Aaron Nagy
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My Experience of Narcissistic Abuse as a ...

My Experience of Narcissistic Abuse as a Person with Autism

Feb 03, 2022

“Nothing bad ever happened to you. Not even once. You were loved and DEFINITELY don’t have any kind of mental illness. Especially autism. You say you have autism, but that doesn’t mean we owe you anything. It doesn’t matter what the psychiatrists and psychologists say! Things that happened when you were a child don’t have an effect on you when you are older.”

In 2017, I had become homeless as a result of longstanding and untreated major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD. Autism and ADHD had been with me since birth, and the autism, in particular, was both obvious in my behavior and caused me incredible distress. I didn’t know what was wrong with me while I was growing up, but I knew something wasn’t right. For some reason, I couldn’t interact with people in a way that resulted in friendship. The depression developed in late elementary school and early middle school when I realized how different and alone I was everywhere I went. I never had friends growing up aside from sporadic acquaintances, and the problem was undeniably me.

When I sought out mental health care as a 29-year-old homeless man and was immediately diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder level 2, I felt incredible relief to finally have an explanation for my lived experience. I should have sought out mental health care before I ended up homeless, and not caring for myself in this way as a young adult is my fault. If you are reading this and suspect something isn’t right in your head, learn from my error and talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible. The brain is a physical body part, and if it isn’t functioning correctly that isn’t a moral or personal failing any more than a malfunctioning eye is. Many people don’t see things this way, of course, and that often prevents treatment. This is especially true among religious people who look for a spiritual reason to explain disordered thinking.

Sensory issues are common in autism, and the combination of sensory inputs at our weekly church services would reliably leave me with a horrible, debilitating headache when I was a child. This was a weekly experience for me. I wasn’t treated for this beyond a little Tylenol or taken to a doctor, and my mother would tell me that the headaches were because I “wasn’t right with God”. That was the end of it in her mind, and I just kept on regularly suffering for years believing that I was such an inherently bad person god was punishing me. That is a hell of a mental burden for an autistic loner to carry in grade school, and it contributed to my isolation. I am a bad person who even god doesn’t like, so why would I ever expect anyone to want to be my friend?

While human interaction mystified me, I tested exceptionally well in school and was generally considered gifted academically. This was a bad combination of inputs for me to experience. I never thought that my brain was “normal”, but I had enough narcissism in me to see this as some kind of superiority. Who, after all, wants to be normal? Why would I want to have a mind that leads me to happy and healthy relationships when I could instead be great at pattern recognition? This was a defense mechanism, and an embarrassing one. Humans are the most complicated things in the world, and I’m not able to understand or interact with them as well as most people do. How dare I think of myself as having superior intelligence!

Since I had become homeless and totally isolated after years of desperately trying to be a functional adult, there was no running from the reality of my mental illness. My behavior was objectively maladaptive, and I wasn’t capable of forming the friendships and family relationships I so badly wanted. The more I read about the mental illnesses I had been diagnosed with, the more my behavior and thinking became transparent to me. I had lived as a near stereotype of an undiagnosed autistic person, and all of the warning signs of autism were there from the time I was a small child.

I remember vividly my mother telling me how “weird” I was constantly as a very young kid. Instead of taking me to a doctor or helping me with my maladaptive behavior herself, she just mocked me and talked about how “weird” I was to other adults right in front of me. I don’t know what was said privately, but no adult ever corrected her behavior in my presence. People just laughed at the morbidly obese autistic child with no friends and no social intelligence as if these things were my decisions. My mental illness was only important to my mother as a way to make other people laugh. This was better than my father, at least, because my father would say the same things without laughing. He clearly did not like me or want me to exist, and this was my impression from as early as I can remember.

If I would do something that wasn’t normal or my father just didn’t like, he would lash out at me with horrible verbal and emotional abuse in front of whoever happened to be around. He would rant for a long time about all the things he didn’t like about me couched in moral terms: I have a bad nature and I’m being weird as a choice, essentially. He wouldn’t stop with whatever the proximate cause of his anger was, but would instead denounce me from top to bottom as a whole pile of bad attributes that only I am responsible for. I was usually left with the impression that I was supposed to somehow become an entirely different person. I now understand these outbursts as narcissistic rage triggered by embarrassment at having an abnormal child: his ego could not handle the reality that his child was clearly in need of psychological care. He was determined to ignore the mental health needs he was obligated to address and to hide them from others so that he could present a better image to the world.

Naturally, my parents didn’t for one moment consider their responsibility as my caregivers and role models in shaping my behavior. I was supposed to “just know” how to behave without any effort on the part of my parents. When I was given some chore to do, I was just given the chore with no explanation or instruction and then berated and humiliated in front of people if I didn’t guess correctly the specific way they wanted it done. They almost never had an individual conversation with me growing up and didn’t try to teach me anything. They had no social life outside of church and were home every night, so this wasn’t a problem of time. Instead of parenting, they watched television silently or busied themselves with keeping up appearances.

I accept and understand that my parents (especially my father, but to a lesser extent my mother as well) come from terrible households where their normal needs were not met and they did not have a chance to develop into healthy, functional people. They even acknowledge this. Narcissism and other forms of abusive behavior tend to be a generational cycle, and everyone should have some sympathy for people who were doomed to this sort of hell growing up. This does not, however, absolve people from responsibility for continuing the cycle of abuse.

My parents knew very well what mental illness and child abuse were because of their experience of it growing up, but they still decided to hurt their own children and do nothing to treat their own damaged minds. This knowing choice is what makes them evil people. Further, instead of protecting us from the horror that they experienced, my parents instead left us in the unsupervised care of known monsters. We were abused in many ways (including sexually) by our grandparents because our parents didn’t want to bother finding other childcare arrangements. I was left with my abusive grandparents five days a week, eight hours a day for years during summer vacations and other school breaks. This wasn’t a small mistake once or twice.

My father will talk for hours about how physically and emotionally abusive his parents were to him, but he became enraged when I told him that he shouldn’t have left his own children with people who had savagely abused him. If you understand this, you understand my father: criticizing him for putting me in a dangerous situation is far worse than him actually putting me in a dangerous situation. My mother enables this and doesn’t appear to care at all that the people my father knew were abusive were allowed by him to abuse her children. Any suggestion that they made a bad decision is met by stonewalling.

Some of my earliest memories are of being deeply uncomfortable sitting around my grandparents’ living room with other children after being told to take our shirts off. There was no reason for this that I could understand at the time, but I knew something was wrong. This wasn’t innocent because people who didn’t want to undress were pressured into it. Another of my earliest memories of my grandfather is him telling me how into schoolgirls and pigtails he was. I didn’t talk to my grandfather much as a kid, and everything he did say to me directly was deeply unsettling.

When I would push back on creepy or demonstrably false things my grandfather would say later on in my young adult years, my father would go into a rage and accuse me of making my grandfather go to Hell and preventing my father from “saving” him. That is not an exaggeration and is nearly a direct quote. Once my father finally decided that he didn’t love his father anymore, I tried to get some closure on the issue by telling my father the effect being blamed for my grandfather’s eternal damnation had on me. He wouldn’t have the conversation and would go so far as to tell me that if I brought up his father he wouldn’t speak to me anymore. The final end of my desire to have a relationship with my father was when he looked me in the eye and lied to me about giving this ultimatum immediately after giving it. This is a classic trick of his: threaten then pretend you didn’t so people do what you want and you can pretend it isn’t because you coerced them. I am not a doctor, but my father’s behavior is that of a covert narcissist.

Talking about my mental health and explaining the terrible experiences I had growing up as an undiagnosed and untreated autistic person to my family has been a disaster. When I gave my mental health evaluations to my parents, they said nothing. They refused to even read articles about autism I sent them and denied the reality of almost every single specific incident that I brought up as a moment that deeply damaged me. They casually dismissed my lived experience and vivid memories, called me crazy, and then stopped talking to me. Stonewalling is a typical tactic of manipulation that narcissists use, and my parents use it as a matter of course. Throughout my life, my parents have always refused to speak to people who challenge them in any way. The cowardice of this has always been particularly noxious to me.

Even my sister shouted me down and wouldn’t let me physically say the words she didn’t want to hear when I tried to talk to her about my experience of abuse growing up and the effect it has had on my life. I feel terrible for her because she has three kids and is still stuck in the narcissistic family system she was born into. My sister is what is known as a “flying monkey” in the narcissistic family system. The primary narcissistic abusers (in my case, my parents) tend to use divide and conquer tactics to keep control over the people they consider theirs to abuse. This way, it seems like “everyone” is on their side and the person they are targetting is the “crazy” one. This relates to the “golden child/black sheep” dynamic. The narcissist makes their approval a rare commodity and doles it out only when people act out the role determined for them. I don’t hold any animosity towards the other people who were abused by my parents, and I hope to have a high-quality relationship with my siblings one day. I was a worse brother to them than I should have been regardless of what was going on with our parents, and this is one of my deepest regrets.

Understanding narcissism and the abuse I experienced growing up has made the world a far less frightening place for me. When I thought of my family as normal (since I didn’t have any social life, I simply did not have anyone to compare my family to), I thought everyone was more or less similar to them. I thought being terrified to speak or move or think in a way my parents did not like was just life, and life was terrible for everyone. The people who I was told loved me more than anyone else ever could abused me terribly and have never apologized for it. If this is maximum love, then what would people who love me less than my parents do to me? What must people who aren’t my parents think of me if my parents openly disparage me in public at the slightest provocation? The truth is that my parents are especially cruel outliers who are still the worst people I have ever met. Their “love” wasn’t love, and most strangers are far more kind to me than they ever were.

There is a lot more for me to say on this subject, and I intend to return to it in the future. The best use of my abusive past is to shine a light on it as an example of what narcissistic behavior looks like in practice. Going forward, I’ll focus more on individual episodes and the specific abusive behavior of the people involved as well as the long-term effect of the episode on my mental health. Let me outline one such episode here by way of closing:

When I was about 19, my father was fired from his job as a locksmith. He admitted that he had been stealing equipment from his employer and selling it on the internet. He used this stolen money to buy toy trains for himself to play with. My father has been a model railroad hobbyist my entire life, and it is the only thing he seems to really enjoy. This is very much only his hobby, and nobody but him had anything to do with it in the family. He attempted to justify his theft by saying that he didn’t get a raise he had asked for at work and didn’t want to take away from the family’s needs to support his toy train hobby. So he started to steal.

Selling stolen goods over the internet across state lines is a pretty big deal, but he wasn’t prosecuted because the company he was fired from identifies as a “Christian company” and took mercy on him. Had he gone to prison as the law requires, my family would have lost our house and who knows what else. For toy trains. The subject is forbidden to speak of in my family even though it was an enormous betrayal with immense psychological fallout for each of us. Being able to express this and honestly talk to my father about his actions would be healing for me and probably healing for him, too. He will not talk about it and will not even admit that this had an effect on anyone but him. When I last tried to broach this subject with my father, he dismissed me by saying the event was some years ago then going into silence. No matter how egregious his actions are, they are justified because they are his actions: that is the essence of narcissism.

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