I had some new insights today on the genesis of my disorders. Not actual new memories, but insights on memories I already had that I know now led to my covert narcissism and BPD. I can pinpoint the exact events that turned me into a borderline, and later on, a covert narcissist.
I’ve been a borderline since about age 4 (in a young child incipient personality disorders are known as attachment disorders). A few weeks ago, following my trip down the rabbit hole, I mentioned having remembered that someone told me something when I was 4 years old that was significant in the development of my BPD.
I still don’t remember what was said, or who said it, but somehow I know I began to be sexually abused at that age. By who or in what context, I can’t tell you because I don’t actually remember. I just know I was.
That’s when things began to get weird for me. I have a vague, dreamlike recollection of sitting on the short flight of carpeted stairs of our split-level house in New Jersey, watching my parents (who were probably drunk) dancing in the living room. They were doing the Cha Cha Cha, a dance popular at that time. I remember feeling unreasoning (and probably Oedipal) jealousy at that moment, because my father was ignoring me, even though I was calling to him to dance with me too. I believe that’s when my hatred toward my mother began. Instead of reassuring me or including me in the moment with them, I was simply ignored and impatiently told to go back to bed.
I don’t remember what happened after that, but I began to have terrible nightmares, and sometimes would wake up screaming. Sometimes after I woke, the dreamlike, dissociated state would continue. I remember hearing, ghostlike, the theme from the TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club” playing somewhere–although it was 3 in the morning and in those days, it wasn’t possible for anyone to have recorded the show and play it somewhere later. I got out of my bed to find out where the music was coming from, but the house was completely dark and everyone was asleep. It was very eerie. I also remember one morning, having gotten out of bed for breakfast, seeing tiny colored sparkly objects that looked like glitter, falling everywhere around me. No one else seemed to see them. I asked my parents if they saw the falling glitter and they looked at me like I was crazy. There was something else that happened around that time that was equally strange, but I can’t recall now what it was. It’s not far from my conscious awareness though. I think I’ll remember soon. I might remember what was said to me and who said it too–because I know it was important.
I started doing things like banging my head against the wall in the family room, because it felt good to me for some reason. My mother would tell me to stop but I’d keep doing it, because I couldn’t stop. It seemed to relieve some kind of congestion inside my head. I don’t know–I tried it recently just to see if it still felt good, and it didn’t at all. It hurt! I also began to develop strange ticks and habits like pulling my hair and sucking on it. My mother started keeping my fine hair short because “I was ruining my hair” by doing that.
I began to get a taste of rejection in kindergarten. I always felt somehow different from the other children, but couldn’t figure out why. Not different in a good way, but in a defective one. I’d already internalized the conflicting golden child/scapegoat messages given to me by my parents, who expected me to serve both roles because I was their only child. No wonder I longed for a younger sibling! This alternating, unpredictable and crazymaking golden child/scapegoat treatment exacerbated my BPD (which I think already existed) and set the stage for covert narcissism–unworthiness and inferiority (beaten into me by being their scapegoat) that overlaid grandiosity and a sense of being better or more “special” than other kids because my parents sometimes told me I was when they weren’t punishing me. I didn’t know who I was. When people told me to “just be yourself,” I had no idea what they meant. Who was I? I couldn’t live up to their lofty idea of the perfect little girl they wanted me to be or thought I was; but it also made no sense when they wouldn’t allow me to try new things or make decisions on my own, always saying things like, “you can’t do that,” or “you know you don’t want that.”
Their punishments were severe and I became a fearful child, and feared rejection wherever I was. How could anyone like a child that was so bad, but at the same time, was supposed to be this perfect princess but could never live up to being one? I was so confused and felt so apart from others. I remember when I wasn’t crying (I wrote a article about what a huge crybaby I was), I was nervously asking the other kids at school if they liked me. Was that my true self or a newly minted false self asking them that? I’m not sure, but I think it was a last ditch attempt of my true self to get reassurance, love and acceptance, because I sure didn’t get it at home.
I was an unpopular, oversensitive child and everyone always told me how sensitive I was too. I remember being mortified and embarrassed by this but had no idea what to do about it. my mother used it against me too, calling me out for my “hypersensitivity” in front of other people, or making excuses for her hurtful comments by blaming me for “always taking things the wrong way.”
I started to try to hide my emotions but wasn’t very good at it, and the other kids could always see right through that transparent mask I tried to wear. I was intelligent, and my grades were okay, but my teachers always told my parents that I was an underachiever and a daydreamer and of course “too sensitive.” They also wrote on my report cards things like, “Lauren is intellectually brilliant and very creative, but she is an underachiever. She could be doing so much better if she applied herself. She also has problems socializing appropriately with the other children.”
And I did. I never fit in anywhere. I got bullied throughout my elementary and most of my high school years. It didn’t help any that we moved three times within my first 8 years of school, requiring me to start two new schools in the middle of the year (actually, the second school was due to my having been bullied so badly my parents were forced to have me change schools). I used to be chased home by bullies everyday and was never invited to parties or after school activities that weren’t teacher- or parent-planned.
I did manage to always have one or two close girlfriends so I’d sometimes get a respite when a sleepover was scheduled. But for some reason, my mother wouldn’t allow me to go on sleepovers very much. She didn’t like the idea of me doing things on my own without her. It got so bad that around the age of 11 or 12, I got very upset one night because she had failed to come in to the bathroom to wash my hair while I sat in the tub. I felt like I couldn’t handle something like washing my hair on my own, and more than that, I felt…rejected and forgotten! I remember going downstairs crying and asking my mother to tell me she still loved me, just because she had failed to come in to wash my hair. I don’t think I got that reassurance. At the time I still went out of my way to make friends. But I was too friendly and clingy too, so although at the time my debilitating shyness hadn’t set in and I made new friends fairly easily, I didn’t keep them for long. I was already demanding too much from them, I guess.
My parents divorced when I was 14, and I moved to New York with my mother. I already blamed her for their divorce, and already had pegged her as a narcissist, although I didn’t have a word for it then. I remember telling her how “empty” and “shallow” she was. This would make her rage. But under my anger was terror. She scared me on some deep gut level and she seemed to hate me. Even as an adult, I’d always revert back to being a child in her presence. She was drinking heavily, and I began to drink too. She didn’t try to stop me. She had a string of lovers that came and went, and to get to the kitchen or bathroom, I’d have to walk through the living room where she and some boyfriend were sleeping. One of her lovers used to love to make fun of me with her. I remember sitting at the dinner table with the two of them laughing at my worries, speech, the way I looked, and anything else they could pick on. I remember running away from the table in tears more times than I can count. I was left alone in the house often, which I actually liked because it meant I didn’t have to deal with her or her nasty boyfriend, and I’d cook my own dinner, usually a TV dinner or frozen pizza. Inside, I secretly worried that this woman who seemed to always want me by her side when I was younger (and be her mini-me) didn’t seem to want me around at all anymore. I wondered what I had done wrong to make her stop loving me. Now I know she never had.
I was a depressed, sullen, underachieving teenager who lived in a fantasy world inside my head because I was learning to hate people.
At age 15, I was rejected by a group of girls that I described in “Crybaby.” That was devastating to me, and I spent several days literally sick in bed after that. I don’t remember if I cried. I think I might have already stopped being able to cry easily, but I felt like I wanted to die. I remember making a promise to myself I would never again reach out to anyone in friendship and that I’d have to hide my emotions from that day on.
I think this was the beginning of my narcissism–my false self was born. Up until then, I’d displayed borderline attitudes and behaviors (as they would appear in a child), but after this event I became increasingly aloof and tried to pretend I didn’t care what anyone thought of me.
I began to act up more at home too, and outwardly rebel. My mother and I got into huge drunken screaming matches that would end with her either passed out on the floor drunk, or with us both throwing things at each other. One night, unable to control my rage, I grabbed a kitchen knife out of the drawer in the kitchen and went after her with it. She was drunk. I held it in front of her to scare her but did nothing, then dropped it and told her I was sorry when I realized what I’d done.
That was the night she kicked me out. I was 17. I went to live with my father for a time before entering a girls’ residential facility for a year that treated adolescents with emotional or behavioral problems.
But even though I can’t say I blame her for kicking me out since I probably scared her to death with the knife incident, being kicked out by my own mother was traumatic. I took this as proof she never loved me, because threatening her with the knife had been a desperate cry for help, to be validated. Even though I can understand why she didn’t want me around anymore, the hurt from her total rejection of me (she didn’t speak to me for another three months after that night) stayed with me and ate away at me for years. I believe this incident–being literally tossed out of the house by my own mother before I reached 18–was what solidified my narcissism and when my false self became a permanent fixture.
I became colder and more aloof. I stopped being able to access my true feelings, except for rage and fear. I could no longer meet people easily. To get too close to anyone meant I’d be rejected, or made fun of. Occasionally I’d explode into a BPD rage, but mostly I kept my emotions inside–so far inside I couldn’t even feel them much anymore. The only exceptions were the times I fell in love. My crushes were intense, insane, overpowering; they were a force of nature. My emotions would be all over the place, and I’d be completely obsessed with some boy I imagined would make me happy for the rest of my life. I couldn’t seem to live without a boy who could reflect me and act as a mirror. I was attractive and seemed to find dates easily, and I had a way of getting boys to fall in love with me (I had the slightly pitiful yet charming waif act down to a science). I think I’d become very manipulative in these relationships. Eventually these relationships would end, and I’d be miserable until the next one came along. When I wasn’t dating, I had intense unrequited crushes and lived in my fantasies of happily ever after. I think I might have been showing histrionic PD traits too, although my narcissism is actually the cerebral type. I was never that interested in sex for some reason.
Without a relationship to validate me and prove that I existed, I felt empty inside. Without a relationship, I was nothing. I had no real interests and any type of hobby I did pick up, I’d eventually drop. I couldn’t stick with anything, and began abusing alcohol and later, drugs. These were the only other things that seemed to temporarily fill the vast black hole I felt inside. I still had no idea who I was or what I was here for.
This was longer than I intended, but it’s pretty clear now when my BPD and narcissism began. My BPD began at age 4 due to some type of sexual abuse and something that was said to me. As for my cNPD, it didn’t happen overnight. It gradually developed in me between the ages of 14 and 17. What solidified it were two things–being rejected by a group of girls who had seemed to like me; and the final boot by my mother. My BPD always lay beneath the narcissism, ready to erupt at the worst possible times.