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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Triangulation—the narcissist’s secret weapon

Triangulation” can be defined as indirect communication where one person acts as messenger between two others, often times altering or fabricating the message to suit the tale bearer’s objective. Triangulation is a common tool of the narcissist and it goes hand in glove with “gaslighting” (previous entry) and “projection” (next entry).

In the psychology of dysfunctional families, triangulation may take two forms: “[It] is most commonly used to express a situation in which one family member will not communicate directly with another family member, but will communicate with a third family member, forcing the third family member to then be part of the triangle.

“Triangulation can also be used as a label for a form of “splitting” in which one person plays the third family member against one that he or she is upset about. This is playing the two people against each other, but usually the person doing the splitting, will also engage in character assassination…”

Splitting and narcissistic personality disorder: “People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder also use splitting as a central defense mechanism. They do this to preserve their self-esteem, by seeing the self as purely good and the others as purely bad. The use of splitting also implies the use of other defense mechanisms, namely devaluation, idealization and denial.”

Narcissists tend to use both forms of triangulation, sometimes virtually simultaneously. I have a friend—I’ll call her Sandra—who has a malignant narcissist for a mother, a woman so warped and evil, she would give my own a run for the money. Unlike lucky me, however, whose MNM has been dead for nearly 15 years, Sandra’s predatory NM continues to live and torment her. Not everyone in Sandra’s FOO is under the MN’s spell, however, so Sandra has some family support. Sandra’s brother regularly gets letters from their mother outlining how horrible Sandra is and going into great detail about Sandra’s terrible behaviour. Like my MNM, Sandra’s mother will take a tiny grain of truth and build on it, massage it, and twist it to give it new meaning. The brother then calls Sandra and reports the content of the letter to her, sometimes even forwarding the letter on to Sandra. Through these letters, Sandra knows that her NM assassinates her character with other family members through the same splitting technique: uncles, aunts, cousins and even Sandra’s sister, receive similar messages about her. One might be tempted to suggest to the brother that he relinquish his part in the triangle and keep the letters to himself, but then Sandra would not be aware of what her MNM is up to…and since the woman has made threats to have Sandra arrested on trumped up charges, it is in Sandra’s own best interests to know what bee is currently in her MNM’s bonnet.

One of the things that makes triangulation works is the human tendency towards “confirmation bias.” This is a subconscious mechanism that we all have and, unless we are actively aware of it and take steps to control it, we can easily fall prey to it. “Confirmation bias” is our tendency to believe things that support what we already believe (or that which we heard first) coupled with a tendency to discount things that do not support our existing beliefs. “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts,” might be the motto of the person with an active case of confirmation bias going on.

It is very hard to dislodge a person who has made up his/her mind—if they listen to information that is contrary to their existing beliefs and give them credence, they may have to admit they are wrong. Even if their own observations go contrary to their belief, some people will simply discount their observations; they may believe it an anomaly or even an intentional effort to fool them. Whatever they do to discount their observations…or yours…you can be sure that getting them to change their minds is a uphill battle that may never be won.

On the other hand, even when you have a confirmation bias going, if you are bombarded with enough contrary information for a long enough period of time, especially if you seldom have an opportunity to make observations that shore up your own bias—and most especially if a few things happen that seem to support the contrary information—most of us will eventually begin to subconsciously shift our opinions. Confirmation bias is what allows otherwise sensible, intelligent people to disbelieve a truth that may well be obvious to the rest of us.

Indoctrination plays a part in confirmation bias, as does “cognitive dissonance,” which is “the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, [or first-hand observation] something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.” So, if you are indoctrinated over a period of years to believe that your Uncle Bob is an evil man who cannot be trusted, yet your observations of Uncle Bob is that he is a kind-hearted man who goes out of his way to help others, you may experience cognitive dissonance with regard to him. Since few people tolerate cognitive dissonance well, we are motivated to “settle” the matter by choosing one or the other: Uncle Bob is good and the people who have been telling you otherwise have been lying or those people are right and Uncle Bob is someone to be wary of. Confirmation bias will lean you towards Uncle Bob being a bad actor and a little critical thinking may push you further in that direction: why, after all, would these people lie about Uncle Bob? What’s in it for them? And, since you cannot come up with a single good reason that these good people would lie about him, they must be correct, right?

In a normal family primarily peopled with normal people, this deduction would be largely accurate. In the dysfunctional family, particularly a family driven by a narcissist, the deduction based on how normal people think and feel will be largely inaccurate, simply because the narcissist does things the rest of us would never do—like damage Uncle Bob’s reputation out of spite or as an exercise in the narcissist’s power. You think all of those people saying bad things about Uncle Bob cannot be wrong? Actually, they can—it takes only one narcissist feeding ugly misinformation and accusations about Bob to a lot of people over an extended period of time for people, especially those who do not see Bob often, to become indoctrinated to the idea that Bob is bad news. Those who have no frame of reference will uncritically accept the information they receive as truth because, after all, why would anyone lie about this stuff?

Sometimes the triangulation takes the form of “he said/she said” dramas with the narcissist in the middle, controlling the flow of information. Some people will stir up strife between others to take attention off themselves, as an exercise in power, or simply to entertain themselves. Think “mean girls” in school who play people off against each other, meanwhile keeping their own skirts clean. Suzie tells Mary that she saw Jenny flirting with her boyfriend, which makes Mary mad at Jenny and causes her to say some rude things about Jenny’s character. Susie may then tells Jenny that Mary is mad at her and even repeats some of the things Mary said, causing the antipathy to flow in both directions. In the unlikely event that Mary and Jenny stop shouting at each other long enough to compare notes and then jointly confront Suzie, Suzie can feign surprise and claim that she did see what looked like a flirtation to her and those ugly words were spoken. Neither of her victims will have a defense against her claims and the conflict may well resume, providing Suzie with endless entertainment.

Narcissists, however, seem to favour the “splitting” form of triangulation, a circumstance in which the victim is denigrated to others, often for extended periods of time, in order to make the victim to look bad in the eyes of many. Why would anyone do that? Because it is an essential first step to demonize someone, to divide and conquer, to set the stage for the narcissist’s acquisition of Nsupply.

In narcissistic households it is common for one (or more) child(ren) to be designated as a scapegoat. There does not need to be a triggering event to identify the child, although such “sins” as being a colicky baby or even a child demanding attention at a time the narcissistic mother is disinclined to provide it, may make the NM select one child over another. In my case, my NM once informed me that nobody had told her that a baby was not like a doll that you could “just put up on the closet shelf when you were tired of playing with her.” Add to the fact that I was colicky, had eczema from my earliest months, and had the audacity to get dirty when she set me out to play in a dirt chicken yard wearing starched and painstakingly ironed embroidered and pin-tucked white cotton batiste baby dresses like the one show here and—well—it seemed my fate was sealed. I was a lot more work than she bargained for and every need that had to be filled on my timetable instead of hers was an imposition. I was a disappointment, not at all what she wanted or expected, but she couldn’t take me back to the store for a refund. I was not the endless source of adoration she had expected, and so, since I would not provide her with the Nsupply she wanted, NM found another way to get it: by declaring me “bad” and difficult and (as I got older) manipulative and contrary, she got Nsupply in the form of sympathy from people. “Poor Georgia, saddled with that intractable child! How wonderful, how brave she is to be able to deal with her and keep cheerful and positive!”

By the time I reached my teens, I was virtually evil incarnate in the eyes of my NM. I was regularly blindsided by accusations of behaviours and motives that had quite literally never crossed my mind. Such things left me confused and often tearful, for I felt unjustly accused and was not permitted to speak in my defense: anything I said was labelled excuses or lies. On a weekend visit to my father’s I managed to find some time alone with him (I didn’t dare speak my mind in front of my brother, who was already well-groomed as a spy) and poured out my heart particularly about my NM’s accusations of things that I had never even thought of. “She’s assuming you are like her,” my father told me. “These are things she would do, reasons she would have, stuff she would think. It really has nothing to do with you—she doesn’t even see you, she sees what she would have done or thought or said.” My first clue about projection and how the narcissist incorporates it into her dealings.

But, of course, my father knew me…he had spent years living with and observing me at the same time NM was writing those letters back to her family telling them how awful I was. Their own brief observations of me, observations in which I was a rather withdrawn, fearful child (I once refused to “help” my grandmother make mud pies because my mother would be angry if I got dirty—despite the fact that my mother was 1000+ miles away) were offset by more than a decade of indoctrination and triangulating. According to NM, I had not been incarcerated by the juvenile court as “incorrigible” because I had “charmed” the judge; and even though the truth was that I had never even seen the judge and I was not sent to reform school for the simple reason that I had never been in any kind of trouble either at school or with the law. NM pronounced me a “liar” when I told that truth—and nobody believed me. Why, after all, would she lie about her own child that way?

Triangulation depends on one person sitting in the middle controlling information flow between others. The person in the middle is the arbiter of information: she tells people what she wants them to hear and often does her level best to prevent the others from talking to each other and comparing notes. She channels information between parties, removing stuff she doesn’t like, twisting—or even outright fabricating—information that will tend to cause her “correspondents” either take the bait and form opinions that mirror her own or be kept in the dark as to what is really going on. A narcissist’s motives for triangulating those around her are as varied as the narcissists themselves—some do it for power and entertainment, others do it to make others look bad so they can look good by comparison, others may be exacting a spiteful “payback” or retaliation for some real or imagined wrong.

But the legacy of being the victim in narcissist’s triangulation scheme can be long lived—it may even live longer than the narcissist herself. Nearly fifteen years after my MNM’s death and more than thirty years after her treachery in stealing my children and giving them to her brother for adoption was revealed, there are still family members who shun me, who believe the truth is an elaborate lie designed to discredit NM. “Why,” they ask, “Why would a mother say such awful things about her own daughter if they weren’t true?”

Why, indeed?

Next up: Projection

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gaslighting—the narcissist's crazy making tool

The term “gaslighting” is defined by Wikipedia as “...a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.” It is a stock-in-trade of narcissists and used intentionally by the malignant narcissist to keep her victim off balance and, often, to provide the narcissist with amusement.
That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? If you haven’t had the dubious pleasure of being in a close relationship with a malignant narcissist, it may even seem far fetched. But, sadly, it is the truth: garden variety narcissists gaslight just as malignant narcissists do, but their motives may be quite different.

The “ordinary” narcissist gaslights primarily to restructure history to favour her. (Yes, men are narcissists too and do the same things, but I don’t want to play with multiple personal pronouns so, for simplicity’s sake, I’m sticking to the female gender here.) Let’s say you and your narcissistic cousin are out shopping and you suddenly remember that Trendy Bootery is having a massive sale. You mention this to your cousin and after a little bit of convincing, she agrees to go to the sale. There, she finds some really cute boots but waffles on buying them and you convince her to do so. Later, you and cousin are with some friends having a drink and someone compliments cousin on her boots. The story she tells, however, is that she remembered the sale, you had to be talked into going and you tried to talk her out of the boots. Later, when you two are alone, you ask why she twisted the tale and she looks at you like you have two heads—“but that is what happened!” she insists. You have just been gaslighted.

Because your cousin is not a malignant narcissist, she has altered the reality of the experience simply to make herself the bright, decisive one. She remembered the sale and you were reluctant to go. She was bravely unwavering while you didn’t want her to have the adorable boots. It is all about making her look good—but not about making you feel bad. If you do, it is simply fallout, but not her intent.

The malignant narcissist, however, may use gaslighting for far more nefarious purposes: in the play and movie, “Gaslight,” the abuser intentionally “…uses a variety of tricks to convince his spouse that she is crazy, so that she won't be believed when she reports strange things that are genuinely occurring, including the dimming of the gas lamps in the house (which happens when her husband turns on the normally unused gas lamps in the attic to conduct clandestine activities there). Since then, it has become a colloquial expression that is now also used in clinical and research literature.” Oh, the malignant narcissist may also gaslight to reflect well upon herself and poorly on you, but she will also gaslight with malicious intent, anything from setting you up (like in the play and movie) to simply as a source of amusement for herself. The malignant narcissist, remember, has no conscience so using your feelings as a play-toy for her amusement is perfectly acceptable to her.

My mother used the technique not only to make me crazy but to distance family members from me. Victims of narcissists must not have allies, people who believe in them, if the narcissist is to succeed in using that victim. You cannot either scapegoat or gaslight someone if others are aware of the truth. Like all abusers, the narcissist will seek to distance her victim from all possible sources of support, thereby making the victim dependent on her abuser.

One of my NM's favourite techniques was to impute motives for my behaviour that, in truth, had nothing to do with my real motives. While taking a Home Ec course in school, we were taught how to set a proper table. When I got home from school I painstakingly scrounged up the necessary items to set a proper table, hoping to get praise from my mother when she got home. Instead, I got nothing except a suspicious eye and raised eyebrow. Later, when dinner was over and I asked my mother for a ride to that evening’s Girl Scout meeting, she leaped up from her chair triumphantly, shouting “Aha! I knew there was something you were buttering me up for!” and refused to drive me. Over a course of years of this sort of thing, I began questioning my own motives, even when on another level, I knew better.

My ex-husband was the kind of malignant narcissist who derived great amusement from gaslighting me—rather like a little boy who enjoyed pulling the wings off of flies. On one occasion in which I was insisting something happened one way and he was implacably insisting it happened another, I found myself twisting in the wind, torn between my own memory and his very certainty that I was remembering incorrectly. “Why are you doing this?” I remember crying to him. “Don’t you know this is crazy-making?” He merely smiled slowly and nodded his head. He knew—and he was doing it on purpose!

In a short sentence, gaslighting is a technique used to manipulate or even destroy someone’s perception of reality. Hilde Lindemann, philosophy professor and well known bioethicist, believes that with regard to women, the “...ability to resist depends on her ability to trust her own judgements.” I disagree, primarily because this smacks of blaming the victim. I think that women who have long trusted their own judgments but are intelligent enough to recognize that they are fallible and therefore may misremember something, fall prey to gaslighting as well as their less self-assured sisters. The thing about a person who gaslights another is that they portray a degree of absolute certainty that they are right, and that very certainty can cause anyone not as narcissistic as they are to buy into it.

Lindemann believes that “Establishing ‘counterstories’ to that of the gaslighter may help the victim re-acquire or even for the first time ‘acquire ordinary levels of free agency.’” I dispute this as well, for it implies that the victim must create her own tales that run contrary to those set out by the abuser. This is digging deeper into an alternate reality. The victim must stick firmly to the truth, write the truth down if necessary so she can remind herself of it through regular reading and re-reading. If there are witnesses, asking them for clarification helps. But the primary weapon against gaslighting is awareness not only that it exists but that one’s parent/partner/employer/co-worker may employ it. One must also develop the ability to recognize it.

One error “normies” (normal people or those who were not raised in a narcissistic household) frequently make when dealing with narcissists is to base their opinions on their own selves. “Why would anyone want to do that?” they might ask. Unable to relate to gaslighting or why someone would gaslight another, too often the uninitiated are unable to grasp the motivations of the narcissist and turn it around to blame the victim: “what did you do to cause her to do that?” or even outright disbelief, which is tantamount to calling the victim a liar. The idea that someone would—or even could—offer…and pull off…a wholly distorted version of reality as the truth is pretty much discounted by normal people. You and I, of course, wouldn’t do it not only because it is dishonest, but also because we would be humiliated when the truth came out and we were revealed as liars. Narcissists do not suffer the pangs of conscience for dishonesty, and they bend reality to fit their needs, fully believing themselves justified and somehow avoiding cognitive dissonance in their own brains when they reassemble reality to fit their objectives. They gaslight because there is something in it for them, and they have no fear that others will have the temerity to call them on their lies—in fact, they count on the fact that their very self-assuredness will cause others to question their own recollections of a circumstance or event, and they can be very successful at it.

In the article “Gaslighting: An Abuser’s Favourite Tactic,” the following forum quotes have been assembled. Anything seem familiar?

For those who don’t know what gaslighting is, it’s something our abusers do or say to make US think WE’RE the ones who are going insane. They say and do things to make us question our sanity, our memory of events, our boundaries, our values, and our beliefs. It’s when they says things like:

• “I never said that.” (when you KNOW they did and have a clear memory of it)
• “You’re imagining things.” (when you KNOW you’re not)
• “You’re always overreacting.” (when you’re reacting EXACTLY as any normal, well-adjusted person would react.
• “You’re such a drama queen.” (when HE is the one creating drama)
• “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” (when you know EXACTLY what you’re talking about)
• “You’re always accusing me of things.” (when, the reason you accuse him of things is because you KNOW he has lied or cheated)
• “You’re always so suspicious.” (when he has given you AMPLE reason to be)
• “What about all the sh*t you’ve done to ME?” (when you haven’t done a THING to him other than love him, appease him, cater to his every want and whim)

These are examples of gaslighting, and we’re all familiar with it, because it’s this stealth form of psychological abuse that makes us start asking or telling ourselves:

• “Hmm, maybe he’s right. I need to lighten up a bit.”
• “I guess I shouldn’t be so jealous or suspicious. After all, he’s right: he did only cheat on me that ONE time. I should let it go.”
• “Perhaps I AM a lot more stressed out about work, and I really am taking it out on him.”
• “Yeah, he’s right, I’ve done bad things to HIM as well. Like the time I accidentally bought soap with lavender, which I know he’s allergic to.”

Narcissists gaslight—it’s what they do. It keeps them blameless, allows them to look like heroes or victims…or both…whichever will give them the best Nsupply at the moment in question. Some, the malignant narcissists, will gaslight people for no other reason than to sadistically enjoy the psychological torment of their victims. Their behaviour cannot be explained in rational terms because it is not rational. And the best thing you can do it you discover that you are in a relationship with a narcissist and you are being gaslighted is to leave.

But sometimes we can’t leave. We may be financially dependent on the narcissist or we may still be too young to escape a narcissistic household. What then?

Fighting with a narcissist is a losing battle. Even if you manage to win a battle—even if you win all of the battles, you are going to lose the war because narcissists don’t “get better,” they get even. And they use dirty, underhanded tactics to get even because life for them is a war and they don’t give a damn about fair, they only care about winning, whatever the cost. So, you don’t fight with the narcissist because it only makes things worse. But you don’t buy into the bullshit, either…and you make your escape plans, quietly and under the narcissist’s radar. Because the only way to win the war with a narcissist is to remove yourself from the field.

Learn what the narcissist’s tools are and how they use them. Be on the lookout for having those tools used on you and don’t let your belief in yourself waver. Agree superficially with the narcissist if necessary in order to buy yourself time, but never buy into the narcissist’s altered reality. Remember the truth—write it down in detail so you can refer to it if you must—and don’t let the narcissist persuade or intimidate or confuse you into buying her version of events, not even if the narcissist offers “witnesses” to bolster her version: narcissists often have “flying monkeys,” dupes or conscienceless little sycophants, who will echo whatever the narcissist has to say. Stick to truth and reality and get out as soon as you can.

Next: Triangulation: another narcissist’s tool

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Scapegoat or Golden Child: victims of narcissistic apartheid

Apartheid, a word derived from the Afrikaans word for “apartness,” was a governmental policy of segregation against non-whites in South Africa until the last decade of the 20th century. Since that time, the word has evolved to mean segregation in other contexts as well.

Like most Americans, my view of South Africa’s apartheid system government was that it oppressed the non-white members of its society while providing unjust advantage and privilege to the white members. It was not until I lived here for a while that I realized how simplistic and misleading that viewpoint actually was.

During the apartheid, not only did the non-white people live under onerous restrictions, but the whites did as well. White people could not go to certain parts of their country—they were reserved for non-whites. So, while the beautiful bathing beaches of Durban were white-only, others relegated to the rocky, less pristine shores, if a white person wished to go rock climbing or fishing, take photos of the rock formations or just sit on the rocks that were, perhaps, closer to home than the white-only beaches, he was forbidden to do so.

This may seem small, but this segregation extended to all facets of society. White people could not associate with non-whites, even if they truly wanted to. To be romantically involved with a non-white put you in danger of being jailed; you could not buy a house or even land wherever you wanted—you had to limit such a purchase to areas designated for whites. You had no freedom of association. News coming into the country was filtered to remove any trace of information that might present free options to the minds of the people; movies were censored, television not even permitted in the country until the late 1970s, and then the programming was tightly controlled so as not to provide any incentive to rock the separatist’s boat.

This is not to say that the lot of the white South African was as bad as the lot of the blacks, coloureds and “Asians” (actually, people of Indian descent whose ancestors came here as manual labourers in the sugar cane fields). It was not as bad—but it was not a life of unfettered freedom.

One of the legacies of apartheid that persists to this day, nearly two decades after its end, is the persistent sense, among the white people, that they should be privileged. They feel an entitlement to things people in free societies have known all along were not possible: complete safety, for example. The apartheid society was a police state: if you weren’t in the “right” part of town (based on your race), especially after dark, you risked arrest. Crime statistics were reported only on crimes against whites during this time, so modern crime statistics seem alarmingly high by comparison as they report all crime regardless of the race of the victim. White people in this country expect to be safe everywhere, all of the time and blame the non-white government because they are not.

White people here also have other expectations—a sense of entitlement, if you will—that comes as a legacy of their years of being the advantaged class. Affirmative action is alive and well here and when a young black is hired over a young white, both of them having the same educational background and experience, people cry “unfair,” as if it would have somehow been more fair to hire the white guy. But unlike Americans, who also struggle with a sense of unfairness with regard to Affirmative Action, South Africans are prone to “throw their toys out of the cot”—to have a tantrum about the situation that involves pulling up sticks and moving to another country where they can be terribly surprised to learn that crime and workplace competitiveness also exist!

If you have been following along with this, perhaps you have picked up the subtext: in apartheid South Africa, the non-white citizens were the Scapegoats, the whites were the Golden Children. The society was a macrocosm of life in a dysfunctional household in which the dominant parent was narcissistic. It featured such staples of the narcissistic home as triangulation (information in and out of the country channelled through a single filtering source), gaslighting (telling people their own perceptions of right and wrong, fair and unfair were incorrect), rigid control, blaming, and the creation of a fantastical unreality, an ideal state, in which everyone there must deny reality and buy into the fantasy or suffer the consequences.

In a narcissistic household, one (or more) members of the family are singled out to be the scapegoat, the one to whom the narcissists assigns blame for just about everything. I, for example, was told by my mother when I was 14 that everything that was wrong in her life was my fault—because I had been born! Taking responsibility for getting pregnant with me was not in the cards there—no, the fact of my existence was the reason her fine plans (fantasies) for her life had not panned out.

In these narcissistic household there in also at least one Golden Child, the child who can do no wrong, the child who is the spoiled darling of the narcissist. The Scapegoat may be even be held responsible for the behaviour of the Golden Child—when I was a kid, I got punished when my younger (but bigger) brother misbehaved because I was the oldest and it was therefore my job to make him do his chores and stay out of trouble. This was the case from as young as I can remember and the patent absurdity of making a scrawny 3 year old responsible for the actions of her sturdy, unsupervised toddler brother never seemed to dawn on my mother.

In a household in which there is only one child, that child may alternately be the Scapegoat and the Golden Child, depending on the narcissist’s mood and need to blame something on someone. This has got to be both confusing and crazy-making for the child but, for some odd reason, it seems perfectly rational to the narcissist.

We all have sympathy for the scapegoated child. Nobody should have to live their lives being blamed—and penalized for—the behaviours of other people, but this is what happens in the narcissistic household. But most of us don’t harbour an equal amount of sympathy for the Golden Child. Just like in our view of South Africa’s apartheid era, we sympathize with the downtrodden non-white citizens while at the same time, completely ignoring the dysfunction their more privileged brethren were trained into.

This dysfunction is pervasive and can even define who that Golden Child becomes as a person. They can be resistant to change simple because they fear—sometimes on an intellectually inaccessible level—that change will mean them losing their privilege. Look at the controversy about gay marriage: those who do not have the right to marry seek to share that right with those who do. They want to share. But the opponents are vocal in their fear that somehow extending the right to marry to gay people will somehow diminish their own marriages, take something away from them, even though they are unable to articulate how Adam and Steve getting married will have any tangible effect on their own unions. That other Western nations have legalized it with no deleterious effect on traditional male-female marriages, that it has not led to marrying siblings or pets, penetrates not. These, the holders of state-given rights, are fearful of losing something if those same rights are extended to those who have been heretofore denied them.

While there really is nothing for the opponents to lose in extending marriage rights to the LGBT community, such is not the case in the narcissistic household. The Golden Child may grow up with privilege, but she also grows up with the sure knowledge that at the caprice of the narcissistic parent, her position of privilege can be ended in a heartbeat. And one of the surest ways of getting yourself demoted from Golden Child to Scapegoat is to sympathize with that Scapegoat. The Golden Child must become a psychic “Mini-me” to the narcissist or risk the loss of privilege. And, because there is not middle ground in the narcissist’s mind—if you aren’t for her, then you must be against her—to avoid being cast down, the Golden Child must pander to the narcissistic parent, and in exchange receive the adoration and privileged treatment denied the Scapegoat.

While I was a Scapegoat for most of my life, I did have a brief period as the Golden Child. Not because my mother became disenchanted with my Golden Child brother, however, but because she found a “use” for me. She discovered that I could sing—really sing—when I was about 6 or 7 years old and decided she was going to make me into the next Shirley Temple (a well-known child star of my mother’s youth). Having been the Scapegoat for all of my years with her, I dreaded attention, as it usually meant I was going to end up getting hurt or punished in some way. My mother, however, thought to motivate me by telling me how famous she was going to make me (and, I heard her tell others, how rich I was going to make her), but the whole idea of fame gave me the shudders. It was just too much attention, which I perceived as being dangerous. But during that time, my mother spent hours sewing costumes, curling my poker-straight hair, painting my face with her cosmetics, and dragging me from audition to audition, from talent contests to nightclubs to TV programs to whatever venue she could dig up for me to stand in front of a large audience, my knobby knees virtually knocking with stage fright. She bragged about me, implying that other people’s children were inferior because they didn’t have my big talent. What she never did was pay attention to what I really wanted—something Golden Children often suffer from as much as Scapegoats. When, after a couple of years, it became apparent that I did not want fame the way she did, I was bumped from my tenuous position as Golden Child back to my familiar place among the cinders.

Golden Children suffer in ways we Scapegoats—and even the Golden Children themselves—may not readily recognize. Charlie’s brother, Alvin, was a Golden Child, blatantly his mother’s favourite. And he was a self-made multi-millionaire. But he made his money by skating on the thin edge of the law, disadvantaging others to advantage himself financially, more a con man than a businessman. He grew up without morals, without values, without empathy for anyone other than himself, including the mother who idolized him. He thought himself happy, rolling in money, but he drank himself stupid and had a string of unhappy marriages to women who were no less fixated on him money than he was. He had no respect for others, no self respect either. His mother excused his every transgression by convincing herself that he behaved no different from any other rich man, and to maintain his mother’s adulation, he had to maintain his wealth, no matter who he hurt in the bargain—himself, his estranged daughter, his brother, even 90+ year old ladies he conned into buying investment instruments that were useless to them but paid him a handsome commission.

There is a critical difference between the victims of South Africa’s apartheid regime and the victims of a narcissistic household: where the white South Africans did not have much in the way of democratic role models (that being a concept vigorously suppressed by the State) and the entered adulthood with precious few examples of another way to think or be, the Golden Child has an abundance of examples and role models, from schoolmates and teachers to television and movies to magazines and books, to exemplify a different way of thinking, a more just set of values, a more compassionate way of feeling. Upon achieving adulthood, the Golden Child does not remain trapped in the apartheid of the narcissist’s fantasy world unless he wants to. The Golden Child, unlike the white apartheid victim in the “old days,” has a feast of freedom set at her feet, a feast from which she may partake at any time. Nobody broadcasts messages of elitism to the Golden Child and suppresses messages of justice and fairness as a global phenomenon. The Golden Child, should she desire to do so, may step out from under the mantle of privilege and entitlement settled on her shoulders by a dysfunctional, manipulative parent. Unlike the white apartheid victims of 20 years ago, freedom is at the Golden Child’s fingertips and the consequences of embracing it is highly unlikely to be beatings, imprisonment, or even death.

And yet too many Golden Children will not take the freedom because they value their positions of privilege too much to jeopardize it. From small things like expecting receive the best piece of meat at the dinner table to big things like not feeling bad when receiving a family inheritance that left out the Scapegoat sibling, Golden Children receive much as a result of their assigned role in the family, often at the expense of others, and as adults, few of them find any reason to change that. And so they remain spoilt, entitled, indulged. Without remorse. Without compassion. And without coercion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

But she’s your MOTHER!

I remember being quite sure, at age 8, that I hated my mother. In the logic of my child’s mind, you loved everybody except those who hurt you for no reason: and that was exactly how I viewed my mother: she hurt me for no reason.

Our society idealizes mothers. It is as if, the moment that first baby pops out and draws breath, the woman involved is somehow sainted. And while it is true that becoming a mother is a life-changing event, for some women those changes are not necessarily for the better.

Let’s face it—there are a lot of “not nice” people in the world and a goodly portion of them are women. And of those women, a significant number of them reproduce. And not all of them are converted into loving mothers by the act of giving birth—some of them remain “not nice,” and now have a helpless infant to add to their list of victims.

One would think that is the most tragic thing of all—a helpless innocent being delivered into the hands of a not-so-nice woman for whom birth was not the pivotal emotional event in her life, but it’s not. The most tragic thing is that the rest of us, imbued with the notion that all mothers love and adore their children, don’t give credence to children when they complain—we don’t even notice the signs in kids who don’t complain—about being treated poorly by their own mothers. Those children are victimized twice: first by their unloving mothers and then by the clueless who invalidate the experience of those children by saying things like, “Well, I am sure she had a good reason,” or “You don’t mean that…of course you love your mother,” and “of course your mother loves you…” when they know nothing of the kind.

We all know about women like Susan Smith who drowned her two young boys when they became a burden to her, Andrea Yates who spiralled off into a psychotic episode in which she drowned her five children in the bathtub, or, more recently, Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of murdering her child even though most people consider her to have “gotten away with murder.” We seem to have a digital mindset when it comes to mothers: either they are loving, adoring creatures who would do anything for their children or they are evil, unnatural, murdering harridans. No room in the middle for anything else.

But the truth is, it is somewhere in the middle where the self-absorbed narcissistic mother falls. Few of them premeditatedly murder their children, a la Susan Smith, and a likewise small number fall into the grip of madness like Andrea Yates and methodically kill their offspring. In fact, most narcissistic parents don’t kill their children at all, and a fairly large number of them don’t physically abuse their kids, either (although the malignant narcissists do). No, narcissistic mothers torture their children psychologically, emotionally, sometimes by design but no less often simply as a matter of their approach to mothering.

It should come as no surprise that the emotional abuse the child of a narcissist suffers is no less devastating than the physical abuse other children may suffer. Bruises and welts fade but cruel words retain their ability to draw emotional blood long years after they were first spoken. Couple cruel words with demeaning attitudes and behaviours, make it the child’s earliest experiences that are then stretched out over an entire youth, and you have a child’s entire life one of pain, fear, denigration, and lacking in demonstrations of love from the one person a child should feel emotionally secure in the presence of: her mother. This tragic situation is compounded by outsiders, people who neither acknowledge nor understand that, in order to be a nightmare of a mother one need not murder or even beat their children, one must only not show them love.

In one of the rare moments that my mother and I were able to dialog about the misery that was my childhood, my mother claimed, “But I did love you…I wasn't just any good at showing it,” to which I replied, “from the point of view of the kid, your not showing it was no different from it not existing at all: if you didn’t show it, how was I to know it existed?”

Typical of the unempathetic narcissist, she then shrugged it all off, excusing herself and blaming me: “Well, you should have known. I was your mother, after all!” She waxed poetic about how she had looked forward to my birth through her difficult (she gained a lot of weight and was unwieldy) pregnancy and how eager she was to have me home. She apparently forgot, however, that when I was only 14 she had revealed to me that having a baby was nothing like she had expected and, typically narcissistically, she blamed “others”—“Nobody told me that I couldn’t just put you back on the closet shelf like a doll when I got tired of you,” she had said.

At 14, my daughter had a phone conversation with her grandmother in which my mother expressed her disappointment in being a mother. “I never should have had kids,” she told my daughter, “I should have had cats instead.” This sent my daughter running to me in tears, feeling that her grandmother wished she had not been born. “If she never had kids, then I wouldn’t be here!” What could I say? I am sure that “your grandmother doesn’t always think before she speaks” was insufficient, but how to you respond to something like that? My daughter felt crushed, rejected, unwanted, without a single blow being struck, without any kind of emotional altercation, and from a great distance. Imagine feeling like that every day of your life and the perpetrator is your own mother.

We imagine mothers to be loving and to have their hearts full of love for their children but, unfortunately, this is not the case. Some mothers demonstrate dreadful favouritism, something that cannot help but be noticed by the children. All children are hurt by this, not just the unfavoured child(ren). A favoured child—called a “golden child” by some—learns that it is ok to dislike one (or more) of his siblings, that exploitation is an acceptable behaviour, and justice, fairness, is optional. Charlie’s brother was a perfect example of a grown golden child and he was insufferable, particularly to Charlie. Arrogant and supercilious, self-aggrandizing and boorishly rude, his mother excused his behaviour to me once by saying “Oh, he’s a millionaire—millionaires are like that!” My own brother learned early in life that nothing was his fault: no matter what he was supposed to do, if he didn’t do it, I got punished for not making him do it. My N ex-husband, James, once explained right and wrong, as it applied to him, thus: “if I don’t get caught, then it was OK.”

People observe parents fawn over the Golden Child and assume that they are capable of that kind of “love” for all of their children. It therefore stands to reason that if a parent is treating another child differently, not as well, that the child has somehow earned it. What people outside of the narcissistic sphere miss is that the narcissistic parent is not demonstrating love to any of the children: what passed for love in the observer’s eyes was merely narcissistic supply being nurtured.

Many people downplay the significance of emotional abuse. The emotional pain of being rejected, ridiculed, demeaned, particularly by one’s own family, is cruelly long-lasting. During my marriage to James, the malignant narcissist, I once told my therapist that I wished he would hit me. She was, appropriately, horrified. I had to clarify by saying that if he would hit me, leave a bruise or a mark, I could point to it and say “Look! See the mark he left on me? See how he hurt me?” and people outside our little pas de deux would recognize that I had been victimized, that I was hurt, and that he was the one hurting me. But because the bruises and pain were invisible to the casual observer, my pain went unacknowledged, thereby increasing its effect because I was alone in it. It eventually drove me to suicidal ideation—anything to stop the pain.

As devastating as it is to be in a relationship with a narcissist as an adult, we do have options. We can explore our pain on the internet, with empathetic friends, with professionals whom we pay to help us sort out the confusing morass of our feelings. Children, however, young, vulnerable, inexperienced children, have no such options. Little kids believe what they are told, especially by their parents, and so they grow up believing that something is wrong with them (or, if the child is the Golden Child, a sibling). Charlie believed he was stupid, when he was only dyslexic, because his mother told him so repeatedly, because the school put him in remedial classes (but didn’t address his dyslexia), because his brother believed and treated him as such. Charlie didn’t believe he was deserving of a nice place to live or a decent wardrobe or even of being loved. One of the reasons Charlie married me was because, in his own words, he “liked how he felt” around me.

You see, I never saw Charlie as stupid, I saw him as having a remediable problem. And I not only told him that, I showed him. I didn’t judge his problem—I have problems of my own that I do not expect to be judged for—I simply helped him find ways to get around his dyslexia, ways to deal with it. And little by little, Charlie’s self-image changed and he began to realize that not only was he not stupid, he wasn’t deserving of the shabby treatment his family meted out to him.

And that is perhaps the absolute worst legacy of being saddled with a narcissistic parent: coming to feel that you deserve their bad treatment, somehow feeling that the ill treatment and low regard your family demonstrates to you is warranted. You go from being called a “stupid” or “worthless” or “hopeless” child to believing yourself to be a stupid, worthless, hopeless adult—and deserving of every iota of crap that the people in your life drop on you.

At the age of 8 I knew something was wrong with my mother, not me. My mother somehow knew I felt this way and she was brutal in her efforts to bring me to heel. And while much of her behaviour towards me motivated unwise and self-destructive behaviours in me, I never lost sight of the fact that there was something wrong with her, not me. My therapist told me that I had a “strong inner core,” and that not everyone has that—some people succumb and believe themselves to be at fault—like Charlie did. But with or without that strong inner core, we go through our childhoods being assaulted and invalidated not only by our parents, but by the adults around us who persist in their belief that all mothers want only what is best for their children and children who complain about treatment at the hands of their parents just “don’t know what is good for them,” or they are exaggerating the direness of the situation or they provoked their parent to take unfortunate action. The children of narcissists are seldom validated by others, not even by members of their own family.

It is time to stop the knee-jerk reaction so many of us have when children complain. Just as we once minimized and discounted children’s reports of sexual abuse, we still minimize children’s reports of any kind of abuse that doesn’t leave a livid bruise or an ugly scar. But the fact that you cannot see them with your eyes does not mean the bruises and scars are not there. Sometimes you have to look with your heart.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Narcissists are incapable of introspection

From House of Mirrors:

Let’s take a look at why malignant narcissists not only don't change but become worse. Keep in mind, they have mastered a lifetime of this twisted way of being in the world, and are always pushing their warped behavior to the limits.

Narcissists are incapable of introspection. The narcissist maintains their delusions of superiority by constantly dodging reality. They refuse to take a good look at themselves because the feedback would not flatter them, and the narcissist must always appear good, even to themselves. They are incapable of looking inward and learning from experience, and instead opt to live in a state of denial. If you think your silence will send a malignant narcissist into deep thought about the relationship and their part in it, think again. The only thing the narcissist will be doing is stewing in hatred for you and pity for themselves.

Introspection can be defined as self-examination or the detailed mental examination of your own feelings, thoughts, and motives. Implicit in the word is that one will do this with self-honesty such that one’s flaws can be discovered, examined, and perhaps even corrected.

Few of us engage in this kind of soul searching on a regular basis, and when we do it is often in response to some kind of life-altering experience or circumstance. From learning we are about to become a parent to finding oneself facing economic implosion to bumping our noses on our own mortality, the trigger for those instants of introspection are as individual as we are—but the vast majority of us have them. And out of those moments, we often glean valuable insights that allow us to adjust our attitudes, our beliefs, our life trajectories—to fine tune how we live.

Narcissists are different. Because they are constitutionally incapable of seeing themselves as being wrong, introspection holds no appeal. Where you or I might smack our foreheads and query “what was I thinking??” the narcissist takes no such responsibility for something that has not gone the way expected or anticipated. The narcissist looks around for someone to blame.

Self-reflection, if engaged in by a narcissist, is an exercise in self-congratulation. The narcissist will reinforce his existing beliefs, rationalize his behaviours, and justify blaming others for untoward results. Rather than try to find out what is not working for him and finding ways to amend his beliefs or behaviours, the narcissist will find ways to make it someone else’s fault that things aren’t working. Because, in the narcissist’s own mind, it is not possible for him to be wrong: if something isn’t working, then someone else must be to blame…and the narcissist’s mental gymnastics will find a way to create a path to that blame.

Eight years after my mother stole my children to give to her childless brother for adoption, her whole plot came unravelled and the family became aware of the complex and devious means she used to manipulate them into supporting her and to shun me. Family members, facing the truth of what she did (when they stopped allowing her to triangulate and finally spoke directly to me), of course wanted to know why she had done such a heinous thing to her own daughter and grandchildren. Eschewing any kind of self-reflection, even in the face of a virtual wall of family disapproval, my mother denied any wrong doing and insisted that I was lying, that I had been an unfit mother (despite official reports to the contrary), and insisted her subterfuge was necessary to “rescue” the children.

On the other hand, my uncle, her older brother, was red-faced with shame and embarrassment for the part he played. A juvenile court judge had foreshadowed his decision when he informed the litigants that, should the report from the welfare department come back in my favour, he was going to confirm my custody. Knowing the report would find me and my home fit (and it did), my mother had to find a way around the juvenile court, so she got an emergency guardianship hearing in probate court and this uncle, who had not seen me in more than five years, testified that he had witnessed, first hand, my unfitness and the unfitness of my home. His testimony was pivotal in the probate court granting my mother a one-year guardianship. When I showed up at her house a few weeks later for my first scheduled visitation, the house was empty and a For Sale sign was in the front yard.

My uncle engaged in introspection and faced his part in my mother’s fraud. He was, appropriately, ashamed of his part, ashamed of allowing himself to be duped by her, and angry with her for her deception. My other uncle, the one who adopted the children, was more angry at her than ashamed of his part in it, feeling he was duped and therefore innocent of wrong doing. My grandparents were appalled at my mother’s machinations and apparently made no secret of it as my mother actually got a court order to prevent them from telling me where she or the children were! Once the jig was up, all of these family members engaged in introspection, in self-examination, to assess their own level of wrong-doing in the matter, all of them concluding my mother had done wrong and that they each had some part in it. Every one of them apologized to me at one point or another…every one except the perpetrator herself.

If my mother engaged in any introspection at all, it was to shore up her defenses and dig herself into her position that much deeper. From the time her deception was uncovered and virtually the whole family began to shun her until her death some 20 years later, she never budged from her position of hallowed righteousness: she was right, I was a liar, and the rest of the family was being duped by me.

The point of introspection is that you examine yourself, including your motives. It means you must be willing to find yourself wrong at some time in the past because, in order to make adjustments going forward, you must identify things that need changing. If you are incapable of admitting you have been wrong about something you have believed or done, then you are truly incapable of introspection.

The thing that brought this home to me most clearly was an argument I had with my NHusband, James. I don’t recall the subject under discussion (probably money) but I said to him that he had to change something going forward or he was doomed to keep repeating something that was not working out as desired. He stood in front of me, struck dumb by the idea. He was silent for a good 60 seconds, then narrowed his eyes and looked at me and said “I can’t do that.”

I must admit, I didn’t get it. I knew nothing of narcissists or narcissism at this point and what I heard was that he was unwilling to do that, so I pressed my point. He got very indignant and drew himself up into a rigid military posture and said to me in a voice dripping condescension “If I were to do that, it would mean that I have been wrong for the last 30 years…and I cannot do that.” Until I learned about narcissism, I truly was unable to fathom his logic…but now I understand.

Narcissists easily sacrifice reality to their delusions. They are incapable of introspection because it requires them to sacrifice their delusions to reality. To do that negates them as people. A narcissist’s psyche, his sense of self, exists in his delusions, not in the reality where you and I live. To honestly self-examine themselves, narcissists would have to be willing to shine the bright light of reality into the dark corners of their carefully constructed self-images, self-images that are not in keeping with the reality of their real-world personas.

My mother, as an example, took my children because she saw herself as a hero. My lifestyle and hers were poles apart (I was welfare-poor, she was affluent) and I was that way wilfully, in her opinion. This, in her assessment, made me unfit. At the same time, her adored younger brother and his wife were unable to have kids or to adopt—their state refused them as adoptive parents. Here was an opportunity for her to be a double hero—to “rescue” those children and to “rescue” my uncle from childlessness. She went to her grave with that delusion intact, never admitting her wrong and justifying her complex manipulations of our family and the courts in three states as being the “only way” she could accomplish her goal, a goal she had convinced herself was in the best interests of all parties concerned, including me! She was incapable of seeing the damage and destruction she wreaked on everyone involved because she could never, ever admit she might have been wrong.

And without the capacity to admit you have been wrong, introspection is beyond your grasp.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Narcissists are shameless

From House of Mirrors

Let’s take a look at why malignant narcissists not only don't change but become worse. Keep in mind, they have mastered a lifetime of this twisted way of being in the world, and are always pushing their warped behavior to the limits.

Narcissists are shameless: Without a conscience the narcissist is unable to process the feelings that make us want to alter our behaviour like shame, guilt, embarrassment, and remorse. They simply excuse, rationalize, blame-shift and project all their problems and bad behaviour onto you. Whatever shame sneaks into the narcissist’s wisp of a conscience is simply dumped onto you.

My parents had a rocky marriage. They divorced when I was two, remarried when I was four and moved to California where they separated again when I was eight, reconciled briefly, then separated for good and divorced when I was ten. In that final separation, my mother simply told my father that she was going to be seeing other men, and she might even be bringing some of them home, and he could stay or go, she didn’t care. And then she did just that. Absolutely shameless.

My father, of course, moved out and, because it was the 1950s, my mother got the house, the new car, the furniture, and full custody. My father got his 10-year-old car, his hunting and fishing gear, his mechanic’s tools, and the bills. When his financial obligations to her became so onerous that he literally did not earn enough money to pay them, he left the state to avoid being arrested…a circumstance that caused her no end of joy, as it allowed her to simultaneously wear the victim mantle and smirk at her victory over him.

All of the separations and both divorces were at her behest and yet my mother managed to make herself the victim in every case. Publicly, it was poor her, saddled with two kids and not enough money to support them…yet privately there always seemed to be enough money for beer, for cigarettes, for new cocktail dresses, for barhopping.

Appearances are everything to a narcissist. She must look prosperous, even when she’s barely middle-class. She lies not only with her words but with her actions and appearance as well. We all want to look our best, even fashionable, but the narcissist wants to appear to be better than she really is, to fool others. And if there isn’t enough money to support her efforts and take proper care of her children, the children do without so that NM can have.

So what if someone sees elegantly appointed NM and her shabby kids/home? Why, she blames the kids, of course! Preening under hearing such remarks as “She is always so well turned out!” she explains her scruffy kids by shamelessly blaming them. “Oh, I can’t get her to brush that hair,” or “he won't change into play clothes after school and I just refuse to spend more money on things he will just ruin…” A rundown house and dilapidated furniture can be blamed on the husband who abandoned her and the unmanageable kids. She shamelessly spends money on herself, and blames others for the deplorable conditions that an infusion of that cash might have remedied.

We left Oregon under a cloud. Her scandalous behaviour was such that we could no longer live in our small town. We drove to San Diego in a rattletrap old Ford and moved into a cheap motel while my father looked for work and we applied for a place in the post-war Navy housing projects.

My father worked as a mechanic and my mother got a job as a bookkeeper. And every night she would shut herself into the kitchen with her sewing machine. Under my bed were suitcases and she regularly added new clothes to those suitcases—clothes we were not allowed to wear.

After months of this, my father suddenly came home with a new car—a 3 year old Buick with all the options available at the time. My mother had mandated a new car and my father obeyed. Never mind we slept on cots, the lamp tables were up-ended orange crates, and for blankets we had my father’s old Navy blankets, cut in half and the house was barely furnished—my mother was going back to Oregon to put those “old biddies” who ran her out of town “to shame” with her false image of prosperity.

We could have eaten better. We could have had decent furniture. We could have worn the clothes she was sewing rather than the outgrown and threadbare things we had. But everything was sacrificed to her desire to create a false image of prosperity and show it off to the women who had shamed her—and rightfully so, for she had abandoned one of her children, left her husband, and spent two years earning herself a reputation as the town tramp—into leaving town. She was, in a word, shameless. Completely without shame and driven only by a vengeful desire to “show them!”

Narcissists have no shame. The emotion that makes you and me uncomfortable and sparks in us a desire to change something so we won’t be assailed by it again, does not exist in the narcissist. When it rears its head, the narcissist’s psyche immediately converts it into something else. When the women of our small Oregon town began to shun her for her behaviour, rather than take the point, feel ashamed and change her behaviour, my mother felt angry and victimized. And rather than be motivated to change her behaviour, she was motivated to create an image of prosperity so that not only would they feel “less” than she was, but so that she could don her cloak of affluence and feel like she was better than they were. And if she was better, then she was right, thereby shamelessly justifying not only her fantasy foray into prosperity, but rationalizing that these women had no right to judge her scandalous behaviour and shun her.

Shamelessness comes in many, many varieties. The mean girls who ostracize others and feel good about doing so, bullies who try to justify their behaviour by blaming the victim for being “too fat,” “too nerdy,” “gay,” or anything else they find personally not to their liking. Public officials who condemn the very behaviours they privately practice. Newt Gingrich abandoned two wives during their terrible illnesses, kept mistresses, and yet shamelessly attacked a sitting president for having an affair (a president who was still on his first wife, nogal). Narcissists take shamelessness to new heights—or depths, if you will—in their sense of self-righteousness. Rick Santorum, erstwhile GOP candidate for the presidency, has spoken out against abortion despite his wife having had one with his knowledge and consent. Narcissists are shameless in their hypocrisy.

This shamelessness has a terrible “trickle-down effect.” Children learn more by what they observe than what they are told, and those who have parents who behave shamelessly either never develop the capacity for shame themselves and carry this awful legacy to the next generation or they become the repository for the shame their parent(s) should be feeling. They become perpetual victims, overly responsible, believing themselves at fault for anything that is wrong in their lives or the lives of those around them.

I was married at one time to a terrible malignant narcissist. My therapist asked me why, if life with him was so unbearable that I had been contemplating suicide, did I stay? For a long time I couldn’t articulate my answer—it was just a nebulous feeling of needing to remain—and then one day it coalesced and just popped out: I felt responsible for him. I spent hours each night after dinner, talking him out of his paranoid fantasies so that he could go to work the next day and not react explosively to those imagined barbs that brought him home seething every night. I was afraid that he would get himself fired—or worse—if he was allowed to go back every morning with those paranoid notions growing daily in his perceptions. I knew how cruel he could be to women and kids, how he glowed with joy when he trounced a 6-year-old at Monopoly, how his chest swelled with pride and a grim smile of satisfaction would come over his face when he had gaslighted me into a quivering heap of tears. How could I turn this monster loose on the unsuspecting women of the world?

This was the daughter of a malignant narcissist thinking. This was the adult version of the child who had internalized the shameless blaming, who had come to take responsibility for the misbehaviour—even the conscious, knowing evil—of others. This is the adult version of the child who was beaten for her brother’s transgressions because she had not prevented that brother from misbehaving. This was me, sacrificing myself to keep this monster contained, not because I feared external punishment, as I had as a child, but because I had internalized the belief that his behaviour was my responsibility. As my mother shamelessly dumped her responsibility for controlling and managing my brother on me, my brother learned he could do anything he wanted because the consequences would be borne by another; and as I had learned to be a good little whipping post, I managed to find for myself a husband who would perpetuate the dynamics of my upbringing: he needn’t think or critically assess situations, he needn’t keep his baser impulses in check, he could indulge whatever he fancied, and the responsibility for being rational, the blame for his misdeeds or even his unhappiness, would all fall to me.

This is one of the legacies of being the child of a malignant narcissist—we attract people with whom we can resume the familiar but unhealthy dance of our childhoods. And the narcissists we attract shamelessly use us, for haven’t we been trained just for them?