No Empathy

I: Introduction

Narcissistic mothers are notorious for having, among other vices, a lack of empathy, or at least a deficiency in it. While, as I’ve said before, I don’t know for sure if my late mother had narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), she definitely lacked sufficient empathy, as I’ll try to demonstrate in the following paragraphs.

When my mother was dying in a hospital from a metastasized breast cancer, and everyone else in my family in southern Ontario, my eldest brother R. in particular, was there with her, doing all they could to comfort her and love her during her painful last moments on this earth, I–living on the other side of the world in East Asia–showed no empathy whatsoever.

If you didn’t know my story, you’d probably be thinking of me as heartless and unfilial. If you do, on the other hand, know my story–as R., my other brother F., and my sister J. might have known, had they not been so willful in their ignorance of what had really been going on between Mom and me, from the 1970s right up to the 2010s–then my lack of empathy would be properly understood as nothing more than a reaction to Mom’s lack of empathy for me all those years…her own bad karma, finally thrown back into her face.

The family’s main complaint against me, which is also their rationalization for bullying me during my whole childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood before I left Canada, is that I never show any caring towards them. But caring is a two-way street, and bullying is the opposite of caring. The ‘caring’ Mom and J. showed me was more apparent than real (at least R. and F. were honest in their total lack of concern for me).

As I have explained in previous posts (links above), my mother rationalized almost all my siblings’ bullying, minimized its impact on my life (loss of confidence, anxiety, depression, anger issues, social withdrawal, etc.), and invalidated my complaints to her about R., F., and J., almost every time the bullying occurred (my siblings, of course, did the exact same rationalizing, minimizing, and invalidating of their own–and Mom’s–bullying of me). Mom’s own gaslighting of me, which happened throughout my life–right up to her death!–only more thoroughly showed not only her lack of empathy for me, but, if anything, her outright antipathy for me.

I’ll now give you a number of examples of this callousness.

II: Early Abuse, Stimming, and Being Grabbed

In my first post about my family, aptly called Emotional Abuse, I mentioned a vague memory from back when I was about three or four years old, being confined in my bedroom at night. I remember at least two occasions of this: one time, I was locked in my room; the other time, the door was roped closed so I couldn’t get out.

OK, I understand that locking a child in his or her room is far from universally condemned by parents, and sometimes it’s considered necessary in extreme cases; but roping the door shut? What if there’d been a fire? It would have been difficult to untie in an emergency, so the pros and cons–i.e., preventing me from wandering around the house and accidentally injuring myself, vs. being in a fire, or not being able to use the bathroom–could have gone either way. The jury is still out on whether my parents were being in any way deliberately abusive, or just finding the simplest way to keep me out of trouble; but given what I know of my mother later in life, I find that the pendulum tends not to swing toward the latter explanation.

I don’t know whether it was my father or my mother who confined me on those early nights, but I do know that it was my mother who justified doing that to me, bizarrely claiming (remember, from my previous posts, her habit of fabricating indulgent, even elaborate, mendacities) that I had a habit back then of crawling outside and playing in the middle of the street (Could I have actually been going into my parents’ room and disturbing them in their sleep?)! She didn’t seem to care that confining me in my room undoubtedly traumatized me (if she didn’t care about all the later emotional abuse, why would she have cared about how I felt, a three/four-year-old isolated and locked up in my room?).

Indeed, unable to sleep, as has been typical of me for most of my life, I knelt in front of my locked bedroom door and rocked back and forth, frowning and rhythmically chanting, “Open up the doorrrr…” over and over again. This rocking back and forth was a childhood habit of mine, one of a few examples of stimming (self-stimulating) that I used to do.

Now, stimming is typically associated with (but by no means exclusive to) autistics, and if you read my other posts (links above) on my emotionally abusive family, you’ll recall that I proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that when my mother claimed I have an autism spectrum disorder, she was lying through her teeth.

In fact, I recently did the Empathy Quotient, designed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, who’d helped devise the Autism Spectrum Quotient test I did, on which I got a score [13] far lower than the minimally autistic level [26-32]; as for the empathy test, I scored 41 out of 80, comfortably above a score of 30 or lower, which indicates an autistic lack of empathy; so even with my relatively low empathy, it’s once again confirmed that I don’t manifest even the mildest of autistic symptoms.

It would be more valuable to determine my purpose in stimming than guess if it indicates autism or not. Many people do it as a form of emotional regulation (e.g., relieving stress, overcoming boredom or fatigue, etc.). I believe I rocked back and forth (not all that often) as a child to soothe and calm myself, as I had those nights when my bedroom door was locked or roped shut. As a kid, and up through my adolescence, I lay in bed and hit my head against my pillow over and over until I fell asleep. I believe this was a ritual to help me deal with my sleeplessness, which shouldn’t be too hard to believe, given my early confinement in my bedroom, and the trauma I experienced from that.

The difference between autistic and non-autistic stimming is the severity of it, and whether or not it interferes with one’s day-to-day life. My stimming, which all ended more or less when I’d become an adult, couldn’t possibly have been all that severe or frequent, for if it had been, I would have a plethora of painful childhood memories of being mocked by my classmates and other people.

I recall only one time when a classmate mocked my habit, at the time, of excessive blinking. Only that one time. Had I been blinking or rocking much more often, people would have made fun of me for it regularly. They didn’t.

Furthermore, when I was seeing those two psychotherapists (who, as I explained in previous posts, said they saw no signs of autism in me), I must have been stimming at least a bit; so whatever stimming I’d been doing in front of them, they must have deemed it non-autistic.

The more typical autistic stims, such as hand-flapping, I never did. My more moderate stimming was a kind many non-autistics have been noted as having done throughout their childhoods and adolescences, until early adulthood. My mother would have had to look elsewhere than stimming to prove I have an autism spectrum disorder.

Her claiming I had such problems was not a reflection of her ‘loving’ solicitude over my well-being, as she and the family would have had me believe; rather, they were a reflection of her wish to stigmatize me as “different” and somehow ‘behind’ everyone else. Such is not an empathetic attitude. A truly loving mother wants all her children to feel loved and included in their family and society. Mother was aiming at the opposite for me. It was always tacitly understood in my family that ‘autism’, or ‘Asperger’s syndrome’, is a clinical-sounding euphemism for fuck-head.

One thing she used to do when I was a little kid was grab me by the chin and say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Years later, she claimed that a woman working at the West End Creche, a kind of pre-school/nursery school (Mom spoke of the place as one for autism therapy, a dubious assertion if you ask me) I’d gone to during those early years, recommended using such firmness with “autistic” me (I have no memory of anyone other than Mom grabbing my face like that). Why any reasonable childcare worker would recommend such rough treatment for a toddler, merely because he was inattentive, is beyond me.

(Mom claimed that when the childcare worker asked her how I was doing at home, Mom growled that I was “a little brat!”, because I no longer had the preferred docile, compliant attitude I’d had before the childcare worker had been ‘treating my autism’ [which I’m convinced the childcare worker wasn’t doing at all]; the woman apparently was delighted to know of my defiance of my mom. I find it safe to assume that my mother was just trying to cajole me into reverting to a state of docility to please her. Note also the contradiction between Mom’s claiming the childcare worker had, on the one hand, recommended grabbing me by the chin and demanding I obediently give Mom my undivided attention; and had, on the other, approved of my ‘bratty’ defiance of Mom. Lies, lies, and more lies, Mother dear.)

Placed within the context of her autism lie, Mom’s grabbing me by the chin, and commanding me to look at her when she was talking to me, was really just another exercising of her dominance over me. She often projected her fabrications and manipulations of me onto other people (e.g., it was a psychiatrist, rather than her, who said I ought to have been locked away in an asylum; my aunt said I’d sent her “over-the-top emails” and claimed I must have been a “burden”, rather than Mom saying all that herself), so I find it easy to believe she’d ‘self-recommended’ handling me roughly and angrily ordering me to pay attention to her, rather than a childcare worker whom I remember, if vaguely, as being a much nicer lady than that.

Speaking of grabbing, my mother did quite a bit of that over the years. On one occasion, wen I was about eight or nine years old, I was being bullied by some of the kids among our neighbours; I was standing before the front door of our townhouse as these kids were yelling and laughing at me, and my mother could hear the racket.

What was her way of dealing with the problem?

Did she come out and stick up for me?

Of course not.

She grabbed me by the arm and yanked me into the house.

Those kids must have gotten a good laugh out of that.

I sure as hell didn’t.

In a previous post, I mentioned her tendency to grab me by the ear and lead me wherever she wanted me to be. One time, when I was a teen, she did it because she was angry with me for being late for work in our restaurant and, instead of starting right away with washing the pile-up of dishes, I’d helped myself to some breakfast. Two other times, she grabbed my ear, with lots of people there to see my humiliation, for her sheer amusement. Note her interest in controlling my body (locking me away, grabbing me) as a parallel to controlling my mind (locking me away in an asylum for ‘my autism’, or locking me away in a psychological prison of self-doubt).

III: Stifling My Growth and Confidence–Mother’s Mind Games

Indeed, the whole point of the autism lie was to control me. When she first started talking about ‘my autism’ with me, I was starting to get As in school. I would have been about nine or ten years old. I was just starting to build confidence in my intellectual abilities, and her idea of congratulating or encouraging me was to say what a “miracle from God” it was that I’d pulled out of an extreme state of “autistic” mental incompetence to become a reasonably intelligent child! Talk about the backhanded compliment of the century.

As a kid, I’d been going to elementary school with normal kids for as long back as I can remember (i.e., all the way back to primary school): I never shared a classroom with mentally retarded kids at any time during my early childhood (those kids were always in special ed classrooms, rooms separate from mine); but my mom claimed I’d been examined, for a mere five minutes, by a psychiatrist who supposedly gave me an IQ test I’d scored poorly on (anybody who knows anything about IQ tests, especially psychiatrists, knows they don’t carve your intelligence in stone), so I, apparently, was deemed retarded.

She spoke as if she believed this mythical shrink’s evaluation of me, then claimed a “miracle” pulled me out of it, instead of surmising the obvious…that I’d never been retarded to begin with. How does the following exemplify the attitude of an empathic, loving mother: telling me it was doubtful ‘if I’d make a good garbageman’; that the shrink recommended ‘locking me away in an asylum and throwing away the key’ (something no sensible psychiatrist would have said of an autistic in the 1970s, after such therapies as Applied Behaviour Analysis had already been developing); or wondering how my aged parents would be able to take care of “a forty-year-old moron”? Even if such an implausible early childhood of mine had actually occurred, an empathetic mother would never say such things, let alone repeatedly, and in so graphic and vivid a way.

On other occasions, she spoke of how she knew I was intelligent even back then, thus flatly contradicting her pessimistic assessment of my childhood intelligence; this changing of her story, which often happened over the years, indicates not just the possibility, but the probability, that she’d been lying to me.

She wasn’t the only family member to discourage me from doing my best at school: my envious brother, R., also did. In his early 20s at the time, R., the “more mature” bully (as my mother deemed him) had a totally childish attitude to my then-growing academic success. His belittling of me (remember the ‘dork’ jokes I constantly had to endure during my teen years) was based on his resentment over our father favouring our sister J. and me over him, because we’d gotten better grades at school than he (R. used to berate her, too). He confessed his motive to me in a rant one afternoon after I, about fourteen, stood up to him for going too far with his bullying. (Remember: going too far was a habit with these people.)

His contention that those who get high marks are “absolute idiots” (i.e., in everything other than doing well at school), an obviously biased ego defence against the apparent family belief that he was “the idiot of the family” (Did Mom ever tell you, R., about my mythical IQ score?), had a most harmful effect on my already-fragile self-confidence at the time…I, an impressionable teenager who had been enduring our Mom’s BS about autism, as well as bullying from the family, the neighbourhood, and school.

My motivation to study hard dropped, and so did my grades. Granted, I have to take some responsibility for letting my grades slip a crucial 5-10% on average, but R.s snark was hardly a help to me. And my siblings wonder why I want nothing to do with them.

One thing Mom used to do, back in the late 70s when I was about 7-9 years old, was present a bag of something she’d bought for me while shopping. She’d look me in the face with wide eyes, make a backwards “Whoosshhhh” sound, as if she’d bought me something wonderful, like a toy, then she’d take what she’d bought out of the bag.

It was a pair of pants.

Naturally, my expression of hopeful excitement would change to a slouch of disappointment. Granted, one should be thankful for anything one’s mother has bought, but why the need for that build-up (and inevitable let-down)? Was Mom expecting narcissistic supply in the form of histrionic thanks? Or was she just trying to play mind games with me for her personal amusement, then my (deliberately provoked) look of disappointment would be narcissistic injury for her, giving her a pretext to want to get back at me…with such things as…the autism lie?

IV: Excuses Never to Empathize with Me…Even Fabricated Ones

One notable incident with my mother was one time, when I was ten, I’d been riding my new bike with a few friends; then, approaching a descending slope to a park, I lost control, went down the hill and fell off the bike.  I went home crying. Mom treated my cuts, to be sure (a nurse, she always took excellent care of physical problems), but she explicitly said she wouldn’t give me any sympathy because, apparently, I’d been “showing off” on the bike (she typically exacerbated emotional problems).

Oh, really, Dear Mother? Were you there, an eyewitness to the accident (no), or were you at home, blocks away from it, and therefore with no possible way of knowing whether or not I’d been “showing off” (yes!)?

Her “showing off” excuse for feeling no empathy for me was a complete fabrication, an out-and-out lie. She didn’t give me any sympathy because she didn’t want to. (Remember: during those years, she’d given me “the most love”, as she told me on R.’s cellphone [Part 6, ‘Is My Mother Dead?’] while she lay on her deathbed…with R. sitting by her and hearing, and believing, her bullshit.)

I’d had to argue and argue with her that I never tried to impress my friends on my bike before she finally relented. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I had been showing off when I fell and hurt myself: why would I not be deserving of sympathy? I was just a kid! Kids do foolish things from time to time, they let their pride get the better of them, and bad things happen; but when they make these mistakes, shouldn’t their parents tell them that it’s a lesson to be learned, instead of shaming them?

All my mother was doing was trying to justify why she’d refused to give me love: treating my cuts was just a chore for her. As was so often the case, I was just a job to be done. (But remember, she gave me the most love!)

This “showing off” fabrication of hers, along with the lie she told–about 8-10 years later–about my having “told off” my cousin G. for swearing in our restaurant, was one of the incidents that made me begin to suspect that indulgent, needless, and malicious lying was a habit of hers.

V: No Empathy Leading to Lots of Antipathy

I’ve already mentioned, in previous posts, her lack of empathy for me on almost every occasion when R., F., and J. went out of their way not only to bully me and verbally abuse me (usually only over minor things I’d done to annoy them), but also to ridicule me, belittle me, and humiliate me, all for the sheer fun of making my life miserable. I believe her lack of empathy spilled over into outright antipathy…not just for me, but for them, and for others in the family, too.

As I’ve mentioned before (Part 4–Abusing My Cousins), I have good reason to believe Mom not only bad-mouthed me (in virtually the same way she’d trash-talked my cousin G.), to R., F., and J., but also aroused jealousy in them by lying that she preferred me to them (an absurd idea, given J.’s golden child status, as well as the moderate golden children R. and F. were to Mom), thus giving them a motive to bully me. That isn’t just a lack of empathy in Mom…it’s outright malevolence.

Mom got a kick out of stirring up hate and conflict in our family. I saw evidence of it in her bashing of my cousins, first L. and G., then S., the very second she had proof of the latter’s mental instability from an email rant he’d sent me, of his paranoia of me supposedly gossiping behind his back to our former teacher friends here in Taiwan (my forwarding of his email to Mom, naively hoping she’d want to help him, but really just aiding her in her gossiping, is something I now deeply regret, for ironically, it means I had, however unintentionally, helped people bad-mouth S.!). Mom didn’t want S. to be my friend, so she made not even the slightest effort to help him get the psychiatric help he needs; she preferred the idea of him going through the rest of his life, blundering about in his delusions, to the possibility, however small, of him getting better and being my friend again.

She not only tried to nurture the bad blood between S. (up till his breakdown, my one good friend here where I live) and me, but also tried to stir up bad feeling [Part 5–More Elaborate Lies] between my aunt and me when I tried to get S.’s mother to help him. More fool me. Sowing division in our family was Mom’s modus operandi.

She knew my brothers and sister were bullying me. With her authority in the family, the respect she commanded from all of us, a commanding that could make our legs shake, she could have nipped my siblings’ bullying of me in the bud, in the blink of an eye. Had she truly loved me, truly empathized with me, she would have stopped the bullying. She didn’t. It’s not that she couldn’t have: she didn’t want to.

If autism had really been at the root of my social problems, those that were so ‘frustrating’ to everybody, she would have sympathetically explained this to R., F., and J. (“Mawr has a mental condition! He can’t help it. Go easy on him.”) I’m convinced that not only had she never thus explained my problems to them, instead, she described my faults in the most unsympathetic language imaginable. That’s how she talked about G., whom she also speculated had Asperger’s syndrome; why would it have been any different with me? She bad-mouthed me to my face a number of times, as, of course, my siblings did; doing so behind my back would have been all the easier. R., F., and J. would have eagerly contributed to this bad-mouthing me behind my back, as I’m sure their kids do, too. F.’s son mouthed me off to my face at one point during my 2008 visit; the boy barely knew me (I’d moved to Taiwan when he would have been too young to remember me, and after that, I’d made only a few brief visits.)…all he knows about me is what the family has told them.

“Mawr’s ‘autistic’, so he’s selfish. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s going to be a real burden to take care of. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s irritating and annoying. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s an idiot,” etc. These quotes are speculations, of course. I don’t know exactly what words she used, because she made sure I was never in the room to hear her smear campaigns against me.

But however it was said, that was the message she must have conveyed to the family, starting from my early childhood, for my mere boyish awkwardness alone couldn’t have been enough to inspire so much contempt from people who supposedly loved me, in spite of my faults.

To be fair to her, there were a few occasions when she came to my aid: she once told off a bully in the neighbourhood who used to chase me around, shouting, “Leave him alone!” two or three times after he denied doing anything to me (I was 8 or 9); at about the same age, I accidentally caused F. to spill his hot tea on his lap, and he threw the rest of the scalding tea on my back as I ran away, making me scream and cry, and Mom scolded him, saying, “You could have burned him!”

Consider, however, how extreme F.’s behaviour had to be before she’d stand up for me, as she had on another occasion when he stole my wallet when I was about 20 years old. He did this in reaction to my ‘inconsiderate’ behaviour during R.’s wedding (not using my own toothbrush when I was staying at someone else’s home, not buying a gift for R. and his bride [I was hardly making enough money at the time for that], and not making myself available, as a member of the wedding party, for the wedding photo [J. took me away in her car from the party to lecture me about ‘being considerate’ to others {i.e., my lack of a gift}, so my unavailability was hardly my fault!]). When F. gave me back my wallet, he proceeded to lecture me about the importance of thinking about other people. I’m not sure that stealing my wallet did much to inspire selflessness in me, F.

Speaking of the need for selflessness, consider how, normally, older brothers are supposed to help their younger siblings against bullies, something neither R. nor F. ever did, not even once; and I was getting bullied at school regularly, too, just as I was at home. Of course they had no interest in helping me with that problem; for if they had, my growing confidence and assertiveness would have caused the five people I grew up with to lose their power over me. Why would bullies at home want to help you against bullies at school?

Mom’s lack of empathy wasn’t limited to her attitude towards me. I’ve already mentioned her contempt for all my cousins, and even her wish to turn me against my aunt. In this post, I speculated about the hand she must have had in driving then-teenage R. to leave home, due to an otherwise mysterious escalation of his fighting with Dad over something as relatively trivial as his bad academic performance.

I often found it striking how emotionless she seemed over things painfully affecting people, either me or others. One time, she mentioned how her mother had married my step-grandfather, not out of love, but just to have someone to provide for her (this would have been back in the 1940s/1950s). I wonder how he’d have felt if he knew; I don’t think my mother ever wondered, for she showed no disapproval whatsoever for my grandmother’s attitude.

On the other hand, Mom would sometimes have a twinkle of happiness in her eyes at inappropriate times, too. She had such a look on her face one day, when the subject of my large book collection was raised. I was in my early 20s, I think. She said, “[J.] says you have all those books on your shelves to look impressive to everybody.” Apparently, I was “showing off” again.

Whether J. really said that (she is enough of a snotty bitch to think that of me), or Mom was making things up again (projecting her shitty attitude onto others again), I do not know. It’s pretty clear to me now that she probably told me in order to stir up more resentment between J. and me. That look in her eye: she enjoyed telling me that.

VI: Mom’s Non-empathetic Prating about Asperger’s Syndrome

The following was her most recent, and among her worst, non-empathizing with me.

When she’d been prating on and on about “my Asperger’s” syndrome, I tried to impress on her, during a 2003 visit to Canada, how awful it feels to go through life being stigmatized as abnormal; she reacted as if I’d said nothing. I got the same blank reaction five years later, during my next…and last…visit to Canada when I said that, if I’d never moved to East Asia and she’d pinned the Asperger’s label on me, without having developed my self-confidence as an English teacher and as a married man, I’d probably have committed suicide.

Later, during the same 2008 visit, I’d been having some difficulties with my wife, who’d been visiting with me, and who was also mad at me about something, and thus giving me the silent treatment. I felt helpless in trying to make her feel better, and so I went to my mother in the hopes that she’d have advice for me. When I approached her, instead of seeing a frown of motherly concern and empathy for her son, I saw that old Cheshire Cat smile again, that inappropriate twinkle in her eyes. She seemed happy to see me all emotionally needy, and therefore dependent on her. She had control over me again…or so she thought.

Victims of narcissistic abuse often complain of how frustrating it is to have to explain to their narcissistic boy/girlfriends, spouses, or parents, what empathy and common decency are; but this was just the frustration I’d been going through trying to get my mother to stop ramming Asperger’s syndrome (AS) down my throat. When she first brought it up in an email message, I dealt with it gently.

But she wouldn’t stop bringing it up.

Soon after, she’d sent me an online article about a young man with AS, his experiences of having been bullied, and how he perceived the world “differently” (I know my mom interpreted “differently” as wrong, for that’s how she and the family always ‘interpreted’ my perception of the world). I sensed that she meant for me to believe that the awkward man in the article was a double of me. Naturally, I resented that.

I again replied as gently as I could, but also firmly, saying I wished she’d stop discussing AS with me, for it “makes me unhappy”. I wanted to stop focusing on my past, and look into the future instead.

She stopped…for a little while.

One way I tried–subtly–to get her to stop it, was to stop my, at the time (early 2000s), almost weekly phone calls home to her. She never took the hint, though, and continued looking for opportunities to bring up AS again.

When I reminded her about the two therapists I’d seen back in the mid-90s, the ones who told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me at all, she dismissed their professional opinion as if her amateurish one was much better informed. Those psychotherapists made me feel freed from the stigma of mental abnormality…and Mom was trying to take that liberation away from me.

When J.’s husband was discovered to be terminally ill with cancer, and Mom rejected [Part VII: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished] my wish to go over to Canada and visit, that was the last straw: you don’t make a family member feel as though he were persona non grata, even if he puts his foot in his mouth occasionally (Did I even put my foot in my mouth?); you gladly invite his visit, but tell him to watch his words, instead.

My furious response was to try to get her to understand how much it hurt to know that the family regarded me as “an incomplete human being, an overgrown child with stunted emotions.” That email, and others sent during the mid-to-late 2000s, involved my strenuous attempts to get her to understand how hurt, alienated, and lonely I’d always felt from her constantly making me feel “different” (her word, cooed with utter condescension on the phone one time).

I never needed to get her to understand, though. She knew how I felt. She’d always known.

She just didn’t care.

Remember, she often smiled when talking about ‘my autism’. She liked making me feel alienated.

After I’d complained repeatedly about her attitude, she complained to J. about mine. Naturally, J., the golden child, Mom’s number one flying monkey, took her side 100%, then sent me a blunt email, telling me to “let this go.” She also made sure to tell me not to respond to her email.

Now, I can understand J. not wanting to read a long email rant from me, explaining my side of the story (as I inevitably would have responded, had she allowed it), but the point is that, in any family dispute, it’s only fair to hear both sides of the story. Remember that my siblings have no more empathy for me than our mother had; that’s why they can’t reasonably expect me to empathize with them any more than I pitied Mom when she was dying. Empathy is a two-way street.

VII: Conclusion

Apart from what I’ve repeated here from my other posts on my family, what I’ve said above may not sound all that bad. Just remember these ‘minor’ offences in the context of my mother’s eight outrages, as I call them:

  1. The original autism lie, with all the melodramatic nonsense of my ‘infantile retardation’;
  2. Mom’s indulging and winking at my siblings’ bullying of me;
  3. Her explosive anger, usually over minor offences of mine;
  4. Her perpetuation of the autism lie, through her fabrication of Asperger’s (AS);
  5. Her rejection of my wish to visit Canada when it’s ‘inconvenient’ for the family, coupled with the family’s demand that I be involved with the family when it is convenient;
  6. Her bad-mouthing of G. behind his back, and saying he has AS, implying she bad-mouthed me in the exact same way;
  7. Refusing to help S. get psychiatric help, even if his mental instability could lead to him attacking me or my wife;
  8. Her string of seven lies to me, the summer before she died, about S. and my aunt, all to work me up, sow division between the two of them and me, and all so Mom could get narcissistic supply…and then never admit to any of it while lying on her death-bed.

Forgive me, Dear Reader, if I seem guilty of “keeping score of others’ wrongs”, as it says in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 5, or of ‘injustice collecting‘. I am far from perfect myself; indeed, I do have a lot of faults that were legitimately irritating to all of my family, including my late mother. I’m often a selfish prick who tries people’s patience, but a person’s right not to have to endure emotional abuse needn’t be dependent on his having a minimal, insignificant number of flaws. As for any flaws of mine that seem to go beyond what’s reasonable for most people, well, refer back to Mom’s eight outrages above, and consider their impact on my development as a human being.

I don’t fault my family with being angry with me…as they often had good reason to. I do fault them with consistently dealing with their frustrations in the most abusive way possible. (My wife, who is often mad at me about all kinds of things, usually just gives me the silent treatment–she virtually never yells at me, let alone shouts cruel four-letter slurs at me. This is proof that flying off the handle is not the only way to deal with me.) Also, as I’ve said before, while my family was far from always bad to me, it’s just that their good sides weren’t enough to compensate for the bad.

I call my provocations of their anger minor, not because I never really did anything bad, but because their reactions to my faults were so often totally out of proportion with what I’d done (e.g., R. shouting “Asshole!” at me, a teen, for accidentally hurting our dog, instead of just telling me firmly to be careful when playing with her; F. stealing my wallet, as described above; on another occasion, when I was about 17 or 18, F. verbally abused me twice–shouting four-letter word after four-letter word at me, and even threatening to throw me outside in the snow–for having neglected to let our cat in the house over a freezing cold winter night, even though I checked for myself the next day, and the cat was fine, not even sick.), that it makes you wonder what their real motives were for getting so infuriated.

And if I’ve been immature, so were all of them…quite often. There’s nothing mature about bullying a little kid, through his adolescence and young adulthood, hurling insults and put-downs at him, almost every day, just for fun…a fun they often gleefully admitted was their motive.

The worst thing of all–and this applies to recent years–is how R., F., and J. uncritically accepted every piece of nonsense Mom told them about me and everyone in the family, including always taking her side when I was having my arguments with her, starting in the early 2000s, right up to her death.

And a mother who lies to her family, not just a few times out of expediency, but as a way of life, has given up all moral authority over her family, as her all-too-credulous flying monkeys, my siblings, have given up all of theirs over me.

That’s why I grew so cold to her the last five to six years of her life.

Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, Mother?

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Maladaptive Daydreaming

Everybody daydreams to some extent, and daydreaming, incidentally, is a mild form of dissociation. Some otherwise normal people take their dissociating a little further, though, and daydream, on occasion, at inappropriate times.

Then you have people like me.

We daydream constantly, addictively. We enjoy living in the world we dissociate into, and want to stay in that state, on and off, for hours on end. We may pace back and forth in our bedrooms, or in the halls, or anywhere alone, where we’ll have peace and quiet, away from human distractions.

I don’t do it anywhere near as much as I did when I was a child; but then again, I don’t have that pathetic excuse for a family around (<<<read the links to know why I judge them so harshly) to make me want to escape from them into a world of fantasy. That goes double for those who bullied me at school.

Many different kinds of people engage in maladaptive daydreaming: people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, autism (!), and others. What they seem to have in common, however, is a wish to escape the horrors, or boredom, of regular, everyday life.

Maladaptive daydreamers also have considerable creative gifts, which come naturally as a result of regularly exercising their imaginations. Certainly Dr. Eli Somer, the Israeli psychologist who discovered this peculiar form of dissociation in several trauma victims he was treating, thought of them as gifted.

Still, this daydreaming is maladaptive because those who engage in it do so to the extent that it interferes with their ability to study, hold down a job, or pursue relationships with other people.

Mine wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t work or study, but when I was young, I found the fantasy conversations I had with people in my head better company than the real people who surrounded me. Childhood emotional abuse in the forms of family bullying and gaslighting, as well as school bullying, tends to make a person rather antisocial by the time he reaches adolescence.

The other extreme of this form of dissociation, as opposed to the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is dissociative identity disorder, DID, formerly known as split personality or multiple personality.

Dr. Somer discovered and wrote about maladaptive (or excessive) daydreaming in about 2002; his ideas were ignored by his fellow psychologists at first, but his research gradually made an impact and even went viral. Something that I find ironic is how, at roughly the same time as that of Somer’s first published research on maladaptive daydreaming, my mother was first telling me about Asperger Syndrome (AS), insisting that I have it. If her intentions (“to help” me, she said) were anywhere near as noble as she’d claimed, and information on maladaptive daydreaming was already available, why didn’t she even try to find out about it, instead of perpetuating her autism lies by trying to force me to accept the AS label? Looking into Somer’s research is what would have truly helped me!

Her gaslighting me into believing I have an autism spectrum disorder, perpetuating it with her BS about ‘my AS’, was not only cruel, it was stupid. What on earth made her think that saying I have AS would go over well? What did she expect me to do? Thank her? Her sad death without any comfort from me, in that hospital in May of 2016, with my brother R. at her bedside, means that insofar as I ever meant anything to her at all, pushing AS on me was the worst mistake she’d ever made in her entire life.

Learning about maladaptive daydreaming could have helped the family not only understand me better, but also find better ways than shaming me to help me stop the bad habit. They’d have also understood my imaginative gifts better, and been motivated to redirect my creativity into more productive outlets (writing, music, art, etc., instead of my wasting day after day in fantasy).

I gave the family many opportunities to be exposed to my creative side, but their acknowledgement of it was minimal, at best. I composed music (under my original name), wrote poetry and prose, and got little, if any encouragement. There was no dearth of ‘constructive’ criticism, though.

Mom claimed that this piece I wrote for the late husband of my sister, J., was “plodding”. Instead of turning a deaf ear to the, admittedly, mechanical nature of the computer MIDI sounds, Mom focused on it, as she did to all the other pieces I’d composed with the Finale software.

The string sounds in my Piano Quintet (a piece she superficially complimented as being “very impressive!”) were “tinny”, and she insisted she was being “constructive” in her criticisms; but how could I improve on the sounds without real musicians available to record the music for me?

I slaved for a year composing my Symphony In One Movement. When I said to her, during  a visit to Canada (I live in east Asia), that I wanted to listen to the 35-minute composition with her, Mom scowled and said, “No, I don’t (i.e., ‘want to have to listen to it again’)!” She’d criticized, by email after hearing a CD I’d burned of it as a gift I mailed to her and my father, that the symphony was structurally all over the place, with no sense of unity among the many featured orchestral instruments.

Actually, I structured the piece very carefully: a close listening will make it evident that my symphony is rondos within rondos, with sonata-allegro form (towards the beginning, after a brief intro), binary form (the following slow section), a scherzo and trio in the middle, a theme-and-variations section after that, then a kind of experimental ‘mirror’ section. The overall ‘rondo-within-rondo’ effect is like Russian dolls (i.e., the rondos get smaller and smaller, or shorter and shorter). The link is above, Dear Reader, so you can hear it and decide for yourself whether or not my symphony is well-structured or ‘all over the place’.

Now, none of this is about debating the worth of my musical abilities. The point is that a truly loving mother would have the tact and grace to emphasize the positive of anything her sons or daughters created, regardless of whether her children were actually talented or not; any comments critical of her children’s creative output would be given as carefully and gently as possible. For no matter what level of talent her kids have, she wants to give them a maximum of encouragement…because she loves them.

My mother made it obvious that she had no intentions of encouraging me whatsoever. She’d pay a bit of lip service to my accomplishments, but little more than that. In contrast, she showered my sister, J., with praise for writing an expository essay (when she was in university) on our maternal grandmother’s descent into the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease, what seems to me to have been one of J.’s attempts to win Mom’s favour (i.e., by adding the grandeur of the family, an extension of Mom’s ego). Only if Mom’s children’s creative efforts gave her narcissistic supply (directly or indirectly), would she praise us…and J. was always the golden child of the family.

I suspect that Mom, as another manifestation of the narcissism I suspect she had, envied my musical creativity. Again, I’m not trying to say I’m some kind of unsung genius (geniuses are tireless workaholics, of which I am none). The point is that she couldn’t even do the limited number of musical things I can do (I’m the worst keyboardist in the world, I have no formal musical training, and I composed all that music by clicking a mouse to put notes on the staff. To get a more accurate idea of what I can do musically by actually playing instruments and singing, check out these pop songs I wrote and recorded [poorly], if you’re interested.) What is the first thing that people who are envious of you do when faced with your abilities, be they great or small (<<as mine undoubtedly are)? They tear you down, either subtly or blatantly.

But going back to my childhood maladaptive daydreaming, for which the family constantly tore me down, one of the main ways that they shamed me for it was by adopting a stupid-sounding, pejorative expression my sister J. coined to describe it: she called it “tooka-tooka.” (And J. wonders why I don’t believe her when she says the family loves me.) There’s nothing like making up childish names for your habits to continue a campaign to make you feel worthless.

Those ignoramuses that I grew up with had an up-to-fifteen-year opportunity to learn the correct, and non-insulting, name of what I was doing; but they, mindlessly parroting our mother, would rather continue to link my odd habit with ‘my autism’, and use it as a basis for humiliating me. They had no motivation to learn of a term that’s gone viral worldwide, a concept they could have found with relative ease had they bothered to look, and a term that would have truly helped me!

And they scratch their heads, wondering why I no longer want anything to do with them. They blame me entirely for my estrangement from them, and never blame themselves for causing even a significant part of the problem.

While it is true that many on the autism spectrum engage in maladaptive daydreaming, many non-autistics do, too (people with OCD, ADHD, PTSD, C-PTSDvictims of bullying and abuse [!], etc.); if the family wants to prove that I have AS, they’ll have to look elsewhere than maladaptive daydreaming for proof.

The rationalization behind shaming me about my dissociating was, of course, to discourage me from continuing with the habit. It shouldn’t have been too hard a concept to understand, though, that shaming an already sensitive, emotionally vulnerable 7-year-old child who’d been devastated after moving from Toronto to Hamilton in 1977, and leaving his best friend forever (read this, Part 1–Childhood, for the whole story) would only make him feel more socially isolated, thus making him engage in maladaptive daydreaming all the more.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, my father growled at my brother R. (at my older brother F., too, to an extent) for getting poor grades at school. His shaming of my brothers didn’t improve their academic performance one jot. Why would R., F., and J. have thought shaming me would have resulted in any success in stopping my dissociations?

To be fair to my siblings, they were young, and therefore not mature enough to understand how dysfunctional their methods were in deterring me from my odd habit. But my father and mother (apart from her apparent narcissism) didn’t lack maturity: why didn’t they explain to R., F., and J. that they were going about the whole thing the wrong way? Oh, wait, I forgot: Dad still thought shaming was the right way, for he was a slave to his own conservatism; and Mom, well…just read these to get the whole story.

What’s more, the shaming I got from R., F., and J. continued well into their young adulthood, so the immaturity excuse won’t carry them very far. And as I explained here (in Part 3–The Dawn of Realization), if they really believed I’m autistic, then making grumpy, impatient demands that I stop with my idiosyncrasies and ‘just act like normal people’, would make them a special kind of stupid.

My siblings aren’t stupid, though; nor were my parents. If there’s one positive I’ll acknowledge about all of them, it’s that they were and are, at least reasonably, intelligent. So neither stupidity nor enduring immaturity is enough to explain why they thought shaming me was the way to deter my excessive daydreaming.

Cruelty for its own sake, buried under a pile of dubious and hypocritical rationalizations about ‘wanting to help’ me, is a far better explanation for all their shaming. Emotional abusers’ whole agenda is about having power and control over their victims, as well as having a convenient human punching bag they can take all their frustrations out on.

This is why the family doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.

I mentioned in previous posts how I find it the safest of assumptions that my mother was bad-mouthing me to R., F., and J., my whole life, this being a far better explanation, as to why they bullied me, than that I was ‘so frustrating’ to live with. My wife gets irritated with my quirks and idiosyncrasies all the time, yet she feels no tremendous urge to yell and scream at me, or to use abusive, four-letter language on me.

Mom’s bad-mouthing of me wasn’t limited to her squirting poison in the ears of R., F., and J.: she was smearing me to anyone who’d listen, including the staff at our restaurant back in the 80s, when I was a teen. I know of this because she did the bad-mouthing in front of me, on at least a few occasions!

Once she used J.’s “tooka-tooka” word to make me and my maladaptive daydreaming seem foolish in front of a new cook, who laughed and said, “What’s that?

She said, “Oh, it’s his game,” with a dismissive air of contempt. She went on describing my bad habits like that, right in front of me and not caring at all how she was embarrassing me; for amusing the new cook, by making me–a kid, her son–look like an idiot, gave her a much-coveted ego trip. And ego trips were more typically important to her than her son’s feelings, I assure you, Dear Reader (her lack of empathy for me, or for anyone else, was most consistent).

On another occasion, not far from the time she’d embarrassed me in front of the new cook, she asked about my excessive daydreaming; if I remember correctly, this was also in front of the restaurant staff (asking me in our house, where Dad and my siblings knew as much as they needed to know…for their purposes…seems less likely). Mom, in an uppity, irritable tone, clearly shaming me and showing me no empathy, sneered and snapped, “What do you do (i.e, ‘when you do that’)? What are you doing (i.e., ‘when you tooka-tooka’)?”

Naturally, I had no answer to give her from such a shaming. Again, if she’d asked me nicely, encouraging me to open up and give a full explanation, she could have gotten some real insights about my creative imagination, and the family could have been motivated to get me to channel my creativity into productive outlets, examples of which I shared above.

Such encouragement, however, was never the family’s plan. As the identified patient, the family scapegoat, I was only to be shamed all the more for my maladaptive daydreaming. I was never meant to be ‘helped’, to get better. I was meant only to be controlled by Mom and the rest of the family.

Again, I must ask: my mother ‘loved’ me?