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?


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the running around trying to undo the damage the parents inflict on unsuspecting strangers. Weird how as little kids we instinctively knew what was right or wrong or proper or polite and were confused (not to mention horrified) that our parents were so clueless about the most basic social grace. If there is anything the n-parents did teach us is how not to act. Considering how they never taught us social manners, I had to wonder, why weren’t we influenced by them or modeled their bad behavior?

And the out-to-get-them stuff, oh boy it was and still their favorite mantra. Again, as itty bitty kids we knew it was bull because we witnessed their own bad behavior 24/7. The old adage of “those for dish it out can’t take it.”

So how did we survive our childhood? Well, I think kids have strong survival instinct not made obvious by our culture that encourages infantizing young people, mainly to keep them in school and out of the workplace. I don’t know about you but for me it was “willful obliviousness”, kind of what I’m doing now with Mom living with me (rent free and does no housecleaning what so ever). We knew we were trapped in our parent’s house and so bided our time until we can legally run away and they pay for it, meaning college. At the very least my parents were concern somewhat with parental appearance and our little society of professor parents expected them to pay for our education. Of course dear Dad never let me forget it and that’s where the willful obliviousness kicks in again.

Couple weeks ago my mom was getting pissed off at my passive willful obliviousness and began constantly mocking and belittling me. After 3 days of that nonsense I went to spend overnight at a friend’s house without telling her. Maybe it was cruel but I knew she would be really worried and besides herself (who would take care of her if I’m dead on the streets somewhere!), it wasn’t until midnight did she finally knew where I was. It took huge wind out of her sail and she’s much better behaved now, though she’s still very much the soul parasite.

Nina said...


You're right. Kids do have a strong survival instinct and, by comparison to children who were physically abused and deprived, it was our psyches/emotional well-being at stake.

One of the things that absolutely freaks me out is the possibility that I may have developed some quirks of behavior like my Dad. I am hyper-vigilant and constantly question myself. It's kind of maddening.

Running away. I wonder how many of us children of narcissists did that when we were old enough and found the means? I did, finally, in my early 20's and never looked up. I put as much distance as I could and rarely called.

Ooooo. Mocking and belittling. Those words made me shiver. And feel really sorry for you. There is something so humiliating and cruel about it. My Dad used to mock me whenever I expressed an opinion different than his or mentioned a book or something I read in a newspaper...he'd mock in a pretend-snooty voice.

If I may...I'm going to pass on something my therapist said.

My Dad had left a horrible phone message. I was so used to this kind of treatment that I'd become desensitized and didn't realize just how abusive it was. I described how awful the message had me feel and that I hadn't totally succeeded in emotionally detaching because I was so angry, although I never would have expressed that to my father.

The therapist said...let him have it. Tell him you refuse to be treated like that and will not call him if he does it again. And if he does it again, don't call for a week. Stand up for yourself. So I did. Shockingly, my Dad backed down immediately. Of course, he pulled the hang-dog, hurt routine and took no responsibility...saying..."I can never do anything right. No matter what I say or do everybody is against me, even my own daughter" in a pretend, hurt voice. And then I told him that he could cut that crap, too.

I was on top of the world that day. I DID feel better. Like a real person!

But I do not have my dad living with me. And narcissists are so manipulative in person that it's hard to survive in the same space with them...they take up so much room and they fight so unfairly...that I totally get why you'd run away for relief. And to teach her a lesson!

Anonymous said...

Those for dish it out can't take it.

Reminds me of my N-friend who told me that her mandate in life was to hold the mirror up to peoples faces so that they can see the truth.
God help you if you did that to her though. You were 'attacking' her and being a 'bitch' or 'drunk', 'crazy'.

she also thought she could cause harm on people just by thinking it and that she was psychic.

Nina said...


Wow. A peek into the narcissistic POV can be in the case of your n-friend. I mean, sometimes we don't know exactly HOW they think - unless they tell us - but only see how they operate. I wonder if that was an example of grandiose thinking or if she had something else going on, too...

I've always avoided asking my dad questions b/c his answers were always so disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina, absolutely know what you mean about being hyper-vigilant. I make my friends tell me if I’m talking too much, especially when I find myself monopolizing the conversation. We got to give ourselves breaks from the vigilance, but like you I’m afraid of letting my guard down.

As for your dad mocking whenever you have a different opinion.. Arggg! If there is justice in the afterlife, these n-parents would be forced to be inside out our skin and experience everything that they dished out to us. You just can’t have any conversation with them, it’s strictly one way. What kind of sick joy do they get mocking their kid’s thoughts and opinions? Ofcourse it’s been said that all those mocking and belittling and temper tantrums…. Well, it’s like a burp to them and now that THEY feel better, they expect us to feel better too.

You did awesome standing up to your dad after that horrible phone message. Isn’t that something? To actually realize that feeling of being a human person instead of supplier to parasites in human form. In a sense we have to handle our parents like they are terrorists – we can’t reason or bargain or negotiate with them but instead show them the consequences of their actions. Oh, and have a strong border/ boundary that they are not allowed to breach and cross. Oh yes, my mom immediately cry the “even my own daughter is against me!” crocodile tears after my disappearing act. With my mom I want to say “grow up already!” and with my dad I want to say “be a man already!”

Anonymous said...

Anne, I’ve been meaning to ask other kids of n-parents if their parents thought they were psychic. My mom certainly did, “Psychic Detective” on one of those Discovery channel used to be her favorite show. At one point she attended a what I can only describe as a super-magic-Buddha class and discovered her past lives which included an European prince. Really now, why is it that stories of past lives always involve Cleopatra or some form of royalty, it’s never about having been a galley slave or something.

About your friend and showing others the “truth”. My mom always says to me how only she tells the truth, hence her belittling are actually helpful guidance. It was constantly “Only I tell you the truth.” “I’m telling you the truth.” “This is the truth, only I will tell you this.” I used to cringe at the section of the New Testament where Jesus said, “Only I tell you the truth…”, until one day I realized, “hey, only Jesus can say he tells the truth, not my mom. That’s it I’m not listening to Mom’s crap anymore!”

Olivepimento said...

I too am adopted and have JUST figured out that my adoptive parents are the N word. It is so liberating and screwed up all at the same time. I found your blog and so want to talk to you

Olivepimento said...

I too am adopted and have JUST figured out that my adoptive parents are the N word. It is so liberating and screwed up all at the same time. I found your blog and so want to talk to you

Nina said...


Was thinking more about the whole crocodile-tear-poor-me schtick. It's REALLY crazy making because you never, ever get any sort of apology. I mean, in any relationship...people do stuff to each other and part of the deal is to say...I'm sorry. But not only is there never any apology coming from a narcissistic parent...any calling out of bad behavior means the Victim Routine. It's just another manipulation. YUCK!!!

OLIVEPIMENTO: I'm planning a post - soonish - about "special considerations" of being adopted by narcissists. It's nearly impossible not to scream, "Who's big idea of a joke was THIS to stick me with these folks who didn't need a kid, but a parent?"

I'm a Closed Era - now middle aged - adoptee myself. What vintage are you???

Hang in there. If you're just figuring out the whole n-thing, allow yourself to a) grieve and b) be angry and c) have any emotions you're feeling instead of bottling it in. And start reading about narcissistic parents if you've haven't already.

TruthSeeker2 said...

Hi, Everyone! I'm a newbie and see a lot of you haven't been on this blog for long. Please have patience with me as I learn the ropes of this blog.

I have an 88-year old NM who is now worse than ever and who is so far gone, we're in the process of having her put away in a hospital that has psychiatric facilities. The timing of my denouement about NPD coincided with all the present set of circumstances involved in getting her taken care of. That can't be a coincidence but is God's timing. She can no longer take care of herself and needs constant watching and care. We tried to arrange home care for her, but she fought it all the way. She sabotaged everyone who came to take care of her screaming at them to leave and verbally abusing them to the point where the aides were trembling in fear. So it's off to the nut house, lock her up and throw away the key. I have to be there to sign the papers. Oh, yes, I know about emotional vampires, parasites and terrorists.

My father was a basically good man but was too weak to deal with HER or to defend and protect me when she would throw a grown-up version of what is essentially a child's tantrum. That's what makes NM's so malignant and evil. While their emotional growth was stunted somewhere between the ages of three and six, their intellect is that of an adult. Therefore, they're much more dangerous and toxic than a child could ever be. The worst of them are psychopaths with no consciences. While I've been on a lifetime search to find out why NM is so crazy and cruel, I never could pinpoint it until just a few weeks ago. A cyberfriend who is a fellow sufferer solved the mystery in her searches and sent me all the info. You all must know only too well what it was like for you when you first found out. The shock, the repugnance, the horror of the realization you have a certifiable monster for a parent is akin to, say, finding out the parent is a serial killer, a sadist or other type of deviant. You say to yourself stuff about carrying this monster's DNA but yet you've never been in any way like her and never will, thank God.

What all of you say here resonates with me. We're all fellow travelers on the NM highway to Hell and fellow truth seekers, too. So, you ask how we managed to survive it? I think everything y'all said is true about a child's basic survival instinct. I also believe that since we all were born normal, we still maintained an inner core of sanity and self, what's right and wrong to the extent that no matter how beaten down we were, we never gave up inside ourselves and fought this evil at all costs. We developed certain survival skills. And, of course, our prime directive as young people was to ESCAPE as soon as we were able. Because I was so driven by this need to escape and find love, I went into two disastrous marriages before I got it right with the Lord and let Him pick the handsome and dear soul I've been married to for 25 years.

Don't any of you valiant and courageous survivors sell yourselves short about anything. Your NP's are the pathetic ones, not you. We've all been able to do what they never could or would - listen,learn, grow, mature, develop, be truth seekers who would rather fight than allow THEM to kill what's human in us. We've been able to attain, for the most part, good lives. We're warriors! -- TruthSeeker2

Anonymous said...

How we have survived as children since I am in my teenage years I still have a pretty fresh memory of childhood. I think it is because I always had an innate sense of what was unjust and what was just. It is weird looking back and realizing around the age of 7 I was thinking about suicide. Then found out that I could not stand doing that to myself then I thought about running away then realized that it would just land me in most likely a very bad situation where someone else would take advantage of me and so I stayed and stuck it out.

Children are much more intelligent than most adults like to think and the same for teenagers. I hate it when I read these parenting suggestions. They talk of kids like this piece of clay that can be molded into whatever you want. They are not mindless barbarians. They are just people without experience trying to make sense of the world and you can make it easier or harder for them to do so.

My favorite scripture Mathew 18:6 Then as a teenager some adults just assume right out that I am a delinquent and in need of controlling. I have too much of that at home thank you very much! Oh the day I turn 18 and freedom when people finally listen to what I say and don't just brush it aside because of my age. Just because I am a child or a teenager does not mean that I am mentally retarded.

Basically the child makes many choices that will effect them later in life. I chose not to run away. As for now I am just in a nearly constant state of depression. I am just a pot full of steam ready to explode when some emotional provocation comes up. After living with the nightmare for so many years it adds up.


Anonymous said...

"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?"

Ha ha. The imagination that is how. When you have horrible nightmares pretending that your stuffed animal can protect you. When your parent hurts you so badly you just cry til you fall asleep with the pain in the morning you forget and pretend it never happened. When you think about it you imagine a better place with a good family or no family at all. A place where you are loved and safe. As you dream of this wonderful place you feel happier more sane.

You dream of secret rooms where your mother can't make you clean them. Of being able to fly away and never come back. Dream of the future.

Forgetfulness, imagination, and denial help one to cope. Acceptance of your parent no matter how bad they truly are. As a child I longed to be good and for a happy family.

Self defense. You don't feel so hopeless when you are being yelled at if you once in a while yell back. Hiding.

Games when everything in the world is new and interesting to you it can be much more entertaining. I stacked pennies, I played imaginary games with my brother. Each of my stuffed animals had personalities of their own and they came to life when I played with them. I loved my stuffed animals like human beings when I was a child. They were so real so alive in my imagination. So much nicer than my mother.

Hope. There was so much hope that she would one day just change and understand. Only if I could explain it well enough and I tried over and over again always hoping.

Luck those times when you were just and infant and were lucky to survive. For example she told me of a time when I was a baby that she wasn't watching me closely and I had nearly crawled off the balcony. Barely got caught in time.

Friends. Ever wonder how kids often easily interact with each other. It is because they are in the same world misunderstood by adults they know each other and so stick together. At the park I could stop thinking about my parents and my only concern was finding someone to play with. I was accepted there. No one ever refused to play with me. "Hey can I play tag with you?" "Sure"

The cool thing about being a kid is that there are very few requirements for someone to be your friend. You can be with them for two minutes or an hour and be their friend for that time. You can start playing in the sand making tunnels and so on. Someone asks can I join you? sure and you both make houses castles and so on together perfectly contented.

If you said hi to me when I was a kid and played with me for a while and were nice. You were my friend and that was that.

When I look at adults I laugh inwardly they make everything so complicated. Narcissists particularly.

As a kid I wondered how adults could be so stupid. So rude to each other and children. So immature. So blind. They couldn't see me if they tried. I was just a kid and that was that for them.

When I was a kid adults were kind of like aliens who lived in a different world and this is true in a way. In fact I kind of dreaded becoming one of them. I promised myself long ago not to forget what it is like to be a kid so that when I meet one I will not be an alien but a friend.

Being a kid is to be misunderstood.
Parents should be the ones to understand. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Anonymous said...

I've struggled all my life, with varying degrees of success,to undo the damage caused by growing up with an insanely narcissistic mother. She's now in her eighties in assisted living and suffering from dementia. Sometimes I can't believe that cream puff a human being had the capacity to cause so much emotional pain.

In her prime, my mother had three modes of being: (1) the caring, funny, wonderful public persona whom everyone outside the family loved (2)the angry, harsh, judgmental, nasty b-tch persona that was directed at the members of the immediate family 24/7, and
(3)the workaholic persona whom we knew better than to interrupt.

I remember my mother snarling as she spit vicious, degrading remarks at us at the dinner table. Just then, the doorbell rang. She walked 10 feet to the front door and opened it with a big, warm smile and kind, welcoming words for the unexpected visitor. Thinking back, I'm surprised I'm not crazier than I am.

Biological mother, BM, had to be the constant center of attention. She had to be adored by everyone. She had great social skills and could make anyone love her. She authentically enjoyed people and social interactions because she got lots of positive feedback. How many times did people say to me "I wish I had your mother"? At the same time, she'd tear people down behind closed doors, telling us what a loser so and so was. God forbid, if someone said something she didn't like, even an innocent remark. We'd hear about it for days, on and on, again and again. I'd get so depressed listening to the constant barrage of negative comments. And I couldn't say a word about it - just suck it up and listen.

She actually sat me down as a young child (I still remember it, the furniture, the old house where we lived when I was very young)and told me how badly our inlaws treated her. I was a little kid and she was using me as her psychotherapist, cutting down my relatives and telling me how bad they were. How sick is that? Up until the dementia hit, she continued to tell me the same nasty, ugly stuff again and again. I could lipsync the words, I knew the stories so well.

We all had to look good in public too to make BM look good. It would've been treason, punishable by emotional death, to make the wrong impression outside the confines of our house. I've lived my entire life walking on eggshells, scared out of my mind to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing in public.

I started binge eating at 17 when I just couldn't take it anymore but had nowhere else to go. Of course, I didn't know why I felt so bad all the time. I blamed myself and thought there was something intrinsically wrong with me.

It took me a few years after I left home to figure out that BM was the problem and that my childhood experiences were not normal or healthy. Of course, knowing is not the same as healing. I still struggle with lots of emotional issues and an eating disorder despite working on these issues for many years. Sometimes I'm amazed at how I ended up with such a crazy mother.

Anonymous said...

I am 29 and have now just figured out that my parents are narcisists. they are always waiting for me to 'get it' which means adopt thier wealthy lifestyle, righteous 'proper' choices and status symbols(clothing, cars)...all the while...they are utterly miserable together, and have been for twenty years, but would never really admit it... are elitest and don't have any real friends, and are obnoixious and impossible to deal with, seeing that you are 'inferior' to them. I go into severe depression and hopelessness because I feel as that I have no one in this world that I can trust. My mother competes with me, my father has made sexual comments towards me, and my brothers have been emotionally and verbally abusive. But, they have a huge house, lots of degrees, cars and are morally superior because they have been married for twenty years. I constantly have to point out how I am not them and that they do not truly know me. But I believe they will never understand.

Anonymous said...

I find the holidays are the worse, not even really sure where to begin here other than to say thank you all for your thoughts. As I read all of these posts, the tears are streaming down my face. I feel like at my age I should get over it and move on but this past holiday season has been pure hell on earth with HER. I feel super low right now as though I will never be able to heal, move on, be free.
My family was with me and we all feel completely out of control and helpless against the 7 headed hydra. It was all about HER, everything, so much, too much to even tell at this point from money to presents to the insufferable need to be needed constantly, the pressure, OMG, the pressure! Nothing is ever enough, good enough, tall enough, nice enough, too skinny, too fat......can't take much more.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these posts. I have a nm that I spent most of my life trying to not be like. I remember as a child, my father saying to her that she was going to break my spirit. Friends of mine were never good enough and if they came around, she spent all the conversation putting me down in front of them. Things that were given to my brother and I were what she wanted us to have, never anything we may have picked out or wanted. We always had to be grateful for what we had and since we never got what we wanted, it taught me to never want anything because you'd only be disappointed. I remember when I was 17, having my boxes packed in the corner of my room so when I turned 18 and graduated, I could escape. I moved out when I was 19 finally because I was planning to get married and wanted to make sure I wasn't getting married to escape. I wanted no roommates, no controllers, I also told my mother that my father had abused me and she told me I dreamt it. Wouldn't acknowledge it, and said I must have overheard that her father had abused her. Wow, talk about be disregarded. It all became about her, not my issues. She said I was using it to move out. Never investigate, never confront the person. Just, what are you doing to me. Wow. I couldn't get away fast enough. Now that she is in her 70's and I am in her 50's. She has a terrible relationship with her sisters. They have told me they love and hate her. I do understand. I was never allowed to have a close relationship with her sisters even though I am closer in age. It was a sin to know something before she knew it. She reminds them always that it was her that cleaned up their messes. She has always been controlling to her friends and obnoxious in clubs she's belonged to. She has no friends and always looks to me to be her friend. They were considering moving to the city where I now live and I had huge anxiety. When they decided not to, I was greatly relieved. How said is that. I still have her sitting on my shoulder telling me daily, I'm not good enough. I remember working for a company I had to make decisions for. The boss finally yelled at me one day and said, "would you make a decision!" I was always afraid to make a mistake. It was a huge growing process. I had to realize that is ok to make mistakes and I am always telling my children that as well. Now my mother is critical of my mother-in law. She is 90 but she never wants to include her in our time together at the holidays. I have had to stand up to her and tell her it is not the time to do things alone, that I won't exclude anyone. She is like a spoiled child. It is easier to deal with her now if I think of her that way. I am not afraid to stop her when she is misbehaving or being cruel to someone. We have all had to learn how to set boundaries. My husband has been very ill this past year and it's all about her, when will I take care of her. He only gets a month to recover she says. I am no longer allowing her to control my wellbeing. A long road though. My reading the bible, and strengthening my faith has helped me as well. I told my mother that when I see my children, I always greet them with a smile and the time with them I do not criticize, only listen. She told me that's ridiculous, that I am not doing my job to tell them how they should act and be. I told her my job is done, they are in their 30's now and it's my job to listen and give them advice only if they ask for it. They are good children. She will call me and say, I'm calling your son and telling him to do this or that. I will tell her, it's not your job to do that. Leave him alone. Had to cut my note off, too long, thanks for the vent

Anonymous said...

I got away from my narcissistic mother in 1975. Took off for Canada, worked in a mine in the Yukon, settled in Anchorage for awhile...

made a big mistake when I moved back in with her while I went to school; achieved a Bachelors...married and got out of the house again.

You CAN get away someday...

Anonymous said...

It’s funny I had a very different experience. My father was the narcissist. He was very smart, educated, and very competent with all manner of practical things. Good with money, home repair, gardening, etc. He presented himself as the most competent man in the world.

My mother felt incompetent due to her malignant narcissist father (my grandfather) and thought my father was very competent. He of course like that, because it reflected the character he had created to portray to the world. There were cracks, like his lecture-mode conversational style, alcoholism, incredibly rude blunt “truths,” etc.

They reinforced each other and so my father’s POV controlled the family culture. We basically bought in, he was the super-competent ones and we were to varying degrees idiots. I basically thought people were in two main camps – competent assholes like my father or incompetent good people like my mother. I didn’t want to be an asshole and my father wouldn’t allow the competition so I became more like my mother. That led me to years of giving very undeserving people and actions “the benefit of the doubt” something my father gave no one and my mother dished out hotcakes.

Besides he would never take any but the most manual help and generally refused to pass down any knowledge under the guise of “I can just do it faster,” rather than the truth of “I don’t want any competition to my competence self-image and accompanying praise.”

I’ve come out of a great deal of my own dysfunction (in my 30s and early 40s) and it has completely re-written my childhood and the present in my mind’s eye. I had an angrier stage but nowadays I just think of him as a robot, not really a person. All input leads to two outputs – self-brag and/or other-insult. Kinda sad.

My father doesn’t do the poor me shtick, but he does the loud tantrum of stop bothering me/go away/leave me alone. My mother trained us not to confront him very hard so he tends to just talk over contradictions and act like it didn’t happen, change the subject out of thin air, or just shut up and walk away if it gets too hard.

My father mocked me mostly in elementary school, largely sparing my younger brother. My mother apparently nagged him into not picking on me. Only took her 5-10 years for it to work.