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, September 30, 2013

The Curse of Hope

Hope is perceived in our society as noble and inspirational: when all seems lost, the brave and noble hang on to hope and are incentivized by it, while those who give up hope are viewed as quitters, lacking in bravery, and “succumbing” to hopelessness.

Sometimes, however, hope is not your saviour and your best friend. Sometimes hope is an anchor dragging you under and your worst enemy. Benjamin Franklin once said “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” The man had a point.

We are socially conditioned to never let go of hope, that when all else fails, hope can sustain us. But like all things, there is a limit as to how much is healthy and sustaining and how much is not: sometimes clinging to hope is really no more than clinging, desperate denial, a stubborn, pain-fueled refusal to face an unhappy, unwanted reality. Hope is an extension of expectation; it is what expectation devolves to when it has been disappointed too often, too badly. When you no longer expect reciprocity from someone but you are unwilling to accept that it will never happen, you hope.

When I was a very little girl, I suffered from insomnia…I had trouble falling to sleep at night. Keyed up from a day of hypervigilance, I went to bed tense and with a buzzing, hyperalert brain. Add to the fact that my bedroom shared a paper-thin wall with the living room and I could hear every sound in that room…including my mother’s negative characterizations of me to her friends, replete with complete fabrications and self-servingly incorrect assignment of my motives, sleep often eluded me. I learned to silently tell myself stories, rather like soapies, that on following nights I would pick up where I had drifted off to sleep the night before. These stories were fantasies in which I was the hero, the rescuer, the nurturer, and my reward for my good deeds would be the love and devotion of everyone around me, including (and most especially) my mother.

As young as five or six years of age I had absorbed my NM’s paradigm that I had to earn love through my deeds and actions. Being young and unsophisticated, I had the expectation that if I was a “good girl,” i.e., I lived up to the expectations of others, took care of them, sacrificed for them, I would earn their love. Eventually I learned that you cannot earn love any more than you can buy it, but some of us never abandon this behavioural model, setting ourselves up for disappointment after disappointment because we fail to take into account the nature…and social paradigms…of the people from whom we expect reciprocity.

Hope and expectations are singularly self-oriented phenomena. Both have to do with want—what you want: you want something and either you expect it will occur or, if you have given up on expectation, you hope it will. With either one, you may work to do your “part,” expecting or hoping the other person will do his/hers…which will grant you your wish. Unfortunately, we do not all go by the same playbook of life, and those of us who grow up in dysfunctional households often have vastly different playbooks from those who did not. Our expectations, based on what we believed it took to get the positive attention of a narcissistic parent, may not elicit the desired response from others.

I once worked with a very nice woman who grew up with a pair of exacting scientists for parents; she married an emotionally detached man-child and after their second child was diagnosed as profoundly autistic, the husband abandoned wife and family for an old flame. Devastated and feeling abandoned, my friend turned her attention to one of the managers in our department and began knocking herself out to be the best admin he had ever had. She brought him coffee, cleaned up his office, put his work ahead of the others, put a plant on his desk and took care of it. For weeks she bent over backwards to impress and serve this man…seeking attention and approval from an authority figure, seeking some kind of validation from him to reassure her of her value. Her expectation was one of reciprocity: she would be the best secretary he had ever worked with and he would reciprocate with thanks, praise and even the occasional token of his appreciation. When Secretary’s Day came and went without a lunch invitation from him or even a wilted carnation, she broke down in tears, confessing to me her anger and disappointment at him for not keeping up his end.

The problem, of course, was that he was completely unaware that he had an end to keep up. In his world, the way she had been behaving was expected because it was her job and he owed her nothing, not even thanks, for it…her reward—her thanks, if you will—came in the form of a pay check every two weeks. She, of course, was operating from a completely different playbook, the one in which you earn accolades by your devotion and going-the-extra-distance. In her eyes, she had gone above and beyond and therefore deserved praise and thanks for it; in his eyes, she was just performing her job duties.

And this is the curse of hope: our hopes and expectations are too often not based on reality or even generally-held beliefs and experiences. They are based on the missing bits in our own psyches, the damaged or empty parts of our hearts, the holes in our souls. We hope for those things we believe will make us whole, will satisfy that sense of want within us. Even if we are not consciously aware of the chasm within, our hopes and expectations are tailor-made to fit it. Few of us, however, realize that even if we are able to bring those hopes and expectations to fruition, they will never fill the abyss that makes us yearn. Those hopes fool us into thinking they are the great cure for our despair when, in fact, they give us only a temporary, illusory respite, and then we are back to hoping and wanting and yearning even more.

If you don’t believe me, think about this. You are here, reading this, because you have a painful relationship with a narcissist…most likely your mother. You feel unloved, maybe even unwanted by her. What if, tomorrow morning, you got a phone call from that narcissist in which she said she loved you, she had always loved you, she was sorry for how she had treated you, and she wanted to make amends. Wish granted, hope fulfilled…now, how do you think you will feel?

The expectation you carry with you today is that if your narcissist were to do that, you would feel filled with that love, soothed by it, your pain and doubt and anxiety melting away. So why are you feeling sceptical, cynical, maybe even angry or anxious? Why are you expecting her next breath to reveal a falling out between her and your GC brother or sister? Or for her to pause, then laugh shrilly, and announce she was kidding, of course? Why are you wondering what she is up to, what the catch is, when the other shoe is going to drop? Having our fondest hope come true is not always what we think it will be, and sometimes we end up even more unhappy as a result.

In June of 2011, Psychology Today published an article by Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.,  entitled "The Power of Hope, and Recognizing When It's Hopeless." Dr. Lamia says “In relationships, there are times when abandoning hope is psychologically healthier than holding onto it…In ending a relationship, relinquishing hope means coming to terms with your failure. In a rescuing relationship, hope may have led you to assume that you could help your partner achieve his expressed goal: be it financial success, sobriety, security, or happiness. Yet despite your efforts, you could not control whether or not he would be inclined to pursue your perception of a desirable path. Perhaps your hope was that your partner would become the one you wanted or wished him to be, and he would then need, love, and appreciate you. Relinquishing hope is hard to do, because it means that you have failed to get what you expected from your relationship. The feelings associated with giving up hope in a relationship are often the very same emotions you sought to avoid in the first place, including helplessness, despair, depression, or yearning… Yet giving up hope can also be very constructive and positive, depending on your attitude.

“Giving up hope is sometimes prudent… Continuing to pursue a particular direction where you invariably encounter roadblocks, whether in a relationship, career, or business venture, can obscure other avenues that may lead to achieving an objective. In our culture there is a particular glamour attributed to those who persist, and win, in spite of limited hope for success. At the same time, having the strength to recognize when hope should be relinquished, and the courage to acknowledge your helplessness, can point you in an unsullied direction that is accompanied by new hope.”


Notice that Dr. Lamia specifically refers to us having an expectation—a hope—that the other person does not necessarily buy into. Like my co-worker, when the other party does not reciprocate, is not “inclined to pursue your perception of a desirable path,” you are faced with a choice: continue or quit. And while she likens giving up hope to a perception of our having failed, I think this is less true for the children of narcissistic parents: for us, giving up hope is to finally acknowledge that we will never be loved in a way that is meaningful to us by the very people from whom we are truly entitled to receive that love, our parent(s). This is the pain we seek to avoid, the helplessness, despair, depression, the yearning for our birthright, parental love. To give up hope here means that we must not only embrace that pain, we must give up the whole idea of ever having that expectation, that entitlement fulfilled. It means we have been cheated and we can do nothing about it except accept it and walk away empty handed. And so, unwilling to do that, we cling to the feeblest hope…

And yet, keeping a futile hope alive just makes us stuck: we cannot move forward when we are stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for our narcissist to wake up and see what wonderful, worthwhile, loving people we are and how deserving we are of love and appreciation. Frozen in time and space, arrested emotionally, trapped by futile hope, we hold ourselves back and determinedly allow opportunities to pass us by while we continue to hurt ourselves with our drive to find that magic key, that special phrase, that perfect gift or deed that will open the door to the narcissistic parent’s love and fan our feeble flame of hope into a joyful reality. Hiding from the pain of helplessness, despair, depression and yearning, we simply mire ourselves more deeply in them.

Like so many other things, there can be too much hope. Do you have a realistic goal for yourself? A goal to find or create happiness for yourself is realistic; a goal to find that happiness through eliciting a specific behaviour from another person is not. You cannot manipulate yourself into being loved, nor can you obtain it by doing, over and over again, the things that did not convey it to you in the first place. You simply cannot dredge from the depths of another human being that which is not there. And the longer you wait for that person to find that which is not there in order to salve your soul, the longer you will remain stuck.

We do live in a culture that glamorizes those who cling to hope and ultimately succeed. But that is the stuff of fairy tales, romance, glamour. In real life, the odds are stacked against you: when an expectation degrades to mere hope, the odds of your prevailing diminish. And the longer you hold onto a hope despite no signs of that hope coming to fruition, the more your odds of prevailing diminish. In other words, the longer you hope with no reward, the less likely you will get what you want. And if that hope is keeping you stuck in some way, it is working against you, actually preventing you from achieving what you want.

A good example is the “other woman” who engages in a long-term affair with a married man whom she expects will leave his wife for her. Years pass and there is always some reason he can’t go: a child is sick, the wife’s parent died and he can’t leave while she is so fragile, he must wait until the child graduates high school, college…always an excuse, always she accepts the excuse and lives on the hope that someday the time will be right and they will be together. Meanwhile, she turns a blind eye to other men, other opportunities for love and marriage and a family, until she is set aside in favour of a younger mistress and she walks away middle-aged, alone, with nothing to show for her years of devotion but a broken heart and a biological clock that has nearly run out. Hope did this woman no favours but kept her confined in a relationship with a selfish man who thought only of himself.

Hope, too much hope, hoping too long, hoping for the impossible or even just the improbable, can do this to you. Clinging to hope when the prudent move would be to let it go and move in another direction, works against you. There is no shame in giving up hope when it is futile, there is no shame in embracing reality and recognizing and accepting that hope is futile. The shame is in sacrificing your life and your emotional well-being to futile hope, like the hope that a narcissistic parent will “wake up” and find the love for you hidden in her heart. Reality check: if she didn’t love and adore you when you were an adorable, cooing infant, a chubby-cheeked toddler, an admiring young daughter, what makes you think she will find some loving emotion for you now, at this late date, when your life no longer revolves around her and you are no longer the uncritical, loving, adoring child you once were—and for whom she could find no love?

Harsh? Yes. Reality is not always pretty, nor does it spare our feelings. Reality is a harsh taskmistress, giving us the unvarnished truth without regard to our emotions. And the reality of this is simply that if she did not love you then, what makes you think she will love you now? If she didn’t love you when you were innocent and open and emotionally untarnished, what makes you think she will love the adult, distrustful, wounded person her indifference created? If she didn’t find you good enough to love when you adored her uncritically, how does your present state of mind and emotions improve on that and elicit love from her?

Reality is, you cannot squeeze blood from a stone…and you cannot squeeze love from the stony heart of a narcissist. Reality is, the fault is not with you and it never was: the fact that your narcissist could not love you when you were a tiny little child proves that, for what can a  baby do to disengage the heart of a loving mother? Hoping for her to change…and expecting that change to fill the hole in your soul, is futile, it keeps you stuck, it prevents you from progressing. And, whether you want to admit it or not, you are stuck because you have chosen to put your life, your wholeness, on hold while you wait for her to do what you want.

Well, she’s not going to do it. If she hasn’t done it by now, she never will. You have put yourself in a holding pattern and as you wait, peace of mind and wholeness of heart pass you by. As you sit by and hope, you are waiting for someone else to take action. On some level you are not only believing that person will, some day, come through, you are also giving control of your life to that person and, in doing so, abdicating your own responsibility to yourself. You offer yourself up like a sacrificial lamb, vulnerable and powerless, when you continue to hope long past the time to read reality and take control of your emotional life. You can only stop being at the mercy of the merciless when you wake up and embrace that harsh but liberating reality: narcissists have love only for themselves…there is no room in their hearts for anyone else, not even the GC, who is merely manipulated in ways different from the ways you experienced.

So what do you do? You have to fill that hole, that gaping chasm of want and emptiness that yawns just inside your ribcage. If you cannot have hope that your narcissist will fill it, if you must give up the hope that someone else will come along and fill it for you, what do you do? You fill it yourself.

And that is much easier said than done…I know this from my own painful experience. And you can’t fill it in a day, or a week or even a month. It is not a once-off deal, like filling a bucket of water from the hose, it is an on-going, daily, even hourly, change in how you think, what you think, the messages you give yourself, your sense of responsibility for yourself. It is a change in how you live, how you believe, it is becoming your own best friend and hero. It is you waking up to the reality of your NM and accepting that which you do not want to believe: she does not love you, not because you are somehow at fault or defective, but because she is defective and cannot love anyone but herself. It is stepping away from the childish notion that wishing will make it so and embracing the adult’s perception of reality as it is…ugly and unsatisfying, but real.

There are times when hope does you no favours, when it is time to realize that what you are clinging to is a false hope, and in doing so, you are harming yourself more effectively than anything she can ever do to you. There are time to just step away and close the door and turn your back. And that time is when you open your own eyes and allow yourself to finally see that if she was unable to love and care for you when you believed the sun rose and set in her, she doesn’t have it in her to love someone who is less perfect, less adoring than your infant self. She has been telling you for all of your years, in countless ways…it is time for you to step away from your denial and listen to her…really listen. And put those false, misleading hopes that just keep you stringing along, to rest.

“He who has never hoped can never despair.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950), Caesar and Cleopatra (1901) act 4

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I was set up…and so were you!

This post has been a long time coming. A lot of subconscious activity has gone into it, years of sorting and connecting, ferreting out the truth and making sense of nonsense. The only thing left to figure out is whether or not it was conscious and volitional or whether it was totally below my NM’s own consciousness: I suspect there were elements of both, with the subconscious bit occurring early in my life and the conscious, wilful predations beginning to occur as I got older.

My mother was malignant narcissist, a personality most likely combining Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) and Anti-Social Personality Disorder (AsPD). Like all narcissists, she never took responsibility for her actions or their consequences, instead finding ways to blame others for whatever was wrong in her life. That she engaged in contradictory expectations, cognitive dissonance was never an issue for her: she often wanted irrational things that cancelled each other out, yet wanted them just the same. For example, when she was newly married, my father worked on his parents’ farm. In addition to regular farm work, he also drove a truck and worked as a lumberjack. He worked long hours doing exhausting, back-breaking work because she wanted “things”—and yet she also wanted him at home, paying attention to her. So, if he worked the hours necessary to buy the stuff she wanted, she complained that he was never home (which undoubtedly became her excuse for the affair she had when I was little); if he was home, however, she was always complaining about the lack of “things.” (She didn’t want to keep up with the Joneses…she wanted the Joneses to want to keep up with her!) Nothing ever satisfied her, no effort was good enough, something I have learned is a common trait among narcissists.

Looking back over the stories of my life as told to me at different times by different family members, NM included, if I try to assemble them into a chronological narrative, one glaring element begins to emerge: I was perceived by NM, from my very conception, as the reason for everything that was wrong with her life.

NM married my father expecting he would ship out to China (he was in the Navy) within weeks of their marriage and she would be left behind with an allotment check from the Navy to live on and no husband (or father—she was 16 and eloped to escape her strict old-country father) to tell her what she could and could not do. Her plans were thwarted when two things happened: her mother-in-law wrote to the War Department and secured my father an early discharge from the Navy so he could help on the farm, and NM became pregnant with me, which prevented her father from obtaining an annulment of her elopement. As she told me to my face when I was about 14, if I had never come along, her life would be “different”…a word she obviously interpreted as synonymous for “better.”

She had expectations and I disappointed every one of them. I had colic and eczema from my earliest months, I cried at night, which kept her awake, and at times that were inconvenient for her. “Nobody ever told me I couldn’t just put you away when I was done with you, like a doll,” she complained. I couldn’t stay clean…which she perceived as my fault, not hers for putting me in starched white cotton baby dresses and then putting me out in the dirt chicken yard to play. And nobody would let her walk away from the unwanted responsibility…I was her child so she was obligated to care for me. It was expected by everyone in her small, provincial, world.

It seems to me that her perception that my arrival threw a monkey wrench in her life gave her consent, at least from within, to blame me for everything unpalatable that happened to her afterwards. Certainly having a child changes and even limits your life, but it is a leap of selfish thinking to blame the child for it. But to the mind of a narcissist, if the child had never existed, she would not be prevented from going and doing and enjoying…ergo it is the child who is at fault. This was exactly the way NM’s mind worked, at least when she was younger. When she got a little older, she added refinements that not only made everything the fault of someone else, but made her their victim as well.

The day she told me that I was the cause of everything bad that had happened to her since she was 17, I somehow screwed up the courage to ask her why, if she felt that way, did she have a second child? (She had caesarean sections with both of her children and had her tubes tied when my GCBro was born…she was only 19.) Her answer? “When you are already saddled with one brat clinging to your skirts, what’s two?”

But when my brother came along, he was free of the blame that tainted me. NM had already cast me into the role of being the cause of her every unhappiness, so baby brother was a pure little soul and she was free to indulge and spoil him, whereas she had to punish me for all of my misdeeds, chief among which was being born.

I think there comes a time in all our lives that our NMs perceive us as being somehow unsatisfactory and from that moment forward, that is what we are. It could be as early as conception: a planned pregnancy that either didn’t go as expected or an unplanned one that derailed other, more grandiose plans. Or it could be later: a child in the throes of the Terrible Twos who is suddenly eclipsed by a cooing and compliant newborn sibling. Any number of scenarios might occur in which we were perceived as not living up to our NMs’ expectations and we became their receptacle for blame. And once that turning point occurred, we were doomed: the die was cast, our roles in our families cast in concrete, and nothing we could do could cause a re-casting.

John Bradshaw, psychologist and author of TheFamily: A Revolutionary Way of Self-Discovery says, “In dysfunctional families, the individual exists to keep the system in balance. This is the fate of every individual in a dysfunctional family. The whole family is dis-eased and each person gives up his true self to play a role in keeping the family together.”One of these roles is that of the scapegoat, which Bradshaw defines as “This is the child that the family feels ashamed of. He/she is the trouble maker or problem child. The scapegoat gets into trouble, which helps to take the focus off of the family problems, because everyone is focused on his/her bad behavior. The child is usually strong-willed, rebellious, rude, and sassy, however, the scapegoat is the most emotionally honest child in the family. The scapegoat usually becomes pregnant or addicted as a teenager. On the inside they may feel rejected, misunderstood, shamed, and/or betrayed.” What Bradshaw does not say is that this child does not actually need to misbehave or get into trouble, this child need only be identified by the parent(s) as such, by their own perceptions, for the role to be assigned.

How does this happen? It goes back to expectations. If the parent has an unrealistic expectation of the child and the child fails to measure up, then the child is a disappointment…or worse. If a four-year-old is assigned the responsibility for a younger sibling and that four-year-old is physically incapable of preventing the younger sibling from misbehaving, the parent who unrealistically expects a four-year-old to be an adequate child minder doesn’t blame the younger child, who doesn’t know any better, or herself for her unrealistic expectations, but the older child, the four-year-old, for her failure to do what she was told. The child is perceived as lazy or defiant or careless or inattentive or any number of negative things because of her failure to succeed at an impossible task. She was set up by her parent for failure and then punished for falling into the trap.

Certainly this is not entirely conscious on the part of the parent, at least not in the beginning. But repeated failure at repeated tasks, tasks for which the child is, in truth, ill-equipped, forms a perception in the mind of the parent that this child is a complete and utter disappointment. The parent doesn’t let go of the irrational expectations but, instead, comes to expect this child to fail. This becomes a two-edged sword for the child: if she fails, she did wrong and deserves some kind of punishment; if she succeeds, she disappointed her parent’s expectation, in essence made a liar out of her, and that cannot go unchallenged or unpunished.

Narcissists of all stripes expect others to be predictable. They expect us to follow the rules…the very same rules from which they consider themselves exempt…so that they can predict how we will act or react. This is essential in exploiting us, because if they cannot predict our performance, they cannot make a plan that works for them. So, when a child is expected to fail and the narcissist is expecting to get a lot of Nsupply in the form of sympathy from family and friends for having such a disappointing child (or expects to have an acceptable excuse for a good, old-fashioned narcissistic rage), a monkey wrench is thrown into the works when the child succeeds: the child’s success not only disrupts the flow of Nsupply, it makes the narcissist wrong…a double transgression. And while the narcissist knows she can’t get away with punishing the child for a success, she can take the shine off of it by refusing to praise or even acknowledge, or by tarnishing the achievement either by minimizing its importance—“So you won the spelling bee—that and a quarter won’t even buy you a cup of coffee…”—or denigrating the achievement itself “So, you finally got a straight A report card…you’re supposed to be smart…what took you so long?”

People who cannot see themselves as being wrong or making mistakes have to have a way to place blame outside themselves. They can blame their lateness on traffic rather than their lack of appropriate planning; they can blame their messy house on being too busy or tired to clean up due to job or social demands…or on their kids and husband; they can blame their lack of promotions at work on management favouritism rather than their own off-putting behaviours; they can find a way to blame anything on anybody, but the ideal receptacle for blame is someone who cannot (or fears to) talk back and tell the truth…like a child who is dependent on them for their very subsistence.

And so it grows, from a perception of the child being at fault and/or a disappointment, to a convenient receptacle for blame for any and everything. Rationale need not enter into it: what rational person blames an infant for her own choices to 1) have unprotected sex, 2) carry the resultant pregnancy to term, 3) keep the child rather than adopt out and 4) not follow through on the original plan, baby in tow? A rational person would acknowledge that 1-3 would, inevitably, make changes in a person’s life trajectory, but they would also acknowledge those changes were the choices of the adult female, not the fault of the innocent infant. Narcissists, however, don’t see it that way. Your presence caused the alteration in her fine plans, therefore it is your fault…no matter that your thought processes couldn’t go beyond crying when your bum was wet or your tummy empty.

It is my guess that some…if not most…NMs come across this process rather by happenstance than design. It works to explain that they are tired and haggard looking because baby kept them up all night rather than admit they sneaked out and spent the night drinking and carousing…not only do they escape judgment, they get sympathy—a bonus!

When I was about 7, my mother announced at the dinner table that she was giving our dog, a big blond Collie named Duke, away. And she blamed me because I had to be reminded to feed him, I didn’t make my brother pick up the poop in the back yard, I didn’t brush him adequately, and—the topper, the coup de grace, the one accusation I could not dispute or find a workaround solution for—I was allergic to him. He was the family dog but somehow responsibility for him was mine and my failure to perform to expectation was the reason the whole family was going to be deprived of him.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how I had been set up. I do not believe my NM got the dog with the intention of creating a situation in which I would fail and for which she could take the dog away, but I do believe that she got the dog with the intent of dumping its care onto me…and with the expectation that I should perform flawlessly. As an adult and the owner of a couple of Collies, I began to realize just how irrational her expectation was: with my big, strong adult arms, I could not brush out their coats when the winter undercoat started to shed out—for that they needed a trip to the groomers where there were the special tools (shedding blades) and people who had the upper body strength and expertise to do the job. No seven-year-old on the planet was capable of brushing out a shedding Collie’s coat and if my NM had bothered to pick up the brush and give it a go herself, she’d have know that in ten minutes or less…not that I believe it would have made any difference to her. No, what I think happened was that she had no intention of caring for the animal herself, she fully intended for me to do it, and for me to do it perfectly, without instruction, without reminder and without failure. When my performance was less than perfect (and the dog, needing grooming, didn’t look like Lassie, the Collie on TV so NM couldn’t show him off), rather than take any one of the many options open to her, from taking over herself, to having him professionally groomed a couple of times per year, to helping me learn to remind myself to feed or groom him, she just decided to get rid of him. At the dinner table that night she blamed me, she even told me that I had no one to blame but myself that Duke was going to a new home. This plagued me with guilt for years until I learned just how inappropriate her expectations were. She set me up to fail and then she blamed me for it.

When I was married to James, I had very similar experiences. The difference between him and NM was that he deliberately and consciously set me up so that I would “learn a lesson.” When I succeeded in the face of his deliberate attempts to make me fail, he was enraged. Being somewhat literal and not given to underhanded subterfuge myself, I would fall for his set-ups and go out and succeed where I was supposed to fail. In one case, I wanted to buy a second car and he was adamant I get a cheap used car. I had a baby and we lived in a new city and I was terrified of a breakdown in some area I didn’t know, with the baby in the car…I wanted a new car with a warranty and in which I could have some confidence in its reliability. So, he gave me a budget (quite low) and said “If you can find a brand new car for this, I’ll buy it.”

Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to fail to find such a car and in my failure, learn some lessons, chief among which was not to challenge James and his pronouncements or authority. Well, I found a brand new car within budget and James bought it, but instead of being pleased with my ability to find a new car at a used car price, he was furious with me. I was supposed to fail, he later told me…and I was supposed to learn from my failure. And I spoiled it all by succeeding at what he had believed to be an impossible task.

For years after this (and other, similar, set ups) I was hurt and baffled. I had done what he asked, I had succeeded at a difficult task, I had gotten a pristine new, never-used car complete with warranty, for the price of a used one…what had I done wrong? Why was he so angry with me? My joy in my success was trampled and I was left wondering just exactly what I had done that made him so unhappy with me. It reminded me of my childhood and those terrifying moments when I realized my NM was furious with me but I had no idea why…and the fact that I didn’t understand just how I had been “bad”—and therefore appeared innocently baffled rather than contrite and remorseful—just enraged her further.

But now I get it…and I get it I spades: I was set up.

It wasn’t enough to simply be a convenient dumping ground for blame, the blame had to be plausible. Unless other people could agree the blame was appropriately placed, there could be no Nsupply and there was even a risk that NM would be viewed as responsible. So instead of telling the whole story…she dressed my barely toddling self in starched white cotton baby dresses, white shoes and socks, and set me outside in a dirt chicken yard to play…the story becomes that she put me outside (no mention of my attire or my play yard) to play and was told “don’t get dirty” and in five minutes I was filthy from top to toes, necessitating another bath and change of clothes and additional laundry for her. I was disobedient…she told me not to get dirty and I defiantly did just exactly the opposite and in a matter of just a few minutes, proving I did not even TRY to stay clean. Establishing me as defiant and disobedient almost from the day I could walk set the stage for further normal childhood behaviours to be perceived as evidence of my oppositional nature and once I was big enough to be given chores (without being given instructions as to how to do them or what the ultimate outcome should look like), I was a study in insolent rebelliousness.

Except, in reality, I wasn’t. I was simply out of my depth and doing the best I could with what I knew, what I had, what I could physically achieve. And it was never, ever good enough. No matter how close to perfection I came, NM’s agenda did not include acknowledgement of a job well done or praise for effort, her agenda was purely to find fault, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant. Because in finding fault, I was to blame and she was entitled to sympathy for having to put up with my disappointing arse.

How many times have you stretched yourself to achieve, to give, to understand, to do, only to fall short of NM’s mark? Did you see your A+ paper dismissed because there was a typo or your NM fabricated a punctuation issue? Did the birthday cake you baked NM fall short because the bakery cake her neighbour got from her daughter was prettier…or the bakery cake you brought end up criticized because her neighbour’s daughter loved her mother enough to bake a cake from scratch and decorate it herself? Is your best never good enough and so you keep striving and trying and stretching yourself for the carrot of approval that is always just thaaat much out of reach?

You can stop. That carrot will never be in reach. You are not intended to have it. The objective is for you to fail, the carrot is there just to keep you in the game. When you fail, somebody else looks successful, somebody else gets sympathy for having such a blunderer for a child, somebody else gets attention and advice and commiseration…somebody else get NSupply from your failures and so you are expected to fail because your success would take that all away.

You are being set up. You have been set up all your life, conditioned to try, try, try to stay in the game, and to fail in ways that bring Nsupply to the Ns in your family. Eventually, some of us don’t even need to be manipulated by our NMs to provide the source: we drop out of school, get involved with abusive, passive aggressive, or even narcissistic men, we get pregnant without marriage or we get married and have too many kids or we have them too close together; we get involved with drugs and/or alcohol, live marginal life styles, go on welfare, struggle for the barest necessities. And those of us who “make it”? I stood in an elevator in a hotel in Las Vegas with my NM after not seeing her for ten years: I was wearing a silk dress the same size I wore in high school, my hair had been professionally coiffed, my jewellery was real gold and diamonds. My mother said only three words to me “You’ve gotten fat.”

You are being set up. You have been set up all of your life. You have been conditioned not to achieve and succeed, but to fail in ways that give your NParents the greatest amount of Nsupply, whether from without or within. When you do poorly, when you are broke and hungry and on welfare so your kids can eat, your NParents not only get NSupply from others who sympathize with them about how lazy and shiftless and worthless you have become, they get NSupply from within because they feel superior to you. “Such good people,” their friends mutter as a scapegoat son is hauled away in handcuffs, “how sad for them that their son ended up a criminal…” Who is asking that “criminal” how he got to that point?

We are set up by our NParents to fail because it advantages them. Some of us succumb and end up underachievers or worse…some of us prevail and make successes of ourselves in spite of that early programming. But make no mistake, from the point of view of the narcissistic parent, we are and always will be immense disappointments to them. They cannot survive any other way.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Journalling works! A reader writes...

I got this email (reproduced with permission) today and it says more than I can...

Just writing to give you a bit of an update on how things are going for me.

I followed your advice and have been doing one hell of a lot of journalling. My God, it HELPS!! Most of all, for me to lose my guilt complex and see it was my crazy mother who had all the issues. She'd blamed and SHAMED me for so many years.

I also elected to go extreme LOW CONTACT, meaning sending only cards for mother and fathers day, birthdays and christmas, and the occasional short superfical email to let them know I'm okay and alive. NO PHONE CALLS (I changed my phone number and made sure it's an unlisted number, and NO VISITS.

I feel, not hearing her voice is really helping me to get over all the lies about myself, she inculcated into me when I was young. You know, that hearing her voice in your head, brainwashing stuff.

Dad has replied to just one email (I've sent two), and it was just one line. Mother, who spends hours a day on the computer, has sent nothing. (she's the ignoring type), so it's going to work well, I'd say. She won't write, just on principle.

I only wrote those emails, because mother complained to my sister that they'd not heard from me and that my phone was disconnected. Then my sister wrote begging me to call them and let them know I'm okay, saying mother was worried about me. (yes, I can imagine mother telling her that, but then bitching about me to dad afterwards)

I didn't phone, but I DID send a short email to let them know I was okay. A subsequent email, was then ignored. So, that was it.

It's all been very enlightening, and I've found out where everyone stands, in my dysfunctional FOO.

I did tell my two siblings I was going LOW CONTACT. My Golden Child brother sent me a frosty reply, telling me that he refuses to discuss mother with me, as he can get along just fine with her. And that if I ever mention her again, he'll refuse to comment. He and mother are both very bigoted, so get along well together. I can't stand her long-winded bigotry and racism, but he sticks up for her and says "She's probably right, you know". So yes, they probably would get along well.

I have come such a long way, Violet, and was braced for his reply, no longer having any expectations of him. Reading your blog about the Golden Child, helped to me understand my brother alot better. So, I'm no longer disappointed or get hurt.

I can't really afford therapy, so virtually subsisted on your website's advice, and have since read "When Will I Be Good Enough", and have ordered "People of the Lie".

I can virtually sort exactly where each member of my FOO is at, and what to anticipate from each of them. This really helps.

My father is the quintessential Enabling Father and mother's Flying Monkey. His allegience is totally to her. I realise now, that he just sacrificed me to her, when I was young.

My brother is the selfish Golden Child, whom mother has always indulged and he is above criticism, no matter what he does. It's eerie to me now I see how many of her attitudes he has absorbed. He's very haughty.

I might have been the scapegoat and mother made my life a pure misery (she was the cruel kind), but maybe being the scapegoat has it's good points. In that I could see through her bigotry and hatred (she hates people and says contemptuously that "most people are stupid".), and resisted her efforts to teach me the same. She used to get so furious when I'd stick up for people and wouldn't go along with her bigotry. NO ONE is allowed to disagree with her or have their own opinion.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is, I am in a much happier place. Just NOT hearing mother's voice, her mocking me, belittling my feelings, saying really cruel things to me, has done me the world of good.

I know you don't ask for thanks, but THANK YOU, Violet. And I'm so grateful that you did not take your website down. I would have been so disappointed. It's been an absolute God send to me. (no, I'm not religious. Did all that when I was young, but I consider myself spiritual these days, not religious. Don't like churches. Had enough control, in my life).

I still journal, but it's tapered off a bit now. I cried through a lot of it, had nightmares for weeks, but I'm through the worst of that. (it's hard to relive such a childhood and teen years with a Malignant Narcissist Mother). Harrowing. Over 70 foolscap pages of hideous memories, in all the gorey detail.

But I'm a brighter better place now.

The most powerful thing I got from your blogs, was....I HAVE CHOICE!!

Once this really hit me, I found my power!!!! And I stopped feeling guilty about doing LOW CONTACT. (I'm almost No Contact)

Are you journalling yet? Why not?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Deconstructing rage

Healing from the abuse we suffered at the hands of our narcissists…and the internalized narcissists in our heads who keep us abusing ourselves…is a journey. Just as it took time and effort to turn our joyful little child-selves into angry, beaten-down adults, it takes time to come back from that state, to restore joy and perspective and self-love to our lives.
Six years ago, when I was writing the 46 Memories and working through some of my issues, I wrote a blog entry entitled “Deconstructing Rage.” Re-reading it today, I see a lot of information that some of you may find interesting and/or helpful:

I don’t get mad much anymore. Some years ago I had this epiphany in which I realized that when I was angry, that anger was actually hiding…masking…what I was really feeling, which was mostly hurt, fear, and/or disappointment. After some heavy thinking I came to realize that my anger was actually a reaction to one of those feelings, anger being more powerful and empowering than allowing myself to experience, yet again, those emotions I had come to equate with being a victim.

What brought me to that epiphany was a think-session in which I tried to figure out why I cried when I was mad. Talk about dis-empowering! I used to be able to work up a good head of steam…a really intimidating rage…only to have its intended effect completely neutralized by the telltale red nose, watery eyes, and streams of water coursing down my cheeks. Anger…the towering rage kind of anger…used to be the “big gun” in my emotional arsenal. It was effective, it was intimidating, it got me what I wanted, right up to the moment I started to tear up. I knew the tears to be a sign of an escalation of emotion…an expression of a rage so profound I felt like I was going to explode with it, but my victims took quite an opposite view. Instead of the power of my fury, they saw a weeping woman, ineffectually spitting out blunted barbs.

Eventually I would withdraw to a place of privacy and dissolve into a storm of noisy sobs. When that was over, I would emerge and, if the situation had not been resolved to my satisfaction, a cold fury would set in. This was the dangerous one, because it fuelled retaliation, rejection, or worse. There were no tears in this determined, steely-eyed rage. It was cold, calculating, and bent on getting what I wanted at all costs. It took me years to untangle this and ultimately discover that this was not my process, it actually belonged to someone else, and the tears were my own personal contribution to it…and my only clue.

By the time I reached my mid-thirties, the cumulative dramas and traumas of my life were beginning to take their toll. I fell into a deep depression and began having suicidal thoughts. When things that would formerly enrage me occurred, I would go to bed, curl into a foetal position, and wish for the dark oblivion of death. During this period I found a therapy group and began to participate twice weekly. In the group sessions, the women would expiate their rages by beating huge pillows with tennis racquets, but I simply observed, clenched and rigid, my rage returned and barely controlled. But by the time I returned home, it had returned to its hiding place beneath my depression where it lay dormant, coiled and ready for its next summons.

I’d like to say that the rage slowly seeped away, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I just got better and better at keeping it under control. A divorce and remarriage later, it still lurked beneath my surface, popping out occasionally for a snack on someone’s ego, never diminishing in strength or potency, but remaining increasingly closeted. And then my husband died.

For the next nine days I was nearly in a fugue. I was unable to eat anything, and slept only when I was falling-down exhausted…and then for only a few hours. My mind, always alert and active, seemed to be a blank. And I couldn’t cry. Finally he was buried and I skipped the family lunch, hosted by the brother-in-law who had spent his life ridiculing and belittling his now-dead brother. I just went home, took off my widow’s weeds and went to sleep. For 20 hours.

I woke up alone and suddenly realized that this was to be my new life. Oh, I had been alone before…I had been divorced, after all, and had been in a more than a few broken relationships in my life, but this time it was different. This time there were no fights and furies and break-ups and make-ups en route to my single status. No indignant “how dare he?” or “what was I thinking?” moments, no grand emotional production leading up to the apocalyptic moment of dumping or being dumped. This time there was a fragile kind of peace around me, a serenity that was not disturbed even by my numbness or sudden, unexpected moments of tears. I was alone, my heart was rent into ragged little bits, but I felt purged of rage. There was no one to be angry with, nothing to be angry about. He was gone, it was nobody’s fault, and he wasn’t coming back.

The next months of being alone were not, surprisingly, lonely. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the computer…something I do to keep my “upper” consciousness occupied with trivialities so my deeper consciousness can work things out and, eventually, kick them upstairs where I can ponder them. About five weeks after he died, my husband came to me while I slept and told me that it was all going to be okay and when I woke up, I knew.

I had a rather grim childhood and adolescence. To speak except when spoken to was to invite a backhand. Despite being a compliant and willing child, I was inept…as children are, until they have sufficient practice to master something…and so I received daily beatings from an unforgiving perfectionist of a mother. In so many ways I was a disappointment to her, and in so many brutal ways she let me know it. And yet, unlike so many children who buy the abuse and come away feeling at fault and therefore deserving of their victimization, I knew, every time that strap bit into my bare flesh, that what she was doing was wrong, that I was being unjustly assaulted…and I would get mad. By the time I was eight years old, I hated my mother with all the fervour an eight-year-old can muster. But to express that hatred was to invite further abuse, so I learned to be silent and nurture the rage, add to it with each new injustice, and eventually allow it to burst forth and defend me.

It took more than half my lifetime to learn that the rage was the mask that protected me from feeling the pain of my mother’s brutality. If I could focus myself on a rage, I would not feel the hurt. I learned to feel angry the moment I perceived any threat, for rage would not only keep me from feeling my fear, if it was big enough, it could actually drive off the threat. I soon came to realize that disappointment also provoked an angry response, too. We all have expectations of others, as well as ourselves, and I discovered that to keep myself from having to experience the pain of disappointment…or the guilt, if I was disappointing myself…all I had to do was stir up a fine rage and its fury would consume all those hurtful feelings so I would not have to experience them.

Once I had synthesized this in my head, I gave the idea to a few of my friends to see what they thought. Without exception, after some reflection on the matter, they agreed. In the throes of a break-up, if you get mad, it doesn’t hurt so much. Facing fearful situations, anger gives you strength, empowerment. And when someone tramples on your expectations, whether it is the third time the plumber has blown you off or it is some idiot who cut you off on the highway, the anger you feel is actually preventing you from feeling the disappointment of having your expectation unfulfilled: that the plumber would come at the appointed time or that the other driver would respect your right of way.

I have come to think of anger as a secondary emotion, an emotion that cannot exist in a pure state, as can fear, for example. Anger is a reaction or mask for certain primary emotions like fear or pain…disappointment being a form of emotional pain, after all. What all of these emotions have in common is that when we feel them, we feel vulnerable, victimized, powerless, at risk. Anger, however, is an empowering, pro-active emotion and the moment we shift from fear to anger, we no longer feel vulnerable, but powered by the adrenaline surge that comes with the advent of rage.

For me, crying through my rages was always a curious thing that neutralized the power of my anger. One cries when hurt or frightened, and it was those tears that eventually put me onto the track that lead me to figuring it out. Today, when I feel anger welling up inside me, I immediately analyze it…fear? pain? disappointment? Did that reckless BMW driver scare me when he passed on a blind curve? Did a person’s remark hurt my feelings? Did I really expect that woman to control her child?

I find that I am more prone to mild annoyance today than anything that approaches anger. I have found I can be outraged by something without being angry about it. I have discovered that there is very little worth working myself into a lather about anymore, not even in my marriage. Hubby and I have a very peaceful life…we hardly ever fight…I just state my case and then shut up until he comes around. Even if it takes him days…

We have all heard that anger is a corrosive emotion, that harbouring a grudge or holding onto revenge fantasies are like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. But do you know why? Anger and its attendant behaviours (revenge fantasies, grudges, etc.) are part of our “fight or flight” response, a primitive, unthinking, literally mindless instinct. This instinct triggers physiological responses in our bodies, primarily the release of adrenaline. This adrenaline has numerous effects on our body, among them the blunting of pain and a feeling of power and empowerment. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this adrenaline release: it causes stress hormones to be released into your system, which thins the stomach lining and stimulates stomach acid production, it raises both your glucose levels and your blood pressure. It can wreak havoc on your health…

“The adrenalin speeds up your heart rate and intensity of contractions. It diverts blood from organs that are non-essential during emergencies, and redirects it to the brain for thinking and to muscles for movement. Your breathing rate increases to keep up with oxygen demand. You become alert and vigilant.

“Also released is a natural steroid called cortisol. Cortisol is amazing. When facing a short term emergency, cortisol performs an intricately-balanced, controlled shutdown of many non-essential body systems that would tax our resources.

“There's also a dark downside to this wonder steroid. Our bodies are wonderfully adapted to short term stressors. But for each minute that a stressor such as anxiety persists past the time it is needed, cortisol keeps suppressing the body systems that digest, store energy, and grow/repair/replenish cells in major organs.

“As long as anxiety persists and our sympathetic nervous system is activated, cortisol will be released. While it won't kill us outright, it will gradually cripple our defenses, and cause our body systems to become vulnerable to disease and infection, a little bit at a time. For those of us who are already dealing with medical conditions besides anxiety, the effect is much worse. Let's take a look at how this happens:

“[1] It takes a significant amount of energy to create this response. If the demand 'switch' can't be shut off because of our persistent anxiety, there's no time or resources left to store energy, so a deficit occurs. Ever feel really tired after long periods of anxiety? Now you know why.

“[2] The stess response requires oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to reach all necessary areas required to respond, so the heart beats faster and harder. Blood vessels tighten to increase blood pressure. This ensures blood gets where it is needed -- muscles for escape and brain for thinking. Speaking of blood vessels, you know how they branch into smaller and smaller vessels? The branch itself is a point of resistance, bearing the brunt of the increased pressure of blood slamming into them. Do this often enough and the wear and tear over time causes damage to the vessel wall, which the body is obligated to repair. The repair isn't quite as good as the original vessel wall, and may cause plaque to form which thickens the vessel. The repaired area tends to get damaged again and again under all that pressure, so the damage/repair cycle causes a great deal of thickening. Remember, this is happening all over your body. Sometimes these thickened plaques break off under the pressure and join up with sticky platelets, traveling around the system until it hits an area that's too thick or small for it to pass. Blood flow is reduced or stopped altogether by this clot. Whatever is on the other side of that clot needs oxygen and nutrients from blood to survive. But if the blood is blocked, the downstream cells die. Those cells could be leg muscle cells, pancreas cells, eye cells, nerve cells, lung cells, heart cells, brain cells, etc. If the cells happen to be those that carry heartbeat signals, their death can cause the beat to become irregular.

“[3] The body stops breaking stomach contents down into components and absorbing them as they slowly wind their way thru the intestine. Instead, it diverts resources away from the digestive tract, and aims them at sources that are more readily available. Once all the fuel available in blood (glucose) is used up for example, the liver dumps glycogen into the system to replace it. After that dries up, the body goes after stored energy in the form of fat (triglycerides stored in fat cells) and protein (muscles and organs). But there's also a problem. Cortisol reduces the amount of insulin. Insulin is the 'key' that 'unlocks' the cell so it can take up nutrients for energy or storage. Cortisol also tells these needy cells not to let insulin's 'key' into the cell's 'lock'. Do this enough and some cells will starve. Not only that, but cells that live can become less sensitive to insulin's 'key', eventually leading to impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and type 2 diabetes.

“[4] The body shuts down acid secretion in the stomach because it is a non-essential system. Everybody thinks stomach acid increases during stress because of the pain, but here's what really happens: The stomach stops producing stomach lining, mucus and other protective substances because generating them is also non-essential. If this happens for an extended time, the lining isn't as protective as it used to be. So on days when anxiety is low, normal stomach acid comes pouring into that thin stomach lining to do its digestion thing. Only now that thin lining may not be able to withstand even normal amounts of acid, so irritation - and perhaps even an ulcer -- may eventually emerge.” From Health Central.

Believe it or not, you can become addicted to the adrenaline rush, to the empowered feeling you get when the adrenaline kicks in. This may explain why some people refuse to give up their anger…without it and the adrenaline it triggers, they feel disempowered, even vulnerable. They use the power of the adrenaline rush to hide behind, to make them feel strong and able to defend themselves. Rather then learn better, more healthy and socially acceptable coping mechanisms, these people cling to their righteous anger and resentment, nurturing their rage with revenge fantasies and wishes for payback.

But this clinging to rage and anger is not without cost…and a very high cost: “[There are] very real negative ramifications of adrenaline. Here are just a few of the more serious ones: cardiac disease, stroke, high blood pressure, sleep deprivation, diabetes, obesity, panic anxiety disorder, and major depression (Hart 2009).

“Located on the outer layer of the adrenal glands is the adrenal cortex. This section of the adrenal glands produces a group of hormones called glucocorticoids. The most common and popular hormone that comes from this is cortisol which is a steroid. Cortisol helps fight inflammation, raises the blood sugar level, and increases muscle tension among other things. The section of the adrenal glands called the adrenal medulla produces a group of hormones known as catecholamines, one of which is adrenaline.

“The problem with this ‘feel good’ hormone that was designed to alleviate stress on a short term basis or for emergency situations is that too much of a good thing ends up being a bad thing. Adrenaline can increase our cholesterol level, blood pressure, and even cause a heart attack from being too angry.” Source

I get that anger and revenge fantasies make you feel powerful…but at the same time, the chemical soup they trigger in your body is making you weak…and possibly even sick. Not only does clinging to your rage keep you stuck in one place, unable to recover emotionally, it literally, physically makes you ill. In a meta-analysis  of 14 studies conducted between 1965 and 2003, researchers found that stress exacerbates auto-immune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” is released along with adrenaline…and over time, keeping your body in a constant “fight or flight” condition literally has a negative impact on your health.

Rage feels empowering and, in the short term, it can be. Over the long haul, though, it is damaging to you, both to your spirit and to your body. We hide behind that empowering rage because it numbs us to pain, but the long-term price can be years off your life, impaired health, and continued unhappiness. A wise therapist once told me “the only way out of the pain is to go through it.” I didn’t understand at the time, but looking back, I realize that she simply meant that as long as we refuse to actually feel the pain we have been avoiding, as long as we refuse to face up to the pain of being unwanted, unloved, brutalized, rejected, and neglected, as long as we stay stuck in denial of our real pain and stuck in adrenaline-inducing fantasies of vengeance, we cannot move forward and truly leave our pain behind.

Anger, even rage, has its place…but its place is supposed to be temporary and quickly expiated, not carried with us like a security blanket for years…even decades. When we do that, it no longer protects and comforts us, it smothers and destroys us.

For your own sake and the sakes of those who love you and must helplessly watch you slowly destroy yourself on behalf of your Ns, let it go.

Addiction & Recovery" (speaker Dr. Archibald Hart). Adrenaline Addiction. Lesson 16. DVD., 2009

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Coming back from adversity

In a recent entry I asked you all to tell me what you wanted me to write about. I got some excellent suggestions and Caliban’s Sister came up with a doozy: “I'll start off by asking you how you achieved some emotional detachment, given your “sandwiched” situation between MNM, and ND. Any thoughts about that are welcome. Your posts are always so insightful anyway, but I think your resilience probably intrigues me most.”

It may not look like it at first, but emotional detachment and resilience are actually very close bedfellows: in order to gain resilience, however, you must first have emotional detachment.

First, though, you must understand that there are two kinds of emotional detachment, one harmful, the other helpful. When you are unable to connect to others, when the detachment is beyond your control or command, that is harmful. It keeps you isolated, damages your empathy and compassion, can prevent you from ever having a meaningful emotional relationship with another person. When you choose to disconnect emotionally from certain others, when you control the detachment and refuse to permit others to control or manipulate or otherwise affect your emotions and emotional perception, then you are engaging in a healthy, helpful form of emotional detachment. And once you have mastered the art of detaching from the emotional vampires in your life, resilience is actually the natural outcome.

WikiHOW has an interesting article on how to become emotionally detached. The six steps are outlined below:

1. Take a deep breath. If you are stressed out, your body naturally tenses and sends your thoughts racing. Breathe deep and slow to avoid a lack of oxygen that can add to the problem.

2. Don't think about it. If you are constantly being yelled at or threatened, block out that voice by not thinking about it. Changing our thinking is easier said than done because it requires taking positive action in a negative scenario that if repeated will lead to a change in attitude and behavior (your behavior). Instead of obsessing about the person who is hurting you, count to 100 in your head, count sheep, count the number of things in the room, think of the names of all the United States, anything logical and unemotional that will take your mind off the situation.

3. Take action physically. Go for a walk, a bike ride or any other cardiovascular activity. Aerobic activity is proven to boost endorphins and will help you be in a better position to monitor and change your reactions to emotional predators.

4. Practice crying alone. Crying in front of the one who is harassing you will only provoke them to taunt you more or continue with their harassment. Breathing deeply and thinking of something other than the situation will prevent you from fully processing their mean words and ultimately prevent you from crying. BUT it is not healthy to keep that sadness in. Try your best to wait until the situation has ended and for the antagonist to leave the room before you begin to cry.

5. Write things down. Just as it is unhealthy to keep from crying, it is also unhealthy to keep anger and confusion inside. Write down how you feel in a secret journal or diary.

6. Keep up the habit. Eventually, your mind will learn to store things away and you'll go into thinking of logical and unemotional things naturally when being harassed.

While I agree with all of the six points, I think numbers 2, 5 and 6 are the most important…and in that order. We sabotage ourselves when we refuse to let go of the hurtful things people say or do to us, when we dwell on them, when we pick ourselves apart trying to figure out what we did or said to “deserve it.” It is critical that you learn to simply acknowledge that the other person did something hurtful or wrong (which absolves you) and then put it aside. Refuse to think about it. Force yourself to think of something else.

It isn’t easy…but what have you ever achieved in life that was really worthwhile that was easy? I spent five brutal years in therapy to get the NMonkey off my back and not a day of it was easy: but I knuckled under and I did it…and I came out a better, happier, more whole person as a result. It was worth the work, the effort, the picking myself up from failures and stepping back up to the plate…and putting in the effort to train your mind not to dwell on the hurts people try to inflict on you will be worth it to you in the long run just like, 20+ years post-therapy, those five years were very worth it to me.

I have already gone on record with my opinion of journaling. One of the ways you can help put things out of your mind is to purge them by writing them down. Repeatedly, if necessary. Write. Rage. Cry. Express your fury and your hurt as if your tormenter were bound and gagged in front of you and had to listen. Use language you might ordinarily not ever use, if it feels right. Purge yourself of the poison their words and deeds have created in you and purge it as often as needed.

I have heard it said that it takes eight weeks to establish a new habit…eight weeks to root out an old one and put a new one in its place. So commit to eight weeks of refusing to dwell on your hurts and purging the poison: work at it, practice it. When you fail and find yourself picking at your psychic wounds, stop yourself, use one of your distracting behaviours, and resume practicing. By the time those eight weeks are up, it will be feeling familiar…keep it up. When you find your mind wandering back to pick at the scabs of your old emotional wounds, practice your distracting techniques again, don’t let yourself do it because if you do, you will be the one inflicting pain on yourself, not your abuser…you will be acting like her flying monkey, abusing yourself. Practice your detachment, learn to let the pain go, take the next step into resilience.

This is not the same as denial. Once you have mastered detachment and resilience, you will be able to return to those old hurts and injuries without being sucked down into the endless cycle of pain and self-doubt. Once you have that detachment, you can examine, explore, even pick apart the old hurts, see where they came from, what your part really was in them, where the responsibility really rests. To try to do this before you achieve detachment and resilience, however, just invites you deeper into the spiral of despair.

Just what does “resilience” mean?  has this to say: “Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe…[It] doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.

“Resilience is also not something that you’re either born with or not. Resilience develops as people grow up and gain better thinking and self-management skills and more knowledge. Resilience also comes from supportive relationships with parents, peers and others, as well as cultural beliefs and traditions that help people cope with the inevitable bumps in life. Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.” Gee, that sounds a lot like the “How to become emotionally detached” covered above, doesn’t it? That’s because when you master that detachment, when you have habituated the behaviour of not worrying those wounds, not automatically assuming you did something to deserve the emotional abuse, not falling into the N’s traps, resilience is what you get.

Key in the PBS definition, to me, is “…working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events…” and “Resilience is found in a variety of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span.” This means your behaviours, thoughts and actions…this means what you choose to do with those unpleasant events and painful emotions : you can continue picking yourself apart over them or you can choose to distract yourself from them and refuse to play the N’s game. And this means, as I said a few entries back, that you have choices here, choices that can lead to resilience and choices that can lead to being stuck.

The PBS article cites supportive relationships with parents, peers and others as being instrumental, but in this I must disagree. Like many of us from narcissistic families, I had no support from my parents or even my peers: when I was honest about my mother’s predatory behaviours, even people who believed me were offended that I was disloyal enough to my own mother to reveal the truth about her, even as they agreed that what she had done/was doing was reprehensible. Even when they were clear that I was being victimized, I was still expected to put her first because she was my mother. So, support from family and peers was pretty much non-existent. But I did find immeasurable support in a couple of therapists who were not bound by the cultural taboo of “honour thy mother, even if she is a soul-crushing psychopath.” And that is where my own journey into resilience really began.

Up to that point, I had merely survived. And I didn’t do it well. I bounced from place to place, job to job, man to man, lifestyle to lifestyle. I reacted to life, to what life handed me and, being buffeted by the winds of chance, seldom even made an effort to put my hand on the tiller of my own life. Every time I did, every time I tried, some situation came along and ripped control of my life out of my hands and so I just gave in to it and drifted along with the vagaries of the current. Sometimes I managed to get a step ahead, but I sabotaged myself with behaviour that was not in my best interest, like getting involved with narcissistic, selfish, predatory men. On some level I knew that I was recreating my maternal relationship with these men, attempting to “get it right” this time, but that never happened. If anything, it just made things worse. Between the ages of 17 and 37 I made two suicide attempts and planned a third…the last time with a gun so nobody could rescue me at the last minute as had happened before. I couldn’t bounce back, only sink…and I became so depressed that I probably should have been hospitalized because I was virtually non-functional.

Chief in my despair was feeling helpless. Victimhood was so deeply ingrained in me that other people could see it. I tried to hide it with bombast: a formidable vocabulary paired with an equally formidable temper scared people off, made them wary of crossing me, exploiting me, victimizing me. It worked to some degree, but the really skilled narcissists could get around it by sussing out what I really needed and pretending to give it to me until my guard was down. One of the worst Ns of my life, the one who drove me to buying that gun, was just such a man.

Over the course of the 13 years we were together I came to feel absolutely helpless to change the course of my life, and the life I was living was so unutterably painful I could not see myself going on. I sent my son to spend a few weeks with his sister out-of-state—I could not bear to think of him finding my body or having only my nasty, malignant narcissist of a husband for comfort after my death (this was before I recognized the depths of my daughter’s pathology)—and I set about to kill myself.

I had the gun in a drawer under the bed. I took it out, checked to make sure it was loaded, and took the safety off. The thing about having a gun under the bed, though, was that to retrieve it I had to look down at the floor. And that is what saved me. Because on the floor was a newspaper with an article headline about a new kind of therapy for adults who were abused as children…and I put the gun back in the drawer, slid it closed, and picked up the paper. I must have read that article 25 times or more in the next days…it was Labor Day weekend so the clinic was closed. But I was the first caller when it opened and their very perceptive receptionist recognized I was in crisis and got me in to see a therapist within the hour. It quite literally saved my life.

So what is the resilience part? The part where I learned practical, real-world coping skills. The part where I learned that I had choices that I was not even seeing, the part where I learned to start sorting what really was my responsibility and what was not…and how badly I had that confused and turned around.

Resilience is really about choices…how we choose to view things, what we choose to believe, what we choose to do about it all.

But resilience is almost impossible to achieve without emotional detachment…and emotional detachment is all about belief and choices, too.

Resilience is also about expectations: I expected rescue. From what quarter I didn’t know, but just as I had expected my NexH to rescue me from a rootless, aimless life, on some level I was waiting for someone to rescue me from him. And as the time passed and no rescue came along, I fell into deeper and deeper despair.

As children we are helpless to defend and help ourselves. If we are able to get a reprieve from our dysfunctional parents and upbringing, it has to come from outside: a grandparent or teacher or neighbour or officer of the law. What little we can do…tell the truth, run away, act out…is all too often ignored, discounted, or even punished. We are forced into the passive position of waiting for rescue because we cannot take care of even our most basic needs: no matter how bad it is inside the family, it is almost always worse outside of it. And so passivity and the expectation of rescue is inculcated into us as dependent children and when we grow up it doesn’t change because our dysfunctional parents and families shirked their responsibility to teach us how to think and act like independent adults. Our bodies mature, but inside we remain passive, dependent, unhappy children waiting for rescue. Only now we need to be rescued from ourselves, from the internalized voices of our narcissistic, abusive parents.

What we need is to disrupt this is a healthy dose of reality, something that seldom comes about without some kind of epiphany. My epiphany was in a newspaper headline that opened a door to hope. And the next five years of therapy revealed one epiphany after another, not all of them easily achieved or willingly embraced.

Inertia tends to breed inertia. The longer you believe that somebody else should be fixing your emotional problems (because somebody else created them…why should you have to do all of the dirty work to clean up somebody else’s mess?), the harder it will be for you to accept that, regardless of how it was created, it is yours and only you can fix it. Once you overcome your own inertia and resistance, once you accept that, fair or not, only you can fix the problem, the first step is taken into the world of reality, which is the only place the fix can happen.

As I learned to embrace reality I began to see some of the choices that I had been blind to for so long. Part of embracing reality was to learn to put the brakes on my empathy, to put limits on it. I had to change the idea that I had to fix or rescue everybody else around me and start fixing and rescuing myself. This brought about an unexpected bonus: people who were just using me (but whom I had viewed with empathy and went out of my way to help) suddenly became very aggrieved when I was no longer available for them to exploit. Family, “friends,” and others—the real friends helped me while the not-so-real friends called me “selfish” or simply disappeared in a puff of resentment.

I became empowered with knowledge, truth, reality. With the support my therapists provided, support I had never had before because I had been censured every time I spoke the truth about my mother, I began to embrace the reality of my life—all of my life—and with that, I found even more choices. And somewhere in there, I discovered that the choice to be happy or unhappy was mine to make and the conditions I had put on happiness were so much bullshit. I didn’t need to have so much money or fine things or a perfectly clean house or an enviable job for happiness, I needed only to choose it, regardless of my circumstances.

I learned about growth…that you can be happy while you are growing rather that shunt it aside until—well, until never because the goal post for that kind of happiness is always moving. I learned to stop blaming myself but to take responsibility, a fine distinction but an important one.

One of the things I came to realize is that virtually everything I was believing and basing my hopes and dreams and expectations on was not mine. I was fed these beliefs and hopes and dreams and expectations by my society, my culture, my family…but none of them were my own. Raised in a dysfunctional household where NM came first and my wants and needs weren’t even on the table, I internalized that other people and their needs matter, but I and mine do not. Made responsible for my younger brother’s behaviour and punished when he misbehaved, I saw myself responsible for my husband’s behaviour and frantically debriefed him after work each night, putting the crazy to right so he could spend another day with sane people without doing something that would get him fired. All of the inappropriate expectations and roles dumped on me as a child I had internalized and responded to in my adult life, putting myself last so often and so profoundly that I virtually disappeared into my roles and became a faceless, suicidally depressed nothing. It didn’t help that I had a husband who came right out and stated that a good wife was like an appliance: did her job flawlessly with a minimum need for attention.

I had to relearn from the ground up, to create my own values and beliefs, to check my expectations against reality. I had to learn to be “bad” (under the terms of my upbringing) and learn to put myself on the list of priorities, and to put myself near the top. I had to accept that I was not responsible for other people; I had to learn that if someone didn’t like me or love me, my world was not going to come to an end; I had to learn that not only was I entitled to have my own feelings and likes and dislikes and they were ok, I had to learn that the same applies to other people: it is OK for people to not like me and I don’t have to turn myself inside out or think less of myself as a result. In a nutshell, I had to completely revamp my attitude about “caring,” and, critically, I had to learn how to not care: that was my first step into detachment.

But perhaps the most important thing I learned about was expectations and how we can poison not only others but ourselves with them. I expected my mother, my husband, my daughter to love me. I expected it like I expected the sun to rise in the morning. And when they disappointed that expectation, I beat myself up. But I didn’t beat myself up over having expectations, I beat myself up for somehow being unworthy, reasoning that if I had been worthy, they would have lived up to my expectations. Not healthy at all.

Resilience and emotional detachment came from learning and accepting that other people are separate entities from me and that they have an absolute entitlement to like/dislike/love/not love/agree/disagree independent of me and my feelings or expectations. Their validity of their existences have little or nothing to do with me, just as mine have little or nothing to do with them.

What I really had to do was to learn to not care, to set boundaries on my caring. That is hard, especially when you have been groomed from infancy to not only care, but to care for others more than you care for yourself. I had to learn perspective, where I really fit into the scheme of life, not where I was told to fit. I had to give up my own rescue fantasies, not only of being rescued, but my hero complex where I flew to the rescue of every wounded soul I came across, often crippling them in the process of saving them. With perspective I learned to harden my heart to those whose plights plucked at my heartstrings, to resist the urge to give and give and give until I had nothing left, and then give a little more. I had to learn to say “no,” to stop letting people take advantage of me because I was unwilling to take a chance that they weren’t truly needy. I had to start growing up, taking responsibility for myself and allowing…sometimes making…other people to take care of themselves.

Most importantly, I had to stop making my personal self-esteem rest on the opinions of others. I had to grow up and learn to discern when people were being spiteful and mean-spirited and recognize that they did not speak the truth, that they were intentionally trying to hurt me. This was difficult for me because I am not a person given to engaging in that kind of behaviour, so it was difficult for me to spot: I couldn’t relate to it, so it was hard for me to see it. I’ve never been a very adept liar, so I have a tendency to literalness and bluntness, both of which are rooted in honesty: I had to learn and to accept that other people are not the same way, that their cruel comments weren’t truths, they were barbs intended to wound. And once I knew that, I had to become sufficiently secure in my own positive view of myself that their negative opinions could be dismissed as mean or meaningless. I had to learn to not care about anything but the truth, and to learn to tell the real truth apart from those mean epithets hurled at me by those whom I had once held in high esteem.

That is not always easy and I don’t always succeed, but a defining part of resilience is that you always…always…get back up and get back into the game. You might acknowledge feeling defeated, but you never, ever give in to it. You get back up, you recharge yourself, you pick it back up. Your NM said something mean and it got through your armour and hurt you—choice time: do you wallow in it, pick at the wound, wonder what you did to deserve it, rage silently at her and allow her barb to take over your emotional balance? Or do you acknowledge that the barb got through, she won that round because she hurt you, but she is a narcissist and that is what narcissists do. Try to think of it this way: if a mosquito bit you, would you spend the next two weeks in angst wondering what you did, why the mosquito hated you, and rage inwardly at the beast? Or would you dismiss it as an annoyance, knowing that biting is what mosquitoes do and, in this instance, you were not adequately protected?

As I said before when discussing hoovering, some people use negative ploys to hoover you back into their spheres and those can include spiteful messages designed to cause you self-doubt, insults to hurt you, even indications that you have disappointed their expectations, as if they had a right to those expectations and your compliance in the first place. Reality—truth—honesty—can you ferret them out from the manipulative messages handed to you by people who want to control and use you? I couldn’t—and it ultimately made me suicidal and crazy—until I saw a competent therapist and spent five years on the couch.

In order to have resilience, you must have the emotional detachment that allows you to see past the obvious or superficial and down to the reality, the truth, of those around you. You must learn to believe in yourself so much that the attempts of your Ns and their flying monkeys don’t even dent you. When I came to the point that I could see right through my daughter’s lame attempts to dissuade me from marrying my present husband, when her apocryphal stories of other couples like us (younger husband) whose marriages foundered were so transparent that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud at her, when I could see the wheels in her mind turning, the worry that her inheritance was in jeopardy and she was eager to talk me out of a marriage that is now approaching ten good years, I knew I was going to be ok. When you can see through the people you love the most, see what they are really about and not start wallowing in self-doubt, you know you have finally made it.

But I didn’t do it without help…lots and lots of professional help. And I honestly don’t know if I could have made it without it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some days this is very discouraging...

I don't expect praise. In fact, I was shocked and surprised when I even got comments, never mind nearly 100 subscribers. But what I still seem unprepared for are people who claim to be the children of narcissists who write to me and chew me out as if 1) they have a right to dictate what I write and 2) they know my mind, my experiences, and my motives better than I do.

There is an email program on this blog for a simple reason: some people have something personal to say, something they cannot abide to reveal on a public site where their Ns might see it. The email was to give people privacy to express thoughts or feelings that they were not ready to say publicly. Imagine my surprise when I started getting emails that essentially dictate what I should/should not say on my own blog!

I expect people to take exception to some of the things I say…I also expect these people to have the courage to say it publicly, as I have put myself out there publicly. If you must impugn my ethics, at least have the guts to say it in a public forum where others can weigh in…I give everyone who reads this blog an equal opportunity to respond to my thoughts…how can my detractors justify doing anything less? Just yesterday I received an email saying that my tabs warning people away from a pair of sites I know for a fact are less-than-above board, taint the rest of my work. What? So in telling people that the bridge ahead is out, I am somehow tainting everything else I say? Warning people of danger is wrong? Did I just step through Alice’s looking glass??

It feels like I have fallen back into NarcissismLand, where up is down, black is white, wrong is right, and reality is what the controlling N deems it to be. Objective reality is invalid and only the N’s perceptions have validity. Another email (actually a series of emails) with a purported ACoN left my head spinning. Her entire correspondence was so narcissistic I was slack-jawed: scientific studies, peer-reviewed journals, academic and scientific rigour took a far back seat to her own perceptions: those were reality for her and science and investigation be damned. “It works for me and that is proof enough!” she claimed, completely dismissing such things as the placebo effect...and then topped the whole thing by accusing me of being “close minded” and “sophomoric.” Yet, for some reason, she persists, email after email, trying to change my mind with her personal experience (known in research as “anecdotal evidence” and completely without value), despite my having repeatedly said that when she shows me the studies that support her view, published in peer-reviewed journals, I will revise my opinion. Not good enough…for some unknown reason, my buy-in to her delusion is of the utmost importance to her and she persists. This creepily reminds me of more than one N I have known…

Believe it or not, I actually spend a lot of time researching the subjects I write about. I used to work in the biotech industry and I was also employed by a dietician who wrote articles for magazines and industry publications: I actually know how to conduct bona fide research on the internet and how to track a concept reported without any attribution back to the scientific study that gave rise to the report. In many cases, I have enough knowledge of the specialized language to determine if the report is accurate or if it has misinterpreted the study…or, in some cases, completely disregarded it. I know the difference between “junk science” sites and bona fide sites such as PubMed, NIH, CDC, etc., and I can read scientific journals on the web and do research through them. In other words, the years I spent in Silicon Valley’s biotech industry have not fallen out the back of my brain: the research skills I learned there, the ability to read an article and synthesize it for my boss, my ability to suss out suspected anomalies, research further, and to draw accurate conclusions based on my research is alive and well.

This is not to say I do not make errors. I am human and I am as prone to errors as anyone else. And I welcome corrections, assuming they are honest corrections of error on my part, and not that I have stepped on someone’s personal pet belief. We all have our pet beliefs, but do we have the right to not only impose them on others, but to excoriate them when those others’ beliefs run contrary to our own? And especially on their own turf?

I don’t expect praise, or gratitude or anything, really. I am gratified and surprised and pleased to receive comments and emails from you, I am grateful to have just one regular reader, let alone 99 of you. But after a lifetime of having the very core of my being discounted, demeaned, diminished and devalued, I find it very difficult to come to terms with people who think it is OK to come in here and use hurtful language to tell me I am wrong about things simply because they disagree…especially after I have spent hours—sometimes days and even weeks—doing the research that brought me to my conclusions, and they are operating on nothing more than personal belief. To be called “sophomoric” by a person who has done no research whatsoever on a subject I researched extensively (one of those “weeks long” projects) is just beyond the pale.

I don’t mean to squelch disagreement because I welcome it and the dialog it opens. But what I do mean to squelch is the “You are wrong because I believe something different” approach to dialog. That is like telling me that I am wrong when I say Santa doesn’t exist because you saw him yourself when you were eight years old. Perceptions may be our own subjective reality, but those perceptions, if not objectively researched, do not necessarily carry the weight of truth. When you put it to a scientific test and your perception is not supported by the science, what do you do? Do you alter your perception to include the science or do you cling to your perception and try to browbeat others to step back from the science and into your perception? This last has been my experience of the last two days, being the browbeatee, and after a while it really calls into question just why do I subject myself to this?

One of the things that I believe provides value to this blog is the fact that I do do research, I am cognizant of junk science and can repudiate it, and that I am willing to change my position if the research proves me wrong. I am heavily fixated on truth and am willing to change both my opinions and beliefs if the state of the scientific art shows I am wrong. I have a retentive memory and excellent logical and deductive reasoning skills. I am able to take my own perceptions and use my research skills to either validate them or find the truth. It is an ongoing journey for me, something I expose to the public through the blog rather than keep to myself as I once did. Believe me, blog or no blog, the research and writing continues because this is how I figure things out. By publishing this blog, I am letting you in on my processes. I reveal personal pain and how I cope with it, what I do to assuage and relieve it, what I learn through my research and how I synthesize it so that I can incorporate into my understanding. I share this with you and I share it without reservation and so I am surprised…and sometimes hurt…when someone takes this carefully crafted gift and critically throws it back in my face.

And it makes me wonder if it is worth the effort I put into writing things up in a publication-worthy format (as opposed to several pages of notes and half-sentences), the time I spend crafting sentences that are not so dense and convoluted as my thought processes, the work I put into making things coherent and cohesive and illustrative. I don’t mind disagreement…what is life without some disagreement? But to be told that if I don’t agree with your perception, I am close minded, that is something else. And to be told that the compassionate exercise of my ethics is wrong, that I should just let others fall into the hole that hurt me without warning them…that to exercise those ethics taints the rest of the blog…that is just too much.

And it makes me wonder if maybe it isn’t time to put this project to bed.