Thursday, March 27, 2008

Come Ye Children of Narcissists: A Question

Elizabeth asked an important question in the comment section that I thought was so interesting that I'd pose it to you, dear reader.

After you've responded, in the comment section, I'll lift them out and add them into a separate post. Not only is this much easier to read, it's more interactive and the more voices, the better.

So here's Elizabeth's question...which she addresses to everyone here:

Do you feel empty inside? I guess what I mean is that I feel like I am missing a piece of the puzzle, everyone else has it except me. I sometimes feel like an outsider or a fake trying to pass myself as a normal person. I don't think others can understand the hurt and pain we've been through. It feels so good to have feedback from this site. I glad I found you Nina, now I am not so lost!! get it??!!

Oh yeah, I get it!

I started this site because I felt lost and was trying to make sense of what had happened and I knew I couldn't do it alone. Yes, I did therapy and yes it did help and I learned some important coping tools, but I found that I needed to hear from others who went through the same thing.

Yes, I often feel empty and like I'm missing a piece of the puzzle. Like an outsider. And like a fake.

Here's some reasons why I think so. As yet another, separate post, I think we should address what we can do about it.

--We were not allowed to develop independently of our parents and what efforts we did make in that direction were discouraged.

In my case, my interests were mocked. I was mocked. I was mocked for being a book worm. For having opinions of my own that differed from theirs. For being "a little know it all" because I attended college. For having wild, thick hair so different from my adoptive mother (like I could do anything about that). For basically being me. Translation: I'm not okay the way I am. To survive, I had to pretend to be someone I was not. I had to wait until I moved far away to begin figuring out who I actually was. Which means I am a very, very late bloomer.

--We were not allowed our emotions. We were not allowed to be upset or needy. Maybe never.

My adoptive father says I was the perfect baby. He says I never, ever cried or whined. He says I wasn't like other obnoxious, needy babies. It never occurred to him that this wasn't normal. Why cry if there is no one to comfort you? If I was scared by a bully at school, I was blamed because I was a sissy. If I was scared by a dog, my mother would thrust me toward the dog and my father would make fun of me for being silly. If I fell down, I was told it didn't hurt, even when I broke my arm. When I cried because a boyfriend broke up with me, my mother slapped me and sent me to my room because I was being ridiculous and I'd scared her.

There was no one to talk to. No one to listen to us. No one to give us reassurance or constructive advice. We were either ignored or our worries and hurts minimized or dismissed. What else could we do, but deny those feelings of fear or discomfort or whatever. As a result, I suspect, we went numb. Other people around us, somehow, seem more real. We feel fake. Because we've had to fake.

--We don't feel loved or valued. Just needed.

This, perhaps, is one truth that's been the hardest to face. My narcissistic father is incapable of love. He doesn't know me. Not at all. How could he? I am 47 years old and have never, ever been allowed to finish a single sentence. Under torture, he couldn't tell you my favorite color, book, movie or anything about me except that I'm married and have two teenagers. When I was working, he only knew - vaguely - that I worked in news, but had no idea where or what I did. He does not value me...I'm just the person who will listen to him.

--Annihilation hangs over us.

If I dared to be me, my mother used the cold silent treatment that could last weeks. She stopped speaking to me for a year when I went away to college (because I betrayed her by leaving). The cold, silent treatment started when I was very young. If I didn't want to wear the clothes she picked out or wanted to have a sleepover or if I spent too much time reading and not paying attention to her. Which was terrifying. When you're little, you can't afford to have your mother freeze you out like that. It feels like death. (By the way, I had no idea this was abusive behavior until I read the work of Alice Miller, author of Drama of the Gifted Child.)

At first, my father seems like an affable, goofy, strange guy. But he's turned on every single person he's ever met. The second someone does something he doesn't like - meaning they demand their fair share of the conversation - he drops them and says all sorts of vicious things about them. I can't help but think if I really defy him in any way, he'll do that to me, too. And that's scary. As much as I can't stand the guy. Narcissistic or nightmare adoptive parents or not, they were the only parents I had.

Maybe we feel so empty and alone because...we WERE all alone most of our lives.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I Can't Stand My Father

Here's the truth.

I can't stand my narcissistic father. I can't even explain, properly, how much I loathe him. How much I am filled with dread at the mere prospect of spending a half-hour with him.

I've always hated for him to kiss me. I sit as far away from him as possible. I think he's weird and sort of creepy. After a couple of minutes in a room with him, I want to escape. I feel absolutely no warmth or affection for this man and his endless chatter.
He makes my ears hurt and my skin crawl.

It is some comfort that he's not my biological father. Maybe that explains it. Some social worker back in 1960 decided that I'd become his daughter. Maybe that's why I have never, ever felt like I was actually connected to this guy, who was badly abused and neglected as a child. This boy-man whom I was forced to emotionally caretake. (My mother told him to keep his mouth shut during the homestudy)

Somebody once suggested that he may have sexually abused me as a kid. That while I may not remember it - I don't - that the body never lies and the revulsion I feel may explain why I can't stand being around him. I don't know. I just don't know.

Maybe it's because I don't feel safe around him. How can you feel safe around someone who is so relentlessly needy?

I think it's possible that I might have cut him off if I'd been his biological child. For those of you who aren't adopted, it may be hard to understand how much we adoptees internalize all those messages that we should be grateful for our adopters...even if our adopters are not nice people. That we should be forever grateful for being "rescued" and, at least, "you had a home and weren't raised in an orphanage."

My self-centered adoptive mother constantly called me, "ungrateful"....after all she'd done for me. Once I asked, "Like what?" and she listed all the regular chores of motherhood, like fixing dinner and driving me to school.

I think this has made it harder to detach from my narcissistic parents. Besides being trained to serve, I was trained to be grateful.

I'm not asking any of you non-adopted folk to weigh in on this, but I'd really like to hear what sort of reaction YOU have to your narcissistic parent(s).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Narcissist as Grandparent

It's painful to watch a narcissist "interact" with their grandchild.

Mostly because there's not much interaction.

And what little there is is so brief and shallow that it hardly rates as a true encounter. More like a hit and run.

Not only do you feel bad that your poor kid doesn't have a real grandparent and is missing out on such a special relationship, you can't help but be reminded that's exactly what you had to deal with for most of your life.

It's like getting to watch reruns of a TV show you always hated.

In the case of my n-father, he's always talked about how much he cares for and worries about his granddaughters. Yet, yet....if he asks how they are and I say, well, one of them is actually very sick, he'll immediately interrupt and begin talking about how sick he'd got earlier that day. He'll never ask what was wrong with her or call again to find out how she's doing.

When my girls were still small, he'd compete with them for my attention. He'd pretty much ignore them and talk over them if he had to. He never asked them about school or what they liked to do. He never suggested that we take them to the zoo or the park. If they tried to perform a dance or sing a song, he'd smile and clap, then lose interest after thirty seconds and wander away.

It was scary to watch.

As my girls got older, they stopped trying to interact with him. They learned to smile and nod and didn't waste energy trying to engage him in any way. As teenagers, they'd exchange exasperated looks and sometimes, when he was "inappropriate," they'd burst out laughing. What was most astonishing was the patience the girls showed him, the adjustment to his odd behavior. They made no demands of him at all. They learned to listen, as I did, and find the quickest escape route. They've never expressed any anger or disappointment in their grandfather. Maybe it's because they have so little to do with him.

When we visit him at the assisted living facility, they do so with grace. Unfailingly pleasant. Cheerful. Supportive. And very, very distant.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Withering (Narcissistic) Minds & Tax Time

This marks my third year as Power of Attorney for my narcissistic father, who has Lewy Body dementia.

The one thing that remains intact, absolutely unchanged is....of course!...his narcissistic behavior. He is exactly as self-centered as he was when he was in his prime at 40! (Except now he expects me to eagerly listen to his adventures in the "poo poo room" as he calls it)

As tax time and the deadline for sending in health care reiumbursement claims are fast approaching, I have spent the last several days shuffling through paperwork, making phone calls, sending faxes and filling out stacks of annoying forms.

Taking over someone's life is complicated and time consuming. It's a job.

I just hope there's some money left over after he dies. At least there'd be something to go toward my daughters' college education and that would make me feel like there was some justice. That he'd contribute to my kids when he refused to give me a cent of financial help.

Basically, I spend my days trying to look on the bright side. The upside.

I try not to dwell on the fact that this is my fifteenth year of dealing with aging parents. I try not to think that this represents one-third of my life.

The fact that people are living longer is rather alarming. It's one thing if people can live longer and stay relatively healthy. It's another if they are sick and frail or develop dementia. Like both my adoptive, narcissistic parents did.

And then I read this bit of alarming news today:

"...the federal sponsored study concluded that 22 percent (of elderly Americans ages 71 and over) have begun to see their mental faculties decline, which translates into 5.4 million people.

"It's a huge number," said Brenda Plassman, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center who led the study being published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Combined with a previous estimate that 3.4 million Americans have full dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, the new findings mean that more than one-third of people ages 71 and older have some diminished mental functioning, the researchers said. About 25 million people in this age group live in the United States."

Every time I read something like this, I shiver. Because I know a certain percentage of those people are self-centered, crazy parents like mine. And that some middle aged person, like me, will be faced with the dilemma of what to do with their (badly) aging narcissist.

Surrounded by others who felt loved and nutured by their parents, by those who'd do anything for their aging mother or father, it's hard not to feel like you're a complete ingrate or loser...until you snap out of it and remember just how much your parents were never, ever there for you.

But once you've accepted the responsibility of your parents, acknowledging their failings isn't exactly inspiring either. It just pisses you off as you sit there, up to your ears in paperwork or fielding their sixth needy call of the day.

It's hard not to feel alone.

Until you realize that other people, like yourself, are having similar epiphanies and experiences. And it makes you feel less evil, more human, more sane.

I'd like to share with you what an Anonymous Commenter wrote....most eloquently...that perfectly captured the Aging Narcissistic Parent Dilemma:

"So, you also come to the crux of why I, and so many other children of N's, hit the wall when we get older and start to understand how much we did not get when we were kids.

You feel like a bank account that should start out full ... yet your parents make withdrawal after withdrawal until you are sentient enough as a teenager to know that you are absolutely empty and know you don't even have feelings of love any longer. Even so, you continue to extend the credit, go on with your life as a young adult, and even tolerate your parents a little bit more (mostly because you don't have to see them every day anymore - what a blessed relief).

And then, say in your 30's, just when you feel like you have put in enough work on your own to build your personal emotional bank account back up to a healthy level - ironically, that's just when your narc parents are going into decline. No one else is paying attention to them as much anymore, and you are their fallback N-Supply, as the books say. Your N-parents are fabulous and desirable and witty and clever and amazing, all the way up to the top of the hill, where they become lonely, needy, sick, old ... all the way back down the hill. It's quite a shock.

You have really worked hard to put together a life you love, despite your parents, and are even possibly in an emotionally stable place ... only to find out that your parents have penciled you in as their Sherpa as they maddeningly meander down the other side of their own mental mountains.

You reach the point where are just like, how much more do I have to give? And then, the answer becomes even more important when you have your own kids, and you are like, how much time that I give to my parents, am I taking away from my own kids - ?"

Thank you for that, Anonymous Commenter!

I love that...."penciled you in as their Sherpa!"

That's gonna get me through the day. No kidding.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Chaos and Crisis

Somebody found this blog by Googling, "elderly narcissistic parent crisis."

Which got me wondering about the possibilities:

a) Was the self-centered parent having a crisis?

b) Was having a narcissist for a parent the crisis?

c) Did the parent become impossibly self-centered with age or dementia?

d) Was the adult son or daughter having a tough time caring for or making arrangements for their aging parent because said parent was narcissistic?

Having absolutely no idea, I'd like to talk a bit about d).

When it became obvious that my father was no longer able to live safely by himself, it seemed like he did everything imaginable to make a tough decision as miserable as possible.

That some aging folks actually plan or cooperatively participate in planning for their future needs is an idea so strange it's right up there with aliens. Two friends told me about their own mothers, who researched the various possibilities, then moved themselves into assisted living facilities because they didn't want to be a burden to their kids. Sheesh. One of these old ladies even bought a condo in one of those fancy schmancy places so she could give it to her daughter for her future use. Double sheesh.

My narcissitic father?

He took no responsibility for helping me figure out how to make it possible for him to stay in his own home. He'd only say he didn't need any help. That I was exaggerating his need for care. Yet, I was the first call he'd make when he needed help.

He refused to move into an assisted living facility. He threatened to throw himself out of the car if I drove him there.

He refused in-home help of any kind. When I insisted on at least a part-time housekeeper, he threatened to kill himself.

He refused to move into an apartment close to me, his only child, so I could help him maintain his independence. I repeatedly offered help with meals, cleaning and transportation to and from the doctor. He said he'd kill himself if I made him move out of his house.

He refused to compromise in any way. The man simply wouldn't budge.

Then I got the blame.

To everybody else, it must have seemed I was the World's Worst Daughter because I found out he went around complaining that I'd abandoned him after all he'd done for me.

He began to fall down, had his driver's license taken away (another post! OMG! the stress!!!), and things rapidly fell apart.

Have I mentioned my father is a hypochondriac? If he's feeling anxious or if he's upset that I missed calling him at the appointed hour, he begins having chest pains and calls 9-1-1. (Another post! OMG! the stress!!!)

Of course, he expected me to leave my children and fly 400 miles to solve the probems he'd created by refusing all offers of assistance.

Then the phone calls started.

He'd call five, to ten times a day with one crisis or another. This went on for two long, miserable months. I was a nervous wreck, always expecting the phone to ring, not knowing what was going to happen next, but unsure how to solve the problem.

Then I remembered what happened to my poor grandmother.

My narcissistic father failed to take responsibility for her when she developed Alzheimers in her early 90's. Until then, she'd been remarkably healthy. Long story, but I found out that the police had threatened my father with charges of elder abuse and neglect after she'd been mugged during one of her wandering spells, and so I stepped in and took over. I'd only recently moved back into the state and couldn't believe my father had neglected his mother, whom he professed to adore.

So that got me thinking.

I was going to have to get tough. Even if my father pitched a fit, I was still going to have to take responsibility and make the right decision. I certainly didn't want to be charged with elder abuse or neglect. Which was likely because my father was out telling the world about just what a lazy, good for nothing, neglectful daughter he had! It didn't matter if my father was willful and stubborn as all hell.

So tough I got.

I found a top-notch assisted living facility and said he'd need to move in or else he was completely on his own. And I meant it.

Now I look back at that time and shake my head. I felt like such an evil, awful person at making him leave his home. I gave myself no credit for trying to come up with other solutions. For trying to persuade him to accept help. All I felt was Guilt, Guilt and More Guilt. Of all the dark times, this was probably the gloomiest. But finally, in he went and I've never regretted that decision. Not for one teeny, tiney second.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How Did We Survive?

If you have a narcissistic parent, there will come a moment when you realize just how WEIRD he or she is and the hell did you survive childhood?

So last night I was talking to my 81-year old father (okay, I didn't talk, I was listening), and he was telling me how the director of health services at the assisted living facility has it out for him.

This is not surprising because he tells her she has a fat ass and is getting as a big as a door. Just to be clear, this isn't dementia. He's always been like that. The man has no filters. He pretty much says whatever he's thinking - no matter how rude or crude - and says it's not his fault. He's just pointing out the truth and if people are offended, that's not his problem. I clearly remember my horror at a wedding when I was ten and my father, 45, told proud parents of a bald, chubby baby boy that their kid looked like Kruschev. No kidding. The parents were crushed. I spent the rest of the wedding carting around that giant baby, making a fuss over him, to make up for my dad's blunder. dad has a long history of thinking people have it out for him. They do. They don't like him because he's rude, interrupts and can only talk about himself. But I couldn't resist.

"Why doesn't the nurse like you?" I asked.

"Because she doesn't like to hear nice things about me," he explained peevishly. "She ignores me when the other nurses give me compliments. She only pays attention to me when she's mad at me."

This isn't dementia. I wish it were. Sadly, this is an example my father's childlike behavior and view of the world. I can remember, with crystal clarity, wishing that I had a real man for a father and not someone so hopelessly juvenile. He'd go on tirades about the guys at work who had it in for him, who didn't like him...all said in the manner of a little boy excluded on the playground.

And it struck did this pathetic, needy half-man ever take care of me?

I remember him complaining that when I was around a year old, I kept climbing out of my crib and how it drove him crazy. Then he'd explain how he'd have to stop whatever he was doing and stick me back in. Or how I drove him nuts because I kept asking to go to Disneyland and he finally took me, but got sick on a ride in the first hour. So for years I got to hear how my selfishness had cost him. Rides home from dances, the occasional trip to the mall, even back-to-school nights were all evidence of his selflessness.

I used to wonder if my dad wasn't sort of retarded. I even asked one of his doctors if they thought he had a super low IQ or had some sort of mental deficiency that would help explain why my daughter, then 13, seemed more mature than her grandfather had ever been. Nope. But one psychologist finally figured out that he had narcissistic personality disorder, probably because he'd been badly abused as a kid.

I spent a lot of my adult years feeling sorry for him. For making excuses that benefited my father, while dismissing the way I was neglected and treated.

When I imagine myself alone with him as a vulnerable child, I'm horrified.

How did I survive him?

How did we survive parents so incapable?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Relentless Negativity

Although I try to keep my phone conversations with my elderly narcissistic father brief, by the end of the week I can hardly bring myself to call and check in. By Friday, I'm in desperate need of a break.

Every single conversation, somehow, is negative.

Today, he complained about a fellow resident whom he called old and ugly with a big parrot nose and wrinkles. Apparently, he finds her looks personally offensive.

Yesterday, he complained about one of the nurses who has a high voice, like a little girl. He asked her why she couldn't, "talk like a woman for God's sake!" He finds her voice personally offensive.

If it's not one thing it's another. Every day brings another complaint or tirade or drama. This isn't age related. He was always like this. And try as you might to insulate yourself, cumulatively, it ends up dragging you down. All that relentless negativity.

However, because we don't talk for all that long, I tend to minimize the impact of our talks. Surely, I tell myself, you can spare a lousy couple minutes a day talking with a poor, old lonely man without falling apart. Buck up baby, I tell myself. It's not like you visit him in person all that often or spend hours on the phone with him. It's just five minutes a day. And it's not like I have to exert myself. He does all the talking. All I have to do is dial and listen. Still, I dread calling him and have to remind myself, quite sternly sometimes that he may be a narcissist, but he is a human being and all humans need contact. So it's the least I can do as his only child. Buck up and chat for a bit. Sheesh. No biggie.

So I was explaining all this to my therapist. How guilty I felt when I took a night off calling. He is, after all, alone in the world. No friends or other family. If I don't call him, no one else will. He has no contact with anybody outside of the assisted living facility. How pathetic is that?

Much to my surprise, the therapist called this a Very Heavy Burden. That I should give myself not only a day off, but a week off, maybe longer. She called contact with him "toxic" and that I was, in effect, slowly being poisoned. Or something like that. I was so grateful to be told that I wasn't a selfish monster that I felt like bursting into tears with relief. My therapist told me this more than six months ago and I'm still calling my father almost every day. Now my rationale is that his health is rapidly failing and he's not going to be around forever, so I oughta call. And I do. And feel awful afterward. Is it the martyr in me? I suspect it's Guilt. It's probably also co-narcissism. How I've adapted and how I enable him or something horrible like that.

As always, I'd LOVE to hear from you.

And by the way, I'm not looking so much for validation or support for my situation, but rather to hear about YOUR experience with your narcissistic parent and how you may have adapted or enabled and, hopefully, dealt with the challenges that you've faced.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Comfort Factor

If you're trying to figure out if you have a narcissistic parent, there are lots of nifty checklists in self-help books to help you do just that.

Basically, you score your parent on a whole bunch of different traits. Things they do or say or don't do.

There's one I'd like to add.

Would you, could you....ever go to your parent for comfort if you ever had a problem?

How would they react if you did?

How would you feel after you confided in them?

I never, ever would have taken a problem to my mother or father.

I quickly learned, probably as a young child, that no comfort would be forthcoming. In fact, I discovered I then had the additional burden of reassuring them it wasn't a big deal and that they shouldn't worry. Later, I realized that any drama I might have would turn into their drama.

Some examples:

***When I was around ten, I had to have a growth removed from my forehead. This required an overnight stay at the hospital and a biopsy. My self-centered adoptive mom carried on saying, "You don't know what you're putting me through" and generally making a fuss about how terribly worried and upset she was because the growth might be cancerous (it was not). Apparently not worried enough to stay overnight with me at the hospital. This she refused to do because it was, "too boring" and uncomfortable. Adoptive Dad had the good sense to realize this made them look like bad parents, but he couldn't make her stay although he tried. They even argued about this. He couldn't stay because he needed a good night's sleep because he had to work the next day. It fell to me to reassure them that I'd be fine by myself. I presented a cheerful face to them and the nurses.

***When I was around sixteen, my much beloved first boyfriend broke up with me. I held it together long enough to escape into the house, where I burst into tears. Amom rushed into the living room and asked me what the hell was wrong. So I explained. She was furious. About as angry as I'd ever seen her. How dare I scare her like that? She thought I'd been raped, the way I was carrying on. Then she slapped me. And sent me to my room. "For God's sake, he's just a guy. Get over it." Any mention or tear shed for him earned me an angry lecture. So I had to hide my misery.

***Fast forward to middle age. I mentioned to Adad that I was acting distracted because I was worried about a biopsy I'd just had and was waiting for the results. He panicked. "What's going to happen to me if you die?" he demanded. "You're all I got!" I asked if he shouldn't be more worried about his poor granddaughters who would be left motherless. He said, "Forget them, they have their father to take care of them. If you die, I've got nobody." So much for any comfort. He then called, repeatedly, to ask for the results of the biopsy...which only added to my stress. When I told him my good news (negative), he said, "Thank God!" and said, "You don't know what you've put me through," then announced he had to hang up and take a nap because he, "could finally relax."

See how this works? Or didn't work. No comfort. No reassurance. No sage advice or wise words to help their child through a tough time. There will be no hugs or cards or phone calls to say, Just Thinking of You. They will not ask, What Do You Think About All This? or Gee, You Must Be So Worried." There will be no acknowledgment of your pain or whatever challenge you face. There is only them and what they "are going through."

Maybe this works differently in other dysfunctional homes with a narcissistic parent. Don't know. Maybe the kid gets a free pass when it comes to illness and the child finally gets some quality attention. I have a cousin with a narcissistic mother. She dealt with this by never admitting she was sick, even if she was staggering around with the flu. She even "worked sick" and dragged herself to school sick as a dog.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment if you have any observations or any experience you'd like to share.