My mother died in February of 2007. She put me back in her will a few days before she died and probate has been a fascinatingly awful experience. The oldest sibling lives 2,000 miles away in Mexico and so was the obvious choice for executor of the estate. Less than a year later, she asked me to go live on my mother’s estate and basically be her administrative assistant because the paperwork was in such chaos. Against all medical, therapeutic, and just plain friends advice, I did, even though it put me back in the extremely unenviable position of having accountability without authority. I was once again in an ‘I would rather regret those things that I have done’ situation, and I knew the ‘persistent disregard for rules of society’ issue would easily derail the entire legal situation.
It has been made extremely clear that yes, my family of origin does suffer from narcissistic/psychopathic personality disorders as well as alcoholism. Some rather startling statements from my siblings intended to bring me up to speed on resolving probate included:
- Anybody stupid enough to be kind and generous deserves to get taken for all they’ve got.
- I’ll say anything to get people to agree, and then I put the screws on at the last minute to get what I want.
- If somebody looks like they might be better than you at something, you need to tear them down so you don’t look bad.
- When I see some one is vulnerable, I know that is my chance to kick them while they are down.
- Now that I have gotten what I want from you, I’ve decided you are the source of dark and evil forces so I have no obligation to reciprocate in any way.
- I don’t think of X* as having monetary value, it isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t make me feel fulfilled so it doesn’t count when we settle the estate.
- I would never say what I really felt or wanted in front of a mediator/therapist!
*( X being house, car, computer, silverware, and various other bits of property)
The therapist that took on mediating for the group gave me a hard time for cutting off communication with my relatives outside of a mediated situation with a (at least theoretically) neutral witness. I remain puzzled by his efforts to keep me involved by telling me that my experience was not unique, my siblings treated everyone this way. My argument is that I do not want to engage with people who act like the above are reasonable words to live by. I feel some consolation in that by the end, he was refusing to speak to certain individuals because their behavior was so extreme and difficult. And, as is typical of personality disorders, when it came time to actually change their behavior, the remaining siblings refused
Adult sociopaths are notoriously resistant to changing their behavior, and studies do show that punishment has no effect on the brain structure of any of the prison inmates diagnosed as sociopathic. I was even more fascinated to read that the one path to constructive changes in the physical brain structure of psychopathic adolescents inmates is positive feedback because I lost my herd of little Spanish horses to the sociopathic dysfunction of my family of origin. Just before my father died, he asked me to make sure that my brothers would be alright. I ended up allowing all five little brothers to infiltrate my work with my horses even though I knew I would regret it.
I was, unfortunately, also sure that I was at a watershed point, perhaps the only point, where I could make a difference in my family dynamics. And I knew if I did not do it, I would regret turning away from that possibility even more later on in my life. One of the very few things my father said to me before he died was that when he was diagnosed with cancer he had turned away from everything that he loved, and he had regretted it for the rest of his life. I decided that I would take his lesson to heart and live to regret those things I had done, rather than die of regretting those things I had left undone. Sure enough, when I started making a splash in the community, my horses showing up in museums and articles, my mother also showed up. Unfortunately, I was doubly vulnerable to her since I had the horses on the family property in Agua Fria.
Part of the definition of psychopathy is a parasitic lifestyle and a persistent disregard for the right of others and the rules of society. My mother saw an opportunity to regain her place in the community through my work with my horses. But first she wanted me to help her get rid of my brothers. With my help, she insisted, she could ensure that one would die of hepatitis or aids from compulsive sex, one would commit suicide, one would die in a drunken car wreck, and a couple would end up in jail as murderers and rapists. When I refused to cooperate in destroying my brothers, she took to waylaying me in the yard and declaring that I owed her my life and if I loved her I would see that I had to die in order for her to live. It didn’t seem like a sound argument to me, but since I had already been through a near death experience when she pulled out in front of a truck and I was thrown out the car window when I was a toddler, I told her that she had already called that debt in. This did not improve the situation.
I decided it was time to go when she escalated into chasing me around the yard screaming that I had betrayed her like every other man (!?) in her life and she was going to dedicate her life to destroying me. She insisted that her moral accounting proved she was totally justified this. Her explanation of moral accounting was that once she had decided that you were a good person, only the good things you did counted. If you were a bad person, only the bad things counted. Since I was the embodiment of all evil and had been since the moment of conception, clearly I had no right to live. As she could not even keep straight which sex her own daughter was, I tended to doubt her judgment. And, according to an accountant friend, her system is called off-ledger accounting in the mundane world, and you go to jail for it.
I finally told my mother she could take over my horse scene, and I would walk away. I felt it was time to separate myself from the constant chaos she and my siblings perpetuated, although it grieved me deeply to leave the horses. There was enough momentum there to keep it all going for a while, and failing at it after I left would prove me right and her wrong. My conditions were that she support my siblings in becoming functional human beings and that the multi-generational pattern of mothers wishing their daughters dead stop with me. If she ever treated any one in the family the way she treated me, I would come back and call for my own accounting.
For the most part my mother refused direct communications with me after that, which was a relief, although I contended with a constant defensive flow of accusations of neglect and rejection. She was desperate to prove me both wrong and evil with crazy as a bonus. When even my even my siblings gave up on trying to pull me into the family games by passing on her messages, the the cyber-stalking began. My mother would troll the net and any time she found my name she would contact the people I was working with tales of woe and abandonment. I learned who my friends were quite quickly, as their response was to say something along the lines of ‘a really strange email showed up from somebody who claims to be your mother. Persuading them that my mother and I had already covered that ground pretty thoroughly was fruitless so putting myself out in public was a trial for many years. ‘ Jumping on the ‘Sara is bad’ bandwagon was a clear indication I needed to move on myself.
My mother had a huge investment in maintaining her facade and I had no interest in tearing it down even though others did tend to get upset because I was not interested in her protestations of love. I needed to pursue my own calling and my own healing and my mother was profoundly terrified of the visionary state because she was also on the narcissistic/psychopathic spectrum of the personality disorder. In the visionary state, one sense of self can be quite fluid. Narcissistic individuals have difficulty distinguishing between themselves and others. It seems paradoxical that lack of a sense of self prevents connection with others, but that is how it seems to work. My mother explained to me that love was something that was both difficult for and inexplicable to her. She told me that she was nothing but a false face and an empty facade and that while love might come easy to me, it was a herculean effort for her to squeeze a tiny bit of affection out of her empty heart. She was so filled with fear and so empty inside she had no ability to consider others or find her own orientation and grounding in the world. Her self-fulfilling fear of the visionary then made sense. This made me think that there is a physiological aspect to personality disorders and I was intrigued when I read about a couple of studies recently that show there are visible differences in the brains of sociopathic individuals.
It has taken awhile to realize that my mother’s insatiable drive for conflict was an expression of the parasitic aspect of her personality disorder, that she fed on the energy of conflict. In a fleeting moment of clarity, one sister did say to me ‘I see things so much more clearly now that my mother is dead, I wish I could have shared that with her when she was alive.’ My response is that my mother took a whole miasm of family dysfunction with her when she died and did keep her word to me in that she did not go after my siblings in the same way she attacked me. The end result is that they are functional in that they do manage to support themselves. And I do have as much of a happy ending as I think is possible in that I am ending up with a concrete piece of physical property without any legal ties to my siblings as my inheritance.
In the one brief moderately sane and self-aware moment of communication I had with my mother she told me that she felt there was something alien in her that fed on other beings misery, that her dearest hope was that one of her children would escape her insanity, and that I was the only one of her children who truly loved her. Seeing my mother exactly as she was, accepting that, and going on with my life, making the best of what I inherited from her regardless was something even she could recognize as love. I can only hope that my siblings behavior is extreme in the context of probate and there is some evidence that in other areas of their life they are more humane. It is a relief to learn that I was right in my sense that I had only the one opening to change the family dynamics, because now my siblings are either impervious and oblivious to my work or feel threatened and get vindictive. Although the personal cost is much too high for me to recommend my path to any one else , I am alright with the decisions I made in the past, I do know how deep the healing needs to go, and how long it takes. And I know why I am different from my mother.