Labels are a hot-button issue with ACoNs. We have been labeled and defined externally for all of our lives. Labels have been used to control, belittle, shame, and manipulate us. Labels that reflect more on the giver of the label than the person being labeled. Our narcs always profess to "know" us; to know us better than we know ourselves. And any attempt at self-identity is seen as rebellion. The narc laughs it off as if we are some adolescent teenager trying out a new hairdo. But they know us better, they know what is best for us. How could they not? They are the one who "created" us.
NMIL and I were discussing potty training my son. She was busy labeling my son as developing late in this area. She consistently commented about it, asking if he was trained yet, sighing and saying "well, boys do train later." I reminded her that I wasn't pushing the issue. That I didn't care what he did. That it was his choice. He had the tools. I encouraged him. But the real choice was his. That there had been a lot of other things going on in his life, and this wasn't an issue with us. She stated that when her boys were little she used to let them go in the yard, and with summer coming this might be a way for DS to have "fun" training and....She trailed off and I knew what she was thinking. Oh, Jessie, would never let her son pee outside. She's too prim and proper.
She's always labeled me as a straight laced. She, the conservative Christian, has labeled me as uptight and strict. She takes my balking at her boundary pushing (whether it's pushing for physical closeness, sharing of food, expectations of basic manners) as having a stick up my ass. She has implied over and over that I am the wet blanket on her parade. That I am the downer at the party. She is the fun loving, easy going, light hearted person. I am as about much fun as the flu.
Once, DH made a nice meal for his family. His younger brother scooped up some of the fish onto his plate, took one bite and announced it was "gross". He scooped it back up and plopped it down in the serving dish. NMIL shouts "(SON) don't do that! Jessie doesn't like that!" All eyes go to me. I feel like a horrible person. Never mind that I didn't say anything about his behavior. Or that his behavior was grossly out of line. Or that basic manners should have dictated her "lesson" to him, not making me the bad guy in the situation. There I sat, the "manners police", red faced and embarrassed.
When I have balked at her invasion of my privacy (walking in on me, not wanting to change clothes in front of people, feeling the need to dress appropriately when I come down for breakfast) I'm seen as a prude. Old fashioned. Insecure about my body.
When I have expectations (age appropriate ones) for my sons at a restaurant, the whole family gets tense. I expect that my son doesn't run around. I've been the waitstaff concerned about tripping over a small child, spilling a hot plate of food on the kid. It's dangerous and not appropriate. But to the in-laws, I'm a hard ass. I bring tons of things for my kids to do (coloring books, etc.). The other kids bang knives and forks on the table. I'm restrictive and confining.
NMIL and her FOO love to laugh. Loudly. At everything. It's become such a joke with me as it often seems so forced and phony. They like to laugh at people. Always cackling at something. When BIL and SIL got married, they decided to have a "roast" at the rehearsal dinner. The family told wildly inappropriate stories that embarrassed and humilated BIL. But it was all in good fun, they claimed! When my wedding day came, DH was insistent that we not have a roast at our rehearsal. He fought it tooth and nail. But I know I got the blame. I was the one who was not willing to have any fun. I was the one who couldn't "laugh at myself". I look back at this now and wonder what they could've possibly been thinking. That at a moment when a couple should be lifted up, made to feel loved and supported they were torn down and embarrassed. On purpose. And it was all in fun. And I'm the bad guy.
My mom and dad used to tell me I was bossy. They would watch me playing with the neighborhood kids and would tell me I was too bossy. I didn't think then, nor do I think now, that I was bossy. Somebody had to come up with something to play and I liked to come up with fun games. I was creative and the neighborhood kids often asked me to come up with something. They sought me out and came to my house to ask me to play. I know that I took others into consideration. I know that I would've been willing to do what someone else wanted to do. But my parents, observing from inside the house, passed judgement. Told me who I was. Told me not how to behave but that I was this label. My teachers at school found me to be "helpful". They often had me tutor other kids, lead discussion groups. To my teachers I was a "leader" but to my folks I was bossy.
I also was labeled as the "good kid". Always expected to follow the rules. Never allowed to get into trouble. Anything less than perfection was deemed a failure of huge proportions. Perfect was the standard not the goal. I was "responsible". Always the caretaker. Always expected to help out. I also was labeled a liar. I wasn't a liar. I did lie on occasion. Always out of fear of getting in trouble. I was so terrified of failing my parents, of making a mistake, that I would lie to cover it up. I was also oversensitive. I cried too easily. I took things too personally. When my father would "tease" me, I took it too personally.
Now, my parents label me as "anxious". Like I'm some sort of constant worrier and bundle of nerves. Yes, I suffer from anxiety. Yes, I have abandonment issues. I am, on occasion, overprotective of my kids. I'm terrified of loosing my kids or my husband. Of loosing the family I have wanted for so long. But I'm not jumping at my shadow. I'm not so overprotective that my kids don't do anything and live in a bubble. Far from it. They label me "anal" because I'm organized. They label me as uptight and rigid and inflexible because I plan things (like meals and activities) when they are here. Mostly, I'm uptight and rigid because I don't allow them to just take over and follow them around like a dog. All of my parents and step-parents are some of the most controlling, inflexible, rigid people I know. But they label me that way.
When I look at all of these labels, I see very few positive ones. I'm also struck by how differently these two families label me. Their perceptions of me seem so in opposition. And neither seems to fit. When I'm with my friends or with coworkers I'm rarely labeled in such negative ways. A lot of their criticisms of me are seen as positives. I don't feel like I have to be something I'm not. I don't feel like I'm smothering under a blanket of labels. Under a coating of projected personality flaws. I don't always feel I'm struggling to be myself.
I've been struggling with my identity for a long time now. Trying to figure out who I am and who I need to be. It was one of my first clues that something was really wrong: that I couldn't shake their perceptions of me, that I felt bogged down and couldn't be myself. That I felt like a false person with family. At first, I thought it was just that they wanted me to still be who they saw when I was a kid. That they hadn't accepted me as an adult. But they never knew me as a kid either. And now, I'm struggling to feel "grown up". I knew this girl. She always looked so put together. Carried a big girl purse and wore "womanly" jewelry. Not the simple girlish look I had. I told her I would've felt like an imposter wearing that stuff, even though I liked it, as I would feel like a little girl playing dress up in her mom's closet. I always felt like a little girl. Despite everything I had done and accomplished and taken on by myself. I was a little girl. And I want to be a grown up.