Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Question of Judgment

Jeff asked this question: "if you or your readers have ever discussed in any way a) the act of judging Ns, and/or b) what it does or hopes to do for relatives?

I notice also in the comments on your current post this from Billie:'I struggle with horror at feeling sure I'm being judged no matter what I'm doing or not doing.' Perhaps this phenomenon is related?

I suppose I'm curious about the judgement thing because I'm reading key texts on narcissism and mental health and society in general, which confronts me with what I seek to judge and why, so perhaps it's something I'm attuned to."

I don't think we discussed it.

I've been mulling this one over and I'll be honest...I'm not coming up with any coherent comes to me in bits and pieces.

1. I suspect Billie has developed a fear of being judged because she WAS judged - HARSHLY - by her parents. My mother judged me harshly, too...whenever I disappointed her, which was often, she'd reel off a long list of my faults. I came to believe I was all those things: selfish, cold, selfish, lazy, sneaky....and selfish. (Did I mention selfish? )

2. Admission: I'm a pretty judgmental person. I don't know if I became this way because I saw it modeled for me or what. I don't think this is a very attractive quality and it's something I'm constantly trying to temper.

3. On the "act of judging N's" and what it does for the relatives: Judging our parents may be one of the few things we CAN do in regards to them. We can't change their behavior (only our reactions to them), but we can judge them. It's one of our few options and, since we were judged and labeled by our parents, it's a sort of cosmic tit-for-tat that's rather satisfying. It gives us a little power, a little control...sitting high atop the "judgment seat" for once.

I don't think judging N's has any impact on them...even if they were to know about it. After all, we are the ones who are defective, not them. My mother always used to say, "there's something radically wrong with you,"...implying that she suspected I suffered from a mental illness. I don't remember ever fighting back...except in a passive-aggressive way....or challenging her directly because she would have just stop talking to me (again).

I can recite a long list of perfectly awful reasons why my father became a needy, childlike narcissist and why my mother became self-centered and why she so terribly disappointed when I wasn't the adoring, unquestioning, dutiful daughter she'd longed for. My father sympathy for his awful childhood yet had no empathy for adoptive parents - due to their needs - required me to pretend in public that I was their biological child. All I have, in a way, is my ability to judge those acts...which their "backgrounds" does not excuse.

I wonder if judging my parents is my one and only act of revenge.

In the end, does it matter if we judge our n-parents...or not? While judging people we DON'T know well is one thing, it's another to judge those we do know very well...and have harmed us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Overcoming Social Hang-Ups

It's funny, in real life, I've devoted an enormous amount of time and energy reaching for the reset button...trying to reshape and rewire my reactions and the way I think after discovering my father wasn't just a lousy Difficult Parent, but one afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

On this blog, however, I haven't spent a whole lot of space exploring how to get over an n-parent, probably because I'm not an expert and what may have worked for me may not work for others.

There are several issues and concerns that readers repeatedly raise...many of which I continue to struggle I'd like to begin taking a look at them. If you've encountered the problem and have worked to overcome it, please share how you tackled it and how you feel about the results you've achieved.


Here's what an anonymous commenter wrote:

This is something I remember and only now am seeing how the incident deeply influenced how I relate/struggle to relate to others. I was 13 and had written a letter to my best friend back home. I left the letter on the bookshelf by the door to be mailed. The next day I noticed an envelope with my father's handwriting addressed to my friend, stamped and ready to be sent. I thought it was strange and decided to open it. Not only had my father opened and read the letter but he had added his own sarcastic and mean remarks in the margins and empty spaces. This was very confusing for me. After all he was my dad, and he was really smart so the letter must have been stupid, right? I am 35 now and fiercely protective of my privacy, unsure of myself socially, and always worried about seeming stupid. I guess sometimes I feel empty because I'm afraid to let my guard down. I can handle feeling numb and empty, I've had plenty of practice. I have no idea what to do with kindness and love and the fear of being hurt is greater than the pain of emptiness.

In real life, I suspect most people would be surprised to hear that I spent most of my life feeling socially unsure of myself because I am an extrovert who can pretty much talk to anybody.

However, for most of my life, I used my outgoing nature to cover up the fact that I felt very uncomfortable in many social situations...especially those involving large groups. I am best one on one. When I was child, I never felt like I fit in...always on the outside looking in. That feeling persisted through my teenage years into young adulthood. It was only until I moved far, far away from my parents that I was finally able to relax a bit and enjoy the company of others.

My best time, socially, was in my my role as mother of two young daughters. This role gave me the opportunity to meet other parents at school, at the park...pretty much everywhere. And I loved it! We had things in common...something to talk about. (I'm not advocating having kids for expanding your social just happened that way).

There's also something funny that happens when you're forty...something rather surprising and nice and totally unexpected. I seemed to care less about what other people thought of me. I seemed to relax in my own skin. When I encountered somebody who didn't seem to like me, it didn't bother me as much. I no longer went out of my way to win people over. I learned to listen more and talk less. I suspect I used to talk too much...nervous disguise the fact that I felt uncomfortable. When I stopped doing that, I was better able to connect with others.

Here's a funny admission...but it's totally true. I began to observe how my teenage daughters behaved in groups of people. I noticed they don't feel compelled to drive the conversation...they can, well, just "hang." I've never done that well very. It seems to work very well for them. When they do talk, what they say is how they really feel (or it seems so)...their reactions are authentic and have range and depth. So at my advanced age, I began to practice it. I'd ask do you really feel about what the person just said...or did...and reacted accordingly. Basically, I had to dig deep to find out how I felt. I have to say it was pretty successful. I was amazed that I could retrain myself.

Please feel free to share your experience!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Question of Mental Illness

In a comment in response to "The Question of Forgiveness," Jeff raised a fascinating question...."Is the n-individual (for we are talking about an individual and not simply a category) , if they are 'mentally ill', mentally well enough to recognise how ill they are? Is their responsibility 'diminished' in the way that some defendants claim in legal cases?"

It really got me thinking. Do I think of my father as mentally ill? He was diagnosed in later life with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While he was able to hold a job, marry, save money and, in some ways, rise above a terrible childhood, he was a loner all his life and was incapable of forming lasting, reciprocal relationships. He could also be mean, demanding, needy and jealous.

I've always thought of my father as mentally...deficient. I used to wonder if he had a very low IQ. Before his diagnosis, I used to wonder what the heck was wrong with him because he certainly wasn't normal...he didn't act like other fathers. Mostly, I felt embarrassed.

I think Jeff managed to articulate ideas and concepts that would occasionally pop into my mind...fleeting and half-formed...and then poof!....would disappear.

Do YOU think of your narcissistic parent as mentally ill? Slightly disordered?

Here's what Jeff wrote (brilliantly I might add):
The trouble I find is this: one moment I'll make statements about my parents based on how medical categories shed light on their behaviour, then the next, having suggested they were in some way ill, I'll make other statements that suggest they had the same mental faculties as anyone else, as though they were no different and therefore not ill according to medical categories. This doublethink leaves me alternating on their level of responsibility, whether they had the capacity to do any differently than they did, and therefore whether they can be forgiven. To categorise them while assuming they were as responsible as the next person doesn't feel right somehow, as though I'm trying to have it both ways.
The difficulty with forgiveness may be this entrapment between the intellectualisation in understanding their behaviour in medical terms and the inevitable emotional turmoil in having had parents that denied parental love with impunity. The intellectual side relies on models whose helpful explanations explain away the parent's awareness. The emotional side then craves justice from a defendant whose capacity has just been called into question.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Question of Forgiveness

Some people are big on the concept of forgiving. Some have said you need to forgive the person/persons who harmed you.

Then there are other concepts floating the category of "Now What Do I Do With This Mess?" Some say we should try to understand the person who caused us so much grief.

When I've attempted to discuss the behavior of my narcissistic parents with select individuals, I'm often met with, "They didn't know any better; they were ignorant." This doesn't ring true. My aunts came from the same socioeconomic background and were loving, nurturing women.

My self-centered mother is long dead. While I felt sorry for her as I watched her suffer through Alzheimer's, frankly, I don't remember any authentic emotions of sadness or grief. When she started down dementia's spiral staircase, she spent most of the previous ten years giving me the cold, silent treatment for "abandoning" her to go away to college.

My father is fading fast with his dementia. I feel sorry for him, too. I know he wouldn't want to hang on in his terrible condition. Still, I don't feel any strong emotions...including hate. I used to loathe him...couldn't stand to even be in the same room with him. Okay, I still can't, but when I do spend time with him, I'm not a seething bag of resentment and fury.

Sometimes, I feel guilty I don't see him more often, but here's where the question of forgiveness comes in. I can't. I don't want to. I'd have to force myself to do it and I simply do not have the the will to overcome profound feelings of dread that accompany a visit. I can occasionally muster the energy to do so, but it does take its toll. He is well taken care of. I check on his welfare frequently. The woman who takes care of him is incredibly patient with his difficult behaviors (my father calls her and the staff the most horrible names you can imagine...his ability to lob insults is astounding).

So here's the deal. There are some things I could forgive. I could my parents treated me as an adoptee. It was pretty bad (I have a whole blog trying to work out that one), but I could chalk it up to the total dysfunction of the Closed Era of Adoption. Then there's just bad parenting. Okay, my parents were raised poor and had lousy parents themselves and didn't know any better. Check.

Here's what keeps me from actively forgiving my parents....the knowledge that they actively made the decision to cut me off emotionally (my mother) and financially (my father) at a very young age. This was very punitive. When I asked for help....once (a loan of $75) never came.

If I said I could forgive my parents...and really feel it...I'd be lying. Maybe I'll work my way around to it one of these days. I don't walk around, in real life, an angry person. I reserve "my angries" for this blog.

So if not forgiveness...what the heck else is there?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feeling Unsafe...and the Superwoman Complex

Billie shared in a comment her experience as a child getting a bone lodged in her tonsil...and subsequent "adventure" involving the highway, high rates of speed and quite a show of fatherly "concern." It's a doozie. (Poor Billie!) I've copied it below for ease of reading.

Based on my experience and those shared by readers here, the narcissistic parent will co-opt any misfortune suffered by their child and somehow make it all about them. Still, one would like to believe that their parent would rally and provide the necessary care and comfort if said child were sick or injured. Unfortunately, this is not the case. At least, not in my case and certainly not in the case of readers who've shared shocking stories about parents' disturbing reactions to serious illnesses such as cancer or the death of a spouse.

Knowing your parent is incapable of caring for you when you need them most is not just disappointing, it's....unsettling. You know...just are on your own.

In addition to the stress of coping with the problem or illness that has befallen you, you now carry the burden of trying to manage your parent as he carries on about how terribly worried he is and generally making things much, much worse.

The result, at least in my case, was to hide any bit of information that might be co-opted for dramatic purposes. My parents were the last people I'd tell if I needed help. (Rather late in life, in a weak moment, I told n-dad I was scared about the results of a medical test. I've already written about that. Not only was he unsupportive, he was angry. If I died, who was going to take care of him?)

The end result is...the development of a bad case of the superwoman complex. I hate asking for help. I'd rather do everything myself, thank you very much. No, no, I don't want a ride back from the dentist after a root canal...I'll call a cab. I hurt my foot on a walk with the cell phone in my pocket. Did I call my husband who was sitting at home...he would have been glad to pick me up. No, no...I hobbled home. I'm clobbered by the flu? I'll drag myself to work or make dinner for my kids and take the dog for a big deal. This is different from the martyr complex, because I don't go around sighing and pointing out how no one ever helps me. It just doesn't occur to me to ask for help...this habit of hiding misfortune is so ingrained.

Just this week, I figured out I have another problem: I feel very uncomfortable when people are nice to me. It's embarrassing. For example, a good friend offered me free flight passes. While I was very grateful, I refused them. I felt like I'd be taking advantage of her...or that I wasn't worthy of the gift. She insisted she had more (she worked for an airline) and that she'd given her passes to neighbors...who'd traveled lots of places on them...and to others she knew less well than me. Still, I kept refusing, until she insisted...and now I feel guilty that I'm planning a vacation on her passes. What's up with that???

Anybody else "do" this???

Here's Billie's story:

...when I was maybe 6 or 7, I got a fishbone stuck in one of my tonsils. It was uncomfortable, yes, but not an emergency. My father loaded all of us into the pickup and drove, like, 90 miles an hour with his face to his CB radio hand-held, screaming that his little girl was "choking on a fishbone." Really???? He didn't say jack to me when I was miserably sitting in the back, hoping no one was mad at me for causing all the uproar. He just wanted the truckers on I-80 to respond to him so he could feel important. We didn't even have to take the would have been closer to get to the doctor on the highway. This added some excitement and attention to Ndad's life...he couldn't quit talking about how worried he was about me and telling people days later about this. He must've sounded like such an ass to normal adults. "My baby was choking to death on a fish bone, and so I had to drive like a maniac to the emergency room so the doctor could remove it. I was SOOO WORRIED. I was almost sick over it. I don't know what I would have done if she had died."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh...Grow Up Already!

The flip side to the previous post...about narcissistic fathers acting like big the narcissistic mother acting like a helpless little girl.

One trait I've observed in my own n-parent, and I have no idea how universal this is, is their stubborn resistance to personal growth. They are unwilling to identify a behavior that causes them distress and work to change it...from within. The change, they insist, must come from external sources. In other words, they blame others. (Translation....WE are asked to change, constantly, to accommodate them)

As a result, my n-father had managed to reach old middle age without acquiring the perspective and wisdom usually associated with that age group. He remained....forever 13.

Susie shared her experience with her mother...and I thought it so well illustrated the broader point that I just had to copy and paste it! (Hope you don't mind, Susie). I also applaud her for directly confronting her parent, something I rarely did which I now wish I had! Of course, while we can't change our n-parent, there is something to be said for the satisfaction of sticking up for yourself, setting some boundaries and, well, letting it rip.

The way Susie's mother responds to the criticism...and the setting of, well, CLASSIC! A perfect example of how an n-parent goes into victim-martyr mode when you try to discuss their behavior, thereby escaping personal responsibility. (By contrast, my youngest daughter complained to my husband that he does this thing that really bothers her. He listened, apologized and promised to work on it...she felt acknowledged and respected...he was grateful to have the opportunity to fix something that would improve their communication/relationship).

I guess the big sad take-away is...the relationship with an n-parent is NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Still, for those of you trying to figure out if you're dealing with an n-parent, it's useful to have concrete here is an excellent "case study" written by Susie (credit to Susie for the post title).

I always felt that way about my Mom. That she should be less melodramatic and childish. Dad, on the other hand, always embraced the uber-macho-I-have-no-feelings-and-neither-should-you stuff.

Just as a current example: My mother volunteers at where she used to teach (she retired). My mother has never worked another job in her life, so he skill set and knowledge is extremely limited. She has an unfortunate habit of taking on tasks that she is unable to do without an enormous amount of support. So, naturally Dad, I, and my husband all get sucked into helping her with these projects. This year, she took on the task (among many, many others) to scan pictures into the computer for a compilation for the school year book. My mom is not very technologically savvy, so she ends up procrastinating and asking us a bajillion questions. In the end, we end up doing 95% of the work for her because she never learned how to use a computer.
I am SO fed up with helping her and I decided to put my foot down and say no. I told her that I can't do this anymore and that she needs to be able to take on tasks that she is able to do instead of committing herself to things that she doesn't know how to do because it always ends up being a shared burden. I also made the observation that things wait until the very last minute and that she needs to learn to coordinate her time more efficiently.
Ohhhh was such a bad idea to bring this up. She really laid on thick the "poor me" crap. In a justified and indignant voice, "YOU'RE RIGHT. I'm stupid and incapable and I won't EVER ask you for help again!" When I tried to clarify that she just needs to take on things that she can do alone without encroaching on our time, she says, "I know what I'm able to do! I can scrub floors. I can fold laundry and cook dinner too. Why don't I just do THAT?!"(as if by asking her to take on more reasonable tasks and to set personal boundaries with her volunteer job is somehow doing to coercing her into domestic subordination) and "THIS is what makes me happy! I like doing this!" (which sounds completely contrary to her stress and frustration she seems to have with the project. It also says to me that her feelings about being able to volunteer are more important than the fact that it doesn't make US happy having to do it for her).

When she brought out the poor me stuff, I couldn't handle it anymore. I said, "Oh, shut up! Don't try to play the 'poor me act'" to which she buried her face in her hands, starting to cry and said pitifully, "Ohhh WHYYYY are you doing this to me?!" I just got out of my chair and said, "When you're ready to start communicating with me, let me know."

MAN, that felt good, but of course, it accomplished nothing. It just told me how totally impossible N-parents are when it comes to communication. If it weren't so totally frustrating, it would be almost comedic how much self-pity N's have for themselves. It makes me want to say to her, "OH grow up already!!"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

For God's Sake....Man Up

When I was growing up, I had a bad case of father envy.

My own father, a childlike narcissist, was such a big baby there were times I wanted to scream, "Act like a man, for God's sake!"

When he went to the dentist, the pain was excruciating. Only he experienced that kind of pain. When he had a cold, only he got it that bad. When he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles, only he had to wait in such long lines. Everybody was out to get him. He was always the victim, the one who deserved pity.

There's was also something vaguely womanish about my father...gossipy in an old-biddy way...a little too gleeful about the misfortunes of others.

He was so shaken and stirred by any little set-back, so rattled by daily life, that I knew...just knew...I'd be on my own if there was a big earthquake and the building collapsed on top of me. My father wouldn't dig me out. Instead, he'd need to be resuscitated by the paramedics. When I was a kid and had to have a biopsy, he (and my mother) couldn't stay in the hospital with me because he was too upset.

And then I'd watch a Clint Eastwood film and wonder...why can't I have a father like that? You know, the strong silent type capable of defending those he loved? I also had a thing for Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus didn't follow his kids around pestering them with endless chatter. When his son was hurt, he didn't fall apart and turn the injury into his drama.

I suppose, at the bottom of all this, was the feeling that I was not safe. Ultimately, I was in charge. My father could not be counted on. He wasn't man enough. When the going got tough, he folded.

There's a unique aspect to being the parentified daughter...of a father: the man in your life is a scared little girl who needs your protection.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I've written about this before...maybe on my other blog.

Sometimes, it's difficult to tease apart the tangled mess of issues that are a result of having narcissistic parents...being adopted by self-centered parents....and just being adopted.

I have major abandonment issues. This is very common amongst adoptees. However, having seen my parents cut people off just like "that" (snap of fingers) when I was child, the threat of this actually happening seemed quite real. Later, my n-mother did cut me off when I went away to college. She stopped speaking to me.

Another issue I have is going unacknowledged.

This is a big one. Intellectually, I understand it. I believe I understand the root of the problem and I have tried my hardest to overcome it. Then this week, wham, it happened again and I am astonished that I allowed myself to re-enter the cycle.

So here it is in a nutshell:

Being the capable, people pleasing, good listener with pronounced tendencies to rescue, I became the confident of a certain relative. However, this relative only called when in crisis (3x a year) which involved lots of time and energy. Heck, it only took decades to realize she had no other use for me except as an occasional therapist. Still, that was progress. I pointed this out to the relative and she admitted she disappears after each crisis because she's embarrassed. Okay. So I sent an email and gave her a free pass. No response. I send another email. Zip. Six months pass. Relative calls husband's cell phone and talks to him. It now appears I may see her at a reunion. I send her an email about a travel deal. This too goes unacknowledged.

Now, I'm fuming and all churned up. For God's sake, I think, buck up!'re way too old to behave like a hurt child! Obviously, the relative is not a very nice person capable of a mature, reciprocal relationship...move on! But her behavior is, well, not only's kind of like catnip. I have to admit, also, to now hating the very mention of her name.

Going unacknowledged is a profound and disturbing experience...having had a childlike narcissistic father who never let me finish a sentence. Basically, I felt invisible to him.

When I go unacknowledged today...whether someone doesn't return a phone call, an email...or passes me without saying hello on the, well, scary and threatening. It's like being erased all over again. I know all this, but when it happened again, I was right back to where I started: extremely agitated.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Should She Stay or...Should She Go?

Since I was raised an only child of n-parents, I may be totally off the mark in my response, so I thought I'd post what Music Girl (she uses musical notes I can't duplicate, so I'm dubbing her Music Girl) had to say so she could benefit from the advice of others who were raised with siblings.

She wrote:

My two younger sisters are treated similarly but I bear the brunt of my parents narcissistic behaviour. Relatives, friends, and even my sisters point it out to me. That I shouldn't have to deal with so much shit from them. I've been numb to it for so long that I barely notice it now. The only time it upsets me is if, having come home from a good gig and screamed and moshed a bit and got my anger out, I come home tired and then get punched in the face. The good thing is I can shrug away the bruises as something I picked up in the mosh pit.

Anyway my main concern is that, although my sisters don't get treated the worst, if I move out - I'M NOT THERE TO BE MY PARENTS TARGET. Right now, if either of them does something wrong, they get a telling off but it all comes down to 'you learnt this from your eldest sister, didn't you?!'..
And then I'm the target.

When I move out to university- what'll happen? What if they turn to the next eldest one? What if, because of my absence and blatant rebellion/going against my parents wishes, they become more angry and controlling? What if they give my sisters EVEN more hell than they give me now?

I can be selfish. I can apply for a university I like purely because it's far away. I can stay out an hour or two past my curfew.
But I CAN'T leave/stand by whilst I know my younger sisters are going to get punched in the face for something I'VE done. I don't know what to do :(

This isn't just narcissistic behavior. This involves physical abuse.

I'm a little worried because in a previous post, I mentioned my mother slapped me. She did...several times...but that was in the "old days" and it wasn't very hard. Today, it would probably be considered abusive.

I did not mean to give the impression that slapping a child is in any way is acceptable. Your parents are hitting you hard enough to leave bruises! I strongly encourage you - for your safety and the welfare of your sisters - to either contact social services (or the equivalent of where you live) and enlist their services or, should
your parent(s) strike you again, to leave the house immediately and call the police and file a report.

In addition to the self-centered behavior you've described, your parents have crossed another boundary into even darker territory that requires firm, decisive action on your part. It is possible that your father has serious anger-management issues that could escalate. Your natural, age-appropriate desire for independence will continue to put you at odds with your father...enraging him further...possibly putting you at increased risk.

As for your sisters, perhaps the best thing you can do for them - besides calling social services - is to show them that you will not tolerate a role model, in other words. Show your sisters that leaving home IS possible and that life outside is a much healthier and happier place to be.

Readers...what's your take?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pssst...Your Mother is a Narcissist

An anonymous reader stopped by and posted this question to the teenager with the narcissistic mother:

"do you have any advice on how to make a teenager see that their mother is a manipulative, emotional vampire.."

I decided to post it because it's a very interesting question. Is it possible to help a teenager recognize their parent is narcissistic if they haven't yet figured it out? Are there any risks to doing so? What do you think?

Shoot, I can't remember exactly where I read which book...but it addressed that question. The answer was basically to give the child/teenager a safe place to explore his feelings after an "encounter" with the narcissistic mirror back to them their state of mind. For example, "you seem very upset right now." To be there to reassure the child they've done nothing wrong and, mostly, to listen non-judgmentally so they feel safe to continue talking about the n-parent so it doesn't feel the other adult is attacking their parent.

Easier said than done because I'm sure you just want to ring that parent's neck and call her every name in the book! If I remember where I read this, I'll post it.

At least your step-son has some people in his life who have his best interests at heart and who will see him for who he is!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The You-Owe-Me-Guilt-Speech

Watched Spencer Tracy's last movie, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, this weekend.

One scene left me gasping with recognition...the speech delivered by the African-American father to his 37-year old doctor/son when he realizes his son won't listen to reason and insists on marrying the white girl.

I'm not calling the father a narcissist, but man, that speech is awfully familiar! Substitute the mailman references with, "and after I fed and clothed you" and "drove you to school!" and it was the same speech meant to control my behavior through guilt.

If you see the movie, you'll see the way the father's face twists with fury and his intimidating body language. My mother did a lot of angry finger pointing in my face and much stomping about.

Sidney Poitier's brilliant "comeback" is my I would have LOVED to have articulated that very same reply!

Seem familiar, anybody?


Yeah, I know what you are
and what you've made of yourseIf.

But I worked my ass off to get the money
to buy you aLL the chances you had!

You know how far
I carried that bag in years?


And mowin' Iawns in the dark so you
wouIdn't have to be stokin' furnaces...

and couId bear down on the books.

There were things your mother should
have had that she insisted go for you.

And I don't mean fancy things.

I mean a decent coat.
A Iousy coat!

And you're gonna teLL me
that means nothin' to you....

and you couId
break your mother's heart?

You Llsten to me.

You say you don't want to teLL me
how to Llve my Llfe?

What do you think
you've been doing?
You teIl me what rights I've got
or haven't got...
and what I owe to you
for what you've done for me.

Let me teLL you something.

I owe you nothing.

If you carried that bag
a mllLlon miles...
you did what you
were supposed to do...
because you brought me
into this worId...
and from that day you owed me...
everything you couId ever do for me,
Llke I wlll owe my son...
if I ever have another.
But you don't own me.
You can't telI me when or where
I'm out of Llne
or try to get me to Llve my Llfe
according to your ruIes.
You don't even know
what l am, Dad.
You don't know who l am,
how I feeI, what I think.
And if I tried to explain it the rest of
your Llfe, you wouId never understand.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dear Teenager with Narcissistic Mother

A sixteen-going-on-seventeen year old stopped by and had a question. Her mother, she says, is narcissistic and she's worried that she'll be that way, too.

A few other kind readers offered wise words of reassurance. I'll echo them. Nah, don't worry about it. If you were headed down that path, it probably wouldn't even occur to you because you'd have little self-awareness. occasionally acted in a self-centered way and didn't like that about yourself, you can change that by simply being more mindful. I suspect, instead, you'll always be hypervigilant guarding against becoming narcissistic and will "err" on the side of being a super good listener, supportive, overly responsible, etc. Just my two cents, but I'd be more worried about becoming co-narcissistic than narcissistic at this point!

Because there are readers who stop by who were more recently teenagers than moi and even us oldsters can remember so clearly what it's like to deal with a narcissistic parent during the teenage years, here's a bit of what this young woman shared. It would be lovely if you could give her some feedback:

my n-mother seems hell bent on guilt tripping me and listing all the things she's done for me. it could be the 'teenage phase', as they call it, im going through but i disagree as she is exrtremely controlling and self-absorbed - to the point where she blamed me for a car accident she had because she was continuously complaining about me. NOTE: at this time i was in an exam during school. i came home to find her waiting for me so she vent out her anger at me and give me a lecture over the problems i'd caused. i'm the reason she has a bad knee, the reason she gets angry most of the time - lets say all bad stuff. i get very frustrated as im not allowed to participate much in outside activities and she very much told me straight up that im not allowed to have a social life.yes, teenage problems but my frustration is beginning to worry me and cut into my abilities in performing in life/school:sleep deprivation. spent many years trying to make our relationship work but how is one possible if there is only one talking and directing it?

First, I admire your initiative in researching the problem. Obviously, you are a very intelligent young woman capable of being proactive.

Your biggest this point...due to your very young age is what you're going to do now that you've identified the problem. I mean, it's one thing to be out of the house and deal with it then, it's another that you are still a minor (with legitimate needs) dependent upon a self-centered mother.

Rosa had a great suggestion...I agree...let your fingers ZOOM across the keyboard to click on the daughters of narcissistic mothers website link.

I have no idea what your health care situation is. Some families have mental health insurance that would cover therapy. Is it possible to find out if you have access to such services? You could say you are feeling a tad anxious or worried about insomnia and would like to talk to a professional (be prepared for your mother to make that into her drama). Perhaps you could ask your high school counselor (only if you trust that person) for a recommendation for free teen counseling services.

I think it would be highly beneficial for you to see a real person/therapist who could listen to your concerns. While the online world is a wonderful, safe place....I can't tell you how much I loved my therapist, how nurturing and supportive she was...and how much I gained from know...talking without being interrupted for once!

Just joking...but you are a mighty powerful person if you can give your mother a BAD KNEE!

Hah! I was responsible for my mother's bad back! I can sooooo relate! RIDICULOUS!!!

What do you mean you are not allowed to have a social life? Are you a sophomore, junior? Do you think your mother will allow you more social opportunities when you're a bit older? Is there a cultural reason behind this? For example, some of my daughter's friends are Persian or Asian and their parents are much stricter than, say, I am.

That said, you mentioned lots of behaviors that take me right back to my own teenage years...and made me cringe! It's so awful to have to tiptoe around...fearing what you'll be blamed for next...and to feel like you are TRIPWIRED to your mother's central nervous system!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Narcissistic Parents and Therapy

HoldFast read the article about co-narcissism and wondered if anybody had narcissistic parents who'd actually go to therapy. If not, would you dare suggest the idea? As always, please feel free to share your experience/thoughts.

Here's what the author had to say:

Narcissistic people blame others for their own problems. They tend not to seek psychotherapy because they fear that the therapist will see them as deficient and therefore are highly defensive in relation to therapists.........Co-narcissistic people, however, are ready to accept blame and responsibility for problems, and are much more likely than narcissists to seek help because they often consider themselves to be the ones who need fixing.

My father, a childlike narcissist who needed me to parent him, had two distinct traits:
1. Complete inability to listen to other the point it seemed there might be a neurological disturbance; talked non-stop;
2. Total lack of empathy for others; simply could not understand that other people had needs or feelings; (example: when I told him I needed to know where I spent the first month of my life--foster home?hospital?--he said it didn't matter because it wasn't important to him where I'd been);

When I read this bit about blame...the lights went off. My father never, ever took responsibility...for anything. My mother was a blamer, too. She blamed me for making her sick or my father sick.

My father would make bad decisions and later, somehow, blame me when things went wrong. Once, he insisted on having an optional surgery against the recommendation of his doctor and over my pleas not to do it, then scheduled the surgery secretly for the day before my (non-refundable) family vacation. He suffered a complication at home...requiring 24/7 after-care...then blamed me for a) not finding the best surgeon; b) making him stay in a skilled nursing facility and c) told everybody at said facility that I'd abandoned him to go on a vacation.

I grew up hearing the following from my mother:
--You're cold
--You're selfish
--You don't love me
--I think there's something radically wrong with could you ______
--.....and after all I've done for you
--.....after after all I've put you through.

So when Pisces6 wrote the following, I could totally connect.

Getting my parents into therapy? Hah! They're more likely to send me to therapy saying there's something wrong with me. They'll probably be insulted if I ever mention such a thing.

My mother would have happily gone to a therapist....if it had been more acceptable to her socioeconomic class and culture...if she thought the therapist would examine me. I could just imagine how it would play out. She'd sit there and point at me and list all my faults...then gaze expectantly at the therapist...positive he would conclude that I was cold and selfish.

In his later years, my father did have to see a psychologist and guess what happened? He was diagnosed with NPD.

For those of you who don't have time to read the article on co-narcissism (link in previous post) written by Alan Rappaport, PhD, here is the abstract:

This article introduces the term "co-narcissism" to refer to the way that people accommodate to narcissistic parents. I use the term narcissism here to refer to people with very low self-esteem who attempt to control others' views of them for defensive purposes. They are interpersonally rigid, easily offended, self-absorbed, blaming, and find it difficult to empathize with others. Co-narcissistic people, as a result of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents, work hard to please others, defer to other's opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems. They fear being considered selfish if they act assertively. A high proportion of psychotherapy patients are co-narcissistic. The article discusses the co-narcissistic syndrome and its treatment, and gives case examples of patients who suffer from this problem.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Sometimes, when I'm talking to certain friends or certain relatives, I find myself doing all the listening as the person goes on and on about their latest project or problem.

Later, I'll hang up the phone or return from coffee, entirely frustrated...and I'll vent to my husband that ______ was annoyingly and obnoxiously self-centered.

This seems to happen to me a lot, actually.

Possibility No 1: The role of listener is what I'm used to, having never been allowed to finish a single sentence in the presence of my my entire exaggeration.

Possibility No 2: I hold myself back in conversations and ALLOW the other person to the fill the void.

Sometimes, I wonder if there's some way I behave that seems to bring out the Boor in people. In fact, I was just thinking about this when I rediscovered this article written by Alan Rappaport, PhD, about co-narcissism. This is something he addressed at the top of page three.

He wrote: "Their tendency to be unexpressive of their own thoughts and feelings and to support and encourage others' needs creates something of an imbalance in their relationships, and other people may take more of the interpersonal space for themselves as a result, thereby giving the impression that they are, in fact, narcissists, as the co-narcissists fears."


The one thing I like about a that there's something I can actually do to lessen my frustration and to have more meaningful, reciprocal encounters. I can take up...oooo!....half-the space. Okay, I'd be thrilled with a third!

Here's a link to the article:

Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate to Narcissistic Parents [PDF]

There's much worth discussing...let me know which themes are of greatest interest and I can start up future, separate posts.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Behind the Mask

Jeff posed this interesting question, so thought I'd post it for discussion:

Regarding the alignment in several comments here of NPD with sociopathy, I wondered what anyone might think about the possibility that their N relative's apparent lack of empathy and need to lay on guilt trips was both a mask for and projection of an underlying and intolerable burden of guilt?

Funny you ask this, Jeff, because I was just discussing my dad's particular brand of narcissism with my husband. My husband said he's always been struck by my father's total lack of empathy...and total lack of self-awareness in general. In the case of my parent, I suspect he didn't feel guilty. He felt incredibly victimized and conducted his life as an angry victim...demanding compensation for what he did not receive as a child.

However, I wouldn't classify him in the malignant narcissist category...even though he left a long trail of destruction! I've been shocked by some of the stories shared here and elsewhere where narcissism is bound up with intentionally malicious actions.

If you are better qualified to take a stab at Jeff's question, please do!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Guilt Trips

If I had to name one feeling that has followed me around all my's guilt.

You know how humans are basically giant bags of water....biologically speaking? Psychologically speaking...I was a bag of guilt.

I clearly remember feeling guilty at a fairly young age because I had the power to make my parents sick. If I was naughty, I gave my dad a stomachache. If I annoyed my mother, she'd say, "You don't know what you're putting me through."

When my high school boyfriend broke up with me and I stumbled in the house, crying my eyes out, my mother was furious because I'd managed to scare her to death and she slapped me (not very hard)...she'd thought I'd been raped. She went to her room, highly upset, saying I'd put her through an ordeal.

My announcement that I was going away to college, years older than the typical student, was met with accusations that I was abandoning them, "after all we've done for you."

In fact, my mother was really big on reminding me of all the stuff they'd ever done for me...whether I'd asked for them or not.

After my mother died due to complications of Alzheimer's (she became docile...nice to be around as the disease advanced) and my father was alone, he went into overdrive laying on the guilt. He'd say stuff like:
"Don't forget about me, you're all I've got now" (I'm an only child);
"I'm so lonely, where are you?"
"I just wanted to hear your voice" (then he'd proceed to talk the entire conversation and wouldn't let me say a word)

Of course, I asked my father - repeatedly - to move closer to me so I could see him more often and help him out. He refused. Then created situations that forced me to travel 400 miles to rescue him. Until I put my foot down.

Of course, he told all the neighbors and anybody who'd listen about what a lousy daughter I was, that I'd taken their retirement money for my college education (they refused to help/I paid ever single penny) and then abandoned him in his old age. I was, to say the least, mortified.

The thing is...we could never just have a parent-child relationship without the guilt. The guilt was a like third person in our family...the one that held the whip.

Personally, I'd feel silly trying to make my daughters feel guilty, mostly because it takes a lot of theatrics and heavy sighing and they'd probably laugh.

The only weapon against The Guilt Trip is achieving Emotional Detachment. I finally, finally don't feel guilty anymore...although I sometimes do feel the occasional pang of guilt...but nothing like Crippling Guilt.

I've come to think of Emotional Detachment as the secret weapon against the narcissist's secret weapon...a state of enlightenment that is only achieved after much practice.

As always, please feel free to share your opinions, thoughts and stories!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Taking Care of Daddy

This is actually an ad promoting adoption in India. It's several years old now. As an adoptee, I found it disturbing.

Now, I've come to think of it as one of the best depictions of the parentified child.

Just looking at the photo makes me feel anxious, uneasy and....trapped.

For as long as I could remember, my father has been needy and childlike...more like a 13-year old boy than a man. He'd follow me around the house, talking, talking, talking. I'd have to go to the bathroom to escape the chatter.

I have an ongoing debate with a childhood friend about the characteristics of narcissistic families.

Many of the things I cite as examples of self-centered behavior are attributable - she says - to culture. In specific, our Latino culture in which children, especially girls, are expected to place family above all other considerations. That we were, culturally, expected to be our mother's companion and that, even after marriage, stay close to home to continue our caretaking duties. College had not been an option for them and, for us, was considered unnecessary and frivolous.

This is a tough question.

What's a somewhat normal, acceptable level of parentification within a culture...and when does it cross the line into something closer to pathological?

On the one hand, you could look at my parents - second generation Mexicans - and say they were like that because they'd been raised poor, were undereducated and pretty ignorant and treated me like chattel...because they knew no better and that's how the culture treated kids. (I've read that, besides Latinos, there's a lot of parentification in Asian and African American family systems)

Then again, my father was late-in-life diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder so in my case, maybe it's a combination of both: pathology and culture.

Sometimes - as in mine - culture seems like a big, fat excuse for the inexcusable...a sort of "Oh well, they didn't mean it, they really loved you."

But it didn't feel like that. I didn't feel loved. If a parent loved you, wouldn't they visit you in the hospital when you were sick? Wouldn't they be there for you when you needed comfort or reassurance? Couldn't they pull it together long enough to see you through a crisis? If the answer is no, they didn't, then I'm guessing there's something more than culture to explain it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Refusing to Pay It Forward

This is my second post today. I was going to delete the last felt too yucky...but decided to let it stand because, dammit, it's the way I feel about my aging narcissistic father who now has dementia. I really, truly wished I liked the man. I feel sorry for him. I'm not without sympathy and compassion, but I just can't love him. Because I don't - even at this sorry stage of his life - I feel guilty. I know I shouldn't, but I do.

Out of the whole mess that is our dysfunctional relationship...there is something positive worth noting. The fact that I have refused to pay it forward...on my daughters.

I was just reminded of this by Just Me, who wrote:

Oh yea, I was brought up being told I was lazy, selfish, ungrateful, etc. I was never told I was good at something or did a great job. I was invisible...unless of course I was annoying her...then I was raged at. And by annoying, I mean, asking for basic needs, permission to do things, eat things, go places.

......I am proud to say I have never...NEVER...caused my children to cry. What a concept!
(see Rich Inner Lives comments for full quote)

It IS a concept! It is hopeful and positive and wonderful and amazing! That we adult children of narcissists - through mindfulness - can choose not to manipulate or control or subject our children to conditional "love." To stop the madness!

Don't get me wrong. I am not a perfect parent, far from it. I've managed to annoy the hell out of my kids...all by myself...without my parents help. I've learned to apologize for my mistakes and mean it. I've never given them the cold, silent treatment to try to control them. I've done my best to listen without interrupting and let them express their feelings...even when it's highly uncomfortable because they are pissed off and raging. That said, there are days when I cringe because I know that I overreacted or mishandled something with my kids, but I keep trying to improve my parenting skills...this is a very satisfying experience...something I CAN and the way I choose to behave.

The Fading, Aging Narcissist

Talked to my father yesterday.

He has dementia, but still recognizes people. I no longer feel the intense dread and stomach churning I used to experience before contact. He's no longer able to say really crushing things, although he can manage to lob the occasional well-aimed insult that can take your breath away.

He was a loner all his life. He never had one, single friend as far as I knew. He'd hang out with somebody for a short time, then take against them and never talk to them again after some sort of drama.

He was always suspicious of other people's motives. When I was growing up, he'd tell me that my friends didn't really like me, that they were just using me (for car rides, for example) and that my boyfriend(s) didn't really like me...they just wanted s-e-x.

Loner though he was, he suffered great loneliness. Especially as he aged. Before dementia set in, he wanted me to be his everything. I found this to be an overwhelming burden...especially after a lifetime of neglect. He'd call at all times of the day and say things like, "I just wanted to hear your voice," "I'm so lonely, don't forget about me," and "I'm calling to let you hear my voice with a sore throat...don't I sound sexy?"

It's nearly impossible to reconcile his neediness and expectation that I was to fill the vast void with recollections such as mine: the time he (and my mother) left me alone in the hospital because it was too uncomfortable there and they were "too upset"...the time he was angry that I might have cancer, because I might die and then who would take care of him? I knew I never could rely on my father, so never bothered him with any problems.

Now, whenever I visit or call...these dark memories follow me around.

He's fading, but the nasty memories are not. Yet. When I'm in contact with him, I may not be as upset as I once was, but little bits and pieces of the past waft around, like an unpleasant odor.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rich Inner Lives

An anonymous commenter stopped by to share some well-articulated observations...including that thing we no doubt all do at some point...wonder if there's any "point" to our painful experience as children of narcissists.

For me, I think of it - especially considering that I was placed by a social worker in the clutches of a childlike man who himself needed parenting - as a crap shoot. I could have gone to some fairly normal people eager to give a child a home. Instead, the dice rolled and I ended up parentified...where the child-parent roles were reversed. No real point to it. Just...Really Bad Luck.

For those of you born into narcissistic families, you have a different challenge making sense of it. In some ways, it's harder. I at least can console myself with the undisputed fact that I'm not actually related to my parents. I have a nice fantasy world that I could retreat where my first family was warm and loving and nurturing and where I was allowed to finish the occasional sentence. Believe me, I escaped to my fantasy world whenever I got the chance. (Before anybody gets too excited, my birth mother has her major issues, but one still likes to dream)

So I was really interested when the anonymous commenter shared this observation:

More recently I think about how this experience has affected my development of creative talents, and perhaps that was part of the point. N's don't have an inner life of imagination and dreams, but the non-n children of n's often do have a rich inner life. Often, our imaginations are the only place in which we receive nurturing. So maybe part of the point was to develop our imaginations in some special way. I bet there isn't a non-n child of an n-parent who doesn't have a great imagination and creative ability.

(emphasis mine--this concept rings so true!)

Sometimes, it's hard to find the upside of being raised by narcissists, but it is comforting and probably fairly healthy to try and find at least some positives!

In addition to developing a rich inner life, I bet you are:

--responsible (okay, maybe overly responsible)
--a good listener (this is what happens when you're not allowed to talk)
--proactive (trying to head off the next crisis)
--diplomatic (forced to smooth over troubled waters when your parent insulted somebody)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Elderly Narcissistic Parent Dilemma

If we were to approach this in the manner of an accountant, with neat little columns and an unsentimental eye, you can see how the numbers don't really add up.

Column One: What your parents did for you.

Column Two: What you're now expected to do for your parents.

If you have the lousy lucky of having narcissistic parents, then Column One is a bit of a disappointment. The basics of child-rearing may have been covered, like food, shelter and clothes. The stuff other parents did for their kids you probably didn't get. In fact, you probably had to do stuff for them.

In my case, the roles somehow got switched around and I ended up taking care of my needy, childlike father...blah, blah, blah...and don't get me started on my self-absorbed mother who couldn't stay with me in the hospital when I was a kid and had a cancer-scare because it was too uncomfortable. (Plus, she was too upset and didn't I know what I was putting her through)

So basically, Column One is screwed up. Where there should be parental entries...hey!...there's your name instead! At the bottom of Column One, the parents are running a deficit.

Hop on over to Column Two...that's the really scary one. That's the column with just your name appearing and who knows how long those narcissistic parents are gonna last.

See, that's the dilemma, folks. No bank of goodwill to drawn upon in the tough times. No fond memories of mom sitting by your bedside reading a book to comfort you, no recollection of Dad saying something goofy yet strangely reassuring when your boyfriend broke up with you. No, nada, none. Didn't exist.

Yet, somehow, you're expected to jump up and say...yippee...I have no problem taking on the responsibility of caring for aging narcissistic parent(s)!

Let me be a warning to the rest of you. Although I wouldn't change what I've done, I have now entered my - GASP - seventeenth year of dealing with aging narcissistic parents. It started early in my case, as my mother developed early onset dementia...a decade before I even knew what the term "self-absorbed parent" meant.

This means my columns - technically speaking - are now "equal." My parents raised me to seventeen. I've been financially responsible for myself since then. If one thinks of this in terms of what "we owe" our parents...I'm clear!

I've now contributed seventeen years of my life to helping manage aging parents. I have never, except for a few days and it almost killed me, done the hard work of bathing, changing adult diapers or any of that stuff - so nobody gets the wrong idea - although I do order my father's incontinence gear from Sam's Club.

(Oh my gosh. Is there a link between narcissism and the later development of dementia?)

So it has gone, folks. Most of those years, by the way, were spent in the misery of ignorance...not knowing that my parents were narcissistic...rushing around in a frenzy trying to prove that I was the good, dutiful, perfect daughter...a walking, talking case of generalized anxiety, a raging hypochondriac with a taste for Xanax.

Back to those columns. They never have and never will add up. When other people - who have annoying parents or garden-variety dysfunctional parents - call you ungrateful or try to tell you that you OWE your parents your life because they fed you baby bottles or wiped your butt....fuck 'em. Seriously. Don't even try to argue. Nod your head. Then do your own thing. Do your best. Act as humanely and responsibly as you can. Plan. Anticipate. Use your leverage - you will have it if you're parents have pissed everybody else off and need you - to design a workable solution that may involve some tough in our case...but it did work and I can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that my father is well cared for...even if I'm not doing it with my own little hands.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Seeking A Second Opinion...on your parent(s)

If you've read some of my past posts, you'll know that I've always been "creeped out" by my narcissistic, childlike father. In fact, at one point, my therapist asked if I'd ever been sexually abused by him, so strong were (are) my feelings of revulsion.

When I was fifteen and a father-daughter dance loomed in the future, I spent an entire month dreading the prospect of having to slow dance with my father under a giant disco ball. Yuck. It was even yuckier and more disgusting than I'd allowed myself to imagine. After figuring out the whole narcissistic-parent thing, I decided that I felt this way because my father had managed to cross every boundary...etc., etc.

Recently, I spent an afternoon talking with a childhood friend of my now dead mother (self-absorbed, controlling). Let's call her Jane, a woman I greatly admire and respect. (Why couldn't someone like that have adopted me?)

We got to talking about my father. Jane always asks after my father's health, but I've always suspected she's never liked him much. Maybe because Jane is 80-something and not in great health herself, Jane admitted the reason she and my mother drifted apart for a long time: my father. Jane said she found my father, well, creepy in a way that was hard for her to describe. She said he insisted on being a part of their conversations and tried to monopolize their conversations. She said it was obvious he resented sharing his wife with her friends. She also said my mother's sisters and brothers-in-law didn't like him, either...and thought he was "weird."

Jane said she and other people felt very sorry for me having a father "like that."

I feel sorry for me, too.

But here's the thing. Jane gave me a gift. I'm not crazy nor was I crazy. There was something "off" about my father and other people noticed. Too bad nobody told me this sooner. It would have spared me a whole lotta grief and second-guessing myself. I thought I was evil and a bad, ungrateful daughter for harboring such feelings.

In fact, getting a second opinion on my father was so validating - such a big relief - I'm surprised it hadn't occurred to me before.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It.....Baggage

Have been mulling this over since we dropped our oldest daughter off at college...the huge difference in the way she separated from her parents (us) and the way I, with much difficulty and drama, separated from mine.

Our daughter went with support, careful planning and lots of mini-lessons on how to bank, shop, do laundry, take public transportation, etc. In a way, we'd been working for years on preparing her for this transition. (Interestingly, a college counselor at a parent orientation warned mothers and fathers NOT to burden their new college student with family problems, guilt trips or pleas to come home because mommy misses him/her). Said daughter doing well!

On the contrary, I was - technically - able to leave home at the age of eighteen when I began working full time. While I was saving money to go away to college, I now wonder why I waited so long to move out of the family home...being as miserable as I was.

Looking back, I now understand that instead of positively preparing me, my self-absorbed parents expended their time and energy trying to sabotage a healthy transition to the adult world.

Beginning in my teens, my parents began to issue dire warnings about the hazards of moving away from home. I'd be raped. I was too spoiled to manage on my own. I'd be kicked out because I was too messy and I wouldn't know how to pay bills on time. Any attempt to counter these gloom and doom predictions were met with snide comebacks like, "You think you're so smart, but you don't know anything," and "You have no idea what the real world is like. It'll spit you out."

On some level, I must have internalized their scary view of my future because even though I desperately wanted to, I always found an excuse not to move out. Until I finally did, years later, with an incredible amount of exhausting drama. (I've written about that earlier, so I won't rehash that).

Instead of helping me build life skills, they seemed intent on tearing me down....reaping doubt...mocking my quest for independence.

I didn't so much leave home as ripped myself away.

I remember getting the acceptance letter to a college 400 miles away, sitting on the toilet and hyperventilating. The time had finally come. I was going to leave home. This time, I wouldn't change my mind. I steeled myself for what might come. And sure enough, it did. A tsunami of anger, resentment, ill-will and an onslaught of predictions of failure. Their fall-back and favorite prediction was that I'd get raped, for sure.

When I refused to listen to "reason," my mother stopped talking to me. By the time my bags were packed, my head felt the size of a balloon with a tension headache. When I finally made it to college, I was so wrung out by the experience of that awful, unnatural separation that I simply couldn't enjoy it, at least, not for a long time. And when I did, I felt guilty.

I have no idea if leaving home...the hard a common experience of children of narcissists. If you'd like to share, please do. I'll collect the experiences and add them to a later post so it's easier for people to read.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Recommendation

As I'm on the lookout for (new to me) books about narcissistic parents, I was very happy to receive a recommendation from commenter/n-parent survivor Susie. Since this book may not be as well known as some of the others, I thought I'd share her review for those of you seeking more information:

The following contributed by Susie (copied from a comment/slightly shortened)

I really enjoyed reading "The Narcissistic Family" by Robert Pressman and colleagues. I read it for a I don't know if it is easy reading for the general public, but from a survivor's point of view, the book was extremely helpful.

It also helped me better understand the structure of therapy and that everything that my therapist did had a purpose; that it wasn't just mindless rabble or simply the process rehashing painful memories.

It also taught me that individuals don't have to be officially diagnosed for the family structure/system to be "narcissistic" a.k.a.: self-absorbed. A lot of people who are dealing with narcissistic families/parents/partners etc are hesitant to give it a name or label for fear of "therapizing them". The book speaks more about the relational style of narcissistic families rather than the specific pathology of the narcissistic individual.

(Thank you, Susie! Ordered it from Amazon.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ghost Parents

I'm luckier than most adult children of narcissists. I no longer have to deal with a difficult, demanding narcissistic parent and all the dilemmas and anxiety that poses.

My self-absorbed mother, who specialized in cold, punishing silences and angry outbursts, gradually softened as her Alzheimer's progressed. By her third year into the disease, she'd evolved into an entirely different person, smiling and always pleased to see me. While this transformation was a blessing, it was a mixed one. It made resolving the relationship impossible. Instead of some sort of conscious decision on my part how to proceed with my mother, I could only watch her fade away...leaving me to grapple with a lifetime of bad memories and all sorts of uncomfortable feelings.

My childlike narcissistic father became worse with the onset of Lewy Body dementia, what few filters he possessed zapped by this progressive disease of the frontal lobes. If he was difficult before the dementia, he became exponentially challenging afterward. It was like the Perfect Storm...a man with little judgment who says whatever he likes, no matter how hurtful, is impacted right smack in the judgment center of the brain! A visit with him required a thicker skin than an elephant. I watched in amazement as he managed to infuriate a geriatric doctor...who dumped my father as a patient.

But now, my father too has finally faded. He's still unpleasant and occasionally mean, but he's too far gone to pick up the phone and harass me. He's lost the power to make my daily life miserable. He's become a ghost while still living.

Here's the thing. My narcissistic parents continue to haunt me. What they did. What they didn't do. I think of them off. Daily. Whenever I see parents with children, walking the neighborhood, at the store. When I'm with my own daughters, seeing one off to college, the other through a tough break-up, these milestones trigger some terrible and sad memories that come unbidden.

Maybe this is another phase. Maybe it's the final phase before finally Letting Go. Maybe my father will have to die first before I can put this long and painful chapter behind me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feeling Powerless in Relationships

Until now, I hadn't realized that for most of my life I'd acted like a victim in some relationships.
I knew I had a problem, but I hadn't quite framed it that way.

If you knew me in real life, this might make you chuckle, because I'm not meek nor am I a mousy pushover. I'm an extrovert who has no problem being alone. I have held jobs that have required me to take charge and, occasionally, make tough decisions.

In my personal life, I have unfortunately gravitated to people with narcissistic tendencies...who did most of the talking, called the relationship shots, set the tone, called when they needed a shoulder to cry on...those one-sided relationships that are highly frustrating, exhausting and, ultimately, disappointing.

If you've read books about narcissistic parents, you'll be familiar with the theories as to why we are attracted to the very personality type that made us so miserable in the first place.

Then Susie wrote this in a recent comment:

After living with parents who pretend to be empathetic, it is really difficult to determine people's motives or if they have ulterior motives at all. It's taken me a very long time to stop becoming a victim in relationships.

It struck me...besides the whole gravitating toward narcissistic types...that I too had allowed myself to become a victim in my relationships.

By that I mean I honestly felt powerless to take charge, to help shape the dynamic, express my needs. Sure, I'd complain to others about so-and-so, I'd talk behind their back with a third party and avoid, sometimes with near athletic prowess, actually confronting said person.

Recently, an old friend asked for my time and help in a project of hers and I agreed. I gave her almost one whole day of my weekend and did an errand for her to boot. When she tried to tell me how I should dress for this event, she was quite insulting. My daughter was shocked. She said my friend was acting like a total, ungrateful bitch. I was taken aback. My daughter said she didn't waste her time on people like that and was surprised that I put up with it. My husband heard the insult, too, and he said I hadn't imagined was pretty bad...that she was pretty bad, too...unrelentingly self-absorbed and pointed out that my friend had not allowed anyone else to speak...she was so busy talking about her project.

The point my mind...I wasn't so clear. It's like when I'm around a person like that...I just sort of lose's like I'm pulled into their sphere of influence and I can't think clearly...which leads to me feeling powerless. It's an old, ugly, familiar dynamic. A person acts a certain way. Then I act this way. Around non-narcissistic people, I'm not a victim. I can assert myself. It's the narcissists that seem to have a special hold on me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Really Mean Old Parents

Hah! I called that one!

Recently, a neighbor complained that the elderly man who lives next door has horrible, selfish adult children who've abandoned him in his time of need and rarely visited.

The old guy is a character and seems nice enough, but then again, so did my narcissistic father who turned me into his emotional caretaker and sucked me dry. I know for a fact that some neighbors and family members called me a horrible, selfish, ingrate because I rarely visited after I left home.

"Who knows?" I told my neighbor. "Bob (named changed) might be an okay guy, but he might be a nasty, abusive parent. There may be a good reason his kids don't visit. Or you may be right. They could be selfish pigs." My neighbor conceded one never does know what goes on behind closed doors.

Well, the door opened wide enough for me to get a peek inside and it wasn't pretty, folks.

The maligned horrible, selfish adult daughter had taken her father out in her car and when I was walking by, dog in tow, I heard her explain - nicely - that she needed to get going because she'd left her dog inside all day and she needed to let him out and go potty.

Bob responded by saying, "I don't give a shit! What do I care? Get the hell out of here?" (This shouted in the ugliest possible tone of voice, complete with flailing arms and twisted facial expression)

"But Dad!" the woman protested.

"I said I don't give a shit about you or your goddamned dog. Just leave, dammit!"

I fled the scene, grateful the old bastard wasn't my father. Now I'm not saying the old coot was a narcissist. Maybe he was just a Difficult Old Fucker. And no, the man does not have dementia. By all accounts, he's sharp as a tack. Some neighbors think he's funny. Maybe he's funny around non-relatives. To his daughter, who came to help him, he was a Really Big Douche Bag.

And you know what I'm betting? He was always like that to his kids, hence the lack of visits.

In witnessing that one minute exchange, I imagined a lifetime of emotional abuse endured by this woman who finally solved her problem by limiting contact. Because of her decision, she may also come in for public scoldings by scandalized neighbors or family members who know nothing of her situation and don't care to, more concerned about voicing their indignation.

Adult children with really awful aging parents who need them after abusing them have few choices, especially if there aren't financial resources to throw at the problem.

The best choice (in my mind): OUTSOURCE...limit contact...make sure they are cared for but don't do it yourself.

If that option is not available, you have my complete and utter sympathy. Really. It's awful to finally come to terms with the kind of parent you have, just in time for said parent to begin declining...further requiring your time and energy. Oh, the tragedy.

I can only imagine the state of mind the poor woman left in as she drove away from her father's house.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Managing a Narcissistic Parent

As I catch up on comments made during my (unintended) absence, I came across this:

buddy said...

My daughter decided (with much guilt) to not invite my parents to her child's baptism because "I really want to have a special event that's not about Grandpa." I could have cried because I realized that ALL of our holidays, weddings, graduations and other family events are ALWAYS about how we planning to deal with my dad.

Buddy's daughter made the right choice, as bad as it made her feel. No doubt, Buddy was supportive even though he too felt bad that his father couldn't safely be invited to such an important family event. It's possible that Buddy's daughter was setting the stage for the future...putting the interests of her child before the grandfather after enduring a lifetime of ruined occasions. I cringe thinking of how this narcissistic grandparent must have behaved for the granddaughter to make such a difficult (brave) decision.

My own father ruined: the birth of first daughter (drama involving "bad back"--back never to pose problem again); birth of second daughter (visited with mother in early stage Alzheimer's, kept secret, then left me alone w/mother, newborn and toddler...mother hallucinates, endangers baby and runs out into the street). Instead of bonding w/babies, I was attending to parental needs. Husband took care of babies.

Besides the trauma of having a narcissistic parent, there's also the additional challenge of MANAGING THE NARCISSISTIC PARENT. This is a constant, anxiety provoking exercise, filled with anger and resentment that you can't have a semi-normal Thanksgiving or reunion like other families where Aunt Clara nods off because she drank too many wine spritzers or the 40-year old twins start sniping like teenagers.

We're not talking about the usual family dysfunction. We're talking about trying to ward off the narcissistic parent or grandparent going nuclear because they are not the center of attention. The worrying often begins weeks before the event. What would it be like if we didn't invite N? Wouldn't that be nice! No, we can't possible exclude him! That would be mean! What if N found out? Okay, we'll take turns sitting with N and divert him so Ashley can open her birthday presents and, for once, enjoy center stage. How can we keep N from making a toast and speech that goes on for an hour? What if N starts going on about how hard he worked and starts listing everything he's done for his ungrateful brats?

We become expert at running through scenarios and planning exit strategies. We're fast and nimble at scurrying about, trying to limit the damage...making excuses, smoothing down ruffled feathers, always trying to appease our parent so we can just get through the fucking event without a major meltdown. And when we finally get home, we realize...nope...despite our best efforts...the narcissistic parent or grandparent has done it yet again! Ruined another occasion.

Even going out to a simple breakfast with my narcissistic father was an exhausting experience. He'd leech onto the waitress and talk her ear off or turn around and start yakking at the poor people trying to enjoy their meal next to us or have some sort of drama because another family was seated first or the waitress slighted him because she forgot he always had three eggs instead of two.

Of course, the narcissistic grandparent is not capable of actually helping with the grand kids. They don't do usual stuff like running them to the potty during a restaurant meal or occasionally babysitting or making them cookies or calling when Ashley gets a fever of 103. They are good at talking about how upset they are about Ashley's fever or that they were putting aside money for Ashley's college education, thereby endangering their own retirement.

The truth is...there IS no way to manage the narcissistic parent or grandparent. We try. God, how do we try. Sometimes, we go through extraordinary lengths to contain them, not unlike some scene out of Jurassic Park when the T-Rex is on the loose. Our narcissistic parent careens about...wrecking havoc...except we can't go running away, screaming. When we look over our shoulder, panting and desperate to escape, we discover we're actually chained to them!

Unfortunately, the only way to manage the narcissistic parent or grandparent is to haul out the bolt cutters and cut the chain and say, "bye-bye!"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Empathy...Zip...None

Had a totally frustrating conversation with an old friend. We were discussing how our parents (may) have impacted how we turned out. My friend has a Difficult Mother and a Difficult Father.
She kept saying all parents are imperfect and went on to say so-and-so's dad did this...and her mom did such-and-such but, ultimately, it's up to us to get past it and fix ourselves. Agreed.

However, this is her way of saying, "You're whining...we all had Imperfect Parents and let's move on, shall we?"

This is what makes having any sort of conversation about the perils of having a narcissistic parent with someone who's never had one. In the case of my friend, she kept trying to assign my parents lack of skills on their cultural traditions and (sadly woeful) lack of education and sheer ignorance. Sure, that's true to some extent. However, my (adoptive) father had narcissistic personality disorder and my (adoptive) mother was self-absorbed.

While my friend's mother was indeed Difficult and did some real numbers on my friend rendering her an insecure mess, we're talking about a whole other level of mind- boggling nuttiness when we're talking about the truly narcissistic parent.

The difference...and it's a BIG lack of empathy. A shocking lack of empathy for the child. If I had to cite one difference between the Difficult Parent and the Narcissistic Parent it would be the lack of empathy.

For example (I wrote about this at length elsewhere, but I'll recap here), I remember a bizarre conversation with my n-dad after I'd discovered that I wasn't adopted until about a month old. I wanted to know where I was for that month. At the hospital? In a foster home? There was no record of it in my paperwork and the adoption agency said that was confidential information and to ask my adoptive father. So I did.

First, n-dad was surprised that I was a month old when I came to them. He thought I was a newborn. Second, he had no idea where I'd been during that time and said it made no difference to him. I said it was important to me. He said not to worry about it, it made no difference to him or my adoptive mother where I'd hung out for a month as an infant because all that counted was that they'd "got" me. No matter how much I tried to get n-dad to recognize my need to know, he couldn't register it. He could only keep repeating that it didn't matter to him.

At this point, I was clearly distressed. My dad couldn't seem to register that, either. He got angry because I always pestered him with questions about where I came from. When I said I needed to know about my background, he said I didn't because where I came from wasn't in the least bit important to him. The funny thing is my adoptive father had always made a huge, stinking deal about his suspicion that his own father may have not been his biological one. Oh, the irony! Growing up, I had to listen to how traumatizing this uncertainty had been and was expected to sympathize. Yet, I did have biological parents out there somewhere, but that was no big deal.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lack of Pride in Achievements

In the last year, I went back to school to begin retraining....almost 25 years after graduating from college.

I worked very hard and earned A's. Not only did I find the whole back-to-school experience very satisfying, I was consciously pleased with myself for rising to the challenge of disciplining myself to study.

As I checked my grades online and whooped aloud, it occurred to me that I'd never felt truly satisfied when I went to college the first time.

I was never one to jump up and down that I'd passed a difficult class or that I did much better on a test than expected. I don't remember feeling any pride in being the first one in my family to go to college. I don't remember being excited that I'd landed an internship. I didn't go out and celebrate when I got a job in my field. I just sort of bumped along, doing one thing after another.

Today, I'm proud of how hard I worked and what I managed to accomplish back then...while working to support myself and my education because my self-absorbed parents refused to shell out a single dime. During my college years, my father refused to loan me $50 between paychecks. My mother never sent a single box of cookies, a sweater for the colder climate, a card to cheer me through finals.

Now I think I finally understand why I never felt any joy over any hard-earned accomplishments:

1. When I tried to tell my narcissistic father about anything I'd done, he didn't hear anything I was saying and quickly cut me off, interrupting, so he could get back to his favorite topic...himself. When people asked him what I was majoring in, he had no idea. If asked the title of my job, my father couldn't say.

2. When I tried giving my self-absorbed mother updates about my milestones in higher education, she'd say, "Uh uh, how nice for you," in a mocking tone which reflected her anger that I'd chosen to go away to college and "abandoning" her. Then she'd pass the phone to my father or hang up. I stopped calling her after the first year. I gave up.

My achievements were either met with disinterest or a cold, punishing silence. Later, when I graduated and tried asserting myself by disagreeing with one of my father's endless opinions, he'd call me a "nobody know-it-all who thought they were better than everybody else just because they went to college."

So now I get it. I really get it. I didn't feel a sense of accomplishment because my own parents could care less. Every time I did something worthwhile, the price was a pound of flesh. I believe I became joy. The most I could muster was a wan smile and, "yeah, that's nice," but there was no reward...and at the time I didn't have a firm enough sense of self that would allow me to feel any pride. My initial motivation at success was to find a way to live as far away from my parents as possible. In my mind, if I failed, I'd have to move back home. There was no way that was going to happen.

When I finally (recently) emotionally detached from my narcissistic father...and didn't have his voice or the voice of my mother running in my head...only then was I able to feel satisfaction in simple things like earning a good grade, mastering a new skill, cleaning the entire house, getting through a to-do list. That's how powerful narcissistic parents can be...they not only suck your energy...they also zap you of feeling like you accomplished something...even when you have.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Warning Others About a Narcissistic Parent & When YOU are Sick

Susie left a comment on the post, When Your Child Has a Narcissistic Parent...which offered some excellent advice that, frankly, didn't occur to me. (Check out her entire comment in earlier post)

She wrote:

I have cancer and my N-parents love to push the envelope/get attention during my visits. So, I simply told the staff about them and that I do not wish to have them in the room with me. The staff made up some excuse and when my N-father tried to barge in during my treatment, the staff threatened to call security because he would not comply with "policy".
The key is just to get people's attention. They become more sensitive to the behavior when you say, "My ex-husband is a narcissist who displays very inappropriate behaviors. *explain and identify behaviors*. I wanted you to know in case he acts inappropriately in front of me, the other staff, my child etc. If _____ happens, this is what you say/do:_________" More often than not, when people hear the word 'narcissist', they will help shield you from the destructive behavior of the N-parent. Just remember, the only things you can change are: yourself and your environment. You cannot change a N-person!

First, I'm sorry to hear that you are dealing with cancer. As if having that isn't enough, it must be especially challenging not to have parents who can give you - for once in your life - honest-to-goodness love and support. Barging in on your treatment? If it wasn't so awful, it would almost be comedic...given that you are a grown woman. There's something very symbolic in there about extreme control and acting as if you're a helpless little girl of five.

There's a lesson for all us in how you handled that taking charge and protecting yourself. (Oh, that's what that looks like...some of us may say...lights finally going's not trying to be nice and complaining to our friends about the parental's bold, it's direct, it's firm...and damn, it's straight-up acting like an adult!)

I wrote about this before, but once upon a time, I was going through the whole biopsy ordeal and made the big mistake of telling my father. He was greatly upset. Not because he was worried about me, but because I might die and then who would take care of him. That's exactly what he said. Then he kept calling to find out the results and repeatedly said, "You don't know what you're putting me through!" as if I'd conjured the breast lump just to freak him out.

After that, I finally...finally believed that the parental well was as dry as my husband kept telling me. I guess I'd always thought that if I ever got sick...with something narcissistic father would be there for me. Somehow, my dire situation would (magically) transform him into a father who cared about his daughter and put himself second. But my father was so childlike and self-centered...that he would never be able to do that.

So after that, I stopped telling him anything. If I ever developed a disease - I vowed - I'd keep it a secret. If I got a flu, I denied it. I simply couldn't stand to hear his reaction.

My cousin, who has a narcissistic mother, always downplays whatever illness she has because her mother seems to become even more difficult and histrionic when my cousin has the nerve to be sick. The result is that my cousin's arm could be hanging off and she'll cheerily tell you it's a flesh wound. She's dragged herself to work with pneumonia. She's trained not to think of herself and, sadly, this has extended to her own health.

For some of us - okay, me - it takes an event like being told, outright, by your parent that your real value is the service you provide...the attention you give. What other way is there to interpret that statement? You are finally faced with the butt ugly bald truth of your pathetically futile, one-sided relationship with your parent. There's no excuse like, "my father just has a hard time expressing himself...inside, he really loves me." It's profoundly shocking to learn your parent doesn't love you, at all, "even in their own way," expression I have come to despise because for narcissistic parents, it's just a lame excuse posed by ignorant friends and family who have no idea what the n-parent is like when other people aren't around.

That said (OMG...Curb Your Enthusiasm had a great take on the whole "that said" phrase on one of its most recent episodes w/Jerry Seinfeld)...finding out that your n-parent could care less about you is very liberating...the first step toward true detachment if you are still struggling with denial about your parent(s).