usually assigned to her boy-husband) and she’d defiantly retorted that she could “be friends with whoever [she] wanted” and that I couldn’t “tell [her] what to do” when I complained that her brazen phone chats with a particularly abusive ex-girlfriend of mine were hurtful.
Translation: I’m disappointed but not surprised that you continue to accuse me unfairly.
Problems are never acknowledged and so are never resolved and continue to fester out of sight and out of mind. Family pressure is to suppress them, to minimize if not ignore or deny there ever was a problem. It’s always “in the past.” Why can’t you just “move on?” “Forgive and forget.” And if I have the audacity to bring up a problem, criticism of any kind, then I’m the problem with a problem; it’s treated as an attack Mother is right to valiantly defend herself against, rallying others to her noble defense, with me cast as the malicious attacker rather than a maligned victim. How dare I suggest that Mother be anything less than happily perfect and perfectly happy?
My siblings and I walked on these fragile eggshells growing up. In order to maintain some semblance of childhood stability, we put Mother’s needs before our own, didn’t ask for much if anything, did our best to stay out of the way of her happiness and if we suffered then we suffered in silence and put on smiles so as not to trigger her. Though they may not admit it to themselves, there’s a reason Sister all but moved out once she got her drivers license and Brother essentially married a surrogate mother to serve in place of his absent one. I left for college almost immediately after I graduated high school with Mother demanding rent money for remaining in my bedroom after I turned 18 and literally slapping me in the face in the days leading up to my departure only then to tell me she cried for a week afterwards.
Translation: I won’t have you holding me accountable.
And this is the until now unspoken threat of abandonment that kept my siblings (and keeps them, still) and I from ever failing to obediently surrender our needs for Mother’s — hers apparently to be allowed to slander her own flesh and blood with impunity, which she evidently continues to do to this day in my absence. What she calls a relationship is more like subjugation; manipulating an outcome by withholding love rather than being an actual nurturing, supportive mother who wants a healthy relationship built on mutual trust, understanding and respect with her own kids.
Translation: I’m no longer going to speak to you until you acquiesce.
And this is the punishment I was raised to be terrified of; that she’s been caught whining to my neighbor about me punishing her this way because she’s terrified of it. And like a petulant child, Mother gets in the last word, stomps off to her room in a huff, slams the door behind her and waits for her parentified offspring to beg her to let them in.
Over a year later, after receiving no response from her, I contact Mother and she tells me that she thought I wanted to be left alone. Because that’s why I sent her my updated cell phone number — to be left alone. ? She’s gaslighting me after giving me the silent treatment.
Translation: I want you to return to being quietly submissive and unquestioningly compliant the way you were before.
When Mother said she felt I was trying to “put [her] in [her] place” she was inadvertently projecting her own intentions for me, to punish me until I learn my place, my role that she designates, in order to enforce and once again maintain Family equilibrium with our lives revolving around hers at the center. When Family have accused me at various times of “breaking up the family” or “being selfish” or “jealous” or “judgmental”, they were speaking to this primary motivation of hers (and theirs, by extension) for stability, comfort and security that I could no longer believe in (even though I wanted to, I really tried) and that my dissent from threatened.
In spite of repeated requests that she stop, Mother didn’t stop triangulating communication with me through other unwitting patsies like my neighbor who undoubtedly believed they were being good, helpful people on her behalf rather than dupes exploited for their better qualities by a sick individual who lacks them — because this is her nature. These flying monkeys, who think they’re volunteering efforts of their own free will, find themselves in a position of having to choose between Mother or myself and most, understandably, choose the one they’ve agreed to serve over the one they’re under pressure to deliver to her. I lost Sister to this twisted game of telephone; who ultimately decided it was preferable to cut from anything to do me than deal in any other way with the pressure of being “in the middle” of a “feud” with me that Mother and Brother put upon her — and likely continued to try to long after she cut contact with me.
All Family feels pressure on Mother’s behalf and holds me, the one least empowered to affect change, solely responsible to relieve them. Shit rolls downhill. No one dares challenge her lest they suffer the fate they themselves visit upon me by proxy. The last time I spoke with Aunt N – who Mother may have conspired with their crazy mother to have committed to a mental institution that destroyed her for four years until she was allowed to sign herself out at 20 years old and whose subsequent self-destructive behavior Mother mis-attributes to having “inherited the crazy gene from mom” – she’d heard from Mother that I was trying to “trying to cut [Mother] out of [my] life” and begged me to apologize to her. When I’d fail to send Mother an obligatory card, I’d hear about it not from her but from a panicked Sister, frantically suggesting that there was “still time” if I mailed out something, anything, that day. Even Father – who Mother regularly publicly emasculated before unceremoniously dumping for someone else who would buy her a pony – suggested I needed to “respect” this woman for birthing me into this world if for no other reason — like her harassing him about me. Perhaps it seemed a foregone conclusion that she must have been harassing me as well and that I was ignoring her — she didn’t and I wasn’t.
If this is winning then Mother’s won and made good on the implicit threat to strip me of everything and everyone who belongs to her; my example no doubt galvanizing her remaining support … so long as they believe I’m suffering deserved punishment for my perceived obstinance and convince themselves that their pity constitutes some kind of righteous compassion on their part, I suppose. After all, Mother’s a bubbly, blond, little social butterfly oozing with sweet, child-like innocence who everyone loves and can do no wrong … and who will have anyone who dares suggest otherwise immediately thrown under the bus because goddess forbid she be held responsible for anything she does. ?
If Mother were the healthy, normal woman and mother we’ve all mistaken for granted she must be and I was someone important to her, I’d expect her to acknowledge my displeasure, apologize if that’s not what she wanted, agree to communicate with me if that is what she wanted and, with that resolved, we could get along with our lives. With reflection, therapy and self-re-parenting, I’ve discovered that this is how normal people resolve conflicts with one another. Simple enough. But she’s never shone that capacity so what results instead is this protracted cold war standoff, this impasse where she won’t help me resolve the issues I have with her, I won’t pretend there aren’t issues, and the only non-self-destructive but still very painful option I’m left with is detaching from any relationship with her which, unfortunately, also cost me the relationships with my siblings by extension.
But for Mother poisoning people in her life against each other, playing favorites, fomenting division, we might have been a functional family who supported and nurtured one another. I sometimes wish I could still believe that we were that. That it was true. That I had not fallen expecting those I loved and trusted to reach out to catch me only to hit bottom and kicked for being down, disillusioned that any safety net, any caring person, ever existed much less was reliable. But it changed me and she became unnecessary by necessity in those dark, silent moments alone — and there’s no going back. I appreciate the difficulty and am resigned to the incredible unlikelihood of it but if Mother ever wants to be included my life again – and I would welcome her effort to that effect – then she must change too.