Releasing the past in order to find myself

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mirror, Mirror...I'm Invisible

I wanted to expand on my last post about my feelings that no matter what I do, I can never be a "good daughter" to my mother.  After Quartz's comment about how my mother won't let me be a good daughter to her, my brain started to fit some puzzle pieces together in a different way.   I have felt that the choice my mother presents me with is either to completely do what she wants (act as she wants, respond as she wants, give her whatever she wants) or to be labeled a "bad daughter".  I was describing the situation to my husband as having to relinquish any sense of personal integrity and personal identity OR have a relationship with my mother.  I'm not allowed to have both, in her mind.  I'm not allowed to be "me" if I want a relationship with her.   I've realized that I think it goes a bit further than just not being myself, but that I must be a perfectly black slate, a perfect mirror to reflect back at her.  And in order to be the "perfect mirror",  my soul, my identity must be perfectly invisible to her.  I must become so enmeshed with her that I do not exist at all.

This idea came to me because of two recent events.  Since I've been NC with my N-sister and LC with my NM, my sister have become closer (read: more enmeshed).  They've always been the more bonded of the three of us.  I always always sort of the "spare wheel" (not even the third wheel.  I was the one they used when the other one wasn't meeting their needs).  My younger sister was my mother's "baby" (and by result, also expected to be "my baby".  I was to care for her just as my mother did.)  My sister and mother often "paired off", while I was expected to have my father be my "main" parent.  I was mommy's little helper, but not my sister clearly got the most attention (even if it was mostly negatively gained), time, and support.  My mother often said she felt sorry for her and as my sister was a very difficult child, she sucked up my mother a lot.  And despite them having a very love/hate relationship, I've often felt that they are more closely connected than I was with either of them.  (Not that I think that's a bad thing for me.  I think the two of them are so similar that that is the reason they more closely bonded.)

I have put down my foot on playing NM's "pretend" game on FB and I don't participate in the staged selfies with her, I don't allow her to stage selfies with my kids or use them to further her "grandma image" on FB.  My sister does.  My sister plays participates fully.  Lots of selfies together.  Lots of "love you!!!!" exchanges.  Lots of "momma bear" and "my baby" comments between each other.  My mother consistently refers to my sister (who is 36) as "her baby".  They project, together, a very solid image of a mother-daughter bond.  My mother gushes over her, gushes over her gifts (a very thoughtful gift I gave her for Christmas got ignored until NM could find a way to exploit it for supply on FB.  My sister's gift was gushed over immediately), posts tons of pictures of her, talks about how beautiful she is,,,,,, and on and on.  NM took one of these FB quiz/app things that displays in graphic form the words she uses the most (the most frequent words showed up largest).  Not surprisingly, my sister's name showed up as one of the largest; I couldn't find my name (or even of my kids) at all.

And while I really don't want to be the object of my NM's FB gushes, it is difficult to see such a visible representation of her adoration for my sister.  It does sting, although I'm not particularly jealous.   I don't want to participate in my NM's life as my sister does (and I suspect that evey thing isn't as rosey as they make it out to be), but it's painful to see how "close" and "loving" they believe they are together.

But the thing is, my NSIS allows NM to project off of her without any interference.  She never contradicts NM's little staged scripts on FB.  She never offers up contrary opinions, criticism, or objections.  She never asks to be seen as a separate person.  In fact, the two of them are quite fused.   The have very similar interests and NM revels in being more like a twin sister than of mother and daughter.  NM is WAY over involved in my sister's social life and the enemshement is very obvious to me.  NM also uses my sister as a sort of fantasy.  I believe that my mother secretly wishes she had my sister's life: wishes she was as daring, outspoken, and brash as my sister.  She secretly craves the excitement (drama and chaos) of my sister's life.  She lives vicariously through her.  And that too always NM to reflect back on herself exactly as she wants.  NM can see herself as "strong", "bold", "outgoing", "cute", "beautiful" because she sees in it my sister and, through the enmeshment, claims it as her own.

I can clearly see that having my own feelings, ideas, and thoughts gets in NM's way of her reflection of herself.  If she has to "see" me, than she can't be looking past me into herself.  So, when I put up boundaries, ask for consideration, express my individuation, it is offensive to my NM.  She finds it as disrespectful as I am not giving her what she wants, a completely unobstructed view to the image she's created.

Another reason all of this came to light was due to a relatively silly thing.  My NM has extreme adoration for my old kindergarten teacher.  As my children are now in primary school, this old narrative of how wonderful and great my kindergarten teacher was keeps coming up.  And she doesn't just speak about her, she prefaces it with "Wasn't she the BEST teacher Jessie?"  "Did you just think she was wonderful Jessie?"  It's always important to her that I buy into the narrative.  That I express her thoughts as my own.  That I echo back exactly what she thinks.  I am almost 40, so my memories of my kindergarten teacher are vague.  I know she was nice and kind, but beyond that, I do not remember much.  I don't remember her as standing out any more than some of my other nice and kind teachers.  But for some reason (which she never specifies) NM always claims she was my favorite teacher and that I love her so much.   The last time NM visited, she was pontificating about my old teacher again, how she was the best, and didn't I wish my kids could have her too?  I finally told her no.  That I didn't remember my teacher all that well.  That my kids had plenty of nice and kind teachers.  That I don't remember the teacher being all that important to me.  NM was quite offended.  I remember her looking at me as if I had two heads.  I hadn't been rude.  I hadn't been confrontational, I simply just didn't gush about my teacher as NM wanted me too.

I realized that if I don't parrot back to my NM everything it completely destroys her fantasy.  There is no place for me to have my own feelings, thoughts, or individuation.  It's not that I just have to agree with my NM, I have to completely BE her.  I have to reflect back the exact image that SHE wants to be seen as.  I don't feel as if NM doesn't like me or the person I am, hell she doesn't even know who I am.  My biggest sin, according to NM is that I have any personality, any ideas, anything other than being an extension of her reality.  I am to be completely invisible.  I am to have no needs, no thoughts, no plans, to will that doesn't originate with her.

I've spent a lot of time in my relationship feeling like I'm invisible.  And recently, pondering why I can't be a "good daughter" to my mother, it occurred to me (as Quart pointed out ) that I can never be because she can't see any of that at all because she won't let me.  And any attempts be my to break out of her roll for me completely shatters back that mirror reflection and shakes her out of her illusions of reality.

Even further, the more I attempt to express myself, the more she's attempted to push me back to being invisible.  In this last year I've given her two gifts.  Not because I had to, not because I expected anything.  Just to be kind.  NM didn't want to see that, so she completely ignored them (which is unlike her).  The first gift, she wouldn't turn around from playing basket ball on my children's hoop to look at.  I didn't even think she knew what it was until I realized she'd taken it with her when she left. She never acknowledged it.  The next gift, she minimized and ignored until it suited a FB post (in which she still didn't acknowledge me).  She doesn't like me speaking up, so she ignores me.  She doesn't like me ruining her false-reality, so she doesn't include me (and aggrandizes my sister).  She punishes my kids by ignoring them.  (I upset her the other day too, as she wanted to buy my kids some new clothes.  This is her one of her false realities that I've also ruined.  She likes to be the "rich" person who runs in with money to save people and be the hero.  I, however, have plenty of money to take care of my children and it offends her.  She asked to buy my son some shorts and asked his size.  I told indulged her for a bit, commenting on the several choices she sent me with photographs.  When she asked if he was still his old size, I said yes, but that he has plenty of shorts, so she should size up.  She then asked what he did need.  I answered honestly, that he didn't need anything ( in fact, he has more than enough).  She responded by saying that she just wouldn't get anything at all than if she couldn't buy him his current size.   I ruined her fantasy, so she chose to do nothing at all.)

I am very saddened by the fact that in order to have a relationship with my mother, I have to be completely invisible: no thoughts, no feelings, no ideas, no personality.  I can not be myself at all.  My mother does not love me for me at all.  I know that this is an "old" idea that I've come to terms with several times in the past, but the weight of it all seems to be finally hitting me with full force.  (I'm guessing that my psyche wouldn't allow me to feel all of the feelings towards this at once, as it would have devastated me, and so I keep coming back to it as I'm able to tolerate the pain).  She won't let me be a real person at all.  And that makes me very disappointed and sad.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Good Girl

Hi all.  It's been awhile since I've written here.  I've been working on healing in a few different ways, and so the blog has been neglected.  It's been hard to come up with full posts and and ways to put things so they make sense and so posts have been hard.  Most of what I've been working on is small details put that are forming into "big picture" ideas.

The holidays, while not horrible, were exhausting for me.  All in all, my FOO had a really nice time.  We were busier than usual.  I was happier than usual.  I was able to fully be in the moment.  But with any holiday,  the Ns come buzzing around like flies.  They have expectations, demands, and bone to pick.

At present, I am LC (and pushing for more) with my NM, LC with my in-laws, and NC with my NSIS.  The NC has been difficult for me, as I've come to realize I really do not want a relationship with my sister.  The few bits I've heard from her and about her, tell me she hasn't changed at all.  My MIL was very gravely ill this summer and it has led to a whole lot of changes between DH and I.  She allowed a lot of her true nature to shine through, and I believe he's seen things he can't unsee.  I've been pushing NM back further and further and it's been very interesting to watch her reaction.   She hounded me a ton over Christmas.  Lots of texts, lots of pressure to visit soon.  Because I didn't do what she wanted, she suddenly became cold, distant, and icy.  She started DARVO-ing, implying she was going to stop giving me "more chances" because I'd been "disrespectful".  I spent a lot of time thinking about how she views things and how she can possible believe something like that.

I have finally reached the conclusion that my mother absolutely can not handle any negative emotions from me or my sister.  No sadness, no angry, no disappointment.  If my sister feels that way, she does something to "fix" her (temperarily bandage the problem).  If I feel that way, she completely dismisses me, ignores me, pretends she doesn't hear me or doesn't see the issue, or attacks me for being angry with her.

Growing up, my mother was quite distant.  I remember her spending a lot of time on chores.  She worked full time, but when she wasn't, she cooked, cleaned, or really did anything else.  She didn't play with me, help me with homework, ask me about school or friends, help me run lines for my school plays.  She just never felt very interested in me at all.  We didn't have a lot of money (something my mother must have said a lot, as that was always the feeling I got.  My mother has a big issue with being poor).  But I was clothed and fed.  I had nice toys and had good (although not lavish, which is fine) Christmas'.   We were well "taken care of".  But I don't remember being really maternal at all.  She "ticked all the boxes" of what a mother should do (credit for that saying to my friend Kara).

I do remember her being very withdrawn and cold and depressed.  I remember always trying so hard to not upset her further.  I remember trying so hard to appease my sister (who was, unlike me, not afraid to act up or express her needs and wants.  She was vocal, volatile, and intense).  I know my mother asked me often to appease my sister.  Just give in so that my sister would behave.  I was the ultimate "good girl".  I realize I wasn't perfect, but I was always trying very, very hard to not make waves.  I was good in school (in fact, if I ever got in trouble, which I think maybe happened twice, I was devastated).  It's not that this necessarily came naturally.  I tried very, very hard to BE a good girl.  I did whatever it took be the good girl.  I helped out, I was friendly and kind.  I did all my homework and chores.  Even into my teens, I was a relatively good kid.  Despite a herendous divorce and my family life falling down around me, I still worked, got almost all As, participated in college level courses and extra-curricular activities, and took on a lot of the responsibility for my sister.  I had always taken on extra responsibilities involving my sister.  From the time I was very young.  I was the perfect mother's helper.  (You can imagine my hurt and surprise when my mother tells me now about how she'll tell anyone who listens how "hard raising teenage girls are."  She'll go on and on about "girls' - she knows enough not to call me out directly.)

When my parents divorced, my mother pretty much abandoned me for my teen years.  The little involvement she did have went down to almost nothing.  Despite being exceptionally depressed and upset about the divorce, my mother acted as if I should be "fine".  Any extra support went to my sister, who had seemed to explode into a pillar of problems, issues, and chaos.    It's not that NM had so many problems with my sister that she couldn't also attend to me.  It was that she never, ever considered how I was feeling or what I was going through.  If I expressed any dissent, hurt, or God forbid, the slightest degree of anger, she would shut me down immediately.  My unhappiness was impeding and dampening HER happiness, so I was not allowed to be unhappy.  I distinctly remember her telling me "It is my turn to be happy."  I can look back now and see how she felt she'd sacrificed for her family (she had an NM and an alcoholic father and had taken on a lot of family responsibilities herself) and than been so unhappy with my father.  But at the time, I was stunned that I wasn't allowed to have ANY feelings because it conflicted with what she wanted to do.   I wasn't allowed to talk about it.  When I spent three weeks locked in my room, only coming out for school, she ignored me.  She never asked how I felt, never talked to me about the divorce.  And in fact, she then pushed her "new" family at me and demanded that I fall into line and embrace these strangers (my step father, in particular, who she'd been having an affair with.)  The divorce was acrimonious, there was significant traumas, my sister was out of control, I was left alone a LOT to care for my sister on the weekend, yet my mother never once bothered to stop and consider how I feel.

In my mid-20s, she apparently grew bored with her new family and decided to swoop back in and take back the reigns as "THE mom" in charge of me.  It was at this point, she became very enmeshing and co-dependent.  She had been quite enmeshing when I was a child (not considering what I liked, who I was, or what I wanted) but as an adult, it took on a whole new level.  She wanted to operate my life like she was at the control panel.  She expected to push buttons and I would do whatever she wanted.  And in a lot of ways, I did just that.  As I said, since a young girl, I had always wanted to just make my mother happy.  I wanted to fix that unhappiness she seemed to have (which now came because my sister, 10 years later, as still extremely out of control and we never knew if any day she would find some way to kill herself.  And my the "shine" of the new family had worn off).    So,  I tried to make her happy.  Tried to do what she wanted and be the "good girl" again.  The wounds of the divorce hadn't healed (I had felt so utterly abandoned) but my mom was "back" and I so wanted to make it work.

But, of course, it didn't.  Any attempts to have a real relationship, express any individuality, act like an adult were insults to her.  She took great personal offense to me not accepting her "help" (money forced on me so she could strong arm me into doing what she wanted.  She now had a rich husband, so money became her favorite tool.  It worked on my sister but not me.).  If I didn't take what she offered, I was ungrateful.  If I did take it, I took advantage of her.  If I did take it and didn't do what she wanted, I was spoiled.  I just couldn't win.

And during this time, she tended to take out her own anger about how her life had turned out and project it onto me.  She had constant criticisms and was just down right nasty at times.  Little insults, little digs.  Constantly telling me that I didn't measure up to her expectations.  For a little girl who only wanted to please her mom, who had been terrified of losing her family during the divorce, I often acted desperately to please her.  I was in my 20s, but I still felt very much like a lost little girl.

I finally started to gather some courage and stand up to her in my late 20s.  Many events had become so difficult with her and I was frustrated and saddened that I couldn't figure out how to "get along" with her.  I decided to try talking things out with her.  This did NOT go over well.  Expressing any sort of feelings to her got regulated to "you're just still upset about the divorce".  Being a bit naive at the time and unsophisticated in dealing with Ns, I didn't have a response for this.  I didn't realize how she was shifting the point to take the pressure off of her.  I WAS still upset about the divorce.  I'd never had a chance to heal, my mother had never acknowledged that I even had a right to be upset about the divorce, and because she kept telling me that, my being upset was an affront to her happiness, I had stuffed all of my upset down.  I had wanted her to be happy, so I refused to acknowledge how upset and angry I was.

But that had NOTHING to do what was going on now.  My upset with my mother had to do with her controlling, belittling, demanding, and insensitive behavior.  It had to do with her insults and continued abuse of me.  It had to do with her emotionally raking me over the coals.  It had to do with her expectation that I was just as "responsible" for my sister and her out of control behavior as my own mother.  Her expectation that I was to fix it.  It had to do with my mother using me as her own personal psycho-therapist and dumping all of her problems on me.  Yes, the divorce wound was there, but it had nothing to do with what I was trying to resolve with my mother.

These interactions left me baffled and hurt.  I again felt so minimized.  I felt that I couldn't quite get to whatever it was I need to get to in my mother to make any difference in our relationship.  My feelings, my emotions, my anger with her, my hurt towards he was so offensive to her that she wouldn't allow me to express it at all.  If I did, she would become very wounded, hurt, angry, or upset.  And watching her feel like that was the ultimate discomfort for me.  I didn't want to hurt my mother.  

The pressure kept building though.  I remember one night in which she'd been drinking and had become particularly nasty in her criticism and snark.  We were driving home and she was yelling at me about how I was "just still upset about the divorce.  You're just still upset I married your step father."  I can remember fighting that feeling so badly to tell her how I felt.  I knew it would NOT end well if I did.  I remember her pushing and pushing me to tell her how I felt.  Not because she actually wanted to hear it, but because she was testing to me to see if I'd hold back.  She wanted me to deny every feeling I had and tell her that I wasn't angry with her, I wasn't upset with her, she was a GREAT mom and I loved her.  But I didn't.  I finally decided to give her what she'd been pushing me to do and I let her have it.  I wasn't mean towards her (I was still respectful, not calling her names or accusing her of anything) but I unleashed how I really felt.  And she went beserk.  We were in a Home Depot parking lot, me curled in a ball in the back seat, her screaming and clawing at the door to get out.  It was locked (automatically locks if the car travels over 15 mph) and she was like a caged animal trying to get out.  She was screaming at my husband to take her home.  He gently told her he thought we needed to just talk and figure things out.  I was sobbing.  She screamed so badly and freaked out so much that we took her to her hotel.  She got out with out a word.  The next day, she stopped by my house to say good bye and return a hair dryer.  She said not one word about it, didn't ask to resolve anything, but gave me a hug and figured that solved it all.

From that moment on, things were never quite the same.  As my kids came along, she demanded more and more to be put front and center.  And if I didn't, she became angry and hostile.  She played the victim.   She accused me of being unkind, keeping her from her grand kids, being selfish, and spoiled.  She accused me of favoring my in-laws (HAHA!  And she knows how much I struggle with them.)  She continues to dismiss me at every chance she gets.  In the last 4 years of LC, in which I went from talking to her for 2-3 hours every other day (well, listening to her, not really talking) to only talking briefly on holidays and birthdays.  I don't tell her anything about my life, and she doesn't ask.  I don't make an effort to see her.

In all this time, she's never once asked me how I'm feeling or if I'm OK.  She's never asked to make things better.  She's continued to pretend everything is fine.  She's never asked me if somethings wrong.  When I went NC with my sister, she never asked to hear my feelings on it.  She's preached to me about my sister, badgered me to get back into contact, and continued to share any and all details of how "great" my sister is doing (this is a lie).  But she's never asked what I need, how I'm doing, or if there is something SHE can help ME with.  She has never once, to my recollection really wanted to know what my feelings are.

The only time she cares is if it's a dramatic situation and she can suck up the NS from it or somehow position herself so she's pitying me.  It's only ever been to gain an advantage (like when my grandmother died almost a year ago, she suddenly became very "concerned" about me.  Interesting, because when her own mother died, she had no ability to see I might be grieving at all. )

As I've said no more and more to her, I can see that "good girl" image pop up in my head over and over.  This is the one tool she uses on me the most.  My willingness to be conscious, my desire to be the good daughter who makes her mother happy, my wish for a happier family.  She knows damn well that is my soft spot and uses it to her full advantage.  It really is difficult, because, often, I feel I'm compromising my own integrity by NOT doing what she wants.  I'm happy to give people what they ask for a lot of the time.  I'm happy to compromise and make people feel special and give a lot.  But when I discovered that she was using this to her advantage, asking more than she should have, and expecting total compliance, I was dumbfounded.

I've also realized that this is what sets me up to fail a lot with my NMIL too.  I want to be the "good DIL".  I want to make the family happy and get along.  I want to compromise and make it work.

Unfortunately, the goal of "good daughter/DIL" (and "good sister" ) is always changing in it's parameters.  I can never be good enough or just "good".   I have to do every little thing they tell me too.  I have to compromise and give up EVERYTHING that I am.  I have to relinquish any control over my life, my kids life and do whatever they want, whenever they want.  And even then, they will not be happy.

I have realized often in the past (intellectually) that I need to give up their definition of "good" and just do what I believe a good daughter would do.  And while I can understand that, the "doing" of that and fully taking that into my soul, is so much harder.  There is still a part of me that just wants her to be happy.  A part of me that just wants to figure it all out and get along.  I beat myself up routinely (aided by a lot of flying monkeys) for not being able to work out why I can't just be satisfied with doing what I know to be right.  In almost any area of my life, other than dealing with Ns, I'm very confident in knowing I've done the right thing.  Many people tell me I'm full of integrity and a kind and thoughtful person.  I just can't see what the next step is to getting rid of the discomfort of not living up to my mother's (and MIL's) expectations of me.  I'm not sure how to handle the criticism, nastiness, passive-aggressiveness, and shaming that comes from them when I don't live up to who they want me to be.  I don't know how to get self-esteem in that area.   I'm not sure how to deflect the gaslighting when they claim it's all me and I'm just a sorry excuse for a human being.    I can know it in my head, but how do I incorporate it into my being.