Mornings are often less-than-blissful here, for reasons completely unrelated to narcissism. My kids' school starts a little on the early side, and my middle son is a person who needs to ease into his morning rather than hitting the ground running, so even though we're earlyish risers, it always seems like it's rushrushrush out the door every morning to avoid being late. Lately the preschooler doesn't want to go to school - he loves it once he's there, he just hates the going part - and getting him dressed and fed and into the car is an ordeal. 

So it was really nice last Wednesday morning, after herding reluctant children into the car and getting everybody all strapped in, to come around to the driver's door and find this little love-note waiting for me. I haven't been on the receiving end of Guerrilla Goodness before, and I was really feeling the joy and kindness. The whole drive to school was easier.

Then, because receiving love can never be that simple for an ACON, I started to doubt. Wait a minute, did a friend leave that note for me, or my mother? Because if it was my mother, I don't want to leave it there. I don't need her "love", I want any love given to me to be genuine. 

It bummed me out that I doubt something so simple as an anonymous note left for me, probably by a friend. I'm guarded, skeptical. 

My husband pointed out that "it lacks attribution. You mom would never sign her letters 'anonymous'". He has a point. She always wants people to make sure they know that she was there, that this is her work. 

So the little heart stayed. It's still there, through sun and rain and snow. I'm passing it on to you, my ACON brothers and sisters. Although sometimes you may feel skeptical, and it can be hard to accept, you are lovely, loving, lovable, loved people. 

part 3: love crumbs

My husband and I got into the car, and he told me what the phone message said. My mother, in a strained I'm-holding-myself-together voice, saying "I didn't get the chance to say I love you." End message.

Oh, sorry, I didn't give you the chance to say you love me. I was too busy defending the boundary that you crossed several times within a half hour - appearing at my door, leaving cards for my children, calling me on my phone. All things I've asked you not to do. But, you know, if I'd just calmed down for a minute, I would have heard that you love me. And then what? It would have magically been true?

We talked about how I reacted - I wanted to know what he thinks would be ideal, and he said that he thinks how I handled it was perfect. I wanted to know what he thinks about how I process this stuff - I need to talk about it afterward, mull it over. He thinks I'm at a good place - definitely not the way I was years ago. His hope is that someday it wouldn't bother me at all, just be something I could toss off at the end of the day: "hey, my mom dropped by."

He mentioned that he doesn't feel angry at her, because it would like being angry at a dog that bites you. It isn't really the dog's fault. It's a dog. It's in its nature. That reminded me of the story of the scorpion and the frog, which always comes to mind in the form of this scene from The Crying Game:

He has a point. I know she's never going to change, and that means she will probably continue to drop by with these "innocent" gestures. It's in her nature. This is what I can look forward to on birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, Halloween, Easter, Valentine's Day, forevermore.

Over cocktails at dinner, I told him that it just makes me feel so mean. I preach compassion, and then I bluntly refuse to have anything to do with her? How compassionate is that? "Shouldn't I just suck it up and be kind to her? Not let it get to me?" "What would that do for you?" he inquired. It's a rhetorical question. We both know that I extended that kind of compassion toward her for many years, knowing that she couldn't help who she is, and that it hurt me, and hurt him because it hurt me, and hurt our kids. It's like the airline-inspired bit of wisdom that I've seen applied to parenting: put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

I confided that her ambush coincided with a resurgence of left-out feelings. I recently saw some photos of my siblings and my parents and my nieces and nephews together, and it dragged up old baggage. A few days later, I read Jonsi's post about immunizing yourself against narcissists, which quoted an article from Dr. Martinez-Lewi:
Don't be surprised at the number of people who follow and are true believers of narcissists. They crave being a member of the inner circle even if they are infrequently thrown crumbs or are honored to kiss the ring of the anointed.They have thrown away their identities, strapped themselves to the narcissist for the E ticket ride. They will do anything to be identified with this person. They believe that he or she is a good human being because of outside trappings and the wielding of power over others.
In my comment on the post, I wrote:
This was very true of me before I extricated myself and is still true of my siblings. Getting over it is a little like being an addict - you're never truly all-the-way better. A glimpse of your old drug can bring new cravings. I saw some photos of a sibling/Nparent gathering last week and even though the rational part of me doesn't want to be part of it at all, the old inner-circle need is still there. I still feel left out, even though I've chosen to BE out! I don't want to kiss the ring, but I still sometimes miss the crumbs.
It's hard to find yourself wanting the crumbs even thought you know that they're crumbs, and stale ones at that. I recalled the time when my mother called me, wanting my support during a trip to a funeral. I felt flattered even though she told me that she had already asked two of my four siblings (yay, third choice!).  I wanted to be helpful, and went, even though it meant leaving my still-nursing baby, suffering engorgement, reorganizing my husband's work schedule, and hearing all about my mother's fabulous mother-daughter trip with my sister the year before. "We stayed in that gorgeous hotel and went to this wonderful restaurant and that beautiful museum..." I had never been invited on a mother-daughter trip before. This was it. The whole weekend was filled with driving from funeral location to funeral location and hearing about my mother's fabulous adventures with other people. My baby cried inconsolably every night while I was gone and I had to buy a cheap electric pump to avoid getting mastitis. It was clear that the bereaved family hadn't expected my mother to come and that she wasn't as important to them as I had always been led to believe. It was also clear to me that I wasn't as important to my mother as I had hoped.

Crumbs. Dusty, dried-out, moldy crumbs from other people's banquets.

Well, last night, I didn't dine on crumbs. I had a feast with my own Valentine, who has seen me through almost two decades of emotional development. We had delicious food, we joked, we told stories, we held hands across the table. He validated my feelings and shored my self-confidence back up. I told him how much I appreciate what he does for me. I felt wanted, and loved, and valued, and enjoyed. All of the things that I don't feel when I'm near my mother.

She didn't screw up my Valentine's Day dinner. In fact, maybe she made it just a little better, because of the clarity I felt by the end of it:

There is no place in my life for her.
My children are precious to me and I will protect them.
And my husband is a gem. I'm so glad he's mine.

part 2: aftermath

I shut the door in my mother's face.

I shut it and locked it.

It was a little stunning. My heart pounded in my chest. I texted my husband to tell him what happened: "I just shut the door in my mom's face. Fuck."

I closed the curtains to my room, because it was getting dark and I was about to take a shower anyway, and I thought I noticed a van parked behind my car. My parents' van.

Text: "I think they're still parked out there."

I felt grateful that the kids were all watching a video in the office, oblivious to what had just happened. In the past they have been around when my mom showed up at the door. I told them, "I'm going to take a shower. You guys stay here. If the doorbell rings, please don't answer it. I don't want you to answer the door while I'm in the shower." I felt fairly confident that they were too tuned in to the video to hear the door. I shut the office door, just in case. I felt like I couldn't actually get into the shower, because what if she tried to get into the house? I couldn't believe I had just shut the door on my smiling, Valentine-bearing mother.

Text: "I need a shower, kids are in office watching video. I feel like a jerk." My parents' car was still at the curb, nearly five minutes after the door. I tried not to imagine the scene inside the car. The driver-side door was still open.

The phone rang. Nervously, I checked the ID: my husband. He had been near an exit at work and left as soon as he got my first text. I felt sheepish that he did this for me, but also relieved. He walked in the door moments later. By now my heart wasn't racing, and my parents' car was gone, and the adrenaline in my system was making me just a little shaky.

I turned on a playlist of favorite, energizing songs to try to drown out the nerves and the oh-my-god-I-shut-the-door-in-the-nice-granny's-face feeling. I felt shitty. Who the hell does that? She was smiling. I had a flash of happiness to see her before remembering that she's not a safe person. I shut the door on her smiling face. I didn't know how to feel about that.

I reminded myself that I would not condemn a battered woman for shutting the door in her ex-spouse's face if he showed up unannounced at the door. I would not ask anybody else to let their abusive parent in.

I reminded myself that her happy-everything's-ok face was typical for her, brushing things under the carpet, pretending we're all loving and great. I reminded myself that there has still not been any communication from her containing her own thoughtful reflections on the past, or her plans for the future, or an apology of any kind. Only cards telling me why I'm wrong or saying "I love you" without any recognition of what happened in the past or what's happening now. I reminded myself that I have set a firm boundary and that she continues to ignore and disrespect it.

I still felt like a schmuck. What can I say, old habits die hard. I know that she was hurt and/or angry. I hate having had a part in that. I wish she hated having had a part in my own hurt.

I got out, dried off. My phone rang. My parents' area code. First three digits of one of their cell phones. I pressed ignore. Downstairs, I heard my husband welcoming our babysitter. He came up, I asked him to check my voicemail for me when he was able.  He told me he had told the sitter that my parents might drop by and asked her not to let them in. "Sorry for the drama," he said.

New blouse, red shoes, earrings he gave me for Christmas. Eyeliner in the new way I've been doing it, which he loves. Lipstick kisses on the kids' cheeks. Out the door. I look up and down the street. It's quiet. The cars belong to our neighbors. I'm safe. When will I actually feel safe?

part 1: the door

I just shut the door in my mother's face.

My middle son and I delivered Valentine's Day cookies to neighbors and when we came home, he went upstairs to give the heart-shaped lollipops from the kids across the street to his brothers, and I straightened some stuff in the foyer. The doorbell rang. Expecting a neighbor, I opened it. There's my mother with a "hello! I'm here! I'm bringing presents!" cheery smile on her face, waving pink and red cards in the air.

For a second, my brain said "oh, it's Mom! Hi, Mom!" and I reached for the knob.

Then I came to my senses, said, "sorry, no." And shut the door. And locked it.

And now I need to get ready for my Valentine's Day date.


I'm reading David Burns' book Feeling Good, and while I'm actually becoming less of a fan of cognitive-behavioral therapy while reading it, I did like this passage:
"Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating, it is irrational. Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do. Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you are more like a river than a statue. Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels - they are overly simplistic and wrong. Would you think of yourself exclusively as an "eater" just because you eat, or a "breather" just because you breathe? This is nonsense, but such nonsense becomes painful when you label yourself out of a sense of your own inadequacies."
He goes on to talk about labeling others: "When you label other people, you will invariably generate hostility."

These aspects of self- and other-labeling brought to mind both how narcissistic parents tend to label their children (cold-hearted, the artistic one, dependable, moody, forgetful, bitchy, good, bad, etc) and also how we internalize those labels and apply them and others to ourselves. It also reminded me of the special ed mantra "put the child before the disability," because saying "an autistic child" focuses on what you think is wrong with the child, while saying "a child with autism" allows you to think of the child as a whole person, and their diagnosis as just one aspect of who he or she is. It helps you to think of the child in terms of what he or she can do, rather than what they can't.  This is true of any child, not just those with a medical or psychological diagnosis. The difference between a "difficult child" and a "child who is sometimes difficult to parent" can be vast. The same goes for labeling ourselves. Am I lazy, or am I a person who sometimes feels sluggish? Am I forgetful, or do I sometimes forget to do something? 

I'm going to think about what labels I put on myself today. Where did they come from? When do I use them? Can I change the way I apply them?

parenting the troubled teen

A friend posted this on Facebook because she thought it was funny. Before you click on it, I want you to know that it may be incredibly triggering to survivors of emotional abuse, as well as to those with anxiety.  The first time I tried to watch it, I had to turn it off after less than a minute. I watched it the next morning when fullly-rested and feeling peaceful. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding in my chest in a way that I recognized from my adolescence and young adulthood. It was the adrenaline-filled, trapped feeling that I would have when my mother was devaluing and punishing me.

In the video, Tommy Jordan, father to a 15-year-old daughter, reads his daughter's Facebook diatribe against her parents, then tackles her complaints point-by-point. Throughout the video, he shows disgust with her point of view, mocks her, talks about how infinite her grounding will be, and belittles her. The video concludes with his idea of justice: he unloads a handgun clip into her laptop computer and informs her that she is responsible for replacing her own laptop as well as reimbursing him not only for the software he installed on it, but also for the nine bullets he put into it.  Transcript here.

Many people are congratulating Jordan on his parenting choice. Many more, myself included, are appalled. Some people saw a take-charge, tough-love dad asserting his authority and giving his daughter a taste of her own medicine. Justice! Discipline! Here's what I saw:
  • a daughter venting her frustration about balancing her workload and personal life at a time when her school assignments have become harder and take more time, her family responsibilities have increased, and her social needs have also become more complex.
  • a daughter who feels like the assignment of family chores is unjust.
  • a daughter who is behaving in a manner emotionally consistent with adolescence.
  • a father who takes her rant personally.
  • a father who decides to respond in an "an eye for an eye" vindictive method of justice.
  • a father who mocks his daughter's statements.
  • a father who seems unaware of how normal his daughter's behavior is.
  • a father whose reaction is out of proportion to his daughter's action.
  • a father who states his intent to humiliate his daughter.
  • a father who uses shame as a parenting tool.
  • a father who threatens to restrict his daughter's physical liberty.
  • a father who destroys his daughter's property.
  • a father who does not use one single compassionate word in his own diatribe.
This dad has some baggage, to put it mildly.  His reaction shows his own emotional development to be somewhere in the adolescent range. An emotionally secure and healthy adult (heck, even many of us who are flawed!) would certainly be angered and probably embarrassed by a child's angry rant - even more so if our child posted the rant in a place where it could be easily read by over 400 people - but would, hopefully, take some time to get perspective, then think of a compassionate way to listen to her feelings, communicate our own, and find a solution to the situation. 

In fact, that's pretty much exactly what the book How To Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk (Faber & Mazlish, 2005), which I have been reading lately, recommends. The authors outline a five-step process to conflict resolution:
  1. Invite your teen to give his point of view
  2. State your point of view
  3. Invite your teenager to brainstorm with you
  4. Write down all ideas - silly or sensible - without evaluating
  5. Review your list, decide which ideas you can both agree to and how you can put them into action.
Notice that the first step is to listen to the kid. Nowhere in Jordan's rant does he ever give any indication that he understands that his daughter is a thinking, feeling human being who has her own perspective on their family situation. I know he's hurt, but it's a parent's job to get over your own shit and focus on the child. I don't know of a single parenting resource that recommends shaming and lecturing children, public humiliation, and destruction of property. In fact, those are all elements of an abusive relationship based on control and domination. 

As a parent, I get that Jordan wants to teach his daughter a lesson. Is public shaming a good way to do it? Do lectures work? No, and no. You know what works? Teaching by example. Jordan wants his daughter to show respect, but he doesn't show any to her, so where will she learn how to show respect? Jordan wants his daughter not to air her grievances in public, but he airs his publicly (his YouTube video will surpass 12 million views today), so how will she learn other ways of resolving conflict? Even the average person on the street these days knows that "do as I say, not as I do" is a piss-poor way to parent. The argument that a child has had values "instilled" in them and "knows that there will be consequences" (frequent retorts from emotionally abusive parents) are bogus. One does not "instill" values into a child by simply telling them those values at top volume. Values are taught by example. The example this girl is seeing is one of a controlling, manipulative, vengeful parent. Will she go on to be yet another mother who makes abusive parenting choices because her father, God bless him, taught her the value of an ass-whoopin'? 

Jordan argues that his daughter (who is named in the video) has not been damaged by her facebook notoriety.  He mentions their "amicable" chats about previous punishment and says that she sees the humor in this particular event and will grow up "happy and healthy." I call bullshit. This girl has probably learned that there's no way out of this controlling relationship.If you can't get away from your abuser, you lay down and take it. You even thank him for it. You convince yourself that these are, in fact, the actions of a loving parent. You smile and say "I love you, daddy," and perhaps earn a hug from the abuser, who is pleased to have bullied you back into your proper submissive place.

Another friend of mine commented that we really can't judge this guy's parenting from one video. I would contend that we can. A healthy parent would not do this. Period. If this were a parent beating a child in the middle of a public place, we would not hesitate in the slightest to label it as abuse, intervene to protect the child, and call the police. Emotional abuse is abuse. It might not be inflicted with punches and kicks, but it is no less harmful, and we have the same obligation to say "this is NOT OK," to explain what isn't ok about it, and to point the way to more compassionate, loving parenting choices.

This girl needed an adult to say "you were feeling really angry, can we talk about it?" and to hear her - really, fully hear her. She didn't need somebody to tell her why her thoughts and feelings are wrong. She didn't need somebody to quibble over the facts. She didn't need to be shamed and threatened. She did need to hear the feelings her parents had about her actions, but probably only after she had been given a chance to vent. She needed somebody to feel sympathetic to her difficulty in figuring out the work-life balance that even most adults complain about. I'm willing to bet that if they had had a truly open-minded, open-hearted chat, they would have been able to find a resolution to this particular situation, and more importantly, she would have been nurtured and learned another way of handling conflict.

Instead of doing this, her father acted like an overgrown, gun-toting adolescent himself: impulsive, rash, without a thought for the potential consequences (like hell he didn't know it could go viral).

I hurt for her. I know what it is to grow up with an emotionally-stunted parent who overreacts, takes things personally, and lashes out in retribution. It's my hope for this young girl that there's a kind adult in her life, if not now, then in the future. I'm sure that she thinks her life is normal and that her father is loving. Most of us abused kids do. I hope that via life experience, a loving friend, counseling, or some other avenue(s), she is eventually able to understand what really happened during her childhood, heal, and change her own path. 

when grandparents make threats


Twice last year, my mother threatened my husband with a lawsuit for grandparent visitation. After the first time, he was actually getting worried about it, so I did some research into our state's laws/precedents and what I found was that if an adult does not want his/her parents to see his/her children, it isn't going to happen in our state. The "grandparents' rights" suits that are successful generally occur when a husband and wife divorce and one of them wants to prevent the OTHER one's parents from seeing the children. In our case, I am preventing my own parents from seeing my children, and the courts can't do a damned thing about it. I showed my husband the state laws and legal precedents; he felt relieved.

When my mother threatened my husband again - she gave him a week to make a decision: either find a way for her to see the kids, or she and my father would go see a lawyer and sue us - he told her that she didn't have legal standing. She didn't get what she wanted. If she made good on her threat and saw a lawyer, the lawyer must have told her the same thing that my husband did: no standing, sister. Too bad, so sad.
I went fully NC with my parents shortly after that, and in my email to them, I let them know that I was aware of her ultimatum, and I called it what it was, a manipulative threat. 

You have recently threatened legal action against [my husband] and myself. I do not believe that you have legal standing in the state of [our state] to do this. Should you choose to pursue this route, I would like you to consider that the time, emotional impact, and financial toll of litigation would not be in the best interests of your grandchildren. I would also like you to consider that threatening legal action as a way to encourage compliance with your wishes is extortion, reflective of the very dynamic from which I wish to distance myself.
It's my belief that any lawyer worth his or her salt wouldn't touch a case like this. I haven't heard anything from my parents about suing us since my husband and I called them on their bluff. We considered consulting a lawyer but ultimately decided that we would not be manipulated by fear into spending money on legal services. Of course, IF my mother ever actually files a suit against us, we will work with a good family lawyer (several friends gave me references). But I'm not going to go throw all my money at a lawyer every time my mother pulls a jerk move. I have better things to do with my time and money than run around worrying about the tantrums of a madwoman. In situations like this my mantra is "don't bleed until you're cut" - don't freak out about litigation unless it's actually happening.

I'm still not sure if she was actually planning to sue. I think she was hoping that we would be scared by her threat and that we would give her what she wants. Stupid move on her part.

(If you are a member of the Out of the Fog message boards, you may recognize parts of this post. I copied it from my original post there, made under my OOTF username, Mokey.)