Malignant Narcissistic Abuse – Understanding the Enemy’s Devices

NOTE: This is a reblog of a reblog.

In order to understand what my comments here are about, please click on the original link, which you will find at the bottom of these paragraphs, read the original author’s post, then make sure to look at the meme collection. It had my mouth hanging open, it is so affirming of my own lived experience of being an ACoN (Adult Child of a Narcissist).

One thing in the meme collection that I must take issue with is the statement that taking on narcissistic traits, if one grows up in such a home, is voluntary. It is not. If the only coping mechanisms you have ever known are drama, tantrums, accusations, the silent treatment, etc, it takes time to figure out that these are dysfunctional and abusive. And since Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs) often are drawn into adult relationships with narcissists, the story tends to perpetuate itself down the generations. After all, when we meet someone who “feels like we have known them all our lives,” well, we probably have, because they “feel like home,” our family of origin.

The first thing we must learn is insight: it isn’t our fault, we are not defective, we do not deserve to be treated like a mouse being tortured by a cat.

Some people are fortunate to realize that something is very wrong–usually after multiple failed relationships, suicide attempts, or other catastrophic life events–and seek help, sometimes from the right person, like a good therapist, and sometimes from….someone who “feels like home,” claiming that they want to help, but really being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as we unfortunately see with some religious leaders. I have even had a narc therapist! She had a hand in destroying my marriage. I sat there mesmerized while she smiled and preened, not realizing what it was about her that was so familiar (she was like my mother, who used to court my boyfriends), until it was too late. She stood up, announced that it was her opinion that we should divorce, and left us sitting on her couch looking at the floor.

Memoir Notes

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Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them

Such an incredibly important article for those of us who grew up in emotionally abusive households, and especially for Adult Children of a Narcissist (ACoN).

Taking breathing time for yourself, just to feel who you actually ARE and not live in the prison of the Narcissist’s defined role they’ve assigned you, can give you a taste of the freedom you’ve lacked, perhaps all of your life.  Then you’re going to have to face the incredibly tough question, “Now what am I going to do?”

 

This is where your therapist comes in.  Having the right therapist is vital, because you are going to literally be reborn when you cut the cord that binds you to your abuser.  Make sure your support system is in place, and prepare yourself for the possibility that until you begin rebuilding your life, your only support might be your therapist–because the Narcissist will make sure all your family and friends think you are a lowlife creep who abandoned them.  And since a Narcissist thrives on praise and adulation, they often occupy positions of high responsibility in their communities, are always the first to jump to the aid of extended family members in need, and are generally idolized by all.  Their position of power makes it easy to demonize anyone who defies their dominance.  This is what keeps so many of us locked up in the prison of great, the fear of the consequences of being ourselves.

 

But in order to actualize ourselves, break away we must.  This article, and the resources it quotes, will help you get started on your journey to your genuine self.

The article comes from the incredibly helpful website, The Invisible Scar, which is directed toward adult children of emotionally abusive parents.

 

Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them.

Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower.  I avoid going there now, if she is at home.  There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s.  It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory!  Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted.  This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something.  “My memory.”  Always “My memory.”

I confronted her.  I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room!  And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story.  And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead.  As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.”  So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree.  That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So.  She was an out-of-control drunk.  She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife.  That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything.  So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why?  Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.”  I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true.  Next time it happens I will point it out.”  Psychology 101.

“You just do that!”  Conversation over.  If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing.  It takes up several hours.  Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible!  What nerve!  I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.”  It was Friday night.  When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights.  I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say.  So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied.  “I thought it was Thursday.  Guess I lost a day.  Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

The Narcissist Files, Part Two

“I’m sorry, it just worked out better for me this way.  You know, it’s an hour and a half instead of two hours, it’s only $5 a day to park my car instead of free, I don’t have to stay overnight in a motel [with you]….”

This might be the only time in my life that I’ve heard my mother say “I’m sorry,” but in fact it was simply a figure of speech meaning, “I changed my mind.”

Originally, we were both supposed to fly from Charlotte on the same day, she to help install her sister in a nursing home up North, and I to go to Michigan to pick up my RV.  Since I am flying one-way and eventually coming back in another vehicle, it is problematic for me to get to the airport in Charlotte without a car.  If I were to drive myself to the airport and leave my car there, then how could I retrieve my car?  A bit complicated.

But since she was driving to the airport anyway, that seemed to be a moot point, as I could ride along with her.  There are inexpensive hotels that will keep your car without charge, if you only stay one night, and have shuttle service to the airport.  So the plan was for us to share a room, and fly our separate ways the following day.  When she got back (date unknown), her car would be waiting for her, free of charge.

For some reason known only to her, she changed plans in midstream and decided to fly from the airport that is only half an hour closer.  Her flight from the nearer airport would, in fact, take her only to Charlotte, where she would then board the original non-stop flight that I had found her.

“But there will be plenty of time between flights, and I’m only taking a carry-on.  And you can take the transport from here.  It shouldn’t be any trouble.”

There is a transport that one can book to get from here to the airport, if one reserves it several days in advance.  It’s only $45.  However, it will not take you anywhere except to the airport itself, and I need to stay in a hotel the night before, since it’s an early flight and the shuttle from here can’t start until 8 am.  So I will have to get myself from the airport to the hotel, via the hotel shuttle, with all my luggage and dog, and then kick my heels until the following morning, and take the shuttle back to the airport.  No trouble at all.

This goes against my nature.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up having to please Mrs. Narc or face the terrible consequences, that I am super-conscious of making every effort to make other people’s lives easier.  I would much rather inconvenience myself than someone else.  My therapist feels that this bending-over-backward to please others is pathological.  I only agree with her partway.

Being thoughtful of others is one of the supposed signs of empathy that makes humans different from animals, although recent studies of primates and even non-primate species are proving that other animals have empathy and even exhibit altruism, the act of giving without expecting anything in return.  That is the highest form of giving, and has been the measure of character from time out of mind.

The thing about a true narcissist is that they don’t consider the needs of anyone but themselves.  Their inconsiderate acts are not necessarily malicious–it’s just that if they perceive something to be more convenient for themselves, well, that’s the choice they make.  And if someone else is inconvenienced by their acts, well….

“Sorry, you’ll have to make your own way.  I’ve made other plans that suit me better.”

Close Encounter With The Mind Of A Narcissist

Dearest Readers, those of you who have been with me for some time are aware that I am an ACoN, which stands for Adult Child of a Narcissist.  The Narcissist in my life is my mother.

I have never understood her way of thinking, and she has never understood mine.  Therefore, our relationship has always been superficial and unsatisfactory on both sides.

Narcissists, by definition, are unable to think outside their own box.  They are the center of their own universe-no, the Universe. Anything negative that happens is someone else’s fault. Positive things, on the other hand, are clearly their own handiwork.

They thrive on praise and flattery.  The latter is as good as the former.  Sincerity is not an issue, as long as the adulation is centered on themselves.  They will work hard to achieve success and status, for the purpose of feeling important, and hopefully getting publicly honored.

Narcissists see their children as reflections of themselves.  The children are expected to bring praise and adulation to their narcissistic parent.  They must succeed and excel in academics, accomplishments, and anything that reflects well on their Narcissist.

A Narcissist expects, no–demands, respect and admiration from her children.  If she does not get it, she will retaliate with all kinds of abuse, be it physical, emotional, psychological, and sometimes even sexual, if she needs reassurance that she is still beautiful and sexy.

Somehow or other, I ended up with not one (which would have been enough, dayenu*) but two narcissists in my life–my mother, of course, and her sister.  As often happens, I was much closer to the sister when I was growing up, and her two children were my mother’s darlings.

Time has passed and the sisters have suddenly found themselves in the category of the very elderly.  My mother is 88 and her sister is, I believe, 91, although that side of the family has no compunctions about shaving a few years off their true age.  They tend to live to over 100, God help us, so what does it matter, really?

It doesn’t matter in itself, but they also don’t mind stuffing their purses with the packets of sweetener, soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, that populate the tables in various types of restaurants.  One time I was sent to retrieve something out of a purse, and had to paw through enough condiments to run a fast food joint.

My mother has no problem using my father’s handicapped placard to get a space closer to the supermarket doors, even if the weather is fine.  No matter that he’s been dead for six months.  I try to explain to her that this is lying–she is in no way handicapped (she said her knee hurt, and feigned a limp for a few steps, then forgot about it and switched into her locally famous confident stride)–and it is also stealing, because she is taking a parking space that a really handicapped person might need.  I had that happen once, when I was on crutches for something, and all the handicapped spots were taken.  While waiting for one to open up, I watched several totally able-bodied people come along to their vehicles parked in spots that I could have used, had they not been stolen by the Temporarily Able Bodied.  So in Jewish Law, at least, using your late husband’s handicap tag simply because you can, is both lying and stealing.  Bad things.  But she doesn’t think it’s bad.  She thinks it’s “getting away with something,” sort of like shoplifting, which she doesn’t really see as a crime.

To get to the meat of this story, now that I have given a dissertation on Narcissistic Personality Disorder: the sister’s life has taken a devastating turn for the worse.  First off, her husband, who has been her landmark in her stormy emotional sea, and whose constant praise has sustained her, got MRSA (Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, AKA Flesh Eating Disease) in a sore on his leg, and being 97 (although an extraordinarily active, and healthy up till now, 97), his immune system couldn’t fight it, and he seemed imminently moribund.  All the family gathered at his hospital bed, gowned and masked against the horrid disease, to await his demise.

Imagine their surprise when they showed up one day to find him sitting up eating a hearty breakfast!  Miracle.

But it didn’t last too long.  The profound dips in his blood pressure during the critical days of his illness had done their work on his brain, and now he is being cared for by his daughter, who says that he is “in and out of it.”  No telling how long he’ll last.

In the meantime my mother flew to be with her sister, which was a good thing because her sister has florid dementia and can’t be left on her own.  I think she might have had it for quite some time, but her husband kept things together and served as her stabilizer.  But now he was not at home, and to her that means he is gone, no matter how many times they brought her to see him.

But that’s not all, folks, that’s not all.  The sister had a sore place on her leg.  It was red and puffy.  My mother took her to her doctor’s office, but the doctor had no openings, so she saw a PA, who diagnosed her with MRSA empirically, (which was probably correct), did not take a culture (bad), and sent her home on the wrong medicine.  Bad, bad.  Possibly fatal.

In the meantime, my 88 year old mother is reveling in the adulation she’s getting from the rest of the family for caring for her sister.  It was the right thing to do.  But she was wallowing in an environment crawling with MRSA, since it is passed by fomites.  That’s one of my favorite words, fomites.  A fomite is any article that can pass germs from one person to another, like a hand towel.  Let’s say somebody’s sick with oh, let’s say, MRSA, and they touched an infected part of their body.  They went to wash their hands, and they opened the bathroom door with the now-contaminated hand.  The MRSA germs are now on the door handle.  Different germs live for different amounts of time on different surfaces (did you know that the HIV virus can only live less than 5 seconds on a fomite?).  MRSA can live quite a while, especially on damp surfaces like the hand towel they just dried their poorly washed contaminated hand on.

Now we have an infected bathroom.  Door handle, sink handles, hand towel.

But someone else has been impatiently waiting because they have to go to the bathroom.  The infected person comes out and closes the door.  The Someone Else opens the door, getting MRSA on their hands.  They use the toilet and flush–now it’s on the toilet handle.  Wash hands, dry on the infected hand towel…

Now you might be wondering, in that case, why doesn’t everyone come down with it?  The answer is: it’s because of the wonders of the immune system.  If you are a healthy human being with a normal immune system, you’re going to be fine, most likely.  But if you are 90 and have a weakened immune system, you might be in trouble.

How does MRSA get into our bodies in the first place?  Usually it needs a break in the skin, no matter how small, to take hold, and a weakened immune system that can’t fight it off.  So let’s say the person comes out of the bathroom, having been bathing in MRSA bacteria, and scratches an itch.  This causes a tiny break in the skin; and the MRSA germs that have been patiently hanging out under their nails just bail right into the tiny cut.

Under the right conditions, these germs can now have a holiday infecting skin, fat, muscle…whatever they can manage to spread.  Since they are Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, that means that most of the usual antibiotics used for soft tissue infections will not work.  And the library of resistant Staph Aureus germs is growing at a frightening pace.

MRSA is not something that can or should be treated on an outpatient basis.  Anyone with a confirmed MRSA infection needs to be hospitalized and treated with the few remaining IV antibiotics left in the arsenal.  And, oh yes, they must be isolated, quarantined so that they can’t spread the disease to others.

Back to the present.  My dear aunt is now surrounded by her two terribly dysfunctional children (in their 60’s), who are almost as clueless as she is.  They are ostensibly taking her–today–to live with, or near (in a nursing home), one of them, which involves an airplane ride.  That should be interesting.

So the female cousin mentions, this morning before the flight, that both of my aunt’s legs are swollen up to the knees today.  She’s not eating. Not good.  I get this information by way of my mother, who I’m pretty sure is losing what marbles she had left.  She should have put a halt to the travel plans and had her sister hospitalized right away.  Instead, they took her on the plane (which is now a contaminated plane), with the plan of taking her to the ER when they landed.  Sigh.

As my mother was telling me this sad story, she digresses to mention the ice in her driveway and how she needs something outside (nothing critically important), and she is going to put her ice grippers on and go and get it.

Please, Mom, don’t do that.  I don’t want you to fall and get hurt.

“What, you mean you don’t want me to mess up your trip?” she says sarcastically.

It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about.  Then I got it!  She was talking about my plans to go RVing, sometime in the near future, when the weather finally breaks.

She was projecting her thought process onto me!  That is what she would have assumed, were she in my position.  For a fleeting moment I understood how her mind works.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

*Dayenu=Hebrew for “Enough for us!”

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!

Holy Shit

It happened.

What I was waiting for, and dreading, and avoiding, and otherwise side-stepping.

The confrontation with my mother.

She started it.  She wanted to know if she had said or done anything to offend me, since of late I have seemed to be avoiding her.

She got that right.  All of it.

The only reason I am camping out in my father’s former studio, complete with no facilities, is that I gave up my gorgeous, wonderful life in Jerusalem to come and be with Dad in his last years.  I am immensely happy that I did that.  It gave a richness to Dad’s and my already very deep relationship that left a delicious taste when he departed, enhanced by the salt of my tears.

So, he having gone to his Place, I no longer have a reason to be here.  I am making plans to leave, and soon.

And when my mother asked a second time if I was avoiding her for some reason, the answer was “yes,” but of course I said “no,” because I knew what sort of scene would follow if I said “yes.”  So I said, “of course not,” while avoiding the laser gaze.

“How about a cup of tea?” She asked.  I obliged, and she made tea.  We sat down, and I wondered what in the world we were going to talk about.

“Well, are you still planning to…go galavanting around?”  She smirked.

“Are you talking about the RV?”  I am in the process of buying a small motorhome and living in it for who knows how long.  I have been a virtual gypsy all of my life, so I’d like to see what happens if I do it on purpose, with intention.

“If you’re talking about the RV, it’s in its final stages of the purchase.”

We chatted about the whole RV thing, and I allowed as how I would be back through here every 3 months or so, to check on her and see how things are going.  I didn’t tell her that the truth is, she’s showing signs of dementia, and I want to keep my finger on that pulse.

Oh, no, that isn’t necessary, to come all the way across the country to check on her.  She’ll be just fine, she says.

“Yes,” I said, “And I’ve also got a son…”  Didn’t get to finish that sentence.

“Oh, and where was he last week?  I thought he was supposed to come here for the weekend.”  My parents have always had this thing about my son, that he never took it upon himself to call or visit them.  They took it very personally.  God knows, if I took it personally that he never calls me either, I’d drive myself crazy.  That’s simply who is is: he’s an Aspie like his mom and dad, and if I want to talk to him I give him a buzz; he may or may not answer depending on what’s happening at the time.

“He’s at his father’s family reunion.”

“Oh yes, his father always made sure that he went to HIS family reunions.”  Not that WE ever had a family reunion.  No, I’m wrong.  Last year they had one, the family of my mother’s generation, but the children and grandchildren, all of whom are adults, were not invited.  By that I mean, they were explicitly told they were unwelcome.  Me too, and I thought it was a shame, but I don’t like to go places where I am not welcome, so I let that go.  BUT her side HAD had a family reunion, and none of us cousins and grandchildren were welcome.  So what’s to argue about?

Then came a volley of accusations on my part regarding whether my parents had bothered building a relationship with him, and of course she said they did, but I know for a fact not much. Perhaps she forgot how he came on birthdays, holidays, art show openings, and every other important happening on my side of the family.

Plus, I reminded her, he has a lot of cousins on his father’s side, and they are such a large family that having reunions is part of their tradition.

“Yes, of course HIS FATHER makes sure he has a good relationship with his family.”  Meaning, clearly, that it was MY fault that my son did not have a close relationship with THEM.

Then she started in on him in general, how he’s just inconsiderate, selfish, etc. etc.

That’s when I lost it.

I unloaded on her with both barrels, so to speak.  How she had no right to insult my son.  How the reason he doesn’t come around is because she belittles me right in front of him, and he won’t see his mother abused.

“Stop screaming,” she said, using her smooth persuasive courtroom voice (she is a guardian ad litem, which in her case means she specializes in taking children away from their parents).

By that time I was in a state I have never been in before.  Part of the gall that I have carried around with me for 61 years came pouring out.  I thought I was going to vomit.

“I am not screaming!  Every time I open my mouth you attack me with your sarcasm, your mocking, your belittling–you want to know why I avoid you, that’s why!”  My head felt like it was about to blow up.  My brains would spatter all over the spotlessly clean furniture.  Ever since my dad died she’s been compulsively cleaning the house, trying to rid it of his former presence.

“You stop your fucking screaming!”  She screamed, casting a furtive glance upward, worried that the three carpenters who were in the act of replacing the roof had heard.  I don’t know how the could not have.

“That’s it!  I’m done!  Good-bye!”  And I picked up my walking sticks, my dog behind me, and stomped though the gravel back yard, spewing obscenities that I’m sure the carpenters heard.

I made my way down the path to the studio, watching out for the knees of rhododendron roots that stick up out of the path, waiting to trip the novice or the careless.  I got “home,”–every time we move I tell my dog, “This is Home now,” so she will know to go “home,” if we get separated for any reason.  I guess this is more “home” than any of them, because it is my dad’s and he gave it to me.

I wonder if she’ll think of the motorhome as a home that has changes of scenery fairly regularly.  I guess that’s how it’s been for her anyway, except that she will get all territorial about this new home on wheels.

I grabbed half a joint and a little bit of wine, and sat out on the deck with my dog and watched the river for a while.

Blessed Is The Righteous Judge

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.

His already cold white hand slithered through my soapy gloves like a live fish as I tried to wash the fingers: blue sausages strange to me, unlike the skillful fingers that twirled and carved and painted in an epoch now seeming so long ago.

“Those hands, those hands,” my mother murmured over my shoulder.  She had volunteered to wash his body, a last act of kindness, but gave up when she saw that he was really dead.

“His fingers are turning blue,” she observed, almost casually.  I wanted to back-hand her, but instead interlaced my fingers with the cold dead ones in order to wash his arm and chest.  Just a couple of days ago we had interlaced our warm fingers just so, when he first lost the ability to talk.

“Look, his chest has hardly any hair left on it,” chirped the grisly bird at my shoulder.

How long had it been since she looked at his once bear-like chest, black with thick curly hair?  Probably when he ceased to be a “man” to her, which she had had no compunctions about trumpeting in that booming voice of hers, at her famous dinner parties, with him sitting right there shrinking into himself, mortified, unable to defend himself.

I concentrated on rinsing off the soap with clean wet washcloths, and tried to close his mouth, which had fallen open some weeks ago, making speech even more difficult for him; and now it seemed that it had stuck that way, and I couldn’t get it to stay shut.  I could not stand to let his gullet stand open to the public like that, so I called for some gauze and placed a carefully folded square behind his teeth.  It looked odd, but seemed better than the gaping maw.

The undertaker showed up before I had a chance to wash his face, and suddenly the hospice nurse became all business: a stark contrast to the all-compassion face she had on before he died.  Now it was just the routine, slide the limp item over from the hospital bed to the undertaker’s stretcher and strap it on.

His elbow was caught up in the strap, and pinched horribly; it hurt me to see that already he was treated like a piece of meat, only not so carefully, having no intrinsic value.  At the very least it was disrespectful.  I bounded forward and started to pull his arm out, and was intercepted by the undertaker, who did it for me but was visibly miffed.  Fuck him.

As they took him away the man in black explained to my mother that they would not be taking him “over the mountain” to Johnson City, the nearest crematorium, until they had assembled “a few” (to make it worth the trip, I suppose), so it would not be the next day or perhaps the next.  Jews are normally buried within 24 hours of death, but since he was to be cremated, what’s the difference?  All of our customs were going up in smoke anyway, so why not that one too?

My mother won that round.  It was what he wanted, it’s in his will, they are not Orthodox, he did not want to be eaten by worms/beetles/what-have-you, and We Believe In Cremation.

Jews don’t cremate.  We believe that the soul needs the body as a kind of GPS cache, so it knows where it came from, at least in the month after death after which it ascends to its Heavenly Home.

And we believe that a part of the soul remains with the body, and will return to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes.

Burning the body deprives the soul of its orientation.  It has no place to rest in those vital thirty days, and it can get lost in the vast spiritual realms.

Not only that, but our enemies shoved us into ovens by the millions.  Do we really want to commemorate that by burning our dead?

I explained to her all these things.  She waxed romantic telling me how they had dreamed of the places where they would spread their ashes.

Where?  I asked.

Oh, um, you know, all those places……

The animal graveyard down at the bottom of the garden where all the pets are buried?  I volunteered.

Oh yes!  She brightened.  And maybe plant a tree, and sprinkle his ashes on it….

Bullshit.

Culture is defined by rites-of-passage and by lifeways: food, weddings, and the rituals surrounding death.  Over and over in the Torah, we are commanded not to take on the customs of the surrounding nations.  We do not share their food, lest our children intermarry and take on the customs of foreigners.

Jews keep Kosher, have special wedding rituals, and have very specific funeral procedures.  None of these involve desecrating the body, living or dead.

For those of you whose culture prescribes or allows cremation, I do not write this to denigrate or offend you, for those are your customs and for you they are good.

For us, deviation from these customs means assimilation, and assimilation means the death of our living culture.

And in order to live properly, we must die and be properly buried.

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.  Blessed Be The Righteous Judge.

Talking Shop

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I’ve noticed, that I haven’t been posting.

Lord knows I’ve wanted to.

Blogging serves many purposes for me, as I’m sure it does for you: catharsis, self-expression, connection, community, dialogue, intellectual challenge, exercise and sharpening of one’s writers’ craft teeth, etc.

But: things around here have been less than peachy.

Dad had another stroke a week ago, was in a coma for a couple of days.  Then he began his struggle back into This World.  He’s not quite as “with it” as he was before–and he wasn’t too “with it” then either–but sometimes he knows where he is.  Thankfully he still knows who I am.

While we thought he was dying or about to die, there was a certain amount of drama (really?!) on the part of my mother, who actually hugged me and wept on my shoulder for an uncomfortable while.  I do feel sorry for her, but not that sorry.  But it’s not as if I would push my mother away while she’s having a dramatic sad moment, or a sadly dramatic moment, being about to lose her husband of sixty-six years.

Life is now a patchwork of caregivers and nurses coming in and out of the house.  That’s good, because I cannot help with physical needs other than the food-related ones.  I can prepare food, and help him eat it; and if he’s too “out of it” to get his food into his mouth, I can feed him.  Some days he’s able to feed himself, and some days he’s just too exhausted.  He’s hungry, but he just can’t manage the eating part.  I never realized how complex the act of eating is, until this experience of watching Dad’s stepwise loss of the mechanical ability to manipulate food, even with his hands, let alone utensils.

Once it’s in his mouth he can usually chew it up and swallow, but sometimes he needs his food “blenderized” and sometimes he just can’t eat at all.  I know that’s part of dying.  And sometimes he absolutely refuses to eat, and that’s part of dying too.

We try to keep him hydrated, at least.  He’s on a medicine that decreases the fluid in his blood, taking some stress off his heart, which does make him feel better but causes increased urination, so getting the fluids into him is important.  I know, it seems paradoxical: on one hand, taking the fluids out, on the other, shoving them in.

The other day we were sitting alone together, watching the afternoon coming in through the brilliant greens of the forest canopy, and he said:  “You and I need to go up into the woods and talk shop.”

I know what he meant.

We have always been best buddies, even when times weren’t so good, even though he served as my own private “Flying Monkey” who tried to explain away my mother’s evil ways.  I always came back, for my dad.  Here I am!

Just about every night, starting from…when?  Maybe after I got back off the road, when I was seventeen–every night when I was visiting and would be staying over, my dad and I would sit up late drinking whiskey and “talking shop.”  We would solve the world’s problems, solve problems for worlds that were entirely theoretical at the time but in fact exist now, and dig deep into authors, poetry, philosophical genres, the nature of human existence, art (of course), artists (same), relationships of all sorts….and now and then my mother would stick her head down the stairway to ask us to please “keep it down.”

I do salute her for allowing us those times together and not throwing a monkey-wrench into things, which she is quite capable of doing.  She knew that those late-night rap sessions were sacred.

The only time my dad and I ever got into a shouting match was oh, around 3 am when we were both three sheets to the wind, and somehow or other we fell into the topic: “Does God have a sense of humor?”

He staunchly and solidly maintained that God does NOT have a sense of humor.  The Holocaust.

I equally stubbornly held that God DOES have a sense of humor, because WE exist and that is the ridiculous proof!

Neither of us would budge, and having put a good dent in a fifth of Bourbon whiskey, the volume worked its way up until we were actually shouting at each other in earnest.  Luckily my mother yelled down the stairs for us to “knock it off down there.”  We sheepishly toasted “to Life” and stumbled off to our respective beds.  We never did resolve that point.

So, we need to go up into the woods and talk shop.  Some more.  Soon.

Time Slave

Dearest Readers, I don’t know where to begin.

Everything in my life is a cliche.

Meekly I cave in to my mother’s demands, even when it means harm to me, physically and emotionally.  She publicly denigrates my role as my father’s caregiver.  The Hospice nurse coordinator visits.  I try to explain my situation as a person with spine injuries who cannot physically help my now paraplegic father.  I can’t transfer him from wheelchair to bed–“I can do it,” my mother interjects, with a snort, a face twisted with disgust.

I explain to the nurses how many, many times my father has fallen during my mother’s attempts to transfer him–how many times the on-call nurse has had to find their well-hidden home in the middle of the night, because once my father is on the floor, she can’t get him up.  How many times EMS has had to come, to check him for injuries and get him back into bed.  How many ER visits, before he went on Hospice and no longer goes to the hospital unless he has broken a bone or something else fixable.

Her glare reminds me of her intolerable cat.  He was re-homed three times before she got him at the shelter.  You know what they say about pets resembling their people….it’s that people are attracted to pets that share their personalities, is all.  That’s clear.

I see what her body language (and her face, twisted with disdain for me) says:  the same thing it said so many years ago, before I left with the intention of never returning to the parental hell-hole: “You’re useless,” she used to say then.  Now she says it again.

If I mention my disability, I get a “Hah!”  Which means to say, “You’re just lazy, a parasite on The System.”  No amount of stuttering defense on my part that I worked very hard in my career, that I loved my work, and would never have left it except for my disability–her head turns, face twists–my stomach climbs into my esophagus, I feel sick but can’t do anything about it.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, from 11:30 am to whatever time she gets home in the late afternoon, I take care of Dad.  Yesterday was Wednesday, and he had a dentist appointment at 1:30 pm.  We usually call for the rural transport van to take us to appointments, but this time she decided that the caregiver who comes in the mornings to get him out of bed, shower him etc. (this she cannot do) would help transport him in my car.  I was not consulted, but told, with a large dose of sarcasm, that this is what would happen.  She said she had called the transport, as she said she would do, 48 hours in advance of when we needed them.

They were full up, she told me the morning of the appointment.  That has never happened before.  She was lying, as she often does.  She sees no evil in lying, if it suits her purpose.  She probably forgot.  Why else would she choose to pay the caregiver $12 an hour over the transport, which costs $4 for door-to-door service with the wheelchair and assistance getting through doors, etc.?

So to the dentist we all went, Dad, the caregiver, and me.  It was a quick appointment, so we were home within the hour.  The caregiver said his goodbyes and headed off.

His tail lights were still visible going up the drive when Dad announced he had to go to the bathroom.

This is a hard one for me.  I was trained up in extreme modesty.  I have seen my mother not-quite-naked once, my father never.  So now I’m expected to take care of his intimate needs.

But a need is a need.  Right now I’m more worried about getting him from wheelchair to toilet and back, than I am about what to do regarding the bodily functions and subsequent clean-up.

So I get him into the bathroom in his wheelchair, which is already a difficult job.  When it started becoming clear that he would no longer be climbing stairs to take a shower, some 3 years ago, I designed a wheelchair-accessible bathroom for downstairs (I love designing bathrooms).  I purposely designed it with a lot of open space for safely turning and maneuvering the chair.

My mother, who can’t stand open space, immediately filled it with chairs and bookcases for storing towels, even though I designed a closet area, convenient yet out of the way, into the layout.  I guess she needed something else to complain about, because of course the steam from the shower is warping her bookcases.

Anyway.

I got Dad into the bathroom, moving furniture along the way.  I got him to stand, unsteadily holding onto the commode frame I installed for just such occasions (and to keep him from falling off the toilet and getting wedged between the toilet and the sink, which happened twice before I put in the grab assist bars).  Dissociating quick, I pulled down his sweat pants and diaper so I could get him on the john.

But not quick enough.  He lost control of his bladder all over his clothing, the toilet, the floor, and–me.  He was mortified.  I was dissociated.

He apologized profusely, and I felt helpless.  We both felt helpless.  He said he was finished.  I saw he was soaked.

The next task was to get his sodden clothes off him (even his socks were wet!), wash his wet legs, and give him a washcloth so he could clean up his “delicate parts,” as I told him, which got a laugh out of him, at least.

Then I had to get dry things on him.  While he was cleaning his delicate parts I had laid out clean things for him: sweat pants, diaper, socks.  Draping a towel across his lap for modesty, I got his socks on.

But that was all.  I got his diaper and pants as far as his knees, but then he had to stand for just a moment so I could pull everything up where it goes.

He was too exhausted by the effort of standing the first time to get himself out of the chair.  I was too exhausted from the first time to pull him up–and I didn’t want to risk dropping him.   Why didn’t I think of myself, my disintegrating spine, which is on the same trajectory as his ruined vertebrae?  Why didn’t I just leave things as they were for the moment, cover him up, and go watch Westerns and have a Scotch with him in the living room?

My mother, is why.  I was afraid of the consequences of being too disabled to haul Dad around.  So I did my best, and hurt myself again in the process.  Today I am one hurtin’ puppy. My neck is in such a spasm I can’t turn my head.  Shit.

Why don’t I get it, and stop acting like a slave?

So back in the bathroom…after a couple of tries, Dad and I both called it a day.  I got his bathrobe and draped it over his lap, and we wheeled into the living room.  I put on the Westerns and he watched Bat Masterson shoot ’em up without breaking a sweat while I cleaned myself up as much as possible.

I wonder if Bat Masterson has trouble controlling his bladder now that he’s old.

I dreaded the arrival of She Who Must Be Obeyed.  Trigger, trigger, trigger….faster trigger than Bat Masterson.

Luckily She had had a good day out, and didn’t humiliate the two of us on the spot.  But it will come, believe me.  It will come.

The hell-cat, who never makes an appearance when She is out, came down the stairs demanding food.  She clucked over him and fed his already bloated body, while Dad sat half-naked in front of the TV.