My books have helped thousands to step back, and away, from the damaging effects of a narcissistic person, whether it’s a present-day relationship or one that has haunted them from the past. Now, they may help you, too.

Narcissist ruining your life?

Maybe you love one. Or work for one. Maybe you’re related to one. Or were raised by one. Whatever the relationship, you’ve likely been hurt by the narcissist in your life.

As I prepare my third ebook: The Narcissist Parent: Sanity and Survival for Self-Care This compelling essay from the New York Times Opinionator/Couch column, written by psychotherapist Orna Shachar, caught my eye. The author does an incredible job of capturing one of the ways the narcissistic parent affects the child and how the child, now adult, “is” out in the world. In this case, how he is with his therapist. Of course, the case of “Daniel” is not everyone’s experience who grows up with a narcissistic parent, but the author does such pitch perfect job of describing the loneliness and fear:

I think to myself that this hate is his essence. It keeps him alive, intact. Without this hate he is impotent and dead.

…and later, this:

I do not typically read comments, but I found myself reading these. Several people asked if the piece was fiction; others found it amusing. More were baffled, like this dynamic couldn’t possibly be real.

If you’ve been deeply affected by a narcissist you know it can play out this way. Likewise, you also know that the wounds manifest differently, too:  where you are the one who is the object of the hate but instead of internalizing and lashing/acting out (like Daniel), you only internalize.

Yes, the wound is there. But so is the potential to heal.

I used to run a program for older adults, and also saw many, many patients at the end of their lives. Very often I ended up working with their adult children instead. Many of these adult children felt extreme amounts of guilt because they weren’t doing enough to help their parents when, in fact, they were doing more than most people do for themselves.

Often, the parent, unwittingly, seemed disapproving of the adult child, shooing them away, labeling them needy or—always worse—controlling. Sometimes the parent was very ill and, so, very angry at the adult child for dealing with the reality of the situation. Sometimes the parent was not so ill and, so, if the adult child did not pay the attention to parent wanted, the parent grew snippy and ornery. Once the comments were out of the bag, the parent seemed to feel better, as in lighter, as in happier. But the adult child felt worse. The adult child also felt worse even when the parent boasted about how great their son or daughter was at meeting their every need. Go figure.

A parent’s illness signals a reminder that we are not children anymore—that the wounds we got as kids—inflicted by parents, sometimes intentionally, oftentimes not—are still with us and feel like they define us without our even realizing it. This happens in all aspects of our lives, but the original relationship with our parents is most poignant because that’s often where the patterns begin to define us.

You’re probably already doing this, but if you’re not, why not invite yourself to stand apart from the parent who criticizes…and even the one who fawns. This has nothing to do with love or caring, but rather how to define oneself. What does it feel? It might be a subtle feeling, something almost non-feel-able, but if you focus long enough, you’ll notice a slight shift, if only for the moment. Perhaps it feels like freedom?

Now consider your parent. Is he or she emotionally dependent on you? If so, it can be breathtaking to realize how dependent they not only are—but always were…on you as a child, a little kid.

Shifting your perspective just a bit can help you as a caregiver gain compassion for yourself and your parent, no matter how “close” or “un-close” you are.

This post first appeared at PsychologyToday.com as Caring For The Parent Who Doesn’t Care For You:Perhaps there is a new way to view the relationship so it doesn’t hurt so much.

Look for my new book about coping with narcissistic parents, available late 2015.

I’m forever noticing ways how narcissism presents, and looking for examples to share to help people view the disorder in a slightly different way to view the disease more holistically.

This book review by Maureen Corrigan, NPR book critic, of Harper Lee’s newly released novel Go Set a Watchman (GSAW) is a good find for exactly this.

GSAW follows the main characters—Scout and Atticus, mainly, in the decades after her classic To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) ends.

It’s the Atticus character, based on this reviewer’s notes, who I want to call your attention to.

Ms. Corrigan writes:

“He’s like Ahab turned into a whale lover or Holden Caulfield a phony.”

Literary criticism (and un-fleshed out drafts) aside, this struck me as an example of how an individual with narcissism behaves. The change in persona is key. Usually we think of narcissists changing to look better, but the Atticus self in the earlier TKAM is far more ethical, humane. It would be easier for us to understand if his nasty self came first, followed by the adaptation of a socially approved mask, wouldn’t it?

But using this thesis of false self without presuming a linear, foward-moving trajectory, the TKAM Atticus might have been showing his false self and the GSAW Atticus might be showing his truer self (based on his anger, which is something that is present but shunned and split off/disowned in the disease).

Perhaps, if we view GSAW as a continuation of TKAM, then Atticus, the narcissistic individual, has been unable to keep up the mask of goodness he projected, and, in older age, is revealing who is truly is. Is he self-destructing? Will he find another persona to step into?

What does this do to Scout? To their relationship?  To her belief in his ideals? To her belief in herself?

All this is hypothetical because this is fiction, but it’s a very useful lesson in narcissism.

One of the best songs that describes the awfulness of loving or being seduced by an n of any kind is Ludo‘s “Love Me Dead.” The video mirrors the insanity so be warned, if you’re in the throes of the n’s wrath (or just awakening to the fact that you are or might be), it might be uncomfortable to watch. In that case, simply listen.

Here’s a sample:

Kill me romantically, fill my soul with vomit
then ask me for a piece of gum.
Bitter and dumb, you’re my sugarplum
you’re awful, I love you…

The lyrics are brilliant, capturing in creatively distilled words the agony and fleeting ecstasy of the illusion the narcissist projects–and how we fall for it, and get kicked by it. The music’s great, too.

For Psychology Today I wrote a post called Caring the the Parent Who Doesn’t Care for You.

As I am in the middle of writing the third of my ebooks about narcissism and coping with its effects—this one about narcissistic parents—I find myself thinking of the years I worked with older adults and their adult children. As I wrote in that piece I’ve linked above, this remains true:

“A parent’s illness signals a reminder that we are not children anymore—that the wounds we got as kids—inflicted by parents, sometimes intentionally, oftentimes not—are still with us and feel like they define us without our even realizing it.”

I’m working on a third book about narcissism, this one about narcissistic parents.

But recently, a friend shared this article with me: How to Not Raise a Narcissist. It’s from PBS NewsHour, written by Rebecca Jacobson. It’s about little kids and what parents do to make them narcissists. And it got me thinking about the environmental factors that contribute to creating children with pronounced narcissistic traits. How does overindulgence play a role? How about wounding? The article addresses these juxtaposed causes:

“But why do kids grow up to be narcissists? There are two prevailing — and contradictory — theories, Twenge [prominent researcher/author in the field of study]  from  said. Some say parents who overpraise and emphasize a child’s specialness raise narcissists. Others say it stems from the opposite: kids who are undervalued and treated harshly.”

It’s a fascinating read from the perspective of understanding what can contribute to creating a individual with pronounced narcissism. It also makes me think about what happens as these children grow up and have children of their own. Will they become the parent who wounds their child emotionally, thus creating narcissism of a different etiology from which their own was created?

The end of the article also answers the question: So how do you raise kids with high self-esteem who aren’t narcissists?

A long and detailed article called I heart me: Our extreme 24/7 cult of the self in the Mail&Guardian (Narcissism: Surviving the Self-Involved is mentioned) focuses on how social media has fueled a new level of “me-ness.”

From the article:

“It’s all about Me, where we’ve come to believe everything we say, do and think is fascinating and must be shared.”

And:

“The post-2004 internet with its spike in user-focused sites has created a perfect storm for an I-based culture, one in which instant fame is almost within our reach and how we look and what we present to the world trumps who we really are.”

And:

Narcissists are aggressive when they have been insulted or threatened, says Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and lead author of a report titled Egos Inflating over Time.

Read the whole article: I heart me: Our extreme 24/7 cult of the self

I’m more and more of the opinion that people have gotten so “skilled” at projecting a certain image of how they want to see themselves to the public via the web and social media that when it comes down to really doing the work or being who they really are they are often at a loss for how to conduct themselves. This used to happen, publicly anyway, mostly only to celebrities. But now it’s more mainstream and common. What does the anonymity of a computer screen do to the person who feels like a black hole inside? Perhaps gives them another place to project the image they thing the world wants. From there they are unable to keep up that image because it is not real. Like everything else, it’s a projection.

 

 

 

Texas journalist Ruth Pennebaker, creator of the award-winning Fabulous Geezer Sisters blog about, in part, living a life void of game playing and false pretenses. She interviewed me about the first 30 days of recovery.

About Surviving the Narcissist; 30 Days of Recovery she writes:

“…it’s a deceptively simple book on taking care of yourself — wise, understated, and calm, like a good friend. It’s about taking your life back after you’ve been blindsided by trouble. And the trouble, I kept thinking, didn’t necessarily have to be a narcissist.”

Read 30 Days to Something Better here.

Award-winning blogger and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Alisa Bowman interviews me about relationships in her post How To Stay Married to a Narcissist on the site Project: Happily Ever After.

Her questions include:

Assuming you are married to a narcissist, is divorce the only option?

and

How does someone live with a narcissist and still find personal happiness? Can you offer readers three ways of extricating themselves from the suffering, but without actually ending the relationship?

As Alisa writes in her introduction:

You already knew – from experience  – that narcissists make poor life mates. Yet, you were not interested in divorce. You wanted solutions. Maybe you didn’t expect a Cinderella fairy tale, but you did, at the very least, want to know how to get along.

Click here to get to Project: Happily Ever After.

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