Monday, December 24, 2007

Oh Come Ye Children of Narcissists

Just in time for the holidays!

Another post about dealing with a narcissistic parent.

After lots of therapy and endless intensive effort to emotionally detach from my toxic, elderly, narcissistic adoptive father, I'd like to report even more progress. If you have come here searching for information, I want to tell you it is possible to escape from their clutches.

I can now listen to one of his disturbing phone messages and giggle. A year ago, an abusive, demanding phone call would have left me sputtering with rage. I'd replay what he said over and over in my head. A single phone call could ruin my day. Several days.

Most recent example: He asked that I send him a new pair of slippers. The old slippers I gave him were not only falling apart, he said, but were making him fall down. (He falls down because he has Lewy Body dementia...different from Alzheimers. This frontal lobe disease means he lacks judgment and inhibition...which he had little of before. But basically, he's the same as he always was, just worse).

I also got the blame for his rapid decline in health because I stuck him in an assisted living facility. The fact that he is 81 and has heart disease and dementia had nothing to do with it.

I also got the blame for choosing a doctor who won't take his complaints about his aches and pains seriously and give him medicine to "cure" him. The fact that there is no cure for old age also escapes him. (I also got the blame for making him sick and sending him to the hospital when I was selfish enough to go away to college).

So I sent him some new slippers. He calls to say he got them and that they fit perfectly. And you know what he said? "Finally! You did something right for a change."

I laughed. I actually laughed.

I spent my life doing stuff for him. And my adoptive mother. And it was never enough. Or right. After them not doing much for me. The bare minimum. I mean, my adoptive mom thought driving me to school or taking me to the park (twice) were enough to qualify her for sainthood. Such amazing feats of selflessness required my undying gratitude and lifelong servitude.

Because it's Christmas time and with all the gift buying going on, I got to thinking. As soon as I started earning money, I bought them nice gifts. Thoughtful ones. I got a card with a little money. I can't remember a single gift they ever gave me. Because they never gave me anything, except when I was a little kid. My husband says it's because they didn't really know me and that if you aren't close to someone, you have no idea what they like. He said they were always too busy talking about themselves to learn anything about me. Which is true. They always blamed me for not being close to them, but how can you get close to someone who won't let you finish a sentence? I worked for years in television news production and they would tell people they had no idea what I did for a living. Writing, something like that. I told them a hundred times - desperate for attention and approval. My kids are smarter. They don't even bother trying to talk to my adoptive father. They just sit there and nod politely and then leave the room as soon as possible.

Anyway!

If you are in the process of trying to emotionally detach from a narcissistic parent, but haven't yet done so, and find yourself thrown together during the holiday season or are upset about something that parent is sure to do and worried that you may finally flip out and lose it, you have my sympathy. The holidays are already stressful enough. Try visualizing zipping yourself into an invisible full body shield that will deflect all the crap that is sure to be flung. And if you want to whine about anything, please feel free to leave a comment. Whiners are more than welcome here.

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49 Comments:

Blogger Elise said...

Nina,

Fabulous post.

As I am "no contact" with my mother (who called, but left no messages, on Christmas day...her knee is just jerking, I can imagine), my troubles are of a different sort.

I was at dinner last night with a dear old friend, his wife, and my husband. He is an old colleague of mine. He also has a relatively normal, relatively uncomplicated relationship with his parents, who doted on him (he was the baby of 4, and the only boy).

He'd met my mother, and while he admitted she was always "self-centered", he didn't know the half of it. When I told him I'd gone no-contact and filled him in a bit on the background (he hasn't seen my blog, but I invited him to look at it today), he seemed to say "You'll regret it, after she's passed, if you don't re-establish some sort of contact with her".

I wanted to say "I'll regret it, no matter what I do, when it comes to her"...but instead, I said "I've really already grieved for her. She's not really living any more. She has a pulse; she breathes. But she is not living. She is the most frightening person I've ever known".

That made him think a bit...but his own positive family experiences (with the exception of a nasty divorce between his parents) make it very difficult for him to truly see where I'm at.

It's difficult, because he is a very emotionally intelligent person, in general, and I respect his point of view so much. So it was a tough part of the evening, for me, when we had this conversation...

(sigh)

9:03 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

Kudos to you for your freedom! Yay! And, this is great advice for anyone with some connection to a narcissist: imagine that barrier up. It really does work.

My holidays required close proximity to a narcissistic family member, and as he counted the ways in which he was wonderful, spectacular and the center of the universe, I imagined his words falling as beautiful, silent snow.

It was quite pretty. And my peace remained intact. And I was grateful that I'm whole enough to love other people and find them interesting. Imagine being stuck in a universe that contained only your father, for instance.

That's where he is. That seems like hell to me.

I'm glad you're seen and loved by others. :o)

9:13 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Elise,

I know exactly what you mean. So many people, including those we like and respect, simply do not understand the destructive nature of the narcissistic parent. Because their contact - such as your friend - is limited, they can't see "it" like we do. I also think that parents are so revered in society...idealized...as pointed out by Alice Miller...that it's impossible for so many to accept that there are monstruous parents. That "they love you in their own way" and "that's just the way they are." A close friend has said this to me, repeatedly. But what's funny is that SHE has extremely limited contact w/her toxic father...but chooses not to discuss him. I don't think you'll regret the no contact. I don't think that for one second. Statements like that are very hard because they can add to guilt we already feel. But it's either a little guilt or obliteration. Better a bit of guilt.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Eve,

Oooo. I'm going to try that. Imagine words falling like silent snow. Very beautiful imagery. Very serene. The one thing I have learned, in all of this, is the power of asking a person a question and really listening to the answer...acknowledging them. Their reaction is often one of delighted surprise and I wonder how often people go unacknowledged.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Annie said...

Oh yes. Thank you for reminding me that the guilt, the HUGE guilt I feel over no contact with my narcissist a-mother, is so much better than attempting some kind of reconciliation would be. Somehow the Christmas stuff got to me - longing to know my real mother but also wondering whether I should try to reach out to the narcissist. Ah well, I have my own small family and we managed an okay time together. More or less.
But if I decide to try and make peace I'll definitely try the visualisations.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Your life sounds like a parallel universe of mine. I too have done the non contact. All it did for me, really, was create a conversation baseball bat to hit me with every few years(what I put THEM through haha.) Your site and experience has really validated a lot of my own personal feelings. My parents too were REVERED by outsiders. Mom was an elementary school teacher, dad was successful businessman, good looking etc. I finally decided they both have attachment disorders because they could never relate to us or talk with us about us(adopted sister and me.) Anyway, I am feeling guilty I am making you listen to me.

I applaud your ability to change the dynamic with your a-father. Tough but I think your therapist is right. There is this interpretation of quantum mechanics(hang with me) called sylopsism. The pure scientists/mathematicians hate it, but then they don't understand other things about life that I do so who cares...but essentially what it says is that your dad really exists only as a part of you - a perception, a projection. In fact, everything that has meaning to us is that way according to that interpretation. Anyway, what you are essentially doing, according to theory, is reconnecting a masculine piece of yourself(Life as a Waking Dream a good book) and learning to develop it in yourself. Once it is developed strongly, you will no longer have a "hook" with your dad. What I hate about therapists is they know what they are doing, but they never let you in on the battle plans themselves. Anyway, you are developing a tougher, more assertive side to yourself that in a sense says, don't waste my time. This is not the same as I never want to talk with you again, but rather it is an assertive, masculine way to be in your situation. Until it is integrated within you however, it exists on the "outside" in a twisted form. My own personal thing is we chose this in a spirit form. It may be bs but it gets me through. This gets into a whole other subject...

do you think as a little girl you knew something was f-ed up but if you challenged them you would get whacked, ignored, blown off, given back? I think that was the worst for me...not only did I feel that way, but I now believe they pressed the advantage with it.

Stick with the narcissism thread. This is on the edge of a lot of people's consciousness now. I think you've hit on something.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Annie, The holidays and the New Year can be tempting to reach out and try again. But trust your past experience and instinct. Don't do it just because of guilt. It's not enough to sustain any relationship, let alone one with a narcissistic parent. And there's nothing wrong with a small family!

Anonymous, I was fascinated by what you wrote. I'll think about it on my long walk today. To me, it seems that your parents fit the description of the classic narcissistic parent. Everybody else thinks they are great. But the kids know better. In a way, I had it easier because my adad is so childlike/weird. People pick up on it immediately and back away. So it reinforced my own views. I thought it was weird when I was a kid and by the time I was a teenager, dreamed of having a more adult, capable man as a father. But YOU probably thought there was something wrong with you...and your parents tried to keep you in line by blaming you.

So you are their bio child and your sister is adopted?

I'm actually thinking of starting a new blog devoted to narcissism and migrating some of old posts to the new one. It seems most of the people who visit come here by searching, "narcissistic parent."

11:12 AM  
Anonymous irisheyes said...

Wow...I just found this post on your blog and it really hit me in a good way. I'm dealing with very narcissistic aparents (you know the story!) and a quasi-narcissistic nmother. Your post made me realize that I've subconsciously been putting up "walls" with my aparents for years to protect myself...keeping the conversations as light as possible, and laughing off really nasty comments (similarly to your dad and the slippers comment...OMG, my amom could have said that exact same thing!) I still get perplexed by some of my aparents' actions - and still hurt, I admit - but I'm finally starting to let go of the guilt and realize IT's NOT ALL MY FAULT, dammit.

Interestingly, as my nmom's mild narcissism increasingly rears its ugly little head, I have found myself doing similar distancing behaviors. I thought, before reading this, that it had more to do with one of those well-publicized reunion phases - like a toddler phase or something, where I was testing her or acting out. Now, I think it's more about self-protection; realizing that no matter how much she says she loves me (and I do think she DOES love me), she will always, always put her own wants and needs before mine. I really do enjoy spending time with her, and we share a lot of common interests, but I'm realizing that I have to keep a bit of emotional distance there so I don't go crazy. NOW I know why I had the recent conversation with her, asking that we lay off the adoption-speak and keep things on a less intimate level.

Thanks, Nina. Seriously, after reading this I feel better than I have in weeks.

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