Wednesday, 28 January 2015
The Invisible Child finds a Voice
The photograph I chose for this piece rings deeply true for me. As the eldest daughter of three girls all born within 18 months of each other, to a narcissistic mother, I was very invisible, very quickly. In even a normal home when there are three children under the age of 4, the oldest is expected to grow up fast and take care of herself. But when mom is also a Narcissist, then there is very little left for her. Me. Very early in my life, my needs became invisible. I became the lost little girl craving the love and attention that any child would. But my mom didn’t care. And my dad just escaped the wrath of my mom and the neediness of his little daughters.
That lost and invisible little girl became the impotent and powerless protector of her sisters. And the absorber of her mom’s outrage and vindictive anger. I remember lying in my bed, hearing my younger sister being verbally and physically lambasted for being clumsy, trying to throw a protective shield around her. Trying to hold her inside my heart. Because I was never any match for that wild and fierce woman my mother was. And I would be so relieved to hear her finally slam the doors on my sister and all the other doors through the house. Because now her beating had stopped, and she would be alright. I never feared for my own beatings and emotional abuse. I don’t think I even believed it was unfair or undeserved. But I really really couldn’t bear it when she did it to my sister. My clumsy, stuttering, weak sister. I couldn’t bear it. I never went to comfort her after those times. I left her sobbing in her bed. Even as little girls we couldn’t be close. But I still thought I was her protector. And I failed her as that almost every day.
But this is about me. I am the daughter of a Narcissistic mother. I lived with abuse like it was normal. My physical neglect and the emotional desert I grew up in made me normalise pathology in my mind. My first husband has Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorders. My lover, John the Narc, another Narcissist. I have surrounded myself with them my whole life because that has felt normal. Dysfunctional, abusive relationships have felt normal to me. And I haven’t just tolerated them – I’ve pursued them! Broken people emit a beam of need to me that I seek out like a heat seeking missile. I want to protect and care and surround and make safe. Because making safe makes me feel in control. And if I’m in control, I’m safe – not impotent. Not unable to do anything. But active and focussed on healing and saving.
In all of this, the little 4 or 5 year old Trudy doesn’t get much kid-time in. She’s busy dodging, reading situations, getting sisters out of the firing line, pandering to mom’s whims. But I was already emotionally starved and lonely. Big boys in the neighbourhood saw my neediness. They exploited it for sexual favours. I felt ashamed. And loved. Important. Wanted. And deep deep shame. I learned to hide all of this from my family very young. Come home in the afternoons of sexual abuse in the bushes on the koppie at our house with a big smile on my face. Not because I was happy, but because I was hiding. I learned to hide my pain and shame in the shadows because in the light, I needed to be the cheerful and diligent daughter. The strong one. The performer. Emotions not allowed. Messiness not allowed. Just show up strong. And in my later childhood years, when the paedophile headmaster at the primary school I attended also sniffed out my need and began to pursue me, even that I dealt completely alone. I never ever told a soul. Or asked for help or support in any way. He only caught me once. After that I ran from him every day. Every single day.
I found what I now know to be a psychological device to protect myself though those years. I fragmented. I used parts of my psyche to deal different situations. So during the sexual abuse, and mother Narc abuse, I would allow my little child fragment to stay in the moment. But the rest of me would leave. And when it was over, then little broken child would drift into a corner, and the adult parts of me (yes, even at 5 years old) would show up with the poker face. The nurturing woman would be there with compassion for my sisters, and care for my manipulative mother. But that little broken girl would have no airtime. She’d hide in a cupboard sometimes, hoping that people would notice she was missing – but they never did, and I never dared staying in that cupboard once mom was calling the family to come to the supper table. That little broken girl. Me. That part of me. She was invisible to the world. Even to the rest of me. She received no care. She was abandoned and alone.
And now I’m 47 years old. I have been walking through this therapy journey trying to find a way to heal and hold that child. I have dreamed of her often through the years – she appears to me in all types of baby and young child forms. Always in distress. Always needing saving. The child walking off a cliff where I’m too far away to stop her. Or catch her. The twin babies with no skin, just burned flesh that I need to care for. The children lost in crowds where I cannot find them..hundreds of those things where that child screams to me that she needs to be seen. Held. Saved.
Through my abuse with John-the-Narc I began to see flashes of her turning up in me: she was mute. John would verbally lash me until I had no more words. Just tears. I would find those times hard to remember because the broken, mute girl fragment in me is very young. And she has very limited vocabulary. And she prefers to forget horrible things because that’s how she protects me – by forgetting the pain as much as she can. So this vague and dense fog would settle over the abusive times. When I tried to tell the stories to my shrink about what had happened with John, and why...I wouldn’t be able to remember. Pieces would go missing. Words would fail.
But she has changed her voice now. She’s growing and healing. Yesterday she came into my therapy session with me and had a huge and desperate voice. Why won’t Berlin love me? Why can’t Mark lose his wife guilt and sleep with me again? How can I get the Stellenbosch Banker to move faster already? The CEO – when can I see him – he wants me – I know he does. Please please please. Just anybody. I’ll go home with anybody. Just love me. I cannot go another day without love. I cannot tolerate this upwelling of abandonment and rejection I’m feeling with Berlin. Save me someone. Anyone! I felt like an addict craving her next fix. Like I’m locked in a cage with no food and water. It’s so humiliating to feel all these needy love cravings – how can that be me? I’m grown up. Street smart. Evolved. And yet this very real craving in me is so intense I really feel like jumping off a building just to make the pain go away!
My shrink says it’s healing. It’s a very fragile and important time for me. That child, finding a voice, finding a channel for her pain. Being seen, in all her messiness and confusion. She needs holding. But it would be best if she is held and comforted by me. Shrink says that it is actually really lucky that I am surrounded by boys who are keeping their distance right now. If there was a Narc in the bunch he would have dived in by now, soothed the little girl and promised me the world. Creating a sense of safety and calm that was all completely a sinister lie. Weaving his manipulative spell around me.
And even if a man arrived that was my beautiful soul mate – even then the timing isn’t ideal. Because having ‘relief’ from this painful place may mean I’ll never do this hard hard emotional work for myself. Feel these very horrible feelings that I’ve spent a lifetime trying (and succeeding) to escape. I wouldn’t learn the skills I need to move to a more healthy and wholesome emotional space. I would be still be Narc fodder. Still hiding behind the mask of perfection. Still running towards anyone who would show me some attention. Still trying to save anybody who needs saving at huge cost to myself. Still trying to find safety in controlling everything around me.
I haven’t had a real live face to face conversation with a friend for almost an entire month. I have been all in my head. And working. And mothering. And selling my company. Contracts. Sales meetings. WhatsApping conversations with people. Sex with a stranger. All things that need my poker face rather than this messy, stumbling emotionally incompetent and incoherent person I am inside right now. So even now I’m hiding. I’m craving connection. I need to create time with people who care for me so I can just TALK to someone who isn’t a shrink.
I’ve asked Berlin. It’s not ideal. He’s irritated and confused by my intense and, frankly, batshit crazy behaviour. So even though I know that he’s not arriving with a completely open and holding heart, I will talk to him about this anyway. Because I need to practice just being me. No poker face. No protecting the other person from my pain. Just practice being me. And then I’ll talk to Mark on our business trip in a week’s time. And then I’ll see my two best mates in Cape Town in about two weeks time. But I mustn’t wait to talk. I need time. Now. Now. And I guess Berlin gets to show what he’s made of – is he really going to stand with me in this fire – and become an important connected friend in my world? And forgive me for my weird behaviour that’s actually showing up my intense and brutal pain? And care for me anyway? And not run for the hills? Or will I be back here again, in tatters, in a few days time, because, once again, I will be forced to hold this all myself? Carry this pain alone?
And can I be with Berlin and NOT try to give the baby away?Talk to him? Let him in for a bit. But keep holding this baby and shushing her gently?