The startling impact the lack of maternal mirroring has on an infant.

A while back, I posted a video of an experiment dealing with early attachment, called the Still Face experiment.  I’m going to post it again, because of how important this is, and also to compare it to an upsetting video of Caylee Anthony, who was regularly filmed by her mother in home videos,  but who never seemed to be interacted with or talked to by her mother, Casey Anthony (who was charged with murdering two year old Caylee–and probably did–but was found not guilty during the court proceedings).

In the Still Face video, a mother and her one year old baby are shown happily interacting.  The baby responds to her mother and the mother mirrors her back.  It’s a kind of emotional dance they are engaged in together and a beautiful thing to see.   It’s this type of interaction that–far from spoiling the child–teaches a child empathy and love, and enables them to form healthy attachments to others later on.

For the experiment, the mother is instructed to stop interacting with her baby and show her a “still face”–a cold face devoid of expression.    The speed at which the baby notices the coldness and lack of mirroring is startling, and you can see how quickly the baby first attempts to engage the mother by various means, and then grows frustrated and finally desperate, and she finally cries, at which point the mother comforts her.   Even though it’s only an experiment and the mother’s still face only lasts a minute or two,  I still had a visceral reaction to it (perhaps because my own mother was cold in this way and I was told allowed me to “cry things out” alone in my room as a baby) and found it triggering.

This type of behavior toward a child is likely to lead to the child developing attachment disorders and later, possibly, personality disorders.  Because empathy isn’t modeled for them, many people with narcissism, borderline, or antisocial behavior had mothers (or primary caregivers) who treated them with coldness and failed to mirror them.

Comparison with Caylee Anthony

Caylee Anthony, the murdered toddler mentioned in the first paragraph,  was often filmed by her mother, Casey, as she engaged in various daily activities–always alone and with no interaction by Casey.    The videos are creepy — coldly recording this child who seemed to show behaviors eerily similar to those of the baby in the Still Face video, but never interacting in any way with her. Unlike the baby in the first video, Caylee rarely cried.   It seems she might have already partly given up and already was developing some sort of attachment disorder.   Although she apparently wasn’t physically abused (until she was killed), she was definitely emotionally abused by her narcissistic mother.  In the video I’ve posted, Caylee shows increasing frustration and confusion, and seems angry at times.   Who could blame her?

Co-narcissism: how we adapt to narcissistic parents (PDF article)

This is an interesting article about co-narcissism — picking up narcissistic traits or codependent behaviors from narcissistic parents (sometimes known as “fleas”) as a defense against abuse.      It also discusses therapy with narcissists and co-narcissists (co-dependents).

Dream about losing my aluminum-foil false self.


I started taking the natural hormonal supplement melatonin to help control my SAD symptoms.   I wrote about that in this post.   One thing taking melatonin has done is give me very vivid and strange dreams  (I know all dreams are strange, but the ones I’m having are stranger than usual and I’m remembering more of them.

Most of the dreams I haven’t bothered to write down, and I can’t remember them anymore.  But one in particular, which I had a couple of nights ago seemed important and relevant enough to my recovery that, half-asleep, I scribbled it down in a noteback I’ve been keeping next to my bed.  The feeling of the dream (which was unpleasant and frustrating–though not really nightmarish) is almost lost to me now, but the details are still clear.

I was traveling by myself to some kind of camp in the wilderness–like a summer camp, only for adults.   I would be staying there for several months to several years.  It was in a region I was completely unfamiliar with, and I knew I had to arrive there before it began to get dark so I could find my way.

When I arrived in the town bordering the wilderness area where the camp was located, I suddenly realized I had forgotten to bring my makeup, my hairbrush, my hair straightener, any good looking clothing–basically, anything that made me “look good.”  i was hundreds or thousands of miles from home and could not go back to get these things.

Frantic, I searched up and down all the streets of the town I was in  for a store that sold these things.   I still had my makeup on for the day, but knew that once it washed or wore off, I would feel that shame of “nakedness,” of looking my worst.   It was growing dark, and every store I stopped in told me they did not sell such items.  The people were very friendly and pleasant, but no one could help, or knew of anywhere I could buy such items.   I remember feeling panicked and very frustrated.

When I woke up, I realized almost immediately what this meant.   The cosmetic items represent my “aluminum foil false self”–the thin narcissistic defense layer I’ve developed over time to protect myself from the ravages of my underlying BPD and C-PTSD.   It’s a thin layer and easily torn, since it was developed pretty late in life, and it could just be narcissistic “fleas” but it’s caused me a lot of problems since it’s a barrier to real connection with both my own emotions and meaningful, deep relationships with others.   It’s mostly caused me to avoid other people and situations that make me feel to vulnerable, because of fear I will be hated or shamed for being my real, vulnerable self (which I’m constantly fully conscious of).

The mysterious camp represents where I’m going in my life–a place of learning and adventure, and a place where I also have no idea what is going to happen.  The store owners in the area didn’t sell the things I desired because those things (narcissistic defenses) would hinder and hold me back during my “camping experience.”   These things were not necessary but it scared me that i would have to enter this camp “naked”–as my real, genuine self,  not dolled up to “look” better than I actually do or hide behind a kind of mask.

Reparenting a Psychopath: is it possible?

David Bernstein thinks it is.  Here he talks about using schema therapy/reparenting techniques to tap into a psychopath’s vulnerable/childlike side. He has worked with forensic patients with psychopathy and ASPD for many years and insists they do have such a side.

We’re not even talking about narcissists here, but psychopaths, who are not supposed to have any soft emotions and make narcissists look like a walk in the park in comparison.  But Bernstein thinks that if a psychopath’s vulnerable side can be tapped into  (which occasionally appears randomly and he gives three examples he’s seen among his forensic patients) then perhaps empathy and remorse can be taught.

I’m really skeptical, but it’s interesting and would be great if it could work–especially as crime deterrent and a way to rehabilitate hardened criminals.  From what I’ve heard, only a very, very few therapists (concentrated in the New York City area) are even trained in this.  Even if it does work, it probably wouldn’t work on psychopaths born without the parts of the amygdala that control empathy and conscience, just on sociopaths with normal “white matter”  who became antisocial due to a bad childhood.

The only “easy” thing about the patients Dr. Bernstein treats are that they’re not difficult to get into therapy, since these are forensic patients who are already in prison.   They can’t quit when things get uncomfortable.   Such is not the case with most NPDs, who usually aren’t in prison and don’t often seek out therapy for themselves.

Listening to Shame — Brene Brown

I have found Brene Brown’s videos incredibly helpful.  Anyone who has struggled with trauma, shame, and fear of vulnerability would do well to watch her videos.    I’ve already posted “The Power of Vulnerability,” and have watched it dozens of times.   Here’s another one I just watched called “Listening to Shame.”   Brene is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever seen. Follow her on Youtube!

Temporary indwelling to elicit emotion and empathy in psychodynamic therapy.

Heinz Kohut

I’ve been in psychodynamic therapy now for about a year. This isn’t my first therapist.  I wouldn’t say my past therapists were very effective (and a few were just really bad), but on the other hand, I probably wasn’t ready to do the work. I used to evade my feelings, interrupt the therapist, and play “cutesy” mind games (more annoying than cute now that I think about it, but at the time I thought I was being so adorable), and not stay with the topic at hand.

This has still been a problem for me, though less so because I’m more motivated than ever to change and am willing to do whatever it takes.  But old habits die hard. When I don’t want to confront something, sometimes I start changing the subject, making jokes, etc. I was pissing myself off that I kept doing this. So finally I asked my therapist to please stop me whenever I do this and help direct me, because I always left feeling like I hadn’t made any progress and we’d just been chatting like old friends.   I don’t pay him to be my buddy!  He agreed with me about this, and now he doesn’t let me “escape” anymore.  Even though sometimes it annoys me when he interrupts me to tell me to stay on topic or stay with whatever emotion is coming up, I’m always grateful. He’s very good at what he does.

Modeling emotions.

Another thing my therapist has done is “model” emotions for me. When I first came to therapy, I felt numb and always vaguely depressed, but depressed in that dead, auto-pilot kind of way, which is far worse, really, than the more “active” sort of depression or sadness that involves “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”    I’m blessed that he’s an empath and also in touch with his own emotions, enough so that he doesn’t hesitate to feel something “for” me until I can feel it too. He’s comfortable enough to actually use his own emotions to help me. It also probably helps that he’s also a Method actor, which is a somewhat recent acting technique that involves using one’s own emotions to “feel” the character instead of “acting” a part and results in more natural performances.  But what he does isn’t a performance because it isn’t fake.    He does this without overdoing it or freaking me out.

Here are two examples of what I mean. Once he correctly sensed that I was angry about something but I was talking about it in a flat, unemotional way, as if it happened to someone else other than me.  So he told me how angry what happened to me made him and he LOOKED angry! This surprised me at first but then I came alive. I agreed with him and began to feel angry about it too. We were then able to work with the anger.

He also knows I had a problem crying, and both of us knew I needed to. I told him how frustrating that was for me, that I couldn’t cry when I felt like I needed to. After that, several times when I told him something sad, he not only empathized, but actually got tears in his eyes. I pointed this out to him. He smiled and said, “I feel how sad you are. Would it bother you any if I show my own sadness about this?” I didn’t know what to say, I was very touched. I just said, “sure.” He was quiet for a minute and a few tears came out, he sniffled once, blew his nose, and then he was done. Nothing over the top, no sobbing or loss of control. It was definitely unconventional, but it was very controlled and it wasn’t about him at all so I didn’t feel like I had to comfort him or anything. I just appreciated that someone cared that much. I also appreciated that he asked me permission first, to avoid overstepping my boundaries.  I thanked him and felt myself choke up in gratitude but I didn’t cry that time. I felt a little envious that he could cry for me but I still couldn’t for myself. But soon after that session, tears began to come to me during my sessions and I realized this was because he had empathized so deeply with my pain and made me learn to trust him enough that I could be that vulnerable. Crying doesn’t bother me anymore (even though I have yet to REALLY let go in session) and I always feel better after.

It turned out my therapist in both cases was using something called “temporary indwelling”, part of Kohut’s self psychology.  It’s related to re-parenting.  Counter-transference is used to help a client be able to feel and express certain emotions trough modeling them/experiencing them for the client. It only works if the therapist is empathic enough to know what emotion is bubbling under the surface and is comfortable expressing their own emotions. Otherwise, it could be awkward and even seriously freak a patient out. The great thing about temporary indwelling is that it helps you learn to empathize with your inner child (true self) instead of feeling ashamed. From there, by learning to love and empathize with your own true self, you learn how to empathize in general and hopefully, develop meaningful connections with others. The therapist serves as a surrogate parent, nurturing the inner child that was shamed instead of loved the way they should have been.

Temporary indwelling.

Here’s a good definition of how temporary indwelling works.   Even though it’s a common technique used with narcissistic patients (and I do not have an NPD diagnosis), it’s sometimes used for clients with BPD and other problems where the honest expression of emotion has been an issue and is hindering the progression of therapy, or where there is a great deal of shame or an emotional disconnect to the client’s real self.

Psychotherapy with a Narcissistic Patient Using Kohut’s Self Psychology Model.

According to Kohut’s self psychology model, narcissistic psychopathology is a result of parental lack of empathy during development. Consequently, the individual does not develop full capacity to regulate self esteem. The narcissistic adult, according to Kohut’s concepts, vacillates between an irrational overestimation of the self and irrational feelings of inferiority, and relies on others to regulate his self esteem and give him a sense of value. In treatment, Kohut recommends helping the patient develop these missing functions. Kohut proposes that the therapist should empathically experience the world from the patient’s point of view (temporary indwelling) so that the patient feels understood. Interpretations are used when they can help the patient understand his sometimes intense feelings about any empathic failure on the part of the therapist, and understand why he (the patient) needs to restore solidity and comfort after being injured by any failed empathic (self object) ties. As insight develops, the patient begins to understand why he might experience these apparently small empathic failures so deeply.In this article, therapy with a narcissistic patient is approached from the point of view of Kohut’s self psychology theory, and the successes and problems that were encountered with this approach are described and discussed.

Further reading:
A narcissist in therapy: Kohut’s Self-Psychology Model

Absurd dream that made me angry and then laugh.


I dreamed about my stupid narcopath ex again.   I don’t know why I keep dreaming about him because I never actually think about him and no longer care about him.  My primary “emotion” toward him is slightly annoyed indifference.  I don’t even feel much anger anymore.  Just boredom. Honestly, if he were killed in a car accident tomorrow, I doubt I’d care that much, except for the impact it would have on our kids.  He’s like a stranger to me, one I’m glad I have almost nothing to do with.

In these dreams, he’s always doing better than me and I resent the hell out of it because I think he’s so undeserving and an insufferable ass who deserves to be deprived instead of me. I know that makes me sound like the narcissist instead of him, but it’s the truth.  These feelings come out in my dreams.  Here’s the latest.

In the dream, the knob on my ancient stove (the real one I actually have) stopped working.  The white paint that spelled the numbers and the “OFF” were long rubbed off, but I had still been able to tell if it was off or on because of the little “click” when I turned it that told me it was off.  But the knob kept spinning in place and wouldn’t click.  Something seemed to be broken or loose.

I don’t know what kind of place we were in.  There were all these strange people walking around, like it was the middle of a public hallway somewhere.  So here I was, sitting on the floor in the middle of this hallway, with all these strangers walking back and forth, angrily fuming and fiddling with the broken stove knob.   I knew I couldn’t afford to buy a new stove, or even have the thing repaired.

My ex was over in another corner, with all his new toys, like it was Christmas morning or something.   He had TWO new coffeemakers (why?), a set of brand new dishes, an ice cream maker, a deep fryer, an espresso maker, a juicer, and an expensive food processor.   Their boxes and packaging were strewn nearby.   I went over to ask him to help me with the stove knob, and that’s when I saw all his new kitchen loot.   I was enraged and jealous.

“Where the HELL did you get all that new stuff? TWO coffee makers?  Why would you need TWO goddam coffeemakers? Who the hell NEEDS two coffeemakers?”  I yelled, outraged.

He ignored me.   That enraged me even more.

“Where did you get the money to buy all that crap, HUH? Who you freeloading off of this time?” I demanded. “I know you didn’t EARN it!”  He continued to act like I wasn’t there.


“Maybe you STOLE it!” I accused.   I thought of all the times he had stolen money out of my wallet while I slept.  Or the time recently when he stole the money my daughter had been saving to move to her own apartment.

Blood roared in my head.  “NO ONE NEEDS TWO FRIGGIN’ COFFEEMAKERS!”  I screamed.

Did I expect him to give me one?  Maybe I did.  I wasn’t sure.   All I knew was that this injustice made my blood boil. This POS who had freeloaded off me for seven years so he could get disability and never have to work a day in his life again had two brand new coffeemakers and a bunch of other useless kitchen crap that he’d probably never use.  And I had nothing but a broken stove and bills I couldn’t pay.

I looked around.  The people walking back and forth ignored us.  They might as well have not heard me yelling.  Maybe they didn’t hear me.   I didn’t care if they did or not.  I was beyond niceties.

I fixed my gaze back on the narcopath. I imagined my eyes were two laser beams boring into his blackened soul. “Hey! I need you to help me fix my stove.  The knob is broken and I don’t know how to fix it.  And unlike YOU, I can’t afford to buy a new stove or have it fixed.  So I need your help if you can tear yourself away from your new toys long enough to come have a look.”

He continued to open his packages, pulling styrofoam out of another box.  Maybe it was a third coffeemaker.    His two coffeemakers sat side by side on the floor, taunting me.  I felt like drop kicking them into the wall.  I glared balefully at them instead.    Those innocent hunks of plastic and brushed chrome represented everything I hated about this man.

“Hey.  I’m talking to YOU.   I need you to help me with my stove.”   I had the broken knob in my hand.  I shoved it in his face so he would look.  He still ignored me.  What the hell was his problem?   I looked back to where the stove had been, but I didn’t see it.   I wasn’t too concerned.  After all, this was a dream and as far as I was concerned, the stove was still there.

I asked people around if they had seen the stove.  I showed them the knob.  No one had seen it.  Strange.  But I still knew it was there.    I walked back over to where my ex sat and continued my tirade and demands.   I wanted him to suffer.

“Well, you insufferable ass. Since you refuse to help and continue to give me the silent treatment, I want one of those damn coffeemakers,” I said.   He was still ignoring me.

I woke up and laughed.   What a ridiculous, absurd dream.  What an complete entitled bitch I had been in it too.  Narcopath or not, no one deserved to be treated the way I treated him in the dream. I would never actually behave that way in real life.   But in the dream itself, I was really mad and couldn’t control my rage and envy.  I don’t really know why, unless I’m still harboring anger toward him.  Or maybe just anger in general.

The removal of NPD from the DSM would be a disaster


Apparently, the removal of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM-V code 301.81; ICD-10 code F60.81) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is still being considered.   Sam Vaknin talks about it in this video.

I think its removal would be disastrous. It already scares me that narcissism seems to be increasingly regarded as an advantage in today’s winner-take-all society and that we even have a potential US President who is a poster boy for malignant NPD. Trump has even been given the NPD label by many mental health professionals. Yet he still remains popular and is a serious contender for our next President.

But narcissism (not the healthy, but the pathological type) is definitely not a positive thing. Narcissists are actually miserable people even if they become successful (and many of them do not). These are people without a real sense of self, who have constructed a false one to compensate and must feed off others like vampires to keep their false self intact. They do others a lot of damage, even if they think they don’t have a problem. Under the facade, these are people who have a vast well of emptiness inside and if the false self is removed through loss of narcissistic supply, will become deeply depressed, possibly psychotic, and even suicidal. NPD is a serious mental illness, but I think people tend to forget that, because on the surface, people with this disorder can seem so functional. SEEM is the operating word here.

Many self-help books, especially those that tell you how to be successful, encourage you to develop narcissistic traits. I think these books are dangerous, not only because they encourage people to become narcissists, but also because they have caused a shift in thinking about NPD to the point that many no longer consider it a mental illness and in fact think of it as something to strive for. We need to stop pretending narcissism isn’t a problem. More attention needs to be paid not only to the damage narcissists cause others, but also to the internal world of the NPD, which is a painful and bleak one. NPD is a serious mental illness, not a “personality type.” Its removal from the DSM would cause untold damage to the world.

We also need more mental health specialists who are actually trained to treat people with NPD. I think part of the reason why it’s under consideration for removal is because most therapists don’t want to treat people with NPD. If you have the diagnosis, you are shown the door. They don’t want to deal with you and assume you are incurable. Hence, there are more narcissists walking around doing damage to themselves and others than ever before. I don’t think the non-malignant type of narcissist is as incurable as people think; it’s just because it isn’t an easy disorder to treat and therapists don’t want to be bothered working with people who have it. Old-school psychiatrists and psychologists such as Kohut, Kernberg, Masterson, and Lowen treated people with NPD successfully in their practices, but we seem to have forgotten that and just assume it’s incurable and worse, that it’s not even a mental illness but a personality type. This needs to change!