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!


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

December 24, 2014

Holiday Anxiety: If you're anxious and you know it, clap your hands

The Farmhouse and Washhouse by Carl Larsson
Christmas is complicated. On one hand, my family is eager to leap into the fantasy, pocketbook-restraint-be-damned. On the other hand, there's apprehension in the air which can't be cured by an aerosol can of Sugary Holiday Scents. Or a fragrant electric plug-in setting houses on fire once-in-a-while but who can worry about that when your neighbor's house is lit up like an air traffic control tower for alien spaceship landings? That's not my only worry in this neighborhood. I worry about gigantic inflated snowmen bursting into glass-shattering bullets of frozen plastic since my bed sits under a window facing the snowman battalion. I won't even mention the pink Flamingos with garish wreaths on their necks and pray my neighbors never visit our local drugstore carrying a complete line of Styrofoam Christmas gnomes will Generation X's appreciation for bad taste never end? 

If you're anxious and you know it, clap your hands 

One sign of healing post traumatic anxiety is being aware of your feelings. A second sign of healing is being able to smack both hands together without scaring yourself. *clap* To preserve your relationships with family and neighbors, you need to know your patience will be short and your frustration will be long during the holidays because when you don't know you're anxiously walking on eggshells, you won't know you're the one leaving yolky messes on carpets. Anxiety heightens irritability and that's a holiday wisdom to remember when your Aspie nephew is repetitively tapping Jingle Bells on his chest and your sister needs six hours to find the perfect spot for a single tree ornament and your daughter is grieving her first holiday with multiple sclerosis and you are stressed to the max trying to remember where you put the Finnish Sour Cream Cake recipe because the family depends on pasties to keep people chewing a lot instead of talking too much.


Did you know clapping hands at high-stress moments breaks through irrational fears of Alzheimer's and then you can remember where you put the recipe you weren't able to find when you were cursing? Clapping, not cursing, is my secret to remaining calm in frenzied chaos. (ha, as if!!) That and about six post-it notes on my forehead which I forget are there until seeing my reflection in a store window and realizing I look like a pinata. Which reminds me of a Costco incident a couple weeks ago when my daughter said in the book aisle, "Mom, did you know your shirt tags were showing?" I looked down at my front buttons and saw they were backwards (but thank god for small blessings because they were closed) and then realized my shirt was inside-out. *clap* So what if strangers behind me had been reading the fiber content and generous sizing of my shirt? So what if they wondered why a chubby lady was clapping vigorously in the book aisle? I had gifts to buy and a cake to make and why did that rat bazturd leave the family on Christmas m-o-r-n-i-n-g? Why did our water pipe burst on Christmas Eve last year and why for heaven's sakes, did my nephew choose the holiday season to run away when he was seventeen? And why, despite my efforts to forgive-and-forget, does my family-of-origin bicker and bite while professing sacred beliefs in "THE FAMILY"? There are many questions in life that have no answers and we can ruminate on the reasons why forever; or, we can face the past and accept what happened instead of trying to control or change it. We don't need to know why people do the terrible things they do. We just need to keep ourselves from following suit and t-h-a-t, my friends, is easier said than done.

Christmas by Carl Larsson
Ggggrrrrrrrracious and a bit Audacious

Unrecognized anxiety makes me irritable, that's a warning for me to check in with myself. To get real with myself. This means admitting malcontent is my issue, not someone else's. And it's okay to be more upset than usual considering the hideousness of our Christmases past. I'm more critical, more blaming, and all-around less easy going than usual and that is an evidence-based fact. Acknowledging the truth, as uncomfortable as it might be, prevents me from thoughtlessly acting on my anxiety. Like saying to my sister, "Here's an ornament for the tree. Think you can find the perfect spot to hang it by Christmas morning?"

I don't always recognize Holiday Anxiety soon enough, becoming persnickety with the people I love, frustrated with the people I like, and disgusted with those I don't. Like my last post about being called a narcissist which wouldn't have upset me in June or July. By November, a "full of herself" Botero painting was the lead image on my complaint. Because most of the year, I'm not upset by trollish accusations, I didn't pause to reflect on my feelings in November. After due consideration, I think Botero's was a perfect painting. Woman Reading suggests shucking pretenses, allowing our buck-naked self to be seen by others and ourselves. (thanks to TR who encouraged me to reflect on my deeper feelings). Yes, I was more sensitive to criticism than usual.

And then, while forgiving myself for being anxious and undeniably irritable, I was taxiing my daughter downtown when a driver careened around me. I had been moving into the left lane when he bolted ahead of me, forcing me to swerve abruptly to avoid a collision. My first reaction wasn't clapping. It was cursing. And then, salvation! Another driver flipped him off and another driver honked her horn at him and then the best thing of all:  the driver ahead of him slowed to a snail's pace, forcing Speed Demon to a mere creep while the rest of us sailed on by. Clapping ensued, but not for my anxiety. Oh, the pleasure of immediate justice! After witnessing his aggressive behavior I realized something. It made me admit that left to my own devices, I could easily be raging in a car, too. His extreme hostility was a moment of clarity and in no-time-at-all, a well-practiced and healthy pattern of learned behavior kicked in:


Carl Larsson
Gratitude: I am grateful we didn't have an accident.
Graciousness: I didn't flip the driver off
Giving: How's everyone in the car feeling? Are you okay?

This learned behavior happens so often it's scary. It's scary because it makes me realize how "programmable" we are, a realization that threatens our narcissism. We'd like to think we're independent agents unique to ourselves, thinking for ourselves, completely justified in reacting the way we do because hey, our feelings are facts. Our narcissism says hostility is justified, our anger is someone else's fault. If only they'd hang ornaments faster or stop with the thumping, we'd be charitable angels and then we could correct prior years of Christmases ruined.

Gratitude and Graciousness

If you're feeling anxious, clap your hands and count your blessings. Gratitude mollifies the Inner Scrooge. Maybe a wise Sunday School teacher taught me to express gratitude when feeling sad, mad or bad. I must have learned this trick from a clay-footed angel at some point in my early life because "gratitude" has become an automatic practice countering feelings of loss and sadness. I don't even think anymore---it just happens, which is both comforting and distressing! Comforting because it means we can change automatic behaviors through persistent intentional practice; distressing because it means blame and hostility are learned, automatic reactions, too. So expect to be more anxious than usual, a state of being that can be diffused by a grateful heart and lifted by gracious behavior. That's how we change dysfunctional patterns---we stop repeating the hostility.

And remember, narcissistic families blow up when family members show up. If you know this in advance, you can adjust any notions of magical thinking you might have, allowing yourself to enjoy the moment. Narcissists are always disappointed in the moment since reality never measures up to the fantasy in their heads. When people don't measure up to the narcissist's impossible expectations, even the people who care most about the narcissist, they'll pay a price. You aren't being hyper-sensitive or paranoid when you have a history of dashed hopes and sorrowful memories after years of walking on eggshells. Nobody ruins Christmas like the perpetually disappointed narcissist who envies other people's happiness and acts on his/her feelings without conscious intervention. Think about that when insight allows you to see your less-than-stellar behavior because insight means you can take responsibility before you lash out in anger. If you don't catch it in time, you can apologize. 

Was I really upset with a sixteen-year-old driver? Was I really upset with a blog critic? Heightened anxiety means almost anything can be a trigger for the unleashing of distressing feelings. Being anxious is a normal and expected state of being when holidays have been cyclically traumatic, as holidays generally are in narcissistic families. Expectations are high, tolerance-for-distress is low, and people expect the other shoe to drop which is far less painful than when it's been thrown at your head.

Clapping (metaphorically or literally) snaps us back to reality. Gratitude heals our losses and relieves our narcissism. Graciousness builds character, connecting us to our better nature and to other people. Giving creates meaningful relationships---an invitation to share our lives with another person and they with us.


If I could bake a cake for each of you I would, because cake is incontestably the foundation to human civilization, not some mammoth-size chunk of meat roasted over a survival-of-the-fittest fire. So celebrating the holiday spirit from our very civilized household to yours, here's the recipe for my daughter's favorite Christmas Cake. It's easy and delicious and maybe you will think of us if you love this cake as much as we do.

Finnish Sour Cream Cake
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups sour cream
2 cups sugar
2-3 drops almond extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamon

Combine eggs, sour cream, sugar and almond extract and mix thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients together and gradually add to egg mixture. Beat until smooth and well-mixed but don't over-beat or your cake will rise too high in the center. Pour batter into a WELL-buttered bundt pan that has been generously dusted with granulated sugar. Bake one hour at 350 degrees. Cool 5-10 minutes before turning out of the pan. Let rest overnight before serving, allowing the spices to permeate the cake. So good, you don't even need icing. 

Getting Ready for a Game by Carl Larsson

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all,

November 13, 2014

Egocentrism or Narcissism? Antagonism explains the difference

Woman Reading by Fernando Botero
"You don’t have to be a narcissist to display some narcissistic qualities. After all, everyone’s the hero of their own story. However, the hallmark of empathy is understanding that and remembering it when you deal with people. If you can both recognize your own interests and acknowledge those of others, you’re in a good place. That said, a little narcissism is good for all of us." ~Alan Henry

This article on LifeHacker might interest people who like reading and talking about narcissism. If you don't like talking about narcissism, you probably aren't reading my blog and you wouldn't understand my essays anyway. I'm gradually adjusting to being misinterpreted by people who've never stepped foot in a 12-step meeting or participated in family-of-origin recovery work, or even therapy for goshsakes how can you critique something you know nothing about? Readers need to have some context for my writing which builds on self-help principles, trusting readers to have a basic understanding of psychology and pathology. And "NO", Focusing on yourself does not mean ego-centrism is a good idea go for it and be an asshole 'cuz narcissism is the new measure of mental health.

Suggesting Blogging Is Good For Your Narcissism upset a reader who assumed it was justification for my narcissistic personality. That some readers have conflated pathological narcissism with healthy narcissism is no surprise because the topic is complex, requiring an education beyond five quotes on colored blocks. Maybe intentional ignorance is behind some of the insults because it allows people to use narcissism as a hip-sorta-slur, suggesting anyone writing about narcissism is one but they aren't. How edgy. Here's a distinction for my critics: my narcissism may be annoying but it never causes ptsd. That little gem of difference came to mind this morning.

Archangel by Fernando Botero
The argument made against bloggers is that we're full of ourselves and we like to hear the sound of our own voice which okay yea, there's some truth in that. I didn't recognize my own voice until writing thirty essays at which point a picture of "me" came into focus and it wasn't always comfortable. We get to know ourselves by the essays we write; our self-esteem measured by the ones we don't delete. Bloggers grow, we change, we're imperfect, we risk expressing our thoughts and feelings which is a reliable sign we're not narcissists. Ask yourself, what do you really know about a suspected narcissist? How they feel, how they think, how they live their life? Ten bucks says you know very little about them, other than the image they convey. An image they need you to believe and mirror for them. An image evoking approval of the person they purport themselves to be. But beware: this image is fragile and subject to shattering when called into question because it is based on a lie. You won't get a reasoned essay from a narcissist if you challenge their authority, you can be certain of that. And remember this: the person you suspect is a narcissist probably isn't; the one you least suspect, probably is. Narcissists excel at image management, the rest of us pretty much suck.

I've written many times about narcissist's hostility and their desire for revenge which is what you get when you threaten their distorted views of reality. I don't think there is any way to warn people about the intensity of narcissist's retaliatory rage which is wholly different from over-reacting to criticism. I might feel bad or get mad but I won't step on your face and ruin your reputation. I won't give you ptsd.

Descriptions of narcissism vary in psychological literature, but the observations clinical psychologists zero in on is "relational difficulties" in addition to personality traits. I know, you know, we all know someone who's arrogant but arrogance is easy to see. Annoying is easy to feel. Someone's arrogance won't put us in a therapist's office questioning what the hell just happened to our lives. Grandiosity, lack of empathy, idealized love, we can all identify with these criteria. The universality of the criteria renders DSM-IV somewhat meaningless without explaining the hazards of a narcissistic personality for others (as my readers know) and for the narcissist him or herself (as readers might not know). Suicide is a concern for people with NPD. I excerpted the following three criteria from Henry's article and there's nothing surprising really, except for number three. Which I was glad to see emphasized:
1) [narcissists] define their identity based on others’ approval
2) [narcissists] have a hard time empathizing or getting close to others
3) [narcissists] antagonize others 
I think the first two criteria are subject to interpretation and a bit wobbly in application. The third criteria, antagonism, that's the one that should force everyone's eyebrows to attention. I have described narcissists as hostile in prior articles including this one: Online Narcissists. But antagonism is great way to describe narcissist's "ill will" towards people who've criticized them, who aren't living up to the narcissist's standards, who differ from them and/or threaten their confabulated reality. (channeling a little Sam Vaknin with that last bit...) I'll expound a little on those three criteria:

1) Needing approval and recognition is something we can all lay claim to. We're social creatures, hard-wired for relationship. We need to feel appreciated and accepted by our peers. I love my readers for example.

2) The great and vast majority of people I've known in my online and face-to-face life, do not have a problem getting close to others or empathizing. They invite intimacy and have enough emotional intelligence to trust and be trusted. They crave being seen and heard beyond shallow affiliations.

3) Antagonistic does not fit most people who are cooperative and kind. There are a few folks on this planet who cannot abide my personality but it's usually after I offended them in an unforgivable manner having more to do with their mother then me, to be honest. I can pretty much count on one hand, the number of people I've antagonized face-to-face though it might take longer to list my online antagonisms since the written word is rife with misinterpretations. Give me a pot of tea and a box of Kleenex and I make friends for life. That doesn't mean I've been an easy person to love because my life has been strewn with random acts of tragedy. Like losing a baby, a hard childhood, an infidel husband, getting divorced in my fifties, my daughter's recent MS diagnosis, hey...I've cried on just as many shoulders as people have cried on mine.

During each of these life crises over a span of several decades, I have withdrawn into myself. I've been less sensitive to people's needs. I didn't remember to send birthday cards and declined invitations to dinner, to shop, to the bookstore, neglecting social proprieties. I've tended my wounds as any person should when their heart has been wrenched in two. There have been periods of time when my ego-centrism was both life-preserving and life-limiting, my sense of self solid enough to tolerate awareness and change. Eventually, wounded people restore a healthy balance. We send belated birthday cards restoring relationships that were based on good will; and we let go of the ones that were not persuaded to empathize. I know how to say "good-bye" to people who interpret my grief-filled self-focus as a personal insult or rejection. Without forgiveness, there is no relationship worth saving. In other words, antagonizing other people is not my problem.

I have known plenty of people leaving a steady stream of frustration and pain in their wake. If they had power over others, they never changed. That's because the people they hurt cowtowed like nobody's business, making sure they never offended the narcissist again. This is a sick relationship and I am sick of sick relationships, aren't you? As far as I know, dear reader who doesn't like my style, nobody cowtows to me. Not even the cat and you'd think he'd be far enough down the food chain to give me some respect. I guess he knows he's safe even if he pees on my baseboards when he's lonely.

Man and Woman by Fernando Botero
From LifeHacker: "A telltale sign of a true narcissist is the inability to tolerate challenges to their cognitive distortions (e.g. challenging their perceived grandiosity or their views on damn near anything). The narcissist will act out in some way when their cognitive distortions are challenged. Another red flag is a “trail of destruction” in their personal relationships. True narcissists will likely have a history of emotionally injuring people who have attempted to get close to them, either because the narcissist can’t establish true intimacy or because they lack the empathy to be able to engage in pro-relationship behaviours. A third sign is the propensity to exploit others for personal gain...the ends ALWAYS justify the means if the ends in question are beneficial to them." 
Drawing from this article then, these five traits are distinguishable as pathological meaning: persistent, resistant to change, and destructive.

1) Antagonistic, hostile, disagreeable (blames others; justifies hostility)
2) Distorted perceptions of reality (how dare you question and disrespect me)
3) Inability to tolerate criticism (out of proportion to precipitating event)
4) Trail of destruction (coworkers, neighbors, family, friends, bloggers)
5) Willingness to exploit to get what they want (no matter the harm to others)

Normal regular folks lapse into periods of ego-centrism but being self-centered is a reaction to circumstances (crises), it's not a state of being. The combination of all five behaviors makes for a dangerous relationship and could be life-threatening for others and the narcissist, too. We might all be narcissistic to some degree, but be careful defining other people (or yourself) as A Narcissist unless you understand the implications of this very extreme, very unhealthy, very debilitating disorder. 



Alan Henry on LifeHacker, Why We're So Full Of Ourselves: In Defense Of Narcissistic Qualities

An Upturned Soul, Is John a Narcissist or is John the Victim of a Narcissist?

The Narcissistic Continuum, Healthy Narcissism

November 04, 2014

Partners of Narcissists: You'll Never Regret Prioritizing Your Children

Pan Playing Flute by J. Jordaens

See that guy under the fig tree playing a flute? He can't grow up the way you think he will. In twenty years time, he'll be cheating on you with a goat. You'll wonder why you didn't notice his hooves. Maybe because you made him wear pants in the daylight? You're such a prude, he tells the goats.

Family stories make me feel better about my struggle to do the right thing. Partnering with a narcissist was hard. People don't understand what you've been through when they criticize you for staying, for having children, for being naive. Even your ex says how messed up you were because obviously, you stuck around. He says no one else in the whole galaxy woulda put up with you for so long. He says how well you were treated considering your deficiencies and ineptitude, your lack of gratitude. Always between a rock and a hard place, partners of narcissists make the best of limited choices, a perpetual tug-of-war between a narcissistic spouse and the children. What I have learned this past decade is that you will never regret prioritizing your children; which might include (depending on your physical safety) the decision to stay.

It's hard being married to a narcissist
It can be even harder admitting you were 

You'd gone about your life fairly normally, following rules, keeping commitments, expecting your marriage to work out in the end. No marriage was perfect, you told yourself. You can count at least three long-term marriages held together with scotch-tape and promises, becoming contented and loving in old age. Grateful they stayed together. Grateful families saw them through the tough times. Grateful they were spending holidays with their own grandchildren, not someone else's. You hang in there because this is what you've seen and that is what you believe your story will be, too.

When I started reading about narcissistic relationships, I wanted to believe everything an expert told me. I force-fit myself into pathological boxes. I defined myself as a complete mess since I felt like a complete mess. When you're reeling from infidelity and financial losses beyond recuperation, your sense of self will be blown to shit smithereens. If a psychologist says you fear abandonment, you'll believe it. If a book says you love too much, you'll believe it. You aren't sure who you are---or who you were because your ego has been shattered and your heart is on the ground. If an expert says codependency is why you married a puerile Pan, well----you have no filter of reason. An authority figure could say you were serial killer and you'd believe it. Okay maybe not but you'd fact-check the basement making sure you didn't do something you don't remember. 

Zelfportret als Faun by Johfra
It's been over a decade since being subjected to pop-psych explanations taking an additional chunk out of my self-esteem. Other partners of narcissists have written similar miserable narratives which means my experience is not unique. Partners of narcissists are perceived to be collusive and/or crazy. If we insist our partner is narcissistic because we're smart enough to read the DSM, people suggest we point our labeling fingers back at ourselves. They'd never be so naive as to marry a narcissist and godforbid they'd be arrogant enough to diagnose one! And then you see them in Costco being harangued by their spouse and you thank GOD you don't have to lie to yourself anymore.

The only thing casting me as a pathology suspect was my husband's behavior. People thought I was a goodly woman until my husband proved he was a badly man and then they looked at me skeptically. "Well," one guy said when he heard my husband was having an affair, "You seem like a nice lady but who knows what you're really like behind closed doors?"

I've come full circle back to myself which took much longer than expected, that's how traumatic sudden endings can be. At this point, I am able to see that my family-of-origin was a dress rehearsal for my marriage. As a child and adult, I soothed my family's feelings, off-set sadness and anxiety with light-heartedness, tried to make up for emotional deficits in fathers and husbands, worked doubly hard undoing the damage done. Those are character strengths, not deficits. Be cautious diagnosing yourself too soon in your recovery and don't pathologize behaviors that are cherished by healthy, loving people.

"You act like you're my mother!"
 he whines

A certain amount of crazy is normal to every family I suspected then and even now, the line between acceptable or not depending on the people involved. What one family considers to be normal, another considers bizarre. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, there's sure to be crazy. There's sure to be bizarre. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, she'll prioritize the children, not him. When a narcissist marries a woman who's not, he'll accuse her of acting like his mother. Not because she is acting like his mother, but because he sees himself as Peter Pan. She worries the marriage won't survive the most recent crisis (infidelity) and makes an appointment with a marriage counselor. Peter complains he's married to his Mom and what does the therapist say? "Stop acting like his mother and read this book about adventurous sex with M&M's." 
Nymphs and Satyr by William Adolf Bouguereau

NOTE: I've never yet met a goodly woman who successfully competed with Tinkerbell so be kind to yourself. The problem is NOT you. The problem is Peter Pan and a sexist society valuing above all we declare to be holy and sacred about family: Peter's peter's happiness. 

Consider his insult to be a compliment. You Grew Up. You Took Responsibility. Your Priorities were in Order. You Were Willing to do the right thing and Displease Peter. And you knew and rightly so, that Chocolate Gods created M&Ms to melt in your mouth, not your...

About Right Action 

I never determined right action from a spread sheet, a pro-and-con list, a religious book; it was innate. Knowing the right thing to do made my children's lives easier and it was intuitive. That didn't mean doing the right thing made my life easier (!) but not having an egocentric focus drew and kept my children close. They trusted me to be there for them, to restore the peace, to listen. And to make donuts. Never underestimate the bonding power of donuts stacked two dozen-deep on a broom handle.

Making Light in Heavy Moments

We had decided as a family, to see a movie at our local theater. My children were about five and eight years old, as best I can remember. As the hour drew near, we reminded their Dad what time it was and asked him to stop what he was doing. We needed to leave or we'd be late. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He had changed his mind. "I'd rather sit and think," he said.

The look on my children's faces...well...it crushed my heart seeing their disappointment because they instinctively realized their father preferred studying scriptures to being with his family. I couldn't stand it. I hated that he would disappoint them that way. My first instinct was not to cajole him into going with us. If he didn't want to go, okay then. Don't go. I didn't have any desire to yell at him either, or threaten him. Why engage in an argument when the movie started in ten minutes? If he and I were bickering, our kids would miss the film they'd looked forward to all week and then they'd witness what was sure to be a terrifying example of my insanity. Summing up the situation quickly, I decided to ease the tension and my children's disappointment by saying something silly. "Hey kids," I said. "Dad wants to sit n' stink!"

Italian School_Pan with Pipes
Sit n' Stink! The kids held their tummies laughing, oblivious to their father's glare searing burn holes in my flesh. They skipped to the car like happy wabbits and a good time was had by all. Whether the stinker had a good time or not, we didn't ask. Do we remember the name of the film we watched that day? No. But "Sit n' Stink" has become a family mantra. It serves as a reminder to pull our heads out of our asses and carry both body parts into our lives. It reminds us that heaven is already at our feet if we'll stop looking for a private invitation. 

Partners of narcissists work doubly hard undoing damage done by a narcissistic spouse. We can take pride in our efforts to make our children's lives better---often at the expense of our own personal satisfaction. People stay in difficult marriages for good and sane reasons and sometimes it's the "right thing to do" even in a wrong situation. I do not regret staying in my marriage and trying to make things work for three decades. Our marriage ended but not without me giving it everything I could and then some. Today, my children tell me how much they appreciate my ability to make them feel loved and safe, allowing us to live as long as we could as an intact family. I am sure other partners-of-narcissists have done an even better job than myself and certainly under more brutal conditions than my marriage ever was. The narcissistic marriage is lonely for the most part, usually traumatic at the end. The majority of the time, it's simply hard work.  It's may be the hardest thing you'll ever do. Appreciate yourself for the incredibly difficult thing you did and might still be doing. Stop focusing on your mistakes and failures looming pathological in hindsight. Time and distance will create a more realistic perspective than judging yourself too soon in the aftermath of trauma and abuse. 

Pay attention to the brilliant things you were able to do, such as "making light in heavy moments." It doesn't matter how trivial the intervention, your children will know you care; that they are treasured. They will know their fun is equally important to the fun adults might prefer. They'll also learn that family is an action, not a possession. That love is an action, not a feeling.

Funny how this incident predicted our future twenty years later, isn't it? We are still a family, even without him, which is why I can say to other partners of narcissists: You Will Never Regret Prioritizing Your Children. You will regret prioritizing Peter.


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