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.

Idealization

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."

*     *     *
Epilogue

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?

Hugs,
CZ


Resources

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)




February 22, 2015

Final Week for Research: Breaking the No Talk Rule


Circus Act by Fernando Botero 


This is a link to my prior article explaining this research project. Researchers will collect data until:

Saturday, February 28th 

You can use this link to access the test:


If you haven't participated already, I'd encourage you to take a few minutes and do so. Maybe our responses will inspire new research into the long-term effect of narcissistic parenting. Let's hope so!

As people in "adult-child recovery" know, it can take the rest of our lives undoing the damage done in childhood. Not to make my readers depressed or anything ('cuz I know you already are), but nobody gets out of the narcissistic family circus without a few fleas to contend with. One of those fleas is our DENIAL. The way out of denial is to face our fear, embrace uncertainty and break the family's No Talk Rule because let's face it: Narcissistic families are NOT NICE.
Don't talk about your mother!
Don't talk about your father!!
Don't talk about your siblings!!!
Don't talk about your family if you can't say something nice!!!!
We don't learn the No Talk Rule by reading a handbook. It's not written on an embellished list of family values. We learn the No Talk Rule one bad experience at a time, perpetually reinforced by family members proving their loyalty (and thus, your betrayal) by maintaining the "dysfunctional quo". People learn to keep their mouths shut and suffer in silence rather than risk being rejected. Even years into recovery, there's a niggling place in the back of our minds and the center of our guilty hearts that admonishes, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

And so you sit there with clenched teeth because you know whatever you say, EVEN IF YOU THINK IT'S NICE, will be twisted into something nasty, whispered to family members behind your back. You can't even predict the many ways "Your hair looks great!" will be twisted into insults proving you think you're prettier than the rest of your siblings. How dare you compliment your sister's hair! At the next family reunion, you'll be seated alone, next to a drafty doorway and all because of the "tone" of your voice when mentioning your sister's hair.  Imagine what would happen if you said your parents were narcissists!  

Talking about our narcissistic parents elevates irrational fears of DISHONORING them, being caught-in-the-act and subjected to whatever the family's favorite torture methods might be. And so we keep our fears at bay by saying nothing. I know from others who've gone through a similar healing process as mine, that Talking Heals. Talking, scary as it might be in the beginning, is a step towards peace-and-sanity. It's baby steps from there on out, all the way to JOY. Let the chips fall as they must. You are worth whatever it takes to get healthy. 

Circus Elephant by Fernando Botero
I felt guilty saying my family was dysfunctional. That I was feeling crazy because of my upbringing. That John Bradshaw must have been writing about my family in his book about Toxic Shame. Since breaking the family taboo about Not Saying Nice Things, I've become a better mother, a better sister, a better wife (not that it changed a damn thing 'cuz you're never good enough for a narcissistic husbaNd), because I was willing to break the No Talk Rule. 

Oh, I get my cyclical complaints and consequential punishment for writing about our family dynamics, but so far, nobody's burned me at the stake or banned me from the family circus. And I'm  not done with my family yet, nor myself. If there's an elephant in the living room, I won't pretend it's not there. I'm climbing that beast and going for a ride. 

I won't lie though, it's been scary. I felt guilty talking about my parents, even with a therapist. I felt guilty talking about my ex-husband. And I still feel guilty from time-to-time. The instinct to be loyal, even to our own personal detriment, is typical of ACoNs. We need to break that pattern for our own sake. Remember this: saying something nice that isn't true will make you sick; saying something true that isn't nice will make you well. So speak up. Break the No Talk Rule and Support your local research project. ha! 

Hugs,
CZ



Wikipedia: "Elephant in the room" or "Elephant in the living room" is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook."


January 27, 2015

ACoNS: "Parental Communication Research Study" needs your help!


New Roads by Grant Wood

If those of you with ACoN blogs and groups would like to repost this article, thank you. If you would rather post a link to the Research Study or forward it to other ACons, thank you! I would love to see a huge response from the ACoN community, hopefully inspiring future studies about the impact of narcissistic parenting.

Dr. Jennifer Monahan and Valerie Coles kindly contacted me concerning new research that I think will be of great interest to ACoNs. Their study focuses on the impact of parental communication once children of narcissists become adults. This research study has been approved by the University of Georgia’s Institutional Review Board, conducted by the Department of Communication. 

As Valerie Cole explained: 

"This study is an assessment of a measure of parental narcissism. There is presently no published scale that measures parental narcissism behaviors from the perspective of the adult child. This study aims to further refine a measure of parental narcissism by targeting self-identified Adult Children of Narcissists." 

If you choose to participate in their research study, you will be asked to: 
*answer questions about your family member’s communication style
*answer questions about parent/guardian's personality characteristics
*answer a few questions about your personality
*complete the questionnaire in a single session taking about 30 minutes 
Who can participate? 
*you must be over the age of 18
*any gender, any location; English does not have to be your first language
*you consider yourself to be an ACoN (Partners of narcissists are excluded unless your parent/guardian was a narcissist)
*You must have identified your parents/guardians as narcissists. This questionnaire is not NPD-specific. You are qualified to participate if YOU have identified your parent/guardian as a narcissist. 
Privacy:
*all information is confidential. Names and other identifying markers (e.g., IP addresses) will not be linked to the questionnaire.  Participants who are interested can enter an email address into the drawing for one of ten $100 gift cards. Email addresses will not be linked back to the questionnaire.
On the link below, you can read more about your privacy rights before agreeing to participate. This link also includes contact information if you have further questions about their research. Clicking the link below will open a consent form after which you can complete the questionnaire:


Research protocol approved by The University of Georgia’s Institutional Review Board




Questions about narcissistic parents can trigger painful memories and feelings, especially if you trying very hard to answer questions as honestly as you can. If you are feeling upset after reflecting on the questions, you are welcome to leave a comment. I did not find the questionnaire to be "triggering" but I (and presumably my readers too) have been working a healing program for many years. 

I took the test this morning and only needed fifteen minutes to answer every question. If you haven't been involved in the ACoN community, you may need a little more time to reflect on your answers. The important thing is that no matter how much time it takes, we try to help researchers understand the long-term impact of growing up with narcissistic parents. 


Hugs all,
CZ 




January 24, 2015

"NPD Basics" by Dr. Elsa Ronningstam



I've been cleaning up my desktop and came across an informative article by Dr. Elsa Ronningstam:

NPD Basics

NPD Basics is a 14-page document, very accessible to the lay person learning about narcissism.

Dr. Ronningstam increases our understanding of people with narcissistic personalities. She corrects erroneous beliefs about narcissism. Such as:

Narcissism isn't "normal"
"Narcissism refers to feelings and attitudes towards one’s own self -- the core of normal healthy self-esteem, affects, and relationships. Normal narcissism relates to positive self-esteem and self-regard, to a sense of agency, mastery, inner autonomy, and control of thoughts, feelings, actions, and impulses. In addition, self-preservation and normal entitlement including survival and protection of one’s own self and territory are also expressions of normal narcissism."
Narcissists are grandiose---all the way to the core
"The common and underlying indications of narcissistic personality functioning include self-enhancement and self-esteem fluctuations, vulnerability, inferiority and fear of failing, limitations in interpersonal relationships, compromised empathic functioning and emotion recognition, and intense emotional reactions to threats to self-esteem, and sense of agency and control."  
Narcissists love themselves too much to contemplate suicide
"People with narcissistic personalities are particularly vulnerable to suicide. Studies have suggested that challenges to self-esteem and to a sense of internal control are contributing factors. Grandiosity and vulnerability, fluctuating self-esteem, intense emotional reactions to threats to self-experience, and limitations in interpersonal relationships are other contributing personality traits."
Narcissists are not able to empathize
"Studies have shown that people with NPD can notice and understand others’ internal states and feelings but may not be able to emotionally engage and respond to them. In other words, people with pathological narcissism or NPD have compromised and fluctuating empathy, but they do not lack empathy."
Once a narcissist, always a narcissist  
"Pathological narcissism and NPD are frequent among people in their late teens and early twenties, due to the specific developmental challenges in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Such disturbances are usually corrected through developmental life experiences and normally do not develop into adult NPD. NPD does not necessarily remit with advanced age. Middle age is an especially critical period for the development or worsening of NPD, and narcissistic pathology and personality disorder have also been found in elderly people."



Let me know what you think about Ronningstam's article and if you're interested in talking about any of her points, feel free to comment!

Hugs,
CZ

December 30, 2014

Take the Test: Personality Traits of Women in Relationships with Cluster B/psychopathic Males


Carl Larsson

I remember several years ago when Sandra Brown was researching pathological relationships for her book, Women Who Love Psychopaths. (Amazon link) You can also purchase her book on Sandra's site: Safe Relationships Magazine. Now she's announced a new research project exploring the traits of female partners. That's a Great idea. If we don't know how we tick, we're tragically easy to pick. 

Knowing we are more trusting than some and more agreeable than others, helps us understand ourselves. Then we can spot a manipulator taking advantage of our personality traits. Less accommodating people, those who might be more suspicious than ourselves, would never put up with narcissists' shenanigans. They'd be squinting their eyes at his excuses rather than crying tears over his widdle twubbles. 

Yes, putting your pain secondary to someone else's pain might be a lovely pro-social trait in a healthy relationship; but it becomes sick-and-twisted when you're partnered with a Cluster B. Pretty soon, you won't even like yourself because everything you valued about yourself has been used against you. 

Contented and optimistic? Meet Mr. Perpetual Misery

Open-minded and curious? Meet Mr. Pie-in-the-Sky

Serious and contemplative? Meet Mr. Spontaneous Combustion

I didn't like it much when someone said I was gullible, just waiting to be taken advantage of by a scalawag. As if my gullibility made opportunism okay. Harumph! I finally decided it was okay to be somewhat gullible as long as you didn't hook up with a scalawag. The trick was a finding a trustworthy partner rather than becoming someone we were never meant to be. We need trusting people in this world, we adore gullible friends who bring out the best in our protective natures. As long as these folks don't hitch their star to a black hole, they'll continue lighting our world and keeping the kindness turning. 

One of the challenges about "recovery" is retaining our best traits and qualities rather than hating ourselves for being vulnerable to manipulation. The sin, I say, is not in the person with the tender heart. The sin is in the person who betrays their tender heart, ruining their sense of self and safety. If you are open-minded and compassionate, stay open-minded and compassionate. If you're sensitive and generous, stay sensitive and generous. Just get smarter about who benefits from the very best that makes you YOU. 

Carl Larsson
*If you are new to discussions about the narcissistic pathology, the Cluster B category of the DSM-IV is described as emotional, impulsive and dramatic behavior. This article explains how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was organized: The DSM, Axis II and Cluster Bs.



Purdue University


"The purpose of the research is to use the Five Factor Model of personality theory to explore the traits of women whose partners have a Cluster B Disorder (Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder) or Psychopathic Personality traits. By exploring the traits of female partners, we hope to further develop The Institutes Model of Care to assist in the recovery from these relationships of inevitable harm.  Understanding the personality traits of women in these relationships can also assist women in understanding themselves to prevent moving forward in these relationships from the beginning.

Research participants must be female, between the ages of 18-70, were in a relationship with a male with Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder or Psychopathic Personality and be a citizen of the United States of America.  If you meet this criteria you can participate by visiting the webpage listed below to begin the online survey.

The survey will take approximately 30 minutes to complete and must be completed at one time, so please have time set aside to finish the survey. There is no compensation offered for the completion of the survey.  The survey does not require you to provide any identifying information therefore the results are completely anonymous.

Our hope is to begin to open the door to more research, with a broader range of survivors, to decrease the harm caused by those with cluster b/psychopathic disorders." ~The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction





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