Monday, September 26, 2011

Fake It 'Til You Make It

This is for Kiki.

I wasn't always the self-confident woman I am now. In fact, for more of my life than I'm happy to admit, I was so lacking in self-esteem that I honestly believed I was never going to have any of the things I wanted most in life: true love, marriage, and children. I thought I was doomed to spinsterhood because I was too ugly to find love. I thought that no man would ever find me attractive, that no one could see past my flaws. Mostly, my confidence dipped when it came to the realm of my outward physical appearance.

Which is quite funny because I am not, nor was I ever, an unattractive girl. For the sake of modesty, it is difficult for me to sit here and brag about "how beautiful" I am. But what I can do, what I feel comfortable doing, is talk about my looks from other peoples' perspectives.

I was the kind of girl that got looks everywhere I went. I never knew it, I was always too oblivious. But my mother said that whenever we went somewhere in public, people watched me. When I was a little girl, she got comments about how pretty I was and that I should be on the cover of a magazine. As I got older, everyone could see past my gangly limbs and my glasses, and they saw something truly stunning, something I could not see. Boys craned their necks when I walked by. In high school, when I grew into myself a bit more and began to mature physically, I got lots of attention for my looks. People asked me all the time if I modeled and suggested that, if I didn't, I should. Male relatives told my parents that in the next few years, guys would be knocking down their door to get to me. To this day, I STILL get compliments on my looks, and people still ask me if I model. Very recently, the photographer for our wedding asked me if I had ever considered modeling. She said, "I'm still in awe of how photogenic and beautiful you are! What you should be doing is looking into modeling (and this is coming from a photographer, we know what were talking about..lol)...Astonishing!" Granted, she doesn't see me in my normal everyday "mom attire," which comes complete with boogers, food crumbs, and pony-tailed hair, but the fact of the matter is that she still saw beauty in a tired mom of two, enough to suggest that I become a model. (I swear, if I had a dime for every person who suggested that over the years, I'd be rich without having ever had one photo snapped!)

So what I've always had is a sort of natural beauty. I'm no Cindy Crawford, but I've gotten enough head turns in my day to know that I'm no wicked witch either. What was always funny to me is that people could see past so much of the superficial stuff to the real beauty underneath. I got genuine compliments on my looks when I was twelve years old, wearing braces and thick glasses. And I have NEVER been much of a dresser. My fashion sense was limited to jeans and t-shirts and an occasional sundress. But still, beyond the gangly limbs and the awkward glasses and the dorky clothes, people saw a beauty that few possess. I have always been slender and athletic. In my adulthood, I've grown into a rather feminine hourglass shape. I have rather symmetrical features, with almond shaped green eyes and shapely pink lips. I've always liked my small ears and my elegant hands. I have thick, wavy brown hair that hair-stylists have always oohed and aahed over, and broad, strong shoulders.

What I had lacked, up until the past few years, was the self-esteem to pull off my good-looks. Once, when I was working at a small retail store at the age of eighteen (and probably at the height of my youth and beauty) an older woman came in just to tell me how beautiful she thought I was. I remember thanking her, but of course not believing her, and as soon as she left, I ran to the back room where there was a mirror hanging on the wall, in the hopes that I might see whatever it was that she had seen. When I got to the mirror, though my eyes were alight with some bright hope, I couldn't see it. I just couldn't see the great beauty that she was describing.

Once, at the same job, a young man came in to the store and said, "You shouldn't stand in front of these great big windows you know." A little defensively, I asked, "Why?" to which he replied, "Because all the boys are likely to get into accidents since they'll all be staring at you." I sort of scuffed my foot and looked down and smiled shyly. I was incredulous. I looked behind me, wondering if there was some beautiful girl standing there all of sudden, because he couldn't possibly have been talking to me.

I think that for a long time, many years after I got contacts and had my braces removed and learned how to brush my too-thick hair, I still thought I was the awkward girl with the braces and the glasses and the puff-ball on top of my head. Even then I had been beautiful, but I never had the confidence to really see it.

When I started a relationship with Dickhead, my narcissistic (possibly sociopathic) ex-boyfriend, any slight self-esteem I had had to begin with was shattered. It took several years of maturity and therapy, and one massively-difficult breakup, to solve my self-esteem woes.

And it all began with the motto, "Fake It 'Til You Make It." My therapist gave me that little gem and it has stuck with me ever since. We started small, with me bringing in photos of myself at various ages where I thought I was particularly ugly, or funny looking, or unattractive. We looked at each photo and I pointed out my flaws, while she pointed out my obvious physical appeal. I did the emotional work that led me to the theory that some of my self-esteem issues stemmed from the notion that I was still hiding behind my invisible glasses and hideous metal mouth. For homework one session, I had to ask five people to write me letters, which I was not allowed to see until I came to therapy the next time, in which they described why they thought I was beautiful. I still have those letters and I take them out from time to time and re-read them.

I learned that it was important to accept a compliment gracefully, by simply saying "thank you" and never refuting the claim made, even if I thought (or in some cases, knew, though that was rare) that it was disingenuous. I learned that all those people who watched me as I walked by were watching me for a specific reason, and it wasn't because I was unattractive. And, more importantly, I learned that in order to gain self-worth, I had to first pretend that I had it. It was something I had to work on everyday, in every situation, at every moment. When I found myself thinking, "I'm ugly" or "I'm worthless," I pretended that I believed the opposite. In essence, I was putting on a show for the rest of the world. While inside I was saying, "I'm so hideous. No one will ever love me." On the outside, I shouted, "You think I'm beautiful? Well thank you!" And then I smiled. I worked on having good posture and holding my head up high, always. I learned to walk with my chin up, instead of looking down at the ground. I told myself, day after day, that I was beautiful, that someone...no, that MANY someones loved me, and many more would still. I walked around as though I knew of my own beauty and worth.

And one day, I looked in the mirror, and I fucking saw it. I saw the beauty that everyone was talking about. I saw it in my eyes and in my hair. I saw it in my laugh and in my honesty. I saw it in my slender feet and my shapely hands. I saw it in my kindness and in my love. In that moment, and it was only a moment at first, I saw what I had been pretending to see for many, many months.

It wasn't over, it still took more work. Lot's more. But eventually, after pretending so well for so long that I was the beautiful, smart, and wonderful woman that I was pretending to be, I became that woman. And, I found out that, more importantly than finding other people to love me, I had found that I loved myself.

That's what self-esteem is all about, after all. It's about loving yourself.

I'll leave you with this one, rather poignant (if not a little silly) image of what "fake it 'til you make it" means to me:

My mother once told me that when she was in junior high school, she had this one gym class where the female teacher sent all the boys away and had the girls do this silly (but powerful) exercise. They were to walk across the length of the gymnasium, back and forth, back and forth, with their heads held high and their eyes straight ahead. And they had to chant, "I am a woman. I am beautiful, inside and out." They had to say it, over and over again, as they walked up and down the basketball court, for the whole forty-five minutes. My mother says it forever changed her self-esteem for the better, as much laughing and chuckling her friends did at the time.

That's what you've got to to do, Kiki, in my very humble opinion. It works in all aspects of poor self-esteem, not just the ones many of us "girls" have about our physical appearances. Fake it 'til you make it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On The Outside, Looking In

A few nights ago, I was catching up on my reading over at Vanci's blog and I found myself wondering if other ACoNs were like my husband, in that they were constantly surrounded by people who, either out of ignorance or inability, did not see the severe dysfunction by which the ACoNs were surrounded.

The thought prompted me to ask Vanci, "...did anyone you ever met growing up or in your young-adulthood ever tell you that they thought your family behaved strangely or that they were abusive?"

Vanci's newly-minted blog is already ripe with thought-provoking and heart-wrenching recollections of her youth and many of her stories remind me of my husband's. And, being a rather observant person myself, I've never really understood how people on the outside couldn't see what was really going on behind the scenes. Vanci has given me permission to pick apart her most recent post on my own blog, in an attempt to do a comparison/analytical analysis of her thoughtful response to my question.

I would like to first look at the title of her post, "Contagious Blindness," which I think was aptly chosen. Her title created a great mental image for me, depicting the outsiders' ignorance of the ACoN's reality as though it were a sort of disease. In my husband's experience, as a young boy with little to no control over who his parents exposed him to or forced him into relationships with, he was surrounded by a large group of toxic Flying Monkeys who did little but drink the Kool Aide all day. Like Vanci and many, many other ACoNs, my husband had no choice but to maintain relationships with people who either would not or could not step in and help him. I have spent some time examining their apparent blindness to the subtle abuses they were, no doubt, witnessing.

In the first part of her answer to my question, Vanci wrote, "They moved us around every year for a reason. It's entirely possible to maintain a perfectly perfect projection of a facade of perfectness... for a short period of time. I don't know how much of the grand master plan of physical isolation was completely conscious on the part of NM and EF and how much was below surface, but I'm absolutely positive that they knew at some level that if we stayed anywhere too long, people would get close. And when 'outsiders' get close to a family as fucked up as ours was, they see through the veneer. Most 'normal' people, granted, would turn a blind eye (and of the few who did get close to us in one way or another, the great majority did just that,) but those who got close enough to see some of the truth behind the castle gates and might have done anything about it had very little time to act or react. They usually only began to suspect, it seems, as we were loading up the moving vans."

Her answer reminded me that, as children, we relied on our parents to make certain choices for us, like who we spent most of our time with and what kind of experiences we got to have. The younger the child, the more power a parent has over those types of choices. For Vanci, her parents opted to move around often, as an effective means to decrease the chances that their children would be influenced by outside sources. It's my belief that her parents, either consciously or subconsciously made the choice to keep their children away from individuals who might pose any sort of threat to their dysfunctional family system. One of the interesting differences I see between Vanci's childhood and my husband's is that, although my husband did move several times throughout his childhood, his NM, step-father, and EF never moved so far that they had to cut ties, and in fact, most of their friendly and familial relationships, albeit superficial, remained intact. Interestingly enough though, Vanci and my husband still had similar experiences in the sense that, whether or not they were surrounded by familiar people, outsiders said and did nothing to indicate that they recognized, let alone understood, the severe dysfunctions surrounding these children. To clarify, Vanci was constantly surrounded by new and unfamiliar people. My husband was generally always surrounded by the same group of familiar people. Yet both parties rarely (or, in my husband's case, never) heard an outsider say, "What the hell is wrong with your family?"

This observation strengthens my idea that all relationships introduced and encouraged by the narcissistic/enabling parents could only be superficial. It goes without reason that no NP would allow their child access to 'outsiders' who would point out the severity of their familial dysfunctions. Doing so would pose a major threat to the precarious balance between the abusers and the abused.

Vanci writes, "[My parents are] basically professional level liars and manipulators, and they haven't gotten away with it for their entire lives by doing it poorly. They have a system, they cover each other, it works. Unsuspecting non-Narcs who come into contact with them are easily [duped]. How could they not be? The Crazymakers have justifications, rationalizations, revisions of history, explanations and misdirection on their side."

Touché, Vanci. Reading this spot-on description of your parents' uncanny abilities to manipulate reminded me that for every con-artist out there, there must be a thousand suckers just begging to be scammed. And that's what the easily-duped unsuspecting non-narcs are, after all, just suckers. Or, call them what you will: victims, fools, patsies, saps, stooges, pushovers, sitting ducks, dupes, boobs, fall-guys, chopping blocks, easy marks, schmucks, pawns, puppets, instruments. In the scheme of things, they are useless to the children of narcissists because they are too superficial in their relationships, too blind to reality, and too loyal to the narcissists to be of any help to the ones who really need them.

I look at it this way: Are the manipulators truly good at what they do, are most of the people being fooled just incredibly naive/foolish/cowardly, or perhaps it's a mixture of the two? Narcissists are, by their very nature, highly-skilled manipulators, who perfect their skills over a lifetime of practicing the fine art of double-dealing. One of my favorite authors, Harriet B. Braiker, writes in her book Who's Pulling Your Strings, "Manipulation is used because it works. As long as you allow a manipulator to exploit and control you, he or she will continue to manipulate...under the burdensome weight of manipulation, relationships stagnate into a highly lopsided power imbalance." Braiker, at one point, refers to the manipulated party as the "unwitting collaborator" to the manipulation. I mean, really, if you're not against them, then you're with them. You're either allowing them to manipulate you and possibly helping them manipulate others, or you see through their vulgar tricks and choose not be be a part of their deceptions. I tend to see the following traits, or a combination of some of them, in people who easily fall for the cunning tricks of a manipulator:

1. Naiveté, which means, as defined by thefreedictionary.com, "The state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical."
2. Low self-esteem, which is defined by "Heavy self-criticism, hypersensitivity to criticism, chronic indecision, an excessive will to please, and neurotic guilt." (Wikipedia)
3. People-pleasing habits and mindsets.
4. Superficiality / lack of emotional depth.
5. Ignorance.

Essentially, when ACoNs are children, their NPs do a fantastic job of weeding out any of the people who don't have any or all of the traits above, thereby denying the children access to healthier adults and peers, and cementing an unhealthy ideal of "normalcy" in the child's life. In DH's case, he spent years of his late adolescence and early adulthood trying to replicate the relationships his NM had created for him as a boy, while still maintaining ALL of the unhealthy ones that had been there from the start. When he met me, I very quickly realized that he had been surrounded by a plethora of unhealthy and emotionally blind people - some of whom he had chosen for himself, having never been taught to seek-out relationships with stronger, healthier, kinder individuals. Basically, at that point in time, he was merely following-through on his NM's training by only picking people that she would approve of.

Until me.

And here, of course, is where my confusion comes in. It didn't take me long to figure NMIL out. It didn't take me long to figure out her cronies, either. I'm not a rocket-scientist, nor am I a psychologist. I do not have an uncanny sixth sense about people, as my own mother does (and boy do I envy THAT skill...I think of all the stress I could have saved myself in my own relationships during my youth, if I could have smelled out the shit-heads BEFORE I let them walk through the door). What I do have is experience with manipulative people, two relation-shits with Narcs under my belt, and a rather-heavy desire not to repeat my past mistakes. I am also in possession of some fantastic reading material, which I purchased in the hopes of learning more about people in the world around me...it just doesn't do to be ignorant. Perhaps my most wonderful trait though, is my deep-seeded desire to find out why. I have never been content with the basics of life, I have always felt that it takes a particular depth and a desire to find out more that leads to a happier, healthier life.

Apparently though, there aren't many people out there with the same sort of desires. Instead, there are a multitude of people like Pig, and Exhibit A, Toast, and Double Agent. There are masses of people out there who are willing to fall for the tricks of the manipulators. They're easy pickins, in fact. Like Vanci says, their blindness seems to be contagious.

I feel I must share more of Vanci's wonderful post with you, because she did such a fantastic job of answering my question. She wrote, "They are just so damned good at the show of it all. They have layers and layers of nice painted on the outside; so many that it's really impossible to tell where one lie starts and another begins. They just seem like such nice people. There's a comment I've heard often, and it's totally true! They do seem like nice people, because they act like nice people, and they're good at this charade, because the maintenance of this farce is absolutely critical to the maintenance of the style of living and life they want to have. If they seemed rotten, they'd never be able to get away with it - if they acted on the outside like the monsters that they truly are, CPS would have taken all three of us kids away pronto...So, unfortunately, no, dear Jonsi, no one ever said those things to me. Most outsiders weren't allowed to be close enough to see beyond the masks. Those few who did make it through weren't allowed access for very long. Of those who did glimpse the reality of the NFOO, most were treated immediately and intensely to the blindingly convincing show of Narc-y Nice Nice. I don't know of any outsider who ever infiltrated to the core, honestly."

Sigh. Big, understanding sigh. My husband, too, knows what it's like to have grown up in a torturous ball of nice. Like I've said, other than myself, no one had ever infiltrated his dysfunctional world, either. Even when he became an adult, he merely went about self-sabotaging his chances of finding people who would be willing or able to do so. And it is here, too, where Vanci and my husband share a common thread. Vanci wrote, "And then, I grew up. I had lots and lots of 'friends' and acquaintances, too, but they didn't really know me. How could they? I learned inauthenticity over my baby food jars." (They must be kindred spirits). My husband didn't break the legacy until he sat down in a little coffee shop over a pile of freshly-printed books and fell in love with a girl who could See...a girl who wanted to See.

There are some of us out there. We'll speak up for you. We'll show you. We'll See for you until you can See for yourself. I think the one thing I disagree with Vanci about is the idea that ALL of those people didn't have a clue what was going on. I think some of them were clueless, but I think many more were not. Vanci wrote, "I think they just fell victim to the sway of the Narcs, who are very good at their brand of hypnosis." Some, for sure, merely fell victim to the Narcs. But I still wonder about the rest...

Many thanks to Vanci at Not My Rock for the superb post.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Theories

In a previous post, I mentioned how the article I found had inspired some theories and I want to take the time now to talk about them with you.

Since having met my husband in 2009, I've been developing a theory regarding how some narcissists can covertly sexually abuse their children. Up until reading the article in my last post, my theory was missing a few vital pieces. And then, after reading the article, everything sort of clicked into place.

The nut of my theory is this: NMIL's forays into inappropriate sexual behavior with her son and her son's friends, in addition to her own lack of self-esteem and inability to teach him how to maintain healthy emotional boundaries with all of the women in his life was, in fact, a form of extremely covert sexual abuse. Let's break it down, shall we? We know for certain that the following accounts are true:

NMIL's behaviors towards DH and his peers have, at times, been borderline sexual (both overt and covert in nature). Like a pedophile, she spent much of her time grooming DH's friends and subtly coaxing them into a mindset where they saw her as a friend or an object of lust, rather than as a mother, a caretaker, or simply, as the parent of their friend. DH recalls that she nearly always dressed inappropriately, both for her age and for the sake of propriety. He said that she often wore mini-skirts and revealing clothing, which showed a lack of maturity as well as a complete disinterest for societal standards. In addition to her wardrobe choices, there was the famous incident of her breast popping out of her bathrobe (which DH said she wore often in front of his teenage friends, and he never knew if she wore anything underneath). In that particular case, though we'll never know for sure, it seems safe to assume that the indecent exposure was done on purpose, and that she wanted her specially-groomed boytoy, Pig, to see it. She wanted to be friends with all of DH's friends, including friends of either gender and girlfriends. In most cases, she succeeded in doing so, to the point where ALL of DH's "friends" maintained their loyalties with his NM, rather than with him. And DH recalls that she hugged his two best friends often.

NMIL expected DH to step into the role of father for her daughter. I maintain my belief that NO CHILD ever takes on the role of parent to a sibling, unless they are forced into that position. Sometimes, though it is rare, older siblings have been known to take care of their younger siblings in extremely dire situations (for example, I have heard of young-adults taking over parental responsibilities to younger siblings when their parents have died and they have no existing family members to adopt them). But in most cases that I've seen, children or young-adults who step into the role of parenting their siblings NEVER, EVER do so out of choice. No child ever naturally assumes the role of parent, unless they are expected to, or the situation is so dire that they must step in. In DH's case, he was expected to step in as a physical and emotional care-taker of his younger sister. There are many examples of this kind of behavior in DH's past, one of which comes to mind for me often. When DH and I were dating in 2009, and we went to his sister's birthday party, we all went swimming in his NM's pool for a short while. I was appalled when I saw how DH treated his sister at the pool. She came out dressed in a bikini (which is perfectly normal and acceptable) and DH took it upon himself to walk over to her and pronounce that she shouldn't be wearing something so revealing and she should go in and change. It doesn't sound like a big deal to some people, I'm sure, but underneath the subtleties of it, I saw something really terrible: First, as I mentioned, there was nothing wrong with a fifteen-year-old girl wearing a bikini. Secondly, I couldn't believe that DH thought he had the right or the responsibility to assess the situation the way he did. I remember pulling him aside and saying, "That was completely inappropriate! First of all, it's a bathing suit. Second of all, you're not her parent. If her parents have a problem with something she's wearing, it's their job to say something, not yours." Besides the fact that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her attire, it became abundantly clear to me in that moment that DH and his sister had been groomed to see each other a certain way, and it wasn't as a typical brother and sister. And that wasn't their fault. It was largely their NM's.

Going right along with that, I also believe that NMIL expected DH to step into the role of her husband/lover/spouse. Again, I don't necessarily have concrete factoids to throw out at you about how I know this, I just know that NMIL's history of behaviors lead me to believe that this idea is a safe bet. When I read the following in my previous post, I found more evidence that, because narcissistic mothers don't understand, nor can they maintain healthy emotional/sexual boundaries, it is not uncommon for them to see their sons as viable mates, rather than as their children: "The men DON'T keep up their end of the relationship, because they don't want the relationship their mothers long for. They love her and they want a relationship, but not that kind of relationship. And everyone gets confused by what's really going on because it feels to everyone like a love triangle, without the sexual attraction. You have the jealous spurned woman, the new love interest and the guy in the middle--but no one calls it what it is because it's not sexual. And yet the emotions are exactly the same." So, even though NMIL didn't necessarily approach her son in a sexual manner, she still managed to become, in effect, the "jealous spurned woman" in this equation. Unlike most healthier (aka less-dysfunctional) mothers, NMIL is and was unable to see her son as not only a separate being, but as a child. Instead, she ALWAYS saw him as a possible spouse or significant other, thereby taking away his childhood and upending his healthy sexual-development.

NMIL taught DH a very unhealthy attitude towards/about women in general. Rather than teaching him that women are beings of worth, that we are unique and special and should be respected, as all living-beings deserve, NMIL taught him how to objectify women. She taught him that women and girls were things, collectibles, pretty objects that one can gaze upon and treat like garbage. To me, she exuded a sense of pride about how many girls he collected in his life. I believe that she saw more value in herself as a person if she could walk around saying that her son had so many girlfriends, or that women flocked to him, or that he "always had a blonde on his arm." She made a scrapbook for DH when he graduated high school and when he and I were looking through it, I pointed out to him all the references his mother made to the girls he grew up with, as though they were just things. She captioned one picture, "DH, adoring blonde on right." And another, "All his women, the early years." It was a picture of DH, as a little boy, standing on a fence with many of the little girls that he grew up with. I know without a doubt that she talked about women as though they were literally just tokens one could collect throughout a lifetime. And I mean, it takes one to know one, right? NMIL is, in her own mind, the ultimate collectable. She thinks nothing of herself, so why would she think any other women have value? Answer: She doesn't. She has such disdain for herself and has so little esteem for her own worth as a person and as a woman, that she can only see others in the same light. One of the many reasons why she doesn't like women like me is because I have more esteem and a stronger sense of self than she and all of her cronies combined. Not only must that terrify her because she is dwarfed in comparison to a woman like me, but she knows that all of her training with my husband didn't work.

He STILL picked me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Story Strikingly Similar to Mine

So I was perusing the internet searching for stories like mine, as I often do, and I happened upon a forum where a group of women have created a space to discuss issues that have come up with their In-Laws. I wanted to take the time to share one post that I found there, because it really spoke to me and the situation DH and I are dealing with currently. In the post, I have separated the poster's own words from something that she herself copied and pasted (though I can't find the source of that original information). The poster's words are in blue, and the information she copied is in red. Bolding for emphasis, mine.

The Motive Behind Clingy MILs Learned in Therapy
Written October 27, 2007
by Black Box

This is what I learned about one type of MIL-DIL-Son/Husband triangle through counselling. It fits my MIL, but not all MILs. However, it's not an uncommon phenomenon.

It was written in response to a post in which someone asked why it was the DIL's responsibility to foster a relationship between her and the MIL, the grandchildren and MIL, and the son/husband and the MIL. Why doesn't the son/husband work to make the MIL/DIL good, rather than the DIL work to make the MIL/son relationship good.

"This is what's hard for these women to understand. Their sons are NOT all that interested in these very tight, very close, very intimate relationships with their mothers. They outgrew the Oedipal phase; the mothers never did. Let's face it: it's very pleasant when your 4 year old son adores you and swears he's going to marry you and be your knight in shining armor. But it doesn't last; it's a phase.

The sons don't take the responsibility for a close relationship with their mothers because they don't WANT them. They also don't want to hurt their mothers, they don't want them unhappy, but they also don't want to talk to them every day and solve their every problem and support all their emotional upsets. They want to move on, but they also want their mother's to be okay with them moving on.

The MILs turn desperately to the DILs to wring out the closeness they long for--or they blame the DILs for the distance they sense. A lot of men shove their wives between them and their desperate mommies. "I got to get some space; make her okay with it". DILs resent both being used as a bridge between mother and son and also to be blamed for a natural phenomenon--sons grow up and grow away. DILs pick up quickly on desperately lonely, clingy, needy women and see what even the MILs may be too ashamed to admit; these MILs (not all MILs), but these MILs have based their emotional lives on their son and are an intrusion into their marriages. DILs sense the same danger to their marriages as they would from any other woman who is determined to get their husbands.

When mothers let go of their sons and don't fancy that there's this 'special bond of closeness' that exists that most mothers and sons don't have, they usually have good relationships with their DILs and their sons. When they can't let go, the men find a way to escape, either by 'zoning out', staying away, lying, or throwing their wives under the bus.

The men DON'T keep up their end of the relationship, because they don't want the relationship their mothers long for. They love her and they want a relationship, but not that kind of relationship. And everyone gets confused by what's really going on because it feels to everyone like a love triangle, without the sexual attraction. You have the jealous spurned woman, the new love interest and the guy in the middle--but no one calls it what it is because it's not sexual. And yet the emotions are exactly the same.

Unless you've been a victim of these desperate MILs, you would pity them. They are generally unloved, left behind women. They don't have healthy partnerships as a general rule. They generally don't have a good support system. They are looking for that that absolute love, trust, and acceptance that everyone wants, they are just looking for it in the wrong place, and they want it on their terms, from the all powerful mother who holds all the cards and the ultimate authority in the relationship (as they had when their sons were little) from a man who can take care of himself and her as well. They generally cannot deal with real relationships with imperfect men and give and take. They have the development of a toddler and a toddler's understanding: black and white, idealized and full of fantasy.

And it's a continuum: some of these clingy, needy MILs are only troubled a little by these misplaced affections, and some are completely immersed and some regress to this when they are stressed or feeling vulnerable.

This doesn't explain all MIL-DIL problems. Their are some disturbed DILs out there, no doubt. This doesn't explain just plain nasty, or mentally ill, or character disordered MILs (altho it can). And doesn't explain those who have very little interest in their families and grandchildren. Or those who have trouble facing the empty nest, but who with a little prodding, do build satisfying lives and healthy relationships. But it does explain one dynamic of the MIL-Son-DIL triangle.

This is what I learned in therapy. I did not learn how to correct the problem without a lot of pain being felt by everyone.

[My MIL is] still at it. She's still savagely criticizing her son (and me, but big deal about me) to whomever will listen... The crying, the complaining, the bitterness, the character attacks, the 'wise psychological analysis' of what's wrong with everyone who doesn't cater to her, the lying, the endless victimhood, interspersed with righteous indignation about what her 'rights' are, the emotional games ("I don't want to talk to you; but I'll talk to the kids'), the manipulations ("I'm going to be in the neighborhood taking a friend on vacation--we live 1,200 miles away--can I stop in for an afternoon? Oh the friend can't come, how come I can only spend one afternoon with MY GRANDCHILDREN, when I've come so far and spent so much money...you are soooo meeeeeean to me.").

She never stops. It's been two and a half years since she's had input from us. BIL and SIL who support her still, have also put some distance between them and her.

She blew it; so why does she keep on doing the same things that put her in this situation? None of us want it to be this way, but also we are not willing to risk having her invade our lives like she did.

The therapist said it was because she doesn't know any other way. She's always solved problems by crying and storming and blaming and using emotional blackmail as punishment. She has no other tools to cope with life's problems other than to present herself as a victim, deny all responsibility and emotionally bully people to acquiesence.

And I would buy that--except she's been told EXACTLY what needs to happen to repair the problem. Step by step. And she rejects it, and continues with more of the same. It's her way or the highway.

We chose the highway; and she's outraged. She doesn't love her son; how could anyone who says such horrible things about him for such a long sustained period actually love him? But she talks endlessly about how much she loooooooves everyone (and how hard she tried to loooooove me, but I wouldn't let her--the poor thing). Love to her is a hook to reel people into so they can take care of her feelings and her life for her. If you really loved your son, would you try to weaken/break other relationships he values: with his wife, his brothers, his inlaws, and even his own children. This is not what a loving mother does; no matter what she says.

I feel terrible for my husband for having a mother like this. He seems to chose to believe that she's not doing these things on purpose, she's just so driven by her despair, that she's pursuing her own agenda, and all the damage she causes is an unintended byproduct.

Except of course, she's been told how to fix things and refuses to do it. And she knows she's causing rifts--she's written me emails about it, trying to get me to feel guilty about it--but I'm not the one running my mouth non-stop (I come here). She knows what's she's doing and if I give in, she'll stop. Funny, I don't believe it. She won't stop until she has run of my house and we are dedicating our lives to her satisfaction. She has not changed ONE thing; she has shown NO remorse; she has not admitted that she did one thing WRONG.

It's more important to be an innocent victim than it is to have a relationship with your son and grandchildren. She's made that clear.

Oddly enough, she's not happy with the choice.

It's exhausting. My MIL demonstrates that she will only (and just recently after like two years) accept the call DH's cell phone and don't send crap all the time in the mail and the don't invite yourself over uninvited boundary. She can't handle the don't talk badly about people behind their backs, don't criticize, don't diagnose and meddle, don't keep asking when you've been told 'no', and don't use us to play victim boundary. Probably never will. And we probably won't ever has anything but the most restrained and distant relationship.

When she proves it's safe for us to come closer to her, we will do so--but she has recently proven that if we get too close she will try to bite (but last time only accomplished a nip; however, it tells you what you need to know).

It's too bad, it's unnecessary, and she screwed herself over good; sadly, she screwed a lot of other people over in the process. We'll see at Christmas if it's safe to take another step forward, or if we have to back off some more. 


After reading all of this, I was really struck by the similarities between my story and this woman's. It really got my wheel's-a-turnin' and I've developed a couple new theories about my husband's unhealthy relationship with his NM. I'll be happy to share them with you, Dear Reader.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Business Model

I found the following article here and thought the information was very interesting. It immediately made me think of people I have known in the past, namely NMIL, though there are others, who were very successful in business (or on their way up-and-up). I find that skilled manipulators such as narcs and sociopaths are the kind of people who always seem so lazy and incapable, yet there they are, running their own businesses and living rich lifestyles we can only dream of. With NMIL, any time we were in her presence, I just couldn't help but think that she was completely incapable of, well, anything. I couldn't see this woman scrubbing her kitchen floor or decorating her jumbo house. I actually found myself wondering who unpacked all her Christmas decorations every year, because it couldn't possibly have been her. She gave off such an air of uselessness, which is probably because she just got everyone else to do all the heavy lifting for her. She paid someone to take care of her yard. She probably had a house-keeper. She's filthy rich, though only when she wants to be - and by that I mean, when she's trying to get her son to feel guilty as a way to escape blame for her lies, THEN she's not doing well financially, of course.

I think there is a reason why so many narcs are rich, and it has nothing to do with work-ethic, desire, or capability. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that they are highly-skilled manipulators who work their way to the top (and stay there!) by dark and insidious means. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but NMIL is quite wealthy and owns her own business. This article seems to describer her well. Does anyone else see similarities in their own narcissistic FOOs?

One in 25 business leaders may be a psychopath, study finds
by Steven Morris
September 1, 2011

One out of every 25 business leaders could be psychopathic, a study claims.

The study, conducted by the New York psychologist Paul Babiak, suggests that they disguise the condition by hiding behind their high status, playing up their charm and by manipulating others.

Favorable environmental factors such as a happy childhood mean they can function in a workplace rather than channeling their energies in more violent or destructive ways. Revealing the results in a BBC Horizon documentary, Babiak said: "Psychopaths really aren't the kind of person you think they are.

"In fact, you could be living with or married to one for 20 years or more and not know that person is a psychopath.

"We have identified individuals that might be labelled 'the successful psychopath'.

"Part of the problem is that the very things we're looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic.

"Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership."

Babiak designed a 111-point questionnaire with Professor Bob Hare, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, a renowned expert in psychopathy. Hare believes about 1% of Americans can be described as psychopaths.

The survey suggests psychopaths are actually poor managerial performers but are adept at climbing the corporate ladder because they can cover up their weaknesses by subtly charming superiors and subordinates.

This makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a genuinely talented team leader and a psychopath, Babiak said. Hare told Horizon: "The higher the psychopathy, the better they looked – lots of charisma and they talk a good line.

"But if you look at their actual performance and ratings as a team player and productively, it's dismal. Looked good, performed badly.

"You have to think of psychopaths as having at their disposal a very large repertoire of behaviors. So they can use charm, manipulation, intimidation, whatever is required.

"A psychopath can actually put themselves in your skin, intellectually not emotionally.

"They can tell what you're thinking, they can look at your body language, they can listen to what you're saying, but what they don't really do is feel what you feel.

"What this allows them to do is use words to manipulate and con and to interact with you without the baggage of feeling your pain."