Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics

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Tetsuo

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Hello,
I'm pretty new to this forum and I hope someone will help me see things more clearly.
I have an uNPD father and a uBPD/NPS (???) older sister and a mum who exhibits narc traits but is open minded and able to discuss her past behaviours and take responsibility for them, sort of...

I now understand that my F is a real narc, as a child I always had the feeling that I saw his inconsistencies and that he knew I did. When my parents split up when I was 16, he lost it and tried to alienate me from my mother. I resisted so much that he ended up hitting me once, in a cold way, three weeks after I lost it on the phone and told him he was an asshole after two years of him harassing me. His answer: "Your Xmas present will be slaps". Three weeks later, he came to my flat and hit me in front of my BF. Merry Xmas... Anyway I left the country a short while later, spent 10 years crying my eyes out, with sporadic and soul-destroying interactions with him, frightful, anxious, utterly confused, ended up seeing a T, got it sorted out, now I'm VVVVVVLC with him and I'm fine. I've always said that he was "crazy", no one believed me.  But after he mistreated others in the family, especially women, people start to see him for what he is.  I don't have anxiety over him anymore.

My sister has always been very fiery, impulsive, jealous of me and unstable. I'm scared of her.  (bear with me this is going somewhere) With time, she has started to see her family history as very dysfunctional when I thought we had an OK childhood and that things went wrong with the divorce. She's treated me badly over the years, and I'm now considering going NC for now. But the fact that she's very hard to communicate with, trust, and scary doesn't mean that she's all wrong in her analysis of the situation. She always tells me that she was treated worse than me because I think our childhood was OK. Now I'm starting to think it was not OK and was I the  golden child who pretended it was fine? Or was she? Because she exhibits the traits of my father when I'm more grounded and balanced... Is she right to be angry at my mum whom she perceives as neglectful and am I the one in denial when it comes to my mum being an enabler? (I have a very good relationship with my mum) I don't have family childhood memories. Is it because it was toxic? Or can she be right and wrong at the same time? ie can she be a golden child turned BPD, who mistreated me but who, at the same time, could see things I chose to deny? Am I the manipulator or the one being manipulated? How can you tell? 

As you can see total confusion here. Any insight as to how to make sense of it all would be greatly appreciated.


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Muggins

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2018, 08:14:58 PM »
There is the same age gap between me and my sister and sometimes I feel like we grew up in different families. She once told me she didn't want a sibling when I was born. I don't remember doing much with her as children which means I also don't remember any fun times with her. I was mostly a nuisance I think but I don't remember any terrible events from childhood either. From 12 to 25 I was engaged in a cold war with my N father and I was closer to my sister then. After meeting my H, my relationship with my father improved and with my sister gradually deteriorated. Now I am NC with her. I guess I'm trying to say it's not surprising that you and she would see the past differently and both be right.

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Malini

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2018, 08:07:25 AM »
Hi Tetsuo and welcome to the forum.

I grew up with an alcoholic Dad and a lot of the family problems were perceived to be a result of his addiction. He wasn't violent but didn't really like me much and at 30, I went VVVLC with him which worked well for 20 years. I clung to mom, because she was all I had left and she seemed like a good enough parent to me and I was her favoured child. My B was favoured by Dad and outwardly we were a happy family. B and I had an ok relationship, but he would treat me quite badly and would get really angry with me about things I had no power over, he was jealous and underhanded and never missed a trick to jump on Dads shaming bandwagon. If you'd asked us to describe our childhoods, you would have thought we hadn't grown up together with the same parents. 

When I first learned about PDs, I had a moment where I thought I was the only normal one in the family. And then I started learning about fleas, about triangulation, about designated roles in a dysfunctional family. This book was really helpful and I slowly understood what family dynamics had led to where I was   " Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Robert M. Pressman" , "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward was also an eyeopener but I never completely finished it because I was drawing truthful but terrifying conclusions which I wasn't ready or  able to deal with at that time.

I had a long estrangement with B, then he had a breakdown, I came OOTF and went NC with my Narents and then he went NC and we've now rebuilt our relationship. Being able to really listen to his side of the story, now that I'm free from the family dynamic opened my eyes and I was especially shocked when he told me he knew, from a really young age that NM hated him. He still has attitudes that are a threat to my wellbeing, but I'm tooled up now and know how to keep myself safe.

There's a thread about The Waif vs The Witch traits which opened my eyes to the fact that my NM showed me The Waif and my B only got The Witch. In fact, it was when B was on a secure psych ward and out of moms reach that I saw The Witch for the first time (she turned against me) and it's what started me on my journey.

It's only when I went to a Therapist and described my life that she told me it wasn't normal. My parents behaviour wasn't normal, the roles I had in my family wasn't normal, my interractions with B weren't normal. But it was MY normal and all I knew.

In a dysfunctional family, roles are assigned, and our disordered parents use manipulation and triangulation to maintain power over us. I think we learn to play the game, because sometimes it feels like a do or die situation. If I had ever seriously questioned my NMs behaviour towards me, I would have lost her and she was all I had.

I think we do learn to manipulate in order to survive, in order to gain or keep at least one parents 'love' but now I see how we were pawns on our parents chessboard to play with and maintain the upper hand. I understand why my Bs childhood sounded so different to my experience, because it was.

Bs anger and jealousy was directed at me, because I was 'safe'. I wasn't responsible for all his hurt and pain, but I was 'collateral damage' and expendable as he couldn't risk directing it against the real culprits and lose his Dad. His anger and jealousy were justified to the extent that M was raining Armeggadon upon him and his wife and children whilst I was outwardly treated much better even though M and D both used and abused me for their own agenda.

Hope this can help.


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carrots

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2018, 08:21:24 PM »
Hi Tetsuo,

I first came on to the forum here writing that my whole FOO is messed up and it still is that way, actually. I can't really sort out for you what's going on in your FOO but I do understand the mind-boggling confusion. You're not alone there.

Anger in itself (your sister) isn't a bad thing. It depends what you do with it. ime feeling the anger and rage at what was done to me growing up has been necessary for me to start setting limits in FOO and also to energize myself to get my life together and not remain constantly very, very depressive. This is channeling anger into something beneficial.

My FOO sees me or M as the problem, depending. The males in the family get off scot-free though one brother was physically abusive to me growing up. I've been NC with him on and off. F and the other brother are more enabler types. Now I'm perceived to be the problem mostly. I have cptsd: mental health issues = problems = handy scapegoat. The fact that cptsd developed due to family dysfunction gets overlooked, ignored, swept under the rug.

Often there are different 'truths' depending on perspective. If you need to protect yourself from your sister, then NC is totally valid. I'm thinking more things but I can't write them down, the topic is still very fraught for me but I think Malini explained very well about assigned roles etc. They may be cemented that way for decades.   

 _________

That really helps me Malini! About one child e.g. seeing the Waif and another the Witch. My brothers treat M like a waif more than anything, at least now that they are adults, and I'm the Cause of all FOO Problems and certainly the expendable person in the whole of FOO. For me, M is Witch with some Queen and maybe a tiny bit of Waif.


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sandpiper

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2018, 12:42:58 AM »
It's common for siblings within all family systems to remember their childhood differently so it may be that the way forward is just to accept that she experienced things differently from you & let that one go.

I know that once I'd been through therapy I had an entirely different perspective on things.
When I asked my T why it is that others in my generation within my FOO can't/don't/won't see things from my perspective, she had a simple answer: 'They are protecting their world'.
In dysfunctional family systems, one person is usually targeted as the scapegoat.
Siblings are usually trained from an early age to treat the scapegoat the same way that the abusive/dysfunctional parent does. They don't see it as a continuation of the abuse. People who grow up in abusive families often don't know what healthy relationships look like. Emotional abuse is normalised & it's only obvious to those who've come from healthier systems, outside of that circle.
It can be very confronting for families when someone starts to come 'Out of the FOG'.

What my T was trying to say to me, re: 'protecting their world' - was that my cousins & my sisters could only feel 'Safe' so long as they'd aligned themselves with the abuser.
There's usually a lot of rewards to be had for compliance with a narcissist and children learn at a very early age what they are doing that will set the abuser off and what they can do to stay out of target range.
The selection of one child as scapegoat is done in order to show the other children, on an unconscious level, what happens when you resist/defy/question their authority.

It's often the scapegoat who is the first to go to therapy -often as the result of a breakdown - and it's extremely confronting for other members of the family to hear their stories.
Almost everyone I know who has C-PTSD has been unable to share that diagnosis with their family because everyone in the family system is busy insisting that things are fine, it wasn't that bad, X doesn't remember things accurately/is making things up etc etc. A friend of mine died by suicide recently and I was there with her in the clinic when she was diagnosed with C-PTSD and her family had a fit and challenged the psychiatrists until it was downgraded to 'depression'. When she died by suicide, one of her parents made a public announcement (in front of a TV camera) that there was no reason for her depression, it was caused by a chemical imbalance in her brain. I feel for the parent because I suspect that he was sexually abused as a child & has been self-medicating with alcohol for his entire life in order to block out his own demons. It's an example of how intergenerational trauma just gets passed down through family systems. It's not intentional, it's not malicious. It's just people trying to numb out to their own pain and not realising that in doing so they are passing it onto their children.

When I asked why I had been targeted as the scapegoat, the answer to that in therapy was 'Because they always target the strong one. They target the one who is strong because he/she is perceived as a leader and this is the one who rebels. So they need to do enough damage to the scapegoat to discourage the others from following in her path.'

The scapegoat won't necessarily end up being psychologically healthy - they usually end up with a lot of problems.  But they are often the ones who are the most open to therapy because from where they sit in the circle, for a long time things have felt very, very wrong. The scapegoat is the one who will welcome a voice from outside affirming that yes, things were really that bad. That voice, that 'compassionate witness' is unlikely to come from within the abusive family network because to do so will challenge the entire system. There's a saying 'Change/No - Change Back' in therapy which basically says that when people step outside their assigned roles, the family will put pressure on them to go back to where they were. Families have a way of making things very uncomfortable for the Whistle Blower, and anyone who supports them. There's a lot at stake. Usually there is one person with a lot of power who has got most people onside to protect their interests.
It's just how dysfunctional systems work.

You've said that you don't have a lot of family memories. I'm not sure if I'm understanding that correctly. I wonder if it's amnesia from PTSD.
When I started T, I had total amnesia from a particular period in my childhood.
Those memories have a way of bubbling up out of the basement, so my advice would be to find a good therapist who specialises in abusive family systems/PDs/Trauma so that you have the support that you need.
It may be that there are things you can't remember because your mind is protecting you from that knowledge, until you are stronger.
Being at these boards can often act as a catalyst for some deep wounds to resurface.

The thing about a toxic family system is that all of the siblings tend to walk away from that with trauma symptoms, the damage isn't limited to the scapegoat. Sometimes some of the worst damage can happen to the onlooker; the child who sees the abuse but is unable to protect their sibling from it. It's a terrible thing to go through, as this kind of system ensures that the children are pitted against each other from a very early age, and it ensures that siblings often cannot be 'the compassionate witness' that victims of abuse need.

We usually have to seek that outside our own family systems and that's why support groups like this are invaluable.
I hope that helps.
Possibly it's just lifted the lid of Pandora's box, but the great thing about these boards is that there is always someone here who has lived it, so there's plenty of support here when you need it.
I'm with Malini, though. If you need to limit contact with your sibling for whatever reason, then this is what's right for you, at this point in time.
Patterns tend to repeat themselves in families, so all any of us can do is to work on our own recovery, and do whatever is in our power to break the cycle and do things differently.

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Tetsuo

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #5 on: July 16, 2018, 05:51:18 AM »
Thank you so much for your answers.

I'm starting to see things more clearly. I've read "Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents" and found it very enlightening. I'm starting to see that my sister's behaviour was indeed a coping mechanism to the same problem I was experiencing, i.e. a uNF.  The thing is that she doesn't want me to claim to having suffered from the same toxic parenting. It's all her pain and only her pain. I don't accept that. It's not a competition, we both suffered. But her "Me more" invalidates my feelings, yet again.

The book describes two types of adult children of emotionally immature parents (whose description fits the N/B symptoms) : internalizers and externalizers, with the externalizer more prone to repeat the parent's behaviour and the internalizer more prone to seeking answers, therapy, break the cycle. That fits our family to a T.

I understand much better where we both are coming from and as a result, my anger against her has greatly diminished.

But having said that, I still want to go VLC/NC with her, first to process all that without her interfering, and second, because whatever the psychological reasons for it, her tendency to treat people like shit and invalidate whatever they think/do is still unhealthy and amounts to tyranny. And now that I see the patterns more clearly, I'm even less willing to play along nicely, to walk on egg shells, and to be the diplomat. It's a bye bye sister for me! All the best for the rest but that's without me from now on/for now.

I've been NC with her for four years in the past, I didn't miss her a single bit, I felt relieved and I guess that tells me something. This time I'll do it with a clearer mind and a better understanding and acceptance of my reactions and of the necessity to do it.

But what a journey that whole thing is!
 

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sandpiper

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #6 on: July 16, 2018, 10:18:36 AM »
Yep. It's a rollercoaster.
I've been NC with both of my sisters for over 10 years. I had tried so hard and the same deal, they just sniped & offered up passive aggression and my uBPDsister would of course go off her head in spasms of contradictory, crazy-making rages.
Both of my sisters carried on like it was a competition & they didn't want to give up their lead in the Poor Fella Me race. If ever I tried to talk about something that happened to me it was like I was stealing their thunder and somehow if I'd suffered it took away from their experience.
My T explained it to me that war veterans from different conflicts can be like that with each other. i.e. the WW2 veterans often treated the Vietnam Vets really badly, along the lines of 'That wasn't a real war, WE were in a real war' - and that family members with PTSD can tend to behave like that too - unless they learn to deal with their own wounds & get beyond the compassion fatigue that is common in such stressed and stressful families.
Low contact & medium chill worked well for me for a long time.
My regret is that I spent so much time wishing and hoping that my family would go into recovery.
If I could have my time over I'd smack myself over the head for ever thinking that was possible and instead of wasting so much time throwing my time and love and energy into the sucking Black Hole of misery that is my family, I'd use that time instead to build a stronger set of relationships as my 'family of choice'. I'd also spend more time having fun and less time reading every book I could get a hold of that might 'fix' it for me. It's swallowed a huge chunk of my life, grieving for the loss of my sisters. But the reality is that they are just incredibly destructive on my psyche and now that they are in their 60s I think it highly unlikely that they are going to see the light & get help. I think it's possible to love your family without liking them and to know that once, maybe, there were good times, but the well is now poisoned and it's time to move on. There's a great post here somewhere about the Poisoned Well - someone might have a link.

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kjah

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2018, 09:18:41 PM »
Hi, Tetsuo.

I'm sorry that you are experiencing such conflict.  It certainly is a complex situation.

What stands out to me in your post is that you said you were scared of your sister.  It's true that we sometimes have automatic reactions to situations (because of past experiences) that are no longer helpful.

Still, I think there's a lot to be said for "paying attention to one's gut."

Best wishes.

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Amedee

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Re: Is it me? Is it her? Is it all of us? Narcissic family dynamics
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2018, 04:18:53 PM »
I get very bogged down, examining and re-examining where the problems in my family come from.  Being ďmade badĒ, whether for success or failures has made it easy for me to lose my bearings altogether.  It takes very little to activate my neurotic guilt button, but of course that doesnít get me off the hook for correcting my own defects of character.

I believe pathalogical envy was/is a huge factor in the all negativity and poison coming my way.  Not because Iím so fabulous, but because my father favored me over all others.  I was the Gifted Child who could figure out ways to make him feel special.  Of course, I never had a clue.  I was just grateful to have figured out a way to get some pathetic form of ďloveĒ from a parent.  Envy is such a destructive force.  Itís so toxic, and yet so carefully concealed.  It makes you feel disgusting and defective inside and out, without being able to say why.   And without being able to fix it.

Now that Iím on to him, heís ramped up his supply-sucking shenanigans to where itís extremely hurtful and diminishing.  I finally started to pull away, and am VVLC.  So now heís butthurt, and I am cast as the grossly coldhearted daughter.