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It’s extraordinarily lucky that my narcissists aren’t the charming type. No, mine are the type that piss everybody off in their egotistical zeal to be “better than,” to proselytize and then to live in haughty isolation from everyone else who is “going to Hell.”

Last week, a tremendous leap in healing occurred when, trembling and doubting myself, I took the plunge and contacted my narcissist’s former acquaintances dating back forty years.

Some, it turns out, are dead. Some completely ignored my messages and I can’t really blame them. They must have seen my maiden name and shuddered.

But a few wrote back or we talked on the phone. Maybe they were curious how the child they pitied turned out. As one of them told me, “We all wondered when you would rebel.” Not if. When.

And they all were extraordinarily kind.

There’s an old saying you won’t find anywhere in the Bible: “God helps them who help themselves.” Maybe it’s true. I always had such horrible, inappropriate guilt for kicking my “wunnerful, wunnerful” family to the curb. Over and over, I fervently prayed to be delivered from my guilt. But God didn’t help me until I helped myself. As soon as I interviewed those ex-acquaintances of my family, the guilt was gone. Totally gone! The prayer has been answered but I had to show some initiative!

The story that has emerged about my narcissists puts a different complexion on my family completely. I know who they thought they were. I know the Official Story from the inside-out.

But the story from the outside-in is much different. It’s also surprisingly cohesive. Interviewing family acquaintances from the 80s and 90s, people with many different relationships to my family, all produces just one opinion. They struck everyone the same way: extremely opinionated, religious and proselytizing, isolating and isolated. Frankly, they left a bad taste in the mouth. People were disgusted them. The general opinion was, “Well, if that’s Christianity, then somebody goofed.”

What emerges is the formation of not a family unit…but a cult. Just as I’ve always said. People ask me, “What cult were you in?”. I respond, “It doesn’t have a name. Nor are its tenets off-the-wall. The family unit behaved less like a family and exactly like a cult.”

Unfortunately, I realize that many of you, Dear Readers, are children of narcissists who had that charm thing down pat. I’ve read your stories. Your parents’ friends and acquaintances shame you (the scapegoat) for not being the perfectly happy, grateful child such “wunnerful, wunnerful” parents deserve. You are always the Bad Guy. The Ungrateful Children of Angelic Parents-who-could-do-no-wrong whose children sadly rebelled with absolutely no provocation, tsk, tsk.

That’s the only reason I hesitate to gun-ho suggest Interviews as a healing step. It can backfire so horribly! And I don’t want you to be hurt more than you already are.

Like I said, I got lucky. The validation was tangible. I could almost taste it.

Being an only child with no extended family on speaking terms, I had no second pair of eyes. No confirmation that, “No, you’re not crazy. That actually happened. Your parents are X, Y, Z.” So when I started this journey in 2013, I had to embrace the evidence of my intuition, my eyes, my ears and my memory that I’d been taught and gaslighted to doubt and shamed into ignoring. It took all my courage.

Suddenly, six years later, there are other people, many other people, who are validating me. I’m not crazy! I didn’t imagine it! In fact, it was even worse than I thought. Their memories fill in the gaps. Give me perspective from the outside.

Perhaps it was the loss of his first wife. Perhaps it was the power he found in his new religion. What emerges from the interviews is the impression of a man carefully, systematically, even blatantly in-your-face isolating his new wife. Everyone I’ve spoken to is quick to point this out.

He couldn’t have chosen better for his second matrimonial choice. The daughter of a narcissist. Timid. Shy. Wounded. Passive to the point of raising red flags in the minds of those who observed her submitting to the isolation. The worst part is, she was made complicit in her own isolation. She may have “made the decision” that no one was, apparently, good enough to be her friend but I assume he did the brainwashing.

I was too little to notice these things. Just a babe in arms. But I do remember being five-years-old and being carefully taught that mothers who work outside the home are disobeying the Bible. I seem to remember this being the “reason” the friendship with a nearby lady was terminated. Apparently, only “perfect” people could be our friends. And there weren’t any.

The isolation was almost complete by the time I entered school. Having proselytized to everyone we knew, good God-fearing people who I was taught were destinated straight for Hell, my family spent the rest of the 80s immersed in trying to converting the rest of the world or at least gain political control! The Moral Majority was tailor-made to exploit people like us, as I wrote about in my article Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment and Weird Tangents.

We pick up the tale in the late 90s. Having become disillusioned with politics and church, we were living in near complete isolation. Our family in shreds, our mental health in ribbons. Not a great jumping off place to start my adulthood. But it was even worse than I thought as another kind acquaintance tells me that when they asked Teenage Lenora a question, my father instantly answered for me.

“We all wondered when you would rebel,” the interviewee told me. Perhaps the most healing words I’ve heard for years.

Everyone knew it would happen. No one approved of the overbearing narcissistic child-rearing techniques that treat you like a blank doll to be created from scratch, not a lovely person to be discovered.

Albert Einstein reportedly said that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If so, then narcissism is a kind of lite insanity. Mine employed child-rearing techiques that everyone knew would result in rebellion, but their ego led them to expect a different result.

Well, the rebellion took awhile…but I finally got there.

This article is a huge, heartfelt “THANK YOU” to the kind souls who were willing to talk to me despite the shudder that must run up their spine when they see my maiden name. They were kind enough and patient enough and curious enough to talk to a girl who had no voice, no friends, no normalcy.

And they changed my life.

The guilt is gone. The isolation is gone. Now I’m on the outside, like them, and I’m among friends. Friends who’ve known me all my life and treat me much better than my family ever did.

Thank you!

Photo by M.a.t.t.i.a

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“How did you survive,” I was recently asked by a friend, “without killing yourself.” My jaw dropped open in that way that makes you look incredibly unintelligent.

“Ah…hmmm…….ummmm…I’ll get back to you on that.”

In recovery (oh! how I hate that word!), it’s vital to tell others what we endured. We may not realize just how shocking and extreme the abuse we experienced really was because we have no normal to give us perspective. We need their outrage to help us see the abuse starkly and honestly so we realize just how bad it was.

Many people don’t survive what you and I bore. They are the silent witnesses to a hard fact: narcissistic/cult abuse kills….but a narcissist is usually too clever to actually get their hands bloody. Oh, no. They simply drive their victim to hopelessness, wreaking so much pain that the victim blames themselves for, that they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex…any tool to anesthetize the agony. Their tools eventually kill them or maybe they hurry the process through suicide.

Then their narcissist wrings their hands at the funeral, basking in every moment of bereaved glory when they drove the Dearly Departed to an early grave. Their hands are red with invisible blood.

But for us, the survivors…how did we do it!?! It took me a couple weeks to really hone in on how I survived but first, a little disclaimer: These are not healthy coping mechanisms. They got me through. Now they’re biting me in the ass. But, back in the day, they kept me alive.

Faith

I was cult brainwashed and I was stupid. I believed the lie that it was somehow God’s Will for me to be protected by my Daddy until my husband came along (little hope of that!) to take over the reins of “protection” aka control. I kept telling myself that if I just held on and did the “right thing” now, that God would someday reward my obedience.

I may’ve been stupid, but apparently my faith was well placed. God worked a miracle when my narcissists “allowed” me to leave. Then He worked another miracle in matching up my husband and I on the cheesiest free online dating site. I’d like to think God honored my faith and redeemed my stupidity by giving me everything my little heart desired. Things most people take foregranted because they are so normal: A house, a husband, a bit of soil for a garden and dogs. That’s all I ever wanted. I recently told a friend, “I’m just crazy about sheetrock.” That’s why!

Luck

We’re all born with different brains. All I know is, mine just isn’t the type that breaks. It feels like rubber. It stretches but never quite snaps. That’s just luck. But when all Hell broke loose in 1995, my mind did very nearly shatter. The only thing that maintained my sanity was…

OCD

OCD is not a problem per se, in my opinion. OCD is a servant. It’s a stress relief, like smoking a cigarette. But, like smoking, OCD can become harmful if it becomes your master and becomes self-destructive.

OCD kept me from breaking. If I hadn’t picked at my skin as a teen, yes, my brain would have shattered. Probably some kind of nervous breakdown. OCD was my savior. By squeezing the yuck out of my pores, symbolically I was squeezing the yuck out of my life. It gave me a sense of control in a crazy life over which I had zero control, zero choices, zero freedom and no escape. The only thing I could control was my body, my skin…and the narcissists even tried to take that away by confiscating my make-up and forbidding me from touching my own face when I was 18.

That’s why to this day I’m grateful for OCD. It’s a good servant, but a bad master. When I didn’t need OCD anymore, when I physically moved 300 miles from my narcissists, when I stopped wearing any skin make-up, when I stopped worrying about having OCD and feeding it with attention, it just kinda’ went away. It thrived on attention; I starved it into submission.

Cognitive Dissonance

I lied to myself. That’s how I survived. I lied to me. Oh, it was easy. All I had to do was believe the load of tripe I was being brainwashed with by my abusers. I chose to operate as if the brainwashing was true. But always, far back in my mind, I knew there was another narrative: the actual truth.

As a child I survived by living in my imagination. I lived in there for twelve years and never came out. My imaginary world was calm and elevated. Reality was boring punctuated horrible moments when Dad raged. My imagination was a much happier place to live.

Of course, now I allow myself to fully realize what I always knew was going on in my family. If I’d acknowledged it sooner, I would probably have left, fled in disgust, much sooner.

Gratitude

When you’re forced into the Hell of being happy, happy, happy all the time, you learn to look for things that actually do make you happy. You learn to be grateful for the smallest things.

A tiny patch of blue sky. A perfectly poufy cumulus cloud. A frog clinging to your screendoor. A turkey admiring its reflection in your office window. A toe-tapping fiddle tune. Buying yourself just one carnation every week. A kindness from a stranger, a laugh, a shared comment in the grocery store. I was required to be perpetually “happy” so I learned to focus on anything and everything that was happy and pure and good.

Looking Forward

When you’re stuck, when life seems hopeless, when there’s no way out, there’s always something to look forward to, even if it’s just Lunch.

As a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, I was allowed enough outings to shut me up. I rarely pushed the envelope. When you’re an adult woman, you don’t want to ask Daddy and Mommy’s permission to go somewhere, to beg them to drive you because their rules made driving myself in my car verboden. It was against my principles to so abase myself. So I settled for the pre-approved outings that required no discussion, no permission, no transportation.

From December til March, I looked forward to the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association’s Winter Weekend. Three days of nonstop jamming. From March til June, I looked forward to going to the Old Log Theater. And from June til November, I looked forward to MBOTMA’s Harvest Weekend, three more days of jamming. On weekends, there were jams during daylight hours and I tried to make it to those too. It helped to keep my spirits up.

Looking forward kept me alive. There is always something to look forward to even if it’s just Lunch.

Hope

There’s an old saying Yorkshire farmers say when a farm animal is very sick: “Aye, while there’s life, there’s ‘ope.”

Are you alive? Then there’s ‘ope!

I kept my soul alive by hoping. They said I could go if Mr. Right came along. So I hoped and hoped and hoped. I put all my hopes and dreams on that seemingly unlikely event.

And I was right. It was impossible while I lived with them.

But hope and faith kept me alive.

Bloody Mindedness

But, finally, I’ll be honest, in 2011 I did lose my will to live. Oh, I wasn’t going to off myself. But too many bad things happened at once.

It was Winter. I had S.A.D. I was depressed. I got publicly dumped by a co-worker I was semi-romantically involved with. And, to add insult to injury, my narcissists devised a brand new set of rules that affected only me. I felt like I was being punished for going to work to earn the rent money they required. Many times I just sat in their basement, head in hands, saying over and over to myself, “Don’t exist. Don’t exist. Don’t exist.” Seemed like if my self ceased to exist with all her pesky hopes and dreams, all my problems and clashes with the narcissists would go away.

But I just plodded on through sheer bloody mindedness. I just kept going. That’s what you’ve got to do. Suicide is NOT an option. Don’t think about it. Just keep going!

And maybe the unthinkable will happen for you too. You’re reading this article, aren’t you!? Your narcissists would never allow it! You’ve already done the unthinkable. You’ve figured them out. The most unlikely thing…but you did it! You’re over the Age of Emancipation. You are free!

If you’re clever enough to figure them out and thus escape their mental clutches, then you’re also clever enough to escape their physical clutches. There’s the police, domestic abuse shelters, cult survivors groups. Or just pack a bag, climb out the window and gooooooooooo! That’s what my husband did! God always provided. Once, Michael found a fresh, still-warm Subway sandwich laying next to his head on the park bench where he slept when he was homeless. He talks about that blessing to this day.

Don’t worry too much about money. You’re smart and you’ll figure it out. And I bet, like my coworkers, there are people who know you and like you and will be more than happy to welcome you into their home while you get your feet under you.

Just one more thing: Never, ever go back to narcissists!

Cosmos flower grown and photographed by the author.

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Like most of you, I fantasize about the “good old days.” Ladies fashions, hair and make-up were so gorgeous in the 1940s ad 50s, I long to live back then. Most men I’ve known wish they’d lived either in the Wild, Wild West or in the 1920s with a flask of hooch in the pocket of their snappy pinstripe suit.

Oh, I know the peace and all-togetherness the past projects never really existed. Yesteryear was harsh and uncomfortable (girdles!) with plenty of its own scandals, poverty and wars. There were narcissists back then too, but it’s still fascinating to watch “How You Should Live” films from the 1950s. There are films about good habits, politeness, dating, marriage, cleanliness, hair care, make-up and how to have a good family life.

In the first Family Life film, what jumped off the screen and slapped me upside-the-head was how the children were equals in the family. Part of the core, the nucleus, not merely valance electrons circling sadly, outside and excluded. But I laughed it off. Maybe it was a fluke. After all, we’ve been told how disgustingly patriarchal and misogynistic the 1950s were.

Family Life (1949) - YouTube

But when the second Family Life film again portrayed the children as equals to the parents, core members in the nucleus of the family…! No, this was a thing…a thing I’ve never quite experienced.

Obligations (1950) - YouTube

The 1950s family was portrayed not as parents vs kids, Us vs Them nor as Male Dictator Lording it Over Cowering Voiceless Peons. It was a cohesive whole. Everyone was on the inside, in the know, in the nucleus. Everyone had a voice. Everyone was listened to and their suggestions respectfully considered. Everyone had equal responsibilities and thus equal privileges. The 1950s family, idealized on film, was an organism that swam or sunk together as equals in every way. (At this point I nearly fainted dead away. The shock!)

It wasn’t the parents’ house. It was everyone’s house. This meant the children had responsibilities and pride in keeping up their house. In exchange, they got to enjoy their house by entertaining and having friends over.

The same went for the car. It wasn’t the parents’ car. It was the whole family’s car. The teenage son in the film was responsible for cleaning and upkeep of his car which in return he used on Saturday night to drive his date to the movies.

I think back to my teens and twenties with some shame. I wasn’t the best Citizen about refilling the ice cube tray and suchlike and apologized to my mother in 2011 for that. But then again, I was never an equal Citizen and it was never my house/home in any sense of the term.

But I’m not unique. All we children of narcissists will snort with derision at the concept of being Equals to our parents. That was never happening. “Everything that goes wrong around this house is always ‘my fault’,” I once complained to my mother. She smirked and agreed. From plugged drains to stains on the rug…Blame! It Must be Assigned!…to me!

The same was true of Michael growing up in an alcoholic home. Whenever his father misplaced anything, which was constant in his drunken state, Michael was always blamed. “That little sonofabitch stole it,” was the frequent refrain. The reality was and is, of course, exactly the opposite. I could a tale unfold! (Michael still talks about being shocked when he was allowed to visit friends and saw how kindly those families treated each other. He thought they were putting on a show. Pretending to be Leave It To Beaver. That’s how cruel and vicious his home life was.)

Just like cults present an Us-vs-Them relationship between the cult and the outside world, so to do narcissistic families have Us (the narcs + Golden Child) and Them (the non-narc spouse, scapegoats, other children.) The narcissists  et al are at the nucleus. You are just a lonely little valance electron grasping at whatever family information they may decide you are allowed to know.

I believe one teling sign of being Them is when Us withold family information from you. The exact phrase used is, “We weren’t going to tell you, but … ” Or sometimes, they just don’t tell you at all!

I’ll never forget coming home from 2nd grade and finding my parents talking about, “Going to the hospital.” I was confused and alarmed. Why were we going to the hospital!? They’d completely forgotten to tell me that Grandpa’d had a heart attack.

Again when I was fifteen, my parents were talking over lunch one day about someone called “Stella.” Stella, Stella, Stella. Who the heck is Stella? With no cushion or ado I was bluntly told, “Your grandmother’s sister.” Freaky! As far as I knew Grandma only had one sister and she’d died in 1962.  Apparently, Great-Grandpa had another family but it never occurred to Us (parents) to break the news gently to Them (me!). I’ll never forget the horrific tension headache I got that day! Sadly, we never really acknowledged nor met Stella who was a very talented artist and so excited to finally have two new brothers and a new sister in her late 70s.

Yet another sign is when Us talks about Them right in front of Them’s face in the 3rd person. How well I remember being discussed as though I wasn’t even present. As if I didn’t exist! What struck me forcefully is that they didn’t talk about “Lenora.” They talked about “she.” She, she, she, she, she, she. Even as a “stupid kid,” it made me very angry. I was never a person to them; I was merely a Project.

What if we tried running our families like the 1950s? Oh, I know it’s idealistic, romanticized and theoretical, like Barney Fife’s “perfect child” but let’s try on the idea for size.

Instead of angry teenagers who feel like their parents are disgusted by them, what about Young Adults who Are Respected Equals in the Family. Dad looks his son in the eye and treats him like a fellow man. Mother looks her daughter in the eye and treats her like a woman. You take responsibility, you get the privileges that come with it. It’s not The Parent’s house. It’s everybody’s house to enjoy. To me, that thought is so novel I have to sit right down and catch my breath!

The 1950s may’ve spawned a lot of narcissists but maybe they had the family thing right, at least, on paper. A cohesive whole. No one excluded. No one more equal than the others. Everyone included pulling together toward one goal: a happy, enjoyable life together.

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Today I’m going to tell you about something I call the Duggar Effect. It’s about two groups of people caught in the same cult and how each group reacts. Anybody who has ever been in a cult or a cult-like denomination, church or family will surely relate.

This article just happens to be named after the Duggar family of the Quiverful “movement,” mostly because we all know them from their show 19 Kids and Counting. But it could be about anyone in any cult.

It seems to me, that in any cult there are two groups of people. The first group, Group #1, are like the Duggars: perfectly-perfect. They’re just so, so happy all the time. They love the leaders, the doctrine, the clothes, the rules. Their marriage is perfect as you can see from their big smiles (teeth only; the smile never reaches their eyes) and whispery voices. Their children sport toothy grins, ask Jesus into their hearts right on schedule, meet Mr. or Miss Right immediately after High School and live happily ever after. No one is ever angry. For Pete’s sake, the kids don’t even have acne! Perfectly-perfect.

Group #2 is pissed off as Hell. They’re mad! They’ve had it “up to here” and they’re determined to blow the roof off the cult and expose all it’s ugliness, secrets, abuse, scandals, sexual abuse and hypocrisy to the world.

They’re depressed, struggling, attending therapy, many have attempted suicide. And they’ve got acne. Absolutely nothing is perfectly-perfect about them and they just can’t understand Group #1.

Same cult. Same leader. Same rules. So what went so terribly wrong with Group #2? I want to know because I’m in Group #2.

There are those who went through the same “Christian” school I did and appear to have turned out perfectly-perfect. Just like me, they asked Jesus into their heart when they were three years old, right on schedule, but for them they claim a rock-solid Eternal Assurance I would never dare to claim.

They married young. Got the right degree from the right elite private college. Joined or married into the ministry (the only career path ever presented to us as acceptable). Had exactly 2.63946 children who play piano, get perfect grades and don’t have acne. They’re Group #1.

Then there’s the rest of us: Group #2. In my previous article, I referred to us as “trainwrecks” and a “hot mess” and no one seemed to object (except those in Group #1 who resented being lumped in too.)

Personally, I’m just a little jealous of Group #1 people. This is what I call The Duggar Effect. Their story was supposed to be mine. Over and over I ask myself what I did so wrong. I tried. I tried so hard to do everything right so I’d have a Duggaresque happy-happy-perfect-perfect life but everything went terribly wrong. I didn’t end up in Group #1.

No, I’m solidly in Group #2. Hurting, wounded, angry, disillusioned, disgusted and pissed off as Hell. I never had acne; I had dermatillomania.

So what went so right for them and so wrong for me?

Am I even asking the right question?

What bugs me most is…Group #1 doesn’t seem to have the fire in their belly to whistleblow on our cult/school. Maybe they don’t know what happened there. Maybe they don’t want to know. I didn’t know til twenty years later and what I found out made me so blistering mad I had to speak out. A lot of my fellow alumni responded with “At last!”

So here’s my question for Group #1: “You too were raised in a school that swept grooming, physical abuse, adultery, rape and God-knows-what-else under the carpet and you’re ‘fine’? Who straightened you out? Or don’t you need it? Doesn’t it screw you up inside that you sat through Chapel after Chapel where hypocrites shamed and guilted us from the pulpit. Maybe you weren’t listening. I was…and I loathe how I allowed those people to make me feel badly about myself.”

Y’know what I’d like to see in Group #1? Outrage! I’d like to see them reaching out to help the victims of grooming, of rape, of physical abuse, of racism. Me? I slipped under the radar and my anger is mostly idealistic. Nothing particular was done to me; I’m angry on behalf of those who had things done to them. But no more shame. For the Love of Mercy, no more shame! That’s why the victims stayed silent about the abuse until the Statue of Limitations came and went.

Or are you, Group #1, so far in denial that you’re too scared to face the truth? Would it bring your house of cards tumbling down ’round your ears? Don’t you have the courage to face the truth as Group #2 has courageously done? Sure it hurts.

Perhaps Group #1 is putting the guilty parties into compartments. What was done was not done in a vacuum. So we shouldn’t deal with it in a vacuum. All the adults kept mum so all are implicated in the coverup. Not one of them had the balls to do the right thing. And the guilty parties’ repentance and remorse, if there even is any, shouldn’t be in a vacuum either. That is why I have contacted our old school requesting a formal, public apology. It’s the least they can do.

Perhaps we should take a leaf from our Catholic brothers and sisters. They’ve been blowing the lid off abuse for years and I admire them tremendously. Somehow Protestant victims haven’t caught up to their papist friends in blowing the whistle loud and clear. Waz up with that? Just this past February, the Houston Chronicle wrote about hundreds of covered-up cases of abuse down South. What about up here?

If you’re thinking you’re somehow protecting the “cause of Christ” by staying silent, you’re not! You’re only protecting the “Pharisees.” People respect Christians who are honest. They loath the ones that cover-up scandal.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. I’m just waiting for that public apology. We’ll see if those who preached humility, can practice it as well.

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My graduating class is a trainwreck, Mr. Principal, and you’re responsible.

Well, that’s a little harsh, a little unfair. But there’s a lot of truth in it. You pretended to run a Christian School. It was nothing of the sort and you knew it! You took our parents’ tuition money under false pretenses. Or maybe that’s why our parents sent us there. Many of them were fake narcissistic so-called Christians too and your thick handbook of extreme rules appealed to their need to suppress, oppress, project-upon, guilt and shame their innocent children just like you did.

There’s an old cliché: Water will find its own level. Considering the swamp mud you attracted to your school…!

I’ll never forget that day in Chapel. You, Mr. Principal, were preaching. You told us your wife said, “Why don’t you just go out there and tell them they’re good kids.”

You smiled condescendingly down at us, paused for dramatic effect and said you couldn’t do that. One thing you took objection to was our “bad language.” I never heard even one classmate say “damn.” But by the time your sermon was over, we couldn’t even say “nuts” to express frustration. That was the level of so-called righteousness you held us to.

Meanwhile, two members of the staff, married men no less, were having sex with the young female students and you knew it! You knew of at least one incident.

You covered it up.

You specifically ordered the student body not to talk amongst themselves about “it.” I found out twenty years later that “it” was adultery followed by a speedy annulment and the two guilty parties tying the knot.

But we kids were the bad ones!?! We carry a burden of guilt and shame through life, feeling ourselves bad Christians, never able to meet the extreme standards you set for us.

It doesn’t give me pleasure to write this but it needs to be said for the sake of my classmates. I don’t hate you, Mr. Principal, and I don’t hate the school. But oh! how I hate the hypocrisy of you and some of your staff and the havoc you wreak on our souls to this day.

What about those teachers you hired, eh?

What about the teacher who spanked, taped and tied up a student? I was nine-years-old and I watched her do it.

Oh, there was a hubbub for awhile. She disappeared for a respectable length of time, but after the dust settled, you hired her back. Put her in the classroom with little children again. I met her twenty years after the original incident. Ran into her in the Ladies Restroom. She was telling the women in the bathroom which stalls they could and could not use. Queen of the Shitter, I guess. That was her level. Any idiot could tell exactly the type of woman she was. How did you miss that?

How did you miss the vibes from all the creepy teachers you hired? Any kid could’ve told you which were the good ones and which were the creeps. It was obvious to anyone with a spark of intuition, except you.

Come to think of it, all the new teachers you hired were creeps. We teenage girls went through High School with our arms wrapped across our chests because the male teachers made eye contact not with our faces, but with our breasts. Good “Christian” men they were! Those detention-worthy Handbook Rules that mandated high-high necklines and low-low hemlines did nothing to protect us!

Twenty years later, the truth is coming out. There were porn addicts. Men who beat their wives. Men who tried to peek up skirts. Men who threatened to kill their families. Rageaoholics. Men who cheated on their wives. That’s the type of teachers whom you attracted to your so-called “Christian” school. Those are the ones you hired. Narcissists, just like you, using religion as a costume to hide who you really were.

Swamp water will find it’s own level.

But any kid could’ve told you that. We loathed those creeps but we didn’t know why. Now we know! The truth is out.

You were supposed to have Godly discernment. You were supposed to protect us. If we were supposed to adhere to that much-hated handbook of rules for conduct, clothes, hairstyles, music then certainly you should’ve held yourself to an even higher standard as the giver of the rules.

But you didn’t.

We were sent to Christian school to avoid all that stuff. Our parents sacrificed, worked, scrimped and saved to afford the tuition to protect us from the “evils” of public school. At least in public school, which we were told was “godless,” scandals like that wouldn’t have surprised us. Because it happened under a roof topped with the Cross, it screwed us up in the head! I never could wrap my head around hypocrisy and I still can’t. Yet you remain unbowed.

So here we all are, twenty years later, FUBAR. Oh, I’m sorry, you’re too righteous to know that military abbreviation so I’ll translate it for you: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Of the couples in my graduating class who met in High School and married, almost all of them are divorced. Well, that’s strange. After all, divorce was taboo! You could blame it on young love not lasting or maybe we tended to marry each other because we were so similar. No one else was screwed up in the head quite like we were. It was like growing up in an isolated insular cult. Of course we married each other! Maybe that similarity is also what tore the couples apart.

Twenty years later, most of the class is on anti-depressants and in therapy. Suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD. Bent under shame. Riddled with guilt. We just don’t know what we did that was that bad but it had to be something. Take a bow, Mr. Principal. Take a bow!

One thing is for sure: we’re not “Christians” in the same mold as you and the teachers you hired and harbored.

Surprisingly, few of us have turned our back on the faith. We cling to the Cross, but wouldn’t be surprised if we end up in Hell. Meanwhile you thump the Bible and praise the Lord with your head held high. Jesus told a parable, something about the sinner groveling in the corner while the Pharisee flaunts his religiousity on a street corner. Sounds very familiar.

When we, the survivors of your school, worship God it’s in a way that is so brutally honest, so stark, so raw that it doesn’t look much like your version of Christianity.

When we clasp our hands in prayer, our hands and arms are probably tattooed.

When we relax on Friday night, it’s probably with a can of beer or a glass of wine.

The girls’ necklines may be more than three-fingers-width below the collar bone (tsk! tsk!) and the boys’ hair might (horrors!) touch the top of their ears.

And when we worship, it may be with music that has, gasp! an evil beat driven by gasp! one of those evil drum sets.

In other words, we don’t make a show of our Christianity. We don’t holler a loud “Amen” after every sentence in the sermon to demonstrate our righteousness. That’s Pharisee stuff. That’s hypocritical. We knew it as teens. We cast sidelong glances at each other in Chapel as if to say, “What’s our teacher trying to prove with all that Amening anyways?”

We do our worshiping in secret, bent with guilt for…what? Mostly for not being like you, so self-righteous, confident and condescending. You and your merry throng of hypocritical, porn-addicted, wife-beating adulterers. Most of them have moved on to new careers and new institutions, but everybody’s still in the ministry. Gag me with a spoon!

To be fair, there were a few wonderful teachers who lived their Christianity so loudly, they didn’t have to pound the Bible. They didn’t ravage our souls. They wooed us to God with their love and kindness and laughter. We’ll never forget them. There are no bad stories about them. We will love them forever as they loved us.

Well, twenty years have passed now and my graduating class and I are a hot mess. A trainwreck.

But I’d like to think we have something that was never modeled for us at school: Humility and Honesty. (We also know how to use semi-colons properly; thank you for that.)

In that way, we turned out well. But we turned out well not because of you, Mr. Principal, but in spite of you.

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Yesterday, I piled all my clothes on the bed and looked at them. They were second-hand, old, shapeless, stained from cooking and yellowed from much washing in hard water. I felt like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday when she stands on her bed and says drunkenly, “I hate this nightgown. I hate all my nightgowns. And I hate all my underwear too.”

“Get some new clothes,” Michael encouraged me. I expected it to be a delightful (and slightly frustrating) search online. It turned out to be extremely cathartic and wonderfully healing as well.

Like you, my wardrobe has always been controlled by my narcissists. Wow!  Deep breath. Sorry. Such an emotional topic!

I know I’m not alone! I’ve heard your horror stories. Narcissistic mothers who forced their daughters to wear clothes much beyond their years. Matronly, heavy, hot, shapeless, uncomfortable hand-me-downs.

On the other end of the spectrum, are narcissistic mothers who force their daughters to wear immature or worse, inappropriate, two-sizes-too-small, even “slutty” clothes. Like the topic of “narcissists and food,”  the topic of “narcissists and clothes,” is fraught with the most outrageous stories of weirdness, neglect, meanness, shame and abuse.

The mother/daughter relationship is difficult enough, even if you have the same sartorial sense. Unfortunately, like so many other mothers and daughters, my mother and I never liked the same clothes.

Mom’s style is best described as gypsy-peasant-girl-boho-tent paired with sensible shoes. Naturally, she dressed me in the same way.

There was that blue-and-red patchwork boho dress in fifth grade I disliked. The blood red blouses Dad insisted I wear for professional pictures. (I hate red!) The ubiquitous white blouse on the first day of school each year. (I hate wearing white.) And the but-Grandma-bought-it-so-you-have-to-wear-it green outfit that was a bit too tight, so I was forced to wear a hot, heavy sweater over it all day at school. (I loathe sweaters!)

I wore it all with sensible, lace-up shoes. The word “Granny shoes” comes to mind. Or worse, those brown “shit kickers” I wore to school with my skirts in 10th grade and those horrible velcro shoes Dad insisted I wear to High School gym class. That I didn’t get bullied unmercifully is a real testament to the kindness of my classmates.

Me? Oh, my style is much different! If Mom is of the 1960s, I am of the 1940s and 1950s. I love the look of fitted bodices, peplums, sweetheart necklines. The Rockabilly style in pinks, lavenders, green florals and polka dots delights my soul. Corsets fascinate me. Sometimes I put in pin curls. I salivate over shoes.

Puberty made the subject of clothing worse, But then again, puberty seems to make everything worse, doesn’t it, especially in a narcissistic family.

This is where body shaming enters our story. Perhaps some girls are delighted when their bosom develops. I was horrified. If sex was shameful, having to wear these two obvious, protruding symbols of sexuality on my front for everyone to see was mortifying. Like other girls in my class, I developed a helluva hunch to disguise them. I was so ashamed, a shame exacerbated by what I was taught about clothes.

There’s a fine line between modesty and shame. At home, at school, like so many women in cults, we girls were taught that the sight of the luscious feminine curves of our body were a stumbling block to men. It felt that there was something inherently evil with the flesh in which we lived. Something wicked about a peek of cleavage, a hint of bosom, the curve of hips. It was our duty to remove that stumbling block to the best of our abilities.

You’ve heard of haute couture? We wore haute tent.

Our blouses were baggy and shapeless. Stiff, stabilized fabrics if possible.  Untailored. Long. High necklines. Pockets over the chest. Those clothes met with approval.

Does that sound Rockabilly to you!?! Does it even sound beautiful!?! I think not!

For me, the whole narcissistic-control-of-wardrobe came to a head when I was twenty-one and dress shopping with my mother. My friend, Jolene, was getting married and, as usual, I didn’t have a thing to wear to her wedding.

There it was. The perfect outfit. A black suit. Straight skirt. Jacket with peplum. It was modest, classy and fit like a dream. Best of all, it made my high wide hips…where were they!?! It honored my figure and made me feeling beautiful for the first time!

My mother took one look at it in the fitting room and said, and I quote verbatim, “You can’t have that. It looks too good on you.”

That should’ve been my clue, right there. She didn’t exactly beat around the bush! Just said it outright. She didn’t want me to look good. She didn’t want me to look attractive. Pretty, yes. But not womanly. Not alluring. Not attractive.

So I toddled off to that wedding in an ill-fitting, figure-disguising, pounds-adding, synthetic, uncomfortable hateful bright-yellow-with-big-red-flowers dress that was Mother Approved. Far from looking too good, I looked hideous and felt worse. Needless to say, no groomsman asked me for a date…so I guess the dress worked perfectly.

A few years later, an incident occurred that further enforced that no neckline is ever high enough. I was wearing a t-shirt cut to the base of the neck under a stabilized fabric tent shirt. If the t-shirt had been cut any higher, it wouldn’t been a turtleneck, but Mother still wasn’t pleased. “It gaps when you bend over,” she complained. “So I’ll put my hand there when I bend over,” I explained, patiently.

Make-up was another minefield. “It should only accentuate your natural beauty,” I was taught. “No one should be able to see that you’re wearing it.” What is this, the Edwardian era!?! I don’t know about you, but I’ve always considered make-up to be stage make-up. It tells a story! If I put forth the effort to wear it, you sure as heck are going to know it!

Shoes were another minefield. I love heels (although they don’t love me!) but Mother always disapproved. Every time I brought another haul of shoes home from Payless, I was always met with the question: “Are they comfortable?” As if it wouldn’t occur to me otherwise. In time, I learned to say, “Good enough.” We agreed to disagree.

She picked her battles. We silently compromised about shoes, but not so lingerie! That was another battleground where I lost after the first skirmish.

I was in my late twenties when, quite in passing, I made the grievous error of saying, “I wish had cute, sexy lingerie.” I should’ve known better. Mother hated the word “sexy” and always spat it out with venom.

“Why!?” Mom snapped. “Who ya want to show it to?” Slut shamed again! Wow! I just never see it coming!

She seemed to think that a tiny satin bow on a bra was decoration enough for a woman. I had a bow on my kindergarten undershirts. Now, I wanted something more! She seemed to think that she was making a big concession allowing me to wear the stiff sweater bras I wore for modesty. (Not exactly Wonder bras!)

Like so many times before and since, I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t defend myself! I allowed her to clairvoyantly tell me what I was supposedly thinking instead of knowing my own mind. Now I look back and I know exactly what I should have said., “Mom, y’know who I want to show? I want to show me! I want to feel sexy about me. That’s my right as a woman and you won’t steal it from me anymore!”

So it was that in 2011 I found myself clinging to a clothesrack in the J. C. Penney’s Women’s Department for physical support. I was hyperventilating. Adrenalin was shooting through my system. I was thirty-one years old and this was my first time buying clothes without having Mother looking over my shoulder, literally or figuratively. I didn’t have to put on a fashion show when I got home. She didn’t have the right of first disapproval.

I could have any clothes I wanted! I was so excited I could hardly stand myself! Deep breath!

So I grabbed everything. It was actually difficult, but I forced myself beyond my wardrobe brainwashing. I grabbed the tight. The fitted. The low. The clingy. The sheer. I tried sexy lingerie. Foundation garments. Dresses. Skinny jeans. Even those evil things, swimsuits!

I walked out of there with a whole wardrobe, but more importantly, I was a whole new woman! No longer was I ashamed of how I looked, embarrassed to walk into a meeting room filled with well-dressed women. Gone was the baggy, the stiff, the shapeless, the haute tent. No longer did I hate my wardrobe and loath the sight of my closet. For the first time in my life, I was one of those well-dressed women!

Instead of tents I was clad in soft flowing sheer blouses (over a camisole) with asymmetrical handkerchief hemlines and sequins. They followed my curves with style! I wasn’t hiding my figure in shame anymore. I was celebrating it! Getting dressed in the morning was fun now! I took great care of my clothes and reveled in looking good to my eyes for the first time ever.

But now, thanks to retailers finally realizing they were missing out on the billion-dollar market we plus-size, curvy, big beautiful women would love to give them in exchange for great clothes, finally I’m going to be able to honor my lifelong fascination with the 1940s and 50s.

There are hundreds of sites out there with fantastic clothes for us! Even just looking at the models is cathartic. They are big beautiful women with luscious curves and drop-down-dead-gorgeous faces! And they’re not hiding anything! They’re celebrating everything the Good Lord gave them..and how!

As for me, I’m done being ashamed of my body, feeling it’s somehow inherently immoral to have curves, hiding them under a tent. I’ve worked hard to have this body. It’s served me well.

When people look at us, they need to see us. Not the cursory glance your doctor gives you before assuming you’re unhealthy for being so-called fat and suggesting a gastric bypass. Look at me, Doctor. No. Stop typing the appointment notes. Really look at me!

Now watch, while I turn my head. Do you see that? Those huge superclavicular fat deposits that pop out. I’ve got a matching set! That’s from undiagnosed hypothryoidism. You didn’t notice that when you wrote me off as fat. Look again. Do you see that dark ring around my neck? That’s acanthosis nigricans. It’s from insulin resistance. But you didn’t notice that either.

Now look down. See that big tummy? Those big hips? I comfort ate my way through the Hell of narcissistic abuse and I survived! Eating was the only thing I had to look forward to during my twenties. I lived for every meal, every Dorito, every bowl of mint ice cream. My curves are testaments to survival! I feel great and you’re not going to try to improve on my perfectly-functioning stomach by rewiring it! (As if you can improve on God, pfffttt!)

We only have one life and damn it! Life’s too short to allow narcissists to force you to wear clothes you hate, to shame you into styles you loathe. Clothes cost money! We may as well spend it on styles we actually like! Me? I’m going to be the clotheshorse I’ve always want to be come Hell or high water.

Ladies, don’t let your narcissistic, jealous mother shame you anymore! Let’s show ’em just how glamorous, beautiful and sexy we can be! After all, that’s what they were afraid of, right?

Go get ’em, Girl! ;D

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Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park? We spent part of our honeymoon there and were fascinated by the bubbling mud pots. They burble and bubble and then blop! The mudpot finally vomits up a great big glop of steaming muck.

This article was born like that. There was something, something, about narcissism hidden at the back of my bubbling, burbling mind but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then blop! Finally it was vomited out: Narcissists’ Shocking Lack of Discernment which informs their tendency to go spinning off on “unusual” tangents.

These are mature adults. Well-educated. Successful. Wealthy. Deeply religious. Yet they don’t have the discernment God gave a goose. They don’t have the normalcy and common sense of a preschooler.

The date was Good Friday 2014. It’s a date I will never forget as it illustrated narcissists’ lack of discernment brilliantly.The peace of Good Friday was shattered when a police officer banged on my door, wanting to know if I was okay. My narcissistic granny had sent him. After years of being traumatized and held against my will, now she thought I was being abused post-escape!?! All I could think was, in the words of Red Skelton, “I don’t need you now!”. You’re twenty years too late.

Narcissists are consistent in getting the wrong end of the stick. They may be the highly-educated but they don’t have the common sense God gave a preschooler. Even as a child, I wondered why my adults were blind or even worse, spouted brainwashing nonsense to convince me that my crystal-clear discernment was wrong, particularly about them!

Narcissists only see what they want to see. In a cult, they may see the possibility of being elite, powerful, “better than” and loved. Their needs make them the perfect dupes to fall for every new tangent, every new cult, every new movement-with-a-cause, every new {fill-in-the-blank.} Their ego needs Us vs Them. Normalcy is too pedestrian, too bourgeois for them!

They’re always going off on tangents! Always trying something new, something better. They dive headfirst into things that give normal people the willies and then try to persuade everyone in their sphere to join in as well. That was how my narcissists lived. It all started in 1979 when my father supposedly saw a vision of Christ on the Cross and supposedly was born again.

It was the perfect time for a narcissist to become religious. Coming off of the cult-prone 1960s, the powerful wave of the Moral Majority of the 1970s and 1980s was tailormade for everyone who wanted to force their better-than-ness on society and Dad was only too glad to dive in.

We were dirt poor and eating beans, but we invested in the Moral Majority instead of in ourselves. There were Bible studies, door-to-door evangelization, Billy Graham Crusade involvement and I-know-not-what. Perhaps my earliest memory is riding on my father’s shoulders as he attended a rally against a female presidential candidate. Somewhere in the WCCO vaults is archival footage of me in my little snowsuit holding my little picket sign going round and round in the depths of winter. With the passion of youthful idealism, we were indefatigable.

No one was good enough for us. They were “worldly,” tsk, tsk. I was taught all my relatives were unsaved because they hadn’t embraced the born again message when proselytized by my parents. An old friend of my parents writes, “Your parents were quite strange. Your mom told myself and [L.B.] that she had no desire to be friends with us. That was strange.” She thinks it was because, “… [L. B.] and I had our own thoughts, we didn’t [let our husbands] tell us what to say, think or feel about things. We had our own minds and they didn’t / couldn’t control us.”

Forty years later, the true motivations, true agendas, true ties and true allegiance of the men who used the Moral Majority to catapult themselves into power have been revealed. It wasn’t Us vs Them. Everyone was on the same team. It didn’t matter who was elected. Society did not change. Their failure to deliver what they promised left their followers like my family feeling betrayed and cynical.

One tangent always seemed to lead to another. They weren’t necessarily bad. They were just … I dunno. Weird. Way ahead of their time. Too passionately embraced. We had no normalcy to buffer and temper the tangents. We were led into them too easily by our need to be the Best. Sometimes we led; often we were led by our extended narcissistic family that acted like a school of fish. What one did, they all did. The tangents fed our Us vs Them cult ego. We thought everyone should do what we did.

I remember some of the tangents.

About the only phase we didn’t go through is the can-your-garden-vegetables phase, bake-your-own-bread and aren’t-the-Amish-cool phase. I went through them as an adult and wish I’d been more discerning, more normal, less tangential, less paths-to-glory-are-paved-with-thorns myself! I’m wiser and less dogmatic now.

There’s nothing bad about any of those phases, per se. What was bad was how, in lieu of just being normal folks, we had to have tangents. If you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to describe it. Those of you who come from extreme homeschooling, the Quiverful movement, the IFB denomination and other cultlike denominations (notorious for sexual abuse by the clergy)…you know exactly what I’m talking about. The key word: “worldly.”

I mention Y2K last because it was so quintessentially tangential. To this day I cringe because we made such idiots of ourselves. We were preppers before the word was coined and we did it so publicly! We started by photocopying an article saying just how bad Y2K was going to be (raw sewage bubbling up all our toilets!) and distributed it with a cover letter to our entire family and neighbors. Then we got down to work.

Every spare moment I wasn’t in college classes, I was obliged to take mother to the grocery store. I brought home carload after carload of groceries. Anything we needed was socked away. Dad even invented a cover to seal the toilet when the sewer backed up. I found it hard to balance college and Y2K prepping.

By December 31st, 1999, we were ready. The clock struck midnight. The ball dropped in Times Square. And nothing else happened. We slunk away, feeling like fools, our tails tucked between our legs and ate canned ham for months and months afterwards. (Bleh!) We ignored the topic hoping silence would balm our public humiliation.

Narcissist’s lack of discernment isn’t done in a vacuum. Most of the time they are led by people that even the most basic discernment would quickly identify as a charlatan. Take televangelists for example.

Since childhood, I felt so guilty for loathing the televangelists the adults watched. As a preschooler, I couldn’t stand Pat Robertson of the 700 Club. His extreme made-for-sound-bytes statements and behavior made me cringe for the dignity of Christianity. (Brilliant showmanship. He gets headlines!) Thankfully, we all thought Jim and Tammy Bakker were a joke, but we watched them anyways for entertainment’s sake. (Just how many pounds of mascara was she wearing!?)

Jerry Falwell’s smug pomposity made me nauseous. James Dobson harshly informed my upbringing. Even sweet Charles Stanley rubbed me wrong. And then there was Jimmy Swaggart. Darling Swaggart who bonked prostitutes when he wasn’t preaching on TV.

Grandma loved him and wept copiously right along with him as he played the piano, sang, “cried” and begged his television audience for money. How could an adult not see through that!?! Where was Grandma’s discernment? Why was I alone in silently cringing, shuddering, loathing every televangelist (and feeling so guilty for it)!?!

In all our lack of discernment, there was one thing that was discerned and rejected: Normalcy. Like Todd Chrisley of Chrisley Knows Best delights in saying, “There’s no normal here.” There’s no normal in narcissism. If there was, they’d be less tangential.

I’ve spent the last seven years catching up with normalcy. A lot…A LOT…of the adult children of the Moral Majority/Doctor Dobson/homeschool crowd feel just like me. Many of us are speaking out, actively recovering, revealing the harm that unfortunately accompanied our homeschooling. What a pity, because homeschooling can be done well by normal people who don’t isolate and brainwash their children.

Some homeschool grads have thrown out the baby with the bathwater and boi-yoi-yoinged to the opposite extreme. If they were told it’s “worldly,” they want it! They rock tattoos, piercings and fluorescent hair. Flaunt their sexuality. Embrace atheism. If you weren’t raised the way we were, you don’t realize this is a violent reaction to the opposite extreme, using rebellion to express anger and balm our pain. For someone raised normally or “wordly” as we called it,  it’s not a big deal. For “us,” even one tattoo is A Big Deal. It’s tangential in the opposite way.

Some are boi-yoi-yoinging towards Orthodoxy. Churches with icons and that delicious religious smell of candle wax as opposed to the mega-church-we’re-happy-all-the-time denominations in which they were raised. I git it. I’ve never attended a church that inspired hushed reverence. Never worshipped in a sanctuary that had private little corners where you could pray and weep. I never could feel worshipful when the “Super Trouper” spotlight blinded me in the church choir.

I’ve chosen the middle-of-the-road. I may hate the bathwater, but there was a lot of good in it too. I don’t want to over-correct, throw out the baby and become tangential in any way. I want to be normal. My rebellions are micro-rebellions. Mostly, I just want to know. Know everything about this world. Know about everything I was kept sheltered from. The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful, the Ugly, the Shocking, the Impressive, the “Worldly,” the Normal. I don’t want to be the Best. I don’t want to be Better-Than. I just want normal. (Can you believe I’d never heard an ABBA song ’til last year! I also didn’t know what Lewnisky was actually doing for Clinton! I had a radio as a teen, but was instructed to turn it off when the News came on. Classic cultish isolation!)

Most of all, I want to trust my discernment again. God gave me good discernment even as as little child. But I abandoned it out of shame to wholly trust my blind narcissists. What a mistake! I want it back! I want to trust it.

Narcissists, even smart ones, are so easily duped. They are the stuff that cult leader dreams are made on. Their desire to be Better Than is so strong, they don’t use discernment. It leads ’em wrong again and again and again.

They’re always off on tangents!

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Yesterday, I’d had it! Had it “up to here”! Cult Withdrawal had me worn down. Just sick of it. So I posted how I felt in a couple of Cult Recovery Facebook groups.

There were so many helpful, heartfelt, validating, kind comments. (Thank you all! Bless you!) But one phrase leaped off the screen and pinged me right between the eyes:

Cognitive Dissonance

I’m not exactly sure what that means officially, but this is how I’d define it: Your brain feels like a bouncy red rubber ball.

You try, really try, to face the truth about your abusers. Maybe it’s…

“My family is a cult.” “Dad is a narcissist.” “Mom is jealousy of me.” “None of my relatives give a damn that I was abused.”

Your brain sees the words, hears the words and recoils like a rubberband stretched too far. Snap! Your brain bounces away to anywhere else screaming “Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!”

If you prefer, we can use magnets as an analogy.

Cognitive dissonance is like trying to force two magnets with the same charge together. The truth is one positive magnet. My cognitive dissonance the other positive magnet. No matter how hard I push them together, they just won’t touch. They repel each other. My brain slips one way, the truth slips the other. That’s cognitive dissonance.

So why? Why the cognitive dissonance? Why?

They hurt us. They ruined years, decades of our lives. We’re damaged for life. Relationships ruined. Reputations sullied. Fortunes lost. Happiness…pfffft. Life… down the drain.

You’d think we’d welcome the truth with open arms. That we’d want to pin the blame on the donkey. Go into No Contact with a glad cry.

Some people do. Some people can. I admire their Greatness of Mind.

But I’m not one of them. I did it but I didn’t enjoy it in the least. I wish I had  Greatness of Mind. I don’t. There! I admitted it! All I have is balls-to-the-wall guts. I dare myself to do things that scare me…then suffer for it afterwards.

The truth is just too unthinkable for my brain to accept.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Maybe that’s the crux of Cognitive Dissonance especially for cult members. One Facebook commenter gave me a list of books to read, so I can notice the similarities between those women in cults and my experience in a family/cult. Even that doesn’t help. Sure, I read the story. I intellectually note all the shocking similarities in our shared experiences but my Cognitive Dissonance side-steps the truth. Flukes! All flukes! Because it just can’t be! I wasn’t supposed to be like this. They told me it wasn’t like this.

In her Ted talk about Cult Withdrawal, former Moonie, Diane Monscoter put her finger directly on the nerve. She calls it “Us vs Them.”

Ever since I was five years old, it was Us vs Them.

We were enlightened. They were not. We were the true Christians. They were not.

So if my narcissists were wrong and lost and addle-minded, that means I, poor brainwashed trusting child, was too. Am too.

If we believed ourselves enlightened but were, frankly, were more foolish, more blind, more lost than the beer-drinking, TV-watching, honest, down-to-earth good ol’ boy we looked down our righteous, over-educated, teetotaler noses at, then the Us vs Them narrative crumbles.

The whole narrative of life begins to crumble. I’m not who I think I am. My family is not what I was told to believe it was.

We weren’t special. I’m not special. I’m not “more loved” than other offspring, as I was told as an excuse to hold me against my will in my twenties.

It’s hard for the brain to accept that. The ball bounces. The magnets segues sideways.

Part of it is the Fallacy of Composition. I did a whole article about it December 2016. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m a fairly normal, ordinary person.
I identify closely with my family-of-origin.
If I (the part) am normal,
they (the whole) must be normal too.
How could a normal person (me),
possibly come from a narcissistic family!?
Therefore, they must not be narcissists.
They must be normal people who inadvertently
behave in narcissistic ways.

It must all be just a colossal misunderstanding!

In other words, we’re projecting our honesty onto them.

We’re projecting our self-awareness onto them.

We’re projecting our true-motive-awareness onto them.

We’re projecting our logic onto them.

We’re projecting our morality onto them.

We’re projecting our good selves onto them.

After all, in many cases, our narcissists / our cult leaders taught us to be honest and moral. To logical people like us, it’s inconceivable that they would not “practice what they preached.”

It’s inconceivable they could be that purposely hypocritical.

It’s inconceivable they could be that dishonest or self-deceiving about their obvious true motives.

It’s inconceivable that we should turn out (more or less) “normal” when they are so abnormal.

Give yourself a pat on the back that you “don’t get it.” If you “got it” you’d be just as warped and yes, immoral, as they are.

Maybe, like death, our minds are not designed to be able to handle this level of badness. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Ever. That’s why we’re not mentally equipped to handle it gracefully and easily.

We’re wired to respect and honor our parents. We’re not designed to rethink, question, turn-upside-down and reverse engineer their False Narrative. We’re good people raised by narcissistic parents. Just typing that, I have my head on the side like a confused puppy. “Say wha….!?!”

We’re wired to respect, trust and learn from our religious leaders in humility. We’re not designed to think the unthinkable: “Hey! It’s a cult!” How many hurting, hopeful people are struggling with the sad fact that João Teixeira de Faria (pictured above) was never “John of God.” Given his penchant for rape, apparently he was John of the Devil.

Unfortunately, the longer we allow our Red Rubber Ball of Cognitive Dissonance to bounce off the truth, the longer we’ll suffer. The longer we allow the magnets to slip, the longer cult withdrawal will poison the sweetness of life.

That’s where I find myself today. Six years and hundreds of articles later, I still don’t want it to be true. The message “This is an excellent family…superior to most other families” was implied, if not spoken, all my life. I thought I had the perfect Leave It To Beaver family. My husband thought I had the perfect Leave It To Beaver family and he was thrilled to have June and Ward Cleaver for in-laws.

But soon after our marriage, he began to notice something was wrong. They were weird. I got weird when they came around. But it was like their power had a geographic territory. As soon as I left the Twin Cities, my guts churned at the thought of them. It wasn’t an intellectual thing. It was a visceral, instinctive thing.  My conscience smote me. I mean…who kicks Ward and June Cleaver to the curb!? It’s unthinkable!

Discovering the terms “narcissism” and “cult” gave it a name. It validated the visceral. But I still don’t want it to be true.

How could my daddy, mine!, treat me at age fifteen (almost) as badly as Steve Drain of the Westboro Baptist Church treated his daughter when she was fifteen. The sexual shaming! The slut-shaming! Isolation in homeschool…and just because she liked a boy and he liked her. The end (See! I prevented her from a teen pregnancy!) doesn’t justify the extreme means.

The behavior is scary similar so too must be the cause. That’s the connection my Cognitive Dissonance has never allowed me to make…until now.

My family isn’t “that” special. They’re just human and humans follow a limited number of patterns. My family following the cultish pattern wasn’t a fluke. They didn’t arrive at the cultish end by a different route than any other cult leader. No, they’re all the same ilk with the same secret motivations and needs for power, for control, for dominance.

Why did it happen to me? How could it happen to me? Ah, my cult-inspired ego is showing again. Those are all the wrong questions. Why wouldn’t it happen to me? I’m nobody special.

Perhaps it happened so I could help others as so many of you have helped me. So I could help those who also grew up in families that were more cult-like than they were family-like. Cults that went by names like “Smith” and “Johnson” and don’t appear on any formal list of cults.

We may not be {Insert-Famouse-Cult-Name-Here}, but we struggle with Cognitive Dissonance just as much as them!

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I’ve met a lot of “Jesuses” in my time. They were preached and modeled for me at home, at church and at religious school. Each Jesus was a little bit different from the other Jesuses.

But when I read the Gospels, I meet yet another Jesus. One who says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Ha! You gotta be joking me.

No one ever introduced me to Him.

Baby Jesus, Meek and Mild

This is the Jesus most often preached. This Jesus is nice. He’s just nice, nice, nice, nice, nice, nice, nice! He can’t say “boo” to a goose. He never hurts anyone’s feelings. He never says “no.” He never sets a boundary. He never gets angry. He is codependence on steroids. He’s depicted as a perpetual baby (diaperless which is pretty scary) in Mary’s lap and inexplicably, always pale, sickly and Gentile. (C’mon! Jesus was Jewish, “the son of David.”)

And, supposedly, we’re supposed to model ourselves on Baby Jesus Meek and Mild. Do everything for everyone, regardless of the cost to ourselves. Never say “You did me wrong” or “Don’t you dare project onto me!” or “No” or “Sorry, I’m too tired” or “That’s your responsibility. Not mine.”

About three years ago, a cult member sat in my car and said confidently, “We know we’re not supposed to get angry. Getting angry is wrong.”

Softly, I began, “But Jesus…”

She steam-rollered on, interrupting me, rudely shutting me down in my own vehicle. (She later turned out to be a narcissist and sent me a poem so horrible I labeled it “Abusers Favorite Poem.”)

I was going to say, “But Jesus got angry. And if it’s okay for Him, then it’s okay for us because He was perfect.” What other emotion could possible inspire him to make a whip from cords and physically drive the money-changers from the Temple? And that’s when he wasn’t using scintillating logic to trap the Über-Righteous Religious Leaders of the Day in their own trickery and hypocrisy. That wasn’t very nice!

Hardly Baby Jesus Meek and Mild!

God-Hates-You Jesus

Upon doing some research into cults and the Westboro Baptist Church yesterday, I stumbled upon one of their notorious picketing signs. It was pretty broad minded. It simply said, “God Hates You.”

And just like that, it was January 2018 and I had my head in my hands. “God hates me!” I semi-screamed at my husband.

“He doesn’t hate you,” he spluttered back indignantly, even disgustedly.

Well, you coulda’ fooled me. Oh, I’m blessed beyond measure and (most) of my prayers are answered. But I never saw God as a Loving Father who would dandle me on his knee and forgive my human faults and foibles and failings. A Father who delighted in me as his creation.

No, I saw him as an Angry Father. One who enjoyed staring disapprovingly and condescendingly down yards and yards of nose to focus on my sins of commission, sins of omission, sins of thought and sins of deed. An Angry Father who did not hear the voices and prayers of anyone who wasn’t born again. That’s what my Earthly Father told me. “God doesn’t hear them if they’re not Christians.” He also told me “I believe homosexuals are demon possessed.” (I didn’t, I couldn’t, believe either of those things.)

But if that God/Jesus is true, then why did sinners flock to Him in the Gospels, hanging on his robe, his every word? They delighted to be with Him. Couldn’t get enough of Him.

Hardly an I-Hate-Everyone Jesus.

The Burdening Jesus

It’s not enough. It will never be enough. It’s not enough to care for our own families and try to keep our souls humble and devout. Oh no! In a mind-numbing collection of church clichés, we also have to be “on fire for Jesus” and “sold out to Jesus” and have “the joy of the Lord” and have utter eternal assurance that we’re going to Heaven. We have to be “filled with the Spirit” and claim “God spoke to me.” Oh yes…lest I forget…we’re supposed to have a “vision” and a “Purpose-Driven Life” (which, btw, earned Rick Warrens a net worth of $25 million.) And tithe 10% of our gross income (at least!) and “throw our bread upon the waters.”

Whatever all those clichés (and there are more!) actually mean, they add up to a very burdened, very heavy yoke in life. How much are we “sold out” to Jesus? How much is enough? What does it look like? How should it feel? If we’re even asking these questions, that must mean our hearts are not sold out enough. It keeps us muddled, circling, self-conscious with our eyes on ourselves instead of on Him.

But, He said, his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Not my words! He said it. Handel even put those words to music in the Messiah. You’ll find them warbled in concert halls worldwide each year at Christmas. The sopranos start the chorus: “His yoke is ea-ea-ea-ea-sy. His burthen. Is li-i-ight. His burthen. His burthen is light.” But you won’t find them quoted in many churches.

That Jesus wasn’t in any of the churches I attended.

Conclusion

This article isn’t intended to step on anyone’s toes. But it is intended to show how clergy, frequently narcissists with an agenda, preach a Jesus I cannot find in the Scripture.

I spent twenty-five years (a quarter of a century!) within church walls. My school was religious. My home was religious (make that, “cult like”). I listened to everything they said carefully, filing it away in the windmills of my mind. By the end, even the thought of church made me nauseous. I told my parents, “I need to detox.” The only, and I mean only, thing that kept me from ditching Christianity completely was my oft-quote favorite author C. S. Lewis (and my terror of Hell). Lewis was completely unlike any Christian I knew. That’s why he felt so real.

But when I read the Gospels, I find a Jesus unlike any I learned elsewhere. He’s, he’s…edgy (for lack of a better word). He’s not goody-two-shoes. He’s not nice. He doesn’t quite feel at all like I’d expect God-on-Earth to feel like, act like, talk like. His perfection is not what I’d expect God’s perfection to be like. In fact, it doesn’t seem perfect at all.

The Jesus of the Gospels is passionate. Sometimes angry. Brutally honest yet wonderfully kind. Empathetic to those who sin (and know it!) but vicious towards those who believe they are righteous. And forgiving. I don’t remember a single endless lecture, a single harangue, a single shaming. And damned smart! Brilliant, in fact.

And brave. I could not go calmly to my crucifixion. Never. Not in a million years.

Jesus is always not what you expect Him to be. He’s as unlike what church teaches us a religious person should be like as chalk is to cheese. He’s the antithesis, almost, of what you’d expect God-on-Earth to be like. Recently I wrote, “[narcissists] hold us to standards that I do not believe God Himself holds us to. That may sound like blasphemy, but I’m sticking to it. When it suits them, mankind can pretend to be more righteous than God…”

You’d expect God on Earth to be in a little huddle with the church leaders. A big ol’ love fest. Instead, they despised Him and, as far as I can tell, the feeling was mutual.

You’d expect God on Earth to have sinners trembling, groveling, pleading, begging, doing penance, apply thumb screws. Instead, they flocked to him. Followed him everywhere. Had the gall to reach out to touch Him. And he had great love and empathy for these “sheep without a shepherd.”

You’d expect him to give out religious tasks. So many prayers, so many tithes, so many acts of kindness. But He doesn’t. If I may paraphrase what he said to Martha, who was losing her flipping mind trying to be the perfect hostess (wouldn’t you if God came to lunch!?!?!?), “Martha, I love you darlin’, but si’down, shut up and listen. We’ll heat up some Campbell’s Chicken Noodle later.” Burthen. Easy. Yoke. Light. Wow!

Could it be that narcissists in the church have taught us a Jesus that simply doesn’t exist? They taught us Baby-Jesus-Meek-and-Mild and God-Hates-You-Jesus in order to have total control. They taught us The-Burdening-Jesus to keep their religious institution humming and well financed.

We know the imposters. Do we know the real Jesus?

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How are we going to survive the endless five month wait until the new Downton Abbey movie is released in September!? I’m coping by rewatching all six seasons of the TV show. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten since I first watched Downton Abbey two years ago so it all seems fresh and new again.

What struck me as forcefully as it did the first time we watched Downton Abbey is what a narcissist Lady Mary is! Yet she can also be incredibly kind, even vulnerable.

Actress Michele Dockery has brilliantly breathed narcissism into Lady Mary while avoiding making her character the clichéd, one-dimensional, storybook villain we often identify with narcissists. There are no horns nor forked tail. Lady Mary is a brilliant reminder of how multi-faceted narcissists can be, kind and generous one moment, cold and vicious the next.

We see Lady Mary’s caring and compassion in her unstinting kindness to Anna Bates. She didn’t do it merely because Anna was her lady’s maid and good at her job. No, she did it because her heart was in it. She believed in Mr. and Mrs. Bates’ innocence and that justice will out. She was more than willing to have suspected murderers in her employ (What will society say!?!?) and fight their corner, billing their legal expenses to the Downton estate.

The next moment she can be cold, selfish and heartless as she was to Miss Lane Fox.

Remember how, in Season 1, Lady Mary shtupped Kemal Pamuk to death? That tale really kicked Downton Abbey off with a bang yet has been criticized as being rather far-fetched. In actuality, Julian Fellowes based it off a true-life tale discovered in a friend-of-the-family’s Great-Aunt’s diary.

Anyways, ever since that night, Lady Mary went on and on about being “damaged goods.” Yet she has no compunction about, basically, doing the same thing to Tony Gillingham. Why should we have a double-standard for men vs women.

While unsure of her true feelings for Tony, yet she doesn’t discourage him from breaking his engagement to Miss Lane Fox. After all, Lady Mary might want to marry him, but only if he pleases her in bed first. Strong-arming a very bashful Anna into purchasing a diaphragm for her, Lady Mary and Gillingham embark on a week of torid lovemaking in Liverpool. But their romance cooled, as it so often does, after the thrill of conquest and Lady Mary casually throws her leftovers back to Miss Lane Fox.

With her chilly demeanor, haughty airs and graces and the condescending downturn of her lips after almost every sentence, Lady Mary is the very essence of to-the-manor-born. Too to-the-manor-born. Even her aunt and grandmother call her out for being a snob and a prig.

Yet, despite obviously (and inexplicably!) being the Golden Child of the whole Crawley clan and the doting butler Carson, her confidence is so fragile that any success by the Scapegoated sister, Edith, sends Mary into a pique of jealousy.

When it’s revealed that Edith’s soon-to-be fiance has just inherited the title of “Marquess of Hexham” with a castle to boot (and when I say castle, imagine a fairytale castle and then double it), you can fairly see Mary turn green with jealousy. Here she is, about to marry a car-obsessessed nobody from nowhere, while the ugly duckling, scapegoat snags a Marquess.

So she does what she always does: destroys Edith’s chances for happiness and romance with a few well-chosen words with cut-glass vowels. In this case, she casually brings up Edith’s “ward” who is really her secret daughter.

The family is quick to chastise Mary who we see keeping her chilly and blazè demeanor intact, but in secret she weeps for what she’s done claiming, “I don’t know why I do it!”

It took her chaffeur-turned-brother-in-law, Tom Branson, with his down-to-Earth Irish wit, to give her the dressing down she’d long deserved. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t sack him on the spot.

Tom: Well, you got what you wanted! Bertie has left for the train and Edith won’t be the next Marchioness of Hexham!

Mary: Well, that’s not what I wanted.

Tom: Isn’t it?

Mary: I still can’t believe she’d never told him. How was I to know that?

Tom: Don’t play the innocent with me.

Mary: I didn’t mean it.

Tom: Don’t lie! Not to me! You can’t stop ruining things! For Edith, for yourself! You’d pull in the sky if you could! ANYTHING to make you feel less frightened and alone! … You’re not a princess in The Prisoner of Zenda!

Mary: You don’t want to understand me.

Tom: You ruined Edith’s life today! How many lives are you going to wreck just to smother your misery?

Mary: I REFUSE to listen!

Tom: You’re a coward, Mary. Like all bullies, you’re a coward.

He put his finger on the crux of narcissism without ever using the word.

Quite simply, they’re scared shitless.

I fully admit that life is scary. No, make that terrifying. But most of us suck it up and trudge through life, trying to “do unto others” and be happy for their success. Not so narcissists! We can’t have anything they don’t have first. Our success is their failure or so it seems. They’re the Little Sisters who seduce their Big Sister’s boyfriends, the mothers who ruin their daughter’s romances, the fathers who tell their sons “You won’t amount to shit.”

But they aren’t all bad. Just like Lady Mary, narcissists are both kind and cruel, generous and jealous, insecure and snobbish. They change their façades faster than Lady Mary changes her dresses.

I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again. Scratch any good drama and you’ll find a narcissist providing said drama. Lady Mary is the narcissist of Downton Abbey. The lesson is that narcissists have many good sides too. Their good tends to conceal their bad, even from Carson the Butler who sees and hears all.

I wonder what shenanigans Lady Mary will get up to in the upcoming movie. Only five more months to go! I can’t wait!

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