Posts Tagged ‘Heinz Kohut’

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

July 12, 2015


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.

%d bloggers like this: