Book Review: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (Pete Walker)

pete_walker

I finally finished reading a most wonderful book sent to me by my friend and fellow blogger, Linda Lee. It’s called Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, written by Pete Walker, himself a sufferer of C-PTSD and narcissistic abuse survivor. He is also a therapist who works with others with C-PTSD.

Walker’s book is incredibly readable and tells you everything you need or want to know about C-PTSD, a subcategory of PTSD that isn’t (but should be) included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of the mental health profession. Complex PTSD is similar to PTSD but there are several important differences. The recognized diagnostic category of PTSD describes a disorder that is caused by one traumatic event, such as a rape or combat in a war. PTSD itself wasn’t recognized until psychologists noticed that many Vietnam war veterans were suffering from a group of similar symptoms including, but not limited to, loss of memory, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, general but severe anxiety or depression, inability to cope with day to day challenges, impaired ability to regulate emotions including anger, impaired ability to relate to others in a healthy way, nightmares, flashbacks, and physical pain with no medical causes. C-PTSD has a similar set of symptoms, but is “complex” because of its cause–instead of being precipitated by a single traumatic event, it’s caused by an ongoing series of traumatic incidents and also usually (though not always) begins during childhood. Very often it’s a result of being “cared for” by narcissistic or sociopathic parents, who are actively abusive or neglect their child. Unlike most self-help books, Walker covers the nature of narcissistic abuse and its soul-murdering effect on a child, and how this can lead to C-PTSD and its various manifestations.

Walker breaks down C-PTSD into four “types,” each one corresponding to a different type of defense mechanism, which he calls “The Four F’s”–Fight (the narcissistic defense); Flight (the obsessive compulsive or “workaholic” defense); Freeze (the dissociative defense); and Fawn (the Codependent defense). Most people will have a combination of these, but usually one will be dominant over the others. I find it intriguing that Walker describes the narcissistic and borderline personalities as manifestations of C-PTSD (BPD is a Fight-Codependent hybrid), because I also think that’s exactly what they are.

Walker doesn’t think that any form of C-PTSD is untreatable or necessarily permanent, although some forms are more difficult to eradicate than others. People with severe C-PTSD may spend most of their time in a “flashback” without even knowing that it’s a flashback. For example, if you are continually depressed and anxious without being able to pinpoint why, you may be in a flashback to a time when you were made to feel shame as a young child. Any sort of invalidation or reminder of the shame, no matter how small, could have set off the flashback.

Also discussed is the importance of nurturing your Inner Child, and Walker shows you how you can begin to do this on your own. He also explains why people with C-PTSD have such a harsh Inner Critic (which is the internalized “voice” of the abusive parent that relentlessly continues to shame the Inner Child) and how how re-training your Inner Critic to be less, well, critical and more supportive of the Inner Child can do wonders for your self esteem and help you begin to heal. One of the most important things that must happen in order to heal from C-PTSD is to be able to grieve the lost or wounded inner child and also to be able to feel and express righteous anger toward the abuser (while being No Contact with the actual guilty party, of course).

While Walker encourages therapy (and states that in severe cases says it may be the only way to heal from C-PTSD), he recognizes that it may not always be appropriate or possible for everyone. For example, some C-PTSD sufferers (usually the Freeze/dissociative type) are so hypervigilant and uncomfortable relating to others that they can’t begin to trust a therapist enough to make any progress that way. Such people may do better on their own, at least to begin with. He points out early on that even if you skip around in the book (because not everything in it may apply to everyone) that you can still be helped. He gives the reader helpful things they can do on their own, such as positive affirmations, self-mothering, self-fathering and the “Time Machine Rescue Operation,” mindfulness skills, thought-stopping the Critic, thought substitution, recognizing signs of being in a flashback, how to grieve, and finding “good enough” relational help, among many other tools.

At the core of C-PTSD is the “abandonment depression,” a feeling of terrible emptiness that the Four F’s have been used to avoid confronting. Walker explains how to cope with the abandonment depression without denying that it exists or using the Four F’s as defense mechanisms against it.

Finally, Walker includes a list of books–which he calls “Bibliotherapy”–that he and his patients and visitors to his website have found useful. He wraps things up with six easily referenced “toolboxes” the C-PTSD sufferer can use as adjuncts to their recovery.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving is intelligently and empathetically written, and easy to read without being condescending or dumbed down. Its chapters are organized in an understandable and logical way, and subheaders are used throughout to make it possible to read the book in easy to digest chunks. This book has helped me immensely so far, and takes the complexity out of this “complex” disorder.

You can visit Pete Walker’s website here:
http://pete-walker.com/

Advertisements

Triggered.

Depression (1)

Some days are better than others. Overall, they are getting better and better, but there are days where I feel like I took three steps back and get trapped in my old toxic emotional thinking patterns. At those times I feel like I’m trapped inside a dark, moldy prison with no one but my own demons to talk to and will never be able to escape. I know that’s not true, and tomorrow will probably be better, but right now, at this moment, I’m in immense emotional pain.  I feel like if I died and went to hell, it wouldn’t much worse than this.

I got triggered. At least I know what the trigger is. Today is my daughter’s birthday, and we were planning to drive up into the mountains and have lunch together. She was supposed to be here around 10 AM. But by eleven AM I still hadn’t heard from her. I began to panic and imagine some kind of catastrophe befell her, the way I always do because the world has always seemed incredibly dangerous to me and no one can be trusted.     You never know when you’re going to get bad news or when the other shoe will drop.  It’s a horrible way to live and I definitely don’t recommend it.   But it’s in my programming.   People think I’m nuts but I can’t help being this way.   It’s hard to change the programming.

Around noon, I finally got hold of her and she hadn’t gotten out of bed yet. She was hung over from a night of partying and she was also depressed. All I could think about was myself and what SHE was doing to ME. I told her I’d been looking forward to this and I’d taken the day off work to spend with her. She told me I was putting her on a guilt trip and she was right–I was. I apologized and told her to try to have a nice day and we’d get together another time. But I still felt triggered  and ornery.  I’d written a nice, positive post this morning about the fun day I was anticipating having with her, and what a great daughter she was, but I couldn’t bear to keep it up, so I removed it.

I spent the rest of the day alternately feeling sorry for myself and being angry. I did nothing but sit on the couch, switching channels mindlessly but not really watching anything, and poking around online but not really paying much attention to what I was looking at. I tried to read a little, but couldn’t focus and would keep reading the same sentence over and over, not comprehending the words. I yelled at my cat for no good reason. I snapped at my housemate. I thought about how much my life and everything in it sucks and how I’m not getting any younger and will probably be dead in the next 25 or 30 years with nothing to show for it.   I thought about how most people my age and even much younger are doing much better than me emotionally, financially, and every other way. They have healthy, real relationships because they were given the emotional tools to have those things.  My programming cut me off from having access to those things.   Of course I was constantly reminded of my inferiority by my unsupportive narcissistic family (I was rejected and labeled “the black sheep” for my failure to attain the “success” in life my very programming denied me) until I cut off almost all contact with them.  I was cruelly told to “sink or swim” but never given any swimming lessons and in fact spent most of my childhood with my head forcefully held under the water. That’s the sort of mindfuck you get when you’re the child of narcissists. You can’t win. You can only lose–and then you’re callously blamed for it. I’ve been treading water–barely–for years, in constant fear of drowning.

The rain stopped and the sun is shining but I have no motivation to even go sit outside on the porch. All I want to do is stew in self pity and self hatred. Why? What good does it do? I hate it. Angry and bitter? You bet. But I refuse to drown in those feelings because I still hold onto hope that I can be a real person someday. I won’t give up on me, even though the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally did.

Finally I got a call from my daughter apologizing to me. She was crying. I felt so terrible. She told me how depressed she was and it sounded a lot like my own depression. She was talking about all the bad choices she’s made. She feels badly because some friends she went to school with are starting families or are getting advanced degrees or have careers and she has none of those things. But she’s just 23.  She blames herself. I could relate. I tried to be empathetic and not think about the way I feel very much in the same boat–only I’m a lot older and don’t have my whole life ahead of me or the options she still does. I assured her that she may be a late bloomer but that she is blooming and to be patient with herself. I may never be a perfect mom, but I will never give up on her or abandon her the way my family did to me, because it’s not something you ever get over. It ruins you. It murders your soul. I won’t let her soul be murdered.

Sorry this post wasn’t more upbeat. But I’m just really depressed today and needed to write about it. It doesn’t help to keep this crap inside.  And I thought maybe I was “cured”?  Hah!

Trying on diagnoses is like trying on clothes.

lookingfor_somethingtowear

Many of you know that for the past year, I’ve been obsessed with finding a new diagnostic label that actually fits me, but I’ve been very confused and probably confused my readers too.  Finding your “right” diagnosis is a lot like trying on clothes. Some fit better than others, but none feel or look quite right, and you just have to keep trying tings on until you find something that both fits and is “you.”

I’m not sure why it never occurred to me that my real problem was like a dress I never even considered trying on. Maybe because it was hanging there right in my face the whole time, it was so obvious I couldn’t see it, so I just kept looking at the ill-fitting outfits in my peripheral field of vision instead.

Some people may find my need to have a label at all silly. But I’d prefer to have something to wear than no clothes at all, even if naked was the way I was born (in more ways than one).

What I’ve been diagnosed with or diagnosed myself with. 

Borderline Personality Disorder.

BPD fit me well once, just like that outfit that fit you better when you were 25 than when you’re 50. I used to act out a lot and be far more impulsive, but have not engaged in those behaviors since I went No Contact with my ex. Even before then, I was becoming less of a tripwire–thinking things through more and acting out less, which makes me wonder if I ever really had BPD at all. BPD isn’t really supposed to go away with age, unless there are hormonal factors involved for women who have it (which is possible).  Maybe I internalized my DBT skills so well that I virtually learned a “new non-BPD personality” and thereby cured myself of it. If that’s what happened, then the common belief that BPD is incurable is total bullshit.

My therapist has trouble believing I ever acted out in BPD ways, but I most certainly did, and I unwittingly hurt others in my doing so too. That outfit still hangs in my closet, and I’m reluctant to part with it, because it’s been so much a part of my life, but what good is it doing hanging there in tatters and covered with dust?  Still…it’s hard to part with.

Avoidant Personality Disorder.

AvPD fits like a shawl or hat would, but doesn’t cover me like a whole outfit would. It describes some of my behaviors well, but not others. Although it fits, it’s incomplete, like only part of an outfit.

Aspergers.

Not too long ago I thought I had Aspergers, due to my social awkwardness and avoidant behavior. For over a decade I was sure this is what my real problem was. But this self-diagnosis is like that outfit that you think looks perfect on you, but actually doesn’t suit you at all and all your friends know it but won’t tell you. I had to discover that for myself by taking a good long look in the mirror and realizing Aspergers wasn’t at all “me.”

Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder); Depression.

Once again, it fits but doesn’t cover enough!

Covert NPD.

The craziest outfit I ever tried on, but interesting while I wore it.

It felt more like wearing a costume than every day clothing.

This self-diagnosis came very suddenly to me last summer, much like getting struck by lightning  It was like that outfit–or costume– you see suddenly that pops right out at you on the rack and SEEMS perfect for you, but once you try it on, it just doesn’t feel right. Oh, I was SO sure C-NPD was my real problem. But after awhile you realize that other people don’t think you look good in it because it emphasizes body defects that you don’t even possess, like a dress that makes you look fat even if you’re not.  Almost no one (outside of a forum I posted on) could believe I had NPD. The only people who ever accused me of being a narcissist were narcissists themselves, projecting their narcissism onto me, like that mud on their outfit they smear onto you so they can keep their own clothes clean.

That’s not to say I don’t have narcissistic traits, because I most certainly do (and no one would argue with that), but no, that’s just not the right outfit.

Complex PTSD seems like a keeper to me.

The “Four F’s” of C-PTSD

child-abuse1

I just began reading “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker. I can already tell I won’t be able to put it down (I will write a book review when I’m finished, which shouldn’t take long). I’m also going to bring this book to my next therapy session because I want my therapist to see it.

Walker, who is a therapist, is also a survivor of narcissistic abuse and sufferer of C-PTSD. He is an engaging writer and definitely knows his subject matter. In one of the first chapters, he discusses the “Four F’s”–which are four different “styles” of coping that people with C-PTSD develop to cope with their abusive caregivers and avoid the abandonment depression. Whatever style one adopts may be based on several factors–natural temperament, the role in the family the child was given (scapegoat, golden child, “lost” or ignored child), birth order, and other factors.

complex_ptsd2
Available on Amazon

The Four F’s are:

1. Fight (the narcissistic defense): often “golden children,” such children learn to project shame onto others; may go on to develop NPD
2. Flight (the obsessive-compulsive/anxiety defense): these children will grow up to become highly anxious, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant.
3. Freeze (the dissociative defense): these children “protect” themselves by dissociating from others, themselves, and their environment.
4. Fawn (the codependent defense): the child learns to avoid harm by people-pleasing or siding with their abusers.

Walker speculates that if C-PTSD were recognized in the psychiatric literature, the DSM could probably be reduced to the size of a pamphlet, for many people diagnosed with other disorders actually have C-PTSD, which encompasses symptoms of many other disorders and have common roots.

What you may have been misdiagnosed with (or diagnosed yourself with) if you have C-PTSD (these are the most common):

Personality Disorders:
Borderline Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Dissociative disorders

Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Panic Disorder
Social Anxiety
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Mood Disorders:
Depression
Bipolar Disorder

Developmental Disorders:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
ADHD
ADD

Codependency

Addictive Disorders

While any or all of these diagnoses can be co-morbid with C-PTSD, they miss the mark or don’t tell the whole story. Personality disorders such as BPD can develop from severe, unrelieved C-PTSD and they do share many similarities, but personality disorder labels are stigmatizing and not very helpful for someone who has suffered prolonged childhood trauma and abuse. Labels like “panic disorder” or “depression” aren’t helpful because they only address one or two symptoms of C-PTSD and therefore can’t even begin to address the roots of the depression or anxiety. You can treat anxiety or depression with drugs or short term therapy, but you can’t cure the person of the C-PTSD that’s causing their chronic anxiety or depression. The same goes for labels such as alcoholism or codependency. These are merely symptoms. People with C-PTSD are also sometimes erroneously diagnosed with developmental disorders such as ADHD or autism, which not only don’t address the trauma that led to the ADHD- or Aspergers-like behaviors, but also have completely different causes.

Where did BPD stigma come from?

stigma_truth

In recent years, BPD has earned a very disagreeable stigma, so disagreeable that people who have a BPD diagnosis are refused treatment, being told they cannot get better or feared by professionals who might treat them. NPD too, hasn’t always been as demonized as it is right now. NPD and BPD have become almost interchangeable in the narc-abuse community. I don’t recall it being that way in 1996 when I got my BPD diagnosis, and I don’t remember ever being told I was hopeless or unredeemable or evil or anything like that. I was treated pretty much like any other psychiatric patient, and was given therapy and put on antidepressants. I was obliged to take a DBT class, which at the time I blew off. (DBT is like CBT but exclusive to Borderlines–and it does work. The fact it worked for me makes me think maybe I *did* have BPD but no longer do!)

BPD was always classified as a Cluster B disorder, ever since its introduction into the DSM in 1980 (it was recognized, however, for much longer than that, and popularized as a disorder in the 1960s because of the research of Otto Kernberg, a German psychologist who studied “the narcissistic and borderline personalities,” and other “disorders of the self.”).* All “Cluster B” means really is the person has a weak, fragmented or nonexistent sense of self. Not being able to access a “true self” means they become either cut off from or cannot regulate their emotions. One of the results of this is a lack of empathy (but BPDs are the most empathetic of all the B’s, and some have normal levels of empathy). In NPD, a strong false self takes the place of the true one, which is a very dissociative symptom. In BPD, there’s not a strong false self like with NPD, but there is a weak and unstable one, and the person isn’t ALWAYS showing that false self. Some BPDs act quite a bit like over-emotional or unstable narcissists (or narcissists in the midst of a breakdown due to loss of supply). Others act like covert narcissists or just act neurotic and insecure but are otherwise nice people. Some feel their emotions too much, including empathy. A few are antisocial. I’m not sure why BPD (and maybe NPD) isn’t classified as a dissociative disorder, because essentially the person is cut off from their “self” in some form or another and that is what dissociation means. I’m not sure what the mechanics are in ASPD (antisocial personality disorder) but they are very different from either Borderlines or narcissists because they aren’t dependent on others to boost their weak egos. They are psychopathic and just do what they want.

bpd_stigma_quote

So the Cluster B’s, including BPD, were already around, but until the mid-1990s, no one thought of them as anything but mental illnesses or for ASPD, a kind of “adult conduct disorder.” They were psychiatric labels and nothing more. The narc abuse community started in 1995 or so, and Sam Vaknin was pretty much the first one online who wrote about it. Of course, he has NPD but even so, he first called attention to the “evil”-ness of NPD/narcissism (actually it was M. Scott Peck but at the time he wrote “People of the Lie” in 1983, the term “malignant narcissism” wasn’t in vogue yet and there was no connection of “evil people” to people with NPD. There was also no Internet to spread Peck’s concepts like wildfire the way they could have been in 1995 and later. But over time, M. Scott Peck’s book has become one of the most popular in the narc-abuse community) After Vaknin established his online narcissistic abuse community and wrote his popular book “Malignant Self-Love,” more narc-abuse sites got established (many or most of them started by victims, who were understandably angry at the narcissists who had abused them). Soon “narcs are evil” became a sort of meme, and by association, so did all the Cluster B disorders earn a “evil” reputation.

There are benefits to this, of course. Victims are being more heard than ever before. People are paying attention and avoiding narcissistic abusers. But some people who carry a Cluster B label are being hurt too, especially Borderlines (or people–usually women–who were erroneously diagnosed with it). Some experts want to get rid of BPD and just re-label BPD as Complex PTSD (probably not a bad idea). There are MANY similarities. The vast majority of BPDs are not anything like malignant narcissists and are not sociopathic at all. Most just act extremely insecure, needy, and maybe “high maintenance.” They can be manipulative or act out to avoid rejection. They may collude with people with NPD, however. But it’s possible to find these same types of behaviors in many people with Complex PTSD. Are they actually the same thing?

Another reason for the BPD stigma could be the tendency for narcissists and borderlines to form partnerships or be attracted to each other. In such a pairing, the Borderline is almost always the abused or codependent partner. In several “couple killings,” one of the criminal partners, usually the female, has had a BPD diagnosis. But they may have been so brainwashed by their abusers they were coerced into colluding with them against others (a form of Stockholm Syndrome).

Finally, a number of high profile criminals and serial killers have labels of NPD or BPD. But they almost always also have a comorbid ASPD diagnosis. Media icons like Joan Crawford who were known to scapegoat their children also had a BPD diagnosis. In Crawford’s case, she was also diagnosed with HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she had NPD (malignant) or ASPD as well, as her behavior was very sociopathic behind closed doors.

Why am I “defending” people with BPD if I don’t have it?  Several reasons:

  1.  I was diagnosed with it and carried that diagnosis for two decades.   I have personally experienced being rejected by therapists once they saw my “red letter” on paper.
  2. Just because my current therapist thinks I don’t have it doesn’t mean I don’t.  Or maybe I did have it and no longer do.  If I no longer have it, that means BPDs are not “hopeless.”
  3. Maybe BPD isn’t a valid diagnosis.
  4. Many people I have cared about who were slapped with “BPD” have been hurt by it.

These are just my rambling thoughts about this matter; I’d be interested in hearing your opinions.

* Timeline of BPD

Kaleidoscope self.

kaleidscope
60FPS Kaleidoscope Hypnotic Snakes Animation (watch on Youtube)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my various “disorders”–both diagnosed and self-diagnosed–and can see where the confusion arises. C-PTSD and BPD seem to be used interchangeably,. I think if C-PTSD did not exist, I might have gotten a nebulous label like “anxiety disorder NOS” or “personality disorder NOS.” No one needs a “diagnosis” like that! (I think the fact I’m paying out of pocket made it easier for my therapist to give me an “unofficial/experimental” diagnosis because no claims are being submitted for reimbursement.)

I also found it interesting that in its Wikipedia entry, and elsewhere, C-PTSD has been compared a lot to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID–-what used to be known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Dissociation in various forms is very common symptom in patients with both PTSD and C-PTSD. It’s also a common symptom in BPD and sometimes also NPD (during a narcissistic crisis or depression following a loss of supply, usually).

The proposed diagnosis of Covert or Fragile NPD has confused things further and once again, the symptoms can be very similar to those of someone with BPD/C-PTSD. Covert Narcissists don’t act arrogant and entitled like classic/grandiose NPDs but they are every bit as manipulative and their goal is to get supply.

But what is supply? Supply is something to fill an empty hole inside, and the emptiness comes about because a person was not mirrored appropriately (or at all) as a child. I feel like I often need “supply” to boost my ego (to some extent everyone does). Because my personality fits the profile for Covert NPD, I spent a long while sure I was one. I was very relieved my therapist does NOT agree with that. (He said I always try to take care of HIS feelings–probably a codependent trait–-and I have too much empathy)

The treatments and therapy techniques used for C-PTSD and Personality Disorders are very much the same. My therapist is a trauma/attachment therapist and as such, treats people with BPD and NPD, as well as C-PTSD, PTSD because all of these disorders have their roots in trauma and faulty attachments to caregivers. DID and other dissociative disorders also have their roots in childhood trauma. All of them are disorders where there is a weak, fractured, or nonexistent sense of self and a yawning emptiness inside. My therapist thinks my sense of self is there, but is fractured and mixed up with pieces of other “identities” I’ve taken on (sounds like BPD!), including my NPD mother.

I picture my “self” as a kaleidoscope full of broken shards of glass and mirrors, constantly shifting but without an organized pattern, completely confusing to me and everyone else. My therapist is trying to get me to start sorting out the pieces, trying to figure out which ones are “me” and which are not. We’re continuing with the chair work with me talking to my mother asking what it is she wants from me. I feel more comfortable keeping her there in the chair as the sad, vulnerable little 1930s-era girl she once was, rather than the brittle, hollow shell she has become. She was only mirrored by her father–but for all the wrong reasons. Her mother would have nothing to do with her at all.

Diagnosis: C-PTSD

your brain on CPTSD

My therapist finally spilled the beans (at my insistence) and thinks PTSD or complex PTSD is the closest fit for what I actually have.   BPD may have fit once, but he doesn’t think it does any longer, if it ever did.   He said a lot of those “borderline” symptoms may really have been C-PTSD.   He also doesn’t think I fit the criteria for any other personality disorder.    Also I would not be responding to therapy as well (or as quickly) if I had an actual personality disorder.

This is wonderful.   Complex PTSD is a non-stigmatizing label that acknowledges that damage was done to YOU,  and you are just reacting normally to the abnormal.   Personality disorders imply that the problem is in the person and BPD is one of the most stigmatizing labels of all.

I’ve grown quite attached to my BPD label though, and I’m not quite ready to give it up yet. I still could have it anyway; this is just one person’s opinion and I was diagnosed with it twice.  Maybe it was an erroneous diagnosis or maybe not,  but being a “borderline” has become very much a part of my identity.  I’m just overjoyed that my therapist does NOT think I have it and also that he’s aware of narcissistic abuse and the ways it can really f**k with your mind.

He says it’s fairly common for people with PTSD/C-PTSD to try to self-diagnose and it’s normal to be confused, as I have been very much so. Now I can focus on healing and less on useless self-diagnoses, which was getting me nowhere and just making me more confused.

Another brick in the wall…nuked!

crumbling-wall

How do I even begin? What happened tonight in my therapy session was a little thing, objectively speaking, really a very little thing. But to me it was a huge, HUGE deal, maybe even a breakthrough of some sort.

I refuse to write a separate post about this, but when I got home from work, my mother called. She had gotten my phone number through my son and I took the call because it was coming from a New York phone and my mother lives in Illinois so I had no idea who it was. Normally I don’t take phone calls if I can’t tell who’s calling but for some reason I took it this time. When I heard her voice, it was like being transported back to being a five year old again. All my mindfulness skills and everything I know about narcissism and No Contact went flying out the window.  I won’t go into detail because nothing of any consequence was said. She told me she just wanted to hear my voice and proceeded to ask a bunch of personal questions. I felt like she was checking up on me for her own benefit, which is probably the case. I put on my fake-nice act and answered her questions as politely as I could, telling her nothing too personal, and finally made an excuse about having a sore throat (which is actually true because I’m still sick) and had to get off the phone.

I brought up the phone call in therapy. I asked my therapist (rhetorically) why I can’t just tell her to bug off. Rationally I know nothing would happen if I did that. I know she’s read my blog so surely she knows how I feel about her. Sure, she might get mad, but really why should I care? What could she do to me? Nothing! He suggested (correctly) that I was programmed from an early age to always respond to her in a certain manner, and that programming is hard to break, and that’s what’s making it so hard for me. I started laughing about the idea of myself being a computer that could be programmed. I looked at him and told him to debug me. He laughed at that, but really it wasn’t funny. I felt a little hysterical.

I’m always a little more emotionally labile when I’m ill, and so this illness he gave me last week acted as a kind of emotional lubricant–or maybe I was just ready and what I’m about to describe was going to happen anyway.

I said I was tired of talking about my mother and I wanted to talk about my transference feelings instead. It’s what I’d been planning to talk about but my mother, even in my therapy sessions, always has a way of drawing all the attention to herself and I wasn’t going to let that happen tonight.  Recently we have been meeting twice a week instead of once a week, but I won’t be able to afford to do that for too much longer, or at least for the next few weeks. I explained hard it is for me to only be able to meet him once a week because of my strong feelings of attachment. He wanted me to elaborate on this and describe how it felt. I had to think about that for awhile. The closest I could come was that it’s a little bit like limerence but without the sexual and obsessive aspects and has a more infantile quality. (There’s also a kind of mindfulness to it that’s impossible to explain but that keeps it from getting out of control.) It’s the way I imagine a baby feels about their primary caregiver. That I’m this little baby and he’s the only person who ever mirrored me or accepted me unconditionally for me. Because of that I feel extra vulnerable with him, too close to my raw core and fearing rejection while at the same time being able to let my guard down in a way I normally can’t. When I was asked to elaborate on the vulnerable feelings I had to think about it for a long time.

Finally I began to explain (in what I felt was a very childlike manner) and to my surprise I started to cry. I’ve come close to crying a couple of times recently, but this time my eyes actually filled up and a couple of tears spilled over (which I wiped away quickly). Sure, I didn’t sob and there weren’t many tears and it all ended quickly, but it happened. For just a minute, I shed real tears in front of another human being! Even more astounding to me than that, I felt no shame doing so. In fact, I was very proud of myself and even while I cried, I knew exactly what was happening and felt really, really good about it. So my tears turned to laughter and he laughed along with me. It was a real, bona fide emotional connection. How can that be? I don’t have those! I don’t connect with people! This was surreal.

“How did you do that?” I asked, sort of gobsmacked.
“I did nothing,” he said. “You did that yourself.” He was smiling.
“Then I guess you’re just the facilitator!”
“Well, I do have a degree!” he said jokingly.
We laughed again. Then the tears almost started again.
“You’re getting emotional,” he observed. “What’s going on?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” I wailed like a three year old. And I didn’t. I didn’t know why I was so emotional, but I felt happy that I was. “I just feel fragile, that’s all.” My lower lip was trembling like a toddler’s.
“I want you to know I think you’re very strong.” His eyes were shining.

So, another brick in that f*cking wall crumbled tonight.
I put my shoes back on (lately I’ve been taking them off and putting my feet on the couch–it seems to help somehow).
As I was leaving, he said our session moved him. I wanted to hug him so much right then but of course I didn’t.

Deconstructing the confusion about my disorders.

confused

This post may be lengthy.   But I want to clear up some of the confusion about what my psychiatric diagnoses are, and what I’m actually in therapy for (short answer: I don’t really know).

I started this blog in early August 2015, because of an article I read that caused me to have a sudden shocking epiphany and sent me hurtling “down the rabbit hole” (hence the name of this blog):  I “discovered” I was a covert narcissist.  Or so I thought.

Almost immediately, I frantically scanned the web for blogs written by narcissists, especially  the covert/fragile type, who wanted to be healed or are in therapy or treatment.  Obviously, blogs written by and for narcissistic abuse survivors didn’t count (even though I started my primary blog, Lucky Otter’s Haven, as such a blog–but which has since greatly expanded its scope).   The only blogs by narcissists I could find were generally of two types:

1. Blogs that celebrated NPD–these were bloggers who felt as if their narcissism had greatly improved their lives and made them more successful (and who naturally had zero desire to change)

2. Blogs by narcissists giving advice to abuse victims.  The most famous example of this type of site is Sam Vaknin’s ancient Tripod website, which hasn’t changed since the ’90s and is badly in need of a more current look and easier navigation.  Sam has a few copycats floating around on the web, other narcissists who give a first person perspective of having NPD  and sagely warn their readers to go no contact with people like themselves.

So I decided there was a need for a new type of blog: one written by a narcissist who wanted to heal.  A blog that humanized NPD by documenting the inner state, emptiness, loneliness, and emotional pain of someone who had the disorder, and describing the things I was doing to eradicate narcissism from my soul.

omfg_ihavenpd

So for four mindf*ckingly surreal months, until December 2015,  I identified as a covert narcissist who also happened to have BPD (which I was actually diagnosed with, along with PTSD and Avoidant Personality Disorder in 1996 and 1997).   I became hyper-aware of my own behaviors, believing that even the normal things I did were somehow the actions of a narcissist.   I felt like I was living in some alternate universe, where everything was the opposite of what I’d previously believed.  The dissociative feelings were severe.

Sure, I saw the videos and read the blogs that said if you believe you’re a narcissist, then you are not, but I didn’t believe them.   What I probably had was narcissistic “fleas” (narcissistic behaviors that can rub off on an abuse victim who has been exposed to narcissistic abuse over a long period of time).  I may even be on the narcissistic spectrum (which means having a few N traits), but that doesn’t mean I have NPD.

Of course, there are those who believe that Borderlines are actually narcissists (Alexander Lowen is a psychiatrist who believes BPD is just a form of Narcissism that is not quite as high up the spectrum and possessed of a more fragile false self–I’ll be talking about his very interesting book, “Narcissism: Denial of the True Self” in an upcoming post).  There’s a lot of theories out there about Cluster B disorders, but at the end of the day, they’re just theories.  Psychology has never been and never will be an exact science.  At best, it’s a social science, at worst, an art form.

My four months of being a “narcissist,” I now realize, were an important part of my healing.  For during those months, I decided to pull out my book of DBT skills, which had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust since 1998.   Even though DBT is geared toward people with BPD, I figured these exercises might work for my “NPD.”  I didn’t want to be a narcissist. It would be better to have cancer! I desperately wanted to be healed from this black scourge on my soul–or what was left of it. I couldn’t afford therapy (or so I thought)–hell, I’d heal myself from it!  I’d find a way! Go suck on a moldy twig, naysayers! I’ll prove all you “experts” and haters wrong! A skeleton transplant? Sure, why not? Hey, it would be a piece of cake!

I undertook a rigorous self-therapy regimen, described in earlier posts.   Basically it was a mish-mosh of New Age, Buddhist, and Christian spirituality; music to elicit emotional catharsis and crying; meditation; deep, circular breathing; ultra-hot baths; cocooning myself naked under blankets like a fetus; having conversations (actual conversations!)with my inner child; chakra balancing; prayer; poetry writing; a lot of reading about NPD (which I’d already been doing); Bible reading; DBT; and of course, blogging.  I even “came out” on my main blog but later on had to retract it (and felt pretty foolish having to do so).

getwellsoon

I began to post on a forum for people with NPD (or who thought they had NPD).  Surprisingly, that was a positive experience.  The “narcs” posting on that forum did not seem very narcissistic.  Granted, most of them were self-diagnosed (like me!) and identified as “covert” (the more fragile, emotional type of NPD).   Perhaps these people didn’t really have NPD at all.   Maybe they were just a bunch of people like me with “fleas.”  If they really were narcs, maybe  being self aware caused them to be more mindful of the way they were treating other people, because I found them to be helpful, welcoming, supportive, and honest about the issues and problems their narcissism (if that’s what it was) was causing for them and others.  I saw almost no abusive behaviors at all.  The narcs and the “nons” (as they were called) seemed to co-exist peacefully on the forum and there was almost never any drama.  The forum didn’t even have a mod! It didn’t need one!

My time there taught me a lot, and my DBT skills and other methods of self-therapy I was engaged in (described in more detail in my early posts on this blog), intended to heal my “NPD,” didn’t do that (since I don’t have NPD), but they did bring me to a point where I was ready for real therapy.   While all the self-therapy activities I was engaged in were helpful (some more so than others), they weren’t nearly enough.  I ran into an internal wall where I could seem to get no further and I sank into a deep depression.

I decided to enter real therapy.  That was in November.  At the time, I still believed I had NPD, but when I did a Google search, all that came up under “NPD therapists” in my city was “trauma” or “attachment therapists.”    I tried the search again, this time using “BPD therapists.”  Again, trauma and attachment came up.

Of course, all cluster B disorders are really attachment disorders caused by childhood trauma.  Okay, fine. I clicked on the entry for a therapist whose picture showed a man about my age with a kind, empathetic face.

Somehow, I’ve had the money to pay for it. Even twice a week now. That’s proof to me that God exists and loves me after all (I always thought that, if he existed, he hated my guts). My therapist is using a mixture of psychodynamic therapy techniques used for people with Cluster B, complex PTSD and attachment disorders.  I was interested in being reparented in particular, and in fact that is part of his regimen.

therealme

When I told him I thought I had NPD, he laughed.  He told me I may have some of the traits of narcissism, but he doesn’t think I’m a narcissist. He also said he has doubts that I’m even BPD (I don’t act out the way I used to, due to mindfulness and DBT skills being second nature to me now).  Does that mean I’ve actually cured myself of BPD? I don’t know.  But he doesn’t like labels anyway.  He prefers to treat symptoms rather than “disorders” and I’ve come to prefer that too.    The important thing is, we’ve established a very strong connection and rapport, and what he’s doing is working for me, whatever disorder it is that  I actually have.  Maybe there should be a new diagnosis:  CPD: Confused Personality Disorder.

As for this blog, I’ve slowly been transforming it.  It’s not an easy job and I’m having to do it in bits and pieces.  I’m keeping the “broken mirrors” theme because I think it still fits. I’m trying to eradicate this blog’s dubious past as a “OMFG I HAVE NPD” blog.  I had to wait several months to change the domain name (the old one was “healingnpd.com”)  until I had the funds to do so (changing a domain name isn’t cheap).   Still, being that all trauma- and attachment-based disorders (complex PTSD and all the personality disorders) are interrelated and share many of the same symptoms and causes, I still welcome people with cluster B disorders, including NPD, to make themselves at home here.  At the end of the day, we all suffer because of the trauma that was done to us.

 

The waif inside.

bigeyedchild

Tonight’s therapy session definitely made up for the one I had on Monday, which I felt wasn’t very productive because I seemed to be deflecting and avoiding talking about my feelings.   I asked my therapist to stop me if I did that again, even if I get angry.   He agreed to this and tonight I dove right in.

We were talking about myself as a little girl, especially the way I was never allowed to express my emotions, especially anger.  He wanted to know what I did with all that anger.  I thought about it for a minute, and told him I turned it toward myself, and that’s why I started to become so depressed and why I started to hate myself .  He asked me to put my mind inside the mind of “little me” and describe how she felt and what she looked like.

We came up with a picture.  I described her as a waiflike child, like those paintings from the ’60s of those sad, big eyed little kids, dressed in rags, with a gray, unhealthy pallor.  She is always sad, almost always crying.  She’s afraid of everything.  She feels completely defenseless and in fact she doesn’t have any defenses.   She was never allowed to grow up.

I was asked how I felt about her.  I said I didn’t hate her, that in fact I felt protective of her and had to keep her safe from harm.    She also makes me feel angry when she comes out without my permission because she’s too vulnerable and defenseless and that makes me feel ashamed.   I have to protect her, but I also have to protect myself by keeping her hidden away so she doesn’t embarrass me.

It was harder to talk about her feelings about me, the way she views me.   All I could come up with was that she felt like I kept her safe but wishes I’d let her out more.  I realized then that it was easier to describe my feelings toward her than to describe her feelings toward me.   I’m not completely disconnected from my true self, but dissociation is present.

He asked me what good qualities she has that I want to protect.  I said she has a kind, gentle soul and a big heart.  He asked what she wants.  I thought about it and said, “all she wants is to love and be loved, and to belong.”  I got emotional at that point and started tearing up.  I wasn’t able to describe the emotions I was feeling at all, but I knew we’d made some progress.   He wants to start seeing me more often.   Somehow I’m going to find a way to afford it.   This type of inner child work is hard, but it’s amazing.