Archive for the ‘family dysfunction’ Tag

November 27, 2007   Leave a comment

Originally written on November 27, 2007

Yesterday was an eventful day. I went to work yesterday morning, even though it had been previously scheduled as a day off, because of the E. coli outbreak we’ve had going on. I went in to work over the Thanksgiving weekend to analyze some samples and see if there were any associations between the sick patients and some dried parsley we got in Wednesday afternoon to test. This ended up to be a negative association – a “dead end” – but I wanted to be there Monday morning to communicate any information in person as to what my findings had been and to answer any questions. I worked until 12:45 when I had to take off for a dentist appointment.

The dentist appointment was to replace a broken crown that has been broken for 10 years now. I just got tired of jamming food up in the larger-than-normal crevice that the broken crown was allowing between my molars and wanted it fixed while I have decent insurance coverage. The discussion before the procedure led to me wonder if I was opening a can of worms. (Dr. Lozne, a middle-aged woman of Rumanian descent, found this expression amusing!) The molar has had a root canal in it since 1978, and I was informed that the root canal technology in use then in now “antiquated.” (Of course, so am I, I suppose!) She said that once an old crown is removed, the aging root canal pins tend to come loose and then it requires a new root canal procedure. Great. Well, I was already in the chair, and the crown wasn’t going to get any less fractured with time, so we proceeded.

She drilled and drilled to get the old crown bisected and in a condition to come off. Then it didn’t want to come off. It was cemented on there for good! She pried and chipped and pulled and drilled some more. At one point, during a slight break in the action, I quipped, “Gee, this is a lot like a home remodeling project! The old tile doesn’t want to come off the floor, and when it does, you’re dismayed to find all the black crap that’s on the floor you wanted to finish!” She came close to letting loose with a belly laugh, which is quite unusual for Dr. L. She’s a very pleasant woman, but quite serious and business-like. I was impressed that I gave the old girl a good laugh!

Eventually, the crown did come off in a number of pieces, and no old root canal pieces went flying. In fact, she said that things looked good. I was quite relieved at that, and we proceeded with a straightforward crown prep. The rest of the “home improvement project” went without a hitch, although the gum retraction part was uncomfortable and I took three Advil tablets as soon as I got home.

I came home for a couple of hours, during which time I fed the cats and downed a can of “low carb meal equivalent.” Then I went off to Century College from 6:00 to 9:00 for a 3-contact hour seminar on “Narcissism: What It Is and What It Is Not.” I’m an RN and I need 24 contact hours every two years to renew my nursing license. This topic obviously has nothing to do with my current career path, which is public health and infectious disease surveillance. However, behavioral health issues are an area of personal interest, and I take advantage of opportunities to learn more about various topics in that field when I’m able.

The speaker, a Twin Cities social worker with his own practice (, was an articulate, sensitive, knowledgeable practitioner whose gentle and compassionate nature came across as he spoke. He was an engaging speaker and I found myself very attentive, as was the rest of the class at the community college last night.

This is the hard part to talk about and probably why I spent so much time droning on about E. coli and crowns and such at the beginning.

Todd spoke about what some of the root causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be. Some of them may be lack of attachment (bonding) between parents and the child (the child then developing the NPD), outright neglect by the parents or caregivers towards the child, shaming the child, traumatic events such as divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Of course, it is not only folks with NPD who create such chaotic homes for their children. People with other major behavioral and emotional illnesses do so as well, and I had a mother who fit the diagnosis of some major personality disorder, although it will forever remain undiagnosed. I found myself thinking of my own childhood as he was discussing these points. Many of those key elements were there: the sporadic, inconsistent parenting, the instances of neglect, the blaming of a child for the mother’s problems with alcohol and the family’s dysfunction, the name-calling, verbal battering, and shaming instead of nurturing and guidance, the witnessing of violence between husband and wife. That atmosphere was wildly dysfunctional and in no way conducive to the psychological and emotional wellbeing of a child.

I sat there as Todd spoke and wondered about my own emotional and psychological balance and wellbeing. All in all, I appear to be pretty normal! I married, have been in a caring, stable marriage for 34 years now, have no major substance abuse issues (just minor ones!), no particular obsessions or compulsions. I earned two college degrees which I funded myself and have held down stable, long-term professional employment. I get along fairly well in most social circumstances, have friends, interests, reasonable expectations and goals.

Is this “normalcy” just an illusion? Where did it come from? Where did I learn it? It certainly wasn’t from the growing-up years in my nuclear family! If I do display some occasional traits of this-or-that – and I know I do! – it’s no freaking wonder!

Or are things not as “normal” as I’d like to think they are?

In discussing treatment strategies for a person with NPD and his/her family, the point was strongly made that the only way a person with NPD can live within the framework of a family system is by the enabling codependency of the family members. A person may always be a narcissist (or insert a handful of other diagnoses: borderline personality disorder, sociopathic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder; they’re all applicable here), but they’re not going to be a married narcissist or a narcissist with a relationship with his/her children unless those participants play by the narcissist’s rules, in other words maintain the codependency. An emotionally healthy person with appropriate boundaries is going to eventually divorce an untreated, unchanging narcissist and probably take the children with her. (The majority of diagnosed people with NPD are male.) If the children have a relationship with the narcissistic parent until adolescence or adulthood, it may come to pass that eventually the child says, “No more! It’s not good for me to be around you when you’re like this, and it’s not good for my kids to be around you when you’re like this. If this is how it is, then I’m staying away.” And the healthy line is drawn. Usually that “healthy line” – the NPD person finding his stuff out on the front lawn, the locks changed, the divorce papers filed, the grown children getting an unlisted phone number – is the only thing that may incite some efforts at change, if indeed any changes ever occur.


I don’t think I’ve ever heard a therapist talk about adult children drawing boundaries with their dysfunctional parents, including the extreme boundary of no contact, and saying, “Sometimes this is exactly what you need to do because you care about yourself and your wellbeing.”

I felt something twist up inside me. This is, of course, what I did with my mother. I said, “No more!” and didn’t see her for 12 years, not until I saw her again when she was terminally ill with lung cancer. Did anyone ever say to me, “This is an okay thing for you to do. Not only an ‘okay’ thing, but a GOOD thing for you to do.” My husband was supportive, yes, and completely understood my reasons for doing this; he had had an introduction to the hell-hole that compromised my home life when I was in my teens. However, our society teaches us that we are to love, honor, and respect our parents, virtually no matter what. We are to love them unconditionally because – as I heard so often from family, friends, and virtual strangers – “She’s still your mother!” If I let an inkling of this slip out to someone, that I had no contact with my mother, I’d get this look, like, “What kind of amoral asshole are you?” The unspoken words were always there: she’s still your mother! And often they were spoken. Even when my mother was being her nastiest to me, drunk, calling me a filthy liar, a two-bit bitch (I was 15 at the time), she’d still turn around and say, “I’m still your mother, no matter what you think of me!”

I realized the full weight last night of the tremendous guilt and shame I lived with because of the stance I had taken for my own protection. Other than my husband (and my father – my mother’s EX-husband — who died when I was 23), I had no support for that action, no validation. I was a pariah. At least, that’s how I felt deep inside. I was a shameful person. Worthless. Couldn’t even love and take care of my own poor mother.

When I did reconnect with my mentally incapacitated, terminally ill mother in 1993, she assumed that I was there to take her home with me. When I said I couldn’t, she said, “How can you stand to see your mother in an insane asylum?” Big tears were rolling down her cheeks. “How can you just leave me like this, Bon?” I know where the suicidal feelings came from that afternoon as I left the care facility where she had been a long-term resident. It was the shame and the guilt hacking me up inside, the powerlessness in my life to ever effect any change in hers, the inability to have a relationship with her the way she was. (I almost wrote, “…the inability to love her the way she was…” but that’s not true! The real pain in this is that I always loved her and desperately wanted a good relationship with my mother!)

During this phase of seeing my mother while she had cancer and coming face-to-face with the harsh reality that was her life and my life, I could have used all the support that I could get. There was precious little of it, and I was acutely sensitive to this. My remarking on this caused the wife of one of my half-brothers (my father’s son) to say, “I’m going to write her a nasty letter!” Huh.

This was the start of a profound depression, I’m sure of it. I’ve never been the same since. I didn’t “bounce back” to my former self, although my former self was hardly the picture of “happy go lucky.” Eventually, I sought help and was put on medication for clinical depression. I am now under control and well-maintained on the antidepressant, Lexapro, but pills can’t heal that huge hole, that deep well of pain, inside me.

I had moments last night towards the end of the seminar of feeling like I was dangerously close to “losing it.” I just wanted to find a corner and sob until the guts were leaking out of my ears, until all the agony was purged from my being. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be anything left if I did that!

So, instead, I went to Perkin’s at 9:20 last night and ate some eggs and toast, drank a few cups of decaf coffee, and read my latest Dean Koontz novel. I didn’t cry. No guts leaked out. I slept well, my Katie-cat curled up beside me, my husband thousands of miles away in the U.K.

I woke up this morning, though, thinking about what all was said last night and what my feelings had been.

Todd talked about the concept of “re-parenting.” For those of us with “holes in our souls” due to parental abandonment, neglect, indifference, shaming and blaming, we need to find a way to give ourselves that unconditional love, nurturing, affirmation, and reassurance, that soothing, that we missed out on as children. That can’t come from the outside; it’s got to come from the inside. A spouse can’t fill that hole; a lover can’t fill that hole. Affairs can’t fill that hole. Obsessions can’t fill that hole. Money and possessions can’t fill that hole.

But I don’t know how this “re-parenting” happens. I know that some folks – most folks, I suppose – find this unconditional love and affirmation in the form of a Higher Power. That hasn’t worked for me. Because of this need for unconditional love and affirmation, I wish there were something that some church or spiritual group could offer me, but I’m not sure it’s out there.

So, where do I go? What do I do? Maybe I should make an appointment to see Todd Mulliken since he’s the one who stirred these feelings so profoundly last night. I’m reasonably certain that my insurance through HealthPartners won’t pay for it, but perhaps they might pay a part for an “out of network” provider. I don’t know. Perhaps that’s not the biggest consideration. I’ll check, I think.

Maybe Dr. Kavaney, my shrink at HealthPartners, would have some suggestions, although I know that he isn’t allotted much time during my 20-minute annual visit to have any ideas! Maybe he’ll get a copy of this and can find time to mull it over.

Well, enough for now. It’s a “school night,” and it’s after 9:00. Time to wind it up.