Are You Flagging?

Red flag waving transparent
Red flag waving transparent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve to some extent discussed before how narcissists fly red flags signalling who and what they are. The problem is that most of us can see that the wind is blowing something around but we don’t know what it is.  If you’re like me, and raised on a sound diet of Hollywood movies, you’re going to set caution firmly aside, walk right up to this thing that’s blowing around and, sighing in relief, say, “It’s okay, it’s a pair of underwear!” Now, if you’re a lot like me, after a moment you’re also going to say, “Actually, it doesn’t really look like a pair of underwear, it might be a flag.” And then you’ll promptly talk yourself out of it because you can’t believe that there would be a flag blowing around, unattended, in the middle of the bald-ass desert.  Which is where you’re going to be if you don’t start recognizing that it’s a flag, and that really, there’s lots more than just one of them.  And anyway, why would it be more logical for a pair of underwear to be blowing around?

I knew you’d want to know. It’s because we want it to be a pair of underwear. Underwear blowing around? That’s funny. You can speculate endlessly on who owned them and how they got out there, all with humourous intent and lots of giggles and baa ha ha -ing.

But a flag? Everyone knows about flags.  Alert: this is mine, all mine. You don’t belong here. Danger: if you don’t leave, I’ll throw a rock at you. Or something worse. Aggression: I’m bigger and better than you. I’m going to mess you up and take your stuff.

Flags carry an incredibly heavy emotional load  and all of it is personal. I recently watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Madrid where the status of the Spanish flag was discussed. Until Spain won the World Cup of Soccer in 2010 and started to view their flag as a positive symbol, they were careful with it. They had viewed it as the flag of Francisco Franco, the dictator they were stuck with for 40 years until 1975 and therefore did not see it as a symbol of national pride.

Essentially, what the Spanish did for 35 years was either ignore or minimize the importance of their flag. It set off alarm bells, caused bad memories to re-surface and drove them into an uncomfortable place. That’s what red flags do, too.

So, even though our biology is telling us to be cautious, to be aware, we are just as capable of ignoring or minimizing those warnings. When it comes to narcissistic red flags, how far will we go to subvert our own better judgement?

Pretty far, if my own experience is anything to go by. For example, very early on I saw Harry’s ability to flip-flop, and that’s how I saw it, too. What I was ignoring were the first signs of his instability. These signs got lost in how brilliant he was at courting me – showering me with compliments and small presents. This was me: “Was that a red flag? No, it can’t be! Let me look at all these compliments instead …” I saw the flag but chose to turn it into a pair of underwear instead.

I also saw his sense of superiority and arrogance, too, but I chose to see them as indicative of a sort of bohemian intelligence a la Jack Kerouac. I came to realize how narrow his interests were – despite his protestations that he is a great reader, he reads only one author who writes mystery/suspense novels. I later saw that Harry likes to envision himself as this author’s central character – he is much more Walter Mitty than Jack Kerouac.

The fact that he owned very little while at the same time carrying an enormous debt load should have been another red flag and in fact was a red flag. I just got busy and rationalized it.  He had explanations for everything, explanations that seemed logical at the time: I live in a travel trailer because my work takes me all over the place. I have a lot of debt because of the lawsuit (some of you may recall that there were actually several lawsuits including one against him) – this followed by a diversionary discussion of how the two women he sued had ruined his life and how I was making it better. I certainly was! I had started paying out money for him, including paying one of his huge debts.

He claimed to be a great cook and in fact often was in the kitchen, but his abilities in that area were very narrow and adolescent. He kept making and eating the same things, most of it junk food. He was obsessed with fruit pies and kept making pastry over and over again and throwing out the results. He threw out lots of other things, too. My grocery bill kept rising and he made no attempt to contribute. I put it down to his culinary perfectionism and chose to listen instead to the siren song of his compliments.

Almost everything that he owned was in poor condition, although saying that he “owned” these items is fanciful, at best. The bank and various credit card companies owned them, and that’s part of the reason why they weren’t well maintained. He didn’t really have any investment in them.  He soon started treating my possessions with the same degree of disrespect and also for the same reason. To off-set any concerns I might have he kept saying that he would “soon” start contributing financially, but that never did happen.

There didn’t seem to be anyone in his life except me. There were no phone calls back and forth between him and his “friends” and his daughter didn’t generate any contact either. He kept telling me that I was the only person who understood him and I chose to start believing that.

During the first year of our relationship we were rather isolated. He had no interest in meeting my friends or family and in fact tried to avoid them. I thought it very affirming that he seemed so focussed on me.

He had no interest whatsoever in my family or family background except as it suited him – he chose to take my surname when we married. I thought that was a lovely tribute! He was just trying to re-invent himself while at the same time escaping some of his creditors.

He wanted to get married as quickly as possible.

With respect to our relationship he at one point told me that I “should be careful what [I] wish for.” He later soothed me by saying that he had just been in a “down mood.”

Before we started living together I seriously considered breaking it off with him, but I had never been much of a “no” person – I lacked personal boundaries – and I was also afraid of being the “bad guy.” Like many women, I wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with him, not cause a bitter split and treat him like the women of his past had treated him. Great, huh? He had so convinced me that I was different and special that even as I was thinking of getting out, I was still buying into his idealization of me. If that’s not master manipulation, I don’t know what is.

Do you see yourself here? Is there a pattern for you? Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t delude yourself. Don’t be afraid to look. Because if you see yourself here, then you’re flagging, and you really will be flagging unless you chose to see the flags and not the underwear.

Get out. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, and he (or she) will try everything, and I mean everything, to stay in your life. There will be crying, howling, cajoling, bribery, lying, threatening, shouting, sobbing and screaming. There might even be “suicide attempts” or “suicidal ideation.” None of this is real. It’s just a stage show designed to get you back so that he (or she) can continue to use you.  So you have to get out, either now or later. Don’t wind up regretting that you ignored the flags.

A Plague of Narcissists

  

English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by...
English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 6 15/16 x 7 3/8 in. (17.6 x 18.7 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m really not sure why this didn’t come up as one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I mean, it would have been a really good one to have.  These people look perfectly normal but are harbouring some of the worst characteristics there are. They could have been a sort of fifth column or Typhoid Mary. Good use could have been made of their natural talents.

They love drama and could have been fomenting plots.

Since everyone wishes they were them, they could have exercised some tenacious mind-control.

They seriously hate themselves and then they project it. So, there could have been a lot of tooth-nashing, mind-controlled followers who were constantly looking over their shoulders for back-stabbers, and therefore completely distracted.

Their constant re-invention would have made them difficult to track down.

Even if they were tracked down, their sense of superiority and ability to fly into a rage would have been very intimidating, crushing any attempts at bringing them under control.

They could have charmed all the kings, pharaohs, despots, crackpots, and so on into giving themselves bankrupt.

 Since they’re mostly a bunch of misogynists, they certainly would have had those women where they belong.

Their natural gift for instability would have had them organizing newer and better wars.

Their lack of gratitude, respect or humility for anyone but themselves would have made them impervious to tampering, tinkering or cajoling.

The shame they feel would have lead the populace to feel sorry for them instead of taking them down.

English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving publis...
English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving published in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plague of narcissists? Yikes! Forget the frogs and flies and meteorites and boils and sores. Those Old Testament guys would have been in real trouble. Or maybe that is what they had to contend with. The pharaohs weren’t exactly a bunch of diffident, self-effacing humanists.

Maybe that’s what a lot of us have to contend with on a basis that’s much more frequent than we realize.

The person in the cubicle next to you who is jealous and envious.

The “friend” who likes to complain about your other friends.

The neighbour who sets two other neighbours against each other.

The boss who smiles at you one second and rips you apart the next.

I don’t know how much narcissism most of us have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it seems to be awfully widespread and at the root of a lot of the crap that goes on in the world.

So, if I wish anything for this new year, it’s that we start to realize how much egoism and self-absorption there is and that we all start to work on it in our own little ways and maybe start a cultural shift away from the selfishness that causes so much pain.

Top Ten Signs That You’re Living with a Narcissist

Carson as Carnac the Magnificent, one of his m...
Carson as Carnac the Magnificent, one of his most well known routines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is the time of year for top ten lists, here’s mine, with my respects to the late Johnny Carson.

 In reverse order, here are the top ten signs that you’re living with a narcissist:

10. While driving, he constantly looks at himself in the rear view mirror. This has resulted in a lot of rear ends.

9. His “bragging wall” now covers the entire house.

8. He’s always singing “I’m too Sexy for My Shirt,” even though there’s a picture of himself on his shirt.

7. You’ve taken to using an oxygen tank as he sucks up all the air in the room.

6. He’s in the Guinness World Book for the greatest number of cosmetic procedures ever performed on a single human.

5. He’s looking into starting his own country and you’re helping him to find an abandoned, isolated island for the purpose.

4. All the mirrors in your house have greasy spots from his nose and lips.

3. He admires the evil queen from Snow White and wants to steal her looking-glass.

2. He believes that Christopher Hitchens is much too mild-mannered for debate and that really, he could beat him in ten minutes, if Hitch was still alive, that is.

And the number one sign that you’re living with a narcissist:

1. Donald Trump is his hero but really, if he were “The Donald,” he would have been much better at it and would have made more money.

And that’s it, dear readers. I wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2013!

The Seasonal Narcissist … Or, How to Survive a Holiday When There’s a Narcissist Underfoot

You don’t have to be married or partnered with a narcissist in order to have one in your life. Studies show that almost a quarter of us have to interact with  narcissists, although that may just be peripherally. If that’s the case, dealing with them becomes much more difficult because they are likely to be in your life for a long time, if only intermittently. It may sound harsh, but once you make up your mind, you can usually get out of a spousal/partnered relationship with a narcissist, although if there are children involved, you may still have to deal with the narcissist for many years.

Nevertheless, many of us have to, especially around special occasions, look out for what I like to call the seasonal narcissist. This is a person whom you may only see every couple of years or maybe a couple of times a year, since narcissists don’t like to hang out much with their families. He or she is a cousin, aunt, uncle, an in-law or maybe even a sibling, parent or grandparent. The fact that you don’t see the narcissist very often doesn’t make dealing with him or her any easier; in fact, as you probably already know, these narcissists can do a great deal of damage to whatever special occasion is under way.

The reason for this is that special occasions are just not their thing. Special occasions usually involve having others around, sometimes lots of others, to say nothing of the fact that the occasion itself, no matter what it is about, demands attention. Those details can seriously steal their thunder; they know that they will be part of a crowd, or perhaps lost in the crowd. They may be called upon to help out with preparations, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes – things they don’t like doing unless they can get something out of it. Altruism is definitely not one of their traits.

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: videocrab)

If you think about it, you can see why any special occasion is an absolute minefield for them. They aren’t the centre of attention. They are not the “special ones,” the person with the birthday or wedding anniversary or Easter party or Bar Mitzvah. It’s not all about them. Since their families know them and have probably been exhausted by them, the narcissistic “show” is likely to fall flat and their projections will be ignored. They cannot manufacture a new “self”. They are literally very stuck; nothing from their bag of tricks will work.

For all of these reasons, they will hate to have to go to whatever event it is. They may get dragged there by another family member, the one who always wants to see everyone show up at these shindigs. They may have to go because otherwise it might not look right, and narcissists are all about appearance.  They may go simply for the bragging rights: “I organized all the games!” or, “Without me there singing and playing the piano, the whole thing would have been completely dead.” “My speech was killer!” and so on and so on.

And that leads me to what I believe you have to do to avoid a narcissistic-induced “scene” at your next event. You have to assign them some task or other that allows them to show off and get attention. Otherwise, you will have a mess on your hands.

As I’ve already indicated, these narcissists may feel hemmed in by the fact that nothing from their bag of tricks is working. They may feel as if they are lost in the crowd. They may feel deflated and sorry for themselves. And this is dangerous, because then they will attempt to get attention in any way they can, no matter how negatively or inappropriately. Your event could be completely derailed.

I recall with much distaste the birthday party that I organized for my closest friend and held in my home while I was married to my ex-narcissist. There were some twenty people in attendance, including her children, a number of her friends and a couple of her colleagues. I seriously cannot think about this event without shuddering. All was going well until my narcissist started to very loudly chastise my friend’s son over the courses that he was taking in order to get into medical school.

According to Harry, Evan (my friend’s son) was shirking his academic responsibilities and shouldn’t be allowed into medical school with such foolish courses in his background. This then lead to a tirade about the general watering down of academic requirements and about how much tougher Harry had it when he went to university (supposedly he had to chisel his essays on stone tablets, which of course taught him the value of struggle and determination, something that today’s students also don’t have), that his degree was therefore much more valuable and was in fact the equivalent of  a PhD.

Utter nonsense, of course. He attended a respected university and got an undergraduate degree in engineering.  An academic accomplishment and achievement, yes, but certainly something that many other people have also done.

The business of shouting their “distinctiveness”, especially where their intelligence and academic prowess is concerned, is a common narcissistic trait. Harry rounded out his rant with a treatise on how Evan would never get into medical school and didn’t deserve to.

He only started to wind down when one of Julie’s (my friend whose birthday it was) colleagues started to call Harry on what he was saying. Julie and her colleague are both university teachers and are very familiar with the entrance requirements for medical school – something Harry had forgotten. As Julie’s colleague calmly started to defend Evan’s course choices, Harry began to seeth. He attempted to continue his bluster but eventually gave up. He walked out and didn’t return until after the party was over.

You can imagine what this did to the happy party vibe. We attempted to get back on track but that really didn’t work and the party fizzled out with most people leaving quite early. The worst part was the pity and curiosity that I could feel being directed at me. Their questions were floating around the room inside of big cartoon bubbles. “What is she doing married to that guy?” “Where did she meet him?” “I wouldn’t want to be her when he gets back.”

When Harry returned, however, he was contrite. In one of those flashes of insight that Harry is capable of, he realized how awful his behaviour had been and he regretted it. He thought about writing  letters of apology to Evan and to Julie. Like all of Harry’s good intentions, however, the idea disappeared.

The fact was that Harry’s momentary contrition only came to the forefront because he had gotten what he needed and was feeling better. Soon, though, his desire for more attention and his firm belief in his own superiority eclipsed his sense that he needed to make amends and he sidelined the idea of the letters. Does that make him sound like an addict? Yes. In many ways, narcissists have very similar characteristics to  addicts and vice versa.

So here’s what you have to do if you’re dealing with a seasonal narcissist: first of all, as I’ve already mentioned, give them  highly visible, “important” tasks that will generate lots of attention. He could give a speech or present the gifts or play the piano or do a skit. Play into your knowledge of the narcissist and what he thinks he’s good at.

Be sure to fuss over and flatter the narcissist. If you have to lie, lie. Remember, you’re only doing this for one evening or afternoon or whatever and in this case, lying is the better part of valour. You can go to confession or expiate your lies later. Compliment his hair, clothes, weight loss, new job, whatever. Leave him with the impression that he’s the most important, smartest, best looking person in the room.

Assign someone to stay with the narcissist at all times and to keep him under control. This person should be completely aware of the mission and should be able to indulge in flattery, fussing and outright lying without throwing up. This “shadow” person will also need to ensure that the narcissist does whatever task he has been assigned. Narcissists are usually very undependable.

In the lead-up to the event and on the day, ask for his advice (be careful not to ask him to do what he might consider to be menial tasks) as to how things should be done, organized, carried out, and so on. Publicly acknowledge his help and how you couldn’t have done it without him. Gag later.

Designate someone, particularly someone who has good diplomatic skills, whose job it will be to get him out of the room as quickly as possible if he starts haranguing, pontificating, ranting, shouting or in other ways seeking inappropriate attention.

I can’t guarantee that any of these strategies will work; I’m only improving your odds. The one thing I do know, however, is that when it comes to dealing with narcissists, you can’t be too prepared, so be sure to prepare for this narcissist as much as you would for any other aspect of your special occasion.

Good luck!

One note: my apologies for my frequent use of the male gender when describing narcissists. I don’t mean to offend anyone. Statistically, however, the vast majority of narcissists are male and it is more likely that you will encounter a male narcissist rather than a female narcissist.

Season’s Greetings!

 I hope everyone has a great holiday break and that Santa is good you! 

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...
English: Thomas Nast’s most famous drawing, “Merry Old Santa Claus”, from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus’ current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled “A Christmas Furlough” in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create another illustration in 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many thanks to the people who have taken the time to stop by and read my stuff, and many thanks also to those who have decided to click “follow”. 

Cheers,

Lynette

Respect, Gratitude, Humility … Where Do You Stand?

Week 36: Helicopter Parent
Week 36: Helicopter Parent (Photo credit: WilliamsProjects)

Right now it is very fashionable to worry about the under-30s and how entitled they behave; the complaints about them are legion and growing. Prospective employers tell scary stories about helicopter parents accompanying their 28-year-olds to job interviews while university profs talk about the parents who wait outside their office doors and demand to know the grades of their 20-year-olds. Adult children populate the homes of their parents long after they should be on their own, and in many cases, the parents are quite happy to accommodate them, even if these kids are married and have kids of their own. Books abound about how we have produced an entire cohort of self-involved, pampered, physically and intellectually lazy bores, and educators have been blamed for developing a cult of over-esteem. However, I have a somewhat different label to hang on them.  I think it’s more that they have been infantalized, and that, in and of itself, is rather dangerous; many people suffer from narcissism because they were stopped in their emotional development at a very young age. Nevertheless, it’s more likely a form of narcissism on the part of their parents: the parents want the children to be a reflection of themselves and their perfect lives; therefore enormous control over every detail must be exerted.

There’s too much concern over this, however. There is perhaps much more narcissism among the under-30s than there used to be, but I believe that given a chance, many will outgrow this or maybe, recover from it. Remember the “me” generation? The “yuppies”? Remember the “Material Girl”? Madonna? Still material, as far as I can tell, except now she’s collecting kids instead of music awards. Anyhow, I’m dating myself here but that is my generation – the baby boomers – those born between late 1946 and early 1966. A 20-year span. The war years that interrupted the lives of our parents and caused them to want a better life for their offspring literally came true, in a material sense anyway, no pun intended.  Driven by consumerism and one-upmanship, we have been characterized as having stepped on anything that got in our way. My generation, the later ones, anyway, make up many of the helicopter parents that we see now. I might very well be wrong, but I tend to see my own generation as having been worse than the under-30s of today. Frankly, the hallmarks of narcissism are much more prevalent among my generation – the grandiosity, the rampant spending and consumerism, the self-absorption and to add to this, the lack of respect, gratitude and humility. We are supposedly the best of the best, and because there are so many of us, we can make a lot of noise and can often get our way. In other words, if we don’t get what we want, we throw a narcissistic tantrum, and that applies to our kids, too.

The fact is that many of us raised our kids in environments that while perhaps not narcissistic per se, certainly were driven by narcissistic tendencies, and a lot of us continue to see these kids as extensions of ourselves. Many of these kids then find themselves stuck between being children and being adults; they occupy some sort of childish purgatory where they never really grow up. The only way for them to get out of this netherworld is to fight, which is an affront to us as parents. Our kids are supposed to be perfect!  We have taken huge steps and made great efforts to prevent our kids from making any mistakes, no matter how minor. Why, then, are they doing this to me, we cry. Why do they want to leave us?  We leave them lost in a vicious circle that’s difficult for them to escape: they want their independence and they also want a good relationship with their parents; that’s hard to achieve if the parents are needy, clingy, controlling hangers-on who, let’s face it, may resort to manipulation to stop their kids from passing into true adulthood.

There’s also the danger, as I mentioned above, that they might become narcissistic themselves or may have to recover from living in an environment that, at a minimum, was emphasizing some of the characteristics of narcissism. If our children see themselves as entitled, then we only have ourselves to blame, never mind the fact that we have saddled them with a difficult, life-long issue.

The words respect, gratitude and humility come up often when people start discussing the under-30s. They lack respect for the work it takes to earn a dollar. Helping out or contributing to others are foreign concepts. All they care about is the latest iPhone and who posted what on Facebook. There’s no gratitude. They don’t know how to say thank-you. If they want something, they expect you to provide it for them, no matter what it costs. They’re pretentious, self-important and full of themselves. They don’t know how to work hard and expect immediate promotions and lots of perks. They believe that they should be able to leave work or take days off whenever they want to. They’re much too good to start at the bottom and work their way up. They don’t know what the word humility means. Actually, this is a very good capsule description of my ex-narcissist, Harry. In light of this, perhaps we should be more concerned about the narcissism of the younger generation than we are.

I have heard these kinds of complaints over and over again, and I have to say that I have seen lots of evidence of it, too.  But I also remember the things that were said about my generation, too. It was odd. On the one hand, my parents wanted us to have everything; they spoiled us rotten. On the other, though, the most common complaint about us was that we “had it easy.” There were also these stories about how the weather patterns were much worse then and how they had to endure switchbacks on their way to school, resulting in them having to walk uphill both ways.

But I digress. Mixed message? Yup. And compared to my parents, I certainly did have it easy. At age 16, my mom was in the army and dodging bombs in London. At 22, my dad was trying to escape Dunkirk. The fact is, however, would they have wanted us to experience a war so that we could understand that we had it easy? What kind of logic is that? At times, however, I felt that that’s what the message was. They wanted us to have what they didn’t have, but at the same time there was a great deal of guilt-inducement going on: look at what we have done for you, and all you want to do is grow your hair, get stoned and sit around. The problem is that they wanted us to understand what it cost them to provide this great life for us, but they weren’t very good at expressing that and we were too self-involved to try to get it.

There were lots of people who behaved that way. On the other hand, there were lots of American baby boomers who tried to stop the Vietnam War. All over the world, there were lots of  hippies who tried to make love, not war. There were those who had to endure a war themselves. I was too young for any of this, and I otherwise know only a couple of people who participated in these things. They then went on to become rather narcissistic, consumer-driven yuppies.  For me and most of my peer group, however, things were rather different. I worked hard. I put myself through school. I joined the army. I started a career that has given me a comfortable living but has not made me wealthy. I have never owned a BMW. For the most part, life has been pretty good. I pay my bills and my taxes and I vote when there’s an election. I’m fortunate enough to have been born in a country that doesn’t have a coup every time there’s an election. In other words, I think that despite the fact that I “had it easy”, I turned out all right, as did most of us. I have even learned to appreciate my parents and what they wanted for us.

Does my generation show some pretty incredible characteristics of narcissism? You bet. Have I at times been egotistical myself? Yes! I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. And because of our size, we do get a lot of attention. But we’re mostly okay, and we have even managed to do some pretty valuable things.

And the under-30s? They will have to deal with the way they have been infantalized and they will have to find their feet and fight. They have a steep learning curve ahead of them. But there are many good things about them, too, and like us, most of them will be fine, and in the end, I doubt that they will be any more narcissistic than any other generation.

So let’s stop complaining about them, shall we?

This Is for You, M.

Some of you dear readers have probably come to the conclusion that after my nasty experience with a male narcissist that I’m a sort of man-hater. Nothing could be further from the truth. My experience with Harry has in many ways been beneficial and clichéd as it might sound, has helped me to become a better person. Not that I would recommend this method of self-improvement.

Becoming a better person lead me to M. He is the love of my life and the best man I have ever met.

I feel profoundly lucky to have found you.

Love tree
Love tree (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

May the Force Be With You

David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Stri...
David Prowse as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it could have been worse, I suppose. I could have been lying on a cold, rock-strewn slope, the victim of an avalanche with two broken legs, gangrene setting in, wolves gathering in the closing twilight and no coffee left. On the other hand, it could have been a lot better. I could have been lying on a beach in the Dominican Republic, gin and tonic in hand, with nothing to do but crisp in the sun. Or I could have been sitting in a little Montreal bistro with a nice glass of wine while waiting for some beautifully prepared boeuf bourguignon. But nooo.

I think it’s probably apropos for me to spare some of you the gruesome details, but if only one person is saved by what I have to say here then it will have been worthwhile for me to have re-lived this horrific experience.

I was not lacking in gear, preparation or organization. I had plenty of re-usable, environmentally friendly cloth bags. I had a list. I even remembered to bring the list along. I arrived early, budget firmly in place. I was well-rested and fed. I had comfortable shoes, a water bottle and a thermos of coffee. I was ready!

Yes, dear reader. I was tackling the – cue the theme from Jaws – Christmas shopping list. I finally gave in. It had to be done. There was no way around it.

I entered the mall at nine thirty in the morning and noted that at that hour, the place was quiet and almost deserted. A lone security guard strolled nonchalantly, occasionally glancing in the windows, yawning and taking sips from his coffee cup. It was the perfect time to get the dreaded operation done. Yes!! I congratulated myself and patted myself on the back and grinning and chuckling to myself I started poking about, mentally comparing the wares on display with the requirements of my list. I hummed some old tunes and loafed along, secure in the knowledge that soon I would be safely back home, mission accomplished and feeling a certain degree of superiority over the lesser types who wait too long or are too late or both. I was, of course, tempting fate, Murphy’s Law and all manner of biblical imprecations about pride going before a  fall and all that.

I arrived at “Santa’s Workshop,” famous in song and story as the scene of many family breakdowns while parents force their bawling and terrified offspring to sit on the Bearded One’s lap and have a photo taken. I don’t blame them. Who wants to sit on some weird-looking stranger’s lap while he booms ho ho ho at you in a thunderous voice that could scare the crap out of you and often does? What makes parents think that this is cute? The poor kid may as well be sitting on Darth Vader’s lap. Afraid that I might start having flashbacks, I nipped past as quickly as I could, even though all was quiet and Santa and the elves were hiding somewhere and sleeping it off.

As I turned a corner, I ran into an old friend who invited me to join her and her husband in a cup of Christmas cheer. They were so gracious and kind that I couldn’t refuse. We wound up sharing the cheer much later than I had anticipated, but I declined their kind offers of a lift home. If one is going shopping then one is going shopping, and no joking about it. I assured them that I would take a taxi home and wandered out of the restaurant and into the now crowded and noisy mall. Since I was all mellow, this ceased to bother me and I fished my trusty list out of my pocket for further perusal.

I was meandering down a perfume aisle, lost in the contentment of my mellow mood when I both heard and smelled a small boy who was bawling and roaring for his mother. He was either so scared that he had pooped his pants or he had been forced to sit on Santa’s lap. I tried looking around for his mom but couldn’t spot anyone nearby except for a rather large security guard one aisle over who was energetically chastising two adolescent boys for slinging hockey pucks at each other. 

I tried to get the guard’s attention while hanging on to the small child so that he wouldn’t wander any farther, but this was proving to be difficult as he screamed even louder and tried to squirm out of my grasp. I was becoming less mellow by the second. Suddenly the guard turned toward me and impaled me with a look that would freeze mercury. He came striding over and demanded to know what I was doing. I was somewhat mesmerized and distracted by his unibrow which hung over his face like a kind of awning. What Period is this guy supposed to be, anyway? Triassic? Jurassic? He had lots of stuff all over his uniform – about four different kinds of radios, mace, handcuffs – have you noticed lately how the police and security types have about 50 pieces of crap dangling from their persons? It must take two hours to get ready to go to work, and especially this guy, who would also have to spray-paint his eyebrow into place. 

He had a mean look about him. A frustrated look. The kind of look that says, “I may have flunked out of police school but this mall is mine and I’m going to get you whether you did anything or not.”

I tried to organize my thoughts enough to explain that the little boy had lost his mom but I was cut off in mid-babble with, “Have you been drinking?” Visions of spending a night in a concrete room with alien roommates danced through my head, but didn’t impart any sense of caution, or sugar plums, either. 

I didn’t know that the Temperance League was out and about and chasing down malefactors. In fact, I didn’t even know that they still existed. I was about to make a sophisticated and sarcastic retort along the lines of “fuck off”, but was interrupted by the return of the boy’s mother, who when she saw him also started bawling. The two of them kicked up a racket that could be heard on Easter Island. I backed slowly and carefully away – I saw my chance to escape and took it. Stumbling out to the main entrance I flagged down the first taxi I could find and headed home.

I count myself as lucky. Like people who escape a cult consider themselves lucky. I got the message, and it’s one I’m happy to receive. Avoiding Christmas shopping is like avoiding narcissists – may the force be with you and protect you from yourself.

And I’m Pleased to Introduce … Narcissistic Instability!

He’s a fence-sitter. He’s a waffler. He’s a flip-flopper. He’s inconsistent. He’s unstable. I’ll never forget the day that I realized that. The day that I stopped making excuses and stopped trying to soften the impact that his behaviour was having when I used euphemistic descriptors. It was an important turning point because I began to see what, exactly, I was dealing with instead of trying to minimize, rationalize and cope. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I started to get my life back.

The narcissist is a curious mixture of nothing. My former narcissist projects a charming act that hides an abyss – its only contents are things that he manufactures. He’s completely stuck there, as frozen as an amber bug. The most startling and contradictory thing about him, however, was that he occasionally had glimpses of insight into himself – there were very brief moments of self-awareness. One of these moments especially stands out.

Long before I met him, Harry had launched a lawsuit for defamation, depression and loss of professional earnings against two women: one was a former colleague and quite clearly a narcissist herself while the other one was a former girlfriend who had suffered some brain injury after a car crash.

Mary, the former colleague, took a dislike to Harry after a professional disagreement and proceeded to try to have Harry’s license as an engineer revoked. In the meantime, Harry broke up with his girlfriend, Danielle, as a result of the ongoing issues with her mental health. To make a very long, very soapy story short, Mary and Danielle eventually became friends and colluded to have Harry charged for stalking and threatening their lives; he was ultimately arrested but the charges were dropped five days later because of a lack of evidence. Harry then started his lawsuit.

This lawsuit took ten years to come to its conclusion because Harry changed lawyers a couple of times and during its course Harry also continued an on-again, off-again relationship with Danielle which the trial judge noted in his reasons for judgement. The judge sided with Harry and concluded that he was the subject of a false, hate-fuelled, vengeful plot. However, it’s also clear that the judge to some extent saw the situation as being the product of Harry’s own behaviour and that there was also an attempt on Harry’s part to make the situation appear worse than it actually was. As a result, the monetary settlement that Harry received was only a token and was quickly consumed by his legal costs.

It’s true that Harry was wronged. There is no question of it, either legally or morally. However, the personality defects that define the narcissist lead him or her to having some very odd reactions to things, especially conflict.  For instance, neither I, nor most people I know, would continue to have a relationship with a mentally ill person against whom they have an ongoing, bitter and protracted lawsuit that’s designed to relieve her of any money that she might have because of the damage that she’s done. It became obvious to me that during the course of  his relationship with Danielle, he flopped around like a mop and never did come to any firm conclusions or positions about his feelings for her.  His issue was that as a very beautiful, well-dressed woman – and she was, undeniably – she made the perfect trophy. She was able to present well for short periods of time and he could bask in the reflected, surface glory as he squired her around. This was irresistible to him, and he continued to take advantage of her mental shortcomings so that he could wring as much from her as possible.

Behind the scenes, however, he harboured a pathological, misogynistic dislike. Remember, Harry has profound issues with women and is also a homosexual who hates himself for it. This is a cauldron of discord; instability would be a natural result. What to do? How to be? He’s all about display and artifice and charm but at the same time reacts with an instinctive hatred toward women that he tries to bury but that unexpectedly leaks out.

This situation is incredibly difficult for anyone to deal with, but for someone who is mentally handicapped, it’s impossible. In my opinion Danielle was also taken advantage of by the other narcissist in her life, Mary. This is reflected in the judge’s ruling who verbally chastised Danielle’s behaviour as reprehensible but did not otherwise punish her in any way. The token monetary amount was adjudicated against Mary alone.

Then there were Harry’s interactions with Mary. Two narcissists having a row. Lovely. The lying, the misrepresentation and the one-upmanship was spectacular. I admire the trial judge’s fortitude in picking his way through this mess, if also feeling rather miffed that a couple of narcissists could manage to clog up the court system for so long with this dreck.

The upshot, as I’ve already indicated, is that while Harry won, he also lost. He claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings because of the damage the two women inflicted on his reputation. However, the judge noted that Harry’s career as an engineer had historically been spotty and punctuated by periods of unemployment and poor relationships with superiors, employers and colleagues. He had always earned much less than the average and already had a questionable professional reputation. Without directly saying so, the judge intimated that Harry was exaggerating and that he was also taking advantage of the situation in order to score a significant cash infusion; Mary was a very wealthy woman with significant financial resources.

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember well the question Harry asked me after I had read the judgement for the first time and we had discussed it: “I’m partly to blame for this, aren’t I?” I agreed that he was; that he could have let the whole thing go after the police determined that there had been no basis for the charges, that he could have avoided the financial hardship and depression that came with the lawsuit.

It was only months later, when I was in the process of divorcing him, that I realized that he liked all this drama; he loved legal scrambling and being on the financial brink and using those situations to claim depression and heartache and victimhood. He craved the instability of this situation because it’s what he’s comfortable with. He could wallow in it and get lots of attention from it. For him, instability is stability.

I later learned that during the lawsuit against Mary and Danielle, he had no less than three other lawsuits (not including a law-suit that had been brought against him) in various stages: a countersuit against a lawyer whom he had refused to pay when Harry disagreed with his handling of Mary and Danielle; a lawsuit against another woman who had broken off her romantic relationship with him, and a lawsuit against a former employer who had fired him. Indeed, there were two other lawsuits that he contemplated but did not pursue; the commonality among all of them was that they were frivolous and unwinnable.

Into this mix was the fact that he had become well-known to the local police long before the arrest that precipitated the suit against Mary and Danielle – he had a long history of warnings and an arrest and conviction for assault. When he realized that he finally had a lawsuit that could go all the way, he must have been in absolute narcissistic heaven.

He can’t stand stability for very long. He’s got to have something boiling in his pot so that he can feel comfortable and so that his attention can be diverted from the boring, stultifying reality of living with an empty self.  Hence the nasty comments that are designed to provoke a fight; the constant changing of opinion and direction, the neverending motion that accomplishes little. He is compelled to generate instability because otherwise, he won’t feel “normal”. The only constant is the inconstant, the only reality is the unreal, the only stability is the unstable.

However, if there’s one thing that causes me to feel any pity for this man at all, it’s the fact that during these very rare, very brief moments, I saw what he could have been. I saw illumination and intelligence. I saw humility and reality. And then it was gone.  The act was back, and it was very sad.

Sometimes, life is like that.