Out of the Fishbowl: My life as Narcissist 2.0

09/27/2015 § 1 Comment


This is the first post Ive entered in almost a year.  I dont know what I’m going to say.  I used to believe that I was a very open, honest and sincere person, but the person I thought I was, it turns out, was a contrivance. My real self has been trapped inside a fishbowl inside my mind.  I was finally freed from it a year ago. .I no longer have any idea who I am.

I live in the same house, I wear the same clothes, I have the same scant career, the same poverty.  Its whats interior that has changed.

I made “sacred vows” to myself three times in the course of my life.  I vowed to find and overcome the source of some great dissatisfaction when I was 12, then again when I was 18, and again at 32,  For the past 4 years I’ve had the answers. Last month I turned 60. I begin my 6th decade starting all over again from scratch.

4 years ago, I discovered that my mother was/is a Narcissist of epic proportions; that she set up our family to attack each other in order to protect herself; and that she made me her private decoy at a very young age so that any criticism of her would always stick on me instead.  Finally, I discovered that I too am a Narcissist.   

Yet I cant tell anyone about this.  People just dont get it, at all; and they don’t want to get it.  Nobody wants to hear about a son struggling against his mother.  Nobody.  My successes are hidden; what remains visible are my failures.  Like all abuse victims, I was learned to be silent about my suffering, and when I do try to tell other people about it, I just seem to  get it all wrong.  I turn people off; people take my mothers side without even ever having met her.  People get impatient; I get interrupted.  I do something when I reach out to others that turns them off;  Somehow, I perpetuate the isolation. 

Step on a crack, break your mothers back!

A year ago, my visa in Japan was about to expire.  I was so broke, I couldnt afford to move back home in the States.  I would have had to borrow and scrape just to fly back, and then when I got there I would have no job, no qualifications, no skills to get back on my feet.  I had no wife or family to go back to.  Living No Contact with my crazy Narcissist clan was an unquestionable necessity. Worse, I pretty much couldnt hold a job anyway. I’ve been fired from over 30 jobs in my life!  Something screws up every time I get on somebody’s payroll.  Its not one thing, its a whole cluster of character tics that sabotage me on a regular basis, that makes me unemployable and eternally poor.

So I had no choice, I had to keep my visa in Japan; I had to find an employer here and get a visa sponsorship from them, and I had two months to get it in.  I had to completely turn off the voice of the Narcissistic Parent in my own head that insisted I couldnt do it, that I shouldnt do it. The voice that said, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”  That said that if I succeeded, I would be driving a nail into my mother’s grave.  And I did it.  I did done dood it, as I like to say.  Just barely, and in under the wire.  

The cost of my freedom has been the loss of my entire family; there was always a threat of ex-communication if I refused to play her games.  For the past 20 years, as I inched towards this freedom, she has declared me off limits to my siblings, and all my nephews and nieces.  But I accepted it.  I’m the kind of guy who doesnt like being threatened or blackmailed.  Sooner or later Im going to get out from under it.  After spending all my school years under the threat of family ostracism, I exiled myself.  I had no idea how this would infuriate mother.  It would be decades before I understood that she was a Narcissist.  Her despotism seemed to come from out of thin air.  She raged about me to all members of my family while I was too broke, too far away from home to do anything about it. 

When I finally stood up to the plate and fought for my visa in a way that I never had before, there was this little rustle of memory come into my mind that I had no time to look at.  I adopted regimens to keep the doubt at bay; by regulating eating, sleeping and drinking, by meditating while I walked.  I learned to synchronize breathing with smiling.  I walked to the job interview in Shinjuku in the pouring rain, smiling, breathing and chanting. I got the job.

I found the rustling wisp of memory waiting for me after things got squared away.  Finding it, I remembered; remembering, I understood: it was when I was trying for my Eagle Badge when I was in the Boy Scouts, age 13 or 14.  I couldnt do it without family support so I asked my mother for help.  My Narcissistic mother.  She actually said, :”No, I wont help you.  I wont stop you, but if you do get it, I will do things to you to make wish you hadn’t gotten it.  You will be worse off than if you never got the Eagle Badge at all.”  Crazy bitch.  For the longest time I had no idea why she was like that. 

At Boy Scout camp that summer I tried to get my Eagle Scout merit badges, but had already forgotten that my Eagle badge was dead.  Thats a pattern of mine– people kill a part of me and I thrash on in denial as if it were still alive, like my marriage. I bury the memories of the things that have harmed me, and to go on as before, oblivioiolus. I’ve backed down from many dozens of challenges since then without knowing why– job opportunities, art sales, romantic encounters; my mom’s threats always operating silently in the background. No wonder I’ve buried so much inside me. My interior life is punctuated with landmines, this one and others. 

So for the past year, since I got my visa, what I’ve been doing was excavating and removing landmines. 

Even as I write this now, I feel the rustle of a new memory: there seems to have been a specific time and place when I consciously decided that I must protect her from myself.  I don’t quite remember it yet but it’s there, it’s coming.  This suggests that when I try to tell others about my life as a child of Narcissism, I deliberately trip myself up, casting suspicion on myself to exonerate her. I can’t reach out to others without invoking the Curse of Mordo. 

…when he witnessed fellow apprentice Mordo making sacrificial offerings to the Dread Dormammu

There was a comic-book myth about Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts–  my favorite Marvel Comics character,  Strange was apprenticing to the Ancient One in Tibet when he witnessed fellow apprentice Mordo making sacrificial offerings to the Dread Dormammu, their Master’s immortal enemy.  Mordo caught Strange watching him and applied a magic spell that gagged him from telling the Master what Mordo was up to.  Now Strange was utterly incapable of warning the Master about Mordo; but he discovered that he could made a vow of service to the Master and their order, protecting him from Mordo anyway.

I’m not sure how this metaphor plays out with me. Ive had what amounts to a gag spell put on me; is it off now?  Is Mom Mordo? Then, who is Dormammu?  And who is my guru. my Ancient One?

I’m not saying mother is a witch, but she has stumbled on methods of manipulation that function like magic spells.   When my wife left me 4 years ago, she said, “Your mother put a curse on me and on you too.”  I replied, “Where have you been for the last 25 years?”

I think my Ancient One, the object of my deepest love, is someone I havent met yet, a Guru, a beloved, a wife.  Right now, loving anyone seems like an impossibility. I think I am meant to wander in the desert, like the children of Moses, until I am morally ready to reach the Promised Land.  I have only just last year had my Exodus.

I felt wet, like I was standing in a puddle of my own afterbirth.

Following the return of memory, I experienced a quiet metamorphosis and rebirth one day working at the job that I acquired for my visa, teaching English in a Japanese Junior High School. I was taking it easy in the back of the classroom as the Japanese co-teacher took over the class.  I was thinking about all the language errors she made and was going to make in front of the students and how I was going to correct them without making myself unwelcome.  It suddenly dawned on me that that had nothing to do with what I was hired for.  I promised the trainer just a month earlier to assist the teachers as they wanted assistance; correcting their English was not what they wanted from me, however lacking their language skills were.  Teaching authentic English was my agenda, not theirs.  I made a promise of doing one thing, assist them, and as soon as they showed me my desk I broke my promise to serve myself. The worst thing was, I wasn’t honest to myself about it.  Until now. 

I stood in the classroom, scales falling from my eyes. I felt wet, like I was standing in a puddle of my own afterbirth.   I literally sensed my afterbirth.  I was reborn. I took up serving my co-teachers (and their idea of English) earnestly. 

Later, while meditating, my Spirit Guide told me that I was a Narcissist myself.  By that I take it that I was a Narcissist, until I was reborn in Ms. Shirokawas First Grade Class 2. There may be lingering Narcissistic tendencies in me, but I’m out of the rabbit hole.

At the end of the day, Narcissism is a very personal, intimate prison that one constructs inside their own mind to protect themselves from whatever they think they need protection from. Its a decision made in isolation. Once the walls become airtight, the Narcissist loses direct Contact with the outside world. It begins with a choice that leads to self-perpetuating delusion. Metaphorically, the walls inside the mental prison become reflective mirrors once the hermeticization of the prison becomes complete, like the interior wall of a filled goldfish bowl.

This is where the classic mythological Narcissus comes in; he can only see himself in the mirrorized walls of the hermetic fishbowl, and so he mistakes it for his reality.

My mother set up her mental prison when she decided not to forgive her father– my grandfather– for losing faith in her. Inside her fishbowl her unforgiveness turned into hatred, and after he died, she transferred her hatred onto my father and onto me.

My Narcissism was the mirror opposite of hers; outraged by her early moral abandonment of me, I nonetheless misdirected my outrage off of her and onto others, developing a personality that was charming and prickly and weird.

There was a part of me that was outside all of this self-deception who vowed to overcome it. So I had two vows, one a narcissistic vow to maintain a false reality in which my mother wasnt my antagonist, the other a healthy vow to return to equilibrium. The two vows snaked around each other for the first 60 years of my life. My mother and siblings encouraged me to maintain the false reality– step on the crack, break your mothers back– and only my father, for all his anger that he took off on me, supported my healthy reality.

Re-cognizing all this did not instantly salvage my life. No. I developed many faulty coping mechanisms and dysfunctional social strategies and quirky tics that got under countless people’s skin, constantly backfiring on me. Since I developed them all under duress, identifying them so as to undo them was at first daunting and hopeless.

Over the past year, Ive learned how to find and identify these self-destructive and -deceiving little tics by concentrating on staying calm and steady during challenges and crises that conventionally call for action. Action actually calls out my mothers spells and the Mordo Curse and I don’t dare do that, so when everyone around me screams for me to look for a job, I have to put on my Taoist love beads and close the door on them. For the past 6 months, Ive just barely gotten by on a handful of part-time jobs teaching English to Japanese workers in private companies, But now a cliff is looming– several companies are calling a work-hiatus in November, and the time for action is nigh at hand.

It has taken me two or three weeks to right this down, with a great surge of redirection in the last few days. I think Ive done a pretty good job of articulating my long journey with its struggles and dilemmas. What do you think? Has anyone gone on a similar journey? Can social media, which Ive used clumsily until now, help me to connect with like-minded pilgrims?

Thank you for reading this!

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