Adult Children of Mentally Ill Parents
Growing up with a mentally ill parent can leave deep scars.
This is her story:
The earliest memory of my father is playing hide-and-seek in the living room - he hid under a table - clearly visible to me. I was disappointed that he hadn't picked a trickier place to hide.
My next dozen memories are of the emptiness of his parking spot. My mother was always upset - I couldn't help but be upset myself, even though I lacked a real emotional connection with him. My mom ended up divorcing him when I was 3 or 4. Our friends and family were happy about her decision - I was happy because everyone was happy.
He had many problems - a gambling problem and ending with schizophrenia. As soon as we heard about his mental illness, my mother forbade visitation; she locked our door each Sunday he was to visit. Those Sundays, I was frightened whenever somebody would knock on our door. My mother and I created a distinctive knock to distinguish ourselves from him. I took to calling him by his last name the way my family did.
One day, after school, I found police cars and an ambulance in front of our house. My mother quickly took me inside and told me that my dad was hiding in our attic and wouldn't come down until he could see me. Hence the police.
I prayed for it to end.
They took him away and warned my mom that she must let me see him on Sundays or there would be repercussions. I saw him as they were putting him in the police car. He was dumpy; his eyes dark and dull. He couldn't focus, instead he yelled out incomprehensible words.
A couple of years later, he gave up the idea of visiting us. We finally opened our doors and windows on Sundays. I was allowed to play outside. We forgot about our knocking system as well, so one day when I heard a knock, I opened the door not suspecting anything.
It was him.
He looked worse; more horrifying than ever. I ran to get help from Mom, and when she did, he attacked her. They wrestled awhile, he ended up breaking my mother's finger. Despite his condition, he was strong and forceful.
My mother reported the attack to the police who told us that it wasn't enough to ban him from visiting. Banning visitation only occurs if the injury takes more than eight days to heal (or something equally ridiculous).
My mom and I were furious at the system.
Finally, as his condition worsened, he was admitted (or as my mother said - "locked away for good") into an inpatient psychiatric facility institution.
We could breathe again.
When I was a teenager, he'd send a postcard for my birthday every year. When my mother saw these in my bedroom, she looked very disappointed and bitter. I threw them out. That made her happy so I was happy, too. From then on, I scrapped every greeting card I received from him, without bothering to read it or questioning my choice.
This was our norm.
Now, that I've grown up, I wonder if I was right for scrapping those cards and embracing my mother's attitude without question.
My mom has always wanted the best for me; loved me no matter what, her dedication to me was tremendous. That's why I feel guilty that I'm considering forgiving my father. While I live far from home, I talk to my mom every single day.
Secretly, I'm expecting news of his death. Not because I want him to die, but because he's getting old. What if he passes before I can face him? Would facing him help me to forgive? Would facing him simply open old scars?
My mind claims I'm ready to meet him. My heart, however, echos my mother's screams as she fought him.
I've decided to let him being judged for his actions before Heaven's Gate - if there is such a thing.
Are you the adult child of a mentally ill parent? How do you cope with your scars?
A woman opens up to show us, The Band, who she is after a tumultuous childhood.
This is her brave, beautiful story:
For a long time, I've wished that someone would listen to my words without judgement or pity. I want you to know me and, for once, see me.
(ed note: we see you and we want to know you as you are. We're the Band. We are none of us alone. We are all connected. You - and everyone reading this - are always welcome to tell your story)
I grew up with a mother without her her full mental faculties; she was unhealthily obsessed with her faith. Don't get me wrong: faith is fine, but when you forget the world around you, you become lost.
This is how my father met my mother.
My father was emotionless, controlling, and cruel. I don't know how my mother fell for my father - maybe she was too naive to see the truth. Maybe she didn't understand that someone who makes you walk three steps behind him, doesn't allow you to sleep in the bed while sick, or tells you he only picked you because you were submissive does not love you. I think she loved him because it seemed he loved her religion.
I never noticed anything was wrong before the age of four - I didn't know any better. The world was fine and I spent it playing; forgetting anything uncomfortable.
I will never forget my sister's face.
I will never forget walking in.
That was the first time I knew something was wrong - I felt it in my gut. Being a stubborn child, I tried to save her as she looked dead beneath him. Alive but dead. Because I tried to help, it happened to me.
Sometimes, I think if I'd been like everyone else, if I'd turned a blind eye, it wouldn't have happened to me. This is the one selfish thought I allow myself to think.
After that, nothing was comforting. Nothing was pleasant. I became a serious, fiercely stubborn child. I spent nights at the table because I refused to eat the giant plates of food father gave me, trying to communicate something was wrong. I didn't think my siblings should have to suffer either.
Yet, my mother did not notice.
When I tried to reach out to my sister, I got blamed - it was my fault; I was doing something wrong. She had schizophrenia and didn't understand that being raped by your father was wrong. She thought, "this is how my father shows me he loves me and if he loves someone else, he does not love me."
I always fought back.
Maybe if I had... I think... everything would have been better.
Eventually, I fought so much my that sisters were afraid I would be killed. So we told someone about what was going on. My mother took action, so I know realistically that she cared.
I've never understood how she - or anyone else - can turn a blind eye? Are we taught to be ignorant? Are we taught that if you express yourself, something is wrong with you? If you talk: you are weak.
I don't agree.
You become weak if you cannot express yourself. You lash out if you cannot express yourself. People deserve to be heard and that we should open our eyes: there is more to this world than ourselves.
Thereafter, I became the hidden caregiver for my family. My mother found us a place to live and I cared for the children. I took the blame for everyone's messes and mistakes.
I was the reason my father got taken away. I was the reason times were so hard; no one bothered to see otherwise.
It didn't matter that I spoke of the sexual abuse so my last sister wouldn't be molested. Or that my brother wouldn't continue being beaten. Or so my sister would never be pinned beneath a man against her will. Or so my other sister might see what love really was.
Nobody wanted the reasons, they only saw the results and someone to blame. I believed that it was my fault; that I owed it to my family to fix it. So I became better.
I read my siblings books before bed. I introduced them to reading and games. When my sister had a violent episode, I took the beating so no one else would have to. After all, it was my fault.
For years, I pretended nothing was wrong: I was normal and everything was fine. If I didn't, there would be trouble. I learned that lesson after my father was sent to jail and a news reporter decided to illegally print an article about our story.
I became a celebrity.
I couldn't leave the house without being recognized. I didn't have a face: I was the girl raped by her father. I wasn't a person, I was a title.
So I pretended.
I'd punish myself for bad things. If I did something wrong, I'd feel so terrible and ground myself for a week. I'd brag about how wonderful my mother was; she cared so much she grounded me. The reality was, she was always at work or on a computer at home.
No one learned it was an act until eighth grade, when a friend's mother figured it out and reported my mother. This made everything harder. The kids were scared. I refused to let them know I was scared, too. We knew foster care would be worse. They knew that I loved them; cared for them but foster care would not. I was asked one of the hardest questions of my life during a second interview with children services.
They said, "We know you take care of your autistic brother, younger sister, schizophrenic sister, teenage sister's baby, and yourself. You don't have to. The choice is up to you as your mother provides a home and food. You may live at the poverty level, but we don't take kids away because they are poor. Would you want to leave?"
I told them I could handle it. This was my life and always had been; I wanted my family. What I didn't say was that I didn't feel my family wanted me; they needed me.
It makes me mad.
You'd be surprised that I can experience anger - most people don't believe I can. I've been told that they've never met anyone more sincere or kind. I'm like this because I care. Sure, I get mad but I get over it - in the end it's not very important.
No one should be put in a position to be sexually assaulted by a parent while people look on, not reaching to help.
Instead of responding in hate, I stop the hate. I balance it out. Even now, I do not complain; I appreciate everything.
I don't ignore people, especially those who love me. Even when the horrible memories swallow me, I face them.
I watch people ignore each other and hurt others and I comfort them. I don't want anyone to feel the way I have. I am human and if I have these feelings so can someone else.
Pain is not owned by one person; it affects everyone.
People deserve to be cared for, shared with, and know they are not alone. You are seen. I share your happiness, sadness, worries, fears, and joys.
This is the part of my story I want people to know most:
You are not alone.
Don't be afraid to express yourself.
We are none of us alone, The Band. It's time to share your story.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent is one of the most horrifying types of childhood:
This is the story of an adult child with a narcissistic mother:
The story of my crazy life as the daughter of a malignant narcissist with Munchausen syndrome continues.
Last week alone, in one day, she called 911 four times. The fire department came three times, the local police department came twice, an ambulance carried her away once.
Oh yeah, she lived.
Her determination for her narcissistic supply is unmitigated in anything I've read. The only other way to gauge her behaviour is by criminal standards, except she isn't held accountable to anyone. She simply repeats as needed, and has never been found out by any doctor, financial institution, or law enforcement entity.
She called 911 as I wasn't feeding her narcissistic supply needs, and she was out of pain pills - it was too early to get them refilled. She had to have a good reason to go to the doctor and get her pills early. What better reason than the handy 911 Emergency Response System? Perfect for her diabolical plan.
I have never seen evil appear so innocuously as in a well-dressed, funny, smart 78-year-old great-grandmother. an active member of her church and community. She hasn't been arrested for over 40 years, beloved by her grandchildren, but loathed by her children.
Yes, her children loathe her. Why, you ask? Doctors. Lots of doctors. When a narcissist has Munchhausen Syndrome, they love the attention of anyone in the medical field: even a dentist or veterinarian if a medical doctor isn't available.
My mother has a host of medical problems that date back to my earliest memories. At age twelve, she'd just emerged from a doctor's appointment in which she'd been told that she was "obese." I was horrified. Asked her if he could say that; she just shrugged and said, "Well, it's true." I was horrified all over again, because it didn't seem to bother her. This theme of "obesity" would become the way to feed her Munchhausen Syndrome.
Little did I know she was also cultivating a growing love of narcotics and would go on to lie, cheat, and steal to feed that addiction.
Trauma-Drama-Mama is what I've taken to calling her. Her doctor keeps her addiction rolling along, slowly but surely ignoring every warning. She was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver thanks to the pills - her doctor didn't even slow down. She simply visited a new doctor for her new condition.
She once lost over one hundred pounds, which we'd thought was thanks to her medically supervised diet. It was the pills. Yes, she'd been referred to another doctor for her special diet. And boy, did she lose weight. She lost so much weight that she developed an "apron stomach" and needed a new doctor for a difficult surgery to have the excess skin removed from her abdomen and upper arms.
Her surgery was difficult for all of us. She reveled in any opportunity to be inappropriate; she chose to show it to whomever would look. It was like a train-wreck - you couldn't look away.
The most amazing part is none of us demanded she stop. We say, well, that's Grandma. We're still saying it today because she still pulls stunts like the four 911 calls. Outrageous.
Now she's old, obese, and stretching out the scar from her old surgery. She is dependent on insulin for her Type II diabetes, which could have avoided - but she wanted it. Badly. That ensures she has to see the doctor often. More than monthly, in her case. She's had surgery on her left foot and, of course, she developed complications, as she does with each surgery. She delights in making problems for herself so the doctor must get more involved than is common for the procedure.
Thank God she didn't have Munchausen by Proxy. There were six of us kids and always a legitimate reason to take us to the doctor. She developed and maintained enough of her own serious medical problems without involving us, except to call us to her bedside.
However, when my father was dying of complications of heart disease, she refused to stay with him the night he died. My mother pitched a fit in the hall of the hospital saying, "I just can't take it anymore!"
The doctor implored her to stay, saying he wouldn't make it through the night, didn't she want to be with him? NO way. What was in it for her? He did the damage to himself after all with alcohol. My dad was long gone; the man restrained in that hospital bed no longer bore any resemblance to my father, her husband of over 55 years.
So incredibly selfish. I am still in shock she left him to die alone.
I'm an adult child of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder.
I've known this a while. I periodically read what the Internet has to offer on the subject to reinforce myself. When I've explained what that's like to be an adult child of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder to others, I describe her as an Evil Robot.
To me, it seems she has no feelings; her objective is to destroy me. So I call my mom Evil Robot. (That's her contact name in my phone.)
I broke up with my mother in May 2010.
It was a great victory for me, but also, of course, very difficult. In August of that year, she called me for the first time, as a narcissist does not respect boundaries.
I didn't answer.
Just the idea of talking to her sent me into a tailspin, and I spent a weekend in my pajamas.
Things have gotten a lot better for me regarding my mother since that summer.
She's established a pattern of stalking me on the Internet and emailing, calling or texting me every couple of months to tell me what she's found. Occasionally, this can be entertaining; once she believed that a homework assignment I'd given my students was somehow a reference to her.
I read her correspondence, but I almost never answer it.
In the time since the split with EvRo, my life has been mostly wonderful. Maybe that's because I shed the skin with her in it or maybe it was time for my life to be good.
In April, I got married.
It's impossibly difficult to keep wedding registries from posting your name and wedding date to the Internet. She emailed me a hundred times justifying both why she's stalking me on the Internet while chastising me for excluding her from happy events in my life. How dare I keep a good light from shining on her! After the wedding, she emailed the photographer asking to buy pictures without my permission.
The whole thing is very creepy. When I talk about it to my husband, who has never met her, I feel like there's no real way to convey how this feels. How could anyone understand how wrong the whole thing is? Of all people, my mother helped me out with an explanation.
This summer I got a panicky email from EvRo saying she had a heart problem. Panicky fake health problems have, on occasion, been a part of the game when EvRo feels like I'm becoming too independent. Still, she's never claimed that she was dying, so I paid attention. I wrote an email back asking for everything I need if she dies. It seemed fair that if she is going to act like she's dying that I do too.
That was probably a mistake.
You have to hold your ground with a narcissist; everything gets reset when you respond. They don't see what they've done wrong. They see what they did that got you to respond.
My message to her asked her for names of banks, lawyers, credit card companies that I would have to deal with if she died. She provided none of that information, but gave me names of doctors she would be seeing and the date in November that she would be having surgery. She also gave me access to a hospital account to check on her health records.
The sad truth about a narcissistic mother is that a mother is the most pure and wholesome thing. And even if calling your mother Evil Robot is putting it diplomatically, you will worry about her when she has surgery. And the sad truth about this story is that she was going for a strong emotional reaction from me.
I stood strong - I did not call my mother on surgery day, because that was right for me. Even still, I doubted myself, staying up all night, crying. I wrote desperate emails to my best friend at 3 AM because it's difficult to validate yourself in the throes of doubt.
And then I checked the health records.
There. Was. No. Surgery.
The name she provided as her cardiac surgeon was the name of her dermatologist.
Her manipulation still stuns me.
I'm an adult child of a mother with narcissistic personality disorder and I've known this for a while. But this act is more callous than anything I could've imagined. In order to get me to respond the way she wanted, she went all the way to a fake heart surgery.
It's sad, really.
I can't imagine what it's like to have alienated everyone close to you. Both of her children told her that she couldn't be part of their lives any more. If it were me, I would feel like I failed completely as a human being and a mother. But I'm pretty sure she doesn't feel like she failed based on the email I got about a week after the day the surgery was supposed to happen (just enough time to see if I was going to come running).
In true narcissist fashion, she told me there was no surgery but completely ignored the horror of what she'd done. She told me she wanted to me to get over "whatever it is" that's bothering me in our relationship.
She told me that I needed to think about WHAT I AM DOING TO HER.
In the past, I've been okay at dealing with the emotional scars she left. This fall, I started a new job in a new town and the change has been stressful. Somehow the stress makes the scars more prominent.
This evening, I talked to my husband about the difficulty of dealing with her histrionics. I told him about the reactions I've had when she's contacted me at various times and the struggle of knowing that keeping my distance is the right thing for me.
He asked me if I would ever be able to talk to her; if I would ever be at the point where talking to her is meaningless to me and doesn't create an internal struggle.
It was a really interesting question.
I'm so angry with her; about how little she values my emotions that I can't even imagine what that would feel like.
What the world where I'm free from her would look like.
Dear 14-Year-Old Me,
Right now, you are a in a lot of pain; you are confused and your life appears to have been dismantled as you helplessly looked on.
You are about to deal with your fear and confusion by becoming angry. You will rationalise this in later years as 'taking control of your life' but I am telling you now, that this anger is driven by fear.
You will not accept or understand this for 35 years, unless you listen to me now.
If I was standing in front of you now, I would like to take you in my arms and talk to you about how you feel and explain a few things. Why have you always felt that you are a loner? Why has your family looked different from others, with you never seeing any affection between Mum and Dad, the constant rows, the underlying tension?
You should know that it is not okay to be hit and humiliated. It is not okay to see the same thing happen to your brother. It is not okay to see it happen to your mother. You should accept that your father is a very scary man. But to do this means that you will have to accept that your family is abnormal and you can't stand the stigma.
It has been drilled into you that things are "okay."
I should tell you that your mother will show you all the love that she can but that she is not capable of proper parental nurture. You will feel loved by her one minute and humiliated by her the next. She only sees you as a reflection of herself and will control everything that you do in order to feed her own needs. This will not stop, even in your adult life but you can't accept this because you are terrified of losing her because you already sense that she has abandoned you.
Your fear means that you will reject anything that confirms your subconscious terror.
I might be able to get through to you if I could explain that Mum and Dad had real, genuine problems. However, the terms Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder had not been coined then. Any suggestion that your parents or you were suffering for a reason will be rejected as pathetic and weak. And you must not be weak. However, you have inherited and learned elements of the same problem.
By now, you have defences. From an early age you have cycled alone for miles, for no apparent reason. You have cut yourself, developed OCD type rituals for every aspect of your daily living and have had a tic. In the past two years, you have started to run obsessively and coupled this with anorexia.
But, Little Me, you have never asked yourself, why the fuck has nobody noticed that you have a problem? It is because they are all too immersed in their own drama and handicapped by their own sickness?
You are there as a part of that and there is no help coming.
You have just been told that your mother has left home with another man. You have just seen your father break down and you have now been sent back to boarding school. In addition, you are just about to learn in a very violent way that your brother is actually your half-brother and that your mother has been persistently unfaithful. To add icing to the cake, within 4 years both your parents re-marry partners with NPD.
The only recognition at school from your house master is when you say that your fortnightly grades were down because you had had a hard week, he replied "I will accept that this time but I never want to hear that excuse again." He never did. From that day on you never cry, you never complain. You cope.
As a new (and probably) ultimate defence mechanism, you are on the cusp of throwing yourself into study. You decide to study medicine despite everyone telling you that you won't make it. Well, you say, "fuck them." I wish that I could make you see that you are doing this to ease the pain, to hit back at your Dad (a doctor) and to go for the hardest thing you can, to gain some self -esteem.
Guess what? You succeed. Everyone looks on in amazement as you transform from a lost academic second rater to a top-stream player.
You have never worked so hard and you don't stop for years.
I am sorry to tell you that this anger and fear will blight your relationships, especially with women and especially with your sons. You should know that it has taken the failure of your second marriage to force you to confront these issues and begin a process of recovery.
You will look on me with scorn, because you think that to acknowledge the suffering that has occurred is weak but I am only trying to spare you pain.
Together, you and I must stop this cycle of behaviour, because you will enact much of your parents behaviour. You must see that if you don't deal with your pain, you will pass it on. I am dealing with it now and it's very hard.
In truth, I'm a little pissed off with you!
By the way, you will have your heart badly broken by your first love and make no connection to our mother.
So, Little Me, I find it hard to see what I can do to help you. I can see what is going to happen but I know that your determination and defences will stop me getting through to you. Nevertheless, here are some gems of advice and if you can, please heed them.
- Please try to understand that all of this is not your fault. Also, it is not your job to make it all right.
- 99.9% of your suffering belongs to others, mainly the adults. You have been and still are a child. Hand this pain back to them and make them be responsible for it, if you can. Let them know how you feel, try to make yourself heard.
- People do care about you. Please, please let them in. Open up to them. Your running coach will approach you in a few weeks and ask you what is wrong, tell him, he is a good man.
A girl who you are chasing after at university will turn to you and tell you that you are great but she can't get close to you, listen to her and open up. Andy and Ian are the best friends you will ever have, they love you and care about you, don't leave it 35 years to let them see you for who you are.
- Know that you are a good person, you are quite clever, you are not bad looking, you are not, never have been and never will be fat.
- Cutting is not the only way that you self-harm. Over-exercising, over-working and eating "control" are just different faces of the same thing.
- When your defences are overwhelmed, you will rage and scare people. This is unacceptable. The earlier you can accept why this happens, the less damage you will cause to yourself and others you love.
I am not sure how this will get delivered to you.
Perhaps in a dream, from which you will wake up from in the morning. If that is the case, that residual "I have had a dream" echo should leave you with the feeling that there are some hard times ahead but that we will have the courage to accept the past and to walk the hard, challenging but wonderful and enlightening path of recovery.
I hope that you will start your day in the confidence that someday you will make sense of the madness and show that the hideous cycle of dysfunctional behaviour does not have to happen. This will be a gift to your children and theirs and you will be proud.
I wish that I could walk with you now, as you walk with me always.
Your 49-Year Old Self
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