When King Lear was reunited with Cordelia, having realized the dreadful mistake he’d made of alienating himself from her affections by disowning her, he asked her forgiveness and, finally knowing himself, called himself a “very foolish, fond old man.” (IV, vii, 60) By ‘fond’, Lear meant ‘foolish, stupid, mad’ (Crystal and Crystal, p. 181). That’s how I’m using the word fond in this post.
Narcissists are notorious for having low Emotional Intelligence (i.e., a low EQ). Their lack of empathy for others and their lack of insight into their own personality problems, because their False Self blinds them to their True Self, are examples of this irrationality, this lack of self-insight, this lack of understanding, which most people do have.
Consider Trump’s disastrous decisions, and how neither he nor any of his supporters acknowledge the folly of their actions. Instead, his ambassador to the UN made a public display of his narcissistic injury in a speech condemning the international community’s condemnation of his team’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The foolishness of narcissists in power can be seen to have its roots in childhood trauma, often from narcissists in the family. I’m convinced that my late mother’s probable narcissism stemmed from the traumatic loss of her father when she was a child, this kind of loss being one that Heinz Kohut observed in his narcissistic patients. “Traumatic deprivations and losses of objects up to and including the oedipal period…, and traumatic disappointments in them, may…interfere seriously with the basic structuralization of the psychic apparatus itself.” (Kohut, page 44)
I believe my siblings experienced traumatic disappointments in our not-so-healthy parents, childhood traumas that led to their helping my mom emotionally abuse me. Her lack of empathy for me (and for them, by extension) led to their lack of empathy for me, and their lack of insight into themselves is similar to her lack of such insight. I will now demonstrate how foolish their collective narcissism has always been, and how it was the main driving force to their having lost me forever.
I’ve already gone over countless times how my brothers R. and F., and my sister J., bullied me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; then after I moved to East Asia, they took a few shots at me here and there when the opportunity arose for them, with my mother conniving at it the whole time. (You see, the only reason they weren’t doing any of this nastiness to me, on the almost daily basis that they had before I’d left Canada, is because I’d left, depriving them of the maximum of opportunities they’d once had, not because of a change in their natures; at best, they merely mellowed with age.) I’ve already explained my mother’s outrages against me (Part VII: Conclusion) over the decades.
Now let’s consider the utter stupidity of what they did.
They did what they did, not, as they’d have everyone believe, because I deserved it (of course I didn’t! Being mad at me for doing bad things needn’t require an abusive reaction, and much of what they did wasn’t even out of anger with me, but done rather for the sheer fun of tormenting me), but because they were getting away with it, all thanks to our mother’s winking at it, and rationalizing it at my expense.
When I’d moved to Taiwan, they never seemed to give much consideration to how easily I could disown the whole family. All I had to do was not buy airplane tickets, and stop communicating with them. All they had to do was give me a strong enough reason to give up on all of them.
I find it safe to assume that the family gave little, if any, thought to what a bad foundation they’d made of their relationship with me by the time I’d left Canada. They never seemed to reflect on how their constant bullying, belittling, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse had not only built up resentment in me, but also ensured I’d feel little, if any, affection for them.
When such a shaky foundation for a relationship is established in a family, and the family member with whom this foundation has been made moves far away, it’s a bad idea to reinforce bad feelings with him in any way if you want to keep alive a bond with him.
So, here’s the question: did my family not care about having a good relationship with me, or were they being just plain stupid?
After a few months of living here in Taiwan (in the fall of 1996), I hadn’t written a letter to Mom, or anyone else in the family. She wrote to me, saying at the beginning of her letter, “You’re going to get it!” (i.e., for having not written to them). She meant this in a jesting tone, but anyone who knows about psychoanalytic interpretations of joking around, as well as my history of being controlled and manipulated by my mother, will know that–at least unconsciously–there was more to her words than mere jocularity.
She didn’t stand in the way at all of my moving to Taiwan (and restricting the victim’s movements is a typical form of emotional abuse); but she understood I’d wanted to stay in Taiwan only until I’d finished using my English-teaching job to pay off my student loan, then I’d return to Canada. She also had the good sense to understand that my student debt was not something I’d want to be saddled with for the rest of my life. So she didn’t fear losing me at the time. The thing is, within a year of living here, I changed my mind and chose to stay here for life.
A year or so later, my sister J. wrote to me, expressing a worry that I’d marry a local girl, and J. would never see me again. Did she not realize that she, who’d eagerly joined in on all the bullying and belittling of me during my youth, provided me with a perfect way to hurt her back with relative impunity? Did she, who rarely empathized with my fears, actually think I’d empathize with hers?
When I was dating my then-girlfriend Judy, and on my first visit to Canada (in 1999), I feared not being able to get back to Taiwan because of a problem with my passport. J. learned of my worries, and of Judy and me missing each other; soon after I’d got back to Taiwan with no problems, J. sent me a letter, having written it in a petulant, almost bullying tone, of how the family ‘missed’ me, and showing no sympathy for how Judy and I had missed each other. J. didn’t like the idea that I missed Judy more than missing the family. (Well, J., you see, there actually is affection between Judy and me, unlike with…)
Now, we had missed each other for only two weeks, as opposed to the family’s ‘missing’ me for three years (though I’d just satisfied their wish to see me again, which had surely cancelled out their ‘missing’ of me, at least for the moment); but Judy and I were in love, and we naturally had such gushing feelings for each other, whereas J. et al were just demonstrating a controlling attitude, as they always have. Judy was as annoyed by J.’s letter as I was.
I’m sure J. has forgotten all about her letter, though I haven’t forgotten it at all.
I mentioned in this post (Part VI: J.’s Dissing of Judy) how J. made it pellucidly clear that she didn’t like the idea of me marrying Judy. What did J. think I was going to do? Call off any plans of marrying the woman I love, out of a fear of displeasing my sister? J. calls her attitude ‘missing’ me, but it’s really about how she and the rest of the family consider me merely an extension of them, rather than an individual in my own right, with my own rights, feelings, and strivings.
But here’s the point that needs to be made: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!
Of course, the crowning achievement in my family’s stupidity was my mother’s bringing up [<<<the last seven paragraphs of Part I] Asperger syndrome (AS), claiming, without any psychiatric authority whatsoever, that I have the disorder. Did she think I was going to thank her for talking about that?
My resistance to her nonsense was gentle and tactful at first [<<<Part VI of the link], but she simply wouldn’t take the hint. If she had just left it alone, my visits to Canada, my sending of birthday and Christmas cards, and my general communication with them (including phoning Mom regularly) would have continued as normally…
…but Mom just had to fuck all of that up.
As I said above: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!
As I said earlier in this post, deep down, I never felt any strong affection for those five people I shared a home with during my youth (they, of course, would blame me for my lack of affection, rather than take responsibility for alienating my affections during my crucial, identity-forming adolescence); this means that, whenever I contemplated the future deaths of my parents, I dreaded the obligation of flying back to Canada to attend their funerals (read this, Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour, to know why I find family funerals traumatizing).
I imagined how difficult it would be to make excuses to avoid attending funerals. The funny thing is, though, Mom was making it increasingly easy for me to avoid the family, with how much she was upsetting me.
Her revival of the whole autism thing (which, had she just kept her dumb mouth shut about it, wouldn’t have led me to deduce that the whole thing had been a lie) was one thing, though: her use of AS to justify rejecting my plan to make a visit in the mid-2000s, to see J. and her terminally-ill husband, was something else, and it was the last straw (Part VII: No Good Intent Goes Unpunished).
I had always made my visits to Canada on the assumption that the family missed me, and therefore would always be glad to see me, every time. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?) With Mom’s rejection of my plan to visit J. and her husband, though, with her claiming that J. and the rest of the family agreed that my not visiting was a good idea, she compromised the whole notion of the family’s ‘missing’ of me. And in so doing, she made my wish to stop visiting all the easier: perhaps I should thank her for that.
By the 2010s, I’d put all the pieces together (‘my autism’, the family’s constant emotional abuse, Mom’s impenitence, and what it all really meant), and realized that not only was Mom’s labelling of me with AS a lie, but so was her original labelling of me with infantile autism! (see Part 3: The Dawn of Realization)
Yet she always acted as if she’d never done anything wrong.
This lack of responsibility goes triple for my siblings, of course.
You see, after I’d complained about Mom’s attitude in emails back in the mid-to-late 2000s, even explicitly warning that I’d stop visiting if Mom and the family continued to show me no respect (i.e., never apologize for rejecting my plan to visit, continue labelling me with AS), instead of the family complying with my demands, J. wrote me a snotty email, demanding that I “let this go” (what “this” was depended greatly on how Mom had portrayed “this” to J., doubtlessly a trivializing of my pain, making Mom seem innocent and me the bad guy), and that I not write back to J., thus silencing my ability to tell my sister my side of the story.
Again, the refrain is worth repeating: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!
Still, my mother made one of her many feeble attempts at reconciliation with me in an email, and I, in good faith, went along with it, and decided to give the family one last chance. I visited in 2008, getting a chance to see my father one last time before he died (he, in spite of doing virtually nothing to stop Mom and her BS about ‘my autism’, when he believed it no more than I did, was nonetheless the closest I had of anyone in the family [apart from my cousin S., up until he lost his mind…more on that later] to being a friend).
And during my visit, members of my family showed me they were the same people they’d always been, thus showing my Mom’s email promise of them all ‘changing their attitude’ to be as hollow and empty as any profession of love that I’d ever heard from them previously. During a family get-together, R. mocked my speech on two occasions. F.’s son, when asked by his dad if he remembered his uncle, looked me in the face impudently and said, “No!”
This latter incident was one of many that made me assume, with perfect safety (Part 4: Abusing My Cousins), that the family was bad-mouthing me regularly behind my back; for my nephew hardly knows me well enough for me to have given him bad feelings myself; a mere absence in one’s life isn’t by itself enough to justify rudeness. I’m one of his two uncles, not his father: it’s not as if I’d abandoned him when he desperately needed me.
These slights of R. and my nephew were minor, though. My mother’s promise to change her attitude was broken in her continued prating about AS, even after I’d repeatedly told her to shut up about it. She even had the audacity to buy me a book on AS, to drill her gaslighting into my head further, all with that sanctimonious smile on her face!
Over the 2010s, I gave the family the cold shoulder, little by little (unlike them, I can take responsibility for my actions). They felt it, to be sure: no more birthday or Christmas cards, or acknowledgements of them by email, no adding them as Facebook friends (this last one especially worried them); but did they ever admit that they could have provoked my iciness? No, of course not. They just acted as though I alone had the problem. Any reasonable family would have contemplated the possible role they themselves had played in the growing distance between us.
Again, sheer stupidity and insensitivity on their part.
It takes collective narcissism on a colossal scale for them not to remember how mean, spiteful, and contemptuous they had been to me my whole life; how Mom’s perpetuating of her autism lies, her gaslighting, her condescension and victim-blaming were somehow not going to bite her in the ass one day.
They all fancy themselves a ‘good family’. Social groups all over the world kid themselves into thinking they do good for others, when in fact they do the opposite. This applies to religious groups as well as political parties. Trump and his clique of Zionists and evangelicals think that by making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, they’ve promoted…peace? The First World thinks that, by bombing the Arab Third World, they’re ending terrorism instead of perpetuating it. Capitalists think they’re lifting the Third World out of poverty instead of exacerbating it. But, I digress…
That ‘good family’ of mine thinks that bad-mouthing my cousins and me, something Mom inspired in them, is a good idea. She loved sowing division in our family, and she is now considered by the family to be a few rungs below sainthood!
My cousin S., only a few months after I’d told him my frustrations about my family (about seven years ago), began lashing out at me online, accusing me of all kinds of things, all without a shred of proof; not even a plausible motive had been offered by him, for he’d been my best friend here, and someone in whom I’d confided about my family and many other personal things, so why would I ever want to cross him?
He’s had a history of substance abuse (beyond regular drinking and smoking of marijuana and hashish, in his youth he did quite a bit of LSD), and this has probably played a large role in his mental instability (his accusations of me seem to be largely hallucinations); but since his online rants began only a few months after I’d told him of my decision to disown my family, I assume he told my mom about this (with the good intention of re-establishing family harmony); and she, reacting with narcissistic injury, may well have squirted some of her poison in his ears against me (as she had doubtlessly done in the ears of my siblings), thus arousing–or at least aggravating–his paranoia about me.
Whatever she may have said to him, she certainly nurtured the division between S. and me once I’d forwarded to her one of his email rants, a decision I now deeply regret (and that’s a stupid on me…stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) She obviously used this email as gossip fodder, and forwarded it to my sister J., at least, if not to the entire family. Mom did this not to alert the family to a serious mental health issue we needed to combine our efforts against and find a solution to (as I’d hoped, in all foolishness, she would); she did it to malign her nephew’s reputation, as she’d been doing to his brothers for decades.
When I mentioned S.’s problem to J. in an email exchange, she only said she was “dismayed”, having realized she was mistaken that S. was the one “normal” cousin we have. Note how her only concern was his lack of normalcy, not his ill health or unhappiness. His ‘screwiness’ in the head was another blot on the family’s reputation, apparently. Oh, dear…
J. then forgot all about S. and the urgency of his issues, and in her email reply asked about me making a visit. Naturally, I had no wish even to discuss that, preferring to go on at length in my email reply about S. (another one of my “over-the-top” emails, of course, though remember: I’ve never written in such a way to my aunt [Part 5: More Elaborate Lies]!) Since J. never replied to this message, I assume she (under Mom’s influence, probably) thought I was being as crazy as S. in my ramblings.
In any case, it was clear that neither she nor Mom were willing to lift a finger for S. Once again, they–the only two family members who ever showed an interest in my continued participation in the family–chose to alienate me even further from them. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to redeem themselves, at least in part, and they muffed it. Sheer stupidity on their part.
The family had been preaching to me for decades about the importance of setting aside one’s selfish interests for the good of others; they used this preaching to justify their smug sense of ‘superiority’ over me, and to bully and shame me whenever I failed to measure up to their expectations. Now, here we had an opportunity for them to practice what they’d been preaching: help S. They didn’t have to succeed. I didn’t expect my aging mother, or any of them individually, to take on the burden alone.
I did expect them to try, at least. They didn’t even do that.
In fact, my mother was adamant about not helping. When I asked her in an email if anything was being done to help S., she replied, “I haven’t talked to your aunt [about S.] and I will not. Knowing what he said about you in that email rant, I’ll get too upset to talk to her about it.” Funny how my mother never got upset about the awful things R., F., and J. used to say to me, almost daily, during my youth. What a convenient excuse Mom had not to help S.
This just made it all the easier for me to disown the family.
Indeed, I emailed another blunt warning to her about her attitude to S., saying he “isn’t acting the way he is because he’s a ‘bad person’: he’s acting that way because he’s ill, and he needs help. If this family just sits idly by while he continues to blunder about in his mental illness, there’s going to be a big regret…” etc., etc. [emphasis in the original email]
Yes, another of my ‘over-the-top’ emails…to my mother, not to my aunt.
And once again, Mom refused to heed my warnings.
So many opportunities to repent and prevent my disowning of the family, all wasted. So many deliberate choices to alienate me from them, yet they never faced up to what they’d done.
Instead, what was their choice method to warm me up to them? Sending me family photos, for fuck’s sake! As if seeing the faces of the people who’d hurt me so many times would ever kindle any love in my heart! They’ve really deluded themselves into thinking they were nothing but loving to me, all on the basis of a few favours done me here and there, and fulfilling the normal family obligations of feeding, housing, and clothing me; while conveniently forgetting about lying to me about a mental disability I don’t have; bullying and humiliating me, and getting explosively angry with me, usually over relatively minor offences; rejecting my own offers of love; and bad-mouthing me and our cousins behind our backs; and refusing to help the one family member who’d been my friend.
And they think I’m mentally ill? They think I’m the stupid one?
Oh, yes: during my youth, they called me “retarded” and “moron” (Mom, when I was around the ages of 9-12), “asshole!” (R., F., and J., many times during my teens), a “little shit!” (R., when I was about 14), “dip(stick)” and “dork” (R., F., and J., many times over my teen years), and a “wimp” (all of them, during my teens). Many of these names were shouted with a vicious or sneering facial expression that is the opposite of love, all during crucial, identity-forming years in my adolescence.
Mom and my siblings acted the way they did the whole time I’ve been in Taiwan, and instead of even asking what they’d done, or could have done, to make me not want to talk to them anymore, my mother complained in an email of how “hurt and annoyed” she was that I’d “given up on this family”, as if I’d just impulsively decided to turn my back on them for no reason.
To be sure, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too…but the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to have affected the family, because they as a group have done so many stupid things to facilitate my permanent estrangement from them, and they, so full of themselves, don’t even know it, or refuse to admit it to themselves, at least.
Though I can’t say for sure, I’m fairly convinced my late mother was narcissistic on a clinically significant level. She was a sick woman, and her sickness compelled her to do the irrational things she did to me, and to the family. As her flying monkeys, my siblings absorbed some of this narcissism, a group narcissism, and that would explain the irrationality of their actions.
When Erich Fromm wrote about group narcissism in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he was writing essentially about such things as nationalism and fascism, but I believe his ideas can be applied to smaller groups, like narcissistic parents and their golden children, too:
‘When, in group narcissism, the object is not the individual but the group to which he belongs, the individual can be fully aware of it, and express it without any restrictions. The assertion that “my country” (or nation, or religion) is the most wonderful, the most cultured, the most powerful, the most peace-loving, etc., does not sound crazy at all; on the contrary, it sounds like the expression of patriotism, faith, and loyalty. It also appears to be a realistic and rational value judgment because it is shared by many members of the same group. This consensus succeeds in transforming the phantasy into reality, since for most people reality is constituted by general consensus and not based on reason or critical examination.’ [Note also Fromm’s note to this last sentence: “Sometimes this consensus even of a small group suffices to create reality–in the most extreme cases even the consensus of two (folie à deux).”] (Fromm, page 230)
It isn’t reason that inspires my siblings (“the team” that they’d always “score another point for”–Part 4, third paragraph) to see themselves as wiser, stronger, more mature, more loving, and more giving than I am. If R., F., and J. had had a fraction of those virtues, they’d have developed suspicions as to our mother’s motives, and made a decent attempt to rescue their relationship with me (and at least try to help S.). All they had to do was listen to my side of the story with an open mind, and show as much skepticism to Mom’s version of events as they were showing mine. I don’t expect to be believed without any critical thought, but I do expect the same consideration as they were giving their oh, so charismatic leader.
By failing to do these critically important things (and as a group of at least three, their combined efforts would have made things easier for each other), they failed me, they failed S., and they failed as a family. R., F., and S., like our late mother, have been as vain, and as “old and foolish” (IV, vii, 85) as Lear, who lost everything.
Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Picador, New York, 1973
David Crystal and Ben Crystal, Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Penguin Books, London, 2002
Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971