At the age of 58, I recently shattered a lifelong glass bubble of believing that I was a perfect (golden!) child of a perfect background.
I went through a rather tough period in which it dawned on me that the relationships in my family are heavily distorted by narcissistic disorder patterns. Both my parents are still alive and able in the middle of their eighties, and I have a sister three years younger than me.
Ever since my teens I have suffered from angst and an almost bipolar turmoil of reaction patterns leading me into a teen life rather sunk in alcohol and hash amongst fleeing jobs, although I managed to uphold a few solid friendships and sought wisdom (today recognized as an unconscious search for redemption…) in tales of mystics and guru’s, (although never signing up as disciple, though) and had a sort of jojo self-image alternating between a godly chosen being and a castaway nobody – or a monster (not that I was violent, but I felt very ugly inside).
I did manage to get a grip at 24 and completed an education as a music teacher at 29, from when I relapsed into a new period of hash and alcohol abuse and low self-esteem, again countered a bit by a warm, although rather problematic relationship with a woman I actually lived together with for a couple of years.
At 31 my eyes opened to the love of my life, with whom I now have two wonderful daughters.
But at the time of having to leave my ex-girlfriend in favor of a deep-felt love for another woman I got so intensely hit by shame, guilt, and suicidal thought patterns (which, btw has been part of my angst throughout my life up till very recently), that I began searching in earnest for a therapist that could ease my pains – little knowing that the path would lead to where I am now…
So during almost 28 years of regular therapy and a long list of tell-tale episodes marring meetings and events in both my wife’s and my own families, it has become evident that both she and I are victims of narcissistic mothers – and both of us somehow recognized the longing for freeing ourselves.
My wife has been at the front, first coming to terms with her own angst and finally discovering that her mother suffers from Munchausen syndrome, next I have had to realize that my family simply has an underlying agenda aiming at crazy-making my wife, our youngest daughter and ultimately me, for some reason wanting to destroy the life I’ve managed to build despite my mental obstacles!
After a couple of absolutely unforeseen violently bodily reactions on my part (like having a pulse not under 130 for three months in a row after saying no to my sister – the doctor just diagnosed stress syndrome ) and very near total breakdown after confronting my parents I simply have to acknowledge the fact that I have to go no (or very little) contact in order to be able to ease my angst and become a real me amongst real others.
It has been a very tough process, but these past months after smashing the glass bubble has given me hope that there is a way out of these destructive patterns, of course for myself but more importantly for our girls. I simply have to follow this path from now on.
One of the books I’ve read that gave me some confidence in what I’m doing is M. Scott. Pecks “The Road Less Travelled”. For one major thing, it helps me hold on to the fact that every one of us is responsible for our own lives and behavior towards each other.
When I began to realize that the images of my sister, my parents, and myself might be distorted (these realizations dawned in that order over a period of approximately 2 years) I discovered that I am besieged by very heavy feelings of guilt and obligation to my family system, and this has been the cause of all the angst and depressions that have haunted me all my life.
As it became apparent that my wife seemed to be the center of my family’s envy and even hateful behavior – and me acting as the enabling son and partner, ultimately risking our marriage, our sanity, and the wellbeing of our own children – I at first broke contact with my sister. This – as I wrote previously – caused almost half a year of violent body reactions out of sheer panic and shame.
Then my mother made an attempt at forcing our youngest daughter to visit her and my father together with my sister for a Christmas visit, knowing that my wife and I had given up on the idea of celebrating for the first time ever – we have been the primary Christmas inviters for the past 25 years or so.
My daughter refused, scared and angry – and I rushed to her rescue. At entering my daughter’s apartment, I sensed that my mother held an extremely strange silent anger/rage. The following day I phoned my parents and told them I were very angry at them for disturbing our daughter in this way, for once actually showing my real feelings – which were met only with reproach and an emotional door slammed shut immediately.
This caused me to walk around for almost 24 hours feeling as if I were made of glass, and anytime soon I would shatter and end up in shards at a mental hospital. But with help from my therapist, I succeeded to change the picture to one of me breaking through the glass walls of deception into the real world (like Neo in “The Matrix when he wakes up on board Morpheus’ ship).
But after I decided to stand my ground and live through these ordeals, I completely unexpectedly began to experience a whole new sensation: I no longer felt afraid of other people! Colleagues, bypassing strangers, even friends – I became an equal instead of feeling distorted – the state of mind that formerly completely steered my behavior in compulsive and destructive ways.
From then on, I have begun training ways to switch from being in the state of fear, guilt, and obligation (FOG) to being just me – knowing I have the right to be so, with my good sides and bad sides like everybody else – finally building my own Identity. I practice Yoga, listen to my body signals, allow myself to shower every day(!) read a lot of books about narcissistic disorders, talk openly with (very close) friends, and a lot with my wife.
Not that I find it easy all the time. Depending on circumstances (like attempting to explain a few of my feelings to my father – which did not turn out well) I spend weeks working hard to pull myself out of the “old” behavioral patterns – still feeling childish and tempted to blame the world, my wife and circumstances in general for me having a bad time.
But I’m gradually getting better at convincing myself that my responsibility first and foremost is to take good care of myself in order to be able to take care of my loved ones – and that every other person is fundamentally responsible for their lives in the same way.
When I succeed in entering that state of mind it is like letting the light in and being able to truly love life and others. I guess the rest of my life will be a bit like that, alternating between the old darkness and the new “being outdoor and fearless” feeling, constantly working on getting more “outside” time.
As I write these lines it has been 10 days since my now 87-year-old dad had a stroke. He survived with his right side partially immobilized, has difficulty speaking, but is intellectually unimpaired. There is a good prognosis, and he is already now working on rehabilitation.
This crisis has of course set the mobile of our dysfunctional family in motion. Conditioned as I am to play the role of the golden/hero child all my instincts drag me towards playing the old role in the family drama. I now fight these impulses and try to get my rational brain online again. Sort of a rollercoaster ride in and out of rather heavy regressions in which Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG) reverberate through my body for hours.
The good news is that I am getting better at supporting myself in this. The physical condition does not any longer grip me as hard for whole days (or even months) as described in my first story.
I am beginning to really experience that my steady therapeutic work has freed me from the jail of believing that the FOG and pain are an eternal condition with spiritual or physical death as the only way out.
So, here’s in the hope that some may find bits of hope or recognition in my story as I have done during the past couple of years reading numerous tales told by others in similar plights:
Stories From Will
My wife and I were on a business trip when I noticed an unanswered phone call from my mother. Fear struck me immediately, but I tried to calm down and not call back instantly, as I decided to build up my defenses before contacting her on my own initiative.
But she also called our eldest daughter who in turn called me and told me that my dad had collapsed and was now hospitalized. I then called Mom, who at first seemed not to recognize my voice, and I somehow in a split second had an impression of her switching from calm to a sorrowful sob, with which she related that my sister had been with them at the time and called the ambulance right away.
We drove back home, my wife behind the wheel and me in the passenger seat filled with a mixture of grief, fear, and panic, presuming that it would now be impossible for me to avoid meeting my sister and mother (S&M). It conveys the dysfunction that my sorrow felt secondary to my fear, although still deep, as Dad and I have cared about each other a great deal along the way.
He is still the one radiating warmth in our family, although he has been using most of it in futile attempts at covering up the destructive behavior of S&M. Clearly illustrated from the last time we spent an hour together before the stroke, during which he scorned me subtly but persistently for not wanting to contact Mother and left me to fence off a guilt trip that permeated most of my summer.
Back home I struggled intensely to make up my mind whether I should race to the hospital immediately, risking meeting S&M (that thought still makes me almost stop breathing), or wait until the next day. I managed to calm myself enough to strategically call the hospital and ask if dad was alone, which they confirmed, and so I went to see him immediately. He was very happy to see me and very sad too, of course.
He cried, also, I believe, because our family has shattered. The next day my wife, youngest daughter, and I visited him – again after clearing that there would be no other than us, and our eldest daughter went the day after again. So, he knows we care.
Following our eldest daughter’s visit, he got transferred from the emergency ward to another hospital, where I called asking for news about his condition. The nurse sounded slightly offended with me (or did I make that up?) and told me, that S&M had been there and were registered as “primary contacts” (p.c.’s), so I was expected to speak with them, not the staff.
The feeling of being manipulated out of direct contact with Dad hit me instantly, and I asked to be put on the list, to which she answered that it was my dad’s decision, not hers.
The next day I checked up again, got another nurse on the phone, (who sounded much more friendly), and decided to visit dad, as he was not having any other visitors at the time. I told him of my concerns about the p.c. issue, whereupon he immediately wrote a note on an iPad at his disposal, asking the staff to put me on the list of “p.c.’s”
The following day I went to therapy. On telling the story a tremendous flood of anger and sorrow burst through, and I cried like a raging child for the better part of 20 minutes! Afterward, I felt great relief, and renewal of legitimacy to the work I am doing to heal the (more and more obvious) damage done to me during my upbringing – including the right to have personal boundaries respected.
He voiced that if my family of origin wants to spin a drama around Dad’s condition then I could just let them – It is a human right to pull out!
But Lo! on driving home from the consultation I unwittingly picked up a phone call from my sister (I did not recognize the phone number), during which she pulled all the guilt triggers in me she could think of in a couple of minutes it took me to more or less politely close the call.
I had a strange double sensation during the interaction: on one hand calm (or maybe dazed – I did not have the mind to stop driving or end the call), and on the other hand, panic lurked around every curve on the road. Thus, I cannot recall the conversation fully, but here’s what impressed my memory:
- Sweet voice: “It’s been a long time, but I just need to tell you that of course, we did not mean to leave you out of the list of p.c.’s – it was just that there were only two tick boxes on the form”
- Suddenly bursting into tears: “I am so sorry that you do not contact me anymore – what have I done?”
- Flips to normal voice: “It’s been such a long time! It’s actually wearing me down!! And I have been driving mom back and forth – it’s very hard on me”
- Change to matter-of-fact voice: “Are we not going to cooperate on this? You know it will surely not be the last time these things happen!”
- The sweet voice again: “And you are always welcome to call me, of course! don’t you want to know the results of the hospital meeting on dad – I attended, you know”
- Angry voice: “What have I done, since you do not want to call me? I cannot know if you do not tell me!!”
- The sweet voice again: “oh, it’s all alright, anyway I just phoned to make sure that you understand we did not mean to leave you out of the list of p.c.’s – you have now been put on the list instead of mom (!) – but she has me, so it’s not that important to her”.
- Back to matter-of-fact voice: “but you are always welcome to call”
- Slightly sarcastic voice: “well, good luck with your process”
My response to these statements consisted of a few polite remarks (concentrating hard on avoiding any promises) within a rather dazed attempt at holding on to my boundaries – that I still do not want any contact due to my personal process (which I actually regret that I mentioned). It is still impossible for me to voice a simple “NO” to her, although I managed to convey that I do not want to stay in contact with her.
A few days later she attempted to contact me again. I found an unanswered call from her followed by a text message beginning with the words: “forget what I said in the voice message…”. I checked my voicemails and immediately deleted her recording not hearing it through, just noticing that her voice had a rather angry pitch. Then I deleted the text message without reading more of it and lastly erased her call on the “unanswered” list in order to prevent any involuntary callbacks to her.
During the evening I spoke with my wife who insisted that I checked up on the hospital procedure of Primary Contacts. My initial (and a bit naive) belief was that it was a simple list of relatives that would like the hospital to call them individually if a crisis or change occurred. But in the real world, it is the hospital’s way of rationalizing time spent distributing messages concerning their patients.
The optimal is one p.c., second best is two. So, my sister picked up on that (she is educated within the care sector), knowing that the hospital took for granted that important information would be shared freely between us. Obviously, that does not work within dysfunctional family systems, where this kind of procedure instead can be used as bait for further abuse.
No Contact & Self-Care for Will
The turmoil within me has been so strong, that I almost forget what I do for a living, and has taken me most of two weeks to still. So, I have decided to uphold my “no contact” strategy for as long as I need to prepare against such violent flashbacks. It is my life!
During all the days since my dad’s stroke I have been:
- Disciplined myself to bathe and eat properly.
- Remembering to breathe deeply.
- Working, but carefully avoiding stress buildup.
- Exercising (I practice yoga, take long walks, and play a bit of tennis).
- Allowing myself to cry and mourn the sorrow, pain, and tragedy that runs in my family, when the pressure gets too high.
- Reading supportive literature: Alice Miller’s “the drama of the gifted child” and Pete Walkers “Complex PTSD: from surviving to thriving” (another highly recommendable book).
- Writing vivid dreams down – and this story as well.
- Permitting myself to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening.
- Permitting myself to relax before bedtime – most electronics turned off.
- Using breathing techniques if I wake during the night.
- Lastly, I have been able to muster anger, willing fantasy monologues loudly blaming my parents for the state of FOG they have put me in since my childhood
I now believe that these techniques (and other similar – I read and look for more tips now) will be a regular part of my future days so that I might cut down on the amount of time spent struggling for self-respect and freedom.
Ian Sala’s Story
All Mothers Love Their Children, Unconditionally… Right?
Yeah, right. Some of us know that this isn’t true, but let’s investigate the myth and its damages for a second.
First, the myth. I haven’t read the work of the American mythologist Joseph Campbell extensively (ok, I didn’t at all, but I saw a few videos of his lectures) but I think he found that one of the recurrent images in most, if not any culture around the world, and through time, is that of the mother idol.
Not far from that is the image of the caring mother holding her child. While the cult of the mother, and its association with love, devotion, and care, may be a universal phenomenon, it may not be based on a universal truth, but rather, on a universal deception.
If we observe the animal kingdom, we’ll see mother fish eating her young ones, a mother bird refusing to feed her baby once it’s been touched by a human (I’ve been told), and mother whatever leaving the deformed, sick, or weak one die without any sign of sorrow, etc. We don’t eat our own babies, but are we so different? Are we so much better?
That’s what we like to believe. And maybe we are. But you can’t sell me the concept of the universal loving mother. I know from experience that it’s just not true. It’s a myth.
Second, the damage of the myth on the mother. The myth doesn’t really serve the mother any better than the child. Because it puts pressure on every mother to feel unconditional love for every living thing that pops out of their body. Problem is, they don’t always feel it… A bit tired, not emotionally there, in pain after what feels like a medieval torture session… Many women claim that the torture of childbirth is the greatest secret ever kept from themselves, themselves.
Not only do women hide it from one another, but they also repress it so that they do it again, and again… Oh, shit, I forgot this was so painful, they say to themselves as they feel their spine disintegrate and their most intimate spot shredded apart while Alien prepares to burst out of their gut…
After that, the mother doesn’t feel in the mood for unconditional love, she feels guilty and therefore even worse about herself, and less loving as a whole. She might even blame this spongy thing covered with blood for the pain she just endured. It’s not the kid’s fault, but he pays the price of the myth early on. And that’s just the beginning of the pain of having a child.
Third, the damage of the myth on the kid. Because when you realize or suspect that your mother doesn’t love you unconditionally, you don’t get it. That’s not possible. There must be something really wrong with me for my mother not to love me as all mothers do. And so does a rather common reality become a life of misery.
Tonight, I was talking to a 22-year-old daughter of a narcissistic mother. I think we both agreed that accepting that your mother doesn’t really love you is difficult because it is associated with not being good enough. If I were good enough, we think, mother would love me like every mother is meant to love her child. It’s a tough one to shake because the myth is so strong. But the myth has to be confronted, for the sake of mother and child.
Hell Is Other People…
I once saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘The problem in life is other people’. He wasn’t the first to carry this message. The French author Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that hell is other people (“L’enfer c’est les autres”). The first time, it made me laugh. These days, it makes me rather miserable.
My life seems to be a constant battle against people who just can’t leave me alone and have to ruin anything I have. Right now, I’m simultaneously fighting one neighbor in the city who wants to build a terrace looking into our bathroom, while in the country, another neighbor started a chicken farm and wants to build a slaughterhouse just a few yards away from us. (No, I’m not that rich, but yes, we have two houses).
It looks like I’m going to lose both of these battles, and I’m finding it difficult to accept.
Growing up, my mother and sister just couldn’t leave me alone. I had to hide in a wardrobe to play. Even now, my family just can’t leave me at peace. So, I cut them all off the other day from my Facebook account, and I haven’t returned any calls lately. But I know it’s not the end of that. They’re going to come back charging, one way or another.
So, is hell really other people? I guess not. We’re not meant to be alone. And relationships with others might be the only real thing that matters in the end. But the world seems to be taken over by those who always want more, especially what other people have. Nothing new here.
The barbarians would attack the quiet peace-loving villagers and take away their land, wives, goods, etc. And it’s not just people taking things they envy from others, it’s also people being totally inconsiderate of others. They have no sense of boundaries. Take my city neighbor for example. Her extension will give her more space and be lighter, at our expense. It doesn’t bother her at all. She must feel entitled.
Probably, she felt robbed in life (maybe by a narcissistic parent who didn’t nurture her) and therefore she will take and take and take, and never feel satisfied.
I’ve never met this neighbor but when I think of her, I see my sister. When my sister was about 15 and I was 12, she went through a kleptomaniac phase. Once, she took me shopping with her and, while in a changing room, put a pair of trousers from the store in her bag.
She then handed me the bag and told me to walk out of the store with it while she was still in the changing room. And I did. It was the early days of electronic tags, but no antitheft device rang. Years later I reminded her of this episode, and she looked at me in total disbelief. Either she had wiped it out of her memory, or she was pretending she couldn’t remember. My sister doesn’t steal anymore, I think.
But she now has a very highly paid job and takes from life what she wants. Her concept of sharing with others is certainly not 50/50. It’s more like ‘One for me, one for you, one for me. One for me, one for you, one for me…’ But I know that deep inside she is miserable. She’s stuck to our narcissistic mother like a leach. They live in the same suburb and their holiday homes are two halves of the same house.
I keep telling her that she’s trying to get water from an empty well, but my mother keeps on giving her just enough water to keep her hoping for more. It wouldn’t bother me if my sister didn’t try to control me anymore and keep me inside our mother’s web. The question is, why can’t I say no?
Why did I take the bag outside the store when she asked me? Why do I let her come to visit whenever she wants? Why do I feel guilty if I don’t say yes? How can I preserve myself and my peace without being in conflict? I don’t know.
The other night, I was walking the dogs in the countryside. As I was looking at the stars and thinking that all these little human conflicts are nothing in the grand scheme of things, the moon emerged from behind a hill. It was full and the color of dark gold.
I had never seen a moon rise like this before. It felt magical, and as if the universe was confirming to me my earlier thought. I felt energized by this. But days later, we found out that one of our dear dogs was very ill. We still don’t know if it’s terminal or not, the results of the biopsy haven’t come in yet. And then we found out that the neighbor was granted planning permission for her invasive development.
I don’t know how she did it, but I do know that she bought one of our neighbors. Life is very challenging at the moment, and I can’t feel the optimism I felt as I was watching the moon rise. Maybe all this doesn’t matter. But it’s bloody painful to lose what we love. Sometimes it’s other people’s fault, and sometimes it’s just the way life, and death, go.
I guess we can only accept all this and enjoy what we have when we have it before the neighbor takes it away. Any thoughts?
My Best Friend Is A Narcissist
Shortly after understanding that my mother was a narcissist, it occurred to me that, almost all my life, I had been bullied, and in abusive relationships. It was subtle enough that it wasn’t obvious until then, but it’s now obvious enough that I can see it. The truth is that I was attracted to narcissistic people from very early on.
4-8 Years Old: SJ
Let’s start with SJ (I’ll use initials or aliases to avoid anyone recognizing anyone here). I was in the same class as SJ from about 4 to 8 years old. My sister remembers me talking about SJ at home all the time. SJ this, SJ that… SJ had big brothers, which I didn’t, some of them were adolescents. I remember in particular SJ telling all of us boys at school, how one of them had caught his pubic hair (or was it his foreskin?) in their jeans’ zipper, and how much that hurt. SJ was the leader of the pack at school, the top dog, and kind of a bully.
He did judo, and used it on some of us, I think. I remember he kicked me in the balls once. But I also considered SJ to be one of my best friends. I guess SJ could be with us when he couldn’t be at home. In other words, he was a ‘bottom dog’ at home and made up for it at school. Of course, I didn’t understand that then.
I was very sad when I left school, the city, and SJ and co. I still miss those old friends and wonder what they all have become. But I also know that SJ wasn’t really a good friend. I remember when, at around 5, I decided to show my penis to the entire classroom. I thought girls ought to see what a penis looked like (and it may have a link with another incident at school a year earlier when I was shamefully exposed by a teacher). Anyhow, SJ denounced me to the teacher, and I was punished. Bastard.
SJ always put on a brave face and played tough. He was the best at everything, even drawing, and nobody dared challenge him. I remember one day though when the mask crumbled. It was very painful, for all of us I imagine. I remember being in a lot of pain. We were about 7 or 8 years old and had this very strict, maybe even sadistic, teacher. Mrs. S was always impeccably dressed, her hair pulled so tight that I think it even pulled her eyes back.
She smelled of strong perfume, and she scared the hell out of us. She’d tell us scary stuff like how eating sand would puncture our stomachs, or how she had some explosive ink device in her handbag in case anyone tried to touch it, etc. That day, we were doing multiplication tables. SJ was called to the blackboard, and he couldn’t do his table. He was in tears and the teacher didn’t give him a break. I remember feeling really sorry for him, especially because I knew the answers and SJ looked like a total loser, a real baby, nothing like the tough guy he usually seemed to be.
I think that’s what made it most painful for me: my top dog was a poodle. What did that make me? I wanted to believe in the myth SJ had sold all of us boys in our class. The myth crumbled a bit that day, but I think we all decided to forget very quickly. Maybe it’s just after this that SJ kicked me in the balls. He must have wanted to punish someone.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through every friend and girlfriend whom I let dominate and abuse me. There were other significant narcissists in my life but, today, we will focus on the guy I’ve considered, for most of my life, to be my best friend. We’ll call him Ross today.
Age 15 to Present: “Ross”
Ross has just spent the weekend at my place (we now live in separate countries) with his wife and 2 kids (I’m godfather to the eldest one). I feel sad and empty after his visit, hence this blog entry. It could also be that I drank too much last night and didn’t have enough sleep.
This too might have a lot to do with Ross. In fact, when I first met Ross, I didn’t like beer at all. Now I love it a bit too much.
I met Ross in high school at the age of 15. Ross was a year older, but we were in the same class. We did 2 years together, playing games at the back of the class, and not doing much else. I then passed the final exam (just) whereas Ross failed (just), and we didn’t see each other after that for another 2 or 3 years.
Then we became closer than ever. We became almost like two twins until I had a 15-month assignment abroad, aged 24, and then moved to another country, where I now live. Ross has done really bizarre things since I moved abroad, and it’s only now that I understand what’s going on.
Ross reminds me a lot of SJ. He too was, and still is amongst his aging friends, the leader of the pack.
To understand Ross, you need to know his secret. We only talked once or twice about it. It’s not something he mentions a lot, but it sure had an impact on him. When Ross was 6 years old, I think, his 16-year-old sister suddenly died while taking a shower. The cause of death, he said, was vagal inhibition.
I’ve always wondered if it could have been something else, like a drug overdose, but I guess it wouldn’t make a difference here. What Ross never told me, or told his wife, is that he stopped talking entirely for a whole year after that. I found out through Ross’s elder brother. Maybe Ross doesn’t even remember himself.
I don’t think Ross ever had a chance to express his emotions. In fact, Ross is a big emotion denier for everyone. This weekend, I witnessed Ross telling his elder boy, who was scared of watching Toy Story, that no ‘you’re not scared’. Ross’s wife tells me that he’ll call her crazy if she expresses emotions, he doesn’t accept her to have.
Ross is what I would call an emotional bully. He’ll raise his voice, shut you up, and denigrate what you are saying.
Ross reads a lot, and I wonder sometimes if he’s trying to understand other’s inner life and emotions through reading. Ross is not all bad, and he has many friends, and he is also very close to his siblings. He works with his elder brother.
There are no real boundaries between Ross’ friends and his family. Family and friends are one big thing around Ross; everyone is mixed together, married, etc. I left 16 years ago.
I had to go abroad for work, but I know now that I needed the distance, not just from my mother, but also from Ross and his universe.
I now understand that Ross felt abandoned when I left, and he had to punish me for this. First, Ross and his friends visited a city close to where I live without inviting or notifying me. But I sure found out. Then it was my ex-girlfriend who invited everyone for the summer holidays, except my new girlfriend (now wife) and me of course. And they all went.
At the time I saw it as something organized by my ex-girlfriend to get back at me, but I now think Ross might have had something to do with it. When I complained to him about it, he couldn’t see what was wrong there was.
Then, I wasn’t invited to the boys’ ski holidays, etc. So, I stopped calling him, emailing him, etc. But Ross made sure I stayed in the loop somehow. And despite the bad treatment, I still considered him to be my best friend.
When I got engaged, I made him my best man. He organized a stag weekend for me. It was nice, except that we went mountain biking after a heavy meal (I had no idea what was coming) on a very hot day. I hate physical exercise and heat. He knows it.
Ross also occasionally came for work to the city I live in, without seeing me, or having just time for a coffee, but always making sure I knew he was around, sometimes very close. I felt abandoned, that was the idea of course. And then he asked me to be Godfather to his son. For a while, I couldn’t understand. My wife couldn’t either.
We concluded that he was strange. But now I think I do understand. I was his sidekick, the ‘Watson to his Sherlock Holmes’ (I read this somewhere), his emotional punching bag, and his greatest fan. In spite of my absence at his side, he still needed to feel in control, so every time I reacted angrily to something he did, he still got his narcissistic supply, and the confirmation that he was still in control.
Just like my mother.
But now that I understand, and that I don’t react as much, I can feel that he is lost. Now that I don’t go back to my home city to visit, he comes to see me. In a way, I feel really sorry for him. But I think he is now playing the victim card. That’s what bullies do when intimidation doesn’t work.
This weekend, in particular, he kept on telling me things that sounded like his wife is a high-maintenance bitch, always complaining, and making him feel bad about himself in spite of all his efforts and devotion. I almost fell into the trap. Had I fallen into it, I would, like in the old days, have been somehow unpleasant or aggressive towards his wife.
That’s what co-narcissists (co-dependents) do.
We think our role is to defend the narcissist. We feel almost like Mother Theresa coming to the rescue. So, we feel justified in being horrible to other people who have been unkind to our masters. Yep, I was like this once. I can see why Ross would miss his lapdog.
He did manage to get to me though, and that’s partly why I feel so bad today. His eldest son, my godson, was really difficult this weekend, constantly asking for attention by hitting me, poking me with a stick, being provocative, etc.
I understood this to be the reaction of a child who just lost his parents’ exclusive attention to his younger brother. But in spite of this intellectual understanding, part of me didn’t cope with it very well.
As Ross was changing his youngest son’s nappy on the back seat of our new car, without protecting the seat, and leaving wet spots, his other son was scratching the side of the car with a stick, in spite of my wife’s requests to stop.
I lost patience and, as he poked me with the stick, emitted a loud roar that scared him and made him cry.
I feel horrible for losing patience with a poor child who isn’t even 4 years old. I didn’t mean to make the kid cry, but I did. My wife says that I react to him as if he were an adult.
She might be right. I’m not good at understanding that it’s just a kid.
But I think as I finish this blog, that it was the little 4-year-old in me, the inner angry child, who got back at Ross Jr. as if he was good old SJ.
God bless us all.
Stephen King in “Misery”
Did He Unconsciously Write About “Difficult” Mothers?
First I have to confess that I haven’t read the book. But like many people, I saw Rob Reiner’s excellent film adapted from Stephen King’s Misery many years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it.
The other day, it occurred to me that Misery was reminiscent of my experience as the son of a borderline and narcissistic mother. So I watched it again (Thank you Netflix, or was it Amazon?)
Oh boy, it was like watching it for the first time. Yes, it’s a great thriller and it hasn’t lost anything with time. And seen from the angle of an introspective SoB, it was a whole new experience altogether. So, how does it relate to our subject?
Let’s look back at the story. It starts with Paul Sheldon, a middle-aged writer, finishing a book and celebrating with a cigarette and a glass of Dom Perignon (addicts like me will relate to this). He’s alone (there’s only one glass).
Then, in flashback, we see him in New York with his publishing agent played by Lauren Bacall. We understand that he’s just killed his heroin, Misery Chastain, in a book titled “Misery’s child” (the first clue that this story might really be about a miserable childhood).
His publishing agent can’t figure out why he’s killed his cash cow and points out to him all the things Misery – “she” – did for him (sounds familiar?) “What thanks does she get? You go and kill her!” exclaims good old Lauren. Paul explains that Misery’s taken over his life. He had to “get rid of her” in order to do something he’d be proud to have on his tombstone.
Yep, Paul is trying to separate in order to live his life. But the female characters in the story, all possible representations of the mother figure, aren’t happy about that…
Paul has a car accident and is rescued by the main female character in the story, Annie Wilkes. Her first words to Paul are: “I’m your number one fan”. Paul regaining consciousness in a bed in Annie’s house can be seen as a metaphor for birth. And this is followed by Annie, who’s a former nurse, taking care of incapacitated Paul, just like a loving mother would take care of her baby.
But it doesn’t take long before we realize that there’s something wrong with Annie. First, we find out that she was stalking Paul. Then there’s that “little” sudden rage, an overreaction to Paul’s new book not meeting her approval. She spills a bit of soup on his bed and who does she blame?
You’ve guessed right, she blames Paul: “See what you made me do?” Yep, Annie’s just like my mommy.
But where’s dad? Well, Dad could be seen in the only other male character in the story: the sheriff. He seems to be Paul’s only chance of rescue from Annie’s overbearing “care”. But the sheriff has slightly incapacitated himself. He can’t drive (relies on his wife and deputy for this) and he misses the car because of his physical limitations.
But he is smart and does eventually figure Annie out.
However, all hope seems lost when Annie kills the sheriff just as he is about to rescue Paul. Yep, like most children of borderline or narcissistic mothers, Paul can’t rely on the father figure for salvation. It’s down to him, on his own, without any help, and in spite of his physical inferiority.
Dad could have made a difference. Or did he do his best?
Watching Paul trying desperately to escape from Annie’s crazy world with her rages, abusive tirades and brutality is like reliving my adolescence. For me, the childhood part was when she was still caring and the abuse was only emotional, almost unnoticeable.
Yes, there were early signs like the lies to keep Paul from calling anyone or going anywhere (but Paul didn’t know that she was lying). There was a total lack of respect for his boundaries (Annie erupting into Paul’s room without even knocking). There was even exaggerated praise (“It’s not great, it’s perfect […] It’s divine!”) which some sons of borderline or narcissistic mothers will recognize. I do.
But once Annie finds out that Paul has killed Misery i.e. metaphorically separates from the mother, Annie shows the ugly face of the abusive mom. For me, that happened when I was about 13. The rages, the beatings, the verbal abuse, all that crap really started when I stopped being as controllable as I used to be. So Paul is told things like “I thought you were good” or “if I die, you die”.
Then he is shown Annie’s way, the only way she will tolerate. Mommy knows best. He’s going to burn his book and re-write it to her satisfaction. Even God has something to do with it, as Annie seems to have a direct line with him. Yep, spiritual abuse too is part of her arsenal.
So Paul’s nightmare goes from bad to worse. It doesn’t go well when he asks for a typing paper different from the one she chose, even though he can rationally justify his demand.
A simple request from him is unacceptable to her, as she perceives any expression of his free will as a criticism: “I do everything to make you happy! […] But you better show me more appreciation mister man!” If that doesn’t sound like the tirade of an abusive parent to a child, I don’t know what does.
The horror of Paul’s predicament culminates when she finds out that he has left his room, so she brakes both his ankles with a sledgehammer as a result (Apparently, in the book she cuts his foot off. Symbol of castration anyone?)
She does it very calmly and then “rewards” him with a “God, I love you!” Yep, the borderline and/or narcissistic mother loves knowing that her child can’t go away from her anymore. Motherly love is the reward for being stuck with mommy.
So did Stephen King write about a “difficult” mother?
Apparently, King sees Paul’s battle for independence from Annie as a metaphor for his own battle with alcohol addiction. This may be the case. As a drinker and former smoker myself, I can see the parallel. But I also think that drinking or any other addiction is itself in a way a metaphor for the abusive relationships of my past.
The last time I stopped drinking for a little while, it was motivated by the realization that I had a really bad relationship with the bottle in the same way I had a really bad relationship with my mother (when I was still attached) and then with a girlfriend or two, and also with my best friend.
It was/is a toxic relationship that goes one way and only masks its destructive effect with temporary highs (or relief). So maybe Stephen’s King drinking problem is, like mine, only a front; the bottle that hides the forest. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Misery is really about childhood and adolescence with an abusive mother.
My name is Abdullahi from Nigeria. I have a brother and a sister. My mum is a monster. She separated from my dad when we were kids and she always told us there were witches in my dad’s family that wanted to kill us.
She pitched us against everyone until we practically hated everyone in the family except her. Then she mercilessly pulled our strings, and hurt us physically and emotionally, even sexually, I remember her making us watch Kama Sutra (the Indian sex movie) when I was seven.
On several occasions, when she thought I was asleep I would hear her telling my brother that I hate him, sometimes, I would hear her telling my sister to be careful around me so I don’t rape her.
On several occasions, she would take my feeding money sent by my dad and bribe policemen or soldiers to beat me up because I just couldn’t accept her treatment. I regularly asked myself what exactly I did to offend her and I always come up blank. I used to love her so much and enjoyed running errands for her as a kid, now, nobody hates her as much as I.
She told several unthinkable lies about me to my friends so that I wouldn’t have any friends. She caused so much confusion and neglected me so much that I dropped from being top of my class to 22nd position in the space of one term in secondary school.
She always found ways to make me feel ashamed because I was the smartest of her kids and she knew all her bullshit stories about witches would not last long with me.
Now I am happy I have graduated and I’m staying with my stepmother and dad till I get a job. However, she still has a death grip on my elder sister. She coerced her into a marriage that broke down within 3years and now my sister, who has a master’s degree and a daughter does not have a job and can’t leave the house to find a job because my mum will not let go.
I never want to see my mum and when I start having kids, I will turn on her and attack her physically like a werewolf if I see her around my children.
Nobody but my immediate family understands why I hate her so much, they always say I’m a bad child because God commanded us to honor our parents, however, if I had listened to them, I probably would have committed suicide a long time ago.