Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Brainwashed

Social worker Leroy Dissing (and unofficial-therapist&supporter-to-the-Triad) left this comment yesterday that couldn't be more timely or more accurate:

"One thing I have noticed with children of narcissistic parents is that their children, even into adulthood, stay attached to their parents (albeit unhealthfully) as part of a gigantic, impossible effort to please them. I think it is part of a child abuse syndrome because in reality the parents have emotionally neglected/damaged the child into thinking their entire self-worth exists soley on meeting the needs of the parents. This makes creating their own individual identity extremely difficult because they very themselves as so enmeshed with their parents that normal, healthy separation rarely, if ever, occurs. A very sad legacy to leave your children but one they are totally oblivious to and thus, never feel accountable for."

Vowing to emotionally detach from a self-absorbed, using "charent" (child/parent) is easier than actually achieving emotional detachment.

My adoptive father takes up such a big place in my head that I'm sure if an autopsy is ever done the doctor will find that my brain has a special lobe bearing my father's name.

It doesn't matter that I can't STAND the man and have done my best to put as much distance as possible between us. It doesn't matter that I've read piles of self-help books on the subject. It doesn't matter that I've talked to my therapist ad nauseum about the subject. It doesn't matter that I see my a-father with open eyes: an 80-year old man who was physically abused and neglected as a child so that he grew up with an insatiable need for attention that drives away everyone who meets him. Except me. As the only child and as the ONLY person in his life, I am his caretaker now that he has dementia.

Knowing all his faults and how he's negatively impacted my life, every day I call him. If I'm running five minutes late, I begin to fret. He's going to be upset. If I don't call he's going to have one of his retaliatory hypochondrical attacks and the assisted living facility is going to call me every ten minutes until I pick up.

Today, I'm feeling defensive that I haven't rushed out and bought him a razor and chocolate covered raisins that he asked for Sunday night and it's Tuesday morning. The fact that I didn't rush out first thing Monday is a big improvement. Since his request is not an emergency, I'm forcing myself to wait until Wednesday to go the special store some distance away when it's more convenient. The delay makes me nervous. Guilty.

Such is the brainwashing at the hands of narcissistic parents. Them first. Them, them, them. Resisting takes an emormous effort, even when you know you need to do this for yourself. They are always present in your mind, looming. What will it be like when he's dead? Will I feel relieved? My fear is that he's commandeered such a big chunk of ME that I may feel like an amputee. A horrible thought.

Leroy brought up an interesting point.

Separating - individuating - from a narcissistic parent is impossible in the way that healthy young adults separate from healthy parents.

So true!

You escape at the first chance, running for the door, amid accusations that you are abandoning them and predictions that you will fail miserably in your selfish quest for independence. There are no tears of farewell at the dorm room and cautions to be careful, instead there is clinging and high drama. Once, in my college years, I landed an internship that brought me back to L.A. where my-parents lived. I didn't tell them. I pretended I was still up North. Living with or near them meant one thing: I would be at their beck and call or there would be hell to pay: refusal to see them on their terms meant the inevitable, "Don't you see what you're putting us through" Big Scene which usually ended with my a-father having some mysterious ailment that required a trip to the emergency room.

Being the child of a narcissist is like living with a chronic illness. You try to live with the problem, on your terms, and not for it, but it's a daily challenge.

20 Comments:

Anonymous bijou said...

Nina,
I feel with you. That feeling of "if your running 5 minutes late there will be hell to pay" (even as an adult), that essentially Leroys comment is right on, it is somehow imprinted in us and a normal separation is almost impossible. Even though we can rationalize how dysfunctional a narcissist is, and some of us have tried to separate ourselves- in my case physically by the distance of an entire ocean- why do we still feel guilty about leaving? Why do I feel guilty about leaving a person who makes me feel like shit - why do I feel sorry for her that she is alone, when she drives everyone away? Crazy and Scary.
bijou

1:02 PM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

{{{{Nina}}}}

You are so strong. I know I couldn't talk to my mother every day. Just the thought makes me almost puke.

I'm so sorry. Narcissists are emotional vampires.

Have you been reading the Blog "What Makes Narcissists Tick?"
It is really excellent.

Hang in there. Sending you hugs.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Ungrateful Little Bastard said...

"You escape at the first chance, running for the door, amid accusations that you are abandoning them and predictions that you will fail miserably in your selfish quest for independence."

My god, did this ever ring a bell. You know what's so sad is I get this from my adopted sister as well. She's the one who stayed behind, she's the one who takes care of mom, what choice did she have after all? I was the one who 'ran off' and abandoned her.

How does a grown adult woman 'abandon' her mother by moving 1 state away?

3:47 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Well, this IS interesting, isn't it? That in our attempt to come to terms with adoption related issues that we've also discovered a SUBSET community of adoptees also impacted by narcissism. UMPH!!!

BIJOU, Yes, it sometimes takes a whole ocean to find the right distance and, it appears, even that isn't totally effective as you're still feeling the guilt. I moved away, too, as soon as I could save enough money. First, 500 miles, then, a thousand, then even farther...to states so cold (Illinois) that I knew they couldn't easily follow and that return trips home would be too expensive and distant to do frequently. I suspect you feel guilty because your mother is TRYING to make you feel guilty, consciously or not. Also, as adoptees, I think we have it especially tough as I think many of us are especially empathetic and have a wobbly sense of self...making it hard not to get emeshed with the most powerful, influential people in our lives: our parents.

ELIZABETH, Yeah...the closer I get to making that phone call each day the more agitated I become. I almost have to "zone out" to do it. Actually, it's not THAT hard because all I have to do is say, "Huh huh" a lot as I'm not allowed to finish a sentence. So you're back? I have to catch up and see how you're doing. Thanks for the blog tip! I'll check it out. Hope you had some really tasty champagne!


Ungrateful Little Bastard. Ooo. Sorry to hear about the whole "My Sister the Martyr" angle. That IS bad. Mmm. To a self-centered mother such as yours, I suspect the fact that she couldn't control where you live and that you took a step independent of her was equal to betrayal. It's all so wrong, but that doesn't mean when we manage to detach (or is it extract?) a bit it is sooo threatening and unacceptable to the family system. By any chance, did you once play the role of Major Support to Mother, and when you left, your sister stepped in to fill that role...hence her resentment? This quote from "If You Had Controlling Parents" reminded me of your situation: "If a sibling loyal to your parents gets mad at you for making trouble or tries to convince you to deny your reality; it can exacerate your wounding" and, "Your siblings cannot emotionally separate from the family before they are ready...They may not want to give up their illusions about the family." There's other stuff, too. It's a short section, but pretty good. When I was reading it, I thought how more complicated my life would be IF I had siblings, so I sympathize!

4:20 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Nina...whatever you feel when your afather dies, I hope you won't feel guilt yet I know it will be inevitable because that is the tactic used to keep you so connected to him. He will eventually die and it would be normal to feel saddness. If I were your mentor, I had you writing down or telling me 5000 times what you would hope to feel when he dies...yeah its morbid but I'd do it (or something similar) to keep you from going into a tailspin when it happens.

I hope you will view his death as a relief sometime after it happens...and I think that you will achieve another growth spurt when it does :)

5:19 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you, Leroy. I'm hoping I won't feel guilt. I hope I feel untethered yet free. It's hard to imagine a day when I won't feel the responsibility of being the ONLY (and I mean only-besides nursing staff who is paid to put up with him) person in his life. When my a-mom died after many years with Alzheimers, I only felt regret...that we hadn't been closer. But I didn't miss her. It's hard to miss a stranger. Not saying that to be dramatic, I just acknowledged that she was so withdrawn and separate and so private that it was impossible to know the real her.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

i have to agree 100 percent here. i have a similar situation with my mom.it's such a toxic situation for one person to deal with. on the one hand you know their history and understand why,on the other hand the character assasinations and the constant pleasing them never ends.i think alot about when my mom dies too.i wonder if i will feel relieved or more tortured.

"pack your bags, you're going on a guilt trip" ahhh!!!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Ungrateful Little Bastard said...

Nina you are so perceptive, you really are.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous mia said...

Don't you see what you're putting us through??? LOL yes.

I cannot EVER remember a conversation with my mom that didn't start off like this;
"How are you mom?"
"Welllll, my this hurts, my that is sore, doctors appt. today, tomorrow, I I I I I.

If she ever said GREAT, how are you? I would have a heart attack. So I thought to myself; Hey, if you don't want to know don't ask! So one time I called and said "Hey mom, it's a BEAUTIFUL day today!"
She said "Is it? It looks ugly here but I can't go out anyway becuase my ears are bothering me" LOLOL

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Manuela said...

Nina, thank you so much for sharing this. My heart totally goes out to you, and I'm sitting here teary-eyed for both of us. For the abuse you suffered, and for seeing my OWN abuse mirrored in your words. I find your posts simultaneously reassuring and upsetting...

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