Saturday, June 23, 2007

Emotional Torture

A comment was left on my blog a few days ago that deserves to be highlighted. Torienne left a comment on the blog post "When Your Narcissist Mother isn't THAT Bad". She very articulately describes the component of emotional abuse that makes it so painful and destructive. She also captures what it is that makes physical and emotional pain move from the realm of discomfort into torture. To save you a click, I'll copy and paste her comment below. Thanks, Torienne, for your well-stated insights.

Torienne said...

I once read a comment by a neonatologist, who said of his profession "What we do to these children is indistinguishable from torture." He has a point. Think about what a juvenile cancer patient goes through -the needles, the poisons, the surgeries. And yet, when they recover, these kids are delighted to return to the hospital where torture was visited on them. They run to hug the nurses and doctors who inserted needles and pumped burning fluids into their veins.

The difference between medical care and torture is intent. The doctors and nurses have only the intent to cure, and as humanely as possible. They explain what will happen. They validate the child's fear. They do their best to ease that pain and fear. They are concerned and compassionate.

On the other hand, a narcissistic mother may never have laid a hand on you, though she probably managed to arrange for at least some pain. All her brutality was in her intent. She intended to humiliate, confuse and shame. She wanted you to hurt. She enjoyed it. She even wanted you to know that she enjoyed it. She was sadistic.

Andrew Vachss has said (, look for "You carry the cure...") that the worst kind of abuse is emotional abuse. He believes that the emotional component of physical and verbal abuse is what makes it bad. He has a long history as an advocate of abused children, and if anyone understands abuse, it is he. Even so he has a hard time verbalizing what he means by emotional abuse. Like most writers, he defaults to using examples of verbal abuse and pointing out their emotional component.

The children of narcissists endure the very worst kind of abuse because narcissists are pure emotional abusers. Their children do not know how to express what they experience, because it is so difficult to describe the agony of abusive intent. Our Nparents hurt our feelings and then reveled in our pain in such a way that it was clear that they did it on purpose and for fun. Although they certainly lashed out in anger, that wasn't what made them abusive, although as AnnaV points out, when they are called on their abusiveness, they point to things like angry outbursts, because, after all, they're just human, and you do that too, sometimes right? In reality what made them abusive was not their outbursts. It was the times they engaged in carefully planned, deliberate, premeditated cruelty and the pleasure they took from inflicting it. They know what they're doing. That's the biggest secret of all, and the one they defend with their last breath, as AnnaV's mother was doing. They claim they had no intention of hurting you, but in reality, the entire goal was to hurt you. Your pain was the payoff. They knew it. You knew it. That's what made it hurt so much. But you couldn't prove it, and your ineffectual rage and humiliation made the narcissist just giggle with joy and pride that she was so clever!

When I was 15, my father developed cancer and was given 2 years to live. That summer I became so depressed that I didn't get out of bed, couldn't eat, and did nothing. Naturally my mother didn't notice, because she was worrying about herself (she said). One night, in the grip of rolling waves of depression, I told her that I was sick and needed to go the doctor. The doctor examined me briefly, looked at me sitting slumped on his examining table and said "What's going on in your life?" I said "My father has cancer and he's going to die." He said "I see." He then turned to my Nmom and said "I think you should get her someone to talk to." She said,incredulously "You a psychologist? Oh no! Not her!"

Now, she was a nurse, and I had never before heard her directly defy a doctor's orders. In addition, she was seeing a psychologist herself, so it wasn't fear of therapists in general. She was ok with therapy, just not for me.

It took me a long time to figure out the damning truth behind this scene and why something so superficially trivial burned itself into my memory. She didn't want me to see a therapist, because she was afraid the therapist would find out what she was doing to me . Then that horrible, delicious little secret would be out: that sometimes she liked to get me alone and torment me for fun. Some of her abuse was unthinking, but most of it wasn't at all involuntary or reflexive. It was staged, planned and deeply enjoyed, and could not be explained in any other way than deliberate sadism. It was also completely hidden. She was extremely careful about her timing and her rationales. She orchestrated it for maximum pleasure without risking exposure. All of this was completely conscious, and extremely evil. And she knew all of it.

So Jordie: Look through your memory. Somewhere, sometime when your Nmom wasn't in complete control of the situation, she slipped up and gave you tangible proof of her sadism. Maybe when you realize that, it will help you understand that you have absolutely no choice but No Contact, because otherwise she will never stop tormenting you. She doesn't want to. It's been too much fun.


Anonymous said...

My n-mom periodically accidentally exposes her pure pathological stripe as well. After a particularly brutal reminder of n-mom's self-centered cruelty directed towards me (and my dad's ever enabling support of her nastiness), I saw a psychiatrist for several months to solely discuss my dysfunctional family. (Conclusion: it's them, not you - separate ASAP.) I declined contact w/them during this period, which upset both controlling parents. N-mom finally accused me: "You're seeing a psychiatrist aren't you!!!" and shreiked: "You've got to stop immediately! It's always the mother's fault." Her statement summarized it all. To her, it didn't matter that I was depressed, sad, or even mentally ill. To her, all that mattered was that her bad behavior not be exposed even in privacy. She's also said before: "...but don't you dare tell your husband...", tacitly acknowledging how bad her behavior by requiring secrecy.

And note that n-mom's needs and demands transcend all, that she assumes she is my continuing 1st priority.

I really appreciate your blog.


Anonymous said...

My Nmom said something similar. But I was taking a class I college on sociology called "marriage and family" and was just casually talking to my mom about my course load. Regarding this class she said something along the lines of, "are you taking it so you can see how messed up your family is? Haha." It made me very uncomfortable and I wasn't sure how to take it because my thoughts were 'ok you know how messed up this dynamic is or you actually think you're making a joke, or...' Constantly trying to figure out her intent is fruitless to say the least.