Getting On : Family
Parents hiding from their children
from Randi - Friday, April 11, 2008
accessed 1238 times
Im dealing with a wierd situation, and would like your thoughts and advice.
My parents are still in TF. Since I was 11 years old, they have been "hiding" from me (living in WS). I didnt have their address, phone number, direct e mail etc. I even doubt today, if they were in fact in the country I thought they were in. Anyway, They came out of their hiding place a while ago, yet they are now, once again, refusing to give me their address. They know very well how much this hurts me and how much their actions will subsequently hurt their maturing grandchildren, yet they proceed with what causes us pain.
We have been on good terms. When they weren't in hiding, I visited them in their home. I was polite and respectful to all. I am against TF and have had to struggle with my past, but I am in no way what they would refer to as an "enemy," so why are they hiding from me? I am only their daughter and I certainly intend to do them no harm.
I am so hurt by their continuous disregard of my feelings, so I wrote them a letter telling them that I love them but that I won't allow them or anyone to hurt me over and over again. I told them that I would not be able to have "continuous" communication with them anymore. What I mean is that Im not going to stop speaking to them period, of course Ill call on birthdays etc, but I dont feel comfortable "chatting" with them on a regular basis anymore. I just can't be taken for granted anymore. If they love me, they need to show me. Tough love is not for me.
Im sure their sad about this...but they haven't said so. Nothing has changed. As a mother myself, it has shocked me that they will even run the risk of loosing their only daughter for the sake of their selah BS. That religion and membership to a cult is more important than me or their grandkids.
What would you do? Is there anyone else dealing with this?
In general, I think we have to accept family as much as possible. Love them and try to remain open, but what do you do when it hurts too much?
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Sunday, April 20, 2008 - 21:46
Randi, I don't know you, but I definitely feel for you. My parents left about 4 years back. Recently my mother came to me and apologised. I can't tell you how much that meant to me.
Being that they are older and on the downhill slope of life, I understand that it's so much harder for them to admit and own up to the fact that so much of their life was a lie. Even for many who do eventually wise up a little, it's still difficult for them to accept that many of them stripped on video, slept with strange men in and out of the group, raised and then gave up many of their children, cut off contact with their own parents and relatives, suffered public humiliation and degradation and so much more, all for a fucking lie.
I hadn't necessarily expected a point by point apology or vindication of my views, but it still was important for me to convey to my parents that they had made a mistake, and the effects would be eternally present in the lives of us, their children. That my brothers, sisters and I were in fact, paying in many ways for mistakes they had made.
I'd already felt somewhat vindicated when they had left, but when she came to me in person, in tears, and told me she knew it was a mistake and she knew that she had left us at a big disadvantage in life, that experience was definitely a landmark moment in my life. She however urged me that they can't at this point, undo the past and hoped that I would still strive to lead as fulfilling a life as I could. As cliche as the above sentiment is, she had a point. What more could I expect from them at this point?
The future, no matter what we tell ourselves, is inherently connected to our past. I feel for you. Your parents are either still under the brainwashing spell of the cult, or are too far along to admit they are wrong. In any case, you their child, are the one who has to suffer for it. I sincerely hope you will get the gratification of waving it in their faces one day.
I feel that most of us have an infinity in that we are all victims of this same horror, and are fighting to some extent the effects of the cult in our lives. Whatever the case, I say, if they are not willing to face the music and would truly rather lose one of their own flesh and blood, then they don't deserve you. They've betrayed you, sold you out. For what? The price of admission to kissing Berg and Zerby's ass in Space City. They don't deserve you or their grandchild. You've suffered enough for their faith, NO MORE. Make it clear that YOU are done paying for THEIR faith with your own life! Life's too short to be wasted on them, I think.
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| From Randi|
Monday, April 21, 2008, 00:00
It must be a great feeling to have your parents come to terms with their past.. and to admit that to you is huge!! All parents make mistakes, but when they (we) take responsibility for it, learn from it and change, that makes all the difference in the world. My parents have actually said they were sorry that I suffered a lot (victor camps etc etc) during those years that they were hiding... but they haven't changed, they haven't learned anything. They're still hiding, and that is one of the dividing factors between a good parent and lousy one.
You're right they don't deserve me or my kids. I have to deal with enough as is without having their hurtful actions waved in my face constantly. I have come to a point in my life where I will draw the line and say "no more!" Enough in enough.
We love them and miss them though and we're here if they are interested in a healthy two way street relationship. I hope I can find it within myself to remain open...however, I refuse to wait.
I wish you the best with your parents.. It will make a big difference to have them around when you start your own family (unless you have already.) No matter how old we are, parents, family and friends mean so much and we cant escape the fact that we need them and they need us.(reply to this comment)
Friday, April 18, 2008 - 07:39
Fuck this irrelevant shit! I just lost a shitload of hard traded forex cash because the bank of England decided to randomly prop up the pound! Argh I say! Money!!!!!!
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Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 09:02
I used to wish my parents were in leadership or some high position in TF, that way I wouldn't have to go out and witness or hear constant prayer requests for rent. However, now I am so glad that they weren't and that I am able to be in contact with them and know right where they are. They are slowly moving away from the mainstream cult and I am so relieved!
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| From rainy|
Thursday, April 17, 2008, 12:29
I'm sorry to disappoint you but it didn't work that way. My parents were the Australian shepherds and all that meant to me was that my brother and sisters and I were orphans, relegated off to "foster families" while our parents were off on visitations doing the Lord's work and being shepherds. Although you might think other adults might treat us nicer because our parents were shepherds, that was certainly not the case. Having your parents not there to stand up for you meant you were more picked on, and any adults who happened to be upset because THEY wanted your parents' job took it out on you. Some even had an idea in their heads that we kids might be 'proud' about being shepherd's kids, and so needed more discipline to keep us humble.(reply to this comment)
Monday, April 14, 2008 - 09:25
So sad! The "family" is about as far away from a true family as you can get. They throw away all family values in place of the collective good of the cult. (AKA, keeping king peter and Zerb well fed and living in luxury.)
I no longer talk to my mother. As far as I am concerned she abandoned us and was never a mother at all. She still tries to ask me for money every now and then even tho she has a husband. I have my own family to think about. I was sent away from home when I was 15 and that was about it. No more advice, support or anything. In my opinion she is so selfish and continually trying to find her own happiness that she forgot about raising us. She thinks that she will be happy if she is in the Lords Will. Wherever that it at the time.
I remember when I was in the cult I had the impression that in the "system" no one really loved you and that families all hated each other and you never had real friends that would do anything for you. How wrong I was!
I see more love and family values with my friends and their parents than I ever saw in the cult. Even tho the kids are 30 years old and have their own families, the parents still treat them as their babies and are there for them with advice and help when needed. I am 100% on my own except for the few friends I made since leaving and it's been a rough road trying to teach myself how to be a man.
I remember right when I we were on the verge of leaving the fam I had an old car and I broke down on the freeway, I called my home and another home in the area and they said they were short staffed and to just hang out till that night and they would try get me. Well I had a "system" friend that I just met and I called him. He was there in 15 min and towed me home. I remember thinking, wow, he is a real friend.
How they call themselves a "Family" is beyond me.
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Sunday, April 13, 2008 - 01:42
I'm so sorry you have to go through all of this. I just don't understand sometimes how people can be so blind, how they can think that they are doing good by hurting their own children.
I think that you need to do whatever you think will cause you the least pain and protect you the most. What you propose above sounds totally reasonable to me, maybe it's time for a little tough love on your part.
I know it would be easier to just not care, but some of us aren't built that way. I honestly don't really care what my parents think, but when I have contact with them that leaves me feeling hurt, I hurt all the same.
If you have to pull back to protect yourself, then I think by all means do so. And tell them the reason for it, they might eventually get the point.
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| From Randi|
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 08:52
Thanks for your kind words. I have tried not to care... but as you said, Im not built that way. I think my proposal leaves a "window" open for reconciliation. The ball is in their court now. If they want to be close to me and their grandkids, were here. But I refuse to put my children in a place where they can be emotionally scared in the same was as I have been. Its a pity though, a real pity. Will they get the point? I highly doubt it. They will most likely proceed to harden themselves even more, pretend like nothing has ever happened. (reply to this comment)
Saturday, April 12, 2008 - 20:10
If they have a land line you can do a reverse address look up. You look up their address using their phone number.
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| From Randi|
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 09:04
I dont have their land line. Of course I can find them though...Somehow... It wouldnt change the fact that they dont want me to know. I often have dreams of me walking by their house. The curtains are open. I can see my mother sitting in a chair by near a lamp drinking tea...I walk past, I know I am not allowed to enter, not to knock, not to notice I know she is there. Then I wake up. When my boyfriend, says "oh Im just gonna pop by my moms" Im nearly in panick and wonder if we should call. How she would feel etc. Then I feel slightly envious of it all. He always says "its just my mom.. "
My dad asks me though... "What is so important about an address...its just an address. Can't you just be happy with what we can offer you?" I hate that more than anything. Its like it puts the responsibility of the demise of our relationship on me... as if if I could only be more understanding, less demanding... like whats the big deal. (reply to this comment)
Saturday, April 12, 2008 - 19:56
Iím sorryÖ you are probably going to think I am a total bitch and I really donít mean to come across as cold and unfeeling, but why do you give a fuck? I mean maybe it is because your parents were decent, or maybe it is just because they are simply your parents and you are trying to do the right thing, even though they sure donít seem to be. This is just my opinion, but I believe there has to be a time when we come to realize that our parents gave up the rights to deserve anything from us when they gave us away to a horrid group that abused us.
My mother sent me away when I was 12 and I never lived with my parents again. I received a couple odd letters and, once when I was 16, she sent me a box of clothing sized for a 12 year old. I guess she hadnít realized that 4 years had passed and I had since grown. That showed me exactly how much she thought about me, not so much, I guess.
My mother deserves nothing from me, no respect, no love, and no consideration in any shape or form. She does not know me and I do not know her and the fault lies with her. If my mother deserves anything she will have to receive it from the group that she forsook her daughter for, in order to be found ďworthyĒ, as the verse would read.
It cracks me up that my mother now helps run an orphanage. What a fucking joke. She gave away all her kids and now she is taking care of orphansÖLOL! Why didnít she just take care of the children she gave birth to? I swear, I will never understand. My mother is insane and honestly, in a way, I have come to forgive her, because I really think she is certifiably crazy. With that being said, I have absolutely no intent of ever having a relationship with her and I honestly could care less what she does with her life, as long as she doesnít tell me how to live mine.
My parents did not do their job; they did not raise me and therefore lost their right to any respect I might have given them. They made a choice to let their children grow up abused, alone and I almost took my life because of it. I pity them for the mistakes they have made. I owe them nothing and I guess I just canít understand why so many seek to stay in contact with people who deserted them.
Again, my opinion is a harsh one when it comes to my parents. Maybe you are just a better person than I am, but I say: let them go. They let you go long ago and if someone doesnít care for you then why do we try so hard to care for them? As bad as it sounds, I say fuckím and be thankful that your kids will always have you to love, respect and support them. Donít waste your life, your time, and your thoughts on people who obviously didnít have time for you. You deserve better than that. We all do.
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|from Big Sister|
Saturday, April 12, 2008 - 14:56
I'm sorry you have such out-of-it parents. Maybe you don't realize how shocking it is to hear that your parents were hiding from you from when you were eleven. These people don't deserve you as a daughter!
Luckily we all can make the family we want once we are adults. What I have seen others do in this situation is to go find themselves some better parents. That is, how about adopting your husband's parents as your own? And when your children ask about your parents you can say: Honey, my parents think their career is more important than family so they are busy working and we never get to see them. That's really sad for them. I will never do that to you!
I wish you well.
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Saturday, April 12, 2008 - 14:45
You're doing the right thing Randi.
As long as they remain so brainwashed they are only a shell of a person anyway and talking to them is a minefield of pain no matter how respectful each side is trying to be. My very close friend is the daughter of [a WS artist - edited at the author's request] and her mother left her for WS when she was five years old. All the years I knew my friend she pined for how her mother left her for the Lord's Work. She tried to be brave and understand that her mother had a more important job to do. As an adult, my friend was able to finally get her mother to come out of WS to visit her. By that time my friend had been to hell and back, and clawed her way up to a university degree and a nice home all on her own, through some horrific experiences. Her mother just breezed through and gave her some platitudes. My friend's heart was shattered. She finally had the mother she'd longed for all her life right in front of her, but there was nothing left to say. I'm sad to have to say it, but those of us with brainwashed parents have to resign ourselves to the understanding that we are virtually orphans. We have to rely on ourselves, and find other mentors. It's similar to having a parent with Alzheimers I guess. That emotional "parenting" part you need from them just isn't there. That part of their personality has been partially or totally replaced with cult doctrine.
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| From afflick|
Saturday, April 12, 2008, 16:58
It's not only physicial distance but emotional as well. I recently moved closer to my parents for the first time in my adult life. I can't get over how emotionally removed my mother is. My sister is having a baby, their first grandchild (we girls are all in their 20s and 30s) and while we kids are so excited and preparing to welcome baby, my mother just doesn't notice. She just not interested.
While I did have my mother there for most of my childhood, it didn't help me feel less isolated. I felt that if I could just be a better daughter, be more interested in whatever interested her (herself, her interests) then she would be there for me, too. But that never happened. It wasn't until my grandmother died a few years ago and I got to see my mother interact with her own siblings that I realized the distance between us wasn't my fault. She was just as uninterested in her own brothers and sisters, indeed, uninterested in the death of her mother. I witnessed her siblings frustration with her and her apathy. It was then that I realized she was always emotionally closed off and selfish and that nothing I could do would change that.
When I moved closer to where my parents live, I learned my mother doesn't have friends. Think about this: a sixty year old woman who has lived in the same community for fifteen years, is somewhat active (she's a substitute teacher and volunteers for the local folk guild) and she doesn't have friends. Not one person who calls her, asks her out for dinner or coffee. My sisters and I tried to work out a surprise birthday party for her but we couldn't find any friends of hers to invite. She doesn't have friendships at all. And she doesn't seem to miss them.
So, how do you deal with that? How do you deal with a parent who doesn't need people in their life? It's very difficult to realize she doesn't particularly think about me, she's not particularly proud of my accomplishments, or my sisters accomplishments, because she's so wrapped up in herself.
Discovering her emotional distance has helped a lot with our interactions, however. The pressure on me is off. I don't worry about being a good daughter, sending her cards, calling her for mother's day. If I feel like calling, great. But if I don't, I know she won't even notice. I expect less than zero from her, too, and when she sents me a birthday card or calls me, it's a pleasant but unexpected surprise.(reply to this comment)
| From rainy|
Saturday, April 12, 2008, 17:26
About our parents who've left: It seems something died inside them or was taken from them and they can't get it back. They'd probably have to face up properly to their wasted life, past they'd rather forget, and the effects of that on their children. That would probably just be more pain than they could bear. I know it would pretty much drive me to end it all. So I think they have to shut out a huge amount of their emotional side in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This includes shutting out other people. I know this because I tend to do the same thing when everything that I've been through threatens to break through and overwhelm me. It's easier to switch off and go into autopilot. I think it's all that's left for some of them.(reply to this comment)
| From afflick|
Saturday, April 12, 2008, 18:33
My theory is that this emotional shut out happened before they joined The Family. I believe it is part and parcel of their personality. Thus, joining a cult (and thus not seeing their parents for years and years, leaving their lives, friends behind) was easy. Someone with a lot of community/familial attachments would not have been able to leave it all behind as easily as our parents did.
So, I think it's not something the cult did to them but rather a character trait The Family complemented. As evidence, I offer the many similarities I see between my mother and the mothers of my friends who were also in the cult. Although my sample is only five women, these women never meet each other (or, only briefly), they lived in different parts of the world. And yet, they all have the same tendancy to be completely self-involved.
These women have all been out of the cult for 7-20 years. Many of them cut off ties with Family friends and cohorts since then. But they could be sisters. Their ability to choose to be selfish in stressful situations astonishes me and astonishes my friends, their daughters. Whether it was a wedding crisis (my sister's venue had to be changed at the very last second due to rain--we had to scramble to get everything under cover ten minutes before the ceremony--my mother saw the action and decided to get coffee and sip it looking out over the ocean) to a funeral, they have consistently thought only of themselves--to the point where one woman was enjoying all the attention she received at her daughter's funeral. I don't think such extreme behavior is learned, I think it is born.
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| From Randi|
Monday, April 14, 2008, 11:04
Im sure many people had very selfish traits before joining the cult. Perhaps some grew up without a loving parental figure themselves. Some also got pretty fucked up from all the drugs they used. Some were just nuts. I mean you have to be a little special or "broken" to join such a cult. Some mothers are not maternal no matter what. Still I think the loss of normal parental instincts, has a lot to do with the cult. All this cult crap has slowly dug away at their humanity...I think its similar to what happens in an abusive relationship... You stop feeling and thinking as you once did. Mothers even let their husbands have their way with their children... their brainwashed just like the culties. Same with drug addicts. All the addict can think about is the drug. All that matters in that drug that keeps them from feeling the pain of reality. Not even the the hunger of their children supercedes in importance. Likewise, the cult is our parents drug, and theyve been on it so long, their lost without it...I think they know though, that if they stop for long enough, the pain of all they have lost, the feeling of regret and shame for having failed their children, etc etc etc... will hurt so bad. That's what theyre running from. They keep using some retarded idealism to justify their life of escape. (reply to this comment)
| From cheeks|
Monday, April 14, 2008, 12:12
I think a big part with parents having no maternal or paternal instinct has a lot to do with the One Wife vision that Berg had. When the children were removed from the parents to sleep in the nursery with other babies the parents lost interest in them. Most parents only had an hour with their children a day and when they had all their kids together they didn't know how to cope. All of the sudden they had a family of six kids of different ages with different needs and they were out of their element seeing as how we had the kids 23 hrs a day six days a week. Big families often had tn helpers for their family day because they could not cope.
When our parents sent us kids away, we learned that we no longer needed them, we had become part of the collective. In effect they allowed what had been done to us, by sending us away.
For me the hardest thing is really not having my parents in my teenage years, and having them be so oblivious to what was going on around them when we were children. It still irks me that they think it wasn't so bad. That somehow we had it good, even as they sit there wondering how the hell they swallowed all that crap for so long.(reply to this comment)
| From found this on being 'born that way'|
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 09:11
Psychopaths are not "fragile" individuals, as Robert Hare says after years of research. What they think and do is produced from a "rock solid personality structure that is extremely resistant to outside influences." Many of them are protected for years from the consequences of their behavior by well-meaning family and friends. As long as their behavior remains unchecked or unpunished, they continue to go through life without too much inconvenience.
Some researchers think that psychopathy is the result of some attachment or bonding difficulty as an infant. Dr. Hare has turned the idea around, after all his years digging into the background of psychopaths. He says:
In some children the very failure to bond is a symptom of psychopathy. It is likely that these children lack the capacity to bond readily, and that their lack of attachment is largely the result, not the cause, of psychopathy. [Hare]
In other words: they are born that way and you can't fix them.
To many people, the idea of a child psychopath is almost unthinkable. But the fact is, true psychopaths are born, not made. Oh, indeed, there is the psychopath that is "made," but they are generally different from the born psychopath in a number of ways.
The fact is, clinical research clearly demonstrates that psychopathy does not spring unannounced into existence in adulthood. The symptoms reveal themselves in early life. It seems to be true that parents of psychopaths KNOW something is dreadfully wrong even before the child starts school. Such children are stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are "different" from other children in inexplicable ways. They are more "difficult," or "willful," or aggressive, or hard to "relate to." They are difficult to get close to, cold and distant and self-sufficient.
One mother said: "We were never able to get close to her even as an infant. She was always trying to have her own way, whether by being sweet, or by having a tantrum. She can put on a sweet and contrite act..."
The fact is: childhood psychopathy is a stark reality, and failing to recognize it can lead to years of vain attempts to discover what is wrong with a child, and the parent blaming themselves. Hare writes:
As the signs of social breakdown grow more insistent, we no longer have the luxury of ignoring the presence of psychopathy in certain children. Half a century ago Hervey Cleckley and Robert Lindner warned us that our failure to acknowledge the psychopaths among us had already triggered a social crisis. Today our social institutions - our schools, courts, mental health clinics - confront the crisis every day in a thousand ways, and the blindfold against the reality of psychopathy is still in place.[...]
The last decade has seen the emergence of an inescapable and terrifying reality: a dramatic surge of juvenile crime that threatens to overwhelm our social institutions. [...] Children under the age of ten who are capable of the sort of mindless violence that once was reserved for hardened adult criminals. [...] At this writing, a small town in a western state is frantically searching for ways to deal with a nine-year-old who allegedly rapes and molests other children at knife point. He is too young to be charged and cannot be taken into care because "such action may only be taken when the child is in danger, not his victims," according to a child protection official. [Hare]
Why does it seem that we have a veritable epidemic of psychopaths? Sociobiologists are suggesting that increasing psychopathy is an expression of a particular genetically based reproductive strategy. Simply put, most people have a couple of children and devote a lot of time and effort to their care. Psychopaths systematically mate with and abandon large numbers of women. They waste little of their energy raising children, and in this way, psychopathic genes are being propagated like wildfire. The sociobiologists aren't saying that the sexual behavior of people is consciously directed, only that "nature" has made them a certain way so that it will happen effectively.
The behavior of female psychopaths reflects the same strategy. "I can always have another," one female psychopath coldly replied when questioned about an incident in which her two-year-old daughter was beaten to death by one of her many lovers. When asked why she would want to have another child, (two had been taken into protective custody), she said "I love children." Again we see that the expressed emotion is in contradiction to the behavior.
Cheating skills seem to have an adaptive value in our society. The fact is: psychopaths often end up on the top of the heap.
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| From interesting comment on social psychopaths |
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 08:16
"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...."a prime characteristic of narcissists is believing that they are always right no matter what, narcissists are extremely resistant to change and, unfortunately, tend to get worse as they get older.
I have also never had to cope with a physically aggressive or sadistic narcissist. The narcissists I've known have pretty much stuck to neglect and verbal and emotional abuse. But lots of people have not been so lucky, and their narcissist parents or partners have been relentlessly interfering and cruel in efforts to reform and re-form their "beloveds," including but not limited to plastic surgery or bleaching and perming little babies' hair to make them more perfectly beautiful blondes. [If you had a narcissist for a parent, you may find some of these books helpful.]
Nearly everyone has some narcissistic traits. It's possible to be arrogant, selfish, conceited, or out of touch without being a narcissist. The practical test, so far as I know, is that with normal people, no matter how difficult, you can get some improvements, at least temporarily, by saying, essentially, "Please have a heart." This doesn't work with narcissists; in fact, it usually makes things worse.
It's impossible to overemphasize the importance of narcissists' lack of empathy. It colors everything about them. I have observed very closely some narcissists I've loved, and their inability to pay attention when someone else is talking is so striking that it has often seemed to me that they have neurological problems that affect their cognitive functioning.
These are educated people with high IQs, who've had ordinary middle-class backgrounds and schooling, and their thinking is not only illogical but weird: with narcissists, you have to know them pretty well to understand their behavior. For instance, they always fill in their gaps (which make up just about the entirety of their visible life) with bits of behavior, ideas, tastes, opinions, etc., borrowed from someone else whom they regard as an authority. Their authoritative sources, as far as I know, are always people they've actually known, not something from a book, for instance, and narcissists' opinions may actually come from someone you know, too, but who is not to you obviously an authority on the matter at hand, so narcissists can seem totally arbitrary, virtually random in their motivations and reasoning.
They are evidently transfixed by a static fantasy image of themselves, like Narcissus gazing at his reflection, and this produces an odd kind of stillness and passivity. Because their inner life is so restricted and essentially dead, it doesn't contain images of how to live a full life -- these things are not important to them, they expect others to look after day-to-day chores, they resent wasting their specialness on common things, they don't put their heart into their work (though they'll tell you how many hours they put into it), they borrow their opinions and preferences and tastes from whomever strikes them as authoritative at the moment.
From my personal experience, and from what I've seen in the clinical literature, narcissists don't talk about their inner life -- memories, dreams, reflections -- much at all. They rarely recount dreams. They seem not to make typical memory associations -- i.e., in the way one thing leads to another, "That reminds me of something that happened when I was...of something I read...of something somebody said...." They don't tell how they learned something about themselves or the world. They don't share their thoughts or feelings or dreams. They don't say, "I have an idea and need some help," or "There's something I've always wanted to do...did you ever want to do that?"
They do not discuss how they've overcome difficulties they've encountered or continuing problems that they're trying to solve (beyond trying to get someone else to do what they want). They often say that they don't remember things from the past, such as childhood events, their schooldays or old friends, and it seems to me that they really don't most of the time.
Anyhow, for all these reasons, I've tried to refrain from speculating about (i.e., novelizing) what goes on in their heads. Writer John Cheever (who recorded having been diagnosed as a narcissist when he went to marriage counseling at his wife's insistence) describes some of his persistent fantasy images -- and, with Cheever, they're very striking, as you'll know if you've read any of his fiction; his characters and plots tend to be narcissistic (i.e., self-obsessed tunnel vision spiraling into nihilism), but his stories often contain memorably glorious set pieces or tableaux, such as the the hunt for the golden Easter egg in one of the Wapshot novels. Cheever also gives unself-conscious expression to the ways in which his obsessive preoccupation with himself (and his penis -- sort of a magic wand in his mind) obstructed his ability to relate to his wife and children, obstructed even his ability to perceive them: to see what they looked like, to pay attention to what they said and did, though with Cheever everything is also soaked with the sorrows of gin.
Alice Adams's novel, Almost Perfect, also gives things from a narcissistic point of view in a way that I found convincing and credible, based on my personal experience of narcissistic individuals. A striking thing about narcissists that you'll notice if you know them for a long time is that their ideas of themselves and the world don't change with experience; the ones I've known have been stalled at a vision that came to them by the age of sixteen.
There are different theories of how narcissists are made. Some psychologists trace NPD to early infantile neglect or abuse, and some blame over-indulgence and indiscriminate praise by parents who don't set limits on what's acceptable from their children. Others say that NPD shows up in adolescence. Some say narcissists tend to peak around middle age and then mellow out. Others say that narcissists stay pretty much the same except they tend to depression as they get older and their grandiose fantasies are not supported, plus they're not as good-looking as they used to be. The narcissists I've known have apparently always been "that way" and they get worse as they get older, with dramatic regression of their personas after the deaths of their parents and other personal authority figures who have previously exerted some control over the narcissists' bad behavior. And, yes, chronic depression gets to be obvious at least by their forties but may have always been present. Depressed narcissists blame the world, of course, and not themselves for their personal disappointments.
Essentially, narcissists are unable or unwilling to trust either the world or other people to meet their needs. Perhaps they were born to parents unable to connect emotionally and, thus, as infants learned not to let another person be essential to them in any way. Perhaps NPD starts later, when intrusive or abusive parents make it dangerous for the child to accept other people's opinions and valuations. Maybe it comes from a childhood environment of being treated like royalty or little gods. Whatever the case, narcissists have made the terrible choice not to love. In their imaginations, they are complete unto themselves, perfect and not in need of anything anyone else can give them. (NB: Narcissists do not count their real lives -- i.e., what they do every day and the people they do it with -- as worth anything.) Their lives are impoverished and sterile; the price they pay for their golden fantasies is high: they'll never share a dream for two.
Now, it is possible to have a relatively smooth relationship with a narcissist, and it's possible to maintain it for a long time. The first requirement for this, though, is distance: this simply cannot be done with a narcissist you live with. Given distance, or only transient and intermittent contact, you can get along with narcissists by treating them as infants: you give them whatever they want or need whenever they ask and do not expect any reciprocation at all, do not expect them to show the slightest interest in you or your life (or even in why you're bothering with them at all), do not expect them to be able to do anything that you need or want, do not expect them to apologize or make amends or show any consideration for your feelings, do not expect them to take ordinary responsibility in any way. But note: they are not infants; infants develop and mature and require this kind of care for only a brief period, after which they are on the road to autonomy and looking after themselves, whereas narcissists never outgrow their demands for dedicated attention to their infantile needs 168 hours a week.
Adult narcissists can be as demanding of your time and energy as little babies but without the gratification of their growing or learning anything from what they suck from you. Babies love you back, but adult narcissists are like vampires: they will take all you can give while giving nothing back, then curse you for running dry and discard you as a waste of their precious time.
It is also essential that you keep emotional distance from narcissists. They're pretty good at maintaining a conventional persona in superficial associations with people who mean absolutely nothing to them, and they'll flatter the hell out of you if you have something they can use or if, for some reason, they perceive you as an authority figure. That is, as long as they think you don't count or they're afraid of you, they'll treat you well enough that you may mistake it for love. But, as soon as you try to get close to them, they'll say that you are too demanding -- and, if you ever say "I love you," they'll presume that you belong to them as a possession or an appendage, and treat you very very badly right away. The abrupt change from decent treatment to outright abuse is very shocking and bewildering, and it's so contrary to normal experience that I was plenty old before I realized that it was actually my expression of affection that triggered the narcissists' nasty reactions.
Once they know you are emotionally attached to them, they expect to be able to use you like an appliance and shove you around like a piece of furniture. If you object, then they'll say that obviously you don't really love them or else you'd let them do whatever they want with you. If you should be so uppity as to express a mind and heart of your own, then they will cut you off -- just like that, sometimes trashing you and all your friends on the way out the door. The narcissist will treat you just like a broken toy or tool or an unruly body part: "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off" [Matt. 18:8]. This means you.
So, yes, it's possible to get along with narcissists, but it's probably not worth bothering with. If family members are narcissists, you have my deep sympathy. If people you work with are narcissists, you will be wise to keep an eye on them, if just for your own protection, because they don't think very well, no matter what their IQs, they feel that the rules (of anything) don't apply to them, and they will always cut corners and cheat wherever they think they can get away with it, not to mention alienating co-workers, clients, and customers by their arrogance, lies, malice, and off-the-wall griping. Narcissists are threatened and enraged by trivial disagreements, mistakes, and misunderstandings, plus they have evil mouths and will say ANYTHING, so if you continue to live or work with narcissists, expect to have to clean up after them, expect to lose friends over them, expect big trouble sooner or later.
If you're reading this because of problems with someone you know now, the chances are excellent that one or both of your parents was a narcissist. Narcissists are so much trouble that only people with special prior training (i.e., who were raised by narcissists) get seriously involved with them.
Sometimes narcissists' children become narcissists, too, but this is by no means inevitable, provided stable love was given by someone, such as the non-narcissist parent or grandparents. Beyond that, a happy marriage will heal many old wounds for the narcissist's child.
But, even though children of narcissists don't automatically become narcissists themselves and can survive with enough intact psychically to lead happy and productive lives away from their narcissistic parents, because we all love our parents whether they can love us back or not, children of narcissists are kind of bent -- "You can't get blood out of a stone," but children of narcissists keep trying, as if by bonding with new narcissists we could somehow cure our narcissistic parents by finding the key to their heart. Thus, we've been trained to keep loving people who can't love us back, and we will often tolerate or actively work to maintain connections with narcissistic individuals whom others, lacking our special training, find alienating and repellent from first contact, setting ourselves up to be hurt yet again in the same old way.
Once narcissists know that you care for them, they'll suck you dry -- demand all your time, be more work than a newborn babe -- and they'll test your love by outrageous demands and power moves. In their world, love is a weakness and saying "I love you" is asking to be hurt, so be careful: they'll hurt you out of a sort of sacred duty. They can't or won't trust, so they will test your total devotion. If you won't submit to their tyranny, then you will be discarded as "no good," "a waste of time," "you don't really love me or you'd do whatever I ask," "I give up on you." (Note: In many instances, narcissists' demands are not only outrageous but also impossible to fulfill even if you want to please them. Plus if you actually want to do what they want you to do, that would be too much like sharing, so they won't want it anymore.)
If you've had a narcissist for a parent, you are probably not afraid of dying and going to hell -- you have lived hell on Earth. Narcissists cannot be satisfied and do a tremendous amount of damage to their children and partners in their relentless demand for a perfect outer appearance to reflect the perfect inner image that obsesses them.
Here follows a discussion of traits I've observed in the half-dozen or so narcissists of both sexes that I've known well over many years. Remember that narcissism is a personality disorder and narcissists' personalities are disordered: they don't make sense! They are not concerned with making sense and they are also impulsive, so you will waste your time trying to understand the details of every little thing they do.
(reply to this comment)
| From rings very true to me..|
Sunday, April 13, 2008, 08:56
[For general discussion of cognition, affectivity, interpersonal functioning, and impulse control in personality disorders and NPD. It's also interesting to compare these traits below with characteristics of normal six-year-olds.]
The most telling thing that narcissists do is contradict themselves. They will do this virtually in the same sentence, without even stopping to take a breath. It can be trivial (e.g., about what they want for lunch) or it can be serious (e.g., about whether or not they love you). When you ask them which one they mean, they'll deny ever saying the first one, though it may literally have been only seconds since they said it -- really, how could you think they'd ever have said that? You need to have your head examined!
They will contradict FACTS. They will lie to you about things that you did together. They will misquote you to yourself. If you disagree with them, they'll say you're lying, making stuff up, or are crazy.
[At this point, if you're like me, you sort of panic and want to talk to anyone who will listen about what is going on: this is a healthy reaction; it's a reality check ("who's the crazy one here?"); that you're confused by the narcissist's contrariness, that you turn to another person to help you keep your bearings, that you know something is seriously wrong and worry that it might be you are all signs that you are not a narcissist].
NOTE: Normal people can behave irrationally under emotional stress -- be confused, deny things they know, get sort of paranoid, want to be babied when they're in pain. But normal people recover pretty much within an hour or two or a day or two, and, with normal people, your expressions of love and concern for their welfare will be taken to heart. They will be stabilized by your emotional and moral support. Not so with narcissists -- the surest way I know of to get a crushing blow to your heart is to tell a narcissist you love her or him. They will respond with a nasty power move, such as telling you to do things entirely their way or else be banished from them for ever.
If you're like me, you get into disputes with narcissists over their casual dishonesty and cruelty to other people. Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or by appealing to their better nature is about as effective as spitting in the ocean. What you see is what you get: they have no better nature. The fundamental problem here is that narcissists lack empathy.
Lacking empathy is a profound disturbance to the narcissist's thinking (cognition) and feeling (affectivity). Even when very intelligent, narcissists can't reason well. One I've worked with closely does something I characterize as "analysis by eggbeater." They don't understand the meaning of what people say and they don't grasp the meaning of the written word either -- because so much of the meaning of anything we say depends on context and affect, narcissists (lacking empathy and thus lacking both context and affect) hear only the words. (Discussions with narcissists can be really weird and disconcerting; they seem to think that using some of the same words means that they are following a line of conversation or reasoning. Thus, they will go off on tangents and irrelevancies, apparently in the blithe delusion that they understand what others are talking about.)
And, frankly, they don't hear all the words, either. They can pay attention only to stuff that has them in it. This is not merely a bad habit -- it's a cognitive deficiency. Narcissists pay attention only to themselves and stuff that affects them personally. However, since they don't know what other people are doing, narcissists can't judge what will affect them personally and seem never to learn that when they cause trouble they will get trouble back. They won't take other people's feelings into consideration and so they overlook the fact that other people will react with feeling when abused or exploited and that most people get really pissed off by being lied to or lied about.
Narcissists lack a mature conscience and seem to be restrained only by fear of being punished or of damaging their reputations -- though, again, this can be obscure to casual observation if you don't know what they think their reputations are, and what they believe others think of them may be way out of touch with reality [see remarks on John Cheever elsewhere on this page].
Their moral intelligence is about at the level of a bright five- or six-year-old; the only rules they recognize are things that have been specifically required, permitted, prohibited, or disapproved of by authority figures they know personally.
Anyhow, narcissists can't be counted on not to do something just because it's wrong, illegal, or will hurt someone, as long as they think that they can get away with it or that you can't stop them or punish them (i.e., they don't care what you think unless they're afraid of you).
Narcissists are envious and competitive in ways that are hard to understand. For instance, one I knew once became incensed over an article published in a national magazine -- not for its content exactly, but because she could have written something just as good. Maybe she could have -- she hadn't, but that little lapse on her part was beside the point to her. They are constantly comparing themselves (and whatever they feel belongs to them, such as their children and furniture) to other people. Narcissists feel that, unless they are better than anyone else, they are worse than everybody in the whole world.
Narcissists are generally contemptuous of others. This seems to spring, at base, from their general lack of empathy, and it comes out as (at best) a dismissive attitude towards other people's feelings, wishes, needs, concerns, standards, property, work, etc. It is also connected to their overall negative outlook on life.
Narcissists are (a) extremely sensitive to personal criticism and (b) extremely critical of other people. They think that they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible, next to god-like (if not actually divine, then sitting on the right hand of God) -- or else they are worthless. There's no middle ground of ordinary normal humanity for narcissists.
They can't tolerate the least disagreement. In fact, if you say, "Please don't do that again -- it hurts," narcissists will turn around and do it again harder to prove that they were right the first time; their reasoning seems to be something like "I am a good person and can do no wrong; therefore, I didn't hurt you and you are lying about it now..." -- sorry, folks, I get lost after that.
Anyhow, narcissists are habitually cruel in little ways, as well as big ones, because they're paying attention to their fantasy and not to you, but the bruises on you are REAL, not in your imagination. Thus, no matter how gently you suggest that they might do better to change their ways or get some help, they will react in one of two equally horrible ways: they will attack or they will withdraw.
Be wary of wandering into this dragon's cave -- narcissists will say ANYTHING, they will trash anyone in their own self-justification, and then they will expect the immediate restoration of the status quo.
They will attack you (sometimes physically) and spew a load of bile, insult, abuse, contempt, threats, etc., and then -- well, it's kind of like they had indigestion and the vicious tirade worked like a burp: "There. Now I feel better. Where were we?" They feel better, so they expect you to feel better, too.
They will say you are nothing, worthless, and turn around immediately and say that they love you. When you object to this kind of treatment, they will say, "You just have to accept me the way I am. (God made me this way, so God loves me even if you are too stupid to understand how special I am.)"
Accepting them as they are (and staying away from them entirely) is excellent advice.
The other "punishment" narcissists mete out is banishing you from their glorious presence -- this can turn into a farce, since by this point you are probably praying to be rescued, "Dear God! How do I get out of this?" The narcissist expects that you will be devastated by the withdrawal of her/his divine attention, so that after a while -- a few weeks or months (i.e., the next time the narcissist needs to use you for something) -- the narcissist will expect you to have learned your lesson and be eager to return to the fold. If you have learned your lesson, you won't answer that call.
They can't see that they have a problem; it's always somebody else who has the problem and needs to change. Therapies work at all only when the individual wants to change and, though narcissists hate their real selves, they don't want to change -- they want the world to change. And they criticize, gripe, and complain about almost everything and almost everyone almost all the time.
There are usually a favored few whom narcissists regard as absolutely above reproach, even for egregious misconduct or actual crime, and about whom they won't brook the slightest criticism. These are people the narcissists are terrified of, though they'll tell you that what they feel is love and respect; apparently they don't know the difference between fear and love. Narcissists just get worse and worse as they grow older; their parents and other authority figures that they've feared die off, and there's less and less outside influence to keep them in check.
Narcissists are hostile and ferocious in reaction, but they are generally passive and lacking in initiative. They don't start stuff -- they don't reach out. Remember this when they turn and rend you! They will complain about the same things for years on end, but only rarely do anything to change what dissatisfies them so badly.
Narcissists are naive and vulnerable, pathetic really, no matter how arrogant and forceful their words or demeanor. They have pretty good reasons for their paranoia and cynicism, their sneakiness, evasiveness, prevarications. This is the one I get suckered on. They are so out of touch with other people and what goes on around them that they are very susceptible to exploitation. On the other hand, they're so inattentive, and so disconnected from what other people are up to, that they don't recognize when someone is taking advantage of them.
Narcissists are grandiose. They live in an artificial self invented from fantasies of absolute or perfect power, genius, beauty, etc. Normal people's fantasies of themselves, their wishful thinking, take the form of stories -- these stories often come from movies or TV, or from things they've read or that were read to them as children. They involve a plot, heroic activity or great accomplishments or adventure: normal people see themselves in action, however preposterous or even impossible that action may be -- they see themselves doing things that earn them honor, glory, love, riches, fame, and they see these fantasy selves as personal potentials, however tenuous, something they'd do if they didn't have to go to school or go to work, if they had the time and the money.
As Freud said of narcissists, these people act like they're in love with themselves. And they are in love with an ideal image of themselves -- or they want you to be in love with their pretend self, it's hard to tell just what's going on.
Like anyone in love, their attention and energy are drawn to the beloved and away from everyday practicalities. Narcissists' fantasies are static -- they've fallen in love with an image in a mirror or, more accurately, in a pool of water, so that movement causes the image to dissolve into ripples; to see the adored reflection they must remain perfectly still.
Narcissists' fantasies are tableaux or scenes, stage sets; narcissists are hung up on a particular picture that they think reflects their true selves (as opposed to the real self -- warts and all). Narcissists don't see themselves doing anything except being adored, and they don't see anyone else doing anything except adoring them. Moreover, they don't see these images as potentials that they may some day be able to live out, if they get lucky or everything goes right: they see these pictures as the real way they want to be seen right now (which is not the same as saying they think these pictures are the way they really are right now, but that is another story to be discussed elsewhere).
Sometimes narcissistic fantasies are spectacularly grandiose -- imagining themselves as Jesus or a saint or hero or deity depicted in art -- but just as often the fantasies of narcissists are mediocre and vulgar, concocted from illustrations in popular magazines, sensational novels, comic books even. These artificial self fantasies are also static in time, going back unchanged to early adolescence or even to childhood; the narcissists' self-images don't change with time, so that you will find, for instance, female narcissists clinging to retro styles, still living the picture of the perfect woman of 1945 or 1965 as depicted in The Ladies' Home Journal or Seventeen or Vogue of that era, and male narcissists still hung up on images of comic-book or ripping adventure heroes from their youth. Though narcissists like pictures rather than stories, they like still pictures, not moving ones, so they don't base their fantasies on movies or TV.
Grandiosity can take various forms -- a narcissistic woman may believe herself to be the very model of perfect womanhood, the standard by which all others are measured, and she will try to force her daughters to be just like her, she will not be able to cope with daughters who are taller or shorter than she is, fatter or thinner, who have bigger or smaller feet, breasts, teeth, who have different favorite colors than hers, etc.
Narcissistic men can be infatuated with their own looks, too, (witness John Cheever, for instance; Almost Perfect) but are more likely than women to get hung up on their intelligence or the importance of their work -- doesn't matter what the work is, if he's doing it, by definition it's more important than anything you could possibly do.
Narcissists I've known also have odd religious ideas, in particular believing that they are God's special favorites somehow; God loves them, so they are exempted from ordinary rules and obligations: God loves them and wants them to be the way they are, so they can do anything they feel like -- though, note, the narcissist's God has much harsher rules for everyone else, including you.
Narcissists have little sense of humor. They don't get jokes, not even the funny papers or simple riddles, and they don't make jokes, except for sarcastic cracks and the lamest puns. This is because, lacking empathy, they don't get the context and affect of words or actions, and jokes, humor, comedy depend entirely on context and affect.
They specialize in sarcasm about others and mistake it for wit, but, in my experience, narcissists are entirely incapable of irony -- thus, I've been chagrined more than once to discover that something I'd taken as an intentional pose or humorous put-on was, in fact, something the narcissist was totally serious about. Which is to say that they come mighty close to parody in their pretensions and pretending, so that they can be very funny without knowing it, but you'd better not let on that you think so. [Interestingly, this is the only trait on this list about which there seems to be any controversy. Maybe I've just been unlucky! I've known narcissists who'll make fun of others, repeat jokes they've heard others laugh at, and laugh at jokes when others laugh, but knowing how to make people laugh is not necessarily the same as having a sense of humor.]
Narcissists have a weird sense of time. It's more or less like they are not aware that the passage of time changes things, or maybe they just aren't aware of time's passing at all. Years can pass without touching narcissists. Narcissists often look, or think they look, significantly younger than they are; this youthful appearance is a point of pride to them, and some will emphasize it by either preserving the styles of their golden youth or following the styles of people the age they feel they "really" are. That their faces don't show their chronological age is a good sign that they haven't been living real lives with real life's wear and tear on the looks of normal people. The narcissists' years have passed without touching them. Bear in mind that narcissistic adults have had decades of not being in synch with the times or with other people, so that by now they are really out of it.
Sometimes it just seems like they have a highly selective memory -- which, of course, they do, sort of; they pay attention only to what has their name in it in the first place, so after 30 or 40 years, you shouldn't be surprised to hear a narcissist say something like, "Didn't the Beatles have a couple of hit songs while we were in high school?" or to suddenly discover that the narcissist doesn't know that M&M's have little m's on them or that smallpox was eradicated over 20 years ago. They are not being ironic: they really don't know. They were off in their own little world of fantastic perfection. On the other hand, as far as I've seen, all that stuff really is in there, but is accessible only intermittently or unpredictably.
Narcissists ordinarily have spotty memories, with huge and odd gaps in their recollections; they may say that they don't remember their childhoods, etc., and apparently most of the time they don't. But they will have sudden accesses of memory, triggered by God knows what, when they remember details, everybody's names, what people were wearing, why the people in that picture from 1950 are standing the way they are, what the weather was like, etc. -- in other words, every once in a while, their memories will be normal. But don't count on it.
Narcissists are totally and inflexibly authoritarian. In other words, they are suck-ups. They want to be authority figures and, short of that, they want to be associated with authority figures. In their hearts, they know they can't think well, have no judgment about what matters, are not connected with the world they inhabit, so they cling fanatically to the opinions of people they regard as authority figures -- such as their parents, teachers, doctors, ministers. Where relevant, this may include scientists or professors or artists, but narcissists stick to people they know personally, since they aren't engaged enough with the world to get their authoritative opinions from TV, movies, books or dead geniuses/saints/heroes. If they get in trouble over some or another opinion they've put forth, they'll blame the source -- "It was okay with Dr. Somebody," "My father taught me that," etc. If you're still thinking of the narcissist as odd-but-normal, this shirking of responsibility will seem dishonest and craven -- well, it is but it's really an admission of weakness: they really mean it: they said what they said because someone they admire or fear said it and they're trying to borrow that person's strength.
Narcissists have strange work habits. Normal people work for a goal or a product, even if the goal is only a paycheck. Normal people measure things by how much they have to spend (in time, work, energy) to get the desired results. Normal people desire idleness from time to time, usually wanting as much free time as they can get to pursue their own thoughts and pleasures and interests.
Narcissists work for a goal, too, but it's a different goal: they want power, authority, adulation. Lacking empathy, and lacking also context and affect, narcissists don't understand how people achieve glory and high standing; they think it's all arbitrary, it's all appearances, it's all who you know. So they try to attach themselves to people who already have what they want, meanwhile making a great show of working hard.
Narcissists can put in a shocking amount of time to very little effect. This is partly because they have so little empathy that they don't know why some work is valued more highly than other work, why some people's opinions carry more weight than others'.
They do know that you're supposed to work and not be lazy, so they keep themselves occupied. But they are not invested in the work they do -- whatever they may produce is just something they have to do to get the admiration and power they crave. Since this is so, they really don't pay attention to what they're doing, preferring the easiest thing at every turn, even though they may be constantly occupied, so that narcissists manage to be workaholics and extremely lazy at the same time.
Narcissists measure the worth of their work only by how much time they spend on it, not by what they produce. They want to get an A for Effort. Narcissists lack empathy, so they don't know what others value or why. Narcissists tend to value things in quantitative ways and in odd quantities at that -- they'll tell you how many inches of letters they received, but not how many letters or from how many correspondents; they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
A narcissist may, in fact, hold himself to a grinding work schedule that gives him something like an addictive high so that, when wrought up, he can be sort of dazed, giddy, and groggy, making you wonder if he's drunk or otherwise intoxicated -- now, that's a real workaholic. Usually, this excessive busyness appears to be -- and some will even tell you this -- an attempt to distract themselves from unpleasant or inconvenient feelings (i.e., it's a manic defense against depression -- and, note, with narcissists it's inaccurate to use "happy" or "unhappy" because their feelings are just not that differentiated; "euphoria" or "dysphoria" are as close as they get to ordinary pleasure or distress) or to make themselves unavailable to others' emotional needs.
Narcissists feel entitled to whatever they can take. They expect privileges and indulgences, and they also feel entitled to exploit other people without any trace of reciprocation.
Some narcissists spend extravagantly in order to impress people, keep up grandiose pretentions, or buy favorable treatment, and some narcissists overspend, bankrupt themselves, and lose everything. My personal experience is that narcissists are stingy, mean, frugal, niggardly to the point of eccentricity. This is a person who won't spend $1.50 on a greeting card but will instead send you an advertising flyer that came with the newspaper. This is a person who will be very conscious of her appearance but will dress herself and her children in used clothes and other people's cast-offs.
[Note: Thrift is not in itself a narcissistic trait; neither is a fondness for old clothes. The important element here is that the narcissist buys clothes that other people she admires and wishes to emulate have already picked out, since she has no individual tastes or preferences.]
These are people who need labels or trademarks (or other signs of authority) to distinguish between the real thing and a cheap knock-off or imitation, and so will substitute something easy and cheap for something precious and dear and expect nobody else to know the difference, since they can't. These are people who can tell you how many miles but not how many smiles.
Narcissists are not only selfish and ungiving -- they seem to have to make a point of not giving what they know someone else wants. Thus, for instance, in a "romantic" relationship, they will want you to do what they want because they want it and not because you want it -- and, in fact, if you actually want to do what they want, then that's too much like sharing and you wreck their fun and they don't want it anymore. They want to get what they want from you without giving you what you want from them. Period. If you should happen to want to give what they want to get, then they'll lose interest in you.
Something I had not connected with narcissism until I read about Reactive Attachment Disorder is that narcissists I've known have had unusual eating habits or appetites, including eating match heads, dry cake mix, chicken bones, raw meat, dog kibble, egg mash, bits of paper, wood pencils; some binge or gorge on ordinary foods, others seem always to be on one or another self-imposed, self-invented eccentric dietary regime. This behavior does not seem to have much in the way of affective component compared to, say, "normal" eating disorders.
Narcissists are very disappointing as gift-givers. This is not a trivial consideration in personal relationships. I've seen narcissistic people sweetly solicit someone's preferences ("Go ahead -- tell me what you really want"), make a show of paying attention to the answer ("Don't you think I'm nice?"), and then deliver something other than what was asked for -- and feel abused and unappreciated when someone else gets gratitude for fulfilling the very request that the narcissist evoked in the first place. I've seen this happen often, where narcissists will go out of their way to stir up other people's expectations and then go out of their way to disappoint those expectations. It seems like a lot of pointless work to me.
First, narcissists lack empathy, so they don't know what you want or like and, evidently, they don't care either; second, they think their opinions are better and more important than anyone else's, so they'll give you what they think you ought to want, regardless of what you may have said when asked what you wanted for your birthday; third, they're stingy and will give as gifts stuff that's just lying around their house, such as possessions that they no longer have any use for, or -- in really choice instances -- return to you something that was yours in the first place. In fact, as a practical matter, the surest way NOT to get what you want from a narcissist is to ask for it; your chances are better if you just keep quiet, because every now and then the narcissist will hit on the right thing by random accident.
It's very hard to have a simple, uncomplicated good time with a narcissist. Except for odd spells of heady euphoria unrelated to anything you can see, their affective range is mediocre-fake-normal to hell-on-Earth. They will sometimes lie low and be quiet, actually passive and dependent -- this is as good as it gets with narcissists.
They are incapable of loving conduct towards anyone or anything, so they do not have the capacity for simple pleasure, beyond the satisfaction of bodily needs. There is only one way to please a narcissist (and it won't please you): that is to indulge their every whim, cater to their tiniest impulses, bend to their views on every little thing.
There's only one way to get decent treatment from narcissists: keep your distance. They can be pretty nice, even charming, flirtatious, and seductive, to strangers, and will flatter you shamelessly if they want something from you. When you attempt to get close to them in a normal way, they feel you are putting emotional pressure on them and they withdraw because you're too demanding. They can be positively fawning and solicitous as long as they're afraid of you, which is not most people's idea of a real fun relationship.
I always have the problem that I get fed up and stay away from THEM long enough to forget exactly what the trouble was, then they come around again, and every narcissist I've known actually was quite lovable about half the time so I try it again.
A clue: Run for cover when they start acting normal, maybe expressing a becoming self-doubt or even acknowledging some little fault of their own, such as saying they now realize that they haven't treated you right or that they took advantage of you before. They're just softening you up for something really nasty. These people are geniuses of "Come closer so I can slap you." Except that's not the way they think about it, if they think about it -- no, they're thinking, "Well, maybe you do really care about me, and, if you really care about me, then maybe you'll help me with this," only by "help" they mean do the whole thing, take total responsibility for it, including protecting and defending them and cleaning up the mess they've already made of it (which they will neglect to fill you in on because they haven't really been paying attention, have they, so how would they know??). They will not have considered for one second how much of your time it will take, how much trouble it may get you into in their behalf, that they will owe you BIG for this -- no, you're just going to do it all out of the goodness of your heart, which they are delighted to exploit yet again, and your virtue will be its own reward: it's supposed to just tickle you pink to be offered this generous opportunity of showing how much you love them and/or how lucky you are to be the servant of such a luminous personage. No lie -- they think other people do stuff for the same reason they do: to show off, to perform for an audience. That's one of the reasons they make outrageous demands, put you on the spot and create scenes in public: they're being generous -- they're trying to share the spotlight with you by giving you the chance to show off how absolutely stunningly devoted-to-them you are. It means that they love you; that's why they're hurt and bewildered when you angrily reject this invitation.
Appearances are all there is with narcissists -- and their self-hatred knows no bounds. The most dramatic example I can think of is from John Cheever's journals. Throughout his life he had pursued surreptitious homosexual activities, being transiently infatuated with young men who reminded him of himself in his youth, while also living in a superficially settled way as a married family man, a respected writer with an enviable suburban life, breeding pedigreed dogs and serving on the vestry of the Episcopal church.
When his secret life (going to New York City for a few days every now and then to pick up sailors and other beautiful boys for brief flings) came to scandalous light, his family sought to reassure him by telling him that they'd known about his homosexual activities for years. Now, a normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed but also relieved and grateful that scandal, not to mention chronic emotional and marital infidelity, had not caused his wife and children to reject and abandon him -- but not the narcissist! Oh, no, Cheever was enraged that they would ever have thought such a thing of him -- if they really loved him, they'd have bought his artificial "country squire" persona: they would have seen him as he wished to be seen: they would have believed his lies without question or doubt.
Narcissists don't volunteer the usual personal information about themselves, so they may seem secretive or perhaps unusually reserved or very jealous of their privacy. All these things are true, but with the special narcissistic twist that, first, their real life isn't interesting to them so it doesn't occur to them that it would be interesting to anyone else and, second, since they have not yet been transfigured into the Star of the Universe, they're ashamed of their real life. They feel that their jobs, their friends and families, their homes and possessions aren't good enough for them, they deserve better.
Narcissists not only don't recognize the feelings and autonomy of others, they don't recognize their own feelings as their own. Their feelings are sort of like the weather, atmospheric, acts of God. The narcissistic think that everyone's having the same feeling as they are. This means that usually their own pain means nothing to them beyond the physical discomfort -- it has no affective component. When they do get some painful affect, they think that God is punishing them -- they think that their trivial errors are worth God's specific attention to their punishment. If you try to straighten them out, by telling them that your feelings are different, beware: their idea of sharing their feelings is to do or say something that makes you feel the way they're feeling and, as they make a point of not sharing anything desirable, you can expect something really nasty. The sad fact seems to be that narcissists feel just as bad about themselves as they make others feel about them.
Narcissists are noted for their negative, pessimistic, cynical, or gloomy outlook on life. Sarcasm seems to be a narcissistic specialty, not to mention spite. Lacking love and pleasure, they don't have a good reason for anything they do and they think everyone else is just like them, except they're honest and the rest of us are hypocrites. Nothing real is ever perfect enough to satisfy them, so are they are constantly complaining and criticizing -- to the point of verbal abuse and insult.
Narcissists are impulsive. They undo themselves by behavior that seems oddly stupid for people as intelligent as they are. Somehow, they don't consider the probable consequences of their actions. It's not clear to me whether they just expect to get away with doing anything they feel like at the moment or whether this impulsiveness is essentially a cognitive shortcoming deriving from the static psychic state with its distorted perception of time.
Narcissists hate to live alone. Their inner resources are skimpy, static, and sterile, nothing interesting or attractive going on in their hearts and minds, so they don't want to be stuck with themselves. All they have inside is the image of perfection that, being mere mortals like the rest of us, they will inevitably fall short of attaining.
Cult members take on the personality of the leader. (reply to this comment)
| From rainy|
Saturday, April 12, 2008, 18:59
I'd say that explanation is pretty right on about my dad. He's still in, and yes, I think being impervious to his family and friends is an intrinsic part of his personality. But with my mother I think it was the opposite. She desperately needed those connections but was all alone, a young teenager whose father had just died and whose mother was grieving. She latched on to the cult as a substitute family. She still has fond memories of old cult friends, although she has no current friends to speak of, and no contact from old ones back in the day. I'd say she comes under the category of what I've just described. Trying to shut out memories as a coping mechanism.(reply to this comment)