I spent last weekend at my MIL's house (well, not in her house, but near her house. I can't stay in her house because she was babysitting my BIL's dog, which I am allergic too). It didn't go badly. I didn't get angry and upset. Anxiety, sure. But it wasn't horrible. But I have no doubt any longer that she is a narc.
I questioned myself for so long. I wondered if I was seeing "narcs" around every corner. She is not malignant. She is not out to get anyone. But she will throw anyone under the bus in order to get what she wants. Anyone and everyone is dispensable, if there is something in it for her.
She is obsessed with attention. She has to have all of the attention on her. She will deflect any negative attention onto the nearest person. She has to have all of the attention on her to shore up her constructed reality of herself. She believes she is kind, and generous and of the most importance to her family. She is the hub around which we all orbit.
In order to maintain this image she has created for herself she uses all sorts of tactics. The first being to constantly draw attention to herself. She is constantly pointing out how great she thinks she is. How my niece said she is the BEST cook ever. How my son couldn't WAIT to get to her house (to play with the toys, but she doesn't seem to register that). She's like a school girl hollering out to my husband "Do you like my flag!?" It's a fucking flag lady. Planted right in the way of entering onto the front porch. But she is tittering and giddy and cackling like a teenager. She tells stories in a way that make her look the hero. (For example, when my nephew fell off of a tire swing that she put him on-he's 2, much too young to hold on himself, and she walked away-she ran to my BIL and told him how she was running to get him and just wasn't fast enough. SHE put him in a dangerous situation and then tried to take credit for almost saving him from falling backwards and cracking his head off the ground.) She's constantly feeding her image. Last Christmas, she made a HUGE deal about how she "only" wanted family portraits from us for Christmas (never mind the expense of a family portrait session, or that it was three weeks before Christmas, or that I didn't want family portraits in the snow). She made herself sound like she ONLY wanted this simply little gift. I finally gave her one when I got our portraits done. I went looking for these portraits she made such a big deal of when I got to her home. Guess where I found them? Down the dark hallway. And BIL and SIL didn't even give her a family portrait (like she told us they did.) It was clear to me she cared less about the damn picture than looking like she was thoughtful and simple. She even had DH duped (she asked him-and only him- for the portrait in the first place, complete with instructions to get together with his brother and coordinate frames that went with her home) into thinking it was a simple request....until I pointed out all of the work I would have to do to give her the damn picture.
I've mentioned before how she likes to give me tons of worthless compliments. She compliments my toe nail polish or the scent of my home. She compliments me, thinking I'm such a sad sap (projection?) that these worthless comments will make me like her more. But the thing is, all of these compliments mean nothing. Toe nail polish? Any monkey can point to a bottle in the store and pick a nice color.
What I've discovered is that she never compliments me on anything of substance. On anything that could actually be attributed to me being worthy. At least not to my face. She tells my husband, when I'm not around, what good parents she thinks we are, how great my kids are, how well raised they are (and even then, notice that it is not a specific compliment to me, but to both of us....really, just him). When I have "out shown" her in some area, she minimizes it ("WELL, you make a good lasagna, but I make REALLY GOOD spaghetti"). She has to be the best mom, the best cook, the best Christian, the wisest and the smartest. And any compliments I have in this area threaten her. This is also the reason that she never asks my opinion (and BIL actually argues against my expertise) in areas that I actually am quite knowledgeable about (like the field of study I worked in for 7 years, have a degree in, and have a minor in. They all know better than me if I offer an opinion and they NEVER want to know what I think. This from a family that values each other's opinions over fact). She only compliments me on things she thinks she can compete with me on. And then she does.
In her campaign of images, she also has decided she needs to define everyone else's "image" (or roll) in the family too. So, she uses subtle techniques like mentioning (for the 100th time) that my SIL doesn't cook. She has actually spent a lot of time telling my husband (privately, hello triangulation!) about what a deficient mother SIL is. How BIL does ALL of the cooking and cleaning and child care. She implies SIL is spoiled and lazy. She implies SIL is a bad mother. This has a two fold effect: it makes SIL look bad, and it makes MIL look good by comparison. It also always MIL a way to discuss how she has to step in and help out. MIL asks me questions about how I parent....and then points out that she feels BIL and SIL do it wrong. I suspect she hopes that I'll bring it up to them and "teach them". I've mentioned that she tell them herself if she feels so strongly. She tells me that she doesn't "want to be that MIL."
SIL is one of her favorite "bad guys". Because in her mind, if she is the good guy, then someone has to play the bad guy. But anyone will work really. When I questioned my son being given choking hazards (in general, not really to her specifically; three adults were sitting there), she jumps to defend herself, "Well, I asked DH and he said it was OK!!". Who knows if she actually did. God forbid she get up and get a knife and cut the damn things in half. She's blamed DH a lot when she wasn't watching my niece and nephew. It's always someone else's fault. It was my BIL's fault that her household and children were crazy when they grew up. He had a mental illness and she had four boys and well, it was all due to them....not due to the fact that she couldn't get her shit together. It was DH's fault my niece slipped under water TWICE and had to be dragged out of the pool by me, despite the fact the MIL was in charge of her and DH and I were watching our own kids. It was MIL's sister's fault that they became estranged because her sister has mental problems and is under a lot of stress.
She's an expert at positioning people to look inferior and to blame. She makes lots of "concerned" comments about how other people do things. She shares gossip. When she mentions my youngest BIL has a new girlfriend, she and FIL started the conversation with "What have you heard about BIL's new girlfriend." Note: she said "WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD" not, have you heard he has a girlfriend or just simple stated it as a fact. And for the record, the girl is a VEGAN. I have a feeling this was meant to be a slight, but I changed the subject.
She sets me up to be the bad guy all of the time. She offers my children things and then I have to say no. She sneaks things to them. She waits until I'm out of the room to make her move. I walked into the house to find her huddled on the couch with DH, offering to take my children for the day. She does not offer to babysit my kids to my face. She often offers DH to take the kids. She knows that if she talked to me directly, I'd tell her I think she's too spacy and unsafe to watch my kids. So, she waits until I'm out of the room. Then she whispers. She offers up something she thinks that I'll like as bait (to convince him, not me. I brushed her off when she tried earlier in the morning to "sell" me her idea). She tries to get DH convinced of something before I get any say so. And then if I say no, she knows that I'll look like the bad guy. She makes me out to be the "rule enforcer" with my kids. When I am trying to get my kids to go to bed or to leave, she doesn't say good bye and help me. She continues to play with the kids and ignore me. When I tell my kids no, she says to my son, "I would love to do that with you, but your mom said no." She loves to point out that she would do something if I hadn't said no. And she usually offers these things up before she talks to me. Purposely. She bribes my kids with toys but then won't give them to them right away. So, I have to listen to my kids ask repeatedly why they can't have the toys right then. I would tell them to go ask her, but she loves that attention. So, I get to deal with the fallout.
Basically, she is a master manipulator who has trained her flying monkeys so well, that they often don't even know they are doing her work. She is a puppet master who whispers little suggestions in people's ears who then end up thinking that the idea was their own. She thinks it is her job to define everyone in the family and assign our roles. Clearly, me and SIL are at the bottom (as the biggest threats. My other SIL is a non-entity, as she is so emotionally broken and desperate for family she'll do anything.) I rank below the dogs. (That was one of the things that ticked me off. When her dog died last fall, she swore to my husband they wouldn't get another one because I am not able to be in her home with the dogs. It has long been a point of contention because she has subtly blamed ME and implied I only use it as an excuse to avoid her home. She has never bothered to learn about my asthma or allergies or what she can do to make me more comfortable - like by putting the dog outside, something she doesn't do unless asked. So, when the dog died, she was supposed to put me first. Guess what? She keeps BIL's dog most of the time because he can't handle it. She says it's temporary, but I know that's a lie. And really it doesn't matter, if she allows the dogs-other BIL has three- in her home frequently, the dander will always be there.) Anyway, she is busy ordering how and where everyone gets to fit in. She's already decided my older son is the golden child. Even DH can see that she "has a thing for him." I'll be DAMNED if I allow that and I won't be allowing her blatant favoritism anymore (she found some toy to give my older son when we were there, but had nothing for my toddler. This has happened more than once.)
I know, I know, what am I still doing hanging around her, you ask? Well, it's complicated. I consider it a victory that I'm not so rage filled after the visit as I used to be. The woman just doesn't get to me any more. Annoy me? Yes. Piss me off? Yes. But her power to manipulate me and make me feel badly is waning. I avoided falling into her gossip traps. I (mostly) avoided her negative talk (she really does know how to rope you into speaking negatively about people, and then she takes the "high road"). I had my wits about me a bit more and I was able to question her on things. I took an opportunity to "teach her" about gardening (she thinks she's an expert. She's the type of person that assumes she knows everything and can't fathom there is knowledge beyond what she possesses. I'm no expert, either, by the way, but I know more than her...by a lot.) I know she didn't listen to me. I know she didn't hear me. How? Because I've told her this shit before. And she's the type of person who just wants to be told some sort of "action" and wasn't interested in the explanations for things I gave her. But it gave me an opportunity to point out she didn't know what she was doing and wasn't the phenomenal gardener she pointed out to my husband when we arrived ("Did you see my plants! Aren't they great!!")
Really I would walk away from this woman in a heart beat. I don't think my kids would miss out. I feel badly saying that because I know it would hurt my husband. But seriously, my kids can't even remember her name (they call her my step mother's name, despite seeing my MIL constantly. How's that for ironic?). But my husband isn't willing to let go of his family. He's not willing to let go of his father (and neither am I really. I do love my FIL.) So, I'm stuck.
She's not overt enough or mean enough to point to anything. DH knows she's crazy and admits she can be hard and is not connected to his kids. He has never insisted that she babysits and doesn't make me leave my kids with her. He works really hard to help me by keeping her away from me. He doesn't make me have her stay in my home (except once) and tries to arrange things so that I have minimal exposure to her. He agrees she has narc tendencies and tries to protect the kids from her boundary violations. He has begun to see the reality of what BIL is. His feelings towards his brother and his coming out of the FOG with him is hopeful.
But he still makes excuses for his mother. He tells me I think about these incidents too much after we leave (do other people not process visits at all?). He has taken to blaming his brother for taking up all of his parents time and for the fact his parents spend less time with our kids. He feels that it's because BIL pawns off parenting on the grandparents. Which he does. But MIL allows and enables it (in fact, I believe she encourages it). He is struggling to see how manipulative she is. He does not see how she sets things up. I've actually seen him go into a sort of automatic mode where he covers for her (once, she told an obvious lie to him. Instead of calling her on it, he says he must have lied or misheard. My husband DOESN'T lie, so that's b.s. and he couldn't have misheard something as big as what MIL said. It was shocking to see him throw himself on the grenade so easily, so to speak.) He did it again this weekend. When I confronted him about not giving the boys equal gifts, he claimed some little thing she allowed my son to have was his gift. This is despite the fact that I heard MIL tell her that it was just some extra thing my son had found in a bag.
The last time I was around them, things went better too. DH seemed to think it was because they were better. I'm not sure why. They haven't done any work, they haven't changed. I have done all of the changing. I've learned to control my reactions and anxiety regarding them better. He just can't see her for what she is. None of them can. She has everyone convinced she is this eccentric, sweet, kind woman who is just a bit weird. He does not believe that she is purposely manipulating things in her favor. He doesn't confront her (or my BIL) at all. I know why, it's because if he does, they'll walk away. And he's not ready for that.
Watching someone take the red pill is hard. Enduring the bullshit while I wait is hard. I wish so much that he could see it all, but I know that no one can FULLY see until they are ready. I feel fortunate, in some ways, that I have my own fucked up FOO, because I can sympathize with what he is going through. I know how the process goes. I'm sure he will get there....I think. He's come so far already.
He asked me how I felt about the weekend. He thought it went well. He told me I did well. I know it was important to him. I know he doesn't want to cut himself off from all of his childhood hometown, family, and friends. (Frankly, I'm not going to let MIL run us off from all of that. They are not all flying monkeys). But when I brought up my concerns, although he says he heard me, I don't think he really believes me. I don't think he can see how truly manipulative she is. I think he thinks we might be able to get along one day. Well, fuck that, I'm not dumb. She's out to get me. You can't be friends with someone you don't trust and who would sell you out in a heart beat.
I've spent three days now (and lots of paper, my computer was down. Writing my hand sucks.) trying to think of an email to send him to express my thoughts. I've got MIL's number and I need him to hear what I have to say. But I also want him to understand what I say about her. To connect the dots. But I don't know how to show him. Even though he knows it in his head, agrees with what I've said, he doesn't really believe it in his heart.