February 22, 2015

Final Week for Research: Breaking the No Talk Rule

Circus Act by Fernando Botero 

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

Saturday, February 28th 

You can use this link to access the test:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


  1. I was going to say that it wasn't until I started talking that I realized it wasn't me, but even then too many people dismissed my stories, even a couple of my counselors. The first two attempted to make my family "typical" dysfunctional. It shut me down. My third counselor believed me. I suppose the important thing to take away is that I kept talking until I found someone who believed me. It was astonishing how freeing it was to have someone say, "It isn't you. You aren't imagining the abuse or making more of it than it is." It's still a daily battle to remind myself that I'm not mean or crazy. I'm doing what I need to do in order to maintain my sanity, in order to embrace the truth. Thanks for the reminder. It's been "quiet" and I'm never quite sure how to take these lulls. I begin to question myself all over again... maybe it isn't that bad. No, it is. I don't know how long this particular round of ignoring me is going to last, but I'm tired of playing their waiting game. I'm strong enough now to take what they throw at me because all they can throw at me is lies, and I don't play that game anymore.

    1. Hi Judy!

      Same here. People were talking about family dysfunction (the 1980's) and using that awful word (abuse) but I was reluctant to apply it to myself. Maybe because "abuse" requires a victim and who wants to see themselves as a victim? I snuck up on the truth, one story at a time and like you, needed someone to empathize with me instead of defending parents. I also needed someone to help direct my process. Now there are interactive websites allowing people to support one another rather than resorting to therapy (although I think using both is exponentially valuable).

      I hear you loud-and-clear about "questioning yourself." We tend to doubt ourselves, don't we? When I'm questioning whether or not things were that bad, I pretend someone's sitting in my living room--telling me the same story. That does the trick most times. Funny how its easier to have compassion for a complete stranger than ourselves. :-(

      You must be getting stronger if lies don't "stick" anymore. If people will just Keep At It, their resilience WILL increase and they may be able to resume some form of contact with their families (and maybe not!) I can get myself wound in a knot but at least I know what's happening and can unwind myself. Writing, like talking, is therapeutic. Being able to put our experience into words and describe/define our feelings is No Small Task, either!

    2. 'It's still a daily battle to remind myself that I'm not mean or crazy. I'm doing what I need to do in order to maintain my sanity, in order to embrace the truth."

      I feel this way too.

    3. Hi Jessie,

      I feel the same way too and am not stopping just because anyone thinks it's enough like that. I have or am trying to really cross the 'hate' threshold for my recently realized Narc dad, yet I need to revisit and deal with all of that - maybe even till the end of my life who knows. I am just still in so much awe of all what I am learning, and also that real healing and staying sane and safe is possible.

    4. Hello Marie! Welcome to my little home on the web!

      There is a great deal to learn but never fear, it's worth whatever it takes to "right" your relationships with people but most especially, with yourself. If you feel the urge to heal, you are listening to the call of your spirit. Listen. Study. Go where your intuition guides you. I believe we are prompted to hear this call when we are ready. You will, at some point in the future, be grateful. <3


  2. Hi CZ,
    Indeed, the NO TALK RULE. There is no manual but it is sure shoved down your throat every time. I took the test and I'm looking forward to the results.
    Hugs, TR.

    1. I will post the results of this test as soon as they're available! Thanks for participating, TR.

    2. Hi CZ et al; I took the test. I know that all hell broke loose 30 years ago when I first tried to address the dynamics in my FOO. Bradshaw's work helped; even so, it's not until we can actually articulate what the dynamics were and continue to be, honestly but not with cruelty, that we can begin to identify our own fleas and narcissistic wounds. I don't think this is something that we ever get entirely "over"; it's woven into how we think and feel. But I do know that we can change the intensity and frequency of those feelings, and undo some of the damage inflicted by narcissistic parenting, and by the code of silence that makes one feel like a traitor for owning one's own reality. love ya, CS

    3. Hi CS! You have such a succinct way of writing---packing a lot of information (and learning) into a single paragraph. Yes, we must spend some time understanding abuse dynamics, narcissistic behaviors and relationships. We have to understand how dysfunction operates in the family system. And we also need to learn what "normal" means---how does a healthy family system operate? We need a consistent level of curiosity and enough stamina to follow through. And as you mentioned, it's important to identify the 'fall-out' every child in a narcissistic family will have to deal with at some point.

      We can change the intensity and frequency of our feelings and learn to stop reacting which is no small feat, yet infrequently honored for the difficult work it is. I would agree that we never get completely over childhood abuse (narcissistic abuse=objectification) but we do find brilliant ways to live with what happened to us.

      Love ya back...thanks for dropping by!

  3. Hi CZ! Good to hear from you. And this was a very timely post for me.

    Several days ago, my grandmother passed. Not the NM's mother, but my other grandmother (not that NM didn't find a way to wiggle into the drama). Due to some intense behavior surrounding the end of my grandmother's life, I finally had the opportunity to shift myself into letting go of the "don't talk about it" rule. I didn't spew gossip. I didn't share more than was appropriate. But I no longer hid reality. I no longer denied what I saw and played pretend. It was both the most freeing and the most terrifying thing I have ever done.
    The guilt I have felt in the past week has been horrendous. It has been so hard to stand up and be myself. But, no, no one burned me at the stake. And no one banned me from the crazy tribe. And, like you stated, I feel like I'm a better mom, wife, daughter and sister (though my sister would disagree). If I am FEELING better, despite the guilt, I must be DOING something better. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. (Thanks to Kara for reminding me of this. Repeatedly.)

    I loved this: "The instinct to be loyal, even to our own personal detriment, is typical of ACoNs." And a similar litmus test of "is this acceptable" has kept me sane. (I often ask myself if, in this day and age, if my husband treated me as my NSis and NM do, would be encourage me to "stick it out", and I think not. Family should AT LEAST, be able to treat you with the same respect we expect of strangers.

    P.S. I also participated in the research. I found it to be really quick and relatively easy (as long as you resist the urge to over think it!) and would encourage people to think about it.

    1. I'm so sorry to read about your grandmother's passing! Most of us feel a sense of disconnection, a deep loss, when a grandparent passes away. It can surprise us if we weren't close to him/her but people are social creatures. We attach, we bond, we love. Death of a loved one is emotionally difficult for family members. Lots of memories rise to the surface. Good and bad. <3

      It is so important to "honor our truth" (as I read someone write somewhere), to stand up for ourselves and what we know the truth to be. It doesn't sound like you were speaking openly to cause trouble or triangulate people to "your side". Just being honest about your thoughts and experiences can be liberating and I think this is how we build an "authentic self" having grown up in families where authenticity was punished (or stifled!). It's very hard to be honest when you're fully aware what might happen. And yet, remaining silent betrays ourselves. Of course, discretion is in order. And empathy.

      Guilt can be crippling, Jessie! That's when you need to turn to your friends and allow them to support you so you don't react to your own guilt. I think guilt is very hard to tolerate but we can build up our resilience to this painful emotion. Knowing you feel guilty and knowing it's the residual from having grown up in a narcissistic family, can offer some relief, too. It's like that old Memorex Commercial: Is this guilt legitimate or is it a fake?

      Legitimate guilt leads to remorse and healthier social relationships. Illegitimate guilt leads to self-contempt. It is not healthy. It is a control tactic. Both types of guilt are excruciating for people with a developed conscience but we must discern between them so we don't react. AND, in my experience (and I'm still learning), this takes time and practice. The more you allow yourself to be honest (without cruelty as CS mentioned) and the more self-aware you become, the less likely you'll suffer illegitimate guilt.

      Maybe you're as surprised as I've been after talking about something that "should not be mentioned." I expected a far worse reaction than what actually happened! We learn to be our own worst enemies, don't we?!!%#@$!

      Yes--"family should be able to treat you with the same respect we expect of strangers." It's the oddest thing about human beings who are more courteous to strangers in the waiting room than their own family!


    2. Hi TR, I too am sorry to hear of your grandmother's passing. I don't know if this was the case with you, but often, grandparents treat you better than your own parents do. My father's parents doted on us when we went to visit them. I always felt special around them. Especially my paternal grandfather, who clearly loved me. Perhaps it was a mere extension of the way my father was the center of their universe, but hey, expressed warmth and love is what it is. Who cares where it comes from if it feels real? love to you. CS

    3. Thank you for your kind words.
      My maternal grandmother -who passed seven years ago- was an ignoring narcissist (with a does of social avoidance). I remember my cousins being very upset when she passed feeling that she never chose a relationship with them. But -to NM's credit - she had always been very honest about her mother (not now, now she idolizes my grandmother) and so I had not expectations for my grandmother. I took what I could get and called it a day.
      With this grandmother that passed, it was a much different experience. She was the most maternal figure I had. But I'm not sure if I would call us close. I loved her dearly, and she I realized she taught me so many of the things that I value (gardening, cooking, sewing, how to be a giving person, speaking my mind). But I'm not sure if I considered her a support. She certainly didn't dote on me or involve herself in my life. I had to go to her. So, it was a very complicated process of grieving her.

      On guilt: my therapist said guilt has three purposes. To teach us we need to change our behavior. Or to show us we need to apologize. If it's not one of those two, then the guilt is coming from the outside and we need to change our perspective, i.e. look to why we are accepting guilty feelings from someone else and why that person is trying to make us feel guilty.

    4. Oh, that's great information about guilt! Thank you for sharing that. Guilt has been one of my worst enemies and/or best friends. It has been a crippling emotion actually---encouraging me to hold on to people who hurt me. It's been a long process, figuring out which relationships were safe and which weren't.

      Losing a maternal figure, a role model, might be especially hard because your mother wasn't that. We all need someone to care about us, to do the tasks that SUSTAIN life yet are diminished/demeaned in a narcissistic society. Those are the memories that bind us to our family---the bread grandma baked, the flowers great-grandma grew, the stories grandfather told us. These are the comfort memories, leaving us with strong feelings of safety and protection. We all need that in our lives and when someone provided a sense of continuity, a passing-down of values we hold dear to our own hearts, it IS a great loss. You may not have been especially intimate with her but the way she made you feel and her ability to draw out your "authenticity" meant she saw YOU. Being seen and being nurtured---well, there's nothing like it in this world.


    5. I have always assumed that guilt was a feeling that I produced organically. That if I FELT guilty, than I was guilty. I never processed if I SHOULD feel guilty.
      I'm not sure if the information about guilt will work for everyone, but for me to even begin to think that I feel guilty because someone else WANTED me to feel guilty was a big thing for me. And using the first two "questions" about guilt helped me sort that out a bit better. It helped me be more analytically and less emotional about guilt.

      Yes, even though my grandmother may have maintained a distance, I never believed she didn't care. And she healed gaps in my mother's mothering. She was my glimpse of normal (even if it was left of center of "normal").

      Thank you for the way you wrote about her passing. You wrote beautifully and it really meant something to me; helped me clarify my feelings on it all.

    6. Hi Jessie,
      I'm sorry about your grandmother's passing. xxTR

  4. Another thought-provoking post, CZ! It *is* liberating to be able to talk about the taboos under which one lived.

    BUT! I would move slowly and carefully. There is a lot of anger and violence stored in those sick group dynamics. It's all too easy to become the scapegoat, the "identified patient." Consider the vulnerable position of a 20-year-old who married into a close knit family thousands of miles from his or her home. Or a child dependent on the family, unable to understand the psychological games. Or an employee who needs the money working under a toxic boss,.

    In such circumstances, I would NOT go public right away. I would start telling my suspicions to a few people I think I could trust. Therapists are not always dependable, as other commenters have said. You have to see if they are trustworhy and capable of understanding. Online discussions and (even better) face-to-face groups are a huge benefit - one which I didn't have years ago.

    As one gains self-confidence and understanding, one can expand the circle of people to whom one can tell the truth. Finally, I guess, there is the stage that you (CZ) have reached.

    Even so, I think one has to consider - is it safe? will it hurt other people? will it help? is it worth the hassle?

    I tend not to talk too much about these things in the affected groups. I don't make a secret of my point of view, but I only discuss it if another person comes to me.

    1. "I would start telling my suspicions to a few people I think I could trust. "

      You are so right, Bart, and thanks for mentioning this. The smartest thing to do is select a core group of trusted friends who are educated in family systems and can listen without lecturing. The problem I think most of us face is that we stuff-and-stuff-and-stuff until we blow, spewing our repressed thoughts and feelings all over the local barrista (ha! My daughter worked at Starbucks and she loved talking with customers). We need to know our audience and be discretionary about where we confide our stories.

      Online groups are fantastic. I credit the kind people following my story (while in the middle of divorce) as keeping me sane, keeping me from descending into that dark pit of self-blame, self-loathing. Even then, we must be cautious about where we forge online connections. I still find relief and comfort in open discussions with online friends/peers. It is grounding for me and forcing myself to put my feelings into words has been the best way to stay out of trouble. My feelings (intuition) is a great source of information guiding my life; but, that's not enough to live a safe and healthy life. We must educate the mind, too--and learn about nasty people who see a kind-hearted person as a scapegoat.

      I don't know what stage I might have reached...I'm still not done with myself. ha! But I can say unequivocally and without chagrin that I am a very transparent woman today. This has not happened without tremendous effort on my part and lots and lots of help from my friends. Friends being the few people who still love you when you're cranky, when you aren't at your best behavior.

      I also appreciate your reminder: "is it safe? will it hurt other people? (that's an important question to ask!) will it help? is it worth the hassle?"

      All good questions to ask ourselves before breaking the No Talk Rule.



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