Guest Post #8 : Abusers break you–and then HATE you for being broken.

Linda Lee’s wonderful guest post about Complex PTSD is definitely worth another day in the sun.

Lucky Otters Haven

My dear friend and active participant on this site, Linda Lee, has written a wonderful and OMG SO TRUE post, which describes a lifetime of abuse, including incarceration in a state mental hospital, and being faced with unethical doctors and caregivers, including one who raped her. She was sent back home to a rejecting family–who had put her there in the first place! Linda Lee has Complex PTSD, a form of PTSD that’s often the result of chronic abuse during childhood, rather than an isolated traumatic incident later on in life. After describing the insane house of mirrors she had been thrusted into that seemed to have no way out, Linda lifts the reader out of the darkness with an uplifting message about Easter and the resurrection.

Linda Lee also has a blog about her Complex PTSD caused by prolonged, severe trauma called Surviving Trauma (formerly Heal My Complex PTSD)

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Narcissist parents demonize their own children.

Originally posted on March 17, 2015

narc_mother_littlegirl

Most parents like to tell cute and funny stories about when their children were young, or brag about their school accomplishments or tell sweet stories that show their child in a flattering or loving light. They are also proud of their children when they’re kind and nice to others. That’s the way things should be.

Not for narcissistic parents though.

Narcissists who “erase” memories of their children.
Some narcissistic parents don’t like to talk about their children at all. It’s as if they erase any memories of their offspring’s childhoods and don’t want to be reminded of it. It’s weird. My malignant cerebral narcissist sperm donor used to get bored and annoyed if I talked about the children when they were young. Inexplicably, he couldn’t stand it and became annoyed when I wanted to put some of their baby and early school pictures around the house. (He didn’t like that I displayed our wedding photos either).

He shows little to no interest in his son’s accomplishments (2019 edit: this has changed now that my son has landed a professional video editing job and can be considered “successful”) but just a few years ago, when my son won a few dance competitions, my ex’s eyes just glazed over.

I was proud of my son but his father seemed not to care. I thought maybe it was because he thought dancing was “too gay” but he acts just as disinterested about almost all my son’s other accomplishments too. It’s almost as if he wants to erase him from his mind.

And when they “brag” about you, watch out.

too_sensitive

My somatic narcissist mother loves to talk about me as a child. But her “bragging” is never about the things a normal parents would brag to their friends and relatives about. It’s never about how smart I was or what a good student I was, or what a good painter or writer I was, or how kind and generous or big-hearted or animal loving I was. Instead, she tells stories that illustrate the many ways I was “too sensitive” or how much I cried as a little girl. When she talks about me, she always brings up the most embarrassing stories, like how afraid I was of thunderstorms and how I used to run into the closet in terror (I like thunderstorms now) or how “hysterical” (she loves to use that word about me as a child) I used to get when I was frustrated or scared of something (I was afraid of many things but loved a lot of things too).

Whenever she talked about me to people, she made me sound like there was something wrong with me (I was a sensitive child with attachment issues–but surely there were good things she could have chosen to talk about instead of what a pitiful, awkward, oversensitive crybaby I was). She used to tell everyone the embarrassing story of my first period and how happy I was when I shouted the big news from the bathroom, because I had always been “so hysterical” and panic stricken because I was slower to hit puberty than most other girls my age. In actuality, I was 13 and really not far behind at all–and I never got “hysterical” or “panic stricken” the way she insisted I did.

I no longer hear these stories because I no longer have much contact with her, but I’m sure she still tells her friends and extended family (who she has isolated from me and turned some of them into flying monkeys against me) and they still all have a good laugh about “poor, over-sensitive, ‘hysterical’ little Lauren.” I know they also laugh about what a “loser” I am today, because I’m not wealthy like most of the family is and don’t have a great number of impressive professional accomplishments. Of course, that’s all due to my “poor choices” and not to the fact my self esteem was all but obliterated during childhood and adolescence, not only by my family but also by the bullies I often had to deal with at school.

One narcissistic abuse blogger (who I won’t identify for personal reasons) wrote about the way her psychopathic MN mother (who was actually MUCH worse than mine and downright cruel) and the rest of the family who served as her flying monkeys, gave her a poem for her college graduation. Instead of it being a sincere congratulations or about how loved she was and how proud of her they were, it was a “humorous” ode to how afraid of crickets she had been as a little girl. Notwithstanding the fact this poem had absolutely nothing to do with her daughter’s college graduation, its real intention was to embarrass her and make her feel self conscious. It was a poem that could have easily ruined an otherwise joyous occasion.

The navy blue dress.

fat_lady
What my mother saw whenever she looked at me. (Just for the record, I think this big lady is stunning.)

My mother always loved to point out my faults–even imaginary ones she had projected onto me–in public. I’ll never forget the birthday party I had one year as a teenager. My mother had invited several of her friends to the apartment and some of my friends were there too. When it came time to open the gifts, she made sure hers was the first one I opened.

In the fancily wrapped box was a rather conservative, navy blue sleeveless dress. It was a nice dress, had I been about 40. She made me go try it on and then have me come out into the living room where everyone was sitting to model it. I obeyed because what else could I do. I was always so scared of her.

Mind you, I was not overweight. At 5’4″, 120-125 lbs was about the right weight for my frame. But my backside was what you might call well rounded (not to Kim Kardashian levels, but still round) and my mother was constantly calling attention to it. It made me very self conscious and due to this (as well as my desire to rebel against the way she’d dressed me like a doll when I was younger), I had taken to wearing baggy, almost masculine clothes that hid my curves. She was convinced I was “fat” and was always threatening to send me away to weight loss camp. As a somatic narcissist, she was obsessed with her own weight, physical appearance, and health (especially as it related to her appearance). She seemed to judge other people based on how they looked instead of their personality or inner qualities. Almost every day she called attention to how much weight I was putting on, or reminded me not to have seconds because of my “weight issues.” I become incredibly self conscious about my body as a result. It’s a miracle I didn’t develop an eating disorder.

weight-loss

Getting back to the birthday party and my “modeling session” in front of all the guests, after I modeled it, she announced that the dress’s dark color and style was flattering for someone with “Lauren’s little weight problem.”

You could have heard a pin drop in that room. I think everyone was shocked at her callous and embarrassing remarks. As for myself, I was so mortified I ran out of the room in tears, which of course was a huge mistake because that gave my mother ammunition to remind everyone once again about how sensitive I was (and she didn’t mean this in a complimentary way). She was always making jokes at my expense and then when I didn’t laugh or if I looked hurt, it was always “Lauren is just being over-sensitive again” or “Lauren has no sense of humor.” I’ve heard this is quite a common accusation narcissistic parents use against the child they have chosen as their scapegoat. They hate sensitivity in others and love to turn it into a bad thing because it takes the responsibility for their cruel behavior off of them and puts the blame onto the child.

This is the sort of “flattery” a scapegoated child can get from a parent who is a malignant narcissist. There are times I feel guilty that I don’t feel more loving toward my mother than I do, but when I think of all the years she demeaned me and put me down, always going out of her way to make me feel small and worthless, I don’t feel so guilty about my ambivalent feelings toward her. (2019 edit: as she’s grown quite old and several years have passed, I’ve developed more affection for her, and there is love there, but our relationship –if you can call it that–is still extremely distant and guarded).

I don’t hate my mother. I pity her for never having known who she really was or getting to know her true self. She’s an intelligent woman but you would never know it because she never was interested in abstract ideas or the life of the mind. Her eyes glaze over if you try to engage her in any “deep” topics. I recall her reading mass market paperback novels (“beach throwaways”) and fashion or home decorating magazines, never anything scholarly.

She has now lost most of her beauty due to age (and too many facelifts) and she is all too aware of this. The loss of physical beauty–the one thing that gave her a kind of identity–has turned her bitter in her old age.

Nothing makes me angrier than this.

seeing_red_by_cosmohibdon-d4o6hzv
Seeing Red by cosmohibdon, Deviantart.

This came up in the comments section of my last post.  Nothing makes me angrier than people who tell you, “why don’t you ask your family for help?” when something bad happens and you mention you are in need of financial or emotional support.

I’m not in that situation right now, by the grace of God, but I have been.  Many times.  And I could never ask my family for help, either emotional or financial, because they’d either (a) say no; or (b) tell me all the reasons why I was being “entitled” and put me on a guilt trip for asking.  And the answer would still usually be no.   If it wasn’t no, there were always strings attached.  But that was as rare as blue diamonds.

Whenever I’ve asked my family for support in the past, they made me feel about 2 inches tall, like how dare I ask for help at my age.  At my age, I should be self-sufficient and never have to rely on family for anything.  I’ve taken care of myself my whole adult life, and have hardly leaned on them more than I absolutely had to.   I avoid asking them for anything and have not in years, even when most people would have.   The shame involved in asking is too painful.   Even if, say, I was about to become homeless or was terminally ill, I still wouldn’t ask them for anything.   I’d rather die first, and that’s not an exaggeration.  I doubt they’d care much.  Once I turned 18, their responsibility to me was done.   No one even paid for my college education, though my parents were far from poor and could have afforded it. I had to work full time and take out student loans. I didn’t  even qualify for grants because I wasn’t living at home with my parents.  They wouldn’t allow me to.

I remember when I was temporarily homeless during my divorce, and my mother told me to go live in a homeless shelter.  With the kids.  That’s how “caring” and “loving” these people are.   She also sent an email to my father talking about how “she never learns from her mistakes” but she accidentally sent it to me!   When I confronted her about her “mistake” (I think it was intentional), instead of apologizing or attempting to explain (of course there was no good explanation for this), she laughed and said “well, maybe it’s for the best you saw that.”   She laughed!  Talk about no empathy.  Another time she told me I should become a nun and go live in a convent and get my needs met that way.   She wasn’t joking.

Yet, oddly, she was there for me when my kids were born, helping out when I was recovering from my C-sections.  She seemed genuinely caring and concerned too, and was wonderful with the babies.  I appreciated her help then and actually believed she might have changed.    But soon after I returned to work, it was back to business as usual.

Now I’m No Contact with her, I still hear about how she badmouths me to her other relatives (I’m a “loser” who “never learns from my mistakes.”)  If I died, I bet she would blame me, saying things like, “well, she never could get it together and just got what she deserved.”   She always found a way to take everyone else’s side but mine, even for things that weren’t my fault.  She just always assumed it was me at fault and never gave me the benefit of the doubt, no matter what the situation. She’s a terrible human being but I still don’t hate her.

Maybe people who assume you can go to your family when you need help are well-meaning, and because THEY have supportive, loving families, who always have their back, they assume everyone else does too.  Well, that is not the case, not everyone does.  Especially when you’re the family scapegoat.   People should realize that and not ask.   It’s rude.

When people ask me why I don’t ask my family for help or support, I just look them dead in the eyes and say, “my family’s all dead.”   That usually shuts them up pretty fast.

I hate tailgaters almost as much as people who tell me I should rely on my family for support, but not quite as much, and that’s saying a lot because I think all tailgaters should be lined up and shot.

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When a scapegoat dances in the love of God

This post just begs to be reblogged.

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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.

Scapegoat child of a narcissist.

Image

scapegoat_meme

Empty words.

love_quote

“I love you.”

Adult children of narcissists hear those words a lot.  But they ring hollow and false to my ears, because words are just words–it’s the actions behind them that give them meaning.  And I haven’t been shown much (if any) love or support by my family or the other narcissists in my life who have have uttered those three words to me so many times.

Anyone can send a Hallmark card or say “I love you” but that’s as close to love as narcissists can get, because they never learned what love really is.

There’s a blogger I read who is a narcissist.   I like his posts because he writes about narcissistic abuse from a narcissist’s point of view (nope, not Sam Vaknin).  Oftentimes you learn more about something when it comes out of the proverbial horse’s mouth.    You get a whole new perspective on things that way.    Usually he writes about the tactics a narcissist uses to prey on others, but sometimes he’s more transparent and and shows some vulnerability–even writing about the abuse that was done to him and turned him into a narcissist.  From one especially gutwrenching post where the blogger, HG Tudor, describes what sort of “love” he was taught as a child:

Love is being told to never trust anybody.

Love is being made to re-write the entire essay because of one spelling mistake.

Love is being sent to stand outside on a cold winter’s day until all three verses of Ode to Autumn are recited correctly.

Love is knowing nothing is ever good enough.

Love is understanding that someone else knows better than you what is best for you.

Love is turning away from the reality.

Love is standing straight against a wall for several hours for speaking out of turn.

Love is for the weak.

Love is being told that when I am gone nobody else will look out for you.

Love is succeeding.

Love is building a wall as high as possible.

Love is trying until it hurts and gaining that final curt nod of approval.

Love is being seen and not heard.

Love is fulfilling your potential and securing that legacy.

Love is hurting you even though it hurts me, but someone in this household has to do it and it won’t be him will it?

Love is reading to yourself than being read to.

Love is living in the shadows and hoping not to be noticed.

Love is being the best.

Love is the preserve of the powerful.

Love is being denied a birthday party because the other children are too stupid.

Love is being undermined in order to prevent conceit.

Love is a begrudged recognition and the injunction to try harder, go further, climb higher, run faster, study longer.

Love is burning your hand but not crying.

Love is a righteous beating.

Love is being distant and pretending things never happened.

Love is being sent away.

Love is not being told.

Love is splendid isolation. 

 

He has it right.   He knows this is not what love is, even if he has no idea what real love is.    There’s a lot of anger in his post.  What he may not realize is this list could apply to ALL children of narcissistic families, not just people like him who have NPD.

There’s one difference though.   For those of us who didn’t become narcissists, we somehow learned what love is.   Real love is unconditional love: love that is unearned, love that is given just because you’re who you are, regardless of your flaws and shortcomings. You are not shamed for being who you are, at any point, ever.  You are cherished for your soul, not your appearance, income, intelligence, or achievements.   You are not judged for being in a bad mood or for not being happy all the time.  Someone who truly loves you will still love you even when you’re sad, mad or afraid.  They will offer support in some way, not turn their back on you or blame you or kick you while you’re on the ground.

Those of us with C-PTSD and other trauma based disorders didn’t get unconditional love from our immediate families.   But if we didn’t become narcissists we might have had a taste of enough of it to make a model of it for ourselves.  Maybe a loving relative outside of our immediate family–a  grandfather or aunt perhaps–showed us this kind of unconditional unearned love.  Maybe we were “adopted” by the loving parents of a friend (not literally adopted, just treated like a member of that family).   Perhaps we were fortunate enough not to marry an abuser (unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of us, since we were programmed to attract and be attracted to abusers) who showed us what real love is all about.   Maybe we had a compassionate teacher when we were young.  It’s even possible that one or both of our narcissist parents (if they weren’t malignant or sociopathic) had occasional moments of lucidity when their false self was temporarily down for whatever reason, and during those rare moments were able to see and love us for who we really were, not for what they wanted us to be or what we could give them.

My point here is that love was somehow modeled for us by somebody before the critical period for being able to accept–and give–love came to a close.   Probably not enough to heal our wounds; the damage done to us was severe and complete healing may not be possible.   The scars will always remain, no matter how much work we do on ourselves.   We may be compromised in our ability to give and receive love, but we can still learn.    Even if we’ve been shown very little love throughout our lives, by the grace of God, our souls, though damaged, somehow remained intact.    For a narcissist, there’s no inkling of what actual love might feel like, even if, as with the blogger quoted above, they want to know.

love_corinthians

I’m so starved for unconditional love that when it is given to me, I want to cry in gratitude and some emotion that feels very close to relief.   Occasionally I have.    I can tell you what that kind of love feels like:  a sincere hug when you’re depressed; concerned ears that listen without judgment even if they disagree with you;  someone who isn’t a fair weather friend and is still your friend even when you’re going through a rough time or aren’t at your best; a real family that always welcomes and supports you no matter how old you are or how many problems you’ve faced and doesn’t disown you, judge you, shun you, talk badly about you behind your back, or tell you everything’s your own fault.   Love is like a respite from pain after an excruciating illness; it’s reassurance that the thing you dreaded the most did not come to pass, that in fact, the outcome was wonderful instead.    That’s what love feels like, and it’s everyone’s birthright.  That some of us received so little of it–or none at all–is appalling to me.     The injustice of it makes feel rage.

I received just enough of this kind of love, and at an early enough age, that it was modeled for me.  I received just enough that my soul escaped relatively intact, even if my mind did not.    I can feel unconditional love for others, but I’m still afraid to reach out to them, because I learned that people can’t be trusted.  So many people in my life have shown me their “love” has no real meaning and is just three pretty words with nothing inside but betrayal and hurt.    The terrible irony of having received enough of a “taste” to know what real love is  like is that you constantly crave more of it, like a drowning person gasping for air.  You haven’t received enough to feel confident that it will last or that anyone in the world really cares about you, so you either clutch onto it for dear life or avoid relationships altogether.

Forever an orphan.

orphan_begging

Those of us who were scapegoated and rejected by our own families often feel like orphans in life, forever being buffeted to and fro by the winds of a seemingly heartless world and hanging on to what seems like a brittle tree branch for our lives. We were trained and groomed by our families of origin to continue to be victimized throughout our lives, always treated as though we were less than everyone else, deficient in some way. We were not given the tools other children in our families, or the children of normal, loving families were given to do well in life. We were tossed out “with the wolves” so to speak, and told to “sink or swim.” Unfortunately, too many of us sink–into abject poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, abusive marriages, and mental and physical illness of all types. Everything that others seem to obtain with ease–a wide circle of friends, financial success, material goods like houses, cars or vacations; respect and closeness within their families, a relatively easy climb up the corporate ladder–seems to elude those of us who grew up programmed to believe we were defective.

We may not have literally been orphaned by our parents, but functionally we are no different than orphaned children. Children who lost their parents young to death or abandonment also grow up without any sense of belongingness and no loving, close attachments to anyone. How can you when you are treated like a number at some orphanage (more so in the past or in foreign countries like Romania) or are constantly being sent from one foster home to another, where the foster parents may mean well (but sometimes not) but have too many other charges to take care of to fulfill your need to belong and be loved. Orphans learn not to get too attached to anyone because any attachments they may form are impermanent. Getting close to others hurts too much, so they learn not to get close to anyone, not to trust anyone.

When orphans become adults, they are sent out into the world ill-prepared for adulthood with no emotional or financial help to guide them in their journey. With no one to truly care for them, and no families to turn to in times of need or crisis, they must either sink or swim. Those that swim do so at a cost. They may become successful in life, obtaining the trappings like money or status, but they never really know what love or real self esteem is. They don’t even know who they are. They just know they must survive–at any cost. It’s my belief that orphaned kids who take the swim route become narcissistic–how could they not? Adopting a false self and a fighting mentality is the only way they know to survive in a harsh, uncaring world where they seem to have no place.

tiredandalone

Although narcissistic abuse survivors may have been raised in actual families, we were emotionally and spiritually orphaned due to rejection and emotional abuse. We were compared unfavorably with siblings, other family members, or just about anyone else. We were raised to believe we had no rights. We were punished for having opinions. Our boundaries were constantly being violated; we weren’t even allowed to have boundaries. We were called names, belittled, gaslighted, threatened, and stunted and stifled in every imaginable way. Our efforts to be approved of and small victories were belittled or sabotaged. We were refused financial or emotional help where other children or young adults from normal families (or even our own families) would have received it (my family refused to pay for my college education although they could have afforded it). We were trained to believe we were undeserving of success or love. We developed a strong Inner Critic who continued to live on inside us long after we left our families of origin, continuing the abusive message that we are less.

We become adults who are afraid to take any risks, afraid to speak our minds, afraid to stand up for ourselves, afraid to just be. We feel guilty if we do succeed in something and sabotage ourselves just like our own families sabotaged us. If we were bullied by our families of origin, we develop dismally low self-esteem and internalize the message that we deserve nothing and are nothing. We develop a victim mentality that makes sure the bullying and rejection continues throughout our lives. We develop C-PTSD and are handicapped on almost every level for finding our rightful place in the world. We were programmed by our narcissistic families to be targets for other abusers and narcissists, who smell our vulnerability and our lack of emotional defenses. I can’t tell you how many childhood victims of narcissistic abuse were also bullied in school or even as adults in the workplace, were always passed over for promotions or raises, or married narcissistic spouses who continued the abuse, sometimes taking it to new levels of cruelty. I know because I was one of them.

Even if we somehow managed to find some small place in the world, we still feel like we don’t belong. We still feel isolated from the rest of the world, different in a bad way. We feel like we don’t deserve to have anything good. In their desperation, some narc-abuse victims sell their souls and turn to narcissism as a way to cope. They escape the enemy by becoming the enemy. Their attitude is fake it ’til you make it (or just pretend you made it). Their self esteem isn’t real; inside their prison of narcissism they are screaming in agony, but God forbid anyone ever know. They’d destroy you first to avoid being exposed as vulnerable and defenseless as they really feel. They sacrifice their very souls to survive.

Pain_ends

For those of us fortunate enough to have escaped narcissism, there is more hope. Although we may appear to have much less than someone who turned to a narcissistic defense, spiritually we have so much more. We haven’t jettisoned our souls to survive. We may have lost everything else–we may have poor physical or mental health, live in poverty, feel isolated from everyone, have difficulty getting close to others, always seem to have less than others–but spiritually we remained intact. Our quest to reclaim our humanity is a hard journey, filled with pain, but the moments of self-discovery and emotional and spiritual growth are so worth it. In the process of healing from narcissistic abuse, I finally found the family I know will always accept me unconditionally: God’s family. There is always a place at His table, where you will never be judged and always accepted for the person you are, instead of the one you can never be. In God’s family you are never an orphan.

Sometimes something as simple as music helps you get there. Here is a song that helped me (and at least one other narcissistic abuse survivor I can think of) in the early days of starting this blog:

Further reading:
Why Family Scapegoats Become Lifelong Victims
We Were The Lucky Ones
(I wrote this over a year ago, and I’ve changed a lot since then, but I think it still fits)
Adult Poverty and Scapegoathood: A Connection? 
The Reason We Became Adult Victims: What Can Be Done?
It’s All About Image: The Skewed Values of Narcissistic Families

A fellow narc-abuse blogger needs assistance

I just received an email from a friend of mine, a narcissistic abuse survivor who also has a blog about this growing issue . She prefers not to identify herself but has found herself in a serious situation.    Her narc parents had their attorney issue her a “Cease and Desist” letter, claiming defamation, even though she has in no way defamed them (narcissists can be very litigious!)   She does not have the funds to afford an attorney as she and her husband are barely getting by on what they earn (talk about narc parents having no empathy), so she has decided to have a legal fundraiser where donations would be used to pay for an attorney.   Any way you can help will be deeply appreciated.

Here is the link to the fundraiser with more information:

http://www.lenorathompsonwriter.com/legal-fundraiser.html