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.

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

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