Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reflections On Growing Up With a Narcissistic Parent

Our family December 1968
 The Powerful Lessons I Learned That Are Relevant To Today

The first time I saw my new therapist in 1984 he reflected that he experienced me as living from my neck up. He then gently told me that I would need to make the long journey from my head to my heart. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just knew he was freaking me out. And giving me this new strange hope.

Those were the early days of my awakening. I didn't know it then, but today I recognize that I was embarking on a long and courageous journey, one where I was gradually thawing the protective walls that I had built around my heart. Buried in there, outside of my conscious awareness, was a long abandoned little Molly and a whole world of trauma. This is the trauma of growing up with a parent who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Also buried was the human being I most wholly am and the essence of my true nature.

My twin brother did not survive the impact of our mother's illness. Two years after our father's sudden death at age 60, John ended his life. That was January 30th, 1978. We were 26. Over the years I have met many people who also lost a sibling to suicide. Among my very dearest friends is one who lost two brothers to suicide. The one common factor beyond this horrific loss was having had a severely narcissistic parent.

It cannot be overstated how the impact of anyone suffering from this mental illness spreads toxicity to all who are in contact and relationship with the narcissistic person. This is what I have learned from my healing journey about Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

- The narcissistic person has disconnected from their inner being. They are deeply and pervasively fragmented and there is not a connection with their hearts or their authentic selves. Inside exists a vast and terrifying void.
- This void must be avoided at all costs - and especially any experience of shame or exposure to being anything less than superior and perfect and better then others. The narcissist demands that those around him/her mirror this superiority, power, and perfection.
- Creating constant chaos is a way to divert the narcissist from the emptiness, pain, and shame that exists beyond their conscious awareness. The narcissist chronically divides into a me against all those Others, "winners against losers," those who are with me or against me. It is a very black/white world. Nuance is unknown to the narcissist. 
-People who are in some way connected to the person with NPD experience a deep energetic pull into colluding with an us against them. Stirring up this chaos, division, and distraction feeds the narcissistic supplies that he or she demands is dependent upon to keep their inner house of cards standing.
- Because of their disconnect from their hearts and souls, what would normally provide a human being with nourishment, information, and authentic connection with themselves and others is not present. The person with NPD becomes dependent instead on feeding off of other people. Anyone who does not agree to offer themselves up to be devoured is immediately and totally rejected.
- The human being suffering from NPD is dependent on regular sources of narcissistic supplies. These narcissistic supplies come in the form of mirrors of the narcissist's reality.
- Because the person with NPD experiences extreme dependency on feeding off of others and demands that they mirror his/her reality, anyone who violates this demand is seen as an extreme threat. 
- Narcissistic injury - disagreeing with or having a different perspective or needs - results in immediate retaliation, often with verbal, psychological, and/or physical violence. Rejection is total. "You're with me or you're with the terrorists." "You're fired!" "You're scum!, you're lyers!," etc., etc.
- Everyone exists to serve the narcissist and mirror his or her needs and sense of grandiosity, entitlement, scapegoating, and empathic failure.  Having a different perspective than the one held by the person with NPD is experienced by the narcissist as his or her own arm being out of control. Others only exist as extensions of the person with NPD and there is an extreme inability to see another person as separate from themselves and for who they actually are.
- When the narcissist runs out of those who are willing to feed their narcissistic supplies, the person with NPD usually goes fast. They get sick and die, they need to be committed to an institution, or they commit suicide.

Key words to remember about people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder: 
- Charming. They can be charming and charismatic.
- Grandiosity. They perceive themselves as the best, the greatest, and better than others.
- Empathic failure. The narcissist is not able to experience empathy or compassion.
- Chronic pattern of creating an us against an Other.
- Chronic intimacy and relationship problems. The person with NPD cannot see others as separate from themselves.
- Entitlement. They expect to be granted whatever it is that they demand.
- Chronic scapegoating and projections. The way to understand what is happening inside of the person with NPD is to listen what they are attacking and accusing others of.
- Chronic lying. The narcissist is not connected with reality and believes his/her own lies.
- Failure to produce what the narcissist demands results in extreme and immediate retaliation. You must provide the mirror they need or you are rejected.

It is extremely important to:
- Recognize the person with NPD as having this personality disorder.
- Refuse to collude in the NPD person's reality. This also means refusing to collude in scapegoating, name calling, judging, demonizing others who do not share the narcissist's reality. 
- It also means refusing to demonize anyone. This is hard but necessary work. This is the path to being the peace our world yearns for.
- Learn about NPD. Educating ourselves is essential and empowering. There is narcissism threaded through our culture that has long been in great need of recognition and healing. This is about a lot more than my mother or the current president.
- If the God of your religion is one who in some ways mirrors the symptoms of narcissism, try to gather up all the courage and support you can to question the truths of the stories you have been raised to believe. (My husband was raised Catholic, and yet at a young age just knew that there was no god who would condemn others to eternal suffering if they did not worship him. Ron found his way out of that narcissistic story and instead cultivated new stories rooted in love and compassion. We need these new loving and compassionate stories to nurture ourselves and others with.)

The DSM-5 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder include these features:
  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
I have spent many years - now over three decades - embracing, healing, and transforming the wounds and losses related to the extreme narcissism of my mother. This has also included healing from the narcissistic stories most of us are raised with. Through this process have come profound gifts which include my passion for empathy and compassion, for connection and inclusivity, for kindness and courage, for an ever widening circle of caring, and for healing and awakening and love.

Along the way I have also again and again experienced the amazing synchronicities of Spirit/Mystery/God which have gifted me with my life and ever deepening openness, humility, wisdom, compassion, and love. Among the more recent gifts have been connecting with Eleanor Payson and her amazing book, The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-way Relationship In Work, Love, and Family. Now I'm eager to get her new book, Discovering the Healthy Self and Meaningful Resistance to Toxic Narcissism - What a valuable book to come out at this time!

An illuminating quote from The Wizard of Oz book:
“Imagine for a moment that you do not experience yourself as a "self." From this perspective, you can understand the difficulty the NPD person has in recognizing the unique and separate existence of another "self," or person. In a sense, the narcissist views others and the world around him as an extension of himself, perhaps as you might view your arm or leg. Because the narcissist can only understand others by absorbing them into his own experience of self, he determines that others should behave and act the way that HE behaves and acts. Again, to use the analogy of the arm and leg, he unconsciously expects you to conform to his will, just as his own arm or leg would do. When your behavior deviates from his expectations, he often becomes as upset with you as he would be if his arm or leg were no longer under his control.”  Eleanor Payson

As the amazing experiences of synchronicity have been unfolding over the many years of my healing and awakening, I have also been able to connect personally with Ellie and learn of the many commonalities in our lives. This includes being the same age and growing up swimming in the same lake in Michigan. I consider her a lifelong friend and highly recommend her books.

Ron and myself out for dinner with Ellie Payson and her husband, 2014.
The story that my mother and I share has taken a turn that I continue to experience as nothing short of a profound miracle. At age 86 her power of control over her life, over others, and over her capacity to ensure that her image management was in tact had diminished to the point where she no longer wanted to live. She had just experienced divorce from her 4th husband. Those who had been feeding her narcissistic supplies - namely FOX "News," other narcissists the likes of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, and a former step-son from her third marriage and his wife who were after our family's money - were no longer adequate to keep severe depression at bay. So my mother attempted suicide, which landed her in a psychiatric ward. 

It had also been 14 years at that time since my mother and I had last seen each other. That is due to many factors, including the above enablers of her narcissism - FOX, other narcissists, etc. - who fueled her animosity toward me. Of course, the problem for my mom over the years of my healing and awakening is that I was learning the skills of how to not collude in her cruelty and violence toward me or anyone else. And that was not acceptable to her. Yet, as she neared the point of attempting suicide, something deep inside her urged my mother to call me and share that maybe she should think about coming here (the Pacific Northwest) and living near me. I strongly encouraged her to do so. But the pull of the former step-son and his wife was strong and one she could not resist. Another suicide attempt (here in Washington State, and not serious) and nearly $1,000,000 later (in total legal and other costs we surrendered to get my mom here and out of the clutches of those who voiced love for my mom while doing everything they could to keep her from "being with my own flesh and blood", as Mom called it), my mother arrived here in the Pacific Northwest to stay.

And she was able to be successfully treated for her mental illness. And my mother was able to experience a partial awakening. No more toxicity. No more hate. Just love. Miracles happen.

It is my deep belief that within us all is the Sacred thread which weaves through all of life. Many never awaken to the deep truth of the beauty and love that is our true nature. My brother killed himself, a stranger to the beautiful being at his core. My dad died suddenly never knowing the beautiful soul he was. AND my mom and I have both experienced the profound gift of awakening. If my mother, who spent most of her life toxic and violent and dangerous, can begin to awaken at age 87, then awakening is possible for most of us.

My mom, now 90, and me today.
That said, for some the odds are stacked against them and it is unlikely that they will awaken from the nightmare of their narcissism. The vast majority of those with NPD never awaken to love. They live their whole tragic lives separated from connection with love within themselves and others. It is a prison cell and a tortured life that I wish upon no one. I also wish on no one the trauma of being victimized by a narcissist. We are currently experiencing a national and global trauma because of the severe narcissism that is rooted in the highest places of power in our government.
So please know that among those who are extremely unlikely to awaken from the nightmare of his NPD is our current president. His severe narcissism is unlikely to shift for him in his lifetime. This is especially true because there are millions of Americans who have unknowingly thrown themselves at his feet to be devoured as our current president's demand that his narcissistic supplies be worshiped and met.

It cannot be overstated how dangerous anyone is who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. To have someone elected as President of the United States of America who is an extreme narcissist poses a tremendous danger and threat to us all. The more we learn about NPD, the more we will be empowered to not collude in the violence that anyone with this mental illness is compelled to perpetuate. 

In short, the antidote is a fierce and unrelenting commitment to love, truth, empathy, inclusivity, connection, courage, compassion, kindness, and consciousness that the narcissist is incapable of. We meet toxic fire with the fire of our awakening souls that will settle for nothing less than a loving world.

These are some of my thoughts rooted in hard earned wisdom and awareness of what we are called to know and do in these times.

I also dedicate this one to my sons and daughter and grandsons and to all the children everywhere. There is much work to be done on their behalf and on behalf of all beings and Mother Earth. May we each root into and deepen what is our role in working together in this time of great peril and of Great Awakening.

 Bless us all ~ Molly


Anonymous said...

I cried with joy to read of the healing going on between you and your mother. Your story brings hope that healing is available to anyone who reaches out for it. Thank you for sharing such a personal and painful journey in such a healing and helpful way.

Molly Strong said...

Thank you so much for your heartfelt response to my story, which is also larger than me. Many blessings to you. ❤