Family Narcissism Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree…..and “Seasons Change”, poetry


Family Narcissism Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

People who know me know that my mother  and I have never been close.   This goes way back, for about 4 or 5 decades. It took me a couple of therapists to figure out her behavior. She’s a narcissist: whether pathological or ‘just’ destructive, or malignant  it doesn’t matter. It’s all bad.  Regardless the title, it causes extreme pain and suffering in  victims which is the reason for this behavior. Narcissists love to create pain…as long as it is in others.  They are great wimps when someone gives it back.  My mother goes ballistic.

In 1990 when I started writing a novel, she wrote to me that “no one would ever read you, and you would never be published.”

Surprise, you ol’ bat!

With the publication of “Song of the Nightingale”, I have just published my 5th book. Five books in six years is a lot of work. I don’t recommend it. But I am proud of the books…and this last one is so beautiful in the hand that it shimmers. It’s been out less than a week and people are already buying it.

This book is about the life of a 17th century Japanese couple, both of samurai and once powerful families. The dynamics of this are sharp in the book, and I have relied upon the beautiful 8th century Man’yoshu, a document of over 4,500 poems to draw upon for the 13 part saga. I studied Japanese for 4 years to get deeper into the traditions and customs of Japan. Only the Japanese sushi workers at Whole Foods encourage me in this, and I know now I can order sushi in the language, but little more.

The cover is especially interesting. Ten years ago I gave this painting (cover now) to mother and apparently she didn’t like it, or couldn’t find a place in her house for it, so she hung it on a closet door. It fell, and I found it under a bed. The glazing was broken, as was the frame so I took it home for my sweet husband to fix. Then I decided that she wasn’t going to get it back. She didn’t deserve it.

You should have heard her yowls!

In the same vein, 3 years ago I published “White Cranes of Heaven”, a selection of seasonal poems. The first phone call from her was full of praise (I sent her a copy) and then the second phone call was this: “Too many Winter poems, and I’ve seen all your sketches before.” (no sketches in this book…full on watercolors and oils….of which she has never seen because she has not been in our house for over 15 years. My husband has forbidden her here. I agree. First time she met our 3 year old son she slapped him across the face, leaving her handprint there. “He spit at me!”. I should have thrown her out a window.)

She read the dedication and she wasn’t in it. Nope, she wasn’t. After her years of cutting down my abilities (except when she wanted something) she didn’t deserve a dedication. Then in 2012, a short, scribbled over card: “I can never be truly proud of you because you haven’t let me into your artistry.”

Nope ‘mother’, I haven’t. And your words are the leitmotiv of a real Narcissist. It’s always about them.

It’s crazy making but when I sent her a poem, she immediately thought (and said) it was about her. It wasn’t. Ever. But Narcissists grab at everything they can to inflate their faltering ego.

For the last ten years I have been seriously involved in the study of psychology. I majored in it in the mid ‘80s. It took me a long time to understand what and why she was behaving like she does. Well, I believe that narcissism starts with one or more parents and some are seriously stung with the narcissism disease. Her sainted mother was a concert singer and her daughter had little voice. She also had two sisters younger who her mother described as ‘beautiful, pretty….and you’ll do.” This is a direct quote from mother. I think she really was hurt by her mother and it fed into her psychological problems. Many things did, and perhaps her narcissism (from the age of 5 according to a dead sister) was a defense mechanism. Most youths grow out of that stage by 17 or so, but mother never did. Pity.

Very recently I received a ‘note’ from her after I sent a poem. “Seasons Change”. It’s been published on this blog before, and in “Pitcher of Moon” and it certainly isn’t about her. Her reaction? “I’ve never been terrified by water, but you were, and I never asked you to save me.” (There is an old photo of my beloved father holding me in his arms on a bridge over a gorge in New Jersey. I’m yelling my head off. I was all of 9 months old. )

What kind of woman throws that up to make her argument? Not even a “good-enough mother.”

I had enough. I have never confronted her for her crazy narcissism. I wrote a short note to her, saying her behavior came from her narcissism, and she was mired in her hatred, anger and jealously.

I felt  I had finally found the nuts to tell her this. Or, as my family says about her: “Shut up, sit down , put a filter in your mouth.”

Today I got  emails from my brother. Hateful, demeaning emails. Pompous shit, and not very original. Just throwing crap like a little boy.  Good God!  He sounded just like his old mother! And yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the Narcissist Tree.

I thought it was funny was he tried to form it into a haiku.  I should have responded this way:  “Yawn, another bad attempt at haiku.  Stay on the porch, boy, you are  no poet.”  I made the mistake of taking this pompous ass seriously.  Won’t do that again.

This is the family who when my husband had a stroke….no one said a word. Not the Narcissist, not the wives, not the other brother….total silence. ( this brother did in a way, but we wondered IF he had even mentioned this stroke to anyone else.) His wife said two years beyond the stroke: “Oh, I thought you were over that by now.”  But we never heard from her when it happened. Total silence.  We just thought this is their “Christian” way. They had no reason to hate my husband.

Years ago, when our son was small, this same brother had a stroke, was blind for a while (rampant and uncontrolled diabetes) and we were deeply concerned.  Enough to send money we could have used on our son, but I loved my brother deeply, and he was a priority.  I used to respect him, thought he was wise, compassionate, but now?  He’s a carbon copy of his mother, just throwing around abuse and contempt.  A born again Narcissist….forget about Christian.


The pollution of narcissism must be only on this side of the family. My father’s side were all wonderfully supportive. Fred received advice from my cousins, aunts, etc.. Quite a difference from my side of the family. But then again…narcissism wasn’t the ruling disease from my father’s side.

Amazing. I could put all this crap aside, but they claim to be Christians. I have to say that I kept away from Christianity because (in part) I saw how they behaved, and I really didn’t know Christians then. I do now, and I can see that these troublesome folk are nothing of that nature.

Our son said this recently: “Mom, you don’t want anything to remember her by, you want to forget her. Her abuse of you and others is your personal PTSD. You will have it for life.”

He’s right. He went on: “Remember the women in our family, Aunt Jean, Aunt Pauline, etc. who WERE your real mothers. Remember them. They loved you like  she never could.”

Ah, God. To top it all off, I get a final email from Facebook from this brother wanting to be  ‘friends.’

Are you kidding? The Devil looks kinder than this sibling. But it’s this: After decades being the narcissistic supply and sacrificing his  family to the will of this mean old woman, (95 and still venomous) he has become exactly like her: Another Narcissist.

His ‘friend request’ had nothing to do with being friends. It was just more of his deception.  It did startle me until a friend explained his real purpose in this. Jesus Christ.  How low can he drop?

Remember  your own howls at the behavior of your mother? How you wanted to drop her into a swamp for the alligators? Do you remember saying there would be a rush on her coffin to tighten down the screws?  Do you remember your mother stomping her feet her driveway, insisting that you choose between her and your wife?  You have probably blocked all of this to survive. You have had to develop a defense mechanism to withstand her  behavior, but you’ve lost your humanity in the process.  I guess that’s called a coping process.

I love my brothers, (they don’t understand or follow un conditional love so they wouldn’t understand this sentiment….they are too much under another influence) but I also  pity them.  They have always been under the influence of this narcissist and frankly? They are rather ….sad.  It’s sad to see men in their 60’s who remain emotionally  children.  But that is the fate of people who rely on the ‘benefits’ of the central narcissist.  Only by understanding the pitfalls in doing can one be able to move away and grow.  Narcissism is a black hole for them. Tied to the apron strings of a master manipulator, they will never escape , and even when the narcissist is dead, they will  be impacted heavily by her history and the independence they have given up in life.  Heinz Kohut and Rollo May, along with many others have emphasized the importance of escaping the vortex of the Narcissist.  Real growth isn’t possible without  leaving this influence.  But that takes work, and both are too entrenched (and lazy) to do so.

When we are raised by a narcissist, we will always have fleas. Some of us know and are mindful of this. Others? Well, they could care less. And a further thought. Narcissism and Misogyny go hand in hand.

But the world is FULL of good people.  I have met many, and some have become friends.  And when you come from such a family as mine, you don’t realize that everyone doesn’t function in such destructive ways..  When you get away from the abuse, you can think straight and grow.  You can actualize your talents and you breathe better.  There are so many good and supportive people in the world you come to realize that this is the ‘norm’ not what you have known. There is grace in this, there is redemption. The others will disappear in the fog.

And perhaps the real question is this:  What price our humanity, compassion and empathy?

For some, it’s not even on the agenda.

And, since this is mostly a poetry blog, I will post the ‘offending’ poem.



I took a walk this morning.

The seasons have changed here

though where you are they don’t.

The dried, brittle grass beneath my feet

made a consistent crackle,

echoed by the gossip of sparrows above.

The leaves are stripped from the birches and maples.

They fell like rain on a fallow ground one day

and I didn’t see them go.

I think of your rounded arms when I see the shedding birches,

the smooth bark like white skin with a faint pulse of the river beneath.

Do you remember that river, when it scared you to stand close to the bank?

You thought the earth would slip inward,

take you on a wild ride downstream where

I couldn’t retrieve you,

and I saw for an instant your raised arms imploring me silently to save you—

though it never happened and you never slipped down the bank and I never could save you.

But imagination plays with your mind when it’s all that is left.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015……definitely NOT about ‘mother’.

I came across this article from the Irish journal “Inside Out”: issue 66, Spring 2012:  “Narcissism: Humanity’s Secret Weapon of Mass Destruction“.  I haven’t read it thoroughly, but it is fascinating.  It presents the development of narcissism before birth, and the child impacted by arguments, violence, trauma while in the uterus. It’s on the web.  It poses some good research.

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6 Responses to “Family Narcissism Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree…..and “Seasons Change”, poetry”

  1. Fred Says:

    The saddest part of this entire affair is that usually a family supports one another. This has never happened. We decided several years ago to go “no contact” with this corrosive family and all was well.As Mother’s Day approached, Jane decided to send a card against my better judgment. Unfortunately it opened another can of bad worms. Now our life is disrupted yet again. The above letter has been festering for quite some time. I’m glad it is finally out there for others to take heed and look through all the BS that lets others hold sway over your lives. Once you see your life being constrained by a narcissistic parent, you HAVE to break free and live a more wholesome life. Jane’s brothers will never do this because they can’t afford to cut the purse strings that go with the abuse. The world will be a better place when she passes. AMEN


  2. ladynyo Says:

    This from my husband of 30 years. He has suffered the toxicity of this birth family, and since his parents were loving and supportive, my ‘family’ was like an alien life form. It took him years to understand the dynamics, too.

    5 years ago we went No Contact. In doing so, I was able to put aside (the silence was wonderful!) the abuse of the Chief Narcissist. It was not directed towards my brothers, but it became clear that they were very much a support system for the old bat to maintain her narcissistic behavior. The benefits were where she would not turn her venom on them (this behavior is typical in a Narcissistic family) but she always triangulated between her children. This stoked fear and anxiety in everyone, and gave her the results she craved.

    In those 5 years I published 5 books. The energy and freedom I felt, the power as a poet and writer came out and only by this isolation from such toxic people was I able to actualize some abilities. I broke No Contact because I felt strong enough to show compassion to my mother. It was pointless to do so, because Narcissists are always laying in wait for the next attack.

    15 years ago, I stumbled upon M.Scott Peck’s website about Narcissism and I read his seminal book: People of the Lie. I wrote something on that website that was trolled by a sisterinlaw, it was copied out and sent to the Narcissist. My brother copied it out and wrote: “We are watching you.”

    Narcissistic families are always full of secrets, drama and narcs. His attempt to shut me up was just one of the standard displays of Power and Control in narcissistic families. Some siblings learn early that they can win the ‘love’ of the Narcissist by carrying out her behavior on the scapegoat of the family. Suicide is not unknown in such families.

    I should never have broken NC with this ‘mother’. Siblings were directly in line with her behavior.

    Narcissists do not feel love. They are really incapable of it. I see the mixture of narcissism and emotional and outright sadism in these families. Only by cutting ties can you regain your life.

    Her narcissism was not only directed at me, but at my husband and son. My husband is right: at 95 there is no improvement in her humanity. The wires are too twisted by her behavior for any improvement. The world is good and we can’t forget that the ‘norm’ is not what we have experienced. My concern for my brothers is misplaced. They are what they are. And the Chief Narcissist is what she is and will go to her grave unchanged.

    One other thing my husband mentioned this morning. We are laughing still. 30 years ago, right before we were married (my mother never came to our wedding…she was in a snit about something…) my husband came home from Canada with an armload of wild flowers. He came in the door and my mother immediately intercepted them. Of COURSE they were for her! Since she is under 5 feet tall, she buried her nose in my flowers and my husband, who is tall, just rolled his eyes. Same visit, and the old bat claimed he had ‘left a black slime in her pool.” My husband never swam in her damn pool. This is early evidence for him how outrageous his soon to be motherinlaw was. Luckily, my dear father really liked my husband, and he formally asked for my hand. My father said: “Sure, take her arm, leg and head.” LOL!


  3. TR Says:

    So true, I think narcissism can become a defense mechanism in response to a narcissistic parent. Children of N parents have to find a way to look after their own welfare, when parents don’t. If later, it isn’t dealt with to heal the trauma, then one can repeat the legacy.

    Your brother’s behaviors seem to reflect the continued dysfunction into the next generation. He is contacting you to attack you? That is classic N. Plus, if your mother was upset then she should have contacted you directly. Communication without a triangle does not seem to happen in dysfunctional families.

    And something about Facebook, when it comes to dysfunction, is that they want to have a Facebook connection because it reflects an image that everything is ‘normal’ and ‘perfect’ and they can, then, hide the abuse behind the scenes.

    It sucks that you are dealing with this at a time of celebration on the next book. I hope you continue to celebrate your accomplishments with those that love and support you. Hugs, TR


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR!
    You nailed it. His behavior, the behavior of this whole toxic family is classical Narcissism.

    My brothers have become her. There is no self-reflection in any of this. They don’t dare look at themselves. Perhaps it is truer to say they have always been her: she certainly cultivated them in such ways.

    Back when she was first displaying these behaviors, no one knew what was wrong with her. They just moved away. Which is what people do when faced with behavior that is illogical, offensive and just crazy. And that is what people thought. Some cousins gave me more insight into her behavior after I had left home. It was indeed confusing and troublemaking. LOL! And it has passed down to this generation. Yeah….he has only made the attempt to contact me to insult and abuse. Just like his mother. And yes, the secrets, the attempts to hide the foulness in these dysfunctional families is paramount.

    No, the mother in all of this only uses her sons to attack. That is so part of the triangulation of Narcissists. Yet my brother suffered for 40 years from her narcissistic behavior. But he is also lazy: so he will ‘forget’ the abuse in light that the old woman has not cut him out of her stupid will. He’s compromised his entire reputation , and certainly throws a different light onto his so-called Christianity.

    There is a strong correlation between Narcissism and Misogyny. And also sadism. I think we both know and have seen this constant link in our own lives with various relatives.

    Yeah, Facebook. LOL! But when we were down there 5 years ago, (the mother’s 90th birthday, as she pranced around with a tiara on her head. LOL! Though she did look fabulous for that age…) he wouldn’t stop playing his guitar in the middle of the room. Now, he plays well, probably the best part of him….but you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone….he is ALWAYS the center of attention. LOL! Narcissism indeed, but there were ‘guests’ that didn’t at all agree with his politics, his anti-tolerant anti-gay stance and behavior, and these people made it clear to us that they didn’t. It was good to hear that there was an opposition to his behavior.

    The best part of all of this is this: We have wonderful friends, we have wonderful family, both my father’s side and my husband’s side. It is refreshing to know that these families are not dysfunctional but loving. Something, TR, we both know impossible with Narcissists.

    Love, Jane


  5. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Hi Jane! First, beautiful book and congratulations. Second, the “offending” poem is gorgeous too, and is obviously not about your mother (unless she fancies herself Ophelia). Third: I’m so glad you wrote about your NFOO and called your mother out for the “old bat” she is. Such hatefulness and myopia in that woman. Kudos to Fred for speaking too here. I think you sent the card to her as one final gesture of respect for the fact that she is your bio mother. I did the same thing with mine. I didn’t expect any response and didn’t intend to change the relationship b/c I know it is fixed in stone. It is b/c ET is fixed in stone. But I acted on a better impulse, and it cost me nothing emotionally to send it. At least ET didn’t go on the attack, unlike your mean jealous bat of a “mother.” You’ve achieved so much. A good marriage of 30 years to a man worthy of you, and vice versa. Such creativity, in painting, poetry, fiction. A very good life, well-lived in spite of every attempt from your NFOO to undermine you. As with me, it took decades to comprehend all these dynamics. Once we do though, a sea change happens and nothing can ever go back to what it was.
    Nor would we want it to. congrats and love, CS


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Dear Heart!
    So glad to hear from you. You nailed it. She went on the attack, but used her usual triangulation techniques to ‘put the nail in the coffin’. People who have heard about her ‘note’ are not exactly surprised…that is those who know her. It was finally a case of ‘finding the nuts’ to tell her off. Decades of suffering silently….and I had it enough. Hatefulness and myopia seems to be the only course of narcissists. And since no one has ever told her (actually I am told that one dear dead uncle did tell her off…LOL!) to ‘put a filter in it” I decided that it was time. Over the years I have received letters and phone calls from aunts and uncles who (almost with their dying breath….really, at the end of their lives..) called and told me her offenses…and they were legion. It is so sad that this ol’ bat was allowed to run rampant through the family with such offensive behavior, but no one understood the mechanics of narcissism back then. They just thought she was crazy or mean. I’m seeing antisocial and we know that category.
    Yes!~ Fixed in Stone! That is it exactly, but it’s because narcissists are not especially intelligent…they are not original, they continue their well-trod path of hatred and anger and jealousy. And the poison doesn’t fall far from the tree: that my brother considers himself a Minister is a sad example of modern religion. LOL!
    I am glad that Fred isn’t a person to rub it in my face, but he was RIGHT from the beginning. He kept warning me for years that “something was wrong with the brother (actually two) but I knew that he had suffered along with his wife and family….but he’s a lazy sort and depends upon the toxic teat. It’s sad. I had hopes that at least one of these siblings would have been salvageable from the situation, but no hope of that. Opportunism is a defense blanket, I guess.
    ET is cut of the same cloth as the Ol’Bat…but she’s perhaps a little different, though there isn’t too much variety in narcissists. Your post on your blog sent me into giggles: When it was all about ET, she was smiling, attentive. When it wasn’t (conversations, etc.) she was Bored, and her face radically changed. Same here: every damn phone call I could hear her sigh…her impatience that I was talking about NOT HER, and the sigh…so damn obvious…was expressing her boredom that the camera had turned away from HER. LOL

    These narcissists really lead a constricted life: they are the center of their universe and don’t have any room except for their narcissistic supply…and we know where that leads.

    We do act on better impulse, but it does generally fall on it’s face. well, this was the final attempt, and she is no different than she was. At 95 one would think that grace or something would fit in the picture, but the wires are too twisted. And I have been thinking of her death: I won’t fall into ‘fantasy land’ and think “what if”? She stands in memory as she was and is, and she will be remembered by many for her reality.
    Yes, it takes decades to comprehend these dynamics with narcissists: unfortunately, it’s not an academic or intellectual study for you and I. LOL! Too close to the bone, but what we have learned!
    Yep, that sea change…and things can never be ‘hoped’ to be different.
    This life with her (and the nfoo) is such a textbook example of so much pathology. It is amazing to me that we still survive and prosper: so many don’t and end up as suicides. (which is the hope of narcissists that those who oppose them will die or disappear). I guess it’s like Rollo May says: that creative bone keeps you solid. It brings you out (you bring yourself out) of a desert of starvation and misery.
    I am over the moon about “Song” and the ‘feel’ of it in the hand. And that the cover stands for something she rejected. LOL!
    I know something valuable from all of this crap with Nfoos. The relationship with my son is so much better because I have been able to see ‘how not to be a mother’. LOL! But then, his perspective has been good, wonderful, intelligent and supportive. As has Fred and you and so many others. My brother talked about ‘my handlers’. LOL!
    The poor boy doesn’t see his own toxic handler.

    Last thought *not to beat a dead horse here…The appearance of ‘normalcy’ is paramount to these toxic families. That is the great scam they play on everyone else: but the chaos is deep in these families and the only way they can feel ‘good’ about themselves is delusions. Even my brothers know “something is wrong with mother” as my youngest one said years ago. Apparently he (they ) have been brought off big time. But the rot seeps out of the seams and people begin to see that there is no normalcy here. But the myth is paramount and that is the basis of the attacks. The horse has been let out of the barn a long time ago….and refuses to return back to its stall.

    Thank you, CS, for reading and your comment. You definitely know of what you speak.

    Love, Jane


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