They were adult women. They were legally of age. Yet, they were held as slaves, completely unaware they had every legal right to leave. To embrace freedom. To go No Contact. They are the women of the infamous Mary Magdalene Catholic laundries of Ireland. Healthy in mind and body, years of being held against their will left them so-called “institutionalized,” unaware and even afraid of freedom.

Unfortunately, their heart-breaking story hits a nerve for those of us who were also held against our will  and denied freedom…not by nuns, but by narcissists. Like the Magdalene women, we may not have known we had the moral and legal right to our freedom. Like them, we may have been afraid of physical harm if we tried to leave. Like them, our only “out” may have been to make a dash for it. Literally.

Like them, we were and still are “institutionalized.”

Age of Majority

The legal Age of Majority is a dirty little secret narcissists like to hide from their infantilized, “Never 21” children. This magical age is either 18 or 19 depending on your state of residence. At this age, you become responsible for the majority of your actions, hence the name “Age of Majority.”

Nothing and no one can hold you against your will after you reach this age. Period. It’s the Law.

“Institutionalized”

“But,” you say, “I’m not being held against my will! I’m not institutionalized.” Oh aye. And the moon is made of lemon meringue.

Do you lie awake at night, fantasizing about leaving? Do you have it all planned out? I did. In my twenties, I lay awake at night and planned it out. I was going to get in my car and go. Just go and go and go in a straight line for as long and as far as I could until the police caught me and dragged me back to my weeping Mommy and screaming Daddy. But I never did it. Why? I was “institutionalized.” I had Stockholm Syndrome bad.

How do you know you’re institutionalized? When you think you must stay. When you think the police have a legal right to drag you back if you dare to leave. If you’re more worried about hurting your captors’ feelings than the slow death you’re living every day. If you think your captors can’t survive without you. Those are clues!

The Weak Have Great Power

Nothing obligates you to stay somewhere you’re being abused. Not the narcissists’ so-called love. Not their weakness. Not their neediness. Remember what Claude Rains said in Now Voyageur, “The weak have great power.” Make that the “so-called” weak.

You’d be surprised by how much you’re not needed. Every time I’ve left someone or someplace that I thought couldn’t possibly get along without me, I later discovered how utterly dispensable I was. They cracked on just fine without me. When I moved on, they discarded me like all narcissists do to those who can’t serve them anymore.

Emancipation

“But,” you say, “I’m underage. My parents are abusive, but there’s no hope ’til I’m eighteen.” Right? Wrong!

Ever heard of Emancipation? This is a legal term that allows even teenagers under the Age of Majority (18 or 19) to file a petition with the court to be legally granted their adulthood early. And it’s a step that grown children of narcissists have often said they wish they’d known about.

Being emancipated by court order, legally allows you to enter contracts, such as leases for apartments. But it’s going to take a lot on your part. You must prove that you are mature enough to be on your own. You must also prove you are financially independent and still in school. But it’s worth it! Worth it to escape from narcissistic abuse.

Stockholm Syndrome aka Institutionalized

Unfortunately, the news about the Age of Majority and Emancipation comes too late for most of us. We stayed for far too long. And bear the consequences to this day. Like the women of the Magdalen laundry and all cult survivors, we struggle with Stockholm Syndrome and being “institutionalized.”

Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that we ever were in a mental institution nor need to be. Far from it! Rather, I mean that our thoughts have been warped by the narcissists. And it didn’t happen by accident. Heck no! Just like the nuns and priests in the laundry, our narcissists systematically brainwashed and frightened us into remaining their obedient, cowed minions.

Incapable

One of their favorite ploys is to convince us that we’re incapable of “making it” on our own. Lazy. Inept. Stupid. I’m sure you’ve heard all of these adjectives over and over. Without them (the narcissist), we’re too foolish to make it alone in the wide, wide world. We can’t earn enough. We can’t take care of ourselves. And so forth and so on. My mother always said I couldn’t afford to live alone. That struck me as odd. Apparently, everyone else at my office could make it on their income…but I couldn’t. It didn’t make sense. And it wasn’t true!

On the flip side of the coin, narcissists make themselves out to the great victim, incapable of living without us. Perhaps they say they can’t make it financially without our income. Or they claim that they’ll do themselves an injury if we leave. Very classy stuff. Very Academy of Dramatic Arts. Very bullshit!

The Sob Act

If that doesn’t work, they pull out the sentimental, sob act. Why don’t we want to live with them anymore!?! How can we do this to them? Like Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, they keep wringing out their sodden hankies ’til we’re standing in a damp patch.

Don’t let it get to you!! Stay strong. If they know you are miserable, how can it be loving for them to force you to stay and be miserable? Doesn’t true love put the needs of the other person (you) first?

Anger

When the sob act doesn’t work to make us stay, then they get mad. Mad! Ah, how well I remember Mom yelling, “Fine! If you’re so miserable here, why don’t you just leave then!” before flouncing off in a temper. Yet, the “you must stay ’til you’re married” rule was not lifted.

They know we’re miserable. Of course they do! That’s why they’re always calling us sad sacks and forcing us to smile. But when they can’t get their way, they become petulant, temperamental children throwing a temper tantrum and pounting. I guess all the sites are right when they say that narcissists have the emotional maturity of five year olds. Make that toddlers. I was more mature than that at five years old and so were you!

Bad

One of the lies employed by the nuns of the Magdalene Laundries was to convince all the girls that they would come to bad ends if they left the protection of the Mary Magdalene laundries. The prettiest orphaned girls were enslaved because they were pretty and thus deemed walking, talking stumbling blocks to the innocent, can’t-help-but-be-seduced men of Ireland. The girls’ heads were shaved. Their chests bound flat.

Similarly, narcissists of the religious turn will attempt to convince us that we’ll fall into sin if we leave their protection, their guidance, their domination. Very cultish, eh!? In my late twenties, my father told me allowing me to move out would be “throwing me to the wolves.” Translation: You’ll turn into a slut.

(DAMN! Why is it always about sex, sex, sex!?! Sorry. I digress!)

Convincing us that we’ll become immoral people without them to keep us on the straight-and-narrow is just another tactic that narcissists and cults use to keep us “institutionalized.” Need I add that it’s utter nonsense!?! We are good people. Never doubt that! If we weren’t, the narc wouldn’t have sunk their claws into us. Remember that.

Conclusion

Whether you are 16 or 60, life is so much sweeter when you grasp your freedom, your Great Emancipation. Almost six years after miraculously getting mine, I still think to myself, “It’s a just a dream. Someday, I’ll awake in my old childhood bedroom and it’ll all have been just a wonderful dream.” Then I pinch myself and look lovingly at my husband, my home, my puppies and smile. I’m not “institutionalized” anymore. I escaped.

So can you. Whaddya waiting for? Go for it!

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