From The 10 Commandments of Dysfunctional Families
by Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
8. Thou shalt not let anyone do anything else for you. Do it all yourself.
Sample Situation: Parents continually remind the child that no one is to be trusted. If they do something for you, they're doing it to manipulate you.
Lesson Learned: Stay aloof and don't make friends with anybody. After all, if you get too close, they'll use, hurt and abuse you. And remember this: nobody does anything for anyone unless they want something from you.
Motto: Do everything yourself.
Any household in which one or both of the adults are narcissists is dysfunctional. You cannot have a narcissist at the helm of any kind of organization, domestic or otherwise, without dysfunction reigning. One of the things we can never forget about a narcissist is that they judge others by themselves. It is a type of projection kinda combined with rationalization: projection because they are projecting their own beliefs, feelings, values onto others, and rationalization because once they believe others are the same way, then they are “normal” and their beliefs, feeling and values—and the behaviours that issue from them—are okay.
Narcissists do not “get” altruism. If they do something for you, there is an ulterior motive behind it. That ulterior motive may be to gain them something (like Nsupply or even something more tangible) or it may be to disadvantage someone else…but whatever the motive is, no matter how invisible it may be to observers, it is definitely there. Narcissists consider altruism to be stupid: why put out all that effort and get nothing back for it? And they presume nobody else is truly altruistic, either…and if nobody is really altruistic, then apparently altruistic deeds are really, in their minds, some kind of manipulation they just haven’t been able to suss out (and adopt for themselves) yet.
Because narcissists view altruism in such a light, they are loathe to allow anyone to do anything for them unless they can clearly see (or create in their minds) the motive for doing so. If they cannot see or create a motive they can believe, then they will believe that the person is attempting to manipulate them, to take advantage of them somehow…because in their minds, nobody does something for nothing.
My NexH had such parents. Both were narcissistic, the mother of the “martyr” variety, the father one of those guys overstuffed with pride. In the mid 1960s, when his oldest daughter was ready for university, there was no money to pay for it, so she applied for student aid. Unfortunately for her, student aid was based on family income and her father was too proud to admit he needed some help sending his daughter to college. He refused to complete the required paperwork citing a litany of paranoid fears as the reason: nobody, including the university or the government, would loan his daughter, who was just 18 and had no credit rating, the tens of thousands necessary for a university education unless there was some kind of invisible string attached…a string that involved getting hold of his personal, private financial information. Because he couldn’t see himself lending that kind of money to an untried, unproven 18-year-old girl unless he had some kind of ulterior motive, he would not believe that anyone else would, either. Releasing that information would allow someone outside the immediate family know how tight their finances were, what a poor provider he was, and that was a humiliation he could not endure—not even to send his daughter to a fine university. The daughter went to university and she got her degree—but she had to do it herself, working and paying her own way: there was no money in the family to help her and her father, like a textbook narcissist, put his feelings ahead of her well-being...and Dee had to do it herself.
Children learn by example more than any other way. They are natural mimics but they mimic a lot more than the words you say or the body postures you display. Like little sponges, they soak up your fears and prejudices, your beliefs and values. And if you demonstrate to them that nobody can be trusted, that everybody is out to take advantage of you, that is what they will absorb and carry into their adult lives.
There is a multitude of ways to make this demonstration. Have you ever heard something like “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? or “Do I have to do everything around here to make sure it is done right?” A perfectionistic parent can imbue a child with the sense that nobody else can do it right, a sense that in order to have something done properly, one cannot trust others. They are unforgiving of the smallest deviation from their rigid standards, not even flexing a little to allow for a learning curve or lack of experience. “If I can do it, you can do it,” is their credo, and your lack of perfection is seldom viewed sympathetically. Instead, it can be viewed as a manipulation: you screwed up in order to get out of it rather than lack of expertise or talent or time to perfect it.
Children who grow up in this kind of environment often either become rigid perfectionists themselves, beating up on themselves emotionally when they fail to achieve their own lofty—and often unattainable—standards of perfection. Or they may become underachievers, afraid to reach for their potential because they know they cannot possibly be 100% the first time and nothing less is acceptable. They cannot accept help…needing help is proof they are unable to perform to standard. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” my grandfather used to tell me, along with “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” My NM, on the other hand, used to say “Do it right or not at all—no half-assed measures!” The former allows for a learning curve, for repetition and improvement; the latter is irrationally perfectionistic, a set up for failure, and typically N.
A narcissist will shamelessly take advantage of anyone, even their own small children. And because they will, they firmly believe everybody else is the same. If they make friends, it is because they expect to benefit somehow from the friendship—and they believe the friends expect the same. The reason narcissists make such poor friends (and seldom can sustain long-lasting friendships) is because they take what they entered the friendship to get, but the narcissist considers herself too clever to be manipulated and taken advantage of, so when the friend needs something, the narcissist bails. “Friends” are people who want to take advantage of you, the narcissist believes, so you only make friends with people you can get something out of, and then if you are clever enough, you get out before the “friend” can get anything from you.
A good example of this is my GCBro—every autumn my Dad would cut trees from his woodlot and he and a bunch of friends would get together to cut them into logs and then split the logs into firewood. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: they all cut and split and stacked wood into the back of the pickup trucks and trailers, helping each other out. At the end of a day's work, everybody had a truck and/or trailer full of wood for the winter. My grandmother, who was in her 80s, even helped, operating a hydraulic log splitter. My GCBro showed up, everybody helped load up his truck and trailer with wood, then he went across the road to to Gramma's house where she made him a big lunch. When he was done with his lunch he said good-bye to Gramma, got in his truck and drove away without helping the rest of the people. He just took Dad's wood and the labour of his friends and went home without lifting a finger to pay them back in kind, getting what he wanted out of the association without the other guys “taking advantage” of him.
Some narcissists seem to be able to sustain long-term friendships but an examination of the friendship may turn up a dynamic that is anything but friendly. Think about a “mean girl” cluster of friends (which can occur at any age)…or, an extreme example might be gangs. Inside the group is a pecking order, one person clearly the leader, the others “minions,” and below the minions, the “wannabees” who are often targets themselves, but may serve as additional minions. This isn’t exactly what I, personally, would call “friendship,” but it serves the Ns, the leaders of these groups. If you look into the roles of the family members in dysfunctional families, you will find them replicated in these groups, with some of the roles—like the scapegoat who is responsible for all their troubles—sometimes assigned to outsiders.
Rigid rules surround the group to control their behaviour. Some groups are ruled by the strongest, most dominant personality while others, like outlaw motorcycle clubs, elect their president and officers—who are usually the strongest, most dominant personalities. But the narcissist cannot even trust the people within the group—he knows he is not trustworthy, so what would lead him to believe others are? So even if the narcissist belongs to a group and appears to have friendships within the group, s/he still remains alone because there is no one they can trust.
The inability to trust is devastating to personal relationships. Many narcissists marry—repeatedly, in some cases. But too often they project their own untrustworthiness onto their partners and become controlling, suspicious, accusative, and even violent. Only if the narcissist has chosen a co-dependent or enabling kind of person can a relationship survive the distrust. The relationship may survive, but it will inevitably be dysfunctional, producing yet another generation of children who cannot trust, who must do things themselves in order to assure they are not being manipulated or taken advantage of by others, and who must be loners in order to feel safe.
Next: Ten Commandments of Dysfunctional Families:
9. Thou shalt be perfect
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.