As I’ve been reading the book, “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil” by M. Scott Peck, M.D. I’ve been recognizing members of my family and in-laws in the case studies shared in the book. I see myself, as well.
I want to say, before I get into this blog, that I’m not particularly comfortable with labeling people as ‘evil’. I’m of the mind that behaviors can be ‘evil’ and that sometimes people can do things that may seem to be ‘evil’, but as he also discussed, I realize it’s hard for children to acknowledge that their parents or people of authority are evil.
One of the things Dr. Peck discusses repeatedly is the use of ‘scapegoating’ by the people he’s identified as ‘evil’. He talks at great length about the characteristics of ‘evil’ people, that he had concluded that they are narcissistic, incapable of empathy or feeling sympathy, appearing to not have a conscience. They think only of self and they create a series of lies to protect themselves, to disguise themselves, to hide behind.
As I’m reading this book I’m flashing back on my own mother, my sister in her adulthood, my sister-in-law particularly, as the fall-out of her deceitful behavior is fresh and raw.
I want to clarify that I’m not suggesting these people are ‘evil’, but I do think they embody the characteristics Dr. Peck described. I’m also not saying that I’m perfect, not judging them, but making an observation, based on the tools provided through this book.
My mother was a very jealous and envious person. She was most assuredly narcissistic, as she would never allow herself to be shown to be wrong, she was never guilty of wrong doing, she believed others should feel privileged to be included in her circle. She never did anything to hurt anyone, but the whole world was out to get her. She believed her children and other family members, as well as co-workers and neighbors spent time thinking about ways to purposefully upset, disappoint and or annoy her. If someone close to her was good at a particular activity she would have to try said activity and attempt to better the other person’s accomplishments.
She rewrote her own history into a story of gross mistreatment by her parents, suggesting that they favored her sister blatantly, she explained her lack of friends or ability to only have one friend at a time as people being jealous of her. She hated her sister, as her sister had a successful marriage, had a nice home, her husband had a small business, they had money, were part of their community, social, etc. Her sister was everything she wished to be and whenever her sister offered to help her or share something she had with her, that became a deliberate attempt to make her feel small, less than, to demean her and ‘rub under her nose’ what her sister had.
She created a competitive atmosphere between her own children, recreating the fictional sibling relationship she portrayed as her own. She created a number of elaborate ‘family lies’ about her parents, other relatives, etc. that she perpetuated throughout my childhood and even after I had left home. She even created elaborate lies about my husband and I, when we met, when we were dating, our early marriage, etc.
When my sister had issues after my parents divorced and the school insisted on counseling, I was excluded, but my mother and sister went. I can only imagine that if either of them were the least bit honest the counselor would have identified my sister’s problems as a result of our mother’s parenting and abuse, but when they returned home, I was taken into my room, the door closed and my mother informed me my sister’s problems were a result of feeling inadequate because she was following me through school, trying to live up to my accomplishments. My mother told me it was my fault that my sister was having trouble, I had to hide the things I was able to do, if she wasn’t able to do something I should just do it for her rather than nagging her about it, I shouldn’t have my friends over so much, talk on the phone so much, etc. because she had poor self-esteem as a result of comparing herself to me.
That was the first time I recognized her behavior as ‘scapegoating’. She had done things in the past that really were scapegoating, but I hadn’t recognized it as such. Even when she kicked me out of the house, after giving me only 12 hours warning, she stood at the door as I was leaving saying, ‘why are you doing this to me? how can you do this to me?’ Clearly in her mind, she had convinced herself that she hadn’t told me to leave, I was leaving and hurting her in some way.
My sister, as an adult, would create a whole new history for herself, claiming a religious childhood and relationship with God, when in reality, we had nearly no religious exposure or teaching whatsoever when growing up. She told other people in her life that only she was ever abused by our mother, that she was excluded from the family. When she would do something hurtful, say something nasty, if I would try to hold her accountable, she would turn it around and accuse me of abusing her, taking advantage of her. She told people that I made her want to commit suicide, that I wouldn’t respect her boundaries.
She had, in reality, taken terrible advantage of my family, as she had lost her job and my husband and I fed her, provided transportation, I had even gotten her a job working from my home. She had done things, while working at this job, that put her position at risk, of course that was my fault. She found a way to blame me for the consequences of her own actions. She was scapegoating me.
She even went so far as to eliminate people from her life by accusing them of being ‘evil’ and ‘doing Satan’s work’. She attacked the members of her church, via a letter, telling the pastor she would not be attending any longer because she saw Satan’s face in the faces of the congregation. None of her choices, the way she treated other people, none of her actions were to blame for problems maintaining friendships, maintaining a job, but rather, Satan was attacking her by using all the people around her. Of course, she was the only person who is a ‘real Christian’, who is living the ‘right life’ and other people are just out to abuse her.
She had created a series of lies to account for her own mistakes and poor choices, the way she abused and took advantage of people. She made up terrible lies about my husband, son and I and spread them throughout the community.
More than a decade ago, my oldest niece went to my sister-in-law asking her for guidance, as to how to address her feelings of disappointment and hurt to me, over the fact that I’d not seen her off when she was sent to live with her father in another state, had not talked to her when she was home for Thanksgiving and hadn’t sat with her at Christmas services. Her mother told her “Why are you telling me? Write her a letter.”
This set into motion some terrible things that would cause a rift in our family for a decade. Not only had my sister-in-law not communicated with us, which, in reality, brought about the circumstances that had hurt my niece, but she hadn’t offered to help her daughter deal with her feelings, hadn’t shared with her that I had a lot on my plate and it wasn’t intentional, she didn’t tell her daughter that she’d not told us she was home for the holiday, etc. She allowed and encouraged her daughter to blame me for her hurt feelings, scapegoating me.
Over time my sister-in-law has created a series of lies about her relationship with her mother, denying the fact that her mother had indeed helped her over the years, as her marriages failed and she slid in and out of being a single parent. She tells the story now that her mother took no interest in her grandchildren, that she never helped her with groceries or anything for the children, that she never really spent time with them.
When her youngest daughter became pregnant she asked me to give the baby shower. She started confiding in me, she couldn’t stand her son-in-law, she saw him as lazy, a liar, someone who exaggerated to get attention, someone who couldn’t be trusted. She told me her daughter was being controlled by this man, that he didn’t give her a moment’s peace when she was away from home, that he had to know where she was and what she was doing every moment of the day, in fact, she even believed he lost jobs purposefully so he could monitor what her daughter was doing. She told me she was hoping after the baby was born that her daughter would have enough of his behavior and leave him. She told us her daughter was more or less cutting her out of her life, she felt as if she was being blackmailed with the baby.
I was blogging about the way I felt for her, being put in such a horrible situation. When her daughter found those writings, and confronted her with them, she of course, told her that I had made it up, was twisting her words around. She had to scapegoat me to keep her relationship with her daughter because she had painted such a horrible picture of abusive behavior by her daughter and was unwilling to confront her daughter about it.
She attacked me for having written blogs about the way she’d been treated and what I thought about it. Her lies were at risk of being exposed, she had to, at all costs, protect those lies. She even admitted that no matter how she felt about her son-in-law, she had to make him believe she loved him or risk not having a relationship with her grandchild. She would not acknowledge that my blogging was in support of her or her feelings.
When the baby had been born my husband and I were completely excluded. She informed us that her daughter didn’t want us to be included, so she respected her wishes. Again, her not doing the right thing, not communicating with us was someone else’s fault.
Over the years, both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law had blamed me for decisions my husband had made, accusing me of coming between them, scapegoating me, rather than acknowledging that the way they had treated him, never accepted me or our adopted son, had had anything to do with why he chose to separate himself from them.
Having been in therapy for such a long time, I learned a long time ago to take responsibility for my actions and words. I try very hard not to lie, not to exaggerate, to be as honest as I possibly can, having even been told I’m too honest. Yes, I make mistakes, but I try hard to think of the feelings of other people, how my actions and words effect others.
I have spent 27 years of my marriage trying to include family, to create memorable family events and experiences, wanting to be accepted by my in-laws, why on earth would I deliberately do things to cause them pain, to hurt them, to intentionally alienate them? That makes no sense.
I’m really so completely tired of being the scapegoat for the deplorable behaviors of other people, I’m tired of the hypocrisy of others, the narcissism of others, the abuse. I’m tired of all the lies, exaggerations, the revisionist history that’s practiced. I don’t understand how they keep their lies straight, there are so many that are told, they spend so much time pointing fingers of blame at other people.
I’ve spent time looking honestly at my past, at my family of origin, at my role in the family dynamic. I’ve done a lot of introspective work, had to acknowledge my own involvement in problems within my family of origin. I’m trying to deal with my disability, my adopted son’s disabilities, and just ‘getting through life’. I don’t need all the drama, don’t need to be scapegoated by people who have really caused many of their own problems, who are unable to acknowledge that they have responsibility for their own lives.
This book has really helped me to recognize what could possibly be motivating these people, the kinds of behaviors they are exhibiting and the way they are using the ‘family dynamic’ to protect themselves.
I’m still reading, still learning and will likely continue to explore more and more realizations as they come to me.