Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Road to Discovery and Understanding my Past

How did I get to this point of understanding my parents, my past, and how it all fit together? The path I traveled is convoluted and interesting.

I knew my mother wasn't 'right' when I was a little girl (In the Beginning). I didn't really think about it however. I didn't compare her to other mothers, and I guess I just accepted that this is the mother that is my mother. I knew she didn't cook meals like most mothers, I knew she was weird spending a great deal of time in her room in the dark, and I knew that she was not very nice. I always thought that she was mean because she wore her curlers too tight. Sounds funny now but I always correlated her worst moods to the days that she Dippity Doo'ed her hair up in those huge, tight, bobby-pinned rollers.

During their tumultuous divorce (You Dropped a Bomb on Me), I knew both parents were not treating the kids (my brother and me) the way kids should be treated, but I sucked it up and dealt with it. What else was I to do? I was warned by adults that my mother is crazy, but I think at this age, I wasn't ready to accept that or I couldn't grasp the full meaning of what that meant.

The hardest element to deal with was the guilt-trips. Plus I remember trying to handle the inordinate amount of stress that seemed to be squashing me. I spent a lot of time thanking God that he put a good head on my shoulders because that stress was terribly traumatic and confusing. At this point, I thought my mother was having a mid-life crisis or just horny as she was acting like a teenager with her new boyfriend, and that my Dad was depressed from getting his heart ripped out. I didn't see the sheer selfishness and CRAZINESS and how careless they treated us kids.

Around the age of 15, I realized that my mother was really sick in the head (Run Forrest Run). That's when I started to really pray for my safety and security as I felt in danger. I prayed I would make it until I was 18 years old and an adult on my own so that I could escape the verbal and mental abuse. My mother always said that she thought my brother has Borderline Personality Disorder. I never really thought about this term until decades later. At any rate, my mother was quick to say that my brother has deep seeded issues and needs institutionalization, which is another point that comes around again decades later. My father during my teenage years appeared self-absorbed, self-centered, and extremely selfish. He definitely was involved in his own life and the kids were a part of it-- rather than him being a part of his kids' life -or- more healthy, being a part of each others lives.

To further confirm my fears of my mother, she had a hysterical and irrational episode when I entered college: Out of the Nest. I knew she was mentally ill at this point. I just didn't know what. My father was still the self-absorbed, self-centered, and extremely selfish man that I knew I couldn't count on, depend on, or have to morally support me. I knew that I needed to get away from her, as well as protect and depend on myself. I knew I had to build a life for myself that I could be independent of my parents.

By the time my 20's rolled around, my mother mellowed out: Years with my Mother. My father and I didn't have much of a relationship-- and he made little to no effort to be involved in my life. By my late 20's, my mother flipped out. I still hadn't labeled what she was going through mentally, but I knew her behavior wasn't appropriate or 'normal'.

With my 30's, my mother was back to being 'nice (In Through the Out Door) during the first part of the decade, and then she flipped out again at the end of my 30's (Little Women). So, you can see the cycle. You can also see that fears of abandonment spur on the irrational thinking and estrangements. She even admitted that she brought on one of the estrangements just so she knew that I would be okay without her.

During the estrangement in my late 30's, I was talking to a friend over drinks. He started saying that she seems very depressed. I concurred that I knew that to be true. I also mentioned that she attempted suicide back in college. We also noted her manic phases, which are painted with spending sprees, binge eating, and other reckless behavior. We also noted her thinking that is not based in reality. The funny thing is that we never added all of these elements up.

Well, my brother ended up having some issues that he wanted answers to. I was doing research for him when I came across a book reviews about, "Understanding the Borderline Mother". I was immediately drawn to the stories that were identical to what I had been through my whole life. Reading simply the reviews was like reading about me! I bought the book and read it in two days. BINGO. This is my mother. After all those years of her saying my brother has BPD, she was perfectly projecting herself onto him. The Borderline mother, hating the person she is and knowing she needs helps, instead institutionalizes her child (think back when she did this to my brother). So, my friend and I had nailed it, but we just didn't put two and two together. The depression + the manic + the schizophrenia = the Borderline Personality Disorder. Wow. The answer was right there under my nose the whole time.

Reading the book was an eye opener and truly a gift. The book gave me tremendous peace of mind, applicable insight, and such closure. Additionally, it provided a lead to the next piece of the puzzle. The Borderline woman typically marries a Narcissist, and upon reading about the character types that the Borderline marries, my Dad fit the Narcissistic King perfectly. And by the way, my mother's present husband fits the Fisherman to a tee as well. This book is crazy as to what information it is able to provide.

During the time of my studies, his narcissism was become more and more profound due to extenuating factors such as retirement, aging, and an ailing wife. And his behavior toward me became worse and worse. As I studied Narcissistic Personality Disorder, he fit the symptoms bullet point by bullet point. WOW. See subsequent blog post: What Makes my Narcissist Dad Tick

Now the puzzle pieces fit together and answer so many questions. I have had a hard time contending with the fact that BOTH of my parents are messed up. Why BOTH!? Doesn't that make me look like the one who is the problem? Well it makes perfect sense now. You can't have a personality disordered wife married to a 'normal' husband as she is not getting what she needs emotionally. She has to have a narcissist to rescue her and to feed her ego. Plus she needs to be needed, and the narcissistic husband needs to be needed (but for a different reason), so they are the perfect match.

And to think that my mother is now married to a co-dependent man, who would figure such a thing? Well, that makes sense too. She really needs someone to push around when she becomes the Witch, and quite frankly, her present husband takes it. He's a whipping post for her, and she stays because he is the only long term relationship she has. And he stays because he hopes that the woman he met decades ago, the fun & happy woman, will come out of that Witch again.

When you read the devastating results a Borderline mother can have on an "All Bad" child (as the Borderline mother chooses who is "All Good" and who is "All Bad" based on the child's characteristics), you can clearly see why my brother is suffering as the "Lost Child" as he is to this present day. When you read about the pure selfishness, manipulations, and toxic control of the Narcissistic parent, you also know how that further compounds my brother's troubles. AND THEN when you add in the mind-blowing divorce, the premature remarriages with ready made families, and the lack of support my brother received during some terrible teen years, you definately KNOW that his troubles are rooted from dysfunctional and disordered parents-- who to this day say it's all HIS FAULT.

I also know that I have fought to get where I am mentally and emotionally. I have searched my soul up and down, I have thought about everything from all angles, I have talked my dear friends' ears off, I have read so many self help books it's sagging my shelf, I have read post after post on blogs & professional sites... and I have peace of mind knowing that I have given it my all, trying to make amends with my parents. And that to save myself, my husband, and most importantly my daughter from high levels of toxicity, I have to have no contact.

Life is so short, it's so sad that it has to end up this way. Thinking that I may never see or talk to my mother again, and that she will leave this world without meeting her granddaughter is a very tough pill to swallow. Realizing that all of this is not a 'game' as my Dad plays it, and that this is real life, MY LIFE, that is ticking by was a huge eye opener. I simply wish for unconditional love and acceptance from my parents, and that is not possible due to their personality types. So, I move my thoughts elsewhere, and thank God once again for the good head he put on my shoulders.

UPDATE: I discovered Parental Alienation Syndrome after this post, which was a huge eye-opener and A-HA discovery. Please refer to my blog post: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome


  1. Wow! I have been reading your blog in bits, and it’s pretty amazing how you have just flourished and have become so selfless in your journey! Gretel, love, you are a warrior, and your daughter has inherited that trait. You have such amazing qualities and have an amazing story. I am blessed to know the real Gretel Ella Smith. Thank you for being such a wonderful person!

  2. Thank you so much! You made my day.

  3. I'd like to second that motion! Our stories are so similar, as you know, and I admire your bravery in every imaginable way! I too am so thankful God brought you into my life. . . - C

  4. Gretel I will write to you privately as it is all a bit too huge to go into in this little box. But I wanted to make a public post as a show of support for your clarity of thought and courage in defying the doctrine of secrecy that personality disordered parents thrive by perpetuating. We are almost exact contemporaries and it also took me until my 30s to make the breakthrough into PD diagnoses.

    With me, it was the other way around: I grasped my father's NPD first due to a relationship I had with an NPD man and a deep contemplation that I had under the influence of ayahuasca (a powerful psychoactive substance). Although I had always, like yourself, known there was something wrong with both my parents, I had bought into my mother's BPD blame trip to the degree that I thought her problems arose from living with a bafflingly "selfish" man. Faint memories of my mother calling my father "Narcissus" after the mythological character (he was a stage actor at one point in his life, very good-looking and extremely vain) and seeing the parallels, energetically anyway, between the rollercoaster ride of intoxicating attention followed by absence that I was experiencing with my NPD boyfriend, led me to a deep realization during the ayahuasca trip. (Actually, it was very much like Alice's conversation with the caterpillar in Carroll's books, so I was fascinated to find the link to the article that used the Alice stories as a construct for understanding this stuff.) After the trip, I investigated the actual disorder named after Narcissus. It blew the lid off! I ended the relationship with the NPD and thus began a lengthy quest of much reading and researching into the DSM1V and the Cluster B disorders. Though it was a process that was far from complete for many years.

    Like you, I am so thankful that for whatever reason I was lucky enough to have my own mind from a very early age. Looking back on it, I think that a year spent with my paternal grandparents at the crucial age of between 2 and a half and 3 and a half years old (right when these PDs become established) may have been the saving grace. What I can't understand is how my father developed NPD when his parents do not at all fit the mold of abusers. I don't know much about my mother's childhood and never met her parents.

    As a performer and singer, I did have to battle with narcissistic tendencies in myself, in my 20s, as well as the intermittent explosive disorder (uncontainable emotional outbursts) typical of a BPD, throughout life. But I have always wanted to understand myself, to not be an automaton driven by pathologies and to free myself from the legacy of enormous talent and zero success that both my parents and older sister have lived out.

    One thing I think is greatly overlooked in the literature on these subjects, but which you have touched upon here, is the bizarre relationship that both BPDs and NPDs have to gifting. I have dozens of very, very strange stories about mental and emotional games around both giving and receiving of gifts.

    I hope that as these disorders become more commonly discussed, by people such as us coming out of the woodwork, that regular people from regular families will STOP their dismissive attempts to normalize our experiences with empty platitudes like "...oh but all families are dysfunctional in some way..." One of the most painful aspects of surviving my family is when I have to hear this kind of shit from people who really do not have a clue, who have never had their mother call them "evil" or their father miss practically every important event and milestone in their lives.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, the support, and the comment filled with rich information and experiences. And I couldn't agree with your concluding statement more... it is a tough road to travel and part-and-parcel of blaming the victim of the personality disordered parents rather than the abusing parents themselves.

  5. p.s. I left off the last line, just saying that as mentioned above, I will write to you at greater length in private. Until then - thanks and I wish you happiness.

    Diana R

  6. Cheers Gretel! You know it's funny, I don't know if that is your "real" name or a pseudonym for the purposes of this blog, but I like the symbolism of the name "Gretel" from the classic fairy tale about the children who become lost in the woods after being deliberately stranded there by their mean (BPD) stepmother and their dominated (NPD?) father, only to end up being lured in by a cannibalistic witch who lives in a superficially attractive house made of candy.

    It is Gretel who rescues her brother by outwitting the witch and then is able to find their way back home, despite the trail of breadcrumbs (a disappearing map) having been eaten by birds. As you know, fairy tales contain much mythic subtext about archetypical psychological journeys that humans may be presented with. Apparently in original versions of the tale, it was not the stepmother but the actual mother who turned the children out. Compounding that dualism, the alternately kindly yet murderous witch is evidence of splitting the female mother figure into good/bad.

    Putting aside for the moment the misogynistic aspect of portraying the father as a blameless stooge who doesn't stick up for his kids yet is joyfully reunited with them at the end, the tale is about siblings who defy adult terror and outwit manipulators in order to find safety. Their freedom comes at the cost of committing a seemingly brutal act (burning the witch in the oven) yet it is clearly a situation of "it's either her or us" and so survival demands it. In the same way, "going NC" appears harsh and against normal social values, but it is the only way that Hansel and Gretel can get out of the woods and back to their own house: self-awareness.

    From your history I get that you have been there for your brother in the same way as Gretel in the fairytale, rescuing him from the cage he was put in by the "witch" and helping him find the road back home (to the self) despite the lack of signposts. To me, it is also significant that the father in the tale is a woodcutter, yet the children get lost in the woods. A proper woodcutter would be a man of the forest and his children would know their way around the woods because he would have shown them. But his narcissistic self-absorption means that he does not equip them with the necessary tools to navigate life, even prioritizing his romantic/sexual relationship above his responsibility to them. If you chose the name Gretel, then I'm guessing my dime store analysis is nothing new to you. But if it is your given name then it is a most interesting reflection on the subconscious of your parents that they should have made you the namesake of this fascinating mythic heroine.
    All the best. 66

    1. Your analysis is priceless! I love how you put all of it down into words. May I use / reference your analysis sometime in my writings? Thanks so much for taking the time to share-- you hit the nail on the head. And, yes, I have drawn the same correlation between my name and the Hansel & Gretel story :) however, I thoroughly enjoy how you described the connections.