Thursday, November 8, 2012

Waiting For The White Knight To Save Her

Today, DH did a post about the handwritten letter he sent to his sister three days ago (November 5, 2012). He was so anxious to get it in the mail to her that he went out to drop it in the mailbox that night at 9PM. I've never seen him so antsy before, about anything, nor have I seen him spend so much time worrying about something.

And for me, that's a good sign. Because for a long time now, I have been worried that DH doesn't spend much time thinking about his FOO; that he doesn't spend enough time actively contemplating how he got to be where he is today and how unhealthy his familial relationships really were. So I have to admit relief when I saw him worrying over whether or not his sister received his letter. I think he's spent too much time "letting go" and not enough time "holding on" to really have as clear an understanding as I'd like him to have of the long-term emotional effects of his dysfunctional roots. His sister has been a point of contention for us for quite some time now, and not for the all the reasons that his FOO probably thinks. I know that they have said that I'm the (only) reason why DH doesn't have a relationship with her anymore. I know that they have said that it's because NSIL didn't like me that she didn't want to see her brother anymore. I know that they have probably theorized, or at least spread the lie that I've been here, behind the scenes, controlling DH into not having a relationship with his sister.

Please, allow me to set the record straight, and I will do so as thoughtfully and honestly as I can. Am I a reason why DH no longer has a relationship with his sister? Yes. My presence in DH's life brought on changes in his life that were so extraordinary that he had no choice but to either set new boundaries to disallow their harmful behaviors from destroying his budding relationship with me, or else allow his FOO (including his sister) to continue behaving the way they had always behaved: in a manner that was incongruous to DH ever developing and maintaining any truly loving and meaningful relationships in his life. Did I point out to DH how toxic his relationship with his sister was? Absolutely. On every occasion that I saw it, I pointed it out to DH: how he had assumed a father-figure role for his sister, which was a responsibility that never should have been his; how she seemed to resent him for "leaving" her and me for "taking him away;" how they never communicated about anything of even slight substance and she only ever talked to him when she wanted help with homework; how their mother was so enmeshed with both of them that she controlled every aspect of their relationship with each other; how they had never been allowed to find their way through a brother/sister relationship naturally and had had every move plotted out for each other so far in advance that their chance at having a healthy relationship, even once NSIL reached adulthood, was slim, at best. Hell yes, I pointed that stuff out, each and every time I saw evidence of it.

A couple of times, I remember NSIL behaving in a way that I found very odd, and it wasn't until her alleged attempted suicide that I started thinking about those behaviors and piecing together what they were all about. On several occasions when we'd get together with DH's FOO, I remember feeling really uncomfortable (but not surprised) about the way NSIL would hang all over DH. She'd see him and run to him and jump all over him, literally climbing all over his body. Not unlike what a girl might do with a boy she likes to flirt with. -OR- how a little girl might greet her father when he comes home from work. Now, it could be that I don't feel comfortable with that kind of sibling relationship because I didn't grow up behaving that way with my brothers - you know, we respected each others physical boundaries, I didn't see them as father-figures, and I didn't invade their personal space in such a way that one of their girlfriends, if she didn't know any better, would have thought I was crushing on my own brother. NSIL is nine years younger than her big brother, it's true. And you know, maybe there are people out there who would say, "Sure, that's how younger sisters with such a big age difference behave towards their older brothers." But I am six years younger than my oldest brother and that's not how I behaved, so I just don't buy that. Any of the girls I knew growing up that behaved the way NSIL did toward her brother I typically avoided, because they tended to be the type of girls I just didn't jive with - clingy, trashy, and ultimately, boundary-crossers who'd invade personal space.

DH and I recently talked about this aspect of their relationship, and he asked me what might have caused it; why I didn't behave that way but his sister did. My theory is that, like everything else his NM had her hand in, she fucked it all up. She trained NSIL to see DH as a "big teddy bear" instead of as a fellow-human being, someone who had a right to personal space and privacy. And she trained DH to take care of his sister's emotional needs (so that she wouldn't have to, but also to ensure the cultivation of one really fucked up relationship). I told DH that I specifically remember instances when my mother taught us about respecting each others personal boundaries, and it started as young as two years old. When I was two, and one of my brothers would get in my face (you know, nose to nose, staring at me, just to annoy me) my natural reaction was to stick my finger on his forehead and --puuuuush-- his head away. Whenever my mother saw him doing that to me, she would say, "[Oldest Brother], you're invading her space. You need to respect her space." That lesson worked both ways.

I have never had the kind of physical relationship with my brothers that NSIL had with DH. Climbing all over them? No. Touching them? No. Taking their food without permission? No. Their bodies were their own, and I, as their sibling, had no right to invade that space. The same was true of mine. To behave that way with them would have felt disgusting to me. And, with understanding in respect to why their relationship broached those particular boundaries, I shared my thoughts about how unhealthy it was with DH.

Their relationship has been set up as a lose/lose from the very start; with DH being held responsible for NSIL's physical and emotional well-being and NSIL learning to become dependent on him for her happiness. That was not a fair scenario for either party, and certainly has ensured that NMIL doesn't have to get her hands dirty whenever her two adult children interact with each other: they have been so well-trained on how to interact, that by now, they do her dirty work for her and they don't even realize it. The equation is pretty simple: NSIL needs help --> She expects her brother to be her White Knight --> Her brother tries to rescue her and fails, every time (because he simply does not have the power to save her) --> She resents him and --> Falls back into her same self-destructive patterns of behavior, so that soon, she needs rescuing again. And behind them both, somewhere, is that bitch, always muddying the waters with her toxic brew of bullshit and manipulation. Triangulation has always been a major key to controlling the relationship DH and NSIL have with each other.

On November 6, 2012, NSIL tweeted:

You're the only one that could somewhat understand this and make me feel slightly better right now but that won't happen.

I have one guess, and one guess only, as to who this tweet is referring to. And if you're thinking it's my husband she is referring to, then you and I are both on the same page. First, a logistical analysis: It's difficult to tell whether she's saying that she won't ever feel better at all or whether the person she is referring to will never be able to understand what she's going through (because she thinks he doesn't know about what's going on?) But either way, the problem I see is that she is relying on DH to make her feel better. What I'm reading is that her happiness hinges on my husband finding her, understanding what she's going through, and making her feel better. I have a problem with that; a very real problem. I've been trying to explain to DH that, even if he wasn't married with a family of his own, this would be a hugely unfair and unhealthy burden for him to have to shoulder. To say that HE is the ONLY one who could possibly make her feel better is precisely what she has been taught to think her whole life, and speaks very clearly to me about precisely why it is that DH feels so guilty about not running to her side to save her.

What really kills me about the whole scenario is that he can't save her from herself. And he can't save her from her NM either. I asked DH to think about what it would have meant for our family if he were to do what his sister wanted him to do: to drop everything in the moment and run to be by her side; to ultimately end his relationship with me and his children in order to come back to the FOO so she wouldn't be all alone anymore. Had he dropped what he was doing in the moment to be by her side, he'd have missed out on his daughter's third birthday. And had he ended his relationship with me and our children in order to get back in line as the FOO's favorite doormat? I just don't see that as being a particularly desirable option.

Which is why I have told DH that I believe, if his sister ever sees the thoughtful letter he wrote, she'll be angry. Because it's not the kind of help she probably wants. Because it's probably not what she wanted him to do. Because in it, he's telling her she is responsible for saving herself and that their relationship will only ever be different if SHE does the hard work to extract herself from her FOO's tight grasp. I think that, while she realizes on some level her family is toxic and wants to escape them, more than anything else, she doesn't want to have to do the hard work and would settle for having her brother come back and stand by her side once again. At least then, she wouldn't have to be all alone. At least then, they would be taken down together.

I'm hoping that the realness of DH's letter will mean something to her. I'm hoping that it actually gets to her. I'm hoping that she'll see it and know that the kind of support he is offering her in it is genuine, unlike the pseudo support she's getting currently from her NM and her NM's fiance, and all her jackass, uncaring friends. I can guarantee that all she's getting from her mother is a show and all she's getting from her possible future step-father is ridiculous sounding "Facebook Prayers" that act as nothing more than support for HER MOTHER, not her. On November 5, 2012 at 1:45 PM, NMIL's boytoy put up a very public post on Facebook, which was visible to all Facebook users for about two hours:

I am sad to say that an 18 year old girl, that I am very close to and love dearly, attempted to end her life on Saturday morning. She is doing better but is still in ICU. I am asking for as many prayers as possible to help her in her upcoming decisions about her life, treatment and stability. I am also asking for prayers for her mother, father and big brother as the cope with such a devistating event. I pray for the doctors wisdon and for our understanding of what to do, or don't do. We all love her so much and want to help her to help herself. Will you pray for us?

After I was done gagging, I realized that this was nothing more than a show for NMIL's sake, not a genuine offer of love and support for NSIL. I don't know how well the guy knows NSIL, but I'd really be willing to bet that he's not close to her, nor does he love her "dearly." He may very well love her, but the idea that he loves her "dearly" just makes me feel icky inside and I just can't get behind the claim. I'd also be willing to bet that NMIL, who has been oh-so-quiet during this whole thing (a fact that intrigues me so much because she has been disregarding DH's request for NC so much so that she's been contacting him nearly once a month since she got his request), is back there playing her games and pulling her strings like the mad genius she is. I find the inclusion of NSIL's "big brother" in her boytoy's little prayer request to be vomit-inducing, considering that the man doesn't know my husband from Adam, has likely only heard lies and distortions about him, and knows nothing about how DH is "coping" with the news of his sister's stay in the hospital.

And, not surprisingly, NMIL's biggest effort in supporting her daughter seems to be in the (possible - not yet confirmed) offer to send her on a lavish vacation; and the publication of a picture of herself and her daughter on the banner of her Farcebook page.

I was waiting for it guys: the day when NMIL put up a smiling picture of the two of them, to show her "love" and "support" for her "darling daughter." She put this one up on November 6, 2012 and to me, it doesn't represent anything more than a portrait of lies.

NSIL has not tweeted anything in two days and I'm wondering if it's because she has gone somewhere where she does not have access to a phone or internet: either a treatment facility; or else back to her NM's house, where she has been intentionally cut off from the outside world. I called the hospital yesterday and found out that she had been discharged and now DH and I are in limbo about whether or not she ever received the letters he sent. I asked the mail room technician over the phone if she'd be able to forward any letters that came in for NSIL to her home address and she assured me that it was their policy to do that when letters came in to recently discharged patients.

For now, all we can do is hope that DH's letters don't get intercepted, and that if NSIL reads them, they mean enough to her that she uses the information he provided in them to help herself. I've reassured DH that now, largely, it's completely up to her: she has our address and could find him if she really wanted to. I am not yet convinced that she didn't just call him the other day because she was being manipulated into doing so or because she herself was doing some manipulating, but until I know for sure, I won't give up all hope that she may just make it out of this alive.

DH and I are prepared for the fallout of the letters he sent. And I, personally, am not disillusioned into believing that they will save her. I remain hopeful, but realistic.

For reference, here is DH's letter and a link to the list from Parrish Miller's website of the 25 Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers that we sent her anonymously.


  1. The letter is perfect. DH shows concern while expecting her to take responsibility for her own life. No one can do it for her, she has to do it for herself and DH understands that.

  2. Man, you've covered everything so clearly, that I have nothing to add.

    A couple of thoughts:
    Again, I'm amazed at how much my relationship mirrors your DH's with his sister. Always expected to rescue, despite really having the tools to do it. I watched something the other day that talked about knowing when you are out of your element. This girl (and my sister) need professional help, something that is beyond my (and DH's) element. We can't delude ourselves into thinking we are capable of providing the kind of treatment they need.

    I've told my sister the truth about our mother. Sometimes she listens, sometimes she agrees, sometimes she comes back to it all on her own. Many, many times she seems to forget anything that I've said and blames it all on me and makes me the bad guy. I hope that your SIL comes around to the truth. And it may be a lot of going back and forth before she gets it. But maybe implanting that little seed, even if she is angry, will grow and change her. And if she can decide she wants to change herself. Because your DH can't rescue her, she has to rescue herself.
    Brilliant post, as usual, dear Jonsi

    OH, and NM has had a picture of herself and NSis up for the past two months on FB during the ordeal. Guess how many times my NM has had a picture of me and her up. Yep, zero. And the yucky prayer. Gross. Why the hell did he have to tell the whole story in order to solicit prayers. Couldn't he just say, "hey, I need some extra prayers directed at someone I care about." Pimping out her story was gross.

  3. I agree, it's a very heartfelt and honest letter.
    I think too that even though she has painted you as the villain, the post shows empathy and continued consideration. I think that is a truly endearing attitude you've displayed.
    I hope the fallout isn't bad. I truly hope she can extract herself and get that help.

    1. Hi Door Mat,

      It does bother me that I know they're all saying I've tried to ruin DH's relationship with his sister. They've been saying that for years. (See this post, when Exhibit A wrote a blog post about how NSIL didn't have a relationship with DH anymore because of me:

      That's never been the case. I've tried to point out that their relationship is unhealthy. I haven't tried to destroy it. I couldn't have destroyed it anyway, there wasn't much of a relationship there to destroy.

      And, as much as I detest her "rescue me" attitude, I do have empathy for her. I just won't let that empathy get in the way of keeping my family, my children, my husband, myself safe.

      I hope the fallout isn't bad either. But we're prepared for it.

  4. That 'learned helplessness' is so seductive. Once you are molded to believe that your happiness is dependant on another person, you then believe that any efforts toward your OWN self discovery is pointless. Why should she try for anything, even getting out of bed? DH is the one who should be doing everything. She is a failure before she begins, because she's doing it wrong. Helping herself is WRONG.

    I too am feeling creeped out by NMIL's silence during these last few attacks. There is something. 'Something wicked this way comes'. Possibly it will be Thanksgiving that triggers it/her.

    I have to be honest here, Jonsi. I think there is no way in hell that NMIL will give that letter to NSIL without reading it (under any guise at all). And then once she reads it, everyone BUT NSIL will be forced to read it as the sign of DH's ultimate betrayal. They will all cluck and fuss over the letter, proof positive that DH is a bad guy!

    Can a tweet be sent to NSIL's account, or whatever, that she has a rope to grab onto if she talks to DH alone. I dunno - something to let her know that she does have a chance at some support (emotional, not acutal physical/financial support) while she gets herself free.

    DH is so new to this journey. Maybe that big of a burden would drown him.

    I HATE feeling and being this negative toward your situation - I am not doomsdaying and hand wringing! I just feel some kind of DREAD for DH right now. Which is NOT helpful, I know, I know...

    This situation - the water is rising. I hear that music from Jaws "dun dun. DUN DUN DUN DUN."

  5. I could see her NM reading those letters (certainly confiscating the one about the characteristics of narcissistic mothers, unless she's fully confident that she can spin it to make DH look like the bad guy) and using the excuse that she "needed to make sure they wouldn't trigger her poor sweetie pie pumpkin face daughter."

    Jessie - I am always amazed too, by how similar your situation is with your sister to DH's with his. All of this that has been going on reminds me so much of your sister. The parallels are uncanny: the drowning younger sister, the white knight older sib who always tries (but fails because he/she doesn't have the power) to save them from their own self-destructive ways; the unrelenting hope that the younger sib will just See enough to get the hell out of all of these awful situations, etc. And "pimping her out on Facebook" is a great way of describing what Boytoy was doing. He's just another willing player in NMIL's games. And it's not at all surprising that your NM has never put up pictures of you and her on her page - When she's not scapegoating you, she's telling everyone you're doing better than your sister, and therefore, you don't need any support. (I believe your father has that same attitude, right?)

    Gladys - A few weeks ago, I looked into trying to send her some information privately and anonymously through Twitter. There was no way I could do it. We do have an old email address for her as well. We're debating sending her the letters there as well, if it looks like she hasn't received the letters. I told DH I think we should wait a little bit before we try that, but it is an option. The biggest obstacle we have right now, which is out of our control entirely, is whether NMIL sees those letters first and what the hell she does with them.

    Gotta say though, I would really love to see her reaction to the letter about narcissistic mothers.

    One time, when she came over our house, I made sure to leave a copy of "Toxic Parents" on our coffee table. You know...just a little light reading (about how much of a shitty parent you are, NMIL). She sure as hell knew it wasn't my parents we were reading about. And she's sure as hell know it was her that article was about too.

    I have an overwhelming sense, as I've always had, that DH's sister is the key to her continued games. That's why, in nearly every email that came in his direction or communication they had, NMIL ALWAYS made sure to bring her up. NSIL pulls on DH's guilt strings like no other. The exact scenario she recently found herself in (suicide, hospital stay, serious illness/injury) is a topic of discussion we've had many, many times before in the Jonsi house:

    "DH, what will you do the day that someone shows up at our house or calls you to tell you your sister is in the hospital? She'll have tried to commit suicide, or have succeeded, or have gotten into a terrible car accident, or be getting her tonsils taken out (because you'll never know the whole truth and the details will not be freely given) and they will ask you, indirectly of course, to go to her. DH, what will you do?"

    So none of this really came as a surprise. I've been trying to prepare DH for months, if not years.

    1. I forgot to say that NMIL being silent is bothering me big time too. I think I told you before, that sometimes, the things they DON'T do paint a better picture than the things they do.

      The one thing that is hard for your SIL is that she is financial dependent on your NMIL. If she brakes away, she'll have nowhere to go and no way to support herself. So, in addition to having to take on her mother, the fact that she might be homeless would really complicate matters. So, just a question: would you be willing to take her in? I'm doubting it would come to that, as I doubt she is going to break away (I'm hoping for it, but....). But where the hell would she go if she does stand up to her NM? I know that is a HUGE component with my sister. My NM is her safety net. She always has her to fall back on, so she's never really willing to cut her loose. I'm sorry you are both going through this.

    2. NMIL's silence is disturbing, for sure.

      And the sad answer to your question about NSIL is that we would not take her in. I could not expose my children to her, even if she was making changes and starting to see things more accurately. She would have to be such a vastly different person to even remotely consider taking her in. (And honestly, I doubt she'd want to come here anyway. Live with me? And our children? No, I can't see that happening.) I wouldn't even be willing to let her come into our house - if we were to ever meet with her, it would have to be in a public place away from our home.

      She's still far too "dangerous" a contender here to consider something as huge as taking her in.

      The way I see it, her life depends on how hard she's willing to work to save herself. Her relationships depend on how hard she's willing to work to keep them healthy. She's got to do it herself. I'm sad for her, and it's terribly frustrating to watch, I'm sure, in particular for DH (and you, with your sister) because it seems so unnecessary. The answer is so simple. Why can't they just see it? (Rhetorical question).

  6. Hi Jonsi!
    I had to sit with this post for a day and try to separate my feelings about it from my thoughts. I'm concerned for you and DH for a lot of reasons, but I know that you will soldier through. My response is long, I'm sorry.

    You said, "What really kills me about the whole scenario is that he can't save her from herself. And he can't save her from her NM either." I wanted to say that what really kills me about it is that he's being asked to save her in the first place. The damage done to children when a parent makes them responsible for another person's wellbeing, life even, is deeply rooted and 99.9% harmful to both parties; the rescuer and the rescuee.

    I would encourage DH to hold onto the fact that he's fulfilled any normal sibling obligations that might exist: "Sis, you need help. I know what that feels like. Here's what helped me. I encourage you to get help." Beyond that... he is not responsible for anything else; the receipt of the letter, who gets the letter, what they do with it, how it affects them, if it changes them/her.

    I re-read this comment and it sounds judgmental, lecturing, and that is not what I'm intending. I hope that you know me well enough at this point to know where I'm coming from when I say this, even though it sounds harsh to my own ears, but it is my truth: NSIL hasn't asked to be helped, she's implied in the most passive-aggresive manners available (vague voicemail, vague tweets and FB posts) that she is *waiting to be rescued.* In my opinion, and it's ONLY my opinion, any further engagement from you or DH with her at this point is a commitment to engage in that old pattern of rescuer/rescuee and can only result in further escalation of the dysfunction. (Between NMIL and NSIL, NSIL and DH and any other parties involved.)

    I might be wrong, and I might be overstepping my bounds and you can reach across cyberspace and smack me if I am, but I have not seen in any of the posts that you or DH have up that NSIL has anywhere, at any time, said, "I'm sick. I need help." Have you and DH considered that NSIL's actions could be nothing more than a power play on her part? Because from where I'm sitting, that's what it's starting to look like.

    Damn my un-sympathetic self if I'm wrong, but I think it's dangerous to assume that someone who chooses to remain in the dysfunction is anything but comfortable there without absolute proof that they are trying to claw their way out.

    (Winces and waits for a backlash)

    1. Vanci-Pantsy, my dear, from one "harsh" truth teller to another: I didn't find this comment to be harsh at all. I think you're points are incredibly valid and poignant, not judgmental or lecturing.

      "NSIL hasn't asked to be helped, she's implied in the most passive-aggresive manners available (vague voicemail, vague tweets and FB posts) that she is *waiting to be rescued.*" You know, I have thought about this whole scenario with NSIL, and will continue to do so until my thinker is all thought-out, and I had not yet discovered this particular point. And it is a good one. You're right, NSIL has not done anything to actually say to DH, "I need help," she has only passive-aggressively reached out to him. Now, I have been seriously questioning the sincerity of that voicemail she left him, and have been leaning towards the thought that it was a manipulative ruse to see if he would take the bait, but I just hadn't taken it to the next thought, which is what you've just pointed out.

      I'm still toying with the idea of posting it here, and if I at all think that it was just a ploy to manipulate DH, I will end up doing so.

      I very much appreciate your thoughts, Vanci. They are very valid and refreshing, and I'd like to read them to DH, who has been fretting about whether or not he should try sending the letter to his sister again, or via a different medium. (I've already told him my opinion, which was "No. Either way, I think we'll find out at some point what has come of those letters.)

      Thank you Vanci, your honesty is refreshing.



    2. Jonsi,
      If we were sitting at your kitchen table sharing tea and I could reach across, take your hand and look you in the eye, I'd have no doubt that we were on the same page. But sometimes it's hard to tell what exactly will carry through in this typed/written medium. I'm glad you read my comment for what it was, honest evaluation of a most fucked up situation. FWIW I truly admire that you and DH are continuing to talk, talk, talk to each other throughout.

      Keeping you and DH in my thoughts,

    3. [Sip] I do believe we are on the same page, my dear Vanci. [Sip] I keep thinking up things about the situation that I hadn't thought before, and I'm glad I have you guys here to [Sip] help me think some more. [Sip] Thank you.



    4. Well then, [sip,] one more thing to put in your hat. I am deeply, deeply, Grand-Canyon-depths deeply suspicious of people who say things like this:
      "You're the only one that could somewhat understand this and *make me feel slightly better* right now but that won't happen."

      How is DH responsible for making her feel anything, how is that even possible? I can't MAKE another human being feel anything, be anything. Guess what I remember as a common phrase from my abusive, awful father, "You make me angry!" And my enabling narc mother, "Don't make your dad angry!" And my NSis "You're making mom sick!" and about my daughters, "But they make mom (my NM, their grandmother,) feel better!"



    5. Makes me deeply suspicious too. Especially given that that tweet was one of the last things she said before her sudden absence from the online world.

    6. I'm glad you won't be willing to offer NSIL refuge in your home. I just wanted to mention it, since I can see her pathetic and sad showing up on your doorstep. Because she might see the letter as an offer to get her out of there. Not that it is, but I can see her seeing it that way. Kind of like, oh, well, I'll go live with "dad" now.

      Vanci, I don't think anything about what you said was harsh. At all. Just very, very honest. As someone who also has been trained to take care of a sibling, I often forget, or rather I don't know, what a sibling's obligation is to another sibling. I found your comment to be a reassuring reminder to me too.

  7. I think Vanci nailed it. --quartz