Fragmented Histories

quote-history-is-written-by-the-victors-winston-churchill-37164

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One of the signs which apparently gives a narcissist away is a fragmented personal history.

When they tell you about their life previous to meeting you;

You’ll get highlights which put them in a good light.

You’ll get the typical – all my exes were psychos.

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common denominator of crazy exes - someecards

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You’ll get dramatic scenarios (and may wonder how one person has managed to have so much drama in one life – and not learn a thing from it but keep repeating it as though they actually enjoy what they claim gives them so much pain).

You’ll get selective amnesia.

You’ll get a very intriguing series of tales which when taken separately might seem believable but the longer you know the narcissist the more chances you have to put all the stories together and they never add up. Time frames overlap and contradict each other. Sometimes they were in two different places miles apart on the same day doing completely different things.

They live more than just a double life, they have multiple lives. One event is related in so many ways that there is no consistency or substance to hold on to, just when you think you have grasped who they are and the life they have lived, it evaporates and becomes something else.

If you point out to a narcissist that you have caught them out in a lie, that you checked their facts and found them to be fiction, they’ll either accuse you of being a pedant, negative, insensitive, a narcissist yourself, and any other unpleasant epithets which they have stockpiled in their minds for those times when they are challenged, or they have a viable explanation why they are right and you are wrong, the sort of explanation which will have you believing their version of events and not yours.

Narcissists rely heavily upon you making excuses for them. You misunderstood, you misheard, you should doubt yourself and not them, etc.

This criteria of fragmented history for spotting a narcissist is quite good, however we all have fragmented histories. The history of the human race is full of blank spaces. The further back in time you travel, the more of less there is. Some of these lacunae are purposeful, deliberately omitted parts from the annals of history because the ‘victors’ wrote the story and the losing survivors’ side of events never made it to print. Some of these are empty because… we don’t know why, but we can hazard a guess, fill in the blanks with conjecture based on the fragments which we do have, which we find and believe are reliable.

We pass stories down from generation to generation until they become the truth of what happened, and the further away we move from the past the less we care if it is true or not, especially if that version of events appeals to us, to our own personal history, the kind upon which we build our identity, our story of who we are.

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History

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Every now and then a story which we all took for granted was true is debunked, exposed as a lie. At first we may resist the revelation, particularly if it throws our own reality into question, taking everything which gave us stability into a blender, leaving us floating in confusion soup. That truth made our identity true and now that it is a lie… are we a lie too, has our whole life been a lie.

The truth is in theory supposed to set us free… is that a lie too.

Once you accept that everything which seemed so solid can vaporise in an instant, that all which was fact can become fiction, that an irrevocable truth can have its status revoked, then every story ever told becomes the words of an unreliable narrator which we can choose to believe or not depending on whether it is something we want to hear and believe or not. We create our own reality and our own history.

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History - Brian Perry

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If you’re the child of narcissists your history is also going to be fragmented. Because your history involves narcissists (who are a part of your history in the making) who are constantly rewriting the past, reinventing who you are and your role in their life, to suit whatever version of it, and you, and themselves, which they need to support whatever version of the present, and themselves, they are creating.

Some children of narcissists do also become narcissists.

Some children of narcissists do not become narcissists but are so incredibly messed up by their narcissist parents that they think they are – and they often think they’re the narcissist and their parents are not, that they are bad and their parents are good, because that’s what their parents have programmed them to think.

The history of villains often contains tales of innocent parents who heroically love their villainous child in spite of their villainy (because that’s what good parents do), and they don’t have a clue as to why such good people as they are gave birth to and reared such a monster. It must be nature, nothing at all to do with nurture, their child was born evil… nothing to do with genetics either. Their narrative of being good parents may falter if the evil child happens to be an only child, but if there is a sibling who has turned out well, that child is good because of the parents, because of their nurturing, but the evil child is bad because of their nature.

Some children of narcissists manage to sort through the mess of their childhood and beyond. Narcissist parents never let go of their children even if the child manages to get away from them – something which is very hard to do because society judges children who do that regardless of how awful their parents are, somehow the child must put up with it because society needs them to. Society always seems to be on the side of the narcissist, even when its narrative says that it is not.

However even a child of narcissists who manages to become healthy, less messed up, still often has a fragmented history.

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this-be-the-verse

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Some of that has to do with just not wanting to remember the hell in their past. A primal survival mechanism which we all have and use from the moment we are born. We get over things, survive, keep going, no matter what… by forgetting. There are some things which are best not remembered.

I have a whole decade which I’ve wiped from my memory banks.

The time frame on many of my stories about my history is all over the place, mostly because piecing things together for a child of narcissists requires figuring out which version of events is the real one. All events which include a narcissist in them (and even ones which don’t but which they adopt as their own for their own reasons) have multiple versions. If a narcissist recounts an event… there are endless variations of it… but the one being told at the time is the definitive truth in that moment, but may change completely in the next moment.

In some ways growing up with narcissists teaches you to live from moment to moment, which when looked at from an esoteric angle means you always live in the now. Be here now because the world and time anywhere else keeps disappearing and changing. The edge of the world is always beneath you and you’re permanently falling through space and time, nothing and no one is real, especially not you (you can’t even be a solipsist).

As a child of narcissists, when your narcissist parent is holding court, narrating the story of an event to their audience, even if it is a private audience between you and them, your required role is to be quiet, nod your head, support their story. Your version of events is irrelevant unless it concurs with theirs, and even then you don’t get to say anything other than murmur noises of approval. They are the only narrator allowed in your life, or anyone else’s life who happens to get sucked into their orbit. If you share your story, it will always get dismissed, destroyed, invalidated, in favour of the version of events which your narcissist parents have chosen for you. Arguing with them about such things lands you in a heap of hell, so you learn to simply erase yourself and all that you know.

Children of narcissists also suffer from selective amnesia.

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been there done that...?

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But what your mind recorded never goes away, it’s just buried in the – don’t look here – file.

Some of my history is easier to piece together than other parts. Partly because I held onto my version of what occurred and stored it safely out of reach of the rewriting fingers of my parents. It is also in part due to the fact that my father was largely absent from much of it. He was there but not there. Thus his version of events in which he was not directly involved can be more easily put aside, however hard he tried to rewrite those events, and all I have too do is sort through my mother’s multiple versions of events… and my version of events.

However narcissists tend to involve other people to back their versions up. Some of those other people can be very aggressive and interfering – the sort of loyalty a narcissist can inspire in people is astounding, you’d think this was their life which was under review and at stake when actually they have nothing to do with it personally, don’t have to suffer the consequences of it, and other than listening to a narcissist’s story, buying into it and then going around selling it to anyone who will listen, especially those who disagree, they can detach from it and return to their lives whenever they choose. Vicarious drama is enticing…

When my history involved both of my parents, then figuring things out is nigh on impossible. My narcissist parents were constantly at war with each other, this was their passion play fetish, with me in the middle just like a little piggy (but which little piggy am I this time). They both had allies who fought loyally for them. With me in on the wrong side at the wrong time, except for the occasional moment when I briefly managed to not be wrong… which was eventually wrong later.

If you piece together the parts of my story which I have shared, you may find it to be fragmented. I view it as such. Therefore you may conclude that I am an unreliable narrator, and possibly a narcissist.

If you are one of those who subscribe to the genetic transference of NPD, that those with NPD are born evil therefore their offspring must be evil too, then you’ll come to a similar conclusion. But that requires that you believe my claim that my parents are narcissists. Which means you’re willing to believe some of what I say, yet not all of it. You’re cherry picking… something we all do with history. With his story and her story, and our own story.

History… Memories are made of this. The fabric of memories and history is a quilt crafted of fragments, some are ours, some are those which others have given to us, some of those others who are close to us, and some are far away, figments and fragments of narrative passed down since time immemorial. In memoriam.

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memento mori epitaph.

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17 thoughts on “Fragmented Histories

  1. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to participate in this week’s writing challenge, despite how well it touched on a piece I’ve been working on. What implications come with framing (or, in my case, postscript’ing) a piece of personal narrative with the “unreliable narrator” trope?
    And then the experience led me to this fine post, on this fine blog! Thank you, Ursula–I resonate with much of what you’ve written here, though your experiences–and the terminology with which you describe them–differ in some key ways from mine with my own family. I can already tell I’m going to enjoy reading what you have yet to write!
    best, alice

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  2. Hi dear? I was reading this particular post and it resonated well with how my N. mum is. Sometimes she talks about things that happened in her childhood that none of her siblings agree with. I have seen them even get into arguments because of it (they are 3 sisters) and you can just tell that her two other sisters can notice there’s something wrong with my mum but are struggling to put a finger on what exactly it is. Of course i found out the real issue behind our mum’s personality this July but i have only shared with my sister and wouldn’t dream of sharing it with anyone else in the family because i doubt they would understand the implications and they may probably snitch on me to my mum thus landing me in hot soup. They (the 3 sisters) have a weird relationship where they don’t really like how my mum acts but they won’t hesitate telling her something someone said about her behind her back whether it is her own child or not. My aunt once put her phone on loudspeaker while speaking to my sister who was complaining about my mum’s actions and mum got to hear all my sister said. It of course caused trouble for her till date.
    Ursula, that’s the life me and my sister lead. I can remember my childhood clearly. I guess cuz i was the golden child and the abuse wasn’t as intense as my sister’s. I don’t know about her though. I have never asked. She was the Scapegoat child but ended up fine socially, i was the golden child but ended up socially awkward. I was the first to discover our mum’s condition though i was reading recently that it is usually the scapegoat children who are likely to discover their parent’s condition first. That particular post sounded inverted in all cases in my situation. You can’t even tell the kind of abuse my siz has gone through cuz she’s so in control of herself. I admire her at times. Yet i battle so many feelings of loneliness, abandonment from my father (he was her stepdad but they have an awesome relationship), difficulties in making personal decisions. It’s only recently that i have started making informed decisions when it comes to dating. At the moment, my father has bailed out from paying my campus fee. I’m 25. I should be done with my degree by now but it has been an on and off struggle for 7 good years. My mum can’t help out. She blatantly refuses to even though deep down i know, if she worked harder, we wouldn’t even depend on my dad. I’m currently searching for a job and a bursary to clear my education with no support whatsoever. Since i’m at home with my mum at the moment, she makes me feel as if i’m crazy wanting to get a degree. She recently told me i could as well become a driver. Sometimes i wonder whether i’m indeed mad thinking about getting a degree when there is no cash for it. I’m so confused at the moment. Nowadays i run to my blog for solace because it’s like a fog is covering my thoughts. My mum is saying i made a mistake joining the campus i’m in. I have been feeling so resentful of her off late. At times i blurt out something rude and i actually got into a fight today morning because of it. Mum refuses to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel if she worked harder. We live at my aunt’s place because she won’t work hard to get a place of her own. We have been there 8 years already. I’m so tired of all this and especially when i see her pray and wonder why God is not answering her prayers yet the answer is right there for her to see it. Get off your lazy bum woman! God hates laziness. I want to be dependent. At my age i should and i’m hoping my efforts at achieving that go well. I’m sorry for venting but i really needed someone’s sane view and advice on this. I really admire how you tackle the comments in your blog.

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    1. Thank you 🙂

      I think you should reread your comment, because the advice which you are seeking is in your own words. We always have the answers we need, we just don’t always notice that we do because we’re so caught up in the drama of our lives and tied up in the knots of our problem. We sometimes want someone else to untangle the knots of our problem, sometimes they can, but sometimes when they try it makes things even knottier.

      Reread your comment a couple of times, see what insights emerge from doing so. One of the rereads should be done as though your story was someone else’s being told to you… what advice would you give someone else who related this story to you about their own life? If someone other than yourself had written the words in your comment, what would you say to them?

      You might also find this site of interest – http://www.pdan.org/2014/04/07/shall-we-blame-our-parents/#.VDfXWOe4gnU – as it promotes ways to untangle certain aspects of a personality disordered family dynamic. I particularly liked the emphasis on moving beyond blame to understanding, because blame keeps us stuck in the problem, tangled up in the knot, whereas understanding helps us to untangle ourselves and own our personal power in the situation.

      Best wishes!

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  3. “Time frames overlap and contradict each other”- that is so true! It’s a time thing though…you have to be with a narcissist/sociopath long enough to witness/hear it in their repeated tales. But for me, by that point, you are already invested in them & just plain, old tired out. They wear you down-exhausted is an understatement. It’s like being a prisoner of war-you either separate yourself mentally from the abusive jail guard or you decide to give up and surrender your soul. Your soul being your feelings, thoughts & opinions. What you say never matters anyways, it’s a game.

    Also, in this post and a post a few days back I see that you continue to put in there that maybe you are a narcissist? I snicker when I see it. Well I hate to break it to you…but YOU are not! I’m thinking your cool boyfriend also confirms this for you. It’s simple really- it’s in your style of writing & responding. I know you know it but sometimes it’s nice to have an outsider confirm it for you too. I think you use it as a disclaimer really but it’s on your mind regardless. So theirs my two cents on that. I hope your legal stuff improves- you have a fighting spirit & can out mind anyone up for the challenge- like everything in life- there are loop holes in all systems- and learning what they are and using them (legally) is critical. I know you’ll figure it out. BTW- 100 years of sleep sounds pretty enticing right now…ha

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    1. Thank you 🙂

      I went out to dinner with a large family one night, and at the table they squabbled over an incident which had happened earlier in the day, the issue got heated and the rest of the dinner was eaten in heavy sulking silence. The following day at lunch they discussed the dinner and the story they all agreed on was that they had had an amazing evening full of laughter, they were convinced that it had been a lighthearted fun-filled evening and they concluded that they should go out to dinner more often. I remember sitting there in stunned silence as they rewrote the entire story of the dinner until it was nothing like what had actually happened and I began to question my memory of it even though it was still fresh in my mind. This made me realise that all the stories they told about their family life was probably group agreed rewriting of events, even small ones like the dinner, and that there was no way of knowing what was true and what was fabrication. They were not deliberately lying, they were just creating the truth which they wanted to be true, which was that they were a happy family. That was not the first time something like that had happened, and I had noticed that there was a seething underbelly of issues amongst the members of the family which no one spoke about (at least not in front of outsiders like me) but which occasionally erupted like at the dinner, however I never had ‘proof’ until that moment. It was the first time that I was a part of one of their stories and watched the family dynamic at work in such a clear way, and I was expected to follow their lead and not rock the boat.

      That anecdote could be true, it could be an event I completely made up, it could be a false memory, it could be my outsider’s experience of a family to which I did not belong coloured by my own life and my own family – maybe an argument at a restaurant was their idea of a fun night out… it could be any number of variations, possibly true or possibly false, with me maybe aware or maybe not aware that what I am saying is possibly true or not.

      Now I know the story is true, but you have no way of knowing that, you can choose to either take my word that it is or not. And that is what we do on a daily basis with everyone we interact with, we choose to trust them or not trust them, to believe or not believe them. They do the same with us. More often than not we tend to take people at face value, see them as innocent… until proven guilty, usually it has to be beyond a shadow of a doubt. And we do this with narcissists too, because we don’t know that they are narcissists… until we do, and even if we know that they are we may continue to doubt it partly because we’d rather that they were not a narcissist, partly because we may doubt our diagnosis, and even if we are certain they are a narcissist we may still choose to believe what they say. Just because someone is a narcissist does not mean that they never tell the truth and always lie. And just because someone isn’t a narcissist does not mean that they never lie and always tell the truth.

      What is a truth and what is a lie.

      Many narcissists believe their own lies, those lies are the truth to them which is partly why their lies are so believable. And when others believe the lies a narcissist tells, they invest themselves in the lie being a truth, therefore they support it, and may continue to do so even if it is exposed as a lie. Which is partly why victims of narcissists who try to expose a narcissist and their lies to others often end up being ostracised by those who choose to believe the narcissist, as they’ve invested their own identity in the narcissist, and in the narcissist not being a narcissist, they have a vested interest in the lie as truth. And so the victim of the narcissist, by general consensus of those with a vested interest, may be labeled ‘a narcissist’ by the group who is shielding the ‘real’ narcissist because they have a personal reason to do so.

      Just because I claim that my parents are narcissists, or that someone else I have known may be a narcissist, does not mean that they really are, maybe I’m the narcissist and they are my victims, still being victimised. Or maybe they are narcissists, but even if they are that does not make me ‘not a narcissist’ by default. They could be narcissists and so could I.

      Just because we recognise that someone else is a narcissist, does not mean that we aren’t a narcissist. It isn’t that black and white. Who better to recognise a narcissist than another narcissist – especially now that narcissist spotting is such a popular trend. Of course there are many variations, combinations and perspectives which have a certain ambiguity.

      It’s the ambiguity which intrigues me, which is why I suggest that maybe I am a narcissist. It’s a way of saying – don’t take my word for it, that I am or am not, decide for yourself and be aware of yourself making that decision… pay attention to how you make that decision, and to whether you care if I am or am not, and all the other possible thoughts and decisions you may have and make while reading my words 😉

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      1. Thanks! Love that…”ambiguity intrigues me.” You know who you think you are and others can decide for themselves. I’ve decided, I guess;)

        The story about the family meal you were apart of, happens a lot in life. I think we are trained in some ways, to focus on the good, shove the shit under the rug and pray that everyone agrees to shoving the shit away. But in most cases it backfires, if the stuff your shoving away is something worthwhile discussing or considered important. But sometimes it stays put forever too, until you have a mound of dirt & debris under the rug and can no longer walk over it…it has become a hill to climb. I think sometimes you don’t realize it’s become a hill until you eventually just can’t take it anymore. I think of my ex narc friends husband daily, in regards to this. He’s stuck, like so many people are. I recently saw him, I approached him, hugged him from the side and asked how he was. He knows I know. He is normal but f’d up because of her. He made small talk but I couldn’t take it anymore…I told him I was sorry about it all (not for it all). He said-sometimes you have to do certain things. I am honest, upfront & straight up by nature. Even if he isn’t ready to break the silence, I have broken mine. Who knows if that was a dumb move or not on my part but I don’t care- the truth sets me free. Facing that is hard.

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        1. There’s an article I came across today promoting an online seminar for people who are living with, working with or otherwise have to interact with a narcissist – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201410/online-seminar-people-living-narcissists – it’s connected to this website and organisation – http://www.pdan.org/ – which says part of its mission is to help people who are living within a personality disordered family/environment. I haven’t checked it out with more than a cursory glance but it sounds interesting.

          Not everyone can leave, not everyone wants to leave, a narcissist, so learning how to mitigate the effects that a narcissist has and how to manage the relationship are useful for those who can’t or won’t go No Contact. No Contact is not always possible.

          Your ex narc friend’s husband has his reasons for staying with his wife. Perhaps he loves her, maybe he’s staying because of the children, maybe the relationship gives him something which is essential to his own identity. His words – sometimes you have to do certain things – tell you a lot about him. He sounds as though he has a strong sense of duty. Perhaps he is one of those people who, once they make a commitment, see it through no matter what. Perhaps he realises that all relationships are fraught with complication and complexity, and it is better the devil you know (how to deal with).

          From what you have said about him in previous comments, it sounds as though this is not the first time he’s had to deal with the fallout from one of his wife’s friendships. He’s experienced it before, he knows her pattern, and he understands it, so he understands where you’re coming from and appreciates it. He may have no need to break his silence as his silence may not be the same kind of silence as yours. He will however appreciate your gesture of reaching out to him, breaking your silence, and offering him the opportunity to share with you as you have shared with him, but he probably won’t take you up on it. That would create more complications for him. Narcs do not like it when someone ‘steals’ their friends (they like to ‘steal’ friends, and they tend to judge other people based on themselves), especially when they are out of the loop, and his wife would see it as a betrayal. So his silence with you may be a means of keeping things silent at home.

          Don’t worry, what you did isn’t in any way dumb, you were being yourself and that is never anything other than copacetic. Trust yourself and be true to yourself. 🙂

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          1. Thanks Ursula…you have a way of understanding and comforting others. I really appreciate that. I agree with all that you’ve said and even though I know what she really is (not just a label of crazy or a mess), but really what she is, doesn’t mean that others want or need to know. I have read enough on spouses that live with these types and my biggest conclusion has been that everyone has to come to a point (alone & independently) in regards to what they want to do. It’s really no one else’s business in many respects and outsiders can merely be supportive, understanding & tell them that they are here for them. I don’t want to get involved & he wants me to stay out- I feel that from him. My body language, my apology to him, telling him I want good for him are all that I can do. I am at peace that he knows I’m on his side. It can be a lonely battle & I want him to know that I care-but that’s it. I am trusting myself & I have good boundaries but I also am an emotional being- lots of sad shit out there.

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  4. I spent 13 years in a relationship/marriage to a narcissist and his family. I bore two children by this “person”. My own history became a bunch of fragments-scattered everywhere. Although I know in my heart that I will not, nor do I wish to, change anything; there is an inner need to make sense of it. There are two small children now subjected to the darkness of the webs of lies. You are so right about the victor writing the history-I’ve usually been the one rooting for the underdog…or…I’ve been the underdog? 💜

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    1. Sometimes the reason why we (children or adults, children who will one day become adults and adults who were once children) are subjected to the web of lies is due to the web of truths.

      If a child is taught repeatedly that they must never speak out about or against an adult, because it is impolite or some such truth, that they must always respect adults, because that’s what children must do with regards to adults… then they will apply this to all adults, those whom they know are lying as much as to adults who tell the ‘truth’.

      And so the child learns to become an adult who roots for the underdog that refuses to be subjected to truths that are lies or truth which support lies or truths which create the situation where lies get supported to support truths.

      Being human, child or adult, is a complex web of both truth and lies… it can be impossible to distinguish between them.

      Bets wishes to you and your children, hopefully the truth will out… but what will it out? Some things are very hard to accept.

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      1. It certainly is a tangled web! You have given me something to think about (always appreciated). I ask myself ,”why?”…or “why not?”… All I have come up with is to shield myself and children with what is believed to be truth, based on physical evidence. Who knows the truth? Only evidence of something that points to a truth…or a lie…or either-or…neither-nor.

        Can one person switch the tracks, and begin a new generation of humans who question everything, and require evidence before accepting something as truth or lie?

        Ok…my brain is tired…I am off to find the truth…or the lies…or maybe get a kitten💜 peace to you

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        1. It is incredibly exhausting to wade through truth or lie or… I’m going through this myself with the ‘law’ involved as you are, though in a slightly different scenario. Once the ‘law’ gets involved, might as well give up where truth and lie are concerned in the usual way as the mind has to adopt a completely new (legal) version of those things. It’s a total mind eff, just when you think you know what is what… it isn’t according to the legal system.

          I had a conversation about this moments ago and now I need a 100 year sleep.

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          1. Thank you for this post, you give voice to what i have lived.
            And i love your historical and philosophical quotes and questions, and your way of talking to your reader, it’sal authentic and poignant.xxx

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              1. Yes, all good points. Lots of editing of history goes on in N families. N parents definitely have selective amnesia. They say ” that never happened” when you bring something up from the past and they mean it. If you call them out on something more current they are quite skilled at twisting the truth or if backed into a corner flatly lieing to you to make them selves look right and even make you sound crazy if that suits them at the moment. It is all very confusing and it can be crazy making. The points you bring up here are all very important in that children of Ns often have trouble piecing together their family story of the abuse that occurred, not being sure who is at fault ,having trouble uncovering covert aspects of the abuse, and this makes it difficult for them to retell their story. I see this in alot of posts from young survivors on your site.

                My prayers of peace go out to all survivors of Narcissistic abuse.

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