The Folly of Shedding Skins
I have been gone awhile and I have missed many splendid writers, thought-provoking concepts and sheer eclectic doozies. I do apologise. Judge me as you will but I plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Sometime mid 2018 two unconnected things happened.
One; I turned 60. Yippee ki yay, I’m thrilled. I don’t actually mind as it brings me onto my last decade deftly. ‘None will live longer than 70 years’ was one of my father’s many proclamations. As five out of his nine children are now deceased, he may be right on that one. Still, even dead, they were allowed no peace, but used as soap-boxes for his endless lament and vent of acrid, eye-watering smoke that veiled the triumphant fun he was having! Good Friday..? As a Roman Catholic of the older-and wiser-than-God-himself school, Good Friday was reserved solely for terrifying us kids with the brutal (albeit accurate) rendition of every step towards, and indeed on, Calgary, that would make Mel Gibson's film look tame. It was his medical knowledge and, as a professorial lecturer of quite some repute, delivery. It wasn’t just about the suffering of Christ, nor was it about redemption, much less - God forbid - resurrection; Easter Sunday seemed to come as a disappointment really. What it was about was dad’s suffering, his abandonment, his sorrow, his pain. Have to say, it felt at times that he was suffering less than we were. Then, there was ‘impalement’….exquisite rendition there that will never leave.
Let’s face it; dad loved his children. Providing they were dead.
Oh yes... Two; I became dumb-struck. By a single word, no less! Preaching to the converted here; you know that words have meaning. I’m a rather wordy sort of person, so to shut my mouth takes a Herculean event.
Before I utter that word, that mere scatter of letters, I have to confess; I am cringing in embarrassment. To admit to anyone that a sixty-year old woman of normal intelligence, maybe above-the-norm inquisitiveness (and probably well below the norm on the sanity scale), managed for all these years to miss this, beggars belief. There’s no way to cover over my foolishness, so I’ll just suck it up and spit it out: gaslighting.
I expect you know all about it; along with ‘coercive control’ which has been bandied about of late. As I had long ceased even looking, it was to rock my world and knock my emotional anchoring six ways from Sunday. Believe me; kneeling on grits is way more fun! Post-discovery I even went so far as to offer this priceless gem to another sibling. Oddly, he did not share my exhilaration, but did say he thought dad was a ‘narcissist’. I filed that away with psychopath, sociopath and several other clues, then summarily forgot it. So undeterred, I began the work that would surely bring me some peace!
First I would need to debride the membranes of slough that made up my psyche; do a strip-down:
Off with the first of many identities that weren’t mine. Woven within that skin’s threads were Guilt, Condemnation, Shame, Hopelessness.
Next the skin of: Admonishment, Abandonment, Apathy, Destitution, Burden and Loss.
The last skins were legion: Isolation, Agony and Desolation.
Each became harder; the last flayed me: Despair.
I hate that word.
Finally I lined up all my skins and stood back to view them as I brought the mirror up to see what was left. I prepared myself to feel….something. Relief? Hope? Nope, didn’t happen.
They looked rather...dead, no? Maybe what I needed was some introspection to ‘see what’s left’. That mirror was a big mistake.
When I look in the mirror, I look at the enemy. There is no one to blame for this but myself. I should have bought myself a mirror a long time ago.’ Darryl Strawberry
There was nothing there but a vacuous, shackled child, devoid of hope and stunted in growth. I left the skins sit alone in their room for a great deal of time as I pondered my next move. I had to marinate in that process awhile, shuddering in a thin skin of contempt at my own emptiness.
Next was recognition of my folly. Having resigned the bitterest yearning to just understand the roles of the players (the time for rules long past), the Sarcophagus of Relentless Questions was, nonetheless, shattered; each piece demanding answers with a petulant cacophony that didn’t cease. This feral and fetid cat (along with the skins) was, most definitely, out of the bag.
So I tried a different tack and did some study in psychology. Curiously, for a medical brat, this is a field I have rarely referenced. Along with familial historical and pathological clues, the meaning of ‘narcissism’ and ‘gaslighting’ took form. Like that fabulous ‘Dolly Zoom’ shot of Chief Brody in Jaws (point 2.00 mins), the dawning made my blood run cold.
In a brilliant but horribly revealing blog by Christine Louis de Canonville, Theologian and Psycologist:
narcissistic behavior; the effects of gaslighting
The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function in an independent way. Gaslighting involves the abuser to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from the victim and replacing it with false information. Because of its subtly, this cunning Machiavellian behaviour is a deeply insidious set of manipulations that is difficult for anybody to work out, and with time it finally undermines the mental stability of the victim.
Christine Louis de Canonville
My God, others….know? These words laid me bare for all to see my shame.
That is why it is such a dangerous form of abuse. The emotional damage of Gaslighting is huge on the narcissistic victim. When they are exposed to it for long enough, they begin to lose their sense of their own self. Unable to trust their own judgments, they start to question the reality of everything in their life….. The victim becomes depressed and withdrawn, they become totally dependent on the abuser for their sense of reality .
Christine Louis de Canonville
What sense of self? Did I ever really exist….?
The grandiose self-image and reputation of their fathers rarely matched the coldness and indifference behind closed doors, habituating their children to accept interpersonal danger as the norm. Narcissists are masters of impression management and the charismatic narcissistic father is no different. As the daughter of a narcissistic father, you may have noticed that your father prioritized his reputation in the community above the happiness or wellbeing of you and your family members (Banschick, 2013). Your father was most likely known as generous, friendly and exceptionally charming to all those who knew him in public; yet behind closed doors, he was verbally, emotionally and/or physically abusive to his spouse and children. This is not uncommon in households with a narcissistic parent; their ‘false self’ is rarely a match for the true self within the realm of the family unit. As a result, daughters of narcissistic fathers are likely to have been silenced should they ever have attempted to speak out against the abuse or speak ill of the father within the household or in public. Combined with gender roles and expectations for young women to be quiet, demure and polite, daughters of narcissistic fathers may have been conditioned to adapt to danger rather than to protect themselves from it.’’
I am undone. The very people (outside of myself) that may eventually find solace in this discovery were my two elder sisters, now are dead; one by her own hand (at a time, I now suspect, she too saw her ‘own self’ and it left her undone too). I understand why now. We had a very cloistered childhood, cleverly cleaved apart from each other by our own fear. Forced not only to be witness to, but become part of his depraved schemes at an age that is completely inappropriate. Every sense of self was systematically destroyed - completely and repeatedly - until he had a nice clean ink blotter to pour his lies onto. We were a privately-educated middle class family of a respected and revered man who no one knew but us.
Such devoted minutiae to manipulation our father had, and so very understanding of the workings of a child’s mind, that we dare tell no one – what could we say anyhow? As adults, we stood accused by any childhood friend that remained. ‘How could you say such vile lies?’ I remember my one friend said before I lost her for good. I almost admired his artful and seamless chance-of-skin in the space of a step through a doorway. That he could expend such sustained energy in the destruction of his kids and first wife, and still earn himself a great deal of money and prestige, is mind-boggling! His brutality was cold, calculating and devastating. Being sequestered alone so long I was utterly unprepared for adult life and I was tossed about so violently, I was exhausted to the point of yearning for death. In the end, there are still questions that I will never find answers to (as most all the parties are dead). I wonder where my father is now. Did he suffer the fate of Sisyphus for tying to put himself above God? I know now he didn’t…maybe couldn’t love us. Mercifully I found that out near 20 years ago; he went too far and exposed his hand. He had a vast intellect, insatiable curiosity and always the most schooled scholar; he was a very passionate, larger-than-life man. I wonder why he became as he was…I have ideas…did he ever really know? Final confession; I loved him. To me, considering the stuff I've shared before and ALL that I haven't, that’s the very worst admission but it’s true.
Post Script: Weeks have passed since the initial draft. This is the final of many rewrites; more words than all of my published works combined. So much for freedom; like Icarus, I am burned by the folly of this exercise. Time to put my skins back on. There was nothing worth uncovering to begin with as that Ship of Such Potential has long sailed.
My hope now is that through this exercise of public admission, I can accept - and truly offer – forgiveness. May the blessed Lord then grant me peace.
All the skins above came from this surreal and magnificent work of art: "Empty Mind" by Shiori Matsumoto - 2001
Thank you dearly Shiori, for our brief yet wonderful exchanges, magnificent woman! I am forever in your debt for you allowing me to display your wonderful work.
I dedicate this to my children...I can only hope I didn't hurt them too badly. And to my younger brother - forgive me!
Oddly, I often wonder (with more than a bit of awe ...
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