“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
― John Rogers
I ran across this quote on Pinterest and it stuck. You know how some things just get to you. You read them and your brain shifts. Something hits you and you just know that you've stumbled on a truth.
It's been important to me to understand NM. Not so I could excuse her. Not so I could somehow lesson what she did. But I felt I couldn't fight against NM, if I didn't understand her. If I didn't study what went on to make sure I knew how to keep it from creeping further into my life. You can't fully defend against that which you don't understand.
And what I didn't understand about NM was how she justified what she did. How she could look me straight in the face and lie....and then actually believe her own lie. How could she be so out of touch that she believed her own bullshit?
This picture of NM has been coming in hazy for awhile, but getting clearer and clearer. It had never occurred to me to think about who NM believed herself to be. Who she had convinced herself she was. But NM thinks she's the rescuer. The fixer. The one with all the wisdom. She wants to be the one everyone comes to for the answer.
At my wedding, NM did very little to get me ready that day. She complained a lot about not having enough time to do herself since she was so busy "taking care of everything" (this included tasks she assigned herself. I didn't ask her to do ANYTHING that day, and everything she did was something she chose to add to the wedding. I had a planner for the day and he was taking care of everything for me, as far as REAL work went. She also had over an hour to shower and get ready.) When she finally came in, she made a huge deal about putting me in my dress. And after my makeup was finished, I asked her how I looked.
Of course, she had to "fix it". I know that there was nothing she could've improve on. Nothing. But she had to grab the brush. Very, very lightly pick up smidge of powder and pretend to fix my makeup. Like I was a teenager whom she was fixing before a date. She knew better than to actual screw with my makeup (she knows enough to know that she would've have been able to do anything but take away from what I've done) and possible risk being held accountable for anything. But she puts on a production of correcting me. Fixing me. The photographer even took pictures of the "moment." I remember feeling a bit embarrassed. A bit infantilized. I know there wasn't a thing she needed to fix. But she needed to make sure everyone. including me, including her, thought I needed her to fix me.
NM loves to fix things. NM loves to play the part of the rescuer. She loves to be needed. She twists and convolutes everything to make herself the hero of the story. To be needed is to be loved. To be needed makes others indebted to you. To be needed tethers people to you and guarantees they won't leave. She loves the feeling she gets from being the "stable" one. The one with "the money". The one people need favors from. The one who can then spew her wisdom on those whom clearly have their lives far less together.
On the surface, it looks benevolent and generous. It looks kind and thoughtful. She is always, always helping. And that's the story she tells herself. How she gives and gives and gives and no one appreciates her. How all she is doing is trying to help. And no one sees the good she does. How selfless and self-sacrificing she is. This is the story she tells of her life.
The other day, NM emailed me about my aunt. How sick my aunt is and in so much pain. She detailed how awful things are for my aunt. And then she told me about how she "used her lunch hour" to run over all kinds of things for Aunt so that aunt would feel better. She indicated that Aunt had refused her phone calls (being in too much pain) so NM then figured she better SHOW UP IN PERSON. Because that would show how much she cared. In NM's narrative, NM was the caring, concerned sister. So concerned that she spent time and money to take aunt things. It almost seems to be the thoughtful thing to do.
Yet, NM can't help but search for the credit for the nice things she does. She likes people to acknowledge what she gives and how kind she is. She wants, needs, everyone to know how nice she is and how much she gives.
And also, somewhere deep down, I think that NM likes that Aunt needs my mother. She likes that Aunt is in a "subordinate" position and not ranking so well in "life" as NM is. Poor Aunt. Benevolent, generous NM. My aunt provides a place for NM to release her pent up need to give. NM likes when people suffer because it gives her something to do. If she had to choose between people hurting, and her never being able to "help" again, she'd choose the suffering. NM uses this helping to "show" how much of a "good person" she is. And if she didn't have that, how would she prove it?
And more than that, I don't think NM is above creating situations of drama in people's lives so that she can rescue them. I think she purposely causes chaos she can swoop in and fix things. (A couple of years ago, she insisted that she babysit for a big, important event so that DH and I could both attend. But two weeks before, she started saying she didn't think she could drive all this way. She hemmed and hawed and wouldn't commit. But she also wouldn't accept that I would just schedule another babysitter. Whenever I told her I'd find someone else, she suddenly decided to come again. This went on for two weeks, until she finally decided to come for good, because, she always likes to "keep her promises." She created the drama so she could end up still coming and look like she sacrificed.) I think she encourages my sister in unhealthy ways because she likes to fix her. I think she enables my sister and doesn't force her to grow up so that she can rescue her.
And then, she can complain to everyone, behind my sister's back about how she has to rescue her. About how much time and money and LOVE she has invested in trying to save my poor wayward sister.
And my sister is actually screwed either way. Because I often refuse NM's help. And my lot isn't much better. I'm called ungrateful and stuck-up and stubborn and proud because I won't take things from NM. It enrages NM that she doesn't have anything to "fix" for me. So, she creates problems. She screws with my kids so that I feel inept as a mother: she implies I'm raising spoiled, selfish children (by creating situations in which she clearly favors one child and then calls him spoiled when he is upset by the unfairness). She tries to create drama in my little family because it annoys her that I don't need her, have thrived without her, and have pushed away from her. Needing my mother is just as harmful as not needing my mother. It's always damned if you do, damned if you don't.
She'll offer me something. Beg, almost, to buy something for me, give me something, provide me with something. But if I refuse it, I'm ungrateful. I don't appreciate her generosity. If I take it, than I'm greedy. I'm taking advantage of her generosity. There is no right answer with my mother. You are beaten down whatever you chose, but chose you must.
Because she always has to be the martyr, the victim, the rescuer. The one who gives while everyone else takes from her. She has to convince herself that I am her enemy. That my kids, her husband, my sister, her sister, everyone is out to get to her. She has to be the white knight swooping to save everyone while all us heathens attack against her righteousness. And she's not only going to defeat us, but she's going to save us.
At least that's the story she tells herself.