parenting resolutions for the ACON

may-06-paint2 

 With the start of a new year coming up, many of us are thinking about who we want to be in 2013. For some this means a plan to diet and exercise, or to accomplish a specific goal. For me, new year's resolutions are more about touching base with my core values than a to-do list. I started calling it a "mission statement" a few years back, and make an effort to check in with it from time to time, to see if I still value the same things, and to remind myself of my intentions.

I wrote the following two years ago, as part of a post about coming out of the FOG, but I think it can stand alone as a mission statement for parents who are also children of narcissists. I'm considering printing it out and hanging it up somewhere where I can see it more frequently.
I will be myself. I will work to overcome the anxiety, fear, and shame that shackle me. I acknowledge the heredity and upbringing that contributed to these issues in the past, and take responsibility for handling them in the present time.

I will not fraternize with people who do me harm, physically or emotionally. I will not subject my children to such people. I will continue to build a community of reciprocal relationships with friends and family members who play actively positive roles in our lives and who show a willingness to work constructively together in times of interpersonal struggle.

I will not allow any person to bully and intimidate my family via threats of legal action.

I will be a compassionate witness for others who need to share their stories and come out of secrecy, whether it is about abuse or any other personal trial. I will express my gratitude to the friends who share their struggles with me in order to let me know that I am not alone.

I will work hard to be a truly loving parent who understands who her children are as people, who will respect their rights, who rejects control-based parenting advice with its negative views of the nature of children. I will listen to my children's concerns. I will acknowledge my mistakes and apologize genuinely to them. I will not shame them or withdraw love from them when who they are is at odds with who I am. I will not use my size, experience, or age to oppress them. I will exercise patience, self-restraint, compassion.

I will expect my husband to confront me and support my children when I harm them. I will support them when they believe that he has done something unfair, or when I witness him doing something hurtful. We will work as a family to encourage an atmosphere of respect for all members, regardless of age.

I understand that my children may choose their own paths. I will work to be open to their criticism and understanding if, despite my intents in this time, I fail to play a significantly positive role in their lives. I will accept whatever relationship they wish to have with me in the future. I do not own their bodies or their minds, now or ever.

If you are a parent, what is your parenting mission statement, and how is it affected by also being an ACON?

blaming the victim

who wants to play?

I'm an occasional reader of xoJane. It's a guilty pleasure, kindof my quasi-feminist version of a fashion magazine. The posts are mostly fluff, often from a cringingly young-and-inexperienced perspective, but sometimes there's one that strikes a chord. Yesterday's entry from Vanessa Formato, "I 'Accidentally' Read My Mom's Diary Over the Holidays and It Turned Out Terribly," was one of the latter.

Formato, a woman in her early 20s with a rocky mother-daughter relationship, describes getting an item out of her mother's bedside table drawer - with her mother's permission - and coming upon her open diary in the drawer. What she reads confirms her darkest suspicions that she is unloved and dredges up angry feelings about the way her mother treated her as a child/teen. (Side note - she mentions her mother's perfect cursive. Anybody else identify with that? Were you shamed for less-than-perfect penmanship by your mother like I was?) What follows is an examination of her feelings - her sadness, the anger that covers it - and some really insightful thoughts about who her mother is, why she parented the way she did, and how she might engage in some self-healing in order to avoid making the same mistakes.

You or I would probably wrap her up in a hug, tell her that we know exactly what that pain feels like, and tell her that it's NOT HER FAULT. I would want to tell her that I'm proud of her for figuring out some of these things in her 20s and encourage her to keep exploring those feelings.

Do you think the readers of xoJane shared this reaction? Oh, no no no. Here are some choice reactions:

"you're a bitch"
"She says YOU don't love HER. And you read that as SHE doesn't love YOU. I think that could be very telling about your relationship with her."
 "I very rarely think xojane should not publish a good story because of its content. But this, I don't know about."
"you would have been better off writing about it in your diary, and then letting it go."
"She never made you feel loved and you gave that back. What if you could just love her now?"
"you lack perspective"
"Sounds like you had a healthy dose of narcissism that manifested as defiance and victim hood."
"if you try my suggestions, and be the daughter she wants and the daughter you wish you could be, things will get better."
"Everyone lies and everyone keeps secrets, yourself included. Humans are pretty messy, accept it and enjoy the happy moments with your loved ones while you have them."
"This article was a major invasion of privacy and shame on you for asking to have it published and shame on XOJane for not having any integrity."
"It definitely sucks not to be loved by your parents, but whatevs. Shit happens."
"If you read another person's diary, you deserve to see whatever mean things are written about you in there."
"Your mother feels like you don't love her and you more or less confirmed that in this essay."
"you're jumping to conclusions about her diary entry"
"...it sounds like you and your mother have more in common than you'd like to recognize...except you might be a worse person for being completely oblivious to it"
"you're an incredibly shitty daughter. Time to own it. Especially if you want to play grown up."
"This feels kind of guilt-tripping and manipulative, though your reasons for that are damn clear. What are you going to get out of it?"

In other words: you're a childish and horrible person who doesn't consider her mother's feelings, and you deserve exactly what you're getting. You deserve to be unloved by your mother. You deserve to be criticized by us. You should shut up and sit down and try harder to be a loving, forgiving daughter. And *if* any of what you have said is actually true about your mother, you're just like her. But it's doubtful, because you clearly don't have any credibility when it comes to reporting your own experiences and feelings.
One commenter even goes so far as to insinuate that Formato is a pathological narcissist. The mother goes undiagnosed. Formato is pushed back toward the closet by people who don't seem to really grasp that emotional abuse thrives on secrecy.

Here's a quote from an essay of my own:
Now, regarding public bashing: talking about my feelings is not bashing. Nor is discussing my parenting goals. Owning and talking about my own truth is my prerogative. Part of my truth is that I have noticed that public comments such as this one generally contain more loving and accepting language than private conversations or written communication sent directly to me. In those types of conversations, I have been called delusional, hard-hearted, a poor communicator, and avoidant. I've been informed that her friends, when polled (kindof the older generation's version of blogging, no?), believe that she's entitled to disrespect her children's boundaries. I've been threatened with the "I hope your children do this to you someday" line, a classic conditional-parent move. I've been threatened with a lawsuit because physical access to my children is apparently more important to her than the effects of legal action on their family. These are all my personal experiences and mine to share.
If you don't want somebody to talk about how you abuse them, try not abusing them.

That's what I want to say to those commenters, and to Formato's mother. Fuck you and your protection of the abuser. Fuck you and your shaming of the abused.

I stuck up for her in the comments. I hope you'll join me. There is a scattering of support for her there, and I'd love for it to drown out the victim-shaming.

you and i and she and he are beautiful

beautiful


Earlier this year, I joined a "boot camp"-style workout program. If you're not familiar with the boot camp fitness model, the idea is that you're more likely to push yourself physically if you're with a group of people rather than working out on your own, and you're also more likely to stick with it. Why I signed up for something I would ordinarily hate is another story. For now, suffice it to say that I'm in better physical condition than I have been for most of my adult life. I'm down 20 pounds and up a fair bit of muscle tone. This is the first time in my life that I have a) enjoyed exercise, b) exercised regularly, and c) had enough muscle to see and feel. I love it. I mean LOVE it. I might be a little obsessed with my biceps, which are far from Linda Hamilton-esque, but *I* can feel those guns, and sometimes I find myself rubbing my arm, enjoying how healthy skin over healthy muscle feels. It's lovely.

In the middle of one of these moments of (healthy) narcissism, I suddenly realized: I don't remember my mother ever enjoying her body like this. I don't remember ever hearing her say positive things about her body. Not what it looked like, not what it could do, not how it felt. Nothing. That is not to say that she said negative things about it all the time, but in general, I had the idea that she didn't think she was pretty or shapely or strong. I don't remember her ever reveling in what her body could do. I don't recall any sense of physical prowess, of excitement at a physical feat. I also don't recall her engaging in beauty routines just for the sake of enjoying them. She only did her hair and makeup for the stage (she was an amateur actress in her younger days) or for social events that also had an air of performance - an important business meeting, a church gathering in which she had a public role. I don't remember her ever dressing up for my father or even just for fun. I certainly don't remember any indication that she sometimes felt sexy or pretty or kickass. A memory came back to me of the time in my teens when she refused to buy a black bra for me because black was "sultry and seductive." Funny thing is, all of her underwear was pale beige cotton. So not only was sexiness not for teens, but maybe it wasn't for adults, either. (Not to say that you can't wear beige cotton and feel sexy - but by her own definition and actions, I didn't get the impression that she ever felt that way.)

I know that she was proud of her weight in her early 20s - below 100 pounds - even though she also indicated that she was underweight and didn't eat well and had self-esteem problems at the time. She seemed wistful about her youthful slenderness, but also a little ashamed of it. She never considered herself to be pretty, and envied her younger sister's looks.  I thought my mom was beautiful when I was a little girl, but over time, after hearing her talk about how she was NOT the beautiful sister, she was the plain one whom boys never wanted, I think I learned that my ideas of beauty were wrong. She didn't like her skin. She didn't like her breasts. She didn't like her lips. She didn't like her hair. Eventually I didn't like them, either. I started to dread ever looking like her. This causes some problems for me now, on occasion, when I look in the mirror and see her staring back at me.

I don't remember her ever being fit. She disliked exercise and never engaged regularly in it. Exercise was a chore, one to be avoided. People who enjoyed exercise were weird. Physical prowess was something a person came by naturally, in which case being proud of themselves was vanity, or through fanaticism, in which case it was shallow, obsessive, and unhealthy (and still vain). If there is a physical activity that she enjoys, over thirty years of experience with her never revealed it to me.

Now, everybody doesn't have to be an athlete. And women don't all have to enjoy doing their hair and makeup or wearing frilly dresses. But I would hope that every healthy person would have a sense of enjoying living in their body and liking the way it looks and the ways it can be used, regardless of whether or not that body is "perfect" by societal standards. I suspect that my mother was (is? I don't really know her any more.) divorced from her body, in a way. There was no sense of liking any part of herself or wanting to take good care of her body for the sake of enjoying living in it even more.

I'm not sure what any of this really means within the context of her narcissistic personality disorder, or with regard to my experiences as an adult child of a narcissist. I do know that in the past decade, I have learned much about living in my body (which is, in many ways, very similar to the zen concept of living in the moment).

Two days after making these realizations, I saw an item linked by a friend, "I've Started Telling My Daughters I'm Beautiful." It strikes near my thoughts about my mother. Namely, if we want our children to feel beautiful for who and what they are, we need to let them know what we love about who and what we are.

I want my kids to be able to listen to their bodies and learn about them, and to eat and drink and work in ways that make their bodies feel really good to be alive. I want them to know about how thigh muscles can feel like springs when you run, and how nice it is to look in the mirror and love your eye color. I want them to know about dressing in ways that feel good on your skin, or look good to you in the mirror, or look good to other people not because sometimes looking good on the outside is not necessarily conformist, but can be a way of giving a gift to them through sharing what you like about the way your body looks and feels.

If I want them to be able to enjoy their bodies and the bodies of the women and/or men that they will someday love, I must show them how I can do that for myself. So I'm going to rest my hand on the curve of my bicep and tell my boys about how awesome that morning's workout felt and how I like the shape of my body and the things it can do.

Hopefully you can do this for yourself and your children, too.

arrested development

During my college years, I majored in psychology, with a special interest in child development. This is a common focus for women in their late teens, and I suspect it's even more common in women who come from dysfunctional family backgrounds (somebody want to do a study on this?). At the time, I was under the impression that my family of origin was normal and healthy, and that my mother had successfully risen above her dysfunctional family background to become an emotionally balanced and fair parent. I carried this misinterpretation of my childhood with me through my studies, scoffing at the section of a textbook that outlined the reasons why spanking is ineffective at best and harmful to the child at worst, and smugly deciding that my wonderful mother's parenting fit best in the "authoritative" column rather than under the "authoritarian" heading.


The thing is, at the same time as I was so sure that my family's way was the right way, I also carried with me a history of struggle with my mother. Her "all ways are my ways" Queen of Hearts demeanor, her quick temper, her inability to see things from my point of view and insistence that I see things from hers, her black and white sense of right and wrong. It was this background, nagging at me from the corners of my mind, that cried "Aha!" when I studied Piaget's concrete operational stage of psychosocial development, especially as its transition into formal operations applies to adolescents, and its relationship to Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development.

Adolescents still in the concrete operational stage of development think of themselves as unique; this is a phenomenon known as the "personal fable" and is responsible for what we think of as teens' selfish egocentrism. It's the reason a teen thinks that her zit is enormous and the focus of everybody's attention, the reason teens think nothing bad will happen to them if they take risks, the reason they believe their parents cannot possibly relate to their experiences. It's normal for a child, and not normal for an adult, who should have matured into higher reasoning abilities. During Kohlberg's conventional level of moral development, which would typically describe children from about age 9 to adolescence, a child's moral sense is other-focused. Morality equals doing what other people (teachers, parents) expect you to do and fulfilling obligations. So a young teen is simultaneously engrossed in themselves and has a sense of right and wrong that hinges upon following orders. They think in black and white, fundamentalist, rule-based ways.

The personal fable: parents just don't understand.

Theorists believe that most people do not proceed past this conformity-based or law-and-order-based level of moral reasoning and grow into post-conventional reasoning based on human rights or universal human ethics. When I learned about Kohlberg's model, I considered that my mother's development might have stopped at the conventional level. I also realized that her development had halted around the time that some very significant, traumatic events happened in her life.

My mother did not have the nicest of childhoods. I suspect that this is true of most narcissists. Granted, lots of people do not have fabulous childhoods, but some special cocktail of genetics and environment comes together to create the perfect mix to breed narcissism in some unfortunate individuals. In her case, her father was a narcissist who was emotionally demanding and abusive, and physically abusive, as well. Her parents had a large number of children, too; as a parent, I know just how each additional child divides your time, attention, and emotional energy further, in a way that seems to expand exponentially rather than linearly. Her family belonged to a religious faith that is rigidly controlling, emphasizes obedience, and discourages critical thinking. This combination of factors made for a backdrop that would not provide sufficient flexibility and emotional support for a normal adolescence, much less one as troubled as hers: her mother fell ill when my mother was in her early teens, and died several years later. Her father descended into alcoholism in his grief, and was either extremely neglectful or violent and demanding, with very little in between. My mother lived in fear of him both as a child/adolescent and as an adult. She craved his approval but virtually never got it. She wasn't really free from him until he died, and even that is questionable. As time went by, I would recognize that I felt similarly about her.

So I assumed that my mother's moral reasoning had somehow just gotten stuck at the age she was when her mother got sick and died. I didn't know how this would happen, just that it seemed to be true. But just recently, I have been studying frontal lobe development. More specifically, the development of the prefrontal lobe, that part of the brain responsible for emotional balance, attunement to others, bodily regulation (stress response), response flexibility, fear modulation, empathy, insight, moral awareness, and intuition. Most of these abilities don't come online until adolescence, and prefrontal lobe function isn't usually at its peak until the early 20s.

prefrontal lobe and limbic system, via The Dana Foundation

You can picture the front of your brain like a closed fist, with your thumb tucked under your fingers. The four fingers over the fist represent the prefrontal cortex - the outer layer of the very front of your brain that is responsible for rational thought, decision-making, your sense of ethics, and self-control. If you lift up your four fingers, your tucked-in thumb represents the location of parts of the limbic system, involved in emotion, aspects of motivation like reward and fear, and regulating heart rate, blood pressure, and attention. If you've ever heard somebody talking about the "lizard brain" or "reptile brain," this is it. Your limbic system is you, stripped of all your higher reasoning and judgment, stepped back through millions of years of evolution. In a healthy, calm adult, the prefrontal cortex can take motivations from the amygdala (part of the limbic system) and decide whether or not to act on them. In times of extreme stress, the prefrontal lobe may be overwhelmed and go "offline", leaving the person to act on the impulses from their limbic system. Now imagine what happens if the prefrontal lobe is underdeveloped - emotion can much more easily overwhelm it.

"a pretty handy model of the brain", via Daniel J. Siegel, MD, Mindsight

One way of thinking about overwhelming the prefrontal cortex, thinking about lifting up those four fingers, is that a person whose prefrontal cortex is overwhelmed has "flipped their lid", leaving the limbic system to do the driving. You've probably seen this in children; a temper tantrum or meltdown is a great example of an underdeveloped prefrontal lobe being very easily overwhelmed.

While reading Mindsight, it suddenly occurred to me: trauma causes change in brain chemistry and function. Could it be possible that an abusive upbringing and/or the death of a parent would impede the development of the prefrontal lobe? Is narcissistic personality disorder an effect of screwed-up frontal lobe development?

I haven't found research that specifically pertains to this, perhaps because it would require the identification and cooperation of folks with NPD. But here's a synopsis of what we know: 
"Children exposed to maltreatment, family violence, or loss of their caregivers often meet diagnostic criteria for depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, sleep disorders, communication disorders, separation anxiety disorder, and/or reactive attachment disorder."  - Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents
"In adolescence the brain goes through another period of accelerated development. The pruning of unused pathways increases, similar to early childhood. This process makes the brain more efficient, especially the part of the brain that supports attention, concentration, reasoning, and advanced thinking. Trauma during adolescence disrupts both the development of this part of the brain and the strengthening of the systems that allow this part of the brain to effectively communicate with other systems. This can lead to increased risk taking, impulsivity, substance abuse, and criminal activity (NCTSN, 2008; Chamberlin, 2009; Wilson, 2011; CWIG, 2009)." - How Trauma Affects Child Brain Development
"It is assumed that patients with NPD might have reduced affective neural component of empathy. Further evidences are needed to validate this hypothesis...there are various forms of empathy dysfunctions in psychopathology such as antisocial personality disorders, psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorders and autism, which seem to reflect selective impairment of one or several components of the neurocognitive architecture of empathy." - The empathic brain and its dysfunction in psychiatric populations: implications for intervention across different clinical conditions
I suspect that the theory I started working on nearly twenty years ago - that my mother's emotional maturation was halted by the traumas of her early teens - is probably valid.

Now, here's the thing - it doesn't mean that it's ok for a person with impaired frontal lobe function to be a jackass to another person. What it does mean is that they are truly impaired, and as such, expecting normal, healthy behavior from them is unrealistic. We know this about narcissists. They are unlikely to recognize their impairment, and equally unlikely to seek therapy to change their thought patterns and behaviors. But they are not, as I so often see them described, evil.

I often remind myself that "nobody wants to be an asshole." If our narcissistic family members had had a choice, they would not have chosen to be who and what they are. They are not the devil incarnate. They are very, very broken people, more deserving of pity than hatred.

At the same time, understanding the sources of their dysfunction and feeling sympathy for the immature children in them does not mean that we are obligated to lay down and subject ourselves to bad treatment. We don't owe it to them to fix them or to stick around and suffer out of some disordered idea of family obligation.

line

If anything, this model of NPD encapsulates how I feel about my mother. It's a tragic situation. She deserves pity and love, but cannot get it because of the particular way she is broken. I would like to give it to her, but cannot because it would require putting myself in harm's way. I find it uncomfortable to sit with this version of "how the hell did Mom end up the way she is?" because it removes the comfort of saying "this person is just a jerk who deserves shunning." It invites the awkwardness of knowing how imperfect human relationships are, that these two hurting, motherless women cannot ever help each other. In the end, that is the true wound that I have to heal, and the true legacy of narcissism.

simple truths

lombardy love
If you wished to be loved, love.
 Lucius Annaeus Seneca

How does this apply to your world? I would say that it's great advice for most of us in our daily lives, and also great advice for the narcissists we know, even though they are probably incapable of  everfollowing it. It's a good reminder to us, though, that we do not have an obligation to love narcissistic parents or spouses. Our feelings for them reflect their feelings for and treatment of us.

Note that the statement does not indicate any guarantee of being loved back. It only indicates that loving a person is one basic (and, in my opinion, essential) part of what it takes for somebody to love you  back. It's a good parenting mantra, actually. Most of us who have children do wish for them to love us, but we need to remember that if we wish for their love and not just something based in fear that might sometimes look like love, we must act loving toward them.

a new life, a new me

today

I'm coming up on the five-year anniversary of what I think of as my personal Independence Day. November 1, 2007 was the day that I simply said no to my mother, who was asking for unreasonable concessions from me, and when she went from sweet-innocent-asking-for-something lady to mom-in-a-rage, I stood my ground, calmly, self-assuredly, with the knowledge that I did not have to be angry or defensive or apologetic. I simply had to say "no."

I shook for two hours after I got off the phone. Did I really just do that? Did I defend my boundaries? Did I refuse to be sucked into a fight? Did I politely end the conversation because the other person could not engage in a polite, constructive manner?

Oh, yes I did.

In those five years I have mourned the loss of the mommy that I had wished for, seized control of my own life, discovered new skills and a new identity, launched a new career, and refused to take any bullshit. I have worked on being simultaneously more firm and more flexible, more compassionate and more detached.

I have also struggled with depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and weight gain. I've dealt with siblings who won't speak to me, cousins my children will probably never know well, and a sense of alienation from my childhood and family. It hasn't always been wonderful, but it has always been moving forward, no matter how slowly, toward a whole new way of interacting with the world.

Six months ago, I seized my life in a whole new way. I joined an exercise group, one of the "boot camp" types, because it seemed like exactly the sort of thing that I wouldn't like. It scared the everliving shit out of me. I hate waking up early. I hate exercise. I've never, ever gone jogging. But I want to have a strong body. I want to have muscles that feel the way my new psyche feels. And you know what? It has been AMAZING. I can run almost five miles, which is HUGE for me. I'm stronger than I have ever been in my life, and I'm much more energetic, and together with the other changes in my life, it's adding up to a fantastic total package and feels GREAT.

So great, that I hit a new milestone the other day - some unnamed person (but I'm sure you and I can guess who) sent flowers to me for my birthday. The type of flowers sent was a little too coincidental to be from anybody but la madre, and when I opened the FTD box and saw the unsigned card, I was annoyed. And to be honest, I wanted to throw them away or something. But I stuck them in a vase and left them on the counter to be dealt with later, while I went out and had a fantastic evening with people who like me for me, and felt very whole and healthy. The next morning, I decided to mix them with the flowers my husband gave me and put them on the table. My middle son adores this type of flower, and they really are beautiful, and together with my husband's flowers they represent lots of different things about my life, and isn't that kindof what a birthday is about, anyway?

I think I'm turning a new page. Sure, my mother is still stalking me by sending packages and cards. It's infrequent, and kindof annoying, but I think maybe I'm moving beyond feeling controlled by these things. I can decide for myself whether to keep or dispose of these things. I used to feel like there was some *right* way to handle her bombs, but now? Meh. Who cares? I can't change her. I can't make her not be a sad, dysfunctional, stalkery woman whose daughter doesn't love her. She can leave things at the door and it doesn't have to mean anything to me.

Let's hope I can hang on to this feeling. I think I probably will, though. The last five years have been the best of my life, and things just keep getting better.

Declaring my independence was the best thing I ever did for myself. I highly recommend it. 

portrait of the ACON in khaki


Last week, I described a couple of my recent dreams in which my mother made an appearance. On that post, Tundra Woman commented: 

"Many NPs are also pro-active in their denigration campaign: ex: "She/He always WAS difficult/sensitive/deceptive" etc. Don't think for a second all the names and alleged "qualities" you were accused of having weren't told to others behind your back-probably for years."
This is exactly what I've found to be the case in my family. While I'm still not exactly sure what gets said to people behind my back (nor do I need to be), I know that it happens, for several reasons:
1. She would say untrue and/or judgmental things about my siblings to me, so I have every reason to believe that she has said similar things about me to them. Playing siblings against each other is classic narcissistic-parent stuff.
2. She would also relate to me the stories my aunt told her about my cousins, which I'm sure colored my relationships with my cousins, to some extent, even though I also knew that a) my aunt's ideas about my cousins might be wrong and b) my mother seemed to have a *need* for my aunt and oldest female cousin to not get along with each other, so her versions of the stories may have been even more warped. 
3. Most of my siblings, my father, and some of my extended family members relate to me in a way that shows that they believe me to have characteristics that seem more consistent with my mother's attitudes than with our actual interactions with each other. It's very difficult to communicate with somebody who has been told again and again that you are unreasonable and bossy and entitled.
Throughout my life, my mother has had an idea of me that she refers to whenever she needs to put me in my place or explain away my "bad" behaviors. Sometimes, to back these judgments up, she whips out an anecdote from my childhood to illustrate just what a flawed person I am.

Some of those anecdotes are from very early in my life, like the time when I was three or four and wished I were a princess, or the time when I was two and stomped my foot and purposefully (her word) defied my mother and sent her running straight for the Dobson books. Somehow these toddler/preschooler episodes were clung to by her as exemplary of my entire person. I have to wonder what life would be like for my oldest son if I constantly viewed him through the lens of the time when he was two and he dumped a bottle of toasted sesame oil down through the pantry shelves, or if I bitterly reminded him time and time again of what a horrible sleeper he was as an infant.

Some of the anecdotes are just puzzling. It's clear when these stories pop up that they are supposed to be an example of my bad character, but generally they just serve to point out how she clings to strange little incidents that don't really reveal anything but her own odd mind. Like my "khaki phase," alternately referred to as my "khaki and black phase." Um...what? I know exactly what time period she's referring to, because I remember her objecting to me purchasing anything remotely related to khaki that year, because "you only wear khaki" and somehow this was wrongdoing from which she had to save me. But here's the thing. 


First, like so many of these stories about what a horrible person I am, it's totally untrue. I remember several of my favorite outfits from this era, and while one or two did have khaki in them (one ruffled jumper in particular, which I loved, and which had a khaki-and-peach jungle animal print shirt that went under it, and also a skirt I made in home ec class), but there were also the pink suspender slacks and a white sweater flecked with pink and mint green that went with it, the peach skirt I wore to the 8th grade dance that year, a fair bit of aqua, a wisteria-colored coulotte, a dark teal top and a teal/black/purple plaid short skirt with an elastic waist (back in style now - I feel so old), and an olive green miniskirt worn with a brocade vest and white Debbie Gibsonesque blouse with gold buttons and a chain. There were probably a few khaki items, and looking back on it, it was probably because I was just figuring out how to mix-and-match clothing. Khaki's a good neutral. I do not, however think I owned more than two or three khaki items at the same time, and I don't believe I ever had a single item of clothing that was solid black (because black = the devil, but that's a story for another time).

Second, and more importantly, who the hell cares? These stories are really about how I wouldn't conform to some arbitrary wish-daughter that she had in her head, who obediently allowed her mother to choose every item in her wardrobe. It's less about what colors I was wearing and more about the fact that for the first time in my life, I was really choosing my own clothing, and my fashion sense was not the same as hers. A healthier parent might have privately chuckled at the late-80s styles, sure, but she would have realized that its no big deal. It's clothing. It's a kid working out her individuality. It does not in any way reflect any kind of moral failing. Sheesh.

When I was in contact with my mother, she would bring these stories out every now and then, along with others, like the boy she wanted me to date whom I didn't want to date, or the time I lost my own room because I couldn't keep it clean, or some fight that we supposedly had when I was 11. 
From stories like these, she has somehow cobbled together an idea of me that looks like this:

bitchy
high-maintenance
absent-minded
unoriginal
not artistic
ditzy
lazy
defiant (this one's hilarious - I was a very compliant child and easy teen!)
difficult
demanding
snobby
bossy
stubborn
judgmental
messy (another funny one - I'm one of the more organized/neatnik members of the family)
hard-hearted
approval-seeking
histrionic
thoughtless
moody 
flighty

Yeah, as Tundra Woman points out, I know my mother has shared this wacked-out view of me with other people. I know it's standard operating procedure for a narcissist. It poisoned my relationship with her, and it continues to poison my relationships with my father and brothers.

It's so sad that she spent (still spends, I'm sure) so much energy on clinging to these stories that she tells herself and chewing on their imaginary implications. How sad to spend so much time and energy spreading her discontent and poisoning other people's relationships.


I hope my kids never feel like I have have such negative feelings about any of them. Sure, we're all human, and we all have faults - but people who love us should be able to hold our best selves in their minds while understanding our faults and supporting us in working through them. They shouldn't be throwing our faults in our faces all of the time. And they certainly shouldn't deduce those faults from what color you supposedly liked in the 8th grade.

what dreams may come

'til sunbeams find you


One cool thing about the week before my period (sorry if that's TMI, I have a uterus, get over it) is that I have vivid, complicated, all-night-long dreams*. One totally not-cool thing is that at least every other month, one or more of those dreams is about my mother.

A month or two ago, I had a dream in which I managed to get my mom to sit down and listen to me while I explained to her how I felt about my childhood and especially how I feel about the way she treats me as an adult. She was actually open-minded and genuinely interested in how I felt. She wanted to change. I expressed my dubiousness that she really would change, and I felt like an asshole for not letting her back into my life, because she really did seem to *get it*. I woke up still feeling like a jerk, and hung onto a keen feeling of loss throughout the day. That dream was more upsetting to me than all the dreams in which she's abusive and/or we fight. Those dreams just annoy me. This one hurt. I guess some small part of me that I don't usually acknowledge is still wishing for my mommy to get better and tell me she loves me. How sad.

Last night I had another dream. This time she was not the nice, caring mommy. She was a harpy. She stood in my bedroom doorway, rifling through a tiny cloth-bound diary (she read two of my diaries, when I was 14 and 17). She read a description of a family outing to me in a mocking tone, then accused me shrewishly of lying and making everything up. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, the entry was a pretty basic account of the events that had happened on one day, without editorial comment from me. It was, in short, a child's diary entry - all reporting, no interpretation. I tried to express that that type of entry is just the facts, and that nothing about it was made up. In the dream it didn't occur to me to tell her that, duh, this diary was only for my eyes, so to whom exactly would I be lying? Why did it matter to her so much?

It occurs to me now that this desire to have people know the truth about yourself - or at least the truth as you see it - is really important to her, and that it's also very important to me. I had never lined those two things up before, because I consider her truth to be mostly untrue and my truth to be entirely (or at least overwhelmingly, mostly) true. But at the core, both of us feel a desperate need to be known and not to have people believe anything about us that we think is untrue. What does that mean?



*nifty fact: women do tend to dream more during the nights before menstruation starts, and those dreams tend to have an increased number of intense/conflicted interactions with female characters


individual


At coffee with a friend last spring, she looked across the couch at me and said something about how I was really, really restricted as a teen. I think her words were "not allowed to live." And you know, she was right. I was, in many ways, not allowed to live. I was expected to live my mother's life - or at least the life that she had wished she had had, colored by her warped child-of-narcissist adult point of view. She was never a normal child, so how could she conceive of what normal and healthy adolescence should be?

A few days later, my husband reviewed our collection of Monty Python DVDs and reported to me that while we owned The Meaning of Life, we do not own The Life of Brian or The Holy Grail. Thinking about this transported me directly back to my days as a high schooler involved in the theater group. There were some kids who were clearly theater kids, and there were some kids who were involved in theater routinely, but were somehow not really part of the theater group. I was one of those. I remember that during my senior year, I was finally allowed to join the end-of-run cast party, held at one thespian's home (I never saw his father, I still have no idea whether or not his father was even present). We watched various episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and it was completely, utterly, mind-blowingly new to me. It was a sense of humor that was completely different from anything I knew. And I loved it.

What I didn't know at that moment was that the reason this humor was so new to me was because it came from outside of my family paradigm. It was something that appealed to me, as an individual, as a member of a community that existed separately from my family. I was seventeen before I discovered this.

When do children normally start experiencing life independently from their family? I don't know, because my "normal" is different from the "normal" of my peers. All I know is that many of them seem to have been experimenting, exploring, testing the waters of individuality many years before I even started dipping my toes in. While they were figuring out who they are, what they like, how things worked for them, I was isolated. I was kept at home, allowed out for specific, strictly-supervised activities and nothing more. By the time I started exploring, they were all so far ahead of me that it made it nearly impossible to catch up.

My oldest son is not quite a "tween" yet, but I can already see him starting to stretch his individuality a bit. Even though I've been working on my initial, pre-programmed "nip it in the bud" reactions to my kids for almost ten years now, I'm still finding new things that make me balk and feel like digging in and saying "no" just because, I don't know, it seems like I should shut this stuff down? How stupid. And yet how conditioned I am (and most of us are!) to think that we should say no, no, no to most requests from kids. My son asks for small things and my immediate impulse is to deny his request, and I have to force myself to slow down, think about whether or not it really matters, and say yes. We're talking about little things like wearing daytime clothing to bed instead of pajamas. Meaningless stuff...except that it's not meaningless to him. It's his first steps toward figuring out how he likes to do things, what other things feel like. He's supposed to be doing this at this age. He needs "little things" to explore right now, and we have to support him in figuring out how to make decisions about what to explore now, before we get to bigger explorations like sex and drugs and driving and such. Thinking about my son and his non-pajama sleepwear reminds me of the time when I was a teen and I wondered what sleeping in the nude was like (I had heard that some people did it), so I tried it. My mother woke me up in the morning, noticed the lack of clothing on my shoulders (the rest of me was under the covers), chastised me for not wearing a nightshirt, and let me know in no uncertain terms that this would not happen again. Why? What did it cost her for me to choose how much clothing I wore while sleeping? How was a decision about my body hers to make at all?

I don't want to make all of the decisions for my children. I want them to be able to explore who they are in both little and bigger ways while they're still living in my home and have the safety net of mom and dad to fall back on. I hope I'm able to remember this as they get older and more separate from me.

new blog: narcissistic mother



I just noticed a new blog, Narcissistic Mother, which is all of three posts old right now. The author is Michelle Piper, a licensed family therapist. I'm not sure what this blog will amount to yet, but I'm intrigued, and I'll be keeping an eye on it.

coming back & fired the therapist



Howdy, there, fellow ACONs.

I took a break for a while after May. There just wasn't much to say, and I sometimes find that when I'm more involved in reading other ACON blogs and writing my own posts, that I think about my mother too much and get bogged down in it, which isn't good.  I also mentioned a knee injury a couple of posts back - that injury had me flat on my back for almost 10 days, and then I had four weeks of physical therapy. During the recovery period, I had to take a break from my daily workouts, which was really frustrating. I've never liked exercise at all, was suddenly ENJOYING running and working hard and sweating - how awful to be sidelined just when I had discovered the joy of it! I've been back to it for three weeks now, but I'm only going three days a week, so that I don't mess up my knee again. Hopefully with time I'll be able to do more stuff, more often. I lost 5% of my body fat during my induction phase (which had the six-weeks-off-for-injury in the middle of it, and only going twice a week at the end of it, so not too shabby!). My running time even with a still-slightly-gimpy knee is way, way better than it was before. Hooray for physical fitness! I'm looking forward to getting stronger and leaner and fitter.

On the mental-health side of things, I find summer to be schlumpy. It is way easier for me to stay motivated and active when the kids are in school and when it isn't 105 degrees outside. Anybody else?

Regarding the new therapist - I decided to stop going to her. There were a few red flags in the first session. She talked a LOT. She asked me for advice based on my profession and got off on a tangent about her planned vacation for almost twenty minutes! And at the end of that session, she called me a "Chatty Cathy." What?!?! I decided to chalk it up to first-time getting-to-know-you stuff and give her another go. Session two was still not great. She didn't seem to ask terribly insightful questions and spent more time telling me how great I am than challenging me to go deeper, work harder. I had said something about wanting to have a therapeutic relationship with somebody so that when I'm in a time of crisis, there is somebody who is already familiar with me. She responded that I shouldn't think of our relationship as "therapeutic," but that we're more like "friends." Um, no. I mean, I want to be friendly with a therapist. I want to be comfortable and able to chat. But I'm not paying you for us to have coffee and gossip. I'm paying for you to root around in my psyche and help me to figure my shit out. We are not friends.

So...yeah. No therapist at the moment. I would still like to have somebody I can go to when I'm having a hard time, who is already somebody that I know and trust and like, who already knows my story. But the thought of having to go through therapist after therapist to find this person is daunting, especially when I don't really need help right this moment.

Then there's this subversive thought of mine that keeps nagging me. The accepted wisdom out there in the world is that therapy is good for anybody. Every one can benefit from a little talk therapy, right? Well, I'm not so sure. It's a little ridiculous to think that every person on the face of the earth would benefit from the same narrow array of therapeutic solutions. I've come a long, long, long way in the last 15 years, and none of it had anything to do with a therapist. I don't regret not having a therapist through any of it. I thought hard, challenged the status quo, read lots and lots of books and articles, found other people who have had similar experiences, muddled my way through. Do I really need a therapist?

What do you think? 



Can everybody benefit from talk therapy? 

Are emotional coping and healing like diet and exercise, where different people may have different dietary needs and sensitivities, and build muscle tone and endurance in different ways? 

hold on

My iPod decided this morning to treat me to this blast from my past, and I immediately knew I had to share it, because it so perfectly described the process of awakening from ACONhood.

 

(Argh, Vevo won't let me embed it - but it's worth clicking over to YouTube, if not for the uplifting message, then for the fab cheesy '90s earnestness of Chynna Phillips and the Wilson sisters singing in black dresses while sitting on a beach or perched on a mountaintop)

Most of the lyrics are below (after that, it's pretty much variations on the chorus). As far as fitting the child-of-narcissist situation, I'm sure we wouldn't fully agree with "you got yourself into your own mess," although by the time we're waking up, it IS time to take responsibility. From that time forward, it's YOUR choice whether or not to accept ACON life as usual, or to "break free from the chains."


I know this pain
Why do lock yourself up in these chains?
No one can change your life except for you
Don't ever let anyone step all over you
Just open your heart and your mind
Is it really fair to feel this way inside?

Some day somebody's gonna make you want to
Turn around and say goodbye
Until then baby are you going to let them
Hold you down and make you cry
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day
Can you hold on for one more day
Things'll go your way
Hold on for one more day

You could sustain
Or are you comfortable with the pain?
You've got no one to blame for your unhappiness
You got yourself into your own mess
Lettin' your worries pass you by
Don't you think it's worth your time
To change your mind?

I know that there is pain 
But you hold on for one more day and 
Break free the chains 
Yeah I know that there is pain 
But you hold on for one more day and you 
Break free, break from the chains



Hold on for one more day, my ACON brothers and sisters!


she loves me, she loves me not





"Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." —Robert A. Heinlein

One of the questions that tortures adult children of narcissists is whether or not their parent actually loves them. It cannot be denied that the parent feels strong emotion, and that the parent may even believe that this strong emotion is love. Many of us even heard "I love you" growing up, which makes it even more confusing when we realize that we don't feel loved. 

When I start going into a "maybe I'm not giving her enough credit, maybe she really does love me and miss me" tailspin, it helps to ask myself, does she act in a loving manner? How does a person behave when, as Heinlein says, the happiness of another person is essential to his or her own? I'm guessing that they would not belittle them, or attempt to control them, or act like they dislike them.

As a kid, I was taught that sometimes you don't like family, but you always love them. Today I would say that this isn't true. While I might be irritated by somebody at one specific time, if I don't like them as people, how can I truly love them? And if I have been aware for many years that my mother dislikes me, I have my answer to the love question, don't I?

for all the loving mothers


This is for you
the mothers who strive each day
to nourish
to embrace
to be healthy
to be whole
to raise children
with compassion
with grace
with insight
with humility

This is for my mother-in-law
daughter of a mother who has just left this world
this is for the nurture she did not receive from her mother
this is for the nurture she tried to give my husband
this is for the nurture she gives to me

This is for my friend
daughter of a narcissistic father
daughter of a deceased mother
this is for the mothering she gives to me
this is for the nourishment she gives to her children
this is for the honesty she gives to herself

This is for you
daughters of the self-absorbed
this is for the women you strive to be
this is for the mothers you may become

May you always be willing
to look into your own soul
May you always be ready
to extend empathy to your children
May you receive love
from those who mother you.

what dreams may come

Last night brought another nightmare about my mother. I haven't dreamed about her in a long time, and this one was worse than most.

In some of my dreams, she's just somewhere around. Others are more directly about her. Sometimes she's trying to stalk me in a way that is annoying and maybe comical, but not scary. Sometimes I tell her off, strong and direct. When I wake up, I figure she's been on my mind, roll my eyes, and move on.

Last night, I dreamed that I was living with her again, and that I was trying to explain to her what I needed her to do in order for us to re-establish contact. I told her that I needed her to take responsibility for her own actions, to express this to me, and to treat me with respect.

She laughed at me. It was a mean laugh, a mocking laugh. I felt powerless, debased, and afraid. She told me that I was the one who should be taking responsibility, not her. I felt the way I did when I was 21 and she picked fights with me and told me that I had said and done things that I couldn't remember having said or done, and at the time, I entertained the idea that maybe I really was crazy, and that I had done these things, and had some psychological issue that made me block them out. In the dream I was back in that gaslighted place, half convinced that I was experiencing some kind of psychosis. At the same time, I knew she was the madwoman, not me. I started trying to plan an escape. How much of my stuff did I need to take with me? Could I afford an apartment? Could I do it that night?

There was a lot of fear in the dream. Fear of rejection, fear of getting caught, fear that I was the problem, fear of her mockery, fear of what she might do to me. I think I was worried about being consumed, becoming nothing.

The dream has bothered me all day, lurking around the edges of my normal routines. I'm fairly certain that it was induced by the arrival of a Mother's Day card from her on Wednesday. My eldest son found it in the mail, recognized an envelope addressed to me, missing a return address, as suspicious and called my attention to it. I recognized her writing and hated that my son knows which mail comes from her, and that it's unwelcome mail. My husband opened it - I had guessed that it was a Mother's Day card and told him that if it contained crazy-lady rantings, I would add it to my file, but if it was just signed minus the overt crazy, recycle it. Of course, I got it out of him what it said (simply signed "We love you and miss you, Mom & Dad"). I know I should just toss everything, unopened, but I have a morbid curiosity and a need to know all the facts. Knowing is better than not knowing. Still, I hate that I let her succeed in getting mail to me.

What does it mean, that I was talking to her about reconciliation?  Is it just a random thing? Is it my brain reminding me that I needn't feel guilty about opening it or about my son recognizing the card, because ultimately, she's a crazy lady who mocks and disrespects me? Or is there some deep-down desire for reconciliation? I don't think I want that. I don't like her. I don't want to be near her. So why the dream?


mother myths

While shopping in Target a few weeks ago, I came across some stickers in the dollar section, and in each pack, one of the stickers bore this quote:
As fellow ACONs, I'm sure you've guessed that I did NOT buy the stickers. I'm not terribly big on mother worship.

This phrase is one of hundreds that our mother-idealizing society plays on repeat, increasing in frequency as we get closer and closer to Mother's Day. To honor your dear mum, you may buy this quote on note cards, on picture frames, on refrigerator magnets, on plaques, on jewelry, on art prints, and on vinyl wall transfers. I even saw a cross stitch sampler pattern. I'm sure it doesn't stop there. The message is strong: your mother should get credit for everything in your life. Everything. Even if you did something yourself, it's because she raised you to be somebody who can do that thing. Have positive personality characteristics? Inherited from or instilled by her. Your children? Also her accomplishment. Did another person positively influence you? Well, only because your mama gave you the social skills to network, or was related to that person, or sent you to the college where you met them. And on and on. 

As an ACON, phrases like this hurt. They erase me and my experience. They perpetuate the myth that mothers all genuinely love their children, that mothers are the ones who are always "there for you," that all mothers are nurturing, that mothers who do harm only do so inadvertently, because they had the best of intentions and were trying as hard as they could, and really, what kind of ungrateful child complains about the (surely trivial) harm done in the past?

Phrases like this disregard the many, many people who are hurting because "all they are" sometimes - or often - feels like crap, due to a childhood - and often an adulthood - filled with abuse. 

Now, I don't think that people who utter this (and I'll include the supposed originator of the quote, President Lincoln himself) really believe this to the core, even if they say they do and think they do. And that's because deep down, we all know it's not true. It's certainly not true for those of us who have had to break away from abusive mothers. Sure, your life bears her marks, some good and many bad, but there's also a hell of a lot that YOU did yourself, and it's absolutely OK to claim it and be proud of it. 

It's not true even for normal, healthy mothers. No matter how supportive, how nurturing, how fantastic a mother a woman might be, she is not her child. And since the child is his or her own person, he or she deserves credit for doing whatever he or she did with the raw materials provided by dear Mama. As for all a person "hope[s] to be" - can you imagine anything more defeatist than saying that you cannot ever be anything other than what your mother made? How awful. Even if Mama was truly an angel, how horrible to have no destiny other than what she provided. In the case of a child born to an emotionally unhealthy mother, what a terrible life sentence for "all I hope to be" to have no actual hope.

This relates to personal accountability, which is a theme often touched on in discussions of dysfunctional mothers. If "all that I am" is due to my mother, than all she is is due to her mother, and so on back through the ages. Nobody, then, is really responsible for her own actions. You know this not to be true. Each of us receives some DNA, some nurture (or neglect), and some programming from our mothers. Many of us may have run on the scripts handed to us for a long time, but if we're able to come out of the auto-pilot of our family programming, we receive something that is entirely ours: autonomy. We get to decide what to do with the DNA and the history. We can make changes to who we are and what we do. We can work to heal our wounds, enrich our lives, and pass a different package on to our own children, for them to use in their own way when they are ready. 

With apologies to Mr. Lincoln, I suggest we throw away his mother-worship for something more true, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." 

All you are, or hope to be, you owe to yourself. 

self-care

Untitled

Almost a month. I had wondered how long I had been checked-out of the ACON world, and looking at my last entry tells me: almost a month. That doesn't seem so terribly long, but when I think what it represents - that I haven't felt a deep need for fellow-ACON connection, that I haven't felt a deep need to share what's in my head - it's significant. It means my mother is, at the moment, taking up a little less space inside my head. That's a very good thing.

I've found myself busier - or at least busying myself with different kinds of things. In the last month I have:

- done a lot more reading than usual
- started to see a new therapist
- re-examined my eating habits and tweaked them so that I'm snacking less and re-balancing the veggies vs. bready carbs
- focused more on good hydration
- joined a daily workout team
- cut down on some overcommitments

As a result I have:

- been more reflective in peaceful, productive ways
- gained muscle and lost some fat
- felt a lot better inside my body
- felt more emotionally and physically resilient*

*this is excepting the knee injury that I've inflicted upon myself, which I am currently resting and icing. OW. Nothing like hobbling and humbling yourself to make you slowwww way down and realize the value of being fit.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was just a week into the new workout regimen and excited that I was already gaining some upper body strength, a friend said "Claire, I'm really proud of you. You're taking really good care of yourself in lots of important ways. That's really inspiring." And I felt like, YEAH, I am taking good care of myself! I'm making changes not because I want to be thinner and look a certain way (not that I would complain), but because I want to feel good in my own skin. It's not about appearances. I want to be strong and flexible. I want to be able to run and jump and play with my kids. I want to foster a physical and emotional state that forms a good springboard from which to handle all that life throws at me (and what I throw myself into). When I'm 80, I want to be feisty and strong and still having adventures.

For the first time in my life, I'm enjoying exercise. I mean, really enjoying it. Ok, in the middle of an intense workout I'm a tiny bit miserable, except that I'm loving it. I could never understand my athletic, fitness-addicted friends before. Why would you want to hurt like that? But now I get it. It feels strong. It makes you able to do more. (And it feels great when you stop.) Since hurting my knee a week ago I've been itching to get back to my early-morning exercise and have even started some ab work and weights at home so that I don't lose all my progress. Who is this woman? I think I like her.

What are you doing to become an even better, more cared-for version of yourself? Why are you doing it?



(PS: I just realized I used this photo before...time to start building a stock photo library for myself. More reason to heal up the knee so I can get down on the ground with my camera again!)

human nature


While poking around for a video for Kiki's First (Re)Birthday Party, I rediscovered this 1995 Madonna gem. The sexuality might be a little in-your-face for some (it was pretty hot by '90s standards), but the dancing is incredible and I love the message. These lyrics resonate with me, how about you?


You wouldn't let me say the words I longed to say
You didn't want to see life through my eyes
(Express yourself, don't repress yourself)
You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies
(Express yourself, don't repress yourself)



i thee dread

the metamorphosis of marriage

I once heard the phrase "don't borrow trouble." The idea is that if you're worrying about things that haven't happened yet, or might not happen at all, you're borrowing potential trouble from your future and turning it into real trouble in your present. Well, I'm borrowing trouble, big time.

I dread weddings and funerals. Specifically, weddings and funerals which my parents might attend. Even more specifically, funerals of relatives that I love, and the weddings of my unmarried siblings. 

Nobody is dying right now, so that pot is sitting cold on the back burner. But the weddings. Oh, god, are there going to be weddings? Brother #3 has a long-term girlfriend. He's had others. Will this one be "the one"?  Will I have to spend thousands of dollars on traveling and hotels and other wedding-related expenses, for a wedding that I don't really want to attend, but feel obligated to? My sister has been with her boyfriend for several years, and more and more lately, I wonder if an engagement announcement will be forthcoming. I told myself, hey, maybe they're just the cohabiting type. Maybe they'll never get married. Maybe they'll break up (sad, wouldn't wish for it, but could happen). Maybe they'll suddenly elope and spare the rest of us the ordeal of a family wedding. If they do have a ceremony, it'll most likely be closer to home, but still, ohhhhh...I don't want to go. Her college graduation was hard enough, but things between my mom and myself have gotten much worse (well, better for me in most ways, but you know what I mean) in the years since then and I Just. Don't. Want. To. Go.

But I will go. She's my sister, and I love her, and her wedding isn't about me or my mom, and I'll suck it up and go and be supportive and happy for her and not let her *know* that I'm sucking it up. I'll bring my kids, because she's their auntie, and they love her, and they should get to be present for the celebrations of people they love.

But I worry.

I worry about having to be near my mom.
I worry that my mom will try to talk to me.
I worry that my mom will try to touch me, or kiss my cheek like she did at another family gathering.
I worry about looking perfect, and not being too fat or too frowsy or too...something.
I worry about having to stand next to her in a receiving line, or sit near her at a table.
I worry about the interactions with relatives that I don't want to see, many of whom may lecture me about burying the hatchet.
I worry about bringing my children.
I worry that my mom will approach my children.
I worry that she will talk to them.
I worry that she will touch them and kiss and hug them.
I worry about whether or not I should allow her to go near them.
I worry that there's no real way to keep her away from my children if they're at the same event.
I worry about maybe telling my kids to stay away from Nona.
I worry that she'll sneak behind my back, when I'm away from them for a moment.
I worry that I'll feel like I want to protect them, and that I'll do something that leads to her causing a scene.
I worry that in the name of not drawing attention to myself during my sister's wedding, that I'll put on too brave a face and subject myself to too much.
I worry about the more-intimate rehearsal dinner, where all of this will be a thousand times harder.

And as of last week, I know that my sister is looking at rings, and that she'd like to have a simple ceremony but that it will at the very least be a small ceremony, not a private elopement, and that she is counting on me being her maid of honor.

And I know that I will go, and bring my children, and act natural, and that it will be really, really hard.

And I worry, and I worry, and I worry. 

front row seats


Another visualization from my friend's therapist, which I've fleshed out a bit. This one pertains to situations in which you choose to interact with your abuser (my friend has chosen NC in order to give herself a break, but knows that, due to current affairs in her family, she will be interacting with her mother in the near future). 

Imagine that your Nparent is running a video projector (I picture it as the old-timey silent-picture type). S/he plays movie after movie after movie over and over and over again, without cease. It's a 24/7 picture show. The projector is casting its images onto you. 

Tou reach for a screen and set it up between yourself and your parent. Now the images can no longer be projected onto you. Instead, they are cast onto the screen. The images on the screen have nothing to do with you. They are old movies, being shown again and again by the projectionist. 

While reflecting on this today, I thought, you may have been given complementary front-row tickets, but you don't have to go to the show if you don't want to!


ticket image found at Alpha Stamps
vitascope illustration from Who's Who of Victorian Cinema

hooks and suckers


A friend is going through her own ACON-ish situation right now, although in her case, her mother probably has borderline personality disorder. The two disorders are very similar, and my friend's family dynamics are startlingly similar to mine. For that reason, she has been talking to me a lot lately, because she knows that I've BTDT (been there, done that) as far as crazy mothers go. Hey, at least there's some benefit to a crazy family - you can support other people with crazy families and all of you can reassure each other that you're not all alone. Yay!

The other day she was talking about a therapist she visits, and shared a visualization that the therapist had described to her. Caution: not for the squeamish.

Imagine looking down at yourself and realizing that your body is covered with hooks and tentacles. These things didn't all latch onto you at once; they were attached to you one at a time, over many, many years. You didn't ask to have these hooks put into your flesh. You didn't put them into yourself.  The suckers clinging to your skin restrain you and prevent you from moving about comfortably.

Picture yourself removing them one at a time. You have to work slowly. Some of the hooks go quite deep and you carefully detach them while trying not to cause more harm. It takes a long time, but you finally pry every last sucker off of yourself, and you throw them all away. 

It's not the most perfect analogy, but I do think there's something to the idea of the things dysfunctional parents do to their children being like barbs that stay embedded in their skin, causing more harm the longer they stay attached. To think of their tentacles holding their children back. We ACONs must work slowly, gently to undo the years of harm.  Some of the hooks and suckers take longer to remove than others. Some come away easily, and some are quite painful to extract. Some have been inflicted more deeply than others - we may carry some like shrapnel, buried within us for the rest of our lives. We may have to heal around them if we can't excise them.

Going no-contact helped me tremendously in getting enough time without new hooks being thrown at me so that I could start to remove the hooks that were already there. I don't know if I'll ever be hook-and-sucker-free, but I do know that I've removed enough of them to move about much more easily. And if I ever have to be around that hook-slinging octopus ever again, I'll remember to wear armor and be ready to duck.





octopus illustration via The Graphics Fairy
fish hooks via Clip Art ETC