I used to send her Mothers Day acknowledgments. Obligatory cards, phone calls, that sort of thing. I used to.
Mother called me by mistake – let that sink in – and left a brief voicemail saying that her younger sister, my aunt, had passed on.
I’ll always remember my aunt being an excitable, little woman. She resembled Mother but with black hair instead of blond and smaller. Actress, Juliette Lewis, and singer, Cindi Lauper, remind me of her.
She married several times — at least twice. I remember two of her husbands: Uncle Eli and Uncle Mark. Both good people as far I knew them. Very patient. No children.
If there is a god and a heaven as my aunt believed then I hope she is made whole and finds peace and rest from suffering there.
I’ve apparently been sent a “gift” for Christmas from Brother through our father. Earlier this year Sister also used our father to deliver a “gift” on my birthday. These are two people who have expressed nothing but contempt for me in the past, have nothing to do with me in the present and for whom my future has no place. People who don’t like me, don’t give me things. But these do. So what I am to make of this seemingly conflicted, crazy-making behavior?
It’s never overtly spelled out but I think I know what I’m supposed to do, what my prescribed role is and what my unspoken expected response should be in all this: forgive, forget, move on (which is to say, reset back to default) and receive this “gift” in lieu of acknowledging, much less resolving any of our problems and, further, as a down payment to justify future abuse. This is giving a “gift” the same way a fisherman “feeds” a fish — always with strings attached.
Sam Vaknin, in an interview for Exist Real in Narcissistic Abuse Victim Syndrome Online Support (NAVSOS), briefly touched on three strategies children use to cope with a narcissistically abusive parent. I found it interesting to consider how my siblings and I match each of these strategies in our own family.
1 / Isolating
The first strategy Sam mentions is the child isolating themselves from the narcissistic parent, reaching away for and adopting other, more suitable parental figures. This has become my strategy by consequence as much as by choice.
I’ve always said that my siblings and I essentially raised ourselves, Mother being more like an absent roommate than a parent and us, mere meal tickets used to wine and dine her boyfriends on the child support garnished from our father she unceremoniously discarded. Brother went to school wearing shorts and rubber boots, whatever he could find. I, myself, duct taped my shoes and tried to modify old clothes. Sister was excellent at scrounging for edible things not deemed off limits to create inventive food items from. All while we were berated as ungrateful, spoiled brats that didn’t do enough for Mother if we were paid any attention to.
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.
When I was first introduced to Mother’s boy-husband, Motherfucker, in my early teens, he was a chill dude. Pulled up in a Volkswagon van, followed The Grateful Dead. Earlier same day her and a co-worker of theirs – I think his name was Bernie or something, had a lazy eye – were tonguing their goodbyes as she had apparently settled on this one of many suitors. That’s how chill Motherfucker was. And, when he was stoned, he returned to that chill, half-decent state of human-beingness. It was almost nice.
But as the years with Mother progressed, he became an increasingly neurotic, insecure, extremely passive-aggressive rageaholic. Even when Mother visited with female friends, this guy would take a day off work to monitor her behavior. Her friends hated him. My friends hated him. In the mornings, he would just silently glare at me with this angry eye I could see through the crack between my partly opened bedroom door and the frame, clenching his jaw. Weird. My siblings and I would make ourselves scarce when he arrived home from work because we didn’t know what kind of mood he would be in but a bad mood was a safe bet. He didn’t like us and moved out once because he couldn’t stand us.
To err is human. To forgive is divine, but to repeat is stupid.
For those of us estranged from our families during the family fetishized holidays shoring up the end of the year, the pressure to forgive and forget can be especially pronounced. Society at large tells us that – to borrow a turn of phrase from the poet, Alexander Pope – to err is human; to forgive, divine. And that the victim is the perpetrator, the betrayer, the pariah should forgiveness be withheld — to be pitied, subjected to public scorn and, ironically, unforgiven for being unwilling to forgive. Rather than emphasis on understanding and compassion, this is institutionalized blaming of the victim that I think most of us were raised to believe, wrongly.
In keeping with moving these old needles out into the light and deconstructing them with the benefit of hindsight, this is another flying monkey autopsy.
This exchange occurred on Facebook several years ago between me and a childhood friend of Brother’s — she’s his flying monkey. We all took the same bus to school but her and I didn’t have anything to do with each other outside of that. In retrospect, this dialog is an example, I think, of someone who’s suffered (and probably continues to suffer) abuse, has very weak, porous personal boundaries leaving her extremely vulnerable to manipulation and predisposed to overstepping others’ boundaries (as she does not recognize them anymore than her own) — namely mine.
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.
In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman created and given, among other gifts from the gods who created her, a jar containing all the evils of the world. Curious, she opens the jar and inadvertently lets the evils escape, leaving only hope remaining at the bottom of the jar before she manages to close it again.
Pandora is a scapegoat, set up to be blamed for all that is ill or wicked while the gods who planted the jar of evil on her and to whom she owes her very existence wash their hands of culpability. Similarly, narcissistic abuse survivors are saddled with toxic shame “gifted” to us by the narcissist that we obediently if not gratefully bottle up and tuck away deep in the dark recesses of ourselves out of sight and mind where it continues to linger, poisoning us, long after the narcissist no longer does. We don’t acknowledge this growing reservoir of pain deep within our being much like the narcissist fails to acknowledge us and for much the same reason: to do so would undo the comfortable illusion, the lie we’ve invested in and grown accustomed to.
But the pain will not be denied. It takes the taste out of life. Bleaches the colors. Numbs the ecstasy of awe. The sheer weight of it drags on us, leaving us spent before we even begin. No, for there to be any hope of recovery then the pain cannot be ignored. It must be freed in order to be free of it. Pandora’s jar must be emptied.