Welcome to Disaffected
In 2016, I was holding a spoon over my coffee at 8 pm in my mother’s kitchen. It was a survivor from childhood, one of the original set we had with a trailing vine motif.
It had to be lowered to the counter very carefully. Lower it too fast and it would make an audible ‘click’ when it hit the counter. Lower it too clumsily and it might fall and clatter as each end bounced up over the other.
It had to make no sound. Or my mother would scream.
I was 41 years old, terrified to let a spoon make an audible noise lest my mother turn her profane tirade at me. At the moment it was aimed at her husband. The “retard”. The “brain-damaged asshole” who “couldn’t do a goddamned thing right.”
That moment turned my life. It was a cusp. I was 41, but I was also 7 years old. Holding my breath and hunching my shoulders hoping I’d be too small and quiet to notice.
And I wasn’t in her kitchen. She lived there, but I owned the house. I bought it to rent to her so she could have a place to retire in impoverished old age. In just two years my mother’s derangement had turned my days into a choice between becoming a Valium addict or washing enough of it down with my nightly vodka to make sure I didn’t wake up.
”This has to end. This has to end right now or I’m going to die.”
I called my sister. What’s wrong with mother? What is happening to her? Why is she making up stories about things that never happened? Why is she lying to my face and accusing me of things I never did? Is it Alzheimer’s?
“Josh, she’s not going into dementia. I think our mother is a narcissist. I think she has a personality disorder,” my sister said.
The next three days I spent reading everything I could find on Cluster B personality disorders. A remarkable thing happened. I was watching as a lifetime of “crazy” and “disconnected” maniacal behaviors slotted themselves neatly into categories. Like an industrial packaging machine, my memories were self-organizing into slots; into a taxonomy. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.
I found the key to understanding the kind of childhood that most people think only happens in low-budget, made-for-TV movies. My mother’s swings from elation to despair to rage. The lying. The claims that everyone from her brother-in-law to the grocery store manager had it in for her. The screaming in her children’s faces as she shook our shoulders and bellowed, “Why are you doing this to me!?”
Fast forward to a time closer to today. A lot took place for me between 2016 and today, as you’re reading this post. There will be time for details in future writing.
When I discovered the source of my family’s derangement, I also discovered one of the sources of our current cultural crisis. Cluster B. The emotional instability and self-victimization natural to Borderline Personality Disorder, the grandiosity and insatiable vanity of Narcissistic Personality Disorder——why did it seem like our politicians and cultural institutions had the same mental derangement that animates private domestic abuse?
Because they do. It started on the extreme left, the woke left. My former political and cultural home. But it has metastasized. It’s not just the “extreme left” that acts like an emotionally dysregulated autocrat anymore. It’s the mainstream left.
It’s mainstream American culture. The White House. MSNBC, CNN, NPR, The New York Times (supply your own infinite series). It’s our teachers, our cultural leaders, our doctors, our universities.
We are living in a Cluster B world and if we don’t wake up to that fact it will be our undoing.
If you’ve never heard of Cluster B personality disorders, stick around here. You may not know them by this name, but you know the kind of people I’m talking about. We’ll dive into details in later posts.
Would you give my weekly show a try? Disaffected is a once weekly tv-style show, with audio podcasts throughout the week. I started it to help people draw the connection between what we think of as private, family-only abuse, and the everyday psychological manipulation we experience in 21st century America.
Check it out here.
We’re in a dark place; welcome to it. We can understand it, though, and when we understand it, we can fight it.
Six months ago I sent a text to the grown up eldest son of my then partner. (She would say: "My son the doctor.") The text included the line: "I find it interesting that you appear (to me at least) to have replaced one religion with another." I was referring to his transition from fundamental christian to woke atheist. I later learned that behind my back he referred to my text as "unhinged" and she agreed, adding her own insults. I presented this exchange to her, with a wtf?! 48 hours later she ended our 11 year relationship, with no real explanation. We had not been "having trouble". Within a month or so the three children I had raised for 11 years as step-children simply ceased responding to my contacts.
This was painful but also completely perplexing. It took me four months to work out: a) my partner was a vulnerable narcissist (as was her mother); b) all her children had varying degrees of personality disorder; c) my own mother (who I did not grow up with entirely) was a vulnerable narcissist; d) my ex-wife has narcissistic tendencies; and e) I was apparently drawn to a narcissistic type of love and the time I spent in these relationships was entirely my own choice (I ignored many warning signs).
It's been an interesting ride and I feel healthier and happier than I have been for a long time. Like you Joshua, I have had a lot of experience with these personality disorders and it has left me sensitized and aware. I don't feel loss for myself. A lot of the people in my story were extremely intelligent, talented, and just amazing for being people. People are amazing. This illness robs them of their lives. Their ability to love and feel loved. Their ability to make a meaningful difference in the world. Seeing that loss is crushing. I couldn't save a beautiful 17yo step-daughter because it was already too late.
Sorry for the long post if you got this far. Your obviously smart, intuitive, and caring Joshua. I hope you can make a difference with your work.
Throughout my 20s I had a Cluster B "fiancée", a frothy decoction of Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorders. She robbed me of what should have been the best years of my life. I was confused and muddled about my career with her until I started watching Disaffected, Josh. Once I comprehended Cluster B, your experience – of all those deranged, seemingly unconnected behaviors "chunking" into place – exactly mirrored my own.
But it was so much more than that! The secret algorithm to understanding my personal traumas also turned out to be the secret algorithm to decoding everything that's wrong and bad and awful and diseased about contemporary "progressive" politics. Everything – from Joe Biden's condescending gaslighting to the Black Lives Matter riots that happened right here in the town where I live – it's that exact same abuse I endured, projected onto a societal scale.
I tell everyone I know about Disaffected. You're the best, Josh.