I stumbled across a new blog a couple weeks ago titled ACONography, where Claire writes about her struggles as the daughter of a narcissistic mother. In her post, "The Demons of Doubt and Disappointment" she talks about one of the many ways that narcissists attempt to circumvent an order of No Contact: They use gullible and easily-manipulated family members as pawns and aim their attacks at the most unsuspecting targets - your children. Claire has given me permission to use her post as a talking point here on my own blog, which I consider a privilege because her post was heartfelt, well-written, and extremely relevant to the goings-on in our struggles with DH's FOO.
Here is the post I referenced above, highlighting/italics for emphasis mine:
The Demons of Doubt and Disappointment
At this point, my mother's refusal to respect my request for no contact with me, my husband, or my children is more of an irritating mosquito buzzing in my ear than the crazy-making depression sparker that it would have been before, but it still pisses me off when she crosses the boundaries I have defined. This time gifts were sneaked into my car after a visit with some other relatives. She had apparently given a bag of items to them, knowing that they would see me. They didn't tell me what they were putting in the car. I knew this might happen, but I'm disappointed that it did.
I'm disappointed that my relatives allowed themselves to be used as mules, even though I know it was probably easier for them to just take the stuff than to stand up to my mother.
I'm disappointed that the relatives probably don't think I have a good reason to have divorced myself from my parents, and probably feel sorry for those poor people, robbed of their rightful relationship with their grandchildren.
I'm disappointed that I didn't step up and say "whoa, what are you putting in my car? Nope, won't accept it." Not confronting it is probably the kindest route as far as my relatives are concerned - why make them uncomfortable? - but still, I feel like not standing up for myself is "losing" somehow.
I'm disappointed that my mother disregards my request. Not surprised, but still disappointed.
I'm disappointed that once again, I have to find a way to deal with these unwanted gifts. I'm disappointed that once again, I've been put in the position of either giving my kids gifts that I said I don't want them to receive, letting the kids be aware of the gifts but disposing of them, or preventing the kids from ever knowing that the gifts arrived.
The disappointment kicks off the demons of self-doubt. Am I being a jerk? Should I try to preserve/rebuild a relationship between my parents and my children? Is it horrible that I try not to let the kids know when cards and gifts arrive? Is it deceitful of me? Is it wrong not to give a child a gift that was sent for him? But I told the giver not to send them! I don't want to see clothing she sent on my children's bodies or in the laundry, or toys she gave them scattered across my floor!
Every time this happens, I feel like writing a letter or email message telling her to CEASE AND DESIST. I said NO and I meant NO. I feel like telling her, "anything you send will be recycled, thrown out, or donated - the children will not see them. Your money is being wasted." I suspect, though, that the gifts aren't really for the kids - the toys are poor quality, the clothing is deep-discounted, and nothing is wrapped nicely. This last bunch was put into random paper shopping bags with sharpie marker inscriptions. She doesn't want to actually give nice gifts, presented nicely, to my children. She wants to get a dig in at me. She wants to put me on the spot. I suspect that she knows that the kids don't receive the gifts - the "we love you and we miss you" notes are for me to read and the gifts are being given so that a) she has the toddler-ish pleasure of defying me and b) so that she can look like a good grandma to the rest of the world. So I don't write a message to her, because I feel like then she would be succeeding in getting me to engage with her. And the first rule of dealing with my mom is DO NOT ENGAGE. It won't change anything; it'll just give her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me.
If she/they really loved their grandchildren, they'd respect their mother's wishes. If she actually missed them, she'd work hard to figure out what to do in order to reestablish a relationship with me, so that she can see them. She wouldn't be trying to work around me by sending token gifts.
I wondered what the wording of my no-contact email message to them was, so I searched for it in my Sent folder tonight, expecting to hate what I saw, but it was actually a great email. It was clear, it was well-thought-out, it didn't attack, it made polite requests, it showed sympathy for what they're feeling. Why do I doubt myself for preventing my kids from receiving gifts sent by people who cannot engage with me in a respectful manner consistent with how I want to be treated? It's ridiculous.
This blog post is all over the map. Ugh.
Tonight I got home with the kids, dodged a question from the eldest about what was in the bags (he rightly assumed that it was gifts), and took the stuff straight up to my bedroom. While the kids played, I took time away from them to go through the bags quickly, so that everything could be taken care of before they found it. I threw away the packaging immediately, recycled the maudlin birthday card for the youngest, and grabbed an AmVets bag for the gifts. Took it up to the attic. Done. But I'm frustrated that she continues to put me in this spot, and I'm tired of feeling like an asshole.
Upon reading this post, I felt a pang of sorrow and a deep sense of camaraderie with Claire: My do I know well the feelings that she has described! I, too, have felt the "loss" of not standing up for myself (or for others) in situations where I wanted to, needed to, should have. I too have questioned whether it's right to withhold cards and gifts that are sent to my children from ill-meaning and manipulative relatives. I too have made the realization (many times over!) that any relative who continues to send their strings-attached token gifts in lieu of actually doing the work required to change their behaviors and make honest amends for the wrongs they have committed is not loving, considerate, kind, or honorable. And, though I have not felt the disappointment Claire describes (since NMIL is not my mother, I haven't the history required to feel disappointed in her behaviors) I have witnessed it firsthand in my husband.
The behaviors of Claire's NM and FOO as described in her post above seem to be so typical in the world of narcissists, as is continually evidenced both in my personal life and in the snippets of lives I see here in our blogging community. But my main reason for wanting to re-post Claire's recent piece was not to discuss the similarities between her story and mine, it was so that I could attempt to tackle some of the questions DH and I have been forced to ask ourselves in recent years: 1. How do you eliminate narcissists from your life when they refuse to acknowledge your boundaries, specifically during the holiday season? 2. How do you deal with the flying monkeys who act (either knowingly or unknowingly) according to the narcissist's evil plans and 3. What do you do when they attempt to use your children as a means to attack you?
Common problem when dealing with a N: N uses unsuspecting pawns to do her dirty work for her. In Claire's case, in this particular instance, her NM had family members sneak gifts for Claire's children into her car while she wasn't looking. Heinous, I tell you Dear Reader. Heinous! First of all, I find it sickening that family members would follow-through on this so-obviously dark deed. No matter how her NM painted it, sneaking presents into Claire's car against Claire's knowledge is fucking shady and downright nefarious. The act of sneaking denotes a kind of sinister behavior, and not one that I would want to be associated with, personally.
NMIL is sneaky. EFIL and L are sneaky. Sneaky is not good. And when one has to resort to that type of behavior, it tells me that they KNOW they are up to no good. According to dictionary.com, one of the definitions of this term is a rather fitting one for how Claire's family members chose to act, "to behave in a cowardly or underhanded manner."
And then Claire brings up two really great points: "...my relatives allowed themselves to be used as mules, even though I know it was probably easier for them to just take the stuff than to stand up to my mother...the relatives probably don't think I have a good reason to have divorced myself from my parents, and probably feel sorry for those poor people, robbed of their rightful relationship with their grandchildren." Ah the juxtaposition: we have these cowardly people who act in such a way that illustrates their gutlessness and paints them as accomplices in an abuser's games, while still managing to appear human insofar as they are able to empathize. The problem? They are empathizing with the wrong fucking person! They are empathizing with the person who wishes to use their blind faith as a means to torture others. They are empathizing with the person who is asking them to continue destroying her chance (and theirs!) at having a loving, meaningful relationship with someone who genuinely wants it.
While I realize that the post I have copied represents only Claire's feelings and interpretations of the events that occurred, and that there are as many perspectives to the situation as there are people involved, I also firmly believe that she is right: I think that the relatives who so readily did the N's dirty work were taking the easy road, rather than the right one. I think that they probably sympathize with Claire's NM, rather than empathize with Claire. I think that they are willing to put Claire, Claire's husband, and Claire's children in the direct line of fire to save their own asses. It could very well be that I am only applying my personal experience to someone else's and that her situation is different. It could be that my perception is off, and that I don't know what I'm talking about.
But I can't help but feel that anyone who is put in these kinds of circumstances, as DH and I have been, as Claire has been, and as countless others have been, must find a way to save herself from them, lest she forever be bombarded by the narcissists and their flying monkeys. Unfortunately, the method I have found that has been most successful involves cutting ties permanently with every single person who chooses to be a pawn in the narcissist's game. Whether the pawns are dirtying their hands knowingly or unknowingly has never really mattered to me, what matters more is that as long as they continue acting in a way that is physically, mentally, or emotionally damaging to myself or my loved ones (especially after it has been brought to their attention) then I can not allow them to be a part of my life...not even a small part.
Okay, so I have already noted how dastardly it is for the pawns to be doing the N's dirty work. But doesn't that notation speak to the exact plans that the N has laid out? If we're so focused on what the flying monkeys are doing, how can we properly address what the wicked witch is actually scheming behind the scenes, right? At least that is what the narcissist is hoping for. I find myself getting so angry at these flying monkeys - and don't get me wrong, I think they deserve every last bit of that anger - but eventually that anger MUST lead back to it's main source: the narcissist.
Claire is not fooled. She says, "I'm disappointed that my mother disregards my request. Not surprised, but still disappointed." I suppose the disappointment comes from having high expectations. If you don't expect much, it's less likely you'll be disappointed. But, oh, how well I know the sentiment! My DH has expressed much the same feeling about his own NM. He has told me on so many occasions that he is "not surprised" by her behaviors, "but still disappointed" by them. And, where the disappointment stems from having hope, the lack of surprise stems from a lifetime of having his voice diminished, his needs unmet, and his relationships destroyed.
Common problem when dealing with a N: They attempt to use your children as a means to attack you. Claire writes, "I'm disappointed that once again, I have to find a way to deal with these unwanted gifts. I'm disappointed that once again, I've been put in the position of either giving my kids gifts that I said I don't want them to receive, letting the kids be aware of the gifts but disposing of them, or preventing the kids from ever knowing that the gifts arrived." Oh Claire! Again, I am reminded of NMIL and her wicked deeds: Sending flowers to our DD on her first birthday, giving meaningless gifts or none at all. Every gift had thousands of strings, every offer was an elaborate ruse to win my husband's allegiance so that she could have him back where she wanted him: under her thumb.
NMIL and EFIL & L are still up to their dirty deeds, just as Claire's NM is up to hers. And I would say that, no matter the circumstances, their pitiful attempts to use our children as pawns in their games are nothing more than obvious and pathetic failures. Claire is so right when she says, "She doesn't want to actually give nice gifts, presented nicely, to my children. She wants to get a dig in at me. She wants to put me on the spot. I suspect that she knows that the kids don't receive the gifts - the "we love you and we miss you" notes are for me to read and the gifts are being given so that a) she has the toddler-ish pleasure of defying me and b) so that she can look like a good grandma to the rest of the world." She goes on to say, "DO NOT ENGAGE!"
Claire, I too know the feeling of wanting to say, "Stop! I said no and I meant no damnit!" And I've also had the realization, like you, that the best way to say no is with your actions, rather than with your words. And not engaging is the way to go. Not engaging sends the "no" message better than any words you could ever speak, or letters and emails you could ever write. Especially because you've already said "no" with your voice, and your voice went unheard.
Narcs aren't interested in true reconciliation, nor do they truly envision having loving relationships with their grandchildren while they are busy sending out token gifts. Instead they are, as Claire so aptly pointed out, merely putting on a show for the rest of the world while simultaneously making the attempt to win back their favorite old sources of narcissistic supply. Luckily for DH and I, our children are very young and we have cut NMIL and her mindless followers out of the picture long before she had a chance to inflict any long-lasting damage. Others are not so lucky and have children who are older and much more aware than our one and two year old. I have read so many blogs in our community where ACoNs are struggling with the question, "What do you do when they attempt to use your children as a means to attack you?"
Well first of all, if you are asking that question, then you are already on the right track in my opinion. Because if you're asking that question, it means you are already aware enough to know that ANY attempts to have contact or communication with your children (particularly if it's in direct violation of your requests, needs, or wishes) is merely an attempt to hurt you. It also means that you recognize that, when someone is being used as a pawn, then that person is seen as being disposable...and when someone is disposable, it means that they will eventually be discarded, manipulated, or destroyed. This of course signifies that not only is the narcissist seeking to destroy you and any boundaries you've managed to enforce, but she is also seeking to destroy your children in the process.
Here are some of the answers I've come up with to answer this really tough question:
1. Be honest, but age-appropriately so. What you can tell your sixteen-year-old is more than likely not appropriate to tell your three-year-old.
2. You are the parent and it is your responsibility to protect those little ones. You have the right to control the controllables, especially when it comes to keeping your babies safe from the harm that an abuser would inflict on them. Don't let your children be used as pawns.
3. Keep records! You can keep a file of any cards or letters sent to your children, and jot down notes about what crap was sent to them and the date. And then you have the option later, of sharing that information when you feel your children are old enough to comprehend the situation. That way, maybe it will feel less like you are keeping things from your children - because in that case, you would be able to present them with the facts at a later date.
We all know it's not about the stuff they send. It's about the message behind it: and once again, Claire hit the nail on the head: "She doesn't want to actually give nice gifts, presented nicely, to my children. She wants to get a dig in at me. She wants to put me on the spot." Yes, that is exactly what she is doing! That is what NMIL is doing too, and EFIL & L, and any other narcissistic parents out there. Those birthday gifts and holiday gifts they are sending are not being sent out of genuine love and kindness - they are sent to maim, to hurt, to attack. Whether poorly wrapped, or prettily packaged, whether embarrassingly cheap or over-the-top expensive, the message is still the same: I want to crush you. I want to cripple you with guilt. I want to put you in a hard spot. I want to make you look like the bad guy. I want to buy your love. I want to show the rest of the world that I am not the evil person your estrangement has painted me to be. I want to force you back on hands and knees. I want. I want. I want.
And to those messages I say what my dad says, "How does it feel to want?"
You can't stop them from wanting. But you can protect yourself and your loved ones. You have the power. You have the intelligence. You have the courage. And if you stop engaging, they'll eventually stop too. When their tactics no longer work, when their crummy gifts don't accomplish what they were sent to accomplish, those narcissists will give up. They'll move on and seek other targets.
So let them want.