The awkwardness of being a Borderline ACON.

Thought I’d reblog this, as it shows where my head was at almost three years ago, and how I reacted to criticism from “pure” abuse survivors who didn’t believe it was possible to be both an abuse victim and also suffer from something as “evil” as Borderline Personality Disorder (whose symptoms are often mixed up with those of  Complex PTSD and may even be the same thing).

I’m a lot calmer and more centered today, but I was also in therapy at that time and learning a lot about myself, so it was a fruitful time for me, however difficult it could sometimes be.

Comments here are welcome, since the deadline for comments under the original post has expired.

Lucky Otters Haven

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I won’t lie.  It’s incredibly awkward being a blogger who blogs about two things that seem diametrically opposed to many people in the narcissistic abuse community:  being a victim of narcissists, and having a Cluster B disorder (BPD).   To those of you who aren’t familiar with the ACON (adult children of narcissists) blogosphere,  there are a few ACON bloggers (not too many on WordPress, fortunately) who seem to think if you have BPD then you can’t also be an abuse victim and certainly shouldn’t be blogging about it.  Because, you see, if you have BPD then you are one of the soulless abusers.  If you are any kind of “cluster B person” blogging about abuse, then of it follows that you must have an “agenda.”  What that agenda is is never specified though.

I have been accused of many things, none of which are pretty, and few of which are true…

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It’s BPD Awareness month.

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When and How do Victims Develop Narcissistic Patterns of Behaviour

I found another very informative video from Richard Grannon.  Here he talks about the ways C-PTSD, NPD, and BPD inter-relate and can even resemble each other, and why victims of narcissistic abuse can adopt narcissistic traits or even full-blown NPD.

This is definitely a confusing field and sometimes it’s hard to tell the real victims from the real narcissists.   There are a few things here I didn’t know.    Maybe the only people immune from developing narcissism are people who were never traumatized by a narcissist or a borderline — which means you might have to live in a bubble..

 

Hurt (Johnny Cash): depressing song about having BPD

Johnny Cash’s masterpiece “Hurt” is  actually a cover written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails,  and is probably the most depressing song ever about what seems to be Borderline Personality Disorder (probably with sociopathic tendencies).     The lyrics and Cash’s delivery capture the emptiness and deep despair that every Borderline feels deep inside.   When he recorded “Hurt,” he had already been given only 18 months left to live by his doctors (he suffered from a rare degenerative disease and diabetes).

This is another one of those songs that’s good for cathartic crying.   I posted the lyric video so you can read all the words (even though Johnny’s enunciation is perfectly understandable).

I was going to make this song this week’s Monday Melody, but I couldn’t wait to put it up now.

BPD vs. NPD

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This graphic I made shows that BPD and NPD are really the same disorder.    Both have their roots in childhood trauma and fear of abandonment, even though the symptoms may not be evident until later childhood or adolescence.    The primary difference is the outer layer–the narcissist develops a nearly impermeable and rigid false self or mask (usually of grandiosity, but sometimes can present as do-gooder or even a victim). This mask remains stable unless narcissistic supply is removed, which causes it to atrophy, revealing the rage, fear, and hurt beneath that.

The borderline develops a highly permeable, chameleon-like outer layer.  In the diagram, it looks like a flower.   This outer layer of “petals” is analogous to the false self, but is not rigid and not even always present. It is easily penetrated and does not require narcissistic fuel from others to keep it intact.   It changes and morphs its shape and form like a Lava lamp.   Since it’s so easily broken through and is so changeable, Borderlines seem to be “crazier” and seem to have more intense mood swings than narcissists.  They are also skilled in adapting to different situations and people in a chameleon-like way: this usually manifests as codependency.  Sometimes they don’t seem to have minds of their own and take on the behaviors and belief systems of whoever they happen to be with.   Borderlines seem more emotionally unstable than narcissists because the second layer of rage/hurt/fear is often on the surface, causing the Borderline to act out in frequent rages, panic attacks or crying jags.

Beneath these outer layers, NPD and BPD have the same structure:   a layer of rage, hurt and fear when they are triggered, hiding the emptiness and grief under that (which is what both–especially the NPD–are so afraid of confronting and take such desperate measures to avoid feeling).  When this part of the personality structure is finally reached, the NPD/BPD feels as if they don’t exist and that is excruciating for them.   NPDs in therapy may quit at this point.   Hidden deep within the “emptiness” (which really isn’t empty at all) is the diminished and damaged true self (inner child).

The goal in therapy is to break through all those outer layers and finally reach the true self, then give him or her the nurturing and validation they should have received in the hopes that he or she can become a whole person.   It can take a very long time for this to happen, if it ever happens at all.

Borderlines, although they might seem crazier than narcissists, are more easily cured because the permeable chameleon-like outer layer is so much more easily broken through.   In contrast, the NPD false self can take months or years to even crack.   It’s a thick and stable structure, not given to weakening easily, but even the strongest concrete building has hairline cracks somewhere in its structure.   A tornado can reduce the strongest building to rubble.

The key to breaking a narcissist is to find those cracks and weaken the false self. This is usually done by removing narcissistic supply, which serves as a psychological tornado to the narcissistic defensive structure. Sometimes this has already happened; and in this more vulnerable state, with the false self temporarily disabled, a narcissist is more likely to enter therapy.   Unfortunately the narcissistic defense mechanism is so ingrained they will soon find a way to get supply again and rebuild the false self.   The therapist must work to permanently disable it but the narcissist must also be willing for this to happen.

In a low spectrum narcissist, the false self may be rather weak or thin to begin with, and for them, a cure may be more likely or happen sooner.  In low spectrum narcissists, the false self is more like a  cheaply constructed trailer than a stone castle.  It will only take a weak tornado to smash it to smithereens.

When an NPD’s mask begins to fall away, they will begin to act a lot more like a Borderline–raging, dissociating, experiencing crying jags, and showing their underlying inability to regulate overwhelming emotions.   At this point the treatment for NPD should be much the same as for BPD–empathically penetrating the “void” to reach and begin to nurture the diminished real self.

How a child develops BPD or NPD.

These disorders begin when a young child or toddler is hurt or rejected by their parents, especially the mother.  This hurt may not even be intentional–sometimes the illness, death, or absence of a non-disordered parent can set things into motion, because the child can’t discern the difference between deliberate abuse or neglect and something that cannot be helped.  Many, if not most, children who live in orphanages or are moved from foster home to foster home develop some form of Cluster B disorder.

Because a toddler or very young child has not yet completely separated their sense of self from their parents’, when they don’t receive the mirroring and unconditional acceptance they need, they feel as if they’ve been annihilated, and that feeling of annihilation becomes the black void that now surrounds the hurt or abused child.

But because the void is too painful and frightening to cope with, something else must cover that over too, and also protect and hide the inner child.  So the defensive emotions (anger, paranoia, fear, and rage) develop over the void because even though they feel unpleasant, they’re still better than the horrible feeling of having been annihilated, and they also protect the inner child from ever being hurt again.

And over that, for a narcissist, to attract people who could provide the attention and validation they never got as children, they develop a fake self, which is usually “nice” but is only a mask so it isn’t real.  If they feel that the mask is under threat of exposure, they fight tooth and nail to retain the image they want the world to see.

For the borderline, instead of developing a false self to cover the rage and other defensive emotions, they learn to adapt depending on the situation or the people, and that is why they so often become codependent.   Also, because they are closer to the void than the narcissist is, they tend to have dissociative episodes and may engage in self destructive actions like cutting to make them feel like they exist. Or they may engage in other risky behaviors or taking drugs or drinking too much in an effort to self-medicate.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I’m well-read on these disorders and these are from my observations and opinions.

Mindfulness keeps me from quitting therapy.

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In my last post, Jocelyn made a comment about quitting therapy, and this reminded me of something important that’s kept me going: mindfulness.

People in therapy, especially people who have cluster B disorders and have problems either regulating or accessing emotion, often quit when the going gets rough.  Narcissists are notorious for quitting therapy (if they ever enter it at all) because of all the Cluster B disorders, NPDs have the most problems allowing themselves to become vulnerable (well, maybe ASPD is even worse that way), but for therapy to work, this cannot be avoided.   This is why people with NPD so rarely get better.  For most, as soon as they start to feel too much, they’re outta there.

For borderlines, it’s a little easier.  We’re not running away from emotions all the time the way narcissists do (although I do to some degree and probably have narcissistic tendencies–I also have comorbid Avoidant PD which also explains my reticence).  For BPDs, our main problem is the regulation of emotions that are too intense.  But the core issues–abandonment trauma–is the same.   When you finally reach the stage of diving into the maelstrom of pain and emptiness, it’s incredibly painful.   You feel like you’re dying or going insane.  You think about quitting because who wants to live with all that pain?

That’s where mindfulness comes in.   Without mindfulness, I probably would have quit therapy after today.   But with mindfulness, I can actually let myself fall into the pit of pain and trauma and allow myself to feel those unpleasant emotions.  At the same time the mindful part of me is observing myself feeling them as they arise, and thinking logically and trying to make connections and give them meaning.   This kind of distance–while at the same time being fully submerged in the feelings–makes the experience more bearable and also makes it more likely you’ll learn something valuable from it.   Mindfulness also means you acknowledge that the emotions are not YOU; you have emotions but you aren’t your emotions.  You are you, and the emotions are just trapped energy moving out of you.

Without mindfulness, you just feel like you’ve somehow fallen into the 9th circle of hell and will never escape.   You can’t separate yourself from the overwhelming feelings and feel consumed by them.  No wonder so many people quit when they get to this point.   I’m so glad I took DBT classes (even though I blew them off back in he ’90s when I took them) and had the presence of mind to keep the DBT book I was given.  It’s been so helpful to me throughout this whole process.

I think mindfulness training should actually be a prerequisite for intensive psychodynamic therapy, especially for trauma survivors (whether they are personality disordered or not), because there is nothing to prepare you for the intensity of the ride you’ll be taking (which seems so gentle and tame at first).

Breaking through and the emotional power of music.

This is what’s going on with me now.

Breaking Down BPD

Here’s a very detailed article about Borderline Personality Disorder that breaks it down into its components and in doing so, helps reduce some of the stigma. It’s a painful mental illness with a terrible fear of abandonment at its core. No borderline likes having it!   The article also includes examples of what exactly goes on inside the mind of borderline when triggered (the fictional rant about Donald Trump is hilarious).

Comments here are disabled, please leave comments under the original post.

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According to the American     Psychological Association, the prevalence rate of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in the general population is approximately 1-2% of lifetime occurrence.  So no worries, we are not alone ;).a9a0fb9e-6e03-4b8a-bf25-a04fa3c497b5


So I was able to do the impossible, find my lost blog posts. Before I re-post this one, I would like to add that I have been practicing as a mental health clinician again, and many of my clients have been curious to learn about their diagnoses.  Interestingly enough, when asked about if learning and understanding more of the disorder helped, they all said yes.  One specifically stated “I don’t feel like I’m crazy anymore, knowing that other people feel how I do, it makes me feel normal.” I still of course can only speak for myself when I say learning about Borderline Personality Disorder, educating myself on it and understanding it has been a tremendous help…

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There should be no “shame” in having a Cluster B diagnosis.

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Yes, another potentially controversial post.  Please hear me out before judging.

There are some (actually, many) people in the blogosphere who believe that people with disorders like Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder made some kind of conscious choice to have their disorder.   With unusual exceptions (which I’ve discussed in others posts), I think this is wrong.

Bad seeds?

People with Cluster B disorders, in spite of what you probably read or heard, aren’t inherently evil or “bad seeds.”   Certainly, some become evil, because they’ve been programmed for a psychological need to obtain narcissistic supply in order to feel like they exist.  In order to get that supply, they became abusive and manipulative.   People addicted to drugs or alcohol are also abusive and manipulative, in order to get their chemical fix.

People with psychopathy may have been born without the brain capacity to feel empathy or have a conscience, but I don’t think Psychopathy should even be categorized as a Cluster B disorder at all, since it seems to have its roots more in brain chemistry than in early trauma.   Plenty of psychopaths came from normal, loving families.  The jury’s out as to whether Antisocial Personality Disorder is the same thing as psychopathy.  I think they may coincide often and their symptoms are similar, but I’m not at all sure they’re the same thing.    I don’t know a whole lot about ASPD, but I think it, too, usually has its roots in trauma as a child.   I know almost nothing about its treatability, but it’s my understanding it’s very difficult to treat, even more so than NPD.    But I digress:  talking about ASPD or psychopathy is not the point of this post.

Another blogger who commented on a post of mine today mentioned that she may have undiagnosed, recovered BPD.   I sensed from the tone of her admission that this might be something she’s  ashamed to admit.   I wondered why.   BPD, like NPD, has a terrible stigma, although in its favor, there’s a movement in the BPD community to reduce its stigma as “evil” and “incurable.”    Their efforts seem to be working, because BPD is seen today as being less of a “mark of the beast” than NPD is, although the stigma certainly still exists.

Why no anti-stigma movement for NPD?

I’m not sure why there is no grass-roots movement among narcissists to change the stigma against NPD, but from everything I’ve read from self-aware narcissists (and you’d be surprised how many of them there are online), they’re either: (a) proud that they are narcissists and wear the “evil” stigma like a badge of honor (these tend to be malignant, overt narcissists with antisocial or sociopathic traits), or (b) *this is a shocker* so ashamed of their narcissism that although they hate the stigma, they seem resigned to it and and seem to hang their heads in shame, quietly accepting how “bad” they are.  “I deserve it,” they say.   It may seem hard to believe, but some of them even defend the narc-haters.  Remember we are talking about self-aware narcissists.  Most narcs never get to that point.   Their grandiosity keeps them from having enough insight to do that.

Ego-dystonic vs. ego-syntonic.

Because people with BPD are almost always ego-dystonic about their disorder (they aren’t happy with themselves), and because generally BPD doesn’t lend itself to self-delusions  (in other words, having a false self) the way NPD does, BPD has a higher cure rate than NPD,  which also helps reduce its stigma.    NPD is usually more ego-syntonic, but not always.  Narcissists who are ego-dystonic (usually covert narcissists) tend to be frustrated, lonely, and depressed, and although they can be highly manipulative, entitled acting, and lack empathy, they lack the grandiosity and false pride that keeps them stuck in the delusion that their narcissism has worked for them.

I don’t see a whole lot of difference between BPD and C-PTSD.  Actually, BPD is like C-PTSD on steroids.  I’ve written about this subject before–the symptoms of both are nearly identical, and both Borderlines and people with C-PTSD are very prone to become codependent to malignant or overt narcissists.   They are also prone to self-harm, wild mood swings, and are sometimes suicide risks.  People with C-PTSD–especially women–often get slapped with the stigmatizing BPD label simply because the DSM doesn’t recognize C-PTSD as a legitimate disorder (and PTSD, while similar, applies more to those who suffered a single, intense trauma rather than the victims of chronic, long term abuse starting in childhood, so the treatments for someone with PTSD would be different).

Moving back to narcissism…

Many people believe NPD cannot be successfully treated, much less cured.   I admit I’m skeptical about its curability, though I do know there have been a few cases where it’s happened.   I also know there are narcissists who are ego-dystonic and unhappy with what they’ve become, once they realize they are narcissists.   I don’t think the adage that “if you think you have NPD, then you don’t” is necessarily true.    I have met a few here and on forums who desperately want to change their behaviors, usually because they’ve realized that they’ve missed out on things like knowing how to love and receive love, or having a healthy relationship with their spouse or children.   They want to know what love and vulnerability in a relationship feels like.  They want to know what real joy and empathy feels like.   They forgot how.   They’ve come to realize their lives are empty and shallow, and they are constantly under the stress of always having to act a part in a play.   They forgot who they were a long time ago.   Most narcissists did not have happy childhoods and most had parents who either abused or spoiled them (spoiling is a form of abuse because it fails to mirror who the child actually is, so the “love” they get is conditional).

As a mental illness.

I’m in no way defending narcissists or the way they act.   But as a cluster B disorder,  it started as a defense mechanism to cope with unbearable pain and feelings of emptiness. Many people believe narcissists love themselves, but nothing could be further from the truth.  They only love their false self.  Scratch any narcissist and you find a person who doesn’t even know who they are.  BPD is much the same that way, except Borderlines don’t have a functional or strong false self.    I’m not suggesting sympathizing with active, unrepentant narcissists or condoning their toxic behaviors. I’m not suggesting staying with one either!   But I think the stigma against NPD has hurt those people with the disorder who sincerely want to change.  These people do exist!  I don’t think they’re lying when they say they want to become non-narcissists–why would they? What would be their motive in doing so?   Much as with people with BPD, therapists refuse to treat them, insurance won’t cover them, and they are frequently demonized as non-human creatures or worse.

Maybe the treatment rate for NPD is so abysmal because they are given up on so easily by therapists who lose patience with someone who doesn’t show immediate improvement or acts aggressively or in a confrontational way.    NPD is a very difficult disorder to treat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.  Even if a narcissist can’t be cured, CBT and other mindfulness therapies have had good results on some narcissists who really want to change the way they treat others and have more mutually fulfilling relationships.  DBT (dialectical behavioral training), a mindfulness therapy similar to CBT traditionally used on people with BPD, has also been shown to be effective on some people with NPD.

As a Borderline myself (my therapist thinks I’m recovered, but I’m not at all sure about that), and having personally experienced the stigma against Cluster B, I have a great deal of empathy for anyone with a Cluster B disorder who is self aware and genuinely sorry about the way they’ve treated others or the choices they’ve made, and who sincerely wants to do the hard work needed to make changes in themselves.   People with Cluster B disorders didn’t choose to become that way; like people with C-PTSD, they have a mental illness caused by trauma and C-PTSD is almost always at the core of any cluster B disorder.

While it’s true that some will never get to the point of self awareness or even if they do, may not be interested in finding new and better ways of relating to others and the world, there are many who do, and we shouldn’t judge them or hate them just because of their stigmatic diagnosis (and the diagnosis could be wrong anyway!).  That’s why I don’t run a “narc free” blog.  I allow people with Cluster B diagnoses–including NPD–to post comments on this blog and share their experiences along with others who do not have those disorders and were abused by people who do.  As long as they don’t attempt to upset or trigger non-Cluster B abuse victims and remain civil and add to the conversation, they are always welcome here.

Child roles in dysfunctional families.

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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.

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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.

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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.

classclown

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.

tiffany_sedaris
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.