Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dealing (Finally!) with a Narcisstic Parent

Hey, my favorite irreverent adoptee started a new blog called "Joy's Division." Check it out...she's bracing herself for Xmas quality time with the folks.

Here's what winning the war against a narcisstic parent looks like:

Parent calls three times on a Sunday demanding immediate attention to a non-emergency. You say, calmly, "I'm busy with the kids but I'll take care of it tomorrow when businesses are open." That is unsatisfactory. Parent complains to director of resident relations at assisted living facility and gets her involved. Director calls me, we have brief discussion, then she relays message: "Your dad wants you to call back the second we're finished talking, etc., etc."
I refused. He can wait until our (daily) evening phone call.

In the old days, I would have went on and on trying to explain that I'd spent endless hours resolving this health insurance issue and that I was on top of things, then I would have fretted the rest of the day and immediately called back my dad to argue and reassure.

Some readers will point out that my dad suffers from some dementia. He does. But this is not new behavior nor is it significantly worse. It is consistent with his behavior as far back as I can remember.

Success means letting go. It means understanding that there's no changing a narcissist, just controlling your reaction to them. It means not wasting energy trying to please them, explaining reality to them or getting so wound up that you can't be in the moment with the people you truly care about. It's understanding that if the narcissist is your parent, that they aren't parent material and don't bother expecting them to ever act like one.

So how did I do it?

It took active concentration modifying learned responses to his endless bids for attention. It took grittng my teeth, at first, and listening to him, pretending to sympathize, but not allowing myself to get emotionally involved or invested in whatever crisis he was having. I learned to listen, then shrug, say poor guy, then quit thinking about him and went back to whatever I was doing.

It takes lots and lots of practice and failed attempts. But I'm here to tell you, EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT from a narcissist is POSSIBLE! Hurray. Thank you therapist! Thank you self-help book, "Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up's Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents" by Nina W. Brown.

What was difficult is realizing my dad was a narcissist in the first place. I just thought he was pathetic and child-like. I remember wishing, as a kid, that he acted like a real man, with some dignity, like other fathers. His behaviors were off, like that of a slightly goofy teenager. When friends came over, he wanted to be the center of attention. When we were alone, my dad would talk and talk and talk and when I tried to say anything, his eyes would glaze over and he'd quickly interrupt. I grew up thinking spoken sentences were four words long.

It was always all about him. His problems. His needs. His pain. When he got sick at Disneyland, it was my fault because I wanted to go on Space Mountain. When I was ten and had a growth on my forehead, he could hardly work because he was so worried and didn't I realize what I was putting him through. When I told him I had a scary breast lump, he fell apart and asked who would take care of him if I died. When he fell down last night at the assisted living facility, it was because I called too early and he rushed for the phone and it was my fault.

Did I mention he has no empathy?

So here's the other problem. Being adopted presents its own unique challenges. Being adopted by a child-like narcissist makes much more difficult the tasks of development and maturation.
Many of us Closed Era adoptees already deal with an incomplete understanding of identity and "self."

When we have a self-absorbed parent who sees us as just as extension of themselves, well, we're really screwed. For a long time. Until the light bulb goes off and we see the parent for what they are: a narcissist. It's a form of slavery, really.



Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

I would give you a bouquet of roses Nina if you were here. It takes a lot to put boundaries on someone who has a personality disorder of which narcissim is one of the hardest to deal with. They take no responsibility for anything, blame everyone else, and fixate on only their needs. Their world is definitely centered on themselves only and they can suck you dry emotionally. I am happy that you got some therapy for dealing with your adad. Keep it up....You are free! You have been imancipated!!

5:44 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

Nina is your adad a compulsive liar also? My narcissistic mother lies with nearly every breath.

If so I highly rec'd reading "People of the Lie". (I ignored the religious stuff, but the rest of the book is golden.)

I started to emotionally detach from my mother nearly a decade ago. It's taken much longer to get her physically out of my life.

One problem, however, is that I've found I emotionally detach with other people as well now. It is not intentional, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous mia said...

Thanks to your suggestion (and Kim I believe?) I got the book. I am reading it now. Did you find it difficult to stay in the present? As I read I keep flashing back to particularly bad times that relate to what I am reading, behaviors of my parents that are outlined so perfectly by the author. I am pushing my way through the book though and will keep reading how you are making your journey for encouragement. Thanks for sharing!

6:08 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Hi Elizabeth...That's an interesting question. I wouldn't say he's compulsive, but he HAS lied about weird stuff, like saying somebody did something bad to him when they hadn't in a bid for sympathy, lied about other family members saying I was this or that in an attempt to control my behaviors and choices. While my dad IS a narcissist, my therapist says there are different types. I have a cousin who is one and she IS a compulsive liar. I'm lucky. My dad lives 400 miles away otherwise I'd have the same problem. When we lived in the same town, he drove me nuts. I'm not sure how to deal with somebody who lives so darned close. And that's interesting that you emotionally detach from other people, too. Unless they are important to you and you truly care about them, maybe that's a good thing for you. Sometimes, we can care and support people WITHOUT getting entangled/ensnared/upset?

Mia: !!! Yes, I did the same thing...all those flashbacks. I say let it happen. Actually had to read the book several times and, when I have a "relapse" go back and read certain sections again!

9:04 AM  
Anonymous said...

My mother is a narcissist. Urk.

Not an easy thing to grow up with.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Kim Kim, Oooh. Sorry to hear that. You know, I'm beginning to think its WAY more common than one would guess. Our library system has a bunch of copies of "Children of the Self-Absorbed" and there are so many holds on them it took five months for my copy to come in, but by that time I got it from Amazon.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

I am 32 and I am an adoptee of a narcissistic mom. I just recently found this out and what a relief. I have always thought that I was crazy. But now I feel like a huge boulder has been released of my back. I am trying the NC thing right now until I can find a way to set boundaries with my NM. However, I wanted to ask you if you have come across any research on adoptees of narcissistic parents.


10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for the excellent comments. As I am posting here, obviously, I am the child of a self-absorbed parent (mother). When I looked at the 'Children of The Self-Absorbed', I realized that my mother fit this description perfectly. The first comment on this blog describes what I am trying to do - detach. Listen, make appropriate comments, notice if anything sounds truly 'dire' or honestly important, then move on. I spent most of my life trying to placate, temper, and keep Mom happy. We all did. It sucked the energy and life out of us. She continues to behave in that way to this day. Unfortunately, now she is an old lady and does have special needs - but we all react to her as a 'Cried Wolf' situation..she's cried too many times for any of us to react in a normal way. I 'm sad about having to detach from my mother; sad that my father is caught up in this, sad that I didn't realize how she was when I was growing up. I don't know what I would have done, perhaps I could have found a 'substitute' for her; lord knows I needed one. Now I'm 50 years old, and just now starting to feel a little bit stronger. What this does to one's self-esteem is extraordinary!

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