Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), also known as complex trauma, is a proposed diagnostic category of mental illness, one not yet recognized by the DSM, though more and more voices are shouting to have it included in the next edition. As its name implies, it is similar to PTSD, though crucial differences are to be noted.

Victims of PTSD generally experience one traumatic event (war, rape, disaster, or other life-threatening event); whereas C-PTSD victims experience repeated, ongoing traumatic events (continuous physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, day-to-day life in combat situations as a soldier, ordeals as POWs or in concentration camps), such that the victims either have no means of escape or feel as though they have none.

If one has ever read the Marquis de Sade‘s unfinished novel, The 120 Days of Sodom, or seen Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s film adaptation of it, Salò, the casual observation of the plight of the victims–adolescent boys and girls who are forced to indulge the paraphilias of four wealthy, politically powerful libertines–would cause one to draw the unmistakeable conclusion that the victims, assuming any of them survive the four-month ordeal, will each develop a severe case of C-PTSD. They are stripped naked, sexually abused, humiliated, force-fed shit, and made to endure numerous other torments, all for the sadistic pleasure of a duke, a banker, a judge, and an archbishop (the story is, in part, an allegory of political corruption).

Other differences between PTSD and C-PTSD include flashbacks (PTSD) vs. emotional flashbacks (C-PTSD), the former involving reliving the traumatic experience with the five senses, as if having been taken back by time machine to when it originally happened; whereas emotional flashbacks lack the physicality of the relived experience, and instead the painful emotions (fear, despair, anger) are re-experienced.

C-PTSD also involves many symptoms often not felt so much by PTSD sufferers, including the following: difficulty regulating emotions (explosive or inhibited anger, making catastrophes out of everything, etc.); difficulty relating to others socially, a feeling of being irreconcilably different from others; a lack of a sense of meaning or hope in life; preoccupation with the abuser (a sense that the abuser is all-powerful, while also feeling an urge to get revenge on him or her), overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred; and dissociation, including the forgetting of traumatic memories.

Symptoms common to both PTSD and C-PTSD sufferers include nightmares, intense anxiety, emotional numbing, and avoidance of anything that, or anyone who, may trigger the traumatic memories. A veteran with PTSD will avoid places with loud noises, such as bursting fire-crackers, which may remind him of machine gun fire. A rape victim may avoid all romantic contact with men out of fear of a sexual encounter that would make her relive the rape. And a C-PTSD sufferer who has been in a concentration camp perhaps may try to avoid seeing anyone in a uniform, which gives memories of guards or prisoners in uniform.

When children develop C-PTSD as a result of ongoing physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, they may become clumsy, unable to concentrate, or lacking in empathy. Nervousness and fear can cause the clumsiness, self-hate and shame can cause the inability to concentrate (and vice versa, going in a vicious circle), and a lack of empathy can be the natural result of growing up in an environment devoid of empathy for the victim. “If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them?” is an attitude easily adopted.

Sensitivity to loud noises of any kind will be intolerable to victims of PTSD and C-PTSD. Startling noises can, if unconsciously, remind the victim of sudden slaps on the face, shouting, bombs going off, airstrikes, gunfire, etc.

I believe myself to be a sufferer of a mild form of C-PTSD, for I appear to have most of the symptoms. I must emphasize the word mild, for two reasons: first, having lived far from my emotional abusers for over twenty years has caused my symptoms to abate considerably; and second, I feel my suffering pales in comparison to that of people like Lilly Hope Lucario, whose wonderful website alerted me to this mental health issue. Perhaps I am wrong to say my suffering is less; after all, traumas are more a matter of being different than of being ‘lesser’ or ‘greater’ than each other.

I will now detail my symptoms to illustrate even further the experience of the sufferer of complex trauma.

Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was subjected to various forms of emotional abuse, including gaslighting from my mother, who fabricated an autism diagnosis out of thin air, independently corroborated by no psychiatrists (in fact, two psychiatrists I’d received therapy from said they saw no signs of autism in me); constant bullying and belittling from my older brothers and sister, from whom I’d received virtually no defence from my ‘loving’ mother; explosive outbursts of verbal abuse from everyone in the family, usually for only mildly irritating things that I’d done; and bullying from my classmates at school, from coworkers on the job, and strangers on the street. I saw no escape, anywhere, and this was all during crucial developmental years in my life.

Enduring this kind of thing from people outside the family wasn’t so bad as it was from within, because one expects more of a loving attitude from one’s own flesh and blood. I feel betrayed by the five I grew up with; in my early twenties, I’d fantasize about getting far away from them, escaping from Ontario and going to Quebec. When I ended up in Taiwan, my fantasy had come true.

Sometimes I remember those painful episodes from my past (which often included my brother, F., not only threatening and verbally abusing me with the shouting of four-letter words, but also slapping, shoving, and spitting on me, then gaslighting me about supposedly never having done anything wrong to me), and fantasize about what I’d say if I tried to stick up for myself; but the feeling of overwhelming power that my tormentors had over me meant I felt that asserting myself would be futile. In my fantasies, I’d get overly emotional, bursting with a rage I couldn’t control, even acting it out. My bullies almost seemed to be there, right in front of me and receiving my rage, instead of me really being all alone in the room. I’d snap out of it and end up feeling even more worthless than before, because of how foolish I’d feel, like that moment in Hamlet when the title character says:

“Am I a coward?/Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?/Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?/Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,/As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?/Ha!’swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be/But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall/To make oppression bitter, or ere this/I should have fatted all the region kites/With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy villain!/Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!/O, vengeance!/Why, what an ass am I!” (Act II, scene ii)

I think these experiences I’ve had are examples of emotional flashbacks.

I have always had difficulty regulating my emotions, in particular, my explosive anger, something I learned from my family, since for them, blowing up was the solution to every problem. My wife finds it a terrible trial when I go crazy over every minor problem; but her minimal, controlled anger with my emotional excesses proves that my family’s explosive anger with me was not unavoidable–I hadn’t left them with no choice but to blow up. They just rarely considered other options.

Whenever I have a problem, or even contemplate the possibility of a problem, I tend to make a catastrophe of it in my mind; then, the problem usually gets resolved with relative ease, and I wonder why I got so upset about it. I’m a prophet of doom and disaster for my life. I lie in bed, imagining disasters befalling me, and my anxiety ensures that I often don’t sleep properly.

All that bullying from my family created bad object relations that resulted in bullying at school and elsewhere, causing me to have difficulty relating to others in general. The early relationships one has with one’s primary caregivers are crucial, for they provide the blueprints, as it were, for all future relationships. So if those early caregivers bully you, belittle you, and otherwise betray your trust, you take that with you and assume people elsewhere will treat you in the same way; for as a little kid, you scarcely know any other kind of relationship.

Though people with C-PTSD typically feel isolated from the world, none of us are islands. Every human personality is in symbiotic relationships with others of some kind or another, including the worst relationships that cause the loneliness of the C-PTSD sufferer. We internalize bad object relations, those of our abusers, and they frighten us away from the rest of the world. Those bad internal objects form the inner critic, an internalization of our abusive parents, elder siblings, bullying classmates, and anyone else who may have hurt us, and we ‘learn’ that this is just the way the world is.

These bad object relations haunt our minds like ghosts, like demons possessing us. WRD Fairbairn elaborated on this idea in his book, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality. In my analyses of The Exorcist and The Shining, I quote the relevant passages, so if you’re interested, you can look them up there.

In my mind, I do battle with an inner critic every day. I hear him accusing me of various things: lacking consideration for others when, for example, I’m riding my scooter to and from home (i.e., road rage); being mean or selfish; or doing stupid things in general. I feel myself fighting back against this inner critic, trying to show justification for my actions; and while many might agree with my justifications, my inner critic is never convinced, for he is an internalization of my ever-bullying family members.

My mother used the autism lie to make me feel irreconcilably different from others. She explicitly said to me, “You’re different,” in a heavily condescending tone when she rationalized excluding me from being involved with my sister, J., and her dying husband back in the mid-2000s (see my blog post, Emotional Abuse, where I discuss my sister’s husband dying of cancer, and my mother not wanting me to fly back to Canada to visit the family). The consistent lack of empathy the family showed me, whenever I tried to tell them of my pain, added to this feeling of being too different to fit in socially, as well as to my learned helplessness.

I’m obsessively preoccupied with my abusers. In their assumption that I don’t care about anyone but myself (one of their rationalizations for abusing me), my surviving family members (R., F., and J.) probably think that I rarely think about them. How wrong-headed such an idea is! I think of them, as well as my dead parents, every day without fail. I rarely think of them with kindness, though, just as they assuredly never give me such consideration, despite their bogus claims of loving me. I’ve dreamed of revenge, or punishment, more accurately, on my late mother and siblings, not as spite for spite’s sake, but to get them to understand the wrongs they’d done me; since just telling them wasn’t enough, I had to hit them over the head, so to speak, with a sledgehammer.

But even hitting them with that figurative sledgehammer wouldn’t be enough, for they will never listen, so assured are they of their own would-be righteousness. They feel all-powerful to me, impossible to get through to, for they’re always ready with a rationalization, a minimizing of their guilt, or an invalidation to silence me. Even my mother seems all-powerful in death, since her internalized object remains forever in my head, as Norman Bates’s mother is in his head.

My abusers’ omnipotence in my mind leads inevitably to undying feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness in me, even though it was their emotional abuse of me that provoked my disowning of them. No contact was the only way to keep them from meddling in my mind; and this was especially true of my manipulative mother during her last few years on this earth, for she’d been the ringleader of them all.

As a child, I had an odd habit of playing alone, in a solitary world of my own imagination, since my devastation over losing my childhood friend, Neil–from a 1977 move from Toronto to Hamilton–combined with the bullying I received in my new schools (as the ‘new boy’) and neighbourhood, made me feel powerless to make new friends (see Emotional Abuse for more on that story). On top of these problems, my brother, F., and sister, J., were bullying me, and my mother was gaslighting me with the autism lie. My escape into a world of imagination–along with a bad habit of talking to myself–seems to have been a mild manifestation of dissociation, a retreat from the painful world around me.

What my remaining family–my siblings, R., F., and J., as well as their families–imagines is my contempt for them (i.e., my refusal to communicate with any of them), is actually my need to maintain avoidance of them, to protect myself from future abuse. My ‘uncaring’ nature is really emotional numbness.

My mother claimed that my clumsiness was from Asperger Syndrome; I’d say it was from the complex trauma I’d acquired already from childhood, combined with a lack of playing sports, in which I’ve never had any interest. My difficulty concentrating, sometimes resulting in foolish mistakes or absent-mindedness, would be disparaged by the family as ‘stupidity’. My relative lack of empathy was something I’d learned, as a child, from those five stony-hearted people. On top of that, I can’t bear loud noises, which again is typical of a sufferer of C-PTSD.

I really do hope C-PTSD gets acknowledged in the next DSM. I also hope therapies for it improve, and that we sufferers get a chance to be healed by them one day. For now, though, we have to engage in self-care: this means being gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes, paying more attention to our strengths and talents, rather than our faults; it also means using self-compassion, or being a friend to ourselves, that kind, sympathetic ear we never got from those who should have given it to us. Other effective ways to heal ourselves include meditation and writing about our pain, as I have done here.

All those university students who complain about how exposure to controversial political opinions is “triggering”, and claim they need “safe spaces” so they don’t have to be exposed to ideas they don’t like, should consider redirecting their wrath towards its far likelier cause–an emotionally abusive or neglecting family. Research has shown that in the U.S., such family dysfunction is almost universal. Taking one’s anger out on people who have nothing to do with it not only fails to solve one’s problems, but also adds to everyone’s.

When we feel pain, we must take it to its source, not displace it onto people or things we only associate with the source of that pain. Bad object relations with abusive and/or neglectful primary caregivers is a common source.

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

Gaslight is a 1944 thriller film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, and co-starring Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. It was directed by George Cukor, and based on the 1938 stage play Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton. Another movie version was done in 1940, adhering more closely to the original play; but when MGM did the 1944 remake so soon after this first film, they wanted to have all existing prints of it destroyed. Fortunately, the original film wasn’t ever destroyed, but this 1944 version still eclipsed it.

Bergman won her first Academy Award for Best Actress with this movie, while Boyer was nominated for Best Actor, and Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and it won Best Art Direction. The film got a total of seven Oscar nominations.

It is from this film that the term ‘gaslighting‘ originated, for the villain, Gregory Anton (Boyer), uses this very tactic–tricking his wife, Paula (Bergman), into doubting her own perception, memory, and sanity by staging bizarre scenarios for her–in an elaborate scheme to drive her mad, have her committed to an insane asylum, then take possession of her old London house, originally owned by her aunt, Alice Alquist, whom he murdered years before.

Normally, emotional abuse is used on a victim for the purpose of having power and control over him or her; but Gregory, or Sergius Bauer, to use his real name, only wants to get rid of Paula so he can freely search about that old house, to find the coveted items he killed Alquist to steal–her jewels.

In one scene, he speaks of his great lust for precious jewels (about a half-hour into the movie). In another scene, we see him in the attic, searching furiously for those jewels, using a knife to hack through the cushion of the back of an old chair in a desperate hope to find them (about an hour and a half into the movie). This ruthless searching for treasure, violating other people’s property in the process, reminds us of the plunder of the Third World for resources, diamonds, etc., by Western imperialists. Remember that, just as an emotional abuser often controls his victim’s finances, imperialism deliberately stifles the economic growth of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Since Patrick Hamilton had communist sympathies, especially in the late 1930s, when he wrote Gas Light, I feel at least some justification in making a leftist allegory out of this movie.

Gregory, who–as I see it–represents bourgeois imperialism, tricks Paula, who represents both the proletariat and those ‘brutal dictators’ that imperialism wants to remove, into thinking she is a forgetful kleptomaniac. He does this by deliberately moving items when she isn’t looking, then claiming she took them and forgot she had. He reveals her ‘forgotten thefts’ with a cruel frown, causing her to be frightened and hysterical.

When he leaves her alone in the house, ostensibly to go out somewhere and work on composing classical music, but actually to sneak up into the attic from the back to search for the jewels, she notices the gaslight dimming in the rooms. This frightens her, for she has no idea who is causing it to dim. The servants honestly deny any knowledge of the gaslight dimming (just as the average worker doesn’t know of the ruling class’s tricks), and Gregory pretends not to know either; for it is he who is dimming it–hence the term ‘gaslighting’.

Always claiming Paula is ill, Gregory never lets her out of the house to be sociable, like a typical emotional abuser. (Symbolically, this isolation is also like how imperialism economically isolates such countries as Cuba by imposing embargoes on them, to bring an end to the regimes of those ‘brutal dictators’.) The servants believe she’s ill, too, and are cool towards her, upsetting her all the more. Of course, it is Gregory who has made the servants believe she’s ill, through triangulation; just as the corporate mainstream media tricks us into thinking ‘brutal dictators’ like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, et al, are madmen who must be removed from power.

By the climax of the film, Paula has been manipulated so thoroughly that she plods about, eyes half shut, as if she’s half-asleep, just like the average Western citizen, brainwashed and distracted by media nonsense. She believes her mind is going, that all she sees and hears is just a dream, as her cruel husband has convinced her.

I have elsewhere gone into detail about the nature and effects of emotional abuse, as well as about narcissism; hence my political interpretation of this film, instead of just elaborating on psychological abuse again. I feel a political interpretation is useful and necessary, because I see political gaslighting going on everywhere, all the time.

The media tricks Americans, for example, into thinking that one political party is evil, while the other is good, or at least has the potential for good, once the ‘good’ political party has been cleansed of corruption; when in reality, both political parties are working for the plutocrats, as are the media.

We are tricked into forgetting the imperialist crimes of previous years and decades, and even made to think that the Western imperialists are among the victims, rather than the victimizers. Here we see the microcosm of the narcissist, seeing himself as the victim and projecting his guilt outward, expanded into the macrocosm of the imperialists, who blame Muslims for terrorism instead of taking responsibility for US or NATO bombings of, or proxy wars in, places like Libya, Syria, Kosovo, or Iraq. Like Gregory, capitalists are murderers.

Gregory accuses Paula of stealing and forgetting her thefts, when in fact he is the thief (and a murderer). Similarly, the capitalist class excoriates socialists and social democrats for ‘stealing’ the money of the wealthy (through progressive income taxes), when in fact it’s the capitalists who originally stole from the workers (by overworking and underpaying them). Furthermore, the Western media has propagandized against socialist states like the USSR, calling them ‘totalitarian dictatorships’, when currently America has by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and polls have consistently shown that a majority of Russians prefer the USSR to their current state of affairs. All of this media deception can be called political gaslighting.

Gregory leaves Paula alone, and the gaslight dims, frightening her; then he denies this dimming. This is symbolic of capitalism’s alienating of workers, leaving them in a darkness of misery, then denying that the capitalist system is responsible for these problems. The servants go along with Gregory’s thinking, just as so many workers, police officers, and soldiers refuse to resist the system.

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Cotten), who revives the case of Paula’s murdered aunt, Alice Alquist, after the police have considered it unsolvable, admired Alquist’s singing; this admiration arouses his empathy for Paula, and he puts the pieces together and saves her. Now he is a policeman, and therefore an unlikely hero in any anti-capitalist allegory; but because he’s the only inspector among the British police still interested in this case, out of his empathy for Paula, his authority can be seen to represent one other than that of the establishment. (Furthermore, in the 1940 film version, there’s a scene in which the inspector–originally named Rough–invites a group of poor street urchins into a pastry shop to buy them something to eat [about 21 minutes or so into the film], suggesting his sympathy for the poor. Recall in this context Hamilton’s communist sympathies around the time of the writing of his play.) His fighting with and subduing of Gregory can thus represent the vanguard of a revolution against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

I admit that my allegorizing here isn’t as smooth as that of my previous analyses, but I feel it’s necessary to make a link between gaslighting in relationships and that of politics; for I see the latter as an extension of the former, an extension that mustn’t be overlooked. Now, if my emphasis on contemporary imperialism seems odd when allegorizing a story written so many decades earlier, consider how much older capitalist imperialism really is: equally disturbing examples of it can be seen in Churchill’s disparaging of Muslims and the Indians he allowed to starve to death in the Bengal Famine; or in the late Victorian Holocausts of the late 19th century.

Emotional abuse in families, extending to other relationships, is a lot more common than most people realize. In the US, it has been found to be almost universal. America is a country where authoritarianism, disguising itself as ‘liberty‘ (check out the gaslighting there!), is also rampant; religious fundamentalism, an intrusive state, mass incarceration, police brutality, and neoliberal capitalism being the most notable manifestations. It isn’t a wide leap of logic to go from American dysfunctional families to this authoritarianism, then to imperialism: it’s all about power imbalances.

A useful link between family abuse and the authoritarian political establishment, given from the perspective of a prickly American cop, is in this disturbing video (a scene from the TV series Southland), in which a truant pre-teen boy with a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ attitude is lectured that “discipline is not child abuse”–this after his mother has hit him with a belt two or three times for truancy. To some, this may seem like a mild punishment in itself, but many families have wildly different interpretations of what ‘mild punishment’ is, especially as regards hitting a boy with a belt. Consider the end of this scene in Goodfellas, again, ‘punishment’ for truancy.

The point is that there is always a ’cause’ for the abuser to fly off the handle and assault the victim either verbally, physically, or even sexually. This ’cause’ does not justify an abusive reaction, which is then minimized as “discipline” or ‘punishment’.

Similarly, and by extension, Western imperialists always have ’causes’ for their bombings of other countries, typically vilifying the leaders of those countries by calling them ‘brutal dictators’. To be sure, the dictators of the world have more than their share of flaws; but for the West to be judging them, given all the corruption that favours the rich and powerful in the West, is really the pot calling the kettle black. The corporate-owned media, ever in the service of imperialism, engages in gaslighting by giving us biased accounts of what is happening in, for example, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Russia, so we will see the bombings as ‘humanitarian’, a truly obscene series of lies.

Once the bombing campaign is over and the victimized country is subjugated (if not more or less destroyed), the ‘brutal dictator’ is removed or killed, and the imperialists take over, just as Gregory tries to remove Paula, then take ownership of her home so he can finally search freely for the jewels, which could be seen to represent the oil and other resources of the conquered countries.

Remember how Iraq was regarded sympathetically by America during the Iran/Iraq War, then the US turned on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s? Or how Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen had the sympathy of the US when repelling the USSR from Afghanistan (we all know what happened after that)? Remember how the West briefly warmed up to Gaddafi during the 2000s…then in 2011…? Or how Syria was an intermittent ally until the 2010s? Gregory’s attitude to Paula can be seen to symbolize this kind of political relationship. At first, the victims have their uses; then they’re devalued and discarded.

In order to solve the problems of political oppression around the world, we must first solve the problems of our own social relations. This must begin with the family, the foundation of all social relations.

To optimize family relations, parents must be as sensitive as they can to the emotional development of their children, starting right from the first months of infancy. Attachment theory explains the different ways a child learns how to connect with primary caregivers, then with other people; this includes unhealthy forms of attachment. When these forms of attachment are unhealthy, the child grows up with these bad object relations, which become the blueprint for all future relationships.

This leaves such a person vulnerable to the schemes of psychopaths like Gregory. Paula’s childhood trauma, of having seen the dead body of her strangled aunt, would represent the kind of ruptured attachment, or bad object relation, that has led to her being susceptible to the charms of Gregory, who idealized her during their courtship, devalued her during their married life in London, and almost discarded her into a mental institution, but for the intervention of Inspector Cameron.

Just as we must be warned of the idealize/devalue/discard tactics of psychopaths, sociopaths, or narcissists, we must also do the necessary healing work if we’ve already been traumatized by them, be they our ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives, or bullying parents. The healing work includes learning about toxic people, engaging in self-care and self-compassion, meditation, cathartic writing about one’s own problems, and joining communities (including online ones) of other survivors, to give them support as well as receive it from them.

When the needed emotional health is either established, through good parenting (not ‘perfect’ parenting, but the good enough parenting that DW Winnicott advocated), maintained, by being wary of the fake idealizing of potential toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, or restored after surviving an ordeal of emotional abuse, then people can organize into communities, and develop the solidarity needed to combat the greatest emotional abusers of them all–the capitalist class and their stooge governments, their political flying monkeys.

As for the Cluster B individuals themselves, psychiatrists must work tirelessly to discover a cure for each of those pathologies, whether those pathologies be genetically basedphysiologically based, or caused by trauma.

We as a people need to learn what love really is: not just a pretty-sounding word, not empty sentimentality, but a genuine connection between people, a connection brought about not by stern moralizing or authoritarian forms of religion, but by empathy…the empathy Inspector Cameron felt for Paula, because of how she reminded him of her aunt.

Only through empathy can we hope to build a better world, one in which bosses don’t rule over workers by overworking and underpaying them, and by gaslighting them into thinking they are worthless if they can’t help bosses make a profit; a world where all racial, ethnic and religious groups are treated as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make people equate blacks with criminals or Muslims with terrorists; where the sexes are regarded as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make women feel worthless if they don’t provide pleasure, or to make men feel worthless if they don’t provide money; where LGBT people are given dignity, and gaslighting isn’t used to make them seem perverted.

To fix the world, we must start with the family, the foundation of society.

Analysis of ‘The Shining’

The Shining is a supernatural horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1977. It was his third published novel, after Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. It was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980; and while the initial critical response to the film was mixed (with King especially disliking how Kubrick changed huge portions of the story), it is now considered one of the best horror movies ever made. King had a well-received made-for-TV miniseries version done in 1997, one that, naturally, was much more faithful to his novel.

His novel is a classic in the horror genre, and while his and Kubrick’s visions of the story differ so vastly, I find enough thematic material common to both that I will cite both versions in my analysis to make my point. These themes include the self-destructiveness of alcoholism, family abuse, the return of repressed bad internal object relations, repetition compulsion, and the death drive.

Though analyses of the themes in Kubrick’s film (the white man’s oppression of Native Americans, etc.) are well worth exploring, since they have already been looked into, I won’t be exploring them.

Jack Torrance has accepted a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel; and just as the hotel has a dark history, so does Jack. A former drinker and teacher, he has been on the wagon for fourteen months (in Kubrick’s film, five months) after having not only hit a student, George Hatfield (and lost his teaching job for it, ‘Up On the Roof’, pages 162-170), but also injured his own son, Danny (pages 23-25, ‘Watson’).

Ghosts inhabit the Overlook, which not only overlooks a beautiful mountain view in the Colorado Rockies, but also ‘overlooks’ (ignores, or doesn’t take responsibility for) the crimes that have been committed there. Jack’s connection with the Overlook–more and more complete as he goes mad in his attachment to the place, trying ensure that he and his family never leave–shows how he is at one with the hotel. He has “always been the caretaker” (page 532, ‘Conversations At the Party’). The physical building represents his mind, with the boiler in the basement needing to be checked (to relieve the pressure) twice a day and once at night, for it symbolizes the death drive of his unconscious. There’s an interesting juxtaposition of ideas at the beginning of chapter 3, ‘Watson’, on page 22:

You lost your temper, Ullman had said.

‘”OK, here’s your furnace,” Watson said, turning on a light in the dark, musty-smelling room…Boiler’s on the other side of the wall. I’ll take you around.”‘

Jack’s anger and the furnace are mentioned side by side because they, and the boiler, are all one and the same thing. On the next few pages, Jack remembers injuring Danny for messing up his writing papers.

We learn through the course of the novel that Jack’s father had been abusive to him and his mother (‘Dreamland’, pages 335-338). Being abusive to Danny would be ‘normal’ to Jack, since his own dad’s abuse of him seemed normal: “In those days it had not seemed strange to Jack that the father won all his arguments with his children by use of his fists, and it had not seemed strange that his own love should go hand-in-hand with his fear…” (page 335). Similarly, his wife, Wendy, had a bad relationship with her mother. These bad object relations would haunt Jack and Wendy like ghosts…just as the ghosts of the Overlook will.

Wendy herself contemplates how the ghosts of her mother and Jack’s father could be among those in the hotel, when she thinks of Danny’s trauma: “(Oh we are wrecking this boy. It’s not just Jack, it’s me too, and maybe it’s not even just us, Jack’s father, my mother, are they here too? Sure, why not? The place is lousy with ghosts anyway, why not a couple more?…Oh Danny I’m so sorry).” (‘On the Stairs’, pages 491-492)

The isolation of the hotel, on a snowy mountain during a bitter winter, symbolizes the kind of social disconnect that often leads to problems like alcoholism and family abuse. In direct contrast, Danny’s psychic gift, the “shining”, as fellow shiner Dick Hallorann and his grandmother call it (‘The Shining’, page 117), connects him with people, and with the future, in an enhanced way. Jack and Wendy cannot contact the outside world (because Jack has destroyed the CB radio [‘Dreamland’, page 342], just as he’s ensured they can’t ride away in the snowmobile–‘The Snowmobile’, page 426), but Danny can “shine” all the way from Colorado to Florida to tell Hallorann of the threat to his family’s life.

The ghosts of the Overlook represent the ghosts of Jack’s past (and Wendy’s, to a lesser extent); but Danny, explicitly as such in Stephen King’s miniseries, points to the future, since “Tony” is actually Danny as a young adult (“Daniel Anthony Torrance”, page 639), advising his younger self to beware the dangers of the hotel (‘Shadowland’, pages 37-50). Thus, Tony is really Danny being a friend to himself, a form of self-compassion that can help victims of abuse to heal.

Redrum, or murder spelled backwards, represents not only the destructiveness of alcoholism–red rum, as red as blood–but also the destructiveness of looking backwards into the past, and letting internalized bad objects continue to dominate you, or letting bad old habits resurface and be compulsively repeated.

This brings me to my next point, what Freud called “the compulsion to repeat” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Up until the horrors of World War I, he saw instinctual drives as geared exclusively towards pleasure, libido. The destruction of that war (Freud, page 281) compelled him to revise his theories and acknowledge a death instinct, what his followers would call Thanatos, which is opposed to Eros, the will to live. He now admitted that dreams aren’t always the fulfillment of wishes (Freud, page 304).

Sometimes his patients would compulsively repeat actions that seemed meaningless or without a clearly pleasurable aim, such a when an infant boy threw out a toy and reeled it back, perhaps to master the sensation of loss, as when his mother wasn’t with him (Freud, pages 284-285). Similarly, Freud treated traumatized veterans who repeated irrational acts in the form of flashbacks, traumatic dreams (Freud, page 282), and the reliving of battlefield events.

Jack’s inability to control his anger and compulsive drinking are manifestations of this death instinct and its compulsion to repeat. He was destructive and drinking before, and he will be destructive and drinking again.

The topiary animals make for interesting symbolism. Normally, the presence of plants gives us a feeling of peace, of pleasure, especially when they have been shaped into aesthetically pleasing forms, like animals–how charming. Yet the Overlook’s topiary is of animals that move when you aren’t looking (‘In the Playground’, pages 311-314). By the time Hallorann returns to help Danny, the topiary lion attacks him (‘Hallorann Arrives’, pages 617-618). So what we have are plants that are superficially charming, yet bestial and frightening when one knows them better. And since they are the Overlook’s topiary, they are an extension of Jack’s personality: charming and sweet on the surface, his ego ideal, but inside…

Then there’s Danny’s frightening experience with the fire extinguisher hose, which seems to unravel all by itself (‘Outside 217’, pages 258-262). Again, seen in light of the idea that the hotel represents Jack’s mind, we see something that, on the surface, is meant to protect and ensure safety, as a father is supposed to do. Instead, the hose, a near phallic symbol, moves surreptitiously, slithering, suggestive of a snake.

Because the hotel represents Jack’s mind, the ghosts in turn represent his internal object relations. Delbert Grady could be seen to represent Jack’s internalized abusive father, since grey-haired Grady eggs Jack on to kill his own family, just as the voice of Jack’s father, heard on the CB radio, urges him to kill them (‘Dreamland’, page 341).

The ghosts want Danny for all his psychic powers, that ability to connect with others that Jack lacks. When Danny rejects the ghosts, they go after Jack. Thus the ghosts initially represent, in WRD Fairbairn‘s revising of Freud’s id, the libidinal ego in its relationship with the exciting object; then, when Danny has rejected the ghosts, they represent Fairbairn’s revising of the superego, the internal saboteur or anti-libidinal ego, with its turbulent relationship with the rejecting object (both objects being symbolized by Danny).

Since I assume, Dear Reader, that you aren’t familiar with Fairbairn’s revision of Freud’s id/ego/superego conception of the mind, and since I further assume you haven’t read my analysis of The Exorcist, in which I discuss this revision, I’ll present the relevant quotes again here:

“…the intolerably depriving, rejecting aspect of the other person is internalized as the ‘rejecting object’, attached to the ‘anti-libidinal ego’…[,] the split-off ego fragment that is bonded to the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez, pages 63-64)

Fairbairn’s revising of Freud’s drive theory replaces the drive to pleasure/destruction with an object-seeking purpose, for which instinctual drives are mere avenues to seeking or dealing with objects. Fairbairn may have rejected Freud’s drive theory, including the death instinct and the compulsion to repeat, as superfluous (Fairbairn, pages 78-79), but I find both useful in explaining the symbolism of the Overlook, two ways of looking at King’s novel from different angles. Grady, the symbolic ghost of Jack’s abusive father, is pushing Jack to kill because Jack needs his father-object, regardless of whether it is good or bad for him.

Let’s consider what Fairbairn had to say about needing bad objects. “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him, his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn, page 67)

Going back to drinking represents finding a pleasurable thing as an object to replace the meaningful objects, Wendy and Danny, that Jack needs. As Fairbairn explains, “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140) In the Overlook, Jack is isolated in his own mind, driving him to self-destruction and other-destruction.

Jack uses a bug bomb to kill a nest of wasps found on the roof of the Overlook, where he’s been doing repairs and been stung by one of them (‘Up On the Roof’, page 153). Danny is fascinated with the wasp nest, and wants to keep it. Wendy is unsure if it’s safe, but Jack insists all the wasps have been killed (‘Down In the Front Yard’, pages 177-178). The ghosts of the hotel reanimate the wasps that night, though, and Danny is stung (‘Danny’, pages 195-203). Since the ghosts and hotel represent Jack’s mind, the stings represent a return to Jack’s abusiveness (and self-destructiveness, since he’s the first one to get stung); and his assuring that the wasps are dead and harmless represents his denial of abusive intent, gaslighting, and his empty promise that he’ll never repeat injuring Danny.

The Overlook, Jack’s symbolic mind, full of the ghosts of bad internal objects, and with a boiler of anger that Jack must regularly “dump…off a little” (‘Watson’, page 28) to relieve the pressure, always repeats its aggressions. Kubrick’s adaptation brilliantly brings out this repetition compulsion in such symbols as rug patterns, the phrase “forever, and ever, and ever”, and Jack’s “writing project”, an endless repetition of the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Similarly, we see repetitive columns, doors, wallpaper patterns, and the sound of Danny driving his little three-wheeled bike on and off rugs and the hardwood floor, over and over again…sound-silence-sound-silence-sound-silence.

Danny refuses to believe that Jack, swinging the roque mallet, is his real father (page 639); it’s just the ghosts controlling him. But the ghosts, the hotel, and the roque-mallet-swinging madman are all Jack. Typical with abuse victims, they can’t bring themselves to admit their abusers really are abusers–it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or traumatic bonding.

Jack is supposed to be writing a play, a goal pointing to the future; but instead, he finds a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings related to the history of the Overlook (‘The Scrapbook’, pages 227-249). Now he decides, instead of writing the play, to write about the hotel: a project pointing into the future is replaced with one pointing back into the past. (In the miniseries, the scrapbook is titled My Memory Book, implying a symbolic connection with Jack’s past.)

Jack phones Mr. Ullman–the stern owner of the hotel and Jack’s symbolic superego (“Officious little prick“, ‘Job Interview’, page 3), a man who has hired him with the utmost reluctance (‘Job Interview’, page 7)–to talk to him about writing a book about The Overlook (‘Talking to Mr. Ullman’, pages 269-274). Ullman is furious with Jack for wanting to do such a thing, as he is with Jack’s impertinent attitude…just as the superego will be resistant to any surfacing of repressed, unacceptable desires.

Ullman has good reason to oppose Jack’s plan to publicize The Overlook’s shady past. It is a past filled with violence–mafia killings, a woman having committed suicide in a bathtub (“Inside 217′, pages 326-327), and Grady’s violence against his family. The scrapbook is found in the basement, Jack’s symbolic unconscious, and the violent contents represent his repressed bad internal objects (i.e., his father). The old parties represent his past of alcoholism. (“Unmask! Unmask!“) [‘The Ballroom’, page 464], Show your real self, Jack.

The ghosts of the Overlook want Danny, which means Jack needs a good internal object to replace his intolerably bad objects, a notion in Fairbairn’s therapeutic methods. Since Danny resists the ghosts, they want Jack, meaning the repressed bad objects resurface, causing mayhem. Having Danny, a good boy whose “shining” represents strong empathy and an urge to connect with others, would redeem Jack’s bad objects and help him to be a good man again, looking ahead to a future free of the past; but their evil is too great, so Jack instead spirals downward and backward into his violent, alcoholic past.

Dick Hallorann goes to great lengths to help a boy and a family he barely knows, because like Danny, his “shining” abilities give him strong empathy and an urge to connect, unlike the isolated, freezing cold world surrounding Jack’s mind, the Overlook. After Dick, Wendy, and Danny escape, we find them all together in Maine the following summer, Dick being almost like a new father to the boy. Danny and Wendy have escaped the dark, abusive past that Jack couldn’t escape, because ‘the shining’ is a light leading to a future of freedom and love.

Stephen King, The Shining, Pocket Books, New York, 1977

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, New York, 1952

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

Sigmund Freud, 11. On Metapsychology, the Theory of Psychoanalysis: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id and Other Works, Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1984

Narcissism in the Family

Everyone has narcissistic tendencies to some extent, but there are healthy and unhealthy forms of self-love. Those with the unhealthy kind can manifest their egotism in a variety of ways, with varying levels of intensity.

Some, like Donald Trump, display their narcissism blatantly, by constantly bragging, pretending they have abilities far greater than those they really have, always needing to be the centre of attention, and openly showing their contempt for other people’s feelings.

While such people are certainly annoying, at least they’re easy to spot, and therefore to avoid. Other narcissists, however, are more cunning than that. This second kind of narcissist, the covert narcissist, is who I will be focusing on, because he or she is so much more dangerous.

This kind of narcissist knows he or she cannot get away with the childish antics of the Donald. This narcissist needs to establish a social setting that will be conducive to the attainment of his or her narcissistic supply, while ensuring safety from being found out. This usually involves two categories of people: allies and, of necessity, victims.

The narcissist may find a victim in the form of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a family member. The victim will typically be a sensitive, trusting sort, an empathetic person who’s easily manipulated into the relationship. A son or daughter, during the tender years of childhood, is an especially easy target.

When allies are used by the narcissist, they are showered with charm and flattery, and given loads of love, in order to convince them that the narcissist is actually a good, kind-hearted, generous person. So when the victim is oppressed by the narcissist, no one will believe that so ‘loving’ a person as the perpetrator could ever do wrong. The victim must be crazy; he’s also a terrible slanderer, apparently; it couldn’t possibly be that he is the one being slandered.

The narcissist who exploits through one-on-one relationships makes the victim into an alternating friend and enemy. He starts with charm and flattery, love-bombing the victim into being deceived that he’s a wonderful find. As the relationship progresses, however, his true colours gradually come out, and the victim discovers that something is seriously wrong. The friend has become an enemy, and when things come to a head, there’s an explosive confrontation. Then the narcissist uses guile and manipulation to trick the victim into thinking it was all or mostly her fault, while he pays lip-service to whatever ‘miniscule’ part of the problem was his fault.  A peaceful honeymoon ensues, things go back to normal, and before long, the cycle of abuse begins all over again.

If this nightmare of a relationship doesn’t repeat itself in a seemingly endless cycle, the victim is simply devalued and discarded one time, and left emotionally devastated. Now, this kind of one-on-one relationship with a narcissistic boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) is hard enough; but a break-up or divorce can provide (though not, of course, guarantee) an escape. Similarly, the group situation with a narcissist and his or her allies (in, for example, the work environment) can be avoided by quitting the job or leaving those false friends. It becomes infinitely harder, though, when the narcissist and his or her flying monkeys all make up your family.

The narcissistic parent is a true terror. Though the narcissistic father is a formidable bully, I suspect the narcissistic mother is, in many ways, often much worse, if for no other reason than that she can cunningly exploit the stereotype of the angelic, saintly mother who criticizes her victim only out of ‘concern’. Remember that while we normally think of narcissists as self-absorbed egotists, many can come across convincingly as selfless and altruistic, all for the purpose of gaining narcissistic supply from being thought of as such saintly types.

Narcissists often get their supply from being the master of puppets. They project their inadequacies, through projective identification, manipulating their victims into introjecting that phoney identification. This manipulative kind of projection is necessary because of how important it is to the narcissist to maintain the image of his or her False Self, that phoney self-image that portrays him or her as a fountain of virtues, wisdom, and talents to him- or herself, as well as to everyone else. So the abuser has a phoney self-image as well as the victim.

Maintaining all this phoniness is done, of course, through lying–the narcissist lying to himself, to his victim(s), and to his enablers. Imagine the cruelty of doing this in the family, when a covert narcissistic mother is pulling the strings, knowing she can take advantage of both the ‘angelic, saintly mother’ stereotype and her kids’ sense of filial duty to her. Triangulation between the narcissistic mother, the enabler sibling(s), and the victim is especially damaging. Narcissists will believe their own lies, too, even when the lies are obvious. Their egos won’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance when confronted with their lying.

The narcissistic parent will choose one son or daughter, or several, to be the ‘black sheep,’ the scapegoat(s) on whom as much blame and grief will be imposed as the parent can get away with. The other son(s) and/or daughter(s) will be the ‘golden children’, the narcissist’s allies (the enablers or ‘flying monkeys’) who are encouraged to help the parent, in every way viable, to vilify, ridicule, and abuse the victim(s), justifying the cruelty by saying that the ‘black sheep’ deserve(s) it.

How can a victim escape such a nightmarish situation, especially if he or she is still a child? The child’s trauma will be ongoing, during crucial developmental years in his or her life, with no way out in sight. That the very people, who are supposed to love him or her, are constantly causing emotional–or maybe even physical or sexual–harm means the victim will grow up with an impaired sense of trust in people in general. If you can’t trust your own family, how can you trust the world? The victim will develop complex PTSD.

I know that I have suffered ongoing emotional abuse from my family, my mother having been the architect of that abuse. My story can be found here. I’ll never know for sure if she was actually a narcissist (she was never diagnosed), so I’m only speculating now. I will provide evidence here to make a case of covert narcissism in her, though I’m no expert and have no authority to say for sure if she had it.

Yes, my mother really died of cancer last May. If you read my article on Emotional Abuse, you’ll note that I speculated that she could have been lying about dying of cancer to get my attention, and manipulate me into flying back to Canada to see her. I was wrong about that, though my suspicions were understandable at the time, given her other lies over the years; so I didn’t update that in the previous article. Still, my mistaken speculation doesn’t disprove the rest of what I said in that article.

Now I will share a number of memories of mine to continue making the case (keeping in mind all of what I said in the previous article) that she could have been a narcissist, with the rest of my family–my brothers and sister in particular–as her allies, her ‘golden children’, and with me as the ‘black sheep’.

As I explained in Emotional Abuse, my mother tricked me into believing I had classic autism as a child back in the late 1970s (if you haven’t read that post, please don’t read this until you have, because I will make references to it that will make little sense unless you have), describing my ‘condition’ in extreme ways and using the most melodramatic language. I’d been going to grade school with normal classmates, yet she associated me with mentally retarded people. She also tended to grin like a Cheshire cat whenever she spoke of my ‘autism’. She seemed to enjoy talking about it, something most parents would never be happy about; she also spoke of it as if it were narcissism that I really had…projective identification, remember?

I’m sure she didn’t want me to think I was retarded, but instead that I ‘miraculously’ came out of a more extreme form of autism. Her plan was to make me believe I was, and still am, ‘behind’ everyone else. The fact that I actually don’t have an atom of autism in me (two psychiatrists who, in the mid-1990s, had examined me each over several months, told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me; and I did the Autism Quotient test back in the early 2010s, and I got a score [13] far below even the slightest of autistic traits [at least 32 being “clinically significant”, with any score below 26 effectively ruling out Asperger’s Syndrome], thus reconfirming the psychiatrists’ conclusions), even of the highest functioning type, shows what brutal gaslighting she’d been subjecting me to…and gaslighting is a typical form of abuse narcs use on their victims.

My mother sometimes showed explosive rage, at times when it didn’t seem at all necessary; this is a trait of narcissists, when they feel their worth is being somehow doubted. One time when I was about eight or nine years old, I was talking with my mother in the kitchen, and while I forget the context of the conversation, the relevant part came when she said dumb, meaning ‘stupid’ (Was she calling me dumb? I don’t remember). I corrected her by saying that “dumb means you can’t talk.” I meant no harm, but I must have sounded cheeky, for she slapped me hard and growled, “Don’t be [SMACK!] lippy with me!”

I can understand her being annoyed with my cheekiness, but surely slapping me hard on the face, and shouting in a fury over such a small thing, was a bit much. I suspect she was feeling narcissistic rage and injury at the time. This wasn’t an isolated incident; there were many examples of this narcissistic rage and injury that she manifested, of which I’ll give a few more examples.

Other moments of such narcissistic injury seem to have occurred on her birthday, on two occasions. One time, when I was a kid, she got upset with my father for not being or doing as he should have, and she stormed away in tears, shouting, “…and on my birthday!“, just like a child who’d had her dolls taken away.

Another time, when I was about twenty, was when my father and my brother, F. (and I was falsely accused of having), forgot her sacred birthday. Just as a parenthetical note, before I go into the details of this story: whenever my birthday is forgotten or regarded slightly, I don’t get one one-hundredth as upset as my mother did; yet the family consensus is that I have an over-estimated opinion of myself (the definition of autism, apparently), rather than her. I’ll go into a theoretical explanation of why I’m branded this way instead of her later on.

A day or so prior to her birthday, I found myself unable to think of a suitable gift to buy her. I discussed the problem with my sister, J., one or two nights before Mom’s birthday. I remember taking a bus downtown the day before her birthday with the express purpose of looking for a gift for her, unfortunately with no success. My mother had spoken of needing a wheelbarrow, but there was no way I could have afforded one, and lugging one onto a bus to take home would have been awkward, to say the least.

On her birthday, a Sunday afternoon, J. gave Mom a gift; J.’s plans later that day were to get together with a friend of hers. Agitated that I hadn’t gotten Mom anything, I talked to her about it; she kindly said I didn’t have to get it for her that day–she also mentioned a gardening book she wanted.

Now I knew what to buy her; but in the meantime I’d buy her a birthday card, so I did. When I gave it to Mom, she received it in the TV room with a smile. Then I went over to J., who was in the bathroom. I said jokingly, “I gave Mom a down payment.”

Then J. got all snotty and bitchy on me, all of a sudden. She was obviously irked that I hadn’t provided a parcel for Mom “on time”. I pointed out how arrogant she was being (not a nice thing to say, but it was the truth), and she started yelling at me, accusing me of forgetting Mom’s birthday (Had Mom told her I’d forgotten, when I hadn’t?). When I asked why it was sooooooo necessary to be punctilious about birthdays, she shouted, “It’s your mother’s birthday!!!

Then I snapped. “And a birthday is this great god we have to worship!” I shouted. Though it hadn’t been my intention to trivialize my mother’s feelings (I was just criticizing the need to follow social conventions so blindly), unfortunately, it came out that way.

Now my mother started screaming at me. “Go away!” she shouted. “Fuck off! You arrogant, egotistical…” etc. etc. (It’s interesting how she’d switched so quickly from kind and gentle to so vicious, all because of one remark I’d made.)

Shaking, I tried to apologize for what I’d said, to placate her, but to no avail. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said sincerely, over and over.

“Yes, you did!” she shouted. “Go away!”

The very same day, I went to a shopping mall and bought her that gardening book. When I gave it to her, a got a muted apology from her for yelling at me.

A little later on, I ran into J. in front of a nearby variety store. “Hi,” she said to me, as if a fight hadn’t occurred at all that day. (Amazing how people’s moods can swing so quickly.)

When I tried to clarify my position on the whole gift-giving custom, saying, “I thought it was the thought that counts,” I got a contemptuous scowl from J.

Then she explained the root of the problem: our father had forgotten Mom’s birthday. Similarly, neither F. nor his wife were anywhere to be found to give Mom anything. (And I, as usual, was the last to be informed of any of this problem, because I’m the least important family member.)

Then J. acknowledged that I had taken the brunt of Mom’s wrath (scapegoating is a typical tactic used by narcs and their enablers); J. never apologized for that, of course, but instead rubbed it in further, first by accusing me again of forgetting Mom’s birthday, then by shouting, “Think of other people! Don’t think about yourself!” and saying that I shouldn’t think of getting Mom’s gift fast, so the rest of the day could be a “Me-day!” (Of course, the idea was lost on J. that maybe I was trying to get Mom her gift on time, precisely what J. had said I should have done, because I’d been thinking of Mom rather than myself.) By the way, J. was about to have a “Me-day” of her own with a friend, now that her ‘debt’ to Mom had been paid, fortunately for J., “on time”, so she was guiltless.

Then J., always Mom’s faithful flying monkey, manipulated me into saying that I thought buying a gift for Mom was a “chore” (she actually introduced the idea into the conversation, projecting that bad attitude onto me); then she guilt-tripped me by saying, “If you think giving Mom a gift is a chore, then that’s your problem,” then she walked off in a self-righteous huff.

So, there you have it: both J. and Mom were mad at me because Dad forgot Mom’s precious birthday, as F. had seemed to do. I never forgot it, as you’ll recall, and in fact made a decent effort to find something for her, but was unlucky. Even though J. surely remembered my asking her what to get Mom a day or two before Sunday, she accused me twice of forgetting what I obviously hadn’t. (She and Mom were displacing their anger at Dad onto me.)

My mother was flying into a fit about trivializing her sacred birthday, something I’d hardly get mad about if it had been my birthday, yet I am the “egotistical” one.

Several months after this absurd birthday incident, I talked with J. in the kitchen about it again. She gave me another one of her condescending lectures about how awful it is to treat a birthday as if it were a mere chore, a job to be done (Something I’d never thought: I just didn’t give birthdays the holy status she and my mother were giving them, especially my Mom’s birthday.)

Then J. droned on about how we as a family weren’t very “lovey-dovey”, and “that’s OK” (WTF?). Therefore, we compensate for this lack of affection through gift-giving, a rather superficial showing of love, in my opinion. The idea that maybe, just maybe, we as a family could make an effort to show more love to each other as a regular habit, instead of putting all our eggs in one birthday basket, was never even to be considered, of course.

During this same conversation, I told J. about my long-existing doubts about whether I was truly loved by the family, and she responded by saying, “We love you, Mawr,” half-sneering and avoiding my eyes, suggesting no sincerity at all, and certainly giving no demonstrable proof of this professed love. I also asked for help and reassurances against the insecurities I was having at the time (insecurities largely caused by the emotional abuse and bullying I’d been subjected to by the family); she said, in her typically derisive tone, “That’s a pretty big order, Mawr.”

Gee, who has a problem with chores now?

Another occasion of Mom’s explosive anger came when I was about eighteen. I was at home with her, in the TV room, where she’d been sitting on the sofa. I was standing at the doorway, and she told me she would need me to do some dishwashing work at the family restaurant. She’d got me to substitute unavailable or sick dishwashers on many occasions, and I was irritated by this. I showed my annoyance by interrupting her before she could finish explaining the situation.

Now, I admit that by interrupting her, I was being impolite, and I’ve had a bad habit of doing that with people; but her explosion of rage immediately following my interruption was surely excessive. At the time, I’d imagined her overreaction was a result of the accumulated stress of her owning and managing a restaurant with my father for almost ten years…but at the time of her blow-up, she’d been sitting comfortably in the TV room, watching the boob tube, as she very often did. So I doubt stress was her problem.

Narcissistic injury seems a better explanation.

First she said, “Shut up!” Had she stopped there, she would have found me quiet and listening to her. Instead, she exploded: “Jeez, you’re rude!“, then began ranting at me like a psychotic. I tried to keep my cool, not yelling back for the sake of avoiding escalation, but it was no use: she was determined to be as verbally abusive as she liked.

Apparently, my calm was infuriatingly arrogant, whereas her self-indulgent rage was nothing to criticize. My response, “Has the volcano finished erupting?”, was a tad incisive, but understandable. She insisted that I was making her even angrier, when she hardly needed any encouragement from me. Was my cool just reminding her of what a jackass she was behaving like? I never called her that, but she hardly needed to be called that by anyone, so obviously was she making herself lose face in front of me. The only thing more obvious than that was how much she was hurting me…not that she cared.

Somewhere in the middle of her high-decibel rant, she shouted, “Do you think you’re the only person in this whole god-damned house?” (The lady doth project too much, methinks.)

Finally, she decided my calm was too outrageous to bear, and she shouted, “Get out of here! Who needs ya?” As I walked up the stairs to my bedroom, I then heard, “You arrogant little bastard!”

I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I replied, “Hateful person.”

She roared at me once again, “Get out of here! Who needs you?”

And all of this, just because I’d interrupted her.

Later, after she’d finally calmed down, I returned, saying, “I’ll apologize to you if you apologize to me.” She, of course, would never apologize, calling me a “prick” after I told her how hurtful “arrogant little bastard” sounded. Then, she expressed her offence at my saying she was “hateful”. She insisted, frowning, “Of course I love you. You’re my son.”As if that even means anything: love is as love does. We need to show love, not just talk about it.

After that pathetic attempt at reconciliation, I returned to my room and bawled my eyes out. How could a mother’s “love” be so shamelessly phoney? I was loved only because technically I was a member of the family; yet merely for interrupting her, and trying to keep my cool during her tirade, I ‘deserved’ that avalanche of verbal abuse?

Some time after, I complained about that incident to J., who as Mom’s enabler, her flying monkey, defended Mom to the hilt as usual, without even properly hearing my side of the story. J. talked a load of nonsense about teenagers thinking they know everything, which had nothing to do with what I was talking about; I just didn’t see why I needed to be screamed at for merely interrupting Mom. Impoliteness deserves viciousness, it seems.

And speaking of impoliteness, she was hardly innocent of that.

Not too long after this incident, she interrupted me in a conversation, which I, without anger, immediately pointed out to her; then she justified it by claiming she’d merely been “anticipating” what I would say. Hadn’t I been “anticipating” rather than being an “arrogant little bastard”? Why was my “anticipating” rude, but hers wasn’t?

Other occasions of her rudeness included several times when, in the restaurant, she had found me standing in her way, and she, presumably busy and stressed, had no alternative, it seemed, but to shout “Get out of my way!” and even shove me to the side once or twice.

On another occasion, when she was in the restaurant kitchen working, and I asked her about something, and she, too stressed out to be nice, couldn’t help shouting, “In your ass!” to me. On yet another occasion, in the kitchen, my questions and trying to get her attention necessitated her throwing a steel ladle in my direction and shouting, “I’m not listening to you!” with the most vicious look in her eyes. I’m a most infuriating conversationalist, apparently.

She also liked grabbing me by the ear and pulling me along wherever she wanted me to go. She didn’t do this merely out of anger or frustration with me: sometimes she did it for the sheer fun of humiliating me. One time, right in front of other people, non-family members, she told them, “This is how you get him to come with you,” then grabbed me by the ear again. I yelled, “No, no, NO!” and struggled to make her let go.

I was about 28-and-a-half at the time.

This, recall, was the mother who ‘gave me the most love’ of anyone in the family, a position my oldest brother, R., another flying monkey of hers, reiterated in a shaming comment to me just after she died (see my article, Emotional Abuse, for the whole story).

Her explosions of temper weren’t directed only at me. As the owner of the family restaurant in the 1980s, she was often nasty towards salespeople, or even just any visitor who, perhaps, she mistook for a salesperson. It took the slightest provocation to make her blow up at any visitor trying to do business with her. Yelling at them like a madwoman was apparently the only way to deal with them walking into the restaurant kitchen to talk to her.

One time, a man who was apparently a friend of one of the staff asked if he could sit in the guest room while eating his meal; she coldly told him he had to sit in the main dining area and walked out of the room. I’d rather not repeat what he said about her after she’d left.

Another time, a man came into the guest room with some innocuous questions, and she, apparently thinking he was another hated salesman, blew up at him, shouting, “I don’t even know who you are!” among other hostile remarks. I had to leave the room because I just couldn’t bear to hear any more of her nastiness, or imagine how she was making him feel. Seriously, what was wrong with her?

It seemed that anyone outside of her inner circle was unwelcome in the extreme, including my cousins and, sometimes, me. She never had a kind word to say about my cousins, particularly the oldest and youngest of the three men. The middle cousin, whom I’ll call S. (previously mentioned in Emotional Abuse), had been spoken of fairly well by her until evidence surfaced of his emotional instability, an instability already seen, according to her smear campaigns, in his two brothers. As soon as S. was seen to be “ill” (her word, one she’d used to describe me when I was a kid with an apparently extreme form of “autism”), she turned on him. My nurse mother cured bodily illness; she cursed mental illness…right after projecting it onto those she despised.

She justified her antipathy to S. by complaining of all the awful things he’d been saying to me in his e-mail rants, accusing me of gossiping about him behind his back with our former teacher friends, completely baseless accusations coming from S.’s paranoid fantasies. In contrast, Mom couldn’t care less about the far crueller things my brothers and sister (Mom’s enablers, remember) would say to me, in their bullying of me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Mom rationalized their bullying, because they were in her inner circle; she condemned S.’s nastiness, because he wasn’t in that circle.

Instead of trying to feel compassion for S. for having a mental illness, possibly paranoid schizophrenia brought on by excessive substance abuse (LSD, marijuana, hashish, and loads of alcohol, among other drugs), my mother used his scurrilous ravings against me as a convenient excuse not only to dislike him, but to teach the family to dislike him, too. If he really is a “schizy,” to use her pejorative slang, teaching the family to alienate him is the last thing he needs.

So, she spoke pejoratively about their emotional problems just as she had about mine; I believe this bad-mouthing represents a projection of her own probable narcissistic tendencies onto us, since she spoke of my “autism,” or later “Asperger Syndrome,” as well as that which she fabricated of my youngest cousin in descriptions with the language of narcissism (i.e., having an annoyingly self-absorbed personality, etc.).

People with mental illnesses were, in her mind, always thought to be people who trouble others rather than are troubled people themselves, worthy of sympathy.

The family tends toward the belief that “ill” people are ‘born’ with a mental disorder of some kind: my mother encouraged that attitude, I believe, as a way to evade responsibility for how the family caused so much psychological harm to me, to my cousins, and even to each other. R. did poorly at school and dropped out because he was just “stupid” by nature, according to my crusty father, rather than because he was going through a tough time during his early adolescence, a problem made worse by my father’s verbal abuse and insensitivity to to R.’s emotional problems. My father was no narc, but he was mentally unhealthy in as huge a way as my mother.

My cousins aren’t “normal” because of innate personality flaws, or so my mother would have had us believe; not because of poor parenting, or some other cause of childhood trauma.

I tend in the opposite direction of my mother’s theory of ‘innate’ mental illness. In a similar vein, I find it troubling how many psychiatrists tend to focus too much on somatic factors (i.e. chemical imbalances) in the brain to explain various factors of mental abnormality. This approach seems to be used to justify the use of psychiatric drugs to ‘manage’ mental disorders instead of doing the long and hard work of curing the patient. The use of these drugs seems to be an exploiting of people’s pain for profit.

In contrast, I believe mental disturbances are more the result of traumatizing events in one’s life. The use of psychoanalysis (free association, dream analysis, etc.) can gradually bring to the surface all those childhood traumas that have been buried in the unconscious for years. Also, the transference and countertransference in the patient/therapist relationship can help the patient rebuild positive object relations to replace the negative ones from childhood.

R., F., and J. experienced moderate levels of emotional abuse from our parents (I’m convinced that Mom was manipulating them, in different ways and for different purposes, as much as she was me, resulting in my siblings’ having their own mild forms of narcissism, carbon copies of our mom’s), resulting in their own fierceness towards me; my parents also experienced traumatic moments in their childhoods to give them the often irascible personalities they had. This is not to excuse them of their cruel ways in the least, just as my own excessive scolding of some of my child students is not to be excused by my Complex PTSD (as I believe I have); we must own our bad deeds and take full responsibility for them. We must do all we can to heal ourselves to the best of our ability, to minimize the hurting of others.

My mother was born in London, England, in 1938. She moved to Canada with her mother in the 1940s after her father died; she must have experienced, on some level at least, the horrors of World War II. This, combined with the loss of her dear father and the huge change of moving to another country and leaving her old world behind, all at such a tender age, must have been too much for her bear (remember how devastated I was when I moved from Toronto to Hamilton, and had to say goodbye to my best friend, Neil). It would have been a miracle if she hadn’t been traumatized.

As hard as it must have been for her, though, none of it justifies what she did to me or my cousins. What happened to her was beyond her control; her lying to me about autism was a choice she made.

My father was born in Canada in 1928, so he as a child suffered through the Great Depression, teaching him to be tight with money; as a German-Canadian, he would also have had social difficulties as a teenager during World War II. Still, his verbal abusiveness and parsimony were choices he made, not anything forced on him. He justified his meanness as “conservative” thinking. I just call it mean.

One memory my mother was actually fond of telling on at least a few occasions was when she’d been with R. in a shopping mall in, I assume, the mid-late 1960s. He was being a bratty kid, shouting and being demanding. She’d had enough at one point, so she pulled his pants down right there in public, and spanked him. She later bragged, “He never did it again” (i.e., behaved badly in public with her).

Now, if a mother snaps and does something like that, then regrets her excessive punishment, seeing it as a momentary lapse of judgement, that would be forgivable; but my mother boasted about her moment of power, decades later, at a time when people had been coming around to consider spanking, especially such a public kind, to be a form of child abuse.

So here we see some examples of childhood trauma in some of my family members. Now, having suffered childhood traumas gave my parents and siblings the right to grieve their pain; it gave them no special right to inflict that pain on me.

Since my mother’s lying had gone on over a period of decades, along with her manipulating and triangulating tactics with my siblings, I find it reasonable to assume that these were things she’d been doing from childhood, the product of her early life having been turned upside down. I’ll bet that she, as a lonely child and teenager, lied constantly to gain attention; and her mother scolded her about it and shamed her. This resulted in a fragile ego that constantly needed supply, a typical problem with narcissists.

She was smart enough to realize, by the time she’d grown up, that she couldn’t get away with overtly demanding attention and adulation all the time, so she learned what many narcissists learn: how to hide her egocentricity and fake being altruistic. In exchange for doing things for others, she’d expect them to give her narcissistic supply; and if they failed to do so, there’d be hell to pay.

Her choice of vocation, nursing, is interesting in this regard–someone who helps the sick. Her preoccupation with medical matters as a possible source of narcissistic supply (i.e., showing off her nursing knowledge at every opportunity), was extended to a preoccupation with psychiatric matters, which she knew nothing about. Her medical knowledge deserves acknowledgement and respect, but she never deserved that for issues of mental illness. Still, she’d prate away like an expert on autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and even schizophrenia, things she didn’t know the first thing about. (Narcs claiming their victims have mental illnesses seems to be a very common thing, by the way.) A nurse is supposed to be among the most compassionate people around, yet where was her pity for my cousins or me?

I must jump ahead to her last years. When I finally put all the pieces together and realized that all her talk about autism and Asperger Syndrome were lies, I was so overcome with rage at her betrayal that, typical of someone with complex PTSD, I grew obsessed with my abuser, wanting revenge.

I consider punishment a better word for what I did in 2015, in response to her abuse, than revenge, since denying her what she didn’t deserve–me as a source of narcissistic supply–was the perfect punishment. This was also, as I see it, a gentle punishment. I was only avoiding contact with her, as is appropriate with Cluster B individuals. In that final year, I wasn’t hurling verbal abuse at her in e-mails, or anything like that. When I’d complained about her emotionally abusing me, and warned that I’d stop visiting if she didn’t stop, that had been in e-mails sent almost ten years earlier, which contained none of the four-letter words she and the family had always used on me. Finally, she couldn’t have missed me all that much: after all, when she’d told me not to come to see J. and her dying husband, my absence then hadn’t made her heart grow fonder–why would she suddenly hunger for me by her side now?

No, her pain from lacking me in Canada from 2009-2016 was more likely from narcissistic injury. She never took responsibility for anything she’d done: for lying to me about my mental state; for sitting idly by while R., F., and J. bullied me throughout my youth; for not caring enough to lift a finger to help S. when she, a nurse, learned he is mentally ill.

If she was upset about my non-communication with her during the last five or six years of her life, why didn’t she simply do what any normal person would do? Why not e-mail me, asking me if there had been anything she or the family had done to upset me, making me not want to talk to her? Instead, whenever she tried to confront me on the issue, she put it all on me: I wasn’t communicating with the family; she was “hurt and annoyed” that I had “given up on the family.” Given all those years of emotional abuse, why wouldn’t I have? Yet she always put the blame on me, instead of herself, when my previous e-mails (from 2005-2008) clearly expressed all my grievances with the family, and warned her that the family visits would stop if she didn’t stop manipulating me.

The fact is that my narc mom felt perfectly entitled to treating me as she had; and like a queen, she still expected tribute from her subjects. She got that tribute from R., F., and J., so they, her flying monkeys, were treated well. When I failed to pay that tribute, to give her the attention and adulation she needed for her narcissistic supply, I was in the wrong, and not her.

When she was dying of cancer on a hospital bed, R. by her side with his cellphone there, waiting for me to call her, the lies she’d told me the previous late summer (in 2015; see Emotional Abuse) should have been fresh on her mind. Yet she feigned ignorance of all of them, as well as all the others, the same playing dumb that she’d been doing months before. Furthermore, she was high on morphine and full of the stress of immanent death, not to mention feeling the pain of her conflict with me. Surely that stress, and the drugs, would have caused a slip of the tongue, if not a confession of guilt with teary eyes! Surely she could have at least confessed to the 2015 summer lies about S. and my aunt, saying she was desperate to get me to talk to her, and so she lost her head.

Instead, she calmly pretended she had no idea what I’d been talking about in my accusation of her lying, focusing on how I’d hurt her so badly. This is the narcissist playing victim while denying her own guilt. I’d been so shocked by her lie about my aunt saying I’d sent her “over-the-top” e-mails that I couldn’t sleep for most of the night after I’d received Mom’s phoney message; but I had hurt her…I hadn’t merely forced her to take responsibility for hurting me. She was remorseless to the end.

She died of cancer at the age of 77, going on 78, in May of 2016. Though I wasn’t with her when she died (nor did I want to be), I did find myself with conflicting feelings, torn between a sense of filial duty to her and my need to protect myself from her manipulations. Remember that I had reason to believe she was faking her death; though I was wrong, my suspicions were understandable given the lies and manipulating I’d endured from her already. So I had to weigh my need for self-protection and urge for justice (through punishing her) against a need for a filial, compassionate response to her suffering (assuming that her cancer really had metastasized). The stress at the time was driving me mad, for unlike my mother, I have a conscience that perturbs me, even when my harsh actions are sufficiently justified. Such is the power of society’s injunction that one honour one’s father and mother.

Of all those things she said to me during that last phone call, all negative generalizations about me because of my understandable wish to end all contact with a probable narc, the most galling was her claim to have given me more love than to R., F., or J., a preposterous falsehood given all her preferential treatment of her three flying monkeys. R. went into all-out hyperbole for her sake by claiming that she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet,” in the context of shaming me for not having returned her love at her death. This is an example of a covert narcissist convincing her flying monkeys that she was practically a saint in life, when her victim secretly knows better. It’s also an example of reaction formation, a pretending to have the noble opposite of one’s real, unacceptable attitude (i.e., Mom’s actually having loved me least, if at all).

Indeed, how does a mother who loves you the most, or even equally to your siblings, do the following eight things: lie that you’re autistic, describing it with extreme language to deprive you, a child, of needed self-confidence; allow your elder siblings to bully, belittle, humiliate, and curse at you without a word of reprimand to them, with only a few rare exceptions; frequently indulge in explosive anger, usually for slight provocations; extend your feelings of childhood social alienation to the remaining years of your life by modifying the autism lie into a more plausible lie about Asperger’s Syndrome; demand your involvement in the family regardless of how you feel, on the one hand, then on the other hand discard you as persona non grata when your involvement becomes inconvenient (i.e., Mom’s telling “tactless” me not to visit J. and her dying husband); make it apparent that she’s engaging in smear campaigns against you, behind your back (i.e., when bad-mouthing my youngest cousin, claiming that he, too, must have Asperger’s Syndrome, this implying that she’s doing the same thing to you); do nothing to help a mentally ill cousin, whom you’ve begged her to help, when helping him would be the only assured way of preventing him from harming you; and exploiting your concern for him through lies, along with projecting her obvious spite against you onto someone else (i.e., my aunt’s supposed dismay over my “over-the-top” e-mails, and claiming that my aunt considers me a “burden”, when actually it was my mother who had these feelings)?

Was this a loving mother, or a covert narcissist who feigned altruism to get her supply from her flying monkeys (R., F., and J., her darling golden children), then bad-mouthed, cursed at, and smeared everyone she didn’t like (the black sheep: me, my cousins, salespeople, etc.), for more narcissistic supply? Was her claiming I have an autism spectrum disorder, incorrectly described in the language of narcissism, really her using projective identification on me to rid herself of her bad, True Self, thus making it easier to make her loving, False Self more convincing to the world and to herself?

Was her heartache at my rejection of her really just narcissistic injury, her listing of my vices on R.’s cellphone just her way of getting back at me? And if her death was in any way connected with that heartache (as I imagine R., F., and J. think it is, doubtless with her influence), was it really because she’d forever lost that projected part of herself…what she really loved?

I’ll never know for sure, but I have good reason to think so.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, my mother didn’t always mistreat me. She could be generous if she wanted to be, and she was quite often. I acknowledge that, but only in the context of how narcissists can alternate between being nice and nasty (idealizing, devaluing, and discarding phases). You see, Dear Reader, even her kindest moments cannot compensate for the wrongs she did to me as described above, so I can only conjecture that her good moments ultimately had self-serving motives.

Had I been in a normal family, with healthy and loving, if imperfect parents, my snubbing of my mother during her last moments on this earth would have been inexcusable. But mine was a dysfunctional family, so dysfunctional that they will never admit it to themselves. No contact is a standard defensive move that victims of narcissists and psychopaths will use; when I used it, it just happened to occur during my victimizer’s final hours. And my last talk with her on R.’s cellphone gave her one last chance to redeem herself. She chose not to do that.

Unlike my mother, I take full responsibility for what I did during her final years. I deliberately refused to be loving to her, and the whole family was hurt by that. But in my defence, I was provoked…my whole life…by people who spoke of love all the time, but largely didn’t practice it, except among those in their inner circle.

When I received a package from the family lawyer confirming her death and showing me a copy of her will, my heart sank. I went into a depression for at least a week, my shame weighing down on me like a huge rock on my back. She’d left me a portion of her money equal to what she gave R., F., and J., but I didn’t want it. I sent a release of my portion, preferring instead to have our mother’s money equally divided in thirds between R., F., and J. I didn’t want anything from a mother who refused to give me the basic emotional building blocks to live in a functional way.

I’ve gotten over the worst of my grieving so far. Though it was hard for me to do what I did, I feel no contact was the right thing to do. If you, Dear Reader, have been emotionally abused, especially by family, who should have loved you and inspired your trust, you should feel no compunction whatsoever about not giving them a love they didn’t deserve. You owe them nothing. You need to love yourself and take care of yourself, what they never did for your emotional needs.

Learn about self-compassion. Meditate. Write about your experiences, as I have done here; it’s cathartic. Find support groups, whether on social media or in your physical area. Get a therapist if you can find one. Do whatever you have to do to heal, taking as long as you need. Take care of yourself because you are worthy of a happy, healthy life. You did not deserve what happened to you, at all. You deserved much, much better.

Love yourself, and be at peace.

Analysis of ‘The Exorcist’

The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin), and Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras). It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, the movie screenplay having been adapted by the author. The novel in turn was based on the real-life exorcism in 1949 of a boy (‘Roland Doe’, about fourteen years old at the time) who allegedly was possessed of a demon.

Speaking of demons, during production, there were stories of people being injured, which added to the legend of the ‘cursed’ film. Similarly Satanic stories have been told of the productions of The Omen (1976) and Macbeth.

The Exorcist is considered one of the scariest, and therefore one of the best, horror films ever made. It had a huge influence on Black Sabbath, and on Ozzy Osbourne in particular, who sat through many screenings of it. It’s particularly frightening for Christians, not only, I believe, because they would consider the supernatural events something that could really happen, but because Christians unconsciously sense how the film is an allegory of the modern loss of faith, and of the attendant harm done to relationships.

Here are some quotes:

“There’s not a day in my life that I don’t feel like a fraud. Other priests, doctors, lawyers – I talk to them all. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that.” –Karras

“It’s more than psychiatry, and you know that Tom. Some of their problems come down to faith, their vocation and meaning of their lives, and I can’t cut it anymore. I need out. I’m unfit. I think I’ve lost my faith, Tom.” –Karras

“Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance. Now, for example, say a 90 pound woman sees her child pinned under the wheel of a truck. Runs out and lifts the wheels a half a foot up off the ground – you’ve heard the story – same thing here. Same principle, I mean.” –Dr. Taney

“There is one outside chance for a cure. I think of it as shock treatment – as I said, it’s a very outside chance…Have you ever heard of exorcism? Well, it’s a stylized ritual in which the rabbi or the priest try to drive out the so-called invading spirit. It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of an embarrassment, but uh, it has worked. In fact, although not for the reasons they think, of course. It’s purely a force of suggestion. The victim’s belief in possession is what helped cause it, so in that same way, a belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear.” –Dr. Barringer

Karras: Where’s Regan?
Regan: In here. With us.

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.” –Merrin, to Karras

Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

The movie begins in Iraq, where religious faith is still strong, though it’s the Islamic, rather than Christian, faith. Father Merrin, who personifies Christian faith in the story, is nonetheless old and in ill health, needing to take nitroglycerin for a heart condition. When he finds an amulet, an image of Pazuzu, a demon he once exorcized in Africa many years before, he knows he must face it again.

When discussing the situation and the image with a Mosul curator of antiquities, the curator says, “Evil against evil.” (page 6 in the Prologue of the novel) If there is no God to fight the Devil, then there’s no good, in the religious sense, to fight evil; other forms of evil will have to do to stop Pazuzu. We will see the significance of this idea at the climax of the movie, when Father Damien Karras (note the pun on demon), a doubting priest, uses a decidedly un-Christian method to get the demon out of Regan’s body.

This is what makes the story so scary to Christians, as I see it. From their point of view, good comes only from the Christian God. If He doesn’t exist, then there is no real good to fight evil; there are only other forms of ‘evil’ to fight it, namely, the gods of all those ‘false’ religions: including Islam, whose God, Allah, is acknowledged by Muslims to have created evil as well as good (Allah is not a father, either–see below for the significance of this idea); or paganism, from which Pazuzu originally came. A world of only evil, without God, is Hell, a terrifying notion to Christians.

In Georgetown, Washington DC, Pazuzu has already arrived, and is making noises in Chris MacNeil’s attic. It takes quite a while for the demon actually to enter the body of Regan, her twelve-year-old daughter. Back in the early 1970s, moviegoers’ attention spans weren’t as short as are those of moviegoers today, people who always require quick thrills; more importantly, this slow buildup suggests the insidious nature of growing evil.

Father Karras, far more suited to psychiatry than to preaching, complains to another priest of his loss of faith. Even before this revelation, it is telling how he reacts when he hears Burke Dennings, the enfant terrible director of the film Chris is acting in, tell her that the writer of the film’s screenplay is in Paris “Fucking.” Karras laughs with all the others watching the filming, instead of taking offence at the bad language (page 20: “Chris…darted a furtive, embarrassed glance to a nearby Jesuit, checking to see if he’d heard the obscenity…He’d heard. He was smiling.”). Karras curses a number of times himself elsewhere in the story.

Christians fear that if we lose faith in Christ, we will turn into bestial people; we’ll lose our innocence, speaking and performing obscenities and blasphemies, as Regan does when Pazuzu takes over. Christians believe we must accept the Kingdom of God as a child (Mark 10:14-15); salvation comes not through good works, but by grace through faith (Romans 3:20-28). Despair, however, leads to damnation (Romans 14:23).

As those of us who live secular lives understand, though, the problem of evil is a much more complex one than a mere matter of falling from God’s grace and losing The Garden of Eden, then of being restored to that state of grace by believing in Jesus. MacNeil understands this need for self-reliance, since she is an atheist, as explicitly stated in the novel: “An atheist, she had never taught Regan religion. She thought it dishonest.” (page 47)

The loss of faith isn’t limited, however, to a religious one. Neither the doctors nor the psychiatrists can help Regan, leading her mother to lose faith in them. When the psychiatrists ask Chris of her religious beliefs, or of Regan’s, they suggest exorcism as a cure; though they’re careful to emphasize that, since Regan merely believes she’s possessed, the belief in exorcism, through the “force of suggestion,” can cure her. Ironically, her atheist mother now searches for priests…and the priest she finds–Karras–wants to help as a psychiatrist!

After the scene when Regan has been bouncing on the bed and has struck Dr. Klein, Dr. Taney speaks of how “Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance.” (In the novel, Dr. Klein says it on page 126.) I watched this scene in a theatre here in Taiwan, where the locals in the audience were actually laughing at the doctor’s words. Being firm believers in ghosts, the Taiwanese found it absurd that it hadn’t even occurred to these doctors that Regan was most obviously possessed of a demon. But that’s the point of the story–the loss of religious faith is that profound in mainstream Western society.

After Karras has examined her, he has seen enough proof of possession in Regan–her speaking in languages, Latin and French, which she presumably has never studied (pages 300-301, which also include German); using telekinesis (opening a drawer with her mind); manifesting knowledge of Karras’s dead mother; imitating the voice of a derelict Karras failed to help–he tells another priest he still isn’t convinced of the reality of Pazuzu inside Regan. On page 313: ‘”I’ve made a prudent judgement that it meets the conditions set forth in the Ritual,” answered Karras evasively. He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.’ He thinks Regan’s problem is a case of dissociative identity disorder (pages 310, 337).

When Merrin arrives for the exorcism, Karras tries to tell him about her psychiatric history, but Merrin considers this a waste of time. When Karras speaks of three personalities in Regan, Merrin–the personification of faith–insists there is only one.

Merrin emphasizes that “the demon is a liar” who “would lie to confuse” them. The priests mustn’t listen, just as Christians try not to listen to the ideas of modern science, including evolutionary theory, which show the falsity of a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis.

Disproving the six-day Creation, as well as the story of Adam and Eve, is devastating to the Christian faith. If man evolved from the ape, what basis is there for believing in The Fall? How did our animal instincts for self-preservation and survival, including selfishness, the procreative sex drive, and aggression, suddenly become evil once we evolved to the species of homo sapiens? A metaphorical, allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story doesn’t work, either: for Christian soteriology to be effective, the first few chapters of Genesis must be taken as literal, historical fact. If there was no historical Fall of Man, why should we believe in a Divine Rescuer who, by dying on the Cross, gave us a chance to be restored to a state of grace that hadn’t originally existed anyway? (For further reading, see Spong, 1992.)

In light of modern scientific knowledge, we must understand that continuing to preach Christian dogma and Bible stories as literal, historic fact can no longer be merely viewed as a perpetuation of ignorance; now it is just cognitive dissonance, if not tantamount to outright lying. Threatened by modern knowledge, Christians–especially fundamentalists–are compelled to project their mendacity onto evolutionists, as Merrin has projected the idea of lying onto Pazuzu. When Merrin says the demon mixes lies with the truth, this seems an almost grudging concession that Pazuzu may, to an extent at least, be right.

Even without evolutionary theory, Christian theodicies are inadequate. They try to reconcile a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God with a world in which evil exists by talking about Adam and Eve exercising free will by disobeying God; even though they, originally in a state of grace and having its attendant moral wisdom, surely would have had the sense to know that by eating the forbidden fruit, they were ruining themselves. To make an analogy, merely having the free will to put one’s hand on a stove’s red hot burner won’t make a sensible person any more willing to scald his hand; nor will one eat one’s own damnation, provided one has the moral perfection to know the consequences. One would be too morally strong to give in to the temptation of acquiring god-like knowledge.

This is why it’s dangerous to listen to Pazuzu’s words, for they will destroy faith. Merrin makes the point, that it is to make us despair, to make us think we’re animal, and that God would never love us, because we’re so unworthy. And love, particularly the love of our mothers and fathers, is crucial to our mental health; for those primary caregivers of our childhood provide a psychological blueprint for all of our later relationships, which leads me to my next point.

In object relations theory, our loving, good objects–internalized imagos of our parents, which reside in our minds like ghosts in a haunted house–help us to have integrated, healthy personalities, allowing us to have happy, loving relationships. God is the ideal internalized object, the ‘good Father’, and if we lose Him, we’re helpless against our internalized bad objects. Without sufficient good objects, one experiences a splitting of the personality into extreme good and bad objects. Enter Pazuzu…into Regan’s body.

When we don’t believe we’re loved, we develop what WRD Fairbairn called a schizoid personality (not to be confused with schizophrenia, which he considered an extreme schizoid manifestation), a personality split between good and bad internalized objects, something even the most normal people have, to at least some extent (Fairbairn, pages 3-27). This bad internal object, split off from the good ones, is what the demon in Regan could be said to symbolize.

When we don’t feel sufficiently loved–as Regan must feel when her father, in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from Chris, doesn’t call Regan on her birthday (p. 48)–we begin to feel persecutory anxiety, what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. Hence Pazuzu, Regan’s symbolic internalized bad object, is persecuting her.

Interestingly, Fairbairn compared bad objects to demonic possession (pages 67-72). “…it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them? Why does he not simply reject them…?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him [as Regan’s father has neglected her], his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn p. 67)

Chris’s love for Regan, in contrast, brings out the girl’s sweetness, her good internal object, the ‘good mother’ imago (p. 43). While we know Regan’s maniacal, violent behaviour is caused by an actual demon, and therefore Chris considers it a mistake to have originally believed that Regan’s pathology was caused by her father’s absence, we can nonetheless see the demon as symbolizing repressed anger over her father’s absence. We are, after all, reminded of her missing father even late into the story (p. 328; in the film, there’s no mention of the father calling and wanting to talk to Regan).

Remember also what Pazuzu says: “I am no one.” (page 308) This symbolically represents what Melanie Klein called the omnipotent denial of a bad object. Indeed, is Pazuzu a real demon, or just an internal bad object?

Projection and re-introjection of good and bad objects carry on in a cycle throughout one’s life, in varying levels of intensity. Possessed Regan’s vomiting (and urinating on the rug at the party) symbolize the projection. Freud associated libido with instinctual drives towards pleasure, but Fairbairn believed libido was directed at seeking objects (e.g., looking for people to give love to and receive love from). “Actually some of the activities to which so-called libidinal aims have been attributed are activities which I should hesitate to describe as primarily libidinal at all, e.g. anal and urinary activities; for the inherent aim of these activities, in common with that of vomiting, is not the establishment of a relationship with objects, but the rejection of objects which, from the point of view of the organism, constitute foreign bodies.” (Fairbairn p. 138) Regan’s puking and pissing can in one way be considered her futile attempt at exorcising her bad objects.

If we can’t find the loving objects we need, then our behaviour deteriorates to mere pleasure-seeking, as Regan’s obscene and blasphemous acts indicate. She violently rejects the loving help of father figures, and instead behaves obscenely. Instead of wanting to be saved by God, she masturbates with a crucifix; instead of receiving the priests’ help, she wants them to fuck her, or one another; she also grabs a hypnotherapist by the balls; and she hits one of the male doctors, then calls out to them: “Fuck me! Fuck me!”

Fairbairn elaborates: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (p. 139-140) Similarly, addiction of any kind (drugs, sex, gambling, the internet, pornography) can be seen as an attempt to connect when normal human connection has failed for the addict.

As far as introjection and re-introjection are concerned, we can see it symbolically in Regan’s masturbating with the crucifix, her jamming and re-jamming of that thing inside her bloodied vagina, saying, “Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!” Jesus is the Son of God, but He’s also homooúsios with God the Father, that is, equal to Him. When confronting Father Merrin, she says, “Stick your cock up her ass…” These two blasphemies and obscenities represent a wish for introjection of a father figure, and also symbolize the female Oedipus situation of a girl whose father is no longer part of her life. Telling her mother, and forcing her to “Lick me! Lick me!” represents a briefly inverted Oedipus conflict, and her hitting of Chris is a return to the normal Oedipus situation. Pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is all Regan has, because the acquiring of her needed loving object (her father) is impossible.

When Merrin dies at the end, faith dies. Karras desperately tries to revive him, but to no avail. Pazuzu seems awed at first by his final victory over Merrin, then he laughs in Schadenfreude. Enraged, Karras grabs Regan and beats the demon out of her–evil against evil, he punches her like a boxer. He wants to introject the demon, the bad object, not only to save her, I believe, but to punish himself for his loss of faith and absence when his mother died (his presumably dead father, by the way, is never mentioned in the movie). With the demon inside Karras, she is safe…except for the fact that Damien the demon is now eyeing her with a view to assault her…perhaps sexually. Swelling with self-hate and an urge to redeem himself, Karras shouts “No!” and jumps out the window, sacrificing his life for the girl’s. Evil against evil. Instead of salvation by faith, we have salvation by suicide, the ultimate act of faithlessness.

A weeping Father Dyer gives Karras absolution as he’s dying. Karras seems to have regained his faith (though it seems to be a belief only in devils, rather than in God; also, is his moving hand, in Dyer’s, really an expression of repentance?) while dying; in any case, his suicide still symbolizes a paradoxical salvation by faithlessness. His receiving of absolution would seem an affirmation of faith at the end of the story; but consider how Karras’s ‘exorcism’ of Regan involved no use of the Roman Catholic ritual at all. No prayers to God. He just beat the girl. ‘God’ wasn’t anywhere. No miracles came from Him; the supernatural occurrences came only from Pazuzu. Indeed, the two priests look ludicrously ineffectual as they are chanting, over and over, “The power of Christ compels you!” Does Pazuzu lower the levitated Regan by the priests’ compulsion, or of his own free will? Indeed, the demon has been toying with the priests the whole time.

When the family moves out, Chris tells Father Dyer that Regan remembers nothing of the demon. The bad internal object, that of her neglectful father, has been repressed, pushed back into Regan’s unconscious, and so there’s no longer a threat…or so we assume.

Regan projects her ‘bad father’ imago, Pazuzu, into Father Karras, and when he’s killed himself, she can feel satisfaction from that. When she quickly gives Father Dyer a hug and kiss, we wonder, for a second, will she attack him?

No, he’s safe, for she has successfully repressed her internal saboteur (Fairbairn p. 102-105), her “anti-libidinal ego [, which] is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez p. 63-64)

Earlier in the story, Regan’s libidinal ego (the part of Fairbairn’s endo-psychic structure corresponding roughly to Freud’s id) is attached to Burke as a possible stepfather, what Fairbairn would have called an ‘exciting object’ (Fairbairn p. 102-105; Gomez p. 62); for she is hoping her mother will marry him, speaking to her mother of how she (Chris) likes him (p. 43-44). Then, her anti-libidinal ego, the internal saboteur, symbolized by Pazuzu, considers Burke a copy of her rejecting object/father and kills him (and since her rejecting object is inside her psyche, Regan imitates Burke’s voice and twists her head around, as Burke’s was when found dead). Pazuzu, the name of her ‘bad father’ imago, could be considered a pun on ‘Pa’. Is Pazuzu jealous of Regan’s preferring Burke to him as a father-object? Similarly, Pazuzu wants to kill the other two Fathers, Merrin and Karras.

But to return to the end of the story: having reintegrated her bad objects with her good ones, Regan has thus restored her mental health. Unconsciously, she can now accept the independent existence of her far-away father. She has given up the omnipotence symbolized by the supernatural powers of the demon, for she no longer needs to deny the bad aspects of her object relations. Now she wants reparation with fathers, so she doesn’t hurt Dyer.

Regan’s parents’ divorce amounted to a loss of faith in their marriage, resulting in the girl’s loss of faith in fathers–biological ones, possible stepfathers (Burke), Catholic Fathers, male doctors/hypnotherapists/psychiatrists, or God the Father Himself. Because the priests cannot replace her actual father any more than Burke can, Pazuzu’s first words to Merrin include, “…you motherfucking, worthless cocksucker!” What else is your father, but the man who is fucking your mother? (And leaving her, i.e., divorcing her and abandoning Regan, is fucking Chris in a different way…making him worthless to Regan.) When Merrin throws holy water on Regan, Pazuzu the rejecting object writhes in pain and has scars on her leg to show his rejection of the Father.

Killing fathers, whether potential surrogates like Burke, or religious ones like Karras or Merrin, is what Pazuzu is all about: the anti-libidinal ego that is attached to the internalized ‘rejecting object’ (Regan’s absent father). As I see it, Pazuzu is both the anti-libidinal ego and the internalized rejecting object at the same time. Pazuzu rejects fathers for the same reason he rejects God. After all, paternity is an act of faith in itself. Note what Don Pedro and Leonato, Hero’s father, say about her in a dialogue in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i, lines 88-89:

DON PEDRO: I think this is your daughter.

LEONATO: Her mother hath many times told me so.

Or, consider a quote in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten…founded…Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood…Paternity may be a legal fiction.” (Joyce, page 266)

Our fathers, who are in Heaven (or here on Earth): hollow seem their names. This is what The Exorcist seems to be telling us…and that’s what is so frightening about the film.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York NY, 1971

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: a Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

James Joyce, Ulysses: Annotated Student Edition, Penguin Books, London, first published 1922

Analysis of ‘American Psycho’

American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppie living in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.

A movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithful.

The violence against women has led many to believe that the novel is misogynistic. Actually, the novel satirizes the superficial, materialistic life of yuppies; for while Bateman is based on Ellis’ own experience of alienation in 1980s New York, we are not meant to sympathize with Bateman or condone his actions. As a Wall Street investment banker, Bateman is a personification of capitalist greed and cruelty.

The novel begins with an allusion to Dante‘s Inferno: “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE”. Yuppie New York City, one of the nerve centres of world capitalism, is Hell. Similarly, the novel ends with these words on a sign on a door: “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT”. Of course not: there is no hope of escape from Hell.

Bateman, in the third chapter (‘Harry’s’), is in Harry’s with his yuppie friends, Price (Bryce in the movie), McDermott, and Van Patten. A man named Preston joins them, and during their conversation, Preston makes antisemitic remarks, which Bateman chides him for (in the movie, McDermott makes the bigoted remarks). This moment, like the one in the first chapter (‘April Fool’s’), when Bateman preaches to his friends about such things as the need to end apartheid, provide food and shelter for the homeless, oppose racial discrimination, ensure equal rights for women, and promote general social concern and less materialism, represents the hypocrisy so typical of bourgeois liberals, always mindful of political correctness, but rarely practicing what they preach.

Bateman describes his possessions in his apartment in the second chapter (‘Morning’), going into detail about all of his fetishized commodities, mentioning brand names for everything (a Toshiba digital TV set and VCR; “expensive crystal ashtrays from Fortunoff”…Bateman doesn’t even smoke; a Wurlitzer jukebox; an Ettore Sotsass push-button phone; a “black-dotted beige and white Maud Sienna carpet”; etc.). So much for less materialism. His possessions are clearly very important to him, in how they are meant to reflect his social status (Valentino Couture clothes, “perforated cap-toe leather shoes by Allen-Edmonds”[page 31], Ralph Lauren silk pajamas, etc.).

Social status is important to Bateman because it’s the only way to be a part of yuppie society in New York City. During a date with Bethany, who wonders why he won’t quit his job (in the movie, it’s his girlfriend, Evelyn, who asks him), he answers that he wants “…to…fit…in.” (‘Lunch With Bethany’, p. 237) Later, he brutally kills her after she laughs at him for hanging a painting upside down. Being a yuppie is all about saving face and social conformity.

Ellis suffered in New York in the 80s, when this pressure to conform was so great. In creating Bateman, Ellis was creating, in a way, a modern version of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, “…a sick man…an angry man.” (Notes From Underground, page 15) Hence, Bateman’s psychopathy.

In ‘Office,’ chapter six, Bateman tells Jean, his secretary, to come to work dressed in a more pleasing manner (pages 66-67). Apart from the fact that the 1980s campaign against sexual harassment hadn’t yet picked up steam, he knows he can get away with talking to her like that because she “is in love with” him (or so he, in his narcissistic imagination, thinks–page 64). So much for ensuring equal rights for women.

When he proudly shows off his new name card in a restaurant (‘Pastels’, chapter four), and is easily outdone by Van Patten, Price, and, especially, someone named Montgomery (in the film, it’s Paul Allen–Paul Owen in the novel), whose name cards are so much more impressive (pages 44-45), Bateman feels a “brief spasm of jealousy,” then he ends up “unexpectedly depressed.” He finds that the only way he can restore his sense of ‘superior’ social standing is by picking on those ‘under’ him. In the competitive world of capitalism, how else can one cure one’s low self-esteem?

He finds a freezing homeless black man (‘Tuesday’, pages 128-132), and after giving him false hopes that he’ll help him, he speaks contemptuously to him, then takes out a knife and puts out the beggar’s eyes (in the film, Bateman merely stabs him). He takes light stabs at the man’s stomach and slices up his face. He flips a quarter at him, calls him a “nigger,” then leaves him. So much for racial equality.

I still remember how disturbing I found this passage in the novel, how graphically Ellis describes the jerking of the knife in one of the homeless man’s eyes, to make it pop out of its socket. The eye now dangles, with all the liquid dripping out of its socket, “like red, veiny egg yolk”. I found this scene even more unnerving than the Habitrail and rat scene.

Thanks to Reagan’s inaugurating of neoliberalism in the 1980s, the poverty level made a net increase by the first year of George H.W. Bush’s term. Bateman’s abuse of the beggar can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s war on the poor. Now, this cruelty to the homeless has escalated to the use of spikes on sheltered pavements, and to the criminalizing of feeding the destitute. Like Bateman, capitalism has no shame.

Bateman’s violence against women, however, is the most shocking part of the novel. Having this brutality in the novel is not the same as advocating it, though. Ellis is careful to make Bateman as blatantly despicable, even ludicrous, as possible. His ‘analyses’ of Huey Lewis and the News (pages 352-360), Genesis (after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left, for he “didn’t really understand any of their work,” that is, from the classic progressive rock quintet–‘Genesis’, page 133), Whitney Houston (pages 252-256), and Phil Collins’ solo career, making their commercial pop all sound like high art, are some of the funniest parts of the whole novel. It’s telling that Bateman prefers the, at best, mediocre-to-good film Against All Odds–“the masterful movie” (page 136), in his opinion–to Phil Collins’ hit song. I had a belly laugh when I read that.

So let us make no mistake here: Ellis is not glorifying Bateman in any way; therefore, he isn’t trying to glamourize violence against women. When Bateman uses a woman’s decapitated head to fellate him (‘Girls’, page 304), electrocutes ‘Christy’ (page 290, ‘Girls’), or sticks a Habitrail up a woman’s cunt (page 328), we hate him all the more for it.

Rather than see this violence as Ellis promoting misogyny, we should see it as a comment on misogyny (‘Harry’s’, pages 91-2, has a sexist discussion that, in the movie, is between Bateman, McDermott, and Van Patten)…especially of the sort directed by capitalism against the sexually exploited women and girls in the Third World, those forced into prostitution. Remember that a number of Bateman’s female victims are escort girls or prostitutes.

Since Bateman and all the other yuppies represent the capitalist class, I find it illuminating also to interpret his scurrilous treatment of his female victims allegorically. In most mythologies around the world, the feminine symbolizes nature, our Mother Earth. This is true of most ancient European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern pagan religions.

My point is that in our unconscious, we typically associate femininity with the fertile earth. Bateman’s violence against women, therefore, can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s destruction of the environment. The Habitrail incident further proves this, since Bateman has caught a rat (pages 308-9), then starved it for five days prior to having it (literally) eat out one of his female victims (‘Girl’, pages 326-9). In other sections of the novel, he injures (page 132) or kills dogs (page 165, ‘Killing Dog’). With destruction of the environment goes cruelty to animals.

Another striking theme in the novel is the lack of a sense of identity. In ‘End of the 1980s,’ Bateman says, “…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” (pages 376-77)

Bateman isn’t the only one with identity problems: people routinely confuse one person for another. Paul Owen confuses Bateman with someone called Marcus Halberstam (Halberstram in the movie), Bateman’s lawyer thinks he’s someone called Davis, and a mistaken identity is noted by Detective Kimball (‘Detective,’ page 273). Part of the reason for these mistakes is people not listening to one another; another part of the reason is how alike everyone seems, in dress and personality.

Capitalists often criticize communists for suppressing individuality and creativity. The hypocrisy of this is obvious when we see how capitalist commodification churns out the same kind of product, performer, movie, or song, over and over again. George Lucas once said in an interview that Soviet film-makers had more artistic freedom than he; the profit motive puts us all in chains, as it does the yuppies in Ellis’ novel.

Bateman’s lack of a sense of self sometimes leads to moments of dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization. In mid-chapter (‘Chase, Manhattan’), during a moment of extreme stress while he’s afraid of being caught by the police, Bateman’s narration briefly switches from first person singular to third person singular (page 349-51), then back again by the end (page 352) when he feels safer again and calms down. He hallucinates about seeing a TV interview with a Cheerio and having a Dove bar with a bone in it (page 386). His frequent drug use (cocaine, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, etc.) is probably a source of much of his mental instability. The run-on sentences in the novel suggest an excited narrator high on cocaine, or one suffering from anxiety attacks (‘A Glimpse of a Thursday Afternoon,’ pages 148-152).

With his tenuous grip on reality, we begin to wonder about the reliability of his narrative. These doubts lead to a big question: is he guilty of any of the crimes he claims to have committed, or has he merely fantasized about the whole killing spree?

In ‘The Best City for Business’ (pages 366-7), Bateman says, “One hundred and sixty-one days have passed since I spent the night in [Paul Owen’s apartment] with the two escort girls. There has been no word of bodies discovered in any of the city’s four newspapers or on the local news, no hints of even a rumour floating around. I’ve gone so far as to ask people–dates, business acquaintances–over dinners, in the halls of Pierce & Pierce, if anyone has heard about two mutilated prostitutes found in Paul Owen’s apartment. But like in some movie, no one has heard anything, has any idea of what I’m talking about.” Does this mean that Patrick only imagined the horrors, or have they been ignored by the world because the victims were mere ‘whores’?

Harold Carnes, Bateman’s attorney, who confuses him with a man named Davis, insists that his killing of Paul Owen is “not possible,” for Carnes says he had dinner with Owen twice (page 388, ‘New Club’), after the murder is supposed to have been committed (or did Carnes confuse Owen with someone else?). Also, the lawyer believes Bateman is too cowardly and weak to have killed anyone. Indeed, Bateman is a loser, as everyone in the story knows. Remember, Ellis never glamourizes Bateman.

Elsewhere, the real estate agent trying to sell Owen’s apartment has cleaned up the place and, seeming to know about Bateman’s crimes, she wants him to leave and never return. Eerily, she seems more interested in preserving the high property value of the apartment than in seeking justice for the victims.

This notion, did he, or didn’t he kill those people, is important in light of how he allegorically represents capitalism. Note how similar ‘mergers and acquisitions’ sounds to ‘murders and executions’ (page 206, ‘Nell’s’). To this day, people debate if capitalism is responsible for the millions who die of malnutrition every year, for the destruction of the environment, etc. America is truly a psycho nation…or is the psychopathy merely imagined, as the capitalist apologists would have us believe?

Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Vintage Books, New York, 1991

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground and The Double, Penguin Classics, England, this translation published 1972

Emotional abuse (a Reblogging)

Most of these apply to my family, and to my experience of them. They have done most of these things to me at least once, and many of them many times, many regularly. For a more thorough analysis of emotional abuse, along with my own experience with it (for the sake of illustration), look here.

The Etch Chats

Emotional abuse is much more insidious than physical abuse. Psychological bruising may not show up on your body but its devastating effects are indirectly observed in victim behaviour. It is important to remember that signs of emotional abuse are not as well defined as in physical abuse and tolerated much too often as acceptable behaviour. If you experience any of the below treatment from anyone, please stop putting up with it and either keep your distance or cut them off from your life immediately.

1. They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.

2. They regularly demean or disregard your opinions, ideas, suggestions, or needs.

3. They use sarcasm or “teasing” to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.

4. They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks.

5. They try to control…

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Excerpt: Opening of ‘Wolfgang,’ My Werewolf Erotic Horror Novel


The full moon was glowing among the stars, the whitest of whites against the blackest of black. Paws were patting the dirt path that snaked between the grass and trees that surrounded the estate, from whose second-floor window this lupine brute had jumped. A nose was sniffing for human flesh to eat.

Soon, it found some.

A man and his wife were walking in that very forest. He wore a suit, she a dress, diamonds, and pearls. How romantic. How bourgeois. How unfortunate.

Some nearby bushes were rustling, something hiding among them, waiting for the couple to approach. Lampposts, set far off from each other, gave just enough light for people to walk through at night, but left it dark enough to keep lurking dangers unseen. A wolf’s eyes, obscured among the leaves, were following that couple’s every step.

“This is so unlike you, Franz,” the woman said in German to her husband. “Taking me for a stroll in a forest at night.”

“Yes, I know, Frieda, but tonight I felt as if something were pulling me out here,” Franz said in German. “It’s so beautiful. I couldn’t resist.”

“I wish you had resisted,” Frieda said. Her fear was vibrating all the way to those bushes. At one point, she thought she saw eyes peering at her from them. She gasped and twitched, then looked again…the eyes were gone. Did she just imagine it? “I’m scared. Let’s…”

“Relax,” he said. “This is really beautiful. Fresh air. I’m glad we came.”

“I don’t care how pretty it is,” she said. “I still don’t like us walking about here. I can’t forget that story I read about the wolf attack here a month ago. Three people—“

“Oh, nonsense! No one ever found a wolf anywhere. Those people were probably killed by that psychotic who was arrested last week. He’d killed others in the same bloody way. He may have denied killing Wolfgang Bergbauer’s family, but I’m sure he was lying.”

“But there were witnesses who insisted the wounds were caused by claws and teeth, not knives—“

“Rubbish! They also claimed it was a werewolf, of all things. Can you rely on such testimony? It was a full moon that night, as tonight. How is that proof of a werewolf? My dear, don’t be so credulous.”

A growl vibrated from those bushes.

She froze.

The two of them looked around for the source of the voice.

They never found it, of course.

Another, louder growl.

She shuddered.

“I assure you,” he said. “This isn’t at all funny.”

A grunt.

A ten second silence, then a howl.

“Alright, enough!” he shouted. “Come out, wherever you are.”

It did.


I brought him crashing down on the dirt, his hair covered in it.

Her screams were piercing my ears as keenly as my claws were cutting up his stomach.

His liver and kidneys were the tastiest, his blood being their gravy. He screamed briefly, till my claws, having already ripped his rib cage aside, scraped against his lungs, flooding his throat with red and stopping his voice. He would then only cough blood. His intestines lay like a red snake on the grass.

I, Sades, the spirit in control of the werewolf, could sense, through my connection with the vibrations of energy everywhere, Frieda’s whole experience of terror, as if it were my own. I’ve always enjoyed that ability…it helps me to terrorize my victims better. My two spirit brothers and I could even know people’s dreams, their perspectives, and their most private thoughts, if we wanted to.

She was frozen with fear, yet shaking all over, her feet seemingly rooted to the ground. She continued weeping a few seconds longer as I feasted, then I looked up at her, licking my lips.

Our eyes met.

She fought against her panic with spastic jerks of her legs. Desperate to run, she just couldn’t.

I just stared with grinning fangs.

I’ll give her a head start, I thought. Give her a fighting chance.

Finally, she broke free of her paralysis and ran, screaming, almost falling.

I bit off another chunk or two of her husband’s flesh, then ran after her.

Be careful, the voice of Chisad whispered in my mind’s ear. Don’t let her screams come within earshot of anyone else. Too many people knew about us after the last full moon.

Chisad was right. I had to pounce on this bitch as soon as possible. Just as the full moon’s contradiction of white and black released the wolf, so could the contradiction—between my bloodlust and her urge to survive—put Chisad, Chebirüsad, and me in danger of being shot…and without a new host to enter when this one that we were in died, we three spirits would be forever exiled from the flesh! Our souls wandering aimlessly in limbo, never able to avenge the deaths of our people! Unbearable banishment!

Frieda kept running, the edge of the forest coming closer. I had to get to her before she got there and drew attention to us.

There are so many contradictions: the one between my will to kill and hers to live, and the hardly endurable one between my will and those of Chisad and Chebirüsad. But when the light of the stars is augmented with the full moon’s white, these clashing with the black backdrop of night, our three urges’ discord is also at its sharpest, bringing out the wolf. Everything is a battle of opposites.

Frieda stopped running. She hid behind a tree.

Always weeping, she thought: Please, God, I don’t want to die. Oh, Franz!

The vibrations all around us spirits guided us to her, better than our wolf’s nose, better than a thousand eyes. I went into some nearby bushes, pretending I didn’t know where she was. In this forest, Kleinwald, no one can hide from me.

I could hear her shaky breathing. We spirits knew her fear, and her thoughts, as if our very consciousness was hers. It was like visiting the inside of her head, seeing through her eyes. What fun for me!

She could feel—and almost hear—her heart pounding in her chest.

She smelled delicious, though she wasn’t pretty enough for me to want sexually; though even if she were, that prig Chebirüsad wouldn’t have let me rape her, anyway. Nor would Chisad have, so worried was he of us being caught and killed. My task was to kill quickly and run to safety, that was all.

Her eyes were darting about, left and right, trying to find me. Then she glanced over to her right, and saw my yellow eyes amid the black of the shadowy bushes. Our eyes met briefly, then mine disappeared from her sight.

Again, her eyes were racing all around her: in front, to the left, to the right, behind her.

Where is it? she wondered.

Then she looked over to her left. She saw one eye this time.

She shuddered. Then the eye disappeared.

Once more, her eyes were frantically scanning the area, but this time never finding my eyes.

She didn’t even hear anything. No growls, no beast’s breathing.

Just blackness and silence, all around her.

Where is it? she asked herself in her mind. Is it gone? Did it lose me? Oh, I hope so. I can’t take this any longer.

She kept looking around and listening, not making any noise, even breathing as quietly as she could.

No eyes anywhere.

No sounds from an animal. Not even the wind in the trees.

She poked her head around, thinking, Please, God, let that beast be gone.

With shaky, spastic legs, she slowly stepped away from the tree and back to the beaten path.

Then I jumped on her.

Her heart and lungs were the tastiest parts.

With the sun starting to peek over the horizon, Sades was finally restrained, and the wolf, exhausted from running all over the town of Klein, just southwest of the city of Rosenheim in Upper Bavaria, fell asleep by some bushes near a playground in Kleinpark, on the side of town opposite the forest of Kleinwald.

But what woke up four hours later wasn’t a wolf.

Now he was Wolfgang Georg Alexander Bergbauer, 38, and naked as the day he was born.

He looked around, blinking and waiting impatiently for his eyes to focus. He felt chilly all over. Then he knew.

“Oh, shit,” he said, cupping his hands over his genitals. “Not again.”

He noticed and recognized the nearby playground, correctly guessed it was about 8:30 in the morning, and saw only a few people, no more: a mother and her baby in a stroller, and a pretty blonde, about eighteen from the looks of her (even now-passive Sades sensed her desirability). Again, Wolfgang’s intuition was accurate (she was eighteen), since my connection with the spirit world was able to guide his guesses.

He got up and started sneaking over to the girl, not because she was lovely, but because she’d left her hooded red coat on the swing beside the one she was sitting on. Stealing and wearing that woman’s coat might make him look foolish, but his nakedness made him much more of a spectacle. Besides, he was freezing.

Luckily for him, the mother pushed her baby stroller out of the playground, so if there was to be a struggle with the girl, no further attention would be drawn to him. (Actually, I willed the mother to go.) The girl was absorbed in what she was looking at on her phone. He was approaching, wincing whenever he stepped on a sharp rock, and hoping she wouldn’t hear his grunts of discomfort.

My spiritual connection to everything around me allowed me to know what the girl was reading on her phone; I read the text as if her eyes were mine. She and her mother had been exchanging text messages.

Her mother’s text message said, “Renate, where are you? You’ve been missing for the past twelve hours. We’re worried about you. Please come home and let’s fix this problem. We forgive you for being with that boy, and for what you did to your father.”

Renate’s reply was, “You’ll have to find me. I”m not telling you where I am. I’m fed up with all three of you. I’ve already fixed the problem by leaving. I’ll never forgive you for calling me a whore, nor for what Daddy did to him; in fact, I’m going to punish you all by becoming a prostitute. Bye.” After sending the message, she surfed the internet for the news.

In the next few seconds, Wolfgang was right behind her, his right hand almost on the coat. But he got curious, and looked at what she was now reading on her phone: a news story about the second wolf attack near his estate, in the forest south of Klein!

She was smiling with wide eyes as she read. “A wolf,” she whispered to herself, then thought, I love wolves. “Maybe, a werewolf?”

He gasped, drawing her attention away. She looked over at him as he snatched her coat. She grabbed it by the other side, and they began a tug of war.

“Hey!” she said, almost falling off the swing. “That’s my coat!”

“Sorry,” he said. “I need…to borrow it.”

As they struggled, she couldn’t restrain her curiosity, and she looked down at his body; her eyes widened again, impressed with the hunk of meat she saw dangling down.

“Mmm,” she moaned with a smile.

With his greater strength, he managed to wrest the coat from her. She fell off the swing.

“Hey!” she shouted, thudding on the ground.

“Thanks,” he said, running away with it.

Having not put it on yet, he looked back at her briefly, grinning at the lustful amazement in her eyes at the sight of his muscular body. Indeed, that lewd awe she felt kept her in such a trance that she forgot to scream for help. She just sat in the dirt and stared at his pretty arse.

What most fascinated her about his body, even more so than his good looks, was the deep scar scratched from his chest—on the right—down his right side to just below his right buttock, a brown swirl of four claws. Though perfectly healed, it seemed a permanent indentation in his skin.

What a sexy naked man, she thought, licking her lips. Then she said, “He must be the werewolf the locals have been talking about.” No one believes them, of course, she thought, grinning at the sight of him farther away, now wearing her coat as if he were a cross-dresser. People think those locals are crazy to believe in werewolves. But I believe. At least, I want to believe.

She licked her lips again.

If he’s the werewolf, she thought, I want him.

Emotional Abuse


Also known as psychological abuse or mental abuse, emotional abuse involves repeated and sustained forms of manipulation, bullying, and controlling of the victim over a long period of time, resulting in clinically significant amounts of psychological trauma, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD. This abuse is distinct from physical or sexual abuse, though these two always include emotional abuse, since the whole aim of the abuser is to have power and control over the victim. Though physical and sexual abuse thus involve dual forms of abuse, as opposed to emotional abuse existing alone, it is emotional abuse that causes the longest-lasting scars, since the physical scars heal, whereas emotional ones tend to stay with the victim for years, even decades.

Emotional abuse takes on many forms, including terrorizing (physical threats to the victim, his or her children, or pets), degradation (insults, put-downs, yelling, public humiliation), isolation (physical confinement, not allowing the victim to be with friends or family), corrupting (exposure–especially of a child–to alcohol, drugs, pornography, bigoted attitudes, religious fundamentalism), rejection (including forms of manipulation, like gaslighting, denial, or rationalizing abuse, or minimizing/invalidating its existence, to make the victim feel devalued, inferior, or unworthy), and emotional unresponsiveness or neglect (failing to show affection, making the victim feel like a burden, ‘a job to be done’).

The perpetrators abuse their victims for a variety of possible reasons. They could have been abuse victims themselves, and so they take out their pain on their victims; also, a relationship dynamic of abuser vs. abused may be the only one the abuser knows. The abuser may suffer from a personality disorder: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD, also known as psychopathy or sociopathy), etc.

The abuser doesn’t have to be cruel to everybody: usually one or two victims will suffice; also, the abuser doesn’t have to torment the victim 24/7, for in a cycle of abuse, there are pleasant periods (the ‘honeymoon’), then a build-up of increasingly intolerable abuse leading to a confrontation, then insincere apologies and a promise to change (this includes ‘hoovering’, a method of sucking the victim back by being temporarily ‘kind’ to him or her)…then another ‘honeymoon’ arrives, and the cycle repeats itself…endlessly.

It is inconceivable that the abuser would always be mean, let alone be so to everybody, because he or she knows that people would quickly get sick of his or her attitude and end the relationship. The abuser tends to pick one victim, or only a few, then build a network of friends and/or family who will be loyal to the abuser, at the victim’s expense. The abuser is sometimes nice in order to confuse the victim, making him or her think that the abuse is also ‘out of love’, and just meant to correct the victim’s supposedly errant ways.

Thus emotional abuse emerges in situations where there’s a power imbalance: in families (parents dominating their kids, adult sons or daughters abusing their elderly parents, or elder siblings bullying their younger ones); at school (bullies, domineering teachers); in the workplace (bosses over their employees, senior employees over newer ones, etc.); online (cyberbullying, trolling…which includes professional trolls, doxxing), etc.

The long-term effects of bullying are not something to be trivialized, though they all too often are, particularly…and most obviously…by the abuser. Childhood trauma shows itself in adulthood problems. The victim’s trauma leads to depression, low self-esteem, severe anxiety, poorly-controlled anger, dissociation, and having no sense of one’s own true identity. The victim loses much of his or her ability to trust others, learned helplessness ensues, and thus he or she either avoids social contact or develops poor social skills; this can cause a vicious circle including re-victimization, even poorer trust in people, and more social avoidance/ineptitude.

If you find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship, be it with a domineering boyfriend/husband or girlfriend/wife, or an abusive family, job environment, or school situation, these steps must be taken: first, get help; if that doesn’t work, get out! If the abuser(s) won’t leave you alone, break off contact. Then, get psychiatric help. Involve the police, if necessary.

Baring My Soul

To illustrate the emotionally abusive relationship, please indulge me, Dear Reader, in some autobiography. Since I’ve been a victim of emotional abuse myself (the abusers being my family), I find it therapeutic to vent my feelings by telling you my story.

I’ve tried to make the following as coherent as possible, keeping reasonably to a chronological order. But the emotional nature of this confession makes it impossible to keep the below narrative from jumping back and forth sometimes. Psychological trauma tends to addle you in this way.

1 – Childhood

My brothers, whom I’ll name R. and F., were born in 1961 and 1963 respectively. My sister, whom I’ll call J., was born in 1964. I was born much later, in 1969. The family photo album was loaded with baby photos of R., F., and J.–I had one. Neither of my parents took the picture, for they were in it. Perhaps these facts mean nothing; perhaps they mean a lot. I will speculate on the possible significance of them towards the end of this article.

Around when I was three or four, I vaguely recall my bedroom door being locked at night, confining me in my room. On one occasion, the door was roped shut. I remember sitting on my knees by the door (I never slept well), rocking back and forth, chanting “Open up the door” rhythmically, over and over again. Needless to say, it was never opened till the next morning.

My mother explained that I had a habit of going outside at night or early in the morning and playing in the middle of the road. This seems like a bizarre story; I suspect that what I was really doing at night was getting out of bed and bothering my parents when they were trying to sleep.

As a child, I was bullied by F. and J., often left crying without anyone to hold me. I made friends, my best friend being an Irish boy named Neil. He was extremely important to me during those years, and when my family moved away in 1977, I was devastated. I don’t fault my family for moving–that was just my bad luck–but how they dealt with my subsequent social withdrawal was another matter entirely.

Before I go into that, another matter must first be dealt with. R., about 16 at the time, left the family. He’d been having a difficult time because he wasn’t doing well at school, and my ultra-conservative father used the most Neanderthal of methods–verbal abuse, shaming–to deal with R.’s bad grades. It all came to a head, R. couldn’t take it anymore, and he didn’t move with us from Toronto to Hamilton.

My despondency over leaving Neil affected me at school, and I was removed from regular classes, actually removed from one school and put in a different school altogether; a regular grade school, as always, but I was put in a class with kids who also had problems of one sort or another. It was around this time, the late 1970s, that I remembered hearing my mother describe me as ‘autistic’ for the first time.

The bullying continued, and though R. had sometimes protected me from F., he was gone now, leaving me at F.’s mercy. F. rationalized the bullying as ‘frustration’ that I showed no interest in making friends. Of course, if my parents had explained to him that bullying me, and forcing me to play baseball (a game I wasn’t at all interested in), wouldn’t encourage me to make friends, he might have stopped.

Now it is unfortunately true that I had an odd childhood habit of playing all by myself; I indulged in solitary fantasy, dreaming up stories like those in movies or on TV. I also developed an odd habit of talking to myself, and intensely imagining myself in conversations with others. My mother would have considered these ‘autistic symptoms,’ though I’ve never read of such habits as being autistic. In hindsight, I now suspect that these habits could have been forms of dissociation, due to the psychological trauma my family was subjecting me to.

As I said above, I’d played with friends like Neil in Toronto, but the devastation of having lost him was something I hadn’t gotten over. F.’s and J.’s bullying of me, and their pejorative way of describing my solitary play just shamed me into doing more of it. When people are making a child feel worthless, he or she figures no one will want to be his or her friend. Make a child feel like a freak, and he’ll act like a freak.

It was around 1980 or so that I began to get As at school. My parents were pleased: one A, then two, then three, then five As in grade five. I asked my mother what ‘autistic’ meant. The official family definition was that it referred to excessive self-absorption, which sounds more appropriate for NPD.

Actually, anybody who knows anything about autism knows that it’s made up of a triad of symptoms: 1. problems with social situations (which I admittedly had, though emotional abuse can be the cause of that problem, too); 2. problems with communication (which I did not have); and 3. limited interests or repetitive habits (my eating habits fit this category, as did my childhood habit of rocking back and forth; though I’ve read that this latter habit could result from emotional abuse, too).

Furthermore, my mother’s idea of congratulating me for my improved school performance (I was back in regular classes now, though behind a year) was to say that it was a “miracle from God” (she was never religious) that I turned out all right. Mother said the psychiatrists (whom, assuming they even existed, I barely remember at all–were they social workers? Teachers?) diagnosed me with autism, and claimed that an IQ test I scored poorly on showed that I was ‘retarded’. (!)

I was about ten years old when I was hearing her say these things to me.

Mother claimed that she didn’t know, before my new academic success, if I’d “make a good garbageman…as long as [I was] happy.” (How sweet of her to say!) She claimed, on more than one occasion, that the doctors recommended locking me up in an asylum and throwing away the key. Now, I admit that I was an odd kid, but surely my problems were nowhere near that extreme! (In fact, putting autistics away in institutions and forgetting about them was a common practice back in the 1940s and 50s, when little was known about effective therapy for them. By the early 1960s, considerable progress had been made, including the use of Applied Behaviour Analysis [ABA], so I find it hard to believe that, in the 1970s, psychiatrists would have been so pessimistic about me.)

She said things like this to me many times over the years, including her fear of my having to live with my parents as an adult, them worrying about having to take care of a forty-something “moron”. This was all while the “miracle” of my good school grades was going on. On a much later occasion, I think when I was a young adult, she said I was “good at things that don’t make money.”

Can you imagine what the effect of words like this have on the psyche of an impressionable, growing child?

R., being at the end of his rope, came back home. He was back in school, working hard and learning about computers, but he had a big chip on his shoulder. Imagining he was thought to be “the idiot of the family” (R., you have no idea!) for having been a high-school dropout, he went out of his way to insult J. and me for having done better at school, gaining our father’s favour and R.’s envy. R. insisted we were stupid know-nothings in spite of our academic achievement.

So now all three siblings were bullying me: calling me four-letter names, giving me constant put-downs, making me the butt of their jokes, shouting at me viciously, and usually because I’d caused them only minor annoyances. This abuse happened almost every day, throughout my adolescence and young adulthood. My mother knew it was happening the whole time, but never did anything about it, except for a few occasions when she saw F. get physical with me. Almost every time, she took the side of my bullies, rationalizing their actions and blaming the victim.

My mother described R. as being “more mature” when he was nasty to me; J.’s meanness was called “more loving”. I’m curious: what kind of bullying is “more mature” or “more loving”? All my mother was doing was appealing to stereotypes about the mature first-born son and the loving woman.

Another form of emotional abuse the family subjected me to during those years was to make me serve them all tea every evening, the rationalization being that I was getting a weekly allowance for it…a paltry amount (first $1, then up to $5 a week, really for washing the dishes almost every night, and taking out the garbage). Mom made me the family servant.

By the time I’d reached my twenties, R. and F. had moved out, to my great relief. But I still had to put up with my know-it-all sister, J. Both of us were studying English literature in university, and though I’d always done more creative writing than she, J. liked speaking as though she were an expert on literature, and that I hadn’t a clue. She would laugh at my writing and belittle me for my opinions, and when I had the audacity to defend them, I was branded the opinionated one, which she, of course, never was.

The combination of all these factors–bullying, invalidating, and the inferiority complex I’d got from the autism label–seriously damaged not only my sense of self-worth, but also my confidence in my very ability to perceive the world around me correctly. This all affected my mental health, too, and these factors, combined with other frustrations I’d been enduring, put me into a serious clinical depression by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties. I was even contemplating suicide.

Over a period of about half a year, I was receiving psychotherapy, first from a psychologist, then from a psychiatrist. Each of them analyzed me over a period of several months; after telling them of the autism label, both men told me point blank that they saw no signs of autistic symptoms in me. What liberating words!

When I told my mother about this, she would have none of it. She insisted that something had been wrong with me as a child. She insisted that those therapists were wrong because they’d never seen me as a child; apparently, those thoroughly trained in psychiatry–unlike my mother–can’t tell the difference between an autistic child and an autistic adult, whose symptoms have often abated somewhat. Mother knows best, apparently; and my psychological liberation was taken away from me.

Now let’s jump ahead about seven years. As of 2002, I’d moved to Taiwan, I was teaching English as a second language, and I married my Taiwanese girlfriend. I also got an Alien Permanent Resident Certificate, allowing me to stay in Taiwan for the rest of my life.

My mother began sending me e-mails about a mild form of autism called Asperger Syndrome (AS), insisting that I had it, and pointing out that it’s a condition that stays with one for life. (This is in direct contrast with her claim, after the “miracle from God” one, that autistics with above average intelligence can grow out of it. Notice how her story about me was always changing!)

It is also interesting how my mother brought this up at a time when I’d been clearly setting roots in Taiwan, with no intention of going back to Canada. This could have just been a coincidence, but I doubt it. Was she using AS to shake my newly-developing self-confidence and make me want to return to Canada, where I’d be ‘safe’ with her?

She concluded I had AS from watching a TV documentary, of all things; but I had never been formally diagnosed with it; I wasn’t even in Canada for my mother (who, remember, had no background in psychiatry–she was only a nurse, and one out of professional practice for decades) to observe me and double-check if this amateur diagnosis was correct.

At first, I politely tried to disagree with her, but she wouldn’t stop prating about AS. She’d sent me an online newspaper article about a young man with AS, whose life of being isolated and bullied seemed calculatedly meant by my mother to compare with mine. His tendency to “see the world differently” seemed meant to imply that I had the same tendency (and as my family constantly observed, this meant that I saw the world incorrectly).

I went to visit my family the following year, and my mother’s prolixity about AS continued. She spoke about it as she always had about autism, grinning like a Cheshire cat (an odd thing to do, considering the pain and stress autism causes, not only for the sufferer, but also for the family who has to take care of the autistic).

On one occasion, my mother and I were in her car, with my wife sitting in the back. With her usual bright, cheery countenance, she informed me that, due to my AS, I’d apparently had a toddler’s maturity when I was a teen, a teen’s maturity when I was a young adult, and at 33 (the year was 2003), I had a 23-year-old’s maturity. I was furious.

It was around this time that I was beginning to have truly anti-Mom feelings. I struggled with these feelings for years, trying to reconcile myself with the family, but she was just making it harder and harder for me.

2 – The Last Straw (Or One of Them, Anyway)

A year or so later, when I was back in Taiwan, I’d heard bad news from home: J.’s husband, Kevin, had terminal cancer. Up until that time, I’d been angry with J. over slights comparable with what my mother had been hitting me with (i.e., treating me like an overgrown child); but I felt compassion for J., who was clearly devastated by the immanent loss of the man she loved. Furthermore, having been going through a politically conservative phase in my life (which I now deeply regret), I’d adopted Christian beliefs (which I’ve since renounced); and so I wanted to do the right thing and show kindness to my sister, forgiving her for those past injuries and comforting her in whatever way I could.

I e-mailed the family, telling them that my wife and I wanted to visit and see Kevin one last time. My mother e-mailed me back, claiming that I’d sent J. e-mails that were “tactless and insensitive” (I recall sending messages that, if anything, were the opposite of that), and since J. and Kevin were in an emotionally vulnerable state, it would be best if I didn’t go over to see them.

Enraged, I immediately e-mailed my mother, saying that, as surprising as it must have been for her, I’d actually acquired some social skills over the years. She responded in a typically condescending way, saying that my response was in my usual, self-absorbed manner, only reacting to what she’d said about me, and ignoring all the other things she’d said in her e-mail. Apparently, rejecting her son’s wish to be loving was just an insignificant detail, because her ‘abnormal’ son was an unimportant person.

This kind of twisting of my intentions, from good ones to bad, has always been typical of that family. Any reasonable family would have been happy to receive a visit from a son or daughter, even if he or she was rather “tactless and insensitive” at times: upon arriving in Canada, I could have been taken aside and simply told to watch my words. Instead, I was spat on.

Mom suggested that I come over and attend Kevin’s funeral, which came about a year later. I had no wish to attend his funeral, or any family funeral, for that matter: painful memories, of J. verbally abusing me with four-letter words at my maternal grandmother’s funeral (when I was about 20), ensured that I wouldn’t want to go.

To compensate for my absence, I e-mailed a poem dedicated to Kevin’s memory. Mom, rationalizing that the funeral was mainly for his side of the family, rejected the poem as inappropriate. I composed this piece of music, dedicated to him, for J. to hear, hoping it would touch her heart. I mailed a CD to Mom to give to J. Along with claiming that my music was “plodding,” Mom claimed it would arouse painful feelings in J. rather than touch her. (Dear Reader, are you beginning to see a pattern in my mother’s attitude and behaviour?) She claimed she gave J. the CD, but I think she was lying, for J. never acknowledged it, let alone thanked me…and J. is quite particular about politeness.

Mom’s unrelentingly unapologetic attitude drove me to make an ultimatum: either she and the family had to change their attitude, or I would stop visiting. This ultimatum was in a long e-mail in which I went over essentially every grievance I had with her and the family, the highlights being the Asperger Syndrome label, her characterizing me as uniquely “tactless and insensitive,” and my reminding her of examples of the family’s past cruelties to me, to show that they were no more tactful or sensitive than I.

In her response, she portrayed my complaints as me being too preoccupied with the past (my vivid memory, apparently, is a curse, rather than a blessing, since it reminds me of who they really are as a family). No consideration was given to the fact that they had to change their attitude to me if any reconciliation was to happen. She also insisted that I, as a child, really was as ill as she’d claimed, that my answers to that legendary IQ test were totally “bizarre”. However painful it may have been for me, I had to accept the autism label; they apparently didn’t have to accept the painful responsibility for emotionally abusing me. I was supposed to forgive them, as unrepentant as they were. I restated my chief demand: no respect, no more visits.

Then my sister sent me an angry e-mail demanding that I “let this go.” Obviously, my continued complaints were troubling my poor mother to no end. Now I was being commanded to forgive them. Also, J. told me not to reply to her (she always dished it out better than she could take it). Here we see typically emotionally abusive behaviour: the victim is vilified, the victimizer is portrayed as the victim, and the victim is not listened to, his or her perspective is never given a chance even to be heard, let alone sympathized with.

Remember that none of this bickering would have happened if my mother had simply respected my wishes not to discuss AS any further, and if she’d accepted my wish to see Kevin before he died. Instead, this whole family row was blamed on me, as all my rows with them have been. Apparently, my anger over this issue proved Mom’s point about me being “tactless and insensitive.” Whatever.

Mother made an empty promise, in a later e-mail, that the family would have a discussion together about changing their attitude. I made my last visit in the fall of 2008, and while she promised that the family had truly changed their attitude toward me, and in ways that would have surprised and impressed me, I saw clearly that no such changes had occurred.  R., as well as F.’s son Eric, were blatantly disrespectful to me on three occasions; and while I could have tolerated those slights, my mother did the one thing I’d demanded she never do again–she brought up AS. In fact, she bought me a book about it, to drill this phoney identity even further down my throat!

Did she not realize how much she was endangering her relationship with me? Had I not threatened never visiting again if she ever brought up AS? Surely her relationship with me was more important to her than a mere psychiatric label, particularly a label she had no authority to impose on anybody. She had to be ill herself in some way. I would investigate that possibility soon enough.

3 – The Dawn of Realization

Back in Taiwan, I’d been reading about AS on Wikipedia, and interestingly, I discovered that people with AS, due to their social ineptitude, are often subjected by their families to emotional abuse. Then I started learning about emotional abuse, fascinated to see that I myself had been subjected to it.

I learned about gaslighting, and found it ironic that, as a teen, I’d seen the movie Gaslight (1944), not knowing that I myself was being victimized in a similar way. I read about how abusers deny their abusiveness and blame the victim, and remembered that my family had been doing exactly that to me. I learned of the effects of emotional abuse on the victim–excessive anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, insomnia, inability to trust others, social ineptitude–and easily saw how I manifested most of those symptoms.

A few years later, I discovered a quiz called the Autism-Spectrum Quotient. Bravely, I decided to take it, to determine the truth about myself.  There were fifty statements with which I could slightly or definitely agree or disagree. Sometimes agreeing, and sometimes disagreeing, would result in an ‘autistic’ answer, if you will, giving me a point each time. A score of 32 or 33 would indicate “clinically significant levels of autistic traits.” A score anywhere between 26 and 32 apparently was an area of uncertainty, since according to one research paper, a score of 25 or lower could effectively rule out Asperger Syndrome. Even with a high score, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions, since one should double-check by getting examined by a psychiatrist first. The test is not intended to be diagnostic.

I did the test, answering the questions with perfect honesty. Seriously, what good would it do me to lie? I needed to know the truth about myself. Second, I didn’t even need to lie. Third, I had no idea at the time if many of my answers were going to be ‘autistic’ or not.

My score was 13.

I reconsidered my answers carefully, looking at the fifty statements and wondering if more (or fewer) of the ‘autistic’ answers might have applied to me. An adjusted, possible score ranged from 2 or 3 to 20, 21, or maybe 22 (and that was stretching things). In any case, I was safely below the minimum for even the highest-functioning of AS, even if I went with the highest score.

So, what the hell was my mother talking about?

I had an epiphany.

If I am nowhere near even the mildest of autistic traits, confirming what the two psychotherapists had said fifteen years before, it became shockingly clear just how improbable, how outright preposterous, my mother’s claims had been of my seeming childhood mental incompetence (i.e., the ‘retarded’ IQ score, “lock me up in an asylum and throw away the key,” “Would I even make a good garbageman?”). That her claims were totally implausible should have been obvious to me long before taking that test, but her gaslighting was clouding my vision.

My mother had been lying to me the whole time.

The first words that came to mind, upon this realization, were, “Those perfidious snakes!” I don’t blame only my mother, but the other four, too, including my father (who had died in 2009) for not doing anything to stop her (he had once expressed doubts about this ‘autism,’ but did nothing beyond that to help me).

R., F., and J. had always made demands that I “grow up” and make friends (in a bullying manner that was the opposite of helpful), insensitive and ignorant of how difficult making friends and acting normally is for autistics (or for victims of emotional abuse, the real cause of my social difficulties). Seriously, demanding autistics or sufferers of psychological trauma to adjust like everyone else is like demanding mentally handicapped people to excel in university. If my siblings really thought there was something innately, clinically wrong with me, their bullying treatment of me (which continued when they were adults) makes the three of them a special species of asshole.

If R., F., and J. didn’t think there was anything significantly wrong with me (It is safe to assume that my ‘loving’ mother never told my bullying siblings to go easy on me: “He has a mental condition. He can’t help it. He doesn’t know any better. Be patient with him.”), couldn’t they put the pieces together and realize, or at least suspect, that Mom’s autism narrative was dubious? Of course not: those three apaths were being manipulated every bit as much as I was. They also didn’t consider me worthy of being thought about so much.

Knowing my mother lied about autism (and since she was a nurse and had a pronounced interest in medical/psychiatric matters, her lying seems to have been a case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy), as she had told smaller lies on other occasions, I found myself forced to ponder a difficult question: what kind of a mother deceives her own son in such a monstrously cruel way?

There had to be something wrong with her. To try to state specifically what that problem was, I’d have to venture into very speculative territory: she, being totally unqualified to pin psychiatric labels on me or anybody, fabricated them for me all my life; for me to do the same to her, feigning certainty about something I have no more authority on than she, would make me a hypocrite.

All I can do is conjecture the possibility that she has a mild case of ASPD or NPD; but in all fairness to her, I cannot say this with any degree of certainty. Indeed, many of the diagnostic criteria for ASPD and NPD are traits she doesn’t seem to have, unless she’s skillfully hiding them. All I can say, with any reasonable degree of certainty, is that she has indulgently lied to me and to others on many occasions over the years, has used those lies to manipulate and control people, and feels no remorse at all.

Indeed, upon realizing that my mother had been lying to me, and subsequently resolving never to visit the family again as punishment, I noticed things she was saying and doing, during the early 2010s, that seemed to confirm my suspicions. (Given the viciousness with which the family insists on having their way, I decided to continue communicating with them by phone or by e-mail–minimizing the communication, of course–since ending all communication with them ‘cold turkey’ would have provoked an aggressive reaction from them. I decided to end our relationship gradually, by attrition.) Now I will explore my mother’s lying about other people.

4 – Abusing My Cousins

Mom always complained about my cousins, in particular the oldest and the youngest of the three guys. Only the middle cousin, whom I’ll call S., was spared her bad-mouthing, since he seemed mentally stable (though as soon as S. began to show signs of mental illness a few years before this article, Mom immediately turned on him). His younger brother, whose erratic behaviour was most apparent to everyone, got nothing but harsh words from my mother. She once lied to the family, over 25 years ago, that I’d vigorously told him off for swearing in my parents’ restaurant; she said this presumably to make the family think, “See? Even Mawr doesn’t like him!” I never said anything about his naughty words at the time; my mother and his parents were the ones who’d scolded him.

I remember, about 14 years ago during that visit to Canada, her saying about him and his eldest brother, “They’re getting really weird!” She said this in a sneering, contemptuous way that was totally unbecoming of an aunt. You had to be there to see it. I was wondering, at the time, when she was going to label them with Asperger’s. I would find out soon enough.

On one occasion in the early 2010s, Mom complained to me on the phone about the youngest again, mentioning how he’d been annoying everyone in the family during my father’s funeral. She said that a new expression had been in common use in the family at the time: “Scoring another point for the team.” (Of course–she and her narcissistic fan club were just that: a team, a clique, an exclusive social club.) Apparently, R. had used the expression when stopping my youngest cousin from annoying my niece, Emily, when she needed to use the washroom. Knowing R. (and assuming Mom’s story was even true), he probably spoke to my youngest cousin in the snootiest language he could muster.

During the same phone call, she claimed that F. wanted “to punch [my youngest and oldest cousins] out,” which sounded like a typical thing F. would say. Mom droned on and on like this, about how irritating and unlikeable my youngest cousin is; and almost within the same breath, she griped: “I think he has Asperger’s Syndrome!”

Hearing that was nothing short of chilling.

Just let that sink in, Dear Reader. Take as long as you like.

He–whom my mother never loved, never had a kind word for, but had an endless list of complaints about–apparently has an autism spectrum disorder! He, who had never shown evidence of autistic traits before, now suddenly had them. He has the ‘unlikeable, annoying person’ mental condition! I was beginning to understand the real reason I’d been bullied by R., F., and J. Had Mom been bad-mouthing me behind my back, all my life, too?

She made other speculations about his inner mental life, claiming that a psychiatrist had said he was schizophrenic, an absurdly improbable idea that even my Mom later said couldn’t be true. Why was she so interested in the mental state of a nephew she’d never cared about, never even liked? Had he replaced me as the victim of her lies? It seemed so.

As I stated above, my middle cousin, S., began to show signs of mental instability at around this time. He was making baseless accusations of me gossiping about him with former friends of ours in Taiwan. Some of his paranoid charges against me–like saying awful things I’d never said, or doing things like throwing money at him–I’m sure he ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ me do, but were clearly based on hallucinations (S. has a history of substance abuse).

I know it’s not my place to put psychiatric labels on S., but I do want him to get psychiatric help, which isn’t really available here in Taiwan. Far too few of the locals understand English fluently enough to be able to interpret the psychological meaning of his barely coherent speech.

Mom has never lifted a finger to help him; in fact, she wants nothing said to my aunt about her son. Here is a man with a genuine psychiatric condition, and while Mom acknowledges it, she won’t help. It’s not that I expect the family to wave a magic wand to cure him; I don’t mean to place the whole burden on them to help S. I do expect them, though, to care enough to try. I have tried: I told S. to his face, and in e-mails, that he needs to see a psychiatrist. As I said above, I don’t have the resources that are available in Canada (which he visits regularly, giving the family lots of opportunities) to help him. Mom could help. She just doesn’t want to.

My estrangement from the family increased because of her antipathy to him. (She justified her attitude by claiming she was so upset by the hurtful things S. had said to me in his e-mail rants–a few of which I’d forwarded to her–that she ‘couldn’t’ repeat his words to my aunt. Wasn’t that rich?! R., F., and J. had said much crueller things to me, while in reasonable mental health, but Mom wasn’t upset; while S. was clearly not guilty by reason of insanity, yet he was the antichrist in her opinion!) Now, I wouldn’t e-mail or phone her at all, and a year before this post’s publication, she e-mailed me, expressing her frustrations with my avoidance of the family. Of course, she never considered what she might have done to provoke my emotional distance. As usual, everything was my fault.

5 – More Elaborate Lies

Last summer, my mother tried to get a rise from me again, claiming that S., while visiting Canada, shouted at her about me on the phone. Actually, as of that time, he hadn’t voiced any anger to me in at least a year or so, nor has he since then. It is safe to assume that S. has gotten over his rage at me; he may even be regretting his hostilities. All of this made me suspicious of what my mother was saying.

Still, I went along with her story, curious to see where it would go. I repeated my urging, in another lengthy, emotional e-mail to her, that S. be taken to a psychiatrist. She resisted as usual, with more rationalizations (It would be impractical, him living in Taiwan and having his working life here disrupted by time in Canada in therapy; also, the diagnosis of schizophrenia, as is suspected, might make him suicidal–as if he wouldn’t be suicidal without any therapy!).

She suggested that I send an e-mail to my aunt about the problem (why couldn’t my mom just do it herself?) Mom first had me send my e-mail to her, so she could check and make sure what I’d said was with well-chosen words. When she’d decided it was ready to be sent to my aunt, Mom included my aunt’s e-mail address in her reply (I suspect this replacement of her old e-mail address was really a fake one, so my message would be received by my mother instead of my aunt; in any case, what should be noticed here is how my mother was controlling the whole correspondence).

I sent the e-mail to my aunt, supposedly. Then a day or so later, Mom replied, saying my aunt refused to read it; Mom included text from my aunt’s reply to her, saying that I had apparently sent my aunt a series of “over-the-top” e-mails that were so upsetting that she and my uncle agreed they were “disgusting;” so she should just stop reading any correspondence from me.

I’d never sent “over-the-top” or “disgusting” e-mails to my aunt. The closest I ever came to doing that were a few forwards of online newspaper articles (centre-right political commentary), and those were sent around ten years before this current incident. I never sent anything to her since then, and though, at one time back then, she expressed strong objections with one political article in a long e-mail reply to me, the content of that article was far removed from, far less than anything that could ever be called “over the top” or “disgusting.” It was just an opinionated op-ed, the other forwards even less than that.

A far more plausible explanation for this incident is that my mother simply made the whole thing up, my aunt’s ‘text’ having really been typed by my mother in a different font, to give the illusion of having been from a different e-mail message. I have sent “over-the-top” e-mails to her over the years; and only a few years ago, I told her about speculations I had about how my uncle may have been the root cause of S.’s psychological problems (In one of S.’s e-mail rants to me, he said he couldn’t trust people because one of his father’s high school teachers–during WWII–called his father “the enemy”…my uncle and father were German-Canadians; but S., as I am, is an English teacher, and he could easily have been displacing his hostility towards his father onto that old teacher). Now, I’m sure that if I’d accused my uncle of what I suspected he was guilty of having done to S. (and I’m not stupid enough to make accusations I can’t prove!), he would have found my words “disgusting”.

My mother has never wanted to discuss S.’s problems with his mother, and a perfect way to stop such discussions would be for Mom to manipulate me into being too embarrassed to pursue the matter any further. Finally, my mother could use “my aunt’s reply” to stick it to me for having sent my “over-the-top” e-mails to her.

Added to this, my mother told me that my aunt thought I had to have been a great “burden” to my mother (i.e., ‘autism’ was presumably implied here), and added that “my aunt’s attitude” was “insulting.” My aunt hardly even knows me, let alone has reason to think I’d be a burden to my mother. It’s far more likely that my mother has always considered me a burden, and she was just displacing this truly “insulting” attitude onto my aunt. This displacement would serve another purpose for my mother: to fuel more bad feeling in me against all my cousins, thus isolating their family from ours.

If I’m right about this estrangement being part of my mother’s agenda, that would explain why, after I naturally denied ever sending my aunt offensive e-mails, my mother then replied that S. may have made my aunt believe, or pushed her into saying, that I’d sent those crazy e-mails (an even more ridiculous lie). Mom also warned me to beware of any reprisals from S., who was returning to Taiwan at around that time. Of course, S. never did anything to me, reinforcing the probability that all of this had been more fabrication from my mother.

My wife was as shocked as I was to hear this bizarre accusation that I’d sent my aunt a whole bunch of offensive e-mails. My wife advised me to cut off all communication with my mother, which I did.

I bring up all these recent lies of my mother’s (an elaborate combination of about six or seven in total) to reinforce for you, Dear Reader, an understanding of how emotional abuse is an ongoing problem. The lies never seem to stop; the manipulation just goes on and on.

While she was doing all this, she had the gall to press me to make another visit. She seemed to want to use these lies to bring me closer to her (she was always trying to make me emotionally dependent on her, hence the autism fabrication). She also probably used these lies about S. to make me so scared of him that I’d want to leave Taiwan and live with her in Ontario again.

When the pressure to make a visit had gotten too great, I simply replied that I didn’t want to because of her “lies, lies, and more lies.” I told her not to pretend she didn’t know what I meant by that, and to take comfort in having the love of the rest of the family. I also said I wouldn’t answer any e-mails or phone calls from her, so sick was I of being manipulated. I sent this blunt e-mail in the fall of 2015.

6 – Is My Mother Dead?

In about April or May of this year (2016), I was informed that my mother was in hospital and dying of breast cancer, which she’d caught about ten to fifteen years ago; and while it had been under control, now it had metastasized. Surely someone with her medical expertise (she’s an RN) knew enough to make regular check-ups and prevent an early-stage cancer from getting worse; so to say that this news was a sudden development would be quite an understatement. Furthermore, I knew she was desperate to get me to talk to her, and make another visit: was this cancer story yet another elaborate lie, using the whole family as accomplices? Was this lie meant to make me feel guilty, jump on a plane, and visit them…only to find her fully alive, then be subjected to a condescending speech about how my ‘selfishness’ forced the family to trick me into visiting?

I was instructed to phone R.’s cellphone, since he’d been visiting her regularly at the hospital, or so the story went. I did call, her answering. I suspect she was pretending to be high on morphine, for she didn’t really sound all that out of it; besides, since in vino veritas (or in this case, morphine), I’d expected at least some of the truth to slip out while she was talking to me. Of course, none of that truth ever came out.

Instead, she droned on and on about how my e-mail “hurt” her: remember that psychopaths and narcissists always play the victim and blame the real victim. She also spoke of how I was “self-centred” by nature (never mind her own self-serving lies). Another empty promise was made to put the past behind us, while, almost in the same breath, she referred to how I’d annoyed her when I was twelve or thirteen–so much for forgetting the past! Then she congratulated herself for having been even more loving to me as a child than she had been to my siblings, not backing this up with any proof, of course. Gaslighting can be so surreal at times.

After that call, I continued avoiding contact with the family. R. tried to contact me online, saying she’d died already. J. had told me, during a phone call before I phoned R.’s cellphone to talk to Mom, that her terminal cancer would take almost a year before killing her; metastatic breast cancer patients can, with proper care, last many years before dying. Again, this was all happening remarkably quickly: frankly, this sudden death seems fake. My wife finds this quick death hard to believe, too. Was Mom again trying to manipulate me into getting onto a plane to see her?

All of this ‘dying’ had been happening, from my vantage point, within the space of about a month…or less. At around the same time, R. discovered a video I’d shared on YouTube, under my original name, about seven years before, one which expressed my bitterness over my feelings of betrayal by my mother. Obviously, he felt hurt and upset by what he heard me say, since he’s known our mother to be an angelic matriarch.

I hid R.’s comment because I find it triggering of my past psychological trauma, and because it misrepresents my meaning to anyone who may watch the video in the future. What follows, however, is an almost exact quote.

“Disturbing words from a disturbed individual with an imperfect mother who loved you more than anyone else on the planet. You misunderstand her, as you misunderstand everyone except yourself. Shame on you.”

This is a typical response from someone in my family: unthinking, spontaneous rage, with no consideration for the consequences. I wonder if he realizes he’s knocked the last nail in the coffin of my relationship with the family.

Contrary to what he thinks, those words I spoke weren’t mine, “disturbing” as they may be to many people. I was reciting the famous words of British poet Philip Larkin, from his well-known poem, ‘This Be the Verse’.

I’m sure it’s easier for R. to regard me as mentally ill than to look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge the failures of the family in dealing with their problems with me. There’s only one of me, as opposed to many of them, including my nephews, niece, and cousins. If this whole problem was only my fault, why couldn’t they all put their heads together and work something out? If their past methods weren’t working, why not try a new approach?

Here’s a hint: a solution involves actually listening to my side of the story, instead of contemptuously dismissing me all the time and listening only to our mother. (When I’d spoken to him and J., around the time I spoke to Mom on R.’s cellphone, I mentioned her lying to me, in a very emotional voice. Neither of my siblings acknowledged my experience; they didn’t even take it seriously, as I knew they wouldn’t.)

R. had a wonderful opportunity here to ask me, in the comments, why I recited such a harsh poem. Instead of immediately commenting in anger (as I assume he did), he could have waited, calmed down, and thought carefully about what to say. Now, if he actually did wait and calm down before commenting, then all the more shame goes on him for judging me rather than trying to understand.

What must be emphasized about my video is that it wasn’t intended for his eyes, or for those of anyone in the family. R. found it because he was stalking me online, after I wouldn’t communicate with him or any of those emotional abusers (I learned long ago that trying to assert my rights to people who don’t listen was a pointless waste of time). It’s not as though I deliberately sent him the video to watch while our mother was on her death bed…if she even was dying.

R. has no idea who I understand or misunderstand. I simply understand Mom differently than he, based on our different experiences of her. It’s only natural that R. and the rest of the family see her as loving and kind: she was good to them, though her emotional abuse of me divided me from the family, which in turn has hurt them through the lack of family harmony; so her ‘loving-kindness’ must be greatly qualified, even for them.

Actually, I understand her and the rest of the family very well. R., F., and J. were nasty to me because our authoritarian father was nasty to them (and my uncle, my dad’s younger brother, was probably emotionally abusive to my cousins, because he and my father had the same ultra-conservative upbringing, hence my suspicions about the cause of S.’s troubles), so my siblings learned that nastiness is how you resolve family conflicts. People are to be controlled, not connected with, in the family philosophy that they so vehemently deny exists. Remember what I said about my father’s abusiveness to R. when he got bad grades as a teen? The roots of R.’s aggression came from our father, not from my ‘annoying’ personality.

Note how, according to R.’s comment on my video, our mother is merely “imperfect”. When I’d spoken to J. on the phone about Mom’s cancer, she also dismissed my accusation of Mom’s lying by saying Mom didn’t have “an instruction booklet” for dealing with the challenges of motherhood. These straw-man arguments are typical of the family, avoiding the real issue.

I’ve never been upset about slight flaws in our mother: everyone is imperfect. My mother’s lies amount to a betrayal of trust. I’ve discovered a string of elaborate lies she’s told: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and a fake incident with my aunt and S. Her death from cancer could very well be a fake. (In case R. is stalking my blog and reading this, if he plans on trolling me with photos of our mother looking bald, pale, and gaunt, he should know that I’m aware of how cleverly people can photoshop pictures and write fake obituaries, especially computer whizzes like R.)

7 – In Conclusion

Do I even know the half of my mother’s lying? How many other lies has she told me and the rest of the family over the years, lies I’ve forgotten about, but which played games with my head no less? Most people lie to avoid getting into trouble. Her lies, on the other hand, are manipulative.

When I spoke with R. on his cellphone about her cancer, immediately after hearing her tell me she loved “self-centred” me so very much, he said that the current situation was “all about her.” Now if she was really dying, these would be the words of a self-sacrificing, dutiful son, sitting by her hospital bed and doing anything he could to do her ease, out of love. Most admirable. But if she was, and still is, sitting on a sofa watching TV at home, “all about her” is more indicative of her narcissism, and his collusion in it, than his love.

R.’s attitude to my “disturbed” psyche is typical of the family’s total lack of compassion for people with mental disorders. I understand nobody but myself, as he said in his comment to my YouTube video, because I’m totally absorbed in myself, to the exclusion of all others. I’m a typical autistic jerk, apparently.

This egocentric mental state, however, is more typical of NPD than of AS. Mom was always fond of displaying her medical expertise (from a nursing practice that had stopped at least as long ago as when I was born, when my parents went into the food service industry–owning a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store, then a Smitty’s Pancake House restaurant in the 1980s), even to the point of pretending to have a knowledge of psychiatric matters she obviously lacked.

Her making me out to be a ‘self-absorbed’ autistic sounds suspiciously like projection, or projective identification, which involves not just deluding oneself that another has one’s own vices, but actually manipulating the other to manifest those vices in objective reality (projective identification has been linked with gaslighting many times). If she could successfully push all her narcissism into me, and make me introject it, then she could be free to be selfless to everyone else. Shaming me, through projective identification, would make her look good. This would explain her need to continue labelling me with AS, even to the point of risking destroying her relationship with me.

With me no longer in Canada, she needed someone else to project onto on a daily basis. Hence, her bashing of my youngest cousin, saying he also has AS. If other people in her day-to-day life are self-absorbed and annoying, she needn’t fear that she will be so herself.

Now, as I’ve said above, I’m only speculating about her mental state. To be fair to her, I cannot know for sure. I have to have theories, though, to make sense of my own suffering. Whatever her problem was/is, no normal mother treats her own son the way she did.

How does a mother who “loved [me] more than anyone else on the planet” lie that I’m less capable that I really am? How does such a loving mother side with my bullying siblings if she loves me more than them? How is her unsympathetic attitude to my ‘mental condition’ loving? I challenge the family to rationalize such illogic.

While I don’t wish to promote an unsympathetic attitude towards NPD, ASPD, and the like, it is the very lack of empathy of those people, along with their tendency towards cruelty to others, done for their own entertainment, that makes sympathy for them so difficult. I believe my mother always knew she was different, and she learned from an early age to hide it, to fit in. Her parents’ lack of sympathy for her different ways may have inspired her to be similarly unsympathetic to me. People with mental conditions are “just bad people”.

Also, my birth, five years after J., who was born in a cluster with R. and F. in the early-to-mid 1960s, suggests that my parents had intended J., their one daughter, to be their last child. Was my conception an accident? Did my mother go through nine months of hell to have a baby she’d never intended to have? When she gave birth to me, did I ruin her figure? By emotionally abusing me, was she punishing me for even existing? Was I just an unwanted burden to her? Is that the explanation for the lack of baby photos of me? I’ll never know, of course.

You must be thinking, Dear Reader, that I have absolutely nothing good to say about my mother. I’ll try to compensate for that a bit. I’m sure she felt some love for me: after all, the maternal instinct is only natural in a mother. I have had some pleasant memories with her: our trip to England in February of 1987 was probably our best moment together; she took me to some fascinating and beautiful places there, including Shakespeare’s tomb. It is also true that she was generous in gift-giving to me over the years. But none of this comes even close to undoing the injuries she and the family did to me.

She. Broke. My. Heart.

Remember that emotional abusers aren’t always bad to their victims: they have to maintain a façade of goodness to maintain control, and to convince the world that they aren’t such awful people. Furthermore, everyone is a complex combination of good and bad traits, even those in my family. The important thing to note is that tipping point where the bad clearly outweighs the good; I’ve seen this in my family, and I want out.

I believe I’ve acquired a mild case of Complex PTSD. I’ve looked over the childhood and adult symptoms, and I have most of them. I fear never escaping my abusive relationship with my family (what will their next scheme be, to suck me back in? Internet trolling? A letter from them?), even after years of living far away from them.

As unfilial as this must sound, I hope my mother really has died; because with her gone, I know her manipulation will have died with her. The death of that signifies my final escape from the abuse…and escaping emotional abuse is the only way to be healed.