Tag Archives: narcissists

Emotional Labour and the Seasonal Narcissist, Part II

NPD narcissists consume a huge amount of emotional labour. And before you know it, you can be down on your knees, completely exhausted, while the narcissist continues to, at the very least, be extremely dissatisfied.

There is no filling them up. They are never full. They are never sated. They are never content.

They simply have periods of digestion. Slowing down, savouring, enjoying … that’s not something with which they’re comfortable.

And yet, they desire the relief that slowing down and savouring can bring. They want it desperately and will chase it far and wide, but don’t know when they have it and are even scared of attaining it.

If they slow down … they might have to really consider themselves. And why bother with doing that? Because there you are, ready and willing to help them avoid their inadequacies and polish their fantasies.

Your love, your work, your labour will save them. At least for now. Until you do something human that screws up their picture of you and they start convincing you that there’s serious stuff wrong with you.

Up until that point, you’ve been pouring your emotional energy into them to shore them up, to give them a sense of self-confidence, to make them happy, to take away their pain, to provide them with everything they think they have been missing. And you’re beginning to feel depleted and exhausted.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because when you start to think that they’re right, that there’s stuff wrong with you and that that’s why they’re detaching, you will bear down even more.

You will expend labour on improving yourself, fixing yourself, correcting yourself. You will forget about your efforts to help them. There’s a terrifying, growing list of stuff you have to attend to, right now, before they walk out the door forever and it will be all your fault. Your emotions are twangling like a poorly strung violin.

All that work. All that labour. And this is what you get?

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How did this happen?

Well,  it happened because that’s how a true NPD narcissist is. The second they acquire whatever they have been chasing, they lose interest. And make no mistake, you are a “whatever.” After the chase has been won, you simply become a source of supply. Supplying what? A supply of whatever the narcissist saw as being desirable to take from you.

It could be money. Or status. Or connections. Or a place to live. Or warm fuzzies. Maybe it was all of those. It could be that you provided yourself as a person to control. Or as a person to feel superior to. Or maybe you’re a challenge to be dismantled, in which case you supply him with proof that no one is better than he is. Whatever the combination of holes you were filling for the narcissist … that’s what you were doing. Filling holes.

And filling holes is time consuming, hard labour with little reward; few of us will want to shout, oh, look what I did! A hole to be proud of!

So. The seasonal narcissist. A narcissist behaves according to three operational seasons: idealising, devaluing and discarding.

Oh yes. Narcissists can take apart a seasonal holiday, too. I’ve written about that before, and you can read my scribblings here and here. But to the narcissist, you are also seasonal, and you have a beginning, middle and end.

Is there anything seasonal about the narcissist from a conventional point of view? Yes, there is.

Think Hallowe’en. Think hobgoblin.

Personally, I tend to think dentist, as in that stuff you find in the spit cup they give you. I certainly don’t think Valentine’s Day. If there’s a season out there for the narcissist to manipulate your emotional labour and “prove” to you that you’re anything but special, it’s Valentine’s. In fact, it’s one of their favourite discard days.

Have you had a seasonal experience with a narcissist?

Emotional Labour and the Seasonal Narcissist, Part I

Today I listened to CBC radio’s Tapestry presentation on the subject of emotional labour. It’s an interesting topic and a type of work to which someone has finally given a name. Essentially, emotional labour is anything that people do that requires an emotionally invested outlay of energy. For example, we expend emotional energy keeping track of and making sure that our children go to the dentist, we listen when friends or family members need a shoulder to cry on, or we ensure there’s gas in the car. For the most part, emotional labour refers to the million little maintenance jobs (and sometimes not so little) that need to be taken care of and done on a regular basis, although much of this work can also be unexpected and/or quite time consuming. Statistically, it’s mostly women who complete these tasks, and we apparently spend a lot of time on them.

While listening to this piece, I was reminded of the amount of emotional labour one will expend if involved with a narcissist, and then I was reminded of a post I did about three or four years ago called The Seasonal Narcissist. It’s one of my more popular posts, particularly at this time year, but it only looks at the seasonal narcissist from the perspective of dealing with one on a temporary basis. It doesn’t really look at the long game at all. And it also doesn’t look at the energy that goes into having to be married to or in some sort of live-in relationship with one while Christmas, or any other holiday or special occasion, is in full swing.

Narcissists are never straight.
Narcissists are never straight.

Those of you who are familiar with me know that I have first-hand experience with this. Over a 20-month period, I became immersed in all the difficulties one encounters during any type of special occasion if involved with an NPD narcissist.

The emotional energy I expended around these events was enormous.

First of all, “Harry” was incredibly unpredictable in general, but if Christmas was coming up, he was much worse. I have read lots of accounts of people watching their narcissist walk out the door just before Christmas (or other special events), leaving the significant other or spouse in emotional hell and the children devastated, only to return as soon as the holiday or event is over.

This is typical behaviour.

Essentially, they don’t want anyone to enjoy the holiday or event, because they aren’t going to be the centre of attention. And if they aren’t going to be the centre of attention, then what’s the point? It’s just a bunch of work for nothing. Then there’s also the problem that  watching others have fun when they’re not is just too much to bear.

So, let’s take everyone down! Let’s make everyone feel like crap! Let’s walk out! Let’s have a horrible argument! Let’s make everyone feel as wretched as possible!

Then everyone’s attention will be back where it should be. That’ll teach them!

I spent two Christmases with Harry. During the first one, we were on our honeymoon in Hawaii and within a couple of days, he became completely morose and withdrawn. I had no idea what was going on and felt confused, scared and concerned. The only time he talked was to forcefully complain about everything from what I was wearing to the food that was available. All he wanted to do was stay in the hotel room and watch tv. Otherwise, he brooded and became uncommunicative. He faked a stomach bug (I know this because he kept eating heavy meals from the room service menu) so that he didn’t have to go out.  A couple of times, he claimed boredom. Of course, suggesting that he leave the room would have been met with more complaints.

Describing him as “high maintenance” would have been an understatement.

Unbeknownst to me, though, it was my very first set of indicators that the person I married wasn’t the person I married.

When we got back home, for a short time he became all sweetness and light, and apologised for his behaviour in Hawaii by claiming that he just hadn’t been feeling well.  I didn’t know it then, but my expenditure of emotional energy was about to go up in a big way, because during our trip, he had been grooming me to walk on eggshells.

By the time our second (and last) Christmas came around, I was dwelling in a land of contradiction, confusion and confrontation. I had been shouted at and called every kind of name. I had been accused of  betrayal, disrespect and dishonesty. I had been accused of contemplating an affair and of spending too much money. I had been accused of eating too much, of making too much noise when eating, of eating the wrong things, and of being an alcoholic. He said I was lazy, poorly educated and stupid. My clothes and hair were wrong. My furniture was wrong. Nothing was right.

And for a while, I  swallowed the notion that it was me who was the problem.

My head was swimming  and I was starting to feel like I might head into a depression, but I kept trying. I invested serious emotional labour into trying to fix the so-called wrongs. The list of things that I needed to be careful about became longer and longer and I tried to adhere strictly to the “rules,” but every time I thought I had them right, he changed them and pretended that they had always been that way.

Just before the holiday, I was subjected to a tongue-bashing that left me reeling, but as I see it now, it was also the beginning of my liberation.

It dawned on me that he was looking for an excuse to leave or to destroy any happiness that I might have during the holiday with family and friends. And once I made that connection, other connections that had been loitering in the background strode into the foreground.

An uneasy Christmas proceeded, but the day before New Year’s Eve, when we were supposed to go to a party together, the other shoe dropped. He announced that he was leaving and would be back later in January to pick up his things. According to him, we were done.

And that’s when I turned the tables on him. left, and spent the night at a friend’s house.

My friend C invested some serious emotional labour of her own in helping me through that night and encouraging some flames from those awareness embers.

I began to see that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. I began to see that no matter what I did or didn’t do, it would never be good  enough. I began to see that no matter how much emotional labour I invested, it would never be enough.

Trying to maintain him, to run around trying to remove any source of annoyance or anger from his day was impossible, because there was always something else. There was no amount of love, effort, or material items that would satisfy him. He was a bottomless pit, and I was expected to keep trying to fill it until I was exhausted and no longer useful.

The beginning of the end had started. Within the next month, I had started counselling, and seven months after that, I got him out of my house.

What it finally came down to was an unadorned realisation on my part that there was nothing I could do except walk away and work at getting my life back: the seasonal narcissist is always a narcissist. It’s just that they do more manipulation when those special occasions roll around. They know that people want to have fun and want things to go well, and that makes them vulnerable and malleable, especially if children are involved.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Have you experienced a seasonal narcissist? What are your thoughts about emotional labour?

For J

This is for my beloved sister J, who passed away on December 26 after a short struggle with cancer. I love you, J.

 

You have always been kind and tough and thoughtful and practical.

And you learned early how to deal with the family’s narcissists. Before it was popular, you knew a kind of no contact and lived it. Your own kind.

Distance did it. Physical distance. Mental distance.

I, much younger, didn’t really know you.

Not until much later. Not until now, really.

And then, we faced another narcissist. This time, together. Looked at our heritage.

But you handled that, too. Adroitly, as you always have. Even as you grew smaller and smaller and your world grew smaller and smaller.

The one who wasn’t “smart.”

The one who always knew but didn’t fuss. Just lived.

I’ve had a good long life, you said.

I wish it was longer.

I wish I didn’t have to say good-bye.

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part II

From what I experienced with my ex-husband, narcissism, and by that I mean the extreme narcissism that produces narcissistic personality disorder, is a result of a combination of personality and environmental factors.

Harry, my ex-narcissist, seems to me to have been born with a personality – in other words, the basic personality that was the result of his genetic inheritance – that left him unable to cope with much in the way of emotional upheaval. As a child, he was was probably much more emotional and sensitive than most people.

That was in the 1940s. And being an “emotional” boy would not have been an accepted trait during that time. He likely would have been castigated for any displays of emotion. “Boys don’t cry.” “Act like a man.” “Toughen up.” And so on.

Then, from what I’ve been able to piece together, the perfect confluence of long-term emotional upheaval began: his mother developed a drinking problem and was sent away by Harry’s father to get treatment. She was gone for a long period of time, possibly more than a year. Then, Harry’s father, distant to begin with, exposed Harry to a sort of uninvolved neglect. It could also be that at about this time, Harry became nascently aware that he’s gay – he was around ten.

As a result of these nurturing deficiencies, Harry became locked into childhood behaviour. He developed a love/hate relationship with women. He was in awe of his distant father. As he became older, he enacted repeatedly the wounding that he suffered from his parents, spreading it to others like a plague, hoping, on a subconscious level, to eliminate it from his life, or worse yet, dropping it on others so that they could feel the same way that he does. After all, it isn’t “fair” for others to feel better than he does.

Because he was a child when this occurred, with a child’s sense of understanding and logic, the narcissistic wounding was perceived through a child’s eyes. A childlike reaction resulted: in particular, narcissists react to criticism in very childlike ways. They are hypersensitive to any kind of perceived negativity that might be directed at them. One cliche certainly applies to narcissists and criticism: they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Eventually, the original wounding is forgotten and buried, and the narcissist can no longer make any kind of connection between event and  behaviour, if a connection had ever consciously been made in the first place.

Although Harry is a grown man physically, he relates to the world through the brain of a sensitive child who was damaged beyond repair. He has developed coping mechanisms and armour to protect himself from further injury. He has objectified others so that they can’t hurt him; since others are to be viewed with mistrust and suspicion, they become tools. Despite this, he is aware that others function better than he does, so he frequently copies them, masquerading what he interprets as “normal” behaviour. The fact that others seem to function better than him also causes frustration and rage. He thinks, “I’m doing what they’re doing. I’m saying what they’re saying. And I still can’t get it right.” He has completely lost himself in a confused morass of borrowed behaviours, opinions and habits, looking for the right fit, as if buying a new suit.

The sensitive child still lives within him, so there is a further impetus to over-react to criticism, or, he might perceive as criticism an action or comment that is completely innocuous. His bewilderment has continued to grow as he sees others handling criticism in a much healthier way, even as he sees them as objects of suspicion.

He doesn’t understand others or himself. He doesn’t understand life. He just emulates it. And he’s built such a ferocious, defensive fortress for himself, and has such mistrust of others, that he’s never going to admit that anything is wrong, let alone allow someone to help him.

He has wound up with no self of his own. He doesn’t know what he thinks or believes about anything. He might say that he believes or thinks this or that, but it’s only temporary. He will change his mind ten seconds later.

He is constantly on the hunt for some sort of satisfaction, idealizing, devaluing and discarding as he goes. He tries to soothe himself with the acquisition of things and money and people.

He doesn’t know love. He doesn’t know comfort. He doesn’t know empathy. He’s completely empty except for that infected, weeping wound and the fear and anger that it generates.

And the worst part is that he has come to the conclusion that everyone else operates in the same way. We’re all like him – without scruples, without principles, without truth.

There are times when I feel very sorry for Harry. He didn’t have the best childhood. He grew up during a time when it was expected that men be “tough.” A younger brother died in a tragic accident. He went on to face other life difficulties.

But then I stop to remember that there are many, many people who have it much, much worse than Harry, but who treat others with genuine courtesy and respect.

Is Harry, and are narcissists in general, more to be pitied than blamed? In many ways, they don’t know what they’re doing. Or should they be held to account, even if they don’t fully understand what that means? What do you think?

In my next installment on narcissism, I plan to look at the emerging theory that narcissism is the result of abnormal brain structure.

Yop Narci Signs

So I found this in my search terms, along with “narcissist bullshitter” and “the narcissist cookbook.” Could be something funny here – do you think?

Are narcissists bullshitters? Do they bullshit about cooking? Or are they busy cooking up bullshit? With Yop yogourt? Yuck. Now there’s an unattractive visual. Maybe the searcher was looking for Gordon Ramsay’s cookbook.

My ex-narcissist was the biggest bullshitter when it came to his cooking abilities. And everything else. But when it came to recipes for the narcissistic line, he was yops, er, tops.

What recipes would The Narcissist Cookbook contain? Let’s take a quick stroll through a potential table of contents.

1. Appetiser – The “I love you because you’re perfect” Smoked Oysters.

2. Pasta – The “I can’t live without you, precious” Farfalle with Creamy Truffles.

3. Meat – The “I really need a quick loan and will pay you right back” well done flank steak.

4. Fish – The “will you marry me” Cedar-Planked Salmon with Arugula Salad.

5. Palate Cleanser – The “you’re such an annoying person but anyway will you buy this suit for me” Eye-Watering Lemon Sorbet.

6. Dessert – The “I’ve fallen out of love with you but you still need to buy these tires for my car” Curdled Creme Brulee.

7. Cheese Plate – The “I know you want a divorce but you’re gonna have to pay me” Squishy Grape and Smelly Rotten Cheese Platter.

8. Very Expensive Civet Coffee with Petit fours.

9. Free-at-last Digestive (recipe not included in cookbook but necessary in order to recover from meal-induced heartburn. Don’t worry. It goes away.)

10. (Next day) Tummy-soothing Oatmeal with Brown Sugar, best consumed with good friend.

Do you have any recipes to add?   🙂

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part I

Good question. I’ve thought about this a lot. If you look up narcissism, there is a tremendous amount of stuff about its roots.

Is it genetic? Is it caused by environmental factors? Is it caused by a combination of those? Is it triggered or does it develop slowly?

One thing that I’ve found irritating about everything I’ve read about narcissism is the tendency to blame mothers for it. This just seems too simple to me. To say nothing of the scapegoating that seems to be at work …

Women seem to be taking a disproportionate share of the responsibility for creating narcissists. And perhaps that topic is for another post. Part III?

Logically, it seems to me that narcissism doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all cause. Different people function in different ways and what may be a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for another. Additionally, I believe that there likely isn’t a single trigger at work at all. As well, the trigger(s) may only get pulled when various environmental conditions are right.

And what about the narcissist who develops very slowly over time?

So much goes into what makes a person behave in particular ways that I can’t believe that academic circles are still having this argument.

We’re all narcissistic. Humanity wouldn’t have survived without it. It’s the degree that matters, and I believe that narcissism can be placed on a spectrum with “normal” narcissism at one end and sociopathy/psychopathy at the other. Where one crosses over from being “rather” narcissistic to having Narcissistic Personality Disorder is again, a matter of degree. And, I would also say that it is perhaps also a matter of age and experience.

Much of what I’ve read on the subject tends to say that narcissism declines or levels out with age. I don’t necessarily believe that. Perhaps this is true of some narcissists. However, all I have to do is think of the narcissist to whom I was married. Harry is much older than me and was 62 when we met. I last conversed with him when he was 66. At that time, his narcissism showed no signs of abating and, in fact, was probably more sophisticated than it ever had been since his experience with me allowed him to improve it further.

Two months ago I received an email from him – I did not respond to it – where he bragged about his “new” life, “new” girlfriend with whom he is living, and the “new” city to which he recently moved.

He wanted to re-establish contact with me, again. Now, this email demonstrated his narcissism in several (possible) ways:

– everything was “new” – he was clearly idealizing the city, the girlfriend, the life. At some point, this will wear off and he will enter the “devaluation” phase of this relationship.

– he has had so many people run to get away from him that establishing contact with me proves that that’s not really true. Twisted logic, I know. But that’s how narcissists think.

– has he already entered the devaluation phase of his present relationship? Is that why he was trying to re-establish contact with me? They are always trolling for someone to build them up (and I really don’t know why he would think I would do that, but any port in a storm, I guess).

– it still stings when he thinks of how I dumped him. If there’s one thing that narcissists can’t stand, it’s being dumped by someone else. They, of course, can walk away from a relationship any time they please. He may have been trying to reel me in so that he could give me the boot.

– he ended the email by saying that he often thinks fondly of me and still doesn’t understand why we couldn’t have worked things out. He is completely clueless as to the damage he caused me, both financially and emotionally. To him, we can just pick up where we left off!

That comment, more than anything else, shows the degree of narcissism that lives inside him. Did he ask how I am? No. Ask after my family, my job, my dog? No. No. No. Because those things don’t matter. It’s always, always about him.

I think that Harry has a very polished act. Very polished. It’s taken him years to shine it up. He will never give it up, no matter what it costs him. And there is nothing and no one who will ever be of more value to him than his act.

So, how did Harry get there? Stay tuned for my take on the development of narcissism.

Where do you think narcissism (or any other human trait) comes from?  Is it nature, nurture or both?

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.