I've been listening to stories and studying narcissism since 2002. No secrets to sell; but lots to share about the narcissists I love and those I learned not to. All the contents of the Blog, constitute the opinion of the Author about narcisism
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 trumpismtook 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) CZ
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).
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.
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.
This page has been created to host commentary about Donald Trump, our narcissist-in-chief. You're free to cheer or complain about the most embarrassing president in US history. IMO
My blog is classified as Safe for Work. If language is over-the-top, comments will be deleted. Blogger has rules and I like Blogger. It's free and easy and they don't get enough appreciation for their service.
So tell me: what do you think about Trump? Has he done anything that bothers you? Scares you? Have you found yourself eating comfort foods? If so, share chocolate cake recipes please.
In full disclosure: I believe 45 is a narcissist; however, I am open to hearing what other people think about trump's narcissism. Even people who don't see Red Flags in his behavior.
FACT: not everyone agrees 45 is a narcissist.
We can still talk to one another by agreeing to disagree.
FACT: My opinion is decidedly resistant to arguments suggesting 45 is not a narcissist.
Don't try to convert me (nor I you) and we'll get along fine.
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Some people have not been able to post comments without setting up a google account. This blog is set up to accept anonymous comments so let me know if you can't post. Email me or leave a message on the forum: How 'bout we stop talking politics for awhile?
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How To Post COMMENTS
Click the comments link at the bottom of this article to open a window for writing messages.
The comment window is really tiny. Click hash lines on the right-side of the comment box and drag the space down to create a bigger typing window.
Click preview window to make sure your comment isn't too long. If it is, copy-and-paste comment on a word doc and post in sections.
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* * *
Blogger's comment section may not be conducive to political discussions. Let's give it a go and see if it this format works. Or not. I'm open to suggestions and feedback.
"It's an insult to people who have real mental illness to be lumped with Trump. Most people with mental illness are well-meaning, well-mannered and well-behaved. And Trump is none of these. Trump is bad, not mad. And when bad people are labelled mentally ill, it stigmatizes mental illness." ~ Dr. Allen Frances
"Being a narcissist is not a diagnosis. It never has been. Narcissists are people higher in narcissistic traits than the average person, and while they may or may not be disordered, they all share one thing in common: They feel special. Some feel special enough to lead a nation, in fact. What we should be far more concerned about is not whether politicians are narcissists—most are—but how healthy they are."
"People who have a true narcissistic personality disorder [NPD], Allen Frances explains, experience a crash of some sort, even if they can’t see it for themselves. They’ll lose their jobs, their spouses and children will abandon them, and their “bubble of grandiosity [will] burst,” he says. “They feel absolutely miserable, can’t function, can’t face the world.”
"Diagnosing NPD is complicated, but the core of the disorder comprises what I call triple E: exploitation, callously using others to maintain a special status; entitlement, acting as if the world should bend to one’s will; and finally empathy-impairment, where the drive to feel special blinds people to the pain and suffering of others. More troubling, because they desperately need to feel special, people with NPD can become psychotic.
If Trump has NPD, the whole country should be alarmed. Because for people with NPD, feeling special eclipses all other considerations, including dealing with the world as it is rather than what they need it to be."
(This is pathological narcissism. NPD is a mental illness)
* * *
"America was unprepared for the startling, disarming force of Trump’s tornadic personality, and equally unprepared to understand the central role of his shamelessness in explaining it. Consequently, his shamelessness has been variously misunderstood, rationalized, minimized, ignored, excused and enabled time and again." ~Steve Becker
* * * Malignant Narcissism: NPD + Psychopathy
Donald Trump, Malignant Narcissist, Psychopathic Personality - YouTube
"Where, then, has the voice of the clinical world been—to offer the necessary, sufficient, and only responsible “explanation” of Donald Trump? To explain that this is what malignant narcissists, what psychopaths are; this is how they behave? This is what, and who, Trump is. This explains Trump. That voice has been silent. Missing. Cowering behind “ethical codes” in an abject abdication of ethics." ~Steven Becker, February 2017
The Goldwater Rule: "On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
"Psychiatrists are afraid they will be sued or reported to professional regulators if they say Mr. Trump is suffering a mental illness, Dr. John Gartner told The Independent, adding he had received “a lot of very crude hate mail” after speaking out...some colleagues are worried about being sued. Complaints could be made against their licence. There's a fear of it. Losing your licence is the worst thing that could happen to you. It's enough to make many back off.”
"I think history will judge the position of the APA very harshly." ~Dr. James Gartner
"Dear President Obama: We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the mental stability of our President-Elect. Professional standards do not permit us to venture a diagnosis for a public figure whom we have not evaluated personally. Nevertheless, his widely reported symptoms of mental instability — including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality — lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office. We strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he receive a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators." signed by Judith Herman, M.D. Nanette Gartrell, M.D. and Dee Mosbacher, M.D., Ph.D.
"Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a diminutive Yale psychiatry professor who organized the meeting, puts it this way: “The Goldwater Rule is not absolute. We have a ‘Duty to Warn,’ about a leader who is dangerous to the health and security of our patients.” She has formed a coalition by that name, and it now comprises almost 800 mental-health professionals who are “sufficiently alarmed that they feel the need to speak up about the mental-health status of the president.”
"Duty to Warn: "...a patient told his psychologist he was planning to kill his girlfriend, and the doctor, citing confidentiality, failed to warn the potential victim before she was murdered. As a result, the duty to warn is law in 33 states, and enshrined in the ethical code of every mental health profession. But if we have a legal and ethical duty to warn one potential victim, how much greater must our ethical burden be if there are millions of potential victims?"
"We, the undersigned mental health professionals (please state your degree), believe in our professional judgment that Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States. And we respectfully request he be removed from office, according to article 4 of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, which states that the president will be replaced if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”"
(There are currently over 50,000 signatures.)
Joshunda Sanders interviews Dr. Gartner who said: "We don’t really expect that [Trump]’ll be removed by his cabinet under the 25th amendment...We have a duty to warn the public about the danger that Donald Trump’s mental health poses to the world. We don’t have the answer. We do feel a professional obligation to be witnesses...Our duty to warn is more important than the Goldwater Rule..."
"The effects of 'Trumpism': 1) Fear and alienation among scapegoated groups, beginning with Latino immigrants and Muslims, and then other groups who become identified as threats; 2) Exaggerated masculinity as a cultural ideal, with particular influence on young people and economically insecure men; 3) Coarsening of public life by personal attacks on those who disagree; 4) Erosion of the American democratic tradition which has emphasized the agency of we-the-people instead of the Strong Man tradition of power..."
"I wrote the criteria that define this disorder [NPD], and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder. Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy."
"the assessment of mental disorders changed to a more objective system of taxonomy in 1980 with the publication of the DSM-III. A number of diagnoses are now made largely on a person’s observable behavior or what can reasonably be inferred from it. So it is now possible to make a psychological assessment from afar. The question remains of whether it is appropriate."
"But those using clinical language to describe Mr. Trump’s behavior contend that this presidential election is vastly different, for a big reason: The proliferation of social media comments and video clips, which afford direct, unscripted access to candidates, was simply not available in previous races. The depth of that material creates a public persona complete enough to analyze on its own merits, they say."
"Gartner argues that the mental health community has an obligation to protect the public that overrides the Goldwater Rule, and that even in the short time since the inauguration, Trump has proved himself “a clear and present danger.” [NPD] What’s more, he believes the Goldwater Rule is no longer relevant because it was established before the DSM made diagnosis behaviorally based. “We don’t need to interview Donald Trump to get reliable information. We have a lot of data based on his actions. The DSM is not a hard book to read. Trump’s lying has been documented publicly in The New York Times.”
"Calling Gartner’s petition “a temper tantrum,” Berglas insists that keeping out terrorists the wrong way does not warrant calling Trump mentally ill. And the fact that Donald Trump mocked a reporter is deplorable but doesn’t mean he’ll be faster to press the nuclear button. “Donald Trump is a thoroughly inadequate human being,” Berglas insists. “That is a matter of relevance to the electorate. Why isn’t honesty important to voters?”
"Through our observations, we can see Trump as embodying an unconstrained present hedonist—living only in the present moment and saying whatever it takes to pump up his ego and assuage his inherent low self-esteem, without thought of past reality or potentially devastating future consequences. He is the poster boy for a time perspective that is totally unbalanced. Unfortunately, given his personality type, there is little hope of reversal or any meaningful improvement."
"Some have even argued that it's "okay" to assess a public figure's mental health from a distance, despite longstanding psychiatric standards that prohibit such speculative diagnoses. The ethics that prohibit such diagnoses have, however, had little effect on public narratives that depict Trump as being "insane."
"Trump is evidently not suffering and he cannot be said to be impaired. We may not like his leadership style, but his personality seems mainly to have been an asset for him in the worlds of real estate and politics...By the sheer force of his personality, power, bullying tendencies, and money, Trump can bend reality to his perspective, which he does using a simple technique: He simply shifts the evidence for what is real from facts to feelings.
"Our efforts have to be aimed not at diagnosing Trump, but at stopping 'Trumpism'. To call it madness is to try and bring it into the realm of the familiar and to miss the real threat that Trump embodies: He thrives in turmoil, he has an uncanny ability to bend the world to his reality, he is charismatic and ruthless, hypnotic and terrifying, and we, in this country, have rarely seen his like before. To fight 'Trumpism', we must actively expose and combat the overpowering reality he is trying to create—and we must abandon the comforting delusion that Trump is delusional."
"Trump's childhood seems to suggest a history of "pedestal" parenting. "You are a king," Fred Trump told his middle child, while also teaching him that the world was an unforgiving place and that it was important to "be a killer." Trump apparently got the message: He reportedly threw rocks at a neighbor's baby and bragged about punching a music teacher in the face. Other kids from his well-heeled Queens neighborhood of Jamaica Estates were forbidden from playing with him, and in school he got detention so often that it was nicknamed "DT," for "Donny Trump." When his father found his collection of switchblades, he sent Donald upstate to New York Military Academy, where he could be controlled while also remaining aggressively alpha male."
"I think his father would have fit the category [of narcissistic]," says Michael D'Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump. "I think his mother probably would have. And I even think his paternal grandfather did as well. These are very driven, very ambitious people."
"Lawmakers and experts say they are troubled by Trump's extraordinary focus on his own brand and popularity, including frequent and angry insistences that his crowds are bigger and more enthusiastic than anyone else's and that, despite official vote counts to the contrary, he really won the popular vote for president."
"Sam Vaknin, a mental health expert and author, has studied over 600 hours of Donald Trump footage and made the harsh conclusion that Donald Trump is not simply a classic narcissist — he is, in fact, a “malignant and, probably, psychopathic narcissist."
"In the realm of politics, psychologists have recently demonstrated how fundamental features of human personality—such as extroversion and narcissism—shaped the distinctive leadership styles of past U. S. presidents, and the decisions they made... In this essay, I will seek to uncover the key dispositions, cognitive styles, motivations, and self-conceptions that together comprise his unique psychological makeup."
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?"
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 thisbecame 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 animpostor 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
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-Absorbed, Working 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
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.
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...
Resources 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
"A bird in the hand is worth more than a turkey in the White House"
And now for a message from our president-elect who believes Twitter is a great form of communication:
"Happy Thanksgiving to All---
even the haters and losers!" ~DJT
Well, I may be a loser but I'm not a hater 'tho my inner angel nearly capitulated to my inner devil last year. The election 2016 was a sheer test of everyone's character. I nearly lost my soul once or twice, similar to the time I wished my ex in a cornfield and subsequently felt terrible about myself for weeks. So Sad!
That's the struggle for people of conscience. We feel guilty about other people's crappy behavior.
I have this holiday all to myself lucky me. My nephew is working which means we won't be eating turkey until tomorrow. My daughter is sick with a cold. She's confined to her bedroom. My sister (the one who lost her job two years ago), is scanning Help Wanted Ads. Since everyone in my household is occupied and nobody needs my help, I can cozy up in my office and connect with the world.
I read an unusual article about Thanksgiving this morning. It's a story about American pilgrims that has never been shared from the pulpit (at least as far as I know), nor retold in a children's book (thank goodness). "Consider the colonialist," the author writes, "who mistook his pregnant wife for a meal." Gil Troy's article about colonial cannibalism seems fitting post-election 2016. And no, he doesn't include recipes although I will. (My recipe collection may be vast and my culinary skills renown, but never fear: my repertoire doesn't include a Roasted People with Winter Vegetables recipe).
"American Family suffers indigestion and possible death yet refuses to question the menu."
One of my favorite YouTube chefs shared a delicious recipe a few years ago. I made his Peruvian Turkey in 2013 because I'm adventurous like that----AND my conservative family wasn't visiting that year. South American turkey with cilantro rice and spicy mustard greens would NOT go over well with stove-top conservatives for whom lovin'-from-the-oven means obeying time-honored recipes to a "C". Even if they taste bad. Especially if they taste bad. Nothing proves holy righteousness like dutifully eating a meal you dislike simply because your ancestors concocted the mess two hundred years ago.
My nephew told his coworkers about our spicy feast. He said we wouldn't let something like tradition dictate o-u-r dinner table. "We didn't want to eat a normal turkey with stuffing, yams and mashed potatoes," he said, "So, we mixed it up and created something better!"
"You mean you can do that?" one of his coworkers exclaimed. "You don't HAVE to make the same thing everyone else is obliged to eat for Thanksgiving?"
You'd think we were rewriting the Constitution or something.
Who knows, maybe there are secret turkey police watching my house this very moment, waiting to bust me for non-conformity.
My nephew chuckled about the concerned look on his coworker's face. He delighted in telling us about their conversation while we planned our favorite side dishes and who would be cooking what. I think he likes the fact that our family is a tad rebellious;that his aunt (me) is "eccentric", or so his psychologist told him the day I wore a purple hat to therapy.
Being an eccentric-and-rebellious family has not been an easy thing to accept for my mainstream status quo sister who lives with me. It's been almost unbearable for her when people assume we're lesbians raising our son together. She tells people right off the bat that we're sisters---before they accuse us of loving each other or anything as horrific as that.
"Nerves of Steel, a Will of Iron and a face just like my Dad's"
I guess I'm kinda happy today, although I've tried to stay morose and fearful post-election. I tried staying morose and fearful after my marriage ended and even that didn't keep me down. For some reason (and it drives people nutz if they're prone to depression), I can't stay miserable for long. Not even Trump can trump my bubbly personality. ha! No! That's a joke! I'm not ebullient or effervescent but I do have nerves of steel and a will of iron which definitely comes from my Dad. Hummm..."steel nerves and an iron will" kinda makes me sound like a metal fabrication shop or something.
If you think me cheesy, below is the super cheesy Chef John whose recipe we'll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Really---you oughta try it and you'll never go back to poultry-in-a-bag again. I dare you. Enrich your life and bring a little more of the world into your American dining room. Warning: Peruvian Turkey looks like it was cooked in a volcano and blasted with a flame thrower for good measure. Plan on carving and plating your turkey before serving.
For the spice rub: 12 cloves garlic 1 tbsp dried oregano 3 tbsp paprika 1 tbsp smoked paprika 1/2 cup ground cumin 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/3 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup white vinegar
Rub turkey all over, and under the breast skin with the rub. Let sit out at room temp for 1 hour. Rub extra rub inside cavity, but save a 1/4 cup or so to use as a glaze later. Tie legs, season with kosher salt, and roast at 325 F., for about 15 minutes a pound, or until the internal temp in the thickest part of the thigh is 170-175 F. Let rest 20 minutes before carving.
For the sauce: 1 cup crème fraiche juice of one lime I cup chicken broth 2 jalapeno 1/2 cup cilantro
Place roasting pan (pour off excess fat) on med-high heat. Puree above and deglaze roasting pan with the mixture. Bring to a boil, and cook until the mixture thickens into a gravy. Season and serve!
I hope my blogging friends are still around, still writing, still reading, still believing we can learn, unlearn and relearn whatever we need to know to build a healthier, more inclusive and compassionate society for everyone. Blessings!
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 beenalienating 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 hislifeboat 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 awareof 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
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."
* * * Epilogue
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?
A Soft Place in my Heart by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)
"When's Mother's Day?" someone asked for the umpteenth time, anticipating the same answer. "Nine months after Father's Day," another person quipped and then laughter. Lots of it. I kept doing the math as a little kid and could not figure out why a wrong answer made people giggle. That's how blissfully ignorant childhood used to be.
I'm old enough to remember the good old days when the most dreadful thing about adolescence was a parental talk about birds and bees. We let the media do our teaching now and that IS dreadful. Even as frustrated as I am about a corporate media influencing our children's sex lives, I keep my nostalgia in check. There were never any good ol' days to go back to. We must live and learn and fix the mistakes our ignorance makes. In spite of the problems we've yet to resolve, women's lives are better and safer today than they've ever been. And that includes a mother's freedom to love her children. To want her children.
Prior to birth control, children were consequences. Not every couple celebrated pregnancy when they already had more mouths than they could feed. My boomer generation is the first to experience reliable birth control allowing us to choose when and if we wanted children. While some people might view that choice as a bad thing, I believe "choice" moves our species one step closer to loving children as the miracles they are. Because we want them. I wanted my babies and would scoop them into my arms and tell them so, kissing their cheeks and marveling that something so precious was in my care. I didn't give it any thought, telling my children how much I wanted them. It was a natural instinct to confess they were a desire of my heart and a blessing in my life and I was grateful to be their mother.
Last year, my daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She's unable to work, has no promotions, raises or performance ratings to help her feel good about herself---to sustain her self-esteem. It's a daily struggle loving herself for "being" rather than "doing". Even though we knew our culture was obsessed with independence and success, we didn't realize the depth of our socialization. She struggles with depression like many people with incurable diseases when they can't work, can't "do," and are dependent on caregivers. She had been on her own financially for two decades but is unable to care for herself today. It's tough. Anyone can understand how difficult this would be---especially in a society denigrating dependency and joking about middle-age children living in Mom's basement. (it's a beautiful basement---don't get any notions about my basement looking like a prison!).
My daughter says what sustains her self-worth now are the warm memories of being scooped in her mother's arms, covered in kisses and told, "I wanted you sooooooo much!" She made me sob when telling me this story because it took forty years for me to understand the importance of a mother's instinct to love and cuddle and cherish the child she wanted. It's fundamental to a child's self-worth. It's essential to a child's sense of self.
That was kind of tear-jerkerish, as Mother's Days tend to be, so the next two stories will leave you laughing. That's my intention anyway---for you to laugh with me. This glimpse into our family is a reality check against Sentimental Mothering. I hope they illustrate the reality of mothering children who will, if they are allowed to be children, challenge her patience and her ego.
Mother and Child by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)
My daughter was fond of After School Specials (1972-1997). She was a clever tease, smart as a whip and impulsive as hyper-active kids tend to be. She liked to organize playtime and direct her friends which caused problems for her teachers at school. If she thought it, she did it, not giving mind to the consequences. As one teacher said, "Your daughter doesn't know who the teacher is."
Well, being of patient temperament, I handled her behavior in stride. Most of the time. I wasn't perfect and won't pretend to have been which probably means I came fairly close to being exactly the mother she needed. This is what she tells me anyway. I'm not sure she thought that when her tantrums were unsuccessful, no matter how dramatic or shocking they might have been.
One day we were shopping in a grocery store when she was about six or seven years old. Without fail, she was begging for this and bartering for that and appealing to God to deliver just ONE package of M&M's and she'd never cause trouble again. Her prayer was not answered and her mother did not cave. God and I both knew that sugar made her climb walls and we didn't have time to talk her down. She was upset. So upset that she glowered in the queue. Noticing her complaints had attracted people's attention, she sucked in her tummy and made a hungry face. And honestly, there was precedent for manipulating tired shoppers. More than one weary soul had pleaded for me to "give in", for the sake of their sanity. Realizing I would not relent, they sneaked Snickers in her pocket and everyone checked out in peace.
This time however, my daughter wasn't crying because she had evidently matured beyond the acceptable crying stage. Now she was into Performance Art. Maybe capturing everyone's attention had inspired her but GodOnlyKnows why she did this. I bent down to ask her to calm down and reached out to cup her chin in my hand. She threw her hands up to protect her face with both palms facing outward. Peering through outstretched fingers, she shouted, "Not the FACE, Mommie! Not the FACE!"
And then she laughed and laughed and people offered to buy ME a drink.
Yea. Don't let perspicacious children watch After School Specials about child abuse.
The Little Prince by Pino Daeni (Dangelico)
Our family moved to France when our children were young and we'd visit the USA annually, to remind our kids they were Americans. We traveled to London in 1986, just as airports tightened security after terrorist attacks and bombings.
We were waiting in the Customs line with our passports when security guards carrying sub-machine guns encircled us. They separated us from astonished bystanders and motioned for us to follow them into an interrogation room. (I knew my husband was an American Asshole but didn't expect the Brits to kill him for it).
We were seated in a small room and people were staring in the windows. Our kids looked like they were ready to throw up and I was doing my best to calm Mt. Vesuvius before he spewed profanities and security guards riddled our bodies with bullets. A British officer entered the room accompanied by two guards with guns over their shoulders. The officer was holding a manila envelope with a tell-tale bulge in the center. He carefully and slowly opened the envelope and retrieved, you guessed it: a toy gun.
Yea. Don't give your kids toy pistols if you're traveling overseas.
The three of us turned towards the shortest kid in the room, who happened to be focused intently on the floor, merging with the linoleum. He didn't say a word, he'd probably swallowed his tongue. "Is that your gun?" I asked. "The one we told you NOT to bring in your suitcase? The one we told you to leave at home?" (making sure the officer knew we'd done our parental duty and if someone had to pay for this crime, we were willing to sacrifice our son).
My stern voice convinced the kid to confess. Yes, he had packed his gun even though his mother told him not to and could he please have it back 'cuz it was a wild west six shooter special cap-gun. It had sound effects. The officer ignored his request but I noticed a slight grin on his face. "I'm sealing your gun in this security envelope," he said. "Your parents can pick it up at the baggage claim. And never," he lowers his voice, "disobey your parents again." It takes a tribe to raise a kid these days.
If you go to London, be sure to look for a vintage envelope going round and round the luggage carousel!