From the earliest of age, memories of my sister have been carved into my psyche with a fondness that could only grow to admiration. We were almost twins, with me being the older, separated by only 11 months. We grew together, played together, created mischief together. And together, we, or at least I, seemed to know what the other was thinking or feeling during our excursions through the wilderness that was our back yard. The bond we shared was strong.
A favorite family photo is of her and I sitting on the lawn, playing with fresh picked watermelons. The word was that I was about just over two years old when the camera happened to find us. That scene seemed to show a real sense of camaraderie and enjoyment shared between us.
We were raised in an mid to upper middle class home that provided all of our needs in a healthy and happy environment. In many ways, we were the Jones’ that others looked to. We learned to ride bicycles together, had swimming lessons together (I failed with that), we dreamed together, and shared secrets among ourselves. Our, at least my, childhood seemed bliss.
As with any group of children, there were differences in personality and character from the earliest of age. I was the sensitive child who happily shared with a good heart. She was the stubborn one and often corrected of her selfishness. In this way, the differences between us were marked, and (I believe) her competition with me was due to the closeness of age, as she wanted sole recognition and attention – as mentioned in this post.
Encroaching envy seemed to have played a role in her development, without question, which leads back to the “nature vs nurture debate”. Could it have been a biological genetic flaw, or did it happen through a very early trauma bond with her mother? This is a question worth asking, but sadly, I can’t answer. Only deep psychotherapy will be able to narrow the time frame to an acceptable window.
My belief, partially based on a professional photographic portrait of her and I together, would be somewhere before the age of 2, since I was three years old when the picture was taken at the studio.
I bring this up because of the marked personality differences between us are obvious in this portrait, showing me as happy and laughing, smiling – a demeanor that would follow me through life. When I looked at this old childhood photo over 50 years later, a disturbing presence seemed obvious – in stark contrast to my light-up-the-room smile. Her eyes had the appearance of being “cold and dead”, displaying an unemotional darkness.
Armed with the image on a long forgotten picture, I began to take an honest inventory of our past, while seeking answers to the loss of camaraderie that we once shared. I didn’t like what was slowly opening in to view. I especially wasn’t ready for the realization that the “image” that I carried about my favorite sister was in fact, an image, and had no bearing on what I was led to believe by virtue of being family.
And just as a good investigative journalist would do, I too, would follow evidence without prejudice, and go where the facts took me.
Our relationship as would take a sudden turn as we entered our teen years, and I never understood why, until many years later.
Triggering Arrested Emotional Development | Becoming the Target of the Psychopath
We looked at several events that showed the subject to be lacking or having a greatly reduced affect of empathy and conscience as I wrote about “The Narcissist’s Playbook”. Envy seems to be the root of such disdain for her brother, even going back to infancy and early childhood. How this lack of conscience and overt jealousy began to take root, is not of the question of this post, but rather the triggering event that was the “cause” of her sudden distancing from me, including scapegoating, gaslighting, and isolation from her.
For a lifetime, an event that I had “witnessed” had been long forgotten and shelved into the library of memory. That event, as tragic as what I was “thought” to have seen, wasn’t seen at all. Because of this, there was no need to keep a recall on what was taking place behind a closed bedroom door.
This singular moment in time, so many years ago, when the shame and fear of discovery was so great with her guilt, that there was a tear, if you will, of the connection between her heart (compassion, empathy) and her mind (conscience). The time when Arrested Development of her emotional well being set in.
And she has from that day blamed me for the shame and embarrassment of the amoral sexual act that I had not seen, not understood, and not had recollection of.
To her, I was the only one who knew the truth about what was supposedly witnessed, and had to be maligned of my character and isolated from the rest of the family. It was an insurance policy of any future possibility of me divulging her shame, either to her, or to the family.
The problem was, I didn’t see anything, nor would have understood it anyway.
I believe without a doubt in my mind and with every fiber in my body that what I had innocently stumbled upon set into motion the future events that led to me being scapegoated, gaslighted, and covertly manipulated to the point of me breaking all relations with a “family” that wished me harm.
Going “no contact” was the sanest move I made – the safest, also.
Breaking my self imposed “no contact” would re-ignite all of the covert hatred and and manipulations that she was refusing to let die.
Thoughts on Arrested Development theory
Arrested development as a purely systemic or institutional explanation of the world’s troubles is in danger of overlooking some salient facts. Many psychologists argue that early experiences, rather than genes, have a crucial effect on how we turn out as adults. Unemphatic early care, says the clinical psychologist Oliver James, often leads to personality disorders in later life (psychopathy is an extreme form of personality disorder). James claims in his 2002 book They F*** You Up, that while 13% of the general population have a personality disorder, it is present in a majority of high achievers be they in politics, business, or the arts. “Early care that lacks empathy,” he writes, “creates an immature adult with arrested development, prone to the reckless and amoral acts of a young child, to the ‘me, me, me selfishness and inflated grandiosity found in the fantasy life of the toddler.”
While many people with personality disorders do not progress in their careers, a minority, conversely, are extremely successful. “Many of the traits that accompany Disorder are also an advantage in reaching positions of power,” writes James. “Being a chameleon, with the self-monitoring, game playing distance that often accompanies dissociation, has been shown to enhance career success in organizations. If concealed well enough, an omnipotent drive to control others can motivate the industriousness that is so vital to success … ruthlessness is easier if you lack empathy for the emotions of others, as borderline people often do, and being ruthless is usually necessary if you are to reach the very top.”
It should be pointed out that the idea that disdainful treatment in early childhood often leads to ambitious, narcissistic, personality disordered behavior in adult life, is not universally accepted by psychologists. Another argument, one advanced by Dacher Keltner in The Power Paradox, is that the seductions of power pervert people whose intentions are benevolent at the outset. It is in the midst of achieving power and ruling others that the rot sets in. But, whatever the cause, the results are very similar. Those in power “may be the very people most blind to the problems of powerlessness, poverty and inequality,” Keltner writes. Self-absorption and insensitivity to the experiences of others inevitably follows the attainment of power.
- A Case of Arrested Empathy Development? by Dr. George Simon Ph.D
- Wounds That Time Won’t Heal by Martin H. Teicher, MD, Ph.D – The Dana Foundation
- 5 Signs You’re Dealing With A Dangerous Female Narcissist by by Shahida Arabi