Friday, March 18, 2011

No News is Good News

Giving no information about yourself to the narcissist in your life is good news for you.

For the longest time, even before I diagnosed my father, even before I really knew there was something profoundly disturbing about him, I instinctively stopped sharing anything of import with him. If you'd asked me then, I'd have told you I didn't want to "worry" him with bad news and that his "excessive pride" in me made me uncomfortable if I had good news to share. 

I saw others share news with their parents freely, and receive both nurturing care (if something was wrong) and joy and pride (if things were good) from them. Just like that. And I couldn't understand what was wrong with me. Why I was so different.

But now I've allowed myself to understand and remember. I've always noticed it, but repressed it. I became a master at enduring cognitive dissonance.

See, my father never was capable of feeling love for me or truly wishing me well. This is why his reactions to news from me have never been... normal.

Whenever I was sick or hurt or anemic or whatever, he'd get all dramatic, give a performance of "I'm so worried, poor me", then give me a tirade on how I have to take better care of myself. If I told him I had a cold, his monologue would be something along the lines of "You didn't wear a jacket last Thursday and now you're sick, and you are so sickly and sensitive (like me) and have weak lungs, and now you'll get bronchitis or pneumonia, and miss school, and I'll have to take you to all the doctors (which I love, by the way, but it's a plus if I also make you think this is such a sacrifice for me)". The speech roughly translates to "It's your fault that I'm worried now, but I'll martyr myself yet again for you because I love you so very much".

I think I was 13 when I started doing my very best to hide every cold. I'd make myself tea, buy myself any medicine that I needed, and stay out of his way until the symptoms were gone. Interestingly enough, it was at this point that I stopped being so "sickly ad sensitive" (just like him). I've barely had a cold since.

Later, when I became independent, got married, had kids, I started noticing another thing: a gloating little gleam in his eye whenever he thought he "smelled" anything amiss. Anything would do - are those dark circles around my eyes that he sees? Is the baby keeping me up at night? "Poor daughter, she had it so much better when I was taking care of her."

As for good news, that realization came a bit later. I guess it felt good to be praised and thought of as worthy for my accomplishments. Being bragged about to others, in my presence, without being truly allowed to say anything myself, especially correct his exaggerating inaccuracies (I'd always been amazed at his "bad memory"; now I understand; narcissists lie) was humiliating, but my sense of shame had already become numb from all the scar tissue accumulated during my childhood with him around.

It was when I got married and "left" him that my good news started producing different reactions.

I wondered why I stopped telling my father about any success I had in life. I'd tell my FIL about my grad studies, the exams I passed, my articles that got published in journals, but never my father. Not any more. I couldn't put my finger on it. But now I let myself realize it: these things no longer made him feel good. My accomplishments were no longer his to appropriate. They were, in fact, proof that I existed and could do something INDEPENDENTLY of him. So his reactions were now:

a) Badly faked "happy for me" - big fake nervous smile, dead eyes, too loud. Underneath, envy or resentfulness is clearly discernible. Not too frequent a reaction, even at that.

b) Not Good Enough - "You could have done better, with your 'talents'"; "You got a job teaching at X university? Nah. I think Y university is more prestigious"; "Sure, you got your M.Phil. Nice. I thought you were planing on studying abroad, though. Right, but you got married instead (and ruined your life and career)."

So, now I don't share anything of import. Our conversations revolve around his daily routines and chores and his list of complaints against everyone who's done him wrong.


  1. This observation is so clear to me now over the past year. My NM used to brag about me up until age 22 when i graduated from college. Then I moved away and worked and i too knew not to share much. i was often fascinated by my other friends who spoke on the phone to their parents SO often and whose parents listened and were engaged in their kids' lives. All these years as an adult our conversations with my nm are about her. Recipes and tv shows are a good level for us, but we barely talk anymore.

  2. It's incredible how similar they can be. Kudos to you for realizing that those OTHER parents were attentive and engaged - until very recently, I was sure I was the one unable to relate to my father because I was cold and self-centered and couldn't get him to open up to me.


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