Narcissists have mean, nasty tongues. Duh! Unfortunately, the social convention of “niceness” puts a cramp in their style. Plan B: Couch the meanness in humor. It’s called teasing. Now they can be as mean as they want, with plausible deniability. They ain’t dun nuthin’. You’re just too sensitive.
As far back as I can remember, Dad teased me. Constantly. Mom put it down to his whole family being “smart lips.”
But this wasn’t ordinary, ridiculous teasing. This wasn’t calling me “Thou pribbling pottle-deep skainsmate!” or “Thou qualling ill-breeded popinjay!” Ah, Shakespeare knew how to do insults the right way!
No, these teases always contained a kernel of truth. As the custodian of my character, Dad believed it was his God-given right to point out my many flaws. And as the obedient child, it was incumbent on me to be humble and open to his criticisms. That’s what made his teasing so painful. It also denied me any grounds for lodging a valid complaint.
Here’s just one little example. No matter what time I got up in the morning, I got teased. Getting up early was met with a sarcastic, “Well! To what do we deserve this honor!?!” Getting up late was met with, “Well, look who’s up! Good morning, or should I say, ‘Good Afternoon’? Hahahahaha!”
As a “light sleeper,” Dad rose at 4 a.m. every morning. With the implied superiority of being “up with the lark,” he had grounds for “teasing” me, every morning, for three decades. That’s over 9,000 teases first thing in the morning. Believe me. It got really frickin’ old!
Blocking the memory of thousands of his teases are my gain, but this article’s loss. Usually, the insults were so subtle, so beautifully couched in humor, so slightly true, I never had grounds for even a disgruntled squeak. His superiority as a human was always implied by ye olde oft’ repeated wail of, “Why do I have to do all the thinkin’ around here?” All of my illnesses were greeted with a guffaw of “Germ bag!” followed by “Sicko!”
Unfortunately, his constant teasing taught me many dubious “virtues.”
- Ignoring insults
- Turning the other cheek
- Swallowing pain
- Having no boundaries
- Doubting my feelings
- Ignoring my intuition
- Not standing up for myself
- Being humble
Sound wonderful, don’t they? Perhaps in small amounts, but not in the copious amounts I possess them.
Even as a child I was puzzled by my peer’s instant defensive reactions to unkind words. My own process was time-consuming and infinitely convoluted. Did the speaker mean to wound me? Do I truly have valid grounds for a complaint? Do my character flaws give them valid grounds for their hurtful words? Am I merely being too sensitive? Am I being prideful? Am I being defensive? Is confronting them worth the torturous adrenalin rush of terror that always precedes confrontation? Is my pain at being insulted greater than the codependent pain I will feel when I wound them by confronting them?
“Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel,” went my thoughts for days following the insult. Usually, I chose to avoid the pain of confrontation. If I did choose to speak up, the speaker had long since forgotten what they said.
With Dad, while I might flap a bit at each teasing, I rarely (if ever!) directly told him how much he was hurting me. Usually, I sobbingly begged Mother to tell Daddy to stop teasing me so much. “Talk to him yourself,” she’d encourage me. Like that was going to happen. Given his vicious temper, I was too terrified even to react to the physical pain he so often caused when we roughhoused and wrestled.
So she spoke to him for me. And the teasing would ease for a couple of days and then he went right back to Lenora Bashing!
So I became a savant at swallowing pain. Keeping my face blank, catatonic. Looking away as if nothing had happened. You might even call it a mild form of dissociation. I thought my “act” was perfect until one day Mother said, “Y’know, I can always tell when you’re upset. I shouldn’t tell you, but I will. You whistle.”
Bunofasitch, I’d never realized that! Apparently, I’d taken Anna’s advice in The King and I to heart!
Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well!
I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid
Only, I wasn’t fooling anybody. Not myself. Not my parents. Obviously, my whistling betrayed how much I was hurting, but the constant teasing didn’t ease.
Heck! Dad even joked around in prayer...always solemnly apologizing to God afterwards.
Then one day, it happened. The final straw. It came as a surprise, even to me. I always thought I was boundaryless, unbreakable, infinitely elastic, able to swallow unlimited amounts of pain. Apparently not. And yet, the final tease that broke the camel’s back, like all of Dad’s teases, seems innocuous. Mild, even! Taken out of the context of three decades of unrelenting pain, my response might indeed seem over-sensitive.
Ah, those clever narcs! They always make us the “bad guys,” don’t they!?
The final straw came in May 2013, at the age of thirty-three. My husband of one year and I had just moved into our quaint 1912 cottage. Dad was chatting with me via phone from his hospital bed and made some reference to our new dishwasher.
“No, Dad, this house doesn’t have a dishwasher,” said I. “It was built in 1912.”
There was an explosion of laughter over the phone, followed by, “And how’s that workin’ out for ya!?! Hahahaha.”
I was done. DONE!
Flinging thirty-years of training that, “A soft answers turns away wrath,” I snapped, “Just fine, thank you!”
It was the last time I spoke to my father. The last time I ever will. Five months later, I went completely No Contact.
But surely, Lenora, you’re just being too sensitive.
Forget that he’s my father for a moment.
That man had the audacity to insult another man’s wife. He implied point-blank that she’s unable to keep up with basic household tasks. Unable to handle life. Unable to live.
Why did it come as such a surprise?
This was the man who told his 4.0 GPA daughter that she’d “almost failed” the seventh grade, and was rendered speechless when she innocently inquired if she’d be “set back” into sixth grade.
This was the man who almost made his 4.0 GPA daughter spend her last Summer Vacation studying, so disappointed was he in her progress in 11th grade.
This was the man who told his daughter she’d “almost failed” at her first job due to constant migraines.
This was the man who implied she’d ruin her life if allowed to move out of his home and make independent decisions.
This was the man who stated that his daughter’s personal failings were preventing God from bringing Mr. Right into her life. In actuality, he would have sent my wonderful Michael packing as he did every man I dated.
This was the man who jealously stated his daughter was “only infatuated” with the man she married.
This is the man who publicly implied on the World Wide Web that his daughter was an old maid by saying, “Now that my one and only daughter is finally married as of last Saturday – at the age of 32…”
Certainly, such an almost-failure couldn’t possibly keep up with washing her dishes…by hand!
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But narcs are clever “purple-hued maltworms!” (Thank you, Shakespeare!) They hurt us and then blame us for being hurt! It’s like slapping someone across the face and then blaming them for making your hand sting.
Really!?! The mind reels.