Tag Archives: Narcissism – One Woman’s True Story of Marriage to a Narcissist

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.

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?

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.

How Are Your Boundaries Holding Up?

Narcissism 101
Narcissism 101 (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

One of the great things that this blog is forcing me to do is to think through the “relationship” that I had with my narcissist, and as a result, to think through other prominent relationships that I’ve had in my life, as well. It’s useful to take a hard look back, to see what I’ve done and not done, to see when I behaved and misbehaved, to see what I learned and didn’t learn. The saying that hindsight may be 20/20 but that it’s also only for assholes, is wrong, I believe. Otherwise, as with any history, if we don’t learn from it we’re doomed to repeat it. Okay. So I’m finished now with the d’Arty-Cross cliché review. Nevertheless, it’s important to every now and then do some looking back, as long as it’s not obsessive or overly critical and as long as the intent is to apply whatever you get out of this exercise only to yourself – don’t do any narcissistic projection! So today, I’m going to leave off  the defining that I’ve been doing and share with you one of my behaviours, a behaviour that I was only barely aware of, that lead to my involvement with a narcissist. It was only through looking back that I really got what it was that I was doing, or should I say, not doing.

I had trouble with setting boundaries. Not that I was crossing other people’s boundaries, no; certainly not any more often than most people, and it usually happened inadvertently. I had trouble stopping people from crossing mine, especially the people I love. So yes, this boundary thing wasn’t just confined to my interactions with narcissists, it was a character trait, a way of being with those whom I love/loved. I am referring to it in the past tense, but I shouldn’t do that because it’s still very much in existence; it’s just that I now have it on a leash.

Boundaries. We think we know what that word means; I thought I knew what that word means. But if there’s one thing that I learned from my narcissist, it’s that I had very poor personal, mental and emotional boundaries and was utterly clueless that I had an issue with them. I was a “yes” person of the highest order. “Yessir!” unquestioningly, and unquestioning; that was me. I thought it was my function in life to run around after everyone else’s needs, to fix, to be on call for whatever had to be done, even if it made me feel undervalued, angry, disrespected or just plain pissed off. I didn’t know how to say “no” and felt that even if I tried, I wouldn’t be heard.

Now, this makes me sound like some sort of doormat or puppet, but really, I wasn’t. I was a respected professional person with a great deal of responsibility who had absolutely no trouble with saying no at work. But love relationships? That was an entirely different story.

My upbringing conditioned me to say yes to pretty much anything I was asked. Both my parents were WWII veterans and their sense that they were providing a much better life for me and my siblings caused them to think that I sort of “owed” them by behaving well, which meant that I had to do as I was told or asked. It sounds like I am blaming them for this but that’s not how I feel. I believe in taking adult responsibility for my behaviour; in the end the problem’s genesis didn’t matter because I still had to deal with it anyway.

My parents were products of their generation and believed what they were doing was best. To them, my siblings and I were raised in the lap of luxury and had nothing to complain about. However, they were setting me up to be rather non-thinking where my personal boundaries were concerned and when this was followed by a marriage to an older man who expected the same, I started to see myself as a lesser person who needed to take my direction from others. I see now that he was occasionally very disrespectful, but over time I had begun to buy into his treatment of me.

Eventually, I became afraid (see my post “Is There a Narcissist in Your Life?”) of making my own decisions about interpersonal boundaries. It seemed like everyone else knew better than me and I began to rely heavily on the mental and emotional judgments of others with respect to how I should behave.  For a long time, I did not recognize this issue and went blithely on taking my emotional and mental boundary cues from others. It became a habit that was character-defining. Eventually, it also became a gap that my narcissist was able to easily recognize and exploit.

As always, the narcissist starts with baby steps. He began by asking me to pick up small items for him – he was working for weeks at a time in an isolated area – “on [his] dime,” as he always said. A pair of gloves, a book, some specialty shampoo. However, once I had given him these items, he just wouldn’t reimburse me. I chose not to see the issue. I chose to think well of him and to trust him. I was in love with him. But he had already crossed a boundary – a minor one, yes, but a boundary nevertheless.

Later, I was buying for him, on request, items that were much more pricey – tools, expensive clothes, a camera. After a while, he stopped working and then moved in with me. He asked me to pay a sizable debt of his and I did.

He flew to Toronto to deal with a legal issue and wound up stuck in the airport with no money and with no way for me to transfer any money. I flew there, money in hand, to rescue him.

He had an accident in his vehicle and started driving mine. Then the collection of photo-radar tickets started appearing – thousands of dollars of them. He wouldn’t stop speeding but kept using my vehicle anyway. He mistreated the vehicle and its condition started to deteriorate.

I still wouldn’t acknowledge the issue and continued to rationalize and minimize it and shortly after, we got married. We honeymooned in Hawaii because that’s where he wanted to go. I paid for it. Then the spending got really out of control. I was completely supporting the household, paying the mortgage, the taxes and the insurance while trying to keep up with the mounting pile of bills that he was generating.

He wouldn’t get a job or even look for one and preferred to do “projects” around the house which mainly consisted of him taking something apart and not putting it back together or only partially completing it. As usual, he had to spend a lot of money on the proper tools for these projects, with me footing the bill.

He is a car hobbyist of sorts and also started spending money on all kinds of parts and pieces for it, many of which had to be shipped in, in one instance from as far away as Australia. Again, I paid.

My stress levels began to go through the roof. I am not wealthy by any means and I began to really worry about how significant our debt was becoming. I’m sure you can see where the lack of boundaries had gotten me. I finally was forced into calling a halt, at which point he returned to work. Not to help out with the household expenses or the debt, not a chance. It was so that he could continue to finance the luxury items that he wanted to purchase for himself.

I now understand how people get themselves into these abusive relationships and in my opinion, it begins because  there’s a lack of boundaries. Anyone with a strong sense of  herself is going to heed the warning signs – and believe me, they are always there – of narcissistic abuse (or any other kind of abuse, for that matter) and will tell that narcissist to take a hike.

But I was a fixer, a rescuer, a yes-person. I believed that if I loved him enough, if I was unconditional enough, everything would be fine. Look at the financial crap I put up with, and that was only part of it! I literally invested everything I had into him and was arrogant enough to believe that with me, he would find happiness. It was difficult to give up on him, to finally get him out of my life, because that meant that I was giving up on what I thought I knew about myself, that I was giving up on the dream, that I had to admit that I had been taken.

And that was scary. It was humiliating and I was afraid. Almost afraid enough to stay in it. But not quite.  Thank-you, good friends.

So, those of you out there who have been raised to be good little yes-people, beware. This particularly applies to women because we are  raised that way more so than men but this can also apply to men. If it feels like you’re being taken advantage of, and especially  if you feel angry or upset at what you are asked to do, listen to yourself and examine what it is you’re feeling. That’s your warning system kicking in. You may save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache.

What to Do If Married to a Narcissist

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: overLinedesign)

A little while ago, I had these words show up in my search engine terms.  Whoever you are, this post is for you. I know what you’re going through and how bad it can be. But I also know that there’s relief to be had, that you can get your life back, and that you deserve to have your life back, no matter how guilty and responsible you’re feeling right now or how much you think you are at fault.

First of all, realize that your narcissist cannot be helped. Although some work has been done with them, it  is extremely slow – it takes years before any progress is noticeable, and even then, it will be minor. Really, narcissists are incurable. No amount of love, caring or understanding on your part will help them. Your narcissist will never love or respect you in return. They have absolutely no interest in that and they do not believe that anything is wrong with them.

Secondly, get support. Find a counsellor, a friend, a family member, someone you can trust and who will stand by you, listen to you and unconditionally help you through this. Tell this person what has been happening in your marriage. You are going to need this support because you are going to have to get this narcissist out of your life, especially if you have children. Narcissists can do a lot of damage to children. If you’re feeling unhinged because of your exposure, imagine what it can do to them.

If you can, take your time and plan how you will get this person out of your life and your home – the narcissist should leave, not you. Ask your support person to help you through this planning phase. Be sure to keep your planning secret. I’m sure you’re well aware of the rage that could erupt if your narcissist finds out what you’re doing. In the meantime, do whatever fawning or flattery you have to do to keep your narcissist calm and unaware. Lie if you have to. Get everything that you need in place – paperwork on cars, homes, bank accounts. If necessary, organize care for your children. Find a lawyer. Notify the police and have them on stand-by. And then, in the company of your support person, tell your narcissist that he or she has to immediately leave, and don’t look back.

Whatever you do, stick by the idea of getting your life back. Don’t let the narcissist’s bag of tricks dissuade you from your decision. Because that’s all it is – a bag of tricks. If you fall for it, a week later you will be right back where you started. This plan might sound harsh and almost narcissistic itself, but sometimes we have to do unpleasant things to save ourselves and our children. Remember that you’re entitled to and deserve a life that’s free of narcissistic craziness, and so do they. There’s no reasoning with a narcissist. There’s no living with a narcissist. Unless you want to accept that your life is a part of the narcissistic cesspool, and that that is what your life will be, you have no other choice but to leave.

If you’re not ready to leave yet, find a counsellor or other support person who will listen to you. Read as much as you can. There are good sources here on WordPress – try planetjan, I’m Going Slightly Mad, kimberlyharding-soulhealingart.com, In Bad Company, Scott Williams. There are many, many other sources available. You will find one that works for you.

Good luck! And remember, you are not alone.

Here There Be Dragons

English: Picture of myself, I am a narcissist....

When the ancient cartographers ran out of knowledge about a landmass they were mapping, they often labelled the area with “here there be dragons.” It was a scary unknown with who-knew-what kind of weird critters, maybe barking spiders the size of lawnmowers. It was best for them to say the worst and hope for the best, similar to what many doctors still have to do now. If the worst happens, they’ve covered their butts. If it doesn’t, then everyone is usually happy and relieved and they forget about that “worst” scenario. Or, give it a little time, and it might be thought of as foolish or silly, as we do today when we think of Antarctica as possible dragon country. Makes some sense, I suppose; they would need all that fire-breathing wrath to stay warm.

This isn’t the case with narcissists, however. They are dragons. Real live fire-breathing flying reptiles with very bad dispositions. They unpredictably swoop in, lay waste to everything in sight, and then swoop out again. And when one finds oneself in a so-called love relationship with a narcissist, well, there’s nothing there except trouble and heartbreak, baby. There’s no possibility of a real life version of  Shrek or a romantic version of How to Train Your Dragon. It’s cute when it’s on-screen, but there’s no connection to reality at all – they’re  cartoons, remember? – even if you’re out there hanging on by one fingernail and hoping that your narcissist is going  to suddenly start to love and respect you in return.

Unfortunately, most narcissists are also misogynists. My apologies to all the men out there. I don’t mean to be offensive, but it is a fact that 72% of narcissists are male, and of that number, 91% are also haters of women. (I also have to acknowledge that there is some shifting of these numbers depending on the source and there are also growing numbers of female narcissists, particularly among the under 30 age group – the numbers I’m using here are an average.) For the most part, the research says that these men were likely abused or neglected by their mothers or other significant female figures in their lives, but my experience tells me that there is at least one other issue going on as well and that this issue results in a form of misogyny that is quite layered.

Once we were married, it over time became evident to me that my former narcissist husband is a latent homosexual. (Please be aware that it is NOT my intent to suggest that narcissism is any more prevalent among the gay population than it is in the general population.) He may have acknowledged his homosexuality to himself at some point in his life, but even if he did, he then stuffed it so far away that to him, it became a nothing. Obviously, ignoring one’s sexual orientation is going to be a serious problem for even the most otherwise well-balanced individual, but coupled with the personality issues associated with narcissism and you have an explosive combination – an extremely unstable, volatile, love/hate relationship with half of the population that manifests itself in immature and adolescent acting out, temper tantrums, jealousy and envy.

In “Peekaboo, I see Me” I wrote about the fact that at some point early in their lives, most narcissists have had the ability to feel empathy turned off. The narcissist I was married to demonstrated a classic case of this. I have independent evidence to confirm that his mother eventually became a severe alcoholic who barely functioned and who may have committed suicide (I have been unable to establish the veracity of this part), that his father was distant and uninvolved, and that a younger bother died at his father’s workplace while playing unsupervised around dangerous machinery.

In the meantime, “Harry” says that he faced a social reaction from some of his peer group – they ostracized him at the insistence of their parents because of the instability of his home life. I say “some” of his peer group because it seems from much of what Harry has told me that he also had friends; maybe, however, he fixated on those who decided that they didn’t want to or couldn’t socialize with him, and maybe I will never know the truth of this portion of his life; the differing accounts are obvious.

Nevertheless, Harry’s youth was difficult and tragic and it’s easy to see why he turned off his ability to feel for others – there was just too much hurt, anger and pain; it was a lot safer to distance himself, to grow a protective armour that would deflect anything else that might damage him, and to re-invent himself and his background. While ignoring the fact that his father was at least indirectly responsible for his brother’s death, Harry re-invented him as a sort of Superman who had tried to cure all of his family’s woes while battling an evil, violent, alcoholic spouse.  For any independent, objective person, it’s clear that both parents had severe issues and were equally responsible for what happened to their sons. For Harry, however, it was black and white – Dad good, Mom bad. For the narcissist, nuance doesn’t really exist.

Into this mix comes the question of his sexual orientation. Not to say that it’s easy now, but back in the 70s it was a much more difficult proposition to deal with. Harry has tried to model himself on his version of his father as a manly hero-saint; homosexuality is completely verboten to him. Even now, with his father long since dead and with the much greater acceptance that we have today, he would find it impossible – Harry is completely invested in his invention and in any event, is incapable of self-examination. He has dedicated himself to being straight, just as he has dedicated himself to his hatred and fear of women.

However, there is an obvious inherent conflict in this position: to be “straight” he has to demonstrate a love of women, particularly to get what he really wants from them, which is to re-create the mother/son bond. Confused yet? It is confusing, and completely illogical, but that is the narcissist.

So, the narcissist goes into the charm offensive and wins the woman. He has specifically chosen this woman because she is a mark, a target and a trophy, but  also because she has demonstrated an ability to take care of him – she has money, resources, energy, a job.  He tries to enact that classic scenario of reproducing the same set of circumstances and hoping for a different outcome, namely that this relationship will somehow heal how he feels about his mother.

Was Oedipus a narcissist? Maybe.

In the meantime, he has to try to maintain the fiction that he’s a real partner who is sexually interested, when for him, the woman is a huge turn-off because of the very certainty that she’s a woman, to say nothing of the fact that he has visualized her as a sort of mother-figure, and this results in resentment and a personally directed resurfacing of his intense hatred for women. Make no wonder he can’t stand himself.

To get out of the bedroom and to dump responsibility at her door, he then starts to invent reasons why she is sexually undesirable, ranging all the way from inexperience and lack of technique to too much experience and too much technique. While she tries to think this over and figure out what went wrong and where the person she first knew has gone, he continues to dish out his hatred for women in calculated and strategic amounts that are designed to keep her off-balance; no sooner has she commenced re-building then the dragon swoops in with a fresh assault. The next thing she knows, there’s no chance to re-build, there’s only a quick moment to find cover, any cover that will provide temporary relief.

He has to empty himself of the hate he feels for her because she’s a woman, because of his envy and jealousy of her normal life, because he hates himself for hating her. He blows up, he rants and raves, he threatens, he spews vitriol. It’s one rage dump after another. And unless she gets him out of her life, that is what her life will be.

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, I’m a Narcissist and I Don’t See You

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: JasonLangheine)

I’ve already discussed how the egocentrism of narcissists leads them to construct lives where they target others who can provide them with attention, constant confirmation of their flattering self-image and who can also act as  garbage receptacles for all the negative thoughts they have about themselves. Last time, I looked at their insatiable need for re-invention, a by-product of the fact that they feel so empty and keep searching for something to fill themselves. Narcissists are essentially empty; they are in the never-ending process of divesting themselves of the negativity they heap upon themselves, but often, they can’t keep up, an over-flow situation arises, and they vomit that chaotic mass of self-hatred all over those closest to them. I refer to this outpouring or vomiting of self-hatred as the rage dump. There is no warning that this will occur, although if you are exposed enough to a narcissistic individual, you may begin to recognize some of their triggers.

Their triggers are things that may seem to have no logic attached to them, although there is usually some sort of connection to their own self-image. For instance, if the narcissist has or has had a weight problem, he or she can explode if encountering others who, in the opinion of the narcissist, has the same problem, although the individuals in question may not really have a problem at all. When the corresponding rage emerges, the narcissist does not care where he or she is, or who might hear. The narcissist I was married to had, years before I met him, overcome an extreme weight problem through gastric-bypass surgery. The self-hatred he carried around for having developed the problem in the first place was never in any way addressed through counselling, and he constantly flew into rages over what he considered to be the gluttonous weaknesses of others, including me. This rage could be anything from a series of rather loud, sarcastic comments delivered in restaurants and intended for total strangers to hear, all the way through to shouting, spitting, boiling condemnations delivered in the most vitriolic and foul language and in any venue, either public or private. It was, in fact, a public explosion of this type that was the catalyst for our final parting of the ways.

He also had a serious issue with people who wear sandals. He frequently trumpeted his opinion that no one wants to see dirty, filthy, calloused feet with thick yellowing toenails. I eventually realized that what he really despised were his own feet, and because he felt that he shouldn’t display them, no one else should display their feet, either. Remember, it’s not possible for someone else to be better than they are.

Their rage can manifest in other ways, as well. Any perceived challenges to their intelligence can spark angry tantrums that are off the chart. I once had the temerity to follow up with further information on some investment advice that my former husband wanted me to follow, and he ripped into me with the ferocity of a hurricane. This rage occurred over the phone, so I was accorded some measure of safety; however, his reaction and the words he used to describe my “behaviour”  were extreme. I had “betrayed” him. I had “abandoned” him. I was “disloyal and treacherous”. Before hanging up, he shouted, “F***k you! F***k you and the horse you rode in on! And f***k Carrie [the person who gave the financial information]! I was left shocked and reeling.

It’s not uncommon for narcissists to feel that they have had the “best” education, that no one has worked harder to succeed than they have, that no one has overcome more obstacles than they have, that because of their great intelligence, they were able to conquer the serious disadvantages of their upbringing that would have stymied a lesser person. They will often convince themselves that this is true and will spend a lot of energy on trying to convince others of it as well, even if there is much evidence to suggest that they are no smarter or have not had to overcome anything more than most of us. Much of this problem derives from the fact that they cannot accept themselves as ordinary, and as part of their constant re-invention, they are compelled to manufacture a past that makes them feel special, noticed and different.  They also believe that these qualities entitle them to weigh in with authority on any topic, whether they know what they are talking about or not. In the case of my former husband, I would have sooner taken financial advice from a chipmunk. At least they know about winter storage. The sad fact is that the complete totality of his knowledge about money is an adolescent ability to spend it, particularly on himself.

The unpredictable nature of these rage dumps can leave the recipients feeling dazed, exhausted, and vulnerable, but it also gets worse. Because most of us look for rational explanations for things, we will be left confused: there is no apparent logical reasoning for the behaviour that we have just witnessed unless we start to take it upon ourselves, a dangerous situation that together with the narcissist’s talent for projection, can lead to a vicious circle of mental abuse. So, what is the reason for these rages? The reason is that they are compensating. They want recognition and respect for being smart, intelligent, an authority, but they are insecure about it. If someone questions something they say, they fear that the questioner might be right, and therefore, the only way to re-establish a sense of superiority is to stomp on and intimidate the source of this discord. As a result of this reaction, the very things they desire – respect and recognition for their abilities – is completely lost to them and the loop begins again. The rage they feel at themselves must be eliminated, directed outward, and at the people who are the most likely to take it and the least likely to deserve it: those who are unfortunate enough to, for the time being, love them.

Peekaboo, I See Me

Portrait: 73/365 "N is for Narcissism"
Portrait: 73/365 “N is for Narcissism” (Photo credit: Twaize)

Last time in “I See Myself, Therefore I am” I discussed how the narcissist generates a sense of self through an often invented mirror image and also through unremitting attention-seeking. They believe themselves to be completely empty or at best shallow and although they are afraid that others might discover this about them, they also believe that everyone else is just like themselves. This metastasizes into one of the worst evils about narcissism: the notion that all others operate in the same way that they do. Although this sounds contradictory, given that they’re worried that others will learn about their emptiness, they cannot abide the fact that most people do have an interior being and are, to some degree or another, concerned about the impact they may have on others. Narcissists just don’t accept this.

This type of projection is poisonous and crazy-making. Because narcissists at some point in their lives were damaged (or perhaps were even born that way) and had their ability to feel empathy turned off,  they all come to the conclusion that everyone else has had the same thing happen and that no one is capable of feeling  for another. The narcissist believes that essentially, we are all walking around lying about our feelings for others; at best we are pretending. Even though they have an inkling that this might not be true, as evidenced by their fear of having their emptiness found out, they behave as if it is true. The result is this then: every relationship they enter into is nothing more than a battle ground where they fight to inflict damage before it can be inflicted on them, where everyone is an enemy to be controlled and defeated, and where no one is to be trusted unless he or she can be absolutely subdued and mastered. All must be viewed with suspicion, because remember, we’re all waiting to do the same to them.

You might be wondering, then, why with this level of projection going on, they might ever enter into a relationship in the first place. Don’t forget that they’re empty and need attention to feel that they actually exist; therefore, they must have someone to provide that for them, so then the search begins. Their method of choice for winning people over is what I call a charm offensive. They can charm the birds right out of the trees. They compliment excessively, especially in areas where you might feel a little weak, they do little things for you, they buy you thoughtful presents; they make you feel valued and appreciated. They will walk over burning coals, hike through deserts or scale glaciers for you. They are charismatic and winning. They will make you feel like you are the only person who matters to them because you are the only person who matters to them. You are a target, a mark, a trophy, and they have a lot invested in you. And once you start to believe them, then, well, then everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world starts to tilt, because then the projection starts.

Very slowly, they begin to point out the things that are wrong with you, and because you have decided to trust them and also because you relate to others with thoughtfulness and empathy, you seriously consider what they have to say even though these negatives may be completely foreign to you. It might start with a suggestion to change your hair colour, or alter the brand of perfume you use. These “suggestions” are initially subtle and insidious but they continue to grow, both in volume and degree of importance. The next thing you know, your best friend whom you have known for 20 years is a pathetic a**hole who makes your life completely miserable. You have no taste in clothes or furniture and completely lack any sense of style. Your new car is a cheap piece of crap. Your new home has all sorts of things wrong with it. You have never worked hard in your life and you chose your career in order to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Your neighbours are a bunch of yelping harpies. You’re a miserable, fat lazy whiner who does nothing except sleep. You’re a tight fisted cheap skate. You have absolutely no idea what hardships are and would fail if you ever had to face any of them. You achieve your happiness at the expense of everyone around you. You’re a sexual adolescent who is clueless about intimacy. You don’t appreciate me.  You refuse to share. You’re stupid. You’re cruel to me. You’re a vindictive liar. You have no idea how to love anyone except yourself. You’re worthless, useless and a complete waste of skin. It would solve a lot of problems if you didn’t exist.

Do you see the projection? This is what they think of themselves. They swim in a vast cistern of jealousy-inspired hatred – hatred for themselves and hatred for all those people out there who seem to be better than they are, so they set out to prove that no one is superior to them, and they tear apart anyone with whom they become involved. Apart from stealing whatever they can from you, that is their raison d’être. The upshot is that unless you extricate yourself from this downward spiral, you wind up in a completely isolated deathtrap of a relationship with only a dim awareness of the fact that once upon a time, you had a perfectly good life.

For part three of this very lengthy definition, I am going to quote Gertrude Stein, who famously said, “There’s no there there.” She wasn’t referring to narcissists at the time, but as a succinct description of what they are, or perhaps I should say what they aren’t, truer words were never spoken.