I’m considering some very vulnerable material today.
Yesterday, we did not have to go to school. I didn’t know this, and I got there and everything was locked. I chalked it up to my impatience: Friday, when everyone was hanging around in a typical Country X state of indecision about what to do next, I went home. I assumed the discussion must have happened at that time. However, I ran into someone else running some errands who had made the same mistake. It wasn’t just my Western, for-God’s-sake-get-on-with-it attitude that had put me in this position. There are two online groups people belong to that provide information about school activities. I haven’t joined one of them: I feel tied enough to school without getting another stream of endless messages, the vast majority of which say, “Noted.” The information was relayed through the group I don’t belong to.
I had a mentally productive day, but not physically so. I need to withdraw money from the US for school fees, and the ATM was not working. I meant to mop the floors and I didn’t do that either. I didn’t go jogging because somehow if I don’t go in the morning, I just don’t, and I didn’t get up early enough.
But I thought I had some things worked out, and it felt sort of good and then the Aunt chatted with me a bit, and since I was mysteriously and unreasonably hurt and angry with her, I’m trying to be careful about how I interact so that our relationship is not impacted by feelings I don’t even understand.
Her husband has gone to report to school–he’s also a teacher–and she missed his help with her new baby. Her sister (C’s mother) is with her, but she does not help Aunt very much. Aunt says C’s mom goes to get blessed from an important priest every day and does not do much in terms of helping with the baby. The Aunt wishes someone would help her with the laundry, but feels afraid to ask.
I am not surprised by this, as I have seen that C’s mother doesn’t do much in her own home either. It’s something that makes me feel very sad to think about. I don’t want to look down on C’s family, because family is part of one’s identity and basic respect and acceptance of people as less than perfect is something I expect of myself, but I can also see that, in a society ruled by rigid gender roles, C’s mother fails to live up to those expectations without being actually forward-thinking. Her rejection of her role of homemaker is not based on conviction or a sense that there are other kinds of work that women can do: she just doesn’t like it. She doesn’t seem to like her children very much either.
The Aunt asked if C had called me. No. I said she did not answer the phone. This typically happens when C goes home: she just stops answering the phone for a while, and eventually I call her mom and often C answers that phone. Her mom isn’t home right now, and I feel less and less comfortable doing this. The Aunt said she would tell C to call me. I didn’t expect anything to come of this especially and went on with my day.
But later, while I was making dinner, C messaged and said she was sorry–she would respond to my call. So I called and she didn’t answer. I felt really upset by this. I don’t know why. I made dinner and went to bed more or less at the usual time: I can’t get up in the mornings still after the long holiday and I keep hoping if I can stick to an early bedtime, it will make my mornings easier.
In bed, I felt really agitated. I think I may have been angry, but that may have come later. C came online and read something I had written earlier–nothing terrifically important, just signs of life. I said, “Do you have anything to say?”
She said my phone was off. Indeed it was. The battery was empty. I was charging it, but turned to my laptop to entertain me, because I couldn’t sleep.
I asked if she had called. She had. I was at this point really angry, like furiously angry and wanting to say hurtful things to her: not things that I actually believed, but hurt for the sake of hurt. I don’t remember feeling this way about her before.
I went and turned on the phone, but I didn’t really want her to call, as I didn’t know whether I could keep control of myself–I was that furious. I told her she could call if she wanted to. She didn’t. I said it was terrible that someone needed to force her to call. I have intense, mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think even at 17 she may need some prompting to be polite and considerate of others, including of me. On the other, I also feel she is old enough to decide who she wants to talk to and who she doesn’t, and just because I’m trying to help her out, doesn’t mean she has to actually like me. It touches very close to my trafficking issues, especially since money is involved. Dinner doesn’t buy a man sex, and even private school tuition should not buy me a conversation.
I fell asleep. In the morning, I thought about this. I’ve never really been angry at her to that extent before, outside of situations where I felt she had made poor decisions which might affect her own well-being. It did cross my mind that I am integrating emotions, and that sometimes I may feel things at an intensity which catches me by surprise because I am not used to it. I’m finally sorting out separation anxiety, for example, but it has taken years of feeling pain I didn’t understand even after I knew what it was.
Well, I think it has something to do with my mother. I am angry at my mother, or I am angry at myself for being like my mother, or I am angry at C for the same reasons my mother would be angry at me.
My mother was floridly borderline and may be less so now, but I think she is one of those borderlines who is also a narcissist, only I think her narcissism took the form of covert or inverted narcissism, which is slightly different. Her narcissism had to do with an understanding of herself as being uniquely fragile and therefore deserving of the constant attention narcissists crave. Her sense of brokenness–rather than her grandiosity–was the source of her specialness, and her cover for demanding attention.
The attention was an escape from the cruelty of her own self-image, but knowing the reason for its tyranny in our lives does not make it seem more benign. I was unrelentingly angry at her when I was growing up: it’s a bit surprising to realize I am still angry and that none of it actually feels resolved to me. I think I was more or less right about a lot of how I understood my mother, or at least I still agree with it, but its clarity in my mind did not magically dispel it.
I was asked to ignore a really intense degree of physical and verbal abuse, because she was so “sick.” There was never any resolution or change in her behaviour. It repeated endlessly. It was never acknowledged that the motivation behind the abuse was to extract something from her children we were developmentally incapable of giving, which was emotional and social regulation, nor was it acknowledged that she was forever going to be frustrated in doing this because screaming can’t change reality.
For a long time, I have felt angry at the mental health care providers she saw, because there are effective treatments for bpd, and it seemed that she didn’t get them: Marsha Linehan just never came up. It’s possible she just didn’t see the right providers, but now I think it may not have mattered much anyway: Borderline personality disorder is one of the most treatable of all the psychological illnesses, but narcissistic personality disorder is the among the least. If she had both, it may not have mattered what treatment she received or whether it was appropriate or not. She wasn’t going to get better. She might stop trying to kill herself to get our attention, but she wasn’t going to just let us be kids either, nor would she be able to work through how to address our fear-based reactions to her. Relationships become impoverished when people are too scared to be around you or to authentically connect, and so those relationships are less likely to meet your needs.
I have been thinking this year about what normal family relationships might be like, and considering that being with your children does meet some of the needs of the parents: it’s not 50-50, but family time is not actually joyless obligation. I have thought about this, because I see how I enjoy spending time with students. I can’t do it all the time, but it is genuinely satisfying.
It seems to me my mother never resolved or addressed her unmet need for positive regard, which wasn’t met because the self she developed within her family was itself formed by a narcissist who was less histrionic and neglectful than she was, but no less controlling and lacking in empathy. Later in life, when much of what we think about ourselves is based on past experiences and not moment-to-moment interactions, she still had no real self of her own, because the self she developed in her family was one viewed very negatively by the rest of society: dependent, self-sacrificing, people-pleasing, anxious. None of the traits you develop after a childhood with a narcissist are likely to be seen positively in Western society. Your uncertainty and emptiness won’t make you feel good about yourself in any context outside of a relationships with another narcissist (hint–my father), who treats you with lack of regard and respect all over again so that even what you have become to accommodate the narcissist won’t feel good–ever.