Releasing the past in order to find myself

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mind Games

I am continuing to work through dealing with the narcissists and flying monkey's in my life.  Since starting therapy, I've had a lot of chances to let go of some of the anxiety and crazy making that I've been dealing with.  I've wanted to write but haven't even had a moment to write before something else has popped up.

Some quick updates: NM has been "maintaining" herself within in the distance I've put between us.  It is a very shallow, but cordial relationship at the moment.  She has tried to interfere in some aspects of my life, but I've been able to evade her.  Generally, NM can function in this state for awhile, but I know her resentment towards me will build.  It's no a matter of if she will "punish" me for keeping my distance, it's when.  She has been distracted by a major event in her life (a relatively good one for her, although she can make drama around anything) so I've been able to fly under the radar a bit.  Plus, I'm getting a bit of a "silent treatment" from her for not engaging enough in her event (fawning, asking questions, making her feel important) but I'm living with that.

I haven't seen MIL and FIL for two months.  (whoo-hoo!)  I think MIL is working temporarily and that's why.  I'm guessing my N vacation won't last long.  I am not looking forward to seeing her, but at least I've had a breather.

Recently my grandmother passed away.  It was a very sad situation and difficult in some ways.  But, I was able to process it and mourn for her.  It wasn't a close relationship, but I cared for her (she filled some holes in my life from NM).  In normal families, this would've been the point of focus.

Not in mine.  Of course, NSIS (and NM) used this opportunity to try and strong arm me back into a relationship with her.  In the course of a week and a half, NSIS contacted me 20 separate times.  Crying, cojoling, begging for support for her feelings about grandma (they had been estranged for 15 years due to NSIS verbally assaulting her in an email).  She guilted me ("at a time like this, we should be talking") and then attempted to shame me for "not trying".  One morning, she called or texted EIGHT times in half an hour trying to get me to respond.  I ignored them all.

The whole situation was very upsetting and anxiety provoking for me.  I was back having panic attacks and terrified I'd have to see her at the funeral (I didn't, thank God.)  I felt very pushed and pressured to "deal" with the situation I am in with my sister.

(A little background for those who don't remember; skip this if you read my blog regularly: my sister and I had a very enmeshed and codependent relationship.  I was put in the position of parenting her often.  She was a very temperamental child.  She was often violent - this was not just "sibling fighting".  I was often afraid of her.  She would fly into rages, not just at me.  Both my parents struggled with her too.  I was put in charge after school every day and all summer holidays long.  Her rage at me "controlling" her provoked her to often attack me.  I don't remember having many great, loving times with her.  In school, child care, and in activities I was to "protect her".  Even though she is socially engaging and can make friends, I was often her "protector".  To be fair, there were times she offered support or was kind, but it was few and far between.  During our teen years, NM divorced my dad and left me in charge of her more frequently.  She completely spiraled out of control.  She lied, stole (money and boyfriends), and continued to assault me.  She was interacting with very scary people and constantly was involved in violent and disturbing situations.  It was terrifying.  I had hoped as she grew older, things would get better.  They didn't.  She maintains her own home and has a job, but it is far below what she could achieve (she's always saying she's broke and needs help from my parents.)  She bounces from job to job to job because she can't maintain getting along with her boss' (they are always at fault because they are idiots).  She is involved in one abusive relationship after another.  Her life is more complicated and volatile and dramatic than a soap opera.  The list of crazy events and behaviors in her life is unbelievable.  She has continued to lie, manipulate, and rage when she doesn't get her way.  I tried to support her, tried to help her, often at the expense of myself, my kids, and my husband.  She gives very little back.  She thinks nothing of calling, drunk and hysterical in the middle of the night.  She often ignored important things in my life or minimized them (when my second son was born, she was supposed to come help me so I wouldn't be stuck with just NM.  She backed out when I said she couldn't bring her abusive boyfriend -whom I had never met - because I was having a c-section and a new baby and couldn't deal with a house guest (not to mention, she and her last boyfriend had had a significant confrontation at my home the time before and he left her 700 miles from their home).  I could go on and on, but bottom line is, I think she is narcissistic and has border line.  After her letting people believe she had cancer, but never actually letting me know, she screamed at me for not "supporting her".  This led to a break in our relationship.  I tried to communicate in an email that things needed to change (my therapist, who I read the email to said I was kind, thoughtful, and couched everything as nicely as I could.)  She responded with rage and hostility and passive-aggressiveness.  Since then, she has tried to hoover me and to "play pretend" that our relationship just had a little hiccup and that we could go back to the way things were.)

At this point, I'm at a loss as how to proceed with her.  DH suggests that, if I really think I can't have a relationship with her that I "declare" full NC.  These moments when she comes at me, demanding interaction are very stressful and traumatizing.  The therapist also sees NC as the answer.  I have been afraid in the past of declaring anything, as I didn't want to provoke her rage and I was struggling enough with my relationships with NM and MIL.  I have finally "confessed" everything to my father (he knew nothing of my extreme anxiety, the whole of the situation, and is often in the dark about my sister's true nature.  She's very good at hiding lots from him.  That was part of my anxiety, the secret keeping I had to do for her.)  My NM has suggested that I have "given up on her" and that NM would NEVER give up on a family member.  NSIS has been telling people that I'm just being stubborn and resentful and unwilling to "try".  I have been accused of not responding to her attempts to "make amends".

I've been struggling as how to proceed.  In reading the emails, my therapist says she can see how I clearly stated what I needed and that my sister just didn't hear me, but instead blamed me and attacked me.  The therapist sees no point in rehashing and feels nothing will change with my sister.
I am feeling it is all sort of unresolved, even though factually, I can see that I have tried to resolve it.  But I also wonder if I need to clearly state "don't call me, don't text, don't contact me."

And then some of me keeps feeling a pull to not go full on NC.  I've created a very small crack for her to allow her opportunities to get back into my life (through email only, she has not emailed me, only texted and called).  I know that I have this little bit of hope in there that she will see the light (she has had fleeting moments of clarity about our mother and our childhood in the past).  I'm terrified for her future and what will happen when my parents die (I do NOT want to take her on but I don't know how she can continue on with the life she leads as she enters the second half of her life.  She's in her mid-30s now).  I have always felt a very maternal feeling towards her and I often feel she is like my child (in fact, she has often felt that she is more important to me than my children and that she has priority or is at least equal priority as they are.  Rationally, I know she is a GROWN woman and they are children and as such, I need to care for them over prioritizing caring for her.)

As I left the office this morning, trying to figure out why I just can't let go, several things dawned on me.  The therapist can't seem to comprehend why I don't believe I'm doing the right thing, why I think I'm wrong, why I feel so guilty.

But I feel like I'm abandoning her (like a child).  I see her as helpless and desperately in need of support.  She has very few people to support her.   I know that NM abandoned us and it was one of the most devastating things for the both of us.  I know the pain it causes to be abandoned by a family member and I know she is in pain because I have "chosen to abandon" her.   I feel  I am no better than NM; that when the "going got tough" I walked away.  

Something in my head says that I'm a bad person, a bad sister.  That I must be weak if I can't be strong for her.  That she is suffering and I should be able to sacrifice some of my own comfort (of which, many believe, I have lots: a nice home, a comfortable life, good kids, a nice husband) to help out my poor sister who just has been dealt a bad hand in life.  I must be a weak, pathetic person if I can't help her through her struggles.  OR, I'm mean.  Or selfish.  Only someone who is selfish would "give up" on her family member.  We are supposed to be there for each other.  If you can't count on your family, who can you count on.  She needs me and I have ABANDONED her.  I'm selfish, uncaring, heartless person who just is too weak emotional (i.e. neurotic) to deal with all of this.

I know these are irrational thoughts.  When I look at it objectively, none of this makes sense to me. OF COURSE I am not abandoning her.  She is a grown woman and I'm only expecting her to act like one.  I am expecting her to take some responsibility for her life, her choices, and her emotions.  I am expecting her to grow up and learn how to handle herself.  I am not leaving her pathetic and helpless on the side of the road.  She is not helpless.  She is not a victim (no matter how hard NM tries to convince me she is.  No matter how much NSIS believes she is a victim.)

NSIS's issues with abandonment are not my problem.  I can not resolve them for her.  I can not love her enough to make that go away (Lord knows, I have tried).  How she chooses to receive my behavior towards her is not my responsibility.  I can not change that.

I am not weak for refusing to continue to be a part of this dysfunction.  I am not a weak person.  They do not get to determine my worth and my value.  They do not get to judge me as selfish.  It is not selfish to refuse to live in toxicity and abuse.  I am not being selfish.  I am not giving up.  I'm making new choices for me.

I can sit with the reality.  I can think through it all in my head.  My heart is a much different problem.  I can not switch off these old loops of tapes.  The tape that says "if you really loved them, you'd suffer for them.  If you really loved them, you'd do what you could to help, even if it cost you a bit.  If you really loved them, you'd toughen up so that you could support them without it getting to you so much."

I'm really not sure how to work this all out.  The therapist suggests early trauma recovery work.  I'm not so sure if that's the only way.  I'm not sure how to convince myself that I'm not a bad person who is just being resentful and refusing to try.   I'm exhausted from puzzling through this.  I'd really just like to move forward but I feel like I'm stuck in a bog.


  1. Living with an N, it's like having a leash around your neck that keeps you in their sphere of insanity. No contact really is the only way to cut the leash. Since it isn't an option for me, yet, a sense of humor is a must. I also remind myself that I set the boundaries. Because they talk to me does not mean I must reply. Because they pick on me, I remember the source and that whatever they say about me is coming from a place of insanity. It won't hurt to try your counselor's plan; take it one thing at a time. Sometimes what my counselor had me try was to help me understand what didn't work and why. Hang in there.

    1. Thanks Judy. I think the counselor would like me to just be done and say "forever it's over". And I just don't feel ready for that.
      I'll try and remember that I set my boundaries; that's a toughie!

  2. It's terrible having all those old voices in your head, isn't it?? The tapes that keep replaying and replaying... My youngest sister came to live with me when she was in her mid-20's. She was looking for a great job and a husband - unfortunately, she didn't find either one. I was homeschooling 2 children and fostering a mentally ill child. My sister refused to do any housework, any babysitting, any cooking... We had asked her to pay a minimal rent and she had agreed to keep her bathroom and the family room clean - that was it! She refused to do it - I finally confronted her and told her that she could clean, pay me to clean, or find a new place. She chose to pay me! (I did NOT clean her bathroom!) Finally, she and I had a long talk and I told her that I really couldn't parent her - I had my hands full and she was way too old anyway... We finally had to ask her to move out - she had a lot of kind of bizarre bahavior (screaming every morning that someone had moved her keys, for instance). She moved out and lived in the same city - she never invited us to her new home, never invited us for dinner, and rarely called. She finally moved to a different town and that was that. I tried again a few years ago and it was a disaster - still with the need for parenting! I'm done. I'm not officially NC with her (I haven't "announced anything"), but I've blocked her from my social media, from email, and she doesn't have my new phone or address... NC by default. When I see her, I greet her like I would an aquaintance - that's all we'll ever be. I can't hope anymore that she's capable of changing - this is the pattern of her life and she's OK with it, apparently.... I hope you can resolve this soon,no matter what you decide to do. It's freeing to be past the struggle!

    1. Thanks Pearl for your thoughts. Mainly, my sister ignores me for stretches of time and then flies in on a hurricane of drama. Just being in her presence is extremely draining. And the whole time, she thinks we have a "close" relationship and are "supporting" of each other. It's really maddening. And yes, I'd love to be able to rid myself of those old tapes in my head!

    2. I think we might be related - or at least our sisters are!

    3. Yes, it is interesting how similar they can all be. I think that if these type of families were more in the public knowledge and people acknowledged the effects more (instead of "family is family") it would really help.

  3. did set boundaries....NSIS and NM didn't like them so they are bring all the forces of guilt, manipulation, and twisted thinking to make you their doormat again. You don't deserve that. I expressed my concern to my counselor when I was setting boundaries and was afraid the person would get made. What he told me was, "So." I was shocked. He was letting me know that it was their problem and not mine if they got angry. It was my responsibility to call the police if they became violent. Twisted thinking that you are responsible for family members that hurt you in return is just that twisted thinking.....In your rational mind you get it. The heart can be so stubborn. I hoped for over 30 years my mother would change, this summer I accepted that she wouldn't. I finally feel that I have done all that I can do. I grieved this year. I am finally feeling some peace. You are working through your situation your way. Sad to see you NSIS throw away opportunities to respect your boundaries. You are doing better than you think. Maybe you can write the NO Contact letter and put it in a drawer for when you are ready. Just a thought. Cheering for you. Ruth

    1. The letter is a good idea, Ruth. Kara has encouraged me to just write down my thoughts to my sister about NC too. My brain just seems to freeze up whenever I get to that point. I don't know what to say. (Partially, the fear of upsetting her is there. Her feelings of abandonment trigger such rage and aggression in her that it is frightening to me.)

      "you did set boundaries....NSIS and NM didn't like them so they are bring all the forces of guilt, manipulation, and twisted thinking to make you their doormat again" Thank you for saying this. I'm trying to remind myself over and over and over of that (and actually internalize it instead of needing external validation that this is true.) I appreciate your support.

    2. Thank you Ruth for pointing this out! I needed to see it too. Recently a friend of mine told me that her counselor friend said once you quit holding onto your expectations that they will change(your heart holds onto this, not your head), you finally break free. I need to remind myself to quit holding onto expectations period! - Kel Ann

  4. " I'm not sure how to convince myself that I'm not a bad person who is just being resentful and refusing to true." That's what we need to find out, I'm sure working out how to do that holds the key to moving forward, and basically our rational side of the brain already knows, it's finding how to reach the emotional side, so we can shut down the old tape forever.

    1. Dang typos. I'll have to go change that to TRY, not true. :P

      Yes, I think that is the key too. Partially, I think the message keeps getting reinforced to us by "well meaning" people and society. That there are valid reasons for walking away from family seems to be taboo. Even simple things, like explaining my family situation to new friends (or even simply "did you see family for the holidays?') make me uncomfortable. The therapist keeps saying that "not all people" have good families, not all people believe that all families are good.... and maybe she's right....but it's still a hard "societal norm" to just put in the back of my mind.

  5. I think you already know my opinion - essentially that NC is, ultimately the best solution. I think you'll get there eventually, because your sister isn't (and won't ever) give you any other option. She's choosing her own ending. I think one of the things that really bothers me when I read about your sister is that your struggles with her seem never-ending, and while you sit here, still, concerned for HER well being, it's quite clear that she has not one thought in her head about yours. She's selfish, immature, narcissistic, willfully ignorant, and relentless.

    I still see NC as something that you have control over - you can try it out for a while, there's no saying that you have to give it a specified length of time. The logistics of it would be tricky though - she's never going to respect your declaration of NC (should you choose to do what has been suggested and clearly announce to her that she is no longer allowed to contact you) which would mean you would have to cut off methods by which she could communicate with her. And, of the rest of your FOO whom you would still be in contact with, who would betray you and give out contact information you wouldn't want your NSIS to have?

    AND she knows where you live - so eventually, if she had no other way, she'd hit you up there. But in spite of the many obvious logistical challenges, I would still suggest NC, even a temporary NC, that you could end on your own terms. And during NC, ignore, ignore, ignore. Don't read the texts, don't read the emails, don't read the mail.

    I worry that you'll be 40, and 50, and 60 and this will still be going on. That you'll never have been able to live your life, fully and completely, without the baggage of your NSIS constantly weighing you down. And what might that mean for your marriage, and for your little ones, and for you? NC gives you some of the best therapy out there - time, distance, and even some limited control over a mostly uncontrollable situation.

    Whatever you choose to do, as always, I support you.

    1. Yes, I worry that at 60 I'll still be stuck dealing with her. I worry that if something ever happened to my mother, she'll become even more of a burden.
      For me, NC always seemed like a forever and ever thing. I mean, I thought that was sort of the point. Something to think about.
      Yes, my NM will continue to pass information (I have suspicions that in the past she's taken videos of the kids and sent them to my sister to see. When she's in my home she's constantly texting someone and I can only imagine that it's my sister.)
      One of the things that is hard right now is that my father's side of the family has been wanting to get together and she's been wanting to go to those things. I don't want to miss out on the only real extended family I have, but I don't want be around her while this is all going on. It's just a lot to sort out....

  6. Hi Jessie! It's so good to see you post again! I've miss your posts these last few months but it's understandable as to why. This post is spot on with the sister thing I share with you. I get the guilt part of it. I keep telling myself, I put up with a lot with my sister and I can no longer to it. I've done my job. I cannot take responsibility for someone anymore that chooses to play victim and behave badly. I was happy to see your rationality towards the end of this post. You had a ton of responsibility placed on you at a very young age. You did your part but now you have your own responsibilities to your immediate family. Why is it okay for them to dish it out and say you are not doing your part when they haven't even attempted to do their part and be responsible? Why is it they get a pass every time for hurting you but make such a big deal that you need to acknowledge that they are hurt and their feelings matter more than yours? These are the same issues I'm dealing with now. I'm recognizing more and more of my NM's patterns around the holidays. This year it seemed she was not going to pull anymore stunts like she has in the past where the holidays just become dreadful. This year it was a week after New Years and she found her opportunity again to hurt me. I fell for it but this will be the last time. I don't have the energy anymore to be knocked down emotionally from her antics. I pay for it, My husband pays for it and it's no longer acceptable. Anyway, thank you again for posting. You've been missed. One more thing....if you are on facebook, check out fans of Cynthia Bailey-Rug. She writes like you do. She also has a blog.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Your questions are all of the same ones that go around and around in my head. And many of the "justifications" that my NM and NSIS give me for their behavior are hard to fight back (NSIS is not as fortunate as you, NSIS struggles more than you, it's harder for her than you. You need to cut her some slack and be the "bigger person"- one of NM's favorite phrases.)
      Like you, I believed at times that THIS time, the N would behave. But it never happens. It's not a question of if they will misbehave, but WHEN. It always, always happens. And I have to start believing that it is always coming, as that may help me not get so knocked down by it.
      I am hoping to post some more. I've been doing a lot of really deep work with the therapist and I've been so exhausted by it all that I haven't had much time to write. Thank you for the suggestion about the blog. I'll check that out.