It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What happens when you send your N “The Letter”

When we begin to toy with the idea of going NC (No Contact) with our Ns, the first thing that comes to mind is wondering how to do it.

A good number of us want to write a letter with a litany of the N’s sins both as a justification for going NC and as a last-ditch plea for the N to realize just how much s/he has hurt us. This desire for the N to realize how much damage s/he has inflicted is rooted in an expectation that if the N just understood, s/he would feel remorse, apologize, and then change in such a way that a reconciliation and normal relationship could then ensue.

Few of us are attracted to the idea of writing the terse, legalistic letter that gives no reasons for the decision to go No Contact. We either project our feelings onto our N and feel guilty in advance for hurting them (we would be hurt by such a letter and want to know the reasons so we could fix it) or we want to explain ourselves, justify our decision. And more than a few of us hope our letter and decision to disconnect from our parent(s) will be that magic key that finally opens the door to our N’s heart.

So what happens when we send that letter, full of heartbreak and examples of insensitive cruelties both big and small? Does it work as a way to finally break down our Ns and make them realize that their behaviour has hurt us in the most profound way possible? Does it stir up feelings of remorse and a desire to soothe our hurts and make everything right? Does it spark that protective parent mode that sends them to our sides with sincere apologies and earnest amends and heartfelt promises to do better in the future?

In a word—No.

What you will get back will be more of what you have endured. If your N is the overtly cruel, verbally abusive type, you will get more verbal abuse; if your N is the pathetic martyr, guilt-inducing type, you will get more guilt-tripping. But you will get it in buckets.

You will probably get something back in writing, too…something that denies everything you said or excuses and justifies or rationalizes anything that they couldn’t deny. You will be gaslighted, you will be blamed, you will be discounted, denigrated, and possibly even called a liar. Every point you make in your letter that your N chooses to address will be treated as if you didn’t understand or your perception was intentionally faulty. You will be treated to a display of pathos and/or bombast, your N pathetically hurt by your accusations and/or furious and outraged at your temerity…how dare you accuse your N of doing anything but wanting the very best for you and anything s/he actually did was for your own well-being.

Your N may take a few days or even weeks to respond. This is calculated to make you anxious. When your N finally does respond, don’t be surprised if s/he informs you that a copy of her letter to you has been shared with the rest of the family…and don’t be surprised if yours has not been shared at all—or if it was shared, it was kept under wraps until the N had crafted a rebuttal to every point you thought you made, and that rebuttal was shared with your letter. Most of all, do not be surprised if your letter unleashes a flurry of contacts from family members you have had little contact with in the past, contacts that range from “counselling” you to make up with your mother to outright attacks on your character for treating your mother this way. Expect no sympathy and no support because your N is not going to share with anybody s/he does not expect full support from.

One thing we tend to forget is that, for the most part, these other family members have known your NParent longer than they have known you. Their relationships predate your existence. Their bonds were in place before you were born. They are invested in their relationship with your N, both in terms of family ties and in terms of being right or wrong: if they take you at your word and agree your NP is in the wrong, then they are going to have to re-evaluate their entire relationship with your NP and, if they agree to support you, they are going to have to admit they were wrong about your NP for all these years. Most people are simply not going to do that. Not only do they not want to admit they were wrong the N, depending on who the N is to them, they may have to acknowledge wrongdoing of their own.

You may think, for example, that your grandparents will have your back. They adore you, they indulge you, they have always seemed constant and unconditional in their love. But this NParent you are distancing yourself from…this is their own child! Do you think they will readily and easily believe a lot of negative accusations against their own child? Do you think they will turn against that child on your behalf? Or do you think they will defend their child? What if they perceive your “attack” their child as an attack on their parenting? Then where are you?

Unless your NM has a toxic relationship with her own family, guess who she is going to turn to for support? Do you think the loyalty your grandmother and aunt feel towards you is a stronger the loyalty they feel towards their own daughter and sister? Do you think the fact that she had hurt you and that you are the injured party will make a difference? It won’t because when they feel they are being forced to choose between you and your NM, it is very unlikely they will side with another relative (you) over a first degree relative like their own child or sibling.

I have read many reports of the aftermath of sending that heartfelt NC letter that contained a long list of the narcissist’s hurtful behaviours and words. I have never heard of a favourable reaction. Not once have I heard of a narcissistic mother suddenly finding her heart and feeling it squeezed with pain for her suffering child. What I have heard of…and experienced myself…it receiving a scathing letter in return, full of denial, gaslighting, twisting of the victim’s words, projection, accusations, and outright lies. I have heard of letters full of fauxpologies (“I am sorry you feel that way…”) and verbal attacks, accusations of wrongdoing on the part of the victim, and threats. I have heard of letters accusing the victim of being mentally incompetent, expressing sorrow and concern for the victim’s children (thinly-veiled threats about the victim’s competence to have custody of those children) and outright threats of ruining the victim’s name in the family and community, even in her workplace. I have heard of letters in which the NM pretends a breakdown because of the letter, in which she claims to have become emotionally overwrought and her health negatively affected by the cruelty of the victim’s letter. I have heard of letters in which the NM vows that she will never be shut out and letters in which the NM shuts the victim out. I have heard of virtually anything you can imagine short of promising murder…or making a sincere apology and heartfelt promise to do better.

And it gets even worse. By sending such a letter to your N, you have just handed over a blueprint of how to hurt you. Every example you give, every hurtful word you cite, is another piece of ammunition your N now possesses. S/he knows now that one approach didn’t hurt you but another struck gold. It allows them to fine tune their future assaults for maximum damage.

Why would they want to do that…to create maximum damage? Because their stream of Nsupply is in jeopardy if they don’t have a way to control you. It is about power…their power over you. It has nothing to do with love…their power to control you ensures they will continue to get what they want from you, which is Nsupply in whatever form your Ns want it.

Your letter will give them a lot of Nsupply. First of all, they get to feel hurt or outraged by what you have said. Then they get to share it with all and sundry. If they aren’t sure how your accusations will be received, they will craft the rebuttal first, then send both your letter and their rebuttal so that the recipients can see the error of your ways. They will receive an abundance of sympathy and support, see people outraged on their behalf, hear you disparaged as a cruel and unnatural child. The letter, without any further input, will provide them with plenty of drama, and once shared, the drama multiplies melodramatically. The only thing that sending such a letter absolutely guarantees is that your N will get months…even years…of Nsupply from it and it will not have the result you are after.

Such letters will be viewed as an attack. No amount of logic or proof will change that, no amount of witnesses and even third party documentation will change a mind that is preset against you. You will be accosted with people admonishing you that you should “honour your mother,” or telling you that you will be sorry when she is gone (mine’s been gone 18 years and I am not sorry yet), that you should be the “bigger person” and “take the high road” and “bury the hatchet.” They will try to guilt and shame you into putting yourself right back onto the narcissist’s rack, then walk away, blind and deaf to your cries of pain. Not a one of the people who advocate for your NP have your best interests at heart. Not one.

Writing such a letter than enumerates the N’s sins and identifies your own pain is a good, healthy thing to do. Allowing your N or any of her flying monkeys to see it…not a healthy thing to do. It will merely open up a can of chaos that you won’t be able to close for a long, long time. Keeping a journal and filling it with these letters both purges the toxic feelings from your psyche and provides you a record, written in your own words, for those inevitable times when you start second-guessing yourself. Was it really that bad? Am I blowing this out of proportion? What did she do that was so wrong? Reading those letters will remind you of the reality of being in contact with your N and it does not expose your vulnerabilities to people who will not respect your feelings.

I have been writing this blog for more than three years now and operating the Facebook group, which is very active (more than 200 members), for nine months. Not once, in all this time, in all the comments and correspondence, have I heard of someone getting a good result from sending the honest, heartfelt letter that listed the N’s transgressions. Not one time.

If you write and send such a letter be prepared for a shitstorm of retaliation.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

It’s not personal…and it never was…

Do you have trouble trusting people? Even trusting yourself? This is a common issue with the scapegoat children of narcissists. Have you ever wondered why that is? Well, for one thing, it is almost impossible to have an NParent and not be the victim of gaslighting…and one of the consequences of being gaslighted throughout your formative years is that “…gaslighting, when effective, will actually damage your trust in yourself and your experience of reality.”

When we acknowledge that we have been gaslighted, triangulated, hoovered, and otherwise manipulated by our Ns, when we look at the aftermath, like our difficulty in choosing emotionally healthy partners and friends, our inability to trust people…including ourselves…our constant state of feeling anxiety and/or guilt, it is difficult to believe we were not deliberately targeted and attacked. And yet, for most of us, this is actually the case: there was nothing truly personal in it.

Hard to accept? How many times have you asked yourself “why does she hate me?” or “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” How often have you searched your memory for something you might have said or done…or assumed something you said or did…that provoked her to dislike you, to not love you, to punish you. Because you assume it is your fault, you take on guilt, you feel like you are a bad person, even if you can’t figure out why. All of this is based on your assumption that her negative actions and/or attitudes against you are somehow justified and for them to be justified, you would have had to do or say something wrong, even if you don’t remember what that was.

Maybe, like many ACoNs, you have holes in your memory, periods of time that you cannot remember. When your N gaslights and accuses you of being mean to her or of having said or done something that upset her and you can’t recall ever having said or done it, it is natural to think you may have done it but can’t remember. “Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive.” This is a common way be begin to think we are crazy, because our memory of our experiences and reality do not match with what our NParents report.

When they call in the flying monkeys, it can get even worse. Flying monkeys accept the N’s version of things uncritically, so the next thing you know, your N has an army of supporters and you are but a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. “It’s hard to stand firm when one person is trying to replace your experience, but when they have a chorus of supporters, it is nearly impossible. There is a reason why cult abuse can lead to a complete breakdown of someone’s personality…Group manipulation and abuse is devastatingly effective.”

So how can this not be personal?

The first thing you have to realize is that Ns do not see other people the way we see them. We have a habit of ascribing to others our own feelings, beliefs, motivations and, in general, we will be roughly accurate as long as we are dealing with people of the same general culture and background. If we come from a culture in which mothers are expected to love their children and put them first, to take an interest in each of them individually and treat them as individuals, with love and respect, we will expect that of all mothers in our culture, including our own. We have expectations.

But narcissists are outliers. We base our expectations on our societal norms and our narcissistic parents do not meet those norms, even though some of them may attempt to appear to meet them. We expect our parents to care for us and put our needs ahead of their wants because that is what our society expects as well. And if they don’t, because the society assumes that they are fulfilling their ordained roles as parents, it is we who are suspected of causing the problem. We even suspect ourselves, wondering what we did, what we didn’t do, what is wrong with us, that our mothers and/or fathers do not love us in the way we expect. It is we who think it is personal.

For narcissists, I don’t think it is that complex. We are not people to narcissists in the way that we are people to others. We are objects. That can be difficult to wrap your head around. Think of it this way: if you have three empty trash receptacles in your kitchen, a pink one, a yellow one, and a silver one, which one do you throw the empty soup can into? It doesn’t matter, does it? What if they are different shapes? Say round, square, and rectangular openings. Still doesn’t matter, does it? Suppose they are different sizes: medium, large, and huge. You only have one can to throw away and all of the receptacles are empty…

So, what DOES matter? What criteria do you consider when you choose which one to throw the can into? The specific characteristics of each bin…its personality, if you will…is immaterial. All that matters is your need, and you are going to choose the nearest one to where you are standing with that empty can in your hand. It is all about you and your needs, and the looks, size, and shape of the bins are immaterial.

Over time, things may evolve. You may find yourself unconsciously sorting your refuse: tins into the pink one, plastic into the yellow one, paper into the silver one. You habituate this such that even if the position of the bins is swapped, you now will take three extra steps to put the tin in the pink bin because that is where the tins belong. Over time, the pink bin becomes the one for tins, not because of anything inherent in the bin or its position that makes it more suitable or deserving of the tins but because, in the beginning, it was the closest to you when you were throwing tins away and you habituated it. If the pink bin has a rubber liner, so that the goo from inside the tins doesn’t ooze out into the metal of the tin, or out through the mesh of the silver tin that you use for paper, and it has a lid that closes to keep the flies out, then you have even more reason to use it for the tins, don’t you?

I suspect the scapegoat child is chosen in much the same way. It is nothing personal against you, it is simply that 1) you are there at the time your N feels a need to lay blame on someone other than herself and 2) you are vulnerable to accepting this blame. If there was another child present at the same time who was more vulnerable than you, it is possible that child would be chosen. If you were not there at all, definitely another child would be chosen. It wasn’t you…the essential personhood of yourself, s/he who resides inside the body…who was chosen, it was the person nearest and most vulnerable to being responsive to the narcissist’s manipulations.

Over time I have noticed that first children, especially first girls, seem to be disproportionately singled out for scapegoat status. We are someone upon whom our NMs can dump their responsibilities. Culturally, girls are still the caretakers and the people who do the bulk of the domestic chores, so it is natural that narcissistic parents will task the first available person (the oldest child), and in particular the oldest girl, to take over responsibility. You are there…and you were there first. Sometimes, however, that first child is not malleable enough but a subsequent child is more easily manipulated or frightened into the role. The narcissist does not choose you based on who you are and what you might have said or done, the narcissist simply chooses the most available and most vulnerable, regardless of other factors like personality or actions.

Once you are identified as the scapegoat person, the choice needs to be rationalize or justified. In a normal environment, your actions are the justification for how you are treated: break curfew, get grounded, for example. With the narcissistic parent, the choice is made first, then the justifications for the choice are found. These can range from actual events (you did run out into the street after the ball and nearly get hit by a car), to real events twisted to have new meanings (you were trying to give the cat a bath, not drown him), to outright lies (you didn’t call your mother a bitch, even though you might have been thinking it). The reasons you are the one who gets dumped on can sound rational, like you didn’t finish your chores so you can’t go skating with your friends (even though your chores consist of doing her housework) and they can absolutely absurd (you ruined her life by being born, so now she is blaming you for her ruined figure and poor job prospects). But what they all have in common is this: it has nothing to do with you, personally. It has to do with her agenda, her perceptions, her refusal to take responsibility for herself and her life.

If you had not been born, if you had born at a different point in her life, if you had been born to another mother, this person would still have a scapegoat. It had nothing to do with YOU.

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