The Mask

I think one of the more frustrating parts of a parent with a personality disorder is the mask or the act they play for others.  I’ve started opening up to some of the people in my family about the fact that my mother and I are estranged.  I recently did so with a stepsister (mother’s side) who I was in limited contact with.  Of course,  I got the whole, your mother loves you very much, speaks lovingly of you bullshit.  It’s just so crazymaking to deal with someone who behaves so differently in private when it’s just the 2 of us or when one of her enablers/apologists is around.

And it’s so damned isolating.  I didn’t anticipate any support from this stepsister and I’m not sure why I felt the need to tell her as I haven’t for nearly 2 years.  I just wish the mask would slip and people would see what I put up with for so long.  Ugh, it’s frustrating.

I could almost understand the emotional abuse with the ranting, screaming, shaming, berating being part of the mental illness of an undiagnosed/untreated Personality Disorder.  I could almost accept that.  But what really is a mind f**k is when she then puts the mother of the year or Mama Martyr act around other people. 

During college,  I was going through grief due to untimely deaths of 2 friends.   Another friend had such a severe reaction to her grief she was talking about suicide.  When I told my mother about this, her response was sympathy upon the initial telling, but beyond that, she expected me to be over it and stop hanging out with the other friend because “it’s too depressing.”  Now, in retrospect, I realize my mother’s own experience with her mother’s suicide probably left her unable to cope with this and that was her way of coping.  I don’t have a problem with that and I think I even understood it at the time.  What came next is the mind f***. 

She called my apartment when I wasn’t there (back in the pre-historic era before cell phones :)) She made a big show of telling my roomie how concerned she was about me and how much she cared!!!  WTF?!!!!  My roomie talked to some of my other friends and between that and her acting normal at graduation,  they thought I’d been making things up.  Even comparing me to the Demi Moore character in St. Elmo’s Fire (which had recently been released at the time)!

I can understand her not being able to give consolation or comfort.  Particularly when it involves a situation which is triggering of traumas she’s experienced.  That makes sense and if I’d known more about trauma back then, I would have recognized this and spared her even trying to talk about it.   But why pretend to my friends that she cared?

I’m guessing it’s all about the appearances.  She wants the appearance of happy family/mother of the year.

It’s interesting, the 2nd anniversary of the estrangement’s coming up in May.  My brother’s wedding was part of the lead up to it.  It was held at a motel in the state where my mother lives.  It was an old fashioned hotel in the sense that it was pretty much one big public space, not enough room to go off alone too outside.  Based on the following past experiences, among others, I decided it would be best for me to stay at a hotel close by, but not at the same one. 

The experiences:

1) I used to stay in the guest room of my mom & stepdad’s condo and not rent a car when I went to visit.  So consequently, I was trapped and easy to control.  Thanksgiving 2005, I forgot my sports bra and I’d been planning on going for long, brisk walks both for exercise and as a means of stress management.  It can be hot and humid where she lives so the fabric of a sports bra is more comfortable for that than regular bras.  And most of my regular bras are underwire, which can be uncomfortable during brisk, long walks.   On the way home from dinner the first night, I asked if we could make a quick stop at Target on the way home (not far from their place) as I figured it was the closest place which would have what I wanted.

I was grilled as to what I was getting, why I needed to get it.  She grudgingly agreed to stop and admonished me, “just go in and get that, don’t be shopping or browsing for other things”.  I’m generally not one who does a lot of browsing when I’m going in for something specific.  I get what I need & get out, so this was completely unnecessary.  And I was 39 at the time!!!  Pushing 40 and groveling for the privilege of buying a sports bra I’d forgotten to pack.

2) Mother’s Day 2006, I took her out for lunch at Italian restaurant.  She loves Italian food, but my stepfather hates the smell of garlic.  The restaurant portions were quite large, so I halved mine and was debating about what to do with the left over half.  Normally, I’d take it home and have it for lunch or dinner within the next day or so.  But my stepdad hates the smell of garlic.  So the logical thing would have been to leave it there.  But that gets complicated.  I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never had to go hungry.  My mother wasn’t so fortunate growing up.  There were times where she had to go without food.  Wasting food, or even the perceived waste of food if it’s gone bad, is one way to provoke a tirade.  As the slimy sandwiches incident in this post  proves. 

I was going to “forget” to take it with me, but she reminded me.  I figured I’d eat it while my stepdad was out of the house.  Before I heated it up, I’d asked if it would be a problem.  She told me no.  I’m eating the leftovers of my lunch when she comes up to me and tells me I’d better eat them on the patio.  So I take it out only to realize I’m looking at a small pile of dog crap on the patio.   Bon appetit!  I managed to eat most of it just to avoid the argument over not eating it even though I’ve pretty much lost my appetite.  The kicker is my stepdad comes in and complains about the odor of garlic anyway. 

This was the same visit where she told me not to bother applying for my current job when I was being bullied at my old job because I was the problem and it would happen no matter where I went.  I’m happy to report I’ve been at my current job for nearly 5 years and that hasn’t been the case.

The combination finally pushed me to get a spine and stand up for myself.  No fucking way was I ever going to subject myself to that bullshit again.  Any visits to/near her, I’d have my own hotel room and my own means of transportation. 

In addition to staying at a nearby hotel, I rented a car so I could go back & forth between the 2 hotels as I pleased.  She wasn’t very happy about this.  She didn’t see why I needed to spend money on a rental car when she & my stepdad could pick me up/drop me off from the airport.  And she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to stay at that hotel and/or share a unit with her & stepdad.  I told her I got a discount where I was staying to try and preserve the peace.

Oh & did I mention it was efficiencies intended for families staying a week or more?  Even though the guest were primarily couples or single people flying into the southeast from either the northeast or from the west?  Which meant instead of a convenient airport shuffle to a hotel chains, pretty much everyone had to rent cars and get groceries for a long weekend trip.  But hey, it was convenient for her and stepdad because it was about 20 minutes away from their place and they could just pick up groceries and drive there.  Screw the 20 something guests who came in from out of town and might like a bit more convenience!   And she kept going on about how she was going to have a restaurant meal or then a bbq, then pizza for the rehearsal dinner.  Which was the first night many of us were in town and after our flights/drives from the airport.  We ended up with chicken salad sandwiches and some other side salads and candy bars.  Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad meal, but why tell people all the heavier options if you’re planning on chicken salad sandwiches for dinner?  People have been traveling all day and might want something a little more substantial for dinner or would have had a more substantial lunch if they’d known in advance.

So, after all this rambling, I think one of the reasons she was angry at me for staying nearby was because it challenges her image of happy family.  The ironic part is it doesn’t take much to make me happy and to want to be part of a family.  Treat me decently and with some courtesy and I’m pretty much there. Things like love, affection and compassion are just bonus points.  That’s all it would have taken.  But she’d rather go through these elaborate facades than make a few minor changes (e.g. don’t scream, rant, etc. at a 40 something grown woman).  I’m completely perplexed by it all.  But I realize I’ll never figure it out.  I just wish others could see beyond the mask and get a glimpse of what I’ve dealt with from her.

6 thoughts on “The Mask

  1. Darlin’
    You’ve got to stop worrying about these people who dont care about you and focus on you and what you want and need. They will never give you the approval you want because that can only come from within you. They will never stop ctiticizing/controlling you as long as you permit it. Your only choice is NO CONTACT. Best of luck and God bless you.

  2. Hi Again. I can’t get enough of your site! I’m figuring we are the same age now based on your posts. I’ll be 46 in a few months & it blows me away that it took me this long to figure out it’s not me & it’s them! However, most of the sites say the Ah Ha moment happens about this age, late 30’s & early 40’s. Thank God I was not one of those that figured it out in their mid 50’s & up. I do feel for them that they endured the guilt/shame longer. Anyway, my mom had “food waste” issues too & I think that is why to this day I feel guilty that I don’t clean my plate which has now lead to weight gain in my 40’s & I also think it has been a drug to calm me. I have three questions for you. 1. How has this madness of your mother’s illness affected your career path in your life? 2. Have you ever had any alcohol or drug problems? 3. How have your relationships with friends or romantic relations been tied to all of this? I look back now & I see how this abuse has affected my career life & my relationships. I now think that I have tended to over drink on more than one occasion to numb the pain. Which now is under control thankfully.

    I’m still going to keep reading!

    1. 1. How has this madness of your mother’s illness affected your career path in your life?
      I’m one of the people pleaser types and I have a good work ethic. But, the people pleasing sometimes goes too far and I’m overly apologetic. In middle school and a couple of workplaces, I was the target of bullying. It took me a long time before I realized that the “flea” I’d picked up (fleas can be either bad behaviors picked up from the parent or coping mechanisms which no longer work) of appeasing angry people pretty much made me a target. I sometimes let things build up to the point where I react inappropriately or out of proportion to a provocation. Therapy and writing it out/journaling (such as this blog) have helped enormously and I’ve seen a vast improvement in both areas (appeasing and blowing up). There’s been a whole lot less drama and conflict in my life as a result. Which has helped me manage my anxiety levels better. It took a few tries to find a good therapist I’m comfortable with.

      2. Have you ever had any alcohol or drug problems?
      If I drink when I’m sad or angry it can be a problem. I tend more towards food and have weight problems. I started therapy about 2 and a half years ago. I’m hoping the underlying issues being sorted out will help. I find writing is a good way for me to let my feelings out instead of eating. I still slip up, but I at least usually consider other optiions before going for food. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. You may also want to get a good physical, including a Vitamin D check if you’re having trouble losing weight with exercise and food modification. Vitamin D deficiency, which I was diagnosed with, can cause weight gain, fatigue and contribute towards making anxiety/depression worse.

      3. How have your relationships with friends or romantic relations been tied to all of this?
      I do pretty well on the friendship front, except for conflict, as I don’t handle that well. But I’ve improved a lot with the boundary/speaking up work I’ve been doing. I have some close friends and have some longstanding friendship.

      Romantic relationships have been a lot more difficult. I tend to pick men where I end up as the caretaker or men who are unavailable emotionally. I also tend to avoid relationships for the most part. I’d like to be in one, but being that vulnerable to someone is difficult for me. I think it’s because I’m afraid the more I reveal or as my normal, everyone has them human flaws become apparent, I’ll be rejected.

      1. I just saw this update. I need to check the email response option so I know when you respond. I think I have your same patterns in all 3. However, I finally met a great guy back in 98 well before I realized what I was dealing with my mom. By the grace of God, I met my husband & I’m still amazed that I was ready for him at that time even though I was clearly screwed up enough to not recognize him as good for me. At the time, I had joined the selling force of Mary Kay & was on a positive path. When I look back on it, I think I was starting to see a turn in me at 32 years of age. I ended two abusive friendships which now I realize they were narcissists. I was also starting to look at things with my family dynamic but it didn’t come to full realization till this year of my mom’s illness & the effects it’s had on me & my sister. I now see the bad career choices I’ve made based on my abuse. I too was also bullied at work & when I would finally blow up, it would work against me. I think I need to journal more like you said so I don’t do this again. Yesterday, I had a revelation that I can no longer set myself up to be the “good” daughter because I know it will turn in a second. My thoughts are why do I work so hard to be good enough when I’m never going to be good enough in their eyes(Narc Mom & GC Sis). I’ve realized that no matter how hard I work, in their mind they are justified for behaving badly even though they don’t think they are behaving badly. I have not spoken to my sister in two months because my behavior in taking a stand it making life difficult for her in her dealings with our mom. Also, it’s Thanksgiving & I’m always the one trying to figure out what we are going to do for the holidays. No more! I just feel like it’s not my job anymore & if they don’t care enough to know what I’m doing, then I don’t care what they are doing. I guess I’m not being the bigger person by that choice but it’s where I need to be. If they can do it, so can I & it’s the same result in every aspect. In their sick minds, I’m still the bad guy so I guess I’m just doing my job & finally taking ownership of it. Hope you have a peaceful Thanksgiving. I’ll look for your updates.

      2. I wouldn’t worry too much about being the bigger person. When you’re dealing with a NPD, it’s pretty much an all out situation. You have to do what’s right and necessary for your well being. It’s not like a normal family relationship where people care about each other in that manner.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing and resetting my perspective. I am trying to cut off communication with my mother and was just looking for help on the internet when I found your blog. As you know, the narcissistic passive-aggressive mother can make you believe you are the one that is crazy for a long time, forever if you allow it. Especially when the mother-martyr act has the rest of the world convinced too.

    As the scapegoat, I have been diagnosed with a variety of psych conditions and been in therapy for the last 30 years solid. So I am very self aware and surprisingly sane. It’s ironic that making me the scapegoat is what enabled me to see her as the real problem. It’s sad she didn’t spend some of that money on therapy for herself.

    Interesting note: I brought her to therapy with me one day last year to try and salvage our relationship. My therapist saw right through her act and was able to identify her behavior as npd in under an hour. I think it was because my therapist (like my husband) knows me well enough that my mom’s story didn’t add up. The people we are closest to will not buy the “mask”.

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