Releasing the past in order to find myself

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Last Supper

Many of the stories from this evening I've told before, but not in one post.  I was triggered by another blog on adult bullying into remembering this evening and I thought I'd like to get it all out for my records.  Please feel free to skip it.  (It will also be unedited and most likely misspelled, so please excuse me.)

This was three years ago, almost to the month. The details may seem like not that big of deal, but the whole experience really wore on me.  MIL and FIL had wanted to meet with us and BIL and SIL and our children for dinner.  At the time, my oldest child was not quite four and my youngest was an infant.  It was a very busy weekend in our town and when we arrived at the restaurant there was a long line.  MIL and FIL were at the bar.  The restaurant has a buzzer system (they buzz you when a table is read), so BIL, SIL, DH, and I took our children down to a local park to play.

Over an hour went by and we still had no table.  It was getting later (very near my children's bed time) and the kids were getting hungry, tired, and cranky.  I had not brought along extra snacks, as I usually do, and I was getting anxious and upset.  I felt we should have decided that it was getting too late and just call it a night.  Or, at a minimum, when the time ticked away, we maybe should have discussed another alternative (like getting food from the grocery store and having a picnic instead).  But everyone said it should just be "a few more minutes".

Finally we were paged and I was not looking forward to the meal.  MIL was in her usual giddy mood, sopping up the glory of being in the middle of her family.   As we walked to the table, she kept telling my young son that she had a gift for him but it was in the car (just out in the parking lot).  She had told him as we arrived at the restaurant that she had something for him and so he, being three, was quite anxious to get it.  I finally asked her why she just didn't go get it for him.  My son was following her around asking when he could have it and she kept telling him he'd have to wait.  I grew irritated.  When I asked her to get it, she replied "it's out in the car".  I said "well, you should go get it for him.  Right now, you're bribing him to get him to sit by you by withholding it."  She snickered - she gets this gleeful look on her face, "tee-hee-hee"ing and smirking.  "I know!"  she said.  "That's not really OK with me.  You can not bribe my children."  I told her.  Not that it did any good.  She just ignored me.

As we sat down, of course, my son wanted to sit next to her and FIL.  Usually, I try to keep me and my kids at arm's length from MIL.  She has some odd quirks at restaurants and it helps me to feel better if we are out of her reach.

MIL has some weird issues with food.  Clearly, food is a comfort source to her, but it's more than that.  Her entire FB feed is filled with recipe after recipe.  She's not an overly heavy woman, although definitely overweight, and she is constantly on a diet.  She is very jealous that I am not heavy.  She can not control herself around food.  She will select a small amount for her own plate, but then she will pick little pieces off the main plate.  I've seen her devour two extra pieces of pizza this way, cutting sliver after sliver off pieces left in the box until she has finished two more.  But she'll claim she only at one and wonder why she gains weight.  BIL also does this.  MIL also has no problem criticizing my SIL for what she eats and threatening she'll "get fat and BIL doesn't like that." (I about fell of my chair when SIL told me she said this to her.)  At a recent meal, MIL ordered a plate of nachos "for the table".  However, when it came, she placed it in front of herself. She doled out some to others (she never really offered anyone any) by using her own fingers, which she then would lick off.  She pretty much ate the whole plate herself.  And then she ordered a "small bowl of soup" for her actual meal.  It's amazing to watch how much she deludes herself.

She is also quite possessive over ALL of the food on the table.  She takes inventory over what everyone has and is constantly scoping out what people are eating.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I don't mind sharing bites or allowing people tastes of food.  I'm OK with family style dining.  (Although, with my ILs, they snarf food down so fast that I often don't get very much to eat.  If we eat pizza, I generally get one piece, as I'm a slow eater, before they devour what is left.)  When we first started dating, I would try and chat with the family at meals.  However, I quickly learned that after they inhaled their food, they would start eyeing my plate and helping themselves.  Again, I would go away hungry.

And MIL seems to get some sort of pleasure out of the specific act of eating someone else's food.  It's hard to explain, but it feels like a way of "marking her territory".  Like she gets some intimacy out of having my husband, especially, share his food with her.  It's not so much about the food, but about the person who's food it is.  She also is constantly trying to force him to eat her food off her plate.  Again, I stress, it's not about the sharing of the food for her, but about the invasion of his boundaries that she likes.  It's weird and frankly grosses me out (MIL has some emotional incest problems.  She often seems to see my husband as a companion, someone to admire her, rather than a mother-son relationship.  She also used to use DH and BIL as surrogate spouses to get the other siblings "in line" when she couldn't get FIL to help.  FIL tends to be a bit of a child himself and doesn't take a leadership role in the family.  He likes to be taken care of.)  Due to her lack of boundaries in this area, DH and I always try to sit away from MIL.  (He sees it too.)

I don't mind sharing or giving bites, but I don't like food being taken off my plate without asking.  I don't like when I haven't even had a chance to try my food before she's demanding some.  I don't like when they hog down their food and then demand some of mine before I've had my fill.  They act like I'm "odd" for feeling this way.

On this night, DH and I had agreed to order a small appetizer and a meal for my son immediately upon sitting down so that we could get the kids home for bed.   BIL ordered food for his kids, but he, SIL, MIL, and FIL all decided to languish over the menu and decide at some time later.

When the food arrives, MIL instantly starts bobbing and weaving and almost raising out of her chair to see what we are having.  Keep in mind, she has a very large meal on it's way and DH and I are splitting a small appetizer between the two of us.  She starts in on my husband "what do you have down there?!?"  DH tells her.  Then she asks for a taste of his beer (personally, and this is my issue, but I don't like sharing drinks with a bunch of people as the germ factor gets to me.)  She starts hassling my husband again, asking him how it tastes.  Clearly she wants some.  The woman can't wait for her own food (remember, she's a bit of a glutton) and she's trying to poach off our small meal.

At this point, the kids meals come.  They (MIL, because she always orders for my niece and nephew) had ordered pizza (a very large one) for my small niece.  My son ordered a burger which came with fries.  MIL instantly starts swiping his fries and dipping them in his ketchup (again, the germ factor.  This grosses me out.  I've also seen her use my son's napkin.  To me, this is a huge boundary violation.)  MIL starts hollering that my niece needs some fries too.  MIL think it's HER job to distribute food and determine who needs what.  Niece was not asking for fries, nor did she seem particularly concerned about it.  And yes, my son had more than he could eat, but DH and I had planned to share with him.  MIL also thinks it's her job to "re-distribute" family resources, determining who should pay for things, and how much.  She takes from some and gives to others as SHE sees fit and it really drives me crazy.

I'm becoming increasingly agitated by all of this.  DH grabs a plate, loads it with fries and passes it down to to my niece.  MIL is clearly annoyed by this and keeps grabbing fries and swiping them in my son's ketchup.  So, DH hands down the ketchup.

And this is were the lecture starts.  MIL starts in, while addressing my son, "It's GOOD to share.  WE SHARE IN THIS FAMILY."  She goes on and on for about five minutes as I precede to feel shamed and embarrassed.  Clearly the lecture is meant for me.  DH claims it's not, because she didn't address me directly, but I know it was.  We've had similar issues in the past and she bristles at me putting up boundaries.  It annoys her that DH limits her invading his meal space.  She is loudly proclaiming for the whole table the virtues of sharing.  But it's clear that it's being directed towards my end of the table.

And I am more than willing to share.  I am a very generous person.  But, as I thought later, this isn't sharing!!  Sharing involves on person making a choice about what they would like to give and to give.  And one has to feel ownership over something in order to share it.  If it is a communal resources that is NOT sharing.  And if some TAKES from you without asking, that is not sharing, that is TAKING.  If you have no choice in the matter, how can that be sharing?  I do not make my children share either.  If you force them to do it, than the lesson of it feeling good to share is missed.  They don't get the actual point.  I encourage it.  I talk about it.  But I do not force it.  I do not force my kids to give me or my husband food off their plate.  I always allow them to make the choice.   I felt violated by her making the choice for my son AND by going against my parental authority of how I want to teach my children.

By now, I'm FUMING.  I'm embarrassed, feeling shamed, and feeling very violated.  I'm also feeling very isolated.  I am often an "outsider" labeled as an odd duck with odd ways in the family.  It has been pointed out many times before, when I've upheld -what I believe to be- basic manners and conventions, that I'm uptight or rigid (things like asking before borrowing something, returning it in good shape, not putting food off your plate back into a family dish, not wandering around the table inspecting peoples meals when you are a grown up.  Seriously, DH's adult brother -granted he has some learning disabilities but is capable of understanding basic conventions - will walk around the table in restaurants examining what everyone has ordered.  They have no boundaries when it comes to food and I am the "odd duck" for expecting some.)  We finish up our food, throw down money for our share of the bill and attempt to leave.

At this point, MIL jumps up and declares NOW she's ready to give my son he gift.  I take my infant and go to our car, asking them to please hurry as we need to get the baby to bed.  They take my son and are gone for quit a bit.  When I see them finally coming, my FIL is meandering down to our car, pointing out other vehicles and naming the brand names of cars.  They clearly know we are in a hurry, but are dawdling.  When they get to the car, the stall some more and start conversations and open the car door to play with the baby.  I am FURIOUS but still sit there, saying nothing.  I know if I say anything that 1) I'll explode and 2) DH will be angry with me for "causing trouble" and "being difficult".

We finally leave and I am shaking with anger.  To be honest, I've rarely been that angry.  I felt violated, shamed, angry, hurt, and disrespected.  I can not even speak I'm so angry (and I rarely get like that.)  I have had enough of being a doormat to these people.  DH asks me what's wrong.  I tell him I'm angry.  He says "you hate my family!"  He becomes increasingly upset with ME.  Sure, MIL crossed some lines, he says, but was it that big of a deal?  Sure, they dawdled, but they were just trying to spend time with my son (by the way, they have NO respect for our time.  It is a huge issue with me that their time is important, while our's is not.)

We get home and put the kids to bed and I continue to be upset.  This was long before I understood shaming, or social collusion, or adult bullying.  This is before I learned about boundaries.  All I knew was that I was angry and my husband was blaming me for over reacting and ruining the meal.  For never being able to get along with my in-laws.  The discussion continues in which he points out that I "can't get along with anyone".  Anyone includes my NM and my NSIS and his family.  He disregards all of the people I DO get along with.  He is blaming me for all of the problems in the family and saying that I need to learn "how to deal with it".  But I don't know how to deal with it.  How to make my feelings of being violated go away.  How to not feel completely helpless in the situation.

I ended up that night in my closet with my father's pistol, ready to commit suicide.  I could not figure out any other way out.  I seemed to be the root of everyone's problems and I felt if I just "got out of the way" they could all go on and be happy.  DH talked me out of it and put me to bed, as I shook and cried.  He thought I was being dramatic and threatening suicide for effect.  I knew that I was seriously at the end of my rope.

I sunk into a deep depression and then shortly after stumbled upon narcissism.  It all finally made sense and the cloud started to lift.  I quit feeling I was the root of all problems.  It has been a LONG road.  DH still doesn't always understand it, although he's MUCH better.  But I no longer feel helpless.  I no longer feel I am to blame.  I no longer feel suicide is my only option.


  1. I'm glad you are finding answers about narcissistic behavior. I read this and thought.."Hey, she's writing about my mother." Yes I know this is your mother but my mother would be interchangeable....I'm so sorry. I thought my mother was unique...she's not. I still prefer to eat out of reach of my mother, yes she steals food off of other people's plates. She would swipe the heart of the watermelon. Setting boundaries, changing our lives, choosing healthy seems down right odd to people embracing unhealthy boundless behavior. I keep reminding myself they choose this way of living. It works for them, just not me. Sometimes nice to see a situation all together and recognize, it really is them. :)

    1. I can not tell you helpful it is to hear that she sounds like YOUR mother (as odd as that sounds). I always read your and Judy's posts and can see blatantly how wrong her behaviors are. With my MIL, I often go back and forth. Mainly because my husband, more now but not at all when we met, doesn't see them as an issue. When we first met, he excused a lot of her difficult behaviors because she "is the mom of four boys" (I guess this meant that her manners and social graces were reduced by the testosterone in her home.) Then, she was just "different". Then, he could see it as odd, but was still able to easily dismiss it.
      For me, she is a gigantic bully who has used shame, humiliation , and scare tactics to control me. She also used, to her advantage, the fact that I was taught to "respect" (read be absolutely obedient to) adults or older people. I also am pretty well mannered and considerate and I didn't want to upset her. In addition to all of this she is emotionally void and cruel at times.
      I told DH, just yesterday, that she is one of the most controlling people I know. He raised his eyebrows because he thought that was a bit extreme, her being the "most" controlling (and in fact, he's often said that I am controlling and that's why I have problems with her. I struggled a lot to wrap my head around if it was really me or her.) But to me, a woman who wants to control my religion, my relationship with God, my communication with God (she claims God sends messages to her family THROUGH her), my marriage, my raising of my children, my children's perceptions of me, my finances, how much I pay on bills, and even where I sit and what I eat at meals.....well, that's controlling.
      Thanks for your thoughts, Ruth. I look back and I think it's scary to think of the place that I used to be. I found it very healing to write this out and see how far I've come.

  2. It is not you! It is not you! IT IS NOT YOU!

    I'm so sorry you've had to put up with this. My NM also steals food from plates. Hate it!

    Congratulate yourself on showing restraint. A family friend attempted to steal a bite of waffle from my younger brother's plate, who promptly stabbed the guy's hand with his fork. Really. Actually, it still makes me laugh. I don't know if that makes me wicked, but I'm proud of my brother for defending a perfectly healthy boundary.

    1. Thank you Judy!! Like I told Ruth above, hearing that your mom is similar, is in a weird way, comforting (although I'm sorry for you). MIL lacks all kinds of boundaries (she actually buys the underwear that she expects her DILs to wear on their wedding night. EWWWW!) But the food one always get to me. And it's amazing how she can just flip it to me being "stingy" instead of her crossing all sorts of boundaries.
      I'd like to stab her with a fork too. Just kidding. Sort of.

    2. I know; it's definitely a weird kind of comforting. And yet, not. I mean, it's comforting to know it really isn't me. As Ruth mentioned, it wasn't until I read other people's experiences with N behavior that I finally believed I wasn't the problem. Even better, other people shared how they dealt with the insanity. Even if I couldn't do it, I learned there were other ways than the ones I'd been using that didn't work.

      Stingy sitting at the same table together and you keeping all the food for yourself and throwing it away rather than let her have any. Sharing isn't sharing if it's forced.

    3. Shoot. "Stingy IS sitting..."

  3. Nothing like writing out the whole story to see their craziness in all its glory ;) Knowing it's not you was the key to getting out of that insanity. Only when we step out and look at the situation from the distance we can see clearly what is really going on. I wish I'd known all this earlier, but hey, better late than never...

    1. Yes, it is so helpful to write it all out. :)

  4. Your dining experience is very similar to dining with my IL's. The licking of the communal plate, trying to take food of other's peoples plates, this happens still, the last visit. Ugh. I can understand how you felt at that time. That is bullying. Funny, I wrote a draft post on one evening with my IL's. I wrote it to clear my head and see the patterns.

    The word 'sharing' can be used to bully like you point out. Generosity is not of money or food necessarily. There is a generosity of spirit, it is something deeper than tangible things like food. I have changed my definition because the one 'given' to me was to bully me. When people are generous, it is of their time, to understand and listen, imho. xxTR

    1. I taught preschool for several years. We were taught to never "make" kids share. If you think about it, if a child has a more dominant personality, they can just going around taking whatever they want and call it sharing. It's not fair for the child who just picked up a toy and then is forced to share because some other child suddenly covets it.
      With my own children, I definitely encourage sharing and generosity. But in reading about sharing, a child can't real FEEL what it is to share unless they feel ownership in something. If everything is communal, it's really not sharing, and the child doesn't get the full understanding of what it means. I encourage my kids to share, but I also know somethings belong to them and they don't want to share (it's perfectly acceptable to me that my older child doesn't want to share because his younger sibling will destroy it.) I think it's important for kids to feel ownership of things (and it helps them to create boundaries too).
      In DH's family, there are NO boundaries and everything is "shared". If you want something, you take it. And if you object, you are labeled as having "selfish" qualities. No one is expect to be respectful of other people's spaces, time, or property. (BIL used to borrow things from us, like a ladder, and then would return it in horrible condition. He was too cheap to buy his own ladder and then had no respect for ours. And we were just expected to hand it over when ever he wanted.)
      As you say, I agree that sharing can be used to bully. Especially when there is a significant power imbalance or temperament imbalance. If one person is significantly more dominant and the other much more amicable, it makes it awfully difficult to have enough mutual respect to allow real generosity. If one doesn't feel they have an entitlement to something someone else has, they can actually feel what it sis to be the recipient of real generosity.
      I like you definition of generosity being of spirit. That seems spot on.

    2. This is really helpful and I understand better of 'sharing' in my FOO and my IL's. Ownership does help build community. I read case studies on this about developing societies and that ownership of property helps to develop a society. If everything is communal, it doesn't encourage sharing and building a community.

      I was raised with a lot of Indian culture in my childhood where the belief is everything is communal and what is interesting is at the core my IL's behave the same way. They go through people's stuff (they have gone through my stuff). There is also an invasion of people's space and time that is so subtle and like you said it is a form of emotional incest.

      Btw, is this the type of social coercion you were referring to with the comment on my last post?
      At one lunch with my FiL (I had a cold) and I ordered tea and they gave me a pot with a cup. The tea felt so good against my throat and at one point FiL flags down the waiter and asks for an extra cup. I didn't know what he was doing as he had his own drink and then he takes the pot of tea and fills up his cup (not to mention several times). I was in shock that I didn't know what to do or say. xx

  5. Hi Jessie, haven't been here for a long time, I see the saga is still continuing.
    Ahh, restaurant meals with a narc mother, always makes for good entertainment! As for sharing and tasting each others food, that is personal space invasion, pure and simple. An old army saying is, never mess with another mans food or drink, I've seen the consequences, usually the perpetrator ends up wearing the dinner.
    Jessie, please remember that narcs are just pushing their luck, it's almost like a game to them, they are just toying with everyone and it amuses them. I read somewhere that narcs are emotionally about 8 years old, they are also dreadfully insecure. Their behavior doesn't show confidence but rather bravado, however, the more they get away with things , the braver they get.

    My mothers favourite dinner trick was to wait until someone had a mouthful of food and them ask them questions. It really entertained her to see family members gulp down their dinner so they could answer her. She would catch old Grandad just as he was putting a soup spoon in his mouth, and when he was answering, she would butt in and scold him for spilling his soup. I realised this was a nasty trick when I was about 15 years old, of course being a rebellious teenager I lost it completely and she played the innocent hurt victim. So I suppose she was still curious if I would lose it in front of other guests or in public, however, I was wise to this, I'd even discussed it with my ex wife. Anyway we went out as a big group with my parents and my in-laws to a restaurant and true to form, she ate her dinner really quickly and then started working her way round the table asking questions, always waiting for the moment when someone had just put something in their mouth, just taking advantage of peoples better nature and good manners. It was then my ex just asked her calmly, "Why are you doing this?, and then explained what she had just witnessed. Well, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she just burst into tears and cried like a baby, proclaiming her innocence of course. All very embarrassing, my Dad suggested the she had drank too much.

    So, you can guess that dinners with my mother were far and few between, not that she ever stopped this habit.

    I'm glad that you're still writing your blog, and it probably makes you feel a whole lot better that your MIL's behavior is being noted and published. She is probably being entertained by having her family dance to her macabre tune, but we are being entertained by her ridiculous immature behavior.

    All the best, Dave