One of my favorite authors, Dr. Susan Forward, whose writings got me started in recovery many years ago, coined an acronym that perfectly describes the psychological atmosphere that children of personality disordered parents are raised in: FOG. The letters stand for fear, obligation, and guilt. People with personality disorders are emotional vampires. Their drive for narcissistic supply is as urgent as a human being needing oxygen. Having no conscience they will stop at nothing to get the attention, worship, opportunity to abuse or manipulate, or practical help that they need.
Because children believe their parents are the harbinger of all truth and are completely dependent on them, they learn from a young age they had better dance to their parents’ tune if they are to get their needs met at all. Time that should be spent learning about life and developing their identities is spent appeasing Mom and/or Dad and trying to stay out of harm’s way. Is it no wonder so many of us develop PTSD? It is like the bouncing Bettys of the Vietnam War. Stepping on it was fine. It was when you raised your foot that it would detonate. We must walk gingerly and carefully throughout our childhood never knowing when the next blow up will happen.
Fear, obligation, and guilt are these parents’ methods of control. A child can be manipulated easily to comfort weeping Mom and encourage her to cheer up, particularly if Mom makes you feel that you are the reason for her tears. If the big people you live with hold the key to your survival you will capitulate instantly if they threaten to throw you out of the house. Where can you go if you are five years old? If they vociferously judge you as a bad person you will do everything you can to prove that you are a good person, which really means doing precisely what they want. We internalize their messages and grow up feeling worthless, stupid, will never amount to anything, and the rest of the lifetime of bombardments that have come our way from the people who should have loved us the most. One woman raised by such parents said, “I feel like I flunked childhood.” As adults we keep trying to prove to our disordered parents that we are worth loving and should be approved of. This just feeds into their narcissistic supply.
To come out of the FOG we must first accept that personality disordered people do not change, do not heal. Currently it is an incurable condition. We must grieve the loss of a myriad of things that should have happened but never did and the things that did that were unconscionable. We may need individual therapy or a support group. We need to find nurturing, caring people to fill in the gaps of emotional development that Mom and Dad didn’t provide. Many of us have to cut off our parents completely because they are toxic in every interaction, all the time. They are filled with hate and rage and want us to feel miserable and capitulate to their will. Cutting off one’s parents is a high price to pay, and something the “normies” don’t understand. (“Can’t you just talk this out reasonably with your mother?”)
Coming out of the FOG means healing, release, and self-esteem that we have been robbed of since birth. The true self emerges with an interest in the world, a discovery of our abilities, and joy and peace we have never known. As one woman wrote on a recovery Web site, “More and more, I want to live in this world, where I am myself, and not some tangled up self-defense mechanism.” As adults we have the freedom of choice that our disordered, controlling parents cannot stop or take away. Here is a Web site of local therapists who work with adult children who have been raised in trauma: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_results.php?city=Dayton&state=OH&spec=19