It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hero Syndrome

An abstract from an article published in the Sept-Oct 2013 issue of the medical journal Drug TestAnalysis: “A nurse administered the neuromuscular blocking agent succinylcholine (SUX) to at least one patient and gave first aid in the therapy of unexpected respiratory depression. SUX is regarded as an undetectable and thus perfect poison due to its short half-life and degradation to the endogenous compounds choline and succinic acid. However, SUX and especially its metabolite succinylmonocholine (SMC) were found in plasma and urine a few hours after administration by means of high performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS). Compared to clinical studies, the window of detection was sufficient to gain definite proof; in other cases no samples were collected. The nurse enjoyed high reputation with the doctors. According to the court she wanted to present herself spectacularly as the first and decisive rescuer to demonstrate her special abilities and capacities, perhaps to receive a better job in the hospital. Considering the actual case, the hero syndrome is not limited to fire-fighters.” (Emphasis mine.)

I am sure we have all heard of the heroic fire fighter who rushes into a burning building to save those imperilled, only to later be discovered as the person who set the fire so that he had an opportunity to be that hero. The above-cited article is an example of a medical professional, a registered nurse, intentionally endangering the life of a patient so that she can rush to the rescue and receive the accolades of a hero. What you may not realize is that there is a very good chance that these people are narcissists, and this behaviour…this “hero syndrome” mindset…is not limited to fire-fighters or medical personnel, either.

Wikipedia says “The hero syndrome is a phenomenon affecting people who seek heroism or recognition, usually by creating a desperate situation which they can resolve. This can include unlawful acts, such as arson. The phenomenon has been noted to affect civil servants, such as firefighters, nurses, police officers, programmers, and security guards. Acts linked with the hero syndrome should not be confused with acts of malicious intent, such as revenge on the part of a suspended firefighter or an insatiable level of excitement, as was found in a federal study of more than 75 firefighter arsonists. However, acts of the hero syndrome have been linked to previously failed heroism. The hero syndrome may also be a more general yearning for self-worth.”

There are more subtle forms of “hero syndrome,” forms that do not overtly endanger the lives of others but still allow for the creation of situations in which the “hero” can be the rescuer. These forms involve the creation of a desperate situation…real or contrived…that can only be resolved by the very same person who covertly created the situation. A perfect example is a woman I worked for, the head of the legal department of a large company, who regularly created situations that, upon resolution, made her look like a hero…so much so that the unsuspecting Board even made her a member of its august self.

She was a lawyer, educated at an Ivy League university, who had a staff of eight to ten lawyers and law specialists and four secretaries. Her legal staff was highly credentialed, with degrees from prestigious universities and experience in prominent law firms. And yet, at the end of my two-year tenure as her executive assistant, only two of the original lawyers remained and she had had a staff turnover rate of 144%, meaning that among those positions that became open due to resignations, some of them had been filled more than once: the new lawyers took her measure and left the company, usually within four to six months of starting.

Why? Because their boss had a “management style” in which she would give them a task and then prevent them from completing it. She was an extreme control freak, so she would set them to work at something, like preparing new contracts for leasing some of our technology, but tell them that she had to review their work at a particular juncture and they were not to proceed beyond that point without her approval. And then she would make herself “too busy” to meet with them. This, of course, was sabotaging her own staff, but what could they do about it? If they proceeded without her approval, they were being insubordinate; if they waited for a meeting with her in which to receive that approval, she was never available to meet with them. Eventually, the situation would become dire: the contract due date would be looming and the contract wasn’t done. She would then swing into action, taking over the project and working heroically into the night (or requiring the staff to stay late and then stay and micromanage them), presenting the completed contract in the eleventh hour, along with the tale of how her staff stuffed it up but she managed to pull it off. This not only earned her sympathy from the senior staff, Nsupply for having to put up with the incompetents around her, but polished her halo for being able to force success out of the sluggards. It earned her the executive staff’s admiration.

People who are afflicted with “hero syndrome” are people who seek praise and admiration…or even more concrete rewards…from others and have little or no limits as to what they will do to set themselves up to appear to earn that recognition. And while some will endanger lives and others will limit themselves to endangering the careers and/or emotional well-being of others, they all have one thing in common: other people are merely objects to them, pawns to be used in the game of getting what they want. And they have no compunctions about hurting another person in the pursuit of their goals.

In order to make a “hero syndrome” scenario work, three things are needed: 1) danger; 2) a victim; and 3) a rescuer. It is a foregone conclusion that the N casts herself in the rescuer role, but, but the N must choose a victim (or victims) and then find a way to either put the victim in danger or make it appear that the victim is in danger. The danger can be as real as a fire or as ephemeral as another person identified to be a danger through slander and gossip. All that matters to the Hero is that someone has to appear to be in danger from someone or something else and she, the Hero, saves them.

In the case of my former boss, the danger was the possibility that we would lose out on a lucrative business deal, the victim was the company we worked for, and the hero, of course, was my boss who would wrest victory from the jaws of defeat by working long hours and cracking the whip over those idlers who put the contract in jeopardy. She set up the situation, then swooped in and saved the day…instant Hero!

It is my own personal opinion that the more subtle Hero is the more common: as long as you are not doing things that endanger the life and limb of others, it is unlikely that your game will be recognized…and even if it is recognized, in the absence of any law breaking, the consequences are much less severe. And while it is reprehensible to set up your staff to look like a bunch of inept bunglers so that you can look like a hero, there’s nothing illegal about it. Narcissists, as we all know, will go as far as they can, as long as they believe they can avoid being exposed. This is why the more dangerous, life-threatening forms of Hero Syndrome tend to be found in professional rescuers like police, fire-fighters and medical personnel, and the critical situation is created within the bounds of their expertise: they are confident that they know what they are doing and that they can effect the planned rescue without getting caught. My boss, who was a lawyer, would never dream of setting a fire and then herding everyone out in a show of heroism…she didn’t know anything about fires, how they acted, what to do to make a rescue that pointed her out as a hero…she might even get hurt herself. But she knew law and she knew how Boards of Directors work and think and she had her staff sufficiently intimidated (and the Board sufficiently hoodwinked into thinking that she was stuck with a staff of lazy incompetents) that nobody was going to say anything against her that the Board would take seriously.

These more subtle hero-types exist everywhere and the dire situations they create to give them opportunities to swoop in to the rescue are legion. It took me years to realize that my mother was one of these “rescuers,” and it didn’t happen until I was able to see three similar situations she created, years apart—only then did her pattern emerge and I could see it.

When I was in the first grade, we moved in next door to the McKenzies. I have never yet figured out what it was my mother had against Mrs. McKenzie, but shortly after we moved into the house next door, my mother began spreading ugly rumours about her. Up to that point, the neighbourhood had been sympathetic to the woman, who was a war widow and worked nights as a nurse to support her two daughters, who were just a few years older than I was. Before long, my mother had the whole neighbourhood believing that Mrs. McKenzie beat and starved her daughters, kept an unsanitary house, and was a drug addict who stole drugs from the hospital and also worked as a prostitute on her nights off from the hospital in order to feed her habit.

The way the houses were built in our neighbourhood, Mrs. McKenzie’s garage was between her living quarters and the house to the east of her; we were to the west and our living quarters and hers were separated only by a six-foot wide strip of dirt that was divided by a flimsy wooden fence. In a time before residential air conditioning and in a place where a good part of the year was hot and humid, windows were often left open for months at a time, affording a snoop like my mother ample opportunity to hang over the fence and eavesdrop on the McKenzie household.

By the time Mrs. McKenzie unwittingly gave my mother a reason to bring the authorities into it, my mother had successfully convinced our neighbours that Mrs. McKenzie and her skinny daughters were a danger to the neighbourhood. And because she lived right next door and could hear them through our open windows, my mother was in possession of information about the family that the rest of the neighbourhood could not possibly know…at least that was how she presented it. Nobody was in a position to tell the real truth from the manipulations and embellishments and outright lies except the person who was telling them…my mother. Then, one evening, Mrs. McKenzie had cause to punish one of her girls and, like most parents of the time (including my own mother), she spanked the child. The kid put up an awful howl and my mother was on the phone to the cops before you could blink an eye. The upshot of the situation was that Mrs. McKenzie was arrested and her daughters taken to the Children’s Shelter. A few days later the girls were back home with their mother and a “For Sale” sign appeared in their front yard. Within weeks the house was sold and the neighbourhood villains, Mrs. McKenzie and her scrawny daughters were gone.

My mother called everyone she knew to crow about their departure…she had “saved” the neighbourhood from the nefarious influence of the drug-addled nurse and her starvelings. The truth was, she had successfully created a situation by casting aspersions on a completely innocent neighbour, accused the woman of beating and starving her daughters to the police (the girls were just naturally thin like their mother—unbeknownst to my own mother I had been in their house numerous times and there was always plenty to eat and the girls had complete access to the food, unlike my house where every apple was counted and a missing one would bring doom to the child who took it without permission), and then went on to “rescue” us and our neighbours by running the woman out of the neighbourhood. And, time would reveal that Mrs. McKenzie took the smartest route by moving away because my mother’s next two victims were not so fortunate: they lost custody of their children due to her Hero Syndrome.

I cannot imagine that people who employ Hero Syndrome tactics of creating a crisis that only they can resolve are anything but narcissists. Just as my boss cared nothing about the feelings or professional reputations of the staff members she cast in the role of obstructive malingerers, my mother cared nothing for Mrs. McKenzie’s feelings or reputation, or the terrible consequences that might befall a nurse accused wrongly of stealing drugs from her job. She had no empathy for the woman’s situation, a widow with two daughters to raise, and no empathy for those girls whose father had died and who had only their mother, just as my boss had no empathy for the people she maligned on her way to Hero status. No, my mother, like my boss, saw them all as merely pawns who could be used to achieve their own objectives: looking like a hero, feeling like a hero, and reaping the rewards of appreciation, gratitude, and admiration. That it was gained at the result of a contrived situation made no difference: the prize was just as sweet to them as if it had been honestly earned.

This Hero Syndrome can be enacted inside a family. The Hero selects one or more people in the family to be the “problem” and then goes about blackening the reputation of that person to the rest of the family. Normal mistakes are spun to be intentional wrong-doing, acts of defiance or rebellion. Someone else in the family is identified as being at risk because of the “problem” person…it could be a sibling, the children of the “problem,” or even the entire family. Once the “problem person” is sufficiently maligned to the family that she is viewed by the majority as a troublemaker, the Hero can take action, whatever that action might be. I have been the victim of this, inside my family, several times. Mostly my mother was behind it all, but on one occasion it was my daughter. And they came out Heroes whereas I came out the bad guy, yet again.

As scapegoats, we are all vulnerable to this kind of subtle attack. Too often we not only cannot see what is happening, when we finally do see, we have no idea what is going on, why we are being targeted in this manner, or what the perpetrator gets out of it.

The answer is simple: she gets to be the Hero…and you get to be the vanquished dragon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Emotional blackmail and you

According to Wikipedia, emotional blackmail is “a form of psychological manipulation, employing a mixture of threats, appeals and emotionally punitive behaviour to control an intimate. It may occur between parents and children, husbands and wives, siblings or close friends…Under pressure from emotional blackmail, one may become a sort of hostage, forced to act under pressure of the threat of responsibility for the other's breakdown.”

It is pretty much a sure bet that anyone reading this page has been the target of emotional blackmail. Even ignoring narcissists and brutal in-your-face narcissists like my mother use it. The narcissist’s objective, after all, is to get what she wants and there really is not limit as to what she will do in pursuit of that objective, as long as she doesn’t get caught and outed.

Dr. Susan Forward, author of Toxic Parents (a book I recommend regularly to people just beginning to grasp the concept of having a narcissistic parent) has also written a book entitled Emotional Blackmail. In this book she names four distinct types of emotional blackmail:
1. The Punisher—“If you go back to work, I will leave you”;
2. The Self-Punisher—“Don’t argue with me or I will get sick or depressed.” Punishers use threats to manipulate others.
3. The Sufferer—Sufferers take the position that if they feel miserable, sick, unhappy or are just plain unlucky, there’s only one solution: our giving them what they want—even if they haven’t told us what that is.
4. The Tantalizer—Tantalizers encourage and offer us love, money or career advancement—“the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick.” They are considered to be the most subtle blackmailers.

While some narcissists pick a style of emotional blackmail and stick with it…for example, the Sufferer, who uses real or imagined illnesses to get people to dance to their tune…other narcissists may use any or all of the techniques in pursuit of her goals. Whatever works will be the tool of the day. Here are some of the ways my ignoring malignant narcissist of a mother used each one of these techniques:

1) The Punisher: my mother sent me to live with her parents every summer. I loved being there, feeling valued and respected and loved. Every year, when September rolled around and my grandparents told me to pack up my things because my mother was on her way to collect me, I would beg them to let me stay with them. I would cry all night at the prospect of having to go back to my mother and her home, where I was scapegoated at every turn. I would wake up in the morning that she was to arrive with the evidence of my distraught night written all over my face: puffy red eyes, red swollen nose, sniffles. And so she said to me “If you do this again…cry all night and beg your grandparents to stay with them instead of coming home with me…you will never come back here for a summer, do you understand?”

2) The Self-Punisher: my mother was a tough old bitch and she would never, ever, do or say anything that might give me the idea that I had the power to affect her…at least not in advance. But my childish prattle about school, friends or any topic was often greeted with “go to your room, you are giving me a headache.” Occasionally rage would overtake her such that she would neglect to use the strap or a shoe or some instrument to hit me and use her bare hand. Sometimes that would result in a broken blood vessel in her hand that hurt her for days…and for which I would be blamed. And as long as the hand hurt, the blame would be heaped on me. How is this blackmail? I stopped talking around her and became silent in her presence lest I give her a headache; I became quick about fetching the strap at her command lest she hit me with her hand and hurt herself…for which I would suffer for days. This induced tremendous guilt in me, that I gave my mother headaches and caused her to hurt her hand for days…it effectively modified my behaviour and gave my mother what she wanted.

3) The Sufferer: my mother was ever the victim of someone…whether it was the poor woman next door whose house didn’t look like a page out of House Beautiful or the woman across the street who was the neighbourhood gossip, or my father, who had the audacity to expect her to be faithful and to allow him to keep at least some of the money he earned from his second job for his own entertainment, or whether it was me, who ruined her entire life simply by being born. It was my fault she was stuck in an unhappy marriage with no glamour or effusive adoration and was my fault that she had a wrinkled stomach with a big scar on it, saggy boobs, and her youth had been subordinated to being a nanny to an “ungrateful brat” rather than the toast of some social scene somewhere.

My father worked two jobs…a full-time day job and a part-time evening job at a mechanic’s shop near home. My mother liked to dress up and go bar-hopping while he was at work (unbeknownst to him) and she would leave me and my younger brother home alone while she was out being a barfly. I was sworn to silence about her activities because if I told Daddy, she would get in trouble and it would be my fault. When they separated and she moved a boyfriend into the house, I was again forbidden to tell my father because it could get her in trouble (this was the 1950s and there were laws against cohabitation) and again, it would be my fault. If I didn’t do what she wanted—like keep silent about her nefarious behaviour—she would get into trouble and it would be my fault for revealing her behaviour, not her fault for doing wrong.

4) The Tantalizer: this is the most subtle form of emotional blackmail. Basically it means holding out hope of something—the carrot on the stick—but all too often we find that the carrot was, at best, an illusion—at worst, an outright lie.

When I was 14 my mother sent me to spend the summer with my father while she took off on a road trip with her boyfriend. As summer came to a close, we had no idea where she was or how to reach her and it was nearing time to enrol in high school. Finally, the weekend before the start of school we received a terse telegram from her, saying I should enrol in school at my father’s house. Nearly a year went by, a year in which she never called me or came to see me. Then, shortly before the next school year was to start, she showed up at the door and asked me to take a ride with her. Unaccustomed to saying “no” to her for anything, I got in the car and found myself in the backseat with my mother while my old singing teacher drove. The next couple of hours I was double teamed by them, using every narcissist’s hoovering trick in the book until I agreed to come back and live with my mother. I went back expecting this wonderful mother-daughter relationship of love and camaraderie…I was only 15, after all…and got nothing except a cot in the kitchen to sleep on and a mountain of household chores. The carrot I thought I was getting turned out to be no more than an illusion.

The problem with emotional blackmail is that is can be devilishly difficult to identify. And, it is not always the narcissist who does the blackmail but an enabler or Flying Monkey who serves it up. When people say things to you that are designed to modify your behaviour or beliefs in order to benefit someone else…someone other than you…then you are being emotionally blackmailed.

I had a boyfriend many years ago whose childish, immature and demanding ways had worn so thin that I broke up with him. The next day he showed up at my house with an entire bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of beer, rang my bell, and when I answered it, told me that if I wouldn’t take him back he was going to kill himself. That is blatant emotional blackmail. I shut the door in his face, I was so pissed off at his obvious ploy, and he washed down the entire bottle of pills with his beer on my front porch. I called the police, who took him to the hospital but when he got out, he was back at my house saying his attempted suicide was just to “prove” how much he loved me…that he was willing to die for me. Although I knew nothing about narcissism or emotional blackmail or hoovering back then, I knew this was wrong, that this was unhealthy behaviour, and I was indignant that he would go to such lengths to control me…to force himself on an unwilling woman in such a way.

Dr. Forward opines that the bottom line of any type of blackmail is one basic threat, “If you don’t behave the way I want you to, you will suffer.” That suffering can be direct…by denying or taking something away from you…or it can be indirect, by making you suffer guilt or anger or embarrassment. Emotional blackmailers may take intimate, possibly embarrassing secrets that you have shared and use this knowledge to shape the threats that give them what they want: your compliance.

Emotional blackmailers often entrap us in a web of fear, obligation and guilt, which Dr. Forward calls the FOG. They may obscure their actions by superficially behaving as if they are acting in our best interests, or by appealing to our higher instincts. After my mother irretrievably blackened my reputation with my FOO, stole my children and kept them away from me for eight year and, while they were gone, lied to them saying I didn’t love them and had abandoned them, after she gave my kids away to another family member for adoption (which was why she took them in the first place) my grandmother emotionally blackmailed me. Without even acknowledging that I had every right to be angry with my mother, without ever telling my mother than she had done something reprehensible and that she owed me, in the very least, an apology, my grandmother approached me and asked me to bury the hatchet with my mother (her exact words) for the sake of family harmony. The clear implication was that if I did not capitulate and make nice with my traitorous back-stabbing betrayer of a mother, I would be guilty of perpetuating the rift in the family…the family would continue to be fractured and it would be my fault.

According to Dr. Forward, fear, obligation, and guilt are the tools of the emotional blackmailer’s trade. Blackmailers often “pump an engulfing FOG into their relationships, ensuring that we will feel afraid to cross them.” This, of course, happens over time and because of the slow insidiousness of the process, we seldom even realize it is happening.

One of the emotional blackmail tricks narcissists play is the long game. You become accustomed to the narcissist’s blackmail to the degree that you automatically shape your behaviour around the anticipation of fear, obligation, or guilt being deployed. If there in someone in your life around whom you must tiptoe, some around whom you feel you are walking on eggshells, someone whose reaction is contemplated before you make a final decision about anything, this person is an emotional blackmailer who has trained you to give her what she wants without even having to take action.
Another thing an emotional blackmailer might do is try to control your choices by provoking guilt in you…for example, if you have a friend who is a vegan and she tries to make you feel guilty about eating meat while refusing to acknowledge the fundamental flaws in a diet that has no vitamin B12 in it (essential for brain health). Or, a person who doesn’t want you to make Choice A because it is inconvenient for him and tries to force you into making Choice B through guilt (“You only think of yourself…”). There is the stay-at-home mom who tries to validate her own choice by using guilt and a false sense of obligation to invalidate your choice to have a career, or the family member who forces her wishes on family members through the fear that she will injure herself or another family member or run away or commit some other dangerous act. These are all acts of emotional blackmail, some subtle, some blatant, but all of them designed to control other people through fear, obligation, and/or guilt.

So, how can you tell if you are being emotionally blackmailed? My biggest clue is my own feelings when I contemplate not doing what is being expected of me. Am I afraid of some consequence will befall me…this person will say or do something that will hurt me in some way? Do I know I will feel guilty if I don’t do it, even though that guilt is clearly misplaced? Do I feel obligated to do it, even when there is no clear reason that I actually am obligated? If I answer “yes” to any of those questions, then I am probably being emotionally blackmailed and need to take a step back and examine the situation more closely.

And how do you stop it? Well, let’s start with a narcissist is not ever going to give up a tool that has worked. There is nothing you can do to get your narcissist to stop trying to blackmail you, so the only thing you can change is how you react to it. First, learn to recognize when you are being controlled by fear, obligation or guilt.

Second, make sure you do not feed the troll—don’t give your narcissist information about your personal life that might one day be used against you…and don’t give that information to anyone who might tell your narcissist, not even your twin sister or your beloved Aunt Mary. If they talk to the narcissist, they may well innocuously tell things that your NM can twist, embroider, or use as the grain of truth in an ugly lie, and ultimately use as ammunition to force you into compliance. I knew a teenage girl who had uterine infection and had to have a D&C…by the time her mother got done with the tale, the girl had aborted an illicit pregnancy and was universally reviled by her family as a result. Keep personal information away from all conduits to the narcissist.

Third, decide that you won’t give in to blackmail, no matter what the consequence is. Only by making emotional blackmail unsuccessful as a technique do you have even the slimmest hope of getting the blackmailer to stop.

You basically have two choices with an emotional blackmailer: give in and hope the blackmailer keeps silent on whatever tidbit of personal information she has that you don’t want bandied about or accept that she’s going to tell what she knows and even make stuff up if it suits her, and you might as well refuse to cooperate because the outcome is going to be essentially the same, no matter what you decide.

That was ultimately my choice…I told the truth so it is out there for those who want to hear it…and then let the blackmailers do their worst…they were doing it anyway, so my capitulation had actually bought me nothing in the long run.

It is worth becoming aware of and giving some serious thought to.