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.

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!

Overwhelmed With Weird

I think I need my head examined.

Since today kept getting more and more bizarre, I just had to chill out with a movie.  A movie that my psychologist suggested that I watch with my son, way back when he was (WAS!!!) dating a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, who called him every thirty seconds and texted him in between calls, and became irate when he didn’t return her texts while he was in meetings.  My bone-chilling fear was that she would manage to get pregnant…….but thank G-d she did not, and at last he developed, through hard work, the strength to finally leave her.

The movie, of course, is Fatal Attraction.

My skin is still crawling.

I must be having a masochistic spell, or I certainly wouldn’t have pulled that one out of the hat.  Or maybe I just needed to see something weirder than my real life, these days.

Dad is doing much better now that he’s home from the nursing home.  Mom is busy working on that, though, by encouraging him to stand up by himself in the bathroom (that’s when he falls down–when he’s standing up, because he can’t feel his legs, and the tile floor is always hard).  ‘Round and ’round and ’round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows.

I’m glad Dad is better.  We get to spend more quality time together.  After I gave him his lunch today, we had tea.  He wanted a really strong tea, so he chose Irish Breakfast, and I had Earl Grey.  As we shared our tea, conversation floated naturally from one topic to another.  Then, on his way to the cookie jar, he fell asleep in his wheelchair, and I let him nap in peace.

My mother came in from shopping with her usual flourish, braying for the cat and waking Dad, which is hard to do.  I waited until everything was settled down, and gathered my things to go.

As I was getting ready to leave, and before I had a chance to put my raincoat on, she slapped me on the arm…hard.

 Memories of stinging childhood slaps.

“Don’t hit me!” I yelled.

“Why not?  I can hit you if I want to.  You’re my child!” Smirked Mrs. Social Worker Guardian-Ad-Litem.

“Parents who hit their children get reported to Social Services.  Remember?”  My mouth said it, but my mind was numb.

“Oh.  Yes,” she said blankly.

So I go home and watch Fatal Attraction.

What a jerk.

I. Am. On. The. Wrong.  Planet.  Phone home.

Bunny Boiling Close Call

If you aren’t yet familiar with it, “Bunny Boiling” is a term referencing a scene in the movie Fatal Attraction.  The movie stars Glenn Close as a person who is supposed to have Borderline Personality Disorder.  (I don’t agree with that assessment, but that’s the consensus.)

There’s a scene in the movie where Close’s character, Alex, in retaliation for a perceived slight from the object of her affection (Michael Douglas), takes his family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove.  No, I haven’t watched this scene.  I would freak out or throw up or something, so I leave it to others to write about it.  I learned about the term on the excellent site Out of the Fog, which provides support and resources for people in relationships, whether chosen or unchosen, with people with Personality Disorders.

What it boils down to (sorry, bad pun) is that the disordered person, for whatever reason/non-reason, takes something that is precious to the person they want to hurt, and breaks/destroys/kills it.  It’s not a pretty thing.

And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think “Bunny Boiling” is a feature of Borderline Personality Disorder.  In my experience, Borderlines rarely if ever take out their anguish on other people in planned, complex ways.  Borderlines turn their pain in on themselves, via self-harm that may either be physical such as cutting/overdosing, or in exposing themselves to danger, usually subconsciously.  Some Borderlines have rage attacks and level their explosive anger at people they love, and some hit or throw things.

But they are usually contrite and filled with self-loathing after these spontaneous outbursts, and that’s when self-harm becomes a risk.

Please note: The characterizations of Personality Disorders you will see here are a combination of my own clinical experiences, cross-checked with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V.

Contrast that with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where the person does not feel disordered at all.  Rather, s/he expects the world to put her on a pedestal and worship her.  If she thinks she is not getting enough adulation, she will attempt to emotionally cow everyone in her inner circle, using an arsenal of weapons such as intimidation, gaslighting, temper tantrums, physical and/or emotional abuse, and disregard of boundaries.  She is not above stealing from her own family, and she is not above….Bunny Boiling.  Outside the family, she is all smiles and sunshine, usually a pillar of the community, craving (and getting) admiration and accolades at work and in the community.  The family is powerless to gain support from the community, because if they try to get help no one believes them, because the disordered person is SUCH an angel, anyone who speaks against her must be the devil incarnate.

I’ve noticed some overlap here with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Both Narcissists and Antisocials tend to have no remorse for the sometimes heinous deeds they do.  They will willingly steal, and feel that it’s merely what they deserve to have, after all.  They both use others for their own designs. They lack empathy.  Neither type has any problem with destroying things belonging to other people, although they do it for different reasons.

Narcissists will destroy things belonging to loved ones because they feel they are not getting the attention or adulation they deserve; therefore they will steal/break/destroy/kill something of special value to the loved one or family.

Antisocials don’t need a motive.  They do destructive acts because they enjoy it.  I have had some horrific experiences with Antisocials, and have observed them torturing animals and getting sexual pleasure from it.  I’ve had Antisocial children in my pediatrics practice as young as five or six, who purposely set the house on fire or set the family cat on fire, etc.  Therapy did not help.  It’s tragic and terrifying to see this developing over time in a youngster.  I know that some of you who are reading this will be angered by my characterization of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and accuse me of demonizing it, but what I am describing is from my direct experience, so I can’t soft-pedal it.

I have written a lot about my mother and my anguish at trying to escape her abuse, only to get sucked back in.  I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself around this, and I am starting to see the way the roles have played out over my lifetime.  My mother is the Disordered One who has absolutely no remorse about tormenting me, kicking the dog, breaking precious fragile one-of-a-kind handmade objects, and saying shockingly denigrating things about my father in front of selected other people.

I am the scapegoat, the one she takes her anger and frustration out on, and then is furious that I don’t adore her the way she envisioned being adored by her child.  For my part, I desperately seek ways to appease her and make her love me, or at least accept me, or at least stop treating me like a contemptuous piece of shit.

My father is the “Winged Monkey,” a term taken from the Wizard of Oz.  The Wicked Witch of the (East or West, can’t remember) had a band of Winged Monkeys that she sent to retrieve Dorothy and crew when they escaped.  In a Personality Disordered family/relationship, a Winged Monkey is the person who, after the scapegoat has fled, goes to her and explains that Mom really didn’t mean to say what she said, she was tired, she was aggravated about something at work, she had her period.

And the scapegoat, not wanting to believe that Mom is such a mean person, capitulates and returns to the abusive situation, hoping that this time will be different, and resorting time and again to appeasement behaviors to try to make Mom proud, so that THIS time she’ll be as nice to me as she is to everyone else.  And since this is just another cycle-of-abuse situation, there is often a “honeymoon” period where everything is lovely, because Mom really didn’t want me to leave–she just wanted to throw me out.

I’ve tried all kinds of strategies to get away from my mother.  I’ve been in therapy since 1984.  I’ve utilized the Geographic Solution, even moving to the other side of the world to get as far away from her as I could.  Hell, if they offered a one-way trip to Mars I’d jump at the chance.

There I was, on the other side of the planet, enjoying myself immensely, assuaging my guilt for enjoying life by calling Mom on Sundays and Thursdays.  Then the Winged Monkey struck again.

He didn’t mean to do it.  He just got awful sick, and they are awful old, and I couldn’t just let them flounder.  Could I?  So I packed up my stuff and came back to the States after four glorious years abroad, and moved into the barn.  No bathroom, no kitchen, but it’s a roof and it has heat, and I’m damned well not going to live in the house with THEM.

Except now, as of about a month ago, it’s not THEM who live in the “real house,” because my Winged Monkey has moved into the nursing home, and it looks to be for the rest of his life.  It is a tragedy.

Last Tuesday I was visiting him, as I do every day, and I brought along Noga, as I do every day.  She has become the unofficial Therapy Dog at the nursing home.  When we finally get to my dad’s room, after greeting all the residents and staff along the way, she cuddles up to him in his bed,

Noga, the Angel Puppy

Noga, the Angel Puppy

and he buries his hand in her silky fur.  Sometimes he cries.  If nobody stops her, she will lick his ears till he convulses with laughter.  She is his angel.

Last Tuesday Mom was looking distracted and a bit agitated.  She asked me if she could take Noga for a walk in the park that adjoins the nursing home.  I didn’t see any harm in that, and I thought it might be therapeutic for Mom, as it was a beautiful day for a walk.  I handed over Noga’s leash, and turned my attention to Dad, who was having a rough day as well.

Half an hour later, Mom came striding into the room with Noga gunny-sacked under her arm.  Her hair (Noga’s) was a mess and her harness hung around her neck.  I took her–she was shaking and grabbed onto me with her claws, terrified–and I noticed that the part of the harness that was hanging from her neck was a part that normally goes over her leg.  The harness had been completely off, and hastily thrown on–not put back on properly.

“What happened?” I asked Mom, keeping my voice even.

“I don’t know, she got out of her harness,” says Mom, avoiding eye contact.

“Did she get scared and pull back?  Did she see a rabbit or something?”  I was hopeful there would be some rational explanation.

“No, she just got out of her harness,” Mom repeated.

I got a chill in the pit of my stomach.

First it was a group of four little shot glasses my dad had made, that he and I used to use every afternoon.  They disappeared, and I found them behind the refrigerator after much grilling.  Two of them are still whole, but the fridge is huge.  I’ll have to wait for someone to help me, but for now they’re safe.

Next it was a really beautiful porcelain vase that my dad and I collaborated on–he threw the vase, and I painted it.  It disappeared from its place on the shelf, and all the other pieces of pottery have been rearranged to fill the gap.  She “doesn’t know” what happened to that either, and she’s not budging on this one.  I think she sold it.

And now, I can only be grateful that whatever occurred to induce her to bring Noga back to me intact–whether it was a moment of remorse, or fear, or whether Noga simply would not leave her–she brought my Angel Puppy back to me.

Although I don’t fool myself that there will be no more “Bunny Boilings,” I will do my best to keep Noga safe, and not to let my own pattern of appeasement deliver her over to….her.

 

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.

Denial is a River in Egypt

Pam Tillis co-wrote the song that goes, “Just call me Cleopatra, everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.”  If you want to see her video, which is just wall-to-wall packed with cultural stereotypes  (somewhat embarrassing) but pretty funny, look here.   It would give Edward Said, author of Orientalism, an epileptic fit.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I took a graduate-level seminar in Cultural Anthropology.  There, they liked to throw around words like “hermeneutics.”  When I asked what that meant, the professor grew red in the face and told me that if I didn’t know, then I shouldn’t be asking.  Hmm.  Kind of like my mother’s favorite retort when I’d ask her what I’d done to deserve punishment:  “If you don’t know, then I’M certainly not going to tell you!

I don’t believe they knew what the word “hermeneutics” meant (it’s the theory of text interpretation, especially Biblical or scholarly).  I found out, though, quite by accident.  We were supposed to read Orientalism and write a paper on it to discuss in seminar.  So I read the book.  I thought it was a pompous, reverse-racist take on the “Western” ideas in art, music, film, and literature supposedly misrepresenting the Arab world.  But I have a nasty habit of reading footnotes and actually reading the original sources.  It takes a bit longer, but you can discover amazing things: like, for example, that the primary sources cited in the footnotes say something quite different than the author, in this case Said, made them out to be.

I brought a stack of these primary sources (we had libraries full of real books back then) to show my “hermeneutics” professor what I had found.  But oh dear, it seems I had shot a sacred cow!  For the sin of debunking Said’s theory by means of his own references (not to mention proving that he had committed a crime by misrepresenting the references as supporting his theory, when in fact they often said exactly the opposite of what he said they did), I was hauled before a tribunal (hauled before a tribunal!  I am not kidding you).  I was only a nobody undergraduate, but they didn’t want this accidental discovery of mine to get out.  I had to withdraw my paper and promise never to mention it again, if I wanted to get my degree from that venerable wellspring of hermeneutics.

Last week I wrote about the deplorable scene that erupted when I came out to my parents that I had been forced to resort to prostitution when I ran away from them at the age of 16.  So far, neither of them has asked me why I ran away.   I take that back: my father did once, when he thought he was dying, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.  I have wondered ever since if I did the right thing or not.  I tell myself that I didn’t want to distress him when he was so ill, but I really think it’s fear.  In fact, I know it’s fear.

The result of my revelation was a major catastrophic scene, blaming me for depriving them of their only child, and therefore I deserved whatever I got.  Not surprisingly, I had a major meltdown as a result of all that, and a flareup of physical symptoms as well as some serious PTSD flashbacks, nightmares, what have you.

I got an ugly email from my mother the next day, accusing me of accusing her of putting me out on the street to work as a prostitute (huh?), and of committing the crime of saying such things in the presence of my father, a “sick old man.”

Rather than engage with her and start a war, I rolled over like my dog does when she thinks she has done something bad, in appeasement, so I won’t scold her for peeing on the carpet.  I wrote her back and said I was sorry that she had perceived such things, that I never intended that she should perceive such things, and that I certainly never intended that she should perceive that I had accused her of such things.

Indeed, I did not roll over so far as to say that I was sorry if I hurt her or sorry to deprive her of her only child, etc., because those are delusions.  I am in no way sorry for crimes I did not commit.  I am in no way sorry that I read Said’s primary sources and exposed him as a liar, and I am in no way sorry that I came out and told my parents that I was forced to prostitute myself when I ran away from them.

Here’s what I am sorry for: I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to tell them why I left.  I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to face my mother and tell her that her screaming and her name-calling and her gaslighting and her growling “I can’t stand you” time and time again, drove me to the brink of suicide and I had to get out of there.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell her that for those reasons and more, I preferred to live on the street and get raped again and again.  At least that was an honest danger.

But everyone loves her.  Just today someone came to visit and was gushing about how sweet she is.  I had to get out of there.  Yes, I know that’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They are just so sweet, such pillars of the community, such advocates for the underdog–on the outside.  But on the inside of the book, there’s a rat stinking.  A living lie that never gets past the door, and nobody is reading the footnotes.

And so, the day after the messy tribunal,  and after the non-apologetic apology, I was expecting the cold shoulder, the “silent treatment” as she likes to call it.  That’s what I can usually expect after an outburst of honesty. But wonder of wonders, she was just as cheerful and chipper as can be!  We can’t afford to actually deal with this, because I’m needed to help care for my dad, who is indeed a “sick old man.”  And it seems that we can’t afford the possible consequences of driving me away again with insults and gaslighting.  So I was spared the usual aftermath of a moment of honesty.  I can’t say it’s not a relief.  But I’m still spooky, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

So for now there is a lull in the action.  I’m debating whether to dive back into anonymity with this blog.  I’m terrified that sooner or later, she or one of her friends will find it and out me.  I mean, I’ve already outed myself, but I’m starting to regret it, because of the possible consequences.  I’m trying real hard to stay in the footnotes and not be afraid of the tribunal.  But I don’t know if I can hold out with this fear and tension much longer, because she hasn’t read the references, and wouldn’t believe them if she did.

On the other hand, what’s the price of living in fear?

The King and Queen of Denial

Today started out like any Wednesday, taking care of my 89-year-old father so my 87-year-old mother could get out of the house for the afternoon.

Dad was a little “off” today: he wasn’t happy with his omelette for lunch.  He would rather have had one more piece of toast but preferred to grumble about it rather than ask for it.  I didn’t mind.  After all, he’s 89 and very disabled, in pain all the time, and it amazes me that he manages to get through most of his days in mild-to-moderately good spirits.

Mom came in from shopping, bringing the mail that she picked up at the post office.  There was a package from LL Bean for me.  She wanted to see what was in it; I demurred, because the gift for her upcoming birthday was in it.  She got demanding and insistent.  There was a bit of a tussle until I finally remembered that there was something in that package for me, too, and I cagily extracted it.  That satisfied her.

I looked at my mail; nothing but “begging letters.”  I have specific charities I give to regularly, so I threw them all in the recycle bin.

The conversation turned to politics, and somehow got onto someone whose past as a prostitute had recently been revealed.

Mom reacted acidly.  How could anyone sink so low?  What in the world would cause anyone to do THAT?  She’d rather die.

“I did that,” I said quietly.

“YOU DID NOT!” She shouted, staring at me blinking out of her little birdy eyes as if I was the world’s biggest liar.

“Come OFF IT” shouted my father, several decibels softer than he would have in his prime, but doing the best he could muster.

“You were never a prostitute,” stated my mother matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, I was, when I ran away.”

“Then you deserved what you got!  You’re lucky you didn’t pick up some disease!  Maybe you DID pick up some disease,” she said thoughtfully.  “Why in the world did you do that?”

“I did it because I was cold and hungry, I needed food and shelter and safety from the streets.”

“You never told us that.  You never told us anything.  You just left us all of a sudden.  You robbed us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

I robbed them of their only child.  That was all they could think of.  They didn’t ask me why I ran away to California, or why, when they flew me back East for a family event, I ran back to California as soon as it was over.  Even if they had asked me then, I wouldn’t have told them.

I was scheduled for an abortion. I needed to get back to California.

It’s been forty-four years since I bought that one-way ticket to San Francisco.  Forty-four years since the bullying at school, my mother’s frequent unpredictable rages, and the vicious rape that took my virginity rolled up into critical mass.  I knew I had to either kill myself or get out of there.  I chose the latter.

I hit the streets in California broke, disoriented, and from my perspective now, unbelievably vulnerable.  Nowhere to stay, nothing to eat.  The weather was cold that spring, and I was dressed for California sunshine, not cold fog.

The first night I stayed with a friend I had met at a summer camp.  Her parents had a party that very night, and I went to bed early, exhausted from the trip.  The bedroom door opened and closed, and suddenly a man’s body was on top of mine.  A voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

It was the same thing my first rapist had hissed.  That first time.

Many more rapes, and finally it dawned on me that I could get food and places to stay and maybe a little money to buy a new toothbrush.  Nothing big-time: I didn’t even know what I was doing.  Just surviving, that’s all.

Why didn’t I give up and go home?

Because the streets and the rapes and the johns were better than the screaming and the “silent treatment” and the rapist there who watched me like a hawk, trying to get me to “be nice” to his friends in exchange for some Panama Red….and the school principal who regularly lectured me on the fact that I was a weirdo and would never amount to anything.  At least this bad scene was MY bad scene.  I chose it over being a one-girl shooting range at “home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”  There was only one heart, and it was beating in my chest.  Now, as then.

“You deprived us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

And yet…and yet what?  You only thought of yourselves?  You still, forty-four years later, think only of yourselves and not why I ran away, let alone what happened to me out there?

“You deserved whatever you got.  You chose it.  You deprived us of our only child!”

God help us.

The Sword of Damocles

Every time the phone rings I dread it.  The several times a week that I see her sour face, I cringe.  It’s happened!  She’s found my blog!   My mother, that is.

I’ve written my heart out on the topic of the rage that seethes within me at the very thought of her.  Of the abuse that I suffered at her hands as a child, and that I have continued to suffer as an adult.

Because of her I became a teenage runaway, to escape her endless screaming, name-calling, belittling, gas-lighting, accusations of imagined crimes.

Because of her I preferred sleeping outdoors or in abandoned buildings, suffering  hunger, cold, and turning to prostitution in order to survive.

And when I tried over and over and over again to make amends for the crime of  having left “home” she drove me out with curses: “You’re shit!” she would calmly observe. “You’re good for nothing!”  And once again, I fled in tears, into the forest, into the arms of any waiting man who seemed to want me, into cocaine, into the underworld of dirty Chicago….anywhere but “home.”  I don’t have a “home.”  She threw me out of it.

So I started getting degrees, to prove to myself that I was good for something.  And maybe if I was good for something, she would love me.  A bachelor’s. An M.D., with a master’s tacked on for good measure.  Head of my class, 5.0 GPA, wall full of awards.  Exercised and starved myself into ultimate shape.  Made a lot of money, legally.  Sent expensive gifts.  All-expense-paid-for vacations.  Surely that would earn me favor in her eyes?  Surely now she would see what a good daughter I was?

It did, sort of.  She sang my praises far and wide, in the public sphere.  But in private, again: “You moron!  Don’t you know anything?  How could you be so stupid!”

Yes, I know she’s crazy.  She comes from a family of crazies. I know the stories of what she did to me when I was a baby, a toddler, and how the family laughed about it, and how she said I deserved it: always getting into mischief, that one.

So I’m terrified that she will find my blog, and read what I have written about her.  She will not think: “Oh my God, what have I done to cause my only child to fear me so?  How can I fix this, how can I change, how can I make amends?”  No, she won’t think that.  She will think:  “Why, that g_d-damn  stinking little selfish bastard!  She can’t stand me, eh?  Well she’ll get hers!  I’ll give her something to fear!”  And she will.

Thirty years of therapy have not erased the trauma.  I still feel like that helpless little kid being cut to ribbons by her sharp tongue.  Some wounds don’t heal.