The Absent Father and The Devouring Mother
The title of this post comes from the first two chapters of the book – Going Mad to Stay Sane: The Psychology of Self-Destructive Behaviour by Andy White , and the author has a blog – Andy White – Narcissism and The Fruits of Suffering.
It is one of my favourite books as it explained my parents to me so well and so clearly that there were moments when I wondered if the author knew them as I did. He also helped to explain myself, my behaviour, self hate, self-destructiveness, and otherwise, to me and show me the roots of it and how to deprogram myself.
The author uses mythology – The story of Midas – to give insight into the psychology behind self-destructiveness. This mythological perspective is invaluable for those who are children of Narcissists, because Narcissists are living a mythical life. They are living a lie, but that lie is very grandiose, larger than life, of mythic, epic and legendary proportions.
The use of mythology was the difference which made reading this book clarify my confusion.
I have read a lot about Narcissists and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The best information I have had has come from children of Narcissists who have written about their experiences. The information which comes from psychologists I have usually found to be too clinical and logical, reflecting the professionalism of the author and their need to appear professional, detached from and above it all, sane and healthy, and show that they understand the subject and the patients affected by it. But this is not helpful to those affected by those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because there is nothing sane or logical or clinical or healthy about it. Not when you live with it as a victim of Narcissists. It’s a confusing mess which seems impossible to clarify and tidy – a Gordian Knot.
As much as other authors have captured the basics of Narcissists, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Narcissistic parents, they rarely understand what it is like to be completely screwed up by it and fight to stay afloat in a quagmire which is both outside and inside of you. They never explained Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a living and breathing experience. And they certainly never captured what it feels like to grow up in such an environment where you are a tiny thing being lorded over by giants who think they are gods who own you, and who create a surreal version of reality populated by mythical quests and mythological creatures that you have to carry out and conquer for the Narcissists. And they never charted the course of the child’s psychological development as it tries to cope with the illogical reality, the paradoxes and irreconcilable conflicts, imposed on it from the moment it is born, and how to survive that child must split itself and deny itself, and learn to loathe itself, and sacrifice itself on the altar of its parents fantastical illusions and imagined greatness.
“The awful contradiction in expectations that Gordius (ed: Midas’ Absent Father) and Cybele (ed: Midas’ Devouring Mother) have of their son, coupled with the utterly polarised views that each parent holds of Midas, threaten to tear him in two. He cannot succeed in the eyes of one parent without damning himself in the eyes of the other.
Gordius relates to Midas as a failure. Cybele relates to him as a personal saviour. Gordius uses his authority to dismiss, Cybele uses hers to possess. Gordius withholds his blessing because Midas has fallen short precisely in those realms that Cybele demands that he must fail, in his autonomy and individuality. Gordius is cold and disinterested, utterly dismissive of Midas’ fate except that he should divest Gordius of his depression and low self-esteem. Cybele is the opposite, hysterical and invasive, holding the threat of her wrath over Midas should he have any aspiration towards his own independence, crushing his free spirit with her neediness and anxiety.
If Midas embodies the hero demanded of him by Gordius with its connotations of personal mastery, ingenuity and leadership, those qualities personified by the transcending spirit of Alexander (ed: who slices the Gordian Knot with his sword and inherits the kingdom), he must betray Cybele whose covert injunction it is that he live life in her service. If he renounces his independence and personal potency in order to kindle his Mother’s affections then he fails in Gordius’ eyes and earns only his father’s contempt. Midas is caught in a trap. His true self is not only under attack but also caught in a crossfire. His only hope is to internalise this crossfire and to make of his soul a battlefield where the remnants of his own authority are firmly trampled into the irreconcilable mud of a profoundly self-destructive neurosis.” – ©Andy White – Going Mad to Stay Sane – Chapter 3 Self-Hatred: A Legacy.
When the father is absent, physically, mentally, emotionally, etc, from the child’s life it leaves a void. This void isn’t empty, it is filled with longing, yearning need. The child seeks to make a connection with the father in some way, any way possible. Whatever the child has to do to win the father’s love has to be done even if it means sacrificing everything that belongs to the child as an individual being and becoming someone else to please the father.
The space left by an absent father gives the mother more space in the family to take over and devour the child in whatever way she pleases and chooses, usually driven by the mother’s needs for which she seeks fulfillment by and through the child. The child has to allow the mother to devour it because it is the only form of love and connection it can have with the mother. And it is the only way to survive with a mother like that. She devours the child whether it is willing or not, being willing makes it a little bit less traumatic, but not by much.
When confronted about his absence by the child, the absent father often plays the victim and blames the mother – the mother may be at fault, probably is, as she often shares with her child her grief and anger at the father, making the child responsible for it and for her emotions and needs – the child of a devouring mother and absent father may be turned into a surrogate spouse by the mother. However when the father blames the mother for his absence, he also blames the child. He is basically telling the child that it must challenge and fight its mother to win the father’s love and attention because the father is too weak to fight the mother to be with his child.
What is the child to do?
When the mother is confronted… not something the child does very often due to the way she reacts, but should the child be bold enough to do so, the mother blames the father, thus blaming the child. The mother quite likes these sorts of confrontations because it gives her another opportunity to devour her child and to justify the devouring. She had to fill the space vacated by the father, play the roles of mother and father, the child needs to be eternally grateful for the invasive devouring love of the mother. The child owes the mother its life. And then she points out that the father obviously does not love the child or he would be there for the child regardless of how he feels about the mother and how she feels about him. She has tried to protect the child from the awful truth that the father does not love it, but since the child has confronted her, all must now be revealed.
What is a child to do?
The extract from Going Mad to Stay Sane above completely describes my relationship with my parents and how it affected me. I’ve spoken about it at length in many of my posts so I won’t elaborate on it here. Even when I cut off all contact with my parents, the dynamic continued inside of me threatening my new life, and inspiring self-sabotage of myself and of any relationships I had with others. It’s been a long, hard and exhausting battle to free myself from my legacy of self-hatred, to stop my urge to self-destruct, and to deprogram myself from the cult of my family, my absent father and my devouring mother. It’s become less of a battle now and more of a jousting contest. It’s been worth it.
If you have been affected by parents like mine and similar issues as those which I have and have had… don’t give up on yourself, you have great strength and a very resilient spirit. You have a rich reserve within you of personal power, and once you tap into it, your life will become yours, gradually at first, baby step by baby step, and slowly it will pick up momentum. The hardest step is the first one, that’s when you cross the threshold from victim into victor. The victory will take time and the campaign will be a long one.
Have patience with yourself. Be determined. You may falter at times. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. You will make it. Trust yourself.
The process to heal yourself and your life is painful, difficult and challenging, but one of the gifts in the curse which your experiences have given you is the knowledge that you are a survivor, you can face anything if you want to, and now you are ready to thrive.
Take care of yourself.