Tag Archives: recovery

Seeing Beyond the Void

As we go through life, each of us develops defence mechanisms that help dealth1W15UEW3 with a wide spectrum of stressful situations and to protect us from painful memories. Two clever tactics that I know very well are suppression and repression.

Suppression is something everyone does. It’s when we think about something, but then consciously squeeze it to the back of our mind. This doesn’t need to be in a negative way and can act as an aid to filter out one thought while we deal with something else.

Suppression and repression are very similar, although repression is a little trickier to identify because much of the avoidance takes place on a subconscious level as we deny the memory or emotion even exists. I’ve only just become aware of my own repression, which unravelled during a poignant moment in therapy last week.

When I became a victim of an attempted murder, which I wrote about here, I was extremely lucky to survive, but what I hadn’t realise until now, was a fundamental part of me died inside. While the experience was particularly traumatic, the history of my assailants past crimes, including murder, would only add to the horror and hinder any path to recovery.

I’ve always abhorred any kind of violence because abusiveness has been a prominent pattern in my life since early childhood. Each incident of physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse would slowly hamper a willingness to recover, while placing significant strain on my ability to bounce back. My traumatised brain soon interpreted life as dangerous territory and wise to be devoid of trust.

Trust is the necessary ingredient for all human interactions, from casual acquaintances to personal relationships. Losing the ability to trust means everything about life feels unsafe. Meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar places eventually becomes something of the past.

th43ZJN5J0The more vulnerable and withdrawn I became, the more I developed an unhealthy need to protect myself from any kind of attachment. My need for love and affection or to trust and be trusted, had sunk beneath years of repression and there was no awareness of just how cold and distant I had become.

I painfully recall the pleas of significant people to consider their feelings and wishes, even if I had none of my own. It felt like they were on the attack, rather than trying to save me from an emotional black hole. As time progressed, the empty space became so vast, it was impossible to see beyond the void.

The dissociation from reality eventually made me inaccessible to those who had spent years trying to hold on to the person they once knew. The consistent pleas meant nothing and I slowly cut everyone meaningful from my life. The diagnosis of Depression, PTSD and Agoraphobia were my new companions in life, but the Disorders also became my shield against any expectations to change.

In the last fifteen years, venturing beyond a two-mile radius of home hasn’t been on the agenda and there are only six places I can visit, anxiety free. While I do believe in my ability to overcome these phobias, I’ve made little effort to push the boundaries. In all this time, I cannot recall boredom or loneliness ever featuring within my comfortable agoraphobic cocoon.

For reasons that may always remain a complete mystery, I once believed this dysfunction lifestyle was not only justified, but also acceptable. I had repressed my emotions to such a depth that I forgot they even existed.

When I learned of my friend, Anne’s, death recently, via the extraordinary coincidental telephone call, my mind became flooded with memories of a time when I viewed life very differently. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, these new realisations are like awakening from a fifteen-year coma to find that I’m living an unacceptable reclusive lifestyle.

There were a number of stark moments in therapy last week, as I recalled the pain caused to othersthAQ8EK2XX and the injustice I dealt to my own potential. Repressing the fundamental emotions necessary to human existence only blocked the flow of healing and tainted my perception of trust.

Fifteen years of extreme isolation is a very long time and I’m careful not to get ahead of myself. I’m excited, fearful, and fragile, all at the same time. It’s impossible to find a way back to something familiar, any previous point of existence no longer exists. The unknown feels a scary place to be and the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but somehow I need to find the courage to move forward.

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Therapy and Healing

I’ve not been writing a lot about therapy lately. My last post about Paul’s absence was actually twoWP_20131116_001 weeks old. I’m not sure what’s going on for me right now. In the days leading up to this therapy programme, I often wondered what healing from trauma might actually feel like and what shape the process might take.

Each one of us have our own route to healing, but my own journey  feels as though I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of reflection and rumination, writing and talking… anger… regret, and many stages of grief.

We learned early in our group how important it is to observe the feelings. There were months when I seemed to exist in a weird trance like state with a whirlwind of emotions circling inside my head. I thought acceptance, healing, and change might never come into focus, but this is beginning to feel much more likely.

The last group I attended was two-weeks ago. I had only just received the bizarre telephone call, which brought news about the death of my long lost friend, Anne.

I’m still trying to grasp how extraordinary that coincidence actually was and the news has been difficult to come to terms with. However, the experience came to mean so much more than synchronicity or grief.

In the days that followed the news, my mind was awash with long forgotten memories of the past. It took a few days to realise that beyond the nostalgia, was a clear view of how I once viewed my existence.

I recalled the enthusiasm and heaps of confidence that would eventually become lost beneath years of mental health problems. I have able to taste what life once meant to me and what I meant to life.

When I first approached a Psychiatrist five years ago, almost begging for help, the distress came from a realisation that I didn’t want to get any better, “not if it means interacting and trusting other people again…” My perception of life had been utterly dismal for so many years, it was easy to lose track of what existed before the days of mental illness.

th0UQOMD3LIt feels as though these long forgotten memories form part of the missing jigsaw and now I can see a lifestyle that is worthwhile aiming for. Of course, everyone changes with time and there is no return to a former self, but I finally envisage what life could look like.

We return to usual sessions next week, but already my time is running out in therapy. We finish group in December and from January until June, I will be on a rapid sliding scale with my Therapist, Paul.

It might sound strange, but my least problematic condition in recent years has been Agoraphobia because it kept me safe and comfortable within an isolated cocoon. At the heart of the debilitating phobia is a fear of venturing into strange places with the prospect of meeting unfamiliar people. This brings me full circle to the very place I started with my Psychiatrist five years ago, only this time, I do want to face those fears and I will ultimately find a new life, but the prospect of change is scary and therein is the next stage of my therapy.

Dr Gerald Stein writes a nice post on avoiding our fears, taking control, and making the best of life here

The Fear Depresses me the Most

It has been a long time since I experienced significant bouts of depression. I’m quiteblack dog sure many readers will relate to that jittery feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, never really knowing how low the depression will go, or if it’s merely just a passing blip.

My MH diagnosis’ includes Major Depressive Disorder so I guess it does what it says on the bottle. There was a time not so long ago when chronic depression became more than a regular occurrence, but it feels as if I’m out of practice, although this can only be a good thing.

Where did this episode begin? The largest part of it seemed to settle during my therapy with Paul yesterday. I was already exhausted and feeling pissed off on arrival, which just seemed to snowball during our session.

We briefly talked about a number of issues, without going into anything in depth, but those topics possibly held more significance than I initially realised.

I told Paul about my emails to the narcissistic mother and Sissy, the Golden-child, asking for no contact. There’s not one shadow of doubt or regret hanging over that decision, but underneath the certainty, is a weird sense of loss. I didn’t expect this to happen.

The fact is, childhood memories and dysfunctional family dynamics have dominated my life for such a long time and now that my mind isn’t so swamped, there’s this vast empty space just waiting… waiting… for… my… future. The fear depresses me the most.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I was always a worker and the opportunities were more than I could’ve ever wished for, I loved and breathed my vocation. But, fifteen years disappeared and there’s no way I would qualify for the same positions today.

Nevertheless, Cat does have something in mind, but the plan entails going back to college/university for four years. It’s not the time that feels daunting and I can handle the cost and even the debt, but the thought of returning to study at 52, feels humiliating. I know, I know, we’re never too old, but I just can’t snap out of feeling a complete failure for reaching this time of life without any solid roots.

The biggest hurdle of all is PTSD and ‘related’ Agoraphobia, which is something I don’t often talk about on this blog, but it’s hard to imagine being able to live my life as freely as before. The “related” part is not a medical diagnosis, but it’s entirely the aftermath of being a victim to violent crime, which I wrote about here.

There’s little point telling a victim of any kind of trauma that it might never happen. The fact is, it did happen, and sometimes the unimaginable becomes someone’s reality. .

Yes, I know how unlikely it is to become a victim of abuse or violent crime again and I’ve heard all about “statistically,” but I was once one of those statistics, so applying that kind of logic doesn’t seem to cut it for me.

When I first started therapy, many things were hard to imagine.

It would not have been possible for me to talk about childhood memories without recoiling in shame and trauma.

It was hard to imagine ever finding peace and acceptance for the childhood hurt and disappointment, and I never thought it possible to find the courage to ‘divorce’ my family.

thU6CGHWTTWhen I first asked the Mental Health Team for help three years ago, I shamefully admitted to the Psychiatrist, “I don’t want to get any better, not if it means re-joining life again or connecting with people” and here I am, anticipating and planning both.

It seems these “hard to imagine” scenarios have a habit of becoming reality and this needs to be my focus in the next phase of therapy, but that doesn’t mean every part of my senses will not still be screaming out “DANGER” whenever I try to push past those safe boundaries.

Implementing no Contact with the Narcissists

Sending my sister, “Sissy,” this email on Thursday transpired as a bit of an anti-climax. It dawned on me that this is only the first step towards the ultimate no-contact rule. The next battle for liberation is with the Martyred mother, although she is the easiest person in the world to avoid.

The family fell apart years ago, we’ve barely been in touch for fifteen years, but Sissy always was the strongest link. In hindsight, this only held the family dysfunction together and her habit of carrying stories under a veil of sworn secrecy often contributed to the tense dynamics. It made sense to deal with her first.

I quickly realised on Friday that Sissy would never share the content of my email with the martyred mother. Not only does it reveal truth, it touches on memories of an abusive childhood and Sissy would never risk the explosive response.

It’s highly possible Sissy will mirror the martyred role by slightly twisting my message, “I tried my best… he wants to be alone… I am so upset.” Sometimes, she just can’t help herself.

When I first read about narcissism, the last person I expected to see was my sister. I’m still unsure whether she is a personification of the martyred mother’s “mini-me,” or if she became a narcissist.

Sissy was also a victim of childhood violence and by the time she turned twelve, her fear of the narcissistic mother was so great that she never left home again, other than to attend school.

I’m very aware of my sister’s demons and it’s sad that she’s unlikely to experience the same validating freedom. Her survival as the Golden-child was always dependent on the narcissist’s approval and what better way than to contribute to my role as scapegoat.

Sissy did respond to my email on Friday.

“I have tried to keep the communication open between us but as much as it upsets me I will respect your need to be by yourself.”

I appreciate that the content of my email wasn’t up for discussion, but I couldn’t help wonder if Sissy’s reply suggests, “But, you’re still to blame because I tried.”

An hour after Sissy’s email, she sent a YouTube video about funny dogs, but I was willing to believe it must be a mistake, until today. I returned home from walking Jack this morning only to discover that Sissy had called my home number while we were out.

I feel disappointed and more certain of the no-contact rule until therapy ends in December. It appears Sissy neither respects nor understands the first thing about my email. It’s purposefully vague but truthful and I can achieve nothing from elaborating and ultimately disagreeing. I asked for the time, she understood enough to “respect your need” and my gut instinct tells me to leave it there for now.

I only want to Tell the Truth

I posted about my current relationship problems with my mother and sister a couple of weeks ago when they were visiting my home city, London. This was the post. Despite trying to be polite to the martyred mother about being too busy that weekend, she still manipulated her golden child into texting me, anyway, “We’re here.”

When I didn’t answer my sister’s text, I was reasonably hopeful that it might be the last I hear from them for some time. They would be mad I hadn’t complied, while I was revelling in the thought of an all-out estrangement.

That was until Monday night when I was trying to relax in front of the telly. As soon as the ping-pong chimed on my mobile phone (cell phone), I just knew it had to be my sister, “How is everything with you, Cat?”

My heart sank. I realised that I would much prefer NEED to opt for the no-contact rule, which seems quite common amongst adult children of narcissistic parents. I decided to ignore the text. I am done with pretending everything is okay with polite meaningless chat or invitations to lunch, but of course, that wasn’t quite the end of the matter. The next day, I receive an email

“Just wondering if everything is okay since I have messaged you a couple of times but got no response.”

Let us not forget that I usually only speak to my sister every 8 to 12 weeks and she never texts, other than to carry the narcissistic mother’s messages.

I didn’t want to respond, but thought a reply might put her mind at rest in case she was wondering if I might be ill, or something, I emailed back, “I’m fine.” Surely, she would now take the hint.

Every part of my insides were screaming out just to speak the truth – we are a dysfunctional family with serious problems and it is not all my fault – but this is not the scapegoat’s role and rule number one of a narcissistic family is never to recognise a problem within the perceived perfection.

I couldn’t understand why I felt so nervous, heart pounding with the adrenaline pumping and the coward in me just hoped she might go away. How can the scapegoat dare to tell the truth?

She emailed back, “Are you getting my text messages?”

I spoke to Paul yesterday in therapy and realised I am actually terrified of telling the truth. There is nothing to be gained from conversation with narcissists, but neither do I want to leave them with the chance to solely blame me for the estrangement, “It’s all Cat’s fault, we tried and he pushed us away.”

For the first time in my life, I want to stand up to them without being offensive or even remotely aggressive. This has nothing to do with blame, but I only want to tell the truth.

Today, I wrote a very short reply to my sister’s email and I am intrigued what people think.

Hi M,

While I’ve been in therapy, I realised that we are a very dysfunctional family.  There have been relationship problems between my parents and me since childhood to the present day.  You might not realise it, but this has been devastating to deal with as a child, and as an adult.

I don’t necessarily have any particular problem with you, but you do come as part of that package and if anything stands between us, it’s this.

The situation is difficult for everyone and I’m tired of pretending that everything is okay when it clearly is not.

Any kind of relationship problem can never be the fault of one person, but this is not something we can all agree on, not at this time, anyway.  To be honest, I don’t want to get into any conversation about this. While I go through my therapy, I need to take the time to be by myself and work through my own things.

Cat.

The Narcissists Golden-child & Scapegoat

Narcissistic parents hold their dysfunctional family together with fear and manipulation.thG5BL4TQA They allot specific roles to individual children that best portray their perfection to both themselves and to the outside world. A golden child will be an extension of the parent’s goodness, while the scapegoat’s role is to endure the blame whenever things go wrong.

Growing up with a narcissistic mother, which I wrote about here, put enormous pressure on everyone. When the cracks started to appear in the perfection and school suggested something was amiss, the martyr quickly focussed all the blame on me.

“It’s nothing we ever did… we’ve tried everything… his sister turned out okay…”

I was five years old when I first noticed my sister was the golden child. While it’s impossible to make sense of the dynamics at this age, the difference was evident where punishments and presents were concerned.

“We give you both the same… there’s no pleasing you…”

One Christmas when I was eight years old, I wanted a radio badly. Maybe I was a little too young, but I harped on and just before Christmas, I knew I had finally cracked it when mum responded with a cheeky smirk, “Oh well, we’ll just need to wait and see…”

thOA98NHLVIt was usually a rather dull time of year, but this particular Christmas Eve I could barely sleep for excitement. I shared a bedroom with my sister and presents were by our bedside in the morning.

I was awake first but when I rummaged through my little pile of goodies, my heart sank to the floor. The only exciting items were two Christmas comic annuals and a chocolate box.

My sister was still asleep and her pile of presents lay undisturbed, as I looked to see what the golden child got, I caught sight of a large white box, ‘Radio with disco lights’. I lay back on my pillow gutted, but this kind of scenario was nothing new.

“You’re too young for a radio… you break everything, anyway… your sister does well in school, you’re just the class dunce…”

There was a heavy price to pay for what the martyred mother perceived as “bad behaviour,” but I also carried the blame for the secretive family dysfunction and even some of the arguments that regularly erupted between my parents.

“We had a good marriage until you came along… we only ever argue about you… we’re thinking of putting you in a home for bad boys.”

While my sister secured the role of golden child by excelling in school, my overall experience was a nightmare from day one. It had something to do with the environment that subsequently influenced my behaviour and those dreaded annual report cards.

Anyone would have thought I was a lowlife criminal, “You’re the dunce of the entire school… everyone will be laughing at you… you bring shame on us… you will not amount to much in life… look how well your sister’s doing.”

I quickly assumed the role of the troubled-underachiever, while they denied I was ever the black sheep and maybe there was an unconscious effort on my part to succumb to the role.

After years of pleading, dad finally agreed I could have a new bike for my 15th birthdayth (2) and my shiny green racer became my pride and joy. Meanwhile, life at home continued on a collision course with the narcissistic mother until I finally escaped just after my 17th birthday. When I returned a few months later to collect my bike, the twisted mother had already given it away.

“Och, you weren’t using it, my friend’s son didn’t have a bike… he’ll appreciate it more than you… it wasn’t yours, anyway, we bought it with our own money.”

I never once considered changing my ways to please them, but spent a lifetime rebelling against their toxicity, and usually in a self-destructive style. It has taken me years to finally identify their behaviour as textbook narcissistic, but unfortunately, I had already internalised their disparaging messages.

I’ve learned that scapegoats typically grow up with a deep sense of guilt and shame. We will blame ourselves for things that are out of our control and feel responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s clearly someone else’s baggage. We strongly believe in our own selfishness and harbour a feeling that we are never enough.  This can fuel a need to become a people-pleaser, sometimes against our better judgement and often to our own detriment.

For me, knowledge is the catalyst of healing.

The Child and the Narcissistic Martyr

*Trigger warning*

I want to do a few posts on narcissism, but introducing the complex world of a manipulative narcissist is no easy task and certainly not within my usual 500 words. Realising my parents are textbook narcissists was a pivotal moment in my own therapeutic journey and I would like to share how I got there.

Narcissistic parent’s only ever have one agenda – their own. Everything has to be about them or they will brand you as selfish. If a child commits the biggest sin known to a narcissist by attempting to assert their own free will or opinions, they will meet with fierce opposition and even rejection.

A narcissistic parent who is also a martyr only visits additional heartache on theirthG5BL4TQA children. The martyr will portray the perfect doting parent, while professing to lay life and limb down for her offspring, “But, look how they repay me, after all I ever done.”

The perfect way to promote her martyrdom is by having a “bad child” who she bravely endures on a daily basis. “Oh what a terrible life I am having,” is her motto and she will go to great lengths to prove those hardships, often to the detriment of her own children.

It would never have crossed my mind as a child that my own mother had any kind of fault. In my innocent eyes, she was perfect in every way and the ‘poor me’ routines along with the beatings were only what we deserved. If a narcissistic mother boasts of her perfection on a daily basis, these self-absorbed messages become part of our early core beliefs, even when the evidence suggests that the perfection simply doesn’t exist.

Everyone would hear of her martyrdom and I was destined to be the problem child. From the difficult pregnancy and the long hours of excruciating labour to my audacity to express a free will as a three-year old. “Yous would break the patience of a saint,” she bemoaned after leathering her small children with a slipper for minor misdemeanours. “You fucking wee bastard, I wish I never had you.” In the community and our local church, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Her resentment for my existence was proudly on display, as though my sole purpose in life was to be the scapegoat of our small and secretive family. I took the blame for the not-so-nice side of her character that would erupt whenever things didn’t quite go her way. Her depression and foul-mouthed temper were everyone else’s fault, and always mine.

“You were a great baby until you were three years old and then I don’t know what happened…”

This repetitive statement puzzled me for years until I realised the simple answer had more to do with her own selfishness. When I turned three, my sister was five years old and just starting school. The martyr’s daughter was no longer there to entertain the “troublesome toddler” while she had time to go back to bed or sit in miserable depression all day long.

I would feel furious when mum went back to bed as soon as my sister left for school. I delved into a lot of wonderful mischief but received harsh punishments for my selfishness and inconsideration for my “poor old mother,” who was only in her late 20’s. One morning, I spread a “full” jar of hand cream over the seat of her armchair. On another occasion, I ate a “full” box of chocolates and then was violently sick. “Yes, that’s God punishing you for eating your poor old mother’s sweets… ” The worst crime of all was decorating my sister’s dollies with biro pen.

Mum’s first task when she eventually got out of bed was to see what her ungrateful little bastard had been up to and there were always harsh punishments ahead. Years later while recalling these memorable events, she would proudly admit, “Yes, I leathered him up and down that living room.” Recalling the crime had only one purpose and that was to reinforce her terrible life and martyrdom. And we used to think this was “normal.”

Dad would come home and mum’s spiel still echoes through my mind today, “You think I don’t deserve a bloody rest… I’ve just made breakfast for everyone and then put my daughter out to school… I only have one lung… I’m not able ya know… and I do my best for this family and this is what I get… you won’t have me around for long… you should make the most of me while you can…I’m done with this life.”

Mum would cunningly recount these stories to friends, relatives, and even neighbours, but her deceitfulness was always careful to leave out the intimidation and violence. She needed people to view her as the long-suffering martyr who was having such a difficult life with her unruly child.

My father’s status as an Electrical Engineer was a world away from anything mum’s own dysfunctional family ever achieved in the history of their alcoholism. Dad spoiled her in every way and his unopened wage packet paid for her comfort and luxurious home, while my sister and I believed in our own poverty. You could say mum struck it lucky when she met a fellow-narcissist.

Our childhood endured statements that demanded the utmost appreciation and devotion and was contradictory to the reality we endured. “You should be grateful for such a lovely clean home” and “You’re lucky to have a good father who puts food on the table every day… And you don’t know how lucky you are to have a warm clean bed at night… You have the best… best parents.”

thPW2DWHOOMy sister seems to have bought into this drivel from a very early age, but I imagine that was her means of survival. The poor girl was always terrified to step out of line. Of course, I rebelled and continued to internalise the belief that I was bad, worthless, and flawed. Maybe this was all part of the narcissistic mother’s cunning plan for the ‘Golden Child –v- Scapegoat’ roles we each adopted, but that needs to be for another post.