Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Mother: Enabler or Disabler?

Kiki made me think about it again. She re-examines her father's role in her narcissistic family dynamic. In light of her discoveries of her mother's disorder, she is also beginning to see her father's behavior in a different light.

Which makes me ask myself one more time: What was my mother's role in our family dynamic? My problem is, I can't look at the way she's acting now, with my new-found knowledge and awareness, as she died when I was 20. And I don't remember much of her and our relationship.  And it's bad form to speak ill of the dead, anyway.

She let him have me, but she probably thought we were having a good time together, and he may have even been making her jealous on purpose by focusing his attention on me. She didn't stand up for herself and her right to have a relationship with her little daughter, but she probably didn't even think she needed to stand up for me and my right to have a relationship with my mother.

Whenever I think of the bad stuff he did or said when I was little, she doesn't appear in the picture, and, most probably, she wasn't anywhere near us at the time. NF and I had plenty of unsupervised time alone together.

When I was 7 and my father slapped me repeatedly in the face because I'd "offended" him, she was there. I told her later that "Now I love you more". I guess what I meant was "I realize clearly at this point that my father is a disturbed man and am asking for a closer relationship with you". To which she replied, after a long, nervous pause, something like "Well, I don't... Not like this..." I don't know what she meant at all. She didn't want to "win" like this? She didn't need to be loved more, just family peace? She didn't want us both to get into trouble if he found out I'd "cheated" on him with her? I don't know what she should have said. But I felt I was on my own here, that every act of rebellion would be mine alone.

Later, in the evening, I heard her tell him "You might have gone too far", to which he snapped angrily, and she went quiet. Overhearing this surprised me, mostly, I guess, because I'd never imagined anyone would ever question anything my father did.

Mostly, my deeper impressions of her inside our family dynamic were of a weak woman who wanted peace above all, although she was usually cheerful, outspoken, and loud, and, especially outside of the home, always said what she thought openly.

I do remember her gently mocking his antics. And this approach worked. He was manageable for at least a decade of my life that I remember, until she died. He would storm into our home, for instance, demanding to know whose fault something that was "amiss" was, and I dreaded his return from work, but the two of us, mom and I, devised a skit we played on him, shouting his usual words in unison before he had the time to:

"Who left the shoes on the floor? Why did you leave the shoes on the floor?" And we'd laugh pre-emptively. And he couldn't pull that anymore and look serious. So he didn't.

When he accused her of cheating, she replied as if she'd, naturally, assumed he was joking. And it worked. From what his girlfriend tells me, any other approach gets a woman seriously verbally abused!

Possibly he thought of her, a sane psychologist, as an authority on Normal. And tried to play the part of a sane man with her as his audience, at least a little bit.

When she died, there was no one who could use gentle, good-natured humor to stem his madness. And no authority on sanity to perform for. I only knew how to argue, defend, justify, explain; I fought back the best way I knew how, but living with him became impossible.

Could she have done things differently and how? I honestly don't know. She was the daughter of divorced parents and had to balance between her father and stepfather all her life, which may have made her good prey for a narcissist; also, her experiences may have made her very reluctant to even consider divorce as an option.

I was told by her colleague that she wanted my father to get therapy for his drink problem, and he said "No way. I'd sooner be divorced from you" so she didn't push it. She never diagnosed his NPD, or if she had, she never told anyone about it. He was in stealth mode back then. If she had known, really known, would she have done anything different? And should she have?

Thoughts? Help me see this a bit more objectively!


  1. It is so difficult to make any rational comments about a person you've never met, and who is dead. Like you say, you don't want to speak ill of the dead (though I do about my own deceased father!).

    It does seem like she did her best to keep herself as safe as possible, and even made some attempts to stand up for her daughter. But all very weak, and incomplete, attempts.

    What would you think while reading stories about physically abusive husbands and fathers, and mothers who "let" their kid be beaten so they can have some peace? It happens pretty often, at least judging by an abuse group I used to belong to. (It's on MDC, you can go apply if you're interested)

    On the other hand, she might have thought a two parent household was beneficial for you so she put up with this stuff and only engaged in passive resistance for your sake.

  2. I'm so sorry you're going through such a painful ordeal. I wish I could snap my fingers, so you could instantly have the clarity you need and deserve:( Here are a few of my ideas. I hope my sincere caring comes's tough to pull off in a blog comment for me sometimes, so please bear with me:)

    Did your NF threaten to divorce your mother and get full custody of you, if she didn't "cooperate" with how he basically claimed you as his and his alone? That act in itself was so blatantly mother with any IQ could miss that...and your mother was smart enough to become a psychologist!

    Unlike your mother, any normal adult witnessing how your father completely took over your "care" would know he was the type to say and do all kinds of other awful things to you (so the fact your mother perhaps didn't directly witness some of your abuse, doesn't absolve her of guilt...he was so obviously over-the-top nuts...).

    This concept seems so obvious to me, but many people, even on hearing their relative killed 10 people, will still say stupid things like: "He wouldn't lie to me." Oh yes he would!!! This person's whole life is a lie! At the very core, he's acting like he's one of us, to blend in and have easier access to human prey. Why IS *anyone* shocked to hear someone lied, if it's already known that they committed a gross felony??! HELLO!!!

    And to H**L with the phrase "speaking ill of the dead"! So many bad relatives use that phrase to take away our voice as victims of parental abuse. Your "parents" were both seriously dysfunctional and IMHO, not remotely able and/or willing to be parents.

    It looks to me like your NF used your mother's psychology degree and her more normal appearing persona to cloak his badness.

    Your mother's reason for being with your NF is a bit more murky to me. You'd think with her degree she would have quickly realized he was a major N, and avoided him after that like the plague! Sadly, on the blogs I read, folks repeatedly comment on how many therapists are no good at spotting Ns. Have you read that, too? Sooo bizarre!!

    Just a pretty good guess: Your mother got in over her know, all that N charisma is a powerful magnet. Once you arrived, she saw the depth of his became his, like an extra arm or leg.

    Maybe she thought she could placate him enough to make family life ok, not great, but ok. She *way* underestimated his mental sickness and/or overestimated her abilities as an in-home psychologist! It seems almost like she was engaging in a long-term, *real life* psychology experiment:( AT YOUR EXPENSE!!! How horrible for you, to have this de-selfing NON-CHILDHOOD!!! Evil has so many manifestations.

    Like I said at the beginning, PLEASE remember I mean well with my comment. It's just my opinion...not God's words of truth and wisdom:) I hope I was of help and that other people will give you help as well. Take care:)

  3. "...I only knew how to argue, defend, justify, explain..."

    Yes. Because that didn't mean stepping outside his frame of reference, right?


  4. I have a different perspective than nolongerrunning and Jasmine. I was married to a narcissistic man and had two children with him. I had no psychological training but I knew there was something "wrong" with him after our first child was born. He had a "Jeckyl and Hyde" personality.

    I thought he could get better with anti-anxiety drugs, or with counselling, and he sincerely acted like he was going to get help. He even took anxiety pills for several months, and saw a counsellor for several sessions. He showed some improvement for a while. Then after our second child was born he reverted back to his old ways.

    We saw a marriage counsellor briefly and she indicated he had strong narcissistic tendencies. I looked up "narcissism" myself, and did research, and boom - I found out that my husband was indeed a narcissist.

    I left him as soon as I was financially able to do so. My youngest was not even a year old when I left.

    I imagine that if I had been a psychologist in the same situation, I would have felt that I could help him. As it was, I felt he could be helped somehow, and if I had psychology training I would have felt like I was in the best position to help him, and minimise his negative effects on his children. People in relationships with narcissists often feel that if they just knew the right words to say, if they could just somehow show the love that the spouse didn't get as a child, they can heal the narcissistic person. I felt that way myself, briefly. I'll bet your mom was a person like this. Especially given that she was trained to help people with psychological issues, she probably felt that she could help him and at the same time protect you from him. She probably even thought she had a calming effect on him, and that everyone would be better off if she stuck it out and kept trying to fix him.

    I’ll bet she even thought that he really loved you. Just like I somehow believe my ex-husband really loves our children, despite all the stuff I read about narcissists not being able to truly love anybody.

    My vote is that she was a disabler, or that she THOUGHT she was, at least.


  5. NLR, I'm not sure she thought of me as "abused". Eve with the things she didn't witness, I wasn't physically hurt more than other kids in my culture, probably less. He put the mask on for her more than me. I remember times with all three of us together as pretty tranquil. Could she have genuinely believed, along with the rest of our family friends and relatives, that he "loved" me so much? I honestly don't know.

    If they'd gotten divorced, chances are good he would have gotten custody.

    They'd been together for 22 (!) years before I was born. That's a lot of history. And past loyalty, I guess.

    Keep making me think. :) I'm sorry to ask you for opinions on a late woman no one knows personally, but there's no one else to ask! I've asked all I could!

  6. Jasmine: "Unlike your mother, any normal adult witnessing how your father completely took over your "care" would know he was the type to say and do all kinds of other awful things to you"

    Sigh. Sadly, the people I've been talking to lately were CERTAIN he was the most doting father ever. Though quirky and odd.

    "Your mother's reason for being with your NF is a bit more murky to me. You'd think with her degree she would have quickly realized he was a major N, and avoided him after that like the plague!"

    You'd think, right? But she was also very naive. Seriously, even I was better - as a teen - at understanding that people sometimes hid some things and lied about others. She was very open and honest. To use Jonsi's metaphor, this made her a very unlikely candidate to See him as wholly made of lies.

    I appreciate the thoughts as I'm really trying to understand all this.

  7. GKA, yes, I spent much of my life in his frame of reference, unfortunately.

  8. Insidesopen, thank you so much! You were in her position, so your perspective is really very helpful to me.

    I do think she thought he loved me, in his weird, controlling, obsessive way. She might have thought she was his only victim, as he "adored" me.

    The frustrating fact is, I'll NEVER know so many things! NF lies, and she's dead.

  9. His girlfriends knows there's something wrong with him, but thinks she must be at least partly to blame for their problems as he "really loves his daughter", i.e., me, who he would do anything for. I, on the other hand, doubted my observations because he at least has a long-term meaningful relationship with her, and had one with my mother, so it must have been me. It appears he has a talent for divide-and-conquer confusion of people.

  10. That last comment is really very powerful. I think it describes the typical narc's modus operandi perfectly.

    I am so sorry you and your mom had your relationship sacrificed on the altar of NPD.

  11. your mother sounds really distant. she wasn't there as your mother. i don't think being a psychologist has much to do with it. she mustve had issues of her own if she was staying in a relationship with such a person. she saw when he slapped you in the face?! telling him quietly 'he's crossed the line' isn't going to do anything! she either needed to stop him/get in his face, or get you the hell out of there! which financially, she could've done, right, with her own job?
    its hard to say though that she couldve done anything different. because of who she was and where she was as a person. i don't think it really matters what she could have done. the truth is, what she did do and what she failed to do. and how you felt about it.
    i would say enabler. if she failed to stop it, she failed to stop it and WORST she failed to let you know clearly that she was there for you and that she understood that it was not your fault. she was not your mom.
    i see that you think she tried. with the game you guys came up with. that's kind of a weak attempt if you ask me. like she sort of felt bad for you, on the side, so she tossed you something. the fact that it was the "two of you", instead of your mom taking some full adult responsibility and taking action for you. she perpetuated a shitty situation, she let herself and YOU be abused. what she really owed you was full support, not consolation prizes.

  12. Stupid or a liar? That's another thought. Was she too stupid and naive to diagnose him with her degree and 22 years' relationship BEFORE I was even born OR was she lying to herself and others all her life?

    Lisa, she also slapped me at times. Most kids get slapped and spanked in my culture at some point, most pretty often. What I found disturbing about THIS instance was that it was because I'd made a joke and he found it "offensive". I was clearly not misbehaving or out of line or anything.

    I know what you mean about "the two of us". I feel like the stronger one and have for some time now. Today I asked my husband "Am I really the only person in the family to see him for who he is? Am I what, the smartest of the lot?"

    The two of them were living with HER parents when they had me. And he controlled his MIL too, especially when it came to me.

    And it occurs to me that her mother appears to have had narcissistic traits, too, which would have groomed her perfectly for narcissistic abuse. But I don't KNOW and ever will.

  13. hmm. i don't know if she was stupid or a liar. i don't think it has a lot to do with being smart, at least, not a lot to do with being intellectual. it doesnt take education and intellect to know when someone is treating you like crap. in fact, education may do nothing. she had emotional issues.
    she didn't need to diagnose your dad. she needed to see that what he was doing was cruel and destructive. somehow she failed to understand that..
    like you said, maybe she never got over her own upbringing. back when i was depressed and living my life for others, i would hear pretty often what a nice great person i was. maybe your mom had similar issues, no emotional boundaries, not really there as her own person.
    i dont want to minimize her impact, fault, and responsibility to you though. please don't let feeling sorry for her make you feel guilty or be understanding of something that was very very bad for you.

    and yeah, in a way you were the smartest of the lot! you saw your truth the most clearly and stuck to it! i guess another word for it would be most faithful.


I encourage comments!!!