I finally saw my therapist after 3 1/2 weeks.   I hadn’t seen him since before Christmas.   It felt like coming home.   In fact, when I saw him I did something uncharacteristic of me: I blurted out, “I MISSED YOU SO FUCKING MUCH!” and ran into his arms like a 6 year old  girl runs into her dad’s arms when he returns home from a long day at work.   He thought that was funny and laughed.  I sat down sheepishly, my face turning red from my outburst.  But he just thanked me for being so open.

We discussed the dream I had a couple of nights ago, the one where I was swimming in the ocean with my mother.   He agrees with me that my mother in the dream wasn’t actually my mother, but the part of me that internalized her critical and disapproving voice — and a lot of her narcissism.

We talked about my nakedness and the fact I was deep underwater — and feeling happy about it.   Nakedness represents my vulnerability, and the ocean is deep emotions.  I was feeling happy being vulnerable and exploring the deep ocean of feeling that I avoided for so long, like  someone who’s afraid of the water and yet desperately wants to just let go of their fear and jump in the deep end.

Because I was swimming with my mother, and she was as naked as I was in the dream (we were both much younger in the dream but were approximately the same age, yet I knew it was my mother) and because I was feeling completely comfortable in her presence, this means that the  self-critical, judgmental, narcissistic part of my personality (which is really my mother’s voice which was internalized) is integrating with the vulnerable child-me.   I had already figured most of this out myself, but his agreeing with me validated what I already knew.

Something even stranger happened yesterday, and it’s directly related to the dream.    I was browsing through one of the Christmas catalogs I always get, preparing to toss them in the recycling.   But one ad caught my eye:  an ad for JOY perfume.   JOY is very expensive — about $80 for a small bottle.   It was always my mother’s favorite fragrance and I remember my dad always bought it for her on her birthday.   I suddenly had a strong desire to purchase a bottle for her for her birthday, which isn’t until August.

I thought it was strange that I had such an idea, because I’m No Contact with my mother and intend to remain that way.   I have no desire to see her, talk to her, or have any dealings with her at all.   For the past few years I haven’t even sent her a gift, just cards on her birthday and Christmas.  Why all of a sudden would I want to send her a bottle of her favorite, and very expensive, perfume?

I told my therapist about this and we talked about it.   I want nothing from her.  Buying her the perfume wouldn’t be to “buy her love,” because I know it would never work, and in fact, I don’t even want to talk to her when she receives it.  I just want to mail it to her and leave it at that.  I expect nothing in return.

I know my mother will cry.   She’s a high spectrum narcissist, but she gets emotional about certain things.   When I was a teenager, she cried all the time, but back then she drank heavily and usually cried when drinking — or when sober, to manipulate or get attention.  She rarely cried from genuine emotion.

But I doubt anyone has given her a bottle of JOY in many years, and I know in my heart that she will cry because it will touch her.  She’s like that.   She’s easily moved to tears when people are unexpectedly kind to her.  I also know that as hateful as she always acted toward me, there’s a part of her that is desperate for my love.   I know she thinks I don’t love her, but that’s not quite true.  I just don’t want to deal with her, because I can’t and because it’s very bad for me.   I love her; I just don’t like her.    I want to do something nice for her.

But I don’t want to see her tears.  I told my therapist I know she will cry if I do this, but I wouldn’t be able to handle her emotional reaction.   He asked me why and I said I didn’t know.   Maybe it’s because her tears are triggering to me because they were so often used in the past to manipulate, or just because I can’t stand to see her out of control.  Maybe seeing her like that makes me feel too vulnerable or is just too embarrassing.    I have no idea why seeing her shed tears of gratitude would make me want to run, but I know it would.   I told him if she called me to thank me, I would avoid the call.   All I want to do is give her something that would mean something to her, because she has had such a sad life and will never escape from her prison of oblivious, un-self aware narcissism.

My therapist said what he saw happening to me was that I was turning something negative and dark into its polar opposite.  From the crucible of narcissism, real affective (not cognitive) empathy is emerging, and that is why I suddenly want to give my mother something that means so much to her, without expecting anything in return.

He told me something else too, and this bothered me a little.   He said when I first started coming to see him over a year ago, I seemed angry and cynical.   I was a little taken aback by that, because I had thought I came across as friendly and funny.   I didn’t realize back then that this was a mask, and apparently the anger I really felt wasn’t that well hidden.  (I’m not a very good narcissist because I’m such a lousy actor, apparently).  It bothered me that I could have been so transparent, but of course it’s his job to see through to my real self.

But he followed that up by admitting he hasn’t been seeing as much anger lately.   Instead, he’s seeing a loving, gentle person emerge, a person who is capable of empathy and love.   I wasn’t even aware this was happening, but he’s seeing it.  I just thought it was weird that I wanted to splurge on a bottle of JOY for my mother, but it really means much more than that, so much more than that.

Hey, Mom, I know you lurk on my other blog. I don’t know if you ever found this one.  But if you did, and you are reading this, YES, you’re getting a bottle of JOY from me for your birthday.   Don’t ask questions; just accept that it’s something I want to do for you. My biggest wish for you is that one day you will become self aware.


Me and my unpopular opinions.


My therapist made me cry tonight.

Here is what happened. We were discussing some of my narcissistic traits, in particular my covert need to feel special or superior.   The way I do this isn’t direct or overt.   Until very recently, I was never even aware I did this.

I finally realized today that I have this pattern of always siding against popular opinions, no matter what the topic is.  I thought back over my life, about forums and online groups I’ve participated in, real life groups I’ve been part of, and realized that I actually sort of like to stir the pot, and take on whatever is the unpopular view.  Sometimes I’ll do this even when I don’t really care one way or the other.    For example, there was this entertainment forum I used to post on.  There was a celebrity everyone there hated, and I really had no opinion one way or the other, but still, I found myself righteously defending this celebrity against the haters (and siding against who everyone else liked).   At the time I thought it was because I was defending an underdog, because I  do have a strong sense of justice.   And that was true, but it wasn’t the main reason.  The primary reason I took a different stand than everyone else was because doing so made me feel special, not part of the “group think.”  Hey, I wasn’t a sheep who couldn’t think for myself!  I had original ideas and was smarter than everyone else! I knew more!   I was special!  Of course I would never state this directly.  I always wanted to be thought of as a nice person.  As long as you thought of me as nice and smart, everything was hunky dory.   If you challenged either my intelligence or my good intentions,  I’d get all butt-hurt and plead innocence.  Or disappear in humiliation.  I had a habit of disappearing or leaving groups when my “superior” opinions were challenged–or when I was called out for acting like an arrogant know it all.  I couldn’t back up my arguments because I lacked conviction.   I never took a real stand on anything because I didn’t have any real convictions.  I only cared about myself.   Feeling strongly about issues outside of myself is something very new for me.

The other reason I sided with whatever was unpopular was because I have always felt like an underdog, and was never a popular kid.   So I could relate to underdogs and anything unpopular, even if it was a concept or a thing rather than a person.

This same pattern reappears over and over and over, as far back as I can remember.  In any group situation, either online or offline, I *always* find myself having a different opinion than everyone else, whether it’s politics, entertainment, home decor, food, music, or anything else.     I can be very contrary, and this is annoying to some people.   I can understand why too.  It’s because of this underlying feeling that I am better or smarter or something.  But it isn’t really that at all.   In reality, I feel like I might be inferior to you, so this “proves” I’m not.    I’m not always sure when I am being sincere and when I’m not, or is it just this need to feel special or smarter than everyone else? I’m not sure sometimes.   I think it’s a bit of both.   I do feel like my views about things on this and my other blog are my real, sincere ones.  I’m getting a lot better.

Of course, my contrariness would bring me the attention I craved– usually the negative kind, but I enjoyed stirring the pot and then sitting back and acting all innocent and wondering why *I* was being persecuted!   Now I feel like I’m on the outside looking in and the view makes me want to cringe in horror.

My point here isn’t about what my opinions actually are.   Sometimes I really do feel strongly about the “unpopular opinion,” especially recently.   It’s about my narcissism and my quest for the emotional empathy I lost.  Or feel like I lost.

I told my therapist about all this, and he pointed out the fact that I sided with underdogs  meant I was showing a kind of empathy.   Then he told me that I developed the narcissism as a protective shield to keep my empathy safely hidden so it wouldn’t be harmed and that I had done a good job as its guardian. (It also buried my roiling and uncontrollable borderline emotions so I didn’t have to feel them).

This happened toward the end of our session (it annoys me that if tears come, it’s usually in the last 5 minutes).  I just buried my face in my hands and cried.   I’m not even sure why I was crying but I just felt warm inside because he understood.   I also knew what he said was the truth and it really hit home.  He asked me what made me so emotional so I told him I never felt like anyone empathized with me and that  whenever anyone does, I’m almost overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, like someone who is starving and finally gets a hot meal.

I know this post is a little disjointed and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Everything is just so confusing to me right now.    I have a lot to process.

Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

Credit: Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

The concept of narcissism and HSP (highly sensitive person) or empathic traits coexisting in the same person is a matter that has very little research behind it, but I definitely think there is a strong case to be made for it. Hear me out before you hit the backspace key. I actually think it’s at the core of why empaths and narcissists are so uncannily drawn to each other.

In my article A Match Made in Hell: Narcissists and HSPs, I wrote about the tendency for narcissists and HSPs to form trauma-bonds with each other–that’s really just a fancy way of saying these two seemingly opposite types of people are often attracted to each other and form codependent relationships.

The trauma bond.

The narcissist is both attracted to and envious of the empath’s vulnerability and high empathy. They are attracted to it for a very simple reason:  they need it badly. As children, narcissists failed to be mirrored or loved unconditionally by their parents, and are love-starved, even though they’d rather die than ever admit it.   The empath, in turn, is able to love the narcissist without condition, to the point of allowing themselves to be sucked dry.

Narcissists also envy the empath’s ability to love unconditionally because on some level, usually unconsciously but sometimes consciously, they know they jettisoned their own ability to love and feel empathy a long time ago in order to survive.  Most were highly sensitive children but shamed for it.  Many were bullied.   So they learned to bury their emotions behind an invulnerable facade because continuing to be so vulnerable hurt too much. Empathy may be a gift, and I think most narcissists were born with that gift, but were never shown how to use it and were punished for having it.  It became a curse instead of a blessing, so they sent the gift into exile and shored up a false self to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Knowing they jettisoned their ability to access their own vulnerability, combined with a continued starvation for unconditional love and acceptance, is what draws narcissists to empaths. They abuse the empath, either consciously or unconsciously, because they hate the fact they need their love so badly, and the empath’s sensitivity also unconsciously reminds them of their own sensitivity that caused them so much pain. It’s a constant reminder of the shame they felt as children for being so sensitive, but they also can’t live without it. So they punish the empath for reminding them of their own “weakness” and making them feel so needy.

The narcissist, in their neediness and simultaneous resentment of being so needy, feeds off the empath like a vampire. If they are malignant, they don’t care that they’re destroying the very person who gives them a reason to live. They may even get some satisfaction in knowing they are punishing them. If the narcissist is not malignant, they may feel some guilt over what they do to  the person who gives them so much love, but be unable to stop doing it. Or more often, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. They just seem like a bottomless well that can’t get enough and keeps on demanding more.

Of course such a relationship is extremely unhealthy, even deadly, for the empath, who will eventually either leave the narcissist or be completely sucked dry or in the worst cases even destroyed. But the empath does gets something important out of the relationship too. They truly believe that through their unconditional love, they are saving the narcissist from him or herself.

Common roots.

Empaths and narcissists often both come from abusive or dysfunctional families. Both started life as highly sensitive children. But at some point they diverged. While the empath embraced their own vulnerability and learned how to use their gift to help others and find joy and authentic connection with others, the narcissist rejected it because it seemed more like a curse and made them feel too much pain. If they were never shown any empathy or were shamed for being too sensitive, it’s understandable why they might have rejected their own empathy and covered it over with a facade of toughness.

Why are empaths drawn to narcissists?

Empaths, like narcissists, often have narcissistic parents, and are unconsciously drawn to those who remind them of their parents or perhaps a sibling or other close family member.  They are naturally drawn to those who seem to need healing, and in embarking on a relationship with a narcissist, they are unconsciously attempting to heal their parent or other family member. This is why empaths so often become codependent to narcissists.

Empaths are able to see through the facade the narcissist presents to the world, to their hidden true self. They can see the hurt, abandoned child that lives inside every narcissist. They truly believe they can “fix” them and transform them into authentic, feeling humans capable of returning what they have been given. Of course, this belief is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment (if the empath is lucky), and possibly much worse. For a narcissist to change and stop the pattern of abuse, the desire to do so must come from inside of them. They must be willing to drop their mask of invulnerability and do the hard work of reclaiming the vulnerability they were born with and gave up a long time ago. The empath can’t make a narcissist want to change. Just because they can see through to the sensitive true self doesn’t mean they will be able to draw him or her out. They can die trying, but it probably won’t work. The unwilling, un-self-aware (or malignant) narcissist is likely to punish them for trying.

Failed empaths?

There may even be a genetic connection between narcissism and those who become empaths. I’ll go out on a limb and even speculate that they might even be the same thing–the narcissist being a “failed empath.  It’s ironic but I definitely think there’s a connection.

But how can that be? Narcissists are incapable of empathy, have problems feeling and expressing deep emotions, and are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. Isn’t that the opposite of being an empath?

Well, yes and no. The explanation is complicated, so I hope you stay with me here.

As I’ve explained before, I think most narcissists began life as highly sensitive people who at an early age suffered trauma due to abuse. This caused them to shut off their too-vulnerable true (authentic) selves from the world and in its place construct an elaborate defense mechanism–the false self–initially meant to protect the vulnerable true self from further harm, which has no defenses at all. Even empaths who are not narcissists have some protective psychological armor, so they did not need to construct a false self to take the place of the true one. Healthy empaths are truly authentic people who feel deeply and are emotionally honest with themselves and others. Narcissists were born with no emotional defenses at all; the false self replaces the true one and appears invulnerable. But this is only an illusion. When you face a narcissist, you will never know who that person really is because all they will show you is the protective mask they have created. They are so terrified of being hurt again that they will attack with vicious ferocity if they think you pose any threat to its flimsy underpinnings. It must be a terrifying way to live.

The high sensitivity of a narcissist is retained in the way they react to personal insults or slights. They overreact when they feel like they are being attacked, ignored, or they perceive their source of narcissistic supply may be in danger. They are paranoid, touchy, and often lack a sense of humor about themselves. They may try to appear as if they don’t care, but if you know narcissism, it’s usually not too hard to see the emotional fragility behind their defenses and acts of false bravado. When it comes to other people, they can seem incredibly insensitive.

Narcissists who aren’t high on the spectrum and become self aware may be able to reclaim emotional empathy toward others, because empathy is a skill that can be learned.  A forum member on the NPD board I read (who has NPD) described something that happened with her husband that warmed my heart.  She said he had hurt her feelings, and she caught herself about to attack him.  She felt her defenses go up, but instead of acting out, she decided to NOT act out and just allow herself to feel the hurt.  Instead of attacking him as she normally would have, she cried.   He put his arms around her and she allowed herself to be held and comforted, to feel vulnerable and cared for.   She said at first she felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the next time it happened, she felt less uncomfortable.  Now allowing herself to be loved is becoming second nature and she says she is starting to feel some tenderness toward him too, and even moments of a new feeling that she thinks is real love, a warm feeling not based on getting supply from him or bolstering her ego.   So I think empathy takes practice.  If you were born with it, you don’t lose it, but it may be hard to access and takes a conscious effort to learn to reclaim and use.

But before a narcissist can really get better and feel empathy toward others, they first need to develop self-compassion (this is NOT the same as self-pity, but is actually empathy for the rejected child-self). They must also be courageous enough to stay in treatment and confront and release the traumatic feelings that lie hidden beneath the mask.

This usually only happens when the narcissist hits rock bottom and suffers a massive loss of supply, sending them into a depression.  At that point they may enter therapy or realize the problems they have are because of themselves.   The problem with this is once things begin to improve or they begin to feel better again, they are likely to leave therapy because the work to get to their authentic self is too painful.    It takes an enormous amount of motivation, courage and positive thinking for a narcissist to stay in therapy long enough to begin to access their true self and embrace their own vulnerability.  It can be done, but it’s not easy.

For malignant narcissists though, things are very different.  Stay with me here because things are about to get complicated.

The connection between malignant narcissism and high sensitivity.

Warm and cold empathy.

In my research about NPD, there has been a lot of discussion about a concept called “cold” empathy.   Most of us associate narcissism with a lack of empathy, but this isn’t exactly the case. Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–do have empathy, but it’s not emotional or affective empathy; it’s cognitive or “cold” empathy. What this means is that a narcissist KNOWS what you are feeling, and may use what they know you are feeling against you. Cold empathy is “felt” on the cognitive (thinking) level, but not as an emotion, and that is why the narcissist can feel no compunctions about turning your feelings against you in order to punish or hurt you.

An extreme example of this would be the sadistic, psychopathic rapist. The rapist “smells” your fear and uses that against you to become even more sadistic. It *is* empathy, but it’s “cold”–the rapist understands exactly what you are feeling and your fear makes him feel powerful, so he increases the level of torment. He feeds off your fear like a vulture feeds on carrion. You don’t need to tell him you’re afraid; he KNOWS. He just doesn’t care and even derives pleasure from it.

Cold empathy is the twisted mirror image of warm empathy, which non-pathological people are capable of feeling on an emotional, not just a cognitive level. HSPs and empaths have an excess of warm empathy.  Here’s where things get complicated. If a narcissist is also a failed empath, their high sensitivity could morph into a quality that seems almost supernatural and is utterly chilling–a cold, sadistic form of “empathy” where they seem to be able to see into your mind. A non-sensitive person would not be able to detect your emotions without you telling them how you feel, and therefore not have that creepy, unsettling way of “seeing into your soul” that the malignant narcissist does. So, the higher the sensitivity a narcissist has (and the more the “warm” empathy has been shut out or turned “cold”), the more malignant they will be.

Malignant narcissism is high on the HSP spectrum.

This idea was actually illustrated in the humorous-but-true graph (shown above), where initially I wondered why malignant narcissism was showing so high in empathic/HSP traits. But actually it makes perfect sense. An empath who adopts narcissism as a way to cope and whose warm empathy all turns cold will become malignant. A less sensitive person (or a highly sensitive person who still retains some warm empathy) may still become a narcissist, but they won’t become malignant. Of course, at their core, all narcissists are highly sensitive. They just don’t want you to know.

In summary, then, empaths and HSPs can be the most kind and caring people you can ever hope to meet–or the most dangerous. A narcissistic empath is definitely someone you’d want to avoid.

They are two sides of the same coin. The tragedy is that a malignant narcissist can destroy a previously healthy empath, but it doesn’t work the other way around: a non-narcissistic empath can’t change a malignant narcissist into a good person.


Further reading:

Narcissists and Empaths: The Ego Dynamic

Temporary indwelling to elicit emotion and empathy in psychodynamic therapy.

Heinz Kohut

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

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

Modeling emotions.

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

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

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

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

Temporary indwelling.

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

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

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

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

What is real?


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.


“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.



Good therapy session tonight.

I’m tired so this won’t be a very long post. I’m finally feeling like what I always thought was my “weakness” is really my strength. I’m slowly learning to love myself. As real self love (not my ego) grows, I find that I’m finding my direction and also getting bolder–that is, worrying less about what others think of me, but staying true to what I believe and value. I have more integrity than I used to have because I’m not always trying to “people please.” A vision of what my future may hold is finally beginning to emerge.

I used to alternate between being cold, distant, and stuffing all my emotions with episodes of acting out in sudden bursts of rage, anxiety, or frustration. I had intense obsessions on people and things that would give me no rest. My social awkwardness–really caused by my fear of what others thought of me (I actually self-diagnosed as having Aspergers)–manifested as either overfriendliness or unfriendliness, depending on the situation, person or my mood. No one, not even me, could predict how I’d behave from one moment to the next.

With blogging and mindfulness, I got my sudden outbursts and unpredictable behavior under control but accessing real emotions outside of the reactive ones (mostly anger, fear and shame) was still an issue for a very long time.  Moments of real happiness were rare and elusive.   I was still miserable, but just was better at acting like I felt normal.

Although I no longer overreact to things the way I used to, I’m actually feeling MORE emotion–and the quality of these emotions are very different. They are “softer” and more sublime; and they seem more human–instead of the primitive “survival” emotions of a wild animal (or a symptomatic borderline). Best of all, a little of the empathy I had so much of as a child that I’d cry if I saw a wounded butterfly or just knew if a stranger was sad even though they were smiling have been freed to me (I always had it, just couldn’t access much of it), and that’s allowing me to see possibilities where before I saw none at all.   This all began with learning how to empathize with my hurt inner child.

I still have such a long way to go, and can’t say I’m really a happy person yet, but my therapist said he sees a lot of progress lately, and I can feel that progress happening inside of me, and it’s awesome.


Further reading:

Empathy Begins at Home

My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.


There’s been something on my mind that’s been bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me sound like a terrible person.  But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this blog, so I’m not going to make an exception this time.

A few weeks ago, I made a new online friend.  She’s in a severe depression right now due to receiving some bad news. She was so grief-stricken she had to go into the hospital and get treated for her depression.   Since then she’s been confiding in me by email, because she’s too shy to publicly comment about her situation.   For about a week or two, we corresponded almost daily.   Our emails to each other were long and deeply personal, and they proved therapeutic for me as well as for her.

I’m no therapist, but I’m always willing to correspond via email and try to direct people to the proper resources or actually help them directly if I can.   I felt like I could relate to this woman; I identified with a lot of her issues. She said she felt the same way about me.  I began to think of her as a friend, someone I cared deeply about, even though we never met and we’d only been corresponding for such a short time.   I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation.  These empathic feelings are  something rather new for me, because only recently I was too busy working on my own issues and trying to recover from my own trauma that I didn’t have the time or inclination or even the ability to really be able to empathize with anyone else.   Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the empathy I possessed so much of as a child, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.  I want it to keep growing because it makes it easier for me to connect with people and makes it possible for me to be authentic and help someone else in need, which is what I’ve been aiming to do more of.

My new friend told me that writing to me helped her a lot, and I was extremely touched by this.  I told her she was helping me too, which is true.   I began to look forward to her emails, because, well, the things she told me made me feel good.   I felt my ego puffing up with pride like a loaf of baking bread.   I began checking my inbox several times a day to see if there were any new emails.  I was getting a little obsessed, to be honest.  I was jonesing for that feeling of being needed, of feeling like I was important to someone, of knowing that someone I liked and cared for valued me that much.

I haven’t heard back from her in a few days.  Now I’m becoming insecure and hypervigilant and wondering if I said something wrong or overstepped her boundaries or if she just got tired of writing to me.    I kept reading over our emails trying to find anything, any hint at all, that I might have said something offputting that ran her off or made her want to stop emailing me.   I found nothing but obsessively, I kept looking.

After 3 days of no correspondence, I finally emailed her again.  I was extra careful not to sound too needy, and because she’s so fragile right now and came to me for help (and not the other way around), I tried extra hard to not to project my own “stuff” into my email to her.  I read it over several times and it sounded alright to me, but I still worry she may be able to pick up on my neediness.

I realized with horror that my worry about her possibly abandoning me was more powerful than my concern that she might have had to go back into the hospital (or just couldn’t get online, or was busy, or whatever).    My insecurity made my email sound more stilted and less natural than usual.  I no longer feel like I can be as open and honest, because of my own stupid fears of being offensive or overbearing and making her think badly of me.  It isn’t her fault I feel like this–it’s my own ego getting in the way of the real empathy I have for this person.

This happens to me all the time, and is one of the reasons I’ve sometimes thought I’m actually a narcissist.  Everything is always about me, my ego, what other people are thinking about me, am I being validated, am I still valued by them, are they going to leave me, do they secretly hate me?  Even when all the evidence is to the contrary, I still look for the microscopic speck of dirt in my bowl of ice cream–and always find it even though it isn’t really there.

Yes, I do have empathy–and a lot more of it has been freed to me lately–but when there’s any uncertainty or insecurity and I begin to feel hypervigilant and paranoid.  I start fretting that maybe I’m being deliberately ignored or God forbid, abandoned, and all that wonderful, healing empathy I’m learning how to use goes flying out the window and everything becomes all about me and my stupid ego again.

I still care about this individual and want to help her, but I want my empathy to flow naturally and my ego to stay out of it, because all that does is fuck everything up.  I’ve been praying for this to change, because how can I ever really be of help to anyone else if I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me?   This isn’t about me; it’s about her and trying to help her heal, not getting some sort of ego boost for myself.

I’m not going to email her again.   I’ll just wait now, and if I never hear from her again, I can live with that.   Maybe she got what she needed from me–the encouragement she needed–and that should be enough.   I hope she is okay.

If nothing else, then I have learned a hard lesson about pride and ego: pride comes before the fall.  True empathy requires humility and the ability to set your own ego outside the door.

Am I an empath?


I wonder. Until recently, I always thought people who say they’re empaths sounded a bit grandiose or even a little narcissistic. I never thought I was an empath, but as some of the toxic thinking patterns I was so trapped in begin to fall away (this is a very slow process!), I find that I’m better able to “see” things I couldn’t see since I was a small child. The “things” I see are what lies behind the facade all of us have to some degree or another, a facade which narcissists have become so effective at building that their real selves are all but obliterated (but they’re not really).

I was very emotional as a child and felt everything around me intensely. My sensitivity made me not only prone to being a target for bullies, but also physically vulnerable: I spent a lot of time sick and I had many allergies.   I had terrible ear infections that left me nearly deaf in my left ear.  The doctors said I was healthy and couldn’t figure out why I was always so sick.

Abused by my narcissistic family and the bullies at school, I gradually learned that it was too dangerous to fully feel my emotions or to connect with people on an emotional, meaningful level. I was made fun of or punished in some way. So I shut myself off from feeling anything but the most banal or self defeating emotions, only those that concerned myself or ensured my survival: fear, anger, jealousy, frustration, boredom, sexual desire, and a pseudo-love known as limerence.  Rarely could I feel true sadness, joy, love, contentment, friendship, connection with God or nature, or caring deeply for another.  I felt like I couldn’t connect with other people meaningfully but was still always quick to take offense to insults. This manifested in unpleasant ways like “going off” on people or losing control.   I often scared people with the intensity of my rages and low frustration tolerance.   Fear–a survival emotion–remained dominant.   My programming told me I needed that fear to survive, but it sure hasn’t made for a pleasant time of things, and made me afraid to take any risks at all.

Worst of all, my heart became closed.  I stopped being able to laugh or cry with abandon or with another person.  I loved the idea of getting close to others and having meaningful relationships, but the reality was just too scary and the relationships I did have were either meaningless and shallow or unhealthy and toxic.   I learned to isolate myself from others and avoid other people because other people meant pain.  I isolated myself not only physically, but by making it difficult for people to be around me.   I couldn’t stick with anything.  I couldn’t finish anything.  I couldn’t achieve anything.     I was afraid to fail because failure meant certain rejection.  This is what my narcissistic family taught me.  This comprises the genesis of my BPD (which I think is finally beginning to fall away).

Five things have led to my ability to begin to let go and to reconnect with the self I lost as a child and young adult, listed in order of their importance to me.

1. My relationship with God
2. Therapy
3. Blogging and writing (self-reflection)
4. Music — it’s incredible how powerful it is!
5. Time spent in nature, including time with animals (they teach us so much)

I won’t describe the means by which these five things are working for me, since I have done that elsewhere and it would turn this post into a book. But what’s beginning to happen is I’m realizing I genuinely care about others. I never thought I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t care before, it was because I was so protective of myself I couldn’t let those feelings of caring be consciously felt. Now when I hear a fellow victim talk about a lifetime of abuse or scapegoating, I feel true empathy for them because I’m more able to allow myself to experience my own pain and process it and that makes it easier to relate to the pain of someone who went through similar trauma. So I can no longer say I’m really empathy challenged. I always had it in me.

Something even more amazing is starting to happen. I’m becoming somehow able to see the lost child in the people I talk to on both my blogs. I may have always had this ability. From the time I was a young child, I could pick up the emotions of others around me. When I picked up my mother’s emotions, she told me to stop “acting spooky.” I think my X-ray vision scared her.

But I couldn’t just throw up a false self and become a narc.  I lacked the right temperament.  It was always so hard for me to hide the way I felt. So I went into hiding instead–emotionally and sometimes physically–becoming a near hermit. I stopped being able to have any deep relationships, even real life friendships. I stopped being able to feel the higher emotions that bring us joy and deep connection with others.  These are symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder, which I had/have along with BPD and C-PTSD.

My life became drained of any joy or color. But now, I can see the hurt inner child in others, which is ironic since I still have so much trouble connecting with my own hurt child. This ability to see the real selves in the people who come to my blogs (or post on other blogs) even extends to people with narcissistic personality disorder. When I look at a narc now, I don’t see someone to hate or be terrified of, I see someone who didn’t get enough love and has no idea who they are.

I believe in No Contact. I don’t think any lay person can fix a narcissist and it’s always best to get away for your survival and sanity. But that doesn’t mean things are hopeless for a narcissist, should they sincerely want to connect with their real emotions.  More therapists are needed who have the courage to work with these difficult and often infuriating people. Therapists who can help them realize the potential to love and feel the real emotions they were born with, who can help them break down the strong fortress they have built around themselves to keep everyone out.   This must be done by professionals, and it can take a long time and it won’t be an easy road. I think there must also be a spiritual component, an acceptance that there is something–if not God, then some Intelligence or Presence–that is greater than all of us and is always healing and benevolent. I think the stigma is so bad that therapists either won’t treat them or give up when the going gets rough. Yes, some narcissists will leave. But some won’t, if the therapist is empathic and skilled enough and the narcissist wants change bad enough.

Both narcissism and C-PTSD and other problems caused by abuse all have their roots in childhood trauma. Why only focus on healing for the victims? Narcissistic abuse is a terrible thing. But it will continue as long as there are narcissists walking around allowed to get away with turning people into victims. If we can get to the root of the problem and help the narcissists themselves, then narcissistic abuse will end and there will be no more victims either. It’s analogous to alleviating crime in a city by addressing the problem of poverty that led to it. As long as you ignore poverty, crime will continue and there will always be crime victims.

I seem to have an uncanny ability to see the real, lost self behind a narcissist’s facade. This surprises me, because it seems like a quality an empath would have and I never thought I was one–just a run of the mill HSP.   But through therapy, prayer, being in the natural world, music, and writing, I feel like my heart has opened and with that, a kind of X-ray vision. I’ve actually had self aware and some diagnosed narcissists come to me (mostly on Down The Rabbit Hole) telling me the blog has helped them and they are learning from it, or admitting they want help.  A few have emailed me because they’re too ashamed of their narcissism to post on a public blog.  Right now, all I can do is try to offer encouragement and direct them to other resources. I feel empathy for them, just as I feel empathy for the abuse victims on Lucky Otter’s Haven and here too.   I wish I could help them more than I can right now.

I think I’m being called to something–working with people with NPD (as well as other trauma victims)–that’s going to take a lot of strength and courage and could even be emotionally and spiritually dangerous if I’m not very careful or don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s going to take a lot of training, and right now there are a lot of logistical problems (lack of money or time to go back to school; getting older; not liking confrontation and being socially awkward in general). But I feel like God has a plan and some doors will begin to open. I can work on my awkwardness and fear of confrontation in therapy (and these things are a result of low self esteem, not an “introverted” temperament). Working with people with NPD is something very few people dare venture into.  It’s also something a lot of narc-abuse survivors have trouble understanding.  A few even think it’s wrong.   I don’t believe it is.   I’m not ready to do it yet. But I feel like this is the shape my life is taking and the reason why everything happened the way it did.

Born an empath to narcissistic parents, they could not handle my ability to absorb the feelings of those around me and “see through” facades. They worked day and night to disable my gift because they were so afraid of it. But in spite of everything, I still have the gift and I want to use it to help people like my parents, even if my parents rejected the illumination of truth that gift had the power to reveal.

Why my therapist rocks.


How awesome is my therapist?  Let me count the ways.

Actually, I won’t do that.   I’ve already described in many other posts why he totally rocks.   I don’t think I’m idealizing how great he is.  Well, maybe just a little, but I think it’s pretty normal.

I’m just going to describe one of the many reasons why he’s so awesome, because this is something that happened last night.

He’s not afraid to show his vulnerability.  He’s not afraid to show me he has emotions.   This helps me, because it makes it safer for me to express my own buried emotions.  I never had a therapist who did that before, and I think that’s why my other therapists could never get through to me and I’d eventually quit.

So what happened was this.   He came out of his office as usual to greet me, but he did something a little different than usual.  Normally, he just smiles at me and tells me he’s glad to see me (and I know he really is), then leads me into the room, and pulls up his chair so he’s facing me about three feet away.  He has never laid a hand on me, but puts the least amount of distance between us I will allow.

Last night, he smiled but his smile looked sad.   He looked tired and a little pale.  He sighed and sat down in the chair on the other side of the end table in his waiting room.  He said, “You don’t mind if I decompress for a minute, do you?”

“No, of course not,” I said, surprised.   I didn’t really know what else to say.   I stared at him, waiting, and somewhat intrigued.   He was resting his head in his hands, elbows on knees.  I wanted to give him a hug, but I didn’t.

He looked at me sheepishly.  “Difficult session,” he said.  Then he got up from the chair and said “Alright, I’m okay now.”   I followed him inside.

That might sound weird or even unethical.   After all, some people think a therapist should not share their emotions with a client, especially if those emotions involved another client. But I never see the client that comes in ahead of me.  They go out a different door than I come in.   I don’t even know the client’s gender.

My therapist has shown vulnerability at other times too.  Once or twice, he got teary-eyed.  Not crying or actual tears rolling down his face (that would be awkward and I might be tempted to run), but I could tell what I was saying made him a little emotional.   He also tells me he looks forward to our visits. I don’t think there are any romantic or sexual feelings, though I could be wrong.   I just think he’s more open than most therapists about the way he feels, and I think that’s what makes him so good at what he does.

My therapists’s willingness to show vulnerability has a few benefits for me:

—  It makes me trust him and hence, be more willing to show my own vulnerability.   I simply can’t let my emotions loose if I’m dealing with a block of wood who does nothing but stare wordlessly at me and writes things on pad of paper.

—  He shows empathy for me, which helps me feel empathy for my true self (inner child), and this self-empathy then expands toward others, so I become a more empathic person.

— I feel like sometimes he models emotion for me.   For example, if I’m angry but am dissociated from that anger and can’t really feel it, he picks up on it and models anger.  Not at me, but toward whatever it is he thinks is making me angry.    Like, one time I was talking about the time my dad stole the little picture booklets I had drawn when I was about 7 or 8; these little journals were meant for no eyes but my own.  I felt violated by that, but wasn’t able to feel the anger. I kept making excuses for my dad and saying it shouldn’t have bothered me.  My therapist actually looked angry and said, “I don’t care if you’re mad at him or not, I’m mad at him for violating your boundaries like that.”   After that I was able to experience the anger I felt and work through that.

Whether what he’s doing is intentional or not doesn’t matter.  What he’s doing is working with me. He’s an empath who holds the key to the buried parts of my mind that no one could even come close to unlocking.

Empathy begins at home.


I know that for a very long time I’ve had issues empathizing with others on a one to one basis (with a few rare exceptions like my children). It’s not that I like seeing others in pain or want to hurt them (I don’t, at all), more that I have had so much trouble connecting to my emotions, especially tender or vulnerable feelings, that this avoidance extends to everyone else. I’ve always felt empathy when it’s “safe” though–therefore I can cry for a character in a movie or novel, or even a TV commercial. I can get quite upset reading a news story about someone who’s been abused, especially if it’s an animal or a child.

But when it comes to real life people, I just can’t allow myself to get that close. I hold everyone at arm’s length. It’s too dangerous to let them in, because they might stir up emotions I haven’t wanted to feel. Of course this means emotional (as opposed to cognitive) empathy goes out the window too. You can’t feel an emotion for someone else if you can’t even access it for yourself.

It’s a common belief that all people who lack empathy are narcissists or psychopaths (or have some kind of schizoid disorder or psychosis, or autism). But a lack of empathy is also a common symptom in people with complex PTSD. Shutting off emotions–including empathy–is a defense mechanism that protects you from further harm. The problem is, this protection also “protects” you from feeling much joy or being able to really love anyone else.

Recently I’ve been feeling a kind of tender regard for my child-self/true self. Right now she’s not integrated and feels far away sometimes, but I can feel her sadness and pain. I can also feel that she’s a good person, a gentle sensitive spirit with so much love to give. I feel a tender protectiveness now where before I felt only shame and wanted to hide her away, just as she had been hidden away by the narcissists who “raised” her. So how was I any different from them, by keeping her hidden, projecting badness and shame onto her, refusing to see her strengths? Sometimes I just want to hold her like my own child. It’s not self-pity; it’s closer to empathy and even love.

Is this where empathy begins? Does it begin with loving yourself–your true self? If you hate your real self, you cannot learn to expand empathy onto others, since you can’t even empathize with yourself. If all you feel is shame, that is going to be projected onto others. That would apply to narcissists and the personality-disordered as well as people suffering from C-PTSD.   The problem for the disordered is it may be too late for some of them.  They are so thoroughly shielded by a false self they cannot even access their real selves or only with a great deal of difficulty that could take years.  There are much stronger defenses to break through.  They may be so shut off they can’t even see the lie they are living and think it’s everyone else–not them–with the problem.

The root of attachment and trauma disorders is is rejection of the self internalized from the people who were supposed to love you and mirror you; to heal, you must be able to develop empathy for your true self. That’s what my therapist has been helping me do.