The Identified Patient

I: Introduction

As I explained in my post on flying monkeys, all children of narcissistic parents (including even golden children) suffer in one form or another; but the blatant emotional abuse that the family scapegoat suffers should be self-explanatory.

Now, there’s a variation on the scapegoat that is worthy of special attention: the identified patient (IP). When I first heard of this variation, my eyes widened, for it sounded perfectly applicable to my family situation. As I read more about it, I saw how correct I was to see myself as the identified patient in my family.

The IP is the ‘ill’ member of the family, as contrasted with the ‘healthy’ rest of the family. You see, the family is actually a ‘fully-functioning, loving, and responsible, upstanding pillar of the community’: they just have this one ‘problem’ family member (or members), who embarrass(es) or frustrate(s) the ‘virtuous’ relatives from time to time whenever he or she ‘acts up’. [Translation: narcissists can come together in groups, loving each other (and their leader) as extensions of their own glorified egos, and projecting their faults onto a chosen victim.]

Properly understood, though, the identified patient is not only good for the rest of the family, in giving them an emotional punching-bag that they can take out all their frustrations on; this scapegoat’s ‘sickness’ is crucial to the preservation of the family’s collective false self, for they need someone to project all their pathologies onto. If that one family member isn’t ill, they might have to confront their own collective illness, and that is far too scary to do.

What must be emphasized is that the family doesn’t want the IP to get better, even though they pay lip service all the time to wanting a cure for him or her. If he or she is ‘cured’, then they have no one to blame all their inadequacies on; to preserve the illusion that they love and care for their patient, however, they must always pretend they only want to help him or her.

II: I, the IP

When psychiatrists say ‘identified patient’, they don’t necessarily mean the troubled family member is literally ‘sick’, in some psychiatric sense, though I was quite literally called ‘ill’ by my mother when I was a child. This labelling of the scapegoat tends to be an unconscious act in most families, too; but my mother seemed to be not only conscious of what she was doing to me, but also calculating about it, pre-meditating it.

As a little kid, I went to grade school with other kids, perfectly normal ones who were my age. I read a lot at the time, picture books of dinosaurs, typically, but I was reading, learning the names of the dinosaurs by reading them in the books. There were a few I’d mispronounce (as any little kid might do), such as diplodocus (misread, or so I’ve thought, as diplodocus), but this was proof that I was picking all this up by reading, not having their names read to me.

This all demonstrated applied learning from an early age, yet my mother claimed, based on the results of a mythical IQ test, that a psychiatrist deemed me so mentally incompetent that I was recommended to be locked away “in an asylum and throw away the key!” (my mother’s actual words). Over the past five or six years, I’ve been kicking myself for having taken so long before it finally dawned on me that she was lying about an ‘autism’ diagnosis. (Traumatic bonding tends to cloud one’s judgement in such a way.)

My mother freely admitted that I, as a little kid, attempted to read passages from Time magazine; yet she’d also say, with a dramatic flourish that suggested she was lying, that it had been a “miracle from God” that I had pulled out of an extreme, debilitating form of autism to become a reasonably, mentally competent child! (Never mind that she’d never had a religious bone in her body.)

The alternative (and far likelier) explanation, that I haven’t an atom of autism in me (I scored a mere 13/50 on the Autism Spectrum Quotient), and that I’d never shown signs of mental incompetence, was never admitted to by my great deceiver mother, because I was playing a crucial role in her life, as well as that of my siblings: I had to be the IP, the ‘screw-up’, so none of them had to be.

The autism lie that my mother fabricated for me, and that was backed up by my flying monkey siblings, was something she altered over the years, adapting it to my changing, maturing behaviour. First, I’d come out of the worst of it through a “miracle from God”; then, in my teens, she claimed that people of above-average IQs can grow out of it (whether psychiatrists in the 1980s were actually speaking this way about autism is irrelevant–she was using this idea on me as part of her gaslighting), and she’d say, with an ear-to-ear grin–as if this were joyous news!–that “there are many levels of autism” (which, of course, is technically true, as autism is a spectrum, but what does that have to do with me?), meaning she was free to adapt her lie as necessary; and finally, in the 2000s, she learned about Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), and decided that I have it, with no need to consult a psychiatrist to make sure.

When I was a child, I simply assumed my mother was giving me the straight facts about ‘my autism’. I had no reason to doubt her until my mid-twenties, when I’d gone to see two psychotherapists for a deep depression. I’d been seeing each of these two men, one immediately after the other, over a period of several months. They were watching my body language, mannerisms, and facial expressions; they were hearing my verbal way of expressing myself, my choice of words. They were trained to interpret the meaning behind everything I said and did…unlike my mother.

They both told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me.

Their fallibility or infallibility is irrelevant: doubt–strong doubt–about ‘my autism’ was established.

Still, my mother insisted she was right. Their professional opinion was dismissed outright by my mother, who had no psychiatric expertise whatsoever.

Not only did she insist she was right, though, she persisted and persisted, requiring my absolute acceptance of her amateur opinion. That’s when I started to question her motives. (You see, the notion of ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ really applies to narcissistic abuse, because the nature of the abuse is more in its gradual, cumulative effect, rather than just one or two horrid instances of abuse, as can be the case with physical or sexual abuse.)

I was increasingly getting the creepy impression that she was insisting on the ‘correctness’ of her ‘diagnosis’ not out of her sense of conviction, but out of a wish to impose Asperger’s Syndrome on me. Surely, a reasonable mother, one who truly loved her adult son, would respect his right to have doubts, even if she personally was convinced that I have an autism spectrum disorder. Thus, instead of just arrogantly imposing her will on me (for that’s what she was really doing), she would have taken me, during one of my visits to Canada (I’ve been living in Taiwan since 1996), to a psychiatrist instead.

You see, her ‘diagnosis’ of AS for me was really just a fabrication; no proof had been provided by any independent source. She justified this fabrication by basing it on a TV documentary and a newspaper or magazine article or two (I wasn’t even in the country at the time she’d learned of AS!), doing a superficial comparison of AS sufferers with memories of my childhood behaviour, yet totally lacking the psychiatric training to interpret the meaning of AS symptoms to see if they really apply to me. She also based her ‘diagnosis’ on the one I’d supposedly received as a child.

But here’s the thing: if the AS ‘diagnosis’ was just a fabrication (and without testing me with a trained psychiatrist, it couldn’t have been anything other than fabricated), is it not possible that the childhood ‘diagnosis’ of classic autism was also a fabrication, all a product of her fertile imagination? Was the fabrication of mental disorders a habit of hers? (She imagined my youngest cousin, G., to have AS, too, as I discussed here, and his brother, S., as having schizophrenia.)

My suspicions are no mere fantasy. Those two psychotherapists established more than a reasonable doubt of that childhood ‘diagnosis’. Furthermore, no one other than my Mom (certainly no shrink) ever spoke of me as being autistic, as a child or young adult. I never received autism therapies of any kind. As a teen and young adult, I’d gone to several therapists; but none of the treatment had been for autism. I’d gone to them to help me with emotional problems in general (Gee, I wonder why I’d have had emotional problems back then!).

III: Even If She Was Right, She Still Did Me Wrong

The foundation of my mother’s claim that psychiatrists had diagnosed me with early infantile autism involved my supposedly having scored poorly on an IQ test (as if IQ tests have any kind of binding validity!). Then, she went into dramatics (in themselves suggesting dishonesty on her part, as mentioned above), telling me, a ten-year-old at the time, she didn’t know if I’d even make a good garbageman…as long as I was happy (even if a psychiatrist had actually made such extreme judgements of my intelligence in my early childhood–an absurdly unlikely thing, as I’ve already demonstrated–surely my mother, had she cared about my happiness as much as she claimed, would have had the tact and sensitivity not to tell me such a confidence-killing thing!) This is as dubious a basis for an autism diagnosis as it gets.

Now, here’s another thing: let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that my memories are all out of context and too selective; let’s assume I’ve misinterpreted her intentions; let’s assume the mythical psychiatrists of my childhood did exist, really did say the things she claimed they’d said, and that she’d lucked out about AS, and my score on that autism quiz was wrong. Let’s assume I really have AS, and she’d never lied about autism. I’d still be justified in saying she’d emotionally abused me. Here’s how.

People with autism spectrum disorders are vulnerable. They are easy prey for bullies, with their social awkwardness and eccentric mannerisms, especially in childhood. An autistic may seem self-absorbed and lacking in empathy (traits truer to people with NPD), but it’s not as if he or she enjoys annoying people, as a narc would; autistics simply don’t understand why their narrow, obsessive interests (what they’re truly absorbed in, not themselves) aren’t shared by most other people. An autistic tends to be deficient in cognitive empathy (he lacks theory of mind, and doesn’t understand what others think, though he often cares, or is remorseful if he’s bothered someone), but a narcissist lacks affective empathy (he knows how others feel, but doesn’t care). It is not only wrongheaded to confuse autism with narcissism; it’s also dangerous and hurtful to do so.

Autistics are vulnerable, but narcs prey on vulnerability. If my mother and siblings had truly loved and cared about me, as was so dubiously claimed by her and my sister J., they would have appreciated my ‘autistic’ challenges (assuming that was the true nature of my childhood problems), and they would have been patient with me. The opposite was true: often they would blow up at me over the most trivial things.

Instead of telling my brothers R. and F. and my sister J. to be patient with me, and to be understanding of how hard it is for an ‘autistic’ to relate to the world, Mom rationalized their abusive treatment of me, explaining (if not through shouting, through condescension) that I was such a ‘frustrating’ person that they ‘couldn’t help’ losing their temper with me so often. This was not merely “imperfect” parenting: at the very least, it was irresponsible parenting on a massive scale; at the most, it was emotional abuse.

IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour

I’ll now give you a few examples of my siblings’ viciousness to me, and of how Mom tried to justify it all. Since I focused on R.’s and F.’s nastiness to me in my last post on this subject, I’ll be focusing on J.’s this time.

About 27 years ago, my maternal grandmother died. At the funeral, my sister, J., apart from asking me how I felt about Grandma’s death (it felt as if J. was testing me, to see if I had the ‘correct’ attitude about the family’s loss), and virtue signalling about how ‘hard’ it would be for her to deal with the death (J. had written an essay in university about Grandma’s Alzheimer’s Disease, which was like her dying twice, first mentally, then physically, an awful thing in itself, to be sure, but I suspect J.’s grief was more about impressing Mom and the family than about showing genuine sorrow), she had been nagging me ceaselessly about mostly trivial matters (Had I remembered to thank our uncle for buying us lunch? etc.–remember that I was a young adult at the time). She had no idea of how annoying she was being…nor did she care.

When the funeral was over, and everyone was saying goodbye to each other, J. noticed me daydreaming. She barked–and I do mean barked at me–audibly, so everyone in the area could hear, these words: “C’mon! Say goodbye to Grandpa! Get out of dreamland!” (Somehow, her grief precluded the possibility of gently whispering, ‘Don’t forget to say goodbye to Grandpa.’ I just don’t deserve such consideration.)

Fuming inside, I nonetheless went over to my grandfather and said goodbye to him. Then I went over to J. and said, “I said goodbye to Grandpa!” in a mockingly bragging, but also angry, tone.

She started up with the usual condescending rationalizing about my always being “in dreamland.”

There was no way her words could pacify me (why would they have?), of course, so I continued with my angry complaining about her attitude, which she further tried to justify by talking about how “rude” it is not to say goodbye to people, saying it as if I’d never even heard of the concept of rudeness. (Her barking at me, making me lose face in front of the family, wasn’t rude at all, of course: after all, I was just the idiot identified patient. My feelings didn’t matter one bit.)

When I persisted in my telling her off (something she’d elsewhere, in all hypocrisy, exhorted me to do whenever she or my brothers had taken things too far), she took on her usual, bullying, authoritarian attitude: “You don’t talk to me like that!” she hissed. (Sorry, J., but is there a kinder, gentler way of telling you what a narcissistic bitch you really are, under that fake ‘loving family woman’ mask you wear? I have my doubts.)

I continued with my defiant rage. Then she shouted, “I don’t want to hear it! Get in the fuckin’ car, asshole!”…and indeed, I got in the backseat of the car with her, my parents got in the front, and we drove off.

Here’s where things really get interesting. A little later, the car stopped somewhere, and my mother and I were alone in the car. She turned back and looked at me.

She asked (note her choice of words), “What did you say to your sister to get her so angry with you?”

I don’t know whether Mom came in during the middle of my row with J., or just at the tail end of it, but either way, she was clearly showing her bias in J.’s favour without even knowing what our fight was about.

Mom could have simply asked, “What were you two fighting about?” if she’d come in the middle; or, “Why was she being so verbally abusive to you?” if she’d heard only the end of it.

I tried to explain my side of the story, but of course, there was no hope of my gaining any sympathy from her (Mom who, recall, ‘gave me the most love’.) She then lectured me about why remembering to say goodbye to everyone is vitally important; while treating the IP like complete shit was understood to be perfectly defensible.

The fact that Grandpa–absorbed in his grief, not only from having lost his wife, but also from having endured her Alzheimer’s, and all the frustrations involved with that–probably wasn’t too occupied with whether or not I’d remembered to say goodbye to him, was of little import, it seems. In my family, who jealously guard the collective False Self that is their public image, one must always stand on ceremony, complying with every protocol, or else there will be hell to pay…especially if you’re a ‘lowly autistic’.

Of which I’m not even one, as I later learned.

On another occasion, at home, my mother tried to convince me that all three of my siblings loved me, in spite of the obvious contempt they’ve always held me in. I was about the same age as I was at Grandma’s funeral, twenty-ish. My mother said something to this effect: “Your brothers, with some reservations…”–reservations was said with a tone of exasperation that more than suggested, ‘Yes, we all have reservations about you, Mawr, and we should, because you really are a pain in the ass, and loving you is extremely difficult and trying for us Superior People.’–“…love you. And your sister, with some reservations, loves you. She really does love you, Mawr.” Having heard that speech, I was supposed to be reconciled with all of them, apparently.

Wow, I didn’t know that love is so easily proven: one just has to say the words, ‘We love you,’ and it doesn’t matter how abusive we are to you, physically, emotionally, or sexually, and our love is not even to be doubted!

The fact that, the great majority of the time, all I ever got were the reservations, is again, of little import, apparently.

In a previous post, I gave numerous examples of how mean and abusive my brothers were to me…the reservations. Would you, Dear Reader, like to know how many times R. and F. told me they loved me, over the course of four decades? ZERO.

Granted, I’ve never told them I loved them over those four decades, either, but that’s because I really don’t love them, and I don’t even pretend to. They don’t deserve my love, because they never were true brothers to me: they were and are bullies, and little more than that. Any good they ever did for me, to compensate for their far-too-frequent nastiness, was paltry and insignificant in comparison, at best.

Even when R. let me use his acoustic guitar to learn how to play, it was only because he wasn’t really using it anymore. To be fair to R., he showed me a few tricks, gave a little advice on how to play, but not much more. I’m largely self-taught, having got lessons here and there from people I’d paid for.

He actually once threatened to take the guitar back from me because I hadn’t responded to his clamorous calling from the basement TV room (I was upstairs in the kitchen) to make tea for him (recall that I’d been made, essentially, the family servant, justified by a paltry weekly allowance, so I was obviously getting sick and tired of being the family’s drudge). He’d claimed he wasn’t mad about my not wanting to make the tea, but because I hadn’t answered him: but if that were true, why did he explode into such a rage about it, as if I’d shown him a gross lack of respect? He clearly wanted to intimidate me into continuing to make it for him on future occasions, even as he stood there in the kitchen making it himself on that one occasion, all the while bawling me out for not having snapped to attention.

V: My Loving Sister

Still, I have some grudging respect for my brothers: at least they’re honest about not giving a shit whether I live or die. My mother and J. professed a phoney love for me, even as they played an endless series of mind games on me, assuming I’d never be on to them.

J. loved talking to me in a snotty, condescending tone, as if I were an idiot, without a clue about anything; she’d also hypocritically talk about how important it was to help me build self-confidence! If she and I disagreed about anything, I was assumed to be in the wrong; if I tried to defend my opinions for any stretch of time, I was not only ‘wrong’, but also ‘closed-minded’ and ‘opinionated’. As with narc Mother, the lady doth project too much, methinks. If you’re the IP, however, all of this arrogance towards you has a perfect rationale.

According to J., my grooming is wrong, my choice in clothes is wrong, my political opinions are absurdly wrong, and even my taste in music is wrong. She’d made an epic catalogue of my faults by the time I was a young adult, and that list has continued to grow to this day, no doubt. My strengths, in contrast, are given short shrift, if they’re even acknowledged at all…Still, she “really loves” me!

Yes, Mother Dear, I’ll never doubt your observations!

J. not only disagreed with my musical tastes: she on occasion flew into rages about them, mocked the music to my face (often), or otherwise spoke disparagingly of it in general, which was almost invariably, whenever she heard me listening to it. On at least two occasions, she either turned the music off herself or demanded that I do so, calling it “Shitty music!”

And what was this ‘insane’ music I was listening to? Progressive rock, typically: Yes, early Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, etc. She especially despises Yes, ignorantly calling their high, three-part vocal harmonies “choir music”; early Genesis “sounds like Yes” she once said with a scowl; King Crimson is “weird”, etc.

When I branched out and tried other musical genres, for example, 20th century classical composers, J. felt this was just a continuation of her aural ordeal. One evening, I was on the sofa in the living room, listening to a record of The Rite of Spring, my all-time favourite composition. I believe I was at the slow introduction of Part Two–The Sacrifice–when J. walked in.

“What the hell is this?” she hissed at me.

“Stravinsky!” I said with a proud smile.

Walking away in a huff, she growled, “Jesus Christ!”

It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenage musician trying to broaden his artistic horizons. When you’re the IP, any musical tastes venturing beyond trendy Top 40 commercial pop is evidence of your growing mental illness.

In all honesty, there are some legitimate criticisms to be made of prog rock, jazz-rock fusion, and other avant-garde, boundary-pushing musical forms. Much of the music of these genres is pretentious, self-indulgent egotism run rampant: musicians showing off how well they can play. On the other hand, much of it is brilliant, too. Whatever one’s views are of this kind of music, though, IT IS JUST MUSIC! If you don’t like it, leave the room, J. If you love your brother half as much as you boast that you love me, J., don’t spoil my enjoyment of this “strange” music just because it isn’t your cup of tea.

Without any feeling that she needed to restrain herself out of consideration for those ant-sized trivialities known as my feelings, J. felt free to insult me to my face, often within earshot of other people, about how my sideburns “looked ridiculous”, or about my “terrible jeans” (i.e., they were dirty), when I’d grown a beard without a moustache (I was 18), she felt an urgent need to ask, “When are you going to shave off that ridiculous beard?”

When I confronted her about the beard insult, she, avoiding my eyes, moped and said, “Sorry. I don’t like it.” Translation: sorry, not sorry.

Instead of simply admitting that she was a proud, narcissistic bitch (which would have been far too ego-crushing for her), she then went on with the usual rationalizing of her attitude. She said, with her typical condescending air, “We [i.e., the family] worry about you.” Then she said something about the family wanting to guide me “based on their experiences.” Of course, I can’t be trusted to learn anything valuable from my own life experiences. The identified patient must have the family do all his thinking for him.

Later, during this row, when I complained of her not allowing me to follow my own path, or be my own person, she dismissed my concerns as “making a big thing out of nothing,” again, pouting and looking away from me, implying a disingenuous denial of the truth. She never could take it as well as she could dish it out.

Emotional abusers’ efforts at invalidation are shameless, in any case.

To end off the row, she couldn’t resist more victim-blaming. She asked, “Why didn’t you ever voice your concerns?”

Not missing a beat, I answered, “Because you don’t listen,” a truth so obvious, she shouldn’t have needed to ask for it, except for her narcissistic cognitive dissonance. I explained further, hitting the nail right on the head (not that she’d have noticed): “Whenever I try to stand up for myself, you say ‘I don’t wanna hear it! I don’t wanna hear it!’ (see above), or ‘Don’t get flippant with me,’ or some other condescending, patronizing remark that really gets me mad! I don’t care if I have the ‘right’ feelings, or the ‘wrong’ feelings. They’re still FEELINGS!”

Her response? “I don’t wanna listen to any more of this,” she said, walking away in a snooty huff.

You’re right, J. I’m making a big thing out of nothing.

You’re right, Mom. J. really does love me…as did you. Where do I get my delusions from?

VI: J.’s Dissing of Judy

J.’s worst act of disapproval of me, though, came many years later, during a picnic with the family back in about 2001. I was visiting Canada, having brought my then-girlfriend (now my wife, Judy) from Taiwan. J. had said in an email that she was enthusiastic about meeting Judy, since I’d told J. how good my sweetheart had been for me. The phoniness of that enthusiasm would be known to me soon enough.

At the picnic, I asked J., “So, what do you think of her?”

J. said, with undisguised coldness and looking away from me, “She seems very nice.” Then she looked at me with a worried frown and asked, “So, are you going to marry her?” Her eyes were begging me not to.

I will never forget J.’s words, or the look on her face.

Judy is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, by far the best thing that’s ever happened to me. J. made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want me to have that happiness. Marrying Judy meant, in J.’s opinion, my staying in Taiwan and never seeing the family again. Ironically, I’m doing just that, but not because of Judy: I could easily have moved back to southern Ontario with her, gone back to school, and found a teaching job there, if I’d wanted to; but that would have meant having those assholes around me regularly, emotionally abusing me for the rest of my life. They are the reason they’ll never see me again, not Judy.

When I was seeing the first of the two therapists in the mid-90s (the ones who told me they saw no signs of autism in me), and I complained of J. to him, he–who normally was quick to point out my projections or evasions of responsibility–immediately recognized her problem as her problem. Frowning, he said, “She wants to turn you into something she wants you to be.” I’d already known that of her for years. He spotted the problem in seconds.

There you have it, Dear Reader: my sister, in a nutshell, as my therapist described her.

So if I am an autistic, my vulnerability, after having been exposed to so much emotional abuse, would have made my emotional scars far too overwhelming to bear. An autistic’s weaknesses in communication and social settings would have made the family’s bullying irreparably damaging. The family’s lack of empathy, and their conniving at my suffering, would still render them guilty, even if ‘my autism’ wasn’t a lie. An autistic shouldn’t be blamed for his social deficits, but an IP is, regardless of whether he has an actual mental disorder or not.

VII: No Good Intent Goes Unpunished

When J. had learned that her husband was terminally ill with cancer, I was prepared to do the right thing and forgive her for what she’d said about Judy at the picnic. I’d married her by then, who upon hearing of J.’s husband’s cancer decided that making a visit to Canada to see him one last time was the decent thing to do. I agreed, and sent my mother an email about our plan to visit.

A few things need to be understood here, to understand just how much my mother’s reaction, given below, hurt so much. I hadn’t all that much money in the bank, so paying for the trip–which would have happened about only a year or so after my previous trip in 2003, when I was steamed at J. for her picnic remarks in 2001, and when I was mad at Mom for her prating about AS–would have broken the bank for me. Still, I was willing to make a great financial and psychological sacrifice for J.’s sake.

Then, my mom’s reply was to spit in my face. I was told I’m too “tactless and insensitive” to be around emotionally vulnerable J. and her ailing husband, so I shouldn’t come. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I was furious in my response, to which she in turn replied with the usual condescending rationalizations, claiming I was only thinking about myself (Wasn’t I thinking about J. and her husband? Wasn’t Judy thinking about them, too, she who was as offended as I was about my mother’s unapologetic rejection of our attempt at love? Had I explained the financial and emotional sacrifice I was prepared to make, she wouldn’t have listened: I knew her too well.)

I have a suspicion that my mother lied to J. and the rest of the family, claiming I’d never wanted to visit, whether originally, or after my mother suggested I attend his funeral. It is true that she’d suggested I attend J.’s husband’s funeral, which I’d declined; but that was only after her initial rejection of our proposed visit–it’s only natural that I’d be too angry to attend the funeral; and after the bad experience of my grandmother’s funeral (see above), it’s all the more natural that I’d want to avoid all family funerals.

But I suspect my mother never told J. about my original offer to visit, and that her claim that the whole family agreed that Judy and I shouldn’t come was a lie. Only Mom didn’t want me to come, and she was projecting her shitty attitude onto all of them (a habit I’d noticed in her over the years, shifting the guilt of her private thoughts onto other people, real or imagined [i.e., the mythical shrinks of my childhood]). Then, when I declined to attend the funeral, I’d be seen as ‘selfish’ before the whole family. (Similarly, when I’d composed a poem and this piece of music, tributes to J.’s late husband, my mother felt they were inappropriate, so the poem wasn’t read at his funeral to compensate for my absence, and in all probability, Mom never gave J. a CD of the music [though she claimed she had]. Naturally: the IP can’t be seen as kind and thoughtful to the family.)

You see, if Mom had sincerely wanted to see me mature and improve, she’d have been happy to have me visit J. and her sick husband, and the family would have wanted to encourage me to think about them more, manifesting this selflessness in more visits. If I’d been “tactless and insensitive”, surely Mom could have just told me to watch what I said, instead of telling me to stay in Taiwan, a rejection any reasonable person would have felt hurt and angry about. Such a rejecting attitude from an otherwise loving mother makes no sense; but from a covertly narcissistic mother, needing me to play the role of IP, it makes much more sense…though it hurts every bit as much.

VIII: How Could Mom Do This to Me?

A loving mother would want to see her son grow and mature into a healthy, happy member of the family, regardless of whether or not he had a mental disorder. That I’d want to believe myself to have no mental abnormalities is perfectly understandable, regardless of whether I’m right or wrong; and a loving mother and family, right or wrong, would want the same thing for me. It’s only natural to want what’s best for ourselves and for those we love. But my mother was determined to ram Asperger’s down my throat, even to the point of risking a permanent rupture in my relationship with her…and the family went along with her, 100% of the way. To wish an illness on one’s son is hardly loving. It’s a truly sick thing to wish for in a family member. She needed me to be the identified patient.

I warned her, repeatedly, that if she didn’t stop harping on and on about AS, I’d stop visiting the family. She didn’t listen. Then, as I reduced communications with her to a minimum in the 2010s, a natural corollary of no longer visiting (it’s called estrangement), she pretended she had no idea why I was being so cold and distant. She knew she’d lied about autism when I was a child; she knew she was biased in R., F., and J.’s favour whenever they bullied me; she knew she’d fabricated Asperger’s for me during the 2000s (always in denial about the fabrication, of course), and hadn’t respected my right to object to her amateurish speculations about my inner mental life. Yet when I’d given her the cold shoulder, I was the one with the problem, not her.

Again, a loving mother, who empathizes with her son, would never dodge responsibility for hurting him, as hard as it might be to own up to that guilt. Narcissists, on the other hand, are known for avoiding responsibility, projecting their vices onto their victims, and playing the victim themselves. This is exactly what she was doing to me as she lay on her deathbed and talked to me on R.’s cellphone (see Emotional Abuse, part 6, ‘Is My Mother Dead?’). Doped up on morphine at the time, she was so committed to her lies that she never let even a hint of the truth slip out.

And R., F., and J. backed her up completely, not even considering my side of the story. I can understand their focus on keeping Mom comfortable during her last moments, rather than on me; but instead of dismissing my side of the story outright, what they could have done was to promise me that they’d hear me out at a more appropriate time. They never promised me such a hearing, because they never intended to hear me at all.

You see, I have to be the IP for them to function as a family. I rebuffed my mother’s victim-playing with these simple words: “You provoked it,” I said softly on the phone, not that she was anything other than deaf to my words as she held R.’s cellphone to her ear. My siblings, her flying monkeys, accepted her version of my conflict with her. A loving family would give both sides of the story an equal hearing. Not to give the identified patient equal consideration makes sense only in a dysfunctional family setting.

IX: Family Pathologies

And our family was, and is, dysfunctional, despite their attempts to make themselves seem loving and healthy. I’ve already explained R.’s teenage troubles: now I’ll tell you about some of F.’s and J.’s problems over the years.

J. got into shoplifting in her early teens, a bad habit she’d picked up from F. (if I understand correctly). I remember her tears when she was caught by a floorwalker in a department store. Needless to say, she never did it again, but what had driven her (and F.) to do it in the first place? A loving family?

I’ve already mentioned her pathological hatred for my musical tastes; and in this post I mentioned those inappropriate games she had me play with her when I was about 8 or 9. Small wonder I regard her posturing as a ‘loving family woman’ as anything but genuine.

During my last visit to Canada in 2008, I was staying at her home for a few days. Her younger son was having trouble with spelling. He was obviously discouraged, but J. reacted to his insecurities with a familiar, contemptuous lack of empathy. Spelling is easy for her and for me, but this shouldn’t blind us to how, for some people (especially little kids!), it isn’t their forte.

She whined about how annoying his discouragement was for her (no doubt increasing his self-doubt); whereas I used my English-teaching experience to teach him some simple phonics rules that he could apply to his lists of spelling words at school. I empathized with him; his mother didn’t.

Because of a medical condition making overuse of her hands painful, she didn’t work; and while I acknowledge that that must have been trying for her, I don’t imagine her sitting around at home a lot making stress a significant factor in her irritability towards her son. He seemed to be just another ‘dork’ to her…as her younger brother was, especially when he was a kid, decades ago.

As for F., who, as I’ve already detailed elsewhere, was the only one of my sibling bullies to get physical with me, when he was failing in community college, he discovered an effective way of dealing with his frustrations: he got drunk, knocked me around, then drove around in the family car and crashed into a telephone pole. Was this a suicide attempt, be it a conscious or unconscious one? Is failing in college a strong enough reason in itself to act in such an extreme way? It could be, if other forms of family pathology had been going on all through F.’s life.

In any case, my mother was naturally upset with him about crashing the car; but when, in a later discussion about the incident with her and J., I mentioned his having smacked me around, those two ‘loving’ family members showed little interest.

As for my late father, his bigotry and ill temper did him no credit at all. He’d go into diatribes, over and over again, about how blacks, Jews, feminists, and “fairies” were the cause of so many of the ills of the world. Dear Reader, I give you my father’s position on communism, and all those who died under it: “Real genocide, not the killing of a few million Jews, who everybody hates, and for very good reason!” My father was Archie Bunker with a Master’s in History. At least Archie’s ignorance was funny: Dad’s was a toxic influence.

Around the late 1980s/early 1990s, he once said, “I’d never want to get married today, with the women the way they are, these career women.” Apart from his psychological self-enslavement to traditionalism, I suspect that his strident anti-feminism came from his personal frustrations with living with my manipulative narc mother. His wish not to marry a strong woman stemmed from an unconscious regret of having married a domineering wife. I deal with the issue of her having emotionally abused him here.

Knowing how impatient and bullying my siblings were to me, I find it easy to believe they’ve been excessively nasty to their own kids, at least from time to time. People’s personalities tend to stay basically the same, unless radical disruptions or traumas occur to shake up the person’s life, as the death of J.’s husband surely did. After he died, I noticed, during my 2008 visit, that the fire in her had blown out; but apart from that, she was largely the same person.

I’ve already explained how ‘trying’ it can be for her to help her son with his homework. Now, to be fair to R. and F., I have no direct proof of either of them emotionally abusing their kids; but I’ve seen a couple of incidents that hint at such a problem.

During my 2003 visit to Canada, at one of those lovely family get-togethers, I saw F.’s son and daughter fighting. My nephew, about ten, got mad at my niece (about twelve) and hit her hard on the back several times with his fist. What provoked that, I have no idea; but I do know how physical F. is capable of being when he loses it. ‘Like father, like son’ doesn’t have to be understood in only the genetic sense. I can only speculate on what goes on behind closed doors in their home.

R. has a Chinese girlfriend, and they live together with her son. Again, to be fair to R., I’d never seen him be nasty to that Chinese teenager (he’d be a young man by now). But at our family get-together in 2008, I saw the boy wander off, not wishing to chat with anyone. Did he dislike all of us for some reason? Had there just been a fight in his home to put him in a bad mood? I’ve discussed R.’s contempt of any straight-A student elsewhere, and East Asian students are culturally geared towards acing tests–I see it all the time here where I live. Had R. been sneering at that boy’s academic success, harming his self-confidence and making him feel like a loser…as he had done to me when I was a teen? Who knows?

X: Scapegoating My Cousins

Then there was the making of IPs out of my cousins. As I explained in my first article on my dysfunctional family, my mother needed to replace me in the role of IP once I’d not only left Canada in 1996, but had decided to stay here in East Asia. She kept me in that role, of course, as best she could; but I suspect she needed others, my cousins L. and G., to fulfill that role there in Canada, physically, before her eyes.

Small wonder she, already having labelled me with AS in the early 2000s, was also snorting with contempt about how L. and G. “were getting really weird!” In my private thoughts, I then imagined her eventually labelling them with AS. I would find out how right my imaginings were by the early 2010s; for she was claiming  that she thought G. had AS, right after a crescendo of complaining about his quirky personality, a chilling indication of how she’d most likely been talking about me to R., F., and J., all my life.

There were also claims of G. being schizophrenic, for so did a psychiatrist label him, as my oh-so-reliable mother told me. I’m sure that R., F., and J. uncritically accepted her interpretation of G.’s problems, since mere quirkiness is a sure-fire indicator of AS or schizophrenia (sarcasm), rather than of mere quirkiness.

His brother, S., corroborated the schizophrenia label, but I can’t be too sure of his attesting of this, since a) as a family member who could easily have been just parroting what my mother said (she having manipulated G. and my aunt into believing it, as I suspect), S. wasn’t giving independent corroboration of Mom’s story; b) there could easily be secret animosity between him and G. (S. once freely admitted to joining his brother, L., in bullying G. when they were all kids), giving S. a motive to help spread unflattering stories about G.; and most importantly, c) S. himself has shown evidence of mental illness (paranoid delusions of me and our other former friends in Taiwan either gossiping about him or otherwise persecuting him, probably brought on by auditory and visual hallucinations through excessive substance abuse–LSD, etc.), which makes his testimony about his younger brother especially unreliable.

Later, my mother claimed that a psychiatrist was undecided yet as to whether G. had AS or schizophrenia (two mental disorders so different from each other that it’s odd to imagine a trained psychiatrist imagining ‘One, or the other?’ instead of postulating comorbidity). Then she herself admitted that G. was most unlikely to have schizophrenia, as he wasn’t seeing things, etc. I’d agree with that. She also mentioned how upset G. was when he’d been told he had schizophrenia: I don’t blame him, and I’ll bet she enjoyed watching him get upset. It reminds me of how upset I was when my smiling mother was prating about AS in me, which she also claimed G. has (I suspect, grinning then, too). Hmm…

I’ve also noticed an unsettling pattern: first, she claimed severe mental problems in a targeted family member (classical autism and ‘retardation’ in me, schizophrenia in G.), then mild mental problems (AS in G. and me); was the purpose of this to agitate us, to make us IPs ‘act up’, thus making her fabrications into self-fulfilling prophecies?

When she discovered mental illness in S., she claimed that a nurse had read his email rants and seen “all the signs of schizophrenia” in hm (just from an email rant? Really? No need to examine him face to face?). How long before Mom was to claim S. has AS, too, had she lived long enough? Would L. have been labelled with AS, too, eventually?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, of course, but I could see in Mom’s words a labelling of my cousins as new IPs. She showed enough contempt for them, as evidenced by how quickly she turned on S., never wanting to help him, and getting my siblings to agree with her about what a ‘jerk’ she obviously thought he was for being verbally abusive to me in his emails, something she and my siblings have always considered their job alone.

Yes, Dear Reader, this is my ‘loving family’: here we have S., a family member with a genuine mental disorder, and my mother was content to leave him in the lurch. Worse than that, instead of trying to help him, she started a smear campaign against him to ensure that R., F., and J. would never want to help him.

I should never have forwarded S.’s email ranting about me to Mom, foolishly thinking she’d help instead of using it as proof that S., a new IP, is a ‘bad person’. But again, traumatic bonding will do this to you, make you an even bigger fool than you were before, since you imagine that a liar like her has at least ‘some good’ in her. No, Mawr, there was no Anakin buried under that female Vader.

The irony of all of this is that I did, indeed, help people blacken S.’s name behind his back, as he imagined I would; though I did it unwittingly, to different people, and as a result of his paranoid suspicions, rather than as a cause of them.

And when Mom died in May of 2016, and I–so thoroughly sick of her lies about me, and then about S. and even my aunt, told just the summer before she died, having playing dumb about her lifelong deceit on her deathbed–refused to talk to her again after R. had wished I would (Since when did that liar, even though she was dying of cancer at 77 years of age, deserve my love? She could get plenty of that from him, F., J., and their families!), he found this bitter video I made, under my original name, in 2009, and concluded that I, ever the IP, was a “disturbed individual.”

XI: Conclusion

But, you know what? Let them all think I’m insane. As long as I continue living on the other side of the world from them, I should be safe from their emotional abuse.

I believe that R., F., and J. have inherited my mother’s narcissism, though they have it to a lesser extent than she did. They got it, when they were little, as a result of her dictatorial parenting style, as well as from that of our father. I have no memories of her ever admitting she was wrong, even less so than my dad admitting his own faults. Similarly, R., F., and J. virtually never spoke critically of her, though they often did of our father. In the family’s imagination, Mom has been praised to the point of being just short of canonized as a saint (R. called her ‘imperfect’, a meaningless word: we’re all imperfect, R.!).

Here’s where the family’s collective narcissism comes into play. By doing virtually everything short of deifying her, my siblings are praising themselves by association, by identifying with her. She had a narcissistic False Self of near-ideal motherhood, a notion psychologically beaten into them when they were kids, for none of us dared to be ‘lippy’ with her; so they shared in her false sense of altruism and virtue by introjecting it as their object relation of her. I, despising phoniness, have always hated their masquerade. My refusal to honour their collective False Self, I’m sure, is part of the reason I was made the identified patient of the family.

But again, I say: let them regard me as the IP. Their mutual relations have always been precarious. They are the real losers of the family, not so much me or my cousins, for R., F., and J. have truly lost a lot of people in their lives. They lost not only J.’s husband, our father in 2009, and our mother in 2016, but they lost me (from their own pig-headedness and willful ignorance of the real roots of our family’s problems) when she died of cancer.

They need to maintain their illusion of superiority. If they were to acknowledge my mother’s lying, manipulative ways, it would destroy them. They’d then have to admit to themselves how badly they’d been duped by her. They’d have to face the reality that they never had a healthy upbringing, that Mom loved them only to the extent that they gave her narcissistic supply. They’d also have to acknowledge how unjust they’ve always been to me.

Facing such horrors would devastate them. Their whole world would be turned upside-down. It would cause them unbearable narcissistic injury. In the long run, however, if they were to fight their way through all that grieving, as I’ve being doing, they just might build a basis for being reconciled with me; for I will be reconciled with them only if they no longer pretend that I’m the only family member with personality problems.

Such a ‘miracle from God’ will never happen, though. R., F., and J. are far too invested in the ‘superior R., F., and J., inferior Mawr’ myth. Why give up flattering themselves at my expense, since it’s ‘worked so well’ for them in the past? It’s so much easier to dismiss what I’ve written here as nonsense from my ‘diseased’ imagination that admit to even the smallest grain of truth in it.

Their beliefs about the family, and my place in it, are like a religion for them: they prop my siblings up and give their pain meaning, and so they cannot be questioned, but rather accepted on faith. R., F., and J. will never believe their ‘idiot autistic’ brother, because it’s easier to believe I actually am an idiot than to believe our mother just told them I am one, in order to cover up for her lies, in case I, one day, were to expose the fraud she’d always been.

Believe the lies, R., F., and J. Flatter yourselves. Whatever will help you sleep at night.

But if you three were to read these blog posts, then dismiss them all as BS?

Well, let’s just say that you three have your story, and I have mine.

Analysis of ‘Carrie’

Carrie is a horror novel written by Stephen King, his first published novel, which came out in 1974. The title character is a troubled teen, bullied by her high school classmates and abused by her Christian fundamentalist mother. She also has telekinetic powers (TK), strong enough to kill anyone who hurts her, as the people of her town, fictional Chamberlain, in Maine, learn.

A superb movie version was made in 1976, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in the title role, and Piper Laurie as the mother (both actresses receiving Oscar nominations); it co-starred  John Travolta as Billy Nolan, Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, and Amy Irving as Sue Snell. Other film versions were made, though they weren’t as successful.

The dominant themes of the novel are bullying and abuse, the illusion of omnipotence, failed communication, and the motif of blood. Apart from these, I’ll be doing a psychoanalytic reading of the novel’s symbolism.

Much of the narrative is given in epistolary form, with passages from newspaper or magazine articles, books about the Carrie White affair (The Shadow Exploded, My Name Is Susan Snell), transcripts of an inquiry (The White Commission Report) into the tragedy, etc. This breaking up of the narrative flow into fragments, telling the story from different angles, symbolically suggests failed communication, with its starts and stops. This failed communication is much of the root cause of the bullying and abuse that Carrie suffers.

Like most victims of school bullying, Carrie is different from her classmates. This difference comes from how she’s raised by her mother, Margaret White (white as the Christian innocence she tries–and fails–to preserve), whose religious fundamentalism won’t allow her to expose her daughter to the ‘sinful’ ways of the modern world. This failure to communicate needed information leaves Carrie in a state of arrested development, infantilizing her. Psychologically, Carrie White (white as a baby’s innocence) is a baby going to school with teenagers.

This infantilizing is made clear when her mother fails to tell her about menstruation, her first period being her rite of passage, as it were, into womanhood. So when she’s bleeding in the shower during gym class, what should be a simple matter of using a tampon ends up a terrifying moment for her: all that blood makes her think she’s going to die.

Adding to her trauma are all her bullying classmates, who start laughing at her and throwing tampons at her, chanting, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” Since, as noted above, she is psychologically a baby among teenagers here, instead of this being a passage from girlhood to womanhood, she’s held back by one phase of life, passing from unborn to born, from unknowing innocence to the terrors of the real world, like a newborn baby. Thus, this naked, terrified ‘baby’, dripping wet and bawling her eyes out, is symbolically experiencing a birth trauma, or at least the triggered reliving of it.

Blood as a motif symbolizing death runs throughout the novel. The flow of blood signifies movement from ignorance to knowledge. Carrie finally learns about menstruation, and she is angry with her mother for not telling her about it; but her mother (pages 62-66) equates the blood with sin (e.g., the Tree of Knowledge, of which eating the forbidden fruit, symbolic of sexual indulgence, leads to death).

“…the first Sin was Intercourse. And the Lord visited Eve with a Curse, and the Curse was the Curse of Blood. And Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and into the World…” (page 63) Out of the Garden of Eden and into the world of sin parallels Carrie’s bloody movement out of the world of innocence into knowledge, out of a peaceful, psychological in utero state and into birth, into the physical, painful world, a world of blood. “And then there was a second Curse, and this was the Curse of Childbearing, and Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” (pages 63-64) Again, we have an association of blood with newborn babies, curses, pain, suffering, and death (Cain, the first murderer).

Later, the pigs’ blood, first being the result of the pigs’ deaths, of course, later becomes the cause of so many deaths not only in the high school, but all over Chamberlain, too. And with the splashing of that blood all over her comes the realization that her enemies are still enemies. The outflowing of her menstrual blood is her projected destructive instincts; the pigs’ blood poured on her is that death instinct re-introjected.

With the flowing of her blood from her mother’s stab (page 250) comes her knowledge that her filicidal mother is no less an enemy than her school bullies. Margaret is all the ‘bad motherobject; not even the slightest trace of the ‘good mother’ object exists in her. After Carrie finally dies in the presence of Sue Snell, one of the few people who tried to be a friend to Carrie, Sue leaves in a state of abject horror, in a knowledge of that horror and death, with her own menstrual blood running down her leg (page 277).

In the contemporary world, with all of our advanced science, technology, and modern knowledge, being raised in a fundamentalist family is a terrible handicap. So much ignorance of today’s world abounds in such a setting; it’s like being a naïve child among a crowd of adults. This is what I mean when I call Carrie a psychological baby among teenagers. Thus, I feel justified in using her story as an allegory for the pathological infant’s psychological state.

When we see a baby, we usually think of an adorable child smiling up at us. We don’t think of the terror that a vulnerable child feels so very often, weeping its frustrations at not getting what it needs. Normally, a good enough parent (to use D.W. Winnicott‘s terminology) provides for all of the baby’s needs well enough in the beginning that the baby is given the illusion that it magically provides for itself: the breast magically appears as soon as the baby wants it.

“The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were, under magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is nearly a fact of experience. The mother’s eventual task is gradually to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion.” (Winnicott, page 238, his emphasis)

With Margaret’s calling Carrie’s breasts her “dirtypillows” (page 142), thus showing that she considers the breast to be only a ‘bad breast’, it can be safely assumed that she hardly, if ever, breast-fed Carrie when she was a baby. It’s not just the milk that the baby enjoys; the texture of the nipple provides pleasure, too, so bottles aren’t always a good substitute. Thus, Margaret is what Melanie Klein called the bad mother, whose frustrating bad breast rarely if ever gave suck to baby Carrie. This willful refusal to provide her baby with a basic need shows a child neglect that would soon grow into full-blown child abuse.

This failure to provide a good enough environment can lead to pathologies in the infant, as Winnicott noted. Margaret, with her prudish attitude towards sex and the body, would have been loath to hold her child or give her any physical affection. This is more emotional neglect, aggravating Carrie’s mental pathology. Carrie’s whole problem is a lack of love, which needs to be grounded in the body.

A healthy infancy involves a child’s peaceful “going on being,” without impingements frustrating that natural, peaceful, passive continuity in life. Not only isn’t she receiving a loving, holding environment, people frequently cut into her private space, bothering her, abusing her, and bullying her. If it isn’t her classmates throwing tampons at her, it’s her mother locking her in a small closet with frightening religious icons so she can pray for forgiveness (pages 65-67), when surely she is one more sinn’d against than sinning.

A baby in such an uncaring, hostile environment goes through terrible persecutory anxiety, the paranoid-schizoid position, as Carrie is going through. When asked out to the prom by Tommy Ross, she can only assume that it’s another trick from her bullying classmates to set her up for humiliation. The impingements she regularly suffers make her want to isolate herself from the world, as Winnicott said a child would want to do: an overly-aggressive environment makes for “…faulty adaptation to the child, resulting in impingement of the environment so that the individual must become a reactor to that impingement. The sense of self is lost in this situation and is only regained by a return to isolation.” (Winnicott, page 222)

“The persecutors in the new phenomenon, the outside, become neutralized in ordinary healthy development by the fact of the mother’s loving care, which physically (as in holding) and psychologically (as in understanding or empathy, enabling sensitive adaptation), makes the individual’s primary isolation a fact. Environmental failure just here starts the individual off with a paranoid potential…In defence against the terrible anxieties of the paranoid state in very early life there is not infrequently organized a state which has been given various names (defensive pathological introversion, etc.) The infant lives permanently in his or her own inner world which is not, however, firmly organized.” (Winnicott, pages 226-227) Recall Carrie’s words to Sue as she’s dying: “(why didn’t you just leave me alone)” (page 275).

Defenceless and without the infantile illusion of omnipotence that a good enough mother provides in normal circumstances, Carrie is forced to retreat into phantasy to provide herself with that omnipotence, which is symbolized by her telekinesis. “…a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky…principally on the home of Mrs. Margaret White, damaging the roof extensively…Mrs. White, a widow, lives with her three-year-old daughter, Carietta.” (page 3) Her ability to move things with her mind is symbolic of the baby magically making the breast appear at feeding time, when Margaret probably never did it herself. This frustrating bad mother provokes wishes for revenge in Carrie’s phantasy life, represented by her TK.

People who are abused or bullied are essentially infantilized, treated as if weak and helpless, but never given compassion: their feelings and opinions are trivialized and invalidated. Carrie’s mother shows no interest in the pain Carrie feels from having been laughed at for not knowing about menstruation, nor does Margaret care that Carrie is mad at her for not telling her about it.

Carrie’s feelings are cared for so little that even when people do care, she thinks they don’t, as when the assistant principal, Mr. Morton, tries to speak kindly to her, but keeps getting her name wrong (pages 18-19). This is also why she indiscriminately kills people all over Chamberlain instead of just killing Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, the ones responsible for the prank with the pigs’ blood.

A few people want to show genuine kindness to Carrie, though it’s a case of too little, too late: Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher (Miss Collins in the 1976 movie, played by Betty Buckley, who also played Margaret White in the Broadway musical version of 1988), Sue Snell, and Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling remorseful over having participated in the “plug it up” teasing, wants her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, to get her to mix with people and build her self-confidence (pages 95-98).

This getting insular Carrie to socialize is symbolically like a baby experiencing the transitional phase between the illusory state of omnipotence (able to summon Mother at will) and reality-testing, where the baby progressively learns to accept that Mother isn’t always there for it, and environmental impingements are at a tolerable level. During this transitional period, the baby has a transitional object (a stuffed animal, a blanket, or, by extension into adult life, creative or imaginative stimuli like the arts or religion). As Winnicott states, “The transitional object stands for the breast, or the object of the first relationship.” (Winnicott, page 236)

For Carrie, the dress she makes for the prom can be seen to represent this transitional object (recall how, when her mother sees her wearing it, she can see her breasts, i.e., note the association of the dress, the transitional object, with breasts). She bought the materials (page 107) and made the dress (a soft material, like that of a security blanket), similar to how the arts and creativity are like an extension of the transitional object into later life. This making of the dress represents aspects of the task of reality-acceptance, away from the illusion of infantile omnipotence: “It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.).” (Winnicott, page 240)

By wearing the dress when Tommy takes her to the prom, she symbolically demonstrates the transitional phenomena of going from “me,” the isolated world of dependence on Mother when the baby sees Mother as an extension of itself, to a “not-me” understanding, based on a growing independence from Mother. Carrie’s leaving home with Tommy, in open defiance of her mother, symbolizes this separation of “me” from “not-me”. “It is usual to refer to ‘reality-testing’, and to make a clear distinction between apperception and perception. I am here staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby’s inability and growing ability to recognize and accept reality. I am therefore studying the substance of illusion, that which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion.” (Winnicott, page 230, his emphasis)

At the prom, she has a brief moment of happiness, finally feeling accepted by the external world. She has even forgotten her telekinesis, since she doesn’t seem to need it (i.e., she’s letting go of her need of the infantile illusion of omnipotence). But Chris’s cruel prank (ruining her dress, her transitional object, and thus rendering impossible her transition from inner fantasy to outer reality) reminds her of her ever-present persecutors, and like a baby suffering in the paranoid-schizoid position and fighting back against a frustrating outer world in phantasy, so does Carrie get her revenge. “She was forgetting (!! THE POWER !!) It was time to teach them a lesson.” (page 220)

Having been subjected to bullying and emotional abuse myself from family and school, I find myself cheering Carrie on whenever I watch the 1976 movie and she’s using her TK to trap and kill everyone in the high school gym. “Flex.” (page 222)

But her TK doesn’t give her the omnipotence against the danger of her knife-wielding mother, who won’t “suffer a witch to live” (page 175). Nor will Margaret’s fundamentalist faith give her an omnipotent God to save her from Carrie (who kills her in the novel by slowing down and stopping her heartbeat; in the 1976 film, Carrie kills her by making knives fly in the air and stab her to death in a manner similar to the death of St. Sebastian).

Chris imagines her lawyer father can help her get revenge on the school for not firing Desjardin for hitting her (pages 77-84); and she’s bitterly disappointed to know he can’t. This spoiled girl doesn’t have the omnipotence she thinks she has. She never considers how her meanness has consequences. Even after Carrie has already destroyed much of Chamberlain, killed many of the people there, and given everyone the uncanny sense, psychically, that she was responsible for all the mayhem, Chris and Billy imagine they can kill her by hitting her with his car (pages 260-262). Instead, she kills them.

One indication of Carrie’s infantile mental state is her calling her mother, ‘Momma’, one of the first sounds a baby makes in its baby talk; hence the reason that some variation on ‘mama‘ is common in languages around the world for the first object relation most of us form in early life.

Many paradoxes can be seen in this novel (“…she was weeping even as she laughed…” page 226). Blood is associated with death and birth (remember Margaret’s words: “Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” page 64; also, “I fell down and I lost the baby and that was God’s judgment. I felt that the sin had been expiated. By blood. But sin never dies. Sin…never…dies.” page 247). There are failures to communicate, then there’s Carrie’s uncanny ability to make everyone in town know, psychically, that she’s responsible for the destruction of Chamberlain (pages 213, 229-30, 232-33, 235, 241, 244, and 256).

Also paradoxical about this story is how people seem powerful, but are really powerless, and this applies especially to Carrie. With all of her formidable powers of telekinesis, and all the death and destruction she causes just by thinking it, she is still, in her mind, just a baby: sensitive, vulnerable, fragile, and helpless. One stab to her shoulder kills her. “Able to start fires, pull down electric cables, able to kill almost by thought alone; lying here unable to turn herself over.” (page 272)

Similarly, her bullies think they’re immune to punishment when they’re throwing tampons at her, then find themselves in detention, doing exercises with Desjardin in gym class (page 74). Chris and Billy don’t think anything will happen to them after they drop the pigs’ blood on Carrie. And Margaret assumes she’ll go straight to heaven after death, even when she stabs her own daughter.

So often, we think about our own vulnerability so much that we forget about that of our enemies; and so often, this is the basis for our hurting each other, without end.

At the beginning of the story, Carrie fears bleeding to death when she needn’t; at the end, after she’s reached the height of her destructive powers, she bleeds to death for real. As she’s dying, she whines, like a baby, “(momma would be alive i killed my momma i want her o it hurts my chest hurts my shoulder o o o i want my momma…o momma i’m scared momma MOMMA)” (page 275). She is going through the depressive position, wishing to have reparation with her mother, despairing at her loss.

Though Sue wants to show Carrie love, it’s too late: psychological baby Carrie has lived her whole short life unloved, and is hated all the more after death “CARRIE WHITE IS BURNING FOR HER SINS JESUS NEVER FAILS” (page 287).

Could anything be more horrifying than wishing death and eternal suffering on a baby, a baby that was never even truly loved in the first place?

“Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:

Carrie White eats shit.” (page 4)

Stephen King, Carrie, Anchor Books, New York, 1974

D.W. Winnicott, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner-Routledge, London, 1992

A Narcissist’s Flying Monkeys

A narcissist, or other Cluster B type, can do little mind manipulating without flying monkeys’ help. If the narcissist acts alone, in all likelihood, he or she will be found out sooner or later; but a team of helpers to validate the narcissist’s ‘version’ of the truth can create a powerful illusion that it really is the truth.

Everyone plays a different role in the narcissist’s game, and these roles can even be swapped from time to time, in order to fulfil changing elements in the narcissist’s agenda. In families headed by narcissistic parents, children are put into the roles of golden child, scapegoat, and lost child.

It may be assumed that the golden child is always spoiled, the scapegoat exclusively abused, and the lost child the only one neglected. The relationships in such a dysfunctional family, however, make up a tapestry far more complex than that. All of these children are abused, just in different ways.

The golden child is favoured, but this favouritism comes at a high price, since the only reason the narcissistic parent favours this child is that the child has given a steady amount of narcissistic supply to the parent. The pressure is on to keep providing that supply, and if the golden child should, for any reason, fail to provide it, there will be hell to pay.

The scapegoat suffers the most…on the surface, but there are hidden blessings in disguise here. There’s far less pressure, on average, to provide narcissistic supply. Also, there’s an ‘accelerationist’ element, if you will: the scapegoat may get sick and tired of the abuse, and repudiate the family forever (!). The golden and lost children, in contrast, may feel a lifelong addiction to the conditional love a narcissistic parent gives. Their hope is their despair, and vice versa for the scapegoat.

The lost child may not so much be abused in the overt, blatant sense that the scapegoat is, but neglect is an abusiveness in its own right. Constant emotional neglect, like any form of recurring neglect, is in essence a lack of love; and such a parental failure is a terrible thing to put a child through. These bad parent object relations form the basis for all of the child’s later relationships, thus perpetuating the neglect.

The narcissistic parent juggles these three kinds of children in a cunning way, to create maximum conflict for his or her own personal entertainment, while–in the best of circumstances–being careful enough to keep the family just reconciled enough to each other to ensure the family unit stays together, however scarred they all remain. This cunning method, which mixes division with togetherness, involves a tactic called triangulation, in which two sides of a family fight often don’t speak with each other directly, but through the narcissistic parent as a mediator who deliberately mixes half-truths, fabrications, and calculated omissions of fact to create the illusion of reconciliation while actually keeping the conflict alive and in limbo, to be fought another day.

Why does the narcissist do this to his or her family, whom he or she presumably loves? Cluster B people have little, if any, empathy for others, including even family members. With their fantasies of power and greatness, combined with their exaggerated sense of their own abilities, narcissists will hardly pass up the opportunity to play mind games with their own, far-too-trusting children, to revel in the feeling of power over others, to prove their superiority.

When I came to the ineluctable conclusion (see my post on Emotional Abuse, particularly section 3–The Dawn of Realization–to get the whole story; that post, along with these sequels, form the must-read basis for understanding the current post) that my mother had been lying to me about having an autistic spectrum disorder I’ve never had, in my rumination, I found myself arriving at a series of sequiturs, if you will. It didn’t make sense to me to believe that an otherwise mentally healthy, loving, and well-intentioned mother would ever deceive her own son in such a monstrous way. The enormity of such perfidy obviated the possibility that she’d had the best of intentions on every other occasion, when she wasn’t busy squirting her poison in my ears.

There had to have been something wrong with her…but what? She didn’t display examples of overt criminal behaviour, so she didn’t seem to have Anti-social Personality Disorder (ASPD). My speculation that she had at least a mild case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems the best explanation, though, to be fair to her, I have no way of knowing for sure, since she’d never been diagnosed with NPD, and much of my speculation’s cogency depends on whether her private thoughts involved an exaggerated opinion of her abilities, fantasies of power and greatness, and envy of others (projected onto them). It’s highly possible that she had such traits and hid them from the public, but I’ll never know for sure. (This is the crucial difference between her and me: I admit that I’m only speculating, whereas she, never able to admit she was wrong, insisted her fabrications about me were bedrock facts, proven as if by science.)

With this understanding that she was a liar who had no qualms about using lies to hurt her own son, I did what anyone who’s been lied to would do: I started doubting the veracity of anything she said, especially if a) there was no corroborating evidence of her claims, b) her version of events contradicted my understanding of the situation, and/or c) she seemed to have secret motives behind why she was representing things the way she was. Call it confirmation bias if you will, but I started finding many of the things that she was telling me (during the 2010s up to her death in 2016) were easily reconfirming my growing belief that she was a pathological liar.

There is a scientific case to be made that liars become increasingly mendacious as they continue lying over the years; and so, too, my mother’s lying may have grown more and more habitual over time. Though my mother was good at hiding her narcissism, there were ways I could see past her mask of humility and altruism to get at her true self. Was my mother a malignant narcissist? I’ll never know for sure, but she could have been.

I briefly described a few of these lies in my post on Emotional Abuse. Many of these lies were directed against my youngest cousin, whom I’ll call G. The nastiest of her smear campaigns (to my knowledge) were against him, and there never seemed to be a valid reason for her meanness. For though G. is a bit socially awkward and puts his foot in his mouth from time to time (Don’t we all?), he isn’t half as disagreeable as my mother tried so hard to portray him. He has a caring, human side, too, as he proved to my satisfaction during a visit to my home, showing deep sympathy for my sister J. over the then-recent death of her husband. You’ll recall from my original post on my mother (link at the top of this paragraph) that I wanted to show compassion for J. by making a visit to see her and her terminally-ill husband; but Mom didn’t want me to come, because I’m too ‘tactless and insensitive’ (The family had always justified their emotional abuse of me by complaining of my not showing enough concern for them, and when I do, instead of being encouraged to show more caring, this is how I get treated?). If my mother didn’t want to see good in you, that good apparently wasn’t there to be seen at all.

On one occasion, in my parents’ restaurant back in the late 1980s or 1990, my aunt and uncle were visiting, having brought along G. At one point in the conversation they were having with my parents and me, G. wanted to complain about someone (presumably a bully that my family couldn’t care less about) he felt was “a real prick, a real asshole.” My parents and his immediately stopped him, gently chiding him for his bad language; my mother pointed out that constant swearing only indicates a poor vocabulary (a nonsensical idea in itself, but anyway…).

At the time, my mother spoke in a calm, reasonable way; but later, she relayed this story to other people in a manner that suggested she was totally (and, in my opinion, artificially) scandalized. When he said “prick” and “asshole,” he said it in a conversational voice, not loud at all; but my mother made it sound as if he’d shouted ‘cunt’ and ‘cocksucker’ at the top of his lungs, for everyone in the restaurant to hear. Remember that this happened around the end of the 80s, when “prick” and “asshole” were still rude enough to raise eyebrows, but hardly shocking to hear. Had this happened in the 1940s or 50s, being scandalized would have been understandable. Furthermore, my mother used words like those all the time (sometimes on me). G. was in his teens at the time: it’s not as though he was an innocent little kindergartener or something.

Added to this near-hysterical recounting of what happened, which I saw her do on at least two or three occasions, my mother claimed I’d told G. off “good and proper.” THIS NEVER HAPPENED. (I, in my late teens at the time, was actually pro-profanity and would have found it out of character to tell G. off.) When she’d told this fable to my sister J., who like a good flying monkey, bought the whole story without a trace of critical thinking and even complimented me on my “assertive” response, I scratched my head later and wondered, “Did I tell him off? I don’t remember.” I assumed my mom had been a little scatterbrained at the time; but knowing her bias against him as I’d seen it played out over so many years now, I realize she was simply embellishing her ongoing smear campaign against him by including me in her ‘team’, to validate her animus against him.

Speaking of teams, my mother was all about defining her clique as opposed to other factions…within the family; and J., along with my brothers, R. and F., Mom’s flying monkeys, went along with her every step of the way. In my post Emotional Abuse (section 4–Abusing My Cousins), I touched on the following (as well as the above “prick/asshole” story); now I’d like to go into the “scoring another point for the team” story in more detail. During a phone call she’d given me in the early 2010s, at a time when I’d already found myself broken-hearted about her autism/Asperger Syndrome lies, she was resuming her long-standing smear campaign against G. She discussed the funeral of my father, who died in September of 2009, among other things involving my cousin. He’d developed a bad habit, apparently, of stopping people (including strangers) in their tracks and chatting with them about whatever topic interested him at the time, without showing any consideration for the feelings of the accosted person. (Again, I have no independent corroboration of this story.)

During the funeral, Mom claimed he’d accosted my niece in this way, when she needed to use the washroom; then my brother R. intervened and stopped G. from bothering her, and afterwards told Mom he’d “scored another point for the team.” I don’t know what R. said or did exactly to ‘rescue’ my niece (I don’t even know if–or how much of–the story is true, since my mother was telling it!), but I find it easy to believe that, given R.’s haughty personality (his narcissism is comparable to Mom’s!) and the family’s collective contempt for G, R. probably spoke to him in the snottiest language he could muster. If the family’s upset about something (e.g., grieving my father’s death), they need someone to attack; I know this all too well from personal experience with them. Living in East Asia, I wasn’t at the funeral in Canada, so they had to pick on G. instead of me.

Other complaints my mother had of my cousin included a fight he’d gotten in with his eldest brother (whom I’ll call L.) over my uncle, who was in hospital. She related the matter in her usual unsympathetic way. The argument between the two brothers escalated to the point where G. said it was L.’s fault that their dad had had an aneurysm. L. punched G. Now, granted, G. shouldn’t have provoked L., but L. shouldn’t have punched G., either, and who knows what L. had said to provoke G. to accuse L. in such an uncalled for way? In any case, no sympathy was shown G. for having been assaulted.

Included in Mom’s anti-G. rant on the phone, she threw in how my brother F. “would like to punch both of them out.” [That is, punch out both L. and G.] She said this in a tone of voice that showed total sympathy with F. I can understand the family’s frustration with L. and G., but how was any of this cousin-bashing a contribution to a solution to these problems? It seemed the opposite to a solution, and I’m convinced that an escalation of the problem is exactly what my mother was aiming for, for her own personal amusement, all the while playing the role of the ‘concerned aunt’.

Her bad-mouthing of G. reached a crescendo where, having mentioned his penchant for accosting people randomly to discuss whatever was on his mind, she complained, “I think he has Asperger Syndrome!” (Rambling in lengthy monologues about whatever one is obsessed with is an Asperger’s trait, one that I, too have; but it alone isn’t enough to prove that one has Asperger’s [AS]. One has to have a clinically significant level of autistic traits, that is, many of them, to qualify for AS. All neurotypicals have a few autistic traits, though not enough of them.) I suspect she said this to push my emotional buttons; whatever her intentions, in saying this, she gave me insight into the inner workings of her mind, not those of G.

During her anti-G. tirade on the phone, my mother was linking her obvious contempt, and lack of love, for G. with AS, the very disorder she’d been so preoccupied with making me believe I had! If people with AS are so disagreeable, and R., F., and J. (the last of whom, in an e-mail she later sent me, expressed how “dismayed” she was at how not even one of our cousins was “normal”) also find G. to be disagreeable, what does this say about the family’s attitude to me, who was falsely labelled an autistic from childhood, bullied by R., F., and J. from then until I left Canada, and never protected from them by Mom except for three or four occasions (when F. got physical with me, and she knew about it)? It’s far easier to believe she’d been engaging in smear campaigns against me than not to. I may not have eyewitness evidence of these smears (which she’d have been careful enough not to have me see), but I have mountains of circumstantial evidence pointing unswervingly in that direction (including all the times she’d bad-mouthed me to my face, sometimes in front of others, including the family). People who gossip to you often gossip about you, remember.

My mother was probably much subtler in her smear campaigns against me, the scapegoat. She probably tossed harsher slurs at me, with R., F., and J. within earshot, at a time (the early 70s, when we were all little) when they’d have assumed her words were unshakeable truth, before they were able to develop critical thinking; and when they had gotten old enough to think critically, the negative attitude had already been ingrained in their brains too deeply to remove, with my childhood awkwardness and normal, human faults apparently ‘proof’ of how ‘right’ Mom was about me. As we got older, though, she had to smear me in a softer way, to suggest it was just the criticisms of a ‘concerned, loving parent’.

I discovered a hint as to how she could have been so cunning in something she said to me on the phone just before she died: she claimed, just after listing off all my vices, negatively generalizing about me as usual, while R. was standing by her hospital bed and listening to her side of the conversation, that she’d given me “the most love” of all four of us! No examples were given to demonstrate this mythical love, of course: I was just supposed to take her at her word. She was my mother, so ‘Poof!’ she had oceans of love for me, and the usual duties (feeding me, clothing me, providing shelter, etc.) she performed were proof of this love instead of just proof that she’d regarded me as a job to do. Her gaslighting, enabling of my bullying siblings, and other ways of emotionally abusing me, apparently don’t establish any doubt of this love.

After she died, and I’d failed to communicate with any of the family (as detailed herehere, and here), R., furious with me after cyberstalking me and discovering this video I’d posted on YouTube, under my original name, claimed that Mom “loved me more than anyone else on the planet.” This wild hyperbole got me thinking about the true nature of her smears.

Had she been combining smear campaigns against me with false claims of loving me the most? Such a combination would create the illusion of her having no personal bias against me, thus making her smears seem objective and truthful. It would also arouse jealousy in R., F., and J., giving them a motive to bully me, while my mother sat back, allowing the bullying to go on, as if I’d deserved the grief I was getting. If this is true, then far from favouring me over my siblings, Mom was being especially cruel.

Cruel not just to me, but also to R., F., and J., though cruel in a different way. As I said towards the beginning of this article, scapegoats aren’t the only victims of narcissistic parental abuse. Golden children and lost children get their own versions of it. If it was in my mother’s nature to gossip about and play mind games on my cousins and me, why stop with only us? It logically follows that it was in her nature to want to mistreat other people, too, including my siblings and even my father!

The family always used to tell me, “Not everything is about you,” echoing Mom’s projection of her (and their) narcissistic egoism onto me (claiming, falsely, that it is an autistic trait; the use of ‘autistic‘ to mean ‘egoistic‘ is an antiquated use of the term from about one hundred years ago). I must say, after speaking so ill of all of them now, over four blog posts (including this one), that actually, they’re right: it isn’t all about me. My dad and siblings suffered under her, too.

I remember her being verbally abusive to Dad on many occasions over the years, as well as giving him the silent treatment (an oft-used tactic of narcissists) for doing such things as forgetting her sacred birthday; she, on a few occasions, would even go so far as to park the family car far away from our house, leaving it parked there over a period of several days, to create the illusion that she’d left him. Small wonder my father was such a grumpy man: he’d been enduring her emotional abuse and manipulation, too, and he had no outlet for the pain he felt, having been raised to believe that talking about feelings was a sign of weakness.

As for R., I remember, if vaguely, the pain he felt as a teen, sometimes with tears in his eyes. As I mentioned in Emotional Abuse, he left home as a teen, refusing to move with us from Toronto to Hamilton after fighting with my father about his bad grades at school. Granted, my father could be verbally abusive if any of us kids got bad marks, but surely a problem like that won’t be serious enough to escalate into one of us leaving home! It was just bad grades that R. had!

Something else had to have been going on. I know the roles my father and R. played in all of this…but what about the role my mother played? If she tried to de-escalate the problem, but couldn’t…why couldn’t she? It was just bad grades. She had an indomitable will; if she wanted something to be done, it was done. If she couldn’t do enough to fix the problem, why couldn’t she? Maybe she didn’t really want to…

If the problem was only between R. and my father (i.e., she had nothing to do with the problem), that’s tantamount to saying she did nothing to intervene. If so, why? She was the other authority figure in the family, in fact, the major authority figure, as evidenced by how henpecked Dad often was around her. Didn’t she care enough about R. to be motivated to help resolve the fighting between him and Dad?

Or, did she contribute to an escalation of the problem? Did she whisper ideas in R.’s ear to increase tensions between him and my father, and did she whisper in Dad’s ear nonsense about R.? To be fair to her, I have no way of knowing for sure; but given what I know about her needless mendacities against me, my cousins, and my aunt (see below), that she was poisoning R. and Dad against each other is far from impossible. Furthermore, as I’ve stated above, it’s hard to believe that a teen would leave home merely because of bad grades and a shouting father.

One time after R. returned home (in the early 80s) and I’d gotten into a fight with him over his emotional abuse of me (I was a teen, and he was in his early twenties), he rationalized his prickly, arrogant attitude by ranting about how our father apparently loved us more or less based on how high or low our grades were, an idea so absurd that I doubt Dad ever thought that way. (Yelling at us was just Dad’s primitive, dysfunctional way of correcting bad behaviour.) Did R. just assume that our father based his love of us on our academic performance (you’d think that, being a young adult at the time, R. was mature enough not to believe such a ridiculous idea: Dad just imagined he was rewarding good behaviour and discouraging the bad), or did our mother put that idea into his head when he was little, ingraining it there before he’d matured enough to be able to dismiss it as nonsense?

In his lengthy rant, R. also claimed that we regarded him as “the idiot of the family” (Really, R.? You should try being told that a psychiatrist once said that you should be locked away in an asylum with the key thrown away, one of Mom’s lies about ‘autistic’ me!). Now, there’s little doubt that our father, to his discredit, shamed R. about his bad grades by calling him ‘stupid’, in an indeed stupid attempt to motivate him to work harder at school; but could my mother have reinforced the idea in R.’s mind, that he was somehow by nature a bad student, to create conflict and rancour for her entertainment?

I’m convinced that she enjoyed stirring up conflict not only in her bad-mouthing of my cousins and me behind our backs, but also in her lies about my aunt. In Emotional Abuse, in section 5, ‘More Elaborate Lies’, I wrote of how Mom had claimed in an e-mail to me that my middle cousin, S., had yelled at her about me on the phone during one of his visits to Canada, a story with no independent corroboration at all. When I replied about my wish for him to get help, she suggested I write an e-mail to my aunt, telling her about S.’s mental instability. I did, sending it to an e-mail address of Mom’s choosing; but instead of getting a direct reply from my aunt, my Mom replied, telling me my aunt wouldn’t read my e-mail, claiming she’d received a series of crazy e-mails from me, e-mails so “over the top,” with content so “disgusting,” that she’d decided never to read anything I sent to her. I NEVER SENT ANY SUCH E-MAILS TO MY AUNT; though I had done so to my mother, and only because Mom had provoked me so outrageously over the years, as she was doing right at this time. Her lie about my ‘crazy’ e-mails to her was a projection onto my aunt.

My immediate reaction was to think my aunt was crazy, something Mom had suggested she was before (Mom claimed my aunt had had suicidal thoughts, because of my cousins’ impossible behaviour, among other problems–again, there was no independent corroboration of this). In an e-mail following the bombshell she’d sent me as described in the above paragraph, my mother claimed that my aunt had said I must have been quite a “burden” for Mom to raise, and Mom said my aunt’s attitude was “insulting” to me. My aunt had no more reason to think I was a burden than to delude herself that I’d sent her a bunch of crazy e-mails. The far likelier explanation is that my mother was lying again, and encouraging bad feelings between me and all of my cousins’ family, now including my aunt. If she was morally capable of such ugly deceit in this and her other lies about my mental state as a child, she was certainly capable of spreading lies among my siblings and father, too…all for her own personal amusement.

R. must have felt like the scapegoat at the time of his leaving home, and when he’d returned, thought of J. and me, those who got better grades, as the golden children. J. was definitely a golden child, and R. would have been able to see I was never a golden child if he’d opened his eyes and seen what was really going on in that family. F. seemed to be the lost child, to an extent, the one given far less attention, but he was a golden child compared to me (I heard Mom on two occasions say he was her favourite, though I can never really know for sure). Once R., in the 1980s, had proven himself a capable student and was seriously working towards a career in computers, he shared golden child status with F. and J., and the three of them had been programmed by Mom to be her flying monkeys, regardless of (or more likely, because of) her past manipulation of them when they were kids.

The three of them hungered for Mom’s love, since my bad-tempered father gave them so little affection; much of the reason for that being, I believe, because my mother was ruling over him as I described above. Little do they know that her nastiness to them, when they were kids, was more a form of manipulation than just parental discipline. To get her love, they had to give her the narcissistic supply she craved. They gave it to her, and thus became her flying monkeys. She’d rewarded them for their loyalty with ‘love’, for helping her bully me, and for being on her side when she was mad at Dad, or when she was bad-mouthing our cousins or any of the staff she didn’t like (but were too capable as workers for her to fire) in our restaurant.

I’ll now give a number of instances of the bullying that R., F., and J. subjected me to when I was a child. You, Dear Reader, can decide for yourself if all of this constitutes mundane family conflicts or emotional abuse.

1) When I was about eight or nine, I was in my bedroom, arguing with my sister, J., who would have been about thirteen or fourteen. We were raising our voices, and making a huge racket. I’d been so caught up in my quarrel with her that I didn’t notice my brother, F., about fourteen or fifteen at the time, enter the room.

Suddenly, he was there before me, slapping me hard on the left cheek about four or five times. The sting of those smacks was no pain at all when compared to the hate I saw in his eyes, something I’ll never, ever forget. Remember, I was only a little kid.

2) I was about eight or nine when my sister and I started playing games that were…let’s just say, inappropriate. She was about thirteen or fourteen, so certain urges were beginning to blossom with her body, and I was conveniently available.

I will not go into graphic detail about what we did, but suffice it to say, I was required on one or two occasions to lick, ‘only once’, a certain hairy region. For any man to do this with a woman, it would have been a thrilling moment; for a child, to do this with his teenage sister can only be described as disgusting.

3) Once, I was in the kitchen, sitting at the table with F. across from me. He spat on my face and laughed to himself. This wasn’t the only time he’d ever spat on me. I was a pre-teen.

4) In the family restaurant, I was about to sit at one of the tables in the guest room, when F. pulled the chair away, making me fall on the floor. One of the dishwashers was there, laughing at me.

I rushed over to the kitchen, where my mother was cooking. I shouted, “Mom, will you do something about that F.?” She, of course, did nothing. Instead, another dishwasher came by and mocked my words. I was about twelve or thirteen at the time.

5) When I was about eight or nine, F. was trying to get me to play baseball, as opposed to the maladaptive daydreaming that I was engaging in. He would take me out beside a townhouse, to a small area with grass stretching out before me, where he stood as a pitcher, with the brick wall of the townhouse behind me, the batter.

While in hindsight, I can now see his good intentions, which were to get me interested in playing with other people, what he neither understood nor could accept was that I simply wasn’t interested in baseball. Furthermore, his constant bullying of me made it impossible to see this ‘baseball training’ as anything other than just him imposing his will on me, as everyone in the family was always trying to do to me.

My continuing lack of interest in baseball, and resulting reluctance to cooperate with him, aggravated his frustrations with me, making him want to bully me all the more.

One afternoon, we were in a field near our home, with him ‘teaching’ me how to play baseball again. A girl about my age was with us, and he was bullying me and bad-mouthing me to her, right in front of me. Uncritically believing everything he was saying about me (she’d met me that very day, for the first time: the only things she ‘knew’ about me were F.’s slanders), she judgementally said to me, over and over, “If you were my brother, I’d…”

F. would threaten to hit me with the ball if I missed a swing or made some other mistake. In other words, he hit me several times (remember, I was only about eight or nine). And that girl would repeat, “If you were my brother,…”, scowling at me.

I went home crying. My mother, who never approached me, let alone comforted me, just snapped, “Take your bath!” from another room. I sat in the bathtub, quietly sobbing and contemplating the hostile environment I was trapped in.

Needless to say, neither my skill at, nor love of, baseball grew by even as much as a millimetre.

6) One time, when I was fourteen or fifteen, my mother ordered a pizza for us all to eat. She, R., and I were in the basement den, watching TV. The pizza box was on the coffee table, ready to be eaten, but it hadn’t been sliced.

Not wanting to make a trip upstairs for a knife, I suggested, foolishly, tearing off pieces of pizza for us.

“Go get a knife,” R. snarled at me. Then, with a mean look in his beady, brown eyes, he told me to “Think.” (He often growled at me like that, as if thinking was alien to me.)

Abashed, I said, “Well, I just didn’t want to go up and get a knife.”

My mother contemptuously said, “We know that.”

I suppose that the possibility of either of them offering to get the knife wasn’t in the cards.

After all, it was my birthday.

7) One winter night, when I was a teen, there had been a heavy snowfall, and our walkway and driveway was covered in snow. No clear path was available for the family to walk in or out of the house.

I was in bed. F. decided to wake me up in the middle of the night, make me dress up in my winter coat and boots, and go out and shovel the snow (with him, or alone? I don’t remember for sure).

When R. learned about me slaving away with a shovel at night when I, half-asleep, barely had the energy to do the work, he laughed with F. about it.

To this day, I fail to see what was so funny. I suppose one has to be a bully to see the humour in it.

8) The slurs against my intelligence that the family subjected me to were almost as constant as short steps when walking: one almost immediately after the other, frequently. They called me “dork,” “dip(stick),” and many others. Now, these first two were ‘just innocent banter,’ of course: J. was kind enough to call me “dip,” as a joke, ostensibly, on my thirteenth birthday; she wrote “Happy Birthday! (You dip!)” on my birthday card. R. especially enjoyed taunting me with the “dip” and “dork” name-calling: he once ‘joked’: “To dip is human; to dork is divine.” I’m sure he thought he was being clever with that quip.

None of this would have been quite so sinister except for how my mother had already associated my ‘autism’ with mental retardation (“We didn’t know if you’d make a good garbageman when you grew up.” “The psychiatrist recommended we lock you up in an asylum and throw away the key!”). I had so thoroughly internalized all this emotional abuse that sometimes I actively participated in the “dork” joking. As long as I was the ‘bad one’, I needn’t have ever considered something far worse: that the family were simply uncaring.

Now, whenever the family had reason to be angry with me (a teen at the time), the name-calling tended not to be so jocular: I’d be called a “little shit” by R. for slamming the door too often, for example. Or if, while playing with our dog, I accidentally hurt her within earshot of R., he’d enter the room and shout “Asshole!” at me.

9) One of F.’s favourite ways of tormenting me, when I was a little kid, was to grab my hands and make me slap myself, then say, “Why are you hitting yourself? Why do you keep hitting yourself?” (Smack! Smack!) “Stop hitting yourself!” Laughing at me the whole time.

10) My weekly allowance when a teen–first a dollar, then two, then finally five--was used as a pretext for making me the family servant. My chores were supposed to be washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, but my mother decided to expand that to making me serve the family tea…every day.

I’d bring the tea on a tray to her and my brothers, who gloated at my degradation. If I defied them, they bullied me all the more. One time, I was called into the kitchen by F., who snarled “Dishes!” at me, his eyes gleaming with hate, and him baring his fangs in a power-tripping grin. When I replied with a “homework” excuse, he shoved me hard. Once again, that vicious look in his eyes hurt much more than the intimidating shove to my back.

On one occasion, I brought the tea while my mother and R. were watching “Murder, She Wrote” on TV. As I set the tray on the coffee table, R. made an idiotic joke: “Tea, He Brought,” with a gloating smile, again proud of his seeming wit.

On another occasion, I defied them by refusing to serve the tea; instead, I just unplugged the kettle, which had been boiling to excess. When I told my mother this, she angrily refused to take me on a promised trip to an amusement park that summer as punishment. When I tried to stick up for myself, they, as usual, didn’t want to hear it. I had to cave in, again.

Once, when F. noticed that I hadn’t washed the dishes, he went down to the TV room to tell our mother with a smart-ass smirk on his face. She looked up at me, who was standing on the stairs, and with a frown showing ‘parental firmness’ on her face, told me to do the dishes. F. was still smirking, of course.

It isn’t so much that I had these jobs to do as it’s how the family used these jobs to degrade me. When Christmas came around, and there was a huge number of dishes to wash, the family tended to be rather lax about offering help. I did get the help every time, to be fair to them, but it tended to come with dragged feet.

Once, J. said with a snobbish frown, “Maybe if you ask, you’ll get some help.” Of course, dear sister! I should beg…on Christmas Day! That no one offered to help (hint, hint, J.) was not even contemplated by those people who always professed themselves to be so much more selfless and considerate than I. I did get help, but why didn’t the Christmas spirit inspire any of my ‘loving’ family to come right away? Why did Mom have to delegate (instead of herself offering to help)? Perhaps because it involved helping…little old me?

R. once helped, though in a very minimal way. He washed, I dried; but he would leave the washed dishes in the rinse water in the sink instead of taking them out and letting them dry on the drying rack, so I could towel them off and put them away in the cupboards. This meant that I had to take each plate, cup, or utensil out of the water, wetting my hand, which then got my drying towel wet, making it increasingly useless. There was no way I could get my sneering, arrogant bully of a brother to see things my way, of course, so I had to deal with the situation as best I could.

After all, I was the family servant, not he.

Now, these are only a few of the many stories I could tell you of what my mother’s flying monkeys used to do to me to make my life miserable. Again, as with my mother, R., F., and J. had their good moments sometimes, too; but again, those good moments don’t come close to compensating for the bad. And my mother stepped in to stop F. only about three or four times, while letting him and the other two get away with mistreating me scores upon scores of other times, rationalizing their behaviour and speaking nonsense about how they–with some “reservations,” implying that my imperfections justified those reservations–nonetheless loved me. I was expected to believe this horse-shit.

As Nick Cohen writes for The Guardian, “Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers.” He was writing about the liars in the Trump administration, but this idea applies equally with narcissistic parents and their enablers, their flying monkeys.

People who want family harmony must learn to think for themselves and consider that if one of the family is bad-mouthing another family member to excess, is it because the latter is as bad as he’s being described, or is it because the former has an axe to grind? R., F., and J. never considered the possibility that my mother had an agenda, not only against me, but also against our cousins and our aunt. That’s why not only did they lose our mother last year to cancer, they also lost me forever due to their own thoughtlessness.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narcissism in the Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gee, who has a problem with chores now?

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

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

Narcissistic injury seems a better explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love yourself, and be at peace.

Emotional Abuse

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baring My Soul

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

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

1 – Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 – The Dawn of Realization

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

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

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

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

My score was 13.

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

So, what the hell was my mother talking about?

I had an epiphany.

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

My mother had been lying to me the whole time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 – Abusing My Cousins

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

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

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

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

Hearing that was nothing short of chilling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 – More Elaborate Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 – Is My Mother Dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 – In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She. Broke. My. Heart.

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

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

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