Where has Doctor Who been all my life? I mean, that show is Nirvana for geeks like me. But it took nine seasons of watching The Big Bang Theory before I finally decided to see what this “Doctor Who” that Sheldon and Leonard were always talking about was like. And it is awesome! No wonder the show’s been going since 1963 (off and on.)
What I didn’t expect was to find a Doctor Who episode that spoke so eloquently to narcissistic abuse that it made me cry. Twice.
Of course, I’m talking about Season 4, Episode 3 titled Planet of the Ood. Oh, we’d met the Ood before. With their bald heads, extremely slanted eyes and tentacled-faces it takes awhile to get accustomed to the Ood. The Doctor describes them as “servants of humans in the 42nd century. Mildly telepathic…”
And it was left there. The Ood were pleasant non-entities, polite to a fault. They existed only to serve humans…making the food, offering cups of tea. They had no desire for freedom, seeming to not even understand the concept.
But, just like the pleasant non-entities we became under narcissistic abuse, that isn’t the whole story.
In Planet of the Ood, we discover that the Ood are born with a secondary brain attached to their main brain by a kind of umbilical cord. As Donna exclaims “They’re born with their brains in their hands!” Literally. They hold their external amygdala gently in their hands, cradling it tenderly. For an Ood, this external brain is home to their emotion and memory.
And that’s why mankind found the Ood so easy to dominate. They were peaceful. Well, ya kinda’ gotta be when you hold your brains in your hand! Man discovered that by “processing” an Ood, cutting off the Ood’s external brain, they are able to turn the Ood into slaves with no emotion, no memory, no free will and no desire for freedom.
Sound familiar? Doesn’t narcissistic abuse do exactly that? By invalidation and insults, we are alienated from our own emotions. By gaslighting, we learn to discount and distrust our memories. What’s left? A “blank” creature who tries to be pleasant at all times and exists to serve others, never seeking independence, never caring for itself. And that’s exactly how the narcissists want us to be so they can use, exploit and abuse us willy-nilly with no negative repercussions against them. Perfect!
Narcissistic abuse turns us into Ood, if you will.
So how do they do it? How is our “umbilical cord” to our own emotions severed? Oh, there are a lot of ways. When I was six, my mother told me it was wrong for me to get so, so angry. I asked her, “So what do I do when I get mad?”. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the knowledge, the moxy, the tools to help me understand the source of my anger and express it in healthier ways. As she said sadly years later, “You suppressed your anger ever since you were six. You went underground with it. I just didn’t know what to tell you.”
Then there is the “You’re too sensitive” remark we hear over and over when we react to being insulted, offended, wounded. And, of course, there’s always the classic, “I was just teasing! Can’t you take a joke!?” lie that makes it “okay” for the narcissists to wound us. After all, we are the problem. We need to work on our senses of humor!
All of the above, and so much more, separate us from our emotions. But when it comes to memories, gaslighting is the narcissist’s best friend.
“I notice 50% more than you do,” my father bragged to me when I was about fifteen. It was a comment I mulled on that day and for years following. Did he mean that his eyesight was better, I wondered. Because he seemed to “miss” an awful lot that I noticed. Things like relatives disliking him. Things like the damage his unbridled rage caused his family. But I worshiped the ground he walked on, so I tried to believe his remark…distrusting my own observations and memories.
“You almost failed seventh grade,” my father told me. As I recalled, I got straight As…but again, his remark made me doubt my sense, my memories. I thought I was a success. He frequently seemed to think of me as an “amost failure.” And when his fist contacted my chin, he was quick to brainwash and gaslight me by saying, “It wasn’t a punch…and you don’t need to tell your mother about this.” But if it wasn’t a punch, what is there to tell!?!
It’s brainwashing, bullshitting and gaslighting like this that separate us from our own meories. With neither emotion nor memory left, we become like a “processed” Ood. Blank. Pleasant, but blank. Willing to serve. How many times in my twenties did I say to myself, “I exist to serve.” I served everyone, with one exception: myself. She was neglected.
Recovery is all about recovering our external brain and once again holding it in our hands. Gently. Tenderly. We must re-learn how to trust our emotions and have faith in our memories.
Doctor Who is the last place one expects to find a powerful lesson about narcissistic abuse. But it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.