To see the context of this story, read my other articles about being raised in a narcissistic family. I have been "no contact" for 5 months now beginning my 6th month.
Relaying this one is painful. Why? This is a person I saw my family destroy. This is someone I cared about for years. Some may argue she made many poor decisions herself, that can be true of all of us. Even if a person does make some poor decisions in their youth, that does not mean treating them like dirt for eternity. For me though she served as a warning. I wish I could set her free, but they "won" her. They control her. They broke her.
This aunt is my narcissistic mother's younger sister, but she was not the youngest child, she was one of seven landing in a more middle spot.
To me her story is tragic but also for me her life was a lesson. I noticed that the same trends had developed with two generations. The story of my narcissistic mother who was the golden child in her family who "married well" and moved up the ladder when compared to her youngest sister who ended up in the dregs of severe poverty and illness by a young age, was comparable to what happened to my sister and me. I have a talent for seeing patterns but this one was obvious it was inescapable. How does one sister become so successful and one end up on skid row? How is one so respected and one seen as "nothing"? Why did it happen in two successive generations?
In recent years, I would see her back hunched over, head down, mumbling silent, knowing this was a person who had been crushed by life and by those around her. In her case, she passively accepted what they told her about herself, in my case I fought back.
One thing studying narcissistic families is all of them usually choose a scapegoat, sometimes there is more then one, but most often it is one person in the family that serves as the human trash can. In a family where there are multiple people who lack empathy, a scapegoat is in for it. Where they are blamed and shame for the family's problems, they serve as an involuntary focus to hide endless family secrets, lies and evil. Scapegoats can be multi-generational. Now scapegoats are their own people so you will see I became someone else entirely different from my aunt.
I grew up with my aunt who is 14 years older then me being called a "loser", "scum", etc. It never let up. One thing my parents had a masterful talent of was dissecting and tearing someone apart. What does this teach a child? My parents hated my love for the underdog by an early age, and that included the love for this aunt.
At the age of 7 when she was 21, she moved in with my family a few states away from her mother's and I remember being close to her. She was later forced to leave because she got drunk at a New Years party, my parents took her and us kids to at a neighbor's house in our old neighborhood we had just moved away from. This was a one time event my parents seemed to over-react to like crazy to as the party had some drinking at it even with children there though the children mostly hung at in a separate room. Hypocritical? Yes I think so. I don't know if she drank or partied much of the time elsewhere at that time, it seems doubtful as she had no car of her own and we lived in the suburbs, but I remember that moment, my angry parents screaming at her on the way home in the car. I got the message loud and clear that my aunt was "bad". Was she drinking to obliterate the pain?
We were told as children not to end up as a "loser" like her for many years. My parents would point to several people like this within the family. Sadly I would become one of them when I grew up. The message was delivered loud and clear that only people with money and very good jobs mattered, lesser jobs or even more humble lives were not acceptable. As far as her alcoholism was concerned, I have known people who have struggled with that problem, I would put her on the mild end more lost in the cultural attributes of the 1970s, but in my family that was enough to write her off as a human being and that's wrong. There was no mercy there.
She grew up along with my mother on a small farm in a small town and did poorly in school despite working hard. She did struggle with substance abuse problems, she partied on weekends, after work, which was not abnormal for those times. She did not get into any hard drugs as far as I know but basically ran with a "partying" crowd. For years she was a lived in caretaker for the elderly and before then worked at a nursing home as an aide.
While my mother was highly respected by my grandmother, things were very different for my aunt. I remember watching my grandmother snap at her, during visits, back then she was large and weighed somewhere in the mid-200s. Eating some potato chips out of a plastic bowl, my grandmother would meanly tell her was fat, didn't make enough money and ask her when she was going to get herself together. This is what I observed on family visits from far away. I remember wanting to cry watching this because it replicated some of what I faced at home. She would whisk herself upstairs to her small loft bedroom in my grandmother's farm house and "hide out". She seemed despondent and depressed by an early age. She was not the type to answer back like I was. Her mother's word was law even to a very advanced age.
Just to let my readers know a simple fact, my grandmother was as cold as my mother. There wasn't much empathy there either. She died of cancer without one shown emotion as if terminal illness was akin to waiting for a bus. One clueless aunt would praise my grandmother for her stoicism and strength, while I just saw rock hard stone and ice though on the surface she would at least attempt some conversation with me unlike my mother.
Remember what I said about my picture being censored from my mother's house? My grandmother had this picture display of all family members on one wall, leaving me out with my sister's wedding photo, smack dab in the middle. One year I painted a picture frame as an art project and put a wedding photo of I and husband, me resplendent in my custom sewn wedding dress but still very fat, and gave it to my grandmother. I wanted to see if I would earn a place on this wall. It wasn't. It was put there but on another corner semi-hidden away.
I remember seeing my aunt in her late 20s and early 30s working as a live-in caretaker for an 80 plus year old woman in her house, thinking she already has been packed away. She worked hard at this job and showed care for her charges. I was in college and imagined my future as still wide-open even though my health problems had already started. During this time we would exchange letters, and I would even drive down on my own to see her for visits where we would share meals together and hang out. We shared many fun times. We could talk unencumbered. She was hopeful about her future and wanted to go to EMT school.
She would marry this man who sadly just seemed to use her for a place to stay and who never had any functional employment. Both lived in a old trailer owned by another uncle who via his own connections never wanted for employment, had had moved on to bigger and brighter things. This trailer was next door to my grandmother's house, about 500 feet away. Another uncle with his wife and his children lived two houses down in a manufactured home. They talked to my aunt but didn't seem close. They didn't help her much either.
My aunt would get cancer. BAD CANCER If one knows illness can come from stress and trauma, it makes sense. It was serious cancer to the point they burned out her insides with radiation. I wasn't old enough to warn her not to trust everything doctors told her and doubt the narcissistic relatives warned her either. She ended up permanently disabled by her early-30s, on dialysis. I was disabled by age 29. See the similarities?
Now this isn't the worse of the story.....her husband would leave and divorce her and she would be left next door to my grandmother's farm house which did have running water, and all the modern necessities in a broken down trailer without running water. The trailer was old and basically began to fall apart and that included the plumbing system. No running water. On dialysis. How many years did she go without running water? I heard SEVEN from someone. The excuses were rampant among my family though my mother later helped her get a new small decent trailer. I don't know how much my mother knew living long distance, but the relatives including my grandmother who lived right next door to her, what did they know? I don't think much of them as people. I really do not. Judgmental? Perhaps, but then remember I'm the woman who got abandoned in the ghetto by the same family while gaining weight and severely ill. Even if some resented help came later with comments about losers and put-downs--I suppose it's not good for appearances to allow your relatives to die on your doorstep. Why were both of us left to flounder for years and years? Both of us scapegoats ended up in severe poverty. Hers was worse then my own in many ways. I got the urban grotty kind and she got the rural isolated kind. In my case I figured out fast how to go to the social workers for help to survive, in her case, a passive malaise set in. I suffered far away which in many ways was probably easier, then suffering right next door to a mother who refused to help.
Some of them mumbled "She hid this from us"! But then I thought after all the years of shame and blame no wonder. I remember reacting with disgust and even horror over the fact I never knew, but this was years after I had been shut out purposefully. I would drive down for visits to see my grandmother and still being naïve, would believe her, when she told me, "Your Aunt doesn't want to talk to you!". Her phone number had changed and no one would give me the new one. They claimed she was too poor for me to call since it would cost her "minutes". I never heard from her. I sent letters. I sent cards. The door was slammed shut in my face. In essence by my mid 20s they shredded any hope of a relationship I had with my aunt. Even as recently as 4 years ago, they hemmed and hawed about giving me her phone number and even when I on occasion was given one, it would just ring and ring. The narcissists wanted their control and no scapegoats teaming up. I was too poor myself to travel to see her or play a bigger part in her life. They were able to shut me out successfully. Sadly that happened with so many people. It does give me intense grief.
How do I describe this but to understand why a couple years ago, I cried my eyes out seeing one of her old letters during the years we were friends and the person that used to be there, under all the challenges. The more gentle soul? The aunt I once knew. The person I used to be able to talk to and who even used to agree with me about the toxicity in the family was wiped away. A potential ally who had a little bit of spirit in her crushed into an obedient passive cipher. She accepted everything they told her about me, from mocking my Christian religious beliefs and believed all their lies. I cried over her just like I did my sister.
I didn't figure out the games they played with the phone and contact until too late though I protested plenty and went against what they told me trying to call her. They must have commanded her to avoid me. The smear campaigns must have been intense ones behind the scenes. The set up in the family was that I was "bad news", a recalcitrant rebel" and everyone was to keep their distance. She obeyed and followed too. She did what they told her to. That hurt.
When I said to family members, "How on earth did Grandmother [who was healthy and active until only a year before she died] allow that to happen?" No one answered. They seemed to act like this was normal treatment. To this very day this makes me want to throw up. One aunt who is married to the narcissistic uncle [her and my mother's brother] just had excuses to make and more bad things to say about her. That aunt didn't like it when I said, "It's too bad she didn't run for the hills!" and that there was nothing to respect about my grandmother leaving her to live in that condition right next door.
What kind of family is that? Remember we are talking about 2 siblings who make 6 figures, a mother right next door in a decent modernized farm house. A person on dialysis with serious health problems. See where I am going with this?
I tried to reach out again to her a few years ago. I sent her a box of books, other gifts and a painting and a card and letter in a box. The painting was of flowers in a garden, the books were various fiction novels, cookbooks and more. I wanted to let her know I cared, I wanted to reform a relationship even with all the games with the phone. I never heard anything back. More rejection for me. Keep in mind the family would play up this aunt's illness but despite her dialysis and colostomy, in many ways her physical functionality was far higher then my own, she could sit in a car for hours, my mother invited her once to fly to her Florida home--this in the time after she got her a trailer after the years of neglect and abandonment, she was never housebound from weather like me, but I was labeled "the interloper" bothering a desperately sick woman and not a niece just wanting to have a relationship with an aunt.
Around three years passed, and I think she called once or one time I actually got through on her constantly changing unknowable phone number, and I was told by other relatives, she had gotten a serious hoarding problem. One thing she hoarded was food which did not surprise me given her history of poverty. My aunt would apologize over and over to my mother for her hoarding as my mother issued more edicts to keep clean. My painting was now water stained still in the opened box she had thrown in her closet. My mother asked me, "Did I want it back?" I still wonder about this, why did she throw my painting in the closet? My mother and sister did not respond but acted like this was something normal. My art is part of me, it's almost like she shredded me and threw me in the bottom of the closet, a big middle finger extended. The creepiest thing, is the family treated this as normal, my mother cleaning up her trailer earlier that month, when I visited her at home, said "Here's your painting!". I said "Why did she open the box, take one look at the painting on top and just throw it in her closet?" None of them said anything. This was acceptable to them. They did not care that I was hurt, and if one day they read these words, they can know I walked away tired of trying to give love and care to people who simply did not want me around and sadly this included this aunt.
One scary moment was back around 2009, my mother had her move in for a few months while she was recovering from a surgery and my mother with a glint in her eye and set jaw turned to me and said, "Why is she having these surgeries anyway, why is she fighting to live!" She should give it up!
Remember what I have said about the veil slipping, that was one of those moments.
Remember this is a person who can live alone, who is higher functioning then me physically when it comes to many things who can drive herself to dialysis, who has no housebound problems. My answer was too weak, sometimes my mother would shock me with her blatant callousness where my mouth would freeze. I am not coward but she has left me speechless more times then I want to count. I said something about how normal people want to fight for life, and it being God's will for them to live longer and come to Him or some other theological musings, but I was wasting my time, this was my mother.
My mother continued and started complaining about how "lazy" she was and how little she was helping with the housework and how she needed to work on herself with comments about her colostomy bag causing unwanted odors. I turned to my mother and said, "The woman just had heart valve surgery, and has been disabled and on dialysis for 15 years, she's not suddenly going to go get a executive job and a corner office and start jogging everyday." My mother did not respond but huffed and left the room. Why take a ill person in if you are just going to resent them? Martyrship? Appearances? That day I saw her hunched over on the couch, and tried to talk to her, she was so depressed, I didn't even approach her about the painting issue. She was very thankful to my mother and sadly I believe, incorporated every negative word into her being. Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? Yes it was kind of like that.
Back several years prior to this, my mother and her then new husband clucked their tongues over my aunt's poverty and how it disgusted them and how she ran up some debts and they found a black trashbag of collection notices and unopened bills in her trailer. I turned to them and said, "She lives on $600 dollars a month, what do you expect on that low of money?" My defense were for naught. They were smug putting down another poor relative. I grew up with that too and knew every time a relative ill or not had to borrow money or was in need or unemployed or buried in medical bills, of course it was always THEIR FAULT. The sharks never wanted for a job or even a dime, what did they understand? Nothing.
My aunt was a warning to me, I had to escape. I had to flee. I had to leave Low Contact behind and go right back to No Contact. In my case I was more protected by a husband, and long distance, but I knew the cards were on the table. For years even when visiting my grandmother's house and the relatives in that state, I would leave crying in the car. My husband would say with concern "What's wrong?" but that is how I felt around all of them too. The older I got the more I saw that how toxic my mother's family was. Between the cold stone narcissists and the quiet and afraid, emotionally I would be wrung out. Keep in mind I am the only member of the family who ever answered back to both grandmother and my mother.
I had the illness, I had the risk where they could try and grab my guardianship too just like my aunt. Even if I know my way around a court room better and have witnesses for competency and am fully competent, I saw what happened to my aunt. My vision of hell was before me, being dependent on my mother for care one day or her sister the mini-me and being emotionally destroyed and completely broken in the process. The risk is too high. I didn't want to be my aunt one day. I didn't want a narrowed down life where I had become defined by these people in each and every way.
I wish I could have set my aunt free. I pray for this everyday even at this late date. If only we could have become allies. I wish I could have said to her, these people are horrible for you. My mother thinks she is better then you for her money on this earth but that is not true. God does not judge by those things. Come and walk with me. But sadly she rejected me too, and I had to walk away from even her.
Narcissists break down and destroy people. They destroy relationships. That is part of what they do. They got my body but not my mind, soul and spirit. With my aunt, they got all of it.