Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm still around

After a summer vacation during which I relatively easily came to terms with the fact that my father is my father, I'm back. I've been lurking around other blogs lately, mostly. I'm so happy - and sad - to see so many new blogs all around. Happy because other people are finding this wonderfully therapeutic means to communicate. Sad because so many have had to be born and grow up without love.

Realizing that my father didn't deviously usurp another man's child and lie about it made me feel less anger towards him. He wasn't quite the monster I'd imagined him to be - a bit less so. Merely an impenetrable narcissist who was still better than his mother. This, however, somehow led me to become less alert and aware in my parenting. Lose some feelings that had been back. Become a worse mother.

I wonder: why is it so impossible to feel a bit of empathy for one's narcissistic parents and still retain emotional integrity? Why is what feels a bit like forgiveness actually so dangerous? Can "forgiveness" be close to complacency?

I have to be back to this blog actively in order to live my insights regularly. To always remember what kind of legacy I have and never slip into "oh, well, it wasn't so bad, I should stop whining about how my parents didn't love me and live my life in the present" again.

I got a number for a REBT therapist a colleague of mine recommended. I might actually dial it.

If I go into therapy, my first rule will be "One invalidating comment about my parents/childhood and I'm out." Even the nice, warm, empathetic, stable colleague who actually gave me something that seemed a bit like free therapy, had previously related in the same conversation how she had told a friend that even though her parents didn't love her, at least they gave her ballet lessons - and I cried out "Yeah, and if they blind you and give you nice sunglasses, do you have to shut up about being blind?" And later today, I was still angry about it, and thought of this parallel: if you kill a guy but then "at least" pay for a good make-up job and a nice casket, is it then OK? Fuck that. This shit makes me angry. I'm back and I'm less restrained, angrier, and sometimes swear.

But I do think I need help. I can't seem to get in touch with any emotions on my own at all - apart from constant anxiety, some depression, and a bit of anger here and there. My children deserve more. I do feel good things for them much of the time, but I can also block these feelings sometimes.

My mother will have been dead for 10 years on Monday. I still can't dig up a single feeling about that. Or her. How messed up is that?

I'll try to write all I can find in myself about that on Monday.


  1. Hi Pronoia--I'm happy to see you! You raise an interesting question. How is it that empathy--a quality we want to have in our lives--becomes self-defeating and dangerous when we redirect more of it to a NP? I think maybe because we spend a lifetime having empathy for them when they have none for us; by the time we can understand that, we have been pushed way beyond the breaking point. As for ballet, my parents gave us lots of lessons of different kinds. Very nice. No substitute for warmth, tenderness, getting to know us as people, listening to and validating our feelings, not treating us like shit on a shoe when we don't give them their narc supply. Lessons don't cover that.

    1. Hi Pronoia, I'm glad to see you back too.

      Is it maybe that they use our empathy against us? That they view it as a weakness and something to exploit? Frankly, I don't have the answer either, because I'm struggling with this too. I don't like that the narcs are controlling my empathy, something that I value in myself. But at the same time, my empathy can be used against me to hurt me. It's a double edged sword, I guess.
      And lessons are not a substitute. That's like paying the prostitute afterwards and then saying that it's OK you used her like trash. Because she got something out of it. Or the guy who beats the hell out of his wife but buys her lots and lots of jewelry and clothes and stuff. Loving relationships aren't bargain swaps. The person you spoke with was ignorant and naive and I don't blame you for your anger.
      Looking forward to reading more from you.

    2. Thank you, CS! Great parallels! It seems everyone has more empathy for battered adults than defenseless children, so it's a good one to use. People sneer when anyone complains about childhood physical abuse, but would certainly find it horrible if they would now, as strong and stable and independent individuals, have to endure being regularly attacked and hit by someone. But a small child who has nowhere to run is supposed to just take it in stride, right?

      I love your blog and can relate so much to your experiences. P.S. Are you a Shakespearean scholar by any chance?

    3. Hi Pronoia,
      thanks for the kind words about my blog. With respect to your p.s. question, nope--cultural history is my area. But the Bard certainly understood everything about these issues, from what I remember from my own college days.

  2. Hi Pronoia Agape,

    I'm sorry you're having trouble. I do understand the problem with empathy though. I have an idea that it's related to "splitting"
    Wikpedia link here:

    This is what the wikipedia entry says in regards to Melanie Klein's theories about it:

    "There was, however, from early on, another use of the term "splitting" in Freud, referring rather to resolving ambivalence "by splitting the contradictory feelings so that one person is only loved, another one only hated. . .the good mother and the wicked stepmother in fairy tales."[16] Or, with opposing feelings of love and hate, perhaps 'the two opposites should have been split apart and one of them, usually the hatred, have been repressed'.[17] Such splitting was closely linked to the defense of 'isolation...The division of objects into congenial and uncongenial ones...making "disconnections"'.[18]
    It was the latter sense of the term which was predominantly adopted and exploited by Melanie Klein. After Freud, 'the most important contribution has come from Melanie Klein, whose work enlightens the idea of "splitting of the object" (in terms of "good/bad" objects)'.[19] In her object relations theory, Klein argues that 'the earliest experiences of the infant are split between wholly good ones with "good" objects and wholly bad experiences with "bad" objects',[20] as children struggle to integrate the two primary drives, love and hate, into constructive social interaction. An important step in childhood development is the gradual depolarization of these two drives."

    Now, my mother is very much a black and white thinker, and she instilled the same in me. As I grew up, I had to learn to see the shades of gray that she can't. As a defense against slipping into that black and white, all or nothing thinking in regards to her and just seeing the "bad" mother, I have to give her credit for the things she does do well and acknowledge the real hardships she has dealt with.

    This has a similar effect for me as it does for you. It feels dangerous. It *is* dangerous in many ways, if there is a chance that your kindness and empathy will be used against you. It also touches on childhood feelings for me, in which I had to believe that my mother was all good and I was all bad. It's scary to even think about going down that road.

    But to see her as *all* bad, without seeing the shades of gray, puts me at risk of thinking the way she does, being like her. I won't do that either.

    Because these things come from our formative years when we were so vulnerable, IMO, they are exceedingly difficult and painful to cope with. These are things that children in a healthy home probably would have learned to negotiate in infancy. Learning it as an adult is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

    That's my theory, anyway - hopefully it makes some sense.

    Also, there is likely something to Jessie's idea of empathy being used against you and seen as a weakness to the narc as well. We believe we are feeling "empathy" with the other person, but it turned out the feelings we were thought we were relating to weren't there at all, just a lie or a manipulation by the narc. That's bound to take something out of you.

    I hope you feel better soon.

    1. Hi, Elena! Loving your blog!

      Splitting is just right! That's exactly what it is! If my father is safely a fairytale villain, then I'm easily the good heroine - and I can more easily act like one. Believing I was donor conceived made it so easy to maximize this split - it was a perfect fairytale situation. The moment I make myself realize that, although he is malignant, unfeeling, cruel, manipulative and deceptive, my father is actually a human being and not without a single good deed or redeeming quality, I feel tainted and like I can easily be just like him - and then I am, albeit in a small way. Thank you for this insight!

    2. Elena, thanks for your thoughts too. They really made me think about some things in my life and I appreciate you sharing them.
      I am not a black and white thinker, but always shades of gray. However, I sometimes wonder if I am minimizing or justifying things by being able to recognize the "good" in my parents. Like it the good somehow "offsets" the bad. I'm trying to learn to separate them a bit more. That just because someone did something nice for me, it does not erase the bad. I guess I just sometimes find it hard to wrap my head around someone who was abusive to me, but also could be seen as a "good" parent at times.

  3. Welcome back, P.A. :-)

    1. If "ballet lessons" provided her unconditional love, parenting, emotional support, bonding and somehow undid all of the crap from the years before, I'd say the therapist had a point. Sad, because all the girl might have gotten from ballet is messed up feet and a body-image problem... I'm with you on this one. Major B.S.!

    2. Shop around for a therapist. I actually went around like I was buying a new car, or interviewing potential employees. The right choice was easy to make - no debate in my mind!

    3. I am starting to wonder if the ACoN experience of 'empathy' isn't a different thing to a 'normal' person's empathy . . . Perhaps we lump in doormat/scapegoat/self-flagellation behaviour with 'empathy', which is why it IS dangerous for us to be empathetic to our parents? Some sort of weird psychic enmeshing that happens still? (I might have to blog on the 'empathy' front myself!)

    1. Excellent points, especially 3. I too wonder about that. Empathy, forgiveness, love all seem to mean different things to us than other people, and even if we begin to heal, we're still not quite there yet to trust our feelings and instincts and know what to do about these.

      Really enjoying your new blog and benefiting a lot from it. Sorry for not contributing. Busy and lazy.

    2. I was going to mention this with my above comment but it seems to fit here too. I think, all too often, we've been trained that empathy and forgiveness = never requiring someone to change or apologize or letting things get swept under the rug. We've been told that if we forgive, we need to then forget EVERYTHING. But we can't forget, because we still have the scars. And forgetting means we are acting like things never happened. So, I see empathy, for us, can be like forgiveness. If we empathize with our parents, if we can acknowledge that life has been shitty for them too, are we then releasing them of the responsibilities they have towards how they treat us?
      It's something I'm wrestling with at the moment. How to empathize...but at a distance. Empathize with my NM and NSIS and NMIL, but not allow my empathy to push down my defenses or minimize THEIR behavior towards me. Yes, what happened to them as children was shitty, but in the end, they had the same choices I had. They choice to repeat the past and I'm working my ass off to move on. It's a hard line to walk. One I struggle with all the time.

    3. Excellent point, jessie - well, all of them, really, but I'm still trying to figure out replying to comments that were replies to other comments (I hope it works).

      Really appreciate your blog, too - thank you for writing.

  4. Hi PA. Hope you enjoyed your summer. I discovered it was myself mistakenly thinking that my mother would mean the same thing as I do when she said I love you. Empathy to me is an awareness of my opinion, narcissistic people by their very choices are oblivious of anything but their own needs. My counselor pointed out that my mother had a rough life and I knew it. She 'didn't mean' to harm. I finally stated, "If my mother shot me by accident or on purpose, either way I would be equally dead." He backed off. I go with the poem used by Mother Theresa... People will take advantage of your empathy but give empathy any way. Not an exact line but the main point. I just take an emotional step back from the Nparents. Safety in distance. I know plenty of other people that enjoy the benefit of my empathy. I don't need to squander it on someone that sends thistles where silk is given. It is easy to start thinking it wasn't that bad because time seems to mellow all memories. However, if you are still in contact narcissistics are fairly consistent about harming others again and again. It isn't about yesteryear hurt it is what they are doing today that shows they haven't changed. Hugs...

    1. The thing is, I've only exchanged a few short, civil e-mails and sms messages with NF since April. No emotional content has been exchanged between us for years, decades even. So why is it so dangerous to even have a though that goes anything like "Well, he had even worse narcissistic parents than me and I can actually understand how he developed xyz as a narcissistic defense, although it's certainly not right to do it to anyone. I can see how he tried not to use the same tools and manipulations that had been used against him and mellowed his own down from what he'd been taught, and I'm grateful I didn't have to endure his parents, at least."

  5. "I wonder: why is it so impossible to feel a bit of empathy for one's narcissistic parents and still retain emotional integrity? Why is what feels a bit like forgiveness actually so dangerous? Can "forgiveness" be close to complacency?"

    In my opinion, it's because it is unrequited, unreciprocated, and it involves unresolved things. It's because there wasn't a natural order to it, there isn't any assurance afforded you of its genuineness. There aren't two parties involved. There wasn't a true "I'm sorry" or an honest awareness of what has been done to you, by them. There was no recognition, no responsibility accepted, no steps taken to stop/change/make better the situation. It feels dangerous to feel a bit of empathy for them because it follows the pattern you've practiced repeatedly in the past of making excuses for, compensating for, excusing, and doing all the emotional work on your own for, the N.

    Every time I soften and feel something close to forgiveness for my NM, I ALWAYS feel that warning feeling, I can't quite find a word for it. I then realize that I don't OWE anything to her, or to me in this vein. It is like a road that has been closed, and I need to see it for what it is, and not make tall tales about it.

    This is okay, though. This is natural. This is real. This is as it should be, I believe. I don't believe in false forgiveness, nor do I believe that we will rot in the absence of forgiveness-- on the contrary, I think that's the stuff that holds us back from growth and health and enlightenment.

    Just my two cents.


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