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, October 20, 2014

Unlearning your Learned Helplessness

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the subject of Learned Helplessness that applies to many of us. One of the things that struck me most was the idea that you can be fully competent and even confident of yourself in some areas of your life, but exhibit learned helplessness in others. I reproduce excerpts of the article below and, as usual, my comments are shown in violet:
TRIGGER WARNING: The article makes reference to animal testing which involved the injury (via electric shock) and emotional abuse of dogs.

Learned helplessness is a mental state in which an organism, forced to endure aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are escapable, presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation. Organisms that have been ineffective and less sensitive in determining the consequences of their behaviour are defined as having acquired learned helplessness. 

In learned helplessness studies, an animal is repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus which it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal stops trying to avoid the stimulus and behaves as if it is helpless to change the situation. When opportunities to escape become available, learned helplessness means the animal does not take any action.

Have you ever been to a zoo and saw an elephant restrained only by an iron cuff around one leg and a length of chain connected to an iron stake in the ground? I remember seeing that and wondering how, considering how strong an elephant is, that flimsy chain didn’t snap the moment the elephant gave a yank. Well, the answer is childhood conditioning, just as you and I were conditioned by our narcissistic parents.

You see, the trainer places a cuff and chain around the baby elephant’s leg and attaches the other end of the chain to something too big for the baby to move, like a tree. At first the baby will fight the chain but eventually it will decide that it is stronger than he is and stop fighting. From that day forward, the elephant will believe the chain is stronger than he is and he will not challenge it. The chain restrains an adult elephant not because of its intrinsic strength, but because of the strength of the elephant’s belief.

In [an] experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group 1 dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. Groups 2 and 3 consisted of “yoked pairs.” A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in series with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever did not stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently “inescapable.” Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.

I have been suicidally depressed several times in my life. In all cases I was trapped in an untenable situation from which I could see no viable way out. The first time I was only nine years old, the last time I was in my mid-thirties. In each case, I believed myself to be helpless to change the situation and that the situation could only be resolved in a way that would make matters even worse for me. In hindsight, there actually were other resolutions available, but I either could not see them or, if I could see them, I was unable to take advantage of them. For example, I was trapped in a terribly emotionally abusive marriage with a narcissist. I was unemployed and too depressed to find and hold down a job. I was very clear on the fact that he was emotionally abusing me…I even pointed it out to him in one of our many rows. His response was to increase the abuse. I refused to consider divorce as an option: I was in my late 20s when I became clear on his abusiveness and I had already been married and divorced twice…I could not bear the humiliation of three divorces at such a young age and so I stayed, becoming more depressed with each passing day. A feeling of helplessness, whether actual or learned, leads to depression.

There seems to be only one cure for the helplessness in dogs. …the dogs do not try to escape because they expect that no instrumental response [nothing that they can do] will produce shock termination. To change their expectation and to recover the dogs from helplessness, experimenters had to physically pick up the dogs and move the legs in a close replication of the physical actions the dogs needed to take to remove themselves from the electrified grid. This had to be replicated at least 2 times before the dogs would exhibit the functional response of jumping over the barrier to get away from the electrified grid. Threats, rewards, and observed demonstrations had no observed effect in helping the dogs to independently move away from the shocks. (Emphasis mine.)

This is really important…no amount of threats, rewards, or observed demonstrations helped with the recovery: the animals had to actually take the steps...they had to make an effort, even though the initial efforts were guided…before they could begin recovery. Those of us who sit back and read the books and the websites and join support and discussion groups are just spinning our wheels because until we actually make an effort…and make the effort more than once…we don’t even have a shot at recovery. In practical terms, this means that you can read, write, and talk all you want about your situation, but until you actually do something…and keep doing it…you will remain stuck right where you are.

Other experiments were performed with different animals with similar results. In all cases, the strongest predictor of a depressive response was lack of control over the aversive stimulus. So, basically, if you are depressed, it is because there is something negative in your life over which you feel you have no power. So how do you become UNdepressed? You find a way to empower yourself and use it to regain not only your own personal power, but to overcome the situation that is depressing you.

There is a strong caveat in that, however: we must not empower ourselves at the expense of the well-being of others. Our GCs are people who found a way to feel empowered by joining forces with and even adopting the personas of our Ns, giving themselves permission to hurt others en route to getting what they want. Aileen Wuornos was an abused child who grew into a woman who believed herself powerless and who tried to take control of her life in the most devastatingly negative way possible: she became a serial killer. We have to recognize that we must take control of our lives and empower ourselves without exploiting other people in the process. 

Does that mean it is not ok to hurt our Ns and GCs and their flying monkeys in the process? No. Your Ns and GCs and their Flying Monkeys have no right to hurt you in the first place, no right to impose their wants over your needs, no right to dictate your life, violate your boundaries, or hurt or shame you. The law does not allow you to steal from others, nor does it allow you to keep that which has been stolen by another…even if you did not steal it. The law will not come into your house and take from you legal items that you acquired legitimately…they do not have the right to do that. But they do have the right to reclaim, over your objections, property to which you have no right. And so it is with Ns, GCs, and Flying Monkeys: whatever parts of you they have laid claim to, you have every right to take back, over their objections if necessary. And I doesn’t matter if those objections are framed as anger, hurt, outrage, or defensiveness, your right to reclaim the stolen and co-opted parts of your Self is absolute and the only rights they have over you are those you allow them to take.
Fighting with the humans, biting, attacking, might have felt good to the dogs but it would do nothing to heal them. The only path to healing was to go through the guided motions of the right way to escape the electrified grid and then to do it on their own.

In 2011, an animal study found that animals with control over stress exhibited changes in the excitability of specific neurons within the prefrontal cortex…Animals that lacked control failed to exhibit an increase in excitability and showed signs consistent with learned helplessness and social anxiety. In other words, it is a physiological response…your brain synapses and your brain chemistry are altered by being in a situation of forced helplessness. But when you take control of those things that stress you, your synapses and brain chemistry alter again. You can fix it…but you can’t do it by sitting around thinking, reading, and talking about it.

Later research discovered that the original theory of learned helplessness failed to account for people's varying reactions to situations that can cause learned helplessness. Learned helplessness sometimes remains specific to one situation, but at other times generalizes across situations. This is what I found most interesting: your learned helplessness you may not even recognize because it is confined to one area of your life, one situation. Or, it can be pervasive and your entire life is an exercise in learned helplessness of which you may or may not be aware. 

An individual's attributional style [attributional style: a person's characteristic tendencies when inferring the cause of behavior or events, that may be based on three dimensions: the internal-external dimension (whether they tend to attribute events to the self or to other factors), the stable-unstable dimension (whether they tend to attribute events to enduring or transient causes), and the global-specific dimension (whether they tend to attribute events to causes that affect many events or just a single event)] or explanatory style is the key to understanding why people respond differently to adverse events. Although a group of people may experience the same or similar negative events, how each person privately interprets or explains the event will affect the likelihood of acquiring learned helplessness and subsequent depression.

So, if your tendency is to blame yourself, see negative events as long-term (rather than of brief duration) and view negative events as having an over-arching cause, such as bad karma, an evil government, a punishing god, cursed with bad luck, or an evil, controlling person in your life rather than discreet, individual events with equally discreet, individual causes, you will have what is known as a “negative attributional style” or “pessimistic explanatory style.” 

People with pessimistic explanatory style—which sees negative events as permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it's my fault”), and pervasive (“I can't do anything correctly”)—are most likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy…can often help people to learn more realistic explanatory styles, and can help ease depression.

Apart from the shared depression symptoms between human and other animals such as passivity, introjected hostility [to turn against oneself the hostility felt toward another…in other words, the unacknowledged hostility you feel towards your parents or other abusers you turn onto yourself], weight loss, appetite loss, [I believe weight gain and comfort eating should be included here] social and sexual deficits, some of the diagnostic symptoms of learned helplessness—including depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal ideation—can be found and observed in human beings but not necessarily in other animals. In non-human animal models, control over stress conveys resilience to future uncontrolled stressors and induces changes in the function of specific neurons within the prefrontal cortex. 

Regardless of origin, people who see uncontrollable events…who see events as uncontrollable by themselves…reliably suffer disruption of emotions, aggressions, physiology, and have difficulties with problem-solving tasks. These helpless experiences can associate with passivity, uncontrollability and poor cognition in people, ultimately threatening their physical and mental well-being.

Learned helplessness can contribute to poor health when people neglect diet, exercise, and medical treatment, falsely believing they have no power to change. The more people perceive events as uncontrollable and unpredictable, the more stress they experience, and the less hope they feel about making changes in their lives. 

Stressor controllability is one factor that contributes to physical health when it comes to learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when an animal or human is exposed to stressors that they cannot control. If these stressors are controlled, the phenomenon of learned helplessness does not occur. [Emphasis mine.]

Too often we who grew up in rigidly controlled environments go to the extreme other end of things: where we were controlled too much by our parents, we control our own children too little, making them feel adrift, unanchored, and entitled. My mother bought my clothes for me until I took a summer job while living with my grandparents and spent the entire proceeds on school clothes before NM could get her hands on it…I took control. I was 16 and entering my senior year and up to that point, I had no control over my wardrobe whatsoever. But rather than turn me loose in town with a fist full of cash, my grandmother took me shopping and had the knowledgeable sales clerks select a variety of suitable outfits, giving me choices. And when my own daughter needed school clothes, I would choose half a dozen suitable dresses (that were within my budget) and let her choose two or three…and started this with her from the first grade. I have never felt helpless or incompetent when it came to fashion…I took control of my own wardrobe at 16 and had competent help those first few forays, then passed the skill on to my own daughter. But this was not true of all aspects of my life…in fact, until therapy, it wasn’t even true of much of my life.

Young adults and middle-aged parents with a pessimistic explanatory style are often more likely to suffer from depression. People with a pessimistic explanatory style tend to be poor at problem-solving and cognitive restructuring, and also tend to demonstrate poor job satisfaction and interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Those with a pessimistic explanatory style also tend to have weakened immune systems, and not only have increased vulnerability to minor ailments (e.g., cold, fever) and major illness (e.g., heart attack, cancers), but also have a less effective recovery from health problems. 

…helplessness is a key factor in depression that is caused by prejudice (i.e., “deprejudice”). In this context, I do not believe the author is referring exclusively to the kind of prejudice addressed by the Civil Rights Act. Prejudice, after all, means “bias,” and a narcissistic parent can develop a bias against one of her own children without race, gender, ethnic origin or any other Title V conditions coming into play. Your parent or other family member may be biased…prejudiced…against you for no discernible reason at all: you have simply been assigned the role of family scapegoat and abuse will inevitably issue forth from that. Psychoanalyst Elizabeth Young-Bruehl uses "prejudice" in this context: "Listening to my adult patients in psychoanalysis who were maltreated as children, I have heard basically three stories: they were not wanted, they were controlled and manipulated or they were not allowed to be who they felt they were. So I have come to think in terms of childism that intends 1) to eliminate or destroy children, 2) to make them play roles no child should play or 3) to dominate them totally, narcissistically erasing their identities. Survivors make it clear that the worst part of their experience — the most difficult to heal from, the least forgivable — was that no one protected them from it. They often make it clear, as well, that they have internalized the prejudice and direct it toward themselves."

Someone facing inescapable prejudice (e.g., abuse) may develop learned helplessness and depression as a result. “Helplessness born in the face of inescapable prejudice matches the helplessness born in the face of inescapable shocks. ” 

Abnormal and cognitive psychologists have looked at the correlation of depression and anxiety with learned helplessness over the years. It has been shown that the symptoms shown with learned helplessness have corresponding symptoms in depression. The symptoms most [people] feel when depressed give the feeling of helplessness and uncontrollability that have been correlated with learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness can also be a motivational problem. Individuals who have failed at tasks in the past conclude erroneously that they are incapable of improving their performance. This can occur even when you have not failed, but when failure is assigned to you…and that situation is crazy making. You can also be set up to fail, even when it looks like you have not. In the early 1970s my Nhusband and I got into a dispute about buying a second car: I had a sickly baby and did not want a used car that might break down on my in an emergency; he was adamant that I buy second hand. To end the argument, he gave me a budget of $2500 and said if I could find a new car for that money, he would buy it. Well, it took me several months but I did find such a car…brand new for $2442…and he bought it but, instead of being pleased at having a brand new car for so little money, he was furious with me. It turns out that the whole thing was a set up to teach me a lesson and instead of learning the lesson (he is always right) I made, in his eyes, a fool of him. He was furious…livid…that I failed to fail. It became very difficult for me to determine if I was supposed to succeed or fail at a task he set before me and, because my focus was on pleasing him and getting his approval, I found myself convinced I could do nothing right…

Another example of learned helplessness in social settings involves loneliness and shyness. Those who are extremely shy, passive, anxious and depressed may learn helplessness to offer stable explanations for unpleasant social experiences. However…people who cite helplessness in social settings may be viewed poorly by others, resulting in a situation that reinforces the problematic thinking. Think “nerds” and other socially inept people…how do we, in the larger society, think of them? Girls don’t want to date them, won’t dance with them when asked at clubs, and generally shun them. Nobody likes being rejected and those who have not mastered the art of social intercourse find themselves repeatedly shut down in their attempts to integrate. That fear of rejection and the feeling of humiliation that comes with it, keeps them socially isolated because they buy into the idea that they are somehow defective…which is, in itself, problematic thinking.

Social problems resulting from learned helplessness may seem unavoidable…Learned helplessness in response to experiences can be prevented or minimized by “immunization” and, when present, may be reversed by therapy. People can be immunized against the perception that events are uncontrollable by increasing their awareness of previous experiences, when they were able to effect a desired outcome. Therapy can instruct people in the fact of contingency and bolster people's self-esteem. But when we become convinced of our helplessness, when we believe that the world will not change and we are powerless to make any changes in our own worlds, we begin to live the belief, and that inevitably leads to depression.

So, are you afflicted with “learned helplessness”? If you are the child of a narcissist, you probably are. But too often we take this on without clarity: we think we are helpless to change our situation because we think that to change the situation we must somehow get the authority figures to change…and then when we hear we cannot change anyone but ourselves, the message we take away is one of hopelessness because if we cannot change our narcissistic parents, siblings, bosses, spouses, and others, we are doomed to be their scapegoat for all time.

But extracting yourself from learned helplessness is not a matter of changing the people around you, it is a matter of changing yourself, a matter of changing your attitudes, your beliefs, your paradigms. Your choices are not black and white, change the narcissist or remain in the same trap. Your choices are infinite: leave the narcissist to be what she is, but change the idea that you owe her your allegiance, change the idea that you must do as you are told, to fulfil the role she created for you. You can choose to change the frequency and nature of your communication, you can choose to set down boundaries and even choose what those boundaries will be and what the consequence for violating them will be. You can choose to see the truth of your FOO or you can choose to continue to believe the fictions you have kept all this time and which keep you depressed and helpless. You can un-learn this helplessness if you truly want to, but it involves taking off the rose-tinted lenses, giving up the myriad of excuses you use to rationalize your N’s behaviour (which, inevitably, lays blame on you and makes you feel guilty), and proactively seeking out the truth and embracing it, along with all of the feelings of hurt, outrage, and disbelief that you may have stored away in hopes that your worst fears are wrong and that your narcissists really do love and value you, not for the role you play in their dysfunction, but for the warm, real, loving human being you really are.

It means embracing reality, in all its ugly glory, and changing yourself, your beliefs, your responses, your feelings to match the objective reality of who and what your Ns are, rather than clinging to the hopes that have kept you a helpless hostage for so long.

Easier said than done, I know…but it is the only way to wholeness and leaving your learned helplessness behind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Emperor’s New Clothes

As a child, I loved fairy tales. I would check out great, huge volumes of them from the library and lug them home, especially just before a school holiday, and immerse myself in wicked witches, evil queens and nasty trolls all getting their comeuppance. One of my favourite tales was The Emperor’s New Clothes, a story about a vain emperor who ordered a new suit of clothes from a pair of swindlers who promised to make it from a magical cloth that only the incompetent or completely stupid could not see. Of course, when the suit “arrived,” nobody could see it, but everyone pretended they could so they would not be thought stupid or incompetent. The emperor paraded through the town naked and the townspeople, not wishing to be thought stupid or incompetent, raved about his beautiful suit of clothes. And then a child, too young to understand the reasons for keeping up the pretext, blurted out “but he’s wearing nothing at all!”

One of the reasons I liked this tale was that it exemplified the notion that a child could recognize what all of the adults around him could not or would not see. I identified with this child because it seemed to me that nobody but me could see what my mother was really like, that I, like that child in the fairy tale, was the lone voice of truth in a world steeped in self-serving lies. The other reason I liked the tale was that in it, the townspeople listened to the child and believed him: he told the truth and he was heard, supported, and validated. This was something that I had not experienced but dearly wished for.

This story validated me and my perceptions…it demonstrated for me that the truth could win, that adults would listen to a child and believe. I just had to find that adult, I believed, and not get caught by my mother in the process. I believed that rescue was just a matter of time, that eventually I would find that adult who listened to me, believed me, and would save me.

I tried a lot of people and the responses were universally dismal. My Sunday School teachers wanted to know what I had done to provoke my mother; at the end of every summer my grandparents listened to me sob through my last night with them, let me beg and bargain with them to stay, and every summer they sent me back. Even those adults who believed my tales of woe and abuse declined to do anything. And eventually, I stopped telling people because even those who listened and believed did nothing. Even when they, too, knew that the emperor had no clothes, none of them were willing to speak up and publicly admit it.

In junior high, in the girls’ gym, I was undressing in preparation for putting on my gym suit when one of the gym teachers looked out the office window and spotted the welts on my legs and butt, put there by my mother with The Strap, a thin leather dog leash with the metal clip removed, which bit into bare flesh like a whip. The teacher called me into the office and there she noted the black and blue marks and small wound on my face, just above the right side of my lip, a bruise and cut left from my mother backhanding me while wearing a sizeable diamond ring. She asked me where I got the marks and I told the truth…and she listened. She more than listened, she believed me and she took action.

Before I knew it, a policewoman had arrived and took me into custody. From there I was taken to the Children’s Shelter where my injuries were photographed and documented, after which I was sent on to where I was assigned a bed and given some clean clothes. I was delighted to be in a place where the rules were clear and if you followed them, you wouldn’t get in trouble…and if you did get in trouble, that trouble didn’t involve beatings or brow beatings, just a dispassionate dispensation of a consistent and pre-determined penalties. I felt secure, like the world had finally gained its bearings and had stopped slipping and sliding beneath my feet.

My relief was short-lived, however. Na├»ve as to the workings of the court and relying on the information I got from the other girls in the Shelter with me, I expected I would stay for several weeks and, if I was well-behaved enough, I would end up in a foster home. All of this was fine with me, as I expected a foster home to be less fraught than living with my mother…at least they weren’t allowed to hit me.

The girls in my room were excited when, on only my second day, I was called to pack up. They all speculated that I was going to a foster home and I was going quickly because I had never been “in the system” before and was therefore easy to place. I was given my own clothes and shoes back and a stuffed animal to take with me and I confidently left my room and marched down the stairs to meet my new foster family.

Instead, I met my mother. I nearly wet my pants with fear when I saw her standing there, a sheaf of papers in her hands, a terrifying scowl on her face. She had what was called a “writ of habeas corpus” which allowed her to spring me from the Shelter and before I knew what had happened, I was in the car, headed back to her house. She harangued me the whole way home, shouting and yelling and generally intimidating me and, when we finally arrived home, she beat the stuffing out of me. She was going to have to pay for my night in the Shelter, she informed me, and pay a lawyer for her court appearance to get the writ, and pay for a lawyer for court, and if I cost her another cent, I was going to rue the day I was born. The next day I was back in school, fresh welts on the back of my legs and butt, but this time nobody did anything…they had tried and their efforts had borne no fruit, and nobody was motivated to help me any further.

I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse that I was able to see my mother’s casual, selfish cruelty. Certainly in the short run, it was a curse since I had to live with the frustration of being the only person who could see the truth and the danger of trying to get the truth out to someone who would actually do something about it. But perhaps it was also a blessing since, because I was so acutely aware of how different my mother was from the mothers of my friends, I never bought into the idea that she loved me and was doing all these terrible things for my own good. I did not have to overcome denial where she was concerned, nor did I ever have to struggle with guilt when I cut contact with her: I knew she was abusive, I knew I did not deserve to be abused, and I knew that my only hope was to get away from her control and stay away.

Unfortunately, not everything was so clear for me. I still wanted my mother’s love, attention and approval. I couldn’t un-know the truth about her but, unaware of narcissism and its permanent nature, I could hope for change. And so I began to seek out ways to elicit my mother’s love and approval: I tried to be pretty, smart, accomplished. I got a job and kept up a high grade point average. I took an aptitude test sponsored by the Air Force and scored in the 80th, 90th, and 95th percentile in three of four categories, meaning I could not only choose any specialty I wanted, I was eligible for the Airman Education Program, a scheme by which, if I put myself through one year of college, the Air Force would send me to college to complete my education and make me an officer upon graduation. I became tenor soloist in the school choir, I won a prize for sculpture at an all-city art show for high school students, I received academic awards…and not one of those accomplishment sparked more than a batted eyelash at my success.

Only I and a very tiny handful of other people, seemed to be able to see that my emperor had no clothes. The school nurse was clued in after several examples of neglect landed me at her doorstep and she had to threaten my mother with calling CPS in order to prompt her to take me to a dentist, an optometrist, a doctor. The mother of one of my friends, the parents of my boyfriend and, I suspect, my own grandparents, were aware that something was very wrong at my house…but only that one gym teacher stuck her neck out on my behalf and nothing came of it.

Today, 50+ years later, I have to wonder why so many people couldn’t see. It was so obvious to anyone who cared to look. Little girls had to wear dresses to school in those days…could they not see the marks and bruises, in varying states of healing, every time I climbed up the monkey bars and hung upside down by my knees, every time I bent over to pick up my hopscotch marker, every time my dress bounced up and down as I jumped rope? It was more than “I don’t want to get involved…” because at least that acknowledges that there is a victim and there is abuse. It was like they were so completely blinded, so totally absorbed in the illusion of sacred motherhood that they could not see what was right in front of them: an abused child desperately in need of rescue.

I can understand denial: I was in denial for years that my grandparents had no choice but to send me back to a mother they knew did not want me and who abused me; I was in denial for years that my daughter was not a narcissist who sought to supplant me in the family structure; I was in denial for years that my narcissist husband loved me. But these were people I cared for, people I wanted to believe cared for me…the denial served my hope of one day being demonstrably loved and cared for by these people. But what about the others? What vested interest did the Sunday school teacher, the neighbours, the parents of my little friends, was served by their denial? Why would they ask me what I had done to deserve my abuse, why would they ignore the marks on my legs, the stories of abuse acted out in doll play, the fingernails chewed to nubs, the nervousness and hyperalertness? Why could I, the little kid in the centre of the storm, see the naked ugliness that was my mother and they were stubbornly transfixed by the suit of imaginary clothes?

This, I think, is a question all scapegoats need to ask…not only of themselves, but of those adults in their lives who made no effort to help them as abused children. Why did their aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbours, teachers, and other adults refuse to acknowledge the truth that these children grew up in households full of dysfunction and abuse? And why, years later and these children have grown into hurting, questioning adults, do they still cling to the illusion that those women were good mothers to the children they abused?

It is too easy to simply accept that they “didn’t want to get involved.” What kind of family member turns a blind eye when a child is being abused? It was none of their business? Really? Abuse is always the business of the observer, especially inside a family. Because they were being afraid of being told to mind their own business? If they were afraid, can they not imagine, in the smallest part, how afraid that helpless child must be? At the very least, a family member can refuse to look away, or to convince themselves that the abuse is warranted in the name of discipline: even if the abuse doesn’t stop, the child will not forget who spoke up on their behalf and know that the world in not entirely populated by abusers and their enablers.

Who, besides you, knew that your emperor strode about naked in imaginary clothes woven of illusion and self-serving egotism? In my case, my father and step-mother were aware…and they made numerous attempts to gain my custody. But in the Fifties and early Sixties, “common wisdom” held that children were better off with their mothers and the myth of the sainthood of all mothers held the social consciousness in its grip. Children were not permitted to give their two cent’s worth in courts because we didn’t know what was good for us, and any negative accusations against a mother by her ex-husband were dismissed as sour grapes. The only people who could see and would acknowledge my reality were dismissed out of hand by the court and my input was never even allowed.

The real tragedy of all this is that I was not the only child condemned to this life, and time has not brought with it significant change. There are legions of emperors out there, people who have fashioned a socially acceptable exterior that they present to the world and which is accepted unquestioningly as reality by everyone except those few who can see through the ruse and know that emperor is, in reality, naked. The reality is, the vast majority simply don’t want to know…acknowledgment brings an obligation to act and, because the pain is not their own, they are motivated more to maintain the status quo than to step in and “meddle.”

Some things never change.