October 21, 2014

A Poem & Appreciation for my Readers: Blogging is GOOD for your Narcissism

Sheldon Peck, artist

We visited my parents over the weekend, always a catalyst for rumination on the three-hour drive home.

Our visits frequently include a ten-year review: my ex-husband leaving the family; the financial and emotional losses of infidelity and divorce; the grief we suffer because in spite of my ex's paranoid perceptions, he was my siblings' brother, my parents' son. All of us lost someone we loved and he wasn't easy to love, believe me. He was a lot easier on the eyes I must confess, than most of us. We miss his face in our family portraits.

My mother retrieved two file folders she'd kept during my high school and college years. Hand-written letters, scribbled poems, creative essays with big fat A's circled on the header. My daughter eagerly scanned the poetry to see what her mother had written when I was too-young-to-be-self-conscious. I didn't even know I had a subconscious. Or an unconscious, id and ego, much less an arsenal of defenses. My daughter is much more educated than I; the poetry she writes is worthy of serious contemplation. She read literary masterpieces in high school and my principle excused me from English to teach reading to first graders. Yea, that was the "good ol' days" when women were destined for housewifization, not publication. 

Anyway, we were sitting at the table, my mother, daughter and I when my daughter read this gawdawful eye-rolling poem about the wife I wanted to be one day. If anyone else has suffered the unveiling of your horrific naivety and patriarchal colonization, please hold my hand. I need company. It took every ounce of my hard-earned self-esteem not to slam my face in the tabletop. 

If you wanna know how much increased narcissism has helped women like myself, read that poem and then this blog. The disparity in self-ownership suggests something very interesting. I think it suggests that some women (especially women in traditional cultures) need to increase their individuality, their right to autonomy, their sense of entitlement and "havingness". Just because our score is low on the NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory), doesn't mean we're living to our fullest potential as human beings holding up half the sky with one hand and a sandwich platter with the other. Narcissism can be a good thing is my point. You don't develop healthy narcissism without risk is another point. You have to risk doing things friends & family might not agree with (like writing a blog), risk being criticized, risk being rejected. Nothing ended my marriage faster than claiming my right to exist on my own terms, within bounds of course 'cuz a conscientious woman will always keep her entitlements within reason. My right to have an opinion that differed from my husband's led to a midlife divorce, although that wasn't a conscious awareness on my part. The amazing thing about narcissistic husbands is that you won't know they aren't in full support of your spiritual and psychological growth until they find someone else. And then by golly, you realize how lucky you were that you didn't know how much he hated your guts since you might have would have tempered or even silenced that big fat opinion you need to have! 

Well once again, I'm typing more than intended before getting to my initial reason for writing this post: my readers. Thank you, thank you so much! As we talked about my transition from a naive and idealistic young woman to a naive and idealistic older woman, I KNOW without a doubt that the people reading my writings have Changed My Life for the better. We can only go so far on our own. We need people to encourage us, validate and support us, read us, inspire, question and accept us. It's temptingly easy to start feeling better and abandon recovery work, watching movies on iPhones instead of writing. That's because it's hard work putting feelings and thoughts into words and risking ridicule and criticism when we publish those words. Facing fear makes us grow and taking risks make us heal in ways we simply can't in the family living room. I can list screennames as long as a day without bread, of the people who inspired me to stand up for myself, to look at myself, to like myself. Thank you.

I am also grateful to my brilliant daughter who said after reading my tender soliloquy, "Every woman has the right to be idealistic and even naive, Mom. It's beautiful. But a man does not have the right to appropriate her idealism to serve himself."  Yea, what she said. 

Yesterday's stats referred to a website that recommended my blog (!) as a great website, albeit l-o-n-g. My writing is l-o-n-g and maybe my next challenge is learning to say a lot in a little, since most people won't read daunting entries such as mine-----another reason why I LOVE my readers each and every one of you. I am a better woman because you hold me accountable while allowing me to change and grow, to be myself. During the past decade, I've been bitter, cynical, too opinionated, too wishy-washy, too forgiving, not aggressive enough. I've been mean and spiteful, kind and rightful, tender and harsh intermittently. And still, my WoNderful readers have accepted me as an older woman rendered almost invisible in our narcissistic culture. You have made me feel that despite everything that happened because I was and continue to be idealistic, you still find something worthy in my experiences, valuable in my writing. Thank you. I am a lucky woman and I know it's because my interlocutors have taken the time to read and comment on my work. Thank you.

And now as promised: one of my high school masterpieces. It's not the poem you're dying to read, admit it. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of you, but my ego isn't yet strong enough to publish Ode to My Future Husband. This poem says a lot in a little, though.

"Poetry, schmoetry," that's what I say.
I can write poetry any ol' day.
It ain't that hard, all you have to do
is match up a line with a word or two.

My teacher says "write!" and I just laugh.
She thinks I work but I don't hafta 
'cuz I can write poetry any ol' day.
If those doggone words don't get in the way.

Love to all,

October 06, 2014

Hard Work Builds Character: Tomatoes, Narcissism and Family Values

I've been busy.

Two weeks ago we traveled to my father's garden to pick vegetables. He's a retired farmer at eighty-eight, still growing a hundred tomato plants as tall as a hired hand's shoulders. If you can't imagine three-hundred pounds of vegetables lying about the kitchen, this picture'll give you a good idea. Except for the cow and the man in the background. We didn't steal Dad's cow because he doesn't have one and no bearded man's been hovering in the shadows of my kitchen for over a decade thank God pass the tomatoes on the china platter we use for every day.

Not that I don't like men because I do. I may like them too much which is why it's rectifying learning to live without one. When you grow up in a patriarchal religion, existing without a man is deemed peculiar if not blasphemous and neighbors want to know why you're single. Unless you're ugly. Then they figure you didn't have a choice about spinsterhood and say stuff like, "Oh, that CZ. She'd be such a great wife for an old man if it weren't for...her...face." Some people prefer believing men have rejected me rather than knowing I made the decision to stay single based on reasoned principles and predictable outcomes, having nothing to do with divorce bitterness or male disdain. I carry no torch for my ex, you can rest assured on that account; but I do carry matches in the event he shows up in a gas truck. That was a smart alec thing to say, wasn't it? The truth is: violence is not my thing. Which is why remaining single allows me to live by my principles. Jest kiddin'. Not all men are violent. Just the ones I pick.

My family is much better off if I'm picking vegetables, not husbands.

My sister who lives with me hates preserving food. She won't do it. She's such a lousy picker of men that everyone agrees she's better off in an executive suite than an apron. She compares the price of case-goods to home canning and if she calculates her time based on whatever-ungodly-sum-per-hour she earns in the workplace, she can't justify indentured kitchen servitude. In 2014 it makes no sense does it, if the value of a thing like canning is measured in dollars and cents. Even if my labor smacks of gender oppression and yesteryear quaintness, there's satisfaction in knowing my foremothers were similarly obliged. Canning lets me walk in their shoes, linking arms with my ancestors as we chop, simmer and sterilize our way to spiritual harmony. Canning gives placement to my life, affirming my connection to the past and participation in the future. We are here because we eat and my kids will survive because I fed them and this is an inarguable fact. What could be more honorable than sustaining life? I think about these things while ladling garlic-infused sauce in glass jars, enough for a year of Friday night pizzas.

The question to ponder during a sweaty-browed week was why canning would be ultimately satisfying. Why bottle tomatoes when a jarful costs less than a dollar? I DON'T KNOW. Maybe because it makes me happy which is obvious to everyone in the house since I break into song unexpectedly. Usually hymns. This confuses the hell out of my family. No worries, they're used to cognitive dissonance. They also know after living with me that I believe hard work results in long-lasting satisfaction and eternal rewards. "When we immerse ourselves in domestic work," I tell them, "we lose ourselves in something greater than ourselves." Canning is not a repetition compulsion.

Values tell you what your heart believes is important

We preserve food in my family because it's the right thing to do. "Hard Work Builds Character," my grandmother would pronounce, lacking tolerance for complaints; she was a hardy woman. At this stage of my life I know she's right but would ask if she were here, "What kind of character, grandmother? Joyful and satisfied; or resentful and ornery?"

I married a narcissistic husband for whom the ordinary tasks of marriage and family carried little meaning or value, although he performed them as dutifully as a good man should. "It's time for you," he said one day after I'd painted the second-story rain gutters, "to get off my gravy train!" And so I did and discovered true joy when people knew in their hearts that I didn't can tomatoes because I had to; I did it because I loved them.

I did not know satisfaction and joy weren't guaranteed outcomes of hard work and by hard I mean taken for granted. I've learned through my narcissistic relationships of which there have been more than one, that there is no life-sustaining work that cannot be sufficiently criticized and marginalized to the point of worthlessness and invisibility. Yes, my ex worked hard at his career and yes, he worked hard maintaining our home, but he didn't see how hard I was working, too. Maybe because I was singing.

People who find no joy in quotidian work, may still complete the tasks their culture expects of them. They excel at performing their family values. Fueled by stoicism, they move around the kitchen like automatons, grumbling when they trip on the gel mat, cramming jars instead of cradling them, scrubbing tomatoes instead of bathing them, counting their hours to coerce gratitude. When canning week ends, they deftly check the box on their task list: Done. The family breathes a sigh of relief.

Narcissistic characters don't do the task for the sake of doing it. It's a job. They did it. Their earned their right to live another day. They measure the value of their existence by keeping score with the competition. "You put up one hundred jars of Mexican Salsa?" your cousin exclaims. "That's fantastic! You're amazing! I put up one hundred and fifty!"
Tip: If your relative is narcissistic and you want to stay on good relations with her, always ask how many jars of tomatoes she canned first. Make sure your number count is fewer. White lies are permissible for the sake of family unity. And if you want to show off your beautifully canned peaches turned ever-so-perfectly in the jar, expect to be told how much time you wasted doing something nobody in their right mind would ever do. And then expect to see her perfectly turned peaches next year that didn't take her nearly as long as it took you---would you like a few tips 'cuz she's willing to share.
The grueling and often-invisible work of raising a family and supporting a husband led to a contented midlife without regrets. I had fully invested myself in the "greater good of family" without immediate reward. There were no promotions to be seduced by, no public acclaim to distract me. Doing for others and contributing my time, cultivated a deep attachment to family, along with personal satisfaction, something I'd learned as the eldest child. My ex, on the other hand, insisted he'd worked his whole goddamn life dammit and deserved to retire with someone he liked a lot more than his family. Why had my hard work created contentment, not resentment? Why didn't I view family as a burden or hate them for being ingrates? This occupied my mind while boiling jalapeno peppers on Jelly Day, nearly choking to death on the toxic fumes but oh, is jalapeno jelly good at Christmastime!

Narcissistic characters work hard doing everything they're supposed to do in order to be good people. Then midlife arrives and they feel insignificant and unappreciated, cheated of the happiness a check list promised. Hell, we are all insignificant and unappreciated. Hard work, the kind that taxes stamina and commitment, is supposed to make a person feel insignificant and unappreciated. Allowing ourselves to feel unimportant forces ego to give sway, connecting us to our spiritual self, the self that isn't motivated by self-interest and self-promotion.

Our ultimate satisfaction merging work with passion sustains the body and nourishes spirit, too. I never complain (not for long anyway) about the hours spent, bruised feet, burn blisters, the fruit flies and scorched pot bottoms because the canning process makes me happy. Carrying forth the family tradition makes sense of my life, gives meaning to my life, and secures my place in history. I really think I could find meaning in a haystack; be happy living in a shoe. The thought of canning tomatoes in a shoe tickled me on Bruschetta Day. Blessed be the woman finding happiness in her pantry.

On Spaghetti Sauce Day, the FedEx man rang my doorbell. I wiped my hands on my apron (good cooks are a mess to look at, a joy to share the table with) and answered the door. He sniffed the air and smiled, "Spaghetti sauce?"

"Yup," I said. "I'm canning tomatoes this week."

His eyes softened and he smiled, "My mom canned tomatoes! She passed away last year and I miss her so much." I listened to a few stories about his mother and went back to my kitchen. My daughter wandered up the stairs and hugged me. "Do you know how happy it makes me when you're canning, Mom? I love you so much."

I carefully fill the jars just so, making them aesthetically pleasing and not because they're headed for the State Fair, but because it satisfies me when ordinary things are done excellently. That I imagine my great-great-grandmothers nodding their approval might not be something to share with just anyone, though.

Love to all,

September 05, 2014

Parentification and Sibling Resentment: The Bologna Soup Story

Albert Anker
Dear John Bradshaw introduced the idea of championing our inner child. He instructed readers to keep a photo of themselves, age six years or eight in plain view. Our age in the photograph could correlate with a tragic event; it didn't have to though; it wouldn't matter if it didn't. The point was integrating our inner child with our adult self, gaining a realistic perspective of our lives. This exercise promised an awakening of self-compassion through the admission that once upon a time, we thought and acted like children...because we were.

How easy it is to forget you were a child.

Observing my self as a child meant really seeing my self, remembering feelings and thoughts and my teacher in first grade. It sounds silly talking about our inner child, holding her hand and promising to care for her; yet feelings of tenderness dissolved my cynical resistance. Self-forgiveness melted boundaries between the past and present, releasing the shame still carried as an adult, for failing to meet big expectations fixed on tiny shoulders.

Adult children of narcissists peer into childhood darkly, mercilessly critical of themselves, oblivious to the blame they're directing towards a six-year old who acted like...well...a six-year-old. Not seeing themselves as children with undeveloped psyches, limited choices, powerless over circumstances, doing the best they could. That's a hard thing to accept, being powerless. It may lead to increased reluctance putting ourselves in little shoes perhaps; avoiding empathizing with the vulnerable child we were perhaps. When you think about being a child, are you touched by the complexity children face adjusting to an unpredictable and sometimes ugly world? And while we were figuring out who who we were and where we fit in a reality we couldn't control, shit happened. Tender children dealing with shitty circumstances grew up to blame themselves for not behaving like adults when they were eight or even fifteen. This is what Bradshaw meant by championing our inner child. Self-forgiveness. Self-compassion. Self-love.
Parentification: "The compliant response is illustrated when you, as an adult: spend a great deal of your time taking care of others; are constantly alert about acting in a way to please others; are very conforming; feel responsible for the feelings, care and welfare of others; tend to be self-deprecating; rush to maintain harmony and to soothe others feelings; and seldom get your needs met." ~Dr. Nina Brown, The Parentified Child
What were you doing when you were fifteen?

Albert Anker
In 1966-67, our neighbors were driving to Texas to buy a bull for their farm. They invited my parents to go with them. Circumstances were such that they had to go the next morning, no matter what. Mom resisted. She didn't want to leave her daughters alone. My brother wasn't in school yet (he's ten years younger than me) which meant she would take him with her. She didn't have the freedom to tell my father "no" and maybe you had to have to grown up in those times, to understand male authority. Hurriedly and reluctantly, mother packed bags while scribbling lists and reminders. She worried about not stocking the pantry, figuring I would make do. Call me creative. Call me industrious. Just don't call me cruel.

I was maybe fifteen years old and responsible for waking three sisters, fixing breakfast, ordering baths, combing hair, and catching the school bus since we didn't have alternative transportation. I was told to make sure everyone finished their homework, myself included. In addition, the next Sunday was Easter and mother had always made new dresses for church. Staying home to make Easter outfits was her strongest argument against driving to Texas, though as usual, Dad would hear none of it. Her resistance to what he wanted to do was akin to patriarchal mutiny. She had to go. Feeling sympathetic to her plight, I offered to do the sewing. She pointed to a pile of fabric on the sewing table and wished me luck. During that week, I made four dresses, four dress coats, a paisley vest and bow-tie for my little brother. Wanting to do everything perfectly and please my family, I felt competent and smart---like Grade A marriage material for a future patriarch of my own. (ha! I got one all right! yikes)

Albert Anker
The Bologna Soup Story

My childhood as the eldest was different from my younger siblings. As the eldest of five, my siblings relish in telling stories about my unrighteous dominion. I'll share one of those stories in a minute but first you need to know we lived in a farming community where every household had as little as every other household. My girl friends also tended younger siblings and in comparison to a few, my life was a breeze. Each time my best friend's father pummeled her mother's body with his fists, she took over household duties until her mother could show her face again. (I understand the abuse cycle and how it traps women and children; but male violence towards those who love them most, is as crazy to me today as it was then.) 

Enjoying domestic arts and being a leader, I wanted to help and was never resentful of the work. It's what girls did in my culture, plus, I valued taking care of people. My easy going temperament and genuine pleasure in "women's work" was a good fit. By contemporary parenting standards, my childhood depicts parentification, but I didn't feel burdened then and don't feel resentful now. Nonetheless, caring for my sisters and brother demanded a heavy investment of time and energy which interestingly, cultivated my affection for them. Care giving wasn't onerous because I loved them. Maybe that's why it never occurred to me that my siblings would carry grudges. To be sure, I wasn't a perfect mother as a child. 
Albert Anker

Two weeks ago...

We were sitting around my parent's table, reminiscing. You know how FOO (family-of-origin) discussions go: one memory leads to another until someone lobs a grenade. The conversation grinds to a halt and nobody knows if the grenade-launcher was joking or serious. I had to mentally review the sequence of events in order to understand what had happened. Please note: Most people never understand why they throw grenades until waking up from the family collusion. Then we spend the last half of our lives understanding patterns and changing destructive behaviors, if we care enough to do the work, that is. I am grateful to be awake. I don't care if it takes the rest of my life "learning, unlearning, and relearning", it's preferable to peating, unpeating and repeating behaviors that hurt other people.

It all started with ruffles and lace...

Recently, my mother rummaged through her closets, rescuing vintage prom and Gunne Sax dresses circa 1970. "Remember the yellow and white formal you made?" she asked me. I was a young mother at the time, scheduling busy days in order to finish my sister's dress with enough time to mail it several states over. Mom said, "When we got the package on the day of the prom, we were so relieved. When we saw the dress, it was bea-U-ti-ful and fit perfectly!" I was getting lots of attention for actually finishing dresses on time. (It's always a plus when your seamstress is reliable). I had even sewn a sister's tailored wedding gown though she wasn't overjoyed when this was mentioned. (I've been in her doghouse for a couple of years and lemme tell you, it's cramped! My legs may be bent forever, if I ever get out...Woof!)

My anxiety was elevating by the second. Anxiety is a useful warning sign to pay attention to. Anxiety can be a functional companion when your family is dysfunctional. Anxiety makes you sweat when you're in the danger zone and then you can do something like leave the table to go to the bathroom, or say something really awful about yourself. Spotlights give me panic attacks. Being singled out fills me with apprehension, worried someone's feelings will be hurt; knowing someone will feel left out, someone will feel diminished and that means there's sure to be an explosion. The pattern is so ingrained, it's predictable. When siblings don't believe there's enough praise and attention to go around or even enough love to share, they put each other down through criticism and insult. If the critic's insults ally with another sibling's resentments, they sidle up together feeding grievances. Lest anyone be concerned about me becoming arrogant, no worries. My family excels at keeping each other in our place. It's a vicious game I'm devoted to unpeating.

Everyone was having a great time and then....

Mom just had to bring up 1967. "Remember when your Dad and I went to Texas?" The room fell silent. One of my sisters interjected a little too aggressively to pretend she was kidding, "YES! CZ made bologna soup!!"

Rather than defend myself, I asked, "Does anyone remember bologna soup?" Another sister dared raise her arm to the square, "I do! I do!" Grumble.

Five siblings at the table: Two on one side; three on the other.

"Maybe the only thing we had was Campbell's Soup and bologna beefed it up." My youngest sister pledged her allegiance to the chef.

"Are you accusing OUR MOTHER of not having food for her children?" a sister charged. A stunning accusation destined for the family history books. We stared at her grenade in the center of the table. Nobody pulled the pin. I resisted the urge to pick it up.

Five siblings at the table: Two on one side; two on the other; one to go.

The only person who hadn't spoken at this point was my little brother, the kid with the paisley bow tie. "Tell me bro," I asked, "How many fifteen-year-old kids do you think would do what I did as your sister?" He replied, "Maybe one in a hundred thousand."

And with that comment, the pattern was broken...

"Bologna Soup Girls"  (Albert Anker)
This time during round #500 of the Bologna Soup story, I didn't feel guilty or ashamed. Did the pattern change because I didn't JADE: Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain myself? Did the pattern change because I knew my intentions as a child were honorable? I'd like to think so. I'd like to think John Bradshaw's exercise prompted full embrace of my Inner Child, doing the best she could to make things better for her family. Even when it was beyond her maturation.

We've had this Texas discussion nigh on thirty years and it's never ended with, "One in a hundred thousand." In prior renditions, we'd argue. I'd zero in on sibling criticism, irritated by the absurdity of their complaints. (There's a myriad of insults worthy of my spittle and ire; bologna soup doesn't make the top six hundred; and besides, I had to eat it, too!) Then I'd beat myself up for disappointing my family and doing something so dumb as throwing chopped bologna in canned soup. Then I'd feel insane, or maybe surreal is a better description because such a petty grievance is crazy to me. But I've learned overtime that the crazier a situation appears, the deeper the pain disappears. Bologna Soup is a distraction. It avoids the truth. It's a red herring. Something else was going on besides bad soup.


Super-responsible and super-conscientious people are easy scapegoats. We feel guilty. We want to do what's right. We don't want to hurt anyone. Scapegoating allows people to project anger and blame onto a safe target (the scapegoat) without risking reprisals from authority figures, the people they're angriest with. Instead of owning feelings and confronting their parents, my siblings attack the girl in the apron. They trust the cook will feel guilty and won't retaliate because of course she will, and of course she won't. There were extenuating circumstances in my family at the time and I understood then and now why eldest children were expected to care for younger siblings. The toxic aftermath in our family is the inability of adult siblings to communicate with one another as peers, to trust meeting at the table without grenades; to talk about fears and losses; to appreciate and admire without envy, one another's gifts. That I would be resented has been a deep loss in my life, another layer of grief.

My assumption is that parentification impacts a child's development, turns the family system upside-down, and fosters sibling resentment. Particularly I think, if the parentified child is perceived to be Mom or Dad's favorite. To be sure, favoritism is in the eye of the beholder and may not be indeed be a fact. The parentified sibling may appear to have more liberties and power than the other children, thus leading to perceptions of unfairness; however, this childish perception is a distortion of the truth. No one has fewer liberties than the child who is expected to behave like an adult, punished for behaving like the child she is.
"[parentified] kids carry the full burden of the family trauma. They lose out on the chance to experience their own childhood and are often resented by the other kids because they are doing the limit setting and child rearing. These circumstances often lead this child to choose a marital partner who is dependent so that, once again, they are in the role of parent to their spouse." ~Alan Schwartz, Family Boundaries and the Parentified Child
Albert Anker
If the parentified child always becomes a resentful adult, then I was not parentified. If sibling resentment is the criteria, then maybe. Exactly what Dr. Schwartz meant by limit setting and child rearing is unclear to me. Most examples of parentification are extreme cases: children raising children; children parenting incompetent and/or incapacitated parents; children forsaking age-appropriate interests. My story is dissimilar in that my parents gave wide berth to individual  pursuits and didn't expect me to take charge of the house or finances. They expected me to fill in when needed, enforce restrictions, protect, work, teach, and be a perfect role model. Little stuff like that...ha!

Just last year, my Dad told me to "straighten up" because I was the eldest and needed to set a good example for my siblings. He didn't seem to notice his children were in their fifties and sixties. I may be influential and I may be a good  person but  I have no pretenses about my power over anyone, nor my fault for the choices they make. Still, his throwaway comment offered a telling glimpse into my past.

Because of the horrible stories people write about narcissistic siblings, it's important to clarify I was not a vindictive, domineering, or coercive sister. I never battered my siblings never ever. I defended them against bullies. I taught them to play the piano and to read and organized birthday parties when mother didn't have time. I performed the role of the family peacekeeper while having fun, too. There are more funny stories to remember than stories about culinary disasters which is why being resented by my siblings is confusing. And why the theory of parentification has been a candle in the dark.

It's painful for me to accept our currently strained relationships as the best we can achieve as adult siblings. I understand we can't force anyone to sacrifice their defenses; nor can we insist they untie the scapegoat from her whipping post. We can't make someone love us. I no longer try to earn love or respect from other people. They are willing to give it---or they aren't. I remain curious as to how my siblings came to see me as an authority figure and especially why they have not released me from a childish perception. If I could tell my siblings one thing, it would be how much I care about them and always did. And my wish? Allow me be a child in your memory, too.


Bethany Webster, When Shame feels Mothering: The Tragedy of Parentified Daughters
"As children, we were not responsible for the choices and behavior of the adults around us. Once we really take this in, we can then take full responsibility by working through it, acknowledging how it has impacted our lives, so that we can make new choices that are in alignment with our authentic selves. Many women try to skip this step and go right to forgiveness and empathy which can keep them stuck. You can’t truly move on if you don’t know what you are moving on from."  
Samuel Lopez de Victoria, Harming Your Child by Making Him Your Parent 
Emotional Parentification: This type of parentification forces the child to meet the emotional needs of their parent and usually other siblings also. This kind of parentification is the most destructive. It robs the child of his/her childhood and sets him/her up to have a series of dysfunctions that will incapacitate him/her in life. In this role, the child is put into the practically impossible role of meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the parent. 
Instrumental Parentification: When a child takes up this role he/she meets physical or instrumental needs of the family. The child relieves the anxiety experienced normally by a parent that is not functioning correctly. The child may take care of the children, cook, etc. and by this essentially taking over many or all the physical responsibilities of the parent. This is not the same as a child learning responsibility through assigned chores and tasks. The difference is that the parent robs the child of his childhood by forcing him/her to be an adult caregiver with little or no opportunity to just be a kid. The child is made to feel as a surrogate parent over the siblings and parent." 
Lisa M. Hooper. Application of Attachment Theory ad Family Systems Theory to the Phenomena of Parentification
Attachment theory and family systems theory, taken together, are proffered as a potential framework to understand the adverse effects of parentification. Attachment theory helps clarify the process of parentification as it involves the relationship between child and parent and/or caregiver. Family systems theory gives clarity to the context (i.e., the family system) in which parentification takes place. Internal working models are discussed as the mechanism through which meaning making about the parentification process happens and thereby informs the opportunity for positive and negative outcomes in adulthood. The proposed framework allows for a potentially broader view of this ubiquitous phenomenon parentification.
John Bradshaw on YouTube, part one     part two     part three     part four
Narcissistic Continuum: Crib Notes in my Birkenstocks

Narcissistic Continuum: Non-Violent Communication: Eisler and Rosenberg

August 07, 2014

One in Five Neighbors has a Personality Disorder??!!

Sunday Gardening by John Falter

Admit it. You have a neighbor like this, too. One house is manicured to perfection; the other a dreary mess. One walkway is scattered with hedge clippings; the other missing bricks. Zinnias bloom like colored popcorn balls on one side of the property; weeds choke hollyhocks on the other. The only thing a sane woman like myself can do in a circumstance like this, is lay a newspaper on her face and take a nap. 

Neighbors. One in five has a personality disorder and not one of them thinks they're as screwed up as their neighbors believe they are.  

If you're part of a Homeowner's Association, you know what I'm talking about. At least one person in the group measures everyone's grass within a 1/4" allowance, sticking rulers in front yards to terrorize the miscreant. Rebels have newspapers strewn across their driveways, rainstorms dissolving paper into pulp while Madame Ruler frantically pastes warning notices about declining property values. The same dynamics in every other group are rooted in the homeowner's meeting. You've got yer leader, legal enforcers, true believers, bystanders and when-will-this-flipping-meeting-end criminals. (You know you're in trouble when the Homeowner's President suggests building a gallows on the empty lot and everyone looks at you).

Neighbors. One in five has a personality disorder and not one of them thinks they're as screwed up as their neighbors believe they are.  

Did you know 6.2% of the general population has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, most of them men? That means one out of sixteen lawnmowers has a turbo-charged engine with helicopter blades, the best lawnmower a credit card can buy. If you want to avoid living next to one-upping-narcissists, consider an "established" community. Only 3% of people over 65 have a narcissistic personality (Stinson). Plus, senior citizens pay cash for a Sears push mower which means you won't be tempted to "key" it when they're on vacation. Your better instincts will instead be inspired to make a pitcher of icy lemonade and invite Mr. 65+ to take a break from his labors. The entire neighborhood will rise a notch in happiness levels because you made lemonade and because they know he has the crummiest lawn mower on the block. After accepting your generous libation, your grateful neighbor will cut your grass beyond his property line just 'cuz he's feeling generous and that makes you feel valued enough to give him a bunch of rutabagas from your garden. Pretty soon you have a mutual admiration society because neither of you has a personality disorder. People without personality disorders are able to give and take with ease. They are able to trust, to cooperate, to admire without envy, to care, to be concerned, to be affectionate. What they say is how they behave; who they say they are is what they do. There won't be a gap between image and actions. You will never be confused by their behavior because if you are, you won't be afraid to ask questions.
Personality is comprised of traits and habits. Traits are inherited (60% of who you are is inherited at birth). Habits are learned (40%), which means they can be unlearned. The more inherited the personality disorder, the less treatable it will be. (Shannon)
Birdhouses by John Philip Falter

Where's the Harmony?

Personality disorders mess up a neighborhood and the sooner you know what you're dealing with, the better off everyone will be---including the person with the personality disorder. Key to distinguishing someone with a personality disorder is disharmony. Drama. The inability to resolve relational conflicts which always come up no matter where you live or how.

True story. Once upon a time there was a crotchety old woman who lived in a rural neighborhood. Everyone said she was eccentric. Some said she was a recluse which doesn't necessarily equate to a personality disorder. What pegged her behavior as extreme enough to question a personality disorder was her contempt for the law. She would sit by her living room window all afternoon so she could shoot any cat daring walk across the top of her stone wall! Now it's not like she lived in the wilds of Africa where cats are natural predators. These cats were her neighbors pets. To be sure, neighbors were pretty upset and 'Shot Gun Annie' became the center of attention, the topic of every conversation. Most of the neighbors assumed (falsely) that even a woman shooting cats could be cajoled into giving up her bullets if only they presented the right argument. If only they used the right tone. If only they appealed to her better nature or her conscience. They could have saved a lot of time and frustration by relying on The Law to hold her in check, being fully aware that tone and logic hold no sway over people with personality disorders. They wouldn't have wasted time reasoning with her Inner Angel, thus saving a feline or two by calling police.

Had people understood the proliferation and duration of personality disorders, they would have accepted that number one:  Shot Gun Annie's reality was not the same as their reality. Number two: if all the people she had known in her lifetime hadn't livened her conscience, they wouldn't either. They'd give up their halos and admit personality disorders were more powerful than casseroles and kindness. And number three: they would have known it wasn't their fault or their cat's fault because victims are never to blame. These good neighbors had pondered over what they could have done, or must have done, to cause her to shoot their cats. Ummm...she hated cats? Her last name was Oakley? That her neighbors loved their pets mattered not in her reality. She didn't care. Her needs superseded everyone else's needs and after decades of reinforced patterns of thinking and behaving, she never questioned her perceptions. She could justify anything. Even killing pets for sport.
4% of the general population across cultures has an AntiSocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy/psychopathy) causing 80% of the crimes perpetrated in any culture. For every four men with AsPD, one woman has AsPD.  (Shannon)
Neighbors. One in five has a personality disorder and not one of them thinks they're as screwed up as their neighbors believe they are.

What's the point of talking about personality disorders and neighborhoods? 

Young Astronaut by John Philip Falter
Lay folk are criticized for using psychological terms, but think about it. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is referred to all the time all the time all the time in conversations. We joke about it, applying the diagnosis to ourselves, assuming anyone with a perfectly clipped topiary has a form of it. We talk about the hyper-active kid with ADD who leaps off garages in her underwear. We discuss the anal-retentive fella at the end of the block. Psyche terms are interjected into casual conversation and we don't regulate who can use them and who can't. "Hey! What gives you the right to say Mr. Shorts-in-a-bunch is anal retentive? Where'd you get your psyche degree, huh?"

I guess we could call Mr. Shorts-in-a-bunch a "tight ass", the non-Freud version of anal retentive and no one would question our authority.

Applying information about personality disorders to the people who are driving us crazy, is a good thing. Using terms that capture the truth of a thing is healthy. Language is how people integrate knowledge in order to make sense of their lives. When people are unable to resolve conflicts no matter what they do, try or say, understanding personality disorders will preserve their sanity. Besides, isn't it kinder to say Fred is kinda histrionic, rather than calling him a weirdo? The thing is, people are going to label behaviors they don't understand, regardless.

You might argue there's a stigma associated with personality disorders and yes, that concerns me too. I'm also concerned about the stigma of labels offering no insight, no compassion, no solutions. Call someone a "weirdo" and people stop thinking. Stop trying to understand. Their judgement is set in concrete; understanding is bypassed. Psyche information changes stereotypes and pejoratives, shedding light on difficult personalities and the relational problems associated with difficult personalities. We'll know our limits; we'll know theirs. We won't expect what they can't give. We can adjust our behavior to facilitate a reasonable relationship. Probably not the kind of relationship we'd like to have with a neighbor, but at least we aren't escalating the problems. I don't know what to do with a weirdo. I have reasonable skills for coping with a neighbor's narcissistic personality. 

Blessed be our non-territorial psychologists who are dedicated to educating the public. Here's to the inroads psychologists have made in defining and describing personality disorders in a manner that makes sense to everyday people. In a manner that improves the harmony in everyday neighborhoods. When people shame me for using psyche terms, I give them the little speech you just read in the last paragraph and ask them to please stop being Cluster B with me. ;-P

My rule of thumb: extreme reactions and hostile behaviors beyond expectations and allowances considered normal in a specific culture, point to  a personality disorder. Blaming, entitlement, social disruption and antagonism are signs to watch for along with malicious gossiping.

Grass clippings dumped in my trash aren't a serious issue the first time it happens. Giving people the benefit of our doubt is not a pathological trait but that doesn't mean letting things slide. For all we know, their thirteen year old did it. Or their gardener. We can learn to confront problems like this without being confrontational. If my boundaries still aren't respected after a friendly conversation, I rely on the Homeowner's Association to enforce the rules and regulations governing our neighborhood. What I do not do anymore is cajole, plead, please, ignore, give gifts to, educate, explain, argue with, cook for, beg, or otherwise pretend "the problem" isn't happening. My life is much better and I believe everyone else's can be, too.

As proposed by Dr. Joseph Shannon in the video linked below: 

Six Signs Your Neighbor Has a Personality Disorder

1-Rigid. They may realize they don't adapt but can't translate their insight into meaningful change.

2-Repetition. They have a tendency to make the same mistakes repeatedly such as: successive relationships; repeatedly abusing credit; the inability to learn from their mistakes.

3-Unstable. They may experience periods of stability but suffer emotional instability.

4-Clueless. They don't understand they are sick. They don't understand how their 'sickness' affects other people. Some people with personality disorders are aware of the impact they have on others but they don't care.

5-High Conflict. When confronted with a problem, people with personality disorders create drama, not problem-solving. They cast themselves in one of three roles: victim, rescuer, villain-maverick-rebel.

6-Lacks self-awareness. Everyone in the family is on psychotropic medication except for the personality disordered person. In effect, people are held hostage.

"Dr. Joseph W. Shannon has over 30 years of successful clinical experience as a psychologist, consultant and trainer. An expert in understanding and treating a broad range of mental disorders, Dr. Shannon has appeared on several television programs including the CBS "Morning Show" and "PBS: Viewpoint." Link

Have an Extreme Neighbor story to tell? Please do! 



DSM-IV personality disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication "The estimated point prevalence of any PD in these studies was in the range 9.0-15.7%."

Wikipedia Page on Personality Disorders a great overview and history of personality disorders 

Huff, Charlotte. Where Personality Goes Awry. 2004. American Psychological Association.

Note: Measurements vary on the prevalence of Personality Disorders in the US population. The exact statistic is unknown, though statistics as high as 20% have been reported by practicing clinicians. A quick search brings up contradictory numbers due to the complexity of diagnosis and the fact that personality disorders are often considered to be untreatable. (not true anymore) Instead of diagnosing someone with a personality disorder, clinicians treat accompanying mental problems; i.e.: substance abuse, anxiety and mood disorders; impulse control; ptsd.  

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