Posts Tagged ‘triangulation’

“The Courage to Create”: Part III

December 1, 2014

Kohut-Bartels-LS-6

Painting, Watercolor, “Irish Bay”, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2007

The Courage to Create: Part III

 

The Scapegoats and the Golden Children: All Damaged In the End.

I’ve been thinking of the dynamics in dysfunctional families, especially those people who come from Narcissistic parents. There are many personality disorders, but Narcissism gives enough pain to trump most. Over the course of six years, I have written about narcissism on this blog, but still, after eight years of therapy, and with a good and compassionate therapist, I feel that I am just scratching the surface.

The learning curve is steep. Other bloggers do it better. For that I am grateful.

Recently, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And, what I have been told, my suffering from depression. I have been writing (seems like forever…) a book, titled “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”. In part it details, or at least reflects my parent’s behavior, and it seems they were always in turmoil.   That’s what it looked like then, but now I know it was much more. It took many years to understand the dynamic between not only my parents (my father has been dead for 25 years) but also the impact of their dynamic on my two brothers and myself. I was the oldest and the only girl in the family.

And about depression. When you are suffering depression, you think you are the only person in the world that has this condition. You are closed down, in a fog. But actually it’s pretty universal. Samuel Johnson described his depression as “that black dog that barks from morning to night.” Many of my friends have suffered depression and at times, this has stopped them in their tracks: they feel lost, empty, alienated, without the ability to pull themselves out of a deep hole. For those who have never suffered depression (and I don’t know these people…) this is what it feels like. Mostly. What is interesting and is the ‘connective tissue’ of these friends is they all have suffered from the narcissism of either parents in childhood (some with extreme physical abuse….most of us with emotional abuse) or with being trapped with partners as adults who are narcissists. Many times our paths cross with narcissists in the work place and this gives added anxiety to the mix. The abuse continues (and at times might be subtle and then escalate) and it is very hard to know what to do in these work related situations. Our jobs are at the core of this abuse, and the potential of loss of job aggravates the anxiety and depression. ( I remember at Emory University being asked (more than asked) to give   backrubs to my boss (female) and by the head of the department? When his designers came in drunk, if they threw up, I was to attend to them and frankly, do their work on a couple of occasions. With no acknowledgement. Basically I was to cover up their (well-known throughout the university) incompetency. Protect the department’s collective ass. This was crazy making to the max, and escaping that toxic environment was more than a blessing. But it took me five years to do so. I had just adopted a young child and I depended upon the slight salary to help.)

To many who read this blog, I will be preaching to the choir. To others, perhaps what I write here will strike a personal chord and they will find some things speaking to their condition. This is what I hope for.

I have been thinking of this dynamic between the scapegoat and the golden children in families. I have tons of experience, as I was the scapegoat. Early on, it was confusing but constant that my mother preferred her boys to me. I couldn’t understand this. Only many decades later did I start to understand this behavior on the part of her. It took a lot of convincing by my therapist who was an older woman and one who became a ‘mother-substitute’ over the years. Her steadfast kindness and ability to listen and to comfort, her belief in my potential was something I clung to. I had not experienced this with my own mother and only in the last ten years or so did I understand why. She was and is a classic Narcissist. I can see why now. Her behavior is convincing. And grows worse with age.

(Funny enough, I feel some compassion for her. Some. Whatever was the root cause of her narcissism, (nurture or nature issues…and I have my opinions…) she suffered from it: insecurities, jealousies, unbalance, isolation, etc. This is the real underpinnings of a narcissist. They just look ‘happy’ on the surface. They are generally a whirlpool of insecurities. However, they go on to make others really suffer)

The scapegoat is the child who is dumped upon in the family, the one who is blamed for the trouble that others make or feel, can be the whistle blower, or outspoken, but generally is the child who is pushed aside or ignored. Perhaps it is the child who is shy or quiet. It varies in families but the abuse that the scapegoat gets is pretty constant. Unending. It’s akin to the bullies in a school yard but these you can’t escape from. These are the entrenched bullies in the family. Any confronting the abusers, either the parents or the other siblings only makes the situation worse in many cases. These others, the dominant ones in the family don’t ‘hear’ the scapegoat: they have a lessened status, if they have any status at all. The family is ‘deaf’ to the plight of the scapegoat. Hence the suffering is unabated.

As far as the golden children, they are prized, they are rewarded, even if their talents are minor, they are the ones listened to. They also become real prats. They become in many cases abusers of the scapegoat, feeling that they are carrying out the rightful role of the parents, and they have a license to do this. If they are males, they also can become misogynistic. I have seen this where siblings have misogynistic attitudes towards women.   This comes from the atmosphere of the parental narcissist: narcissists are steeped in contempt, hated and disdain for others, and in many cases, for women. If the narcissist is a woman, she will feel competition with other random women, even women she doesn’t know…perhaps celebrities. The ‘flights of fancy’ that narcissists have would account of this. This is a form of grandiosity.

Narcissism as we learn is something common and worldwide, but when we escape these dysfunctional families we also learn that it’s not everyone, or every family that treats people in such toxic ways.

How do these people, the scapegoat and the golden children end up in life? Well, with distance and therapy perhaps, the scapegoat ends up more independent and also has a clearer understanding of these personality disorders that have affected their childhoods. Not to say that there isn’t a long run of terrible choices in spouses, friends, dangerous behaviors, etc. because a scapegoat acts upon their inferior status (they believe themselves inferior). It takes a long time to overcome self-abuse and doubt. They were never valued so they don’t value themselves. It’s parental, family abuse that segues into self-hatred.

As for the golden children? They are emotionally chained to the parent-narcissist and their ability to mature and normalize relationships are stunted in most cases. They don’t understand this, but they don’t really achieve independence emotionally and in some cases, intellectually. They are narcissistic supply to the narcissistic parent (this is the main role of them to the Narcissist). Only when this parent dies can they reconsider the damage that has been done to their lives. Actually, many refuse ever to consider the damage and go on to become what the narcissist has bred. Another narcissist.

Empathy is basically destroyed in these golden children because they take on so many of the characteristics of the parent narcissist. An example of this became clear a year ago when our remaining uncle at 86 years old made a very inappropriate comment to me over the phone. I had not seen this uncle in 50 years. He had been divorced from my mother’s sister (now dead) for many years, remarried three times, and when I wrote to my brother, (a fundamentalist Christian) in shock about this uncle, the only thing this brother wrote back in email was this: “……disturbing”. This was as shocking as the original comment of this predator uncle! I had expectations this brother would at least show outrage. He was supposed to be a Christian minister and I expected something better than this. But why? His compassion was truncated because he still saw me as our mother did: a lesser human being and therefore not worthy of his outrage. However, other male friends and cousins expressed their disgust at the behavior of this ‘uncle’. One cousin asked if I needed him to go beat up this sadly perverted uncle. He was outraged. These men were not puffed up Christians; they were normal, compassion and moral men. What a difference. This brother can wax elegant on religious issues, but his humanity smacks of misogyny. And I am not surprised.  There are some newish studies on the relationship between narcissism and misogyny.  There are also some interesting studies on the fear and intolerance of Christian men and male homosexuals.   They might hide behind ‘gospel’ but the fear and insecurity is real in these men.

The golden boys seem confident, outspoken, not cowed by doubt or self-esteem issues, but this is a façade. In some very important ways, the golden children never grow up. And, sadly, and predictably, they take on the role of punishing the scapegoat as they see with their narcissistic parents. They are the twisted minions of the parents. They think it is their ‘right’ to do so.  The parents, either one of them, call on their adult children to carry out their abuse, and the golden children do this for the parents. It is part of the eternal triangulation of these dysfunctional families.  They might also be attacked at one time or the other by a narcissistic parent, but they rush to not have the ire and abuse turned upon them so they readily carry out the abuse of the parent.  This behavior is fear based.

They are perpetually basking in the approval and ‘love’ of the Chief Narcissist. But this is not love, it’s the relentless search on the narcissist’s part for narcissistic supply. Their support and approval and, yes, submission must be constant for the narcissist to exist comfortably. Otherwise they are useless to the narcissist.
For narcissists on this level truly don’t know how to love. They only know how to use others because of their own ego-needs: these come first and everyone around them are sacrificed….even the Golden Children. They are, after all, just servants to the will of the Narcissist. Less than servants, they are slaves.

The scapegoats, once they make their escape from this dysfunctional family have much more freedom and growth. The growth is painful, there is no escaping this. Years of shame, doubt, self-abuse, etc. must be confronted, and the shame and abuse finally put back where it belongs: on the abusers. Then there is growth and freedom. But there must be distance, and most probably, some serious therapy to achieve this.

Finally, the scapegoat is in control of their life. Hopefully, at some point when they become adults, they have escaped a horrible slavery, though the opinions of the abusive family don’t change. They are left wounded, and maimed in many ways, but they have a chance to live a normal life, where the golden children are still chained to something that denies them growth, independence and maturity.

They remain Adult Children but nothing much more. And when the chief Narcissist finally dies, they are thrown into a tizzy. They have a serious addiction to the narcissist and little ability for critical thought. Their slavery to a toxic situation comes around and bites them in the ass. The chief narcissist is still controlling them from the grave because he/she has imprinted something so destructive to the personalities of the Golden Children left behind. In this way, a narcissist never dies. (She or he also continues to triangulate from the grave: “Glad I won’t be here to hear the howling when the will is read.” This is a prime example how the narcissistic parent continues their control on their adult children. And continues the conflict amongst siblings, which is what the narcissist did in life to continue her narcissistic supply. Alive or dead, the narcissist still has one hand around the necks of her children.)

Regaining the ‘self’ doesn’t happen for the scapegoat until there is a radical rupture with the birth family. Either a period of Low Contact or No Contact helps institute this regained self on the part of the scapegoat. It varies for each individual, but the worse the abuse and the more wounded the scapegoat, the more the necessity for this radical rupture.

It can be an issue of life or death.

Back to the issue of depression. What I am reading and sensing in my friends is that they haven’t been able to put these narcissistic people in the place they belong…which is BEHIND them. And this is damn hard to do. I can testify to that, because I held out ‘hope’ that things would change. We are connected by that twisted family umbilical cord. We have deluded expectations because they are our family. Any peace, joy, creativity, etc. is just about impossible because narcissists, and especially families who have a collection (they grow like algae) of narcissists will always pick at the one who either is the scapegoat or a scapegoat who has escaped. Every person I know who has escaped has gone on to a remarkable and well deserved independence, and over the years I have been privileged to know quite a few who have done this.  But the tentacles of the narcissists will stretch out and attempt to continue to injure, to pull them back. They need the supply like the vampires they are. And it is hard for us to keep these devils behind us. Hence, the depression. They sap our energies, and even thinking of them, rehashing ‘what should have been’ is exhausting. And, ultimately…pointless.

And more about that old depression. That depression comes from various sources: the rejection, the anxiety as to where we belong in these ‘families’ and the lies we were told and hold on to. The lies from the narcissistic parents to try to control us. This is the basis of our anxiety. This is the basis of our confusion, depression and despair. It takes a long time and distance to understand that what we have been fed is just….lies. These lies are the probably basis of our alienation and insecurities.

Each one of us has to come to a place where we have worked it out for ourselves. Each person is different and the abuse is different but in general, we have great commonalities in this sphere. For me, I have gone No Contact with my birth family. At one time, I thought when the Chief Narcissist was dead, ‘normal’ relationships could be resumed, but I seriously doubt this. And I have grown enough to know that these people are not the folk I would seek out for spiritual, intellectual and emotional comfort. They are no standard for me. Regardless of my accomplishments, I would still be inferior in their eyes. They don’t have the abilities to change their behavior. They are stunted by life with the narcissistic parent.

Right after I wrote this above, a sister in law emailed me pix of my two brothers and ‘the mother’. She wrote: “Call me soon”. I am left scratching my head.   I haven’t heard from these people in over 4 years….why would I call? My husband thinks she’s a moron, but I think she is just insensitive and since she isn’t related by blood, genetics, to the chief narcissist, she might feel a bit of guilt. She has been (forever, 40 years) hearing toxic crap. Perhaps she has a conscience. That would be nice. However, it is exhausting to try to understand toxic situations and people.

And it obstructs our creativity and our very lives because of the constant energy these things take.

What possible ‘good’ would it do to ‘reconnect’ with people who have been abusive and aloof to my family? Two years ago my husband had what was suspected to be a small stroke. One brother (who had a stroke 10 years ago) emailed me with some information about regaining balance, but the ‘mother’ and everyone else on this side of the family just ignored what happened to my husband. And this sister in law? I did speak to her in a short phone conversation seven months ago, when she was coming through the Atlanta airport and wanted me to meet her, which I declined. When I mentioned my husband’s stroke, her response: “Oh, I thought you were over that by now.”

Amazing. Of course, a glimmer of interest as to his condition, or understanding how offensive her insensitive (and cruel) words hadn’t crossed her mind. That is what the milieu of narcissism breeds. Arrogance. A lessening of humanity. Sad. At one time I thought she was a good person, but her environment has made a difference in her. Or perhaps narcissism has been too great to resist and she’s joined the monkeys. A dear friend who also has a narcissist as a mother said something I think is really true: “Your sister in law had to learn to play the game (with the narcissist) in order to survive.” This probably is the situation. Narcissism perverts and corrupts good people when they can’t escape or make continuing excuses for the narcissist.

The point is this: when we settle for people who are toxic, who refuse to apologize for their actions, who do no critical thinking, who continue to support the main narcissist in the family unconditionally (and for opportunistic reasons actually…one brother has full knowledge about the viciousness of his mother…and has threatened to feed her to the ‘gators where she lives…but only to me, certainly not to his mother!) when they continue to be a part of the Silent Majority and take a stand with the toxic narcissist, with continued contact we perpetuate our self-abuse. We allow the narcissists on all levels to continue to harm and maim. We perpetuate our self-hatred. Narcissists do it well enough without our help.

Recently I read something that spoke to this situation and to my decision to not go back to this toxic family. “Insight comes at that moment of transition between work and relaxation.” I was bound up in writing and research for a few essays, and trying to complete a book, when I walked away, disturbed by this conundrum of ‘how’ to answer this sister in law. I closed my books, turned off my computer and just stopped all activity. The answer appeared in the ‘space’ between activity and no activity. I don’t know what happened but it was no struggle at all. Einstein asked a friend this: “How come my best ideas come when I am shaving in the morning?” LOL!

It’s that space between our laborious thoughts and when our mind is off the problem. Probably that small space between the conscious struggling mind and the unconscious mind. That small space where new ideas are born. I believe this is where most of our creativity is formed.

Gone were all my concerns about ‘how to answer’, how to proceed. It was clear to me that the answer was already made: Since I had gone No Contact with this family, or more so with the chief narcissist, my life was different: productive, peaceful, with energy and a renewed creativity in a number of areas. Not perfect, but so damn different. The drama/trauma of this family that had me seriously doubting my value, my worth and even the reason for my continued living….it didn’t figure in my life anymore. These toxic people were like a deep and dark well, and I knew that any going back to that well would drown me. My life was too good and creative to do that, and my husband deserved peace and no more narcissistic/abusive drama. He had endured thirty years of this.

And their behavior wouldn’t change. But mine could. There was no ‘pull’ of ‘family’ anymore. I had moved on to something that wasn’t scarred with the trauma of the past. I had to. It was imperative that I do so, and that others were to be considered. Fine, non-toxic loving people deserved better.

There was no contest. I knew in a flash that going back to this family would mean I had once again put myself in a dangerous and toxic place. Under their power and control. And the invitation to ‘call’ came from only one. The rest? They couldn’t be less interested. However, the holidays are approaching and within narcissistic families, it’s always the ‘appearance’ of normalcy, even when it is not. It’s a shell game at best.

The four years where I was in control of contact has given me space to get away and in that distance I have realized how damn happy I have become. Depression was not major, was conditional and not chronic anymore. (Where it developed I believe it was the remains of ‘guilt’…of not making enough closure with the past.) I had found the roots of my malaise and I had the power to walk away. And walking away and meaning it was just the first step. (There’s more steps, but for each it’s different.)

My energy and creativity came flooding back. I published another book with more to come. I went back to those joyful things I loved: painting and dancing, research and poetry. Some of these interests I had put on the shelf because I was exhausted. I had the freedom from conflict for four years and I had regained energy. Why would I consider destroying this with more conflict? It would be another drop into a Hell I had finally escaped. It would be another round of self-abuse and self-hatred.

When we recognize abusers for what and who they are, then depression starts to lift and we start to live. Sure, we will make many mistakes, and for a time, do like the Russian army: One step forward, two steps back. But soon we can come out into the light of sanity and self-respect and we gain speed.

The alternative is pretty dire. When we honestly begin to put these unnatural devils behind us, we can heal and prosper. Our creativity is restored with time and effort. But only we can put this in motion. I believe there is a critical mass of something, abuse, etc…that builds to a point that continuing to reside in toxicity is nothing more than death. And it’s not so slow.


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