Putting Trauma Into Words

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

In previous posts, I wrote of the dialectical nature of health and ill health, and every intermediate point, all of these being represented on a circular continuum symbolized by the ouroboros. The two extreme opposites meet where the serpent’s head bites its tail: at the head, feelings of self-love get excessive, bordering on pathological narcissism; at the bitten tail is the threat of (if not the realization of) fragmentation, a psychotic breaking away from reality that is often defended against through pathological narcissism, where the serpent’s teeth are biting. Everywhere else on the ouroboros’ coiled body is every intermediate point from the best of health, just behind the head, to the worst of neurosis, just before the bitten tail of psychosis.

To simplify, we can make three basic categories of mental health and ill-health out of this ouroboros as a symbol of the circular continuum: the biting head is the narcissistic world of what Jacques Lacan called the Imaginary Order, seeing an ideal self in the mirror, just as Narcissus, seeing his reflection in the pond, fell in love with himself; the bitten tail is the traumatic, inexpressible world of what Lacan called the Real; and the intermediate, relatively healthy world represented by the serpent’s coiled body is what he called the Symbolic Order, where we’re connected to society through language.

The expression of our feelings, through society’s shared symbols and signifiers (i.e., language), is the basis of our mental health. Bottling up our feelings, never venting them, leads to mental illness. A crucial part of giving expression to how we feel, though, is having people who will listen to us, who will validate us, who will contain our pain as a mother would contain the anxieties, fears, and frustrations of her baby, then transform those feelings and process them for it (since the baby has no mental apparatus yet developed for thinking and processing thoughts on its own), and return them to it in a form it can accept, thus pacifying it. We need people–friends, loved ones, therapists, etc.–who will perform that maternal role for us if we’re ill.

Wilfred Bion‘s theory of a mother containing her baby’s disturbed state (in maternal reverie) is replicated in the patient/therapist relationship, where the patient is in the baby’s role, and the therapist is in the mother’s role. Such a relationship is necessary when, overwhelmed by raw, unprocessed external sensory stimuli (beta elements) that become traumatizing, the patient has psychotic episodes and approaches psychological fragmentation, a terror of disintegration, a mental falling-apart.

This falling apart often happens because there is no one to help the sufferer contain and thus help to process his or her trauma; the therapist must step in and do the containing. This containing (similar to D.W. Winnicott‘s notion of a holding environment) allows the agitating beta elements to be processed and transformed into alpha elements, or thoughts acceptable to the patient. These alpha elements can go into the patient’s unconscious mind–which is structured like a language, as Lacan said–and can be used in dreams and as thoughts to be expressed in words.

Most of us, of course, cannot afford a therapist, due in no small part to the aggravation of wealth inequality over the past thirty to forty years; so we may have to make do with playing the role of therapist for each other. By this I mean being the empathic containers of each other’s traumas and anxieties; for the trauma of having suffered narcissistic and emotional abuse is such that, given no validation of our pain at all from the narcissist’s flying monkeys, we victims are like those crying babies in need of having those agitating beta elements (our trauma) transformed into alpha elements (processed, more soothing thoughts).

So how can we rank amateurs help each other? By listening to our fellow sufferers and validating (containing) the emotional effects of the abuse they went through. Similarly, we can vent our own pain (the contained) in as expressive and vivid a language as we can muster (Richard Grannon calls it ‘Emotional Literacy‘), while others (e.g., our communal online support on Facebook pages about emotional abuse) listen to and validate us. This is how we can move from the bitten tail of trauma (Lacan’s Real) to the upper middle of the ouroboros’ body (Lacan’s Symbolic Order, the realm of interpersonal communication).

I’ll start with some venting of my own pain, which I hope, Dear Reader, you’ll contain for me, then return to me with some soothing validation. (I’ll be willing to return the favour if you send me a link of your verbalizing of your traumas, your ‘contained,’ and I’ll reblog it here, as is my intention with the message given in this post.)

  • Back in the early 2000s, when my mother was prating on and on about my supposedly having Asperger Syndrome, or AS (I’ve never been diagnosed with it, and she didn’t even merit being called an amateur psychiatrist, let alone someone with any measure of authority on mental health issues), I grew increasingly agitated, frustrated, and exasperated with her. When she dismissed my legitimate objections, I just felt unheard, invalidated, and uncared for.
  • In the mid-2000s, when she rejected my wish to fly from Asia (where I live) to Canada to see my sister, J., and her terminally ill husband, rationalizing that I’m “different,” as well as “tactless and insensitive” (due, apparently, to AS–see Part 2 of this), I exploded with rage at her condescending, hurtful attitude, for which she’d never repented. I felt insulted, devalued, excluded, and unwanted.
  • When, not too long after, J. emailed me, telling me to stop complaining to Mom about her attitude, showing me she was 100% on Mom’s side, and trivializing my pain, J. made me feel like a ten-year-old; I frowned like a hurt child, though I was in my late thirties when I read that email. I felt humiliated, disrespected, and infantilized. Her not wanting me to reply made me feel silenced and voiceless.
  • By the 2010s, when I realized that not only was Mom’s talk about AS, but also her labelling me with classic autism when I was a child, all lies, I felt so betrayed and heartbroken, I thought of the whole family, who supported her in her fabrications, as a bunch of perfidious snakes! How awful it is to feel so alone, so isolated, and so unloved. I felt fooled, conned, cheated, deceived, and tricked. (See Part 3 here.)
  • As a child, whenever I got subjected to Mom’s wild rages, or the bullying of my elder siblings, I felt terrified, helpless, overwhelmed, and trapped. Mom’s indifference to, if not outright conniving at, all that bullying just increased my sense of loneliness, of separateness from society, of unworthiness, of inferiority.
  • During the 2010s, when I heard, in the middle of a long-distance phone call from Mom, that she said–after indulging in a spate of bad-mouthing of my youngest cousin, G., about whom she’d never said anything kind in her life–she thought he might have Asperger Syndrome, I groaned in a fury, knowing she was using this psychiatric label to devalue his worth in the family…just as she’d been doing with me. I felt a growing sympathy for my so-unjustly-despised cousin. See Part 4 here.
  • Later this decade, as it became more and more obvious that Mom (an RN, incidentally) was adamant about not wanting to help my cousin, S., who was manifesting paranoid delusions about me, I felt a growing hopelessness, a despairing of the family. No one else, including J., showed any interest in helping S., either: these were the same people who had preached to me for years about the importance of putting other people’s needs in front of your own…and they were now proving they were no better than “self-centred” me! Now, I felt a growing contempt for them and their hypocrisy.
  • When my mother told me a string of lies in the late summer of 2015, the year before she died, and I heard the most blatant untruth of them all–that I supposedly had sent my aunt a series of “over-the-top” emails (click here for the whole story, if you’re interested: Part 5–More Elaborate Lies)–I lay shaking in bed, shocked, unable to sleep the whole night (I’d received Mom’s email, with this lie, just before I was to go to bed). I felt disoriented, baffled, confused, and disconcerted. I had no idea who that family even was anymore.

As you read through my examples, note my use of ‘feeling’ words, especially those in italics: agitated, frustrated, rage, betrayed, etc. It is the use of words like these, carefully chosen and made as vividly descriptive–particular and precise in meaning–as possible, that is the key to processing your trauma. Get to the root of your trauma, and get it out of your system; share your words with people you can trust, people who will contain your pain for you, validate it, and send the energy back to you in a transformed way, to pacify and heal you.

The unconscious, as understood in terms of the Symbolic Order, isn’t the unconscious of an individual person; it’s rather a trans-individual unconscious connecting us with everyone else. The unconscious as the discourse of the Other (radical ‘otherness’: that is, all other people out there, not just someone we would narcissistically mirror against ourselves, as a baby and its mother looking into each other’s eyes), a conversation between the self and other, communication and connection between people in which they aren’t extensions of a narcissistic self, but coexist as equals.

As a rank amateur myself, with no formal training in the field, I tend to modify and adapt psychoanalytic theory as I see fit, so when I see a similarity between Lacan’s trans-individual unconscious and Jung‘s collective unconscious, I do so with an understanding that Lacan would probably wince at my conflation of the two.

My point is that it is in this place where all minds meet–a psychic state unified by communication, shared symbols and signifiers (‘language’ here has the expanded meaning of being a signifying system of differential relations–all interconnected ideas, just as our trans-individual unconscious makes us all interconnected), and listening empathically. I like to call it the Unity of Space, an infinite ocean where we can all heal together.

Narcissistic Envy and Jealousy

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

The development of pathological narcissism can in some ways be connected to the irresolution of the Oedipus complex, for as Don Carveth has noted, this complex is a narcissistic trauma. Still, we must first clarify what the Oedipus complex really is; a brief explanation of other psychoanalytic concepts helpful in understanding narcissism (a more detailed exploration can be found here, if what’s written below is frustratingly obscure) will be made below, too, before I get into a discussion of how my family conflicts can be seen as an example of narcissism based on Oedipal envy and jealousy.

The best way to understand the Oedipus complex is in a metaphoric sense–far more than just Freud‘s literal, primitive conception of wanting to remove the rival, same-sex parent and wanting to possess the opposite-sex one (or, in the case of the negative Oedipus complex, children loving the same-sex parent and hating the opposite-sex one). The desire for the one parent doesn’t have to be sexual, incestuous; and the hostility to the other parent doesn’t have to involve murderous phantasies. The child simply doesn’t wish to share the desired parent with a rival; he wants that parent all to himself.

Furthermore, as I’ve touched on elsewhere, the desire and hostility don’t each have to be reserved for only one parent or the other; a child typically has a love/hate relationship with both parents, based on his or her acceptance of what Melanie Klein called the “good” and “bad” mother and father aspects of both parents, understood when the child has developed a sense of ambivalence for them, derived from the depressive position, a resolution of the black-and-white splitting from the earlier paranoid-schizoid position.

Anyway, the Oedipal situation is best understood as a narcissistic relationship we all, as little children or infants, had with an idealized parent and the rival other parent, who annoys the child by drawing Mother’s attention away from him or her. Usually the ideal parent is the mother, idolized by little boys and girls–these latter kids during the pre-Oedipal phase–because the mother usually has more access to, and (unfortunately, due to sex roles and the patriarchal family) responsibility for, the babies than the father has.

This narcissistic period occurs in what Jacques Lacan called the Imaginary Order, sparked by the mirror stage, when an infant sees his or her mirror reflection for the first time, then conceives him- or herself as a coherent, unified being (as opposed to the spastic, fragmentary body the infant otherwise perceives himself to have). The reflected image is an idealized self–just as the mother’s smiling face, which the baby sees as a metaphorical mirror reflection of itself, is the face of an idealized person the child imagines to be an extension of itself, rather than an independent being in her own right, with her own needs and desires.

The notion of the mother as an extension of the baby is intensified since, as Wilfred Bion observed (and expressed with his idiosyncratic terminology), the baby needs the mother to provide her ability to think for it and process its outer stimuli (beta elements), because the baby doesn’t yet have a developed thinking apparatus. The mother is a container, holding all the upsetting, frightening external stimuli for the baby (the contained) in a state of maternal reverie, then transforming the baby’s pain, anxiety, etc. into a pacifying form it can accept (alpha elements), and returning it to the baby.

This, according to Bion, is how Knowledge (K) develops for the infant, a transferring of energy back and forth, from infant to mother and back again (container/contained), via projective identification; acquiring knowledge, however, may be desired or feared. (Bion observed this of Tiresias in the Oedipus myth, when the blind prophet was reluctant to tell King Oedipus that he was responsible for his father‘s death, and that he had married and committed incest with his mother. Read more here, pages 45-49.)

A narcissistic mother, already lacking in empathy, may not be all that willing to help her babies grow in knowledge through reverie and Bion’s notion of containment, thus causing the babies’ anxieties not to be processed and soothed, but rather to be turned into a nameless dread; the frustrated baby thus, in self-defence, limits its acquiring of knowledge (-K) from what it perceives to be the “bad mother.” The narcissistic mother would rather have her children dependent on her than be independent in knowledge.

This building-up of knowledge exclusively through the mother (or, by extension, the infant’s Oedipally-desired, male or female primary caregiver), can thus be a bad thing if this desired caregiver is the baby’s more-or-less only window to the world, barring the intervention of a third party (Father, or by extension, the rest of society) to round out and give nuance to the child’s experience of the world. The child thus never matures or fully leaves Lacan‘s narcissistic Imaginary Order to enter the Symbolic Order, to acquire fluency in the language and shared symbols of society, and thus fit into society.

In a similar vein, Heinz Kohut wrote about how the infantile narcissistic state is composed of two poles: 1) the idealized parental imago, an image of the loved parent (what Kohut called a self-object to satisfy narcissistic needs, or to validate and affirm the ego’s narcissistic self-image), which is introjected and felt to be an internal object inside the child’s mind; and 2) the boastful grandiose self, which can be related to Lacan’s narcissistic ideal-I from the mirror stage. If these two poles’ effectiveness in building psychological structure for the child are compromised (e.g., because of an unresolved Oedipal conflict), he or she could develop pathologically narcissistic traits as an adult.

Since the mirror doesn’t have to be a literal one (i.e., the infant–looking at his mother’s loving face [see Homer, page 24]–can see a symbolic mirror reflecting both his ideal, grandiose self and his idealized parent, an extension of himself via projective and introjective identification [container/contained]), we can see how Freud, Lacan, Bion, and Kohut can be fused. This is the self/other dialectic, the human personality as understood in a relational sense with other people, the psychic bridges between us all.

So, the Oedipal relationship with (usually) the mother is one of mirroring narcissism back to the child and of giving narcissistic idolatry to the desired parent. The problem for the child is that this two-way, mirroring relationship can’t last forever. As the child gets older, he or she must come to accept that the prized parent has desires for someone else (the other parent, a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.). The parent can’t belong exclusively to the child, and this traumatizing disappointment must be gotten over.

Most of us can get over this, to at least a reasonable extent, hence our infantile, childhood narcissism is let down tolerably, bit by bit (optimal frustration), and reduced to socially acceptable levels by the time we reach adulthood. Some people, on the other hand, because of some arrest in their childhood development, never sufficiently resolve this Oedipal trauma; these people grow up with pathological levels of narcissism, and throughout their lives need people to mirror their grandiosity back to them in the form of narcissistic supply.

I believe my mother suffered such unresolved traumas when she was a child, having been born in England two years before the Blitz, which–even if the bombings hadn’t happened in the city or town she, as an infant, had been in at the time–at least would have exposed her to a great level of parental stress in her immediate environment.

More significantly for her, though, would have been the death–several years later–of her father, to whom she’d have had a great Oedipal attachment, him being her metaphorical mirror when she was a little girl in the 1940s. Finally, her move with her widowed mother to Canada, by the 1950s, would have ripped her away from the–to her–idyllic, Edenic world of her origins, and put her in a strange new world she’d have found difficult to adjust to at such a tender, young age.

Because of these disruptions in her childhood development, she would have needed to fill in the voids where empathic mirroring was supposed to be. I believe she would eventually use my dad, my siblings, and me to fill in those voids, either to mirror her grandiose self back to her (i.e., my sister, J., her golden child, her idealized self), or to have people onto whom she could project the hated parts of herself (me–the scapegoat, or identified patient–and her nephews, L. and G., and eventually S., too, as I’ve explained in previous posts). To an extent, even my dad got scapegoated (whenever he displeased or disappointed her, which was frequent); so when he took me under his wing when I was a kid, the rest of the family blackballed me all the worse.

If Dad and I were mirroring each other, Mom was getting all that much less of a mirroring from me, causing her narcissistic injury. Narcissists are known for their wish to hog all the attention to themselves, so anyone taking any of that coveted attention away is seen as a rival to be envied. A key personality trait of people with NPD is envy: envy of others as well as a perception that others envy them, something easily interpreted as projected envy.

I believe that my mother’s envy of Dad’s ‘usurping,’ if you will, of some of that attention was part of her motive to fan the flames of jealousy that my brothers, R. and F., felt when Dad seemed to favour me over them. Their jealousy would have been a manifestation of their unresolved negative Oedipal feelings toward Dad; the same would apply to my sister, J., in her Oedipally-inspired jealousy. The Oedipal situation is all about narcissism, family rivalry, competition for love, and therefore, jealousy.

Jealousy differs slightly from envy, in that the former involves a fear of losing someone’s love to another person (this was my siblings’ problem); whereas envy involves irritation over one person having some kind of advantage, something or someone the envier lacks, thus making the envious one want to hurt the object of his envy (Mom’s problem).

I believe Mom envied the attention I gave to Dad, so she set up two camps in the family: those who were ‘loyal’ to her (my three siblings), and those who were ‘disloyal,’ Dad and me; this division into camps was the basis of much of the needless conflict in our family. While much of my father’s grumpy, authoritarian nastiness was due to his excess adherence to conservative values (his slavery to tradition), I believe a lot of his adversarial nature came from his bitterness in having married a narcissist, all while lacking the psychological vocabulary to give expression to his frustrations (one of Dad’s many bigotries was his hate of psychiatry, which he believed spawned many social ills).

So, by pushing R., F., and J. to focus their attention on Mom, to mirror her grandiosity back to her, and by punishing them if ever they failed to do so, Mom was causing my siblings to have–at least to a significant extent–an insufficiently resolved Oedipal conflict, a conflict she exploited to her advantage. They idolized her, felt a guarded hostility to Dad (criticism of him was allowed to a point; criticism of Mom was taboo, with rare exceptions), and tormented me for daring to do what they’d been forbidden to do: to have roughly equal proportions of affection and hostility for both parents.

I’m not saying R., F., and J. felt only negative feelings for Dad: a certain, circumscribed amount of affection for him was seen by Mom as not only acceptable, but appropriate and expected (after all, we had to maintain the public image of being a ‘good, loving family’). A similarly limited love was doled out to me by all of them, ‘as appropriate.’ J., as the golden child, was especially obligated ‘to love’ me.

The conflict that my mother promoted was also meant to stay within certain ‘acceptable’ limits. Mom was at least partly responsible for having failed to resolve the mid-1970s conflict between Dad and teen R. over the relative triviality of his bad grades at school. I speculate that she may have, in fact, helped escalate the conflict leading to teen R.’s leaving home; it’s all described in more detail here–scroll down about a third to halfway into it; read there also about his ranting to me, years later, of Dad supposedly loving J. and me more for having gotten better grades in school…Oedipal jealousy. Mom thus had to be careful not to let family fights escalate into physical violence, or into any of us, still underage at the time, running away from home.

Hence, Mom tolerated anyone verbally abusing me, but drew the line at physical violence (i.e., when she knew F. had perpetrated it); also, Mom’s use of the autism lie on me (read about that here) could have been partially motivated by a wish to ensure I’d be too scared to run away from home, she having implied that I was ‘too mentally incompetent’ to be able to take care of myself.

The family was fond of scorning me as some kind of overgrown child. But if I’m right about this repressed, unconscious Oedipus factor as the basis for so much of my conflict with Mom and my siblings, as well as their conflicts with each other and with Dad (all those unresolved Mommy and Daddy issues), we now can see who in my family, deep down, were the truly childish ones.

R., F., and J. were in a perpetual competition to see who was the ‘worthiest’ of Mom’s love, never realizing that conditional love isn’t love at all. They based their (and my) worth on how much of Mom’s love we had ‘earned’ (in earlier posts–some of which are among the links given above–I gave many examples of my siblings implying they’d ‘earned’ a love I hadn’t). Their sense of emotional stability, self-confidence, and ability to function normally in the world was based on the comfortable, flattering illusion of that love. I saw through the family’s bullshit, and they shame me for daring to have that Tiresias-like insight, Bion’s K, which they are probably still too afraid to uncover.

Wilfred R. Bion, Learning From Experience, Maresfield Library, London, 1962

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Sean Homer, Jacques Lacan, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, London, 2005

Intrusive Thoughts

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

Way back when I wrote my article on C-PTSD, I discussed emotional flashbacks, which are a re-experiencing of the emotional states of painful memories from emotional abuse. This re-experiencing of the painful emotions from a memory–not a re-experiencing of the memory itself, as in the flashbacks of PTSD sufferers–can last for hours, days, or even weeks, often with an overwhelming feeling of profound sadness, anguish, or fear.

In my article, I imagined my generally brief fantasies of rage at my emotional abusers–my (probably) narcissistic late mother and her flying monkeys, my siblings–to have been emotional flashbacks. I believe I may have been mistaken about that: what I have been experiencing seems to have been more like intrusive thoughts.

We all think black thoughts sometimes, even the healthiest of people; but these kinds of thoughts become a problem when they recur obsessively. Intrusive thoughts tend to come in three basic forms: aggressive, blasphemous, and sexual. I generally get them in the first category.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

An imagined scenario, of me in a conflict with my mother, my older brothers R. and F., or my older sister J., will pop into my head. I’ll imagine myself yelling my grievances at them, the whole situation soon spiralling out of control. I’ll end it by telling myself mentally to stop dramatizing the ridiculous spectacle in my head, and I’ll feel awful.

This has been an ongoing problem in my head for years, even decades. One of the things I was hoping to achieve by ending communication with the family was to stop these mental melodramas from playing in my head, over and over again. Going no contact was a necessary condition for ending the emotional abuse, to be sure, but it wasn’t a sufficient condition.

Those people still exist as internal objects in my head. The auto-hypnoses I created in previous posts, such as exorcizing the inner critic demon, imagining that painful past as a mere dream, etc., are helpful to an extent, as has been this writing therapy–processing my feelings by finding the right words to describe them–but other methods have to be used in conjunction with those to lessen the effects of the trauma even further.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

An additional tactic we survivors can have in our healing arsenal, as it were, is to practice grounding whenever those intrusive thoughts pop up in our heads. Essentially, this involves bringing ourselves back into our bodies, back into the present moment, typically using the five senses (e.g., taking note of how something in our immediate surroundings feels, looks, sounds, smells, and/or tastes, to bring us out of our ruminating, dissociating heads, and back into our bodies at the moment).

One time, a week or two ago, I was getting worked up with an intrusive thought about an imagined argument with one of my siblings. It was irritating me so much, taking my mind off of one simple thing I needed to get done at the time, that I decided to ground myself: I focused on my arms, my legs, my torso, and my head, thinking about what was going on in those body parts at that moment, instead of dwelling on those ghosts in my head. It worked. I brought myself back to the present moment, and I could function.

Another thing I’ve found helpful, when imagining the hurtful things my family would say to me, is to say to myself, “Their opinion doesn’t count.” It’s just one opinion that they all share, and it has no nuance or sophistication (‘I was just born screwed up,’ apparently). It’s also a result of their willful ignorance of the true causes of the problems I had with the family, problems largely caused by them, but things they never want to take responsibility for.

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

There are lots of videos and blog posts out there on grounding and other ways of dealing with these nasty emotional spells. Here are a few. Another thing you can do is use positive affirmations to help pull you out of your pain. I recommend using techniques like these if you have a problem with intrusive thoughts.

I know it’s difficult to replace our bad thoughts with positive ones, but we have to try; if we don’t, we’ll just stay a prisoner in the dark. All things are hard at first before they can be easy; repeated effort can help us eventually shift from the bad thoughts to the good.

Forgiveness vs. Understanding

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

To all those abuse victims out there who can, whether it be for religious reasons or otherwise, forgive their victimizers, I must say that that’s commendable of you. I must respectfully disagree with this attitude, however, as I find the unrepentant abuser to be unworthy of forgiveness.

The forgivers do have a good point, though. Simmering in perpetual resentment, ruminating over the abuse, and constantly reminding oneself–as a reaction to second-guessing–of why one is angry and hurt: these things punish only us, while our abusers go to bed every night and not miss a wink of sleep.

Is there another way, a solution that allows us to have peace without giving our abusers something they haven’t earned? I think so–it’s understanding.

Instead of just regarding them as evil, or as assholes, we should try to understand the course of events that lead them to become who they are. This is why reading about the causes of narcissism, ASPD, and other Cluster B personality disorders is so important.

I personally focus on narcissism since I believe my late mother had NPD, maybe even malignant narcissism (though I can never know for sure, since she was never diagnosed). While psychoanalysis obviously doesn’t have the final say on the causes and treatment of narcissism, it does provide a number of insights worthy of at least some consideration. I recommend reading Heinz Kohut, though his writing is wordy, academic, technical, and therefore very difficult to read through.

Kohut focuses on the narcissist having been deprived of empathy (mirroring) from, and of a solid role model (idealized parental imago) in, his or her parents, resulting in the hated parts of the narcissist’s personality being repressed or disavowed, split off from the self (I interpret this latter defence mechanism as projection, or projective identification, a passing of their own faults onto other people, their abuse victims).

Beyond problems like these, though, it’s often said that narcissists and psychopaths are the way they are, at least in part, because of severe childhood trauma from various forms of abuse and neglect (i.e., disrupted parental bonding). So we can understand what made them that way, though it never gave them any special right to do what they did to us; hence I favour understanding over forgiveness.

I’ve explained in previous posts why I believe my late mother developed pathological levels of narcissism, traits she denied in herself by putting on a False Self of the altruistic, ‘loving mother’ (even though she constantly bad-mouthed her nephews–and me, in all probability–behind their backs and mine), and by projecting her faults onto me, the family scapegoat, or identified patient.

I’ll review those reasons here below, as well as give what I think are the reasons her flying monkeys, my older brothers R. and F., and my older sister J., the golden child, were such bullies to me when I was a child, teen, and young adult.

Born in London, England in 1938, and therefore subjected on at least some level to the Blitz starting two years later, my mother must have had a traumatizing infancy. Added to this, her father–whom she deeply loved–died when she was a little girl…more trauma. Then she emigrated with her mother to Canada, leaving behind the whole world of her childhood to enter a totally unfamiliar one…even more childhood trauma.

The thing to be amazed at is not how screwed up my mother was, but how well she kept herself together. I believe she used a grandiose self as a defence against psychological fragmentation, the emotional falling-apart or disintegration of the personality.

Now, that grandiose self of hers wouldn’t have lasted long in a world that doesn’t tolerate braggarts. I’ll bet her mother–already with enough on her plate, and struggling to raise Mom on her own until meeting the man who would be my step-grandfather–was particularly annoyed with my then-teenage Mom’s egotism. I’m guessing Grandma shamed Mom for it, instead of empathically mirroring it, as Kohut would do in treating narcissists, and letting her grandiosity down in levels tolerable for her to endure, so she could cultivate the moderate, restrained, healthy, and mature amounts of narcissistic tendencies of normal people.

My then-adolescent mother (assuming my speculations are correct) would have had to bury her shame and adapt, transforming her overt narcissism into the covert kind. Part of this would have involved replacing boasting about herself with smearing other people behind their backs. Over the years, she would have honed her skills at observing people, gossiping, and spreading rumours, to the point of rarely, if ever, getting caught having told a lie.

Getting married and having children would have given my mother the perfect setting to play her manipulative games. Children are blank slates, ideal for moulding into whatever kind of people the narcissistic parent wants them to be. A spouse who can be dominated, and whose contempt for all things psychological and psychiatric would preclude his benefitting from gaining any insight into human nature (a perfect description of the disposition of my late father), would be a perfect match for a narcissist, too.

The thrill of dominating a whole family in this way would be an irresistible pleasure for a narcissistic mother. The master of puppets could then indulge her fantasies of superiority and power-wielding by taking advantage of naïve children who desperately need parental love and approval, tricking them into confusing parental bullying with discipline and correction of misbehaviour.

She could play Pygmalion, sculpting her sons’ and daughters’ personalities and self-perceptions into whatever she wanted them to be. All that shame my Mom had from her original egotism and self-absorption could be projected onto an innocent, unsuspecting child (me). The idealized version of herself that she wished she could equate with what she saw in the mirror would instead be projected onto another of her children (my sister, J.), whom she could look at as if looking at her own reflection. The pain of emotional neglect, or a lack of empathic mirroring, which she got as a child could be expelled from her and projected onto her remaining sons (my brothers, R. and F.).

The stage was set: we, her sons and daughter, would contain all her pain, dejection, and self-hate (J.’s pain being the pressure, as the golden child, to be everything Mom demanded she be, and to embody every virtue Mom failed to embody herself). By containing all these hurts for Mom (as, under normal circumstances, a mother in reverie would contain the pain and anxieties of her baby), we unwittingly freed her to function normally in society…or at least to seem to be functioning so.

Now, that was the dysfunctional way my mother dealt with her pain. With my brothers, the source of much of their nastiness to me was in their strained relationship with our father: this is especially true of R.

In all the blog posts I’ve written about my family, I’ve said comparatively little about the faults of my father, in large part because–in spite of how egregious his faults were–I don’t consider him to have had pathological levels of narcissistic traits (I don’t consider F. to have them either, however much of a bully he was to me). We need now to consider the role Dad played in all of our family’s problems.

Dad had a reactionary attitude towards child rearing. If we kids did wrong, he imagined shaming us into doing right would work. He was a staunch conservative, and an ardent advocate of spanking. If you got poor grades at school, or showed a lack of interest in improving them (he was a high school teacher back in the 1960s), you were going to have a hard time with him. Enter my academically disappointing brothers.

J and I got good grades in school (especially her…and Dad growled at me from time to time if I ever got disappointing grades), so he was generally nicer to us. Dad actually took me under his wing, mentoring me, even. Now, bear in mind that his influence wasn’t always a good thing, given his bigotry against blacks, Jews, gays, the left, etc., and teaching kids bigoted beliefs is considered a form of emotional abuse. Nonetheless, this closeness between Dad and me incurred jealousy in R. and F., giving those two pricks a motive to bully me.

Now, as understandable as my elder brothers’ jealousy and rage were, it doesn’t come even close to justifying R.’s and F’s viciousness towards me. Why should I have been punished for having one family member reasonably (far from absolutely!) on my side? Consider the heartbreak I felt to learn how my mother, with her eight WTF moments (<<see here, scrolling down to Part VII: Conclusion), had never really been on my side, with J. as her mini-me, helping her. Would Mom’s cruelties to me justify my being vindictive to R. and F., given Mom’s general favouring of them over me (e.g., looking the other way when they bullied me)?

Am I not allowed one family friend (which Dad wasn’t in the strict sense, for he verbally abused me on many occasions, as did the others, typically for minor things I’d done to annoy him)? Dad looked well on J. usually; and she and Mom were pals, she being the golden child. Though R. was often nasty to J. for the same reason he was to me (i.e., our better school grades), he was nasty to her only a fraction of the time he was to me; and F. generally wasn’t mean to her–only to me.

Something else had to be going on to explain the family’s aggravated abuse on me; even my personal faults (which, I admit, are far from few) cannot account for the volume of viciousness they all showed me. This is where my poison-tongued mother came in.

I believe that her childhood traumas, as outlined above, caused her to imagine that isolation and conflict are standard elements in human relationships, that a large dose of resentment and hostility mixed in with otherwise ‘loving’ family relationships was her normal. Hence, all the rancour she inspired among us.

I was scapegoated by her, and so, I believe, was our henpecked father, to a great extent. So my ‘friendship’ with him made us into the ‘bad team’ of the family during my youth in Canada; and Mom, R., F., and J. were the ‘good team,’ since they gave Mom substantial amounts of narcissistic supply. All three of my siblings felt varying levels of bitterness towards Dad, and I believe Mom stoked the flames of their animus towards him, just as she had towards my three cousins. Conflict was her normal, as long as it didn’t get pushed too far.

It did get pushed too far once, back in the mid-70s, when then-teenage R. went through some emotional problems leading to his swallowing over a dozen pills, then later leaving home, that is, not moving with us from Toronto to Hamilton. I’ve gone over what happened back then in more detail here (<<<scroll one third to halfway down), with my speculation that Mom was at least partially, significantly responsible for the escalating conflict between him and Dad.

I believe part of her motive–in lying to me that mythical shrinks judged that I was too mentally incompetent (from her having lied to me about having infantile autism) to “make even a good garbageman” (!)–was so I’d be too scared to run away from home, as R. had. Her autism lie, designed to make me seem inferior and irritating instead of worthy of compassion, would also make me seem totally unworthy of the favour I’d been getting from Dad, thus making my siblings loathe me all the more.

Mom’s final lie to me, told on R.’s cellphone while she lay on her deathbed, that she “gave [me] the most love” during my preteen/early adolescent years (scroll down to Part 6 here for the whole story) was, I believe, calculated to stir up more jealousy in R., who was sitting by her bed when she said it to me. (For the record, Mother dear, lying about me having autism, lying that psychiatrists had thought I should be locked away in an asylum due to mental retardation, and allowing my siblings to bully me, are not examples of how to give a son any love, let alone “the most love”!) She wanted my siblings to believe that I, as ‘undeserving’ as I was, was the parental favourite!

The absurdity of such a belief (and, therefore, the cruelty of her making them believe that) is obvious, and should be obvious to them, given not only J.’s golden child status against mine as the scapegoat, and not only because of how R., F., and J. grew up largely thinking their bullying of me was morally defensible (thanks not only to Mom’s winking at the vast majority of it, but also to her rationalizing and minimizing of their cruelty, and her invalidating of my side of the story), but also how Mom had said, years before on at least two occasions (one of them with J. present), that F. was her favourite. I believed Mom at the time, but now that I know what a pathological liar she was, I believe she said it to stir up jealousy in J. (her real favourite) and me.

The point of stirring up all this conflict was to make the three of us compete for Mom’s love. J.’s self-righteous moralizing, as with R.’s and F.’s, was to tell me, “See, Mawr? We’re more deserving of Mom’s love than you are!” One time, in a fight with F., I claimed his ‘caring’ for other people (as opposed to his accusation that ‘I don’t care about anyone but myself’), was just to get attention. Furious, he yelled four-letter abuse at me and threatened to hit me: was his anger because I’d said something unfair…or because what I’d said was true?

Just as Mom used projective identification to expel what she hated in herself onto me, so did R., F., and J. project what Mom and Dad had made them hate in themselves onto me. They needed to get rid of that poisonous pain…by using me as the receptacle of it?

Anyway, my point is that I can understand why everyone in the family was the way they were. Mom was manipulating them as much as she was manipulating me, though in different ways. I won’t forgive them, though, because their willful ignorance of what really happened in that family makes them unworthy of being forgiven for their wrongs against me. They wouldn’t be able to bear learning that Mom never really loved any of us, but only pretended to, while using us instead to give her narcissistic supply.

I say, leave my siblings in the security of their illusions that Mom was loving, that they were all good, and only I was the one with the problems. It’s the most loving thing I can do for them.

Don’t Fear Freedom from Abuse

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

You might ask, Dear Reader, why any victim of emotional abuse would be afraid of being freed from it. Isn’t freedom from the abuse exactly what we victims crave? That freedom is what we want should be a no-brainer.

The sad reality is, however, that the functioning of the mind is far more complex than that of one having a straightforward wish for what’s good for us, or for what’s pleasurable for us. Not to rely too much on Freud, who got a lot more wrong than he got right; but for what it’s worth, in his Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he noted our self-destructive, aggressive tendencies in what he called the death drive (Thanatos) and “the compulsion to repeat” irrational acts, or re-experience distressing moments in the past.

Object relations theorists like Melanie Klein and WRD Fairbairn noted how negative internal representations that we have in our minds of our parents and early caregivers (the “bad mother” and “bad father” internal objects) can be transferred to our later relationships in the form of boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses with similar narcissistic traits to those of our parents. These bad internal objects, residing in our minds like ghosts, become the blueprints for our later relationships, and they are difficult to shake off (see part 5 of this for a deeper explanation).

Making things even more difficult, our wish to find good people in our lives–to replace the bad ones we’ve gone no contact with–can be thwarted by what Fairbairn called the Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object configuration in our minds. Originally, Fairbairn called this the Internal Saboteur, for that’s exactly what this part of our minds does–it sabotages possible new, good relationships by rejecting people.

For Fairbairn, libidinal need is object-need, that is, a need people have for others to love and have relationships with (the subject=the self; objects=people other than the self); so the anti-libidinal ego is the part of oneself that is hostile towards and rejects objects. We all know how we reject new people from having been hurt so often by earlier ones.

In An Introduction to Object Relations, Lavinia Gomez explains that the “anti-libidinal ego [corresponding roughly with Freud’s superego] is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez p. 63-64)

Even worse, our relationships with narcissists, past and present, are those of traumatic bonding rather than ones of mutual respect and love. We feel as though we’re glued to these bad kinds of people whether we want to or not, so when we leave a relationship with a narcissist, we often fall back (however unwittingly or unconsciously) into a relationship with either the same one, or get trapped in a new relationship with another.

How do we get out of this vicious circle? Since I find relationships with these people to be overbearingly authoritarian, I find that the ideas Erich Fromm wrote about in his classic 1941 book, Escape From Freedom (also called The Fear of Freedom), to be applicable in relationships involving narcissistic abuse.

In his book, Fromm wrote about the experience of Europeans having been freed from the yoke of authoritarian thinking on two momentous occasions (from medieval-era Catholicism, and Germans from their authoritarian empire a century ago), only to find themselves with feelings of isolation, insignificance, and meaninglessness in their lives. The only way they found themselves able to reestablish a sense of meaning and belonging was to adopt new forms of authoritarianism: respectively, 16th century Lutheran and Calvinistic Protestantism; and for early 20th-century Germans, Nazism.

Fromm writes, [for the Germans] “The authority of the monarchy was undisputed, and by leaning on it and identifying with it the member of the lower middle class acquired a feeling of security and narcissistic pride. Also, the authority of religion and traditional morality was still firmly rooted. The family was still unshaken and a safe refuge in a hostile world. The individual felt that he belonged to a stable social and cultural system in which he had his definite place. His submission and loyalty to existing authorities were a satisfactory solution to his masochistic strivings…What he was lacking in security and aggressiveness as an individual, he was compensated for by the strength of the authorities to whom he submitted himself.

“The postwar period [i.e., 1918 and after] changed this situation considerably…the economic decline of the old middle class went at a faster pace…The defeat in the war and the downfall of the monarchy…on which, psychologically speaking, the petty bourgeois had built his existence, their failure and defeat shattered the basis of his own life. If the Kaiser could be publicly ridiculed,…what could the little man put his trust in? He had identified himself…with all these institutions; now, since they had gone, where was he to go?” (Fromm, pages 211-213)

In abandoning the old authoritarian structures, these Europeans achieved what Fromm called negative freedom, or freedom from an oppressive life; they hadn’t, however, achieved positive freedom, or freedom to reach their true human potential. Without this second kind of freedom, their sense of loneliness, purposelessness, and powerlessness could only lead them back to the comforting, though dysfunctional, structure of a new authoritarianism, namely, Nazism or authoritarian forms of Protestantism.

As for Luther and Calvin, Fromm writes, “Luther’s system, in so far as it differed from the Catholic tradition, has two sides…he gave man independence in religious matters…he deprived the Church of her authority and gave it to the individual; that his concept of faith and salvation is one of subjective individual experience, in which all responsibility is with the individual and none with an authority which could give him what he cannot obtain himself. […]

“The other aspect of modern freedom is the isolation and powerlessness it has brought for the individual, and this aspect has its roots in Protestantism as much as that of independence…Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrines…[have] a negative aspect…: their emphasis on the fundamental evilness and powerlessness of man.” (Fromm, page 74)

Fromm explains further: “Calvin’s theology…exhibits essentially the same spirit as Luther’s, both theologically and psychologically. Although he opposes the authority of the [Catholic] Church and the blind acceptance of its doctrines, religion for him is rooted in the powerlessness of man; self-humiliation and the destruction of human pride are the Leitmotiv of his whole thinking.” […] Calvin himself said, “We are not our own; therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions. We are not our own…it is the most devastating pestilence which ruins people if they obey themselves…” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 7, 1; quoted in Fromm, pages 84-85)

There’s a kind of sadomasochistic quality to this authoritarian structure (just to be clear here, I’m not talking about the sexual kind found in the BDSM community; rather, I’m talking about the appeal of a dominant/submissive relationship with others, as a simpler, easier one, rather than the ambiguous, more challenging one of equality and mutual respect). In this structure, you know who is ‘above’ you, and who is ‘below’ you; hence, the comforting assurance and belonging felt in this structure. The Protestant God of Luther and Calvin was above the ‘unworthy’ sinners. (Again, I’m not criticizing Protestant Christianity in general here, just the particular, authoritarian form it took when Martin Luther and John Calvin had established their churches back in the 16th century.) Similarly, the Führer was ‘above’ the ‘Aryan‘ German; the Jews, Roma, gay men, and other persecuted groups were ‘below‘ the ‘Aryans.’

To get back to my main point, I believe this kind of authoritarian restructuring can be seen in the replacing of old forms of narcissistic abuse with new forms, either in staying with the abuser, in leaving one abuser only to enter into a new abusive relationship, or through our inner critic‘s continuing of the old abuse in our minds (“the fundamental evilness and powerlessness” that we imagine ourselves to embody, thanks to our abusers’ gaslighting of us), even years after we’ve ended the old relationships and not replaced them with new narcissistic abusers. (Note: I’m not trying to blame the victim here, but rather to explain what I think is happening.)

It’s been noted many times how we victims of emotional abuse keep the haranguing going on in our minds years later. I do this kind of haranguing to myself! There’s a feeling that if I don’t go over these feelings, this endless rumination and re-examining of past events, that I’ll have jumped to premature conclusions and misjudged my family too harshly. The feeling is, why can’t I just put it all behind me and be happy?

I suspect that many other sufferers of narcissistic abuse out there go through similar internal conflicts. Instead of properly processing their trauma and rebuilding their lives through a regular practice of self-care, they go over the same past events to reassure themselves that they’re judging their past relationships correctly (when they so obviously are correct about the abusive relationships, and thus don’t need to re-examine them, except that all their second-guessing perpetuates their doubts).

My point is, are we afraid of being free of the past?

Is our mental state comparable to what was happening after the end of medieval Catholicism, and after the end of the authoritarian German state? Has our traumatic bonding caused us to crave the sense of ‘security’ and ‘belonging’ that comes from the authoritarian rule of our narcissistic abusers?

Are we so used to the sadomasochistic structure, the false assurance, of who’s ‘above’ us (i.e., the narcissistic parents or ex) and who’s ‘below’ us (i.e., the scapegoats…if we’re the golden children or lost children) that we’re afraid of giving up that structure, only to be thrown into a world where we don’t know who we are anymore? Has the trauma of narcissistic abuse drilled a false self so deep into our heads that we can’t conceive of ourselves as having any other self?

Just as Fromm, at the end of his book, suggests positive freedom is the solution to the problem of negative freedom (and its attendant void of meaninglessness, loneliness, and powerlessness), so do I. Positive freedom, or the “freedom to” achieve one’s fullest potential, involves living a life of spontaneity, of solidarity and equality with others in mutual respect and love, with no more rigid sense of people ‘above’ or ‘below’ us. It involves us enjoying life in the moment, a focus on present-mindedness.

Fromm explains: “We have said that negative freedom by itself makes the individual an isolated being, whose relationship with the world is distant and distrustful and whose self is weak and constantly threatened. Spontaneous activity is the one way in which man can overcome the terror of aloneness without sacrificing the integrity of the self; for in the spontaneous realization of the self man unites himself with the world–with man, nature, and himself. Love is the foremost component of such spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person, not love as the possession of another person, but love as spontaneous affirmation of others, as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the preservation of the individual self. The dynamic quality of love lies in this very polarity: that it springs from the need of overcoming separateness, that it leads to oneness–and yet that individuality is not eliminated…It affirms the individuality of the self and at the same time it unites the self with man and nature. […]

“In all spontaneous activity the individual embraces the world. Not only does his individual self remain intact; it becomes stronger and more solidified…The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo self to others and oneself, are the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness. […]

“…what matters is the activity as such, the process and not the result…[by focusing only on “the finished product” rather than the process, though,] man misses the only satisfaction that can give him real happiness–the experience of the activity of the present moment–and chases after a phantom that leaves him disappointed as soon as he believes he has caught it–the illusory happiness called [financial] success.

“If the individual realizes his self by spontaneous activity and thus relates himself to the world, he ceases to be an isolated atom; he and the world become part of one structuralized whole; he has his rightful place, and thereby his doubt concerning himself and the meaning of life disappears. This doubt sprang from his separateness and from the thwarting of life; when he can live, neither compulsively nor automatically but spontaneously, the doubt disappears. He is aware of himself as an active and creative individual and recognizes that there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.” (Fromm, pages 259-261, his emphasis)

I believe we survivors of emotional abuse can apply these principles in our own lives, incorporating them into all the other things we can use for self-care. Space in this blog post cannot do justice to a full explanation of what Fromm was writing about; so if you find these ideas intriguing but don’t fully understand them, I suggest buying his book and imagining how his ideas can apply to your healing journey.

Note that there is a dialectical relationship between freedom and bondage, as Fromm notes in his analysis of history. The thesis is authoritarian oppression, be it from the Church, the state, or a narcissistic abuser; then, there’s the negation, or freedom from those oppressors. We all too often expect life to have a kind of secure stasis, or a state of familiar fixity. Change frightens us, so a move to freedom from the familiar form of bondage is frightening. Spontaneous living, however, is the resolution of the opposition between freedom and bondage; spontaneity is the sublation of the contradiction, because our individuality/unity creates our own structure, belonging, and meaning.

Instead of settling for the false security of staying in abusive relationships (the troughs of the ocean of life), or fearing a permanent sense of powerlessness, meaninglessness, and loneliness associated with negative freedom (the crests of the ocean of life), we should just ride the waves as they go up and down. There is no fixed, permanent solution in life, but there is a soothing flow to everything. Go with the flow.

Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1941

Present-mindedness

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

One of the methods of coping that sufferers of C-PTSD use is dissociation, a shutting down to block the trauma’s intensity and a mental escaping from the present, stressful moment into a world of fantasy. As an alternative to fight or flight, dissociation is part of freezefawn being used more typically by people-pleasers and golden children.

This dissociation can be in the more advanced form of maladaptive daydreaming, a kind of manic defence escape from what troubles us into fantasy for protracted periods of time. Now, while this escape into fantasy may have served some useful purpose as a way to cope with childhood trauma, when we reach adulthood we can’t allow ourselves to dissociate to the point of it interfering with our lives.

I’ll give an example of a mild form of this problem. I look back on my teen years with regret over my habit, at the time, of daydreaming and excessively fantasizing, hour after hour, about being a great musician. I should have been practicing the guitar for the required hours, gradually overcoming my faults, and perhaps even becoming at least a good musician, instead of being the, at best, mediocre one I am now. The creativity involved in daydreaming isn’t worth much if it isn’t manifested in the real world, demonstrated as a physical thing people can see, hear, read…and admire.

Don’t daydream too much!

That excessive daydreaming was one of a number of things that helped me forget–temporarily–the school bullying and emotionally abusive family of my youth. Once, however, we’ve escaped the traumatizing relationships we were in with toxic people, be they a narcissistic family or ex-boy- or girlfriends, or ex-spouses, we have to learn to wean ourselves away from the bad habit of excessive daydreaming, as well as all the other, more serious problems that ongoing dissociation can cause. We have to train our minds to live in the NOW.

I’ve discussed this issue before, though from different angles. In Putting the Painful Past Behind Us, I devised an auto-hypnosis geared at persuading us to think of our painful pasts as no longer having any relevance in our present lives; if we think of it more as a dream we’ve woken from, it may be easier to forget and to stop ruminating about. In Rumination, I featured a list of reasons why overthinking the past is not only a pointless waste of time, but is also harmful.

Now, instead of stopping overthinking the past, I’m focusing on getting us to be more present-minded, to being mindful for as much of the day as we can. I’d like to try that by having us do another auto-hypnosis.

Start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable, quiet, and relaxing place, with nothing to distract or bother you. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, over and over again. Pay close attention to what is happening in your body.

Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Imagine yourself standing in a growing, rising pool of water, at first covering your toes and heels, then rising up to the tops of your feet and reaching your ankles. As every part of your body is submerged by this ‘water,’ you feel those submerged body parts tingling, vibrating with relaxation.

This ‘water’ rises up to your calves, knees, upper legs, and thighs. Now, half of your body is submerged in this ‘watery,’ tingling relaxation. It continues up to your waist, belly, and lower back. Your fingers, then hands and lower arms are also submerged.

The ‘water’ rises up to your chest and upper back, as well as your elbows and upper arms, until your shoulders are also submerged, then the water reaches your neck. Finally, your whole head is ‘underwater.’

This whole time, you’ve continued your slow, deep breathing. Now, with each long inhalation and exhalation, count down from ten to one; as each number is passed, feel yourself getting more and more relaxed, so by the time you reach one, then zero, you’re at a maximum state of relaxation.

Now, imagine your nostrils are like the gills of a fish, and breathe in that ‘water’ you’re submerged in. As it enters and permeates your whole body, imagine yourself becoming one with the ‘water.’ This ‘water’ is the infinite ocean that is the entire universe, and like the Hindu notion of Atman‘s union with Brahman, you are now unified with, you’re a drop of water in, that peaceful ocean of everything.

You are a part of the ocean’s waves. You ARE those waves.

Feel the soothing waves of that nirvana-like ocean passing in you, through you, and out of you, for you are that ocean, or at least you’re a tiny but happy part of it. The waves move up and down, slowly, serenely. Focus on the gentle movement of those waves as they flow through you right now. If you get distracted and catch yourself dissociating, that’s OK: just gently but firmly bring yourself back to concentrating on those peaceful waves. Feel them massaging your soul.

Try to stay focused on this three-part state of consciousness: your connection with the oneness all around you, what I like to call the Unity of Space (that Atman = Brahman idea); your focus on the present, the eternal NOW, what I like to call the Unity of Time; and the up and down rolling of those waves, which for me symbolizes the dialectical unity of opposites, the crests being the theses, the troughs the theses’ negations, and the in-between movements up and down being the sublations of the theses/negations, what I like to call the Unity of Action. Everything is one: there is no more fragmentation.

Focus on these Three Unities simultaneously to bring yourself into full consciousness of the present reality within and around you. Such a meditation is excellent practice in concentration, and doing it regularly, every day, over time should help you become more habitually present-minded, since it will discipline your mind to stop drifting off into dissociations. It will also help you to calm your mind, be more peaceful, and feel more connected with the world, less alienated.

The infinite ocean of peace that gives true happiness.

The Unity of Time combines present-mindedness with an instinctive understanding of the eternally cyclical nature of reality, symbolized not only by those undulating waves, but also by the ouroboros, as I’ve discussed elsewhere. I find focusing on the cyclical motion of the waves to be helpful in keeping my mind from wandering from the NOW. Keep your mind on those up-and-down wave movements, and stay in the present.

Now, if you don’t like the meditation/visualization I’ve proposed above, remember that you can develop present-mindedness through the practice of other meditations, such as chanting the mantra Aum; counting slow, deep breaths; or staring at a single object. The basic principle is to do one thing and concentrate only on that thing you’re doing, not allowing your mind to wander.

What matters most is that, in developing your skill at sustaining your present-mindedness, you’ll be ruminating less, agonizing over the past less, feeling more peaceful, and enjoying more of your real life, which is right here in front of you, and which is now and only now.

Hoovering

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

Because of traumatic bonding, we survivors of emotional abuse may find it tempting to believe our abusers when they say they want ‘to connect’ with us again, or to be ‘reconciled’ with us. Nobody wants to lose friends; we all hate to see close relationships disintegrate.

But since the pain outweighs the good we received (or thought we received), we must protect ourselves from any new pain our abusers are planning to inflict on us. At the same time, their manner of communicating with us seems so kind, so patient, so loving.

Have they changed? Have they finally learned from all the mistakes they made in the past? We’d like to think so…oh, how we’d like to think so! After all, though the good that we got from the relationship may have made up a minority of the total experiences in it, that good may have been (or at least may have seemed to be) a rather large minority. A minority, nonetheless, is still a minority, big or small. What can we do to avoid falling into yet another trap?

If that ‘large minority,’ or ‘significant minority,’ of good times really was good, in spite of the clear majority of bad, we might want to think less of the quantity of experiences of good and bad, and think rather of their quality. Were the good experiences of any real importance, or were they just fleeting pleasures? If the latter, their large number (if they actually even were large in number) hardly comes close to compensating for all the pain that the bad experiences caused. If the good times were significant, the bad times all too often outweigh the good times, too. Either way, be careful!

Don’t let ’em suck you back in!

And if those abusers are asking you to get back in touch, you know their sucking you back in is not in your best interests.

I’ll give an example of hoovering I got from my older sister, J., the golden child of the family. She tried emailing me, after the falling-out I had with the family when my late, probably narcissistic mother died (read these posts for the origin story of my troubles with my family, if you’re interested), telling me about possessions of mine still in our mother’s home that I should collect. I didn’t want them. I never even replied to her email. I also blocked her and all our other family members.

Then she tried, several months to a year or so later, to contact me on Facebook. I rejected her message request. When you go No Contact, you must commit to it.

She tried, in her messages (the opening part that I actually saw, for I had no wish whatsoever to read them), to be warm and caring in her tone. I wasn’t buying one word of it. I know her too well. She likes to open her messages to me with such stale, formal language as, “I hope this email finds you well,” implying a lack of genuine, heartfelt emotion. She never was one for the sincerity club.

She would have me believe that the whole family misses me terribly (If so, why have neither of my older brothers–nor anyone else in the family, apart from her and Mom when she was alive–ever tried contacting me, except ever so rarely over the past twenty years I’ve lived in Asia after leaving Canada in 1996?); and they want us to “heal those wounds,” as my aunt described the problem on the phone just before my mom died in hospital. I haven’t contacted them because, frankly, I don’t miss them. Why would I miss emotional abusers?

Don’t be a sucker!

Furthermore, I assure you, Dear Reader: the only ‘healing’ they want is from their own point of view; they couldn’t care less whether I heal or not–I’m expected just to fall in line and do what they want. The ‘healing’ would involve me changing my ‘errant’ ways and apologizing for the hurt I caused them. They wouldn’t need to change, because in their opinion, they never did me any wrong. Their anger towards me is always ‘justified’; mine never is. I’m just an immature, selfish whiner, according to them.

I beg to differ, as I’ve explained at length in all the posts (links above) that I’ve written on the subject; there’s no point in my repeating all of that here. In any case, true reconciliation must involve reciprocity: it’s only fair. I’m prepared to acknowledge things I’ve done to upset them, in recent years as well as those further off in the past; but beyond a mere paying of lip service to their faults, they will only trivialize all that they and Mom did over the years to provoke my wrath. As her flying monkeys, they’re willfully ignorant of what she did, which was an atrocious string of lies and smear campaigns against me and our cousins over the decades.

The point, Dear Reader, is that it will take a lot more than honeyed words from abusive people to be worthy of your trust. It actually doesn’t involve them saying much of anything; it involves them doing those two things they’ll never do–listening to you and validating your feelings.

Always remember that, whenever your abusers pull the old hoovering tactic: it doesn’t matter what their mouths are doing, or what their fingers are doing when they write or type their messages for you to read; it’s what their ears are doing…and what their brains are thinking in secret.

Since we abuse victims have no way of knowing for sure what activity is going on in their ears and brains, our abusers should have a formidable task convincing us if they’re truly contrite. For if they’re faking their regret, their attempt to regain our trust should be an impossible task.

Second-Guessing

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

Even though I’ve come to conclusions about my family, most of which are beyond a reasonable doubt, I’m still assailed by doubts. Have I examined my memories too selectively? Have I misinterpreted their meaning? Were things really as bad as I imagine them to have been? Am I too sensitive? Have I just been trying to justify a selfish attitude to the family?

There’s no doubt in my mind, on the other hand, that the family would smugly answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, and not give the issue any second thoughts. They would insist that I am the real narcissist of the family (recall that, in their imagination, narcissistic = “autistic“), and that I am playing the victim, projecting my faults onto them.

Here’s the thing, though: constant second-guessing is a common behaviour of C-PTSD-suffering victims of narcissistic abuse; while a smug self-assurance that one has never done any significant wrong is typical of narcissists, including members of a collective narcissist social group.

Always questioning ourselves.

Where do I get my doubts from? A gradual accumulation of episodes of having been subjected to gaslighting. As I’ve explained in many posts already, my late–probably narcissistic–mother lied to me about having an autism spectrum disorder. My realization of the untruth of her words came not so much from 1) two psychotherapists telling me they saw no autistic symptoms in me, and 2) my score of a mere 13/50 on the Autism Quotient test [a score of at least 26-32/50 would be needed to establish the mere suspicion of clinically autistic traits] as it did from her wildly hyperbolic description of my supposed mental state as a child–i.e., the mythical psychiatrists’ recommendation to “lock [me] up in an asylum and throw away the key,” and her wondering, “Would I ever even make a good garbageman?”

Mom’s purpose wasn’t to make me believe I am retarded, for she claimed “a miracle from God” (she was never religious) had pulled me out of my supposedly hopeless mental state by the time I was around eight to ten years old…a clearly absurd claim. Her purpose was to make me believe I am somehow ‘feeble-minded’ in a more general way, that I am ‘behind’ everyone else.

This gaslighting, combined with her general winking at the bullying (from my elder siblings, R., F., and J., Mom’s flying monkeys) that she knew I was being subjected to, was all calculated to hinder my ability to build up self-confidence, to trust my instincts, and to question any of the family’s nonsense. Hence, my second-guessing.

We never feel sure of ourselves.

In contrast to that, their smug assurance that they’ve done no significant wrong to me came from Mom’s constant justifying of my siblings’ actions and general defence of them at my expense–their reward for giving her a steady feeding of narcissistic supply.

One example of my mother’s gaslighting through the autism fabrication was back in the early 2000s, when she’d been insisting, with no apparent need to check with a psychiatrist, that I have Asperger Syndrome (AS). She emailed me an article about a young man with AS. His life story of having been bullied for being different was meant, through her sharing it with me, to say that I am just like him. What’s more, the article stated several times that ‘he perceives the world differently’ from everyone else. I’m convinced my mother wanted me to think that my perception of everything is different, too. Translation: I understand the world incorrectly.

Similarly, R., F., and J. were fond of calling me a “dip,” a “dork,” stupid, etc., when I was growing up. R., as an example of his meanness, liked scowling at me and telling me, “Think,” implying I never do. Being subjected to this kind of emotional abuse regularly, throughout one’s upbringing and even well into one’s later adulthood, leads inevitably to the victim second-guessing his perception of everything…especially the emotional abuse.

We doubt ourselves, when we shouldn’t.

Bukowski once said, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” Not to toot my own horn about my intelligence, and furthermore, I’m implying a lack of emotional intelligence in my abusers (they aren’t inherently stupid people); but all of this once again demonstrates the dialectical, yin-and-yang nature of reality. Another relevant quote: “To realize that our knowledge is ignorance, this is a noble insight. To regard our ignorance as knowledge, this is mental sickness.” (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 71)

My point, Dear Reader, is that if you–having suffered emotional abuse and gaslighting–second-guess yourself all the time, and are full of doubts about how badly your abusers treated you, remember that the big irony of all this is how your very second-guessing is one of the proofs that you really were mistreated.

Conversely, the self-satisfied attitude of your abusers, who never feel a dram of remorse, also helps prove how right you are about how much they’ve wronged you; for people who truly care will wonder if they’ve wronged you, even if they haven’t–it’s called empathy. Bad people, on the other hand, kid themselves all the time that they’re doing right: if you don’t believe me, just look at your average politician.

Heinz Kohut, who wrote about narcissism.

Now, does this mean that we victims must torment ourselves with self-doubt for the rest of our lives, just to feel paradoxically vindicated? Of course not: over time, the gradual process of healing from our psychological wounds will allow us to feel reassured without any need to fear that we’re using our pride to blind ourselves to our faults.

Narcissists evade shame by repressing their True Self of egotism, and by disavowing their faults by, for example, projecting them onto their victims; Heinz Kohut wrote about this dual process (horizontal and vertical splitting) in his book, The Analysis of the Self (page 185).

When we victims, on the other hand, project vice onto our abusers, we’re merely giving back to them what they originally dumped onto us; we’re merely putting the vices back where they belong. As for our actual faults…well, let’s let the genuinely good people in our lives tell us about those.

Review of ‘Enough Is Enough’

[NOTE: please read the second and third paragraphs from this post before continuing. Important–don’t skip reading them!]

Enough Is Enough: Surviving Emotional and Psychological Abuse is a memoir by Brien Nelson. As the subtitle indicates, the book is about not only his years of having been victimized by emotional abuse, but also about his efforts to overcome the trauma.

He wrote the book in response to a bitter divorce from a psychologically abusive, alcoholic ex-wife whose manipulation was pushing him to the breaking point. The one good thing she did, though, was to advise him to see a doctor because of his overwhelming health problems at the time; that doctor, in turn, after finding no physiological problems with him, advised that he seek psychotherapy (page iii). When he got that therapy, vast depths of repressed pain surfaced…from problems he’d had long before she entered his life.

The reason he’d been so susceptible to such a manipulative woman, a wife who repeatedly kicked him out of their apartment in wild rages, was that he’d developed a codependent mindset as a result of years of emotional abuse from his narcissistic parents and their golden child, his similarly narcissistic older sister.

After going through many memories detailing one painful episode after another, he goes into how he has been doing the healing work. As of the writing of his book, he is amazed at how much progress he’s made, in spite of knowing he still has a long way to go.

He writes of his childhood experiences as a bit of a loner, with few friends, in the first chapter. He writes, however, as if he were describing the childhood of someone else, a friend. Projecting himself into another boy has a sympathizing effect for the reader, at least from the writer’s point of view: we often don’t want to read of someone complaining about his own problems; but if he pleads the case of someone else, he doesn’t seem so ‘selfish’ about it, and this caring for another makes us want to empathize not only with that ‘someone else,’ but also with the writer.

Though this imagining of his sad childhood to have been that of a friend is an effective writing technique to arouse compassion in the reader, I for one was able to feel plenty of empathy for Brien just reading of his experiences as his own. Indeed, I was touched by how frank and honest he is about baring his soul to the reader; it took a lot of courage to reveal what he did…read the book yourself to see what I mean!

Though I, thank the gods, never experienced an abusive spouse or an acrimonious divorce, as he did, I nonetheless can relate to his childhood experiences of narcissism in the family. My parents weren’t alcoholics, and my father’s worst vices were his bigotry and mental slavery to conservatism, rather than narcissism. But my mother,…

As with Brien, I have a golden child sister, a narcissistic know-it-all who speaks when she should listen. Brien’s sister did things to him when a child that were, understatement of the year, sexually inappropriate. So did my sister play inappropriate games with me, when I was about eight or nine.

I don’t wish to go through everything he discusses in his book because, of course, it’s best to let him do it himself, in his own words. Suffice it to say, my take on why he went from an abusive family upbringing to an abusive marriage is from what I’ve learned from object relations theory.

The bad internalized objects we get from abusive parent/elder siblings reside in our minds like ghosts. These become a kind of blueprint for our later relationships, predicting with remarkable precision how they’ll be. If we’ve been abused as kids, we expect such relationships elsewhere; an abusive relationship becomes our normal.

Brien’s book, however, is not a pity party, as some idiot anonymous troll claimed it to be in the comments on the book’s Amazon page. In the later chapters, Brien focuses on what we can do to heal our trauma, such as repeating positive self-affirmations of beliefs contrary to the poisonous words we heard during our years of abuse.

One affirmation in particular that he gave touched me: “I am completely normal” (p. 137). Anyone who has read my blog posts on how my late, probably narcissistic mother subjected me to gaslighting (by claiming, in the most absurdly extreme language possible when I was a kid, that I have an autism spectrum disorder I’ve since learned I don’t have) will know why this affirmation resonates with me.

I’m at one with Brien in saying that positive affirmations, done repeatedly over a long enough period of time and felt to be true in one’s heart, can help in eventually healing psychological trauma. Going back to my point about object relations, I’d add that it helps, through autohypnosis and meditation, to imagine and introject new, loving objects who are the dialectical opposites of those abusive ones in our past.

In our suggestible hypnotic state, we can imagine those internalized objects (i.e, imagined new parents) saying those affirmations to us with loving eyes. The powerful emotional effect of hearing and seeing them, in our mind’s eyes and ears, should help to drive home the affirmations even better.

In chapter ten, Brien writes of “Silencing the Rebel,” which seems to be his way of referring to what is usually called the inner critic. It’s a rebel, because it rebels against our true selves, replacing who we really are with a false version of who we are, a projection of all the worst parts of our abusers. To heal, we must silence this inner bad object, exorcise the demon, even.

Brien also writes about his relationship with a higher power. Though we all have diverging opinions on religious and spiritual matters, it is common for survivors of emotional abuse to use some form of spirituality to help them heal and give them peace.

I do that through what I call The Three Unities: the Unity of Space, symbolized by a Brahman-like infinite ocean of universal oneness, which helps me to feel connected with the world, thus ending my isolation; the Unity of Time, at once a cyclical, wave-like conception of time and also the eternal NOW, which helps me to focus on my living, present reality, and not on my painful past, or worrying about my future; and the Unity of Action, a dialectical monism symbolized by the ouroboros, which helps me to know that whatever ill may befall me, it will eventually, in one form or another, flow back into good.

Whatever direction you choose to take, Dear Reader, whether it be spiritual or not, I recommend you read Enough Is Enough. For even when we’ve removed the abusers from our lives, we’re still haunted by the pain they’ve caused us; and apart from Brien’s advice about saying affirmations and using spirituality, reading his story is a helpful exercise in empathy.

The stronger empathy we feel for him (or for any C-PTSD sufferer, for that matter), the more we can be assured that we’re better than our non-empathic abusers. For remember, one of our abusers’ most powerful weapons against us is to make us believe we have their vices. In empathizing with Brien, though, we know we don’t have those vices.