Category Archives: Family Dysfunction

Secrets in Big Sky Country Review

FINAL SBSC front cover 44-17-15jpgIt was a great honour to be one of the first to read Mandy Smith’s new book, “Secrets in Big Sky Country.” I’ve looked forward to the release date and the opportunity to share this tragic and courageous memoir, which I highly recommend.

Mandy and Cliff’s childhood changed long before they understood the consequences of their mother’s decisions to divorce their father and then embark on a relationship with his brother. This would affect the siblings for the rest of their lives, but it was never about the children, only the narcissistic mother’s needs were important.

From the age of three years old, Mandy came to know her uncle as daddy, who quickly replaced the attention that was severely lacking from her self-absorbed mother. Mandy was his special little girl, but while her innocence soaked up his apparent attentiveness, he had other depraved ideas of his own. His manipulative grooming techniques and subsequent abuse roamed freely through childhood and into her teens, but Mandy’s most heart breaking experience was yet to come.

I’ve read a few memoirs about abuse in childhood, but Mandy presents a very different story, which is not too graphic or difficult to read. Without a doubt, she is an amazing storyteller of the facts and her book is a real page-turner. Mandy’s ability to dust herself down repeatedly and then move forward in the face of so much adversity is truly inspirational.

Whether you are a survivor looking for validation and healing, or a professional seeking a better understanding of child abuse, Mandy’s book will take you on that journey and stay with you for a very long time to come.

The book is now available on Amazon here and includes a wonderful review by Brad Hutchinson Executive Director of The Gatehouse

This is Mandy’s blog, ‘Healing beyond Survival.’

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No Contact with the Narcissist… “But, she’s your mother.”

We were born into a culture of idolising our mothers. People expect us to sit themthYS3WK643 gracefully on a pedestal, regardless of what they did, or who they became. When a mother and child’s relationship breaks down, there seems to be a predisposition to place the blame on the offspring.

I appreciate how difficult it is for those from functional backgrounds to understand how I could cut my mother off in the first place. People imagine the scenario to be fraught with a wide spectrum of grief. Their lips utter the words without thinking, “But, she’s your mother.”

As soon as people realise my experience is not as they imagine, they view my attitude with a mixture of suspicion and sympathy, their eyes say it all, ‘Awe, poor man… surely he must feel loss’. Many of them say, “But, she’s your mother.”

“Why don’t you try something different,” one woman suggested at last week’s group. I guess my course of action must be playing on her mind because we hadn’t discussed my mother for several weeks. “Write to your mum and tell her how you feel.” She continued, “You might never hear from her again, but at least you tried… what else can you do?” She shrugged, “she’s your mother.”

When I admitted to everyone in the group that the only worry on my mind is regarding what to do if a family members dies, heads nodded enthusiastically, each assuming the devastation and guilt.

It’s not the first time I’ve listened to how I ought to be reacting and it will not be the last when I go in search of those elusive feelings of loss, guilt, or any prospect of reconciliation. I’ve asked many times, where is my sense of loss?

The no contact rule with my narcissistic mother has come as a last resort. The sole intention is to free up enough headspace to address the issues that affect me today. I tried to live harmoniously alongside mum for many years. The first and most important aim was always to please her first, until I eventually realised this was unlikely to ever be successful.

I next moved towards the healthy distance option, while attempting to rise above the manipulation and covert abuse. This only riled mum’s frustration to control and she would only try harder to tear down any boundaries that stood in her way. We would run through her familiar spectrum of volatile moods, and ultimately, the silent treatment.

My sense of loss encompasses all those years I grieved when mum said I was a mistake or when they used intimidation and violence, just because they had the power to do as they pleased. I wept as a teenager for the paternal bond that never was and cried in early adulthood for the criticism that spilled from their mouths. I even questioned if they really were my parents and bawled when I realised they were.

When the group member suggested that I email mum again, it came as a bit of a blow. Her flippancy seems to undermine the blood, sweat, and tears, but her ignorance is forgivable because it’s difficult to appreciate the full flavour of a narcissist unless you’ve been there.

Sending a more detailed email assumes I might appreciate a potential resolution and whenever a person imagines a family death might influence my guilt and grief, they are wrong. The truth is, a close bereavement is the only event that would bring mum out of the woodwork, and the expectations are what I dread the most.

Of course, there is still hurt and anger leftover from the abuse and dysfunction, but arriving at my decision has nothing to do with anger or an inability to forgive the narcissistic mother. It’s not a means to resolve and would never generate a meek response or entice reconciliation.

Staying in touch with a narcissistic mother who is incapable of unconditional love only generates toxicity, which links directly to the source of the emotional and psychological damage. Severing communication is about reclaiming control of my own life and creating a healthier environment to begin healing.

While it may feel unimaginable to ‘divorce’ from one’s own mum, it’s equally difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to experience a maternal relationship based on unconditional love and acceptance. When someone says, “But it’s your mother,” I only want to reply, “So what.”

How the Child Survives Narcissistic Parents part 1

Narcissistic people come in all different shapes and sizes with a diverse range ofthJAMA4L71 personalities, each driven by self-obsessed motives and an arrogant belief in their own self-righteous perfection.

Narcissistic parents seem to possess a cold-hearted ability to adopt either a possessive or a passive aggressive approach to parenting. Both tactics aim to achieve authority and control over their children, regardless of age.

In my own experience, they will swing precariously between the two states of tyranny and switch mercilessly through a wide spectrum of manipulative methods, predetermined by a child’s ability to please and feed their ego.

When I finally severed contact with my own narcissistic mother, we were already on the far end of her passive aggressive scale and had been for many years. While my email contained only 100 words, the honesty was unprecedented, unforgiveable.

Narcissism doesn’t like the truth because it threatens to burst a carefully constructed bubble of perfection and there is always a risk of exposing controversial disciplinary tactics at home, as well as other kinds of abuse. They then expect us to collude in concealing the shame behind those secretive solid doors.

Peel beneath the fragile layers of perfection and you will find self-centred people who manipulate their dysfunctional family with intimidation and fear. They stop at nothing to get their own way, while maintaining a position of control and righteousness. The only time a disagreement can be resolved is when we finally see the error of our ways.

Growing up within an unstable environment can be a very scary and bewildering time for small children and teenagers. Even when bullying and abuse is prevalent at home, children believe they are solely to blame. ‘If only I hadn’t made mummy cross… if daddy loved me more… if I was better behaved… had better grades … if only I hadn’t answered back.’

When we experience manipulative abuse by our trusted caregivers, many of us don’t know how to ask for help. Riddled with guilt and self-blame, it’s like confessing all the nasty things our parents ever said about us, which is a clever tactic that helps to seal our silence.

“You only have yourself to blame,” is a statement familiar to many of us. It’s similar to when a paedophile warns the victim, “no one will ever believe you… you made me do this… bad things happen if you tell.”

I branded myself with every derogatory name they used; selfish, nasty, horrible, I was inconsiderate, disrespectful, and ungrateful, oh and a failure who would never amount to much in life. There was an eternal echo of the narcissistic voice playing out inside my head and it felt suffocating.

I imagine that every child of a narcissistic parent grows up with a belief in their own self-centred nature, while they experience a confusing sense of reality in the dynamics. The parent’s idealistic voice saturates their developing mind, professing impeccability and unconditional love.

Meanwhile, the child secretly harbours guilt when their interpretation of the experience is far from perfect and they slowly realise that the term ‘unconditional’ has intricate and volatile limits.

There is no winning with a narcissist parent, no bending, or negotiating and never any chance of them easing up on their obsessive need to control every inch of dust under their roof.

To a hot-blooded teen, this was a toxic and explosive mix. I was homeless as a teenager on a number of occasions, but I would gladly crush my testicles in a nutcracker than live under their roof ever again.

During those early years of pretending to be independent, mum had enormous influence over everyone and was never shy with her opinions. It feels strange to think of how I still idolised her and longed for love and acceptance.

I would call her daily and visit every week for dinner, hoping to fulfil their expectations of the perfect son. This only gave them unlimited access to the day-to-day events in my life, which invariably came under criticism and interference. Rather than recognise my own strength and courage for sensing something wasn’t quite right, I could only see weakness and foolishness.

When dad could no longer control his son with intimidation and violence, he transformed into a passive aggressive parent overnight, whereas mum continued on the dominant pathway to our ultimate destruction.

Most people who come from happy functional families would probably find it difficult to comprehend a mother or father being a source of so much negativity and I imagine it might be difficult to grasp why anyone would eventually wish to cut all ties with their parents. This is what I will cover in part 2.

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Approaching the Martyred Mother

I can’t remember ever feeling in awe of my own self before. I wonder if this is what happens when we begin to love and respect ourselves. Only a few weeks ago, my actions would’ve been unthinkable… unimaginable, but things have taken an unexpected turn.

My original intention was to wait until the narcissistic mother made contact before sending a similar email to the one I sent my sister. I realised that to delay the inevitable only deprives me of escaping those life-sucking narcissistic demands, not to mention feeling free of my soul-destroying scapegoat role.

A couple of hours slowly passed yesterday afternoon, pondering my words and debating the potential consequences. One of the worst things you can do to a narcissist is suggest they’re at the helm of a dysfunctional family, or are the perpetrators of disturbing childhood memories. With these sacrilegious thoughts in mind, the great unspoken became the basis of my very brief email. It may well spell the end, but I could no longer pretend.

I doubt if I’ve ever put trust in my own instincts and knowledge, rather than feel enslaved to guilt and self-blame. Almost every piece of information on narcissistic mothers suggests a time of no contact, maybe even a lifetime. It seemed ridiculous to send my sister an email, while procrastinating over sending one to the person who deserves to hear it the most.

If I expected to feel relieved, maybe overjoyed, I would soon be disappointed. As soon as I hit ‘send’, a deep sense of loss and guilt rippled through the rest of the day. I don’t ever expect a response and while this is a relief, it feels like the final nail in my own coffin, although that does feel strangely gratifying.

My email does something no other family member has ever had the courage to do; it tells the truth. The truth to a narcissistic mother is like brandishing a crucifix at Dracula, and the turning to dust scenario is rather stupid, but appealing.

The narcissistic martyr believes in her own perfection and she programed her children to think of her feelings and needs first. I spent time yesterday focussing on how it must feel to read my email, her hurt, disappointment and fury, all swirling around her head like a swarm of angry wasps.

Last night I realised that I have feelings too and I deserve to feel them. What about the treatment we endured as children, or the demands and manipulation tolerated through my adult life… what about my own sense of loss, or my own grief for never bonding with narcissistic parents? Maybe it’s time to think about my own needs without feeling haunted by the martyred mother’s warped emotions.

If I ever want to rekindle contact in the future, I would need to make the first move, which will probably never happen. In many ways, I’m glad to feel an element of sorrow, even guilt, because it demonstrates that I didn’t become one of them.

Implementing no Contact with the Narcissists

Sending my sister, “Sissy,” this email on Thursday transpired as a bit of an anti-climax. It dawned on me that this is only the first step towards the ultimate no-contact rule. The next battle for liberation is with the Martyred mother, although she is the easiest person in the world to avoid.

The family fell apart years ago, we’ve barely been in touch for fifteen years, but Sissy always was the strongest link. In hindsight, this only held the family dysfunction together and her habit of carrying stories under a veil of sworn secrecy often contributed to the tense dynamics. It made sense to deal with her first.

I quickly realised on Friday that Sissy would never share the content of my email with the martyred mother. Not only does it reveal truth, it touches on memories of an abusive childhood and Sissy would never risk the explosive response.

It’s highly possible Sissy will mirror the martyred role by slightly twisting my message, “I tried my best… he wants to be alone… I am so upset.” Sometimes, she just can’t help herself.

When I first read about narcissism, the last person I expected to see was my sister. I’m still unsure whether she is a personification of the martyred mother’s “mini-me,” or if she became a narcissist.

Sissy was also a victim of childhood violence and by the time she turned twelve, her fear of the narcissistic mother was so great that she never left home again, other than to attend school.

I’m very aware of my sister’s demons and it’s sad that she’s unlikely to experience the same validating freedom. Her survival as the Golden-child was always dependent on the narcissist’s approval and what better way than to contribute to my role as scapegoat.

Sissy did respond to my email on Friday.

“I have tried to keep the communication open between us but as much as it upsets me I will respect your need to be by yourself.”

I appreciate that the content of my email wasn’t up for discussion, but I couldn’t help wonder if Sissy’s reply suggests, “But, you’re still to blame because I tried.”

An hour after Sissy’s email, she sent a YouTube video about funny dogs, but I was willing to believe it must be a mistake, until today. I returned home from walking Jack this morning only to discover that Sissy had called my home number while we were out.

I feel disappointed and more certain of the no-contact rule until therapy ends in December. It appears Sissy neither respects nor understands the first thing about my email. It’s purposefully vague but truthful and I can achieve nothing from elaborating and ultimately disagreeing. I asked for the time, she understood enough to “respect your need” and my gut instinct tells me to leave it there for now.

I only want to Tell the Truth

I posted about my current relationship problems with my mother and sister a couple of weeks ago when they were visiting my home city, London. This was the post. Despite trying to be polite to the martyred mother about being too busy that weekend, she still manipulated her golden child into texting me, anyway, “We’re here.”

When I didn’t answer my sister’s text, I was reasonably hopeful that it might be the last I hear from them for some time. They would be mad I hadn’t complied, while I was revelling in the thought of an all-out estrangement.

That was until Monday night when I was trying to relax in front of the telly. As soon as the ping-pong chimed on my mobile phone (cell phone), I just knew it had to be my sister, “How is everything with you, Cat?”

My heart sank. I realised that I would much prefer NEED to opt for the no-contact rule, which seems quite common amongst adult children of narcissistic parents. I decided to ignore the text. I am done with pretending everything is okay with polite meaningless chat or invitations to lunch, but of course, that wasn’t quite the end of the matter. The next day, I receive an email

“Just wondering if everything is okay since I have messaged you a couple of times but got no response.”

Let us not forget that I usually only speak to my sister every 8 to 12 weeks and she never texts, other than to carry the narcissistic mother’s messages.

I didn’t want to respond, but thought a reply might put her mind at rest in case she was wondering if I might be ill, or something, I emailed back, “I’m fine.” Surely, she would now take the hint.

Every part of my insides were screaming out just to speak the truth – we are a dysfunctional family with serious problems and it is not all my fault – but this is not the scapegoat’s role and rule number one of a narcissistic family is never to recognise a problem within the perceived perfection.

I couldn’t understand why I felt so nervous, heart pounding with the adrenaline pumping and the coward in me just hoped she might go away. How can the scapegoat dare to tell the truth?

She emailed back, “Are you getting my text messages?”

I spoke to Paul yesterday in therapy and realised I am actually terrified of telling the truth. There is nothing to be gained from conversation with narcissists, but neither do I want to leave them with the chance to solely blame me for the estrangement, “It’s all Cat’s fault, we tried and he pushed us away.”

For the first time in my life, I want to stand up to them without being offensive or even remotely aggressive. This has nothing to do with blame, but I only want to tell the truth.

Today, I wrote a very short reply to my sister’s email and I am intrigued what people think.

Hi M,

While I’ve been in therapy, I realised that we are a very dysfunctional family.  There have been relationship problems between my parents and me since childhood to the present day.  You might not realise it, but this has been devastating to deal with as a child, and as an adult.

I don’t necessarily have any particular problem with you, but you do come as part of that package and if anything stands between us, it’s this.

The situation is difficult for everyone and I’m tired of pretending that everything is okay when it clearly is not.

Any kind of relationship problem can never be the fault of one person, but this is not something we can all agree on, not at this time, anyway.  To be honest, I don’t want to get into any conversation about this. While I go through my therapy, I need to take the time to be by myself and work through my own things.

Cat.

The Narcissists Golden-child & Scapegoat

Narcissistic parents hold their dysfunctional family together with fear and manipulation.thG5BL4TQA They allot specific roles to individual children that best portray their perfection to both themselves and to the outside world. A golden child will be an extension of the parent’s goodness, while the scapegoat’s role is to endure the blame whenever things go wrong.

Growing up with a narcissistic mother, which I wrote about here, put enormous pressure on everyone. When the cracks started to appear in the perfection and school suggested something was amiss, the martyr quickly focussed all the blame on me.

“It’s nothing we ever did… we’ve tried everything… his sister turned out okay…”

I was five years old when I first noticed my sister was the golden child. While it’s impossible to make sense of the dynamics at this age, the difference was evident where punishments and presents were concerned.

“We give you both the same… there’s no pleasing you…”

One Christmas when I was eight years old, I wanted a radio badly. Maybe I was a little too young, but I harped on and just before Christmas, I knew I had finally cracked it when mum responded with a cheeky smirk, “Oh well, we’ll just need to wait and see…”

thOA98NHLVIt was usually a rather dull time of year, but this particular Christmas Eve I could barely sleep for excitement. I shared a bedroom with my sister and presents were by our bedside in the morning.

I was awake first but when I rummaged through my little pile of goodies, my heart sank to the floor. The only exciting items were two Christmas comic annuals and a chocolate box.

My sister was still asleep and her pile of presents lay undisturbed, as I looked to see what the golden child got, I caught sight of a large white box, ‘Radio with disco lights’. I lay back on my pillow gutted, but this kind of scenario was nothing new.

“You’re too young for a radio… you break everything, anyway… your sister does well in school, you’re just the class dunce…”

There was a heavy price to pay for what the martyred mother perceived as “bad behaviour,” but I also carried the blame for the secretive family dysfunction and even some of the arguments that regularly erupted between my parents.

“We had a good marriage until you came along… we only ever argue about you… we’re thinking of putting you in a home for bad boys.”

While my sister secured the role of golden child by excelling in school, my overall experience was a nightmare from day one. It had something to do with the environment that subsequently influenced my behaviour and those dreaded annual report cards.

Anyone would have thought I was a lowlife criminal, “You’re the dunce of the entire school… everyone will be laughing at you… you bring shame on us… you will not amount to much in life… look how well your sister’s doing.”

I quickly assumed the role of the troubled-underachiever, while they denied I was ever the black sheep and maybe there was an unconscious effort on my part to succumb to the role.

After years of pleading, dad finally agreed I could have a new bike for my 15th birthdayth (2) and my shiny green racer became my pride and joy. Meanwhile, life at home continued on a collision course with the narcissistic mother until I finally escaped just after my 17th birthday. When I returned a few months later to collect my bike, the twisted mother had already given it away.

“Och, you weren’t using it, my friend’s son didn’t have a bike… he’ll appreciate it more than you… it wasn’t yours, anyway, we bought it with our own money.”

I never once considered changing my ways to please them, but spent a lifetime rebelling against their toxicity, and usually in a self-destructive style. It has taken me years to finally identify their behaviour as textbook narcissistic, but unfortunately, I had already internalised their disparaging messages.

I’ve learned that scapegoats typically grow up with a deep sense of guilt and shame. We will blame ourselves for things that are out of our control and feel responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s clearly someone else’s baggage. We strongly believe in our own selfishness and harbour a feeling that we are never enough.  This can fuel a need to become a people-pleaser, sometimes against our better judgement and often to our own detriment.

For me, knowledge is the catalyst of healing.