Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The False Self Challenge

[[BB Church offered an excellent analysis of , "the unethical (and quite possibly criminal) conspiracy of the "A Child is Waiting Adoption Agency" to deprive Stephanie Bennett of her daughter Evelyn. You can find it at www.bbchurch.blogspot.com. ]]

What, exactly, is the False Self?

Sure, I understood it in a theorectical way, but I couldn't quite figure out what kind of False Self I'd created in response to being adopted and raised by a controlling adoptive mother and a narcissistic a-father. This bothered me. Until I could identify the contours of my False Self, I couldn't discover the Real Me trapped inside.

Until last night. I was rereading Alice Miller's, "The Drama of the Gifted Child."

This is the quote:

"With two exceptions, the mothers of all my patients had a narcissistic disturbance, were extremely insecure, and often suffered from depression. The child, an only one or often the first-born, was the narcissistically cathected object. What these mothers had once failed to find in their own mothers they were able to find in their children: someone at their disposal who can be used as an echo, who can be controlled, is completely centered on them, will never desert them, and offers full attention and admiration."

Bingo.

In that one neat paragraph, Alice Miller summed up my adoptive mother. When I was a young child, she was happy. I was compliant and cuddly. At the advanced age of 13, no doubt terrified at the looming prospect of my independence, she bought us matching outfits. Later, when I expressed more of a preference for hanging out with friends and boyfriend, she reacted with fury. This became a period of bitter recrimination: "After all I've done for you," and "You are so ungrateful," and finally, when I announced I was leaving for college, "Good luck. Don't bother asking for a single dime because you're not going to get it."

But what of The False Self?

It isn't exactly what I imagined. It's more of what I hold back. What I couldn't or dared not express to my adoptive parents. So much was taboo. Opinions. Feelings. Expression was extremely limited. So much was threatening. Strange things. Even my preference in cars.

I never realized, until the other day, the stilted pattern of conversation that took place between us. If I said anything they didn't like, they resorted to either ignoring me or, worst, mocking.

For example, I had a chat recently with my a-Dad, which is a repeat of of talks we've had over the years, just swap out the car models. It goes like this:

Dad: "Did you know your big car (Ford Explorer) is a gas guzzler?"

Me: "Oh yeah. It's a guzzler all right. But I don't drive it much. We just use it for camping and hauling stuff to the dump."

Dad: "You should sell it."

Me: "No. We still need it."

Dad: "You should trade it in for a Focus."

Me: "No, I don't think so."

Dad: (Bristling w/indignation). Hey. I had a Focus and it was a great little car. (Mocking tone now). Oh, that's not good enough for me. I'm so special."

Me: "I didn't say that. We just don't need a new car. That's all."

Dad: "How about a Suburu?"

Me: "No. I don't want one of those either."

Dad: "Then what the hell do you want? Oh, I know. A Mersaydeeeze. --mocking in girly voice--Oh, look everybody, I'm driving a Mercedes. Oh brother, you women are all alike."

That pretty much sums up every conversation I've ever had with my parents, whether it be cars, politics or my feelings. Say something they don't like or are uncomfortable with and one is likely to get the roll of the eyes, the mocking tone, the long, cold silences and, in the case of my mother, refusal to talk to me for weeks and once, several years.

So this False Self? It's not what I thought. I became a Yes Girl. Sometime long ago, I learned that all I could do was to be there, smile, listen, nod and ocassionally say, "Huh Huh." I basically stopped talking. Oddly, they didn't seem to notice much. I became a Living Ghost of Myself. Luckily, I was free to talk at the law firm where I found my first job out of high school and later, at college. But this Not Talking set me back. It takes much, much longer to find your True Voice/Self and when you finally do, you feel Guilty. Major delayed development.

So that's my False Self, a sort of negation. Would love to hear what yours is like.

And to those of you who've been so supportive in what seems my never-ending struggle w/my narcissistic a-father, your advice has finally given me the courage to take a break from him. I didn't talk to him all of Monday and I feel calmer and much more myself today. The experts are right. The only way to survive such a self-absorbed parent is with distance.

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often just don't talk and I am afraid to talk to people in general.
Then I talk a lot when I am ready to burst because I haven't said anything for a long time. The friends I have must be very confused.

Then when my mother is insulting me, attacking me (with words)there something inside of me that just screams back and that is what I do sometimes I just fight back rebuking her ridiculous arguments and her rage increases. I think the true me is very bitter very angry and ready to lash out if injured and very very sad.

Something inside of me screams shut up! when someone interrupts while on the outside I just cut myself short and wait. When my mother goes on her windbagged attacks I have the strong urge to knock her out just to get her to be quite. The anger adds up years of it and if it is triggered it is hard to hold back for me.

I deny myself so many things I want to do and say because I am afraid. Afraid of being hated, rejected, scorned, chastised, disliked, belittled, unjustly treated/judged, attacked, punished, thought of as bad, unworthy, or ungrateful. Everything that I fear the most is given to me from my mother. I can't relate to being adopted but I wished that I could be an orphan without any parents. No parents= no debt. I wish I could've raised myself so that I would not owe anyone anything.

I hide so much. Everything I do or say is filtered. I am a different person for different people. Then sometimes that thing inside of me takes control and the real me that is so sick of hiding escapes and shows itself for a short while before I hide it once again because of my fears.

I have been locked in a cage now the door is still slightly ajar bu the chains I have made myself are keeping me in it.

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Blogger Rainstorm Red Smith said...

Anonymous has hijacked your comments with key words!
My false self is holding in my rage, hatred and forced silence from exploding....so I write, But it has to be backed up by legitimate psychological theory or my experience that is legitimate...my slavery account from being adopted by narcissistic alcoholic adoptive parents. I was never allowed to speak, told all the time that "no-one would want to hear anything I have to say". I am learning to distance my true-self from my false self that will keep me silent, anxiety based suffering and F-S thinking that everyone is ignoring me because I am a female that should keep quiet...that no one would take seriously.All these direct statements from my a-parents I internalized from childhood. My resentment grew with each unprovoked slap of my face, where I had to hold back my natural drive to knock adoptive mother off her superior stool. My rage from 40 years of domination, that I allowed because I was told that I am worthless without my adoptive parents. Now I am worthy of human-ness only as long as I keep my adoptive mother away from me. If I allowed the slightest contact, I would fall back down into my childhood dungeon of adopted child despair. As long as I remain no-contact I am psychologically safe from the adopted-child-role that is my false-self.

10:23 AM  

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