So I put up a list in my post Picture Of The Emotional Abuser that contains over one hundred "signs" that your mother may have been emotionally abusive. But the trouble with that list, as fellow blogger Nyssa pointed out, is that it describes on some level or another, nearly every single parent out there. Nyssa said, "A list like this would make every parent in the world into a narcissist." Even my own mother has said or done a bunch of things on that list, and yet, she's not even kind of sort of a narcissist. Nyssa's comment got me thinking about how nearly everything a narcissist says is inappropriate, cruel, or down-right abusive but it's usually next to impossible to prove that is so, because they so often sound just like everyone else.
I'm going to use, as my example, the one that didn't make it on that list, but that many-a-narcissist likes to use when she finds out her son is dating a woman who doesn't meet her approval. (*Note, I'll be using various relationship bonds here as it applies to my own personal history, but this theory is not relegated to only those gender boundaries).
Picture this: Narcissistic, overbearing Mommie meets her dear doormat son's future wife. And, naturally, fears and hates her and upon meeting, instantly feels the deep, dark desire to get rid of this new threat as soon as is (in)humanly possible. So, what is one of the tactics she uses? She tells dear doormat son that his relationship with the new girl is one-sided; that his girlfriend is manipulative and controlling; that she (mommy dearest) only wants what's best for him and he seems so unhappy now; that his girlfriend is abusive. Then, she tells everyone else that too, just for good measure.
Now, picture this: A genuinely loving and non-abusive mother meets her daughter's controlling boyfriend and recognizes that he is inflicting damage to her daughter's self-esteem and pulling her away from a family that loves her unconditionally and truly wants her to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled in life. She tells her daughter that this relationship is one-sided; that her daughter is doing all the work and simply making it easy for her boyfriend to use her; that she may be suffering from battered woman syndrome and, in short, that her boyfriend is abusive.
Each picture represents a different kind of parent with a different modus operandi, even though they are both essentially saying the same thing: Son/Daughter, your [significant other] is controlling, abusive, manipulative, dangerous and you must stop seeing him/her for your own personal well-being. So, when the words are exactly the same, how can anyone see, let alone prove, that the speaker might be a narcissistic abuser who means harm? How can I be so sure (and believe me, I am) that my mother was not attempting to con, manipulate, or abuse me when she said these things about my boyfriend; or that NMIL was attempting to con, manipulate, and abuse my husband when she said those same things to him?
Unfortunately, perspective is key here, and this whole dilemma can paint one hell of a confusing picture depending on where you're standing when you look at it. What's killer about the whole scenario is that narcissistic parents know all the "right" things to say which, to the non-suspecting target or victim, can sound very convincing. Let's look at some of the phrases NMIL used on DH during the early stages of our relationship, as examples of this tactic:
From an email thread between DH and NMIL dated May 29, 2009:
- I have respected you and your opinions and thoughts throughout this ordeal and you insulted me today. [The implication here is in the phrase, "this ordeal" which, according to NMIL, was not the fact that she had lied to us about her apartment-for-rent but that DH had decided to have a baby with me and marry me]
- You have some big decisions and issues and you shouldn’t treat those around you as though they put you in a bad situation. [The implication here is that DH's "issues" were caused by me, and that I had been the one to put him in a bad situation. And as I've said before, the "bad situation" was our pregnancy, according to NMIL. I fully realize she'd deny that accusation 'til the day she dies, but that's irrelevant to me.]
- I feel like you are trying to make Jonsi happy at the cost of those around you that are trying to help you. [This one's loaded too: Jonsi's happiness is causing EVERYONE distress, according to NMIL. And the worst part is that JONSI is hurting the oh-so-innocent people who are just trying to help].
- the ironic thing is that you are doing something very similar with Jonsi that I did with J – go to great lengths to make someone happy no matter what the cost. [Again, Jonsi is selfish and DH can't go putting her wants and needs above his FOO's, especially when the apparent cost of her happiness is so high.]
- Balance is very important. [And there is no balance here, right NMIL? Because according to you, "It's all about Jonsi."]
From an email thread between DH and NMIL dated June 5, 2009:
- This is not a time for her to deal with any of the “Jonsi wants this or Jonsi wants that stuff, ” which has become terribly upsetting for her. [There DH goes again, making everyone feel bad, and all because he's being controlled by Jonsi who just wants wants wants everything her way, at the expense of everyone around her.]
- I am hoping your remember the word “partnership” in the coming days, weeks and months as it appears very one-sided and it doesn’t have to be that way. [Again, Jonsi is so controlling and manipulative that she tricked DH into a relationship where DH is the only one "giving" and she is the only one "taking."]
- I am worried about you and I love you very much and I am hoping you will find balance. [Guilt trip, guilt trip, guilt trip. Mommie is just so worried about DH, right? We're to believe she's saying all of these things for his own good, because she just woves him so much?]
- I want you to be happy and secure and I just hope you are not creating an environment of anxiety that won’t bring you happiness [DH allowed me to come in and force him to create an environment where he's just going to be anxious and sad all the time.]
- It’s about you too [DH's childhood nickname], not just [Jonsi].
So, the biggest problem with all of these statements is that, at surface level, they all sound like they could be the legitimate concerns of a parent. Some of them also just sound like lines from a poorly written self help book, with blanket statements that NMIL probably picked up from movies that she's seen over the years like, "It's all about compromise" and "Remember the word 'partnership'" and "look what it's costing you to go to these lengths for her." Cue close-up of NMIL's scornful and resentful face. But the "tell" lies in the context of these comments, as well as in the reality of the situation at hand.
I believe that NMIL was no more concerned for DH's well being than a vampire would be to her blood donor. She wants him alive and well enough to continue feeding her, but not so alive and well that he'll realize that he's nothing more than a bite to eat and get the hell out of there. And if we look at DH's relationship with his NM on the whole, in addition to how my very presence threatened their parasitic bond, it becomes even clearer that NMIL was doing nothing more with these statements than attempting to trick DH into believing that I was the abuser and also into maneuvering him more firmly into her grasp. She wanted DH to believe, as she surely wants the rest of her audience to believe, that Jonsi was a conniving, manipulative, controlling and selfish bitch, who's only intention was to steal DH away, hurt him, and keep him from the people who really love him.
The only person in all of this who can decide the truth about WHO was doing the abusing is DH. It's always up to the abused individual to see reality on his own terms. I think there was a time when DH probably wanted to believe that his NM was speaking some truth when she said these things because it would have seemed so much easier to comply with her wishes than it would have been to address them as being unfair and malicious. I, too, had a choice to make, once-upon-a-time, and for a while, I made the wrong one. It was easier for me to believe that my narco-boyfriend was the good guy and that my parents were the ones being unfair because I was afraid of being alone.
Now, let's take that last paragraph that I wrote and put it in the mouth of a narcissist. Imagine how that statement would read, coming from NMIL: "DH, you have a choice to make right now and you're making the wrong one. You've chosen Jonsi because you are afraid of being alone and because it's easier for you to accept her than it is to accept what we're saying." She could say all the "right" things, all the things that loving parents would say if they thought their child was being abused by his spouse, she could say them with just the right inflection and tone. But the only people who would be fooled by it would be the ones who are afraid of the truth and who have some stock invested in maintaining the dysfunctional status quo.
That was real, it was my reality, my parents were right. And they were right to fear for me.
But then, there's the difference: DH's parents never feared FOR him. They feared for themselves. A truly loving parent doesn't do that. A truly loving parent only says these phrases when they are true; not when she wants them to be true so that she can have her control back.