Posts Tagged With: family dynamics

covert narcissism and emotional incest syndrome

I learned the term emotional incest syndrome last week. It is sometimes referred to as covert incest.
I know the word incest is a trigger. Reading it makes me anxious and shaky. That word is icky.
What’s even more icky is that parents actually do this to their children.
What’s even more icky is that the other parent of my children did, and continues to do this.

The Things father is a classic covert narcissist, and there’s no two ways about it. He is masterful at manipulating situations to shift the blame, embracing the rage, and twisting words in such as way as to seemingly impact reality.
Nothing is ever his fault, and he buys his own delusions to the point of borderline insanity. It’s only gotten worse as he’s aged, so much so that he is trapped in this fantasy of his own design without any real ability to see the world as it actually is.

When Thing 1 was about twelve years old, I would ‘tuck her in’ at night with a quick, loving conversation and a hug or kiss. Her dad started following me in the night time ritual so he could ‘talk with her’.

To be abundantly clear: I was truly never concerned with him being physically inappropriate with her, he is the least sexual human with whom I’ve ever come in contact.

Their bed time talks became longer and she became more sullen and withdrawn. I mean, she was a tweenager and all, but this seemed different to me. When I encouraged her to talk with me about how she was feeling, she shared that her daddy was telling her things that made her uncomfortable.
He talked with her about his grief after the death of his mother. About his dissatisfaction in his personal and professional life. Even about his marriage to me.
I reassured her that her discomfort was appropriate, that his behavior was not. I promised her I would handle the situation. I encouraged her to tell him that she didn’t like when he talked with her about these things, gave her some tools and encouraged her to build healthy boundaries.
I had many conversations with him about the inappropriateness of him oversharing to a child.
I remember saying these exact words, “She’s a little girl and you cannot talk to her that way. Get a therapist. Get some friends. Please stop using her as your confidant.”
Like any good narcissist, he twisted the truth and manipulated us all, but never acknowledged or changed the behavior. I began to find excuses not to leave them alone at bedtime.
Nothing I did made a difference and the only way it slowed and then stopped was when she left home for college.
His current relationship with her is strained because she’s married another man and he can’t control her anymore.
Neither does he like that she and I are close, he actually told Thing 2 that Thing 1 is ‘drinking the Robyn koolaid’ and that’s why she didn’t love him anymore.

Thing 2 is his current child-wife. He sucked her into his emotional incest hook line and sinker. And she bought into it for quite some time.
She’s said, Poor daddy, nobody should have to die alone.
Um…your daddy actively chooses to be alone.

But of late, Thing 2 is empowering herself. She is actively in a healthy pattern of growth for her emotional and physical life. She’s begun dealing with her childhood trauma. Her emotional baggage. Unraveling her own augmented reality.

I don’t feel like what she is doing, or how she’s going about this is my story to tell, but when she shares her efforts and progress with me, I am truly awed by the difficult and serious work she is doing.

She shared with me that someone recommended a book about this phenomenon and she told me “I’m very curious about it, I want to research on it but I think it’s going to be really helpful with dealing with (her father’s given name) using me as his therapist.”
I shared with her a quick version of how it played with her sister, how I tried and failed to protect either of of them.
She said to me, “You have to remember that I chose this, you didn’t put me here. I did.”
Talk about owning your stuff.
But I’m her momma, I will always have a desire to protect her. Especially from her father.

I once overheard my girls sharing that their father told them (independently) that if he had been more willing to have sex, I would never have left him.
I literally stopped in my tracks.
I went back to where they sat, and told them I couldn’t help but overhear them and asked them to verify if what I thought I heard was correct. They confirmed.
I sighed and said, “First of all, I’m so sorry that happened to you. You didn’t need to hear that. And secondly, that’s not why I left your dad.”
What the actual fuck, yo?

When Baby K was born, Thing 2 and I left the hospital in Savannah and went home to Thing 1’s house. We cleaned the house top to bottom. Did all the laundry. Grocery shopped. We wanted everything to be ready to rock when Thing 1 and Husband N brought Baby K home.
Their dad actually told Thing 2 that he was jealous that she was spending time with me alone, he was worried she would drink the same koolaid as her sister and love me and not him.
He even told her before she left, “Now, I know you’re taking care of your sister, but make sure you take care of yourself too. I need you to come back to me. You’re my rock.”

So. Fucking. Icky.

I get so frustrated!
You’re her parent, you emotional fucking cripple! You’re supposed to be her rock!

I know I am guilty of sometimes saying, “I wish you could be my mommy”, and perhaps that means I’m just as guilty as him.
Is there a difference?
I mean, I hope so. I don’t actually expect my twenty-two year old daughter to be my mommy.

I love that we have an open and nurturing relationship based upon love and respect and genetics. And it feels nice sometimes to be loved by a female who doesn’t want anything from me, who isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be loved. But I am her momma and she is my daughter and that means it’s my job to nurture and provide help and do a bit of protecting even though she’s a grown ass person.

My daughters and I have had our own share of chaos in our relationships.
Good. Bad. Ugly. And indifference.
I have worked to create and maintain healthy boundaries, and if ever I overstepped, I corrected and made every attempt to discuss and apologize where appropriate.
We have been to hell and back, my daughters and I. And from my point of view, this strengthens our love, our bonds, and our boundaries.
And though we talk about any and every thing, and they’re as engaged and (for the most part) supportive of me, and my decisions, and my life as I am of theirs, I can’t fathom using them as ‘sounding board’ (one of their father’s favorite words) for inappropriate things.
I can think of one specific time I did that to Thing 2. She claims to find it humorous, especially because I was inebriated, but I am wracked with guilt and have apologized with every fiber of my being.

This covert incest thing has eaten at the very heart of me since that quick conversation with Thing 2 on Monday last.
Knowing it exists.
Knowing the only other person in this world who is meant to protect them is the perpetrator of this abuse.
It makes me sick. Truly and deeply sick.

I can’t protect them from him.
I never have, I never will.
That cuts my momma heart to a depth that may never heal.
Only I’m not worried about healing my heart. I worry about them healing theirs.
I can’t protect them.
I can’t take away their pain.
All I can do is listen. Offer guidance and support. But above all, love.
And sweet baby Jesus, do I love them.
I love them as they learn more about themselves, the world, and their place in it.
I love them as they struggle and fight the good fight.
I love them as they call me out on my failings.
I love them as they accept and forgive.

I am awed by their resilience as they do the hard self work to discover, and heal, and become whole.
I know I made them and raised them, but this is not selfish pride of ownership, this is the awe of faith, and pride for them, and their ability to continue to learn and grow and love.
I am overwhelmed by their capacity to love.
I cherish being a part of their lives.

These women.
These absolute marvels.
They are truly awe inspiring.

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Categories: on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

love is not a contest and I don’t have to choose a favorite

These thoughts hatched while I was washing my hair this morning.

I’ve always said parents have a favorite kid even if they don’t admit it. This is of course, if they have more than one kid. Each kid also has a favorite parent. Kids don’t like to admit it either.
The thing is, for the most part, cohabitating humans are not unaware of each other. Sometimes, it’s understood but never spoken. Sometimes it’s understood and spoken. Sometimes no one favors any one else.

The family I made kind of naturally split down the middle.
Thing 1 and her daddy.
Thing 2 and me.

Thing 2 was my favorite.
But not because Thing 1 wasn’t.

Thing 1 was all about her daddy. I mean, those two were like peas and carrots. I never felt left out, but I never felt that level of connection with Thing 1.
I didn’t feel like I was allowed to choose her as my favorite because she and her dad were already each other’s favorite.

Thing 2 came along and our bond was completely different than my bond with her sister. It was powerful and chock full of unwavering love.
We kind of became each other’s favorite by default.
For years that’s simply how our family was.

When the marriage dissolved, that down middle split became a chasm.
It was terrible for all of us.
I’m only now truly realizing how bad it was for the girls.
I humbly ask their forgiveness for my part in that time in our lives.

What’s interesting about this whole favorites thing, (I’m simplifying the hell out of this to get to my point.) is that I’m under the impression the Things think I switched favorites.

From my point of view, it’s not a switch in favorites.
It’s more that for the first time, I feel as though Thing 1 is an option to favorite.

I’ve discussed my relationship with each of my daughters.
This is somehow different.
I mean, partly it is about how we relate to each other, then and now. Partly it’s because we’re each at different places in our lives.
I never expected to feel as close to Thing 1 as I do now. I’m grateful for that. More than I have words for.
I don’t feel any less connected to Thing 2 because of it.
I have the ability to love them both at the same time in two completely different ways.

They can’t each by my favorite.
Yet they actually are.
Each one, my favorite in a different way.
Is that growth?
Is it that we’re no longer under the spell of their dad?

All I know is that I feel differently about favorite kids and parents than I did before.
I feel fortunate that I have the option to favorite either one, or both of my daughters.
Perhaps because I have the option, I don’t have to choose it?

Love isn’t a contest.
Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.
I love my daughters in exactly the same, yet completely different ways, and I don’t really want it any other way.

Categories: on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

so far, so good, what’s next?

Now, you know I’m a planner.
I like lists and calendars and color coding by subject.
So, once I recognized what I can and cannot change, I broke it down further.

I ask loads of questions.
I know that.
Y’all know that.
My family and friends know that.
But what’s different about this process is that I answered my own questions.

I asked and answered questions to come up with a plan.
I used the same system of dividing the page in my big sketch book so I could see it all together.

The first question is:
What frustrates me?

*stagnation
(no real growth, no movement, no real participation in life or household, etc.)
*lack of effort to create growth or movement
*caring about (these things)
*wondering if it will ever change

OK, now what do I do about it?

How to stop being frustrated?

*accept that these are the choices YBW and Thing G are making
*accept that nothing I do will change their choices
*focus on myself and my choices
*accept that this is the situation I’m in…until…?

So far, so good. What’s next?

I know it’s hard to read.

Ways to feel more comfortable.

*let go of wife and ‘mom’ guilt
*stop apologizing for choosing growth
*accept as much as possible
*pay attention to myself and where my power is
*be kind and courageous
*stop judging
*accept limitations (cannot change situation, only how I function in it)

Ways to regroup if I’m triggered.
(frustrated)

*immediately stop and breathe
*quickly assess if it’s something I can change (if not – do my best to accept and let it go, if so – make the appropriate change)
*accept that this is my work and I may not ever be met with the same
*remove myself gently from the situation
*tap into vast support network without engaging in ‘shit talk’

OK, so in the meantime I have a plan.
But…

How to remain sane in the long game?

*accept this is my work
*accept change may never come
*be peaceful in the knowledge I did all I could do the best way I could
*love

I don’t know how or even if the situation will change.
I do know that if I can do these things I will feel better. I will make the relationship with my husband more positive.
Maybe that’s all I can do?
While I know I have magic down deep in me, I only have power over myself.
If these changes I’m making serve only to keep me from being frustrated, angry, and resentful in an unchanging situation, at least I’m content in the knowledge I am going at this in a mindful and loving way.

Categories: me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

accept don’t judge, or the time of ‘if this then that’ is over

When I got to work on my me things, I meant business.
I used my big sketch book so I could see both what I can and cannot change at the same time.
I wrote in pen so it remains as I wrote it. It is unchangeable. (the irony is not lost on me, further proof of my commitment to this process)

What I cannot change:

*the living situation
*YBW’s point of view
*Thing G’s willingness to do or be
*why it frustrates me

This is what I’ve been on about. I want all this stuff to change. I want it to be different.
I can’t do anything about these things.

What I can change:

*how I function in the living situation
*how I choose to behave when I’m frustrated
*the way I go about discussing it
*what I pay attention to
*how I apply myself

This is where I have the power!

These are the things I can do something about. Now to figure out the how.
I think it must start with to what am I paying attention.
The trick with this is to decide what I need/should/desire to pay attention to.
I’m hopeful that by paying attention to the ‘right’ things, I’ll automatically change how I go about functioning, and behave when I’m frustrated. Perhaps not get as frustrated?

Is that how I can facilitate change?
Not that that’s the goal.
I. Cannot. Change. Any. Thing. But. Me.

I have to figure out how to shift my whole ‘it’s the principle of the thing’ point of view.
I mean, is that really getting me anywhere?

Maybe the concept of ignoring that which bothers me isn’t quite right. How can I accept it without it bothering me so much?
This is a conversation to start with my therapist.

I think I need to brainstorm a bit more.
Maybe it’s baby steps, not jumping in up to my ass.

Accept, don’t judge.

May be key.
This is the situation I’m in. What can I do or not do to be comfortable and content in it?

The time of ‘if this, then that’ is over.
I can’t change the situation. I can only change myself within it.

You might find yourself asking:
How much responsibility can one person take in a multi-person situation?
Is it equitable if one person is making changes for the betterment of the group?
What happens when one member of the group achieves their change making goals and the situation remains the same?
I’m asking the same questions.
Stay tuned for the answers…

Categories: me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

mother – daughter dynamics

The girls were here for about ten days.
Mostly it was lovely.
There were moments that weren’t so much.

I see the dynamic between my daughters, their fierce and devoted friendship. I am awed by it. The love they share is truly something to behold.
I feel confident and comfortable in the dynamic between myself and my daughters individually. There is strength in these relationships, a love that is new and ‘grown up’ as well as that powerful mother-child dynamic. While I cannot speak for them, I feel strongly that we are healthily navigating this new way of being in a relationship. The relationship between mother and adult daughter.
When it comes to the dynamic of the three of us in a relationship, well, that’s where it becomes tricky for me. Landmine riddled, and though carefully trod, I seem to be blowing shit up left and right simply by being in the relationship.

Is it simply triangling?

Or is it defaulting to our old roles in the relationship?

Thing 1 has always been a Daddy’s girl. They were each other’s favorites from the get go.
Thing 2 has always been a Momma’s girl. We were each other’s favorites.

When the three of us are together, I worry that Thing 1 doesn’t see my love for her. That I don’t consider relating to either or both of them as a competition. I don’t know how to help change her perception.
I worry that Thing 2 feels as though she must walk the tightrope between her sister and me. That she cannot just stand on her two feet and actively love and accept love from us both.

Of course, these are the stories I make up. I don’t know what goes on inside them.
I want to create an environment in which love is an even field. Where we can be together and feel safe.
What I want and what actually happens seems to me, vastly different.

I was stressed with both girls here. I watched them speak their own private language with awe and amusement, but after a while, I began to feel sad and hurt. The time we have together is precious, and they were using it to be together without me.
I began to feel as though I’m simply here to swipe my card.

There were moments that felt connected. That felt like we were in that even playing field of love and safety. But they were few and far between. Even the precious and sacred trip to the tattoo shop was tricky.
I know they had moments of dissatisfaction while they were here. But I don’t know what they were thinking or feeling.

I feel confused.
I feel disappointed.
I feel sad.

Last summer when Thing 1 was here, it felt so different. It felt like we were really successful in relating to each other, in loving each other.
The difference between last summer and last week is that Thing 1 was here alone last summer and Thing 1 and Thing 2 were here together last week.

I understand that I relate to them in different ways.
With Thing 2 I have an easy, yet deep intimacy. We can talk of deeply personal feelings and the whys and wherefores behind them.
My relationship with Thing 1 is loving, but with a practical twist. We don’t have the ease of intimacy between us, but we can be real with each other.

The quick and easy way to fix to this landmine situation is to only spend time with them one on one. But that’s not really a solution for the long term.
I’m not sure how to go about removing the landmines from our even playing field of safe love, but I want to try. I’d like to be able to be with both the girls and for all three of us to feel safe and loved and comfortable.
Mothers and daughters will always be tricky curious beasts.
I would like, and I hope they would like, to remain as tricky and curious as ever, but to do it in a healthy, safe, and loving way.
I feel hopeful.

Categories: on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I probably get more worked up than necessary…

I may have mentioned once or twice that I don’t “super love” Thanksgiving.
Alas, that day is upon us again so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to lay it all down and walk away.

I don’t want to do what’s “required” of me today.
That would be riding in the car with YBW to get his mom and go over his brother’s house to eat the Thanksgiving meal.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any family. Perhaps it’s because I’ve already lived through the “this could be my mother’s last (insert holiday/milestone here) with the former husband.
I very much understand combining families means the combining of rituals. But my hope was that in creating a new family, there would be room for new rituals. This would mean a mixture of the two.
Of course I understand wanting to celebrate with your family. YBW’s mother is eighty-five years old, how many more holidays/milestones could she possibly have?
The other side of that coin is that he’s had forty-four years of celebrating with her.

He reads my words, so there will totally be a conversation about this later…but that’s not the point.

Yesterday we were invited to a holiday party at friend’s of his. This is an annual event that’s been going on for more years than I actually know. He loves this particular party and looks forward to it every year. When we were apart, he would see if I could be here the weekend of the party, which never worked most often because one of the Things would have a school commitment the same weekend. So when I finally moved here he was so excited to take me to this party! It has a gift exchange, but the thing about it is that it’s horrible gifts nobody wants. I’m not sure I understand the wasting of money like that. On something that is either going to be trashed or rewrapped for return to the exchange the following year. (Of course, I’ve never had disposable income. Everything purchased at the holidays is always well thought out and specifically for someone who needs or wants it.)
Anyway, I agreed to go even though I was so anxious about being in a room full of people when I only knew four of them. What he doesn’t understand is that anxiety I have. Being social with people I don’t know is physically painful for me. So off we go, with the caveat that I won’t participate in the gift exchange, I chose to observe, it being my first year and all.
Well, when it comes time to draw numbers, I politely decline and then YBW’s sister in law pipes up with something about how they brought an extra gift and I can use it. I thank her and decline once more. Then YBW turns and tries to convince me that it’s fun and I should participate.
That was the moment I was officially done.
When I said that yesterday, I had barely taken a breath to continue talking when he apologized.
That wasn’t the point. I don’t want you apology a year later. I want you to listen to how I feel.
He reasoned that if I had done something that hurt him I would apologize.
Of course I would. But this wasn’t the time! I was trying to express myself.
I believe he apologizes to make himself feel better. I believe this is unintentional. I don’t think he is even aware…

I swear to you there is not only a point, but also a connection…

YBW asks me if I want to go to this party. I say no, but I’ll go if you want to.
Well this turns into a very uncomfortable conversation in the car.

What we have here, y’all, is a failure to communicate.

So I reply that he loves this party, he’s excited to go and because I love him and know how excited he is I’m ready to go.
But then he says he thinks he’s “dragging me against my will” because I said I didn’t want to go.
(Ah, the dreaded catch 22.)
He doesn’t like it when I defer to him when he asks a question. e.g.: If I had said: I’ll go if you want to go. when he asked me if I wanted to go to the party then I’m not telling him what I really think/want. But when I answer truthfully to the question: Do you want to go? and the answer is: No I don’t. He struggles with that.
Which has to do with him knowing I’ve spent my whole life doing what everyone else wanted so I shouldn’t have to do this if I don’t want to.
And that is kind.

But what really happened when he heard me say no was he thought it would be a case of he could go and I would respectfully decline and not go.
(This is where my actual point happens. And hopefully you’ll see the connection.)
He didn’t want any part of that because “he went to too many parties without his wife” and that’s not something he’s willing to do.
You see, the mad alcoholic second wife, never did anything with him as a couple.

Ah ha! Now we’re getting somewhere!
He is unwilling to go without me because he doesn’t want to feel like that anymore.
OK. So why when I say: I’m happy to go with you. does he not hear that? Well that’s because I told him I didn’t want to go.

I probably got way more worked up about this than was necessary…

He takes the “I can’t say anything right” stance. And I counter with “No, I can’t say anything right.”
But neither is true.
I explained to him that he doesn’t like if I defer when he asks a question so I answered it truthfully. He didn’t like the answer. So then it occurs to him that he should ask a different question. Instead of do you want to go? he asks: Are you willing to go.
Of course I’m willing to go. I love you and you want to do this therefore I’m going to do it with you.

Nothing and I mean nothing gets resolved in the car ride. How very us.

Anyway…I said there was a point and a connection…I just had to go all the way round Robin Hood’s barn to get there.

I said: I’ve already lived through the whole “this could be my mother’s last…”
This isn’t his fault but he must pay the price.
He said: I went to too many parties without my wife…
This isn’t my fault but I must pay the price.

We carry our baggage with us no matter how hard we try.
So I’ll go to Thanksgiving with his family. Perhaps there will come a time when we create our own rituals…

He switches holidays with his Things mother. So every other year it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. Even twenty-two year old Thing C.
I don’t have that luxury.
Thing 1 is about to move into her own home with her fiance N. I would like to consider celebrating holidays with her at some point. Especially because within the next few years, I’ll have a grandbaby.
This will force new rituals. And they will either mean us celebrating holidays separately with our own children or we will have to figure out how to do it together.

All this drama simply to overeat?…why don’t I like Thanksgiving again?

Two days ago was the one month anniversary of us being married. I glanced as I walked past him and was filled with so much love. I stopped and told him I was so happy I was married to him.
Yesterday not so much. My instinct to run nearly overpowered me. I seriously considered getting out of the car at a traffic light. But I didn’t. I tried to be a grown up and discuss the madness.

Here’s what sucks.
He’s going to read this and this is what I fear he’ll take from it.
1. I don’t like his family.
2. I don’t like his friends.
He hears what has been conditioned to hear, not what I say.
I can’t fix that.

I also do what I’ve been conditioned to do.
I defer. Because when I say or do what I really want, it bites me in the ass. I don’t blame him for that. It simply is. It was always thus.

What I struggle with is where to go from here.
I don’t feel like things get resolved. I don’t know how to make that happen, so I beat things into the ground. That ain’t fun for anyone.

Perhaps I should learn to like Thanksgiving. Maybe there would be less drama if I wasn’t such a bitch about it.
Poor YBW, he didn’t believe that I was such a raging bitch. That I’m a hot hot mess. I guess I didn’t believe he was a hot hot mess either…
Love is blind right?
I’m thankful that YBW is part of my world. However jacked up that world is, we’re in it together.

The parade is on and I’m tired of being a whiny crybaby so I’m going to watch and wait for Santa to show up.
Then Thanksgiving is over and we’re on to Christmas.
I’m holding out for new rituals…

Categories: me | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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