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:

not artistic
defiant (this one's hilarious - I was a very compliant child and easy teen!)
messy (another funny one - I'm one of the more organized/neatnik members of the family)

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


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?