Having lived with my highly unstable mother until since my parents’ divorce when I was eight, I moved into the house of my father and step-mother (I have explained how this came about elsewhere on this site) when I was thirteen. It was obvious from the start that I was not wanted in my new environment: soon after I moved in my father told me that what I had to understand was that when his new wife (i.e. now my step-mother) married him (a year or two previously) she didn’t realize that I was going to become ‘part of the package) ; indeed, the antipathy she felt towards my presence was palpable from the start (whilst my father coped with my presence by essentially ignoring me).
My step-mother was a highly religious woman who was a pivotal member of her church and started a charity for the homeless (and eventually built it into an organization of some local significance) which was ironic in as far as several years later she insisted my father threw me out of the house (a demand to which he acquiesced without apparent quibble), thus making me homeless (I had to move in with a friend and his parents – my step-mother’s homeless charity was not forthcoming with support). Although my step-mother had an impeccable public image, I believe she was what is known as a communal narcissist (she also worshipped her own, biological son, whilst intensely disliking me and it is a recognized phenomenon that narcissistic parents often have one favourite child and another they make the family scapegoat.
But back to when I was thirteen and had just moved in. As I have said, my step-mother was highly religious and attended a Charismatic church (i.e. one that believed God actively intervenes in the world through miracles, signs, symbols, prophecy, healings, supernatural events, and general spookiness. Congregation members, for example, would apparently sometimes spontaneously start talking in so-called ‘tongues; this is, Charismatic Christians believe, a ‘divine language’. Notwithstanding this spurious and bogus claim, it is nevertheless incomprehensible to not only the listener, but also the speaker. However, it superficially sounds like an actual language in so far as it is made up of syllables from a real language and tends to be spoken with at least some degree of rhythm and melody (Williams, 1972). Anyway, the point is that after I had just moved in and was in the middle of some fairly trifling argument with my step-mother, she suddenly started shouting at me in said ‘tongues’ (with, as I recall, a somewhat crazed look on her face which did little to reassure me).
So, what was she trying to communicate? Although I was stunned into a sort of mental blankness (an example of dissociation, I assume) by her bizarre and disturbing behaviour at the time and, for a long time afterward, blocked it out of my mind, in retrospect it is clear (although the ‘tongues’ themselves were, I can see now, amounted to nothing more than nonsensical prattle) that the message she intended to convey was that she herself was a holy, godly and good person whist I was the polar opposite: unholy, ungodly, and evil (so evil, in fact, that she wished me to believe that God had seen fit to give my step-mother the ‘gift of tongues with which to really drive the point home); I undoubtedly internalized that message, reinforced constantly by her attitude towards me over the years which has led to a life mired in self-hatred and self-contempt.
I retell the story because what happened between myself and my step-mother that day, so many years ago now, but still vivid in my mind, encapsulates very well what is meant by the psychoanalytic phrase: THE COMPLEMENTARY MORAL DEFENSE.
As I alluded to above, for much of my life I have felt essentially worthless and this, if Shaw’s (author of Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems Of Subjugation, in which he expounds upon this) theory (an expansion of Fairbairn’s original theory) is correct, may well be due to the complementary moral defense (which I’ll refer to as CMD).
Essentially, CMD involves, firstly, the child of narcissistic, abusive parents being unconsciously driven to perceive himself/herself as ‘bad’ rather than the narcissistic, abusive parents as bad because this is the only way s/he can maintain an attachment to them, upon which s/he is so pitifully dependent.
Secondly, CMD involves the narcissistic, abusive parents developing the diametrically opposed belief about themselves which is complementary to the child’s view of himself as being ‘all bad’, i.e. they regard themselves as ‘all good.’ This appallingly destructive relational dynamic is maintained by the narcissistic parents continually projecting their own badness onto the child which s/he internalizes: like a diabolical form of osmosis, slowly, but surely, over the years, the psychological poison projected from the narcissistic parents is absorbed into the child’s self-image, potentially condemning him/her, without effective therapy or meaningful emotional support, to a life of having to endure profound feelings of self-loathing, shame and guilt.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).