Did I mention that this was a difficult relationship and always had been?
My mum was 17 when I was born and had got married only a couple of months before. What makes this more significant than simply being a teenage mum is the fact that my Granddad was a Greek Cypriot who had philosophies like the majority of male Greek Cypriots particularly of his era. Women were lesser and didn’t get to do what they wanted just because they wanted to. He was in charge! Men were in charge! Only here was my mum – his daughter – doing exactly what she wanted to do; six months pregnant and marrying some pale, 18-year old Englishman from around the corner!
It’s perplexing to try and understand how this all played out because I know how strict he tried to be.
I do know that my mum and dad eloped to Scotland from England where it was possible to be married without parental consent under the age of 21 (as it was in those days). I do know that my Granddad flew to Scotland to get her when she was left stranded at a railway station and taken in by a lovely, kind lady. Allegedly, despite it all, he was quite chuffed when he discovered he was going to be a Grandfather and the marriage was quickly arranged.
So, my mum got what she wanted, and as far as I can see, she always got and did exactly what she wanted. She wasn’t necessarily the best judge of any situation, but, regardless, despite crying victim about many things, she pretty much always got her own way. And this is because, despite the vulnerable act, she had a strong will and dominant personality that quite possibly masked very low self-esteem. Many people who knew my mum would say, “wait a minute, she was incredibly generous and kind..”. Yes, she was, because for her, being liked by certain people was of the utmost importance. But someone else’s experience is exactly that. My mum let me down on many occasions simply because an acquaintance – new or old – might have asked her a favour. I became used to it, but it left me with an awful feeling in my guts; I was irrelevant. When I tried to express myself – which more often than not turned into a whine (such as these things do with one’s parents!), I was quickly made to realise that my feelings were inconvenient, because she didn’t want to feel guilty. She could never admit she was wrong and was quickly on the defensive; “Why does it matter to you? Don’t make a fuss!”. In other words, how she felt was very important, but because of my place in her world, she could invalidate my feelings about something in a millisecond!
She was confrontational and ego-centric. It was confusing, not least because so many of our serious altercations came from nothing. There was the time – one of many – that she went ballistic at me one afternoon when my son was about three, because when we popped in to visit after a day out with friends, I mentioned he had scoffed loads of sweet stuff that day and I would prefer he have water instead the cordial she was offering. Well how fucking dare I! She went mental, telling me she had every right to be a grandmother and to offer treats and my generation was ridiculously obsessed etc etc. She ranted and raged and screamed and eventually ran into the garden bawling her eyes out. Then, her husband came in and told me off because when I was around, she always ended up crying. Apparently. Ah yes, I thought as my stomach churned in its usual array of knots; you cry Mummy dearest! You let it all out! I’ll just be the hardcase who rarely cries in public but has spent their whole life working through anxiety, insomnia, bulimia and feeling unloved and unloveable.
After this particular altercation, we didn’t talk for a long time. When we did start speaking again, I think I realised we could not spend long periods of time together and it had to be little and often. It was easier than the energy it took and the stress that it caused, having to continually stand up for myself or risk being shouted at or slapped in public, or having my hair pulled or having something thrown at me from across the room, regardless of whether my children happened to be there or not. When I was growing up, this stuff wasn’t unusual since I could never let things be and continually stuck up for myself! For years, around her, I had felt unhappy and unworthy. I questioned myself constantly. I think I even became the person I believed she had told everybody that I was – in order to make herself seem like the poor, single parent with the terribly behaved troubled child she couldn’t cope with. I was always mildly depressed and often nervous. So many things seemed to escalate into massive dramas. Before the cordial episode and pre children, there was an incident where I came to visit one time with my husband and was making a salad for dinner. I disappointedly mentioned the avocado I had cut into was brown… OMG, she lost it! How dare I when she had only just bought it! It was yet another WW3 encounter and my husband was shocked at the escalation. But for me, it was all strangely normal. It was as if she wanted to run across the room and stab me.
In the past few years, I called her out on some of these behaviours. I named them, and I think she realised that with all the work I had done with my yoga and personal development and life wisdom generally, I could actually see her and had realised it wasn’t me; I wasn’t this terrible person she had forever made me out to be. I learned to like and accept myself, and I made a decision that I would no longer put up with these tirades. It gave me a bit power since I think she knew that I knew exactly who she was. In many ways, I even felt sorry for her and the crazy, confusing mindset she lived with, but I was no longer willing to be her victim. I think possibly menopause mellowed her a little bit and she realised I had the upper hand. She had to be very careful or she risked the relationship with me and therefore the grandchildren she adored.
It took me years to understand that my mum essentially had many behavioural traits consistent with narcissistic personality disorder. She wasn’t the worst in the world, but in a list detailing those behaviours, particularly those that are common in narcissistic mothers, she would easily come in at about 70%. The way she treated my brother and I so differently, the “poor me” victim mentality, the chronic, easy lies about how situations had rolled out, the things people had said (particularly me) and the tone they had used (or not used…), the constant “gas-lighting” to get people on her side. I honestly had no idea about this stuff until maybe four or five years ago, I just felt constant butterflies in my stomach during the times things went off and I believed what she said when she attacked and criticised me. It was like I was going mad and was indeed such a terrible person that of course I couldn’t be trusted, loved or even liked very much.
I don’t know if this is what my Granddad did to her, but knowing what I know now, I understand that narcissistic personalities are formed in childhood and usually relate to that particular child’s thought processes becoming stuck in adolescence. Perhaps because there was a trauma or nobody around to pay attention to that young person and show them the correct way to behave or relate. Some of the things that come out of narcissistic mouths would be perfectly acceptable if that person was a teenager. You might expect it and simply roll your eyes. But those behavioural patterns from an adult are very difficult and confronting to deal with. In fact, many of us won’t really understand it unless and until we have the tools to identify it.
So why am I telling you all this?
Good question, it’s funny how much you remember and how much you realise you are trying to process in your mind once you begin. I didn’t intend for this particular blog piece to roll out like this, but, yet here it is.
When I started this a few weeks ago, I had planned for it to be based on my observations about how people react and behave around someone who is dying. It was going to touch on the crazy fact that despite having played the victim card for as long as I could remember to get attention, despite the fact that she had the art of creating amazing dramas out of nothing, my mother really made no fuss about the biggest and most devastating event of her relatively short life.
The one that would end her life.
In fact, for the most part, there seemed to be nothing more than a strange state of relatively calm acceptance. It is what it is. This, from a woman who rarely, calmly accepted anything, ever. Was it a relief I can’t help wondering? To find yourself without a choice? To find yourself in a place where you can finally let go and allow everything to be?