I agree with what the article just below says about verbal abuse being pictured as screaming and out of control behaviour but I was never abused in that way.
My abuse was gaslighting, hypercriticality and generally being ignored in a very subtle way. It doesn’t look like abuse, it doesn’t sound like it either, it’s invisible to anyone outside.
My grandmother was a prominent figure in my life, we lived next door to her so she was always there. She is a narcissist of the bullying type. My father is a narcissist too but tends towards the opposite end by playing the victim and gaslighting to keep things all about him. Or rejecting things that happened that do no suit him by lying and twisting the truth. One squashes you with their will, the other turns your best feature against you and squashes you with your own empathy. Both result in extreme amounts of guilt. The guilt of just being alive.
Both of them are hypercritical.
I have kept that with me. I will never be perfect enough for me, I will certainly never be perfect enough for them. Their perfects aren’t even the same so I have to reach 3 different kinds of perfects.
Yes it’s ridiculous.
But it is like that.
I believe my first mistake was being born a girl. I could not carry the family name or respect the tradition of the first name either.
When my first child was born my partner and I discussed what surname should have. Well he suggested that we add my name to his. My answer of “NO WAY” closely followed the coffee that came out through nose from the shock of the idea. *
The discussion lasted about the time it took to clean up my mess and was never mentioned again except in anecdote later down the line.
All mistakes subsequent to birth were having opinions, ideas and needs and not reaching that ridiculously high perfection bar.
“Children should be seen and not heard” accurately sums up my childhood. We can’t make mess, noise, need anything, look anything other than what they consider appropriate, we have to be a point of pride in that whatever relates to us improves how the outside world see them. That it is good for us or makes us happy is irrelevant, we are not an individual, we are an accessory. It’s all about appearances.
The rules I had to live by were rather Victorian. I watched Downton Abbey and could really relate to the way the family lived. We were not rich but the great grandparents were either military or bourgeois. One was a judge.
You follow orders, you do things the right way, in the right order, with the right people to appear as upper class as possible but without depriving the elders of anything.
It wasn’t particularly strict in my house but not adhering to the “rules” made you less worthy when you were already worth nothing. I was an inconvenience, born because that’s what you do when you get married. I grew up to being made to take on board opposing things.
One day I needed shoes. I only had one pair and they had holes in the soles. Dad said we couldn’t afford new shoes and I’d have to make do. Two days later he brings back a print he got professionally framed. For having used that exact service I know that cost more than my shoes at the time. His want was more important than my need and my need didn’t show. The underside and m shoe and my wet foot isn’t apparent.
I’m told to lose weight frequently. From an early age my body was already displeasing to them.
My grandmother often reminded me that if she put on weight my grandfather would leave her. The point was very clear. If you’re overweight you’re unlovable.
At the same time, at every meal, I was told to empty my plate because of the starving children in Africa. “Empty your plate or you’ll sit there all afternoon” sometimes I did sit there all afternoon alone and miserable. To this day I don’t eat cream cheese or spinach.
I had to eat less but at the same time you have a second helping because not having one is an insult to the cook (my grand-mother in this instance) and nothing seemed worth dealing that.
When you’re given no love, when you’re allowed no emotion, need or want, you fill up with what you can get. In my case food. I developed Binge Eating Disorder. Those few seconds of pleasure, that full feeling were just filling a void I didn’t know how else to fill. If you hate me I may as well give you a reason for it. If I’m fat and unlovable maybe the man who touches me will stop loving me and stop touching me. 30 years later food is still a struggle.
I was not allowed my own emotions. Anything negative was thrown back at me with a “ be ridiculous” or “don’t exaggerate”, “don’t be silly” and a hundred other variants of this.
I always had to smile because I have “such a nice smile and you look so unattractive when you don’t. People don’t like people who don’t smile”. I don’t think I was ever asked why I was feeling glum. According to my grandmother people also don’t like people who say no. “You should always say yes to everything” accentuating again that I am not allowed emotion, I am not allowed to be me. I don’t count.
Do I rationalise this behaviour? Yes.
Their brains are not wired the same, it’s not their fault, they were brought up to believe this, she lived through the war and was a refugee, they had lost everything, I owe them so I just have to accept it. They are my family I have to love them.
But no. It’s not ok, it’s still abuse. I don’t want them in my life because they break me. I don’t love them because I don’t love people who disrespect, who hurt, who chose the way that will serve them best and step on everyone else. I do not love the person who will hit me hard enough that I fall on the floor then kick me in the ribs. I do not love the person who thinks that a grown man putting his hand between the legs of a child and makes the child uncomfortable is ok.
So I walked away and closed the door.
I was told “But they are your family, you can’t walk away, you’ll regret it.” Countless times. They are my family but I can and I won’t.
Yes, it hurt. It’s really very hard to give up on the idea of the parent you need and hope they will magically turn into some day but narcissists cannot see the error of their ways, they cannot change and become empathetic. They cannot apologize because according to them they did nothing wrong. That dream parent will never happen and I grieved that idea. I still do. I grieve for the love I didn’t get. I grieve for the dream of an apology, an honest heart to heart, for the hug that is meant and doesn’t leave me rigid with apprehension.
I’m also told, always in a sorry and sad voice, that I am depriving my kids of a family. No. A family is love and support, not just genetics. I am depriving my children of similar abuse. I am depriving my kids of seeing their own mother destroyed by her family. I am depriving them of experiencing rejection as much as I can. I am protecting them.
Would you tell your sister, cousin, to stay with her abusive husband? To stay in the job where she is harassed? Would you tell her to stay with the person who is sexually harassing her? No. You’ll tell her to get out, file against them, go to the police. You’d help them escape if they asked you too.
That we are genetically related to the person harming us should not change this.
I will never regret it.
*I have considered changing my name but it is still my identity with all its flaws and pain. Calling myself something else seems too alien. I don’t want or like my surname but I also can’t imagine it being anything else. I have considered my mothers’ maiden name but it’s very common, like Smith for this country whereas my name is rare, recognisable, unspellable for locals. It’s a link to my multicultural side that I have a hard time giving up on. I want my children to grow up multicultural and open minded.
I recommend reading:
“Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers “ by Dr. Karyl McBride Ph.D. (this also applies for narc mothers and grandparents although that parenting link is considered to be less damaging than for the mother. )
And “The Body Never Lies” by Alice Miller