Narcissism and the Sound of Silence

Silence is an old friend to me.

Sometimes silence is enough to rip your hair out. Photo by Charlie Howell on Unsplash

I first met silence when I was one week old. I don’t remember it of course, but my parents told this story to me so many times, I’ve memorized it. As a sanguine baby, I was alone in my crib, crying for someone to hang out with me, but my parents decided I’d recently had a bottle, had my diaper changed and was without a fever, so they decided to spank me to teach me not to be spoiled.

A few years ago, a young family in our church invited me over to their house when their newborn baby girl was only one week old. They asked if I would like to hold her. As I admired her delicate fingers, elfin ears, and tiny mouth, I couldn’t imagine spanking her for crying. My parents thought they’d met my needs, but they’d ignored my emotional needs to meet their own for the sound of silence.

What kind of person hits a baby? Photo by Irina Murza on Unsplash

And it wasn’t the last time. The belting, the yelling, and psychological gaslighting have always been offset by the sound of silence throughout my childhood. When I disobeyed, when beatings were not enough, the silence took over to set my place in this relationship. Silence happened to the extent I wasn’t allowed to go to high school. When I cried for lack of socialization and education, I was yelled at, belted then shunned with the sound of silence.

Throughout all of this, I was continually dancing on hot coals to meet my parents’ needs, trying to make them happy, hoping they would be proud of me so that we could have a relationship based on mutual love and respect. No matter what they did to me, I apologized and complied to their wishes because my own will was beaten out of me. Even as an adult, I didn’t speak of this childhood abuse to anyone — not even my husband. When my brother spoke out in our early twenties, he was shunned as the family scapegoat. I am ashamed to say; I too took up the oath of silence.

Silence leads to loneliness. Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Once while I lived in Louisiana, far from my native Pacific Northwest. I had sacrificed and loaned my father money to fix a car. When one of my sisters called to tell me, he had used the money for something else; I called to confront him. He refused to discuss it with me and asked to speak to my husband instead. I left the speakerphone on so I could hear what he was saying. He told my husband I was a liar and that I made up stuff about my childhood and they’d been trying to figure out a way to let him know this in the seven years since he’d married me. Then he said, “She’ll wonder what we’re talking about, so let’s tell her it’s about the game.”

I interrupted him to say, “You don’t have to do that, Daddy, you’re on the speakerphone.” He hung up and there it was again, the sound of silence. It was from his side, not mine. I wailed at the top of my lungs in devastation to realize my Daddy, the one I loved, would betray me in such a manner. And no, I hadn’t told my husband about all the belting and moving and not going to high school. I’d been taught by my parents to keep the family secrets, and so I had lived in silence — sometimes to protect them and sometimes to protect my mind because it was just too painful to remember. And then there was the shame of having a father who didn’t provide or allow me to go to school who beat me with a belt and who told me to be perfect before Jesus came or I would die in a lake of fire. All this was too much, and so I had submitted to the silence.

When my father lied and hung up that day, I realized my silence was making me complicit in my parents’ abuse and lies. That unless I told my story, the truth would be lost forever. I started by telling my husband all the things I was told never to repeat. Silence had almost stolen my voice.

Silence had almost stolen my voice. Photo by Zack Minor on Unsplash

A year later, I moved closer to my family. One day my father yelled at me and raised his hand to me in my own home. My husband jumped up to protect me, but he didn’t need to. I was finally coming into my voice and finding my boundaries, and I shouted, “Don’t you ever raise your hand or voice to me again and get the fuck out of my house.”

My father went to the car while my mother yelled, “Jesus is coming!”

I replied, “Who cares if Jesus is coming if we can’t treat each other with respect.”

My father honked from the driveway, and I remembered we were having a birthday party for my brother that evening, so I ran out and knelt in the gravel, begging my father to stay for my brother’s birthday. He ignored me as if he was deaf. He stared straight out the windshield until my mom got in the car and he drove away. This time the silence lasted for four months.

I called him from a pay phone. Photo by Bart Anestin on Unsplash

I broke the silence. We were driving one Saturday afternoon, and I saw something my father would like, and so I stopped at a phone booth — you know one of those where you can talk for four minutes if you put in four quarters. My dad answered and said he was thinking about calling me. He apologized for every time he ever raised his voice or hit me. I accepted that apology and to this day don’t hold any of this — even the silence against him. I love my dad no matter what, but it’s still complicated.

It’s complicated because when one of my siblings went through a divorce, the entire family wrote to the judge to say my former in-law was a lousy parent. I disagreed and refused to vote the family party line. I chose to write a letter affirming this parent instead. Once again, my telling the truth brought the sound of silence.

For ten years now, I’ve been met with silence over and over from my aging parents, from my siblings, and even from some of the next generation — kids who have never received anything but love and presents from me. They have no real clue what happened. Despite my attempts to reach out or send birthday gifts, the sound of silence prevails. Despite all the love I’ve poured into my family for decades, most of my family members would talk about me before they speak to me. Silence is the curse of narcissism after triangulation, gossip and lies destroy relationships.

Despite the silent treatment, I kept offering olive branches. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Some people tell me that they don’t love their narc parents, but only feel sorry for them. Well, I love my parents. I accept they aren’t perfect — who is? But I must live authentically. Silence is only one of the curses of having a narcissistic parent. They like to conquer by dividing — always pitting their children against each other to manipulate them into saying and doing what they want. Narcissistic parents can’t allow their children to connect or even find their voices because it threatens their ego. And so the silence grows, causing whoever is the designated scapegoat to walk alone. I am taking my turn, but I am not the only one who has been scapegoated. And thus the sound of silence is a curse that keeps perpetuating itself.

The Silence of Narcissism separates survivors from each other. Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

Silence, like a cancer, grows and not even death can change this silence. It’s the silence of narcissism. I’ve always been struggling to keep my boundaries and have a relationship with my parents. Tired of groveling, I finally went to counseling. Once I discovered the traits of narcissism, I began to see the big picture, and I realized my parents hadn’t changed much since I was born. Unless I meet my parents’ needs, unless I agree with them, unless I silence my voice and ignore my story, then I will be met by the sound of silence from the people who brought me into this world. But their silence can no longer force my silence. I have found my voice, and I refuse to be silent ever again.

My voice will not be silenced ever again. Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

You are Glorious Scapegoat

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

scapegoat, narcissist, relationship, beautiful,
Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Why does narcissistic abuse hurt so much? At the heart of narcissism is a devaluing of humanity. These phrases from the song, This is Me* could easily be words from a narcissistic family who treats a survivor as their scapegoat.

Our first social task in life is to understand who we are in relation to other people, but how many survivors of narcissistic abuse feel comfortable in their own skin? How hard is it to say “I am beautiful,” when our family of origin calls us bad? The loss of realizing our own beauty and intrinsic worth comes from listening to lies.

No matter how old or young, no matter what color your skin or orientation, no matter how much money you make, no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, you are a miracle. You have a great capacity to love and be loved–but you won’t hear this from the narcissist.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

Nowhere is this truer than when you’re dealing with a narcissist. Trying to get love and validation from a narcissist is like trying to get your favorite takeout from a Coke machine. It’s not possible. You can bang all you want and you can empty your wallet into the machine, but what you want is just not there. knowing this doesn’t change the value of the food you crave, but you’ll need to go somewhere else to get it.

The narcissist tries to isolate you from everyone you know by lying and destroying your relationships because he wants you to feel unworthy of love. In her amazing memoir Educated, Tara Westover describes what it’s like to be scapegoated:

There was little hope of overpowering the history
my father and sister were creating for me.
Their account would claim my brothers first,
then it would spread to my aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole valley.
I had lost an entire kinship, and for what?

The narcissist and flying monkeys turn the person they scapegoat into a caricature where they focus on any faults this person has and villainize them in their imagination by evil surmising and imagining the worst. The general message given by every narcissist and their flying monkeys to the scapegoat is, “We have decided that you’re not worthy of love and belonging so we’ve voted you out of the family.”

Because the narcissist can’t face the truth about himself, he usually projects his own issues onto the scapegoat. This is what a scapegoat was in Bible times—an innocent goat who paid for the sins of the entire camp by being shut out of society and sent out into the wilderness to die alone. Regardless of what the narcissist says and does, remember you are not a goat and you do not live in Bible times. You are a human being who bears the image of God.

The hardest part about healing from narcissistic abuse is to make the transition from seeing ourselves as our abusers treat us, to viewing ourselves as God sees us. If your father called you a tramp for wearing makeup or wearing short skirts or your mother called you a klutz, even when your logical mind disagrees, your emotional center might still believe it, this is why we must find new tapes to put into the mix which in time might erase the old ones. And while it might seem like cheating to have people stand in for God, I think sometimes that is what God wants us to do.

When your family of origin is incapable of appreciating you, it’s time to find a new family. I realize this might seem scary and awkward when you aren’t sure who to trust, but many survivors of narcissistic abuse have adopted moms and dads and brothers and sisters who have given them a new start in life. It’s not like you should shop for family on Craigslist though; I would recommend taking it slow and looking at the people already in your life to see who’s been showing up. And if you are still quite young and haven’t built up a group of trustworthy friends, don’t let yourself get discouraged, you’ve got lots of time.

You don’t have to ask people to fill in for your family. Just allow the relationship grow naturally. It’s not about the title as much as the relationship. An older couple in our church once reached out to my husband and I a few years ago and I have to admit I never saw it coming. Sam was a kind man who when I spoke, listened to what I had to say. He treated me like I had as much value as any man at the table. There was nothing sexual in our relationship. I was the same age as a daughter he had who died and I think this made him gravitate to me. I wasn’t looking for a father figure at the time. But now as I look back on it, that is what he offered. And this broken part of me that felt invalidated by my own father was filled by this man who took time to care.

A few years ago when my family went through the great divorce, my friend, Mary Lou from church stopped by and out of that discussion we discovered we had a wonderful friendship. We had known each other before, but somehow through her husband’s death and my family scapegoating me, we found a way to help each other and on a day with Mary Lou, I forgot I was missing my family. Mary Lou became an extra mother to me.  Right before she died of cancer, she told me that she would have been proud to call me her daughter.

My friend Lisa has been more of a sister to me for the last ten years than either of my blood sisters. She is always in my corner. She cares about what is going on in my life and she doesn’t have the complication of trading any sort of family loyalties to be friends with me. She’s a true sister in every sense of the word and I don’t think anyone could come closer, but I have other chosen sisters who are in various stages of family depending on how long we have known each other.

What happened with these three wonderful people is I am able to remember them when I feel lonely for my family of origin. When my sisters trashed me on public media, I was able to recognize they weren’t even using their own words because my husband said, “Wait a minute, these are words your parents use.” And Lisa backed him up.

When I miss my sisters and wish I could have a sister-sister chat, I call Lisa and I don’t feel alone anymore. When I wish I had a loving father who cared about me,  I remember Sam who treated me like I was of value whether I gave back to him or not. When I miss my mom, I have the memories of my friend Mary Lou, who was never critical or judgmental and went out of her way to befriend me.

These three people and many others have filled out my life and when it comes to surviving narcissistic tribal warfare. I don’t look back at my family of origin–not because I don’t love my parents or sisters, but they would have to contribute to the relationship which most of them haven’t done much for nearly ten years. I could die waiting for those relationships to happen, so I’ve found others. Even though Mary Lou and Sam have both passed on, they live in my heart. The validation they gave me changed my life forever.

I hope my sharing these stories will help you realize there is life after narcissistic abuse. You are beautiful and someday you will know it, but you won’t discover this by hanging out with narcissistic people or flying monkeys. You’ll need to keep your eye out for quality people who you have a connection with–people who will allow you to be your true, authentic, beautiful and glorious self.

Friends are the family we choose.
-Edna Buchanan

*This Is Me lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek


Book Review– Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

She had a sociopathic brother,
a flying monkey sister,

a bipolar or borderline father,
and a subversive narcissistic mother.
What’s a girl to do?
Rise up, get educated
and get the hell out of town.

In Educated, Tara Westover shares her inspirational story of surviving narcissistic abuse.

Educated: A Memoir
Author: Tara Westover
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: February 20, 2018
Length: 337 pages

I highly recommend this book about a girl whose childhood began on a beautiful mountain in a narrow world created by her father’s anti-establishment mindset of fear, insanity, and control and ended when she decided to venture out into the wider world and research the facts for herself. Will she come home? Can she come home? Or will home be more damaging to her spirit than the broader dangerous world her father fears? I will try not to give spoilers, but most of the information in this review was provided by the book’s author in interviews. It’s not the bare facts, but the story itself and how it plays out which is so fascinating. If you’ve ever been gaslighted, scapegoated or lied about by your own family, you will find in Tara Westover a true kindred spirit.

The title of this book might give the impression it’s merely about going to school. While the author’s lack of primary education is offset by her future ability to earn a doctorate at Cambridge, her education about society and the world outside her family is just as important as her rise academically.

You might say Tara Westover’s education started while she was very young. Her life began on an Idaho mountain with survivalist parents. A father who distrusts the government and runs an ever-spreading scrap yard. A mother who is practically coerced by her husband to become a midwife. Born the youngest in a family of seven, her mother must’ve burned out on homeschooling by the time Tara came along because she didn’t get much book learning. Her first level of education included prepping with her family for the time of desolation, dodging her father’s carelessly flung scrap metal while she does child labor in his junkyard and accompanying her mother to home births. Tara’s early survivalist education includes learning how to survive her parents’ ignorant choices and a bullying older brother—all of which are much greater threats than her father’s perceived threats of the government taking over their lives.

Her parents rarely leave the mountain. They are home-birthers, home-schoolers, anti-vaxxers, anti-establishment and anti-medical care. In a nutshell, her father seems nutso—more like a deranged lunatic with a massive stockpile of weapons than a father.

Tara’s mother appears to be her husband’s enabler as she meekly follows suit and rationalizes his unhealthy choices even when they threaten her safety and the health of her children. As a matter of fact, for a woman who will eventually create a lucrative business by claiming to be a healer and designing her own line of essential oils, her mother’s only safety instinct seems to be to protect the family secrets.

As Tara watched the insanity and chaos of her parents’ poor choices, she had one example of life beyond the mountain–an older brother who left home and went to college. He encouraged Tara to do the same. This book is about her quest to get out from under her father’s control—first physically, then emotionally and eventually spiritually. Anyone who has grown up under a narcissistic parent knows it’s not going to be easy. This process didn’t happen overnight.

This is the story of a girl who was thirsty for knowledge, got a sip of real truth and refused to drink the kool-aid any longer. It’s the story about being scapegoated and gaslighted until she questions her sanity. It’s sad, but this book is also about the loss of siblings who would prefer to vote the family line than treat their sister as a friend. It’s also a story of triumph about the girl who escaped the box she was expected to stay in and become the one who got away from all the drama and insanity of her family of origin.

It’s incredible that Tara Westover succeeded in getting a doctorate from Cambridge, but even more amazing is her social education and how she eventually transformed like Pygmalion and was able to self-differentiate from her parents and choose the life she desired for herself.

This book is an exciting read. I read it around the clock within two days. It’s also complicated enough to provoke an intellectual discourse about what it means to be faithful to oneself and how one’s loyalty to family plays out against self-worth and self-knowledge.

This memoir is the fourth book I’ve reviewed about a woman raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family. The first three were all brought up in polygamous households, but Tara’s parents are not polygamists. They keep their family in the local ward despite her father’s concerns about the Illuminati infiltrating the mainstream Mormon church. This family looks Mormon from the outside, but a more sinister agenda lies under the surface. She makes it clear this is NOT a book about Mormons but rather the head-spinning tale of a dysfunctional family. She reminds us that most Mormons send their children to public school and go to the doctor when it seems necessary. The fundamentalist vibes which are all there, under a cloak of self-righteousness, could be manifested within any denomination or cult.

The only thing that made this book uncomfortable for me to read was the descriptions of the terrible injuries this family continually sustained due to the father’s stupidity. I constantly cringed at these stories much like I would while watching a show about life-threatening emergencies. Even worse, her father truly believed all these near death injuries were ordained by his arbitrary version of God. It was all I could do to keep from screaming while I was reading it. Such vivid descriptions were necessary though for the reader to understand what Tara had to endure.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say Tara will eventually go no contact with some of her family members; she has mentioned this in interviews. What is impressive about Tara is that she shows no bitterness. She loves her parents and family but has chosen to separate from them as a boundary for her sanity. Or did they shun her first? As in most narcissistic family survivor stories, it’s hard to tell.

This memoir is a true survival story about surviving a survivalist mindset. This book is the tale of narcissistic, emotional and spiritual abuse and one girl’s victory in becoming herself despite being vilified and gaslighted. My favorite quote from the book sums up Tara’s journey,

I am not the child my father raised,
but he is the father who raised her. 
-Tara Westover

When I went to post my five-star review on Amazon, it was apparent her family got there first. There was a string of one-liner, one-star reviews with comments calling her a liar and embellisher. Even if I had not endured similar gaslighting and been called similar names, I wouldn’t find these reviews credible. Some words were misspelled. Most of them made no critical comments for discussion. They seem to be family members and employees of the family business just trying to discredit her, but the evidence in the elements of Tara’s story refute them. Such reviews only reveal what she was up against to survive mentally. Anyone who has lived through narcissistic abuse and scapegoating knows you can’t make this kind of false family togetherness up.

If you read this memoir and can relate, please consider leaving a positive review. For the sake of the Adult Children of Narcissists community, it’s the least we can do.

Tara’s story is a victory of education, but even more, it’s a triumph of human courage to rise up beyond the mountain—the only home she ever had to find her authentic home within herself. Bravo Tara Westover! You are an amazing survivor! Thank you for documenting your often painful journey so the rest of us can know that although our stories may vary, we are not alone.


Narc Shunning vs. No Contact

Narc Shunning and No Contact
might look a lot alike,
but there’s a big difference.

no contact, shunning, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, narcissist,

While narc shunning and no contact might look the same, they happen for entirely different reasons depending on the motivation of the person who does it. While narc shunning is an act of manipulation by the narcissist, no contact is an act of self-preservation by the survivor.

Abusers use tactics of reward and punishment to manipulate and control their victims. Thus shunning is a form of punishment with the hope the narcissist can gain access to the survivor again when the narc hoovers back to suck them in. Because the narcissist uses the empathy of the survivor to abuse them and wreaks a damaging cycle in their life, sometimes the only safe thing a survivor can do is go no contact.

Some people question if going no contact is just refusing to forgive or holding a grudge, but it’s neither. The difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is that forgiveness only requires one person, while reconciliation requires two. You can forgive someone without them being in your life, but reconciliation takes a commitment from both parties to continue a healthy relationship.

No contact means the narcissist causes more harm and chaos to the survivor’s life than they can handle for their health. When a survivor goes no contact, it usually happens because the survivor has lost hope of any reconciliation with the narcissist.

Both of these situations are painful for the survivor. For one thing they are usually shunned by more than the narcissist. This is because the narc thinks of relationships as a game and tries to win as many people as pawns to the narc’s side as possible. It hurts the survivor to be shunned by their entire family or social group.

No contact is also painful as shunning–even though the survivor has made the choice. It takes deep introspection to decide if it’s worth it in some cases, while in others no contact is a basic act of survival because the survivor is in danger. Either way the survivor will feel alone.

If you are new to going no contact, it’s important to find healthy people and kindred spirits to keep your time and mind occupied. The greatest danger of either going no contact or being shunned is the survivor might get lonely and go back to their abuser, so having support is vital for good mental health.

Here are some differences between Narc Shunning and No Contact

Narc Shunning is an offensive move by the narcissist to control the survivor
No Contact is a defensive move to protect boundaries of the survivor

Narc Shunning happens when the narcissist can’t get any more narc feed
No Contact happens when the survivor decides to stop feeding the narc

Narc Shunning is done by an enraged narcissist to get revenge
No Contact happens when a survivor refuses to be abused

Narc Shunning includes the narc asking people to shun the survivor
No Contact is the survivor setting personal boundaries

Narc Shunning is manipulation by the narcissist
No Contact is the survivor simply saying no to the narc’s manipulation

Narc Shunning is dishonest because the narcissist doesn’t mean to stay away
No Contact is the survivor walking away for good

Narc Shunning is the narcissist showing the survivor disrespect
No Contact is the survivor honoring respect for herself

Narc Shunning is all out war by the narcissist to control the survivor
No Contact is a white flag of surrender by giving up on the relationship

Narc Shunning is a form of slavery for both the narcissist and survivor
No Contact is a form of freedom to release the narcissist from her abuser



Hooray for the Scapegoat

Lana had always managed to fly
under the radar with her narc grandma.
Until she asked Lana to lie
When Lana refused,
She found herself shut out of the family circle.

scapegoat, narcissism, healing, narcissist, narcissistic abuse,

Lana couldn’t believe it. When she tried to explain the situation to her cousin she wouldn’t even hear her out and wanted nothing to do with Lana. This was the beginning of a new era in her life.

From then on no matter what happened, her grandmother, cousin and aunt blamed Lana for everything. She knew they talked about her because the rest of the family told her what they said. Lana was young and didn’t realize it at the time, but she had crossed a malignant narcissist and now there was all hell to pay because her grandmother was using her as the scapegoat.

The scapegoat is often a person who refuses to go along with the narcissist’s schemes. The term scapegoat comes from the Old Testament where the sins of all the people were laid on the scapegoat and it was sent away and shunned–never to be part of the community again. This is what a malignant narcissist intends to do to anyone who crosses their plans.

A toxic narcissist will spend hours talking about the person they have designated as the scapegoat. They will dream up ways to make them look like a villain in other people’s minds. Once they get other people thinking of you as the scapegoat, they will do everything they can to ruin your reputation and send in the flying monkeys. By naming you the scapegoat, they will try to infer that everything everyone else has done is really your fault–as if you had such power.

There are downsides to being the scapegoat. The Narc will now be shunning you and he may get others to ignore you too, but if you think about it, this is not such a bad development. Toxic narcissists are incapable of having a two way relationship. The only reason a narc needs anyone is to get their own needs filled, so you probably don’t miss being used by them.

The fallout of thinking for yourself not only results in the loss of being used by the narc, but it will affect all mutual relationships. This is because the narc does not believe in keeping the problems between you. They will not rest until they call everyone you both know and try to turn them against you.

Narcs have a way of being very charming and funny and convincing. To those who have no real clue their story might seem plausible and some people will believe them, but those who really know you will read between the lines. Others might turn against you and take up the story the narc is spreading. Those who are deceived are probably acquaintances and weren’t really your friends to begin with. The last group will become flying monkeys who call you up and try to shame you for the narcissist or talk about you to other people because they believe the lies.

The scapegoat may have at one time provided narcissistic feed or been a flying monkey or they might just be wise enough to disengage with the schemes laid out by the Narc.

If you have become the designated scapegoat here is a high five for you. This means you have chosen to no longer be manipulated by the narcissist and you are now thinking for yourself. To be the scapegoat means the truth and power you have is so frightening, the narc feels they must spend all their energy defusing it. Way to go! Hooray for the Scapegoat!