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:
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.