Releasing the past in order to find myself

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Invisible Artist

Several weeks ago, my family and I visited my mother's home.  I know, I know.  But it was a necessary thing.  And since it'd been almost three years since I'd visited her home, I figured it would knock of some of my parental obligation.

I plan to write some posts about some of the situations that popped up while there.  I had hoped, by now, that I would no longer be writing such personal posts.  That I might have "graduated" into more scholarly and educational posts (haha, that's a joke).  But seriously, I still don't feel I have an overarching understanding of narcissism that would be necessary for me to feel legitimate in writing articles on narcissism.  So, I'm going to stick to this personal stuff.  It not only helps me, but I think seeing actual examples may help others.  And because I DO have a much better understanding of the dynamics of what is going on, that may be useful.  I do regret that I am exposing some of my mother's personal stuff, but I guess it is what it is.   I really disliked in the last post transcribing the texts, but unless you really see the wording, it's hard to describe what is going on.


One morning, my son asked me to draw him a picture of an event that we'd participated in.  He likes me to draw pictures and then he colors them and adds his own touches.  Many times, I encourage him to draw his own things, but I find it fun for us to do these little projects together too.

He was quite happy with the result and brought it to NM to show her.  She said, rather blankly,  "Huh.  I didn't know your mom could draw.  Who knew she was such an artist?"

Seems pretty harmless right?  And in NM's defense, artistic en devours were not my primary hobby growing up.  I spent a lot of time involved in theater.  I liked to act, dance, and especially sing.  I often had the leads in school musicals or solos.  I participated in academic teams.  I wrote.  A lot.  I was always writing.

Plus, my sister was the "artist" of the family.  She was the one who made the great art, drew well, and even went to art school for college.

But for NM to say she didn't know  I could draw is complete bullshit.  When she first said this, I felt a little ping.  Sort of like being flicked in the brain.  "Ping: that doesn't sound right."

It niggled at me and later, as I thought about it, I realized it was completely impossible that my mother didn't know I could draw.  I spent many, many hours in my room drawing cartoon figures which I would design outfits for.  I loved doing that.  I spent tons of time drawing other things too.  I still have many of my drawings.

And as I thought further, I remembered that I also used to win the contest to draw the artwork for the programs for all of those theater productions I was in.  Every person in the audience, as well as my mother, received copies of those programs.  So, while it's highly likely she had no clue about my drawing alone in my room (she tended to leave me be in there), I KNOW she'd had an opportunity to see those programs.

And then it dawned on me fully: my mother has a FRAMED portrait picture that I drew of my sister and I above her dresser in her bedroom.  HOW in the world could she not know I draw when she stares at a picture of my art every. single. day.

I really could care less if my mother knows I draw or not.  It's not about that.   But it just stuns me at times how little she knows about me.  How little sinks into her understanding of me.  I am nothing but a bunch of labels.  Like a magazine collage of pictures she's cut out.  She does not see me.  Like, at all.  I am allowed a certain set of descriptors, as is my sister, assigned to me by NM.  We are not allowed to share any descriptors, unless she sees fit.  And anything that doesn't  fit into her box, she doesn't see.

I spent a lot of time with NM listening to her blab on and on.  It was enough negativity and drivel (much of which she repeated seeming to hope for a different effect or response) to make me want to rip my ears out.  After the five day visit, I was recounting to DH all of the shit she had unloaded on me when I realized she'd only asked me ONE question about me.  And even that had felt obligatory and rehearsed.  I do not exist to her as a person and I often feel I am merely a place for her to talk "out loud to herself".  She then feels like she is engaging in conversation, but it is truly like she's talking to her reflection in the mirror, not me.   Even when I tried to discuss a similar situation I have with my SIL as to one she described with her stepDILs, she dismissed me, minimizing what I was saying, and clearly showed she remembered none of the history between SIL and I.  All she said is that she found my conclusions about SIL to be wrong, and that clearly our relationship issues paled compared to the stepDILs and certainly she "feels (we) could be friends if (we) worked at it."

Since I've been home, she's used the "drip" form of communication, sending one or two pictures from the trip each day by email, to maintain that "contact" with me.  Despite her knowing that several larger things have gone on in my life (she knows I lost my childcare, she knows that we had a minor emergency with my son - nothing big, no worries, he's fine) she hasn't called or asked anything about them.  Not one thing, despite daily communication from her.  I'm guessing this is part "punishment" (for not answering her texts) and part her devotion to all things herself.

Feeling invisible to my mother is nothing new, and so the experiences didn't pain me nearly as much as they would have in the past.  Nothing I can do will make her take notice of me, and that's just the way it is.  But seeing it, without the pallor of all of the emotional pain, helped me to see just how clearly invisible I am to her.  It remains stunning, even without the pain.

My husband, when this song came out, said that it reminded him of how I always described my relationship with my mother and sister.  The emphasis on the wording is mine:

Invisible (U2)

It's like the room just cleared of smoke

I didn't even want the heart you broke

It's yours to keep
You just might need one

I finally found my real name
I won't be me when you see me again

No, I won't be my father's son

I'm more than you know
I'm more than you see here
More than you let me be
I'm more than you know
A body in a soul

You don't see me but you will
I am not invisible

I don't dream, not as such
I don't even think about you that much
Unless I start to think at all

All those frozen days
And your frozen ways
They melt away your face like snow

You don't see me but you will
I am not invisible

I am here

There is no them
There is no them
There's only us
There's only us
There is no them
There is no them
There's only us
There's only us
There is no them
There is no them
There's only you
And there's only me
There is no them


  1. Hi Jessie,
    I can relate so much to what you write. I grew up right in front of my NM, a stay at home mom with me as an only child for 12 years, and she knows almost nothing about who I was as a child! Her memories of things I would consider big in my life are skewed or completely wrong or just forgotten. I'm sorry for all you're going through. It sucks that after we finally leave home and have all of the childhood wounds to deal with, they just keep right on going with their bs. I only realized a few years ago what this was (the term NM and the extent of everything) and I have a child who loves his grandma, so going no contact does not work for me, although I wonder sometimes if that's the only way. I have reduced contact quite a bit and it just occurred to me that I think she's "punishing" me by never calling me (my brother arranges our visits on her behalf) but not speaking to her on the phone is good for me so, whatever. I'm glad you're writing this blog! Take care, -D

    1. One of the hardest things about narcissism, and something many people don't understand, is how it just continues (if not gets worse) when you move out on your own. People (like my NM) say to just "get over" childhood. But you can not get over things that continue into the future.
      NC is a very personal choice, and sometimes it is the only option. I have worked through all of this in hopes of finding a balance that protects me and my children as much as possible. And if NC becomes the only option, so be it.
      My mother punishes me by not call me too. I once told her, a few years back, that I would have to reduce our 3X weekly, hour or more phone calls, as I just couldn't manage them with my two young children. She responded by just not calling. At first, I felt terribly guilty, but I've gotten over that :). And yes, not speaking on the phone is good for me too.
      That your brother arranges her visits is just ridiculous!! I can see how you would not want to start up phone calls again, but I would have a real hard time with going through my siblings for visits. Both DH and I have had very enmeshed relationships with our siblings, and breaking free of that was very important to my healing.
      Just a word of advice, and I don't know how old your kiddo is, but be careful. My kids also love their grandma. My older son, in particular, was very attached to his grandmother (she brought lots of gifts, was totally devoted to him, and obsessed over him). However, when my younger son was born and "replaced" OS as the "cute, little, moldable" one, OS started to get pushed back. It didn't help that OS also was growing up, developing opinion of his own and had started to refuse NM the adulation that she felt she deserved. It has been quite painful. I do not openly criticize my NM to my kids, nor do I sugar coat or hide her behaviors when she is acting up. And as she has recently behaved more and more badly, I've pushed her back further and further from my children. I've really struggled with this, but my therapist warned that by not being honest with my kids about their grandmother (in an appropriate way) I may skew their ability to empathize and understand what real love, kindness, and family is. Just be careful. NMs are rarely wonderful, kind, and loving grandmothers.

    2. Wow, 3X a week for an hour with two young children. That's ridiculous but at the same time not surprising.

      My brother actually still lives with her (at age 33, I'm 45 and he's my only sib) and buys into most of her crap. She treats him terribly. Our dad died when he was 9 and she has made my brother completely dependent on her. I hear "get over it" a lot from him.

      Thanks for the advice about the grandma situation. I can absolutely see how a second child would "replace" the first. That is heartbreaking. My son is 8 and an only. Already my brother who was extremely close to him when he was younger is having trouble with him having his own opinions, etc. My mom seems to be really trying to have a relationship with him, but now and then I overhear a comment that while not completely horrible, is not something I wouldn't say to him. A little bit of teasing, or telling him he probably wouldn't like something because it is "girlie" - and I'm so sensitive to any kind of teasing that I almost don't know when it's appropriate/inappropriate. So far these types of things she has said have seemed to not even register with him, but your response made me realize I need to be proactive here. It's sad because after my husband and me, my mom is the person he's closest to. -D

    3. "Get over it." Been there. I've gotten that too. You just need to find a way to "get along". I finally had to realize that I couldn't get along to matter what.
      I'm guessing (but don't want to assume) that your brother had some "narcissistic fleas" (narcissistic traits those raised by a narcissist pick up). My NM also started to have trouble with my oldest son (whom she worshiped and obsessed over -my step dad's word, not mine, although I would agree) when he developed his own opinions. She's very big on "respect" and finds anyone who doesn't do exactly as she says as "disrespectful". (My son is NOT disrespectful. All of his teachers tell me he is the kindest, sweetest, most polite boy.) Generally, from what I've read, is that when children try to individuate, the narcissists start to have problems.
      My NM also tries to have a relationship with my kids. She's not completely closed off and unaware of their feelings (like my NMIL). But, that has allowed her to manipulate their feelings too. And she also makes those little comments. They started out relatively "harmless" but have gotten worse and worse as time has gone on (and only to my older son). Teasing is a trigger for me too (my in-laws are merciless about "teasing" - read, making fun of someone ) and I am also sensitive to it. It's hard to tell if it's OK or not, but I bet as you get better at trusting your gut, you'll be able to tell if you are oversensitive or not. One thing I did was draw some clear boundaries for myself with the kids: no name calling (my NM thinks "little shit" is appropriate if she's "teasing" them), no telling the kids what they should or shouldn't like and labeling gender roles for my kids ("girlie" I know some people are OK with this, but I am not. I allow my kids to decide what is is gender appropriate), and no comments about physical appearance or traits that children can't control (weight, eye color, height, etc.) And it's not like you have to be all over you mother, but just make a point to "counteract" or flat put your foot down if it bothers you. For example, I told my NM "absolutely NO name calling". It may not always register with the kiddos, but they do pick up on things feeling off.
      Good luck!

  2. "And then it dawned on me fully: my mother has a FRAMED portrait picture that I drew of my sister and I above her dresser in her bedroom. HOW in the world could she not know I draw when she stares at a picture of my art every. single. day." I think this is key. This is overwhelming evidence that she DOES KNOW you can draw. I reckon it's a matter of invalidation: that she just can't bring herself to acknowledge that you are good at or to say well done unless she's getting NS from it. You know I have been doing a lot of work in the house in the last few months; I sent my father photos of it just to test what he would say. When I sent him photos of the living room he said -jokingly- "you can come over and paint ours 'cos it needs it too". Never a word of compliment. They just can't give a sincere commendation. I guess it's all part of their whole "package" :P

    1. I just can't wrap my head around it. Because, yes, although it is invalidation on her part, I really think anything that doesn't bring her NS just leaves her brain. She can look at it all a million times and it just never SOAKS in. It doesn't "fit" so it doesn't register at all.
      I'm guessing too that part of it was jealousy. You know (and I will write later posts) that she was trying to worm her way between me and the kids. This always works for the first few days, and then they always sort of drift back to me (which would seem normal to me). Older son was drifting back and wanting my attention and not her's, so she had to invalidate it. (I hadn't really made that connection until just now. Thanks.)
      The compliment from your father, GEESH! I've been on the receiving ends of those comments too and they do not feel good. And it always loops back to them somehow, doesn't it?

  3. P.S.
    I loved the lyrics of the song. Particularly this line:

    "I finally found my real name
    I won't be me when you see me again"

  4. God...5 Days? How did you stand it????Three days and everyone begins to smell like dead fish. LOL!

    One hour in the presence of my 'mother' and I am ready to kill...tear my hair out, etc.

    NM's use this 'forgetfulness' to invalidate. Mine is 94, and she is as sharp as a tack, as venomess as a snake. Age doesn't improve narcissists, especially malignant narcissists. It makes them worse. I was hoping that some part of senility would make her more tender, but forget that!

    Jealousy is a BIG factor with narcissistic mothers : if they have daughters. They are a competitive bunch and they resent the youth, beauty, talent of their daughters. It took me many years to understand this...and that goes into the pot. IF you show talent for something, they will either try to dismiss it immediately, through outright contempt or nasty comments later. It's just part of their very twisted wiring.

    As for NC? Well, it saved my life. Literally. My neighbors said that "You know your mother killed your father" when I went home for the funeral. I knew what they were talking about: She didn't pick up a gun or knife, but her narcissistic behavior over 42 years made him have a heart attack at 74...and this woman lives to 94 and keeps on ticking???

    The more accomplished you get, the more they will try to knock you down and degrade what you produce. I really think that narcissism is the key destroyer in the world today. The source of so much misery, whether it is from family our society in general.

    Becoming secure in yourself....this "centeredness" that Rollo May talks about, is just about the only cure for their slings and arrows.

    Hugs, Jane

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Jane.

      I went into the whole thing with a contingency plan: I had many activities planned out, I tuned her out when necessary, walked out on her when necessary....and a bottle of wine didn't hurt either. I also made sure to discuss myself very little. Despite all of that, it was a VERY long 5 days.

  5. Goodness, I can't even being to imagine 5 days with an N. When my older sister came to visit me, she brought along the Golden Child, who "needed a vacation" - she ALWAYS needs a vacation... And knowing that she'd attack as soon as older sister was off to her class, I dragged GC around town all day every day - it was completely exhausting, but I was never alone with her. Three hours was my limit at NFOO events - then my spouse (bless his p/a heart) would start insinuating that we had to leave and off we went. 5 days - you're a saint!!!

  6. As someone reading from the outside of all of this, I have to tell you that it looks so, so painful. You are effectively invisible to your NM, except when she can use you (either for physical or emotional gain).

    The thing about the artwork is bizarre (at least according to my experiences with a non-narc mom; I realize it is NOT bizarre for you). Is it safe to assume that she has praised you for your artwork before? And if so, then can't we conclude that those statements she might have made to you were lies? DH's NM was famous for those - empty compliments and phoney praises. She, at times, proclaimed that her "kids" were so amazing/awesome/swell/[insert any such adjective], but anyone who hadn't been manipulated and brainwashed by her their whole lives could see that she was full of shit, and ultimately that her praise was just for show.

    In this case with your NM, maybe it was a true instant of realization for her, but I'm betting she'll throw it away and forget about it. She'll never take the time to compile that information in a mental folder "things to know about Jessie." It will be forgotten, maybe until the next time she sees something new from you and she'll say again, as blandly surprised as she was this time, "Gee, who knew Jessie could draw?"

    Not her.

    It makes me think of all the little things that we (non-narcs) remember about the people we care about: That meatloaf is his favorite food; that Halloween is her favorite holiday; that one time in highschool she won first place for a poem and saw it published in the newspaper; that he loves zombie flicks a' la George A. Romero. And so many other details that make us each who we are. It's nice to be cared about, it's nice to know that these things are remembered and tucked away in a safe spot. I would argue that it's imperative parents be the holders and safe-keepers of this knowledge when it comes to their own children. It's these details, these tidbits of our lives that come together and make us who we are. Parents are supposed to care about these things.

    1. I think to be "seen" is a very important thing for anyone, especially a child. And to be invisible is, indeed, very painful. Or, it used to be. I've been able to detach enough from it that it doesn't really wound me. Maybe confuses me, but doesn't wound me.
      I doubt that NM was having a real realization. As I said somewhere above, I believe that she was more jealous/bitter/pissy about the situation (as I was getting attention from my son and not her). At least that's how it appeared from her expression.
      What my NM actually files away about me is pretty superficial: my favorite band, my favorite food. But to be fair, the thing she recounts about her own "favorite things" is pretty shallow. She has a favorite singer (she's listened to him for 30 years, has many of his albums, been to his shows). I asked her what her favorite song was. She struggled to come up with one.
      My NM rarely complimented me either on anything as a child. The blatant shallow flattery is more MIL's style. NM will say something like "that shirt looks nice on you." but rarely has said "you are pretty" or things like that. Or "Jessie sings" but not really as a compliment. I can't recall many times that she gave me out and out compliments or praise. Anything I did well was expected (like good grades), or compared to her (I was never creative like you), or just sort of blandly acknowledged. So, I guess it doesn't surprise me that she has no idea who I am.

      It's funny how different my MIL and NM are as I think about this all. MIL ignores A LOT of who I am, but anything she can covet, she praises. "MY DIL is such a good so and so." "MY SON is such and such." Anything in direct competition to something she thinks she is good at, she just completely ignores. NM is in competition about damn near everything with everyone. So, eeking any compliments out of her towards anyone is like pulling teeth. To do so might give the impression that she is "less than" someone else.