Narcissism and Slavery

As the festival of Passover approaches, it’s a tradition among some of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, to start thinking about the Passover story as an allegorical reference to how we limit ourselves, and how we can use our inner resources to liberate ourselves.  We think about our Inner Pharaoh, and what we need to do to get free of him.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim.”  The word can be broken down into its roots: “Mi” = “from,” “tzr” or “tzar”=narrow place, tight squeeze, trouble, “yim”=masculine plural ending.  So you could say that our own personal Mitzrayim is the narrow, tight places in which we find ourselves.  Our challenge during the spring season of new growth and opening is to do just that: to split the Red Sea, to walk through scary tight places in order to remember who we are, and to grow past our narrow-minded presuppositions, to give birth to our newly liberated selves.

The other day at the nursing home my mother commanded (not asked–commanded) me to appear before her, at her house, at seven PM.  She refused to give me any details, just “be there.”  So I showed up at 7:30, since I had something to do prior and she had not asked me if that was a convenient time.  Did it give me pleasure to know that she would be annoyed?  Perhaps, yet I also know that annoying her will eventually come back to haunt me.  Sometimes it’s worth it.

I got there, and she is sitting in Dad’s recliner, which instantly puts me on guard.  There is this thing in Jewish culture where a person’s chair is part of their personal sacred space, and intentionally sitting in someone else’s place is considered an act of disrespect.  So I am on guard anyway, and this just confirms that I better stay there.

As I perched on the arm of the couch, not wanting to sit in HER place (and besides, it gives me the creeps), she pronounced clearly and with authority:  “I am NOT asking your permission.”  

“OK,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then she tells me in great detail of her plans to bring Dad home from the nursing home, how she and I will care for him with the help of whatever aides she can find; that she’s located a couple of them and they only charge $14 an hour, and besides, we would only need them for showering….on and on.  Apparently she has not taken into consideration that it takes two young strong people to get him from the bed to the wheelchair, to the toilet, to diaper and dress him…and he’s been discharged from Physical Therapy because he’s not made progress….and his meals are now put through a blender so that he doesn’t choke, which had been one of my big concerns even before the nursing home.

And She Who Must Be Obeyed is NOT asking my permission.  That means I don’t even have to bother voicing my concerns, because they’ve already been summarily dismissed.

I decide that I don’t have to have a “dog in that fight,” as they say here in the mountains.  I keep my mouth shut.  Poor Dad will be the one who suffers, and I hate that, but since “my permission” has not been asked, I won’t ask a lot of permission to be out of the country when I need to be.

And I’ll need to be, because that scenario is so excruciatingly painful to me that I will have to give myself a lot of space, knowing that injuring myself in order to try to further Mom’s follies is not going to help Dad, in the long run.

A few days later, I am told that “we” are taking Dad to the dentist.  The aides at the nursing home will help us get him in the car.  Who will get him out?  Oh, they have a wheelchair at the dentist.  She already checked that out, Stupid.  

I don’t like this.  I’m just getting over an episode of seriously-bad-back caused by catching Dad as he was on his way to the pavement, after taking him to another appointment.  Mom had, in her trademark style, strode around to the driver’s seat, leaving me to somehow get Dad into the back seat.  He collapsed, and I was holding him up calling for help, when one of the familiar Viet Nam Veteran street people came and helped me get him into the car.  I gave him all the cash I had, and I wish there had been more.  But it was too late for my back.

So I told her my back won’t take it, and she sneers at me and says that hers will.

There is a county transport service that has wheelchair accessible vans.  I told this to my mother, who immediately denied it.  Then she called about it, and wonder of wonders!  Of course it was her idea now; but at least.

“You will be there at 12:30 to meet the van.  You will ride in the van with Dad to the dentist.  His appointment is at one.  My appointment is at two.  So you have to ride in the van with Dad.  DON’T BE LATE!!!”

OK.  I will be there at 12:30, and I will go into the appointment, because Dad has been hallucinating lately and I worry about the dentist’s chair and all the noises, and his trouble swallowing, and the fact that he will not be able to hold the little saliva sucker thing that you now have to hold yourself.

Isn’t it funny how it really is the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  Here’s mine (my latest, anyway):

Friday afternoon, my mother shows up at my door with my mail.  She knows I don’t want her picking up my mail (we don’t have mail delivery here, so we have to go to the post office for it), but she had some excuse this time.

After an uncomfortable moment standing at the door, I decide to show her dinner in progress.  I always cook them a kosher meal for Friday Nights, and I bring it wherever they happen to be.  Nowadays I’m bringing it to the nursing home.  So I thought I would show her the kosher chicken rolling around in the kosher rotisserie, the pans of veggies, the potatoes…..oh, I do it all the time!

“See, Mommy, see what I did?  It’s for YOU, Mommy!  I picked these flowers for YOU!  I cooked this food for YOU!  Aren’t you happy with me now?  Won’t this make you love me and stop saying those horrible things to me?”  Says the little girl Laura, tears brimming but not falling, for that would make her laugh: “You need to grow a thicker skin.”

My kitchen is very tiny.  Very tiny indeed.  In fact, with my mother in it, I found I suddenly could not breathe.

“Let’s move into a bigger space.  I’m feeling claustrophobic,” I said.

Her little malevolent eyes glitter.

“Claustrophobic, eh?  What DON’T you have?  I think you’re a hypochondriac.

“Hypochondriac?” I repeat, shocked.

“Yes, hypochondriac.” She says emphatically.

I see her to the door, slam it, and collapse in a heap of raging tears.  As soon as her car leaves the driveway I start screaming.  I beg G-d’s forgiveness as I curse my mother, bringing down all of Hell’s fires on her head, into her belly, wishing her as painful a death as she engineered for her own mother…..and then I stop suddenly, realizing what has happened, that I have absorbed the poison from the wicked Queen’s apple, and if I continue in this manner I will, G-d forbid, become my own hateful mother.  My own personal Pharaoh.

So I have been praying for some enlightenment, some clarity, some “how-to” that will get me through this piece of time surrounding my father’s death.  My very own Mitzrayim: stuck in the narrows, whichever way I turn.  Face-to-face with Pharaoh, a smirk and a sneer and a twisting of the guts.

Here is some really good advice on learning to open one’s mouth from The Invisible Scar, a blog dedicated to healing for Adult Children of Narcisists (ACON).

But I am not ready to deal with the backlash that always comes with opening my mouth.  I am mortally afraid that if my mother escalates (a certainty) or lays hands on me (a distinct possibility), that I might “lose it” and do something violent, G-d forbid.

So I am keeping my mouth tightly closed, which I know is part of the Narcissist’s Weapon Arsenal.  I don’t want to emulate her, I don’t want to BE her–and I know that’s a danger here.  But right now I can’t deal with another knife wound.  Figuratively, that is.

Tomorrow, at the one o’clock meeting (DON’T BE LATE), my dad’s fate will be decided: does he stay in the nursing home until he dies, or do we bring him home to die, however long that takes ( he estimates two years, and I believe him).  Although I have been told I do not have a voice in this decision, I damn well do, and I will use it.  I plan to make my case very clearly that there is no way that he could possibly get the care he needs at home.

Feeding, changing his diaper and his bed three or four times a day, dressing him, getting him showered, all without any assistance from him, because he is so debilitated……these things cannot be done by an angry 87 year old harpy, and aside from feeding him, my arthritic body barely allows me to hold his head up to drink from a cup.

My voice says NO.  We CANNOT bring Dad home.  I WILL NOT see his last days sullied by that screaming harpy cursing him for being an old, debilitated man.  I will make that clear, in an unemotional, measured way: that is MY way, MY voice, because my voice has been crushed since I came out of the incubator at one month of age.

I did make contact with a regional Veterans’ Administration representative–my Dad is a WWII combat veteran–who is doing his best to get funding to pay for either nursing home or home care.  She, my mother, had been telling me with that “you stupid idiot, you should know better” tone of voice, that the VA would never give them money.   Well, guess what: they will be getting around $2000/month in Veterans’ Benefits–“For Dad and me,” she emphasized, as if I would want a single cent from them!  And of course she takes credit for the VA angle.  But at least it will take the financial incentive to take him home off–otherwise she would have to “spend down” her own money before Medicaid would pick up the nursing home tab.

Speaking of money, before Dad had his last fall, the one that landed him in the nursing home, I had been caring for him two days a week, plus making dinner for them (my own money, and let me tell you, kosher meat is not cheap) on Friday nights.  The county Social Services worker told my mom that there was money available to pay me for my work as a caregiver.  My mother turned it down on the grounds that a child should not be paid for taking care of a parent.  Thank G-d I have money to live on now, but I am furiously saving for the day that that source of funds dries up, when I turn 65, in 4 1/2 years.  That money would have come in right handy, to stash away for the desperate times that will follow the cessation of my private disability funds.

It is a terrible thing to say, but I am looking forward to the day that I am free from this elephant sitting on my heart.  I know what that will mean.  He is not yet ready to go; he needs to rectify some issues inside himself.  I don’t want to rush that.  But one thing I have learned in my chaotic life is patience.  I once heard that the best way to victory over an abusive parent is to outlive them.  I don’t know if I will outlive my mother, but in a way my death preceding hers would also be a victory.  I just don’t want to see her sneering face on the “other side.”

And since I have a feeling that that would be a very effective form of Hell, I had better be careful not to “become my enemy.”

Somehow I must do the work necessary to face down my Inner Pharaoh and in doing so, lose the fear that has kept me in slavery for 60 1/2 years.

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21 Comments

  1. You live in an impossible situation yet somehow you continue to bear up under the strain. You are one of the strongest people I have ever met. I pray that your wisdom will be honored and your dad will stay where he can be cared for with dignity and respect.

    Reply
    • Bless you, friend. Prayers needed and appreciated.

      Reply
      • I was thinking about your comment this morning while listening to my musical alarm clock. I can’t believe it myself that I haven’t buckled under this pressure-cooker sandwich. Maybe this is G-d’s way of showing me that I’m stronger than I thought. Now I hope we can get on with things….but somehow it looks like a long grinding road.

        Reply
  2. Oh Laura!
    I am soo soo fiercely full of righteous anger for you. I am soo sorry for the position you find yourself in at this moment. You, who have striven to be the grateful daughter, the kind one, the stability in this family of instability. You are being pushed and torn apart by your mothers actions, and this is so wrong, you are so undeserving of her malice.

    your mother and father both are so lucky to have such a wonderful person as their child (whether she chooses to acknowledge it or not) who is always there for them, putting them ahead of yourself.

    it seems that all the recent love and attention you gave him, he in some way, was aware it was you, and that between the two of you, things are right. it also seems that your mom might now be trying to make things right between him and her. it seems she does have some real concern, even if her idea of how it will work out are a (lot) unrealistic and far-fetched.

    i think your current situation is very difficult. you are pulled wanting to do whatever you can to keep him in the nursing home, so he gets proper care. and you are also pulled to staying out of it, to letting her do as she wants, even if it might jeopardize his care, as she obviously wants to do this herself, and also, to hurt you if possible.

    i don’t have advice for you on this. but my gut is telling me if i were in your shoes, i would suffer as silently as possible putting up with her hateful remarks and behaviours, IF it meant I could make sure my dad had the care he needed. so on that note, i really fervently hope that when she tells the nursing home staff she is taking him home, that you are able to give an accurate accounting of what would be lacking if that happened, that is not lined up, and would need to be lined up, before your dad is moved. usually in my experience, places like that will not discharge unless adequate assistance is in place in the home. they often help to locate the services and set them up as well.

    if he does not stay or goes home without services, you would have the option of taking your mother to court, saying she is not competent enough to be in charge of your father, that taking him home would seriously jeopardize his well being, and that is not in touch with reality of the amount of care he needs and how to deliver it, and that you should be made his guardian and power of attorney to ensure all his needs are met, regardless of setting.

    however, i totally can see you not wanting to go to that extreme, in which case you will have to accept what she does and how she does it for him, and do what you can do within that framework for him without sacrificing yourself. of course, this to me is the most difficult choice, as you would need to defer to your mother even when she makes less than the best choices.

    I wish i could give you a magic potion or wand or a genie in a bottle to whisk away your mother (to some island paradise where she can bother the waiters for more drinks!) so that you could ensure the best care was given to your dad. but i can’t do this, so instead i send you strength, endurance, and flexibility to surmount all the difficulties you are facing at this time. my thoughts are with you. lets have that coffee, scotch, tea or wine cooler soon!

    Reply
    • Kat, you have summed it up so well. I wish you could be here now, and be my father’s and my advocate, not forgetting about the cocktails 😀 I like your idea of Narcissist Heaven, with the rent boys, oh I mean waiters, scurrying to do the Queen Bitch’s fancy. LOL
      Thank you so much for your support……xoxo

      Reply
      • i realized later that the amount of help a facility might provide to a family removing a patient to the home may not always be the same. also, instead of the facility actually doing it, it may instead be that they can provide a list of names of agencies who provide the services, and family acts on this. they may even be able to help find agencies that accept particular insurances, etc. even if they don’t do that tho, they may still tell you exactly what services the patient requires, so that you know what to get.

        i really think one’s perseverance and good relationship with the family (or at least one member) can be powerful in the amount of assistance they actually provide rather than just giving information, as in, they may make calls on your behalf, etc.

        you probably knew that already, but i didn’t want to let something possibly in error to stand, just in case. endurance, strength, and flexibility to you.

        Reply
        • *i meant ‘ones good relationship with the SOCIAL WORKER by at least one family member…..’ duh on me.

          Reply
          • I gotcha, no worries.

            Had a team meeting today. At this writing it looks like he will be staying at the facility. That would be such a blessing, for him especially. He doesn’t have to worry about being scolded for dropping food, wetting his clothes, everything you can imagine. And his level of functioning wanes with each passing day. It’s been a long watch.

            Reply
            • well, that sounds hopeful–fingers crossed, prayers sent, good and steady thought flowing to you.

              Reply
  3. Oh, Laura. I wish I could give you a hug.
    I’m not going to offer advice, just prayers and love.

    In Shemot 2, there is a curious line about God hearing the groaning of the children of Israel (after their misery had been going on a very long time) and the rabbis, in their commentaries, ask the very legitimate question, “What took You so long?” Sometimes Mitzrayim lasts SO DARN LONG. I am sorry that yours has lasted for so long. All I know to do is to say that despite the plagues, despite the tight spot that seems to get tighter, there will come a day when the sea parts and you can cross to freedom.

    Reply
    • Well, you know, there’s the whole thing with Yosef having to prepare the Egyptians by showing them that there was a different kind of wisdom, and then having to get Yaakov there, and then Moshe had to be born, trained, sent away, trained, return, and be trained…and then the Makot (plagues) were more Continuing Education for the Children of Israel, more so than a show of force to the Mitzrim. So all that took a long time….what, 400 years plus or minus? I’m not holding my breath, but if I see the Sea of Reeds in front of me, look out Nachshon, I’m jumping in!

      Reply
  4. Laura, I don’t even know what to say. I think you are amazing……..sending lots of prayers and hugs.

    Reply
  5. May you be strong in your fight with her…for yourself AND your Dad.

    Reply
  6. teddymear

     /  February 25, 2014

    Laura, I’m so sorry for the daily mind games and demeaning commands your mother throws your way with such seeming pleasure. I don’t even know this woman but I want to shake her and tell her what she is doing to your heart and soul. I want to tell her what she is missing out on by not having a healthy relationship with her caring and loving daughter. Your father will not be able to go home, he is too sick. I would not even discuss it with Mom any further. A social worker from the nursing home will be able to talk to your mother and tell her that it is impossible to care for him at home. I just hate to see you being treated this way. Has your mother always been like this to you? talked down to you? You are one patient woman. You are in my prayers and I’m sending lots of gentle hugs. I honestly don’t know how you do it Laura.

    Reply
    • Yup, Mear, that’s what I grew up with, until I couldn’t stand it anymore and left home at the age of 16. Like many Children of Narcissists I have kept coming back, to try to find approval in my mother’s eyes, and every time she’s escalated until I have to leave. But this time it’s different. This is about my dying father, and I will NOT let that bitch drive me out.

      It looks like for now she’s given up on the scheme of bringing my dad home, and yes the nursing home staff did advise her against it. She might want to try it if the VA gives her money–I certainly hope not. But until she does something so over-the-top that I can take it to a judge and get power of attorney over her, all I can do is try to minimize collateral damage (that would be me). Thanks so much for your love and concern! And hugs back!

      Reply
  7. teddymear

     /  February 25, 2014

    You grew up with this!?! …amazing, you are a very special person Laura. You deserve so much more. We (hubby and I) have a 34 year-old daughter. She means the world to us. I cannot imagine talking to her in any way other than with respect and love. I hope you can go visit your Dad in peace (when your Mom isn’t there). I would avoid her at all costs. Nobody should put up with the type of verbal and mental abuse she dishes out. You have a right to enjoy your time with Dad. When you were growing up, did Mom treat you one way in front of Dad and another way when you and her were alone? I’m surprised you lasted at home until 16 years old. Blessings and more hugs~Mear

    Reply
    • Mear, I’m so glad you have a good relationship with your daughter. Our children are really the only important things (not THINGS, but I can’t find another way to say it) in the world. I treasure my son, too, even when he does things I don’t agree with. He’s still my son that I carried for 9 3/4 months (he didn’t want to leave LOL), and I would never intentionally hurt him. I’m sure I made plenty of mistakes as a mother, but I had a list of things that were said to me, that I would make sure never to say to him, on the refrigerator. Not my original idea; I got it from Captain Kangaroo, who came out in mid-life as an Adult Child of Abusive Parents.

      Reply
  8. That elephant weighs heavy, does’nt it? And it is a terribly heavy weight, but I don’t think it is so terrible in the circumstances. I know this doesn’t help your burden much but reading your post made me thankful for my small mercies. I almost suggested to my mum last week that she move in with me. Something made me stop and I’m glad as it would have been a disaster for me.

    Reply

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