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.

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.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Boundaries are for us, too

We talk a lot about setting boundaries to make our narcissists respect us, to create limits to their behaviour, to manage them. But have you ever thought about setting boundaries for yourself?

One of the great difficulties we have with our narcissists is finding ways to limit their incursions into our lives and minds. We look for ways to encourage—or coerce—them to control or redirect their urges, to treat us with at least a semblance of respect even if they don’t feel it. But they aren’t the only ones who need boundaries…we need them too.

I am not talking about the kinds of boundaries that we set with others, like our narcissists or our children or even our neighbours and co-workers. I am talking about boundaries with ourselves, for ourselves. We, who are raised by people who overstep our natural boundaries at every opportunity and have none of their own, often find it very difficult to exert what others call “self discipline” when it comes to ourselves. Oh, we are often very respectful—even too respectful—of the boundaries of others, so much so that we don’t assert ourselves or, if we do, we do not do it appropriately.

You may not have thought about it this way, but when you learn to say “no” to your abusers and exploiters, you have set a boundary with them…but have you learned to say “no” to yourself? What boundaries do you set for yourself and how good are you at exercising and maintaining them?

When we set boundaries for others, sometimes it is difficult for us to make those boundaries stick. If you have a child who has learned that if he is persistent enough, you will break down and give in, then you have not made the boundary stick. If, after you say “no,” he continues to wheedle and beg, threaten or rage, your child is not respecting your boundary. And if you eventually give in, just to shut him up, you aren’t respecting it either. All you have taught your child is that you don’t mean what you say because persistence pays…he can get what he wants if he just nags you long enough.

Do you do that to yourself?

Going “No Contact” is a boundary that you set with your narcissists…you might tell them not to contact you anymore or, you might just fade away from their lives, but either way, you have drawn a line in the sand you do not wish them to cross. But that boundary is yours as well! It is almost inevitable that you will have to enforce the boundaries because your Ns will not respect either your wishes or your silence. But do you respect your own boundary with respect to NC? Or do you read their boundary-breaking emails, open the letters and cards they send, give yourself angst over the gifts and invitations they send? Do you violate your NC by listening to other family members tell you how hurt your Ns are, how much they miss you, or how selfish, cruel and ungodly you are being, cutting off contact with people who love you so much?

Boundaries work both ways. And often, when we set boundaries, we fail to realize that. Boundaries have goals…there is a reason you set the boundary…so if you set a boundary and then violate it yourself, how are you attaining your goal? Aren’t you actually sabotaging yourself?

We lack boundaries in many other ways. How good are you at stopping those voices in your head? Have you ever set yourself a boundary for them, a boundary like “When I start to tell myself that I am a failure, I will stop and say ‘shut up, Mom, and get out of my head,’ or ‘That’s a lie, Dad, and you know it. The problem is you and the fact that nothing, no matter how good it is, is good enough for you.’” Have you ever even thought about setting boundaries on yourself, for what you do or say or believe about yourself?

Do you have a bad habit, like smoking or nail biting or over eating? Have you set yourself a boundary to stop those behaviours? Think about it…when you set boundaries for others, you expect them to change their behaviour towards you…can’t you do the same for yourself?

When you set a boundary for a narcissist, what you are asking that narcissist to do it to control, restrain, or redirect her urges. This is not an unreasonable expectation but narcissists are childish and, like small children, often impulse-driven. But we expect adults in our society to control their impulses…it is part of the social order and those who refuse to control certain of their urges run afoul of the law. The courts really don’t care why a man fails to control his sexual urges and commits rape or paedophilia, they don’t care that it is easier to steal a phone or a car or a diamond ring than to earn the money to buy it. The law, which is really nothing more than a codified set of boundaries, cares only that we respect those boundaries in order for our society to operate smoothly, or we suffer the consequences for violating them.

So the law expects that we control our urges to rape, to steal, to assault, to kill. It pretty much doesn’t care about our reasons for not controlling them, and fully expects us all, regardless of colour, faith, gender or economic advantage, to exert the necessary self-control to refrain from those activities. Why do we think, then, that we don’t need to control our personal urges inside the confines of our own personal lives? It is, after all, just that mind set that allows narcissists to prey on us—they see no reason to control their urges as they have no respect for the feelings or rights of other people and, unless we set boundaries and provide consequences for violating them, we give them free reign. But aren’t we doing the same thing to ourselves?

Think about things you allow yourself to do that work against you: succumbing to irrational fears without taking the time to think them through, breaking into “fight or flight” panic mode without stopping to apply rational thought. Worrying over things you cannot control. Tempting yourself to break NC by keeping emails from your Ns on the computer where there are there, beckoning you. I’ll bet you can think of a thousand other instances in which your own lack of boundaries for yourself get you into painful situations.

You might want to think about setting some boundaries for yourself and see how that works for you.