Ex, family, lessons learned, mental health, narcissists

Narcissists force their victims to “punish” healthy people…

A few months ago, someone in my husband’s family friended him on social media. It was someone my husband hasn’t had a chance to get to know well, so Bill was excited to be Facebook friends with the person. But then, a few hours after friending Bill, the person abruptly unfriended him with no explanation whatsoever.

Bill was non-plussed. What had he done to offend this person? Bill hardly ever posts on social media, although he has admittedly become a lot more politically and socially liberal than he used to be. He also makes no secret that he’s no longer a believer in organized religions, particularly Mormonism. That means he freely curses, drinks alcohol and coffee, and laughs at ribald humor. Did the person look at Bill’s page and decide it was too “raw” for him? He didn’t know.

Although Bill was a little bit sad that this person he’d wanted to know had unfriended him with no explanation, he eventually figured it wasn’t him with a problem; the person who’d unfriended him had the issue. Life went on, and he pretty much forgot about the incident until it was brought up again by a mutual relative.

The mutual relative said that the person had decided to unfriend Bill because of Ex. The person realized that by having a connection with Bill, Ex would possibly have a connection with us. So Bill was unfriended, not because he was “offensive”, but because the other person wanted to spare Bill from offense by keeping Ex out of our sphere. And I suspect, it was also because that person likewise didn’t want any trouble from Ex.

I appreciated hearing that explanation, although I wish the person had thought to send Bill a private message or an email to let him know that the unceremonious “unfriending” wasn’t because of something Bill had done. Bill is a kind, empathic, and thoughtful person, so the truth is, he is a bit sensitive about being liked by others and not wanting to upset or offend them. But then again, when it comes to social media, I guess a lot of people feel that no one really owes anyone else an explanation. That’s one aspect of social media that I don’t like very much. Many of the “friendships” aren’t very authentic, and a lot of them have replaced what used to be “real” relationships with other human beings.

I was recently unfriended by two people with whom I had once hoped to be offline friends. I wasn’t that surprised by their decision to delete me, although perhaps because I’ve spent over half my life dealing with people in person, it still stings a little when “unfriending” happens. I had a feeling the people who unfriended me found me annoying… and the truth is, I found them a little annoying, too. But I realize that in the long run, in very few cases do I end up truly missing the people who leave my Facebook realm. After the initial ego shock of seeing the friend count go down, life goes on and I forget about them.

The people I do tend to miss are those with whom I actually interact or have ever known offline. Failing social media relationships and inevitable “unfriending” is even harder with family members because, if I’m honest, it makes me think they don’t like me at all. And the more I lose touch with people in my family, the more I think the situation is personal, and will be permanent. Thanks to Facebook, I don’t even feel that comfortable thinking about going to the family homestead for a reunion anymore, mostly due to politics and religion and social media behavior. I just assume my family would rather not see me, which makes living in Germany very convenient.

Bill’s younger daughter recently told him that she’d wanted to invite him to her wedding a few years ago. I’m assuming she would have invited me, too, although I don’t know for sure. In the end, younger daughter didn’t invite Bill, because she wanted to avoid drama with her mother. Here it was, younger daughter’s wedding day. She should have felt free to invite whomever she pleased. It should have been her day. But she was more concerned about her narcissistic mother’s feelings and, ultimately, her mother’s behavior. So she excluded Bill, even though I can guarantee he would have been a better behaved guest at her nuptials.

I don’t fault younger daughter for doing that. I might have blamed her some years ago, before I got to know her better. But I don’t feel that way anymore, because we’ve learned more about what happened during the many years in which she and Bill were not allowed to communicate. Younger daughter grew up in an environment where she was compelled to either do what her mother wanted, or suffer dire consequences. It took a few years outside of that environment for her to relax a bit and make decisions for herself.

Younger daughter didn’t even initially tell her mother about her decision to talk to Bill. Even though younger daughter is a grown woman with children of her own, and her mother lives on the other side of the country, she knew there would be trouble. So, instead of telling her mother that, as an adult, younger daughter has the right to live her life as she pleases, she maintained the false reality for a bit longer.

I can relate to younger daughter’s angst on a much smaller and less personal scale. When Bill and I first moved into our current home after leaving the toxic and abusive environment of our last, it took me several months to be able to relax and enjoy the current, healthier living situation. I kept expecting our former landlady to come over and yell at me for something, or give me a look of disgust, disdain, or disapproval as to how I live my life. I was suffering from a mild form of PTSD that had warped my thinking and reality a bit.

The truth is, ex landlady was working for us. We were paying her a lot of money for the privilege of renting her house. I should have simply reminded her of that fact and demanded that she show me basic respect. But that’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with an immature, irrational, narcissistic person. Because, as you quickly find out, narcissists can out-drama most normal, healthy people, and there will be hell to pay if you don’t play their games. So innocent, decent, well-meaning people are “punished” and have to suffer in favor of the narcissist’s need to stay in control. One of the punishments I actually enjoyed, by the way, was ex landlady’s penchant for the silent treatment. Those were actually the best months of our time with her in our lives. Remember, it’s not a punishment to be shunned by an asshole. 😉

Bill and his daughter now talk somewhat regularly. She calls him “Dad” instead of “Bill”, and she lets him see his grandchildren on Skype. She didn’t give in to her mother’s demands that she forget about her father and accept a poor substitute in Ex’s third husband. Frankly, that’s more than Bill had ever expected or hoped for, after his disastrous attempts and failures to co-parent with his ex wife.

But when she speaks to her mother, younger daughter has to listen to Ex complain about how #3 (younger daughter’s stepfather) “misses” her and wants to see “his grandchildren”. Not once has younger daughter ever heard from her stepfather expressing these bereft feelings. Sure, we’ve seen #3 post the odd social media post about how he thinks of Ex’s brood of five as “his kids”, but in reality, it’s all a big facade. In reality, he doesn’t show a lot of regard for Bill’s daughters or former stepson. He’s clearly much more interested in his own kids with the Ex than he is with her other children.

It was the same thing back in 2006, when Ex tried to get Bill to sign legal papers so #3 could adopt Bill’s daughters. He heard from Ex that #3 “loved” Bill’s girls as his own and wanted them to legally be considered his children. Never once did #3 ever personally speak to Bill about the prospect of his legally adopting the girls, just as he’s never spoken to younger daughter about his so-called “love” and affection for younger daughter’s children and thinking of them as his grandchildren.

That’s all a bunch of wishful thinking/fantastical/bullshit that Ex continues to promote. It’s a false narrative of the truth. Unfortunately, it’s easier for the healthier people to continue to tolerate that crap from Ex, than call her on it. It’s easier for younger daughter to nod and smile than tell her mother, in no uncertain terms, that Bill is the father of younger daughter, and younger daughter’s children are Bill’s grandchildren, not #3’s.

Despite Ex’s best attempts to replace Bill with her third husband, her efforts have failed with at least one of Bill’s two daughters. I’m proud of younger daughter for refusing to give in to her mother’s demands that she forget about Bill, because Bill truly loves both of his children and never should have been denied access to them. Denying him access caused a lot of damage that could, and should, have been avoided. And if Ex were a decent person and a responsible parent, she’d understand that it’s wrong to hate her exes more than she loves and respects her children. But, unfortunately, she’s a very toxic person. She’s selfish, delusional, and disrespectful. And because of that, and her propensity to be “dramatic”, good people are punished.

Bill can’t have a social media connection with his own daughter or his son-in-law. Why not? Because it would cause drama with Ex. Either she would object to it, or she would try to exploit the connection somehow. So, even though Bill is by far the healthier parent, he has to be “punished” as a form of protection– both for younger daughter and her family, and for Bill and, to a lesser extent, me. (I’m sure Ex reads this blog, though… and I don’t actually care.)

I think younger daughter is, like me, a bit of a truth teller. Truth tellers are the ones who don’t buy into the fantasy. They don’t fall prey to cognitive dissonance. They see things more clearly than others do, and they tell the truth. That tendency can make them unpopular in a sick family system, particularly when it involves someone with narcissistic tendencies. A truth teller can be a “buzz kill”. Their demands to adhere to reality can really be a downer for someone who would rather fabricate more palatable (to them) lies.

Ex would like to pretend Bill never existed, or, at the very least, see him punished for not continuing to accept her abuse. She suffered an ego blow when Bill agreed to her divorce ultimatum. The ego blow worsened when he found someone else to love him and, clearly, lives a much better life now. She’d rather not face reality and take responsibility for her mistakes. She’d rather make Bill the bad guy and punish him, and she tries to make other people punish Bill, too. But younger daughter is a truth teller, and she doesn’t accept that false reality.

I’m waiting for younger daughter to get fed up with Ex’s demands and tell her mom the way things really are, and how they’re going to be, regarding her children. She may never do it. The reality is, it’s hard to give up on your own mom, even if she is toxic and crazy, and even though there are so many other people in the world who are healthier and kinder. Ex is still her mom, and she has a special place in younger daughter’s life. Plus, younger daughter truly is a lot like Bill. She’s legitimately kind, considerate, and decent.

I feel sad for her. I think she felt like she had to apologize to Bill for “dissing” him at her wedding because of what she knew her mom would do. The fact is, it was her wedding day, and she should have had the right to do whatever she wanted. It should have been entirely her choice as to whom to invite. But Bill completely understands why she felt she had to exclude him, and he can handle it. That’s why he’s the better parent, and he has to suffer for it.

I hope that someday, younger daughter realizes that she has every right to do what she wants and needs to do for herself and her family, even if it causes her mom to bring the drama. I hope that she gets to the point at which she realizes she doesn’t have to tolerate that abuse anymore. If Ex wants to be dramatic, she can do it without younger daughter in attendance. Younger daughter is a grown woman with allies… and she can choose to opt out of the drama. Once she realizes that, maybe she can stop “punishing” the good and healthy people in her life by excluding them.


Truth tellers…

Last night, just before I drifted off to sleep, I watched a really excellent YouTube video by Doctor Ramani, a psychologist who makes videos about narcissists and narcissism. The subject was “truth tellers” in family systems.

Really great video!

She begins by talking about family roles and how they can follow a person from childhood into adulthood. She explains that in every family system, there is ALWAYS a child who “gets it”. They see everything clearly and tell the truth, sometimes in a naive way. In most families, they’re the kid who blurts out observations about the way things are, whether or not those observations are flattering. The family may “train” the child not to be so blunt, but ultimately, they’re the child who doesn’t get on the bus to Abilene.

In a narcissistic family system, being a “truth teller” can be very dangerous. Narcissists expect the people close to them to keep secrets and tell lies. Keeping secrets and telling lies is anathema to what a truth teller is. And so, being the type of person who is naturally honest, but living in a narcissistic family system, can be hell for a truth teller. They tend to do desperate things to get out of that sistuation.

I wasn’t raised by narcissists, but I think I’m kind of a truth teller. I related a lot to what Doctor Ramani said, especially the part about moving far away from their families and doing “desperate” things to escape it. I think Bill’s younger daughter is also a truth teller. When I first met her, back in 2003, she seemed to be more like a “golden child“. But years later, when she started talking to Bill again, it seemed more like she was very observant. She recognized that she grew up in a really fucked up family. Her mother has had three husbands. Her mother’s adoptive mother had seven husbands. Younger daughter didn’t want that for herself.

When she turned 18, younger daughter decided she had to go her own way. She got no help from her mother, so she struck out on her own, and sought help from church members. The church helped her out, and she was able to go on a LDS mission. She met her husband when he was on his mission in Boston.

Ex wasn’t very happy about younger daughter’s decision to date a missionary from Utah. She wanted younger daughter to stay close and remain under her control. But younger daughter wasn’t having it. She left, even though her mother went to some extreme and dramatic lengths to change her mind. Eventually, younger daughter started talking to Bill again, even though Ex had tried to convince her that he’s an abusive monster.

When Bill went to see his daughter a few months ago, they talked, and younger daughter said, “Wow. Look at you helping me clean the kitchen. I’ll bet when you and Mom were married, you did all the work, didn’t you?”

Bill nodded, telling her about what that time was like.

“When Mom visits, she usually sits on the couch, plays with her phone, and complains. She never helps.” younger daughter said.

Bill in action… he’s good about helping. Ex isn’t, but she’ll still try to convince everyone that she’s a saint and Bill is a bastard, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

More revelations came up over that visit. Younger daughter revealed more truths about what it was like to grow up with Ex, without Bill in her life. To her credit, despite all of the cognitive dissonance Ex tried to create, and even though it was easier to just “believe” and get on with things, younger daughter was never able to stop being a truth teller. She continued to see through the bullshit and, on occasion, she must have called it out.

For instance, Ex had told the kids a wild and completely made up story about how Bill and I had a torrid affair when they were still married. Younger daughter never really believed it, but she still wanted confirmation. She asked Bill how and when we met, and he told her. She said her mother had said Bill was cheating on her… conveniently forgetting that she had moved her third husband into the house Bill was paying for before the divorce was final. And yes, they were having sex outside of marriage, despite being so-called ” devout Mormons”!

By contrast, Bill and I lived together from May 2002, almost two whole years after the divorce was final. We did not have sex for the first time until about two weeks after our wedding day, in November of that year. In fact, Bill even wore his first wedding ring until the day his divorce was final. But, in Ex’s eyes, I’m nothing but a homewrecking whore who weakened Bill’s resolve, and if it wasn’t for me, she and Bill would not have divorced. That is a lie, but I know it’s not personal. She would have hated any woman who married Bill. It wouldn’t have mattered how kind, cooperative, and forgiving she was. And I am not the kindest, most cooperative or forgiving person. Like younger daughter, I am also a bit of a truth teller.

The more I learn about younger daughter, the more respect I have for her. I know it wasn’t easy to pull off what she did. She grew up sheltered, and was told a lot of lies. Ex did everything she could to sabotage her kids and keep them from abandoning her. She tried to cripple younger daughter. But younger daughter saw through the bullshit and had enough resilience and strength of character to break away from that mess and get out on her own. As Dr. Ramani says in her video, younger daughter was willing to do the extreme to escape a situation in which she had to suppress her need to be truthful and authentic. She turned to the church for help, went off to college with nothing but the clothes on her back, went on a mission, and made up her mind to get married and start a family. And now she can make her own choices.

However… I do wonder if Bill’s visit wasn’t traumatizing to her on some level. I wonder if she looks at him, clearly the more stable parent, and realizes that if he had raised her, her life would have been completely different. I wonder if it makes her sad that they didn’t speak for fifteen years, and she missed out on having him in her life. Having a mother who is mentally ill and narcissistic is a huge burden, but God forbid she say that out loud. She’d be called disrespectful. But it’s the truth, isn’t it?

We now know that Ex’s current husband was not a substitute for Bill. Even though Ex tried to convince Bill that #3 had fallen right into the “daddy” role and it fit like a glove, the truth was, #3’s attempt to fill Bill’s shoes was a failure. The kids were forced to call him “Dad”. Why? Because during their one and only visitation with Bill, older daughter was holding Ex’s first child with #3 ,and she pointed to Bill and said, “That’s Daddy.” #3 got very upset and jealous, and Ex told the kids that henceforth, #3 would be “Daddy”. Why? Because she didn’t want another marriage to fail… so they all had to buy into a fantasy that Bill and #1 had never existed. They’d always been a happy, cohesive family, just like the fucking Brady Bunch! It was all a crock of shit. And younger daughter knew it, even from a tender age.

These days, younger daughter doesn’t have much to do with #3. She says he isn’t in the best of health, and Ex isn’t very nice to him. But they’re still together, probably by sheer will and lots of threats on Ex’s part. She knows that finding husband #4 might be hard, and she’s done having babies. Ex’s youngest child has severe autism and may never be able to live on his own. She’s been trying to coerce her other children into promising to take care of him, even though he’s not actually their responsibility.

Years ago, I predicted that Bill would hear from his younger daughter. I knew that one day, she would approach him. I didn’t think it would be on such good terms, though. I originally suspected that because she’d been the first to reject Bill and because she was so young when Ex divorced Bill, younger daughter was the most brainwashed. However, I also suspected that she had a strong will, and she and Ex would eventually clash. And when that happened, younger daughter would approach Bill, if only to piss off her mother and rebel.

It turns out that younger daughter initially didn’t want to upset her mother. She didn’t tell her that she was talking to Bill until some time had passed. Ex eventually found out and hit the roof. She still thinks she can dictate to her adult children who they are allowed to speak to and associate with. She still thinks she has the right and ability to tell them to avoid the man she chose to make their father, even though Bill’s daughters are well past 21 years old. She sees them as extensions of herself, subject to her command, even though they’re grown women.

It must be very frustrating for Ex to lose control. It must be very sad for younger daughter to have a mother who is more interested in being in control than being a mother. For someone who feels compelled to call bullshit, it must be difficult to keep toeing the line. That’s why younger daughter got the hell out of Dodge while she could. I really can’t blame her at all. I suspect we’ll soon be hearing more truths as time passes.