The following was a response I wrote on a message board about the topic of enabling, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ it happens, and how Narcissists and abusers get others to do their bidding. This was written from my personal experiences, growing up with a Narcissistic Mother and watching this scenario play out many times over.
Narcissists thrive on confrontation. They bully their way by having a tantrum anytime they don’t get what they want. They turn up the heat enough to obtain it. The heat rises until they get it. In short, they learn our boiling points, find our buttons, and study our weaknesses. They keep hammering away until they get what they want.
It’s pure ruthless persistence on a target they’ve studied for years, but they also come across tactics that generally work. When they don’t get what they’re after they commonly rage to scare you into giving in, or attempt guilt or sympathy ploys. Their purpose never wavers, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.
Simply, a Narcissist or abuser will keep hammering and chiseling down until their targets are just plain WEAK. They do that by isolating the target from healthy relationships with anyone outside their control. And I mean close relationships, people that you’d bear your heart and soul to. People that would be out for YOUR good, that you’ve built a long-time trusted relationship with.
ACONs (Adult Children of Narcissists) often say they were forbidden from having friends, bringing friends to the house, and tightly controlled telephone usage. It is designed to create enough distance between you and others so such a relationship can never form.
Abusers detest anyone who may have more influence over you than they do.
If such a relationship already exists in your life, abusers will seek to drive a wedge between you and that person. Divide and conquer. The abuser creates enough stress on the relationships to create doubt in the other party. They swoop in to become the new ‘reality’ by inserting their perceptions on the weakened target.
My father is an enabler because he’s been trained by my mother to be. She hammers him by exploiting and over-blowing any little offense she can muster (creating conflict) to show how right she is, how awful she has it, etc. She hammers at him until he relents. She does the same thing to my siblings, through personal confrontation and phone calls. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I remember as a kid, we all knew it was just easier to give my mother what she wanted than deal with her rages. If an abuser does that enough, they are training us to just give them whatever they want, because we know what’s in store if we don’t. It’s cost/benefit analysis, isn’t it?
Welcome to the hammering machine. I knew that other people would take bad news better than my mother. So if I got caught in the middle of something between her and someone outside the family unit, she always won because even though I may lose greatly on something involving that person, it was easier than dealing with my mother’s rages.
There’s the birth of an enabler.
There comes a point where you just can’t deal with fighting them anymore, especially when you live under their roof. Even though we move out, that brainwashing has been reinforced for years, and continues into adulthood. Give your abuser what they want, or there’s hell to pay.
And even though we’ve moved out, Ns make sure they insert themselves in everything, don’t they? They appear to be interested in us, invade personal space, demand personal information, run amock over boundaries. The Narcissist is making it known that they have a right to everything about us, and will not stand for anything less than EVERYTHING. It’s so they can continue to insert their perception of reality into their target’s lives and retain control.
They continue forcing themselves onto the target, through phone calls or unannounced visits. If you’re never allowed to (or given the space to) think for yourself, how can you? Narcissists hinder this process as much as possible. It’s why they set themselves up as ‘always right’. If you control all the cards and all the information, it’s easier to manipulate things to your benefit. Thus how they move into the second stage of life.
It’s also important to note that everyone has a breaking point. Some much faster than others, due to the nature of the relationship (such as family friends, distant relatives). Others thrive on gossip and drama…but Narcissists know how to spot their targets and say the right things to obtain what they want.
In short, enablers are Narcissists’ servants. It’s like an abusive dog-owner. The abuser controls the entire environment. Some dogs will cower, some will fight back towards the owner. Dogs that fight back will be beaten more severely until they cower, are neglected, or are gotten rid of. But either way most will still protect the territory. They distrust everyone because of what history has taught them.
I guess I met Stef when I was thirteen or so, which would have made her twelve, but really, I felt like I’d known her forever. She was one of those people that the moment we met, it’s like we bonded instantly on some molecular level; like we were made of the very same stuff at the core. It’s rare that it happens, two people who simply know each other like that, two magnets pulling toward each other, instantly attached, but when it does, you can’t forget it.
And I didn’t.
Everyone loved Stef. She had this shine about her, something rare in a teenager, that made you want to be near her; like if you stood close enough, some of that sparkle, that inherent goodness that radiated from her would rub off on you, and for awhile you would be better for knowing her.
I am better for knowing her.
Stef was one of the first people I knew that loved me for who I was, warts and all, and even now, seventeen years later, I think she may be one of the only people who genuinely will ever love me. Maybe it’s because she understood me in a way that most people don’t. Maybe it’s because she was my first real friend. Maybe it’s because that was her gift; her shine. I don’t know.
She walked tall, confident in her shoes, while the rest of us awkward teenagers struggled to figure out who we were, Stef always knew who she was. I learned that from her.
When my boyfriend slept with my friend, she was the only one who chewed him a new asshole. In a world where I had never had a soul on my side before, Stef was always firmly there, Team Becky all the way. She would have cut a bitch for me, no questions asked, because she was my friend and she loved me. Maybe other people had families that would do that for them, but I never had that. It had always been me against the world. I learned how to be a friend from Stef, too.
She was there when I’d gotten pregnant with my first son, holding my hand when his father, too, cheated on me. Again, she was the only one who stood up for me. I never told her how much that meant to me.
Shortly after my son was born, she got pregnant, too. Excited, we planned for this baby, a boy. When her son was born, the sparkle she’d had went out and was replaced by a sadness I couldn’t touch. Always a party girl, she took it to new levels, trying to drink away her pain.
No one knew what to do.
We tried to reach her, but nothing seemed to get through. She tried rehab, three times. She was hospitalized. Tried medication. In the end, she kept returning to the bottle, drowning her sorrows in a fifth of vodka. The only friends she had left were the late-night sort, the ones who didn’t care about the Stef I loved so dearly, the ones who didn’t know my friend as she had been.
She left me a message at the end of December from a pay phone, having no phone of her own, just out rehab again. Stef sounded good, optimistic, even, offering to get together for some coffee and a playdate with her two boys and mine, sometime in the near future.
That message came too late.
I got that message two days after I buried my first real friend. One of the only people who may ever really love me.
February 10, 2008, I got a call from Stef’s mom, telling me that Stef had died the night before, in her sleep. Liver failure, cirrhosis.
Stef was 26 years old and left behind two young sons.
I’ve never been able to write about her, although I’ve tried hundreds of times. I’ve deleted thousands of words because they were simply not enough. There are no words eloquent enough, true enough, real enough to express the kind of person she was. And getting her wrong is not an option.
I loved her. I love her.
I miss her so much that my heart hurts some days. I’ll probably always feel like there’s a part of myself missing now that she’s gone. That magnet, the part of me that was connected to her, that’s still looking for that other half and it’s gone forever. I’m lucky to have found someone like that in the first place.
Sometimes, in pictures captured when I am truly happy, I can see a certain expression on my own face that is pure Stef, and it makes me smile and laugh a little, because it reminds me of the e.e. cummings poem: i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
This site is dedicated to you, Steffie. When we meet again, and I know we will, I can’t wait to tell you all the things I never told you when I should have. For knowing you, I am better.
May your shine always be warm, like Stef; like the evening sun.
When I write, somehow I am able to process it in a way that makes more sense. And yet I have been avoiding putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys. I’m not sure what this means, except that I have not wanted to let go of some things that are still percolating upstairs.
The mind is a dangerous place, my mind especially. Neurons form associative pathways based on past experiences, and it is extremely difficult to reprogram them. Add to the mix…well, we’ll call it background noise, and some days I feel like the top of my head is about to explode outwards in a shower of gore and fire. I am a person who takes medication to keep things manageable, and I make no apologies for this. There is a marked difference in my mood and tolerance for everyday stumbling blocks when I do not have them, so I have chosen to keep taking meds. Even still, I find myself ruminating on past life experiences more lately, and I think maybe it is time that I purge.
I know part of it has to do with the weather. It’s fall, and warm with a cool breeze, the kind of day I used to hope for when I was running in Baltimore. That way, you see, it’s not too hot or cold in the abandominium hideouts where the other junkies and I liked to sit and hoard our meager scores. I miss sitting on scavenged milk crates, avoiding foul-smelling piles in the corners, and talking big with random people. I know it’s somehow disturbing that I miss the griminess, the feeling of being bad, the rush of my heart when a cop drove by (”Will he stop? Does he see me?”), and I want to leave it behind. It seems to dog me, waking and asleep. It would be so easy to slip back to that life of running and hiding and dealing with nothing.
So I guess I keep putting one foot in front of the other, having little community meetings in my head, and trying to concentrate on the good in my life now.
If you read my first post, you know I lived with a man who couldn’t tell the truth if his life depended on it. He cheated repeatedly, all the while telling me he loved me more than anything, that he couldn’t imagine his life without me. He said I was his future.
Funny how he could never treat me that way.
He had stepped up his drinking to a horrible rate. He didn’t feel he should keep promises, like showing up at work, if he didn’t feel like it. He drank until he would pass out. I tried not to be co-dependent, but his clients know me, so I was always the one who was stuck having to tell people he wasn’t coming. He certainly didn’t care if we had money to pay the bills on time.
I worked consistently from the time I was 18 until I had to go on disability. I had beautiful credit, so that was what we lived on. BIG mistake on my part.
He went to rehab, lied his way through it and was released after 90 days. He was drinking again within two weeks. He went back and forth to rehab a couple of times, but he always lied and would be drinking again as soon as he was released. It got so bad that I kept getting calls from the fire dept, police, or paramedics. They would find him passed out in a park, and tell me I needed to pick him up. They would never help me. They would lecture me about how he needed help, as if I didn’t know, but for one reason or another, they couldn’t just take him to detox or arrest him.
One day, he drove drunk and thankfully only did damage to our car. I said I had had enough. I told him he needed to go stay somewhere else and think about what he wanted out of his life. He was drinking to maintain, and then went on a binge. He refused to answer my texts, even though I could see he had read them. I warned him he was setting in motion things that could not be undone. He still would not answer.
I am disabled, so I’m not able to work. He abandoned me with just $57 to my name. I have no way to pay the bills, no way to pay for my medications, no way to buy food. I waited, and finally, I filed bankruptcy. Just like that, my entire life’s work down the drain. I could not be more humiliated.
A week later, he finally decided to talk to me. He said he loves me, he just needs some time to work on being the right kind of husband. I told him I wasn’t sure the opportunity would still be there. So now, he’s calling me every night and telling me how much he loves me. Each night, he has sounded more and more intoxicated, so I know nothing has really changed.
I have supported him, through the drinking, for SIX years. He would always say he wanted to be sober, so I kept trying to help. Obviously, he doesn’t want to quit drinking. So, why do I feel so bad? Why do I feel like I’m letting him down, when he has never once been there for me?
When I had my knee replaced, he was too drunk to take care of me. He stole my pain medication, and I never did find out why. I guess he wanted to make me suffer through physical withdrawal like he has to when he dries out. Would someone who loved me put me through that?
I can’t forgive him for abandoning me with no money or food. He obviously didn’t care about me, so why do I still feel guilty and sad? I know I deserve better!
Adult Children of Addicts are at a far greater risk to develop addiction to substance abuse.
This is the story of three brave men:
My father was the son of an alcoholic. He had a brother and 3 sisters who all would partake in the ocassional alcoholic beverage but never let it interfere with the normal every day functions of their lives. My father, on the other hand carried on the family tradition/trait/ illness, or whatever you wish to call it. He was not an abusive drunk, although I do remember he and his best friend trashing our house fighting each other when I was a pre-teen. He was very much involved in my life and that of my brother and sister, but he was still an alcoholic.
As years passed, his drinking became more and more severe. It wasn’t until my teen years that I really started paying attention and noticing that he was consuming a case or so of beer by himself, everyday, along with as much as a pint of liquor. He became more pissed off at the world and everything about it. The world was out to get him and so was everyone on the planet. It was getting to the point where nothing we did was right.
After graduating high school, it was time to marry my high school sweetheart. A day I had dreamt of for a long time. I was never one for dating and the whole girlfriend issue, but this girl was for me and I was so looking forward to that special night and our first dance as husband and wife. In the middle of the most special dance of my life, my father interrupted and said, “why don’t you play something we all like?” Our wedding song was “All Of My Love” by Led Zeppelin.
I was stunned, flabbergasted, ashamed, and yet I let it slide.
I vowed my entire life that I would not be like him, and to that I stayed pretty true. Sure, I had the occasional drink as a teenager. Yes, I got drunk from time to time but never really cared enough for it to become a regular thing. Never would I be like him. I would not put my children through that, even if he was not mean, it was not a childhood I would not want any kid to have to live. Little did I realize at the time that I was just like him.
Although I was not a drinker, I had no problem smoking pot, tripping on acid and mescaline, doing ‘shrooms, or just about any mind-altering substance that I could get my hands on. But hey, I was not a drunk.
It wasn’t until my mid twenties, deep into a cocaine free basing addiction that my wonderful wife, the high school sweetheart, told me ”I don’t know what you are doing, but you either quit or I leave.”
Wow, a brick in the face that one was.
I finally looked at myself in the mirror, literally, and saw a pasty grey skinned man, skinny and sick looking he was just one step away from death or an institution.
I quit. I vowed to myself and my wife that I would never touch the stuff again. I spent several years going to narcotics anonymous, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day and I am proud to say I am free, clean, and sober. I am a fairly healthy 45 year old man still married to my high school sweet heart, and I have 3 wonderful sons and 2 grandsons.
I have felt their joys and sorrows. I have seen their smiles and frowns. I have been there for them. And I was there to help my oldest son through his addiction.
He chose to follow me and go the drug route. I have always been open with my children about drugs hoping that it would steer them away since I was speaking from personal experience; not quoting something I read in a book. He saw it like, hey you’re still alive, it couldn’t have been THAT bad.
On his 17th birthday, I did something that even I could not believe.
On the way home from picking him up at school one evening, he was so wasted that he was actually hallucinating in my car, asking me questions about how we were going to get the car through all those trees, and what were we going to do when we got to the end of the road where it turns red. I was so scared for him; it was time for another search of his room. I found pot growing in his closet, for the second time, so I figured I had no choice. I turned in my own son and he spent his 17th birthday in the county jail, and several others months following. It opened his eyes a bit. He stumbled a few times since but is now a wonderful 21 year old man with 2 sons.
One night, not to long ago, he finally told me that he hated me for quite a while for turning him in, but he then said he could not thank me enough for what he did and that he loved me.
I am constantly worried about him. Will the stress of the children lead him back to the drugs? Will he make it through as I have? Will any of his children follow the familiar path?
One good thing that has come of my sons addiction is that his younger brothers want absolutely nothing to do with any of it. So for now I just let him, and his brothers know, that I will always be there for them, and that life might not always be wonderful but it could always be worse.
And of course, I must thank my wonderful wife.
She stayed with me.
She saw the problems and instead of bailing out she stuck by my side.
She spent several weeks with very little sleep as my mind and body fought each other she was there to calm me.
I’m not sure I’ve ever written honestly about my mother’s drinking. No, perhaps what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never written neutrally about my mother’s drinking. No, that’s not right either.
I hate my mother.
There, that’s it.
My mother was my world. And in that world was wine. Bottles and bottles and goddamn bottles of wine. Wine bottles she would throw in the garbage so it didn’t seem like there were too many in the recycling outside. So the neighbors couldn’t see.
But I fished them out of the garbage and threw them in the recycling anyway.
Fuck you, mom. Feel your shame. So I don’t have to feel it for you.
My mother and I were inextricably linked through our personalities, the traits she said I possessed that she had too. Look how similar we are, right? It was so easy to become the same person. We were tightly bound into a cocoon that others couldn’t enter. Might as well have been made of fucking steel, that cocoon. And someone was covering my mouth in there, so I couldn’t scream.
I guess that someone was my mother? Or was it myself, my own hand?
All alcoholic relationships are codependent relationships, right? Or so I’ve been told. All I knew was that when she was up, I was up. And when she was down, I was disgusted with myself. Absolutely disgusted.
I hated myself more than I hated my mother. Or, rather, it was easier to hate myself than hate my mother.
So I did. It was all too fucking easy, hating myself. It’s so fucking easy that I still do.
Writing about this requires that I pull emotions from my chest that have lain dormant for years. After a while, it all starts to go a little flat, you know? The drinking thing gets old. You get used to it. You starve those emotions in your chest for air until they suffocate, but somehow they never actually die. They mutate into fucking zombies. And then some person, perhaps some random fucking person who doesn’t know anything about you, pokes at them and you think oh shit, there they are. Why the fuck do I need those.
That’s your mother, the roaring tiger inside you that you forgot even existed. The tiger clawing at your fucking insides, puncturing holes in your intestines. So you bleed out, become your own zombie.
You know the line of that poem, “I carry your heart (I’Il carry it in my heart)”?
I carry my alcoholic mother in my heart. Always.
And that alcoholic mother hates me. I’m a piece of shit. I’m critical. I’m too much like my father. Why can’t I be understanding, like my brother. I write these words and no emotions come out because I’ve heard these phrases too many times. How could I let myself feel sad every time I heard them? I would have died.
But instead of killing myself, I suffocated my emotions so I was a shell empty of water and star stuff and all the other shit they say makes up your body.
I like to pretend I’m not angry about this.
But I am.
I hate you, mom.
You are not Mom. You are mom.
There, fuck you, you don’t even deserve a capital letter.
I can’t write honestly about this. I can’t remove the layer of disgusting slime that clings to my skin that I believe makes others hate me. Makes me an abhorrent person that nobody loves.
But the thing is, I know you do love me. mom.
And that’s the fucking awful part. I never knew which monster I was facing.
The emotional monster that dragged me kicking and screaming into its lair, into its cocoon of twin selves or the alcoholic monster that aimed their own kicking and screaming at me. I imagine my young self like a little hermit crab without its shell, this soft defenseless thing that people didn’t care about because it wasn’t a real pet anyway.
But goddamit, I was a fucking fighter. Every night I battled with my fucking mother. I wanted her to feel her shame the way I felt it for her. This should not be my job. I felt emotions for both of us so she didn’t have to feel them, didn’t have to face what she was doing. And I was sick and fucking tired of it. So, so tired.
I’m still so tired, and I don’t even live with the woman.
Yes, you’re not even mom. Or mother. You’re woman.
I hate you.
There, in that sentence you don’t even deserve a name.
Only a statement that tears at your heart the way you tore at mine every.single.fucking.night.
I think you can handle it, right? Me telling you that I hate you.