Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are Most Old People Like This?

So my narcissistic, elderly (81) father calls and leaves a message.

I'd just talked to him the day before and was planning to give myself the night off because I'd already spent much of the day running errands for him and dealing with his bills and paperwork.

So he rings about fifteen minutes past the time I usually call him and he shouts into the phone: "Hi, it's me! I was just calling to see if anything happened to you and if you're okay. DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME!"

When I play the message back, I feel like the walls are closing in. Like I can't breathe.

His plea may have been made out of lonely desperation. But for me, it's the last thing I want to hear.

So here's my question.

Do many/most old people behave like this?

Okay, okay, I know my father is a narcissist and manipulative. But I can't help but wonder, how typical is this needy sort of reminder?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Relating to a Narcissist

This weekend, I realized there's probably a big difference in the way people react to a narcissist.

There's the way WE - adult children of the self-absorbed - react.

And then there's the way others react.

My narcissistic father called and my 15-1/2 year old daughter answered the phone.

He asked her what she'd done that day.

Normally, she'd say something like, "Not much," because she's learned he's not interested in what she has to say, and then quickly hands the phone to me.

But she said he sounded eager and chatty and welcoming, so she TRIED to explain that she had standardized testing all day and how boring it was. She must have managed to utter a sentence before he cut her off. That's when I heard her say, "Never mind. Mom!" She thrust the phone at me with an oh-well shrug.

I don't think for a second she lost any sleep over it. I asked her about it later, and she said, "He's just like that." My husband has met plenty of kooky, self-centered people over the years and it's more a source of amusement to him because he just thinks they're weird and not worth his time. This is pretty much the same reaction of some of my friends raised by non-n parents.

Then there's me! When somebody ignores me, interrupts or in some way doesn't acknowledge me, it's more than just annoying. It touches something very deep inside. It pulls apart the edges of a wound that won't quite close.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Narcissistic Father....The Drama Queen

I wouldn't say my narcissistic adoptive father is a hypochondriac. (I was - now completely recovered - but that's another post)

He uses both real and imagined illness to get his way. And to get attention.

By the time he actually got sick, I'd already had it.

The first time I can remember him pulling a You-Did-This-To-Me-Stunt was back in the late sixties when he and my mother finally broke down and took me to Disneyland, which was less than 15 miles away. I must have been around eight. My mother had a bad back. My father suffered from a highly selective inner ear disturbance which could make him dizzy, depending on just how badly he didn't want to do something. I wanted to go on the rocket ship ride, but couldn't ride alone. They tried to talk me out of it, calling me stubborn and selfish. It was the one ride I really, really wanted to go on. About a minute into it, Dad started shouting and gesturing wildly and people started screaming below and the ride stopped. We were carted to the medical station, where the staff got an earful about how I'd done this to him because I was so selfish and stubborn. The day at Disneyland was cut short and, once in the car, my Dad perked up and ate a hearty meal that evening at his favorite restaurant.

Perhaps the biggest drama - the one that fills me with resentment today - is the one that took place the weekend I moved to college. I have no idea why I let them go with me. After all, I was footing the entire bill. They'd refused to loan me a dime. Getting into the college was perhaps the most important thing that had ever happened to me. But I was not destined to enjoy or relish the experience. My father got stomach pains the afternoon of our arrival. Sure enough, he wanted to go to an emergency room. My mother blamed me. I had made him sick because I was cold and selfish for leaving them. So I was forced to take him to emergency while my mother went shopping. And spent the next 24 hours at the hospital as the doctors ran tests. Of course, nothing was wrong with him.

Fast forward.

My father, showing signs of Lewy Body dementia, is (forcibly) checked into an assisted living facility.

The transition is a nightmare. My needy father turns into a sniveling, voraciously needy wreck...calling me up to a dozen times a day. When the head nurse says I need to put my foot down and quit answering the phone, assuring me she'll take care of him, he fakes a heart attack.

By this time, I am so trained to think that any non-compliance on my part is enough to (almost) kill an adult man that I feel guilty as hell trying to belatedly erect what is commonly referred to in the self-help literature as, "boundaries."

The nurses calls saying she's pretty sure he's faking, but called 9-1-1, anyway. Then she calls back, giggling, saying I'll never believe what had just happened. She and other staff had surrounded my father and gave him lots of comfort and reassurance while they waited for the paramedics. He perked up. He sat up and began joking and laughing. When the staff saw he was okay, they began to drift off and my father got up and acted very agitated over the "abandonment." So she said, half-teasing, "You know, _____, the paramedics are almost here. Should we tell them to go home?" or something like that.

And you know what he did?

He flopped back on the bed, clutched his chest and began to gasp.

The dementia had impacted enough of his judgment to allow him to carry on with an old act in front of an observer. But it was an old and tired act. And to have it WITNESSED by a third party was incredibly satisfying. Finally, independent confirmation that he was a faker! The nurse said she'd never seen anything like it! She said, later, that my father was possibily the neediest, most difficult resident she'd come across. Bonus!!!

Knowing my parent is such an emotional con artist isn't enough to totally throw off the burden of responsibility I feel toward my troubled father. I feel less burdened. Less responsible. But not, unfortunately, totally free. At least not yet. But it's a state I'd like to achieve. Desperately.

I know some readers have left comments about health and manipulation in the last post, but feel free to leave your stories, observations or thoughts on how to Get Past Guilt.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How My Narcissistic Father Got That Way

As my 81-year old narcissistic (adoptive) father descends into the last stages of Lewy Body dementia, he once again talked about the cruelty of his own father.

He began telling me about his no-good-lazy-drunkard of a father when I was very young. How he'd endured neglect and beatings and cigarette burns, until he forced his father out of the house when he was finally old enough. His father died on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

My father could never believe that his own father treated him so badly. This has haunted him throughout his life. This and the fact that his mother didn't stand up for him.

My father seemed to crave sympathy for his suffering. He desperately needed somebody to acknowledge the pain he'd endured as a child. So he turned to his own child to do that for him. His wife, my adoptive mother, wasn't a very patient person.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that the sympathy I developed for my father's terrible childhood experience got in my way of realizing that he had neglected me. That our roles had reversed. That at some point, my father began to use his bad childhood as a Lifelong Hall Pass excusing him from parental duties. That whatever he had survived had somehow entitled him to taking and taking and taking from his only child. It was as if he had never really fully realized that he had become a father himself. It was as if he was still that wounded 12-year old boy, looking for attention and comfort.

One of the oddest things about my aging narcissistic father is that he never seemed to acquire the ability to reflect upon his own life, to make connections between experiences had and lessons learned. He did not grow any wiser with age. He was and will always be that 12-year old kid.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Damn Liars!!!

My narcissistic father lied. Often.

When he didn't want me to take classes at a nearby college, he said a rapist was on the loose attacking young women. (Not true)

He told people he and my mother had paid for my college education. They hadn't. Not a single dime.

He complained he'd given me so much money he didn't have enough for his own retirement. I'd been financially independent since 18.

He used to tell people - right in front of me! - that I was his biological child when I knew darned well I was adopted. Then made up all sorts of bizarre stories to explain why I didn't look like them or why I was an only child.

He told me he was diabetic. He wasn't.

He faked having chest pains and demanded emergency help -- repeatedly -- when I'd take a night off from calling him.

I can't remember if he lied like that when I was a kid, although I think he must have and it was just one of the many reasons I didn't feel comfortable around him. I figured it out when I was a teenager, but never told anybody. Not even my best friend. It was just too weird. And if your own father is that strange, what does it say about you?

When I finally got up the nerve in my thirties to confront him, he gave an awful, evil little laugh, but didn't apologize or explain to my satisfaction. Basically, he said he wanted what he'd wanted, and I was being so stubborn, so he had to do what he had to do.

Catching him out on a whopper did NOT deter him.

I'd like to say, folks, that the lying goes away when the narcissist develops dementia.

But in the case of my father - who has Lewy Body Dementia - it has not.

This continues to astound me.

He's lost control of his inhibition, his legs, his bladder and most of what little judgment he had to begin with, but he's maintained the ability to lie. Old habits do die hard.

Do, please, feel free to share your favorite Damn Liar stories and thoughts on this disturbing behavior.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I think I'm witnessing something scary. Something ominous. A relative, Sue, is evolving from a self-centered woman into one of those narcissistic parents that drove us to the blogosphere in the first place.

An attractive, fit woman of 50 who spent most of our "conversation" talking nonstop about a) all the fabulous, organic meals she makes; b) how super intelligent and tall her 4-year old son is, thanks to her excellent parenting; c) how hard she works out and how hot she looked when she got all dolled up to go out and how heads turned! and d) again, how her son is smarter and taller and more charming than other kids and how she gives him daily doses of imported, organic fish oil for his brain.

Perhaps the most pathetic part of our talk came when I confirmed that my youngest teen is a size O, when Sue asked if she was still tiny. Sue immediately responded that she, at 50!, was only a size 2 and then when on about the amazing muscle tone in her upper arms.

That floored me.

That a 50 year old woman would feel the need to compete, on some level, with a teenager.

I'm predicting that Sue is fast developing into the type of mother who sees her child as an extension of herself. She's already very controlling and is overly invested in his "intelligence" which is a direct result of her parenting skills. When he dances, he's going to be the next Timberlake or when he sings in the car, he has perfect recall of the lyrics and can carry a tune. Woe be the kid if he turns out just an average student or refuses to wear the Ralph Lauren chinos she buys him. I don't think she's a full blown narcissist. She's not without empathy. But I got to wondering.

In some people with narcissistic tendencies, does having a child push them right over the edge into a narcissist?

As her son gets older, she's talking more and more about his intelligence. She honestly seems to think he's somehow different than other kids. Destined, at the age of 4, for the Ivy League (of course, she wants the best for him). Recently, when he had a tantrum and screamed he hated her, she threw a tantrum, too and called me crying, looking for reassurance. How could he hurt her like that? she wanted to know. After all she does for him! And I felt sick. She didn't seem to grasp that he's four and was probably tired and pissed off he had to clean up his Legos. She didn't grasp that it's her job as a mother to stay calm as best she can and comfort him, no matter what.

Is this how it happens for some people? A rather self-centered parent who knows she is aging begins to tap into her child as a new source of validation?

Friday, April 11, 2008

GIVING Gifts: A Triggering Exercise

Believe me, I've given my fair share of lousy gifts.

But over the last decade or so, I've turned it into something of an art.

My MIL - the recipient of many a quality purse, Nordstrom jacket and Gourmet Gluten Free Treat Basket, says I always manage to give her the very thing she wants, but wouldn't dare buy herself because of cost. This, of course, makes me happy. She has secretly given me what I want: acknowledgment.


After years of buying carefully researched toys and clothes for my nephews, I unintentionally missed a birthday. None of these gifts were ever acknowledged by my SIL. In fact, I had no idea they'd ever received them. Then my SIL sends a furious email to the family members who'd missed her son's birthday.

This REALLY upset me. This started one of those loops that keep playing in your head. The unfairness of it! She'd never sent my kids (her nieces) anything or most often forgot to call. She never acknowledged mine, after I had acknowledged hers for nearly two decades. In fact, I've spent my entire married life buying my SIL stuff that reflected her tastes that she never acknowledged.

This was followed by an episode with my brother-in-law. He calls to ask if I'd do something special for his wife's upcoming b-day and gives me a not-so-suble reminder that his son's b-day is coming up, too. This I knew. I'd bought his gifts months ago and stashed them in the closet with all the Christmas gifts I'd bought everybody during the summer.

So I do all that. Then I call on her b-day and make a big deal of it and she goes on about her Big Party and all the cash she got and my nephew's Big Party with designer cupcakes. No acknowledgment of the gifts. When I finally got up the nerve to ask my BIL if my nephew liked his stuff, he said his kid had got so many gifts he didn't know which was which. Then they forgot my b-day, that same week. Then they forgot my daughter's. And I felt like crap.

So what was I doing?

What was I expecting?

Why had I chosen to spend so much time choosing just the right gift for people who are incapable of acknowledging me? What kind of strings had I attached to these gifts? (I swear I've never given a Bunny Mailbox, chunky sweater or cheap jewlery.)

There's so much talk of unconscious repetition in the literature of psychology.

Was this what I was doing?

Every time, I felt invisible.

Every time, I felt like Always the Giver...never the Receiver.

And they acted so ENTITLED. Like that was my Role. I exist to support and acknowledge others. Which is very upsetting to the adult child of a narcissist, who has played that role forever and is sick to death of it!

Maybe my biggest fear is that my own unpleasant reaction is itself a narcissistic wound/trait and, if it is, I MUST cut it out, like an infection...before it spreads.

What is sorely lacking is an internal compass that others seem to have, but I don't.

Some friends think I'm crazy and say I should quit spending so much time on ungrateful louts.

But then I think THAT would be acting like a narcissist, so I continue. See? Get that?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Really Bad Gifts

I can't remember exactly which book about narcissistic parents talked about the tendency of the n-parent to give really bad gifts. Gifts that are more about the n-parent than the recipient. I didn't think this applied to me, mostly because my parents didn't give me gifts after I stopped liking dolls and Operation! On birthdays, they'd stick some money in a card and that was pretty much it.

But then some commenters came along and wrote about how their n-parent gave them some gift that didn't reflect them in the least bit. Often, the gift had strings attached. The gift was used to control or extort gratitute or something equally unpleasant.

I was kind of surprised that Really Bad Gifts was such a common theme.

We all get bad gifts at one time or another. The Father's Day Tie or the I Love My Teacher Mug aren't notorious for nothing. So what's the big deal? Now that I've allowed myself to think about it, it's more significant than I thought. And how I've reacted (okay, overreacted) is worth noting because Gift Giving has become a Really Big Hang-Up. And I need to get a grip.

In brief, my narcissistic parents stopped giving me Wrapped Gifts way before I hit 13. Except for those obligatory back-to-school shopping trips, my mother never bought me a single cute sweater or one darling blouse. She returned home loaded down with discount shopping bags filled with stuff for her, but for me? Nada. (For once, I'll let my full blown narcissistic father off the hook. He's a guy.) When I started working full-time after I graduated high school, I began buying her gifts. Cute sweaters. Darling blouses. Perfume. All of which she gushed over. She wasn't ungrateful. After working for several years, I took her to Hawaii.

And then I decided to go away to college. By now, you must be absolutely sick-to-death of this story, but for the sake of newbies, my self-centered mother stopped talking to me. I got the Cold Silent Treatment for leaving her and declaring my independence.

During my years at college, my parents did not send one single We Miss You card. Not one check. They did not send one care package. Not one Cute Little Jacket for the colder, Northern California temps. Nada.

Fast forward to the arrival of my oldest daughter. No cute little onesies for her, either. Just a check to help buy the layette.

Fast forward six more years. My mother has Alzheimers. My father drives her over for a visit to see the grandkids (also known as respite care, which meant chasing after my wandering mother while watching a 4-year old and 6-year old). N-dad arrives carrying a pink cake box, which I open later, after they've gone. What I see inside makes my stomach turn. The top layer of the cake, a German Chocolate affair judging by what was left, was nearly gone. It was like somebody had stood over it and picked off most of the topping with their fingers. So the whole thing was mostly covered with weird, bald patches. WTF?

I called n-dad. "Oh, that," he said in a no-big-deal-voice. "Your mother did that. She got into it before I could stop her. But it's okay. It's still good enough to eat."


Good enough for me. A cake with the topping picked off by my mother's undoubtable dirty fingers is good enough for the only daughter. Who knows? Maybe all children of The Great Depression are like this.

So it's no surprise that I've developed some really Big Hang-Ups about Gift Giving. Since this post is already long enough, I'll post about that later this week. Because it's something that has actually driven me to call my therapist in the middle of the day for an emergency phone consulation. Yes, that's how bad this is. That's how weird I've become, folks. And here's the funny thing. I'm just, like right now, making the connection between how I was treated (or not treated) and how Gift Giving has become so ridiculously endowed with way, way too much meaning!

And it's all rooted in acknowledgment. Or the lack of it.

In the meantime, please feel free to share YOUR Really Bad Gift stories, your theories and your thoughts on how it might have impacted YOU.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Got Narcissistic Parent? That Empty Feeling

Elizabeth, a commenter, asked readers of this blog the question:

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.

Here are the answers (shortened a bit in some cases, sorry):

Enilina: That missing self growing up, I remember being mystified by the void within me and would go literally wandering around town by myself (and dog) for miles, kind of in an awake-dream daze. At least it made my dog happy to walk so much. So yeah, bloomed really late in college but even then it took a long time to catch up, still catching up. It's like I don't "get it" for the longest time until something click one day and then I get caught up with everyone else and even get abit ahead. But then I fall behind everyone else again and I have to study extra hard to repeat the cycle.

Chi Girl (daughter of divorced, n-parents): I was a pretty messed up individual and, needless to say, many of my close interpersonal relationships were problematic. I usually choose narcissistic partners apparently to recreate and fix my childhood. I had always felt like an alien visiting a hostile planet until recently.I 've been in Pyschodynamic psychotherapy for one year and finally learned how to feel my own feelings. This continues to be quite an emotional rollercoaster for me. My shrink says that narcissistic people (me) often think of themselves as special or different from everybody else. Each week my shrink likes to report his opinion on the progress or maturity I've made in becoming less narcissistic myself; he thinks I have amazing insight and that he enjoys working with me. Even sticking with my shrink has been hard because I don't really know how to depend on or feel dependent on him even though I like and respect him. Thanks mom and dad!! Also, my parents didn't think it necessary to meet or have relationships with my extended family so trying to learn about them in my 20's and 30's has been painful. The whole clan [paternal and maternal] is narcissistically inclined. I feel like God has played some horrible joke by placing me in this situation to see how damaged I could become. I'm learning to be happy about and to appreciate myself, my current friends while living in the present moment. None of it has been easy, but I guess no one said it would be. Finding my therapist and showing compassion towards myself has helped tremendously. I'm, also, glad to have found your site. It's so good to know I am not alone, which is a major problem for children of the self-absorbed. Many of us have some immature narcissistic traits but are not full blown patholgical or stable narcissists so there is hope for us yet:-)

Liesel Elliot: I've pondered this empty feeling for such a long time. I sometimes look at my husband who was raised in a loving, kind family and I wonder what it feels like to be loved. Oh sure my husband and son love me, and I certainly love them - but I have this tendency to feel emotionally detached. I know that I was not allowed any emotions when I was growing up. When I first arrived at college I cried and cried because I had not been allowed to cry at my parents' house. It was scary then and I felt like I was never going to stop crying, but I realize now that it was probably a healthy thing.I wanted to mention one other thing in regards to the "empty feeling". Many times as a child I would have these episodes of feeling as though I was trapped in a bubble and floating. I couldn't feel. and it felt as though no one could reach me. These episodes always happened when I was terribly depressed and they terrified me, because of course, I couldn't tell anyone what was happening. I know now that it was some sort of dissociative state, but at 15 years old I just thought that all the things my mom said about me were true.Like Elizabeth, my mother would also rant and rave for hours to break me down emotionally, and I think this is connected to the dissociative states. But you know, my mom says now what a wonderful child I was, and how I never gave her any trouble!

Heatherrainbow: Yes. Always the outsider. Always trying to fit in. Always never quite doing so. Always people pleasing and sacrificing of myself. That's probably the part that is missing.

Nina: Ever since Elizabeth asked this question, I've tried to be more aware of what I'm feeling when I'm around other people. By nature, I'm a friendly person who can talk to just about anybody. But in groups, I definitely feel like I don't know the rules of social engagement. Am I talking too much? Not enough? I just feel awkward. Like everybody else knows how to behave, but I don't. I suspect much of this has to do with the space - or the lack of it - that I was allowed growing up. Talking or expressing myself makes me feel guilty because when I did talk, as a child, I was interrupted constantly. Or mocked. But we children of narcissists are human, too, and long for human connection...so when we fail to connect after a lifetime of failed connections....it only adds to our sense of alienation and that empty feeling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I AM My Father's Keeper, Dammit...

(Will post Got Narcissistic Parent? That Empty Feeling, later this week)

I am my father's keeper. (It's April Fool's Day. Oh, the irony!)

Nothing drives this home more than spending your entire morning trying to figure out which brand of adult diapers is more cost effective. Mmmm. The brand carried by Target...or Costco? (Costco. Definitely. $19 savings per 72-count).

Okay, the fact that I know that adult diapers come in packs of 72 and the cheapest fastest way to ship 'em is just further evidence that I have become my narcissistic father's keeper.

In a way, I always was my father's keeper. The emotional caretaker of this poor, uneducated, man-child who was badly abused by an alcoholic father in East Los Angeles.

There may be a cultural aspect to all this. Many first and second generation Mexican-American families parentify their children, often out of necessity because they don't understand the language or how to get things done in the U.S. Sometimes, teenagers are expected to work and contribute to the family income, while trying to go to school. Later, daughters are expected to caretake their parents as they age.

The dilemma is that parents are living much longer than ever before. But longer doesn't always mean better. It may mean a slow, agonizing descent into chronic illness and dementia.

And because Our Parents Generation didn't exactly take care of themselves, times being what they were, many weren't even able to take part in the Quid Pro Quo of helping take care of the grandkids. I had my first child at 30. My adoptive mother was in her early 60's and never babysat once. Her erratic behavior turned out to be Alzheimers. (I'd never leave my kids with my narcissistic father. Ever.)

My neighbors up the street, both in their early 30's, have two babies. Their mothers, God Bless Them, take turns taking care of the kids while the parents are at work. Five days a week!

It's hard not to feel a tad envious. Instead of getting help from my parents when my daughters were babies, I was flying across the country to take the car keys away from my mother because my father was too chicken to do it. Of course, I'm not blaming my amom for getting Alzheimers, I blame my father for not handling it and turning my Introduction To Being A Mother into a Double Major of Motherhood-Badly Aging Parents fiasco.

That was, gulp, almost 16 years ago.

My self-centered father now has Lewy Body dementia and I'm still Taking Care of Business. This is a bit of a whine, yes, but I do have a broader point: The other day a neighbor asked if I was working, knowing I used to work full-time. And I mumbled and said, no. Hah! Damn right I'm working. I spent the last week filling out health care forms, arguing over erroneous bills, checking on my father's investments I've made on his behalf, talking to the nurses at the assisted living facility, blah, blah, blah. Literally, that's all I've done. This whole caretaking thing is taking a big, fat chunk of my life. I might as well admit it. Quit minimizing it. This is what I do, folks.

I have a New Job. Not one of those Green Jobs the newspapers go on and on about. But a critical, emerging, Job of the Future: Aging Parent Manager!