June 21, 2018

When Will the Forum Return?

Salambo by Adolphe Cossard

In the near future. Soon. Very soon. Maybe tomorrow but maybe this weekend though we can never know what the future will bring, can we? No worries though. Trustworthy geek spirits have reassured me the forum will return from the Land of Lost Websites any day now.

(I think the WoN Forum is hiding somewhere close to the Land of Lost Socks. The forum might be clinging to the underside of a flannel sheet, hopefully not on the inside of a pant leg and falling on the floor during a seminar on Radical Awareness.)


The WoN Forum is in maintenance mode while we conform to current laws and regulations. We've tolerated technical problems on the forum for awhile now so my son-the-programmer has transferred the forum to a different server allowing better interface for users. The decision to upgrade the forum complicated the transfer and he told me why but I couldn't understand what he was saying, nodding my head as if I had a clue because it's not easy being over fifty in a computerized world and admitting you felt smart when you figured out how to do blogger and the google; but now you feel like a tube sock.

artist, unknown
If anyone wants to talk, we can have a conversation in the comment section if you'd like and I'll devote time each day to check in. I hate leaving people hanging. For years, I've encouraged people to build a support system so experienced folks can hold you steady and then boom...the forum shuts down. Let me reassure everyone though: we will be back. We will not disappear and even if our lovely blue format with narcissus flowers and castle rooms disappear, the heart of the forum remains: our conversations over the years.

One of the most amazing things about a forum as old as WoN (organized in 2005) is that people have continued sharing their lives for over a decade! Everyone's stories have been inspirational and everyone from newbies-to-longtimers have grounded me in the recovery process. I need everyone's help. My recovery was not and never could be a six-week CD and E-Book course. Recovery is life-long and that's okay because relationships with others and with ourselves, get better and better overtime. Easier, too. It's easier to love people when you don't hate yourself.

Now that I've spent a freaking hour-and-a-half writing six paragraphs, my evidenced-based reality says: the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to think in words. Yikes. I used to write ten paragraphs in two minutes. That's a lie. Or perhaps it's a falsehood. Wait. Maybe it's neither. Maybe it's hyperbole. Yes. Let's call it a benign exaggeration to dramatize my point. All I know after composing this mess is that writing oughta be on a to-do list for maintaining my sanity in what most people would agree is CrazyTimesUSA. And that is not hyperbole. It's an evidence-based fact.

Hugs to all,

April 20, 2017

Healthy Narcissism: Telling Children They Are Special

The Queen of Sheba by Edward Slocombe
I am old enough to remember when religious aunts lectured on the sins of wasteful living, reminding us people were starving in China and how could we be so selfish as to throw out a brown banana. Watchful uncles reprimanded nieces and nephews neglecting to relinquish seats to pregnant women or old women or anyone six months their senior. Remaining seated while back-bent elders shifted on life-worn feet was the penultimate of mortal sins how terrible. (I can imagine my stickler of a grandmother's wide-eyed horror at the spectacle of 21st century manspreading).

"Who do you think you are?" they'd scold. "The Queen o' Sheba?"

Pause Reading for a Musical Prologue 
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by G.F. Handel

I am not too old to remember my mother giving me the side-eye for entering too many competitions and winning more contests than deemed felicitous for a gender-appropriate daughter. "Pride cometh before a fall," she cautioned, lecturing on corruptible vices,  pride being the mother lode of sin. Under her critical tutelage, my competitive drive slowed to a ladylike pace and then I married a man who taught me everything a mother never could about wrath, greed, lust and vanity. He had no compunctions against being extraordinarily special and he wasn't as occupied as myself, shushing a chorus of internalized voices nagging me to know my place, to remember the less fortunate, to respect my elders, to stop embarrassing my mother.

I tried silencing their voices but this led to rocky relationships requiring humble pies and downcast eyes because you can't love people and be loved back if you believe you're especially more special than they. Good people will cut you off like the spoiled bits of an Idaho potato and when you love loving people as much as I love loving people, you'll abdicate your throne and admit the error of your ways. You are special and this is valuable knowledge; but you aren't too special for rules. Rules are meant for everyone, even the Queen of Sheba. Cue humility and Handel.
"Age-appropriate narcissism is a concept based on the notion that we grow and develop in our ability to become separate and differentiated people and that this is a process that begins at birth and continues throughout life." ~Nina W. Brown 
A well-developed conscience requires the right nudge at the right time to awaken from its narcissistic slumber through what some people call the Best Years of Our Lives. The years of seeing ourselves as extra-ordinarily special, with unlimited possibilities and never a thought to the impermanence of life. The unquestioned assumption of being ninety with a face of sixteen and the limber dance of twenty-five. I indulge now and then in ancient memories of teenage narcissism, the glorious flooding of narcissism cramming every cell of my body with a sense of immortality and potential. I think about youthful grandiosity and how we must sacrifice childish narcissism in the quest for self, always a balancing act between caring for others and for ourselves. Healthy maturation is a lifelong journey. We need all the help we can get.

G.F. Handel, "18th Century Manspreading?" 
My Family

I love remembering apron-ed Aunts in crowded kitchens, more worried about their feather-light biscuits than derrières. Maybe it bothered them gaining weight, we wouldn't know, they never talked about it. They never apologized for their ample size; good character being more valuable than something they didn't struggle to achieve---like becoming movie star gorgeous and fashionable. I am lucky to have known a generation of women who didn't compare themselves to images they couldn't embody; to have had long conversations without the dreary mention of diets and celebrities.

Knowing they were special, and me too by extension, exceeded the superficiality of flesh. This is the kind of self-worth people need in order to love themselves and others: a self-love so embodied it can't be destroyed by the vicissitudes of life, nor shaken by life's uncertainties. A self-love assertive enough to confront Handel about keeping his damn legs together. (My grandmother would have confronted the patriarchy about Handel's inappropriate display and the patriarchy would have dutifully strapped his legs together because biscuits).

Knowing you are special is a fine thing binding us to one another because we know we are worthy of relationship, deserving of love, and capable of loving others. Our love has value. With the accompanying self-assurance of feeling special, we are less afraid to invest our hearts in relationships. Narcissism, the feeling of being special, fosters meaningful connections with others and with ourselves.

On the contrary, believing we are way more special than anyone else sets us apart, trading meaningful connections for the emptiness and isolation of unhealthy narcissism.

Knowing we are special is a blessing and this is what my relatives hoped to teach me. The people I saw as special also saw me as special and this became the ground beneath my feet when everything that mattered slipped away. It's times like that, when your life has been devastated by profound disappointment and loss, that healthy narcissism allows us to grieve our losses without losing our selves in the suffering.
"Healthy narcissism boils down to striking the right balance. At the heart of narcissism lies an ancient conundrum: how much should we love ourselves and how much should we love others? The Judaic sage and scholar Hillel the Elder summarized the dilemma this way: "If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, then what am I?" ~Craig Malkin, Rethinking Narcissism (pg. 14) 
Portrait of his family by Cornelis de Vos

My Family's Secret
I'd like to share a secret about my family because there's honest-to-God no group of people who believe they are more special than the family I was born into. Even my ex would corroborate the peculiarity of our indefatigable self-esteem. He joked about my collection of relatives obviously taking more pride in a day's labor than reflections in a mirror. Oh, they were respectably clean, even spotlessly so, carrying white handkerchiefs for spitting into and wiping on children's faces should jam spoil toothy grins. I never saw an unclean or beautiful relative in my sixty years of family reunions, yet they believed they were special because each generation had been told they were special, the tradition handed down like a recipe for self-rising bread. You know the yeasty sour dough that multiplies on its own if you save a bit of starter for the next batch? Yea. That's the kind of healthy narcissism my family stores in five-gallon buckets. If Dr. Malkin researched genetic narcissism, he could use my family as a profound example of it.

"My Family Reunion  Portrait"
I've pondered my family's heritable resiliency but only recently come to understand the value of older generations telling younger generations they were special. "You may not be the Queen of Sheba, CZ, but you're the queen of hearts in this family". Being told over and over how special I am and always have been, lifted me to my feet when life knocked me down. Falling face first in the dirt has happened more than once, though never as gawdawful as the time I competed for my husband's love and lost. Bless my inner tabernacle choir for getting me out of that mess. Hallelujah!

Here's the Deal: Being Special is a Responsibility

My family took more pride in preserving our good name than breaking free and making one for ourselves. They were farmers in Europe becoming farmers in America losing money more years than they profited. They still ended up wealthy in spite of predictable setbacks curiously declared unpredictable. My relatives never measured themselves by failure, never wavered from proclaiming themselves successful. They trusted everything would work out swell and then set their minds to the task. It's worth repeating as I've written before: my family has nerves of steel and wills of iron and everyone agrees who's known a single one of us. We are resilient I think, because each person in my family inherited their own pair of hand-me-down rose-colored glasses and we're only too pleased to be wearing 'em.

If someone had asked my grandmother, "What makes me special?" she'd have replied, "You were born in this family. That's why you're special." If I'd have queried her about who was more special, me or my cousins, she'd have told me to grab knee pads and beg forgiveness for thinking too highly of myself. "There's pride and there's false pride and you'd best discern the difference if you wanna be in heaven with the rest of us." 
For people who didn't grow up in families like mine, it might be hard to understand the importance of preserving the family name: a source of communal pride and a leveling mechanism for deficient or excessive narcissism. I learned to keep my selfish behavior in check because of the way my actions would affect my family which is why it was prudent to move to France before coming out as a rebellious sinner. Unfortunately, my obscure american name was relatively common overseas; but sacrebleu! I had taken my husband's name when we married! That meant I could take a french walk on the wild side without upsetting my relatives. I could break every rule in the book, indulge in a multitude of wrongs, immerse myself in a hotbed of devilish evils and yes, I am lying my ass off right now. Those internalized values which comprise who you believe yourself to be as a child, never disappear; and those internalized voices you admired and wanted to be part of? They're never silent, either, glory hallelujah!

Nevertheless, even being an uprighteous young woman with the firm intention to be good, I made mistakes growing up. Maybe in order to be good, we have to make mistakes but that means we mustn't justify a single one--and that is hard to do if no one ever said, unequivocally, that you were special. That you were born into a peculiarly special family because that's where you belonged and no one but spiritual warriors had ever been granted your name so never ever give up never stay down never believe you are better or worse than anyone else. You may be special but special is as special does so don't betray the people who are counting on you to protect their heritage.

Now it might sound like telling a child they were special would inflate their narcissism but being told you're special was a responsibility, not a status symbol. It wasn't a gift without strings. You lived up to your name and that meant a whole host of religious rules and social sanctions intended to build character.

Being concerned for others is the foundation upon which mature morality is constructed and it isn't an easy process for any of us. The slow development of conscience may be the task of community and my relatives seemed to know this without reading a lick of psychological literature. At least I'm fairly certain they never read an article about healthy narcissism unless it had been featured in The Farm Journal or Reader's Digest maybe

Nothing says "I see you" like telling a child: "You're Special"

Every family reunion followed the same pattern: first there were tears of joy at the sight of nieces and nephews and grandchildren and then hugs long-and-breathtaking. Afterwards came the stand-back-and-let-me-take-you-in look, a wizened gaze piercing souls so deep I believed Aunt Blanche could out an impostor in a single stare. Not even a sociopath could pass her scrutiny! What my family told me after every lasting embrace was that I was special and it was my responsibility to live up to my good name. They knew my character and what they knew had come from God's lips to their ears, no need to have it confirmed by anyone else.

One aunt said I was chosen to be in the family because the spirits had told her so and even if I didn't believe in ghost stories, her validation was deep and comforting. Knowing we are valuable, that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, protects us when-and-if we forget our birthright. Like the time my ex dared challenge the collective agreements of an ancestral battalion of aunts and uncles and grandparents going back to Adam and Eve.

"You are Special," they had told me. "Never forget it!"

And I didn't. And it saved me.


Craig Malkin "The reality is that we all fall somewhere between utter selflessness and grandiosity. A healthy middle, healthy degree of narcissism, is essential for a strong sense of self. Malkin deconstructs misconceptions of narcissism and offers clear, step-by-step guidance on how to protect ourselves and promote healthy narcissism in our partners, our children, and ourselves." Rethinking Narcissism: the Bad and Surprising Good about Feeling Special. Amazon Link

Craig Malkin's The Narcissism Test: What's Your Score? Huffington Post. 

Nina W. Brown "...is professor and eminent scholar in the Educational Leadership and Counseling Department at Old Dominion University. An expert on narcissism's effects on relationships, she is the author of ten books, including Children of the Self-AbsorbedWorking with the Self-Absorbed and Whose Life is it Anyway?" ~Amazon page

Normal and Yucky Narcissism on The Narcissistic Continuum. "Healthy narcissism allows people to tolerate criticism and failure, and contain negative feelings like guilt which leads to even deeper pro-social emotions like remorse and forgiveness. Healthy narcissism, as described by Heinz Kohut, includes creativity, empathy, a sense of humor, awareness of finiteness, and wisdom."

Healthy Narcissism on The Narcissistic Continuum. "Healthy narcissism plays a crucial role in the human capacity to manage challenges, successes and changes; to overcome defeats, illnesses, trauma, and losses; to love and be productive and creative; and to experience happiness, satisfaction, and acceptance of the course of one’s life." ~Elsa Ronningstam

April 19, 2017

Assumptions: Confessional and Resource Page on Trump's Mental Illness

Archangel by Fernando Botero

Resource Page: Is Trump mentally ill; or is he "just" a Narcissist?

Another of my asinine assumptions was shattered a few weeks ago. Busting through unconscious assumptions has become a normalized experience ever since learning that my perceptions were mine alone to own. The way I think, believe and feel isn't how every other person thinks, feels and believes and this can be a rude awakening for people like myself, people who assume their view of the world is shared by every other brilliant, moral and righteous human being whose common sense exceeds the herd mentality of the unenlightened. ha!

However, and there's research to back me up: what I see isn't what other people see even if we're staring into the same abyss. Or, in this particular situation, staring at the inevitable, regrettable and unforgettable apocalyptic outcome of Donald Trump's presidency.

When friends and family told me they supported Trump, I thought-to-myself, "Well, if you knew about the inevitable harm caused by pathological narcissists like I know about the inevitable harm they cause, the hair would stand up on the back of your neck and even if both your legs were broken and your eyes had been pecked out by Poe's raven, you'd crawl to a polling booth to cast your nevermore vote in braille!" 

I assumed the vast majority (as in 99%) of Americans realized Hillary would be a more competent president than a man who believed he was king because nobody dared tell him otherwise. Not true. I was wrong. People saw what they wanted or needed to see in order to keep the beliefs they wanted or needed to believe. What hope does an electorate have if a highly-skilled manipulator is conning us while we're also conning ourselves? Oh, the people we believe when there's intent to deceive and oh, the lies we tell ourselves to silence the rap, rapping, tapping of unconscious assumptions.

The Day My Head Nearly Exploded

I spoke with lots of people during the 2016 election. People who seemed rational enough to use sharp instruments instead of crayons at the voting booth. People who were employed by the healthcare industry which I assumed meant an automatic rejection of Trump because repealing healthcare would threaten their livelihood and betray their principles. You know: compassion for patients, aiding the sick and poor, emulating the Good Samaritan? But no, they didn't question what would happen to their job or their patients. I asked why they were voting for a man devoted to destroying our social safety net and they said they trusted Trump to have everyone's best interests at heart, augmented by their intuition confirming he was the right man for the job. (Lots of tells in the words we choose, eh?)

They also told me that if they had to sacrifice what they wanted (healthcare) in order to do the right thing for our country, then the un-treated death of their own child would have meaning. Such cult-like devotion didn't sit right by me because my daughter has multiple sclerosis and needs medical treatment and lots of it. I have learned ever since trumpism took shameless hold in our american culture that appealing to people's empathy would not be effective. There's no point reminding people that anyone can get sick, even people thinking positive thoughts the whole damn day. And. There's no point bringing mercy into the conversation, either. All it does is increase people's defenses against being called heartless and cruel; and then the crazy stuff happens when people say they are showing agape love for sick people because they aren't enabling sloth and greed and entitlement.

One woman told me how excited she was to see American children participating in the presidential election. Her local grade school auditorium had been the polling station where she voted in November and this little kid waited outside the window waving a hand-written sign: Vote Trump! She assumed of course, that I'd be delighted the same way she was. I managed an oddly weird smile wondering if she'd feel the same delight if her own son acted like Trump. Would she want her son mimicking Trump's low character because that's what kids do when they idealize role models. Was she okay with Trump's whatever-it-took-to-win attitude, his lying, his cheating, his "ends justifying the means" philosophy? Did she believe his millions of dollars compensated for a lack of conscience and empathy? And what about her daughter, the one who wanted to run for president when she grew up? Would she be okay if on her daughter's way to the lectern, a man reached out and gave her a thumbs up in her what-nots? Would that be okay? Or would this mother need to see the man's financial assets in order to determine his rights to her daughter's down-theres? 

I gave up on the uneducated populace having a clue about Trump's narcissism (we call 'em "civilians" in the recovery community). These were people who didn't know a whit about narcissism, as unwitting as my naive self when meeting a man who betrayed his promises and blamed his inadequacies on me. Who was I to criticize people who hadn't studied narcissism as extensively as myself and my peers, some of whom have traveled this bumpy road for years now.

And so I asked a few self-educated, experienced people what they thought of Trump, assuming any person who could recite their NPD's with academic footnotes and experiential anecdotes would recognize tout suite that Trump was a narcissist. I assumed our discussions would center on just how narcissistic Trump might be, not NO, he isn't a narcissist. I assumed discussions would admit we weren't able to diagnose anyone with a mental illness because we weren't psychologists, but my wizened friends would agree Trump was a tragedy-in-the-making. I assumed my peers would reject Trump accompanied by the moral urge to warn people about the ruthless territory we'd be in if he were elected. I assumed any american with a grain of sense would reject a bilious cad believing women were up for his grabs, service objects in his bed-rheumy eyes. "Surely recovery folks like me, will see his narcissism!" Or so I assumed. And then Trump was elected and the unbelievable fact of his presidency took days to sink into my brain. It was that unreal!

I couldn't believe Trump had been elected and the shock of my disbelief battled back and forth unremittingly before settling into a horrible reality. It was a lot like that moment after learning about NPD and a woman had to admit with a thud that she'd married a dud. At least this time I knew hearing myself say, "I cannot believe..." was a sure-sign of cognitive dissonance, the tweety-birds reaction we write about during recovery. This reaction was proof I had unconsciously idealized the American electorate. We tend to do that, assume everyone thinks like we do even when we know they don't.  I didn't think I did that anymore, though. I assumed my knowledge about cognitive biases would prevent self-deception or at least make it easier to catch. But the truth is that I, without realizing it, had assumed Americans wanted to be the self-professed moral beacons they bragged about being to the rest of our rudderless world. It simply would not compute in my brain that people who claimed to be the most compassionate and fair-minded and god-worshiping people on earth would be thrilled to have the most exploitative, entitled and self-worshiping narcissist to ever run for president. I had to shake my head until the marbles rolled into alignment and for better or worse, I started writing again. 

And then...I dared talk about Trump on a narcissism forum. Now one would think discussing Trump and narcissism would be a topic everyone could agree on, right? Or is it just me, maybe its me; and even if I'm the only person who assumed "informed" people would agree Trump was a narcissist, I can accept my asinine-tinged assumptions and open my mind. A little. But dear readers who have managed to stick with me all these years, be wary of asking the following question at your next sermon about Jesus, at your familial dinner table with sick relatives needing care, in a narcissism forum or message board with DSM-reading people, or even at your local sandwich shop piling on the ham and cheese. Pause. Think. Choose wisely before asking:

"Do you think Trump is mentally ill or JUST a narcissist?"
Louis XVI or Donald Trump?
"If you are foolish enough to ask, at least don't assume other people see the same pomposity you see!" And that is the wisdom of an Aquarian with a visionary mind and humanitarian principles that aren't always shared by the rest of humanity, or so my astrology-interested daughter delights in telling me each time I bump up against r-e-a-l-i-t-y. She says my cool temperament disguises my passionate beliefs while continually and constantly and inadequately arguing my case against bigotry and ignorance. (Paterson) She also tells me I'm a Rowan Tree keeping people from getting lost on long journeys, protecting them from malevolent beings. Do you feel better about following my blog now? I do.
So I asked the question: "Do you think Trump is mentally ill or JUST a narcissist?" and DSM-educated people answered. Then I watched them leap through fiery hoops and over devilishly high obstacles to protect his majesty's reputation while trump-splainin' to the Rowan Tree. While they danced and twirled and dislodged themselves from all-that-is-holy-and-sacred, it felt like I was looking at myself a dozen years ago. They were me and I was them, a spectacle in self-deception 'cuz yea, I performed similar gymnastics defending the narcissist near and dear to my heart---soaring through hoops on fire with the accompanying scorch marks to prove my loyalty.

And that is why I know that:

When you don't want to see what you don't want to see, there's almost no ends to which you'll go exalting that person before admitting you made a mistake; that the person you chose was a taker, a faker, a heartless policy maker. We can handle the truth sooner than we think most of the time, and then and only then will we see what we didn't want to see when we assumed a certain narcissist mirrored our thoughtful reflection.

As long as people don't examine unconscious biases, they can believe Trump is a benevolent patriarch who despite his clumsy authoritarian ways, has everyone's best interests at heart. And because he's such a lovable goofy and oh-so-ordinary guy like themselves (add his money to absolve all sins), they trust they'll be rewarded for preserving his rights while giving up their own. It's the same lousy story in every narcissistic relationship---we trust and they betray. Period. So in my e-steamed and unprofessional opinion, Trump triggers people to construct the same defenses we used with the first narcissist in our lives. As hard as it is to admit being duped conned and taken for a ride (nobody likes it!), there is richness to be gleaned from self-exploration and self-honesty.

Currently, the psychological community is engaged in a yuuuge debate about Trump's narcissistic personality. Clinical psychologists, experienced in understanding and identifying the narcissistic personality, have chosen sides. The argumentation is that Trump has a mental illness, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and the citizenry should be warned about his pathology. He's not "just" a narcissist like politicians and celebrities and bloggers tend to be.

Because my lousy sciatica has me grounded in a comfy chair, I pulled together a Resource Page for people who might not have time to google and collate this debate. I hope my page of links will make it easier to follow this history-making discussion, one that will be talked about for years if we survive Trump's presidency. And let's give respect where respect is due because psychologists will suffer fall-out for suggesting Trump has a mental illness. This can't have been an easy decision for anyone and yet psychologists have taken a courageous stand anyway. Now that's a role model worth mimicking.

Hugs all! (Even those who told me Trump was awesome)


Cognitive Biases. Wikipedia page.

Helena Paterson. 1998. Celtic Astrology. Pg. 20

Dana Milbank. Repealing Obamacare Could Violate International Law. April 2007 The Washington Post (Post-election note: I'm not sure why people aren't troubled by the United Nations warning Trump that repealing healthcare violated international law. Trump-folks told me the great USA would never bow to nobody, especially not the UN).

A Traumatic Election: Emotional Overwhelm and Voice March 2017. Narcissistic Continuum

Just Say It: 45 IS a Narcissist! February 2017 Narcissistic Continuum

March 11, 2017

A Traumatic Election: Emotional Overwhelm & Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important Point to Remember:

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

Mother and Child by Sturtevant Hamblin 

Trauma Reactions: Write It Out

A day without feelings is another win for 45

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

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

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

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

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

Now, about that shower mold...

Hugs all,


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

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

Creative Exercises for Emotional Overwhelm

February 24, 2017

Just Say It: 45 IS a Narcissist!

Lisbeth Zwerger, Tales from the Brothers Grimm

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

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

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

Trump IS our 45th President 

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

Trump IS our 45th President 

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

Trump IS our 45th President

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

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

Why Talk About Narcissism?

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

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

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

You SHOULDN'T diagnose Other People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting the Urge to Escape:

Staying in Present Time When Present Time Sucks

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

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

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


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

Be Kind

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


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

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

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

Hugs all,

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


Prestidigitatious. This is not a word. 😉

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

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

Lakoff, George.   Website and Blog

Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism on Amazon

Simon, George. In Sheep's Clothing on Amazon

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

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