Releasing the past in order to find myself

Monday, February 18, 2013


NM came for a visit over the weekend.  I knew she was coming well in advance and I had done my best to prepare for it.

I'll first say that it wasn't that bad.  It actually was better than it has been in the past.  She was mostly well-behaved.  In fact, she has been obviously trying to watch herself.   I'm sure this has something to do with my recent stalemate with NSis but I don't really care to figure out why.  And I'm sure not deluding myself into believing she's changed.

And in an attempt to be completely honest with myself, I've been working on viewing things in their totality.  I was struggling with some serious cognitive dissonance about my childhood and my relationship with NM.  She wasn't and isn't all bad.  She can be kind and thoughtful.  She can be helpful.  She knows me well enough to know how to do things with my kids and in my home, and that is helpful.  Not all of my childhood was horrible.   I need to acknowledge this because I was tired of seeing everything through such a negative filter.  This good stuff, by NO MEANS "balances" out the negative.  Really, there is no way to balance negative.  Negative behavior lives in a category all its own, and can not be "made up for" by later being nice.  Negative behavior needs to be accounted for and repented for in order to go away.  But it's not helpful for me to only see the negative.  And frankly, I don't want to remember my childhood as a soul-sucking horror trip, because it wasn't always.  NM is a narcissist  but she's kind of a pathetic sad one.  So, I'll say the trip wasn't all bad.  That she was pleasant.  She was actually very good with the kids.  She was patient and kind with them (except for one incident I'll talk about).  She can maintain good behavior for periods of time.   She was extra kind to my husband (mostly like in an effort to score "nice" points).  She also watched my kids for three hours so DH and I could go to dinner.  I know, I know.  Some of you will not like that.  But, as I've said, she can watch herself and behave for a few hours.  And actually, she is kinder to my kids when I'm not around.  When I'm around she spends a lot of time and energy on the image of "grandma" she wants to project to me.  She wants to like kind but firm with them and "prove" to me that she can maintain my rules and such.  So, when I'm not around she relaxes a bit.

Beyond that, NM is just exhausting to me.  I never feel like I can relax around her.  She is watching me constantly.  Or my husband.  Or my kids.  Watching what we do, how we eat, what we say to each other.  She's watching how my husband and I interact, who does what with the kids.  I feel like a zoo exhibit.  Her hearing is unbelievable, and she often strains to hear every conversation my husband and I have.  Even if we are go to another room and talk lowly, she asks what's going on.  She will not allow for any private interactions.  Lot's of times she'll say "WHAT?  I mean, it's not any of business but what is going on?"  Often it's not a something of importance or worth, just typical conversation but something that doesn't involve her.  But she's suspicious.  And untrusting.  She always thinks we are talking about her.  And if we leave the room, she gets really worked up about it, whispers "WHAT is going ON?"  all nervous like.  She complains before that if DH and I discuss something in front of her (and to clarify, we are not ever yelling or mad.  We may just have a more passionate discussion.  It is not a fight, just excitement) she says it upsets her.  Because her parents used to fight.

And so, with all her watching, I feel like I can't be cranky or tired or whatever.  Just even tempered and level all the time.  If I don't, she seems to amplify how I'm feeling.  She takes what I'm feeling and responds to me like I'm acting in a way that's 10 times worse.  Maybe I'm not explaining this right.  But she always makes me feel like I'm having some emotional breakdown if I am not perfectly, emotionally, even keel.

And I do get anxiety when she comes.  I feel like I'm juggling a dozen balls in the air.  Trying to watch the kids, coordinate meals, talk with her, give the kids each time.  Pack and unpack the kids from all the activities we go and do, because no way in hell am I going to just sit around my house with her.  So I'm tired, and the kids are tired, and the kids get cranky, and I have to reinforce some boundaries with them, which they are testing because someone new is in the house.  But I know NM is watching and observing and I'll have to do it in a way that doesn't catch her notice.  Because NM will be reporting to everyone too.  She'll tell NSis "Oh, Jessie looked thing.  She was stressed.  She told (son) something and he yelled at her!  She...."and on and on.  I'm trying not to care, because I will never be perfect enough to not get gossiped about.  Because she loves to gossip.

Most of NM and I's conversations revolved around gossip.  She is a grade A gossiper (I mean, loving concerned person) who told me some bitch fest about everyone she knows.  And I'll be honest, I fall into the trap too at times.  I don't know how to always work around it.   And it's easier.  And sometimes I'd really like to be discussing the people I tell her about, like get some motherly advice.  But the only ways she really listens is if it's told in a gossipy manner.  So, I'm sitting there bitching too.  And then she makes me feel bad for that, gives me some moral high ground line of bullshit.  So, I get a bit more tired.  And everyone is against her.  Everyone is treating her badly.  She's not really interested in a discussion.  She wants to vent.  When I vent back, she changes the subject or offers some pat answer.  She thinks she's helping me to be more positive.  She is a master at projection.  I often don't feel myself at all because she sees me in such a skewed light, that there is no room for the real me.  No matter what I am or how I act, she only sees the image of me she wants to.  And although I know my reality, all she sees is a sad, anxious, stressed out mom and wife.  She doesn't see the fun, easy, mom I can be.  There really is no room for me to be.  Because she plays and has fun and the kids bounce all over her and want to be with her, I'm left to pack and unpack, and make dinners and organize kids and reinforce boundaries and be the 'bad guy' making everyone go to bed.  I don't know how I always get pushed into being some task driving ass whenever she's around.

I try to talk about other things or myself.  But when I do, she turns to her Ipad or cellphone or just stares off.  She doesn't ask about the things I really like to do.  She talks to me a lot about how much I deserve a brake and how hard I work.  She's always coaching my son to "go give your mom a hug.  It will make her feel better."  "Remember, I told you that it's nice to tell your mom you love her."  "Look, you hurt your mom's feelings, you broke her heart."  That one kills me.  And it's a damn subtle trick.  Because she's believes she's defending me and teaching my son to respect me.  And it sucks to see, because I know that's how she thinks.  It's not a direct message to me (I just don't think she's that clever), but it's clearly meant to define motherhood for her.   So, I counter her and clearly point out to her and my son, that he never owes me anything.  That he is a sweet boy and very thoughtful of me, and doesn't need to be told when to do that.  And that he doesn't have to express love except when he wants to.

She pulled this stupid shit too with him while hiding it behind "teaching him".  My son is a preschool and still has some words he miss-pronounces.  (And coincidentally, she is self-conscious about how she pronounces things)  So, she corrects him.  And then corrects him again and again.  But she's not teaching him, she's making him uncomfortable.  She makes him self-conscious.   I watch this for awhile and can't stand it, but I'm stuck not knowing what to do.  That night, I got angry with myself.  I'm sure as hell not going to let her make my kid feel bad.  And so the next day I tell her to knock it off.  In front of my son.  And it sucked.  But I didn't feel guilty about it or overly anxious.

My mother wants to feel she's an expert in something.  So she likes to talk about her latest research.  She wants to be the one with knowledge of a topic, with me eager to hear what she has to say.  This rarely happens, and it frustrates her.  But I don't consider her an expert on most things.  This time it was a new health regimen she is doing that she was insisting I try.  She kept bringing up the medicines.  She tired to get me to try it.  Kept telling me this homeopathic stuff would work.  Well, I believe this stuff has a place, but I am not interested in trying any of NM's latest whims.  She won't leave it a lone.  When I finally voice my opinion, she literally talked over the top of me.  I would start in, and when she was finished with my sentence, she'd just cut in and start talking.  Most times, she didn't hear what I had to say at all.  This isn't unusual.  You can see NM working out her next diatribe as your talking.  You know she hasn't heard a thing.  Often, she asks me later the same question.  And during her spiels about this or that new fade she's doing, she rarely hears me at all.

NM likes to talk.  She likes to be in charge of a conversation.  She likes to direct it.  She only likes to talk about what she's interested in.  It's tiring.  She follows me into by bedroom when I try to get a moment a lone.  She is very private and bitches about people invading her private space, but does it to me no problem. And talks about how she has a good relationship with her daughters and doesn't worry about us being in her space.  But that works both ways.  She is suspicious.  She snoops.  She checks things out she shouldn't.  And she HATES when people do it to her.  And she assumes most other people do snoop.  She attributes much bigger meaning to people's behavior than is there.  Something I often worry about myself doing, as I can see how she often over reacts to things that may not be aggressive towards her.  She thinks people are out to get her.  She never looks at how she could remedy the problem.  For example, she was angry at my step brother for not reaching out to her and being willing to do her a favor.  But she said she shouldn't have to approach him.  She has the attitude of "well, he didn't reach out to me, why should I reach out to him"  except it's not clear why the other person always needs to reach out first.    If my husband and I do get cross at each other, she acts like we might get a divorce.  If I have a headache, she stresses about it, worrying if I should go to the emergency room.  Man, she wears me out.

She brought up NSis frequently.  Sometimes, it was just because NSis was important to the conversation.  But mostly, it was to see my reaction.  She baited me and baited me and baited me.  She wanted to go home and tell NSis I asked about her.  I acted stupid every time she brought it up.  Tried to just go blank.  She didn't let on how NSis is doing (NSis has had some pretty big changes I believe in her life lately) but just dropped NSis's name casually.

When she left today, it seemed the frequency in our house came down five levels.  I'm sure some of it was just my kids being excited by someone new.  And my mother is actually quiet and relatively mellow.  She just emits this crazy intensity under neath that.  She can be really calm and even keel.  She likes that she's the quiet stoic type.  I was telling her how my younger son is really even-tempered, until he gets angry and then he gets really mad (but he's two!).  She started pointing her finger back at herself (and making this face that I particularly loathe.  Kind of like her best impression of herself as some sort of Clint Eastwood type. ).  She LOVES to tell people about how she's the quiet strong type.  You know, good old farm stock.  Stoic, faithful, hardworking.  That's NM...or so she thinks.  And you know, while she's got herself pegged as some hardened cowboy, she's cast me as the roll of damsel in distress.

As I usual do when she leaves, I felt relieved.  I do not feel sorrow when she leaves.  I cried a bit today for the sadness of it.  It sucks that I really don't enjoy my mother as a person at all.  It sucks that when she leaves I'm glad.  Not a little glad, but completely glad.   It sucks watching my children love her so much.  And I hate myself for feeling like that.  I don't want them to feel towards someone how I feel.  And I don't hate her.  I really don't feel much for her.  I recently told my DH she feels like my very much older sister, not my mother.  I am really, really tired.

But I'm not angry.  I'm not bitter at her.  And that's progress.  She doesn't stir up the huge feelings of depression and anxiety that she used to.  I kind of white-knuckled it, but I held myself together with the tools I've learned in this past year.  I didn't let her get to me, but I didn't have to surround myself with barbwire while she was here.  I allowed myself to be sad about what it is.  That's progress too.  It feels like a small amount of progress, and I wish I was much further along, but this will take time and work.  I protected my kids and my husband but didn't always feel I had to control every interaction they had with NM.  I could protect them without always being on guard.

But I'm very, very tired.


  1. The firrst part of your post - the part about how she isn't ALL bad. Man, I get that. I'm struggling with it too, because the dad who did all the fucked up things to me in my childhood is also the dad who made me laugh sometimes. Who taught me to cook. Who gave me rides and random bus fares. It isn't the TRUTH to say he was all bad.

    And the truth is the most golden elusive thing, the thing we ACoNs are searching for. I really do feel the same way - If I'm going to tell the TRUTH, some of that truth is that he wasn't a solid ball of crap.

    The rest of your post, about how she exhausts you - I know. It's SO TIRING. It's awful to enjoy watching them drive away. BUT - you have come so far. You SEE, in the moment, instead of later on in bed when you can't do anything. You were ready, you SEE her, and you did so much more than you ever thought you could do. Your muscles will get stronger, your reaction time will get shorter, and her ability to drive you insane will lessen, lol.

    It was a lifetime of learning ONE WAY. Give yourself a bit of time to learn YOUR way. I think the change is huge. I'm sure your kids see it too. I mean, I KNOW they see through HER. Wait till they're older and you can ask them, they will tell you exactly what they saw! You're doing great.

    Go get a pedicure or a hot bath, you deserve it. :)

    1. Thanks Gladys!
      I felt for awhile that I was somehow invalidating myself and all the horrible things I was feeling for NM (and NSis and NMIL) by saying that they have a nice side too. But you are right, if we want to live in the truth, for some of us the truth is, that they had some good points and are not complete monsters. I just didn't like living in such a black and white world anymore. And I think giving myself permission to remember the good parts (which was a bit of a gift to myself; it was nice to think my childhood wasn't an entire ball of shit) I actually validated the bad parts more.
      I do see the progress of it all. But it's a lot of hard work. Like training for a marathon, getting myself physically prepared is rough!

    2. Gladys (and Jess too) - Question to ponder on a rainy day: Just because it wasn't "all bad" (I can't think of anything or anyone that is either all good or all bad) does that mean that they aren't actually "complete" monsters? I'm wondering this for myself here too, I don't have the answer. I think we just see this question a lot, and it's not that I see you excusing your mother (you're FAR from that stage of this) but who can we call a monster, if not the ones who are mostly bad, even though there might be hints of "good" in them too.

      Also, Jess - your recognition about your NM having some good parts to her personality made me think about my view of NMIL. I really do view her as "all bad." I can't think of one damn thing about her that was good, save for maybe her cooking skills. I just...I don't know, I guess it doesn't matter to me that much. I'm not hung up at all on the fact that I don't see any good in her. I'm not trying to rack my brain to come up with anything. Of course, the big "but" is that she wasn't my mother. I don't have to survive calling her my mom. Maybe that's why it's not so important to me.

      I'll have to ask DH if he does the same thing though.

      I think that as long as you're not excusing the bad behaviors by forcing yourself to find a few good things that she has done (which you're not) then you're "safe." I don't think there is anything wrong with admitting that your NM isn't "all bad." And if anything, at least that means you can, on that rare occasion, catch a little bit of a break. (Like going out for a few hours every couple of months, or whatever the frequency is).

    3. I too am struck by the absolute exhaustion I read in this post. I remember that feeling when dealing with DH's parents too - they just suck all the energy right out of the room.

  2. Hi Jonsi! The exhaustion. Yes, I've been tired before when around NM. But usually, I'm in such a high adrenaline state that I just crash afterward. This time, I just felt it was so hard to "maintain". She operates at such a high frequency, that I have to focus the whole time in order to maintain the boundaries I'm working on and maintain my reactions to her so that I'm not rising to her bait. She is one constant chess game and it's exhausting to always be thinking one step ahead. But I know it'll get easier.
    As I've gone through this process, so many memories of things have popped up. It's like everything was piled in a big closet and I knew things were in there buried under the layers, but I've been pulling them out. And laced with the "bad" things that I've remembered, good stuff tumbled out too. And it was really confusing to me. I didn't know what to do with these "good memories". They didn't seem to fit into the pile I was making while discovering the patterns of NM. But I couldn't just chuck them out and pretend they didn't exist. I was having serious cognitive dissonance. I couldn't meld the two sides I saw. I finally had to decide there were two piles. That I wasn't going to balance out the bad with the good, because there are not remotely the same thing. And I felt like a lot of people around me had wanted me to do that in the past (forgive NM because this good shit balanced out the bad stuff). But it doesn't matter how much water she gave me if she denied me food. They are just two completely different things. And I wasn't really looking for these good things, they just popped up. And for awhile, I was worried that somehow I was wrong about feeling she was abusive because I had these conflicting "happy" memories. It just was something I had to reconcile within myself. Does that make sense?
    And I think about calling her a monster...well, I just think it's kind of a complex issue for me. I know (and have read on many blogs) about moms that were horrid to their kids and monsters. And for awhile, it was easier to cast my mother as a monster in order to distance myself from the enmeshment. I guess, I just don't think I need that anymore. She's fucked up and weird and difficult and narcissistic. But what's in her soul no longer makes a difference in how I react to her. I tried to label and figure out NM and NMIL for years and only frustrated myself. Learning to just live without a label for them, and just manage their behaviors has somehow given me some peace.
    And as far as leaving the kids, I'm watching her like a hawk. And if I catch any inkling that she's pulling bullshit, I can easily go back to no babysitting. She knows she's on notice. But, in order to be a good mom, I had to do this. And like you said, it's once every three months (and the first time in 5 years), so hopefully, she can behave for that long!

  3. Did you feel that your exhaustion was different from the times she's stayed before? I've noticed my exhaustion after an encounter with narcs feel different. The only way I can explain it, is this: it's like a tennis match with Pete Sampras, if you had to play against him without having never held a racket in your life you'd be completely blasted, unable to stop the balls coming in your direction and you'd probably have quite a few bruises from being bashed by the balls coming at such speed. This is what is like with narcs when you don't know they're playing a game with you (even if they themselves are not aware they're doing this), every time you interact with them you go away completely hurt, drained, and exhausted. Next, we learn about the game and we pick a few skills, enough to send, at least, some balls back and hold our own. We would still be shattered at the end of the match, but it would be a different type of exhaustion. More like when you've had a good workout where you feel tired but not quite so drained or hurt. We're still obviously not as good as them at the game (after all, they've been playing it for a lifetime 24 hrs a day :P) but we're able to manage a match. This is the stage where we're at, I think. The next step, for me, is not so much to beat them at their own game but to change the rules of the game entirely. I don't know if this can be done or not, we'll find out over the coming months ;)

    1. This is perfect, Kara. That is EXACTLY it. The exhaustion was completely different. I wasn't beaten down or hurt or angry, just so tired from managing her (like I am really "out of shape" and trying to play a game).
      You described it perfectly.

  4. Like my NM from top to bottom.
    I also had good periods with her. Just as mulderfan once said, I sometimes wish it was always hell, from the very beginning. I do have good memories, fun times. I know what I have lost.
    Now it is never light, or fun, or simple.
    I can also only talk to her in a gossipy manner, so the only conversation-like thing is, if we collectively bitch about someone, or pour hatred on someone who is not there.
    She always claims that I work too hard, that I should really take a rest, and that (of course) I should visit her all the time to "have a light chit-chat". Our "chit-chat" is very far from light. She is always filled with so much anxiety, hate and paranoia, that she cannot talk about anything else. She is only interested in me when she can turn my words into another hate-river about some race or religion or government or God-knows what.
    She also always talks over me. Or anyone. She does not even stop to take a breath, so there is no chance to even say a word here and there. Only if she wants to interrogate. Then she turns into a perfect interrogator, and will learn everything she wants to know in detail.
    She is nosey and will touch, open, or use everything she has no business to, and she claims that I could and should do the same (I am not interested in her stuff). She ignores all my boundaries.
    She is exhausting, she constantly emits this vibrating aura that wears me down just by being there. She pollutes the air wherever she goes. She feels that everyone is there to get her.
    She wants to appear more educated than everyone else, to appear as an "insider". All she does though is to talk about conspiracy theories, or if someone knows something better than her, she either tramples over the person saying that they are wrong, or negates it by some other topic immediately, or gets upset and starts yelling that everyone is so hard on her and that we are conspiring against her.
    I always feel much better when she leaves. Or when I don't see her at all. I'm not as angry or devastated when I see her, as I was before I met the ACON community, and I think this is a progress.
    I never miss her.
    I only miss a mother I only wished I had.

    1. Well, Scatha, I guess it's good to have someone else who gets it? I always see so much of my mom in your posts too.
      My NM's job is related to questioning and interviewing and she is very fine tuned at doing it.
      What I find ironic with NM's snooping is that she is paranoid that everyone else is doing it to her. She has extremely tight boundaries around everyone else, but like yours, uses our lack of "need" for boundaries between us as a sign of our closeness. Although she does pretend to respect my privacy, she steps on it all the time and I know she does it behind my back. And she easily admits to snooping through other people's shit. But she feels entitled to do that and it doesn't even occur to her to be ashamed of it.
      My relationship with NM is never light or easy either anymore. It used to be more, although I never felt comforted or completely at ease around her. But most of that is gone.
      Thanks for sharing. It helps so much to know I'm not alone!