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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Self-sabotage: Parts 12 through conclusion

Continued from yesterday:

“12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.

“Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.”

Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.

We all know they guy who was the star of the high school football hero or girl who was the Prom Queen,people whose lives peaked during high school and have gone nowhere since. Rather than address their lack of forward progress in life, they dwell on their glory days and make excuses and blame others for not having achieved anything they consider noteworthy since then. In extreme cases, thirty years down the road she still dresses and wears her hair and make up like she did when she was 16; he is still laddishly enslaved by sports on TV, beer in hand, and behaving like he was still 17 and about to throw that winning touchdown. It isn’t so much that they’ve never grown up as it is that they’ve never moved past those moments of glory and have never moved on.

Their opposite number is the person who had a childhood devoid of “crowning achievements” or whose achievements went unacknowledged. Such a person may have suffered abuse in her childhood…and then again may not have suffered abuse but simply didn’t get what she wanted: when we grow up feeling entitled and don’t get what we want, we may feel ill-used (this explains GCs who think their lives were as bad or worse than the SGs in the family). When we grow up abused, we also feel ill used. When we are miserable in our present life and a good part of that misery is focussed around our history, whether is it to glorify that history or to vilify it, we sacrifice the present. We fail to live in today as we re-live yesterday. And that is not healthy, whether we were abused or not.

For ACoNs, this can be tricky to negotiate because in order to heal, we must address and resolve our unhappy pasts. But we must also be careful not to let the study and redress of yesterday’s wrongs keep us from moving ahead today. We must not obsess or allow our past to overwhelm and control our present or yesterday’s misery overwhelms today. Resolve the past, yes, but don’t continue to live in it. 

“13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.”

Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor. 

I have to wince at this one because I can’t tell you how many times I have done this…and how hard it was to stop picking partners I perceived as “needing” to be reformed. “He just needs love,” I would tell myself. Or “His ex just didn’t understand him.” Or “He wouldn’t do it if he just understood how 1) much it hurts me or 2) much I love him or 3) it affects the people around him…” 

First, this is self-delusional: this requires that you delude yourself into believing you have the power to change another person when, in fact, you only have the power to change yourself. It requires you go into denial when faced with the truth of another person’s inability or unwillingness to change. It requires you to buy into whatever pop-psychology or New Age or old-fashioned rubbish that promises to give you what you want rather than face the truth that this other person does not want to be who or what you want him to be.

Second, it is distracting: this was my hook…if I could focus enough on rescuing some other person from him/herself, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to focus on fixing my own problems. The more screwed up the man, the greater a challenge he offered me, the more distraction…and the more volatile, offering me ample opportunity to have justifications for my explosions of rage. It did nothing to help either of us, ever.

And third, it is very disrespectful! I really didn’t realize this until, after therapy, I hooked up with a guy who was constantly “doing things” for me…like answering questions that were addressed to me...and generally usurping my autonomy. After dumping him, I hooked up with a guy who, it turned out later, tended to say things like “People would like you more if you would…” or “You’d be more popular if you…” My reaction to this was to be affronted. Who the hell was he to pick me apart and then try to remake me into the image of what he wanted me to be??

It was then that I learned to look for men who didn’t need fixing. Oh, maybe in somebody else’s eye they might need fixing, but what they took as faults (like my extremely shy-with-strangers geek husband) I found endearing. And guess what? In the 20+ years since I ended therapy and learned this lesson, I have had two good, solid marriages to two really great men (the first one died after 9 years). I am no longer emotionally attracted to the walking wounded because I did take the time to focus on myself and I learned, through experiencing it myself, just how intrusive and disrespectful it is to presume I had the right to tell someone else he needed to change into my version of what he should be.

People are not lumps of clay to be moulded into our vision of what our mate “should” be: they are human beings with the same right of self-determination that we have. So, rather than delude and distract yourself with a partner remodelling project, the smart money is on spending that time finding someone who doesn’t need the remodel…someone who is perfect for you just as s/he is. And the smartest money is on fixing yourself before you even bother hunting up that perfect partner... 

“14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

“It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.”

Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like. 

This, too, is a two-edged sword for ACoNs. On the one hand, we have to be critical because we have to set boundaries…we have to redefine right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy because the definitions we grew up with were skewed towards the benefit of the Ns in our lives and away from their objective definitions. Some of us grew up in households so repressed we even have to learn that it is ok to disagree with an authority figure, and then how to do it. So, for many of us, learning to be critical is an essential part of our recovery.

But, like glorifying/vilifying the past or rumination, we can get stuck in criticism and let it become a way of life rather than a useful tool. Hardest for me to learn was balance…when it was appropriate to criticize, even in my own head, and when it was not. And learning to not hear negative criticism when it was not intended. And how to deal with kindly meant but poorly delivered criticism.

There is a difference between criticising when necessary and appropriate and being critical. Nobody likes a critical person…but people tend not to trust “yes men,” either. There is a balance that has to be struck. What kind of friend are you if you don’t speak up when your BFF hooks up with her fourth alcoholic boyfriend in a row? What kind of parent are you when you find out your child is behaving like a bully and you look the other way? What kind of spouse are you when your other half is behaving irresponsibly with money and you say/do nothing? Criticism and recognizing wrong are necessary parts of life, as is sometimes having confrontations…but being critical is not a necessary part of life any more than turning blind eye to wrong is.

My grandmother once told me that every person has something about them that you can compliment if you just look hard enough. I found she was correct and in making myself look for that something in everyone…my co-workers, my colleagues, my neighbours, my friends…I found I was generating more positive responses from people. Something as simple as “cool tie!” or “you have such a great laugh…” just perks people up. Even if you have to say something critical to them later, they are in a better frame of mind to receive your message if they don’t perceive you as a critical personality.

It also benefits you: when you are critical, you feel critical…and negative. Nobody like a wet blanket, a balloon buster, a moaner and complainer. Perhaps you need to read more, get out more, come up with some new topics…and perhaps you just need to adopt a new habit, like not allowing yourself to be critical without first acknowledging something positive and uplifting.

Remember, criticism has a valid place in your life…but it doesn’t have to be your personality type! 

Madanes closes with: “I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible…” 

This is the game of “Ain’t It Awful” in which the person “…overtly expresses distress, but it is covertly gratified at the prospect of the satisfaction they can wring from their misfortune.” By avoiding or repudiating the therapist’s suggestions, the person gets to cling to those misfortunes and their misery and even feel righteous about it. It perpetuates the misery in a way that the “victim” feels that she doesn’t have to take responsibility for it.

I can’t address what you are doing or have done in your life but I can address what has transpired in mine and I can tell you, this article is dead on. I didn’t want to take responsibility for the unhappiness in my life because I didn’t feel that I had created it. Why should I have to all that hard, painful work when all would be well if my bitch of a mother would ’fess up to the abuse, apologize, and start behaving like a real mother? What I was refusing to acknowledge was that even if my mother did do that, it wouldn’t fix a thing. It not only wouldn’t take away the years of hurt and humiliation, pain and anger, it probably would have made me angrier still…for making me suffer for so long before the acknowledgement came. And even after that, it wouldn’t be gone…the work still would have to be done and it would have to be done by me because nobody can change me but me.

So if you are miserable…even if you just have miserable parts to your life…the first place to look for relief is inward. What are you doing, what kinds of choices are you making, that aren’t bringing you the joy and happiness you deserve? Only you can change your life.

Self-sabotage: Parts 9 through 11

Continued from yesterday...
“9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.”

“Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.”

Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.

I think this is a bit of a touchy one for ACoNs. While we have lived through some terrible treatment at the hands of one or both of our parents and we have undeniably been affected by those experiences, blaming doesn’t fix anything.

One of the things that always irked me about my NM…and I have read much the same from other ACoNs…is how nothing was ever her fault. No matter what it was, from ruining a piece of my clothing that she borrowed while I was asleep (it wasn’t her fault because she was drunk) to breaking up a marriage (he wouldn’t have cheated if his marriage was a good one) to leaving bruises all over me (“Look what you made me do!”) to getting stuck in a marriage she didn’t want (“It was your grandma’s fault for getting him an early discharge from the Navy so I couldn’t go do what I wanted!”), nothing was ever, ever her fault. Probably everybody reading this has had a similar experience.

I once had a roommate, a morbidly obese woman who was sexually abused as a child and whose mother didn’t put a stop to it. This woman sat on the sofa in my family room and ate a whole six-pack of giant-sized Snickers bars in one sitting and when she had finished, she turned to me and said, with complete sincerity, “That was my mother’s fault.” I was boggled…her mother lived more than 600 miles away and they did not communicate, but she truly believed that her binge on those Snickers bars was not her fault…or choice.

The trouble with this kind of thinking is that as long as you blame others, you give away your power to change things. She was not responsible for what happened to her in childhood and she was right to blame both her stepfather and her mother for their roles in abusing her; she was, however, responsible for choices she made as an adult, including that choice to eat those six Snickers bars.

What I found very difficult to learn to do was to differentiate between what things truly remain the fault of my long-dead NM and what things were my choices. I had to learn to acknowledge that I made some of my choices subconsciously because I was unwilling to spend the time, energy and angst examining them. I had to learn to differentiate between things forced upon me in childhood and adolescence and choices I was making to continue those things as an adult. But the most difficult of all was simply giving up blaming other people for my decisions or choices. It was a big, big flea that I had learned from my NM, one that was deeply entrenched, and which went way back into my childhood.

This is a particularly difficult one to get a handle on because our society is so fixated on blaming something outside ourselves rather than taking responsibility. Mass shootings are the fault of guns rather than the people who wield them or a society that glorifies power; obesity is the fault of fast food rather than the choices we make as to what to put in our mouths, your kid got bad grades because the teacher gave him poor marks, not because he earned them. When I was about 7, my father came into the kitchen to investigate the sound of breaking glass and found me standing next to the sink with a shattered tumbler at my feet. “What happened?” he asked and I replied “It fell.” Right there, I got a lesson in taking personal responsibility: “It can’t move by itself,” my father told me. “How did it fall?” I remember I tried to figure out how to answer him without taking the blame but I couldn’t. “My elbow bumped it,” I finally said. “You mean you bumped it with your elbow?” he asked.

My father’s words “It can’t move by itself,” stuck with me. Oh, I buried them for a long time, but they were never far below the surface…close enough to provoke guilt when I made someone or something else responsible for my behaviour or choices. Close enough to come to the surface when I started getting my life straightened out. I might have been influenced by what I learned as my mother’s victim, but am an intelligent person with the ability take responsibility for my choices and acknowledge my own part in the poor choices that led me to so much misery. My NM’s treatment of me explains many of the poor choices I made, but that does not excuse me or absolve me of responsibility.

There comes a time when we must separate from the parent, no matter how good or how bad they were, and take responsibility for our own choices because only when we do that, do we have the power to make changes and improve our choices…and our lives.

“10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.”

Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.

Sometimes we “normalize” our negative feelings and perceptions and then make ourselves feel better by perceiving things outside our norm disapprovingly. Think of it like reverse snobbism. We train ourselves to feel guilty for enjoying certain things and condemn those who do enjoy them as being shallow or small-minded or one-dimensional or insensitive or even bad. We make a virtue of our deprivation and may even begin to think of ourselves as superior to those who do not also deprive themselves. We may come to define ourselves through our self-deprivation, seeing ourselves as virtuous because we have learned to do without and viewing others as wastrels, self-indulgent, or even destroyers of the planet, depending on how far we take this.

Narcissists may do exactly the same thing, but their motives are very different and even the process leading up to the position of self-congratulating martyr is different. Narcissists may seek ways to set themselves apart and through that, feel superior to “the herd.” But even in setting themselves apart, they find like-minded people, so by taking matters to extremes, like being the thinnest, or being able to boast the most marathons (or miles), or adhering to the most extreme diet or whatever floats a particular narcissist’s boat, is the means to the end, the end being “better” than other like-minded people. ACoNs, on the other hand, do not necessarily seek to feel superior and, in fact, may feel guilty when they catch themselves feeling superior (and then go into denial by rationalizing the behaviour that led up to it). When we deny ourselves life’s pleasures, we do it with a completely different motivation from the Ns: we often feel we don’t deserve enjoyment, happiness, or pleasure and some of us later make a virtue out of the deprivation. Ns, on the other hand, use it as a tool designed to make them feel superior.

An example of this from real life was when I made friends with a woman I will call Helen. I was in my mid-20s at the time and struggling through secretarial school on a miniscule budget. Helen was in the same boat. But I noticed that Helen didn’t buy her (or her son’s) clothes at Kmart and cheap shops like I did: Helen bought only occasionally and almost always on sale, but she bought at Macy’s…even for her 5 year old son. It was not until she handed down her boy’s outgrown clothes to my boy that I could appreciate the difference in quality.

But even after we had graduated and gone to work and actually had money to spend, I kept buying at Kmart. I would walk into a Macy’s and feel like I didn’t belong there, like I didn’t deserve to buy decent clothes that would last more than one season. It was not until I was able to rationalize buying work clothes at Macy’s by observing how the executive secretaries dressed that I began to alter my habits. But it took years for me to start having regular appointments at the hair dresser, buy good quality shoes and clothes, and good quality skin care and cosmetics because I believed it was a waste of money to spend it on ME…and I had made a virtue out of my misplaced frugality.

“11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.

“You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.

This one is like walking a tightrope for ACoNs. On the one hand it is important for us to delve into our pasts, experience the emotions we have repressed, and find out the real truth of our early years, the temptation to wallow in the misery and not only feel sorry for ourselves but elicit sympathy from others can be very, very alluring. Not only do we find a way to take ourselves out of the role of being dumped on every waking minute, we discover that there is a whole lot of people out there who will feed our “poor little me” inclinations. And while it may feel good, at least in the beginning, a protracted amount of uncritical sympathy can be unhealthy for us if we get stuck into it and don’t move beyond into the “fix it” phase. Worse, we can adopt that unthinking, uncritical sympathy and start feeling really sorry for ourselves, a guaranteed way to get…and stay…stuck.

Those of us who grew up thinking we shouldn’t dwell on ourselves because it indicates we are selfish (undoubtedly taught to us by a narcissistic adult who wanted us to dwell on him or her instead), may not turn the wallowing inwards but outwards. We become disheartened and negative about the state of the world, politics, ecology, the next generation…whatever rings your particular chime…to the point of allowing our negative focus colour our entire outlook. Add in the “helplessly hopeless” factor… you haven’t the power to change global warming by yourself and because nobody will listen to you, the situation is hopeless…and you guarantee yourself a catastrophe to ruminate on and feel grim about, thereby colouring your entire perception of life. “How can you expect me to be happy when somewhere a dolphin is dying in a fisherman’s net?” “My life is consumed by the demands of taking care of other people…what do I have to be happy about?” “My parents beat me and screamed at me and abandoned me…and you expect me to be happy?” As long as your inner life consists primarily of negatives, so long as you refuse to embrace perspective (which means acknowledging more than the negatives in your perception of your life), you create and perpetuate that misery you so love to complain about.

Tomorrow: Part 12 through Conclusion

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Self-sabotage: Parts 4 through 8

Continued from yesterday:

“4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner [or friend or family member]. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.

“Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.”

Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.

There are other ways as well: social media is a great place to humiliate your adversary in a public forum and has the particularly favourable aspect that if she doesn’t respond, it looks like she is behaving passive-aggressively, refusing to speak to you. If she does respond, then you both have a forum, with lots of witnesses and sympathizers, for feedback and sympathy later. Add that it is etched forever on the internet, you both can go back to it, ad infinitum, to stoke up your indignance, anger, or hurt feelings and experience it all over again.

As ACoNs we tend towards hypersensitivity. It is a protective mechanism we developed while under the thumb of a despot, something we cultivated to help us keep safe. But we aren’t trapped little kids anymore: we are adults and we have the ability to walk away, so that hypersensitivity no longer serves us. It is like, because we once had a broken leg, we now believe we cannot walk or run or dance. And, because instead of stretching and exercising and using the leg, we have cosseted it, we have crippled ourselves far more than the original broken leg did. When we set ourselves up and then blame something other than our choices for the outcome, the only difference between us and our NMs is that they are hurting others by indulging their chosen lifestyle while we are hurting ourselves by not ridding ourselves of a huge flea.

“5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.”

Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.**

Because we don’t have that inherent grounding is what is “normal,” it can be really tough for us to discern the difference between someone who is actively seeking to hurt us and those who are not. Add in complicating factors like personality disorders, neuroses, and just plain bad manners, and it can be tough to figure out, for certain, what is motivating another person’s behaviour or attitude.

It is intellectually lazy and disingenuous to leap to worst possible conclusion about a person without adequate supporting evidence…and if you have that supporting evidence, why are you still hanging around a person who gets something from hurting/humiliating/insulting/or otherwise abusing you? Thinking everybody who doesn’t agree with you or support you is automatically an enemy is just as bad. It is a false dichotomy of the type at which our NMs excel…and it should be no surprise that we can do the same because, after all, who raised us? Who did we have to model our thinking and attitudes on? We may have rid ourselves of our NM’s signature behaviours, but have we rooted out those pernicious attitudes that make us feel picked on whenever we don’t get or hear what we want? It took me a long time and a lot on conscious effort to change how I thought and how I interpreted what others said…

One of the things that you can do to control this is to not make assumptions and ask questions. The technique of “Active Listening” is very helpful here: instead of assuming, ask…and ask by repeating what you thought you heard. “Did you just ask me to move out?” “I interpret what you said to mean that you want me to choose between my dog and you…is that what you meant?” “I hear you telling me that what your mother thinks is more important than my feelings…is that was you are trying to say?” Find out for sure, before you react, so that you are reacting to reality, not a miscommunication.

“6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.”

Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.

Most of us surely recognize our NMs in this…shallow and transparent to those of us who know them well, we can see their selfish motives in the blink of an eye. What we may have a harder time seeing, however, is our own hidden agendas in the good deeds we do.

Have you ever hooked up with a “walking wounded” sort of person, determined to help him, love him, nurture him (or her) back to wholeness? Why? Because you are such a good person? Or, just maybe, by focussing on someone else’s problems, you are distracted from your own? Maybe, in pairing up with someone more obviously troubled than you are, you can feel healthy and wise by comparison? Perhaps, in the conflicts inevitable in such a relationship, you subconsciously expect sympathy and support from others for the torment s/he puts you through?

We are not always the innocent lambs we want to believe ourselves to be. When we jump out of the frying pan into the fire, even though we are legitimately being abused by our new tormentor, WE are the ones who chose to leap before looking without our rose-coloured glasses firmly in place. Abusers abuse…that is what they do. So why are we in yet another situation in which we are being ill-used? What red-flags did we ignore? And what is our lemming-like rush to secure ourselves a lifetime of oppression really all about?

“7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?

“Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.”

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.

We can easily see our NMs in this one, can’t we? My late husband’s mother and brother fit this point perfectly. At Christmas one year, BIL opened a gift from the NM and instead of graciously thanking her for the sweater she spent time and money on, he castigated her in front of the assembled guests for her execrable taste. This was a man with pots of money, a lucrative business, all the costly toys a person could want…and his sense of entitlement (which he habitually perceived as being unfulfilled) was such that he could not just say “thank you” and then quietly exchange it for something else.

His mother was no better. She informed us that we were not to give her gifts for her home anymore…she wanted personal things. Considering that the GC was a millionaire and we were blue collar, we knew costume jewellery and things off the sale rack at Macy’s weren’t going to make her happy but we couldn’t afford to compete with GC bro’s diamond earrings, cashmere sweaters, and round trip plane tickets to Paris. Not only was she ungrateful for anything we had given her to date, she was now setting up a scenario in which we either failed to “earn” her gratitude or went bankrupt trying. This, of course, kept her perpetually unhappy with my husband…and raised the GC’s stock in her eyes because he could afford to give her costly personal gifts…and he did.

So what do we do that keeps us ungrateful and miserable? Anytime we put those things with which we are unhappy and dissatisfied ahead of things that could make us happy and satisfied, we are guilty of choosing to be ungrateful. And the repercussions can be startling in their scope.

In California in 1972 a little boy named Steven Stayner disappeared. He remained missing…and no body was found…for years. Steven was not an only child, but his parents came to focus on his disappearance such that his older brother, Cary, “…felt neglected while his parents grieved over the loss of Steven.”  Nobody can say for certain what caused Cary to step over the line into committing murder, but the fact is, from the time he was 11 years old, Cary Stayner felt largely invisible to his parents because at first they were focussed on Steven’s disappearance, then his near miraculous return in 1980, followed by the tragedy of his sudden death in a road accident in 1989. Throughout this, Cary felt alienated and neglected by the attention his parents focussed on his brother.

When we focus on what makes us distraught and unhappy, we neglect things outside that focus. In the case of Cary and Steven’s parents, they lost focus on their other son; in Cary’s case, he focussed on his neglect and isolation to the exclusion of other things, things that could have been positive in his life. Did the Stayners lack gratitude for having a healthy son still safely at home? Did Cary lack gratitude for the return of his brother? We will probably never know for sure, but Cary himself has expressed feeling neglected by his parents after Steven’s disappearance…is there any reason to disbelieve him? And while it certainly does not excuse him going on to become the Yosemite Killer, it certainly did give him the attention he felt deprived of in childhood.

Speaking for myself, I found gratitude very difficult while I was wrapped up in my own misery. I often found mundane ordinary things like grocery shopping and washing laundry, to be intrusive on my misery. My misery defined me and it was not until I found myself sitting on the bed with a gun in my hand, ready to put it to my temple, that I got a little glimpse into just how deeply I was sunk into my misery. It defined me to the degree that I not only was not grateful for offers of help (even though I thought I was) I was actually resentful that people thought they could know how I felt. Ironically, the closer they got to really grasping my pain, the more I resented them, as if they were trying to take it away from me. My misery was all I had to claim as my very own, at that time, and as much as I superficially appreciated all of the suggestions and insights and offers of assistance, in truth I resented their intrusion, their presumptuousness, their desire to take from me that which I was clinging to like a lifeline…the pain that was my only remaining link to emotional connection.

Sometimes we aren’t as grateful as we might at first think we are…

“8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.”

Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.

Nobody likes a wet blanket. There is a difference between rational scepticism and pessimism, just as there is a difference between rational optimism and fool-hardiness. Too few of us, I think, recognize and embrace those differences. Why?

Well, I suspect rational optimism, because it is rational and requires us to do a little research and critical thinking, is work. It also might put a leash on our impulsiveness, something that could lead us to not taking an unwise risk when we really, really want the reward. The same can be said for rational scepticism: if we invest the time and effort to do some research and critical thinking, we may have to acknowledge that our pessimism was misplaced and thereafter feel forced to take a risk that might actually change things…and why would we want to do that and change our comfortably familiar little habitat of misery?

Besides, if we can infect others with our pessimism, we don’t have to be entirely alone in our misery, we can create a little community of fellow sufferers who will pull us back into the soup if we happen to get infected with a little optimism. Misery, after all, does love company. And the foolhardy among us can leap with both feet into the fire, blaming the fire for the burns rather than his ill-considered choice to make the leap, rather like blaming the spoon or the ice cream for our weight gain rather than our choice to eat a two-litre tub at one sitting…

My grandmother, an eminently pragmatic old woman, used to tell me “Plan for the worst, expect the best, and whatever happens, you’ll be ready.” I suspect the old lady was on to something…
Tomorrow: Parts 9 through 11

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Self-sabotage: are you doing it?

I just read an incredibly enlightening article on the web by Cloe Madanes, The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People, an article that spelled out a lot of behaviours we may recognize in both the Ns in our lives and in ourselves as well, especially when we are stuck at a miserable place in our recoveries.

People who grew up in dysfunctional families don’t have an internal touchstone that tells them what is normal and what is not. If “normal” is defined as what is familiar and comfortable to a person, then our “normal” can include all manner of abnormal adaptive behaviours and attitudes. Additionally, not knowing exactly what “normal” feels like can leave us at a loss: we may not even recognize it when we see or feel it!

What I especially like about this article is its dual nature: on the one hand it goes a long way to explaining how our Ns work; on the other hand, it points up things we do when we are stuck. This list is a blueprint of how our Ns think and operate, but it also offers insights to people like us who want out of our misery but don’t recognize what we are doing to perpetuate it.

I am sure someone is going to wonder “Do our Ns do these things consciously? On purpose?” and the truth is, it depends. Some of them undoubtedly do consciously manipulate others using the tactics revealed in this article; others may not be consciously aware of their behaviours. But the truth is, is doesn’t really matter if they do it consciously and intentionally or not: the hurt they cause is not mitigated by their intent and their failure to respond to the hurt they inflict is what truly matters: regardless of intent, they hurt people without remorse. The difference between them and us is that they don’t want to change…it is how they live, it is how they get their N supply, it is their world: we, on the other hand, want out.

So don’t be surprised if you see your NM in some of the 14 points the author makes…and don’t be surprised if you see yourself there, too! Just remember that you are the one wanting to see these things in your life and change your life by changing them…your NM just wants to exploit them for the Nsupply she can wring from them: a world of difference, for all that it may superficially look the same.

The author prefaces her article thus: [my comments are in violet]
“Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

“So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity. Oh, I see the narcissist in that, don’t you? The NM who sets you up to victimize her and then extracts compassion, pity—and let’s not forget the guilt—from you.

“Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

“• When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.

“• When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.” This was one of my nasty little habits…pessimism and an expectation of being shat upon…

“• Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.” I know people like this…they aren’t exactly Ns, but they are definitely kissing cousins to them.

“Honing Your Misery Skills
Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

“1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

“Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

“Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.”

If you are in a terrible relationship with an N, this can be your crutch for staying: fear of economic loss. I am ever amazed at how many of us will sacrifice our psychological selves in ways we would never consider sacrificing ourselves physically. If the N in your life tied you up and tortured you with lit cigarettes, electric devices like bare live wires, cattle prods and stun guns, bit you and slapped you and punched you until you bled, how many times would you put up with it before you packed up and ran? I had a live in boyfriend punch me in the face at a party once. I sat quietly until he left the room and then I walked out. I went home, got as much as I could carry in one load and left. I left behind a lot of stuff because I didn’t know if he would show up at our place momentarily, or if I had all night to pack up. I just grabbed what I could and fled. I left town…my job, my friends, most of my belongings. He was jealous and possessive, he carried a knife and often a gun. I knew that first punch wouldn’t be the last and that I could end up dead…I got out.

But…I had endured months of verbal and emotional abuse from him, belittling, accusations of infidelity, minimizing my feelings, always fighting until I no longer even tried to stand up for myself. I allowed him to emotionally abuse me for months…I did not treat my own feelings with the same respect I treated my body when I left. And if he had not hit me, I probably would have allowed the abuse to continue indefinitely. I was afraid of having to strike out on my own, afraid of poverty (although I was already poor…the next step for me would have been a homeless shelter and, when I left this guy, I lived by staying with friends, sleeping on their sofas and cleaning up and cooking in exchange). I allowed my fears of economic loss to chain me to a man who abused me with every breath out of his body and I was not until fear for my life overrode those economic fears that I finally got out.

You can’t leave that abusive man, go No Contact with an NM, or stop the abuse if you imprison yourself with economic fear. Sadly, we too often fail to realize that most of us can survive with far less than we have and it is not until the abuse threatens our physical lives that many of us will pick up and flee. Until then, we remain captive in our gilded cages, fearing the unknown of independence and possible failure far more than we fear the abuse that insidiously wears us down, like water dripping endlessly on a rock.

2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

“A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.”

Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.

Ah, yes, the cultivation of ennui. And all of the drama that can be created in an effort to relieve it. A lot of the examples, like provoking crises and picking pointless fights with family members…even having affairs…run right down my NM’s road. But what about “retail therapy,” running away to places unknown, and other impulsive acts…well, I dunno about you, but I have to raise my hand as a guilty party on those. Oh, not today, not now…but most certainly in my past. Between 1965 and 1974 I lived in three states and in those states, a total of seven towns and 18 houses or apartments. Lots of moving around. (But in subsequent years I lived in the same neighbourhood for 26 years, 13 years in each of two houses.)

Narcissists are good at making themselves look pathetic to people they know will try to save them. If ennui is the weapon of choice, they expect family and friends to turn themselves inside out to help relieve the boredom. Not only does the N get attention this way, but by engaging in a game of “Yes, but…,” the N can keep the game going on indefinitely.

We, on the other hand, become depressed and behave in a similar manner. We come up with excuse after excuse…most of them sounding plausible…why we can’t go to the ball. We have nothing to wear, our hair is a mess, we have zits, it is too short notice or too much trouble, the music is too loud, we’re too fat, we’re too thin, we don’t like crowds, somebody might recognize us, we won’t know anybody there… And with each excuse we not only shoot down the good intentions of our rescuers, we drive them away. Until we are alone. And lonely. And even more bored and miserable. We do it to ourselves.

“3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

“Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.

“Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.”

I used to work in a hospital setting and one thing I noticed about some of the doctors and nurses was that they did not refer to the patients by their names but by their conditions. “These meds are for the gall bladder in 102,” or “The broken leg in 214 is complaining the pain meds aren’t working…” While there might be a pragmatic explanation (it is shorter than saying “Mr. Farmer in 214, the man with the broken leg who is in traction, is complaining that his pain meds aren't working.”) for the practice, it is very dehumanizing. When we begin to define ourselves by our psychological or physical state, we begin to dehumanize ourselves and begin to see ourselves within the confines of the definition of our condition. This, of course, limits our ability to see and act outside those confines. If I have PTSD or depression or anxiety disorder or anything else, I still have the choice of how to define myself: I can live my life as a PTSD sufferer or as a person who, incidentally, has PTSD. There is a subtle but significant difference not only between the two states of mind, but how we perceive ourselves and our abilities, and the limitations (conscious or unconscious) we put on ourselves.

The key here is choice. We each get to choose if we live life defined by our conditions or if our conditions are incidental to the rest of us. To be something is very different from having something.

Tomorrow: Parts 4 through 8 of 14 parts

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An invitation to have your say...

Today I got a comment from a person calling herself “Annie Byam” on the No boundaries: 10 Commandments of DysfunctionalFamilies Pt 7(1) blog entry.

I found the comment offensive and after reading it a couple of times, began to wonder if it might be the work of an internet troll or perhaps even a trolling narcissist, looking for a place to offload some choler in an effort to stir up a little Nsupply. I thought I would publish her comment here (as well as my irascible reply) and invite your opinions in the comment section.

Annie Byam:
Unfortunately, the writer of this original article ( above - at the top ) has used this medium to show his own anguish, deteriorations, indecisivieness, and powerlessness - as he sees it - to all who will read it. It is sad of course, but should not be taken too seriously - after all it is from a person who at the bottom of this blog here, makes the disclaimer ( to protect himself no doubt ) that he is NOT a "mental health professional" ... but none-the-less has traded on his reputation and standing in the community as a pastor of religion, to promote some ideas that are downright dangerous to those in true need, and who are extremely vulnerable to suggestion. Shame on him for doing so. I can think of at least 3 people in my life ( 3 too many ) who, if they read this diatribe, may be so devastated by it's revelations as to sink into further despair. Narcissists come in many forms - some mildly, some badly, and some completely off the rails where their 'me first' attitudes reach out to all. It is difficult to deal with, but most people can do so. It is a form of selfishness, and self-centredness ... and if chronic, a professional counsellor or psychologist can help those on the receiving end of the abuse a narcissist dishes out. It is NOT for a minister / writer to regale readers with his own sad stories. That helps no-one, except himself, in offloading his personal worries to readers. It does cross my mind that perhaps he is truly narcissistic himself. i.e.. Wanting attention. !!

I publish your comment not because I agree with you or even think you make a valid point, but to demonstrate to other readers just how off-the-mark and sunk in denial a person can become. None of your criticisms against the original author are valid: the fact that he is a pastor (who, BTW, do lots of counselling in their work) does not invalidate his views; the fact that he has suffered at the hands of narcissists, nor does his willingness to reveal his personal experiences, mean he is an attention seeking narcissist. Sometimes our personal experiences and discoveries put us onto the path of finding useful information and sometimes, instead of being attention-seeking narcissists, we discover that sharing our experiences and insights and discoveries can actually help other people.

If I tended towards paranoia, I might think your comment was a thinly veiled attack on me, my blog, and my writing since I, too, publish a disclaimer that I am not a mental health professional, either. I am a retired executive secretary who knows therapy from the inside and narcissism from both personal experience as a victim and from extensive research. Do you want to hang the "attention seeking narcissist" label on me as well? Does everything I have written on this blog have no validity because I'm not a psychologist or other mental health professional? Seems rather odd that you would come on the blog written by a layperson who uses her personal experiences as a jumping off point for much of her writing to complain about someone who does the very same thing...

Your comment " It is difficult to deal with, but most people can do so. It is a form of selfishness, and self-centredness ... " tells me several things about you: 1) you are not the scapegoat child of a narcissistic parent and if you even know one, you have very little empathy for that person's experiences and pain; 2) you have no idea what the personality disorder, NPD, is all about because it is a great deal more than "a form of selfishness, and self-centredness"; and 3) your lack of empathy blinds you to just how much help it is for victims of narcissists to read the personal experiences of other people who have been victimized by narcissists.

I can't quite tell if you are projecting or if you are simply so deeply entrenched in denial you can't see beyond your own opinions and thoughts. But if you'll take the time to read the comments on this blog from the readers...ignore what I have written, just read the will find a lot of people who clearly state how much it has helped them to learn they are not alone, that they aren't crazy or bad or wrong, that they are part of an unfortunate community of people who, as children, were the scapegoats of narcissistic parents and we all have had similar experiences from parents who behave similarly.

Finally...professional counsellor or psychologist...I recommend this so often I feel like I should just create a piece of boilerplate to copy and paste into many of my replies. But the truth is, some people can't afford professional therapy, some have had bad experiences with therapy and are not yet strong enough to go back, and there are a lot of therapists out there who know little or nothing about the kind of devastation a narcissistic parent can wreak on the psyche of a little kid. Some therapists actually do not believe the client's stories, thinking them OTT. There is no subspecialty in psychology designed to help the victims of predatory narcissists, particularly the adults who were raised by them.

You seem to have a lot of opinions based on very little knowledge and your attempts to invalidate the efforts of people who are trying to help those who have endured childhood at the hands of narcissists falls on deaf ears here. I'd say more, but I fear I might get rude and then I would have to apologize to you, which I defnitely do not want to have to do.

So...what would you like to say to Annie and her opinion?