Therapy is getting real hard now.

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There’s a reason why I haven’t been posting about my therapy here much lately.    I posted about a dream a couple of weeks ago that I thought was significant and I emailed it to my therapist, since I’d been finding excuses to not go to my sessions.   He wants to talk to me about this when I see him next, which is this week.

He feels that I’m running away from something (I posted about that in my last post) and I know he’s right.   We’re getting into some heavy duty stuff now, having to do with early trauma I faced at the hands of my mother from about 5 – 7 years of age.  Some of the trauma is sexually charged (even though it wasn’t technical sexual abuse), but I can’t explain more about that here right now.    I know the worst thing I can do is avoid therapy now, because I’m reaching an important crossroads, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

At the same time, I really want to explore this because I know that only in doing so, will I have a breakthrough that could change everything and make me whole again.

The reason I’ve been posting less about therapy is because right now I feel more vulnerable during our sessions than I ever have.   Part of this is because of me.   I’m getting into the roots of my disorders and it’s not just painful, but makes me feel overwhelming shame. I’ve even been reluctant to tell my therapist all the details about exactly what happened (and I certainly can’t talk about it here yet either).   But I remember everything.   I just haven’t been able to release the trauma because I have so much trouble confronting it, and every time he tries to bring it up, I change the subject, start laughing, or try to distract him from talking about it again.   At the same time, the fact I do not makes me feel like I’m cheating myself and the session just becomes a whole lot of nothing, and it’s all my own fault.  And then I feel guilty about it.

The other reason I’ve been posting less about therapy is because of some of the feelings that are coming up for me that are related to some new techniques my therapist is trying on me.  They are definitely working, but they tap directly into the core of my vulnerability and fear of attachment, so I’ve been skittish and reticent, and at the same time my feelings of attachment and transference toward my therapist are growing.

This involves light (non-sexual) touch during our sessions, which he is completely ethical about.  He always asks permission first.  He’s respectful and sensitive about my boundaries, and if I say no, he just says okay.

It’s easier for me to become emotional in our sessions than it used to be, but he noticed that very often, whenever I’d be on the verge of tears, I’d change the subject or make a joke to break the emotion.   I begged him to stop me when I do that. “Don’t make me run from it; make me feel it no matter how much I try to distract myself from doing so or try to get you to change the subject,” I pleaded.

Both of us realize how important emotional catharsis (crying) is for my healing, and that it’s the best way to release my trauma.   I have difficulty crying but it’s been getting a lot easier.   What he does now, is when I start to get choked up,  is he moves in closer (we face each other with no desk in between) so our knees are touching.   This light, nonsexual physical contact sometimes makes me want to pull away, but I fight that temptation and just allow myself to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed for a minute.   He stays silent while I gather myself and get used to the contact, and then the feelings of discomfort pass.   It’s a lot like getting into a cold pool — after a few seconds of discomfort, it feels great.

Once I’m comfortable, that’s when the tears start.   Then he moves in about one inch closer and holds my knees together between his own.   This isn’t sexual; I feel like it’s a way to “hold” me and keep me feeling grounded and connected with my body while I deal with “uncontrollable” feelings that normally make me feel completely dissociated, panicked, and out of control.   I asked him about this and that’s exactly why he does it.  It works too.

He’ll ask me to describe exactly what I feel and if there are any visuals or memories connected to whatever feelings come up.   Sometimes the tears are flowing freely at this point, and sometimes not.   I used to cover my face in his presence when I cried, but now I’ll just keep talking and let him see my tears.   However, we have both noticed I always cover my mouth and nosewhen this happens.  I’m not really ashamed of the tears per se, but more of being an “ugly crier,” which I always thought I was.   It’s our goal to get me to full-on, deep sobbing, which hasn’t happened yet.   Sometimes I wonder if it ever will.

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I usually keep talking while I cry, but sometimes I go silent or bury my face in my hands.  When this happens, he doesn’t tell me to stop crying, or “please don’t be upset” or anything like that.  What he does instead is make soothing noises, much like a loving parent would make if their child was upset.  Sometimes he’ll even put a hand on my arm and I feel like this steadies and grounds me.  It makes me feel cared for.

Sometimes his empathy and the fact I’m being treated exactly the way I had wanted to be treated by my own parents — with nonjudgmental concern, compassion, and understanding — sends me over the deep end and I feel so overwhelmed and moved I can’t handle it anymore.   The feeling of empathic affection emanating from him becomes TOO intense — and as much as I am so starved for that, I’m not used to it.   As a result, sometimes I (unconsciously) try to shatter the feeling of connection by pulling away suddenly, changing the subject, or laughing from embarrassment.   Sometimes my laughter becomes hysterical and almost uncontrollable, because I just can’t handle all the feelings — and some of these feelings are sexual too (on my part).   I haven’t told him about that.

My therapist tries to get me to connect whatever emotion I’m feeling with a memory.   It’s rare that I can do this; in fact, more often than not I don’t know exactly why I’m crying and can’t seem to name any emotion at all, or if I do, it’s several emotions all mixed together in a jumble.   It seems as if I have plenty of strong emotions and even the ability to release them to some extent, but my conscious, thinking mind is so dissociated from my heart and feeling mind, that it’s often hard for me to describe the emotion or name it.

Connecting emotions to a traumatic event is even harder.   Although I can remember traumatic events, many in vivid detail and some very early in my life, whenever I talk about them, I do so coldly and without much emotion, as if those things happened to someone else.   The goal is to get me to reconnect those parts of my mind that hold the memories to the parts that hold the feelings that were originally connected to the memories.   The disconnection occurred because of the traumatic nature of the memories.   I can be “retraumatized” (usually without knowing exactly why) and I can remember events, but I can’t experience them together yet.

Our sessions are so emotional now that my transference toward him has increased. That was part of what I was running from too.  I didn’t want to feel that.   But I need to, and need to learn how to work through the complicated emotions so eventually I can transfer those onto others and learn to attach to people in an authentic and vulnerable way, and finally be unafraid of expressing real, vulnerable, “weak” emotions to others.   What’s happening in therapy now is really an incredibly beautiful thing, but a part of me is ashamed of its “sappiness.”   But why should I be ashamed of it?   Why are only anger and “tough emotions” acceptable? That’s exactly what’s wrong with the whole world!

Another weird thing that has happened is that sometimes after our sessions,  I come home and find my eyes welling with tears at random times and seemingly for no reason. He has instructed me to try to find an emotion to connect these moments with, if not an actual memory.    So far I haven’t been able to do that but he did say it doesn’t really matter if I can or can’t — even if I can’t find an emotion or memory to connect the crying with, it’s still a release of trauma.  Trauma can be released physically (through crying, screaming, or other means), even if there is no memory of what originally caused it or a discernible emotion to connect it to.

This week I’m going to do better.  I’m diving into this and not looking back.    I have to stop being so afraid of confronting the truth about my past and just plow through the shame and let whatever happens, happen.

This was one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written, but I knew I had to.    I hope it helps others.

What am I running from?

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I haven’t posted here for a long time.   The truth is that lately I’ve been losing interest in my therapy and haven’t even been wanting to go.   Since my sessions are never unpleasant or traumatic, I really don’t know why.  I know I’m not cured, though that thought occurred to me briefly.    Sometimes uncomfortable emotions come up in session, but I actually look forward to those, because it means we can work on them.  They’ve never been cause for me to want to run.

But recently, even while I’m in session, I keep talking about things that have nothing to do with therapy, or even with me.  My therapist correctly pointed out that he sensed I was avoiding something that’s coming up.

In our last session we began talking about an early childhood trauma involving my mother, when I was about 5 -7.  I skirted around the issue and told him I couldn’t give him details, but I was starting to get emotional.   It’s not something I’m able to talk about yet, even with my therapist.  Not even here.  It brings me too much shame even now, but I remember exactly what happened as clear as day.   He wants to explore this with me and I do too, but…I’m afraid to.   It’s too shameful.    But the avoidance started several weeks before this.

So I’ve been losing interest.  This week I felt too tired to go so I didn’t.  That hasn’t happened before.

I just had a dream that may shed some light on what’s going on, because the real reason is occluded even to me.

The dream involved a usual theme that occurs in many of my dreams. Somehow, in spite of my limited income, I had come into ownership of a vast house, so vast that I kept discovering rooms I never knew existed and had never seen before.  Exploring my new home was exciting, but in the back of my mind I knew I really couldn’t afford this house.

There were strangers in the house, as if it was some public place.    I walked through a doorway that opened out to a huge industrial kitchen with huge flat stainless steel cooktops lining an entire wall.  All these random people were cooking — bacon, eggs, steaks, you name it.    I turned to some stranger and told them I owned all this.   I told them that before, I had lived in a one bedroom apartment (my actual place has two bedrooms).  I admitted I wasn’t sure I could afford all this but that I would try.

One of the strangers I met was a very attractive man in his thirties.  (In my dreams I am always younger than my real age).    He seemed interested in me and kept following me around, trying to start a conversation.   I was interested but reticent, so I may have seemed disinterested, even though I wasn’t.   We found a room with tables that had numbers on them, as you might find in a restaurant.

The man invited me to sit down at one of the tables with him, Table #30.   Reluctantly, I did.  He was friendly and asked me many questions.  I was attracted and interested, but also afraid.   As I am in real life, I felt threatened by his interest in me.   But I was willing to get to know him better.  My attraction overrode my wariness.

I admitted to him I was afraid of relationships but that I’d be willing to give one a chance under the right circumstances.   He seemed understanding.

I got up for some reason that I can’t remember and then came back to Table 30.   He was gone.   A woman sitting at a nearby table told me she had seen him leave and drive away.  I was disappointed.  I wondered what I’d done.  I knew I’d never see him again.

I wanted to write this dream down before it fades from my memory, but I haven’t thought about what it could mean yet.    I’m going to mull it over today and if I figure it out, I’ll write another post later.  Right now my brain isn’t working and I just want to go back to bed for a few more hours.

Warrior.

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The childhood origins of narcissism.

This is a very informative video explaining how narcissism develops during childhood.

2 childhood dreams and a spot-on interpretation.

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Once in a while, it takes someone who doesn’t know you well or at all to be able to see things the way they really are.

Last night, on my other blog, Lucky Otters Haven, I posted an essay about two weird dreams I had as a young child. All these years, I never thought of them as much more than those random, humorous dreams that all kids have (and maybe, in part, that is all they are).

But a commenter on that other blog who is familiar with my background (from reading my background story and other posts there) offered an interpretation that just sort of hit me upside the head with its accuracy. It just felt right.

Here was the post I wrote about the two dreams:

I was a weird, sketchy kid who had weird dreams. When I was about 5 I had a dream about something called a “clout” that looked like an oversized steel wool pad. It was sitting on the small rug in front of my bed and I was too scared to put my feet on the floor because that clout thing was evil. It just sat there on the rug, in all its black malevolence, not moving, but I knew it was alive and meant to kill me.   I knew if I put my feet on the floor the clout would suck me down into the Hell-portal it must have come from.

When I was around  the same age, one morning I woke up doubled over with laughter.   My dad asked me why I was laughing, and I remember saying, “someone was throwing mud at my door.”   I pointed to the door of my room and globs of gooey mud were sliding down its painted surface. I couldn’t stop shrieking with mirth.   I kept pointing but he couldn’t see the mud and told me to stop making things up.  “Look!  Look! There! There!” I screamed in frustration, but I was still laughing.   Then I woke up for real and was almost afraid if I looked at the door, mud would be on it. I was really awake this time, so there wasn’t. Relieved, I went downstairs for my Cap’n Crunch and orange juice.

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Here is the interpretation the commenter (Little Shepherd Girl) wrote in the replies (the comment has been edited):

If I was to venture a guess Clout was the mental disorders, the sharp tangles that afflicted your family. The mud was how the dark side was going to smear you with it and smear you, but you were laughing because you knew it wouldn’t work. It would slide right off.

GOD held you safe in the palm of His hand all along. In childhood we fear evil but also know trust. I think Heaven is blissful trust and a ground ecstatic True Reality free of all anxiety.

I think she nailed what both of these dreams were really about.  The tangled steel wool pad-thing definitely represents the toxicity of my family and probably also represents the state my mind was in — already hopelessly knotted and tangled and full of sharp edges.      Ages four and five were around the time I began to dissociate (something my mother hated and caused her to call me “spooky” and angrily order me to snap out of it) and become symptomatic in other ways suggestive of a child developing an attachment disorder.

It was evident to most people that something wasn’t right with me.   I remember sitting in the family room in our split level house banging my head against the wall and telling my mother who was screaming at me to stop that I was doing it because it felt good (she probably cared more about damage to the wall than to my head).   I think doing this was actually a way of distracting myself from the evil that was beginning to infect my mind from the toxic family atmosphere.  Maybe I was trying to drive out the “demons,” who knows?  All I know is it was a compulsion and I couldn’t NOT do it.   I was also beginning to show signs of being unable to regulate my emotions appropriate for my age level and not adjusting well in peer situations.

But even that far back,  some thing inside me knew I was going to be okay in the end.   I never lost my sense of humor or sense of hope.

Maybe those are the things that kept me from crossing the line into malignancy or sociopathy.

Do narcissists ever cry? (article from The Narcissistic Life)

I believe I wrote an article a while back with the same title (my conclusion — yes, they do)  but this article is better and I like the way it doesn’t stigmatize narcissistic tears or the reasons why they cry as always insincere (it’s not always crocodile tears meant to get supply).   Sometimes they just cry because they hurt.

My  own article about this, written when I was still  enraged at my own narcissists, took a much more negative and cynical view of the reasons why narcissists may cry.

Do Narcissists Ever Cry?

By Alexander Burgemeester, for The Narcissistic Life.

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Whilst narcissism is often characterised by bombast and a seemingly unwavering self-belief, there are times when even a narcissist may cry. Do Narcissists cry? It seems impossible but it is true. So how can someone who is so tied up with their own success, self-image and the presentation of themselves in their everyday lives suffer the kind of emotion or tearful outburst that is more characteristic of us other mere mortals?

Read the rest of this post here.

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?

 

*****

Also please watch:
Dads try the Still Face experiment.

What is real?

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I noticed I’ve been posting more on this blog lately, because so much is going on with me right now, and it’s the sort of stuff I prefer to not to post on Lucky Otter’s Haven due to its extremely personal nature.   This blog feels more private to me than my other one.

I just got home from my therapy session.   Today I still had that feeling of something in me having shifted.  I feel quite vulnerable, fragile and emotional, but not in a bad way at all.  I just feel sort of…raw.  It’s a melting kind of feeling, like my usual defenses are not working properly.  But it’s okay.

I talked about this with my therapist. I told him I think something happened to me when I was sitting alone in the warm waters of the Gulf two weeks ago, feeling the water gently rocking me as I sunk into the soft silt-like sand beneath me, and little fish swam around me as if protecting me from something.   I said it felt like I’d been reborn.

We talked about a lot of other things, but mostly about my childhood.  I told him about the way my malignant narcissist mother used to scare me with nothing more than a hard, cold stare or one of her famous silences.  I could see through her mask when I was as young as 4 or 5.  She used to scare me so much and I felt so powerless and small in her presence that the only way I knew how to escape from her was to turn inward, becoming lost in my own mind.   I call this “going inside.”

When I’d “go inside,” no one could get me to come out until I was ready.  I didn’t respond to my environment normally and didn’t seem to hear people when they spoke to me.  I imagine it appeared to others that I might be autistic (I actually thought I was an Aspie for a long time), but I know this was actually an early form of dissociation, the only way I knew how to escape the harsh reality I faced at home.

Whenever I’d “go inside,” my mother became enraged, because it was the only place where she couldn’t get to me.  And she knew it.   She ordered me to stop acting “spooky.” But I couldn’t help it; these dissociative trances weren’t something I willfully decided to do; they just happened whenever I felt threatened.   I had no control over them.  She used to scream at me and punish me for acting “spooky,” sometimes slapping me hard across the face.  Sometimes her fingernails scratched me and once or twice even drew blood.   There was no longer any escape from her cruelty, because I knew whenever I “went inside,” I’d be punished or slapped for it.

“That must have felt so horrible,” my therapist said. “She should have sat you down and asked you if anything was bothering you, and then listened to what you said.”

“I know,” I whispered.   I bit my lip.  I was close to crying.  All my emotions have been so much closer to the surface the past couple of weeks.

“I’m so sorry she couldn’t appreciate you,” he said, pulling his chair up closer, from about 3 feet away to only about 2 feet away.  He was watching me closely.   Maybe he expected me to cry.  I really wanted to.  But if I didn’t, would I disappoint him?  And if I did, would it be genuine or would it be a performance because it’s what he seemed to expect?  I really didn’t even know.

“Why was she so mean?” I wailed. “Why  couldn’t she have been a normal mother? Why did she have to be different?” God, I sounded like a whiny 5 year old.

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“Your mother had an illness, but that doesn’t mean what she did was right.   Not allowing you to feel or express your feelings and then getting angry at you for doing the only thing you knew how to do–go inside yourself–was wrong.  Belittling your feelings and calling you spooky was wrong.  So wrong.  I am so sorry.”  He looked like HE was going to cry!

Tears welled up and I buried my face in my hands.

“I’m so sorry.  I really am. You deserved better.”  He leaned forward.

Okay, it was happening. I was crying and it wasn’t a performance.  This was real.  It felt good because it felt real.

“It was terrible,” I sobbed.  “She was terrible.  People like her shouldn’t have children.  All she cared about was the way I made her look.  And I always made her look bad.”

“But only because you didn’t mirror what she wanted you to reflect in her.  It wasn’t your responsibility to do that.  You were just a child.  There was nothing wrong with you.”

I wiped my face and looked up.  “But you know, my dad wasn’t really that bad.  I know he really did love me, even though he drank all the time and hit me sometimes.   He loved that portrait of me, that one that no one knows what happened to.  He was so proud of that and it hung on the mantel for years.”

“I just noticed something.”

I looked up.

“I hear you, and we’ll talk about your dad too, but I also think you just attempted to change the subject so you wouldn’t have to feel the pain of your mother’s rejection of you.”

I thought about it.  He was right.  It’s true I felt somewhat victorious that I was able to shed tears in front of him, but crying also made me feel so self conscious and vulnerable that I unconsciously changed the subject to something “happier” or at least less traumatic.  I realized that I do this all the time.  I always unconsciously change the  subject or get “distracted” or make a joke whenever I start becoming too emotional or things start getting too painful or uncomfortable.   I never was aware I did this before.

“You know, you’re right.  I really do want to stay with this emotion, I want to feel this pain.  I know I have to.  It’s real, and that’s what I want. I want things to be real.  But it’s hard, you know.  I can get there, but I can’t keep it going.”

“Reality is difficult.”

“But that’s what I want.”

“Do you feel like you need more direction, to stay on track, and not go off on tangents when things start to feel too real?”

“Yes.  Please.   Direct me.  That’s your job.”

We talked about some other feelings I’m having.   I talked to him about the way I project onto others, like my step mother and her “hatred” of me, and this  feeling of something shifting inside.  I started getting emotional again.

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t know!  But I feel real again and I want more of that.”

“You’re already real.  You always have been.  Your defenses aren’t blinding you to what’s real as much as they did.  I can see incredible progress. But our time’s up for this week.”

As I was leaving, I blurted out something I couldn’t believe I heard myself say.   “I feel like running over there right now and giving you a hug,” is what I said.

Mortified by my outburst and feeling like I’d completely lost control of myself, I quickly turned around and started to open the door to leave.

“Wait,” he called.  I turned back around and saw him standing there with his arms open.  I stood there staring stupidly for a second, and then ran gratefully into them.  He patted me on the back during the embrace.   I pulled away first.    It’s the first time there was ever any physical contact between us, but there was nothing at all sexual about it and under the circumstances, I think it was perfectly ethical.    I trust his judgment in these matters.  And that hug felt real.

 

 

BPD vs. NPD

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.