My kids escaped cluster B hell.

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I’ve lived a harder life than most people.   All my life, I’ve been surrounded by Cluster B people and many of them had substance abuse issues too (alcoholism and drug addiction are closely correlated with Cluster B personality disorders).

I was raised by a somatic narcissist mother and a covert narcissist/borderline father.   Both were alcoholics.  I never knew my half-brother and sisters, who were not raised by my parents after I was born.   My grandparents all died when I was still young, but from all the accounts I’ve heard, they were also all Cluster B or codependent in a cluster B marriage   In 1986, I married a malignant narcissist/sociopath (also an alcoholic and drug addict) and was the codependent victim in that relationship until just three years ago.    Surrounded by so many cluster B people, it was almost inevitable I would develop a cluster B disorder myself (as well as severe C-PTSD) and so I did.   I almost became an alcoholic myself.   Our extended family is fragmented and shattered, with various factions scattered across almost every part of the United States.  I’m not close to any of them.   Some of them I have never met and probably never will.

Somehow, the family mental illness appears to have skipped over both my children.  My daughter, who is 23, was a difficult teenager, frequently in trouble.  For a few years she hated me and sided with her dad (she was his golden child and he frequently tried to use her as a pawn against me).  Due to her problems in school and at home, she was diagnosed with several things, including Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) which often becomes a cluster B disorder in adulthood.   But she never did and during the last two years, has shown she has a lot of empathy for others and is also finally making some good life choices.    My son, 25 now, never seemed much at risk; he was his father’s scapegoat and a target of bullying as a child (much like I was),  yet he seems to have escaped having even Complex PTSD. His worst problem is he’s very obsessive-compulsive and has anxiety issues (don’t we all?) Of course, they are both young,and sometimes symptoms of BPD or NPD don’t really manifest until later, but as far as I can tell, they both seem free of those disorders.   If either of them does become Cluster B,  it would break my heart because I don’t think I could bring myself to go No Contact with them.   But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I think a lot of things led to my kids never developing cluster B disorders (or at least not seeming to), not least of which was pure luck.     I think they knew that as disordered as I was and as hobbled as I was as their mother due to my codependent nature, my love for both of them was the real thing.     Although I wasn’t protective enough when they were children; now I find I’m almost overprotective, even though they are adults.   It’s as if I’ve been trying to make things up to them.  I think educating them about NPD (they both know their father has it), narcissism in general, and other cluster B disorders,  and how they affected our family and its dynamics, have helped them to understand why their father and I acted the way we did.

My son may have escaped having these disorders because during his last year of high school (2009 and 2010), he lived for several months with the family of a friend of his, whose mother was a police officer and an excellent mother to her own sons.  This wasn’t a “foster child” situation; it was my son’s choice.   He told me he could no longer tolerate the toxic dynamics at our home and this officer’s family cared about him as if he were one of their own.   Since he was almost ready to graduate I didn’t see a problem with him staying there for awhile, though I did feel hurt and missed him a lot.   I could see that it would benefit him, even as sick as I was at that time.  I knew that this was a good family who would set a good example for my son.

My life has been difficult in almost every way one can imagine, but I feel so grateful that I have a great relationship with both my children now that they are adults.   Both of them recognize their dad as an abuser, and think I was the better parent.  My daughter liked her status as her dad’s favorite, and felt like she was required to “hate” me and now feels bad about that.  I told her not to feel guilty, because what he did to her was also a form of abuse.   As for my son, we’ve always been close.  I feel like these two young people would both be good friends of mine even if they weren’t my own children.   I love them, but I also LIKE them.   I’m so proud of them both.

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Child roles in dysfunctional families.

dysfunctional-family
Credit: Artist unknown.

 

Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed article about dysfunctional family dynamics. Here I am just going to talk about the roles various family members play, and the kinds of families that become dysfunctional. If you’d like to read the whole article, click on this link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family

Dysfunctional families are usually of two types:

1. One or more of the parents are active alcoholics or addicted to drugs.
2. One or more of the parents have a Cluster B disorder, usually Narcissistic Personality Disorder but sometimes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Histrionic Personality Disorder (or a combination of any of these).

The Cluster B Connection.

Outside of alcoholics and drug addicts, dysfunctional family dynamics are most prevalent when one or both of the partners suffer from a Cluster B disorder, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Malignant Narcissism.    After NPD, BPD is the most common disorder seen in the head of a dysfunctional family, though because it’s more common in women and Borderlines have more empathy than narcissists, BPD is most often seen in the codependent, passive partner.

ASPD (psychopathy or sociopathy) rarely appears by itself in dysfunctional families, as antisocial people and psychopaths tend to not be raising children at all (either because they’re incarcerated, their children have already been removed from the home, or they simply have no interest in raising children,) but a parent could have Malignant Narcissism, which is a combination of NPD and ASPD.   Also, people with pure ASPD, though more likely to be criminals or involved in illegal activities, tend to be less emotionally abusive than people with NPD or even BPD. They are merely selfish and lack empathy, and they are manipulative to get what they want, but they don’t care about getting emotional supply from others so they don’t engage in mind games like gaslighting, triangulating, projecting, and scapegoating (unless there is a material reward involved or they are trying to avoid culpability). However, some people with ASPD are sadistic and enjoy tormenting family members for fun.

Of all the Cluster B disorders, HPD is probably the least toxic (Histrionics are shallow, attention seeking, and dramatic, but not usually that abusive), but HPD is usually comorbid with another Cluster B disorder, such as NPD.

cluster_b_chart

In some cases, a non-Cluster B mental illness (such as Bipolar disorder) that causes abusive acting-out behavior may be the culprit, but it’s less common because most other mental disorders are less easily hidden from others and the person appears “crazier.” Non-Cluster B disorders are also more easily treated with drugs or therapy, and except for psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia, the afflicted person knows they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Cluster B and addictive disorders. 

Parents of dysfunctional families can also be both mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol. The two often go together. In fact, alcoholism and drug addiction are extremely common in people with Cluster B disorders. Alcohol and drugs are their attempt to fill the emptiness they feel inside themselves.

Even if an alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an underlying Cluster B disorder, the behavior of an active addict/alcoholic is very similar to someone who has NPD. The only difference in the behavior of a narcissist and someone with active alcoholism is that for the narcissist, the “fix” is emotional; for the alcoholic, it’s chemical. A non-Cluster B active addict or alcoholic can be every bit as emotionally abusive, self-centered, and manipulative as someone with NPD. Only getting their next fix is important. (As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the 12 steps of AA and other 12-step programs almost all address the problem of narcissism by encouraging humility, responsibility, and amend-making. A person on a so-called “dry drunk” is basically a sober person acting out in narcissistic ways, which may be their nature).

The Codependent Partner.

Sometimes only one partner has a mental disorder or addiction, but the non-afflicted parent is always going to be codependent to them. The codependent parent, whether they have a disorder or not, almost always suffers from PTSD or Complex PTSD. If both parents have a Cluster B disorder (which I think is usually the case), the one who has NPD or Malignant Narcissism is almost always going to call all the shots and dominate the other family members. If a Borderline is paired up with a Narcissist, the Borderline is almost always going to be codependent to the Narcissist, colluding in the abuse but also being abused themselves. Similarly, if a Covert Narcissist is paired up with an Overt Narcissist, the Covert one is going to be codependent to them and possibly abused. Such a scenario can lead to the Borderline or Covert Narcissist developing Stockholm Syndrome (identifying with and colluding with their abuser). Non-Cluster B codependents can also develop Stockholm Syndrome, because it’s a complication of C-PTSD. The codependent parent often (but not always) has a high degree of empathy, which is what drew them to the narcissist in the first place, in a misguided belief that they could “fix” them or they were led to believe that the narcissist could “rescue” them.

The Roles of the Children.

In the ACON community, there’s a lot of talk about Scapegoats and Golden Children, but there are other roles children can play in a family that are rarely addressed. In a two child family, most likely there will be a scapegoat and a golden child, but in larger families, there can also be a Lost Child, a Clown, and a Rescuer (codependent). It’s unhealthy for a child to be in any of these roles, but the Scapegoat and Golden Child role are probably the most dangerous to a child’s mental and emotional health, for different reasons. Even in a two-child family, the roles can shift back and forth (according to the Wikipedia article, families in which the children’s roles change and shift are called Balkanized families–this alludes to the constantly shifting loyalties and borders of the Balkan countries in Eastern Europe).

1. The Scapegoat.

scapegoat

Both this and the Golden Child role are the soul-killing roles, but for different reasons. The Scapegoat is the child who is targeted by the narcissistic (or alcoholic) parent. The parent often is able to get the rest of the family to serve as flying monkeys and gang up on that child, projecting anything they don’t want to “own” onto them. Like the sacrificial goats described in the Bible who were banished to the wilderness and tormented by villagers, the Scapegoated child carries all the shame the rest of the family doesn’t want to confront or deal with. All the unwanted emotions and bad qualities are unloaded and projected onto them, so the abusers don’t have to confront or deal with these problems in themselves.

Usually it’s the most sensitive child of the family who becomes the Scapegoat, because that child tends to be the Truth Teller, the only family member who can see the dysfunction and may even react against it. The most sensitive child, being the child who shows the most emotion, is also a threat to the narcissists in the family because emotional expression is such a frightening thing to them. In many, if not most dysfunctional families, the expression of emotion is not allowed. So the most emotional or sensitive child becomes the scapegoat, especially if they rebel against the dysfunction or criticize it.

The Scapegoat may be assigned the role of Bad Child, the Loser, the Stupid One, the Ugly One, the Crazy One, the Weak One, or any combination of these. No matter what they do, they cannot please the parents (or the siblings who have been turned against them). Scapegoat Children usually develop severe C-PTSD or possibly another mental disorder, and having been trained to be victims and never given the emotional, financial or other tools to succeed in life, tend to fulfill their families’ predictions of being “losers,” so then their families can say to others, “See? This child really is worthless.”

Scapegoated children also tend to attract other abusers throughout their lives and are at risk for being targeted for bullying even as adults and for entering into abusive relationships. If the adult child doesn’t go No Contact, the abuse continues, usually through some form of isolation, silent treatment, or exclusion. Scapegoated adults are talked badly about by the family and not invited to family functions. They are given no emotional or financial support, even though other members of the family are given these things. It’s not unusual for a scapegoated adult child to be living in poverty, even if their families are wealthy–not only because they were denied financial support when they needed it, but also because their self esteem took such a terrible beating that they have no confidence at all and never take any risks that could improve their lives. Severe C-PTSD can also cause a person to have an inability to focus or concentrate or set realistic goals.

A Scapegoat isn’t always a child. It can also be a parent, in which the children are turned against that parent by the abusive one.

2. The Golden Child.

girl with a gold medal and cups.

The Golden Child, often (but not always) the eldest child, is the parent’s trophy, pride and joy. The parents may seem to love that child, but being incapable of real love, their “love” is conditional and is based on their fantasy of what they want that child to be, not on who the child really is. The child is assigned to be a Mini Me of the narcissistic parent.

The Golden Child, basking in constant approval, showered with toys and gifts, never held accountable for any wrongdoing (which may be projected onto the Scapegoat), and often recruited as a co-abuser in the abuse of the Scapegoat, grows up entitled, grandiose, and spoiled. Because their Real Self has never been appropriately mirrored and their less than perfect traits are ignored or projected onto someone else, and because they were rewarded for playing a the role of the Perfect One, a Golden Child in a family is the most likely to develop NPD and become a clone of the abusive parent. In this way their souls are destroyed even more than the Scapegoat’s. To continue to be the parent’s favorite, they had to play a role which became internalized. This becomes their False Self. After awhile, they are no longer able to access their Real Self at all. Golden Children who have become narcissistic continue their entitled, bullying, manipulative, grandiose behavior into adulthood and are likely to head dysfunctional families themselves, continuing the cycle.

A non-Golden Child, even a Scapegoat, can become a narcissist too (usually the covert form of NPD), for self-protection, but Golden Children tend to develop the grandiose, malignant form of narcissism and as such, are the least likely to ever seek help for their disorder or admit they have become abusers themselves.

3. The Lost Child.

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In larger families (three or more children), one child is likely to be ignored and treated as if they don’t exist. This isn’t a form of silent treatment; it’s as if the parents don’t notice the child is there at all. The Lost Child isn’t victimized like the Scapegoat, but they aren’t spoiled either. They may or may not be recruited to assist in the abuse of the Scapegoat, but they won’t necessarily be punished if they don’t cooperate; they will simply be ignored. The Lost Child tends to be quiet and shy, and not make any waves. They are probably aware of the family dysfunction and may sympathize with the scapegoat (but don’t let anyone know this). As they grow older, they may crave attention or develop addictions, or they may remain shy and retiring throughout their lives. They tend to avoid confrontation and drama, and may become extremely introverted.

4. The Clown/Mascot.

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The Clown/Mascot attempts to divert attention away from the family dysfunction (and also get attention for themselves) by making light of everything. Everything becomes a joke to them, and they even use their own families as sources for humor. Clowns can be disruptive in class as children, to get attention, but because of their ability to see the humor in things, they tend to be outgoing and develop a large circle of friends during adolescence and adulthood (even if they are never taken very seriously). Family Mascots are almost never scapegoated, because they entertain everyone and take the focus off the family problems.

David Sedaris, a writer and humorist, is a good example of this dynamic at play.  Several writers in the ACON community (and even outside that community) were outraged by Sedaris’ callous essay (“Now We Are Five,” which appeared in the New Yorker after his younger sister, Tiffany, committed suicide).   Tiffany was clearly the family scapegoat and had evidently gone No Contact with the rest of the family. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and only had, as her father put it, “two lousy boxes” of belongings. I don’t know all the details, but it seems as if she was offered no support, either emotionally or financially, in spite of the family’s wealth and Sedaris’ success as a writer. She was probably mentally ill, but her mental illness may have been due to being the family reject.

In a candid interview Sedaris gave for Vice, he describes Tiffany and her relationship with the rest of the family. His words are very telling.

Even as a child I looked at my sister and wondered what that would be like, not to feel the warmth of my mother’s love. Tiffany didn’t. There was always a nervous quality about her, a tentativeness, a desperate urge to be in your good graces. While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger. Even when there wasn’t any danger. You’d see her trembling and think, You want danger? I’ll give you some danger

It’s been suggested that David Sedaris is himself a narcissist (possibly the golden child) and that could certainly be true, but I also suspect he served a secondary role as the family Clown/Mascot. His callousness toward Tiffany in his famous essay (and grandiosity about how great the rest of the Sedaris family was–it’s very common for narcissists who were golden children to hold their dysfunctional families up as paragons of perfection) seemed to be drawn both from narcissism and from a need to hide his anger and pain behind a wall of humor. Here’s a link to his essay (it’s heartbreaking and may be triggering):

Now We Are Five

The accompanying photo is interesting. Tiffany, the second to youngest child in a family of six children, sits in the bottom right hand corner. Her hair is cut short and unkempt, and she looks very unhappy. David, wearing the glasses, stands above her. Actually, none of the kids look very happy. Not a smile in the bunch.  Something’s definitely not right about this family.  It’s common to see family portraits where no one is smiling in the 18th or 19th centuries,  but not in the late 1960s, when this photo was taken.   Here’s another photo, from the Vice interview, where only Tiffany (again in the bottom right hand spot) looks desperately unhappy and disconnected from her siblings.

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Credit: Vice.com / Left to right: Amy, David, Gretchen, Paul, Lisa, and Tiffany

I used to enjoy Sedaris’ writings and looked forward to his books and essays, but after this essay, I just can’t read him anymore. (Augusten Burroughs is a better alternative and doesn’t seem to be a narcissist).

In spite of their raucous and jovial manner, Clowns are likely to be depressed because they have never learned to confront or deal with their true feelings.  They hide behind a wall of laughter.  Their sense of humor is really just a cover for their pain. Many Clowns become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a few become suicidal. Many of our great comedians served the Clown role in their families. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of them had drug issues or killed themselves.

5. The Rescuer.

superman_child

This is the codependent child who attempts to “fix” the family dysfunction by being obedient, always good, non-confrontational, overly generous, and self-sacrificing. The Rescuer may be highly empathic. The Rescuer tries to serve all the needs of the narcissistic/addicted parent, which of course is not possible. They will never argue with or criticize the narcissistic parent, and are always trying to get everyone to get along, which also is not possible. They may be the only family member who doesn’t abuse the Scapegoat, but they might if they feel like it’s required. However, even if they do collude in the Scapegoat’s abuse, they will be less abusive than the other family members, tending to take a back seat or even sympathize with the Scapegoat in private. In trying to please everyone, they please no one, and grow up feeling impotent and helpless. It’s a no-win situation.

When Rescuers become adults, they tend to unconsciously look for other abusers to “rescue,” having failed to do so in their families of origin. Like Scapegoats, Rescuers are likely to become abused themselves as adults, but it’s hard for them to leave an abuser because of their high level of empathy which keeps them tied to the abuser in their attempt to want to “help” them. They also tend to fall for an abuser’s promises to change and are easily “hoovered” back into a codependent relationship.

Shifting Roles.

In Balkanized families, the child roles can shift. The most common situation is a Golden Child becoming a Scapegoat, often upon reaching adulthood, if they fail to fulfill the unrealistic expectations put on them. (“You were such a disappointment to me!”) If a Scapegoat goes No Contact or leaves the family for some other reason, another child, possibly the Lost Child, becomes the new Scapegoat. Someone has to carry all the family shame.  If the family only has two children, the Golden Child may find themselves suddenly scapegoated or serving both roles.

Children who serve as both Scapegoats and Golden Children (very common in only children)  often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as well as severe C-PTSD and possibly other mental disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (almost always the result of severe emotional abuse).

Serving as both a Scapegoat and Golden Child is the ultimate mindf*ck because there isn’t even any consistency. The child never knows if they will be punished or rewarded from one minute to the next. Their only advantage (if they are an only child) is that they don’t have siblings who have been turned into flying monkeys who collude in the abuse.

If the family ever develops a need for a new Scapegoat (if the Scapegoat goes No Contact, dies, or disappears), the Lost Child is usually picked as a replacement, due to their non-confrontational, malleable temperament and lack of any real pre-existing role in the family.

My fractured memory.

FracturedMemory2
“Fractured Memory,” by Hanna Trussler, 2012

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my early years–childhood and adolescence. As many of you know, my parents were active alcoholics, narcissists (my dad more likely covert NPD or maybe Borderline), and that I spent almost all of that time miserable and lonely due to emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse both at home and at school (because I was already trained to be a good little victim and had no self esteem or the ability to defend myself, I was bullied a lot).

The problem is, most of these early memories are fractured, hazy, or both. I remember snippets of traumatic events, but in most cases I can’t remember the entire event, or it’s spotty. Some of my memories seem more like dreams than reality and therefore I can’t remember the specifics of what happened. The same is true of my abusive marriage. I can only remember fractured pieces of that time. The two and a half decades I spent with him don’t seem like a cohesive whole, but more like a photo album with many of the photos missing. But this post isn’t about my early adult years.

I think something happened when I was 12 that was significant and a kind of turning point for me–it was when I stopped trusting anyone, I think. It was the moment when I realized how truly alone I really was and that no one cared and anyone who said they cared was probably lying. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is when I stopped reaching out to others and began my avoidant pattern of behavior. Of course, this coincided with puberty, so maybe that had something to do with it too.

Here’s what I do remember. My parents and I had taken a two week trip to the beach. Another couple and their two children came along with us and rented the cottage next door. That couple was friends with my parents. I didn’t know my father was sleeping with the wife at the time, and my mother probably didn’t either, but I remember how jealous she was of that other woman because she was younger and blonder than she was and my father paid a lot of attention to her. Their daughter was a year older than me and was adopted. She was from India and was a close friend of mine at the time.  I envied her beautiful long, glossy black hair, permanent tan, and huge soft brown eyes.  Her little brother (her parent’s natural child) was an adorable little blond-headed boy of about 5 or 6. To me, they seemed like the perfect family. It may have been an illusion (for all I know, they were putting on appearances too), but to my 12 year mind, they seemed like they were in love with each other and their kids were both well loved and well-adjusted. My friend always seemed happier, more focused on a future (she eventually became a doctor) and much more emotionally stable than I was. I loved her and envied her.

My parents at the time were drinking heavily and fighting almost daily. Some of their arguments became physical, and I remember lying silently in my bed at night listening to these arguments as they escalated. I was both fascinated and terrified. What if they divorced? What if they abandoned me?  What if they killed each other?  What if I became an orphan?  I seemed to be the cause of an awful lot of their problems (and they did fight over me a lot).

This beach vacation didn’t put a stop to their constant fighting, and one night, my father left. I don’t know where he went, but my mother and I were left alone. My mother didn’t speak to me about this and her demeanor toward me was cold, as if I was an annoyance to her. I was terrified my father was never coming back, and I remember crying myself to sleep the next night. I don’t think my mother ever came in to comfort me. She was probably getting drunk, but I don’t remember.

Desperate for someone to talk to, I pulled the father of my friend aside, and asked him if I could talk to him in private. He always seemed like a warm and sympathetic person to me, someone who loved kids. We sat down outside on a bench near the parking lot, with the sound of the waves crashing behind us on the beach,  and I spilled out all my worries, all my pain, and all my fears.  I talked for about an hour.  He just held my hand and listened. I started to cry and he held me.  He told me everything would be alright. He didn’t say he was going to talk to my parents.

sad_child_beach

He must have talked to them, because that night I was told by my mother that my father was returning to talk to me. She said he was not happy and was in fact enraged.
He came back as promised, and that’s where my memory gets all hazy and fractured. I remember snippets, like quick-flashing frames from a movie: getting beaten severely (but I was always beaten in a way that bruises didn’t show), being told I was a troublemaker and was the reason the family was falling apart. That I was nothing but a problem to them and never knew when to keep my mouth shut. I don’t remember the rest but I know there’s even more. I just can’t access it.

I also don’t know if my friend’s father had told my parents what I’d said to him because he was concerned about me and thought they might listen to him, or if he was just another participant in the abuse against me.

I realized even then my parents were drunk and probably not fully in control of what they said and did, but I think behind their alcoholism was narcissism. I think a lot of narcissists become alcoholics or addicted to drugs, and even after they become sober or clean, refuse to look any deeper into the core issues that caused them to drink or use in the first place. But that’s a subject for a later post. One thing that did occur to me, was that the only time my parents seemed to come together as a team and weren’t attacking each other, was when they joined forces to attack me. Only then were they the unified couple I dreamed of, unified in their abuse of their only child.

I don’t remember much of what happened after that beating and berating. I’m pretty sure our vacation ended at that point. I might have been sent to stay with relatives for a week or two, or left with a babysitter, so they didn’t have to deal with me. I feel like something important got blacked out, but I can’t remember what it was. But it was around this time that I stopped being able to confide in anyone at all. I remember one of the nuns who taught me in 8th grade, a woman who seemed to favor me for some reason, once called me aside and asked me if I was abused at home. I thought to myself, how can she tell? Of course I told her I wasn’t, that everything was fine. But nothing was fine in my life anymore.  I think my emotional growth stopped that summer.  At age 12.  But it might have stopped even earlier than that.  How in the name of God was I ever supposed to grow into a happy successful adult, able to form healthy attachments to others, when I never grew beyond the age of 12?

The next summer I was sent to sleep-away camp for the entire summer, and while I did enjoy it for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a rejection, a way for my parents to get rid of ‘the problem child’ so they didn’t have to deal with my “issues.”

Wow. Suddenly I feel like crying. The pain is getting real.

I’m asking the little girl who still lives somewhere inside me to tell me everything she knows.

Ripped to shreds by an alcoholic malignant narcissist.

Hillary-clinton-drunk-600x425

I think I know one of the reasons why I’ve been hating my job more than usual lately.  Two people–a customer and a coworker, both malignant narcissists,  have targeted me, deciding I’d make a particularly tasty meal.

Malignant narcissists have a certain look about them. They seem to all have beady, penetrating eyes. They seem to be able to see right inside your soul, but there is no warmth there. If their eyes are dark, they look black and bead-like. You can’t see their irises. If their eyes are blue, they are cold and steely, sometimes with constricted pupils. I don’t know if others are able to see this, or if it’s just my imagination. I don’t think it is though. The problem is, I’m usually not paying attention to their eyes until after they’ve already decided to turn me into their prey.

They always seem to go after me. I’m an HSP and they seem to have an uncanny way of zeroing in on me and choosing me as their target. I feel so special! 🙄

I have a lovely job cleaning houses. I’m being sarcastic of course. Sometimes it’s okay, though. It’s a good job for a writer because you see just about everything and meet the strangest people you could ever hope to meet. I’ve done whole posts telling anecdotes about the people I meet on this job and the crazy things I see.

About half the time I work by myself. I prefer it that way. As an avoidant introvert, it’s exhausting and stressful to have to adapt my personality to someone new every day, but lately I’ve been being partnered with a random array of newer people, I suppose to “train” them. They never tell you that’s what you’re doing though. We don’t even get yearly evaluations. You get no feedback at all by management. The only “feedback” you get is through the customers, who sometimes call the office to complain or give compliments. But of course customer’s opinions are going to be biased more often than not so it’s not a fair way to evaluate employees.

Last week I was sent with a new girl to go do a “first time in” at the house of a former employee, who I will call Doris. I knew this woman; I never liked her much but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I didn’t like the way she looked at me with those beady black laser-like eyes, and I found her manner vaguely condescending. I remember how much Doris had hated her job. She complained constantly about the customers, and she was one of the laziest people I ever met. She skipped doing things because she wanted to go home. She was always complaining about how sick she was (probably hungover). She thought the customers weren’t paying enough (to be fair, some of them aren’t). She also had a serious drinking problem. Sometimes you could smell the alcohol on her breath in the morning.

I was surprised when I got my sheet with Doris’ name and address on it, listing the rooms she wanted cleaned. I thought to myself, she’s either going to take sympathy on us because she used to do this and hated it so much, or she’s going to be hell on wheels. Guess which one she was.

Doris’ house was a disaster. It hadn’t been cleaned in at least six months. Dog hair and dust were everywhere. Empty wine glasses sat on tables. Doris saw me and my partner and the first thing she did was hug me. It was like being hugged by a snake. Then she offered water. But the niceties didn’t last. We looked around her house and realized there was no way we could finish it all in the three hours she was paying for. I told Doris I thought it might take closer to 4 or 5 hours and asked her if that was alright. She would have to pay more though. I told her the office could work things out with her about the price.

She whirled around and stared daggers at me. I felt like a cornered animal.

evil_queen

“I asked for four ladies, not two.” I looked at my partner, who was giving me that “uh oh” look. “Oh, but don’t worry,” Doris purred sweetly, dripping poison honey. “I know that’s not your fault. I’m sure you two can get this done in three hours.” Uh, right.

I called the office and was told they didn’t have enough people to send two more, so let the woman know this and apologized for the mix-up. The office is disorganized and has always been. “You remember how they are,” I said.

Apparently she didn’t. She was the customer now. It was as if she never worked there and her memory went AWOL. She showed no empathy for our plight at all.

I got busy dusting and vacuuming. My partner started on the bathrooms. For the first twenty minutes or so, Doris stayed out of our way. But soon she was back, breathing down our necks, especially mine. She glanced briefly at the bathroom my partner had cleaned and crowed on and on about how perfect it looked. Then she started dusting the bedroom, which I had just finished.

She proceeded to tell me all the spots I missed. Then she started telling me I was using the wrong equipment and should try doing it a different way. I felt myself bristle. I’ve been on this job for two years and I know how to do my job. I resented this nasty, drunk woman doing my job for me and saying I was doing it wrong.

For the next four and a half hours (which is how long it took to clean her filthy house), I had to put up with Doris breathing her alcohol-and-cigarette infused breath down my neck as she continued to get drunker and meaner. She made me do everything over at least twice. She obviously had it in for me, not my partner, who she left alone. For some reason, I had become her prey. I was to be her Cinderella for the day.

You are not allowed to be rude to a customer, even one who used to be an employee, so I bit my tongue the whole time. I put on my best fake-polite self and “yes-ma’am”ed this narcissistic bitch and smiled until I thought my face would crack. I inquired about Doris’ family, her dogs, her new job. I tried my best to be accomodating and friendly, but she was having none of it.

She had told us not to clean the kitchen, only to vacuum and mop it, because there wouldn’t be enough time. So AFTER I finished vacuuming her kitchen, this awful woman changed her mind and started scraping black crud off her stove and sweeping it onto the clean floor. Of course I had to go behind her and vacuum the kitchen again.

Our time was already up. But Doris chose that moment to stand in front of the foyer chandelier that had about 40 removable glass panels, actually tapping her foot and making tsk-ing noises. Cleaning that would take about an hour, and we had already agreed all I would do was dust it with the high duster, not actually remove the panels and wash them individually. But high-dusting them hadn’t removed the yellowish nicotine film from the panels (Doris is a chain smoker). She asked me why I had “skipped” dusting it. I explained that I had done what she asked, but that the panels would have to be washed but it would have to be on another day.

Doris’ mouth formed a thin white line and she hissed, “get the stepladder.” I did. She stood there watching me like a disapproving schoolteacher as I removed each panel one at a time and handed them to her while she rubbed them with a dirty rag and handed them back to me to re-hang. We were way past our time limit. Cleaning those panels took about another half hour and they looked no cleaner than they did when she was standing there tapping her foot and tsk-ing. I don’t know how I managed to hold onto my rage without exploding or walking out because by now I wanted to take a baseball bat to her damn chandelier and maybe Doris’ head too.

My partner had missed something in the half bathroom by the kitchen, and Doris KNEW my partner had cleaned that bathroom but she still started blaming me. “Lauren, you missed this spot on the side of the sink!” I couldn’t say, “it was my partner” without sounding petty and childish, so I just went and re-cleaned what she asked. I was shaking with rage by now.

A few minutes before we were about to leave, Doris told my partner how wonderful her cleaning was and that she hoped she’d come back. She said no such thing to me. Right in front of me, she handed my partner a $20 tip. I got nothing, of course.

As we were leaving, Doris stood in the doorway weaving, holding a wineglass with one hand and the other one clutching the side of the door for support.

drunk_woman

“Oh, I just want to say I’m really not very picky,” she slurred. “It’s my husband.  He was in the military and you know how they can be. He will be inspecting everything.”   Sure, right.  If her husband was so picky, why did he let her house get in that condition in the first place?  The bitch was lying and projecting onto her husband.

The next day, Doris called the office to complain about how I “missed everything” but fortunately they didn’t take her complaint seriously. They know I do my job well and that I don’t normally get complaints. It still bothered me though.

I found out today that my partner went back to Doris’ house again yesterday (who, by the way, hated Doris as much as I did) with the person I worked with today. Doris was drunk again, and spent the first ten minutes complaining loudly about what a horrible job I had done and that everything I’d cleaned would have to be done over. The woman who told me this said that it looked to her like the other girl had skipped a lot of things, and what I’d done looked fine. She said, “I think Doris just had it in for you.” They always have it in for me.

I was going to talk about the narcissistic coworker too (a covert narcissist), but I’m saving that for another post due to how long this one became, and also because in writing this I’ve re-triggered my anger and need to think about something else.

DMT, healing, spirituality and ego death.

dmt_trip
Example of the type of visuals you might see in the beginning of a DMT trip.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend or condone taking illegal drugs, nor do I recommend tampering with occult or new age practices such as attempting to open the Third Eye (which really does exist as far as I’m concerned) since I do think it could potentially open doors for evil spirits to gain access to your soul. Still, the intensely psychedelic chemical known as DMT (dimethyltryptamine), which is produced naturally by the human pineal gland (and is present in almost all plants and animals), has fascinating implications for treating or curing personality disorders, including NPD. So read on, even if (like me) you never want to mess with it.

I’m an obsessive kind of person who gets intensely interested in certain topics and reads as much as I can about them while my intense interest lasts (another reason I thought I was an Aspie for so long).
Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading up a lot about DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a naturally produced hallucinogen that has several unique properties: (1) it’s naturally produced in the human brain (by the pineal gland, which corresponds to the “third eye”) during birth, death (and accounts for NDE’s), and while we dream; (2) it occurs in almost all living things, including ourselves, and therefore is widely available although it’s hard to extract and synthesize and is also the most illegal drug there is (except in places where it is sanctioned for shamanic use, such as Peru, where it’s drank in ayahuasca tea); (3) In almost all “trip reports” of DMT users report “coming back” feeling completely humbled and with a renewed appreciation for life and our connection with the universe and with others; and (4) the trip lasts only about 10 minutes! It’s also been known to cure drug addiction (!) and alcoholism. DMT itself is non addictive, as are all psychedelics.
DMT is the most intense psychedelic known.

dmt_molecule
The DMT molecule.

Unlike most other psychedelics, you do not lose your sense of judgment and rationality during the experience. Although you’re completely out of touch with reality (as we know it) and you won’t remember you’ve taken a drug at all, your cognitive functioning remains intact so you are able to learn from the experience–if you can remember it.

Is DMT really a drug at all? I’m not so sure after reading what I have on Erowid.org and watching a number of videos and reading articles and trip reports. I think it’s a chemical that causes you to become aware of other dimensions and realities, and the “hallucinations” are actually quite real–ways of seeing the universe with the Third Eye (the pineal gland) rather than the physical eyes.
I’ve always been fascinated by trip reports for some reason, even though the only drug I’ve ever taken regularly (besides alcohol) is weed.

I’m not encouraging anyone to take illegal drugs, and personally, while one part of me longs for this experience, I doubt I could handle it. I just know I’d be one of those people who’d totally freak out. From everything I’ve read, the trip is INCREDIBLY intense–much more so than with any other hallucinogen. Even with LSD (which I really disliked the one time I took it) you still have some tenuous grip on reality and some ability to ground yourself/control the trip. You don’t forget the fact that you are tripping, and can usually remind yourself of that to avoid a really bad trip.

But with DMT (which is usually smoked) you are completely out of control and find yourself so out of touch with 3-dimensional reality you don’t even remember you have taken a drug, and believe things have always been this way and always will be, and what you’re seeing is your new reality. You can’t remember who you are, where you are, what your name is, or even what you are. Yet your cognitive abilities remain intact!

dmt_crystals
Delicate DMT crystals.

What a DMT trip is like.
From my readings, it seems the entire experience goes something like this for almost everyone who’s tried it.

1. you smoke about 2-3 hits which is enough to get the full effect; 3 if you want to “break through” (which I’ll explain in a minute). Usually you can’t smoke more because the trip comes on so rapidly and by the time you’d be ready for a 4th hit you are in hyperspace and have no idea what you just did or where you came from or who you are.

2. almost immediately you start seeing intricate, colorful, geometric patterns, fractals, grids, and other psychedelia constantly moving and shifting into new configurations. Some of the visuals you see are impossible in 3 dimensional reality because they are showing you other dimensions. Sometimes you can get a similar effect during hypnagogic hallucinations that happen just as you fall asleep. But we rarely remember those and they’re fleeting. Apparently (though it’s not proven), DMT is released by the brain when we dream, and we only remember the dreams that are most like reality (usually, the ones that happen toward the morning) but actually most of the dreams we have earlier in the night or in deep REM sleep are very similar to a DMT trip. Also, like a dream, it’s very difficult to remember the trip after “coming to”–it fades or dissolves very similar to a dream. DMT is also released during near death experiences (NDE’s).

3. Early in the trip, if you have smoked enough, you pass through a kind of membrane that is similar to a lotus flower. Once you “break through” you will be in a place where impossible things happen and time and space don’t exist the same way they do in the physical world. Time either stops, or the person feels like they spend years or even eons in this place. Most people report a feeling of familiarity, as if they have been there many times before (maybe remembering their own birth or time spent in dreams?) Objects have more than three dimensions and almost everyone reports a feeling of meeting other entities who communicate with them. They could be demons, angels, or aliens, or sometimes are disembodied entities who don’t actually speak at all, but the user feels like someone or something is communicating with them. Sometimes these entities offer gifts–objects so incredibly intricate and beautiful they defy the imagination and can’t possibly exist in our own 3 dimensions. Profound insights are revealed. You are warned to not allow your astonishment (and you will be astonished) to keep you from paying attention to what you are being shown. At some point the user is told their time is limited and they begin to slowly feel reality come back.

There is no way to ground yourself in any way during these experiences; you must completely give into it and in fact you have no other choice. If you go into such a trip with any trepidation, the experience could be the most terrifying thing that ever happened to you.

other_realities

But even when the experience is terrifying, most people say later they’re glad they experienced it, because they were able to take away some realization of unbelievable profundity and say theywere humbled by the experience and see life and their relationships in a completely new way after returning. People have been cured of PTSD, drug addictions, and other psychological disorders by using DMT only one time. Some people are also able to recall long-forgotten childhood memories during the trip.

The stories I’ve read are so similar in nature (although each person receives a different insight or message or communicates with different entities) that I think the trip is to an actual place, not just something created by the mind. Shamans in South America and Mexico have been using it for ages and many people come to these shamanic healing sessions and leave a changed person.

During the intense trip, there is often a cleansing of both body and soul. Participants have reported severe nausea and vomiting (which could be due to slight poisoning) followed by diarrhea, but there is also emotional cleansing and catharsis with participants screaming and crying as they shed their egos and forget who or what they are. Sometimes spontaneous orgasm is even reported. Almost all these participants, although they appear to have suffered severely during the trip, feel great the next day, as if they’ve been reborn. Some say they are forever changed for the better, and the one experience they had doesn’t lead to a desire to do it again, because there’s simply no need to anymore.

To get a small idea of what a DMT trip is like, here’s an excellent simulation that includes commentary by Terence McKenna.

As one commenter who’s tried DMT under the video pointed out, this simulation is accurate but only about .000000001% what the real experience is like! I don’t think I want to try it! 😮

Implications for healing NPD and other personality disorders.
Since DMT has been effective on people with PTSD and other physical and psychological disorders and addictions to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it could be effective on someone with NPD, even deeply ingrained or malignant NPD. NPD is itself a type of addiction and in many respects it does resemble addiction to a drug, the drug being narcissistic supply.

On DMT a person experiences complete ego death, to the point they don’t even know if they exist or what they are or where they come from. But even with a bad experience, the user (if they don’t go psychotic) is changed for the better. People who were overly concerned with acquisition or materialism or money before their experience come back with different priorities, and more caring for themselves and others. They realize there is much more to the universe than themselves or their image, or the material things they can attain. They realize how insignificant they are and yet at the same time how much power they have (but power in a truly confident sense, not a narcissistic one). They feel more connected to the spiritual. Some atheists have suddenly come to believe in God. People emerging from the DMT trip are able to see beauty and goodness in the world and in others for the first time since early childhood, and sometimes memories of early childhood are aroused and purged during the trip. Some people report they suddenly can feel empathy and caring for others they never felt before.

shaman_ayahuasca
South American shaman offering cup of ayahuasca.

For anyone interested in the implications of the beneficial uses for DMT, I highly recommend reading the FAQ and trip reports for DMT over at Erowid.org. There is a book called “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” by Dr. Richard Strassman. A man called Terence McKenna also has many interesting Youtube videos where he describes his own trips and the properties of DMT. He doesn’t seem any the worse for wear.

Why is it illegal?
DMT is a Class 1 drug in the United States (and most other countries), which means it’s highly illegal and carries severe charges for possession, distribution, or synthesis. There’s a reason why this drug is illegal even though it occurs naturally in all of us–it’s intense and otherworldly beyond anyone’s wildest imagination and probably would cure many disorders instantaneously (well, within the 10-15 minutes the trip takes) and the pharmaceutical companies would lose money on their synthetic antidepressants and sedative drugs that don’t cure but simply maintain a person so they can function. If made legal, unconventional therapists or practitioners of alternative medicine might use it on a patient during a session and the drug companies would go out of business! (So would traditional therapists, for that matter.)

Again, I’m not recommending that anyone do illegal drugs or take something so intense as DMT. It’s very hard to obtain in smokable form or extract yourself anyway. But I think the implications here are fascinating and possibly earth-shattering for people with NPD and other personality disorders.

The dark side of DMT.

bad_trip

There are several drawbacks to using DMT (besides the severe nausea and vomiting some people report). People with NPD and a few other personality disorders (such as Schizoid or Obsessive Compulsive PD) might have a more unpleasant trip than the non-disordered, due to how closed off from themselves and unwilling to “let go” they are. But in the end, that unpleasantness could actually be a good thing. Long term psychodynamic therapy for people with NPD is extremely unpleasant too. There’s no way around it–the cure is going to be unpleasant, whether it’s in the form of 10 years of therapy, or a ten minute DMT trip.

DMT/ayahuasca aren’t drugs that should EVER be used for recreational purposes, if at all. They aren’t fun drugs so you and your buddies can “get high.” They may have healing, religious, or shamanic purposes if used responsibly, and preferably under supervision or at least with a responsible trip sitter. They have had some success not only with people with certain physical and mental illnesses such as PTSD, but with the terminally ill to help them come to terms with impending death and what the experience of dying will be like. Terminally ill patients given DMT usually become less afraid of death and dying. DMT is a serious drug meant only for sacred or teaching purposes and should never be used for recreation.

They can also open you up to evil or malicious entities who take advantage of the psychic door that’s opened during a trip. There are ways you can protect yourself. Here’s a very good article about the darker side of using DMT/ayahuasca (and other psychedelics) and how to avoid encountering dark spirits who might want to take something from you.

I read on one Christian website about a born again Christian who claims he was actually saved during a DMT trip, and still uses it occasionally to communicate directly with Jesus/God, but only with his sober pastor present, who apparently condones his use. I can’t say what my own faith’s stance is on using psychedelic substances for enlightenment, but as far as I know, it’s not condemned anywhere in the Bible. Of course, Adam and Eve’s “Tree of Knowledge” could well have been a psychedelic plant and their ingestion led to the Fall…so who knows? Deliberately ingesting psychedelic drugs could also be considered a form of sorcery, so if you have religious misgivings about it, you should probably stay away, even if only to avoid a bad trip caused by your fear of having one! Suggestibility while on any psychedelic substance is high, so if you believe you will run into demons or evil entities, then that’s what you’ll probably see.

DMT won’t kill you, but there’s always the small possibility of developing PTSD or even psychotic conditions due to suffering a particularly intense bad trip. There is no sure way to say for sure you won’t be a casualty. I can’t stress enough how potent this drug is.

A dream journal as an alternative.
One way around having to obtain or take DMT could be to keep a dream diary and begin to record and pay attention to your dreams and what they are telling you. Wake yourself up earlier in the night, when the dreams are of the more intense, DMT-type variety that are probably blocked off by the conscious mind to protect yourself. It’s been speculated the reason both DMT trips and dreams are so easily forgotten when we wake up or “come to” is because both stir up repressed memories and buried information in the unconscious mind that would freak the person out if they became conscious of it, or cause a severe depression. A person with NPD is especially cut off from their unconscious mind and repressed memories.
At some point I’ll be writing a longer post about dreams and how keeping a dream journal and recording dreams can help people with personality disorders and PTSD.

This TV movie about child abuse was way ahead of its time.

Today I was thinking about a TV movie I saw back in the 1980s that has haunted me ever since. I decided to watch it again tonight (you can watch the entire movie on Youtube–it’s in seven parts; I have posted the first part). It’s called Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night and was first aired in 1977. Susan Dey (of Partridge Family fame) played an abusive, alcoholic mother to a 4 year old girl and she becomes completely unhinged. The movie is extremely triggering and may be upsetting to some.

There are several things about this movie that I found quite interesting.

— Rowena (Susan Dey) seems to have every symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder–but a case could also be made that her symptoms could well be untreated severe PTSD caused by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her own parents. This movie illustrates why I think BPD is really severe PTSD caused by chronic childhood abuse and could make a good case for that.

— Rowena’s parents are both textbook examples of malignant narcissists. Her mother is cold, rejecting, gaslighting, and blames her daughter for her unhappiness, as well as pathologically envious of the attention she receives from her father, who sexually abused her (and apparently still does).

— Rowena’s psychiatrist is a narcissistic jerk who coldly dismisses her from a breakthrough therapy session at the moment she recalls and re-experiences a long forgotten memory of being locked in a closet as a small child. This turned out to be an extremely cruel (and unwise) thing for him to do.

— In the almost 40 years since this film was made, not much has changed. The child protective system is still hit and miss at best and often tragically incompetent.

— It’s a fascinating and convincing study of the way the pathology of abuse infects succeeding generations.

The movie, being made for TV, isn’t perfect. There are a few holes in the plot and certain scenes just seem contrived. I also can’t help thinking of “Dean Wormer” from the movie Animal House whenever John Vernon (the head doctor) is onscreen. But the acting, especially by Susan Dey and the little girl who plays her daughter Mary Jane (Natasha Ryan), as well as the caring doctor who stands up to the Powers That Be and tries to protect Mary Jane, is top notch.

Why isn’t there a 12-step program for narcissists?

narcissistsanonymous

…and I’m not talking about this either. 😉

A commenter on this post wondered why there aren’t any 12-step programs for people with NPD, and that got me thinking — well, why aren’t there?

About a month ago, my friend Mary Pranzatelli and I were having a conversation about this very same thing on Facebook.

There’s a lot of good reasons why a 12-step program might be helpful to a narcissist. After all, narcissism and addictive disorders like alcoholism have a lot in common. This isn’t an idea I just dreamed up. Sam Vaknin also wrote about the similarities, as well as others like psychologist Tian Dayton.

narcanontshirt

Here’s a quick list of things both narcissists and people addicted to substances have in common:

1. They are often in denial about their disorder. When a narcissist or an addict realizes they have a disorder they may want to get help. (This is actually the first step of programs like AA or NA.)
2. In some ways, both addiction and narcissism is a choice, even if it was made unconsciously (although there is likely to be a genetic component too that at least gives one a predisposition toward these disorders).
3. The narcissist’s drug of choice is narcissistic supply, which gives the narcissist an adrenalin rush. When it’s lacking or in short supply, they will crash and burn. The addict will also crash and burn without their fix.
4. Once a narcissist or an alcoholic (or drug addict), always a narcissist or an addict. You can stop drinking and using (or stop acting so narcissistic), but the underlying disorder is unlikely to ever be cured.
5. Treatments like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) work much like the 12 steps of AA–they change behaviors but not the underlying disorder. The person must make a conscious effort to replace the old behaviors with the new ones.
6. High possibility of relapse or “slipping” back into the addictive or narcissistic behavior patterns if the program isn’t strictly followed (or even if it is).
7. An addict or narcissist without their fix (or supply) can both act in antisocial, selfish and narcissistic ways until their fix (or supply) is procured.

and finally…

8. Because narcissism (and addictive disorders) have a spiritual component, admitting that God or a Higher Power can help you is an integral part of all 12-step programs.

addicts

True, a 12-step program wouldn’t cure narcissism (just as AA doesn’t cure alcoholism), but I think such a program could help a narcissist who is self-aware and wants to change their attitudes and the way they treat others.

So why isn’t there a 12-step program for NPD?

How my mother became a narcissist.

housework

I’ve said a lot of negative things about my mother, but I don’t hate her. Today I was thinking about how she got to be the way she is. While most narcissistic psychopaths are probably genetically predisposed to this condition and are missing the part of the brain that causes them to have empathy and compassion for others (actually it’s just not functioning properly), in most cases there are also psychological factors. Many psychopaths and narcissists were abused or neglected children, whose own parents failed to mirror them adequately as young children. So as unpleasant as they may be, their condition is not their fault. It was done to them.

I’ve already described my mother as a vain, self-centered, image conscious woman who almost always put her own needs ahead of those of her children and husbands, and chose me (as the youngest) to be her scapegoat. At times I was also her golden child, especially prior to my teen years when I started to rebel, and she loved to make me in her own image, dressing me up like I was a little doll. She expected me to act like one too, and flew into a rage if I ever had an opinion of my own or dared to challenge her.

The story I’m going to tell is gleaned from the scant bits and pieces I heard over the years, most of it described by people other than my mother. Like most narcissists, my mother is stunningly lacking in introspection. She almost never talked about her past or her childhood, and the few times she did, it was negative. Most of her anger seemed to be directed toward her mother, who she spoke of with contempt the few times she did mention her.

Ginny was a beautiful child with big blue eyes and light red hair. Somewhere in my mother’s home there’s a photo of her at about age two, and she is dressed in a pink and white dress with a Peter Pan collar, her bright hair is done in a 1930s bob, and she’s sitting in an oversized chair holding a large teddy bear on her lap. On her feet are brown high top shoes, and her little feet are sticking straight out toward the camera. Ginny’s expression is solemn, almost sad. In fact, she looks close to tears. I will probably never see that photo again, as I am not in contact with my mother and she’s in her 80s and probably won’t be here too much longer, even though she’s in good health for her age and still looks younger than her years. I wonder if at the time that photo was taken, Ginny’s narcissism was already ingrained, or if she could have still become a normal, loving woman had her circumstances been different. The sadness in her face tells me she was hurting. It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen my mother.

Ginny was the fourth and youngest child born to a naval academy officer and second generation Irishwoman. The family was middle class, lived in a nice house in a safe neighborhood outside Annapolis, Maryland, and raised all their children as Roman Catholics. Because Ginny’s father was in the military, when the Depression hit, the family didn’t suffer too much financial hardship and his job remained secure. But Theodore (her father) was a heavy drinker, probably an alcoholic, and started drinking almost the moment he got home from work. Anna Marie (Ginny’s mother) suffered from melancholia (what we now know as major depression) and after Ginny was born, took to her bed and stayed there for most of her childhood and teen years. She may have been suffering from postpartum depression, but in those days, no one knew about such a thing. Anna Marie started to neglect her duties as a housewife and mother, saying she was “too sick” and had to lie down.

Ginny was the most attractive of the four children, and the only one with blue eyes. She was obviously Theodore’s favorite child, and he constantly told her how beautiful and special she was. Anna Marie began to resent all the attention he showered on his favorite child, and became even more depressed (she may have been a narcissist herself). Theodore was a faithful husband (from all accounts) but his wife’s demands were wearing him down and he began to drink even more. Sometimes he came home from work already drunk and often he would pass out after eating dinner, so that no one was running the household but the children.

By this time Ginny was about six, and her older sisters (who were in their teens) and brother (who was about 11) weren’t interested in keeping the house clean or taking care of their exhausted, drunk father and depressed, ill mother. Ginny hated dirt and disorder, and took it upon herself to keep the house clean and cook the family meals (Anna Marie was a bad cook). Her sisters were always out at parties or on dates and of course her brother was a boy so he wasn’t interested in keeping up the home or taking care of the family. Soon Ginny was the sole caretaker and became her father’s young surrogate wife. (I don’t know whether or not she was sexually abused, but it would not surprise me and I assume she probably was). Anna Marie developed a hatred for Ginny, who seemed to be everything she was not and also got all her husband’s attention. Theodore’s adoration of Ginny increased, and he began to depend on her for everything, including confiding his problems in his marriage. Ginny seemed sympathetic, but was already plotting to leave the home.

At age 15, Ginny had become a drop dead gorgeous young woman. She left her family and dropped out of high school to marry a young man from the naval academy who was studying to be a Methodist minister. She took a job modeling for the local newspaper to help makes ends meet. By 18 she was pregnant and gave birth to her first daughter, and a few years later she had her second child, also a girl. But Ginny was tired of the church dinners and the drudgery of family life. She was bored and longed for excitement that her two young daughters and minister husband couldn’t provide. So when her daughters were just 7 and 2, she left them to marry my father. It was the late 1950s, and a woman leaving her husband and children just wasn’t done, but she did it without a second thought.

Although her older daughter had abandonment issues and hated Ginny for years for leaving, today my mother lives in her home and my sister’s become Ginny’s most loyal flying monkey. I barely ever knew my sister, but I was told several years ago that I was not welcome in her home because my sister didn’t want me there. Either my mother didn’t want me there and blamed it on my sister, or my sister is a sheep who believed all Ginny’s lies about me. Ironically, my sisters were much better off than if she hadn’t left them because the woman who married her jilted husband and raised them was a kind, nurturing woman, almost the polar opposite of my mother.

Another irony is that even though my mother, as a malignant narcissist, is completely lacking in compassion, both her father and my father were taken in by Ginny’s fake “sympathy.” Ginny listened to her dad talk about his marital problems when she was a teenager and offered him kind words and a ready ear; and recently my son told me how my father fell in love with Ginny (my father never told me this story but he told him): my father’s 3 year old son from his first marriage had been hit by a train and died, and my mother offered him a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear and soon he was madly in love with her.

I clearly remember when my grandmother suffered a major stroke at age 57 when I was only 7, my mother’s comments after seeing her in the hospital. All she could talk about was how helpless and disgusting she was (the stroke had left her paralyzed from the waist down and incontinent) and how she couldn’t wait to get out of there. Even at that young age, I was horrified by my mother’s callous remarks about her own mother.

Even though I don’t use my real name or their real names, sometimes I think it’s just a matter of time until she discovers this blog. I had to go inactive on Facebook because of her extended family all finding me there.

Things I’ve learned lately

In writing this blog I’ve learned a lot about myself and my FOO and how it has affected my life and relationships. In reading back over this blog and thinking about narcissism so much, I’m shifting my views on some things. Not all of these discoveries are easy to swallow and I’ve been in denial about a few of them.

— My mother is by far the most malignant narcissist in my family with the most profound effect on me and others who have had the misfortune to be in a close relationship with her. She has managed to recruit almost all of her extended family and even some on my father’s side to do her bidding as her flying monkeys. I am her prime target, although not the only one. She is a powerful psychopath without a soul. If she could get away with murder, I think she would.

— My ex, asshat and parasitic loser though he may be, is a drug addict and alcoholic and though definitely a narcissist, is less malignant than I had thought (or at least not as bad as my mother). I’m not making excuses for him because there is no reason to, but being at a safe distance now, I can see him as a sort of hybrid of a narcissist and a mentally ill victim of one (is this possible?) This realization is based on some of his behaviors that do not indicate narcissism but rather, plain old mental illness and addiction (although narcissists are likely to become drug addicts and alcoholics). One thing that definitely doesn’t fit the narc profile is the fact he has always sought therapy (although his motives for doing so might have to do with narcissism). His diagnosis of PTSD and Bipolar aren’t entirely off base. His mother was a malignant narcissist though, and he learned a lot of those behaviors from her. I’ll write a longer post about him at a later time.

— My father is also on the narcissist spectrum, and he has always been in thrall to malignant narcissist women. At times he has been their victim, but mostly he enables and makes excuses for what they do. I feel sorry for him.

— I was set up to fail.

— I am pretty sure my daughter is on the narcissist spectrum but she is also an intractable drug addict. It really hurts to realize her “conscience” may be fake and she really doesn’t care about anyone but herself, because I love her so much, but I can’t hide from what some of her behaviors point to. Drug addiction can cause a person to act in narcissistic ways, too, especially if they’re desperate for a fix. I’ll write more about this another time. It’s pretty hard to deal with.

— I wasn’t a very good mother. I put my own needs first a lot of the time, and always treated my son like the golden child, and still do. Of course, he is making better choices than my daughter, so I don’t have to worry about him as much. Ten years ago I was much less self aware and more self-involved than I am now. I think that was because I was under my ex’s thrall (even though he’s not as high on the spectrum as I had thought).

— I have a lot of narcissistic tendencies, but I used to be worse. Envy is something I have struggled with my entire life. But even though I may envy people who seem to have more life blessings and sometimes (secretly) feel bitter about feeling so deprived in comparison, it’s never occurred to me to sabotage them or try to take what they have from them. I’m not proud of having this character flaw. Narcissists don’t feel shame about being envious, and think nothing of trying to take away what others have. I also deal with feelings of guilt and shame a lot in general so that reassures me I’m not on the spectrum.

— I find it hard to be 100% candid about my feelings on this blog. I’ve noticed I write in an intellectual way and seem to avoid emoting on this blog too much. Some of my posts sound like I’m writing about someone else. Distancing myself and intellectualizing everything is how I’ve managed to remain fairly sane. This isn’t really a good thing though because it blocks me from digging deeper to the source of my pain and in so doing, keeps me trapped in a state of numbness and ineffectuality. Multiple Personality Disorder and other dissociative disorders are just more extreme ways of distancing from “I.” This probably indicates PTSD. I’ve become too good at hiding my sensitivity behind a mask of detachment. When I was younger, everyone said I was too sensitive, now no one does. Even my mother has gone from calling me “too sensitive” to calling me much worse (and I always hear about this second hand from her flying monkeys and other family members she has “confided” in). In real life, I don’t trust anyone and am painfully shy. Hardly anyone knows anything about me. I hardly ever cry and smiling doesn’t come naturally either. I blend into the scenery because I’m so quiet and people assume I’m just not very friendly. Some people think I am stupid because I never have much to say and because I’m too afraid to take a side in any argument and also because I get so lost in my head I don’t always seem to be aware of what’s going on. I long to reach out, but my Aspergers, PTSD and lack of trust combine to make me almost mute in social situations.

–I took the Myers-Briggs test online on two websites and came out as INFJ on one, INTJ on another. Both of these seem to fit. But I think inside I’m definitely leaning more to (F)eeling but use (T)hinking as a mask.

Narcissists who use 12-step programs to further their agenda

mindfulrecovery

Today I was reading a couple of new blog articles by Dr. George K. Simon, which can be found here and here. Dr. Simon has written a number of books about psychopathy, narcissism and other “character disorders” (his term for the DSM “Cluster B” personality disorders, which are in part characterized by a lack of empathy or capacity to feel remorse). The two articles I was reading focus on narcissistic/antisocial behavior and addiction.

Indeed, many disordered individuals have a concurrent alcohol or drug problem, but unlike neurotics (people with anxiety issues who have the capacity to feel shame, empathy and remorse–usually so much that they sabotage themselves), the character-disordered are not very likely to seek treatment for their addictions. This really isn’t any surprise, since Cluster B types (especially Narcissists and people with antisocial personality disorder) aren’t likely to seek any kind of psychological treatment or therapy because they’re not the ones suffering–they’re more likely to cause others to suffer. Narcissists and those with APD also think they’re superior human beings who don’t need any help. Instead, they blame their victims for being the ones with the mental or emotional problems.

But there are some character disordered people who do join 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. They may be aware they have a substance abuse issue, but that’s as far as any insight into themselves goes. These are the “recovered” addicts and alcoholics who lord their recovery over others, and treat their 12-step program like a religion that allows them to believe they are superior to everyone else.

12steps

My mother falls into this category. She’s a Narc who, back in the early 1980s, decided she was an alcoholic and became involved with AA. Speeding through the 12 steps at a pace that was most likely unrealistic for most people trying to recover, she went from being merely abusive to intolerably, infuriatingly abusive. While her drunkenness had been mostly unpleasant, at times she could almost be “fun,” or at least so out of it that she handled her abuse of me clumsily and sometimes forgot she was supposed to be abusing me and would shift into treating me as a younger woman she could party with. But after discovering AA, suddenly she became a self-righteous, judgmental, rigid you-know-what who lorded her new “religion” over me in particular. Mind you, I am not dissing AA or any other 12 step program, as they have helped many people turn their lives around and free themselves from addiction. But when narcissists find these programs, they use them to further their own agenda, and as they do with everything else, turn the steps of recovery into weapons to be used against others. Narcissists in recovery programs are as bad as the worst kind of religious zealots and treat the program as if they alone discovered it, seeming to equate themselves with Moses being hand picked by God to discover the Ten Commandments.

They also turn the various slogans associated with these 12 step programs into handy justifications for being even more self-centered, arrogant and unempathic than they already were. My Narc mother, for example, now had handy canned excuses for her horrific treatment of others. For example, if you called her out for a hurtful action or comment, she’d respond with “your feelings are your own responsibility, not mine” or “stop taking my inventory.” If she wanted to belittle you, she’d say “you’re on a dry drunk” (actually she was the one on the dry drunk) or “that’s your addiction talking.” (she thought everyone who wasn’t a teetotaler or occasionally indulged in a little pot was an alcoholic or drug addict).

The 4th step of AA is “taking a fearless moral inventory” and a later step is “making amends to those you have harmed.” While these two steps would seem like holy water is to the devil for a Narc, sending them off flailing and screaming, some narcissists can and do take these steps (others get “stuck” at step 4, and may quit the program), but if they do, they work these steps in a shallow, glib manner, usually only addressing the substance abuse itself, while glossing over any pain they caused others. This is how my mother handled these steps, and when she “made amends” to me, I didn’t feel any sincerity there at all. Her “amends” seemed as phony as an mass-mailed Christmas card from your local bail bondsman. I suppose I’m guilty of “taking her inventory” but that’s how it felt to me. She was never one to apologize for anything, ever. No narcissist is.

addicts

Another interesting thing about Narcs who join 12 step programs is they don’t dig any deeper. Many non-narcissist alcoholics and drug addicts come to a point in recovery where they want to learn more about themselves, what makes them tick, and perhaps what led them to self-medicate in the first place. They realize that the addiction, while it very likely has a genetic component, can also be caused by psychological factors and they want to dig deeper to find out why they drank or used in the first place. A Narc will never do that, because any sort of therapy requires introspection into their own behavior and that is terrifying to them–because even they know that all they’ll see when they look into the mirror is….an endless black void of nothingness. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, for whatever reason, narcissists don’t have a true “self”–instead they wear a series of masks meant to dupe others into believing there is something there when there isn’t anything there at all.

So beware of the recovered addict or alcoholic who treats their 12-step program like a religion and uses it as a pedestal to make others feel deficient–you’re almost certainly dealing with a narcissist. And as you might expect, many narcissists are active in churches, especially those that are autocratic, evangelical or fundamentalist in nature, because it allows them an easy way to feel superior even if they haven’t achieved anything notable in life: they’re “saved” and you’re going to hell. Narcissists in 12 step programs use the program’s tenets almost exactly the same way.