I hope that you and your loved ones had a very Merry Christmas, free from drama and family strife. I'm happy to see that Jonsi and Mulderfan did, and I'm also happy to say that mine was the most drama-free yet. Was it completely free from the taint of my narcissistic mother? No. But as far as her intrusions and my reactions go, it was mild.
The last Christmas we spent with my family of origin was five years ago, when my oldest son was turning four. The following year was when all manner of hell broke loose. I confronted my in-laws about their long-term passive-aggressive treatment of me and of their son. Later that same year, I stood up to my mother, who was attempting to impose her choices upon me during my pregnancy and the birth of my third son. When I stood up to her, it was completely different from any other confrontation we had ever had. When I was much younger, she would do or say something unfair or cruel, and I would argue. Later, I learned (upon the advice of a therapist) not to take her bait. Instead, I ignored it. I avoided touchy subjects, changed the topic, or just didn't respond to her when she was trying to pick a fight. That was progress of a sort, but ultimately, it only served to allow me to detach from her while allowing her to think everything was fine and dandy, with her in the dominant position and me as her loyal serf. The result was that she was completely taken aback when I didn't back down to her demands regarding my birth plans. I was calm, let her know that I was aware that she didn't approve of my choices and that I accepted her disapproval and needed her to accept that I was still making these choices. She attacked me for not giving in to her demands - for "denying" her "requests." "I do NOT accept it," she snarled. "Yes, I know," I said. Lengthy pause. "Well, would you like to talk about anything else?" I asked? "No." she growled. "Ok, then I think this conversation is over. Goodbye." I said, and hung up. And then shook for two hours. It was the very first time that I had stood up to her in this kind of calm, rational, mature way. I was so, so proud. I followed it up with giving myself a full month of no contact with her. That month was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and not just because it ended with the fantastic birth of my wonderful youngest son. I had never in my life had a time when I knew that I would not see her or talk to her. I loved knowing that she wasn't going to pop up and be a bitch to me.
In the months that followed, I allowed her many opportunities to show love and acceptance. She chose instead to sulk, to lash out, to accuse, to abuse. Each time she did so, I remembered how lovely that month without contact had been, and allowed myself a little more time. Eventually this grew into longer and longer breaks from her. Each time I joined in a family gathering, she was colder and more disconnected from me and from my children. This was not a mother/grandmother who missed her daughter/grandsons and was hungering for connection. This was a jilted woman, a deposed dictator, a sulking brat. I was able to realize that I never really enjoyed family gatherings, and that she and my father hadn't ever tried to really get to know my kids. She reared her ugly controlling head a couple more times, and I was done. I finally made my non-contact official last April, with a brief email requesting that she not contact me in any way.
She, of course, has not respected my request. You all know narcissists, so I'm sure you saw that one coming. The optimistic side of me always hopes that things will change, while the practical pessimist in me knows that her intrusions are inevitable. Even when she hasn't actually jabbed her finger into the actual day of a birthday or holiday, there's always a tension, a certainty that she's lurking on the periphery. Often she sends a card that arrives just before my birthday, or leaves packages at the door just after an event.
Last week, I mentioned to my husband that I was wondering what form her intrusion would take this year. Would she send a package? A scathing letter or email? Would my siblings be recruited to drop off her "gifts"? Would she try to see my children at my in-laws' house, like she did last year? He said that he was sure she'd leave us alone after the sneak-gifts and the Christmas cheese. I told him that I was pretty sure those weren't Christmas gifts, and that I was expecting something to happen. My concern was that I couldn't predict exactly what and when. It could be anything from a small annoyance to a grand gesture.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I was right.
On Christmas morning, after opening presents and enjoying a lazy morning with the boys, we set out for my in-laws' house. They live in town and we had decided to brunch there and do the birthday celebrations at our house for dinner. My husband (he needs a name for this blog, doesn't he?) opened the door and said something quick and low to me about getting rid of something ASAP. I glanced toward the entrance, and there, between the storm door and the front door, were three shiny gift bags, all lined up in a row. Each bore the name of one of my sons in big block letters on stark white cards. I imagine this was supposed to be a GOTCHA!!! moment in which my kids opened the door to go outside and found the gifts waiting for them, and that I wouldn't be able to swipe them away fast enough to avoid the moment in which they recognized their own names on the cards. Fortunately, hubby did catch them, the kids weren't at the door, and he swooped them up and deposited them upstairs. We headed out and had a lovely brunch and gift exchange at my in-laws' house. When we got home, my husband went through the "gifts," recycled the packaging, and deposited the items in his closet, to be donated later. The rest of the day was without intrusion (including from my siblings, none of whom wished us a Merry Christmas - I contacted the one I care most about at the end of the day). Mostly drama-free.
I say "mostly" because as the child of a narcissist, I have a hard time ignoring these intrusions. So while we dealt swiftly and quietly to defuse the bombs Nmother left at the front door, I was still aware of them. It still bugged me a little. I still had that feeling in my chest of confrontation and panic, the trapped-little-girl sensation.
Here's the "all is calm" part, though: it didn't wreck my day. I had the feeling, but was able to put it aside. She cannot hurt me. She does not control me. And her sneak-attack? Laughable.
Here's her gift to me this Christmas:
- Her "I'm still here and you can't make me go away" doorstep leavings are a lovely reminder that I'm not imagining her disrespect for my boundaries. This isn't the action of a person who truly wants a loving relationship with me. This is the taunting of an immature, obnoxious person.
- Her "I don't know anything about you" gifts for my children serve to reinforce what I already knew: that she has never even tried to think about who they are as people, or what their ages are and what they might enjoy. They were the kind of gifts that we used to have in a "present box" in the attic when I was a kid - a bunch of generic, inexpensive, impersonal items that you could grab if you had a last-minute birthday party situation.
- The contrast of her impersonal gifts to my in-laws' very thoughtful ones, the brunch that considered my children's tastes, the planning of the day that took my kids' needs and my preferences into consideration, all reassured me once again that my kids have grandparents who love them, and that they aren't missing anything by not seeing my parents.
- The intrusion also showed me that I don't have a huge reaction to her any more. Yes, ok, I still feel a little icky in my chest. But I was ok. I had a fun day. It didn't dominate my thoughts. I didn't need to vent to my husband. I just acknowledged it and went on.
- Her leavings also allowed me to see once again how completely on my side my husband is. He took charge of disposing of the gifts. He didn't want me to have to even see them. I was OK with seeing them but appreciated his understanding of the emotional impact she can have on me.
In short, I learned that I can handle her intrusions, and that they mean nothing to my family. To quote Shakespeare, her actions are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". I'm sure there will always be a next time for her, and it doesn't matter. She has no power over me.
I'm really out. I'm an orphan, and I'm ok with it. My life is good - really good - without her. And she's just a pathetic crazy woman ding-dong ditching somebody on Christmas.
2012 can come and get me. I'm ready!
Merry Christmas, y'all!