Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Narcissistic Parent Guilt Trap: Don't Fall In

Anonymous Bob left a comment that got me thinking.

Here's a quote:

"But seriously, are u *absolutely sure* that the moral obligation, the guilt and the power of attorney is not just another word for the pathological bonding of children to their narcissist caregivers? The same old same old?"

Yeah. Definitely. I suspect there is no other way to bond with a narcissist. It's just not possible.

When we're children, we don't know any better. Our entire world is controlled by our parents.

When we grow-up, the attachment is, by nature, dysfunctional because our parents are.

In my case, the only reason I have any contact with my adoptive father is out of guilt.

Not because I want to. But the voice in my head says, he's all alone. He's old. He's sick. I am his only connection to the wider world. Without me, he is utterly alone.

Dumping the guilt is easier said than done, which makes the EFFORT to free ourselves critical. We were TRAINED to put the needs of the parent first. Repeatedly told that, as an adoptee, we owe our adopters gratitude. We owe them our very lives.

Of course, the aging narcissist - having no social charms or empathy to attract companionship - relies on making his children feel guilty to reel them back in, with such ploys as: "If you don't send me that candy right away I'm going to go into a diabetic coma," and "I am so glad to hear your voice! You didn't call last night and I get so lonely. I need you so much," and, like the other night (encouraged by your comments) when I told him I couldn't call for a bit? The next day he had chest pains and begged to go the hospital, a decision he knows requires my involvement. The nurse said was sure he was faking for attention.

The guilt thing? It's like a noose around your neck. It just gets tighter and tighter the more you struggle and pull.

What scares me is, now that so much of my life has been given over to being responsible for (badly) aging parents, how much of my identity is tied up in it? The Good Daughter? (Of course, my adoptive family believes I'm the Bad, Ungrateful Adoptee. Good Mexican daughters - especially those rescued - do not put their parents in assisted living facilities. Of course, now that he's there, not one of those relatives who scolded me have called or visited him once.)

And Anonymous's like totally dysfunctional.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The DOWNSIDE to the Art of Not Feeling

Everything has its price.

Even emotionally detaching from a seriously toxic parent (in my case, a narcissistic adoptive one).

Last week, when a-dad rendered me invisible for the zillionith time I went into emotional detachment mode. This involves imagining myself in a giant ziplock baggy to ward off the hurt, all the while mumbling, "Let it go. Don't let him ruin another evening."

Well, it worked. By evening, I was able to forget about a-Dad.

Until the next morning.

Woke up feeling like I was coming down with something. Achy and painy with a slight sore throat and really tired and dragged out. I was feeling so lousy, in fact, I couldn't work on the first draft of the book I'm trying to write. For the last month or so, the writing was going very well.

But no, I simply was not feeling strong enough to write. I had no energy. None.

And then I started feeling worthless. Writing makes me feel good. Productive. Now I didn't even have that outlet.

In the meantime, the phone calls with him suddenly started to bother me again. Where before I was able to chat without really engaging, now everything he said hit my last nerve. While he talked, I thought about how much I couldn't stand him. A weird sort of claustrophobia sets in. That's probably due to his narcissism because narcissists are all-consuming and left unchecked, will devour you alive. I've always found him physically repulsive and when I'm near him, I want to run away.

This is my father I'm talking about so all these feelings make me feel horrible and guilty.

Try as I might, all this loathing began to emerge last Friday and continued to seep out over the weekend and by Sunday, no more aches and pains.

Coincidentally, I stumbled across a book by Dr. John Sarno called, "The Divided Mind" which is about psychosomatic pain. Real pain that is triggered by our repressed emotions to divert us from whatever is threatening to bubble up into our conscious mind.

I was so busy emotionally detaching and NOT feeling/numbing and suppressing my rage I suspect I was literally making myself sick. The book seems to confirm my suspicion.

So now what?

My a-dad, by making me invisible, also makes me feel worthless. Like my voice is not important. I get that. But I need a voice to write. Voice and truth are the tools of a writer. So how do I pole vault across this big and boggy ditch?

More later.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Art of NOT Feeling

Got a call from my narcissistic a-dad.

Not all that long ago, such a call would have been upsetting and triggering and would have left me churned up and tossing and turning all night.

I've hardly thought about it all.

Tonight, I experienced that phone call in a totally detached manner. I was able to roll my eyes and hang up the phone.

I'm trying to analyze this a bit because it goes to the very root of the issues I still struggle with today, in middle age, which are: feeling invisible and not taking myself seriously or respecting myself.

Here's how the call went:

A-Dad: Is that you, Nina? Did you send that candy I asked for?
Me: No, not yet. I had to go-
A-Dad: But I asked for that candy yesterday. Why haven't you sent it?
Me: Well, it's because I-
A-Dad: I really need it soon. When can you send it? Oh, did I tell you that my shoulder is....(goes on about the agony he is in)
Me: Oh, that's too bad, okay, I'll call your doctor tomorrow to see if....etc.
A-Dad: How are the girls?
Me: Fine, they-
A-Dad: (interrupts) How's Butchie? There's a disease that's going around killing dogs, etc. How's ______ (my husband)?
Me: Oh, he's fine too, but he's-
A-Dad: (interrupts) Well, about my shoulder, let me tell you (goes on again)...and when are you going to send that candy?
Me: Maybe tomorrow. I went to the dentist today and I'm...
A-Dad: Well, I really need that candy so don't forget. And don't forget to call the doctor about...You know, I really love hearing your voice. I get so lonely.

What I was TRYING to tell him, over and over again, was that I'd gone to the dentist and could hardly talk. At the end of the call, I practically had to shout that I was in such pain I had to go. I needn't have bothered. He totally ignored it. And before anybody reminds me that my a-dad has some dementia...yes he does, but this is the same treatment I got when I was a kid. I remember is clearly. Desperately trying to tell him something that happened to me at school or about my big plans for the future and he'd interrupt and talk about something somebody had done to him that had pissed him off, then get angry that I wasn't sympathetic enough. I was probably twelve.

By cutting me off and failing to let me finish a sentence or acknowledge what I just said or express any sort of empathy is....horrible. But I'm an adult. A grown-up who's lived in the wider world and had lots of therapy.

But to treat a CHILD that way? It's monstrous. How frightening for any child to remain so thoroughly unacknowledged.

No wonder I had no idea of how I felt...about anything. I was treated like I didn't exist...except to serve. I am only "loved"...not because of MY voice but because of my ability to listen and support and because I do things for him.

Was skimming through Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child and came across this quote: "They have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can only experience his feelings when there is somebody there, who accepts him fully, understands and supports him."

Miller was actually talking about mothers. My mother was self-absorbed, too, in a different way. She was threatened by any emotion other than happy. A sad Nina was NOT allowed. She slapped me once for crying over a boyfriend because I'd scared her.

So I didn't feel. Not for the longest time. At least not true feelings. About many things, including my adoption.

If you have parents like these, adopted or not, read every book you can about emotionally detaching from them. If you can afford it, find a therapist who specializes in the aftermath of narcissistic parents. If they are destroying you and making a misery of your life, cut them out of your life or, at least, put up some very big boundaries that look like the fences in Jurassic Park to contain the T-Rex. But see? In the end, even that fence wasn't even strong enough.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Irony of Reunion

Why is it that the scars we bear from our adoption make reunion even harder?

It seems most of us adoptees, despite our different experiences with our adoptive families and difference in temperament and disposition, have many of the same issues: fear of abandonment, a wobbly sense of self, feeling like we don't fit in anywhere, anxiety, depression? Just to name a few.

Was catching up on adoptee blogs. Some are going through a tough time with their first mothers. I can sympathize. Totally.

To heal, we need to search for our first families. Or at least get as much information as we can. But the VERY ISSUES THAT STEM FROM BEING ADOPTED CAN MAKE REUNION DAMNED HARD.

We want to get to know and get along with our first mother, but we fear abandonment. Not a good mix.

With a wobby sense of self, it's easy to get emeshed, especially with such a powerful figure.

Suddenly presented with two families, some of us find we don't fit into either, only adding to our feelings of alienation.

And as nerve wrecking as reunion is, the ups and downs of it all can add to our ever present anxiety.

But many of us want to search and find our families. Need to. But it's like somebody strapped a backpack of explosives on us and pushed us out the door and said, "Go ahead, I dare you to find your first family. See what happens."

And we toddle ahead...dupety, dupety, do. Then, Bang!

Well, of course we survive. The pieces may be all scrambled up. We may look like one of those figures in a Picasso painting until we can reassemble ourselves. And in the end, it's more worth it than not.

But wearing that backpack while tiptoeing through the minefield of Reunion is a BITCH.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Former Compliant Self

My own little notes to my adoptive parents have come back to haunt me.

I inherited their box of photos and I spent the evening sorting them out.

It was painful to see what I most often looked like in pictures. A huge, nervous fakey smile pasted on my face. One of those "appeasement" expressions worn by submissive chimps.

And then there were those carefully written notes to my a-parents over the years, some as recent as six years ago.

Those are even more interesting. And telling.

I tried so desperately hard to please them. To be the dutiful daughter. To be happy, happy, happy. I'd write how much I missed them. When I didn't. I moved as far away as I could because I couldn't stand to be around them. I'd write how much I was looking forward to seeing them again. When I dreaded it. And when we were finally together, what a misery it was.

For those of you new to my blog, my a-mother used cold punishing silences to get her way, called my first mother a "whore" and made me pretend I was biologically theirs and refused to answer questions about my past. My a-parents were ignorant and unintentionally cruel, both self-absorbed, my a-dad pathologically narcissistic. He is in an assisted living facility now and I'm told he talks non-stop, alienates everybody he meets almost immediately and is verbally abusive to the staff. This isn't just because he's old and has some dementia. He's always been that way. He never allowed me to finish a sentence. I was their emotional caretaker, not a daughter.

And yet, all those notes. Pretending to be the good, grateful, loving daughter.

The cost was mighty high. I paid for it in occasional bouts of depression, anxiety and hypochondria. And people pleasing. Oh God, the people pleasing. Just keeping THAT up is more exhausting than running a marathon. And useless, too.

It's been a long time now since I've written a note like that. Almost two years now. It's sad, but when I send my a-dad something, I don't even write a note. When I do, I leave out the "I miss you so much" part. It's not the truth. And he doesn't deserve it. He never did. Their "love" was purely conditional.

What is so weird to see is the HUGE difference between what I felt on the inside and what I tried to show to the compliant, people pleasing, desperate self. I'm glad I buried her.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Found! One Mexican Adoptee

Okay, I found another one.

A Mexican adoptee from the failed social experiment that was the Closed Era.

I can't say too much about her except she is highly educated, successful and...was placed with a middle-class white couple thanks to an arrangement made by her birthmother and her doctor.

In other words, this Mexican adoptee managed to avoid the pitfalls of "matching."

Of course, she had nothing to do with it. Like the rest of us adoptees, others decided her fate. We just deal - happily, gratefully, ambivalently or otherwise - with the consequences.

Instead of being placed with an equally poor Mexican family, she landed several rungs higher on the socioeconomic ladder. And from what she has said publicly about her adoption, her adoptive parents were loving, supportive and - THANK GOD - not narcissists.

At one point, she was entered into a bilingual school.

Have been mulling this one over.

For all that I have moaned and groaned about the utter agony and hell of being raised by narcissistic adoptive parents who were ignorant and poor, at least I was not separated from my culture. Being separated from my first mother is tough enough.

I was raised within 1.5 miles of my first mother. We probably hit the same grocery stores. So I grew up eating pretty much the same Mexican foods, listening to the same Spanglish and went to the same sort of schools...hanging out with the same kinds of kids...that I would have if she'd decided to keep me.

While it would have been undoubtedly an improvement if the social worker had skipped over my a-parents file to the next waiting Mexican-American couple, it hit me after reading the other adoptee's story that I felt sorry for her, despite her obvious advantages. I'm almost sure she doesn't feel the least bit sorry for herself.

Still, I had the benefit of being raised in my own culture. My grandmother told me about her sister turning into a dog after a withdoctor hexed her. Then she followed it up with stories about The Llorna and dragged me to her little church in East L.A. where the mass was said in Spanish and the congregants swore the Virgin de Guadelupe shed tears of blood. On Sundays, I watched my uncle made menudo and on Christmas, my aunts made tamales and taught me to roll out the masa. Sure, I had to put up with their derision of my aspirations for a higher education, but at least I knew what it felt like to be raised in a real Mexican family...even if that family was technically not my own.

I have absolutely no idea how much more LOST I would feel if I did not have that enriching experience.

When I read about the other Mexican adoptee and tried to imagine myself being raised outside my culture, it hit me that this is the plight of the transracial adoptee. Of course it is. I knew that! I read their stories and feel sad. But I felt it like a sucker punch in the gut. Ouch.

I really HATE being asked what I'm grateful for when it comes to my adoption.

Well, I'm finally grateful for one thing.

Being raised as a Mexican-American. At least the social worker got that right.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

The Mexican Adoptee

Not looking for sympathy.

Just for proof of another Mexican-American adoptee.

Not a "half-breed." With a white mother and a Mexican father.

But the child of a Mexican mother with one of those big, extended Mexican families that, but rarely, give their children away because of close knit family ties, etc.

I have an adoptive cousin who is Mexican. He doesn't know who is mother is, but apparently he didn't leave the family. A childless couple in the clan raised him. So that doesn't count.

It really drives me crazy when somebody points out that Latino's don't give away their kids. I'm not arguing with this "rule." I believe it. Because, it appears, I'm the exception. My mother gave me away despite family pressure to keep me. She was Mexican. According to cultural tradition, she should have kept me. I'll give her this. She was a rebel.

It drives me nuts because it FEELS like I'm only the Mexican adoptee of early 1960's vintage. Which only adds to feeling like the damaged product of a really bad experiment, otherwise known as the Closed Era.


The double whammy of knowing that the social worker must have sized up my mother: poor, minimally educated and, of course, Mexican. Never mind she was a Mexican of European descent with fair skin. A Mexican, she must have thought, was a Mexican. What difference could there be?

So much to my mother's HORROR (as revealed in reunion), I was placed with DARK Mexicans of Indian ancestry. Raised just as poor as my mother, complete with major family dysfunction, and who had achieved one slim rung higher on the socioeconomic scale. While the difference in skin color was disorienting (me being the only "light" one in my adoptive home), the difference in temperament and - what the hell? - intellect was profound. My adoptive parents were hard working and street smart, but without one bit of intellectual curiosity. They never read a single book and preferred television. They mocked anything smacking of culture, calling museums boring and going to college "a waste of time." They did not wonder about how other people live. I, on the other hand, wanted a life beyond the closed family system. I wanted to live in the world. As did my mother. THIS is what she'd WANTED for me when I was born. To live, as she dreamed, in the "white" world.

Hah! She had no idea that the practice of the time was "matching" and that I was not destined for "better," but the same. A lateral move. Because my a-father was and is a narcissist, I argue, worse off.

But time is funny.

Without me to tie her down, my mother was free to move UP and UP she did...the old fashioned way: a financially successful marriage. Never mind that the man turned out to be, well, a pervert. She traveled around the world. Read non-fiction. Is able to talk about all sorts of things, places and ideas.

I have a picture of myself at 12 in 1972 and my mother in the same year, after achieving her "dream" of upward mobility.

God, I hate looking at that picture. We look so much alike. But I'm not with her. She is posed, still very youthful, with her two grandchildren. I'm sitting in the middle of two people of no relation, a human sacrifice to the hopes and dreams of three people.

Some days, this being the lone exception to the "fact" that Mexicans don't give away their babies for adoption, is a real downer.