It’s BPD awareness month.

bpdawareness

“Out of the Closet: As a Borderline and a Narcissist.” (reblogged article)

Another ACON blogger who believed she was “just” a narcissistic abuse victim with C-PTSD and “fleas” has been doing some serious soul-searching.  This is what she is discovering about herself, and it’s like finding the world flipped around on its head–or walking into a house of mirrors.

I’m reblogging this because it comes just days after my own “coming out.”   I can relate to everything she writes here.

Please follow Sleeping Tiger’s blog:
https://asleepingtiger.wordpress.com/

Out of the Closet: As a Borderline and a Narcissist

By Aura Gael, Sleeping Tiger blog.

houseofmirrors

Even now, just as I begin to write I can feel myself wanting to detach, even slightly dissociate into a day-dream type state.

I’m tired though and depressed. What I take some days for my depression and anxiety, makes me tired the next day, which in turns feeds the depression and my boredom.

So, to the point of this post: I have borderline personality disorder. I was diagnosed some time ago, but even if I hadn’t been, I could, quite confidently still say this and know it’s true.

In fact, I sought the diagnosis. Although I would’ve preferred to be proven wrong, the truth is truth no matter how much you don’t want it to be. Sure, I could also be labeled as having Complex Post Traumatic Disorder too and in fact I do think I suffer from that as well. After all, I have borderline because of ongoing emotional neglect and abuse via both parents, which also caused the post traumatic stress.

The traumatic stress was exacerbated during the stretch of weeks that my family and I cared for my father after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. There abuse exhausted me. I found myself wondering during the editing of this post, if their treatment of me didn’t play a part in removing the mask that I wear. That being said, the mask is and has been off in my living situation for a long time. It has come off in periodic fits of rage or berating of others.

According to the DSM (any version that lists it) I fit quite well into each symptom of BPD. I have mentioned the personality disorder here and there on this blog, but not a whole lot, pertaining to myself, preferring to go along with the (C)PTSD part of the diagnosis, given the way I acquired it. Note: I was not diagnoses with Complex PTSD. The therapist who diagnosed me with borderline also diagnosed me with PTSD.

My thinking on that is because the complex form is not recognized in the DSM and it’s likely for insurance purposes as well. This therapist , in fact all the therapists I’ve seen covered by public assistance have seemed to be more concerned with making sure they get paid than making sure they can help me.

Digressing…sorry.

Feeling afraid and shameful, because of the stigma, I have preferred to mention as little as possible in reference to myself. Besides, don’t people with C-PTSD have trouble with impulse control and containing emotions as well?  (Rhetorical question.)

Some of what I’ve written of my behavior though, certainly speaks for itself and someone knowledgeable of the disorders would likely figure it out.  In fact someone knowledgeable may even guess I have some level of narcissism as well.

Read the rest of this post here.

There is still so much that triggers me.

triggers

Even after a year in intensive psychodynamic therapy, various (and some kind of crazy) self-therapies before that, spirituality, and blogging for two years, there are times when I feel like I’ve made no progress at all.

So many things still upset and trigger me.   I’m still hypervigilant, even to the point of paranoia at times; hypersensitive to criticism, don’t have a very good handle on my crippling anxiety and depression; and am envious.  I’m still socially awkward and avoidant; and terrified of rejection, abandonment, and disapproval.    I don’t handle other people’s anger very well, and often find myself automatically jumping on the defensive, even when there’s no reason to.  I still apologize for things that weren’t my fault, and take things too personally.   I still fret about what other people think of me.   I still have very low self esteem and feel like a complete loser much of the time.   I still do and say things that tend to self-sabotage and keep me from moving forward.

At least I know now where all this comes from, and at least I’m aware these feelings are just feelings and not facts.  They were part of my programming in my toxic family.  But knowing this doesn’t stop me from being triggered easily and resorting to primitive and self-sabotaging defense mechanisms.

But some things really have changed.    While I still have difficulty regulating my emotions sometimes, I don’t feel emotionally “dead” as often as I used to and I do regulate my emotions better than I did before I acquired that thin protective narcissistic defense layer (which I think accounted for the “dead” feeling).   I also don’t have as many (or really, any) scary and disorienting dissociative episodes anymore (those disappeared along with the emotional numbness, which is interesting).  I’m less angry than I used to be and I don’t act out against others the way I used to.  I don’t drink too much, do drugs, eat junk food compulsively, or otherwise try to “self-medicate” the way I tended to years ago.   While I can still be envious, it’s not as painful or crippling as it used to be–it’s something I can handle now.  I have more motivation and feel like my life might actually be leading somewhere.   I feel like I’m not completely useless and don’t think of myself as a “bad person” or a “useless person” anymore.

I’m also seeing the good qualities I’ve always had that I either couldn’t see before or didn’t think were good qualities.   After losing the thin protective narcissistic layer (“fleas,” I guess) that disconnected me from my own emotions, I realized I actually have a great deal of empathy.   That surprised me.   I never thought of myself as particularly empathetic before.  Part of the problem was also that I was always so focused in on myself and my turbulent and constantly changing emotions that there was simply no room left for me to care about anyone else.    I have a great sense of humor, which fortunately is something I never really lost and the ability to laugh at things might have kept me from going completely insane.   Now my sense of humor has gotten even better and is less bitter and cynical.   I’m open-minded and don’t think I’m very judgmental at all.     I’m also coming to realize that my innate sensitivity– which I used to be so ashamed of–is really a great thing once you know how to use it.

I’ve come to accept that I may never be completely healed (after all, it took my whole life to get that way), but I think I can live with that.  No one is perfect.  So I’ll just keep working at getting better and try to be the best I can be.  That’s all I can do.  That’s all anyone can do.

 

Grieving and progress.

grieving-5

I’m so depressed I had to call in sick at work and set up an emergency therapy session this afternoon.  I couldn’t sleep last night at all.   I spent the entire weekend crying.   This after so many years of not crying enough. This is more than just my SAD acting up.  That never got THIS bad before, even though it’s probably contributing to it.  I have no idea what set it off; it seems like everything’s a potential trigger.   Maybe nothing at all did; maybe this was inevitable.

I think last month something inside me really did “shift” and the initial response was happiness when I had no need of my defenses.   But I’m unable yet to reconcile living without them with the harshness of real life.   My therapist thinks I’m grieving and this is a necessary process but it’s excruciating.

He thinks I’ve slammed headlong into the “void” and have not learned how to fill the hole yet without my defenses protecting me and that’s why I feel like I’m losing my mind.    In Borderline Personality Disorder (and other PD’s) and C-PTSD this is called the “abandonment depression.”  Mentally, I know this is  good and means I’ve made more progress but emotionally it’s hell.    I have to keep telling myself this is not permanent and is necessary part of healing.    It does feel like a grieving process.  It’s hard to function.  But what exactly I’m grieving I’m not sure.  That’s what I’m going to find out.

I did see this post this morning and it made me feel a tad better.   Maybe it can help someone else too.

Depression Is Happiness

****

I also saw this.   It’s a little judgmental and “scolding” in parts, but also there’s a lot of truth here.

http://borderlinepersonality.ca/borderabandonwound.htm

The truth about covert narcissists and why they aren’t hopeless.

covert_narcissist

BPD and covert narcissism/covert NPD are often confused with each other, because on the surface, their symptoms can appear very similar.   Neither has a grandiose sense of self or displays much (or any) arrogance, which is the more typical picture of someone with NPD.   Like borderlines, covert narcissists can seem very sensitive, needy, or emotionally fragile (something grandiose narcissists are not usually noted for, except for their infamous outbursts of rage).

Because covert or “fragile” NPD is not a recognized psychiatric diagnosis (at least not in my country),  people  who are actually suffering from covert narcissism (or covert NPD for those higher on the spectrum) are usually diagnosed with something else — usually Borderline Personality Disorder, especially for females.   Covert narcissism is also frequently confused with  PTSD (which may actually be comorbid with it),  Avoidant Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome/high functioning autism.

Covert narcissists, unlike borderlines, do have a false self–but their false self, rather than being grandiose or arrogant, is usually a “nice guy or gal.”  They want to be seen as good people, not badasses.   Some covert narcissists present themselves as victims, or as altruistic or helpful.  But in all cases, their real motive is to obtain narcissistic supply in the form of admiration (the helpful, altruistic types) or sympathy or care (the victim or helpless/needy types).

Another way covert narcissists differ from borderlines is they have problems with entitlement and envy (which I talked about in yesterday’s post about my own envy), even though it’s hidden.   They also usually lack emotional empathy; while borderlines generally have less empathy than a non-disordered person, they have more than narcissists.  That being said,  I can think of at least two diagnosed covert NPDs who have very high levels of emotional (not just cognitive) empathy, so I don’t think this is always an accurate indicator.

Another difference between BPD and covert narcissism/NPD is their core fear.  Borderlines are terrified of abandonment (being left), while narcissists fear rejection, disapproval, or judgment (how they are seen by others).   Of course they fear abandonment too, but how they are seen by others is their highest priority.

A commenter on this blog made an interesting observation about me under another post.  He or she said that in reading my posts, I seem to express more fear of how I’m seen by others than of abandonment, which indicates I have covert/fragile narcissism rather than BPD.   I actually think I have both.   BPD is my core disorder, but as I explained in my post about envy from yesterday, I think I unconsciously developed a thin layer of narcissism over that as a protection from the lack of emotional control I felt as a pure borderline.    As I go deeper into therapy,  I’m finding as that layer of narcissism begins to melt away, my emotions are going haywire again, more like a borderline.   But it’s okay now, because mindfulness activities help me keep any emotional lability in check.    I’m also learning how to use my strong emotions to my advantage and learn to love them instead of reject them.   For these reasons, I no longer have to cover the BPD “cake” with narcissistic “icing.”  There’s no way I’d want to go back to that awful feeling of being so disconnected and dissociated from my truth.

Covert narcissists can be every bit as malignant as grandiose narcissists, and in fact they can be more dangerous because they don’t wear a neon sign announcing they’re narcissists.   They show fewer red flags and can seem so nice at first.   But they soon prove to be emotional vampires, draining your mental and emotional resources until you’re exhausted and feel like you’re going insane.    They seem to have a bottomless well of neediness that can never be satisfied, no matter how much attention or care you give them.   They just keep taking and never give anything back.

But it’s still better to be a covert narcissist than a grandiose one.  Covert narcissists, no matter how high on the spectrum they are, are more curable and better candidates for therapy than grandiose/classic narcissists, because their disorder is almost always ego-dystonic.   This is probably because covert or fragile narcissists tend to be lower functioning than the classic type.    Unlike classic narcissists, they don’t believe their narcissism has improved their lives or made them successful.  Many (though not all) of them become lifelong underachievers, living far beneath their potential. They see themselves as “failures” and can’t understand why they can’t maintain jobs or satisfying relationships.   Although they may go for years believing it’s the fault of everyone else that their lives are so miserable, since they tend to be depressed and anxious, they’re still likely to seek out therapy.  When and if they become aware of their disorder, they usually want to change.   Even if they don’t know what their real problem is, they still know something is wrong.  They only need to realize their problem lies within themselves and not because the world is persecuting them.

Quite a few covert narcissists I know from the NPD forums seem entirely capable of accepting culpability once their narcissism or NPD is pointed out to them (and some discover it on their own). From there, getting better is just a matter of not expecting miracles overnight and a willingness to do a lot of hard emotional work.   Classic narcissists almost never think they have a problem or are willing to make any changes or enter therapy, even if they become aware of their narcissism.  They usually believe their narcissism has been of benefit to them.

How to build a covert/fragile narcissist.

Some families have one child who is both scapegoat and golden child. It’s especially common in families who have an only child. You can imagine how crazy-making this would be. As bad as being a scapegoat is, at least there’s predictability–you know you’ll ALWAYS be treated badly, ALWAYS punished, ALWAYS criticized or diminished. In a family where one child fills both the SG and GC roles, they never know if they’ll be rewarded or punished for the very same thing from one minute to the next. Such children are held to impossibly high expectations (Golden Child) but are not allowed to outshine the narcissistic parent.  If they do so, they will be viciously devalued or punished.

There are two “solutions” to this problem, from the child’s point of view (outside of suicide or straight up insanity). Of course the child is never consciously aware they  are doing this.

1. The child will develop BPD.
Such an unpredictable and chaotic environment doesn’t allow the development of a proper “false self” and the child never learns to regulate their emotions because they never know how anyone will react to anything or what will happen in any given situation. They are forced to become emotional chameleons and are at risk of becoming codependent to malignant or high spectrum grandiose narcissists.

2. The child will develop Covert/Fragile Narcissism.
If the child is expected to fulfill some unrealistic standards (typical of the GC) and at the same time doesn’t dare to outshine the NPD parent because of the negative consequences they’ll face if they do, the child has to find a way to “bridge the gap” between the impossibly high expectations put on them and the simultaneous expectation to always be in the NPD parent’s shadow. Becoming a covert or fragile (“victim”) narcissist as a defense against this type of psychological abuse would explain their sense of entitlement and seething resentment and envy of others that can only be expressed passive-aggressively and never directly,  co-existing with feelings of unworthiness, self-hatred, and shame.   This type of narcissist can become codependent to a more aggressive or overt/grandiose narcissist.

Whether a child develops BPD or a covert/fragile form of NPD may have to do with innate temperament, or they may shade into each other, since they can be very hard to tell apart.  In the U.S., most covert or fragile narcissists are diagnosed with something else–most frequently BPD, PTSD, Social Anxiety, Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism, or Avoidant Personality Disorder.

BPD vs. NPD

npd_bpd

This graphic I made shows that BPD and NPD are really the same disorder.    Both have their roots in childhood trauma and fear of abandonment, even though the symptoms may not be evident until later childhood or adolescence.    The primary difference is the outer layer–the narcissist develops a nearly impermeable and rigid false self or mask (usually of grandiosity, but sometimes can present as do-gooder or even a victim). This mask remains stable unless narcissistic supply is removed, which causes it to atrophy, revealing the rage, fear, and hurt beneath that.

The borderline develops a highly permeable, chameleon-like outer layer.  In the diagram, it looks like a flower.   This outer layer of “petals” is analogous to the false self, but is not rigid and not even always present. It is easily penetrated and does not require narcissistic fuel from others to keep it intact.   It changes and morphs its shape and form like a Lava lamp.   Since it’s so easily broken through and is so changeable, Borderlines seem to be “crazier” and seem to have more intense mood swings than narcissists.  They are also skilled in adapting to different situations and people in a chameleon-like way: this usually manifests as codependency.  Sometimes they don’t seem to have minds of their own and take on the behaviors and belief systems of whoever they happen to be with.   Borderlines seem more emotionally unstable than narcissists because the second layer of rage/hurt/fear is often on the surface, causing the Borderline to act out in frequent rages, panic attacks or crying jags.

Beneath these outer layers, NPD and BPD have the same structure:   a layer of rage, hurt and fear when they are triggered, hiding the emptiness and grief under that (which is what both–especially the NPD–are so afraid of confronting and take such desperate measures to avoid feeling).  When this part of the personality structure is finally reached, the NPD/BPD feels as if they don’t exist and that is excruciating for them.   NPDs in therapy may quit at this point.   Hidden deep within the “emptiness” (which really isn’t empty at all) is the diminished and damaged true self (inner child).

The goal in therapy is to break through all those outer layers and finally reach the true self, then give him or her the nurturing and validation they should have received in the hopes that he or she can become a whole person.   It can take a very long time for this to happen, if it ever happens at all.

Borderlines, although they might seem crazier than narcissists, are more easily cured because the permeable chameleon-like outer layer is so much more easily broken through.   In contrast, the NPD false self can take months or years to even crack.   It’s a thick and stable structure, not given to weakening easily, but even the strongest concrete building has hairline cracks somewhere in its structure.   A tornado can reduce the strongest building to rubble.

The key to breaking a narcissist is to find those cracks and weaken the false self. This is usually done by removing narcissistic supply, which serves as a psychological tornado to the narcissistic defensive structure. Sometimes this has already happened; and in this more vulnerable state, with the false self temporarily disabled, a narcissist is more likely to enter therapy.   Unfortunately the narcissistic defense mechanism is so ingrained they will soon find a way to get supply again and rebuild the false self.   The therapist must work to permanently disable it but the narcissist must also be willing for this to happen.

In a low spectrum narcissist, the false self may be rather weak or thin to begin with, and for them, a cure may be more likely or happen sooner.  In low spectrum narcissists, the false self is more like a  cheaply constructed trailer than a stone castle.  It will only take a weak tornado to smash it to smithereens.

When an NPD’s mask begins to fall away, they will begin to act a lot more like a Borderline–raging, dissociating, experiencing crying jags, and showing their underlying inability to regulate overwhelming emotions.   At this point the treatment for NPD should be much the same as for BPD–empathically penetrating the “void” to reach and begin to nurture the diminished real self.

How a child develops BPD or NPD.

These disorders begin when a young child or toddler is hurt or rejected by their parents, especially the mother.  This hurt may not even be intentional–sometimes the illness, death, or absence of a non-disordered parent can set things into motion, because the child can’t discern the difference between deliberate abuse or neglect and something that cannot be helped.  Many, if not most, children who live in orphanages or are moved from foster home to foster home develop some form of Cluster B disorder.

Because a toddler or very young child has not yet completely separated their sense of self from their parents’, when they don’t receive the mirroring and unconditional acceptance they need, they feel as if they’ve been annihilated, and that feeling of annihilation becomes the black void that now surrounds the hurt or abused child.

But because the void is too painful and frightening to cope with, something else must cover that over too, and also protect and hide the inner child.  So the defensive emotions (anger, paranoia, fear, and rage) develop over the void because even though they feel unpleasant, they’re still better than the horrible feeling of having been annihilated, and they also protect the inner child from ever being hurt again.

And over that, for a narcissist, to attract people who could provide the attention and validation they never got as children, they develop a fake self, which is usually “nice” but is only a mask so it isn’t real.  If they feel that the mask is under threat of exposure, they fight tooth and nail to retain the image they want the world to see.

For the borderline, instead of developing a false self to cover the rage and other defensive emotions, they learn to adapt depending on the situation or the people, and that is why they so often become codependent.   Also, because they are closer to the void than the narcissist is, they tend to have dissociative episodes and may engage in self destructive actions like cutting to make them feel like they exist. Or they may engage in other risky behaviors or taking drugs or drinking too much in an effort to self-medicate.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I’m well read on these disorders and these are from my observations and opinions.

Mindfulness keeps me from quitting therapy.

MINDFULNESS (2)

In my last post, Jocelyn made a comment about quitting therapy, and this reminded me of something important that’s kept me going: mindfulness.

People in therapy, especially people who have cluster B disorders and have problems either regulating or accessing emotion, often quit when the going gets rough.  Narcissists are notorious for quitting therapy (if they ever enter it at all) because of all the Cluster B disorders, NPDs have the most problems allowing themselves to become vulnerable (well, maybe ASPD is even worse that way), but for therapy to work, this cannot be avoided.   This is why people with NPD so rarely get better.  For most, as soon as they start to feel too much, they’re outta there.

For borderlines, it’s a little easier.  We’re not running away from emotions all the time the way narcissists do (although I do to some degree and probably have narcissistic tendencies–I also have comorbid Avoidant PD which also explains my reticence).  For BPDs, our main problem is the regulation of emotions that are too intense.  But the core issues–abandonment trauma–is the same.   When you finally reach the stage of diving into the maelstrom of pain and emptiness, it’s incredibly painful.   You feel like you’re dying or going insane.  You think about quitting because who wants to live with all that pain?

That’s where mindfulness comes in.   Without mindfulness, I probably would have quit therapy after today.   But with mindfulness, I can actually let myself fall into the pit of pain and trauma and allow myself to feel those unpleasant emotions.  At the same time the mindful part of me is observing myself feeling them as they arise, and thinking logically and trying to make connections and give them meaning.   This kind of distance–while at the same time being fully submerged in the feelings–makes the experience more bearable and also makes it more likely you’ll learn something valuable from it.   Mindfulness also means you acknowledge that the emotions are not YOU; you have emotions but you aren’t your emotions.  You are you, and the emotions are just trapped energy moving out of you.

Without mindfulness, you just feel like you’ve somehow fallen into the 9th circle of hell and will never escape.   You can’t separate yourself from the overwhelming feelings and feel consumed by them.  No wonder so many people quit when they get to this point.   I’m so glad I took DBT classes (even though I blew them off back in he ’90s when I took them) and had the presence of mind to keep the DBT book I was given.  It’s been so helpful to me throughout this whole process.

I think mindfulness training should actually be a prerequisite for intensive psychodynamic therapy, especially for trauma survivors (whether they are personality disordered or not), because there is nothing to prepare you for the intensity of the ride you’ll be taking (which seems so gentle and tame at first).

Breaking through and the emotional power of music.

breakingthrough

I can’t even begin to explain the details of what’s happening to me right now.   Saying I’m triggered would be an understatement.   Triggered?  I feel like I’m losing my fucking mind.

My therapist told me the other night that he’s been seeing changes in me — a willingness to be open and honest and connect — and he also told me he was moved by our session (he’s always saying things like that–he’s an emotional empath and that is so important to me right now).   I can’t go into specifics about what has triggered me so profoundly, but he thinks what’s happening is good, and that it means I’m approaching a big breakthrough.   He sees me trying to connect, trying so hard to access buried emotions.  But I still get so frustrated because I feel like there’s a great wall holding back the flood.  I’m so sick of being emotionally constipated.

Today the flood happened.   I could barely get through my workday because of all the crying that just came out of nowhere.      It made me mad, because although I desperately need to cry out all that shit that’s keeping me from being able to really live my life and connect with others, why can’t it happen in my therapist’s office?  Why does it always happen in some fucking inconvenient place, like while I’m at work?  I mean, at least I work alone most of the time, so that’s a plus.   But still, it makes me so mad I just want to go break a bunch of things.   Of course I don’t do that.   It’s not that I don’t have emotions, but why can’t they OBEY ME?   Why do they go into hiding whenever my therapist and I try to coax them out, and only come out when they know they’re going to shame and embarrass me?  SO annoying.

But it’s fine when it happens at home, more than fine actually. I had to choke back tears all day and wait until I got home before I could really let myself go.  I’ve always been highly responsive to music. On the radio this morning, I heard Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” and starting bawling in the car.    I don’t know what it is about that song–is it the melody? The somber and sad arrangement? The lyrics?  I don’t know.  But it’s a song that always gets my faucets turned on full blast.   A lot of music does that to me.   In my recovery  journey, I’ve found music to be one of the most powerful tools  for healing and that’s why (on Lucky Otter’s Haven, mostly), I  post about music so much.

Everything triggered me today. This morning on the way to work, the lady at the convenience store where I pick up my snacks and coffee was short and rude to me today. She usually is very nice. I felt personally attacked and thought she hated me and the tears started again. Why does everyone have to be so mean? I felt as vulnerable as a de-shelled hermit crab.

I was in so much unbearable pain I finally called my therapist (something I try to avoid doing because of my fear of overstepping anyone’s boundaries, including his).  He wasn’t there but I left a message. I was nearly incoherent because I was crying so hard while trying to speak. I begged him to call me.  I didn’t hear back from him until tonight.   I felt like he was ignoring me.

When I finally got out of work, I went home and uploaded the Radiohead song and put it on speaker,  cranking it up as loud as I could make it.  And the tears started, probably a hundred of them, along with uncontrollable sobbing.  I lay on my bed crying like this for at least an hour, just letting all the pain and sadness and loneliness and emptiness wash over me and out of me.     I tried to stay mindful while this was happening, acknowledging the feelings, and observing myself as if from a distance. I realized it was good, even though I felt like I wanted to die.    I didn’t make any clear connections to a triggering event in my past, but I think it was a lot of things, just a lot of trapped pain that had to be purged.

My therapist called me finally, acknowledging my earlier, desperate message.  He apologized for not calling earlier, but he was out of service area all day.   He wasn’t ignoring me, as I had feared.    I told him about all the crying and the Radiohead song. I told him about the rude lady at the convenience store and about how I drive everyone away with my tendency to be high maintenance (or more often in recent years, reject them or be cold when they try get too close).  I talked about the excruciating emotional pain and that I felt like I was going crazy.    I talked about how alone I feel, how disconnected from other people, and all the regrets I have due to all my bad choices. I don’t want to be like that anymore!  I hate it.

But every time I try to connect with anyone, I worry that  they will wind up hating me and leave.   That’s why I avoid people. That’s why I don’t have any real friends in the physical world.   I won’t allow myself too because I think I’m too worthless and they will abandon me, the way my own family abandoned me.    My therapist reminded me that the meltdown is because my abandonment depression has been triggered.   But he also congratulated me and said that this was huge and that watching me unfold touches him.  Of course that got me bawling all over again, but this time in gratitude and happiness that someone really does care. It always surprises me when someone lets me know they do care and my feelings are valid. I’m so not used to that.  “You’re not crazy, Lauren,” he said.  “You’re breaking through and it’s supposed to hurt.”   Like a shot in the arm?

Test driving narcissism (how I almost became a narcissist).

test_drive

This is directly related to my last post, about HG Tudor’s theory of codependency and NPD.   My parents tried hard to turn me into a narcissist, and it almost worked.   But my innate empathy (which I’m finally learning to rediscover in myself) was what saved me from the curse of NPD.

This post was originally published on Lucky Otter’s Haven on January 21, 2015. But I think it’s actually better suited for this blog.

I remembered how I almost became a narcissist. I think I was finally ready to remember. It’s part of my journey to wellness.

I immediately began digging through boxes of old photos, because I was burning inside to write this post, to confess everything, and photos say a lot.

Narcissism runs in families, and although exacerbated by abuse or neglect, it can develop later in a susceptible person, and it happens because of a conscious choice the person makes. They may not actually be saying, “Okay, I’m going to be a narcissist now,” but they have been teetering on the brink of darkness and the would-be narcissist decides it’s easier to plunge right into narcissism than to keep being hurt as their true self.

family_dinner
3 generations of women: my maternal grandmother Anna Marie, my mother in the center, and me at age 5. (ca 1964) Our family dinners were always this stiff and formal.

Narcissists start life as Highly Sensitive People.
For a number of reasons, I’ve come to believe most narcissists started out as HSPs (highly sensitive people). I will not go into my reasoning here, but I strongly believe these are people who once felt things too much, and if they were abused, it would have been too much to bear. To survive, they constructed a false self in an effort to protect the too-sensitive self (true self) from further hurt. The problem is, for narcissists, the false front works way too well, so well that once it solidifies, it’s there forever.

Tormenting my therapist.
I remembered the therapist I had during my early 20’s. I was terribly infatuated with him, obsessed beyond all logic. This is called transference in psychotherapy and my therapist kept trying to get me to “work through it” but my crush kept intensifying. It was killing me. One day I told him I couldn’t take it anymore and walked out the door in mid session. I never saw him again.

I realize now how narcissistic I acted during my sessions with him. I was attractive and knew it so I flirted openly, tried to get him to hug me (he actually did this until he realized it was a manipulative game on my part and there was a definite sexual aspect).

One day I stormed into his office having a hissy fit because I’d found a magazine in the waiting room with his and a woman’s name on the label. I stomped in, started waving the magazine in the air demanding he tell me why he never told me he had a girlfriend. His answer was quite reasonable (and it was of course none of my business), but I sulked the whole rest of the session and refused to say anything. I’d show him!

After I quit therapy, I hoped I had hurt him. I think I was angry at him for “making” me like him too much and leaving him was my method of punishing him. Of course, my leaving therapy didn’t hurt him. I was just his annoying, demanding, manipulative little bitch of a patient and he probably couldn’t stand me. I wanted to think I was hurting him, but I was really only hurting myself.

It shames me to remember all this, but I really manipulated that therapist, and annoyed him all the time ON PURPOSE. I was sadistic…I was crushing so hard, maybe my strong feelings for him were causing me to want to hurt and anger him. I remember getting a thrill if I could see a look of hurt on his face. It made me feel more powerful–that I could do the hurting instead of always being the one to get hurt.

lauren_bennett2
1977: Still a nice, sensitive, codependent girl at age 18…things were about to get ugly.

I was becoming partly dissociated from the me that is now and the me that was before. But it was all a defense against being hurt, and I knew it. I just couldn’t admit it.

I never saw my therapist’s diagnosis of me (I was there for anxiety and panic attacks) but it makes me wonder if “NPD” might have been one of the diagnoses. I’m pretty sure it was still called NPD in the early 1980s.

lauren_bennett1
I think I can see the beginning of the “narcissist stare” in this photo of me from 1984. I look colder and harder than in the 1977 photo. I see this same look sometimes on my daughter, who is close to the same age I was here. I think this look can also be seen in some Borderlines.

The Danger Zone.
Sometime in my late teens and early 20s I began to act “like I didn’t care.” It was feigned but at the time my high sensitivity was shameful to me. I didn’t want it. It was my albatross, my curse. I was tired of being teased about it. So I made a choice to just act like a different person. Act like a person who didn’t give a shit about anything. I began to drink heavily and smoked a lot of weed to numb the pain of being me. I began to be over-critical of others and gossipy, something I had never been, and spread lies about people I didn’t like to anyone who would listen.

My envy of others (something I still struggle with) was off the charts. I couldn’t stand people who had more than me, were prettier or thinner than me, were smarter than me, or had a better relationship or job than me. I would spread lies and rumors about these more fortunate people. Mostly, it backfired, for my Aspieness made it almost impossible for me to maintain my masks or hold up a lie. A good narcissist has to be good at reading social cues. I wasn’t, but I sure did try.

I found it hard to feel happy for anyone. If a friend got a promotion or fell in love, I felt bitter and jealous instead of glad for them. I’d rant that they didn’t deserve it. And I actually believed this, to a point.

I imagined myself not “needing” anyone. I dated a few guys and unceremoniously dumped them, and yet I was so lonely. I longed to be in a happy relationship, but couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable enough. I treated men like objects.

I didn’t listen to people. I interrupted them, only thinking of what I would say next. I only wanted to talk about me. Other people were becoming objects too.

I lied to people about my accomplishments (which in actuality were few), my background, my social status. But no one really believed me. I wasn’t good at this game. In fact, I sucked at it.

I think I came very close to becoming an N. Over time, this hard outer shell I’d constructed out of the ashes of my own pain ossified and grew more stable. I was forgetting what it felt like to be vulnerable and human.

There was something else too. During the time I was test driving narcissism, I suffered from severe panic attacks (which is what led me into the therapy described above). I felt like I was out of my body a lot, and that made me panic. Some of these attacks were so bad people thought I was having epileptic seizures, because when I was “out of my body,” I had trouble controlling my movements and would stumble around as if drunk, or my eyes would sort of glaze over as if I wasn’t quite “there.” To rule out epilepsy, I had an EEG done. It came out normal. The only thing I can think of is that somehow the dissociated state I was in was causing me to feel detached from my own body, because I wasn’t “myself.”

Coming back from N hell
One day when I was about 26 (and the same year I got married to my MN ex), a friend of mine from high school told me she didn’t think she could be friends with me anymore, because I was too mean and she didn’t trust me. Other people were calling me out for spreading rumors and lying and my whole flimsy construct came tumbling down. I couldn’t escape from the web of lies I’d created, and now that web threatened to engulf me. It was terrifying but was the wake up call I needed.

I finally realized I was hurting people. Even then, I hated knowing I’d hurt someone else more than I hated being hurt by others. I was overcome with guilt and shame, and realized I couldn’t keep up the mean-girl front anymore. I didn’t become a narcissist, but I came close, so close.

This wake up call catapulted me back into my normal self and the horrific panic attacks soon subsided. (I still have panic attacks from time to time, but they are specific to certain situations and nowhere near as numerous as they were from 1979 – 1984 or so.)

Choosing codependency.
I’d been balancing at the precipice, and ultimately chose codependency (sometimes now referred to as “inverted narcissism”). Looking back, that was actually a very wise choice for if I hadn’t, if my guilt had not been strong enough to stop me in my tracks, I would have been a much different person today, and would not be doing what I’m doing right now. Sharing my journey with other survivors of narcissistic abuse. It’s a contagious thing, and any of us from narcissistic families could have gone in that direction. But we didn’t. That’s why we, not the narcs, are the lucky ones.

I think my Aspergers actually saved me [EDIT: what I thought was Aspergers when I wrote this was actually Avoidant PD + BPD + social anxiety]. I was always bad at reading social cues and therefore can’t lie well and are bad at maintaining a workable mask. To be a narcissist would require me to use skills I did not possess. So I chose codependency because I had not been trained by my MN family to think for myself or trust my own judgment. I was trained to be Narcissistic Supply. That was a role I was much more successful at and comfortable with than my Narcissist Test Drive period.

But I think there was an advantage to my visit to the dark side too, and maybe a reason. I feel like like I understand narcissists’ motives and thinking patterns and self-hatred more than the usual non-narc ACON. Because I almost became one myself and felt a little bit of what they feel. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough to get me to turn into darkness again. It was like a trip to hell. But I do know, they are in excruciating pain. All the time.

lauren_bennett3
Refinishing a table as young wife (around 1989-1990). I didn’t know how malignant my husband was yet but he was showing signs.

Never feel guilty for feeling guilty.
If I had been able to ignore or deny my guilt or the pain of others that I’d caused myself, I think I would have crossed the line into becoming a fullblown narcissist (though maybe not a malignant one).

Most narcissists make a choice at some point, usually early in life because of abuse but sometimes later, like I almost did. But I think there is also an escape hatch: a window of time where a budding narcissist can still “get out” and redeem themselves before the door between the Ns and everyone else slams shut.

Unfortunately I still have a few narcissistic traits and think I still sometimes act a bit like one. But my ability to feel shame and guilt is very well developed, in fact too well developed (and always has been), so that overrides my N traits. Perhaps that makes me a Borderline (I was actually diagnosed with BPD comorbid with other disorders in 1996). But if I am a Borderline, I try to control those behaviors. I try to be aware of them. I think I’m doing pretty well.

Growing into me.
Now I’m changing, moving farther away from the N and B traits of my early-mid adulthood than I have ever been. I don’t envy people much anymore and am beginning to understand what it feels like to feel joy or sadness for someone else. To feel humbled by the simple but beautiful things that surround us. I’ve embraced my sensitivity and am finding rather than being a curse that brings torment and hurt, it’s a beautiful thing that allows the growth of empathy and true understanding. Instead of shame over it, now I’m proud.

The ironic thing about this is that, it’s because I like myself MORE now, that my N traits are disappearing. I used to think I was worse than a piece of dog poop stuck on the bottom of a shoe and had to go around proving I was more, much more than that. It’s not like that anymore, and I’m ever so grateful I saved myself at the 11th hour.