How To Recognize A Mindf*ck

If it weren’t in such bad taste, I would post my mother’s latest letter and use it as an object lesson in “How To Recognize A Mindfuck”.  Excuse my language, but there’s no other way to put it.  Her entire letter was an exercise in gaslighting.  I’m getting much better at recognizing it, but, oh Heaven help me, I didn’t pick up on it fast enough.  I still got the stomach ache, the shakes, and the watery eyes before I figured it out.  What were the finer points of this latest poison pen letter?

  • It was handwritten on yellow legal paper entirely in capital letters.  Her emails are also written entirely in capital letters.  It sort of feels like I’m being yelled at.
  • She loves me so very much, and she has always wished me every happiness.  Even if I thought she did not.
  • She then digressed into a sort of strange memory recall of my childhood.  It was very uncomfortable to read.  She recounted my swimming in a pool in an apartment we lived at when I was a baby.  She mentioned my playing with a childhood friend in our neighborhood.  She went on to describe me when I was a teen riding my bike to work.  It ended with her reminiscing about her visiting me in France and our trip to Paris.  This trip down memory lane was unwelcome and weird.
  • This is where the gaslighting starts.  She started to speak for me.  “I THINK THAT YOU DID ENJOY MY COMPANY AND WE WERE FRIEND AS WELL AS MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.  THERE WERE BAD TIMES BUT I DO THINK THAT THE GOOD DOES OUTWAY (SIC) THE BAD.  MY HEART’S DESIRE IS THAT WE COULD BE MORE THAN ON SPEAKING TERMS.  I KNOW THAT I HAVE MADE MISTAKES…THERE WERE BOUNDARIES CROSSED IN SHARING INFO REGARDING YOUR FATHER AND OTHER MEN I DATED THAT I SHOULD HAVE KEPT FROM YOU AND FOR THAT I AM TRULY SORRY.”  This is a weird statement.  I did not enjoy her company, but she felt free to speak for me as if she had the authority to convince me of my own thoughts and/or feelings.  This is often what happens in emotionally manipulative environments.  We are told how we feel rather than asked.  It’s just yucky.
  • She then launched into an exposition about time flying.  My daughters are getting older.  They are getting so much older! My mother is missing so much not being able to be a part of their lives! I am the only daughter she has.  My daughters are the only grandchildren she has.  She is insinuating that I have created this situation.  I have not.  She did.  She refused to speak to me for five years.  This situation started in 2005 and really took off in 2006.  I’m a little shocked that it’s 2013.
  • She then resorted to begging as if I am a spiteful queen.  Her letter took on a victimized tone.  “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO! NONE OF THIS IS EASY AND A BIT SCARY FOR US.  I AM BEGGING YOU FOR OUR FUTURE.”

My Queen/Witch mother has become the Waif.  I have never seen this side of her.  I am beginning to wonder if this persona is working for her with her therapist who has misdiagnosed her.  She is playing the victim, and she is now playing the victim with me.  So, where’s the mindfuck? The entire letter is a mindfuck.  This is why it was so confusing to me.

Imagine a known sexual predator coming into a court setting, facing his accuser, and then cowering in front of her–a woman he raped, bludgeoned, terrorized, and, for the sake of argument, stalked for a year by sending her dead kittens.  Who is the real victim here? The sexual offender or the victim? The victim.  Who should be afraid? The victim.  Who should be begging? The victim.  Begging for justice, for healing, for peace.  Not the perpetrator.  So, when my mother writes me a letter like this wherein she recalls how wonderful my childhood was, tells me how I really do feel about her, and then begins begging me “for her future” because I’ve somehow victimized her because she  has missed the opportunity to know her granddaughters even though she made that choice–not me–the experience is victimizing.  Her narrative is so off the mark it’s crazymaking.

My mother is indeed a victim.  She was a victim in that my father did gaslight her.  She is a victim of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.  It’s almost impossible not to experience victimization of some kind in life.  She was, however, not a victim in our relationship.  She was the adult.  I was the child.  She was the power broker there as all parents are in relation to their young children.  There is absolutely no room for her tone in our relationship.  I have deprived her of nothing.

This, I have realized, is our primary problem.  It is the clash of narratives.  Her letter revealed a striking truth.  Her story revolves around herself.  She only made a few mistakes.  Come on, Daughter, move on now! This is trivializing at its finest.  The entire letter is steeped in denial.  Her latest narrative says that she is now a victim, and I’m victimizing her.  I am not.  This is very hard stuff to stand up to.  Mark my words, this is very painful stuff because my narrative is the opposite.  She is fearful of me? I’m no longer shocked.  How could I be?  I’ve never known my Queen mother to play the Waif, but if it no longer serves her then why not change personas.

I have been crafting a letter to send in response to my mother’s July email.  I had chosen not to send it yet as I wasn’t feeling peaceful.  I revised it today.  I feel it’s ready to send.  It is very long, and this is a portion of my response:

I know that there is fear on your behalf, but you have missed something.  You are my mother.  I am your adult child.  For most of our relationship, you have been in the position of power.  I saw you almost kill my stepsister by strangling her.  I saw you physically attack your second husband on numerous occasions.  I saw you punch holes in drywall with your bare fist.  I was the victim of a few beatings that left me unable to sit for a day.  You withheld relationship, security, privacy, and love from me consistently for most of my young life.   The sound of your voice can trigger a migraine in me in 5 minutes.

Who do YOU think is more afraid? 

I will not kowtow to this new Waif, and I won’t be victimized by this manipulation.  This feels like the work of a lifetime.  Earlier today, I felt utterly defeated.  I have grown so weary of this fight.  It will end one day.

And, I will be the better for the fight.

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13 thoughts on “How To Recognize A Mindf*ck

  1. I was going to say the snippets of your letter sound like something my MIL, the waif/hermit would pull. There is such subtle and overt manipulation involved that unless you’re braced for it, you start to feel crazy yourself. I am deeply sorry for this knife in the gut.

    • Perhaps it was a reminder that I needed to take a stronger stance. Maybe I was going soft…And, when these women are in relationships with therapists who feed their victimization delusions, bad things happen.

      • That’s the starkest realization I have made – the support system around the BPD woman needs to have a complete understanding of BPD and all the things that can tag along with it for the ride. Yes, these women have been victimized at some point, haven’t we all? Sometimes horrificially? But, what I see in my MIL, my grandmother, your mom is that they use the status of victim to twist reality to meet their needs. And that is not okay.

        • No, it’s not. I think my mother has turned into a victim when sitting with therapists. This is why she has never been properly diagnosed. She trots out her past stories, and she is a skilled manipulator. The therapists are sucked in. They can’t possibly believe that this woman would EVER do the things others say. So, the true victims are victimized again. Sadly, it wouldn’t take long for me to awaken the Witch if I were sitting in her therapist’s office. I know how to do it. It’s not like I would enjoy it, but I know all the buttons. Just start bringing up all the things that she claims not to remember. She does. Bait a little. She’ll take it. And then the Witch in all her seething, raging glory emerges. Unfortunately, it’s a bit like a narcissistic injury, and she might be too ashamed to go back to her therapist. The truth would be known, but then what?

  2. Your response to her insane communication is great and spot-on. I know this kind of…slithering manipulation, my mother could also put on such a mask (unless/until she felt provoked to take it off.) She also wrote many emails to me in all-caps. When confronted on this, she once claimed that ‘oh, my caps lock key was just stuck!’ Which is ludicrous. The “caps lock key” in her mind that caused her to constantly yell would also have to be stuck, but it wasn’t, she could switch things on and off at her will, she just chose not to for me. After I moved out I also heard about a “therapist” who was encouraging my mother in her “worry” about me and “right to know” where I am–since all of my problems could be twisted around to support her victim hood. It’s all so creepy. I hope that after I confronted her about the incest, she won’t try to insinuate herself into my life again with more bizarre “i love you and I miss you, I think about you every day” messages, but her mind might be circular enough to deny that, or claim “the letters weren’t really from him” or something.

    Thanks for sharing more insights.

    • I am deeply disturbed by your mother’s treatment of you. I don’t like it at all, but I suppose it’s because her behavior is disturbing and not to be liked. It’s a normal response. It is reassuring to know that this response is not uncommon. I appreciate your willingness to share. I know how personal this is. So, thank you…

  3. Okay, I have a question for you slightly related to all this. Despite having BPD, my mom can and has been extremely generous before with her help and money. She used to keep our kids for us, has given me airline tickets, and more recently offered me some money for something.

    If I have a genuine need, and her offer fills that need, my instinct is to receive it. My thoughts are, “I do have this need, so why not? It is good for a mom to assist and provide for her child, right? Even if she has all sorts of ulterior motives or hidden agendas with this, isn’t it a form of dignity to take her at her at face value and just receive the help?”

    But you can probably see it from a mile away… that there’s no such thing as an unattached gift. Many people treat “gifts” this way (expecting reciprocation, thinking it will get them in good with someone) but this seems especially problematic with my mom. In moments where you try to point out some problem or dysfunctional way of relating then suddenly all the past times she’s ever been generous or affection come flying out as a smokescreen. “How dare you. I love you, I did this, this, and this for you…”

    From a perspective of boundaries and healthy pride (if I’m capable of such a thing) I don’t want to accept any more nice things from her solely so that she can’t pull that card. And also I want her to receive my care, when I’m moved to give it, as coming from my own heart and not because she’s ingratiated herself toward me.

    How have you navigated those exchanges with your mom?

    Thanks.

    • This is a really good question because my mother can also be overly generous–sometimes ridiculously so to the point that I have been uncomfortable. I think it often comes to motivation, and this is how I have managed this in the past. I may be wrong, but I suspect that my mother’s habit to give expensive gifts comes from a desire to legitimize her presence, receive love, and gain admiration. Underneath that BPD exterior, there is that core of self-loathing, fear, and the intense emotional disregulation. They don’t want to be abandoned or made to live on the periphery. And, they have to have leverage. If they have something that you need and/or want, then there’s a lot of behavior that is excused. Plus, there is the adult child’s needs, too. If you are at all getting your needs met through your mother’s generosity, then why would you want to confront the real issue? Honestly, who doesn’t want to get a lavish gift from a parent? Not everyone understands the sorts of gifts that narcissists or borderlines will often give. They want the admiration and the legitimacy. My mother once bought me a $300 teapot. I have Arts and Crafts stained glass lamps in my house that she gave me for Christmas. I have hand-woven wool rugs! These are posh gifts! I think that part of us feels like maybe we deserve the money or the gifts because we have to offer up a pound of flesh anyway. We might as well get something in return for it, right? So, as you’ve said, when we try to confront bad behavior, we get the response, “Well, I never! Look what I did for you! ::pointing at the lamps, the rugs, the STUFF::”

      So, first things first, I stopped including my mother in my life where needs were concerned. That’s Boundary 1. I am 21, grown, and vaccinated. She does not need to be giving me money. She does not need to be privy to information about my finances, my sex life, my emotional life, my marriage relationship, my friendships, etc. She is not a friend on Facebook because Facebook is where I network socially. If I didn’t hang out with my mother in high school or in college, then why would I hang out with my mother on Facebook? She will only lurk on there anyway which will give here a false sense of intimacy. Borderlines love to force intimacies. So, this cut down on any and all needs-based gifts.

      Secondly, when my mother was in my home, she would immediately attempt to take over by doing all my laundry because when she was in my life, I had babies or toddlers, hence, a lot of laundry. Eventually, she moved on to putting that laundry away–even folding my husband’s boxers and putting them in his drawer! That was a NO-NO! So, as much as wanted help with that and even needed it, I wanted to feel like I owned my space MORE so I asked her to stop helping with that chore. I asked her to be a guest and relax and enjoy herself. That went over like the Hindenburg. But, I did that for me–not for her. It’s a question of: What do you want more? A sense of independence? A sense of self? A nicely fenced in identity? Or, do you want to be enslaved to your mother’s whims and needs and merger fantasy?

      Thirdly, I used very direct language–“Mother, you don’t need to come here and give me lavish gifts or work in my home to legitimize your presence. Let me make you some coffee while you relax and spend time with my kids.” I put down the boundary. She refused it, but I held my ground. She resented me, and then she started fighting with my husband about taking out the trash. They actually got into a tug-of-war with a bag of garbage in the hallway! My children were crying, my mother’s husband just stood there like he was catatonic, my husband had a hold of that bag like it was full of gold–“I am taking out the trash! Let it GO!”, and my mother was shrieking, “You never take out the trash when you should! NEVER! I’m taking it out! YOu hear me! I AAAAAAAM!!!!” She lost the Trash Battle and stomped into the guest room. She locked herself in the room and refused to come out for hours. This is what came of my giving my mother a boundary regarding her excessive gift-giving efforts, BUT I don’t regret it.

      I think, in the end, you have to look at what you are getting out of it. Once you resolve that, it’s easier to go from there. I did have to grieve the losses. I like to get gifts, but not gifts like that. I always felt like a Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head afterwards. And, I wanted to take her leverage away. It’s so much easier to make progress in a relationship with these dynamics when you have the leverage–not the other way around.

      Make sense?

  4. That all makes sense. And I’m glad your husband won the trash fight. Quite a funny, yet sad, picture.

    I don’t think I’ll be accepting her help on this one.

    • Yes, his hill to die on–It’s MY garbage, dammit! It is funny in retrospect. I do laugh about it probably more than I should because of the absurdity inherent in the fight. It’s like, really Mother? You have to own that, too? Our trash? The very nasty part of myself wanted to just yell, “If you take that trash out, then take yourself out, too!” It’s good that I was such a compliant child. She would always threaten to “wipe that look off my face”. I’m surprised I have a face left! ::snicker::

  5. I was a victim of emotional/psycological abuse at the hands of my mother. I am now a 36 year old man and still damaged beyond repair. Depression, anxiety, lack of trust, unable to bond with others and the list goes on and on. Recently I decided to get counseling and “fix” myself. I also decided to finally confront my abuser and was gaslighted. I was told that I am making things up, I made her an angry mother, I am overly sensitive, I am exaggerating as always, I am and always have been mentally unstable, I need to be on medication.
    The next day for the first time in my life I got a call from my emotionally absent father telling me to “apologize” to my mother (my abuser) “or never contact anyone in the family again”.
    While Im at it. Why dont I track down and apologize to everyone who bullied me in school.
    Im done….

    • Good grief! Well, I want to tell you that I don’t believe that you are damaged beyond repair. I, too, have suffered from depression, anxiety, an inability to trust, and even great difficulty bonding with others. It is possible to overcome these issues. It takes a lot of work and a commitment to yourself, but it IS possible. But, what you describe about your family? That is completely unacceptable but common. That is the part that reveals the truth–it’s not you. It’s them. It’s a textbook response. I tried to confront one of my abusers when I was younger, and I was then told by another family member that i was stupid, worthless, and a waste of breath. What you have shared here is so wrong for so many reasons–your treatment. But, so many victims of abuse have experienced the same treatment which means that you are not alone. You can’t be the problem then, right? They must be problem. So, you keep going. Go the therapy. Do the work. Get better. You are a worthwhile person. And don’t for one second believe that you are damaged beyond repair. You are not. You are alive so there’s hope. There’s resiliency in you.

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