Lately I have become acutely aware of my mortality. Part of that comes from the fact that I had a pap smear come back abnormal just before Christmas (everything checks out fine, though). Part comes from just looking in the mirror and seeing the effects of aging on my face and in my eyes. This past year, I’ve also been taken along on the journey through dementia with my aunt and that journey is exhausting, frustrating, and at times seems a lot like trying to bail out the ocean with a spoon.
Every day, after the cats have had breakfast, Sadie pesters to go either outside onto the patio, or out in the garage. Dexter and Idgie find a place somewhere in the house to hunker down and nap, or just chill. When Sadie comes back inside, she almost always jumps onto the arm of the recliner and “kneads” my chest, while rubbing her head and face on mine. This is our “lovey” time, and I always murmur things to her about how much I love her, how special she is to me, how pretty she is, or on a rare occasion, just how stupid her other Mom was. I often lament the fact that our time with our furry kids is so very short in the overall grand scheme of life. At best, their “full” lives are a third of ours – more commonly, only 20% of the life span of a human. They enrich our lives, they love us, they try our patience, they make us laugh, and our hearts are broken when we lose them.
Sadie was, for all intents and purposes, fully bonded to Lisa, and Lisa to her. That bonding to Lisa did not diminish my love for Sadie in any way. I absolutely adored her, and still do. She is, without a doubt, my whole heart and a large part of the reason why I’m still alive. But, she was Lisa’s baby – and then Lisa was gone. I wondered, early on, if Sadie missed Lisa as much as I did. Did she feel her presence in the house, and sometimes forget that she just wasn’t coming home? Did she feel empty and forgotten and lonely without Lisa here to hold her, pet her, or play with her?
I thought about that this morning – about all those emotions and feelings that I’d had and realized I’d never really thought about how many there were. There are many that are experienced when grieving the death of a loved one, but there are others that come only with having been betrayed by the one person who once wrote to me “I never want to be the reason for any pain in your life.”
While I absolutely cannot – do not want to imagine what my friend must feel, what must go through her mind, I find that I, too, often still struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. I do not make this observation to minimize Linda’s grief, nor to overstate my own, only to note that it is not unlike the loss my friend Linda has experienced and, *added to that* is the fact that Lisa made a conscious choice that she knew would hurt me, and she made the conscious choice to keep acting in that manner which she knew would hurt me.
I have a friend, Linda, who had a son with whom she was very close. He was an intelligent, personable young man with his whole life ahead of him. He made one very bad decision, and it cost him his life, and Linda wrestles with that daily, almost two years later. There is a sadness about her that shows, even through the witty, snarky, funny personality she shows the world. She has searched and searched and searched within herself, trying to make sense of her loss, trying to understand the decision her son made, and unable to find any real answers. She knows that, despite our best efforts, our kids do what they do and it’s no reflection on us. And yet, still, with that knowledge, she still feels guilt and hurt, and constantly questions herself both in how she raised him, and what she might have missed that could have given her some sort of insight into what was about to happen. In the end, it was just an unwise decision on his part. No more, no less. But she will carry that burden with her to the grave.
In March it will already be five years since I learned of Lisa’s affair. It took me until about this time two years ago to finally let go of the hurt and the anger, but I still sometimes feel that loss when Sadie kneads my chest and pesters me to pet her. While I have friends that I spend time with, I’m still lonely – not for SOME company, for Lisa’s company. I miss her, and yet at the same time, if she came to the door begging to come home, I’d just calmly close the door, leaving her on the doorstep. I used to fantasize about her coming home, and we’d work hard on making things right again, and we’d live happily ever after, not unlike an abandoned kid in the foster care system fantasizing about their parents coming to rescue them.
Lisa’s infidelity, however, is a reflection on me. It has left me with such a low sense of self-worth that I may never again have any. This is why I struggled so long with thoughts of suicide (which, thankfully, I don’t have much of these days). The abusive environment in which I was raised did nothing to instill any self-esteem in me at an age when self-esteem is at such a low point. I carried that negative self-view into my adulthood.
I also let Linda, push buttons that made me feel bad about me, and I think that without even realizing it, she sensed that, and became a master at it. After all, bullies have a sense for weak spots and, when they find one, they poke at it unmercifully. I remember one time, we were going someplace together, and she criticized the way I was wearing my SOCKS, and told me how embarrassing it was to be seen with me that way. Let that sink in. My socks.
When I’d talk to her on the phone, if I so much as mentioned Joe, she’d launch into a diatribe of why Joe was “…as dumb as a box of rocks” because of the way he wore his belt, or that he was a dork and it was no wonder he didn’t have any friends (although he had many). One day I told her that I was tired of hearing her badmouth my son – MY SON – and that if she couldn’t find anything decent to say about him, to just keep her mouth shut. That was the day when she told me she hated me, and never wanted to see me again. A few days later, she told me that she was done with me and didn’t want me at her wedding because, get this, I “…hadn’t earned the right to be there.” And then, according to what family out in Colorado reported to me, she told everyone I couldn’t be bothered, that I was selfish, and anything BUT the truth.
Linda is a master at the low blow. A few days after that her husband called me and asked me to reconsider my decision to stay home and not attend the wedding. He told me “She says she hates me all the time.” So, she claims to love him, and tells him she hates him all the time. You don’t tell someone you profess to love that you hate them unless your intent is to hurt them. Period. And, if that is/was common behavior for her, can you imagine what it’s like to be one of her sons and have her take one of those low shots when she’s mad?
I remember my mother telling me “I hate you” on numerous occasions. I remember how deeply those three words burn inside a child, especially hearing it from their parent.
Despite all of that, I had just finally gotten to a point where I felt like I had some value to give the world, and those around me. I felt secure in myself. I began to like the person I had become since I met and married Lisa. Then the rug got pulled out from under me. Again. Lisa’s affair became obvious, and she lied and lied and lied to cover up what had become so painfully obvious. And, to make matters worse, she no longer tried to conceal the fact that she was still in constant contact with her paramour. She continually kicked me while I was down in being so blatantly obvious and showing no intention of breaking off the affair. To defend her own indefensible choices, she had to tear me down – put all the blame on me. She cut right to the very core of my insecurities and took any sense of worth I had right out of me. She left me with a sense of self so bereft of content that I began contemplating suicide. Some weeks later she would say to me “I don’t understand why you continue to be so angry.” Oblivious. Selfish. Clueless. I hotly replied, “Maybe you should ask your therapist to explain it to you.”
Two days after I kicked Lisa out of the house, on Mother’s Day, I checked Lisa’s call logs on the Verizon web page, and saw that my daughter Linda, the master of making me feel bad about me, had called Lisa, but had not bothered to reach out to her own mother. She had chosen her side. At first, she said it was just to find out what had really happened, but given her history, I knew better than to believe that. Then she turned nasty. Again. Any time she’s called out, she turns nasty.
Now, the thing is, during all the drama and angst and hurt and anger and humiliation with what happened with Lisa, I probably was less than diplomatic with Linda, but one would think she’d figure out that maybe *that* wasn’t the best time to pick a fight with me. For Linda, however, it seems that there’s no such thing as a bad time to pick a fight. She’s always up for it.
Linda would have the world believe that *I* am a narcissist. The mere thought of this makes me laugh, since I have struggled with feelings of inadequacy for as long as I can remember. I do believe, in all honesty, that my psychiatric diagnosis would more appropriately be “Borderline Personality Disorder.” I have cherry-picked the criteria that I believe relates to me with regard to supporting this theory:
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
I do not engage in self-destructive behavior (at least, not in physical behavior like promiscuity, binge-eating, illicit drugs, alcoholism, or excessive spending). Also, while I had a period after Lisa and I split where I passively-actively contemplated suicide, it is not a chronic behavior for me, nor has it ever been. I do not have chronic paranoia, nor do I get in physical fights (not since the 7th grade when Patty Rice called me out after school).
Narcissism requires an over-exaggerated sense of self-worth and, the reality is, I’ve never had any sense of self-worth. I have taken pride in some of the things I have done in my life, but that’s vastly different. I can be good at DOING something and still not feel that I, as a person, have any value to anyone. And, for the record, the only person who EVER made me feel I had any value was the person who ultimately betrayed me, stripped away ANY sense of self-worth I had built while with her, and then left me broken and worse off than when she met me.
Psychological projection is a term used in the mental health field to describe behaviors whereby the individual attribute feelings, motives, or attitudes they find unacceptable in themselves to someone else. The reality is, Linda is the narcissist and, based on the “behind her back” complaining I have heard from others about her, I stand by this assertion.
When she was pregnant with her first child, her step-mother (my ex’s 3rd wife) complained to me about the way Linda treated her, her father, and others around her with INSANELY jealous behaviors and comments about other people who were being praised. The stepmother wanted to know if she was seeing the “real” Linda or if this was just “pregnancy hormones.” I assured her that she was seeing the real Linda.
I recall conversations with Linda (in addition to the ones mentioned above about Joe) where, if I said anything positive about either of her siblings, she would suddenly get nasty and say horrible things about whichever sibling I had praised. As an example, I commented that I was pleased and proud of how far Michelle had come in her life, and was so happy that she and her husband were buying a house because of Michelle’s self-discipline, drive and determination to save the money to get them there. Linda literally screamed at me on the phone that SHE was the one who was “the good daughter” and that SHE was the one who had worked hard to get where she was and that, for Michelle, this was just a fluke, and that she (Linda) wanted me to be proud of HER. She couldn’t stand to hear me say anything positive about Joe, either.
On Facebook one day, I made a comment on my brother’s page about him being a racist because of a particularly offensive and racist meme he’d posted about Obama. It took less than 10 minutes for Linda to “miraculously” appear and act as if she is the self-appointed savior of all family members who *might* have even a small issue with me.
Anybody who knows her, knows that her idea of conversation is telling you how good she is at doing something, or how someone told her how pretty she is, or something equally as self-focused. She, more than I, fits the DSM definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (again, I have cherry-picked only those criteria that I believe she meets – in other words, she doesn’t meet ALL criteria, but it only requires 5 to earn the diagnosis):
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
- behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
- At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
Sure, I’m sort of wallowing in self-pity, but at least I’m aware enough to recognize it and admit it. The narcissist denies ANY diagnosable personality disorder and, in fact, will argue the exact opposite on every point. The narcissist is completely incapable of an introspective look at herself.
When things went to shit with my marriage to Lisa, I went to therapy for almost three years afterward. Initially, I wanted help getting past the grief and the pain. But, I stayed because I KNOW that there’s some defect in me that makes me push people away. My therapist helped me to understand that I do this because, that way, people can’t leave me. When people leave me (emotionally, psychologically or physically), I hurt, so I push them away to protect myself from that hurt. This is why I kicked Lisa out, rather than continue to try to put our marriage back together. It was too painful to watch her send text messages to her girlfriend, right under my nose. It was too painful to continue to learn all that she had done, all her lies, and all she continued to do with no regard for how it hurt me. So, I kicked her out. I pushed her away. That way, she couldn’t leave me. It’s sort of a control, thing.
I now truly, truly feel that I do not want any more intimate relationships with anyone. I’m tired of always picking myself up. I have very good friends with whom I love spending time doing things like shopping, going to movies, taking exercises classes, going to dinner, even traveling. And the thing is, I’m content with my life just as it is this way. I don’t have to put in the day-to-day effort it takes to have a marriage or partnership or whatever else you want to call it. I need only take short bursts of time with my friends, and then I’m back home, alone, except for my cats. For now, this really works well for me.
I guess I live in a sort of glass house. Nobody can reach in and touch me. Nobody can hurt me. Nobody can make me feel less than I should about myself.
The down side, however, is that I cannot reach out, either.