Friday, March 30, 2007

Adoption and Controlling Parents

Currently zipping through "If You Had Controlling Parents" by Dan Neuharth. Excellent BTW.

Took the test designed to "measure the prevalence and control in childhood and identify whether you may be facing adult-life problems because of it."

Checked "yes" to 49 out of 65. I guess that means I more than qualify. Twenty-two positives means you most likely came from a controlling family of which eight "styles" are listed: Smothering, Depriving, Perfectionist, Cultlike, Chaotic, Using, Abusing and Childlike.

Accordingingly, my adoptive mother was both Smothering and Depriving while my adoptive father was (and still is) Using and Childlike. Both a-parents experienced major trauma as children (alcoholic father, physical abuse, emotionally abusive mother, witnessing the suicide of a parent).

Skipping ahead to the chapter on adult-life legacies of such an unbringing, it seems I'm a strong candidate for the Poster Adult of Growing up Controlled. Sheesh.

Some of the damage I clearly recognize: the splintering of self, numbing out, putting others first (always), difficulty in expressing anger or resentment (okay, in real life, not in this blog where I can safely vent), feeling used, poor self-image, difficulty in developing good emotional and self care habits.

What's interesting is how so many of these "issues" mirror those experienced by so many adoptees. Oh, right. I'm one of those, too.

Which raises an interesting question.

Are adoptive parents more likely to be controlling? While they may not have experienced trauma as children, many experienced a profound trauma as an infertile couple.

What percentage of my "challenges" stem from being adopted? What percentage from having Extreme Controlling Parents?

I'm in my mid-forties and I've yet to utter more than five words put together before my a-father cuts me off and switches the subject back to himself. He whines and complains and babbles on and my job is to listen and give support. He's never acknowledged a single feeling I've ever had. He brought my a-mom to visit when my second daughter was born and didn't tell me my a-mother had developed Alzheimers, then expected me to take care of my a-mom, a 20-month-old toddler and a newborn. Only recently I realized how horrible that was because that sort of disregard for me as a person was, well, standard practice.

Do adoptees who have more "issues" beyond (significant!) identity, development and the Primal Wound (sheesh, aren't those enough!), have them because their adoptive parents were so darned controlling?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Looking for a Witness

I have this habit. When I finally come across one of the few people still alive who came into contact with one of my adoptive parents, I interview them.

It starts out as a conversation but, at some point, I fall into the role of reporter.
What was my mother like back then? What did you think of my Dad? Did my mother ever talk about my adoption? What was their relationship like?

My adoptive mother went to her grave clutching a treasure chest of secrets, including her private thoughts on my adoption, a subject she refused to discuss. A woman so private she even kept the details of her first marriage secret from her second husband and her only child, me.

If I want the truth, much of which relates to me, I am forced into the odd role of my adoptive mother's biographer.

I find it strange that she never, not even once, discussed my adoption with her closest friends. Maybe if she had, confessed her innermost fears, we would have had a chance at a relationship. Instead, she pretended I was her biological child and our course was set: bound for disaster. Of course, my father pretended, too.

But there's another reason I interview people about the past.

The psychologist Alice Miller gave me the idea in one of her books. She talked about how children who suffer abuse do so behind closed doors, where parents are free to do all sorts of things, from hitting their child because it's their "parental duty" to the mother who doesn't talk to her child for days (or weeks) on end as punishment. (My a-mother did this frequently. It never occurred to me that this was abusive, although at the time, it was confusing and lonely and felt terrible.)

When I talk to people who knew my a-parents, I'm looking for a witness. Some sort of third party confirmation to what happened.

In doing so I've learned that my a-mom's own mother was a cold, domineering woman who publicly belittled my mother. This came as a great surprise. My a-mom idolized her. To me. My grandmother was portrayed as the perfect mother. My a-mom the perfect daughter. Neither could be farther from the truth. Growing up poor and underededucated and ignorant, my a-mom went on to repeat the destructive pattern of the mother who could only love...conditionally. She carried the extra burden of the belief that an adopted child would respond with unconditional love and gratitude.

And then there is my child-like, narcissistic father.

I have learned that people always thought him odd. That's putting it nicely. The few people he called friends were actually not. They were friends of my mother who tolerated him, but barely. A woman I thought was closest to him asked who his friends were because he didn't seem to have any. It appears my a-father went through life practically alone...except for his wife and me, his parentified child he followed around the house, looking for attention. No wonder my adoptive mother wanted me to stay home and not go to college. When I left, she was forced to listen to his nonstop chatter.

The more time that passes, the more "interviews" I do, the less guilty I feel. It used to consume me. Why don't I love my father? Good daughters love their parents.

But real parents, good parents, of the biological or adoptive kind, don't turn their children into their emotional caregivers and behave like energy vampires, sucking the very life out of them.

Looking for a witness to my childhood has been a very, very good thing.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

I am Unworthy. Not.

After I started delving into the subject of adoption and its impact on my life and development, I discovered certain topics I simply didn't "get."

The first is grief. I didn't believe I felt anything like it. How could I be sad about someone I'd never met?

Finally, finally, I realized that it was grief and anger behind my lifelong struggle with anxiety. I've only recently come to understand that my adoptive parents made my mother so taboo that just thinking about her was not only the ultimate betrayal, but probably a mortal sin.

The grief was there alright. A big, shadowy monster covered with cobwebs.

The second is the concept of worthlessness.

I'd read that adoptees feel worthless because our mothers gave us away - but I didn't think it applied to me. I'm too well adjusted for that, I thought. Despite whining and moaning in the safety of my blog, in real life, I'm NOT a complainer. I'm a get-it-done kinda gal. Or I am when it comes to certain tasks. Tasks associated with some sort of external system of rewards, the higher and hotter the pressure the better. Nina leaps over tall buildings and fences topped with razor wire, but she will do the job.

EXCEPT when it's a goal important to just finishing a book.

I actually caught myself all choked up, on the edge of tears and feeling all panicky because I'd just finished Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and thought, I'll never write that way. What's the point of even trying? And then there's Rose Tremain and Margaret Atwood and Jane Smiley and Mo Hayder (author of The Devil of Nanking, which was strange and amazing) and compared to their unique voices, what could I possibly have to say of interest?

I do this all the time. I read other authors and immediately get overwhelmed with toxic feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness and that stops me from finishing what I've started.

Where do those feelings come from?

If I'm really the other comes from being given away by your own mother. Not a great way to start off life: unwanted.

It's not just a matter of feeling sorry for yourself. One has to acknowledge it's real before you can begin to deal with it...and figure out how to work around it.

Which I plan to do. Dammit. I just need a game plan.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Grab a Barf Bag: A Book Proposal from Hell

Words do fail on such occasions as this.

Check it out Fellow Members of the Triad, but don't forget the barf bags. ESPECIALLY Elizabeth and Joy if you haven't seen this yet.

It seems - according to this most thorough of book proposals - that we are just a bunch of misguided fools wallowing in our victimhood. Oh. And if you simply can't stand it and bail out, please skip to the end which concludes this way: "This large market of wealthy readers has been under-served in its need for validation of its choice to adopt. The Chosen Child is a book that meets a definite desire and need."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A New Awareness

Had to take a bit of time off because I was getting bogged down with all these adoption issues.

Have spent the last ten months or so dealing with all this STUFF....after four decades wandering around in a daze, chanting, "Adoption is no big deal. Adoption is wonderful. I am so grateful."

Bullet pointed Epiphany during mini-mental-break:

--Healing takes an ENORMOUS amount of psychic energy. Even physical energy;

--Waking up from adoption brainwashing leaves one drained, as if recovering from a chronic illness that lasted entire decades;

--On the other hand, REPRESSING the impact that adoption has on one's life also takes enormous energy; it's like spending an eternity with your shoulder shoved against the closet door and you've been warned by society that evil lurks inside

--Productivity after meeting one's mother is SHOT because, no matter how fabu the experience at first, it's gonna hit you and take you down, until you pick yourself up and begin putting together the pieces

--Meeting your first mother, when possible, no matter how terrified you are....goes a long way to making you feel like a real person with a history and not a two-dimensional character with a backstory made up by people playing God.

And speaking of THOSE righteous people playing God with the lives of adoptees, separating us from knowing our mothers and our "particulars" and denying our basic human dare you? I know almost all there is to know and guess what? I'm still standing. I am not and never have been a piece of nameless property.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What the HELL? Or, Wake Me Up, Puleeze!

If you take the time to read my blog and make a comment, THANK YOU! I love, read and think about every one. Currently experiencing Adoption Issues Overload (a well known phenomenon, right?) and I'm going to take some time off and check back again next week.

Had a really bad dream last night. This is my attempt to shake it off.

The nightmare? That I was adopted. I mean, that I was stuck in the past when my adoptive mother was still alive and pretending that I was her biological child and I was going along with it. Woke up hyperventilating. It reminded me of that feeling I used to get: confused, claustrophobic.

For adoptees of the (botched) social experiment that was the Closed Era, it's a wonder we didn't go stark, raving mad.

A partial list of what some of us experienced:

1. Mother hands over baby to strangers, trusting they know what they are doing;

2. Baby is placed in foster care for approximately one month; the identity of this temporary caregiver (or multiple caregivers) the adoptee will never know; this period of time - the first 30 days of life - is simply...lost.

3. Baby is handed over to a second (or third or fourth?) set of complete strangers who celebrate the arrival of the child, who is traumatized, shocked and grieving;

4. Child is told of its adoption at four or five or six years of age and sometimes, the unpleasant task of "telling" done, this is the only time the issue is discussed.

In my case:
5. Everyone pretends the child is not adopted, is part of the biological family, and that it is not a subject worthy of further discussion

6. Adoptive parents LIE, in front of the child, that the child is theirs and makes up stories about who she looks like; the stories change, sometimes she looks like her dead grandmother, sometimes like her dead grandfather;

7. When child gets up enough nerve to ask about her background, adoptive mother has hysterical temper tantrum and the child is told that she is bad and ungrateful for asking about "that woman" and is reminded who her "real" mother is.

8. Adoptive father, when secretly pressed, tells teenager that she is a German Jew; she believes this for two decades until she discovers he understood wrong because "it wasn't that important to begin with";

9. When the adoptee grows up and has a daughter of her own, her adoptive parents stake their claim: the grandchild is said to look exactly like her adoptive grandmother

10. Having been denied any real information about her biological family, having been made to feel guilty for even thinking about her first mother, the reality of her mother is hard to grasp, even months after finding her.

11. Adoptee's first mother either can't or won't tell her who her father is.

You can see by this simple and incomplete list that such a person - forced to live with such restrictions - is condemned to live a half-life. A pretend life. You have to numb yourself to survive. It is CRAZY-MAKING. It is like being stuck in an alternate universe where everything is off and you are slowly going mad while everyone around you goes about their business, untroubled.

And then you wake up.

Like it's a bad dream.

And then you discover, after decades of isolation, that there are other victims of this social experiment and you begin taking stock, reflecting on the past, trying to figure out just what the hell happened?


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Adoptee Traits: Putting It All Together

If you read enough adoptee blogs long enough, themes begin to emerge.

Younger adoptees, older ones from the ill-fated social experiment that is the Closed Era and then, of course, the transracial adoptee facing the additional challenge of Strangers in a Strange Land and most recently, the Donor Generation. Different, but somehow linked together.

Themes of alienation. Disconnectedness. Insecurity.

The feeling of abandonment doing battle with knowing you were wanted and needed.

The sadness.

The obligation.


The superiority. The degradation.

Given away. Surrendered under pressure. Relinquished of free will.

Picked as the last and only option. Second choice.

The people pleasing. The tendency to become a "fixer." Never quite fitting in.

Back and forth. Forth and back.

Adoptees discovering - online - that we are NOT alone and finding that we have so much in common, no matter that we grew up thousands of miles apart, separated by decades, divided by class and race.

In rereading Betty Jean Lifton's Lost & Found this weekend, ten months after discovering the online community of adoptees, I stumbled across this quote:

"Call them what you will-a pseudo-species, survivors, exceptions-adopted adults insist they feel outside the mainstream of human existence. Instead of asking, "Who am I?" they ask, "Who are we?" Speaking an emotional shorthand, they compare common traits in their adoptive parents as if they had emerged from a communal womb. They sound like brothers and sisters reminscing about the family. The gravitational pull of their shared experience holds them together in their own private galaxy. Just as society has kept secrets from them, they kept secrets from society. It is this private world of tribal secrets that binds them together in a new kind of kinship. Together they have a chance of discovering who they are."

Given all of this, how do I really feel about adoption?

Elizabeth is brave enough to say she hates it. I hate it, too. Or at least my experience of it. Not that I had a choice.

It's not something I'd wish on someone else.

I haven't devoted nearly enough thought - yet - to where I stand on adoption as an institution.

In some cases, it simply can't be avoided. But should it be promoted as a wonderful solution?

I don't think so.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Being Adopted & Achieving Long Term Goals

Normally, I don't talk about non-adoption personal stuff in this blog. This probably makes me come off as humorless, negative and no doubt, really intense.

There's one challenge I continue to face and I'm wondering, can it too be linked to adoption?

Once upon a time, I was a good news producer. Then I was a fairly decent radio producer. Okay, high strung but that's a prerequisite for those sorts of jobs.

Once, I threw an old typewriter at a reporter because he begged for extra time and the lead in my newscast, then bagged me by coming up with a one-minute lame ass excuse for a story just before airtime. After the show, I chased him around the newsroom and we had a screaming match. I thought I was going to get fired. Instead, the news director slapped me on the back and said, "Thank God. I thought you'd never grow some balls."

Throw a deadline and a bunch of curve balls and I'll make it. You can count on me. Nina does deadlines.

Okay, so why can't I finish writing a novel? My lifelong dream? My ultimate goal?

My computer is litered with evidence of my failure to complete:

a) Ten decent chapters of a young adult novel set in the near future after an environmental disaster;

b) Twelve chapters of a novel about a successful Latina professional forced to move back to L.A. where she must deal with her difficult family while trying to save her company by finding Hispanic business clients when she can't speak Spanish;

c) An entire draft of 250 pages of a young adult horror novel featuring a murderous mother ghost and, yes, spontaneous combustion; (okay, go ahead, laugh-but I've always been obsessed by spontaneous combustion since I was a kid);

d) Other false starts too numerous to mention.


Why do I lose steam? Why did I abandon the 250 page draft? Why didn't I rewrite the damn thing? All these efforts were made before I admitted adoption was a big deal, before therapy and long before reunion.

Recently, I heard a radio interview in which a novelist was asked why she waited until her forties to begin writing and she said that whatever crisis she had faced freed her to write.

Then, while rereading Betty Jean Lifton's, Lost & Found: The Adoption Experience, I came across this quote by adoptive father and psychologist William Reynolds:

"The adoptee is inclined to be a rather shy and personally wary individual who is ill at ease in dealing with others. Impulsive in decision making, whose self-image tends to be remote and untrusting, who has real difficulty persisting at tasks without immediate rewards, and whose tolerance for frustration and delay is minimal."

Umph. Seen in that light, it's no wonder I gravitated toward news production. The rewards are immediate. You roll in to work, spend the next eight hours assemblying a newscast, then you put on a show and you sit in the control room and have the satisfaction of watching your product flash on the screens before you.

Writing a novel requires self-motivation and persistence. The reward is unsure. Publication is a hope and dream. There are many frustrations and delays. Umph again. Writing also requires self-esteem. Belief that you have something interesting to say in a fresh way.

Okay, I don't want to make this post too long and I'll continue it, but any thoughts on the link between creativity, the difficulty of achieving long term goals and being adopted? I've started yet another draft of a novel, but this time, it's about adoption and I'm trying a more structured approach: character analysis, plot outline, theme list, etc. and this I really want to finish.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Holding on to the Mythical Father

Coming to accept there isn't a realistic chance I'll find out the last name of my father.

My mother says she can't remember.

It's in my file held in Los Angeles County. My mother said she'd write a letter asking for a copy but my Post Adoption Services social worker said, "No." It's sealed. Even with my mother's permission to release the information she provided, it's the county's obligation to protect his privacy.

It's the law, I was told.

Some days, I really want to know.

Others, like today, I'm not so sure.

He's my last mythical figure. Can my psyche afford to have him become real? If I don't find him, he can remain what I have made him and want him to be: real, bonified, parent material. Not that I want him to parent me. But just act like a grown-up. Someone who is NOT child-like and needs attention.

My adoptive father is child-like. He talks nonstop nonsense, jumps from subject to subject without transition, is nearly incapable of abstract thought, delights in other people's misfortunes . He is well, not like a man. He was never like the other dads. Even though the other dads were undereducated and had factory jobs, too, they acted different: like men. Occasionally, I've wondered if he has extremely low IQ or is a bit mentally disabled (are the two the same?)

What if I meet my biological father and he's a goofball, too?

I lost the myth of my mother when I got to know her. She had a rough childhood, too, and is a lot like my adoptive father, although not that bad. (Nobody is ever that bad).

Coming off a life of dealing with two self-centered adoptive parents, discovering one more self-centered parent is a rude awakening. What if I found FOUR? Would that send me right over the edge?

Is hanging onto a myth of my own creation better than the risk of discovering another narcissist? And so what if he is? I've learned to (try to) emotionally detach as a coping strategy, I could just apply it to him, too. But at least I'd know. And what if he a) knew about me and wondered about me all these years; b) sobered up c) acted like a real man and not a child...aren't I depriving myself of claiming ONE grown-up for a parent...even if we don't have a father-daughter relationship?

Giving myself a headache! And for what? I still don't have his last name. But I'd LIKE it so I could make the decision MYSELF instead of having the County of Los Angeles make it for me.


Monday, March 05, 2007

The Fixer, The Pleaser, The Desperate Seeker

Fellow adoptee Mia recently blogged about some of the things we have in common. Things like a narcissistic adoptive parent, an equally unhealthy first mother and a big fat question mark for a father. Mia has the additional burden of dealing with a bio family who mostly refuses contact and an adoptive brother who is the golden child of a her a-parents.

Still, the similarities!

I'd like to add my two cents to some of her points:

"I am convinced they adopted me so I could take the full burden of responsibilityfor their behavior. In other words if it were just the two of them they would have nobody to blame for their dysfunction. So I was forced into the roll of the source of all that was wrong, the scapegoat. Yet I worked my butt off trying to FIX everything for years. Honestly Istill feel like I have to fix everything. It’s a hard habit to break."

It's interesting to size up your parents - their strengths and weaknesses and skills or lack thereof - from the point of view of an adult. When we're kids, we have no clue. They are big and powerful and even when it feels wrong, we believe they are right. How can they not be? They are the people in charge. Except when they are not. These kinds of couples may have thought they wanted a child, but what they really wanted was a fixer. A child to fix their marriage, their infertility, their loneliness, their fear of growing old without a daughter to help care for them.

Adoptees of such parents can sense this. Our needs as unique individuals are rarely addressed and never taken seriously. It is the way we are treated and not treated. There is the unwavering expectation that we will listen and comfort and not rock the boat and solve problems.

Adoptees like us become FIXERS. And when we finally realize we don't like the role, we have to fight against it. Not just our Pavlovian panting at the sight of a problem, but the insistence of others that we continue in our Role as Fixer. Not only did we fix our a-parents problems, we help others, too. Case in point, my troubled sister-in-law. Over the years, I spent time, energy and money as she careened from one problem to the other. I bought her clothes, took her in several times. When I finally woke up and realized she didn't even like me - in fact, wished I'd never married her brother, I stopped. Cold turkey. But my new role as neutral spectator must be threatening to the family system. My mother-in-law keeps trying to rope me back into my old role as Fixer. Couldn't I call my SIL and talk some sense into her? After all, I have a family responsibility. No. No way.

And then there's the People Pleasing! We adoptees must grow little antennaes on our heads because we're hyper-sensitive to others moods. We meet someone new and have to win them over. We compliment others. Try to make them feel good. We stay at parties longer than we want to with people we don't even like that much. We volunteer to do all sorts of crazy things in our children's school, even when we don't have time, because we need approval from the teacher. In fact, we allow ourselves to get roped into all sorts of things because we have a hard time setting boundaries. Others first. Us last.

And one more point raised by Mia:

"I suppose if I were to be totally honest there was a huge part of me that desperately wanted to find a healthy version of a mother in my natural mother E. I told myself I wanted the usual; “to know where I came from”, “to say thank you” and all of the otherload of crap sayings we feed ourselves as an excuse for wanting the most natural thingin the world which is to simply know our mother. I didn’t find a healthy anything, instead I found an equally weak and self absorbed mother."

This is tragic. I mean, you're placed in a home where the parent(s) needed a parent and not a child and you were forced to become their emotional (and/or physical) caretaker, is it any wonder that we desperately hoped for at least one parent who can act like a real parent? How pathetic! Recently, I talked to my adoptive mother's oldest friend about some of this. She had no clue. I always really liked her. She listened without interruption and asked some questions. Of course, I was apologetic for taking up so much of her time and thanked her profusely for the gift of letting me talk for what, maybe five minutes?

Of course, I would have loved for my mother to do that. But she's not capable either. She had a horrible childhood and is self-centered and is child-like and needs attention. What disappointment! What crushing disappointment! It is this fact that keeps me from calling her after reunion.

What makes it especially hard to even raise such issues is the extent to which we have internalized our roles. The good, grateful daughter should not discuss her adoptive parents faults, even giant ugly ones like narcissism. What right have we to criticize? And when we find our first mothers or fathers disappointing, we struggle to voice that too because we feel guilty. After all, we found them and now stand in judgment. How dare we? What right have we to our disappointment that our mother is not the mother we had hoped for, often desperately. After all, we have no claim on her. We sought her out and now stand, a little surprised and maybe even bereft. But at least it's finally real. She's no longer someone who haunts us. She may trouble us, as a real person can only do. When she is no longer a ghost, neither are we. And when we admit that our adoptive parents weren't so nice and maybe even narcissistic, then can become real people, too instead of Problem Fixing, People Pleasing Pretend Children.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Good Grief!

Who knew grief could be so good?

Certainly not plesant, but liberating.

So here's what happened:

Two weeks after meeting my birthmother I woke up sad. I mean, REALLY sad. It seemed to come out of nowhere. One day fine. Next day, so down in the dumps I didn't want to talk to anyone and in the middle of the day burst into tears and had a good, hard long cry. Very dramatic. For me. The sadness lingered for days.

The gloom finally lifted. And then I realized I'd never felt that way before. Ever.

And then came the anger. Okay, rage. Pissed off at my mother for using her sick 15-year old daughter as an excuse not to keep me (learned my mother hadn't taken care of her in years as she'd moved in with an aunt), pissed off at the social worker who didn't do a better job screening my adoptive parents, furious with my self-absorbed a-parents for stealing my childhood and making me their emotional caretakers.

Sadness and anger.

Two emotions I was NEVER allowed to express in my adoptive home.

Once I allowed myself to experience the grief that my mother did not keep me, to feel the utter sadness and bleakness of this fact, I realized this was a totally new emotion. I don't think I ever felt sad before. Not in a real, honest, visceral way.

When the worst had passed, I was able - in stages - to feel better until I was finally happy. Really happy. The sun came out and the air smelled fresh, met a friend for lunch and we enjoyed a great gossip. Later, I'm going out with my 14-year old daughter and friends, then I have a hot tub date with my husband. I mean, what a great day!

So why why why was I so cut off from these two emotions?

Two reasons:

1) adoption related issues; no need to explain, right?

2) Narcissistic parents.

Since I've picked on my Dad so relentlessly in this blog, I'll use my mother as an example. Besides, I can remember it so clearly, probably because my oldest daughter is the same age as I was when this happened: 16.

My steady boyfriend broke up with me, triggering major abandonment issues. Of course, I didn't realize that's what it was at the time. But I was distraught and panicked.

Where does a boy break up with a girl back in the late seventies? His mustang, of course, parked at the curb. I run inside my house, choking back the sobs. And then, just as I was winding up to let loose, my mother sees my face. Her eyes widen in alarm. She asks what happened.

At this point, I can't keep it together and can hardly get the words out because I'm sniveling and hiccuping and gasping and flailing about.

So she slaps me. Not really hard but enough to get me stop. "How dare you scare me like that!" she yells. "I thought something bad had happened to you, like you were raped or something. Don't you know what you did to me? Scaring me like that? How dare you. For Gods sake, he's just a boy. Who cares. Get over it. He was just using you anyway."

So much for a shoulder to cry on.

To keep the peace, I had to swallow my tears and go to my room and be quiet. If she saw red eyes or kleenex, she'd launch into a lecture about what I was putting her through with my dramatics.

As I've mentioned before, she had a similar reaction to questions about my adoption. "Why do you want to know about her? She's not your real mother. I am. Don't you know what you're doing to me?"

This was my mother's favorite refrain: "Don't you know what you're doing to me?" It was said every time I showed the faintest signs of pain or anger or, God Forbid, disagreement.

To survive, I had to be if not happy, at least compliant and devoid of any scary emotions that might upset my mother. Did I mention I was lonely? An only child stuck with parents who were incapable of empathy.

One has to realize one's parent(s) are narcissists before one can even begin to get in touch with the person trapped inside. Where else did she have to go except underground?

And here's one of the most disturbing things. That narcissism isn't some rare, pathological affliction. I think we could form armies and take over the world if we children of narcissists ever decided to get together. And what would our war cry be? "Empathy for one and all?" "Death to narcissists?"