The Epitome of the Bad Mother

I was originally prompted to write my pain scale post (click here) by my siblings’ efforts to sustain one of my mother’s more overt patterns of harassment. But what I am finding is that search terms that bring the most new readers and followers to my blog are from the posts on my health, my surviving a narcissistic dysfunctional family, and shamanism. In response to this interest,  I am going to add some context to the last post, and I will continue to write on all of the above for those who struggle with similar situations.

It is important to understand that secrecy, apparently even from oneself, is required to perpetuate this kind of behavior, and in my situation that appears as my siblings’ selective amnesia. Therapists call it dissociation and it is a sign of psychological if not physical abuse. According to my therapist brother, I am the only person among the eight living siblings that has a chronologically complete and coherent memory of my life.  I am also the only one that could or would confront my mother.  In one of her perverse flashes of insight, she once declared that I was the only child of hers that truly loved her because I was the only one who saw through her games to who she truly was.

The family context is that my mother’s cyclic pattern of harassment and abuse would begin with her waiting for an opening where she could attack me in someway ranging from derogatory statements to me and others to actual malfeasance. When I made efforts to set boundaries, to contain and minimize both her behavior and the resulting social debris, her response would be to withdraw from direct contact. I would be punished by her denying me the dubious pleasure of her company and conversation for a period ranging from six to eighteen months while she prepared the ground for the next step. She was among the first cyber-stalkers and would seek out any activity and contacts she could find, and study them. Then there would be an approach cloaked in some sort of praise based on that information.

The subtext, which was soon verbalized as her program progressed , was that in focusing on my own health and  survival I was solely responsible for purposefully, willfully, and maliciously causing her  harm and denying her the veritable fountain of joy, love, and creativity in her life that she was entitled to. To maintain this fiction, she had to insure that any physical or financial issues I might be dealing with would be cast as evidence of my moral turpitude. When I was not receptive to taking on full responsibility for her well-being and happiness, then the overt attacks would be renewed and the cycle continue.

If this sounds calculated, it was. As one overwhelmed and disbelieving  therapist blurted: “She is the epitome of the bad mother!”

When I started making a splash in the community in my early 20’s, my horses showing up in museums and articles, my mother reappeared. She had been holed up in a tiny apartment in Hollywood, hoarding newspapers and the wine bottles she emptied regularily. She saw an opportunity to regain her place in the community after years of self-destructive alcoholic behavior through my work with my Spanish Colonial 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/or rapists.

(This might sound extreme, but is unfortunately all too realistic. Post-probate I had to hire a lawyer to minimize the risk of property damage and (at least) verbal harassment from my brothers. His one and only phone conversation with just one of them ended with a promise to that particular brother that if he ever set foot on my property, initiated contact with me or spoke to any lawyer the way he reacted to mine he would spend the next 6 months in jail and come out with a restraining order and and a GPS locator anklet.)

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 obviously had to die in order for her to live. She insisted that her moral accounting proved she was totally justified in demanding my death. 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.

It didn’t seem like a sound argument to me, but my response did not improve the situation. 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. 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.

As she could not even keep straight which sex her own daughter was, I tended to doubt her judgment. . Besides, according to an accountant friend, her system is called off-ledger accounting in the mundane world, and you go to jail for it. Unfortunately, I was doubly vulnerable to her since I had my horses on the family property in Agua Fria and I had debilitating health issues.

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 my horses in such a precarious circumstances. However, tere 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.

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. So my conditions for leaving were that she support my siblings in becoming functional human beings.

If she ever treated any one in the family the way she treated me, I would come back and call for my own accounting. And I insisted that the multi-generational pattern of mothers wishing their daughters dead stop with me. For the most part my mother refused direct communications with me after that, which was a relief.

But. I contended with a constant defensive flow of accusations of neglect and rejection from third parties. When even my siblings gave up on trying to pull me into the family games by passing on her messages, the cyber-stalking began. Putting myself out in public was a trial for many years as my mother would troll the internet and any time she found my name she would contact the people I was working with tales of woe and abandonment so

But, at least I learned who my friends were quite quickly. Those whose response was to say something along the lines of  ‘a really strange e-mail showed up from somebody who claims to be your mother’ I could work with. Jumping on the ‘Sara is bad’ bandwagon was a clear indication I needed to move on myself.

While other people did tend to get upset because I was not interested in her public protestations of love, in the one brief moderately sane and self-aware moment of communication I had with my mother she told me that I was the only one of her children who truly loved her. Seeing my mother exactly as she was, accepting her, and going on with my life, making the best of what I inherited from her regardless of her malice was something even she could recognize as love.

Since agreeing with her was often financially remunerative for my siblings, they played my mother’s games with gusto. So when my mother put me back in her will a few days before she died, probate was a fascinatingly awful experience. The oldest sibling lived 2,000 miles away in Mexico without reliable phone, internet or mail service and so was the obvious choice for executor of the estate.

Less than a year later, that sister 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. 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 someone 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 of siblings during probate 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. I felt some consolation in that by the end, he was refusing to speak to certain individuals himself because their behavior was so extreme and difficult.

My mother’s deathbed enlightenment was the realization that conversation was possibly an exchange of information, not a just a tool for manipulating others behavior. The idea that she might have to listen as well as speak was quite literally a revelation she could not live with. In as much as I may have any remaining obligation to my family matrix it is  simply to see and speak clearly.

It is a peculiarity of my family that we respond differently to spoken information than to written information.  In general, the spoken word is easily (and purposefully)  forgotten because it only serves to gain one whatever immediate advantage is desired while what is written down is real, enduring, and true. In writing this down, especially in a public forum, I break the code of secrecy because the written word has so much greater potential for breaking through the dissociation. And a public forum changes the social context.

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