Our family has been dealing with a recent tragedy that is 'too close to home', bringing up a lot of feelings and thoughts we rarely talk about. Our secreted fears are hard to face.
As parents of children with depression, we hope for the best but realize that some of our children will always be vulnerable to suicide caused by depression. Depression that is circumstantial, biological, or in some cases: both. When we partner with a narcissist, our children must resolve their feelings of low self-worth, rejection, abandonment, emotional disconnection, and for some, struggle to eliminate narcissistic defenses protecting a fragile self-worth.
Last week, a 16-year old, talented, intelligent, very loved, young man committed suicide by hanging himself from the family's balcony overlooking our city. He was the stepson of my sister's close friend. He had run away from home, hiding in the mountainside close to his residence. Three helicopters and a search crew attempted to find him and coax him into returning home. After a fruitless search, his parents returned home and found him hanging from a rope tied to their two-story deck. He had evidently planned his suicide. I cannot put their traumatic grief into words, nor my own.
His funeral was yesterday, attended by hundreds of people who knew the family through their work in Alanon and community service. His stepmother was actively involved in her stepson's life, as was his biological father who divorced his first wife because of her substance addictions when their children were young ( I believe this boy was about five years old at the time).
His biological mother attended the funeral services, too. Several people held her up as she staggered inebriated into the chapel---blaming the stepmother and her x-husband for causing this young man's death. The horror of this mother's narcissism, irresponsibility, and projected blame will forever be imprinted in my mind and heart. It wasn't her fault. None of it was her fault. Of course not.
The unavoidable truth is children's lives are damaged when narcissistic parents refuse responsibility for their destructive behavior. Narcissistic parents who are more concerned about Escaping Reality than Facing Reality. Narcissistic parents who have no conscience about leaving emotional messes for their children to clean up. Narcissistic parents whose preoccupation with the self, lack of empathy, cold indifference, and pursuit of self-gratification to the exclusion of their children's welfare, result in a tragic legacy their children are left to bear. The children are the ones who must face parental neglect and emotional abandonment. The children, who are too young to realize parental dysfunction is not the child's fault---that the child did not 'cause' the alcoholism---that the child was never defective nor unworthy of love.
As devoted as stepparents may be in reassuring a child's worth, even compassionate parents are limited in their ability to repair the broken bond between a child and a narcissistic parent. The sadness is that this young man took action to end his life before he was psychologically mature enough to work through the devastation of a mother who did not love him as he deserved to be loved, his right as a child to be protected, to feel safe and secure, to know that 'he' was first and foremost in her life. The realization of this tragedy makes me weep for all the children whose lives are relegated to second-place in the narcissist's eternal quest to put him-or herself primary.
I cannot help but reflect on the changes in our society that defeat parental influence in the home. Despite our efforts modeling healthy and 'meaningful' lifestyles, the outside world is invited into our homes in surreptitious and devastating ways. Our culture has more influence over our children's lives than it ever has, promoting empty values of fame and celebrity, self-serving behaviors of 'me-first', and a hedonistic emptiness of self-gratification at all costs to others.
We cannot ignore the social influence gaining headway over our parenting, even the best of parenting. A social influence that disconnects us from one another and thus, from ourselves. We cannot ignore the impact of a narcissistic parent who is unable to support a child in the way a child needs to be protected and loved. The impact of narcissistic parenting can be lifelong and as some of us regret to admit: life-threatening.
This young man had a personality change a few months ago. He began withdrawing, ignoring activities that were no longer interesting or pleasurable. He began having problems in school and isolating himself. His parents were concerned and began counseling with a psychologist to see if their child might be depressed. Because psychologists are reluctant to diagnose a child with bipolar or put them on medication without a thorough diagnosis, he was not being treated for a potentially genetic condition. The poignant sadness is that bipolar can be treated effectively with medication if it is caught in time, especially before the child has his-or-her first mania.
Everything this young man needed to get his life in order was already in place: supportive parents, a devoted father and stepmother, therapeutic involvement, friends and family and extended relationships, activities and intellectual pursuits in which he excelled (he was a genius with languages); and yet, a potentially biological predisposition coupled with a narcissistic birth mother who continued to create drama and chaos in her children's lives, were too much for this child to overcome.
I am tearful today and also humbled. There is only so much we can do as concerned adults. For, despite our attempts to 'fix' what is obviously broken, our 'fixing' is countered by a narcissistic culture and genetic predispositions over which we have little power or influence.
Children today face an empty proliferation of dissatisfying role models placing fame & fortune above normality, serving self above others. And what can I say about the pain of knowing a blessed child was born with a genetic predisposition that will be a life-long challenge for both the child and those who nurture him-or-her? It is humbling to admit to ourselves that as parents, we are not omnipotent; our desire to ameliorate a child's problems is beyond the scope of our influence; we cannot seclude a child from the harsh realities of life in a narcissistic culture. We do what we can do to support them but in the end, we are helpless to save them from harm caused by others or by themselves.
We hope and we pray and we mourn.
God bless all the parents who care enough to try.
Has Sorrow Thy Young Days Shaded
by Thomas Moore
Has sorrow thy young days shaded,
As clouds o'er the morning fleet?
Too fast have those young days faded
That, even in sorrow, were sweet?
Does Time with his cold wing wither
Each feeling that once was dear? --
Then, child of misfortune, come hither,
I'll weep with thee, tear for tear.
Has love to that soul, so tender,
Been like our Lagenian mine,
Where sparkles of golden splendour
All over the surface shine --
But, if in pursuit we go deeper,
Allured by the gleam that shone,
Ah! false as the dream of the sleeper,
Like Love, the bright ore is gone.
Has Hope, like the bird in the story,
That flitted from tree to tree
With the talisman's glittering glory --
Has Hope been that bird to thee?
On branch after branch alighting,
The gem did she still display,
And, when nearest, and most inviting,
Then waft the fair gem away?
If thus the young hours have fleeted,
When sorrow itself look'd bright;
If thus the fair hope hath cheated,
That led thee along so light;
If thus the cold world now wither
Each feeling that once was dear --
Come, child of misfortune, come hither,
I'll weep with thee, tear for tear.