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,


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!


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.


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.


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)

March 13, 2015

Parental Communication Study Thanks ACoNs!

Norman Rockwell

Prior posts referring to this study:

ACoNs: Research Study Needs Your Help!

Valerie Berinice Coles contacted me yesterday about the ACoN research study. She said (with double exclamation points) that "people helped out from 32 different countries!!" There were 978 respondents which surpassed their greatest expectations and mine, too! Thank you for being willing to participate in this research. Maybe we can find new ways to stop the transgenerational transmission of narcissistic traits and behaviors ("fleas") and trauma

Untreated, un-countered narcissism reduces the quality of everyone's lives; especially children born into an upside-down and backwards reality where Mom and Dad demand care-taking, not the reverse. A family where self-reliance is idealized and interdependence belittled. It may take decades, or even the rest of a child's life, to claim their full authenticity as a worthy and lovable human being. The narcissistic dysfunction marches through families from one generation to the next, through learned behaviors and/or psychological and physical traumas. 

While prior generations frowned on egocentricity and self-promotion, today's culture reinforces narcissism as a normal and even positive behavior. This makes it even more imperative for people like ourselves to recognize pathological relationships, especially our lineage on a crooked family tree. If Lizzie Borden is our grandma and Captain Hook an uncle, all the more important to understand how we might be affected, what we can and cannot do to heal the family tree. 

Families. Aren't they fascinating? Check out your genealogy and see who your ancestors were! My recovery work goes all the way back to my great-grandmother who I hope, at this very moment, is smiling down on me. 

As soon as the final results of the study are available, I'll post them on this blog. The following is a copy of the email sent to me by Valerie Bernice Coles (one of the researchers in this study). She wrote: 

"We have received a number of emails from individuals who missed the survey the first time around.  We did close data collection on February 27th. However, we will have a smaller study soon available to those who did not participate the first time. Anyone interested may email me at The link for the large study that you helped us with has been discontinued. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR ALL OF YOUR AID! 

"...We are truly amazed and humbled at how many ACONs took our survey.  We had 978 respondents from at least 32 countries, 16 websites that we personally contacted to participate, and then many more websites that you and your readers, our respondents, forwarded the survey to.  Never in our wildest imagination did we think that so many ACONs would step up and help us out.  We are examining our findings over the next six weeks and when we have a summary of the results then.  As I mentioned in previous emails, I will be sending this summary out to all the known websites that participated as well as to any individuals who requested a summary.

Meanwhile, we did the drawing today for the ten $100 gift cards.  Anyone who entered their email address at the end of the survey was eligible for the drawing.  There were 711 emails in the drawing! The ten winners were contacted today via email to get their full name/address so we can mail the gift cards to them.  At the start of the study we had agreed not to publicize their names (as ACONs may not want narcissistic family members to know that they are part of an ACON site) but, of course, if one of the winners is part of your site, we hope that person will let the rest of the group know s/he was a recipient.

Again, we truly appreciate your help and we hope through this study that we can create a short useful questionnaire for people to use to help identify narcissistic parents. The success of this study would not have been possible without you."

February 27, 2015

How Psychologists Failed Our Family: Did You Try Getting Help for your Kids?

Norman Rockwell

Considering my therapy-positive attitude, you might think someone hacked into my website and posted a hate blog about psychologists. No, it's me. With a family story. And despite the outcome, I'm therapy-positive.

At the time this story took place, I didn't know anything about narcissism and even though I'd gone to therapy myself, no counselor ever questioned the state of my marriage (which I thought was special); or questioned my Holy Optimism (which I thought was healthy); or my belief in eternal marriage (which I thought was a joint commitment).

So even at the risk of sounding hypocritical, it feels important to write about an experience narcissistic families may have experienced, too. Like recognizing your daughter is in trouble and talking it over with your spouse, twisting his arm until he agrees to let you call a therapist and then being told by the therapist that your husband was simply AMAZING. The most amazing specimen of manhood a family could ever wish for and if anyone was having problems with Captain America, they must have a chemical imbalance in their brain.

After the psychologist's failure to accurately diagnose the pathology afoot in our family, my daughter gave up on therapy and her family, too. She left high school and moved out at seventeen. She lives with me now and we have, post-divorce, become a force, to contend with. Life is good. Life is rich with blessings. Everything unfolds exactly as it should.

Before explaining how psychologists failed our family, you must know it's also true that good therapy made our lives better. Good therapy was and continues to be invaluable. Bad therapy deteriorated family relationships. Bad therapy is worse than none at all. My prior positive experience with therapy is what prompted me to hand over my daughter without questioning the therapist's qualifications, which I wouldn't have known how to do much less felt qualified to demand. This was the state of my thinking back then, which is probably reflective of most parents who trust professionals to help their children, to help their family, to know things they're supposed to know because we don't.

Educating Therapists about Pathology

I've been listening to Dr. Craig Childress explain attachment-based "parental alienation". Even if my family wasn't dealing with parental alienation per se, his descriptions of the narcissist/borderline pathology have been illuminating---as in blinding flashes of "duh". It's pretty clear that my effectiveness as a mother was being undermined throughout our marriage, despite Captain America punishing our kids for disrespecting me, a narcissistic projection. He disrespected me and punished our kids for his "sins". It was confusing to watch a man who mocked my mothering, spank his kids for having mirror neurons.

Other haunting situations have been clarified (haunting being a euphemism for self-blame). One of those situations was failing to get proper help for a troubled daughter. In the article below, Dr. Childress chastises the psychological community for not recognizing the narcissist/borderline personality driving the family system. Considering the trust parents invest in psychologists, his criticisms need be taken to heart.
"The first step to securing mental health as an ally is to clear the field of professional incompetence, so that ONLY professionally knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals treat this “special population” of children and families." ~Stark Reality by Dr. Craig Childress
The "special population" he is referring to are children with clinical signs of attachment-based parental alienation. Expanding from his statement, I think any family with a narcissist/borderline personality parent is a "special population" that should be diagnosed and treated. That means psychologists must be up to date with current literature on narcissist/borderline personalities. You can't diagnose it if you can't see it.

To reiterate, I'm applying pathogenic parenting descriptions to my family even though our adult children were not diagnosed with clinical symptoms of parental alienation. They were adults when we divorced, capable of disagreeing with their father's behavior and distancing themselves while adjusting to an unforeseen reality. If my children were alienated in any way, it was not my doing---not during the divorce and certainly not while we were married! The narcissist/borderline parent may believe they're being alienated by a malicious ex, and they might convince people they're being bad-mouthed to the kids, but that's a paranoid perception. There are justifiable reasons why a child might distance themselves. A child's rejection of a parent is only attachment-based parental alienation when:
"A clinical assessment of the parenting behavior of the rejected parent provides no evidence for severely dysfunctional parenting (such as chronic parental substance abuse, parental violence, or parental sexual abuse of the child) that would account for the child’s complete rejection of the parent." ~Dr. Craig Childress
I was inspired to write out this story when Dr. Childress suggested narcissist/borderline parents had been alienating their children before the divorce. Now why alienation-throughout-the-marriage came as a shock to me is another world wonder. I've been studying NPD for ten years. It only makes sense that a narcissistic parent would interfere with normal bonding, would affect the way children felt about themselves and how they perceived the other parent. Those looks of contempt on the narcissist's face? Kids see them, too. Those insults thrown at the other parent? Kids hear them, too. Narcissistic/borderline parents influence children to see the other parent as inferior, incompetent, or even irrelevant. I think that's fair to say. That triangulation occurs in the family is no surprise. That the narcissistic/borderline parent devalues the other parent is no surprise. That the narcissist/borderline parent convinces his/her children that their mother/father deserved to be punished, ought be no surprise, either. This explains a lot about our family dynamics even though our children did not meet the requirements for attachment-based parental alienation. Now my nephew who moved in with me when he was five? That's another story worth writing about! Thank you God bless you Dr. Childress.


My daughter adored her father. She wanted to be like her father. He was her great protector. She idealized him in such an over-the-top way that her friends confronted her. They knew she couldn't talk to him without bursting into tears. "You adore your father who makes you cry whenever you talk to him?" they'd ask. And she'd say, "Fuck you."

I was aware our family had problems long before the divorce. Yes, it's ridiculous I didn't grasp the severity of those problems, but I was a stay-at-home-mom, not a psychologist. It wasn't my job to spot pathology. My job was noticing my children were struggling and finding appropriate treatment for them. The therapist's job was understanding family systems, child development, and pathology. It wasn't my job to discern between dysfunctional families (which I thought we were) and pathological families. Dysfunctional meaning: treatable, curable, a little John Bradshaw and merry Christmases forever. Pathological meaning: all hell breaks loose; trauma is inevitable; harm is inevitable.

Had I known there were even a remote chance my husband had a narcissistic personality, I'd have reserved a lifeboat just in case with three woolen jackets, extra cash, and donuts just in case. And binoculars. Then the kids and I could gaze at the stars while drifting safely to shore. Instead, we almost went down with the ship while Captain America rowed away in his lifeboat built for two.

The Dreadful Day our Family Went to Therapy 

"Ahhhh...what a nice Daddy!"
Cognitive dissonance is sitting in therapy and watching your husband profess his love for a daughter who cries every time he talks to her. And his wife? Oh yes, he loved his wife-she-was-a-peach even if she saw problems where there weren't any. He was committed to his family and wanted nothing but the best for everyone, he said. His role demanded huge sacrifices but he harbored no resentments, he said. He said he would prioritize extra time for his daughter since she didn't recognize her inner worth and beauty the way he did. By the time his audition was over, there wasn't a dry eye in the room and that, my friends, includes the therapist.

I guess I'm a little angry we missed a window-of-opportunity because it wasn't easy convincing my daughter a therapist could help. And it sure-as-hell wasn't easy convincing my husband to attend a therapy session with his family. How that happened, go figure. It still shocks me. I suppose he was confident he could bamboozle the psychologist while discrediting me for suggesting our daughter was depressed. He, by comparison, wasn't judgmental like his overly protective wife. He, by comparison, saw authenticity and intelligence, not mental illness. He almost had me believing her behavior was nothing worse than a teenage rebellion and right on cue, I felt pangs of guilt for even thinking she had a problem. In my heart though, there was valid cause for concern and even if her problems were my fault, dear counselor, Please Help Her. That the Captain's daughter needed psychological treatment was of less concern to him than his image as a father. That's a mean judgment on my part, but hey---I'm not above making judgments today, or being mean.
"A narcissistic injury to the parent may result from the realization that his/her child has the profile of behavioral disturbances...Clinicians find that a narcissistic parent often tends to report less problems with their child in order to minimize their own narcissistic injury." ~article link
To reiterate: Narcissistic parents report fewer problems in their children. There are many reasons for that, one of them being they aren't even aware of a child's behavioral changes. Plus, there's that pesky image thing again. Narcissistic parents fear children's problems reflect poorly on them.

A story about a narcissistic mother was told to me by a dear friend who had hurt herself as a young girl after jumping off a roof and breaking both her feet. She crawled an entire summer before standing upright again. What did her mother do? She punished my friend for wailing. She refused to take her to a hospital because doctors would say she was a bad mother for not protecting her daughter. I know. Boggles the mind, doesn't it? P.S. Surgery corrected the broken bones in my friend's feet once she had medical coverage through her marriage. Fifteen years later.

We Want to Believe Their Shtick

Norman Rockwell
When my husband was painting his Rockwellian portrait in the therapy session, I wanted to believe him. You know how it is. We want to believe that what they say is what they'll do. That the benevolent father isn't just a Bible story, he's a man. He's in your bed. He's seated at the head of the table. He's working hard because he loves his family. Not until a crisis are we able to accept cumulative evidence proving they won't, or can't, embody the person they claim to be.

It's not easy letting a narcissistic partner be just as awful as they really are.

The treating child psychologist not only missed the Cluster B presentation sitting in in her office, she also seemed to miss devaluation of the mother and unhealthy idealization of the father. She missed the cognitive dissonance when my daughter said, "My Dad is the most amazing man in the world. I can't talk to him without crying." That alone should have led to deeper inquiry. I think a therapist trained in recognizing narcissist/borderline personalities would have intervened rather than insisting family dynamics had nothing to do with my daughter's distress. (!) She suggested putting my daughter on medication and added, "Wouldn't every girl dream of having a father like that!"

I was proud he was my husband. Then not understanding why, cried all the way home. Partners of narcissists do a lot of crying without understanding why.

*     *     *
A brief pause in this story to tap my forehead and repeat: "I unconditionally love myself for being naive; and unconditionally forgive myself for failing to get the help our family needed."

*     *     *

In retrospect, I wasn't very articulate or knowledgeable about psychology. I couldn't explain my feelings and would never have described my partner as abusive! I was overwhelmed with concern for our children who were my responsibility in a traditionally constructed marriage. I was deferential to my spouse which was part of the problem too, reinforcing the lofty things he said without confronting his fabrications. The narcissistic family's dilemma is that confrontation leads to argumentation; we back away, too tired to tangle, preserving energy for bigger battles. Unfortunately, when narcissism is rewarded, it's reinforced. When no one confronted his performance in the therapy session and the therapist applauded his amazing fathering, his narcissism was rewarded. The rest of his family was pushed deeper into self-doubt and denial.

I wanted to believe my husband and the kids wanted to believe him but nobody wanted to believe him as much as himself. Eventually, the family man shtick was too hard to maintain. It isn't easy being a family man if you can't put other people's welfare ahead of your own, if you can't see your wife as your equal, if you can't embrace all those soft values connecting human beings to one another.

And what did my daughter tell the therapist about me, you might ask? She said I was nurturing, funny, selfless, she kinda loved me like a pet. I'm exaggerating yea, but the years since my divorce have allowed us to get to know one another in ways that wouldn't have been possible in our narcissistic family. My time and attention was always divided between the Captain and his competition children.

P.S. I have taken therapists' advice to heart--even when it made me uncomfortable. Sometimes it felt like they were repeating stereotypical responses based on my role as a stay-at-home-mother but even then, no suggestion was ignored. I've also spent a lot of time in Alanon-for-parents learning how to stay connected to my children while respecting their autonomy. Were you wondering if Captain America went to parenting classes with me? Nah, of course not. He didn't need 'em. Wouldn't every child dream of having a father like that?



Dr. Childress's blog

A List of Articles by Dr. Craig Childress

Childress. Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

Childress. Video lecture: Treatment of Attachment-based "parental alienation" (1:47:08)

Childress. Video lecture: Parental alienation: an attachment-based model (1:46:03)

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