I get a lot of emails from people curious about the Facebook group. What do we do? How do we operate? Do I qualify to get in? What is it all about?
The group has a basic set of Boundaries that govern behaviour and interactions (there is no limit to the length or number of your posts, for example) and it has a set of Basic Tenets. It is important that all group members have the same basic understanding of the group’s purpose and of concepts and information that are commonly brought up in the group, things like whether or not narcissism is a mental illness, how narcissists got that way, are we just shifting blame, and a host of other commonplace issues.
If you have been curious about the group and what we do in there, this listing of the group’s Basic Tenets may answer some of your questions:
Basic tenets—truths that underpin this group
I. Purpose of the group: The purpose of this group is to help ourselves and others to heal from the legacy of a childhood dominated by a narcissistic parent or parental figure. We do this through telling our own stories, reading and commenting on the stories of others…hopefully giving them insights and perspectives they have not discovered on their own..., empathizing with and supporting their feelings and even offering advice from our perspectives.
II. The need for change: The definition of “crazy,” it is said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I wouldn’t exactly call it “crazy,” but I most certainly would call it “dysfunctional.” If you put salt in your coffee, it is going to be salty every single time you do it. It doesn’t matter if you do it once or twenty thousand times, putting salt in your coffee will never make it sweet. If you want that coffee sweet you have to change something…like what you choose to put in the coffee. Only by changing what you do—in this case, choosing sugar instead of salt—can you get a different outcome. Your life is no different: if you want your life to change you have to change it.
a. WE are dysfunctional: In order to be able to fix how you feel, you must first acknowledge that we are dysfunctional. For all that our Ns do hurtful things to us, the fact that we continue to allow it, to feel hurt by it, to dwell on the N’s behaviour or our guilt or our hurt over being rejected, proves that we are dysfunctional. We refuse to accept them as they are, believing instead that if we can just find the right word or deeds or gifts or behaviour, we can open their hearts to love us; we are further dysfunctional in that we harbour a belief that if we could bring such a thing to pass, we would be magically healed from the legacy of our accumulated hurts and slights, rejections and affronts, and that simply is not going to happen.
b. Healing is hard: It is painful work and nobody can heal us but ourselves. We can be guided by therapists and self-help books, blogs and websites, and we can be supported by friends and fellow victims, but in the final analysis, nobody can heal us but ourselves. And we do that by acknowledging our own dysfunctions and changing them.
c. Distractions: Sometimes we allow ourselves to be distracted…or we distract ourselves…from our own issues by the drama and chaos of others in our lives. It is tempting to put the issues of others ahead of our own because we can see ourselves as being noble and self-sacrificing that way and manage to wriggle out of facing our own painful truths that, if acknowledged, would steal away our hope of getting what we want: our Ns turning into loving and functional people who value and accept us.
Another way we distract ourselves is to intellectualize our issues, to become seekers of knowledge rather than address—which means feeling—our pain. We become obsessed with learning as much as we can about narcissism, we want to know how they became Ns, why they do what they do, how they can live with themselves, all of the minutia of their condition, their behaviour, their thoughts and feelings. We fool ourselves into believing that the more we know about them, the better we will be when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. We focus on them at the expense of ourselves when all we need to do is understand the barest of basics: they are narcissists, narcissists love only themselves, we can’t change them but we can change ourselves.
d. You can’t change them: The only person on the planet that you can change is yourself. In fact, trying to change another person, whether by demands, bargains, manipulation, threats or precipitous action is disrespectful. Other people have exactly the same rights of self-determination that you have and, like it or not, they actually have a right to choose to be entitled assholes. You, however, have a right to not tolerate that kind of behaviour, a right you exercise by refusing to respond to their advances or by removing them from your life.
f. Nobody is going to change for you: People, when they truly change, do so for their own reasons. Anybody who promises to change in order to appease you is lying. They may put on an appearance of change for a while, but unless the reason for change comes from within a person’s own heart, the change will be both temporary and superficial and may well inspire resentment and antipathy towards you for being controlling.
g. Choosing dysfunctional partners: One of the things we tend to do is choose partners like the Ns who raised us. It is generally accepted that we do this in a subconscious attempt to re-write our primary emotional connection, that with our NParents: we choose what we know, in terms of emotional triggers and responses, and this time we aim to fix the parts of that first relationship that hurt us. So, we come to the group not only with a history of an NParent to resolve, but NPartners as well. This group, however, is focussed on healing from the effects of having dysfunctional parents…the reason you chose dysfunctional partners in the first place…not your relationship with that partner. And while that partner’s behaviour has an effect on your present life and even your performance as a parent, it is not the main focus of the group. There are many, many groups on the internet that focus primarily on narcissistic partners and ex-partners: we only admit people who had narcissistic parents/parental figures and their spouses with the expectation that they will primarily focus on and address that primary relationship, analysing it and healing from it.
h. Raising dysfunctional kids: One of the unfortunate side-effects of having dysfunctional parents is that we has a strong tendency to be dysfunctional parents as well, raising dysfunctional kids. Whether we simply emulate our own NParents out of ignorance or the belief that we were the problem rather than them, or we do the opposite of what they did under the misguided notion that the opposite of their mistakes is the right thing to do, or we cobble together some kind of trendy, earth-mother cum trendy New Age child rearing philosophy of our own, unless we actually sat down and gave conscious thought to the best way to raise each of your children (they are all different and have different needs) to become the most emotionally healthy and fulfilled people possible, chances are you screwed it up. Guess what that makes you? NORMAL.
You cannot do what you don’t know. It simply isn’t possible. And there is a much stronger influence on your child’s development than your parenting techniques: your child’s innate personality and resilience. Yes, you have an opportunity to shape the direction that a child’s psyche grows, but it is not a blank slate upon which you can write anything you want: if it was, we would not have empathy or a conscience or be the least bit bothered by the way Ns behave. This group, however, is not about parenting or dealing with kids who display N behaviours. There are plenty of websites for parents who have discipline-averse children, out-of-control children, disturbed children and while helping you cope with stress is part of our focus, our primary focus is on you and your issues with your own parents—which is very likely the genesis of your own parenting problems. This group exists to help you sort out your problems with your parents, not your kids. They are an appropriate topic if your parenting skills, learned from (or in knee-jerk reaction to) your NParents, have caused them to be difficult, but the focus needs to be primarily on you and how your upbringing generated those skills and what we can do to help you to overcome those messages from your NPs and make you a more effective parent. Focusing on a narcissistic or otherwise challenging child is also an excellent way to distract yourself from the painful and difficult work of healing yourself.
III. Forgiveness: It is the official position of this group that forgiveness is only warranted when you actually feel forgiving.
Forgiveness is a topic that comes up over and over again in the group. Popular thought holds that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, to make yourself feel better. This is not only not true, it is a narcissistic perversion of its original intent. It is taking something that was initially meant as a healing gesture intended to assuage the guilt of a remorseful wrong-doer and flipping it to be a way to make yourself feel better, regardless of the other party. It goes from a selfless act in which you give the person who injured you surcease from his guilt to being an act in which you selfishly salve your wounds without regard to others…and without, in many cases, honouring your own true feelings.
Forgiveness, as a social construct, originated with the Catholic Church as the Rite or Sacrament of Penance. It is predicated on the idea that, through sinning, we offend God. As a result, we have to repent our sin, do penance, and seek forgiveness or God will punish us. God does not watch us sin and just automatically forgive us, knowing we are not sorry and have made no amends. The act of forgiveness is not to make God feel better about having been sinned against, it is to make you feel better and assuage your presumed guilt for having sinned against God.
You hold the ability to forgive people for hurting you in your hands just as in the Church, God holds that ability. According to Church canon, the priests are appointed by God as his proxies (they are God’s “instruments on earth”) so they have the power to forgive in the name of God. In order to give you absolution (forgiveness) the priest must hear you admit to your wrong doing (confession), hear your remorse (contrition), accept your apology—and possibly admonish you, tell you how to make amends (penance), and finally, assuage your feelings of guilt for having sinned by forgiving you. The forgiveness is for you, not for the priest or the god he represents. It is presumed that you feel bad (guilty) about doing wrong and forgiveness is intended to wash away that bad feeling.
Today there is the “forgiveness imperative” which turns this on its head. Now we are expected to forgive or there is something wrong with us even if the people who victimized us are laughing in our faces. If we won’t forgive the person who raped us or stole our children or beat us bloody or set our house alight or stole our last dollar, it is we who are in the wrong, it is we who are lacking in moral character. This is victim blaming and nothing more than complete and utter bullshit. Forgiveness, like love, comes from the heart. If you don’t feel it, you can’t give it, only a pale imitation of it that is both dishonest and dissatisfactory. And while it is corrosive to hold hate and bitterness in your heart, it is not necessary to forgive those who hurt you in order to let hate and bitterness go…and making yourself “forgive” someone when you aren’t feeling forgiving won’t wash them away.
There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel forgiving and you are perfectly within your rights to expect those who hurt you to acknowledge their acts, apologize for them, offer to make some kind of amends that are meaningful to you before you even consider forgiveness. And you know what? Even after your abusers do all of that, if you still don’t feel forgiving, it is ok to not do it. Forgiveness is a gift, not an entitlement and it is entirely up to you whether or not to give it, and who to give it to.
IV. Respect: It is the official position of this group that respect is not earned, it is freely given to everyone until and unless a person earns our DISrespect.
The idea that all of the rest of the people on the planet have to earn your respect is another one of those narcissistic points of view that has crept into the public consciousness. But if you think about it, all it is is a way to justify treating people badly and doing whatever you want without considering the feelings of others. Queue for movie tickets too long? Just cut in—those people haven’t earned my respect so fuck ‘em. Girlfriend upset because you stepped out on her? What has she done to earn your respect? Tough shit for her.
Why is it narcissistic to believe that people should earn your respect? Because it means that you think that every one of the more than seven billion people on this planet have to figure out how to please you before you think you need to respect them. And that is exceedingly self-centred.
Have you ever even thought about what it means to earn your respect? Can you sit down, right now, and list ten things a person—someone you do not like or respect—can do to make you respect him? If everybody around you has to earn your respect, do you give them that list up front so they at least have a chance to earn it? Or do you just judge them and hold them in disrespect because they didn’t accurately guess what it takes to earn your respect? Do you know what it takes to earn the respect of the guy driving the car next to you in traffic? The waitress who brought your lunch? The guy who signs your pay check? The doctor who delivered your child? The interviewer who holds that juicy new job in the palms of her hands? No? Guess what—they don’t know what it takes to earn yours, either.
V. Mental illness: It is the official position of this group that narcissism is not a mental illness.
I will repeat that for those readers who didn’t get it the first time: Narcissism is not a mental illness. This comes up repeatedly in the group, particularly from people who believe they have to be tolerant of the N’s behaviour because “She’s sick, she can’t help it.” Not true.
Narcissism is a personality disorder. Like mental illnesses, PDs occur in the brain, and they are mental health issues, but they are not mental illnesses. Leaves and bark and thorns and flowers all grow on lemon trees, but they aren’t lemons: just because something occurs in the mind doesn’t make it a mental illness.
Why? Because narcissists are not ill. They have choices over their behaviours that the truly mentally ill do not. They are aware of what their culture identifies as right and wrong, good and bad, and they demonstrate that awareness either through overt and intentional defiance or through hiding their wrongs to avoid censure or consequences.
This issue—choice—is critical. Courts that allow an unmedicated schizophrenic to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” will not even entertain such a plea from a narcissist because, unlike the schizophrenic, the narcissist is fully aware of what the society and laws expect of him. And because of that awareness, the narcissist is able to choose whether or not to obey a law.
Some people ascribe to the concept of “narcissistic wounding” or “narcissistic injury” in which it is posited that the narcissist was a perfectly normal child until s/he suffered a psychological “narcissistic wound” that arrested their emotional development. The main fault with this theory is that those of us who were raised by narcissistic parents suffered some serious wounds and injuries to our psyches during our early childhoods…and we aren’t narcissists. In fact, according to a Yale study1, only 30% of people who were abused in childhood go on to abuse their own children. That would indicate that the great majority of ACoNs—70% of us—suffered psychological wounding as children but did not go on to be narcissists and abuse our own children. Narcissistic wounding, then, doesn’t appear to be all that certain an explanation for the narcissist’s condition.
The truth is, psychologists and researchers do not yet know what causes narcissism. They know it is not amenable to treatment, there are indicators of multiple generations of individuals in families suffering from it—but they don’t know if it is inherited or imprinted—and they know that a narcissist may not feel love or empathy or compassion, but they can imitate it.
And there’s the rub: choice. The narcissistic parent can choose to act like The Most Wonderful Mother in the World at a parent-teacher conference only an hour after brutally beating or verbally disembowelling the child in question. If the narcissistic parent can fawn over and give attention and advantages to one child, that parent is fully capable of choosing to exhibit the same behaviour to the child who has been singled out as the family scapegoat. For the narcissist, it is all about choice: no illness, no childhood trauma compels them to treat some people badly and others well, it is all simply a matter of what they want and what they choose to do.
VI. Blame vs responsibility: When we try to speak to “normies” about our lives—even when we speak to other members of our family who experienced our Ns differently from the way we did, all too often we are admonished to not “blame” our parents. And that cuts deep.
What these insensitive, unfeeling individuals fail to grasp is that there is subtle but very substantial difference between blame and responsibility. We are not responsible for how we were raised, for the lessons we learned, for the beliefs and attitudes we adopted, the maladaptive behaviours that we took on in order to survive. To assign responsibility to our parents for teaching us to be passive and to not believe in ourselves, to submit to abuse without complaint, to be a people pleaser while neglecting ourselves—that is not blame, that is identifying the root of a problem. And if you want to conquer a problem, you need to address its root. If you merely address your symptoms, you will never be able to eradicate the cause for those symptoms.
Too often our very legitimate concerns are ignored by the authority of a “higher power.” We are told to “honour thy mother” only minutes after she has dumped a deluge of NRage on us. We are told to ignore the elephant in the room—the narcissist parent who torments us and may even recruit our siblings and other family members to destroy our very sense self—and to “turn it over to God.” When we lament our place in the world we are told that “God works in mysterious ways,” or to “Pray on it” rather than to take logical and productive action like calling the police on an abusive parent or leaving an abusive spouse. Abusers are quick to cite higher powers to keep you in your place, to give them the right to exploit you and keep you shackled to their abuse. If you accept the tenets of the faith, you believe you cannot blame God because you are “reaping what you have sown.” Your pain is the result of your sin and only by rectifying that sin—in the way your abuser demands—will you ever have a chance of being released from your pain. This is classic victim-blaming, using a higher authority to back up the authority of the abuser.
What we don’t want to hear, however, is that we have a responsibility in this because we have repeatedly chosen to remain in the abusive relationship long past the day when we first had a choice to leave. You can leave, you can stand up for yourself, you can refuse to accept the abuse. Yes, it may be frightening or even risky, but if you choose the fear over the risk, it is your choice and you are responsible for it.
VII. Most narcissists are not malicious: Narcissists make up approximately 6.2% of the population and people suffering from AsPD (Anti-social Personality Disorder, formerly called “sociopathy” and “psychopathy”) are estimated to make up no more than 3% of the population. Many people think that narcissists are deliberately cruel and that they enjoy the suffering of their victims but this is not the case.
a. Narcissists are primarily self-absorbed. Everything is about them, about getting what they want, about always being right, about not being blamed for anything. They might behave in a spiteful, mean manner as a means of retaliation over a perceived slight, but they don’t go around dreaming up ways to frighten, intimidate or hurt people for their own amusement. They will tell lies to others about you, make you look like you victimized them, so that they can get sympathy and support from their friends, their retaliations will be petty and hurtful, like not inviting you to a birthday party or family event like Thanksgiving dinner or giving you a cheap and tacky Christmas present while your siblings get something expensive or cool.
The narcissist does not care about your feelings because narcissists lack empathy—but that is the point: the narcissist doesn’t care if you are hurt. S/he doesn’t seek out opportunities to hurt you because s/he doesn’t care. If you are hurt, that is just a by-product of the narcissist’s self-absorption and if you point out to a narcissist that she has hurt you, you will get no remorse because she doesn’t care. In fact, you may get denial, or even your hurt blamed on you because the narcissist believes she can do no wrong, therefore if you are hurt, that must be your fault.
b. Malignant narcissists are a whole other dimension of nasty. The malignant narcissist is a person who displays traits not only of NPD, but of AsPD as well. This person not only cares if you feel hurt, this person may relish it, look for or even create opportunities to hurt you, and will delight in your pain. This person is as self-absorbed as any other narcissist but has the added dimensions of cruelty and sadism. She enjoys your pain, she revels in her power to control you through fear and pain. It isn’t just the nasty retaliation against you for some real or imagined slight, this is pain inflicted for no other reason than she can do it, she can get away with it, it makes her feel powerful, it gets her what she wants, and she has manufactured ways to make it look rational to onlookers.
A woman who kidnaps her daughter’s children in retaliation for an episode of defiance six years past would be looked down upon by others, reviled. But if the woman can convince people that her daughter is a drug-addicted prostitute, if she has an upper-middleclass adoptive home for the children with a member of the family, if she can convince the courts that her daughter is unfit—this woman is hailed as a hero, a saviour of the children, even if everything she said about her daughter was a lie. Because if she can discredit that daughter, nobody is going to believe the truth. This is a malicious behaviour perpetrated by a malignant narcissist who cared nothing about the feelings of her daughter, the children, or even the adopting parents. She cared only that she succeeded in punishing her daughter for standing up to her and that she can reap years of narcissistic supply from her position as rescuer of innocent children from a life in the gutter with their allegedly soiled mother.
That is a malignant narcissist. Someone who feeds on the pain of others to the degree that they will intentionally create it in order to reap the rewards of feeling like they have won, that they have power, that they are admired. They are, in a word, bullies, and they are bullies to the degree that they will do literally anything they think they can get away with in order to get and keep the power and control they crave.
VIII. Trigger warnings do not help us heal: It is the official position of this group that trigger warnings and avoiding triggers are not desirable. Numerous studies indicate that facing those things that we fear leads to healing where avoidance only entrenches the fear further. “…avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming…”2 As a result, the publication of trigger warnings in posts and comments in the group are strongly discouraged.
We cannot overcome the fear of something we refuse to face.
IX. Healing from our dysfunction: Healing is not a passive activity. Like many others, I first went into therapy thinking that I would sit in a chair—or lie on a couch—and talk about my problem, maybe cry a little, and walk out with my burden lightened. I further believed that enough of these visits would ultimately result in my recovery. I viewed the therapist like my internist: she would do the fixing just like my doctor fixed my sinus infection with a shot and a prescription. All I had to do was show up and talk, she would do the rest. Boy! was I wrong about that!
Healing is a proactive thing. Your therapist cannot heal you, neither can members of the group. All we can do is reassure you, give you alternative points of view, fill in gaps in your knowledge, and give you a couple of hundred sympathetic ears to vent to and shoulders to cry on. But we can’t fix anything.
And neither can you if you don’t change.
What do you have to change? Well, that depends on you and what survival mechanisms you have put into place to survive growing up with an Nparent or two. Undoubtedly there is denial going on, erroneous beliefs like you are at fault for everything, and a belief that you have a supernatural power to change other people if only you could find the perfect word or deed to make that person see how worthy you are of his/her love. Mostly, however, you are going to have to give up hope: hope that she will change, hope that you can find that magic word or deed, hope that she will feel sorrow for her mistreatment of you once you’ve unlocked the door so that she can really see just how much she has hurt you. You have to change the way you think, things you believe—including the belief that your hurts will be magically healed once she “gets it”—hope that there is a future for you in her life as anything other than what you are right now, this minute.
Healing hurts. It is painful, ugly, and it involves a lot of crying and sobbing. It is wet and sticky and snotty and it hurts right down to the very core of your soul. But years ago, when I was in group therapy, the facilitator told me “The only way out of the pain is to go through it.” It sounds counter-intuitive, but I found out she was right. The only way to purge the pain from your system is to embrace it, do the crying, do the hurting, do the grieving—for that is what it is, grieving the loving parents you never had, grieving for the child who never had a childhood—until is it all cried out of you. It hurts, it takes time, it sucks, but there are no shortcuts, no matter what the internet tells you.
a. There are no shortcuts: This group does not endorse “shortcuts to healing.”
There are thousands of websites, gurus, life coaches, shamans and other self-styled experts hawking an endless variety of alternative techniques, concoctions, media, and practices, all promising miraculous relief from your pain. From “tapping” to crystals, from angels to cleanses, from 12 step programs to metaphysical mumbo jumbo, they all have one thing in common: they do not lead to the end of your pain.
Nobody wants to hurt and these purveyors of empty promises grow wealthy on the pain of people like us, people who want a way to end the ache of being an ACoN without having to go back and experience the visceral pain of our childhoods yet again. We buy their promises, their assurances, their DVDs, their capsules, all because we do not want to have to hurt even more than we hurt right now.
Unfortunately, many of these techniques—some of which are practiced by legitimate therapists—do nothing and some of them are actually harmful. A few of them tap into the placebo effect, leaving you temporarily feeling better, but without addressing the cause of your pain. And without addressing the cause, it can’t be eliminated.
b. We do not support dysfunction: We will support you but not your dysfunctions.
The objective of the group is to help each other heal from the legacy of narcissistic abuse. Some people come to the group thinking they want to heal but soon show themselves resistant to change. They will refuse to let go of their denial, or become upset or angry when challenged, or seek sympathy while fault-finding and rejecting suggestions for change. This does not work. The most basic fact of healing is this: in order for your life to change, you must start doing some things differently.
There was a group member who was very insistent that her mother was not a narcissist despite many stories from her that looked very much like she was. The member would get angry and defensive if suggestions were made that maybe her father was not the only source of difficulty in the family. She was very invested in believing her mother was blameless, even though her own tales about life with dear old mom revealed a deeply selfish and insensitive woman.
I declined to admit a person whose request to join included the information that she had lived with a narcissistic man for 16 years, had four daughters with him, and her narcissistic mother lived in their basement apartment. She was very clear that she was looking for ways to “make this work” in such a way that her daughters did not “lose their family.” She did not want healing, she did not want to give up her victimhood, she wanted a Greek chorus validating and sympathizing with how awful her situation was. She wanted to be rescued while she sat passively on the sidelines.
We don’t do that here. We help each other heal. We give each other perspective and support and validation and suggestions and, sometimes, brutal truths. We do not enable our dysfunctions, we seek ways to overcome them, to replace them with healthy outlooks and beliefs and behaviours and feelings. That is what this group is all about.