March 11, 2017

A Traumatic Election: Emotional Overwhelm & Voice


Portrait of Woman with Bowl of Cherries, artist unknown
As mentioned in my very-long-form commentary about our 45th president, writing allows me to communicate with others and with myself. It's funny, but during a typical day, my thoughts don't crystallize into words like maybe some people's do. Maybe some people ruminate in full sentences capturing winsome quotes for impromptu lectures. (Kids love those---use abundantly and often) In my case however, I'm feeling and thinking the whole day long yet oblivious to the content until typing at the keyboard or as of late: showering. And that is why scribblers like myself need to buy waterproof markers for jotting deep thoughts on bathroom tiles and shower glass doors. 

I'm a solitary person and appreciably modest. I like my privacy, no one in my family or neighborhood will disagree. So it's been rather disturbing that for the past year-and-a-half, I have been sharing my shower with 45. I've been unconsciously (I swear!!) inviting 45 into my bathroom more often than a prudish woman care admit. I open the shower door, poise my foot near the drain, and spy a creepy patch of mold in the corner and that's it. That's all it takes. A creepy patch of mold puts me in the mind of 45 and from there it's free association all the way to toenail fungus. That's not an odd connection if you think about it. 45 is very similar to toenail fungus: you hope you never get it; it's disgusting; you have no idea where it came from; you wish you could give it back to whomever gifted you with it in the first place; and, you'd spend your inheritance eliminating the problem if you could but you can't. So adaptable folks adjust, learning to live with shower molds and fungi---with the assistance of support groups helping one other survive the insufferable experience.

Actually, what truly happened as water trickled down my scalp was an out loud transformation of trapped feelings into conscious words. Words marched through my brain like a scrolling ticker tape and the relief of telling myself what I'd been thinking-on-the-sly made me laugh. Which hasn't happened for months because for months, I couldn't get past the emotional-overwhelm-stage. Being wordless is as exhausting for me as walking a tightrope over an alligator swamp. People like me aren't aware we're suppressing our thoughts and emotions until noticing we can't read anything longer than 145 characters, we're that tired. That's an exaggeration but still, concentrating long enough to read a book without skipping sentences or starting at the end, is pretty much hopeless when you're controlling yourself that tightly. I think the reason some of us unconsciously numb feelings is because we're fearful losing control, triggering the past and stirring things up which we don't have time for because we must stay on the lookout for post-election madness reminding us of post-narcissistic-relationship madness and rightly so. I have been miserably quiet for a year and not by choice. This is an unhealthy situation for a keyboard conversationalist.

It's awful living without words when you've trained yourself to say what you feel (an important step in recovery work) and trust people enough to tell them (another important step in recovery work). Empathy and kindness have rooted me to reality and connected me to people like nothing else. Not books nor clergy or therapists, nothing has grounded me like kindly people embracing my story and sharing their truths with me. People who cared enough to listen, even if they couldn't relate precisely, even if we disagreed! We needn't mirror one other perfectly---we only need to care enough to let people be or feel or think whatever they think or feel or are.

We treat other people the way we want to be treated and humanity blossoms, civilization flourishes. (An important truth to remember in the days of trumpism).

But the thing is, in order to restore our voice, we need to acknowledge our feelings and declare what we think. This integration process restores power to its rightful owner: Ourselves. We share heart-healing conversations with anyone who will listen and admit that sometimes, we can be our own worst listeners. I knew something was up last week when "Help Me!" appeared in the condensation on my shower walls. That's one way to get my attention!

This past year I have felt blocked and numb because I couldn't express myself with civility nor precision. My bumbling attempts to talk about the election only entrenched political differences between family and friends, losing common ground rather than finding it. Instead, (and it's my fault for underestimating my emotional vulnerability and over-estimating mutual good will), I leaped into the River of No Return without a bridge in sight. That is definitely not normal and ordinary behavior for me. When we see ourselves acting in contradictory ways, we gotta ask, "What-the-hell-is-going-on......with me?" Panic. Fear. Memories. Helplessness. Anger. Obsession. Confusion. Anxiety. Patriarchal Overlords. OhMyGodWeElectedMyEx. Loss. Grief. Irritability. DoomGloomBoom-We'reDead!

By the time my feelings have run their course from mild irritation to global annihilation, the worst is nearly over. For whatever reason or why, the next stage is a breakthough: the return of my sense of humor. Humor-in-the-face-of-fear has been a reliable companion, generally delaying her appearance until my Super Competent Self, the bridge-building-common-ground-finding-peacemaker, admits defeat. Then and only then will Humor answer distress calls. She showed up. I relaxed and breathed deeply.

This makes me wonder if I haven't been breathing for a year. Could be.

All I know is that after writing about 45 last week, my lungs gathered power like a steam engine with enough energy to write that long essay and cook dinner, too. And make yogurt, want my recipe? Yesterday, I shelved a stack of books that have been sitting in my family room for years, a ghostly "Sort Me!" etched in the dust. My conclusion and it's a viable one, is that writing about 45 and expressing my opinion made me feel better. Stronger. Capable. Slightly more fearless. When my thoughts drifted towards an inevitable world-war-three after dinner that night and emotional distress choked my breath, the vision of toe fungus anchored me to the present. I felt better again. Surely 45 has toenail fungus at his age. It breeds in golf shoes people say, though I don't know because I don't golf. I'm too busy washing soft hand towels for the people who love me.


The thing about attention-hungry narcissists is they take too much of everyone's time, too much of our attention is redirected from our lives to theirs. Too much attention is stolen from the task of growing up, getting older, embracing life's joys and life's miseries.  Our lives are diminished when a narcissist targets every fear and wish he knows we have, but we don't. We won't understand the interruption until noticing we're noticing 45's every gesture, speculating about his motives, ruminating and guessing and predicting his moves. When we're more focused on 45 than ourselves, (or our kids, our jobs, our wants and needs) that's when we know we're stuck in a narcissistic soap bubble dangerously circling the drain.

The good news is that bubbles aren't impossible to escape. The process starts with a list: how are you feeling? What are you feeling? Tell me your thoughts about toenail fungus... 

Me, I'm feeling angry. I'm angry because Americans are busy people with responsibilities and kids and showers to clean. We want to do the right thing by informing ourselves just enough to cast our vote. We trust political parties will block unqualified candidates and if an unethical narcissist is elected gawd forbid, our love for America means we'll give our support to the president because that's what Americans do. It's normal to hope for the best and grant a new president the benefit of our doubt, but these aren't normal times, are they?

I've lived through lots of elections and never suffered emotional distress, or fear, or shame for electing a man of such low character to represent Americans and serve as our children's role model. I hoped my son would grow up to be like President Carter or even Reagan but I hope to God nobody's child grows up to be like 45! I assume myself to be in the majority who say 45 should never have been a nominee but at this point, we're stuck with a scary man whose hulking presence triggers ptsd in people who've been traumatized by scary hulking men taking advantage of anyone with less power than themselves. A scary hulking narcissistic man who feels better after hurting people---a sure sign of narcissism if ever there was one. Nobody within his reach wants 45 to feel bad: a condition called "walking on eggshells" in the recovery circles I hang out in.

My nephew asked me why our family had never obsessed on prior presidents the way we've zeroed in on 45. Are we more politically responsible than we used to be? More civic minded? Are we addicted to 45? If so, the whole world is addicted to 45. We are a peoples obsessed.

John Wagner Family by Sheldon Peck
I told him, "Well, nations are like families, kiddo. When presidents and parents can't be trusted, everyone focuses on he-who-has-the-most-power. Kinda like a mouse and an elephant locked in a small room. If you're the mouse, you'd better notice every move the elephant makes. For the elephant? Not so much."

When parents aren't doing their job, the resulting dysfunction breeds obsession. Kids understand survival depends on predicting a parent's behavior because figuring out what happens next can make the difference between a safe day and a scary one. Children pay close attention to the things narcissistic parents do because they can't trust what narcissistic parents say. On the other hand, children also learn to dismiss hyperbolic threats as nothing more than letting off steam. "Oh, Dad's just mad. He's not really gonna build a wall and mortar his family behind bricks......is he?"  And the kids roll on the ground laughing at such nonsense until Dad comes home with a truckload of bricks and says they'll be paying for the wall with their inheritance 'cuz an honorable man keeps his promises. If you're confused right now...great...I've done an excellent job explaining narcissism.

Important Point to Remember:

People are not supposed to spend every waking hour making sure a parent won't hurt them, nor that an elected leader isn't robbing them blind, blowing up the planet, or treating citizens like objects to be moved around his Monopoly board. Presidents are supposed to be like Moms. If they're doing their job right, we won't even know they're there.

Mother and Child by Sturtevant Hamblin 

Trauma Reactions: Write It Out

A day without feelings is another win for 45

Now that 45 is president, he oh-so-much reminds people of things we don't want to remember so we numb ourselves. Any painful memory can be triggered by 45. Memories of trust betrayed; memories of scapegoating, chaos, and a distortion of truth so disorienting you can't trust your own mind. Memories of being lied to and cheated on and hurt by someone you cared about but could not get away from. We can't go No Contact with 45 any more than children can avoid an abusive parent. Instead, we look for ways to appease political tyrants---just like children appease tyrannical parents. That's how the narcissistic relationship felt as a kid and that's how it feels as an adult; however, our feelings aren't facts we're reminded; and we aren't kids anymore, we tell ourselves. We need to find ways to prevent ourselves from slipping into unhealthy behaviors like suppressing thoughts and numbing feelings---a useful tactic for children, a silencing and powerless tactic for adults. We may feel better in the short term but we are not safe. Speaking thoughtfully and honestly has never been more imperative than it is now.

Dorothea Dandridge
When we've suffered a trauma, we should also admit to ourselves that no one is ever over it. No, we learn to live with it, to make peace with our memories and agree to co-exist. We know the past can surprisingly reach into the now. Regression happens to everyone and it happens to me and I've devoted myself to recovery forever. I'd tell you how long but fear you might give up if you're told recovery can't be done in six months or a year. Fact: it can't be done in six months or a year.

One sign we might be dealing with trauma reactions is losing our voice. If you feel trapped in a wordless space yet don't know what you're feeling, get a waterproof marker or a pen or a keyboard. Write whatever you are thinking and feeling. Write without judgment, without restraint, and with honesty. Get in the shower and close your eyes, take a deep breath and let your thoughts float in the mist. Observe your thoughts, but observe them as a friendly witness, not a judge.

Writing about 45 last week eased some of my panic-inducing rumination---that hellish place where anxious feelings and dire thoughts lead to fear and confusion leading to powerlessness and stress. Allowing myself to criticize 45 was healing. (I was raised to be deferential and if you weren't raised that way, you might not understand how hard it is for obedient girls to defy authority...even when we're supposedly liberated). People who've suffered trauma are prone to emotional overwhelm and that's a serious disadvantage right now. In our divided nation, conversations require an appreciation for opposition and a careful articulation of differences. Talking candidly about 45 will be a learning curve and we won't be very adept in the beginning and that's okay. (My lousy attempts sharing political concerns without being overwhelmed by my emotions, has already proven that).

Many of us have experienced nasty consequences for speaking our mind when mutual good will is as scarce in society as kindness in 45's heart. But for some of us, speaking truth to power is the only way to counter our victimization, the only way to recover our full humanity. My hope is that writing about my personal reactions to a president who IS a narcissist, will assist in liberating your voice, too. You're not alone in your struggle to cope with a man who flaunts his political power by hurting the vulnerable and punishing the different----a situation so creepily familiar it's hard finding words to express our fears.

Now, about that shower mold...

Hugs all,
CZ


Resources

trumpism: "The belief system that encourages abrasive, pretentious, narcissistic behavior as the way to achieving money, fame and power."

GoodTherapy.org  "Emotional overwhelm, or a state of being beset by intense emotion that is difficult to manage, can often affect a person's ability to think and act rationally or perform in an efficient and functional manner. A state of emotional overwhelm may be caused by stress at home or work, traumatic life experiences, relationship issues, and much more." 

Creative Exercises for Emotional Overwhelm



February 24, 2017

Just Say It: 45 IS a Narcissist!


Lisbeth Zwerger, Tales from the Brothers Grimm

Two years have passed since posting regularly. Not writing has been a personal loss because writing tells me what I think, believe, know and don't know. My fellow bloggers most likely share those startling moments when you're typing along like a madwoman and suddenly realize you don't know what you thought you did when you first started explaining yourself to your self. That's when a woman admits she needs to look around--if she's wise enough to know she didn't know what she believed she knew; and honest enough to admit what she believed to be true, wasn't. The path to personal integrity means admitting what we don't want to know, and grounding ourselves in a reality we assumed only existed in the imagination of Margaret Atwood.

We write things down in order to realize what we're hoping for and what we fear. Writing is a self-awareness technique that's true, and it's a grounding skill. Think of writing as if it were a reality push-pin when anxiety distorts perceptions and we're prone to escape. If your mind is wandering to better times past or utopias future, stick a pin in the moment by scribbling a fact that's undeniable. Something like, "My feet are hot beds of coal right now" or, "It's raining." Feeling your body and seeing the sky brings you back to the present moment, the only place any of us has power to change a thing. Like taking off our shoes and grabbing an umbrella.

I have learned through recovery work that it's useful to pay attention to anxiety and write things down before lofting into a fool's paradise---an oft-visited place after discovering my best friend wasn't. The lousiest thing about that fact is: I didn't vote for the guy. I married him and that's an inconvenient truth that's incontestable. Here's another fact:

Trump IS our 45th President 

Now you can call him Trump or whatever you choose but he'll always be 45 to me. The "tru" in his name sounds like trust and the "ump" sounds like triumph neither of which is comforting or true, even if we feel better by telling ourselves so. This past year has been unsettling and the temptation to escape hovers like a beast. I've been browsing science fiction novels in bookstores and even worse: the New Age section, godhelpme you know things are serious when that happens! The nightly news is stuck on permanent mute and dinner conversations center on asinine History Channel episodes we aren't ashamed to watch. The creepiest thing has been catching myself scanning Netflix queues for romance movies dontjudgeme. When I am willing to sacrifice my dignity for ninety minutes of paradise, it's time to write reality into existence and ground myself in the now. And so I do because writing has kept me sane, especially when I did not want know what I needed to know. Now this next sentence is gonna disgust me to have to write, THO' I MUST, and it might make me pass out on my keyboard, however:

Trump IS our 45th President 

Just seeing that sentence scares the livin' daylights out of me and I'd rather pretend to be a princess in a fairy tale where tragedy ends well and happy is forever. Fantasy Land beckons when people are uncertain or damn near terrified to death. I haven't visited Fantasy Land for ages, not since the last stay when my incredible psychic skills turned a rat bazturd into Captain Moroni. By the way, any human being of any nationality, in any country on earth, can transform a turd into a potato, in case you didn't know--in case you hadn't caught your *prestidigitatious self in the act of self-deception. I've come to grips with the fact that any woman can see a prince in a frog which means I'm not that special after all. All she has to do to is ignore what she doesn't want to see, and believe anything confirming what she does. A woman can live in a world like that for a very long time so before you visit, word to the wise: make sure you have a proper visa for when you're ready to go home because:

Trump IS our 45th President

If you've been studying narcissism, you've probably made connections between your observations of 45 and *DSM criteria for a narcissistic personality. If you've read Dr. Simon's book In Sheep's Clothing, you've likely concluded that indeed, character matters, even when observable traits don't add up to a mental illness or a personality disorder. We recognize untrustworthy people by the unethical things they do, the Machiavellian choices they make, the lies they tell over and over for no reason other than the joy of the con.

Lisbeth Zwerger
In the fall of 2016, something unbelievable happened. A bullfrog became a King-in-mar-a-lago. Some of us felt our anxiety rising. We know what it means when frogs and kings are extremely self-centered, extremely entitled, extremely exploitative, and yikes vindictive. Narcissism is always in the extremes and no one can argue the King's behavior hasn't been extreme. At some point, and it may not be a yuuge deal when it happens, the narcissist's defenses will break down and when they do, God help us if he has the power to grind underlings beneath his shoe.

Why Talk About Narcissism?

When a woman has suffered the cold disdain of a man who promised to take care of her and love her ('cuz only he would do that; she's just that yucky), she never forgets. She warns everyone she can that it's wise to be vigilant when survival is tied to someone who can, on a whim, crush your life as if you were a disposable nobody. The truth is and some might call this a fact: I may be nobody to that somebody but I'm somebody to lots of nobodies and that's what matters most to me. As a consequence, many of us have spent hours and years of our lives, learning about narcissism. We've done this even after ending a relationship that broke our hearts. We continue learning, not to cast blame on people with narcissistic personalities, we continue learning to protect ourselves from further harm. We study to end the misery and we study because contrary to allegations, we care about the narcissist. We seek understanding in order to heal because we love peace more than revenge.

We study to keep the reality push-pin firmly in the present because we know the exquisite pain of losing ourselves in fantasy. One narcissistic relationship oughta be the limit though hardly anyone's that lucky and if they are, they won't know it. Most of us will be born to, exposed to, work with, marry, and/or elect more than one narcissist in our lifetime which is why it's relevant to identify and understand normal narcissism (Malkin) as well as pathological. There's a lot we can do to minimize subsequent misery but only if we admit that what we didn't want to see, was. What we don't want to see, is. That we didn't know someone's behavior was not within the bounds of normal and now we do.

Who then can forget being scolded, even by friends, for not realizing something was wrong before a crisis shattered our lives. Were we gluttons for punishment? Were we too lazy to seek answers? Did we want to be hurt? And so we learn. But even then, even after gaining a reasonable understanding of the narcissistic personality and accepting things we didn't want to know about human beings we're told:

You SHOULDN'T diagnose Other People

Do you feel shamed for having done something so egregious, so w-r-o-n-g as saying 45 is a narcissist? Something you shouldn't have done, wagging forefingers scold. Neighbors, too. Add family to the list if your relatives believe 45 is God's mouthpiece and you shouldn't criticize Him. People are absolutely "shoulding" all over themselves and they're shoulding all over me, shaming people for utilizing what we've learned and applying this knowledge to a man with enough power to control other people's lives, but not enough to control his own. A man with the will to destroy his enemies; i.e.: those who disagree. Some of us are frightened and justifiably so. We shout, "Check for rain!" because we have learned that nothin' nice comes from ignorance and nothin' good comes from self-deceit. There is no safety in denial my friends, not even when the multitudes are humming lyrics in biblical harmony.

Lisbeth Zwerger
I recently read an article that felt like a scolding and that's what triggered me to write. The psychologist criticized "amateurs" because people shouldn't diagnose other people. We should only diagnose someone if they're sitting in our clinic and even then we shouldn't share the diagnosis because privacy rights. We are free to diagnose our own narcissism though because anyone reading our opinion about someone else's narcissism, knows this to be an irrefutable way to out ourselves.

Question: Is narcissism a mental illness?
Answer: No.

Some psychologists are irritated that concerned citizens insist 45 has a mental illness because his behaviors exceed the normal parameters of common decency. It's important to remember however that narcissistic traits, even extreme narcissistic traits, do not a mental illness make. Even if every rat on this sinking ship agreed 100% that 45 was a narcissist, being a narcissist is not a mental illness. Acting like a brute is not a mental illness. You can be a jerk and a royal asshat and it's not a mental illness. You can leave your wife and cheat your boss and forget your kids and it's still not a mental illness. (some call it male privilege but that's another tangent dontflameme). The only degree of narcissism considered to be a mental illness is NPD, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Any degree of narcissism short of a NPD is not a mental illness.

Fact Alert: People who are close to the narcissist might develop a mental illness (ptsd, depression, anxiety, for example). It's important to know that while narcissism is not a mental illness, narcissists are frequently diagnosed with mental disorders "...such as depression and bipolar disorder, with consequent increases in risk of suicide, alcohol and substance abuse, and eating disorders...As these persons get older, mood disorders can worsen because of dissatisfaction with their personal and professional lives." (Dimaggio)

All of which goes to say students-of-narcissism can suggest without shame or hesitation that in our learned opinion, 45 is a narcissist and this does not imply he's mentally ill. And there's another reason why you can't diagnose someone with a NPD. Why not? Because you're not a clinician and you're not creating a plan requiring an accurate diagnosis for proper treatment and insurance billing. So for whatever it's worth: you aren't diagnosing other people. You're offering an opinion. You're putting your knowledge to work. You're observing behaviors and connecting your observations to what we know about the narcissistic personality. As Dr. Craig Malkin reiterates, "Being a narcissist is not a diagnosis. It never has been."

If you aren't a clinical psychologist and you don't have a pot worth suing to piss in, you're free to say whatever you believe about 45. You're free to say you think I'm a narcissist and it'll be your constitutional right to say so---even if you make me cry. (I'm joking about crying under the scrutiny of opinion and if a simple woman like myself can toughen up, so can 45). I don't think anyone needs to protect 45 by scolding people for questioning his behavior. If I were teaching Narcissism101, he'd be my premier role model. I'd ask my students to:
1) make a list of 45's behaviors that are identifiable as narcissistic traits;
2) check in with yourself. Do you feel as though your soul has been kidnapped and dropped in a hellhole of perpetual horror? If you're disoriented and the nightly news makes your knees buckle, please count your misery as additional criteria.
Here's a fact about my readers and myself: we don't just have opinions about narcissism, as shallow as opinions can be. We have informed opinions based on first person experiences ouch and extensive studies whew. What's the point of identifying and understanding the narcissistic personality if we shouldn't draw conclusions based on our observations and express realistic concerns for the wholedamnworld's welfare?


Resisting the Urge to Escape:

Staying in Present Time When Present Time Sucks

Ground yourself in reality, what is, not what you wish it to be. Apply what you've learned about narcissists by protecting yourself emotionally and financially. In other words: prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Take action. Focus on those who have power over your life. Do not blindly trust politicians nor expect magical transformations---the transformation you hoped would have happened to the narcissist, yet never did. You know what I'm talking about: Malignant Optimism. Magical Thinking. Fantasy Land. That fairy tale place where princesses meet frogs and divorce thirty years later.

Understand your reactions to narcissistic personalities. Make sure you aren't falling into self-destructive patterns because you're anxious and afraid. Avoid irrationality, like 45 encouraging you to take a leap of faith---wha'dya have to lose---insisting you can't trust anyone but him. Trust yourself! And remember that everyone prays for a rescuer when the fact of the matter is: you rescue yourself first and help others rescue themselves later and on and on true empowerment goes. When someone promises to save you and nobody can but him, well...alls I can say is that thousands of people heard that line and now they're studying narcissism. So don't be shy about sharing what you've learned and what you've observed because this is the way we build safe societies...one honest conversation at a time. We talk to each another. We speculate. We tell one another when someone's headed over a cliff and that includes being warned about ourselves.

Lisbeth Zwerger
If 45's authoritarian style is silencing for you, resist! If you're afraid to break the No Talk Rule, talk to your diary. Not Talking is a rule that should be broken. We can build healthy connections by sharing what we know about narcissism so don't isolate. Tell yourself, "This is what I see today" and write it down. Find a listening ear. Talk things over with people who can tolerate your gnarly opinions and accept the fact that you don't know what you hope to know in the future but you're willing to learn from your mistakes today. Don't scare your neighbors into building bomb shelters stockpiled with ammunition. There are better ways to stay grounded on top of your lawn, rather than hiding underneath it.

Resist

Resist the urge to deny, rationalize or excuse presidential abuses. Resist the temptation to diminish narcissism as irrelevant, pretending anything short of a NPD won't be caustic for democracy. It will be. When self-interest is rigidly ingrained, that's toxic narcissism and it's ruinous for partnerships, families, communities and countries.

Be Kind

If you sincerely want to resist 45's influence, persist in being kind. Be kind to the people you love; be kind to those you don't; be kind to yourself. It's not your fault people didn't know they were voting for a narcissist. And even if they did, they rationalized the potential for harm. We've had narcissistic leaders before, people tell themselves, why is 45 any different? Where shall we start my friends? How about discussing people's fear of saying anything bad about 45? Would that be a good place to start?

Hope

I believe we can create a healthier society now that we're talking about narcissism. Undoubtedly, some psychologists will resent laypeople grappling with psychological information. Undoubtedly, some armchair psychologists will use this information to discredit and harm people. Psychologists have, right? But you and I know that people (including ourselves) have judged-and-labeled one another in cruel and malicious ways long before libraries stocked copies of the DSM. Being told we shouldn't talk about narcissism will not stop the labeling, nor will it end the stigma of mental illness.

My preference for eliminating stigmas is broadening human understanding through open discussions. Silencing fosters attacks on one another's humanity through ignorant judgments and pejoratives, the lack of understanding.

I believe we're making a difference, you and me and everyone writing about narcissistic relationships and narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorders. Sure, it can seem as though every disgruntled person on the planet is diagnosing everyone else as a self-centered narcissist; this is part of the learning process. We are moving towards a more accurate knowledge of healthy-to-pathological narcissism and we'll get it right if we persist in wrangling with proper application, even when we're told we shouldn't. People are talking about narcissism now. Don't stop. Not even if you're "diagnosing" 45.

Hugs all,
CZ



"We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.” ~Audrey Lorde

Resources

Prestidigitatious. This is not a word. 😉

DSM is an abbreviation for the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, first published in 1952.

Dimaggio, Giancarlo. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Rethinking What We Know 



Lakoff, George.   Website and Blog


Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism on Amazon

Simon, George. In Sheep's Clothing on Amazon

Illustrations by the amazing Lisbeth Zwerger. 
"Lisbeth Zwerger is one of the most honored illustrators alive today. She has been recipient of virtually every recognition an illustrator can be given including the most prestigious of all, The Hans Christian Andersen Medal as well as special recognition at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. Her Noah's Ark, Little Red Cap and The Wizard of Oz were all selected by The New York Times as a "Best Illustrated Books of the Year."" ~Link


November 24, 2016

Turkeys, Families and Elections: Thanksgiving 2016


"A bird in the hand is worth more than a turkey 
in the White House"

And now for a message from our president-elect who believes Twitter is a great form of communication: 

"Happy Thanksgiving to All---
even the haters and losers!" ~DJT

Well, I may be a loser but I'm not a hater 'tho my inner angel nearly capitulated to my inner devil last year. The election 2016 was a sheer test of everyone's character. I nearly lost my soul once or twice, similar to the time I wished my ex in a cornfield and subsequently felt terrible about myself for weeks. So Sad!

That's the struggle for people of conscience. We feel guilty about other people's crappy behavior. 

***

I have this holiday all to myself lucky me. My nephew is working which means we won't be eating turkey until tomorrow. My daughter is sick with a cold. She's confined to her bedroom. My sister (the one who lost her job two years ago), is scanning Help Wanted Ads.  Since everyone in my household is occupied and nobody needs my help, I can cozy up in my office and connect with the world. 

I read an unusual article about Thanksgiving this morning.  It's a story about American pilgrims that has never been shared from the pulpit (at least as far as I know), nor retold in a children's book (thank goodness). "Consider the colonialist," the author writes, "who mistook his pregnant wife for a meal." Gil Troy's article about colonial cannibalism seems fitting post-election 2016. And no, he doesn't include recipes although I will. (My recipe collection may be vast and my culinary skills renown, but never fear: my repertoire doesn't include a Roasted People with Winter Vegetables recipe).  

"American Family suffers indigestion and possible death
yet refuses to question the menu."

One of my favorite YouTube chefs shared a delicious recipe a few years ago. I made his Peruvian Turkey in 2013 because I'm adventurous like that----AND my conservative family wasn't visiting that year. South American turkey with cilantro rice and spicy mustard greens would NOT go over well with stove-top conservatives for whom lovin'-from-the-oven means obeying time-honored recipes to a "C". Even if they taste bad. Especially if they taste bad. Nothing proves holy righteousness like dutifully eating a meal you dislike simply because your ancestors concocted the mess two hundred years ago. 

My nephew told his coworkers about our spicy feast. He said we wouldn't let something like tradition dictate o-u-r dinner table. "We didn't want to eat a normal turkey with stuffing, yams and mashed potatoes," he said, "So, we mixed it up and created something better!"

"You mean you can do that?" one of his coworkers exclaimed. "You don't HAVE to make the same thing everyone else is obliged to eat for Thanksgiving?"

You'd think we were rewriting the Constitution or something.

Who knows, maybe there are secret turkey police watching my house this very moment, waiting to bust me for non-conformity.

My nephew chuckled about the concerned look on his coworker's face. He delighted in telling us about their conversation while we planned our favorite side dishes and who would be cooking what. I think he likes the fact that our family is a tad rebellious; that his aunt (me) is "eccentric", or so his psychologist told him the day I wore a purple hat to therapy.

Being an eccentric-and-rebellious family has not been an easy thing to accept for my mainstream status quo sister who lives with me. It's been almost unbearable for her when people assume we're lesbians raising our son together. She tells people right off the bat that we're sisters---before they accuse us of loving each other or anything as horrific as that.

"Nerves of Steel, a Will of Iron and
a face just like my Dad's"
I guess I'm kinda happy today, although I've tried to stay morose and fearful post-election. I tried staying morose and fearful after my marriage ended and even that didn't keep me down. For some reason (and it drives people nutz if they're prone to depression), I can't stay miserable for long. Not even Trump can trump my bubbly personality. ha! No! That's a joke! I'm not ebullient or effervescent but I do have nerves of steel and a will of iron which definitely comes from my Dad. Hummm..."steel nerves and an iron will" kinda makes me sound like a metal fabrication shop or something.

If you think me cheesy, below is the super cheesy Chef John whose recipe we'll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Really---you oughta try it and you'll never go back to poultry-in-a-bag again. I dare you. Enrich your life and bring a little more of the world into your American dining room.

Warning: Peruvian Turkey looks like it was cooked in a volcano and blasted with a flame thrower for good measure. Plan on carving and plating your turkey before serving.
Peruvian Turkey by Chef John 
For the spice rub:
12 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 cup ground cumin
2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup white vinegar 
Rub turkey all over, and under the breast skin with the rub. Let sit out at room temp for 1 hour. Rub extra rub inside cavity, but save a 1/4 cup or so to use as a glaze later. Tie legs, season with kosher salt, and roast at 325 F., for about 15 minutes a pound, or until the internal temp in the thickest part of the thigh is 170-175 F.  Let rest 20 minutes before carving.

For the sauce:
1 cup crème fraiche
juice of one lime
I cup chicken broth
2 jalapeno
1/2 cup cilantro 
Place roasting pan (pour off excess fat) on med-high heat. Puree above and deglaze roasting pan with the mixture. Bring to a boil, and cook until the mixture thickens into a gravy. Season and serve!

I hope my blogging friends are still around, still writing, still reading, still believing we can learn, unlearn and relearn whatever we need to know to build a healthier, more inclusive and compassionate society for everyone. Blessings!


Hugs all,

CZ



May 10, 2015

Mother's Day: Reality Checks

A Soft Place in my Heart by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)

"When's Mother's Day?" someone asked for the umpteenth time, anticipating the same answer. "Nine months after Father's Day," another person quipped and then laughter. Lots of it. I kept doing the math as a little kid and could not figure out why a wrong answer made people giggle. That's how blissfully ignorant childhood used to be.

I'm old enough to remember the good old days when the most dreadful thing about adolescence was a parental talk about birds and bees. We let the media do our teaching now and that IS dreadful. Even as frustrated as I am about a corporate media influencing our children's sex lives, I keep my nostalgia in check. There were never any good ol' days to go back to. We must live and learn and fix the mistakes our ignorance makes. In spite of the problems we've yet to resolve, women's lives are better and safer today than they've ever been. And that includes a mother's freedom to love her children. To want her children.

Prior to birth control, children were consequences. Not every couple celebrated pregnancy when they already had more  mouths than they could feed. My boomer generation is the first to experience reliable birth control allowing us to choose when and if we wanted children. While some people might view that choice as a bad thing, I believe "choice" moves our species one step closer to loving children as the miracles they are. Because we want them. I wanted my babies and would scoop them into my arms and tell them so, kissing their cheeks and marveling that something so precious was in my care. I didn't give it any thought, telling my children how much I wanted them. It was a natural instinct to confess they were a desire of my heart and a blessing in my life and I was grateful to be their mother. 

Last year, my daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She's unable to work, has no promotions, raises or performance ratings to help her feel good about herself---to sustain her self-esteem. It's a daily struggle loving herself for "being" rather than "doing". Even though we knew our culture was obsessed with independence and success, we didn't realize the depth of our socialization. She struggles with depression like many people with incurable diseases when they can't work, can't "do," and are dependent on caregivers. She had been on her own financially for two decades but is unable to care for herself today. It's tough. Anyone can understand how difficult this would be---especially in a society denigrating dependency and joking about middle-age children living in Mom's basement. (it's a beautiful basement---don't get any notions about my basement looking like a prison!). 

My daughter says what sustains her self-worth now are the warm memories of being scooped in her mother's arms, covered in kisses and told, "I wanted you sooooooo much!" She made me sob when telling me this story because it took forty years for me to understand the importance of a mother's instinct to love and cuddle and cherish the child she wanted. It's fundamental to a child's self-worth. It's essential to a child's sense of self.

 

That was kind of tear-jerkerish, as Mother's Days tend to be, so the next two stories will leave you laughing. That's my intention anyway---for you to laugh with me. This glimpse into our family is a reality check against Sentimental Mothering. I hope they illustrate the reality of mothering children who will, if they are allowed to be children, challenge her patience and her ego.

Mother and Child by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)

Story One

My daughter was fond of After School Specials (1972-1997). She was a clever tease, smart as a whip and impulsive as hyper-active kids tend to be. She liked to organize playtime and direct her friends which caused problems for her teachers at school. If she thought it, she did it, not giving mind to the consequences. As one teacher said, "Your daughter doesn't know who the teacher is."

Well, being of patient temperament, I handled her behavior in stride. Most of the time. I wasn't perfect and won't pretend to have been which probably means I came fairly close to being exactly the mother she needed. This is what she tells me anyway. I'm not sure she thought that when her tantrums were unsuccessful, no matter how dramatic or shocking they might have been.

One day we were shopping in a grocery store when she was about six or seven years old. Without fail, she was begging for this and bartering for that and appealing to God to deliver just ONE package of M&M's and she'd never cause trouble again. Her prayer was not answered and her mother did not cave. God and I both knew that sugar made her climb walls and we didn't have time to talk her down. She was upset. So upset that she glowered in the queue. Noticing her complaints had attracted people's attention, she sucked in her tummy and made a hungry face. And honestly, there was precedent for manipulating tired shoppers. More than one weary soul had pleaded for me to "give in", for the sake of their sanity. Realizing I would not relent, they sneaked Snickers in her pocket and everyone checked out in peace.

This time however, my daughter wasn't crying because she had evidently matured beyond the acceptable crying stage. Now she was into Performance Art. Maybe capturing everyone's attention had inspired her but GodOnlyKnows why she did this. I bent down to ask her to calm down and reached out to cup her chin in my hand. She threw her hands up to protect her face with both palms facing outward. Peering through outstretched fingers, she shouted, "Not the FACE, Mommie! Not the FACE!" 

And then she laughed and laughed and people offered to buy ME a drink. 

Yea. Don't let perspicacious children watch After School Specials about child abuse.

The Little Prince by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)

Story Two

Our family moved to France when our children were young and we'd visit the USA annually, to remind our kids they were Americans. We traveled to London in 1986, just as airports tightened security after terrorist attacks and bombings.

We were waiting in the Customs line with our passports when security guards carrying sub-machine guns encircled us. They separated us from astonished bystanders and motioned for us to follow them into an interrogation room. (I knew my husband was an American Asshole but didn't expect the Brits to kill him for it).

We were seated in a small room and people were staring in the windows. Our kids looked like they were ready to throw up and I was doing my best to calm Mt. Vesuvius before he spewed profanities and security guards riddled our bodies with bullets. A British officer entered the room accompanied by two guards with guns over their shoulders. The officer was holding a manila envelope with a tell-tale bulge in the center. He carefully and slowly opened the envelope and retrieved, you guessed it: a toy gun.

Yea. Don't give your kids toy pistols if you're traveling overseas.

The three of us turned towards the shortest kid in the room, who happened to be focused intently on the floor, merging with the linoleum. He didn't say a word, he'd probably swallowed his tongue. "Is that your gun?" I asked. "The one we told you NOT to bring in your suitcase? The one we told you to leave at home?" (making sure the officer knew we'd done our parental duty and if someone had to pay for this crime, we were willing to sacrifice our son).

My stern voice convinced the kid to confess. Yes, he had packed his gun even though his mother told him not to and could he please have it back 'cuz it was a wild west six shooter special cap-gun. It had sound effects. The officer ignored his request but I noticed a slight grin on his face. "I'm sealing your gun in this security envelope," he said. "Your parents can pick it up at the baggage claim. And never," he lowers his voice, "disobey your parents again." It takes a tribe to raise a kid these days. 

If you go to London, be sure to look for a vintage envelope going round and round the luggage carousel!



Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Hugs,
CZ




April 16, 2015

Writing-to-heal. "Me, Myself and I" does NOT mean you're a narcissist!


Woman Baking Bread by Jean Francois Millet 

"Narcissism was unrelated to use of first-person singular pronouns...This consistent near-zero effect has important implications for making inferences about narcissism from pronoun use and prompts questions about why I-talk tends to be strongly perceived as an indicator of narcissism..." ~Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited

Thank goodness new research debunks the idea that I-Talk is an effective way to spot narcissists. In my experience as a writer and a reader, integrating the whole of our lives is a collaborative work between me, myself and I.


Writing-To-Heal

You know how it is when the baking powder wasn't integrated in the batter and the biscuits didn't rise because you neglected little clumps on the bottom of the bowl? That's how I feel about writing-to-heal. I had to scrape the bowl to integrate the whole, paying attention to bits-and-pieces that could, if ignored, prevent me from rising in the midlife oven. The joke in our family is that God opens ovens when we're in our fifties and what we see is what we get. Sunken biscuits anyone? Word to the wise: don't wait for retirement to work on yourself because you won't remember where you put the baking powder. I've seen enough flat biscuits to appreciate the importance of conscious and deliberate integration.

Making Connections Through Writing

Writing connected me to people who didn't think me strange for admitting I had stared at the kitchen wall for two hours the day before. "Yea, that's what I did yesterday, too!" someone wrote back. "I stared at the yellow wallpaper 'til the kids came home." Writing rewarded my uneasy self-disclosure with other people's uneasy self-disclosure and as a result, we felt better together. Maybe staring at walls is normal behavior when the home we call self has fallen apart? Maybe I needed reassurance the walls were still there, thus the staring. I also needed to find people who were, like me, overwhelmed by irreparable losses. Feeling disconnected from my lovable self (what is wrong with me?) and disconnected from other people (what is wrong with you, CZ?) created a despair that's unfathomable to me now. My life is peaceful today, hopeful and loving. I don't stare at walls or feel powerless to manage my life. I resolve unanticipated problems of which there have been plenty since my divorce. But I am not overwhelmed by my problems, undone by my losses, or taxed beyond my ability to cope. I am strong enough, smart enough and gosh darn it people like me

Writing pulled me together and pulled people toward me. Writing became a powerful tool for making sense of confusing experiences stuffed like odd-and-ends in hidden closets because as most foolhardy adults believe: we were "over it." Remembering painful experiences exposes raw wounds and it's miserable, of that there is no doubt since plenty of people never open locked closets. But those same revisited experiences also reveal our strengths. Becoming aware of our strengths is part of a healing process. Reconnecting lost parts of ourselves will allow us to rise in the heat of personal crisis.
"The formation of a narrative is critical and is an indicator of good mental and physical health. Ongoing studies suggest that writing serves the function of organizing complex emotional experiences." (Pennebaker)
My cyber-journey began with my first written words on a NPD message board: "I am not a replaceable object. I am a human being and I am acutely perceptive!" That and less-than-one-hundred but more-than-ten me, myself and I's. If someone were counting my first person pronouns, they might assume me to be not-so-cutely narcissistic; and yes, that is how most of us view frequent self-referencing. Now that the narcissism pejorative has entered the general lexicon, people are counting "Me, Myself and I"s" as proof of a writer's narcissism.

When we don't want to hear someone's message, it's temptingly easy to stop listening and start counting "I's". So the idea that narcissistic women talk too much about themselves prompted me to write about my experience with the "I"; what I've witnessed when people began using "I" to understand themselves, to connect with others, to process the shame and blame of a narcissistic relationship. 

We de-spy-z Too Many I's 

About a decade ago, one of many articles suggested CEOs could be diagnosed by counting self-referential pronouns. (Chatterjee) An earlier article in 1988 suggested a similar thing (Raskin). People latched onto this supposedly clever idea as if it were foolproof and why not? It was easy. But ya gotta wonder about people counting "I's" in speeches which looks more like confirmation bias to me, than a reliable diagnosis.  In the spirit of democracy, anyone could do it and for the average citizen with little to no power or money in the bank, counting "I's" reinforced preferred beliefs. Ten "I's" and anything a CEO or politician said could be dismissed because you know. Narcissist.

And So: People Feared Writing "I"

I was heavily engaged in writing on NPD message boards, a form of anonymous journaling allowing writers to talk about things they probably shouldn't face-to-face. The empathic exchange between forum members was deeply healing for me and I could express my anger and fury without being shushed by gender police. It was obvious to me how uncomfortable women were when using lots of I's in their messages. For example, a personal friend posted this message in 2007:
"Eventually I will need to move in order to care for myself, but I don't have to think about that today. Today I am thinking about starting up a sewing binge because that is what I do best. The floors will be filthy from threads and scraps and the newspapers won't be picked up or the dishes done.  But I will accomplish something of value, and boy, will I be happy! I definitely feel I have been freed in order to do something that suits me better and benefits others in a real manner.   
And please don't count the "I's" in this message, because I am only talking about myself, not others.  There is nothing wrong with that when you are healing." 
Notice her movement out of loss into creativity, self-care and hope. Connecting, in my view, her past self with her new self in the present. Her expression was one of healthy integration post-trauma and yet she feared being criticized by those who were more busy counting "I's" than recognizing her transition. I quickly responded:
"People can be judgmental when a woman is talking about herself. But when her identity has been shattered, it is imperative for her to use the capital "I" as many times as necessary in order to know what SHE thinks, why she thinks it, who SHE is, and how her new Self connects to her former self. Think of the "I" as a bridge to an integrated self. Ten lashes with a wet noodle to any woman or man who worries s/he's a narcissist for having done so. 
It's very important in a process of self-reclamation, that we use the letter I unashamedly and without reservation. Self-disclosure is not a narcissistic act." 
As readers can surmise from our exchange, "I-talk" research had had a chilling effect. Calling people narcissists because of their "I-talk" may have been a backlash against breaking the No Talk Rule, and silencing their truth---a truth narcissistic families would rather not be told. Since it was extremely easy to spot narcissists by counting first person pronouns, non-narcissistic people constructed awkward sentences, more like bullet points than an embodied and honest narrative. Research validates what writers know: it's the emotional embodiment of a constructed narrative that heals the wounded heart.

Another cyberpeer was so obviously concerned people would think she was a narcissist, that she omitted first person references. "Went to the lawyer with my soon-to-be-ex" she wrote, "Hate this process." And I would think to myself, "Who? Who went to the lawyer and who hates this process? You?" An intentional omission of me, myself and I escalated in people's stories after cyberbullies collected pronouns to discredit someone they didn't like, and had perhaps been offended by.

My anxiety was elevated for sure because I was talking more about me, myself and I than had ever been socially appropriate. My stomach twisted in knots when too many "I's" leaped off the page like God's forsaken thunderbolts. I was breaking the No Talk Rule, particularly for a woman who was not supposed to talk too much about herself. Writing family anecdotes as if her life were important enough to share, harrumph! I think everyone's life is worth writing about, by the way. Some people are not inclined to write, identifying with writers whose life experiences reflect their own. We speak for ourselves by claiming "I" and our individual experiences tie us to others who read their story in our words.

In a dumbed-down "Spotting Narcissists" climate, self-disclosure became an intentional process, requiring nerves of steel to keep from deleting messages. I felt worse after clicking 'publish' because saying things we're not supposed to say invites high anxiety for a long visit. Relief came days later if I didn't take back my words. Keeping my words as is, also helped me learn to live with my regrets rather than stuff them in closets and lock the door.

Narcissists are unlikely to self-disclose so counting pronouns is no way to spot a narcissist. You must pay attention to content. 

Using "I" is Healing

I began focusing on my reactions after writing an emotional message in comparison to an informative message about a specific topic. Writing about theoretical concepts and statistical data facilitated learning but clicking "send" didn't threaten my certainty. If I wrote about my feelings, thoughts and actions, that was different and it increased my uncertainty. I'd sit and stew before publishing. I'd proof-read ten times, pondering whether or not I was self-critical enough for public consumption. You know how it is for women who talk too much about themselves.

I discovered overtime that using "I" was healing. Talking about me, myself and I was healing. Putting my experience into words using metaphors both mixed and dubious, was healing. (You never forget your first critic suggesting the metaphor police follow you around the Internet, ha! I have a couple of critics who oughta try using "I" rather than implementing so many "You's". So there).

Even with the occasional critic flaunting their literary proficiency, putting words to emotional trauma is healing. "I did this," and "I felt that"; "I think this and I believe that." At a certain point in this writing-to-heal process, I noticed my online friends, the ones who were directly referring to themselves, were healing, too. They were getting better with every message, reconnecting to the whole of their life and to me at the same time. We have remained steadfast friends for a decade and why not? I know who they are to the core of their being because they offered an invitation for intimacy that was heartily accepted and reciprocated.

I began to understand that the self-disclosing "I" contained the power to heal.



Ask James Pennebaker: "Who Uses I?"

According to Dr. Pennebaker's research, most of us believe self-centered, self-important and power hungry people refer to themselves with first-person pronouns. If you think that too, you'd be wrong. High status people use "I" words the least. People of lower status use "I" words more frequently. People in pain, depressed people, people who are paying close attention to themselves use "I". Women use "I" more frequently than men because we are relationship-oriented, not because we're narcissistic! Think about why so many of us are writing about narcissism---we are disconnected, suffering extreme losses, very often depressed and in desperate need of understanding. We are acutely attuned to ourselves as human beings when we are suffering.

Pennebaker also says that people using "I" are more honest than people who don't use "I". Liars and manipulators distance themselves from the "I". It's the Mistakes were Made phenomenon utilized by shifty people evading responsibility.  An honest person will sorrowfully admit, "I made a mistake." These are the people we can trust. Don't expect "I made a mistake" to be part of a narcissist's story. They tend to deflect personal responsibility by blaming others. And let's be serious---manipulative people know it isn't cool to create suspicion by using too many "I's".




Why the "I"?

In my writing-to-heal experience, "I" invites relationship, hoping for reciprocal sharing. People of good will listen for self-disclosure as an invitation to an intimate connection. It's been my experience also that writers using "I" are better listeners because they are curious about other people and they care enough to share their lives with others, too. That's the opposite of what many of us believe about "I-talk", isn't it?

If you are obsessed with spotting narcissism through first person pronouns, look for an omission of "I's" in someone's writing. (It's not a sure sign of narcissism, however). Notice whether or not your "I's" are being reciprocated by their "I's". And if you aren't interested in their story, perhaps you're overwhelmed. Pathological relationships tax our ability to cope and sometimes we can't absorb what people are sharing. Stay focused on yourself and keep using first person pronouns. Remember to have self-compassion during this preliminary phase of self-preoccupation. That Too Shall Pass---even faster if you have a few "I-talking" friends.

Before diagnosing anyone (including yourself) as a narcissist, ask yourself: "Is that person using "I" to share their life with others? Are they using "I" to understand themselves better, to take responsibility for their behavior, to forge relationship through the discovery of common bonds?"

P.S.: Sometimes a person is too broken to risk criticism and that is something to remember when writing-to-heal on anonymous websites. Not everyone values I-filled narratives. Any website encouraging people to write about their personal lives, Must Have a Moderator protecting the sanctity of the healing work being done. If you are not inclined to journal on message boards and blogs, keep a private journal. I-writing has the power to transform our lives.


Resources

American Psychological Association. Research Debunks Commonly Held Belief About Narcissism

Carey, Angela L. et al. 2015. Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited 



Pennebaker, James W. and Janel D. Seagal. 1999 Forming a story: the Health Benefits of Writing a Narrative "These findings suggest that the formation of a narrative is critical and is an indicator of good mental and physical health. Ongoing studies suggest that writing serves the function of organizing complex emotional experiences."

Pennebaker at the Austin Forum on YouTube: Part one   Part two   Part three   Part four

Raskin R. & Shaw. 1988. Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns. (abstract)



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