First Two Months of Freedom

Well, it’s nearing the end of the second month since I quit my day job and began to focus on the careers that I want to do: Photography and Voice Over (VO).  Only, it hasn’t gone quite the way I’d thought it might (though, what does, really?).

The first two weeks found me vacillating back and forth between staying the course or going and finding another admin job.  There’s something definitely comforting about having a steady income, especially when you get paid weekly (which I did).  When you don’t see that money coming in and only see money leaving your bank account to pay for bills, rent, etc., there are definite moments of freaking out.

But aside from the financial freak outs, let’s call them, I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed my independence!  It’s been wonderful to spend my hours working on things that will further my career goals, rather than sitting at a desk plodding through daily work that doesn’t feed my soul.  I’ve always been a generally positive person, but I haven’t felt this energized or true to myself in years!  My functional medicine doctor even commented on how much healthier my adrenal glands are since leaving the daily grind.

Another “issue” (we’ll say, for lack of a better term) is that I never realized just how many of life’s things had been relegated to the weekends, or put on the back burner indefinitely.  I’ve heard newly retired people say that they’re busier than when they worked, but never fully understood that . . . until now.  What with grocery shopping, dishes, cooking my own meals, running this errand or that one, my days are jam-packed!  True, I feel FAR more productive than I did when working the day job, but if I thought I’d be able to spend 8 hours a day on VO and Photography, I was sorely mistaken.  I’d say I get to put in a good 5-6 hours a day on my careers.  Which is still great, as it’s a huge improvement over the 1-2 hours I was able to do every couple of days.

I’ve also decided to go to college full-time to get a degree in my chosen professions.  I’ve never been to college before, and I’m trying to find ways to not have to work at a desk job ever again.  My big hope is that I’ll be able to find grants or scholarships that will help pay for college and my bills, but I’d also be willing to do internships or work-study to help augment my finances, if need be.  That will again diminish the time I’m able to focus on auditioning for VO jobs, or edit photos, but it will hopefully help me in the long run.  But, this is the first week of my first semester, so there will be more updates on that as time goes along.

The biggest issue has probably been learning to structure my time properly (which is partly why this blog is a day late).  Another benefit of having a day job is that you’re more aware of time passing.  You know what day it is.  And for me I had systems in place at work that helped me organize my life.  I’ve never wanted to be attached to my mobile phone, but now I have to be, because that’s where I’ve begun to put all of my appointments.  If I don’t, I forget said appointments and then beat myself up for it.

But Craig was right . . . I have learned a LOT already.  I’ve taken a couple of VO webinars, which led to a free 2-week all-access pass to other online VO courses, which has been great.  I’ve submitted some images to some gallery contests, so we’ll see what happens there.  AND I’ve been able to work on projects that have been stagnant for 2 years, because I was just too busy or emotionally exhausted to focus on them.

So all in all, I’m VERY happy I decided to quit my day job!  It’s been emotionally freeing and empowering to realize that what I want IS important, and that I CAN achieve my dreams.

Let the Healing Begin

Since this will be my last blog on the topic on being a daughter of a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I thought I’d go back to the once a month blog, especially since it’s an uplifting ending to the series.

I’ve discussed several of the struggles from being a daughter of a narcissistic mother, but it’s time to focus on the healing process, which is something I’m currently going through myself.  And, I want to point out that these healing steps work not only if you have a parent with NPD, but they also work well when dealing with outside people, too.  Though–as my therapist told me–once you deal with the underlying issues that stemmed from your relationship with your parent(s), it will be easier to work through the issues you face with others.

Anyway . . . the first step in my opinion is realizing you were a child of a parent with NPD.  This one was the longest step for me, because my mom wasn’t/isn’t a horrible person.  I have some very fond memories of her from my childhood, and in many ways she was there for me.  But the more I read up on it, the more I realized that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mask for people with NPD, which made it easier for me to see my mother in this light.

This article found on Goop (I think it’s by Dr. Robin Berman), says that one of the major steps is to:

“. . . grieve the loss of the parent you never had. Really grieve the fact that you didn’t get the parent you needed, the one who put you and your needs first.”

I had several cries over that knowledge and understanding, but with each one, I began to feel better, because I finally accepted it wasn’t my fault.  There was nothing I’d done wrong or could’ve done differently to make her put my needs first, like any child deserves.  That led to anger, which is another step in the healing process.  Several articles I found talk about allowing yourself that anger.  This article recommends that you:

“Release some of that anger. Smash some plates. Scream. Hit a pillow. Anything to let the anger of being an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parent out.”

The next big step is to realize that a person with NPD won’t change . . . no matter what you say or do.  I used to do mock conversations with my mother ALL  the time, to try to find the perfect way to say how I felt so that 1) she wouldn’t get hurt or offended by it; and 2) she would be able to understand my side of the story (why her actions hurt me).  But no matter how calmly I said it, or how many nice words I used, she usually took offense and turned it around so that she was still the victim.  The moment I stopped caring about how she would react to something I might say, the calmer things became in my head.

One of the other steps I found very useful was to cut off contact with her.  Several articles that I found on the subject suggested that either partial or full estrangement might help with the healing process . . . and it’s certainly helped me.  Yes, I felt guilty for doing so for the first couple of months, but the longer the separation went on, the clearer my mind became.  I was no longer feeling like I was going crazy because I was worrying whether or not I was talking with my mother enough, or if she was going to get upset at something I might say (or not say).  All of that crazy-making inner dialogue eventually dissipated, and it felt WONDERFUL!  I don’t know how long I’ll keep the separation, but any time I even think of talking with her again, I start to get angry, so it’s best for all involved to maintain the distance for now.

Another big step that is discussed in the article on Goop is to learn to set boundaries.  Until I started reading up about this disorder, I didn’t even realize that was a big part of my problem.  I’d been taught to be so available to my mother and her wants or needs, that it never occurred to me that setting boundaries was a necessary and healthy thing to do to maintain my own sanity.  So this one is HUGE for me.  I’m still working through it, but each time I set a boundary, I feel calmer inside of myself.  And I’ve begun to see the instances where I need to set boundaries quicker than I had before.  YAY!

There’s a great book by Dr. Karyl McBride (who wrote the survey Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?, that I based this blog series on) called Will I Ever Be Good Enough? that I’ve been reading through, and it’s not only helped me identify other key pains I’d felt through my childhood, but there’s an entire section on healing these wounds (I’m currently working through that section now).

Here are some other articles on how to heal:

How to Survive With a Narcissistic Mother

Check out the “I’m the Adult Child of a Narcissistic Parent . . . What Now?” section of this article (about 3/4 of the way down the site)

This great site for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

This brief article from a site called The Narcissist in Your Life

And this good site by Bethany Webster about healing the mother wound (which I’m starting to look into)

So if you (or someone you know) was raised by a narcissist, or are/is currently in a relationship with a narcissist, I hope this series–and especially this particular blog–will help you to see that there is hope.  It’s a long and sometimes painful road, but on the other side of the journey is a much stronger sense of self-worth, and a much better relationship with yourself.

Jumping Off

I’m starting off today’s blog with an inspirational video from Steve Harvey:

Aside from the many references to God (which I don’t believe in), I think this is an amazing speech, full of promise and hope . . . and I have recently decided that it’s my time to jump.

I can’t give all the credit to Mr. Harvey, though.  For the last several years I’ve been taking classes to learn the art of voice overs (VO).  And last year, I got to produce my first audio book.  I’m currently in the final editing stages of the second audio book (a sequel to the first), and I’ve got another couple of audio books on the back burner, waiting for me to have time.

So now I’m taking that time.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been an admin for the last 20+ years, and have been wanting out for nearly as long.  To be fair, being an admin has given me a great lifestyle; I’ve been able to travel, to live a very comfortable lifestyle, and I’ve met some amazing people.  But it’s NEVER fed my soul.  Even so, the last couple of years at my current day-job, I’ve had to deal with a boss that can be described, at best, “difficult to work with,” and at worst, a “passive-aggressive bully,” and I finally got to a place where I’d had enough of it.

So, combine the stressful day-job, wanting to have more time to work on VO, and inspirational articles and videos like the one up there, and it just seemed to me that the Universe was saying “Go for it!”

Midlife - Universe

Yes, it’s true that I’m in the middle of my life (I just turned 46), so it’s possible that this could be called a “mid-life crisis,” but it’s also possible that it’s time for me to stop being afraid of what might happen and just take the leap and SEE what will happen.

I’ve therefore decided to cash out my 401k, and spend the next 4-5 months putting my full-time efforts into making a go of my dreams of being a professional VO actor and photographer.  Some might call that irresponsible; after all, I’m leaving a job that’s just four miles from my home, where I’m getting paid nearly six figures.  Some might also call it scary . . . and yes, to a certain extent, it is scary.  I’m basically packing away my safety net for a few months and gonna jump off that cliff Mr. Harvey alluded to and risk getting torn up on the jagged rocks below.

But here’s how I see it . . . I’ve been doing a job for 20+ years that I’ve never found fulfilling because I’ve been too afraid of those rocks and the damage they might cause, but instead, I’ve been damaging my soul (and lately my body) from putting up with the stress of staying in an unfulfilling job just because it’s safe.  I’d much rather get damaged from trying to succeed at my dream careers.

Besides, who knows what will happen next?  I might win the lottery.  I might book an amazing VO gig within the first month.  Or I might have to look for a day-job again, but–as my husband, Craig, put it–even if I have to find another Admin job in 4-5 months, I’ll have learned SO much from putting this much focus in my careers.  And, at the very least, I’ll have gotten out of a very toxic situation (for me).

So wish me well in this next chapter of my life.  I’ll keep you abreast of my journey, but you can also feel free to follow my VO career on my VO Facebook page, or find out what Craig and I are up to in our art business by following our art blog.  Either way, I’m jumping.

Wrapping It Up

Over the last five months, I’ve discussed my relationship with my mother, who I believe has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) (if you’re just tuning in, feel free to read the past blogs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 to catch up).  I’ve given examples of her behaviors and how they relate to various points on Dr. Karyl McBride’s survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?“, and I’ve discussed briefly how those behaviors affected me growing up.  But today I’m going to delve a little deeper in how my mother’s behaviors helped shape my own behaviors and idiosyncrasies.

As most people know, what a child learns from his/her parents helps shape who s/he turns out to be.  Anything from a sense of humor to beliefs to even the people the child surrounds him/herself with; and even sometimes who they date or marry.  When a child has a parent with NPD, that can negatively skew some choices in their adult life.  As Dr. Seth Meyers says in his article:

“. . . as adults [they] tend to gravitate toward drama-laden, roller-coaster relationships . . .”

This can happen not only in romantic relationships, but friendships, and working relationships as well.  A few years ago–even before I’d heard of NPD–I began to see patterns in the people I’d become friends with throughout my school life, and even up into my 30s . . .

There was one friend of mine who was so demanding that–when she found that she had to be gluten-free–she actually expected me to make something specifically for her, so that she wouldn’t feel left out of the celebrations (since she couldn’t eat any of the cookies I normally baked for Christmas gifts).  Having recently been told I had to become gluten-free myself, I can understand the frustration at not being able to enjoy the same treats as before, but it would never occur to me to expect someone to make an entire batch of cookies or treats just for me.  This same friend would also call to talk and–after a perfunctory inquiry as to how I was doing–would proceed to spend the next 2-3 hours talking about her life and woes (which were usually the same ones for at least a year or two).  It got to the point where I would avoid her phone calls for days until I felt I had enough energy to deal with her drama.  I finally ended the friendship, but two years later, she contacted me out of the blue demanding some money that she imagined I still owed her.  I didn’t actually owe her anything, but I agreed to pay half of her requested amount just to get her off my back, and demanded that she not contact me ever again.

I’ve also had co-workers who are passive-aggressive (a couple of whom were bosses, which made for a VERY difficult working relationship), and I was always getting into romantic relationships where I took more care of the man than he did me.  I even used to say (when I was dreaming about my “perfect guy”) that I didn’t care if he made as much money as I did; as long as he loved me.  I was willing to support him financially, just as long as he would love me.  I see now how sad that is, but I also see that it was a result of the things I learned by being raised by someone with NPD; I’d become accustomed to putting someone else before my needs and wants.

I also believe that it’s the main reason I went into being an Administrative Assistant. It’s a role I’ve disliked almost from my very first job as one, but I was raised to take care of my mother’s needs and pay attention to her moods, and I’ve come to see that that’s exactly what an Admin does.  We take care of people’s needs, and many times are asked to even anticipate those needs.  But if we anticipate incorrectly, we risk getting punished (depending on the boss).  I get people at work all the time saying how they always come to me because “Alyx knows everything.”  That’s an exhausting standard to have to live up to; not only knowing “everything,” but also being “needed” by so many people (I could go on and on about this topic, but I’ll save it for another blog).

But it’s not just our external relationships that get damaged.  Children of parents with NPD also have unhealthy relationships with themselves.  As it says in this article from the site “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers,” we often:

  • “. . . suffer from low self-esteem, often to the level of self-loathing . . .”
  • “. . . feel that we’re never good enough, that we’re not acceptable; that at some deep down level we’re inherently flawed . . .”
  • “. . . have difficulty setting boundaries . . .”
  • “. . . [are] overly fearful of authority figures, or people being angry with us . . .”
  • “. . . have body issues – either being overweight, or terrified of gaining weight . . .”

There are many other issues that daughters of mothers with NPD might have, but those above resonated the strongest with me; especially the setting of boundaries (which again ties into being an Admin . . . we practically have none).

One major thing that most of my research has discussed is the possibility of a person who was raised by a parent with NPD becoming narcissistic him/herself; which makes sense.  Think about it . . . if someone is raised to think his/her needs or emotions aren’t important, there’s going to be this huge empty hole inside.  So, many times, s/he becomes so needy that s/he has kids with the hopes of having someone love him/her unconditionally, and so on, and so on.  Unless someone, somewhere gets some psychological help, a vicious cycle gets created and perpetuated.

That leads me to one of my favorite lines from a movie about a daughter of a narcissistic mother.  In the movie Postcards From the Edge, Suzanne is talking with her director Lowell about some issues she’s having with her mother.  Lowell then says:

“She did it to you and her mother did it to her and back and back and back all the way to Eve.  At some point you just gotta say, ‘Fuck it, I start with me.'”

I LOVE that line!  It offers hope for healing.  Which is what I will discuss in next month’s post.  I had planned on this being the last blog about NPD, but there was so much to wrap up here (and I’m sure I’ve missed some of it), that I haven’t gotten to the good part.  That there ARE ways to heal, and that we who have been raised by parents with NPD CAN be made whole again.

I hope to see you next month for the most important part of this journey.

Version Control

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve loved music ever since I can remember (and even before I could remember).  Not only did I like the songs that were on the radio when I was growing up, but I also loved the oldies that my parents played whenever they could.  I would listen intently to each phrase, each nuanced note, and the way the singer(s) emphasized the words they sang.  And I loved the emotions each of those songs conveyed.

I loved these songs so much that it used to REALLY bother me when I heard someone else’s remake of a song, sometimes even refusing to hear the different version.  The moment I heard a note that wasn’t sung quite the “right” way, I immediately turned the music off.  I was also arrogant enough to comment how “Nobody but [insert singer here] should EVER sing that song!”

This pickiness of mine is so bad that I don’t see many concerts, because–even if it’s the original artist–sometimes they tweak the song enough to rub me the wrong way.  A note held a little longer here or there (or even sung a beat earlier or later) is fine, but to change the key in which it’s sung, add a ridiculous guitar or drum riff in the middle, or *gasp* change the lyrics, and I’m ready to walk out.

Many people don’t seem to be as picky as I am about this, but I happen to fall in love with a particular version/recording of the song. It’s the specific vocalizations, inflections etc. that I become comfortable and intimate with.  And, as my husband, Craig, points out, “. . . another version’s differences, however slight, jar us and takes us out of the song, and away from the memories and feelings we’ve attributed to the original rendition.”  That’s certainly true for me, at least.

There have been a couple of times where I’ve either not minded a new version of a song, but many times it’s because the new artist stayed fairly true to the original, like Maroon 5 did with Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” or this version of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” though that may be largely because I’m not a big Elvis fan (also probably because I LOVE the movie “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and this song is on the soundtrack).

But there have been times where I’ve had to eat my hat or shelf my arrogance over which version was the best, especially because I used to think that the first version I heard was the original; I was naive enough to think that nobody in the 80s was remaking songs.  So, when I heard that the Doctor and the Medics song “Spirit in the Sky” was originally done by Norman Greenbaum not even 20 years earlier, I had to adjust my comment to say that I preferred the first version of the song that I’d heard.

And don’t even get me started on the compilations where they trick you by saying “sung by the original artists.”  I fell for that once before I realized it might BE the original artist singing, but it wasn’t the version that was popular in the charts (even if it was the same singer).  I promptly threw out that compilation and haven’t bought any since.

I’m so set in my ways about this subject that HATE the movie Moulin Rouge.  It was bad enough when Ewan McGregor’s character sang that Elton John/Paul McCartney mixture song at the beginning when he confessed his love to Satine, but I nearly walked out of the movie Moulin Rouge at the part where The Duke and others sang Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.”  And I’ve never seen an episode of Glee.

I don’t write about my stubbornness in music to sway anybody (or even to brag), but more as a way to say that I see this particular flaw of mine, and accept it.  Many times we beat ourselves up for our perceived flaws (at least, I have done so in the past), but accepting every part of ourselves–even the less than savory bits–helps us not only learn to accept ourselves, but it helps us accept our fellow human beings as well, because we all have something.

Taking Care of Mother

I’m going to discuss the last few points from the survey “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?” by Dr. Karyl McBride that most affected me in relation to my mother.

The first one I’m going to talk about is one of my mother’s defining traits:

30.  Is your mother controlling, acting like a victim or martyr?

While I’ve never thought of it as “controlling,” my mother has acted like a victim or martyr for as long as I can remember.  When she was going through her alcoholic phase, if I ever mentioned my displeasure at not knowing where she was (when she was 4 hours late for picking me up from my dad’s house), I heard one of three different responses:

  • I had a difficult childhood.
  • Sometimes I just need to forget about my responsibilities.
  • I only do this occasionally (said in a whiny “poor me” voice).

The narcissistic mother who criticizes and hides behind a veneer of martyrdom when her child needs her support is another common manifestation of a narcissistic parent.
(excerpt from The Narcissistic Parent)

Sometimes the words would vary a little, and sometimes she’d combine a couple of them into one, but I heard those excuses from her so often that I can recite them verbatim at will.  Even when I wasn’t complaining about her drinking, she still would mention the rough childhood she had on a regular basis.  The story was always the same; bad childhood, her father beat her, her brother treated her awfully, nobody understood her.

I’m not saying that she was making it up–I’m sure she didn’t have a fabulous childhood–but the sheer frequency of hearing those stories began to wear on my patience, especially because this woman–who claimed to have such a bad relationship with her family–kept trying to be in contact with them!  If I’d been treated the way she was, I’d have walked away from them a LONG time ago.  As it is, I have very little contact with my maternal grandmother and any of the family on that side.  My relationship with them wasn’t as bad as hers, but it was bad enough that I know I don’t want or need most of them in my life on a regular basis.

But her childhood aside, I’ve noticed my mother walks around as though she has the word “VICTIM” stamped on her forehead.  For example, when I first moved to New York, she and her then boyfriend came with to help me move out there and to see the city.  We were walking down the street together when her boyfriend and I noticed she wasn’t behind us anymore.  She’d actually stopped off at one of those sidewalk 3-Card-Monty vendors.  By the time we got back to her, she’d lost $100 betting on that game.  Afterwards, she couldn’t actually explain why she’d stopped, when she KNEW those things are rigged, but she had done it anyway.

Another time, she came to visit me when I was living in Prague.  Now, Prague is a relatively safe place, but it is known for pickpockets.  There, they do what’s called “crowding” where groups of people surround you on public transit, and try to steal from you.  By the time she came to visit me, I’d lived there 7 months without incident, but the very first day she was there her purse had been cut and her passport stolen.  She’s also fallen for several email schemes and at least one get-rich-quick scheme.

Her response to each of those events is usually to blame the perpetrators for their dishonesty, which brings me to another point on the survey:

12.  Does your mother blame things on you or others rather than own responsibility for her feelings or actions?

Rather than try to understand why she falls for each of these schemes, she blames “dishonest people” for taking advantage of her.  Now, I’m not condoning the actions of those who prey on others, but they can only prey on those who allow themselves to be preyed upon.  I’ve also heard her blame clothing stores for having mirrors in the fitting rooms; her reason being that she’s so overweight, she doesn’t want to have to look at herself in the mirror.  That was her response, rather than accepting responsibility for her food choices, or lack of exercise.

Points 14 and 16 are things I only felt a little bit while growing up:

14.  Do you feel you were a slave to your mother?

I wouldn’t say that I was a slave, but from the time I was about 8 years old, I had to babysit my brother whenever my she went out for the evening (which was pretty often).  She also seemed to stop doing chores around the house.  I totally believe that children should do chores in the house, as it builds character and teaches responsibility, but when my brother and I were old enough to do them, I honestly don’t remember her chipping in to do any herself, unless we had company coming over.  This might have been a byproduct of her being a single mother, but when paired with #16, it felt like something more:

16.  Did you have to take care of your mother’s physical needs as a child?

Again, this one needs to be tweaked a little bit.  Aside from babysitting (at my young age) and the chores, there weren’t too many of her physical needs that I had to attend to (except for once or twice when she came home so drunk that I had to help her into bed).  But her emotional needs . . . now THAT was another story.  I DEFINITELY felt like I had to take care of those for her.  In fact, it often felt like I was the adult in the relationship, not her, which is what’s known as “parentification,” one of the many tactics that a person with NPD might use on his/her child.  As I got older, I felt this more and more.

As Michelle Piper explains it:

“. . . The narcissistic mother expects her daughter to take care of her when it should be the other way around.  The daughter is made to feel responsible for the mother’s physical and emotional needs.  These needs can range from an unfair share of cooking and cleaning to playing therapist while her mother talks about her relationships, sex life, and other issues.  These are much bigger roles than any child should have to take on . . .”

Another great site, dedicated to daughters of narcissistic mothers, has this to add:

“. . . parentification is very abusive as the daughter–correctly judging this as the price of her mother’s approval, and not knowing any better–tries to take on the burden of meeting those needs . . .”

This expectation that my mother placed on me (whether intentional or not) meant I had to grow up VERY fast.  In some ways it was a good thing, but in many, it wasn’t, as I’ll describe in better detail next month when I wrap this series up.

Stay tuned . . .

C’mon People Now

One of the best things my mother did when raising me is to teach me that everyone . . . EVERYONE is equal.  Regardless of skin tone, religious beliefs, country of origin, sexual orientation, etc., each and every person on this planet is just as important and vital as the next, and should all be treated equally and fairly.  She had LGBT friends, black friends, Hispanic, Catholic, Wiccan, Jewish . . . you name it.  My childhood was as diverse as it could have possibly been in the middle of Michigan in the 70s.

It wasn’t until I left Michigan and moved out into the world that I learned not everyone felt that same way.  I mean, I had heard of segregation, but to my young, inexperienced self, that was something that had only happened WAY in America’s past, rather than a mere 5-10 years before I was born.  I remember my first encounter with someone using the “n” word and meaning it . . . I was actually shocked and did one of those head-shakes you see in cartoons all the time, where I thought “Did I just hear that right?”

I couldn’t then (and I still can’t, today) understand why people would speak of, or treat another person so cruelly just because they were born with a different skin color, have a different religious belief, sexual orientation, or any number of things that makes us unique.  And it continues to shock me when I hear of people having such prejudiced, narrow-minded beliefs IN THE 21ST CENTURY!  The sheer amount of malicious slurs that are being spoken by certain politicians this year–not to mention the hordes of people who are cheering that crap on–makes me cringe for the enlightenment that I’d hoped we as a nation were moving towards.  So, I’ve decided to help give that enlightenment a little help by posting some music videos that talk about equality and acceptance, and hopefully this will make its way around the internet to offset some of the nasty energy these politicians and their followers are generating.

. . . If you want to listen to these songs, just click on each image and you’ll be taken to the video on YouTube . . .

The first song that resonated with me about this topic is Depeche Mode’s People Are People.  I was more into Pop Music as a teenager, and had never even heard of Depeche Mode before.  It wasn’t until I was living in Florida that I heard this powerful song.  To this day, it’s one of my favorite anthems for equality.

DepecheModePeopleArePeople

The next is a classic from the late 60s.  In Everyday People, Sly & the Family Stone sang about how one person didn’t like another for superficial reasons, and then how that person didn’t like still another person for a different superficial reason (how’s THAT for irony?).  It’s really a great song and if you (like me) enjoy learning the lyrics, you can find them here.

Everyday People

This next song combines SO many of my favorite musical things: an awesome beat (which takes center stage about 3/4 of the way through the song), GORGEOUS harmonies, and powerful lyrics that embody truth and (hopefully) open people’s eyes.

Free Your Mind

But one of my favorite pieces that talks about equality isn’t actually a song . . . though it is on an album.  In Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation: 1814, she has a few Interludes scattered between songs.  The very last one–Interlude: In Complete Darkness–is my favorite:

In complete darkness we are all the same
It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us
Don’t let your eyes deceive you

A Different Reality

This is the fourth blog post in an ongoing series about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and how I grew up as a child of a mother with NPD.  You can find the other blogs here:  Blog #1, Blog #2, Blog #3.

One of the main identifying factors of people with NPD is how they think everything revolves around them, and how they expect the people in their circle to feel the exact same way; catering to their emotional (or sometimes physical) wants and needs.  When a narcissist’s wants and needs aren’t met, they react in a variety of ways, none of them emotionally healthy.

For example, when Craig and I were getting our art together for the Alameda on Camera exhibit last year, my mother decided she desperately needed to get in touch with me to help her book a flight on Southwest Airlines (no, I’m not making this up).  I had told her earlier that week that Craig and I would be swamped all weekend with matting and framing the images, but she still felt the need to text me twice, call me once and leave a voicemail, and then send me an email; all vaguely, but urgently, begging me to contact her.  I rarely have my phone where I can hear it when I’m home, so I didn’t even see any of her messages until late Sunday night.  When I told her later that I didn’t appreciate her making what was the busiest weekend of the year for me into all about her, she got mad and decided to cut communications with me for about 3 months.

Now, let me explain that my mother has her own computer, and gets on it ALL the time to search Google, play games, and whatnot, but for some reason she couldn’t seem to figure out the Southwest website, and (apparently) it never occurred to her to call Southwest up and talk to someone on the phone.  No.  She had to urgently request my help, because (heaven forbid!) I wasn’t paying enough attention to her.

My brother has told of other reactions . . . If she sends him a text and he doesn’t respond within an hour or two (for whatever reason), she’ll send a follow up text declaring, “Well, I see who’s in charge,” or some other passive-aggressive response.  She has also withheld certain favors from him (he borrows her car every now and then, unless she’s punishing him), if she becomes unhappy with something he’s said or done.  My brother is a 44 year-old man, and yet she STILL treats him like that.

This behavior is #13 on the survey by Dr. Karyl McBride, “Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother?

13.  Is or was your mother hurt easily and then carried a grudge for a long time without resolving the problem?

But probably the most glaring negative trait my mother (and most other people with NPD) exhibits is her ability to lie to herself.

I’ve known that my mother has problems with reality for a while . . . and I don’t mean a difference of opinion, but rather absolute truths that aren’t really open to interpretation.  Like the color of the sky; opinions might differ on exactly what shade of blue it is, but most people in touch with reality will admit it’s blue.  While my mother isn’t that out of touch with reality (she agrees it’s blue), she’s used euphemisms throughout my entire life.  To her, it’s not “death,” it’s “passing on,” “crossing over,” or whatever other delicate word or phrase she can find to convey the same thing.  She also does this with “anger.”  I’ve never heard her say she’s angry about something, but rather “disappointed,” “frustrated,” or whatnot.  And believe me, I’ve seen her angry . . . she just won’t admit it, which brings me to another point on the survey:

11.  Does your mother deny her own feelings?

OH MY GOD, does my mother deny her feelings!  She’s stated on several occasions that she doesn’t like anger.  She thinks it’s an “unhealthy” emotion, so there’s no way she’d EVER want to admit to herself that she feels it.  No.  In her mind, she’s much more emotionally evolved than that.  But this is a woman who I’ve watched suppress her anger for so long that she’s become a little butterball of toxins, and now it comes out in the oddest places (a topic that gets discussed and dissected in the book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” by Debbie Ford).

Several times over the course of my life, my mother and I have tried to work through these issues (with me not fully knowing what they were until now) by talking about them, but whenever I would mention the anger I thought she felt toward me or our situation, she would respond with “No, I’m not angry.  I find it interesting that you think that.  Maybe you need to look into yourself and see what your anger is about.”  This is the kind of manipulative analysis that would make me second guess myself, resulting in my not trusting my instincts.  Most of us can feel when another person is angry with us, whether they own up to it or not.  So, for her to deny her emotions wasn’t helping our situation at all.  It was literally making me crazy, because I spent so many hours and days after one of those discussions dissecting the conversation and wondering if there was some other way I could’ve given my point of view so that she would see where I was coming from.  But, when someone has NPD, they’re truly incapable of hearing a differing point of view than the reality they’ve concocted:  She had decided that she was too emotionally evolved to feel any anger, so it must’ve been either me projecting my anger on to her, or that I was imagining it.

To be fair, yes, I was angry with her (still am), but based on her reactions to things I’ve done or said in the past–not to mention the number of times she’s given me weeks worth of the cold shoulder attitude–so was/is she.  She was/is just refusing to accept it.

This behavior morphs into another point on Dr. McBride’s survey, but it’s involved enough that I’m going to devote next month’s blog post to it.

As always, I thank you for coming on this journey with me.

So What

In the search to evolve as a person, you never know where your next growth spurt will come from.  I had one such moment today.

I was washing my hands in the bathroom at work and someone came out of another stall to do the same.  I said “Hi” to her, but she didn’t respond–and this is someone with whom I normally exchange pleasantries in the office hallways.  Suddenly, my mind began to spiral into the “Why is she mad at me?” neuroses that I struggled so much with as a kid.  I worried about it for all of 15 seconds–complete with possible scenarios to explain her aloofness–before I thought “so what?”

This was a HUGE breakthrough for me, because I used to stew over this sort of thing for hours (sometimes days, depending on the person).  I’m not sure if it was due to being raised by a mother who was into psychology so much that she encouraged us to break apart our psyches and uncover reasons for everything we said or did, or if I was born this neurotic . . . probably a little of both.  But over the last few years I’ve been unlearning that debilitating habit.  Self-reflection is good to a point, but when you start thinking that your actions cause other people’s reactions, that’s dangerous and unhealthy.

Everyone is responsible for his/her reaction to events.  Even if someone says/does something on purpose to hurt you, you don’t have to respond in that way.  It’s my belief that 90% of the time, their comments/moods aren’t even ABOUT you . . . but more about where they are in their life at that moment.  I know it’s that way for me, anyway.  You never know what’s going on in a person’s life, to make them act the way they do in any given moment, but chances are you’re merely seeing the residue of some other recent ordeal in his/her life.

That understanding is what helped get me out of the recent neurotic spiral; that I had no idea what was going on with her.  My mind still wanted to come up with a scenario (old habits are hard to break, you know), and when it rested on one, I thought “so what?”  Because that’s the other part of this equation.  Even if someone’s reaction is in direct response to something you said or did, sometimes it’s because they decided to get offended.

For instance, some people get offended by cigarette smoke.  Some get offended by people who drink.  Some get offended when they get cut off while driving down the road, or when someone fails to use a turn signal (those last examples are two of my peeves).  But that’s a personal issue.  I wholeheartedly accept that my ire over someone failing to signal a turn properly is my own issue, just as I accept that I blow it out of proportion sometimes.  I might still yell at them from the safety of my car, but I know that I don’t have to.  It’s not the other driver’s fault that I overreacted to the moment, so I refuse to blame them for my mood.  Unfortunately, many people out there don’t want to accept responsibility for their role in a situation, so they decide to say it’s the other person’s “fault” for “making” them feel whatever bad emotion they’re feeling.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when we should be concerned with whether or not our actions/words have offended someone, because there are.  If you’ve deliberately said/done something to piss another person off, then it would be good to make amends at some point.  The same is true if you’ve inadvertently hurt someone . . . though, again, some of the responsibility falls on them for their reactions.

But back to my bathroom experience . . .

Of any of the scenarios that my mind could come up with over why this woman might have been upset at something I’d done (I can’t imagine saying “Hi” was the culprit), none of them were anything that I felt the need to apologize for.  So that helped me get to the “so what” moment.

And, clearly, I’m still thinking enough about it to write about it, but I’m glad I was able to dismiss it sooner this time.  Maybe next time I won’t even feel the need to mention it to anyone.

Unhealthy Bonds

There is a very strong bond between a mother and her child; and in many cases, it’s even stronger when the child is a daughter.  But unfortunately, when the mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder that bond can become quite unhealthy.

Such was the case with my mother and me.  I thought of her as my best friend while I was growing up, and, as a little girl, I liked that.  As an adult, I can see so many other facets of that relationship, and recognize it for the co-dependency that it truly was.

I think part of the reason I initially put her in the “Best Friend” role as a child was because I was constantly picked on by other kids in school, and felt like no one understood me . . . except for my mom.  Another reason would probably be that I felt emotionally abandoned by my father at an early age.  My mom used to tell me how, at the age of three, I came up to her and said “Mommy, Daddy doesn’t love me anymore, and I don’t know why.”  She would then tell me how Dad acted like the sun rose and set with me when I was born, but when my brother came along a year later, it seemed to her like I became a secondary character . . . he now had a SON to carry on his name.

Something else that contributed to my thinking us so close was because she would often tell me how similar our lives were.  Looking back on it now, it’s kind of weird how often she’d say that.  Not that it wasn’t true–there are a lot of similarities in our lives–but I wonder how many there would be if she hadn’t pointed it out as often as she did; like maybe I was picking up on her desire for us to be so alike, and subconsciously made similar choices.  There was even one time, when I was about seven or eight years old, that the song You and Me Against the World by Helen Reddy came on, and she actually said that she felt like that song was our song.

As a child I was so happy that my mother felt the same way about me as I did about her, but as an adult all I can think is “How could you put THAT much pressure on a child!?!”  This behavior ties into points #23 and #27 on the Do You Have a Narcissistic Mother survey by Dr. Karyl McBride that I mentioned in my last post on NPD:

23.  Do you find it difficult to be a separate person from your mother?
27.  Did you feel you had to take care of your mother’s emotional needs as a child?

I had a very vivid dream when I was about five years old where I literally gave up my life to save hers (I woke up just before I slipped fully under the water).  And over the last decade or so, I’ve started feeling more and more pressure from her to continue the co-dependent relationship we’d had during my formative years.  To be fair to her, it’s hard to adjust to something different when you’ve had a certain dynamic for 20+ years, but as the parent, she should’ve been able to separate our lives in the first place . . . there IS a 24 year age difference, after all.  But that wasn’t going to happen, because–as this article outlines“. . . Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small – their children are a source of self-esteem . . .”

Thankfully I feel the opposite with Athena, my step-daughter . . . I enjoy spending time with her and we have a good time when we do things together, but I also realize that she needs to spend time with people her own age, and I encourage her to do so.  While I’m happy to be her friend, I don’t want to be her Best Friend.  I’ve got my own Best Friend, and so should she.

Anyway, as time went on and my mother lost more and more friends (or stopped wanting to be around them for one reason or another), she would often tell me how I was the only person who understood her.  I couldn’t help but feel an immense pressure from her about that.  Not only because it felt like she was making me responsible for her emotional security, but also because there were subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) reminders that–if I didn’t agree with one of her viewpoints or excuses for her behavior–then I didn’t “understand” or accept her anymore (a key behavior that is explained in this article that I found on Goop, author unknown).  As if the fact that I might disagree with her was an indication that I was somehow lacking in supporting her.

So, over time, I began to give my opinions less and less.  If she said something that I didn’t agree with, I would simply make some noncommittal sound; like I do with strangers or coworkers whose opinions I don’t share.  Then, about two years ago I received an unprovoked email from her where she laid out a major guilt trip  (which I’ll talk about in more depth next month, as it ties to different survey points).

And now, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I have no contact with my mother.  She went from being my best friend to being someone who drained my energy nearly every time I spoke with her.  I would have preferred it if she could’ve let go a little more and allowed me to be my own person–without constantly trying to keep me at her side (figuratively, of course)–because there were still some good times in my adult years.  Which is why I initially tried to set boundaries and just do “measured contact,” with my mother (as this article suggests near the end), but when I did that, she became more overtly abusive, and the good times came farther apart, and were instead replaced by blatant guilt trips, and unprovoked digs into my behavior.

It’s not all bad, though.  There is a wonderful freedom from not speaking with my mother right now.  For one, I don’t have to censor my true thoughts and feelings about things.  Craig and I are able to have discussions where we disagree on something, but don’t make the other person feel badly for having a different opinion.  It’s quite refreshing and something I never thought was possible in a relationship.  I also don’t have to worry about being held responsible for someone else’s happiness or sense of worth (a subject which gets discussed in this article by Bethany Webster [thanks to my friend Natalia for sharing this with me]).

But it is still a long healing process.  Thankfully writing it down here is helping (thank you, dear reader), and there are other articles that I’ll share later which offer more ideas on how to heal.

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