Friday, March 9, 2012

Helping A Sister Out

Over at Not My Rock, Vanci has posted a comment that one of her readers left, with the request that we chip in our two-cents to help her reader through a rough spot. Vanci has given me permission to write about this on my blog, rather than try and respond in a comment on her blog (I was concerned about hi-jacking the thread).

Her reader, KFL5, asked:

...I sent my mother an email in Dec. saying that I'd like to communicate via email for a while because phone conversations have not been constructive, and that I think everyone of us should be accountable for what we say to each other (in my mind, verbal abuse from her and my 2 siblings; gaslighting and denial of horrible things said to me, etc.). She has completely ignored the letter's content, but sent a cordial email on Christmas and another for my birthday. That's it. Anyone else deal with the heartbreaking feeling of abandonment when you are finally able to set some emotional boundaries? How silly of me to think that my NM would actually have a heart and try to work through our relationship. Nah, easier to just ignore the elephant and keep up your Emily Post facade. Do I wait until eternity for a response? If I give in first and acknowledge that she ignored my email, am I feeding her N supply??? Please help, experienced folks! Your blogs are keeping my head above water. Thank you for your courage and honesty! K.

KFL5, first: I am so sorry you are dealing with this behavior from your FOO. It's not right, it's not fair, and you deserve much, much better. It's truly heartbreaking to see that there are so many children and adult-children out there who have spent their entire lives being abused and longing to feel loved. The situation you have described above speaks to the way my husband has been treated by his own FOO, and it is truly devastating to see it being played out in your life as well. I know, at least on some level, how you are feeling because I've seen my husband beat a nearly identical path with his own parents, siblings, and extended family: The attempts to set necessary and healthy boundaries; the disappointment when those boundaries are not only ignored, but trampled; the despair over knowing that he'll have to shake them loose, if he's ever to survive and thrive. I know all too well the type of pain you are describing, even if I haven't experienced it myself.

Having said that, I would love to share my thoughts, experiences, and advice with you, and I hope that there is something here that will be helpful to you during this difficult time.

Like you, my DH made attempts, with both of his narcissistic parents, to communicate with them in writing. And, also as in your case, those attempts were completely ignored. He wrote a letter to his NM in June of 2010 and then read it to her, aloud, in person. To us, the sharing of this letter with NMIL was the greatest opportunity we could have given her to make some necessary changes to her behaviors in order to salvage whatever chance she had left of continuing a relationship with us. To her, it was just another bridge to be burned. After my DH read the letter to her, she spent minimal time immediately afterwards discussing the issues he brought up and, in a classically narcissistic method, her responses to his heartfelt and painful words showed no signs of remorse, empathy, understanding, or ability to make any changes whatsoever. Her brief, unemotional response to DH's letter in the moments directly following DH's recitation was the only response he ever got. She did not respond to it in writing, she never made mention of it again, and by the next time we heard from her (four or so months later) she had gone back to playing the "everything is peachy" game.

EFIL, my narcissistic father-in-law, has played a similar game. Although he initiated conversation with my DH with a letter of his own in June of 2011, he never genuinely acknowledged or responded to my husband's return letter. Days went by, weeks went by, months went by, without any recognition from his NF of the issues that DH brought up in his response letter.

Now, I think part of the problem with narcissistic individuals is that they would not agree with your sentiment that "...everyone of us should be accountable for what we say to each other." Some narcissists may pay lip-service, and claim that they realize they are accountable for their words and actions; other narcissists, like EFIL, just come right out and say things like this: "[DH's name] in the end, I am not accountable to you, or [Jonsi] for my actions. Nor is [L], your mom or anyone else." I would venture a guess, KFL5, that, whether your NM is paying lip-service, flat-out denying that she is accountable, or simply ignoring your request to communicate in writing, she does not believe she is accountable for her actions or words because she does not view you (or anyone else) as being an equal human being, worthy of respect, kindness, and unconditional love. To her, you are just a pawn, a source of narcissistic-supply, a creature to be used and tossed away when it no longer functions the way she wants it to. Under such a point of view, there is no way that she can offer you the accountability you are asking for, and so deserve.

For me, the fact that DH's letters, requests, and needs were continually ignored, was distressing to witness, and did nothing but make me feel righteously angry on his behalf. KFL5, you asked, "Anyone else deal with the heartbreaking feeling of abandonment when you are finally able to set some emotional boundaries?" Unfortunately, I can't offer much insight here because I was encouraging my husband to set emotional boundaries with his NP's from the time we started dating, and because I came from a much healthier FOO, that was not a difficult expectation on my part. I did not feel "abandoned" by my husband's FOO because, although I had expected to be treated respectfully by them in the beginning, I knew that was simply not something they were capable of, or willing to do. I was too busy being disturbed and appalled by their behaviors to have felt disappointment or get a sense of abandonment. But then again, I had never been accepted by them, or invited to be a part of their inner-circle, so there was no need for me to feel abandoned. I would be interested to hear my DH weigh in on that one for you, as I'm fairly certain he would describe a similar feeling as a result of his very similar situation.

You also wrote, "How silly of me to think that my NM would actually have a heart and try to work through our relationship." Believe me, I hear your sarcasm. I want to affirm that you have every right to expect your NM to respect your needs and boundaries, just as you have the right to feel disappointed and hurt when she doesn't follow through. Having grown up the way you did, with a mother who was only capable of loving you conditionally, it's not surprising that you would have such difficult emotional stress when it comes to dealing with your relationship with her. Although I don't know even half of the details of your childhood, I am guessing that, in terms of emotional harm caused by your NM, you and my husband share a similar story.

And, on to the big question: What to do? "Do I wait until eternity for a response? If I give in first and acknowledge that she ignored my email, am I feeding her N supply???"

I'm thinking back to where DH and I were after NMIL ignored his letter, and I remember well my husband's urge to allow his NM to get away with it. Technically speaking, he's STILL waiting for a response from his NM, but the further and further away we get from her, the more he is realizing that he'll be waiting forever. Even if she were to respond to it, it would not be enough. She has an opportunity, every single day, to get up and be a different person. She has an opportunity, every day, to begin a journey inside of herself to discover who she is and why her life has taken the path that it has. She has the opportunity, every day, to change her behaviors and make genuine attempts to solve the severe issues that have been brought to her attention and treat my husband, myself, and our children, as equals and as human beings. The fact of the matter is though, that every day, she wakes up and chooses not to do these things.

At the time, DH and I decided to wait and see if NMIL would respond to his letter, in any way, shape, or form. We chose not to contact her, during her cold-shoulder routine, because we had clearly and firmly set our boundaries and were giving her the opportunity to show us that she could maintain them.

She pissed on that opportunity, by first completely ignoring us and the letter for four months, and then by contacting us and choosing not to address the issues that had been brought to the table. To this day, and probably forever more, she'll be pissing on that opportunity. And boy, that's a lot of piss. At some point, DH had to acknowledge that he was worth a hell of a lot more than a bucket of piss and accept that it was time to move on.

My two cents? Wait for a response. And not just any response, but the kind of response that shows you she got the message, she's willing to begin making changes, and that she's genuine in her desire to create a healthier, more respectful relationship with you. My DH has come face-to-face with such a similar dilemma, on more than one occasion: "I've said what I needed to say. I've told her what I need. She's ignoring it. Can't I just call her/email her/see her and say it again? Maybe she didn't hear me. Maybe she didn't get it. Maybe I can explain it a different way and then it will be different. Maybe when we have a baby, things will change. Maybe, maybe, maybe." I kept telling him, there can be no "maybe's," and no "kinda-sorta's." You're worth more than that. You're worth more than her bare-minimum. You're worth more than the crumbs she's willing to drop off of the table and on to the floor for you. It's not YOUR fault that she is incapable and unwilling to change. That responsibility rests entirely on her shoulders.

When NMIL finally called us, after four months of ignoring DH's letter, she'd reverted to her old "Emily Post facade." And between the cold-shoulder, and her complete obliteration of the giant fucking elephant in the room, it became painfully clear that she was not going to change. KFL5, you can break HER silence (for it is not yours to claim) and try again, but that will only be showing her that you are more willing to accept her crumbs, than you are determined to be treated with dignity and respect. Of course, how you decide to proceed is entirely up to you, and it's my feeling that no one in this community would think less of you for choosing to reach out to her or to try again. I don't know what it's like to feel such longing for love from my own mother, for I was loved unconditionally and without question, but I do know what's it like to watch a loved one suffer under that exact scenario. I know that yours is not an easy path, and I wish you the very best of luck. No matter what, you are not to be blamed for your NM's inabilities or short-comings. It is not your fault that she either can't or won't love you the way you deserve to be loved.

From my heart, I wish you well.

-Jonsi

9 comments:

  1. On three occasions I've tried, in writing, to get my NPs to "communicate" with me. I realize now that was twice more than they deserved. They continue to play the "let's pretend nothing happened" game while bad mouthing me to anyone who will listen then having the NGC circulate their revisionist history of events.

    My NM's 90th birthday is fast approaching so they are upping the anti with pathetic voice mails and guilt-inducing letters. I'm guessing they only want me there because it will look bad for them if their own daughter doesn't show.

    I'm standing firm on my request to be treated with respect. I will not attend her birthday celebration without some clear acknowledgement of what happened last May and an assurance that it will not be repeated.

    Notice, I only ask for respect not love because it would be foolish to ask for something they are incapable of giving. I know they can handle respect because I've seen them interact with cashiers, bank tellers, cleaning staff and such.

    So far, they've had ten months of me refusing to back down on my simple request. Seriously, what are the odds of it happening at this point?

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  2. I second Jonsi's advice - all very sound in my experience. I'll add my two cents as someone who, like you, requested that we communicate in writing. My mother didn't ignore my request, she came at me guns blazing, in writing, but managed to still ignore the real issues completely. So even when my NM was willing to engage in discussion, she wasn't willing to REALLY listen, to REALLY respect me, to TRULY try to understand why I was so unhappy with our relationship. She just wanted to steam-roller me back into my role as dutiful daughter, doormat extraordinaire, taker-of-all-shit, giver-of-none. Maybe the ignoring response has the same intention: to ignore you back into your role in the family system.

    The problem is the same: trying to have a more real, authentic relationship as adults. The ignoring response and the engulfing response both invalidate and deny, just in different ways.

    I'm currently reading "Cutting Loose" by Howard Halpern (h/t to MulderFan for recommending) - it's a very practical guide to "coming to terms with your parents" - you might find some useful wisdom there in terms of breaking the song and dance and really claiming your life as your own.

    Best wishes,
    upsi

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  3. Halpern's book is by no means scholarly (an easy read) but as upsi, says it offers practical advice.

    The most helpful part, for me, was when he helps the reader understand when it's time to walk away.

    ...stay tuned! I just got ANOTHER letter from my NF!!!

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  4. Jonsi,
    I love it. Thank you for taking the time to post your experience on this, especially this part:
    "You're worth more than that. You're worth more than her bare-minimum. You're worth more than the crumbs she's willing to drop off of the table and on to the floor for you. It's not YOUR fault that she is incapable and unwilling to change. That responsibility rests entirely on her shoulders."

    IMO, once I was able to wrap my head and heart around this concept of ownership of one's own actions, (I.E. does this rock have my name on it or not?) I was able to take the first tenous steps to true healing. As I was reading it, there was a little bell in my head going - Ding! Ding! this it the line, this is the first big step, this is important! :)

    Love,
    Vanci

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  5. "...accountable." ??? Not in Narc Land. Ever.

    And while you're "waiting" life goes on. Enjoy life-don't put it off and don't let ANYONE by commission or omission place you, your needs/concerns on the back-burner. That's the one no one acknowledges even when it's smoking/burning and setting off the smoke alarm, it was ALL "A Little Misunderstanding."

    Just ask Rush.
    TW

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  6. "Maybe the ignoring response has the same intention: to ignore you back into your role in the family system."
    Yes, very popular with NM's. Like the old fashioned shunning until people learn their lesson.
    After I stood up for myself I didn't hear from my NM for five years! And by then I couldn't care less anymore.

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    1. Five years! I'm green with envy! Longest I've ever had is 18 months! Admittedly, I allowed myself to be sucked back in after a death in the family.

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  7. Thank you all so much for your feedback! I'm touched that you re-posted by comment, Jonsi. Nail on the head: "I've said what I needed to say. I've told her what I need. She's ignoring it. Can't I just call her/email her/see her and say it again? Maybe she didn't hear me. Maybe she didn't get it. Maybe I can explain it a different way and then it will be different. Maybe when we have a baby, things will change. Maybe, maybe, maybe."

    That dialogue has been in my head for the last two years. "Maybe if I say it in a different tone, use better words, try not to cry, say it with more confidence, and on and on and on...." What hurts the most is that I used to think I had had the best childhood. Covert NFOOs are fine when you're young and don't know any different. You stifle your feelings because they piss off your NPs but assume that's normal. It's when I became an "independent" adult that the s*** hit the fan. Now I look back on my childhood and question everything.

    I need a place to tell my story, but I'm not sure the comments section is a good spot. Any ideas? I don't have the energy or courage to start a blog right now (another reason I'm so grateful to all of you!). I think writing this down would help.

    Thank you again!
    K.

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    1. You're welcome K. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about an issue that hits close to home for me and DH too!

      As far as that dialog going 'round and 'round in your head: DH also once thought that his childhood had been "normal," even good. And when he started to break away (in a very normal way - getting married, having children, becoming an independent adult) his NP's attacked. It is definitely the hallmark of a dysfunctional family when independence is seen as evil/wrong/bad.

      And as for a place to tell your story: I think maybe the first question you might want to ask yourself is, is your story something you wish to share with others? Or are you only interested in writing it down for yourself? (And further, maybe it's something you'd like to keep more private for now, with the intention of sharing it with others later).

      Undertaking a blog can be as simple or as complex as you'd like! As fellow members of the community, we wouldn't have expectations as to how much you should write, when, or what about. But, if blogging isn't for you, I might suggest writing for yourself, and maybe someday, if you do have the time and inclination, you can always convert those entries to a blog. There are no rules here, whatever you choose to do, and however you choose to tell your story, is ultimately for you.

      I've been keeping records (even before I started my blog) of the many events that have transpired with my N In-Laws. Someday, I'm thinking of having it professionally bound, and keeping it around for our children to read someday, if they ever want to know the "whys" of what happened.

      But no matter what you decide, I would agree that writing it out, at least in some capacity, would be greatly beneficial. And again, there is no right or wrong - you can always go back later and transfer what you've written to a blog, or heck, share it with a publisher!

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