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, May 10, 2015

Mother’s Day Melancholia

Today is Mother’s Day, a day many of us dread. It is a day in which we are reminded, at every turn, of what we have never had: a loving mother. And for many of us, the constant reminders on TV and radio, advertisements on line, specials in the shops, signs in windows and questions from friends and co-workers, are just a twist of the knife.

Why do so many of us feel our loss to profoundly around Mother’s Day, especially if our mothers are still alive, most especially if they are still alive and expect what they believe is their due homage from us? Why are so many of us torn between guilt if we don’t acknowledge “her” day and anger at her and ourselves if we do? Just what is this dynamic that causes so many of us so much anxiety?

The absolute bottom line answer is this: expectations. You have had expectations of your mother from earliest childhood and, by and large, she has disappointed you. Whether or not your expectations were legitimate or not is actually immaterial: the only thing that is material is that your NM did not live up to your expectations of her as a mother and she continues to do so. You may not even realize what your expectations of her have been, which means you may not be consciously aware of your disappointment. You feel something is wrong, however, even if you cannot put your finger on it.

Infants are hardwired to have certain expectations of their caretakers and when those expectations are disappointed, the infant cries to alert the caretaker of their needs. The infant expects to be safe, warm, fed, and without pain. As we grow older, our expectations change. We expect that caretaker to shelter us and protect us, to be predictable and to care for us. We expect, when we come to them with a hurt or a fear, to be comforted, reassured, protected. We expect them to care for us, not the other way around. We expect to be treated justly…to not be punished for transgressions we did not commit. We expect consistency and demonstrations of love. As we grow older still, we come to be able to compare our lives with those of our peers and begin to see where our experiences fall short or exceed those of our neighbours and friends. We learn that other children are not parentified or harshly disciplined for minor infractions or ignored when they are hurting or when they have achieved. We learn from observing others, from movies and television and books, what other children’s lives are like and we discover that those “off” feelings we have experienced had a basis in reality: we have been deprived of a healthy emotional environment, the very environment that has been hardwired into us to expect from infancy.

We grow up feeling deprived and exploited…as indeed we are. But often we have no conscious awareness of why we feel this way, especially if we had a modicum of affluence and the entire family seems to support the system as it is. We hear that there is something wrong with us to have different expectations or perceptions, and over time a part of us buys into the notion that it is we who are flawed, not the parenting we received. And cognitive dissonance sets in.

Some of us never break away and stay enmeshed in the narcissist’s web, believing we are bad, wrong, inadequate, flawed, and we live our lives inside that web, dealing with our pain in too many ways to count, none of them healthy. Others of us, spurred by our pain, seek out information, ways to cope, people who can relate to the pain we feel, and we bond with them. Sometimes that bond leads to merely reinforcing our negative self-perceptions, and sometimes that bond leads us to a way to heal.

But nothing changes until we realize that the entire situation is really little more than a house of cards built upon and with our own expectations.

If you were to expect your dog to stand up and sing and dance, you would be disappointed. Indeed, you might even feel foolish for expecting this of a dog. And yet, the same person who acknowledges that expecting a dog to sing and dance is folly and doomed to disappointment will twist in the throes of emotional pain because his narcissist parent does not act like a normal one. And that is what traps so many of us: we continue to hold our expectations unchanged despite irrefutable evidence that they are unreasonable under the circumstances.

Oh, I know…you are going to quibble that expecting the dog to sing and dance is unreasonable but expecting your mother to love you and treat you well is a perfectly reasonable expectation, but that’s not true. It would be true if you expected your emotionally healthy mother to love you and treat you well, but once you know that your mother is personality disordered, what is reasonable for you to expect changes…and you then need to change your expectation.

Rather than expect her to treat you the same way a normal, emotionally stable and rational mother would treat you (and suffer the concomitant disappointment), you need to change your expectations to encompass the real her. Accept her for who and what she is…accept that she is not, nor will she ever be, the kind of mother you want, need, and deserve. Motivations are immaterial—why she won’t is pointless to fret over—simply acknowledge that she has never been an adequate mother, she is not now, nor will she ever be, and stop torturing yourself with expectations that can never, ever, come about.

Once you acknowledge that narcissists have no interest in the feelings of anyone save themselves, that their focus is wholly self-oriented, and they will never, ever, act against their own gain and self-interest, you have the choice to continue expecting the bitch to sing and dance or accept that it is never going to happen and give up the wish, the hope, the expectation that you are going to get the proverbial silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is your narcissist.

Is it sad you didn’t have a real mother? Of course. Is it disappointing that you don’t have one now? Definitely. Is it worth sinking into a depression or even a funk and exuding misery to everyone around you? Absolutely not. By accepting that your NM is what she is, you can give yourself the freedom to walk away from disappointment. Your heart isn’t broken because Fido isn’t a ballet star because you don’t expect that from her…and you can apply exactly the same to the mother who never was one.

Even on Mother’s Day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The NO CONTACT letter

Sometimes it is necessary to go No Contact with a narcissistic family member. Although I believe that it is best to simply fade out of their lives, giving them no reasons to rage and hoover you, sometimes a formal No Contact letter is necessary.

If you are harassed by your N to the degree that you are considering a restraining or protective order and their harassment is not criminal (assault, vandalism, trespassing, etc.), then your first step is a No Contact letter. Courts are notoriously unsympathetic to family squabbles being brought to their attention until and unless other avenues of resolution have been attempted, so by sending a No Contact letter, you demonstrate to the court that you have proactively attempted to resolve this issue on your own.

For the lucky ones among us, a successful NC occurs when we fade out of their lives and they don’t come chasing after us. Unfortunately, I suspect we are in the minority and the rest of us have to deal with a spectrum of responses. For people with this issue, the No Contact letter opens the door and, unfortunately, it will probably first open the door to drama and chaos before it finally closes again with a peaceful no contact situation. How much drama and chaos, however, can be limited by carefully crafting the No Contact letter.

What should a No Contact letter look like? Well, the first thing is that it should not contain a list of your grievances against the person/people you are attempting to cut out of your life. That is like waving a red flag in front of a bull: you cannot send a letter containing accusations of wrong-doing to a narcissist and expect them not them be outraged and determined to respond and “set you straight.” If you do expect that, then this is your reality check: they will respond, it won’t be pretty, and it will probably be an extended response that includes calling in all of the Flying Monkeys to help them beat you into submission.

A No Contact letter crafted to avoid drama would look something like this:


To: John and Jane Doe
From: Mary Doe Smith and Robert Smith
Subject: No Contact

This letter is to inform you that as of the date noted above, we direct you to cease all forms of contact with us and with our children, Sissie and Bubba Smith. This includes telephone calls, texts, email or other electronic communication, letters, cards, gifts, and personal visits. This prohibition also includes messages of any kind delivered via other persons, such as other family members or friends.

We are prepared to take legal action if you refuse to respect our wishes for no contact with you.

            Mary Doe Smith
            Robert Smith

This is a no-nonsense letter that dispassionately lays out your demand for complete privacy where they are concerned. There are no emotional hooks for them to grab onto, like accusations of wrong doing on their part that they can argue with or invalidate. It gives them no reasons for your decision and demands…as an independent, autonomous adult you are not required to justify or even explain your decisions to your parents and, knowing that even the mildest reason given will be a hook for them to start manipulating and gaslighting and invalidating is reason enough to say nothing. You don’t owe them an explanation so don’t throw open the door to drama and chaos by giving them one.

Depending on your family situation, you might want to send copies of the No Contact letter to key family members to pre-empt your N’s attempt at embroidering the letter you do send. You can send a cover letter to them, but don’t go into your reasons for going No Contact with them, either, because they will most certainly share those reasons with your Ns, giving them the hook you did not. If you absolutely must write down the reasons you came to the point of NC, then write it in your journal.

The letter to the N must be sent via registered post so that you get a receipt back from the postal service proving it was delivered. You should staple this receipt to your copy of the letter and put them in a safe place because you will probably need them later. Letters to any Flying Monkeys should be sent by regular mail or email and if you must preface it, say only something like “I recently sent the attached letter to my mother and father and I am sure they will be in contact with you about it. I am sending you a copy so that you know exactly what I wrote to them, and so that you know we are not open to second-hand communication from them through you or other family members or friends. We do not find it necessary to enumerate our reasons: it is sufficient that we have given long and painful consideration to this decision and ask only that you respect it.” Keep a list of people you sent copies to.

Once you have sent the letter, it is important to record any violations of your request. If they text you, you can forward their texts to your email program, then print them out and put them in the file with the letter. Any mails or emails you receive, put them in the file. Make sure you notify your children’s schools that nobody is to be allowed contact with your children without your express permission and that includes their grandparents and aunts and uncles. If your children have such activities as soccer or karate or dance or music lessons, make sure the adults know not to allow your children contact with adults who are not other parents, and if someone attempts to make contact, to report it to you.

If they bombard you with contacts, particularly if they are character assassination-type messages, take your file to an attorney and have him draw up a cease-and-desist letter and send it to your Ns. You can send photocopies of the letter to the Flying Monkeys yourself.

I would guess a majority of Ns will stop at this point and satisfy themselves with spreading rumours, innuendo and plain, old-fashioned lies about you to the Flying Monkeys and others. Whether you want to admit it or not, this will not be something new…they have been doing this behind your back all along, so you are losing nothing with this latest round and at least this time there is the grain of truth that you cut off all contact without so much as an explanation.

If you are one of the unlucky few whose Ns don’t stop at this point, then you continue collecting evidence of their violations and go back to the lawyer because now is the time you should be able to get that restraining or protective order and when the N violates that, the law will get involved. Nothing cools an Ns jets like being arrested for violating a court order…it is something they can’t explain away to their Flying Monkeys and if they want to continue to look like a poor victim of a hateful, ungrateful child, they can’t sully themselves by violating the law.

Your part in this is to respect the boundary you have laid down: no matter the provocation, remain NC with your Ns. Collect evidence and know that you have not only taken a huge step in the direction of your own freedom, you have dealt a huge blow to the Ns by taking away their control and their power. You just need to stay the course until the Ns finally give up, realize there is no more NSupply coming from your family, and shifts their attention to more productive fields.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Narcissists--where do they come from?

In the Nature v Nurture debate, we sometimes find ourselves wondering about narcissism. Some of us can clearly look back up the family tree and see abusive, narcissistic ancestors, people who abused their kids, giving them that “narcissistic injury” that trapped the child emotionally in the pre-logic years, creating a narcissist. But some of us cast an eye over the family gene pool and realize that our grandparents were loving people, good parents, wonderful examples that, for some odd reason, our narcissistic parent(s) did not emulate. How does that happen?

For each biologically inheritable trait you possess, there are two genes. You get one gene from your mother and one from your father.

There are dominant genes and there are recessive genes. Brown eyes are dominant over blue, for example, but a brown eyed person who had an ancestor with blue eyes may carry the blue-eyed gene, even though s/he has brown eyes and so do his parents and grandparents. That blue-eyed gene is recessive and it is the brown eyed gene that is being “expressed.”

But if this brown eyed person has a child with another brown eyed person who also has a recessive blue eyed gene, there is a 25% chance that they will produce a blue-eyed child.

Diabetes works much the same way: the gene for diabetes is recessive but if two people who have the recessive gene have a child together, there is a 25% chance that the child will be diabetic. Now, there are environment factors that come into play with diabetes: some people will be diabetic from childhood…Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas ceases to function, which is typical of juvenile diabetes. Type 2 occurs when the body becomes resistant to the insulin the body produces. This resistance is usually attributed to obesity, improper diet, and even age. What is left out of most of the articles on this subject, however, is that obesity, improper diet and age are not, in themselves, sufficient to bring about the onset of diabetes. For that to happen, you have to have inherited that gene.

This explains why you may know people who seem to be a normal weight to you and they are diabetic and you also know someone who is morbidly obese and is not. It has to do with the genes. If you have the diabetic gene and you eat poorly, exercise little, and become overweight, given enough time you will develop diabetes. If you don’t have the diabetic gene, then no matter what happens to you, you won’t get it (unless something awful happens to your pancreas, like cancer or disease).

I think narcissism works much the same way. We know it runs in families…we also know that people from normal families develop it, much to the confusion and dismay of their families. My mother’s dysfunction was a cause of concern and confusion for her own family, and in later years, my father and step-mother as well. Her parents were normal, loving, compassionate, civic-minded people who, while acceding to the values of their society (gender equality did not exist in the 1930s and 40s for example), did not abuse their children. My stepmother, having met my maternal grandparents on numerous occasions, did not find them to be unusual in any way, my uncles report a normal upbringing in which my mother was spoilt by their father as the only girl, and my mother’s aunt reports that my mother was always, in her words, “difficult.” A picture of my mother, put together from my own experiences plus the reports of other who knew her in her early years, emerges of an entitled, headstrong, spiteful and wayward child who grew into a woman who retained all those qualities and more.

If neither of her parents were narcissistic nor were they abusive, where did my NM come from? I don’t know much about my great-grandparents, but I do know that my grandfather’s mother was notoriously difficult. She and my Nana didn’t get along, partly because GGM was bossy, tried to infantilize my grandfather, and refused to learn to speak English. GGM therefore had an excuse to carry on extensive conversations with other family members, leaving my Nana out because she didn’t speak German or Russian. When she came to visit, she tried to boss Nana around in her own kitchen, using her few English words to make it very clear to Nana that everything she was doing was wrong, pushing Nana out of the way to demonstrate the “right way” to do something, and generally pretending Nana didn’t exist or, at best, was a scullery maid at her beck and call. It’s not too big a stretch to think that GGM might have contributed a recessive gene for narcissism to my grandfather. On Nana’s side, her sister—the aunt who identified NM as being “difficult”—was a bit of a difficult one herself. Married multiple times in a society that frowned severely on divorce, and so focussed on having a daughter that she gave her three sons androgynous names and, once that daughter arrived, pretty much leaving the boys on their own so that she could focus exclusively on the girl, Auntie was known as the family “eccentric.” She so enmeshed that daughter that the child had a panic attack when it was time to separate from mama and go to school (she was kept out of school for a year due to it), and the daughter did not successfully go out on her own until after Auntie passed away. But Auntie was charismatic, with flaming red hair and grand gestures and a big voice—always the centre of attention and able to turn any conversation to herself, but in a way that made people love her—in small doses.

And so if Nana’s sister was an N—and Auntie had all the hallmarks of it—then obviously her own genetic heritage harboured the gene. And if Nana inherited one copy of the gene from her parents and Grandpa inherited one copy of the gene from his mother, and if their second child got two copies of the gene…one from Nana and one from Grandpa…then my mother would have born with two copies of the gene, which would activate it. And if my uncles got no copies of the gene…or even they only got one copy each, that would explain why they were so normal and their sister was so very, very different from them.

This, of course, is merely speculation. There is no proof that a gene for narcissism exists but if it does, this is how it can be passed down the generations and how a seemingly normal, perfectly functional family can produce a narcissist without any narcissistic injury occurring to the child. Nurture certainly has its part—I have to wonder how different my mother might have been if her father had not spoilt and indulged her as a child, reinforcing her notion of entitlement, and if she had been held accountable the same way her brothers were. But, knowing that my mother dismissed her coddling as her due and was furiously jealous of the freedom her brothers were allowed, it probably would have made little difference. Rather than take into account the social restrictions of girls in that time, my mother chose to perceive her parents as “favouring” the boys over her, and herself abused as a result.

There is a danger, if you believe narcissism is transmitted genetically, to back off and think “oh, the poor thing can’t help it!” That would not be true. Just as the Type 2 diabetic can eat right, exercise, and keep their weight down, the narcissist has control over the expression of the gene. Biology is not destiny, and narcissists fully comprehend what their society expects of them in terms of behaviour and are fully capable of displaying those behaviours, as they often do when it is to their advantage. Narcissists have no less choice than non-narcissists when it comes to behaviours: just as the diabetic can choose to eat chocolate or an apple, the narcissist can choose between lying and telling the truth. The difference is no more than a matter of desire: some diabetics choose to eat the chocolate even though they know they are not supposed to because they want the reward, the taste, the feeling chocolate gives them…and narcissists are no different.

Neither of my maternal grandparents were diabetic, but Nana’s father was…and so was one of her children. Neither my father nor my mother were diabetic, but I am. It is clear that the gene can be carried to the descendants of the diabetics by non-diabetics. I know that families headed by fair, loving, compassionate parents can produce a malicious, vindictive, selfish narcissist because I have seen it in my own family. And knowing how the gene for diabetes can “skip” a generation or two, it would stand to reason that if someday a gene for narcissism is discovered, it is transmitted in much the same way, so that parents who do not express the gene but carry it, may pass it down to their children.

It bears thinking about.