When someone who’s hurt us behaves as though nothing is wrong, they deny what we feel. When confronted and reacting as though we’ve hurt them, they deny us once again and put a fiction in our place.
And in their place, we move through the subsequent Kubler-Ross stages of grief for them as externalized ego-functions of them. We’re infuriated, confused. We try desperately to reason with them, to save both ourselves and the relationship. And when it becomes dreadfully apparent that it is we, not they, who must choose one or the other then we feel sadness. It is at this critical juncture, this decision at this point that separates the narcissist and their enablers from we who survive and succeed them.
I’ve apparently been sent a “gift” for Christmas from Brother through our father. Earlier this year Sister also used our father to deliver a “gift” on my birthday. These are two people who have expressed nothing but contempt for me in the past, have nothing to do with me in the present and for whom my future has no place. People who don’t like me, don’t give me things. But these do. So what I am to make of this seemingly conflicted, crazy-making behavior?
It’s never overtly spelled out but I think I know what I’m supposed to do, what my prescribed role is and what my unspoken expected response should be in all this: forgive, forget, move on (which is to say, reset back to default) and receive this “gift” in lieu of acknowledging, much less resolving any of our problems and, further, as a down payment to justify future abuse. This is giving a “gift” the same way a fisherman “feeds” a fish — always with strings attached.
The first strategy Sam mentions is the child isolating themselves from the narcissistic parent, reaching away for and adopting other, more suitable parental figures. This has become my strategy by consequence as much as by choice.
I’ve always said that my siblings and I essentially raised ourselves, Mother being more like an absent roommate than a parent and us, mere meal tickets used to wine and dine her boyfriends on the child support garnished from our father she unceremoniously discarded. Brother went to school wearing shorts and rubber boots, whatever he could find. I, myself, duct taped my shoes and tried to modify old clothes. Sister was excellent at scrounging for edible things not deemed off limits to create inventive food items from. All while we were berated as ungrateful, spoiled brats that didn’t do enough for Mother if we were paid any attention to.
One of the final exchanges Mother and I had from several years ago, illustrating a narcissistic response to boundary-setting and probably drawing to a close this series of blood-letting.
At this point in my recovery, the anger that fueled my interest in understanding narcissism in order to heal from and move beyond the destructive role it’s played in my life seems to have been more or less exhausted. Oddly enough, EMDR therapy seems to have helped diminish the bad feelings and ruminations or maybe that happened to be coincidence. Perhaps the shared experience of Donald J. Trump exemplifying to a staggering degree textbook traits of a severely malignant narcissist as he stumbles about on the world stage to everyone’s horror has led to demystification of the disorder through sheer burnout. In any case, the dull ache of loss and emptiness I once felt has become a quiet space.
As such, this entry has been collecting dust with my waning motivation to develop it but I feel that it’s important to complete this dysfunctional family portrait in their own words if only to see it all laid bare, ending properly with the source from whence this transgenerational madness flows and revolves around.
Few things appear more perplexing than a someone aware of and seeking recovery from narcissistic abuse in full-throated support of “unpresidented” Donald J. Trump, a man that a significant number of psychologists have been compelled beyond usual ethical constraints to point out the pattern of malignant narcissistic behavior of (behavior that could also be explained by drug use, dementia or syphilis). After all, wounded healers that we are have sought answers that we’ve sacrificed for to move beyond the suffering we happened to find ourselves in and many of us share what we’ve learned so that others might do the same. That any of us could or would become enamored with a prime textbook example of the very thing we struggle to liberate ourselves from seems beyond the pale. And yet it happens.
For those of us estranged from our families during the family fetishized holidays shoring up the end of the year, the pressure to forgive and forget can be especially pronounced. Society at large tells us that – to borrow a turn of phrase from the poet, Alexander Pope – to err is human; to forgive, divine. And that the victim is the perpetrator, the betrayer, the pariah should forgiveness be withheld — to be pitied, subjected to public scorn and, ironically, unforgiven for being unwilling to forgive. Rather than emphasis on understanding and compassion, this is institutionalized blaming of the victim that I think most of us were raised to believe, wrongly.
As a black hole is a failed star collapsed under its own gravity into an inescapable singularity, the narcissist is a failed child reduced to a single function: the insatiable acquisition of attention to feel special (narcissistic supply). We can’t see black holes but for the distortion of space and effect on objects surrounding them. Similarly, narcissists hide in plain sight belied only by the social disruption left in their wake.
Like many (if not everyone) recovering from narcissistic abuse, I deal with my share of flying monkeys: enablers manipulated into serving the narcissist as their minions who seek to restore the status quo. And I find few things more validating than reading, hearing or seeing the recordings from other survivors of exchanges with the narcissistic abusers and flying monkeys that they’re dealing with. So this Flying Monkey Autopsy segment is for sharing and deconstructing my own contributions with a dash of reflective analysis for good measure.
The first flying monkey cooling on the slab is from my final email exchange with Sister.
Re: So Much For An Easy Morning
So Much For An Easy Morning
This is the email subject under which Sister begins her message to me.
Translation: You’ve inconvenienced me.
Hey bro, So I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any of your posts lately; guess you decided to unfriend me. You’re such an idiot sometimes.
I had removed Sister and several dozen others from my list of so-called Facebook friends that I felt I didn’t have meaningful relationships with or were professional contacts that I felt didn’t belong connected to a personal account of mine.
Translation: I don’t give you permission to leave me.
Never mind what precipitated my decision to unfriend her. She’s telling me from the get go that my reasons aren’t important to her. Only the results.
In Greek mythology, Pandora is the first woman created and given, among other gifts from the gods who created her, a jar containing all the evils of the world. Curious, she opens the jar and inadvertently lets the evils escape, leaving only hope remaining at the bottom of the jar before she manages to close it again.
Pandora is a scapegoat, set up to be blamed for all that is ill or wicked while the gods who planted the jar of evil on her and to whom she owes her very existence wash their hands of culpability. Similarly, narcissistic abuse survivors are saddled with toxic shame “gifted” to us by the narcissist that we obediently if not gratefully bottle up and tuck away deep in the dark recesses of ourselves out of sight and mind where it continues to linger, poisoning us, long after the narcissist no longer does. We don’t acknowledge this growing reservoir of pain deep within our being much like the narcissist fails to acknowledge us and for much the same reason: to do so would undo the comfortable illusion, the lie we’ve invested in and grown accustomed to.
But the pain will not be denied. It takes the taste out of life. Bleaches the colors. Numbs the ecstasy of awe. The sheer weight of it drags on us, leaving us spent before we even begin. No, for there to be any hope of recovery then the pain cannot be ignored. It must be freed in order to be free of it. Pandora’s jar must be emptied.
The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges …
Mother steps out the backdoor of her newly installed, manufactured home with a pot of warm leftovers. From a few yards away, peering out of the window of the dilapidated camper trailer that I lie forgotten in, I can make out the steam rising from the food as she pushes it with a large wooden spoon into the dishes of grateful dogs, hungrily lapping it up. Lucky them, those obedient pets. They haven’t failed her as I have. Haven’t disappointed her. I haven’t eaten in three days and resigned to the idea that my lifeless body won’t be found for many more days to come, mere feet away from where Family breaks bread and give smiles to one another. At least the maggots will eat as well as the dogs. For that, they can also thank Mother.