Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Father

My father is not a narcissist, but he certainly could be an asshole. 

As a kid, I was often afraid of him.  He was depressed and angry.  He disciplined with a belt.  He didn't fly off the handle and hit us whenever he wanted to.  He was too controlled for that.  We could get punished with the belt for almost anything (often just typical childhood mistakes).  Punishments weren't always the belt, but they were frequently enough to make me stay in line.  We would have to go get the belt for him.  It was pure torture.

He and my sister fought horribly.  She was rebellious and aggressive.  He actually defended me a lot from her.  When she would attack me, he would try to punish her for it.  He seemed like such a horrible brute to me, but I've come to understand he played the foil to my mother's "soft" side.  She recently told me, with a look of pride, that my sister had said she was a "softie" and would give in a lot.  She did.  She was a push over.  But what we didn't know is that she would then complain to my father about our lack of discipline and he would become the "enforcer".  So, in comparison, she looked like the kind one, and he looked like the asshole.  And it was often worse for my sister, who was a difficult child. 

My sister was my mother's baby and were stuck together like Velcro.  NM often asked me to cater to my sister, to give into her.  And my mother allowed a lot from my sister.  She also allowed my sister to be her little side kick because she was the baby.  NSis sat next to NM all of the time, NSis was with NM all of the time.  I was left with my dad.

It wasn't all bad.  As I grew older, my father didn't find the need to discipline me as much.  He could be largely ignoring of me.  He rarely expressed any real interest in what I did.  He was cold and distant.  I remember once calling him "daddy", like my 8 year old friends at school called their fathers.  He yelled back at me that I was NEVER to refer to him in such a babyish term.  He was strict and allowed little slack because I was a child.  I was never "daddy's princess".  Ever.  He was a task master.  He always seemed so angry and depressed.

But he taught me a lot.  He refused to allow me to fall back on being a girl and taught me to change my oil and my tires.  He expected straight A's (straight A's was not being "perfect" to him, but being "normal").  He helped with homework on occasion, but mainly expected me to just get it.  He told me repeatedly that I was smart.  I sort of double edged sword, being smart, because it again allowed me no slack in life.  I was always "too smart" to be acting like this or that. 

I think any confidence that I had came from him though.  He believed in me, in his own weird way.  NM always believed she needed to step in for us.  Unless she didn't want to, then we were on our way.  My dad taught me not to be dependent on men, to take care of myself, to have a good work ethic.  I know he thought I could accomplish things. 

He was irritable, and easily provoked and I walked on eggshells with him.  But when my parents divorced, I ended up choosing him.  I chose NM first, but that quickly dissolved into shit.   Dad required a lot out of me (I did the laundry and the cleaning and the cooking) but he was more stable than my mom at the time.  It wasn't all that bad, living with him.  He cared enough to do things with me, which is more than I can say for my mom.

As I got older and older, things began to change.  I had always viewed him as my "bad" parent.  As the reason for all of our troubles in our families.  Well, not shockingly, as I learned he wasn't always horrible, I learned how much more sneaky and subversive my mother was.  My father went to therapy.  My father got on medication to control his depression (or at least ease it).  I know he was trying. 

In my teens, I learned my father had been horrible abused by an uncle.  It was an on going abuse that, obviously, fucked him up for life.  I don't know how my grandparents didn't know or stop it.  They were good people, as far as I knew.  I don't think they knew.  My grandfather was quiet and studious and kind.  My father loved him.  My grandmother was what I thought "maternal" to be growing up.  She cooked well, kept the house clean, seemed interested in her kids.  She had had a rough childhood (being pretty much on her own at age 12, and being raised by a passel of extended family before that).  But, compared to my mother's fucked up family, my father's family seemed "normal".  But there had been this secret.  Grandma says my dad was always sad, always difficult.  Maybe he was.  But I know that this didn't help. 

As I grew up, things became more and more apparent to me.  NM was not interested in how I felt about her or the divorce or really anything.  She wanted me to go along with the delusions she had created:  she was a good mom, my father was the problem, she did the best she could, she only put herself first because she'd never been first (which was probably true, but required that her children came behind her needs, I don't think you really get that luxury when you become a mom.)  My relationship with my father relationship got better.  He lives a distance away, but I always had relatively good conversations with him.  They weren't the drama filled, soul-sucking kind I had with NM.

He never became kinder or gentler.  He often is still grouchy and mean.  He can deliver a low blow like no one else.  He has a short temper and is irritable.  He has a low threshold for outside "noise" and can easily loose emotional balance.  But he doesn't lash out physically.  He doesn't intentionally try to hurt people.  He does hurt people because he can be blunt and mean.  But I do think he is trying.  I know he has tried a pharmacy of drugs to ease his depression.  I know he really needs talk therapy, but I know that for a man of his generation, that might not be something he's willing to do.

He's told me repeatedly that he was a bad dad.  Not because he wants me to feel sorry for him.  Not because he wants me to reassure HIM.  But because he is sorry.  Because he would do it differently if he could.  If he could erase things, he would.  He has been kinder and gentler, in his own way.  He tells me he is proud of me.  I think he is proud of me.  He does not compete with me.  He is genuinely happy for me.  He may not always be as invested in our relationship like I would like him to be.  In fact, he can be quite selfish in not making more attempts to get together.  He can still be a grouch and an asshole.  But he's not a narcissist. 

I recently went to visit him.  He has been remarried for about 15 years and his wife is controlling and overbearing.  She struggles with limits too.  She definitely has some narcissistic qualities and is on the spectrum.  She is bossy and pushes her opinions on people.  When I had my children, her constant opinions and criticisms pushed a huge wedge between us.  I really, really disliked her.  When I coupled that with all of the chaos of my recent problems with my sister, and my dad's difficult temperament, I didn't even know if I wanted to go. 

But I did.  I had a plan (something I plan to write about soon).  I was a grown up now, and if he pissed me off too badly, I'd just pack up my kids and leave.  I had that right.

But the trip went well.  Step mom was on better behavior.  She was softer with me and even offered support to me about my sister (she is estranged with her narcissistic sister).  My father told step mom to back off when she was trying to control me (she really can be controlling about the DUMBEST things, like that I had to give a paper napkin instead of a paper towel to my kid). 

My dad seemed to respect my feelings on things and we had good conversations.  When he was getting grouchy one night and I pissed him off, he went for a walk instead of blowing up at me.  That is progress.  He came back in a better mood.  He is trying.  I know he is.  I had some good talks with him about my childhood.  He listens.  He tells me he is sorry. 

He and my step mom were good with my kids.  It was strange to see them interact with the kids.  There was a different frequency in the air than with my NM or MIL and the kids.  The room didn't seem so charged.  There wasn't tension.  No one was competing for the kids' attention.  Dad and SM helped out when I need them too, but let me be the mom.  They didn't hoover or silently "observe" my mothering skills.  I didn't feel I was constantly being watched and ranked as a mother.   They didn't compete with me or each other for the kids attention.  In fact, when they needed a break from the kids, they took it.  That's something MIL and NM really struggle with.  There were no forced interactions, no forced hugs, no bribes of toys.  There was activities together, and a souvenir from the zoo, and SM brought out coloring books one morning so I could sleep in.  But none of it felt like it was a bribe, or an attempt to buy attention, or some sort of "investment" on the part of the grandparents that they expected the grandkid to pay back with love and attention.  The grandparents did what they wanted to do with the kids, and expected nothing in return.  It was refreshing and sweet and did my heart well.

It wasn't all perfect, but it was so much better.  I wonder if the changes in me showed.  That the changes in me made things different too and that they recognized it.  That I wasn't so "charged" with anxiety.  My father lives a distance away and so I don't get to see him as much as I like.  I do wish he lived closer.  My step mother, well, I do think seeing her less frequently makes for good visits.  She was good when we went (even finally giving into this stupid little pissing match she and I have been having, and allowing me my way....which was HUGE) but I think she'd be too much if we lived closer.  And I do wish they'd visit more.  My father is really involved when we are together, but he can be a kind of "out of sight, out of mind" person.  He struggles with developing relationships.  He struggles with moving out of his comfort zone in order to make things work.  He hates travelling and can be selfish about not being willing to compromise to make visits work.   There is still a lot to work on, but there is progress. 

Recently, he and I had a talk about NSis.  We haven't spoken about her in almost a year.  But I needed some information (NSis has been "hovering" and playing really nice trying to "win" me back.  I don't buy her bullshit-like gifts and cards and texts- but I was feeling guilty that I wasn't giving her more of a chance to "make amends") and I had intended to bring her up to my father.  Not to triangulate or gossip, but to try and sort out truth from fiction.  But I didn't have to bring her up.  Dad mentioned her and a visit she wanted to do with him.  A visit she is completely manipulating for her own interests.  I knew it.  I knew she hadn't changed.  Dad and I talked some more about my sister's "mystery illness" and how she was lying about a lot of it.  How she was manipulating people's feelings and taking money.  How she lies.  How she has a personality disorder (his words, not mine.  I try not to use any words that can be Googled and linked to narcissism with any one in my family.  It's a way for me to try and protect my anonymity).  I felt validated.  I felt understood.  I felt that I had some support.  He told me to not contact her again until she "heard" and understood the boundaries that I'd set up (all of which he found to be reasonable.)  I didn't need his validation and support, but man it felt good to hear. 

So, progress.  Not perfection, but progress (as other bloggers remind me).  I don't feel so alone, a woman without a family.  I feel good and this has renewed my strength and resolve.

My dad can still be an asshole, a giant asshole.  But he's not a narcissist. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Covert Narcissism

My mother (and MIL, as well as NSis on occasion) are of the covert variety.  While I always had a fundamental understanding of what that meant, I was interested in finding some more detailed information.  I came across this chart and found it very informative and wanted to share it with you all.  I want to make it clear that I did not author this chart, and information on the sites can be found at the bottom.

Clinical Features  
Arrogant/Overt . . . Shy/Covert Narcissism
  Self-ConceptGrandiosity;    preoccupation with fantasies of outstanding success; undue sense of uniqueness; feelings of entitlement; seeming self-sufficiencyInferiority; morose self-doubts; marked propensity toward feeling ashamed; fragility; relentless search for glory and power; marked sensitivity to criticism and realistic setbacks
Numerous but shallow relationships; intense need for tribute from others; scorn for others, often masked by pseudohumility; lack of empathy; inability to genuinely participate in group activities; valuing of children over spouse in family lifeInability to genuinely depend on others and trust them; chronic envy of others talents, possessions, and capacity for deep object relations; lack of regard for generational boundaries; disregard for other's time; refusal to answer letters
Socially charming; often successful; consistent hard work done mainly to seek admiration (�pseudo- sublimation�); intense ambition; preoccupation with appearances Nagging aimlessness; shallow vocational commitment; dilettante-like attitude; multiple but superficial interests; chronic boredom; aesthetic taste often ill-informed and imitative
Caricatured modesty; pretended contempt for money in real life; idiosyncratically and unevenly moral; apparent enthusiasm for sociopolitical affairs     Readiness to shift values to gain favor; pathological lying; materialistic lifestyle; delinquent tendencies; inordinate ethnic and moral relativism; irreverence toward authority
Marital instability; cold and greedy seductiveness; extramarital affairs and promiscuity; uninhibited sexual lifeInability to remain in love; impaired capacity for viewing the romantic partner as a separate individual with his or her own interests, rights, and values; inability to genuinely comprehend the incest taboo; occasional sexual perversions
Impressively knowledgeable; decisive and opinionated; often strikingly articulate; egocentric perception of reality; love of language; fondness for shortcuts to acquisition of knowledgeKnowledge often limited to trivia ("headline intelligence"); forgetful of details, especially names; impaired in the capacity for learning new skills; tendency to change meanings of reality when facing a threat to self-esteem; language and speaking used for regulating self-esteem
NOTE:  This chart originally appeared in Akhtar, S. J. (1989). Narcissistic personality disorder: Descriptive features and differential diagnosis. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, pp. 505-530.

So many of these charactistics (but not all) fit MIL and NM.  One that stuck out was the "headline intelligence".  Often, when questioned, neither women can elaborate or speak to a topic past the "synopsis".  They speak in platitudes and generalisms.  They can not apply knowledge outside of immediate context.  Once, DH and I asked NM to tell us her favorite songs from her favorite (of 35 years) musical artist.  She named one, and that was begrudgingly after we pushed.  But she couldn't tell us why.  She loves to push political conversations but only parrots party lines.  If you argue a point (even respectfully), she starts crying.  MIL also likes to spit out words of wisdom she's learned, but has no follow up knowledge.  I've learned, despite both of these women being reasonable intelligent women, I can not have an in depth discussion about anything with them.  I usually just nod and move on. 

Both have extremely shallow interests.  NM has a couple of interests that she can speak to a bit.  But mostly she is superficially interested in things.   It's an image thing.  She doesn't actually try hard to learn new things or expand her data base.  And she rarely, if ever, picks up new hobbies.  It's been the same three things for as long as I've known her.  MIL is always onto the latest "trend" (which she is actually woefully behind on, not that it matters, but she always acts like she's onto the latest and greatest).  She loves to be "in the know" about what's the best and will speak endlessly about this new interest (actually she quotes all kinds of "experts", repeating what they have said.  She does not have opinions of her own).  Then, it's onto something else.  She is in perpetual motion.  Her interests are like an outfit she tries on, the currant shade of lipstick that she saw on someone she admired.  She tries it on, brings attention to it, and then moves on when it garners her no more attention.  I've often expressed to DH that I really know nothing about his mother.  She's like a shell to me.  I know little about her true personality, her opinions, what she has a real interest in.  She is often bored, often restless, often needing to find something new to focus on.  She has a short attention span for things (outside of her ADHD) and I've never known her to stick with any interest for more than a couple of years (except those that she's "adopted" from her family, and that allow her a way to needle into the lives of those around her.  That is, she takes on the hobbies of her family so that she can find ways to be with them.)  NM also complains of boredom frequently. 

The love and sexuality portion (although directed towards romantic partners) can be applied to.  Both women struggle to understand that their children might have differing opinions or tastes.  When I would go shopping with my MIL or NM, both would hold something up and asked if I liked it.  Often I would think the item was pretty or nice, or I would believe that the item was for them (in which case, it would be nice).  But I found that if I said I like it, it would be mine.  I struggled FOR YEARS to communicate that I could like something, but not like it for myself.  And then when I tried to express this to these women, they would get offended.  They figured if I liked something on them, then I'd also want it for myself.  They just could not wrap their heads around the fact that I could find something attractive but not feel it was for me.  MIL, in particular, struggles to understand that others can have differing values and interests.  She finds this as insulting.  Or she tries to force herself to like something that others do to fit in.  Both women struggle with respecting the boundaries of their adult children with regards to privacy and intimacy.  They believe that they should be included in everything. 

The morals section all applies.  NM's morals and standards shift endlessly to suit the situation.  What is morally OK for her, is not OK for most others.  She is able to rationalize almost all of her behaviors: the other person deserved it, the other person did something first, the other person deserved pay back, the other person is a morally corrupt person so it doesn't matter how I treat them.   She has a hierarchy and some people are treated much more fairly than others.  This hierarchy is related to how much she likes the person.  If she doesn't like you, than it's OK to treat you unfairly or dishonestly.  Her viewpoints and opinions flip flop to serve her personal needs (to appear smart, in the "know", intelligent, to put someone else in their place).  I've seen her switch her viewpoints with in the course of a single conversation.  Her opinions are expressed to serve her purpose of the moment.  They are fluid.  I really don't know what MIL's moral standards are.  I've never really seen her stand for anything.   Those values she does have she tends to hide (like her feelings on abortion and gays, she hides these opinions from those who might disagree).  Her values are somewhat shallow and stereotypical.  She values "family" but doesn't really respect family.  She values Jesus, but doesn't seem to apply a lot of the actual teachings to herself.  She uses a lot of these "values" to further her own agendas.  Her opinions change like the wind, often settling on whatever she thinks is the "coolest" thing of the moment. 

Interpersonal Relationships- Both women are very distrustful.  They have a handful of people they surround themselves.  NM keeps most people at arm's length, a trait she taught my sister and I from an early age.  I often felt I had to maintain a little bubble around myself.  And if someone offended or upset me once, I was supposed to write them off immediately.  Neither women trust their own children to do anything, and so they rush in to "help" and "offer support".  They don't trust their own family to maintain a relationship with them, so they demand it and push it.  They force intimacy, instead of allowing it to happen naturally.  They assume that they are on the same "level" as their kids and want to be "friends" instead of parents (which you can have a friendly, adult relationship, but your parents, in my opinion, can't ever really be your friend).  They don't respect that, as an adult child, not everything can (or should) include them.   They like to be pals, but then pull out the "I'm the mom" card when they want to have control.  As long as they are in control, it seems like the relationship is reciprocal...a friendship.  But step out of line, and suddenly they "out rank" their children and their needs or opinions should be catered to.  Both assume, as the parent, that they out rank anything else going on in our lives and that we should drop everything should they want us to.  They have little to no respect for our time or our schedule.  It doesn't matter if it's nap time (which MIL can't seem to keep track of) or dinner time when they want to "drop by".  They don't offer us a chance to say no.  They don't think about what is going on with anyone else. 

Both women are overtly "confident" women who would describe themselves as "strong" and "capable" and "multi-tasker" and "do-ers".  Women of action.  Women who help.  But underneath, they are horribly fragile.  Neither responds to criticism well.  NM cries.  She makes you feel guilty.  She flips the situation and makes you out to be an ungrateful, mean child for speaking out against your poor mother.  MIL attacks.  When criticized she first finds a way to land a blow.  "Well, you do it too!!"  She finds any and every way to project the criticism back on the person.  Even if that's "misunderstanding" what the criticism is about.  Once, when told that she needed to quit stepping in to "help" my BIL by taking over with his kids all of the time and "co-parenting", she responded to him as if he was just jealous that she was babysitting for BIL too much and not for us.  If that doesn't work, she yells.  And blames.  It's someone else's fault.  When she let my niece flounder under water twice and I told her she needed to be with in arm's length in the pool with a toddler, she blamed my husband for not responding.  "WELL, DH was right there."  Well, DH was watching his own toddler.  If she's late, it's the traffic or construction.  If she has a misunderstanding with her sister, it's because the sister is struggling and having mental problems.  She loves the blame game.  Both women struggle with accepting responsibility for their actions and with making mistakes.

I hope some of these examples help someone else see how covert narcissism works in their own lives.  It's tricky to see and define.    And the covert type is less written about, I find.  So, any information we can find, arms us all well. 


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Real Life Examples

For my friends out there, struggling with what is narcissism, here are some examples from my mother's recent visit which highlight her manipulative self.  None of them, in and of themselves, means too much, but taken as a whole, they paint a picture of crazy.  And keep in mind, these are just a few, a very few from this ONE weekend. 

*The day my parents were set to arrive, I was noticing how beautiful it was in my town.  My actual thought was "wow, it looks like Ireland here, it is so green, I'll bet NM comments on how green and pretty it is".  When NM shows up, she gets to talking about the rain in her part of the state.  "It's just green and lush, not like the rest of the state, which is so brown."  I glance out the window.  I say "You mean, between here and there, because it's pretty green outside, we've had lots of rain."  "No" she says, "It looks brown here, compared to home."  Um, OK.  She goes on and on.  And while I can agree she's partially correct, that between here and there is dry and brown, any fool can look out the window and see how beautiful it is here.  But she won't let it go (and frankly,  I couldn't really either.  I mean the woman was insistent that my eyes were deceiving me.)  It was pure competition (and really, who the fuck cares?).  But I couldn't understand how she could think I would agree with her. 

*She was showing me pictures one night that she'd taken at the party.  She has one of my husband and MIL.  MIL is cuddled up behind my husband and my skin crawls.  I cringe.  MIL does have a habit of clinging to my husband in pictures, but this is ridiculous.  NM says "I know.  I knew that you wouldn't like this one.  I only took it to make her feel better."  So, I try not to think about it and I don't want to bring it up to DH (all of this shit can get overwhelming, and really what would be the point of discussing it with him, the photos over).  But I can't get past it, and I finally bring it up to DH.  And as I'm describing the picture, I say-as I see him perk up to say something too-"and I'm sure MIL was partially hiding behind you."  I mean, I don't have a lot of sympathy for MIL, but I could see there was something else going on in that picture.  I mean, the woman was in her swimsuit, an uncomfortable time to take a picture for any woman, but more so for MIL who is really uncomfortable with her body. (I might add that NM refused to swim, I'll cover that one later).  DH tells me "Well, actually, she was hiding behind me."  He concedes that MIL can cling to him, but then tells me that NM actually pushed the picture on them.  That NM kept saying "move closer".  That NM pushed the picture even though they didn't want it.  NM made it sound, to me, like she was being kind, giving into MIL's need for attention (interesting that NM can spot that in MIL).  I was outraged.  Again, I don't have a lot of sympathy for MIL and she's a big girl who could have said no.  But it makes me angry that she pushed her into being uncomfortable.  That she pushed her into doing something she wouldn't do herself.  That NM knew the picture would upset me, but not only took it but set up the situation to take it and then show it to me.  And then she hid it behind MIL's attention getting.  In the past, I never really believed my mother was a liar who set people up.  Clearly she is.  It's taken a lot for that to sink in this past week.

*The party was at a pool (obviously).  When NM was here, I told her that and said that it would be fine if she and step father (who hates swimming) didn't want to participate in that part of the party.  I had hoped she would, as I could have used her help and she's never had an issue swimming with the kids before, but I would have been fine with them not.  I said to let me know, because I had a certain amount of people who could be let into the pool area.  This, I could tell, annoyed her.  I could almost read her mind: I was being cheap by not just paying for her and letting them decide.  For me, I don't know why she couldn't just make a damn decision and had to play it out.  So, two days before the party I get a text that she's had a small medical procedure and will just "put" her "toes in".  Maybe she had the damn procedure.  Who knows?  She made a big deal of sending step dad up for antibiotic cream for it one morning (but not surprisingly, not the next morning).  She must have felt she had to "prove" it to me.  Anyway, what bugged me was why she couldn't just say, "I don't want to swim.  Would it be OK for me to just come in and take picture and watch."  Cool.  That would have been fine.  Why all the drama?  Why the subterfuge?  Seriously?  Over something this small.  Oh, and she sent me a text saying "If you've already paid for me, I'll be glad to pay you back."  You know, because I'm petty and cheap. 

*DH, NM, and I were sitting on the deck.  I went into the house to refresh my drink.  I was gone for five minutes.  NM immediately told DH she would soon be visiting my sister, that sister and her (abusive) boyfriend are in counseling, and that sister is having another "biopsy" for her mystery illness.  At least, sister is supposed to have this.  I've been giving strict orders to not discuss NSis with NM (from NSis herself).  So, I don't discuss her.  I dislike that NM was feeding (and triangulating) my husband information to give to me.  I hate that she uses him like that.  And, for fuck sake, I was gone five minutes!  She purposely had me "over hear" part of the conversation, which I ignored.  (And as a side note, when she had DH alone another time, she was pumping him for information about a family situation that is none of her business.  And yes,  DH and I did talk about not giving her information.  I hate feeling like I'm keeping secrets or with holding, but I know the information will be used against me.)

*NM brought up a painful, childhood memory for me of a time I fucked up really badly.  She wondered aloud "Now, I went over and helped you..." and then described, in detail, events that never happened.  When I corrected her, she said "Oh, that's right, I came over and..." and then described how she "fixed" something for me.  Again, not true.  In fact, if she'd done what she'd said, the situation wouldn't have been a fuck up for me.  AND, she would have helped me cover something up.  AND, I wouldn't have the memory of her shaming me for being an embarrassment for this fuck up.

*NM talked about how she was telling a coworker how difficult teenagers are.  How teenage girls can be such a pain in the ass, with all their "hormones" and such.  This isn't the first time she's brought this up.  Clearly, as she speaks, she seems to forget that she's discussing ME, her daughter who was once a teenager.  She also seems to forget that during my teenage years she was abandoning me and my sister, fucking around having an affair, leaving us on weekends, and divorcing my dad for a "better dad" (yes, she once told me she divorced my dad because she thought this man would make a better dad).  I hardly lived with her (I lived with my dad for a year and then I "lived" at my boyfriends my senior year.  I didn't actually live there, but crashed on their couch and lived out of a duffel bag for 5-7 nights of the week).  I didn't sneak out, I didn't drink (much), I didn't do drugs.  Yes, there were some fucked up things that happened, but she doesn't think for a moment that maybe it was a reaction to our parents divorcing in a horrific and ugly way, my mother running off every weekend, and the extreme reactions of my father to the divorce.  Nope, we were just horrible, little teenage shits.  This statement enrages me so much that I have to leave the room.

*NM snarks that she doesn't get to really get to know my kids "when she only sees them twice a year".  Um, I had just seen her twice in ONE month.  But, OK.  Believe what you like.

*NM makes a huge deal of needing another grandchild.  She has gone on and on about how hard my pregnancies are on her.  But now, she keeps hinting that she was expecting a pregnancy announcement.  She says she needs  "a little girl to be my companion when I come up" because my sons "favor" my step dad (they don't really, but they are starting to figure out that NM sucks the life out of you).  She guilts and guilts me. 

*I'm discussing a gift I'm got for my son.  I say that, if he liked it, I found the rest of the set of toys at the discount store and I was going to get them for him.  She, clearly not listening, says "I'll have to see if I can find them.  Write down the names so I know."  I sigh.  This is common for her to hear whatever the hell she wants to.  And she's distracted by trying to force my son into wearing the hat she bought him so she can take a picture.  I'm trying to distract her from doing that.  I let it go though instead of argue that she she's misheard (this is a futile effort, as she NEVER hears that she isn't paying attention and misheard me.  She just keeps repeating what she thinks she heard).  I figure she didn't hear anything of what I said, but later she asks for the name of the trucks.  I'm sure she bitched that, after all she bought for my son, I was expecting more. 

*She poses my kids in "selfies" (those phone pictures people take of themselves.) with her.   She's always saying "hold your head closer to mine" and other such commands.  Then she posts them with saccrine descriptions of how close she is with the kids. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Really, the weekend was exhausting.  It's like standing on a tennis court and having a wooden spoon to use as a racket while a ball machine lobs tennis balls at your head, all day.  I can't say I was sorry to see her go. 


I must confess, sometimes dealing with narcissism scares the shit out of me.  My stomach knots and my throat tightens.  I want to crawl in a whole and hide.  I don't want to set boundaries.  I don't want to confront the narcs.  I don't want to induce a narc rage.  I know (in my head) that I've been conditioned to feel this way.  I can rationalize (in my head) why these statements aren't true.  But my heart, my gut are afraid.

I want to run and just ignore it all.  Hide away on some island.  Go be a farmer somewhere off the grid.  And that makes me angry.  Or sad.  Why the hell should I have to hide away to protect myself.  But standing her requires confrontation. 

Because these narcs are not going away.  Not without a fight.  They aren't going to just give me up, let me be, write me off as an asshole (oh, God, how I wish they would). 

I'm tired of fighting them on all fronts.  I'm tired of narcissism weaving it's way into all aspects of my life.  I'm tired of snapping at my kids and being on edge because I'm waiting for someone to jump out of the dark at me.  I'm tired of being "prepared" all the time.  I can't relax, I can't be still.  They are there, waiting for me. 

I hate that I get so overwhelmed.  I hate that I'm so tired.  I hate that I lose my temper with the kids and yell.  Sometimes I just want to be left alone.  But they are kids and this is not their problem.  I hate that I don't know how to balance healing myself with the needs of my kids. 

I'm afraid of it all spinning out of my control.  I'm afraid that they will never get it enough to allow me some peace.  That even with being told to step back, they keep pushing.  I'm afraid of confronting my MIL and being attacked by her minions.  Of being left alone.  I'm afraid of being abandoned.  I'm afraid because I'm afraid. 

Sometimes it's like swimming out to the middle of a lake.  Obviously, I can't go back.  Obviously, swimming back the way I came from is not an option.  I have to keep going.  Or I drown.  And I'm not going to drown.  But man, thinking about keeping swimming, moving on, ignoring the threats of the dark, deep, water is hard.  There is no rest.  There is no respite.  There is no time to just think.  I've got to be swimming, moving, constantly. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nautral Mothers

I started to recognize that something was off with my mother in my early twenties.  Not that I attributed it directly to her.  For years, she and I had been sort of at odds.  I blamed my parents divorce and my mother's sudden interest in her "new family" for the strain.  But as I moved into my twenties, and NM pushed me more and more to "get over" the divorce, it started to dawn on me.  I wasn't angry for things she'd done in the past, I was angry for things she was doing in the present.  Undermining me, triangulating me, pushing me.  Insulting me and my husband, guilting me, obligating me to do things, manipulating me and pushing me to manipulate others. 

Things went down hill from there.  And when I had my own children, it all came crashing to a head.  It might have been the way she obsessed over my new baby.  Or how she over involved herself in my pregnancy.  She described endlessly to many people how difficult my pregnancy had been on her.  She took over.  She pushed more.  She demanded that I appreciate everything she did for me, even if I didn't want her to do these things.  Having my own kids opened my eyes wide to the shocking reality of having a narcissistic mother. 

I had a difficult time connecting to my fetus.  I didn't have all of those gushy, romantic daydreams.  I was sick, very, very sick for a long time.  Pregnancy was hard on me.  NM criticized me for not being more excited.  She criticized me for not thinking of my baby more when I had a small glass of wine on Christmas (I didn't drink during my pregnancy or for months before as I tried to conceive).  She questioned every choice I made, demanding I take the best care of my baby (I often wonder what she thought I was doing or why I wouldn't make the best choices for my baby).  Nm talked of falling "instantly" in love with my sister and I. 

For me, I don't think the reality of the baby really dawned on me.  It all seemed so abstract.  Even seeing my belly swelling and feeling kicking did little to help me "connect" in the way NM already seemed to be to my fetus.  I'm sure that I was choosing, on some level, to remain a little distant.  I'm sure that I feared things would not go well (I was in shock that my baby was adorable when he was born, I was sure that he would not be).  I really struggled to believe that things would be positive and not negative.  I stressed, I worried, I wondered "what have I done".  I was scared shitless.  And  I think, for me, it was a little difficult to fall in love with an "abstract" concept, a creature that I had not met and had no relationship with. 

NM went on and on about un-natural mothers.  Women she knew who didn't bond right away with their babies.  How strange that was for her.  Maybe it was.  But when my son was born, although I did feel love and concern for him, I know that I didn't have an instant bond.  Maybe it was because I'd just gone through emergency surgery, or that I was drugged up, or that I'd almost died.  Maybe it was because I'd been awake for over 24 hours.  I don't know.  But I knew enough to not tell NM how I was feeling.  Late into the first night, after everyone was gone, I had sent the baby to the nursery to get some sleep (under NM's direct advice).  The nurse looked at me strangely, but wheeled the baby away.  I feel asleep for a few hours to awaken to the nurse wheeling my son back into the room.  He was crying and she claimed nothing they could do would calm him.  She handed him to me and he became quiet and calm.  It was at that moment, like a lightening bolt that I remember feeling strongly connected to him.  I felt a surge, a sudden "oh, my gosh, I'm his mom, he recognizes me."  That moment changed me forever.  But I couldn't tell NM about it.

When my second son came, I'll be honest, I had wanted a girl.  Not that I was disappointed with a boy.  I wasn't saddened by having a boy.  But I had hoped for a girl.  I had hoped for dresses and dance lessons and tea parties.  I knew that I, most likely, would not have any more kids and that this would be it.  I made the mistake of telling NM how I felt.  She chastised me and shamed me and told me how horrible I was for not appreciating the miracle I had in my healthy son.  Although I could see what she was saying, her criticism made me feel worse.  I couldn't stop the feelings I was having.  And as I saw it, I was perfectly capable of loving and wanting my son, while also grieving for the daughter that I would never have.  I tried to explain that to her.  That I just needed to mourn a path in life that would never be mine.  She never understood.  By this time, I had enough sense to know that her judgment didn't change my feelings and that grieving and mourning was the best thing I could do for myself (which I still believe) but she surely tried to make me feel like a horrible person. 

When I was little, my NM was probably a good mom.  I say probably, because from what I remember she was kind and caring.  She read to us and took us places.  I look happy in the pictures from when I was younger.  But as I turned 5, 8, 10 that started to fade away.  She became distant and bitter and mean.  She had a low tolerance for my imperfections (typical childish mistakes).  I don't remember her being particularly maternal then.  When I was ill, as I often was, she would buy me ice pops and make me tea.  But I don't remember her cuddling on the couch with me to comfort me.  In fact, I don't remember her comforting me much at all.  When I got fired from a babysitting job, she chastised me (although she recently told me some bullshit about how she came to my rescue).  When I hit puberty and tried to confide in her, she laughed at me and told me that it couldn't be.  I don't remember confiding in her about friends or boys or school troubles.  I always tried to make life "easier" for her, be perfect, do everything right.  I wanted her to be happy.  I don't remember her being particularly happy.  But from watching her with my kids, I imagine she was a bit better when I was little.  I know she coddled and rocked and sung to my little sister.  I know that she could be tender and kind.

I can see how it happened with her.  How things changed.  My own son is growing up now.  I have a very small toddler and a preschooler.  My toddler is little and chubby and hangs on my every word.  He loves me and adores me and is enthralled with me.  I can see how NM (and MIL) find that so intoxicating.  He doesn't question me or ignore me and loves me unconditionally.  My older son has developed a bit of an attitude.  He's been snarky and disrespectful and tests limits every chance he gets.  But he's trying to become independent.  It may be hard and annoying at times, but I don't love him any less.  I don't try less hard to be his mom.  I don't enjoy his company any less than that of my toddler.  I can already see NM starting to pull away from my older son.  He was her world for so many years.  Despite my best efforts to shield her off of him, she doted on him and obsessed about him and fawned over him.  But he's started to talk back a bit.  He's started to tell her no.  He's not little and cute and cuddly (but he is handsome and strong and still cute).  And so he gets less attention.  She's snarkier to him.  She doesn't like him standing up for himself and sees it as rude and disrespectful.  He recently told her to back off of acting like his mother.  This did not go over well.  And although he was probably a touch disrespectful in tone, I let it go (although we discussed better ways to say it later) and let him say his piece.  It obviously had been building for awhile.  So, although I do get what an intoxicating drug a small, cuddly toddler is, I don't get how you pull away from your kid when they get older.

As I got older, her fuse got shorter with me.  Everything was fine when I let her dress me, and control me, and do as she said.  Smarting off was not an option.  I don't remember my mother telling me I was pretty.  She did tell me I looked nice (as in, my clothes, that she picked out, looked good on me).  I don't remember her asking about school or music class.  I remember her making fun of me a lot.  Teasing me.  I don't remember her consoling me.  I do remember her embarrassing me.  I don't remember a lot of hugs.  I do remember her always having other things to do.  When I became a teenager, she backed off further.  She started an affair with my step dad and his family consumed her for years.  She bought me prom dresses and took pictures and threw a graduation party and attended my drama productions.  But she didn't help with homework, or ask about my friends.  She didn't seem to care when I hardly came home at night during my senior year (I "lived" -read crashed on their couch- with my boyfriend's parents most weekday evenings so that I could keep my job and attend after school events.)  She recently told me she was telling a coworker to wait until her girls hit the teenage years and how "hard" it was. I wonder what the fuck she was talking about.  How could I have been difficult?  I never drank, I didn't sneak out, and I was rarely home.

A lady I talked to recently told me that she "wasn't a good mom to babies."  That, when her kids were little she didn't know what to do with them.  That she was a better mom when the kids grew older.  My NM, and my MIL, seem to be better moms when their kids were little.  I've heard many moms say that they preferred, or were better moms, at one age or another.  Is that normal?  Is it OK to admit you were a shitty mom to your infants?  Is that just acknowledging reality?  I mean, we all fail as mothers at one point or another.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  But is it OK to not be as good at raising infants as teenagers.  It makes sense to me.  I know lots of women who have no clue what to do with babies.  Even their own.  They don't understand the cognitive or developmental skills of babies and little kids.  They have expectations the kids will act more like little adults.  It makes sense that some women (and men) would struggle with this.  I mean, few parents take classes in child development (although I wish they would).  But is that "OK"?  Where is the line between admitting weaknesses and excusing shitty parenting?

I imagine lots of women would refer to me as a "natural mother".  I get kids.  I studied them in school.  I've always worked with them.  I understand them and they gravitate towards me.  When I worked for a neurologist administering neuropsych evaluations, my coworkers gave me all of the children patients.  I was better at putting kids at ease.  I could get cooperation out of them better than my coworkers.  I'm the lady at the park or the kids group that all of the other kids gravitate to.  Not because I'm organizing activities or really doing anything special.  I imagine it's because they see an adult who is willing to pay them attention.  That I see them. 

When I was in high school a friend told me she imagined I'd be a soccer mom driving the van pool.  I was disgusted, as this offended my feminist sensibilities at the time.  I was going to have a career.  But here I am, a stay at home mom.  I wonder what in the hell she saw in me that clued her in. 

And the thing is, I may have good natural instincts, but I'm not always a good mom.  That is the hardest thing for me as an ACoN, to see the effects it has on my kids.  I don't always no what to do.  I can get overwhelmed.  When I'm tired and cranky and sick of fighting with the narcs, I get irritable.  I don't have a support network of friends or grandparents to give me relief.  I do it all on my own.  I learned mothering by mothering my sister and gathering tidbits from my grandmother and aunts and (even) NM (despite her shit job of parenting, she didn't suck at everything, so I try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak).  I trust my gut and read books.  I go to bed every night going over what I can do better tomorrow.  And I try my damnedest.  And I fail at times.

I wonder what kind of mother I'd be if I didn't have this legacy.  If I didn't have a mother who acted more like an older sister than my mother.  If I didn't have to fight and struggle.  Do all parents struggle this much?  Do all parents work this hard?  The answers really wouldn't make much of a difference.  Because I guess in the end, I've got to just keep moving forward.  Because these kids need better.  They need better.  I just wish I could heal and fix things a little bit faster for them.  I wish I could be better for them.  I don't want my fucked-upness to get in the way of them having a good mom and a great childhood.