Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Price of My Cowardice

In January of 2010, we attended the birthday party of DH's young cousin. A word first, on this little girl, before I tackle the intricacies of the event. DH's cousin has a real spark about her, a brilliance, a light. When DH still lived at Naunt's apartment, I saw this little girl often, as she came over to visit us nearly every day. Prior to making our realizations about Naunt, I even babysat LC (Little Cousin) once, as a favor to her mother, the woman who would eventually betray us. LC is very much a little girl, excited about things that most eight-year-olds are excited about, eager to ask questions, always wanting to be a part of the bigger picture even though she doesn't yet understand how she fits in to it. It bothered DH and I tremendously to see the way LC was treated by her parents, and in turn, how her relatives were teaching her how to "be" in the world. If she walked into the room to share her enjoyment of a new game, her mother would say with disgust and scorn, "That is really annoying, take it into the other room. We're having an adult discussion here." Discard and dismiss. Dismiss and discard. It saddened me to see LC treated that way, because she didn't deserve it. I would never think to tell a child that her age-appropriate interests were "annoying" or "stupid" just because I am now an adult and those things no longer interest me.

I well remember being eight and I would have been crushed if my mother or aunt made it known that the things I enjoyed were stupid, childish, or insignificant. I think of cupcakes when I think of LC, and how she came over to help me bake some for DH as a "Welcome Home" snack after he returned from a business trip. Her mother told her not to bother me, and I told her that she wasn't bothering me and it was fine if she wanted to ice some cupcakes. I didn't criticize her for the icing that dripped off the edges of each one, I praised her for a job well done. When we were finished with that project, we made a "Welcome Home DH!" sign, and she drew the "O" as a doughnut. When DH made his choice to leave Naunt's apartment with me and begin our lives together, he told me that he wished we could bring his two cousins with us. It was such a sad moment that he and I shared, when we discovered that we could not save them from what would most likely be a life time of hurt. We could not take them with us, we could not fix their parents for them, we could not help them grow into healthy people, no matter how badly we wished for it. It is my hope that LC and her brother can escape the grasps of their dysfunctional FOO, just as DH has. I am sad that I can not take them away from the toxic place they live in, and hope against hope that the light inside of them will shine through when they need it.

We showed up to the party late because of DD's napping schedule, and we walked in to a room full of hatred, resentment, and disgust, though no "unkind" words were spoken at us. NMIL couldn't meet my eyes, and she didn't greet me. In place of a greeting, she said, "Oooh, can I hold the baby?" I told her she'd have to wait until I fed her first.

DH accompanied me while I nursed her in a private room because I had previously requested that he and I remain together during the party. The moment he closed the door, he turned to me and whispered, "I feel so uncomfortable here." For the first time, Dear Reader, I believed he was really picking up on the undercurrent of negativity that I've always felt around his FOO. Prior to this party, he had managed to ignore the darkness hidden under their disingenuous smiles. I asked him if he could pinpoint why he felt uncomfortable and he replied, "I feel like they were all talking about us before we walked into the room." I told him they probably had been and they most likely continued as soon as we left the room and closed the door. It was a surreal moment for me because I saw DH's eyes start to open, at least a little, about the dynamics in his FOO.

Those dynamics were obvious to me from day one, though, and this party was no exception. I stood perched in the archway between the kitchen and living room when DH got up to retrieve a snack and my daughter was being passed around from guest to guest. I swear, I very nearly had one eye on my baby and the other on my husband. I watched the both of them like a hawk, ready to swoop down and attack if any danger threatened them. I never ate, I was too busy protecting my family to engage in trivial things like eating.

The only people who spoke to me at the party, besides my husband, were the children and the handful of guests who didn't know me. In fact the woman who ended up renting DH's old apartment seemed to think I was quite the likable gal, and spent a good chunk of her time discussing babies and children with me.

When NMIL and SIL held DD, I made sure they only did so for a few moments before I swooped in and took her back. I gave NMIL a few "Look-I'm-pretending-to-be-a-grammy" moments before I decided enough was enough. SIL held DD for what would be the second and last time, as the next time she saw her would be a year later.

And now, Dear Reader, for the hard part.

My cowardice. My deficiency. My failure.

LC had a friend at this party, though it was obviously a family party. We'll just call her Friend, for the sake of clarity. Friend was a girl who had obviously overcome a serious physical handicap and didn't let the limitations of her body define her. Even at her young age, she seemed to have an inner strength about her, that was perhaps due in part to the lot she had drawn in life and refused to accept. But, in spite of her resilience, she was still a child. Innocent, unassuming, and near-defenseless. When she left the room for a moment, NMIL sharpened her blades. She started asking LC about Friend, seemingly innocent questions. She asked, "Does she have any nicknames? She has one of those names that gets shortened all the time."

LC said, "Most people call her [this name]." Then she paused and said honestly, "But some people call her [that name] and she hates that."

NMIL actually squirmed in what I can only assume was pleasure in having gained the knowledge of something so personal and perhaps painful for Friend. I swear, Dear Reader, I could see her wheels turning and it was so disgusting to watch. In the next few moments, she solidified the Evil image of her in my mind. She giggled. She oozed delight. She said, "Oh, that's so funny. That Name. I'm going to call her that."

My heart skipped a thousand beats, my brain shot arrows at my mouth. Do something, do something, do something. I could feel myself panicking, knowing I had only seconds to decide how I was going to act. My mind raced as I asked myself, "How can I head this off? What can I say? What if, as soon as she walks back into the room, I tell her I think she has a lovely name, before NMIL can say anything?" What I really wanted to do was stand up and get in NMIL's face. I wanted to say, "How dare you? You WILL NOT tease that little girl while I'm standing here. YOU WILL NOT." I wanted to, I knew that's what had to be done. But the seconds were passing, one by one, as Friend came back into the room. My own cowardice, my own fears kept me glued to the couch, watching the destruction unfold. I was afraid, Dear Reader, that if I stood up to NMIL, I would be attacked. In fact, I knew I would, and it would come from the one person in the room who was supposed to be on my side, the one who had only just begun to open his eyes. He had been trained to protect his NM, and had not yet fully broken those chains.

But this is not about shaking off the blame, Dear Reader, I am not placing the blame on my DH's shoulders. It was me, who let her take the hit. Me. The one person in that room who could have saved her. Who could have shown her that NMIL's behavior was unacceptable, in fact, that anyone who behaved that way was wrong. I didn't open my mouth, I didn't take the hit for her, I didn't stop the bullying. I was no better than the bully herself. Me. The adult. The one with the experience enough to understand what was happening and the skills enough to know how to deal with it. I let my cowardice rule the day and that little girl suffered the consequences for it.

I remember when Friend came back, and NMIL jumped on her, in a matter of seconds, sinking her viscous teeth in with her nasty, concealed torment. "Oh hello, That Name" she snickered. Friend cringed and cried out, and lightly slapped LC's arm, having known who gave away that secret. LC laughed with NMIL, thinking it was all okay, that this was how one should treat her friend, nay, this was how one should treat everyone, including those who are smaller and weaker. I passed up my opportunity to show Friend that she was not alone, to show LC that teasing people was not okay, to show NMIL that I knew what she was doing and I would cut her down at the knees in order to stop her. I thought of the fact that I had my own daughter to protect and I had failed her too. Even though she was just an infant and had no idea what was going on, I had failed her. It was my job, my responsibility to save Friend, in that moment, and I failed.

Dear Reader, I would never ask for forgiveness because I don't feel I deserve it. Thinking about this event still makes me cry. I will go to my grave knowing that I failed Friend. She needed me. And I failed her.


  1. I didn't realize how awful it was for LC's Friend. Now, with a new set of Eyes, I can see the abhorrent tactics NMIL used. I am sorry for LC's Friend. I am sorry for LC as well.


  2. I feel for you and know what you're going through. It's the "why didn't I say something?" regret that I think we've all experienced when we review our time spent with the N.

    However, you're being really hard on yourself. There are patterns of behavior and expectations that have been in place for years, and this can make changing your behavior very difficult. Especially when you've seen the Narcissist throw their tantrums and have no reservation whatsoever about doing so. In a sense, the person who most highly prizes having a pleasant visit is held hostage to the Narcissist's moods and whims.

    Also: you've been trained, no doubt, not to rock the boat and confront authority figures, esp. when there is an audience - you've been taught this by the Ns in your life, and also by society.

    It's good that you're reviewing this event and feel regret but I hope you're also telling yourself that you did the best you could at the time.

  3. PWC, thank you for your support and wisdom.
    Unfortunately, I do not fit your description and can not use any training as an excuse for what I allowed to happen.

    You said "you've been trained, no doubt, not to rock the boat and confront authority figures, esp. when there is an audience - you've been taught this by the Ns in your life, and also by society." Oh, I think DH would laugh at the thought that I might possibly NOT rock the boat.

    No, I've always been a wave maker. My parents (not narcs) taught me to stand up for what's right, to stop people from hurting others, to stand up to "authority figures" if they were using their power for evil. Sigh. Big sigh. There is a part of me that wishes what you said were true. But I know that I had the skills and knowledge to do what needed to be done. I was just afraid, and I let my fears rule me.

    I should have rocked the boat. I should have made waves. Really, really big ones. I should have gone in there, guns blazing, and rode away with DH, and DD, and LC, and Friend, on my metaphorical white horse...not for the attention it would get me, but to save them all.

    The only solace I have now is in knowing that it will NOT happen again. Because I won't let it. I am so sorry that my new found bravery came at the expense of a little girl. That is just unacceptable.

    Thank you, PWC, for your kind words. It does help.

  4. As I was reading this, I kept thinking, NO. NO SHE ISN'T GOING TO. NO WAY she's going to. Then I hit the line, "oh that's funny, I'm going to call her that." My heart sank 18 floors. I was back in Math class, the boys calling me fatty, throwing wadded paper at the back of my head. I can't believe what a total LACK of morals the group had to find this funny. I was really moved by this post, Jonsi.

    I think the universe will give you another chance, and I'll keep my eyes out for chances to stand up, too. Your good heart is such a treasure in this world.

    all my love,

  5. My dearest Upsi - I knew you would see what was coming as you were reading. I was actually getting to the "bad part" and I said, "Upsi is going to know way before I get to the end, what's going to happen."

    It saddens me so, this story. And pisses me off that there is anyone out there who could excuse NMIL for her behaviors. What she did was downright cruel, and only a blind/ignorant person would look at it and say, "she was only kidding." She wasn't. She meant it. And I KNOW those couple of words hurt that little girl.

  6. It reminded me of what happens in cartoons when a hungry predator sees a potential prey, and the prey momentarily "turns into" a big piece of meat or a chicken wing, illustrating the predator's imagination. And the little juices that start flowing comically as the predator goes in for the kill.

    Cartoons aside, it's like, does that make you feel powerful, NMIL, to pick on a LITTLE GIRL? Fucking low, dude, get a hobby.


  7. Her excitement was creepy. I could see it in her body language. Bullying IS her hobby. It's how she makes her teeny tiny self feel bigger. But at the end of the day, she is still just teeny tiny, insignificant, and insecure.

  8. Have you read Conrad's Lord Jim? Brave, idealistic, heroic people often seem to miss a chance to do the right thing when it's hard, once. But then they feel like you're feeling now. And next time, they do an even more heroic thing.

    You didn't see this coming. These things are shocks for those not trained by Ns. Was it just cowardice? Or was there the question: "How does a sane, polite, normal person sanely and politely act now to defend this girl?" And there aren't many answers to that.

    Think about what you might have said or done, but really. There are not many realistic options, so for next time, review them. Imagine yourself doing them now. Imagine all the reactions of everyone there. I believe you'll see you're not truly a coward. These people are seriously disturbed, and their circle treats them as if they were great. It makes an impact, until reacting against what's clearly wrong becomes difficult to imagine, because no one ever stands up to them.

    Why did Nazi Germany happen? Have you read about the Milgram experiment?

  9. PA - Thank you for your kind words! I have not read about the Milgram experiment, nor have I read Conrad's Lord Jim, but I will look into them.

    I remember DH telling me that this was normal behavior for his NM, and I found myself getting so angry, so righteous, that she was capable of that, and THAT NO ONE EVER STOPPED HER. DH didn't know what to do, and in fact, didn't know there was anything wrong! Just like LC, who was learning in those moments to accept and look past that kind of behavior.

    It's rough, it really is. No one should ever get away with that kind of filthy behavior. Like Upsi said, "Dude, get a hobby."

  10. Maybe you'll get a chance to see LC's Friend again some day.


    People generally find comfort in authority figures, and Ns are used to being treated as an authority figure in the circle they create with their sick manipulation and scare tactics. You saw how everyone reacted along the lines of "OK, this is fine, that's the way to treat people, it's harmless fun" - and you were the odd one out.

    There's another experiment - the Asch conformity experiment -

    Even when a person KNOWS she's right, but EVERYONE ELSE seems to think differently, the person will most likely comply with the ruling of the group.

    We're weak. That's not to say we shouldn't always be striving to be stronger!

  12. Ah yes, I have read about this experiment, I believe in a college psychology course.

    The group mentality was such that her behavior was fine. I wouldn't put it past them to behave in similar manners themselves.

    I'm so angry with myself for being that weak person who complied with the group. I still think, I was the adult in the would have been better if they turned their attacks on me (as they would have, absolutely) than on her.

    Live and learn. Our personal best MUST get better. There is no other choice.

  13. I just read "whenthescapegoatquits" recent post "A Tribute to the Good Folks" and I can't help but think that, for LC, you and DH were, for a brief time, like Jim and Georgia in the post: two angels sent amid Little Cousin's childhood insanity. Also see upsi's March post "Enlightened Witness".

    Jonsi - you gave such a poignant description of LC that I feel sad for her. I know this was not the point of your post... but maybe you and DH could go visit her sometimes? I can't recall if you are NC with Naunt, but maybe she wouldn't mind if LC came over to your place to "help you with the baby" or some other excuse to get her out of her toxic environment, even for a little while.


  14. Inside - Hugs back. LC was a part of this post, for me, just as much as Friend was. I really feel for LC because watching the way she was treated felt like I was watching DH's childhood unfold before my eyes. I know where her life is headed, and I wish I could stop it!

    We are NC with Naunt, but I did, at one time, toy with the idea of going with DH to pick the kids up and take them out. I'm thinking Naunt never would have allowed that though. The best I can do is reach out to her in more subtle ways. For example, LC and her brother couldn't come to our wedding as it was an adult-only event, so I sent LC a small photo album with hand-written descriptions of the things that were pictured. We send them birthday cards and try to acknowledge their special days.

    It's the most we can do without giving NMIL, Naunt, and their cronies access to us and our children.

  15. I think Naunt would most definitely "mind" if we came and picked up her sad. It doesn't have to be this way.

  16. I hate that little smile they dredge up, right before they strike.

    Jonsi, you're right: you had an opportunity to say something and didn't. Beating yourself up will not change it or make it better. In your place, I would have struggled, too, and have. Consider the parameters: You are not in your own home. You are surrounded by people who believe this behavior is acceptable. You do not know how these people will react, now or in the future. My concern would be about payback for making them look bad. My Narcs wait, until I'm not expecting it. It comes from out of the blue. If it had only been you, you know you would have jumped right in, but now you have a daughter and that changes the dynamics. And now that DH is aware, he is becoming someone who will have your back, a different change in dynamics. Another opportunity will come, and you will be ready and will follow through. It's still scary, but it is soooo worth it.

    Keep trying to let those little ones know you care and will be there for them. That little bit can make a huge difference.

  17. Judy - I will keep trying! I will never allow less from myself! I have two beautiful babies to love and to teach how to be in the world - I will teach them how to protect themselves and champion the rights of others. I will lead by example.

    I will not forget the mistakes I have made, but I WILL learn from them!

    Thank you, Judy.


  18. Ah, I see - thanks for clarifying and I'm sorry I made so many assumptions about you. Sorry about that, I really should lurk more before commenting...

    Quoted for truth:

    "These people are seriously disturbed, and their circle treats them as if they were great."

    I think there's some more complicated social dynamics going on here. If you were always a wave maker then it really attests to climate the Narcissist cultivates that you felt you could not make waves then.

  19. PWC - Please, no apologies needed! I actually felt a bit bad telling you that your thoughts weren't accurate...I didn't want to hurt your feelings.

    But that quote for Truth - definitely spot on. Can't argue with that. Complicated is a great word for what was going on. Narcs create such a complicated web of drama and lies that it can be hard to sort things out when you actually have time, let alone when you're working with seconds! Narcs are dangerous people. All the more reason to stay the fuck away from them. And physical distance isn't necessarily the key, although it can help. Emotional distance is what I'm talking about.

    I prefer to think I'm shutting the "window" on them, rather than the door. I like to observe them, but not have to deal with them being in my house.

  20. These kinds of situations, where the child of the narcissist and the child victim is present, are very difficult. If one rebukes the parent, the children feel upset (unsafe, because the adults are quarreling), and even the other adults present feel threatened that the unpleasantness the narcissist started, is leading to more unpleasantness.

    Or, sigh, that the 'innocent fun' is being wrongly confronted.

    Even if one is ready to take the hits of disapproval and anger of the narcissist and bystanders, it isn't working for the child victim and the narcissist's child.

    No wonder we are locked into no response in these situations.

    The only thing I came across that seems to be an option (I think when I was in my fifties, drats it) was the suggestion to make factual statements in a neutral, but confident tone of voice, such as "People don't like to be called names," "It's a bad example for children," "We adults don't like others to treat us that way," etc.

    In other words, something very to the point, but as unemotional as possible--let the narcissist or bully be the only one emoting, and oneself using a calm and reasonable sounding tone of voice, that doesn't have any disapproval in it.

    That can get the message across for the children at least, and maybe even the bystanders, without the emotional built in commands activating, like "I'm bad and disloyal if I notice my mother is doing wrong."

    Then it would be more a matter, for the children, of just getting to see that there are other attitudes, and it would be modeling for them how to stand up against bullies in a way that makes it hard for the bully to pretend innocence.-- quart

  21. Quartz - Fantastic comment! Yes, yes, and yes, I totally agree. You hit on something huge here with the statement that "the other adults present feel threatened that...'innocent fun' is being wrongly confronted." That part really bothers me because it means that everyone in that room either believed it was innocent fun, or else knew it was wrong and just didn't care. That's why I honestly felt I was the only one, in a room full of people, who would have stood up for Friend. That is pretty typical of "group mentality bullying" I suppose, not just Narco-bullying.

    I LOVE your suggestions about how to handle such a scenario. Calm assertive. That's perfect.


  22. another thing is damage control? take the girl aside afterwards and tell her that what happened was stupid and give her some comfort? even with just eye contact? even just eye contact.

    don't minimize what you do do for LC. what you are doing for LC is really good and has some impact. even if you can't do as much as you think you should or could, little signs of something genuine can do a LOT. and maybe you can and will do more.
    i imagine she will remember it one day, and seek you out when she's an adult! and then you can all..look back on it and have a good laugh about it.