How Parental Narcissism and Alienation Shaped Her Life.

***Trigger warning:

narcissism,child sexual abuse

She is a survivor of years of systematic parental narcissism and alienation. She believes that it is the root cause of all the pain that she has endured. For one thing, her threshold for tolerating abuse and pain ( physical, mental and emotional) is markedly high than average beings.

But it’s not easy for her to talk about it. Especially because she still has a “working” relationship with her parents. “Working” in the sense that she communicates with them every now and then. Because they are old and she wants to know that they are keeping well. But she does so, from her own safe distance and boundaries.

She was three or four years old when her dad started sending her for music classes. He wanted her to be a classical singer. He made her get up before sun dawn and made her practice singing for hours daily. She grew up as an obedient daughter, over-achieving student, highly competitive and striving for perfection in both music and studies.

But she used to find herself at the mercy of the clock. She was never at ease; always in a state of urgency; anxious and restless. Though there was never an unproductive moment in her day, she also never had a moment to relax. Her daily schedule was too tightly packed.

Her dad was authoritarian and over-critical towards her, while her mom was always emotionally distant. She was under constant pressure to seek approval from dad. Nothing she did was ever good enough. Long periods of silent treatment and stonewalling, followed by sudden and unpredictable verbal attacks and at times, physical reprimands, were the traits of her domineering dad. She, in turn, worshipped her dad on the same pedestal as God.

She beat herself up really hard for perceived failures. Failure, big or small, broke her heart. She was always doubting herself and had very low self-esteem. She grew up never enjoying her small successes because she was always running after bigger and better ones as her dad made her to.

Dad made all important decisions for her; like which courses to join; which hobbies to take up; what to like; what not to like. For instance, after tenth grade, she wanted to take up the biology stream because she had scored the highest in it. But dad coerced her to take Mathematics even though she was weak in the subject. His only explanation was that he had been a biology major and that he couldn’t make a career out of it. And if he couldn’t, then she couldn’t! Predictably, she grazed through the entire course scoring average marks.

In the meantime, her music teacher’s husband who was also an assistant teacher at their institute,was making sexual advances towards her. She was confused and didn’t know how to stop him. She tried telling her mother how much she hated this man. That he would always insist on one-on-one practice sessions with her. That he deliberately shut the door of the classroom when she was with him in the class. That he chose songs filled with sexually charged lyrics, which she found awkward for her teen years. That he had on several occasions stroked her face and touched her lips and pinched her bottom.But mom didn’t get it! She failed to understood that her teenage daughter was getting molested by the music teacher’s husband. She thought that all those were “elaborate excuses ” her daughter was making to escape going for music classes.

But on a fateful day, she confronted her abuser. On that day, he had jumped on her and had forcefully kissed her on her mouth. She raised her voice and pushed him away and ran away from that place. Only to be send back the very next day, by her dad! Dad convinced her that he send her back only because he didn’t want anyone to doubt that something untoward had happened to her; that they had to protect their “image.” Since she wasn’t attacked or raped by her abuser, there was no need to discuss the matter any further. Thus, her dad never confronted his daughter’s abuser.

By the time she finished graduation, she had stopped pursuing music. Infact, she had stopped singing altogether.Dad feared that his daughter’s aspirations were not conforming to what he wanted her to do. He saw her accomplishments in physical prowess as direct threat to his ego and suppressed her with put-downs and downright threats. Like, when she was selected as the best female cadet of her NCC contingent, and was given an opportunity to represent her homestate in the prestigious Republic Day Parade held every year in the country’s Capital. And when she got an opportunity to go for an international youth exchange programme. Her dad didn’t let her participate in either of the events.

Like, when she got her very first story published in her college magazine. The protagonist in her story happened to be a female police officer. Dad read that story and suddenly stopped talking to her or even acknowledging her existence for about two weeks. She became anxious and didn’t know what she had written that had upset him so much. After two weeks of silent treatment, one fine day he suddenly opened his mouth. He chided her for even thinking of becoming a “police officer.” According to him, she was only “suited” for a desk job. That he would not tolerate any of her “whims and “fancies!”

Quite ironically, dad still gave tall talks on how he was a champion of “female empowerment ” because he allowed both his wife and daughter to learn driving! He always made it known, how he was behind all her successes. Had it not been for him, she would have always remained a big “zero,”that she “actually was.”

After her studies, she rejected one after the other job offer that her dad found “fit” for her. By then, she had developed a sub-conscious compulsion to do everything that aggravated her dad. It also meant that she missed out on most of the opportunities that came her way.Her dad found her way below his expectations. By her late twenties, she found herself feeling down in the dumps, both professionally and personally.

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Her constant urge for perfectionism was like a noose around her neck. It suffocated her. She struggled to deal with mistakes and failure. Her mind was riddled with anxiety and self-doubt.As an adult, she tried to sugar-coat in all her relationships, both professional and personal. She could never say “NO.” She could go on pleasing people even at the cost of her self-respect. But pleasing everybody meant repressing her own feelings, values and opinions. That made her very unhappy.

It took her a couple of years and some very rude awakenings to finally realize that “good girls always finished last.”It took a long time, but she finally realized that there was no point in maintaining relationships, if respect and understanding were only one-sided. For her sanity sake, she had to make the hard decision to let go of people who were emotionally draining her. To her surprise, that proved to be a huge step towards her healing.Though she is in a much better place now, she is still hardwired to hold on to bitter moments while forgetting that life has given her happiness in equal measure too. She still struggles to live in the present moment. But she has finally realized that “living in the present ” only comes with consistent daily effort.

On her part, she realizes that her parents had only done to her, what was done to them. Two damaged people trying to make a semblance out of life. There good intentions for their child, were marred by the damage running through generations of toxic upbringings and the patriarchy, deeply entrenched in their psyches.

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“May your heart heal. May your past no longer block your view of the present. May you breathe again, laugh again, rest again, live again. May it be so.”- Thema Bryant-Davis

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