Validating My Need For Validation

My father’s death on Yom Kippur (November 2, 2014), and the years leading up to it, launched me into a journey of self-awareness.  It’s the journey I’ve been seeking all of my life.  It’s the journey of validation of the soul, of becoming aware of my physical and personal boundaries.

Until these times, everything I’ve done has been for the purpose of seeking validation from others.  Which others?  Others, just others.  Friends, employers, patients, staff, partners, spouses, my child…

My father gave me lots of validation.  He was careful to pay attention to what I was doing and give me praise, really specifically as in, “The way you make use of line and space in this drawing is stupendous,” or, “This is an absolutely scrumptious omelette!  You’ve really outdone yourself, Laurie!”

His critiques could hurt, though.  He was always honest, but never brutal; and yet, since I hung on his every word, a negative critique either on my work or on something I had done in life stung, and I would go and cry privately.  I knew that he was right….except when he was defending my mother’s rages.

“She isn’t feeling well, you know.”

“She has her period.  She’s always a bit testy when she has her period.  You just have to cut her a wide berth.”

When he did that, I felt betrayed, abandoned, and so, so alone.

It confused me terribly when he started scolding me for standing up to her.  For one thing, she began to scream and call me names right in front of him.  When I told her that what she was doing was abusive, they both screamed back at me that it was their right to abuse me because they were my parents.

Stunned, I said, “Are you telling me that because you are my parents, that gives you the right to do or say anything you want to me?”

“That’s right!” they both shouted, in unison.

Over the next few months it became clear to me that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, in which the captive, in an effort to save himself, comes to idolize the captor.  Dad’s illness caused him to become increasingly dependent on Mom for his physical care; his self-preservation became dependent on siding with her, flattering her, doing what she wanted when she wanted it…and being her whipping-boy.

He had always been able to deflect her tantrums by simply leaving and going to his studio to work, coming back late at night, giving her a chance to get over her “mad” and simmer down into petulance.

On rare occasions, if she goaded him sufficiently, he would blow up and yell at her, reducing her to tears.  She would run to their room, throw herself on the bed and sob.  He would go to his studio and work, and the next day he would bring a peace offering, a bouquet of wildflowers, dinner out, chocolates.  And then back to status quo.

I confused validation with appeasement.  I overturned every rock looking for something that would bring lasting acceptance from my mother.  Praise would have been wonderful, but simple acceptance would have been enough.  Gifts, vacations, floral arrangements, expensive meals out, elaborate meals made at home…all of these garnered momentary praise, but felt to me exactly the same as the Mother’s Day cards I made for her, the valentines, all the childish surprises I made for her, in hopes that this time she would really love me…

Look at all the things I’ve done.  I won’t list them, but just know that I have accomplished many things in my life that should have been just for me, or because they were fulfilling dreams…but at the bottom of it all, I was seeking validation from my mother.  “My daughter, the doctor….”

I wasn’t just seeking approval.  Approval is very important, but it’s temporary and tied to the deed that provoked it.

Validation is a much deeper thing.  Validation is approval on the level of the soul.  The Inner Approval.

According to Jewish law, parents are partners with God in Creation.  God utilizes the special blend of the parents’ souls and bodies (the body being a temporary dwelling for the soul) to create a new person.  It is for this reason that we are commanded to “Honor your father and your mother.”

But what happens if the parents are legitimately abusive?  Are we commanded to honor them?  Can honor be legislated?  If so, what form would that honor take?

When I first became Jewishly religious, I went into a panic about this.  It didn’t help that my mother loudly and offensively mocked my new clothes, the fact that I had chosen to cover my hair, the fact that I prayed three times a day and kept Shabbat according to Jewish Law.

On one of my trips to Israel, prior to moving there permanently, I ran to the most famous Orthodox Jewish bookstore in Jerusalem and asked if there was a book on honoring parents.  There was: “Sefer Kibud Avot.”  The Book of Honoring Parents.  It was in Hebrew.  I had just barely learned to laboriously read a little Scriptural Hebrew.  Somehow, the words of this book flew off the pages into my mind.  I swear it was a moment of Divine Inspiration.

The book said that if parents were abusive, the child still had to honor them.

But in that case, asked the book, what does “honoring them” mean?

It gave a number of examples of exceptional people whose parents abused them terribly, yet they continued to take the abuse.

For instance, one of the Rabbis who lived during the time of Jesus was sitting teaching a group of his students, when his mother came into the room and spat in his face.  He did not remark upon the incident, but continued teaching, and she went away.

There are many lessons in this story.  I have thought about this a lot.

But getting back to what Sefer Kibud Avot had to say about this incident:  Rabbi Ploni (“Ploni” is a Talmudic term for “Whoever”) was a saint.  We are mostly not saints.  If a saint could be expected to behave like that, how are we non-saints suppose to act?

The book then defined what the term “Kibud Avot (honoring your parents)” means in the case of abusive parents:

1) Make sure they have a roof over their heads

2) Clothes to cover their nakedness and for warmth

3)  Food sufficient for their nutritional needs.

In other words, according to Jewish Law we are only responsible for their basic physical needs.

The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that we are not to purposely harm ourselves.  We are not to do anything that puts us in harm’s way.  According to Sefer Kibud Avot, this includes abusive parents.  We are not to expose ourselves to abuse from any source, and that includes from parents.  We are to distance ourselves from evil.  Willingly exposing ourselves to evil is like doing evil ourselves.

Yikes.  Validation!

That revelation came down to me in 2005.  There is actual discussion of the issue in Jewish books of law!  I was not the only one who had to deal with this problem of how to honorably take care of one’s abusive parents, without feeding the continual abuse!  Validation that I am not “imagining things,” as my mother likes to say.  (The term for this type of invalidation of another’s lived experience is gaslighting.  You can find much more on the topic of gaslighting on the blog The Invisible Scar.)

I have wrestled with this since my father became ill and I left Israel in 2011 to be with him in his final years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, breaths.  I found ways of dealing with my mother’s insanity on my own terms, yet it tore me apart to watch her mocking and belittling and publicly shaming him.

I’ve had a lot of help during these years.

Giving credit where credit is due, I have a wonderful advisor in the form of my therapist, with whom I have worked on and off since 2000.  She has saved my life many times.

I have also learned an enormous amount and garnered tremendous validation from the site The Invisible Scar.  The site is about surviving emotional abuse, with a focus on Adult Survivors of Narcissists (ACoN).  If anyone here feels that they have suffered at the hands of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, I highly recommend that they visit The Invisible Scar.

The Invisible Scar is run by a Christian organization, although it maintains religious neutrality.  However, I highly recommend the Christian ministry site that is its source.  Here you will find an extensive questionnaire that will result in your knowing whether or not you have been pillaged by a narcissist in your life.  I found myself going down their list going, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, nope, uh-huh….my life has been parasitized by my narcissistic mother, enabled by my passive father.   Jeez.

If you are a Christian, or are interested in the Christian perspective on what to do if you discover that you are being abused by a parent or significant other, I cannot imagine a better place to find diagnostic tools, validation, and advice, backed up by Scripture that applies universally to any ethical system or religion.  I am clearly not a Christian, but I know wisdom when I encounter it, and this is down-to-earth, straight-to-the-core, cut-to-the-chase wisdom.

Here’s a gift from The Invisible Scar that showed up in my inbox a couple of days ago:  two professors from the University of Georgia have asked The Invisible Scar to help recruit volunteers to take a survey on the parental communication skills of Adult Children of a Narcissist.  If you’re like me, you might be anxious (in my case, obsessed) about not repeating history–in other words, not passing on the terrible heritage of the emotional abuse that you suffered at the whims of the Narcissist in your life.  If you’d like to participate in the survey, go here. It only takes a few minutes.

You might find it validating!

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17 Comments

  1. The whole dynamics of my family was so screwed up that I’m still trying to reconcile with all of it,you’ve read a lot of my work so you know,I know where you are coming from,you don’t need my opinions,what I will do is send you lite and love,and I will always be just a screen away,stay focused
    As always Sheldon

    Reply
  2. I think these thoughts are particularly relevant to you taking your upcoming journey. The information you learned in 2005 about what it means to ‘honor’ abusive parents has worked on you for these years. I can see that you’ve turned it over, examined it, felt it and allowed it to become a part of you. I realize that you have stayed where you are because of and for your father…and that is beautiful. And now, you are able to take action on being free from the abuse without (hopefully) guilt. You’ve grown your wings, my friend, now fly, FLY! Peace to your heart

    Reply
  3. that book you bought, that told you to and how to honor your abusive parents puts it so well, so clearly. of course we should not hurt ourselves, but we should still honor. i thought this was a dichotomy until you presented it here. now i see it is not 2 separate things.

    this books information that you have given made me realize my father (who was an atheist because it made the most rational and logical sense), honored his own abusive father in the exact same way. He made sure he was in a good nursing home when he could no longer live alone. He made sure he had nice clothes (from a cousin’s mens’ store). he made sure he had all of his needs met via the nursing staff. But he did not visit him. He did not call him. But he cared for him more than the old man ever cared for my dad. I didn’t used to understand how my dad could make sure that his father had everything he needed, when the old man had never done that for my dad.

    but now i see. thank you, laura, for this post. my dad really was a truly kind person, coming to the same conclusions that your book did, without being religious.

    Reply
    • Wow, how wonderful that your dad did not abandon his abusive father in his old age, but also did not abandon himself. He took care of his own needs and sanity (in that area–I don’t know anything else about him). A kind and ethical person would come to the same conclusion. My father also claimed to be an atheist, yet made beautiful and eloquent Judaic art, and as the time came for him to die, he wanted to know more about the Jewish ideas about suffering and death. Like your father, he put his parents in a good nursing home and rarely visited them. But in order to get them there, he had to literally hunt them down, as my paranoid delusional grandfather moved he and my grandmother from one old Jewish people’s hotel to another, in Miami…my father spent weeks going from one hotel to another, following their trail till he finally found them. He put them in a nice garden apartment until they couldn’t take care of themselves any longer, then put them in a very nice Jewish nursing home. They (especially my grandfather, but both of them really) had systematically torn his ego apart–which is why he married my mother, of course.

      Reply
      • ya, and it explains why my dad married and divorced my mother…and found one less damaged instead, and had true love and happiness.

        Reply
        • Wow…that’s wonderful! But were you then left alone with your mother?

          Reply
          • um, ya. i was. which is why i haven’t had anything to do with her for 7 years. maybe i will be able to honor her once she is in need of a supervised living and not able to make decisions. but i can’t do it now.

            Reply
            • For real, I understand that one. It hit me one day during therapy that the reason my dad didn’t leave my mom was that he didn’t want to leave me with her…in those days of course dads never got even joint custody…besides which, he was a Scorpio and could dive deep into himself and ignore her…which I can’t….so yeah, it’ll be the nursing home for her, and most probably the one she worked in as their social worker!!! Oh, she’ll love that. Blech. Retch.

              Reply
  4. Oh, and I didn’t buy the book, which I think is technically stealing 😦 I have a bad habit of speed-reading books in the book store and then not buying them. Don’t ask me how I read a book of Jewish law in Hebrew…even though I did only read the relevant parts of it, it could only have been through Divine Intervention, as there is no other way to explain it. At this point I have pretty much become a heretic, but there are some phenomena that I cannot explain by any other means, so I let this one stand.

    Reply
  5. Such a good post!

    Reply
  6. Wow…just wow…I felt like I was reading about my life there for a minute…the need for validation from my father who I know is the “normal one” yet the pain I feel when he defends my mother – Stockholm syndrome….I need to visit the Invisible Scar. Thank you for sharing your story….

    Reply
    • Hi Dawn, thank you for dropping by and reading. I’m sorry that our worlds overlap in this way…it’s really torture. Yes, get on over to The Invisible Scar and read through it. You’ll find lots of much-needed validation there! I always keep the tab open on my browser so that when I start feeling shaky or just plain horrible, I can click through and find something that speaks to my heart at that moment.

      Just know that you can always come here, leave a comment if you feel moved to, or just read. Also, the people who inhabit the comments are really amazing, so it’s definitely worth cruising over to their blogs as well. Most of us are dealing with very similar issues, from our own different perspectives. Take good care of yourself! –Laura

      Reply
  7. Hey Laura how are you doing,hope all is well,glad to see you were visiting,just dropped by to say hello
    Sheldon

    Reply
    • Hi Sheldon, thanks for dropping by. I’ve been adventuring in my new house on wheels, haven’t written or even looked at my email in over a month….I really need to get back in that saddle again, but freedom feels so good I’m having a hard time re-entering society… How are you?

      Reply

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