By Richard Bleil
Editorial Note: Today’s topic has been suggested by a friend of mine.
As the fable goes, the old, unhappy, bitter and grumpy king promised riches to his subject that can make him happy. Subject by subject they failed as jesters, musicians, magicians, storytellers and more fail one after the other to make him smile. Finally, one of his subjects tells him he can make the king happy, but must whisper the secret in the King’s ear. The King ordered the riches to be given the subject, who left with his secret.
The secret, as the story is told, is that the king is only happy when he is unhappy.
No doubt, every reader knows somebody like this, that one person in their life that is perpetually unhappy, for whom nothing is ever good enough, nothing is ever right, and everybody is against them.
I have a couple of friends with sisters just like this. Tonight, I was speaking with one of them, and her story reminded me so much of the other, and then, it reminded me of my own family with many such individuals, including my own sister.
As an example, on of my friend’s sister lives with her mother, and tensions are particularly high around Thanksgiving. My friend has the Thanksgiving meal at her house, and her husband truly enjoys creating culinary creations that are so delightful that i just used the phrase to express that he creates culinary creations. They are astounding.
But as Thanksgiving approaches, her sister will spark a fight over some minor and often imagined infraction. In the final analysis, the sisters would decide they cannot have Thanksgiving together, their mother would have to decide with which daughter to celebrate the holiday, and and another holiday would be lost. What’s more, my friend’s sister would then complain that she is the victim, ignored and forced to celebrate without the family.
So what is the reason for this type of behavior? There are probably a couple of possibilities. Certainly a need to be in control is one of them. This goes back to earlier blogs where I spoke of being involved with a narcissist. I guess I don’t understand the need to be in control, but eventually this behavior will push people away. With a spouse, it seems to be far more successful. I have too many friends (although just one is too many) who put up with spouses who are narcissistic abusers. When it comes to others, however, it becomes easier to push back when you live under a different roof. Unfortunately, this tends to result in a fallout which, frankly, can be the better option than continuing to give in to the demands of such people, even relatives.
The fallout often comes in the form of a disagreement, and, it has been my experience, a distancing. Often the narcissist, failing to get their way, decides to break communications, as happened with my friend’s sister multiple times. For better or worse, this can last for significant stretches of time.
I believe this is also a cry for attention. The “broken wing” syndrome. If they cannot be in charge, then they must be the victim and act as such.
Negative attention may be negative, but it’s still attention. We see this in child psychology, when a troubled student “acts out”, constantly in trouble, often triggered by events such as divorce. Such events take considerable attention away from the child, including when the remaining parent begins dating again. Suddenly, the child gets into trouble, and tends to stay as such for considerable time.
So now we have a sibling who, not being able to be in control, seeks attention. They will separate themselves from the family, and if nobody seems to notice (or they don’t get the level of attention that they seek), then, of course, it’s a great miscarriage of justice, and always somebody else’s fault.
This is a poisonous behavior. It hurts relationships, and harms individuals, but not only others, but themselves as well. Much like the scorpion that stings itself, such behavior of self-victimization and narcissistic controlling hurts the individual exhibiting this behavior as well as others. But, like somebody with chemical addictions, there is really very little that you can do for these people. If they insist on having their way, and acting hurt when it fails, there is really nothing you can do about it. The relationship will be strained until these behaviors change, and these behaviors cannot change until the individual sees the harm they are doing, even unto themselves, and decide that they want these behaviors to change.
It’s funny; as I type this, I think about myself. I have been ostracized from my family for many years. I was the one who separated myself from my family. Is it possible that I am the narcissist of which I speak? I’m not convinced. The big difference is that I’ve never had control. My problem, I believe, was one of depression rather than narcissism. In fact, If you knew you, I think you would realize that I lack the self-esteem to really be narcissistic. My sister, on the other hand, is very good at trying to control everything, and playing the victim when she doesn’t get what she wants.
Our holiday issue came about because I moved away from the family. I noticed it when I moved from Ohio where the family is to Massachusetts where I went to graduate school. My sister’s favorite complaint (ironically, not my parents’) was that I didn’t come home often enough. Heck, I didn’t even call, but I had a very special kind of telephone, in that it not only can call out, but can receive calls as well. This is an interesting fact that my sister seemed to have missed, including the fact that roads, also, are largely two-way. As my visits began to fade, rather than visiting me, my sister began to simply complain, especially around the holidays when she would inform me, with quivering voice, “I don’t know how much longer Mom has”.
It didn’t work.
Now, the only time I hear from my sister is when she complains about how I have distanced myself from the family, and why I chose to do this. Frankly, I chose to separate myself because my familial environment is toxic. And, no, the irony of the similarity has not escaped me.
When faced with this situation, I guess the best way to handle it depends, really, on the individual case. Is it a narcissitic outburst, or a depression isolation? Sometimes, as in my situation, it’s not a bad thing to isolate yourself, but isolations need not be forever. In my case, I’m waiting for some changes before I can begin to mend my relations. If my family cannot meet me halfway, I can no longer waste effort. Again, I wish I had better advice, but, again, the best I can do is say that you’re not alone. Do the best you can, and do what is right for you. For what it’s worth, I’m with you.