I have a fragmented child living inside me. She never learned to grow and never stopped grieving because she was left behind. When a child doesn’t get the love, support, and security she needs from a parent, then she is forced to enter adulthood with missing pieces. Her coping mechanisms are sprained and ineffective. Oftentimes, her damaged coping methods create larger problems than the ones she tries to mask. Self love and self confidence don’t exist. Her emotional maturity is dull and stunted. She grows anyway, but follows a distorted path. Part of her never gets to be an adult because of these missing pieces. The child inside lets go of trying to be an adult and remains an internal, eternal child.
Even though narcissistic personality disorder isn’t new, we are only now starting to collectively recognize NPD on a grand scale.
Those of us raised by a narcissist did not come to this party late. For us, narcissism became part of our fabric. Maybe we didn’t have a label to put on it, but children of narcissists recognize narcissism in other people.
Even if our narcissist disappears, the narcissistic demon remains whispering in our ear. As a child, I listened to my father as he tended a running commentary. “My life would have been better without you in it. You should have been a boy. You embarrass me.”
I listened to him for years until I was able to remove myself from his daily abuse in my late teens. His voice lingered on as my own demon, pouring a stream of poison in my ear. The little girl who lives inside of me twisted and morphed into a contorted ball of springs and twine. She looks like a child created from a crayon scribble.
As the oldest part of me, she is also my anxiety tribal elder.
This little girl is not my devil. I feel compassion and even love for her. A little. I feel sadness because she will never be okay. She is the oldest part of me and she is a child. These two facts will never make peace with each other. I am not saying that there is no hope for the near hopeless neurotic .It seems that most of us have options. Therapy. Rehab. Drugs. Friends. Life. Age.
I know those of us damaged by parental narcissism can get better, because I have. But that little girl who still resides in me? That old woman who lives in me? She is a fixed point in time. She will never get better. She will not stop being afraid. She will not stop being ashamed. She will not stop running away. I accept this. I accept that she and I have to make our peace.
I spent years alternating between ignoring her and loathing her. Now, that I’m on the other side of time, I feel compassion for her. I kind of dig her. I love her a little. Why did I hate her? Why did I ignore her? Because she was stupid. She was ugly and should have never been born. She was a failure, threw a baseball like a girl, and her hair was matted and messy. I didn’t just hate her. I was repulsed by her. I found her to be a sad, pathetic waste of a human child.
My father molded that child. She tried to be who he wanted her to be, but she couldn’t and she became someone else instead. When he said his life would have been better without her, she believed him. His statements defined her.
She cried, worried, and drank antacid as a bedtime snack.
Her stomach pain meant she was wrong, defective, and not worthy of existence. As I grew, I ran from my family. The little girl inside came with me and I hated her. I hated that I still cried too much. My tears were “her” fault. I hated that I was afraid, just like her. I faked being a functioning adult, though. I ignored that child, except for when I couldn’t. Then, I hated her more. The memory of her made me cringe and brought the chalky taste of my bedtime snack to the back of my throat.
I grew older and even my harshest feelings began to soften.
I became a mother and loved my children. I loved them imperfectly. I made mistakes learned from my father. I am not him. I never blamed my children for my mistakes. When I was wrong, I told them I was wrong and apologized.
When I became a grandmother, I learned I could accept my own children and their children. I considered the possibility that I had been too hard on the little girl that was me.
Perhaps, I have been too hard on the old woman who knows every moment of my history. Even the ones I don’t think about, the memories that I still hide. I considered who I am now. Am I a person who would be repulsed by any child? No. No, I am not.
I considered that little girl who was me. I tried to dredge up feelings of revulsion or shame and found those feelings are long dead. She deserved to be loved then, so I try to love her now. I am not always successful, but am diligent. I don’t know if I comfort her or not. She is ash. She is fixed in time. She is a ball of jagged wires and knotted twine.
I don’t hold this child to blame for who I am today. I don’t hold this child to blame for not being able to grow. She cannot be anyone else. She is blameless. I understand that she has both been ash for many years and will also always be close by. I know her nature is to fret and cry and to need constant reassurance. She is me. She is mine, and whether she feels it or not, I will try to comfort her. I will continue to grow my love for her. I will cultivate patience for her. I will find ways to let her know that she is valid and real and deserving.
I accept this child of mine, but I have a need.
I could use a break for five minutes.
I need a sitter.
If someone could, just for a few moments, hold her close and promise her that everything will be okay, then I could get a break. She will need her hair stroked and she needs to be told that she is funny and pretty and that the world is better because she exists. She won’t believe what she hears, but tell her anyway.
If I had that five minutes, I could find out who I am.
I could feel what it would be like if my reality weren’t always cloaked in fear.
I would know what it feels like to not have a stomachache.
I could see with clarity who I could have been.
I could see with clarity who I still might be.
I could see with clarity who I am now.
There would be no scream in my head. I would know, or at least have an inkling, what should happen next.
I could take a deep breath and stretch my arms over my head.
I would know that the years and months and weeks and days and hours and minutes and seconds that haven’t happened yet aren’t scary.
Or maybe I would find that she isn’t the one holding me back, keeping me mired in fear. Maybe, I would find that it’s been grown up me all along. Would I resent her all over again if that is true? Do need her so that I have someone to blame for my shortcomings?
Or maybe my five minutes would pass as five minutes do. Nothing new, nothing discovered and nothing gained. I would find myself 300 seconds older and no wiser.
No matter what I learn, I will take her back when my five minutes are up.
I owe her. I used to think that I had forgiven her, but I have since realized that she had done nothing wrong.
Instead, I am learning to forgive myself for turning my back on this child for so many years.
I will take her back when my five minutes are up because I haven’t given up on trying to take her pain away. Do I think I will succeed? I am nearly certain I will not. Her time is over. I can’t go back and make her life less painful. I am not ready to stop trying, though. I know she sometimes laughed. I know that she had moments of brazenness and fearlessness.Those moments weren’t many in number and I so badly want to give her more.
I will take her back when my five minutes are up because I want to take her back. I would fight to get her back.
She is mine. I don’t love her a lot, but I do love her.
She is mine.
Photo courtesy of kai Stachowiak