Friday, 30 November 2012

More Reflections from the "Rock-Bottom" Session

by Quercus

This is "part two" of my "Welcome to Rock-Bottom!" post yesterday.

I apologise in advance, because this post is going to be exceptionally disjointed (even more so than usual with my posts!). There are themes I ran with in the last post that made my session sound like a coherent conversation (hopefully!) with my psychologist, but in reality there were insights everywhere, and of different varieties. So I'll have to leap from one premise to the next in this post so that I can share the insights in case they are of value to others as well.

Taking on Responsibility versus Helping Someone

When I was speaking about the conundrum (what an understatement that is!) my NFriend has 'found herself in' (read: orchestrated from the beginning, but denies any involvement to the point of impossibility!), I was upset that I was getting everything dumped in my lap whether I wanted it or not.

I also complained that it's not this friend alone, but most of my friends to do this to me. I wasn't sure if they all thought, wrongly, that I had some sort of special skill-set that allowed me to take on and easily solve the problems of others (while they have no consideration or empathy for my current overwhelming state of affairs, of which they are all aware!),  

or if I was somehow bringing these insane 'responsibilities' upon myself (I suspected this might be the case; the frequency suggested it, and I'm the common denominator),

or if it was simply by virtue of me not passing the buck quickly enough. I thought maybe I was just the slowest one to find a chair when the music stopped. Or the last person to put a finger on the tip of the nose; I was always "it" because I wasn't abdicating responsibility quickly enough.

My psychologist nodded. At least one of my theories was valid.

"I wonder . . . can you differentiate between taking full responsibility for someone and simply 'helping' someone?"

That's a thinker. "No! Good grief, I never really think of it that way! If I'm helping, I'm responsible!"

"Hmm. I thought as much. They are, in fact, different things."

"Yes. Yes, I understand, conceptually... but... I just- I just don't see where the dividing line is between helping and taking responsibility!"

"Exactly. How would it be if you said to your friend, 'I've offered you my best advice, but you won't take it. That's all the help I can provide'?"

My first thought to this was, 'Ack! Then she's going to say, 'You can't even drive me to the therapist's appointment?! You won't even come with me to _____? You can't even talk to ______ for me? I thought we were friends! Wahhhhhhh!''.

And my second thought was, 'Huh. I guess I could just set a boundary'.

In the end, I didn't end up setting a boundary with my NFriend. I just started repeating my advice. "Did you do that yet?". She did eventually look into the provincial laws on the subject, so I reassured her that now she knew her rights and responsibilities and could make good decisions for herself. I got silence, but that's quite nice!

I'm also deliberately using the word "responsibility" in every communication. I said, "I know you feel that these circumstances aren't your fault, but unfortunately you must take responsibility for them all the same. Legally, you don't have an option!".

It seems to be working, but I'll keep you posted. I've probably just inadvertently passed the buck to another "rescuer". Or did I? Actually, no, I didn't do that. My psychologist would jump all over me for that assertion - I didn't pass the buck to anyone, the friend is actively appointing another "rescuer"!

See, even there you see my dysfunction. If I'm not saving the day, I'm not only being a terrible person (!), but I'm also putting that impossible situation unfairly onto someone else, someone innocent!

And yet this isn't true! Neither am I a terrible person for not taking responsibility for someone else's problems, I'm also not actively (or even passively, really) causing anyone else to have to be a rescuer. The 'victim', the Narcissist, is the one who won't do the right thing! Not me!

This is my NParent's legacy!!! "Your mother can't be made to deal with this! If you don't take care of this situation, who will? Your younger siblings? Is it fair to do that to them? They are so young! You are being a horrible person for not accepting blame for this situation of your mother's!"

Honestly, I've heard that very complaint, in different words, throughout my childhood.

"Your mother can't be held responsible!"

"Your mother can't be left with all the blame! You were as much to blame as she was!"

"You mother is crying her eyes out in her room. She can't deal with this! You are breaking her heart by not helping her!"

It never occurred to me to just tell my stupid, pathetic EF to 'deal with it himself'! I was a child, a very young child, too! I wasn't intelligent enough to work this out! I had no resources to do anything but apologise and accept responsibility, all the time, for everything. I had no experience to know how wrongly I was being treated!

So I've been raised to dive in and rescue the Narcissist every time, no questions asked, no complaints allowed. And I'd better have done it with a smile and a good nature - I had no right to complain.

I still have trouble seeing where "help" ends and "responsibility" begins.

Resentment and Other Dead Emotions

There are certain feelings I won't allow myself to feel. All of them are 'negative' emotions, or at least, that's what I've been raised to believe them to be.

Resentment is dead. Regarding my NFriend in her 'conundrum' of epic proportions, I said to my psychologist: "I just don't want to start feeling resentful towards her!"

"Do you feel resentment for your friend?"

"No! No - I won't allow myself. It's not right to. She doesn't mean to...."

"Seriously? Why is it wrong to feel resentment?"

"..." I think my mouth opened and shut a few times. "I don't know. Because it's a negative emotion?"

"Resentment exists to tell you that you're being taken advantage of. That you're being used. Do you still think 'resentment' is a 'bad thing'? You've had resentment bred out of you so that you could be used over and over again by your mother without ever holding her to account. You weren't able to register complaint or sadness or anger, either, were you?"

"No. I always had to smile, too. I wasn't allowed to complain."

"Parts of you are dead. They've been killed off to better serve the purposes of your parents."

Ah. I think I knew this coming in, but it never hurts to hear it again straight from the lips of the man in the armchair. I have a feeling that future sessions are going to work to "resurrect" parts of me. I told him that I wish there was some "course I could take" that tells you the degree to which employment of 'bad emotions' is "acceptable"! Because even the slightest spark of resentment in me is something I feel very badly for, and I quickly snuff it out, ashamed of my perceived 'weakness'.

Insights of the DH: an Amputee Metaphor

After I returned home and could update the DH on the latest session, he gave me a perfect metaphor to describe my "void where parental love should have been that will never be filled" problem.

"It's as though you're permanently physically handicapped. You're missing a leg or something. So, where you are living in the metaphorical Rockies, with all its steep and rocky terrain, is not suitable for you because of your disability. It would make much more sense to move to the Prairies and walk along flat and even ground! You just have to make changes in order to make things easier on you, that's all."

I love my DH. Here I was freaking out that I'd always be an empty shell of a person, emotionally fragile and lacking resilience. (Again, note that I think what my NM would have me think!). How was I to be a good wife for the rest of my life? I certainly couldn't be a mother! If I'm this fragile, I'd be likely to lean upon my kids, the way my NM did, and screw them up and hurt them terribly! How am I going to cope with the bumps and bruises that come along with my choice of career path, either?

In short, how will I live?! (Playing right into the hands of NM! Way to go, QG's psyche!).

Adaptation. It's true that people who lose their legs, or their hands, can adapt. Life is harder for them, and much of society is designed with only able-bodied people in mind. But they can live good and full lives, with much therapy (physical, emotional) and the help of prostheses. They just have to make concessions. No mountain-climbing for the wheelchair-bound. And even then, there are those who train and strategize and do, in fact, conquer mountains! It's just much more difficult for them. And the achievement is that much more impressive!

People who lose a limb have to accept that it's gone. It sucks, it sucks real bad, but it is what it is. They must adapt and move on. (I thank God for an able body! I have been blessed, that is certain, and I see it when I think of the alternatives). Life is cruel and harsh, and none of us get out of it alive! We all must adapt to varying degrees in innumerable ways.

Maybe I just have a significant disability. Coming to grips with it is harsh. It's cruel. It makes me thankful I haven't lost an actual limb. But I have lost part of what I recognize as instrumental to being a "whole human". Isn't it funny that we all instinctively know what "wholeness" looks like? And why we are desperate to fill the voids in our lives. I also think faith is an essential component of wholeness, now that I've discovered it. So is hope, which I have in short supply.

I wonder what I can and can't do easily, with my disability. Going forward, what specific adaptations will I have to make? What paths should I choose? What situations should I avoid? I don't know how this emotional disability will manifest itself, really.

But I think I ought to try to cultivate "hope" and remember the inspirational videos of a paraplegic climbing, hands only, to the summit of a rocky mountain I couldn't even climb with all my working parts! Or the very poor people of this world, who manage to live in some of the most deplorable conditions on earth, and still find something to be thankful for and to laugh about!

I might have a huge hole in my mental landscape that can never be filled. But I suppose it doesn't mean I can't live my life, and well, and happily. I'll just have to adapt, and in time I'll probably forget it's even there. I'll get used to it. Every so often, I'm sure my disability will handicap me. But I'll get better and better at finding alternative paths to take. And I really ought to rely upon my faith in God more.

I once heard this in a sermon: "Someone said to me, "Christianity is a crutch! It's for the weak!". And I laughed and said, "You're absolutely right! It is a crutch! It is for the weak!" For you see, those who aren't weak really are - they just can't see it or haven't realised it yet!"

I think this is where the "consider suffering to be absolute joy!" stuff comes in (from the opening lines of the book of James) - if your weaknesses are never discovered, you're confidently going along down the wrong path with a bunch of disadvantages that are going to trip you up badly. Perhaps tripping early on down the wrong path, however painful it is, really is a blessing. How far down the wrong road has the Narcissist in your life travelled? How far gone are they? Can they even turn back? Can they reassess their whole lives? Can they change their ways? Outside of Divine Intervention, I think the answer must be "no".

Whether seen from the perspective of Christian faith or an agnostic view, we are all, all of us, truly blessed to have seen the TRUTH about our FOOs. No matter how much we suffer for knowing what we know, we are in fact BLESSED. We will not go down the same road our parents chose. We will not treat others as we have been treated. We will not allow our children to be victimized by emotionally ill adults.

I'm going to try to spend the rest of the week feeling THANKFUL for the realization that my parents are Narcissists, and for the knowledge that I have a crippling hole in my soul which will make my life difficult. No matter how hard it is, it's going to be different to the lives of my NParents. And I am thankful.

I'm going to break this cycle no matter what. I'm going to be the cripple who summits the mountain. I'm going to have to learn to rely upon others to help me here and there. Training starts today.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Welcome to Rock-Bottom!

by Quercus

This week's therapy appointment was hard on me. I am struggling through the crisis of a friend, one I've alluded to before, and it has used up all of the tiny amount of 'resilience' I still had left inside. I had another "psychic suicidal tsunami", only this time it wasn't triggered by happiness (referencing the previous post "If You're Happy and You Know it, Punish Yourself").

My friend is relying heavily on me to "rescue" her from a very, very sticky situation with major (and I mean major) implications for many individuals. She avoids all responsibility (all of it, when it is clearly almost entirely her fault!). She has more excuses for her situation than I thought possible. Everyone and everything is to blame, but not her - she's the innocent victim. Unfortunately, my brain can't wrap itself around that delusion. She's gone too far this time, and this situation has the potential of being severely damaging to many people. And though she seems to have orchestrated the whole regrettable scenario, she still pleads innocent! "You've got to help me!".

I have long suspected that my friend is a narcissist. I didn't mention this at my appointment, though; I just lamented my role in this whole affair, my limited power and resources, and yet how I'm suddenly made responsible for her entire life! (And not only by her, but by her awful narcissistic-and-then-some NM, who thanked me profusely for "taking care of" my friend the last time I had the misfortune of crossing her path. I insisted that I don't "take care of" my friend, I'm just her friend, but the NM insisted that I was the 'guardian angel' of her daughter, and always have been there for her, and always will be, and aren't I angelic...). What did my friend's NM just do there? Manipulation. Note the flattery, too. If you didn't see it the first time, read through it again. What she did was make me responsible for the welfare of her daughter. Why she did it was to let herself off the hook, which she has certainly done.

"Your friend is displaying some extremely narcissistic traits." my psychologist said. He rarely makes such pronouncements. I think he was worried that I might have missed the giant red flags, but I hadn't.

Over the course of the session, it dawned on me what's happening... my friend is the VICTIM. Her NM along with many other people are the PERSECUTORS. Me, the sucker, is being called upon at all hours of the day and night to RESCUE her.

Ah, that loathsome triangle again!

Here's the thing - I've been swapped into the PERSECUTOR role again already, back and forth from RESCUER, when I'm not able to rescue her (and sometimes within the same text message!). Which, for complex reasons that I'm beginning to understand, makes perfect sense: Narcissists who play the VICTIM don't WANT rescuing! They won't let you save them, and when you fail (which you invariably will; can't meet their high standards, and that bar will keep getting raised higher and higher if you do!), you'll be yet another PERSECUTOR to blame.

Narcissists can't (won't?) accept responsibility for their negative actions. And they don't want you to rescue them, 'cause it would make you 'better/stronger' than they are. All they want is exoneration and absolution, and to come out smelling of roses despite their misdeeds (or worse)!


But my therapy sessions are about ME, not my friend, and so I talked about how this made me feel, how I didn't think I could cope, and how all hope for my future was gone again.

For various complicated reasons, I found myself bawling into the night to my DH about how hard this whole 'journey' out of ACoN-hood was, and how I didn't think I could do it anymore.

I'll repent openly to you all and say that for a brief period, I considered going back to my NFOO.

I thought about how I was on "the inside", and I pictured a darkness and a faintly luminescent blue 'scaffolding', like you'd see at a construction site, filling that void. That scaffold, the cold, metal, empty framework, is my NFOO.

Then I envisioned just an emptiness inside, where the scaffold had been taken down. I realised that I had no 'structural rigidity' in me. Just a void. I imagined a fragile and hollow shell, like that of a sea urchin's.

The scaffold before was flimsy, and maybe 'radioactive' would be a good description. It was harming me in ways I didn't necessarily notice at first, but it was still something to lean on.

I wanted to take the coward's way out, briefly, and return to my NFOO. I could know that they'd never change and they'd always be toxic, but still find a way to survive, right? I could just accept the abuse in exchange for the delusion of perceived psychological integrity, even if the scaffold was only an illusion and there wasn't any actual support, but my brain didn't have to know that.......

Just the idea of having SOME SUPPORT was psychologically easier for me than removing it all so that there is NO SUPPORT in me. Nothing! What can I lean on? What will prevent me from caving in and breaking into a million pieces like a brittle hollow shell? (A hollow chocolate Easter bunny crushed in shipping was the other imagery I thought of).

I said I was scared. Massively scared. I didn't think I could go on! I thought I'd be crushed tomorrow, now that I had disassembled the NFOO's scaffolding in my mind. There was nothing left to hold me up! Even the ricketiest structure of their 'support scaffold', which burns and poisons, was still easier than nothing, NOTHING at all!

I have rarely seen my psychologist look so excited and engaged. This might have been one of my lowest points, and it seemed as if it was his happiest.

"This is a very important realisation. You have realised that where loving parents were supposed to be, you instead received a twisted metal framework. Removing that, there is nothing left. You will always have this void. Now you have reached the grieving; you will need to properly grieve that emptiness inside where love was supposed to be."

I'm not entirely convinced that this is a good thing. I'm glad someone is, because it feels awful to be perfectly frank. And dangerous. Really, really unstable and dangerous.

"But that is what your mother wants you to believe. These are her thoughts now. 'Stay with the family, despite the damage we cause, and you'll be fine. Leave the family and you'll never make it. You'll be cursed and empty for the rest of your life. Empty. Hollow. Alone. Vulnerable'. Do you see how she'd have you believe that?"

Yes. I do. It's hard for me to differentiate between my thoughts, and beliefs my NM implanted in me from my infancy. I didn't realise that my self-doubt was mostly put there by NM.

This is rock-bottom. This is where I start rebuilding from. I asked him what I could ever do to be able to "function" as a human being? I haven't got any resiliency left. I haven't got much hope at all to speak of. He said, and I will say it was unsettling:

"You'll never fill that void. It will always be there. Always."

I can't help but think that I need something to fill that void. "No one wants to parent me now that I'm a married woman in my thirties! Not even my MIL! I really need someone to parent me!"

"No one's going to, you're right. You missed that. You'll never get it."

(Is it just me, or is this NOT reassuring?!). "But what am I going to do? I can't function this way! Psychologically, I'm frail! I'm going to crack up and shatter! I need something to help me gain stability!"

"Well. I guess we'll just have to do good work here, then." he said with a smile. 

Sometimes I think he must be disappointed with my lack of faith in the process of therapy. I don't really know what the end-point of therapy is meant to be, or what it can accomplish. I do know it's saved my life, it's saved my sanity, and that I am immensely thankful for it. If it weren't for therapy, I couldn't have distanced myself to "Low Contact" with my NFOO. I wouldn't have had the strength, I really wouldn't have. I would have tried, had messy relapses, and just made a pig's ear of the whole thing. I'd be mired in their misery, and more aware of the reality around me (thanks to reading about NPD online, and reading ACoN blogs!), but just as incapable of getting myself out. I might have been worse off, in a way. I'd have lost the ignorance that was a protective factor to one who can't escape an NFOO.

There was more in this session, related to my involvement with my NFriend, that I think is worth sharing. But I'll follow that up in another post.

Right now, I'm at "rock-bottom". I have to grieve.

"Now you see that you can't go back - to go back to your family is death, and really, you were 'dead' before when you were with them."

(I had told him that when I was fantasizing about going back to the NFOO, retreating and surrendering, that I pictured myself committing suicide in various ways (variations on a theme), and interestingly, at my parent's house. Not me and my DH's place, but their house. I believe my mind, however conflicted, knows that going back means dying alone, miserably).

"But you also have realised that there is an emptiness in you that will never be filled. You see that your parents never filled that void and never will. Not only is it too late, you now see that they are incapable of filling that hole. So you must move onwards, away from them."

I'm throwing a little rock-bottom party here at my place today. In attendance - just me and my inner child (and my DH, when he's back from work). You're all invited (in spirit).

From this point on, QG can't go back. Before I wouldn't go back, but apparently now I cannot go back (says the shrink). From this point on, I only go forward. Bleakly, it seems. Forward with a great big emptiness inside of me.

I'm having a wake to mourn the love that never was. Raise a glass of cheer to me, or enjoy a piece of chocolate and think of your friend Quercus. I'll think of all of you, too. But mostly of the unconditional parental love that never was, and the great big hole I have received as an inheritance.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Comic: CactusGirl Has Had Quite Enough!

by Quercus

(In lieu of a written post today, I'll share another comic chronicling the journey of CactusGirl. One of these days I'll scan these in for better image clarity!)

(click images to enlarge)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Comic: CactusGirl Goes to Family Therapy

by Quercus

(Click images to enlarge)

Moral of the story: "If you go to counseling with a psychopath, I guarantee you'll regret it!" ~ Sister Renee Pittelli, citation here.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Comic: The Misadventures of CactusGirl

by Quercus

Please click to enlarge to full size.

A Wish Come True - Dreams

by Quercus

Thanks to Jessie's marvellous dream that I envied for its clarity and meaning, my subconscious mind decided to give a clear dream the very next night! I didn't actually remember it until I was reading the post I had just written, and the image popped into my mind....

It's still not as beautifully symbolic and as crystal clear as Jessie's, but as she said, it doesn't take Freud to unravel it, either!

In my dream, there was an enormous anaconda or python or something. It's face looked more like a lizard's, colourful and angular, but it was very clearly an enormous engorged snake. It looked like it had eaten a person (or several people, actually).

(I have to mention as an aside that a follow-up recommended YouTube video from the one I was watching on elephants involved a snake apparently eating a security guard in the Indian subcontinent. I didn't click to view it for obvious reasons. Urgh. That's probably where the snake in my dream with the engorged belly full of bodies came from! Yuck!).

In my dream, this giant snake was all entwined in the hedge that lines the side of my driveway. I was standing at my garage door or next to it, surveying the scene. A stupid opossum, this dirty, giant rat with matted damp fur, was stalking the fattened, digesting snake. Yes, a very stupid marsupial with the brains of diarrhea was attempting to eat the snake from the tail end.

I was scared of the snake. It's prudent to be frightened of anything that eats humans. But I didn't rush back inside, because I was almost lulled into a false sense of security; it had fed. And it had fed BIG TIME. This enormous reptile would probably have to stay there, entwined in the bushes, digesting for the next week at the very least. The energy out-put required just to move would be inefficient. I knew enough about snakes and other poikilotherms to be reasonably assured that the snake had ceased to be a real menace.

Still, the opossum was imbecilic. I saw it reach to nibble at the stumpy little tail-end of this great snake. I cringed. It was the stupidest thing I had ever seen.

The snake moved. Lugubriously but precisely. Its head (that of a lizard's more than a snake?) leered at me. I was scared. It trained its icy gaze at the opossum who hadn't the foresight to run. And with lightening speed, it lunged the 2 foot gap with the free non-engorged part of its body (its neck region) and its fangs pierced and scraped and poisoned the opossum.

It didn't eat the opossum - it had merely killed it. The awful monster just wanted it dead. What harm was a stupid marsupial going to do to a snake that weighed more than an automobile? And then, as the opossum died a gruesome, jerking death from poison, the snake decided to eat it anyway.

It was the worst thing I had seen. (I still have a horrendous mental image of this!). The opossum was alive enough to pathetically try to squirm out from between the flexible jaws of this gargantuan reptilian beast, but was so completely overpowered that it only served to delay the inevitable. The snake, despite being full from eating beyond its fill, still had room for one more stupid, harmless marsupial who, like me, had assumed that this snake would be pacified for quite some time. There was no more room inside it. But it turns out there is always room for opossum (the Jell-O of the snake diet?)....!

I don't remember what happened after that. The dream carried on elsewhere.

Before anyone decides to apply Freudian psychology to this, I am aware of a large snake being entwined in the bushes of my driveway as providing suitable fodder for sexual imagery! I don't quite think that's what this dream was about, however.

I've got to stop eating marshmallows before bed. This always happens!

Here's what I think this vaguely represents, though I'm open to alternative explanations:
  • The snake/reptile is my mother. She's devoured me, or parts of me, or me and other people. 
  • I don't fear my mother enough. I let my guard down when I believe her to be pacified after having fed on someone (or me) previously. The danger, however, remains.
  • I think I might also be the opossum. Or it's an aspect of me. I'm not clear on this. I think it might be my subconscious's representation of my attempts to do battle with her - I'm not fierce, I'm kind of pathetic, I'm sneaking up on her from behind, awaiting the opportune moment . . . and it's all quite stupid and I'm going to be killed. And then maybe engulfed, too. 
Anyone want to play dream-analyst? Go for it! I promise not to be offended - I already see myself as a mangy opossum, what could be worse? 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Game You Cannot Win



"How I'm Still Holding onto the Fantasy that I can Change my NParents"

by Quercus

I've made reference before to a game that cannot be won (the game you, the scapegoat adult child, plays with your narcissistic parent(s) - I'm certainly not the first person to characterize this as a game, I am simply borrowing the metaphor here!), and I wanted to expand upon it a little because my awesome shrink had some fantastic insight on the matter.

There's some prerequisite reading for this post, so I'd like to refer you to The Pathological Triad post first, in case you aren't familiar with the roles of Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer. If you think you're the victim, think again! In this game, you're positioned anywhere but there!

A post on Jonsi's blog (Open Your Eyes and See) contained an image of a woman burying her head in her hands and the caption:

"Playing the victim has many advantages. For example: you're much less likely to be held accountable."

And it's such a good caption, it inspired me to write this post.

At my weekly psychologist's appointment, I learned the following: though I had long since accepted that my parents cannot (WILL NOT) change, I apparently haven't given up trying to modify their behaviour.

I am simply using another tactic. Where I have accepted that they will not change their selves (check!), I have failed to accept that I can't somehow construct a situation in which I can force them to modify their behaviour toward me while still maintaining their original diseased personalities.

Ah. He caught me. I didn't realise this was a problem, too.

He points out that I'm still feeling responsible to change the situation for the better. That I'm still wracking my brains trying to engineer a suitable social construct in which it becomes possible for me to deal with them on a regular or even reduced basis (Low Contact). And not just for me, either, but for their benefit as well. I'm still taking on the role of architectural engineer in my family, feeling it's my responsibility to go back to the drafting table (or AutoCad!) again and again until I get it right for all involved.

I'm apparently "desperately searching for that lever to pull or button to press" to enact some sort of reluctant 'truce' between the army of my parents and me.

Switching metaphors, what I want, truthfully, is for them to accept that the game has changed. New rules. Strictly enforced boundaries. If I don't like how they are playing my game (I've taken control, you see), then I will walk. Forever.

I want to use the threat of my leaving and 'cutting them out of my life' (which I have already been accused of, ha!) to modify their behaviour sufficiently so I can tolerate any sort of superficial relationship between us.

Q of RumblestripQ recently said somewhere that there are two kinds of ACoNs: "those who have gone No Contact, and those who will".

I didn't believe it. I also don't like all-or-nothing black-and-white statements like these out of principle (for starters, my EF uses them all the time because he believes they make him sound wise. They don't. And secondly, there are very few things in the universe, particularly in human experience, that exist as dichotomies (either one or the other, without overlap). Ironically, my last post featured abuse of this very same tautology I'm complaining about now, so what do I know?!).

But as of today, I'm starting to think that this rigid statement might have significant validity, though I will make the concession that people and the relationships between people are too difficult to define so easily (again, my last post completely ignores this sentiment, so think what you will!).

The reason for my softening up to the "No Contact, or will go No Contact" logic is that my shrink supports the notion (at least, in my case he does):

"You have no alternative to 'playing the game'. You either keep playing the role of Persecutor and Rescuer, or you QUIT."

Quit = No Contact. Forever.

In my family, my NParents are firmly in the role of Victim. They will not budge from it. For anything. I've given examples in the past of heinous crimes committed against my person at a young age (by someone other than my parents), and they have still found a way to permanently embed themselves in the role of Victim and me as Persecutor and Rescuer in even this extreme instance. (I'm the Persecutor for "making them feel guilty" by not simply forgetting about being raped. I'm also the Rescuer because if I want Mummie to stop crying, I'd better not tell anyone about what happened to me and just plain forget about it!). If that's not sick and evil, I don't know what is!

I said to my Psychologist, "I feel as if I'm beating my head against a brick wall!" I don't remember exactly what the context of that was, but he ran with the statement and said this:

"That's a perfect metaphor - you are repeatedly injuring yourself in order to try to bring about change in them!"

Oh. I really saw it differently. I saw it as me "putting the ball in their court". It's up to them whether or not they want to play by the rules. If they want a relationship with me, they have to play nicely. What's so bad about this? Doesn't this put me in a position of relative power? Aren't I safe up here?

Well apparently not. Here's the thesis:

Whenever I interact with my FOO, in any context, to any extent, I'm "in the game". I am then forced to oscillate between the roles of Persecutor and Rescuer at the whim of my NM, who calls the shots. I can try to wrest control of the game from her, but I won't have support of the other players. NM will always control how the game is played. And I will forever be either the Persecutor or the Rescuer.

I can be murdered. Raped. Defrauded. Beaten to a pulp. Horsewhipped. Mocked. Run down. Slandered. It doesn't matter what happens to me, and my innocence or relative involvement will be unimportant (Manslaughter, Aggravated Assault, Murder in the First - it doesn't affect my lot what my abuser is charged with). I will NEVER be afforded "victim status" in my family.

Ironically, I've been accused time and time again of playing the victim myself. I'm sure I've tried. The reason why it was pointed out and I was punished for it was simple:

My NM is the only TRUE Victim in our FOO! She alone may sit upon the Throne of Victimhood.

And why? Well it's exactly as Jonsi's picture says - there are benefits to sitting in that position. It can never be your fault, at least, it can't be completely your fault. Someone else must share the blame! My NM has done so many evil and heartless things to me in my lifetime, but it's never been her fault at all. I always, ALWAYS brought these abuses down on myself. Even when I was a toddler, apparently. I was the Persecutor when I was born. I wrecked her figure. I left scarring. I gave her post-partum depression. I prevented her from getting proper rest. I caused her boobs to sag. As I got older, I was still the Persecutor for all these reasons (and more and more by the day!), but I also got the added responsibility of being the Rescuer.

"Your mother is crying her heart out in her bedroom because of you! You're breaking her heart!"

I remember clearly hearing this on one particularly confusing instance when I was eight. Beats me what I did - I was an angel of a kid (ask any of my teachers!), and I was understandably terrified to do anything to hurt anyone, least of all my emotionally fragile mother!

I had to lose weight to stop my mother from dying from a broken heart. Wear the clothes she needed me to wear. Brush my hair better. Clean up the house more. Smile more in public - make my mother look better to others! Tell people I was happy no matter what!

"They think I'm a bad mother!" she'd wail, running dramatically down the hall to her room and slamming the door shut to sob herself to sleep and starve herself by refusing to eat. EF would come down hard on me, always. Spankings, but more typically angry dressings-down in front of my younger siblings, who soon learned to blame me for killing their mother.... She's still alive and quite well today, I ought to mention!

So what am I still doing that's causing me pain and landing me in the Psychologist's office every week, crumpled and sobbing? I'm RESCUING. Oh yes, I'm rescuing.

I'm brainstorming. I'm running projected models through my brain looking for design flaws. I'm building mock-ups. I'm structurally engineering a new family dynamic that will work for everyone and which will finally let me off the hook of having to abandon them forever and never look back!

And are they doing any work at all? Are they truly interested in helping me out, as they claim?

My Psychologist gave me this look that makes me feel like he's sizing me up for a straitjacket, and said, slowly and quietly,

"What does history tell you about your parents? When you were small, and the problems between you far less complex, did they try to modify their behaviours then? Did they send you to a child psychologist? Or did they read books on parenting and try different techniques on you? Did they sit down and talk with you about your feelings, ever? Did they, in short, ever do anything to suggest that they were interested in putting any effort in whatsoever to your relationship? To your emotional well-being?


Do you think it's reasonable to assume that they will be willing to concede at all in any respect now? Is it reasonable to expect that they will be interested in change, even in the slightest? Compromise? Open to trying something new? Even if it costs them nothing, will they try it?"

The answer is clearly no.

Not only are my NM and EF "lifers" in the Victim role, they also refuse to allow me to rescue them after having cast me as Rescuer. They don't want me to succeed! They don't want to change at all, and by rescuing them, I'd be uprooting them from their beloved sinkhole of victimhood! They probably don't even want to give me the satisfaction of knowing that I helped them, even if they wanted a particular change!

My NParents often say that I "have to help [them]". That I "need" to "help them" to be happy or understand or whatever. But in all my many, many ill-conceived or even carefully planned attempts to "help them", they have dug in their feet and refused to budge. I've tried pulling, pushing, yanking, levering, platforming, dragging, dead-lifting, you name it. They could climb out themselves, but they don't want to.

I eventually have to give up. I am sad and defeated. And this makes them happy, so for awhile all is peaceful. I'm miserable and they've succeeded.

But then the unexpected happens - I start to get happy again. Other aspects of my life are satisfying, and I start smiling. It is now when they call me Persecutor, cry out that they are being done wrong, that I am "killing them". Once they hook me, they call on me to Rescue them.

And around and around it goes.

"Your mother is not as innocent or as uninvolved as she makes herself out to be. She is quite active in all of this, though she masquerades as the helpless victim."

Never forget that the best 'traps' are the ones that don't look like traps. Think of a someone feigning an injury to draw you close, only to find out that they are bigger and stronger and have it in mind to kill you! The real bad guys play upon the pity of the good guys. The humanitarianism of the good guy is often their downfall. N's know this. This is how they exploit our admirable moral strengths and make them our weaknesses.

And so I come to a close in this post. Here's the take-home messages:
  1. If you have ANY relationship at ALL with your FOO, you're still in the game. 
  2. If you're sick of the game and don't want to be put in the impossible position(s) anymore, you have no other viable option but to go NO CONTACT*.
  3. Your admirable traits and qualities, what makes you different from the Narcissist, is what the Narcissist uses against you. Because you aren't a Narcissist yourself, your only option again is to remove yourself from the game. Quit and go NO CONTACT.
  4. Don't ignore the past. Learn from it. Have they ever attempted to change anything for your benefit? Ever? No? Then don't be naive - as they get older and more stuck in their ways, they become less and less likely to change. If they couldn't do it when it was relatively easy to do so (when you were an easily manipulated and innocent child), you can bet they won't be able to now!
  5. Don't make the mistake of thinking your NParents are emotionally crippled and dying of broken hearts. It's just a trap - they're feigning injury to draw you in. Feeling guilty about not helping them? Send through a third-party the contact information of a psychologist in their area. If they truly need help, they'll know to get it. The truth is that they know they don't need help. It's a bluff. Keep up the poker face - don't fold!
*this reminds me of Suicide. Suicide is virtually NEVER about dying, but is about 'ending the pain'. The human brain comes up with the idea of suicide when it feels it is trapped and there are no other options. If you are feeling suicidal, tell someone (1 800 SUICIDE, or a friend, or better yet a mental health professional. Tell everyone you trust. Get support). But also know that the impulse of suicide exists because your unconscious mind sees no other escape. There is an escape. It's "No Contact". And if you can't go "No Contact" today, not to worry. Get a therapist. Get a support group. Start a blog! Comment here! Get the support you need to gain enough strength. Then you will have the option of "No Contact". The glorious, undreamed-dream of freedom from the oppressive psychic regime of your NFOO! Dream the impossible dream - it's not impossible, it just takes a little preparation!

(Updated): I wanted to add a link to a website that I first saw Caliban's Sister draw attention to. It's an author by the name of Demian Yumei, and she writes about all sorts of useful NPD topics, including this one, Feigning Sorrow. My NM does this, and I would have worked this reference into the body of this post had I heard about it in time.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Sixteen "Myers Briggs" Personality types and ACoNs

by Quercus

Do ACoNs have similarities in their MBTIs? Or are we as diverse as the population at large?

I'm actually quite interested in having this question answered, assuming enough folks know what their MBTI or "type" is! In my line of work, I've taken the quiz half a dozen times or so, so I'm guessing others will be familiar with it.

Based on Jungian psychology, some clever folks decided to shoe-horn the whole of the human population into sixteen 'personality types' (not 'personality disorders', mind you! We all know that's a very different thing!).

Now normally, being a skeptic, I roll my eyes at this sort of thing. But time and time again, this particular 'system' has actually proven itself to be quite accurate. And I honestly think there's some value in knowing your 'type', even if you feel it's high on the hogwash meter, because if you haven't come across MBTIs yet, you probably will (I can save you taking a 45 minute test through your company if you memorize 4 letters!).

Here are the relevant links if you don't know what I'm talking about, or you haven't figured out your type:

Rather than paying to take the full assessment (or perhaps your company would wish to foot the bill? Many do!), you can search for a "free Myers Briggs test". There are a few sites out there, and I recently took a quick and dirty 20-question only test and it generated the same result as the fully licensed assessment did earlier.

The test runs like a dichotomous key (this or that, this or that, etc.). It ultimately determines if you are Introverted or Extroverted, Sensing or Intuitive, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perceiving.

I recently re-did the test with a group of people and my type, which apparently is represented by an estimated 6-8% of the population, was grossly over-represented (40% or so?! Small group, so the confidence interval isn't good, but...!). And it got me to thinking - do ACoNs follow the distribution of the population at large? Or are we skewed towards one or more 'types'?

I'm an ENFP - what are you?
Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.

Sound like me? I think so! AFFIRM ME, ha ha! "Confidently proceed based on the patterns I see"? Hmm. Perhaps in all aspects of my life with the exception of my NParents. Then I just shake in my boots and come here looking for affirmation from all of you!

Please participate if you know your MBTI! Feel free to post/email anonymously if you prefer: acon(DOT)anon(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A Follow-Up to "Ignored, then Engulfed...."

by Quercus

I've been away from the keyboard (AFK, as Sheldon would say!), so I was a little behind on posting comments (apologies to those stuck wondering what happened to their comments they submitted!).

SCW had posted something that spurred me to write a quick post (on 'Ignored, then Engulfed, then Ignored, then Engulfed'). Being an "Ignored" type of ACoN sounds to me to be a dreadfully bleak and lonely existence, and often times there appears to be great differences to the experiences of "Engulfed" (or "Enmeshed") ACoNs.

I'll post my reply to SCW's original comments here, rather than rewriting it again:
I *think* I can relate to the 'ignored' stance of ACoNism, but I don't want to profess to know your situation because it really is different to mine in many ways.

But recently I got another message from my FOO saying that they understand that I don't want a "close relationship" with them. I laughed sarcastically when I read it - there is nothing I wanted more than to be CLOSE to my parents! But they NEVER gave me the opportunity! They've ignored me, me the person, me with the feelings and thoughts and hopes and dreams, ASSIDUOUSLY for DECADES!

They want to be CLOSE (as in proximity), but as for a real, true, loving relationship? They either don't have that capacity, or they're not interested in investing in it.

So yeah - they're right in that I DO NOT want to be 'close' by their definition. There was nothing so painful as to be completely engulfed by my NM and utterly, utterly invisible at the same time. That was the worst part for me. That's when the tide started to turn and I started to really, seriously dislike her. The ultimate betrayal - she'll take everything, she'll invade every where, and she'll still look right past you and start her own conversation when you're in the midst of baring your soul to her!
There really was nothing so bitter, so painful to me than when I willingly (and unknowingly - these were the days before I had learned about NPD!) allowed my life to be completely absorbed by an intermittently ignoring mother who had little to no interest in my life until this time, only to have her be as distant and cold as ever. Cold. Disinterested. Jealous. Distracted.

It was as if she was trying on a pair of my shoes and my glasses and a few articles of clothing and 'trying on' my life for fit. She had no interest in me, me the human being, that is. Just my life. She wanted my life. She wanted to occupy my life, but there was no room, still, for me in it.

This was when the proverbial tide started to turn, leading me inexorably to desperate searches on the internet to explain her hurtful and bizarre behaviour. I can't tell you how utterly invalidating, dismissive and cruel it was to finally have the full and dedicated interest of my ice-cold mother, only to discover that she still had ZERO regard for me. I bared my soul to her. I told her everything (oh, the things I regret sharing!). Everything! All my fears, quirks, hopes, dreams, sex life details, work life details, friendships, shopping habits, everything! I gave it all away, ALL OF IT, in the hopes that she would love me like a mother should.

Did she? No. It wasn't a dramatic scene to bear witness to, I'm sure. But my soul died a little on that day. And then it decided that it couldn't go on like this anymore.

I wanted to share this quick reflection for any ACoN who would be delighted to suddenly 'matter' to their ice-parents; be very careful for what you wish for! It might come true, and in this case, it'll come true in a way you really could do without. There was nothing worse for me than getting my hopes up that my NM and I could be 'close'. I wasn't asked to hand over everything to her - I did it all willingly, naively, stupidly believing her motives to be . . . well, for lack of a better word, 'normal'.

These aren't normal people. Never forget that, and it might prevent you from falling into a trap best left side-stepped. Spend time with them if you like, but know that they're never, ever going to be 'there for you' the way you need them to be. I think if they could, they would have by now.

Maybe there aren't so many differences between being ignored and being engulfed. Superficially the differences are many, but at the core of the NParent is the same distant, icy persona that does not care about you. They will 'care' about you to the extent that anyone glancing upon your relationship will not immediately notice glaring voids and holes. And sometimes they are so rotten they won't even bother keeping up appearances. Either way, they don't truly care about you and they probably never will. A tragic fact, but one worth hanging on to. It might prevent you from being horribly deceived, as I was.

Monday, 12 November 2012

If You're Happy and You Know It, Punish Yourself

by Quercus

Last week's trip to the psychologist met with an interesting revelation. I was recounting my waves of despair, the debilitating 'break-downs' I occasionally have to endure. They seem to come out of nowhere for the most part, and I can't do much to stop them.

I've forgotten much of what he said (of course! Mind like a sieve!), but I wanted to know where these mental tsunamis were coming from.

He said the following:
"You cannot allow yourself to be happy. You have much to be happy for, but you cannot permit yourself to see it as such. When you do feel happy, you quickly punish yourself. You cause your own misery. It isn't a conscious decision to do so, but you have learned that when you are happy, your mother will hurt you. Because this happened chronically throughout your childhood, you had to adapt - so you punish yourself, you make yourself miserable, and you avoid having your mother hurting you. It was more tolerable for you to be hurt by yourself than it was to deal with your mother intentionally hurting you."
So I said, "Aha! This makes sense! So . . . all I have to do is allow myself to feel happy!" ("Yes."). "So if I focus on all the positives in my life, spend the rest of the day counting my blessings, it'll be good for me, won't it? I'll just let myself be happy!"

And he said,
"Oh no. No, you can't feel happy! If you do, you're going to drown yourself in another tidal wave of despair!"
It turns out that whenever I feel happy, part of me kicks in to induce misery. It's an automated response. So I said, "Really? Now that I know where they're coming from, can't I simply prevent those thoughts?"

He said,
"But you can't. You don't have control over that part of your mind. It's unconscious, it's practically independent of your thoughts."
So I said, "Well, what can we do, then? If I can't do anything about it, isn't it hopeless then? If I can't challenge that part of my mind, then will I be forced to endure it forever?!"

It was a long conversation after that, but the nuts and bolts of it were:
  • Therapy allows me to become aware of the unconscious part of my mind. My psychologist holds up a metaphorical mirror to get me to see parts of me I don't have access to. A different analogy would be that he points out the keyholes, and I peek through to catch glimpses of my unconscious mind from behind locked doors.
  • When I become aware of it, slowly it will move towards the conscious part of my mind (this takes time, and isn't something I logically understand, but it is something I can feel, in a manner of speaking). To carry on with the keyhole analogy, I eventually craft the appropriate keys and open the doors.
  • Once it crosses over into the conscious realm of my mind, I'm then able to challenge it, battle it, slay it, that sort of thing. Once I can open the doors, I can move about in the space behind the doors (it becomes accessible - I can interact with the space). Now I can start straightening things out, rearranging objects, changing the space to suit me.
I guess this is why therapy is such a 'process'. It's not easy, either emotionally or practically speaking. But it's worth it.

Healing Daughter commenting on a previous post spurred me to write today. It was her comment that said:
"I will say it takes years to correct your mother's voice, and even now, 13 months later I can still hear my mother's voice sometimes clear as day, but the difference is slapping those critical remarks down."
It does take time to quash the negativity. And the weirdest thing is, though we hear our abusive parent's voice, it's really our own minds telling us these things, over and over again. We have been conditioned to do so. We are doing the dirty-work of the narcissistic parents for them.

In my case, it appears to be going on behind locked doors in my mind. I have to break-in and and stop the despair-wave-generating machines. It just takes a little while to find the keyholes in the dark (or am I blind?), with the help of my psychologist leading me to them. Then we have to work together to jimmy the locks or carve a key to fit. In the meanwhile, I have to ride out the storms that my unconscious mind generates.

Ironically, it appears that my unconscious mind prefers injuring me to allowing my mother to injure me. I've been a self-punishing child for years. This is the insidious legacy that the abusive, narcissistic parent leaves us. A legacy of self-hatred, self-flagellation to keep us where they want us: beaten down, never to rise higher or level to themselves. The Narcissist has to be the 'top dog', the 'alpha male or female', the creme de la creme. They gave birth to us to be small versions of them. They did not bargain for us growing up to become more than what they are, or even equal to themselves in stature. That's where all the trouble lies - if only we could remain small, helpless, dependent and attached. Then we might have been loved, albeit conditionally. It was an impossible role for us to fill.

An admission - I didn't want to grow up. Not only did being a grown-up look miserable to me, I also knew that the more I grew and learned and developed, the less I was loved.

Do you know what my NM said to this? That I must have enjoyed my childhood SO MUCH that I didn't want to grow up.

The truth was I hated my childhood, and feared my life was only about to get worse. And I was right.

There is good news, though. It seems that, once I distance myself from her, I can break-in to parts of my own mind, with the help of a good and competent shrink, and reprogram the brainwashed parts. Now, for the first time in my life, I can legitimately look forward to a brighter future.

I would like to encourage all readers to seek good and appropriate therapy. It's never too late for therapy, and it may help you more than you could ever realise. Remember to shop around for the right fit! Just as the wrong sized shoe isn't helpful, a poor match for you in the therapist department is going to be a wasted investment and a source of discomfort.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Anatomy of the Written Narc Guilt-Trip



"How To Spot an Emotional Forgery"

by Quercus

The thing about Narcissists is, bless them, they always assume they're smarter than you or I. They think that their words are magical, their sentiments infalliable, their 'truths' irrefutable, and that no one else reading their letter, email or text, will side with you, 'the guilty party'.

Narcissistic Parents know how to manipulate you so deftly, that they make the mistake that the grown adult mind, no matter how disadvantaged by their 'parenting', will continue to swallow their tripe willingly. Many estranged parents (who congregate the shady recesses of internet forums dedicated to their own absolution and subsequent deification), firmly believe they still have the ability to make you grovel at their feet, given the appropriate 'motivation' to do so (blackmail, guilt-trip, unvarnished threats).

Undoubtedly, you've been on the receiving end of such communiques yourself. But if you haven't, there are some shining examples of particularly stunning delusional-estranged-NPD-parent letters out there - Upsi's blog contains the most haunting one of all in my opinion (I'll warn you - it wasn't addressed to me, but it still gives me nightmares), as well as the self-congratulatory and venomous rants by various spiteful readers of her blog (this post on weird search strings by estranged parents is a good one, too!).

A fellow blogger who posts privately (Pandora Viltis) dug up this fetid piece of "literature" from The Guardian's Letters section - the quotations are deliberate; you'll see why if you read the frightening missive).

So I decided that I'd like to 'map out' how one of these little nuggets coming from "a loving parent" (cough cough) generally presents itself.

1. Location, location, location!

If you'd like to be sure of the veracity of the incendiary-device in the form of a 'harmless letter', consider first its method of delivery. These hate-bombs are almost always sent right over your established, protective personal boundaries, like grenades lobbed into a trench. They will almost certainly contain an opening line constructed in this manner:

"I am aware that you have erected a boundary. However, I am actively and deliberately subverting it/ignoring it/refusing to acknowledge your right to erect one."

Sometimes these letters are slipped under the door or through the mail slot (that's a double-whammy; you've asked them to leave you alone, and not only do they communicate with you against your clear instructions, they also violate your physical boundaries, too). Sometimes they arrive at your workplace, either in person to talk, or just to drop off a letter so you'll find it awaiting you on your desk. Again, the secondary message is, "You can't shut me out - my placement of the letter here proves my capabilities. You're in over your head - surrender!"

If you've gone to the extremes of "No Contact" like the poor, estranged daughter in The Guardian's anonymous letter (of having a child in secret, of refusing to open the front door for 3 hours - one can't help but wonder if the newspaper-printed letter came after a restraining (barring) order, and was the NM's last ditch effort to legally communicate and threaten her daughter - it was anonymous after all!), then sure, newspapers, blogs, sky-writing are all on the table. As the creepy stalker mother wrote as a last line ("I will see you!"), they may never take 'no' for an answer. You WILL hear their voice!

Worried? Don't be. This is why restraining orders ('barring orders' in the UK) exist. It's a pain in the butt, it costs time (and money, and a lawyer in some cases) and involves documentation and paperwork, but they exist for good reason. Life is short, money comes and goes - I can't think of a better investment myself. What is the price of peace after all? Not cheap, but worth every penny!

When in doubt, call the Police. Every time the Police are involved, there is documentation and an incident report. You will need all the documentation you can find to get a restraining order. Keep all emails, letters, and ask your neighbours if they will be willing to sign the back of any hand-delivered letters and date them if they saw the offending party on your premises - you now have a documented witness, and this will help. It sucks, I hear you, but it's better than not sleeping at night, thinking your NParent's going to jimmy your front door and steal your child, or kill you in your sleep, or simply just walk right into your kitchen and make themselves a cup of tea.

2. "I've Suffered Terribly - I'm the Victim, not You."

This is my favourite bit, because I've yet to see a communication from an 'estranged parent' that does not leap to this tactic at some point in the letter or email. They'll expound on their pain that you've caused seemingly endlessly, often with examples, i.e. "I had to go to the Mother-Daughter career day alone!", or "Mrs Smith asked about you, and I burst into tears and had to say that you had cut me out of your life!", or "I am being denied the joys of being a grandmother to MY grandchild" (note that it's always MY grandchild, not 'a grandchild', or 'what should be my grandchild', but what already is, in their mind, rightly their PROPERTY. Like you are!). And often they'll throw in one of the following little "extras" to make you feel sorry for them:
  • "My parent died when I was young!" (with the secondary implication that you clearly can have no idea of real grief on the subject of parents compared to them, or that you'd appreciate your parent if you weren't so stupid because they won't be with you forever, and you'll be sorry on that day!).
  • "Your father/mother/other parent abused me terribly - I sacrificed everything for your good!" (this is an especially evil one, because it demonizes your other parent (perhaps unfairly), and it also implies that it was your fault that they suffered! This is not the case - no loving parent would see this scenario in that particular light. A beaten mother who loved her child would never burden the child with the knowledge that she suffered for the good of her children; she'd be overwhelmed with relief that she was able to do something positive, to take them to safety, and would probably blame herself (perhaps unfairly) for allowing her children to be put in harm's way in the first place. She wouldn't be throwing her victimhood in the face of what she viewed as a great blessing, her precious child that she wished she had done better for!).
  • "You have no idea what it was like growing up in MY generation!" (this is the lamest one of all! The human race has existed for how many millenia? No, I'm sorry - it's never been okay to abuse your children. There have always been 'natural consequences' for poor behaviour, and just because your parent doesn't wish to experience 'natural consequences' doesn't make their behaviour correct in any paradigm! Besides, you too grew up in the 'same culture' as your parents, and your friend's parents, and you had teachers who were in 'your parent's generation', as well as neighbours and other members of the community. Since we are not Neanderthals, we have also been blessed with a long enough lifespan to have three or four generations of family alive during our childhood. Don't buy the 'my generation was different' malarky. You would have a very good sense of what was acceptable and what was not in the society you matured in. You know well enough what it was like, culturally, for your parent as well as yourself. Don't let them deceive you. You were there, too).

3. "You were Happy, We were Close, We Used to Have it All."

This little ploy is one of the easier ones to see through. Here are some general examples of how this typically is presented:
"When you were a child, you used to love me."
"We were so close - we were intimately connected, we shared everything until you just up and left!"
"You happily did _____. You used to like _______. You once told me that you _______."
This is gaslighting, and once you've learned to see it, it becomes difficult not to. How do you avoid gaslighting (apart from NOT COMMUNICATING WITH THE PERPETRATOR)? Easy - just turn every 'statement' they make into a question.

Picture your own imaginary psychotherapist (or envision your current therapist, if you're currently in therapy, which is ideal and recommended!). Ask yourself the statements as questions:
"Hmm. When you were a child, did you love your mother?". Ask any obvious follow-up questions, and answer truthfully to the unseen psychotherapist in your mind. Did you? No? Not really? Sometimes? Why? Why not? Can you think of an example to illustrate this? How about another?
"Were you 'closer than close' with your NParent? Did they really know the real you? Did you share everything with them, and did you know that you could tell them anything with impunity? Did they accept you as you were?" Ask follow-ups, as before!
"Were you happy to talk to her on the phone last year? Were you really looking forward to Sunday dinners at her place? Were you so excited to tell her about something, or did she force it out of you? Were you sharing willingly, or did you feel obligated to hand over the information she pressed you for? How did you feel when you got off the phone?" And keep asking questions, follow-up.
And that's how to avoid gaslighting. If they aren't twisting the facts, or projecting onto you what they WANT you to think, then your answers to the statement-turned-questions should fit fairly well together. What if they don't? What if you didn't ever feel loved by your mother? What if there were occasions when you really hated your mother? What if you've never felt 'close' to your mother at all, and that you've never been able to share anything, and she never listened to a word you said, and she completely wrote you off that time you were dumped by your boyfriend and were devastated and desperately needed just the tiniest show of real affection? What if she was closer-than-close to one of your siblings, but NEVER to you? And what if just seeing her caller-ID on the phone's display caused your stomach to turn and your anxiety to rise and your blood to pound in your ears? And what if you used to intentionally book another appointment or event on Sundays just to avoid having to attend her dinners?

Chances are that your NParent is 'spin-doctoring' and rewriting history to support an assertion that they suspect isn't true. They need you to believe that you used to love them, and love being with them, and that you once were able to trust your NParent implicitly. They know it's not true, so they're trying to change history, because it's easier for them if these statements were true.

4. How Your Estrangement Has Affected Them (with No Interest in How YOU are Affected!)

I also like this one, though it's harder to see. This is a "Read-Between-the-Lines" component; it is blatantly a self-serving moan and groan about how they are being mistreated by you, and how their life is worse because of what you're doing. Blah, blah, blah, "POOR ME!".

The kicker is what they are NOT saying - it's an omission of you and your feelings.

An excerpt from "Narcissistic Mother" (Therapist Michelle Piper), with my emphases:
Narcissistic mothers are incapable parents. It may be hard to do, but you need to accept the fact you never had a healthy mother. Emotionally healthy mothers put their children’s needs and care before their own. They show empathy and give proper praise to their children for the good deeds they do.
Functional mothers care. Narcissistic mothers care too, but only about themselves.
A truly loving parent would sincerely be seeking to understand what's happening for you, and how they can assist you. I imagine something along the lines of, "I will not contact you, as per your wishes. If ever you wish to reconnect, here is how you can reach me. I will be delighted to hear from you any time. I wonder what I have done to have driven you away. I worry that I have done wrong - that I should have been more supportive and emotionally available to you during the divorce. I think about that fight we had - it was silly, I was wrong. I hope one day you will forgive me. Contact me any time you wish - I will always love you regardless. Be careful on your journey through life, take good care of yourself, and I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for. Be safe. Love, (Parent)."

Now obviously that's an idealized pipe-dream of mine, but you get the gist. "I wish I had been kinder to you.", or "I regret blowing up at you that time at Aunt Sal's." or, "I hope this 'break' from seeing me will help you to get the healing you need. I know it must've been a hard decision for you to make, and I respect your right to do so. Take good care of yourself - you are a wonderful person and you deserve to be happy."

Note that nothing like this is said, anywhere, in the letter. Why not? It was no skin off my teeth to just type it up now, a total work of fiction! Couldn't they just say it, even if they don't really mean it? Well thankfully no, you wouldn't want to be lied to, but the reason it's a "NO" is because it would never occur to them to do such a thing! You deserve nothing! You don't get sympathy! Your complaints are baseless! Which leads me to number five....

5. "Tell Me What I Did Wrong So I Can Fix It!"

As if! As if you, at this point in your life, haven't shouted the answers to this question at them until you were hoarse, tear-streaked and verging on the suicidal. They didn't listen to you, EVER, and they sure as hell won't listen to you now! You can try to tell them, but believe me, you'll soon wish you hadn't!

"Tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it" = "Give me the facts of your case, and I'll blow holes right through them all!"

They don't want to know what they can do to 'fix' anything! They've never been interested in helping you, and now your boundaries have got them stark raving mad at you! Do you really think today is the day they'll be reasonable? Logic says otherwise, doesn't it?

Think of this line as an invitation to stand trial in a courtroom. The prosecutor looking to put you away for good, has in a very friendly voice asked you to tell them (and the court) what reasoning you have behind your actions.

Do you think the prosecutor is going to accept your claims? Or are they going to try their damnedest to destroy your case and leave you a crying wreck on the witness stand? Don't fall for this - DO NOT JADE (Justify-Argue-Defend-Explain). You're going up against the most manipulative person you can think of, and one you have an emotional attachment to. It's not worth it. Don't respond. There is NO SINCERE EFFORT HERE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SITUATION. If there was, they will have already speculated on your point of view, and will, in all likelihood, have apologised just in case they had done wrong. Which is point number six....

6. There isn't a GENUINE Apology Anywhere in the Letter.

For more on sussing out what a 'real apology' is versus a 'meaningless apology' or 'non-apology', I will refer you to these excellent articles and posts (be sure to read them!):

Luke 17:3 Ministries - Meaningful versus Meaningless Apologies 
Anna Valerious ("Narcissists Suck") - Post-Mortem on a Non-Apology
Anna Valerious ("Narcissists Suck") - The Last Incarnation of the Non-Apology
(highly recommend reading all of Anna's articles under the topic of "Non-Apologies")

The worst are the fake apologies, which often have the following structure:
  • "I'm sorry if you think/perceived _______."
  • "I'm sorry you think I'm such an awful parent."
  • "I'm sorry about ______, but (in my defense), _________"
  • "I'm sorry that you feel _________".
Note that they haven't owned up to their mistake, they haven't named it, and if they do, then they dismiss it or defend it or turn it around so you were somehow also to blame. BLAME is the key to the fake apology or the semi-apology; it's very nearly an apology, until they shirk the responsibility of their actions on you (or maybe someone else). There's no real contrition here. They aren't taking full responsibility for their actions - they don't think they deserve to.

There are other examples - be sure to familiarize yourself with them! Ironically, the 'dark forces' of the estranged parent movement have gotten a hold of Sister Renee's "Meaningful/Meaningless" apology examples and are using them against estranged children.... the IRONY being that they still can't bring themselves to properly apologise! They simply will not truly apologise - they really don't believe that they should. Even if it means having a relationship with you. An apology, showing guilt, admitting they were wrong - it's too high a price. They would rather stand tall than have you back. But in actuality, they're demanding to have both.



7. Joint Therapy or Counselling - "I'll Go if You Go".

Sometimes the letter will contain an offer to go to 'family counselling'. I've seen examples of parents asking for this in all sorts of places.

Sister Renee Pitelli says it best (No Contact 101):
If you go to counseling with a psychopath, I guarantee you'll regret it.
It's as if they wouldn't dare to step a foot inside a shrink's office without you in tow (don't forget - they firmly believe that YOU are the problem!). I have to share that I once made this mistake, long ago. It put me off therapy for a decade, no joke. (Please, please read this article on Living Authentically - Finding the Right Psychotherapist for You). I've got a fantastic therapist now. I shopped around. I can't recommend that enough.

But, if they are willing to seek professional counselling, then encourage it, by all means! Here's the thing - they don't need you to be there to tell the person about all the awful things you've done to them. (Same applies to us, right?). The therapist will treat his or her client and help them out. That's the whole point. So if your NParent wants therapy, encourage it. It would be nice for them. It might also make you feel better knowing that they are receiving emotional support in the absence of their usual narcissistic-supply-victim-of-choice (you).

I am willing to bet, however, that they won't go alone. I don't know why, other than I suspect that they know in their hearts that they're full of it, and that a competent therapist will call them on it. I think they fear having to be accountable at all for anything.

Don't mistake the offer of 'family counselling' to mean that they want you to see a shrink, or that they want to see one themselves. This offer of 'family therapy' is simply a way to trap you in a room with an influential person to back up your NParent's claims of wrongdoing. They want control of your psyche, plain and simple. It might back-fire on them completely, given a skilled therapist with a shrewd mind, but if it doesn't, it's going to do infinitely more harm than good. You can get a therapist. They can get a therapist. You can agree to seeing a therapist, if that's what your NParent wants. They just cannot go with you, or have access to your 'file'. It's private, and it's between the client and the therapist. Like I said, if they are interested in counselling, tell them to 'go to it'! (I would be amazed if anyone's NParent actually went alone and stayed in therapy for more than 12 months! If this has happened, please tell me! I'll eat my hat!).

8. "I Will Always Love You!"

This is the hard one. Some ACoNs believe that their NParents sincerely mean this, in that their NParents BELIEVE that they love their child. And maybe they do . . . conditionally. There never was or never will be 'unconditional love' offered, which is what every child needs. They are incapable of providing this natural love. There is something wrong with them. It's worthy of pity - it's like they're emotionally handicapped. An emotional handicap doesn't, however, give them license to lie. Or to act like a total jerk.

I don't believe this is a true statement, coming from an estranged parent. I believe that this is a lie, plain and simple.

As my DH points out, any manipulative teenage boy that wants in his girlfriends pants can say, "I will always love you!" when we all know it's probably not at all true in the slightest. I'll bet over half of them can force tears if it meant getting laid. The point here is to not demonize teenage boys, but to show that even a child (mentally speaking - hasn't hit the age of legal adulthood where black-and-white-thinking is replaced by a more mature ability to reason) can use this loaded phrase to get what they want, to appease their own desires.

I'll bet you've met teenage boys that are better people morally than your NParent, yes? So don't attribute the 'love' of your parent any more meaning than you would to a randy 16 year old boy. They are every bit as capable of deceit, if not more so (with age comes wisdom after all).

Actions speak louder than words. How often has your NParent deceived you in the past under the guise of doing what was in your best interests? How can you be sure they aren't doing it now?

What loving actions can be seen in this letter from your NParent? Did it's arrival bring you joy? Was the letter overflowing with heart-felt apologies, promises to change? Did it seek to understand your point of view? Did it say anything along the lines of, "You must think me a total jerk for never showing up to a single one of your school plays! I'd do anything to prove to you that you mean more to me than anything in the world, and that INCLUDES never speaking to you again if you so desire! I will do as you ask - I love you with the love of a parent for their child!".

Talk is cheap. Hey, I can say to you that, "I'll always love you!", and you can choose to believe it, or you can think critically - do I even know QG? Who is she? Has she ever done anything to prove to me that she cares about me? Has she ever done anything to hurt me? Has she apologised sincerely that time..... etc.

If you can apply reason to my tongue-in-cheek expression of my heart-felt love for you, the reader, why can't you apply it to an abusive parent? In fact, it's probably even MORE vital to apply that critical thinking to the assertions of your parents - if I started treating you like dirt, you wouldn't be at all devastated! But what of the betrayal of a parent who never loved you, who you have been waiting for all these years for them to love you? Stakes are MUCH HIGHER - be very, very careful.

My recommendation - think to yourself, "Yeah? PROVE IT." Does anything in their letter prove that they love you more than themselves? More than words? More than having their own way?

And that, my friends, is the basic structure of a letter from an unrepentant parent trying to suck you back to where they prefer you to be - under their thumb. Upsi's parents famously stated that she was unfairly judging the past versions of them - don't people grow and evolve? If you read that letter, you'll see that perhaps they have a point; they're even worse than they've ever been. They refer to her as "Dear Narcissistic Daughter". The letter is supposedly one of compassion, but it is clearly written to hurt her - to even the score. This is not the actions of a loving set of parents, not even the actions of good parents scorned.

Do not allow yourselves to be deceived. Read this post alongside the arrival of your next hate-letter. Read the letter in The Guardian. Read the letter from Upsi's parents. If you can see the evil in the others, it may help you see in the evil in yours. And the best advice ever - print off a copy of the letter from your NParents and take it to your therapist. Get a professional opinion on it. It will help you see what needs to be seen, not what they'll have you see.