State of denial

Joey Garcia

My sister-in-law moved my brother to Wisconsin, then moved my mom there. At the time, my mom and I were grieving my sister’s death from cancer. I was in no state to object. I visited once to help Mom move into assisted living. She was withdrawn and 30 pounds heavier. By my second visit, Mom was in a nursing home, unable to walk. She had no short-term memory, partly due to taking eight medications. My dad visited my mom (my parents are divorced but friendly), while my sister-in-law was at yoga. She had a fit that he didn’t wait for the scheduled family day. My dad got drunk and argued with her. She broadcast that fight on Facebook. I was sympathetic, because Dad is difficult. But then I unloaded years of resentment at her for taking my brother and mom away. I don’t know how to make peace without letting her have her way. No one stands up to her narcissism. Both my parents are narcissistic, so my brother has been trained since birth to put up with it. Please help.

Narcissism is so common in the United States that a controversy erupted in 2011 about whether it belongs in the diagnostic manual used by our mental-health professionals. That said, from the description you provided, your sister-in-law is not a narcissist. Like most Americans, she may sometimes exude narcissistic attitudes or behaviors. But a true narcissist is rooted in grandiose fantasies of greatness while seriously miscalculating his or her abilities and potential. Narcissists also long for approval and automatically expect their superiority will be noticed and reflected back by others. When it is not, a narcissist often resorts to aggressive actions calculated to ensure the outcome they desire.

What I noticed, as I read your story, is deep, unhealed grief. You are still mourning the loss of your sister and have added to that pain by pretending that your brother has abandoned you. Here’s how to heal: Accept that you are not a victim; you are simply living a human life. After all, this is our work—to lovingly accompany ourselves, and others, so that we all become stronger and wiser as life progresses. You must also stop seeing your brother as the victim of his wife. They are partners. She didn’t take him away from you or your family. He chose to move. It’s not your responsibility to determine whether he did so because he wanted to or because he wanted to please her. Either way, it’s the same: He made a choice. Why are you competing for him against your sister-in-law? At some point, you must trust your brother to take care of himself. You must also trust your sister-in-law and brother to care for your mother.

Anger often fuels poor decisions, like your sister-in-law trying to shame your dad on Facebook. Or like you taking her side in that drama. I think you shimmied over to her team because you yearn for her approval. But ultimately, you are, once again, strategizing to form alliances against an imagined enemy. This behavior might have been a necessary defense mechanism in a tumultuous childhood. You’re an adult now, or should be. Let go.

Where is your mother in all of this? Aging. It’s possible that even if your mom lived close to you, she would be struggling with her health.

There are authorities you can contact if you truly believe she is being overmedicated. But that’s not the issue, this is: You need to grieve your mother’s inability to mother you or herself. She is changing, and her weakening body may reflect the decline that your sister endured as she battled cancer. That is understandably painful to witness. A grief counselor can help.

Meditation of the week
“Most immigrants arrive with excellent health, but within one generation of living in the United States, their health declines,” said Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye at a recent Sierra Health Foundation event about suburban poverty. Do you know how to truly care for yourself?

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