October 17, 2008

Empathy, Attention & Respect: Part II

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt

 with the narcissist’s ‘condition’

Pay Attention to ‘The Situation’
Respect the 'disorder'

Yesterday, I posted about my interpretation of Bill Eddy's E.A.R. I'm not talking about the flaps of skin on the side of Eddy's head, but his concept of E.A.R. as a method for limiting the narcissist's aggressive defenses. Remember: Aggression and Narcissism go together like cookies and ice cream, neither of which is good for a consumer's long-term health.

I also deliberately posted a painting called The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt. Every time I look at this picture, it reminds me of my marriage. You know, the perfect woman in a lovely hat and the big, bad man dressed in black?

Now if you'd asked me thirty years ago what this painting represented to me, I'd have said the man was working extra hard to steer the ship and take care of his wife and child like he was supposed to do. At 56 years of age, what does this painting say to me? It says he'd best hand at least one oar to that woman so she can use it when he's headed in the wrong direction. Like to an island off by itself where no one can hold him accountable for his ogre-ish and pig-headed behavior.

*sigh* I love paintings...the subject stays the same but what we see in the painting transitions over time. If we're growing, that is. If we're open to life. If we're gaining wisdom through hard-earned lessons.

Accepting a partner's 'narcissism' as being more seductive than myself, has been one of my hard-earned lessons (and I must have done something right because I'm still here, still typing, still ruminating about the N-relatioNship and how people can avoid making the mistakes many of us have made). As my little daughter once told a friend, "That's not a mistake, sir, that's a lesson." In other words, stop beating yourself up for making errors in judgment. Nobody knew selfishness could be a pathology. Nobody knew some people preferred their relationship with narcissism more than their relationship with other people.

So, if you're up Shite Creek without a paddle today, stick both arms in the water and start steering the boat yourself. If you don't have two arms, stick your legs over the side. If you don't have legs, then lean over the boat and blow on the water with both your lips. There is ALWAYS something we can do to change the course of our lives.

Maybe it's slow and maybe it's arduous and maybe we doubt our capacity to change 'the situation', but never give up. Never give up. Never give up on yourself; but puh-leaze give up on the man with the oars. He is not going to share out of the goodness of his heart. Why? 'Cuz narcissists have no goodness in their hearts, it's all about maintaining control even if the boat is headed towards a cliff and we tell 'em so. If the cliff is getting closer and nothing we say will convince the narcissist that the whole family is headed for disaster, it's time for us to abandon ship and start swimming. If you don't know how to swim, hike up your skirt and FLOAT. But don't stay in the ship ignoring reality by denying what your own two eyes are telling you. At some point it will be too late to save yourself and your child. Loyalty to a narcissist is not a virtue. It's a mistake which means there's a lesson in there somewhere if we're willing to learn from our experience.

But back to Eddy's E.A.R. for a second and I hope readers will take some time to review the comments on my prior message. While it may appear that I'm encouraging people to 'sell their self-respect' for a life insurance policy, what I'm really saying is that we have to be smart about NPD. We have to use our Guts & Intelligence to moderate a potentially dangerous situation. We cannot afford to be undisciplined or impulsively foolish. There's too much at stake.

We also cannot afford the high-price of denial about a disorder that is frequently under-diagnosed by professionals and dismissed as self-centeredness by the rest of us. To assume behaviors the lay-person can easily identify as narcissistic traits, are benign and therefore remediable, is dangerous. Dangerous because there are too many unpredictable factors that can slide those traits into malignant narcissism. When narcissistic defenses are on high-alert, any attempt we make to 'help' the narcissist will be viewed as a threat to their image of self-reliance, perfection, grandiosity, invulnerability, competence and superior intelligence. The more we try to help, the more aggressively they defend themselves. Even when the roar of water cascading over the cliff is undeniable.

"I can steer this damn boat over that waterfall! Just hang on and watch me!"

Narcissists won't even relinquish their superiority to Mother Nature, so pray tell me, why would they see a mere mortal as a peer?

Please shatter assumptions YOU can change your partner's narcissism. That something you say or do will sway them towards willingly and lovingly sharing the oars. If your relationship has gotten to the point that you have been accused of malicious intent, or that YOU are no longer his 'idealized love', start putting on your water wings because you're going to need them. Here's a lesson I can share from Infidelity 101, Chapter Six: When another woman climbs in the boat, it's time for YOU to jump ship and teach your kids to tread water.

But until y'all swim to safety (and the shore appears to be closer than it really is), you may need to lend the narcissist your E.A.R. More about how to do that in my next post.


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