Thursday, April 21, 2011

Raising Ourselves

Systematically going through my in-box and catching up on comments left over the last 12-months during another unintended absence from this blog...

once again, I'm struck by the kindness of commenters.

This kindness is astonishing, really, considering the toxic atmosphere in which we were raised. It's a wonder we all didn't turn out just plain mean, or evil.

In the mood I'm in these days - mulling over the legacy of an npd father as his health deterioriates - this anonymous comment caught my attention:

" must be healing to now know that the little girl that you once were was made to feel unsafe being raised by someone who in someways was younger than herself. And now you're left to finish raising yourself. I'm here because I'm in a similar situation. My parents both believed they were perfect. They fed each other this illusion and their kids could never quite measure up."

Left to finish raising yourself.

Wow. Sooooo true. Not only are we left to heal ourselves, we're left to finishing the job our parents were incapable of doing. Some days, I feel like a half-baked meat loaf still quivering in the pan and I wonder, why? Why are some things more difficult? Why do I not believe in myself more? Why aren't I more confident? Why do I lack certain social skills?

This raising-ourself-job is something we undertake...into mid-life! It seems ridiculous, but that's what I find myself doing. Oh, this is yet another area in which I'm "half-baked" and must now address. I just hope this process is done by the time I'm 60!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Destructive Inner Voices

In my previous post, I wrote about how I've finally been able to let longer obsessing over my longer controlled by guilt or by him.

However, I'm not "cured" or healed.

The legacy of his narcissistic parenting lives on. This came as a revelation yesterday. I'd failed to make a connection - once again! - to a current problem and the past.

Now that I'm job hunting, after staying home to raise my family and manage the affairs of my father, I'm in crisis. I've wasted a lot of time attempting an ill-conceived mid-career transition...too ready to abandon the skills and experience I acquired in my previous I enjoyed. I lack focus, clarity and confidence.

When I see a job I'd like, I think "Oh, they won't want me," even if the job is a more junior position than the one I held before. It seems as if I'm unable to look critically at a position and ask myself, "Do you really want it? Is it a good fit for you?" My husband says I undervalue my experience. To an astonishing degree. An old co-worker wondered why I wasn't playing up certain successes and had to remind me of my contributions to the company.

This isn't anything new. I've always undervalued myself in the workplace.

Why? Why do I do this? I'm pretty sure I have my n-father to thank. Whenever I accomplished life, at school, at work...and I made the mistake of telling him about it, he'd say, "Who do you think you are?" and warn me about getting too big for my britches. Any success on my part was met with derision. If I disagreed with him, for example, about politics and cited something I'd learned in class, he'd say, "You think you know everything just because you're going to college. Well, you're a nobody and don't you forget it."

Who could forget that message?

Obviously, that one sunk as deep and fast as an alien probe and is reactivated every time confidence is called for!

The revelation? Letting go is not the same, unfortunately, as overcoming the psychological fallout of the narcissistic parent.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Letting Go...It Really is Possible

My elderly father - diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder years before developing Lewy Body dementia - continues his rapid decline. He can hardly form a coherent sentence now. With the loss of speech, so has much of his power to diminish me, his only child.

He can no longer interrupt me or abruptly change the conversation back to himself. He can no longer make up stories that I'm his natural daughter and not his unnatural, adopted one.
But he's not totally without the ability to lob a good zinger. On the first day of my most recent visit he managed to say two things:

--"I don't like your hair. It looks bad."
--"Why do you look like that? Is something wrong with you?"

Okay, the poor man has dementia and I should give him a break. He knows not what he says. Well, this may be true but this is the kind of stuff he always said...back to when I was a sensitive teenager and his frontal lobes were still intact. The words stung. It was all I could do not to rush to a mirror and check my hairdo. I asked my daughter if I was slouching or had an unpleasant look on my face. (No)

So here's what happened. I couldn't bring myself to visit him the next day. I just couldn't. The idea of being in the same room with him filled me with unspeakable dread. I needed 24-hours to recover. And recover I did. By Sunday, I'd pulled myself together and managed to have a reasonably pleasant visit, although brief because of his sad condition.


I no longer obsess about my father: why he acted the way that he did; why he said the things he did; why he could never see me or hear me; why he'd been so...mean. Nor am I any longer consumed by guilt. I no longer fret about my lack of any true feeling or warmth toward him. I longer worry about what the staff at his board-and-care-home think about my infrequent visits...nor do I feel the need to explain why I don't have the same father-daughter relationship that some of their other residents seem to enjoy. Simply is what is is, folks.

So it was with total surprise that, finally, today I can say: I have my life and it no longer includes my father's toxicity.


And then I was catching up on past comments and found this:

JBH has left a new comment on your post "Guilt Trips":

I am glad to have read these posts! I am a clinical therapist in need of some of my own help w my parents. My parents are in their 60's and 70's, respectively. I am in my 30's, married w an 8 mo old and a 2 1/2 yr old.

If this comment doesn't highlight the insidious, destructive powers of a narcissistic parent, I don't know what does. Even someone trained as a clinical therapist is not immune to the trauma such parents inflict.

JBH also wrote:

I have revelations daily about it but I cant seem to let it go.
I want and wish I had great relationships w both my parents but sadly, I dont. And I have to keep telling myself its not my fault.'s a temporary and necessary phase...the revelations, the relentless rehashing of the past, the not being able to let go. Maybe you're in the grieving phase, mired in guilt...and getting ready for the angry, furious, why-did-I-get-stuck-with-these-losers-for-parents-phase. The chronology of the phases matters less than actually allowing oneself to actually have real, authentic safely reach the other big side of this mess!

If it's possible for ME to let go...after hoarding so much baggage there was hardly room for me...I'm pretty sure it's possible for you to let go, too. Eventually. After a lot of hard work.

And it's not your fault! Never was.

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!!!