Narcissism: Did I Scream?

I sat on my deck perched on the edge of a chair. Rainy days mean soaked cushions. I had to choose between a wet ass or balancing on the metal frame.

Spring had reached the adolescence of it’s life, but still felt like a baby. The air was warm, but the bite of winter remained in the breeze. I listened to the sounds of the afternoon. I faced the thrum of interstate traffic from a couple miles away. Behind me, I could hear a train rumbling on the tracks a few streets over.

I heard a girl scream.

This wasn’t a scream one would expect from a little girl getting splashed by a puddle or losing her turn on the swing. She screamed like a camp counselor in a slasher film.

Then, I heard giggles.

Just some kids playing. I felt the blossoming old lady who lives inside me perk up. “Is it necessary to scream like you’re being slaughtered, little girl? Why don’t we bring the drama down about 38 notches?”

Part of my crabbiness came from envy. What would it feel like to scream like that? To scream outside with abandon? I’m not talking about the scream therapy we do on occasion in our cars.  I’m talking about outside, in your yard, without regard to the neighbors. I’m talking about throwing your head back with outstretched arms and screaming like you’re being audited while hitting your toe with a hammer.

I strained to catch a glimpse of the children, but they were hidden behind a line of dead trees and a honeysuckle forest.

I wondered if I screamed like that as a child. I don’t recall  having a sense of abandon.

There are two rules that every child of narcissism learns:

First, you must always be exactly as your parent wants you to be. Second, you can never be what your parent wants you to be.

My father has narcissistic personality disorder. A child raised by a narcissist learns how to be small before she learns her multiplication tables. A child raised by a narcissist wants to believe  life is more safe if she keeps her elbows clenched to her sides. The child of a narcissist learns that she must never make waves. She can’t make waves with her arms tucked in.

My range of motion was stunted and bound by straps that exist only in my mind. The fact they have no physical substance doesn’t detract from their strength.

My father had to be the center of every conversation and orchestrate every drama. If one of his children shined, then he better be able to directly relate their success to himself or an unholy rage would be unleashed. If he found himself relegated to the sidelines, then his anger, contempt, and resentment turned everything to ash. He demanded payment for these incidents. Someone would pay.

I found his price too steep and thought it best to not shine. I thought I would be safe if I allowed myself to be bound.

I was wrong though. There was no way to be small enough.

Being alive was enough of a crime to warrant punishment. I learned that being wrong was shameful. I also learned that I was nearly  always wrong. I learned my opinions were worthy of contempt, so I never bothered learning how to form them.

I sat on my deck, perched on the edge of a chair and felt my elbows by my side. I imagined the skin on my sides were child shadowworn to a soft patina from decades of my elbows sliding back and forth over the same spots. I wondered if I would be able to hear my shoulders creak if I suddenly threw my arms out.

I considered these bindings of mine. How they didn’t protect me. I’m noticing, after so many years, how they chafe.

The little girl behind the honeysuckle forest screamed again and then laughed. This time her screeching summoned an adult. A screen door slammed and I could hear the irritated voice of a man. Probably her father. I couldn’t make out his words, but I recognized the cadence.

In my head, he wore a white t-shirt, faded jeans, and work boots. He carried a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger with dark hair drooping over one eye. My father as a young man.

I tilted my head toward the sound of his voice and tried to hear his words. I couldn’t, so I supplied my own.

“You run like a girl.”

“Why can’t you be prettier?”

“You embarrass me.”

“My life would be better without you in it.”

I wanted to leave my deck, claw my way through the honeysuckle, and protect this little girl from my father. I wanted to make him stop yelling.

I wanted to force him to understand how his words carry more weight than he knows. How his words will continue to whisper to his daughter into her adulthood. Would he listen? Not if the man in the other yard was really my father. He wouldn’t care. A narcissist would brush away my admonishments as inconsequential or wrong. She would pay, the little girl. Oh yes, she would pay. He might act like my criticisms went unheard, but he would hear them and find them intolerable. I would fix nothing by making demands of her father. I could only cause her harm.

Maybe, he’s not the one I need to talk to.

Maybe, I need to turn my back on him and focus on the little girl.

I need to tell her that no matter what she does, she can’t make him love her. No matter how quiet she is, he will still attack her. The bad shit happens no matter what. I would tell her to keep her voice. I would tell her to wave her arms and continue to run into life with abandon.

I didn’t leave my deck. I didn’t claw my way through the honeysuckle forest. That would be ridiculous. I would be the crazy neighbor butting into something that is none of her business. That, and I was afraid of the anger I heard in his voice.

The man’s voice died away, but the muscles in my thighs were still tensed. Was he gathering steam? Would she dare disagree with him and find out how huge his voice could become?

I heard the screen door slam again. The muscles in my thighs released. I leaned back, which was a mistake, because the cushions were still wet.

I stood and brushed the back of my pants, then leaned my forearms against the deck rail. The breeze had picked up. I thought between my body heat and the wind my pants would dry before I had time to get too annoyed from wearing damp clothes. I stared into the honeysuckle that surround a smattering of dead trees. I wondered who owned the largest tree. Was it on my land? If the tree fell and created damage, would I be responsible? Or was it his tree? Would he be to blame for the damage? I wanted it to be his fault.

The little girl was hidden, but I could see her. Her knees pulled up to her chest as silent tears cut through dirt on her face. Her lips pressed shut as her huge eyes saw her life in front of her dancing, just beyond an abyss.

I heard the girl scream again. Then laugh.

I didn’t hear fear in her laughter. Her scream didn’t lack volume.

She wasn’t afraid.

Maybe, the man who slammed the screen door didn’t look like my father. Perhaps, he is a loving, but slightly annoyed, father. Perhaps, the screaming girl’s range of motion isn’t in danger at all. Maybe, his voice wasn’t as harsh as I imagined. Perhaps, when she grew tired of screaming outdoors, she would go inside and be engulfed in her father’s love.

Many years have passed since I sat on the ground with my knees pulled into my chest while tears cleaned the dirt from my face. I have watched my own children grow and start families of their own.

I haven’t been that little girl for years. I have always been that little girl.

I heard a screen door slam again and was left with nothing but the sound of the interstate. I smiled and wished my screaming friend peace. I hoped that she never loses her voice or inhibits her range. Scream on, little sister.

When I sat on my deck, just minutes ago, my intent had been to avoid cleaning up after dinner. I hadn’t planned on feeling the bindings that have been holding my elbows to my sides for so long. I didn’t plan to acknowledge them. My plan was to hide from the dishes in my sink for a few minutes, not to question why I am who I am.

I stretched my arms over my head and I felt the straps twitch. Was it possible to let them drop? Do I have to keep them forever? Did they ever keep me safe?

I have spent decades taking shallow breaths.

I am ready to breathe deep. I am ready to wave my arms. Perhaps my shoulders will always creak like rust on a hinge, but if I can learn to love the sound of a child screaming like a banshee, I can learn to love my own sounds.

Maybe, I can scream now.

Maybe, I am screaming.

 

Share
Add your comments below. Profanity is encouraged, but not required. ;)
  1. KK says:

    Beautiful…that is all xx

    Reply
  2. Lisa K says:

    That echo you’re hearing?
    I’m screaming with you.
    Appropriate words for all of us here. Thank You for writing them.
    Realization is hard, Yo.
    Happy 2017.
    Let’s Do This.

    Reply
  3. Eleanor says:

    Profund stuff.

    Reply
  4. Jane says:

    Damn.
    Profound.
    Beautiful.
    Heartbreaking.
    So many little girls need to hear your words, learn from your history. So many little boys, too. It’s always good to know you are not alone. Someone understands. There is hope. That you are not the problem, they are. The sick bastard that never should have been a parent.
    Keep making those shoulders creak, Michelle. 2017 is here and you are going to own it!

    Reply
  5. Doug in Oakland says:

    Brilliant writing, Michelle. Even if you’re not audibly screaming, it seems to me that you have at least found your voice. I hope you know that you do have a powerful voice.
    Happy New Year to you and your family, and please tell Alfie that I said meow.

    Reply
  6. Brilliant. Don’t ever stop using your voice, Michelle. It’s powerful and, as I’m sure you’re discovering, liberating.

    Reply
  7. Kelley says:

    Every time I read what you have written, I cry. Ugly cry. But it’s OK because they are tears of relief- someone gets it. Someone understands and feels what I have felt, what I have tried to hide from for so long. I am so sorry for the little girls we were (are) but I am more grateful than you will ever know that I found you. Well that sounds stalker creepy, but not how I meant it! PLEASE continue to write- you have no idea how much of a safe place you have created here. No pressure or anything. Here’s to a better, more peaceful year for us all. Thank you

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Okay, first..YAY! I am so glad you are here! Secondly, you don’t sound stalker creepy at all! I am so so glad you are connecting with what I am writing, that means so much to me. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Mary-Anne says:

    This. This is perfect. Your voice is perfect.
    We are all perfect.
    When we scream.
    When we cry.
    When we laugh.
    When we spread our wings and take up space and
    when that little girl defies all odds.
    Like you.
    I hope you spread your wings wider and wider
    (and I hope your pants didn’t take too long to dry)

    Happy New Year, Michelle.
    Fuck 2016.
    This year is gonna be great!

    Reply
  9. BarbaraM says:

    This blog is your scream. Every time you write something, the bindings become a little looser.

    Reply
  10. Natz says:

    So get what your saying hun. God you say it perfectly. How we cant feel wild abandon as kids in a Narc family. One memory is so clear in my head, running around throwing now balls in the snow after school, about 10 at time. Dad wasnt there but I remember feeling wild, and free and crazy. It was so much fun. But on reflection I felt silly and ashamed. Like it was n’t right to act like a child Looking back I was like a mini adult. Controlled, never free.
    Its so frigging sad and I am sure that’s why I’m still a big crazy kid now at 46..making up for lost time!
    I have been No Contact (Dad) since June 2015. I lost my Mum through his gas-lighting last year. This Xmas he took my brother, Sister in Law and new baby Nephew, he cant control me anymore but unfortunately he can control how other see me. I have lost them all because of him.
    I found out from my bros friend at pub two days before xmas that old mans got cancer. A secret kept in the Narc family in the hope that when he dies they can torture me some more. What a beautiful legacy to leave behind.
    Thank you for your words, many adult children of Narcs are very much alone. Your beautifully written piece makes us feel we are n’t, bless you. (and sorry to offload) xxxx

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I am so sorry you went through (going through) that bullshit. I’m sorry you were treated that way. It sucks. I am glad you are here and I’m glad we’re not alone and please don’t apologize. That is what this space is for. You talk about what you want and I will look forward to reading it. 🙂

      Reply
    • Billie says:

      I’m so sorry to hear that you have such a similar story as me to tell. If only they knew all their tricks are straight out of the narc handbook, and make them typical “NPD” rather than, “So bloody clever”.

      Reply
  11. Denise says:

    My stepsons grew up with their undiagnosed borderline personality mother. When we got custody of them, the younger one’s counselor told us he presented like the abused foster children she had in her practice. He was 13.

    He’s 16 now, a successful junior in high school, with a girlfriend. As an introvert, he has finally found his tribe. He’s up for a summer internship and is researching colleges. I’m so damn proud of him.

    He recently made the decision that he won’t be visiting his mom any more. She lives two states away, which necessitates a flight. He had a minor surgery this fall and is still not able to sit for that length of time. So he “missed” Thanksgiving and Christmas with her. He was thrilled.

    Her next visitation would be for his birthday, towards the end of the school year. The state she lives in, where the case still sits, does not allow any input from children until they are 18. So, no input at all, for any child, in any situation. But he knows that at 17, she won’t have enough time or money to get the court to send him back. So he’s done.

    He told us over the summer that she “stole his childhood”. He’s still determined to make that up. He’s still a bit immature for his age, but when you go through a childhood like his, you’re allowed to get a big ass Lego set for Christmas. I don’t care that she thinks we’re “buying his love”. We’re giving him a childhood. Better late than never.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I am so sorry your stepson had to go through that and I am so glad he has you! You are doing what you can for him and it’s going to make a difference. XOXOXOX

      Reply
  12. Lou says:

    This made me cry. So perfectly written. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  13. Shani says:

    As others have said, this is beautiful, it made me cry, and you have found your voice–writing is your scream and thank you for sharing. Though the narcissism is of a different kind, I still see so much of my mother in your father that your posts on this topic stay with me for a long time. Thank you for putting into words things I can’t. You make me feel less alone. And I am sure I am not the only one. You have a gift and again, just thank you.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Not being alone means so much! I am sure there are different issues when the narc parent is the mother rather than the father, but I am also sure we still have at least a fairly good understanding of what the other went through. I am grateful beyond measure for my mother. I am sorry yours wasn’t what you needed. I am glad you are here. XO

      Reply
  14. Linda N says:

    I’ve been following your writing for awhile. You speak to my soul. I saw myself and my sisters in your writing today. So profound. My sisters and I have learned to hold that little girl you speak of; and have taught her to laugh & sing & dance . We are OK now. But we all have hard won wisdom.

    Reply
  15. Onlyme says:

    Profound, moving, and beautifully written. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Brilliantly written, beautiful.
    Happy 2017

    Reply
  17. Billie says:

    Happy New Year to you all.
    What a very fitting start to the year. This was beautifully written and has inspired me to break free and find my voice, something that was so taken away from me, I had no idea it was even missing. I hope we all find our own voice and step out of our prescribed roles.

    Reply
  18. Haralee says:

    This is a heart wrenching, grabbing, post. Scream on!

    Reply
  19. Your childhood was really awful because of this person. You as an adult have brought unique insight, wisdom, love, caring to your own family in measures possibly equal to what you were deprived.

    I hate what you had to pay to be the brilliant, intuitive, empathic person you are.

    But that is what you are, to those of us who hope your heart heals more every day.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Thank you so much. I am sorry I had to pay that price too, but I am happy to be who I am. And I am EXTRA happy that I can say that..because I couldn’t for most of my life.

      Reply
  20. Oh my….I journaled this morning something vaguely similar. Those adult voices do so much damage to us. Even at age 62 I sometimes catch myself playing small and compliant–giving up my wants and needs to try, in vain, to make someone else happy.

    Thank you for writing this and sharing-reading the comments you clearly struck a chord!

    Reply
  21. mydangblog says:

    Powerful and beautiful!

    Reply
  22. You seem to have found the joy of screaming. At least that’s what I hope for you. I hope you’ve found that screaming can be joyful, that it can break, or at least loosen, those bonds. I hope you’ve found that you’re allowed to scream, and that it can make you feel better.
    I know it sometimes helps me when I remember the times I was screamed at that I was a disappointment, not smart enough, that what I wanted didn’t matter.
    And I hope that you’re like that little girl. I hope that sometimes you scream and even if you hear a man’s voice you scream anyway and then laugh.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Not going to lie..I still struggle..but not as much as 10 years ago and way less than 5 years ago. Even the past year has been freeing. I mean, except for when it sucked. Haha. Thank you. 🙂

      Reply
  23. You have definitely found your voice as an adult and use it to scream as loudly as you need. This is why you’re such a good writer.

    Reply
  24. Barbara says:

    We have much in common, Michelle, and writing has been so liberating for both of us. You have an amazing gift, and may you never stop using it!
    xob

    Reply
  25. Having known a few narcissists in my life, my sympathies go to you. But pat yourself on the back! You not only survived, but grew strong and prospered. In his own strange way, your father made you a writer.

    Reply
  26. AmberLynn says:

    I hear your screams! I screamed back when I was younger…..to no avail. Luckily for me, I was able to shut him out after 18 and haven’t looked back since. Scream on!

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Part of me is jealous because 18 was bad bad bad for me. I had my dad and a boyfriend who was a carbon of him. It was horrible…but mostly, I am glad that you found your voice so young. Good for you!! I think a win for one of us is a win for all of us.

      Reply
  27. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, but he was wrong.

    Reply
  28. This is beautiful. Long time no see; it’s good to be back Happy New Year… 🙂

    Reply
  29. Julie says:

    Beautiful…..

    Reply
  30. Thank you for sharing your story with us. This is very poignant. Like you said, scream on, sister.

    Reply
  31. Laura says:

    omg… I just found this site and I have read so many posts and there’s tears in my eyes. I wish I had found you earlier, it’s like you’re reading my life story… thank you so much for this blog.

    Reply
  32. Jill Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you for this. My mother is a narcissist and it is hard to talk to people who had nice mothers who loved and supportrd them. It’s nice to know I wasn’t the only little girl with her elbows tucked in at her sides.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I am so so sorry. I feel the same when people talk about how great their dads are/were. I hope you are moving more freely now. I work on it all the time. XOXOXXO

      Reply
  33. I was right there with you in the Honeysuckle Forect, dirty faced with silent tears. We are not alone.

    Reply
  34. Rena says:

    It never fails to amaze me the ways a parent can fuck up a child.

    Reply
  35. Wow. Triggering but powerful and intense. Thank you. And I’m sorry.

    Reply