Thursday, May 28, 2009

Enlightened Witness

The child of a BPD parent can be greatly helped by what Swiss Psychoanalyst, Alice Miller calls an Enlightened Witness. An Enlightened Witness is a person in whom the child can confide, or whom the child perceives as knowing what is going on. The Enlightened Witness lets the child know that what is happening to them, the way they are being treated, is not fair. The Enlightened Witness lets the child know that it is not them who has the problem but the parent. Often times we are mystified and wonder, "Is it me or is it them?" The Enlightened Witness says to the child, "It's them." The child is relieved to know that he/she doesn't deserve and isn't causing what is going on. The enlightened witnesses understanding and validation can help a child preserve the child's sanity and soul (Markham's Behavioral Health).

Did you have an Enlightened Witness? If so, who was it? How did this person help you during the challenging times? If an Enlightened Witness existed in my childhood situation:
  • Father: he could have and would have been; however, my Dad lost credibility in my eyes when the divorce was initiated as he went through my mother's things behind her back, talked poorly about my mother in ways that seemed to be brainwashing and manipulative, and exhibited behavior of the scorned lover. He seemed to be doing all he could to get back at my mother for having an adulterous affair with his friend and ruining his family life. All of this was obvious to me even at only 12 years of age. Ultimately I didn't trust what he said, as I didn't trust what my mother said either. I have spend years trying to sort out who was telling the truth during that nasty divorce. SO, even if his enlightenment were in fact true, the support that could have been healthy was tainted by this own dysfunction.
  • Family friend: my parents also had a friend who sided with my Dad during my parent's vicious divorce. During the divorce proceedings, she testified against my mother about how she treated my brother and me as she was witness to our household for many years. She definitely could have been an Enlightened Witness; however, she came across as someone who would say anything to help my Dad's cause... so she was tainted as well. She had no hesitation when talking poorly about my mother, but her intense and angry position seemed forced and thus not sincere. Additionally, she was a drug and alcohol addict, which further discredited her stance. She died from a lethal mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol shortly after my parent's divorce was initiated.
  • Grandmother: my paternal grandmother did help to answer questions I had about my mother BUT she didn't offer up any REAL enlightenment or support. She was very careful about what she said and did, trying not to trash talk her. She was the grandparent that I would ask, "I am not like my mother, right!?"... "I am not going to turn out to be like my mother, am I??" And she would always hug me and say, "Oh honey, no dear, you are you. You are nothing like your mother". This was perhaps the only things ever really said about my mother by her but those simple words DID indeed help me to keep believing in myself and to keep myself separate from my mother.
  • Aunt: around 13 years of age, I was visiting my Aunt and asked her some point-blank questions about my mother, but I don't remember the information she offered. I know that she confirmed some of my observations as well as some of the information I had heard in the past about my mother. Since she lived across the country and we didn't communicate on a daily basis, we didn't foster the Enlightened Witness relationship. I am sure, however, that if she did live closer where we saw each other more often, she would have been a tremendous positive impact on my life.
So what about ADULT children who haven't had the blessing of an Enlightened Witness? The Enlightened Witness doesn't only let you know that 'it's not you, it's him / her', the Enlightened Witness VALIDATES the experience. Without that validation, which the self-absorbed parent won't give, the child and / or the adult child is left to search, question, and wonder about the origin and perpetuation of negative experiences.

I have searched for decades for this validation. Neither of my parents would talk about my childhood-- my mother wouldn't because she said it's inconsequential to whom you are as an adult and my father wouldn't because he doesn't want to remember. So, as an adult child of a confusing, abusive, and neglectful upbringing, without the Enlightened Witness and the accompanying validation, years of deep soul searching and digging for answers is the possible result.

Thank goodness for books like Christine Ann Lawson's... thank goodness for those who are also searching and reach out to contribute their stories which aid in validation of your own... thank goodness for blogs, comment boards, and groups pertaining to the topics. Even though I may not have had an Enlightened Witness during the formative years of life, I certainly have plenty of validation, support, and love at this stage in my life. I hope you are able to find that as well... and I hope that this blog provides validation, support, and love to those who are searching or need to communicate with someone who has been through the same type of situation.

May your life be enlightened, validated, and happy.


  1. I am recovering from having Narcissisic parents. During my recovery and processing the abuse, I went to many people including a neighbours who I loved and trusted. She was my 'second mother'. Every time I bought up an incident of abuse from my parents, she would minimise or downplay it. Things like 'well all parents lose it' or 'but you were such hard work as kids'.

    I was devastated. I then realised, that she too is a child abuser. I had idealised her, as she was a safe place away from my parents. She bullies all her kids, both are stuck in abusive relationships, and another is estranged. She blames everyone but herself.

    Trying to validate abuse, is like being in a horror film when the character is looking for safety. We have no idea who is 'safe', who is a secret abuser themselves, who is still in denial about their own abuse. There is also a lot of ignorance about how things effect children.

    I then bought loads of books on abuse- Toxic Parents, Reinventing your Life. Read loads of blogs and accounts of abuse. I had to learn to validate myself, be my own 'safe place'. Knowledge is power, nobody can take that away from you.

    Even in my therapy group, abuse is downplayed. I have to be careful what I say, or I get invalidated and minimised. Things like emotional incest, emotional abuse is hard to spot. And everyone has a different idea of what abuse is.

    My rule is. If it hurt you, it's real. If you are suffering with anxiety, dissociation, nightmares, addictions, you had abuse.

    Schema therapy is the best form of validation you can get. It links your current behaviour back to childhood events and abuse and helps you to understand yourself. It is very compassionate and gives you the control back.

    I would advise you not to talk to family members about validation. BPD/ NPD is caused by family abuse and siblings, parents will be similar. So grandparents, aunts etc are a bad idea. Even family friends will be on the parents side.

    1. VERY STRONG point --> "My rule is. If it hurt you, it's real. If you are suffering with anxiety, dissociation, nightmares, addictions, you had abuse." Indeed ... very profound.

  2. My Dad-although he was far from perfect was helpful. He later married my SM who by her own words "was so late coming into your life..." and indeed, she was. There was a LOT of damage done. But both of them would listen if I wanted to talk and reassure me it was *not* me. I grew to love her dearly and considered her my "mom" in her and my later years. Both were very careful not to denigrate my "mother" and did not pump me for information at all: If I brought something up they were very compassionate and active listeners. I'm *sure* that must have been hard for both of them. They confirmed "me" and my experiences.
    I've been very, very fortunate as an adult.

  3. OOPS! I forgot to mention my late DH!!! Yeesch!
    When I NC'd by sending a waaayy too polite 4 line snail mail letter telling her I did not wish to have any further contact with her, I didn't tell anyone for awhile, actually. I had already taken the first step by limiting her to snail mail and LYING-oohhh, was that hard!-about having a phone. I got an unlisted phone #. My life was very, very busy, I was fine with my decision and actually, I'm a pretty private person-except on an AC Blog ;)
    My DH didn't get it initially: "I don't understand...a mother and a daughter?" He was perplexed which is absolutely understandable. I told him, "You know me, George. You've seen me at my best and my worst. When I tell you I don't want anything to do with that woman there's damn.good.reasons." He had never met her and if there was one thing I had unshakable faith in, it was her CB-ness: SHE'D unmask herself-and she did in spectacular and repeated fashion. His take then was, "Holey crap, who does THIS to their DAUGHTER?!" He was horrified. I've never felt the need to get into "she did this, she did that" etc. because as you've observed, you need to write nearly a book to get the point across!
    I told Dad and my SM one night over dinner. SM immediately reached across the table and exclaimed, "Oh TW! What TOOK you so LONG? It was horrible to sit by and watch her do this to you!" I explained my reasoning and she was just great. Dad immediately excused himself from the table-he was in tears. When he came back, he gave me a big hug and said, "Good for you!"
    So again, I've been one very, very fortunate woman. In a society of letting it all hang out, if you're a private kind of person you tend to be viewed with suspicion. I'm not "hiding" anything or "secretive." There's a time, place and person/group for certain disclosures. Not just any old anybody has the right to know my personal business.