I am not your dream.

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From the Facebook page Narcissistic and Emotional Abuse.

The reason we became adult victims: what can be done?

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The other day, I posted an article about the insidious way narcissistic parents can turn scapegoated children into lifelong victims. I was thinking more about this matter today (because I was feeling victimized at work) and I think I understand what happened to us to make us such easy targets for victimization and why we are usually shown so little respect by others.

First, there is nothing wrong with you. You are not mentally deficient, defective, worthless, or unlikeable. You deserve respect as much as anyone else does. You are no less valuable than anyone else. Later in this article I’ll explain what it is about us that makes us get treated like this so often and why.

There are ways to tell if you’re an adult victim. The abuse we get is more insidious than the treatment we got from our parents or childhood peers. As adults, we are not likely to be straight-up bullied the way children and teenagers are because most adults have learned it’s not okay to bully others. Instead, the abuse manifests as a lack of respect and being treated as if we don’t exist or don’t matter.

How to tell if you’re a victimized adult.

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1. You find it difficult to make friends.

2. You are always overlooked for promotions or raises in the workplace, no matter how well you do your job. You may also be overlooked for special privileges when they are given out. If you ask why, no one ever seems to know how to answer you.

3. People leave you out of social events like parties or casual get-togethers.

4. If you were a scapegoated child (and most likely you were if you are victimized as an adult), even your FOO (family of origin) probably leaves you out of family events such as weddings, births, and reunions. You were probably disowned or written out of the will. You are the “black sheep” of your narcissistic family.

5. People talk over you or act like you are not there.

6. If you speak, people act like they didn’t hear you or ignore what you just said.

7. You are treated like a piece of furniture. People tend to physically push you aside, invade your personal space, or act like you are in the way. In a small group of people, they may shift their positions so you become shunted to the side or back so you don’t have a place in the circle. It isn’t really hostile; it’s as if they literally don’t see you.

8. People tend to treat you in a condescending manner, as if you are mentally defective.

9. People like to “mess” with you or make jokes at your expense.

10. In a work environment, even your co-workers may be more critical of you than they would be with others–even if your work is fine. You may notice people try to boss you around who have no real right to.

11. People may treat you as if you annoy them.

It is not your imagination that you are treated this way. You are not just being paranoid or over-sensitive (though people will tell you this). You really are being treated like this, and it’s because as children, we were trained that we were nothing and that we did not matter. We internalize these messages and carry an attitude of being undeserving of fair treatment into adulthood. People treat us the way we regard ourselves. If we think we are nothing, we will be treated like we are nothing, even by non-narcissists.

How being an adult victim can further damage us.

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Being scapegoated by narcissistic parents is child abuse, and is thoroughly evil. It can destroy a person for a lifetime. The victimization we continue to get as adults is also very damaging, and exacerbates our already dismal self esteem. Here are the ways being a victimized adult can make you feel.

1. You feel like you have no place in the world.

2. You feel unloved by everyone.

3. You believe you have no value.

4. You feel isolated and apart from the normal world.

5. You fear you may actually be stupid, incompetent or annoying.

6. You are prone to deep depressions and extreme anxiety, especially when having to deal with other people.

7. You feel envious of others for being treated with more respect than you are.

8. You feel envious of others for having loving families who care about them.

9. You feel envious of others for having friends and an active social life.

10. You feel like you are constantly having to apologize.

11. You feel like life is unfair and the world is a hostile and unfriendly place.

12. In many situations you feel like you’re on the outside looking in.

It comes down to boundaries. As adult victims, we don’t have any, or have very weak boundaries. We never established boundaries when we were young because we were (1) never trained to do so; and (2) because our early boundaries were constantly being violated.

People can sense when a person has very weak or non-existent boundaries. That’s why we continue to attract narcissists as friends, lovers and spouses. Narcissists know easy prey when they see it.

Why personal boundaries are so important.

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Even among non-narcissistic people people, we are seen as prey because we appear to lack boundaries. Even near-strangers are constantly stepping over the line and treating us with disrespect, even if their behavior isn’t outright abusive. It’s as if most people have an invisible line drawn around them that must not be crossed. People “see” this line–or sense it–and will respect it. But if you never established boundaries or they were destroyed by your narcissistic family, there is no invisible line drawn around you, and people will constantly step over it, because they believe it’s okay for them to do so.

The solution seems easy enough–just establish some boundaries and tell people when they are violating them. But this is much easier said than done. Most of us have such low self esteem we are terrified of letting others know it is not okay to treat you this way. We are terrified of being criticized or told we are just being “too sensitive” or paranoid. We see other people standing up to those who violate their boundaries without repercussions, but we fear that if WE do it, we will be attacked or criticized, because we were trained to believe this.

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The sad news is that it isn’t incorrect to believe you will be attacked or criticized or told you are overreacting if you try to stand up for yourself. That’s because people don’t like change. If people have become used to you as a mousy, fearful person with no personal boundaries, they are not going to like it much should you suddenly point out that you have some. But it doesn’t mean you are worthless and it also doesn’t mean you must forever continue to submit to this kind of treatment.

In any group, there is usually one scapegoated (or disrespected) person, and that person is the one who is seen as having the weakest boundaries (and is probably also the most sensitive, which is why we were chosen by our families to be scapegoats in the first place). Unfortunately the human condition dictates that even for normal (non-narcissistic) people, there is going to be a pecking order. This system can be observed in most animals and even some birds, like chickens. People–and animals–feel more comfortable when there is one person around they can pile on. If you suddenly announce they may not pile on you anymore, they are not going to be happy about it and will probably take out their frustration on you. It isn’t fair, but it seems to be in our human nature.

Can anything be done?

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Yes, but it may be necessary for you to start over in a new place or a new job if this is happening to you. You will need to make it clear from the very beginning that you are to be treated with respect. This means the very first time you observe one of the above behaviors directed toward you, you must nip that in the bud and let the person know it is not okay to treat you like this. Doing this will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, because we are so afraid to speak up for ourselves. But if we have not been established yet as a victim or at the bottom of the pecking order, letting others know (nicely, of course) that we will not tolerate this sort of behavior should help. Once your boundaries are made clear to others, you will be treated more like a human being and less like a worthless piece of furniture.

If you cannot start over (and many of us can’t, because our lifetime problems with boundaries and self esteem have made it impossible for us to be able to earn the kind of living that would enable us to move elsewhere or leave a job), then you will need to go ahead and try to speak up for yourself anyway, and risk the fallout. If you find this impossible to do, then you will need to find a support system or a group that does not know you the way you are. You can join a church group, attend group therapy, or take a class. Or you can find supportive people online. For those of us who are introverted, like myself, this may be the most effective way to have a voice and be treated the way you want to be treated: like a human being worthy of respect.

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Keep telling yourself every day that you are not worthless or defective, because you are not. There is nothing wrong with you! Your only problem is that the family that raised you did not respect or love you the way they should have–not because you aren’t deserving of love or respect because every child is–but because as narcissists, they could not. You served a role for them as the family scapegoat.

A good therapist–or keeping a journal or a blog–can be a good way to help you deal with your past, the family that destroyed your sense of self esteem and boundaries, and help you overcome your fears and begin to act more like a person who is to be treated like everyone else.

You are worth it.

If you choose to stay with your narcissist…

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Lidija Rangelovska (Sam Vaknin’s wife) recently wrote about staying with her narcissistic husband and how she handles him.

My view, my principle…
People, unconsciously, but more often intentionally, complicate their lives in order to make some sense of their existence and to justify their actions. Me included. We are all, as my FB friend put it: “personal strength junkies”, who try so hard to be accepted and to belong. It comes from our upbringing, our unstable environment, and the fear of being alone. So, when we find a person that loves us or shows us affection, we are “hooked” and we won’t give up on that person. But we also don’t want to compromise, we want to keep our freedom and to have control over the other. And what now? It’s simple: we have to adapt to the changes and find a new meaning in life!
For me personally freedom is the most important. So, I assume that it is the same with all others and I do give people space… where their selves emerge and grow. If there is a person who has common sense and similar views of life to mine, there is a solid and healthy ground on which to develop the relationship.
But we should learn to communicate, share experiences and emotions, be honest and truthful… not be afraid and manipulative. We should learn to trust in order to understand and accept the other. We should build safe grounds for unconditional love to grow on. And isn’t this all that matters in life?

And later…

…my mother tongue is “narcissist”, literally. I was raised by malignant narcissists and HAD to learn how to communicate with them. And I wouldn’t name it as such, because it’s not the “language” of the narcissist, but of the abused. The “language” consists of understanding the abuse that occurred in the narcissist’s early childhood owing to which s/he adopted the False Self later in the adolescence. It is the ONLY self that the narcissist is aware of and if you can’t accept it, you won’t be able to understand her/him.

My advice would be to not even try to go there, as I call it, the “twilight zone”… it’s the “unknown and forbidden” to some people. For me that zone was my natural habitat. I was there… growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive family. I became codependent and was raised to be a good Source of Supply. I honestly don’t wish that on anyone!

So, then, why am I with Sam?
We are both emotionally damaged and we do understand each other’s pain. It’s in a space and at a time where we fulfill each other’s our unique psychodynamic needs. Where conditions don’t exist and there isn’t a room for any – that is where unconditional love exists… at least, where I found it.

[Anonymous] explained this dynamic […] in a very subtle way. “Personal strength junkies” is her term, not mine…

I’m glad there are people who really want to explore their and other people’s nature/character driven by their curiosity to learn more about themselves in order to relate to their significant others. Indeed, a person has to have the courage to do so… they’re the real heroes, not the ones that deny their existence and adopted the “go with the flow” principle… that’s selfish.

Then she posted the beautiful quote above from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit.” It’s amazing how profound certain books for children can be but there’s a wonderful message about unconditional love for adults too.

Several other people who are married to or in relationships with narcissists discussed how they are able to cope with staying with them without losing themselves or developing mental disorders like PTSD. Without exception, the narcissistic spouses (all male) have insight into their disorder and their wives have learned how to “speak narcissist.” There seem to be two primary requirements (besides the patience of a saint): (1) a strong maternal instinct, and (2) an unflappable sense of humor. Under these unusual circumstances, a relationship with a narcissist may actually work for both partners. Some may think of this as an unequal, codependent and even abusive partnership, but if framed as a kind of eternal mother/child relationship, it doesn’t have to be pathological.

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As for myself, I could never work things out with my malignant narcissist ex-husband and I went No Contact early last year (it’s actually Low Contact because we have children, so being completely No Contact isn’t really a possibility.) He had zero insight and denied he was a narcissist at all (instead, he projected his narcissism onto me and made himself out to be the victim and me the abuser). I think when a narcissist has no capacity for insight (which is probably most of them) and is in denial, No Contact (or Low Contact) is the best way to go to avoid psychological damage to ourselves. Even insightful narcissists who are not in denial about their disorder are highly dangerous people and should be handled with extreme caution. They are ticking time bombs.

What [Anonymous] and Lidija have shared provide hope that for SOME narcissists, there may be a way to stay with them and nurture them while not allowing them to obliterate our psyches–and in some cases even benefit from the relationship. It would take someone with a LOT of empathy and even more patience but I believe it can be done in some cases. Having a strong maternal instinct is of utmost importance because essentially, a narcissist is an emotional infant, unable to see others as separate from them. You must accept the fact they are probably never going to get “better.”

As for reproducing with them? Having children with a narcissist you are voluntarily and mindfully nurturing would be disastrous because to the narcissist, a child would be competition and have demands that would need to be met before theirs. This would enrage them in the same way a new brother or sister enrages a three year old. If you are married to or in a relationship with a narcissist and wish to stay with them and nurture them instead of going No Contact, they must be your ONLY “child.” When you choose to be with a narcissist, you are adopting an eternal infant. You would have to accept the fact they will most likely never grow up. Obviously, this choice wouldn’t be for everyone.

Second to a strong desire to “mother” your narcissist would be the ability to laugh at their antics and not take things too seriously. In one woman’s case, she said her narcissistic husband laughs WITH her, even though she admits the joke is usually on her.

I’m happy to hear there are people who can actually make things work with a narcissist. It requires a great deal of unconditional love and the ability to always put your own needs in a distant second place. I don’t recommend it for most people though.

ETA: I would recommend another requirement to making a relationship with a narcissist work: establish FIRM and VERY CLEAR boundaries, early in the relationship. Lidija clearly does this– I remember her saying in “I, Psychopath” when asked who made the rules she said she did. You would have to! Part of the maternal relationship requires the ability to provide discipline when it’s needed too. A narcissist who respects you because you established boundaries and can laugh with them and speak to them in their language won’t have a problem following your rules but may need to be reminded sometimes. 😉

Making love last with a narcissist: the rules

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In summary, here are the cardinal rules for keeping your sanity intact while in a relationship or marriage to a narcissist:

1. Be a high empathy person with a strong maternal instinct.

2. Accept the fact they will probably never be cured.

3. Establish FIRM boundaries as early as possible and don’t be afraid to remind them of the rules when they balk or disobey. Remember you are dealing with an emotional toddler.

4. Be willing to always be in their shadow and not steal the show from them

5. Be able to LAUGH and not take what they do and say too personally.   It’s not about you.

6. Do not have children with your narcissist.  He/she is your child. (I used to joke that my MN ex husband was my “other child.” How true that was, and in some ways I wish I had known some of these rules back then, which might have made my life a little easier while still with him.)

The narcissist has to fulfill a requirement too. He or she must be insightful enough to recognize they are narcissists and mentally ill.