Guest Post # 10: Narcissistic Abuse in 12-Step Programs

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Artwork by Danny Jock

Ceetee, who wrote this post, writes an interesting blog about the darker side of 12-step programs, called Quicksand: The Darker Side of 12-Step Programs. Be sure to click on the link and pay a visit.

Ceetee writes about a little-known problem in 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous– some members of these programs adopt a cult-like mentality and “take your inventory” for you, even though one of their slogans is “don’t take my inventory.” I have known people, including family members, who treat AA and other 12-step programs like a religion. You must follow their Commandments (the 12 steps) to the letter, and if you disagree with old-timers’ “assessments” of what your problem is, they tell you you are resisting or are on a “dry drunk.” Not all members are like this, but many of them are, and they can be cause psychological trauma to those who are new in these programs. Others have also written about the religious cult-like atmosphere often present in the meeting rooms.

Don’t get me wrong. AA and other 12-step programs have helped a great many people, and are one of the most effective (and cheapest) ways a person can get clean or sober. They have saved many lives. They also have a spiritual aspect, which adds another dimension that goes deeper than just “curing addiction.” They also tell you that once you’re addicted, you’re always addicted and should refrain from using or drinking, one day at a time. This is excellent advice and works for many people. But the dangers of these programs is that many people with addictive disorders who join them are narcissists, and use their “knowledge” or “experience” to make themselves feel superior to others. They think they know you better than you know yourself and don’t hesitate to lord it over you as if you’re nothing. You are told to “shut up and listen” because they are the “old timers” and have a right to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Since 12 step programs are run by the members themselves, there are really no safeguards against narcissistic abuse within these programs. One must proceed with caution.

Another problem with 12-step programs is that for some people, they seem to become another addiction.    I suppose that’s fine as far as if goes (going to meetings beats drinking or drugging), but too often , recovery stops there, and the member never attempts to address the roots of the problems which caused them to abuse alcohol or drugs in the first place.  From what I can tell, disorders such as NPD and BPD seem to run rampant in these programs, and people with these disorders often do become addicted to substances, in their attempt to fill the emptiness they feel inside.  Getting clean or sober is great, but it’s only treating one symptom of a deeper problem, and their disordered, grandiose, gaslighting, entitled behavior remains the same or even becomes worse.

Here, Ceetee writes of her own experience with certain narcissistic individuals in a 12-step program she joined, whose toxic “help” she had to recover from. It almost destroyed her life, but she has quite a story to tell.

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE IN 12-STEP PROGRAMS

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Nearly twenty-two years ago, I made a mistake that destroyed my life and my family. In the middle of an ongoing battle with my mother that I had no idea how to resolve, I took the approach that perhaps total strangers could be objective and would have a solution. It began with pen-pals; I’ll call the first pen-pal “Marie.” Marie offered hope for a better life; but she said what I must do is “work the Twelve Steps.” And without any drug or alcohol problems, that’s how I became involved in 12-Step programs. It didn’t even occur to me until much later that after I was immersed in ‘the programs,’ the actual problem was never addressed again.

Throughout the years, I knew many good people who participated in programs. However, I also met those who took the slogan “If you want what we’ve got–and are willing to go to any lengths to get it” to mean targeting and destroying others. And while there is plenty of information around the web describing all sorts of crimes members commit, this particular subject is rarely addressed: “rewriting your life history” to include false memories of childhood sexual abuse. I feel it is necessary to address it, as I’ve known many individuals who have had similar experiences–no memories of abuse until they were ‘worked on’ by old-timers in the Programs.

I was ‘worked on’ by three different members–each in a different location. Each had something they wanted from me, and this scam was the most destructive tactic they took to achieve it. They tried to cause me to doubt my own mind and memories; but more destructive, took the approach to other people ‘See how crazy she is–she does not even know what happened in her own life!’

I dismissed many “red flags,” because I didn’t understand what they were about. One example was (as the older generation would have called it) being “too familiar”–a total stranger would act like he/she was your dearest best friend, your confidante. Second, total strangers pushing the attitude that they know more about you and about your life than you yourself know. Third, the attitude that they and only they know ‘the truth’–everyone else and everything else is ‘wrong.’

Each began with a different approach. Individual #1 took the approach that he was an expert on everything related to drugs. Individual #2 basically rewrote the English language to suit her agenda–which is a common thing in 12-Step programs. Individual #3 claimed virtually everything about me were signs and symptoms of repressed trauma. None of these individuals were professionals in any capacity. All I could figure was they ‘read a book’ or ‘saw something on the Internet,’ as much was aligned with what memory experts said decades ago: the ability to create false memories, and to plant seeds of doubt, are almost limitless. Between the three of them, they attempted to get me to believe virtually everybody in my childhood had ‘sexually abused’ me. Individual #1–the first I actually met in person–demanded I give him all my family photographs; he tossed them in a wastebasket, set fire to them, and smugly remarked “You’ve gotta mark ’em all as Perpetrators.”

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Artwork: Chloe Cushman for The Guardian

Another red flag that bears noting: while Marie and most others focused on their programs, the present, and looking toward the future, these three were much different. Their entire focus was on “The Past” and “Abuse.” And yet another red flag: looking for any ‘crack in the armor’ that they could exploit as ‘proof’ that their assessments were correct.

Hopefully it won’t sound too ludicrous taking it all out of context, but some examples:
One, upon learning I’d had a minor medical problem as a small child that required prescription medication, assessed: “Your parents lied to you! They were drugging you so they could Abuse you!”
Noticing I’d run outside to see what the commotion was when police cars arrived at a neighbor’s house: “What is it from Your Past that caused you to Fear the police?” Individual pressed me to search my early childhood to see if I’d known any police officers that may have sexually abused me.

Upon learning I’d never gotten along with my mother, another individual dismissed the fact that it was nothing more than personality conflicts, and claimed I was an incest survivor and had post-traumatic stress disorder because of it. This individual said anything you dislike is sexual abuse, and must be called ‘rape.’

In one instance, I had a minor cold; when this did not require a visit to a doctor, this individual asked, “What is it from Your Past that’s caused you to Fear doctors?” This individual pressed me to think about the doctors I knew in my childhood, and asked if either of my parents were in the profession.

Vertigo attacks from an inner-ear infection; migraines from hypoglycemia; and my habit of watching where I’m going when barefoot so I don’t step on sharp objects were pounced on as proof that I had ‘traumas in the past that I just don’t remember.’ Also, a person does not have personal preferences, likes or dislikes, or objections to anything–they’re all proof of sexual abuse.
Similar to the tactics used when the so-called recovered memory movement was in full swing, I was pressured to consider every thought and dream as a ‘memory,’ any ache or pain to be a ‘body memory,’ etc.

The only incident that actually did occur was blown way out of proportion: when I was four years old, a neighbor of indeterminate adult age exposed himself, and then told me a ‘scare story’ so I wouldn’t tell my parents or brothers what he’d done. The incident was confusing, but it was not ‘traumatic.’ However, one of these members claimed it was a matter of “delayed stress,” that I “only had a cap on it,” and at some point without warning my mind would blow apart. Note I was told this asinine nonsense more than forty years after the incident.

The reason I was vulnerable to this nonsense: I’d never heard of this crap before. For years I knew something was fishy, but didn’t know what to make of it. My first breakthrough came when I met a 12-Step member who was pointing at nearly everyone she’d ever known and accusing them of sexually abusing her. I knew for a fact some of the people she was accusing hadn’t even been in her life when she was growing up.

The second breakthrough: I did some research, and found the ‘drug’ I was told my parents had given me wasn’t even available in the United States when I was a young child. In addition, while the member went by my description of the medication (size, shape, color), the two drugs bore no resemblance to each other.

Fortunately, these breakthroughs occurred before individual #3 intruded into my life against my objections, tried to “convince” me that I was “insane” because of my “past,” and destroyed my reputation and my life because I didn’t fall for it.

This is a widespread problem in 12-Step programs. I’ve known many people who had similar experiences–both male and female in all age groups. And while this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I went through, I’m hoping that exposing this issue can help others avoid these problems. First, if someone you don’t even know gets too familiar, too close, too intrusive, take whatever steps necessary to get that person away from you, your life, your family. Second, if you’re pressured to believe things happened that you don’t remember, keep in mind that this ‘information’ is not coming from within you, yourself, but that it is being placed there by outside sources.

Further Reading:

Narcissists Who Use 12-Step Programs to Further Their Agenda

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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9 Responses to Guest Post # 10: Narcissistic Abuse in 12-Step Programs

  1. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    Interesting. My wife got a similar vibe when she was going to AA. It was bad enough that after a few meeting she thought it would do more harm than help.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. gm1123 says:

    I have attended 12-step programs for the codependent side of addiction. We don’t really have a good codependent meeting, so I have attended al-anon or children of alcoholics. I find it helps, sometimes. Sometimes I am embarrassed to go. Sometimes I try to fix myself and it usually backfires because I do what I don’t need to do. I often need someone to help talk me off an emotional ledge. I have never really had a run in with a narcissistic type person. But again, I am not involved as much as others. I look forward to more. Did you receive my post about mental illness in my family? I hope it helps. P.s. You can use my name-it’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      I’ve attended al-Anon meetings too, and never had any problems personally with them. They are helpful. But I find they are limited, and don’t address deeper issues that lie behind the addiction. However, they do advocate “tough love”, even a kind of No Contact if the addict’s behavior becomes very abusive.
      I think I did receive your post, did you ask for it to be anonymous? I replied in an email.

      Like

  3. dennis says:

    Regarding the ‘rewriting of language’: this tactic is mentioned in “1984” and other literature written by Orwell. Essentially, it is saying ‘words mean what I wish them to mean – my will overwrites reality (and hence I cause reality to conform to MY will,)’

    Deeper though, it says ‘there is no such thing as objective truth.’ (Pilate:”what is truth’?) All truth is strictly a defined matter – namely, truth is simply an arbitrary matter – it’s whatever the most powerful and dominant individual says it is – and that, simply because they say so.

    Ultimately, though, defining language reduces the (relatively) powerless individual still further in their state of abjection; and they progress from ‘second-class citizen’ to ‘defective subhuman’ all the way to ***objectified tool’ a place where one’s sole use is the pleasure of one’s (narcissistic) master – as a narcissistic extension.

    Is it any wonder that such programs (pogroms?) attract social predators?

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      The “rewriting of language” is very scary, and a tactic used by cults of all kinds. It’s also unfortunately used in politics and by politicians and that is incredibly scary. I remember 1984 and “Newspeak.” That’s what the western world is dealing with today.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. katiesdream2004 says:

    I appreciate the information that this fairly trusted program can have a dark abusive side. It explains somethings to me.
    It wasn’t just lay people but professionals that went off on the rails in the recovered memories fad years ago. I remember talking to a lay counselor that was convinced my current issues were all about a hidden, forgotten history of sexual abuse. I remembered enough deeply traumatic stuff on my own–I absolutely broke down after months of “visualization” exercises to “regress” into the past This was not appropriate done by a lay person (or anyone really) She was deep into the 12 steps recovery moment I believe they were doing all sorts of harm to each other playing junior shrinks and making a lot of assumptions about other people.

    Liked by 3 people

    • luckyotter says:

      I agree, this type of “regression” therapy should NEVER be tried by an untrained person, and I think that “thoughts being planted in your head” and false memories happen more often than we think. Children are particularly susceptible and this is done a lot during divorce proceedings to turn children against the other parent. Then it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t, and traumatic for the child of course.

      Liked by 2 people

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