Diving into the Inferno.

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Making your inner judge work for you.

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Credit: Me (click to enlarge image)

I’ve recently met my Inner Critic, who from now on I’m going to call my Judge, because it’s funnier and seeing the Critic as cartoon-like helps me be able to make him seem  (I think of the Critic as male for some reason) less intimidating and scary.

I mentioned that the Judge, while keeping me trapped on a very thin tightrope, making me afraid of a lot of things, really is trying to protect me. Unfortunately the Judge’s overbearing manner can be abrasive and downright abusive, attempting to keep me trapped in old shaming thinking patterns (which apparently it thinks are best because it’s a big clueless dummy).

You need your Inner Judge, because it keeps you moral and doing the right thing. It also gangs up on you when you’ve let others step on your boundaries or abuse you (“how could you be so stupid to let that person take advantage of you AGAIN?”) The problem is, the voice isn’t very nice and feeds into your already low self-esteem. It makes you feel like a bad person–or a pathetic loser. As a result, you can be afraid to take any action.

For me, although I’ve used all the Four F’s, my primary defense has been and still is Dissociation.  Pete Walker talks about the Four F’s of C-PTSD–Fight (narcissism), Flight (obsessive-compulsiveness and workaholism to escape), Freeze (dissociation; withdrawal from humanity, self-isolation), and Fawn (being codependent).

The trick is to make your Inner Judge work FOR you instead of against you. My therapist had me try to think of “him” as being afraid rather than mean and judgmental. By having compassion for your Judge, you can actually change the way the Judge talks to us.

Changing the Judge’s script.

My Judge used to (and often still does) tell me things like:

1. You are worthless. You never accomplished anything of any value.
2. Who would listen to you? You think you’re some kind of expert? What sort of credentials do you have?
3. You’re over the hill and it’s too late for you. You will die poor, miserable and alone.
4. All your friends and everyone in your age group are making more money than you, own their own homes, can go on vacations, have real careers, etc. What’s wrong with you?
5. All your friends are still married or re-married, but you don’t have anyone and will never find anyone else. You’re too old to find anyone now.
6. You’re so weak and such a pushover.
7. You are too crazy to have a good life. You have too many mental issues.
8. You made bad choices, that’s why your life is like it is.
9. You’re embarrassing to be around and are socially awkward so it’s best if you keep your mouth shut.
10. Your accomplishments aren’t real, they don’t really count, so bragging about them makes you look like a narcissist.

And finally…
11. What is wrong with you?

These are lies, the same lies my abusers used against me as long as I can remember. These lies became internalized and now that I’m NC with my abusers, my Inner Judge still does their dirty flying monkey work. But unlike my abusers, my Judge can be trained to change the unhelpful, judgmental statements to things that can be more helpful, like:

1. You are worthwhile. You have accomplished as much as you have been able to, and that’s enough for right now.
2. Many people enjoy your blog and tell you how much it’s helped them. You have friends who love talking to you and like your insight about things. Just because you don’t have a piece of paper deeming you as an “expert” doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about.  You have the expertise of life experience, which is more valuable than any degree.
3. You’re never over the hill. Age is just a number. We evolve with age and get wiser. Getting old isn’t bad, but society likes to tell you it is.  even if you remain “alone,” you can still have friends, happiness, and a full life.
4. You might feel envious, but many people are doing worse than you. You have many blessings, and you also shouldn’t compare yourself to others. You should only compare your accomplishments to previous accomplishments, not those of others. We are all different and have different reasons for being here.
5. Being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. What’s so bad about being single? You could still find someone anyway. In the meantime, cultivate your skills, talents, self esteem and friendships. Those count for just as much if not more than “being part of a twosome.”
6. You’re strong and are getting good at setting boundaries that work but are also permeable enough to let others in sometimes.
7. You are not crazy. You have PTSD, which isn’t a mental illness, but a normal reaction to a series of abnormal events. And you’re getting better every day.
8. Yes, you made some bad choices, but who doesn’t? You also made those bad choices because you didn’t have a choice but to make them (you were programmed to always make the choice that kept you from taking any real risks or chances–which usually meant not making a choice at all–and this is what kept you from growing emotionally). This was NOT YOUR FAULT.
9. You are smart and a lot of people like you. You have a right to express what you feel.
10. You should be proud of your accomplishments. Talking about them sometimes isn’t bragging, it’s showing healthy self esteem.
11. What happened to you to make you believe such outrageous lies?   There was something wrong with the people who told you these lies.

Why I changed my blog’s description.

I just changed this blog’s header description slightly.  It now says “Confessions of a Recovering Borderline.”  There are two good reasons for this.

  1. This blog has always has been (and probably always will be) confessional in nature.
  2. In my last session, my therapist gave me some more information about my current diagnosis (he said he had to think about it for awhile before he was sure).  The verdict is that I used to have BPD but no longer qualify for that label!   How cool is that! This is a huge, HUGE deal for me.     I wrote more about it in this post, which I decided not to put on this blog.  Blogging (among other things) had a lot to do with this “impossible” achievement.  Now I just have residual PTSD (actually C-PTSD if you’re not a DSM purist, which he is not, thank goodness) and that’s what I’m still working through and imagine I will be for some time.

I wanted to keep BPD somewhere in the blog’s header but don’t want to misrepresent myself by calling myself something  that no longer applies.  So that’s why I changed it a little.   Like me, this blog has been through many changes since I started it in September 2014, and it will keep growing and evolving with me.   I have no plans to ever take it down.

 

Paper tigers: why I choose understanding over rage.

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I know I don’t need to (or should) forgive what the narcissists in my life have done to me. I will never again enable them or give them the benefit of the doubt.  I certainly won’t attempt to fix one (an action about as futile as trying to empty the ocean using a teaspoon). I can’t fix a narcissist and neither can you. The only viable way to deal with a narcissist is not at all. Go No Contact. Release them from your life.

Going No Contact  isn’t an act of hatred or revenge, and it doesn’t break any commandments either (if they are your mother or father) because they haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain as a parent.  If you have narcissistic parents (and that includes having one who isn’t technically a narcissist, but was codependent to the narcissistic parent and never took your side and colluded with the abuse), then you are an orphan.  You were mercilessly abandoned.  So it’s not a sin to go no contact with a narcissistic parent.  It’s an act of self-preservation. The same goes for a narcissistic spouse, sibling, or friend.  You owe them nothing, no matter what they tell you.

That being said, I still do try to understand the narcissists in my life. I see them as broken people who, whether by choice or design, have adopted a way of relating to others that poisons their own minds as much as it poisons the life-force of their victims. Yes, I feel badly for them. I don’t like them or what they do, but I feel badly for them. They cannot help themselves.

Some of you won’t understand my attitude. I understand the lack of understanding. Narcissists have made our lives hellish and compromised our ability to become everything we could have been.

Anger, rage and hatred is a perfectly normal and desirable initial reaction when you find out you’ve been had by one or more narcissists, especially if they were your parents, who were supposed to love you unconditionally. But it shouldn’t be permanent. I’ve been criticized for my attitude before, but I think it was taken out of context, because I’ve never suggested, not even once, that anyone needs to put up with a narcissist or keep him or her in your life. But for me, feeling pity for them (NOT forgiving them!)–from a safe distance–helps me to feel like less of a victim myself.  You might be surprised how well it works, too.

I don’t choose to be an eternal victim because that sucks. I don’t choose to hold onto my rage and anger (been there, done that!) because, well, it’s toxic to me. Seething anger eats away at my soul and turns me into someone I don’t like at all. I start obsessing on my rage and hatred and that turns me bitter, resentful and depressed. It drives home my victimhood and makes me wallow in self pity (“Oh, poor, poor me, WHY did *I* get stuck with such evil monsters as parents/spouse/friends, etc.”)

By seeing narcissists as broken people who can’t help themselves and will probably never change without some kind of earth-shattering shift in their consciousness (which must come from inside them and only them), their power over me seems diminished. They become paper tigers instead of terrifying beasts who rip me to shreds and eat me alive. And by seeing a narcissist, especially one who has “raised” you, as a toothless paper tiger, by contrast I feel more powerful and less afraid.

I used to have as much rage and hatred toward narcissists as any other victim of narc abuse does. That attitude served me well, too, because it motivated me to make the final break. But I found that after a few months, I couldn’t hold onto that anger anymore because all it did was make me feel bitter and depressed, and it also held me into an identity as an eternal victim, which is an identity I don’t want. I’m tired of always feeling like a victim, but to do that I had to change myself and my attitudes.

For me, releasing my hatred and rage allowed me to stop stewing in negativity and self pity, and once I did that I could begin to work on the things in myself that needed working on. Since I moved on from all that rage, my overall attitude toward life has improved immensely. I’m beginning to feel like a real live person who can overcome just about anything my narcs have done to me, because all you can do is laugh at a paper tiger.

And, if you’re still wanting to get back at your narcs,  think about this:  Narcissists WANT you to continue to feel victimized.  They WANT you to be afraid.   They even revel in your hatred because your hatred (which is based in fear) makes them feel powerful.  The best revenge is to see them as ridiculous paper puppets, which is really all they are.  By seeing them as pathetic paper tigers with no teeth or claws, you are giving them the opposite of what they want and they will HATE you for that!

I think the Serenity Prayer is something that can be as helpful to us as it has been to countless people in 12-step programs:

God grant me the Serenity

To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

The Courage to Change the Things I Can

and the Wisdom to Know the Difference…

***

Confusing patterns.

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In the almost year and a half since I’ve been blogging, an interesting picture has emerged. I started to blog after I went no contact with my ex (actually very low contact since we have children) as a way to process having been a victim of narcissistic abuse, first by my family of origin, then by my ex. My focus for the first six months or so was primarily on my abusers, and my rage at narcissists in general. Most of my articles were about narcissists and narcissism, and I read everything I could about it too. I became close with other ACON (adult children of narcissists) bloggers. I wasn’t ready yet to take a good long look at myself and what I could do to help myself, other than staying far away from abusive people. But it was a very good start to a journey that proved to be unpredictable and at times very confusing.

Last spring or maybe late last winter, I began to think something was missing. Inexplicably, I began to think more about the point of view of people with NPD and realized they were almost always abuse victims too. I wrote several articles that angered other ACON bloggers because, they felt, I was being too sympathetic toward narcissists and even being a “narc hugger.” The things I was saying were heresy to many in the ACON world (this was the only time there was ever any drama on this blog). I lost some of my followers.

It was time to look inward. I wondered if I was a heretic too, and also wondered why I felt sort of personally insulted by all the vitriol thrown at people with a severe personality disorder who, I felt at the time, simply couldn’t help themselves. I felt torn between two warring factions, and got caught in the crossfire. And that brought me to ask the big question: was I a narcissist myself?

I read up on covert narcissism and in early August, decided I must be one. After all, so much of what was described seemed to fit my personality. It would explain my feelings of ambivalence and my inability to take a firm stand. For a few months I posted on a forum for people with NPD, most of whom had never been diagnosed by anyone other than themselves, and most who believed themselves to be the covert (“fragile”) type of narcissist. I thought to myself, these people aren’t so bad. They all seemed pretty understanding and even empathetic and I felt like I could relate to many of them. Maybe NPD was unfairly stigmatized.

I decided I wanted to heal from my “NPD” and started a second blog about that (which I’ve recently transformed into a therapy blog and have admitted I do not have NPD). I “came out” about my “covert narcissism” on this blog.

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Back on this blog, I lost interest in posting new articles about narcissism, because it made me feel like a huge fraud. If I was a narcissist, I had no desire to be the female Sam Vaknin (a narcissist who writes books and articles about narcissism) and if I wasn’t one, then I was some kind of spineless wimp and even a traitor to ACONs. I chalked up my waning interest in the subject to a matter of not being able to come up with anything new to say about NPD or narcissistic abuse. Been there and done that, I thought.

Rather than take this blog down, I decided to turn it into a “general purpose” blog and just post about anything that was on my mind. I began to write a lot more articles about how I could change myself and become a better, happier person. I read more self-help articles and found myself focusing more on my own spiritual and emotional growth. The focus was now off the narcs, and just on myself. The labels didn’t really matter.

After posting for a few months on the NPD forum, another thought began to play in my mind: maybe these people didn’t really have NPD. Maybe they were just confused, like I was. Maybe they were just suffering from other disorders, like BPD, or complex PTSD, or avoidant personality disorder, or even Aspergers (all of these disorders are often confused with covert NPD, even by professionals). These people were really just abuse victims who, for whatever reason, had labeled themselves as narcissists. Real narcissists would never post on a board like that or suffer so much or want to change themselves. Or would they? Who knew?

I felt too confused there. I didn’t know who these people were and I didn’t know who I was. I was getting more confused by the day. I wasn’t learning anything; I was going around in circles. I lost interest in the forum and started therapy. My therapist assured me I do not have NPD although I may have some of the traits. But most survivors of narcissistic abuse have picked up N traits from their abusers (what the ACON community refers to as “fleas”) and my other disorders (BPD and Avoidant PD) can mimic narcissism anyway. It’s understandable that I would have become confused.

Looking back, I can see that what happened was two things. First, my confusion stemmed from a weak sense of self. Many abuse victims have never been allowed to develop a strong sense of self. Some victims even identify with their abusers (Stockholm Syndrome) and in a worse case scenario, may collude with the abuse. Borderlines in particular are prone to becoming chameleons who identify with their abusers. Even though the abusers were gone from my life, they continued to have an influence over me. But that’s the unhealthy part.

Second, while initially I focused on my abusers (as all ACONs do when they realize they’ve been had), after all that righteous anger was almost purged from my system, I began to shift my focus on understanding rather than rage. Obviously this caused me a lot of confusion and raised the ire of some. My attempt to understand narcissists didn’t mean I condoned their behavior or what they had done to me, nor did it mean I was a traitor or a wimp who couldn’t make up her mind. Rather, the shift in focus enabled me to move on from that early leg of my journey (the righteous anger) and focus more on myself and what I could do to change me.

Things may play out differently for others. Some ACONs remain stuck in rage forever (not healthy, in my opinion); others, who have struggled with letting narcissists violate their boundaries, make the decision to shore up their boundaries and not take any more crap from them, but stop obsessing about them too. Others realize that their codependency has been as much of a problem for them as their narcissists’ abuse, and they begin to work on themselves. I think the path we take as survivors depends on a combination of individual temperament and the particular damage our narcissists have done to us. Whatever works best for us is the path we should be on. In my case, I need more permeable boundaries rather than reinforcements to them. When I was being abused they were too permeable, but after my escape, I shored them up too much. I need to re-learn how to let people in, but able to tell which people should be kept out.

I’m not making any New Years resolutions.

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It’s hard to believe, but I’m entering my third year since ousting the narcissistic psychopathic ex from my life once and for all. So much has happened since then. The other huge change I made in 2014 was starting this blog, which has proved to be powerful therapy.

In 2015, I shifted my focus from the narcissists in my life to my own behaviors and realized that to find happiness, I needed to change. Blogging alone was no longer enough, and so I entered actual therapy–the intensive, psychodynamic type that makes you dig deep into your distant past, not just behavioral therapy like CBT or DBT (though those certainly do work too). I’m seeing some patterns that are so obvious to me now, I can’t believe I didn’t see them before. Tonight was probably the most incredible session I’ve had so far, and I’ll be writing about it later. This has been one of the best decisions I ever made, and I couldn’t have asked for a better therapist.

I’m not setting any New Years Resolutions, because those have a way of getting forgotten or abandoned. I’ve never kept a New Years Resolution, ever. But I have a feeling 2016 is going to be a great year with or without resolutions. Right now, I’m just feeling incredibly grateful at the shape my life is taking and the discoveries I’m making on this healing journey. I’ve surrounded myself with people and situations that are good for me and are helping me grow. That’s something new for me. I always surrounded myself with toxic people before. No more! Those days are long gone.

Have a safe and happy New Year and an even better 2016!

Unfolding.

origami_crane_in_hand_by_miaauraylea

Tissue paper origami wings
pressed down flat on the table
now unrecognizable sharp edges that cut and slice
No longer beautiful
no longer delicate
a paper thing bound for the trash
made ugly by the rage of its creator
because it didn’t come out perfect
It insulted her pride
and filled her with shame

You came along and saw beauty there
in its flattened ruins
I see you holding it gently in your hands
I see the sadness in your eyes
at what this once was and could have been

Your clumsy but tender fingers prodding its innards
working to bring it back to beauty
Wrinkles are its scars
You are so careful not to tear the aging paper
as you work the jumbled angles back to life

It will never be perfect
even so much as the day it was made
but its unfolding is a testament to your compassion
made beautiful by those who see its value
and breathe life into it
and save it from incineration.

“Fun and easygoing” me.

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I’ve noticed something strange lately. People are treating me differently. People actually seem to like being around me. Someone at work told me everyone who sits at our table says they love working with me because I’m fun, easygoing, and know what I’m doing.

Of course I know what I’m doing but fun and easygoing? Me? I’ve also noticed people–even total strangers–smiling at me more. I always used to think everyone was scowling at me.

Has something in me changed that makes me nicer to be around, or is it just that my perception of how others view me has changed? I always used to worry that I was somehow unacceptable and probably acted the part. If you believe you’re worthless, people will treat you that way. Or is it just that when you hate yourself,  you just perceive people treating you badly when they really aren’t?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know I’m worrying a whole lot less about what people think of me, and that’s making me able to act a little more confident and genuinely interested in others.

It isn’t all about me.

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What I’m learning is that everything isn’t always about me.

I used to always assume people were obsessing in a negative way about me and would interpret, say, a neutral expression or a lukewarm greeting as “that person must be upset with me/hate me/is mad at me/disapproves of me” etc. Sometimes I have to make a conscious effort not to let my mind go in this direction if someone acts in a way other than thrilled to see me. Sometimes they’re just having a bad day, are angry at someone else, or angry in general, or are generally just an asshole to everyone. Sometimes it’s nothing at all other than my choosing to perceive a neutral expression or body language as something negative. It takes a lot of practice to get out of that habit of paranoia and hypervigilance and I always have to remind myself to stop taking every little thing personally and think outside myself instead. I think this is a prerequisite to being able to empathize–being mindful that someone else might have a problem that has nothing to do with me.

Letting go of fear.

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Sometimes I have funny thoughts when I’m just lying on my bed half asleep. It’s at those times my subconscious mind sometimes bubbles into consciousness (which makes the half asleep state similar to meditation). Anyway, the thought I had was simple and profound. I was just lying there with random thoughts drifting through my head, and thinking about how “small” my life is, how little I have both materially and emotionally. But it wasn’t self pity, it was just an observation of reality. Suddenly another thought bubbled into awareness: you only get what you put out.

“You only get what you put out.” Suddenly I was wide awake and almost shocked by the simplicity of this message. I thought about how little I put into anything–I have very little interest in most things, don’t join anything, don’t take any action, don’t reach out to people, don’t look for new opportunities (or even recognize them when they are staring me in the face), always make excuses, always allow things to just “happen.” And then I wonder why I feel like life controls me, rather than the other way around. I realized that my life isn’t *horrible* really (many people have it much worse), it’s just extremely unsatisfying and seems empty and devoid of any color or life. That’s because I approach it with very little enthusiasm and don’t want to make the effort to take on more or reach out to other people.

And why is this? It’s because of fear. I’m afraid of..everything. To let go of fear, somehow..and replace that fear with love…that’s the remedy for all my problems.
To become comfortable with myself and allow vulnerability into the equation requires letting go of fear. Recognizing and embracing vulnerability is the most courageous thing any of us trapped by fear and its outer trappings (narcissism, irrational anger, avoidance, all the personality disorders, etc.) will ever have to do. But it’s the only way.

It sounds easy…but it’s not. Letting go of fear is the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do. I’m used to it. I’ve had it all my life. I don’t know how to live without it. It’s a dysfunctional relationship, the one I have with fear, and I’m codependent to it.