It was the perfect family. Everyone of one mind. Everyone in perfect accord. The parents smiled and held hands. The child smiled and behaved perfectly. There was no conflict, no anger…not even a speck of irritation was ever allowed. It was Leave It To Beaver in the flesh.
Or was it?
Well, no. It wasn’t. The perfect appearance of that family came down to one dynamic: pseudomutuality.
What is Pseudomutuality?
Dictionary.com defines it thusly: pseudomutuality. /ˌsjuːdəʊˌmjuːtjʊˈælɪtɪ/ noun (pl) -ties.
1. (psychol) a relationship between two persons in which conflict of views or opinions is solved by simply ignoring it.
True. But too simplistic. There’s nothing like diving into the original Greek to really understand what a word means.
According to Wikipedia, “The prefix pseudo- (from Greek ψευδής, pseudes, “lying, false”) is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else. Subject to context, pseudo may connote coincidence, imitation, intentional deception, or a combination thereof.”
Now sail with me from Greece across the Ionian Sea, hoping for a Westerly breeze, to land in bella Italia. “Mutual” comes from the Latin root mutuus meaning “reciprocal, done in exchange.”
Roll it all together and whaddya get? Everybody acts, talks and smiles as though they’re on the same page…but they aren’t!
Welcome to the narcissistic family.
That’s an easy one: φόβος (phobos) from which we got our word “phobia.” It means fear.
Have you ever had conflict with a narcissist? Have you ever contradicted them? Have you ever told them they’re wrong? Have you ever refused to do something they demanded of you? Have you ever expressed irritation with them? Have you ever held a divergent opinion?
Then you’ve experienced the terror that comes when a narcissist rages at you. The trauma that leaves you bonded to them from φόβος (trauma bonding) and reeling with PTSD. The horror that accompanies seeing the narcissist in your life, your loved one, suddenly turn red in the face. Their teeth are gritted and sparks of rage flash in their eyes as they scream and swear at the top of their lungs. Their knotted fists crash down on whatever surface is closest, countertops, tables, chair handles, the woodwork…sometimes resulting in bloody hands. They may even seize the closest inanimate object and throw it. As you watch a barstool fly half the length of the basement as I did, all you can think is, “There, but for the Grace of God, flies I.” Trying to leave the room, results in being physically detained, forced to face their wrath (true story! I almost called the police that day, so worried was I for the safety of a loved one.) If worst comes to worst, you may receive a physical blow (true story!). Or, even more enraging for them, duck when they try to strike a blow (true story!).
So you acquiesce. You “agree.” It’s a simple matter of self preservation. Afterwards, your narcissist can’t even remember what they said or did, so severe was their rage that they blacked out. They may even call you a liar and say you are “dramatizing” (true story!) if you dare tell them the horrible things they said and did in their rage.
What Pseudomutuality is Not
Oddly enough, pseudomutuality may not be about anything in particular. For example, my religious, political and moral beliefs are still closely aligned with my family’s set of beliefs because I feel they were actually right. Yet, even in the midst of true agreement on the “essentials,” my family still operated in the realm of pseudomutuality.
Because everyone knew that any whisper, any hint of beliefs, actions, friendships, clothing, dreams, plans, hopes, relationships, music, movies, lifestyles, etc. that differed just a hair from The Family’s Way of Doing Things would not be tolerated in the slightest. Much like a cult, the authority figures maintained control by the ever-present Φόβος of incurring their wrath. In other words, although the family appeared and felt very loving most of the time, one still lived on tenterhooks of saying a wrong word, expressing an unacceptable hope, even dancing an intolerable shimmy to a catchy tune (true story!) over the dishpan. Φόβος was the undercurrent of the home.
Are We Liars?
With our soft-as-rose-petals consciences, tenderized by years of narcissists pricking us with the tenderizing fork of False Guilt, I know you’re feeling guilty for your part in pseudomutuality. C’mon! You know it’s true. You feel guilty, don’tcha!? Like me, you’re addicted to guilt. I know you are!
But here’s where we draw our line in the sand. To quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek:
We’ve made too many compromises already, too many retreats.
They invade our space, and we fall back.
They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back.
Not again! The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!
Yes, we kept our mouths shut and appeared to agree…to preserve our safety and sanity. Yes, we squelched every pithy retort that sprang to our lips, catching ourselves just before we accidentally blurted, “You’re full of shit,” or “What bull dropped that on the barn floor?” or “What utter poppycock!”. While the narcissists innocently claim “the grievances expressed in your…letter were totally unexpected” (true story!) we know that expressing any complaints, any pain over being forced into weirdness, any requests for normalcy, privacy, independence met with lectures, brainwashing and ultimately, denial. Only a fool puts their hand on a hot burner more than once. As Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We kept our mouths shut because we were smart. We employed pseudomutuality because it served our purposes, kept the “peace” and preserved our safety and family structure.
For you religious readers still suffering from False Guilt, just remember that King David lied by feigning insanity (I Samuel 21: 12-15) to preserve his safety…and he was still called “a man after God’s own heart.” Jesus Christ himself refused to answer questions, when he knew their intent was crooked (Matthew 21:27.)
Pseudomutuality is a tool, a logical technique employed by smart Narcissitic Abuse Survivors to preserve their safety, sanity and families. It’s not a choice we made “for the heck of it.” We were forced into pseudomutuality against our Wills to survive an untenable situation.
But it’s just a temporary solution, a crutch to get us through the narcissist’s minefield. When we reach the Celestial City of “No Contact,” what a great relief it is to shed the Burden of Pseudomutuality…and finally let it all hang out!