Child roles in dysfunctional families.

dysfunctional-family
Credit: Artist unknown.

 

Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed article about dysfunctional family dynamics. Here I am just going to talk about the roles various family members play, and the kinds of families that become dysfunctional. If you’d like to read the whole article, click on this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family

Dysfunctional families are usually of two types:

1. One or more of the parents are active alcoholics or addicted to drugs.
2. One or more of the parents have a Cluster B disorder, usually Narcissistic Personality Disorder but sometimes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Histrionic Personality Disorder (or a combination of any of these).

The Cluster B Connection.

Outside of alcoholics and drug addicts, dysfunctional family dynamics are most prevalent when one or both of the partners suffer from a Cluster B disorder, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Malignant Narcissism.    After NPD, BPD is the most common disorder seen in the head of a dysfunctional family, though because it’s more common in women and Borderlines have more empathy than narcissists, BPD is most often seen in the codependent, passive partner.

ASPD (psychopathy or sociopathy) rarely appears by itself in dysfunctional families, as antisocial people and psychopaths tend to not be raising children at all (either because they’re incarcerated, their children have already been removed from the home, or they simply have no interest in raising children,) but a parent could have Malignant Narcissism, which is a combination of NPD and ASPD.   Also, people with pure ASPD, though more likely to be criminals or involved in illegal activities, tend to be less emotionally abusive than people with NPD or even BPD. They are merely selfish and lack empathy, and they are manipulative to get what they want, but they don’t care about getting emotional supply from others so they don’t engage in mind games like gaslighting, triangulating, projecting, and scapegoating (unless there is a material reward involved or they are trying to avoid culpability). However, some people with ASPD are sadistic and enjoy tormenting family members for fun.

Of all the Cluster B disorders, HPD is probably the least toxic (Histrionics are shallow, attention seeking, and dramatic, but not usually that abusive), but HPD is usually comorbid with another Cluster B disorder, such as NPD.

cluster_b_chart

In some cases, a non-Cluster B mental illness (such as Bipolar disorder) that causes abusive acting-out behavior may be the culprit, but it’s less common because most other mental disorders are less easily hidden from others and the person appears “crazier.” Non-Cluster B disorders are also more easily treated with drugs or therapy, and except for psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia, the afflicted person knows they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Cluster B and addictive disorders. 

Parents of dysfunctional families can also be both mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol. The two often go together. In fact, alcoholism and drug addiction are extremely common in people with Cluster B disorders. Alcohol and drugs are their attempt to fill the emptiness they feel inside themselves.

Even if an alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an underlying Cluster B disorder, the behavior of an active addict/alcoholic is very similar to someone who has NPD. The only difference in the behavior of a narcissist and someone with active alcoholism is that for the narcissist, the “fix” is emotional; for the alcoholic, it’s chemical. A non-Cluster B active addict or alcoholic can be every bit as emotionally abusive, self-centered, and manipulative as someone with NPD. Only getting their next fix is important. (As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the 12 steps of AA and other 12-step programs almost all address the problem of narcissism by encouraging humility, responsibility, and amend-making. A person on a so-called “dry drunk” is basically a sober person acting out in narcissistic ways, which may be their nature).

The Codependent Partner.

Sometimes only one partner has a mental disorder or addiction, but the non-afflicted parent is always going to be codependent to them. The codependent parent, whether they have a disorder or not, almost always suffers from PTSD or Complex PTSD. If both parents have a Cluster B disorder (which I think is usually the case), the one who has NPD or Malignant Narcissism is almost always going to call all the shots and dominate the other family members. If a Borderline is paired up with a Narcissist, the Borderline is almost always going to be codependent to the Narcissist, colluding in the abuse but also being abused themselves. Similarly, if a Covert Narcissist is paired up with an Overt Narcissist, the Covert one is going to be codependent to them and possibly abused. Such a scenario can lead to the Borderline or Covert Narcissist developing Stockholm Syndrome (identifying with and colluding with their abuser). Non-Cluster B codependents can also develop Stockholm Syndrome, because it’s a complication of C-PTSD. The codependent parent often (but not always) has a high degree of empathy, which is what drew them to the narcissist in the first place, in a misguided belief that they could “fix” them or they were led to believe that the narcissist could “rescue” them.

The Roles of the Children.

In the ACON community, there’s a lot of talk about Scapegoats and Golden Children, but there are other roles children can play in a family that are rarely addressed. In a two child family, most likely there will be a scapegoat and a golden child, but in larger families, there can also be a Lost Child, a Clown, and a Rescuer (codependent). It’s unhealthy for a child to be in any of these roles, but the Scapegoat and Golden Child role are probably the most dangerous to a child’s mental and emotional health, for different reasons. Even in a two-child family, the roles can shift back and forth (according to the Wikipedia article, families in which the children’s roles change and shift are called Balkanized families–this alludes to the constantly shifting loyalties and borders of the Balkan countries in Eastern Europe).

1. The Scapegoat.

scapegoat

Both this and the Golden Child role are the soul-killing roles, but for different reasons. The Scapegoat is the child who is targeted by the narcissistic (or alcoholic) parent. The parent often is able to get the rest of the family to serve as flying monkeys and gang up on that child, projecting anything they don’t want to “own” onto them. Like the sacrificial goats described in the Bible who were banished to the wilderness and tormented by villagers, the Scapegoated child carries all the shame the rest of the family doesn’t want to confront or deal with. All the unwanted emotions and bad qualities are unloaded and projected onto them, so the abusers don’t have to confront or deal with these problems in themselves.

Usually it’s the most sensitive child of the family who becomes the Scapegoat, because that child tends to be the Truth Teller, the only family member who can see the dysfunction and may even react against it. The most sensitive child, being the child who shows the most emotion, is also a threat to the narcissists in the family because emotional expression is such a frightening thing to them. In many, if not most dysfunctional families, the expression of emotion is not allowed. So the most emotional or sensitive child becomes the scapegoat, especially if they rebel against the dysfunction or criticize it.

The Scapegoat may be assigned the role of Bad Child, the Loser, the Stupid One, the Ugly One, the Crazy One, the Weak One, or any combination of these. No matter what they do, they cannot please the parents (or the siblings who have been turned against them). Scapegoat Children usually develop severe C-PTSD or possibly another mental disorder, and having been trained to be victims and never given the emotional, financial or other tools to succeed in life, tend to fulfill their families’ predictions of being “losers,” so then their families can say to others, “See? This child really is worthless.”

Scapegoated children also tend to attract other abusers throughout their lives and are at risk for being targeted for bullying even as adults and for entering into abusive relationships. If the adult child doesn’t go No Contact, the abuse continues, usually through some form of isolation, silent treatment, or exclusion. Scapegoated adults are talked badly about by the family and not invited to family functions. They are given no emotional or financial support, even though other members of the family are given these things. It’s not unusual for a scapegoated adult child to be living in poverty, even if their families are wealthy–not only because they were denied financial support when they needed it, but also because their self esteem took such a terrible beating that they have no confidence at all and never take any risks that could improve their lives. Severe C-PTSD can also cause a person to have an inability to focus or concentrate or set realistic goals.

A Scapegoat isn’t always a child. It can also be a parent, in which the children are turned against that parent by the abusive one.

2. The Golden Child.

girl with a gold medal and cups.

The Golden Child, often (but not always) the eldest child, is the parent’s trophy, pride and joy. The parents may seem to love that child, but being incapable of real love, their “love” is conditional and is based on their fantasy of what they want that child to be, not on who the child really is. The child is assigned to be a Mini Me of the narcissistic parent.

The Golden Child, basking in constant approval, showered with toys and gifts, never held accountable for any wrongdoing (which may be projected onto the Scapegoat), and often recruited as a co-abuser in the abuse of the Scapegoat, grows up entitled, grandiose, and spoiled. Because their Real Self has never been appropriately mirrored and their less than perfect traits are ignored or projected onto someone else, and because they were rewarded for playing a the role of the Perfect One, a Golden Child in a family is the most likely to develop NPD and become a clone of the abusive parent. In this way their souls are destroyed even more than the Scapegoat’s. To continue to be the parent’s favorite, they had to play a role which became internalized. This becomes their False Self. After awhile, they are no longer able to access their Real Self at all. Golden Children who have become narcissistic continue their entitled, bullying, manipulative, grandiose behavior into adulthood and are likely to head dysfunctional families themselves, continuing the cycle.

A non-Golden Child, even a Scapegoat, can become a narcissist too (usually the covert form of NPD), for self-protection, but Golden Children tend to develop the grandiose, malignant form of narcissism and as such, are the least likely to ever seek help for their disorder or admit they have become abusers themselves.

3. The Lost Child.

lostchild

In larger families (three or more children), one child is likely to be ignored and treated as if they don’t exist. This isn’t a form of silent treatment; it’s as if the parents don’t notice the child is there at all. The Lost Child isn’t victimized like the Scapegoat, but they aren’t spoiled either. They may or may not be recruited to assist in the abuse of the Scapegoat, but they won’t necessarily be punished if they don’t cooperate; they will simply be ignored. The Lost Child tends to be quiet and shy, and not make any waves. They are probably aware of the family dysfunction and may sympathize with the scapegoat (but don’t let anyone know this). As they grow older, they may crave attention or develop addictions, or they may remain shy and retiring throughout their lives. They tend to avoid confrontation and drama, and may become extremely introverted.

4. The Clown/Mascot.

classclown

The Clown/Mascot attempts to divert attention away from the family dysfunction (and also get attention for themselves) by making light of everything. Everything becomes a joke to them, and they even use their own families as sources for humor. Clowns can be disruptive in class as children, to get attention, but because of their ability to see the humor in things, they tend to be outgoing and develop a large circle of friends during adolescence and adulthood (even if they are never taken very seriously). Family Mascots are almost never scapegoated, because they entertain everyone and take the focus off the family problems.

David Sedaris, a writer and humorist, is a good example of this dynamic at play.  Several writers in the ACON community (and even outside that community) were outraged by Sedaris’ callous essay (“Now We Are Five,” which appeared in the New Yorker after his younger sister, Tiffany, committed suicide).   Tiffany was clearly the family scapegoat and had evidently gone No Contact with the rest of the family. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and only had, as her father put it, “two lousy boxes” of belongings. I don’t know all the details, but it seems as if she was offered no support, either emotionally or financially, in spite of the family’s wealth and Sedaris’ success as a writer. She was probably mentally ill, but her mental illness may have been due to being the family reject.

In a candid interview Sedaris gave for Vice, he describes Tiffany and her relationship with the rest of the family. His words are very telling.

Even as a child I looked at my sister and wondered what that would be like, not to feel the warmth of my mother’s love. Tiffany didn’t. There was always a nervous quality about her, a tentativeness, a desperate urge to be in your good graces. While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger. Even when there wasn’t any danger. You’d see her trembling and think, You want danger? I’ll give you some danger

It’s been suggested that David Sedaris is himself a narcissist (possibly the golden child) and that could certainly be true, but I also suspect he served a secondary role as the family Clown/Mascot. His callousness toward Tiffany in his famous essay (and grandiosity about how great the rest of the Sedaris family was–it’s very common for narcissists who were golden children to hold their dysfunctional families up as paragons of perfection) seemed to be drawn both from narcissism and from a need to hide his anger and pain behind a wall of humor. Here’s a link to his essay (it’s heartbreaking and may be triggering):

Now We Are Five

The accompanying photo is interesting. Tiffany, the second to youngest child in a family of six children, sits in the bottom right hand corner. Her hair is cut short and unkempt, and she looks very unhappy. David, wearing the glasses, stands above her. Actually, none of the kids look very happy. Not a smile in the bunch.  Something’s definitely not right about this family.  It’s common to see family portraits where no one is smiling in the 18th or 19th centuries,  but not in the late 1960s, when this photo was taken.   Here’s another photo, from the Vice interview, where only Tiffany (again in the bottom right hand spot) looks desperately unhappy and disconnected from her siblings.

tiffany_sedaris
Credit: Vice.com / Left to right: Amy, David, Gretchen, Paul, Lisa, and Tiffany

I used to enjoy Sedaris’ writings and looked forward to his books and essays, but after this essay, I just can’t read him anymore. (Augusten Burroughs is a better alternative and doesn’t seem to be a narcissist).

In spite of their raucous and jovial manner, Clowns are likely to be depressed because they have never learned to confront or deal with their true feelings.  They hide behind a wall of laughter.  Their sense of humor is really just a cover for their pain. Many Clowns become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a few become suicidal. Many of our great comedians served the Clown role in their families. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of them had drug issues or killed themselves.

5. The Rescuer.

superman_child

This is the codependent child who attempts to “fix” the family dysfunction by being obedient, always good, non-confrontational, overly generous, and self-sacrificing. The Rescuer may be highly empathic. The Rescuer tries to serve all the needs of the narcissistic/addicted parent, which of course is not possible. They will never argue with or criticize the narcissistic parent, and are always trying to get everyone to get along, which also is not possible. They may be the only family member who doesn’t abuse the Scapegoat, but they might if they feel like it’s required. However, even if they do collude in the Scapegoat’s abuse, they will be less abusive than the other family members, tending to take a back seat or even sympathize with the Scapegoat in private. In trying to please everyone, they please no one, and grow up feeling impotent and helpless. It’s a no-win situation.

When Rescuers become adults, they tend to unconsciously look for other abusers to “rescue,” having failed to do so in their families of origin. Like Scapegoats, Rescuers are likely to become abused themselves as adults, but it’s hard for them to leave an abuser because of their high level of empathy which keeps them tied to the abuser in their attempt to want to “help” them. They also tend to fall for an abuser’s promises to change and are easily “hoovered” back into a codependent relationship.

Shifting Roles.

In Balkanized families, the child roles can shift. The most common situation is a Golden Child becoming a Scapegoat, often upon reaching adulthood, if they fail to fulfill the unrealistic expectations put on them. (“You were such a disappointment to me!”) If a Scapegoat goes No Contact or leaves the family for some other reason, another child, possibly the Lost Child, becomes the new Scapegoat. Someone has to carry all the family shame.  If the family only has two children, the Golden Child may find themselves suddenly scapegoated or serving both roles.

Children who serve as both Scapegoats and Golden Children (very common in only children)  often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as well as severe C-PTSD and possibly other mental disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (almost always the result of severe emotional abuse).

Serving as both a Scapegoat and Golden Child is the ultimate mindf*ck because there isn’t even any consistency. The child never knows if they will be punished or rewarded from one minute to the next. Their only advantage (if they are an only child) is that they don’t have siblings who have been turned into flying monkeys who collude in the abuse.

If the family ever develops a need for a new Scapegoat (if the Scapegoat goes No Contact, dies, or disappears), the Lost Child is usually picked as a replacement, due to their non-confrontational, malleable temperament and lack of any real pre-existing role in the family.

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“Cinderella.”

cinderella2

I swear sometimes I feel like Cinderella.

Today was a little better than yesterday.  Well, maybe not better, but more productive.  I forgot to mention this in last night’s post (Diving Into the Inferno) but my therapist actually thinks I should “crash” my father’s memorial service.  I absolutely will not do that; even if I could afford to go, I don’t wish to be where I’m not wanted.  I told him this would not work for several reasons and he saw my logic.

I slept fitfully last night.  I kept falling asleep and waking up knowing I had been dreaming, but couldn’t remember any of my dreams.  When my alarm went off to go to work, I felt like I hadn’t slept at all.   I dragged myself into work and felt hideous.  This whole drama involving my dad’s memorial service and the “un-invite” has left me feeling sick, angry, and depressed.  I actually felt like throwing up today but I know it was due to all these powerful and conflicting emotions.

I knew I needed some time off just to process everything, so I decided to ask my boss if I could take a few vacation days early.  I’m fortunate enough to have a very sweet boss who likes me as an employee and a person, so she was happy to front me three days’ vacation time (I’m taking the rest in August) and I’ll get paid for it too.  My boss even remarked about my “good heart,” which touched me but embarrassed me a little too.  There’s Cinderella again!

Feeling supported and understood by my boss lifted my mood a little bit, and on the way home I decided to write my father’s wife an email stating my feelings about the “oversight.”

Hello, _____,
I hope you are well and coping okay with everything.  I know you have a lot on your plate right now.
Something is concerning me. I thought it was strange the way you told me on the phone you didn’t know when the memorial service would be, but the next day I found out on Facebook that ____ was sent plane tickets so obviously he was told when it is.
Of course I would love to pay my respects because he is my Dad, but unfortunately even if I was told when it would be, I cannot get the time off from work, nor do I have the funds on such short notice.   Even so, just being informed of the date and place would have been kind, even if only so I could send flowers and say a special prayer on that day.  As his daughter, I have to admit I was hurt by this oversight, which I’m not sure was an oversight at all. Regardless of how the two of you felt about me, I think I should have been given this information.
You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers,
______

I hesitated before sending it, but finally hit that “send” button.   I bet the excuse will be something about having forgotten,  but at least my feelings will be known and that’s the real reason I sent it.

Just like Cinderella,  I’m a scapegoated, unloved child with an evil stepmother too. Hell, I even clean houses!  And I have a soft spot for animals of all kinds.  But there will be no Prince Charming.  Justice though, perhaps.  That’s all I expect.  Cinderella got justice in the end too but never had to become a bitch to get it.  I won’t become a bitch either.

****

surprised_cinderella

ETA:  Just got a reply (Boy, THAT was quick!).
I won’t bother to copy her reply, but basically, I’m being told that

(a) I upset her greatly with my email

(b)  that no plane tickets were ever sent to my son and there is no date set (why would he lie about it?), and

(c) that she does not want to get involved in “my drama.”

I feel like I’m being jerked around on a stick!    I see 3 things going on here: (a) trying to make me feel guilty; (b) denial and gaslighting; and (c) guilt tripping again and lack of empathy.

I will be sending no further emails.  She knows how I feel.  I had my say.

****

Even later:

I wound up sending a quick apology over the misunderstanding. I talked to my son who says he doesn’t know the date either. Hell, I don’t know who to believe anymore. I feel like I’m in crazyworld.

 

New post on my Facebook wall.

If you are a member of my family who happens to read my blog, I am not going to apologize for anything I have said regarding certain family members (you know who you are). I feel perfectly justified in saying what I do, because it’s the truth.  I am sorry if anything I have said hurts anyone’s feelings, but there have been grave injustices done to me by certain family members that deserve to be called out.   Yes, I know…the truth hurts.  I do not use anyone’s real names, so if it bothers you it’s your own guilty conscience. If you don’t like what I have to say then don’t read my blog. No one held a gun to your head telling you to. So if you don’t want to get burned, keep your hands off the stove. It’s my blog and I say whatever I please because doing so helps ME. I need to take care of ME now and stop worrying about what certain members of the family think of me. My blog is a wonderful adjunct to therapy, which I have been in for a year now. I will carry these wounds for the rest of my life but I am getting better. I’m finally realizing I’m a valuable, worthwhile person with a LOT to offer the world and to others. A lot of wonderful people do value me and like what I have to say, even if they’re not the people who should have loved me unconditionally without judgment and derision. I write my blog because it helps ME. So it you don’t like it, I suggest you don’t read it.

Oh, one more thing. If I am disinherited (as I suspect I am), I have plans to write a book a la Christina Crawford. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise. The chickens WILL come home to roost. Justice WILL be done. There will be no more forgiveness. If I write that book, it’s going to be successful and I will be successful after all (no longer the impoverished loser you all think I am), but it will be at your expense! How’s THAT for poetic justice?

One thing this whole sorry mess surrounding my dad’s death has done is give me COURAGE to stop hiding the truth about my awful family. So there is a hidden blessing.

I wasn’t sure about this, but…

 

I wasn’t sure I should post this on my main blog or not, but why the hell not? I’m an emotional wreck about this, and really triggered too because if this happens, it proves what I’ve suspected all along about being a total reject in my own family. If this happens, there is no longer any doubt of what they all think of me. The anxiety is almost unbearable. It’s not about the money, it’s about being judged once and for all by my narc family as “not worthy” and “not acceptable” and “never good enough.” I have no idea how I’ll react if this happens. If this happens, there are NO good excuses for such a thing and will prove to me just what horrible people I’ve been dealing with my whole life.  No normal, loving families would EVER do this to one of their own.   Mine might, and I’m scared to death.

My first really unpleasant therapy session.

I’m going to be talking in therapy about this for quite some time, if it happens.  I’m also afraid if it happens, emotionally I’ll be back where I was two years ago and all the positive changes I’ve made will all come undone.   THAT’s how devastated I will be and there will be NO forgiveness for that.

A dicey situation.

dicey_situation_by_johnnycorduroy
“Dicey Situation” by Johnny Corduroy, Deviantart

I always hesitate before posting anything about my N mother, because I know she reads this blog. But then I think about two things: 1. what can she do? and 2. no one ever asked her to read this blog. It’s mine. If you don’t want to get burned, keep your hands off the stove. So here goes.

Yesterday when I talked to my mother about my dad, she said she wants to come visit me in the fall. She cannot afford a hotel room, and I can’t afford to put her up in one. She pretty much invited herself, saying, “Well, I will have to stay at your place.” Immediately I felt my self-protective shackles kick in: Danger! Danger! Boundary violation!

In most families, letting your mom stay with you fore a few days wouldn’t be a problem. But my family isn’t most families.  My mother is very judgmental of me and my lifestyle, which, although I’m satisfied with it, is less than glamorous and I know she would not/does not approve of the way I live (which really isn’t my fault anyway because I don’t have the financial resources to live better).  Even if she says nothing about my mismatched furniture, the sagging, stained couch, the buggy old-fashioned kitchen with its tiny 1970s electric stove, an old summer camp steamer trunk used as a coffee table, the box TV in the living room, the ancient windows that don’t open, and the black mold on one side of the house (which my landlord has yet to do something about), I know she will go back to her extended family and tongues will wag. I know she has devalued me to the rest of the family and puts me down, disapproving of the way I live. She cloaks these criticisms with “concern,” saying things like, “I just don’t know why Lauren always makes such bad choices,” or “it’s so sad the way she lives but she made her own bed.”  Or she talks about how mentally unstable or immature I am. Even though my mother is far from wealthy and even borders on as poor as I am, she has always put on airs of being of a higher social status than she actually is, and to be fair, she does a good job of it. Even if I was of a social class she approved of, our tastes and interests are vastly different. I’m far too “bohemian” for her liking and I’m pretty sure I still would be even if I was rich.

I also know she wouldn’t approve of my housemate, and they would get in each other’s way. The idea of the three of us having to share a roof, even for a few days, gives me the willies.   I wouldn’t be able to tolerate feeling like I have to apologize for the things I do while she is here.   If I tell her no, she can’t come, I know she will go back to the extended family and tell them I’m “hiding something.” She seems to think I still have my ex living with me and am saying nothing about it. This is of course ridiculous, but I know it’s what she’ll tell everyone. She can’t understand why I wouldn’t be thrilled to put her up on my couch for several days and I don’t have the courage to be honest with her. The fact she reads this blog and knows I’ve pegged her as a narcissist (even though I don’t think she is malignant, she is a textbook example of a woman with intractable NPD) doesn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. Being the narcissist she is, she simply is incapable of understanding why I wouldn’t be jumping for joy for the “opportunity” of putting her up on my couch for a few days.

I had no time to prepare for this, so I said weakly, “well, you will have to sleep on the couch then, because my roommate has the other room.” She responded with, “oh, you have a roommate?” As if this is some life choice of mine and isn’t a matter of financial necessity.  It’s also interesting to me that I have never been invited to see her where she lives.  The one time I suggested going to visit her there, she told me my half sister didn’t want me there (they share a townhouse).   I think she was lying, because my half sister barely knows me.  I haven’t seen her since 1986.   I think it’s actually my mother who doesn’t want me to come there, because I would “embarrass” her in front of the family, so she put words in my sister’s mouth.    Even if my sister doesn’t want me there, it was probably my mother who turned her against me.

I’m in a dicey situation, and I’m praying she changes her mind about coming. Just in case she isn’t, I guess I’ll have to start saving enough money between now and then to put her up in a local motel, which I should be able to do given the time frame. Then all I need to do is think of some reason why she can’t stay at my house (repairs? haven’t cleaned it?) She would like a motel better anyway with its pool, sterile rooms, flat screen TV, and a real bed. The fall is still a few months away but it will be hard for me to save the money because I’m trying to save enough money to go see my son in Florida in September. I think she might know this too, but she doesn’t care.

My fractured memory.

FracturedMemory2
“Fractured Memory,” by Hanna Trussler, 2012

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my early years–childhood and adolescence. As many of you know, my parents were active alcoholics, narcissists (my dad more likely covert NPD or maybe Borderline), and that I spent almost all of that time miserable and lonely due to emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse both at home and at school (because I was already trained to be a good little victim and had no self esteem or the ability to defend myself, I was bullied a lot).

The problem is, most of these early memories are fractured, hazy, or both. I remember snippets of traumatic events, but in most cases I can’t remember the entire event, or it’s spotty. Some of my memories seem more like dreams than reality and therefore I can’t remember the specifics of what happened. The same is true of my abusive marriage. I can only remember fractured pieces of that time. The two and a half decades I spent with him don’t seem like a cohesive whole, but more like a photo album with many of the photos missing. But this post isn’t about my early adult years.

I think something happened when I was 12 that was significant and a kind of turning point for me–it was when I stopped trusting anyone, I think. It was the moment when I realized how truly alone I really was and that no one cared and anyone who said they cared was probably lying. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is when I stopped reaching out to others and began my avoidant pattern of behavior. Of course, this coincided with puberty, so maybe that had something to do with it too.

Here’s what I do remember. My parents and I had taken a two week trip to the beach. Another couple and their two children came along with us and rented the cottage next door. That couple was friends with my parents. I didn’t know my father was sleeping with the wife at the time, and my mother probably didn’t either, but I remember how jealous she was of that other woman because she was younger and blonder than she was and my father paid a lot of attention to her. Their daughter was a year older than me and was adopted. She was from India and was a close friend of mine at the time.  I envied her beautiful long, glossy black hair, permanent tan, and huge soft brown eyes.  Her little brother (her parent’s natural child) was an adorable little blond-headed boy of about 5 or 6. To me, they seemed like the perfect family. It may have been an illusion (for all I know, they were putting on appearances too), but to my 12 year mind, they seemed like they were in love with each other and their kids were both well loved and well-adjusted. My friend always seemed happier, more focused on a future (she eventually became a doctor) and much more emotionally stable than I was. I loved her and envied her.

My parents at the time were drinking heavily and fighting almost daily. Some of their arguments became physical, and I remember lying silently in my bed at night listening to these arguments as they escalated. I was both fascinated and terrified. What if they divorced? What if they abandoned me?  What if they killed each other?  What if I became an orphan?  I seemed to be the cause of an awful lot of their problems (and they did fight over me a lot).

This beach vacation didn’t put a stop to their constant fighting, and one night, my father left. I don’t know where he went, but my mother and I were left alone. My mother didn’t speak to me about this and her demeanor toward me was cold, as if I was an annoyance to her. I was terrified my father was never coming back, and I remember crying myself to sleep the next night. I don’t think my mother ever came in to comfort me. She was probably getting drunk, but I don’t remember.

Desperate for someone to talk to, I pulled the father of my friend aside, and asked him if I could talk to him in private. He always seemed like a warm and sympathetic person to me, someone who loved kids. We sat down outside on a bench near the parking lot, with the sound of the waves crashing behind us on the beach,  and I spilled out all my worries, all my pain, and all my fears.  I talked for about an hour.  He just held my hand and listened. I started to cry and he held me.  He told me everything would be alright. He didn’t say he was going to talk to my parents.

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He must have talked to them, because that night I was told by my mother that my father was returning to talk to me. She said he was not happy and was in fact enraged.
He came back as promised, and that’s where my memory gets all hazy and fractured. I remember snippets, like quick-flashing frames from a movie: getting beaten severely (but I was always beaten in a way that bruises didn’t show), being told I was a troublemaker and was the reason the family was falling apart. That I was nothing but a problem to them and never knew when to keep my mouth shut. I don’t remember the rest but I know there’s even more. I just can’t access it.

I also don’t know if my friend’s father had told my parents what I’d said to him because he was concerned about me and thought they might listen to him, or if he was just another participant in the abuse against me.

I realized even then my parents were drunk and probably not fully in control of what they said and did, but I think behind their alcoholism was narcissism. I think a lot of narcissists become alcoholics or addicted to drugs, and even after they become sober or clean, refuse to look any deeper into the core issues that caused them to drink or use in the first place. But that’s a subject for a later post. One thing that did occur to me, was that the only time my parents seemed to come together as a team and weren’t attacking each other, was when they joined forces to attack me. Only then were they the unified couple I dreamed of, unified in their abuse of their only child.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that beating and berating. I’m pretty sure our vacation ended at that point. I might have been sent to stay with relatives for a week or two, or left with a babysitter, so they didn’t have to deal with me. I feel like something important got blacked out, but I can’t remember what it was. But it was around this time that I stopped being able to confide in anyone at all. I remember one of the nuns who taught me in 8th grade, a woman who seemed to favor me for some reason, once called me aside and asked me if I was abused at home. I thought to myself, how can she tell? Of course I told her I wasn’t, that everything was fine. But nothing was fine in my life anymore.  I think my emotional growth stopped that summer.  At age 12.  But it might have stopped even earlier than that.  How in the name of God was I ever supposed to grow into a happy successful adult, able to form healthy attachments to others, when I never grew beyond the age of 12?

The next summer I was sent to sleep-away camp for the entire summer, and while I did enjoy it for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a rejection, a way for my parents to get rid of ‘the problem child’ so they didn’t have to deal with my “issues.”

Wow. Suddenly I feel like crying. The pain is getting real.

I’m asking the little girl who still lives somewhere inside me to tell me everything she knows.

Truth teller.

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I am the truth teller in my family. Because of that I have been scapegoated and disowned. I’m well aware of the possibility of my family seeing this, but due to the indifference I’ve been able to develop toward them (which I think is healthier than the hatred and rage I used to feel), I can now say this without guilt. It’s also the only way I can ever “communicate” with them about how I really feel, as if that would make any difference. It won’t, but at least they will know, and they should know. I’ve hesitated about ever writing a post like this, but I’ve kept this inside too long, and need to get it out there for all to see. That’s what this blog is for, after all.  It’s about MY life, not theirs.

1. I was trained by my family to be a victim (scapegoated child). I was never given the emotional tools to do well in life, or much financial help either after I turned 18. My family had money, but would not pay for my college education. I had to pay for it myself and take out loans. (My father did pay for my son’s college education. I’m not bitter about this but grateful at least he got help).

2. I live in poverty because I lacked those emotional and survival tools to do well on my own. I have had extremely low self esteem my entire life and felt incompetent in most things because of the way I was treated. In addition to having no confidence and being painfully shy (which is a handicap out in the world today), I also can’t connect in any meaningful way with people, so I am all alone in my 50s as well as poor.

3. My family, who still has money, refuses to help me. Not that they should have to at my age, and not that I would ask, but they never have (except during the few times they were shamed into it by people in authority, but I won’t get into that here because it’s irrelevant). In loving families, when a child, no matter how old, is struggling, everyone pitches in to help. That doesn’t mean support them forever, just help them get back on their feet so they can make a fresh start. But my family isn’t normal. My mistakes are not tolerated. I failed to meet their unrealistic standards of perfection, so I don’t deserve a second chance. But this shouldn’t surprise me. They are a family of narcissists, both covert and overt, with my mother at the helm. Others in the family live well and get help when they need it. But not me.

4. I have been disowned, even though I was a “good kid” who never got in serious trouble, didn’t do drugs, get in trouble with the law, etc. No, I wasn’t “easy” (I had lots of BPD and complex PTSD episodes and severe mood swings), but overall, I wasn’t a bad kid, just really fucked up in the head. They hold it against me that I “went back” to my sociopathic malignant NPD ex, even though I was so victimized at the time I felt like I had no other choice. I felt like I had nowhere else to go. But I think I would have been disowned anyway, because I was the scapegoat of the family and singled out for this treatment when it became clear I was the one who saw through all the lies and bullshit.  Even though I’m no longer with my sociopathic ex, as far as I know, I’m still written out of the will.  No one ever tells me anything.

4. My mother has triangulated against me and turned the entire family against me so everyone thinks I’m crazy and evil and wants nothing to do with me. She has actually told her relatives I deserve nothing and “brought this on myself.” No one in the family (except my children and my father) talks to me.  (My mother and I do exchange cards, but they are very generic and impersonal).   I’m never invited to any family functions. I’m grateful at least my kids  know I’m not this horrible person the rest of the family thinks I am. Actually, they told me they think I was a good mother who did the best I could with what I had to work with.  That means a lot.

4. They throw their disdain and contempt toward “the poor” in my face all the time, quoting Tea Party screeds about how all poor people are lazy and leeches on society and deserve to be poor. This is done to shame me and make me feel like an outsider, which of course I am.

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I try not to be bitter about all this, but it’s so hard sometimes. To survive, I had to become indifferent toward them and think of them as pathetic little victims themselves, otherwise the rage would have destroyed me. Actually, I do have love for my father, who I do believe loves me. But he’s under the thrall of the rest of the narcs, who keep telling him how useless, crazy, and undeserving I am.

That’s what I get for being the truth teller in my family. The one who can see through all the bullshit.

Until I found the narcissistic abuse community, I felt all alone. I’d never known anyone who was treated this way by their family of origin. But my experience seems to be a common one among so many victims of narcissistic parents. So many of us have “failed at life” because we were never given the tools to do well, or allowed to develop any self confidence. We were always told we’d fail at anything we ever did and not allowed to try things when we were young. But then later we were blamed for not achieving great things in life. I’ve never seen so many people living in poverty in their 40s and 50s except among other children of narcissistic parents.  Why is it that so many of us don’t discover what we’ve been up against until so late in life?

It’s incredibly painful to realize our own family doesn’t love you and probably never really did.  I used to envy others for their loving families and still do, but it’s time to move on.  Indifference is the only way I can cope with having been rejected by the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally.

I’m getting enraged now so I need to stop writing this and go back to being indifferent.

Further reading:

Why Family Scapegoats Become Lifelong Victims

It’s All About Image: The Skewed Values of Narcissistic Families

 

“The Duggars: Abuse and Conservative Religion”

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Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar; Josh Duggar (inset)

The article I’m going to post is about half a year old, and was written following the sexual abuse scandal involving Josh Duggar (the Duggar’s oldest son) of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting.   I haven’t watched all the episodes, but I firmly believe that sexual abuse as well as malignant narcissism is a huge problem in the Duggar family.   Josh is probably not the first abuser.  His parents, Michelle and Jim Bob, are both very controlling and both use their ultra-conservative religion to control and shame, and isolate their kids from learning anything on their own.   The fame and fortune from their reality show no doubt provides a ton of narcissistic supply to both Michelle and Jim Bob.  I see many of their kids as scapegoats and flying monkeys.   Josh seemed like he was a Golden Child.

I’m posting this article now because it’s still relevant. Sexual abuse is not going away anytime soon and has been with us probably as long as human beings have been around.  What do you think of the Duggars?  Do you think Jim Bob and Michelle genuinely love their children, or are their children just props in the narrative of moral and religious “perfection” they’re selling to the world?  Will any of them ever dare to break free of the prison of their huge, dysfunctional family and its narcissistic rulers?

The Duggars: Abuse and Conservative Religion

Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea who the Duggar family was. To my surprise, it appears that many people in North America have been following this conservative Christian family. Further, the Duggar’s seem to be very influenctial among various Evangelical Christian lobbying groups. It seems that they have become a sensation because of their reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. Even as I read some things about the family in the news in recent weeks, it seemed to me that the Duggar’s were faux celebrities much like the Kardashian’s and Paris Hilton: they never really did anything but yet they seem to be famous.

I received an email from one of my colleagues, a psychologist in another part of the country, who asked what I thought of the Duggar’s and the current sexual abuse scandal. It was her question that prompted me to learn more about the family. While I have clearly never met the Duggar’s nor have I watched their TV show, what I found in the press seemed to fit the pattern of domestic abuse.

Read the rest of Lou’s article here.

“Narcissism–Living without Feelings”

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I just read one of the most detailed and comprehensive articles about NPD I’ve ever come across, and also one of the scariest. It’s very long so you’ll need to set aside an hour or so to read all of it, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Some (but not all) of the issues discussed are the difference between healthy and unhealthy narcissism; how the borderline differs from the narcissist; childhood origins; the dynamics of narcissistic families (scapegoats, golden children, and bystanders); the 23 characteristics of narcissism (which take into account the less obvious Covert Narcissist); the development of the false self;  the physical characteristics of narcissists (this is new to me); and narcissism in modern society.

Narcissism by Richard Boyd, Perth WA – Energetics Institute, Copyright 2010
Narcissism – Living Without Feelings
http://energeticsinstitute.com.au/narcissism/

The word narcissism is one that has in recent years has been increasingly used in popular press to describe personalities and lifestyles. One form of Narcissism is however a little understood personality disorder which is increasingly showing up in our leaders across political, business, sporting, psychological and spiritual institutions(Behary:2008).

Indeed narcissism and narcissistic is increasingly being used to describe the mass cultural shift to a “self” obsessed culture where there is rampant consumerism, the pursuit of power, excesses, and the abuse of others in the pursuit of these ends, notes Martinez-Lewi(2008).

The word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus, who upon seeing his own reflection in a pond, fell obsessively in love with himself and his own image. As you will see in this article, the true unhealthy narcissist we see today, while maintaining a false self or “mask” of achievement, perfection, and the attainment of all the symbols of success and power, hides underneath a self hating, insecure, fragile real self, which fears being uncovered and exposed at any moment.

The key point here is we all need a healthy dose of Narcissism, as else we would not back ourselves in life, nor have a healthy sense of self. There are healthy forms of narcissism. However unhealthy narcissists do not have a healthy sense of self but instead have learnt to live life from a false self.

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Unhealthy Narcissists are not in touch with their true self, instead becoming a chameleon type of personality who seek to project an idealised image to others, and then seduce and control all others that have some value or utility for them, until that persons utility value is exhausted, and then they are dumped and abandoned without remorse by the narcissist.
In some ways unhealthy Narcissism is seen by some schools of thought as a form of depressive disorder as the narcissist underneath the false mask, moves between depression and aggression. The aggression is most prevalent where there is a threat to being uncovered or exposed as being false, wrong, corrupt, or exploitative(Ransky:1998).

The narcissistic person may be male or female, and is obsessive in their primary pursuit of satisfaction, whether that be power, money and other resources to prop up the false self. Another common term for the narcissist in the business context is the Corporate Psychopath, notes Paul Babiak(2006), a noted specialist on the corporate version of this pathological individual.
According to body-mind researcher and M.D, Alexander Lowen, in his book, Narcissism – Denial of the True Self, narcissists share many common traits with bullies, but due to their ability to project a compelling false, idealised self image, and high intelligence, are more likely to “get away with it”, and escape accountability.

Some narcissistic people are “healthy” in their approach to life and achievement, but they are not of the type to be discussed throughout this article. A healthy and productive narcissistic person goes about their lives in a passionate way, achieve their goals, but retain empathy, consideration for others, and often a mindset of contributing to their community. Healthy Narcissism has more of the following characteristics according to Lewi-Martinez(2008) and Meir(2009):
Life is not all about them;
They are able to have stable and enduring marriages, relationships and business careers;
They are often are involved in charity and community service;
These people make and keep promises to others and to themselves;
They can give and take from a grounded place;
They are usually empathic and engaging;
A determined leader who seeks recognition where due and earnt;
Confrontational and accountable to self and others;
Wisely fearful and knows limits;
Self possessed but not selfish;
Very competitive and likes a challenge;
Vain in their achievements but the achievements are real and earnt;
In contact with own inner needs and wants and the difference of each.

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This article concerns itself with the unhealthy forms of narcissism. Narcissists are found in all walks of life. After reading this article you may identify your spouse, co-worker, friend, relative, parent, boss, therapist, spiritual mentor, favourite athlete, or local or international political figures as potential unhealthy versions of narcissists. They key aspect of these individuals is their grandiosity, and their overstated sense of self entitlement in life often despite often not working hard to earn any such rewards.

Some unhealthy narcissists will be seen to be hard working and have their own achievements to own. Normally these types of Narcissist will also overstate their own achievements and minimise others and their achievements(Lowen:1986). There is often an arrogance in their personality.
Achieving Narcissistic personalities normally have a strong rigid-perfectionistic streak which gives them the discipline to set goals, focus and achieve, but there is a clinical coldness or unfeeling aspect to their natures(Lowen:1986). Many unhealthy Narcissists appear to achieve but in fact are predators who feed off victims they encounter in life, using their victims’ efforts, skills, and hard work, which get assumed and taken by the narcissist as their own, without remorse, recognition or meaningful reward for those around them(Babiak:2006).

In a narcissist’s world, It’s all about them, as Narcissists possess no real empathy, they feign or act empathic, while they delude themself that they are entitled to special treatment, and to not having to bother with detail or drudgery(Babiak:2006). These narcissists often gather a following of helpers or “sidekicks” to manipulate into doing any effort based work for them. Instead they spent their time managing their “image”, being a “visionary”, being “strategic”, establishing key “contacts”, that they argue only they are able to successfully do(Lewi-Martinez:2008).

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Some narcissistic personalities have an obsessive base in the personality where they micro-manage their own life, from work tasks to how they groom and dress, as they do not trust others or their standards of work. Other less rigid types are more focussed on positioning themself as indispensable, yet at the same time try to be unaccountable, being hard to track down, hard to get them to put things in writing, and they will avoid team roles where they are not the leader(Meier:2009).

Where possible they will delegate the work to a co-worker or “sidekick”. Narcissists hate mundane jobs and tasks that are “beneath them” and avoid them by manipulating others where possible to do such jobs on their behalf(Babiak:2006). Narcissists necessarily include others in their life so as to get the other person to do what they are unable to do, do not want to do, or what they feel is beneath them to do.

Read the rest of this article here.

Sensitive Children and the Adult Child in the Abusive Narcissistic Home

Excellent article about the devastating effect narcissistic parents have on the most sensitive children in the family and why they tend to become scapegoats. They grow up into codependent adults prone to repeat the same toxic patterns with others. But this doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Read on.

SITE FOR CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

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In a home affected with an abusive narcissistic parent emotions are repressed and become twisted.  Rules are built on shame, guilt, or fear.  Feelings are often not shared and when they are expressed, it is done in a judgmental manner placing blame on one another.  The narcissistic parent is self-involved and feels no empathy for their children.  They are incapable of mirroring real love and try to get their children to fulfill their unmet dependency needs.  The narcissistic parent’s unresolved drives for attention and caretaking takes center stage as the child’s early developmental needs are ignored and denied.  The self-involved parent shames the child for having desires and makes them feel guilty.  All of the family attention and energy is focused on the demands of the narcissist.

Sensitive children growing up in abusive narcissistic homes build their personalities based on what they have to do to survive.  Many of these children…

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