I am going to apologize for the ramblings I'm about to do. I have so many thoughts swirling in my head, and I'm guessing it will all come out sort of jumbled. So, hang on and bear with me.
As DH and I have embarked upon this narcissistic journey, it's been a rough road. And although he can see my points about NM and conceeds that I have validity in what I saw about NMIL, he still can't see the big picture. He's still missing the larger ramifications, effects, legacies. He can't see the forest for the trees. All he can see is the trees, lined up individually. And when he sees the trees, he can't understand why I feel lost so deeply in her forest. He can't see how all those trees have stacked upon each other to form one black wall. Some of the trees seem so far in the past to him, he can't see why they still bother me, or I'm even still thinking about them. But for me those trees are all linked together. That farthest back tree is the foundation, the start of the forest, the moment I entered the deep woods. And he has asked me, several times, in a very sad way if I hate her. I don't hate her. I've tried to explain that I hate the way she treats me. I hate the way I've never stood up for myself. I hate that he always has dismissed her, excused her, trivialized what I have said.
I can remember vividly staring at my reflection as I closed my car door. I was about to meet DH's parents for the first time and I was shaking. I wanted so badly for them to like me. I wanted so badly to fit in. I loved him dearly already, and I wanted him to be proud of me. I was young, naive, and had no real identity in myself. I was locked in a horrible time with my mother and felt very alone and outcast. I had few girlfriends because I rarely trusted them. And the ones I did, I always wound up hurt. Not surprisingly, I was often the third wheel in a trio of friends (hello, NM and NSIS all over!) and I always felt hurt as i was locked on the outside. But I wanted to impress. I wanted to be liked. I was young.
NMIL was a church going-type lady. She sang in the choir, was involved in all kinds of groups. She was a no nonsense lady who was raising four boys. She was a bit tom boyish. She hadn't changed her hair style since the late 80s (this was in the late 90s) She was little, but round. She had a big laugh and ruled her kids with a tight rein. Her home was rowdy and boisterous and chaotic. But it was decorated in dainty florals and old victorian furniture. I learned later that the home had been her mother's. She clearly hadn't changed a thing in the 20 years she lived there...literally. For many, many years, not a picture changed on the wall, furniture never was rearranged, and even knickknacks that had been there for decades sat in the same spots in the bathroom.
And I wanted to fit in. So, I kept my mouth shut and went with the flow. I ignored how the family all lacked boundaries about walking around in their underwear, assuming it was "family of boy thing". I went to sporting events and family picnics. I met extended relatives and watched my mouth. I talked little about myself, but just tried to assimilate. I got the feeling, early on that that was expected of me. To assimilate. I smiled through gritted teeth as I was continually embarrassed by the family's loud, obnoxious behavior at restaurants (oh, this is just how we are!). I ignored the teasing, and the name calling and the meanness, as I again took it for "a family of boys". Boys will be boys.
I tolerated being made fun of and picked on for my small breasts (according to NMIL) in a very public way, on several occasions. And I was aware this was a family joke that ran behind my back. In fact, I became uncomfortable aware that ALL of me had been discussed by family members while not in my presence. I sucked it up when my boundaries were violated and things were asked of me that I really couldn't afford to give. I remember once an aunt telling her daughter to ask me for my hair barrettes that the daughter wanted. Because I should've just handed them over. It didn't matter that I was poor, or loved the barettes, or couldn't afford to replace them. I was just expected to give them because her daughter wanted them.
I tried to fit in. I became a "Christian" because I knew it was very important to NMIL. I even got baptized at her...um, insistence, I'll call it. I took her along to wedding planning events and stood dutifully as she plopped a tacky, large wedding crown on my petite head. I politely declined it, despite her insistance and offer to pay for it. I explained it wasn't my style. I argued as politely as I could that it just didn't go with my style. I tried to not take it personally when she mocked and commented negatively about what I had chose. I listened to all the family war stories over and over and laughed at the jokes. I took a very, long road trip with her to see DH and tried not to notice her almost bitter attitude as she dropped me off at his home and left for her hotel. I pretended that DH and I maintained all sorts of Christian pureness. I went along with lies when she bought (now SIL and BIL) and DH and I a hotel room on a family vacation and stated we had to sleep girls with girls and boys with boys. Absurd, weird, and gross now that I think about it. And I went on family vacations and went along with everything and tried to fit in.
The first red flags came when I dared to disagree with some of her Christian ideology. She had a very strict, literal view of things and it hadn't occurred to any of her sons to dispute her. They took her word for it that that was how things were. When I started to dissent, and offer up altneratives, I was ridiculed and put down. I remember feeling very badly. Not that she argued against me. She had BIL #2, who was to be the minister do that. She just told me that God had told her messages to give me. I found this odd.
NMIL raised her boys with the objective of getting it done. In fact, that is how she always did everything. It didn't matter how it got done, just that it was done. She asked me once to help BIL4 with homework, a paper. Having a teacher's soul, I sat down and began helping him. Asking him questions, helping him form sentences. But I would never have written it for him. I had to many ethics to do that. I knew that this kid's freshman teacher would never believe that he had written what I, a college educated and pretty literate person, would have written. I thought he needed to do it himself. I clearly remember her snatching the paper from me and complaining that she'd just "help" him herself. I apparently was taking too long. She never seemed to be interested in teaching her kids. She just corrected after the fact. And if she could find someone else to do part of it for her, she would. She often commented how DH's coach in school had given him discipline. She used teasing and yelling and name calling to keep her kids in line. She herded them like cattle towards the finish line. DH explained that she had it rough with four boys. It was hard to control them. She just was doing her best. Maybe she was. But she also seemed to have the philosophy of just throwing whatever at them and seeing what stuck. It was chaotic and pieced together and frantic. She never seemed to actually be in control despite always demanding to be in control. And she hardly ever let them do things for themselves. She explained this under the guise that she was helping them, but in reality I think she just wanted to take the easy way out. Just get it done as fast as possible. Not actually teach her kids to fish, but just throw fish at them and pat herself on the back for being a good provider. She picked paths for her kids and shoved them down them. She picked all three of DH's brothers' career paths (only one stuck, and that one is in jeopardy at the moment. I remember her hiring a resume writer for DH when he graduated college. She claimed this lady was the best, but that was her typical m.o. It didn't matter if the credentials were valid, as long as the person told her they were. So, she made some lady to type up a basic resume. She bought him some suits and some work clothes. She dressed him up and pushed him out, expecting the world. In image, her kids always looked the part of prepared grownups. Unfortunately, she never gave them the actually skills to be grown ups. And then she criticized them for their short comings and failings. (And luckily, DH didn't need her help, succeeded on his own, and didn't take her hand holding.) Again, she always wanted the result with out any work.
BIL3 has mental problems (learning and behavioral). He was the whipping boy and family joke. He took the brunt of the teasing and family stories about BIL3 were a favorite past time. They still are. And what I took for family reminising at the time has really started to bother me as of late. He was held up as the "different one". The reason the family was seen as crazy in the eyes of their town. He was the shield they all hid behind, allowed themselves to feel "normal" behind. I remember once suggesting that all of the family (except EFIL) had this particular disorder they liked to label BIL3 with. You'd thought I'd accused them all of murder. I assumed they all knew. They were shocked that anyone would suggest they were like him.
After DH and I got married, NMIL ratched up the push for grandkids. She bugged me all of the time. She had begun to push her way into my and DH's life by buying us season tickets to a sporting event...with them. So, we saw them all the time. It used to be one of our favorite things to do as a couple, but it got taken over. Ironically, DH got his season ticket bought for him for his birthday. I had to pay for mine myself. DH always explained it was just that his parents spent less on me for my birthday. I offered it to be my birthday and Christmas present. NMIL always refused. I don't think this was a coincidence or oversite. Regardless, she used these games to start pushing me. She hounded me for a grandkid (apparantly her son had no say, and it was all up to me, as she never bugged him.) She whined that all her friends had grandkids. She refused to here me as I said that we weren't ready (we were working through a lot at the time, including starting our careers and starting to come to terms with his family). She stated that BIL and SIL weren't ready for kids when I suggested she bug them, as they'd been married just as long as we had. I was irritated she believed she knew who was ready and who wasn't. She evesdropped and butted into conversations I had with friends at the tailgate parties before hand. She pushed me to "snuggle" under her blanket with her. She pushed and pushed. She expected to get my extra tickets if I didn't go to the game to give to her family or friends, but she never offered to pay me back for it. I was feeling more and more smothered and overwhelmed. She pushed for this relationship with me. Wanted us to be friends. But she never wanted to do the work, never wanted to get to know me. Always wanted to rush to the end where we were this super close daughter and mother-in-law. Just get it done.
Her grip of control started to tighten. As DH and I grew up and away from her into independence, she seemed to ramp up. She continued to plan big family vacations and functions and expected us to act as one unit, with her at the helm. I attributed it at the time to the other brothers still being young. She was still in that "mother of kids" mode. I figured she'd grow and adapt to the way things were. But she didn't. She continued to cling to the idea of how things used to be. And I believe she began to see me as a threat. She began to see me as a threat to her idea. She began relegating me to a "secondary" position in the family. She determined a hierarchy. It had always been there, but she began to make it much more clear. Showing clear favoritism towards her kids when giving gifts. Treating me as just another thing to get done when Christmas rolled around. She made ornaments with all of our names on them. "First Tier" family got big ornaments towards the top of the tree. SIL, me, the dog, and the bird got small ornaments at the bottom of the tree. And it could be argued that she ran out of big ornaments when she got to us. But even then, you can see how her thinking went. She seemed to treat me well, but it was clear to me that there was no thought, no desire to actually make me feel included or thought of. Just to give the image of the doting MIL. But behind the scenes, she started to amp things up. Snarky comments here and there. Little criticisms. Always taking someone else's side in a story. Telling cautionary tales about her SIL who disowned the family and what a horrible, wretch of a woman she was. I heard that story a lot. But I got the custom pleasantries, but no depth. No true intimacy. No real work. And it was my fault, cold, frigid, stuck-up person that I was, that the relationship didn't work.
When this didn't get her the results she wanted, she changed tactics. Instead of treating me "just like everyone else", she started treating me better (or so she thought). It was a full on assault to win my trust. She started stalking me whenever we were together. I couldn't take a step or change seats in a room without her following me. She told SIL to quit spending time as a group, as I acted differently when SIL was around (which to me, was much more comfortable because I had a buffer). She began staring at me like I was up on stage for viewing taking everything in. Nothing missed her eye. And she "complimented" me on everything. Everything was just wonderful. Everything I did was the best. She took my side against DH if I expressed an disagreement. She always took my side. Always told me how smart I was. It was all so phony. I didn't believe any of it. She changed her hair. Started changing her home. Dressing in a more..."youthful" way.
It was around this time she started her "coveting phase". I've always noticed that she had no real identity of her own. She always seemed to be a preschooler playing dress up. Taking out an identity, trying it on, growing bored and trying on something else. Her home and clothes and activities expressed nothing of who she was. Even the church activities were passed down to her. All relics of her parents that she just took on like a turtle's shell. Then, for whatever reason, she began to adopt the identity of DH and me. We went to Europe, she went to Europe. We got into wine, she got into wine (although we were "alcoholics" and "wine snobs" at first.) Anything we did, she did too. We got a new house, she remodeled her kitchen. It all felt very icky. I had nothing, owned nothing that she didn't covet. And the jealousy came out too. If I cooked something well, she cooked something better. When I got compliments for nicely wrapped gifts, she started wrapping gifts better (or at least my gifts, which bothers me even more. Like I would be impressed by that. I don't wrap gifts nicely to impress people, I do it because I want to show them I think they are important, worthy of something beautiful and my time. So much of what she does seems to be to try to impress me.) She has always been into what was "the best". She'd believe anyone if they told her it was the best, a good deal, or worthy. She must be a salesperson's dream. She doesn't ever discern anything for herself, but takes everyone's word about things. And so to compete, she started telling us about this "best wine" that she "knew you would like!!!" or some fabulous winery or movie or restaurant that she knew we would like, even if she couldn't actually take credit for the recommendation. It was all about appearing that she was in the know. Always laughing the loudest at the jokes. Always being in the middle of every activity. She couldn't be left out of anything. She was getting on my last nerve. I no longer trusted her or her intentions in the least bit. I didn't believe anything she said was authentic. Everything seemed to be for effect. Not only with me, but everyone. She offered to do everything, for everyone, all the time. Even if she didn't want to. Even if she was going to complain about that person to anyone who would listen. She didn't want to look like the bad person. But there was always the sideways comment. The little underbelly, passive-aggressive dig. They snarky looks. The temper if you called her on anything. When overt control had no longer work, she went underground. She started suggesting things, expressing the utmost concern to one brother about another. Planting seeds. The phoniness, the disingenuous nature of it all, it all being so much more work than it should've been, always feeling on guard.
And so it pretty much stands today. Me, walls up, on guard, distanced. Her always looking for a way to plow through my walls. Always feeling stalked, and cornered, and bullied. Lots of false talk and phoniness and shallow relationships. Lots of attempts at manipulation, offering "trips", "gifts", talking about how they are setting us up financially.
DH and I have come a long way since the beginning. He hardly ever took my side in the beginning. If I couldn't get along with his family, then I shouldn't let the door hit me on the way out. I wondered, briefly, why I put up with it then. But I know that it's because that's how life had always been. Get alone, sacrifice, sit down and shut up, or get the hell out. But he slowly started to listen. He started to actually believe me. He put down a lot of his excuses. He still uses "that's just the way she is. She won't change. She doesn't think of it that way. I'm sure she didn't mean it. We always tease in our family. She doesn't think before she acts. You read too much into her. You are too sensitive. You always look for things that aren't there. She doesn't do that on purpose. She's just excited/hyper/unorganized." but I get these excuses far less. He still jumps to defensiveness, but I can at least rationalize with him once the initial moment has passed. He is willing to listen to me. When I presented him with the 25 characteristics of narcissists with detailed notes about how NMIL fit them, he spent over an hour reading them all. And he believed me. And said I had some valid points. It's a long way from the beginning. But a long way from where I want to be. But I'm determined. I want him to see so he can lay down some of the legacy she's given him. So he will let go of some of the toxic ways she taught him to be a parent (and for the record, he is an amazing father, but struggles with some of the narcissistic traits and toxic parenting models we all do). To put down some of his defensiveness.