Before we get into today’s post, I need to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. Some of you already know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Brandon, Logan and I are going on a peaceful adventure next week for our Thanksgiving vacation. Those words—peaceful and adventure—may not sound like they go together, but it’ll make sense soon.
Have you ever dealt with someone and the two of you were definitely not on the same page? Either there was a language barrier or you just didn’t “get” each other?
There was a woman in our life group at our old church who never understood Brandon’s sense of humor. After he said something funny, she always looked at him with this puzzled expression, like “I don’t have the foggiest clue what that meant. Was that supposed to be funny? Should I take that literally?” I guess she didn’t speak I Grew Up with Farm Animals, better known as Farm Sass.
Speaking of not “getting” someone, we’ll be visiting several bizarre places in today’s post: The Silent Movie, Pam’s Playground and Codependent Central.
The red flags and the reality
I had mistakenly thought all my life that my sister Pam and I were close friends. But there were red flags that I ignored. I knew that she envied me; and for a while, she had a very bad photo of me on her refrigerator. That was weird; I mean wacko. Did I mention that I did most of the calling? That was my job. The exception? When Pam, The Almighty needed a favor.
In reality, Pam was The Narcissist and I was what psychologists call The Narcissistic Supply. (Try to say that “five times fast.”) She ran the show and I played my part. She planned the holiday events and we all showed up. She asked for favors all the time and we said yes.
Let’s drive back to The Trauma of Perfection, part 4 to watch The Silent Movie.
The silent movie
I met my friend Lindsey in college. She came home with me on weekends and sometimes for Thanksgiving. Her parents moved to the other side of the country after she started college, so their new home wasn’t home for Lindsey. These long visits gave her a unique view into the people I grew up with. While Lindsey and I were talking on the phone the other day, I commented that the “family” I grew up with was a freak show. She responded, “No. It was a silent movie.” Bull’s-eye.
She remembered how my dad and my sister Pam talked non-stop about themselves through dinner and everyone else just sat there. My mom might ask me one question and I’d give a short answer. I’d ask my mom about her time with the toddlers at church. She’d answer briefly. No one else asked us about ourselves. The silent movie narrators (i.e., self-absorbed monologists) were too busy show-boating and bragging about themselves.
Honestly, I didn’t remember that. I guess I just wore the costume they gave me—Nameless Silent Movie Character Actor. That was my job—sit, listen and don’t say anything. I’m shaking my head…. What a Freak Show. Oops. I mean Silent Movie.
She also remembered how much my mom adored my younger sister: Pam, The Narcissist….
Pam ran the playground and we played there. She especially enjoyed spinning the merry-go-round really fast until Doug or Brandon fell off and threw up. She loved socking it to the men-folk—barking orders, making snide remarks, nagging Doug incessantly, rolling her eyes at their “incompetence.” Why did she hate the men? Because she resented how our dad—the narcissistic control freak—ran the show and never included our mom in any of the decision-making. Pam turned into a pumped-up version of the man she hated so no man would ever be the boss of her again. (If that scenario sounds familiar, you may remember this post about my mother-in-law, the sociopath, and the passing of The Abuse Baton from her dad to her.)
Where was I? Oh, yes. Pam turning into my dad to the tenth power. But she’d never admit that, now would she. No way. Don’t you forget it, Peaceful Readers: She “did everything right.” See part 3 for more about Pam’s declaration of her own perfection.
Thank you for bearing with me while we took that dizzying ride at Pam’s Playground. Now it’s time to dissect some things.
Casual observer or accomplice?
Brandon and I have discussed my mom’s role in this mess, but I needed to dig deeper. Just now, I had to ask myself this important question. Was my mom a casual observer or an accomplice in this life-changing, “family”-changing scenario?
My mom was an accomplice to my sister Pam’s abuse.
She was a willing, active accomplice.
I actually told my mom some of the truth about The Showdown several years later. She did not want to hear it. Say it with me, Peaceful Readers, with some sassy Southern twang—like Gomer Pyle: Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Pam made Mom’s life worth living. Pam “needed” her. Pam could do no wrong. Pam wasn’t the only person who believed that Pam, The Almighty had done “everything right.”
Eyes and ears closed
Remember what my mom said about Doug leaving Pam, from Grieving Divorce, part 1.
When my brother-in-law left my sister—Pam, The Narcissist—he was falsely labeled The Divorcer. My mom—the poster child for Codependents R Us—declared that my brother-in-law moved out one weekend “out of the blue.” Right. Since Pam wasn’t speaking to me, I didn’t hear her drama first-hand, but you can be sure that it was Academy Award-worthy. In truth, Pam was The Destroyer and The Divorcer because of her chronic emotional abuse and her addiction to control. She treated her husband like dirt. Big time. You could call their abusive marriage Humiliation Central.
When my mom told me that Doug moved out one weekend “out of the blue,” she was telling me something important. At the time I didn’t think much about it. I just rolled my eyes and thought You’re a clueless wonder. But there’s more to it than that.
My mom didn’t see anything wrong with any of Pam’s behavior.
Living in Codependent Central
Being a chaotic control freak, a condescending nag and a Class-A Punisher were all good, normal, everyday things in Codependent Central—the state of mind where my mom lived.
I first noticed Pam’s role as The Punisher when her high school boyfriend broke up with her before the senior prom. She sent him a dozen long-stem black/dead roses in a flower box. Colorful, huh? She punished Doug for his porn addiction by not having sex with him for two years. Yikes. I think she shared that big piece of TMI Pie in her typed-up smack-down; I mean The Letter, also known as I’m Punishing Doug and If You Care About Me, You’ll Punish Him Too.
My mom ignored the sick things that were going on all around her—the yelling, the temper tantrums, the complaining—the non-stop chaos. She ignored them all and replaced the truth with lies—just like her Aunt Greta did. (For more on Aunt Greta’s story, check out this post.)
What lies did my mom believe in order to convince herself that Pam was right and good and that she was right and good in “helping” Pam?
The big lies:
“Because Pam is my favorite daughter, Pam is good.”
“Because Pam makes me feel good about myself, Pam is good.”
“Helping people who are fully capable of taking care of themselves is a good, loving thing to do.”
(Obviously, for those of us who don’t live in Codependent Central, that last Big Lie isn’t about helping. It’s called enabling.)
The behind-the-scenes lies:
“Because I need to hide, I need a strong leader to make me feel safe.”
“Because Pam is a strong leader, Pam is what I need.”
“Because Pam needs me, I feel special and valuable.”
Where did Pam come from? Why the sick, bizarre entanglement between her and our mom? Here’s a little Rewind and Repeat from The Trauma of Disengagement, part 2.
Worshiper and worshipee
As far as I could tell, only one person out of the five people in the house felt loved and that person was—*Tah-tah-tah-tah… tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tahhhhhh* (trumpet fanfare)—Pam, The Narcissist, my younger sister. She felt utterly adored and worshiped by our mom, because her love language was Acts of Service. So in Pam’s World, chores = love. (For more information about Love Languages, go to this website or see the Essential Reading section in this post from the last series on Choosing Peace.)
And our mom never asked for anything. It was a one-way street. Pam had a full-time servant who never required anything from her in return. Combine that with Dad’s stellar narcissistic example, and you get the creation of the Personality Disorder Princess. (Narcissist is the common expression for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.)
While we were growing up, our mom’s cooking, sewing, knitting, cross-stitching, errand-running and transporting all said I love you, Pam! If you’re working for Pam, you love Pam. If you’re doing Pam’s work for her, you really love Pam.
Did I mention that my mom did “adult” Pam’s and her family’s laundry for decades? Did I mention that Pam charged my mom rent—to the tune of $650 per month—to serve as her personal, live-in servant after her other live-in servant (her now-ex-husband) moved out? You know the drill. It didn’t matter that the new servant was 80-something years old. She grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned, transported kids, parented kids, packed the house every year for their annual move, etc. And she was happy to pay for the honor of serving—*Tah-tah-tah-tahhhhhh*—Pam, The Almighty. Ahhh, yes. Codependents R Us. I mean Codependents R Those People.
Frankie Ann, the weirdo
My mom acted like she didn’t understand me—like there was something weird about me. I didn’t want her doing my laundry. I was a grown-up. I didn’t want to be treated like a baby or an incompetent spazz—like Pam, who freaked out about losing her keys on a daily basis.
When I invited my mom over for dinner, I did the cooking. I didn’t expect her to do the work like Pam did. My mom didn’t know what to do when someone else was being hospitable, nurturing or—dare I say—respectful toward her. She felt a pathological need to “earn” her keep, her invitation and her very presence.
Is it okay if I just tell it like it is, Peaceful Readers? It feels very strange to be in a room with someone whose basic definitions of good and bad, normal and abnormal, reasonable and unreasonable don’t jive with the truth; with the most-basic, simple social skills; with eyes and ears that “work.”
Yes, my mom thought I was a weirdo. Back at ya, Mom.
Coming next: The week after Thanksgiving, you’ll find out about my last offer and my mom’s choices. You’ll also read about some detective work I did—some very important digging—and what I found.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Psalm 51:6
Song for Healing: “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They—Logan’s favorite band