Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Father the Leech

I'm going to share this story because it's a pretty good example of the elderly narcissist at his best.

This is a pretty typical interaction for my father. While this happened when Damned Old Dad was in his early 70's, it could have happened when he was a much younger man.

So we're at a restaurant: Dad, me, my husband and two daughters, at the time 5 & 7. This is almost a decade before he developed Lewy Body dementia.

We're waiting for a table. Instead of passing the time paying attention to his granddaughters, n-dad starts looking around and notices an attractive, composed professional looking 40ish woman. She's alone. My father leaps up and sits down next to her.

"I just lost my wife," he announces morosely.

The woman nods and offers her condolences. He launches. He tells her about my mother's Alzheimers, his loneliness, his whole life story. Just like that. He leeched onto her and expected this perfect stranger to offer him undivided attention and sympathy in a happening restaurant. It never occurred to him that she probably had a hard day and was hoping for some down time. He chattered on, hanging his head for maximum impact, without asking the lady her name or where she was from. Surprisingly, she didn't seem annoyed.

I was stunned. When we were called to dinner, I walked over to her and apologized. Some might say I didn't have to do that. Some might say it was none of my business.

In the past, n-dad pissed off or offended so many people that it often fell to me to smooth things over. At least, that was the (desperate) role I took on. The first time I remember this happening was when I was a kid and n-dad told some new parents their baby looked like Khrushchev. Their faces fell. I spent the rest of the wedding carting that baby around, gushing he was the cutest thing I'd ever seen.

I was every bit as embarrassed by n-dad's behavior at the restaurant as I was when he dissed that poor baby.

So guess how the lady responded?

She shrugged and said it was no big deal. She explained she was - HAH! - a shrink and used to dealing with "people like that." Then she dug out a card from her purse and handed it to me. "You can come see me some time," she said with a smile. "To help you deal with him."

I didn't do it. Not because I didn't want to, but because we were moving hundreds of miles away. That was ten years ago. I wish I would have pursued this issue much sooner and more seriously.

I spent much of those ten years catering to my leech of a narcissistic father. I allowed him to ruin family vacations and family time. I failed to understand that I'd become a people pleaser who always looked to others for validation instead of looking within. I too easily accepted the opinions of others. After identifying my father as a narcissistic personality and figuring out how to deal with him and me, I've become a much, much happier person. Gone is my own personal struggle with anxiety and hypochondria (more on that another time). And even though he continues to be needy, his needs are much easier to handle now that I've learned to say those magic words: "no," "I will when I can," and "I have to go because the girls/husband need me." Also, just because the phone rings and it's him, doesn't mean I have to answer. I actually learned to use voice mail!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Were We Abused? Part Two

Came back from an unplanned extended weekend getaway and now coming down with flu. (So I'll be keeping this short)

To everyone who commented, thank you. I read each and every opinion and learned much. I'd like to respond to each one individually, but this time, I can't.

To some people, it seems very clear that they did suffer emotional abuse.

I wasn't so sure. Probably because saying so made me feel guilty. But after reading the ANDREW VACHSS article that appeared in Parade Magazine, I definitely think so. (Thank you for the link, Katherine Gunn!)

As the child of narcissistic parents, I was emotionally abused.

That said, of course, not all of us will come to the same conclusion. I just want to make it clear than I respect whatever conclusion you've come to on this difficult subject. Like Ella, who wrote that she thought she had really bad parents, but they weren't necessarily abusive. (I hope I phrased that correctly!)

Reading Vachss' description helped me see my parent's behavior more clearly.

When my father wasn't talking my ear off or seeking my attention, he mocked and belittled me. He mocked me for having opinions that differed from his own. He used to say things like, "You think you're so smart, don't you?" Later, when I went to college, he'd say, "So who cares if you went to college? You're nothing but a little know-it-all."

When I tried to tell him about myself, he'd immediately lose interest and begin talking about himself. To the point that, to this day, I've never been allowed to finish one complete sentence.

My narcissistic father didn't know how to parent. He'd never seen it before. His alcoholic father beat him. His mother worked long hours to support them. He was a latch-key kid.

Occasionally, n-dad would get weepy watching me interact with my kids, saying he'd never got that kind of attention and he'd never got help with his school work, and his parents had never shown any interest in him. In fact, he sounded jealous of his granddaughters and often, competed with them for my attention. It never seemed to occur to n-dad that he was a father. That he'd never helped me with my school work and shown any interest in me.

My mother specialized in cold punishing silences that could go on for weeks. I'd do something that displeased her and she'd retaliate by pretending not to see or hear me.

As Vachss wrote, "A parent's love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a "failure to thrive" condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition."

So yes, I see it more clearly now. I was emotionally abused.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Were We Abused?

Anonymous Bob asked:

"Nina, don't you think that your relationship with your n-parents could be described as an abusive relationship? That's what I think about my parents. Look at this: My childhood sucked. No love, just ice cold mind games and manipulation. When I see her today I get this trigger thing going on so I can't really meet her without going crazy. So I avoid her.Here's my hypothesis: being a child of narcissistic parent(s) *is* actually abusive and as children of narcissistic parent(s) we share the main symptoms of physically abused persons like triggers, avoidance, etc. We were emotionally and spiritually abused!"

Yeah. Pretty much. But it's funny. And hard to think about, clearly, because both my adoptive, narcissistic parents thought they spoiled me rotten. Probably because they both grew up woefully poor. So the fact that they fed me, didn't slap me around (well, my mother did a few times), rarely drank, gave me birthday parties and paid $89 a month back in the seventies to send me to Catholic High School qualified them for sainthood.

On the flip side, the stories they told about me are...telling.

Every single story they ever related portrayed me as an insufferable inconvenience.

When I was one, I refused to stay in my crib and climbed out to be with them. My Dad likes to recall what a pain in the ass I was and how they could never watch a T.V. show without me butting in.

How I'd whine and complain about staying with my grandmother (every single weekend) because they went clubbing and wanted to sleep in late. Apparently, I couldn't understand why they needed a break from those strenuous five days of caring for an only child.

How I invited kids over and got the house messy or trampled through the ivy in the backyard. How I was always nagging them to go over to a friend's house.
How I abandoned my mother to hang out with friends and later, go to college.

So basically, after a lifetime hearing how good you've had it and what an ungrateful bastard you are, one must disregard their version of events and learn to respect one's own memory.

But like Anonymous Bob, I too have the same response: avoidance. After I'd finally left home, I couldn't stand to be around them.

When I visit my elderly father, I stay as far away from him as the room will allow and try to avoid touching him. If I do, I have to force myself not to cringe.

When he was younger and came to visit, he'd follow me around the house, talking, talking, talking. His endless chatter felt like an assault. I wanted to scream, "Get away from me, leave me alone for God's sake."

Okay. I know many parents get on their kid's nerves. But this is different. It's just not normal to react to one's parent like they were a zombie in Night of the Living Dead. Unless you were in an abusive relationship. Then it makes more sense. It's just not the kind of abuse that most of us have heard about it. There's much less general information, it seems, about emotional abuse.

And for the record, I think my both my parents were very ignorant and emotionally crude people, driven by their unconscious need for unconditional love and attention.

But I'd love to hear from you. I'm sure Anonymous Bob would be interested, too. As the child of a narcissist, do you think you were emotionally abused?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Emotional detachment is possible.

About a year ago, I was a wreck.

The phone would ring and I'd feel sick just thinking about my father on the other end of the line with the complaint de jour.

Before, there was the year when he kept having panic attacks disguised as heart attacks and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital, requiring my attention.

I spent nearly every evening fuming and stewing about what he'd said, how he'd said it. I was furious, depressed, resentful and above all, trapped. Okay, I still feel trapped. But less so.

Reflecting on the past, trying to understand it, writing about all of it and learning that others have had similar experiences, too, have done me a world of good.

I can actually have a terrible encounter with my father, then forget about it ten minutes later.

"He's such an asshole," I'll say, then go back to whatever it was I was doing.

Now, I won't even bother describing, in great detail, to my husband what awful thing just happened. Because I don't want to let my father ruin a perfectly good meal or movie or time with my husband or daughters.

I managed to accomplish this with a great deal of PRACTICE.

Stewing and fuming, I'd concluded, had got out of control.

So I started with small chunks of time. I would force myself NOT to think about my narcissistic father. After a bad encounter, I'd let myself FEEL. I'd get angry or sad and sit with it for a while, respecting my feelings, but not allowing them to completely control me. Then I'd say, that's enough stewing. Time to move on.

I've also become better at anticipating problems and taking precautionary measures.

For example, my narcissistic father was winding up for mother's day. A week before, he started calling me daily to wish me happy mother's day. With each call, he'd become more maudlin...saying what a wonderful mother I was to my daughters, but that HE'D never had that kind of childhood because his mother had allowed his father to beat him. HE'D been a latchkey kid. And on and on. So I knew, for sure, that his attempt to take the spotlight (again) would be upsetting and triggering, so I asked my husband to answer the phone that day. I also didn't call my father on Saturday, the day before, just in case. I was able to have a lovely mother's day with my the horse races!....without letting my father ruin it.

I'd allowed him to ruin so many important occasions: going away to college (first weekend spent at hospital w/hypochondriacal father); birth of first child (trip to hospital due to his "bad" back); birth of second child (taking care of mother w/Alzheimers b/c father hadn't told me about her illness).

No matter the occasion, I was never allowed to enjoy it. To be in the moment. My father always had some problem or drama that required my attention and involvement.

But it's soooo much better now.

I'm not nearly the quivering mass of spineless jelly that I was a year ago.

And I'm REALLY glad I'm doing this while my father is still alive.

I'd like to end with a comment left by Anonymous Bob...which made me think about this subject in the first place:

"if I was to wait for my mother and father to die before I could have a good life or start working with myself I would be giving my parents power over my destiny. I would continue to be at their mercy like I was when I was a kid. Why should they control how I feel? Isn't this what we're trying to get out of - our parents controling our lives? When we were children we had no choice, but when we're older we can say "no, I will no longer let my parents control me".

Monday, May 12, 2008

Enduring...Not Enjoying...Our Parents

A couple narcissistic parent survivors made some comments I'd like to quote here, as they really got me thinking.

The first has to do with getting together with our narcissistic parent.

Long before I figured out that I wasn't just cold and selfish and a defective daughter, that my parents were self-absorbed in the extreme, I'd feel sick with dread at the prospect of spending time with them. It's one thing to read about this in a book. It's another to have adult children of narcissists describe in detail what that feeling is actually like.

I think Roxtarchic captured the reaction especially well when she wrote:

"i know how that "due at his side for dinner" feels... i bet everyone who visits here, feels it all to well... the dread, the sickening in the pit of your stomache, my shoulders would tense to the point of snapping and my sciatica would trigger... it was a whole body "revolt" trying to prepare itself, like a warrior going into battle, gearing up for the inevitable episode... other people visit w/their family... we have to endure."

Of course, having had to endure such a parent over such a long period of time, it's not unusual that some of us begin to ask...why the hell do people like this live so damned long?

To be honest, it's something I ask myself with increasing frequency. How long is my father going to remain on this earth? I'm all tapped out. With every day that passes, I'm becoming less available to emotionally caretake him. I'M getting older and I'M becoming less patient, less willing to give and not receive after a lifetime of getting the short end of the chi-chi stick.

So it was with great interest that I read the following theories, which I'd like to share with you:

Enilina wrote:
"My Christian friends like to say that God is giving these people the time and the chance to repent and change themselves. In their less generous moments they say God doesn't want these people in heaven, and neither does the devil in hell. I say that the mean people live longer because they've dumped all their negative feelings onto someone else so their own body doesn't have to deal piles of stress.

The question of why mean people live so long reminds me of the old saying “the good die young,” and like most old sayings, has a basis in fact. Take for example the military: top performers are usually the ones who get put in the most dangerous/critical jobs because they are the top performers, so they die faster than their less impressive contemporaries. So the natural selection process is that the best people rise rapidly or die, leaving less experienced and less capable people at the lower ranks. I believe the real world is also a reflection of this."

Roxtarchic wrote:
"i think mean people (esp narcs) live so long because they let it all out, w/out any filters while the more human of our species tend to bottle it up... hold it in... or back at the very least (& then there's the whole spite factor that oughta carry em a few years at least)"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Loathing Life With Father

There are some things that aren't discussed in polite company.

Things like loathing your own father or mother.

But it happens. You don't want to loathe them. You just do. And for damned good reason.

So when an Anonymous commenter stopped by and wrote the following, the feelings resonated, even if the experience did not:

All of you are lucky. My Dad expects a visit at least every other day and he is never grateful, kind or welcoming. He is ALWAYS miserable and complains incessantly. The ONLY thing he wants is to move into my home with my husband and children since my Mom passed away in February. He will not let it go and continually calls to tell me he is going to commit suicide since he can not be alone -- he MUST be with me in my home. Of course I have a full time job, my kids go to school and my husband works full time as well. He needs aides and he is the meanest man I have ever met. I have a feeling he will out live us all even though he is 90. My life has become a daily horror with him.

Later, she called him mean and petty and, I believe, a bully.

I'm betting he was always this way. Maybe just worse with age. Not all old people DEMAND to live with their adult children and families. Not all old people want to impose themselves in such a way. A friend's mother found her own assisted living facility and checked in without fuss. She didn't want to BURDEN her kids.

But what of the relationship between parent and adult child before? Even when there was a loving and warm relationship, caring for an elderly parent in one's own home is filled with challenges.

But if the relationship was marked with a lifetime of physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect, WHY would a parent at the end of life feel entitled to such personal sacrifice and care? In the case of the narcissistic parent, it's because they are truly disordered. I firmly believe this.

Not that poor Anonymous is even considering taking her bully of a father into her own home, but I just want to mention another unmentionable: incontinence.

When you loathe your parent, having to change their adult diaper is the ultimate violation. I know because I had to do this for my mother, who developed Alzheimers. She didn't repulse me in the same way my father did and still does, but such a close and personal act left me shaking. I felt like I'd been assaulted. It was a degrading experience. It took me right back to the time when, for reasons unknown, my mother held me down and poured alcohol on my private parts.

People with dementia, and many old people, need 10-15 changes a day. I can't imagine - for a single second - how I could survive a single day changing the diapers of a man I loathe. And with men who have no boundaries, I also have no doubt there would be a sexual aspect to this. Several times, he told me his nurses changed his underwear so often because they "wanted him." (Permission to laugh)

Here's another taboo topic. Why do the mean people live so damned long? My amazing, wonderful, funny, sweet uncle was healthy and self-sufficient until the day he keeled over of a heart attack at 82. My kind, loving aunt lived on her own. She died suddenly of flu at 79. And then there's my narcissistic dad. Triple vessel coronary blockage, Lewy Body Dementia, incontinent, wheel chair bound...almost three years in an expensive assisted living facility...and still making life a misery for those around him. It just seems so unfair.

Anonymous, I know you didn't ask for advice, so feel free to ignore it!

I sense you are scared of your father, which is totally understandable.

But since you are so miserable already, you may want to consider the following. A former therapist once advised me to quit being such a doormat and tell my father if he treated me badly again, I wouldn't call him. This was such a novel idea that it was positively shocking. I couldn't imagine myself standing up to my father in this way. But I finally got up the nerve the next time he was verbally abusive. I let myself get angry and let him have it. To my surprise, my father backed down. I felt GREAT!

As for those awful phone calls from your father, may I suggest that you not subject yourself to them? Don't listen to them. Delete them or ask your husband to. The suicide threats are extortion. Of course.

I think you should seriously think about taking a break from him. Explain to the staff that you need some mental health time off and won't be calling or visiting. It sounds like you can't take much more. The head nurse at my dad's facility totally understands these sorts of situations and was very supportive. Your father sounds similar to a horrible old woman who tormented her daughter, who visited regularly. The daughter was an absolute mess. So I feel for you. I do!

Take care of yourself. He'll be miserable and mean whether you visit. Or not.