"How To Spot an Emotional Forgery"
The thing about Narcissists is, bless them, they always assume they're smarter than you or I. They think that their words are magical, their sentiments infalliable, their 'truths' irrefutable, and that no one else reading their letter, email or text, will side with you, 'the guilty party'.
Narcissistic Parents know how to manipulate you so deftly, that they make the mistake that the grown adult mind, no matter how disadvantaged by their 'parenting', will continue to swallow their tripe willingly. Many estranged parents (who congregate the shady recesses of internet forums dedicated to their own absolution and subsequent deification), firmly believe they still have the ability to make you grovel at their feet, given the appropriate 'motivation' to do so (blackmail, guilt-trip, unvarnished threats).
Undoubtedly, you've been on the receiving end of such communiques yourself. But if you haven't, there are some shining examples of particularly stunning delusional-estranged-NPD-parent letters out there - Upsi's blog contains the most haunting one of all in my opinion (I'll warn you - it wasn't addressed to me, but it still gives me nightmares), as well as the self-congratulatory and venomous rants by various spiteful readers of her blog (this post on weird search strings by estranged parents is a good one, too!).
A fellow blogger who posts privately (Pandora Viltis) dug up this fetid piece of "literature" from The Guardian's Letters section - the quotations are deliberate; you'll see why if you read the frightening missive).
So I decided that I'd like to 'map out' how one of these little nuggets coming from "a loving parent" (cough cough) generally presents itself.
1. Location, location, location!
If you'd like to be sure of the veracity of the incendiary-device in the form of a 'harmless letter', consider first its method of delivery. These hate-bombs are almost always sent right over your established, protective personal boundaries, like grenades lobbed into a trench. They will almost certainly contain an opening line constructed in this manner:
"I am aware that you have erected a boundary. However, I am actively and deliberately subverting it/ignoring it/refusing to acknowledge your right to erect one."
Sometimes these letters are slipped under the door or through the mail slot (that's a double-whammy; you've asked them to leave you alone, and not only do they communicate with you against your clear instructions, they also violate your physical boundaries, too). Sometimes they arrive at your workplace, either in person to talk, or just to drop off a letter so you'll find it awaiting you on your desk. Again, the secondary message is, "You can't shut me out - my placement of the letter here proves my capabilities. You're in over your head - surrender!"
If you've gone to the extremes of "No Contact" like the poor, estranged daughter in The Guardian's anonymous letter (of having a child in secret, of refusing to open the front door for 3 hours - one can't help but wonder if the newspaper-printed letter came after a restraining (barring) order, and was the NM's last ditch effort to legally communicate and threaten her daughter - it was anonymous after all!), then sure, newspapers, blogs, sky-writing are all on the table. As the creepy stalker mother wrote as a last line ("I will see you!"), they may never take 'no' for an answer. You WILL hear their voice!
Worried? Don't be. This is why restraining orders ('barring orders' in the UK) exist. It's a pain in the butt, it costs time (and money, and a lawyer in some cases) and involves documentation and paperwork, but they exist for good reason. Life is short, money comes and goes - I can't think of a better investment myself. What is the price of peace after all? Not cheap, but worth every penny!
When in doubt, call the Police. Every time the Police are involved, there is documentation and an incident report. You will need all the documentation you can find to get a restraining order. Keep all emails, letters, and ask your neighbours if they will be willing to sign the back of any hand-delivered letters and date them if they saw the offending party on your premises - you now have a documented witness, and this will help. It sucks, I hear you, but it's better than not sleeping at night, thinking your NParent's going to jimmy your front door and steal your child, or kill you in your sleep, or simply just walk right into your kitchen and make themselves a cup of tea.
2. "I've Suffered Terribly - I'm the Victim, not You."
This is my favourite bit, because I've yet to see a communication from an 'estranged parent' that does not leap to this tactic at some point in the letter or email. They'll expound on their pain that you've caused seemingly endlessly, often with examples, i.e. "I had to go to the Mother-Daughter career day alone!", or "Mrs Smith asked about you, and I burst into tears and had to say that you had cut me out of your life!", or "I am being denied the joys of being a grandmother to MY grandchild" (note that it's always MY grandchild, not 'a grandchild', or 'what should be my grandchild', but what already is, in their mind, rightly their PROPERTY. Like you are!). And often they'll throw in one of the following little "extras" to make you feel sorry for them:
- "My parent died when I was young!" (with the secondary implication that you clearly can have no idea of real grief on the subject of parents compared to them, or that you'd appreciate your parent if you weren't so stupid because they won't be with you forever, and you'll be sorry on that day!).
- "Your father/mother/other parent abused me terribly - I sacrificed everything for your good!" (this is an especially evil one, because it demonizes your other parent (perhaps unfairly), and it also implies that it was your fault that they suffered! This is not the case - no loving parent would see this scenario in that particular light. A beaten mother who loved her child would never burden the child with the knowledge that she suffered for the good of her children; she'd be overwhelmed with relief that she was able to do something positive, to take them to safety, and would probably blame herself (perhaps unfairly) for allowing her children to be put in harm's way in the first place. She wouldn't be throwing her victimhood in the face of what she viewed as a great blessing, her precious child that she wished she had done better for!).
- "You have no idea what it was like growing up in MY generation!" (this is the lamest one of all! The human race has existed for how many millenia? No, I'm sorry - it's never been okay to abuse your children. There have always been 'natural consequences' for poor behaviour, and just because your parent doesn't wish to experience 'natural consequences' doesn't make their behaviour correct in any paradigm! Besides, you too grew up in the 'same culture' as your parents, and your friend's parents, and you had teachers who were in 'your parent's generation', as well as neighbours and other members of the community. Since we are not Neanderthals, we have also been blessed with a long enough lifespan to have three or four generations of family alive during our childhood. Don't buy the 'my generation was different' malarky. You would have a very good sense of what was acceptable and what was not in the society you matured in. You know well enough what it was like, culturally, for your parent as well as yourself. Don't let them deceive you. You were there, too).
3. "You were Happy, We were Close, We Used to Have it All."
This little ploy is one of the easier ones to see through. Here are some general examples of how this typically is presented:
"When you were a child, you used to love me."
"We were so close - we were intimately connected, we shared everything until you just up and left!"
"You happily did _____. You used to like _______. You once told me that you _______."This is gaslighting, and once you've learned to see it, it becomes difficult not to. How do you avoid gaslighting (apart from NOT COMMUNICATING WITH THE PERPETRATOR)? Easy - just turn every 'statement' they make into a question.
Picture your own imaginary psychotherapist (or envision your current therapist, if you're currently in therapy, which is ideal and recommended!). Ask yourself the statements as questions:
"Hmm. When you were a child, did you love your mother?". Ask any obvious follow-up questions, and answer truthfully to the unseen psychotherapist in your mind. Did you? No? Not really? Sometimes? Why? Why not? Can you think of an example to illustrate this? How about another?
"Were you 'closer than close' with your NParent? Did they really know the real you? Did you share everything with them, and did you know that you could tell them anything with impunity? Did they accept you as you were?" Ask follow-ups, as before!
"Were you happy to talk to her on the phone last year? Were you really looking forward to Sunday dinners at her place? Were you so excited to tell her about something, or did she force it out of you? Were you sharing willingly, or did you feel obligated to hand over the information she pressed you for? How did you feel when you got off the phone?" And keep asking questions, follow-up.And that's how to avoid gaslighting. If they aren't twisting the facts, or projecting onto you what they WANT you to think, then your answers to the statement-turned-questions should fit fairly well together. What if they don't? What if you didn't ever feel loved by your mother? What if there were occasions when you really hated your mother? What if you've never felt 'close' to your mother at all, and that you've never been able to share anything, and she never listened to a word you said, and she completely wrote you off that time you were dumped by your boyfriend and were devastated and desperately needed just the tiniest show of real affection? What if she was closer-than-close to one of your siblings, but NEVER to you? And what if just seeing her caller-ID on the phone's display caused your stomach to turn and your anxiety to rise and your blood to pound in your ears? And what if you used to intentionally book another appointment or event on Sundays just to avoid having to attend her dinners?
Chances are that your NParent is 'spin-doctoring' and rewriting history to support an assertion that they suspect isn't true. They need you to believe that you used to love them, and love being with them, and that you once were able to trust your NParent implicitly. They know it's not true, so they're trying to change history, because it's easier for them if these statements were true.
4. How Your Estrangement Has Affected Them (with No Interest in How YOU are Affected!)
I also like this one, though it's harder to see. This is a "Read-Between-the-Lines" component; it is blatantly a self-serving moan and groan about how they are being mistreated by you, and how their life is worse because of what you're doing. Blah, blah, blah, "POOR ME!".
The kicker is what they are NOT saying - it's an omission of you and your feelings.
An excerpt from "Narcissistic Mother" (Therapist Michelle Piper), with my emphases:
Narcissistic mothers are incapable parents. It may be hard to do, but you need to accept the fact you never had a healthy mother. Emotionally healthy mothers put their children’s needs and care before their own. They show empathy and give proper praise to their children for the good deeds they do.A truly loving parent would sincerely be seeking to understand what's happening for you, and how they can assist you. I imagine something along the lines of, "I will not contact you, as per your wishes. If ever you wish to reconnect, here is how you can reach me. I will be delighted to hear from you any time. I wonder what I have done to have driven you away. I worry that I have done wrong - that I should have been more supportive and emotionally available to you during the divorce. I think about that fight we had - it was silly, I was wrong. I hope one day you will forgive me. Contact me any time you wish - I will always love you regardless. Be careful on your journey through life, take good care of yourself, and I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for. Be safe. Love, (Parent)."
Functional mothers care. Narcissistic mothers care too, but only about themselves.
Now obviously that's an idealized pipe-dream of mine, but you get the gist. "I wish I had been kinder to you.", or "I regret blowing up at you that time at Aunt Sal's." or, "I hope this 'break' from seeing me will help you to get the healing you need. I know it must've been a hard decision for you to make, and I respect your right to do so. Take good care of yourself - you are a wonderful person and you deserve to be happy."
Note that nothing like this is said, anywhere, in the letter. Why not? It was no skin off my teeth to just type it up now, a total work of fiction! Couldn't they just say it, even if they don't really mean it? Well thankfully no, you wouldn't want to be lied to, but the reason it's a "NO" is because it would never occur to them to do such a thing! You deserve nothing! You don't get sympathy! Your complaints are baseless! Which leads me to number five....
5. "Tell Me What I Did Wrong So I Can Fix It!"
As if! As if you, at this point in your life, haven't shouted the answers to this question at them until you were hoarse, tear-streaked and verging on the suicidal. They didn't listen to you, EVER, and they sure as hell won't listen to you now! You can try to tell them, but believe me, you'll soon wish you hadn't!
"Tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it" = "Give me the facts of your case, and I'll blow holes right through them all!"
They don't want to know what they can do to 'fix' anything! They've never been interested in helping you, and now your boundaries have got them stark raving mad at you! Do you really think today is the day they'll be reasonable? Logic says otherwise, doesn't it?
Think of this line as an invitation to stand trial in a courtroom. The prosecutor looking to put you away for good, has in a very friendly voice asked you to tell them (and the court) what reasoning you have behind your actions.
Do you think the prosecutor is going to accept your claims? Or are they going to try their damnedest to destroy your case and leave you a crying wreck on the witness stand? Don't fall for this - DO NOT JADE (Justify-Argue-Defend-Explain). You're going up against the most manipulative person you can think of, and one you have an emotional attachment to. It's not worth it. Don't respond. There is NO SINCERE EFFORT HERE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SITUATION. If there was, they will have already speculated on your point of view, and will, in all likelihood, have apologised just in case they had done wrong. Which is point number six....
6. There isn't a GENUINE Apology Anywhere in the Letter.
For more on sussing out what a 'real apology' is versus a 'meaningless apology' or 'non-apology', I will refer you to these excellent articles and posts (be sure to read them!):
Luke 17:3 Ministries - Meaningful versus Meaningless Apologies
Anna Valerious ("Narcissists Suck") - Post-Mortem on a Non-Apology
Anna Valerious ("Narcissists Suck") - The Last Incarnation of the Non-Apology
(highly recommend reading all of Anna's articles under the topic of "Non-Apologies")
The worst are the fake apologies, which often have the following structure:
- "I'm sorry if you think/perceived _______."
- "I'm sorry you think I'm such an awful parent."
- "I'm sorry about ______, but (in my defense), _________"
- "I'm sorry that you feel _________".
There are other examples - be sure to familiarize yourself with them! Ironically, the 'dark forces' of the estranged parent movement have gotten a hold of Sister Renee's "Meaningful/Meaningless" apology examples and are using them against estranged children.... the IRONY being that they still can't bring themselves to properly apologise! They simply will not truly apologise - they really don't believe that they should. Even if it means having a relationship with you. An apology, showing guilt, admitting they were wrong - it's too high a price. They would rather stand tall than have you back. But in actuality, they're demanding to have both.
7. Joint Therapy or Counselling - "I'll Go if You Go".
Sometimes the letter will contain an offer to go to 'family counselling'. I've seen examples of parents asking for this in all sorts of places.
Sister Renee Pitelli says it best (No Contact 101):
If you go to counseling with a psychopath, I guarantee you'll regret it.It's as if they wouldn't dare to step a foot inside a shrink's office without you in tow (don't forget - they firmly believe that YOU are the problem!). I have to share that I once made this mistake, long ago. It put me off therapy for a decade, no joke. (Please, please read this article on Living Authentically - Finding the Right Psychotherapist for You). I've got a fantastic therapist now. I shopped around. I can't recommend that enough.
But, if they are willing to seek professional counselling, then encourage it, by all means! Here's the thing - they don't need you to be there to tell the person about all the awful things you've done to them. (Same applies to us, right?). The therapist will treat his or her client and help them out. That's the whole point. So if your NParent wants therapy, encourage it. It would be nice for them. It might also make you feel better knowing that they are receiving emotional support in the absence of their usual narcissistic-supply-victim-of-choice (you).
I am willing to bet, however, that they won't go alone. I don't know why, other than I suspect that they know in their hearts that they're full of it, and that a competent therapist will call them on it. I think they fear having to be accountable at all for anything.
Don't mistake the offer of 'family counselling' to mean that they want you to see a shrink, or that they want to see one themselves. This offer of 'family therapy' is simply a way to trap you in a room with an influential person to back up your NParent's claims of wrongdoing. They want control of your psyche, plain and simple. It might back-fire on them completely, given a skilled therapist with a shrewd mind, but if it doesn't, it's going to do infinitely more harm than good. You can get a therapist. They can get a therapist. You can agree to seeing a therapist, if that's what your NParent wants. They just cannot go with you, or have access to your 'file'. It's private, and it's between the client and the therapist. Like I said, if they are interested in counselling, tell them to 'go to it'! (I would be amazed if anyone's NParent actually went alone and stayed in therapy for more than 12 months! If this has happened, please tell me! I'll eat my hat!).
8. "I Will Always Love You!"
This is the hard one. Some ACoNs believe that their NParents sincerely mean this, in that their NParents BELIEVE that they love their child. And maybe they do . . . conditionally. There never was or never will be 'unconditional love' offered, which is what every child needs. They are incapable of providing this natural love. There is something wrong with them. It's worthy of pity - it's like they're emotionally handicapped. An emotional handicap doesn't, however, give them license to lie. Or to act like a total jerk.
I don't believe this is a true statement, coming from an estranged parent. I believe that this is a lie, plain and simple.
As my DH points out, any manipulative teenage boy that wants in his girlfriends pants can say, "I will always love you!" when we all know it's probably not at all true in the slightest. I'll bet over half of them can force tears if it meant getting laid. The point here is to not demonize teenage boys, but to show that even a child (mentally speaking - hasn't hit the age of legal adulthood where black-and-white-thinking is replaced by a more mature ability to reason) can use this loaded phrase to get what they want, to appease their own desires.
I'll bet you've met teenage boys that are better people morally than your NParent, yes? So don't attribute the 'love' of your parent any more meaning than you would to a randy 16 year old boy. They are every bit as capable of deceit, if not more so (with age comes wisdom after all).
Actions speak louder than words. How often has your NParent deceived you in the past under the guise of doing what was in your best interests? How can you be sure they aren't doing it now?
What loving actions can be seen in this letter from your NParent? Did it's arrival bring you joy? Was the letter overflowing with heart-felt apologies, promises to change? Did it seek to understand your point of view? Did it say anything along the lines of, "You must think me a total jerk for never showing up to a single one of your school plays! I'd do anything to prove to you that you mean more to me than anything in the world, and that INCLUDES never speaking to you again if you so desire! I will do as you ask - I love you with the love of a parent for their child!".
Talk is cheap. Hey, I can say to you that, "I'll always love you!", and you can choose to believe it, or you can think critically - do I even know QG? Who is she? Has she ever done anything to prove to me that she cares about me? Has she ever done anything to hurt me? Has she apologised sincerely that time..... etc.
If you can apply reason to my tongue-in-cheek expression of my heart-felt love for you, the reader, why can't you apply it to an abusive parent? In fact, it's probably even MORE vital to apply that critical thinking to the assertions of your parents - if I started treating you like dirt, you wouldn't be at all devastated! But what of the betrayal of a parent who never loved you, who you have been waiting for all these years for them to love you? Stakes are MUCH HIGHER - be very, very careful.
My recommendation - think to yourself, "Yeah? PROVE IT." Does anything in their letter prove that they love you more than themselves? More than words? More than having their own way?
And that, my friends, is the basic structure of a letter from an unrepentant parent trying to suck you back to where they prefer you to be - under their thumb. Upsi's parents famously stated that she was unfairly judging the past versions of them - don't people grow and evolve? If you read that letter, you'll see that perhaps they have a point; they're even worse than they've ever been. They refer to her as "Dear Narcissistic Daughter". The letter is supposedly one of compassion, but it is clearly written to hurt her - to even the score. This is not the actions of a loving set of parents, not even the actions of good parents scorned.
Do not allow yourselves to be deceived. Read this post alongside the arrival of your next hate-letter. Read the letter in The Guardian. Read the letter from Upsi's parents. If you can see the evil in the others, it may help you see in the evil in yours. And the best advice ever - print off a copy of the letter from your NParents and take it to your therapist. Get a professional opinion on it. It will help you see what needs to be seen, not what they'll have you see.