If you haven’t had a chance to read this Psychology Today blog entry by Karyl McBride, it’s well worth a read. In addition to addressing the grief which can result from estrangements and/or limited contact and/or no contact, she talks about how this shapes the dynamics in families with Cluster B Parents and about the scapegoat’s role.
Many men and women are beginning the painful discussion of the losses in the narcissistic family. When a family is not emotionally connected, and there is a superficial flair to all conversation, one learns to interact on a shallow or surface level. In families where emotional intimacy is not practiced, there is little to discuss. Feelings are denied, judged or criticized. Successes are not celebrated. Painful events are ignored or discounted. What is left to talk about – the weather, aches and pains, or perhaps just criticize the neighbors?
Ha, this fits my family of origin to a T. I would add in local sports teams as well. In my neck of the woods, it’s “How about those Yankees?”
Unless it was her feelings or the golden child sibling’s feelings. Those were ok to talk about! Usually in a context of blaming someone for making her feel that way. Honestly, that’s what makes me feel sad for Cluster Bs. When we blame others for emotions, we don’t learn how to manage them and work through them, so we stay perpetually sad, angry, or whatever other emotion until we get distracted. They either can not or will not do the difficult work of working through their feelings so they are condemned to be stuck in them.
For adult children raised in narcissistic families this creates a sense of loneliness. They look around at other close families and say, why me? Why is my family not like that? How did I get existentially thrown into this particular family where people don’t talk about real things? Why is there this sense of disconnect and lack of caring in the family I grew up in?
When people are not asking about each other and what is going on in their important lives, the conversation seems to turn to talking about the other family members behind their backs. A common communication pattern in narcissistic families is that of triangulation. This means that one person talks about another to a separate family member. The conversation eventually gets back to the person it was meant for. That person is left feeling betrayed and violated. Can you imagine the drama this creates? It is like that childhood game called “Telephone.” You know, the one where a person starts whispering in the ear of the next person and it goes around the circle and comes out at the other end. The result is a distortion that makes no sense. Things get messed up in the game of “Telephone.”
Things do get very distorted. And this is one of my mother’s favorite tactics. Since there are plenty of enablers and apologists in her circle, it’s an effective method. As part of healing and recovery, I’m forcing myself to confront conflict directly with the person involved. As a legacy of growing up with a Cluster B mother, I hate conflict. Because in my mind, conflict=me being blamed unfairly for things I have nothing to do with. But as I’ve learned how to negotiate conflict respectfully, I find there is less of it and drama in my life. I have started to tell people who try to drag me into their drama, “perhaps you should discuss that with [person being talked about]”
What if you are the one in the family who has called out the dysfunction? You saw the elephant in the living room and you said “hey there is something wrong here!” What happens to that person in the narcissistic family? That person will likely become the scapegoat and the one in the wrong. If other family members, including the narcissistic parent, stay in denial… the person seeking health and truth will likely be ostracized
This is what many of us have experienced. But Dr. McBride has an interesting way of looking at this:
Many adult children of narcissistic families see themselves as the proverbial “black sheep” of the family. They feel different and left out. Changing this image to a giraffe is a new picture of health. In the meadow of many, many sheep all doing the same thing and following the sheep ahead, stand a few giraffes. These giraffes with long necks and tall bodies can see horizons, rainbows, and sunsets at the treetops. They see things the sheep don’t see. They see personal growth, opportunity, and visions, all unseen by others in their families.Change the picture for yourself. Be a giraffe. Stand tall. Stand in your truth. Have the courage to move forward in your growth and know that sometimes being different can be the best thing you can do for yourself. “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” Amelia Earhart
The Amelia Earhart quote is especially poignant. It does take courage to make the changes we’ve had to make. But there is peace as a reward for it. I love the giraffes analogy, because it’s so open and positive. Also, literal sunsets are one of my favorite things. Here are a couple of sunset photos I took this summer: