So I’ve been researching child abuse & abusive personalities for my fanfic tales, as one of the characters is a survivor & the issues & aftermath of abuse come up a lot in my tales.
It’s very, very scary when you’re watching a vid & reading articles, and realizing that it all sounds too damn familiar, that I’m ticking things off in my own life right down the list, that what happened to others is what happened to me.. It’s also a huge weight lifting from your shoulders: “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. The way they treated me was wrong. I wasn’t wrong. They were.”
Narcissism & abuse are on a spectrum. Sometimes it’s very open & obvious; other times, it’s not so obvious, especially to outsiders. The subtle knife cuts just as deeply, but because it’s hidden, it’s rarely treated. Those of us on the inside grow up thinking it’s all normal, it’s the way things are, I deserve all the criticism & mocking because I’m not a good daughter. If we start coming out of that fog & realizing something’s wrong, we’re quickly thrust back in by outside-folks saying, “Your parents are so great, they’re so helpful, they’re so wonderful, I really like them a lot”, etc etc.
One face gets shown to outsiders. Another gets shown to the family. And because the outsiders keep telling us how “great” our parents are, we start wondering if we’re crazy, or maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m the wrong one, maybe I am “oversensitive”, maybe I’m just imagining it — and it gets a million times worse when the outsider-praise is coming from one’s partner.
Partner always got (& gets) the smiling/calm/likable “public” faces.
When I try telling him about the snarling insider-faces that came out whenever he wasn’t around, whenever I try to tell him how badly those “great people” would rip him apart behind his back & tear me apart for daring to even be with him, I always get a shrug. It doesn’t happen in front of him, so it doesn’t matter. I’m just exaggerating. I’m being too “sensitive” again.
Again, and again, and again, and again.
I saw it happen with my sister and her husband (I’ll call him SHB), and my brother & his wife (BWF). At first, my parents really liked both SHB and BWF. SHB had been in the Army. He’d fought in the Gulf War. He was a down-to-earth guy from a redneck family. BWF came from a well-off family that owned their own restaurant; my brother had met her out of college.
With BWF, things changed after the first child was born — my parents’ first grandkid. Suddenly nothing my brother & his wife did was right. BWF was entering her baby in baby-pageants, how dare she take advantage of her child like that!! She wouldn’t let Grand-baby (nor the next three) wear old clothes for playing in; Mom & Dad bitched about having to buy “play clothes” for The Grandkids from Goodwill. Whenever I visited, Mom filled my ear with long complaints about everything BWF was doing “wrong” with Their Grandkids, from feeding them wrong, to dressing them wrong, taking their pets away, giving them McDonalds, stealing money & services from my parents & their small tour business, then — gasp — threatening to keep The Grandkids away from Mom & Dad unless Mom & Dad cosigned loans or assisted in other monetary ways. Then, finally, BWF supposedly “attacked” my brother & the cops were called; my brother claimed he was attacked & BWF spent the night in jail…
To be very fair, my brother has always been a bullying jerk who did a lot of illegal things behind Mom & Dad’s back. The SOB had once punched me in front of his friends, and stood there laughing about it — with the air knocked out of my lungs & unable to breathe, I couldn’t speak when Dad came back & asked what’d happened, and brother’s lie was believed. When I tried to tell what had really happened, I was punished for lying. I do not like my brother; I want nothing to do with him.
Just a note: one favorite tactic of abusers is to taunt and abuse their victims until the victim strikes back…and then the abuser calls the cops, claiming that he was only “defending himself” from his victim. It’s a common tactic; it’s notorious in women’s & domestic violence shelters. We’ve all heard the stories of abused wives finally snapping & killing their abuser…and end up in prison for the rest of their lives.
Because I hate my brother (faaaaaamily be damned; the guy is and has always been a narcissistic asshole), I didn’t question any of Mom & Dad’s complaints …until the whole “domestic violence” tale came thru the family grapevine. That was the first story I didn’t believe, though I kept my doubts quiet; I said nothing about the other incidents.
With my sister’s husband (SHB), SHB suffered PTSD and health problems from the Gulf War, problems which started hitting him hard after he and my sis married. There’s a LOT of documentation about the health issues suffered by the Gulf War vets, who were exposed to burning oil fields & other toxins. PTSD is common in soldiers in combat zones. SHB’s problems got to the point where he couldn’t work — he was a truck driver. He was having seizures; that resulted in him losing his job. He started to fight for disability, while trying to hold down truck-driving jobs and not succeeding — and suddenly he became a “lazy slob faking his problems” whenever my parents talked about him.
I’m ashamed to admit that at one point, my youngest sister (who’s not married) confided to me that SHB had hit our sis/his wife and that Married Sis told her this was a common occurrence. I insisted on telling Mom about it, and that’s become part of the “lazy faking slob” issue. But now I’m wondering how true that story was.
(I should note: I don’t live near my family; I live a good two hours away in central Ohio. My married sis is a Fundamentalist Christian, I’m Pagan, and she’s flat-out called me “deluded by the devil”. So, yeah, there’s not much sisterly chat there. So I would only hear about these things from Mom & Youngest Sis when they called to chat.)
Anyway, my Dad is an Army vet.. If you listen to him, his Army days were spent driving around Europe & having a great time; he was in the Army in the very early stages of the Vietnam War, before the US started sending massive amounts of troops over. Dad never fought and was never in a combat zone and evidently never dealt with any of the Cold War nastiness, either. Whenever he talks about the Army or military or related issues, it’s very, VERY apparent that he’s never actually fought.
Listening to my parents try to claim SHB is “faking” for disability & is just “lazy”…on top of their issues and problems with BWF….and these aren’t the only issues my parents have with family members. I could write several encyclopedias on the various “reasons” that Mom & Dad aren’t talking with this or that relative, or how one of Dad’s cousins turned that entire branch of the family against them, etc etc etc.
Combining all that with how they talked about my partner when we were dating & living together — even for the first few years of our marriage — all crap I had to listen to until I finally shut it down with “I don’t want to hear it, accept him or I’m gone” — and how my partner suddenly became A-Okay when the supposed crap from the other married siblings started hitting…but again, that’s just to my and his face.
On top of all this, my therapist told me about the r/JustNO Reddit groups, support groups for victims of narcissistic family, and how much the stories there match up to what’s now going on & has happened & what I grew up with…
Now I’m questioning everything. I don’t know what to believe anymore.