Tuesday, May 29, 2007
A state police patrol car was signaling from behind. To her horror, Lee realized the bus was pulling over to stop right on the Interstate. She had made it several hours away from her aunt's house, but was still within the reach of law. My mother had called Lee's father when she realized Lee had run away. A flurry of phone calls and investigation led to the bus being pulled off of I-5 to retrieve a 14 year old run-away.
Lee's father and mother arrived to pick her up shortly after she was taken off the bus. Her mother was quiet, her father was enraged. Lee soon found out she was being accused of more than running away. It didn't take long to find out the hot anger of her father had to do with something else. Lee was accused by my parents of having stolen a stack of postage stamps and around $100 cash from my father's desk. Lee's father being in law enforcement made the accusation of theft all the worse for him. And for Lee.
My uncle, Lee's father, is my father's younger brother. My uncle thought very highly of both of my parents. If they said something, it was the absolute truth. Lee soon realized there was going to be no appeal of the verdict. She had been accused by an unimpeachable authority. My parents. Lee's mother wasn't so quick to condemn her daughter. She had been the one who received the letters from my grandmother describing the disappearance of some her of personal things while living in my parent's home. Lee was not living in my parent's house at that time. My sister was. My aunt had always suspected my sister of the theft of my grandmother's items. Lee's mother also knew that Lee didn't have a history of theft. Her son did, but not her daughter. So when Lee vehemently denied the charges, she saw her father only became more angry, although her mother was quickly convinced of her innocence.
The aftermath of these events was devastating in my cousin's home. It was the equivalent of a bomb going off and shredding everyone in its radius. Lee had "earned" the disgust and opprobrium of her father through my family's accusations. Her mother was so completely convinced that her daughter did not steal from my parents that she was set in diametric opposition to her husband. Their already rocky marriage was now in extremis. My father had issued the verdict that Lee, the thief, was not ever to be allowed into his home again. This shame was nearly insupportable for Lee's father. His rage and disgust was directed at his daughter. His wife's efforts were directed at protecting Lee from her angry father. The battles raged on.
The chaos of Lee's home now increased exponentially. By the time she was fifteen she again made plans to run away from home. This time she succeeded. She was gone for many months. Her circumstances deteriorated once she was out on her own. She eventually was living in the street. I don't need to list the trial of woe that her middle teen years resulted in. With a little imagination you can probably guess what pitfalls she was set up to fall into by the circumstances I've described.
Shortly after Lee found herself in the street she contacted her parents. Money was sent so she could ride a bus back home. When she returned, home was very different. Her mother seemed distressingly indifferent to her. As was her father. No one asked her where she had been or what had happened to her. Obviously malnourished, thin as a rail and in poor health, no one expressed a shred of concern except that she take a bath because "you smell horrible". She was home again, but she was on her own. Her parent's marriage was all but over. Neither of her parents seemed to give a shit about her so immersed were they in their own drama and misery. Shortly after she returned home, her parents separated.
Over a year after my cousin had run away from my parent's home a surprising event occurred. My father called his brother and asked if he and my mother could come over for a short visit.
When they arrived my mother sat quietly not saying a word, as is her usual role when something really big is going down. My father was acting as the family spokesman:
"We were wrong. It turns out that our daughter [my sister] stole the money from us. We owe you an apology. "
End of subject.
Immediately after this statement my father turned to his brother and started making small talk. That was it. "We owe you an apology." There is a very large difference between saying you owe an apology and actually giving an apology. This was a grand example of a non-apology. Minimally, an apology would look like this: "We are very sorry for the false accusation made by our daughter and we ask your forgiveness." My cousin, sitting with an infant in her arms, was stunned into complete silence. She felt confused at my parents' attempt to sweep away an avalanche of dreadful consequence with this barest mention of culpability. It effectively trivialized everything she had endured as a result of my sister's vicious lie against her. Something so huge was just reduced to a mere dishonorable mention. My parents assumed a cool, distant mien while they mechanistically pronounced their reversal of the accusations that turned Lee and her family's life completely upside-down. They refused to even wear a look of humility. And where was the perp, my sister?? Safely back at home sheltered from having to make the confession herself.
I am certain that what happened is my sister finally got caught stealing cold hard cash from my parents with no one else around who could be blamed. This would have led to a line of questioning about the cash that went missing from my father's desk that wasn't noticed until Lee ran away. My father would have been the one to revisit that event in light of new information. Whatever my dad had on my sister, it had to have been overwhelming for her to confess to a previous crime of stealing and then blaming her cousin. It is very likely it was my father that put two and two together and was holding my sister's feet to the fire. Whatever my sister's punishment ended up being, it couldn't have been too bad because the most difficult thing for her to do in order to make redress was not required of her. She was not required to make things right herself to the people she had so grossly wronged.
This is how I look at my sister's refusal to personally apologize. At the time she would have been around 20 years old. Although she was still living in my parent's home, she was no longer a minor. Knowing her as I do, if my parents told her she needed to apologize directly to Lee and her family, my sister would have been quite capable of flatly refusing to do so. She could not have been forced to do the right thing because my parents had little power to make her do what she didn't want to do. My sister had long ago rebelled against parental authority. So her absence from the apology scene at my cousin's home was likely less about my parents sheltering my sister from the consequences of her behavior and more about my sister absolutely refusing to make things right herself. So, in my mind, not only is she a complete coward, but she is a low-life for not ever doing anything to even try to make things right. Morality is fundamentally about doing the right thing by others. It is about how our personal habits and behaviors and words affect other people. My sister, like all narcissists, violate all the fundamental laws of morality because they put themselves first in every situation. In my opinion, my sister belongs in a zoo because her level of morality resembles an animal's. She is unsafe to directly interact with humans.
Because my father had issued the edict to his brother that they weren't welcomed in his home if Lee was with them (which means they didn't feel welcomed at all) my father would have felt the pressure to clear the air a bit since the residual sense of fairness still present in him would have required he make some signal that the closed door was now open again. Naturally, my father's lame-ass overture did little to bring the two families together again, but I doubt he cared about that. He only wanted to remove the evidence of his part in the crime against my cousin and her family by removing his imposed sanctions. This was his "cleansing act" to absolve his own conscience. It obviously wasn't about making things truly right.
I do understand that the level of shame my sister brought on my parents was substantial. Part of the evidence of their sense of shame is that these events were never even hinted at to me. I never heard any of these events from my parents' or sister's lips. I did hear about my cousin running away and being a thief. They never told me the "rest of the story". I also know how my father, for as long as I have memories, has held his brother in some contempt. This was largely because of my mother's nasty attitude toward anyone in my father's family. She was able to infect my father with her many insinuations toward all of his family. Since my sister's actions affected people whom my parents considered "beneath" them, this would have helped to mitigate their sense of shame giving them the courage to show their faces for the fake apology session. All that "these people" deserved was a quick quasi-apology with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the dreadful consequences my cousin and her family had lived with because of my sister's bad act. These facts, when I finally was made aware of them two decades later, outrage me to this day.
My cousin shared this episode with me about a year after we had developed a close friendship. The year was 2003. At that very time my sister was beginning to show signs of jealousy that Lee and I were close friends. It was something I tried to hide from my sister as much as possible. But certain events (involving our mother) were making the truth evident. Sister dearest wanted a piece of this action. As had been true all of our lives, if I have something, sister feels entitled to it. She had already made comments to me that made it obvious she expected me to smooth the way to open up the possibility for Lee and my sister to start communicating. When I became aware of my sister's outright crime against our cousin and her lack of confession for any of it, I was sickened that she would expect to come into Lee's life like nothing had ever happened. I was aware of my sister's expectations of me; how she was expecting to have a friendship with our cousin, too, with me opening the way for that to happen. I was also aware that my cousin not holding resentment toward my sister (she's just that kind of person), but she was having a hard time feeling like she could trust my sister. No small wonder. Like me, Lee had been the recipient of malicious acts that had never been admitted to. This makes forming a trust nigh to impossible. Because I now had a big picture of my sister's past relationship with my cousin, I never did anything to try to facilitate the two of them becoming friends. I wasn't going to be found pressuring my cousin to trust a person that I myself was still not able to trust.
Keep in mind, my sister could have made the effort to start communicating with our cousin on her own. Nothing was keeping her from picking up the phone. Well, nothing except for this sordid past. She knew she had a huge hurdle to get over in order to have a friendship with our cousin, but she wasn't willing to pay the price to truly make it right. She was unable, nay, unwilling, to make a full confession even after 20 years and apologize to the person she directly wronged in such a callous and devastating way. But my sister, as usual, was more worried about her own feelings. Not wanting to set herself up for rejection she would not extend herself in such a way as to experience full rejection if her advances were rebuffed.
In true narcissist fashion, my sister wanted to proceed as if this unpleasant past didn't exist. She wanted my cousin to pretend it didn't exist. Sister dearest hung back, occasionally making small overtures toward Lee, but Lee never took the bait. Sister was held back from more aggressive overtures because of this past history. She was afraid of outright rejection, so she would make a tentative attempt, like a Christmas gift one year (kinda funny after never having given my cousin Christmas gifts in all their lives) or a short email. Lee acknowledged the gift or would answer an email without inviting a response...and then would let the contact drop. My sister didn't have enough moral certitude to proceed more aggressively, which is why she wanted me to get in on the action. My sister did send one email to Lee during this time in which she made an attempt to wash the slate clean by vaguely apologizing for things not specified. While attempting to look like she was apologizing, she also minimized her own guilt by blaming the "damage" done to her by our mother. She attempted to pretend to not remember anything specifically wrong she might have done, but wanted Lee to know she was sorry for whatever Lee may remember being done against her. I was singularly unimpressed when I read it. She was trying to whitewash things, not apologize. An apology is completely ruined when accompanied by excuses. If you are not willing to completely own your shit and to not attempt to shuck any of the blame, then don't bother calling it an apology, cuz it ain't one. I'm sure my sister noticed that her shitty non-apology didn't buy her any capital.
I am certain my sister never has connected the dots between her letting her cousin take the rap for her own theft and the violent upheaval of Lee's life and her family's cohesion. This doesn't take her off the hook. This makes her all the more despicable to me. Why? Because, in her own mind, she is less guilty than she really is. She has no real appreciation of the extent of her guilt and the depth of reparation necessary to show true remorse. She is less guilty in her own mind than she really is in reality. Even with this lesser amount of guilt from her perspective, she isn't willing to come clean.
My sister spends an inordinate amount of effort and emotional energy on remembering the past with her mother and father and recounting all the ways their actions hurt her. This is because she found Christianized, yet still Freudian, psychology which tells her all her problems stem back to her childhood. Nothing is ever her fault. She is a class-one victim and is anxious to make sure everyone around her knows how damaged she is. I used to wonder when she was going to get around to reviewing the past where she hurt people. Then, I would wonder if she would do what she was expecting her parents to do for her: completely own her bad acts and express eternal remorse for them. But, no, it never seemed to go there. She does exactly what she faults her parents for...ignores her own bad behaviors and acts like they never happened or puts a positive spin on her deeds so they are no longer viewed as mis-deeds. If you feel like making excuses for my sister, go right ahead. But I'm done with excusing her. She has never been willing to own her own shit, while expecting everyone around her to own theirs. Like any narcissist, she is a complete hypocrite. One of my greatest temptations right now is to send her a link to this blog so she can finally see in black and white what I know about her and what I think of her so for the first time in her life she would be forced to hear what her victims think of her. I'll probably resist this temptation successfully unless she tries to force herself on me at some point. All bets are off then.
One of the people most relieved when I cut off my sister was my dear cousin Lee. I was the only person through whom my sister could have access to her. The same was true of my parents. When I stopped communicating with them, I was not only sheltering my immediate family, but Lee, her sons and her father. We all live in the same city a few houses apart. My parents and sister are unaware of where we all live. We moved in tandem for a second time to a whole new state and city. This move was not done specifically to drop off the radar, but it happily worked to that end. We all feel delightedly happy and safe from their predations.
I can end this chapter with a happy note. Before my cousin was out of her teens, her father turned around. He radically transformed after he and his wife separated and eventually divorced. The abusive behavior stopped. He has been a loving and supportive father to his daughter. Those who know their situation, know he has gone well beyond the call of duty in how he subsequently helped Lee and her sons. They are a close and loving family now. Her sons are good young men with bright futures. I am proud to know them all. They are more than family, they are beloved friends. They have each and all experienced the very worst of my family. They know personally the hateful and cruel ways of my parents and my sister. I am blessed beyond measure that our lives came together in spite of my mother's multiplied efforts to keep me from knowing these wonderful and real people. I am grateful that I stopped believing my mother's lies so I could find the people who are more family to me than my parents and sister ever were.
When you expunge narcissists from your life, you find that you have a lot more room in your life for good people.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
It has recently been brought to my attention through an email exchange with a reader of my blog that there is a need for me to address the unique issues confronting Christians when dealing with a narcissistic parent.
It is hard enough to deal with the disapproval of societal expectations when you aren't a Christian. There is a lot of pressure in secular society for adult children to excuse any bad behavior in their parents. There is also a strong disapproval by society for anyone to use the label of "evil" to describe certain behaviors. Pop psychology promotes the idea that abusers are victims too. We are told to look sympathetically at abusive people and find "reasons" for their behaviors. This serves as nothing but a preamble to excusing the behavior. This gives the abuser a pass to continue treating you as they want with you having no real power to remove yourself from the situation.
As difficult as it is for a non-Christian to find relief from the evil behaviors of their narcissist parent, you can multiply those difficulties by about a factor of ten for the Christian. The narcissist parent who claims to be a Christian has the huge leverage of a God-given commandment to "honor your father and mother" which they universally interpret to mean, "do everything I tell you to and make me happy). They also have the leverage of a community of people (other believers) who tend to dismiss the idea that another Christian may be covertly evil and abusing their children. So other Christians can often be recruited by a narcissist parent to put the pressure on the adult child to make all efforts to stay reconciled to the abusive parent with the added fear of condemnation from God if they don't knuckle under. This behavior is spiritually abusive. It can not be over-stated how powerful a club this is on adult children of narcissists to keep them, and their own families, under the tyranny of their parent(s). Should a person decide that such a God isn't worth serving if He forces us to stay in an abusive situation with a parent or risk hell, they really can't be blamed. I wouldn't want to serve such a god either.
The good news is that the God of the Bible is just (as in justice) as well as merciful. (Psalm 89:14) His mercy is reserved for those who are humble enough to realize they need it. His justice is dispensed without partiality. (Partiality is presented as being the opposite of "just" in the Bible, therefore God doesn't condone it or engage in it. For example, see Acts 10:34 and James 3:17) Non-repentant abusers are not given a pass by God to continue just because they happened to bring children into the world.
Let's look at the greatest spiritual narcissist's club: the fifth commandment. Is the fifth commandment carte blanche for the abusive parent?
Let me state this very clearly for the record. I am not presenting you with the Biblical arguments I used to justify my decision to cut off my parents. These are the the principles that I used to inform my decision to do so. If my examination of the Bible made it clear that I am supposed to keep evil people in my life if they call themselves "mom" or "dad", then I would have had to comply. It didn't work out that way I'm happy to report.
First, I can categorically state that there is no Biblical example of God honoring evil. We have no Biblical example or statement of God requiring His people to honor evil. We have scores of Biblical exhortations for God's people to rebuke and shun evil (I will deal with this more in an upcoming post). If you are willing to acknowledge as truth these two realities then you will have to conclude that whatever God was telling us to do in the fifth commandment, He was NOT requiring us to honor evil. This is not going to be an exhaustive treatment of the fifth commandment. I am only going to give you some highlights to help you examine what you believe.
Christ divided the commandments into two parts; love for God and love for man. (Matt. 22:36-40) The second part of the ten commandments (love for man) begins at the fifth commandment which tells us to honor our parents. The very foundational authority of society is parental authority. If children are not taught to obey parental authority it leads directly to societal degradation through the disregard of ANY authority that is the inevitable result of a disregard of parental authority. This foundational authority is reinforced by God's Own authority by placing this command in the Big Ten. The intent and purpose of this commandment is to maintain structure and order in society and respect for higher authority at the place where it originates...the family. Ideally, parents are to be loving, protecting and nurturing even as they establish their authority to make the rules in the family. When these principles prevail in a majority of families, society is law-abiding and healthy. We see in our present-day examples of how the breakdown of parental authority has far-reaching effects on society at large. God is protecting all of us with this commandment from the devastating effects of the breakdown of respect for all authority which begins in the family home.
When we grow up and leave the parental home the fifth commandment doesn't apply in the same sense, though it still has force for the adult child. In Biblical times, up until quite recently, children would leave the parental home when they themselves were entering marriage. The Bible is clear that a new dynamic occurs when this happens. Genesis 2:24, where God performed the first marriage we are told this: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Biblically, when we marry, we are no longer under subjection to parental authority. We are no longer to live as if our parents come first. The Biblical language on this is profound. In God's eyes, married people "are one flesh". No where is the parent/child relationship described this way. In God's estimation, marriage binds two people together more profoundly than even blood relation. What comes first, after we marry, is OUR SPOUSE. We do not live our lives according to parental "laws" except the laws of kindness and respect and making sure our parents are not indigent. This is a crucial point because narcissistic parents are audacious enough to make the claim that they come before your spouse and your own children. This claim can not be supported Scripturally. If you are conceding to this demand you are not honoring your vows before God and your spouse and you are failing your own children. The Biblical instruction for married people is that they are to be in subjection to each other. 1 Cor. 7:3-4. Other, more controversial, verses put the husband in authority over the wife, but this is with the careful caveat that the husband is to love his wife as tenderly as he loves his own body and as Christ loves the church. Since Christ died for the church, this puts the bar very high on the level of sacrifice and other-centered love a husband is to have for his wife. No oppression is being sanctioned in these instructions. But I digress. The point is, Biblically, a husband and wife are a new entity before God and are subject to each other and not their parents. A conscientious married Christian is duty-bound before God to no longer subject themselves to the rules and regulations an unscrupulous parent may demand. The narcissist parent who demands the regard of first place in the lives of their grown children hasn't a Biblical leg to stand on.
In my next post on this subject I will continue to present the principles involved with the fifth commandment.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
In a matter of weeks after I moved out with my daughter into my own apartment a crisis unfolded in my cousin's household. I will refer to my female cousin as Lee and my male cousin as Darrin.
Darrin was the cousin living with my family when I ran away from home at age 17. He is about five years my junior. I think it is fair to label him sociopathic. (His father, a retired police officer, doesn't argue with this label.) No, my mother's efforts to reform my male cousin didn't work. At all. The older he became the less his parents were able to control his behaviors. Drugs, violence, theft, promiscuous sex, cruelty to animals; if it was bad he was doing it. He had been difficult even as a very young child; the difficulties only increased with age. I am sure that he was one of the reasons his parents marriage was strained. There were other reasons, but I'm sure this was not an insignificant factor.
The next part of this story is in my cousin Lee's own words. This is from the letter she wrote to my dad in the summer of '05. Names and places are changed to protect the guilty and the innocent:
These are the circumstances which landed Lee in my parent's home. As you can tell from what was said, her home was in turmoil. Her parent's marriage was in trouble. Her elder brother was running wild. Lee was having to raise herself because her mother was bored with parenting. Her brother was the favored child by her mother...the above event is just an example of how that was the case.
The next significant time that I spent with Aunt D was when I was fourteen years old. My mom dumped me in Aunt D's lap quite suddenly one day. Mom and Dad had decided that we needed to leave [the city they lived in] to escape from Darrin. Darrin's constant scrapes with the law, violence at home, drug use, and licentious behavior were making things very difficult for all of us at home and for Dad at work. I think the last straw was when a local drug dealer began making threats of violence against our whole family because Darrin owed him money. I desperately didn’t want to move away from the only friend I had bonded with since my family began moving around when I was nine. We did move though, and within months Darrin was living with us in [new city], anyway. In retrospect I can see that my parents’ marriage was already in trouble. My mom had already announced to me while we were still living in [previous city] that I was now "an adult" and she was "through raising me." I ran pretty much wild, as our household continued to revolve around Darrin and his needs, problems, and violent outbursts. I lived in an atmosphere of constant stress, turmoil, chaos, and violence. I broke out in skin rashes, had headaches, and lost my eyelashes as stress ate away at me physically and mentally. I couldn’t make real friendships and was very withdrawn. Dad was busy at work and still trying to straighten out his errant son, and my mom had begun "living her own life" by attending church and developing friendships there and volunteering at the library. I was as alone as could be.
Darrin continued to rule our home. One day as I was sitting at our kitchen table eating and Darrin was in the kitchen fixing himself something to eat, he suddenly, out of the blue, turned to me with a malicious, frightening grin on his face...in a scary, satanic voice he hissed, "I am the devil, and I am going to kill you!" My eyes opened wide and I laughed nervously and uncertainly..."Darrin?..." I said...all of a sudden his distorted face fell back into its natural expression and he laughed in his regular tone...the scary voice gone, he laughed, "Oh, just kiddin’ Lee!" He really scared me.One day, soon after that, my mother and I were having an argument...I don’t know what it was about...screaming, yelling, and anger were the rule in our home, not the exception, so who knows? It doesn’t matter…what does matter is what followed our angry exchange. I went into the bathroom, and Darrin followed me in...in an instant he had grabbed me by the throat, forced me down over a tall standing laundry hamper, and was choking me! I couldn’t scream or call for help or make any sound...the next thing I knew, my mother was practically climbing Darrin's back, peeling his hands off my throat, screaming for him to stop. Finally he let go of me. I was crying and shaken...my mom instructed me to pack my things; I was going to Aunt D’s house! I was astonished and confused...why was I being sent away? Darrin had just tried to murder me, and he was staying...I was being exiled without a word of explanation! I quickly threw a few belongings into a bag, and Mom drove me the four-hour drive to your home. I remember screaming at my mom in the car that I didn’t want to be sent away...she would not answer me or explain what I had done wrong. She never addressed the fact that my brother had just attempted to strangle me...she just stoically drove the four hours. When we reached your home, my mom told me to stay in the family room-kitchen area, and she went up to your bedroom to await Aunt D’s arrival. Apparently, she didn’t want to sit in the same room with me while we waited for Aunt D. I remember Aunt D’s surprise to find me in her kitchen when she arrived home. She went upstairs, and she and my mother had a long conference. My mom left immediately following the conference with very little said to me except, "Good-bye." It has only recently occurred to me that perhaps my mother didn’t ever tell Aunt D about Darrin's attempt to strangle me. She probably didn’t want to admit that a murder had almost occurred in her home and instead of punishing the guilty one, she was exiling the victim! Most likely, she presented me to Aunt D as in need of discipline. Even though I had been allowed to pretty much "raise myself" since my mother declared me "a grown-up", I doubt very much that she presented that picture truthfully to Aunt D. Anyway, I was left in your home by my negligent mother who couldn’t find it in her heart to protect me. I definitely felt like I had been "dumped" into your laps, and I was exceedingly embarrassed and self-conscious of that.
Now that my cousin is in the custody of my mother it is important to describe what Lee's attitude toward her was. I'll let her describe it...again from her letter to my father:
I tried not to be a burden in your home. I was a bad kid with a stunted character, so I don’t blame Aunt D for everything that went wrong. I got blamed sometimes for things I didn’t do and sometimes for having motives that I truly didn’t have, and, just as when I was younger, I accepted the blame without telling the true story. One day soon after I arrived, Aunt D told me that I would begin attending [a private Christian school] the next day. I started to cry, as I was just overwhelmed with one more change...Aunt D put her arms around me and quietly said, "I know, honey, you’ve had a lot to deal with all at once." That amazing moment has lived in my heart ever since! That was the first kind, loving touch or sentiment that I had been given in months and months...maybe years! I was starved for love and understanding! That moment seared a love and loyalty in my heart for Aunt D that made it possible for me to accept the false blame, the wrong understanding of my motives, her back-handed criticisms, and her exacting demands...they were over-ruled in my heart by my gratitude for her acceptance and love at that crucial moment when I let my guard down in front of her and cried.Side note: My mother consistently would offer comfort to my sister and I after we had broken down into tears. Most often those tears were the result of our mother pushing us emotionally until we broke down. This was an important part of her brain-washing technique. She instinctually knew to present herself as a "comforter" after we were sobbing. It creates a Stockholm syndrome response. Your tormentor and jailer is transformed into your solace and sustenance. It was very effective. My mother's animal instinct told her at this moment with my cousin that Lee was very vulnerable. My mother didn't have to beat her up to get her to the tears, but she saw those tears and used them to her advantage. The advantage my mother always angles for is that of a savior. She comes in on a white horse and saves you from whatever and you feel eternally grateful and assume the best of her motives even when things start going horribly wrong. This pattern has been repeated so often in my mother's relationships with me and others that I can assure you this was the dynamic in this little vignette my cousin shared above.
Many years after these events I listened for some time as my cousin described what it was like for her in my home during those months. She was foisted upon my sister by my mother. Everything my sister did, she was expected to include Lee. This was not something my sister seemed to appreciate. She took special delight in little torments of her cousin. Or she would take advantage of her for an audience as my sister preened and bragged about her conquests and exploits. Never mind the years of my behavior toward my sister where I didn't punish her for being forced upon me by our mother. My sister didn't choose to "do unto others as you would have them do to you." She was cruel, arrogant and used our cousin as a scapegoat. My sister could now steal things and blame our cousin for it. Lee is willing to admit to her deficits in character. Whatever her character failings at the time, she never once stole anything from my family. In fact, she made it a point to eat as little as she could and to minimize any financial burden her presence may incur.
Lee made it a point to make herself as small as possible. She would wash her clothes in the bathtub so as not to burden my mother with her laundry. (WHY didn't my mother inquire about my cousin's laundry? Good question. My mother really didn't give a crap about Lee. She was an inconvenience.) Lee only had a few items of clothing, so frequent laundering was necessary. When my mother finally took her out to buy some clothing, my mother bought frilly and silly girly stuff that wasn't at all what Lee was used to wearing. She wore them without complaint. Lee would tuck herself away in a dark corner of the furthest room in the house for hours at a time trying to stay out of everyone's way and notice. Her existence in my family's home was lonely and scary.
I could regale with with many little details of the torments my sister and mother put my young cousin through, but I prefer to cut to the chase. I will let my cousin tell one more story in her own words so you can get just a bit more of a feel of life for her at my parent's house. Again, I'm quoting from her letter to my father:
One day, after washing your [delivery] truck, Aunt D came outside to find me to chastise me for some wrong thing I had done. I don’t remember my crime or whether or not I was truly guilty this time. Let’s assume I was. Aunt D stood before me and chastised me...I don’t remember why she was angry, but she was. She grabbed both of my arms and continued to scold me. I wrenched myself free of her grasp and walked away from her. I was only about ninety pounds at the time and not prone to violence. I didn’t want to fight with her or hurt her, but my home life had taught me that when things get physical, the best thing to do is to get away! That’s what I did...I got away. I walked away into the house. Later that evening, I was summoned in to the family room. You and Aunt D were waiting for me. Aunt D sat quietly in a chair off to the side, and you did all the talking. You said Aunt D had told you what had happened between us earlier that day...you said I was never, ever to touch your wife again and that if I ever did, you would kill me! Looking back, I have to assume that you were not actually serious about killing me...however, I took you at your word, Uncle R. Your threat was one of the main motivations in my plan my escape. Wouldn’t you have quickly found a way to "get out of Dodge"? After all, it was clear to me that you had been made to believe that I had acted out violently towards Aunt D. What was to stop the next story told about me from being worse? What would stop you then from keeping your word and killing me? .... I have to wonder if thinking that I had tried to hurt your wife didn’t make it easier to think other bad things about me later after I left your home. I ran away from your home and didn’t look back because I received unfair, unjust treatment there. I was grateful to Aunt D for every kind thing she did for me...I wanted to be bonded to her and to believe that she meant well... but when I realized that again Aunt D’s "truth" was far from reality and that you were willing to defend her to the death, I knew I wasn’t safe there.Lee's serious plans for running away were shortly set in motion. She had two friends she was able to maintain contact with through letters. One of them lived in southern Cal. These are the only two human beings on the earth who had any idea of what she was enduring in my parent's home. They took pity on her and helped her make plans for her escape. She was sent money for taxi and bus fare.
So a second young girl makes a get away from my parent's house of torments. Unfortunately for Lee, her plan didn't work as well as mine. She had the major disadvantage that her father worked for the State police. This means that State authorities were able to stop the Greyhound bus southbound on the Interstate to force my cousin to get off the bus.
My sister's role in the next scene was primary. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
My sister had apparently settled on a niggling, disquieting thought...what if I, her sister, was seeing some parallels between NPD and her?
In a voice sounding slightly higher pitched than normal she posed a question:
"Ah, S, I was just wondering. Um, with all of your reading on NPD, do you think I might be a narcissist?"...the sound of her voice trailing upward at the end with a bit of a coy, saccharine tone.
Since I wasn't born yesterday I recognized an emotional land mine set for my feet, so I had to think quickly on my feet. I picked the most diplomatic yet honest reply I could find on the spur of the moment.
"I think you showed some narcissistic tendencies when you were a teenager."Her reaction was immediate and defensive. Suddenly sounding quite huffy and very irritated she responded with an immediate defense of herself as a teen. It wasn't her fault. It was Mom's fault. She was a victim of Mom and didn't know how to react appropriately, she hardly even remembers what she did back then because of the trauma, etc., etc.
I knew right then and there that I had picked the safest course. I didn't even say she was a narcissist way back then. I said that, as a teen, she had shown tendencies. So, my littlest criticism of her behavior as a teen (which was twenty years earlier) and she still goes into a completely defensive mode. She proved as recently as this phone conversation that she refuses to own her bad actions during a time when a person is considered accountable for what they do. Can you imagine what holding her to account in the present would look like? Not good. Which is what ended up happening about six months later.
At that time, I was choosing not to perceive my sister as narcissistic. She had been playing it quite cool during the two year period that I was doing intensive research on NPD. I was willing to put everything behind me and proceed as if my sister had actually matured because I was always wanting to believe that. Whenever she gave me the slightest excuse, I would think the best of her.
My diplomatic answer that day was an honest one. But her over-reaction to that tiny piece of honesty forced me to recognize that my sister was fundamentally unchanged in one important respect: she is never to blame. This conversation was also proof she was not sorry for her bad acts as a late teen and young adult. Which meant she would be even less sorry for anything she had done more recently. Even the distance of twenty years was not enough for her to be willing to admit to anything. She has a pile of guilt and shame she isn't willing to pay the debt on so she can be free of it. The "demon at the door" demands payment in order for her to proceed. Deny, deny, deny. The projection of perfection even as she was as a teen is still imperative for her to keep in place. Sad, really.
As I stated in my previous post, my sister has never asked for forgiveness. This conversation confirmed why she hasn't...she is not willing accept any blame for her bad behavior. None. She is always perfectly justified for anything she says or does. Someone else is always to blame. This has been the way of it all through the years.
Just like any other narcissist.
I let my sister talk until she had herself feeling good again. I didn't raise any contradictions. I made noises like I understood what she was saying. Mind you, we have never had a talk about her treatment of me over the years. Never. I always knew it would lead to her justifying herself and quite angrily, at that. I've never been able to contradict her, or even to hint to her that her behavior is wrong, without having to pay the price of her anger and self-justification. I have also learned that even when my sister solicits my opinion, there is only one "right" answer...what she wants to hear. So, I just wanted to her to lay her feathers back down so I could quietly walk away in one piece. She had herself all put together again by the end of this short conversation.
Now I was the one left with disquieted feelings and an uncomfortable niggling in my mind.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I'd like to stipulate for the record that my sister became a thief. This isn't something I have brought to your attention yet because I didn't find out my sister's fingers were sticky until I was in my twenties. Since I'm trying to tell this story in some sort of order this fact hasn't been brought forward.
Lemme back up a bit. As I've recounted to you, I moved back in with my parents and sister after leaving my first husband. My sister was fourteen when I first left home. She was now eighteen. Much drama occurred between my sister and mother in the immediate wake of my absence. My mother withdrew into herself and quit being a mother to my sister. Cruel scenes occurred as my mother vented her rage on the only person within reach and still dependent on her. This twisted up my sister pretty good. From the sheltered fair-haired child to an object of unfair rage. It was a jolt. I was the one who took the brunt of my mother's behaviors up until I left. My sister's run-in with the full force of our mother was a shock to her. She decided to accept she didn't have a mother anymore and proceeded to live life on her own terms. She took a serious turn into narcissism. It was all about my sister as far as my sister was concerned. Some say that crisis builds character. Other, wiser folk, say "crisis reveals character". My sister didn't change so much as she committed herself all the more to her narcissistic bent.
This set up the stage for the next clash of the Titans. After two or three years my mother decided to check back into mother-mode. This didn't settle well with sister. Now the rage was coming from sister and directed at mother dearest. Their relationship closely resembled a sibling relationship after this point. They argued and fought and sassed back and forth at each other. It was unclear who had the most power. Actually, it was clear that my mother had surrendered power during her period of self-indulgent depression and my sister refused to hand it back to her. This fundamentally changed their relationship forever.
Sometime during my four year absence my sister decided if she wanted something, it was hers. She started with mom's things. She would swipe articles of clothing routinely. Sometimes she would return them. She was just "borrowing". Well, it was a bit of a shocker to me to start finding things missing. She started stealing articles of clothing. Then my make-up and toiletries would go missing. I finally realized I was being stolen from and started to go hunting for my things in my sister's room and found them often enough to know who the thief was. My mother was useless in dealing with it. Even when I forced a confrontation with my sister in my mother's presence with the evidence in my hand I got no help. My mother had abdicated her role, only I really didn't know that yet. I was just confounded and outraged that there were no penalties for my sister's behavior. I can still see her arrogant look as I was confronting her. Like I was being petty and small for caring that she permanently "borrowed" something from me without asking.
One day I noticed that my sheaf of poetry was missing. As an angst ridden teen I had composed some poetry. Some of it erotic, some of it was actually rather good. I went hunting for it in my sister's desk one day. I was enraged to find it in her things and to also see she was trying to pass it off as her own in one of her classes.
When I was courting Ed, who would be my second husband, we would write letters back and forth because we would not see each other during the week. After realizing that letters from Ed to me, and some of mine to him, were not arriving at their destinations I again went on the hunt. I ruffled through my sister's top dresser drawer and found a half dozen of Ed's and my own letters in there. That means she would go out to the mailbox after I put a letter in there and would steal it and read it in addition to occasionally swiping his incoming letters. All the letters had been opened. This was nothing more than pure voyeurism on her part. I began to despise her again. I moved out shortly thereafter and had as little to do with her as possible for the next five years or so.
My paternal grandparents lived with my parents for a couple of the years during my first marriage. I found out later that my grandmother was vexed by the disappearance of certain of her undergarments, like camisoles, and other lacy things. My grandmother had a nice figure and a love for pretty things. This worked out well for sister dearest because she could steal things that fit from her own grandmother. My grandmother didn't confront my mother because she thought my mother might be the thief. The aunt, to whom my grandmother was writing letters to at the time and sharing her perplexity at the missing items, was certain it was my sister. My aunt was right. For all my mother's faults at the time, she wasn't yet a thief. I had direct experience shortly after this time of my grandmother's missing items so I lay the charge at my sister. There isn't any jury who wouldn't have convicted her given the chain of evidence.
My sister started to steal cash from my parents. Most of it from a little jar that sat on the kitchen counter for years. They called it "egg money" because my parents would sell their chicken's eggs and put the cash in the jar. It was like "petty cash" and therefore careful accounting of the cash in and out wasn't done. My sister would "borrow" egg money. She was allowed to if she put a slip of paper in there with an "IOU". But more often than not it just "slipped" her mind to put that little note in there. Somehow, the cash missing in the jar didn't seem to equal the IOUs. I remember my parents yelling at my sister many times over the "egg money" jar, but she always seemed to have "plausible deniability". They never really got a handle on her cash swiping. She did start to steal cash from other places in the house, too. Like my father's desk. But this was later...and she had a scapegoat for it.
***I also want to stipulate for the record that none of these offenses my sister committed against me were "unforgivable". The only deed that is unforgivable is the one you won't confess to. She has never asked for my forgiveness. So, in the truest sense of what forgiveness is, I am unable to give her something she hasn't asked for. I lived for years without thinking about her "crimes" against me. I made a sincere effort to have a relationship with my sister that was truly sisterly. I didn't revisit the past in my mind until she would do something in the present that looked like what had happened in the past. But it was only after I was forced to realize that I could never have any kind of relationship with my sister that I have re-examined past events in light of what I know now. I don't have any hatred of my sister. She is just a character populating my past that I can study on occasion, but don't feel much one way or another about her. I just want to make it clear that I do understand that what she has done in the past isn't like the "crime of the century". I'm not trying to make it into that either. I'm simply telling how things happened. Cause and effect. A good relationship relies very much on trust. Trust, once broken, needs certain things in order to be re-built. If you want someone to trust you after you've done something wrong to them, the best and quickest way to re-build trust is to specifically apologize for what you did. No caveats. No excuses or blame-shifting. Without that as a start...you will never be able to re-build trust. The best you can hope for is some kind of emotional "truce". This is the fundamental problem created by my sister's acts in the past. They remain unconfessed to the present. She has never "owned" what she did. You just can't trust a person who won't admit their bad acts especially when they were malicious. So these things lay beneath the surface undermining any chance of a truly close friendship to develop between my sister and me. Continuing to violate little bits of trust I would give to her only underlined and highlighted that niggling distrust that remained from years of her betrayals.***
My sister's thievery, and lack of accountability for it, had extremely adverse consequences for my cousin within a year of me moving back out on my own. I'll tell that story another time. This will be the only story about my sister or mother on this blog that I didn't personally witness. But the "witness" has been thoroughly vetted by me. She is in my life. In fact, she lives about six houses down the street from me. (Our families have moved in tandem now to two different states. We've all managed to "slip" my family and are living in peace.)
My cousin is much like me in many ways. We are like sisters. My cousin has direct experience with both my mother and my sister's narcissism. She has experienced everything I have with both my mother and sister. I have an extremely empathetic friend in all this. I have someone who knows personally everything I've been through even though she didn't have to go through as many years of it as me. She's experienced the full range of what I've been through with my family. I have had ways to corroborate my cousin's recollections of events. I have even told her I was going to tell some of her story, as it relates to my sister, here on my blog. She is cool with that. She will be my fact-checker so I tell the story as it happened. Frankly, I'd like it if she told you the story, but I doubt I can get her to sit down long enough to write it up, so it'll be up to me. I do have a copy of a letter she sent to my father in 2005 which outlines her experiences with my narcissist mother. It is quite a well-told tale. Maybe she'll let me share it with you some day. My father rejected the contents of that letter saying my cousin just has a "heart full of hate"...something we all laugh at hysterically every time we quote him because she is about the sweetest person you could ever meet and know. My cousin has been criticized (gently and with humor) by all of us (her family and mine) for taking it too easy on my mom in that letter. Even so, it was rejected by my dad. Talk about a man who refuses to see. Anyway, I digress. My cousin has been neck-deep in the dysfunction of my own family. She's lived it all. It profoundly affected the course of her life.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
This is one way that a narcissist's family resembles a cult. Family members are cut off from the outside. Outsiders can, and usually do, include extended family. Children are taught that it is a mortal sin to violate the "no talk" rule. These rules are even more stringent when there is physical and sexual abuse in the home. In this way, the family becomes an appendage to the narcissist's illusion of perfection. They are forced to share and support his delusions. A House of Insanity which presents as the House of Perfection to those on the outside looking in.
The narcissist runs his home like a small dictatorship. Like any dictator he issues rules of speech. "Political" correctness rules the day and the home. If there is a truth that reflects poorly on the narcissist then speaking of that truth becomes a punishable offense. The more safe a narcissist is from exposure, the more egregious his crimes become. Like any despot he rules with an iron fist. You may even have to deal with that fist being planted in your face.
The more oppressive the nature of the regime of the narcissist is the more likely his little fiefdom will collapse from within. Humans are equipped with a built-in desire for freedom. Rebellion will often rise up in the heart of at least one of his subjects. The moment one of the members of his family lets go of the shared delusion -- mutiny is born.
Secretiveness and false reality built his kingdom. The converse will destroy it. Talking to each other, or a sympathetic outsider, and a rejection of the lies and falsity of the narcissist spell doom for his fascist rule. He will have a very hard time reconstructing his false reality if a defector lives outside his control. The mirror will be broken or, at least, very cracked. The psychosis is no longer shared therefore the narcissist has a much harder time maintaining his false reality in his own head.
You want to shake up the world of the narcissist? Live outside his control; live outside his false reality. It is like the burr under the saddle. It will chafe and rub him all the days of his miserable life while you go on to barely even think of him. To quote from yesterday's mentioned movie, Ever After,
"I want you to know that I will forget you after this moment, and never think of you again. But you, I am quite certain, will think about me every single day for the rest of your life."
That is the sweet revenge which will forever disturb the peace of the narcissist while concurrently insuring you have peace in your own life. It is a healthy revenge which will not rot your own soul.
The absolutely most devastating behavior (to the narcissist) to develop in his subjects is if they start comparing notes. Narcissists instinctively use "divide and conquer" to gain the upper hand in their fiefdom whether that is the home or the work place or the non-profit organization. He uses lies and gossip to develop animosity and jealousy between people. Individuals will often end up cutting themselves off from those around them thinking they did it themselves not realizing how the narcissist set them up to do this from the beginning. The social configuration narcissists are always striving for resembles a bicycle wheel. The narcissist at the center from which all the spokes are attached. None of the spokes are directly attached to another spoke. This is the social configuration that guarantees the security of the narcissist.
Disorganizing the bicycle wheel is the only way to break the power of a narcissist in whatever sphere they have set up their dictatorship. For children of narcissists this can be rendered very difficult to do. They have been taught from their earliest moments that it is actually sinful to talk with someone else about the narcissist or what happens in the home. It feels wrong to do it. Adult children of narcissists often struggle with how wrong it feels to confront the evil in their family. How wrong it feels to talk to an "outsider" about the dysfunction and abuse they've experienced. This feeling was reinforced by the time or two it was tried and a outsider dismissed what they were hearing as being gross exaggerations and question the sanity of the person revealing these insanities rather than believe that a parent can be so evil.
If you, as an adult child of a narcissist, are going to break free from the tyrannical rule of your parent(s) you are first going to have to talk. You are going to have to go against how it feels in order to actually do the right thing. Your feelings say "wrong", but the reality is that wrong is right. Your world was inverted by the narcissist. You've likely been taught many things that are wrong. You grew up believing wrong was right in many areas; your own moral compass has been warped by association with the narcissist. You need some re-work of your own soul. You are going to have to start thinking your way through life rather than emoting. You're going to have to re-analyze what you have assumed to be true and examining each tenet of your core of beliefs to see if they hold up to scrutiny in the light of day. You're going to have to face some uncomfortable truths about yourself. It is not easy to escape the Dictator. You may even escape physically and still be ruled by the Dictator from afar through your own misdirected conscience.
I have come on this theme before. That of knowing yourself. It really is an imperative if you are to find freedom from the narcissist. There are tentacles wrapped around your brain which must be extricated one by one if you are to ultimately own your mind and your life. This is a project for the brave of heart. If you aren't willing to face some of the uglies of the past, including your own mistakes and misdeeds, then you will never be free. If you are morally and intellectually weak you will remain a slave to your master or mistress. If you are afraid of the truth of who the narcissist is, and of who you are, then you are going to remain a servant to evil. A servant of evil is himself the same as what he serves. Know that.
George Bernard Shaw must have understood the narcissist ruled family when he penned these words of insight:
"A family is a tyranny ruled over by its weakest member."
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The movie highlights a particular dynamic I've been trying to get across in the narrative on my life with my sister. Even though this movie is a re-telling of the Cinderella story it has parallels to real life...otherwise it would have no appeal. What I'd like to point out, because it is such a great illustration of the power structure of my family, is the step-mother and eldest step-sister. The step-sister is haughty, snotty, sneaky and at times cruel to the Drew Barrymore character, Danielle. What is perfectly illustrated in this movie is how the step-sister derives her power to make her Danielle's life miserable from the mother.
That is exactly what I've tried to illustrate in my blog posts on my sister. My sister's advantages over me were derived directly from my mother. My sister would not have had much power to screw with me during our growing up years together except for the power handed to her by my mother's system of "rules". My mother actually went further than handing power to my sister. My mother took power away from me simultaneously. I was rendered damn near defenseless where my sister was concerned. I lay the blame for that at my mother's feet.
So, yeah, I was older, but birth order did little to save me from the predations of my sister. She was granted power over me through a complex interplay of my mother's prejudices, false reality and favoritism. It is significant to note how many times over the years my mother would tell me how she didn't love one child over the other. She would say she loved us equally. I believed her because, back then, I always believed her. Now, I look back and think the lady doth protest too much. No one had ever challenged her on this point. Certainly, not me. So why the need to repeat this so many times?? I'm tending toward the belief she was covering up the truth. The truth is she knew she had greatly favored one child over the other. I was favored as a work horse, but not as a person. I do not say this in a self-pitying way. It all worked out. I am a better person for having risen above the difficulties of my youth.
I am hoping to emphasize here that a parent is able to hand power to one of their children which that sibling will wield on another sibling without much mercy. This is the dynamic I have been attempting to draw a picture of. Being older didn't save me from my sister's meanness. Being pretty, being nice, being fair, being giving...none of it saved me. If my sister wanted a piece of me she was granted it because she had been given power over me. So, I guess I was wrong when I first described my sister as not being in a "power over" position in my life. I didn't see it clearly until having spent much time reliving our life together in recent days. Her "power over" position was furthered along, too, by the great differences in our personalities. I was always prone to question myself, to bow to those who assumed dominance. My sister was dominant by nature. Very forceful and confident and prone to question others, not herself. My less forceful nature made me all the more like prey to both my sister and my mother.
I'll end this post with the memory of my mother often calling me Cinderella. I don't remember when she began doing it. She would use the name after she had been working my ass off. She would, with a little smile, say something like, "Hey, Cinderella, I need you to do such and so." I've already recounted how I was used as a house slave for years while my sister was somewhere filing her nails. My mother, great lover of fairy tales that she was, apparently couldn't help but see how she was working one kid like a Chinese laborer while the other one was hiding somewhere until the work was done. I wasn't allowed to indulge in self-pity, so calling me Cinderella was not her way of granting me room to complain. It was just a once-in-a-while acknowledgment there was a big imbalance in the gulag. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". Yes, indeed. I was raised in a frakking communist system.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I've already told you how I was 17, pregnant and too scared to tell my parents so I ran away and eloped. I stayed with husband #1 for three and half years. When I left him my second child, a daughter, was nine months old. Not surprisingly, I had married a young man with some very narcissistic traits and a profoundly screwed up family that he was completely enmeshed with. With all the dysfunction around me eventually my family started to look sane by comparison. My parents offered me a place to land if I decided to leave my husband. As I've explained, they were anxious for this marriage to end. I took their proffered help and ended up living with my family again. This time I lived with my parents and sister for almost exactly a year which was how long it took for me to scrape the money together so I could move out. I slept for that year on the living room floor in a sleeping bag. I was grateful for it.
It was a challenging year. I was 21 years old, but moving under my parent's roof meant they could make rules for my life. Rule one: you can't date anyone until your divorce is final.
It was hard to not rankle at being treated like a child in various ways when I had a child of my own and had been out on my own for almost four years. I chafed as quietly as I could. I was just biding my time 'til I could get out on my own again. I was again being ordered around and wasn't in any position to protest considering my dependence on their good will. My sister was still at home. She was around 18 and damn near insufferable at this point. But that's another story. I was working for 10 hours a day...that helped. I didn't have to spend as much time at home although that meant less time with my baby.
The divorce was finalized some eight months after I moved in with my parents. Now that it was "allowed" I began dating someone. Prior to dating being allowed, I managed to carry on a love life out of sight. I had a job and a car. They couldn't control everything I did. Anyway, my sister brought home a Christian contemporary band of four guys one day. They were all hotties, including the bass player who almost immediately started pursuing me. The attraction between the two of us was intense. My mother really liked him and the other three band members until she figured out Ed was seriously interested in me. She wore her disapproval prominently. I wasn't allowed a one-on-one date with him until after I moved out on my own.
Guess Mom knew what my boyfriend and I were headed for. He and I commenced our sexual relationship within a week of my moving out. My boyfriend was very anxious to marry me. More so now that we'd had sex. He suggested marriage right after we began a sexual relationship. I was amenable to the idea because I felt guilty about our unmarried sex. Ya know, the vestiges of my Christian upbringing in addition to what I knew my family's expectations were. While I had grown up fast in some ways, I was still quite immature in my ideas about marriage. Still having no idea what things were most important to base a marriage on, it seemed like hot sex was as good a reason to marry as anything else. Besides, I really liked how things were set up. He would be gone all during the week and come home for the weekends. This made for perfect marital harmony for me. This allowed it to only be about the sex. Nothing like a week long separation to make the reunions intense so you can tell your self you're in a great relationship.
I was pretty much in the mind set at this point of my life to grab what forbidden pleasures I could. I completely shucked going to church at this time since I'd become a bit cynical about church folk...which would include my mother. I had no examples of happy marriages around me either in the church or out of it. This would be one reason I would consent to marrying on such a shallow pretext. "It's all one big crap shoot anyhoo." to quote Groundhog Day.
When you have married once without your parents approval, it becomes much easier to do it again the next time! Yeah, I decided on having another secret wedding. Only this time I wasn't pregnant. Knowing my parents didn't approve of my boyfriend, I decided they weren't going to know about the wedding until it was over. At 23 years old I wasn't about to give them veto power. Several girlfriends got a nice little garden with gazebo reserved, a cake, decorations, a justice of the peace, and a few other friends, and my boyfriend and I got hitched on a nice spring morning. I actually dressed up for this wedding as opposed to the Tijuana adventure with husband #1.
So, now I was married and could have guilt-free sex, but how to break it to my parents? I wasn't sure. So we kept our secret under wraps for a while. Since my life was completely independent of them it was easier to keep secrets. I was in no way dependent on them. No outstanding loans because I never asked them for one red cent. I would have lived in my car before I asked them for anything. Actually, I wouldn't even ask then. I was barely squeaking by, but at least I owned my life.
A month or so after we married I ended up getting very sick. I had ignored an off and on again bladder infection for months. Finally the pain moved into one of my kidneys and then I was really sick. Too poor to consider time off, I kept working and didn't want to go to a doctor because I had no insurance and no extra money. I endured complete fatigue and spiking fevers (up to 104 degrees) for two full weeks. I finally realized I was getting worse and needed some help. I had lost so much weight I was looking skeletal. I walked into an Immediate Care Clinic after work on a Friday afternoon and got the diagnosis of a severe kidney infection. When the doctor told me he should admit me to a hospital because, "you are a very sick young woman", I cried and begged him not to. I was scared of the bill. So he sighed, said he would give me a very large couple doses of Sulfa drug and if I wasn't significantly improved over the weekend, he was sending me to the hospital.
I'm only telling you how sick I was because of what happened next. I picked up my daughter from daycare and went to my apartment to collapse in bed with a 104 F fever. I was so incredibly weak and sick I felt like I was dying. Thankfully, my husband was waiting for us at the apartment and could take care of my daughter as I waited for the drugs to work. Unfortunately for me, this was the day my mother decided it was time to confront me for "living in sin". Mom had caught wind (my sister dearest tattled on me) that Ed was staying with me on the weekends. She, of course, didn't yet know I had married him (sister didn't know this either). She bangs on my door and husband opens it wearing only jeans and was shirtless. This only infuriated her more. A half naked man in my apartment confirmed to her I was a shameless whore.
She demands to see me. He tells her I am very sick and in bed. This matters not a wit. She pushes past him, storms into my bedroom and immediately launches into a haranguing fit. She is shaking and enraged. She is talking through her teeth at me. She is denouncing my immoral ways with me too weak to defend myself. I can't even lift my head off the pillow. At some point she took a breath and I begged her for a shred of mercy. I asked her if she could see that I was very sick right now, could we have this conversation later? She, in her usual fashion, was disgusted with me for being sick!! Not only was I an immoral hussy, I was SICK. My mother has always acted like being sick was some sort of crime. So, now I was doubly condemned. (When YOU are sick then it isn't about the narcissist. So they usually choose to treat you like a pile of dog doo when you find yourself under the weather. The sicker you are, the worse the treatment gets.)
I have no recall of exact quotes because my brain was fuzzed by fever, but I can see a clear picture of her standing over me and look on her face. Her total rage. At some point my husband told her to leave. She left in a huff. No apology for verbally beating me up while I was practically dying. Shit, no. She was FULLY justified.
I did improve dramatically over the weekend, much to my great relief. The fevers were gone before the weekend was out. I continued to improve until I was fully recovered without further incident. Did my mother ever call to inquire as to my health?? Uh, no. Did she wonder at all if her grandchild needed looking after while her mother was sick? That, again, would be no. The only reality that counted for her was that I was again making her look bad. My "immoral" life could possibly make the evening news and then all her church acquaintances would have another reason to look down on her. Of course, it wasn't really like that, but that was her perception.
I stayed away from my mother for weeks. I was seething with anger. I realize in retrospect that this was a good and healthy thing. I can see now this became an important mile post in my relationship with mother dearest. I mentally drew a line she would not be allowed to cross over ever again. This gave me space to live my life on my terms. I eventually was able to make good decisions and get my life on track. That was no thanks to my mother. Every good choice I made she raised her eyebrow at like it was somehow wrong. Thankfully, time proved my good choices to truly be good choices despite her lack of support for any of them. Narcissists aren't as smart as they think they are.
Many weeks after the "sick bed attack" I finally decided it was time to tell my mother I was a married woman. I drove to her place after work one summer afternoon. This is another time where extreme emotions have blotted out the specifics, but I retain some memories of the encounter. My sister was there as well as Mom. Dad wasn't home from work yet, which is how I wanted it. I went up to her bedroom and announced my presence. I told her I had some news for her. I had married Ed a couple months earlier. Deal with it. She was angry, of course, but I interrupted her and asked her if she remembered how she had abused me on my sick bed...well, guess what, I was married then too. While you were ranting and raving and not letting me get in a word edgewise, I was a married woman. You were accusing me of something I wasn't guilty of. Thanks a lot, Mom.
All I really remember from there is my escalating anger. I nailed her and I nailed her hard. I didn't let her pin shame on me. I hammered shame down on her head. I let it be known I didn't give a shit what she thought of me and how I was completely disgusted with her lack of simple human consideration for me as demonstrated by her behavior that ugly day and her lack of the slightest bit of concern about my health. I told her just how sick I had been and how that obviously didn't matter one little bit to her. I, for the first time in my life, shouted her down. For the first time in my life I left her presence while her lips were still moving. For the first time in my life I slammed a door so hard the house shook. For the first time, I peeled out of her gravel driveway leaving two trenches. That was something for my dad. He used to complain about people who would accelerate too quickly on his gravel driveway and leave tracks. So I left him a present. Here are two 35-foot long grand canyons for you to bitch about, Daddy-O.
As opposed to how I acted after my elopement at 17, this time I took control of the fall-out. I didn't let my Mom get the upper hand on me just because I didn't do things the way she would want me to. This was the beginning of a very cool period in my relationship with my family. I moved almost 800 miles away a couple months later and didn't speak to any of them (Mom, Dad, Sister) for the whole year I was gone. This event was a seismic shift in our relationship. My mother didn't know much of anything about my life for the next five or more years even when I moved back to her city. And even when she was back in my life again I kept my private life completely private and she knew that probing would get her nothing more than what I wanted her to know. She would occasionally pretend like she knew what I was up to even though I was wasn't telling her anything. "Trust me, S, I know a lot more about what you're doing than you realize." she would say with an annoying "knowing" look. I knew this was total B.S. and I didn't bite. I knew she didn't have a clue.
As a side note, I eventually quit living like a rebel and became a sincere Christian again. My life straightened up and I was truly happy for the first time in my life. It was the first time I had peace. It was a new and amazing place to be. My dear daughter was happy that she had a loving, engaged mother again. She was six years old by this time. I was staying away from dating, working at a very good job, had said good-bye to friends who had been influencing me poorly...I had grown up a bit. The school of hard knocks had made an impression. Well, one day after I had been consistently living an upright life for a significant period of time, I told my mother she didn't know shit about what I had been doing during my wild and crazy years. I proceeded to tell her, in broad generalities and a few specifics, about some of the things I'd done. She was startled and taken completely aback. She couldn't disguise her discomfiture. I forced her to admit she had known next to nothing about my life. That was an obviously embarrassing moment for her. It was a satisfying moment for me because she'd been playing this "I know what you're doing, I have eyes on the back of my head" for all my life. I wanted to rub her face in it a little now that I didn't have anything to hide. As it was, I didn't tell her everything I'd been up to. Didn't want to give her too much ammo to use against me. I told her just enough to let her know that she didn't know jack shit and to prove to her that I if I want to hide something from her I can. Guess she hadn't learned anything from my teenage years, eh?
I had made a mistake in marrying Ed. I'm sure that doesn't surprise you. Things started falling apart when he quit his band. He said he couldn't stand to be separated from me all week, only seeing me on weekends. *sigh* It had been working for me, but I didn't have the courage to tell him that fact. He was so sentimental I hated to rain on his parade. The guy couldn't do anything else but wash dishes in a restaurant...and soon that wasn't good enough work for him. So he quit that and spent a year looking for work while I supported him. I lost respect for him. When I found out he was flirting seriously with an ex-girlfriend, I left him. After I left, we spent a year trying to see if we could work things out while we were separated. We parted amicably when we could admit to ourselves and each other that it just wasn't going to work out. At least this second time around I hadn't married a narcissist. We were both immature and unequipped for the requirements of marriage. I'm not sure he if grew up. Within a few months he'd found an older woman with kids, a good alimony and a house and let her support him in better style than I had done. Last I knew they were still together and having a rocky time of it. To each their own.
But the whole second marriage "incident" was a continental shift in the old mother/daughter relationship. It marked a large distancing of my emotions from her control. Forever. It demarcated clearly where some of my boundaries were...and she was intimidated enough by my obvious willingness to live without her to cooperate with some clear boundaries. I was showing signs of a very stiff backbone. Nothing like showing some spine to scare a narcissist. I purchased a very large piece of my life to live without her having a right to dictate or comment. I hadn't yet gained the strength I needed to stand up to all of her manipulations, but I was learning. We at least had an unspoken understanding that I had limits.
Monday, May 14, 2007
As I explained at the outset, I have been reluctant to write about my sister on this blog. I knew it would be hard to capture it. It is easy with my N mother because she was in a position of authority and therefore I was the recipient of the full malignancy of her narcissism. With my sister it is subtler. Because she wasn't in a position of authority over me her methods and modes of operation were sneakier. I was rendered emotionally vulnerable because of the dynamics my mother set in motion. I've tried to capture this. Perhaps I've bungled it.
As you may or may not have noticed I had someone comment on the last post. Yeah, I admit I was a little testy. Now I'm rendered somewhat immobile. As hesitant as I was to embark on this story, I'm thinking, "Yeah, what's the frickin' point of building the case against my sister here." I am not on a fishing expedition for sympathy on this. From the lack of comments on this blog overall, if I was depending on feedback of sympathy I would have abandoned the effort long ago. Obviously, that can't be my motivation.
I'll tell you what my motivation is in case you give a flying fig. First off, the whole point of this damn blog is to highlight malignant narcissism. Especially as it has affected adult children of narcissists when they were young and after they are grown. Most of the time, people have more than one kid. That means there are often siblings in homes with malignant narcissists. I thought perhaps I could highlight how my mother's narcissism fundamentally affected my sibling relationship just as another cautionary tale, or to let others know they aren't the only ones to have gone through something similar.
I have no inclination to exaggerate anything. My tendency is to under state. I have tried very hard to not present a completely lopsided view of my sister. I have tried to be fair. This story is told from my perspective, obviously. My sister isn't here to defend herself. I don't effing care. Truth is, she is the one that was always defended. I, for once, would like to present the case against her and at least string her up, here, on my blog, where for once I can talk uninterrupted and without the usual obfuscation and protestation and rage that I've encountered every single time I ever dared to try to get some justice where she was concerned. My second motivation on the "sister saga" was that I wanted to feel a tiny bit of justice, here, in my little space of the Internet.
If I wanted to assassinate my sister's character I could do it. You, dear reader, would have no way to know if I was telling the truth or not. I could make her into a child psychopath if I wanted to. There are kids out there who demonstrate psychopathic tendencies before the age of four or five. It isn't like there isn't precedent for that. But, I haven't done that. The fact that there is some ambiguity as to whether or not my sister was a negative force proves that I have held back. I haven't made her into a she-devil. Of course, the worst of the story is yet to come because she became progressively more difficult to live with the older she got. It was a p-r-o-g-r-e-s-s-i-o-n. That is what I've been trying to lay out for your perusal. Evil bitches aren't usually born. They grow up into one. Duh.
All this to say, I am thoroughly out of the mood to post further on this saga. If you want me to pick up the story again then you're gonna have to pipe up and comment. If silence reigns then I'll assume you're fraking bored with the topic and I'll move on. Maybe my mood will change and I'll say "screw you" and just write it anyway. Dunno. But for now, this is where I'm at. I don't want to hear about how thin-skinned I am that one comment could de-rail me. Like I said, I wasn't real sure I wanted to do this in the first place. And each and every post on this sister topic has been very difficult for me to do. I was on the edge, so a little shove was all it took. That's the way it is. Criticizing me for how I'm feeling won't make me feel differently. Just so you know.
[Icon by mysticxf]
Friday, May 11, 2007
Part two here.
Around the time my sister was five years old I begin to have clearer memories of our interactions. This coincides with the major move our family made from southern California to the wilds of Oregon. The move was a positive one for my sister and I. We were delighted with the change. My mother was depressed and my dad was stressed. Six months after moving to the new state my parents bought a home on three and half wooded acres.
My sister was into girly-girl stuff. Playing "house", tea parties, dress up, dolls, Barbies. As I look back I realize that when we played together it was always one of these things we did. Which indicates that we did what my sister wanted to do, not what I wanted to do. My interests were more oriented to the outdoors. I was an avid explorer. I loved our new acreage and was often out climbing fir trees, building forts, hiking and biking. If my sister played outdoors, she was usually playing in the covered patio with her dolls venturing out from the covered area to make a mud pie or two.
I was also an avid reader from a very young age. It was utterly incomprehensible to my sister that reading could be a source of solitary pleasure, so when she saw me curled up with a book she would usually commence her nagging to come play with her. Around the age of ten playing with dolls was losing any appeal for me. My sister was about seven at this time. Rather than continually pushing away her pleas and demands that I come play with her, I decided to try to get her to join me. I liked several genres of books, but I decided I would introduce my sister to a good old-fashioned romantic classic, Jane Eyre. The book was mostly beyond her comprehension, so I would read a section to her and then interpret it into kid-speak. She loved it. Many years later my sister would bring up what a fond memory this was for her and claims that Jane Eyre is still her favorite book. I am convinced that the highlight of this whole experience for her was that she had my undivided attention and energy. It took us quite a while to wade through the whole book which means she had many, many hours of that attention. It is understandable that a younger sibling would like the attention. I'm not faulting her for that. What is the case, though, is that she was an attention hog. Mostly, what she wanted, she got because she had the long arm of the law, Mom, on her side. I'm also pointing out that I did go above and beyond. I didn't have to spend hours of my life reinterpreting Jane Eyre to a little kid. I was trying to give her something; I was attempting to infuse her with a love for books. Books were like a friend to me. I hoped she could come to see them that way too.
In recent years my sister has described what kind of sister I was to her. She remembers my patience and kindness to her. She felt like I protected her and was a mother-type figure to her. This was news to me...the mother figure part. I never felt maternal toward my sister. I simply tried to be decent to her. I remember her as being demanding and very bossy and taking advantage of my kindnesses. I would occasionally feel very vexed by her bossiness and would tell her to knock it off. I remember telling her once that it was a good thing I was born first otherwise she would order me around even more than she already did. She was a tattle-tale, too. Her memories of me as a child are far more favorable than mine of her.
I don't agree with my sister's present-day analysis that I was a mother-type figure to her as a child. I simply don't buy it. I can not look back at her behavior growing up and see her relating to me like she felt I was mothering her. If anything, she was usually trying to assert her will over mine and run my life. She liked to act like she was in charge. I sincerely doubt she behaved this way because she perceived me as a mother-figure. I think I have divined her current-day reasons for trying to put that spin on things, but I'll have to save telling you for another time. I do believe that my presence offered her protection, but that was really only because I was the first-born and I was held responsible for the both of us.
Years after the fact, sister told me how she was jolted to the reality of what a vicious bitch of a mother we had only after I left home. She said only then did she realize how much I had protected her from our mother. On the other side, my mother told me years later how it wasn't until I left home that she was forced to realize what a lazy, mouthy daughter my sister was. They had many, many clashes because now my sister was expected to do some of what I used to do ... and sister dear wasn't trained and wasn't motivated. She'd gotten off easy for the first fourteen years of her life. She wasn't inclined to let that change. It got ugly between those two after I left.
Perhaps you can get a sense from these two women's testimonies that I was caught between the two of them. There was a balancing act going on and when I left home that delicate balance was no more because I was the only one doing the balancing. The two females in our house who were exactly like each other were now forced to deal head on with each other. There was no buffer (me) between them. My mother had focused her anger and many expectations on me, the first born. My sister laid her demands and expectations on me, as well as hiding behind me to avoid accountability. With no one around to be the chief slave and whipping boy they were forced to deal with each other. The battles were ugly and fierce. They both fought dirty.
The picture I'm trying to make with as few words as possible is that our sister relationship during our younger years was largely uneventful. There were arguments and annoyances, but I was generally a patient older sister who put up with a lot of her childish crap because I really didn't have any other choice. If we argued too much my mother would threaten us with bodily harm. If my sister's importunities for me to play with her went on for too long, I would be ordered by mommy dearest to comply. My life was circumscribed by the wills of these two very willful females.
Then puberty struck. My reaching puberty first didn't bring about any significant changes in our relationship. I didn't treat her any differently. Her puberty changed everything. The sibling rivalry my mother was so quick to assume I was feeling as a very young child was now in full swing. It wasn't from me toward sister, but sister toward me. And not an eyebrow was lifted. No intervention from the Queen Bitch on this true incarnation of sibling rivalry. Suddenly, I was sensed there was a game on and nobody had told me what the rules were.
I was sixteen when our family went to Southern California to visit family and some friends for Christmas. We spent a whole day at Knotts Berry Farm. My sister had gotten a waist-high yellow jacket for Christmas that she thought made her look da bomb. She put on airs. Insufferable airs. She was suddenly too cool to be seen with me and our fat friend Rick. (Rick is a whole story in himself...kind of a quasi-sibling to me. We were exactly six months apart and had been thrown together since his birth. My mother expected me to treat him like I did my sister. I was, at times, persecuted for having to hang out with a fat kid with a temper. But I treated him well and never tried to disown him in public as my sister was trying to on the day I'm describing.)
Rick and I were scurrying around taking in the rides. My sister was hanging back trying to attract male attention and attempting to look too sexy for her coat. She had spent the day being snotty and mean to me. By the end of the day I was feeling quite deflated as she had hit her mark more than once with her nasty comments and haughty mien. A picture was taken that day that captured everything. There was a bench in front of a little western saloon. On the bench were a couple of shiny life-size mannikins who looked like chorus girls. There was space on either side of the mannikins for people to sit and pose with them. My sister is sitting there with her hands in her pockets striking a pose with all the attitude she had been displaying that day. You can tell from her expression she thinks she is hot stuff. Objectively, she was having a bad hair day and looking a bit chunky. She thought her hair was lookin' good, though. Between her layered cut and that stupid coat she was sure she looked like a babe. Then there is me. I'm not having a bad hair day. I'm looking pretty and trim and a little self-conscious, although I'm obviously giggling and having a good time with the silly photo shoot. No attitude. No airs. I had no idea how pretty I looked that day. (The picture testifies to that fact.) This was true for most of my teens and young adulthood. I never felt pretty. On the other hand, my sister was always very confident that she was gorgeous. It made her very haughty and full of herself. That picture captures our teen age years.
Her confidence seemed to emphasize to me my own lack of confidence. The more she asserted herself as being God's gift to mankind, the more I felt like chopped liver because she was good at acting like I was chopped liver. I was vulnerable to my family's interpretations of me so I could be easily convinced I was nothing much if they turned their efforts in that direction. It seems it was important to use me to boost themselves up by putting me down. I could never summon up the confidence she had. (Thankfully so in retrospect.) I am sure part of my problem was that my mother was engaged in full-out competition with my emerging figure and looks. She would not so subtly put down various aspects of my physicality making me more and more self-conscious. She would actually compare my body to hers when she was young. She had nothing to brag about in the present tense, so I was compared to her image of herself as a teen. What kind of mother does that? A sick bitch of one. Mom forbade me to wear any make-up. I didn't start wearing it until I left home at 17. She would keep me in clothes that made me look younger than my peers. I was still in knee socks long after the other girls were wearing pantyhose. So I felt like an oddball at all times. None of these things did my sister have to endure. It all came early and easy for her. I was the trailblazer. This was another way that having me around made my sister's life easier.
My mother let it slip once that when a woman has teenage girls that they can make the mother look older simply through contrast. Looking back at that statement it is easy enough to understand my mother's efforts to keep me looking like a child as long as she could get away with it. By virtue of me just growing up, she felt she was made to look older. She didn't want to face her age, so she denies mine. She made my teenage years much, much harder because of her selfish concern for how she looked. None of this was put on my sister, at least not until I left home. If it happened after that, I don't know.
As you have probably deduced, my sister and I were completely different people. Our interests and personalities were polar opposites. We were expected to get along...and the onus was on me to make that happen. My sister took advantage of the fact that I was a decent person. She could get away with being snotty and mean and I was expected to just "deal with it". Because I was responsible and reliable much was expected of me. I did the lion's share of work...my sister got to coast because if you want something to get done, you put it on the kid who will actually do it. That was me. I remember she would vex my parents at times because she wouldn't even do the little that was expected of her in a consistent and reliable way. The consequences for her were minimal so she was able to cultivate her laziness because my industry covered up for her by making her lack of effort less noticeable. Only after I left home did my parents realize what a lazy-assed kid my sister was. I could have told them that, but they didn't want to hear it when I was still at home.
The reason I made the effort to tell you that I was decent, considerate and nice to my sister is because of what I'm going to tell you about in a future installment. When my sister was put in the position of being a "big sister" to our younger female cousin, she did not treat our cousin like I had treated my sister. My sister is largely responsible for breaking up my cousin's family and set my cousin's feet on a course of ruin. These crimes remain unconfessed to this day.