It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Monday, January 23, 2017

“Get over it!”

Narcissists are slippery fish. Just when you have screwed up the courage to confront her on some really hurtful thing she did to you in the past, just when you have pointed out to her how hurt you feel over some behaviour or another of hers, just as you have become clear on the fact that you aren’t crazy and she is doing things to hurt you, she turns the tables on you and suddenly she is your victim and you are in the wrong. “Get over it!” she screams at you, “you are holding a grudge! That happened ages ago! What is wrong with you? You are living in the past! Let it go!”

Flying monkeys and even ordinarily-sympathetic friends can be guilty of the same thing. My children were stolen from me by my MNM and hidden from me for eight years—and I was told by a family member to “get over it” when I wept about the loss of my children and my pain at not even knowing if they were dead or alive. “Get over it,” this person said. “Get on with your life.”  

How do you “get over” something like that? How do you just “get over” a lifetime of being found inadequate, not good enough, last in line, ignored or enmeshed, and disrespected?

Just what does a narcissist or flying monkey mean when they tell you to “get over it”? We humans are a resilient bunch, recovering from all manner of hurts, given sufficient time and support. But such recovery requires a grieving and mourning process which can take some time. The one thing true recovery does not include is normalizing that which hurt us, making it “ok” that it happened. Processing a profound hurt requires truth and clarity and, ultimately, acceptance that it happened and that our lives can go on in spite of the loss.

But this normal process of grief and acceptance is not what the narcissist wants from you when you are told to “get over it.” What the narcissist means is for you to forget or, if you must remember, make it ok. What the narcissist wants is for anything and everything s/he does to be acceptable to you, regardless of how you are affected. Because if it isn’t accepted by you, then you are, in the narcissist’s point of view, holding him responsible for your hurt, blaming him. And in a narcissist’s world, that is verboten because it makes him the guilty party when, in his mind, he is without fault in anything.

So what happens then? Well, if you won’t “get over it,” and the narcissist is aware that you are holding her responsible for your hurt, the narcissist (who believes she is never at fault) feels victimized. You are blaming her for something that is not her fault. You chose to feel hurt by it or, it was done for your own good, or you are really the one at fault and you are shifting the blame onto her. Ergo, she is your victim because you refuse to “get over it.” And so the perpetrator dons the cloak of victimhood. And, interestingly, in a large percentage of dysfunctional families, the narcissist’s posture as victim will be believed and you, the real victim, will be rebuked and reviled for your attempts to reveal the truth.

The good news for you is that there are ways for you to “get over it,” whatever “it” may be, but they are ways that the true guilty parties and their apologists will not like.

First of all, you must acknowledge in your conscious mind that you have suffered a loss. This means stripping away all of the forms of denial that you have, often unwittingly, allowed to smooth over your previous emotional injuries. This mean not rationalizing, not justifying her behaviour, no accepting blame or guilt (but taking responsibility where it is warranted), not denying that they knew their words or actions would hurt you, and—the big one—acknowledging that they do not care if you feel hurt or injured by their words and or actions. Without acknowledging your loss, you have nothing to grieve and you will stay stuck right where you are. But when you make yourself strip off the mask your narcissists wears, when you confront the truth of whatever you believed your mother to be, when you acknowledge you were wrong and that she doesn’t love you “deep down,” her own trials and tribulations and history is not an acceptable excuse for hurting you, for ignoring you and your needs, and/or smothering you with her needs—when you see her as she really is and how little love and compassion she has for you, when you acknowledge your loss of a loving, functional mother, you will be able to grieve.

Acknowledging your loss is the first step in “getting over it,” grieving your loss being the second. Consciously or not, you have had expectations of your mother for your entire life. As a small child you considered your household to be “normal” because, for you, it was the norm. But your perception of normal began to change with your exposure to other households and families: television and movie families, families in the media, families in books, even the families of your friends and acquaintances. You saw that other families were different from yours and some of them even felt good to be exposed to. You had friends whose mothers packed their lunches or who exempted them from chores because they had company (you), you had friends whose mothers, by their very gestures and tone of voice, broadcasted that they loved their children—and you recognized that this was not the way your mother acted or sounded. And you found her wanting—and then you thought it must be your fault so you felt guilty—because the mother is right and your observation of normal mothers only entrenched the notion that if you were a good child, your mother would be like those others you observed.

I can remember watching Leave it to Beaver and marvelling that the children in the program were never hit or screamed at. I went to the houses of school friends and observed mothers speaking politely to not only me, a guest, but to their own children as well. I went home and aped the behaviour of the little girls in my class, expecting my mother to respond like their mothers, but I was never able to find the right combination of words and deeds to free up the loving mother I just knew was locked inside the harridan in my home. It was my fault and if I could just figure out what I was doing wrong…

In this way the dysfunction becomes entrenched: we take responsibility for our narcissistic parents and because we believe ourselves at fault, we never realize that it is our NParents who need to change, so change never happens. And so we carry with us the pains of failed expectations, disappointed wishes, and that hollow feeling in the absence of nurturing. For these we must grieve.

Getting over the legacy of a narcissistic parent and the betrayal of their flying monkeys takes time.

“[They] always see themselves as victims, no matter how horribly they’ve treated someone else. Nothing is ever their fault—they’ve always been wronged in one way or another. To them, the problems is not their lying, cheating, stealing and abuse. The problems is that you started to notice all of those things. Why couldn’t you just remain happy with the idealization phase? How dare you betray them by standing up for yourself? Encounters with these people are like drowning in a black hole, because no matter how much they hurt you, it’ll still be your fault.” (MacKenzie)

The problem with Flying Monkeys is that they never engage the critical thinking portion of their brains, never stop to think “Let’s ask Suzie why she did this to her poor old mother.” No, rather than ask you for your side of the tale—or at least ask you for the reasons for your behaviour—Flying Monkeys take the word of your narcissist as gospel, believing them implicitly. You find yourself not only being betrayed and beaten down by your NParent, you find the parent has a Greek chorus of sycophants and supporters, all singing the same song: you are the problem. When you grow up with this, it can be very difficult to step outside of the box they built around you and your independent cognitive functions. Even when someone not engulfed in the F. O. G. points out what is obvious to them, you may well fly into defensive mode, denying everything pointed out to you and defending your NParent vehemently. It takes time for those seeds of doubt, planted by observant outsiders, movies, books, television, and even your own observations, to sprout and grow and weather the attempts to uproot them by your NP, the Flying Monkeys, and even your own emotionally conflicted self.

But when they do take root, you begin to question Life According to NParent. You begin to seek out information, looking for clarity, for explanations. You may even start your journey by seeking ways to up your game with respect to pleasing your N, ways to gain their love and esteem, ways you have obviously overlooked due to your own incompetence. And the shocks start coming as you find page after page on the web indicating that the behaviours you have so long accepted as normal are less than normal, they are actually toxic—abusive—and not your fault!

So how do you handle demands that you “get over it?” You don’t accede to them.

You remember that you have an absolute right to be hurt and angry, and you also have a right to take your own time to process the abuses that have made you hurt and angry. You remind yourself that the rights of others do not include demanding that you gloss over their misdeeds so that they can feel innocent of wrongdoing. And then you take however much time you need to process their hurts and betrayals until you can view those behaviours dispassionately, until you can think about them and talk about them without feeling like you have been stabbed in the heart—or the back…

With therapy and effort, you can truly “get over it.” But you probably won’t forget—which is a good thing. In order for you to get over it, however, you may need to stop contact with those who have hurt you so that your emotional wounds can have some peaceful time to heal before the next assault. And make no mistake, if your narcissist is the type who tells you “Get over it” after ripping your heart to shreds and stomping on it, there will be a next assault unless you go No Contact...

But that that has already been another blog entry.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

So you think you are an empath…

One of the hallmarks of narcissism is that of grandiosity or the belief that you are special, superior, or otherwise different in a way that makes you better than others, not through actual achievement or accomplishment but because you believe it to be so.
 “Empath” has become one of those pop-culture buzzwords that is employed by people looking to be seen as special by others, a words akin to “psychic” in specialness but not plagued with that pesky expectation of proof by performance due to its inherent subjectivity. As such, it is a ready-made label for a narcissist to stick onto herself or himself, as it carries with it a raft of benefits, social acceptability, and almost no chance of the narcissist being outed through such inconvenient things as predictions that don’t come to pass.
Is there really such a thing as an empath? No. There are highly emotionally-sensitive people, to be sure, but that is not necessarily a good thing. There are people in the world who are overly sensitive or hypersensitive and this is a pathology that needs treating, not a special gift to be babied and tiptoed around. Claiming to be an “empath” is also a great way to fool people into thinking you are wiser than you really are, that your perceptions (and opinions) are more accurate than theirs, or that you should be entitled to special treatment so as not to bruise your hypersensitive perceptions. And it is a great way, if you actually believe you are an empath, to fool yourself into believing everything that pops into your mind is accurate.
The notion that a person can be an empath is tailor-made for abuse. What better way to seize the upper hand in any kind of relationship than to convince others that you can feel the feelings of others? Because if they believe you, then you have carte blanche to substitute anything you want for what other are really feeling and, as an empath, declare that what they report as their feelings is wrong, that you know better than they because you are an empath. This, then, is the epitome of magical thinking: credo igitur verum (I believe it therefore it is true).

People who have had emotionally abusive childhoods can become hyperaware of the moods and feelings of others as a protective mechanism: if you learn the subtle signs of your mother’s moods you may be able to detect a coming narcissistic rage in enough time to either de-fuse it or protect yourself from it. My mother was always angry, but her anger was an obvious, superficial, easily recognized thing. Silence on her part, on the other hand, was always a bad sign, especially if that silence was accompanied with tension. That was a dead giveaway that something has really pissed her off and it would take little to ignite a rage—a rage for which I, inevitably, would be blamed and punished. It was no wonder that I became hypersensitive and aware of the moods and feelings of others—it was my ticket to safety.
I can be exquisitely aware of even fine nuances in another person’s feelings. I can often discern them from a person’s writings—even to the degree that they did not recognize what they were feeling until I said something. Is this a magical gift that makes me special in some way? No, it is a skill, like any other, that was an essential part of my dysfunctional childhood and which I purposely honed and developed over the years. Can I be blind to other people’s feelings? Absolutely—happens to me all the time—because it is a skill and it needs to be applied in order to work. Even a five-star chef can turn out a bad omelette if he isn’t paying attention.
But wait! Being an empath is different from that, right? An empath is a person who feels the same feelings of another person, whether that feeling is good or bad. That is what makes them special, the ability to actually feel someone else’s emotions, right? Ummm--no.
We all have the ability to recognize and mirror the feelings of others. It is a residual of that survival instinct that powered us through our earliest months and years, the instinct to mirror our primary caretaker so that the caretaker will feel emotionally connected to us and keep caring for us until we can care for ourselves.
For some of us, however, this ability is poorly developed: either the child had no use for it beyond the early days or their upbringing was so emotionally impoverished that the ability became a liability rather than an asset. Most of us, however, have a degree of empathy for others that allows us to recognize and share the feelings of others: your best friend gets engaged and her joy is contagious and you genuinely feel happy for her even though your own boyfriend has declared no belief in the marital estate and an engagement is not a realistic part of your immediate future. You share her joy, but not because you have magically entered her body and/or psyche and are feeling her feelings, like a psychic parasite, but because her joy ignites a mirrored feeling inside you. Your subconscious picks up her happiness and triggers the same in you. It is a mirroring activity taking place in your separate body and mind, not you magically taking her feelings into you where you also feel them.
Think about it like yawning: when someone near you yawns, you probably yawn, too. Now, that original yawn could have been out of boredom, fatigue, sleepiness or just a need to equalize the pressure in their ears: do you pick up on the reason the guy sitting next to you in the doctor’s office yawned? Or do you just do it as well?
Most of us have boundaries that prevent us from picking up and mirroring the feelings of other people except in the case of strong feelings or in the case of people with whom we feel close. A stranger in the queue at the supermarket tells you her dog has just died and you can see she is sad about it, but to burst into tears as if someone you love had just died is a little over-the-top. Our boundaries help keep us keep the emotions of others in perspective so that ours don’t fly up and down and all around when faced with a succession of people, each with different emotions. Imagine if you were a real empath and came upon an angry woman with two children, one bouncing around with happiness, the other wailing with despair—what happens to your emotions then?
When we have difficulty with boundaries, we may find ourselves mirroring and responding with inappropriate intensity to the emotions—or emotional events—of others. It is normal for a 3-year-old to cry when his balloon pops—it is not normal for a 30-year-old bystander to cry as well, not even if that bystander is his mother: that is enmeshment to an unhealthy degree. People who lack boundaries often find themselves unable to tell where they—and their beliefs, values, and feelings—leave off and another person begins, and that is unhealthy for all parties involved.
So what does this have to do with empaths? Simple: there is no such thing. There are only hypervigilant, highly sensitive people who lack appropriate boundaries. So, this highly sensitive thing—this is a good thing, right? It makes you a caring person who is aware of and sensitive to the feelings of others, right? Well—not necessarily.
A high degree of sensitivity does not necessarily correlate with a high level of empathy. Narcissists, while being very low in empathy (one of the hallmarks of narcissism), are often highly sensitive to their victims. It is what allows them to manipulate them so effectively for, while they don’t share their victims’ feelings of pain and fear, they are able to sense what will most influence those victims and bring them to heel. As an adult I was not particularly prone to gaslighting because I had such a good memory that I could recite an incident from memory, complete with dialog and a detailed description of the surroundings, what people were wearing, facial expressions, etc.: I could close my eyes and the memory would unfold in my mind like a movie. My NexH had to find other ways to manipulate me because his attempts as gaslighting seldom fell on fertile ground. Despite my fa├žade as a strong capable woman, he easily divined that I was scared, alone, and in need of security. He quickly found out that owning my own home was what said “security” to me and that was the big carrot he dangled in front of me after I had repeatedly declined his offers of marriage. I didn’t have to tell him: he was finely tuned to those things that made me sad, anxious or happy and exploited that knowledge for his own gain. But while he was aware of my feelings, he did not share them nor did he pick up and mirror them. And that is a significant difference: the difference between awareness of my feelings (sensitivity to them) and empathy with me (mirroring my feelings by feeling the same himself).
All normal people have empathy, some more than others. Whatever you are born with, empathy-wise, can be developed both passively (by being in an environment that values empathy) and actively (by being aware and working on developing it). The reverse is also true: you can suppress empathy both passively (through a childhood environment that devalues it) and actively—imagine the effectiveness of a surgeon who felt mirrored pain with each stroke of the scalpel. As a mother, I have often found it necessary to suppress my own empathy in order to deal with my children effectively: my screaming, frightened, bleeding child doesn’t need a screaming, frightened, panicking mother, he needs (at least superficially) a calm, controlled mother who can look for the source of the blood and determine whether it needs a bandage or an emergency room.
Too little empathy, whether inborn or acquired, is known formally as “empathy spectrum disorder.” We all know how those with Cluster B personality disorders are empathy-deficient, as are a significant proportion of those with autism, but what most of us don’t know is that empathy is, itself, on a spectrum with empathy-deficient people like narcissists at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end, people who are said to be “hyper-empathetic.” And, in terms of emotional health, this is no better than not having enough. Being hyper-empathetic “blur[s] the line between self and others,” and can be the underpinnings of such things as co-dependency, enabling, helicopter parenting professional burnout, and people-pleasing. An excess of empathy is an emotionally disabling thing, just like not having enough.
It is important to note that there is a significant difference between empathy and sensitivity and that a single individual can have—or be deficient in—both. It is also important to note that a single individual can have an abundance of one and a dearth of the other: in other words, be high in sensitivity but low in empathy or vice versa. Sensitivity is not necessarily linked to empathy and can exist in people with low empathy but who are able to pick up the subtle signals we all give off. Many of us who deal with narcissists in our lives refer to ourselves as “N magnets” because of the frequency with which we seem to attract them— and their unerring ease in finding us: that is their sensitivity at work, picking up on the subtle signals we send.
But narcissists are not empathetic. They may do a good job of faking the acts of mirroring and feeling the same thing we are feeling, but that is what they are doing: faking. In romantic relationships, this is part of the courtship phase and in both courtship and other relationships, this can be part of the hoovering or love-bombing portion of the abuse cycle. A narcissist may insist that s/he does feel those same feelings as you but we all know that narcissists lie whenever it suits their purpose and I cannot imagine that the subject of empathy would be exempt from that.
Empathy is defined by Webster as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” The word “vicariously” is significant because it clearly indicates that you are not feeling the feelings of another person, you are feeling your own. Empathy is not sharing in someone else’s feelings, it is generating matching feelings in yourself: it is a wholly subjective experience both generated and contained within yourself, not the result of some special gift that allows you to tap into the feelings of others and feel their feelings with them.
There is a difference, then, between being empathetic, being hyper-empathetic, and being an empath. The first is a normal condition that the vast majority of people have to some degree; the second is a psychological disorder that stems from a lack of appropriate boundaries and the third…well, the third doesn’t exist in real life, just like psychics don’t exist in real life.
So who are these people who believe themselves to be “empaths”? Very likely much like people who believe themselves to be psychics, I would guess. They have had some random coincidences in their lives that have convinced them that they have supernatural powers. This is called “magical thinking,” which can be defined as “believing in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justifies.” Of course, what evidence and experience justify can be very subjective, but in the case of psychics, none have been proven to be who and what they believe themselves to be. For nearly 20 years, James Randi, former stage magician and present-day sceptic, offered his “Million Dollar Challenge” to people who claimed to have paranormal powers. All that was required to gain a million US dollars in cash was for the claimants to prove, “under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power.” In addition to Randi’s challenge, for more than one hundred years there have been more than a dozen similar prizes offered all over the world for the same evidence—and not one person has collected so much as one thin dime. For more than a hundred years there have been fat cash prizes available to anyone who could prove themselves to have paranormal abilities and not one person has ever been able to do so.
Now, many people who claim to be psychics are clearly aware they are fakes and their fakery is a means to a lucrative end. But for every high-profile public “psychic,” there are hundreds of people who have no media presence, who don’t try to make a living fooling people into thinking they can contact lost loved ones or find the treasure in Confederate gold that great-great grandpa Eustace reportedly hid. These people believe themselves to have paranormal powers…and that makes them, in their minds and the minds of those who believe them, special.
Having empathy is considered a positive thing and, in a culture which believes that bigger is better and more is better than less, having a lot of empathy has to be a good thing, right? Google defines an empath as “…a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual.” And that has to be pretty special, too, doesn’t it?
In general, people tend to not like admitting to negative things about themselves. If your mental and emotional state is such that you are not yet ready to address your denial, if you are still needing the approbation of others, if your boundaries are slack or non-existent, you may boost your sense of self and importance in the world by fancying yourself an empath. It is easier than fancying yourself a psychic, after all, because there is no standard of proof that someone might call you to provide. But there is a darker side: if you are a narcissist and well-tuned into the subtle clues given off by your quarry, you may think yourself an empath as well. It is, after all, a way to be seen as special by those among us who aren’t well-versed in the rigours of critical thinking, a way to “prove” your superiority to the hoi polloi by having a paranormal gift that nobody can prove you do not have.
But the truth is, there is no such thing as paranormal abilities and therefore no such thing as an empath. If you are hyper-empathetic, you are suffering from a pathology that needs treatment, both for your own well-being as well as that of those around you. If you are simply highly sensitive to the emotions of others but don’t actually feel the same feelings they are feeling, i.e., you don’t actually feel something sad in the presence of an obviously grieving person, then you aren’t empathetic at all and cannot accurately call yourself an empath, no matter how special and superior it makes you feel.
Either way, calling yourself an empath is akin to calling yourself a werewolf or a vampire: you may believe yourself to be one, but belief doesn’t change reality. And given the choices—narcissism or pathology—it’s not a title I would want to hang on myself.