from the blogosphere

I am not as active a reading-and-commenting member of the ACON blogosphere as I might be. I post in spurts, when there's something I need to process in writing. I read in briefer spurts, having found in the past that reading a lot about narcissistic parents can end up causing me to dwell excessively on my mother, rather than living my own life. Does that happen to anybody else out there?

Right now, though, I'm feeling contemplative about my own family, desirous of connection with other ACONs who *get it*, and also emotionally secure enough to be able to take a dip in those waters without drowning.

A few things I've found that I think are worth sharing:
  • Violet's post about stirring the pot and provoking drama on The Narcissist's Child. Wise, wise, wise words. Tread very thoughtfully and carefully when deciding to confront a malignant narcissist, and ask yourself: what is this likely to accomplish? What am I hoping to get out of it? In a nutshell: "If your NM is the rageaholic type, you aren’t going to accomplish anything good by rubbing her nose in her messes. In fact, taking any kind of overt action calculated to make her responsible for herself and her behaviour, anything you say or do designed to pry her away from her fantasies, rewritten histories, and sense of entitlement, will be met with resistance and, depending on her personality, could result in anything from a screaming match in which you are characterized as a liar who is picking on her to a full out assault that includes character assassination to not only the family, but to friends, lovers/spouses, in-laws, employers, and even the authorities."  Truer words were never written.
  • Roots to Blossom's recent post about dealing with anger when you are the parent, Mommies Get Angry, Too. ACONs like us have to do a lot of healing and re-learning in order to raise emotionally healthy children.
  • If you've been doubting your sanity and thinking that maybe your Nparents aren't really that bad, here's a refresher course from Sanctuary for the Abused on red flags that indicate someone is an abuser (or their victim).
  • There's always something a little bit satisfying in knowing that other people have received crazy letter from their crazy mothers, too. Here's one, read by the daughter to whom it was sent: Letter from My Narcissistic Mother

various and sundry family things

  • I have a friend whom I met through SIL#1, although neither of us is currently friendly with SIL. Was chatting with the friend last night and she reminded me about how SIL dumped her (the friend) several times for stupid reasons that basically boiled down to the friend not meeting SIL's total approval for coolness and doing things just how SIL does them. Good reminder to me that when it comes to Bro#1 and SIL#1, it's not me, it's them. I mean, she "took a break" from the friend because she didn't like her house. You know, when somebody invites you to visit their new home and you don't love that house, the nice thing to say is "Congratulations! How do you like it? What's your favorite part? Give me a tour!"
  • On the less-nice side, I met yet another person who already knows Bro#1 and wanted to gush to me about what a great guy he is. Ugh. Sometimes my city is too small for me. Yes, he's oh so talented and great with kids and yada yada. He's also an ass who can't separate from his abusive mommy. Can we stop talking about him, please?
  • Something I recently learned about my brothers: apparently when my two youngest brothers were in high school, the younger brother (Bro#3) was starting to learn how to shave and my mother videotaped him, then teased the older one (my middle brother, Bro#2) about not being able to shave yet. What kind of a parent does that? I mean, way to emasculate your son, lady. Teenaged boys have enough emotional garbage without their mothers pointing out that their little brothers are manlier than they are. I cannot imagine making fun of one of my sons this way, especially not about something that he's probably sensitive about to begin with. How cruel. 
  • Got a Christmas card from my parents. Years ago, I would have returned to sender. Then I would have had my husband open it. Then later I would have just recycled it myself. This time I decided to open it. I can handle it. "We miss you and we love you." Oh, so pathetic. If you miss me and love me so much, where's your attempt to truly heal the rift? It stinks that they hurt, that they caused their own hurt, and that they are so totally clueless about it. 
  • Speaking of clueless estranged parents, my husband's brother has been on the outs with my in-laws for about a year and a half, ever since they were total jerks to his girlfriend when she and he were visiting. They're pretty passive-aggressive and judgmental and at some point in my relationship with them I had to stand up to them about it, and ultimately they chilled out a bit and now my husband maintains the boundaries well enough that we don't have major problems. But they had been dicks about this girlfriend since the beginning, and they treated her really poorly, and BIL had had enough of it, and has had very very little contact with them since. The in-laws, of course, don't understand at all and place blame on him, the whole typical dysfunctional parent song and dance. Well, he called them on Christmas and talked to them briefly, after which FIL went on and on about how he wishes he were there to help BIL, that it's so hard when your child lives too far away for you to help them when they're in a time of trouble. Turns out he thinks BIL is depressed. Because, you know, when a kid decides not to spend time with his parents, it's because he has emotional problems, not because the parents are being assholes. *sigh*
  • I have a big huge extended family on my mom's side and there's an annual party for my grandmother which I haven't attended in years because I'm a) not close enough to that grandmother to want to drive across several states and pay for lodging for this party, b) not close to any of my cousins who would be there, c) my mother would be there (yuck), and d) the aunt who hosts the party is the "bury the hatchet" aunt. I'm not really into attending things hosted by people who are emotionally unsafe people for me to be around. Spending time with flying monkeys? No thanks. But anyway, another aunt (my mom's youngest sister, who is a bit of a black sheep herself) apparently told my sister to pass on to me that she misses me and wants me to know that she thinks my mom is a bitch and she totally gets where I'm coming from, and that I should feel free to call her any time. I have been wanting to talk to this aunt so much, y'all. I suspected that she might feel this way, but at the same time, I'm leery of talking to people who are probably more loyal to my mom than to me. So it was really good to hear this message from her. It means a lot to me. 

the more, the merrier? not for the narcissist

I'm getting reminders left and right regarding how messed-up my family is. There was apparently some minor family drama regarding the holiday get-together that my siblings and parents have every year. The tradition in our family is that on even-numbered years, the kids (my sibs, and me until I opted out) and their families visit my parents on Christmas day and have the usual gift exchange and Christmas dinner. On odd-numbered years, the significant others' families get precedence on the 25th and some other weekend is chosen for the family gathering. You are expected to appear for sure on the even years and few things are considered a decent excuse for not appearing on the agreed-upon weekend (i.e., the one my mom has designated) on odd years.

This year, my sister is in a new relationship. She mentioned bringing her new significant other (sis would be spending the 25th with the SO's extended family) and apparently my mom got really quiet and weird. My mother is never quiet. She rules all things, loudly and firmly. So when she's quiet, it means you have successfully thrown her and she's scrambling to regain control of the situation. In this case, she pointed out to my sister that the family doesn't really know the SO. My sister pointed out that this is a good chance to start. Mom countered that this really is a family-only event, and they left it at that. Sis fumed and considered not attending at all (she ultimately decided to go and said that she was going because she needed to have a face-to-face confrontation with la madre about it).

While this is not the most egregious narcissist behavior in the whole world, it's pretty typical for my mom. She is really strange about meeting her kids' friends and significant others. I recalled the time, almost 20 years ago now, when she met my husband, who was then my boyfriend of a mere few weeks. She was picking me up from college and there was really no reason for him not to hang around and meet my mom and say hi. I mean, nice people do that, right? It wasn't like we wanted him to meet her because we were planning to elope or anything. Anyway, he was around, he met her, we chatted for maybe 5 minutes, and then I left with my mom. No big deal, right? Wrong. My mom went on and on about how strange that was, as if there were something wrong with him or with me for the introduction. Later, when we had been dating for years, she was odd about holidays. I wasn't allowed by my mother to spend a holiday with his family until we were engaged (I was still in college and financially dependent upon my parents, and she exerted quite a bit of control). He didn't spend Christmas with my family until after we were married, at which point I guess he was officially "in" enough to be allowed.

When I was a kid, we never just brought a friend home for dinner. In college, we never brought friends home for a school break or a weekend. Other families do these things. Other parents are excited to meet somebody who is important to their kid and welcome them into their home. My husband's family, who has their own dysfunction for sure, is always happy to set another place at the table. Thinking about my kids, I always try to say yet to friends coming over to hang out or spend the night (barring things like previous plans that can't be rearranged, or overnights on school nights). I try to be flexible. I can make dinner stretch farther. I can find a place for somebody to sleep. Someday there may be girlfriends or boyfriends coming home with my kids. Why would I ever, ever turn them away? How would that be good for my relationship with my child, my child's relationship with their friend or loved one, my relationship with the other person?

It occurred to me while talking to my sister that maybe for my mom, it's not really about keeping family gatherings private and family-only. Maybe she's actually uncomfortable around new people? A person should be able to relax and feel comfortable and not have to be "on" in her own home, I can totally see that. But then, if that's the case, why not just say, "you know, meeting somebody new makes me feel a little on edged and stressed-out; can I meet him/her before then?" or "It would be really nice to get to meet them when it's just you and him/her, not the whole chaotic family group, can we get together next weekend?"

I mean, so many ways that my mom could meet her own needs (whatever they are) while still being kind to her kids and inclusive of the significant others. Excluding people without a really good reason only builds ill will. Why would you ever do that? Narcs shoot themselves in the feet and screw up their own good time while alienating their kids.

(Is it awful that I'm kindof hoping that my mom is on bad behavior when my sis confronts her? No word yet on how that went.)

oh, brother

It's on a mousepad! It HAS to be true!!

So, first, something good: on Saturday, I received a text out of the blue from brother #2. He sent a picture of something funny he saw in a store, knowing that I would enjoy it in the same snarky vein that he did. It led to a long text discussion back and forth, and tentative plans for a visit. It felt especially good following the despair I was feeling on Friday regarding him and brother #1.

Now, the not so good: brother #1 was indeed at the party at the mutual friend's house, and I have a definitive answer to the "is he not speaking to me, or does he think that I'm not speaking to him?" question.

He totally blew me off. Totally. Like I didn't exist.

I knew things wouldn't be good when the first person I saw when we pulled up was SIL, and after she returned my wave, she walked off with a friend of hers, literally turning her back on my family, rather than wait less than a minute to say hi to us. If I had been in her shoes, I absolutely would have waited. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I'm having trouble thinking of a good reason for her choice. Once in our friends' yard, I heard my brother greet my oldest son, but absolutely no acknowledgement of me or my husband. Whatever. I tried to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he thinks I'm not speaking to him and he's not sure what to say. Maybe he is too busy talking to the guy beside him and doesn't see me.

At some point, I awkwardly tried to join my SIL and her friend in their conversation. She was cordial. No, civil. Cordial sounds like smiling would be involved. She was not warm. I last saw her in August, when she and I and our kids got together at a park; she was cordial but not friendly then, I'd say. I badly wanted to ask her about my brother at the park that day, but didn't. We have established in the past that we don't talk about the family drama.

Back to Saturday's party. A friend of mine arrived (huzzah!) and joined our conversation, and then we went inside to get some food, at which time SIL and her friend broke off quickly from me and my friend, and we didn't hang out any more for the rest of the evening.

Meanwhile, my brother was still not registering my presence. I had been thinking over the past day or so about how to say hello to somebody who you strongly suspect is not speaking to you. Especially when he's your brother. I mean, it would be rude to just come out with "are you purposefully ignoring me?" in a party situation. Real buzzkill for other guests. But you can't introduce yourself to your own brother, and at this point we had both been there long enough that it was too late for the "hey, good to see you!" thing you can do upon arrival. So when he passed by me, making zero eye contact (it was like I was a piece of furniture), I gave him a sisterly fist bump to the shoulder and said "hey!" in a cheerful voice.

Nothing. No reaction. at. all. My friend asked who that guy was. My brother. She was a little shocked by what she later called "the snub."

My husband later cornered my brother - literally, waited until he was in a spot in the kitchen that was surrounded on three sides and took up a position on the 4th side, so my brother was trapped into conversation with my husband. My brother avoided eye contact. Tried to pull other people into conversation - those people are apparently not close enough to Bro#1 to save him from somebody he doesn't want to talk to, and they avoided joining the obviously awkward exchange. So Bro#1 was kindof forced to make small talk with my husband, who eventually, when the kitchen emptied out, asked him point-blank if he's not speaking to me. My brother confirmed that he is not, because, as he put it, he is "just fucking DONE."

You're DONE? Fuck you. And the high horse you rode in on. But at least now I have confirmation of what I suspected was going on, and can rest assured that there is no miscommunication here. It's possible that he thinks I'm not speaking to him, but I think my lame attempt to engage him should prove that incorrect.

He avoided us like the plague after that. We left not terribly long afterward. When I hugged the hostess later, while saying my goodbyes, SIL was next to her and I said goodbye and felt weird - I mean, normal people would hug their SIL goodbye, right? So I asked, "can I hug you?" and she said "of course" (ha, there is no "of course" with her) and I hugged her and told her that I miss them.

The end.

This led to some processing, of course, during which I had some moments of clarity and also some moments of added angst. It is important to note that I felt about 70-80% fine during the party, even after being openly snubbed. I enjoyed the gathering. I met new people, had happy conversations...and for an introvert who was being actively shunned right that moment by her brother, that is HUGE. Those numbers are totally scientifically derived, by the way.

The Clarity
  • I am SO grateful for people in my life like my friend, with whom I had a tête–à–tête after my husband's intelligence mission. She acted as a compassionate witness, assuring me that what I experienced was indeed a blatant snub, and also reassuring me that no, not everybody has huge happy family fun times at Christmas. She reminded me of some of her family dysfunction and essentially made me feel less alone in the world. Everybody should have friends like this, who know how to make you feel like a normal human being instead of like a broken lonely freak. 
  • I am also grateful for Brother #2, who knows me well enough to share something with me that we will both find funny, who doesn't agree with my choosing NC with my mom but who still wants a relationship with me, and who, apparently, is not totally embroiled in the "Claire is a Bitch" psychodrama.
  • I can now go forward with the knowledge that Brother #1 does indeed hold a grudge. It's not my imagination, it's not crossed wires. 
  • I need to do some emotional work on how I have previously viewed my relationship with Brother #1. I was closest to him growing up, in part because we are very close in age and had the most experiences in common. He and his wife can both be judgey sometimes (she alienated a mutual friend in not-too-distant history by telling the friend that her house is essentially a temple to consumerism), which put strain on our relationship when our lifestyles were not extremely in sync. When we were all childless and vegetarian, we were friends. When we had kids and they didn't, they got judgey and distant. When they started having kids, it was initially awesome because we make a lot of the same parenting choices, but then it got bad again, in part because I had the audacity to buy a minivan, which, in SIL's words, "represents everything wrong with America".  If I'm honest with myself, the best time in our friendship was when I was 17 and he was 15. That's more than 20 years ago. 
  • I need to put more effort into my relationship with Brother #2. He is a laid-back guy who hates the family conflict stuff, so he is not likely to be the one to maintain our relationship. I have been slack because I was tired of people blaming me and felt like, you know what, if they want to talk to me, let them come to me. Time for me to put more energy into it.
  • I'm also having more clarity about what exactly makes a good sibling relationship, and which of my siblings I really enjoy, and why. Ultimately, in order to be friends as well as siblings, we have to have interests in common, compatible personalities, and be willing to talk to each other without namecalling and blaming. It's no coincidence that the two siblings who share my sense of humor and who have a less black-and-white view of the world than Bro#1 are the two to whom I feel closest.

The Angst is a whole 'nother post, I think. But the nutshell version is:

  • Do I contact him to try to mend fences? If I do that, am I disrespecting his desire to go NC the way my mom disrespects mine? Would it be ok if the communication was non-shaming and non-blaming and showed a willingness on my part to take responsibility for my actions? But how do I do that when I really don't regret my actions? 
  • And...the kicker...isn't that pretty much the same situation as I have with my mom? Being treated by him the way that I treat my mom makes me wonder about how those two situations compare and whether or not my decision to NC is an appropriate one. My husband says yes. My gut says "oh please don't go back to her". But is it hypocritical for me to cut somebody out of my life and then think somebody else is wrong for cutting me out of theirs? More on this later. 

A few good things came of this. I texted Brother#2 back to thank him for our earlier conversation. I told him the things that I enjoy about him. We chatted very very briefly about the family situation. Later, I thanked my friend for being in my life and told her that I love her. I don't say that to friends often enough. And I also thanked my husband for what he did at the party. It was unasked-for and while it was a little aggressive on his part and I wouldn't exactly call it a nice thing to do, it was helpful. (And my brother can suck it if he didn't like it.)

Our city is having a very warm Christmas, and I've been practicing the mental task of focusing on the good in things rather than focusing on what I wish were happening instead. I wish that we had cold weather, because it's nice for fireside cocoa and feels Christmassy and cozy. But I am focusing instead on how nice it is to go out without a jacket in December. How awesome it was yesterday to open up the doors between my kitchen and back porch and breathe in the fresh, spring-like air while I baked. How my friends from warmer climates are feeling happy and enjoying outdoor meals. I'm going to do the same with my social networks: celebrate what is right rather than mourn what is wrong. There's nothing wrong with mourning, but right at this time, seeking out the bright spots and appreciating them is important. So I'm going to do a lot of that. I'll still write about my brother angst, but I'm keeping light alive inside of me and focusing on the people I love.

the holiday vacuum...and avoiding getting sucked in

Some years aren't so bad. Some are great, even. But this year, I'm feeling the loss of my family.

Yeah, I know, you can't lose what you didn't really have, and we were never one big happy family, even if we liked to think we were, but in my head we were, and I miss that feeling. And at the very least, there was never a lack of people. Family = more people to go Christmas shopping for, to share traditions with, to have big gatherings with. I like all of that stuff. I like the planning and the feelings of anticipation and the gathering. And now I don't have people to do it with.

Holidays can bum me out because my friends are all hanging out with their families. Their big, smiling, families. They have plane flights and long car rides to other states or grandmas coming to stay in their guest rooms. They have cousins baking cookies together and photos with four generations on one couch. I know that many of those smiley happy tableaux are masks for the dysfunction underneath, I know. But some of those families really are functional and loving and happy. They really are kind to each other and happy, truly happy, to be together. And I wish I had that. I hate being an orphan at Christmas.

This month, it has been 2 years since I last saw my oldest brother. I will probably see him at a mutual friend's house tomorrow, and that is freaking me out a little bit. I am feeling so, so sad for my kids that they barely know his children, and almost never see them. My kids know their other cousins, my second brother's kids, so little that they wouldn't even know their names if you were to ask them. My kids don't really have a grip on who their aunts and uncles are. I don't think it bothers them, this is their normal, but it bothers me. I'm feeling sad and angry about my brothers being more loyal to my mother than they are to me. It didn't have to be this way. We could have been closer, might enjoy each other more. But when I stood up to my mother and ultimately decided that being near her was unhealthy, I lost my brothers. Collateral damage.

I still have my husband and our awesome kids and the traditions that we have forged together. But it just feels so impoverished to me, so anemic. So isolated.

We also have my in-laws, who live in our city now. In general we have a good relationship, although they've been annoying me a bit lately. Nothing huge. Just imperfect human stuff. I don't particularly want to share Christmas with yeah, I'm whining about not having family, then whining about not wanting to hang with the family I have.

So, anyway, to sum up: I'm feeling depressed and lonely. So I'm blogging after another long break, and googling looking for things to perk me up or people sharing their own similar stories, because solidarity helps so, so much. And now, a few links to holiday-estrangement-type stuff - mine and other people's.

  • So good to remind myself that two years ago, I was feeling down and lonely and then had a totally lovely Christmas day. (Also worth noting that the ornament mentioned in the down & lonely link is on the side of my tree this year, not the back. Progress!)
  • Also so good to remind myself that the holidays of yore were not all that great. Oh, ghosts of Christmas past, thank you. 
  • From E-stranged: "Family estrangement does not shrink your heart. If anything, it touches it with deeper awareness about the essential, universal, human need for connection and belonging." Dig into the holidays/events archive. 

Ok, I really need to get some sleep so that I can tap into more zen and less loneliness tomorrow. I hope that life is treating my fellow estranged ACONs well. Happy holidays, y'all.