Posts Tagged ‘Rollo May’

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.

Stolen Poetry and the issue of Creativity. Some preliminary thoughts….

March 24, 2014
My new book, “Pitcher of Moon” is available from Amazon!
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I’m supposed to announce that “Pitcher of Moon” has just become a KINDLE e-book.  thanks, Nick!

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

Crabapple/Peach Tree in back yard, Spring

( I posted this a year ago, but since the issue still exists for many of us on line, I am posting it again. I add a few thoughts on this issue of creativity, but these aren’t complete thoughts. I am preparing a paper on this, based on some reading I have done over the past year. When it is finished (hah)…I’ll post it on this blog.)


A while ago I received news a poem of mine had been ‘stolen’. Actually, a poet on an unknown poetry website had taken my poem, changed the title and a few lines in two stanzas, and published my poem on this website under her name. What was especially galling was she was no poet, and her revisions were horrible, awkward…an attempt to make something ‘more’ erotic by adding cheap and tawdry phrasing.  Confronted, she said that ‘she was inspired’ by other poet’s work. The webmistress contacted me and asked if this was my poem. I was surprised, because I didn’t know without the proper title how one would go about tracking the original poet. Apparently, she had her suspicions, and googled the first couple of lines and my name and website came up. She was deleted from this website.  No apologies at all, and she is still a thief.

I was rather dismayed. Poetry generally comes from some of the deepest places in our beings: it’s an outward form of some very personal experience, or something like that. This poem was written in 2009, at a difficult time in my life. I was going through some physical and emotional changes and a year later, it received an award, (up until now, the only one….) as “Poem of the Year” on a particular website. I had left that website, but was grateful for the award. Still am.

This had happened a few years before, when I first started writing in earnest. A major poem and a short story was lifted from a website and published without permission on a website in England.  At that time I was rather flattered.  The lawyers and advisors at this home website where the pieces were lifted were rolling their eyes:  don’t be flattered, this isn’t good.  Well, the owner of the English website pleaded that he just so admired the writing (he lifted a number of us poets and writers work from the original website) that he just couldn’t help himself.  hah!  The lawyers got everything back but I did feel sorry then for the guy.  I’ve learned better.

This ‘news’ about the plagiarized poetry came at a point when I was reading a chapter about creativity. In Fox’s “Original Blessing”, this third path, Via Creativa, speaks of the hard labor necessary to produce artistic works, regardless of the medium. It is not an activity of ‘letting it all hang out’ as we have been told by certain cultural ‘standards’ but one of a deep discipline. To attempt to bypass this hard labor is not only stupid, but robs the person of a deep meditation with oneself and an internal growth from this activity. It is also hard to trust those images that come to us at the beginning of our creativity. We are very judgmental towards our attitudes of our own self-expression. We have to develop an attitude of trust, a trust that that out of our silence, our waiting, our openness, our emptiness…that these images can come. I do know that after 30 years of painting, each blank canvas, each clean piece of watercolor paper sends me into anxiety. I don’t ‘trust’ that I can again, produce something that comes from that relay from the brain, through the eyes to the hand. I forget that I have 30 years of technique behind my painting, and feel like I have nothing to build upon for the next piece of work. But I do, I just don’t trust myself. It takes my ‘letting go’ of my judgmental attitude towards myself, towards my expectations, and settling down into the work and knowing that ‘something’ will come of it. But it still is always a struggle to trust myself to be able to do something in this creative vein.

And as a counter thought, I know a couple of good poets who have been writing for decades. They never publish or post their poems online because they are ‘afraid’ that they will be stolen.  Good God!  Like misers, they clutch their poems (volumes actually) to their chests and few ever see them.  Well, Hell’s bells.  I would rather them stolen (and this is actually pretty rare) than nobody ever having the joy of reading them. What are they amassing their poems for?  You can’t take them with you.  A central joy in my life is that everyday, across the world, somebody is reading the poetry on the blog.  And sometimes strangers contact me (besides the friends who graciously read the poems…) and we are able to engage in discussion about poems…both sides.

One of the problems for most creative people is to pick the image that sings loudest to us. Perhaps because we fail to choose the strongest image, we give up creating anything. The (dead) Zen artist Kenji Miyazawa said this:

“You experience something deeply. Later, you picture it in your own mind; you idealize it; you coolly and sharply analyze it; you throw all your passion and power into it. Then you fuse all these things together into one. If you do this without self-consciousness, the depth and the power of creation will be much greater.”

In tanka, especially the classical medieval Japanese tanka of the 8th and 9th century I see this. I also see this in Basho, Issa and before them, Saigyo. This lack of self-consciousness, where the poem is infused with the power of creation and the poet is not presenting a focus of ego. This is something you will recognize with enough reading of this period.

In music, I have come across this ‘without self-consciousness’ terms as ‘getting out of the way’.

Somewhere Meister Eckhart talked about the ‘bridle of love’ that we need to steer our passions. Not to control or abuse them, but to make them work for us. This is discipline, done respectfully towards ourselves, for our developing and revealing creativity. We suffer enough abuse, by ourselves and society, so adopting an environment of hard work, of sweat, of exhaustion, of joy and of discipline will only push our creativity further along. This wannabe poet who didn’t trust herself enough to settle, look deeply within and create, is more to be pitied than scorned, but perhaps put in stocks??? She stole other poet’s poetry because she did not love or honor herself. Hopefully she will learn to love herself enough to become truly creative. Hopefully, she will not rob herself of this wonderful process.

The American psychotherapist, Rollo May wrote a book “The Courage to Create”. On page 41 he says something I find interesting in general.

“Escapist creativity is that which lacks encounter”. Dr. May had a patient that reminds me somewhat of this poet/thief above. He would come to an idea, an excellent creative idea, flesh it out in his mind, and then he would stop there: he would write nothing down. It was as if the experiences of seeing himself as one ho was able to write, as being just about to write, had within it what he was really seeking and it brought its own reward. Hence he never really created.

These distinctions between talent and creativity are especially important. I believe that talent is given to many people; what they do with it evokes whether it is a passive gift or an active ‘act’ of creating. One is passive, and one is active. I also believe our creativity is directly linked to our encounter with opposition. I know this to be true of myself, though I never saw the pattern until later in life. My mother said 25 years ago that ‘no one would ever publish me.” That was an opposition to get over. Yes, I was published by numerous literary magazines, ecological magazines, etc. I also decided to self-publish with and now with Createspace, from I had so many things to publish that it made up more than 5 books…and I wanted them out of the way and into the world fast. Nothing wrong with this issue, though people do look down their long noses at those of us (and we are legion~!) who do. Now? I have 4 or so novels to rewrite and publish and probably will go the same route. I don’t care about the ‘status’ at all, whether I am published by the ‘big’ (and overblown) publishing houses or not.

To add to this above, Rollo May also said this: “Creativity,” to rephrase our definition, “is the encounter of the intensively conscious human being with his or her world.” In my experience, there are a lot of writers, poets out there who are not ‘conscious’ or encountering enough. Perhaps sleep walking.

To plagiarize or steal outright a poem or a piece of work robs the poet of the greatest gift they can give to themselves: the deep research, the formation, the joy that comes from an original thought that manifests into art. They rob themselves most. They are just….lazy.

The small poem below was inspired by these words of Daichi-zenji (1290-1366) “and bring back a pitcher containing the moon’. Just those words set my brain on fire. There is nothing wrong with ‘being inspired’ by the work and words of another poet: just be sure that inspiration is true to your own vision and abilities and you are not putting your chop on the work of another.

Lady Nyo


Pitcher of Moon



I dip into the pond

And gather a pitcher of moon.

Above, it glimmers

Smiles at my efforts,

This late- winter moon.


It is just a bowl of cool water

I am holding

But the magic of the cosmos settles

In this plain clay vessel.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2013 

This poem was published in “Pitcher of Moon”, February, 2014

By Createspace, 


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