Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not Without Mom

November of 2010 was, not surprisingly, a very busy time for us. I was in my eighth month of pregnancy, we had just celebrated DD's first birthday, and the holidays were just around the corner. Despite our busy schedule, DH wanted to try and schedule a visit with his sister. In order to do so, we had several unspoken requirements:

1. We were going to visit with just SIL. This was very important, as DH had never been able to bond with his sister because NMIL had such extensive control over their relationship. Because of our need to see her alone, we were not going to spend time at her house. Instead, we figured we would pick her up and take her out to lunch, so as to remove her from her NM's intrusive gaze.

2. DH wanted to create a situation in which SIL could talk about more serious matters, if she so chose. Obviously, being in NMIL's presence would have prevented that from occurring.

3. As with NMIL, DH wanted to send the message to SIL that he no longer came as "just DH" but as a package deal with his wife and DD. DH was hoping that SIL might grow to like me, if she was given an opportunity to meet on our terms, instead of on his NM's. He was also hoping that SIL could spend some time with DD, as she had only seen her four times since she'd been born (At the hospital, at LC's birthday party, during the visit in October, and at DD's first birthday party.) SIL chose not to interact with her niece-by-biology-only half of those four times. Her interactions consisted of holding DD for two-five minutes a piece. At this time, DH was not yet ready to accept that SIL had no interest in DD and never had. For me, her age only goes so far in explaining her lack of caring, narcissism explains the rest.

4. I wanted to inquire about the Christmas gift we had given her the year before, as well as the birthday gift card we had sent in the mail to her, as she had never indicated that she had received them or showed her appreciation that we were thinking of her. For your clarification, Dear Reader, it was SIL's choice on both occasions not to see us, and as a result, we had to send the gifts to her via snail mail.

Other than asking about the gifts, we did not plan on asking her any deep or thought-provoking questions. DH's main goal was to get together with his sister, give her a chance to bond with DD, and see if she might open up to us in the event she felt comfortable enough to do so.

DH set about making his attempt to plan a get-together with SIL. He called her and asked if she might be interested in going out to lunch with us one weekend in November. As he did with NMIL, he offered her two choices: Weekend A or Weekend B.

I could hear her voice blaring out of his cellphone when she said, "Oh, just you and me?"

DH said, "No. me, Jonsi, and DD. We thought maybe we could come and pick you up for lunch one of those days."

She said okay and picked a weekend.

DH asked, "Do you have to ask NM for permission or anything?"

SIL said, "No, why would I have to do that?" They made vague plans for the weekend she chose, because neither party would specify a time. DH couldn't, because timing depended on our DD's nap schedule, which has never been an exact science; and SIL didn't because she had been taught that specifics are dangerous. I marked it on the calendar, and we didn't hear from her again. DH had to call her two weeks later, the night before our visit, to let her know what time we'd be arriving the next day to pick her up.

She feigned surprise. I think she was pretending to have "forgotten" our plans.

When DH asked her if she still wanted to meet up with us, she said, "Oh, hold on, I have to talk to mom about this." She put him on hold for a few minutes and DH looked at me with his brow furrowed.

He mouthed, "She's talking to my mother."

When SIL got back on the phone, she said, "Does mom get to come?"

DH said, "No, it was just going to be us."

To that, SIL replied, "Well, I don't feel comfortable going without mom."

DH was hurt, I could see it on his face. Hurt and surprised. He repeated, "You don't feel comfortable going without mom." It seemed that he was running that one over in his mind, trying to understand it. He said, "Well. I guess, if you change your mind, we'd still be happy to come and take you out for lunch."

"Yeah, okay." She said.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that no such change of mind came.

What happened, Dear Reader, between SIL's acceptance (and over-exaggerated excitement) of our plans, and her rejection of them? Answer: Her Narcissistic Mother. You see, SIL represents a necessary emotional limb to NMIL, without which she would be crippled until she could find a replacement. NMIL had already lost one such limb, she was most certainly desperate not to lose a second. The gender bond between a mother and daughter is strong, so when that bond is poisoned, it represents a very toxic relationship.

I found the following excerpt to be a most compelling argument that effectively describes the above situation perfectly:

[The Narcissistic Mother] destroys your relationships. Narcissistic mothers are like tornadoes: wherever they touch down families are torn apart and wounds are inflicted. Unless the father has control over the narcissist and holds the family together, adult siblings in families with narcissistic mothers characteristically have painful relationships. Typically all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all. In part, these women foster dissension between their children because they enjoy the control it gives them. If those children don’t communicate except through the mother, she can decide what everyone hears. Narcissists also love the excitement and drama they create by interfering in their children’s lives. Watching people’s lives explode is better than soap operas, especially when you don’t have any empathy for their misery.

The narcissist nurtures anger, contempt and envy - the most corrosive emotions - to drive her children apart. While her children are still living at home, any child who stands up to the narcissist guarantees punishment for the rest. In her zest for revenge, the narcissist purposefully turns the siblings’ anger on the dissenter by including everyone in her retaliation. (“I can see that nobody here loves me! Well I’ll just take these Christmas presents back to the store. None of you would want anything I got you anyway!”) The other children, long trained by the narcissist to give in, are furious with the trouble-making child, instead of with the narcissist who actually deserves their anger.

The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her childrens’ relationships. The scapegoat sees the mother as a creature of caprice and cruelty. As is typical of the privileged, the other children don’t see her unfairness and they excuse her abuses. Indeed, they are often recruited by the narcissist to adopt her contemptuous and entitled attitude towards the scapegoat and with her tacit or explicit permission, will inflict further abuse. The scapegoat predictably responds with fury and equal contempt. After her children move on with adult lives, the narcissist makes sure to keep each apprised of the doings of the others, passing on the most discreditable and juicy gossip (as always, disguised as “concern”) about the other children, again, in a way that engenders contempt rather than compassion.

Having been raised by a narcissist, her children are predisposed to be envious, and she takes full advantage of the opportunity that presents. While she may never praise you to your face, she will likely crow about your victories to the very sibling who is not doing well. She’ll tell you about the generosity she displayed towards that child, leaving you wondering why you got left out and irrationally angry at the favored child rather than at the narcissist who told you about it.

The end result is a family in which almost all communication is triangular. The narcissist, the spider in the middle of the family web, sensitively monitors all the children for information she can use to retain her unchallenged control over the family. She then passes that on to the others, creating the resentments that prevent them from communicating directly and freely with each other. The result is that the only communication between the children is through the narcissist, exactly the way she wants it.

So when SIL went to her NM for approval, of course NMIL would not give it! To do so would have meant that DH and I could have "brainwashed" her daughter. We might have had plans to "poison" her against her mother, after all. When NM made it clear, whether overtly or covertly, that meeting with us alone was unacceptable, SIL had no choice but to obey. Had she chosen to act otherwise, she would not have emotionally survived the aftermath. NMIL would have destroyed her.


  1. Wow. That is my NM!!! Scary. Over and over, I wonder if I'm being overly sensitive, if maybe I misunderstood, if maybe I'm being to harsh... then I read something like this and BAM! That's her! Makes me shiver.

  2. ugh that's exactly the kind of environment my mom nurtures. you know, its not so great even when she's praising me, she made other kids (including my cousin, the closest i've had to a sibling) jealous and envious of me, which I DID NOT ENJOY. i felt guilty and ashamed. because my mom would talk about how smart and well behaved and shit i was, to others' moms, and that would make them say to their kids 'oh you should be more like lisa' and then the kids would stare at me resentfully. and then its just like WTF. now i can see myself going heyyy what, it's not my fault. if i dont behave, *slit throat motion* i'll just get killed.
    she just likes to praise me in front of other people. rarely does she praise me in real life, other than to BUTTER ME UP and to CONTROL me with her 'approval'. ugh gross.

    that poor girl! she's 16? ugh. young. i feel like if we could just NAB HER, when her mind's still flexible...but ugh. i mean the teens. man i dont know. her life must be hell.

    i wonder vaguely what would have happened if i had a sibling. but i dont think it matters in the would have poisoned the environment either way. the whole world is a sibling rivalry!
    i still ended up feeling like the scapegoat (of the world).

  3. Written out like this I recognize the behaviors in my own family. Fortunately a long time ago, my sister and I decided to start building relationships outside of NMs control. She continues to play her games and we just shake our heads. Most of the grand children recognize her for what she is, unhealthy. I hope that in time this may change for your situation. But I suspect, holding your breath until it happens is not a good plan.

  4. Do these people ever listen to themselves? SIL was "not comfortable" with her OWN brother and his family out in public for lunch? What exactly was she not comfortable about? She would have been safe in that situation with a stranger!

    Better to be honest and say NMIL won't let me come than make up such a ridiculous excuse. The one she used makes her sound like a moron!

    As for Ns hating to lose their "supply", that's why my life became hell over the past few years. My older brother, the NPs favourite scapegoat, was killed, then a few months later, my strongest supporter and the love of my life unexpectedly died. Made me the perfect replacement! Yay, she's in an emotionally vulnerable place, let's move in for the kill!

  5. Judy - It is my feeling that you were not misunderstanding, nor were you misunderstood. The fact that you feel that way must be your old training kicking in! (DH does that from time to time, wanting to give people who treat him terribly the benefit of the doubt.)

    Lisa - It's sad for me to think there are SO MANY PEOPLE like NMIL out there in the world. A scapegoat of the world...sigh...aptly put. I'm seeing that most ACoN's must feel this way.

    Ruth - Holding our breath is not a good plan. My next post may be titled as such, thanks for that! I think I'll talk more in depth about SIL, and then it may be more clear why we may never see such change in her.

    Mulderfan - I know your question was a rhetorical one, but I have to say that no, I don't think these people ever listen to themselves. How could you hear the things you had done, absorb them, and not be completely destroyed? The only way would be to develop some serious inner strength...and these people just don't have that capability.

    Hugs to all!