Posts Tagged With: family systems

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Their bed time talks became longer and she became more sullen and withdrawn.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.

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

being a weird mom builds character

I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about relationships.
Specifically about mother-daughter relationships.
I firmly believe that all mother daughter relationships are complicated.
I’m not sure how they couldn’t be. Mothers are complicated in that if you boil it down to the most basic function, we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants with the task of keeping other, smaller humans alive. Daughters are complicated in that they learn how to be women from the adult woman they spend the most time with. Of course, what they don’t know is that we don’t exactly know how to be women any more than they do, we’ve just been pretending longer.
But here’s another thing I know about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters: with enough love and honest communication it can be a truly spectacular experience.

While it’s hard for me to have conversations with my daughters about my own mother, luckily they both knew and loved her, and I think they both know they were loved by her. Though they will tell you that she terrified them. They also understand that they’re pretty fortunate that I’m their momma and she was not. Of course, I’ve f**ked them up in my own special way.

Yes, I did say sorry…but it had a question mark behind it. And they received this message when they were together, so they laughed and then told me they love me.
I am a weird mom. They certainly have character.
I’m going to call this one win-win.

Hey, at least we can have honest and intimate conversations.

It’s curious to me how different my relationship is with each of my daughters. Thing 1 and I are close in a way that’s completely different than the way Thing 2 and I are close.
Here’s an example of a conversation with Thing 2 regarding how it’s easier to love than to learn to be loved:

This is one screenshot of a long and beautiful conversation we had about love and relationships, that awed us both.

I’m actually having a text conversation with her right now as I’m writing this. I expressed that I’m struggling to write after not for so long, she shared that Mercury is in retrograde and that makes words tricky.

This is interesting because I’ve been losing words again this week. I continue to chalk it up to my brain never actually healing properly…but if it’s Mercury being in retrograde, I’ll take it. (must learn what a planet in retrograde actually means)

But I digress…(YBW would tell y’all that’s par for the course with me)

The way that Thing 2 and I are close is an easy yet deep intimacy. We can talk of deeply personal feelings and the whys and wherefores behind them.

My daughter’s muchness is something I’ve discussed before. It’s something everyone that knows her is acutely aware of. The trick of it is that it truly is undefinable. She’s hit a beautiful developmental place in which she understands that her muchness is powerful. She understands that it will be what keeps her standing when life tries to knock her down. What she doesn’t yet understand is how exactly to tap into it to make it work for her. But she is young, that will come in time. Only when you’re twenty, you don’t often feel like time is on your side.

Thing 2 has told me countless time in the last two months that I’m awesome, or a wonderful mother, or something of the like. She also said, “You’re the best Momma We really don’t tell you enough”
We really don’t tell you enough.
But when she does tell me…

Thing 2 and I have the ability to open our hearts to each other and just kind of move seamlessly back and forth between the two.

My relationship with Thing 1 is loving, but with a practical twist. We don’t have the ease of intimacy between us. I think it’s partly because of our personalities. I worry that it’s partly because of the way our relationship faltered when she was a teenager. I oftentimes think that I should have worked harder to stay connected with her instead of being as stubborn as I was.
Only I can’t shoulda coulda woulda myself to death. We lived through that. We survived it, and found our way back to each other.
And honestly, we were never all that intimate before that time. So I believe we’re in a strong and healthy place that is similar to the one we were in before that time.

Thing 1 is quick to call with practical questions. ‘How to’ questions and ‘What about this’ questions. Our relationship manifests itself in a practical way. It’s interesting, she always called me Mommie, but when Thing 2 first began talking she said, Momma. Eventually, Thing 1 switched to Momma too. Unless she’s feeling particularly needy. If she’s physically or emotionally sick she will use Mommie.
Right before we went down to her house for Thanksgiving, I got a text about a reoccurring health issue of hers.

Observe the use of Mommie.
When my girls were little and hurt or scared or whatever, I would bandage their boo boos, or help them feel safe and it always ended with a big kiss to give them a dose of “Momma(ie) poison”. Mommie(a) poison is that lasting bit of me helping them heal or keeping them safe. Sometimes you need great doses, sometimes you might just need a booster.
Well, Thing 1 needed a big ol’ dose and she got it when I arrived at her home. It was good for both of us.

We have loving conversations. They’re of the practical variety more so than of the existential variety. One powerful conversation we had was about mental health. However tricky it is, we share common ground when it comes to diagnosed mental health issues. And she is the person I wanted to talk with when I was wrestling with the emotional aspects of my physical health. She reminded me I hadn’t always been “sick” and I would not always be “sick”. She fully supported my decision to go back into therapy. She reminded me that if I was aware of this emotional struggle then I was already better off.
Seems we rely on each other for that practical kind of love. Maybe sometimes I need a dose of Thing 1 poison too.

However practical our love, it is also delightfully silly. We love to communicate via bitmoji when we’re feeling playful.

Mothers and daughters are tricky, curious beasts. What’s wonderful about that is the fact that weird mom’s do build character. Weird daughters build flexibility in even the most control freak moms. We can fly by the seat of our pants and love and learn and grow all at the same time.
Mothers of daughters have the unique blessing of seeing how their girls relate to each other. From the time they’re children through their teenage years and into adulthood. The relationship between my daughters makes my Grinchy heart grow three sizes every time I even think about it. Their love for each other is truly something to behold.
How blessed am I to not only love each of them, but to be party to the love they share!?!

Mothers and daughters have been on my mind for months now. After my realization that I suffered insecure attachments and was (am?) and unloved daughter, I’ve actively worked to suss out my place in this world as a daughter and as a mother. This new understanding created more confusion that I could have imagined. I needed this time to sort it all out. To find a way to have it make sense. To adjust my personal barometer when it comes to mothers and daughters.
Like the Grinch, I puzzled and puzzled till my puzzler was sore. But, I finally feel like I can put it to rest.
I can leave the tricky and curious world of mothers and daughters knowing I’m more informed than ever before. And while I’m not sure I’ll ever be truly comfortable as a daughter, I know being a mother is my truest joy.
Perhaps I didn’t experience unconditional love as a daughter, but I certainly have as a mother. And that actually is enough.

Categories: on being a mom | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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