Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Aging Narcissist

Note: If you're a regular reader, warning, this post is less about adoption and more to do with the chronic affliction of having a narcissistic parent. Although. And it's a big although...

What are the chances of being adopted by a child-like narcissistic father and a self-centered mother, both without an empathetic bone between them?

What are the chances of having both those parents developing dementia?

Today, it hit me.

No wonder I was feeling depressed (and not writing much) over the last couple days.

My oldest daughter just turned sixteen. And while celebrating this momentous event, her birthday also served as a reminder that 15 years ago, my adoptive mother fell down the rabbit hole of Alzheimers. She died seven years later. Somewhere in there, my paternal grandmother developed Alzheimers and I was forced to handle that situation because my adoptive father was too child-like to take responsibility. After one (glorious) year respite from my job as manager of my a-mom's care, my father began to act more strangely than usual, developing a nasty, fast progessing dementia called "Lewy Bodies."

And here we go again, except this time it's worse because my father has no other friends or family but me, me, me 24/7.

As he makes his rapid descent into this awful disease, he's getting more needy. He calls at four a.m. to ask for a shipment of candy. He accuses me of not visiting for two years (it's been several months). He shouts into the phone, "Please don't forget me! I'm so lonely!"

Before you go and post a comment about dementia and behavior, I know. He can't help it. It's the disease. Sort of. It's just taken his normal (for him) behavior and ramped it up. He's always demanded constant attention. He's never had any empathy for me or for others. He's the kind of self-absorbed person who was abused as a kid, never got over it and stopped maturing, and looks to other people to provide a steady stream of attention. He the child. Me his supply source. Now he the dementia patient. Me the emotional caretaker. Again.

I am a cesspool of resentment. His neediness is overwhelming.

There is no solution. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is no wellspring of love and gratitude for my self-absorbed adoptive father. I'm not sure if it's possible to love someone like that. I act - diligently and morally - on his behalf, handling his finances, overseeing his care, calling him every single day without fail. Yet. I feel so guilty sometimes. Aren't we supposed to love our parents? I have no love for him.

And here's where the adoption part comes in. Every once in a while, I wonder...why did my adoptive parents adopt? While my a-mom was a widely confirmed party girl, she was also practical. She married my father, I believe, because she was a divorced Catholic woman with no money or prospects. He, for all his issues, had a steady job. I remember her being very impatient with and dismissive of him. He was exhausting to be around. Did she sense there was something off about him? Did she hope a child might change him? Make him act more like a man than a child? If so, he never grew into the job.

And while my dad has never SAID he expects my gratitude for being adopted, he ACTS that way. Like it's perfectly normal that the daughter he mostly neglected would stick by his side, handle every rocky situation and cater to his needs.

No wonder I'm seething.

All that ugly stuff said, I'm MUCH better at not falling all over myself trying to prove myself, being overly-responsible, calling him back two seconds after he calls me, rushing around in a meaningless flurry of unnecessary activity. Because that's how I used to behave. He TOTALLY controlled me. This man I don't even like. Now, I continue to take care of him (sigh), but I've put up some boundaries, respond according to the situation and, believe it or not, can hang up the phone after a difficult conversation and, mostly, forget about it a half hour later instead of stewing for days.

Every once in a while, I have a bit of a "relapse" (and blog about it). But that's the trouble dealing with an aging narcissist. They only get worst and the whole "unfairness" of it all can be overwhelming.



Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

And just know always that you can come her to ventilate Nina. I can't possibly know the depths of your frustration in dealing with this man, but I do know it is great. You are right to assume that his condition will worsen and he will beg for more of your attention, but hold tight to the boundaries for your sake and the sake of your family. Everyone will be healthier. ({{hugs)))

3:31 PM  
Blogger Being Me said...

Nina, I can't imagine taking care of someone like that. I'm sure there is some blessing in there somewhere because you're doing it. I am inspired by your learning to take care of YOURSELF in the midst of all that. ((((((hugs)))))))

3:40 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you Leroy and Being Me!!! It occurred to me that less than a year ago I would NOT have been able to identify and articulate ANY of these feelings...that he was a narcissist or that I was his "supply source" or that was such a thing as a need for boundaries. All I knew - one short year ago - was unrelenting panic and frustration. Sheer utter chaos!

4:44 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Nina...you would think that an aging narcissist would "mellow" out with age similar to people who are alcoholics or have other issues. Not so with narcissists though. They just become more dependent and demanding. I am assuming you have him in a nursing home where his needs are met and thereby you are relieved of having to deal with him daily. I am glad you are able to articulate your feelings...and vent them....keep doing so Nina. We are listening.

6:55 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

Nina I'm so sorry you are going through this. You deserve better.

I can't imagine talking to my NPD mother every day, OMG. I don't know how you do it.

A friend of mine (not adopted) who has an elderly NPD mother is dealing with this issue. I thank the universe that I cut my mother off before she became elderly (she is 56).

Is there any way you can wash your hands of him? You do not owe him.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Paula O. said...


I, too, am so sorry that you are having to go through this. I can only imagine the vast range of emotions you experience on a daily basis regarding your father and his now ailing health. You are a VERY, very strong woman.

You're right - the situation is terribly unfair. I fear there are too many other examples of where sadly, the needs of the adoptees falls dead last.

Thinking of you.

7:08 PM  
Blogger cloudscome said...

I can not imagine what you have to deal with. It is such a huge burden. I am so impressed with you, how well you understand the situation and how well you express your feelings and reactions... but still keep doing the right thing. I wish I could do something for you, to give you a break.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Elizabeth, Paula and Cloudscome,

THANK YOU! Betty Jean Lifton was really right. Adoptees - especially those as lovely and supportive as you - ARE healers and are very empathetic because we are asked to heal so much in other people's lives: she said we help solve our b.m's problem by being surrendered and then we heal our adoptive parents "hole in their lives" by being raised by genetic strangers (paraphrased from memory so please excuse it may not be exactly right).

I so appreciate your support and kind word!

And Elizabeth, I almost cut off my dad once many years ago and I think you were soooo wise to do so!

5:38 PM  
Blogger Third Mom said...

Nina, I empathize, having gone through the death of my father to Alzheimer's ten years ago. It's so hard, and to have to go through it with someone who was simply never there for you - really bad.

I hope at a bare minimum you are able to find respite help. You have to, it will truly overwhelm if you don't get a break once in awhile.

Take care of yourself.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nina, my father's an (undiagnosed) narcissist. I often worry that his later years will be like you describe. Even if his mind stays in-tact, I know that I will have to care for him because he's made no provision for his retirement. The burden must be overwhelming, especially with a family of your own to care for. You're doing great.

By the way, blood doesn't make dealing with narcissism any easier. It's a burden to have even a short conversation with my dad. I'd love to have a better relationship with him, but I must always be vigilant of my boundaries.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

i was raised by an adoptee who has the narcissim.im also a first mother so your post has definetly intrigued me.My though process came to the a few personal truths.
sometimes i think my mother is this way because she was adopted at 4.attachment issues mean that because no one loved her,she had to take on the behavior of looking only after herself.dealing with her is exhausting and im finally learning the boundary thing.in terms of adoption, i wonder how attachment leads to these types of problems.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to say that you ARE loving your father exactly the way you are supposed to do; you just don't have the feeling that we identify as love. Do you know the song in Fiddler on the Roof, 'Do you love me?' She sings (in answer), 'for 25 years I've washed your socks ... if that isn't love, what is?' All the good feeling in the world is meaningless if you don't act on it. You are truly a loving person. I'm sorry the feeling isn't there, but please, please don't blame yourself. There is nothing wrong with you! In fact, how could you possibly feel what you think you should? You would have to be delusional; much better to acknowledge what is, and do what you can. If that isn't love, what is?

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

Nina, I could have written your post, with only one change:my also child-like adopted father died in '95 and I am dealing with the abusive, narcissistic, adopted mother with dementia now. When I say I know how you feel, I mean it. Reading your blog make my heart stand still. I cannot tell you how I dread the visit to the nursing home tomorrow where nothing I do will be sufficient and I will be accused of stealing from her and not a positive happy word will be said except by me and then brushed aside. Then again, I expect you know. The one good thing I can say for both of us is that it will eventually end. For someone who has always hated life as much as she has, my mother just turned 95 and I take comfort in the fact that even she cannot live forever. Hang in there.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nina, I just discovered this blog. I am not adopted but my older sister was and by our Narcissitic mother. My sister was 10 years older than I and what they called "slow" in those days (19403/1950s). Her adoptive father died young, and dear old mom remarried, had me, divorced my father and set out on a life of sucking our souls out of us. She manipulated and belittled my sister every day of her life, and when my sister was 60 years old, she died in self-defense. For all those years, my sister served as a buffer between the parasite and me, and I now appreciate the sacrifice (didn't then). The old beast is now 90 years old and never even mentions my sister anymore. She just tries to suck the life out of me and my children. You know, her claim to fame all her life was that she had adpoted this handicapped girl and given her a home and wasn't she such a saint? My sister lived with her all her life, waiting on her hand and foot, and when my sister was about to die in the hospital (from advanced, untreated cancer) the beast spoke the first honest words I ever heard her say: "She can't die. I need her."

I guess this is to say that being adopted is not always good, and that being the bio child can be almost as bad. Thanks for this blog.

4:42 PM  
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