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.

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.

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.

Hypervigilance: Emergency Mode

Imagine that your ears are tuned and listening constantly for the drop of a pin in silence that signals impending explosion.

Imagine your eyes scanning the room, straining to see behind your head as you walk, even half-open in rare moments of sleep, unable to close for fear of missing the approach of the evil that comes with the dark.

Imagine your skin so thin and so sensitive that even the still air rubs like a rasp.  Clothes are agony.  Underwear is torture.  No, no, don’t touch me!

Alert, always alert, and jump at the least sound.  Don’t close that door.  No, don’t open it.  Move my chair, I want to be able to see that door.  No, I don’t want that window at my back.  Close those drapes.

Who cooked this food?  I don’t want it, then.

My bags are packed.  I can leave at any moment.  My taxi money is set aside.  The driver’s number is in my phone.  No, not any driver.  Only this one.  I know him.

The bags inside my brain are always packed.  I can leave at any moment.  Any time and anytime, if my eyes see me something, if my ears hear me something, if my skin crawls at the feel of the air.  Or if the air in my lungs chokes danger, I can be gone in the blink of an eye.

I am always on the move, never in one place for more than a moment or two, maybe less if you think about it.  There is no place to rest: I must stay alert, on guard, watch out: someone may approach, may get too close, may brush my skin and leave raw places and burns that turn into scars, scars that hold pain, scars that pile on top of scars.  Don’t touch me.

Tough?  You said I must be tough, then.  No.  The opposite.  The longer I travel, the more I am lost.  My bags are packed.  I can go at a moment’s notice.

Rage Can Kill You

First it was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which I got through mostly by dissociating.  I thought I wasn’t, but I was.  My past homelessness and survival prostitution still haunts me, and although I have forgiven myself, I can’t forgive my parents for not rescuing me, nor can I forgive the shameless bastards who raped me when I was a naive little girl trying to survive on the streets.

Then it was Child Abuse Awareness Month.  I really thought I might get through that in one piece, but after the pieces on emotional and psychological and verbal abuse started coming hard and fast, I have to say I took a pounding.  I grew up with a relentlessly abusive mother and an absent, codependent father who played the sympathetic one and passed me his handkerchief while explaining that Mom wasn’t feeling well, had her period (he described her as a “wildcat in a hatbox” when she was menstruating), or any of a million excuses for her evil behavior.

Since my chief drive as a recovering Adult Child of Abusive Parents is still to try to mollify my mother and protect my now-disabled father from her wrath, I moved to the US from my beloved Jerusalem to try to help them in their old age.  He is 88 and she is 86, although she claims to be 85.

They live in what my dear friend R_ in Jerusalem affectionately calls “East Bumfuck.”  Their house is in a remote hollow, and the road leading to it is so steep that the UPS man refuses to drive down there–he parks at the top and walks down, except in the winter when their access road is a bobsled run and utterly impassible.  Then he leaves the package at the post office, which makes the postmistress frantic because they’re not supposed to do that and what if she gets inspected etc., but there’s nothing to be done about it.

Because of the nature of the road and the ice in the winter, they are often housebound for weeks.  Several years ago when Dad was still healthy he slipped coming down it and broke three ribs.  My mom broke her ankle on it.  My dad broke his wrist on it.

The power goes out frequently.  Since Dad has been losing his balance and falling a lot, I pitched a fit about the kerosene lamps they used to put around everywhere when they were younger, and they finally caved in and got a generator, which has made life easier in that area.

I moved here in a panic, in the winter of 2010-11, when there was storm after storm and they were completely snowed in.  My mother was putting on ice cleats and crawling up the hill to gather firewood.  My dad tried to help her and slipped on the ice and got another of the three concussions he racked up that winter.

I had been calling all the neighbors to please go and check on them, since if anyone asks my mother if she needs help she will say no, whether she does  or not.  Please, please, walk down there and make sure they’re all right and have what they need.  Since they only have one neighbor, I didn’t have many to call, and he never did go down there.  So I packed up my house in Jerusalem and three weeks later was on a plane to East Bumfuck.

I had a hard time getting there because it had just snowed three feet, so I rented the biggest SUV I could find and put the fucker in four wheel drive with the towing gear on and managed to get down into “the hole,” as the UPS drivers call it.  They were in pretty sad shape, and mighty glad to see me.  I had brought groceries and eight gallons of spring water, since the electricity was out and they didn’t have the generator yet.

Well, that was two and a half years ago, and the winters since then have been mild, and my dad’s dementia seems to have stabilized.  And now is the time to start talking about the fact that East Bumfuck is no longer an appropriate place for them to live.  My mother has a million reasons why they can’t move, which I will not enumerate here.  None of them is insurmountable.

Then comes the question, where will they move to?  Their first thought is to move to the nearest small city, which is a lovely artsy place with all the amenities and museums and theatres and lovely architecture.  I remind my mother that Dad is not going to get better, and she is not going to be able to handle him herself for much longer, since she is no spring chicken.

“Well if we move to Hip City, what will you do?”

“I will go home to Jerusalem.  I miss my home.

“But this is your home!”

“No, mother, this is YOUR home.  My home is Jerusalem, and my soul cries for her every day, all the time.”

Her mouth twists with disgust.  I get triggered.

Anger starts to brew.  What does she expect me to do, spend the rest of my life taking care of her?  Dad won’t be around much longer, although his own father lingered in a pitiable state till the age of 91.

I get hold of myself.  “I’ve sent for a packet from Lovely Hillside Retirement Community, where you can live independently until you need more help.”  She is a geriatric social worker and knows exactly what I mean, and knows the place.

“We can’t afford it.”

“I believe you can.”  I outline the plan.

“But what will you do?”

“I am going back to Jerusalem, and will visit frequently.”

Silence.

It’s obvious that HER plan for me is to be the caregiver, so that she can live the way she wants, with no regard to my life, my needs, my health…

Anger starts to brew.  I will not go into the childhood abuse issues that started coming up, because I don’t want to go there again.

Anger brewed into rage.  I live in a separate building, so there was no chance of confrontation, thank G-d.  Rage filled me, overcame me, and every time the sonovabitchin’ trains across the river blew their infernal horns, I was screaming with them.

I started feeling exhausted.  My exercise tolerance was for shit.  I started having these vague, vapory headaches, and I am not a “headache person.”

My blood pressure has been creeping up in recent months, to 130’s over 80’s, which is not good for a person who usually hangs out in the 120/60 range.  I felt so weird that I bought one of those home BP monitors:  150/100!  Fuck, I’m gonna die, and it’s all because I feel trapped by my guilt at not being able to fulfill my idea of filial piety without ruining my not-so-good health and sabotaging my future, which I hope will contain a home and a partner.  I went to my internist, and now have yet another pill to take twice daily.

At this point, my plan is to get them into someplace appropriate for their now and future needs, which is going to be a shrek in itself, since their house is a fine art museum which will have to be turned into money in order for them to afford the new place.  The property will be sold, so that means no inheritance at all for me because they failed to plan for retirement.

And they planned to use me as an unpaid caregiver, room and board included of course, with my social security for pin money.  But now I’ve come and thrown a monkey-wrench into the works, by coming to the realization that I deserve to have a life.  They also deserve to have a life, a pleasant and comfortable life.  But I’m a person too, and I sure don’t plan to live out the best years I’ve got left caring for people who made my whole life hell, and would continue to do so, if I let them.

My Mental Magic Shield

I just had a revelation.  I’ve always told everybody something I learned in my NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner course in 1997-98, which is, All Illness Has A Purpose.  All illness has a message that your body is trying to teach you.  Even when it’s a horrible illness, like God forbid cancer, or Lou Gherig’s disease (did I spell that right?), or you name it.  The reason for the disease is to give you the opportunity to grow the spiritual organs that you are missing.

Hard one to swallow, eh?  Yeah, for me too.  I’m always grateful that I don’t have anything worse than what I have, although in suicidal moments (or days, weeks, months, or years) it seems as if I really could not feel worse no matter what was being done to me.

But tonight, as I was alternately reading stuff on children of narcissistic mothers (I have one: a narcissistic mother who is the daughter of a narcissistic mother–what a joy) and a 1981 textbook on runaways, what causes them and what to do with them (I was a runaway in 1970-71), I got a revelation.  What do my psychiatric diagnoses do for me?  They shield me.  They stand between me and the world.

This is a double edged sword.  Because my Bipolar Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (which I do not think of as a disorder, but an advantage) put me one level of separation away from the world, I feel isolated a lot.  I used to feel lonely, but now I feel more comfortable when I’m alone, which is 99.5% of the time.  On the positive side, my “disorders” protect me from a lot of the slings and arrows I would otherwise be subject to, if I was out in the world and participating in it.

Twice that I can remember, some other human being was trying to coerce me into doing their will, and I said “Don’t do that, you’re hurting me, you know I’m mentally ill,” and they stopped.  So that was a positive way to use my illness as a defense.  On the other hand, it would have been much healthier to say “stop doing that because it’s a shit thing to do and I won’t put up with it.”  Now THAT would be a healthy way of defending one’s self.  But since I wasn’t up to it because I actually WAS feeling ill, using my illness as a shield was a good strategy, I think.

On the other hand, I don’t wish to cultivate this defense mechanism, because I think it could become a habit: “oh, poor me, I’m mentally ill, don’t stress me out.”  When actually, what I should be saying is “Hey, don’t fuck with me, you’re taking advantage of me, you’re trying to abuse me, you’re seriously pushing my buttons.”  But that has always been a problem for me, because of the way I was raised.

When I was a child, “back-talk” was rewarded with “back-hand” across the mouth, prolonged tirades including belittlement, insults, curses, and other forms of crushing.  The Silent Treatment usually followed.  Banishment to one’s room was routine; but as soon as I got old enough to grok the situation, I stayed in my room voluntarily, or stayed outside, even if it was cold or raining, rather than be in the nasty indoor weather.

So I learned to say as little as possible, if confronted by negativity or abuse.  I always laugh when I read accounts of rape trials where they look for signs of struggle on the girl’s part.  Oh yeah, great if they find his skin under her fingernails; but let’s be realistic: when some dude who is twice your size says, “don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt,” you’re probably going to keep as quiet as possible and let it get over with so he will go away and leave you to your quiet private hell.  I know that one very well.  Way too well.

I have to say I think I was more of a rape-magnet because of my abusive upbringing.  When your mother tells you you’re nothing, you’re shit, etc., etc., etc., after a while your subconscious incorporates that into its reality, and it becomes part of your personality, that you are somehow substandard protoplasm, and rapists get that on their radar from miles away.  It’s like, shit, if there was some asshole wanting to rape somebody in the general vicinity, all he had to do was turn around and, pow, there I was, telepathy or something.

That was before I figured out that I was crazy and therefore had a good reason for people not to fuck with me.  I have permission now to get really, really angry.  I can unload on people if I get that pushed.  But it freaks me out, because I am a pacifist.  I unloaded on a particularly toxic asshole last year.  It was the first time in my life I have ever done that.  No, it was the second time.  The first time was when my ex-husband “forgot” to come home from work one night.

So I’d much rather use my magic shield: I’m mentally ill, don’t fuck with me.  I don’t know how healthy that is, but it’s better than heaving a vase at their head.

PTSD TRIGGERED!

As I write this my hands are shaking.  There’s a jigger of good bourbon at my left elbow, and hopefully Noga the Wonderdog  will decide to hop up under my right.  I’ve just downed my evening med cocktail, plus an extra milligram of Ativan, plus a extra 5 mg of sleeping pill.  I hope to G-d they work, and soon.

Monster Mother has been working her poison.  It’s very subtle and mostly accomplished with tone of voice and a twist of the face, a sarcastic remark, a minimization of something I find important, or an outright barb.  That’s not so subtle after all, is it?

This time is was merely that I had forgotten I have a therapy appointment on Thursday, so I couldn’t give her the day off from taking care of Dad.  “Why don’t you make up your mind?” was the irritable remark that set me off.  I was carrying in her copious number of plastic bags from Walmart when she said that, and I reflexively rattled the bags to cover up the fact that I was shouting “You fucking bitch!”  I think she heard me anyway, but good.

Poor Dad is triggered too.  I sat with him while he ate his lunch yesterday, so that Monster could go out shopping, and a bit of the orange he was eating dropped onto his sweatshirt, making a stain.  He panicked.  Oh, he said, I am so clumsy.  I should have been more careful.  I am such a slob.  Now this is language that I have never in my life heard from his mouth until recently when he has been confined to a wheelchair and completely dependent on you-know-who except when I am there.  And why am I not there more often?  Because if I was, I would drive my car off of one of the many handy cliffs that the Blue Ridge has to offer.

I asked Dad, “Are you upset that your orange landed on your sweatshirt, which will go in the wash tomorrow?”  “No,” he said.  “Then who is it that gets upset if you drop a bit of food on yourself?”  “Someone else,” he said.  “Do you get upset about it?” he asked me.

“No, I just think it’s normal.  It doesn’t upset me at all.”  “Oh.  Then we know who gets upset.”

I am 100% sure that she is verbally and emotionally abusing him, just the way she has done to me all of my life.  He has started to say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” for transgressions such as dropping his napkin or drooling on his front.

And she is the reigning narcissist, who is triumphantly happy to finally have everything her own way.  It’s chilling to see it in action. I’m going to have to write a more cogent essay about this, as the drugs are starting to take effect.

What triggered me, other than the Me-Me Monster’s ugly mug, is all the reading I’ve been doing on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the havoc it can wreak on the next generation, and the panic regarding the fact that even though I’ve been working with shrinks since my son was a 5 month old fetus to try to prevent my behaving toward him as my mother behaved toward me, there still might be some spill-over to feel guilty about.

The drugs are taking hold, and I am going to have a little bit to eat before blessed Nepenthe folds me in her arms and takes me down, down, down…

National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Verbal and Psychological Abuse

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

Child Abuse Can Be Prevented

“You’re nothing.”  “You’re useless.”  “You’re shit.”  “Can’t you do anything right?”  ‘Well if you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell you.”  “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands and a flashlight.  (laughter)”  “You’re too sensitive.”  “Grow some skin/a thicker skin.”  “Fat ass.”

Just a few of the loving epithets hurled at me daily.  I never did grow that “thicker skin,” so I always dissolved in tears and ran out the door, if the weather was good, or up to my room to hide under the covers while the rage downstairs continued with slamming cupboard doors and curses muttered and shouted in mounting fury.

I know what it’s like to go on tiptoe, to see what the “mom weather” is like at the moment, and how to disappear quickly.

I know how to appease the rabid beast, by bringing bribes of flowers and candy and “I love you” handmade cards.

I know how to avert the armageddon, at least temporarily, by making a surprise dinner (although since I allegedly did not know how to do dishes, and this was a thing so simple that any idiot could do it and therefore I should not need to be taught, unless of course I was an idiot, dinner could be a shark tank).

I know how to have suicidal fantasies.  In fact, I know how to commit suicide.  I just haven’t done it.  Yet.

I know how to get straight “A’s” in school in order to please her.

I know how to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Doctor of Medicine degree, to please her.

I know how to run away from home, when the pain got too much:  first, at age 16, to the other side of the country; and later, at age 50, to the other side of the world.  Both helped for a while.

And yet: and yet….even now, when she is 86 years old and I have dragged myself out of my personal heaven in Jerusalem to help her, one word, one look, and I am that terrified child, nauseated, shaking with terror and homicidal rage.

I have touched her twice: once when I was 16 and she had seized hold of me when I was doing the dishes wrong…I grabbed her by the wrists, wrenching her clawing hands off of me and pinning her against the wall of the kitchen.  She spit, struggled, kicked at me, but I held her till she went still and met my eyes.  I could feel my eyes burning into hers and knew I had won that round, the first and the only.  I threw myself away from her and ran out the back door, not daring to come in until after dark and my father was home.

The second time happened only a few years ago.  We were sitting at the dining room table.  I don’t remember what set her off, but she grabbed my forearm with her claws, and I grabbed her wrist and ripped it off my arm and threw it away from me.  She continued as if nothing had happened.  I desperately wanted to pound her into mush, but I swallowed my rage and pretended there was nothing wrong.  Nothing at all.

Maybe I am thinking of these things, not only because of my Child Abuse series, but because the anniversary of my last failed relationship is coming up.

My psychologist, who I have known for ten years (and perhaps more importantly, has known ME for ten years) and who has seen me through a number of relationships, tells me that a healthy man would not feel right to me because I don’t know what a healthy relationship is.  At first gasp that seems like a negative thing to say, doesn’t it?  But really it’s quite true.  I grew up with a harpy for a mother, and a father who, although I love him dearly, was quite content to step aside and let the chips fall where they might, and hand me his handkerchief afterwards to dry my tears, making excuses for my mother:  she had her period, she was having a hard day, blah blah blah.

Years later when I was in my Pediatrics residency there were posters everywhere that showed a little girl curled up in a corner crying, and a caption that said, “Words can hit harder than a fist.”  I remember looking at those posters, puzzled, wondering what that could mean.  Words can hit harder than a fist.  I actually did not understand the meaning of those words.  In fact, it was not until recently, 25 years later, that the meaning dawned on me.  Verbal abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse.  And I realized why it has taken all these years for me to “get it”:  PTSD.  It was just too traumatic to let into my psyche at that time.  I was not in a safe place, and I had not had the distance from my abuser that would allow me to process that statement: Words can hit harder than a fist.

I am lumping verbal and psychological abuse together for now, because I cannot parse them out.  There are certainly other psychological ways of abusing children (and adults), but from where I am standing at this moment they seem all tangled up together, verbal and psychological and emotional.  I plan to work on this over the next few days and see if I can untangle them, and be more clear.

I know what it is to be confused.