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.