Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Estranged Parent | Illness, Death, Funeral

I have been estranged from my mother for over 7 years. We had been through cycles in and out of estrangement through my entire life; however, this estrangement is final. She has broken my trust and done things to me that only a person who has no respect for me would. And in all honesty, no one has ever treated me with such disregard, denigration, destruction, and damage... and this person is my mother

At any rate, she has been sick for quite some time with an auto-immune disease which is treated with very toxic drugs. She has had complications through the years about which my brother has informed me, including the possibility of kidney loss and need for transplant. So, here is the first situation of contemplation: how to handle the possible call, asking me to donate a kidney. She already put my brother on the spot, and being the son who wants to stay in good standing to receive monetary assistance, he said he'd give her his kidney. He laughed about it when he told me. 

If push came to shove that the kidney transplant is necessary for her to live, and my brother's is not a match-- she may come knocking on my door since she and I have the same rare blood type. What a predicament that would be. I am not heartless but I am also not wanting to eliminate the ability to ever help my husband, daughter, or aunt who are actively in my life, unconditionally and whole-heartedly daily. Additionally, if she cannot give of herself to me on a daily basis, why should I have to give to her in this manner?

Another issue that my brother has asked me several times is if I would go to my mother's death bed ... and if I would attend her funeral. As far as the death bed, why would we communicate when she's at death's door when we haven't during the days of life? If she doesn't have the desire or gumption to see me now, why when death is closing in? All she has done in the last 7 years is talk poorly about me and create alliances to destroy relationships around me. She has not had good intentions in the past or presently-- so would those intentions on her death bed be pure. I don't think so. I believe a healthy serving of guilt would be served as she has adeptly inflicted since I was a child.

And as far as her funeral: if we don't speak to each other here and now, appearing at her funeral is not appropriate or valid. I can honor her as my mother in my own way, on my own time, and at her grave-site at a later date. I know this all sounds very morbid, but I have been asked this scenario many times and have had to analyze my feelings and plan-of-action. Abusers still manage to put the victims in the middle of such painful situations, which they didn't bring upon themselves, and force the victims to deal with them and their trail of wreckage even after their deaths.

In the book "Mean Mothers" by Peg Streep, one of the most powerful moments in the book is when Streep gets the call from her brother that her mother is dying (page 31), the comment from him that he thought she might want to come see her, and the decision Streep makes. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what decision Streep would make. Ultimately, Streep's decision and her feelings about her decision mirror what I concluded to do. Powerful passages that, as Streep says, "testifies to what can happen when a mother can't love her daughter in the way she needs to be loved" (page 33).

Those with healthy and loving relationships with their parents don't understand and can't fathom the depth of this situation (sick parent, parent on death-bed, parent's funeral) but what these folks don't know is the extent of the past with an abusive, pathological, and narcissistic parent. And most importantly, I have already said goodbye to my mother.

I had an epiphany when my child was born-- I had a sudden realization and comprehension of the essence and meaning behind my mother and my estrangement. Life was not a **game** anymore (my parents were always playing life and relationships like games. Head games of guilt and shame were primary tactics with strategy of manipulation). Also, we had passed through some major life events without each other: my wedding, my pregnancy, and now the birth of my child. This situation between my mother and me is profound... profoundly dead. After my child was born and I passed a cemetery, a rush of emotion flowed through me. That last piece of the puzzle has been put into place and now I can see the whole picture. I mourned the loss of my mother but I knew that what has happened in the past is precisely what makes a future impossible. So with this epiphany and with the acceptance of the death of our relationship, how and why could / would I engage in any of the aforementioned situations? I am not bitter. I am not angry. I am actually at peace with my past, present, and future.

Researching advice from the general public to someone in my situation (estranged parent on death-bed), resoundingly the public is in favor of making amends and communicating. With this research, I have no idea if this public has ever been through abusive parents-- and would they have the same point-of-view if they had. Further research revealed a study by Reverend Renee Pittelli of people’s opinions and attitudes about attending the funerals of estranged relatives. She did not refer to the deceased as “abusers”, only “estranged relatives”, so many of the respondents did not consider themselves to be abuse victims. They simply were not on speaking terms with whoever had passed away, or would pass in the future, although the assumption of abuse was the case. Possibly if the survey specified “abusers”, most of the respondents would have been even more adamant in their refusal to commemorate their deaths. The respondents were both men and women, and ranged in age from their twenties to their seventies. They came from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, locations, and religions. The results revealed that only 8% would go to the funeral as going would be the "right thing to do", culturally correct, or reflective of how they were raised. WOW! 8%

As sad as this subject may be, this situation didn't happen overnight. This situation is a collection of events from birth to present that created the dynamic (or lack thereof). Just because this person is your parent doesn't give him / her the right to own your feelings, decisions, or life. And if you are estranged from you parent, I am pretty certain you would actually like to have a loving, healthy, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationship. So at the end, if you have been estranged, a reason or many reasons are at the root of the no-contact. And these reasons don't dissipate simply because that person is sick, dying, or has a funeral. Whatever your decision may be, the decision is a deeply personal one. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Daughters of Madness | Infants, Early Childhood, Middle Childhood

I have just completed the book "Daughters of Madness. Growing Up and Older with Mentally Ill Mother" by Susan Nathiel. Susan is a psychotherapist and discusses the daughters of mentally ill mothers, including Borderline Personalty Disordered (BPD) mothers. Supporting her analysis and topics about daughters of mentally ill mothers from birth to adulthood, she intersperses personal accounts from daughters. Many of these accounts I could completely relate with-- and her introduction has such a touching and powerful statement that rings so true, "That memory of a pretty mommy is still alive despite what came later for these women. What transpired was invariably ugly, shaming, and often terrifying, not at all what the little girl would have wanted from her pretty mommy." My mother was very beautiful but through all of the nasty treatment or disregard I received, her beauty wilted into a sight I didn't want to see. 

Mother's Role in Our "Self" Development: Nathiel's beginning of the book is very captivating. A chapter is devoted to the mentally ill mother's role in the development of her child, which is centered around birth and infancy. She describes why some wounds heal, while others don't and discusses the after-shocks of early maternal failure. She relates that at about six months of age, we develop a  'template' of our earliest experiences of ourselves relative to the world. Research confirms what common sense already tells us: that all those thousands of times someone comforted us when we cried (or didn't), all those times were held (or not) and sung to (or not) and washed and changed and put down to sleep (or not), are all important. We do remember them, but we remember them more by the body / mind sense of what it was like to be there, not because we have memories of specific events. pp3 -4 Nathiel  

I have always had a terrible time saying goodbye. I have had such a hard time that I have always wondered to what that deep sadness is rooted. I do know that I had to say 'goodbye' to my birth father / paternal grandparents around six months old. I do know that I had to say 'goodbye' to my maternal grandparents (who were my primary care-takers when I was a year and under) when my mother decided to remarry her high-school sweetheart and move across the country. Did these goodbyes have a lasting and profound effect on me? Interesting to contemplate given what the research states.

Research also shows that young children of mothers with psychotic disorders are more likely to have insecure attachments by the time they're two, and that in adulthood, more than half of the children of a mentally ill parent have either a mood disorder or substance abuse problem. p 10 Nathiel My brother falls directly into this category. After he was born, my mother became very dysfunctional. She was so ill that my Dad didn't know how to handle her and manage the family. Ultimately, he moved us close to my maternal grandparents so they could assist with my brother and me. Despite the move, my mother was emotionally incapable of handling us kids, and without anyone intervening for a period of time, my infant brother was greatly effected. As an adult, my brother has been diagnosed bipolar, has anti-social personality disorder, and substance abuse problems.

With a mother who can barely function in the world and who is emotionally dysfunctional, my brother and I were left with very splintered relationships with my mother. She had children when she was very young (she got pregnant with me at 19 years old) and mentally unstable (she had attempted suicide just little over a year earlier). Her unstable life led to an unstable entry into the world for my brother and me. I had 2 fathers within the first year of my life-- and I moved across country before a year old, leaving my primary care-takers (grandparents). 

The rich growth of medium of the mother-child interaction is where we can see how children take in the world, make sense of it, and respond to it according to that understanding. This happens from the day of birth, if not before. p 12 Nathiel  So, what were my brother and I learning from our mother-child interactions as babies and infants? Certainly not a very positive or stable point of view. If mother is dysregulated in a major way herself and has trouble modulating her own emotions, this certainly spells trouble for the developing infant-- and all before there is any objective memory of language to capture what the trouble is. Again, keep in mind this is all visceral, whole-body experience, without the ability to filter anything out. p 13 Nathiel 

Regular memories are explicit memories which we don't start building until 2 1/2 to 3 y/o. Implicit memories are templates of 'how the world is.' These templates are formed, laid down neurologically, then become the lived-in foundation of everything else build upon them. The templates are like a pair of glasses, but permanently affixed to the child's vision of the world. p 20 Nathiel My first real memories are around 2 years old with the landing of the men on the moon. I have also other snap-shot memories from around that time. But I certainly have a lot of 'feelings' surrounding that time. I can be taken back to that period with deep concentration, and I can **feel** what it was like-- but not with actual 'memories'. I don't have any warm and fuzzy memories of my mother. In fact, I have always felt there was something 'wrong'. I have always felt that my mother was unbalanced and could snap at any second. And as young as I can remember, I have always felt like I was walking on egg-shells.

Early Childhood: Nathiel then covers early childhood in the next section of "Daughters of Madness." She covers more about the moods that an impaired mother may have, which is definately an aspect of which I was acutely aware. Rather humorous but none-the-less sad, my brother and I could predict the mother that would emerge depending on if she had her curlers in (too tight curlers with Dippity Doo meant a 'mean mommy') or a certain outfit (the red, blue and black hip-hugger outfit  always meant a 'mean mommy' too). Some days she never got dressed and those days, the ones without make-up, were the more waif, sad, and depressed mommy.

My mother always saw me as connected with her-- a part of her-- not separate from her. My brother, on the other hand, was the all-bad child who couldn't do much right. She seemed to pick on him for one thing or another. An impaired mother may be having trouble with her moods-- she may be depressed, or her moods may fluctuate from one extreme to the other. Her connection to reality may be frayed, or, in extreme, non-existent, or she may be unable to see her child as a separate person. A self-centered mother may have trouble recognizing that a child has needs that are unique to him, but a psychotic mother may be unable to see the child as psychically or physically separate. p 19 Nathiel

Interestingly, my mother is absent from any of my 'fun time' memories. I have many memories of having fun times with my Dad and maternal grandparents but in the time period of my early childhood, I don't have a hand full surrounding fun with my mother. I only remember trying to assess the mother we had for the day (the mean mom? the sad mom? the easier to be around mom?). She was either smoking cigarettes while on the phone or doing house-work or locked in a dark room. 

Middle Childhood: Nathiel then proceeds into middle childhood where she discusses when kids from dysfunctional families are old enough to start seeing the inside of other people's families. She describes the experience as something they don't forget. This may be the first time they've ever seen a more 'normal family in action, and it may be the first realization that what goes on in their family is not the way it is for everyone. p 38 Nathiel I remember feeling this during early childhood. I was able to see a stark difference between how we lived versus others. I experienced this at neighbor's homes as well as with my aunt's home (she has two children who are 2 and 4 years older than me). What I observed was happy and warm homes with genuinely loving mothers. The homes smelled like something yummy cooking in the oven, and the children were free to play without the constant criticism and negative comments. These kids were allowed to get dirty and play like kids. 

Our house was very sterile. Even the linens in the closet were folded impeccably. I remember hearing random comments from folks who would stop by for a moment or two about how the house was perfect like a magazine. With personality disordered mothers, they are often charming and pleasant and often create the impression that their families are Disney productions, and children in these families are repeatedly told how lucky they are to have such a wonderful / kind / loving / cool mother. Needless to say, this makes it much harder for a child or adolescent to confide in others about what's going on behind closed doors. Children of personality-diordered mothers have a much harder time believing that their own perceptions are valid, as their mother routinely deny this validity, and the fact that the destructive behavior is visible only to them makes it that much harder. p 64 - 65 Nathiel 

My mother was often on the phone, doodling and smoking. She didn't cook so planning meals, shopping, anc cooking were not part of her repertoire. However, another bulk of her time was focused on her grooming projects: major project of shaving legs, of shaving pits, of washing and setting her hair. These grooming tasks could literally take all day. Even cleaning projects were taken to the 'nth' degree by not just Windexing a mirror but actually taking it down, wiping behind the mirror, then wiping the mirror itself, then replacing. If us kids tried to help clean, the cleaning was never good enough and she had to repeat. 

We were not allowed to have friends over to the house. We never had a birthday party. We were controlled: to bed hours before other kids and up later than other kids, our clothes were laid out, our food selected (no eating outside meal times). And one huge element surrounding my mother was that my brother and I must be grateful. I was given a latch hook kit as a gift from my mother. Completing the rug was not fun and I told my mother of  not enjoying it. The next holiday, I received another one and was expected to be very grateful. The same held true with the Healthtex shirts that had decals that irritated my skin. Even though I expressed my discomfort, she continue to buy these shirts and made me wear them.  

My Dad seemed to do the best he could with managing my mother's illness. Given the fact that he's narcissistic (and progressive gotten worse over the years), he managed by moving us back closer to my maternal grandparents, allowing her to stay locked in her room, and taking us kids away whenever possible. My mother and Dad had knock-down, drag-out fights that would wreck the house. My brother and I caught them in the midst of a hum-dinger, where my Dad was on top of her, restraining her. 

Nathiel covers fathers and siblings in this part. As much as I love this book, the section on fathers is lacking. She discusses how the father is in a a relationship with a sick woman and how the father may stay in the family for loyalty, sense of duty, marriage vows, didn't consider leaving, religious reasons, 'the love of his life', not quitters, and more. She doesn't cover the fact that many of these men who stay are also personality-disordered, alcoholics, or drug-addicts. Many of these men are in the relationship with a personality disordered woman because it's mutually beneficial (abet sick). Many of these fathers have a need fed by either taking care of these women (rescuers), being co-dependent, have a narcissistic need met, or are stuck in the abusive relationship with these women.

So, with my brother experiencing the same childhood as I did, why did he turn out completely opposite of me? I am the well adjusted, healthy, happy, positive, successful, educated while he is not. Nathiel offers an explanation in regard to psychological resilience. Psychological resilience has been associated with having at least one person who's a positive force-- even if the person is peripheral-- being intelligent, being creative, and having a sense of humor. p 35 Nathiel Perhaps the intervention of my grandparents made the difference in my life? My grandfather took the role of my father during the transition from my birth father to adoptive father. He remained an influential and very loving figure in my life until he passed away when I was 11 years old. He would tell everyone that he loved me more than anyone in the world. My grandmother was also very supportive, loving, and receptive to me. I also loved my friends at school, school teachers, and more outside figures. Possibly my brother didn't get as much positive feedback from them to overcome all the negatives in the house. Perhaps, my mother's darkness effected him far greater before my maternal grandparents could intervene?

Resilient kids have inborn qualities or certain factors in the environment that they make strong connections with people and / or find a meaningful focus for their positive energies. School. church, sports, jobs can be places of refuge where kids can thrive and do well. Their good experiences remain uncontaminated by their toxic home environment. It's a powerful coping ability, and part of what we see in the most resilient kids. Having at least one positive adult (enlightened witness) is also extremely important and cited as a primary protective factor in kids surveying abusive and neglectful childhoods. These kids sought and clung to positive responses they got from people and built on good experiences. p 78 -79 Whatever the reason for my resilience from my childhood experienced, I am very VERY grateful for having the perspective, frame of mind, and fortitude to survive. I am very grateful for knowing that the dysfunction was her and not me. 

This blog / review covers the first half of Susan Nathiel's book. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend the book to any daughter of a mentally ill mother OR an undiagnosed mother who abused her daughter. I appreciate Nathiel's explanation of science, mixed with narratives, combined with her experience with patients. The information has been very validating and reinforcing. More reviews to come regarding the sections on adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Borderline's Campaigns of Denigration

I love my child to the deepest part of my heart and soul. My child is a blessing who amazes me every day of my life. I would do anything possible to support my child, shower my child with unconditional love, and provide security and safety for my child. If we ever have a disagreement, I will do everything possible to understand my child's point-of-view and create peace. I am my child's biggest cheerleader, biggest supporter, and biggest admirer. I love my child beyond words.

My mother, on the other hand, has treated our relationship with such disregard and with so many conditions. She has treated me as an adult when I was a child, expecting me to react or have viewpoints as an adult. She leaned on me as an adult 'friend' when I was a child, confiding in me with things that are inappropriate for a child's ears. She completely disregarded my feelings, emotions, and perspectives from childhood to the beginning of our last estrangement in 2004. She has discredited and denied my childhood memories and even has gone so far as to say what we experienced as a child doesn't have any bearing on our adulthood. And what is so disgusting is that she will spend an inordinate amount of time talking disparagingly about me to other people.

First of all the campaigns of denigration are despicable because she is my mother and I am her daughter. She **should be** one of my staunchest supporters, someone to always be on my side. She **should be** someone who thinks I hung the moon, talks admiringly of me, and is my cheerleader. And if we have personal issues, those issues should be resolved between us. I cannot fathom ever speaking of my child the way my mother speaks of me. I cannot fathom making up myths, lies, and misconceptions about my child the way my mother does of me. I know how deeply I feel for my child-- and this truly makes the pathology, dysfunction, toxicity, and pure evil of my mother's illness stand out even more.

If my mother spent as much time and energy trying to work-out disagreements with me as she does with her campaigns of denigration against me, we would have resolved disagreements long ago. The topic that started the last estrangement isn't what threw me over the edge (the fact that my mother said she was out of my wedding because I didn't want all 3 of my fathers attending the same ceremony). What threw me over the edge was the vile, mean, and demeaning things she said to my friends, work and school colleagues, my in-laws, and more. She went so far that I cannot ever trust her again. Let's put it this way-- would I still be friends with someone who attacks me, spreads lies about me, tries to turn people against me, and attempts to destroy relationships of mine? Heck no. So why would I still honor a relationship with my mother?

When we were estranged in in the middle 80's and then again in the middle 90's, she talked smack about me. When we reconciled, I try to put the past in the past and give her credit for being 'changed'. After our middle 80's estrangement ended in the early 90's, she promised me that she had changed, that she had gotten professional help, and that she wouldn't do anything like that to me again. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Then when we reconciled after the middle 90's estrangement, I thought I had my life so solid and together that she couldn't hurt me again. Wrong again.

Anyway, one of the classic behaviors of a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is the campaign of denigration. The target is the person against whom the perpetrator BPD conducts the vilification, which the target happens to be me.  The intent is to destroy my reputation and thereby destroying my relationships with family and friends, co-workers, and others. How can someone who loves you, do this to you? They can't possibly truly love you and then try to destroy your reputation and relationships.

As with so many aspects involving BPD's and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries, no limits exist to their campaigns. They will use any means available to cause damage to their target, including denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign. My mother has used all of the means listed and even taught others (my ex co-worker (Enlisting Allies Against Her Target of Rage) and half-sister (Seriously Demented: BPD Mother Replacing Daughter) to take part in her campaign. She tried to organize them to 'crash my wedding' ... we had to have security at our wedding ceremony for protection. How very sad. Is this the behavior of a loving, supportive, and **normal** mother?

The campaign employs lies, exaggerations, fictions, partial truths, and other reality distortion techniques. Campaigns of denigration are often done behind the scenes.  They may start months or years before the target is even aware of the campaign. By the time the target is aware of the distortions, people around the BPD may have been hearing for a long time that the target is some evil, horrible, cruel person as part of the campaign of denigration. What is so powerful is the thought from outsiders that a mother couldn't possibly be lying like this about her very own child, could she!?!?! And thus, the mother has power, and the child is vilified. Peg Streep talks about this in "Mean Mothers" that the child is the one on trial in the court of opinion when against a mother.

The BPD is likely to make extreme false allegations, distortions, and varied lies to defame and harm her target. The BPD is also likely to involve many other people in the campaign of denigration. Many are passive participants who will listen and believe the BPD’s lies. Others become actively involved in spreading lies further. The target may find dozens of people, many whom have never met him / her, who believe and repeat the lies of the BPD. I know that my mother will try to talk to anyone who will listen (she loves pity as she is the hurting victim) so I am sure there are many people out there that I am unaware who have heard many false allegations, distortions, and lies about me. And you know what? I don't care. If any of these people chose to believe my mother, so be it. I can't be a politician to try to convince them otherwise. Que sara, sara-- what will be, will be. What I do know is that I am truly blessed with a wonderful group of family and friends who are my family. And those family and friends are who I concentrate on... not the nasty evil makings of my mother.

What lies do BPDs tell? BPD's tend to pick false accusations that are difficult to disprove. Although we supposedly live in a society in which people are 'innocent until proven guilty', the reality is, people are not treated this way. The victims of the campaign of denigration often are treated as outcasts or even criminals, assumed to be guilty without any evidence whatsoever. A pitiful point is: just because she's my **mother** many don't require evidence to deem me guilty--  why would a mother falsely accuse her daughter who she claims to love so very much!?!?

The perhaps surprising aspect of many of these defamatory statements is that they are not about the target at all. Often BPDs are aware at some level that they themselves are doing these bad behaviors. So instead of taking responsibility for their own problems, they blame them on others. This behavior is known as “projection.”  The BPD lies by partial truth and distortion. BPD's excel at this. They are believed and seldom questioned because of their emotional intensity and conviction they exhibit while they repeat their lies. My mother is very smart and very clever. She can build lie upon lie, and she sounds so very convincing... and she is convincing because she believes her own lies. And as far as projection, she has always saw me as an extension of herself. Therefore, when she is saying the lies, she fully believes them because she thinks of me as an extension of herself and these lies are actually truths of what she feels about herself. 

BPD's have trouble knowing what the truth is due to a combination of problems. Sometimes they may experience cognitive dissociation in which they temporarily break from reality and may honestly experience reality completely differently from any observers. My mother seems to cycle in and out of reality, which also corresponds with our estrangements. Her sense of reality is skewed on a certain level consistently but manageable for our relationship to remain active. However, she becomes completely irrational at times, typically spurred on by fears of abandonment or rejection, which throws her out of reality. She is transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, and our relationship is cut off. She has always been very careful to show the public only a sweet and smiley side. The public doesn't see the irrational, unreasonable, and destructive person that I experience and see.

I have tried to talk to her about our past estrangements, and her reasoning behind why they occurred is completely off-base from what actually happened. She claims she doesn't remember some of the events, and she even stated that she instigated the estrangement just to make sure that I could make it on my own if she were ever gone. Say what!?!? A mother would go for FIVE YEAR STINTS away from her daughter just to make sure that she could make it on her own when her daughter was already living independently!?!? Irrational and illogical. And when I confronted her about the 'smack' she said about me, she flat-out denied it. But reality does not matter to BPD's. What matters is the ability to convince other people to take their sides during conflict and to protect themselves from “threats” such as being alone or being held accountable for their actions.

Why don’t people see the BPD's who conduct campaigns of denigration as the liars they are? Often BPD's tell varying lies to different people who don’t talk to each other and so the obvious deception is not apparent. My mother's relationships are predominately with people who live out of the state and have no contact with each other. Additionally, often the BPD’s emotional intensity and ability to play on people’s emotions makes them master manipulators. When my mother and I first became estranged in 2004, my step-grandmother was ill and subsequently died. My mother didn't call to inform me of her death but cried to others around her that I am heartless because I didn't know my step-grandmother died. How convoluted and illogical is that!? And when she declared she was 'out' of my wedding, I asked her in several emails and voice messages if she really meant what she said or was her declaration simply a threat.  She never responded but actively spread the lie that I kicked her out of the wedding and ripped her heart out.

People tend to “just believe” because the BP can come across as very charming, warm and friendly. Untrained, uncritical listeners are particularly susceptible at being duped by their lies. Eventually, they may believe the lies so completely that even when confronted with evidence such as writings, photographs, recordings, 3rd party versions of events, and other evidence, they refuse to accept that they were duped into believing lies. Even many mental health care professionals fall for the campaigns of denigration for a while. They get sucked into false sympathy and emotional alignment with the BPD rapidly. They fall for false stereotypes, such as “all men are abusers”, that BPD's use to their advantage.

The campaign of denigration also tends to damage many people around the BPD.  Divorce situations in which the children are taught by a BPD parent to hate the other parent based upon lies is very common. This is also known as “parental alienation”. My Dad was very adept with Parental Alienation as well as my mother. Each parent attempted to have my brother and me chose between parents. And if we lived with one parent, we didn't have a relationship with the other parent. I wrote more about of Parental Alienation in Adult Children of Parental Alienation as well as other areas of my blog. Parental Alienation is a form of emotional child abuse; therefore, BPD's or others who do this to children are child abusers.

Bottom-line, my mother has not fought to have me in her life-- she has fought to denigrate me and keep me out of her life. And she compounds estrangements with campaigns of denigration furthering my mistrust of her. I would fight TOOTH AND NAIL to NEVER allow ANYTHING to get in between my child and me. My mother would rather spend her time and energy talking terribly about me. Who needs this in their life when life has so many loving, caring, and kind people in this world? So when people ask me if I will ever reconcile with her, I respond with the fact I don't trust her. And at this point, the trust cannot be repaired after the extensive damage my mother has created.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gaslighting and Campaigns of Denigration | The Borderline Mother

Gaslighting is the denial that certain events occurred or that certain things were said when you know differently and the denial of your perceptions, memory and very sanity. Gaslighting is one of the most sinister, sadistic, horrible, and effective forms of emotional and psychological abuse. Gaslighting can make the victim feel as if she's going crazy. If perceptions of reality are constantly denied, and above all denied by your mother (the person you admire the most and think is omniscient), the result is very confusing and destructive. 

So how did the term gaslighting come to fruition? The phrase comes from the 1940's film "Gaslight", in which an abusive husband dims the gaslights in the house. Then, when his wife questions if the lights have been dimmed, he responds that she's imagining the dimming. The husband is driving the wife crazy, literally, by not validating the wife's reality. 

The dimming gaslight is the perfect metaphor for the experience of living with someone with BPD. They may appear completely 'normal' and may often have the ability to act “as if” he or she has no problems. In fact, many people with BPD become professional actors. The “as if” ability of people with BPD can be particularly devastating to those who love them.(from Grief to Advocacy: A Mother’s Odyssey)

The gaslighting mother will construct fantasies of your emotional pathologies:
  1. Making you look crazy: She makes you look crazy. If you try to confront her about something she’s done, she’ll tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that she has no idea what you’re talking about. She doesn't remember significant events, flatly denies happenings, and won't admit perhaps she may have forgotten. Your perceptions of reality are continually undermined so that you end up losing confidence in your intuition, memory, or reasoning powers.
  2. Preserving Perception of Self: Gaslighting can be inflicted to preserve the BPD mother's narcissistic view of herself as 'perfect'. BPD's gaslight routinely by insinuating or directly stating that you are unstable (or else you wouldn't think so preposterously). You may be told you are over-sensitive, imagining, unreasonable, irrational, and over-reacting.
  3. Denying Your Right to Be Upset: Another form of gaslighting is the denial of your right to be upset. In this case the BPD might accept that the situation happened but invalidates you by fervently denying that there was anything problematic about it or any valid reason to get upset. 
Ultimately, she’ll present her smears as expressions of concern and declaring her own helpless victimhood.  She protests that she didn't do anything and has no idea why you’re so irrationally angry with her. She protests that you’ve hurt her terribly but loves you very much. She claims she would do anything to make you happy, but she just doesn’t know what to do. She'll tell others that you keep pushing her away when all she wants to do is help you.

What's the result? She has simultaneously absolved herself of any responsibility for your obvious hostility towards her, implied that it’s something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you angry with her, and undermined your credibility with her listeners.
She plays the role of the doting mother so perfectly that no one will believe you.  

The following are 15 common symptoms of gaslighting abuse and manipulation:
  1. Constantly second-guessing yourself.
  2. Wondering, “Am I being too sensitive?” more than ten times a day
  3. Frequently wondering if you are a “good enough” girlfriend / wife / employee / friend / daughter.
  4. Having trouble making simple decisions.
  5. Thinking twice before bringing up innocent topics of conversation.
  6. Frequently making excuses for the BPD's behavior to friends and family.
  7. Before the BPD comes home, you run through a checklist in your head to anticipate anything you might have done wrong.
  8. Thinking about what the BPD would like instead of what would make you feel great.
  9. Actually starting to enjoy the constant criticism, because you think, “What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.”
  10. Starting to speak to the BPD through someone else so you don’t have to tell him / her things you’re afraid might upset  him / her.
  11. Starting to lie to avoid the put-downs and reality twists.
  12. Feeling as though you can’t do anything right.
  13. Frequently wondering if you’re good enough for the BPD.
  14. Your kids start trying to protect you from being humiliated by your BPD partner.
  15. You feel hopeless and joyless.
The outcome from this blog and researching 'gaslighting' presented a very interesting result. My Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Dad adeptly used gaslighting through my childhood and into my adulthood. When I went through the 15 point checklist above, I could really see the damage that he was inflicting. We are now estranged as I couldn't handle the way that he was treating my child, my husband, and me. However, this exercise made his emotional abuse even more clear to me. 

I second-guessed myself constantly, analyzing interactions with my Dad to the tiniest details. I also always felt as if I was too sensitive to our interactions... as I always left feeling rejected, dejected, and ignored. Because I was always pushed aside by him for my step-sister, I wondered what draws him to her (or away from me). I know that his wife (my step-mother) has incredible power over him that he intentionally ignores me and pays more attention to my step-sister BUT the reality still stings. I have been careful of bringing up simple conversations-- and even if I carefully asked him about the past or incidents from childhood, he would respond curtly, "I don't remember because I CHOSE not to remember." I never got to the the point that the 15 point checklist illustrates (feeling hopeless, joyless, etc) as I removed myself from the situation.... but I can certainly see the damage that my Dad could cause (and has caused with my brother). 

If you realize that the BPD in your life is engaging in gaslighting against you, this is often a good clue that she is running a distortion campaign of denigration against you (another form of covert abuse). In regard to my BPD mother, this is the case. After all, if they have you confused about your own experiences, they will likely have a much easier time misleading others to believe inaccurate negative misinformation about you.

The BPD's intent is to destroy the target’s reputation and thereby destroy the target’s relationships with family and friends, employers, co-workers, and others. As with so many things involving BPD's and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries (so descriptive of my mother!), no limits exist. The BPD uses any method to cause damage to their target: denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign:
  1. For instance, when I was a teenager going off to college, she got upset at me for coming into town and not contacting her. Her response was to tell me to not come home the following weekend. Shortly thereafter, she told me not to come home for Thanksgiving... and then not to come home for Christmas. Shortly after these statements, she put all of my belongings on the street. From there she started to spread rumors and blow the entire event out of proportion-- none of which had anything to do with the initial disagreement (that she was hurt when I came into town and didn't contact her). We remained estranged for almost 5 years.  
  2. Another instance was when I received a box of dishes from my Dad which my mother perceived as a betrayal to her (I had no idea I was getting these dishes from my Dad who I wasn't in contact with at the time). She went from being upset saying that she can't believe I would accept the dishes after all that my Dad put her through with the divorce (17 years earlier) to the next day she told me I was a bitch and hung up the phone on me. From there the increasingly hurtful and untrue rumors started again which had nothing to do with my Dad sending me dishes. We remained estranged for almost 5 years.
  3. Another incident, which led to the last estrangement was my engagement to my fiance. She pressed me for information regarding my wedding, which I had no plans. Ultimately, I told her we would have two ceremonies with which she didn't approve and declared she was out of the wedding. She proceeded with a campaign of denigration against me, saying increasingly horrible things to my friends, colleagues, and future in-laws which had nothing to do with the initial conflict between my mother and me (that she didn't agree with the consideration of having 2 ceremonies). We remain estranged.
With my mother, to preserve her view as a 'perfect mother' she would push me away-- in estrangement-- then make up narratives about me to support how she is the perfect mother, the loving & concerned mother, and how I ripped her heart out.

In summary, gaslighting and campaigns of denigration are covert forms of emotional abuse. One results in the victims doubting their perceptions of reality, and the other turns people against the victim. When perceptions of reality are doubted, the gaslighter is able to control the victim as the victim becomes completely dependent on the gaslighter 'for the "truth'.  And campaigns of denigration can destroy the victim's life and damage people around the BPD. If you think you are the victim of gaslighting or campaigns of denigration, please seek professional assistance.

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Childhood Insomnia Resulting from Stress

    Growing up in an environment with a borderline personality mother and a malignantly narcissistic Dad compounded by a period of simultaneous major-life-stessors (moving, death of grandmother, death of grandfather, parental divorce, parents remarrying), I developed several symptoms of stress. Insomnia was one of the resulting symptoms, which when your sense of safety and trust are shattered, having difficulty falling asleep is a normal reaction to abnormal events.

    Part of the stressful environment was my very controlling BPD mother. She controlled what we wore: picking up and purchasing our clothing (not giving us a say) as well a laying out our clothes on the bed every day. She controlled what we ate and having us clean our plates or sit at the table until we did. A couple of times, I vomited in my food, only to be given more. She controlled our bathing, even washing our hair at the kitchen sink until we were middle school age which became very embarrassing when friends dropped by-- lying on the counter with my head in the sink and my mother scrubbing my head. She even controlled our bed time and awake time with early bed times and late awake times.And once we were put to bed, we were to remain in our rooms until a set time.

    I developed insomnia around 9 years old; however, up to that age, I had years of being put to bed so early that I would stand at my window and watch the children play outside ... and then sit in bed and sing to entertain myself. I remember hearing my mother and Dad watch TV, and I could smell the aroma of freshly popped popcorn wind its way through my room. I also can remember hearing them go to bed and thinking I should be asleep by now. My bed-time didn't have anything to do with my schedule, sleep requirements, or body clock. My bed-time was based on the need for my parents to have alone time from the kids.

    My awake-time also didn't have anything to do with my schedule, sleep requirements, or body clock. I woke earlier than my mother allowed my brother and me out of our rooms, so I would sit in my bed and count pennies, listen to the am-radio, or use my hands as puppets. All of our toys and books were in the play-room so we didn't have those things to occupy us . My brother would be awake in his room, and I would be awake in my room, and we were not allowed to play with each other. So we waited for the time we were allowed to leave our bedrooms. I had a small clock to keep an eye on the time so I knew when we were allowed out of our rooms.

    At times, my mother refused to get out of bed and she would lock herself in her room. She would stay all day  in that dark room. During these times, my Dad would take care of us in between going to work. He would call from work to make sure that my mother got out of bed after he left us in the play-room while she was still sleeping.

    From 1976 to 1977, I said goodbye to my friends when we moved to a new home in a new school district. I started new a new and shortly thereafter I lost my grandmother to a stroke. My mother had become very angry and lashed out at us. Notably that Easter, we were told we were ungrateful and selfish because we were upset that Easter bunny didn't come when she was still mourning the loss of her mother a month earlier. She tossed Easter tee-shirts at us as we stood in the dining room. My childhood ended at this point, and I knew my world had completely changed.

    After my grandmother's death, my grandfather lived with us, and my mother was very cruel to him. Ultimately she kicked him out of our house for very petty incidents (crumbs on the counter, urinating on the toilet seat) and wrote him a scathing and scarring letter. She used my brother and me to hurt him more by not allowing us to mail him letters after he moved. I felt tremendous guilt about this. A year later he died, my mother had an affair with my Dad's best friend, and my parents divorced. The divorce was nasty, traumatic for us kids, and lengthy. Safety and trust had been shattered...

    Now back to the onset of insomnia: I can remember the EXACT night that the insomnia started in 1977 when I was 9 years old. Most anxious children do not have a specific event that triggered their anxiety, but some do. Certainly some situations can be anxiety producing, especially those that disrupt the child's sense of structure and order in their world (parental divorce, deaths in the family, trauma, moves) WorryWiseKids.org

    We had moved to the new house, I had started the new school, and my grandmother had died. One night my parents said goodnight to me as usual, and I didn't fall asleep. I started to feel sweaty and clammy. I heard the AC turn on ... and then off ... and then it come back on ... and then it turned back off... clearly communicating to me the passing of time. Then I could hear my parents walk past my bedroom to go to bed. The lights went off in the hallway and the house was quiet. Time kept passing and I didn't fall asleep. I started to get anxiety ridden and I cried hoping that one of my parents would come check on me-- but neither did. I called out for my parents.

    What resulted from here was a long period of time where I didn't sleep. But what was worse than not sleeping was the dread from the moment I woke-up until the the next bed-time: the dread of having to go back to sleep and that frightening, traumatic, horrifying, anxiety-ridden feeling of being lonely, alone, and helpless to insomnia. I can't even describe the nauseating, deep-pitted, empty feeling when I couldn't sleep. I felt like I was the only child / person in the world that experienced this problem-- like I was the only person in the whole world that was wide awake in the middle of the dark and quiet night. I had no idea that other people have the same experience. 
    Interestingly, I didn't feel sleep deprived. I wasn't sleepy during the day. I only had increasing anxiety about sleep. One night, our parents took us to meet Darth Vader at a local mall, and I was only fixated on the impending doom of bedtime. I also remember getting a doll as a gift and only associating the toy to the dreadful insomnia I was experiencing. I remember playing with friends during the day-time and only thinking of the terribly long night I just endured and the next night quickly approaching that I would have to endure again.

    My parents didn't talk about the insomnia. My parents offered little comfort when I was upset and crying during the night. In fact, my mother didn't come to my room after the first night... my Dad did. And he really didn't have much to say other than he has to get up early in the morning for work. He suggested the counting sheep and playing a baseball game in my head ... and later he got permission from my mother to allow me to turn on the bedroom light and read Reader's Digest Condensed books (not any other book was allowed). I read through these books at lightning speed as I was up most nights to 4am and distinctively remember reading the series about Emily Pollifax.

    Could the insomnia have been avoided? I believe so. If my parents had been more aware and subsequently more communicative and supportive about the changes in our family life (the move, leaving friends, changing of schools, death), I think some of the stress could have been eliminated. The way my family dealt with stress was to go to a movie (basically, to "deep six" the situation and not talk about it). But how could my parents have been more communicative and supportive about the changes in our family life when they are self-absorbed? And how could they have been more communicative and supportive about stress that they caused or contributed to? For example, if my mother had handled the death of her mother differently, acceptance of her passing would have been easier.  Rather than hiding in a dark room sedated, she could have set a different climate. Instead of attending a funeral for my grandmother, we were subjected to my mother's anger directed to my grandfather. 

    And if the insomnia wasn't avoided, I think I could have worked through the sleepless nights with guidance from my parents. Perhaps I would have had a few sleepless nights but with having the comfort of alternatives (ie: watching TV, playing with toys, drawing and writing) and the comfort of knowing others have insomnia too, I would have been able to more effectively deal with the insomnia. Instead of feeling alone with parents ignoring my cries and calls and instead of my parents being angry at me for keeping them awake, I could have felt supported with the love of my parents.

    I researched insomnia with children and found some wonderfully supportive parents on message boards. I love this mother's response to a mother who has a 9 year old with insomnia:  

    My son has always been a difficult sleeper. We allow him to read in bed with a reading light so he doesn't keep his younger brother awake. I snuggle with him for at least 10 minutes and during this time we talk about his day and settle ourselves. When he was younger we used to do a breathing exercise to calm and focus him, nothing fancy just deep breathing in and out. From my experience having a set ritual each night is helpful. One thing we've done that's worked as well is having him listen to music with headphones. Keeping the room as dark as possible is also good with a light he can control like an LED reading light so he can either read or use it as a night light. Sometimes I also put him in a warm bath before bed or encourage him to take a shower.

    Try to create an atmosphere of calm, when bed time becomes anxiety producing there is no way to sleep. And be sure to explain to him that there is nothing wrong with him, some people just have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. I came to the conclusion years ago that I just need less sleep than other people, my son is the same way. Lately things have been better, he's asleep pretty consistently by 10pm, but these things go in cycles. It sounds like this lack of sleep is distressing to him so I would avoid having him lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, that was always the worst for me as a kid and exacerbated my anxiety about sleep. 

    Amen! Bravo! Oh how I wish I had parents that were thoughtful, patient, and flexible like this mother. Obviously my parents were not deficient simply with handling my insomnia. Insomnia was just a small part of the whole-- the whole being a childhood filled with dysfunction, toxicity, confusion, conditional love, and impatience that my parents created. 

    Although the insomnia subsided, for decades I have carried that horrible sick feeling of being alone in a forever-long night. If my child ever develops an issue with sleeping (or any other for that matter), I will be completely supportive, understanding, and patient. I have been very comforting with my child during times of sleep pattern changes through the years, still feeling the effects of not having my parents' reassurance (security and safety) through childhood. To this day, my parents have no idea (nor do they care) how terrible that insomnia experience was to me... and how to this day, I can feel the after-effects.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Emotional Abuse Kept Silent | When Others Do Not Hear Your Need for Help

    Having come from a mother who can be so chipper, smiley, and nice to the public and then terribly mean and wicked behind closed doors, I have experienced the challenge of having an outsider believe my stories and indirect cries for help as a child AND as an adult. Many times people can't fathom that a mother is **that** bad. Therefore, people don't realize the emotional abuse the child is enduring (mother is sticky sweet to the public and a witch behind closed doors) and people can't imagine the stories from an adult are actually not exaggerated or contrived (people feel the mother should be given credit for doing the best she could regardless). 

    From as early as I can remember, my mother was always rotating between Dr. Jekyll  and Mr. Hyde. She would be so dark, mean, and uncaring around my brother and me, but when someone came to the house, (((( poof )))), she was as smiley, friendly, and happy as could be. When I got older, she was terribly and embarrassingly flirty with my male friends. She would strut with her tight jeans and high heels around them, making her eyes really big & batting her eye lashes. She would laugh this completely fake laugh and talk about topics inappropriate with a child. She acted inappropriately around my girlfriends as well, using vulgar language, engaging in talk of the opposite sex and alcohol, and acting like one of their 'friends'. “The borderline mother’s need for attention is so out of control and pathetic that it is frightening. Others are embarrassed for her. The Queen’s behavior elicits embarrassment about her need for recognition, attention, and control” p 255 Lawson. She got that recognition, attention, and control for sure. She had most of my friends snowed, thinking that my mother was this super cool, super awesome mother. But no one truly knew the extent of my mother's pathology. 

    I tried reaching out to a friend and her mother after a rather traumatic incident with my mother when I was a child. After I told my story to my friend and her mother, the mother called my mother ... and then my mother went ballistic. First of all, what happened was documented in Run Forrest Run but in a nutshell my mother didn't believe what I told her about some inheritance money. She demanded that I go downstairs, yelled at me that she is glad that my last name is Smith, and pushed me to the top of the stairs. She continued to push me as I went down the stairs, yelling that she didn't want to see my face. "The voices of children are easily silenced by the fear of not being believed. The borderline's children feel like prisoners of a secret war. Children of borderlines know that their mother can make people vanish. They have seen her cut people to shreds with words, shatter reputations of those who betray, and stab them in the heart with false accusations. They know the feeling of sinking into nothingness by soul-wrenching verbal attacks" p 125 Lawson.

    To compound how my mother made me feel, when I told my friend and her mother, the situation with my mother only got worse. After my friend's mother called my mother, my mother went into a fit of rage calling me a liar and coming down on me even harder. I was grounded, now allowed to speak on the phone, and was basically cut-off from the outside world. I reached out for help only to have the help turn into a very worse situation. 

    I also had reached out to my step-father for help. One day I managed to catch him downstairs where I was grounded, and I pulled him aside. I tried to appeal to his sense of reality concerning how my mother was treating me, how bizarre her behavior was, and to help me. During this time, my mother appeared. She told my step-father that I am a "bitch" and that I was trying to manipulate him. She cut the conversation off and demanded him to leave the room. I felt completely alone and helpless in this dungeon of verbal and emotional abuse. Again, I reached out and was unable to get some help that I needed. 

    So, what could have my friend, my friend's mother, and my step-father had done to help me? They each could have been an enlightened witness. I never had an actual enlightened witness to help validate my experiences and guide me through these troubled times with my mother, but I never thought what my mother did was 'my fault'. From the time I was a small child, my thinking always remained that my mother has issues and that the trouble was her responsibility. I always had a goal to make it through to get to college and on my own. 

    I turned to writing in my notebook, religion, and running. I became a long-distance runner as those miles were my only freedom. As high school came to an end, I carried these stories of my childhood with me and went off to college. My life was such a whirlwind with trying to make it on my own working three + jobs at a time, going to college full time, and running. Eventually the challenges that my dysfunctional family presented in the past and present needed to be discussed. I had many wonderful friends to which I would tell little bits and pieces of my life. I was even very fortunate to have close friends  who would sit and listen to me for hours as I tried to piece together the convoluted pieces of my past, trying to synthesize them into some sort of understanding in the present. 

    Not always did I find that people were open to hearing about my mother-- Bree is one of those people. Bree and I worked together. She was diagnosed with Lupus around the time my mother was, so I introduced the two of them. I never told Bree much about my past with my mother, but I told her a little during times of estrangement (my mother went through 5 year cycles until 2004 where we have remained estranged). Her point of view was that my mother couldn't be that bad because she had a tough mother too. Her opinion was to suck it up and accept my mother as she's the only mother I have. 

    Now, I was under the guise that when you're in a relationship with a BPD, the relationship is so very convoluted and complex that to understand the dynamics, the outsider must know all the history, stories, and interactions to fully comprehend  the dynamics (that is, until I met others with BPD mother and boy oh boy, we totally understand each other with very little words!). Easily, a listener could take one instance out of context and assume the story is petty without hearing what led up to the instance. Many times I didn't even bother to talk about an occurance if someone didn't know the previous history. Peg Streep, in the book Mean Mothers,  describes how Diane doesn't feel good talking about her mother because she's afraid people will think she's exaggerating. I completely understand this point, have felt the same way, and empathize with Diane. Streep continues with how "complaining makes me sound crazy or worse".So, with the case of Bree, she never got the full picture of what transpired between my mother and me through the decades. 

    In the long run, Bree took my mother's side during the last estrangement. My mother tried to enlist as many of my friends, colleagues, and family members as she could against me, her target of rage (Understanding the Borderline Mother: Enlisting Allies Against Her Target of Rage). She wasn't successful except with Bree, which I didn't know that they had always had a strange alliance behind my back. Bree took her side in a very sneaky and devious way, trying to fish information out of my friends and me to report to my mother-- until one of my friends caught on and the gig was up. 

    "Others may believe the BPD's allegations of mistreatment because of the intensity of emotion. Misinformation is calculated and constructed in order to destroy the victim's reputation. Those who do not know the true situation may not notice inconsistencies in the BPD's story. It is difficult to verify the truth because the intensity of the emotion dissuades others from asking details" Lawson (p, 141). I believe Bree believes the allegations because of the calculated and constructed nature of the misinformation as well as she never knew the background of my mother and my relationship dating back to my childhood. Plus, I think Bree's belief in what my mother was purporting was self-motivated as well, as Bree needed to save her own reputation.

    Having freed myself of the toxicity and dysfunction of my BPD mother and NPD father, I was not at all disturbed by the loss of a drug addicted, ex-coworker who aligned herself with my mother. I have many readers who tell me about how their BPD mother tries to turn friends and family against them. My reaction is so be it... you can't politic, trying to campaign to keep people voting for you. If they chose to believe something, that is their choice. Life is too short to worry about who believes who. I have freed and will continue to free myself from those who are negative and drag me down... and Bree was one of those people. I am completely blessed to have so many wonderful people surrounding and supporting me. 

    Regardless if you are a child, reaching out to an adult for validation or help ... or if you are an adult, trying to synthesize your past into a usable narrative... not having the listener hear you or understand you can be quiet frightening if you are a child and frustrating if you are an adult. As a child, an enlightened witness certainly is a perfect scenario as this person provides an outlet for the child to speak to and an outlet for the child to find validation. As an adult, having a person to trust and confide in provides an incredible place to take some weight off of your shoulders. A good friend who understands is worth more than anything. I pray each of you that needs someone to hear you.. And if you need someone to bounce a story or two off of, you can always email me. 

    Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson
    Mean Mothers by Peg Streep 

    Monday, August 8, 2011

    Mean Mothers | Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt

    I just finished Peg Streep's book, "Mean Mothers, Overcoming a Legacy of Hurt" and have mixed reviews about its content. Although many profound & poignant passages were contained, much of what she wrote was so generalized and simplified. I think her point at the beginning of the book on page 34 that she's "deliberately excluded stories of mothers who seemed to suffer from a definable mental illness" (which includes personality disorders) was a injustice as a "mean mother" cannot be 'mean' to the extent described without having a mental illness.

    Being 'mean' to the point of damaging your child cannot occur without a mental illness. These mean mothers and their problems that are thrust upon their child throughout life are not normal. Even a mother who has bouts of lacking confidence, frustration, insecurity, etc would NOT be 'mean' through an entire child's life. Streep is off-base ignoring the fact that these mothers have mental issues. Yes, she talked about the 'mean mothers' backgrounds or their selfish qualities, but that is not enough-- a mean mother who damages her child has pathological and psychological (mental) issues.

    She alludes to "broken" mothers at one point, saying "a healthy mother is wired to respond to the love an infant offers, but if she is broken, she can't always do it, and things get very screwed up." If a mother is "mean" and "broken", can't one conclude that the mother is not of sound mind? Therefore, aren't these mothers who are creating a "legacy of hurt", mothers who are mentally ill ? She also states on page 193 that "if there is a single common attribute to be attributed to the unloving mothers we've met in these pages it's their lack of awareness, their inability to be conscious of the effect and the import of their words and gestures on their daughter's development, and, for most of them, their incapacity or refusal to take responsibility for their actions." First of all, this is not one single common attribute. She listed three; however all three of these qualities relates to low emotional intelligence. Previously, I analyzed The Borderline & Emotional Intelligence as well as The Narcissist & Emotional Intelligence.

    Another note is that because she's covering such a broad topic ("mean mothers"), having an account of only a handful of people is not sufficient. If she was covering BPD mothers with a few personal stories, then narcissistic mothers with a few stories, then bipolar mothers with a few stories, then histrionic mothers with a few stories, etc-- each of those few stories would be enough to back up the sub-topic. But having only a few stories to back up the "mean mothers" topic is not sufficient.

    Starting around page 50, Streep begins to describe "beyond the mother myths: real women" which from the descriptions that were presented, these mothers appear to be highly narcissistic and witch like. She describes the annoyed and angry mother that is unavailable for her daughter during times of need (sleepless girl: page 51), the controlling mother (forcing naps, what to wear, who to marry: page 53), the lack of an authentic relationship with the mother (fraudulent: pages 54-55), and not allowing affection into the relationship (no hugs: page 63). These mothers are not exhibiting healthy, happy, and respectful behaviors-- they may be real women but they are not normal women. These mothers are exhibiting dysfunctional behaviors typical of mental illness.

    Peg Streep didn't allude to if she thought her mother was mentally ill or if her mother had been diagnosed with a mental disorder, but from what Streep described, her mother fit the framework of a not only a narcissist but a borderline mother. She comments about how her mother didn't have "it in her to love, so in the end she lived her life with what she had inside her. I think she was simply an unhappy person all her life, and I was the easiest one for her to take things out on" (page 176). This "unhappy" person could be described as "depressed" , or in other words, experiencing depression (mental disorder).

    On another topic, the sections about fathers and then siblings were much too generalized and didn't delve into step & half brothers / sisters, broken families, ready-made families, step fathers, and how the mother chooses / works these fathers pathologically against the children. I have three fathers, each has been used in some shape-or-form by my mother, depending on her agenda. My mother used the first father to escape a living situation. I was born into this escape. Once she was done with him, she married her high-school sweetheart, and father #1 was erased from the photo and baby albums. Then father #2 was attempted to be erased when father #3 came into the picture. Father #2 became what Streep describes on pages 93-94 where he never really asks about my life in any sense, was emotionally unavailable, and showed absolute loyalty to my step-mother. Father #3 was the one described on page 95 who was weak and never stepped in to protect me from my mother's wrath. I found little with which to relate in these father and siblings sections, especially the siblings section where our family was torn-apart and destroyed by divorces, re-marriages, and Parental Alienation Syndrome.

    I think if she went more into depth about "overcoming the legacy of hurt" as her title suggests, the book would be more effective. She went into great depth into analysis of the mother due to cultural or generational elements and then covered the siblings & fathers in a very generalized / vanilla approach, and only touching on how to over-come. I would have liked more stories from women who overcame the legacy of hurt... more stories from more women from more varied types of 'mean mother' experiences rather than generalized descriptions of the 'mean mother' herself. She touches on the hole or void that a lack of mother-love leaves again around page 163. I thoroughly enjoyed these passages and her conclusion that "each story of healing is unique, though the broad outlines of daughters' stories often share much in common". That validation-- reading about others who have walked the same path as yourself-- is so very healing and results in such peace-of-mind. This validation is immeasurable.

    Another section that covers the ability to overcome the legacy of hurt is when Streep discusses bringing a child into the world. Her words resonated with me as I felt the many feelings she experienced when I had my child. She reiterated what I've had family and friends remind me of my entire life, "you aren't your mother" (page 169). My mother treated me as if I was an extension of herself, and I disliked that VERY MUCH-- so much, that at a very young age, I would ask my grandparents if I was like my mother. And they would very kindly and delicately tell me that I am my own person, distinctive and separate from my mother. Since I had a child, I have always viewed her as her own person as Streep did with hers (page 184), "From the moment she was born, I tried to see my daughter whole-- not as a reflection or an extension of me or my hopes and dreams but herself". I couldn't have said that any better.

    Streep chose no-contact with her mother due to her pregnancy, and I applaud her for that as her mother was a 'known danger'. She wanted to "undo what generation after generation of mothers" in her family had done to their daughters. My estrangement (Little Women 2004) happened years before I got pregnant but I did have an epiphany once my child was born where I realized the profound finality of the estrangement as I realized the depth and breadth of what had transpired. I had a baby, my mother was not informed and included with the pregnancy & birth, and I am not allowing my mother to inflict emotional / mental damage to her as she did to my brother & me.

    Streep also speaks of how much she loves her daughter and how she thought "my mother must have loved me" (page 170). I never had that thought; however, I contemplated how much I love my child and how much I want her to have the best, experience everything, and be protected / shielded from negative aspects of life... which led me to the thoughts of what my mother put me through and how in the world could she do that to her children! The answer is simple: mental illness. Again, the question of whether Streep's mother was mentally ill, but regardless, Streep cut off contact with her mother and vowed not "make her mistakes". I am not sure that "mistakes" is the correct word for what our mothers put us through. A mistake is more like yelling out of frustration every once in awhile or not being patient with your child during trying times... but for consistent and constant events that ultimately effect the adult child of the mother are more than mere "mistakes".

    Streep presents another topic that I want to expand upon on this blog which is how people can't fathom that a mother is **that** bad. Therefore, as a child, people don't realize the abuse (mother is sticky sweet to the public and a witch behind closed doors) and as an adult, people can't imagine the stories are actually not exaggerated or contrived (people feel the mother should be given credit for doing the best she could regardless). Streep talks of how daughters of mean mothers are silenced because of this syndrome, and thus, the "myth of mother love requires the daughter to maintain her silence" page 13. She describes how Diane doesn't feel good talking about her mother because she's afraid people will think she's exaggerating. I completely understand this point, have felt the same way, and empathize with Diane. Streep continues with how "complaining makes me sound crazy or worse". Later in the book, she states that in the court of mother -daughter conflict, it's usually the daughter who is on trial (page 24) and thus an additional reason the daughter is not given the credibility or consideration like the mother. I also agree with that point. The mother is the elder, the mother is the one who is supposed to be nurturing, protective, and maternal, and the child is supposed to be learning from this adult. The burden of proof lies with the child.

    I liked how she effectively and efficiently defined and discussed the attachment theory (page 46). I also really enjoyed reading about the EARNED attachment (page 48), which I think defines where I have come from. She describes how making sense of childhood experiences and understanding how those experiences affected development, one can move from an "insecure" to "secure" functioning of the mind. I am able to tell coherent stories of childhood (as evidenced by this blog) and put events into meaningful contexts and to reflect on those experiences (even the negative ones). I have spent decades searching, making sense of, and trying to understand my childhood and beyond. My experiences have made me stronger and made me the person I am today. As Streep concludes on page 198, "If I could speak to my mother one more time, I'd say this: 'You didn't mean to, but you made me stronger and more aware than I might otherwise have been'" which I have the same conclusion with what I have experience with my mother and Dad.

    In contrast, my brother's way of dealing with his experiences has not been with trying to understand or come to terms. He has claims not to remember childhood experiences, offers little detail, and has little sense of how the past has contributed to the present (other than to blame and be the victim). He, in turn, has not been successful with relationships, has been clinically depressed, and has struggled through out life. He exhibits insecure attachment which has not been turned into earned attachment.

    I would have liked to read more about estrangement and the "taboos associated with cutting off ties to her mother" as Streep mentioned (page 14) but doesn't expand much except with an anecdotal paragraph and a story of Cathy (page 15) who went back to speaking to their mothers after 14 years only to subject herself to the same exact conditions that led to the estrangement in the first place. My 5 year on / off cycles with my mother revealed the same results which ultimately led to the permanent estrangement starting in 2004. She does mention "divorcing" her mother as a "lifesaving strategy" which leads to one of the most heart-felt and chilling statements in the entire book (page 16), "There is always a hole in me that needs to be filled and can't be. Not the love of four kids or my husband of twenty-odd years or my friends fills it. It's always there, like a tear or a hole in fabric. You can put threads in to repair the weave--the threads of other relationships-- but the hole is still there." And thus, the reason I purchased this book.

    One of the most powerful moments in the book is when Streep gets the call from her brother that her mother is dying (page 31), the comment from him that he thought she might want to come see her, and the decision Streep makes. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what decision Streep would make. Recently, my mother has been very ill and heading to kidney failure and possibly a limited life span-- thus these considerations have run through my head. What would I do if I got that call? I haven't seen her in 7 years at this point. Why would we communicate on her death-bed if we don't communicate on a normal day? Why would communicating on her final days change anything that has transpired, the actions she has taken, or the actions I have taken? Ultimately, Streep's decision and her feelings about her decision mirror what I concluded to do. Powerful passages that, as Streep says, "testifies to what can happen when a mother can't love her daughter in the way she needs to be loved" (page 33).

    The ending of the book is very strong. She really hits home with a statement after the birth of her child, "my own history didn't disappear, but it did lose its power over me" (page 180). Possibly the fact that she cut her mother out of her life at this same time might have given her this sense of relief? But I do know that being estranged from my mother and then having a child really allowed me to 'see' what is so very precious and important in life. The birth of my child really put life into perspective, allowed me to see my past experiences through different eyes, and permitted me to give someone so much that I never had. Having this unconditional love of a child compounded with the love of my husband allowed me to accept the past, leave the past in the past, and be content with where my life is right this second. Streep states on page 181, "Yet it opens the door for a woman to overcome a bad past or escape the fate of repeating it by way of the psychological work she has accomplished in understanding, putting into perspective, and rendering coherent her past, especially her experience of being mothered. " Amen.

    Dysfunctional Family Dynamics Continue | My APD Brother Visits

    I missed my brother. I hadn't seen him in over 10 years and although I know the mess that he is (Adult Child in Crisis and Antisocial Personality Disorder), I still missed him. My husband and I had planned to go up to see him several times through the last couple of years, but either money was tight or my brother was a bigger mess than ever. Trips were planned then rescheduled but we had intent on going up to see him.

    We wanted to go up to see him on his turf, that way we had control of our environment and what our child was / wasn't exposed to. I felt more comfortable going up there and staying in a hotel than bringing him down here where he would be in our home and we could be put into awkward or compromising situations (drugs, his behavior, etc).

    Push came to shove, and more years passed without getting to see my brother so one day when he and I were texting, he mentioned how he was free to come visit. I found cheap plane tickets, got the approval of my husband, and boom, the tickets were purchased by me (my brother made it clear he had no money to pay for plane tickets, but flying him down here was cheaper than flying all three of us up there).

    Pretty much right after I bought the tickets, I started having remorse about bringing him down to our home because he immediately started with the parties he wanted to attend, where he needed me to drive him, and more. As a side note, we live about an hour away from all the things he wanted me to drive him to. I also started to fret about whether or not he'd bring drugs into my house. The icing on the cake was when he announced, point blank, that he would be arriving with "no money". Say what!? I just bought the plane tickets and now he's announcing he would have "no money".

    I ended up crafting an email that I sent to him, specifically laying out all expectations and rules, as well as what we are willing to do and not do. I started off with stating he WILL bring spending money. I added that we won't be taxing him around but if he wants to attend functions he can arrange rides or take a taxi (boy, that would be expensive from where we live!). I also explicitly said that he will not bring drugs into our home for many reasons. He received the email stating "these things didn't need to be said" but agreed to all conditions. Shew, thank goodness that was over. Or so I thought.

    Now, when I picked him up from the airport, that was WONDERFUL. He was very warm with me and with meeting his niece for the first time. And our first bit together was wonderful as well. We had big laughs, fun times, and lots of smiles. That was until I received an email from a mutual friend that knew my brother was in town and wanted to let me know about his shenanigans behind my back with my mother. She detailed how he had been emailing my mother pictures of my child even though I strongly stated since her birth that I didn't want him to do so. She also said that he was bad-mouthing me to my mother in order to get in her good favor so she'd buy him things and send him money. She forwarded a few emails that she was included in the communications. I was FLOORED, HEART-BROKEN, and CONFUSED.

    I know that my brother is a con-artist. I know he manipulates for survival. AND I knew I wasn't immune to his games. BUT I didn't think he would stoop so low as to include my child. I was up all night trying to process the information I received and to rectify how I was going to proceed with my brother at my house! I decided not to tell my husband of the betrayal as I didn't want him to be angry or have tension during my brother's stay. And I also decided not to say anything to my brother and to carry-on as if nothing happened.

    Interestingly enough, the next day, my brother receives a text-message from my mother that she knows he's in-town visiting me. She was very mad at him. Apparently he had told her that he was coming to visit me then told her the plans were cancelled and then never told her that he was actually coming (he did this with Dad too). She found out he was in town with me and flew off the handle, texting him numerous times to "f*&k off" He burst into tears as we sat on the deck of my house, screaming loudly that he wishes she would just die and let him be. What!?!?

    Due to having his financial security cut-off from his mother, he ended up texting Dad the next day to tell him that he's in town. My brother told me that his goal was to hit him up for some money. They made plans for lunch. Interesting and BIZARRE (yes, there is that word again!), my Dad made my brother walk up the street to meet him rather than to drive down my driveway. I know NOW why, but then I didn't. I was puzzled as I was going to go out to greet him, be cordial, and see if possibly we could progress from there-- break the ice, so to speak. I know now my weakness was not a good thing. Staying strong is important. Believing in where you've been, where you are now, and where you're going in the future is vital. Read on...

    Well, they go out to lunch and upon returning, my brother throws his arms around me and starts to cry, saying, "I love you so much. I appreciate you so much. I know I don't say it enough, so I am saying it now." And he kept hugging me so hard. I was baffled as to where this behavior was all coming from, and I KNEW that the behavior was a case of "he who protests too much." But the how-who-why-what-when was yet to be seen.

    That night I get an email in the middle of the night from my sister-in-law:

    Hi Gretel,

    I left you a voice mail message. I'm concerned how your brother is treating your family situation and I feel that I need to step in at this point to let you know that he's possibly taken advantage of your generosity for his own advantage. I wanted to give you a heads up that he's said some things to possibly make your family situation worse with your relationship with your Dad & step-mother.

    Not that it is remotely my place due to the fact I'm a total outsider when it comes to your family's situation but the last thing I want is for your relationship with your Dad to become any more strained because of false pretenses presented by someone with their own agenda.

    I love you dearly and I want to make sure that you protect yourself and yours over anything else. I very honestly and truly hope that you and yours are doing well and wish the best on you. You're good people!

    I haven't told (my step-brother / her husband) that I've let you know my overhearings and he'll be totally pee----eeeed off if he finds out so please try to keep me out of it best you can otherwise I'll be meshed into the drama and cycle of issues too.

    WOAH! My heart was racing a million miles an hour and my head was spinning. What is my brother doing to my family and me under my own roof!?!?! I immediately called her back. She was very quiet as she didn't want my step-brother / her husband to hear what she was saying. She started with the fact that my brother called my step-mother (the one who hasn't spoken to my brother in a decade, the reason my brother didn't attend my wedding) to tell her that my home is out-of-control, my child is spoiled, that my husband & I are "horrible" parents, and much more. I was astounded.

    My sister-in-law told me a little of what was said but not much. She simply wanted me to be aware of the dangerous things my brother was spreading about my family in order to get money from my Dad. He apparently made the situation at my house appear that we forced him to spend his money doing all of these kiddy things for our "spoiled" child that he had no money left. And I suppose once he got on a roll and had the attention of the people he's wanted the attention from for so long, that he kept embellishing, building on the fabrications, and created a huge lie that caused my Dad and step-mother to go hysterical.

    But hysterical? Really!?!? Why would my step-mother be interested in my business if she hasn't for the last three years? Why would my step-mother take any credence to what my brother is telling her since she has no respect or trust with my brother? The answer lies into everything they are about-- how they've conducted themselves since I was a small child. These people are taken with their own importance (My Dad, the Narcissistic King) and are so insecure they take so much joy in judging others. They insist upon themselves-- and in the process ruin relationships, create so much damage, and cause pain. They are critical parents who will never be kind or approving.

    Well, I didn't hold back any of this from my husband. I immediately talked to my husband about the situation, stating that I felt the desire to take my brother down to the airport and drop him off at a Motel 6 until the end of his stay. How could I even look him in the eye!? How could I even sit in the same room as him? I couldn't say anything as I promised my sister-in-law that I would keep it all to myself (she stated that her marriage couldn't endure the drama that this could potentially create), and I completely respect her request. I truly appreciate her openness and also sense of urgency to want to let us know.

    My husband agreed to take him to the airport on the morning of his flight, but the rest of his time with us would be AWKWARD. I concentrated all my attention on my child, but I also felt like I was walking in a fog. The day came for him to leave, and although I was more than ready for this EVIL to be out of my house, I was sad about the goodbye as I know it's not just goodbye for now, it's goodbye forever. I can't allow this type of drama, danger, and dysfunction around my child like what happened to me. I will not have another generation cycle through this confusion. I will not have my child trying to figure out what the heck happened to her during her childhood like what happened to me. My child WILL have a happy, care-free, secure, supportive, and unconditionally loving childhood.

    So, any thought of allowing my Dad back into my life, even on the superficial level as I was contemplating, has been completely eliminated from my thoughts. Having my brother in my home created the exact results I feared, except the negative actions weren't what I anticipated. No-one has changed. If anything, they have gotten worse. Life is not a game, family members are not pawns, and all the mean, nasty, and hateful behavior is unacceptable in a life that is so short & precious.

    What transpired during my brother's visit was a gentle message from above or my guardian angel to not soften-up.... that where I am in my life has been a hard fought battle and that I should guard that happiness, peace, and contentment with all my might... that my child is precious and that a gift like her needs to be protected. I was given the privilege of looking back for one week at what I left: a narcissistic Dad (My Dad, The Narcissistic King), a nasty Queen mother (Understanding My Borderline Mother), a manipulative con-artist brother (Antisocial Personality Disorder), and more. And I say this experience was a privilege because the lesson was immense, no permanent damage resulted, and evil left my home for good.

    Now my sweet and simple life continues :)