I grew up in an angry family. Any disagreement between parents and children seemed to escalate into epic battles, ending only in violent punishments. Not surprisingly, I have always been afraid of anger, my own included. In my experience, anger is a destructive force that quickly becomes unfocused and wreaks havoc on the innocent and guilty alike, so I learned early in life not to do anything to anger anyone, and to keep my own anger reined in.
This fear of anger is one of the holds my dysfunctional alcoholic brother has on me. He is such an angry person, it’s as if he’s caught in a whirlwind of powerful energies and furies he cannot control. His anger bombards me with such force sometimes it feels as if I am soaking up his anger. Some of his anger is understandable, given his upbringing in such an angry family, but some of the anger is alien, especially when it is centered on me. Have I really done so much to offend him? Am I really the evil bitch he thinks I am? It’s possible, I suppose — our ability to deceive ourselves seems boundless at times — and yet, I am not quite as isolated as he seems to think, and since other people don’t see me as evil, I have some sense of the truth.
His mental issues are undiagnosed, but I’ve been doing online research in an effort to find a way to diminish his demands on me. (I realize finding a name for his illness won’t change anything, but it might help me figure out a way to deal with his relentless demands for attention.) He exhibits many symptoms of bipolarism, alternating between depression and anger. (One thing that is characteristic of bipolar anger is spitting, and the sound of his spitting tells me when he’s ready to go into rage mode. When I asked him why he spits, he told me it was to get rid of the poison in his system.) He also exhibits many symptoms of narcissistic anger. When someone with narcissistic personality disorder feels even a tinge of slight, they go into rage overdrive, as does my brother.
This list of narcissistic personality disorder symptoms exactly describes my brother:
•Turns every conversation to himself.
•Ignores the impact of his negative comments.
•Constantly criticizes or berates me; thinks he knows what is best for me.
•Focus on blaming me and others rather than taking responsibility for his own behavior.
•Expect me to jump at his every need.
•Is overly involved with his own addictions, ignoring everyone else’s needs.
•Has high need for attention.
•Is closed minded about his own mistakes. Can’t handle criticism and gets angry to shut it off.
•Becomes enraged and has tantrums when his needs are not met or if he thinks he’s been slighted.
•Has an attitude of “Anything you can do, I can do better” — he hates that I am a published author, and is constantly telling me (screaming at me) that he is an artist who has written 400 songs, that he knows how to write and I don’t, (though he hasn’t read a single word I have ever written).
•Forgets what I have done for him yet keeps reminding me what I “owe” him today — he says he wants to leave here and that I’m not helping, but won’t tell me what I can do to help.
•Has a vast sense of entitlement.
•Sees himself above the law.
•Does not expect to be penalized for bad behavior.
•He cannot see the impact his selfish behavior, and if he could see, he wouldn’t care.
•Projects himself onto me, telling me I need help, that I am out of control, selfish, devious, manipulative.
With as many self-centered people there are in the world, you’d think there’d be a high rate of people with narcissistic personality disorder, but oddly, it affects less than 1% of the population. (Bipolarism is much more widespread.) There is treatment for such a disorder, but the person has to want to undergo psychotherapy, medication, self-help, and even inpatient care, but narcissists seldom see any need for treatment since in their world view, everyone else is at fault.
From what I have read, narcissistic rages don’t last for several days as my brother’s seem to, so who knows the truth of him. The result of all this research is . . . very little, actually, just the realization that nothing I say or don’t say, do or don’t do will change him. He will always see slights where none were intended, will always feel entitled, will always be enraged when he doesn’t get what he believes he deserves.
I can change me, however. This association with my brother is teaching me to deal with my fear of anger, both mine and other people’s. It’s teaching me to reach for what I want and not expect anyone else to give it to me. It’s teaching me that I am my own person, both connected to the world and separate. I might be my brother’s keeper, at least temporarily, but I am not him and I do not have a stake in his wants or needs.
And most especially, it’s teaching me that I can never be free of the past, but that I can learn to deal with it gracefully and carry the burden lightly, and that is no small thing.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.