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Expertly Dysfunctional
Reflections on twisted parenthood.

Copyright © 2009, Paul LutusMessage Page

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  I thoroughly enjoyed the article recounting your experience with "Joan" [ in the article "Asperger's By Proxy" ]. I must admit I've never, knowingly, encountered someone like that. Until that encounter, same here. It was my first, and hopefully last, exposure to that level of pathology. Over a period of years both parents had become skilled at playing the system, repeatedly raising phony social alarms instead of accepting personal responsibility for their lives and circumstances.

What the parents never understood or cared about is that modern governments desperately want such people to exist. Because governments can't independently create whiny, dependent citizens completely reliant on social institutions, they do all they can to nurture the naturally occurring variety.

Without providing specifics, these people left an impressive paper trail of courtroom appearances where they tried and failed to hold other people responsible for their dysfunctions, as well as having open case files with various social agencies trying to minimize the harm they could do to their children.
However, my wife works for our county school district where she is responsible for teaching children with mental disorders, mostly autism. Looking back on her stories of outrageous parental claims, I can draw certain parallels with your descriptions of narcissistic behavior. I'm always curious to hear from people who work within the system and who encounter these kinds of people on a daily basis, like the school psychologist who posted a frank and very useful report. She has [ ... ] in her class, [ ... ], who are still in diapers at the age of [ ... ]. She has been working with these [ ... ] for years. Each year, she sees the same behavior from the parents. They are unwilling to train the [ ... ] at home. And, they often allow other altruistic organizations to use the [ ... ] as propaganda fodder. This is classic MSP [ M√ľnchausen's Syndrome by Proxy ] behavior — the perpetrators posture as wise, burdened saints and milk the role for all it is worth. It also shows the way in which dysfunctional parents and clinical psychology are joined in a common purpose — the parents have nothing constructive to offer their children, and neither do the psychologists. Both want the diagnostic labels and the illusion of useful activity. Neither is willing to acknowledge that a realistic, tough-love preparation for adult life is the most useful course of action. The mother seems to enjoy the attention. My wife tells me that the mother thinks the world revolves around her, not her family, but just her. Life dealt her a losing hand and we should all feel sorry for her. There are a number of indications that narcissism and MSP are strongly linked. Both involve a person who convincingly lies, even (or especially) when confronted by contrary evidence, and who postures as an innocent victim of circumstances. It makes me think about "Joan" who had no disabled child and was attempting to create one. MSP perpetrators often form an alliance with their children, who may go along with the perpetrator's strategy and get some of the same advantages — freedom from responsibility, sympathetic attention, special privileges. In this way, the parents' dysfunctions are transferred intact to a new generation, and with the active coöperation of the state. By the time the child is pushed into the adult world and begins to sense how people view his parents, years have been thrown away. That coupled with my wife's experiences makes me wonder if there is some commonality with MSP sufferers and some parents of disabled children, the latter being "closet" narcissist but without the need to "create" a disabled, sick, child. As to the latter I think the role is more that of a narcissistic enabler than a narcissist, but it's well-established that one can morph into the other over time.

It's important to add that MSP doesn't always involve phony disability — sometimes the disabilities are real. But the MSP perpetrator plays the system in a totally self-absorbed and destructive way that makes the situation much worse that it would otherwise be, and that further harms the children.

Children of MSP sufferers don't have the life experience to understand that their parents are the handicapped ones, but by systematically enlisting their children as enablers, the parents infect their children with the same destructive attitudes and beliefs:
  1. I am sick and you must take care of me.
  2. I will always be "sick" until you stop taking care of me.
  3. You will never stop taking care of me.
What is especially tragic is that the children of MSP perpetrators adopt destructive personal beliefs and attitudes at an age when they can't foresee the consequences. As they move into adulthood, it becomes increasingly difficult to escape the trap they've set for themselves.

When I first met Joan's son, I saw a very bright, idealistic kid who desperately wanted to be seen as something other than a mental invalid. All that was needed was for someone to accurately describe Jim to himself, from the perspective of an adult able to focus on abilities, not dysfunctions.

I realized I could easily give Jim something essential, something no one in his family was willing to provide — a realistic picture of himself as an independent, productive adult. As the months went by, things began to change — Jim's outlook brightened and his personal development took off. He came unstuck and began to move under his own power.

Then it became apparent that Jim's mother would do anything — anything — to keep this from happening. There was no action too vile, transparent or low that she wouldn't consider in order to maintain the status quo and to avoid being identified as Jim's biggest problem. Meanwhile, by thinking that Jim's newfound self-respect and personal progress was its own justification, I only revealed my own naïveté and inexperience with malignant narcissists.

I would argue with Joan that Jim should be allowed into the mainstream and no longer be stigmatized by a bogus psychological diagnosis (I later discovered that a prominent psychologist had made the same recommendation). In reply Joan would recite past incidents calculated to show how broken her son was. It finally dawned on me that these recitations taught me more about Joan than about Jim, and that Joan had a strange personal stake in identifying her son as damaged goods.

But in the final analysis, I was the wrong person in the wrong place. Apart from being naïve, I was too optimistic, too positive, and above all, too normal.

Thanks for writing!

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