It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Six years ago, when I was writing the 46 Memories and working through some of my issues, I wrote a blog entry entitled “Deconstructing Rage.” Re-reading it today, I see a lot of information that some of you may find interesting and/or helpful:
I don’t get mad much anymore. Some years ago I had this epiphany in which I realized that when I was angry, that anger was actually hiding…masking…what I was really feeling, which was mostly hurt, fear, and/or disappointment. After some heavy thinking I came to realize that my anger was actually a reaction to one of those feelings, anger being more powerful and empowering than allowing myself to experience, yet again, those emotions I had come to equate with being a victim.
What brought me to that epiphany was a think-session in which I tried to figure out why I cried when I was mad. Talk about dis-empowering! I used to be able to work up a good head of steam…a really intimidating rage…only to have its intended effect completely neutralized by the telltale red nose, watery eyes, and streams of water coursing down my cheeks. Anger…the towering rage kind of anger…used to be the “big gun” in my emotional arsenal. It was effective, it was intimidating, it got me what I wanted, right up to the moment I started to tear up. I knew the tears to be a sign of an escalation of emotion…an expression of a rage so profound I felt like I was going to explode with it, but my victims took quite an opposite view. Instead of the power of my fury, they saw a weeping woman, ineffectually spitting out blunted barbs.
Eventually I would withdraw to a place of privacy and dissolve into a storm of noisy sobs. When that was over, I would emerge and, if the situation had not been resolved to my satisfaction, a cold fury would set in. This was the dangerous one, because it fuelled retaliation, rejection, or worse. There were no tears in this determined, steely-eyed rage. It was cold, calculating, and bent on getting what I wanted at all costs. It took me years to untangle this and ultimately discover that this was not my process, it actually belonged to someone else, and the tears were my own personal contribution to it…and my only clue.
By the time I reached my mid-thirties, the cumulative dramas and traumas of my life were beginning to take their toll. I fell into a deep depression and began having suicidal thoughts. When things that would formerly enrage me occurred, I would go to bed, curl into a foetal position, and wish for the dark oblivion of death. During this period I found a therapy group and began to participate twice weekly. In the group sessions, the women would expiate their rages by beating huge pillows with tennis racquets, but I simply observed, clenched and rigid, my rage returned and barely controlled. But by the time I returned home, it had returned to its hiding place beneath my depression where it lay dormant, coiled and ready for its next summons.
I’d like to say that the rage slowly seeped away, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I just got better and better at keeping it under control. A divorce and remarriage later, it still lurked beneath my surface, popping out occasionally for a snack on someone’s ego, never diminishing in strength or potency, but remaining increasingly closeted. And then my husband died.
For the next nine days I was nearly in a fugue. I was unable to eat anything, and slept only when I was falling-down exhausted…and then for only a few hours. My mind, always alert and active, seemed to be a blank. And I couldn’t cry. Finally he was buried and I skipped the family lunch, hosted by the brother-in-law who had spent his life ridiculing and belittling his now-dead brother. I just went home, took off my widow’s weeds and went to sleep. For 20 hours.
I woke up alone and suddenly realized that this was to be my new life. Oh, I had been alone before…I had been divorced, after all, and had been in a more than a few broken relationships in my life, but this time it was different. This time there were no fights and furies and break-ups and make-ups en route to my single status. No indignant “how dare he?” or “what was I thinking?” moments, no grand emotional production leading up to the apocalyptic moment of dumping or being dumped. This time there was a fragile kind of peace around me, a serenity that was not disturbed even by my numbness or sudden, unexpected moments of tears. I was alone, my heart was rent into ragged little bits, but I felt purged of rage. There was no one to be angry with, nothing to be angry about. He was gone, it was nobody’s fault, and he wasn’t coming back.
The next months of being alone were not, surprisingly, lonely. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the computer…something I do to keep my “upper” consciousness occupied with trivialities so my deeper consciousness can work things out and, eventually, kick them upstairs where I can ponder them. About five weeks after he died, my husband came to me while I slept and told me that it was all going to be okay and when I woke up, I knew.
I had a rather grim childhood and adolescence. To speak except when spoken to was to invite a backhand. Despite being a compliant and willing child, I was inept…as children are, until they have sufficient practice to master something…and so I received daily beatings from an unforgiving perfectionist of a mother. In so many ways I was a disappointment to her, and in so many brutal ways she let me know it. And yet, unlike so many children who buy the abuse and come away feeling at fault and therefore deserving of their victimization, I knew, every time that strap bit into my bare flesh, that what she was doing was wrong, that I was being unjustly assaulted…and I would get mad. By the time I was eight years old, I hated my mother with all the fervour an eight-year-old can muster. But to express that hatred was to invite further abuse, so I learned to be silent and nurture the rage, add to it with each new injustice, and eventually allow it to burst forth and defend me.
It took more than half my lifetime to learn that the rage was the mask that protected me from feeling the pain of my mother’s brutality. If I could focus myself on a rage, I would not feel the hurt. I learned to feel angry the moment I perceived any threat, for rage would not only keep me from feeling my fear, if it was big enough, it could actually drive off the threat. I soon came to realize that disappointment also provoked an angry response, too. We all have expectations of others, as well as ourselves, and I discovered that to keep myself from having to experience the pain of disappointment…or the guilt, if I was disappointing myself…all I had to do was stir up a fine rage and its fury would consume all those hurtful feelings so I would not have to experience them.
Once I had synthesized this in my head, I gave the idea to a few of my friends to see what they thought. Without exception, after some reflection on the matter, they agreed. In the throes of a break-up, if you get mad, it doesn’t hurt so much. Facing fearful situations, anger gives you strength, empowerment. And when someone tramples on your expectations, whether it is the third time the plumber has blown you off or it is some idiot who cut you off on the highway, the anger you feel is actually preventing you from feeling the disappointment of having your expectation unfulfilled: that the plumber would come at the appointed time or that the other driver would respect your right of way.
I have come to think of anger as a secondary emotion, an emotion that cannot exist in a pure state, as can fear, for example. Anger is a reaction or mask for certain primary emotions like fear or pain…disappointment being a form of emotional pain, after all. What all of these emotions have in common is that when we feel them, we feel vulnerable, victimized, powerless, at risk. Anger, however, is an empowering, pro-active emotion and the moment we shift from fear to anger, we no longer feel vulnerable, but powered by the adrenaline surge that comes with the advent of rage.
For me, crying through my rages was always a curious thing that neutralized the power of my anger. One cries when hurt or frightened, and it was those tears that eventually put me onto the track that lead me to figuring it out. Today, when I feel anger welling up inside me, I immediately analyze it…fear? pain? disappointment? Did that reckless BMW driver scare me when he passed on a blind curve? Did a person’s remark hurt my feelings? Did I really expect that woman to control her child?
I find that I am more prone to mild annoyance today than anything that approaches anger. I have found I can be outraged by something without being angry about it. I have discovered that there is very little worth working myself into a lather about anymore, not even in my marriage. Hubby and I have a very peaceful life…we hardly ever fight…I just state my case and then shut up until he comes around. Even if it takes him days…
We have all heard that anger is a corrosive emotion, that harbouring a grudge or holding onto revenge fantasies are like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. But do you know why? Anger and its attendant behaviours (revenge fantasies, grudges, etc.) are part of our “fight or flight” response, a primitive, unthinking, literally mindless instinct. This instinct triggers physiological responses in our bodies, primarily the release of adrenaline. This adrenaline has numerous effects on our body, among them the blunting of pain and a feeling of power and empowerment. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this adrenaline release: it causes stress hormones to be released into your system, which thins the stomach lining and stimulates stomach acid production, it raises both your glucose levels and your blood pressure. It can wreak havoc on your health…
“The adrenalin speeds up your heart rate and intensity of contractions. It diverts blood from organs that are non-essential during emergencies, and redirects it to the brain for thinking and to muscles for movement. Your breathing rate increases to keep up with oxygen demand. You become alert and vigilant.
“Also released is a natural steroid called cortisol. Cortisol is amazing. When facing a short term emergency, cortisol performs an intricately-balanced, controlled shutdown of many non-essential body systems that would tax our resources.
“There's also a dark downside to this wonder steroid. Our bodies are wonderfully adapted to short term stressors. But for each minute that a stressor such as anxiety persists past the time it is needed, cortisol keeps suppressing the body systems that digest, store energy, and grow/repair/replenish cells in major organs.
“As long as anxiety persists and our sympathetic nervous system is activated, cortisol will be released. While it won't kill us outright, it will gradually cripple our defenses, and cause our body systems to become vulnerable to disease and infection, a little bit at a time. For those of us who are already dealing with medical conditions besides anxiety, the effect is much worse. Let's take a look at how this happens:
“ It takes a significant amount of energy to create this response. If the demand 'switch' can't be shut off because of our persistent anxiety, there's no time or resources left to store energy, so a deficit occurs. Ever feel really tired after long periods of anxiety? Now you know why.
“ The stess response requires oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to reach all necessary areas required to respond, so the heart beats faster and harder. Blood vessels tighten to increase blood pressure. This ensures blood gets where it is needed -- muscles for escape and brain for thinking. Speaking of blood vessels, you know how they branch into smaller and smaller vessels? The branch itself is a point of resistance, bearing the brunt of the increased pressure of blood slamming into them. Do this often enough and the wear and tear over time causes damage to the vessel wall, which the body is obligated to repair. The repair isn't quite as good as the original vessel wall, and may cause plaque to form which thickens the vessel. The repaired area tends to get damaged again and again under all that pressure, so the damage/repair cycle causes a great deal of thickening. Remember, this is happening all over your body. Sometimes these thickened plaques break off under the pressure and join up with sticky platelets, traveling around the system until it hits an area that's too thick or small for it to pass. Blood flow is reduced or stopped altogether by this clot. Whatever is on the other side of that clot needs oxygen and nutrients from blood to survive. But if the blood is blocked, the downstream cells die. Those cells could be leg muscle cells, pancreas cells, eye cells, nerve cells, lung cells, heart cells, brain cells, etc. If the cells happen to be those that carry heartbeat signals, their death can cause the beat to become irregular.
“ The body stops breaking stomach contents down into components and absorbing them as they slowly wind their way thru the intestine. Instead, it diverts resources away from the digestive tract, and aims them at sources that are more readily available. Once all the fuel available in blood (glucose) is used up for example, the liver dumps glycogen into the system to replace it. After that dries up, the body goes after stored energy in the form of fat (triglycerides stored in fat cells) and protein (muscles and organs). But there's also a problem. Cortisol reduces the amount of insulin. Insulin is the 'key' that 'unlocks' the cell so it can take up nutrients for energy or storage. Cortisol also tells these needy cells not to let insulin's 'key' into the cell's 'lock'. Do this enough and some cells will starve. Not only that, but cells that live can become less sensitive to insulin's 'key', eventually leading to impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and type 2 diabetes.
“ The body shuts down acid secretion in the stomach because it is a non-essential system. Everybody thinks stomach acid increases during stress because of the pain, but here's what really happens: The stomach stops producing stomach lining, mucus and other protective substances because generating them is also non-essential. If this happens for an extended time, the lining isn't as protective as it used to be. So on days when anxiety is low, normal stomach acid comes pouring into that thin stomach lining to do its digestion thing. Only now that thin lining may not be able to withstand even normal amounts of acid, so irritation - and perhaps even an ulcer -- may eventually emerge.” From Health Central.
Believe it or not, you can become addicted to the adrenaline rush, to the empowered feeling you get when the adrenaline kicks in. This may explain why some people refuse to give up their anger…without it and the adrenaline it triggers, they feel disempowered, even vulnerable. They use the power of the adrenaline rush to hide behind, to make them feel strong and able to defend themselves. Rather then learn better, more healthy and socially acceptable coping mechanisms, these people cling to their righteous anger and resentment, nurturing their rage with revenge fantasies and wishes for payback.
But this clinging to rage and anger is not without cost…and a very high cost: “[There are] very real negative ramifications of adrenaline. Here are just a few of the more serious ones: cardiac disease, stroke, high blood pressure, sleep deprivation, diabetes, obesity, panic anxiety disorder, and major depression (Hart 2009).
“Located on the outer layer of the adrenal glands is the adrenal cortex. This section of the adrenal glands produces a group of hormones called glucocorticoids. The most common and popular hormone that comes from this is cortisol which is a steroid. Cortisol helps fight inflammation, raises the blood sugar level, and increases muscle tension among other things. The section of the adrenal glands called the adrenal medulla produces a group of hormones known as catecholamines, one of which is adrenaline.
“The problem with this ‘feel good’ hormone that was designed to alleviate stress on a short term basis or for emergency situations is that too much of a good thing ends up being a bad thing. Adrenaline can increase our cholesterol level, blood pressure, and even cause a heart attack from being too angry.” Source
I get that anger and revenge fantasies make you feel powerful…but at the same time, the chemical soup they trigger in your body is making you weak…and possibly even sick. Not only does clinging to your rage keep you stuck in one place, unable to recover emotionally, it literally, physically makes you ill. In a meta-analysis of 14 studies conducted between 1965 and 2003, researchers found that stress exacerbates auto-immune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” is released along with adrenaline…and over time, keeping your body in a constant “fight or flight” condition literally has a negative impact on your health.
Rage feels empowering and, in the short term, it can be. Over the long haul, though, it is damaging to you, both to your spirit and to your body. We hide behind that empowering rage because it numbs us to pain, but the long-term price can be years off your life, impaired health, and continued unhappiness. A wise therapist once told me “the only way out of the pain is to go through it.” I didn’t understand at the time, but looking back, I realize that she simply meant that as long as we refuse to actually feel the pain we have been avoiding, as long as we refuse to face up to the pain of being unwanted, unloved, brutalized, rejected, and neglected, as long as we stay stuck in denial of our real pain and stuck in adrenaline-inducing fantasies of vengeance, we cannot move forward and truly leave our pain behind.
Anger, even rage, has its place…but its place is supposed to be temporary and quickly expiated, not carried with us like a security blanket for years…even decades. When we do that, it no longer protects and comforts us, it smothers and destroys us.
For your own sake and the sakes of those who love you and must helplessly watch you slowly destroy yourself on behalf of your Ns, let it go.
Addiction & Recovery" (speaker Dr. Archibald Hart). Adrenaline Addiction. Lesson 16. DVD. www.lightuniversity.com, 2009