So I eagerly bought and read Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump. Of the ever-expanding library of books on her uncle Donald written by burn victims and spurned former enablers inevitably left in his wake, Mary’s perspective as both member of his family and clinical psychologist piqued my interest. That Donald’s younger brother, Robert, was tasked to run point on behalf of their family to quash publication of the book only served to further whet my curiosity. And not just mine. The book sold more copies in the first week than Donald’s ghost-written Art of the Deal has in all the years since it was first published. Oh, and then Robert died — probably from complications caused by COVID-19 that his brother, the President of the United States, has barely acknowledged, completely failed to contain and has arguably made worse, given that any other cause of death short of overdose, suicide or embarrassing accident would not carry the shame with it necessary for a superficial family like the Trumps to cover up and deny in order to keep up appearances.
Though the book chronicles the creation of Donald and ultimately culminates in the emergence of the ruined creature we’ve all come to witness loosed upon our world, it’s more an insight into the monster makers themselves, the systemic forces that shaped him and the role Mary’s father, Fred “Freddy” Trump Jr., played in particular as a kind of catalyst. I’d wondered about Freddy ever since first hearing him mentioned by a piece PBS Frontline did on each of the 2016 presidential front runners; the eldest of Donald’s siblings scapegoated and ultimately driven to self-destruction — it resonated with me.
Over the past few months now Mother’s continued to send scrappy packets of childhood memorabilia and rediscovered photographs hewn from old family albums. And each time I respond with a simple “thank you” token of appreciation for the gifted materials. But sometimes I’m tempted to write a longer letter.
This is a photograph of me, “you’re so selfish” Sister, “you’re too sensitive” Brother and Mother’s adopted daughter obediently smiling for posterity. It’s one of a cache of similar nostalgia Mother stuffed into a Happy Birthday card that she appears to have begun mailing directly with a stamp and return address sticker before tearing off the return address, marking a black “X” over the tear where it was and, I assume, instead sent it through Father who dutifully left it on my doorstep to find. Pretty standard procedure as these things go.
This video resonated with me in many respects: the mother who remains a victim of her own childhood, who emasculates her son’s father in front of him, who hates her son’s girlfriends, her son’s fear of abandonment fostering dependency, his confusion, anger, etc. and how to take responsibility and begin healing in a way the mother never did.
I happened to tune about halfway through Hugo and Jake‘s live stream the other night, listening to them banter about in the background while I worked a project, when they begin to talk (1h 40m in) about being no contact with toxic family members and narcissism and I overhear Hugo say that, in one of his most productive therapy sessions ever, the therapist tells him that Hugo doesn’t have to entertain his messed up family’s demands of him. Instant validation!
In what myself and other survivors rediscover uncannily often, my own experience with this singular epiphany was nearly identical to Hugo’s. A counselor and psychologist who’s help I’d sought at a local community college told me the same thing that Hugo’s therapist told him and, like Hugo, I marveled that this idea had never occurred to me before. It was like a spell had been broken. A curse lifted. As though someone had to snap their fingers for me to wake up.
Over the years I’ve been gathering information on narcissism since first plugging my symptoms into a search engine and discovering it, I’ve read a lot of articles, watched more than a few videos and browsed numerous online support group forums but this is the first time I’d seen/heard someone else describe this fundamental moment of realization, a sudden paradigm shift in perspective, as I also experienced it. One moment I was on the inside looking out. The next, I was on the outside looking in and wondering how it was I could have ever been on the inside.
The rest of Hugo and Jake’s discussion is delightful, insightful and worth watching for anyone else – well, not Elon Musk fans probably – and especially for those who might be struggling with family estrangement over this family-centric holiday. Celebrate all the people you don’t have to deal with. Cut the toxic people out of your life.
The closest thing to validation I’ve ever received from a Family member or their extended group of acquaintances (the tribe, if you will) was from Sister. One day she called me and described how she’d witnessed, first hand, Mother shamelessly, repeatedly lying about any small thing, undercutting the parental authority of her husband in regards to their adopted daughter and in spite of confronting her on these untruths. Sister tells me it occurred to her then, “Now I know how Tarraccas must feel.”
And that was it.
I was a little suspicious of her motivations for telling me this but I appreciated that Sister connected a couple dots, attempted to understand and relate to my experience. But she couldn’t know how I felt because Mother wasn’t lying about her. She lies about me. And in spite of almost bonding over this briefly shared awareness, Sister believed those lies. Everyone in the tribe does. It’s more of a cult that way.
They just can’t believe, even with first-hand evidence, that Mother could or would hurt anyone, especially not one of her own children. Perish the thought! Which only leaves me. I must’ve misunderstood or I’m just too sensitive or too angry or too something — they never ask because they apparently don’t care what I actually think or how I really feel. That’s all bullshit. In any case, I need to forgive, forget and get with the program and that’s all there is to it.
[P]eople do not like disrupting the status quo, and if they get information that doesn’t compute with their experience of a person – it’s destabilizing, and it’s easier to doubt your reality then to possibly have to face a new one. Treat this as a wakeup call – don’t take your vulnerabilities to people who do this to you any longer, find more humane listeners who receive your difficult words with compassion.
For anyone who finds themselves betrayed by one’s tribe, those who we trusted to have our back only for them to stab us in it: these are not your people. Find a new tribe.
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 Christmas season – now barely held at bay by the monsters of Halloween lest it begin after the smoke of Independence Day clears – is a stressful time of year for many people. I’m not one of those people. But even I feel a palpable sense of relief on Christmas Day as though the Yule Log were a metaphor for a difficult bowel movement.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are mass migrations during some of the worst weather conditions of the year in order to reconnect with families, exchange gifts and open old wounds. Mix the blood sport of Black Friday and the impending deadline, guilt-driven, mass media drumming, last minute Christmas Eve shopping into this generalized manic-depressive social malaise and you’ve got a season of survival more so than that of celebration. Pa-rum pum pum pum! ?
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.