“Ordinary People”: a case study in malignant narcissism.

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I remember when I first saw this 1980 Academy Award winning movie being quite triggered by it, because the main character, Beth Jarrett (played convincingly by Mary Tyler Moore) reminded me so much of my mother, all the way down to her impatient, flippant mannerisms, fake cheerfulness, and clipped speech. And at the time I felt very much like the teenage son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), who was clearly suffering from a severe case of PTSD and depression, which no doubt had its roots in his mother’s emotional abuse and coldness.

“Ordinary People” (directed by Robert Redford) is about an upper middle class family from the Chicago suburbs, but the individuals involved are certainly not ordinary–or at least you hope they aren’t. Moore’s Beth Jarrett is a high-spectrum malignant narcissist who cares only about her social position and status and the appearance of having “the perfect family” and “the perfect life.” She is always perfectly dressed and coiffed, and can pour on the fake charm whenever she is trying to impress their friends and colleagues. Beth’s husband Calvin (Donald Sutherland) provides his family with their affluent lifestyle and is a good man who cares deeply for his family but is codependent to his narcissistic wife, who makes endless demands on him to keep up the image of perfection, and you can see from his demeanor it’s destroying him.

Their son, Conrad, is his mother’s scapegoat, and while she never actually says so, it’s clear that she blames him for the accidental boating death of her Golden Child, Buck (shown only in flashbacks). Conrad was with Buck at the time of the accident, and suffers from survivor’s guilt in addition to PTSD which was probably caused by his mother’s horrific treatment of him as well as his guilt over the accident, because he was unable to save his older brother’s life. The movie begins just after Conrad has been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt. I think there is more to Beth’s hatred of her child than her belief he is to blame for Buck’s accident. I think she hates him because he sees the truth about her, and calls her out on it. He is sensitive and able to see through her mask of perfection to the monstrous narcissist she actually is, and she can’t handle that.

From the very beginning, we can tell Beth despises her depressed remaining child. Her attitude toward Conrad is dismissive and impatient, and she makes no attempt to understand and appears to have no empathy for the emotional turmoil he’s in. She always puts her own needs ahead of her son and husband, and berates Calvin for attempting to understand his son’s pain. There’s not one moment where she shows the slightest shred of sympathy or love for him, and yet on the surface, no one would call her abusive, because of the mask of normality she always wears. Here’s a scene where Conrad attempts to talk to his mother about why they never had a pet–you can see how disconnected Beth is from Conrad’s (or her own) emotions, and Conrad’s hurt comes out as rage.

There’s a heartbreaking scene where the grandparents are present and Calvin is taking pictures. When he asks Beth to pose with her son, she glibly changes the subject to avoid having to SAY she doesn’t want her picture taken with him, but her disgust is obvious. Calvin insists, and Beth smiles with gritted teeth as she coldly stands next to her son. Conrad, who is sensitive, picks up on his mother’s hatred but tries to smile anyway. Beth, still smiling her fake smile, demands that Calvin give her the camera so she doesn’t have to have her picture taken with Conrad, but Calvin keeps insisting. Conrad, fed up and hurt, loses his temper and screams “Give her the goddamn camera!” It’s scenes like this that so brilliantly depict the subtle emotional abuse a malignant narcissist mother inflicts on her most sensitive child.


The camera scene.

Conrad begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch) who begins to get Conrad to open up about his feelings and show his anger. He also begins to date a girl he met in band practice (Elizabeth McGovern), who is upbeat yet understanding and helps bring Conrad out of his shell.

Calvin and his mother seem to be constantly arguing. Calvin tries to referree, but can’t seem to appeal to his wife’s loving nature, because she apparently has none. After one of these arguments, Conrad calls out his mother for never having visited him in the hospital, adding that “You would have visited Buck if he was in the hospital,” to which Beth retorts, “Buck never would have been in the hospital!” This is a clear implication of the higher esteem she held her older son in, who she believed would never have “gone crazy” and had to be hospitalized. Unlike Conrad, Buck would have enhanced, rather than diminished, the image she had of having the perfect life and perfect family.

Beth’s evil really comes out when they go on vacation to Texas to visit with some of Calvin’s colleagues. While golfing, Beth sweetly suggests to Calvin they go on another vacation–which would be during Christmas. Calvin agrees, but suggests they should bring Calvin along with them because he might enjoy the trip. To this, Beth flies into a narcissistic rage and loudly berates her husband for always trying to include Conrad in everything. During this rage, she projects her own anger and selfishness onto her husband, who unsuccessfully tries to stand up to her. Later in this clip, there’s a chilling scene after Conrad’s parents return home and Conrad tries to give Beth a hug. Beth’s face stays cold and hard and you can feel the hatred and disgust she has for her child while she barely returns his embrace at all.


The golf scene and “the cold hug.”

Conrad finds out his friend Karen from the hospital (Dinah Manoff) has committed suicide. Frantic, he makes an emergency appointment with Dr. Berger, and shows up in his office in a broken state. He rages and then sobs uncontrollably and everything comes pouring out: the whole story about the night Buck died and how he blamed himself, his mother’s hatred for him, and how he was never good enough. Dr. Berger listens and holds him like a parent would a child, and finally Conrad begins to calm down.

Gradually, Calvin becomes more aware of his wife’s malignant narcissism and is beginning to doubt her ability to love anyone but herself. One night Beth finds him crying alone and asks him why he is crying. Calvin asks Beth if she really loves him and she gives him a non-answer, saying “I feel the way I’ve always felt about you.” Calvin admits he is not sure he loves her anymore. He’s beginning to see the soulless monster she really is. Early in the morning, Beth leaves for good, not saying goodbye to her husband or son, leaving them to fend for themselves and try to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives together. No doubt both are much better off this way.


Calvin’s realization and confrontation with Beth.

This is one of the most convincing and well acted movies about the havoc a malignant narcissist mother can wreak on her family I have ever seen, and 35 years later, it still hits home because of the uncanny similarities I see to my own mother (who was not as outwardly rejecting or quite as malignant as Beth Jarrett). Every one of the 9 DSM indicators of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is evident in Beth. If anyone is interested in studying the myriad ways a malignant narcissist inflicts their abuse and scapegoats their children, this movie is the best case study I can think of, outside of having to deal with one yourself. Of course, not all malignant narcissists are upper middle class like Beth is, but even though the specific words and actions may differ from one social class to the next, the manipulations and abuse are always the same.


This trailer shows other scenes of the way Beth emotionally abuses, gaslights,projects, and triangulates against her surviving son.

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Chunky (Chunks): RIP 2003 – June 20, 2015

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I am very sad right now and this will probably be the only thing I write tonight.
A couple of hours ago, my fat cat Chunks died. I think it was cancer, most likely a tumor that eventually blocked her intestines.

I got her in 2011, when she was 8. She was already middle aged, fat but sassy, and while she loved her people (especially me) she used to show my other kitties (and dog Daisy, then Dexter) exactly where they stood. One of the things she loved to do was suck on my fingers at night. She was probably dreaming of kittenhood, being fed by her mom, when she did that.

No matter how many low fat diets she was put on, or how many reduced feedings, she kept getting fatter. When I could afford to, I took her to the vet and he put her on a special diet for awhile but it didn’t work because she didn’t like the bland Science Diet he gave her.

Generally though, she was healthy–as an overweight middle aged lady can be. Occasionally I’d give her a little catnip and that would perk her up and she’d run around the house making everyone laugh because it was so unexpected and she looked so funny running around like that.

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The past few weeks I noticed she was losing weight. She started vomiting more than usual (she always puked a lot because she ate too fast) but not excessively so. I tried putting her on a blander diet and giving her smaller portions. But she started to become lethargic last week and went off her feed. I couldn’t find any vets who wouldn’t charge and I couldn’t afford to take her to one, but she didn’t really seem that uncomfortable. I spent more time with her and brought her up on my bed at night to sleep with me. She hadn’t done that in awhile.

Yesterday she stopped eating. This morning she vomited something that looked and smelled like feces. I knew her time had come. There wasn’t anything to do but wait.

She slept most of the day and at about 3 PM I heard her cry in pain. I rushed into the living room where she lay, and dark brown, almost black blood was coming from her mouth. Normally something like that would gross me out (I’m a pretty squeamish person) but when it’s someone you love, it doesn’t. You heart breaks for them of course, but the sight of blood or bodily fluids isn’t disgusting, not when there’s love there.

She went unconscious and started to convulse badly. I cried as I sat down on the floor next to her and petted and stroked her as she finally went across the Rainbow Bridge. I said a prayer and told her I was sorry I couldn’t have done more. I told her I loved her.

She didn’t suffer for long, only a minute, and the spot where she died was the exact same spot my dog Daisy died 2 1/2 years ago. Wiping away tears, I read the copy of The Rainbow Bridge, and then found a cardboard cat carrier to lay her in, put a towel on the bottom, and covered her with a little dog-and-cat printed blanket.

I’ll miss you, Chunks.

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Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author unknown…

How could someone even survive this?

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Credit: http://dark.pozadia.org

I just read a comment on a forum about narcissism that made me want to throw up.

A woman who had been scapegoated all her life by her malignant narcissist mother and had gone No Contact said her adult son had been found dead (she didn’t say what the cause of death was). She says her mother never had the slightest interest in her grandson because any child this woman bore couldn’t possibly amount to anything. She never sent him a birthday or Christmas gift, or even so much as a card. She had never even come to see him when he was born.

The woman received no condolences from her mother after her son died. Instead, three days after his death, on the day of his inquest, she found out from relatives that her mother had gone out to celebrate with other family members and friends. Although the reason for the outing wasn’t her grandson’s death per se, she was told by a relative that her mother said “that stupid bitch got what she deserved.”

Wow. Just wow. Talk about lack of empathy. How could anyone be that callous? Losing a child is bad enough (I don’t think I could survive if that happened to me and I marvel at anyone who doesn’t lose their mind after losing a child) but to have YOUR OWN MOTHER–No Contact or not–say something like that is just so evil it’s beyond my comprehension. A mother who would say something like that upon her own child’s bereavement doesn’t deserve to live. Incredible.

I think if that happened to me I wouldn’t want to live anymore. Driving her own daughter to suicide was probably this so-called mother’s intention.

I feel like I’m a bad friend.

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Tonight on a whim I looked up an old Facebook friend I hadn’t talked to since 2012 (we had been close from 2009-2011) and was shocked and very upset to learn that she died this past September of Merkel cell carcinoma. She’d had to have part of her jaw and her lips removed and I even saw her post that first announced her terminal cancer diagnosis. She asked for prayers.

I never knew. I never bothered to check in on her until tonight and felt just awful about not having been there at all for her while she was in so much pain and dying. I left a post on her wall (which is still up) telling her to rest in peace and how sorry I was. What else can you say to a dead friend you abandoned? Sure, she was only a Facebook friend but I still feel like an insensitive heel.

About two years ago, another casual friend, someone I had actually known through work who ran a blog about living in poverty in the United States, and who was known to have suffered from major depression, committed suicide. I hadn’t talked to her in several months, and it was her husband who posted about her death on her wall. I learned this horrible news THE DAY AFTER she killed herself. All I could do was offer some kind words to her bereaved husband, who had loved her very much and was understandably devastated. I felt ashamed at not having talked to this woman during the months prior to her suicide and was almost too embarrassed to say anything to her husband.

I always seem to find out bad news about friends and people I used to know on Facebook, which is another reason I don’t like Facebook too much.

But neither of these things are as terrible as the way I treated a close friend of mine from back in the 1980s. Robert was gay and he was one of my best friends for several years. We used to have a blast together, and were even roommates for awhile. I remember planning his 21st birthday party and how much fun it turned out to be (and I hate parties!)

But Robert was also promiscuous and brought strange men home while we were roommates. He also developed schizophrenia around this time, and due to both his bringing men I didn’t know to the apartment and his declining mental condition, I had no other choice but to move out. We continued to remain in touch occasionally even after I married, but over time, as friendships do when lives go in different directions, we lost contact and stopped speaking.

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Just after my son was born in 1991, I received a phone call from Robert’s sister. She told me Robert was in the hospital and very close to death. He had AIDS and had lost his vision and his mind, and was no longer able to feed himself and had to be cared for like an infant. It occurred to me he probably already had AIDS during the time I knew him. I was shocked at the news and promised to come visit him in the hospital, but I never did. In all honesty, I was afraid to see him like that and chickened out, even though I had intended to go.

He died two weeks later. His sister called again and invited me to the funeral. Again, I didn’t attend because of the guilt I felt over having abandoned him and never visited him in the hospital.

I realized later how selfish this was of me, only caring about my own needs and feeling like seeing him like that would be too upsetting and just plain weird. My friend needed me when he was dying and I let him down. I never forgave myself for that and still pray for God to forgive me for my selfishness. I’m sure He has, but I never really forgave myself.

That’s why I feel like I’m a terrible friend and maybe don’t deserve to have any.

Do cats feel empathy?

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I don’t care what some religious people say–I believe animals have souls. How can you look into the face of your dog or cat and not just KNOW it’s there?

But this is not a religious or philosophical discussion of whether animals have souls or not. It’s also not about dogs (who definitely have a form of empathy, the way I see it).

This is a little story that shows that cats may have empathy, at least some cats.

A woman whose house I clean (I’ll call her Judy) had a beautiful shorthaired gray cat named Dusty. Dusty was 14 and by the way he moved, you could tell he was getting up there in years.

A month ago, Judy described the way Dusty always sits on her lap when she’s reading or looking out the window. Dusty has given her a lot of comfort since her husband of over 30 years died right around the holidays. Since the day she lost her husband, Dusty has always been right there, sitting on her lap, and sleeping curled up next to her at night.

She told me an incredible story. One day Judy was crying hard because she was missing her husband so much. Dusty came over to her, gently placed his paw on her face, and she looked up to see him gazing at her sadly. She told me Dusty’s eyes looked full of tears. According to scientific evidence, humans are the only known species (except elephants and possibly some apes) able to shed emotional tears. But I’m not so sure. I swear I used to see my dog Daisy get tears in her eyes when she was punished and knew she’d been naughty, and I’ve seen this in other dogs too. But cats? It could be–or maybe Dusty is just a very special cat.

Judy cried into Dusty’s fur for a little while, and Dusty just sat there in her lap while she stroked him. When she was done crying, he looked up at her and then, amazingly, licked the tears from her face.
Dusty felt Judy’s sadness and knew exactly what she needed.

Last week I went back to Judy’s house I noticed Dusty wasn’t there and I asked her about him. She started to tear up and gave me the sad news. Dusty had to be put to sleep because he had developed kidney disease.

I felt awful. I didn’t know what to say, so I just quietly said, “I’m sorry.”
Dusty gave a lot of comfort to Judy in her time of loneliness and grief. Now she must move on.

Dusty certainly seemed to have empathy. I do wonder if intelligent animals like dogs and cats can feel empathy for their loved ones. I think they can and I think this story proves it.

For further reading, here is an interesting article about empathy in animals, that concludes they can feel it. Dogs in particular can be empathic, but it’s been seen in other animals as well, even chickens.

Laughter and tears.

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Laughter and crying are biologically very similar, and while they seem like opposites, both are methods the body uses to relieve stress, and they involve similar movements of the same groups of muscles. Both can involve tears.

Stress isn’t necessarily bad–it can even be present in overwhelming positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, or love–or in that moment when something strikes us so funny we double over with peals of laughter. Sometimes very intense laughter can bring on tears and even lead to sobbing; the opposite can happen when a big breakthrough happens in therapy. The laughter comes because the patient feels an immense sense of relief.

I decided it would be interesting to categorize the various types of crying and then talk about laughter, because they really are so very different but similar in some ways, and both are good for us.

Crying

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Crying is underrated in western society. In our culture, tears are still thought of as a sign of weakness and something that’s only okay for women to do, and even then only in certain situations. A man is only allowed to cry if he wins the lottery or his team won the Super Bowl or his dog died. And that’s a crying shame! (pun intended).

But being able to cry is the most effective way to get better if you’re in therapy trying to heal from a mental disorder or recover from psychological trauma such as PTSD. It can be liberating and feel great. Many people have problems crying though, but there are ways to make it easier.

There’s also the unfortunate stereotype that crying always means a person is sad. Not so. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I believe I read that 50% of emotional tears are caused by positive or ambivalent emotions, not negative ones.

Not all tears are the result of actual crying: Irritant tears are shed by animals as well as humans, and are a physiological response to an irritation of the eye, such as the tears we shed when slicing an onion. Even though tears are shed to rid the eye of the foreign object, there is nothing emotional about this form of “crying.”

From here on, the types of crying will be listed from the shallowest and least emotional type of crying to the deepest and most emotional. The farther we get up the scale, the more pleasurable and similar to genuine belly laughter crying becomes.

1. “Crocodile” tears/fake crying.
This category possibly shouldn’t even be on this list, because it’s not genuine and sometimes doesn’t even involve tears. There are two types of false crying, both common among narcissists and sometimes people with other Cluster B personality disorders such as BPD or HPD.

The first type does involve actual tears being shed, but the person is usually a good actor who is able to squeeze them out at will to manipulate, get pity, show fake “empathy” or other emotions meant to make them look good or less malignant than they are. During his trial and police investigation, the psychopathic murderer Scott Peterson was expert at making copious tears run down his face when questioned about his wife’s disappearance. But he still had an odd blank look and a hint of a smirk between questioning–and Peterson’s odd speech patterns and hesitations made it obvious he was lying.

The second type is more common since most people aren’t very good actors and cannot generate tears at will. This is the embarrassing fake sobbing some narcissists use to get pity or attention. Don’t fall for it if they hide their faces so you don’t see their bone-dry eyes.

2. Manipulative, childish crying.
Narcissists who cry do so for the same reason a baby does: to get what they want. Older children cry this way too, and it can involve loud sobbing and whining. Adult narcissists (especially the “needy” types) may not sob like a child, but if they don’t get their way expect a display of waterworks, especially if the narcissist is of the somatic type and is female. Some somatic female narcissists do try to make their crying displays as dramatic as possible, in order to manipulate their target and get their way. It works too, especially if the woman is attractive and seductive, and this type of narcissist usually is.

3. Crying from frustration, fear, or anger.
Many people cry when they become frustrated, frightened or angry, but the tears tend to be scant and watery, and any sobbing is minimal. Breathing tends to be very shallow.

None of these first three types of crying are cleansing or healing, and because the tears shed are mainly just salt water and don’t include oils and other substances that come from truly emotional tears, they aren’t as effective in releasing toxins from the body and the person will not feel better afterwards.

The next forms of crying are all healing and cleansing, and the tears associated with them are full of oils and hormone like substances that make them heavier and more likely to cling to the skin and leave more visible streaks after drying.

4. Bereavement/grief.
Most people, after suffering a devastating loss such as death of a family member or close friend, or being left by a long time partner or spouse, at some point, if not immediately, will cry. Crying arising from tragic loss is usually convulsive, cathartic, intense, and involves deep sobbing that causes spasms in both the diaphragm and stomach muscles, copious amounts of tears and a loosening of mucus from the sinuses. A person undergoing such convulsive crying may gag or even vomit. The crying is so intense it can be physically painful as well as emotionally excruciating, and it may go on for a long time. But the tears are healing and the crying is cathartic. If the painful emotions are held inside and not released, a person experiencing grief or loss will take much longer to get better, and may become very ill.

In some cultures, such crying is formalized into a social event after the death of a family member, with special times set aside for family members to engage in grieving together and this can go on for weeks. This is probably a very healthy thing. In our society, group grieving is primarily reserved for funerals, and the bereaved are expected to get on with business as usual in a fairly short time, after all the casseroles have been eaten or have gone bad.

5. Cathartic crying in psychotherapy.
Most if not all psychodynamic therapies consider the moment the patient breaks down and cries in the therapist’s office a breakthrough for the patient. Because painful emotions from the past are being released, this type of crying can be as intense and convulsive as the crying of a bereaved person. A good therapist will not judge, and if a limited touch waiver has been signed in advance, it may be beneficial for the therapist to hold or stroke the patient in a nonsexual way during their breakdown. There may be more than one breakdown, with each one bringing the patient closer to healing. Laughter may sometimes follow a session of crying as the patient realizes a huge emotional burden has been lifted.

6. Shock/surprise crying.
These are not true tears of joy, but the kind of tears you shed if you find out you won the lottery, your team won the Super Bowl, or you were just presented with a great honor or gift. They are tears of surprise and shock as much as they are of happiness. They can tie in with tears of gratitude–for example, a movie actor who just won an Academy award may thank her supporters profusely as she chokes back sobs and tears stream down her cheeks. This type of crying isn’t particularly intense, but it does come on very suddenly and the tears can be copious. It’s short lived though. Smiling or even laughing usually accompanies the tears.

7. Crying from the heart.

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This type of crying is never seen in narcissists, because it involves an opening of the heart that connects people to each other and narcissists cannot connect on any level. Tears from the heart exist on the spectrum of love–and involve positive, pro-social emotions like empathy, overwhelming joy, spiritual or religious experience, feelings of connectedness with humanity, the arts, or nature; or overwhelming love. These are all emotions narcissists are incapable of feeling.

The emotions felt can be overwhelming even if very pleasant. Crying serves two purposes here. First, it helps the body release the excess stress that comes with an overload of such euphoric feelings. It’s also nature’s way of connecting us with each other and tears tend to generate even deeper feelings of love among those who cry together. A good example of this is a couple so overwhelmed by their love for each other that they find themselves in tears during lovemaking, and this opens their hearts to each other even more.

Laughter.

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There aren’t as many types of laughter (giggling and polite laughter don’t really count), but the best kind is the belly laugh–the kind of deep and convulsive laughter that explodes almost uncontrollably when we see or hear something we think is hilarious.

Belly laughter, though it doesn’t usually involve tears (but it can), can be just as cathartic and cleansing as a good long cry. Different types of things make different people laugh, and it’s hard to say what exactly will strike just the right part of your funny bone to send you into uncontrollable, convulsive, rolling on the floor shrieks of laughter.

The process of laughter is physiologically almost identical to crying–both involve gasping intakes of air, convulsive movements of the diaphragm or stomach muscles (hence the term “belly laugh”), and animal-like vocalizations similar to sobbing. But we can all tell the difference. A person enjoying a good belly laugh will never be mistaken for someone who is crying, even if there are tears.

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Laughter usually involves a form of surprise. We laugh when we see something unexpected in a situation that doesn’t call for it or where its placement is ludicrous. A baby will laugh when her dad makes funny faces, because it’s unexpected. If you’re told something is funny, it probably won’t be as funny to you as if you discovered it on your own. It’s also the reason why a good joke can be ruined by bad timing or getting to the punch line too soon (or the punch line being spoiled by someone else). The surprise factor must be there for a joke to be funny.

Narcissists can laugh, but as with their crying, it’s usually shallow, exaggerated for effect (narcissists may be laughing louder than anyone in the room, but their eyes will remain flat and their laughter joyless and forced sounding).

As for what makes them laugh, narcissists are likely to find the misfortunes of others funny, or enjoy belittling forms of humor such as jokes that negatively stereotype an ethnic or other group, mean sarcasm, insults, or embarrassing practical jokes. Few narcissists have any sense of the absurd or any kind of subtle or sophisticated humor, and of course they can never laugh at themselves. They really have almost no sense of humor, unless it’s at someone else’s expense. If a narcissist’s mean “joke” at your expense offends you, you may be accused of being “too sensitive” or having no sense of humor, even though it is really they who are challenged in the humor department.

For the rest of us, it’s always a great thing to have a sense of the absurd as adults, because that sense of humor can get us through all the rough times. That’s why I keep a page of narcissist jokes, because when we can laugh at something that is threatening to us, some of its power over us is taken away and we can see the absurdity of what scares or upsets us.

I am Broken now ….(long post I’m sorry)

My friend and fellow blogger, who is trying to get ready to say goobye to his beloved wife, who is dying of cancer.

Please offer your prayers and support for Butch, his wife and their beloved son.

My heart is breaking right now.

Here was the post Butch posted the previous day, “I’m Losing My Wife.”

Losing Ethan

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Someone once said to me it’s stupid to worry about something bad happening, because if it does happen, you’ve lived through it twice, and if it doesn’t happen, you wasted your time and caused yourself needless suffering. On a cognitive level, this makes perfect sense, but when it comes to mothers and their children, rationality flies out the window. At least it does for me.

Some people think I’m an overprotective mother, even though my children are both grown. And it’s true: I worry excessively about something horrible happening to one of them. I still hate the fact my 23 year old son lives more than 600 miles away in another state, and drives every day. If I don’t see he’s been on Twitter in more than a certain number of hours (he practically lives on Twitter), I start to panic. Sometimes these feelings of dread get so bad I almost wish I never had kids so I didn’t have to experience that kind of intense anxiety. I know it’s neurotic as hell to fret so much about my kids’ safety and there comes a certain point when a parent has to let their children go off and be adults, but still I can’t help worrying.

They say losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I don’t doubt this. I love both my children with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns and if something happened to one of them…well, I think I would probably lose my mind and most likely kill myself. How could I go on living? I just can’t see how someone could carry on after losing their child. Obviously they do though, and I marvel whenever I see a bereaved parent somehow accepting their tragedy and moving on with their lives. I’m amazed when they can talk about it without dissolving into sobs. But I don’t think I would be able to ever accept it and move on. If I didn’t kill myself I think I would cry for the rest of my life, become catatonic with unbearable grief, and the dudes in white coats would have to carry me off in a straitjacket.

Sometimes I have these dreams of something happening to one of my children. They are awful. I just woke up from one, and after breathing a sigh of relief it was just a dream after all, I decided to blog about it, before it faded away into unconsciousness the way dreams tend to do.

I had to pick up a few groceries from the store. My son Ethan, about eight in the dream, came along with me. Sitting in the front seat next to me, he chattered in his little high pitched voice about school and other things 8 year olds like to chatter about. Strangely, it was also the present time, and I was the same age I am now, with the same vantagepoint on my life I actually have now, but that sort of thing happens in dreams.

We were driving down a country road, and must have taken a wrong turn, because soon I realized the road was a dead end. At the end of the road we saw a high wooden fence, and it was closed. Past the fence was a single police car, with its blue lights flashing. But I saw no police officer or anyone else. It was parked in the middle of a thicket of weeds and wildflowers, and when I looked closer I saw that no one was in the car.

police

Ethan, being a curious 8 year old boy, wanted to see what was going on. Before I could stop him, he had taken off his seatbelt and was out of the car, running like lightning toward the gate. I called to him but he didn’t hear me. I got out of the car and began to chase him, but he had already worked the latch and was running into the dark woods beyond the meadow. The police car was no longer there. It hadn’t driven off, it simply had disappeared!

I called and called Ethan but he didn’t return. I ran through the open gate and almost tripped on rocks and a few times before I reached the woods. Running into the darkness of the forest, I kept calling him, but all I could hear was my own voice echoing back to me, as if the forest was taunting me. I waited. And waited. It seemed like an eternity but was probably just a few hours. Ethan never returned.

Weeping from panic, I walked back to my car and drove home. It was getting dark out. I’d completely forgotten the groceries, but I didn’t care. Who needed groceries when Ethan was gone?

There were people I didn’t know living in my house, but in the dream I knew them. The man who was my dream-husband listened to my story. Although I had no “proof” Ethan was dead, somehow I just knew. Still, I needed someone else to reassure me he was okay (or confirm my fears). Not knowing is worse than knowing. So hesitantly, I asked my dream-husband, “Do you think he is dead?”
He nodded.
“What do you think happened to him?”
“I think the cop did something with him,” was the reply.
I felt like I had died inside. It was horrible and so surreal I wondered if I was dreaming, and that was when I woke up.

I’m wondering if other parents have these kind of dreams or if they worry as much about their adult children as I do. I’ve Googled this problem and haven’t found much about it, so sometimes I think it’s just my PTSD and tendency to be overly anxious and fretful. I walk through life expecting disaster every moment. I probably need therapy.