Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Narcissist Family Events: "When I Visit My Family I Will Rent A Car"
One joke that was told in my household, with my husband and me was "When I Visit My Family I Will Rent a Car" [Stuart Smalley style]. I would add to this, "When I Visit My Family I Will Always Have a Hotel Room to Escape to." Stuart Smalley was an entertaining character, no one told him about no contact!
My matriarchial narcissist ruled the roost. Our family events were ones of the tribe paying homage to the chief, with a big dinner put on for all. These were not ones of free talking or loose fun, imagine prim people sitting on straight on the edges of sofas. Everyone measured their words as to not offend the queen or "queens" when my grandmother was still alive. I wrote about the time last year where my mother wrote an email about topics that were not allowed. This really was about producing the PERFECT picture of a family rather then dealing with the individuals as people. Sometimes going to these things was like going to a play, playing your proper part and then walking off. Narcissists desired the stage show they directed.
I got more satisfaction watching paint dry. Sometimes with a relative I liked or hadn't lost their soul to the narcissists, I'd try to drag them "off stage" to have a real conversation. This could happen with my brother and a few cousins--the people I kept contact with, but never with any of the others. I remember trying to get my Aunt who is the scapegoat and a few others "off stage" and out of ear shot of the rest but they were too busy trying to please the queens to take note of the likes of me even if they just saw them last week and hadn't seen me in two years.
While the food was tasty, family members would parade their children and babies, brag about their jobs, and it was almost like going on a job interview. Who has the best job? Who has the most children? People without children even if infertile were deemed "selfish", those without jobs, deemed "lazy". Every morsel of food eaten analyzed and up for comment. Don't get hungry at a different time from the narcissists.
This was no place to relax and be yourself. Everyone was focused on impressing one another and gathering the kind regard of my narcissistic mother or grandmother. These family dynamics were disturbing enough. Some family members who were not present, sometimes would be in for a "bonding over putting someone down" session. My brother's ex wife was often in for it, my scapegoat aunt too, though that got lesser as she was invited and taken to more events the more submissive she became to my mother, and who ever else was on the "bad" list that week/month/or year. Screw up and you were cannon fodder.
Add in hardcore neo-con [on the freedom hating side] Republican politics that condemned everyone without a job or money, as being a "loser" or "not trying hard enough" and oddly a mixture of the worse ideological things modern culture has to offer and some of the conversations got kind of harsh. You simply were not allowed to have another opinion. Last year she tried to pre-empt any conversation she would not like, and actually sent us all a list of things we could not talk about in email, these ranged from God to homosexuality to some bill before Congress I can't remember right now. With the God rule, being a Christian, I felt like I was being asked to commit an act of idolatry to Nero and pals and did not show up. They didn't know where to pigeon-hold me which seemed to make them more angry.
During one family event where I broke my Stuart Smalley rule and actually [horrors] sat in a car with my mother on a trip to my grandmother's for the first time in 15 years. She broke endless speed limits as I sat there mouth clenched, all this for trying to make nice and get to "closer" to my family. She yelled at then 30 something year old me to stop fidgeting, and that I should wear pants and not dresses all the time. That is a day that will live on in infamy, one telling moment was her dogging out the farmers we bought some vegetables from their home stand, saying they were dirty and disgusting and me replying and saying, "One isn't going to be perfectly clean, farming for a living". No one was immune. Everything could be held up to criticism, your weight, your clothes, the way you moved. If they weren't telling you that your life was a mess, they would get find something else small to pick on. Everyone else was failures while the narcissists especially my mother and sister were "perfect".
My father when he was alive and part of the family events combined his seething rage, put downs, and screaming fits with all of the above. His later absence rendered the family events more calm on the surface. There were times, he wanted to make you cry to show off to the others. Having one's father order you around like a slave in front of cousins demanding exactly three ice cubes in every drink and others was not too cool. He had no problem disrespecting two of his own children in front of others and seemed to glory in it. No one ever defended a kid against their narcissist torturer.
If anyone drank or was high at my family events, they did it in secret and kept it on the down-low. I never had any substance abuse problems in my life as a teetotaler and never touch any drugs except prescription ones that are all non-narcotic, but Benadryl became my "lite" tranquilizer of choice to cope with my family. I could go two months without needing it for any allergies and pop a couple to take the edge of everything, a light "buzz" to help envelop me in a cocoon to deal with the sharks.
I still remember the other scapegoats and those who were poor, coming to the family events like they were having teeth pulled. My scapegoat aunt would come just to eat, saying around a total of 10 words and disappear into her broken down trailer next door to my grandmother's house citing fatigue. One uncle with his silent children--now all adults in their very late 20s living at home with few prospects and no mates who are the new targets being called "losers" in our dying economy, would sit there eating and not saying a word. Were they afraid to talk? One wonders.
Intellectually, as we sat at the table, or later watching TV, my brain would freeze and silence would take over and I would wonder what could I talk about? Every topic had to be instantly assessed to make sure it was safe. Being an Aspie, this was a nightmare. I couldn't talk about current events with people offended by the slightest digression in opinion. I couldn't talk about books because none of them ever read and hadn't visited a library in years save for my brother. I couldn't talk about personal stuff because that opened me for attack. One could only drag out discussion of the weather so long or compliment one of the narcissists on their new furniture or shopping acumen so I became quiet and over the years dare I say sunk into the background. While today I think this is one of the many things that made me a "stranger", what other choice did I have around people who got angry every time I opened my mouth?
I would stand up for myself from time to time as it was mandated like the time both my mother and grandmother attacked me for being fat, ironically during a lunch where they pigged out on pizza and I just had a turkey sandwich because I am lactose intolerant and yelled back, "Do you think my body works like yours?"
One thing I used to pray to God, was "How could you give me a family like this"? Where there was no one I could really talk to? [things were better with my brother and a couple cousins but even there I had to gently lead them away from the manipulation of the narcissists and it got wearing]. Facebook I am sure was strange for some of them seeing all these friends of mine profess out and out love for me, something that never happened in our family where the prevailing attitude was one of utter disgust and not being good enough. With some of these relatives, who I like and care about, I feel bad, that our relationships have been so adversely affected. I posted this for their sake and yes for some of my own, today on my Facebook page:
No Contact for the first time during the holidays is tough terrain. This is supposedly the no-contact hump, that if you manage to cross things will get easier. I hope so. There is this feeling of GUILT. I've seen psychologists warn against "fear, guilt and obligation" before online, the so called FOG that can keep one enmeshed in toxic relationships. It's what kept me dragging myself to all these family events where I was invisible and a "worm". I had to sit back and ask, "What are you doing?" Self care actually had me refusing events almost an entire year before I went totally no contact.
There are some family members I care about and still have some contact with, but I wonder if I ever will be able to see them again since the only family gatherings and visits that happen rotate around the nexus of the narcissist matriarch. Being no contact for me, may actually mean never seeing one relative ever again in person, even the ones I want to see. This is one reason I stayed low contact for so many years too but one gets to the point where they can do it anymore. Even in the video I linked to where Stuart debates going to a family Christmas gathering or not, saying "Ill go, No, I won't go." That was me for years. Even the stress in these last few years triggered infections or a kidney stone almost on cue.
In my case part of my "giving up" [no contact et. al.] rotated around the very that my health couldn't take it anymore. No one was coming to see me. One loved best friend knows I am unable to get out to where she lives, so she comes to me. Actually this would describe several friends but with my family that never happened. The ones I am in contact with, are the one who are more financially limited like me, so I understand.
There was one Thanksgiving where the temperature dropped into the low and mid 30s which is beyond what I am comfortable at lung wise [the 20s would have put me into the hospital] and I pressed on, hoping it would be on the warmer end. My reward was hiding the endless asthma attacks and breathing problems in the bathroom, throwing up a few times. The stress of keeping a smile on my face and keeping it together made it even tougher. My mother's house was not a place where someone would give you a bed to lie down on if you took ill. It never was a place of comfort. A rented hotel room for one night helped me keep it together in front of them.
This was hard. Sometimes I would literally cry if the temperatures nose-dived leaving me no options, trying to see nieces and nephews I had not seen in two years and truly do miss, and feel heartbreak at not being able to have formed closer relationships with. But some of you may ask "What is missing here"? There was absolutely no accommodations from the others. My mother had a downstairs bedroom but because she is such a neat-freak and so uptight, I never could ask her even to put my swollen leg and stomach up. Nothing. No one came here or visited even if they driving by one mile from where I live, they were always too "busy". These are folks who drive 1,500 miles to Florida back and forth and other sojurns for hundreds of miles. I live 75 miles away from my mother. My grandmother's old home and where the family is meeting is almost 200 miles away.
Going on visits I could not physically handle bought me breathing problems and leg infections. Remember I'm a woman where I qualified for housebound services. I haven't left my apartment but once in the last three weeks on a day where it hit 49-50 degrees. Yesterday I had breathing problems from the temperature going down to the teens. I did not need to go to the hospital-my inhalers worked but I was under serious strain.
The Baby Boomer modern American experiment of having families separate by hundreds and thousands of miles worked when people had expendable income to travel and buy a new car every two years, but for Generation X and the Millennials, it has meant more isolation and more loneliness and far more stress! Some lose their families due to poverty and distance--which applies to me quite a bit, even before any chosen no contact, and others go into hock trying to step up, visit and get presents they can't afford. As I have written before, this is a system where wealthier family members earn more of the families notice and attention, and where poverty and illness can render you invisible.
December is the hardest month of the year for me, since my housebound time begins and its 100% house-bound-ness now, where a cool or warmer day just doesn't happen to break up the monotony like in the summer. Being outside of this all and getting some perspective, I realized now how utterly selfish, that all the travel was to be one way for so many years. Narcissists however have that insidious way of doing things, blaming you for everything, even non-chosen health problems and setting things up so you are in the pleasing them department instead of pleasing yourself.
I found out from one relative I have some contact with, that my NM is having a big blow out holiday party, with a rented hall this weekend for the annual family gathering. Even if I was not "no contact" with them, it'd be too cold to go. Of course what am I missing? Not much. Once I get over the false guilt that is slowly ebbing away, I can already feel the RELIEF coming....