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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Attention-seeking: a tale of two psyches

All children need attention. In addition to their bodily needs such as food and shelter, they have emotional needs for nurturing and love. Babies are hard-wired to get that attention—they cry when they need food, warmth, or other kinds of attention and they are mightily persistent. In a nurturing environment, these babies get their needs for attention met and as they develop, their needs diminish with time. But children whose needs are not adequately met still need the attention that is denied them and as they grow older their needs do not diminish even though they may appear to as the child’s demands may lessen with time. This may occur because either the child learns through repeated disappointment that certain people cannot be approached for nurturance, or the child is punished for such an approach and learns that to need anything is to be bad…or both.

Narcissists have no inclination to nurture: a narcissistic mother can fake it as long as she gets lots of attention and praise for her pretty baby and the cute clothes she dresses the child in, and some are even diligent about such things as bathing and changing and feeding, but there is no emotional attachment behind it. A family member of mine whose pregnancy was a surprise—and not an especially welcome one—once told me that after her son was born, she kept waiting for that “rush of mother love” she had heard about to come over her and it just didn’t happen. She looked at him and just felt nothing. She took adequate physical care of the child, but was completely disengaged from him emotionally.

Mothers like this tend to ignore their children to the greatest degree they believe they can get away with, as long as it doesn’t affect their own acquisition of admiration. Children can be lavished with gifts and toys as a means of neglecting them emotionally (giving them stuff instead of attention) or they can be deprived of everything except those most basic essentials…and a few may be criminally neglected to death. If the child wants or needs anything more than the mother has deemed necessary—and this is critical because the child’s actual needs are subordinate to what the narcissistic parent decides what the child needs, which may be poles apart—she perceives the child as demanding more than his due. Some mothers, like mine, completely ignore a child except in the most basic ways, giving only perfunctory attention to fundamental needs and being punitive when faced with a need—which she perceived as an unwarranted demand—for more.

It should be a no brainer to recognize that a child who actively demands attention is doing so because s/he is not receiving enough…or at least not enough of the right kind. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as there are children who demand an excessive amount of attention not because they have been abused or neglected, but because they have been conditioned to believe that they are entitled to monopolize the attentions of others. Since narcissistic parents often single out one or more children as “Golden Children” who are invariably spoilt and given privileges, goods, and attention denied to the Scapegoat children, it is quite likely in a multi-child household with at least one narcissistic parent that there will be more than one child clamouring for attention, assuming the Scapegoat, or neglected, child has not yet learned to stop trying.

Narcissistic parents are so self-oriented that often they cannot be bothered to investigate a child’s—particularly a Scapegoat child’s—complaints and dismiss them out of hand as “attention-getting devices.” In addition to the problem of the child being deprived of necessary attention by this, she is also deprived of any care her complaint would have elicited from a normal parent. From too-small shoes to toothaches to poor vision to medical conditions warranting a doctor’s attention, children who are dismissed as attention-seekers without having their complaints investigated can be neglected and ultimately end up neglecting themselves because if their parents didn’t think their toothaches or shaggy hair warranted attention, why should they? It is a self-esteem issue, a matter of a sense of self-worth, that was internalized from the value placed on them by their parents when they were children, dependent on their parents’ wisdom, good will, and love.

All children believe, at least when they are small, that their parents are omnipotent. From a completely dependent infancy where our parents’ judgments and activity literally meant life or death for us, we grow up believing and accepting that our parents gave us the care we needed—so if they denied us something, we believed we didn’t need it. Cognitively, however, we may recognize that we do need something, like bigger shoes or a trip to the dentist and if our parents withhold it, particularly if they withhold it from us while giving it to someone else in the family, we begin to learn that for reasons unknown to us, we are apparently unworthy and undeserving, while another child in the family is entitled. If we clamour for the attention we need, we are admonished, shamed, discounted, invalidated, and we come to learn that our own assessments of our needs are inaccurate (even when they, in truth, are accurate) Actions—behaviours—do speak louder than words, so by being neglected by our parents, we learn that we are not deserving of the same treatment as others in the household, that we are incompetent to assess our own needs, and that we are bad and selfish to try to draw attention to our needs or to try to put our need for a trip to the dentist ahead of our GC sibling’s new bicycle.

If, through independent means, we are found to actually need that which we have been clamouring for, it becomes our fault. I had my first fillings at age 13 or 14 as the result of a toothache that drove me to the school nurse. She packed some oil of cloves into the cavity, then called my NM to tell her that I needed dental work. At first NM denied it and said I was employing yet “another attention-getting device” and “refused to be conned” by me into “wasting money on a useless trip to the dentist.” When the nurse insisted, saying she would involve Child Services and have me taken to the County Hospital for the work, NM capitulated. But not without a price: looking in my mouth, I had four visible cavities in my molars. It was pre-fluoride days and I was 14 and had never been to a dentist before! But the cavities were not a result of her neglect of my oral health—oh no, they were my fault for not brushing my teeth often enough. (I had not had a new toothbrush since I was six, so it’s pretty obvious what a priority my teeth were to her.)

Unfortunately, the dentist was a ham-handed brute, the cavities were large, and by the time the teeth were filled, I had developed a life-long fear of dentists to go along with my belief that I did not deserve dental care except in the circumstance of extreme pain. It did not bode well for my dental future. Neglect on the part of parents, whether obvious like the denial of medical attention or more subtle, like the withholding of love and support, can have life-long and devastating negative effects on children.

Naturally, my NM did not neglect her own care. She saw her dentist regularly, including for teeth cleaning, and when she needed a doctor, she did not hesitate to go. I suffered greatly from allergies, particularly from fur and feathers, but not only did she keep a big hairy Persian cat, she wouldn’t take me to the doctor for allergy medications (no OTC meds for allergies back then, either). It was not until my constant sneezing and sniffling was an annoyance to her that I got allergy meds…but let her have the first sniffle, and it was off to an ENT to have her sinuses irrigated.

Appearances were everything to my NM. I have what is called a “natural turnout” and if she’d been interested in my taking ballet classes, she would quickly have learned that this is considered a rare and desirable advantage. Unfortunately, she was more interested in making me a singing and/or movie star so my “natural turnout” got termed “duck footed” due to “fallen arches” and for years I had to endure rigid arch supports that blistered my feet, ugly saddle oxford shoes that did nothing for my social standing, grace or comfort, and regular visits to a podiatrist for new supports as my feet grew. It never did cure me of the “duck walk” that my NM found offensive, but it did set me up for years of feet and knee problems in adulthood because I had to learn to pronate my knees and walk on the outsides of soles of my feet.

My GCBro was a robustly healthy child, a bit on the fat side, and until the age of 8 or 10, he wet the bed at night. While I got punished for not pointing my toes straight ahead when I walked (and was intentionally tripped by her to “make me aware” of how I was walking), GCBro was taken to specialists, including a chiropractor, to “cure” his bedwetting. She didn’t want to hear that he would eventually outgrow it, she wanted it fixed and right now. The contrast, of course, being that GCBro was never blamed for his wet bed nor told it was his fault, whereas my “duck feet” were my fault for being lazy and not paying attention to how I walked. (Note: I am not saying GCBro should have been blamed for his wet bed or be faulted for it, only noting that he did not endure the criticism and disdain I did for things equally beyond my control.)

I have always found it curious that NM was so fixated on my feet yet neglected legitimate medical complaints like my allergies, my teeth, my vision (getting my first pair of glasses was almost a verbatim repeat of getting my first fillings, complete with the school nurse threatening her with Child Services and me getting harangued non-stop for the week it took to get my eye appointment). People couldn’t see inside my mouth or through my eyes so it couldn’t reflect on her, and her response to my allergies was to tell me “Stop that goddamned sniffling and sneezing!” as if I was doing it on purpose, thereby reinforcing her schtick of being martyr mama to the Most Defiant Child in the Civilized World.

These children inevitably grow up to be adults and develop into two basic categories: the attention-starved and the attention whore. Sometimes they look confusingly alike on the surface, as both may use similar techniques to draw attention to themselves. But while they may look superficially similar, their motivations are light years apart: the attention whore feels entitled to attention, to people fawning over her, giving her what she wants, to taking what she wants…the attention-starved is just that—starved and desperate for any kind of attention that might validate her existence.

Both might demonstrate the same kind of outward appearance, say blatantly sexual in dress and behaviour, and they may get similar results—lots of male attention. But whereas one is doing it from a sense of entitlement, feeling she deserves the adulation, the other is grasping at crumbs of anything that she might be able to convince herself has a resemblance to affection. Both might engage in affairs with married men, the GC because she believes she is entitled to anything she wants and has no respect for others, including the betrayed wife, whereas the SG believes she must take what she can get when it is available, her own need so deep that it overrides her sense of right and wrong. The GC will feel entitled and will be unlikely to suffer remorse or shame; the SG will likely feel guilty but excuse herself with “But I love him…I can’t help it!” even when faced with incontrovertible facts proving she is nothing more than a temporary play toy. Their behaviours may look the same but the reasons behind them are light years apart.

The attention-starved may come off looking like an attention whore at first because she may display some of the same behaviours. Attention-starved women may also come across as shy or withdrawn or quiet, rather than as party girls. They may have learned that attention is a dangerous thing, that to draw attention to themselves too often can result in negative, hurtful attention. But regardless of whether she comes across extroverted or introverted, there is an element of desperation about her that reeks of deprivation, of having a hole in her soul, of her being a bottomless pit of need. It is to these women that narcissists and abusers gravitate because their very desperation sets them up to tolerate behaviour that well-balanced women—and even their GC sisters—would not stand for.

GC women tend to attract enablers, men who feed their overblown egos. Narcissistic men may be drawn to them due to their flashy, attention-seeking ways but such pairings are bound for conflict when they each expect to be the centre of attention. “Normal” men may be flattered to be the object of an attention-seeking GC, only to find out later that they were being used. Or, they may adopt enabling ways to keep the GC interested.

However they end up, you can be assured that children who are raised in such a way that they did not receive adequate, balanced, positive nurturing and attention will grow up into adults who will engage in unhealthy relationships as adults. They will gravitate towards people who are their opposite number, people who will support their self-image whether that image is one of entitlement or privation. Very rarely does a DoNM, whether a GC or SG, luck into a healthy relationship with a healthy partner simply because healthy partners do not fulfil their inner needs: they find them dull and boring or “too good to be true” and reject them in favour of less balanced partners who can be their yin to their yang. And absent awareness and therapy, they are doomed to repeat their unsuccessful or unsatisfactory relationships, relationships they have been groomed for since the cradle, for life.

Next: No Contact


  1. Fascinating post! I was an only child and somehow both golden child AND scapegoat, depending on age/phase/occasion/number of braggable activities or accomplishments/parents' mood. I have a combination of the issues you describe so well.

    Neither the SC nor the GC is loved or given any real attention for the person they actually are. Both can develop narcissistic defenses as a result. I'm all over the map personally.

    I was lucky enough to find a sane husband - he DID strike me as "dull and boring" and too nice and normal, but I was still inexplicably drawn to him. Thank God.

    1. I can see how being an only child could make this even worse--at least if you have a GC sibling abd you are the SG, you know your role in the family, and it is consistent so you have an idea what to expect. As an only child has to be BOTH, I expect it was difficult to anticipate what was coming from the N because things depend on her mood and needs more than your behaviour.

      I agree that neither the SG or the NC get what the are entitled to: unconditional parental love. I put up a post on that very subject back in April:

      Glad you found a sane hubby--they can go a long way towards finding out what "normal" is!

  2. Great post, but I don't care for the assertion that ACoNs are "doomed" to unhealthy relationships or that therapy is necessary to avoid them. Too deterministic, and anyway the experiences of actual ACoNs show differently.

    1. I respect your opinion, Anonymous, but my experience with ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists, for the uninitiated) and their stories does not bear out your implication that ACoNs by-and-large enter into healthy relationships without the benefit of therapy.

      The entry, however, is not intended to be deterministic but explanatory and to give some insight into the habit of many NMs for accusing their children of attention-seeking when, in fact, the child has a legitimate complaint and the legacy of those accusations. If it doesn't apply to you, then it doesn't apply, but it may well apply to others.

      I don't think it is fair to call something "deterministic" because in doing so, we invalidate what might actually be the experience of someone else. Instead of viewing as "if this happens to me then that is the inevitable outcome," perhaps viewing it from the perspective of "Oh, I was like that--and my NM did that to me--hmmm...looks like they might be connected and that is why I did that!" The word "deterministic" could be used to invalidate ANYthing that does not meet with one's own subjective experiences without recognizing that it may well be reflective of the experiences of many, many others.

      Sometimes we simply miss a point we are not yet ready to accept into our own perceptions.

    2. Anonymous isn't being deterministic. This statement is:

      "And absent awareness and therapy, they are doomed to repeat their unsuccessful or unsatisfactory relationships, relationships they have been groomed for since the cradle, for life."

      Doomed... for life.

      That's about as deterministic as it gets.

      Anon is saying that ACoNS have different experiences, which is evident all over the ACoN blogs. Both the bloggers and the commenters mention their supportive partners frequently. You've got one such ACoN commenting on this very post. So clearly ACoNs aren't doomed for life. And it can't all be chalked up to therapy because we don't know which of them had therapy or didn't or what kind. We certainly can't assume that they all did, or that it was useful.

      This comment

      "Sometimes we simply miss a point we are not yet ready to accept into our own perceptions. "

      comes across like a suggestion that Anon doesn't agree with you because Anon is in denial or similar. MIght not there be another explanation? Like maybe the doomed-without-therapy hypothesis is wrong? Plenty of people from healthy families also struggle to find quality relationships. It's a complex issue.

    3. Another thought: How would you account for ACoNs who don't find healthy relationships even if they've had therapy?

    4. Pt 1
      If the introductory clause "...absent awareness and therapy" were not present, the phrase "And absent awareness and therapy, they are doomed to repeat their unsuccessful or unsatisfactory relationships, relationships they have been groomed for since the cradle, for life..." would be deterministic. Awareness is a powerful tool for life change. If you wish to play semantic games, you are welcome to do so, but the fact remains that one does not grow up in a dysfunctional family and emerge unscathed, no matter how much we want to believe otherwise.

      Similarly, "This comment 'Sometimes we simply miss a point we are not yet ready to accept into our own perceptions...' comes across like a suggestion that Anon doesn't agree with you because Anon is in denial or similar...' contains the qualifying word "sometimes." It means exactly what it says: SOMETIMES and is there to indicate that Anonymous's disagreement MIGHT be denial or Anon MIGHT not yet be ready to accept or deal with certain unhappy aspects of his/her life, past or present. Of course, when using a word like "sometimes" or "might," a door is wide open in exactly the opposite direction. Note I did not say "always" or even "often," but "sometimes," and the comment was made for the purpose of encouraging people (not just Anonymous, since other people will likely read the comment) to examine themselves.

      A blog isn't a letter written to a single individual. It is written to encompass the experience of many and from the standpoint of an observer. These are my observations and my conclusions from them. Yours may be different...and that is fine. But there is nothing inherently wrong in self-examination and without it, change is extremely difficult...if not impossible.

      "Plenty of people from healthy families struggle to find quality relationships..." Yes, they do. And that is pretty much irrelevant with respect to being raised by people with personality disorders and the legacy such an upbringing leaves with us. We have the very same difficulties AND MORE. Sometimes we are lucky and find a partner who is "normal" and willing to deal with our fleas and fears--but I would wager that is an unusual circumstance because of the dozens of DoNMs I know and correspond with (most of them outside this blog) the vast majority of them have entered into unhealthy relationships with damaged men, sometimes repeatedly. The literature does not abound with stories or suggestions that untreated DoNMs by-and-large enter healthy relationships and the ones who go into pathological ones are the exception but rather the opposite. YOU may be an exception (and I know a few of those, too) and if you are, congratulations on your good fortune. But even if you are, it doesn't mean that self-awareness will not be beneficial...and even therapy.

      (See Pt 2 below)

    5. Pt 2
      I sense in your comment and Anonymous' a hostility towards therapy. In my experience, that comes about from one or more reasons including a bad experience with therapy in the past (or a bad experience by a trusted person), fear of revealing "family secrets" (the "inner child's" fear of being punished for letting the cat out of the bag), fear it won't work, fear it WILL work and open some new problems with the FOO, being unready to take the step of getting help, fear of being "wrong" (which is how some of us view therapeutic processes that challenge us) and probably dozens more. Therapy is hard work, it makes you change how you view things, it is painful, and if it works, you give up some ideas and take on new ones. Some of us aren't willing to change how we think and resist anything that leads us to that therapy or things on the internet that don't agree with how we are presently thinking...which is not so much denial as a resistance to change. I once knew someone who needed psychotropic drugs for an intermittently delusional condition (as assessed by a qualified psychiatrist) and her objection was that if she took the drugs and they worked, she feared she would no longer be herself. Successful therapy does the same thing: you are a different person coming out of it than you were going into it. Some of us embrace and look forward to that--and the very idea scares the bejesus out of others (which may be manifested in many ways, including but not limited to hostility, resistance, or even invalidation of the whole therapeutic process).

      And you know what? That is OKAY--because each of us has to do what is the right thing for us at the right time for us. We are each different and have different needs at different times. You may not agree with my assessments and explanations and feel they don't apply to you...and they very well might not. But the blog is written for more people than just you and Anonymous, and it may very well apply to them.

      Thank you for your comment.

    6. Bit of intellectual sleight-of-hand there. I challenged the assertion about *therapy*, but you addressed *awareness*. I don't agree that awareness is necessary to have healthy relationships either, since plenty of ACoNs stumble into them, just like other people do.

      My point is that individual lives and experiences are infinitely complex and easily contradict blanket assertions. I'm not just saying that your assertion doesn't apply to me, I'm saying it applies to hardly anyone at all.

      Saying anyone's family background, dooms them for life unless two conditions (specified by you) are met, just isn't correct and is also pessimistic. (And quite the downer for people who don't have access to therapy.)

      A generation ago few people would have predicted that a mixed-race child of a single mother with a Muslim middle name and African first and last names would be elected President of the USA ,TWICE, but it just happened.


    7. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page and read the section "Disclaimer and Terms of Use." Please pay particular attention to the sentence "I am not a mental health professional and nothing on The Narcissist's Child should be taken as an expert opinion. This are my experiences and opinions, nothing more."

      Your life and your experiences are unique to you--and so are mine. And your opinions are no more or less valid than mine. I cannot know how many DoNMs you have known in your life, but I know (or am in contact with) more than 50 women (and a few men) who grew up in dysfunctional households headed by at least one narcissistic parent. I have been in daily contact with most of these women for at least three years. My opinions are heavily influenced by my knowledge of them, their experiences and their lives. And what I write is based on the lives and experiences not only of myself, but of dozens of women--and not just American women, either, but women of half a dozen nations.

      What you wrote about awareness indicates to me that you are experiencing not only a profound denial, but are defending it mightily. And that is OK--it is your life and you have every right to live it exactly as you choose. But people who read this blog (and several others of the same ilk) are people who want awareness, they want to know WHY things are happening in their lives as they do and they want suggestions for fixing it and they want hope. If I were to withhold all suggestions that not everybody could implement, there would be no point in this blog at all. There are many things people can do to improve their lives (and I write on them, too--check out the two entries on No Contact) but nothing succeeds like good therapy with a qualified, clued-in therapist. I would be remiss not to bring it up, and to bring it up regularly.

      I had to laugh about your remark about Obama. You must be very young--being 65, I was around "a generation ago." In 1968 (nearly TWO generations ago) Bobby Kennedy predicted a black man in the White House in 40 years and lots of us agreed with him. Not being especially prone to being temporo centric, I recognize that people were not particularly afraid of Muslims a generation ago, and African-sounding first names were common among black American children (names like Shaniqua and Tamika). Mixed race children were not exactly uncommon (my mixed race nephew is now 30) and single mothers were pretty much unremarkable 25 years (a generation) ago. We have had a divorced president (Reagan), the child of a single mother who took a stepfather's surname (Clinton), and a duty-shirking reservist of sub-par IQ (Dubya) all in the White House in the last generation. Why not a black man, fulfilling Kennedy's prophecy?

      Now, I wish to be very clear: your opinions and mine are very different on this topic. This is OK--we are different people and have different viewpoints and that does not make either of us right or wrong. But if you are writing with the intent of persuading me to change my opinion or what I have written, please be aware that you are wasting your time. I don't form opinions off the top of my head nor do I spend days writing about what I have so carefully considered, only to flip to a different opinion because somebody disagrees with me.

      I am not asking you to change your opinion. But I am asking you to stop beating this dead horse and move on. More messages from you in the same vein will not be published.

      Thank you for writing.

  3. Hi Violet,

    Just read this post and the comments today. It is true that NOBODY who grew up in such kind of dysfunction comes out unscathed. I used to have a hostility towards therapy initially, not because I didn't know that my 'family' didn't mess me up and set me on a course of unhealthy friendships and relationships, but because the two therapists I did try to work with were intent on this 'there is a bit of good in every body' schtick - and I'm sorry, but that is definitely not true about Narcissists. There is NOTHING GOOD about them. At the moment, I'm unable to afford therapy with a professional, but even reading this blog and others' experiences has counted as some kind of 'group therapy' and has been immensely valuable. I learned that toxic friendships and relationships I entered into or tolerated were because living with Ns meant having a high abuse threshhold, no boundaries, no expectation that someone will respect our privacy, or that our emotional well-being counts for anything. The awareness I have garnered from reading and interacting with writers like you has been extraordinarily helpful and I've had several epiphanies and made tangible differences to my life as a result.

    Not sure why Anonymous and Pink have taken umbrage with this blogpost. Everything you've said is common sense, really! Anyway, thanks again, Violet! ps I am having trouble finding the post entitled 'No Contact'. Would you be so kind as to provide the link?

    Thank you dear!


    1. Thank you so much for your support, Lola. People usually take umbrage (as opposed to simply disagreeing) because the issue pushes a button--touches a nerve. As I stated above, this blog is not a personal letter tailored to a single person, it is a broad brush expounding MY observations, ruminations and opinions...and as such, it simply cannot apply to every person in every circumstance.

      I can appreciate your wariness with respect to therapy if you've been invalidated not once, but twice, by a therapist. We have to remember, however, that they are human just like we are...and 50% of them graduated in the bottom half of their class! But just as there are intellectually lazy ones out there who parrot and push the latest pop psychology babble, there are really good, really dedicated ones, too. I strongly recommend seeking a therapist who has experience in counselling people who were emotionally abused in childhood...these are the Ts with whom you are most likely to find a rapport.

      Personally, I agree with your assessment that Ns have no good in them. I think it is because of their extreme self-orientation and lack of conscience. Even when they do something that looks "good" on the surface, it invariably has an ulterior motive in it. The only place I would advise caution is in dealing with people who have a bad case of "fleas" who are not actually Ns, just conditioned to behave like one. THOSE people DO have good in them...but it can be difficult to find in the beginning.

      The "No Contact" entry has not been published yet as it is not completed. But I promise you, it will be up within the week.

      Thank you again for your support.



    2. Hi Violet,

      Therapy destroyed my marriage.

      Seriously. It did.

      It took ten years to do it but I can pinpoint when my X started dillywackering around and it goes right back to the first day I stepped into the office of a therapist and said, "I have to try to fix me because of my kids."

      My X, now he wasn't worried about getting therapy. Nothing wrong with his head, don't ya know. He said, "I don't want some idiot messing around with the wires in my brain!"

      And so he didn't and his narcissism ate him up like pastry dough on a beef roast.

      Therapy has soothed my nephew's tender heart and helped him adjust to a life without his father. What a KIND man, his therapist was! Therapy has had such a healthy effect on our entire family (what's left of us, that is) and I would encourage everyone to put down their fists and admit they need help from a trained professional.

      I also think that two people can get married and they can both have "fleas" and you won't know until one of you changes, that the other one can't. Some people are lucky and they meet someone that can grow WITH them over the years...what a wonderful thing that is!

      I don't think there's totally healthy and flea-less people on the planet---the point of relationship is picking off each other's fleas as the years progress. ha! Unfortunately, some of us marry flea-flippers who toss their little critters our direction, too.

      Anyway, you have a lovely blog and you're always a pleasure to read. Thank you for all the time you put into your thoughtful writings.


    3. Well, CZ, I hadn't quite looked at it the way you present here but now that I do, I guess I have to admit that therapy destroyed MY marriage, too. A marriage that was killing me day-by-day to a man who had been gaslighting, triangulating, and projecting for more than a decade.

      But you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and real mental health and emotional stability cannot be achieved without some my case, I sacrificed a toxic marriage, a malignant narcissistic husband, and my belief that I was responsible for everybody (and therefore couldn't divorce him and turn his crazy, paranoid self loose on all the unsuspecting single women out there). It took five years for me, but I came in very fragile, so close to suicide that I had already bought and hidden the gun and was trying to figure out a way (and place) to do it so that innocent people (meaning every body except my husband and my mother) wouldn't be traumatized by finding my body--responsible for other people's feelings right to the last!

      Your point about not knowing until one person begins to change and the other can't/won't is an excellent one. There is also the case of unknowingly marrying a narcissist, only to have his true nature emerge after the marriage. I recently read an aphorism "It is easier to fool someone than to convince them they have been fooled" and that truly applied to my marriage: he fooled me into thinking he was a nice man and after the wedding, within three months, he changed into a narcissistic nightmare. But *I* couldn't (wouldn't?) see that I had been fooled and spent the next 10+ years trying to find the magic key that would unlock the doors to the man I married. It wasn't until therapy that I realized that the monster I had been living with for the past decade WAS the man I married and the nice guy had been a short-lived, elaborate fake.

      I agree that none of us grows up without some kind of dysfunction, but I think that plenty of us grow up with dysfunctions that do not impede our ability to establish healthy relationships and succeed in our lives (according to our individual definitions of success). But you cannot grow up in a grossly dysfunctional household, like one with an N at the helm, and come out of it unscathed. And while there are many, many ways to gain insight, targeted therapy with an empathetic therapist is, I think, the shortest route (even it it takes years) between dysfunction and function. We are sometimes so wrapped up in denial that it takes an outside observer to lead us to it and open our eyes: my therapist, in exasperation, after a year of my cluelessness, finally asked me straight out "Why else treats you like that?" to which I replied, puzzled, "Nobody."

      "C'mon," she said. "Think! Who else treats you with disrespect and doesn't care about your feelings, lies to you and deliberately does things to hurt you? Who else in your family treats you like that?" And the scales finally fell from my eyes... "Oh my god!" I said, my hand going to my mouth. "I married my mother!!" Denial is a powerful thing and sometimes it takes a trained professional to lead us to the realizations necessary for healing to happen.

      Thank you for writing, CZ, and for your insights--I always enjoy hearing from you and the other blog members.



  4. As ACoNs, we are trained from birth that dysfunction is normal. There is no way, NO WAY, you will ever have a healthy relationship as an ACoN unless and until you at least do some serious personal assessments. I never went to formal therapy - but at 40 I realized my PICKER was BROKEN and the only thing all of my failed relationships had in common was ME. I had to find the broken spots, examine them closely, and then repair the damage. We gravitate toward drama and tumultious relationships because it is what is NORMAL to us growing up. A calm, loving bond feels fake and boring. until you fix yourself.

    Learning to love a healthy relationship is work. It's not easy. It's re-wiring your circuitry. But so, completely, worth it.

    1. You are absolutely correct, Gladys--we are trained from birth that dysfunction is normal. Very few of us possess the insight to see into ourselves, to see past our own denial, to see that our "normal" isn't really normal at all...and that is where a good therapist can help us.

      Even those of us who do not gravitate towards drama-filled relationships (because our "normal" was not tumultuous) still find ourselves attracted to unhealthy relationships--perhaps the silent, withholding, "strong and silent" types who seethe inside with unexpressed rage and therefore appear strong and stoic to us. But it is rare for a DoNM to choose a healthy partner and stay with him--nice guys don't offer us the challenge of repeating our dysfunctional childhood and getting it right this time.

      Yes, it it well worth the work to rewire our brains to find satisfaction in the calm of a loving relationship with an emotionally healthy partner. My observation and experience is that it happens easiest (and fastest) with a properly-experienced therapist, but you stand as an example that it CAN happen without. But what is incontrovertible is that without some kind of re-organization of the psyche, healthy relationships are not possible.

      Thanks for writing, Gladys. Hope to hear from you again.



  5. From Pink Pearl (above) "Another thought: How would you account for ACoNs who don't find healthy relationships even if they've had therapy?"

    First of all, please allow me to apologize for being so tardy with my reply: I just found this comment today (I get notified of new posts by Gmail and sometimes one gets lost because of the way Gmail threads posts).

    How do I explain it? By being realistic not only about therapy but about human nature. Going to therapy is not like taking your car into the garage to have the sparkplugs changed. Therapists don't fix people like mechanics fix cars--therapists help us learn to fix ourselves. Some people learn it better than others; some people don't want to learn it; some of us leave therapy before we have the tools to do it ourselves; some of us get peeved when we realize that WE have to do the work (and suffer in the bargain) rather than sit there passively while therapist works her voodoo magic on us.

    Additionally, plenty of "normal" people find difficulty in finding healthy relationships--it's the luck of the draw. Sometimes we are in the right place and the right time but most times we are not.

    You might want to examine your expectations of therapy, Pearl. Your hostility towards it coupled with this question tell me you have (or have had) some wildly unrealistic expectations about it and may have even suffered some disappointment as a result. Truth is, you cannot get out of it any more than you put into it and if you are resistant or have unrealistic expectations, you will inevitably be disappointed.

  6. Would you mind posting what GC and SC stand for? Thank you.

    1. Sure: GC means "Golden Child" and SG means "Scapegoat." SC, which is less frequently used, means "Scapegoat Child."

      There is a glossary you can access from the main page of the blog by clicking the tab named "Glossary." It will explain these terms to you, and many others as well.



  7. This is probably not appropriate but anyway I am sitting here at my computer at work at the company I own that brings in enough income to put our kids through private school but not enough to own a big mansion or more than one Mercedes. I am however mildly depressed and wondering if my wife and her mother are both narcissists.

    Firstly I started a list of things I like. From places to go through things I would like her to wear. Whatever there seems to be a 1:1 correspondence between me liking something she does not.
    I would like her to wear tights (say) - She hates tights.
    Skirts - She wears Jeans.
    I like to go camping inland - she wants to stay in a apartment at the beach.
    and so on.
    She wanted solar electricity. Environmentally good, save money on electricity and the defining comment - all our friends have it. And so now we do. $5k and I doubt if it will save much if any money but we've kept up with the friends. At least she has stopped bringing that up.
    She just moves on to the next demand.

    1. She sounds spoiled...plenty of people are spoiled without being narcissists. The question is, what does she do when you tell her "no" and you stick to it? There is where you will find her narcissistic tendencies.

      In general, the two of you sound mismatched and inflexible. Why did you get married??


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