Thanks to Band Back Together posts, I’ve found many links about other adult children of narcissistic parents (ACONs). I’m learning a lot about who I am and what I need to do heal from the emotional abuse I lived through.
I now understand that through emotional abuse as a child, a person develops many challenges in his or her adult relationships. ACONs are unable to judge people (especially when it comes to protecting oneself), lack understanding what is bad and wrong, instead believing everyone is good. This is what emotional abuse does – it makes us magnets for abusers in our adult relationships.
Lacking the ability to act assertively and set healthy emotional boundaries is big deal of for ACONs. Since I’ve been to the clinic, I read about narcissistic personality disorder. I now understand that I need to put myself first, to respect myself, and set emotional boundaries. This is new for me: I couldn’t tell when it was too much until was too late. I still struggle but I believe that a part of me is learning to respect myself.
I made a huge step: a friend of mine was celebrating her birthday and was pushing me to go to a disco to party with her. It was far too much for me. I have panic disorder,depression, and struggle interacting in social situations.
I explained to her how I felt, but she continued insisting – she told me she wouldn’t come to my birthday party if I didn’t go to hers. I was about to go. I’d picked out an outfit when it hit me: I knew I’d feel distressed and exhausted. I decided to call her and tell her I wasn’t coming. This was incredibly difficult for me but I did it.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel guilty or fear punishment – I felt I needed to respect myself. If she is my friend, she needs to respect my feelings. She doesn’t need to understand them, but she needs to respect them. I’m so proud of myself.
I’m starting to understand what being emotionally abused by a very manipulative malignant narcissistic mother has done to me. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to say no when one feels like it. I can do that without feeling guilty. This is self-respect, not failing with someone else’s expectations. I’m not hurting anyone by saying I’m sorry, I can’t – I don’t want to do that.
I know it’s a long road I’m facing to learn to say, “No! Don’t touch me!” To put a really angry face when I feel disrespected, and to develop positive aggression to protect myself from abuse. For that, I need to be able to understand my emotional boundaries.
Still can’t. But I’m learning every day.
I now feel comfortable about cutting ties with my ex-boyfriend. I can see that he’s a crazy narcissistic abuser and that the best thing to do was to cut him off. I’d been feeling very insecure about dealing with him as he keeps sending me kind messages. I ignored them, but I was very insecure that cutting him off. Now I know that’s the right thing to do.
I’m loving this new found freedom. I can easily cut out all the abusers in my life. It’s been tough, though. I now see how many narcissistic people I’ve had around me my whole life. How I’ve been abused by friends and that all my ex-boyfriends – without exception – are narcissists. How I let them abuse me without realizing it. I’d get hurt and try to tell them, but they would never hear, I couldn’t see why they’d hurt me. I’d used to think it was because they didn’t realize it. I struggled, trying to make sense of their abuse. So naïve.
Of course they knew it! They just didn’t care.
I’ve got to protect myself.
“You see a therapist?!?”
I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind-reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is behind this question:
Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!
But you’re a therapist, shouldn’t you have this all figured out?
Chin up! Can’t you just figure it out for yourself?
You must not be strong enough to deal.
I struggle and I am a therapist.
I am a therapist and I am also a perfectly imperfect human.
I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all is nothing less than priceless.
I also have faith there will be a day that people aren’t shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family, and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.
I am a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery.
I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.
I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.
It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn’t take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy wasn’t going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.
I also learned in graduate school – as is the philosophy of many in my field – that our clients know nothing about us; we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with my emotional boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life.
Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self-disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.
My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe – graduate professors included.
However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity, but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.
I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.
Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly,
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.
I will help.
I will walk alongside.
I will pull forward.
And I will push.
I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.
Being denied the love and tenderness of a mother lead us to want something we can never have.
This is her story:
Some people should never be allowed to have children. Carol is one of those people. One of my earliest memories is her visiting me at my grandmother’s house during her lunch break at work when I was 3 or 4.
When it was time for her to leave, I would cry uncontrollably, begging her to stay and grabbing at her clothes as if I could stop her from leaving by sheer force of will. Inevitably, she’d go and I’d be left there with my heart broken until the next day when she’d come and start the process over again.
Eventually she stopped coming.
Eventually I got used to it.
In time, I came to accept that our relationship would never be as I wanted it to be.
She calls me a cold-hearted bitch (which is ironic, considering) and I very well may be – where she’s concerned, at least – but if I am, it’s an act of self-preservation; building a wall to keep the thing that hurt me the most out.
It works, or at least I thought it did. Two sentences in a romance novel:
“She hugged her tight, patted her hair and guided her to a kitchen chair. Within minutes her hands were wrapped around a mug of her mothers coffee.”
Punched in the face by experiences I’ll never have and opportunities I missed, suddenly I’m 4 years old again, laying on my grandmother’s floor, desperate for affection and love from someone incapable of giving it.
We were the best of friends through high school – “The Three Musketeers”. We were going to be best friends for life. Sometime during senior year, they started changing. Drinking. Smoking. Having sex with anyone who looked their way.
That wasn’t for me. I chose not to party with them. They teased me about it, joking that I was the “good” one.
Not long after graduation, there was a situation where I chose my family over them. It all blew up, and the bullying and stalking began.
They prank-called me. They pitted our mutual friends against me with ridiculous lies. They showed up to my workplace and said they were going to kill me. They sat behind me in college classes and loudly whispered to others about how horrible I was. How I was an ugly, sad person. How they had just “pretended” to be my friend for all those years. They told all my secrets to anyone who would listen.
This continued for almost two years.
After the death threats at my workplace, I let them know that I would take out a restraining order if they ever contacted me again.
I blocked them on Facebook. I graduated from that college and went to another one in a different town. I changed my phone number.
Though I haven’t heard from them for years, I still feel sick when I think about them. They caused me incredible stress, self-doubt, and loneliness.
I don’t talk about it much, because I don’t want to give them the pleasure of knowing that they got under my skin. I left out many details of the story, and details about who I am, just in case they find this.
I’m now a happily married woman with a great career, an amazing husband, and a great group of true friends.
But I feel like I’ll always be looking over my shoulder, waiting for their next move.
Once upon a time I could forgive anyone of anything.
Hell, I forgave my first husband when he tried to kill our then five month old (after he’d completed his jail time, and I’d received counseling).
My best friend had sex with my boyfriend? Everyone makes mistakes right?
My sister drained my bank account. Well, these things happen.
But I don’t want to have to forgive you.
I lived through two years of our relationship and all of the bad things that it caused me.
You left me countless times. I begged you to stay. You finally came home and asked me to marry you. I said yes. If I’d known about her then, I would have run over your foot in the driveway as I left.
We got married. I didn’t tell anyone, because no one but me seemed to understand that you HAD changed. No one supported this relationship. My own mother didn’t even find out until a few months later.
Eleven days after we got married, you went back across the country to her. You said things were too hard here. What you meant was that I wanted you to work because it wasn’t fair that I had two jobs. She could support you (or rather her daddy could). You could drink and smoke pot all night with her. I expect you to be clean and sober. Yeah, I guess I could see how that would be hard for you.
While you were gone, I lost the house. My mom took the kids back to her house because I couldn’t work 70 + hours a week and still remember how to make lunches in the morning. I cried every minute of every day, and organized a way to kill myself.
Then you called me and said that you missed me and wanted to come home. So I dropped the $350 to fly you back from Seattle. We decided to make a go of it and told the kids that you were home and everything was fine.
And everything was fine. I’d started opening my heart again, believing that you were honest with me and that you loved me and things would work out.
Until she e-mailed me… She’s pregnant. It’s yours. Your first biological child is due on my birthday. How sweet. You told me that you used protection with her. You said it was safe, that she was on the pill. You SWORE to me that she was out of our lives FOREVER. And now I find out that I have to deal with her and her spawn for the rest of my life?
You say I’m supposed to be the bigger person? How do I explain to my kids that their “dad” has a kid from another woman. Who will be born the month before our first wedding anniversary? How do I tell my son that it’s NOT okay for a man to treat a woman this way? How do I show my daughters that this is NOT what a good relationship is?
Oh that’s right… By being the bigger person and forgiving you.
Silly me, how could I forget?
Preface: This got extremely long and emotional, but I’m not making it friends only because I’m sick to death of hiding and being embarrassed by this part of my past. There are some things in here that are very sensitive and some that are probably a little too blunt. Some parts of it will doubtlessly make me sound very self centered, but I really think all of it needs to be said.
I somehow ended up spending over 2 hours last night talking to a friend about my mother and my childhood. I so rarely have these conversations anymore, but when I do they come completely out of nowhere. She was so good though, just let me talk it out, agreed with me when I needed her to, but didn’t try to comfort me either. I’m at a place about all this, I think, wherein I don’t need to be comforted nearly as much as I need to be heard. And since she won’t listen in real life, here’s another of my open letters:
It’s not right. Our roles have always been so ass-backwards, I’m sick of feeling like your mother instead of the other way around. I don’t think any of my friends, as many times as they’ve heard me say it, believed me when I told them your emotional growth was stunted at about age 13. They believe me after the last couple of weeks. You didn’t get what you wanted, sometimes that happens when you treat people like shit for no reason. I wanted you to come out here, I wanted SO badly for you to come out here, but not at the risk of your health or sanity.
I found a way to save $1300 and not have you and C (my brother) have to sit in a hot, miserable U-Haul truck for 4 days while still getting my stuff out here. A way that I talked to you about, and you agreed with at least twice, before I made the arrangements. How, exactly, is that “unilaterally changing the plan without discussing it with anyone”?
And as far as not making this move on my own, no I absolutely did not. Paul drove with me, your sister (even after all the bad blood between the two of you) let me live with her for almost 6 months until the house opened up. Yes I had help, but I haven’t asked you for a damn thing since I moved out here, and you have done nothing but go around quietly undoing everything that I have tried to do to get my stuff out here. You’ve taken things that weren’t yours, you’ve unpacked and gone through the boxes that I left there.
Every suggestion that I’ve made, everything that I’ve tried has been unacceptable, but you’ve yet to come up with a workable solution. You’re holding my stuff hostage, but I will not be manipulated. I meant every word when I told you that for all I cared anymore you could just call Goodwill to come pick it up. It’s not worth it to me. It’s not worth the aggravation, not worth fighting with you over stuff I’ve lived without for a year. I’ve had so many people tell me recently that I’m one of the most independent, self-sufficient people they know.
I suppose I should thank you for making me fend for myself (and for you, and my siblings) for so many years. It kills me, though, that you seem to be the only one who doesn’t see that I really am trying (and succeeding a vast majority of the time) to stand up on my own two feet.
I told B (my college roommate) last night that it just makes me sad that the one person that I’m trying so hard to be enough for is the one person who I will never manage to please. She said that you were the one person who I shouldn’t have to do anything to be enough for, and she’s right.
I’m sick of trying to earn your love. Of working myself half to death and never making you happy. Love is supposed to be unconditional, especially maternal love. I am not a bad person, I was NOT a bad child, I did and said some stupid things sometimes, sure, but so have you.
I’ve been told this by so many people that I’ve actually started to believe it and now I’m going to tell you:
I deserved better from you.
I deserved to be put first sometimes. I deserved to be protected from the man you chose to marry. I deserved to be allowed to be a child without having to carry the weight and the fear of your unhappiness. I should not have had to be a co-parent to my younger siblings. I should not have had to protect you from him. I should not have had to hear you make excuses for him or tell that police officer what a hoodlum I was ( I had just been named student of the month a couple of days beforehand!). Do you know how hard it was to sit in that kitchen with the cop who was taking my statement and taking pictures of the bruises and hear you in the other room actually taking his side?
It’s not fair to expect me to have all the responsibility and none of the decision making power. It’s not right to, in one breath, tell me to act like an adult and in the very next say “I’m putting my foot down and this is what you are going to do.”
You don’t get to say that anymore. You just don’t. I’m 23 years old, I haven’t lived in your house for nearly a year, I pay all my own bills, and deal with the consequences of my own decisions. You don’t have to like those decisions, but if you would like to remain a part of my life you do have to accept them.
I had no option but to be treated this way as a child, but as a woman if I continue to allow you to do so – now it will be as much my fault as it is yours. I am making the conscious decision to no longer be a victim. I want to have a relationship with you, but I will not be manipulated and guilt-tripped and screamed at for no reason. I don’t need it, I don’t deserve it, and I will not tolerate it. I will speak to you when you can do so like a civilized adult, but I refuse to expose myself to you when you cannot do so.
I hope someday you’ll understand that this is not about not loving you, it’s about finally beginning to love me. It’s about realizing that I’m worth standing up for and understanding that I’m the only person I can count on to do so.
I truly hope that we can find a way to move past these wounds and have our relationship change without ending, but I’m afraid they may take a very long time to heal. I think I am going to seek counseling and I don’t think it would hurt you to get some, either.