February 27, 2015

How Psychologists Failed Our Family: Did You Try Getting Help for your Kids?

Norman Rockwell

Considering my therapy-positive attitude, you might think someone hacked into my website and posted a hate blog about psychologists. No, it's me. With a family story. And despite the outcome, I'm therapy-positive.

At the time this story took place, I didn't know anything about narcissism and even though I'd gone to therapy myself, no counselor ever questioned the state of my marriage (which I thought was special); or questioned my Holy Optimism (which I thought was healthy); or my belief in eternal marriage (which I thought was a joint commitment).

So even at the risk of sounding hypocritical, it feels important to write about an experience narcissistic families may have experienced, too. Like recognizing your daughter is in trouble and talking it over with your spouse, twisting his arm until he agrees to let you call a therapist and then being told by the therapist that your husband was simply AMAZING. The most amazing specimen of manhood a family could ever wish for and if anyone was having problems with Captain America, they must have a chemical imbalance in their brain.

After the psychologist's failure to accurately diagnose the pathology afoot in our family, my daughter gave up on therapy and her family, too. She left high school and moved out at seventeen. She lives with me now and we have, post-divorce, become a force, to contend with. Life is good. Life is rich with blessings. Everything unfolds exactly as it should.

Before explaining how psychologists failed our family, you must know it's also true that good therapy made our lives better. Good therapy was and continues to be invaluable. Bad therapy deteriorated family relationships. Bad therapy is worse than none at all. My prior positive experience with therapy is what prompted me to hand over my daughter without questioning the therapist's qualifications, which I wouldn't have known how to do much less felt qualified to demand. This was the state of my thinking back then, which is probably reflective of most parents who trust professionals to help their children, to help their family, to know things they're supposed to know because we don't.

Educating Therapists about Pathology

I've been listening to Dr. Craig Childress explain attachment-based "parental alienation". Even if my family wasn't dealing with parental alienation per se, his descriptions of the narcissist/borderline pathology have been illuminating---as in blinding flashes of "duh". It's pretty clear that my effectiveness as a mother was being undermined throughout our marriage, despite Captain America punishing our kids for disrespecting me, a narcissistic projection. He disrespected me and punished our kids for his "sins". It was confusing to watch a man who mocked my mothering, spank his kids for having mirror neurons.

Other haunting situations have been clarified (haunting being a euphemism for self-blame). One of those situations was failing to get proper help for a troubled daughter. In the article below, Dr. Childress chastises the psychological community for not recognizing the narcissist/borderline personality driving the family system. Considering the trust parents invest in psychologists, his criticisms need be taken to heart.
"The first step to securing mental health as an ally is to clear the field of professional incompetence, so that ONLY professionally knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals treat this “special population” of children and families." ~Stark Reality by Dr. Craig Childress
The "special population" he is referring to are children with clinical signs of attachment-based parental alienation. Expanding from his statement, I think any family with a narcissist/borderline personality parent is a "special population" that should be diagnosed and treated. That means psychologists must be up to date with current literature on narcissist/borderline personalities. You can't diagnose it if you can't see it.

To reiterate, I'm applying pathogenic parenting descriptions to my family even though our adult children were not diagnosed with clinical symptoms of parental alienation. They were adults when we divorced, capable of disagreeing with their father's behavior and distancing themselves while adjusting to an unforeseen reality. If my children were alienated in any way, it was not my doing---not during the divorce and certainly not while we were married! The narcissist/borderline parent may believe they're being alienated by a malicious ex, and they might convince people they're being bad-mouthed to the kids, but that's a paranoid perception. There are justifiable reasons why a child might distance themselves. A child's rejection of a parent is only attachment-based parental alienation when:
"A clinical assessment of the parenting behavior of the rejected parent provides no evidence for severely dysfunctional parenting (such as chronic parental substance abuse, parental violence, or parental sexual abuse of the child) that would account for the child’s complete rejection of the parent." ~Dr. Craig Childress
I was inspired to write out this story when Dr. Childress suggested narcissist/borderline parents had been alienating their children before the divorce. Now why alienation-throughout-the-marriage came as a shock to me is another world wonder. I've been studying NPD for ten years. It only makes sense that a narcissistic parent would interfere with normal bonding, would affect the way children felt about themselves and how they perceived the other parent. Those looks of contempt on the narcissist's face? Kids see them, too. Those insults thrown at the other parent? Kids hear them, too. Narcissistic/borderline parents influence children to see the other parent as inferior, incompetent, or even irrelevant. I think that's fair to say. That triangulation occurs in the family is no surprise. That the narcissistic/borderline parent devalues the other parent is no surprise. That the narcissist/borderline parent convinces his/her children that their mother/father deserved to be punished, ought be no surprise, either. This explains a lot about our family dynamics even though our children did not meet the requirements for attachment-based parental alienation. Now my nephew who moved in with me when he was five? That's another story worth writing about! Thank you God bless you Dr. Childress.


My daughter adored her father. She wanted to be like her father. He was her great protector. She idealized him in such an over-the-top way that her friends confronted her. They knew she couldn't talk to him without bursting into tears. "You adore your father who makes you cry whenever you talk to him?" they'd ask. And she'd say, "Fuck you."

I was aware our family had problems long before the divorce. Yes, it's ridiculous I didn't grasp the severity of those problems, but I was a stay-at-home-mom, not a psychologist. It wasn't my job to spot pathology. My job was noticing my children were struggling and finding appropriate treatment for them. The therapist's job was understanding family systems, child development, and pathology. It wasn't my job to discern between dysfunctional families (which I thought we were) and pathological families. Dysfunctional meaning: treatable, curable, a little John Bradshaw and merry Christmases forever. Pathological meaning: all hell breaks loose; trauma is inevitable; harm is inevitable.

Had I known there were even a remote chance my husband had a narcissistic personality, I'd have reserved a lifeboat just in case with three woolen jackets, extra cash, and donuts just in case. And binoculars. Then the kids and I could gaze at the stars while drifting safely to shore. Instead, we almost went down with the ship while Captain America rowed away in his lifeboat built for two.

The Dreadful Day our Family Went to Therapy 

"Ahhhh...what a nice Daddy!"
Cognitive dissonance is sitting in therapy and watching your husband profess his love for a daughter who cries every time he talks to her. And his wife? Oh yes, he loved his wife-she-was-a-peach even if she saw problems where there weren't any. He was committed to his family and wanted nothing but the best for everyone, he said. His role demanded huge sacrifices but he harbored no resentments, he said. He said he would prioritize extra time for his daughter since she didn't recognize her inner worth and beauty the way he did. By the time his audition was over, there wasn't a dry eye in the room and that, my friends, includes the therapist.

I guess I'm a little angry we missed a window-of-opportunity because it wasn't easy convincing my daughter a therapist could help. And it sure-as-hell wasn't easy convincing my husband to attend a therapy session with his family. How that happened, go figure. It still shocks me. I suppose he was confident he could bamboozle the psychologist while discrediting me for suggesting our daughter was depressed. He, by comparison, wasn't judgmental like his overly protective wife. He, by comparison, saw authenticity and intelligence, not mental illness. He almost had me believing her behavior was nothing worse than a teenage rebellion and right on cue, I felt pangs of guilt for even thinking she had a problem. In my heart though, there was valid cause for concern and even if her problems were my fault, dear counselor, Please Help Her. That the Captain's daughter needed psychological treatment was of less concern to him than his image as a father. That's a mean judgment on my part, but hey---I'm not above making judgments today, or being mean.
"A narcissistic injury to the parent may result from the realization that his/her child has the profile of behavioral disturbances...Clinicians find that a narcissistic parent often tends to report less problems with their child in order to minimize their own narcissistic injury." ~article link
To reiterate: Narcissistic parents report fewer problems in their children. There are many reasons for that, one of them being they aren't even aware of a child's behavioral changes. Plus, there's that pesky image thing again. Narcissistic parents fear children's problems reflect poorly on them.

A story about a narcissistic mother was told to me by a dear friend who had hurt herself as a young girl after jumping off a roof and breaking both her feet. She crawled an entire summer before standing upright again. What did her mother do? She punished my friend for wailing. She refused to take her to a hospital because doctors would say she was a bad mother for not protecting her daughter. I know. Boggles the mind, doesn't it? P.S. Surgery corrected the broken bones in my friend's feet once she had medical coverage through her marriage. Fifteen years later.

We Want to Believe Their Shtick

Norman Rockwell
When my husband was painting his Rockwellian portrait in the therapy session, I wanted to believe him. You know how it is. We want to believe that what they say is what they'll do. That the benevolent father isn't just a Bible story, he's a man. He's in your bed. He's seated at the head of the table. He's working hard because he loves his family. Not until a crisis are we able to accept cumulative evidence proving they won't, or can't, embody the person they claim to be.

It's not easy letting a narcissistic partner be just as awful as they really are.

The treating child psychologist not only missed the Cluster B presentation sitting in in her office, she also seemed to miss devaluation of the mother and unhealthy idealization of the father. She missed the cognitive dissonance when my daughter said, "My Dad is the most amazing man in the world. I can't talk to him without crying." That alone should have led to deeper inquiry. I think a therapist trained in recognizing narcissist/borderline personalities would have intervened rather than insisting family dynamics had nothing to do with my daughter's distress. (!) She suggested putting my daughter on medication and added, "Wouldn't every girl dream of having a father like that!"

I was proud he was my husband. Then not understanding why, cried all the way home. Partners of narcissists do a lot of crying without understanding why.

*     *     *
A brief pause in this story to tap my forehead and repeat: "I unconditionally love myself for being naive; and unconditionally forgive myself for failing to get the help our family needed."

*     *     *

In retrospect, I wasn't very articulate or knowledgeable about psychology. I couldn't explain my feelings and would never have described my partner as abusive! I was overwhelmed with concern for our children who were my responsibility in a traditionally constructed marriage. I was deferential to my spouse which was part of the problem too, reinforcing the lofty things he said without confronting his fabrications. The narcissistic family's dilemma is that confrontation leads to argumentation; we back away, too tired to tangle, preserving energy for bigger battles. Unfortunately, when narcissism is rewarded, it's reinforced. When no one confronted his performance in the therapy session and the therapist applauded his amazing fathering, his narcissism was rewarded. The rest of his family was pushed deeper into self-doubt and denial.

I wanted to believe my husband and the kids wanted to believe him but nobody wanted to believe him as much as himself. Eventually, the family man shtick was too hard to maintain. It isn't easy being a family man if you can't put other people's welfare ahead of your own, if you can't see your wife as your equal, if you can't embrace all those soft values connecting human beings to one another.

And what did my daughter tell the therapist about me, you might ask? She said I was nurturing, funny, selfless, she kinda loved me like a pet. I'm exaggerating yea, but the years since my divorce have allowed us to get to know one another in ways that wouldn't have been possible in our narcissistic family. My time and attention was always divided between the Captain and his competition children.

P.S. I have taken therapists' advice to heart--even when it made me uncomfortable. Sometimes it felt like they were repeating stereotypical responses based on my role as a stay-at-home-mother but even then, no suggestion was ignored. I've also spent a lot of time in Alanon-for-parents learning how to stay connected to my children while respecting their autonomy. Were you wondering if Captain America went to parenting classes with me? Nah, of course not. He didn't need 'em. Wouldn't every child dream of having a father like that?



Dr. Childress's blog

A List of Articles by Dr. Craig Childress

Childress. Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting

Childress. Video lecture: Treatment of Attachment-based "parental alienation" (1:47:08)

Childress. Video lecture: Parental alienation: an attachment-based model (1:46:03)


  1. Many thoughts come up when reading your article today, CZBZ.

    In my histories, the genders were reversed. The mother was the one who had NPD, and the father was the one who was de-valued. In my family, I was at ground zero, close to both parents, confused about what the reality was.

    Your story helps me understand how a father could have NPD. I can understand intellectually that men can have NPD, but emotionally it doesn't click with me. Why? I think because I'm not vulnerable. I see right away when a man is narcissistic, it disgust or bores me, and I have little to do with him. When it's a woman on the other hand, **something** overrides that healthy response and I'm vulnerable.

    The other train of thought your post started was about therapists. I've grown skeptical about their competence in relation to NPD and BPD. I spent time around several during the high drama in the 70s, and then occasionally in following years, when family members were having problems. Most of then missed the diagnosis completely. A few joined in the dramas as participants!

    The actual diagnoses came in passing - once at a cocktail party with a guest who happened to be a therapist.

    I ask myself, do I blame the therapists for not recognizing the BPD and NPD?

    I really wish they would have gotten it. It would have saved years of confusion and suffering. But I don't think I blame them. It's not about them - they too are just bystanders in a tragic conflict.

    - During the 70s when I most needed help, BPD and NPD were not widely known. I don't recall even hearing the terms until the last 10 years. I'm guessing the therapists were also struggling to make sense of these strange behaviors.

    - Even though they didn't get the BPD/NPD part, most were well-meaning and helped in other ways.

    - People with BPD/NPD are very good at conning people, playing the role of victim, etc. Don't we know! Therapists, like everybody else, are vulnerable.

    Thanks for the article and for what you do, CZBZ.

    1. BPD and NPD were not well-known, you are so right! In the 70's, people believed everyone could be cured with a "little love from their friends and family." Psychologists on daytime talk shows, religious counselors, school teachers, everyone was convinced that loving people built self-esteem; the ails of the world could be healed with "unconditional love."

      What was the quote floating around college campuses back then? "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Yes, we thought loving someone UNCONDITIONALLY would resolve all relationship problems. I was part of that flower-child era, too! (married in 1972). Unfortunately, what we didn't learn with 1970's pop-psychology was how to set boundaries, how to protect ourselves from manipulation, how to love conditionally, when to give up. ha! I can't ever get too down on myself. All I have to do is put on some 1960-70's films and listen to the music.

      Another important thing to remember is that once you are IN, it's very hard to get OUT. We keep doing what has worked in other relationships and instead of fixing problems, everything stays the same. By the end of my marriage, my ex was talking about the same issues we were talking about in 1970. What had bonded us as a couple, eventually drove us apart. Not because I lost empathy for him (I still felt compassion for his childhood experiences) but because he couldn't change. This is something people cannot know in advance. This could be a behavior psychologists could talk to partners about: is your partner able to integrate change? How has he or she changed over the years?

      I'm not suggesting therapists tell a client their partner is a narcissist and they should go No Contact as soon as possible. My dream session would be talking about my marriage and then being told that childhood issues might remain troublesome into older age and sometimes partners would get worse, not better. I wouldn't even mind if a therapist suggested examining "my" narcissistic traits. The key would be letting a client know that there was always the possibility a partner might not be able to resolve childhood issues.But learning about NPD was never a witch-hunt for me. It's like a road map for understanding the terrain. It has helped me treat narcissistic people with deeper kindness and empathy. The NPD disorder is not and never has been, a pejorative to justify hurting people.

      We know so much more today about healthy psychology, about mental health. People are more inclined to seek therapy than they were in 1970. So that's good. What needs to happen now is educating psychologists about Cluster B presentations because they aren't that easy to spot if the cluster B is highly intelligent and knows how to manipulate people's impressions. Then the therapist can treat the family in a more effective manner than assuming both parents are capable of change.

      I kinda went off there...but this recent deep-dive into parental alienation has sparked my curiosity! What would I have preferred happen when our family went to therapy?


    2. "By the end of my marriage, my ex was talking about the same issues we were talking about in 1970."

      I think that a key indicator of a good relationship is that problems get resolved. When I stumbled into a good relationship, I had the joyous realization that *things can change*. Previously I had assumed that relationships were doomed to frustration and stalemate.

      "What would I have preferred happen when our family went to therapy?"

      Wow, what a good thought experiment!

      I would have appreciated straight talk. In my case it would have been, "Don't keep trying to fix an impossible situation. Here are ways you can disengage gracefully."

      Best of all would have been if NPD/BPD problem were common knowledge. My friends and family would have reminded me of the telltale signs when I was tempted. After the inevitable happened, I could get good advice about dealing with the drama and confusion.

      Really, it's not that complicated at the beginning is it? There are definite telltale signs and the solutions are simple (distance, boundaries, etc.). It's only after you're in a bad relationship do things get complicated. As a society we've become aware of the dangers of smoking and drinking, why can't we do the same about BPD and NPD? A little common sense would go a long way.

      Even after being involved in a BPD/NPD relationship, I think things could be a lot simpler than they are now. Most of us don't need heavy duty counseling. Support groups (perhaps with a trained facilitator or therapist) would be more appropriate. Cheaper and more fun, too!

    3. "Even after being involved in a BPD/NPD relationship, I think things could be a lot simpler than they are now. Most of us don't need heavy duty counseling. Support groups (perhaps with a trained facilitator or therapist) would be more appropriate. Cheaper and more fun, too!"

      Hi Bart! I wanted to comment on your comment because it took me by surprise at the time. I have always been drawn to support groups as an integral part of healing---whether it was support for mental illness, for people who've moved a lot, for family members dealing with addictions, etc. etc. etc. So setting up an online forum was a natural fit and the most important qualifier for running a group is "attunement". At least in my style of managing a forum. Credentials are great, research articles are important, trained therapists are valuable; however, however, and however: deep and permanent healing relies on making connections to other people. This spiritual/emotional connection to another human being (or group) is essential to healing the trauma most people have experienced because of a pathological relationship. If the forum/group is too dry, if there are no juices en-living people and reassuring them of their love-ability, well---people might as well be sitting in a lecture hall listening to Otto Kernberg. Lectures never heal anyone. Connections do.

      I am currently writing a new post about this topic after listening to short-sighted commentary about the DANGERS of online groups. ha! It's so easy to scare scared people, isn't it?

      So thanks for mentioning the VITAL importance of support groups.


    4. I wish I could highlight sentences in your comments, CZ, and in those of others here. The highlighter pen messes up the computer screen though ;-)

      I'd like to expand on one of your thoughts:

      "deep and permanent healing relies on making connections to other people. This spiritual/emotional connection to another human being (or group) is essential to healing..."

      Wow, there's a lot here. This approach rightly takes the focus away from the person with NPD/BPD, and puts it on improving the *health* of the other. I suspect many of us who got involved with NPD/BPDers need practice in healthy relationships - being selective, developing appropriate boundaries, trusting ourselves, etc. Good groups can help us with these skills in many ways. Once one has experienced good communication, one is no longer tempted by "junk food" relationships (dramatic but no real substance).

      Focusing on the individual with BPD/NPD is a no-win path. Yeah, we've got to bitch and tell our war stories. That's part of the healing process. But one doesn't want to get stuck there - there's no future in it. Those individuals can never be the people that we dreamed them to be. They are sad and weak and probably won't get much better. We need to accept that, let them go and move on.

      We, on the other hand, have hopeful futures. We can learn to have very good relationships (better than "normal" people in my opinion). We have experienced the dark side of relationships, and have become deeper and more nuanced as a result. Contradictions in human behavior don't phase us.

      Groups are ideal because they are more natural than one-on-one relationships with therapists. We're going to spend the rest of our lives in groups, so we might as well get good at it.

      Just the experience of being around a healthy group is healing. I noticed this in the sustainability groups I've been involved with. We avoid talking about deep personal problems (we're not set up for that), but just being accepted and having good conversations makes a difference.

  2. "It was confusing to watch a man who mocked my mothering, spank his kids for having mirror neurons." Is there any more droll sentence anywhere? "Attachment based parental alienation." Amazing how much precision is required to comprehend exactly what helps in therapy and what does not. I remain convinced that many therapists are under qualified in this area; many don't know nearly enough about family dynamics that also involve personality disorders, and the many differentials and variables that form the bad patterns. Fascinating article CZ, and yes, thanks for what you do. love CS

    1. Ha! Yea, well that's the joy of writing. You never know what'll show up on the page.

      This approach by Dr. Childress will hopefully eliminate false allegations of parental alienation. I've been stunned by the father's rights movement (in particular) who seem to believe they can disrespect the child's mother, haul the kid to various girlfriend's homes, stop paying support, and then blame their wife if the kid doesn't trust him. I know there are "alienating" mothers too just in case someone feels the need to inform me. ;-P

      People didn't really fight over their children when I was younger. That was prior to no-fault divorce and I think men are more invested in actual parenting today. I think in history the professor said men wanted the kids when they were hired hands (assets) but custody went to the mother when kids were financial responsibilities, not assets. What's happening today is heart-breaking and I hope "attachment-based parental alienation" will unify the psychological community and protect "our" children.

      I am grateful you read this long article (and to all my readers). I realized when composing this story that I write to make sense of my life. If someone else finds something of value, especially if they see themselves in my story, then that's wonderful. But really and truly, writing allows me to accept the past and look forward to the future because finally, Life Makes Sense.

      p.s. I asked my daughter's permission to publish this article. She's working through another layer of grief by talking about her adoration for her father. "Idealization" of the narcissistic parent is a way to preserve the child's relationship with that parent. The sadness underlying idealization may take years to uncover and process.

      Love ya,

  3. I think the reason a lot of therapists don't see it is because they struggle with it themselves. I've met so many people who went into counseling because they were struggling themselves. However, the good counselors are willing to learn. I didn't touch on my parental problems with my first two counselors, except very superficially. The second one I put more than a toe in but heard back the usual, "She's doing the best she's able." No. Actually, she isn't. Her physicians have told her she needs counseling, the physicians she idolized, and she dabbled in it to say that she tried. She never put in any work. It wasn't until my third counselor that I finally dove into the deep end, but he was already working with my sister. I knew going in I would be believed. It made a huge difference. We were able to start work without preamble. He would have liked to have seen my completely independent. I'm still financially dependent, but I'm emotionally independent. Of the two, my counselor considered the latter the more important and was pleased with my progress. I liked your reminder to yourself, in the middle there. It's so easy to beat ourselves up over what we didn't know.

    1. Hi Judy!

      We're lucky in that we experienced therapy in the USA and therapy in France while we lived there. My son went to a French psychologist for three years since he had problems adjusting to a foreign environment. My nephew went to therapy for years, being misdiagnosed by a psychiatrist in California, with bipolar disorder. I said at the time, "good gosh---I wish the kid had a mood!" But still, he was put on heavy medications throughout high school. Finally, with group effort from our family (I started digging into the DSM), we had him tested again and lo and behold, he had Aspergers. Not bi-polar. We took him completely off medications and the kid started waking up to life and loving life. The Aspergers diagnosis made sense and at that point, his therapist had a proper diagnosis and was more productive working with my nephew.

      We have dealt with narcissistic therapists too (one I met with and promptly pulled my nephew out of therapy) who needed more time healing before letting her loose on the public. She was eventually "let go" from the clinic so my perceptions were spot on. I didn't have that kind of confidence when my daughter went to therapy or I'd have challenged the therapist. That is the power of information---I AM most definitely, a more effective parent as a result of self-education.

      Oh, one of my face-to-face friends lost her husband to a marriage counselor. The counselor left her husband to be with him. ha! O yea baby---our world is populated with narcissistic people!

      The thing about narcissistic parents (wherever they are on the continuum!) is that they don't invest their lives in "working through their shite." Ya know? They dabble in this or that and make half-hearted attempts to go to therapy. When the work gets tough and the therapist gets too close to the bone, they split. I mean that in more ways than one. ;-P

      The rest of the family may spend their entire lives working through the aftermath of their awful parenting. At least we find good company by the relationships we're able to create, even in crisis. At least we find a way to make our work meaningful!


  4. Hi CZ,
    I think it was very progressive and insightful and courageous to get help for your family. That is not an easy thing to do even today. I think we still tend to cling to the belief of handling problems on our own.

    I agree with many statements above about the evolution and inherent flaws of psychology (human error). Much progress as been made on family therapy yet, as a person reading about it now and going to therapy, I feel there is a disconnect in what happens 'inside' an intact dysfunctional family and the therapeutic help received. I am grateful for you sharing Childress's information for I'm going to read further and watch the videos.
    As I read your story I gained more clarity in my own experiences. My therapist had pointed out to me that my mother could also be borderline and from what I read here about the NPD/BPD combination (and in the other post) this is accurate in what happened to my father. He was blamed and criticized and during my childhood I sided with my mother (even though I cried after my interactions with her). Today, I feel I have a different outlook on the family (due to reading about family systems here and in books) and have maybe come to a clearer understanding on the dynamics between my parents. My mother puts on the 'victim' and 'savior' role, she can play two hats very well. Even so when I shared my holiday interaction with my mother, my therapist thought that it was a sign my mother was trying to 'change'. This was not my belief nor my DH's belief (as I value my DH's outside perspective). After not saying a word to me or DH during the visit, she gives me a gift (after 20 years) that didn't look a gift and it ended up being a hodge lodge of clothing that was three sizes off and DH's comment "it looks like she threw in some stuff she had gotten from someone else". I am considering what the therapist said and only time will tell, but in the meantime, I'll continue to keep my triggers at bay with self-protection. There is a lot of progress made in the past decades, to where my therapist could use words like borderline and narcissism but still a disconnect when a 'show' is put on for others (gift = change). That is why I appreciate your writing and other bloggers.


    1. Hello dear TR. Your comments are always rich with insight and appreciation for mutual collaboration...just wanted to say that. :-) It's a natural tendency to look back on our past behavior and criticize ourselves. We see the flaws, the errors, the stupid thinking, the 'naiveté'. If we're writing about how dumb we were and clueless (chumps), an anonymous friend somewhere will reply, "Hindsight is always 20/20" and thank God they snap us out of a dangerous process pathologizing ourselves. Looking for our strengths, the courageous things we did that invited outside criticism and even blame, restores our self-confidence. It stops the self-blaming. Insisting my children and our family needed therapy was yes, a very courageous thing to do. Maybe not so much today now that therapy has replaced (to a large degree) religious counseling. Perhaps my naiveté was a strength too because it never occurred to me that my spouse might feel threatened by our family's "imperfection." I try to go back and re-member my feelings at the time. What I remember is thinking about the social costs of admitting our family needed help and it was a "fleeting consciousness" compared to the compelling drive to do the right thing for our kids. In other words. my discomfort was-and-is, less important than my children's overall well-being.

      My daughter is in therapy at this time and her experience has been very different from the early nineties when "pathology" wasn't even mentioned or perhaps understood by individual counselors. I sense that there's greater focus on the family system and how individuals react-to/engage-in the system. This removes the need to pinpoint the "blame" potentially trapping individuals in victimization; or the compulsion to diagnose non-pathological family members with 'disorders' when in fact, it's the system.

      I know that last statement to be true because of the remarkable changes in people's lives when they learn about/separate from the narcissistic family member. It's like they're suddenly freed from self-blame, self-loathing, from the destructive impact of narcissistic deception and manipulation. The growth can be phenomenal if family members are able to trust other people, to see other people as sources of comfort--not pain. (I will write more about that in my next blog post, perhaps next week).

      (comment continued)

    2. It's interesting to me that your therapist has connected BPD with NPD (seeing both disorders in the same person). I think this is very very important for people like ourselves. We see the arrogance and fantasy of the NPD; at other times, we see needy BPD behaviors. If we stick to an either/or diagnosis, we miss a deeper understanding of our own, and other people's experience. The cognitive dissonance between the arrogant grandiose narcissist with the out-of-control raging borderline makes us DOUBT ourselves. I think this can be summed up in people's stories about "seeing the narcissist's fragile, wounded inner child." Maybe this is another avenue we should explore---how the NPD/BPD parent/person leads to greater self-doubt in family members. Why we might cling to the idea that there's a nice person really deep, deep down inside and we can coax them out of hiding if we ourselves become less-threatening. Yea. This way of thinking is dangerous.

      One last thought about your mother 'trying to change' and this may sound a bit jaded. It's not. I am able to maintain a few narcissistic relationships that are important to me (for numerous reasons) but that's only because I understand narcissistic deficits. One of those deficits is the ability to "give" without manipulation. When a gift is given, it's done "in the spirit of getting" and that is that and there's no alternative interpretation that will serve the relationship well. As long as my expectations are in sync with the narcissist's deficits, we are both served well. And maybe I'm just too nice (been told that 100's of times since taking my heart online), but if that's the best a N can do at that point, then Yaya. Maybe if they behave the way they "should" enough times, they may come to realize the value of mutuality. As long as "we" recognize they are making an effort without building castles-in-the-sky, the relationship can be sustainable.

      Love to you and some hugs, too!

    3. Hi CZ,
      My apology for a late reply. I came down with a really bad cold and then a bout of depression followed.

      "In other words. my discomfort was-and-is, less important than my children's overall well-being." That is EXACTLY it. I don't know of mothers (okay, really my mother) who behave with this value in mind. That is what effective parenting is about. There are times when stuff comes up in parenting that creates discomfort, triggers uncomfortable emotions but the welfare of the child comes first. Even today (understanding how generational this is) some mothers (friends) don't feel comfortable talking to their children about what is happening with their bodies as they change. I can understand that to a certain extent (and maybe I need to stretch my empathy here b/c of my own bad experiences) when I went through puberty I was really alone and I had no idea what was happening. I went through puberty literally the semester before the 'sex' education class and had some really humiliating experiences in school from it. It was someone else who took me to the store and got me a bra and it was someone else who went to my mother and said "your daughter has trouble seeing, I think she needs glasses" (it wasn't a teacher). All of this came at a price with other girls making fun of me in gym class and I didn't understand it. I'm not writing this for sympathy, only to illustrate how completely NON narcissistic approach to parenting you have. It is a comfort to know and see that empathetic parenting happens.

      I'll make a mother comment regarding my mother.


    4. I was really surprised with my therapist's comment about borderline, for I hadn't mentioned narcissism or any psychology term to her. I am curious to read more about it and am grateful you listed some resources. I find what you wrote in this comment about DOUBT with an NPD/BPD parent is insightful and I want to explore. I think sometimes I feel a lot of doubt about what I'm feeling. That I question stuff a lot. I don't know if it is normal or not or narcissistic or mean. I can see so much of it in my thoughts and even how I communicate with others.

      I appreciate your thoughts on the gift giving, b/c it was shocking. Understanding how they view gift giving helps, I agree. It is a quid pro quo mentality attached. You are right "As long as my expectations are in sync with the narcissist's deficits, we are both served well." That is something I recently learned (practiced) is that if our needs our aligned then we are both served. I've had to practice this more and more. I think what really hindered me was I avoiding understanding what my own boundaries are/were when it comes to any social interactions. I still struggle and it is a learning process. I think knowing this has helped change how I interact and react to the situation.

      I enjoy our discussions, I always look at recovery with new eyes after it.

      Hugs, TR

    5. I don't suppose a narcissistic mother would ever say her discomfort was less important than her child's welfare. Well, in truth--she might say something like that but she wouldn't act in accord with her words. It's obvious to me that narcissistic mothers put themselves first, protect their egos first...and i don't think they realize what they're doing! It's part of the Parentification-Theory, suggesting narcissistic parents expect/demand their children take care of them. ACoNs learn to put Mom or Dad's "feelings" ahead of their own because if Mom-and-Dad aren't happy, ain't nobody happy!

      I had never thought about "body changes" in context of narcissistic parenting but you're right. Educating our children about those changes is a parental responsibility that usually makes us "uncomfortable" to some degree. Rather than working through our discomfort or even expressing feelings to the child, the narcissistic parent abdicates his/her responsibility and lets the child suffer the consequences. There's a serious lack of empathy for a daughter when she isn't informed about physical maturation. I'm really sorry you felt humiliated by your "ignorance" which was not your fault and should have been prioritized by your mother (or another adult female).

      It reminds me of one of my friends whose mother was (imo) narcissistic. She had never been told about sex and wasn't clear about how that whole thing took place (this was in the 60's, long before pornography educated our kids YIKES). anyway, she fell asleep in her boyfriend's car and was terrified she might get pregnant. I remember thinking at the time, "Didn't your mother tell you that sleeping together was completely different than having SEX?" I think empathic mothers can imagine how their daughter would feel and would do anything to save her the humiliation of not understanding the basics of maturation and sex.

      I will share with you also that my daughter's therapist has reminded her many times, that what my daughter thinks is "normal" for mothers, isn't always. Evidently, pathological mothering is being discussed in therapeutic circles which is important I think. It would be awful if daughters of narcissistic mothers believed all women/mothers were equally heartless and critical. It also means my daughter gives me giant hugs and kisses after every therapy session. ;-)

    6. "The cognitive dissonance between the arrogant grandiose narcissist with the out-of-control raging borderline makes us DOUBT ourselves. I think this can be summed up in people's stories about "seeing the narcissist's fragile, wounded inner child." "

      Is this the comment you're referring to, TR? I haven't explored this idea before. It popped up in my reply to you and it deserves further exploration. My father is quite narcissistic but he's an overt narcissist and doesn't "decompensate" to a BPD fragility. Maybe he isn't pathological, that could be since he has mellowed as he's aged.

      I've read many references to the "inner fragile core" of a narcissist and this is what made me think of BPD. Plus, there are new articles about NPD and BPD being two sides of the same coin which peaks my curiosity. I need to dig into this literature and see how psychologists are understanding this.

      Narcissists can appear to be arrogant but also clingy and dependent. We've described this as "decompensation" on our blogs and forums---when ego defenses break down. I don't know if there's a more reliable clinical explanation and can't yet comment further about the NPD/BPD connection. I would appreciate anyone's input on that, including links to articles about the NPD/BPD connection.

      What I can talk about is our reaction to the "fragile and wounded inner child". I don't think narcissists are pretending. I believe they're truly suffering when they plead for people's help. The problem is that we interpret their behavior as "humility" and "remorse" but humility and remorse lead to changed behavior---not increased defenses, resentment and aggression! So what ARE we seeing when they appear to be fragile? Good question!

      My father's arrogance never left me uncertain about his arrogance, if you get my drift. My ex's arrogance was coupled with uncertainty and neediness which caught me off-guard and drew me closer. It caused me great uncertainty and doubt because I believed that deep down inside, he wanted to be helped. It's like the "lure" of the borderline beckoning us closer and yet intimacy feels threatening so we're pushed away. You start to lose faith in your ability to "know" someone, your ability to discern and make appropriate judgments! I can only imagine how confusing (and entrapping) this must be for a child!


    7. Your first paragraph reminded me of a saying that my IL's and some friends use - "Happy Wife, Happy Life". Ugh, when asked for clarification, it boiled done to a mother's feelings are the most important in maintaining harmony in the family.

      I think I also started to have a skewed view of mothers. I don't think it went too far b/c I saw other mothers (friends' mothers) not behave like my mother. Sometimes, it was deceiving - mine mother was more overt while others covert. Today, I see a mother's kindness and have met more 'normal' people which didn't go too far (mothers on the blogosphere) :)

      I can understand the discomfort, not everyone is comfortable talking about the body and its changes. Empathetic mothers who still find it uncomfortable are able to take a stance of health and hygiene. That was a terrifying experience to think you are pregnant after only sleeping! Oh man.

    8. Yeah, that is the part of the comment I was referring to.
      I am curious too of NPD/BPD two sides of the same coin. When you say Ns can appear to be arrogant but also clingy and dependent. There were times my mother was like this. I am trying to understand decompensation and let me know if I misuse it. There were times when my mother would start crying and saying "You hurt us, do you know what you have done." It happened without sense to me (as it didn't follow an argument) and I was so confused b/c I kept thinking that I was causing the distress in my mother. The doubt was in my own behaviors when I was living at home. I kept thinking that every action was going to create harm and hurt someone. Then, she had rage, the rage was such a contrast to her crying I can see why I have had to work on so much doubt before I could change my own behaviors. That is such a great question, I wasn't sure what was happening when she was crying and seemed hurt. I don't know if she ever pleaded for my help, it was more that I wasn't helping the situation by how I was behaving. And that she was struggling and I didn't really understand the depths of her suffering. Any help never helped.

      I can imagine how the uncertainty caught you off-guard. It did for me. It really is believable (and it could be real) that I can see how it lures one in. And then I wanted to help and tried to help in other ways (do more stuff around the house). Your whole last paragraph I can relate to. I think as children or as an adult, we scrambled to find ways to build the relationship and then a 180 happens and it hits us from behind. It is crazy making. I can relate to much of what you say about your ex.


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