By: Christine Louis de Canonville

The Child in the Mirror

When you become the dedicated keeper of a narcissist’s emotions and needs as a young child, you do not learn how to take care of your own needs first.
This does damage to the relationship with yourself, but you have no awareness of that.  To put oneself first feels alien, and very selfish, not to mention somewhat disconcerting.

Gerard (my brother) and I became so enmeshed, that much of the time we did not even have to speak, instinctively I knew what he was saying (negatively or positively) with a look, a nod, a laugh.
A lot of the time we were the best of friends, once he got his way, he was the most fantastic company, and I loved being with him.

But there were times when the enmeshment felt both oppressive and damaging to my identity.

Merging with him was dangerous, especially as I desperately desired to be in his company, while also equally desperately fearing him, both magnifying my shame.
These were the times when he stamped on my character, controlled me by not allowing me to play the game in a certain way, or not agreeing with me on a different game plan.

For example, because he was at an age when girls were stupid, I had to adopt the persona of a boy.  I could not be Christine; I had to be a character named John, otherwise, I could not play.
This may sound like a small thing, but for a child to have to deny their gender, feelings, and not make “silly” mistakes during play, amounts to a high level of deprivation.
To be accepted, I had to send my feminine side into hiding, and then my altered ego John could play, making me feel okay and safe with Gerard.

I did not fully realise it at the time, but I was deprived of my female feelings while in the mindset of my altered ego John.
I very much got the message that there was something terribly wrong with having a girly feeling (i.e. being afraid, sad, angry, etc.).  These feelings were not okay when I dared to express them, and this toyed somewhat with my emotional reality.  Even right into middle-age, I would have to struggle to express vulnerable feelings in front of others because they would readily trigger my shameful feelings of being weak, inferior and “girly”.

In those moments, the old script would play out in my head, and rather than being emotionally rejected by my brother, I was abandoning myself.  Interestingly enough, when I witnessed vulnerability in others, I immediately jumped in to rescue them from the shame I assumed they were feeling.

Once again, this led to putting other people’s needs before mine, as I would drop whatever I was doing to rescue them.

Although I was too young to understand, I did feel not being allowed to be myself as an attack on my identity.  That being a girl, was without a doubt, inferior to my persona John, the one Gerard approved of.
Most of the time I was passive to his demands of becoming a separate identity for his imaginary world of play, and in some way, this enmeshed us further through our fantasy world, where we were both budding heroes.

Always violence threatened our relationship, and the enmeshment played its role in placing me into the caretaker role I found myself in, a character I lived in for a great deal of my life.

From a very young age, my brother and I wrapped ourselves up in a quilt of shame.  This is how we both survived the harshness we were subjected to.
Gerard, whose shame-prone teachers projected their pain on him as an innocent child; and me, whose shame-prone brother projected his pain onto me, his innocent little sister. A tragic happening for both children.

In total, I have found myself in the co-narcissistic victim position on four separate occasions during my life.  Of course, the conditioning began for me very young, probably from the day I was born.
This, I believe, was the day that my brother felt usurped from his position as “the baby” in the eyes of Mum.  He was only four years old when I was born, up to then he was the baby of the family, and I must have come as a bit of a shock to him when I unwittingly took my mother’s attention away from him.

When Shame Begets Shame

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