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.


  1. My mother did exactly the same thing, to me, my brother and other family members. We all were "defined" by her warped view of us and the world and it never changed.

  2. I struggled with this for so long. It was another aspect of crazy making in my mind. I kept thinking "well, if ALL these people have this opinion of me, then I must have that characteristic." It took me so long to realize that, as she was poisoning other people's character to me, she must have been doing that to me also. That in my "outside" life (work,family, etc.) people had a much different way of characterizing me, so maybe what my family said wasn't necessarily true. Plus, I just started to look at my own behavior for myself and try to decide what I felt I need/wanted to be, and ignore the criticism if I felt like I was behaving in appropriate, healthy ways.
    I found you reasons behind why you feel your mother talks behind your back interesting. I'm working at explaining this to my husband at the moment. He always says "you don't know that she talks like that. You can't assume she does." Well, no, I don't know for sure. But I do know, like you said, how she talks about everyone else in her life. I know that the stuff she says contradicts my experiences of these people. I know that she also spreads gossip, like your mother from other family members. Always negative gossip that puts her in a positive light or others in a negative light.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. "if ALL these people have this opinion of me, then I must have that characteristic"

      OH, YES. I have gone down that crazy-making thought-path too many times. After all, family is supposed to "know you best," right? So if they know you the best, and they ALL agree that you have these awful traits...maybe you're the one that's wrong.

      I was fortunate that my husband and I were married for ten years before I decided to detach from her. My siblings are all younger than I am, so he had the opportunity to see her as a parent to teenagers, as well as witnessing her talking behind my siblings' backs. He has been fantastic about reminding me what is true, and what is family backbiting.

  3. When I was two and my sister was nine, my sister was with my mother at a neighbors house. She said the neighbor said something about my sister and I being doomed to become juvenile delinquents and end up in prison.
    Even at the age of nine my sister realized it was a cheap shot at my mother for all the hi-jinks that went on during the day over at our place.
    This shot right over my mothers head, and she will still talk about how her neighbor could see how bad we were before we were even grown.

    1. Can you imagine EVER saying something like that about a child, especially within earshot of the child? And can you imagine being the child's mother and throwing the mean comment in your kids' faces? CRAZY.

    2. It's pretty wild. But to me the wilder thing is that instead of my mother defending her kids she jumped on the band wagon and trashed us. She was too stupid to understand the neighbor was telling her she was screwing up her kids.
      She still holds it out as evidence of how people could see we were defective long before we had a chance to act out.
      I was only 2...and she was agreeing with some woman that I would surely end up in prison.

  4. I'm a little surprised that "selfish" isn't on that list. Or maybe I'm just projecting! In my NFOO, anytime I wanted something (even just a little less criticism and disrespect), I got slapped with the "selfish" label. I was only supposed to want the things that they were already inclined to give me, which wasn't much. But of course they see themselves as incredibly generous.

    I see all this labelling as a way to justify in their own minds their mistreatment of you. They *had to* do this or that because you were just so difficult. *They* are not responsible for any of it, *you* are. (Even though you may have been 6 at the time.)

    1. I should have put "selfish" on the list, it's definitely one she threw at me often. The list is far from complete. ;)

      There's definitely a story in some parents' minds of how awful/difficult their child is, and then they always act toward the child as though the child were being selfish, mean, histrionic, etc. It's ridiculous to take some comment a little kid made and extrapolate it to a general, enduring, negative personality trait. But such is the brain of a narcissist. :P

  5. This post and these comments are hitting me HARD. Because this is by far the biggest hurt, of all the many ways my NM has wounded me (let me count the ways.... never mind, it would take too long!)

    My N-mother has utterly destroyed my reputation with everyone in my family of origin, and all family friends as well, and she has done it with hateful evil lies. She started when I was a little girl, and she still does it today, and I am 59. For the sake of my own sanity I had no choice but to move far away from her when I was a young married woman. I have gone back over the past 4 decades to visit quite a few times, but I was always treated by my siblings and others like my visits were an inconvenience. It wasn't until I tried to "friend" some of my family on facebook a couple of years ago, that the full extent of my mother's hate campaign against me came to light. Even my nieces and nephews, who do not know me at all, posted horrible untrue things about me on facebook! I finally had to delete my account, it was too painful, even blocking wasn't enough (long story).

    Nothing I know of HURTS SO BAD, as having the ones you love more than your own life, turned against you with lies. Lies that you have NO WAY OF DISPROVING.

    It was horrible enough that my mother would not/could not be a real mother to me, why did she have to go and ruin all of my family relationships? It seems to me that she did it as a deliberate pre-emptive strike, to discredit me in advance, just in case I might ever start telling the truth about the horrible things she did, when I was the only child old enough to be aware of what she was doing. I kept evil secrets for decades. But not any more, I'm not.

    Like Jessie said: "I kept thinking "well, if ALL these people have this opinion of me, then I must have that characteristic." "

    Me, too, for years I thought that I must truly be horrible and crazy and too horrible and crazy to know it - otherwise, why would so many people, in my own family yet, be against me? But it was HER, the lying NM, who poisoned everyone against me. I could never do that to one of my kids, no matter what they did wrong. No one is perfect - we all have the right to be imperfect human beings, and still be loved, respected, and treated with kindness and courtesy!


    1. Charity, I hurt for you! How awful that you felt pushed out of Facebook altogether by your extended family's hatefulness. I'm never sure how much responsibility to lay on the family members' shoulders. On the one hand, I know that my siblings are as sucked into my mother's insanity as I once was. I used to hear her say awful things about extended family members *and I believed them*. The thing is, I was still responsible for my own behavior. If I passed any of that hatred along, that was my choice. I'm glad it was pre-Facebook, and that my inner skeptic started asking, "Is this true? Is it kind?" before I was able to grow into a hateful adult. And you know? Some of those relatives really do have some annoying traits, but as you pointed out, we all have the right to be imperfect human beings, and to still be loved and respected.

  6. This is all so familiar, because it's my life, too. My N-m still complains about things I did when I was in grade school, and I'm - HELLO! - 59!! She has also poisoned my family's opinions of me since I was 14. And I was so compliant and eager to please, I would have loved to have a daughter like me.

    I believe PinkPearl is right: "I see all this labelling as a way to justify in their own minds their mistreatment of you. They *had to* do this or that because you were just so difficult. *They* are not responsible for any of it, *you* are. (Even though you may have been 6 at the time.)"

  7. So true about how they create images of you in their heads that are cruelly untrue, but nothing will ever make them see anything else, ever.

    The "khaki phase" story is uncanny! There was a period when I was in college -- oh, heck, it's still true today -- when I did happen to like to wear a certain two colors together, but I only had a total of two outfits like that: one winter one, and one summer one. And I didn't wear them as an everyday thing. However, when I was about to buy a new bathing suit, she gave me a brief (for her) speech about how I shouldn't get one in these two colors, because "that's all you ever wear. You're in a rut." And of course she just had to save me from such a crime. As has happened numerous times since I was a toddler, I knew it wouldn't do any good to explain the truth to her.


    1. Isn't it funny how they seem to think it's their DUTY to interfere and stop you from wearing that color? I mean, really, what would happen to you if you wore that color every day for the rest of your life? How does a person come to see this as intervention-worthy?

  8. My mother is a narc and would've taken it on both me and my older sister equally had it not been for my grandmother. I believe my grandmother would've wanted to save us both, but when I developed a paedatric illness in my infancy, she had to concentrate on saving my life, not just protect me from my mother's personality.
    My mother used this as leverage on my older sister, justifying that my grandmother only loves me, and neither of them.

    Consequently, my sister has been jealous of me my entire life and as we grew up my mother actively encouraged her to abuse me, so she didn't have to do it all herself.
    I do believe they drew great satisfaction out of the fact they could control my life, and hurt me.
    They have always spread terrible stories about me behind my back, and when they fall out with each other they seem to want to return to me- as if we have some great relationship.

    I do not participate in gossip in either of them, and am a very rational person, so they quickly get bored with me and get back together and exclude me from everything again.

    It is terrible that they paint a bad picture of me to the rest of my family. I can tell through my interactions with them that their responses are coloured, not on our shared past experiences, but on what the lastest perception of me from my narcs.

    I believe that this system of coping/communication in our extended family comes from this happening across many generations. They have all adapted to this dysfunctional. People are forever falling -in and out with each other, then manufacturing an alliance to get back at the person they are upset with. No relationship in the family remains authentic. And if you decide you don't want to have an alliance, there REALLY is something WRONG with you, like everybody always said!

    It is impossible to be in contact with people who refuse to acknowledge when they have hurt you, and spread their malignant tentacles out into the extended family.

    It really does feel like 'Survivor' everyday.

    I have been experimenting with different communication levels, but am convinced, since this disorder is dominant, that the only HEALTHY option is go NO CONTACT with my entire extended family.

    I will be having a rebirthday party at some point, reclaiming this annual event which was often twinged with hurt, manipulation and humiliation.

    I am strong and I am scared, but am convinced that ultimately I will have a much better life.

    1. "No relationship in the family remains authentic."

      Right there is the core problem with the narcissistic family. It's horribly alienating to know that nobody really and truly loves you for who you are, and not to be able to trust that the things they say to you are true and motivated by goodness.

      "It really does feel like 'Survivor' everyday."

      Huh. Yeah. Good analogy! And it reminds me of how I feel when some Survivor participant starts complaining about alliances and not being able to trust people, etc. Didn't they know it was part of the game? If you don't want to be in that situation, GET OUT OF THE GAME. You're exactly right that the only truly healthy option is to go no contact.

      Love the idea of a rebirthday party! Nov 1 is my personal Independence Day, and I'm hoping to do something to celebrate my 5th this year. :)

  9. I just found your blog and can't believe how much this story reminds me of my mom. She would talk about me to my ex-husband while we were still married because "you know how you are." And she "would never say anything to him that she wouldn't say to my face." Because that makes it better. My ex is just like her. Surprise right?