Monday, June 23, 2008

Narcissistic Parent Reaction to YOUR Illness

Okay. Some poor soul found this blog by Googling, "narcissistic parent reaction to my cancer."

I can just imagine that reaction.

And I can just imagine how that reaction is dragging you down at a time when you've got enough to think about.

While I've not had cancer, I once had to have a biopsy. I made the mistake of telling my narcissistic father. This was before he developed dementia. I told him because I was scared. I guess I thought that this would be The Event that he'd pull it together and offer comfort and reassurance. Wrong. Instead, he demanded to know who'd take care of him if I died. I could go on. But I won't. He had no empathy. He then hounded me asking the results of the biopsy. Not because he was worried about me, but worried that I wouldn't be available to help him in his old age. I then had the additional burden of trying to reassure him. This was long before my father was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

Of course, not all narcissistic parents would behave in such a way.

My self-centered mother turned my few illnesses into her dramas. How worried she was when I broke my arm or had to have a suspicious forehead lump removed when I was a kid. What I was putting her through, how terribly upset she was. Yet, she refused to stay overnight with me in the hospital because it was too uncomfortable and boring.

A serious illness has a way of pulling off the the mask of the narcissistic parent. To our surprise, there's nothing much there. Just lack of substance. But maybe, just maybe, the person who Googled this topic found their narcissistic parent actually supportive? I suspect not.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ewww...I Feel Violated

I have no recollection of being sexually abused by my narcissistic father.

In fact, I can't even remember any physical inappropriateness, like Enilina can. Her father used to bite her. (Please see her comment to the previous post)

Yet, the idea of any physical contact with my father is simply repulsive. If he kisses me on my cheek, it's all I can do not to run to the bathroom and wash my face. I sit as far away from him as I can. There is a picture of me, about five, and n-dad in our backyard. I'm in a bathing suit and we're standing on some steps. He's grinning at the camera. I'm unsmiling and my entire body is angled away from him. It looks like I'm poised to vault over the banister to escape, but I can't because he's got one hand on my arm. (Next post: Stockholm Syndrome...thanks to Roxtarchic for bringing it up!)

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my cold, self-absorbed mother did douse my private parts with alcohol when I was tenish. No idea why.

As my parents aged and it became clear that somebody had to tend to their failing bodies, I knew one thing. It wasn't going to me. Sure, I'd take them to doctor's visits, manage their medical care, daily care and finances, but I wasn't going to be the one giving sponge baths and changing adult diapers. It would have been like submitting to a daily, physical assault.

But I've often wondered WHY I'm so repulsed by my parents, especially my father. Maybe it has something to do with what Cinder Ella wrote:

"The whole thing about sexual weirdness...I've felt some of that, too. I've pretty much written abuse off as nonsense in my case, but there were other weird things. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising considering that to the narcissist everything is about them, why shouldn't that include sexuality?"

This is as good a theory as I've heard.

N-dad has no filters. Whatever is in his head rolls off his tongue, without benefit of a single gasket.

Since he talks, non-stop, some of that chatter probably included stuff of a sexual nature or, at least, inappropriate for the ears of a sensitive daughter. I can remember him talking, in detail, about his bowel movements. When I protested, he'd say, "But this is about me. You need to know this." He seemed baffled that I wasn't interested. This happened decades before his dementia. As he aged, his conversations became more scatalogical.

After my mother died and he began dating (which I encouraged), he wanted to tell me about his sexual conquests. I'd get up and leave the room.

Before my mother died from complications due to Alzheimers, her caregiver said my father had taken to complaining about his sexual frustration. He'd follow her around the tiny house and complain how he hadn't had sex for ages because my mother was no longer interested. I had a serious talk with my father. While he did stop complaining to the caregiver, he began complaining to me instead. Again, he was baffled that I wasn't interested. When I tried to explain that it was inappropriate and, more practically, what could I possibly do about it, his shoulders sagged and head drooped in a parody of the hangdog victim. "I can't never do anything right," he moaned. "Everybody is against me." (No kidding. He actually says stuff like this)

The point is, my father shoved every part of himself on me. And some of those parts were were his bodily functions and frustrated sexuality. And while I may not have been sexually abused, it still made me feel dirty. Violated. My narcissistic father had crossed some boundaries because, in his world, there are no fences.

I'd like to hear from you: your stories (long, medium, short) and thoughts and theories.
And so would some readers of this blog...who expressed their interest in this subject. Roxtarchic said it would be like opening Pandora's Box. So let's bravely open that box and see what flies out!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Parent Who Could Not Listen

Of all my narcissistic father's behaviors, it's his total inability to listen that I have found the most troubling.

Joanna Ashmun described it so well:

I have observed very closely some narcissists I've loved, and their inability to pay attention when someone else is talking is so striking that it has often seemed to me that they have neurological problems that affect their cognitive functioning.

When a person says something to my father, if you can manage to finish your sentence without being interrupted, it's almost as if they hadn't spoken at all.

There is no acknowledgment of what was just said. There is no appropriate reaction. If you tell him you have the flu, he will tell you that everybody around him is sick. If you tell him his granddaughter broke her arm, he will not ask if she's in any pain or if she's wearing a cast, but he will tell you how terribly upset he is because you allowed her to fall off the swings. When I told him I had got into the dream college of my choice, he didn't register the news. Then he wanted to know why I was packing to leave.

I remember, as a child, trying to tell n-dad about something important that happened at school. I had been first to finish one of those SRA reading boxes filled with short stories. Since I had such trouble in math, I was delighted to excel in at at least one subject. I remember him saying, "Oh good for you," in a distracted sort of way before he began chattering away about something else.

I learned right then and there that what I said was simply not important. That I was not important. That I must be at fault, somehow. That I must be inarticulate and boring. I developed a very poor, tentative way of expressing myself, as if I had no right to speak at all.
In a conversation, I'm usually thrilled with a 20 percent share.

A lack of reaction when one speaks also makes you feel invisible. It's the most profoundly disorienting experience, to be in a "conversation" yet not speak or be heard.

And even though you may come in for a scolding or mocking, the n-parent who can't listen will also not offer pearls of wisdom, reassurance or practical advice.

Later, when I began going to medical visits with my parents, the nurse or doctor would usually take me aside and ask if my father had always been like that. "He doesn't seem to be registering anything I say," one doctor observed in frustration. "Does he have ADD?" another nurse asked.

When my Dad was in his early seventies, I thought he'd benefit from the expertise of a geriatric specialist, so found him a new doctor. He immediately noted n-dad's incessant chatter and that he couldn't seem to engage in a normal conversation. "Is this behavior new?" he asked. I assured him that's the way my father had always behaved. He wondered aloud if my father might be slightly autistic. Eventually, he'd use n-dad's inability to listen as a criteria for dementia.

So that's another way to look at interacting with a narcissist who can't listen. It's as challenging as dealing with a poor soul struck with dementia.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What Others Think of Us

When an anonymous commenter drifted by and called me an ungrateful daughter, I wasn't surprised.

In fact, I'm surprised it took almost three months of blogging about narcissistic parents to get that sort of reaction.

Because, in real life, that's a totally typical response if you dare break the Honor Your Parent code, even if you had lousy parents who neglected or abused you. You're either told to "buck up" or "get over it" and/or forgive them. Apparently, venting about one's abusive parent is offensive in the extreme to some people. It upsets their delicate sensibilities of how a good daughter or son should behave. We are not to have feelings. And we are certainly not allowed to express them. How dare we?

While this is sort of interesting, what's worth discussing is what people in real life think of us adult children of narcissists who have distanced ourselves from our toxic parents and how that impacts us.

We know the whole story and have made decisions accordingly. Outsiders can only see a small part. And because many of us children of narcissists have developed people pleasing tendencies, displeasing or disappointing people can really sting.

In fact, in the past, I've fallen all over myself trying to prove what a fabulous, responsible daughter I am. It was quite a show I put on...all for the benefit of neighbors, family friends and family members who didn't even like my father. Hah! The very same people who criticized me for placing him in an assisted living facility never called or visited him once!

Basically, I felt guilty as hell for being repulsed by my own father. This is something I've only recently been able to admit to. Because what kind of daughter has those sorts of dark and sinister feelings? An ungrateful, monstrous daughter. Naturally. I didn't like what those feelings said about me, so I pushed them away. Denied them. And became a raging hypochondriac instead. (I was also suppressing an incredible amount of anger, because my adoptive n-parents made me pretend I was their biological child.)

When I say hypochondriac, let me clarify. I did not seek attention for my imagined ailments. I mostly fretted about them 24/7 and nearly drove myself crazy with worry that I was dying of some as yet undetected disease de'jour.

Still, even though I drove my parents to doctor's appointments and brought over covered dishes of food and eventually took over managing their affairs, I heard through the grapevine that people were perplexed I wasn't doing more. Why I didn't visit more often. From their perspective, they saw a couple with an adopted kid who later bugged out of town to go to college and then basically disappeared for more than ten years, only to return after n-mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. I looked like an ungrateful lout who'd abandoned her badly aging parents.

This stung. Really, really stung. Because back then, I really cared what people thought of me. My entire persona was based on the good, dutiful daughter, until I couldn't stand it or them anymore and fled. When I returned, I resumed that role. And immediately became extremely anxious and hypochondriacal. Can anyone say Xanax? I self-medicated just to get through a visit with my parents.

It is with the greatest of effort that I am able to continue caring for my aging narcissistic father without falling into the trap of trying to prove to total strangers that I'm a fabulous, loving daughter. Because I'm not loving. Sometimes, it's more than enough to behave responsibly and morally. And I'm NOT judging those who've cut off their toxic parents. Believe me, if there was anybody else except me in nfather's life, I'd take that route, too. Sometimes, what we can do is what we can do. Plain and simple. Not caring about what others think can help set us free.