The Psychoanalysis of Narcissistic Parental Abuse

I: Introduction/Freud

The insights of psychoanalysis have a lot to offer in cultivating an understanding of narcissism. In fact, Freud himself began the modern research into narcissism with his paper, “On Narcissism” (1914), in which he distinguished between the infantile self-love of narcissism (ego-libido/primary narcissism), on the one hand, and object love (i.e., love of other people–object-libido), on the other. In his view, when the transition between primary and secondary narcissism (when object-libido is withdrawn for a return to ego-libido) is fraught with problems, narcissism becomes pathological in adulthood.

My main concern here is how psychoanalytic ideas can help us understand how and why narcissistic family abuse happens. We need to examine not only how and why the narcissistic parent causes the abuse, but also how the parent develops pathologically narcissistic traits. We also need to examine how the sons and daughters react to parental narcissism, either caving into/joining in on the abuse, or rebelling against/being victimized by it.

Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims? And who plays the combined role of victim and perpetrator?

The Oedipus complex, or the love/hate relationship the child has for his or her parents, can be exploited by a narcissistic parent; perhaps, for example, to manipulate the child’s love of the narcissist parent and hate of the other parent; that is, to make a scapegoat of the non-narcissistic parent. By Oedipally loving the narcissist parent, the child could be groomed into becoming a golden child.

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Sigmund Freud, who wrote about narcissism.

Narcissistic parents will instil a cruel, over-judgemental superego into their children, a harsh inner critic that maximizes conflict between the children’s natural desires (from the id), their need for safety (from the ego) from parental abuse, and a demanding ego ideal that makes the children feel unworthy if they fail to measure up to it.

II: Ego Defence Mechanisms/Anna Freud

Defence mechanisms are used by both the abusers and the abused. Wearing a False Self to present a parent of virtue to the world, the abuser will rationalize his or her abusiveness to create the illusion of having good reasons for it. Maintaining that False Self also requires the abuser to project his vices onto his kids.

Narcissists can take projection a step further in their manipulation of their sons and daughters, and use projective identification on them. Here, parents not only project onto their kids, but also manipulate them into manifesting, in their own behaviour, what is being projected onto them. The projections can be of good or bad character traits.

When the projections are of the negative aspects of the narcissistic parent’s personality, the child projected onto becomes a scapegoat, or an identified patient. When the projections are of the parent’s idealized version of him- or herself, the son or daughter becomes a golden child.

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Freud and his daughter, Anna, who elaborated greatly on the ego defence mechanisms.

Other common defence mechanisms used to maintain the narcissistic parent’s False Self include simple denial of the abuse (often in the form of gaslighting–projective identification is also a form of gaslighting). The parent may engage in reaction formation, a pretence of having a virtuous, opposite attitude to his real, ignoble attitude (e.g., claiming to love a son or daughter dearly, when really, the parent–apart from using the child to get narcissistic supply–would usually rather be rid of him or her).

Whatever is felt to be left of the narcissistic parent’s True Self, the inadequate self he or she loathes, it will be repressed so deeply into the unconscious that the narcissist ‘honestly’ doesn’t even know it’s there. Indeed, the narcissist often believes his or her lies, which isn’t to say that he or she is ‘mistaken’ in reporting the untruths (i.e., lying less), but rather that, in lying to himself as well as to the victims and flying monkeys, he’s lying more.

Many, if not all, of these ego defence mechanisms are used by the narcissistic parents’ flying monkeys and enablers, typically the golden child(ren), who will do anything not only to protect and preserve the undeservedly good reputation of the parents, but also to keep the scapegoat in his miserable place. For the only way this kind of dysfunctional family can survive is if its illusions are maintained and unchallenged. After all, the scapegoat is typically the empathic whistle-blower of the family.

The flying monkeys have other defence mechanisms not used by the narcissistic parent (unless one were to count the parental/environmental influences of the parent for his or her earlier life, of course). Anna Freud discovered a defence mechanism she called identification with the aggressor, (Anna Freud, pages 13-23). I find it easy to see a flying monkey sibling identifying with a narcissistic parental aggressor.

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Melanie Klein, early object relations theorist, wrote about projective identification.

“Here, the mechanism of identification or introjection is combined with a second important mechanism. By impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat.” (Anna Freud, page 17)

My older brothers and sister–having been subjected to not only the aggression of our narcissistic mother, but also to that of our bad-tempered, ultraconservative father–used that very same aggression on me, in the form of bombardments of verbal abuse, with the rationalization that they were trying to make me ‘straighten out and fly right.’ Actually, they were just bullying me, in imitation of our parents’ having bullied them when they were little. Growing up, I felt as if I were being raised by five abusive parents instead of just by two.

Victims of narcissistic parental abuse also have ego defence mechanisms: we must have them, for our battered egos are most in need of defence. We must deny, project, and rationalize all the faults our abusers impose on us, or else we’d go mad. We have other defence mechanisms, too–some good, some bad.

We may turn our pain and frustration into art, music, writing, etc. This rerouting of prohibited feelings into creative outlets is called sublimation. In much of the prose, poetry, and songwriting I’ve produced, the themes of bullying and emotional abuse are there, somewhere. I urge you, Dear Reader, to use your creativity in this way, to let out your pain. It is very therapeutic.

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W.R.D. Fairbairn, who replaced Freud’s id, ego, and superego with his own object-relations-based, endopsychic structure (see below)

There are more dysfunctional defence mechanisms we victims have used, though. These include fantasy, in the form of dissociating, or maladaptive daydreaming, to escape our painful reality. I did this a lot as a kid. Intellectualization involves shutting off our feelings to examine our pain as a scientist or philosopher would investigate something; but we can only heal by feeling our pain. By processing it, we can get rid of it.

Regression is another defence mechanism victims of emotional abuse may engage in to lessen anxiety. We sufferers of C-PTSD often develop a rather silly communication style, redolent of childish behaviour: this regressing to an earlier, more carefree, childlike state can temporarily soothe our anxieties, though it won’t solve our problems.

Then there’s turning against oneself, where–in the context of narcissistic abuse–one may blame oneself for all the abuse one suffers, instead of putting the blame on the abuser, where it belongs. This may sound like a masochistic way to defend the ego from anxiety, but consider the alternative: a child or teenager confronting the horrifying reality that his narcissistic family doesn’t love him. Better to believe they love him, and are hurting him to ‘help’ him, than to know they mean only harm to him, and he has no financial means to escape and take care of himself.

Later on in life, though, when he is old enough to have those financial means, he still turns against himself by habit, because confronting the truth about his family is far too painful. Small wonder it usually takes until one is in one’s forties or fifties before one is finally forced to see that truth.

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D.W. Winnicott, who first wrote of the False Self and True Self (though he didn’t apply the terms to narcissists).

III: Object Relations Theory/Klein/Fairbairn/Winnicott

This dysfunctional thinking is the result of bad internal objects (in the basic form of a severe superego–the inner critic) that have been introjected during early childhood. Melanie Klein paved the way for object relations theory, which explains how our early relationships with our primary caregivers (parents, older relatives and siblings, etc.) create a kind of mental blueprint for all our future relationships. If those early relationships create an atmosphere of kindness and love for us, we assume the rest of the world to be mostly kind. If those early influences are cruel, however…

These internal objects of our early caregivers reside in our heads like ghosts. WRD Fairbairn developed Klein’s object relations theory further; he even went as far as to replace S. Freud’s drive theory and personality structure (id/ego/superego) with a more relationally-based endopsychic structure, consisting of a Central Ego related to an Ideal Object, or anyone in the external world (this Central Ego roughly corresponds to Freud’s ego), a Libidinal Ego linked to an Exciting Object (rather like Freud’s id), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (originally, the Internal Saboteur, vaguely corresponding to the superego) and its Rejecting Object. The Libidinal/Anti-libidinal Ego/Object configurations are, to some extent at least, inevitable deviations from the Central Ego/Ideal Object configuration; for ideally, people should always have relationships with real people in the external world (hence, the ‘Ideal’ Object).

Instead, the more children are raised by non-empathic or even abusive parents, the more pronounced an influence will children’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configurations have on their personalities. This leads to the defence mechanism of splitting people into absolute good and bad, rather than seeing people as they really are, a mixture of good and bad. These two dysfunctional Ego/Object configurations form part of the children’s internal, fantasy world of objects (like imaginary friends or enemies), cut off from the real world outside.

The Libidinal Ego relates to the Exciting Object in the form of such idealized people as celebrities, rock stars, sports heroes, or people in porn (these objects could also be alcohol, drugs, video games, etc., since such is the result of a failure in developing proper object relationships). The Anti-libidinal Ego relates with hostility to the Rejecting Object, which is in the form of anyone hated or feared. Needless to say, this splitting in the mind of people into those either idealized or loathed is neither realistic nor healthy, but emotionally abusive parents can drive their children to such pathology.

What is needed is neither an idealized parent nor an abusive one, of course, but rather a good enough parent, as DW Winnicott proposed. A good enough, holding environment will help a child to grow up healthy and happy, with a fully-functioning, True Self.

IV: Heinz Kohut/Self Psychology

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Heinz Kohut, who made an in-depth study of the nature and origins of narcissistic personality disorders.

It was Heinz Kohut, though, who really made a thorough examination of the causes of narcissistic personality disorders, as well as gave an elucidation of the personality structure of a narcissist. His writing on the subject (in his two books, The Analysis of the Self and The Restoration of the Self) is rather dry, as well as tortuously verbose and long-winded (in a manner far removed from the dryness, verbosity, and long-windedness of my own writing, I assure you, Dear Reader!).

The essence of Kohut’s message, in any case, was that insufficient empathy in parenting generally leads to the child’s infantile grandiosity never being properly transformed into the more mature, restrained narcissism of healthy people.

Children need essentially two things from their parents: someone to idealize, a parental imago (internalized object) in their inner personality structure as a kind of role model; and mirroring–that is, a parent to reflect back onto the child his feelings and experience of the world. In other words, kids need their parents to be heroes and validators.

When they fail to get this idealization and mirroring, Kohut says their narcissism won’t mature properly; childhood grandiosity must be let down and disappointed in bearable amounts, what’s called optimal frustration, because as minimal levels of the frustration that’s unavoidable in life, these least amounts are the best that parents can do.

Non-empathic parenting, which frustrates children in overwhelming amounts, causes their personalities to split in two ways, according to Kohut: a horizontal split results from repressing the grandiosity, so a False Self is shown to the world, while the narcissistic True Self is hidden from the world and from the narcissist himself; also, a vertical split in the personality of the narcissist comes from disavowing the narcissism. I believe this disavowal is sometimes achieved by projecting the grandiosity onto other people.

V: The Probable Origins of My Mother’s Pathologies

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Bomb damage from the Blitzkrieg in London, during the early days of the WW2 bombing campaign. I wonder how close my mother, as a small child, was to this horror.

I believe this kind of two-way split is how my late mother kept a grip–however tenuous–on reality. Born in August, 1938, in London, she’d have been an infant during the Blitzkrieg. Even if she hadn’t been exposed directly to the Nazi bombings (that is, if she wasn’t in a bombed city or town at the time), she’d have been surrounded by stressed-out caregivers. Babies sense terror around them, even if they don’t know what’s happening.

This terror and strain, everywhere around her, would have been intolerably disorienting for such a tender child. Added to this, her father died several years after; he’d have been her idealized parent, and now he was gone. All she had left was a mother to mirror her feelings, to empathize with her.

She and her mother left England some time soon after World War II, to live in Canada: this, again, would have been seriously disruptive for her emotional development as a child of around seven to ten years of age. I speculate that her single, widowed mother was far too stressed taking care of her to do the needed mirroring.

So, let’s put all of these traumas together: an infancy surrounded by the terrors and stresses of the Second World War; the death of a beloved father, depriving her of her parental ideal; leaving her beloved England for a strange country she’d never identified with; and a mother who was–more than likely–too stressed and preoccupied with everyday troubles to give her a decent amount of empathic mirroring. With neither an idealizing parent nor a mirroring one (meaning she lacked both sides of the needed bipolar self, as Kohut called it), my mother would have had to resort to narcissism to keep from spiralling down into psychological fragmentation.

So her emotional abuse of not only me, but also my siblings and father–including all her gaslighting, triangulating, smear campaigns against my cousins and me, and her other manipulations–all these were her ‘normal,’ in terms of having relationships. War, fighting, emotional neglect, isolation, and abandonment were her childhood; they were also her parenting style, for good or ill.

Idealized and mirroring parents are essential if a child is to develop a healthy and cohesive Self, as Kohut argued. With neither of those, the disruptive moments that are inevitable in life will be too much for anyone to bear, especially a sensitive child. When those disruptive moments are as severe as those my late mother must have endured, the danger of a disintegration of the personality, its falling apart and lapsing into a psychotic break with reality, is so great that narcissistic pathology would seem a cure in comparison.

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Jacques Lacan, who wrote about the Imaginary, Symbolic, and the Real (see chart below for links to explanations).

Now, we can sympathize with the sufferings of a child almost torn apart by trauma, and we can recognize that a resorting to pathological narcissism is an understandable defence against fragmentation (as Otto Kernberg would say); but none of this gives narcissists any special right to manipulate their victims the way they do.

VI: My Own Personal Contributions, for What They’re Worth

Not everyone accepts the effectiveness of Kohut’s transference techniques of activating the idealized parental imago, of mirroring, twinship, and merging (fusion) transferences to bring about a cure, through transmuting internalization in the working-through process. But a cure for narcissism must be sought, and certainly Kohut’s insights can be used as a contribution to a cure.

Psychoanalysis alone won’t effect a cure to narcissism, of course. It does, however, offer a lot of helpful insights. For my part, as an admittedly untrained, rank amateur, I like to modify these ideas and add my own wherever I find it useful and fit to do so.

In these blog posts, I’ve offered my own suggestions, for survivors of narcissistic abuse, on how to heal. I’ve also devised my own personality structural theories. I link the different aspects of the personality to different positions on the body of the ouroboros, which I see as symbolizing the dialectical relationship of opposites. The structuring and comparisons can be seen in the chart below, for the sake of clarity and simplification:

Ouroboros’s Biting Head (towards one extreme) Length of Serpent’s Body (the median points of the circular continuum) Bitten Tail (towards the other extreme)
unrestrained id (pleasure principle) ego (reality principle) harsh superego (ego ideal)
Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object Central Ego/Ideal Object Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object
primary/secondary narcissism transmuting internalization/optimal frustration trauma/danger of fragmentation
Imaginary Order/mirror stage Symbolic Order Real Order
infantile omnipotence depressive position/reparation paranoid-schizoid position

‘too much’ health <<<<<<<<<<<toward better health>>>>>>>toward worse health

As the chart shows, greater mental health is associated with a realistic assessment of the external world, as the middle column shows; with neither a world of dissociations and the split, internal objects of phantasy (to the right), nor a self-absorbed world of unrestrained, indulged grandiosity (to the left).

We need to be with real people, not the nightmare people in our heads. To free ourselves of the bad objects (thesis), though, we’ll need to replace them with good internal objects (antithesis), for only then will we begin to trust the world (synthesis) by having that realistic assessment of other people, who are a combination of good and bad.

In previous posts (links above, in the paragraph before the chart), I discussed how to do this sublation of the good and bad objects (good and bad people we meet in life, our conceptualizations of them, and how we relate to those conceptualizations in our unconscious).

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The ouroboros. I use it as a symbol of the dialectical relationship between opposites: the bitten tail can be seen as the thesis; the biting head as the anti-thesis, or negation; and the length of the body can represent the synthesis, or sublation of contradictions to form a higher truth.

One extreme opposite can phase into another (biting head/bitten tail); hence, the ‘too healthy’ extreme of the excessive self-love of the narcissist is a defence against the extreme self-hate that comes from abusive or non-empathic parenting; without the narcissistic ego defence, that False Self and its attendant repression/disavowal/projection of the hated True Self, the narcissist could descend into fragmentation, a psychotic break with reality.

For these reasons, a path of moderation, symbolized by the length of the ouroboros’s body, is recommended for a healthy mental life, a life of neither excessive self-love (‘too much health’) or self-hate.

I believe the meditations I described in these posts can lead to a cohesive Self, rather like the Atman the Hindus wrote about (incidentally, Dear Reader, if you find that a discussion of mysticism seems out of place in a post on psychoanalysis, consider Wilfred Bion‘s concept of O–see also Avner Bergstein’s paper, “The Ineffable,” in Civitarese, pages 120-146). Then, my oceanic meditation, if you will, can help the abuse survivor feel reconnected to the humanity he or she has felt isolated from. This reconnection can build a sense of calm, peace of mind, and empathy for others, what could be compared to a link of Atman with Brahman, the infinite ocean nirvana of peace and love.

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The oceanic oneness of peace and connection with everyone.

On Freeing Our Identities From Labels

In our alienating world, we all tend too often to label each other, describing each other in absolute terms, or to accept such labels from others. In thus labelling others, we expect them to conform to the stereotyped behaviour associated with those labels. Also, in accepting such labelling from others, we often unconsciously adopt the stereotyped behaviour and attitudes of the labels we’ve received, thus making a self-fulfilling prophecy of this labelling.

Apart from how unhealthy all this describing of ourselves and others is, it’s also simply unrealistic. Part of the Buddhist concept of anatta (or anatman, “no self”) is the idea that we people are as changeable as everything else in the world. The personality of each and every person out there is not some block of rigid matter that stays essentially the same from birth to death; rather, it’s like the waves of the ocean, the crests and troughs tend to rise and fall to approximately the same highs and lows over a certain period of time in life, but eventually, those highs and lows will be different; in any case, the matter that is ourselves is in constant, dialectical, wavelike motion.

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Our personalities move like the waves.

We know the above to be true, but we forget this truth far more often than we remember it. Part of the reason we forget, I believe, is because those who drilled into our brains the ‘rigid block’ idea of the personality are people who want to control us by limiting our sense of self. I have written elsewhere of ways we can free ourselves of this dysfunctional kind of thinking.

Those up-and-down waves of water that are our personalities are interconnected with the adjacent waves of those personalities nearest to, and therefore most influential with, ourselves. Projection, introjection, identification, and projective identification are the winds that blow the waves, causing personality traits and habits to be traded around and moved from person to person. We become what other people are, and vice versa.

If other people have hurt you with negative labels, never believe for a second that you have to accept them. Even if you did conform to such a bad label at the time of your receiving it, remember that your conforming to it was only a temporary state of affairs, a momentary blowing of the wind to make the waves of your personality rise or sink to that undesirable place…then the wind blew your waves to a different place–perhaps a desirable opposite.

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Influences change us like the wind on the water of our personalities.

Emotionally abusive parents can force us into taking on a rigid label, or permanent role, such as the scapegoat or the golden child, if they’re not making their kids trade these roles back and forth over time. In the case of the former, unchanging version of the labelling, we can try all we want to free ourselves from the role assigned to us, but our abusers will insist on our staying put, and they’ll manipulate us, through projective identification, into acting in exact, unvarying accordance with that straitjacket of a role.

This happened to me whenever I tried to get out of the role of identified patient with regards to my (probably) narcissistic late mother. If I tried to show thoughtfulness, kindness, or generosity to anyone in the family, she would figure out a way to sabotage my good intentions and manipulate me into changing from a loving to a bitter son.

Similarly, if my golden child sister, J., stepped out of her prescribed role, she would feel the terror of Mom’s wrath so quickly and intensely that her head would spin.

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Poverty is a trap the rich won’t let the poor free themselves from.

In other areas, we can see society forcing us into permanent roles. Any time people in Third World countries try to pull themselves out of poverty, as has been demonstrated many times in, for example, Latin America, imperialism puts them right back in ‘their place,’ as has been seen in the coups against such countries as Guatemala and Chile.

Also, as the sexes try to free themselves from their traditional roles, in particular, as women try to achieve political equality with men, forces in capitalist society prevent these necessary changes from being fully realized. A variety of manipulative factors are used, including the reassertion of fundamentalist religion (e.g., Pence) and its promotion of the traditional patriarchal family; but also such things as requiring men to ‘man up,’ and even more liberal ideas like divisive identity politics.

We need to be freed from the chains of ‘identity,’ not attached them all the more rigidly! Human liberation in all its forms–racial, class, sexual, etc.–will be achieved through solidarity, not through dividing the people against each other via ‘identity.’

As for my own personal ‘identity,’ it mustn’t be assumed to be an unchanging state of affairs, either. I have grown and evolved politically, in sweeping ways over the past few years, causing many of the things I’ve said in past blog posts to be no longer accurately representative of my current beliefs. (I won’t, however, update those old posts, and for two reasons: 1) there are far, far too many changes to be made, and I’d rather not hassle with such a large amount of work; and 2) I find it interesting to look back to those old posts sometimes, and see how I’ve grown and changed over the years.)

beach dawn dusk ocean
The dawn of a new day means new waves for a new personality.

So, if you read something in one of my posts that you find objectionable, check the date that it was published. The older the post is, the further away it will probably be from my current belief system. If I discuss subject matter similar to that of an older post, but demonstrate a different attitude in the more recent post, use the newer post to get a more accurate idea of how I now think on that matter, not the older one.

For example, in my earlier posts, I took on a strictly anarcho-communist position, with a stridently anti-Lenin, anti-Stalin, and anti-Mao position. After more carefully researching the history of the USSR and China under Mao, though, I now realize how much my thinking was influenced by Western capitalist and CIAoriented propaganda, the same CIA and Western capitalism that has swayed so many of us into accepting all these needless imperialist wars of the past two to three decades, since the USSR’s dissolution.

Accordingly, I’ve grown less and less libertarian in my leftism, and more and more patient in my waiting for the realization of stateless communism. With that, I recognize and accept the need for a temporary proletarian state to help facilitate the transition from today’s neoliberal nightmare to the final goal: communist society–no class differences, a withered-away state, and a gift economy to replace money.

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The dawn of a new day of freedom we all hope, one day, to have.

That workers’ state, needed for as long as it will take to defend itself from imperialism until capitalism is no more, will also be needed to help in the transformation of society to rid it of racism, sexism, anti-LGBT bigotry, and all the other evils capitalist society uses to divide us all.

This transformation will include, for example, social programs to provide day care, freeing women from the burden of childcare so they can focus on careers and pursue their dreams. This will help eliminate the glass ceiling. Socialist states have provided such programs, and thus done a much better job of achieving equality of the sexes than capitalist societies ever have.

Better still, a society that produces commodities as use-values to provide for everyone, rather than produce exchange-values to generate profit, will do away with landlords and provide universal housing, thus eliminating the homeless, most of whom are men. This reorienting of society can have both sexes do an equal mixture of both traditional roles (breadwinning vs. homemaking), thus achieving sexual equality.

grayscale photography of man praying on sidewalk with food in front
Having a home is a right, not a privilege.

I never thought out these ideas so thoroughly in my otherwise prolix posts, so I hope this brief revision will suffice, at least for the moment. Just know that I have changed a lot in my political views, as I have from those earlier years, when my family had far too much influence in my life.

In sum, we must always remember that who we are changes and moves like the waves of the ocean. The winds of change ensure that we never are who we were, and we won’t be who we are. Those who would have us believe otherwise do so for themselves, not for the sake of the truth.

Mindfulness in Healing from Emotional Abuse

calm daylight evening grass
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In our healing journey, trying to recover from C-PTSD as a result of narcissistic, emotional abuse, we may make some progress, but then backslide into our old ways. That is, we at first are growing calmer, more at peace, and more patient in dealing with life’s irritations; then, pleased with our progress, we get complacent and lazy, skipping our planned meditations and other forms of self-care. Finally, those inevitable, difficult situations arise again, and we react in our former, emotionally dysregulated way…then the shaming inner critic comes back!

What can we do? We want to get back on track, we have to get back on track, but discouragement daunts us, and tempts us to give up.

We must remember that progress in healing is neither a steady ascent to a clearly visible mountain peak, nor is it a case of jumping out of a black square of complex trauma and into a white square of blissful mental health. We, of course, know this on an intellectual level, but emotionally speaking, this sobering truth is easy to forget.

Instead, we should regard our healing process as being more like the waves of the ocean: up, down, up, down, up…Instead of absolute black and white, we should see light reflected on the crests of the waves, and shadow on the troughs. Finally, the progress of our healing state is always in motion, like those waves; it isn’t a permanent, static state of either permanent neurosis or everlasting health.

Again, we know these truths in our brains, but our hearts forget, especially when we’re upset.

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We must remember the dialectical nature of all of reality, that all opposites, all contradictions, phase in and out of each other in a wave-like unity. Such yin and yang-like opposites include the dialectic of illness and health. We encounter the problem, the thesis of C-PTSD and all of its attendant symptoms; we visualize the negation of our trauma, which is the peace and happiness we crave; then we work out the sublation of the contradiction of illness and health, the long and winding road to wellness.

This sublation, however, isn’t the end of the story, for it becomes a new thesis to be negated and sublated, and that new sublation gets negated and sublated, again and again, in endless cycles. We’re talking about an ongoing process, not a one-way trek to a clearly defined, permanent destination of ideal emotional health.

I’ve used the ouroboros as a symbol for this dialectical, cyclical process. It can be applied to any pair of contradictions: political ones between the rich and poor, as well as philosophical issues between the self and other, and psychological issues of complex trauma vs. healing.

The serpent’s bitten tail is the thesis, our original proposition. The biting head is the negation of that thesis, and the length of the serpent’s body, representing a continuum coiled into a circle, is the sublation, a working-through, or resolving, of the contradiction of the thesis and negation, where the serpent’s head bites its tail.

One more thing should be noted before we move on to my proposed solution to the problem of backsliding. On the body of the ouroboros, where the bitten tail of trauma meets the biting head of health, there is a constant, if slow (to the point of being almost imperceptible), sliding in the clockwise direction from health to ill health. This is the backsliding we must be constantly aware of, which leads me to my discussion of the solution to our problem–mindfulness.

photo of golden gautama buddha
Photo by Suraphat Nuea-on on Pexels.com

I’m no Buddhist, but Right Mindfulness–part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path from Samsara to Nirvana, the cessation of suffering–is worthy of discussion here. In my discussion of meditations in previous posts, I’ve covered another part of the Eightfold Path, Right Concentration (or Meditation). Dr. Kristin Neff‘s writing on self-compassion incorporates elements of Buddhism that are useful for survivors of emotional abuse, including recognizing the universality of suffering, as well as mindfulness.

Recall in previous posts how I wrote up meditations/self-hypnoses on cultivating positive inner objects, an imagined new family, residing in your mind like friendly spirits, to replace the bad family you were originally stuck with. I also described meditations you can do on exorcizing the demon inner critic, and on how to focus on the present as your real life, putting away your painful past, and rejecting it as irrelevant to your NOW.

We must practice being mindful of these new, good imagos, and mindful of the rejection of bad imagos. We must get in the habit of constantly reminding ourselves of this needed replacement of the bad with the good. If we don’t, the bad internal objects will return.

Get into the habit, at any and every free moment you have during the day, of reviving those good feelings in your mind (i.e., the feelings you got from meditating on the good internal objects I mentioned above and in those meditations I described in previous posts [links above]).

With my imagined new family, I hear–in my mind’s ear–Father’s soothing words, “It’s OK, you’re going to be OK, don’t be afraid.” Also, I’ll replay in my mind a ‘video,’ if you will, of Mother looking at me with kind eyes and a loving smile, saying, “We’re right here with you. Don’t worry. We love you, and we’re going to help you.” These two weren’t my biological parents, of course, but I consider these two new parents to be more real than the original two could have ever been, because they are what all real parents should be.

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So, to sum up, in addition to your usual therapy–regular meditations and auto-hypnoses on replacing bad inner objects with good ones, replacing bad self-talk with kind self-talk, doing all your inner child work, your therapeutic writing and other forms of self-care–always be mindful of your goal, replacing the inner critic with an inner friend.

Find brief but effective ways to remind yourself of what your healthy thoughts need to be (“It’s OK, don’t be afraid, we [your new, inner parental system] are right here with you, right behind you all the way,” etc.). Exercise this mindfulness especially when you’re about to face a stressful situation (driving, dealing with difficult people at work, etc.).

Remember: don’t let yourself slide clockwise along the body of the ouroboros from the head of health back to the tail of trauma. That clockwise tendency is ever-present, and you must work against it by using mindfulness.

If you’ll indulge me in another metaphor: when a train is racing towards a cliff where the bridge to the other side is out, just sitting at your seat is madness; you must race in the opposite direction to the back and jump out.

Finally, don’t worry about finding ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ emotional health. What is ‘perfect,’ after all? Wherever you are on the body of the ouroboros, health and ill health are all relative, anyway. What matters is that you’re making significant progress towards better and better health, and maintaining that progress through mindfulness.

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Analysis of ‘Martin’

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Martin is a 1978 psychological horror film written and directed by George A. Romero. While Romero is best known for his Dead movies (of which the first, Night of the Living Dead, I wrote up an analysis), Martin was his avowed favourite.

Martin Mathias (John Amplas) is a vampire…or is he? He lacks the fangs, using razor blades to cut the wounds from which he drinks the blood. Sunlight bothers his eyes a little, and neither crucifixes nor garlic have any effect on him.

Still, he insists that he needs to drink blood; he also maintains that he’s eighty-four years old, though he looks like a teen, or at the oldest, a man in his mid-to-late twenties (i.e., Amplas’s age at the time of shooting the film). Finally, his “cousin”?/great-uncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), following the superstitions of the family, is as convinced that Martin is a vampire as he is.

So, is he a vampire, or a madman driven to such extreme thinking by an emotionally abusive family, itself driven to madness by religious superstition? I’m convinced of the latter…in fact, Romero himself, in the commentary on my DVD of the film, attested to the latter interpretation.

So the film should be seen as a sardonic, modern take on the vampire genre. Indeed, Romero films are known for their critical social commentary, and there’s plenty of such satirizing in this movie.

Here are some quotes:

“Things only seem to be magic. There is no real magic. There’s no real magic, ever.” –Martin

“Do you believe God’s whole world runs by the laws of the few sciences we have been able to discover? Oh, no, Christina, there is more. But people are satisfied. They know so much, they think they know all. And that makes it easy for Nosferatu. That makes it easy for all the devils.” –Cuda

“When I see people together, they don’t talk. Not really. They don’t say what they mean.” –Martin, to Radio Talk Show Host

“In real life, in real life you can’t get people to do what you want them to do.” –Martin, to Radio Talk Show Host

“I don’t suppose it’s sacrilege to say the wine at St Vincent’s is putrid.” –Father Howard

“I can’t have kids. I can never have kids. I have something wrong inside. I don’t know, what do you think? Is that good for me, bad for me? No opinion? That’s why you’re so nice to have around, Martin. You don’t have opinions.” –Mrs. Santini

“People always go away so they can forget where they were.” –Martin

Mrs. Santini: Boy, do I wish what you had was catching.

Martin: Some people think it is catching. In the movies it’s catching.

Radio Talk Show Host: Live for yourself! Whatever it takes to get through the night. Right, Count?

Martin: Are you making fun of me?

“You may come and go, but you will not take people from the city. If I hear of it, a single time, I will destroy you without salvation.” –Cuda

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I am drawn to this film for two reasons: first, my original name is Martin; second, I know the feeling of being driven to near-madness by a family of emotional abusers, so I can identify with Martin, in spite of the awful things he does, especially to his female victims.

As far as horror films go, Martin is a rather eccentric one. The whole story has more of a sad tone to it than a chilling one. There’s an overwhelming feeling of alienation and social isolation, as Martin lives in a dull, small town in the house of a dysfunctional family.

He has been subjected to gaslighting his whole life with this nonsense that he’s a vampire; and he has internalized the belief to the point that he has a craving for blood. Black-and-white sequences in the film are generally supposed to represent memories from his remote past, back when this ‘octogenarian’ was young, presumably back in the 1910s.

There are two problems with the idea that these sequences are real memories. First, there’s the first of them, at the beginning of the movie, when he’s about to attack his first victim, a pretty brunette on a train. The black-and-white part shows her, not a woman from a distant memory; and she welcomes him with open arms, as if he were a desired lover, instead of the “Freak, rapist asshole” he really is. It isn’t a memory; it’s wish-fulfillment, as is the case of a black-and-white sequence later on (i.e, just before the scene with the second rape victim, the woman cheating on her husband), in which another pretty girl calls out “Martin,” as if she wants him, rather than being terrified of him; again, this must be wish-fulfillment. These two sequences at least suggest that all of them are mere fantasies.

Second, there are technical issues affecting the believability of the other black-and-white sequences. For example, the ornate interior design of certain homes suggests a time at least close to the Victorian era, hence my conclusion that they’re meant to be memories of about sixty years before the time of the film; yet we tend to see 1970s hairstyles. Also, during an old exorcism scene, the priest’s Latin occasionally seems ungrammatical: “in nomine patris, et filii, spiritus et sancti“? I don’t consider these to be technical oversights on Romero’s part; the horror master deserves higher regard than that, even with the limited budget he had when shooting. I don’t think this would have been his favourite film if these ‘errors’ had been unintended. Instead, the errors are Martin’s, in the limits of his imagination.

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I’m convinced that these ‘memories’ are just a madman’s delusions, his dissociating.

As inexcusable as is Martin’s sedating of women and taking advantage of them while they’re unconscious, though, the real villain of this movie is Cuda. The old man’s scapegoating of the boy as one having “the family shame,” as one being the ‘identified patient,’ is emotional abuse of the worst kind.

Cuda, first seen in his white suit, a costume of fake innocence, represents the narcissist who, identifying with the holiness of the Church, fancies himself a good Catholic. His condemning, threatening attitude towards Martin is a projection of his own inner evil onto the boy, and through projective identification, Martin introjects and assumes that evil, then tries to rid himself of it by putting it into his female victims, then internalizing their goodness through feeding on their blood.

Cuda would rather call Martin “Nosferatu” than by his real name; he thus denies the reality of Martin’s human existence, and replaces it with one he’d rather project onto the boy. He says he’ll save Martin’s soul, but after that, he’ll still “destroy” the boy, saying so with a smirk; the sadist clearly enjoys threatening and tormenting Martin.

Consider the two men’s names to see how Romero subverts and inverts the vampire genre. Martin Mathias has the names of two Christian saints, while Tateh Cuda’s first and last names respectively seem like a near anagram of teeth and a pun on the last two syllables of Dracula. In fact, ‘Tateh Cuda,’ said quickly with the ts gently tapped with the tongue, almost sounds like a garbled version of Dracula, spoken with a thick European accent. By their very names, sinner and saint have swapped roles.

Martin’s meekness suggests the good, almost saintly man he could have been, had he not been so brutally psychologically abused by his family. Indeed, one may wonder if he has murdered his immediate family in Indianapolis, in a desperate attempt to stop them from tormenting him; is he on the lam to Pittsburgh, then to Braddock (and does Cuda know this)? Instead of being an innocent boy, though, he’s a rapist.

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Martin defies Cuda’s superstitious nonsense again and again, even making fun of it by dressing up in a Dracula costume (with fake teeth) one spooky night outside, when Cuda’s been walking about alone, looking for him. Martin (<<<!) Luther once said that, laughing at the Devil, one can defeat him through God. So when costumed Martin is laughing at trembling Cuda–the old man shaking his useless crucifix at the boy, hitting him with his cane, and calling him the Devil–we know who the real Devil is.

This projective and introjective identification that Martin and Cuda–and the superstitious members of their family, by extension–undergo, this swapping of the roles of sinner and saint, is the essence of the tragedy that is this story, the tragic effects of the abuse of religion in the service of narcissists like Cuda. Cuda demonizes Martin because this is the only way the old fool can feel like a righteous man.

Even more tragically, Martin must pass the abusiveness he’s been subjected to onto others, the projective and introjective trading of identities, for this is the only exorcism that seems effective for him. He is too shy to do “the sexy stuff” with conscious women, so he injects a sedative into them (using phallic syringes) to project his shy passivity into them. Then, after having his way with them (e.g., the woman on the train), he feeds on their blood so he can internalize their goodness.

The turning point of the movie is when he meets Mrs. Santini: another near anagram…of Satanic? She is, indeed, a temptress, though in Romero’s subverted sense of being bad in a good way. Up until his meeting of her, he is a total loner; he doesn’t want to socialize with neighbours, and he takes a while to warm up to Christina, who despises Cuda’s religious fanaticism and wants to help the boy.

Santini’s sexual advances, however, really open him up…after a brief, shy resistance to her. He actually makes love with her while she’s awake. He even goes, for a while, without blood, for we see what he has really needed: human connection, for which the blood has been a symbolic substitute. In what we can only assume to be an unhappy marriage, she–by committing adultery with him–needs that human connection, too.

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Her initiation of the sexual relationship–a needed sex role reversal, for this movie is all about role reversals: sinner and saint, good and evil, aggressive and passive, projection and introjection–shows shy Martin that he needn’t dominate women to be close with them. Santini has the potential to cure him of his ‘vampirism.’

Old habits die hard, though, and his thirst for blood is growing, so he attacks and feeds on some derelicts, then barely eludes the police; as we can see, his relationship with Santini isn’t enough to cure his or her alienation.

Indeed, alienation is everywhere in this lonely town, which “is finished.” Christina and her boyfriend, Arthur (Tom Savini, who also did the bloody effects), bicker on the telephone. Martin discusses his ‘vampirism’ with a local radio talk show host who, while grateful to Martin for getting a bunch of enthusiastic new listeners, makes fun of “The Count”; indeed, the only way Martin can be popular is if he’s also laughed at. One of Cuda’s customers, a grouchy old woman, growls at Martin, calling him “a lazy boy.”

Santini isn’t the only adulteress in the movie: the second woman we see Martin drug and rape is one whose affair he interrupts–the most tense scene in the whole movie, in my opinion. As he’s eyeing her outside a shopping area and planning how he’ll get her, a group of young men are catcalling her…though he is a sexual predator far more dangerous than they could ever be.

Cuda alienates almost everyone. Christina finds him so intolerable, she leaves home with Arthur. Cuda’s religious extremism even makes the local priest, Father Howard (played by Romero himself), feel awkward, for the old man finds him too ‘modern’ in his thinking to be a real Catholic.

Santini, a church-going Catholic, weeps after her sex with Martin. When she assures him she won’t get pregnant, she says something’s wrong with her, inside: she seems to mean more than just sterility. She adores his sweetness, wishing she could have some of it. Guilt over adultery is, presumably, her motive for suicide…by slashing her arms with a razor blade!

Cuda seems to know razors are Martin’s weapon of choice for feeding on victims, so he refuses to believe her death was a suicide. He hammers a phallic wooden stake into Martin’s chest. The ‘good Catholic’ is a murderer, having killed the boy for the one time he actually didn’t use his razors on someone. Tragic irony.

Just as Martin’s victims are unconscious when he rapes and feeds on them, so is he asleep when Cuda stands over him with the stake, a symbol–as are Martin’s razor blades, syringes and raping phallus–of Bion‘s ‘contained‘ element, which is projected into the ‘container‘ element (symbolized by the yoni, the holes that the blades and needles are stuck into, and Martin’s bloody chest wound). Cuda projects his evil into Martin, right up to his death, rationalizing the murder by imagining he’s preventing more murders, and punishing Martin for a killing he didn’t even commit. More tragic irony.

Martin tries to escape from Indianapolis, in a hope of forgetting where he’s been; but he can’t escape the emotional abuse of his family in the form of its real evil–Cuda. He, indeed, is destroyed without salvation.

As with other horror movies/books I’ve done analyses of, in this one there’s the conspicuous absence of God, or goodness. While Martin also, as I’ve argued, lacks devils, for there is no real magic, it doesn’t lack evil. As Father Howard noted, the wine in his church is putrid.

Courage in the Face of Psychological Abuse

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One of the many ways the family kept me in control was to denigrate me as weak and cowardly. This, of course, is a common bullying tactic, to keep the victim from fighting back by making him or her believe that sticking up for him- or herself is a useless gesture.

What must be understood about bullies and emotional abusers, though, is that they are, in fact, the real cowards. I was put in a situation with a power imbalance in which my probably narcissistic mother used her golden children–my older brothers R. and F., and her #1 golden child, my older sister J.–as sticks with which to hit me. As the family scapegoat, or identified patient, I rarely, if ever, got sympathy from my parents against those three.

People get their strength and encouragement from other people’s support. That’s how they get the confidence they need to face the challenges of life. R., F., and J. got ample support from our mother, in exchange for having given her narcissistic supply; J. got by far the most support for having sucked up to Mom the most, since R. and F. did less ass-kissing…but those two still got much more, overall, than I got.

Mom was nice to me only in so far as I gave her that coveted supply, which I–tending much more towards bluntness and honesty–gave in limited amounts; but even the amount I gave was in larger proportion to the kindness I got back from her. I was to remain the scapegoat no matter how good I tried to be: recall her rejection (<<< Part VII) of my wish to make a visit to see J. and her terminally ill husband.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, Mom enjoyed stirring up division in the family: between my siblings and me; between our immediate family and our cousins, denigrating my youngest cousin G. in a manner eerily similar to the family image that had been cultivated for me. Almost ten years ago, I’d come to the painful realization that those four people I had a ‘relationship’ with (our father, the closest I’d had to a real friend in the family, was already dead) weren’t really a family, but instead were a clique, an exclusive social club…and my membership in that club was shaky, at best.

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It’s easy to pick on a little kid, as my siblings did to me when they were teens, and later young adults, and when I, younger than R., F., and J. by eight, six, and five years respectively, was a little kid, and then a teen. It’s even easier to pick on such a person when your mother not only allows the bullying–fully aware that it’s happening–but also rationalizes it, and even encourages it, by smearing the victim behind his back.

What’s particularly slimy about all of this is that family is not supposed to treat you that way. Being angry with a family member for his frustrating faults is one thing; verbally abusing him for those exaggerated faults–as well as hurling insults at him, just for the sheer fun of hurting him–is totally different.

What must be emphasized is that the abusive golden children–under the undue influence of their ringleader, the narcissistic parent–aren’t bullying the scapegoat because of what’s wrong with the victim (however much they try to rationalize it that way), but because of what’s wrong with the victimizers themselves, who are projecting their personality problems onto the victim instead of dealing with what’s wrong inside themselves…a truly cowardly thing to do.

Take my brother R., for example. I’ve written before about the time, when I was a teen and he was about 22 or 23, he and I had a fight. He ranted on and on about how mad he was at our father for favouring J. and me, because we got higher marks at school than he did. He childishly imagined Dad loving us more than him for our academic performance, too. (Read in the passage–link at the top of this paragraph–about my speculation that our mother could have planted that absurd, invidious idea in his head back when he was a kid.)

What should be noted is that R.’s beef was with Dad, not with me. That cowardly brother of mine took his rage out on his kid brother instead of taking it up with our father (and, as I see it, our mother, too–i.e., my speculation from the preceding paragraph). F. and J. also had beefs of their own with our parents, but found it easier to take it all out on me, a kid at the time who was already suffering from bullies at school, than face our parents with their pain. Cowards, both of them.

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And look at our mother’s cowardice. I’ve speculated that her disturbed personality was formed when she was a little girl in England during World War II. Added to that, her father died (major trauma!), and her life–her whole world–was disrupted by a move to Canada sometime in the mid-to-late 1940s, when she would have been around seven to ten years old. We can sympathize with her pain from what had happened, but that didn’t give her any special right to do what she did to me (scroll down to where I list her eight outrages against me–<<<Part VII: Conclusion). Her actions were a cowardly evasion from dealing with those childhood traumas.

My father always doubted her nonsensical–and as I’d eventually learn, mendacious–attributing of autism to me (something I found effectively discredited [<<<part 1] after two psychotherapists told me, back in the mid-90s, that they saw no autistic symptoms in me at all, then when I scored a mere 13 on the Autism Quotient test [^^^part 3]) years later; still, Dad never made an effective resistance to Mom’s nonsense. Well, he’d always been henpecked.

R., F., and J. never contradicted our mother in any significant way. Oh, how J. used to fawn over her! I, in direct contrast, did speak my mind to her on several occasions over the years…gee, could that have been why I was scapegoated?

Telling her what I thought of her (often in the form of lengthy emails), though I was scared when I did it, took more guts than R., F., and J. had combined. For I knew, instinctively, how evil our mother could be, especially just before she died: I knew she’d smear-campaign against me those last few months (parts 4 and 5 here), but I stood my ground. I went NO CONTACT with the family, and even gave up my portion of the inheritance from Mom, knowing full well that I was now on my own–even if I do say so myself, that’s real courage.

I have increasingly come to know that I am none of the things the family used to stain my name with. I feel more and more justified in attributing the dialectical negation of every vice they attributed to me…and that includes their slander of cowardice against me. I have the right to regard myself as the opposite of all their vicious epithets against me.

 

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All those vices they threw on my head were really just projections of their own faults. I now feel free to reject them all as being no part of who I really am.

You, Dear Reader, can do the same with every bad name your abusers have sullied you with. They don’t deserve to be dignified with your allowing them to label you with faults that are far more likely theirs.

If you need help healing from your abusers’ wounding words and manipulations, maybe these posts of mine, which include meditations/auto-hypnoses you can use, can help. In any case, given how much you’ve already endured in your struggles against your tormentors…and you’re still here!…you evidently have plenty of courage in the face of psychological abuse.

Nothing Either Good or Bad

 

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We sufferers of C-PTSD often find ourselves overwhelmed with bad thoughts, thanks to our inner critic. It seems as though negativity is a permanent, static state to be in.

As hard as it is to believe for sufferers of complex trauma, though, neither good nor bad states exist permanently; good and bad flow back and forth between each other like the waves of the ocean. This is part of the reason I use ‘infinite ocean‘ as a metaphor for universal reality. The good moments are the crests, and the bad moments are the troughs; we must be patient in waiting for the troughs to rise into crests.

Recall Hamlet‘s line to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Only our thoughts cause this flow (of one opposite to the other) to ossify into rigid absolutes. Freed of that rigidity, we experience the flow of good to bad, to good to bad, to good, as a Unity of Action.

This Unity of Action is the unity of opposites, an idea found in philosophical traditions around the world, throughout history. It was part of Heraclitus‘s thought: “the path up and down are one and the same”; he also understood how these opposites flow into each other in a state of endless change, for “everything flows”, and “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. Dialectical monism is central to Taoist philosophy, particularly in the concept of yin and yang. Unity in duality is seen in the idealist Hegelian dialectic, which Marx turned into a materialist version, and Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in turn all expanded on Marx.

My point in bringing up these various testimonies to the validity of a universal dialectic, many from independent sources, is to show that talk of a Unity of Action is not just some New Age sentimentality. When a great thinker such as Hegel affirms the truth of dialectical monism, we know it’s not something to be airily dismissed.

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I like to use the ouroboros as a symbol of the dialectical relationships between opposites such as happiness and sadness. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, all opposites can be seen at the extreme ends of a continuum, rather than in rigid terms of black and white. This continuum can be coiled into a circle, with one extreme phasing into its opposite. The biting head and bitten tail of the ouroboros can represent those meeting extremes.

I’ve demonstrated how the ouroboros, representing the Unity of Action, is manifested in class struggle, in the development of capitalism, in the relationship between oneself and other people, and in the relationship between mental health and various forms of mental illness, in the form of a general theory of the personality.

Now, I’d like to show how we can use dialectical thinking to turn negative emotions and experiences into positive ones. When we’re seriously upset about some problem, it’s often hard to imagine a solution, especially if we’re emotionally dysregulating and making a catastrophe of the problem in our minds. Good and bad are imagined in terms of black and white, with an insuperable barrier between the problem and a solution.

However, when we see the problem and possible solution dialectically, in the form of the ouroboros, we can now imagine a path from the bitten tail of the problem, passing along the length of the serpent’s body towards greater and greater hope, all the way to the biting head of a solution.

Since, as I described elsewhere, one can compare the three parts of Hegel’s dialectic (which I, admittedly, am simplifying here, for the sake of brevity) to the tail (the “thesis,” or abstract), the head (the “antithesis,” or negation, a logical challenge to the original abstract idea), and the length of the serpent’s body (the “synthesis,” the concrete, or sublation, a resolving of the contradictions between the head and tail to form a higher truth…a new abstract tail to be negated and sublated again and again in endless cycles), we can see how dialectical thinking can help us turn negative thinking into positive.

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When we have a problem, negative thought, or any reason to be depressed or anxious, we start with the “thesis,” or abstract. Next, we imagine the negation, which is the solution to our problem, or the happy state of mind we wish we were in. Since there is a unity of opposites, we know we have no reason to believe a solution to our problem is unreachable.

We must now work out the contradiction between the difficulty and the solution we wish we could find; this is the sublation we need to work out, that path along the circular serpent’s body towards the solution. How can we do this? We can start by asking what we could learn from the problem. We can always learn from past mistakes, or learn to avoid repeating past misfortunes. Second, we can acknowledge what we have to be grateful for; we can count our blessings, all those things and people (i.e., friends) we take for granted, but shouldn’t, at this moment of crisis.

I’ll now give an example of how to negate negativity, as I did with regards to my family. As I explained here, I started with my parents’ vices–my father’s bad temper, bigotry, parsimony, and closed-mindedness, as well as my mother’s lack of empathy, narcissism, and habitual gaslighting, triangulating, and smear campaigning–and I used them as the “thesis.” Since writing The Inner Critic blog post, I’ve added my siblings’ vices–their bullying and verbal abuse, as well as my sister J.‘s constant attempts to reform me into the brother she wants me to be–to the collective family “thesis,” or abstract.

Now, for the “antithesis,” or negation: in The Inner Critic, I wrote of meditating on and visualizing, in hypnotic trance, kind, loving parents who pick you up and cuddle with you. In the case of my parents, I imagine the dialectical opposites of those vices I mentioned above: I visualize a new father who is easy-going, tolerant, giving, and open-minded; I imagine a new mother who values lifting up her children’s self-esteem, as well as promoting family harmony; added to these, I meditate on a supportive, protective older brother (something my brothers, R. and F., never were), and a sister who wouldn’t change one character trait of mine, but rather considering my eccentricities as part of my charm. Instead of the old family sneering at me, I imagine the new family cheering for me. This alone, done with the right intensity and focus, makes me feel much better.

As for a “synthesis,” the concrete, or the Aufhebung, my repeated and intensive auto-hypnotic meditations on the negation should, over time, counterbalance all the negativity I suffered from my family over four decades of dealing with them. I note how the idealized family of my self-hypnosis represents who my old family should have been; also, my memories of the old family are no less ghosts in my mind, old bad object relations, than are the newly internalized objects of my idealized new family, who are there to heal me and eliminate my inner critic. Combine this visualization with my “Christopher Sly” meditation–a tossing aside of my past ghosts as having no more right to be considered reality than are the new family of my meditations–and I should balance out the negative past with my positive present, and thus have a median, realistic self-assessment.

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Remember how suggestible the mind is during hypnosis, which is just a meditation in a relaxed, yet focused mental state. Note also that the mind doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination: that’s how we can get emotionally involved in a movie, which of course is pure fiction and illusion. So we can use this suggestibility to our advantage in curing ourselves of our C-PTSD.

As I’ve said before, we sufferers of narcissistic and emotional abuse tend to imagine a fragmented world where the shattered pieces can’t be put back together. To solve this problem, I see it as imperative that we all cultivate an outlook of seeing the underlying unity in all things. This means seeing a unity between oneself and others to end C-PTSD isolation and alienation, The Unity of Space.

It also means putting the past behind us, worrying less about the future, and focusing on NOW, The Unity of Time. Finally, we also need to stop seeing an insurmountable wall existing between our sorrows and the happiness we crave, but see instead how all opposites are dialectically unified, as symbolized by yin/yang and the ouroboros, The Unity of Action.

Such unifying replaces despair with hope, alienation with belonging, and anxiety and depression with joy in the present moment–a lasting cure for complex trauma.

Putting the Painful Past Behind Us

To stop myself from ruminating on my painful childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood–a bad habit I picked up, thanks to the emotional abusers I had to endure during those years–I recently found inspiration in Shakespeare. Yes, the immortal Bard wrote a not-so-well-known scene in one of his otherwise most popular comedies, a scene whose meaning I interpreted in a way that I now see (in the form of a meditation/self-hypnosis) as something that may help us forget the past, and focus on the present. Allow me to explain.

In my Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew, I argued that the Induction is the main story, not the Katherina (‘Kate’) and Petruchio story, which is just a play within a play, a further remove from the audience’s sense of reality than the Induction itself is (a full synopsis of the play can be read here, if you don’t have access to it or the time to read it).

In the Induction (<<<YouTube video of Scene i), a boorish, drunken tinker named Christopher Sly is tricked (<<<video of Scene ii) into thinking he’s a lord, after waking up from a fifteen-year coma (as his pranksters tell him), during which his memory of his whole life as a tinker has been only a dream. Lying in a luxurious bed, wearing the bedclothes of a rich man, and surrounded by people pretending to be his loving friends, servants, and wife (a boy dressed in women’s clothes), Sly is incredulous at first, but soon acquiesces to the whole thing, and then watches a farcical play of the Kate and Petruchio story.

As far as pranks go, this is a rather odd one. Why go to such lengths to flatter a drunken slob? Far from making Sly look foolish, the trick dignifies and ennobles him instead. What’s more, we never even see the prank brought to its conclusion. Sly nods off to sleep during the performance of the play (Act I, Scene i, lines 242-247), which is briefly halted to wake him up, then carries on till the end of the story; no more mention of Sly is ever made. We never see the pranksters reveal themselves as such, laughing at the fool for falling for the gag. It’s as if we, the audience, are also tricked into thinking the Kate and Petruchio story, rather than that of Sly, is the real one.

What comes later (Sly as a lord; the Kate and Petruchio story) comes off as real, and what came first (Sly’s life as a tinker; the Induction, often excluded from productions of the play, or movie and TV adaptations) is forgotten about and deemed irrelevant.

To relate the Induction to our lives, we can see Christopher Sly as representing us. We were originally treated with contempt as he was, and that contempt may have caused us to have a surly manner; after all, when we believe we’re unworthy, we often behave as unworthy people…not because we really are, but because we’ve been manipulated by our abusers to think of ourselves as unworthy. We must go from believing ourselves as base to thinking of ourselves as someone much better. Thus, we must trick ourselves.

As formerly emotionally abused children (or ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses), we C-PTSD sufferers must trick ourselves into deeming as irrelevant the pain that came earlier in our lives, just as Sly is tricked into thinking his earlier life, as a contemptible slob, is just a dream (and as the audience watching Shakespeare’s play is tricked into thinking the play-within-a-play, rather than the Induction, is the real story).

We must imagine ourselves as having woken up from a nightmare (I’m assuming you, Dear Reader, have distanced yourself from your abusive family or ex, and gone NO CONTACT; if you haven’t, I urge you to do so; if you can’t do it yet, make it your ambition), and see our new life, our present life, as one of glorious new possibilities.

We must remember that our NOW is the only reality we have. Our memories are just ghosts haunting our minds, old object relations we need to eject from our consciousness (see these links for meditations on how to replace old, bad internal objects with new, good ones). The past is no longer real for us, except in our ruminations. We need to stop that obsessive over-thinking…but how?

I’ve already described in other posts how we can, in auto-hypnotic trance (a restful, focused state in which one is more suggestible), imagine our oneness with everything around us by getting our bodies so relaxed that we can feel ourselves vibrating all over. Those vibrations, in and around us, can be compared to a feeling like the waves of the ocean. In our meditative state, we imagine our bodies, our cohesive, non-fragmented Self–our Atman, if you will–as part of an infinite ocean, our surroundings, the whole universe–Brahman, as it were. This meditative state, our unity with everything, can cure us of our sense of isolation, provided we practice it, in sessions of substantial duration, every day over a lengthy period of time.

Added to this contemplation of The Unity of Space, as I call it, we can also contemplate what I call The Unity of Time, the eternal NOW. As we focus on those ‘waves’ passing through our vibrating bodies, which are part of the water of the infinite ocean of Brahman, we also focus on the present moment, doing our best never to let our minds wander and daydream of other things (if we let ourselves get distracted, we should gently but firmly bring our minds back to the present moment). This discipline will gradually take our minds off the past, to focus more on NOW. We must always keep our minds on those moving waves, for every second.

Another meditation we can do to say goodbye to the past is to lie in bed with our eyes closed, and after getting ourselves perfectly relaxed in the manner I described in previous posts (breathing in and out, deeply and slowly, focusing on all the parts of our bodies, from our toes up to our heads, until they’re vibrating with calm, counting down from ten, with our bodies getting more and more relaxed with each passing number), imagine waking up as Sly does, with loving family (the new, good one we’ve imagined, of course, not the original, abusive one) and friends all around our bed, teary-eyed with joy that we’ve revived from a ‘coma’.

adult affection bed closeness
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We do not recognize these people, and are shocked to hear them say they are our family. They speak lovingly and respectfully to us, yet to be honoured in such a way feels alien to us, and we protest how odd they are behaving. Still, they insist that we are worthy of such love, and that we should cease this idle notion that we would “be infused with so foul a spirit” [Induction, Scene ii, line 15] as to deserve to be treated as we had been by our past abusers.

We feel dazed still, unable to believe what we’re hearing. We wonder, “do I dream? Or have I dream’d till now? / I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak; / I smell sweet savours, and I feel soft things.” [Induction, Scene ii, lines 67-69] We come to believe that we aren’t the person we thought we were before. We’re someone new, and we have a whole new life ahead of us!

With a bright smile on our face, we accept that this present moment is, indeed, our true life, and the painful past we’d experienced before was just a bad dream, something we can now brush aside and forget. We are the lord of our new, liberated life!

Now, the people in this meditation are not pulling a prank on us: they genuinely love and care for us. Though this is a meditation, we’ll do a dialectical flip, and imagine the present visualization to be reality, and our past to have been the illusion. Yes, we’ll be playing a benevolent prank on ourselves, tricking our minds into conceiving this present moment as our true reality.

And why not? The past is just ghosts and visions; NOW is the material reality before our eyes and all around us. By sustaining this meditative state for ourselves, as truly sly Christophers (or sly Christinas, if you’re female), for as long as we can, and doing this self-hypnosis regularly, every day (just after waking up, ideally, to get the best, most realistic effect), we can, over time, truly put the painful past behind us.

Imagine those loving faces around your bed, those people telling you that your painful past was all just a long, bad dream. You’ve just woken from a long coma of many years, and NOW is your real life, surrounded by people who love you. Flood your whole body with feelings of love, acceptance, and validation, what you’ve been cruelly denied for far too long. Don’t worry about visualizing accurate physical details; focus on the good feelings.

Since there’s a dialectical unity of opposites, we can feel free to turn our bad situation into its good opposite, a negation of the thesis that was once our awful lives, and work through the contradictions of our bad past and our good present, then sublate them into the synthesis that will be the basis of our new lives.

I’m not talking about deluding yourself: I’m advocating a disciplining of your mind to focus on now and forget about your past. When you’re no longer ‘tinkering’ with your painful memories, you’ll be lord (or lady) over your present life, you’ll be truly sly (that is, in your cunning but benevolent self-deceit), and the raging shrew inside you will be tamed. No, Christopher (or Christina), you aren’t a loser: you’re the master of your life.

An Attempt at Ending C-PTSD Isolation

I am attempting here to help find a cure for the feeling of self-blame and alienation we get from society because of childhood traumas, including those that cause C-PTSD. My hope is that when we see our unity with healthy people–that is, our shared experiences of suffering and struggle with those of the healthy (they may experience such problems on a far lesser scale, but they experience them all the same)–we’ll feel less isolated, less ashamed of ourselves for our struggles, and more accepted. This can help our healing.

My attempt at finding this cure will involve the creation of a new theory of personality. When we see our own position in the context of this personality theory, and see our position thus in relation to the positions of everyone else, my hope is that we will not feel there’s such an insuperable barrier between us and all the ‘normal’ people out there. People suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD often feel hopelessly different from other people; I’m hoping in this post to contribute to a feeling of not seeming so separate.

In previous posts, I’ve shown how the relative health and ill health of human psychology can be compared to all the different points along the body of the ouroboros, a unifying symbol I use to represent a circular continuum, with the polar extremes meeting where the coiled serpent’s head is seen biting its tail up in the top centre, and the length of its body representing all the intermediate points of the continuum.

Let’s imagine a large plus sign drawn over the ouroboros of the personality, with the vertical line crossing where the head bites the tail at the top (at 12:00), and crossing the middle of its body at the bottom (at 6:00); and with the horizontal line crossing the serpent’s body (at 3:00 and 9:00) where the first and last quarters of its body are above (towards the head and tail, respectively), and where the second and third quarters are below (towards the middle of its body, bisected by the vertical line).

Going clockwise from the head, we’d see the first quarter representing the highest levels of mental health (though at the neck and back of the head, one is a little ‘too healthy’, for in this area of stratospheric self-esteem, the potential of narcissism lies). The second quarter represents moderate mental health, the third moderately ill health, and the fourth severe ill mental health and neurosis, especially where we reach the bitten tail, where fragmentation, disintegration, and psychosis begin.

(In two posts where I discussed how the ouroboros can symbolize political and economic ideologies, I characterized the third quarter as the left-libertarian ideal, the fourth–approaching the bitten tail–as a temporarily necessary authoritarian communism, the second quarter as the neoliberal/libertarian right, and the first as the authoritarian right, approaching the fascist biting head. In other words, political health moves in the opposite direction of individual mental health; for resorting to fascism is the misguided attempt of mentally ill people to cure themselves through destructive politics, moving–so to speak–from 11:00 to 1:00 on the clock of the ouroboros. We can’t cure our ills by projecting them onto hated racial or ethnic minorities; we must cure them by facing what’s wrong inside ourselves, as Weiss‘s Sade advised us.)

As I said above, up at the head/neck of the ouroboros (at 1:00) is where those people who are ‘a little too healthy’ reside. Here are those who, for example, were spoiled as children, and not punished enough; those whose infantile grandiosity wasn’t let down in bearable, phase-appropriate ways. At the mild end of the narcissistic spectrum, these ones tend to have a sense of entitlement, so when bad things happen to them, they tend to fly into rages. If they’re not problematic in that way, they’re more like Ferris Bueller, totally believing in themselves, yet also sometimes taking advantage of overly-doting parents, and in danger of going too far.

Just behind the neck in the first quarter are those in a more or less ideal state of mental health (at 2:00-3:00). Calm, confident, and easy-going, these types can deal with life’s problems with patience and level-headedness.

Downhill from there, moving clockwise along the length of the ouroboros’s body to the middle, we cross the second quarter (from 3:00-6:00); here’s where people are moderately healthy, with some emotional issues of a significant sort (like Ferris Bueller’s mopey sister), but their issues are generally manageable without therapy; this is because, while their parents were flawed in notable ways, they were also nonetheless good enough parents. The same assessment goes for the environment (the neighbourhood, school, etc.) that these moderately healthy people grew up in.

Everyone experiences every point of health or ill health on the body of the ouroboros, at one point or another of his or her life; where one’s general mental health lies depends on where one finds oneself predominantly lingering on the circular continuum.

In the third quarter, we find people of moderately ill mental health: here, as well as in the second quarter, we seem to find most of the world’s population, though I suspect that more and more people have been inhabiting this third quarter over the past thirty years, given the rise of neoliberal politics and their attendant alienation. Here, parents and the general environment are bad to grow up with, but it isn’t bad on the pathological, malignant level we find in the fourth quarter, approaching the bitten tail of the serpent.

The fourth quarter is the realm of trauma, where sufferers of a variety of psychological disturbances reside. These include sufferers of PTSD, C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression, from mild to severe forms of them (depending on how awful the father of Cameron, Ferris’s uptight friend, is, Cameron’s either in this quarter or in the third). I suspect sufferers of BPD are also around here (11:00–12:00), though I also suspect that people with Cluster B personality disorders are more at the biting head than at the bitten tail.

Remember that I’m doing a lot of simplifying here, and my generalizations shouldn’t make you ignore the wide variety in all the different disorders and reactions to trauma. I just want to place everyone on a continuum to suggest the relationships between all the differing groups, so we not only see where we belong among everyone else, but also so we see that we belong; there’s no wall separating the traumatized from the rest of the world. We needn’t feel as lonely as we all too often do.

Also, I’m concerned with mental health issues resulting from trauma and environmental factors, not with biological and hereditary factors, such as those causing autism, schizophrenia, etc., which are far too complex for me to put on my simple continuum.

Finally, remember that I’m no authority on psychology or psychiatry. I just dabble in psychoanalysis and write my amateur opinions here, which you should take with a generous grain of salt.

The bitten tail is where psychological fragmentation occurs, the fear of disintegration, and the need to dissociate to protect oneself. Repeated exposure to stress in early life results in disturbances in, or sensitization of, the HPA axis, causing such problems as depression, anxiety, or emotional dysregulation. In this last case, feelings, during wildly emotional episodes, can be confused with rational thought, leading–if left unchecked–to delusional thinking and psychosis.

We sufferers of C-PTSD can be vulnerable to the effects of emotional dysregulation, so we have to be careful not to let our feelings lead, or take precedence over, our ability to reason and think in the needed self-critical way. We can take hope, however, in the fact that we needn’t feel trapped in a life of insanity; for as Freud noted, psychopathological thinking is on a continuum with normal thinking. I agree with that, hence my use of the ouroboros as a symbol for a circular continuum on which all mental states can be placed.

With my ouroboros schema of the human personality, I wish to give hope to all of us sufferers of C-PTSD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc., that we aren’t so walled off from the rest of the world; that with effort, we can move along the length of the serpent’s body, counter-clockwise towards its head, to greater and greater mental health.

We must start by acknowledging where we are now, in our state of ill health. We must face our pain. We have to feel it if we’re going to heal it. We can start by writing about our everyday feelings, using adjectives that go from the general to the more and more specific. Then, in our writing, we can explore where those feelings came from, what traumas in our memories caused them.

Richard Grannon created this idea, ‘Emotional Literacy’, so I must give full credit to him. He can explain how to do this writing of your emotions far better than I can, so I suggest finding his videos on YouTube, as well as his ‘Silence the Inner Critic‘ course.

[While Grannon has the formal training in psychology that I lack (I merely read a lot of books on psychoanalysis, especially those of the object relations school, and learn whatever I can about narcissistic abuse), he also endorses neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a popular self-help idea from back in the 1970s and 1980s, but one now–at best–lacking in sufficient empirical evidence to give it scientific validation, and at worst, a discredited pseudoscience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say NLP is of 0% worth (I imagine one can take a few ideas, here and there, from it and mix them with other ideas); I would say, though, that NLP–as much as my own ideas–should be taken with a big dose of salt.]

Another thing you should do, if your harsh inner critic comes from a family of narcissists (as did mine), you’ll need to replace those bad object relations with good ones. The inner critic is formed from a harsh superego, an internalized parental imago, or image of your censuring Mom and/or Dad that lives in your unconscious mind as a ghost would haunt a house. That inner critic is NOT you: it’s like a virus that has infected you, a foreign entity, and it has to be removed. I compare mine to Pazuzu, the demon that entered Regan MacNeil‘s body in The Exorcist; it must be cast out.

I wrote up meditations/auto-hypnoses at the ends of these blog posts; you can use them to visualize new, loving, accepting, and supportive parents to replace your inner critic. Imagine all the good, admirable qualities such parents would have, and visualize your ‘new parents’ embodying and demonstrating those virtues. Add to this a visualization of your abusive parents/siblings being removed from your life (I’m assuming you’re currently at least physically removed from them, as I am; if you aren’t, I hope you can get away from them if they are as traumatizing as I found my family in Canada to be).

I imagine those five people I grew up with being whisked up into the sky, gone from my life forever. I know such an image may seem harsh to you, Dear Reader, but if you’ve had a family as oppressive as mine was, you’d understand why I do such a visualization. You could try visualizing your tormentors, be they family, ex-spouses, or ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, being removed in a gentler way, if you so wish.

In those posts I mentioned two paragraphs above, as well as in other posts, I also related my ouroboros conception of the personality to the personality structures of Freud and Fairbairn, as well as to concepts from Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, and Heinz Kohut, to show that the ouroboros of the personality isn’t just some figment of my imagination; it’s grounded in well-established psychoanalytic concepts.

As I said above, where the serpent’s teeth are biting into the tail is where people with Cluster B personality disorders reside, including narcissists. As Kohut noted, these latter people are split between grandiosity (biting head) and toxic shame (bitten tail), as well as idealizing a parent (biting head) and feeling traumatically disappointed in, or having lost, a parent (bitten tail). Furthermore, as Otto Kernberg has observed, narcissism is a defence against fragmentation and BPD; it’s a maintaining of oneself at the head (12:00-1:00) to avoid sliding over to the bitten tail (11:00).

Kohut’s narcissistic transference was designed first to indulge, temporarily, the narcissistic patient’s grandiosity, then to recreate the optimal frustrations that should have occurred in childhood, the bringing down of infantile grandiosity and parental idealizing to tolerable, socially acceptable levels of narcissism. This, according to my design, is a move from the pathological biting head (12:00-1:00) to the serpent’s neck and upper body (2:00-3:00); still in the optimal first quarter, but not in ‘too much’ health.

That move from the ouroboros’s head to its neck/upper body is also reflected in Klein’s move from the paranoid-schizoid to depressive positions; the former indicating splitting (head biting tail) seen in its extreme form in BPD sufferers, with an inability to integrate the good and bad in people; and the latter position being a reconciling, an integration, of good and bad objects (i.e., loved and hated people as internalized in the unconscious), a healthy ambivalence.

As for us sufferers of complex trauma, though, a clockwise move from bitten tail to biting head (11:00-12:00), then to the neck (12:00-1:00), would be a harrowing of fragmentary Hell; As I said above, those who embrace fascism, projecting their personality problems onto others, seem to do this. A counter-clockwise movement from the fourth quarter to the third, then to the second, and finally to the first, is the wise direction to take.

So, to recap, the bitten tail area represents the inner critic, Freud’s shaming superego, the realm of trauma, disintegration, Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position, Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (as described in previous posts–see above for links), Kohut’s toxic shame and fear of fragmentation, and Lacan’s traumatizing Real Order. The biting head area symbolizes Freud’s pleasure-seeking id, Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object, Winnicott‘s False Self, Kohut’s grandiose self, and Lacan’s narcissistic Imaginary Order, with its Ideal-ego gazing into its mirror reflection and seeing an illusory unified self, a defence against fragmentation, as Kernberg called it above. The length of the serpent’s body, from its healthy neck to a nearing of that hurting tail, is the realm of reality, Freud’s ego, Klein’s depressive position, reparation, and acceptance of ambivalence, Fairbairn’s Central Ego/Ideal Object, Winnicott’s True Self, Kohut’s optimal frustration and transmuting internalization leading to a cohesive Self, and Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where language and symbols connect us with the laws and customs of our community, thus linking us with other people and ending our feelings of isolation. (The mysteries of the entire circle of the ouroboros, I believe, can be related to Wilfred Bion‘s ineffable O.)

Going back to Lacan’s Symbolic Order, while looking askance at his postmodernist, structuralist over-obsession with language (i.e., take it with a grain of salt), I can see a limited validity in how he saw language as part of the therapeutic cure, since our shared symbols (i.e., signifiers) link us with society; so, improving our skills at communication with others will be crucial in healing ourselves. Part of our healing from C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression will come from learning how to verbalize how we are feeling, in as vivid language as we can muster, over and over again. So, to move counter-clockwise along the body of the ouroboros, from the tail up to that first quarter, just by the neck at about 2:00, we should write our pain away, as I have done in all my blog posts on my family.

Whatever you do, don’t conceive of your trauma, vs. mental health, as a dichotomy cutting you and other sufferers off from ‘normal’ people; that will only make you feel worse. Remember that you’re on a circular continuum with everyone else, and you can slide along that snake-skin in the direction of healing and inner peace…if you work at it.

And with the end of internal fragmentation, you can move on to ending feelings of social alienation. Feel your sadness phase dialectically into happiness, the Unity of Action. Be happy in having gone beyond the pairs of opposites.

Recall in the meditations/self-hypnoses I wrote of above (click on the links given), that you should imagine yourself as part of the water of an infinite ocean, your cohesive Self being–as it were–Atman connected to the Brahman of everyone and everything around you, the Unity of Space. Imagine those gentle, slow-moving waves as they undulate from your left, across where your body is (remember: you are the water at that spot), and to your right. You are at one with that water, connected with all life around you. Maintain your psychological state in that sense of peace for as long as you can, focused on the present moment, the eternal NOW, the Unity of Time, feel the vibrations of oneness within and without you, and feel yourself no longer lonely.

The Inner Critic

Everyone has an inner critic to some extent, of course, but some of us–many of us–have much harsher inner critics than others. To know the difference between the milder and nastier kinds, we have to look at the family situation, at how our parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings were treating us when we were kids.

To keep things relatively simple, we’ll start with the use of Freudian terminology, which is generally well-known. Everyone starts with the id, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” (Dickens, page 2) that resides in our minds, with drives that seek out pleasure. It’s like a demanding, impulsive, selfish little brat haunting our brains.

(This id is like the biting head of the ouroboros, a serpent coiled in a circle biting its tail, which I use as a symbol for a circular continuum with the opposite extremes meeting at the head biting the tail. The ouroboros thus represents the dialectical relationship [i.e., unity] of opposites.)

It doesn’t take long for a little child to get acquainted with reality and learn he can’t always have what he wants. Thus, he develops an ego, and his id gets pushed down into the unconscious. We move from the serpent’s head along the length of its body, towards the middle, from the primary process to the secondary one.

As reality gets harsher and harsher, and ‘morality’ is imposed on the child by–all too often–angry, judgemental parents, the child develops a superego, an internalized object relation representing not only his parents, but ultimately all authority figures: teachers, religious leaders, police, politicians, etc. Now we move along the serpent’s body to its bitten tail.

The superego is associated with morality (the “ego ideal“), but if anything, the superego is pure evil, a devil inside us, for it tends to be outright sadistic in its censure of all our faults, our inevitable failure to measure up to that ego ideal. This is the inner critic, and my use of the image of the bitten tail of the ouroboros captures the pain we all feel from our cruel, biting superego.

I believe we can cross-fertilize many later psychoanalytic concepts with Freud’s three-part personality structure, using the three significant sections of the ouroboros–biting head, length of the body, and bitten tail. In previous posts, I’ve shown how WRD Fairbairn‘s endopsychic structure replaces Freud’s by largely paralleling it: ego–Central Ego/Ideal Object–length of ouroboros’s body; id–Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object–biting head; and superegoAntilibidinal Ego/Rejecting Object–bitten tail.

Interestingly, Fairbairn originally called the “Antilibidinal Ego” the “Internal Saboteur,” which–as approximately corresponding to Freud’s superego–vividly captures how this part of our personalities is the inner critic, joined to a Rejecting Object (i.e., anyone we may imagine as hostile or otherwise repellant). As we are hateful to ourselves within, so are we adversarial without. What’s inside us is outside, too.

Similar post-Freudian parallels can be seen in Melanie Klein‘s paranoid-schizoid position, at the front lines of the conflict between Freud’s id and superego, where Fairbairn’s fantasied, internal Exciting and Rejecting Objects reside (as opposed to the Central Ego and its external Ideal Object), where the sadomasochistic relationship of the serpent’s head biting the tail is. Here is where splitting into absolute good and bad objects occurs, an unhealthy, black-and-white way to think about relationships. Klein’s far healthier depressive position, where objects (i.e., other people) are seen as both good and bad at the same time, along the length of the ouroboros’s body, restores us to the grey world of reality, Freud’s ego and Fairbairn’s focus on real, external object relationships, safely away from the inner critic.

Furthermore, Lacan‘s Imaginary Order, home to the mirror stage, is where the illusory Ideal-Ego is, at the biting head, where unfulfillable desire is, and also where Kohut‘s untamed grandiosity is (see here and scroll down to find more of Heinz Kohut’s ideas). Along the length of the ouroboros’s body, we find Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where the Ego-Ideal is in rapport with the Other, linked by language; this is also where Kohut’s restrained narcissism is, resulting from optimal frustrations and transmuting internalization, a healthy state. Finally, Lacan’s terrifying, impossible Real is where the superego is, and also Kohut’s toxic shame, the bitten tail, the inner critic, the realm of trauma.

The biting head is maximum, pathological egotism and selfishness, the quest for pleasure; the bitten tail is maximum pain, self-hatred, fragmentation, disintegration, and the inner critic; and the length of the ouroboros’s body is various median levels of health and illness, the front half the realm of the good enough parent and the resulting stable, coherent self, a kind of Atman, as it were, that can be linked with the Brahman of the rest of the world, and the hind half the realm of–towards the tail–increasingly bad parents, resulting in increasingly dysfunctional families and children.

So, how do we cure ourselves of the inner critic, that reservoir of bad inner objects we got from emotionally abusive parents and other family members? We need to replace them with good inner objects…but how?

We can start by establishing what we would consider to be ideal personality traits for one’s parents to have, the idealized parental imago of Kohut’s bipolar self. For my part, I consider such admirable traits to include patience (i.e., calmness in the face of stress), tolerance, generosity, kindness, and a wish to cultivate family harmony and good (but realistic) self-esteem.

I arrived at these through a sublation of their dialectical opposites, the vices my parents actually had. My father was an ill-tempered, bigoted, stingy old fool; my mother, as you can glean from these posts, was utterly lacking in empathy, and used gaslighting and triangulating to ensure an enduring family discord.

You now can re-pattern your internalized parental imago, that harsh superego with its unattainable ego ideal, by taking all the awful things your biological parents said and did to you, and going along the length of the ouroboros, an Aufhebung, to find the dialectical opposites of those parental vices, as I described in the preceding paragraph.

Granted, no parents can ever even approach perfection, but what we’re doing here is inner child work; and children’s naïve nature is to regard their parents as godlike role models. We need to go back to those early years, to the roots of our traumas, face them bravely, and work through them.

You have to feel the pain to heal it. Write out, as vividly as you can, a description of all those awful things that happened to you as a child. Give nuanced descriptions of each and every cruelty done by every perpetrator: your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, school bullies, etc. This is how trauma is processed. I did this in all my posts on emotional abuse.

Turn these cruelties into their dialectical opposites (through sublation), and in hypnotic trance, meditate on these good traits, as vividly as you can imagine them.

Make sure you’re alone, without any distractions. Sit or lie down in a relaxed state, and close your eyes. Slowly take in a deep breath, hold it, smile, and let the breath out slowly; continue to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply as you focus your attention on your body, starting with your toes, then slowly moving up to your feet, your ankles, calves, shins, knees, and upper legs. Imagine this rising focus as if it were water rising from your feet slowly up to your waist; thus, as if your body were half-submerged in water, so is your focus on all of your lower body, at this point.

Continue bringing the focus up to your belly, back, and chest, as if that water were now rising up to your neck. Your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders are now ‘wet’ with your mind’s focus on them. Your whole body, from the neck down, should be gently vibrating with soothing relaxation.

Now bring the ‘watery’ focus up to your head. Feel gentle tingles all over your head, forehead, eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. This is a special ‘water’, though, for you can breathe it like a fish! With that ‘water’ inside you, now your insides are as soothed as your outsides. You should feel relaxed all over now.

In this peaceful state (if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to what you’ve been focusing on), slowly count down from ten to one while continuing to breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. As each number goes by, make yourself loosen up more and more, relaxing more and more, limper and limper; so by the time you reach one…then zero, you’re at a maximum state of limp relaxation.

Now, in this state of perfect calm, you’ll be more suggestible and receptive to hypnotic autosuggestion. Imagine those ideal parents, with all those virtues that are the opposite of the vices and faults of your biological parents. Imagine how those good parents would treat children, any children, then imagine yourself as the child they’re loving, caring for, and protecting.

Realize that such good parents, whose virtues you’d admire, idealize, and look up to as a child, would naturally love you and cherish you as their little boy or girl. Visualize them taking turns picking you (a child of three or four) up, holding you, grinning at you, cuddling you, and kissing you. Of course they love you! They’re your parents, your new, good internalized parents, and good parents by definition always love their kids, no matter what faults a child may have, no matter how frustrating a child may be sometimes.

In this state of hypnotic trance, in which you should feel quite good now, let that love wash all over you like the purifying waters of the Ganges, healing all your emotional wounds, freeing you from past pain. Indeed, as you’re washing all that pain away, remember you’re in that peaceful ‘water’ I mentioned above. Now, as we continue this thought experiment, imagine your new cohesive self, healed of its former, internal fragmentation, your ‘Atman’, if you will, combining with the surrounding water. Your ‘Atman’, your very body, is water, and is at one with the surrounding water. This is the Unity of Space that I’ve written about before.

No longer do you feel separate from the world: you’re one with the world, and if there’s good inside you (from your new idealized parent imago), there’s good out there, too. Feel vibrations of inner…and outer…peace, in and all over and around you. You can begin to trust the world around you. Be mindful of this new feeling of peace–NOW. Stay in that mindful state, experiencing this unity of self and other, for as long as you can sustain it. Feel gentle, slow-moving waves of the infinite ocean flowing through your body, soothing you, uniting you with the world in perfect peace.

When you’re ready to come out of trance, slowly count from one to five: as the numbers go by, wiggle your fingers and toes, take a deep breath in, stretch your spine and arms, open your eyes, and feel great for the rest of your day.

Do this meditation/autohypnosis every day, as many times as you can fit it into your daily schedule, to get maximum benefits. Over time, you’ll feel your inner critic transform into your inner friend.

Triangulation

We all grow up assuming our parents and family want only what’s best for us. We assume that, just because they get mad at us from time to time and say nasty things to us because of those momentary blowups of rage, that doesn’t mean they don’t love us. Fighting occurs in even the best of families.

Well, millions of families fall far short of the best.

As for my own family, while–to be fair to them–they were and are far above the worst of all families, they were and are bad enough. To know why I judge them so, read this, this, this, this, this, and this.

A huge source of their problems, something my surviving siblings will never admit to, is our late mother’s propensity for lying.

Everybody lies at least occasionally, of course–usually just to protect himself from getting into trouble; but my mother’s lies were generally indulgent, unnecessary, manipulative…and malicious.

I as a child was routinely bullied, belittled, and subjected to verbal abuse–and even threats of physical violence, from time to time–by my siblings. While it is understandable that I, as the youngest in the family, would get subjected to some of this kind of treatment, it is also understandable that I would expect to be defended considerably more often than I was by my parents.

It’s also understandable to think that my elder siblings should have had a more balanced attitude toward me when I was an awkward child and teen. The things that I did to frustrate them couldn’t have been so bad as to deserve the abuse I was subjected to.

One of their main beefs against me, as I’ve explained elsewhere, was my childhood/adolescent habit of maladaptive daydreaming. Instead of trying to find a constructive solution to this problem, they stupidly assumed shaming me would make me break the habit. Actually, and predictably to anyone who has a modicum of common sense, the shaming just made me engage in the habit all the more.

The chief lie my mother told me to manipulate me was to claim that a number of psychiatrists had diagnosed me, when a child, with a severe case of autism, and my maladaptive daydreaming was assumed, in the family’s collective ignorance, to be a manifestation of ‘my autism’. None of them considered, for even a second, that my solitary fantasizing and dramatizing of those daydreams could have been the result of all that bullying in my childhood.

In fact, lots of research has been done not only on the long-term effects of school and family bullying (both of which I’d been mercilessly subjected to when little), but also on the effects of childhood stress and adversity. These effects include the victim isolating himself from his family and friends, spending time alone and lacking motivation; also, the victim may feel anxiety, depression, irritability, frustration, feelings of guilt and confusion, etc. Again, the family’s shaming of me for having these problems only made them more pronounced, for their very shaming was a form of the kind of bullying that results in this kind of stress.

What I was doing as a child, i.e., my maladaptive daydreaming, can be described in the psychoanalytic language of object relations, too. WRD Fairbairn wrote of how children who are not given proper affirmation from their parents will develop internal object relations, that is, fantasied people to relate to–the endopsychic structure of Libidinal Ego/Object and Anti-libidinal Ego/Object–instead of having relationships with real people in the external world. Such ideas constitute the essence of my childhood world.

The family, in their refusal to empathize with me, insisted that my self-isolation was due to ‘my autism’, and in their mean-spirited attitude toward me, they linked this self-isolation to such fabricated ideas as my supposed lack of caring for others, as well as my generally being a ‘loser’. My mother did nothing to curb this attitude: if anything, she encouraged it through all her acts of triangulation. I’ll give a few examples:

Once, when I was in my teens, my brother R. came into the TV room in a rage at me. I tried, with a sad countenance, to explain my foibles as the result of loneliness and an inability to find something constructive to occupy myself with. He roared, “Make a friend!” I said, “It’s beyond you.” (That is, it was beyond R.’s understanding why I found it so difficult to make friends–see above.) He roared back, with especial cruelty, “It’s beyond YOU!!” (That is, I’m too much of a loser to be able to get anyone to like me.)

Be assured, R., that after hearing you say that, I was filled with encouragement and resolve to go out and prove you wrong, and make an army of friends! (sarcasm)

…and what was this terrible crime I’d committed to deserve to hear his cruel words, all during my sensitive, identity-forming adolescence? I’d eaten all the cereal (for the fourth or fifth time, admittedly), so R. couldn’t eat any…that evening.

And now, an example of the cruelty of my other brother, F.

When I was about nineteen or twenty, I was watching TV while F., visiting our home (for he’d already moved out, to my general relief), was in the kitchen. He noticed ants crawling about in the sugar container, and naturally, he was expressing his disgust loud enough for me to hear. Not knowing what to do about the problem, I didn’t say or do anything: I just stayed in the TV room. He took offence to this.

He could have simply said, “Would you get your ass away from that boob tube and help me?” Such would have been an understandable expression of frustration with my not showing any concern, and hey, if he had dealt with the situation that way, I’d have gotten up and gone into the kitchen to help him…but he wanted to have more fun, of course, by blowing off some steam.

He shouted, “You don’t care! You don’t care! You’ll probably only start caring when the ants crawl up your pants!”

I said, “Well, you’re the one who ‘cares’ so much. You solve the problem.”

He said, “I don’t live here anymore.” (As if that changes anything.) Then he stepped up his rant against me. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. No wonder you’re such a hermit.” He was now looking right at me with those contemptuous, beady little brown eyes of his.

So sick of hearing his verbal abuse, which I’d already been enduring from him for years, I said, “You don’t care about anybody, either.”

In feigned admiration at my ‘insight’, he said, “Oh, really?” in a challenging attitude.

I said, “Yeah. You wanna know why?”

He said, “Oh, do tell me,” as if he were fascinated to learn.

I said, “You act like you care only to get attention!”

Egad…the cheek of me, such an Untermensch, to suggest that he had faults! (To be fair, I admit I was clutching at straws with this judgement of him; but given the collective narcissism of that family, and their superiority complex over me, maybe his rage at my words came more from their accuracy than their inaccuracy.)

Anyway, F. flipped. His hateful, piercing eyes cut right into mine. “Who the fuck are you?!” he growled at me. “Who the fuck are you, Mawr?! Why, I oughta smack you for saying that!”

Shaking, I finally followed him into the kitchen. I got a can of Raid, ready to spray the ants. “Never mind,” he said, calmer now. “Wait till Mom gets home; she’ll know what to do.”

Then F., in his sweet generosity, offered an apology.

“Sorry about that, Mawr, but you’re just so annoying.”

(Translation: Sorry, not sorry.)

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to that self-righteous prick that he could be really annoying, too. It surely never occurred to him, either, that maybe the real reason I stayed in the TV room was because I, too, figured the best thing to do was to leave it to Mom when she got home. I guess I should have said so.

His vicious accusations of my ‘not caring’ could border on the absurd and irrational: during those years, I used to cake sugar on my cereal (remember my petty larceny of cereal, which traumatized R. so much!); why would I not care about there being ants on it? Did F. imagine I was too stupid to realize ants in my cereal would be a bad thing?

A clue could be found in our mother’s reaction to my complaints of his bullying at the time. “‘I don’t care about anyone’, he said,” I whined to her. “You don’t care,” she said, frowning at me and invalidating my complaint, a common family tactic. Really, Mother? So, I deserved his threats and verbal abuse, instead of just an angry demand to help?

I’ve explained before (Part VII: Conclusion) of the difference between the family’s legitimate right to complain of my faults, on the one hand, and the needlessness of the excesses of their verbal abuse and bullying (i.e., that it was way out of proportion to the wrongs I’d done). I’ve also pointed out elsewhere (Part 4: Abusing my Cousins) of how easy it is to link my mother’s contempt and bad-mouthing of my youngest cousin G. with her claim that he has an autism spectrum disorder (i.e., Asperger’s syndrome–AS). She claimed, fraudulently, that I have autism (and AS); she encouraged, directly or indirectly, my siblings’ bullying of me; it’s far easier to believe she’d been bad-mouthing me to them, through triangulation, than to disbelieve it.

On another occasion, when I was in my early twenties, I’d had to endure the snotty condescension of my sister J., day after day after day. She, in her narcissistic imagination as the family’s #1 Golden Child, remembers those years of her relationship with me as one of pure love and affection; while any moments of friction between us were, conveniently for her, all my fault, of course.

Nothing proves love more surely than imputing all faults on the ‘loved one’, rather than on oneself. (To be clear, unlike J., I don’t claim to love any of those people, so please, Dear Reader, don’t imagine I’m being hypocritical in my judgement of them.)

During the time period I just mentioned, I’d gotten mad at her over some relatively trivial matter, and a day or two later, I felt bad about it and wanted to apologize to her (not something the family were ever in the habit of doing for me), so that evening, I did.

All J. had to do was say, “That’s OK, Mawr. Forget about it.”

But that’s no fun, is it?

She’d had a habit of criticizing me for ‘taking too long’ to assert my feelings; she insisted that one should speak up right away, instead of bottling up one’s feelings, which is so unhealthy!

Wow, I didn’t know that assertiveness had such a quick deadline.

Furthermore, the notion–that speaking up too quickly, in the heat of anger, could result in the danger of saying mean things one would later regret–didn’t occur to her…

…or was her real intention, in knowing I was too meek and timid to speak up right away, to shame me for taking too long, thus making me stay mute, to make me ‘forever hold my peace’?

Can you see, Dear Reader, what a slimy little bitch J. is, underneath her fake smiles of love?

Anyway, back to my apology and her response to it, which was the by-now-typical, “Why did you take so long to get that off your chest?” horse-shit. Since I found it difficult to process my feelings, and therefore to talk about them, I explained myself in a very longwinded manner (which, by the way, is also why these blog posts are so long–sorry about that) that J. found irritating.

What must be remembered about her, and the entire family by extension, is that none of them ever wanted to listen to anything I had to say, not even for a few seconds. Their impatience in this matter, of course, made my difficulties in expressing myself all the worse, not that they ever cared.

So as I went on and on trying to explain to J. how I felt, my ‘loving sister’ ran out of patience as usual, and let out her anger in the usual mean way, shouting, “How much longer do I have to listen to this autobiography?!”

Naturally, I was losing patience, too, and what had started out as a simple apology transformed, in all absurdity, into yet another fight. She got petulant and said, “You always take forever to speak up! Go to Hell!” End of spat.

OK, J., I’m sure those words will encourage me to speak up immediately next time!

(Recall when I’d spoken up immediately at our grandmother’s funeral [Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour], and how willing she was to listen to my prompt assertiveness!)

Now, that was the end of my spat with J., but it wasn’t the end of the emotional abuse I had to endure from the family; for our mother, sitting on the sofa in the TV room, overheard the argument between J. and me (J. was in the bathroom, at the mirror, and I was standing in the hall, near her). Mom decided J.’s verbal abuse wasn’t enough, so she–who, recall, “gave [me] the most love”, scolded me (I was in my early twenties, recall) as if I were a ten-year-old, for having irritated her Golden Child, who apparently was suffering from a cold (Cold? What cold? J. wasn’t sniffling, or coughing, or anything like that! More fabrications, Mother dear?) Our blustering mother ended with, “Go to your room!”

And all of this had started with me trying to apologize to J.

What a wonderful family! I wouldn’t trade them for the world!

Now, what must be focused on is not so much that ‘R. once verbally abused me this way’, or ‘F. once bullied me that way’, or ‘J. played such-and-such a mind game on me on this or that occasion’; but rather, what did all of this abuse mean? What was the real reason for it? Were my behaviour, manner, and overall personality really all that infuriating? Or did they have the attitude problem?

To be sure, a child spending hours and hours in solitary play, every day, instead of going out and making friends, is and should be worrying to a caring family; but why would any reasonable family imagine that shaming him would cure him, instead of making matters worse?

A youth who eats all the cereal on several occasions, slams doors a lot, accidentally hurts the dog when playing with her, doesn’t respond to an ant problem in the kitchen cupboards, or rambles on and on when trying to assert himself, is an irritating, frustrating person; but do such problems necessitate yelling that he’s a “little shit!”, and an “asshole!”? Is haranguing him the only cure (or any kind of cure) to his self-centredness? Does shouting at him to “Go to Hell!” or “Go to your room!” encourage him to be brief and prompt in his assertiveness? Does showing no empathy whatsoever for his adolescent loneliness, saying it’s beyond his ability to make friends, help him to be comfortable in social situations, or does it make his antisocial aloofness even worse?

We all blow up from time to time, and say cruel things we shouldn’t say; but kind families take the time to reflect on these blowups, then say sorry…and mean it.

What did the family’s attitude toward me mean? F. said he was just “frustrated” with me. J. once ‘apologized’ about her and our brothers’ “immature” treatment of me with a giggle that trivialized all the pain they caused me. This kind of talk isn’t a real apology. They were either rationalizing their attitude, or minimizing its hurtful significance in their own minds. Invalidating the abuse-victim’s experience is what emotional abuse is all about…and they judge me for not being considerate enough of others.

Being angry with a person, and abusing him or her, are two wildly different things.

Something other than just being angry with me was going on in that family. It wasn’t just my foibles that were putting my siblings into such rages. I’m convinced that I was being portrayed as a worm to them, a despicable little loser that wasn’t worth any consideration, whereas they, the ‘superior ones’, urgently demanded my consideration of them every step of the way. I could see the scorn in their eyes; I got sneers and scowls of contempt from R., F., and J. on a regular basis…and remember, I was just a kid at the time. Also, their attitude has persisted until the present day.

Who was responsible for painting such a lowly portrait of me?

It had to have been someone my siblings revered as a primal authority figure–not our father: for all his faults, he was relatively nice to me; besides, his grouchiness put my siblings off in a bad way, so they wouldn’t have honoured his opinions all that much.

So, who does that break it down to?

Could it have been…the one who lied to me about having an autism spectrum disorder? Could it have been the one who largely stood by and let R., F., and J. bully me, with nary a word of reproach to them? Could it have been the one who defended them, and rationalized their attitude, while never telling them to be patient with me, a child/adolescent who–according to her–suffered from a mental disorder, thus making me especially vulnerable? The one who never spoke a kind word about my youngest cousin, G., even to the point of fabricating details in her smear campaigns against him, and claiming he, too, had Asperger’s syndrome, thus in effect making G. into my double, as it were. The one who, as soon as she learned G.’s brother S. was mentally ill, instead of even trying to help him, she made him into a family pariah?

This was a pattern of behaviour in my mother. She and my siblings bad-mouthed me to my face on a regular basis: doing so behind my back would have been all the easier.

Mom would say, “[So-and-so] said this [or that] about you.” Psychiatrists said, apparently, that I, a child, was retarded and suffering from early infantile autism. J. said that I have all those books on my bookshelf to look impressive to other people (<<<Part V: No Empathy Leading to Lots of Antipathy). My cousin S. yelled (<<<Part 5: More Elaborate Lies) on the phone one day about how I am a liar who constantly gossips about him to our former teacher friends in Taiwan. My aunt claimed I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails to her, including content my uncle called “disgusting”. My aunt claimed I must have been quite “a burden” to raise.

No, Mom, They didn’t say those things. You did.

This is the essence of triangulation. Over the years that I have lived here in Taiwan, thankfully oh, so far away from the family in southern Ontario, I rarely engaged in email correspondence with R., F., F.’s family, or my cousins’ family in Canada. I hardly needed to: Mom was communicating with them for me.

God knows what garbage she was telling them about me (which was surely a major factor in their virtually never emailing me, though Mom–in an email–blamed only me for the non-communication that was obviously a two-way street), but I do know that her words usually couldn’t have been much better than smears against me. She smeared my aunt and S. against me and my siblings: what else am I supposed to think, other than that she smeared me, too?

I’ve written many times about the string of lies she told me about S. and my aunt the summer before Mom died. I’d like to go more into detail about that now.

Lie #1: As stated above, Mom claimed, in an email and telephone call (months after she’d complained of my never communicating with her, thus igniting her narcissistic rage and giving her a motive to spread rancour in order ‘to get even’ with me), that S. had flipped out on me again, making baseless accusation after baseless accusation. Since I had no independent corroboration of this alleged outburst (S. hadn’t, and hasn’t to my knowledge as of this post, attacked me online, on the phone, or anywhere in years), I can safely say this was another of Mom’s fabrications. Still, I went along with it, out of a foolish hope that she’d be willing to help my cousin get psychiatric help.

Lie #2: After her continuing unwillingness to contact my aunt about her son’s mental illness, Mom finally claimed she’d let me email my aunt, after checking to see if what I’d written would be sufficiently tactful. (See Lie #4 below to see why this was another lie.)

Lie #3: Mom gave me my aunt’s new email address, which I believe is a fake one Mom made to prevent me from actually contacting my aunt (see Lie #4).

Lie #4: A day or two after I’d sent my email, Mom emailed me, claiming my aunt didn’t want to read my email, since, apparently, I’d sent her a series of “over-the-top” emails with “disgusting” content that made reading anything I’d later sent her too upsetting even to risk reading. My aunt thus wanted us all to “forget about the whole thing”, and Mom clearly agreed that that’s what we should have done (which, of course, raises the question of why Mom brought up the whole issue in the first place). Now, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I never sent my aunt any such upsetting emails; I hadn’t even emailed her at all, over a period of ten years (from about 2005 to 2015, when this incident occurred).

Lie #5: In another email, Mom claimed that my aunt said I must have been such “a burden” to raise. My aunt hardly even knows me: she’s seen me only in brief visits from time to time over the years, especially over the past twenty years. She’d have no reason to think of me as “a burden”; she’s also too ladylike to say such a thing, and too meek besides–she’d be risking my wrath if Mom were to relay the message back to me. Besides, since I was born five years after J., the youngest (and, I suspect, last intended) of our parents’ children born in a cluster of three with R. and F., I’d say there’s a good chance I was the result of an unintended pregnancy; furthermore, there were virtually no baby photos of me in the family photo album or elsewhere in the house, as opposed to the many taken of babies R., F., and J.; and on top of that, there was my scapegoating as the identified patient, so in all likelihood, Mom, not my aunt, thought of me as a burden.

Lie #6: Mom’s next email to me was a warning that S. might angrily confront me in Taiwan once he’d returned from his visit to Canada (during which, allegedly, he’d ranted on the phone to my Mom about me), on the assumption that he ‘knew’ I’d emailed his mother about his mental illness. (Well, Lie #4 shows how spurious this warning was.)

Lie #7: Mom emailed me about a month or so later, after I hadn’t sent her any email replies, claiming she’d talked with my aunt about the email she’d refused to read, and now she was finally willing to talk about S.’s problems. Oh, really? WHY NOW? Why didn’t Mom do this with my aunt immediately after her refusal to read an email my mom had checked to ensure a tactful choice of words? Why had Mom agreed with my aunt to “forget about the whole thing” then, but only now had changed her mind? Mom was obviously hoovering me.

When I replied, knowing this was an obvious mind game, and said we should just, indeed, forget about it, Mom agreed…but, wasn’t my aunt finally willing to confront this issue with S.? After ‘all that work talking with my aunt’, we were just going to drop it because I said we should? Lies, lies, and more lies, Mother Dear.

What’s more, during all of this lying, manipulating, gaslighting, and triangulating, she’d asked me to make a visit to Canada, because she’d “love to see me”! Sure, Mom! I’d love to have a vicious liar in the same room with my wife and me, squirting more of her poison in my ears! She’d asked, on the phone, when I could make another visit (in 2015, seven years after my last visit to Canada) between Lies #2 and #3; my cold, evasive silence should’ve made it clear to her that I didn’t want to visit; then, in an email after Lie #7, she pressured me to visit again, even offering to pay my plane tickets, and I was forced to reply in the following way (pretty close to my actual words, as best as I can remember):

October 9, 2015

I don’t need help paying for plane tickets; I wouldn’t want to visit regardless of my money situation. You should already know why. Lies, lies, and more lies. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about; you know perfectly well what I mean by that. You’ve been provoking me for the past 12-13 years.

I won’t answer any of your phone calls or emails, because I’m so sick of all this manipulation. Please drop this. Take comfort in the fact that you have the love of R., F., J., and your grandchildren. If you love somebody, set him free.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this was one hell of a blunt email reply; but let’s face it–she was really asking for it.

What was her reaction, which I could predict, and which came true in an email from J. in November? Mom used a typical narcissist tactic–she played the victim. In J.’s email, she wrote of how my above email message “hurt” Mom; and like a typical flying monkey, J. took our Mom’s side 100%, saying “Mom truly doesn’t know what I meant by lying“.

I was expected to reply with a confirmation of my address in Taiwan (another thing my sister wanted from me in her message), as well as, of course, an explanation of why I was mad at Mom; I answered only the former question, to which J. replied approvingly, saying it was “Short and sweet”. (Recall how much my sister hates my long-windedness.) Since a longwinded reply was the only way I could discuss my falling-out with Mom, I didn’t reply to J.’s reply; in fact, I didn’t even read past these words of her question, “Are you mad at Mom because…?”

Supposedly, this was supposed to be my sister inviting me to offer my side of the story; but seriously…I know these people. They have never respected or validated my perspective on anything in my life, except on the rare occasion when it was convenient for them. J. had already demonstrated her absolute loyalty to Mom in believing her that she ‘truly didn’t know’ what I was talking about in my accusation of her lying to me. So, why should I have even bothered trying to explain anything to J. in a following reply? She would have ‘heard me out’, then proceeded to relay my answer to Mom, who in all likelihood had a ready-made refutation of my accusation, and J. would have believed her.

Knowing what I do about triangulation, I can even visualize how Mom communicated her ‘version’ of what happened: she cried a deluge of sympathy tears to J., who probably played the role of consoling ‘parent’ to Mom; she sobbed copiously about how she ‘only want[ed] to see [me]’, that as my mother, she so ‘deeply loved’ me and missed me, and how I ‘always hurt her and hurt her’, a pure projection of her always having hurt me, including this recent triangulating tactic, all to vilify me to the family.

Here is what her real reaction to my email was, in all probability: she flew into a rage, saying (or thinking) something to the effect of, ‘That ungrateful little brat!’ (I, a brat in my late 40s.) ‘After all I’ve done for him! I’ll fix him! Everyone in the family’s gonna hate him–I’ll make sure of it!’ Then she practiced sobbing in front of a mirror, so to speak.

On top of all this, her health had been declining; she was 77, after all. Her breast cancer metastasized, and I was contacted around April of 2016. While I was wrong to think this dying of cancer was a lie to manipulate me into visiting (she died the following month), it was a perfectly reasonable suspicion for me to have had at the time, given what had previously happened.

From the family’s perspective, I was being monstrously unfilial; while she lay there in hospital on her deathbed, I was expected to do my part in honouring the great matriarch of the family. R. wanted me to be available to chat with her (her using his cellphone) as often as possible, but after not only her original lies about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, her triangulating against me my whole life, but also with those seven lies the previous summer, which she wouldn’t even admit to, chatting with her was the last thing I wanted to do, whether she was dying or not.

And oh, the way she played the victim card during that one phone call I did concede to have with her! She went on and on about how I’d hurt her, laying the guilt trip on so thick, while not even having the decency to admit to all that she had done to provoke me. When people are trying to be reconciled, it’s generally good policy to be fair and admit one’s own faults as well as complain of those on the other side.

She ended her whole J’accuse by mentioning how she, during my pre-teen years (which she’d also claimed were a time I’d made life especially trying for her…a time when, by the way, she was prating about how ‘my autism’ made her wonder if I’d “ever make a good garbageman”, and that the psychiatrists said one should “lock [me] up in an asylum and throw away the key!”…projection), “gave me the most love”! Reaction formation…I was infuriated to hear those words.

I refused to call her after that. I even left my home phone unplugged, so R. couldn’t contact me and pressure me into talking to her. She soon died. He discovered a YouTube video of me back in 2009, reciting Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ with a bitter scowl. Naturally, he was enraged…though, in my defence, nobody forced him to watch it. In his snarky comment to the video, he claimed I was “a disturbed individual” (no doubt a judgement influenced by our mother’s triangulating, to discredit any opinions I have that might have exposed her for the probable malignant narcissist that she was), and–no doubt influenced by Mom’s “gave [me] the most love” self-congratulation–he said she’d loved me “more than anyone else on the planet”.

Now, did he mean that she loved me more than she loved anyone else? A totally ridiculous thing to say (umm, more than she loved our Dad?), and one that can be defended only by acknowledging that he was grieving over her, and my rather nasty video enraged him beyond his ability to say anything rational.

Or, did he mean that she loved me more than anyone else has ever loved me? Another absurd generalization: he didn’t consider my wife’s love for me, she who–for all of her reservations and grievances against my faults–has loved me more than everyone in that Canadian family combined!

I suspect he meant the latter; if so, I wish he could understand that his implication that his, F.’s, and J.’s tepid-to-non-existent love for me, as well as a lack of love for me from the rest of the world, isn’t so much a reproach of me, but a reproach against them as a family. As I explained at the beginning of this post, my faults are enough to provoke an understandable level of anger and frustration from them as a family, but they are nowhere near enough to provoke their abusive, contemptuous attitude.

I’m R.’s kid brother: he’s supposed to love me, regardless of how trying I can be for him or anyone. He, as well as F. and J., have their sense of cause and effect all mixed up; it’s not that I get a paucity of love from them because I am do irritating things–I get a paucity of love from them, so I do irritating things.

To return to a discussion of Fairbairn and object relations, when children aren’t given the love and affirmation they need from the real, external world (from their primary objects, their parents and primary caregivers), their Central Ego splits into fantasied, internal objects: a Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object configuration (pleasurable object relations), and an Anti-libidinal Ego (or Internal Saboteur)/Rejecting Object configuration (negative object relations).

In my childhood world, my Central Ego was torn apart by the family’s constant bullying and emotional abuse, causing me to retreat into a world of maladaptive daydreaming, in which I created imaginary Exciting Objects (including characters in sex fantasies) for my broken-off Libidinal Ego; to protect myself from further hurt, my Anti-libidinal Ego made Rejecting Objects of my family and most people I knew in my neighbourhood and at school (for indeed, so many of them were such bullies that they really were Rejecting Objects).

So, the family’s bullying of me caused me to develop a rejecting personality as a way to protect myself. I’m the youngest of all of them, so I didn’t cause them, they caused me. I reacted to them, causing them to react to me, too, but they–as the older ones–were the first cause.

I wasn’t the worst-behaved of our parents’ kids: I was actually the best-behaved. R. dropped out of school and left home as a teen; F. crashed a T-bird into a telephone pole when he was a young adult; J. got caught shoplifting when she was a pre-teen (I believe F. influenced her in that direction); F. and J. smoked pot and drank beer during parties when our parents were away on vacation; J. (about 19) got caught in bed with her boyfriend when our parents suddenly came home one night; I, on the other hand, slammed doors, ate up all the cereal, and accidentally hurt our dog once or twice. Perspective.

The only time I did anything significantly bad–from the family’s perspective–was when I was so cold to Mom during the 2010s; but as I’ve explained so many times before, she provoked it. R., F., and J. know nothing of our mother’s provocations, because, through triangulation, she made sure my siblings never knew my side of the story.

I’m sure their willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance will ensure that they never learn my side of the story, let alone validate it. If they ever find this blog and read it, their trolling comments below will prove, ironically, just how right I am about their attitude.

Further Reading: WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952