One of the strange ironies of my life is how the person who caused me the worst psychological damage in terms of subjecting me to an ongoing, lifetime campaign of emotional abuse–namely, my mother–also occasionally gave me invaluable advice.
You see, as awful as she was a mother in general, it would be wrong to say she was awful in an absolute sense. As I’ve argued before, no abuser can afford to be so 24/7, for the victim would quickly wise up, get sick of the abuse, and get out of the relationship. The genuine evil of traumatic bonding is in the abuser giving a cunning mixture of ‘love’ and viciousness.
As I’ve also argued elsewhere, there is a dialectical relationship between opposites, whereby one opposite has a paradoxical way of intensifying the other: I show this relationship through the symbolism of the ouroboros, for me representing a circular continuum where one extreme (the serpent’s biting head) meets its opposite extreme (the bitten tail), and every intermediate point between the extreme opposites lies along the coiled body of the serpent.
Such a relationship is also manifested in the abuser’s occasional moments of kindness, as was the case with my probably narcissistic late mother. If my elder brothers R. and F., my elder sister J., and I gave our mother the narcissistic supply she craved, she would be nice to us; if we failed to give that supply, or dared refuse it to her, she’d give us hell.
A fault of mine (in the context of the dynamics of this family, it could only be deemed a fault) is my tendency to place truth before tact. But even I gave Mom what she wanted sometimes, and she would ‘reward’ me accordingly.
I’ll give a few examples of when I got these ‘rewards.’ Once during a class in high school, I’d been made fun of in front of my laughing classmates, and I complained to Mom about it. She said, “Consider the source,” with a disapproving look meant for the kid who’d mocked me.
She was getting narcissistic supply from being the bearer of good advice, as she had on another occasion when I was working at McDonald’s in my early twenties. The staff and I went out on a group activity involving swimming and other water sports. I, having no interest in such activities, but wanting to be sociable with them on some level at least, chose to be the oddball that I was and bring my acoustic guitar to play. (Since I was terrible at the job and not well-liked as a person there, I wanted them to see that I at least had some ability at something.)
One nasty fellow among the staff decided that my strumming and finger-picking was ludicrous to see and hear, so he talked about this scene in Animal House. I continued playing: he imagined I was too stupid to understand his implied threat; actually, he was too stupid to understand my implied defiance of that threat.
Nonetheless, I felt hurt by his meanness, and when I went home, I told my mom about it. She immediately replied by saying he was envious of my musical ability. I felt better instantly, this being one of the minority of times Mom actually said something that made me feel good about myself. Again, I’d been told by my mother to consider the source.
Now, as good as she was to say this to me those two times, consideration should have also been given to her as a source, that is, on the majority of times when her words were anything but a comfort to my sorrows.
Her pointing out his envy of my musical abilities, I believe, was also an indirect indication of her own envy, gladly projected onto him. I’ve discussed her envy, as a manifestation of her narcissism, in this post, in which I also point out that this envy should not be seen as me tooting my own horn about my abilities (which are actually quite minor in the realm of music), but rather her envy of any ability at all in others.
Furthermore, I have to consider her as a source when contemplating all the awful things she did to me: 1) lying that I have autism, which she, significantly, described using the language of narcissism; 2) indulging R., F., and J.’s bullying of me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; 3) her explosive anger at me, generally over trifles; 4) continuing the autism lie by fabricating a ‘diagnosis’ of Asperger Syndrome (AS); 5) being selective about when it was ‘OK’ for me to fly from Taiwan to Canada to visit the family…and when it wasn’t OK; 6) bad-mouthing my cousins and claiming one of them might have AS, implying that she’d been bad-mouthing me to R., F., and J. my whole life; 7) refusing to help my other cousin S., when he’d manifested signs of mental instability (implying, as with the AS b.s., that the mentally ill have a vice to be despised–they’re not afflicted people to show compassion for); and 8) telling me a string of seven lies about S. and his mother, the summer before Mom died of cancer, to stir up more rancour between members of the family she was supposed to have ‘loved’ so much.
Indeed, what kind of a mother stirs up so much bad feeling, needless bad feeling, in her own family? Does a loving mother work so tirelessly to divide family members, isolate individual members, and lie so indulgently? Do those occasional words of comfort described above come anywhere close to compensating?
Significantly, the AS lie came up during the early 2000s, when I, having already lived in Taiwan for about seven years, was setting up roots here (i.e., she’d be losing control over me). I doubt that Mom’s timing was a mere coincidence. As the identified patient, the scapegoat, of the family, I’d been set up to lose (so they wouldn’t have to feel like losers themselves); but as a successful English teacher here, about to marry a local girl and get a permanent resident certificate, I didn’t lose. That’s why Mom had to make me believe I have AS, so I could continue ‘to be a loser’ for the rest of my life!
I’m reminded of a scene from an episode from that old TV series, WKRP in Cincinnati, when the DJ, Dr. Johnny Fever, learns that Lillian Carlson–the mean, domineering, and (safe-to-assume) narcissistic mother of General Manager Arthur Carlson–doesn’t want her son’s radio station to make profits (so she can get a tax break). The DJ is shocked at the businesswoman’s reptilian attitude. How would her son feel to know that this is what she was hoping for his career?
My parents owned and managed a pancake house restaurant, Smitty’s, back in the 1980s, and both of them had the same capitalist mentality as Lillian, this mentality being something I’ve linked with narcissism. Along with the tendency to exploit workers is the capitalist’s tendency to alienate people, something my parents excelled at, inside and outside the family. I’ve elsewhere gone into not only how psychoanalysis can give insights into the nature of narcissism (especially parents with the disorder), but also into what I speculate to be the origins of my late mother’s pathology.
All those despicable traits your abusers have dumped on you are just a projection of their own problems, something they’ve manipulated you into believing is yours, so they can kid themselves into thinking they’ve rid themselves of those problems. Now, you can rid yourself of problems that weren’t yours to begin with, for we victims of emotional abuse have the right to rid ourselves of the impurities put into our minds, those bad internalized objects that should never have been put into us.
[NOTE: this is the concluding chapter (click here for the first, here for the second, here for the third, here for the fourth, here for the fifth, here for the sixth, here for the seventh, and here for the eighth) of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]
The following are excerpts from the True Dakotan on the crime bust of the Donald and Wanda Terence child pornography ring.
“The shocking discovery of the dismembered body parts of children and teens floating in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, just off the Californian coast, was quickly traced to Wessington Springs residents Donald and Wanda Terence, the husband and wife producers of a series of child pornography videos, either emailed to and uploaded by their customers, or sent to them as DVDs.”…
“Inspector Jeffery Trudeau and Agent Kevin Curtis, who investigated and made the bust, commented: ‘These two have to be two of the dumbest and most depraved perps we’ve ever busted,’ Curtis said. ‘What made them think dumping off the bodies in California waters wouldn’t be traced back to South Dakota? Frankly, I’d say they’re as idiotic as they are sickos!’
“‘Similarly, the kiddie porn films they made are as tacky and tasteless as they are disgusting,’ Trudeau added, holding a DVD of Salon Kittens, meant as a parody of Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty. ‘In this video, Donald Terence, a second-rate actor going by the stage name of Daniel Torrance, plays a Nazi who enjoys the charms of a number of male and female child and teen prostitutes in Salon Kitty, one of them played by none other than the man’s teenage daughter, Lily, dressed in a dirndl and going by the stage name of Alice Wunderbar! How sickening!’…”
“‘We asked the husband and wife why they made their videos as parodies of famous films,’ Curtis said. ‘They explained that they meant the videos to be considered higher art–can you believe that?’…”
“‘When Donald explained that he chose his stage name out of a wish to be identified with the psychic boy in the movie The Shining,’ Trudeau said, ‘I told him he should have chosen the first name Jack, instead.’
“‘We asked Wanda how she could do what she allowed to be done to those kids, and to her own daughter,’ Curtis said. ‘She said that she herself had been abused as a child, as had Donald and his late brother, Ray Terence. She said that the world is a monstrous place: either you’re a monster to others, or they’re monsters to you. I can’t even…’
“‘They obviously have no shame, yet they pretend to,’ Trudeau said. ‘I asked Donald why he drove so far to get rid of the bodies, since it did him no good. He said dully that he couldn’t risk his reputation. I told him that he has just cemented his reputation.'”
[NOTE: this is the seventh chapter (click here for the first, here for the second, here for the third, here for the fourth, here for the fifth, and here for the sixth) of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]
Alice woke up…or did she?
She found herself in the hotel room again. The radio was off.
I don’t remember turning off the radio last time, she thought.
She got up, saw herself in the mirror, and the waves of her ego’s uncertainty flattened–somewhat–when she saw her image in the reflection. She sighed in relief at it.
She turned on the radio. Agent Curtis and Inspector Trudeau were chatting…again, why on a radio program, instead of in a crime lab, or something?
“It seems to be a dead end, Agent,” Trudeau said.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Curtis said. “I’ve got a feeling the killer will show up again.”
“Dropping bodies,” Trudeau said.
Dropping bodies, she thought. Bodies, dropping down rabbit holes, dropping into seas of dismembered body parts, dropping into black, downward spirals…
“Still, we’ll get out of this dead end only if there is another killing,” Trudeau said.
“There will be,” Curtis said. “Killers always drop bodies. That’s what they do.”
“But what if the killer isn’t quite a killer?” Trudeau asked.
Yeah! she thought. Maybe I never killed anyone. Maybe the drugs made me hallucinate the whole thing.
“Interesting theory, Inspector,” Curtis said.
“Right,” Trudeau said. “Very strange world.”
“Whew,” she sighed. “I’m safe.”
“.ecilA, pu ekaW,” a familiar female voice said.
“What?” Alice said with a jolt going through her body. “Am I still dreaming?”
“.ecilA er’uoy kniht llits uoY”
“But I am, aren’t I?” Alice’s vision blurred, then faded. Her body began dropping into that black spiral again.
“.t’nera uoy ,oN”
As those black coils spun around her dropping body, she saw a hole in the left side, a kind of window looking into a mental hospital. She saw Daniel Torrance, strapped to a bed, receiving a sedative from a nurse. He was struggling to break free of his bonds. He was screaming.
“Stop it!” he screamed in his faux German accent. “Stop it!” His body switched back and forth between his and Goebbels’. “Please, stop it! Please!” Then he slumped down on the bed.
“The sedative doesn’t work that fast,” the nurse said to a psychiatrist standing next to her. “Could he have had a heart attack?”
“Could be,” the psychiatrist said. The hole in the side of the spiral closed up.
Alice smiled as she continued falling. Daddy, she thought. Daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
“.thgir lla, hguorht er’uoy ,hO”
Lily suddenly woke up, crying. She was lying on a raft with endless water all around her, as far as the eye could see…no land in sight. The waves moved in gentle rises and falls. A fog hovered over her, greying the sky everywhere. She was in her pyjamas, with a blanket over her.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I…”
“What is it, Lily?” a familiar female voice echoed from the depths of the fog.
“I thought sleep would do it,” Lily said. “To die, to sleep…would help me escape.”
“What’s wrong?” asked the voice.
“I don’t know who I am.”
“No, I’m not. I’m Alice. I’ll show you. It’s in my purse…wait, where is it?” She looked down at her body, recognizing that of a flat-chested girl instead of that of curvy Alice. “Why…why am I in Lily’s body?”
“Because you are Lily.”
“What about Alice?” Lily looked at herself in the water. She saw Lily’s face distorted in the moving waves.
“There was no Alice. There never was an Alice. She was just a role you played. A false self. You’d played that part for so many years, you forgot it was just a role. You thought you liked being a ‘slut’…to protect yourself from the pain. But you were always Lily.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do, Lily. Deep, deep down inside. You’ve just repressed it for so long. But here’s the thing: you can’t keep the truth away, no matter how hard you try. All of your attempts to present yourself as a ‘metal chick’ and a ‘slut’ are just armour to keep the truth from you.”
“And what is this ‘truth’?”
“‘Alice’ is a role your parents and uncle forced you to play in the series of child pornography videos they were making and selling.”
Lily’s eyes and mouth widened. She shuddered.
“You mean, my…mom…made me do it, too? I don’t remember her at all.” She got dizzy.
“I know,” the Mystery Girl said. “Her betrayal of you was so painful, you had to blot all memory of her out of your mind. The only trace of her remaining was a likeness to the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
Lily broke down and cried. “Oh, my God!”
“Your tormentors all played roles, too, in those awful movies,” the Mystery Girl said. “Your father sometimes dressed up in lederhosen with you in a dirndl, sometimes he wore a Nazi uniform while doing a bad imitation of a German accent, sometimes he dressed as a Protestant minister while blaming you for tempting him into sin. Your Uncle Ray sometimes wore a cowboy hat and did an even worse imitation of a southern accent; sometimes he wore blackface and pretended he was Morgan Freeman. It would have been laughable, had it not been so horrifying, what they did to all of us.”
“To all of us?” Lily sobbed. “You mean, you were a part of it?”
“Well, yes and no.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Daisy, or I used to be Daisy, the girl you saved. I’m her spirit.”
“Wait; if I ‘saved’ you, why are you a ghost?”
“Well, you saved me and you didn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“You saved me from being used in their porno films, but they murdered me. Still, you had me die a virgin rather than raped, so that’s saving me enough, as I see it.”
“Wait…it’s all coming back to me…”
A flurry of memories flashed by Lily’s eyes: Donald and Ray Terence (for those were their real names) making teenage Lily get tattoos, dye her hair a devil red, and wear ‘metal chick’ clothes to make her look ‘Satanic’ in the porn films; Donald and Ray becoming ‘born again Christians,’ but keeping their underage porn business alive, as Donald’s wife, Wanda, insisted on keeping the money rolling in from their pervert clients; the ‘born again Christians’ reconciling their would-be faith to their crimes by making scapegoats of Lily and the other boys and girls they raped as Wanda filmed it on her smartphone.
“I remember now,” Lily said with a waterfall of tears soaking her cheeks. “Mommy found you chatting with Bunny about Stan in a café. She said you looked like ‘actress material.’ I know because I was there. Because you and I were classmates at school, I wanted to warn you and stop her, but I couldn’t–they had that much power over me.
“I gave Uncle Roy–er, Ray an overdose of sleeping pills in his bourbon one night several years ago; I wrote a suicide note, imitating his handwriting (for I’d practiced writing in his hand many times on scrap paper, then hid the drafts, for I didn’t dare throw them out; Mommy watched everything going in and out of the house like a hawk).
“In my wish to save your innocence, I now decided to use the same fake suicide plan on Daddy…but Mom found all my drafts, and realized what I’d done and was planning.”
“Yes,” Daisy’s ghost said. “Wanda found all those scraps of paper, with imitations of Donald’s as well as Ray’s handwriting. Your mom and dad were so infuriated, they went wild with thoughtless rage, and got a murderous revenge on you.”
“They gave me a choice: let Daddy rape you on camera, or he’d kill both of us. I figured him raping you was like murder, as I’d died every time he and Uncle Ray raped me,…”
“You chose death for us, your mom shouted, “Off with their heads!”, and we were killed, our bodies dismembered, driven all the way from South Dakota to the Oregon and California coasts, then thrown into the ocean, with the body parts of a few other boy and girl victims.”
“Yes,” Lily sighed, noting a leak in her raft. It started to rain. “I can sense the whole thing now, as if I’d witnessed it in life…I’m in the spirit world with you, aren’t I?”
“Of course,” Daisy said. “You’ve been here the whole time, since your dream about going from your ‘apartment’ to the dance club. Here, in the dreamland of the collective unconscious, where ghosts have access to all the knowledge–however garbled it may be shown to us–of the world, including knowing what happened to us after we were killed.”
“No wonder everything I’ve seen is so fucked up,” Lily said. “It’s all been like a dream.”
“Yeah, and I have to comment frankly on your parents,” Daisy said. “Dumping our bodies in the Pacific Ocean was such a stupid thing to do. The police could easily trace the murders to your parents. In fact, Donald and Wanda are being arrested as we speak.”
“Daddy always was a moron,” Lily said. Her body began dropping slowly into the water. The rain was coming down harder. “So, I’m dead?”
“Yes, Lily. You have to face the facts. It’s time to let go. Let go of your ego, and your suffering will end.”
“I’m afraid.” She was up to her waist in water. The rain was coming down so heavily, there seemed to be more rain than air.
“Don’t be afraid, Lily. The pain will go away as soon as you fully let go of your desire to be alive. Let go, be one with everything, and you’ll finally have peace.”
As I’ve written before here on this blog, in the middle of our healing journey we have a tendency to backslide when times are good (crests of the waves of life), and forget to be mindful in our need to keep on working on our self-care, writing therapy, meditations, etc. Then the bad times flow back, those troughs on life’s waves, and we’re unprepared.
Just as the bad times don’t last, neither do the good times. The good flow into the bad, then the bad into the good, like the waves of the ocean. We have to embrace change, as it exists everywhere, at all times.
“Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,/Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in,” said Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching (58). “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 5:4) says Jesus in the Beatitudes. Fortune and misfortune flow back and forth into each other in a cyclical Unity of Action, as do health and ill health.
I discussed impermanence, and the crests of good luck flowing into the troughs of bad luck, in my analysis of Moby-Dick. As we try to heal our pain, we must guard against the sentimentality of thinking that there will ever be a flow from sadness to everlasting happiness. There is a never-ending dialectical swing back and forth between all things, including good and bad luck.
There’s also a dialectic between health and ill health. About a week before the publishing of this post, someone read this post of mine and, apparently misunderstanding my meaning when I wrote of being ‘a little too healthy,’ thought what I’d written made no sense. (Another reader stopped at about the third paragraph because she had no idea what I was talking about. I admit, that post was a little too abstract for its own good.)
The quotations around ‘too healthy’ were put there on purpose, for I never meant the idea to be taken at face value. By ‘too healthy,’ I meant the smug overconfidence, complacency, and sense of entitlement we may feel when things are going a little too conveniently for us.
True health is a proper balance of bliss and pain. We all have pain: even the healthiest of people do. Happiness isn’t the absence of pain; it’s having the emotional tools, if you will, to deal with pain. People who are ‘too healthy,’ that is, too comfortable, often aren’t emotionally prepared when the bad times come–then they slip into suffering.
So as all opposites are in some sense combined or intermixed, so are emotional health and ill health. The healthiest of people experience pain, sorrow, and unresolved frustrations. The mentally unhealthy also use their delusions to shield themselves from greater pain: this is not to say that using their delusions in this way is a good idea, of course, but just that their disconnect with reality is an attempt–however foolish–to protect themselves; it serves a psychological purpose, however dysfunctional it may be.
To use an example from fiction, Norman Bates deludes himself from the overwhelming, unbearable pain of confronting his murder of his mother, by imagining she’s still alive…even to the point of giving her half of his life, speaking for her, dressing up as her, having her personality in his mind. This delusion in no way cures him of his madness, of course–it only intensifies it in the long run; but the delusion does allow him, at least in the short term, to be able to function socially. In this way, we can see the admixture of ‘health’ (<<note the quotes, please) into ill health.
We suffer pain because we imagine states of being to persist in more or less permanent forms. We need to be mindful, as the Buddhists are, of the one and only permanent state of being: change. Happiness and sorrow flow into each other like the waves of the ocean.
People indulge in porn, drinking, sexual promiscuity, and drugs as a way to experience a brief high of ‘happiness’ to stave off dealing with their real problem: sadness–loneliness. People gain “neurotic dividends,” as (if I remember correctly) Wayne W. Dyer called them in Your Erroneous Zones, by engaging in dysfunctional behaviour because that’s easier than coping with life. This is the ‘health’ in ill health, the ‘happiness’ in sadness.
I’d like to propose another idea for coping with sadness, an idea I got from Richard Grannon in his “Silence the Inner Critic” course: just make yourself feel good for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Do we need to have a reason for feeling good?
I know, I know: at first glance, this sounds like a silly idea. Hear me out, please.
Say the quote below to yourself regularly, regardless of your actual mood, and say it with vigorous body movements, to help you feel it–because you have to try to feel it as well as say it: “I am assuming control of my physical, mental, and emotional state…and I feel good! I feel good…because I should! I feel good because being in a good psychological state helps me to function better in life, to handle my difficulties and challenges better. Indeed, I feel good for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I feel good because, even though I could be going through the worst of calamities now, feeling good can help me pull out of the trough I’m in, and bring me up faster to a crest of good times. And if I do have reason to feel good now, well, that’s all the easier for me.”
Again, I know what you’re thinking, Dear Reader: easier said than done. I sympathize with you, especially if you’re going through Hell right now, and I agree that it’s hard to do this if, say, you’re in hospital, sick as a dog, depressed, going through emotional flashbacks, crying because someone verbally abused you, etc. I’ve been in many bad situations when, had I heard such sunny advice, I’d want to tell the speaker to f— right off, too.
But consider the more habitual reaction to such troubles: seriously, will moping in hopelessness help you any better? Will escaping into drugs, drinking, or porn?
When I say, ‘feel good for no reason whatsoever,’ I’m not talking about deluding yourself into thinking that everything’s fine when it so obviously isn’t; I’m talking about how you choose to react to your troubles. A hopeful mindset will help you deal with those very real sorrows much better than a pessimistic one will, because you’ll be in a better emotional state to think–with clarity–of a solution to your problems.
Consider the philosophy of Epictetus: we cannot control what happens outside of us (including our bodily ailments), but we can control how we choose to feel about it (i.e., we must give up our attachment to material possessions, a good reputation, a reliance on fortunate events, etc.). I’m not saying that by affirming happy feelings, we’ll make all our sorrows magically go away, in the blink of an eye; I’m saying that we can learn to bear what we suffer better by focusing on what we can control–our feelings.
As I’ve conceptualized this issue before: the problem is the thesis; the solution is the antithesis, or negation of the problem; and the long and winding road from the problem to the solution is the sublation, the resolution of the contradiction, the unity between the opposites of problem/solution that shows there’s no difficulty that’s utterly cut off from a way out of it.
We cannot solve our problems by getting upset. The best thing to do–to express my proposed solution in another way–is first to regather our forces (what I’d consider to be those good, encouraging internalized objects I wrote about having been put inside our minds through self-hypnosis), then to take a deep, relaxing breath, then to work out a rational solution to our problem (thesis/negation/sublation).
So, the waves go down into a trough (the problem, or thesis), then they rise (sublation) into a solution (the negation of the problem). Now, that sublated solution will dip into a new problem to be sublated again…and this will happen again and again, ad infinitum. These cycles can be compared to the rolling ocean’s waves, or to the cycle of eternity that is the ouroboros, as I’ve written about so many times before.
The point is that whatever is troubling you now–your current trough–is something that will flow upwards into a crest…of some kind or another. So even if this thought experiment (‘feel good for no reason whatsoever’) doesn’t work for you, at least remember that whatever your problem is, this, too, will pass. All troubles come and go, as do moments of joy. Watch those moving waves of fortune, be patient, endure, and in one form or another, the troughs will change back into crests…which in turn will become troughs, then crests, troughs, crests…
I’m shouting out to any bloggers out there who might be interested in creating a kind of collective website/blog page, to which we can all contribute articles on the subjects of narcissistic abuse, including topics on narcissistic parents/ex-boyfriends/ex-girlfriends/spouses, golden children, scapegoats/identified patients, complex PTSD, flying monkeys, triangulation, smear campaigns, and anything on helping survivors to heal from the pain. I got this idea from the creator of the Emerging from the Dark Night page.
I was wondering if she and I, as well as the writers on such pages as the Cynthia Bailey Rug,Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Flying Monkeys–Oh My!, Parenting Exposed, Dr. Perry, PhD, on MakeItUltra, the creator of Surviving to Thriving on YouTube, etc., would be interested in us all pooling our resources and presenting all our divergent perspectives on one page…not only for how it can help us get our own messages out to a wider audience, but also to help survivors have an easy-to-find resource where they can find lots of articles, videos, etc., of varying viewpoints, and find them all quickly.
Another possible idea is to have a shared Facebook page.
If any of you are interested, please let me know in the comments section here, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
We sufferers of C-PTSD have been psychologically shattered into pieces. We’re broken inside, we’re broken off from the outside world, and we’re broken off from our relationships with other people because our bad internal objects have torn us up.
Our sense of time is fractured, too. We dwell too much on the past, or worry too much about the future. If a problem occurs in the present, we make a catastrophe out of it, imagining this present hell to be a permanent state of affairs, and thinking it can never cyclically flow out of the present bad and into a future good. The waves of our fortunes seem in a permanent trough, never moving up into a crest.
Finally, our sense of how things happen, act, or move is broken into pieces. We imagine difficulties and their solutions to be separated and impossible to be relinked. Solutions thus seem unattainable.
The whole world seems to be like shattered glass to us. Everywhere, we see, hear, feel, and imagine lives of fragmentation. There’s the shattered glass of our personalities, and of our relations with others, those of our immediate, interpersonal relationships, and those on the geopolitical scale especially, blinding us to the idea of an infinite ocean of a Brahman-like unity of all of humanity.
There’s the shattered glass of time, fixating us on either the past (rumination), the present (ignoring, and failing to learn from, history), or the future (worrying/anxiety), and making us ignore the cyclical nature of time, the eternal NOW.
And there’s the shattered glass of all phenomena around us, making us see disjointed activity everywhere instead of the circular continuum (symbolized by the ouroboros) that unifies all action.
Abusive parents and bad early influences cause this fragmentation and psychological disintegration in us, firing up hostility in us and numbing our empathy. The paradox of relationships is in how, by denying children proper boundaries, they grow up to be especially insular; yet if they’d had their boundaries respected, they’d grow up feeling much more connected with, and more trusting of, other people. The symbolism of the ouroboros, where one opposite (the biting head) meets the other (the bitten tail) can explain the dialectical meaning behind how paradoxes exist as extremes meeting on a circular continuum; that is how seemingly irreconcilable opposites can be unified.
So, how can we put all the pieces back together?
Inpreviousposts, I’ve written up meditations on how we can repair our inner psychological fragmentation by replacing our bad internal objects (i.e., the imagos of such people as our abusive parents, which haunt our minds as ghosts would a house) with imagined good objects, meditated on while in the more suggestible state of auto-hypnotic trance. This healing will result in a cohesive self (like Atman, in a way) comparable to Kohut‘s ideas of a healthy personality.
Once that cohesive self is reasonably well-established, we can find it easier to heal our ability to have relationships with others, to end our sense of alienation. As things are inside, so are they outside, and vice versa, as we understand from the effects of introjection, projection, and projective and introjective identification, which all create our internal objects, be they good or bad. We are all one, whether we know it or not.
This leads to my ‘oceanic meditation,’ if you will. We meditate on the idea that ourselves, our very bodies, are part of the waters of an infinite ocean, like Brahman, in a way–interconnected with everyone and everything around us. The rising and falling waves represent our rising and falling fortunes: as we sense them rise and fall, over and over again, we begin to realize that our problems are never permanent.
As we meditate on these undulating, universal waves that we are a part of, we practice mindfulness, focusing on the eternal NOW; this can discipline our minds to stop dissociating, ruminating on past pain, and worrying about futures that usually aren’t half as frightening as they seem.
I would like now to put all of these meditations I’ve written about together in a large, auto-hypnotic session, going into detail about meditations that I gave only sketchy descriptions of before. It’ll read like a narration. Find somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit or lie down, without anyone or anything to distract or bother you. As you sit or lie there, close your eyes and relax.
Take long, slow, deep breaths, and forget about all your troubles for the moment. As you continue slowly and deeply inhaling and exhaling, take notice of what your body is doing, starting with your toes, heels, and ankles; then, move up to your calves and shins.
Imagine this awareness of your body to be like rising water, as if you were standing in a small room filling up with water. This ‘water of bodily awareness,’ so to speak, continues rising up to your knees, then to your upper legs, thighs, and waist. Your awareness of your lower half should vibrate with relaxation.
The ‘water’ continues rising to your stomach, chest, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders. Then to your neck: you now should feel a relaxing, vibrating awareness of your whole body from the neck down. Finally, the ‘water’ covers your face and head…but you can breathe it as if you had gills, so you can feel the vibes inside now.
You’re now vibrating all over in peace and perfect comfort.
Still slowly and deeply inhaling and exhaling, count slowly from ten to one, then zero: with each passing number, allow yourself to get more and more relaxed; so when you reach zero, you’re in a state of maximum relaxation. In this state of auto-hypnotic trance, you’ll be most responsive to the following suggestions. (Remember: any time you get distracted, gently and firmly bring yourself back into concentrating on the visualization below; with time and repeated practice, your concentration will improve.)
Now, imagine yourself waking up from a coma, as Christopher Sly was duped into thinking he was in the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew. Your loving, good family (that is, your imaginary new family of good internal objects, who will replace the abusive family of your past) are all around your hospital bed, thrilled to see you revive!
(The narration that follows below is how I do this meditation for myself: if you, Dear Reader, choose to do it, you will naturally change the details as they’re appropriate for you.)
I’m surprised and a bit agitated to see four strangers at my bedside: an older man and woman to the left, and a younger man and woman to the right. The older man calms me, saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK. You’re going to be OK.” (He’s like Bruce Wayne’s father in Batman Begins.) Still agitated, I try to get up, but he gently stops me, saying, “It’s fine. Don’t be afraid.”
The older woman, overjoyed and teary-eyed, calls for the doctor. The younger woman says, “Welcome back, Mawr!” The younger man says, “You had quite a fall, didn’t you, bud?”
“And why do we fall, Mawr?” the older man asks, making me look back over at him in pleasant surprise, for I vaguely remember being asked that question before. “So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” I remember that kind advice from sometime in the past…but from where?”
“I don’t understand,” I say. “Who are all of you?”
Their eyes and mouths open. “We’re your family, Mawr,” the older woman says, her face a mix of surprise and slight hurt. “I’m your mother. Don’t you remember us?”
“I’m your father,” the older man says, then gestures to the younger man and woman. “They’re your older brother and sister.”
“That can’t be,” I say. “My parents died years ago. They were mean and abusive, not kind like you. I have two older brothers–bullies, the both of them. My sister–not her–“I gesture to the younger woman “–was also a bully, always trying to make me into someone other than myself, someone she wanted me to be.”
“You must have hit your head hard when you had your accident,” says my ‘brother’. “You must have amnesia.”
“Accident?” I say, trying to rise, but ‘Dad’ stops me gently. “Amnesia? That’s nonsense. I have a lifetime of memories of being raised in a house of five people: a bad-tempered, bigoted father; a narcissistic mother who manipulated me into thinking I’m autistic, self-absorbed, ‘retarded,’ and self-centred; and who stirred up division and hate between my bullying siblings and me. This went on for years and years.”
“That sounds like a bad dream you had,” my ‘sister’ says.
“It’s too long a series of memories to have been a dream,” I say.
“Yeah, it was a long, long dream,” she says. “You’ve been out of it for a long time.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Mawr,” ‘Mom’ says, “you’ve been in a coma for the past five years.”
My jaw drops. My eyes bug out.
“It doesn’t matter, though,” says ‘Mom’. “You’re back now, and we’re here for you. That ‘family’ you were talking about was just a bad dream. None of that was real. We are your real family. Now is your reality, not that ‘past’ you were dreaming about. We are here for you, we love you, and we’re going to help you.”
“A ‘bad-tempered, bigoted father’ is not who our dad is, Mawr,” my ‘sister’ says, gesturing to ‘Dad’.
“I can’t say I never get angry, because being angry is part of being human,” ‘Dad’ says…and his kindness and gentleness are making me really want to believe he’s my real dad. “But as I’ve always tried to teach you guys, getting angry is no solution to life’s problems. Instead, when life gets tough, collect yourself, take a deep breath, and work out a rational solution to your problems.”
I want him to be my real dad soooooooo badly.
“Remember,” he continues, “the problem is the thesis, the solution is the antithesis, or negation of the problem–and remember that there’s a unity linking all opposites together, so always know that there’s a solution…of some kind or other…for every problem. You work out the contradiction between the problem and the solution with the sublation of them. The solution may not be what you thought it would be; you may not completely like the solution you get; but a solution is always attainable with enough persistence and determination.”
“Well said,” ‘Mom’ says…and I’m really wanting to believe she is my mom.
“As for bigotry,” ‘Dad’ goes on, “know that bigotry, a bad temper, and closed-mindedness are the way of fools. But tolerance, an easy-going nature, treating people fairly, and open-mindedness are the beginning of wisdom.”
This man is the negation, the antithesis, the opposite of my dad.
‘Mom’ is next to speak. “I want you to know that I would never try to make you believe you’re less than you really are, and I’d never willingly set you or your brother and sister against each other. I’ve always done the best I could to raise you three up, to encourage you, to help you build self-confidence, and to promote harmony in this family. I don’t always do a good job of that, I grant you…”
“You’ve done a very good job, Mom,” my ‘sister’ says.
“Thank you,” Mom says…and I’m getting vague feelings these people really are my family–the amnesia is wearing off. “Now, I don’t want your brother Hector, or your sister, Shawna, to feel jealous over the attention I’m giving you, Mawr…”
“You go ahead,” Hector says. “You’ve propped Shawna and me up many times over the years. He needs it now.” Shawna nods in agreement.
Mom gives them an appreciative smile, and continues. “I want you to know, Mawr, that whatever the ‘mother’ of your bad dream said to you, you are none of those things. You are special. You’re beautiful inside and out. You can expand your blog readership. You can write a book that sells. You just have to believe in yourself. We believe in you; why can’t you?” The other three nod in agreement with her.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t have a life,” Dad says.
“I’d never bully you, Mawr,” Hector says. “I protected you from bullies when we were kids. I confess that when we were kids, Shawna and I bullied you a couple of times…”
“…and I nipped that in the bud, fast,” Mom says.
“I’m glad you did, Mom,” Shawna says.
“Yes,” Hector says. “We’re all better off as friends than as enemies.”
“And I’d never try to make you into someone other than who you really are,” Shawna says to me. “Don’t you change one thing about yourself. There are a few things I wish you’d do differently, but that’s normal in any relationship. Never change who you are.”
“You love me as I am?” I ask, her nodding. “Even my eccentricities?”
“They’re part of your charm,” Shawna says with a grin.
“As I said, Mawr, you are none of those awful things your ‘mother’ said you were,” Mom says. “You’re kind, you’re compassionate, thoughtful, giving, and empathetic; and you’re a whistleblower when you see bad things going on. I’d never call you ‘autistic’, or ‘self-absorbed’, ‘self-centred’, or ‘retarded’. You’re bright, you’re smart, you’re intelligent. You have an amazing ability to learn a wide variety of subjects in detail, in a relatively short period of time. You’re knowledgeable, you’re a walking encyclopedia! You composed a symphony–I’m so proud of you!”
[My purpose, Dear Reader, in imagining receiving these compliments is not to indulge in egotism; rather, it’s meant to offset the years of insults, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, and gaslighting I endured from those five in the house where I grew up. That emotional abuse was the thesis; these imagined compliments are the dialectical negation of the abuse, as are all these loving words the new family is saying in this visualization/narration; a sublation of these opposing conceptions of me will give me a realistic sense of my actual strengths and weaknesses. In your meditations, Dear Reader, I suggest you do a sublation of the verbal abuse you suffered, a contrasting meditation on the words of kindness you wished you’d heard–and should have heard–instead.]
“You’re creative,” Mom continues, “you’re imaginative–your imagination is limitless! You’re an original thinker. You can use your knowledge and intelligence to create something beautiful, something that’s fire, something magical. All you have to do is put in the work…and you have been putting in the work! Just keep on trying and don’t give up, and eventually you’ll get there. You can do it…”
Now she, Dad, Hector, and Shawna are chanting, “You can do it,” over and over while clapping their hands. The chanting grows louder, faster, and more enthusiastic. I feel flooded with the feeling of their love and support, all through my body. I’m tingling with happiness.
The chant changes to, “Go, Mawr, go! Go, Mawr, go!…”, over and over, louder and faster as before, with the rhythmic clapping. Finally, the chant changes to just, “Mawr! Mawr! Mawr!…,” still louder and faster, ’til the crescendo ends with a “Yay! You can do it!” with applause and hugs from each of them in turn.
Suddenly, in my explosion of joy, I feel a breakthrough in my consciousness: these people really are my family! I remember myself as a child of three or four being held up by Dad when he was a younger man. We’re in a park. He holds me up in the air with a loving smile, then he brings me down to hug me. I say, “Daddy!”
Next, I remember Mom picking me up over her head in the same way, grinning lovingly, then bringing me down to her face for a kiss, a rubbing of our noses together while staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, then as we cuddle, I say, “Mommy!”
Then I have a memory of being in that park with Hector and Shawna; we’re all around the ages of three to six. He and I walk up to each other, kiss and laugh. Then Shawna and I kiss and laugh, and I fall on my bum in the grass. We laugh louder.
A family of friends: what a wonderful thought!
I remember walking to the park, still as a child of three or four, with these new, good parents behind me. I look up to the left and see Dad; then I look to the right and see Mom. Looking down at me and smiling, they encourage me to go ahead and not to be afraid, for they are right there behind me, supporting me and caring for me.
[This encouragement “to go ahead…not to be afraid,” symbolizes an encouragement for me to do whatever I need to do in my life now, as it can for whatever you need to do.]
I now feel the spiritual presence of these new, good internal objects buzzing pleasurably in my mind and all over my body, an encouragement that everything is going to be OK.
I visualize Merrin shouting, “I cast you out, unclean spirit!” (For that’s what the bad objects–the inner critic–are, Pazuzu, the demon to be exorcized.) The glass rhombus holding all those bad people flies up to the clouds, twirling as they scream inside it. “Be gone!” Merrin shouts. Now the twirling rhombus has flown through the clouds and disappears into space, shrinking as it goes further and further away, among the stars.
The people of the bad dream, the bad objects of my past, are gone, never to return. I’ve exorcized the inner critic demon; I’ve replaced the bad internal objects with good ones, who vibrate and glow inside me, guiding me, supporting me, and giving me love and encouragement.
With my inner fragmentation healed, I now have a cohesive self, my Atman. With a healed inside, I can feel encouraged to heal my relationships with those around me, to feel at one with them, a union of Atman with Brahman.
Remember, at the beginning of this auto-hypnosis/meditation/visualization, how we imagined being covered from head to toe with water in a small room; even inhaling the water as if we were fish? Now, let’s imagine our bodies are some of that water, at least that part of the water where our bodies have been standing. Now, the surrounding water flows through us in waves, for we are that water. There’s no more ego boundary (symbolized by our bodies) separating us from our surroundings.
There’s no more small room, either: there’s only the infinite ocean, the dialectical waves of the wave-particle duality that is all the matter in the universe, and we are all at one with it.
As we imagine those waves passing through us and around us (the Unity of Space, as I call it), going up and down in dialectic undulations of all the contradictions in life to be sublated (the Unity of Action), we continue breathing in and out, slowly and deeply, focusing on the present, the Eternal Now (the Unity of Time), and counting to forty with each inhalation and exhalation.
A contemplation combining what I call the Three Unities (of Space, Time, and Action) will, with repeated practice over a long period of time, bring us closer and closer to that nirvana of no more pain, a putting of all the pieces back together.
The insights of psychoanalysis have a lot to offer in cultivating an understanding of narcissism. In fact, Freud himself began the modern research into narcissism with his paper, “On Narcissism” (1914), in which he distinguished between the infantile self-love of narcissism (ego-libido/primary narcissism), on the one hand, and object love (i.e., love of other people–object-libido), on the other. In his view, when the transition between primary and secondary narcissism (when object-libido is withdrawn for a return to ego-libido) is fraught with problems, narcissism becomes pathological in adulthood.
My main concern here is how psychoanalytic ideas can help us understand how and why narcissistic family abuse happens. We need to examine not only how and why the narcissistic parent causes the abuse, but also how the parent develops pathologically narcissistic traits. We also need to examine how the sons and daughters react to parental narcissism, either caving into/joining in on the abuse, or rebelling against/being victimized by it.
Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims? And who plays the combined role of victim and perpetrator?
The Oedipus complex, or the love/hate relationship the child has for his or her parents, can be exploited by a narcissistic parent; perhaps, for example, to manipulate the child’s love of the narcissist parent and hate of the other parent; that is, to make a scapegoat of the non-narcissistic parent. By Oedipally loving the narcissist parent, the child could be groomed into becoming a golden child.
Narcissistic parents will instil a cruel, over-judgemental superego into their children, a harsh inner critic that maximizes conflict between the children’s natural desires (from the id), their need for safety (from the ego) from parental abuse, and a demanding ego ideal that makes the children feel unworthy if they fail to measure up to it.
II: Ego Defence Mechanisms/Anna Freud
Defence mechanisms are used by both the abusers and the abused. Wearing a False Self to present a parent of virtue to the world, the abuser will rationalize his or her abusiveness to create the illusion of having good reasons for it. Maintaining that False Self also requires the abuser to project his vices onto his kids.
Narcissists can take projection a step further in their manipulation of their sons and daughters, and use projective identification on them. Here, parents not only project onto their kids, but also manipulate them into manifesting, in their own behaviour, what is being projected onto them. The projections can be of good or bad character traits.
When the projections are of the negative aspects of the narcissistic parent’s personality, the child projected onto becomes a scapegoat, or an identified patient. When the projections are of the parent’s idealized version of him- or herself, the son or daughter becomes a golden child.
Other common defence mechanisms used to maintain the narcissistic parent’s False Self include simple denial of the abuse (often in the form of gaslighting–projective identification is also a form of gaslighting). The parent may engage in reaction formation, a pretence of having a virtuous, opposite attitude to his real, ignoble attitude (e.g., claiming to love a son or daughter dearly, when really, the parent–apart from using the child to get narcissistic supply–would usually rather be rid of him or her).
Whatever is felt to be left of the narcissistic parent’s True Self, the inadequate self he or she loathes, it will be repressed so deeply into the unconscious that the narcissist ‘honestly’ doesn’t even know it’s there. Indeed, the narcissist often believes his or her lies, which isn’t to say that he or she is ‘mistaken’ in reporting the untruths (i.e., lying less), but rather that, in lying to himself as well as to the victims and flying monkeys, he’s lying more.
Many, if not all, of these ego defence mechanisms are used by the narcissistic parents’ flying monkeys and enablers, typically the golden child(ren), who will do anything not only to protect and preserve the undeservedly good reputation of the parents, but also to keep the scapegoat in his miserable place. For the only way this kind of dysfunctional family can survive is if its illusions are maintained and unchallenged. After all, the scapegoat is typically the empathic whistle-blower of the family.
The flying monkeys have other defence mechanisms not used by the narcissistic parent (unless one were to count the parental/environmental influences of the parent for his or her earlier life, of course). Anna Freud discovered a defence mechanism she called identification with the aggressor, (Anna Freud, pages 13-23). I find it easy to see a flying monkey sibling identifying with a narcissistic parental aggressor.
“Here, the mechanism of identification or introjection is combined with a second important mechanism. By impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat.” (Anna Freud, page 17)
My older brothers and sister–having been subjected to not only the aggression of our narcissistic mother, but also to that of our bad-tempered, ultraconservative father–used that very same aggression on me, in the form of bombardments of verbal abuse, with the rationalization that they were trying to make me ‘straighten out and fly right.’ Actually, they were just bullying me, in imitation of our parents’ having bullied them when they were little. Growing up, I felt as if I were being raised by five abusive parents instead of just by two.
Victims of narcissistic parental abuse also have ego defence mechanisms: we must have them, for our battered egos are most in need of defence. We must deny, project, and rationalize all the faults our abusers impose on us, or else we’d go mad. We have other defence mechanisms, too–some good, some bad.
We may turn our pain and frustration into art, music, writing, etc. This rerouting of prohibited feelings into creative outlets is called sublimation. In much of the prose, poetry, and songwriting I’ve produced, the themes of bullying and emotional abuse are there, somewhere. I urge you, Dear Reader, to use your creativity in this way, to let out your pain. It is very therapeutic.
There are more dysfunctional defence mechanisms we victims have used, though. These include fantasy, in the form of dissociating, or maladaptive daydreaming, to escape our painful reality. I did this a lot as a kid. Intellectualization involves shutting off our feelings to examine our pain as a scientist or philosopher would investigate something; but we can only heal by feeling our pain. By processing it, we can get rid of it.
Regression is another defence mechanism victims of emotional abuse may engage in to lessen anxiety. We sufferers of C-PTSD often develop a rather silly communication style, redolent of childish behaviour: this regressing to an earlier, more carefree, childlike state can temporarily soothe our anxieties, though it won’t solve our problems.
Then there’s turning against oneself, where–in the context of narcissistic abuse–one may blame oneself for all the abuse one suffers, instead of putting the blame on the abuser, where it belongs. This may sound like a masochistic way to defend the ego from anxiety, but consider the alternative: a child or teenager confronting the horrifying reality that his narcissistic family doesn’t love him. Better to believe they love him, and are hurting him to ‘help’ him, than to know they mean only harm to him, and he has no financial means to escape and take care of himself.
Later on in life, though, when he is old enough to have those financial means, he still turns against himself by habit, because confronting the truth about his family is far too painful. Small wonder it usually takes until one is in one’s forties or fifties before one is finally forced to see that truth.
This dysfunctional thinking is the result of bad internal objects (in the basic form of a severe superego–the inner critic) that have been introjected during early childhood. Melanie Klein paved the way for object relations theory, which explains how our early relationships with our primary caregivers (parents, older relatives and siblings, etc.) create a kind of mental blueprint for all our future relationships. If those early relationships create an atmosphere of kindness and love for us, we assume the rest of the world to be mostly kind. If those early influences are cruel, however…
These internal objects of our early caregivers reside in our heads like ghosts. WRD Fairbairn developed Klein’s object relations theory further; he even went as far as to replace S. Freud’s drive theory and personality structure (id/ego/superego) with a more relationally-based endopsychic structure, consisting of a Central Ego related to an Ideal Object, or anyone in the external world (this Central Ego roughly corresponds to Freud’s ego), a Libidinal Ego linked to an Exciting Object (rather like Freud’s id), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (originally, the Internal Saboteur, vaguely corresponding to the superego) and its Rejecting Object. The Libidinal/Anti-libidinal Ego/Object configurations are, to some extent at least, inevitable deviations from the Central Ego/Ideal Object configuration; for ideally, people should always have relationships with real people in the external world (hence, the ‘Ideal’ Object).
Instead, the more children are raised by non-empathic or even abusive parents, the more pronounced an influence will children’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configurations have on their personalities. This leads to the defence mechanism of splitting people into absolute good and bad, rather than seeing people as they really are, a mixture of good and bad. These two dysfunctional Ego/Object configurations form part of the children’s internal, fantasy world of objects (like imaginary friends or enemies), cut off from the real world outside.
The Libidinal Ego relates to the Exciting Object in the form of such idealized people as celebrities, rock stars, sports heroes, or people in porn (these objects could also be alcohol, drugs, video games, etc., since such is the result of a failure in developing proper object relationships). The Anti-libidinal Ego relates with hostility to the Rejecting Object, which is in the form of anyone hated or feared. Needless to say, this splitting in the mind of people into those either idealized or loathed is neither realistic nor healthy, but emotionally abusive parents can drive their children to such pathology.
What is needed is neither an idealized parent nor an abusive one, of course, but rather a good enough parent, as DW Winnicott proposed. A good enough, holding environment will help a child to grow up healthy and happy, with a fully-functioning, True Self.
It was Heinz Kohut, though, who really made a thorough examination of the causes of narcissistic personality disorders, as well as gave an elucidation of the personality structure of a narcissist. His writing on the subject (in his two books, The Analysis of the Self and The Restoration of the Self) is rather dry, as well as tortuously verbose and long-winded (in a manner far removed from the dryness, verbosity, and long-windedness of my own writing, I assure you, Dear Reader!).
The essence of Kohut’s message, in any case, was that insufficient empathy in parenting generally leads to the child’s infantile grandiosity never being properly transformed into the more mature, restrained narcissism of healthy people.
Children need essentially two things from their parents: someone to idealize, a parental imago (internalized object) in their inner personality structure as a kind of role model; and mirroring–that is, a parent to reflect back onto the child his feelings and experience of the world. In other words, kids need their parents to be heroes and validators.
When they fail to get this idealization and mirroring, Kohut says their narcissism won’t mature properly; childhood grandiosity must be let down and disappointed in bearable amounts, what’s called optimal frustration, because as minimal levels of the frustration that’s unavoidable in life, these least amounts are the best that parents can do.
Non-empathic parenting, which frustrates children in overwhelming amounts, causes their personalities to split in two ways, according to Kohut: a horizontal split results from repressing the grandiosity, so a False Self is shown to the world, while the narcissistic True Self is hidden from the world and from the narcissist himself; also, a vertical split in the personality of the narcissist comes from disavowing the narcissism. I believe this disavowal is sometimes achieved by projecting the grandiosity onto other people.
V: The Probable Origins of My Mother’s Pathologies
I believe this kind of two-way split is how my late mother kept a grip–however tenuous–on reality. Born in August, 1938, in London, she’d have been an infant during the Blitzkrieg. Even if she hadn’t been exposed directly to the Nazi bombings (that is, if she wasn’t in a bombed city or town at the time), she’d have been surrounded by stressed-out caregivers. Babies sense terror around them, even if they don’t know what’s happening.
This terror and strain, everywhere around her, would have been intolerably disorienting for such a tender child. Added to this, her father died several years after; he’d have been her idealized parent, and now he was gone. All she had left was a mother to mirror her feelings, to empathize with her.
She and her mother left England some time soon after World War II, to live in Canada: this, again, would have been seriously disruptive for her emotional development as a child of around seven to ten years of age. I speculate that her single, widowed mother was far too stressed taking care of her to do the needed mirroring.
So, let’s put all of these traumas together: an infancy surrounded by the terrors and stresses of the Second World War; the death of a beloved father, depriving her of her parental ideal; leaving her beloved England for a strange country she’d never identified with; and a mother who was–more than likely–too stressed and preoccupied with everyday troubles to give her a decent amount of empathic mirroring. With neither an idealizing parent nor a mirroring one (meaning she lacked both sides of the needed bipolar self, as Kohut called it), my mother would have had to resort to narcissism to keep from spiralling down into psychological fragmentation.
So her emotional abuse of not only me, but also my siblings and father–including all her gaslighting, triangulating, smear campaigns against my cousins and me, and her other manipulations–all these were her ‘normal,’ in terms of having relationships. War, fighting, emotional neglect, isolation, and abandonment were her childhood; they were also her parenting style, for good or ill.
Idealized and mirroring parents are essential if a child is to develop a healthy and cohesive Self, as Kohut argued. With neither of those, the disruptive moments that are inevitable in life will be too much for anyone to bear, especially a sensitive child. When those disruptive moments are as severe as those my late mother must have endured, the danger of a disintegration of the personality, its falling apart and lapsing into a psychotic break with reality, is so great that narcissistic pathology would seem a cure in comparison.
Now, we can sympathize with the sufferings of a child almost torn apart by trauma, and we can recognize that a resorting to pathological narcissism is an understandabledefence against fragmentation (as Otto Kernberg would say); but none of this gives narcissists any special right to manipulate their victims the way they do.
VI: My Own Personal Contributions, for What They’re Worth
Not everyone accepts the effectiveness of Kohut’s transference techniques of activating the idealized parental imago, of mirroring, twinship, and merging (fusion) transferences to bring about a cure, through transmuting internalization in the working-through process. But a cure for narcissism must be sought, and certainly Kohut’s insights can be used as a contribution to a cure.
Psychoanalysis alone won’t effect a cure to narcissism, of course. It does, however, offer a lot of helpful insights. For my part, as an admittedly untrained, rank amateur, I like to modify these ideas and add my own wherever I find it useful and fit to do so.
Intheseblogposts, I’ve offered my own suggestions, for survivors of narcissistic abuse, on how to heal. I’ve also devised my ownpersonalitystructural theories. I link the different aspects of the personality to different positions on the body of the ouroboros, which I see as symbolizing the dialectical relationship of opposites. The structuring and comparisons can be seen in the chart below, for the sake of clarity and simplification:
Ouroboros’s Biting Head (towards one extreme)
Length of Serpent’s Body (the median points of the circular continuum)
‘too much’ health <<<<<<<<<<<toward better health>>>>>>>toward worse health
As the chart shows, greater mental health is associated with a realistic assessment of the external world, as the middle column shows; with neither a world of dissociations and the split, internal objects of phantasy (to the right), nor a self-absorbed world of unrestrained, indulged grandiosity (to the left).
We need to be with real people, not the nightmare people in our heads. To free ourselves of the bad objects (thesis), though, we’ll need to replace them with good internal objects (antithesis), for only then will we begin to trust the world (synthesis) by having that realistic assessment of other people, who are a combination of good and bad.
In previous posts (links above, in the paragraph before the chart), I discussed how to do this sublation of the good and bad objects (good and bad people we meet in life, our conceptualizations of them, and how we relate to those conceptualizations in our unconscious).
One extreme opposite can phase into another (biting head/bitten tail); hence, the ‘too healthy’ extreme of the excessive self-love of the narcissist is a defence against the extreme self-hate that comes from abusive or non-empathic parenting; without the narcissistic ego defence, that False Self and its attendant repression/disavowal/projection of the hated True Self, the narcissist could descend into fragmentation, a psychotic break with reality.
For these reasons, a path of moderation, symbolized by the length of the ouroboros’s body, is recommended for a healthy mental life, a life of neither excessive self-love (‘too much health’) or self-hate.
I believe the meditations I described inthesepostscan lead to a cohesive Self, rather like the Atman the Hindus wrote about (incidentally, Dear Reader, if you find that a discussion of mysticism seems out of place in a post on psychoanalysis, consider Wilfred Bion‘s concept of O–see also Avner Bergstein’s paper, “The Ineffable,” in Civitarese, pages 120-146). Then, my oceanicmeditation, if you will, can help the abuse survivor feel reconnected to the humanity he or she has felt isolated from. This reconnection can build a sense of calm, peace of mind, and empathy for others, what could be compared to a link of Atman with Brahman, the infinite oceannirvana of peace and love.
In our healing journey, trying to recover from C-PTSD as a result of narcissistic, emotional abuse, we may make some progress, but then backslide into our old ways. That is, we at first are growing calmer, more at peace, and more patient in dealing with life’s irritations; then, pleased with our progress, we get complacent and lazy, skipping our planned meditations and other forms of self-care. Finally, those inevitable, difficult situations arise again, and we react in our former, emotionally dysregulated way…then the shaming inner critic comes back!
What can we do? We want to get back on track, we have to get back on track, but discouragement daunts us, and tempts us to give up.
We must remember that progress in healing is neither a steady ascent to a clearly visible mountain peak, nor is it a case of jumping out of a black square of complex trauma and into a white square of blissful mental health. We, of course, know this on an intellectual level, but emotionally speaking, this sobering truth is easy to forget.
Instead, we should regard our healing process as being more like the waves of the ocean: up, down, up, down, up…Instead of absolute black and white, we should see light reflected on the crests of the waves, and shadow on the troughs. Finally, the progress of our healing state is always in motion, like those waves; it isn’t a permanent, static state of either permanent neurosis or everlasting health.
Again, we know these truths in our brains, but our hearts forget, especially when we’re upset.
We must remember the dialectical nature of all of reality, that all opposites, all contradictions, phase in and out of each other in a wave-like unity. Such yin and yang-like opposites include the dialectic of illness and health. We encounter the problem, the thesis of C-PTSD and all of its attendant symptoms; we visualize the negation of our trauma, which is the peace and happiness we crave; then we work out the sublation of the contradiction of illness and health, the long and winding road to wellness.
This sublation, however, isn’t the end of the story, for it becomes a new thesis to be negated and sublated, and that new sublation gets negated and sublated, again and again, in endless cycles. We’re talking about an ongoing process, not a one-way trek to a clearly defined, permanent destination of ideal emotional health.
I’ve used the ouroboros as a symbol for this dialectical, cyclical process. It can be applied to any pair of contradictions: political ones between the rich and poor, as well as philosophical issues between the self and other, and psychological issues of complex trauma vs. healing.
The serpent’s bitten tail is the thesis, our original proposition. The biting head is the negation of that thesis, and the length of the serpent’s body, representing a continuum coiled into a circle, is the sublation, a working-through, or resolving, of the contradiction of the thesis and negation, where the serpent’s head bites its tail.
One more thing should be noted before we move on to my proposed solution to the problem of backsliding. On the body of the ouroboros, where the bitten tail of trauma meets the biting head of health, there is a constant, if slow (to the point of being almost imperceptible), sliding in the clockwise direction from health to ill health. This is the backsliding we must be constantly aware of, which leads me to my discussion of the solution to our problem–mindfulness.
We must practice being mindful of these new, good imagos, and mindful of the rejection of bad imagos. We must get in the habit of constantly reminding ourselves of this needed replacement of the bad with the good. If we don’t, the bad internal objects will return.
Get into the habit, at any and every free moment you have during the day, of reviving those good feelings in your mind (i.e., the feelings you got from meditating on the good internal objects I mentioned above and in those meditations I described in previous posts [links above]).
With my imagined new family, I hear–in my mind’s ear–Father’s soothing words, “It’s OK, you’re going to be OK, don’t be afraid.” Also, I’ll replay in my mind a ‘video,’ if you will, of Mother looking at me with kind eyes and a loving smile, saying, “We’re right here with you. Don’t worry. We love you, and we’re going to help you.” These two weren’t my biological parents, of course, but I consider these two new parents to be more real than the original two could have ever been, because they are what all real parents should be.
So, to sum up, in addition to your usual therapy–regular meditations and auto-hypnoses on replacing bad inner objects with good ones, replacing bad self-talk with kind self-talk, doing all your inner child work, your therapeutic writing and other forms of self-care–always be mindful of your goal, replacing the inner critic with an inner friend.
Find brief but effective ways to remind yourself of what your healthy thoughts need to be (“It’s OK, don’t be afraid, we [your new, inner parental system] are right here with you, right behind you all the way,” etc.). Exercise this mindfulness especially when you’re about to face a stressful situation (driving, dealing with difficult people at work, etc.).
Remember: don’t let yourself slide clockwise along the body of the ouroboros from the head of health back to the tail of trauma. That clockwise tendency is ever-present, and you must work against it by using mindfulness.
If you’ll indulge me in another metaphor: when a train is racing towards a cliff where the bridge to the other side is out, just sitting at your seat is madness; you must race in the opposite direction to the back and jump out.
Finally, don’t worry about finding ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ emotional health. What is ‘perfect,’ after all? Wherever you are on the body of the ouroboros, health and ill health are all relative, anyway. What matters is that you’re making significant progress towards better and better health, and maintaining that progress through mindfulness.
One of the many ways the family kept me in control was to denigrate me as weak and cowardly. This, of course, is a common bullying tactic, to keep the victim from fighting back by making him or her believe that sticking up for him- or herself is a useless gesture.
What must be understood about bullies and emotional abusers, though, is that they are, in fact, the real cowards. I was put in a situation with a power imbalance in which my probably narcissistic mother used her golden children–my older brothers R. and F., and her #1 golden child, my older sister J.–as sticks with which to hit me. As the family scapegoat, or identified patient, I rarely, if ever, got sympathy from my parents against those three.
People get their strength and encouragement from other people’s support. That’s how they get the confidence they need to face the challenges of life. R., F., and J. got ample support from our mother, in exchange for having given her narcissistic supply; J. got by far the most support for having sucked up to Mom the most, since R. and F. did less ass-kissing…but those two still got much more, overall, than I got.
Mom was nice to me only in so far as I gave her that coveted supply, which I–tending much more towards bluntness and honesty–gave in limited amounts; but even the amount I gave was in larger proportion to the kindness I got back from her. I was to remain the scapegoat no matter how good I tried to be: recall her rejection (<<< Part VII) of my wish to make a visit to see J. and her terminally ill husband.
As I’ve explained elsewhere, Mom enjoyed stirring up division in the family: between my siblings and me; between our immediate family and our cousins, denigrating my youngest cousin G. in a manner eerily similar to the family image that had been cultivated for me. Almost ten years ago, I’d come to the painful realization that those four people I had a ‘relationship’ with (our father, the closest I’d had to a real friend in the family, was already dead) weren’t really a family, but instead were a clique, an exclusive social club…and my membership in that club was shaky, at best.
It’s easy to pick on a little kid, as my siblings did to me when they were teens, and later young adults, and when I, younger than R., F., and J. by eight, six, and five years respectively, was a little kid, and then a teen. It’s even easier to pick on such a person when your mother not only allows the bullying–fully aware that it’s happening–but also rationalizes it, and even encourages it, by smearing the victim behind his back.
What’s particularly slimy about all of this is that family is not supposed to treat you that way. Being angry with a family member for his frustrating faults is one thing; verbally abusing him for those exaggerated faults–as well as hurling insults at him, just for the sheer fun of hurting him–is totally different.
What must be emphasized is that the abusive golden children–under the undue influence of their ringleader, the narcissistic parent–aren’t bullying the scapegoat because of what’s wrong with the victim (however much they try to rationalize it that way), but because of what’s wrong with the victimizers themselves, who are projecting their personality problems onto the victim instead of dealing with what’s wrong inside themselves…a truly cowardly thing to do.
Take my brother R., for example. I’ve written before about the time, when I was a teen and he was about 22 or 23, he and I had a fight. He ranted on and on about how mad he was at our father for favouring J. and me, because we got higher marks at school than he did. He childishly imagined Dad loving us more than him for our academic performance, too. (Read in the passage–link at the top of this paragraph–about my speculation that our mother could have planted that absurd, invidious idea in his head back when he was a kid.)
What should be noted is that R.’s beef was with Dad, not with me. That cowardly brother of mine took his rage out on his kid brother instead of taking it up with our father (and, as I see it, our mother, too–i.e., my speculation from the preceding paragraph). F. and J. also had beefs of their own with our parents, but found it easier to take it all out on me, a kid at the time who was already suffering from bullies at school, than face our parents with their pain. Cowards, both of them.
And look at our mother’s cowardice. I’ve speculated that her disturbed personality was formed when she was a little girl in England during World War II. Added to that, her father died (major trauma!), and her life–her whole world–was disrupted by a move to Canada sometime in the mid-to-late 1940s, when she would have been around seven to ten years old. We can sympathize with her pain from what had happened, but that didn’t give her any special right to do what she did to me (scroll down to where I list her eight outrages against me–<<<Part VII: Conclusion). Her actions were a cowardly evasion from dealing with those childhood traumas.
My father always doubted her nonsensical–and as I’d eventually learn, mendacious–attributing of autism to me (something I found effectively discredited [<<<part 1] after two psychotherapists told me, back in the mid-90s, that they saw no autistic symptoms in me at all, then when I scored a mere 13 on the Autism Quotient test [^^^part 3]) years later; still, Dad never made an effective resistance to Mom’s nonsense. Well, he’d always been henpecked.
R., F., and J. never contradicted our mother in any significant way. Oh, how J. used to fawn over her! I, in direct contrast, did speak my mind to her on several occasions over the years…gee, could that have been why I was scapegoated?
Telling her what I thought of her (often in the form of lengthy emails), though I was scared when I did it, took more guts than R., F., and J. had combined. For I knew, instinctively, how evil our mother could be, especially just before she died: I knew she’d smear-campaign against me those last few months (parts 4 and 5 here), but I stood my ground. I went NO CONTACT with the family, and even gave up my portion of the inheritance from Mom, knowing full well that I was now on my own–even if I do say so myself, that’s real courage.
I have increasingly come to know that I am none of the things the family used to stain my name with. I feel more and more justified in attributing the dialecticalnegation of every vice they attributed to me…and that includes their slander of cowardice against me. I have the right to regard myself as the opposite of all their vicious epithets against me.
All those vices they threw on my head were really just projections of their own faults. I now feel free to reject them all as being no part of who I really am.
You, Dear Reader, can do the same with every bad name your abusers have sullied you with. They don’t deserve to be dignified with your allowing them to label you with faults that are far more likely theirs.
If you need help healing from your abusers’ wounding words and manipulations, maybethesepostsofmine, which include meditations/auto-hypnoses you can use, can help. In any case, given how much you’ve already endured in your struggles against your tormentors…and you’re still here!…you evidently have plenty of courage in the face of psychological abuse.
We sufferers of C-PTSD often find ourselves overwhelmed with bad thoughts, thanks to our inner critic. It seems as though negativity is a permanent, static state to be in.
As hard as it is to believe for sufferers of complex trauma, though, neither good nor bad states exist permanently; good and bad flow back and forth between each other like the waves of the ocean. This is part of the reason I use ‘infinite ocean‘ as a metaphor for universal reality. The good moments are the crests, and the bad moments are the troughs; we must be patient in waiting for the troughs to rise into crests.
Recall Hamlet‘s line to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Only our thoughts cause this flow (of one opposite to the other) to ossify into rigid absolutes. Freed of that rigidity, we experience the flow of good to bad, to good to bad, to good, as a Unity of Action.
This Unity of Action is the unity of opposites, an idea found in philosophical traditions around the world, throughout history. It was part of Heraclitus‘s thought: “the path up and down are one and the same”; he also understood how these opposites flow into each other in a state of endless change, for “everything flows”, and “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. Dialectical monism is central to Taoist philosophy, particularly in the concept of yin and yang. Unity in duality is seen in the idealistHegeliandialectic, which Marx turned into a materialist version, and Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in turn all expanded on Marx.
My point in bringing up these various testimonies to the validity of a universal dialectic, many from independent sources, is to show that talk of a Unity of Action is not just some New Age sentimentality. When a great thinker such as Hegel affirms the truth of dialectical monism, we know it’s not something to be airily dismissed.
I like to use the ouroboros as a symbol of the dialectical relationships between opposites such as happiness and sadness. As I’ve discussedelsewhere, all opposites can be seen at the extreme ends of a continuum, rather than in rigid terms of black and white. This continuum can be coiled into a circle, with one extreme phasing into its opposite. The biting head and bitten tail of the ouroboros can represent those meeting extremes.
Now, I’d like to show how we can use dialectical thinking to turn negative emotions and experiences into positive ones. When we’re seriously upset about some problem, it’s often hard to imagine a solution, especially if we’re emotionally dysregulating and making a catastrophe of the problem in our minds. Good and bad are imagined in terms of black and white, with an insuperable barrier between the problem and a solution.
However, when we see the problem and possible solution dialectically, in the form of the ouroboros, we can now imagine a path from the bitten tail of the problem, passing along the length of the serpent’s body towards greater and greater hope, all the way to the biting head of a solution.
Since, as I described elsewhere, one can compare the three parts of Hegel’s dialectic (which I, admittedly, am simplifying here, for the sake of brevity) to the tail (the “thesis,” or abstract), the head (the “antithesis,” or negation, a logical challenge to the original abstract idea), and the length of the serpent’s body (the “synthesis,” the concrete, or sublation, a resolving of the contradictions between the head and tail to form a higher truth…a new abstract tail to be negated and sublated again and again in endless cycles), we can see how dialectical thinking can help us turn negative thinking into positive.
When we have a problem, negative thought, or any reason to be depressed or anxious, we start with the “thesis,” or abstract. Next, we imagine the negation, which is the solution to our problem, or the happy state of mind we wish we were in. Since there is a unity of opposites, we know we have no reason to believe a solution to our problem is unreachable.
We must now work out the contradiction between the difficulty and the solution we wish we could find; this is the sublation we need to work out, that path along the circular serpent’s body towards the solution. How can we do this? We can start by asking what we could learn from the problem. We can always learn from past mistakes, or learn to avoid repeating past misfortunes. Second, we can acknowledge what we have to be grateful for; we can count our blessings, all those things and people (i.e., friends) we take for granted, but shouldn’t, at this moment of crisis.
I’ll now give an example of how to negate negativity, as I did with regards to my family. As I explained here, I started with my parents’ vices–my father’s bad temper, bigotry, parsimony, and closed-mindedness, as well as my mother’s lack of empathy, narcissism, and habitual gaslighting, triangulating, and smear campaigning–and I used them as the “thesis.” Since writing The Inner Critic blog post, I’ve added my siblings’ vices–their bullying and verbal abuse, as well as my sister J.‘s constant attempts to reform me into the brother she wants me to be–to the collective family “thesis,” or abstract.
Now, for the “antithesis,” or negation: in The Inner Critic, I wrote of meditating on and visualizing, in hypnotic trance, kind, loving parents who pick you up and cuddle with you. In the case of my parents, I imagine the dialectical opposites of those vices I mentioned above: I visualize a new father who is easy-going, tolerant, giving, and open-minded; I imagine a new mother who values lifting up her children’s self-esteem, as well as promoting family harmony; added to these, I meditate on a supportive, protective older brother (something my brothers, R. and F., never were), and a sister who wouldn’t change one character trait of mine, but rather considering my eccentricities as part of my charm. Instead of the old family sneering at me, I imagine the new family cheering for me. This alone, done with the right intensity and focus, makes me feel much better.
As for a “synthesis,” the concrete, or the Aufhebung, my repeated and intensive auto-hypnotic meditations on the negation should, over time, counterbalance all the negativity I suffered from my family over four decades of dealing with them. I note how the idealized family of my self-hypnosis represents who my old family should have been; also, my memories of the old family are no less ghosts in my mind, old bad object relations, than are the newly internalized objects of my idealized new family, who are there to heal me and eliminate my inner critic. Combine this visualization with my “Christopher Sly” meditation–a tossing aside of my past ghosts as having no more right to be considered reality than are the new family of my meditations–and I should balance out the negative past with my positive present, and thus have a median, realistic self-assessment.
Remember how suggestible the mind is during hypnosis, which is just a meditation in a relaxed, yet focused mental state. Note also that the mind doesn’tdistinguish between reality and imagination: that’s how we can get emotionally involved in a movie, which of course is pure fiction and illusion. So we can use this suggestibility to our advantage in curing ourselves of our C-PTSD.
As I’ve said before, we sufferers of narcissistic and emotional abuse tend to imagine a fragmented world where the shattered pieces can’t be put back together. To solve this problem, I see it as imperative that we all cultivate an outlook of seeing the underlying unity in all things. This means seeing a unity between oneself and others to end C-PTSD isolation and alienation, The Unity of Space.
It also means putting the past behind us, worrying less about the future, and focusing on NOW, The Unity of Time. Finally, we also need to stop seeing an insurmountable wall existing between our sorrows and the happiness we crave, but see instead how all opposites are dialectically unified, as symbolized by yin/yang and the ouroboros, The Unity of Action.
Such unifying replaces despair with hope, alienation with belonging, and anxiety and depression with joy in the present moment–a lasting cure for complex trauma.