Releasing the past in order to find myself

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Narcissistic Ping Pong (Or: Why it's a Bitch to set Boundaries with an N)

A little background first.  NM has been privy to many times that I have been upset by MIL.  I have confided in her many times and she has seen, first hand, some of the crazy behaviors MIL has had towards me.  In the beginning, when I actually thought she had my back, I would tell her a lot of stuff.  I've learned to temper what I say (where it was later used as "evidence" of why I was wrong in arguments.  Clearly, I couldn't get along with "anyone", neither NM, MIL, or NSIS, so it must be ME, she would imply.  In a discussion with NM about an issue I was having with NM, my confidence was turned into "proof" that was wrong.)  If NM didn't throw it in my face, I know NM felt a secret "alliance" with MIL.  I know my difficulties with my MIL helped her to believe it was all my fault too.

Rarely did my NM express any real empathy or sympathy.  She'd offer a few stories about how she was treated as a DIL, and then run off on a tangent with that.  And I never felt like I had her support.  She gives MIL just as much credibility as me in the issue.  Meaning: to NM, it's like just as much me as it is my MIL.  I get no benefit of the doubt as her daughter.

Several times, she's become indignant at MIL's behavior towards me.  I've heard "I can't believe how these people treat you.  It really pisses me off."  And I really do believe she is fully angry and sees the treatment for what it is.  Not to support me, but because she loves to take the victim side that someone would treat HER daughter that way.  She and my MIL have had a few minor scuffles.  NM has been annoyed (by her own admission) by MIL's behavior at times and sees MIL as trying to one up her.  She often expresses jealousy over the fact that we (and the grandkids) "see MIL more often."  followed up with "you'd think they'd be closer."

When I've explained clear hazards with MIL babysitting, NM agrees that it's an issue, but than always suggests that MIL should babysit too.  I think this is more about her being angry that I don't allow EITHER of them alone with the kids and so she thinks she and MIL are on the same "team" to get freer access to the kids.

Several times, NM has flat agreed with MIL.  Several times, she completely invalidates me by saying "Well, she's always been nice to me."  "(DH's parents) are so nice."  (Step mom does this too me too.) Last summer, she spent time after OS's baseball game chatting with my ILs in the parking lot (about 20 minutes) instead of spending her last bit of time with her grandkids (whom she says she doesn't get enough time with.)  When we called to see if they were OK because they hadn't arrived yet, she said "WHAT? Can't we bond with your ILs?"

Which, I suppose, if they actually liked each other would be fine.  But they don't.  They dance around each other like animals over territory, very careful to always be cordially distant.  But, like I said, they've had confrontations.  MIL has clearly pissed off my NM on occasion.  But they don't talk often, aren't friends, and don't see each other.  They occasionally bond about "their generation".  And this summer MIL invited NM up to hang out at their vacation property.  Blech.

So, fast forward.  I have spent SIX years trying to get NM to tone down gifts: less money (it's obscene), less quantity (it's obscene), and when all else failed, just the SIZE.  (Gifts are often 2X3 ft. square -or more- and don't fold up.  These are not easy to store.  And my kids actually do use all of their toys (part of being a stay at home mom) and so it's hard to just give them away if they are still using them.  Anyway, it's my house, and if I don't want huge toys, so be it.  (And I'd even be willing to compromise, an occasional big gift if it was really cool and would be special to the kids.  But not 3 times a year: their birthday, their brother's birthday, and Christmas.  And a special extra trip for toys every time they visit. )  I have TRIED and tried and tried to curtail this shit.  Talking, boundaries, making it "clear".  But it's always circumvented: they've told the kids they have a "surprise", so it's hard to refuse or some other method.  When I would find a stop to it, they'd find a new route.  And it's "they".  Step dad teams up with NM on this one.  Grandparents are "meant" to spoil the kids.  It's their "right".  And, in some ways, they do spoil the kids in good ways: really cool experiences with Grand dad and some neat things.  But it is so excessive.

Two months ago, NM and I were talking about a similar situation in which a parent refused a grandparent's gift that was too large after being told it was not OK.  She thought this was awful and said "You tell me all of the time that I can't buy large gifts, but I do it anyway.  I mean, if I find something cool."  So, she clearly has heard my boundary, she clearly understands my boundary, and she clearly is choosing to ignore this boundary.  And she is choosing to justify it was an argument that sounds awfully a lot like something I said above: that I would allow it if it was "once and awhile".  But it's not.  It's all of the time.  Every time, three times a year.  She conveniently neglects this point.

I take this opportunity to tell her to please, please, please, please, please to not get a large gift for my son's this Christmas.

She sends me an email to "please do no be mad at the size of YS's gift."  Followed by a large (expensive, I found out today) gift.  Sigh.

I decided that I had laid down the boundary, she ignored it, and now it was time to be clear about the consequences of doing this again.

The therapist suggested this is "pushing back" but I felt that was too aggressive a descriptive for what I was doing.  I felt this was merely standing my ground.  How do you all feel?

When she emailed asking if the package had arrived, I replied something to the effect of "It did, at least the larger of the two.  I sure hope it is the larger of the two, as it is very big.  I'll have to ask you to stop sending big gifts or I will start sending them back."  I had DH proof read it for "emotional loadedness".  Which I'm sure she'd see anyway, but he said it was fine.

Several days later, I got a very pathetic, guilt laden, hurt-that-I-called-her-out email in return.  Hurt that I had refused her "gift".  She offered up the receipt and to just let her know and she'd "work on this at the birthdays."

Then radio silence.  Then an email about how she needs to get started on a family reunion she's planning this summer at her house for her side of the family.  A family that has tried to politely tell her they are not interested.  A reunion with my sister in attendance.  Despite REPEATED rebuffs of getting together with my sister, despite a two year estrangement, she thinks my sister and will show up and stay together at my mother's house.  She's wanting me to commit to dates I have open.  She hasn't really spoken to any one else yet for concrete days (I'm sure she'd say, "well, I wanted to give you first consideration" but she's really trying to shore me up and make me commit.  Give her something to hold me to.)  I IGNORED this email.  It felt like an obvious trap.  I could see no road from a response on my part that would end well for me.

In between this, she puts on my sister's FB page "love you babes!!"  which is so 'un'-her (it's the FB her, the manufactured mom).  I get nothing (fine).  I have been avoiding liking her page, but I just can't "like" bullshit and lies.

Radio silence.  She texts and asks if I got my grandfather's Christmas card.  He's getting old and can't write as well, you know.  So he wasn't sure you got it.  I don't know why I need to tell my NM every year that I get my grandfather's card so that she can tell him (I always send a thank you card.  Not right away but always...oh, he sends a little bit of money for the kids and is anxious to know it arrived.)  But, whatever.  Sometimes replying to this "bullshit" stuff gets me off the hook with bigger stuff and she moves on after I ignore her.  So, I reply that I got it, sent her Christmas gifts out and hope she had a nice weekend.

She replies earlier today that she got the package (and then something to tell DH).  I didn't reply.  Wasn't really feeling in the mood to play "text ping pong" and figured her text didn't need a reply (sometimes if you reply, you get caught up in a huge thread and she won't let the texting stop.)

Tonight, she texted me and asked for my in-laws address.  No reason why.  Just wanting their address.

At the same time, she texted my husband a thank you for a gift he'd sent my step dad (not HER and my step dad, just step dad.  Not sure why she was thanking him.)  No question about HIS parent's address.

She has my in-laws address too.  They have exchanged "sympathy" cards when their parents died.  (Side note, MIL sent a sympathy card to my mother when her mother died, but nothing to me, as it was my grandmother.  But, whatever.  In fact, I don't remember them expressing sympathy at all.)  Other than that, they have NEVER exchanged cards.  NM and MIL rarely exchange Christmas cards with anyone.

I can't help but feel she is choosing to send my MIL a Christmas card to hurt my feelings.  Maybe I'm crazy.  Maybe I'm reading too much into the situation.  It's quite possible.  It's time's like this I wonder if I'm crazy, finding conspiracy where there is none.

It is quite possible she was moved by DH being kind to my step father (which he really was) and thought "I want to send MIL and FIL a card."  And, by her own admission, NM is always sad how few people are on her Christmas card list (actually, she bitches about it, but whatever.  She's sad.)  I get it.

But, what I don't get, is how it doesn't even OCCUR to her that, by befriending a woman who has caused her daughter SO MUCH PAIN, it feels like betrayal.  I'm not asking her to be mean, or rude, or unkind to this woman.  It makes it easier that they get along.  I wish she could support me more in my struggle with MIL (do you KNOW how much that would help to at least feel I had my mom on my side?).  But it is what it is.  I'm not asking them to fight. (And for the record, MIL and my SIL's mother can't stand each other.)

But it hurts like hell that my mom would befriend someone who hurts me so much.  That it hasn't occurred to her that she has totally invalidated me.  I know, to her, it's just a Christmas card.  But to me, it feels like betrayal.  But maybe I'm crazy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Buzzing Around

I've been wanting to write more posts about NM and my last visit (and I will) but I've been very busy as of late.  DH and I got very sick for three weeks or so and then we've had just one thing after the other to contend with.
As it is, I've been continuing to receive craziness from NM, and even though I shouldn't be, I'm always surprised by the in roads she chooses to "get" at me.  But, that's another post.

I haven't seen my MIL since she called my husband and offered up her faux apology.  I knew at the time that she wasn't sincere and I really had no hope of things changing.  But, since it was such a completely different tactic from her, the whole situation set off my anxiety.  I was stressed about how this all would play out.

I was guessing that MIL's tactic was that, when she called, DH would say "Oh, no, you're a great mom." and that he'd get the hint that HE actually needed to change his behavior.  I  believe her subtle message was "(DH), by not doing what I want, you've made ME feel badly.  Please fix this.  Or else." She stated in her conversation with DH that her main objective was MORE time with us and I saw very little of her actually wanting to change our relationship.

To DH's credit, he told her that we needed to work on boundaries, to back off of me, and to give us some space.

About two weeks later, FIL was calling to meet up with us.  So much for space.  I could tell DH was wanting to comply.  He said he was still going to speak with his mother, but he wanted to get my input before he talked to her (thumbs up for the fact he is consulting me, thumbs down for the fact that he still hasn't actually talked to her about the issues.  However, I don't feel like these things need to be on a timeline, and so he still can talk to about it all.)  I was very sick, so I didn't have to go.  DH met them at my BIL's house.  I was very anxious, wondering what she was going to say to DH and how she would latch onto my kids.  I rationalized, though, that the kids would be seeing their cousins (whom they really wanted to see) and MIL would be allowed little inroads to them.

When DH came home, he seemed quiet.  He said that things had been fine.  MIL had not hoovered over my older son (as usually) but had played a lot with my younger son (whom she usually ignores).  This made me anxious.  Other than that, DH said that MIL was very quiet and stayed to herself a lot.  FIL only referenced me when he asked DH on the phone "who all is coming over?"  They didn't ask how I was feeling or what I was sick with, as they normally would.

In the next few days, I noticed DH having (sudden) irritability.  It took us several tense discussions and an argument for me to finally notice that EVERY TIME he goes around his parents, he comes back sullen and argumentative.  This is another post, but I do think it was good for both of us to finally see that connection.  That things between us are fine, then he goes and sees his parents, and suddenly he has "issues" with me.

This visit with his parents also started the nagging from MIL about gift ideas.  We really did try to get her something as quickly as possible (I like to be considerate) but since we are giving ideas out to 5 or six different people, it can be complicated to organize.  I know she sent several texts reminding DH to get her the list (she'd had her own ideas, but DH told her to hold off.)  Several days after the gift ideas were sent, she texted that she had gotten YS something different.  This royally pissed me off.  I know it shouldn't, but these games around gift giving get tiresome.   DH said he understood my feelings and that he was going to tell her.  But he didn't, until finally one day (when I was at my wit's end about all of this) I called him on it.  He ended up texting her.  She feigned to not understand why it was a big deal, but ended up just buying extra gifts (and the one we had suggested) for the kids.

So, all of this has happened in the three weeks since she offered to change, and DH told her to give us some space.  During this time, MIL also made contact with me on three separate occasions.  She has been reduced to "restricted" status on my FB page, which means she can only see what I make public, which is nothing aside from my cover/profile photos.    I changed my photos twice and within an hour, MIL had "liked" them.  These are the ONLY access she has to me and I felt crowded that she would immediately like them.  Especially since DH specifically told her to not offer lame flattery (not that "likes" are always flattery, but in her case, it seems to be pathetic attempts to appear interested).  She also sent to my email address (not DH's) an electronic Thanksgiving card.  FOUR DAYS LATE (it arrived Monday morning).  A couple of things about these cards: I dislike them wholly.  You have to spend minutes watching the LAMEST graphics in order to get the message.  She has never sent me (or DH) a Thanksgiving card before.  We received no phone call on Thanksgiving or text from them and had no contact with them at all (which is also odd).  She picks out real paper cards for my kids and DH, but I always get these e-cards on my birthday.  Last Mother's Day, she acknowledged me with one of these cards, but it was also several days late.  (It's an E-CARD.  How can it be late?!)  The message was generic and not addressed to anyone in particular.  

This was the FOURTH contact we'd had from her (not including the little texts) in five weeks time.  I was feeling so pressed in on and claustrophobic.  With my niece and nephews birthdays coming up, I was feeling down right panicky.  Having not actually seen MIL since the beginning of September, I was not happy about having to see her and I feared confrontation.  Or that she would come up and insist on apologizing and "making things right".  I didn't want to be forced, in front of people, to accept her apology.  I didn't want to talk about it at all.  I mean, frankly, she's never even mentioned to ME that she felt she was feeling badly about her behavior.  She's only said things to DH.  And then she ignored every thing he asked of her.

The ILs called the day before the party to NOW insist that they wanted to make a plan to arrange ANOTHER visit to drop off gifts, as the gifts they ordered hadn't arrived yet and couldn't exchange them at the party.  (I think this is a ploy by MIL too to arrange a separate "gift opening" get together, as we always have to do, every year.)  I know was positively hyperventilating at feeling so penned in.  DH said they had planned next weekend.  He did approach me before he called them back and I told him about feeling so claustrophobic and that I needed some space.  That his parents were completely ignoring our boundaries and forcing an increase in contact.  DH arranged for after Christmas to exchange gifts, although we've made no plans yet except for a date.  I figure, when that time comes, I'll decide if I want to even go.  But I didn't like all the pressure of committing to another visit, when I was so stressed about the party and visit the next day.

  I was shaking when I walked into the place, but had a plan to make myself busy with the kids during the activities.  My youngest is still small enough to need me around.  They showed up late (as usually.  I heard my BIL on the phone giving them instructions on where to go.  They had gone to a different venue.  Not coincidentally, this is the same reason they gave for showing up late to my son's party: they didn't know where it was.  But they'd been to my son's venue twice before.  It all sounded like bullshit excuses to me. ).  I think it's horrible that they are always late, but it worked out for me and bought me time to get across the large gym and hide out.  I could feel MIL's eyes watching me when she came in.  As the adults left the entry way and ventured out to the kids, I could see her inching closer and closer, maneuvering.  I finally had to move out of her line of sight, as it was making me uncomfortable, and frankly, irritated to see her face (her facial expression, a combination of glee, and squinting, and nose up in the air, drives me crazy).  Thankfully, at that moment, my youngest son peed his pants.  Not bad enough to have to leave, but bad enough I had to run home and get him clothes (I've never been so thankful for an accident.)  I bolted and was so thankful to have 30 minutes of time taken up.  When I arrived back at the party, it was almost over.  MIL was busy "helping" (taking over for my) SIL with the cupcakes and things (SIL doesn't seem to mind, as she seems to have her head up her ass most of the time.  She spent a lot of the party with some random baby strapped on her chest instead of interacting with her own kids at the party).  I made sure to hang back a bit, near my youngest, waiting for him to finish up so I could change him.

And then she made a beeline for me.  I saw her coming from across the room, in a straight, determined line for me.  Sigh.  I was hoping we could exchange some random pleasantries and be done with it.  Nope.  She was going to hunt me down.  And this is a woman who stalks me around rooms.  I have literally moved chairs to get away from her at times, and she follows me.  She has NO respect for my personal space, listens in on my conversations with others and butts in, and I always feel so trapped around her.

I ignore her as she walks up and stands next to me.  "So, are you ready?" she asks.  I know exactly what she's referring to, as we have the SAME conversation and my niece and nephew parties every year.  This time I pause.  I had decided on "medium chill" with her.  I would answer kindly and politely and with as little response as possible.  I was not interested in engaging in conversation iwth her and I was going to refuse to participate in her charade.

Luckily, I've gotten enough control over my anxiety that I could pause and take a deep breathe, "Ready for what?"

This through her and I saw her bristle and be taken aback.  "Well, uh, uh, for Christmas.  Are you all done?"

I continued to look out at the party and not turn towards her, "Pretty much."

She continues, starting in on her "interrogation" style of conversation, where she fires one question after another at you, not really listening to the responses.  "I mean, do you have your tree up?"


"Well, what about the shopping? Are you done? "  She presses on.


The old lady is persistent.  "Well, but like do you have them all wrapped under the tree?"

I mean, seriously, does she not take hints?  Or maybe stop drilling me and just engage in some easy conversation, lady?  I hate feeling attacked.  But I notice DH has come closer and is watching (he was giving explicit instructions to keep an eye on me this time and rescue me if necessary.)

"I've done some." I reply.  She continues "Well, I asked (OS) if he was excited and he said 'yes, there are 11 more day!'".  And then she cackles.  I smile and nod.  And then I decide to excuse myself and take YS to the bathroom.  I don't say goodbye, or even look at her, but just take off.  Maybe rude, but I was finished being interrogated.

When I came back, she was busy taking over and "helping" with the gift unwrapping.  It amazes me that BIL just wanders around while MIL does all of the work with this stuff, but I suppose that shows you how everything is "supposed" to work in this family.  I'm able to skirt around her and talk to another friend.  I go up to my niece and nephew and say good bye and happy birthday.  Neither child acknowledges me or even looks at me. (I love my niece and nephew, but manners are not their strong suit).  I gather the kids to go (DH and FIL had gone outside to give them our gifts for Christmas).  OS gets ahead of me, and when I go out I find MIL about to buy him sweets from a vending machine.  She knows she's been "caught" and suddenly starts blubbering asking if it's OK with me.  (She was going to give the sweets to OS and my nephew.  I don't know what she expected to give my YS - the ignored child - but I'm guessing nothing.  She KNEW we were leaving and she also knew my kids had just had a ton of sweets at the party.)  I told her no, it was not OK as we were leaving for dinner.  She got flustered (I secretly enjoyed this, although I shouldn't have) and flung the money at OS, saying he could keep the dollar.  She then realized that my YS would need a dollar and frantically searched for him, with my nephew bugging her for one too.  I left her rummaging in her purse, after having the boys say thank you and a quick good bye and left.  She hollered "have a good Christmas" and I said "you too" and made a dash for the door.

Outside, I expected her to come out to further talk, as FIL was still out saying goodbye.  Luckily, I was spared.  I tried to make sure to be kind and open and pleasant to FIL.  I do like him, despite his codependency and enmeshment and avoidance of confrontation.  And I think he likes me too.  Even though MIL clearly has issues with me, and he is paying the consequences now, he was very kind to me, making sure to say goodbye.  I think he wanted to give me a hug goodbye, but I busied myself with the car seats, because I was sort of feeling uncomfortable.  He couldn't squish down between the cars and said a hearty and kind goodbye before walking back to DH.  I think it speaks volumes that he has tried to maintain kindness and goodwill.

So, I feel SO relieved today.  I'm free of the old bat for two whole weeks!  (Now, if NM would just leave me the fuck alone, I could have a nice little holiday.)  But I do have pangs for the future.  I feel more confident, free, and hopeful than I have in a long time.  I don't feel like I'm bound to put up with her behavior forever.  I told DH what had happened and warned him that this is how I will be dealing with her for the foreseeable future: pleasant but detached.  I will walk away and leave if she presses too hard.  I'm ready to take care of myself and if she feels I'm being rude/unkind/pissed at her, so be it.  I don't care.  I'm still feeling very anxious, but I don't feel helpless anymore.  Progress, right?

So, questions:  Any suggestions on how to deal with her interrogative questions?  Any suggestions on the situation as a whole?