Saturday, January 31, 2009

Know Your Limits

December 5, 2011

Where to begin? After 20 years I went back to visit my mother, a year and a half after my father died. Within the last ten years, my parents couldn't find me.

Were my parents narcissists? I don't think so. But they were severely damaged people, thanks to a World War they endured as little more than children. Which means they suffered tremendous loss, displacement, and deprivation and had no adults to guide or mentor them. If there is a hell, they went through it. And they passed that unspeakable trauma onto me, secondarily.

As with most incidents of abuse, the target, the fantastical survivor, the carrier of the family's ills, is the scapegoat in the family, the black sheep. I used to kinda, sorta feel and think that way, vaguely, but without validation. And this used to puzzle me. Why do they and my sister dislike me so? I am not a killer, a thief, a liar, a manipulator, an abuser. There is no evil in me. So...why?! I'm a decent human being. So...why? They say they love me and yet they treat me like shit. They accept criminals, accept the skeezy, live with the crazy, yet I am persona non grata.

You would think that the answer would be easy and I would see it, but I was blinded by love and overriding loyalty. You would think that I would see that the disparity between what they said and what they did would raise a red flag for me. Yet, who wants to believe that professed love, especially by parents, absolutely calling up the primal compulsion of blood ties, could be called into question. Or assessed, dissected, viewed through a scientific glass darkly. After all, are they not gods to us?

In therapy I was shocked and appalled to learn that I was the subject of vital emotional neglect and verbal abuse. It was and is true. But it took me a couple of years to completely accept it. How does one wrap one's mind around a concept that, no, your life was not normal, that you did not have a normal family, that they were subtly and repeatedly undermining and abusive, and that yes, it did affect you terribly? But when I accepted it, I was finally released. I realised, for the first time, that I was not defective, that it, whatever it was, was not my fault. I understood why I was the way that I was. I realised it would take a lifetime to heal. I realised that that would be my job until I died. All because a couple of damaged people who couldn't help being damaged, with the best of intentions, inadvertently damaged me.

This is the difference between the character disordered, the narcissists, and damaged people- unlike diehard narcissists, etc., they had the best of heartfelt intentions. All around, it is tragic.

What does this mean in reality? Well, it means that when I visited my mother after 20 years, I realised that she hated me more than she loved me. I had always been alien to my parents. They were working class and I was extremely bright and self-aware, not a value they held dear. They didn't know what to do with me. I always went my own way, and they saw it as rebellion. What to me would be labelled integrity, they interpreted as selfishness and stubbornness. I never fit. I never fit into the class and I never fit into the dream. Where they succeeded at the American dream, I wanted a better life, which had nothing to do with achievements and monetary success. None of which is that bad, if you think about it. Until you factor in the abuse. My father had a Grade 6 education and my mother Grade 10. My granny who always lived with us had a Grade 1 education. I have a Masters. I was alien.

All my life I thought of my mother as beautiful. And brave. Before the feminist movement, she secured a loan from the bank and had her own business. I held onto this image of my mother all my life. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, with the most gorgeous singing voice. She had always been industrious, hard working, diligent, over responsible. So it was rather a shock to discover that this 83 year old woman, who lost her husband of 60 years a year and a half ago, was an abusive, manipulative, cold hearted bitch. I learned the hard way. The signs had always been there.

By the time I left this middle of nowhere town, I was a basket case.

My mother lacked empathy. She cared more about a dead guy than about her living children. Having lost all that seemed important to her, she revealed herself full blown: her motto seemed to be, "What have you done for me lately".To fill in the gaps, people might charitably say that she was so grieving her husband that she couldn't see straight. Dream on, suckers. It was all about her. She was scared and lonely and angry that after 60 soulmatey kind of years, he was taken from her. According to her, they had each other because they couldn't trust anyone else, not even their children. After all, I, in my absence, had abandoned them when my father got cancer. Even though that didn't happen until 10 years after neither of us had made an attempt to contact each other. Oh, cry me a river. The eternal drama.

What my mother wanted was something that I had in the past said many times that she wanted. Bring the body. Her version of 'family' was bringing the body. She hadn't changed. She threw money at me, knowing all along that after my divorce I am poor. She blandished me with heretofore alien endearments. She promised me the earth and then some. She promised me freedom. And when I visited her, I never rested, relaxed. I was her servant. Even when she made my bed, hung all my clothes in the closet, fed me 3 fabulous squares a day. I was at her beck and call, waiting on her, making conversation, listening to her endless diatribes and sorrow. Ye gods.

At a critical juncture, she said she needed me. And then she verbally abused me. Unwittingly humiliated me. Tried endlessly to control me. Raged at me. Professed her love for me. Was in turns pathetic and someone I wanted to murder. By the end of my stay, I felt destroyed. I was physically ill, emotionally terrified, mentally bent. Sick. On all levels, I was sick. She saw me shrivel and shrink over time and lose all vitality. No matter to her, really.

I love my mother. As my mother, this emotional 10 year old holds tremendous power over me. I was raised to honour my parents. If ever there was cognitive dissonance, this is it. All my life I was say you love me yet you treat me like shit.

So I had to make a decision. It helped that when I got home I suffered excruciatingly painful stress related illnesses for months. I felt destroyed. A huge wake up call. I already had written my father off after therapy, a man who had originally destroyed my sense of self and confidence. After he died I felt a sense of release. But my mother???? Not my mother. Anything but my beautiful mother.

False idols need to die so you can live. We can only see through childish eyes so long. Still, it's a struggle. Loyalty meant everything to me. To be disloyal? You don't think past that. It is grave, egregious. And so I struggled within myself, knowing that my mother was someone I didn't know, a perfect stranger. That is shocking, in and of itself. And she was the walking dead, with no interest in others that did not serve her interests. I dreaded a phone call from her which would take hours. Now it was worse because she had said and done unforgivable things, things that showed me that I was a utility to her, and hated more than loved, and how could I reconcile that? I felt repulsed by her. I cried for her. It was tragic.

It was a critical turning point. To make a decision. Should I stay or should I go? It gets that naked, that bald faced. You think you can outrun it but you can't. You have to face the question. Here is this little, feeble, old, scared and hollow woman begging for your life, and here is the powerful, almighty, pitiless tyrant demanding your life. Who is the real one? To whom do you answer?

After weeks of struggle and concomitant sickness, here was my answer. I was dismayed to discover that I was more mature than my mother. The fact is, she is still a 10 year old. A false god. Being my mother gives her a power that she does not deserve. So, for the sake of myself I cut off all contact with her.

I wrote her a letter, knowing full well that she would blame me and think that I blame my life on her. There is no reasoning with the likes of her. This is important to know. I had read Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward. It was tremendously helpful to me, because it shockingly validated all the behaviour I had encountered; I found myself underlining most of the book, identifying the abusive behaviours and recognising the power my family still had over me, especially the loyalty issue, although it was far less after these many years.

I wrote my mother 14 pages by hand, telling her for the very first time in my life what it was like for me growing up in that family- what they did, how I experienced it, how I felt, how it affected me, how it affected all of my life. It was good. It was not to blame nor in the hoping for a response (which never came anyway), or the worry about how she would twist it, but in the telling, in the standing up for myself. That was all that mattered. To be able to tell. Finally.

To get to the point of sending the letter...I was terrified that it would kill her. Such is the stranglehold of family. Even when it is deathly to you. Such terror. But I did send it. Afterwards, I anguished endlessly over my decision, about whether I did the right thing. I finally realised that she had her path and I had mine, and I had done all I could within my limited power without her killing me. I feel released. Still, it never gets better, when I think about it.

Within family, I find, there is an overwhelming power- emotional power. More so, there is primal power, the blood power that seems to override all other considerations. It is supported, aided and abetted by family myths and values, by an unrestrained imperative- loyalty. It is daunting to challenge.

So, there is a point to this story. And the point is, know your limits. It is very humbling to discover one day that you cannot take it anymore. That you're not an endless vessel of love and understanding. That in a crunch all that matters is your own survival. Blood ties be damned. That the universal attitude towards family may have a chink.

You learn you are not all understanding, all encompassing with love, all empathetic, etc., etc. Sometimes, you just want life and to survive. Sometimes you just don't get it. Sometimes it just doesn't work for you. And maybe it is a failing within you. Maybe there is something lacking within you. Maybe you've reached some limit within yourself, and you can't grasp more. Even though the entire world tells you differently. And it's okay. You act upon it.

And then the challenge is to accept it and to live with it. There are no happy endings.

~ © InvictaMA 2011-2013


Anonymous said...


Christine said...

Thank you.

It was as though you were also telling my story at some points.

"And she was the walking dead, with no interest in others that did not serve her interests"

Anonymous said...

It still amazes me that there are others out there like me. Similiar stories. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...


I read your posts for awhile and you are the first person who dare publish these kind of familial problems with this precision and assertivity. thank's a lot for that.

one year ago I had discovred the vaknin's websites, thank's also for your battle against this pervert activism.

I'm in a variant of same problem, my two parents are malignant perverts, I'm 40 years old, and I have no means to espcape from their house.
I have no life and a sister in the same case.

I apreciate your rules about this sort of nightmare, really.

no friends, no benevolant family, no job. it's a marathon, for sure, lot of consellors affirm that we must go away, cut all links with these malignants peoples, theorically, it's certain, but as aristotle said, there is science, only for the general. when your persecutors are your parents "mum" and "dad", they will destroy your personnality, your conscience, invaide, your schedule, your room, use of paradoxal speech, use all sort of astuces on the non-verbal level of communication. manipulate context, and change of personnality if necessary to pertain their role. and also all of taht since your birth and before.
lot of people can't imagine the large panel of possibilities to foolish their prey.

actually I doubt about possibility of vanquishing, because i'm alone. it's so difficult to think righteously in this bad context. Calumnies, suggestioning techniques are so common around me.

I had consult recently a psychiatrist, but without any success, first, because I'm not ill, and second, because he have a great turn over of patients. fixing eyes, paternalistic speech and social categorisation (he spoke to me linked to my clothes ) same techniques of my relatives ! frightening.

All psychiatrists make this adds to the waky views of scientologists about psychiatry ?

seriously, continue to level up the debate, if you can make it.

You have said somewhere that you have reinforce your religious practice, as myself, I'm roman catholic, I had past my happy newyear day to listen gregorian songs, read the gospels, the bible, and imitatio christi, and thus pray.
I think in suffering we have no choice we found the Really Friend, knowing this name or not, or we become maverick.
It's not an illusion, it's necessity. We are made for love, transcendantal love (supernatural Charity, in my view it's God, three times personal, person implies society of persons), I'm skeptick about scientific expanations of this awfull problem, if they can't integrate a positive conception of attachment, sharing of benevolent actions for the unique motive of the being, and well being, of someone (a person), they consider us as animals, human morality is not simple social (and arbitrial) behaviours. We must consider we are not simple " complex adaptatives intelligent systems" as said Murray Gell-Mann. malignant pervert conceive themselves as that, I mean.

what ever you think about it, I pray for you and your suffering readers.

Merci pour votre travail.


Redfizz said...

This is such a wonderful post. You put issues into a perspective that I have never considered. Having a narcissistic mother skews everything I think about myself and the world. But I am finally getting help, and your post is like supplementary reading.
Thank you!

Invicta said...

Barbara said....

Thanks so much for sharing your story. When I was a teenager, my parents threatened to put me in a mental institution. They were bullies, in my own home. Sometimes, looking back, I wonder if my father had narcissistic personality disorder. Hearing your story makes me feel like I'm not alone. So thank you so much.

Lil Pixie said...

I dont know if u have an email, but i so want to ask questions about what u said. I think my mom is an N, but i'm not sure. I dated an N and until my therapist told me thats what he was, i never thot my mom was. Then when she told me it was like BAM maybe i couldnt see that he was like that cuz my mom acts the same way too! I dont like to share my private stories, but sometimes i cant even when i want to. its hard to talk about it.

dragonfly said...

Oh my goodness Invicta, I feel your pain, and you are definitely not alone. I am so sorry your mother was, and is not, a mother. I have the same situation, exactly. Being a mother myself has shown me how important having a mother is, and because of that I can forgive myself for how sad and alone I feel sometimes, and how I felt as a child, facing life without one. I did WELL growing up without one, no matter the times I sat alone in a corner of the playground and hugged my own knees. I could not compare to the social butterflies whose parents cared for them. I feel your pain and thank you for your work, you helped me last time I looked here, and I have since gone NC with my own parents. You are not alone.

Bess said...

Thanks for that awesome post!

Anonymous said...

This was a great post and I can relate perfectly to much of it as my mother is like yours. She's also a widow and it's only just now come to my attention that she's a narcissist. It explains so much of what I went through as the scapegoat child and how cold and selfish she is now while putting on a show of taking care of others.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know I am not alone.

Anonymous said...

There's not a failing within you or something lacking within you, the universe is trying to get you to set boundaries, listen to your gut, look to yourself for validation and love yourself more and it looks like you suceeded :)

two way mirror said...


I am so glad I found your blog.

Your description of your life with your parents..., the 20 year absence of contanct and the attempt to reignite after your dad's death only to face the reality of your mother's insanity, fits my parents to a T.

Thank you for posting this. It makes me feel less alone.

Yes, the fact that a person is a parent or someone's MOTHER does often give them a status they do not automatically deserve.

The title of mother or father should need to be earned not bestowed.

Sadly with holidays like mother's day and father's day it seems to be a title automatically bestowed by society.

It seems society dictates that children should automatically honor parents no matter what they do or who they are.

In the end, after an attempt to reignite with my mother after my father's death, I too decided to permanently cut all contact.

My mother like my father was just too damaged, and she was bottomless pit of unrealistic needs and wants.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a Narcissist to me. I had and am having a hard time with my own mother, because of that "she did the best she could". My mother hates me as well, but I find it confusing to see all the parts of her so I can discern for myself. I think the largest reason I lived with this woman, and never knew her, is because she had something to hide. I gave my mother one last "chance" and decided to email her. I put myself totally out there and told her I cared for her. It was terrible what follow (the blame shifting and shaming), but I had an email from this woman that I could see her true self. Finally making this woman have words for all the silence she left me with. When I decided to go no contact with her, she was terminally ill with cancer. But the truth is, I just wanted to be done. I too had to realize that she had made a lifetime of decisions, and I was only responsible for mine. I am fortunate in that when I left my mother had a recent husband. The misery I suffered from her being alone for so many years pulled at me constantly. I know how hard that can be. One of the largest reasons I could leave was because she wasn't alone anymore. But--your mother does sound like a narcissist to me. Just a covert one.

Linda Girouard said...

I am new to this or any forum or support pages. I'm 6 months separated from my husband of 13 yrs and father of myour 8 yrs old daughter and 11yr old son. I feel like this just started like in 6 months not one ounce of progress was made. He made a sex tape of him and another woman and I found it. I told him to get help go to therapy and maybe we cud work things out. He does not think he needs it he's willing to go but just to get home. Neither one of my kids want him home. They're sick of him sitting in bed not talking to anyone every time he's home he is miserable. The walking on eggshells constant silent treatment sometimes 4to6 weeks. I am going to get a divorce but he controls the money so I'm stuck litterally with no gas. Any tips on where I cud get some guidance

Anonymous said...

I would say that you were the victim of narcissistic abuse, which can only stem from a narcissist. The hallmark of narcissism (or NPD) is not so much about the number of traits present (although there has to be at least five), but their all enduring nature and presence of those traits too. The visibility and recognition of these traits in a person never ebbs and flows as it might with someone who displays five or more of these traits periodically - when they come and go and you finally conclude they can be a right 'arsehole' at times, and nasty with it. With non-narcissists who display awful narcissistic type behavour they can be reasoned with and the 'prodigal' door is left open and an apology might also come when they realise how terrible they have been. With narcissists that is never the case. Narcissists are utterly predictable - they were, they are and they always will be awful people, they will never apologise and never even admit there is anything wrong with them.